Life in the Shockingly Important Community

Sermon on Mark 9:38-50 for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, September 27, 2015

Mark 9:38-50
John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterwards to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

“If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea. If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

“For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Our quest is to follow the path of life that Jesus laid out for us.  So, to follow the Jesus-path, we study Jesus.  We study his teaching, we study his lifestyle, and we study the people who wrote about Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 9.23.23 AMJesus.

So, understanding Jesus is important to us.  But Jesus does not live in Gulf Shores or even in the United States, and certainly did not live in our time.  So his teaching and his life is contextually situated in quite a different time and place.  He spoke a different language.  So, we get at Jesus by translation and interpretation – there just is no alternative.

Apparently, Jesus was an effective communicator.  He attracted large crowds who gathered, yes for his healing ministry, but also specifically to hear him teach.

What do we know about his teaching style?  He loved stories, which we call parables, he loved nature illustrations, like “lilies of the field, birds of the air, and fish of the sea.” And he used hyperbole, or exaggeration.

Jesus also used humor.  The idea of a camel going through the eye of a needle, for example, probably got a chuckle or two.  Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 9.25.49 AM

Jesus: Exaggeration and Humor

Jesus uses both exaggeration and humor in our text, but it may be a bit lost in translation, so we will look at it closely.  Again, this is important to us, because we are on the Jesus-path.

There is always a risk when you use humor, that it will not be understood as humor.  There is also a risk with exaggeration, that someone will take you literally.

We just had the washing-machine repair man over.  He told me how dangerous it was to work on these machines. He had a deep gash on a finger, and explained to me that you have to open up the machine, to get to its parts, and when you do, all of their razor sharp edges are exposed.  He said, “all of these machines are made by one company: Gillette.”  I laughed.  Imagine, a razor-blade brand making washing machines!   It was both exaggeration and humor.   But, he was saying something true.  He had the deep gash on his finger and the stitches to prove it.

But, anyway, Jesus used humor and exaggeration as teaching tools, and people have been misunderstanding him ever since.  We will look at how he uses these rhetorical devices, but first, just so we can all be clear, let me say how I understand the conclusion:

The point of this teaching is that this community is important.  This community is crucial.  Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 9.29.51 AM

  • It is in this community that you will experience the presence of God.
  • It is in this community that you will become aware of the love of God for you.
  • It is in this community that you will experience your identity as a beloved child of God, a person of value.
  • In this community, you will come to know yourself as both fallible, but also as forgiven.
  • In this community you will find encouragement to stay on the difficult but beautiful Jesus-path; the path of peace, the path of reconciliation, the path of radical welcome and hospitality.
  • In this community you will find hope and meaning.
  • In this community you will find partners to be engaged with in service and projects of mercy and compassion.
  • This community is where your life on earth will be celebrated and remembered when it comes to an end.

This community is crucial.  So, in plain English (wink) Jesus says, in conclusion:

“be at peace with one another.”

The Problem of Being Human

The problem is that every community of people is a human community, and we all have our faults, our issues, our dark sides.  We all have our places of immaturity.  We all have wounds that we still carry around.  We all have life experiences – some have had really difficult experiences – and we bring all of that with us when we come together as a community.

So, inevitably, there will be misunderstandings from time to time.  There will be times we hurt each other.  There will be pain caused to each other.  That is why forgiveness is such a high value in this community.  We pray, every time we meet, that  God will only forgive us to the extent that we practice forgiveness – it is that important.

If this community is going to accomplish its purpose of being all of those crucially important things I just described, we have to all be very intentional about our life together.  And that is the subject of Jesus’ teaching, and the point of his humor and exaggeration here.

So he begins, calling us his “little ones.”

“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.”

Jesus has spoken of the importance of children in the community, but in this case, he is talking about his little flock, his Screen Shot 2015-09-26 at 10.27.30 AMcommunity of Jesus-followers.  It is essential, he teaches, that we not do anything to trip up each other.  We should rather wish to drown ourselves than to be a stumbling block to each other.

Nobody misses the exaggeration here.  The word for millstone is the huge one that the donkey pushes around to grind the wheat into flour.  If you tried to hang it around your neck it would crush you like a bug before you got to the sea to drown yourself in.  So you see, humor, as well as exaggeration here.

