Sermon preached by Rev. Mark Thompson
Lansing Central United Methodist Church
March 18, 2018
When I was serving in lower west Michigan, I participated in a spiritual awakening seminar. One of the exercises toward becoming more attune to the spiritual movement in and through the participants involved painting. I used the medium of chalk to create what I called an icon… a drawing that points beyond itself to something mystical.
I was given strange looks when it was my turn to give a caption to the drawing that described the spiritual meaning of it. I said something like “The God in me sees the divine in me.” I recall one woman’s look was telling me that I had blasphemed. The instructor, a certified Spiritual Director nodded his head appreciatively as I shared about my drawing.
I am one who agrees with Richard Rohr, a spiritual guide of the Francian Oder of the Catholic church. He wrote
This life journey has led me to love mystery and not feel the need to change it or make it un-mysterious. This has put me at odds with many other believers I know who seem to need explanations for everything.
Rev. Alan Brehm, agrees with that. He wrote in a blog on the Romans 12 passage:
I think many people in our society may be looking for God in all the wrong places. They look for God in the “perfect” church, which tends to be very large, with a smorgasbord of programs so broad that everyone in the family can find something they like. Others look for God in some spectacular, supernatural experience—whether a “miracle” or a special vision, or a unique calling. Others look for God by turning inward and shutting out “the world” as a dangerous place full of hostile people. But I don’t think any of those places are the place to look for God. I think we are meant to look for God in the ordinary compassion we share with the people around us.
Rev. William Loader, a minister of the Uniting Church in Australia and emeritus professor of New Testament at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia writes
Paul is doing more than focusing on a common goal or asserting a common value. He goes on to speak about how we shape our lives (12:2). Paul never saw being a Christian as a life membership on a roll somewhere. It was always entry into a relationship and growth in that relationship. Paul is always thinking about what shapes people’s lives. It is another way of speaking of one’s god. In his day – and certainly in ours – there are many people who count themselves as Christian, but are shaped by the prevailing values of those around them in a way that undoes anything that Christ might have wanted in their lives. They reflect particular national, political or social values, sometimes not even knowing they stand under such influence. They can even call some of these values “Christian”. But there is no engagement with what is at the heart of Christ’s message.
So, what is the heart of Christ’s message: Love the lord your god with all your heart, mind and soul; love your neighbor as yourself. Spoken as the mind heart of a true mystic…someone who gets it.
There is a great need for mystics to be listened to in this time of our world history
To some extent, we are all mystics…some acknowledge that, others don’t. I use the word mystic to reflect a person who is contemplative, searching for the essence of life, purpose for life, meaning of life, God…
In his work entitled “9 CHARACTERISTICS OF THE MYSTICAL EXPERIENCE,” Nateo Sol shares these insights into what some of you will relate to. I will share only a few of them.
GRATITUDE: An experience of ecstatic feeling comes from an immense sense of gratitude. This gratitude is an overwhelming sense of awe at “your” insignificance in comparison to the vastness of existence.
LIFE IS SEEN AS SACRED: In fact, your sense of gratitude is so vast that you feel almost undeserving of having the opportunity to experience such a miracle. You develop a new sense of respect for the sacredness of life that allows you to be here.
YOU UNDERSTAND PARADOX: [A person moves from seeing themselves as separate from others and all of creation. There is a sense of being connected / a part of the existence of all of creation. This new reality becomes comfortable and inviting.]
THE EXPERIENCE IS INDESCRIBABLE: The overwhelming magnitude of emotions and intuitive understanding you embody makes the attempt to even describe it feel limited by language and insulting to the depth of the experience.
THE EXPERIENCE IS TEMPORARY: The very nature of a mystical experience is its transience. Eventually you end up returning back to your habitual way of life, but the experience changes something deep inside.
THE EXPERIENCE IS LIFE-CHANGING: After experiencing such a state, suddenly death isn’t as scary as it used to be, and the beliefs or ambitions that you once held to be so important immediately lose their meaning. In fact, the mystical experience often awakens a thirst to try to bring as much of that experience back into our regular day-to-day lives as possible.
https://lonerwolf.com/mystical-experience/ by Mateo Sol
I venture to say that in such moments, the person is in the holy of holies, as one experiences the divine presence of God in a most powerful way. No wonder we crave such experiences.
Richard Rohr, in his book What, writes
“We cannot attain the presence of God because we’re already totally in the presence of God. What’s absent is awareness”
The awareness of which Rohr speaks is simply a moment apart from where we are at this very moment. How can we attain such moments more frequently?
Again, to quote Richard Rohr, this time from his book Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self,
“Jesus did not come to change the mind of God about humanity but to change the mind of humanity about God. It is “simple and beautiful;” as Einstein said great truth would always have to be.”
What was the big change that Jesus has taught us. To quote some of his words:
Once Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.”
Matthew 5: 13-16
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
“You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
You see, this is not “new age” mumbo jumbo. In fact, it goes beyond Christian teaching.
Rev. Alan Brehm, pastor of Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, Nebraska, writes in his blog entitled The Waking Dreamer,
One of the primary teachings of Buddhism is reflected in the greeting, “Namasté.” It’s a greeting that means, “the light within me honors the light within you.” It seems to me that someone who greets you by saying “Namasté” is in effect saying, “the goodness in me acknowledges and honors the goodness in you.”
When you have that kind of mindset about other people, it changes the way you relate to people. In a very real sense, when you can recognize and honor the goodness in others, you are recognizing and honoring the fact that we all belong to one another.
This mindset changes the way you live, and in a very real sense, it changes you. It reminds me again of St. Paul talking about being “transformed by the renewing of your mind” so that you may discern the will of God. What could be more appropriate to the will of God than relating to everyone you meet in a way that expresses God’s compassion for us all!
When we look at everyone we encounter as a beloved brother or sister, and recognize that all the goodness in us is also present in them, we find that God is there. When we relate to the people around us with compassion, we find God’s compassion surrounding us all. That’s where we look for God.
So, let the mystic in each of us, that craving to experience God in the moments of our lives, in our church, in our community, nation, world… let us have mystical ears to hear the word of God spoken to us again. Listen for what pulls at your spirit, a word, a phrase, a sentence. Hang on to that which draws you deeper into that place of mystery and wonder. For that might very well be God’s message to you this very day… the message that will deepen your journey with the divine presence in all of creation.
Romans 12: 2-12
So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.
I’m speaking to you out of deep gratitude for all that God has given me, and especially as I have responsibilities in relation to you. Living then, as every one of you does, in pure grace, it’s important that you not misinterpret yourselves as people who are bringing this goodness to God. No, God brings it all to you. The only accurate way to understand ourselves is by what God is and by what he does for us, not by what we are and what we do for him.
In this way we are like the various parts of a human body. Each part gets its meaning from the body as a whole, not the other way around. The body we’re talking about is Christ’s body of chosen people. Each of us finds our meaning and function as a part of his body. But as a chopped-off finger or cut-off toe we wouldn’t amount to much, would we? So since we find ourselves fashioned into all these excellently formed and marvelously functioning parts in Christ’s body, let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t.
If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face.
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
From The New Zealand Prayer Book
Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is Heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your Heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on Earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and testing, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.
For that which, then, I thought was right…
have mercy, God.
For that which, now, I regret…
forgive me, God.
For that which, hence, I know not what to do…
guide me, God.
Come and rest, come and listen.
Know that grace, forgiveness and guidance are available to you
at each and every moment that we turn to receive them.
Thanks be to God.