Monday, August 25, 2014

Signs of Jesus people: humility and giftedness

Romans 12:1-8
(used Message version)
Signs of Jesus People: humility and giftedness
We’ve spent the summer looking at what are signs of our being Jesus people—and in today’s reading there are two, humility and giftedness, but before we get there I was struck by two images of ‘body’ that show up that Paul uses to make us sit up and pay attention—present your bodies as a living sacrifice to God, as the NRSV says, or as the Msg says Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life - and place it before God as an offering.
And the second is that we are part of Christ’s body—the only body Christ has now.
And much as I’d like to go with the simple spiritual message of how important we are to one another and to God, there’s a more pressing cultural message in here that I need to start with….
“present your bodies as a living sacrifice”…. Offer all of yourself, all of yourself, to God.
Paul is writing in the first half of the first century to new Christians at Rome….a particular historical and cultural situation….the hub of the imperial cult, the empire that thought it was the centre of the universe.  Doesn’t seem to have that much to do with us in 21st century America, does it?  And yet….here we too worship at different temples and are devoted to other Gods….one God is our stomach, and we worship at Wegmans or Mcdonalds or Krispy Kreme.  Another God is our technology, worshiped on our couches in front of our tvs or computers or smart phones.
Present your bodies as a living offering to God?   I don’t think so.
Complicating this is that we have an incredibly ambivalent attitude towards our bodies…we dis=ease and demean them, complain about them and spent thousands on making them better… the same time we use them, especially women’s bodies, to sell stuff, including happiness.
Present your bodies as a living offering to God?
Think about your day to day life for a minute….what part of your life isn’t offered to God:  working, eating, sleeping, playing, exercising?   Is God assigned only to Sunday morning, or occasional scripture reading, or prayer when you’re looking for a parking place?...........
Present your body as a living offering to God?
It’s yours….it’s the only one you’ve got - it’s precious and made by love and by God.  So, we must tend it and nurture it so we can offer ALL of it to God….eating, sleeping, working, playing ….
And as if that’s not enough of a word from God for this morning, there’s the second body image…..
This body is yours, and its yours for a reason… are meant to be part of something bigger, the body of Christ.
So….here comes the bit where you do the spiritual work…...   If you were to think of yourself as a body part, given your personality, what would it be?
…..think, share, then consider how that plays out as your part in the body of Christ, not just in this church but in the wider world?  How are you eyes, ears etc (depending on responses) in all your offering of your body to God?
Now think what that role that body part plays in the body….it means that you are GIFTED (sign of J people) to play that role in the larger community… means you are HUMBLE enough to know your own importance, but also that you need others to make your part work right….(that’s humility, sign of J people)
We are called to be there for one another, says Paul….we are all one together – so if someone is struggling with something, someone else is there to help.  God has given each of us gifts that make life full and abundant for others.
If your gift is teaching, then do it well; if your gift is encouragement, then do it well, if your gift is nutrition and education, then do it well for those who need help with their bodies.
Some of you have been anxious about imagined upcoming changes at church, changes in the body of Christ……. understand that as with the body, change happens, not always predictable, not always understandable, but if we understand and use our own giftedness, and remain humble enough to trust God, God will bring good out of our frail human efforts, and we will be able to offer loving transformation for the world; just as Jesus did so is his body to do.
Teresa of Avila wrote:
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
         What are WE going to do about it?


Wednesday, August 06, 2014

signs of Jesus people: transformed for service

Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing
There is a field, I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Those are an English translation of words written by the 13th century poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, better known as simply Rumi. They came to mind when I began looking at our scripture reading for today, because this morning, Christ takes us to a field out beyond ideas of right and wrong.

