John the Baptist Who Prepares the Way

Gospel Reading: Matthew 11: 1-15

St. John the Baptist in the Wilderness by Joshua Reynolds (1776)
 A human being lived on the earth of whom it was said, he was the highest born of women, but not yet an angel. John lived at the threshold of humanity’s becoming.

In the course of the year, he is the one human being upon whom we call from the altar. In the epistle at St. John’s, he is addressed and it is said of him that he carries the Father spirit in the sphere around his body. This expression is a picture of being enveloped, of living within something larger. In this case it is all of creation. John’s thoughts are one with the divine. We may manage this some of the time; but he lives there.

His thinking is alive with God. As one who from a very early age dedicated himself to a life of prayer and service to others that they may know the nearness of the Kingdom of God, he  grew to become someone not limited by the demands of the physical body, able to be nourished from simple nourishments–wild fruits and honey and clothing himself with rough camel hair and a leather belt. He went to the desert in solitude with God; he was then called to the River Jordan to baptize any who heard his message: change your minds and hearts, for the Kingdom of God is near.

One could see a harshness in John, because of the clarity and power of his word, but in reality, his was a love for humanity so great, he gave everything so that we might not miss our opportunity to take the next great step in human development. His humility was complete: he found himself also unworthy to baptize Jesus–but it was this humility that made him worthy.

We call upon John that we may receive his witness and his strength to give ourselves to that which is most essential in our lives, to be able to commit like he does to the working of the spirit, and to love our own humanity and that in those around us, that we grow into the human beings we are to become, those who love God and all of Creation unerringly, unremittingly, uninterruptedly.

Pentecost: Become Holy Spirit


Gospel Reading: John 14: 23-31

Christmas is a festival of the Divine Trinity. This great act of Christmas begins with a gesture of offering—an offering made from the divine to, amazingly enough, us. To the humanity created to be “in God’s image.”

The Father sends the Son into the world, and the Son is able to send us the Spirit. When we think of the divine bending down into our smallness—it is humbling. Almost unbelievable. But this is the depth and breadth and height of God’s Love for us. That God was willing to become man so that we could find the Spirit.

This is a process of waking up to this highest Love of God within us. We are so slow, but it is dawning!

We have arrived at the festival of Pentecost in our Holy Nights contemplation series, preparing for the coming year through the Christian festivals. Pentecost (or Whitsun) is the festival of the Holy Spirit. In our Creed we can learn something of this Holy Spirit—who, even up to and including the deed of the Annunciation and Conception of Jesus, worked within humanity to make it possible for such a birth to take place that the Son God could become Man. But following the description of Christ’s overcoming of  death, and his Ascension, when he becomes Lord of the heavenly forces upon earth and the fulfiller of Creation—we hear an enigmatic statement:

He will in time unite for the advancement of the world with those whom, through their bearing, he can wrest from the death of matter.

Human beings have something to do. Our “bearing” is that upon which the advancement of the world depends. What is this bearing? To bear ourselves is how we carry ourselves through life. This indicates that there are in a sense two aspects of the human being: the one who is borne forth by the other. One could perhaps say: our spirit which carries our body, an indication that it matters which part of us is the guiding part. Does the body guide the spirit or the spirit guide the body? Our “bearing” also expresses an orientation. On what star do we orient ourselves as we move through life? To walk a spiritual path must always be a free activity. It unfolds out of the individual who strives towards something.

All of this can be seen in this bearing, through which Christ can unite himself with us to advance the world. The future depends greatly upon us.

But these efforts make possible the evolution not only of the world, but also of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit, who worked for millennia from behind the scenes, from the heavenly into the earthly world—just think of the Prophets who were the mouthpieces of the Holy Spirit—now is able to work through Christ, and receives a new name which reveals that something has changed:

Through him can the Healing Spirit work.

Though the word HOLY indicates healing, it is altogether different to express it clearly this way. This is a reflection of the change in the human being: through Him in us—spirit Healing can be brought into the world. And thereby, the Spirit itself grows and is able to express itself anew. For the Holy Spirit is actually all of us, becoming our fully realized spiritual selves.

In the gospel reading, this is expressed in the sentence: Whoever truly loves me, bears my Word in themself. We can also say: Whoever loves me reveals my Spirit.

