February 17, 2019 sermon

Posted by on Feb 24, 2019 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

February 17, 2019

Last Sunday I began a story that I intend to continue for the next several weeks as I attempt to describe how people from different walks of life viewed Jesus in various ways and how that is reflected in the earliest writings about him. The story takes place near the end of the first century, some 65 years after the death of Jesus and approximately 25 years after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans and the dispersion of the Jewish people throughout the Roman Empire. We listen in as the fourth and final author and editor of the Gospel known as John explains how he wants people to understand and interpret it. John has just explained to some 20 followers of Jesus who are gathered together in his home how the words he added at the very beginning of the Gospel are drawn from other passages in the Jewish scriptures.

“Exactly,” John says, smiling. “Thank you for recognizing the similarities because it makes apparent right from the start that this Gospel of John is not to be understood literally but from the viewpoint of a mystic. The Breath of God or the Spirit of God was involved in creation right from the start, as was the Wisdom of God, as is the Word of God. And so when I write that, ‘The Word became flesh and lived among us,’ do not take it as a literal, historical event but as a mystical, spiritual reality. Jesus was a very real, person but not in the way some are speaking of him. This is what the rest of the Gospel will attempt to show.”

A young listener says, “I think I understand some of what you say. For instance, the story of the wedding feast in Cana is not about a miraculous turning of water into wine by Jesus but a sign that points out that the Jewish faith, represented by the water, gave birth to the Christian faith, represented by the new wine. Because we are Jewish people ourselves who also believe that Jesus is the Messiah that is an easy sign to understand. But what of the other signs included in this Gospel? And what of the story about Nicodemus?”

“Ah,” John says, “Nicodemus’ encounter with Jesus in the middle of the night should also be easy for us to understand because it is about our own community’s faith journey. In this story, Nicodemus represents the Jewish religious leaders of the synagogue we were once a part of who were interested in hearing what we disciples of Jesus had to say about him, but in the end they simply could not make the leap to believe in him as the Messiah. Nicodemus represents all our fellow Jews who sense there is truth in what we claim about Jesus but have decided to reject the message and remain in the Jewish synagogue.”

The young listener interrupts, “But Jesus says that a person must be born of flesh and of the spirit to see the kingdom of God. The Gospel claims a person must be born from above. Nicodemus asks what seems to me a reasonable question, ‘How can anyone be born again? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?’”

“And there’s the beauty of this story,” John says confidently. “What should be apparent is that one should not interpret this story literally but mystically. Of course, a person can’t be physically born again. But a person can have a spiritual birth. Most of us would agree with that, but some of us have difficulty understanding that it is not a birth that is imposed on us by an external God but one that is born within us through an internal God. In Jewish mystical circles, it is understood that God is made known within us as we humans are born into a new consciousness. That is primarily what this story is about.”

“A new consciousness, you say. Can you explain that further?” wonders the young listener.

“I can try,” John answers. “When we are born of water into this physical world, we become self-conscious and begin to realize things that many other forms of life will never be able to because they are not self-conscious. Many animals and fish and birds simply go through life by instinct. We humans do not. We are able to imagine the future, ask questions about ourselves and our purpose in life, and a whole bunch of other things that makes us aware or self-conscious. We can contemplate life and death and feel anxious because of that. We are driven by the need to survive. The new consciousness that Jesus is speaking of with Nicodemus is one in which we are able to make a transformation from self-consciousness to universal or God-like consciousness, which is what Jesus did. Jesus was able to let go of the need to survive physically. He lived in a new realm in which life means so much more than physical life on this earth. Sometimes this is referred to as the Kingdom of God but that too is being misunderstood as a place above us when in reality it is within us. Mystics understand that. Literalists do not.”

“What would it be like to live in this new consciousness?” asks another listener. “How would it be different than the world we now live in?”

