By Dan Miller
Interim Conference Minister

As I’ve been learning about Ohio Conference, hoping to hear the Spirit, and engaging in our work together, Philippians 2:5-11 is a passage that’s stuck out to me. Many scholars think this was a hymn used in early church worship that exalted how he went about his mission.

Here are verses 5-8:

Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus who

although 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.

 This first half emphasizes that instead of seeking power and authority, Jesus gave up his realistic claim to divinity to live among us. The mission for which God sent Jesus became Jesus’ top priority. To pursue this vision, Jesus “emptied himself” of his divine privilege and power to become a servant. Emptying himself didn’t mean Jesus had nothing to do, but that instead of acting from the awesome position of God, he acted from a limited human position.

John’s gospel illustrates this role of a servant when Jesus takes a basin and towel and washes his disciples’ feet. In Philippians 3 Paul mirrors Jesus’ self-emptying behavior by listing aspects of his Jewish pedigree and stating, “whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss.”

Humans are incredible beings— Gifted. Capable. Worthy of love and care. Made just a little lower than God. Limited. Unable to accomplish all we can think or imagine.

Unable to do everything as a human being that he’d been able to do before, Jesus became obedient. He didn’t become an unthinking automaton. Nor was he directed by remote control from heaven. Jesus prayed. He read scripture. He listened. He engaged in discussion. Rather than trying to carry the whole thing, he became obedient to God in those things that were his to do. God’s mission was Jesus’ priority.

Ohio Mennonite Conference’s  vision statement imagines a conference centered around Jesus. In such a conference, congregations are gathered, equipped and sent to love God, love others, and make disciples. If that becomes our primary purpose together, there might be obstacles to lay aside in order to live into that mission.

There could be unique obstacles for each congregation and each individual. Perhaps an Anabaptist pedigree, or the absence of one? What about a desire for a clean and tidy life? Perhaps a reputation for being wise, and a wish that everyone would think like me? Incremental change rather than disruptive change? People of faith – in scripture and in history and in the current time – face obstacles whenever we seek to follow.

In the second half of the hymn, verses 9-11, God acts to do what only God can do: fill Jesus with resurrection life and restore him to his place in heaven. We have our part to play. By becoming obedient to our part of the work, we participate in God’s mission to reconcile the world back to God without getting in God’s way by taking on God’s work. We contribute our part. The rest is God’s.

Are there obstacles to lay down individually or as a congregational member in order to prioritize God’s mission?