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2018.10.21:Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ

  Preached at First Presbyterian Church, East Aurora, NY, October 21, 2018, by Langdon “Buddy” Hubbard

Taking Every Thought Captive to Christ

Matthew 16:21-23; Psalm 104:1-13, 35c

2 Corinthians 10:1-11


            Have you ever changed your mind about something?  Well of course you have.  Everyone has.  How many times have we said, “I think I feel like pizza tonight,” only to say a few minutes later, “You know what?  I don’t feel like pizza.  I want Mexican food tonight.”  We change our minds constantly.


            But I’m getting at something much deeper.  Have you ever changed your mind about your viewpoints, attitudes, and even prejudices?   For example, was there a time in your life you looked down on someone because they were black, or Hispanic, or Asian, or poor, or gay, or Republican, or Democrat?  And then something happened in your life to change your mind?  These are profound changes, and they don’t come easy, and certainly not without a fight.  We hold tenaciously to our beliefs and ideologies, and we generally don’t want to let go.


            I know what this is.  In a sermon about 10 years ago, I talked about life’s many conversions, and how it seems I have gone through a new conversion, that is changing my mind, pretty much every decade.  As I shared then, in my teens I changed my mind about poor people, welcoming them into my life.  In my 20’s I opened my mind to accepting black people.  In my 30’s I opened up my mind to the oppression women face in this patriarchal world.  In my 40’s I opened up my mind to accepting LGBTQ people as normal people.  As I ended my sermon I wondered how God would change my mind in my 50’s.  Now that I am 62 I don’t have to wonder.  In this past decade God has opened up my heart to transgendered people, people with developmental disabilities, and Muslims.  God has been very busy with me in working to change my mind.  Now I’m wondering again who God will open my heart to in my 60’s.  What conversions await?  I can’t wait.


            I’m sure many of you have had similar experiences of changing your mind in significant ways.  And when you do, you often wonder how you had such different ideas and attitudes before.  Changing your mind can be an awakening.


            When we come to this passage from 2 Corinthians 10 we find the Apostle Paul abruptly engaged in an argument with someone, or some group, who have come against Paul’s teaching.  It is clear what we said at the very beginning of this sermon series, that 2 Corinthians is not one letter, but a collection of parts of at least 2 separate letters, if not as many as five, that have been pieced together.  It is obvious that chapters 10-13 don’t belong with the rest.  We have gone from Paul’s appeal to the Corinthians to give generously to the needs of the poor Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, a joyful, hopeful letter, and now we find ourselves in the midst of a fight.  Paul is contending for what he believes is the true faith of Christ, while others are saying Paul is wrong.


            Have you ever been in that position, where you were convinced you were right about a belief only to find out that someone, possibly a good friend, was convinced they were right?  For instance, I am completely convinced my belief that the Bible says nothing against gay people is true.  But I have many friends and family members who do not agree with me.  I used to get easily judgmental and tell them they were simply wrong.  But to be honest, the Bible sometimes sounds like it is against gay people, and so I try to be understanding of how they could believe that way, even as I hold strongly to my conviction and readily stand up for the rights of gay people on a biblical foundation. 


            I like what the Apostle Paul says about such conflicts: “If you are confident that you belong to Christ, remind yourself of this, that just as you belong to Christ, so also do we.” (2 Corinthians 10:7) In other words, sometimes Christians disagree, and it is so easy to claim not only that ours is the right way to think, but that the other person obviously can’t be a Christian.  Paul suggests something different, that we may disagree but we both still can claim to belong to Christ. 


            Paul models the right kind of spirit when he begins this letter by saying he is appealing to those who disagree with him by the “meekness and gentleness of Christ.”  The first word, “meekness,” connotes humility and considerateness toward others, that is a gracious and gentle spirit.  The second word, “gentleness,” is similar, connoting graciousness, clemency, that is leniency, with a tendency toward mercy.  Paul uses the same word in Galatians 6:1 when he says, “If anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness,” that is mercy and leniency.  Don’t be so hard on each other.  Rather be like Christ, who is meek and gentle, compassionate and merciful.


            At the same time, Paul holds his beliefs strongly, and is concerned that not every belief anyone has is acceptable.  Some things simply don’t jive with the practice, attitudes, and actions of Jesus.  And those things need to be called out.  He wants to come as a gentle presence, and he can if he finds some humility on their part.  But if the people dig in for a fight, Paul warns them that he might have to come with strength.  He doesn’t want to but he will if necessary.  The gospel’s truth is that important to defend.


