UNDISCOVERED GENIUS

A commentary on the history, contexts, and meanings of the word "genius."

Monday, October 31, 2011

Equal to the Angels I

Equal to the Angels I

The scripture, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living," was the springboard for the three-part sermon the beginning of which we heard last week, and the second part of which we hear today, and the third part of which we will hear next week. Last week we heard George MacDonald's comments on the sacred physical body. Today we will examine, close-up, Jesus' peripheral comment about the body after death--the "angel" body. Next week we will hear what Rudolf Steiner has to say about the subtle spiritual bodies, and the way angels help us channel divine reality into the physical dimension.

In Luke 20:36 Jesus says, "for they are equal unto the angels." I thought that looking at angels, for a bit, might give us some hint as what our equal-to-angel bodies might be like. It is hard to resist drawing parallels and comparisons between physical bodies and angel bodies. However, angels, like magic, fall into the category of the "occult" or "knowledge of the hidden", and are therefore outside the general realm of "seeable" subjects. Thinking about angels can be a mere academic exercise, they being generally unseen, and largely unfelt. Of course, if we can learn to enter into a conscious dialogue with angels (note the word "conscious"), as in prayer or meditation, then we can get a whole new slant on the thing, discover a new dynamic that drives the relationship into matters of immediate real (rather than theoretical) significance, either spiritual or mundane--you never know. However, in such ecstatic dialogues the angels rarely talk about themselves.

Hence, a discussion of angels cannot be considered "helpful" in any direct way, since any delving into occult subjects, (delving into the phenomenology of the mysteries, you might say), may only be considered to be of mere intellectual interest. We have said many times that verbal descriptions of spiritual reality can only amount, ultimately, to pretty fictions, that satisfy our inquiring minds but which do not actually convey any real truth. Occult jargon can only hint at what must REALLY be the case, by pointing our minds in the direction of the great mysteries without truly getting around them. The way we reduce the great mysteries into tales of magic must be comical to higher beings. The great thing about Jesus is that He threw away all the magic and superstition of His culture and presented a clear, practical, Earthbound philosophy of life. This is not to say that Jesus was not aware of the magic and superstition of His age, nor is it to say that something of that magic and superstition is not true--it is merely to say that Jesus was always pointing at something beyond the phenomenological baggage of the occult sciences, at something more immediate, and, ultimately more powerful.

Nevertheless, this occult discussion is interesting indeed, and is likely provoke a thought or two that may actually prove to be helpful after all--by focusing our mental attention on an issue, our hearts may follow and contribute their transcendental understanding to the problem.

For the purposes of this presentation, we don't need to repeat the complete scripture passage from last week--a short excerpt will suffice:

Matthew 22:30
-34
30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
31And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:
32 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."
33And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.



Mark 12:25-27
 
25For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
 26And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
 27He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.


Luke 20:34-40

34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry , and are given in marriage :
35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry, nor are given in marriage :
36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
37 Now that the dead are raised , even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
38 For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living : for all live unto him.
39 Then certain of the scribes answering said , Master, thou hast well said .
40 And after that they durst not ask him any question at all.


Today's Wikipedia sampling is lengthy, and some of it is off topic, but it is all interesting--I cut quite a bit out, but there is still plenty of information here:

Angel
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Angels are spiritual beings often depicted as messengers of God in the Hebrew and Christian Bibles along with the Quran. The Hebrew and Greek words originally mean messenger, and depending on the context may refer either to a human messenger (possibly a prophet or priest, such as Malachi,) or to a supernatural messenger, such as the "Mal'akh YHWH," who (depending on interpretation) is either a messenger from God, an aspect of God (such as the Logos), or God Himself as the messenger (the "theophanic angel.")

The term "angel" has also been expanded to various notions of spiritual beings found in many other religious traditions. Other roles of angels include protecting and guiding human beings, and carrying out God's tasks. The theological study of angels is known as angelology.

[Emmanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772) was the first occult writers to claim to have been in constant communication with angels. Many of his comments are worth recording; on the subject just mentioned about the different classes of angels, Swedenborg says:

"There are angels that receive more interiorly the Divine that goes forth from the Lord, and others that receive it less interiorly; the former are called celestial angels, and the latter spiritual angels."

On the subject of man's after-death angel body he says:

"In the spiritual body moreover, man appears such as he is with respect to love and faith, for everyone in the spiritual world is the effigy of his own love, not only as to the face and the body, but also as to the speech and the actions. . .
That every man after the life in the world lives to eternity, is evident from this, that man is then spiritual, and no longer natural, and that the spiritual man, separated from the natural, remains such as he is to eternity, for man's state cannot be changed after death."

On the general topic of "talking to angels" he says this:

"I am well aware that many will say that no one can possibly speak with spirits and angels so long as he lives in the body; and many will say that it is all fancy, others that I relate such things in order to gain credence, and others will make other objections.
I have often talked with angels on this subject, and they have invariably declared that in heaven they are unable to divide the Divine into three, because they know and perceive that the Divine is One and this One is in the Lord."




Philosophy

Philosophically, angels are "pure contingent spirits."Philo of Alexandria identifies the angel with the Logos as far as the angel is the immaterial voice of God. The angel is something different than God Himself, but is conceived just as a God's instrument. According to Aristotle, just as there is a First Mover, so, too, must there be spiritual secondary movers. Thomas Aquinas (13th century) expands upon this in his Summa contra Gentiles and Summa Theologica.

Judaism
The Bible uses the terms מלאך אלהים (mal'akh Elohim; messenger of God), מלאך יהוה (mal'akh YHWH; messenger of the Lord), בני אלהים (b'nai Elohim; sons of God) and הקודשים (ha-qodeshim; the holy ones) to refer to beings traditionally interpreted as angels. Later texts use other terms, such as העליונים (ha'elyoneem; the upper ones). Scholar Michael D. Coogan notes that it is only in the late books that the terms "come to mean the benevolent semidivine beings familiar from later mythology and art. . . Coogan explains the development of this concept of angels: "In the post-exilic period, with the development of explicit monotheism, these divine beings—the 'sons of God' who were members of the divine council—were in effect demoted to what are now known as 'angels', understood as beings created by God, but immortal and thus superior to humans. . .

Medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides explained his view of angels in his Guide for the Perplexed II:4 and II:6:

...This leads Aristotle in turn to the demonstrated fact that God, glory and majesty to Him, does not do things by direct contact. God burns things by means of fire; fire is moved by the motion of the sphere; the sphere is moved by means of a disembodied intellect, these intellects being the 'angels which are near to Him', through whose mediation the spheres [planets] move... thus totally disembodied minds exist which emanate from God and are the intermediaries between God and all the bodies [objects] here in this world.


According to Kabalah, there are four worlds and our world is the last world: the world of action (Assiyah). Angels exist in the worlds above as a 'task' of God. They are an extension of God to produce effects in this world. After an angel has completed its task, it ceases to exist. The angel is in effect the task.
Famous angels and their tasks:
• Malachim (translation: messengers), general word for angel
• Michael (translation: who is like God), performs God's kindness
• Gabriel (translation: the strength of God), performs acts of justice
and power
• Raphael (translation: God Heals), God's healing force
• Uriel (translation: God is my light), leads us to destiny
• Seraphim (translation: the burning ones), sing and praise God
• Malach HaMavet (translation: the angel of death)
• Satan (translation: the adversary), brings people's sins before them
in the heavenly court
• Chayot HaKodesh (translation: living beings)
• Ophanim (translation: arbits) Guardians of the Throne of God

[Sidebar: It is an interesting idea that an angel may come into existence to deliver a message from God, and then wink out of existence once the message has been delivered. It sounds kind of like getting a letter from God, a telegram, or maybe an email that, like on Mission Impossible, self-destructs after ten seconds. I doubt that any created thing ever ceases to exist, but it is easy to imagine an angel body dissolving into the mind of God after its message has been delivered. It reminds me of something a friend of mine in L.A. said to me years ago concerning life after death; he said, "I think of us all as bits of information--you can't destroy information!" I'm sure that angel body, having served its purpose as a focus of information, does not cease to exist, but merely changes, in terms of ego resolution in the Divine Consciousness, to a different value. Might it be possible that, ultimately, when we don our own angel bodies, that they may melt into the mind of God like a bubble in a pan of boiling pudding rises to the surface, gives a cheerful "plop", and then sinks back down into the stew? The "plop" is the link between spirit and the physical world; having "plopped" do we take our little message back with us under the wave, and nestle in the bosom of the father?

