I am not sure how many people caught it, but Star Wars Episode VII begins with an inside joke. The movie startswith an image of a Star Destroyer and drop ships full of storm troopers. This is a good start for a Star Wars movie. Then as the scene transitions to a settlement on Jakku we hear the first line of spoken dialogue, “This will begin to make things right.” This is a subtle but on point jab at the prequel trilogies. While some elements of those three movies might be fondly remembered, as a whole many consider them to be a bit of a letdown. In the eyes of some the prequel trilogy tarnished the reputation of Star Wars and things did indeed need to be made right. It was the hope of The Force Awakens to do just that. To recapture the magic that makes Star Wars be Star Wars. As everything, The Force Awakens has it’s detractors but by and large it is regarded as a great big step to making things right.
Much like post-Revenge of the Sith Star Wars, we have to confess that Christians have a bit of an image problem. A Pew research study about how different religions are viewed found this to be true. This study showed that of a majority of those who consider themselves non-affiliated with religion, agonostic, or nothing in particular do not think very favorably of Christians. In other words of the people who do not yet know Jesus and do not actively follow another religious faith want nothing to do with us. As Christians we are called to make disciples, we are through word and action supposed to tell the world about the great love of Jesus, and up to 60% of the people we are supposed to share this message with do not want to hear from us. A different study ran by David Kinnaman found a deeper problem. The Pew study surveyed all age groups, but Kinnaman’s study was focused just on the youngest generation of adults, and his findings were even worst. Kinnaman wrote about this study in his book UnChristian, and one of his findings that stood out is the impression of what Christians stood for. According to him, the non-churched young people know Christians by what we are against and not what we are for. They characterize us as people who hate not people who love. Unfortunately, this is a long standing problem. In the earlier part of the 20th century Mahatma Gandhi famously said“I like your Christ but not your Christians. They are so unlike Christ.” We have an image problem, but there are scriptures that can guide us to making things right.
Paul wrote in Philippians 1:27 “Whatever happens, conduct yourself in a manner worthy of the gospel of Jesus Christ.” Doing this is how we begin to make things right, and doing this is how we show an unbelieving world that Jesus loves them. In the second chapter of Phillippians paul continues to write about things like living in harmony, valuing others above yourself, and looking out for the interest of others. This all leads up to Philippians 2:5 which states: “In your relationships with one another have the same mindset as Christ Jesus.”
As believers in Christ we are supposed to practice harmony, self-sacrifice, and valuing others above ourselves with one another. As members of Christ church we are to empower one another to live more Christ like. We are to practice with one another, encourage one another, and hold each other accountable in having a mindset of Christ. This mindset as so beautifully described in this morning’s scripture involves loving people enough to be willing to sacrifice for them, and loving God enough to be obedient no matter what.
In Christian parlance there is a special word for intentional life decisions that have us more fully love God and love others. The word for that is holiness. The Methodist movement started by John Wesley in the 1700s, the movement that gave birth to the United Methodist Church, was founded as a holiness movement. Methodism sprung into existence as a way to encourage believers to have the same mindset of Christ. John Wesley’s officially defined holiness as ““the loving God with all our heart and soul, and our neighbour as ourselves. It is love governing the heart and life, running through all our tempers, words, and actions.” This kind of love that governs our life and is evident through our words and actions is exactly what Paul is writing about in this morning’s scripture. This is also how we begin to make things right.
The early Methodism movement took holiness seriously, and we should as well. The prescription of this scripture is clear. With one another, as brothers and sisters in Christ we be in harmony by having the same love for one another. We regularly are intentional about humbly valuing each other above ourselves. We regularly are intentional about relating to one another, not with judgement and critique but with grace and humility. We regularly seek to love one another the way that Jesus does this. When we do this, and we allow others to love us that way, and we allow others in the church to humbly serve us, then we empower one another to have the same mindset of Jesus.
What happens next is the truly incredible part, because the love of God is too big to be contained in a building. If we encourage and empower one another to live out the love of God, then that love is going to spill out of our church building doors and into the world. We will have the very mindset of Christ as we seek through word and action to bring hope to the hopeless, love the unloved, and lift up the downtrodden. What happens is the people of our communities will no longer assume to know us by what we are against, but they know we are Christians because we have dared to love them the way Jesus loves them.
Seeking personal holiness, loving and encouraging one another is at the foundations of the Methodist movement. When it first started, the early Methodists were known for their acts of charity and service. They provided for the poor, cared for the sick, visited the imprisoned, taught the uneducated, and gave voice to the oppressed and powerless. As much as they could, they strove to make things right. This is an example that all believers can follow. We can and we should encourage one another on to personal holiness. We can and we should empower one another to share the love of God with the world around us. We can and we should begin to make things right.