But the humor and exaggeration is to make a point: the community of us “little ones” is crucially important: we should all rather die than mess it up.

Who is in this community?  By our very nature, as a Jesus-path following community, we are an open community.  We are willing to be open to everyone.  If you are not against us, Jesus teaches, you are for us.  Our welcome is extended.  Our door is open.   Jesus had to correct John who told him about the exorcist they wanted to shut down.  No, Jesus explained: it is not we who shut the door; we are not that kind of community.

“Cut if off…”

So then, Jesus offers some humorous, exaggerated illustrations to make the point about how important this community is.  He offers a number “if” phrases followed by “causes you to stumble”, followed by graphic, gruesome advice.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; …And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; …And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out”

Now, we are at church, and in mixed company, and children are present.  So we will not talk about the likely double entendres here.  Suffice it to say that all of them make the same point: it is crucially important to preserve the integrity of this community by our self-disciplined lives together.  We would rather poke out one of our eyes than, by our lack of self-control, cause pain to another person in this little flock.

How do I know there is humor here?  Well, I think the phrase that followed each of these graphic images was meant to be funny.  Jesus says three times, with variation, it would be better to enter life, the life of the kingdom of God as a lame or a blinded than to miss it through inappropriate, harm-causing behavior.  Why is that funny?

Because every Jewish person hearing Jesus would know that the dominant image of people in the kingdom of God is that they are healed and whole.  The lame can walk, the blind receive their sight: there are no people on crutches in the kingdom, because they have been restored.

Now, of course this is not literal.  In fact it is precisely our love for, and care for the differently-abled or wounded among us that brings healing and restoration to them.

Hell?  NoScreen Shot 2015-09-26 at 10.42.22 AM

So now we are ready to hear the final bit of absurdly exaggerated rhetoric here.  Jesus talks about the alternative to life in the kingdom; it is being cast into hell.

Now, if you have come to bible study, you know that the word translated “hell” here is, in Greek, “Gehenna.”  And you also know that Gehenna is a real place.  It is a valley, just over the wall of the city of Jerusalem.  Most likely, in Jesus’ day it was a burning trash dump.  Certainly, that valley had a horrible reputation.  The bible tells us that unfaithful Israelite people burned their children there, sacrificing them to the Canaanite god Molech.

It was also a place dead bodies were dumped during the Babylonian siege of the 6th century after they ran out of places to bury them.  So Gehenna was a place of the dead, a place of fire, and the worst possible place you can imagine ending up.

And, by the time of Jesus, some Greek-influenced people used it as a metaphor for the Greek version of the after-life.

Jesus did not embrace that Greek view of the after life.  This too is gross exaggeration, and perhaps even humor.   But it is for a serious effect.  It would be as bad as going to the Greek version of hell to mess up the life of the community through inappropriate behavior.

And some of you have been a part of communities that were places where harm was done instead of healing; where instead of being more aware of the love of God, of forgiveness, of goodness, the community practiced shaming, condemnation, and control – even some practice thought control (at least “beliefs” control).   And the results are tragic.  It can ruin people’s lives.

The Community of the Jesus-PathScreen Shot 2015-09-26 at 10.44.10 AM

How different is the community of those on the Jesus-path.  This is the path of people who are focused on how we can bring a cup of cold water to each other.  It is the community of people who are well seasoned, who have enough salt in ourselves that we can do the  difficult work of creating and maintaining peace with one another.   And then, as a united community, we find ways of offering water to the thirsty all around us.

Jesus did not come to threaten us with hell.  That whole pagan notion comes to us from Greek and Roman mythology through Plato and Virgil.  God is good; not partially good and partially something else, but totally good.  And God shows up to us as we live in community with each other.   We experience the goodness of God together, as a community.  It is crucially important that we honor and respect each other.  It is essential that we forgive each other.  It is our joy to bless each other with our peaceful words, our mutuality, and our openness.

This is the community that is God’s way of loving and healing the world; the world’s people, and the planet itself.  We are the hands and feet of Christ, the body of Christ, through which the world knows that God loves them.  From the refugees fleeing Syria to the children who show up for tutoring, we are the way God shows justice, mercy, compassion and healing.  It is important.  It is worth risking misunderstanding by means of exaggerated figures of speech to make the point.  So, let us be the people who get the point, and live the Jesus-path.