The beginning of our text has Jesus being told about the murder of John the Baptist and then going off by himself to a deserted place”. This is language pointing to the spiritual practice of Jesus the Jewish mystic. In Hebrew there is a word that is very important for understanding what is going on when Jesus is said to be going off alone—and all four gospels mention him going off to be by himself. The Hebrew word I am speaking of is hit-bo-dedut—it is derived from a word that means “to be alone”—and it points to much more than physical isolation—although the mystics would go off to be physically alone to meditate. This word, hit-bo-dedut, also refers to the mystics internally separating their inner essence from their thoughts—or, in modern spiritual language, their True self from their false or conditioned self. In other words, spirit-filled ancient Jews like Jesus knew the value of solitude—of internal solitude—and this is key to understanding Jesus’ spiritual genius. Why? Well, many of us, generally speaking, have very little solitude. Even if we are physically alone, our minds, as I said a few weeks ago, are crowded by so much cultural conditioning, by so many influences, by all the knowledge we have accumulated, by so many memories of so many experiences, by so many fears, so much anxiety, so many ideas, so much conflict. Are any of us ever truly alone? We are not alone today if we are weighed down by thousands of yesterdays—if we are burdened with all we have collected during those thousands of yesterdays—all the ideas of right and wrong we so often mistake for Truth, all the pleasures, all the treasures, all the pains. Remember, Jesus told us very clearly that if we wanted to follow Him, we must deny or disown the self—the self that is always of the past.  This can be very difficult in a culture that has turned the love of self into the idolatry of self. When Jesus says we must deny or disown the self—he is saying we must die to the past—and to do that we must know this internal solitude—we must “go off by ourselves”. We must die to that past, to those thoughts that literally preoccupy our minds. To let go of all that is to be alone.  And, this is a beautiful thing, for as our scripture tells us, the result of this aloneness, of this solitude, is a kind of compassion that is truly un-selfish and that is truly miraculous.
In verse 14 we see Jesus coming ashore and encountering a great crowd, and we are told he has compassion for them. The compassion Jesus shows is not just that of a nice guy—if Jesus was just a nice guy, just gave poor folks a dollar, he wouldn’t have become synonymous with Love, with freedom—in short, he wouldn’t have been the Christ. Jesus has died to or denied the self that is the result of thousands of yesterdays—he has let go of or transcended the old creation—and it is for this reason that he is called the Christ—the one who brings the New Creation. In His solitude he has let go of self. And this allows for compassion. Compassion is a truly un-selfish response. True compassion is without motive. Solitude allows for this because there is no self to have a motive—there is no self that filters and judges, there is no self that wants the social capital or improved self-image that comes from being a nice guy. There is no self that is estranged from others. Jesus is Love because he is not estranged—Jesus Christ is Love, the power that overcomes estrangement—now, obviously so-called religious people have used the idea of Jesus to separate themselves from others so I’m not necessarily speaking of the Jesus of the church, I’m talking about the Christ as the New Reality or Love that is when the self is not. Solitude or dying to the conditioned self allows us to Love and serve our neighbors in a truly Christ-like or Christian fashion—whether those neighbors are across the street or across the sea. Whether those neighbors are like us or not, whether or not those neighbors hold political views or lifestyles we approve of. Whether or not those neighbors have oppressed or harmed us.  Jesus was the Christ because he brought the New Reality—he transcended the old reality. He transcended the self--the self that is the result of the old reality; the self that is the old reality; the self that is the result of the continuity and the accumulation of a thousand yesterdays.
We next hear that the disciples come to the deserted place where Jesus is and ask him to send the crowds away so all those people can go buy some food for themselves. Jesus’ response is a big lesson for all of us…he says the people need not go away, he says to the disciples, you— the church—you give them something to eat. In other words—YOU DO IT. Jesus had compassion for and served all—he said we should even love our enemies—he loved and served a Roman centurion, he loved Samaritans, he even had compassion for those who killed him. It is the church’s responsibility—it is our responsibility to love and serve ALL—INCLUDING ALL THOSE WHO MAY BE THREATENING OR EVEN POTENTIALLY DANGEROUS—THOSE WHO ARE EASILY OR WILLFULLY FORGOTTEN, LIKE THE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN OUR PASSAGE TODAY—WE MUST LOVE AND SERVE THOSE WE HAVE BEEN TAUGHT ARE EVIL OR THE WORST OF THE WORST. Earlier in Matthew’s gospel he says, “IF YOU LOVE THOSE WHO LOVE YOU WHAT REWARD DO YOU HAVE—DON’T EVEN THE TAX COLLECTORS DO THE SAME?” SO HOW ARE WE TO SERVE THEM? Well, just as this story is not ultimately about serving people food, we, the church, are to serve, to transmit, Christ’s Love and compassion—we are to serve, to transmit the un—selfish mind that was in Christ Jesus. But first we must receive that Love, that unselfish mind, from the Christ. First we must go off alone like he did. I am reminded of people I have known in ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS. When one alcoholic really gets sober—not just quits drinking—but really transcends their old self-centered ways—they truly begin living in a New Reality, a New Creation—and those around them witness a new consciousness as it emerges.  That  person then transmits His or Her new reality to ALL they encounter—like a pebble dropped in a pond—the reality of everyone in their world begins to transform, in fact the reality of people they don’t even know is transformed—for that person is no longer drunk behind the wheel, no longer drunk around their kids, and so those kids and then their-- yet to be born--kids will have a different story—a radical transformation of consciousness reaches worlds not yet formed, people not yet born, as it radiates outward.
A A’ers know it is their responsibility to feed or transmit the gift of their new consciousness to the next person that comes into the program. Jesus tells us it is our responsibility to love and serve the crowds, it is our responsibility to feed ALL of them. Sure, we are fortunate; we can share material goods, food and money. But the church is not merely a goodwill society—it is the church of Jesus Christ—me and you—all of us together and as individuals—we must un-selfishly or without self, love and serve them all—we must offer and transmit a new consciousness—a new reality, a new creation—that is what a deep encounter with the Christ gives us—a new consciousness, the bread that endures to eternal Life, the bread or transformed consciousness that will reach into and shape worlds yet to be born. Love transcends all barriers, Love multiplies and radiates in a miraculous way.
I will close with this--Like Jesus we must go off alone—we must know the internal solitude that comes when the self is not, when the self has been denied. Then we, the church of Jesus Christ, will be able to say to the whole world—out beyond ideas of right and wrong, there is a field, we’ll meet you there. AMEN.