Proper 21A Sermon (2014)

Proper 21 (Sept. 25-Oct. 1)
Texts: Philippians 2:1-13;
Matthew 21:23-32


St. Paul urges us to ‘let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.’ How exactly does one do that?

The beginning to an answer has to do with recent brain science. It turns out that we may be wired to ‘let the mind of others be in us.’ It involves a newly discovered set of brain cells, found on either side of the head, among all the billions of long branching cells in our brain. They’re called “mirror neurons.” I sent out a preview video about mirror neurons on Friday. For those who haven’t been able to watch it, I’ll give a brief overview.

These mirror neurons are the key to our learning. We all know that humans learn by looking and copying. As infants, we learn to crawl, then to walk. We learn to eat, and what to eat. And the biggest thing of all: we learn the complex process of talking, one of the things that sets us apart from other animals. All of this by imitation, by mirroring what others around us do. And it by no means ends in childhood. Even something as complicated as being a doctor has an internship, learning from watching other doctors, as the last step of training.

The power of these mirror neurons goes beyond the process of learning. They are also the key to empathy. We learn to read body language and facial expressions that cue us to what a person might be feeling. We are able, as they say, to ‘put ourselves in another person’s shoes.’

But the most important thing about mirror neurons, something that the video really didn’t get into, is that we also catch our desires from each other — desire being what motivates to get out of bed each day. Catching our desires from each other is what defines us as human beings. We can catch a desire for the same object and become rivals. Even much of what’s called love falls into this category, when it is merely a romantic love of sexual attraction. We become rivals for the same man or woman. It’s God’s kind of loving desire that we most need to catch, for it is a love that empathetically, compassionately works for the well-being of another. As parents, as spouses, we often times achieve this kind of love.

But it is the kind of love which God perfects, so that in Jesus, God’s Word of love in the flesh, we are commanded to love even our enemies. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “Love your enemies,” but then also says, “Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect.” That’s an outrageous and unattainable commandment unless we are wired to be able to catch that kind of love from each other. Jesus, the most truly human one, lived that perfect love which reaches out even to enemies; and we have the mirror neurons that make it possible for the Spirit of that love to increasingly become part of who we are, as we in faith increasingly open ourselves to that Spirit. [refer to children’s sermon]

We constantly learn the Gospel stories of Jesus as the model for our living. And the Christian faith is an endless chain of disciples mentoring disciples into God’s perfect way of love. This is the message of Philippians 2 — that we come to let the same mind be in us that was in Christ Jesus, so that ‘it is God who is at work in us, enabling us both to desire and to work for God’s good pleasure.’

This is a great way to kick-off our stewardship season, with a focus on our Youth Ministry, which happens to be working on emphasizing mentoring our children into discipleship. And we are blessed to have the leadership of Megan xxxx as our youth pastor, who is making a commitment to us to both grow in her own training as a disciple and lead our youth ministry more intentionally in the direction of disciples mentoring disciples. Here is Megan to conclude our message this morning. . . .

Paul J. Nuechterlein
Prince of Peace Lutheran,
Portage, MI, September 28, 2014

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