The Rev. Lisa Hlass
St. Michael’s Episcopal Church, Little Rock
23 October 2011
The 19th Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 25, Year A
Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18; Psalm 1; 1 Thessalonians 2:1-8; Matthew 22:34-46
Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command. Amen.
Make us love what you command! Because we’re surely not able to do it on our own!
G. K. Chesterton said, “Christianity is not a failure. It just hasn’t been tried yet.” How can a religion in which its founder is totally grounded in self-giving love have been expressed so much in the spirit of judgment, competitiveness, rigidity, exclusivity, fear, and violence?
Teacher, priest, author, Cynthia Borgeault says that from the start people had not “gotten” what Jesus was up to, not really. In the version of Christianity that we practice, the West won out, and it’s all about believing the right things about Jesus – creeds, doctrine, dogma.
The early patriarchs spoke of a pathway of perception they called epinoia, which meant knowing through intuition and through direct revelation, not through the linear and didactic dianoia of logic and doctrine and dogma. It’s a way of “putting the mind in the heart,” that comes through methods like meditation and centering prayer. The people gathered on the Sea of Galilee knew no Christian doctrine. It was something in their gut or in their hearts that prompted them to leave everything and follow Jesus. For Jesus’ earliest followers, he was the Life-Giver. “Salvation” was understood, not as the pathway to heaven through right belief about Jesus, but as the bestowal of life.
The primary task of a Christian is not to believe theological premises, but to put on the mind of Christ – to follow the life and teachings of our Master: to live humbly; to show God’s mercy and abundance extravagantly; to live as if we all are one – because we are. And that’s how we can live into the great commandment to love God and neighbor.
Some of us remember seeing with awe the first picture of earth taken from the moon 40-some-odd years ago. Seeing that blue and white orb in the blackness of space, seeing our little place from that perspective, left me speechless. That picture also makes it easy to see the earth as an organism; as one; to see large-scale habitat destruction, the blights of war and famine, as cancers on this beautiful organism of which we are a part.
We are one, and yet we seem to come hardwired with a dualistic consciousness. Perhaps it helps us to learn how to navigate the world when we’re young to see so strongly in terms of “I” and “other;” inside/ outside; right/ wrong. But there comes a point when our consciousness needs to expand beyond dualistic thinking, which can be very destructive. It’s pervasive in our society and too often in Christianity today: it is oppositional, judging, critiquing, labeling, projecting; when what we’re called to is loving presence.
One interpretation of the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven, that Jesus speaks so much about in the gospels, is as a metaphor for this unitive, non-dual state of consciousness. The Kingdom of God is not a place you go to, but a place you come from – out of the heart.
Other sayings of Jesus express a perspective of “oneness:” “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love.” “I am the vine, you are the branches. Abide in me as I in you.” “Love your neighbor as yourself;” not, “as much as yourself,” but “as yourself” – as one with your very own being.
How do we develop this unitive consciousness? It requires attention and intention: paying attention to our actions, reactions, behaviors. The ability to pull outside of ourselves and look in: to really see how we react and respond in any given situation: Does it give evidence that I love God; that I love others as myself?
And it requires intention. Intentionally slowing down; finding time for silence and prayer; intentionally being in the presence of God; emptying self; letting go of the things we crave and cling to; opening to the mind of Christ.
Although many of our great spiritual teachings suggest a climb or ascent
as the way to God, Jesus always responded with self-emptying, or descending, taking the lower place, the place of the servant, not the higher. A wonderful poem by the great Sufi mystic Rumi
beautifully describes the trajectory of Jesus’ life:
Love is recklessness, not reason.
Reason seeks a profit.
Love comes on strong, consuming herself, unabashed.
Yet in the midst of suffering,
Love proceeds like a millstone,
hard-surfaced and straight forward.
Having died to self interest,
she risks everything and asks for nothing.
Love gambles away every gift God bestows.
John the Baptizer’s disciples were horrified because Jesus feasted, drank, and celebrated God’s abundance. The Pharisees were horrified because he healed on the Sabbath and kept company with women, outcasts, and sinners. Abundance and generosity characterized Jesus’ teaching and his lifestyle.
When Jesus feeds the multitudes at the Sea of Galilee there is not only enough to fill the thousands, but basketfuls of food left over. When a woman anoints Jesus with fine ointment and the disciples grumble about the waste, Jesus reprimands them and tells them that she will be remembered as the one who shared good news. “Do not store treasures on earth,” he teaches; “do not strive or be afraid;” for it is God’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom..
Jesus walked this paradoxical path of abundance and of self-emptying, to the very end. Even in the garden of Gethsemane, he struggled in anguish but remained faithful. He did not cling, even to life itself. Thus Jesus gave himself fully unto life and death. It was not love stored up but love utterly poured out that broke open the Kingdom of God.
And over and over this path is laid out for us. It’s not about resisting or renouncing. Everything can be embraced, but then must be let go. In so doing you pour it all out, give it all back. Everything that I receive flows again.
The power of this path of love to transform even the grimmest calamity, is given by an unknown poet who left the following prayer beside the body of a dead child at Ravensbruck death camp during the Holocaust.
O Lord, remember not only the men and women
Of good will, but also those of ill will.
But do not remember all of the suffering they inflicted upon us;
Remember the fruits we have bought thanks to this suffering –
Our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage,
Our generosity, the greatness of heart
Which has grown out of all of this, and when
They come to judgment let all the fruits
Which we have borne be their forgiveness.
This is the path that Jesus walked and talked, the path he called us to, the path he still calls us to.
The command to love God with our whole heart and to love our neighbors as ourselves is a simple one, but it is not easy. Nor is it popular; nor is it the way of the world. But it is possible, and it is the path, as disciples of Jesus Christ,
to which we are called.