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Life in Perspective: Profit and Los

Sermon on Mark 8:27-38 for Pentecost +16, Year B, September 13, 2015

Mark 8:27-38
Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.13.47 AM

This past week, one of the presidential candidates got in trouble for using a song at one of his rallies without the permission of the band who recorded it.  The band, REM was not at all pleased that their song, “The End of the World as We Know It” would be used by a person whose politics are about 180 degrees opposite theirs.

Is it the end of the world as we know it?  As you know, I love history – although I am not sure why, because so much of it is so depressing, but anyway, it strikes me that the world we had known has ended with great frequency.

Every war ends the world as it was known before.  We were just watching a documentary about the enormous refugee crisis that followed the First World War.  That war ended the Ottoman Empire on one side and the Austro-Hungarian Empire on the other.  It changed the maps of Europe, the Middle East and Africa.  It was the end of the world as it had been known.

Those changes set up the conflicts of the 20th and now 21st centuries.  Those conflicts continue right up to the present day in which ISIS is fighting to get the old pre-WWI caliphate back.  Refugees by the millions are again on the move.  It is truly the end of the worlds they had known before.

What are we called to be and to do in such times as these?

Wanting the End of the World as they knew itScreen Shot 2015-09-12 at 10.45.57 AM

As Christians, we take our cues from Jesus. Jesus was similarly living in the end of the world as his Israelite community had known it.  Actually, a lot of people wanted the end of the world that they knew; they wanted the Romans gone.   They wanted their old Israelite kingdom back.

There was good reason to want the Romans out.  Rome was a bitterly oppressive imperial power. Roman tribute taxes were oppressive, and their collection system amounted to legalized extortion – and none of it went for schools or health care.

The Romans were not at all reluctant to publicly torture people to death for any and every perceived opposition.  The method they used was called crucifixion: it was as slow and painful a death as had yet been invented.  Rome crucified thousands and thousands.  It was their favorite method of deterrence.

Profiting from, and supporting this Roman occupation, was the aristocracy of Israel, the land-owning class comprised of “the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes.”  They were also the people running the temple, with its additional taxes and obligations.

Jesus Preaches the Kingdom

In this context we find Jesus.  And what is his theme?  The Kingdom.  It is not at all surprising that people flocked to Jesus.  It is also not surprising that they misunderstood him.  When people heard the word “kingdom” they immediately got the idea that Jesus was starting the revolution, as they expected messiah would do.

It is true that Jesus had the mission of bringing to an end to the world that they had known, but not in the way most of them expected.  Jesus was, to be sure, in absolute and defiant opposition to the injustice of the Roman system and opposition to the unjust oppressive Israelite aristocracy who were running it locally.  But Jesus’ opposition was not violent.

As much as Jesus was opposed to the injustice of Rome and the Jewish elite, he was equally opposed to something deeper.  Jesus wanted to bring to an end the world of the violent God of sacrifice and retribution.  Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.36.17 AM

For Jesus, God was not known best by a temple and an animal sacrifice.  God is known best when two or three people gather together, and in Jesus’ name, break bread together in a bond of inclusive fellowship.

For Jesus, this is the kingdom of God; a new family – so perhaps we should say kin-dom of God.  A family comprised of people who had been strangers to each other, but who welcomed one another, and became each other’s support system.

Now, it is true that this kindom vision had a very practical side.  Jesus knew, as anyone could see, that violent revolution was coming.  He opposed it, but he knew it was on the way.  So, when it happened, he knew what the Romans would do to suppress it, and he knew it would be brutally violent.  People who followed his non-violent way would desperately need each other as they tried to stay alive.

But in a profound sense, our lives, our deepest experience of what it means to be human, our most profound sense of meaning and purpose still depend on our willingness to embrace Jesus’ kindom vision of a reconciled community.

We were made for each other.  We were made to love and serve each other.  We were not meant to be isolated autonomous individuals or even privately barricaded nuclear families.  The dream of the gated Hollywood mansion style of life is not paradise; unless you are a divorce lawyer.  Rather paradise is the vision of a common table around which are gathered all kinds of common folks, breaking bread and sharing wine together without distinctions.

