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Posts Tagged ‘unity’

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Do You Have Eyes?

 “Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? And do you not remember?” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?” Mark 8:18,21

In this story, the disciples complain because they failed to bring enough bread with them. Jesus says, “Do you still not perceive or understand?” Although they have eyes and ears, they can neither see nor hear the reality he models for them. This deeper seeing looks beyond what is visible in any situation to the God-given power and creative possibility inherent in any given moment. He reminds them of the feeding of the 5,000 and the amount of food left over after feeding so many with so little. He says, “Do you not yet understand?” In essence, he says we should not trouble ourselves with issues that are so easily and reliably taken care of by God. With time and experience around Jesus, we should know better than to worry over such things as what we are to eat and what we are to wear.

Jesus uses blindness as a way to describe ignorance. In spite of accompanying Jesus on his daily travels, in spite of hearing his teachings and witnessing the miracles he works, the disciples still do not understand. They cannot wrap their heads around the reality Jesus lives for them, which is the uniting of matter and spirit. Because we are physically blind to the spirit, we naturally assume spirit and matter are separate. They are not. The disciples think Jesus’ work is like a magic show, that there must be some sort of obscure trickery involved. It is too much to believe that he is manifesting the power and presence of God before their eyes. They believe God’s personal presence is only for those specially chosen by God. They cannot believe that degree of love would ever be lavished upon common folk as unworthy as they. They cannot accept the incomprehensible and too-good-to-be-true truth emanating from Jesus. They are blind to the manifestation of unconditional love in their midst; and so are we.

Obviously, our eyes are not the problem. Most of us can see just fine, physically. Our blindness is in our inability to comprehend the depth of what we experience. We grab too quickly for and hold too tightly to limited understandings of a truth that is ungraspable. In the process, we settle for partial truths and misunderstand our lives according to them. In our obsession to feel in control of truth, we hold onto those partial truths long after they have proven themselves inadequate. They are simply stepping-stones on an endless journey that we mistake for the destination. Even as adults, we too often retain narcissistic, immature understandings, believing everything is for and about us. While it is true that everything is about us, it is not about us as individuals, but about us as a collective, as the entirety of creation, as the Body of Christ.

We find ignorance on display throughout the Bible. Thankfully, God responds differently to ignorance than we typically respond. For example, even while Jesus endured the agony of the cross, he had compassion for his executioners: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). God responds to our ignorance with compassion, not condemnation, inviting us into a deeper understanding that we are a work in progress. Parents know this type of love from the dumb things their young children often do. We find our kids endearing, innocent, and precious, and we respond with love and patience. At some point, however, we can no longer use a childish lack of understanding as an excuse. We can learn to open our spiritual eyes and experience the spiritual world embedded within the physical. Everything that lives and moves and has being has a physical presence that is animated and permeated by Spirit. Furthermore, the Spirit that is in the rock, in the sunrise, and in my neighbor, is the same Spirit that is in me. We are quite literally One in that Spirit. We are not the same, but we are inseparably interconnected. We will know our relatedness to all that is when we have eyes that truly see.

This, then, is the vision to which Christ calls us. We love ourselves by loving others. Why? Because we cannot be well when those around us are suffering.  Jesus’ words remind us: “Do you have eyes and fail to see? Do you have ears and fail to hear? Do you not yet understand?” Like the disciples, we are a work in progress.

This is the 34th in the series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

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Blessed are the Peacemakers

 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  Matthew 5:9

When I think of a peacemaker, I think of someone with a gift for easing tension, for working through differences, and for finding a way to bring together people with diverse beliefs and goals. When I was a young adult, there was much talk about the United States achieving peace through strength. This meant that we would maintain a military force strong enough that no one would dare disturb the peace sufficiently to provoke us to action against them for that nation would face certain annihilation. I wondered then, and I wonder today: Is that really peace? It is fear-based compliance, which seems to me like a very shallow and tenuous peace. Underneath, the weaker party is forever scheming ways to attain their purposes without overly provoking the more powerful party. This type of peace leads to subversion, hatred, and jealousy as people devise subtle ways to rebel and undermine the other. I think peace through strength might be illustrated by the compliant housewife who outwardly stands with her abusive husband, but only because of and for as long as it seems to be the best option available to her. Behind the placid face brews hatred and prayers for how she might free herself from the oppression one day. Somehow, I doubt this is the sort of peace of which Jesus refers.