Something like this idea is expressed in this quote from Emmanuel Swedenborg:

"Destruction was effected after visitation, for visitation always precedes."

On a related topic he says:

"The angels taken collectively are called heaven, for they constitute heaven; and yet that which makes heaven in general and in particular is the Divine that goes forth from the Lord and flows into the angels and is received by them. . . The Divine of the Lord in heaven is love, for the reason that love is receptive of all things of heaven, such as peace, intelligence, wisdom and happiness."]




Christianity
Early Christians inherited Jewish understandings of angels, which in turn may have been partly inherited from the Egyptians. In the early stage, the Christian concept of an angel characterized the angel as a messenger of God. Angels are creatures of good, spirits of love, and messengers of the savior Jesus Christ. Later came identification of individual angelic messengers: Gabriel, Michael, Raphael, Uriel, and Satan/Lucifer. Then, in the space of little more than two centuries (from the third to the fifth) the image of angels took on definite characteristics both in theology and in art.

Many Christians regard angels as asexual and not belonging to either gender as they interpret Matthew 22:30 in this way. Angels are on the other hand usually described as looking like male human beings. Their names are also masculine. And although angels have greater knowledge than men, they are not omniscient, as Matthew 24:36 points out.

The earliest known representation of angels with wings is on the "Prince's Sarcophagus", discovered in the 1930s at Sarigüzel, near Istanbul, and attributed to the time of Theodosius I (379-395). From that period on, Christian art has represented angels mostly with wings, as in the cycle of mosaics in the Basilica of Saint Mary Major (432–440). Four- and six-winged angels, drawn from the higher grades of angels (especially cherubim and seraphim) and often showing only their faces and wings, are derived from Persian art and are usually shown only in heavenly contexts, as opposed to performing tasks on earth. They often appear in the pendentives of church domes or semi-domes. Saint John Chrysostom explained the significance of angels' wings:

"They manifest a nature's sublimity. That is why Gabriel is represented with wings. Not that angels have wings, but that you may know that they leave the heights and the most elevated dwelling to approach human nature. Accordingly, the wings attributed to these powers have no other meaning than to indicate the sublimity of their nature."

In terms of their clothing, angels, especially the Archangel Michael, were depicted as military-style agents of God and came to be shown wearing Late Antique military uniform. . . Other angels came to be conventionally depicted in long robes, and in the later Middle Ages they often wear the vestments of a deacon, a cope over a dalmatic; this costume was used especially for Gabriel in Annunciation scenes—for example the Annunciation in Washington by Jan van Eyck.



Latter Day Saints
Adherents of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (generally referred to as "Mormons") view angels as the messengers of God. They are sent to mankind to deliver messages, minister to humanity, teach doctrines of salvation, call mankind to repentance, give priesthood keys, save individuals in perilous times, and guide humankind.

Latter Day Saints believe that angels are the spirits of humans who are deceased or who have yet to be born, and accordingly Joseph Smith taught that "there are no angels who minister to this earth but those that do belong or have belonged to it." As such, Latter Day Saints also believe that Adam (the first man) is now the archangel Michael, and that Gabriel lived on the earth as Noah. Likewise the Angel Moroni first lived in a pre-Columbian American civilization as the 5th-century prophet-warrior named Moroni.

Joseph Smith, Jr. described his first angelic encounter thus:

While I was thus in the act of calling upon God, I discovered a light appearing in my room, which continued to increase until the room was lighter than at noonday, when immediately a personage appeared at my bedside, standing in the air, for his feet did not touch the floor.

He had on a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness. It was a whiteness beyond anything earthly I had ever seen; nor do I believe that any earthly thing could be made to appear so exceedingly white and brilliant....

Not only was his robe exceedingly white, but his whole person was glorious beyond description, and his countenance truly like lightning. The room was exceedingly light, but not so very bright as immediately around his person. When I first looked upon him, I was afraid; but the fear soon left me.


Islam
Angels (Arabic: ملائكة , Malāʾikah; Turkish: Melek) are mentioned many times in the Qur'an and Hadith. Islam is clear on the nature of angels in that they are messengers of God. They have no free will, and can do only what God orders them to do. An example of a task they carry out is that of testing individuals by granting them abundant wealth and curing their illness. Believing in angels is one of the six Articles of Faith in Islam.


Bahá'í Faith

In his Book of Certitude Bahá’u’lláh, founder of the Bahá’í Faith, describes angels as people who ‘have consumed, with the fire of the love of God, all human traits and limitations’, and have ‘clothed themselves’ with angelic attributes and have become ‘endowed with the attributes of the spiritual’. 'Abdu’l-Bahá describes angels as the ‘confirmations of God and His celestial powers’ and as ‘blessed beings who have severed all ties with this nether world’ and ‘been released from the chains of self’, and ‘revealers of God’s abounding grace’. The Bahá’í writings also refer to the Concourse on High, an angelic host, and the Maid of Heaven of Bahá’u’lláh's vision.


When I saw that my angel sermon had too much material in it for a single Sunday, I was forced to ask myself, "What was the point of today's presentation?" The real stuff comes next week, with Rudolf Steiner, but so far, today, I have not made any salient points about angels, other than to describe how they are regarded by different cultures, and to suggest that, on the cosmic continuum of material density, angel bodies area a ways down the list from physical bodies. Perhaps that is the incipient message after all.

Earlier this morning, I introduced the topic of angels as an "occult" subject of "hidden knowledge", implying that there is a kind of private, exclusive quality to it that requires you to have an "Official New Age Membership Card" to understand it. Then I turn around and point out that every religion you can name, nearly every philosophy, every culture not only acknowledges the existence of angels, but has elaborate theories as to the hierarchical organization and cosmic responsibilities of angels. I can't imagine how all this information came into being, unless angels are not so hidden after all.

The way God speaks must be qualitatively different for every person, but I'm sure that every one here has had the very real experience of talking to God. Does thinking that you are never actually in DIRECT contact with God, but always going through a medium, a filter, you might say--does that thin barrier compromise the quality of the communication? Does using a telephone to reach someone far away make the communication less valid? Dare we crave a MORE DIRECT contact with the Father? Maybe--later.

For now, I suggest that angels, just like every other article of the spiritual discipline, may become a part of our lives by PAYING ATTENTION. No matter whatever else you have to say about occultists, in general, you have to grant them this: they pay attention--they seek significant knowledge in subtle disguises, they search for sign, and make much of little. To be sure, as in any field of knowledge, this kind of fussing may end up obscuring the big picture, but nobody said that detailed understanding has to be a bad thing. Many times a noticed detail can lead us around a corner into whole nother world of big pictures.

Clearly, sensitivity to angels is one more discipline we can engage in as we try to develop an overall sensitivity to the superphysical. If we are not sharpening our skills in this area every day, we cannot be properly be said to be walking the spiritual path--what must the spiritual path be if not exploring elements of spirituality, hidden or not hidden, which bring us closer to God and to our realizing our spiritual destinies as we may. If our bodies become like angel bodies after death, then that makes angels like relatives--like cousins or brothers-in-law. I'm always willing to reach out to someone, especially if it is all in the family.

Let us pray: Jesus, Lord of all, thank you for your gifts of spirit which take so many forms we cannot count them. Thank you for lending us your heavenly telegraph, also the wings. Amen.

God of the Living

God of the Living

The scripture, "He is not God of the dead, but of the living," was the springboard for today's sermon, but it will lead us into several distantly related terrains; it is a sermon in two parts, the one today dealing with the physical body, and next week dealing with the "angel" body.

