“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who… emptied himself” (Phil. 2).
What do you need to change in your life? It may be something that we all struggle with like what we eat or drink, how we care for our bodies, our tendency to be overly critical of our self or others. It might be our defensive attitude, something we know we need to do at work, a failure of courage in repairing a broken relationship, or just a general lack of resolve. It might be something spiritual, physical, financial, social or emotional. The voice inside your heart right now can tell you. It may say something that only you can do.
What stands in the way of making this change? My hunch is that knowing is not enough. I have many secular friends who fuss so much over belief. They say, “If only I really knew the truth about God – then everything would be different.” But I do not think it would be. We already know what we need to do.
One of the great mysteries of the human condition concerns this experience of getting in our own way. Sin is not simply evil. Sin is not about condemnation or feelings of guilt. It is not concerned primarily with what we have already done. Sin is the way that we and other people, and all of us acting together make our lives a mess.
In the Bible the Greek word for sin is hamartia. We have freighted this word with feelings of shame and inadequacy. But it refers to the bull’s eye in archery practice. It means literally missing the mark, the target, the goal of what we know our life could be as children of God. Often we miss the mark because who we are to our selves becomes so large that we cannot see in proportion other people or even this miraculous creation.
The Japanese poet Nanao Sakaki (1923-2008) captured my heart when I learned how much he loved forests. For a significant period of his life he vowed never to sleep in the same place twice so that he could take more nature into himself. He writes about this experience of self in a poem.
“In the morning /After taking cold shower/ – what a mistake – / I look at the mirror. // There, a funny guy. / Grey hair, white beard, wrinkled skin, / – what a pity -/ Poor dirty, old man, /He is not me, absolutely not.//”
“Land and life / Fishing in the ocean / Sleeping in the desert with stars / Building a shelter in the mountains / Farming the ancient way / Singing with coyotes / Singing against nuclear war –/ I’ll never be tired of life./Now I’m seventeen years old, /Very charming young man. //”
I sit quietly in lotus position, / Meditating, meditating for nothing./
Suddenly a voice comes to me: / “To stay young, /
To save the world, / Break the mirror.”
For me “breaking the mirror” does not mean living in a state of denial or refusing to face the facts of old age and death. It involves experiencing the world beyond our own ego. Our ego that is so compelling, so interesting to us that we would dwell on it every minute of our waking life if we could. Breaking the mirror is looking through death to the life happening around and beyond it.
During Palm Sunday we feel the tangible exuberance of the crowds as Jesus enters Jerusalem. In this chaos of “joyful praise” the offended Pharisees say, ““Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” [And Jesus] answers them saying, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (Lk. 19).
The Pharisees have become so preoccupied with all this means for them, with their own images in the mirror, that they cannot see what is happening right before them. They cannot see what is in these disciples’ hearts. They cannot see the love of Jesus. They cannot see the stones, the wildflowers on the hills, the sky or any of God’s great creation.
Paul certainly did not realize it but in his Letter to the Philippians he makes what would become one of the most important theological statements in history about who Jesus is. Paul uses the Greek word “kenosis.” It means to empty out, to nullify. He writes, “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who… emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave” (Phil. 2). In short, Jesus broke the mirror. But you know this. You know what Jesus did. But knowing is not enough.
An apocryphal story describes the moment when the traveler Marco Polo was captured and brought before the conqueror Genghis Khan. To occupy the emperor, he nervously told the story of Jesus right out of the gospel. He felt immediately relieved that the emperor seemed to be enjoying it. As he talked about Jesus’ betrayal, trial, and torture the great warrior became more and more agitated.
Finally, as Marco Polo read, “And Jesus cried again with a loud voice and gave up his spirit,” the emperor exploded (Mt. 27:50). “What did the Christians’ God do then? Did he send the vast armies of heaven to destroy the people who killed his son? Did he lay the land to waste?”
Somewhere we learned that Jesus’ father does not quite work that way. We cannot hear it and experience the same shock that Genghis Khan did. Mostly, it lingers in the back of our thoughts protected by well-meaning preachers like me who do not want to turn up the heat of discomfort too high. Again, we know this but somehow we do not know it.
Because knowing is not enough, we have the Bible, the church, the rituals of this holy week. The purpose of all this, of all that we will see and do and say and sing and chant and eat as we stand, kneel and sit during the long hours in this holy temple is very simple. We are doing this to experience real change, to break the mirror, to empty out ourselves out, so that we can discover for the first time and again that we are children of God.
I feel so blessed by this community, so grateful for our first Holy Week together. At the same time as we seek our spiritual home we will be traveling to dangerous places. Indeed the Bible is often a terrifying book. Unlike twenty-first century self-help books the scriptures disturb, unsettle and even horrify us. The Methodist bishop William Willimon says that this is because it is a book, “about us – the people we are rather than the people we wish in our fantasies we were.”
Particularly after having my first child I remember the debilitating existential shock of the Genesis story when God asks Abraham to kill his only son and burn the body on an altar.
We will feel something like that together today and this week as God prepares his son for humiliation and death. We will be the ones who say together “Crucify, crucify him!” We will look again at how we have missed the mark, at our own complicity with evil. We will experience the strangeness of God, that God acts in ways that we cannot possibly understand. But I hope that we will also remember the proximity of God, that even in the valley of the shadow of death, God never abandons us.
What do you want to change when knowing is not enough? Will you instead allow yourself to be saved by Jesus? Hear the stones shout out. Sing with coyotes. Experience the joy. Experience the horror. Save the world. Break the mirror. And, “let the same mind be in you as Christ Jesus, who… emptied himself.”
 Barbara Brown Taylor, “Blood Kin,” Mixed Blessings (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1986), 62.
 William H. Willimon, “A Terrifying Tale,” The Collected Sermons of William H. Willimon (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010), 139.