Anyway, back to the gospel.  Jesus is curious if his disciples, who have been pretty blind to his kindom mission have opened their eyes yet.  So he asks who they think he is.  This is where it gets odd.  They bring out some traditional answers – Elijah, one of the expected prophets.  But then Peter blurts out

“You are the Messiah.”

The weird part is that we know from chapter one that that is the right answer, but Jesus treats it as a mistake, sternly telling him to keep it down.

Then, Jesus talks about himself.  But instead of using the title Messiah, he switches to another title from the Hebrew Bible, calling himself “the Son of Man.”  And every good Jewish child knows that the Son of Man is going to go up to God, the Ancient of Days, and receive from God the right to rule as king; he gets a kingdom.  That is from the book of Daniel.

So, is Jesus ready to be king and put the Romans to the sword after all?  No!  Just the opposite.  Jesus has rejected the notion of a violent God and of violence.  But he is still opposed to injustice.  So the only inevitable conclusion is that if you are going to oppose the violence of injustice non-violently, you will inevitably suffer.

So Jesus predicts the obvious.  He is going to face opposition from the ones with the vested interests in the unjust system, and they will use the means at their disposal to shut him down.  They will kill him.

“the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.”

Peter is not prepared for this, which leads to his confrontation with Jesus, but Jesus will not be dissuaded.  If you want to fight Rome with violence, even if you won, you would loose.  You would have sold your soul to violence for the sake of a material kingdom.  That would be the greatest loss you could bargain for.

“For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their [essence] life [“soul”]?”

Real life, a life of meaning and purpose, a life that is truly and fully human is a life lived not for self, but for others.  Not for the ego-props of status, power, money, fame, material possessions, but a life that has learned to say no to the ego, no to the false self, no to the small self.  A life lived saying yes to our true identity as children of God, one with God; at one with the God who manifests God’s life in the totality of the world God has made, and every creature in it.

Here is how Jesus put it:

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”

Of course it is a paradox: that is how we know it is true.  It is the non-dual thinking that mystics are capable of.  Loosing life for others is actually gain, while the self-concerned life is loss.

The old paradigm of the God who is opposed to the world of humanity is simply wrong.  For Jesus and Jesus’ followers, it is the end of the world as we knew it.  It is the beginning of the world where the miraculous happens as we are open to finding God in all of the world that traces its common source back to God.

Transforming the Cross

So, in an act of ultimate trust, Jesus will continue to oppose injustice and the inhuman systems that cause such suffering, and he will loose his life in the process.  His willingness not to be dissuaded, even by brutal crucifixion, will take away the one tool that Rome depends on; the deterrence of the death penalty.  Take that away, and they loose.

Jesus’ living, life-giving spirit cannot be killed by Rome.  The cross, their greatest tool of oppression, will come to symbolize the coming of the Son of Man in power, breaking the threat of death, giving rise to new life; the kindom of God; God’s will being “done on earth as it is in heaven”.

This is the life we are called to.  The life lived in the present Spirit of the risen Christ who calls us all into the family of God.  As children of God, members of this diverse family, we come to experience the presence of God in and through each other.  As we break bread together, share life together, journey together, we come to know God at work in our lives.

As we pray and worship, we become alive to the Spirit alive in us.  And as we let go of our egos, our false selves, we open up to the world where God is present in the victims, the refugees, “the least of these.”

Our World as We Know it Now

I have recently been reading a book by Thich Nhat Hanh called “Living Buddha, Living Christ.”   I think he gets Jesus better than a lot of our politicians do.  He says that for Christians,

“The teachings [of Jesus] must be practiced as they were lived by Jesus” (p. 70).  

I think Pope Francis gets Jesus too.  He has recently called on all parishes and all Christian communities in Europe to each Screen Shot 2015-09-12 at 1.26.47 PMsponsor one refugee family.  It is a tall order, but the need is huge.  There are already 4 million registered Syrian refugees.  Turkey alone has two million.

Germany is expected to receive 800,000 refugees.  Our country has just announced that the administration intends to take 10,000.  This is a pittance, especially compared with our size, our capacity, and our often-repeated public assertions of Christian values.

