Scripture Readings: Exodus 17:1–7 | Psalm 78:1–4, 12–16 | Philippians 2:1–13 | Matthew 21:23–32
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…
The choices we make each day reveal a whole lot about what matters most to us. How we respond to our circumstances says a great deal about what we believe in.
This week many watched as our neighbours to the South endured yet another round in what seems like their never ending political battle. This time, it was disputes around the approval of funding for their federal government… disputes that highlight the deep divisions not only between the two rival parties, but also the factions within the parties themselves… infighting that threatened to bring an incredibly powerful country to a standstill, freezing funding for federal employees, and shutting down all sorts of programs that their citizens rely on.
It’s yet another display of shameless arguments over power… fighting about who’s will is done… while millions are placed in a state of insecurity, facing unnecessary hardships and pain… without a clear pathway forward.
It’s another dramatic example… but it’s certainly nothing new. Time and again history shows us that those who seek to wield power and authority over others have been tempted to make use of it without real regard for how those without that power will be affected.
And we know this isn’t just a temptation for politicians… but for us all, and even the Church has shared in this broken abuse of authority, as the tragic story of residential schools reminds us. This weekend, we mark the Nation Day for Truth and Reconciliation, and as Anglicans we must remember the part that our own branch of the Church has played in using spiritual, social, and cultural power to remove indigenous children from their families and communities, and through force… and in many cases outright cruelty… tried to erase their identities… and to remake them in our own image.
My point is that when Christians seize control in the world, we can be just as self-centered and oblivious to the misery of others as anyone else. God’s people are not immune to these temptations… we all share in a common capacity for corruption, and the abuse of power.
The writers of the Holy Scriptures knew this well enough. And while at times in the Scriptures we find God’s people in places of authority, on the whole the Bible was written from the perspective of those without earthly power… penned by those who lived in a near constant state of vulnerability, and in danger of losing everything. And so, the Bible frequently addresses the concerns of those of us who are powerless… inviting us to learn to live God’s way in those moments we feel the most threatened, afraid, and alone.
In our reading from Exodus this morning we heard how the Israelites responded when they found themselves without water as they wandered in the wilderness. Despite the amazing ways that the Living God had delivered them, and provided for them, they didn’t trust God, or Moses, the man God had chosen to serve as their leader. They didn’t believe that God was truly with them… even though He was, despite their doubts.
And in our Gospel reading, St. Matthew tells of an encounter between Jesus and the Jewish Temple leadership… the chief priests and the elders of the people. Those used to calling the shots in Jerusalem.
They clearly don’t trust Jesus, and come to confront Him in the Temple, questioning His actions and the supposed source of His authority… finding their own positions of influence undermined by His ministry, and worried that this nobody from Nazareth might stir up Rome to come and use their overwhelming military power to wipe away everything that the leaders in Jerusalem had worked so hard and sacrificed so much to preserve.
Thirsting in a dry desert, and trying to keep a challenging and controversial teacher in check… These are situations we’re not likely to face here in Gondola Point. But what are the ways that we feel powerless today? What challenges are we facing that make it hard to trust in the Living God today?
Economic shakeups? Rising global tensions? Cultural shifts and changes that surround us with the unfamiliar and the confusing? Grief, and the sudden or growing recognition of our own mortality? Losing those we deeply love? There are lots of ways we feel powerless.
We may never wander in a dry desert… but there will be plenty of times when we feel like we’ve been led to a dead end, with no possible way forward.
We may never have to try to hold together the fate of our country in the face of hostile forces… but there may be plenty of moments when we feel that the fate of everything we love lies squarely on our shoulders alone.
In those dry wildernesses of life, when we don’t seem to have what we need… what do we do?
In those crucial moments when our sense of control is challenged… our actions questioned, and our vision for the future is undermined… how do we respond?
Are we quick to complain? To catastrophize? To cut down others in order to feel secure?
The choices we make each day reveal a whole lot about what matters most to us. How we respond to our circumstances says a great deal about what we believe in. And Who we believe in.
Back in Exodus, the LORD graciously provides water for His grumbling, distrustful people, but as they continue down their path of mistrust, they increase the strain on their vital relationship with their Saviour… pulling their hearts and lives away from Him, rather than faithfully sharing in His fellowship. And yet… God’s gift of living water invites them to draw near in faith again… to come to Him even when they are powerless and afraid, and trust in His saving love.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus confronted the leaders of Jerusalem in such a way that He exposed their hypocrisy… revealing that they were far more concerned with holding onto their own security and power than with sharing in God’s Kingdom at work right before their eyes.
