Today's sermon is a continuation of last week's Whosoever Will Save His Life Shall Lose It. In that message, we outlined a strategy for erasing petty ego through NOT-DOING.
As Aldous Huxley said:
"We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us."
As C.S. Lewis said:
"Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favourite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end: submit with every fibre of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours."
And as I said:
"The teacher is needed. The teacher is necessary. It is Jesus who mediates for us with the Father--it is HE who opens the doors of perception and allows the heavenly light to flood our dumb little brains with truth illuminated by heavenly love."
But the question is, "Having once discovered the inner Christ in me by banishing the outer man--NOW WHAT? What must the Christ in me and the Christ in Jesus have in common in this physical dimension grossly inhabited by spiritual beings? Or, rather what must be the underlying COMMON PURPOSE motivating the incarnation of the Christ Consciousness into the ,mundane world? Having some understanding of my true identity, through adopting an innocent and open, nay sacrificial state of mind, how does the Christ Consciousness instruct me in what I should DO?"
First the scriptures: the springboard text was Mark 9:35, but there are lots of scriptures on the subject of service:
35And he sat down, and called the twelve, and saith unto them, If any man desire to be first, the same shall be last of all, and servant of all.
“The greatest among you shall be your servant.”
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.
“God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness.”
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
This next one is one of my favorite passages. I set this to music a long time ago. It was particularly meaningful to me at that time, because I was in the process of coming to realize that my chief joy in life was not in trying to promote myself--my chief joy was taking responsibility for the gifts that were bestowed on me through grace. I came to admit that every one of my gifts was a burden, a cross to bear, that only became lighter when I gave some of it away. I was learning that nothing in this world was ever given to me to be mine: it was LOANED to me, given in trust--for me to pass on to all who came to me to learn. All that comes from God must go back to God; the superior man knows this and prostrates himself before the throne in humble obedience and service.
Now, the famous foot-washing scene:
John 13:4-5, 12-17
4He riseth from supper, and laid aside his garments; and took a towel, and girded himself.
5After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded. . . . .
12So after he had washed their feet, and had taken his garments, and was set down again, he said unto them, Know ye what I have done to you?
13Ye call me Master and Lord: and ye say well; for so I am.
14If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet.
15For I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you.
16Verily, verily, I say unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord; neither he that is sent greater than he that sent him.
17If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.
Some time after I wrote my foot-washing piece, I wrote a kind of auto-biography, written in the second person, using the pseudonym "Jay". This section on teaching describes the process I went through discovering the mystic potentials of music teaching.
"As Jay got weirder and weirder, his music became more and more a secret code with which he spoke with the angels. The folk were always invited—this period yielded some of his most durable-yet-popular utterances—but he stopped telling them everything there was to know about those compositions. There were conceits galore as, Kabala-like, his corpus swelled with pieces about destiny, magic, consciousness states, death. Jay loved to dwell in this concealed world where he was master, and everything was protected from the big bad wolf snarling at the gates; but when he had to come down and deal with the car, and the bills, and diapers, and McDonald's, he felt overwhelmed and completely incompetent.
There was a middle ground however, the ground between the purely private inner life of music composition, and the external battle field of McDonald's; and this middle ground unexpectedly became the crux of the matter—it was teaching. Even though his outer life was, had always seemed to be, a downward-spiraling disaster area, his secret self, his musical identity, was a garden of delights, an ocean of bliss, a cloudy mansion in the mind of God. Over the years, the impact of art's higher mental structures on his soul had shaped and refined him, like sand rushing over rocks in the streambed; the ancient arcana had imprinted on his mind a kind of wisdom, a kind of spiritual x-ray vision which made him capable of penetrating to the heart of any musical work and unraveling its enigmas. The hours he spent in contemplation of infinitudes focussed in the intelligence of tone, transformed his inner being, smoothed its craggy surfaces, and made plain to him his own eternal mystery. The fact that this processing did not touch his outer life was a disappointment that more or less went with the territory—after all, he couldn't sing his order to the waitress could he?
Language was the problem, because the spiritual light he gained from music didn't translate into the language of the street—except when he was teaching.
It was never his intention to become a teacher—he wanted his niche in the temple of fame to be as a composer, only a composer. Teaching music became for him an act of spiritual devotion and religious ministry. Through music he could reach into the student's heart and release higher self-knowledge into literal self-consciousness, enhancing the student's deepest sense of cosmic identity. This was true even for the youngest baby players; every student had something to learn about himself from music, and Jay was determined to become the channel of that enlightened knowledge. He came to consider music teaching a supreme act of charity; he thought of himself as a servant of the highest good.
It was not a matter of faith, either, the evidence of things not seen—the good his teaching wrought in his students was dramatic. Not only did they play better, their attitude towards many things in their social world improved, as well;
they often made peace within the circle of music classmates whether they got along at school or not, family ties were strengthened as mothers/sons, and sisters/brothers made music together, angry, neurotic kids found self-esteem and satisfaction in something they could truly be proud of.
