Dear God, I Love You Passionately

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
10My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
13The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
14O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
15Catch us the foxes,
the little foxes,
that ruin the vineyards—
for our vineyards are in blossom.’
16My beloved is mine and I am his;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
17Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
or a young stag on the cleft mountain.

Song of Solomon 2:8-17

 

One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ 29Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” 31The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’

Mark 12:28-31

People have been writing love poetry since the beginning of time. The Song of Songs, Song of Solomon,  is one of the most beautiful parts of our Bible. It has been interpreted as metaphorical and symbolic love relationship as well as a literal love relationship between two people having a passionate love affair. Some scholars have reasoned that it was about a kind of symbolic love, especially the love of Israel or the Jewish people and God. In this light, it becomes a writing about the Jewish people’s love of God, and Gods love for them

The Song of Songs is considered by some to be the most important Biblical text for the Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical movement beginning in the 14th or 15th century – some say earlier. They believed that God is both matter and sprit, and that love of God is much like erotic love between people. Sacred erotica is metaphorically expressed, a kind of female love essence, which is a symbol of the Jewish people, and the male essence is a symbol of God Himself.

In our reading from Mark, Jesus of course calls us to also love God passionately with all of ourselves, our heart soul and mind. Jesus was a passionate lover of God. How much time do we permit ourselves to feel and experience, to become aware of the passionate love we have for this mystery we call God, or creation, or whatever you want to call all that is sacred? Valentine’s Day is next Saturday, and I invite us all to think of it as not only a day for romantic love but a day to celebrate love of God – of everyone in our church. It can be a traumatic day for single people, I think. I remember being single and not having a husband or a boyfriend and feeling like a misfit, somewhat embarrassed to have to go through the day without a romantic date or gift or romantic sentient. In our culture many of us feel as if we are not complete and don’t even belong if we do not have a partner.

I invite you, whether you are in a romantic relationship or not, to become aware of the passionate love you experience and to open your hearts and prepare for Valentine’s Day as a day to love God and everyone passionately. Not just romantic love but phila love, meaning a love like we have for our brothers and sisters, and agape love, love of the Divine. I suggest we all write God a love letter.

I have a few poems or love letters to God written by famous lovers of God through history that I hope will inspire you.

From Meister Elkhart (1260-1328, German):

All beings

Are words of God,

His music, His

Art.

Sacred books we are, for the infinite camps in our souls.

Every act reveals God and expands His Being.

I know that may be hard to comprehend.

All creatures are doing their best

To help God in His birth

Of Himself.

Enough talk for the night.

He is laboring in me;

I need to be silent for awhile,

Worlds are forming

In my heart.

From Hafiz, or sahs-ud-dinMuhammad Hafiz (1320-1389, Persian):

“A famous story about Hafiz, told many ways, says: When he was twenty-one he was delivering bread to a wealthy noble family and glimpsed a remarkabl7 beautiful girl on a terrace of the home. He fell desperately in love with her, but she had already been promised to another. Still, he began writing and singing out poems for her that expressed his longing and adoration. The poems were so touching that many in Shiraz came to know of them, and they were sung to other’s sweethearts. Out of desperation to win her, Hafiz undertook a forty-night vigil at the tomb of a famous saint, for legend had it that anyone who could accomplish this feat would win their heart’s desire. Indeed, after a Herculean effort, upon completion of the fortieth night of vigil it is said the archangel Gabriel appeared before hafiz and asked him what he desired. Gazing upon the radiant beauty of Gods angel, Hafiz forgot his human love, and the thought rushed into his mind:” What must God’s beauty be like—my soul needs to see that, I need to see God.” Gabriel then revealed to him the whereabouts of a spiritual teacher …” (Love Poems from God, Daniel James Ladinsky, page 151)

Hafiz gave us some of the worlds most beautiful sacred love poetry.

THE CHRIST’S BREATH

I am

a hole in a flute

that the Christ’s ’ breath moves through—

listen to this music.

Or this passionate love poem to God:

POSITIONS OF LOVE

There are so many positions of love:

Each curve on a

branch,

the thousand ways your eyes can hold us,

the infinite shapes each mind

can draw,

the spring orchestra of scents and sounds wafting through the air,

the currents of light combusting like

passionate

lips,

the revolution of the universe’s skirt, whose folds

contain other worlds,

our every sigh that falls against

His inconceivably close,

omnipresent,

divine

body.

IF GOD INVITED YOU TO A PARTY

If God

Invited you to a party

and said,

“Everyone in the ballroom tonight will

be my special guest,”

how would you then treat them when you arrived?

Indeed, indeed!

And hafiz knows that there is no one in

this world who is not standing upon

His jeweled dance

floor.

This is a poem about the romantic love of a lover that touches me entirely:

THE WOMAN I LOVE

Because the Woman I love lies inside of you,

I lean as close to your body with my words as I can—

and I think of you al the time,

dear pilgrim.

Because the One I love goes with you wherever you go,

Hafiz will always be

near.

If you sat before me, wayfarer, with your aura bright from

your many charms,

my lips could resist rushing to you, but my eyes, my eyes

can no longer hide the wondrous fact of who

you really are.

The Beautiful One whom I adore

has pitched His royal tent inside of you,

so I will always lean my heart

As close to our soul

as I can.

St. Catherine of Siena (1347-1380, Italian), began loving God at an early age.

“When Catherine was seven years old her longing to wed god became so intense she left home alone to find a cave in the forest of Leccto where a known settlements of hermits was said to live … During the night, whilein prayer, Catherine felt a great uneasiness come over her body, and her limbs became numb. Feeling a little frightened, suddenly she heard a divine voice say, ‘How brave you are my child, but let our wedding be later.’ The next thing Catharine knew she was at home in her own bed, no one had missed her, and she was absolutely sure that what had happened was not a dream. The next day she took her brother to the cave and asked him to go inside and see if anything was there. He returned, carrying two sticks Catherine had bound together into a little cross with part of the hem torn from her dress and also the uneaten loaf of bread … [she had brought]. On seeing these, Catherine fell upon her knee with deep thanks and happiness and a faith in God.”

CONSUMED IN GRACE

I first saw God when I was a child, six years of age.

the cheeks of the sun were pale before Him,

and the earth acted as a shy

girl, like me.

Divine light entered my heart from His love

that did never fully wane,

though indeed, dear, I can understand how a person’s

faith can at times flicker,

for what is the mind to do

with something that becomes the mind’s ruin:

a God that consumes us

in His grace.

I have seen what you want;

it is there,

a Beloved of infinite

tenderness.

Catherine and many love poets and mystics have used dancing as a metaphor for their relationship with God, just like we used dancing as a metaphor for a love relationship of give and take, of being a leader and a follower and moving in harmony in a loving partnership recently in our installation worship service.

I WON’T TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER

“I won’t take no for an answer,”

God began to say

to me

When He opened his arms each night

wanting us to

dance.

She experiences God love’s as child and later as a kind of romantic love, and she often wrote of her love for God as a passionate love, like a sexual love between a bride and a bridegroom:

HIS LIPS UPON THE VEIL

He has never left you.

It is just

that your soul is so vast

that just like

the earth in its innocence,

it may think,

“I do not feel my lover’s warmth

against my face right

now.”

But look, dear,

is not the sun reaching down its arms

and always holding a continent

in its light?

God cannot leave us.

It is just that our soul is so vast,

we do not always feel His lips

upon the

veil.

Here is a relationship booster from the poet Rumi for everyone who has been married for so many years you can’t think of anything special to give your spouse or partner. It’s guaranteed to work: Every time your spouse or lover says something stupid, make your eyes light up as if you just heard something brilliant.

And Kabir (1440-1518, Indian) has the cherry to add to last Sunday’s reflection on our reptilian anger. He wrote a poem stating that greatest of love of God is the spiritual practice we all need to develop in controlling our anger:

VISITING HOLY SHRINES

If you circumambulated

every holy shrine

in the world

ten times,

it would not get you to heaven

as quick

as controlling

your anger.

Catherine of Sienna wrote this poem about the unconditional love God has for all of us:

YOUR HAIR, YOUR FACE

What is it

you want to change?

Your hair, your face, your body?

Why?

For God is

in love with all those things

and he might weep

when they are gone.

If you feel lonely on Valentine’s Day, remember what Mary Oliver, a 20th-century American poet, says: we all belong to God’s body of love. She writes, “no matter lonely [you are], the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—over and over announcing your place in the family of things.”

You belong here in this church, this house – or body – of God, and very one of you has a place on Valentine’s Day in the family of things.

Offered for our pleasure this morning by Barbara Crandall:

WILD GEESE

by Mary Oliver


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting–
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

We don’t really have to wait for Valentine’s Day or a birthday to send a love letter or take a few moments to contemplate the passionate love you have for life, another way of saying your love of God. In the business of our lives we all need to offer ourselves an invitation to take the time to be love poets.

I have a birthday card here for Ruth Switzer, who is going to be 102 years old on February 25th. Birthday cards can be like Valentine cards or like love letters – given and received any day of the year. I plan to deliver this birthday card to Ruth on February 25th, and I hope to get signatures and love messages from 102 people who wish her a Happy Birthday. We are so lucky to have the inspiration of Ruth Switzer in our community. She has born before women had the right to vote in this country. We are lucky to have her grace, wisdom, her prayers, and loving presence. We need to thank her for her service to our church and to God’s creation and for being an inspiration for all of us to take good care of ourselves. She is not just going to be 102 years old, for she will be 102 and is still alert, loving, concerned for others, steadfast in her care for others, appreciative and joyful in being a part of the world of seasons, birds, flowers and nature. Ruth is still active in her prayer life and has a solid foundation that her devotion and love and appreciation for this mystery we call God has lived on for 100-plus years.

THE SANCTUARY

by Catherine of Sienna

It could be said that God’s foot is so vast

that this entire earth is but a

field on His

toe.

And all the forests in this world

came from the same root of

just a single hair

of His.

What then is not a sanctuary?

Where then can I not kneel

and pray at a shrine

made holy by His

presence?

Rumi (1207-1273) was one of the greatest poets ever born in Persia, in what is now Afghanistan. He wrote about how we can use everything in our lives to become more devoted to our love of God.

PAY HOMAGE

If God said,

“Rumi, pay homage to everything

that has helped you enter my arms,”

there would not be one experience of my life,

not one thought, not one feeling,

not one act, I would not bow to.

So I invite all of us to be like Ruth Switzer and to use every moment of our lives to pay homage and to bow to be more appreciative of God’s love and creation and our part in it. May we fall in love en masse as a church community, as we see the God within one another.

Phila love, or brother-sister love, and agape love – Divine love – can be deeper and more satisfying than erotic, romantic love. May we remember in our daily lives to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds – to be like the young stag in Song of Solomon:

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.


‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come …

Let us sing together in this body of God, our church, filled with the phila love of brothers and sisters and sing our closing hymn of our agape love of God.

Amen

I am What I Will Be

The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering. So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey—the home of the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.”

But Moses said to God, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”

And God said, “I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: When you have brought the people out of Egypt, you will worship God on this mountain.”

Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.'”

Exodus 3:7-14

And He was saying, “The kingdom of God is like a man who casts seed upon the soil; and he goes to bed at night and gets up by day, and the seed sprouts and grows–how, he himself does not know. The soil produces crops by itself; first the blade, then the head, then the mature grain in the head. “But when the crop permits, he immediately puts in the sickle, because the harvest has come.”

And He said, “How shall we picture the kingdom of God, or by what parable shall we present it?

It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the soil, though it is smaller than all the seeds that are upon the soil, yet when it is sown, it grows up and becomes larger than all the garden plants and forms large branches; so that THE BIRDS OF THE AIR can NEST UNDER ITS SHADE.”

Mark 4:26-32

Centering Meditation:

“The artist finds his or her fulfillment in being a special agent of celebration and justice making, of healing and awe naming.  Arts are the least expensive, the most fun, and the deepest form of healing that human kind has at its disposal.”

Creation Spirituality Matthew Fox

We have become a society and a people of reflection. Instead of reflecting on our own actions, we have been trained to see ourselves through the eyes of others. We trust others to validate if we are OK, if our beliefs, and experiences are normal, natural, and excepted. Our parents, schools, teachers, and churches too often tell us what we should live like, and how we should perceive life. This cycle of living through the constructed norms of others must come to an end; we must embark on a new journey to find the creative spirit of life that is in each of us. Now with the summer of 2009 upon us we must turn over a new leaf and talk back to the critical inner voice. Reassure yourself that the spirit of God, and the Kingdom of God is within, always urging you to paint your life with dreams and the many colors of the rainbow.

We are proud here at Congregational Church of Lincoln City that we have formally become an open and affirming community that celebrates, not simply tolerates, the different sexual orientations, races, ethnicities and belief systems of others. The symbol for Gay Pride is the rainbow; it is not a coincidence that the rainbow is also used in the bible to symbolize Gods love for all of creationWe must all work to adopt this symbol and mindset of love and inclusion in our daily lives. It is time to heal the wounded boy and girl within us that has been brainwashed to see life in a static colorless way. It is time to replace this way of being with the colors of the rainbow, with the dreams of our childhood, and it is time to embrace the fact that “I am what I will be”.

This statement “I am what I will be” comes from our scripture reading Exodus 3. Moses asks God : Who shall I say told me to bring your chosen people out of slavery and into liberation? God responds, “I am what I will be.”  Like all of God’s proclamations this statement is to be taken as a metaphor. We must all except and embrace our inner being, and our creative spirit. Like Moses who was sent to the Israelites to free them from the oppressive rule of the Pharoahs, we must also liberate our minds, souls, and creative spirits. Moving ourselves from this state of spiritual slavery, of insecurity and uncertainty, paralysis, fear and depression, to a state of creative flow.

Now the season of Pentecost is upon us. Thousands of years ago God’s disciples embraces the Holy Spirit and went out to create the church, spreading the love of God amongst the people of Jerusalem.  The season of Pentecost celebrates God as an artist, using a brush to paint his disciples with love and empowering them to create the church.  Love of course is the most creative of all activities.  We are now ready according to our liturgical calendar in the season of Pentecost to begin our journey as a church to create, and to become, the artists that is naturally within us. In the name of Jesus Christ we must grow to understand one another and ourselves. With summer here the memories of our childhood are brought to attention. Summer vacations have always highlighted a time for creativity, jubilance, and freedom. With age these feelings and expressions of our childhood fade, and often disappear. I call on you now to embrace the coming summer, come out of spiritual hiding, to express the Christ child within us, accept yourself and let yourself become accepted by your church, community, and all of creation.

Our journey to spiritual and personal freedom can start here every Sunday. May we begin to consider our one-hour of worship together on Sunday as more than preaching and music. It is a sacred time to gather as one and tread softly on one another’s dreams, to do the creative work of “ I am what I will be,” to try to understand and be understood by our friends, family, and the kingdom of God within. The spiritual awakening that starts here in church must also translate to the way we live our lives. Take your creative being and use it in all of your relationships, in all of your work, and in the creation of a newly spiritual self. God dreams for us, dreams that go beyond our religious or spiritual imagination. If we are captured in a place of slavery or bondage God dreams for us to be free, in the land of milk and honey, in a place where we live in harmony as an entire global community of peace and justice, love and beauty. The story of the young girl who is trained and brainwashed not to paint flowers with the colors of the rainbow can be seen as the way we to often live our lives, sheltered, in fear, and much of the time, alone.  The teachers, parents, and tyrannical systems that controls society can wash out our dreams, leaving us drained of our creative and spiritual gifts from God. We must rebel, free your mind, body, and soul from the constraints of tyranny, and allow yourself to be the free spirit that God has urged you to be. Within the book The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity author Julia Cameron encourages us to protect the artist child within, she urges to,” remember your artist is a child. Find and protect that child. Learning to let you create is like learning to walk. ………. We want to be great—immediately great—but that is not how recovery works. It is an awkward, tentative even embarrassing process. There will be many times when we won’t look good—to ourselves or anyone else. We need to stop demanding that we do. It’s impossible to get better and look good at the same time. Remember that in order to recover as an artist. You must be willing to be a bad artist. “ (p.30-31)

To find the inner- artist, and the inner child we must be willing to stumble, to fail, and to always try again. It is our duty as God’s sacred children to take risks and encourage those around us to take risks. The static nature of our lives often keeps us from embarking on new spiritual journeys. We become fearful of the unknown and tend to stay in our daily routine. This is not the way to express ourselves, not the way to live our lives. I call on you to shatter the static mold of existence, your way of being. Embrace the multitude of colors, sounds, and spirits that surround you. Do not be afraid to burst out in song, lead a group meeting, or embrace your friends and family with love. Julia Cameron offers a list of twenty “creative aspirations” for us all to learn from.

  1. I am a channel for god’s creativity and my work comes to good.
  2. My dreams come from god and God has the power to accomplish them.
  3. As I create and listen I will be led.
  4. Creativity is the creators will for me.
  5. My creativity heals myself and others
  6. I am allowed to nurture my artist
  7. Through the use of a few simple tools (all about willing to be bad and slay the inner Pharaoh of perfectionism) my creativity will flourish
  8. Through the use of my creativity I serve god
  9. My creativity leans me to the truth and love
  10. My creativity leads me to forgiveness and self-forgiveness.
  11. There is a divine plan of goodness for me
  12. There is a divine plan of goodness for my work
  13. As I listen to the creator within I am led
  14. As I listen to my creativity I am led to my creator.
  15. I am willing to create.
  16. I am willing to learn to let myself create.
  17. I am willing to let God create through me.
  18. I am willing to be of service through my creativity.
  19. I am willing to experience my creative energy.
  20. I am willing to use my creative talents. (p.36,37)

Jesus also encouraged us to see the greatness within. He spoke of life and the kingdom of God as a small mustard seed. Much like the small seed we all have the potential to cultivate an abundance of beauty, color, and love. Too often we are taught that creative works of art are only meant for those few with a natural gift, and we are shunned away as the simple, plain, and ordinary. But God tells us that we all have this gift; we all have the creativity to be the vibrant yellow flower that paints a hillside or valley. Now it is time to nurture our spirits and souls and make the kingdom of God flourish with our imagination and love.

The short story “The Big Orange Splott” by Daniel Pinkwater can provide us with guidance. The main character Mr. Plumbean teaches others through his own personal expression, though many are critical of him. Mr. Plumbean is a good minister and has created the kind of community we all long for. He has created a safe harbor where expression and creativity is not simply accepted by others, it is encouraged. May our time together in church and in community be like the time Mr. Plumbean spent with his neighbors, a sacred time to explore dreams and help discern what God has called on us to create.

What are your dreams? Your visions? What have you always wanted to do for the world? These dreams are sacred, we are each sacred, and we must treat each other as sacred. How shall we recover from our suffering, fear, jealousy, our rage of being misunderstood and dishonored, of feeling unsatisfied with our creative life? I call on you to create your way out, to love your way out.

Encourage each other, and become inspired by one another. No one recovers and heals their wounded creative selves alone. We need God, teachers, ministers, friends, and support groups to love us, to believe in us when we do not believe in ourselves, to encourage us when we are discouraged, celebrate with us when we become enlightened, to promise to let us try new things, to watch us fail and succeed. May our religious and spiritual work together here at CCLCUCC be about the holy enterprise of creativity. May we be an open and affirming Church of creative and artistic spirit, a Church of Creative Recovery, a Church of Creative Celebration, a Church of the Big Orange Splott and the Yellow Mustard seed. A place of worship where the God of “I am what I will be” is encouraged and loved into health and wholeness“Our church is us and we are it. Our church is where we like to be, and it looks like all our dreams.” (The Big Orange Splot)

Let the little children come to me, and stop keeping them away, because the kingdom of heaven belongs to people like these.

Mathew 19:14

Jesus' Third Way

If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, you are not to act as a creditor to him; you shall not charge him interest. If you ever take your neighbor’s cloak as a pledge, you are to return it to him before the sun sets, for that is his only covering; it is his cloak for his body. What else shall he sleep in? And it shall come about that when he cries out to Me, I will hear him, for I am gracious.

– Exodus 22:25-27

“Had it not been the LORD who was on our side,”
Let Israel now say,
“Had it not been the LORD who was on our side
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their anger was kindled against us;
Then the waters would have engulfed us,
The stream would have swept over our soul;
Then the raging waters would have swept over our soul.”
Blessed be the LORD,
Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper;

The snare is broken and we have escaped.

Our help is in the name of the LORD,

Who made heaven and earth.

– Psalm 124

You have heard that it was said, ‘an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evil person; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.
– Matthew 5:38-42

Sermon:
Gandhi, a Hindu, said after he studied many world religions he was most drawn to Christianity, but when he went to a Christian church they would not let him in because of the color of his skin.
Diana Butler Bass defines two different kinds of Christianity. One is “Big-C” Christianity – the corrupt Christianity that would not let Gandhi in the church because of his skin color. It is the big, institutional Church of Rome that comes with a shadow that falls on us from way back in history, all the way back to when the Church became an arm of the Roman Empire. We know it as the Church of hypocrisy, where Catholic priests sexually abuse young boys and the institution is unable to make this injustice visible and transfers the sexual abuser to another church. It is the Church that everyone is disgusted with and leaving in our country in droves. It is the Church of the Inquisition and the Crusades, the Church that did practically nothing during the Holocaust in Europe and has shown too little leadership in a world of child sexual abuse, torture, nuclear weapons, and abject poverty.