            He realizes some of the Corinthians are mistaken about him because he has tried to live a gentle, loving, peace-making life.  They say of him that he is bold when he is away from them, but humble and meek when they meet face-to-face.  In other words, he talks tough when he is away, but when he comes in person he wimps out.  Watch out, he is saying.  I can come either way, depending on how receptive you are to my message and my presence. 


            Here’s the thing.  Paul says we may live as human beings and talk like human beings, but the stakes are high here.  We’re talking about things that are above human thoughts.  Like when Jesus calls Peter Satan the tempter and tells him to get behind him, because he has set his mind on human thoughts not God’s thoughts, and the two at times are vastly different. 


            Paul’s language becomes quite militant, saying that he as an Apostle in particular, but Christian leaders in general have been given divine power to destroy strongholds of thinking and ideologies that don’t line up with divine thoughts, that is, God’s way of thinking about things (2 Corinthians 10:4).  That is strong language. 


            His language gets stronger when he says “we destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4c-5).


            Paul believes that Christians in general, and Christian leaders in particular, have a divine responsibility to stand up for the faith and encourage, assist, and persuade every Christian to bring every thought captive to obey Christ first, above all others.  


That is a powerful and challenging word, and one that is needed today every bit as much as it was in Paul’s day.  What might that mean for us to bring every thought captive to obey Christ?  For one thing it means we will take the time and effort to examine what we believe and what we stand for and ask the question, who owns us?  To whom are we beholden?  Who is it that is forming our thinking, our attitudes, our beliefs? Is it Jesus?  Or is it something or someone else?  The truth is, and it is a sad truth, most people’s thinking is formed more by the political party and ideology on the conservative/liberal spectrum they are committed to, than they are the Word of God and the Mind of Christ.  When God’s ways conflict with our political and ideological affiliations, are we able and willing to critique and hold accountable those affiliations?  If Jesus is our Lord, as we claim him to be in our baptism and in joining the church, then we will be so willing.  Unfortunately that isn’t so easy for lots of folks.


Diana Butler Bass once said that it is almost impossible to preach these days, because people are so much more formed in their thinking by their political beliefs that when you share biblical principles and ideas, if they don’t line up with their political party people will accuse you of being political and partisan without first asking the question, what does God think about this? 


For instance, take immigration and welcoming refugees into our country.  If you are for it today people will say you’re following the Democratic Party, even though you may very well be committed first above everything else to being faithful to  God who says throughout the Law of Moses, particularly in Deuteronomy, to welcome the alien and the stranger, and Jesus who said that to welcome the stranger is to welcome him (Matthew 25:35)  Just a few years ago many Christians believed that and stood up for the immigrant and refugee as essential to being Christian.  But that simply isn’t true any longer, as the political winds have changed, and many evangelical Christians side with the president over and against welcoming those in need. 


Just a few years ago, someone accused me of changing my mind about accepting gay people because I wanted to “keep up with the times.”  My response was and still is, “No, I’m trying to keep up with Jesus.”


            And that is what Paul means when he says we are to take every thought captive to Christ.  In other words, we are to put God’s thoughts above human thoughts, to choose Christ’s mind over the thinking of any political party, because they are human institutions which exist primarily for the promotion of themselves and their power.  Sometimes they line up with God’s thoughts, and often they don’t.  Whom will you follow? 


            For a Christian our starting point according to Paul is the mind of Christ, not what any political party thinks, or any media personality, or conservative or liberal think tank.  What are God’s values?  Choose them, and then critique every other human thoughts that come your way by God’s thoughts and values.


            And what are those values?  We talked about that at Soul Food this past Wednesday night at Mambrino King.  God’s values include justice, truth, love, honesty, humility, integrity, mercy, compassion, peace-making, morality, forgiveness, reconciliation, and goodness.  To allow your mind to be taken captive in obedience to Christ is to let those values take precedence over all other human loyalties.  Honestly, do you see these values operative in our political world today? I don’t believe we can. 


And so we come back to our original question:  have you ever changed your mind about something you believe?  And are you willing to now?  More pointedly, are you willing to allow your mind to be taken captive to obey Christ over all others, even if it means your political party loses some of its power?  Here’s the thing:  if more people insisted on living by God’s values in the world, of justice, truth, compassion, love, mercy, goodness, and kindness, it is actually possible that one or both of our political parties would see that there is wisdom in supporting such values too.  The role of the Christian in the world isn’t to align ourselves with political parties but to infiltrate this world with God’s values until the political parties start paying attention.  We can change the world for good, but only if we follow Christ first above everything else.  At the end of the day, it comes down to this question:  who do you choose to be Lord of your life?  I hope it is Christ.  And if so, then let every thought of yours be taken captive to obey Christ.  It is possible the Lord’s prayer we pray each Sunday might actually come true: “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”