Now, you will have noticed, over the past several months, that I am, in a general way, an historian. I have used these sermons not primarily as a soap box for my own views on matters of spirit, but have also presented many, sometimes conflicting, views taken from contemporary, and historical sources; we have enjoyed large sections of text taken from Martin Luther, William Faulkner, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Aesop, just to name a few, and, of course, our old standby, C.S. Lewis. The sad news is that there will be no C.S. Lewis today; instead we will hear, in its entirety, a sermon written by George MacDonald.

George MacDonald (1824-1905) was a congregational minister cum novelist and short story writer: one of a group of 19th century writers who explored the world of fantasy and magic. MacDonald's work has been the inspiration for many 20th century writers of fantasy, such as W.H. Auden, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Madeleine L'Engle, but his chief disciple was good old C.S. Lewis. The fantasies of MacDonald and Lewis are journeys into an astral plane of dreamlike, fairyland realities evoked by the ancient magic; and yet there is always a clear and compelling Christian resonance. Indeed, it is the broadminded acceptance of religious principles and expressions, taken from outside the mainstream of conventional Christian thought, that drew me to C.S. Lewis in the first place; and you will be able to identify some of this broadmindedness in the MacDonald sermon I am about to read.

Now, the scriptures:

Matthew 22:23-34


 
23The same day Sadducees came to him, who say that there is no resurrection, and they asked him a question,
24saying, "Teacher, Moses said, 'If a man dies having no children, his brother must marry the widow and raise up children for his brother.'
25Now there were seven brothers among us. The first married and died, and having no children left his wife to his brother.
26So too the second and third, down to the seventh.
27After them all, the woman died.
28In the resurrection, therefore, of the seven, whose wife will she be? For they all had her."
 29But Jesus answered them, "You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.
30For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.
31And as for the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God:
32 'I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not God of the dead, but of the living."
33And when the crowd heard it, they were astonished at his teaching.



Mark 12:18-27


 18Then come unto him the Sadducees, which say there is no resurrection; and they asked him, saying,
 19Master, Moses wrote unto us, If a man's brother die, and leave his wife behind him, and leave no children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
 20Now there were seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and dying left no seed.
 21And the second took her, and died, neither left he any seed: and the third likewise.
 22And the seven had her, and left no seed: last of all the woman died also.
 23In the resurrection therefore, when they shall rise, whose wife shall she be of them? for the seven had her to wife.
 24And Jesus answering said unto them, Do ye not therefore err, because ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God?
 25For when they shall rise from the dead, they neither marry, nor are given in marriage; but are as the angels which are in heaven.
 26And as touching the dead, that they rise: have ye not read in the book of Moses, how in the bush God spake unto him, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob?
 27He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living: ye therefore do greatly err.



Luke 20:27-40


27 Then came to him certain of the Sadducees, which deny that there is any resurrection; and they asked him,
28 Saying , Master, Moses wrote unto us, If any man's brother die , having a wife, and he die without children, that his brother should take his wife, and raise up seed unto his brother.
29 There were therefore seven brethren: and the first took a wife, and died without children.
30 And the second took her to wife, and he died childless. 31 And the third took her; and in like manner the seven also: and they left no children, and died .
32 Last of all the woman died also.
33 Therefore in the resurrection whose wife of them is she ? for seven had her to wife.
34 And Jesus answering said unto them, The children of this world marry , and are given in marriage :
35 But they which shall be accounted worthy to obtain that world, and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry , nor are given in marriage :
36 Neither can they die any more: for they are equal unto the angels; and are the children of God, being the children of the resurrection.
37 Now that the dead are raised , even Moses shewed at the bush, when he calleth the Lord the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.
38 For he is not a God of the dead, but of the living : for all live unto him.
39 Then certain of the scribes answering said , Master, thou hast well said .
40 And after that they durst not ask him any question at all.


Now begins the Sermon by George MacDonald, largely without interruption:

The God of The Living

He is not a God of the dead, but of the living: for all live unto him.--ST LUKE 20: 38.
It is a recurring cause of perplexity in our Lord's teaching, that he is too simple for us; that while we are questioning with ourselves about the design of Solomon's earring upon some gold-plated door of the temple, he is speaking about the foundations of Mount Zion, yea, of the earth itself, upon which it stands.

Hear my first interruption: This startling opening "he is too simple for us" resonates with a point I have made repeatedly: Jesus is always giving us down-to-earth, how-to-live advice. His words can be kind of like a crystal ball that you can look into, and get lost in, but the bottom line of His teaching is always pretty much right up front. Jesus' commitment to Earth, to Peace on Earth, to Heaven on Earth, is foremost. One wonders if there was not an anti-intellectual strain running through Jesus--there must have been if He so highly prized innocence. Anyway, this opening points to the focus of MacDonald's sermon--the immediate, obvious, physical.


If the reader of the Gospel supposes that our Lord was here using a verbal argument with the Sadducees, namely, "I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; therefore they are," he will be astonished that no Sadducee was found with courage enough to reply: "All that God meant was to introduce himself to Moses as the same God who had aided and protected his fathers while they were alive, saying, I am he that was the God of thy fathers. They found me faithful. Thou, therefore, listen to me, and thou too shalt find me faithful unto the death."

But no such reply suggested itself even to the Sadducees of that day, for their eastern nature could see argument beyond logic.

I love this remark about the eastern mind's ability to transcend logic--it's all in the language, I'm sure.


Shall God call himself the God of the dead, of those who were alive once, but whom he either could not or would not keep alive? Is that the Godhood, and its relation to those who worship it? The changeless God of an ever-born and ever-perishing torrent of life; of which each atom cries with burning heart, My God! and straightway passes into the Godless cold! "Trust in me, for I took care of your fathers once upon a time, though they are gone now. Worship and obey me, for I will be good to you for threescore years and ten, or thereabouts; and after that, when you are not, and the world goes on all the same without you, I will call myself your God still." God changes not. Once God he is always God. If he has once said to a man, "I am thy God, and that man has died the death of the Sadducee's creed," then we have a right to say that God is the God of the dead.

"And wherefore should he not be so far the God of the dead, if during the time allotted to them here, he was the faithful God of the living?" What Godlike relation can the ever-living, life-giving, changeless God hold to creatures who partake not of his life, who have death at the very core of their being, are not worth their Maker's keeping alive? To let his creatures die would be to change, to abjure his Godhood, to cease to be that which he had made himself. If they are not worth keeping alive, then his creating is a poor thing, and he is not so great, nor so divine as even the poor thoughts of those his dying creatures have been able to imagine him. But our Lord says, "All live unto him." With Him death is not. Thy life sees our life, O Lord. All of whom all can be said, are present to thee. Thou thinkest about us, eternally more than we think about thee. The little life that burns within the body of this death, glows unquenchable in thy true-seeing eyes. If thou didst forget us for a moment then indeed death would be. But unto thee we live. The beloved pass from our sight, but they pass not from thine.

This that we call death, is but a form in the eyes of men. It looks something final, an awful cessation, an utter change. It seems not probable that there is anything beyond. But if God could see us before we were, and make us after his ideal, that we shall have passed from the eyes of our friends can be no argument that he beholds us no longer. "All live unto Him." Let the change be ever so great, ever so imposing; let the unseen life be ever so vague to our conception, it is not against reason to hope that God could see Abraham, after his Isaac had ceased to see him; saw Isaac after Jacob ceased to see him; saw Jacob after some of the Sadducees had begun to doubt whether there ever had been a Jacob at all. He remembers them; that is, he carries them in his mind: he of whom God thinks, lives.

I want to emphasize this point: we exist in the Mind of God, hence our Divine Identity is merged with His in a glorious synthesis of matter and spirit. None of the succeeding arguments mean anything without this in mind.


He takes to himself the name of Their God. The Living One cannot name himself after the dead; when the very Godhead lies in the giving of life. Therefore they must be alive. If he speaks of them, remembers his own loving thoughts of them, would he not have kept them alive if he could; and if he could not, how could he create them? Can it be an easier thing to call into life than to keep alive?

"But if they live to God, they are aware of God. And if they are aware of God, they are conscious of their own being: Whence then the necessity of a resurrection?"