“Small-C” Christianity is what Jesus taught and what Gandhi was drawn to. It is, I believe, a radical way of life of peace and justice. I think of it as the real church that has always existed despite the corruption of the institutional madness of Big-C Christianity.
Small-C Christianity is the Christ that was resurrected and is alive and well today. Think of Small-C Christianity as the way of Jesus that includes the small c’s: compassion, creativity and courage.
I went to seminary as a UU, believing in all world religions, and while I was there and then serving my first UU church, I slowly began to convert to Christianity. Eventually, I came on over to the UCC. It was a natural place to come to, for it is the most liberal of all the mainline Protestant communities. This is not to say that I think Christianity is any better than any other religion. It is not. If you have any confusion about this, please get together with me, for we need to put an end to this idea that has caused the arrogance and ignorance of anti-Semitism, prejudice, and centuries of human suffering. I could have become a Buddhist or a pagan, or studied a little bit of all the world religions and remained a UU, but I converted, because studying the scriptures of Jesus’ third way gave me a religious foundation, a way to respond to conflict personally, and a way to respond to poverty and violence – the two most important issues we face in beloved community.
The third way is about never responding to conflict by fighting back and never fleeing or avoiding hostility or attacks. This third way of Jesus is a road map. It shows us how to discover, navigate, learn, and practice Jesus’ ways – how we make Christianity meaningful and real today.
Let’s review what we have discovered about turning the other cheek in the last few weeks of this series on Jesus’ third way. Walter Wink shows us in a world where you could not use your left hand, for it was unclean, a slap on the left cheek is about trying to humiliate, not trying to start a fistfight. Jesus says to offer your right cheek to this person who is your master or your superior in an unequal relationship, because it robs the oppressor of the power to humiliate you. The person receiving the blow is saying, “I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you, and your stature does not alter that fact. You cannot demean me.”
And remember my preaching about giving someone the shirt off your back was about embarrassing. This is like turning other cheek; it is the opposite of what we thought it was about. Jesus is defiant in saying that we should never strike back but we should also never back off or stand down. Jesus is trying to teach a lesson which each of these examples. He is teaching this important truth: that no one can take away our self-respect unless we give it to them. This also does something to the one striking you, or taking away all your money, or making you do his work for him. His hatred of you may decrease and his respect for you may increase.
In our reading from Exodus, we are told of the Jewish laws that mandate that anyone who has to give up everything because of their debt cannot be refused their last garment of clothing to sleep in. So we are reminded that giving someone the shirt off your back is not about being generous, it is about unmasking the injustice – about making the injustice of indebtedness and poverty visible.
Jesus is suggesting that if someone has taken all your money unjustly, which was the state of affairs for all the peasants in occupied Palestine, then you should be prepared to stand stark-naked in front of them in order to embarrass them, to make the injustice visible, to show them the naked truth.
Let’s look today the example of walking an extra mile.
First, we need some background information, just like we did to better understand what Jesus was talking about when he said to turn the other cheek and to give them the shirt off your back. The Roman soldiers were occupiers in Israel. They could and did force the people to help them do their work like, carrying their backpacks. There was a law, in fact, that a solider could require a peasant to carry his pack only one mile but there were severe penalties under military law if a military person made a civilian carry anything for longer than one mile. There were mile markers on the roads to enforce this. “As in the two previous instances of turning your cheek and giving the shirt off your back, this is about how we can assert our human dignity in a situation that cannot at the time be changed. The rules are Caesar’s, but not how one responds to the rules – that is God’s and Caesar has no power over that.” (page 24)
“Wow, what a scene,” the solider is probably saying. “No, give me back my pack!” while trying to drag it out of the hands of the peasant who is wanting to carry it an extra mile.
Now, many of you may say we should not embarrass people in this kind of way. However, what we need to remember is that unless we make those who are treating us unjustly see what they are doing to us, they have no opportunity for repentance or change.
It’s all about motivation. If we want to punish and humiliate, we will accomplish nothing. If our motivation is to confront the injustice and make it visible, then we are engaging in Jesus’ third way. It is what I call engaged Christianity. We are not responsible for the repentance of others, but this kind of nonviolent action will change us and make us feel more self-respect, and it has the vision and possibility of doing radical teaching that may transform those oppressing us.
The entire story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection is about the reality that the Roman Empire never had Jesus’ obedience. Jesus shows us that even if someone is torturing you to death, they may take your body, but they cannot take your soul and your own self-respect unless you give it to them. The Romans got Jesus’ dead body but even that turned out to be an illusion, for his teachings of love were more powerful than his material body, and he lived on. We are still experiencing his presence and that spiritual reality today. Jesus resurrected and the Christ of transformational love lives on even today here, now, as we gather together and as we try to learn the radical message of a new way of life Jesus offered.
We need to read our scripture more carefully and consider what Jesus was trying to teach those who were so powerless against the Roman Empire. Do we feel that we are powerless over institutional and corporate power? Can we relate to those first-century peasants? I think the world Jesus was teaching in is much like the world of today. We, like the peasants and slaves and Jews who were living under occupation by the Romans, often feel powerless over the evils of militarism, nationalism, sexism, ageism, poverty, torture, violence, and war. I believe the teachings of Jesus are a way of life that is extremely relevant to all of us today. We need to learn new ways to respond to those who have massive power over us and figure out, in essence, what Jesus would do.
Would Jesus be passive against 21st-century oppressive governments and institutional systems that produce poverty and violence? No I don’t think so. The small-C Christianity of the Christ, about compassion, creativity, and courage, is still alive. Jesus would respond to injustice with compassion, creativity, and courage and that’s why I am a Christian and want to study Christian scriptures to learn how to engage my whole being – body, mind, and spirit – with compassion, creativity, and courage.
Jesus started a nonviolent revolution in first-century Palestine similar to what Gandhi did in the 20th century in India. Gandhi made the world see that 350 million Indians were being oppressed by a few hundred thousand Englishmen. Gandhi lived to witness the nonviolent revolution that overthrew the British Empire and its government in his own lifetime.
Jesus did not see the overthrow of the Roman Empire but eventually it did fall. The Christian revolutionary movement became a nonviolent force for the Roman Empire to contend with in the first hundred years of Christian history.
People have been lifting up the power of love in the gospels in order to learn ways of nonviolence to make injustice visible all throughout history, because it is clearly there, there is no getting around it.
In recent history, we look to the Philippines and its inspired female leader, Corazon Aquino, who overthrew the corrupt government of Ferdinand Marcos in a nonviolent, peaceful revolution. Did you know that they did this by teaching nonviolence of Jesus in the Christian churches? Their inspiration was Jesus’ third way. How come all the Christian churches in the world are not teaching Jesus’ third way?
Similarly, in Poland and South Africa we have witnessed massive nonviolent revolutions inspired largely by the small-c Christian church. Here in our own country, the civil rights movement used Christianity as the foundation for Martin Luther King’s vision of nonviolent revolution and Jesus’ third way.
Walter Wink calculates that the many nonviolent revolutions in the world in the 20th century affected “about 3.4 billion people. And yet there are people who still insist that nonviolence doesn’t work! Gene Sharp has itemized198 different types of nonviolent actions that are a part of the historical record, yet our history books seldom mention any of them, so preoccupied are they with power politics and wars.” (Wink, Jesus and Nonviolence pages 2-3)
We need to reclaim small-c Christianity, for I believe it can save us and our world. When many talk about nonviolence, what they are really talking about is their desire to have an absence of conflict. This has nothing to do with the Good News of the gospel. Jesus, Gandhi, and Corazon Aquino knew nothing about nonviolence without conflict. First we need to give up our conflict avoidance. Conflict is a part of life. How we deal with it is what we look to Jesus, Gandhi, and Aquino to model for us. Second, we need to make the injustice visible. All three of them – Aquino, Gandhi, and Jesus – knew that first you have to make injustice visible. So often it is not even visible to those who have suffered under it for so long. They take it for granted and don’t even bother categorize it as injustice.
As Walter Wink says, it is too bad Jesus didn’t give us a dozen more examples of how to work nonviolence. But we can study Gandhi and Martin Luther King and Corazon Aquino in more recent times. One thing Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Aquino knew and taught is that there is nothing passive about nonviolence. One of the problems with nonviolent revolutions is the terminology it sounds passive, but it takes enormous discipline, energy, and creativity to respond to violence with nonviolence – to respond to injustice in a new way.
There is a scene in the movie Gandhi that makes the point dramatically. Gandhi, who often taught symbolically, just as Jesus did, chose the issue of the salt tax, a law imposed by the British that made it illegal to sell or produce salt. This created a complete British monopoly, and, since salt is necessary in everyone’s daily diet, affected everyone in India. Gandhi strategized, just as generals do in waging war, to embark on a campaign of nonviolence to make the injustice of the English laws of taxation visible. He walked 230 miles to the sea, arriving on the anniversary of one of the worst massacres in India in which the English slaughtered hundreds of men, women, and children who had gathered peacefully in a carefully planned campaign. Men stood in rows and walked forward as English soldiers beat them down. They fell, and women took them to Red Cross areas and other men kept on coming.
This is real history we can learn from. The discipline, courage, creativity, and leadership of the third way of this history are there for us to learn and emulate.
Let us be of good courage as we study the scriptures of Jesus and study the radial way of life, a third way, not of fighting back or of fleeing violence or hostility, but of engaging in compassionate, creative, and courageous responses. Of doing what Jesus would do. Let us dedicate our lives to a third way of living, where we can hold our head high without humiliation and know that the truth is the truth even if it is held only by one, and God is always on the side of truth and justice and transformation.
God will be with us as we work against our enemies and has always been on the side of justice. People will also come out of the woodwork when we stand on the side of justice against all odds. May we all have the discipline to dedicate our lives to peace with justice and Jesus radial third way of living and thank God for keeping this Christ light of justice alive in our imaginations and hearts today.
Amen.

Miraculous Healing

While he was saying these things to them, suddenly a leader of the synagogue came in and knelt before him, saying, ‘My daughter has just died; but come and lay your hand on her, and she will live.’ And Jesus got up and followed him, with his disciples. Then suddenly a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his cloak, for she said to herself, ‘If I only touch his cloak, I will be made well.’ Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, ‘Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.’ And instantly the woman was made well. When Jesus came to the leader’s house and saw the flute-players and the crowd making a commotion, he said, ‘Go away; for the girl is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him. But when the crowd had been put outside, he went in and took her by the hand, and the girl got up. And the report of this spread throughout that district.

