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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Lent 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 18, 2012

Numbers 21:4-9; Ephesians 2:8-10; John 3:14-21

Higher consciousness’

During Lent we’ve reflected on aspects of selfhood lost and gained. We’ve met with some early Christians the tradition calls desert fathers and mothers – we’ve learned something of their commitment to a way of life and prayer unsullied by imperial religion and culture. With Jesus we’ve railed against religious corruption – and what Norrie has called the reduction of human life to market forces, to competition. Today, in the light of a familiar Gospel text about conversion (Nicodemus, a mainstream leader/teacher of religion, is called to rethink his religious and social beliefs – to be born from on high of a Mother whose Chosen One is lifted up), we might consider the more marginal example of the mystics. The mystics, or contemplatives, teach that conversion, even of the most political kind, begins in the deepest experience of seekers/believers – salvation is a matter, that is, of higher consciousness. God be with you …

Many mystics speak of three levels of human consciousness: the prerational or prepersonal (the level of sensation, emotion, simple imagery and symbols); the rational or personal (sometimes called the ego level); and the transrational or transpersonal – the highest state of which is called pure consciousness. Jesus often speaks from this level: “Yes, God so loved the world as to give the Only Begotten One, that whoever believes may not die, but have eternal life.” The transrational is expressed in paradox, for though we may think we are the seekers, the reality is just the opposite. As the following parable suggests, it is we who are sought after and at last “found”.

There lived in India an extremely rich noblewoman with an only son who one day was kidnapped or lost. The mother did all she could to find her son but all her efforts were in vain. Years passed without her discovering her child’s whereabouts, and as the mother grew older, her yearning for her son increased the more.

One day as the rich woman looked out her upstairs window, a young beggar came to her house, was given something, and was about to leave the gate. The rich woman saw the face of the beggar and jumped up in surprise, recognising her missing son. Calling her servants she said, “Bring that young beggar here”. Her servants ran after the beggar and tried to bring him back. The young man refused to return, saying, “Forgive me please. I shall never come to your house again. Although I am a beggar, I have done nothing wrong.” “No no, we aren’t scolding you”, the servants assured him. “Our mistress just wishes to see you.” But they could not induce him to return. On the contrary, he got more afraid and began to tremble, saying, “I can have nothing to do with such a great noblewoman”. Finally the servants had to return and report their failure to their mistress.

The rich woman, full of affection for her son, gave an order to one of her young servants to disguise himself as a beggar like her son and to befriend him. When this servant-beggar thought the time right, he said to the young beggar, the rich woman’s son, “I have found a good job. The work is not too hard, and the wages are good. They will also provide us with a small room. Why don’t you come and try it with me?” Thus both of them were employed as gardeners to the rich woman.

The son worked as a gardener for awhile. When he became accustomed to this position the rich woman promoted him to house servant. When he did well in this work, the rich woman put him in charge of all her property. Eventually the son was appointed her private secretary to stay close to her and manage all her affairs.

Years passed and the rich woman grew elderly. Realising that she would not live much longer, she gathered her relatives and friends together and introduced the young man saying, “This man is in fact my own son who disappeared when he was a young child”. Then she handed over all her property and status to her son [Abbot Zenkei Shibayama, A Flower Does Not Talk, 1980].

The story is a metaphor for the process by which we mature into higher levels of consciousness. It is always the Divine that leads us through these stages of development – or rebirth. Our task is simply to cooperate with the process by which we come to realise who we really are.

In the Hebrew Scriptures, God is often presented as a jealous lover and humanity as the fickle beloved who continually runs away. The goal of this drama, however, is understood to be loving union, a state of being also expressed by the word covenant: absolute friendship, unity. Moses proclaimed this unity of God and humanity to the Israelites, and it is this same union that we may experience for ourselves today.

In the New Testament, Jesus is the side of God turned toward us. Through him, we may experience the side of God turned away, the side we cannot grasp intellectually. Christ is the doorway through which we can step into the divine space within ourselves. We can call this step an awakening to Christ-consciousness.

It may well be that this is what Hindus refer to as the Krishna-consciousness; what Buddhists refer to as the Buddha-mind or Buddha-nature. Jewish Kabbalists may call this experience “return to the promised land”; Sufis may call it “union with the beloved”. According to the mystics, and regardless of the name, this Ultimate Reality lies within each human being.

And lest we think the example of the mystics to be promoting some kind of higher selfishness, the words of thirteenth-century friar Meister Eckhart are instructive: “No person in this life may reach the point at which she can be excused from outward service. Even if she is given to a life of contemplation, still she cannot refrain from going out and taking an active part in life. Even as a person who has nothing at all may still be generous for her will to give, another may have great wealth and not be generous because she gives nothing; so no one may have virtues without using them as time and occasion require. Thus, those who are given to the life of contemplation and avoid activities deceive themselves and are on the wrong track. I say that the contemplative person should indeed avoid even the thought of deeds to be done during the period of her contemplation, but afterwards she should get busy …”

Just like Nicodemus who ultimately takes the side of the persecuted and beaten – he takes the risk of siding with the Christ destroyed by violence. With all those baptised in the name of Christ, we might imagine how he feels – a mixture of fear and sadness, anger and exhaustion, relief and ecstasy – led to a point of love inextinguishable. The light of God that is at the same time, according to John, “humanity’s light” (1:4).

Let’s complete the homily together. You’re invited to come and to side with Christ – to stand, that is, by the baptismal font – and to reaffirm your own baptismAmen.

[Draws on Willigis Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path, Triumph, Missouri, 1994.]