For their relation to others of God's children in mutual revelation; and for fresh revelation of God to all.--But let us inquire what is meant by the resurrection of the body. "With what body do they come?"

Surely we are not required to believe that the same body is raised again. That is against science, common sense, Scripture. St Paul represents the matter quite otherwise. One feels ashamed of arguing such a puerile point. Who could wish his material body which has indeed died over and over again since he was born, never remaining for one hour composed of the same matter, its endless activity depending upon its endless change, to be fixed as his changeless possession, such as it may then be, at the moment of death, and secured to him in worthless identity for the ages to come? A man's material body will be to his consciousness at death no more than the old garment he throws aside at night, intending to put on a new and a better in the morning. To desire to keep the old body seems to me to argue a degree of sensual materialism excusable only in those pagans who in their Elysian fields could hope to possess only such a thin, fleeting, dreamy, and altogether funebrial existence, that they might well long for the thicker, more tangible bodily being in which they had experienced the pleasures of a tumultuous life on the upper world. As well might a Christian desire that the hair which has been shorn from him through all his past life should be restored to his risen and glorified head.

Yet not the less is the doctrine of the Resurrection gladdening as the sound of the silver trumpet of its visions, needful as the very breath of life to our longing souls. Let us know what it means, and we shall see that it is thus precious.

Let us first ask what is the use of this body of ours. It is the means of Revelation to us, the camera in which God's eternal shows are set forth. It is by the body that we come into contact with Nature, with our fellow-men, with all their revelations of God to us. It is through the body that we receive all the lessons of passion, of suffering, of love, of beauty, of science. It is through the body that we are both trained outwards from ourselves, and driven inwards into our deepest selves to find God. There is glory and might in this vital evanescence, this slow glacier-like flow of clothing and revealing matter, this ever uptossed rainbow of tangible humanity. It is no less of God's making than the spirit that is clothed therein.

We cannot yet have learned all that we are meant to learn through the body. How much of the teaching even of this world can the most diligent and most favoured man have exhausted before he is called to leave it! Is all that remains to be lost? Who that has loved this earth can but believe that the spiritual body of which St Paul speaks will be a yet higher channel of such revelation? The meek who have found that their Lord spake true, and have indeed inherited the earth, who have seen that all matter is radiant of spiritual meaning, who would not cast a sigh after the loss of mere animal pleasure, would, I think, be the least willing to be without a body, to be unclothed without being again clothed upon. Who, after centuries of glory in heaven, would not rejoice to behold once more that patient-headed child of winter and spring, the meek snowdrop? In whom, amidst the golden choirs, would not the vision of an old sunset wake such a song as the ancient dwellers of the earth would with gently flattened palm hush their throbbing harps to hear?

All this revelation, however, would render only a body necessary, not this body. The fulness of the word Resurrection would be ill met if this were all. We need not only a body to convey revelation to us, but a body to reveal us to others. The thoughts, feelings, imaginations which arise in us, must have their garments of revelation whereby shall be made manifest the unseen world within us to our brothers and sisters around us; else is each left in human loneliness. Now, if this be one of the uses my body served on earth before, the new body must be like the old. Nay, it must be the same body, glorified as we are glorified, with all that was distinctive of each from his fellows more visible than ever before. The accidental, the nonessential, the unrevealing, the incomplete will have vanished. That which made the body what it was in the eyes of those who loved us will be tenfold there. Will not this be the resurrection of the body? of the same body though not of the same dead matter? Every eye shall see the beloved, every heart will cry, "My own again!--more mine because more himself than ever I beheld him!" For do we not say on earth, "He is not himself to-day," or "She looks her own self;" "She is more like herself than I have seen her for long"? And is not this when the heart is glad and the face is radiant? For we carry a better likeness of our friends in our hearts than their countenances, save at precious seasons, manifest to us.

Who will dare to call anything less than this a resurrection? Oh, how the letter killeth! There are who can believe that the dirt of their bodies will rise the same as it went down to the friendly grave, who yet doubt if they will know their friends when they rise again. And they call that believing in the resurrection!

What! shall a man love his neighbour as himself, and must he be content not to know him in heaven? Better be content to lose our consciousness, and know ourselves no longer. What! shall God be the God of the families of the earth, and shall the love that he has thus created towards father and mother, brother and sister, wife and child, go moaning and longing to all eternity; or worse, far worse, die out of our bosoms? Shall God be God, and shall this be the end?

Ah, my friends! what will resurrection or life be to me, how shall I continue to love God as I have learned to love him through you, if I find he cares so little for this human heart of mine, as to take from me the gracious visitings of your faces and forms? True, I might have a gaze at Jesus, now and then; but he would not be so good as I had thought him.

I'm sure that this crack about getting bored with Jesus has a trace of ironic humor in it, but still, it definitely crosses some line in terms of 19th century English dogmatics. It seems to raise the point that we are all, even Jesus, creations of a single conscious entity, and in that cosmic Mind, we are all equally real and equally loved.


And how should I see him if I could not see you? God will not take you, has not taken you from me to bury you out of my sight in the abyss of his own unfathomable being, where I cannot follow and find you, myself lost in the same awful gulf. No, our God is an unveiling, a revealing God. He will raise you from the dead, that I may behold you; that that which vanished from the earth may again stand forth, looking out of the same eyes of eternal love and truth, holding out the same mighty hand of brotherhood, the same delicate and gentle, yet strong hand of sisterhood, to me, this me that knew you and loved you in the days gone by. I shall not care that the matter of the forms I loved a thousand years ago has returned to mingle with the sacred goings on of God's science, upon that far-off world wheeling its nursery of growing loves and wisdoms through space; I shall not care that the muscle which now sends the ichor through your veins is not formed of the very particles which once sent the blood to the pondering brain, the flashing eye, or the nervous right arm; I shall not care, I say, so long as it is yourselves that are before me, beloved; so long as through these forms I know that I look on my own, on my loving souls of the ancient time; so long as my spirits have got garments of revealing after their own old lovely fashion, garments to reveal themselves to me. The new shall then be dear as the old, and for the same reason, that it reveals the old love.

This passage is of tremendous significance to the creative artist who constantly seeks to clothe spirit in fresh garments, garments whose single purpose is to update the physicalization of spirit in the drifting sands of time, to find a NOW that is subtly different from the preceding NOW.


And in the changes which, thank God, must take place when the mortal puts on immortality, shall we not feel that the nobler our friends are, the more they are themselves;

(This was always a big point in C.S. Lewis. He insisted that, by giving up yourself to God's will, you found found your own true will.)

that the more the idea of each is carried out in the perfection of beauty, the more like they are to what we thought them in our most exalted moods, to that which we saw in them in the rarest moments of profoundest communion, to that which we beheld through the veil of all their imperfections when we loved them the truest?

Lord, evermore give us this Resurrection, like thine own in the body of thy Transfiguration. Let us see and hear, and know, and be seen, and heard, and known, as thou seest, hearest, and knowest. Give us glorified bodies through which to reveal the glorified thoughts which shall then inhabit us, when not only shalt thou reveal God, but each of us shall reveal thee.

Today George MacDonald will pronounce the benediction. Let us pray:

And for this, Lord Jesus, come thou, the child, the obedient God, that we may be one with thee, and with every man and woman whom thou hast made, in the Father.


Amen.

The Widow's Mite

The Widow's Mite

There is a logical link between last week's sermon, "Render Unto Caesar" and today's meditation on the "Widow's Mite"; the quality of the gift is the hot issue, and I hope we will be able come to some conclusions about the spiritual component of giving, specifically, and the more general, overarching principle of "service."

Since coming to Alaska, my artistic isolation out in the bush has denied me very much contact with the so-called upper echelon of musicians in this admittedly "bushy" state, but when I was in California it was my pleasure and honor to play with, conduct, and write for many high-level, internationally recognized musicians. At the same time, then as now, I was developing relationships with many more amateur musicians in instrumental ensembles and choruses. The question naturally came up, "whom do I like working with more?"