Matthew 9:18-26

I am a lectionary preacher, which means that I preach on the same Bible passages that Christian churches all over the world are reading studying and preaching on. There are many reasons for this. One reason I like the lectionary method of preaching is that I am challenged to preach on a passage in the Bible that I would not ordinarily preach about. When I read the story in Matthew a few weeks ago and saw that my first Sunday was the story of the Canaanite woman who asks Jesus to heal her daughter (and he does), I thought, “No, I don’t want to preach on that story. Not my first Sunday. I have quite different experiences of miraculous healings than most of my UCC colleagues and I will surely alienate my new congregants.”

But then I prayed about it and thought, “Yes, this is a good challenge for me and them.”

Let me first share with you about my reading of the Gospel for the first time.

I was in seminary, taking a class in healing. We were assigned to write a paper about healing in Christianity or any world religion, based on either research or an interview. I decided to do any interview, mostly because I lived far away from campus and so an interview would be easier. I didn’t know any healers, so I called my yoga teacher, thinking that she might know a one. Her boyfriend was there when I called, and he said there was a healer named Rev. Gene Egidio in a storefront next to his computer store. I looked him up and called for an appointment.

When arrived for my appointment, I noticed there were a lot of very sick people there. The receptionist said the charge for the appointment would be $40. I was horrified! Finally, I decided that was about the price of textbook, and so I paid. I was escorted to a cot in a room full of cots separated by partitions. I sat in a chair next to my cot, feeling uncomfortable. I had thought I was going to be interviewing him, and here I was, being handled like a patient. After a while, I lay down on the cot. When Rev. Egidio came in, I sat up and explained that I was there for an interview, not a healing. He was kind, and asked if there was any healing issue that he could help me with, and suggested I lie down. Obediently, I lay down again and said that there was nothing physical going on, but that I was going through a difficult divorce. Rev. Egidio began passing his hands through the air over my body, as if he were swishing something off, and then left. I had been completely caught off guard, and had not asked any of the questions I’d planned to ask. A few minutes later, he came back, and made the same kinds of motions with his hands.

Suddenly, I was startled by a pervasive feeling of intense goodwill, well-being, and happiness. It was very hard for me to fathom how this had happened. I spoke briefly with Rev. Egidio afterward; he invited me to an evening meditation session later that week. When I spoke to him at the meditation, I explained that I had been planning to interview him, and didn’t get to do that. I also told him that I had had such a strong physical experience, that I wanted to check the cots to see if they had something on them. Rev. Egidio just laughed and said, of course, check the cots. I found nothing.

I felt that my experience was due in part to the fact that I was reading the Gospel for the very first time and was realizing that there are mysteries beyond what we can understand. I began to consider miraculous healing in a very different way than I had

Later I learned that one-fifth of the New Testament is miracle stories – not moral healings!

What I am called to preach as a Christian minister is the Gospel: the good news that God wants us to be healed, to be whole. Historically, the Old Testament, or the Jewish Bible, has – like the Christian Bible – vast varieties of explanation and theologies for healing and everything else under the sun. However, there is a general theology in the early Jewish Bible that offers the idea that god punishes us because of our sin. This Deuteronomic theology holds that an obedient Israel will enjoy good weather, prosperity, and security, and disobedience brings drought, a failing economy, and harassment – if not invasion – by foreign nations. This theology has recently been challenged with the Holocaust.

The Jewish Bible does have miraculous healing stories. Elijah, for example, heals leprosy in 2 Kings.

But the Jewish Bible also has complex theological considerations that embrace the mystery and complexity of life. The Book of Job asks the question, “Why do we suffer?” It comes up with a much more mysterious, less clear-cut explanation for suffering than, “It is God’s way of punishing us.”

I don’t believe that God punishes us. I don’t believe in that kind of God and I don’t believe Jesus as a Jew did either. Jesus had a very different answer for why people suffer. Jesus comes with a radically different idea. He rarely moralizes. Very simply put, wherever Jesus sees suffering, He brings love and healing.

What I am going to say today about miraculous healing – or the fact that I am talking about miracle healing at all – may be upsetting to you. But I ask you to hold judgment and try to hear what I am going to present.

Jesus, in our story this morning, has left his home, his Jewish Israel, and is now gone to a city by the sea – like I have just come here – and he was changing the religion of his ancestors and family tradition. I feel that this subject of miraculous healing today in part represents a new kind of reformation of the Christian church. In recent times, churches in our denomination have not, for the most part, talked about or dealt with miraculous healing. Protestant churches historically have taken up the Jews’ ideas about healing and disregarded Jesus’ ideas about healing. An explanation that you may have heard is that God allowed miraculous healings to get the church started, but they don’t exist anymore. How many of you were taught that growing up, or have heard of this idea?

Now modern medicine has begun to categorize and write about miraculous healing. Have any of you heard of a case of someone being miraculously healed, and the doctors not understanding how it happened?

Miraculous healing has continued in Pentecostal and Christian Science churches, and in many Catholic communities beginning the 1970s.

Actually Jesus’ ideas were similar to those of Egyptians and Babylonians: that sickness was from the will of evil spirits. His world view was similar to the shamanic traditions of Native Americans, which perceived human beings as instruments of divine grace. A shaman is a mediator between individual and spiritual reality. Jesus brings the corrective of LOVE in which all real healing takes place.

Why did he heal so many? Because he cared about them and didn’t want them to suffer. He was hostile to the forces that made people sick. He believed that demons possess the mentally ill, and the physically ill were under the influence of an evil power. It is important to heal people, even more important than keeping ritual laws. Two scriptures help explain Jesus’ attitude toward suffering, sickness and healing.

In John 9:3, when the disciples asked him about the man who was born blind, Jesus said, “Neither he nor his parents sinned; he was born so that the work of God might be displayed in him.” People who suffer tragedy are no more sinful that other people.

Another explanation is in Luke 13:2-5. Jesus is speaking to a large group of people and he says, “Do you suppose the Galileans who suffered like that were greater sinners that any other Galileans? They were not, I tell you. No; but unless you repent you will all perish as they did. Or those eighteen on who the tower of Siloam fell and killed them? Do you suppose that they were more guilty than all the other people living in Jerusalem? They were not, I tell you.”

Jesus had compassion for human suffering, just as God does, and wants to eliminate it.

Morton Kelsey in his book Healing and Christianity writes on pages 75 and 76 that Jesus believed that the “… primary cause of sickness was the force of evil loose in the world, which was hostile to God and the divine ways. Jesus believes that people sometimes fell into the hands of this power, which then exerted a destructive influence in their lives, morally, psychologically and physically. You may call this force Satan, the devil, evil spirits, demons, autonomous complexes, or what you will. The exact source was never fully accounted for; this knowledge of the reality of errant destructiveness is shot through the teaching and actions of Jesus.”

In our story, Jesus has just left his Jewish home and gone to Tyre, which was in Canaan. The Canaanite people were gentiles, meaning they were not Jews, they were pagans. They lived in this territory by the sea that Jesus was visiting. In this territory there were many different ethnic groups with a long history of military conflict with the Jews. Still today there are many different ethnic people living in this area which is now Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. This story about the Canaanite woman is also found in Mark 7:24-30, which says she is a Greek from Syria. (Jesus is perhaps learning from traveling in a more diverse area. The more I study miraculous healing the more I feel that I am in a going into territory with very different kinds of ethnic people.) This woman calls Jesus “Son of David,” so she believes he may be a Jewish King. She is what some may call a pushy broad. I relate to her completely. When someone you love is sick and in pain, you feel desperate. Remember that scene in the movie “Terms of Endearment” when Shirley MacLaine asks for her daughter’s pain meds and doesn’t get them and starts screaming “She needs them NOW!”? You go a little crazy when you feel like there is nothing you can do, watching someone you love suffer.

Now Jesus uses the metaphor of his being like the children of Israel and she says, “Yes, but even a dog gets the crumbs from the children’s table.” Jesus has treated her like she is less than them. And then Jesus recognizes what he has done and corrects himself and says, in essence, “I am sorry; I forgot God wants everyone, no matter who they are, not to suffer.”

How did Jesus heal? The same way you can. I believe that religious healing is due to the healer’s direct relationship with God and making oneself an instrument of God’s love.

Here is “Bonnie’s 12-step Healing Plan:”

1.   Have faith; Jesus called upon the faith of the person that needed help.

2.   Touch the sick; Jesus touched the person (for example, the leper in Mark 1:40).

3.   Command people to be healed as Jesus gave commands: “Be healed”

4.   Pray, because Jesus prayed with those in need of healing.

5.   Invite those who need healing to pray, as Jesus asked for people’s own prayers to be involved.

6.   Forgive sin, as Jesus used forgiveness of sin. An example is the paralyzed man in Mary 2:5: “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

7.   Heal with compassion, as Jesus healed with compassion. Examples include the widow who lost her son in Luke 7:13 and our reading today about the Canaanite mother.

8.   Use the tools of healing, as Jesus used such things as oil. Mark says the disciples used oil. The disciples “cast out many devils, and anointed many sick people with oil and cured them.” 6:13. Jesus used mud and saliva to make a blind man see and then he instructed him to wash in a special pool in Siloam in John 9:6-7.

9.   Love those who suffer, as Jesus loved those who suffered.

10. Exorcise demons, because Jesus exorcised demons. An example is the blind and dumb demoniac in Matthew 12:22.

11. Preach and teach; Jesus preached to and taught crowds just like we do together every Sunday morning in worship

12. Heal because, like Jesus, you are God.

I commission all of us to do these simple loving acts of prayer, touching, and having compassion for one another’s suffering.

Two important reminders: Don’t blame yourself for your own suffering, and do not moralize about why you are suffering. Please reconsider if you holding on to the idea that God is punishing you for your suffering. Jesus did not believe that and neither should you.

Why are you sick? Why are you suffering? This is a great mystery. Many holy spiritual people suffer. Look at Jesus, Martin Luther King, and recently Jimmy Carter, who has suggested that many in this same territory of Israel who have been considered to be dogs are in fact deserving of crumbs. Where ever we encounter suffering let us be agents for healing without moralizing. Our own UCC denomination was beginning to embrace the healing ministry of Jesus in 1978. It has not gained much steam since then. This was a resolution to recognize the “place of healing alongside preaching, and teaching as ministries commissioned by Jesus.”

In Luke 10:1-2, 8-10, Jesus said, “Whenever you enter a town and they receive you, eat what is set before you; heal the sick in it and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”

Martin Luther, who began our protestant reformation, gives advice about ministering to the sick through prayer and the laying-on of hands.

I believe Jesus saw suffering, and wanted to relieve it, every kind of suffering: physical, mental, spiritual.