In his book A Brief History of Everything1, Ken Wilber describes the concept of transcend and include, which refers to stages of growth and development. For the atom to join a molecule, it must transcend its atomic state and join other atoms to form a molecule. It still retains its being as an atom, however, only in a larger, integrated context. The same is true of our cells. In order to grow into a higher order of existence, a cell must join together with other cells under a common purpose to form organs and organisms. Each cell continues to exist, both as an individual and as part of a larger community. What does this have to do with peace? When people, corporations, or nations clash, each side is locked in its own small, exclusive reality, refusing to accept the legitimacy of their opponent’s small, exclusive reality. In the cellular example, one cell refuses to join with another cell in order to participate in and create a higher being that transcends, yet includes both cells. When this happens, a battle ensues – physical, emotional, intellectual, or spiritual – until one side beats the other into submission. And our world calls that peace. Peace, however, is much more than the absence of violence.

The only lasting and true peace must be inclusive of what is important to all sides. What is always required is a transformation to a higher, more inclusive state of being. Some authors refer to it as a third way. This way to peace requires each side to expand their conscious awareness enough to reassess their own position, while opening themselves to the position of the other. With persistence and patience, a third way emerges that allows both sides to retain what is truly important to them – traditions, cultures, languages – but they do so in a mutually beneficial, respectful, and transcendent way. This is the peace of Christ, who stood at the crossroads of human nature and spirit, of government and religion, of heaven and earth, and held himself there as an inclusive uniter. It was not the nails that held Jesus to the cross; it was his love for both sides. Whether the issue is national borders, homophobia, racial or social injustice, Christ stands in the gap, holding the tension, and lovingly welcoming everyone to the table.

Those who follow the unifying example of Christ, then, are the peacemakers. They are the ones who stand in the gap between warring factions and, often at their own peril, work to expand the vision and experience of both sides so everyone can co-exist. Peacemakers are never exclusive but always inclusive of all people and views. This is why they are called children of God. They do exactly what Jesus came to earth to do – to make God known to us through a peace demonstrated by an unfailing love and acceptance of all.

The peacemakers are among the instruments of God on earth.

This is the 17th in a series of Life Notes entitled “What Did Jesus Say?”

 Prefer to listen? Check out Life Notes Podcasts at www.ContemplatingGrace.com/podcasts

1          Ken Wilber, A Brief History of Everything, Shambhala Publications. Boston, MA 2000.

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A Human Face

 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known. John 1:18

There is a significant difference in the faces of God presented in the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. In the Old Testament, God is mostly mysterious, unpredictable, and intangible. God appears in dreams, as a pillar of cloud, and as a burning bush that is not consumed. God is all-knowing and all-powerful, but aloof and inaccessible except to a select few. In the Jewish Temple, the Holy of Holies – the innermost shrine where God was believed to reside – could not be entered by anyone except the High Priest, and then only once a year. Although God’s grace manifested throughout the Old Testament, particularly in the exiling of the Jewish people from their bonds of slavery in Egypt, God is presented as being mostly unapproachable and capricious, at least for the common folks.

The New Testament presents an entirely different face of God, taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In anticipation of the birth of Jesus, the coming child was referred to as Emmanuel, which means “God with us.” Unlike the God often portrayed in the Old Testament, Jesus had a distinct affinity for regular people and particularly for the outcasts, sick, lame, foreigners, widows, and children. He reserved his stiffest criticism for the religious leaders who piously set themselves and their God apart from being accessible to everyone. Jesus called common fishermen and despised tax collectors to be among his chosen disciples. He associated with prostitutes and lepers. He healed, taught, and fed everyone who came to him with a sincere desire to know and experience God with us.

According to John’s Gospel, Jesus came to make God known. There would be no more struggling to understand the cryptic teachings of the priests and the prophets as go-betweens, mediating between God and God’s people. In Jesus, God was present for all to be touched and witnessed, to be healed, and to experience. Instead of saying, “Obey my commandments,” Jesus said, “Follow me.” In other words, “Do as I do.” Loving and caring for others, tending to those on the fringes of society, welcoming the stranger – God, through Jesus, displayed concrete actions that people could observe and emulate. Jesus modeled non-violence in a decidedly violent world. He preached a message of abundance to a world where food, shelter, and other necessities were hoarded by a few to the detriment of many. He shared a message of love for all to a world sharply divided along lines of race, religion, and nationality. Thankfully, he shared parables that are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago because most of these divisive realities are still with us today.