I must confess, there is a kind of ecstasy associated with standing up in front of a group and actually having it "sound good"; but when I look beyond the surface features of a performance, into the level of spiritual outpouring, that takes place whenever music is channeled from its divine source into the physical, I have to admit that my amateur groups are very competitive with the pro groups. Now, the very best musicians ALWAYS give their best, but there is a class of middle-weight musicians who are well-trained, competent, and experienced, who tend to "play the gig" and take home their checks with a level of blase indifference that results in a spiritual channeling by far inferior to the amateur, in terms of the "quality" of the outpouring. It's the same principle I have spoken of many times before: the harder you try, the more you get; the fact that pro musicians don't have to try as hard as their amateur counterparts, means that they tend to channel spiritual energy of a lower vibratory frequency.

As a conductor, I can FEEL when the members of the group are attempting to transcend their physical limitations and penetrate to the divine realm. It's like I mentioned before in my sermon on the prophet not being recognized in his own hometown:


". . . Robert Hichens, the noted painter of the sea, once sought a boy whose face might reflect the wonder of the sea. After searching he discovered that he could not find such a lad in one of the sea-coast towns of England. In order to find a face that reflected wonder in connection with the sea he had to choose a boy from the slums of London, a boy who had never seen the ocean before. Familiarity breeds contempt. A prophet is not without honor save in his own country and in his own house."


The amateur, who is often discovering the magic of a particular piece for the first time, will always experience a higher degree of intensity than the pro musician who has played that same piece a dozen times. Again, referring to my job at the Urbana Country Club:

". . . I used to play this piece, the Aria from Bach's Goldberg Variations, at my piano gig in Illinois. It is a very ornate piece, and the embellishments can be very affecting, but if you play them the same way every time it sounds false. So, every time I play this piece, including this one, I first remind myself to experience it as though I had never played it before. This keeps the music fresh and sincere--but, every time, I have to remember to say to myself, "You should always look at life as though you were coming out of a tunnel." Reminding yourself is the key--being totally conscious is the key."


From my sermon on "Entering the Kingdom of God as a Child", I made this comment:

"I find this passage extraordinary just in terms of its PSYCHOLOGY. Jesus is giving very precise instructions for integrating the two polar opposites of our dualistic nature (remember the sphinxes?) into one synthetic consciousness state. He is not saying that ignorance is bliss, that childlike cluelessness is preferable to advanced knowledge, he is saying that, at whatever level of consciousness you find yourself,  at any given moment, you must integrate all your personal histories into a single point of view—LIKE A CHILD. Thus, no matter how much we know, or think we know, that singleness of perspective must necessarily result in a kind of innocence."


Always, it is childlike innocence that we require, to get the most out of spiritual experience. Clearly it is easier for an amateur to have that innocent outlook that the pro who has eaten of the tree of knowledge time and time again.

Notice, as we proceed, that, as in the "Render Unto Caesar" sermon, I am less concerned with the money aspect of the gift than I am with the spiritual aspect of the gift, of which the money is merely a symbol. Indeed, this symbolic dimension of money is not to be ignored. I have made a case for the idea that much of my success is attributable to my willingness to do things for free; I HAVE, DO, AND ALWAYS WILL PERFORM LOTS OF PROFESSIONAL SERVICES FOR FREE. That doesn't mean I do everything for free. Just as my gift of time to the community represents compassion for the devotee, so does money paid to me by the devotee represent respect; without respect, the gift becomes devalued, not to say worthless. Here in Alaska, as in any backwoods place, where the normal high water mark of culture is some maiden lady at the church who "gives pianuh" for a pittance, people often don't appreciate the monetary value of professional music teachers. I demand a medium-high fee for my teaching services (always lower than some pro teachers at my level, but higher than the maiden lady at the church who gives pianuh) not because (as Humphrey Bogart said) "I can get it," but because the investment of money raises the profile of my teaching in the mind of the student. Thus in this one scenario, money can be seen to SYMBOLIZE compassion, respect, and profile, just to name a few. It is the abstract values which we attach to money that determines its real value, which, thereby determines the true qualitative value of its sacrifice.

Now, the "widow's mite" texts:

Mark 12:41-44
 41And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much.
 42And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing.
 43And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, Verily I say unto you, That this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury:
 44For all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.


Luke 21:1-4
 
1And he looked up, and saw the rich men casting their gifts into the treasury.
 2And he saw also a certain poor widow casting in thither two mites.
 3And he said, Of a truth I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast in more than they all:
 4For all these have of their abundance cast in unto the offerings of God: but she of her penury hath cast in all the living that she had.


Lesson of the widow's mite
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

"A bronze mite, also known as a Lepton (meaning small), minted by Alexander Jannaeus, King of Judaea, 103 - 76 B.C.

The Lesson of the widow's mite is presented in the Synoptic Gospels (Mark 12:41-44, Luke 21:1-4), in which Jesus is teaching at the Temple in Jerusalem. The Gospel of Mark specifies that two mites (Greek lepta) are together worth a quadrans, the smallest Roman coin. A lepton was the smallest and least valuable coin in circulation in Palestine, worth about six minutes of an average daily wage.
In the story, a widow donates two small coins, while wealthy people donate much more. Jesus explains to his disciples that the small sacrifices of the poor mean more to God than the extravagant donations of the rich.

In Jesus' times in Israel, the small copper coin was called a lepton; there actually were no coins called mites. However, there was a mite in the time of the King James translation. The denomination was well known in the Southern Netherlands. Both the duke of Brabant and the count of Flanders issued them and they were sometimes imitated in the North. Originally, the Brabant mijt (maille in French) was 1/76 stuiver, the Flemish mijt 1/48 stuiver. When the two areas were united under the dukes of Burgundy and later under the Habsburgs, the rate of the mijt was set at 1/32 stuiver. More important, they were the very smallest copper coins. By 1611, they were no longer minted, but they were still in circulation.

In the society of 1611, it was almost a social obligation to give a silver coin at church collections, for there were many framed money galleries and armored safes in churches that needed to be filled. Only the very poor could get away with giving a copper coin and only the desperately poor would give a copper coin as small as a mijt, as their social status could hardly sink any lower. A widow would in principle have to live without any income. The translator probably may have had a beggar and a contemporary widow in mind. All this would have been self-evident to the readers. All of the contributions of silver were made "to be seen of men" as noted below, not as contributions to the church.

Explanation
Witnessing the donations made by the rich men, Jesus highlights how a poor widow donates only two mites, the least valuable coins available at the time. But, Jesus observes, this sum was everything she had to her name, while the other people give only a small portion of their own wealth.
In earlier times, a number of Christians, especially the Gnostics, Ebionites, Waldensians, and Franciscans, argued that the passage is an encouragement to live in poverty, and not seek riches.

In the passage immediately preceding this in both gospel accounts, Jesus is portrayed as condemning the religious leaders who feign piety, accept honor from people, and steal from widows (perhaps feigning piety in order to gain the trust of widows, and thereby gain access to their assets). Although most Christians understand this as criticism of the actions of certain individuals, racist groups have historically argued that the passages in question justify anti-semitism, particularly as the Gospel of Mark argues that severe punishment awaits those who follow such actions (Brown et al.).

Taken literally, the widow's donation of one mite could have been by obligation, because she could not have given any less. Following this reasoning, some interpreters suggest that Jesus sits down in judgment "opposite" (over against, in opposition to) the treasury; the lesson drawn emphasizes that, while people are impressed with the large sums that are put in, they did not notice that the Temple took half of what the "poor widow" had to live on. Connected with the passage about the destruction of the Temple that immediately follows it in both gospels Mark 13:1-2, "there will not be left one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down", the lesson is then interpreted as promising the overthrow of any worship of God sustained by robbery.

A more likely interpretation has a different focus. Since in any case the woman would have been under no obligation to give the second mite, when she gave "all her living" she could not have given any more. Thus, the traditional interpretation of the passage is that God accounts the value of a gift not by how much is given, but by how much is kept back. Hence, the poor widow is counted as having given a great gift, having kept nothing for herself, while those who give out of their abundance but keep plenty for themselves are counted by God as having given very little. While the passage may or may not be an encouragement to live in poverty, it is certainly an encouragement to give generously."