I offer this first Sunday a beginning of a conversation about miraculous healing in the love that is Jesus the Christ. Amen

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene

The Gospel of Mary Magdalene was written in the early second century, then disappeared for almost 2000 years. This morning we awaken the sacred feminine, the sleeping beauty, Mary Magdalene, as we honor her today, October 19, the 8th anniversary of my ordination. In our Wednesday class, we are studying this and other Gnostic gospels that did not make it into our New Testament canon. This newly found gospel has an interesting history. Fragments of a fifth-century copy of the Gospel of Mary Magdalene in a Coptic translation were discovered in 1896, when it was sold in an antique store to a German scholar in Egypt. In 1917, two earlier fragments of the gospel in Greek were discovered, but we still are missing about half of the gospel. The first published edition was released to the world in German in 1955.

We know that the Gnostic gospels were actively repressed during the first five centuries of the Christian church. The remnants that have survived give us new keys to the heritage of the leadership of women in the early church and of Jesus’ intention to honor women and the sacred feminine. In the Mediterranean, the early church was very diverse, and some scholars suggest that over 1,000 gospels were written by a variety of believers. Scholars estimate that 85 % of all early Christian literature has not been recovered.

Many of the newly found Gnostic gospels present a decidedly modern theology. The Gnostics who wrote them believed that divinity was within us and that everyone could experience and know God directly.

The literature of many communities of early Christians was not chosen to be in the church canon, and the early Orthodox Church claimed that they were heretical. Many of these Gnostic gospels awaken a new, mystical vision of the teachings of Jesus. Some of the gospels suggest that Mary Magdalene was not only a leader in the early Christian community, an apostle and disciple of Jesus, but perhaps his wife and lover.

I stand before you as your newly called woman minister, your first woman minister. If you feel uneasy about this service today, I hope you will consider this question. Does the Christian church have a responsibility to study this newly found gospel that may have been written by women? I think we do. With more women in ministry and with the arrival of this new but ancient gospel, I believe we have been given an invitation to retell and revitalize myths, images, and symbols of the divine feminine. We all yearn for harmony and balance–between the male and female aspects of both men and women, between the left and right brains, between the head and heart, art and science, logic and intuition, within all of us and among us. Bringing back this story of the union of male and female, Jesus and Mary Magdalene, this gospel that has lived underground for centuries gives us the potential to heal our out-of-balance world. By kissing the fairy-tale bride awake, we potentially heal our world and bring happiness and health to the whole kingdom. After all, newly discovered Gnostic gospels such as the Gospel of Mary Magdalene may awaken and revitalize a new interest in and study of Christianity that could heal the unbalanced nature of our culture.

As we begin our reflection on Mary Magdalene, let us first acknowledge our sense of loss about the repressed sacred feminine in our religion and our yearning for memories of Christianity’s female ancestors, such as Mary Magdalene.

We come today as a people who want memories of Mary Magdalene and Jesus and their sacred union. This Keali’i Reichel lament is called “Wanting Memories,” and could have been written by Mary Magdalene as she grieved for the memories of her beloved teacher who had died. It also speaks for all women, who, in fundamental ways, have been left out of our Christian story.

Please feel free to sing the refrain with me as the song becomes familiar to you. The words are here for you to follow along.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

You used to rock me in the cradle of your arms,
You said you’d hold me till the pains of life were gone.
You said you’d comfort me in times like these and now I need you,
Now I need you, and you are gone.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
Since you’ve gone and left me, there’s been so little beauty,
But I know I saw it clearly through your eyes.

Now the world outside is such a cold and bitter place,
Here inside I have few things that will console.
And when I try to hear your voice above the storms of life,
Then I remember all the things that I was told.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

I think on the things that made me feel so wonderful when i was young.
I think on the things that made me laugh, made me dance, made me sing.
I think on the things that made me grow into a being full of pride.
I think on these things, for they are true.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I thought that you were gone, but now I know you’re with me,
You are the voice that whispers all I need to hear.

I know a please a thank you and a smile will take me far,
I know that I am you and you are me and we are one,
I know that who I am is numbered in each grain of sand,
I know that I’ve been blessed again, and over again.

I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.
I am sitting here wanting memories to teach me,
to see the beauty in the world through my own eyes.

We are here to celebrate a wedding. As a minister, I will begin the service with the traditional words: “We are gathered here today in the sight of God to join this sacred bride and bride groom in holy matrimony…..” But the holy union I will ask you to give your blessing to today is far from traditional. Today we will celebrate the spiritual union of Mary Magdalene and Jesus, the union of the divine feminine with traditionally masculine Christianity, the masculine and feminine aspect of our own inner selves, and our sacred union with God that has been out of balance with, separated from, and in exile from the feminine divine for thousands of years.

I am excited and inspired to reconsider the whole archetype, or model, of our Christian heritage by placing Mary Magdalene in her rightful place as disciple, and perhaps wife or lover, of Jesus. We do not know exactly what relationship they had, but as master and disciple they shared a divine union and partnership. Reconsidering and celebrating Mary Magdalene’s role in early Christianity has the power to awaken us from a 2,000-year lack of consciousness about balanced spirituality. Westerners have glorified the “masculine” qualities of power, the left brain and logic at the expense of the qualities often associated with the “feminine”—with the heart, collaborative community, and the artistic right brain.

The story of Mary Magdalene has lain under the sands of Egypt for over a thousand years. In some ways, her story is like that of Sleeping Beauty or Snow White, put into a trance-like sleep. Her bridegroom, grief-stricken because of her absence, finds her and awakens her with a sacred kiss. Their union brings joy and health to their kingdom. Fairy tales and religious myths give expression to our universal, primal drive for merging and union between the symbolic masculine and feminine in our own psyches, the left and right brain, the intuitive and the logical, the head and the heart. Just as our own parents’ sexual union brought us physical life, the mythic union of the sacred bride and bridegroom gives new life to our spirits.

The sleeping beauty Mary Magdalene awakes now in the 21st century, and her reconciliation to and reunion with Jesus has the potential to bring health, happiness and harmony to all the earth, as fairy tales like Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and Snow White express. I believe that the recent awakening of Mary Magdalene at this historic time marks the awakening of a feminine divinity which has been asleep in our Christian culture for almost two thousand years.

This awakening to the sacred union of male and female is just as significant and healing for men as it is for women. Both men and women have suffered from corrupt social systems of injustice based on gender, for whether we are on the top or on the bottom of the hierarchical ladder, we are bereft of holy union, merger, equality and the partnership we need in order to become whole.

The kiss of awakening marks the descent of the Holy Spirit into us, and the female aspect merging and joining with the male aspect within our own psyche and souls. Whether we are gay or straight, we resonate with Carl Jung’s naming of ancient, omnipresent archetypes of the masculine and feminine aspect within all people and all relationships.

The Gospel of Mary, like the Gospel of Thomas, is unlike orthodox Christianity and Judaism that emphasize a God outside us, a God who is the other. The newly found gospels speak about God as self-knowledge, as Mary says in Chapter 4 verse 5:
“For the child of true Humanity exists within you. Follow it! Those who search for it will find it.”

Instead of talking about saving us from sin, Jesus comes as a guide in the Gnostic gospels to awaken our spiritual knowledge. “Gnostic” comes from the Greek work whose root is “to know.” Gnostic knowledge refers to an inner spiritual knowledge. I use the term Mysticism more often than Gnosticism — both refer to our direct experience of the divine, the God within us as well as outside us. Jesus praises the inner search in the Gospel of Thomas when he says, “Blessed are the solitary and the chosen, for you will find the kingdom, for you are from it and to it you will return.”

I believe the Christian mystics have kept many of the teachings of Jesus alive for the last two thousand years. Christian mystics have consistently shared their personal interpretations of the divine and challenged the Orthodox Church of their day. The tension between those who interpret Jesus as a teacher of religious mysticism and those who believe in Christian orthodoxy continues to be played out with passion even today.

The early Christian church was wildly diverse and history provides references to hundreds of Gospels written by early Christians. During the first few centuries A.D., a great struggle erupted over which gospels would be “canonized” and become the orthodox theology of the established church. The Gnostics and mystics lost this struggle, and with it we lost the mystical teachings of Mary Magdalene and other Gospels that honored the sacred feminine.

Some scholars, like Bishop Spong, believe that Mary Magdalene could have been Jesus’ wife, for no Jewish man preached in the synagogue without being married. We know that the other disciples were married; Peter had a mother-in-law, so we know he was married.

Let me ask all of you this question: how would your religious life be different and how differently would you feel about Christianity if Jesus had been married to Mary Magdalene and shared a ministry with her? What if Mary Magdalene was pregnant when Jesus was crucified and later had a baby daughter? Does this engage your religious imagination? I hope so, for that is what is needed in the church—an awakening of our religious imaginations to new and different revelations, some given to us almost 2000 years later.

The Gospel of Mary reminds us of the radical egalitarianism that is at the core of our Christian faith. In the Gospel, Peter, for example, sees only that Mary is a woman, and allows his role as a man with status to make him become jealous, prideful and cruel. Levi tries to explain to him, and to all of us, that body and gender should not be the factors to determine spiritual qualities. Jesus and God love us whether we are male or female, slave or free, Greek or Jew. By excluding Mary from the church we have betrayed the central teaching of Jesus that all are welcome at the table.

How many of you grew up believing that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute? The idea that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute has no biblical reference. Not one. It was Pope Gregory I in 591 CE who wrote a sermon about Mary being a prostitute, and that view has been carried for 1500 years. The Catholic Church in 1969 apologized for this error, but still we have the myth of her sinfulness imprinted on our cultural consciousness.

Mary the Virgin Mother and Mary Magdalene the prostitute have been the two central female archetypes for the last two millennia. As we read and study the lost teachings of the Gospel of Mary, we resurrect a more complex woman, a spiritually evolved teacher and preacher who worked side-by-side with Jesus, who loved her. This is a new archetype that begs for us to take the radical egalitarian revolution Jesus taught seriously. Mary is the clearly portrayed as the leader of the apostles in the Gospel of Mary, the one who gives them encouragement and guides their course. Our gospel reading this morning tells us, “Then Mary stood up. She greeted them all, addressing her brothers and sisters, ‘Do not weep and be distressed nor let your hearts be irresolute. For his grace will be with you all and will shelter you. Rather we should praise his greatness, for he has prepared us and made us true Human beings.’”