He sometimes wondered if it was his destiny to get ALL the high-strung, ego-centric, neurotic kids in the world; but then he figured it wasn't a question worth doing the statistics on. People need music for a variety of reasons, but the healing property is usually near the top of anyone's list. And as a healer he thought of himself as a follower of Jesus who had so miraculously healed him. His insight was into the student's soul. His defective, blind-spot brain was missing so much, and yet it was compensated through the enjoyment of talent for reading the higher nature of any situation. His bottom line postulate was:
people have energies and potentials they keep locked up inside themselves—
my job is to get the student to
RELEASE those energies into the world,
so that a cycle of comes-around-Karma may begin."
Sometimes when I look back, I wonder if I didn't go too far--I mean, "I coulda been a contender, I could been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am." (On the Waterfront.) My banishment of career ambition was a vow of poverty, and has been a source of pain (of a certain kind) to me and my family. But whenever I wonder about the road not taken, I see how happy I am now, and I see how clearly marked was the path that Jesus had in mind for me; I quit speculating about what "might have been". What might have been might have been a soulless empty shell of a life, in a world filling me with vanity and pride, obscuring my true self from my sight by a too-large counterfeit self.
The following is from WIKIBOOKS-Biblical Studies/New Testament Commentaries/The Gospel of Mark/Chapter 9 The dispute over Greatness
"9:33-34 Mark 9:33-34 refers to all of the disciples having returned to Capernaum which was where the "Galilean ministry had begun and where his headquarters in Galilee had been located" (Wessel, 705). He "did not linger there long, since his public ministry in the region had ended" (Wessel, 706). More than likely they were gathering at Peter's house, and when Jesus asked the disciples what they were arguing about there is an implied embarrassment on the disciples because Jesus had just discussed a very serious matter, his death (Sanner, 350). Another implication that this must have been an embarrassing question was that the disciples had nothing but silence to offer after his question. This argument among them also shows how incredibly influenced these men were by their culture of the day because such a topic was common among the Jews during that time frame (Wessel, 706).
Why would the disciples be arguing about who would be the greatest other than its cultural relevance? Many different theories have been suggested such as the recognition of Peter, James, and John's inner circle with Jesus and their trip to the mountain.
9:35 Jesus is said to sit down among the disciples in the house in this verse, which was assuming the posture of a Jewish rabbi (Wessel, 706). Jesus' choice to sit down may have also revealed to the disciples his character being one of patience (Sanner, 350). . . .
9:37 Jesus has a very important lesson to teach in this verse. He is trying to say that "true greatness is seen in humble service. When one receives (literally, "welcomes") a child, out of regard for Christ (i.e. in His name), he does so without thought of reward and unwittingly 'welcomes' Christ" (Sanner, 350). Jesus is telling the disciples that once they become humble in this manner, and truly become like small "children in their discipleship" they will be "his true representatives" (Wessel, 706)."
On the subject of foot washing, Martin Luther has this to say:
"[While some think that this ceremony of feet-washing is a mandate or a command,] Christ does not mean the outward act when He says: "Ye also ought to wash one another's feet;" for He immediately explains this in the words : "I have given you an example, that ye should do as I have done to you. Verily, verily, I say unto you, the servant is not greater than his lord." These words are plain enough. If we are honored on account of our position in life, we ought to remain humble and serve our inferiors with such gifts as they do not possess. In full accordance with this, the Lord afterwards gives His mandate concerning love when He says: "A new commandment I give unto you, that you love one another."
Now the true nature of love is humility and charity, kindness and compassion. When Christ commands the washing of feet, He requires the presence of such a love. It is evident that our Lord, by His action in the Gospel, did not intend to teach us the outward washing of feet, which is done by means of water; for then it would be obligatory to wash the feet of all; or rather, which would certainly be more serviceable, to prepare a regular bath for the people, in which they could wash their whole body. This of course cannot be the meaning of Christ's command in this regard. He simply gave us by His example an important lesson, that we should be humble, and properly employ the gifts and graces which we have, to the advantage of our brethren, and that we should despise no one, but rather excuse the shortcomings of our fellow-men, and help them to become better.
In this sense, washing of feet must be practiced not merely upon this day, but every day of our life, and we must not grow weary in well-doing towards our fellow-men. For such a purpose, and for such feet-washing, Christ set us the example which we are now considering. Let us remember this."
Source: Martin Luther, “Sermon for the Thursday Before Easter,” Translation by Prof. E. Smid. Matthias Loy, ed., Dr. Martin Luther's House-Postil, or, Sermons on the Gospels for the Sundays and Principal Festivals of the Church Year. Volume 2. Two Volumes. Second Edition. (Columbus, Ohio; J. A. Schulze, 1884), pp. 24-41.
The following is from WordTruth: Becoming a Christ-like Servant
"The greatest personal challenge a Christian will face is to become a Christ-like servant. It is the low road to a believer’s high calling. It is a challenge because it goes against our natural desire for popularity, power, and prominence. Not surprisingly, Jesus was the perfect example of a servant when He lived on the earth. A believer, by staying fixed on Jesus (Hebrews 12:1-2), can follow in His steps.
