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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Lent 4, Year B
South Sydney Uniting Church
March 11, 2018

Ephesians 2:8-10; John 3:14-21

‘God's work of art’

During Lent we’ve reflected on selfhood lost and gained. We’ve met some early Christians the tradition calls desert fathers and mothers – we’ve learnt something of their commitment to a way of life and prayer free of imperial religion and culture. With Jesus, we’ve railed against religious corruption – the reduction of human life to market forces, to competition. Today, in the light of a familiar Gospel text about conversion, we might consider the more marginal example of the mystics.

The mystics teach that conversion, even 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 pre-rational or pre-personal (the level of sensation, emotion, simple imagery and symbols); the rational or personal (sometimes called the ego level); and the trans-rational or trans-personal – the highest state of which is sometimes called “pure consciousness”. Jesus often speaks from this level: “Whoever believes in the Only Begotten avoids judgement, but whoever doesn’t believe is judged already …” (John 3:18).

The trans-rational is expressed in paradox. Nicodemus, seeking light/wisdom, making conversation, is called to rethink his religious and social beliefs – to be born (again) from on high of a Mother whose Chosen One is lifted up. Dying (on the cross) reveals glory. True belief is undying.

And though we may think we are the seekers, the makers, the reality is more mysterious.

During yesterday’s art class, Matt and Tammy, who is seriously ill, came seeking artistic comfort/inspiration. They posed for artist Adrian, who created a very beautiful sculpture of them, side by side, Matt’s arm holding a seated Tammy close. Adrian then made a very beautiful drawing.

Entrusting themselves to the artist, giving their time and attention, Matt and Tammy received the gift of their own creative love rendered in clay and charcoal.

Entrusting himself to the task at hand, Adrian perhaps experienced a truth revealed in Ephesians 2: “We are God’s work of art, created in Christ Jesus to do the good things God created us to do from the beginning.”

We seek, we make. But it is we who are sought and at last found/made over.

We are God’s work of art. The verse refers, we might say, to a 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”: respectful partnership, genuine friendship.

Moses proclaimed to the Israelites this unity of God and humanity, and it is this same union that we may experience for ourselves.

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

It may be that this is what Hindus refer to as 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 Reality/Possibility lies within each of us.

And lest we think the example of the mystics to be promoting some kind of higher selfishness, the words of 13th-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 (see John 19:39) – he takes the risk of siding with the One 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).

Our printed artwork shows Nicodemus and Jesus deep in conversation. Imagine the scene as a mirror of your own salvation. What Reality/Possibility within you is reflected there? … Amen.

(Draws on Willigis Jager, Contemplation: A Christian Path, Triumph, Missouri, 1994.)