We do not become copies, but those who express God through our unique expression of self. This is what defines Christianity: that the perfection and making whole of God’s creation is for us to become fully human, fully individual, every single person an aspect of God that otherwise would not be expressed on earth. It is our task to become fully ourselves and love like God loves: to make the world whole.

Ascension: Where is Christ now?

Gospel Reading: John 16: 23b-33

Ascension by Salvador Dali

Through the light of these Christmas days, we are turning our gaze to the coming Christian year. We have arrived at Ascension, the festival of Christ’s Ascent to the Father and into the realm of the clouds. This ascent of his has long been understood to mean that Christ returns to heaven, as reflected in the Nicene creed spoken in most churches: “He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father.” It is a kind of mystery language because it speaks in pictures.

It seems clear heaven is a place as we traditionally learned about it: the up there, the not here, the holy realm away from the shadowed earth. The expression about being seated at the right hand of the Father can even sound to our ears like the description of a specific location in Heaven where he has ascended to, describing what he is doing there: he is seated. It sounds as if he is passive there, which can hardly be the case.

What is it that our Creed says of the Ascension, and the new role of Christ after Easter’s forty days? “Since that time he is the Lord of the heavenly forces upon earth and lives as the fulfiller of the fatherly deeds of the ground of the world.”

Here is portrayed something quite different. While still having to do with heaven, it is not a heaven that is far away but that has the capacity to be present on earth. In Christianity this is described in the phrase: “The Kingdom of God has drawn near.” There are heavenly forces which can and do work within earthly life! And there can be many servants of these forces, but there is one Lord. The Son, Christ, has gained rulership over these forces being able to work. He is not far away then, but he too must be here, working. The picture of his Ascension into heaven must carry now another way of thinking about where and what heaven is.

We know something of this from our own lives. Wherever we are can feel like heaven or like hell. We have elevated moments like a sunset behind a fresh snowfall or gazing at a newborn child when we can say: this is like heaven on earth! And those lower moments of deepest suffering, when we say “this is hell on earth. What we do to contribute to this reality matters more than we realize most of the time.

He who is Lord there now—who has ascended to the right hand of the Father—perhaps this is not static after all, but rather captures the image of the right hand as the hand that acts and works into the world, where the left pictures a more receptive nature—he now fulfills the deeds of the Ground of Creation—Creation continues now under his regency and guidance. The Son has assumed the primary leadership for the continuation of the Creation. And the Son has come to help us rightly take up our role as human beings as helpers there. In our newly named era in human and earthly history, the Anthropocene, this has become abundantly clear: what we do determines the very fate of the earth and our own future.

Ascension is the festival in which the one born at Christmas, who is baptized at Epiphany 30 years later, who walks into the depths of our humanity in his Passion for us and who dies on the Cross, who liberates the Dead and overcomes Death itself at Easter, who teaches the disciples about the Kingdom of God which has drawn near—he now expands himself to encompass the whole of the earth as his new body, and invites us to work in his name, and help make heaven alive on earth, to fulfill the work of the divine here on earth.

We join with him in raising our thoughts, our feelings, our devotion to the healing of the rift between spirit and matter, within us, between us. We can every day practice Ascension, to create of the daily course of our lives elevated moments in service of the heavenly forces working—or longing to work—on earth.

The Light that is Life: Easter

Gospel Reading: John 11: 1-44The-Raising-of-Lazarus.jpg
Easter is the revolutionary act that changes the course of human and earthly history. A God enters the world and becomes a man, and then, though it were possible to do otherwise, allows himself to die on a cross. And why? Because Easter.

Something utterly transformative happens through the Easter event. Without death, there could be no resurrection. Or could there?

When Jesus hears that Lazarus is ill, he chooses to stay in Galilee, rather than go to him and heal him. It is for the glory of God, that God may be revealed. This is hard to understand unless we have a picture that death is not a permanent end but a transformation that brings about a birth in another form.

Lazarus, with his sisters, is a close friend of Jesus. This is not a statement of personal preference and sentiment but expresses rather the intimacy and connection they share with Jesus and what he has come to do. They are, to the best of their abilities, united with his mission.

What is this mission? simply said, it is to reveal God. But not through the expression of his divine power that would force humanity into submission or a place of dependency upon this God King who has come to earth.

Rather, he has come to awaken us to the divine within, to our power to become more than our egotism would allow us to become. To become what we were meant to become–those created in God’s image. God is love, and so we too were created to become those who can love like God.