Even this tiny number will be opposed, I am sure, by people telling us it will be the end of the world as we know it.  Why is it that so many politicians hire the Chicken Little political consulting firm?  And why do so many smart people get seduced into thinking the sky is falling?  It is beyond me.

But I wonder: if our community here in Gulf Shore were given the opportunity, would we be willing to sponsor a refugee family from Syria?   Would we be willing to help find them a place to live, get them set up with appliances and furniture?  Would we help them get the kids enrolled in school and make sure they had adequate food and clothing?  Would we help make sure they had transportation to doctors and to the grocery store until they could get themselves settled in new jobs?

I actually believe we would be willing.  But I want to hear from you.  I want to be able to have a conversation with session and tell them what I have heard from you all.  Then I want us to pray about how we can respond.

It may be that we will not have that opportunity to personally sponsor a refugee family.  There are, nevertheless, ways we can concretely respond right now, even though, unfortunately, it is help given at a distance from the real humans who are suffering.

But help is needed.  And we are going to be part of that help.

How?  One way is this: “Gift of the Heart Kits”

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Being the Community of the Baptized

Being the Community of the Baptized

Sermon on Mark 1:9-11for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B, September 6, 2015

Mark 1:9-11

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John iScreen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.49.02 AMn the Jordan.   And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.  And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper, or Communion, as we will today, what are we doing?  We are enacting an enormous feast by means of one tiny bit of bread and a small amount of juice.  We reduce a banquet down to its most basic elements: something to eat and something to drink, shared together from a common table.  The feast is represented sacramentally by these small signs.

So, in baptism, a tiny amount of water is the sacramental sign of something much bigger.  We should at least imagine a pool, or even a great body of water, if not an ocean.  The little bit of water we use to sprinkle on the heads of the baptized sacramentally represents a deep pool of water.  It means not one, but two things at once. Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.51.08 AM

First, it is a bath; a cleansing.  Baptism is the sign that we are clean before God.  White is the color of baptism, a symbol of purity.  We are forgiven because

“God is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.”  

Baptism is more than the sign of a cleansing bath, it is also a sign of dying and rising.  Think of your experience of jumping into water on a sunny day.  Above the water everyone is making noise, having fun, laughing, talking, music plays.  But the instant you go under water, it is almost completely still.  Silent like the grave.  Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 11.53.16 AM

And then when your head comes up again back into the day, all the sounds of life return.  The few drops of water we receive at baptism stand for the pool, and going down, we die; coming back up is, then, a resurrection to new life.  It is like being born anew; being born again.

None of us baptized ourselves.  In fact we cannot self-baptize.  It is something we receive.  This too is important.  Just as we receive the water of baptism, so we can only receive the new life that God gives.  That is what grace means: simply receiving what we could never have laid claim to.  It is a gift.

But maybe I am going to fast.  Why would we need to be given baptism, the sign of dying and rising?  Why is death part of the picture, and what is the new life that we are born into?

Self Consciousness
Screen Shot 2015-09-05 at 12.01.31 PM
Think of it this way: we are all self-conscious; self-aware.  We evolved a capacity to see ourselves as selves.  Did this happen because we developed a brain with two chambers, a bi-cameral mind, as some have suggested, one side listening to the other side talking?  Perhaps that is how it happened; but anyway, it happened.

Developing self-consciousness or self-awareness happens to each of us individually in infancy.  When we are born, we do not first realize that we are separate from the world.  But before we can speak, we begin to understand our separateness, first from our mothers, and then from the rest of the world.

For those of you who are coming to the Wednesday evening program, the things I will say now are a preview of one of the best chapters of Marcus Borg’s book, “The Heart of Christianity.”

Separation Anxiety: Self-Concern
As Borg says, the birth of self-consciousness is the birth of the separated self.  And as soon as we become aware of our separateness, we feel anxious about getting our needs met.  What if I cry and no bottle comes?  We become self-concerned.

Self-concern becomes anxiety.  As we grow, we begin to be influenced by the world around us.  Will we succeed in life?  Will we be attractive to others?  Will we have enough to live on?  Are we enough?

