What do Christians do in a divisive election season? Paul gives us the answer.
My brothers and sisters, whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm in the Lord in this way, my beloved. I urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you also, my loyal companion, help these women, for they have struggled beside me in the work of the gospel, together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life. Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:1-9
There is so much division among us today. Can you think of a time in your life when people seemed more divided? Yet the Bible gives us so much more than quaint answers about Christians getting along. It gives us the Gospel, the lifesaving good news of a God who longs to heal our divisions and reconcile all things to God's own self.
Let's look to Philippians for some answers.
This text above is this coming Sunday's New Testament reading. You might be wondering: who are Euodia and Syntyche? How do you pronounce their names? I immediately wondered the same thing. To satiate your curiosity for the latter, I'll refer you here.
As for Euodia and Syntyche, the answer as to who they are is a little more murky. They were clearly two women in disagreement in the Church at Philippi, but we don't know much beyond that. It's safe to say they were likely leaders, and perhaps the heads of two factions on opposite sides of a division. St. John Chrysostom, who was Archbishop of Constantinople, believed they were leaders of the Church in Philippi. He wrote:
These women [Euodia and Syntyche] seem to me to be the chief (to kephalaion) of the Church which was there, and [Paul] commends them to some notable man whom he calls his “yokefellow”; [Paul] commends them to him, as to a fellow-worker, and fellow-soldier, and brother, and companion, as he does in the Epistle to the Romans, when he says, “I commend to you Phoebe our sister, who is a minister of the church at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1). (Homilies on Philippians, 13)
We don't have to strain ourselves too hard to imagine two people who each represent a very different faction, a very different way of looking at the world, and sort of represent the various differences of each of those factions.
If I wink and nod any harder to the 2020 election season I might strain myself. It goes without saying that we're severely divided in the United States today. There are different divisions among us: Democrat and Republican, conservative and liberal, rural and urban. Fill in the blank for yourself some more. It's straining us as a country. It's straining relationships. It's dividing families. The Presidential Debate last week was a national embarrassment. It's sickening to think of where we are as a society when I feel compelled to send my daughter to bed because I can't bear her to see our nation's leader behaving in a way that she'd never be allowed to behave.
The Church throughout its history has experienced great division, and the early Church had its fair share of arguments. We might not know much about Euodia and Syntyche and their particular argument, but we know it was causing division in the life of the Church there, enough for Paul to intervene.
Paul urges each of them by name to "be of the same mind." That same mind he urges them to be of is undoubtedly the mind of Christ. He encourages them to instead of being divided over these concerns which surely must seem gravely important to them, to instead rejoice.
This is the moment I feel the need to clarify this message of good news that Paul was spreading, this Gospel work that Euodia and Syntyche struggled in alongside Paul and Clement. Sometimes there's confusion about what is the Gospel? Is the Gospel the message that because Jesus died on the cross for your sins you can be saved and go to heaven when you die? No.
The Gospel is this: Christ is risen.
The Gospel is the good news first announced by the angels on the first Easter morning: he is not here for he is risen.
Because he is risen: rejoice. Because he is risen: be of one mind. Because he is risen: do not worry about anything. Because he is risen: the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.
As Christians what we are offered and what we proclaim is not simply a message of getting along, of setting aside our differences and coming together to work together for the common good. Any person can make that claim and any religion can make that claim. As Christians what we are offered is new life, indeed, the life of the coming age. And in the life of the coming age all division has ceased and nothing separates us from one another.
This is why Paul also rephrases the Gospel message as this:
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. - 2 Corinthians 5:19
In Jesus, God was reconciling the world to himself. God was not holding grievances against us. God was not accepting the vast chasm of distance between Creation and Creator. Instead God passed through that division, became one with Creation, and elevated Creation into himself. And that message of Divine reconciliation and the good news of the coming age has been entrusted to us.
We are children of the New Creation. How we live every day, how we talk, how we treat one another, how we vote, all of it must reflect that we are bound not by the Old Creation, or our old selves, but by the New Creation and our new selves clothed in Christ. So it is not unreasonable that even in 2020 we follow this exhortation from Paul:
whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
I do wonder, though, what happened to Euodia and Syntyche. Did they overcome their division? Did Clement help them come together and set aside whatever their difference was, and were they able to share the peace of Christ with one another again and break bread together at the same table? I hope we learn in the age to come, but for now I have hope as Paul did that the good news that the Lord is Risen brought these two leaders of the community together and bound them in one mind in Jesus Christ. May that same Gospel bind us together in one mind in Christ Jesus our Lord today as well.