John sits quietly for a moment before answering. “In some ways, there will be no difference. We will still get hungry if we don’t eat and thirsty if we don’t drink. We will still feel cold and warmth and all the other things we have always felt. Living in this new consciousness will not change any of the physical stuff around us. What it changes is the stuff within us. When we are self-conscious we usually love ourselves first and foremost and will do almost anything to protect ourselves and keep ourselves alive. That is the primary need for most people. However, when we experience a new birth into what some are now calling Christ-like consciousness, that primary need changes because our love changes. We still love ourselves when we are ‘born from above’ as the Gospel puts it, but we also love others as much as we love ourselves. When we live only in a state of self-consciousness, we will certainly feel grief and pain when someone we love is hurting or dies, but very few of us would be willing to give up our own lives so that another person can live. Sometimes we would do that for someone we love greatly, but that is the exception.”

A gentle voice from the circle of listeners speaks up, “I would gladly give my life so that another might live,” an elderly woman says. “I would rather die than anyone of you die. If I lay down my life for anyone or even all of you I will be most fully alive and experience love in ways that are beyond anything I have experienced before. Love is not about living as much as it is about giving.”

All eyes turn towards the speaker, thinking about what she just said. Even John is silent as the room takes on a quiet peace. Eventually, he breaks the silence and with a warm smile says to her, “You are the true leader among us. We all know that you are not just saying empty words but would willingly die for anyone of us. Every day you give a part of yourself in some way for someone so that his or her life might be better. You have already been born from above into a new consciousness. The spirit of God blows where it wills and it has filled you with its presence. You should be teaching us, rather than me trying to teach you.”

The woman smiles brightly at the compliment but deflects it immediately. “No, John, I do not have the gift of words that you and the other authors of this Gospel have. I could never write what has been written or explain it as you do. Please forgive me for my interruption and continue.”

John bows his head in humility and then looks up and lets his eyes rest on each person present for a few seconds, finally letting them rest on the elderly woman. “I thank you for your support, but we all know that your actions are much more powerful and important than my words. Never-the-less I will continue as you wish.”

“Tell us about the Samaritan woman at the well, John,” an eager voice says. “I’ve always had difficulty grasping the meaning of it. We all know that our Jewish ancestors greatly disliked our Samaritan relatives because they collaborated with foreign kings and many of them intermarried with people of those countries. They even fought against us at times with the support of those foreign armies. Why would Jesus ever talk with a Samaritan and a woman at that when it was considered scandalous to do so?”

“You have raised the perfect story in this Gospel of John at the perfect time,” John says. “We have just been given the perfect example by our own esteemed member of this community as to why a woman is just as important in the realm of God as any man. Love is not bound by gender or race and that is what this story of the Samaritan woman is about. Do not take it to be a historical event but a mystical parable. The woman represents the nation of Samaria and Jesus is breaking down barriers of resentment, hatred, and prejudice. By having Jesus speak with this woman of the Samaritan race, the author of the Gospel is showing his readers that in Jesus’ realm or kingdom, nobody is excluded or limited. All are equal. All are welcome. All are loved. All are able to enter into this new consciousness, this new wine, this new dimension of love, without exception. The kingdom of God is open to all. And, in fact, the story ends with the Samaritans believing and proclaiming the message of Jesus throughout their land.”

“But what about the living water Jesus offered her?” the eager voice asks.

“Ah, the living water,” John says, repeating the words. “Once again, the story makes it clear that we should not take this story literally but consider its mystical dimensions. If we think that Jesus offers us physical water to quench our physical thirst, we are missing the point. What Jesus offers the woman, and in reality all of us, is the opportunity to drink of the water of life and love that is found by living and loving in the new consciousness where Jesus lived and loved. All we have to do is look at the life of our beloved sister who exemplifies so well what I am attempting to explain to you so poorly,” John said, looking at the elderly woman who said she would gladly give her life for anyone of them, and smiling warmly.

“And is the story of Jesus healing the royal official’s son the same sort of thing?” asks another voice.

“Yes, it is,” John replies. “Once again the authors of the Gospel are showing that God’s love has no limits or boundaries. Neither the Roman oppressors nor the wealthy oppressors are excluded from living in this new dimension of Christ-like consciousness where the old self-love is replaced by a new universal love. This is the message of this Gospel and it is the message that Jesus gave the world.