Mary was not only a disciple but Jesus’ most beloved and favorite disciple. In our reading this morning we heard, “Sister, we know that the Savior loved you more than all other women.” And several other newly found Gospels, such as the Gospel of Phillip, tells us, “The companion is Mary Magdalene. Jesus loved her more than his students. He kissed her often on her face, more than all his students and they said, “Why do you love her more than us? The savior answered, saying to them, “Why do I not love you like her? If a blind man and one who sees are together in darkness, they are the same. When light comes, the one who sees will see light. The blind man stays in the dark.” Jesus is calling her more spiritually sighted than any of them. It is Mary Magdalene who is most like him and has the power to see the spiritual nature of divinity in all, to see visions, to see in the dark.

An apostle is someone who saw the risen Christ. All religious authority in the early church came from this experience. Those who saw the risen Christ were considered the rightful leaders of the church. Peter has been considered the first apostle to see Christ, justifying him as the rightful founder of the church and the model for the succession of Catholic Popes. This, however, is a false premise, for most scholars agree that it was Mary Magdalene who was the first witness to the resurrection.

It is Mary in the Gospels of Matthew and Mark who sees Jesus first and is given the commission to start the church. In the Gospel of John, it is also Mary who first witnesses the resurrection in Chapter 20; later, another chapter, 21, was added to write a new ending and make Peter the first to witness the risen Christ. This change in John’s gospel was part of the unofficial scriptural changes made by the early Orthodox church as issues about women’s authority were being decided. The mixed messages about Mary Magdalene reflect the ambivalence about women’s leadership as the Gospels were taking their canonical form and assimilating more sexist Greek cultural values. It represented a move from the house church, where women were leaders, to the public church.

For our two thousand years women endured the repression of the public church, but today we challenge the exclusion of women in church leadership and the tragic loss of a sacred feminine consciousness. There is no doubt that Jesus loved women and all people and understood the harm suffered from the kind of dishonoring and exclusion Peter shows to Mary.

We know from the Gospels that Jesus cast 7 demons out of Mary Magdalene from the gospels, and it does not surprise me that in the harshness of the patriarchal Roman culture in the ancient world, women would suffer greatly. I believe that the number 7 represents a healing of her entire person–all 7 chakras, or energy centers of the body. The symbolic number seven, used often in the Bible, can be seen as portraying the completeness of physical experience in time and space–the seven days of the week form a unit of time, the seven chakras or energy centers include the whole body, the seven deadly sins include all of our spiritual problems– pride, lust, envy, anger, covetousness, gluttony, and sloth. Because Jesus had healed her of her whole personhood, she is able to see him and be awakened to his divinity in ways the other disciples cannot see nor experience. She is also given the gift of visions, both for the resurrection and for other perceptions she shares in the Gospel of Mary.

It is Mary Magdalene, according to some scholars, who financially underwrote and paid for Jesus’ ministry. She is the reliable anchor throughout his ministry, cooking and caring for him, anointing him, bearing witness with him through his torturous crucifixion on the cross, staying with him at the moment of his death and coming to care for his corpse after death. She witnesses the resurrection and encourages and inspires the other disciples to undertake their Christian ministries.

Perhaps Jesus first appeared to her in the resurrection because he knew that it was only Mary Magdalene who would be faithfully present even after death. He may have appeared to her not only because she was spiritually advanced enough to experience the miracle of resurrection and awake to the spiritual dimension of mystery beyond space and time that is the Christ resurrected, but because they were intertwined in love and sacred promise.

The first six pages of the Gospel of Mary are still lost, so the Gospel begins with a discussion about mysticism. Mary Magdalene teaches us about the mystical interconnection of the universe, and that the material and spiritual realms are interconnected. Jesus explains that everything in the universe is interwoven with everything else. The gospel begins, “Will matter then be utterly destroyed or not?” The Savior replies, “Every nature, every modeled form, every creature, exists in and with each other.” The message is a mystical one: We Are One.

Today I would like to commission you to go forth into a new religious imagination, a fairy tale kingdom, a place of spiritual vision for awakening a new consciousness, a renewed Christianity, a new birth and healing, an awakening sleeping beauty of a myth breaking into our human consciousness– a sacred marriage of the male and female, a sacred union with each of us and God. Let us put our religious imagination to work and have an inner seeing, a vision of the sacred union between Jesus and Mary Magdalene, and the male and female within ourselves. This is not necessarily a real marriage or a sexual union, but it could be, a sacred marriage and merging in our religious imagination–a spiritual union, a coming together, a merging into God and becoming One, of male and female, right and left brain, head and heart, east and west, logic and intuition. This is a mystical marriage of all of us in our Oneness. The divine union of Mary Magdalene and Jesus may bring harmony and healing to our inner natures, our human family relationships and our interconnected relationship with all of creation. Let us go forth as integrated men and women, fully human, to learn, teach, and preach the Good news: God loves us! Our basic nature is one of divine love as we invite our divine feminine to be awakened. Today we celebrate the miracle and mystery of the resurrection of both Jesus and Mary Magdalene within our own spirits.

I ask you who are gathered today the following: Will you give your blessing to awakening to the holy union between the divine energies of the universe of belonging and emerging, of intuition and science, of beauty and justice? If you give your blessing repeat after me and say, “I do.” Do you who love Jesus and Mary Magdalene, do you vow to love one another as Jesus loves us? “I do.”

By the power invested in me by the bridegroom of the church, Jesus Christ, and the sacred bride of the church, Mary Magdalene, I pronounce the lost bride to awaken within you and within all of us. You may now kiss the bride.
May I present to you a congregation, who by kissing the fairy tale bride awake, potentially heals itself and our world, and brings happiness and health to all the kingdom.

Amen.

Honoring Dreams As Sacred Gifts

Genesis 28; 10-17 Jacob’s ladder ……….” Taking one of the stones at the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And God stood beside him and said, “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, ‘Surely God is in this place—and I did not know it!’ He was afraid and said, ‘How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.”

It is great to be with you this morning. The first time I came here for the first time when I was 16 years old. I remember it vividly because my big sister Janet Wiscombe, who was a member here, was playing the pregnant Mary in the Christmas pageant the story that is driven by 5 dreams that Joseph and others have in order to save the divine child. She rode a real donkey down the stairs and she really was pregnant. I am turning 56 years old next week so that makes it 40 years ago that I was here for the first time.

 

Today I come to explore some dreams of famous people as well as some of my own, with the hope that you will be inspired to honor your own dreams as sacred gifts.

We have so many global problems, with wars raging, nuclear threats, and ecologic destruction of our planet, poverty, and injustice. With all this going on, many of us wonder about the survival of the human species.

The most basic understating of what dreams are for is that they are a kind of rehearsal for survival. We need to honor and listen to our dreams now more than ever before. I believe they are providing great wisdom for us as individuals and collectively for our survival.

“To imagine means: to see an image.”Dreams are images and when we honor them we are developing our creative imagination.

In modern times we have become so enamored with our abilities to analyze, interpret, reason and think rationally. We are engulfed in commercialism and individualism of western civilization, but intuitively we feel something is missing; something is desperately wrong with the way we are living.

It is a biblical wisdom? Yes. “Without a vision a people perish” (Proverbs 29:18). To dream, to have vision, and to be creative in imagining something different is what we need when we are in crisis. And right now the human species is in a moral crisis.

Historically, dreams have always been a way to explore religious questions. Things such as: what is the meaning of my life, what happens after I die, is there a God, why do people suffer? There are many different kinds of dreams and all dreams have more than one meaning. Not all dreams are profound religious experiences, but some are. Many give us an opportunity to integrate religious questions with what we have psychologically learned.  All dreams come from our psycho-spiritual healing and wholeness.

All people dream and can only go for a few days without sleep. Even though dreaming is still a great mystery, science now has done brain research while people sleep which showed that we all dream many times a night even if we don’t remember them.

Dreaming gives us a chance to play and interact with different characters, go to faraway places, and have wild adventures. Sharing our dreams with others is fun and free; they are blessed and contain very little instruction.

We get to know our unconscious self - the part of ourselves we don’t know very well. The unconscious part of ourselves sometimes gets us in trouble, but it is also the part of us that is much more grand, smarter, generous, gifted, and talented than our thoughts in our conscious state of mind.

Dream groups give us a much needed sense of community that is needed in our lonely and alienated modern world. In a small sacred dream circle we are instantly invited to share the most intimate parts of our souls and inner world with one another, and to be witness to others as they do the same.

In a few short minutes we have real soul friends and our alienation and feeling disconnected vanishes.

 I am currently leading Skype dream groups with people from as far away as Saudi Arabia. When we meet on Thursday California time, and the Saudi Arabian members she joins us on Friday 6m their time.

I am convinced that sharing dreams with people all over the world has the potential to show us how to be the global village we must become in order to survive.

My colleague, mentor, and teacher is the great UU minister Jeremy Taylor who has taught us that all dreams come from healing and wholeness, especially nightmares. This new dream movement was begun in large measure by Jeremy and others who have took the psychological discipline begun by Freud and Jung a step further. The fathers of psychology brought back a renewed interest in dreams and used it in the treatment of neurotic and mentally ill patients. Today many are promoting dream honoring for everyone as a part of a healthy life with the benefit of providing and the integrating of psychology and religion many of us desperately hunger for.

Dreams have been a part of every culture and every religion for all of human history. By doing dream work we develop our abilities in the language of myth, symbol, and metaphor.

I believe that many of us are particularly interested in dreaming NOW because we are all seeking a more authentic way to live and engage with religious symbols and meanings that we can’t find any more in the traditional religious institutional communities or in the field of psychology.

We yearn to transcend the barrenness of scientific rationality and live again in the world of creativity and imagination. There is no better place to begin than in our dreams. “To imagine means to see an image,” and every night we are given many images to nourish our souls.

Like Einstein I believe, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

We have a lot of dishonoring in dreams and all non-rational things. We have local Nobel laureates right here in San Diego Sir Francis Crick who did brain research at UCSD said dreams were a “recycling of neuralgic garbage.”

Descartes is credited with being the father of science who supposedly “proved” that dreams can no longer be taken seriously, but the odd thing about this notion is that it is said was shown to him supposedly in a dream.

Descartes the father of modern science in the 17th century is given credit for convincing the world of a materialistic view, which of course quantum physics has challenged. All our world view ideas shaped by a material world view have not changes. Supposedly Descartes had a dream about two books. One was a dictionary, which was of little interest or use to him. The other was a book of poetry that was a union of philosophy and wisdom; this from a man who would go down in history as the father of Rationalism. Descartes felt that the dictionary failed to give us what we needed. He believed in the power of the book of poetry to save himself and this world. How strange that the man given credit for turning the world against dreams over the last 300 years had this dream of choosing not the dictionary, but picking the book of poetry in his dream. (Kelsey, Morton ibid p193)

For thousands of years in every continent, in every century it is projected that it was also this way in the days of the cave men tens of thousands of years ago. People have dreamed and have been convinced that these dreams were sacred and they had an instinctual yearning to find meaning and symbols in them.