The world becomes for us a place of judgment and alienation.  All of the fragile ways we learn to define ourselves by how we measure up, the groups we belong to,  the ideas we support and defend, these are components of what spiritual leaders call our “false self,” our “small self,” our ego.  And it is fragile, which is why it is always defended so defensively.  And even when intact, it is never enough to give us a deep sense of purpose or meaning.  Ask rich and famous, beautiful people.  There must be more.

This sense that we are separate selves who must vouchsafe our own standing and existence in the face of competition and danger is a state into which we have fallen.   This is what we experience as lostness.  Who has not felt like the lost lamb, on her own, outside of the protective fold, separate and alone?  This is the experience we all have of being in exile, away from home and unable to return.

In this state of separateness and lostness, the only thing that our self-awareness does for us is make us wonder who we really are?  Why are we here?  What is our purpose?  Who are we?  What is this “I” that I carry around in me, that both is “me” and somehow leaves me feeling uncomfortable in my own skin?

Baptism as DeathScreen Shot 2015-09-05 at 12.06.43 PM

This is why baptism is a death.  This old separated anxious identity needs to die so that a new identity may be born.  So the language of the New Testament is full of language of dying and being born again, death and resurrection.  It is the metaphor for personal transformation.

And this is why the cross is at the center of Christianity.  The cross is a place of death that opens the possibility of new life.  Death to the old identity of separateness and lostness, and resurrection to the new identity as beloved children of God.

Jesus went down into the water as John baptized him, and coming up, he heard the voice of God saying, “You are my beloved son.”  Paul tells us that in baptism, we are baptized into Christ and therefore we too are now beloved sons and daughters:

“in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through trust.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.”   (Gal. 3:26-27)

We who are baptized are baptized into Christ’s death, and raised with Christ to a brand new identity: the identity of children of God. That is our true self, so much more resilient and free than our fragile false self.

OnenessScreen Shot 2015-09-05 at 12.13.20 PM
So, we are not separate selves.  We are one with God.  It turns out that the sense of separateness and lostness was an illusion.  Being baptized into Christ means that we are one with God, and one with each other.  We are now the community of the baptized, and there is no separation that makes any sense anymore.  As Paul puts it,

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  (Gal. 3)

In baptism, we die to the old self-concerned self, and rise as a part of the body of Christ.  Paul often spoke of being “in Christ” but sometimes spoke of being “in the Spirit.”  The two mean virtually the same.  We live “in Christ” by the Spirit of Christ who is living in each of us.

Paying Attention to the SpiritBaptism window

As we pay attention to the Spirit’s work in our lives, as we practice making space for the Spirit in our minds through meditation, prayer, and other mindfulness practices, we see the Spirit transforming us from self-concern to mindful-connectedness and oneness, to other-concern.

We begin to feel other people’s pain.  We notice suffering.  We become aware of the needs of others.  We become people of compassion.  We become the hands and feet, the eyes and ears of Jesus in the world, reaching out to listen, to feed, to heal, to educate, to rescue, to defend and to advocate for people in need.  This is what the community of the baptized does naturally.

The Way

So we see that baptism is a sign that we died with Christ, and now are alive in Christ.  Christianity is then, a way of life.  A path.  It is the Jesus path, the path that promotes life and enjoys life, reconnected with God and open to the Spirit, re-connected to a community of fellow travelers, and re-connected to the world.

The word “religion” comes from the word for ligament: re-ligamentation; getting re-connected; union; becoming one.  No more separation.  Waking up to the reality of our truest identity as beloved children of God.  Religion is what we do together: we re-enact our connectedness in this new family.

The Purpose of the Baptized

As the community of the baptized, we come to understand our purpose: that we are not here for ourselves, but that God made us for each other.  We are here to make a difference; to be a part of what God is doing to redeem the world; to heal and restore the world; to bring light to places that were dark, to bring joy to places of despair, to bring our presence to the lonely, our embrace to the guilty and our welcoming smile to those who have been shamed and shunned.

And the beauty of it is, as St. Francis so beautifully said, “in giving we receiving, in pardoning we are pardoned, and in dying we are born to eternal life.”  Our joy, our sense of purpose and meaning blossom in us as we reach out to others in compassion and love.  That is what it means to be the community of the baptized.

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