They asked who gave Jesus the authority to say and do the things He was saying and doing, but Jesus turns it around and asks them what they thought of John the Baptist: that controversial preacher of repentance that King Herod had recently put to death.
To side against John the Baptist would be politically disastrous… they would lose the support from the common people, who thought John had been a prophet. But to side with John would then require them to drastically change the path they were on… to make very different choices and actually respond to John’s message… and ultimately to follow the One John himself had claimed was sent by God, and even greater than himself. After all, as N.T. Wright points out: “It was at John’s baptism of Jesus that the voice from heaven had named Jesus as Messiah, God’s beloved son.”
But Jesus’ words were not just a clever trap exposing their unbelief… but a challenge… a bold invitation to turn around and to trust Him… to make a clear choice to let go of their own agendas, and respond in faith to His words and His Kingdom work … an invitation to believe that He is God’s Messiah, God’s chosen King, and trusting Him, to bow their knees and hearts to Him. N.T. Wright goes on: “Now that the chief priests were in a rebellious state, they too, like the ne’er-do-wells, could have changed their minds and obeyed after all. Even at this stage the challenge contains a coded final appeal.”
How might Jesus be appealing to you and I today through the challenges we are facing?
Do we believe that the Spirit of God is still speaking to us through the Holy Scriptures in our times of powerlessness and insecurity… telling us that we can trust Jesus Christ, God’s eternal Son sent to save us and to save God’s world… even when we feel like we don’t have what we need… or that we’re being asked to surrender our hopes, and plans, and even our fears into His hands?.
The Good News is we can trust Him, and not just because we believe He’s all powerful, and we’re not… but because of what Jesus has done with His power… because of what He shows us God’s power really looks like in action.
In His letter to the Philippians, St. Paul reminds us of God’s way to handle power, which Jesus our Saviour lived out for us all:
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8).
Jesus did not grasp after influence. Or demand that others give in to His agenda… but instead He entrusted Himself to the love of His Heavenly Father, and He let go.
He emptied Himself… of all the honour and glory that were truly His, in order to share in the fate of those without honour and glory… to join Himself to the powerless, the oppressed, and the forsaken.
The Son of God allowed Himself to be publicly shamed… stripped of all apparent authority, and brutally executed as the lowest of the low.
And He did this all out of love. Love for His Father, love for His sin-filled, powerless people… love even for His enemies.
The choices that Jesus made reveal a whole lot about what matters most to Him. How He responded to His circumstances says a great deal about what He believes in: the Living God’s powerful self-giving love, which even death cannot undo.
And the cross is where we see God’s powerful love at work: at the moment when we were all at our worst, the Living God overturns our whole world’s failure and turns it into glory.
“Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9-11).
Jesus Christ, the crucified and Risen Lord reigns… even when we find ourselves in dry deserts. And He reigns even when we must surrender the things that make us feel secure and in control. He reigns even when those who seem to call the shots here on earth make disastrous decisions… and everything seems to be falling apart.
Jesus reigns… and He calls you and I to live His way in His world. To let His powerful love… a love that trust’s Him enough to let go… to guide us. And to correct us. And to provide for us. And shape everything that we do. So that our daily choices, and responses to life’s challenges reflect His love more and more… and so that we can share God’s powerful love with one another, and with our world.
“If then there is any encouragement in Christ,” St. Paul says, “any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”
You and I are meant to share in the mind of Christ… to actually become Christlike. Not through our own power, but through God’s power… and God’s Spirit at work in us.
St. Cyril of Alexandria, an ancient Christian theologian wrote these words about Jesus our Lord, and what He has come to do: “He humbled himself, according to the Scriptures, taking on himself the form of a slave. He became like us that we might become like him. The work of the Spirit seeks to transform us by grace into a perfect copy of his humbling.”
He became like us that we might become like Him… transformed by God’s Holy Spirit to chose to live God’s way, and let His good and perfect will matter to us more than our own anxieties or agendas.
I’ll end now with these words from St. Paul’s letter:
“Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” Amen.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001), 108.
 N. T. Wright, Twelve Months of Sundays: Reflections on Bible Readings, Year A (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 2001), 109.
 Cyril of Alexandria, Festal Letter 10.4., in Thomas C. Oden and Cindy Crosby, eds., Ancient Christian Devotional: A Year of Weekly Readings: Lectionary Cycle A (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2007), 221.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School