All the religions have agreed that humans communicate with the divine more often in dreams and that dreams are more reliable than in any other regular state of consciousness.

Through history all people have made profound connections between the meanings of their dreams and nightmares to their waking desires and frustrations.

Dreams are prevalent in our biblical tradition. In Judaism and Christianity dreams were considered to be messages from the Gods in ancient Greece and Rome as well as in the early Mesopotamia and Egyptian cultures. Later of course, Islam was founded because of Mohammad’s dreams. 

Dreams were honored as sacred in Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, and Daoism in India, China, and the east. Dreams were also honored in religions in the continents of Africa, American, Pacific Islands, and the aborigines in Australia.

Recently, I read a great book by Roger Kamenetz, The History of Last Night’s Dream, who talks about Jacobs ladder dream in Genesis and during the same time I also had a dream about a ladder and I was struck by the synchronicity- I titled my dream “Cliff Hanging.”

“I am dreaming that I am hanging off rock cliffs in Yosemite Valley, but I am facing out. There is a man to my left on the ground talking to me and we are considering how I should get down. We discuss the fact that, should I fall I would get hurt for it’s about 10 feet down and I then get a great idea. A LADDER! I ask him to get me a ladder. I hope I don’t fall before he goes to get it and comes back……..”

There was more to the dream, but when I wokeI made a drawing of my this dream and the odd part was drawing myself on the cliff facing out, because usually when someone is hanging on a cliff they have been mountain climbing and are facing the cliff not away from it.  Carl Jung wisely said, “Often our hands know how to solve a riddle with which our intellect has wrestled in vain.” So my dream workshops usually use drawing as well to improve our dreams.

When I looked at the drawing I realized it looked like I was crucified on a cross. I realized that parts of me felt tortured. When we are “hanging on a cliff” it is a metaphor for not being able to go up or down, not being able to make a physical action or right action for some reason.  It also implies a kind of climatic point in a story, right. When you are at the cliff hanging the story is about to unfold.

I also drew a man bringing me the ladder, which was not actually in my dream but I believe our dreams can actually open up new pathways in our brain. These pathways help us find solutions we have not thought of previously. As we work with them we can take a journey down these pathways toward self understanding. In my dream there is a “male dream guide” who stands ready and waiting to support me. I began to consider all the ways that my masculine self, the masculine self I don’t recognize very clearly, is on my left side. My more rational analytic side seems to be a kind of witness as he waits for me to get me off the cliff. He is there to help me to safety, but he is waiting for me to get the clue.

Like Jacob I felt greatly comforted when I realized that this mystery man is there when I need him. Perhaps he is the unconditional loving force of holiness that I need to rely on, “The bringer of the ladder when we are in crisis.”

In Jacobs dream the ladder is a symbol for the dream. In my dream the ladder is my night and day dream that will bring me to safety.

Like Jacob I am sleeping on a holy rock. His is small but mine is huge like half dome in Yosemite.

WE know that when Jacob had this famous ladder dream he was in a deep crisis. He has made a lot of big mistakes in his life. The first-born son in Judaism is the rightful heir to his father’s fortune but Jacob was the second born and he let his mother convince him to betray his father and brother Esau his twin brother, who was the first-born.  Jacob means heal in Hebrew and he is a “healer” in his family; on his fathers’ death bed he takes the blessings and fortune of his father away from his brother Esau. Then he leaves home and that’s when he has this dream, in the wilderness as he sleeps on a rock.

In dream groups we always talk about someone else’s dream as if it is our own, so I will do that now. I will enter Jacobs dream as if it were my own.

“In my dream, I see a ladder to heaven. And angels are climbing up and down the ladder. I look up and I see God at the top of the ladder. I cannot see him clearly, but I know it is God. I hear a voice and his voice says, “I am with you, always for I will never leave you.”

 Then I woke up and I thought to myself, surely God was in my dream. I did not know God could speak to me in my dreams. When I woke up I felt terrified and was   awestruck at the power of this dream. And I did not know before this dream, that I could commune with the divine in this dream way. This dream was none other than the house of God, and the message I was given clearly taught me that dreams are indeed the gate of heaven.

Jacobs ladder dreams can transport us from one world of consciousness to another-- higher spiritual realm. All dreams are like ladders in the way that they offer to take us to a higher, holier realm where healing and wholeness takes place.

The ladder in this dream is not a literal ladder, right? Are you with me? It is a symbol of a metaphor for Jacob’s direct relationship to, this mystery we call, God in his dreams.

All things that are high and go up in one basicsymbolic sense can be thought of as a mystical dream symbols, expressing our human capacity to envision a transcendental freedom from anything oppressive or gravitation that would make us fall to our death. (Kelley Bulkey, Dreaming in the World Religions p. 274) Also dreams of exquisite beauty are often considered to be places of spirituality.

This summer, in August, I will have a camping dream retreat in Yosemite. I have made a pilgrimage for many years to the valley of the Gods and found that my dreams are affected by being in beautiful settings. I believe that if we did the kind of honoring that dream people did in the ancient world our dreams would become more robust and bring us many more sacred gifts of insight and guidance -- not just for our own healing but for our holy human family.

In ancient Greece and Rome, for example they built hundreds of dream temples in beautiful places and had special dream priest who watch you say prayers for your dream incubation. There were nonpoisonous snakes that crawled around the temple floors and in this religious place of beauty with dream incubation rituals. Then, in the morning they would awaken and the priest would help them understand the messages from the gods in their dreams.

Last summer in the Yosemite Valley I had a dream that I had two holes in my head. When I woke up I realized the word play. My head and my dreams were holy, H O L Y the word for the sacred. Many of us have had dreams about things coming out or going into our brains or heads that may represent how we are changing our thinking, perceptions, and/or attitudes. I experience, in my dream, like Jacob a revelation, a new perspective of a divine presence that like a ladder is enabling me to have God outside of me come into me and the God in me come out. In my imagination my dreams come to give me both just psychological and religious guidance.

Many of us feel that our educational system has given us too many dictionaries that define things for us. We have enough information.  We need both books for the right and left side of the brain obviously, but we are out of balance as a species. We seem to be driven by one book and not given the play, mythic story and religious symbols our dreams can provide in the other book of poetry.

So let me close by asking you to close your eyes again. Let us follow Alice down the rabbit hole this Easter into the world of our imaginations and dreams.

Imagine there are two books on the altar of this church. One is a huge book that says DICTIONARY and the other one is a book, but actually it is the new kind of books on a computer. Walk over to the kindle (computer book). Look at the screen and you see a ladder. Suddenly, the computer screen becomes a holographic screen and a voice invites you to come into the computer screen. You magically enter the holograph of this screen. You begin to descend on a ladder which becomes a stair case. You go down and are passing several floors as you descend. It is dark and at the bottom of the staircase you find yourself in a deep dark forest. There is a path that leads you to an alter that is shining with illumination. On the alter is a golden bowl of rocks.

There is a man and a woman in white robes that offer you a rock and the woman says, very kindly, “Be sure to put this magic rock under your pillow tonight, sweet dreams.” She smiles and seems to give you a telepathic message that you are loved always no matter what. The man leads you back up the stairs. You go up several sets of stairs until you see a ladder that will take you out of this cave-- you see the sun light. As you move up the ladder the man is guiding you as you ascend. When you get out into the light of the church you see a child looking at a computer screen, but there is a ladder growing out of it. Like a firemen’s ladder it can grow and gets higher and higher, then it protrudes out of the computer screen.

And then it becomes a spider web and begins to, like a spider, weave its almost invisible spider web all around the earth. It is connecting us to all other computers and to people in far off places, in China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, and all the way down to the southern pole. We can see our interconnected web of life made and manifested in this dream. We are one, we are all interconnected with our new way of thinking, in our dream we are one with everyone in the human species. Now, slowly take in all that you see. It is time to wake up, refreshed. Slowly open your eyes and come back to this place. So may it be and amen. Now let us all sing together, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream.

Guided Meditation Before Sermon

There is a famous dream from China from Daoism around 300 BCE that I have adapted slightly.

Long ago, a certain Mary dreamed she was a butterfly—a butterfly fluttering here and there on a whim, happy and carefree, knowing nothing of Mary. Then all of a sudden she woke up to find that she was, beyond all doubt, Mary. Who knows if it was Mary dreaming a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming Mary? Mary and butterfly: clearly there’s a difference. This is called the transformation of things.” Daoist Zhuang Zi (369-286 BCE)

Please close your eyes and imagine that you are camping and fast asleep under the stars. It is Yosemite, or in the mountains, or some beautiful place that you love: a sacred place where you have come to camp and commune with the sacred in nature.  And you are like a butterfly in its cocoon all warm and snug in your sleeping bag. You remember a dream fragment and try to lie still so you can remember more. You feel so happy to be dreaming in this mountaintop. 

You look up into the heavens and you watch as slowly the stars begin to go out and the morning sun rise begins to slowly come up. The morning light magically appears in every crevice of things around you. You decide to stay in this comfortable sleeping bag for just a few moments while you savor your dreams from last night. You remember a butterfly, a painted lady butterfly, a very common orange and black butterfly. You close your eyes as you see this butterfly flying and fluttering around. This is an awesome place; this dreaming place, like a gate to heaven. You open your eyes and it is getting lighter and lighter and as you get out of your sleeping bag. You can’t believe your eyes for up and in front of you is another butterfly, not in your dream but in the glow of morning.  Is it the same butterfly from your dream? It seems to beacon you to follow, so you do. The butterfly flies forward and you follow it, it seems to be taking you somewhere. You see a ladder up against a giant rock and the butterfly seems to be encouraging you to climb. You begin to climb the ladder until you reach the top of a beautiful huge rock and you stand and look over the valley and you cannot believe your eyes. 

There are 100s no maybe 1000s of butterflies fluttering and dancing throughout the valley. From this high vantage point on top of the rock you can see the morning sun rising, filled with butterflies. It is magnificent. One butterfly lands on your right hand. You bring it close to your face, light on your hand and you are able to speak telepathically to one another and you say, “Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for being so beautiful.” She knows she is being loved. She is sending you her love. 

As she flies away you burst into a prayer of thanksgiving. Thank you, you who are this mystery we call God, thank you for the beauty of the earth, this valley, this new day. Thank you for every single breath I take. Thank you for every cell and vein and hair on my body.  Thank you for every life form seen and unseen. Thank you for every star in the night sky and every ray of warmth and light from the sun. Thank you for this mysterious glue that holds your creations together. Thank you for the love in my heart and for every dream of beauty. Thank you for the spring that comes every year. I stand in awe on this rock and give you thanks. Now you are quiet, and breathe, and just watch the sun rise, the butterflies dancing. You feel your oneness with all of creation. You are a part of this magnificent creation. New spiritual transformation life is all around you. This day dream surely is the gate of heaven. Surely God who we call by many names is with us in this holy place. Take one last look so you can remember and come back to this place any time you want. Take a mental picture so you can look at this image any time.  Slowly come back to this place and time. Slowly open your eyes and listen to the sounds around you. Shalom, blessed be, and amen. 