After his calling back from death, Lazarus receives a new life. He goes on to become the Disciple Whom Jesus Loved, the one who can stand beneath the Cross (with Mary) as a witness to Jesus’ death, and Christ’s birth into a new connection with the earth and human beings. He is able to hold this tremendous spiritual act and report on it and much more in the Gospel he writes and the Revelation he  receives later. This new life gives him eventually a new name: John.

We do not appear to have died as we walk around the world and live our lives. But many of us come to a point when we recognize that we are not yet fully alive, and we seek a higher kind of wholeness.

When we come to the service, and stand up and walk to the altar to receive Communion, we enter into this mystery of Love. We make ourselves open to the transformation that this Love offers to us, as his resurrection body and blood are offered to us, and finally, his peace.

I stand at peace with the world… This peace is also offered to us, in that we engage with him who overcomes the forces of death within us, and strive to be those who through our humble earthly bodies are able to reveal the divine.

Passiontide at Christmas: Entering the Earthly Body with a New Word

jesus-mosaic2Gospel Reading: John 8: 1-12

Learning to enter Passiontide with Christ is to learn to enter into all the darkest places of earthly and human life. He holds them all within his aura of love, within his own being. He has said yes to the earth and humanity as his body, and so he has said yes to all the ways that body is out of balance, all the illnesses it carries, all the ways it is not yet fit to carry and support the free unfolding of the spirt within. He says yes, and writes into it, by bending down to the earth, new words of power that allow us with him to overcome the influence of death, and being imprisoned in the past.

The Law given through Moses forbade the individual from taking of another human life, but it allowed for justice to be carried out by the community. No individual human being had to be solely responsible for the death of one who broke the Law, but justice could be served by the group, in fulfillment of the Law. Thus stoning evolved as the “right” punishment within that community. Each community member could cast a stone—an expression of the sin committed—and only after many had thrown would death come. It was “death by earth”—or death by the weight of the sin—an over-identification with the earthly—as perceived by the many members of the community.

This Law was born in a time in which there was a clear mission to protect the purity of the hereditary stream, so that the one human being could be born—after forty-two generations—who could receive the Being of the Son God into himself. This was the mission of the Hebrew people, and though we can experience such a thing as adultery being punishable by death as gruesome, this law had its reasons.

In the Gospel reading, however, we can observe that it had gone on and become inappropriate as the community had lost its way. Those who bring the woman before Jesus and would stone her do so only to catch Jesus in a trap. Maybe they still carry concern for her law-breaking but it seems they are far more interested in catching someone who seems to be usurping their power. They have not recognized him as the one has come who they have been preparing to receive. He seeks to reveal to them a new impulse that shall lead them forward and help them find justice in the right way, if they can but rightly perceive. It is a clash of cultures.

When they ask him to either confirm that she should be stoned or to show himself blasphemous against the Law of Moses, he does neither, but refrains from outer speech and instead writes something into the earth. His speaking is instead through action, and the words he uses hidden from sight, perhaps only readable in the future.

The answer he gives is not an answer to their question but rather a whole new statement which they seem to take into their souls: the one who is without sin, be the first to cast a stone. The Law is in a sense already fulfilled, because instead of following it without question, the authorities gathered there seem to turn now to their own inner conscience. Is this not the goal of the Law, to birth this in the human being and make outer laws unnecessary as the moral human being evolves and grows to act independently in a  way that is right for everyone? The question that is not voiced but seems to resound is: Can I throw a stone if I myself am also a sinner? The individual who participates in the meting out of justice now suddenly matters.

A new path of transformation is inaugurated. The individual is liberated to a new responsibility for oneself. Even the one who has broken the social agreements she lived within, she too is given a grace pass. She is offered instead of punishment a chance to restore herself going forward. These radical acts are moments of Christmas. At Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Light, the birth of the One who is Himself the Being of Light, the light that heals all that is sundered because within the light all can be rightly seen. Christ, referring to what is now born into he world through his being said:

I AM the Light of the World. Whoever walks with me does not walk in darkness but will have the light in which there is life.

In earth and human darkness, we long for the light. The need for an outer Law lessens as the God Light is born in the human soul, and true deeds of goodness shall flow into life. As this light grows stronger, perhaps we will become ones who can read the future word that has been written into the earth.