In the Old Testament, Jesus is described as a “servant” (Isaiah 42:1). The New Testament describes Him similarly (Acts 3:26, Philippians 2:5-8). As the Perfect Servant, Jesus taught His disciples that the pathway for greatness in God’s kingdom was found by traveling the low road of a servant (Matthew 23:11). Jesus demonstrated the consistency of a true servant’s heart by washing His disciples’ feet just a few hours before He was crucified (John 13:3-5). . . . .Life’s greatest challenge, being a Christ-like servant, can become life’s greatest reward for a wholehearted disciple of Jesus."
The following is from Wholly4Christ: Works equals work for Christ (servant ministry)
"I can not count how many times I have heard that works won’t get you to heaven. I question then why did Jesus put so much effort into telling you to do works? To cause us to walk in righteous living while in this world! I’ll write about this from time to time because I am sick and tired of hearing that works have no value. I firmly believe that we are called to DO works as a RESPONSE to our Salvation. Failure to respond to God’s Love by not doing works is to me a failure to love God."
"I firmly believe that we are called to DO works as a RESPONSE to our Salvation."
This is what I was trying to say a few minutes ago. When you share in the Christ Consciousness the absolutely imperative response is to DO something Christlike. I am sure that whatever that DOING might be is different for every individual; but I am equally sure that there is plan for every one of us--a plan is out there waiting to be implemented spontaneously by the God within us.
Now the weekly C.S. Lewis offering:
The Weight of Glory
by C.S. Lewis
Preached originally as a sermon in the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford, on June 8, 1942: published in THEOLOGY, November, 1941, and by the S.P.C.K, 1942
"If you asked twenty good men to-day what they thought the highest of
the virtues, nineteen of reply, Unselfishness. But if you asked almost any of the great Christians of old he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.
I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire. If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
We must not be troubled by unbelievers when they say that this promise of reward makes the Christian life a mercenary affair. There are different kinds of reward. There is the reward which has no natural connexion with the things you do to earn it, and is quite foreign to the desires that ought to accompany those things. Money is not the natural reward of love; that is why we call a man mercenary if he marries a woman for the sake of her money. But marriage is the proper reward for a real lover, and he is not mercenary for desiring it. A general who fights well in order to get a peerage is mercenary; a general who fights for victory is not, victory being the proper reward of battle as marriage is the proper reward of love. The proper rewards are not simply tacked on to the activity for which they are given, but are the activity itself in consummation. There is also a third case, which is more complicated. An enjoyment of Greek poetry is certainly a proper, and not a mercenary, reward for learning Greek; but only those who have reached the stage of enjoying Greek poetry can tell from their own experience that this is so. The schoolboy beginning Greek grammar cannot look forward to his adult enjoyment of Sophocles as a lover looks forward to marriage or a general to victory. He has to begin by working for marks, or to escape punishment, or to please his parents, or, at best, in the hope of a future good which he cannot at present imagine or desire. His position, therefore, bears a certain resemblance to that of the mercenary; the reward he is going to get will, in actual fact, be a natural or proper reward, but he will not know that till he has got it. Of course, he gets it gradually; enjoyment creeps in upon the mere drudgery, and nobody could point to a day or an hour when the one ceased and the other began. But it is just in so far as he approaches the reward that be becomes able to desire it for its own sake; indeed, the power of so desiring it is itself a preliminary reward. . .
Meanwhile the cross comes before the crown and tomorrow is a Monday morning. A cleft has opened in the pitiless walls of the world, and we are invited to follow our great Captain inside. The following Him is, of course, the essential point. That being so, it may be asked what practical use there is in the speculations which I have been indulging. I can think of at least one such use. It may be possible for each to think too much of his own potential glory hereafter; it is hardly possible for him to think too often or too deeply about that of his neighbour. The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbour’s glory should be laid daily on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare.
All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat —the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden."
So here C.S. Lewis is telling us that, just as the joy of finding our true selves in Christ results in an outward diffusion of our so-called ego resolution into something finer, loftier, holier; so too does the selfless giving of our worldly goods and talents link us ever deeper to the Christ Consciousness, and works out to be its own invaluable reward. Lewis reminds us that every time we serve a mortal man we are serving the God in him and the God who made him. He is also underlining the idea that God IS HIDDEN in Man, and it takes a mind sharpened by divine intelligence and watchfulness to apprehend this glorious fact.
Thus, as I said above, to serve out of compulsion of guilt or fear (the same thing?) is slavery. To serve as an act of free will, or, rather as an act of personal Will linked to the Father's Will, is ultimate freedom. Our burden of gifts empties out of us and we are free, and we are weightless, floating on light in an ocean of bliss. Hoo-yah.
Let us pray: Jesus thank you for reminding us that the glory of the divinity that surrounds us is not diminished by the illusion of mundane values. Help us continually to sweep away the self-limiting attachments of the world so that the burden of our true cross may bear us down and yet buoy us up. Amen.
August 14, 2011