Our Lady of the Guadalupe

Our Lady Of Guadalupe

December 6, 2015

And he said, ‘Hear my words: When there are prophets among you, I the Lord make myself known to them in visions; I speak to them in dreams.
– Numbers 12:6

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be. The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.
– Luke 1:26-32

Sermon:
Both the Jewish and Christian Bible are filled with dreams and visions expressing the reality of a direct relationship to the spiritual world. This was accepted by all early church fathers up until Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century. His ideas changed the focus on dreams and visions as he interpreted the life of the church with the help of Aristotle’s philosophy that people only experience through sensory perception and reason.
After this change of world view in the church, dreams have taken a back seat in our Christian tradition. Our religion has become predominantly intellectual leaving out the world of symbols, metaphors, dreams, and the non-rational realms. Before Thomas Aquinas, all of the church fathers wrote extensively about visions and dreams, and viewed them as an important window into the spiritual dimension. It was in a dream vision that Constantine in 312 AD saw two Greek letters for ‘chi’ and ‘ro’ appear in the sky, and Christ appeared to him in a dream carrying this symbol in his hand. Supposedly, because of this dream, Constantine converted to Christianity and the 300-year persecution of Christianity stopped. From this dream, Christianity became the state religion of Rome.
Because of the field of psychology, with the work of Freud and Carl Jung, we are just beginning to explore –– to begin to take dreams and visions seriously. We have seen how Jesus is born only because Joseph and Mary responded to the dreams they had and visions of angels instructing them on what to do next. If they had not done as these visions of this mystery of God had guided them to do, Jesus would not have survived as a baby. Pontius Pilot’s wife had a dream warning her husband not to have anything to do with Jesus. Abraham Lincoln had a dream one week before he was assassinated that he saw his own body lying in state in the White House. He went to the theater where he was shot without any body guards. Perhaps if he had been better at understanding his dreams, our history as a nation would have been very different.
I have offered you an invitation to do the spiritual work of paying attention to your dreams. God will give directions to those who are open to them. It is my belief that God is much more anxious to communicate with us than we are to listen to God. Have you had dreams and visions? Are you paying attention to what God is trying to share with you?
All dreams and visions come for one reason, for healing. As much or more than the laws that promoted racial equality in this country, I believe it is visionary religious leaders like Martin Luther King that has made possible the election of an African-American man as president of the United States. For “without a vision, a people perish.” As we go forth into New Year and our new ministry together, for I will be installed two days before Obama will be inaugurated, let us commit to the study of our dreams and to enjoying and learning to take our dreams and visions seriously. Our new ministry together represents a very different vision of our church, for I am a woman, an artist, and a mystic, and I represent new religious visions I believe that are being born now in the new millennium. We are given in our new ministry together an opportunity to dream and vision together. It is for the most humble amongst us to help lead us to the healing of us individually and as a global people that are one in Christ.
Juan Diego was a humble man who was chosen by God to have a vision that changed his native peoples’ spiritual life forever. He managed to nothing less than restore an Indian woman as the feminine face of God back into their religion. We are called by God to do the same in this time and place as we recognize how out-of-balance our world has become. It is the presence of a Divine Mother who will guide us to heal the earth, to learn to give up our addictions to war, and to learn to treat all children as our own. May this story be an invitation for you to listen to this mystery we call God in your life, and know that no matter how insignificant you may feel, God is trying to lead you to healing and wholeness for yourself and for all of creation.
OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE
By Bonnie Tarwater
Adapted from a children’s story by Tomie de Paola
A long time ago, almost 500 years, in what is now Mexico, there lived a great people called the Aztecs. But Spaniards invaded their land and brutally conquered them, destroying their temples, religion, and culture. One humble Aztec peasant was named He-who-speaks-like-an-eagle. He had been an important figure in the worship of Tonantsi, the Aztec Goddess of Earth and Corn. But the invaders forced the natives to convert to Catholicism and to worship their God. They also gave Spanish names to everyone. So He-who-speaks-like-an-eagle became Juan Diego. He continued to plant corn, but every Saturday and Sunday he now attended mass at the Church of Santiago.
On Saturday, the 9th of December, in the year 1531, something happened that would change Juan Diego’s life forever. It was just before dawn when he put on his tilma, a poncho made of coarse fabric woven from cactus. Then he set out for mass. He neared the sacred hill of Tepeyac where his people used to worship their Goddess of Earth and Corn. Suddenly he paused. What was that sound? Was it a bird song?
But it was different – more like a choir of birds singing a chant of sacred music. Looking up, Juan Diego saw that the top of the hill was covered by a brilliant white cloud, where the Temple of the Goddess used to be. Juan decided to have a better look. So he started to climb the hill. And then, a most remarkable thing happened. The cloud suddenly exploded into shimmering rays of color.
Then all was silent – stillness all around. Juan Diego heard a voice – a sweet, gentle voice of a woman speaking in his own language.
“Juan,” the voice said, “Juan Diego.”
Excited and amazed, he ran up the hill to the top – and it was then the cloud parted.
Before him stood a beautiful lady dressed in the robes of an Aztec princess. She looked like a dark Madonna and her skin was the color of bronze, like his own. It seemed she was standing in front of the sun, its light was so brilliant around and through her. Everything gleamed and glistened, as if made of precious jewels, of silver and gold. Awestruck, Juan Diego kneeled before her.
“Juanito,” she said softly, “most humble and beloved son, where are you off to?”
He scrambled to his feet, stammering, “I’m on my way to the Church of Santiago, my Lady, to hear the mass in honor of the Mother of God.”
“I am that Mother,” she said modestly, “and I want you to listen closely, because I have an important message to give you. I want a church built here, to show my love for your people. You will go at once to the house of the Franciscan Bishop. Tell him that I have sent you. Tell him that he must build a church here, where the Temple of the Aztec Goddess used to be. Tell him everything you have seen and heard.”
With these words, she disappeared into the cloud.
Juan Diego left in a daze. He went straight to the Bishop’s house. He had to wait a long time for an audience with His Grace, but finally he was admitted. He stood nervously before the Bishop and priests. Through an interpreter, Juan told his miraculous story, concluding with the assurance, “The Mother of God told me this herself on the hill of Tepeyac and she invites you to carry out her wishes.”
Loud laughter ran through the room. The Bishop silenced them. To Juan Diego he said kindly, “Come back tomorrow, when I’m not so busy.”
Juan trudged back to the hill. The Lady was waiting for him in the same spot.
“Oh, beautiful Lady,” he sobbed, “I have failed. I don’t think the Bishop believes me. I’m just a poor peasant. Maybe you should’ve sent someone more important than me.”
“My beloved son,” the Lady said, “I have many messengers I could send, but it’s you I need and want for this purpose. Do it for my sake. Go home now to your village, get a good night’s sleep, then tomorrow go to the Bishop again and tell him I want a church. It doesn’t have to be a cathedral. A plain adobe chapel will do for the time being.”
Juan realized he must do as she asked. The next day was the 10th of December. Juan called on the Bishop again and repeated the Lady’s message. This time the Bishop said, “Go back to this Lady and tell her to give me some sign that she is indeed the Mother of God.”
Juan did as he was told. Back he went to the sacred hill, and there she was at the foot of the hill, waiting impatiently. But this time she was standing on a crescent moon held up by angels with colored wings. Well, by now Juan Diego wasn’t much surprised by anything. When he told the Lady about the Bishop wanting proof of her identity, she said, “Juanito, climb up to the top of this hill, where we first met. Cut and gather the roses you will find there.”
“Roses?” he exclaimed. “In December?”
“Collect them all in your poncho,” she said, “and take them to the Bishop. Go quickly now. When he sees them, he’ll know I’m the real thing, and he’ll build my church.” Even though Juan knew that no flowers had ever grown on that barren hill, he ran to the top as ordered.
There before him was the most beautiful garden he’d ever seen. Red roses of Castile with dew still on their petals stretched as far as he could see – he cut the best blooms with his stone knife and filled his poncho with them. With this burden of beauty tied around his neck, he ran to the Bishop’s house as fast as he could.
Juan Diego knocked on the door. A priest opened it and Juan stepped into the room. The Bishop stood and looked at him curiously. Juan spoke with new authority.
“I have the sign you asked for,” he said. Then he opened his poncho and let the roses cascade like a waterfall onto the carpet.
The Bishop let out a cry, as Juan stood holding open his empty poncho. Both Bishop and priests fell to their knees. That’s when Juan realized that they weren’t looking at the roses on the floor. They were staring at his poncho, emptied of the roses. On the coarse fabric was the image of the Lady who Juan Diego had come to know.
“Hail, Mary, full of grace,” the Bishop murmured, “the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou amongst women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death. Amen.”
News of the miracle spread and thousands of Juan Diego’s people came to see and honor the sacred image. On that day the Bishop announced, “We will build a church just as Our Lady told us to do on the exact spot where she met Juan Diego. It is her wish that the Holy Image shall be known as Our Lady Maria of Guadalupe.”
In a few days, the Bishop, being a frugal man, gave orders that his priests build an adobe chapel. And Juan Diego’s poncho with its amazing image of the Lady was placed there. For the rest of his life, Juan lived next to the shrine, which he took care of and watched over.
Later, a large cathedral was built, also in the same hallowed place. It’s there that the mysterious image still hangs today, unfaded for centuries. Millions of people from around the world have made pilgrimages to this place in what is now Mexico City.
Today, Our Lady of Guadalupe is the patron saint of Mexico and is the symbol in Latin America of liberation for the poor, the sick, and the oppressed. Altars to her are found everywhere. In the same sacred place where the Goddess of Earth and Corn was worshipped by the Aztecs, Christians continue to worship this feminine face of the divine, the Mother who brings miracles of healing and gives us hope that we will transcend evil and be blessed with grace.
Please pray with me to Our Lady of Guadalupe, for our prayers to her are for all people seeking liberation here in the Americas.
Let us pray: Our Lady, we ask you to let the day come when, raising our gaze, we all may see freedom reign on this earth. Our soul magnifies the liberating God, Our spirit rejoices in your name, for you have not forgotten us who suffer, and you, our Mother of God, will always be with us in our struggle to be healed and free. In Your Holy name we pray. Amen.
(Adapted from the Song of Mary)