[I would like to interject a comment here on the subject of "keeping back": as I mentioned at the outset, my take on the "widow's mite" scenario is from the standpoint of a music director; I have said that the pro musician tends to give less than all he has, out of tired worldly experience--for many musicians, "the thrill is gone" long before they play their last note. Thus, instead of pushing themselves to discover the music as the fresh innocently exhilarating event they knew as children when they were first drawn to music, they "hold back" their enthusiasm by simply limiting their identification with the newness of the spiritual manifestation--a manifestation which is necessarily an anomalous event in the newness of time and in their own subjective experience.

How often do we hold back our engagement with experience because it is the "the same old thing?" How often do we deny the people around us the opportunity to share in enthusiasms which ought to inspire spiritual excitement, but turn into drab re-enactments of dried-up formulae? More on this later. Back to Wikipedia:]


"Coming as it does immediately after the condemnation of the religious leaders of the day--who sought and enjoyed the praise of people while "devouring widows' houses"--there is also likely a second implication. When someone does something to be "seen of men" (Matthew 6:5, 23:5), they have their reward, as the rich who made an ostentatious show of their generosity. They certainly impressed each other and those watching. But it was the quiet "small" gift of the poor widow that impressed the Son of God. If we do our works to be seen of men, we have our reward. If we do our works as the poor widow, if we are wholeheartedly devoted to God instead of seeking the praise of people and instead of spending riches on our own pleasures, we will receive a far greater reward which He has for us."


Thus, as in the "Render Unto Caesar" sermon, we see that the rich, by giving less than they might (haha), are rendering unto Caesar; the ostentatious show they put on, to inflate their sense of righteousness in the eyes of their rich friends, has nothing of spirituality in it, and it is certainly not a gift to God. Jesus repeatedly spoke out against the shallowness of worldly prestige, which, as we know, is one of the primary commodities that money buys.

On November 13, 2006, Herb Ely wrote:
Should The “Widow’s Mite” Story Make Us Feel Guilty?
"This gospel passage led to extensive discussion among my friends at lunch on Friday and at home over the weekend. Here are some observations:
• In the gospel Jesus offers a criticism of the scribes,
• Jesus recognizes – but does not criticize – the rich for contributing large sums, and
• He contrasts the behavior of both with the widow.
    The behavior of the three reveals a spiritual reality about wealth. The possession of wealth can be poison, making one so grasping that it leads to power and glory-seeking as well as a willingness to defraud the poor. Wealth can lead to contributions of large sums – presumably on-going behavior on the part of the rich people. The widow’s willingness to “contribute all she had, her whole livelihood” is also a reflection of psychological and spiritual reality. Most of us are willing “to turn over our lives and wills to the care of God” only after we have been through a dark night and learned that our wealth cannot save us. One wonders what led the rich people to be so generous.
These observations led to a set of questions:
• How should any of us decide how generous we should be with our funds?
• Assuming that the “rich people” know that the scribes were mis-spending funds“ on honor and glory, even to the point devouring the houses of widows,” what was their responsibility?
• How do we choose among contributions to the temple or to other worth-while charities?
• What happens if we interpret the phrase “all that she had” to mean more than just finances?
    We get some help on the first question from 2 Corinthians 8. (Note that this letter is Christianity’s first direct mail solicitation of funds!) Paul praises the Macedonians who gave
“according to their means, I can testify, and beyond their means, ..”(2 Cor. 8:6)
Then he gives the people of Corinth some different advice on how much to give:
"For if the eagerness is there, it is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have; not that others should have relief while you are burdened, but that as a matter of equality your surplus at the present time should supply their needs, so that their surplus may also supply your needs, that there may be equality."

This advice doesn’t let the Corinthians off the hook. While they need not impoverish themselves, they – and the rest of us – still need to determine how much is surplus.
2 Cor. 9:6-7  offers more advice on how to how to discern how we should contribute, and on where we should make our contributions:
Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."


C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity (Book 3, Chapter 13)….
“I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.”


This quote from an unknown author is fun:
Interest on the Widow's Mite
"It is estimated that if the widow's mite had been deposited at the First National Bank, Jerusalem to draw four percent interest semi-annually, the fund today would total $4,800,000,000,000,000,000,000. (Four sextillion, eight hundred quintillion). If a bank on earth could multiply the widow's mite to such an astronomical figure, think what treasures this dedicated woman will have in heaven where "moth and rust doth not corrupt."


from Shawn Blanc's internet article, The Reality of Our Widow’s Mite
we hear:
"We read the story of the widow’s mite and we think; “How noble. She only had two pennies and she gave them both. She gave all she had. When I am in that situation I hope to do the same.” But if you think about it, aren’t we all in that situation? All of us only have a widow’s mite to give God. If you have built up the biggest ministry on the block it’s still just a goofy looking crayon drawing with stick-figured purple haired folks when we compare it to the majesty of God. What makes our offerings mean something is if we give them with love in our heart. The reality of our life is that no matter how ‘successful’ or ‘productive’ we are, it’s all just a meager offering to God. What matters is not “deeds of righteousness,” but to engage our hearts in love to God."


Indeed, it is pride that sullies the radiance of the pro musician's gift of music. Pro musicians can parade their gifts like self-bestowed medals, puffed up with vain self-satisfaction, and STILL not give all they have--as if a small fraction of their best effort were enough! So few of us stand on the verge of eternity and contemplate the possibility that this may be not only the FIRST TIME we are doing something, but possibly the LAST TIME. If we played our songs every day, as if it were our last chance, would we invest any more in them than if we thought we would soon be home in our beds watching TV and munching popcorn, preparing to go to tomorrow's gig for $30/hr?

People who believe in reincarnation (similar to those who believe in predestination) have the comfortable thought-cushion of second chances--if we screw this up, we can try again. Jesus never mentions reincarnation, which is not an argument for or against its existence; but He does convey a sense of urgency about the significance of the present moment; everything in His ministry points to the idea that we have to commit everything we have to the pursuit of spiritual knowledge RIGHT NOW, not later, not when our T-bills mature, not when the economy settles down, not when our children have gone off to college, not when our mortgage is paid off, but NOW. The widow does not put in all she has when it is comfortable, she faces eternity in the present moment and gives her all IN THAT PRESENT MOMENT. Faith in the future protection of the saints imbues her act with serenity and calm, because she knows her reward in spiritual coins is worth four sextillion times more than the two mites she throws into the pot.

Now in the first paragraph of this sermon I mentioned the "overarching principle of service". It's time we got to that. The question, for the purposes of this Sunday morning worship service is not, "Why do we play music?" but, "WHY DO WE DO ANYTHING?" It is impossible to ignore that fact that, in giving our all, we are affirming our own existence in this vast cosmic drama, that we are opening to our own sight the glories of spiritual reality; but remember that, as disciples of Jesus, using Him as our example, we most effectively affirm our own existence by affirming the existence of our neighbors. By giving of our best selves to any mundane activity, we can open the view to cosmic terrains to those around us. We can inspire our neighbors with the motivation to join us in our quest for enlightenment--we can join with them in higher cosmic identity.

Remember that every time we touch the spiritual mind state with our lower minds, we expand ourselves outward into a diffused but heightened ego state. I do not mean this figuratively--we literally grow, like a bursting sun, to encompass those around us with the radiance our our inner spiritual identity. My music students often tell me they love me. I do not believe this; it is not that the connecting arms of divine love do not enfold us into one being, it is that they do not love ME. It is the God in me that they love. I may have been the channel for this manifestation of divine love, but that same love transcends us both. The good feeling they get from me is not of me, it is beyond me, beyond us both. Thus the "they" they identify with, is more than they, and the me to which they attribute the experience is beyond me. It is gratifying to hear such words, but I cannot accept the credit nor the identification--it is an experience richer than the puny worn-out words "I love you."

