Scripture: Philippians 2:1-5
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
I learned a new word this week. The word is kenotic, used in relation to a way of perceiving both God’s creative and relational work with Creation and all Created beings – ourselves included. It also sheds light on identifying how Christ remained fully divine in his fully human existence among us – even and up to and including – death on the cross. Kenotic comes from Kenosis, Greek for “self-emptying.” Commentator William Greeway writes eloquently that,
“…passion empties one of self. One does not “self-empty” by focusing upon oneself. One is emptied of self to the degree one is overcome by the needs, pains, hopes, and desires of others. When concern for others takes one utterly beyond self-interest, beyond obsession with achievements and self-obsessing guilt over failures, … that is the spiritual experience.”
Challenging, is it not? Inconvenient, even, that we are called to be Christ-followers and follow this example of Jesus set before us.
Interestingly, I find some parallels between Greenway’s description of the spiritual experience with some of Father Richard Rohr’s reflections on the Trinitarian existence permeating all things. In Rohr’s reflections, he sees a cosmos that is not binary in nature, but a cosmos – that is, the entire created order – that reflects at its heart a Trinitarian nature. Ruminating deeply about the Trinity, he sees not a hierarchy of power playing out but a divine self-emptying three-way relationship wherein the sum parts of the Trinity give way to one another out of complete and utter love. Thus, even within God’s Self, Kenosis is at the heart of a community, or koinonia of love. That has huge ramifications for the faith community.
Reading today’s passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we find some of this divine self-emptying reflected both in how he describes his ultimate wish for the community of faith at Philippi, but also in the ancient hymn of glory Paul quotes.
He writes, “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, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…” (emphasis added).
My question for you and for me is how do we appropriate this text in the midst of real life today? Isn’t it rather inconvenient to have to take care of someone else, putting their needs above our own? Yet “for [any] of us bearing critical responsibilities to family and others, and living within a fallen world where legitimate needs conflict…,” I suspect perspective shifting has taken place. At least it has for me. I find it a sharp challenge to meet personal spiritual responsibilities, vocational responsibilities, family responsibilities, and educational responsibilities simultaneously. The only way I can do it is to consciously aim to become more and more Christ-centered. To strive to allow God to work through me even as God worked through Christ. It is not that I am trying to impersonate Christ, because I cannot. I do not know if I can even begin to imitate Christ well, but I can try move in a more Christ-like direction. Gilberto Collazo, reflecting on today’s text, wrote,
“There is a great difference between an impersonator and an imitator. Impersonators take great pains to make people believe they are who they are not. On the other hand, imitators are clearly aware that they strive to live up to the challenge of being a reflection of the person they look up to. It is so hard to walk in the footsteps of others… Deep down inside, many of us have the clear understanding that we will fall short of a perfect imitation. [I know I do!] That is all right. Ultimately Paul’s admonition is not about impersonating Christ, but about adopting Christlike attitudes in all aspects of our life.”
So, once again, I ask: How do we appropriate this text? If what we choose to do is to adopt as Christlike attitudes as we can in all aspects of our life, then it begins with a “conscious decision to become reflections of Christ in our actions and reactions to life.” What might that look like?
St. Teresa of Avila famously wrote,
“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
Let us, then, become one body even as we share in this body of Christ; let us become Christ for each other even as we become Christ for the community in which we find ourselves. It is a tall order, but it is part of the journey to fulfillment of our calling, even as it is a journey of self-emptying of all that ties us down. O Lord, free us that we might follow after you! May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.
 William Greenway, “Theological Perspective, Philippians 2:1-13, Proper 21” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0
 Gilberto Collazo, “Pastoral Perspective, Philippians 2:1-13, Proper 21” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0