060219 Easter 7c
So Paul and Silas were walking down the road when a young woman started shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” The same thing happened the next day; and the next day. Finally, Paul had had enough: he said to the spirit in her, “I order you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” Why was Paul so annoyed? Wasn’t she telling the truth? That is, in fact, exactly who they were. And, wasn’t she giving them free publicity? Their entire lives were dedicated to offering people salvation. So, what was wrong?
Paul knew from his own life experience that there were two kinds of religion: head religion and heart religion. He had spent most of his life acting on head religion. It led him to persecute the followers of Jesus. Then he had an encounter with the risen Christ, and he came to know heart religion, which is all about relationship. The young woman shouting truth about him was promoting head religion; and even though the words were true, the impact led people down a false path. Paul exposed the fact that the words came from an enslaving spirit inside her, which had stolen her personhood and turned her into an object bound to slave owners outside her.
When her owners realized that Paul had destroyed their money-making object, they created a riot that resulted in Paul and Silas being thrown in prison. But even there, Paul showed that he was living a heart religion, as he led a hymn sing in the jail. Then, after the earthquake, Paul again revealed that he was a free person, and not anyone’s object, as he stayed in jail when the doors flung open and the chains were unfastened; he even convinced the other prisoners to stay. That heart religion was so shockingly attractive to the jailer that he instantly knew he wanted it, and asked to be baptized.
When we turn to the Gospel of John we hear that on the final night Jesus spent with his disciples, he spoke to them about what was happening, and what they needed to go on in his absence. In what has been called the farewell discourse, Jesus gave to those gathered in the upper room the gift of the indwelling Spirit – an intimate presence to sustain them on the journey after his departure. Today’s reading is the final part of a prayer that comes at the tail end of the discourse. Jesus prays that they will be one, and that their oneness will be rooted in the oneness of the godhead. The result of that oneness is that their relationships will resonate with all creation like nothing else. The world will come to know how the universe functions. The knowing won’t be in their heads; it will be in their hearts.
Jesus, like Paul, is trying to get people who have been steeped in head religion to experience a religion of the heart. Heart religion is rooted in and focused on relationships. Jesus knew that his followers were going to grieve his death, and that they would not know how to go on without him. He offered the indwelling spirit as the intimate companion that would empower them to move on without the physical presence of Jesus.
Two days ago, I had a conversation with my son. We were talking about the church I served for 15 years before coming to St. Athanasius. He grew up in that church from the age of 4. He commented that many of the programs I started when I was the pastor are no longer in place. Then he said, “What has endured is the community – the relationships and friendships forged through all the actions we took together. I’m still friends with those people.” That is true, and it reflects the essence of Jesus’ prayer. Church programs aren’t eternal. Staff aren’t eternal. Relationships are because they’re rooted in the very core of the universe, which Christians call the trinity.
Recently Richard Rohr introduced Raimon Panikkar in his daily blog. Panikkar was a Hindu who saw Trinity not as a uniquely Christian idea but as the very structure of reality, a dynamic mandala that illuminates the “dynamism of the real.” I found that helpful in understanding Jesus’ convoluted prayer about oneness. According to Panikkar, Jesus was describing ultimate reality, not just Christian reality. He describes the world, God and humans as three distinct planes of existence that continuously circulate among each other in a single motion of self-communicating love. What Jesus is saying in this prayer is that what you do to your neighbor is what you do to yourself; how you love yourself is how you love your neighbor is how you love God is how you love yourself; and how you love yourself is how you love God. How you do anything is how you do everything.
Rohr explores the Christian terminology for this view of reality as trinitarian by imagining
a “fidget spinner” toy. Remember when those were all the rage a couple of years ago? I didn’t even know what they were called. But every kid I knew had two or three of them. When a fidget spinner is at rest, it clearly has three different lobes; but when it spins we lose sight of the distinct wings and simply see unbroken movement or flow. Rohr sees the trinity like that: more significant than the qualities of the individual members of the Trinity is the flow between them. God is a verb more than a noun, a flow more than a substance, an experience more than a deity sitting on a throne. And we live inside that flow of love, if we don’t resist it.
According to Jesus’ prayer, what is so attractive to the world when we live out our oneness is the resonance with creation that Panikkar also saw as a Hindu. Christian unity doesn’t turn the world into Christians because they see people loving each other. Instead it bears witness to a love that reveals the truth of our creaturely existence at the level of heart and experience. All religions have head versions and heart versions. When we allow truth to enter our hearts the intimacy of love explodes all the walls that we put up in our hearts; walls between this and that, them and us, mine and yours. Heart religion connects everything. For Christians, Jesus connects everything. To be a saint is to recognize the connection between all things; to know that nothing is separate from anything else; that everything as one.
That has been the journey of Easter, which culminates on this 7th Sunday of Easter. The Gospel has introduced us to person after person who has made this movement from seeing distinctions and separation to recognizing the unity of all things at the deepest level.
- Mary Magdalene moved from seeing Jesus as a gardener to recognizing him as Jesus when she heard her name spoken lovingly
- On the Road to Emmaus, two men thought they were talking to a stranger. In the breaking of the bread they moved from seeing a stranger to recognizing Jesus.
- Thomas was unwilling to recognize Jesus as the risen Christ unless he saw the nail marks and touched the hole where the spear pierced his side. Once he touched the wounds, he moved from seeing to recognizing
We must move from seeing each other as separate individuals to recognizing the body of Christ as one unit. It doesn’t happen for everyone in the same way. For some it happens by falling in love: they stop seeing the one they love as separate. For others it happens by touching the suffering of others as Thomas did, they move from seeing others as separate to recognizing their oneness. For many it happens by looking closely at creation: they see that the same love created us all. However it happens, we all must come to recognize that everyone is a stand in for everyone else. The more we connect, the more our lives resonate with the harmony of creation. God’s people need to grow in connections with people of other religions, other races, other classes, enemies, suffering people, handicapped people, gay people, people who are not like us. That will get us to work for justice for whomever we see hurting or oppressed. That’s what Paul did in Philippi. He freed the girl with the spirit of divination. He saved the jailer from death by assuring that the prisoners didn’t escape. He confronted the authorities who failed to treat him like the Roman citizen that he was.
I invite you to join me in fulfilling Jesus’ prayer by moving from seeing everything as separate to recognizing the unity of all things, “so that the love with which you (God) have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”