The work of the widow who gave all she had is not done. She will rise again, the next day and the next, and give all she has again and again, because the all she has, given freely in the present moment must necessarily replenish itself as she becomes, every day, a channel for divine love, love that blesses the giver, the givee, and the gift.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the opportunity to give. Thank you for placing us in the middle of a chain of causes which allows us to transmit divine reality into the physical dimension. Remind us, ever, of the source of these gifts, and the ultimate receiver of these gifts--it is all You first and last. Amen.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Render Unto Caesar

Render Unto Caesar

In creating the format for the Sunday worship service I included an offering sentence, an offering hymn, and the Doxology. Recently, there have been times when no offering was taken, but we have gone through the ceremony anyway, because, for some of us, the form our offerings takes won't fit in the offering basket. In almost 40 years of doing church work I have never put a dime in the offering basket because I have always been contributing to the church in other ways; to me my time is my money. Today's sermon takes a look at Jesus' instruction to "Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's."

As we shall see, this saying came in response to a trap the pharisees were attempting to lay for Jesus; they were trying to get Him to make some seditious statement or other, that would put Him in the power of the Romans. The Romans had no interest in Jesus' status as the Jewish Messiah, but they were very concerned with quelling the political rebellion of the Zealots; thus, if Jesus were to admit to an alignment with this dangerous, violent faction, the Jews would have a legal excuse for turning Him over to the Romans for violating a Roman law. The story is cited not only for its spiritual insight, but as an example of how Jesus was always able to give His enemies the slip if He wanted to--that He was not only spiritually enlightened but also street smart; it just goes to emphasize the fact that Jesus' ultimate surrender to the Romans was completely self-motivated, a part of His plan for sacrifice and redemption.

Now, the scriptures:

Mark 12: 13-17
13  And they send unto him certain of the Pharisees and of the Hero'dians, to catch him in his words.
14  And when they were come, they say unto him, Master, we know that thou art true, and carest for no man; for thou regardest not the person of men, but teachest the way of God in truth: Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar, or not?
15  Shall we give, or shall we not give? But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said unto them, Why tempt ye me? bring me a penny, that I may see it.
16  And they brought it. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? And they said unto him, Caesar's.
17  And Jesus answering said unto them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's. And they marveled at him.


Matthew 22: 15-21
15Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
 16And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
 17Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
 18But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
 19Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
 20And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
 21They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.


Luke 20:20-26
 
20And they watched him, and sent forth spies, which should feign themselves just men, that they might take hold of his words, that so they might deliver him unto the power and authority of the governor.
 21And they asked him, saying, Master, we know that thou sayest and teachest rightly, neither acceptest thou the person of any, but teachest the way of God truly:


[Notice how sneaky they are trying be, flattering the Master, pretending to be humble students of truth, lacing the spider's web with honey to catch the fly. I'm sure Jesus had to smile at that.]

 
22Is it lawful for us to give tribute unto Caesar, or no?
 23But he perceived their craftiness, and said unto them, Why tempt ye me?
 24Shew me a penny. Whose image and superscription hath it? They answered and said, Caesar's.
 25And he said unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which be Caesar's, and unto God the things which be God's.
 26And they could not take hold of his words before the people: and they marvelled at his answer, and held their peace.


Render unto Caesar...
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

""Render unto Caesar…" is the beginning of a phrase attributed to Jesus in the synoptic gospels, which reads in full, “Render unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s” (“Ἀπόδοτε οὖν τὰ Καίσαρος Καίσαρι καὶ τὰ τοῦ Θεοῦ τῷ Θεῷ”) (Matthew 22:21).
This phrase has become a widely quoted summary of the relationship between Christianity and secular authority. The original message, coming in response to a question of whether it was lawful for Jews to pay taxes to Caesar, gives rise to multiple possible interpretations about under what circumstances it is desirable for the Christian to submit to earthly authority.

Context
The Bible states that hostile questioners tried to trap Jesus into taking an explicit and dangerous stand on whether Jews should or should not pay taxes to the Roman occupation. They anticipated that Jesus would oppose the tax, for Luke’s Gospels explains their purpose was “to hand him over to the power and authority of the governor.” The governor was Pilate, and he was the man responsible for the collecting of Rome's taxes in Judea. At first the questioners flattered Jesus by praising his integrity, impartiality, and devotion to truth. Then they asked him whether or not it is right for Jews to pay the taxes demanded by Caesar. In the Gospel of Mark, the additional, truly provocative question is asked, "Should we pay or shouldn't we?" Jesus first called them hypocrites, and then asked one of them to produce a Roman coin that would be suitable for paying Caesar’s tax. One of them showed him a Roman coin, and he asked them whose name and inscription were on it. They answered, “Caesar’s,” and he responded “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and give to God what is God’s.” His interrogators were flummoxed by this authoritative (though ambiguous) answer and left disappointed.

The Pharisees and the Herodian
s
The Jewish Encyclopedia says, of the Zealots:
When, in the year 5, Judas of Gamala in Galilee started his organized opposition to Rome, he was joined by one of the leaders of the Pharisees, R. Zadok, a disciple of Shammai and one of the fiery patriots and popular heroes who lived to witness the tragic end of Jerusalem…. The taking of the census by Quirinus, the Roman procurator, for the purpose of taxation was regarded as a sign of Roman enslavement; and the Zealots’ call for stubborn resistance to the oppressor was responded to enthusiastically.

Accusations of tax resistance against Jesus
At his trial before Pontius Pilate, Jesus was accused of promoting resistance to Caesar's tax.
Then the whole assembly rose and led him off to Pilate. And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ/Messiah, a king.” (Luke 23:1-4)

One of the theses of an essay by Ned Netterville entitled, Jesus of Nazareth, Illegal-Tax Protester, is that the principal reason why Pilate crucified Jesus was his opposition to Rome's taxes. Evidence of Jesus' guilt could have been presented showing he had interfered with Rome’s collection of taxes by calling Matthew (a.k.a. Levi) away from his tax booth in the midst of his duties (Matthew 9:9). Pilate may have known or could have been told that Jesus had induced one of his chief tax collectors, Zacchaeus, to repent and resign his leading position in a Roman territory where Pilate was personally responsible for tax collections (Luke 19:1-10). Evidence could have been introduced showing that Jesus spoke disparagingly of tax collectors on several occasions (Matthew 5:46, 18:17), even equating tax collectors with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32). Jesus was known to enjoy the company of tax collectors, for instance at dinners in the homes of Matthew and Zacchaeus, so he may have influenced others to quit their profession to follow him. Jesus showed compassion for tax collectors as he did to other vilified groups, such as prostitutes.

Interpretations
The gospels say that when Jesus gave his response, his interrogators “marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” They were unsuccessful in getting Jesus to unambiguously come out either in favor of paying the tribute to Rome or in favor of tax resistance. Advocates for either argument could interpret his words in either way.

Time has not resolved this ambiguity, and people continue to interpret this passage to support positions that are poles apart.

False dichotomy, adroit avoidance of trap
Jesus was asked the question about paying taxes in hope that he would answer "yes" or "no". Answering "yes" would have left him open to the accusation that he was in opposition to Jewish resistance to the Roman occupation and therefore (given the assumption by the Jews that they still held privileged nation status with God at this time) against God too. Answering "no" would have given those present an opportunity to report him to the Roman authorities as someone who was trying to incite a revolt. His questioners had assumed that there was an inevitable (and hazardous) dichotomy between discharging one's obligations to the state and discharging one's obligations to God, but Jesus refused to confront the dichotomy as framed by his hostile questioners and instead pointed to the assumptions behind it.

Some people consider this parable as not primarily instructional but as an example of Jesus’s skill in thinking on his feet. His questioners tried to trap him between the horns of a dangerous either/or question, and he deftly gave an answer that seemed to meet the question head-on but actually avoided taking a position.

Leo Tolstoy wrote:
“Not only the complete misunderstanding of Christ’s teaching, but also a complete unwillingness to understand it could have admitted that striking misinterpretation, according to which the words, ‘To Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s,’ signify the necessity of obeying Cæsar. In the first place, there is no mention there of obedience; in the second place, if Christ recognized the obligatoriness of paying tribute, and so of obedience, He would have said directly, ‘Yes, it should be paid;’ but He says, ‘Give to Cæsar what is his, that is, the money, and give your life to God,’ and with these latter words He not only does not encourage any obedience to power, but, on the contrary, points out that in everything which belongs to God it is not right to obey Cæsar.”