John 1:17 says, “The law indeed was given through Moses (Old Testament); grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” Verse 18 names Jesus as God’s Son, “who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.” The authors of the Old Testament described a God whose mercy and justice was mediated through a set of rules governing human behavior. In the New Testament, God is revealed as a human being, allowing us to learn how to be with God, to be with others, and finally to be with ourselves. God is love, and it is in that love that we find God. Ultimately, we can only find the essence of our being in God. Becoming that love is what Jesus modeled for us. Jesus was God in a human body – fully human and fully spirit. When we realize that we too are a manifestation of this unity of body and spirit, we gain the ability to truly follow Jesus not just as God’s creation, but as co-creators with God in healing our broken world, even as we heal our own broken lives. The human face of God in Jesus calls to us: “Follow me.”

 Note: this is the 21st in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

 

 

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Life Notes

How Did I Miss That?

Part 22: Unity ≠ Uniformity

 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one. I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:22-23

As a young adult, I was fascinated with Eastern philosophy. A common theme was unity, or oneness. Writers spoke frequently of becoming one with God, or with one’s environment, or with others. In marriage, scripture tells us two lives become one flesh. In my western mind, I thought the whole concept of oneness was repulsive. Why would a single drop of water intentionally fall in the ocean and lose its uniqueness? I remember reading once, about marriage, that the ultimate result of two people becoming one was two half-people. Cynical, yes; but it is a reflection of the western emphasis on individuality, making one’s own way, and expressing one’s distinctiveness.

Interestingly, the point in my life when I was ready to enter into marriage was the point when I had grown tired of my individual expression. I did not like what I had and had not achieved in life, I felt stagnant and stale, and I was more than ready to give up the life I had worked to build for a chance of reaching for something better. Marriage changed my life in wonderful ways too numerous to count, but it hardly stole my uniqueness. Rather, unity in marriage provided a larger context of support where I could develop and express my individual gifts more completely. And that is the point about unity that is often overlooked: unity does not imply uniformity. Unity is about fitting one’s uniqueness into place along with the distinct qualities of others to create something greater. Think of the pieces of a puzzle – each piece has a unique coloration, shape, and place, but when the pieces are fit together as one, the result is far beyond what any one piece was capable of producing.

Striving for unity requires a leap of faith. A person must be willing to risk the self they have identified with in order to attain a larger purpose or goal. The math of unity is 1+1+1=111. There is very little logic to it, but we know two or more people working in unison toward a common purpose can accomplish more than can be accomplished individually. The power of relationship is the immeasurable wildcard. Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matthew 18:20) It is an early definition of fellowship, and it implies that a supernatural force develops from oneness.

Every trait that made me unique in my single days I retain today, so I lost nothing. Instead, I found a greater context within which to express that uniqueness.

Unity does not equal uniformity. How did I miss that?

uncovering-god-book-and-cd-covers

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Life Notes—April 18, 2013 

“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.  I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  John 17:20-23

The passage above comes from the 17th chapter of the Gospel of John.  Jesus is praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, minutes before he will be betrayed and murdered.  He prays for himself to successfully complete his earthly work.  He prays for his disciples, who will establish his church.  Finally, he prays for us—those who will believe through the Word passed to us by his disciples. There is a common theme in this intimate prayer: Oneness.  Many times throughout his ministry Jesus declares that he and God are One.  And here, in the Garden, he prays that we—two thousand years in the future—will be completely one with each other.  He (Jesus) in us, and God in him, all together as One.

So, what does it mean to be One?  In Genesis 2:24, referring to marriage, it is written, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.”  Could that be the sort of Oneness Jesus refers to?  I am married, but my wife and I are very different and unique individuals.  Yet we are one, according to Genesis.  Certainly, we have all seen how the lives of folks in committed relationships become intertwined by bonds that are painfully difficult to try to break.

There are bonds uniting us all that are beyond our ability to perceive, not just in marriage, but in humanity.  I believe Jesus is referring to a Oneness that is an absolute reality, regardless of whether we are consciously aware of it.  And that sort of Oneness helps bring perspective to some of the more difficult passages in the Bible.  For example, we are told to care for the poor and less fortunate.  If we are truly One, no one can truly prosper until all prosper because we are all interconnected.  It is true in marriage that a couple suffers or prospers together, and it is equally true of humanity.  Such shared fates may not manifest in obvious ways, but I believe they are there nonetheless.  Jesus recognized the importance of affirming that connection, even if we cannot see it.  We are all unique expressions of the One.  But we cannot separate ourselves from that source or our fellow beings; we can only ignore the connection—at our own peril.

Life worship is downtown at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary. Tom’s sermon is “The Power of a Helping Hand,” based on Luke 10:25-37.  West campus worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Experience the power of One…

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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