“You and Me and All of Us”
May 12, 2013
Here, in this space where we gather,
My hope is that each is touched by the Sacred — Not by my words,
But through the compassion shared.
May the Light of Life be yours.
FIRST READING: An Excerpt from — Friends on the Path by Thich Nhat Hahn
“It has been said that the twenty-first century will be a century of spirituality, and I think it must be a century of spirituality if we are to survive. . . . Spirituality is something we can cultivate. To be spiritual is to be solid, calm, and peaceful, and to be able to look deeply inside and around us. It means having the capacity to handle our afflictions — our anger, craving, despair, and discrimination. It means being able to see the nature of inter-being between people, nations, races, and all forms of life. Spirituality is not a luxury anymore; we need to be spiritual in order to overcome the difficulties of our time.”
SECOND READING: John 17:20 – 26. (from The Message by Eugene Peterson) … I’m praying not only for them but also for those who will believe in me Because of them and their witness about me. The goal is for all of them to become one heart and mind – Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. Then the world might believe that you, in fact, sent me. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, So they’ll be as unified and together as we are – I in them and you in me. Then they’ll be mature in this oneness, And give the godless world evidence That you’ve sent me and loved them In the same way you’ve loved me. Father, I want those you gave me To be with me, right where I am, So they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me, Having loved me Long before there ever was a world. Righteous Father, the world has never known you, But I have known you, and these disciples know That you sent me on this mission. I have made your very being known to them – Who you are and what you do – And continue to make it known, So that your love for me Might be in them Exactly as I am in them.
I was at the Wisconsin Conference UCC board of directors meeting the other day and one of the women there brought several books by Phillip Gulley an author who I have quoted in the past and who the Conference plans to try to have for a gathering soon. She had a dozen of his books and was making them available for sale for $10. My first inclination was that I did not need another book. I still have two of the three on my desk from the last theologian I became interested in that I still have to read, and I thought I had read a lot of Philip Gulley so I did not need another of his books.
But I stopped to look at it and opened the front cover anyway.
The title of the book, If the Church were Christian, sort of got my attention and then the first chapter title hooked me to look further. ‘If the church were Christian Jesus would be a model for living, rather than an item of worship.’ That did it, I bought the book. I’ll admit I bought because I feel exactly the same as what the author was saying. The ten dollars in my wallet I had planned to use for gas for the trip home (I was on my motorcycle) was going for the book, the gas could go on the credit card.
Here is an author that could articulate the thoughts and feelings that I have. As I read down the list of chapter headings I could have made it my creed! The last chapter is entitled,
‘If the Church were Christian, This life would be more important than the afterlife’ — that has been my mantra for a long time.
This passage from the Gospel of John is Jesus’ prayer for the people, for his disciples, for the followers that were there and it is for you and me and all of us. By and large it is a prayer for unity not conformity. It is a prayer for the continuance of the message that love and the accessibility of the sacred is for all people, and it has become the motto of the United Church of Christ. That They May All Be One.
For me, this prayer contains a lot of language in which Jesus emphasizes his own humanity and single-mindedness with the Sacred and with all people suggesting that we ought to be followers of the teachings and not worshipers of the man. For me, in the teaching of this prayer is a message of one who sees himself as one with God and sees the “oneness” of all people with God, as a distinct reality, awaiting only for one’s own “spirit-self-awareness” — an awareness for which Jesus is earnestly praying.
The counter argument to Jesus’ humanity, that is to say those who argue in favor of Jesus’ divinity, claim that he was one who manipulated the weather, raised the dead, and passed ghostlike through walls to be present, in the flesh, after his own death. Philip Gulley refers to these miracles as, “pre-enlightenment affirmations of the transforming presence of Jesus.” In other words, they say Jesus was an extraordinary man who, through his interactions with people and presence among them, could change lives.
Jesus makes no claim to be one who should be worshipped and, in fact, makes the point over and over again that he is one with all of us. “The same glory you gave me I gave them,” says Jesus. The ‘glory’ being the awareness of the presence of the sacred in their lives and the assurance that they need abide only by the law of love in order to be in touch with the sacred essence of life. The splendor and the glory that Jesus speaks about is not a white robe and an army of angels but it is, in fact, a full awareness of the calm presence that an assurance of love, and knowledge of the presence of the sacred can give any of us. Which is the same calm assurance expressed in other world religions each in its own culturally distinct and unique way.
On the website I have mentioned a time or two called Spiritual Practices, they were reviewing a book by Roger Walsh. After years of study of the major religions of the world, Walsh draws together the seven practices taught by all of them and this summary is offered by the website. The book, entitled Essential Spirituality: The Seven Central Practices to Awaken Heart and Mind offers these:
(1) transform your motivation: reduce craving and find your soul’s desire; (2) cultivate emotional wisdom: heal your heart and learn to love; (3) live ethically: feel good by doing good; (4) concentrate and calm your mind; (5) awaken your spiritual vision: see clearly and recognize the sacred in all things; (6) cultivate spiritual intelligence: develop wisdom and understand life; and (7) express spirit in action: embrace generosity and the joy of service.
One can see the Christian connection and learn to understand these core values present in Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and the indigenous religions of many lands as well.
I believe Thich Nhat Hahn to be on the right path in suggesting that the 21st century be a century of spirituality and that we can cultivate it. He says, “To be spiritual is to be solid, calm, and peaceful, and to be able to look deeply inside and around us. It means having the capacity to handle our afflictions — our anger, craving, despair, and discrimination. It means being able to see the nature of inter-being between people, nations, races, and all forms of life.”
I find this is similar to the prayer that Jesus offers when he says, “The goal is for all of them to become of one heart and mind – Just as you are in me and I in you, so they might be of one heart and mind with us…The goal is for all to become one heart and mind – Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, so they might be one heart and mind with us.”
This represents an awareness of the spirit or sense of the sacred in all things. This is becoming one. This is learning to be with others at a level for our time that has not been accomplished in the past. When the Ten Commandments were written, people needed a set of guidelines, rules to live by in order to be able to abide together in society. Today, what we need is a sense of the spirit that is among us all and we ought to be able to find that common denominator which joins us together.
“Christian” means follower of the way of Christ’s teachings, not a worshipper of Jesus. If the whole church were Christian, it would see the model for living that Jesus was and the world would be a different place.
Here, I think, we get that right, in many places in the UCC we get that right, in many other churches here and around the world, people get that right. We can make a difference by offering still more people the vision of a community of faith that understands the model for life and offers it to others.