Highlighting the dangers of cooperating with the state
Some see the parable as being Jesus’s warning to people that if they collaborate too closely with state, as distinct from God's, authority (for instance, by using its legal tender), they become beholden to it. Henry David Thoreau writes in Civil Disobedience:

"Christ answered the Herodians according to their condition. “Show me the tribute-money,” said he; — and one took a penny out of his pocket; — If you use money which has the image of Caesar on it, and which he has made current and valuable, that is, if you are men of the State, and gladly enjoy the advantages of Caesar’s government, then pay him back some of his own when he demands it; “Render therefore to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and to God those things which are God’s” — leaving them no wiser than before as to which was which; for they did not wish to know."


Mennonite Dale Glass-Hess wrote:
"It is inconceivable to me that Jesus would teach that some spheres of human activity lie outside the authority of God. Are we to heed Caesar when he says to go to war or support war-making when Jesus says in other places that we shall not kill? No! My perception of this incident is that Jesus does not answer the question about the morality of paying taxes to Caesar, but that he throws it back on the people to decide. When the Jews produce a denarius at Jesus’ request, they demonstrate that they are already doing business with Caesar on Caesar’s terms. I read Jesus’ statement, "Give to Caesar…" as meaning “Have you incurred a debt in regard to Caesar! Then you better pay it off.” The Jews had already compromised themselves. Likewise for us: we may refuse to serve Caesar as soldiers and even try to resist paying for Caesar’s army. But the fact is that by our lifestyles we’ve run up a debt with Caesar, who has felt constrained to defend the interests that support our lifestyles. Now he wants paid back, and it’s a little late to say that we don’t owe anything. We’ve already compromised ourselves. If we’re going to play Caesar’s games, then we should expect to have to pay for the pleasure of their enjoyment. But if we are determined to avoid those games, then we should be able to avoid paying for them."


Mohandas K. Gandhi shared this perspective. He wrote:
"Jesus evaded the direct question put to him because it was a trap. He was in no way bound to answer it. He therefore asked to see the coin for taxes. And then said with withering scorn, “How can you who traffic in Caesar’s coins and thus receive what to you are benefits of Caesar’s rule refuse to pay taxes?” Jesus’s whole preaching and practice point unmistakably to noncooperation, which necessarily includes nonpayment of taxes."


Of course, Ghandi would attach a political resonance to this story, and it cannot be denied that Jesus' teachings always include a practical component--they point us to right action--in this case, INACTION. However, I am less interested in the the offering that is NOT given than I am in the offering that IS given.

From The Threefold Social Order, Joel A. Wendt writes:
"In the process of the thinking which has led to these observations, I spent some time wondering just what was meant by that verse in the Gospel of Christ Jesus which says: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's.". Over time I came to realize the following. The State has no existence but what the humans, who conceive it and act it out, make it to be. Unlike sense perceptible objects, the State is a social form entirely built up out of man's ideation and deeds. The principle remains the same, even though in many instances certain individuals or groups are able to form the State according to their particular individual vision. Thus, when Christ admonishes us to "render unto Caesar", we are being directed to understand and appreciate that the State has its being and its nature from what we give to it.Where we withdraw in apathy, or otherwise seek from the State only that which benefits us, we give to the form of the State just such characteristics. For example, as much as we might think that America is what it is out of the Constitution, it is much more important how Her people behave presently. As long as most people "render" unto the State only what they must, and then only for their own purposes, the State in its being and nature can only reveal such characteristics."


Most of these commentaries quibble over, not necessarily WHAT to render to Caesar, but HOW MUCH to render to Caesar. As citizens of the world, we have to use the same money as everybody else, so the question naturally arises, "How much of our worldly goods is Caesar's and how much is God's?" Embedded in this question is the hidden agenda, "How much of our worldly goods is Caesar's and how much is OURS?" The coins of the realm are marked with Caesar's image, he makes a claim on it by virtue of this identification. The real question is how is God's currency marked, whose image is marked on His currency? How do we identify God's cut? To what degree (if, indeed, it can be described as a matter of degree) do we identify with Caesar's currency, and to what degree do we identify with God's currency. The dualistic nature of human existence is always nagging us for an answer to these questions--where does the physical end and the spiritual begin?


I have used this C. S. Lewis quote at least once, recently, maybe twice:
"A man may have to die for our country: but no man must, in any exclusive sense, live for his country. He who surrenders himself without reservation to the temporal claims of a nation, or a party, or a class is rendering to Caesar that which, of all things, most emphatically belongs to God: himself."


C. S. Lewis is insistent upon this one point: in the spiritual world, Caesar's claims amount to exactly NOTHING. Furthermore, it can be suggested that, to the spiritually-minded man, Caesar's claims on our physical world is, if not nothing, very, very little, not because bread, and gas, and electricity are free, but because we should attach very little importance to these things. I know people who are totally freaked out about the state of the world economy, the threatening doom of our current standard of living--the future looms like a horrible nightmare of deprivation and loss. But to the spiritually- minded man, the state of his outer world should hold no threat, because the important currency of life is in the realm of the spirit, which must ever remain unaffected by economics. My faith does not allow me to imagine some terrible world in which life is not worth living because some material luxury is denied me. People always adapt to conditions, and the spiritually minded man can always lean on the protection of the saints, when everybody around him is crying havoc. The spiritual realm provides constant protection from adversity, no matter how apparently bad the outer circumstances may be. If I allowed my self to succumb to the negativity rampant in the current economic climate, I would be rendering my PEACE OF MIND unto Caesar; I say to you, Caesar HAS NO CLAIM ON MY PEACE OF MIND.

FromThe Gospel of Christ's Humanity, Rudolph Steiner writes:
"The reason why this sojourn in the Great World dazzles and bewilders is that, in the material world of the senses man, is accustomed to altogether different conditions. In the world of the senses he is accustomed to consider everything from a single viewpoint; and if he comes across something that does not tally exactly with the opinions he has formed from this one viewpoint, he regards it as false. This is quite suitable for life on the physical plane but if he were to attempt to pass out into the Macrocosm through Initiation still holding the opinion that there should be conformity in this sense, he would never find his bearings. His mode of life in the world of the senses is such that he places himself at a particular point and from this point — as though it were his snail-house — he judges everything. But when he undergoes Initiation his consciousness passes out into the Great World."


For quite a long time, I have based my dealings with the world on the principle that: you cannot give anything away. Whenever you try to give away something, it always comes back to you. A good example is how I stumbled into college teaching:

In 1987, my family escaped the madness of California, and wound up in the Pacific Northwest. I had a job conducting a Presbyterian church choir, I got into the Spokane Symphony, and I had ONE student. Christmas 1987 was a dreary, anxiety-ridden affair. That spring, 1988, I saw an ad in the paper concerning a community orchestra that had been led for the past 20 years by a medical doctor, whose musical expertise was practically nil, but whose pocketbook kept the group going; the deal was, he would conduct the townspeople for a few months, and then hire some pro musicians from the university to come down and carry them through the concert. Well, he was retiring, and the group was disbanding. I went down there and offered my services for free to keep the group going. One thing led to another, and soon I was leading them in a room donated by the small state college there. I also got permission to teach a few private lessons before rehearsal, in a room down the hall from the head of the music department. After he heard me jamming on the piano before class, he practically begged me to join his college jazz band. I was a big hit, and, before I knew it, I was the private piano instructor, and I was teaching music appreciation. By the end of my stay there, I was doing more teaching than either of the "full-time" instructors. On the strength of all the experience I accumulated at that college, I got a job teaching at the big university up the road, and when I left Washington for Illinois, I got a job for two years at another Jr. College in that area. I am now teaching music appreciation online for Prince William Sound Community College--a gig which adds substantially to my monthly income. All this because I was willing to conduct a ragtag community orchestra for free. If I had insisted on getting money for my services, I would have been rejected, and a whole huge component of my professional career would have never manifested.

I understand that if you play the stock market you can make money by investing here and cashing in there. I suggest that a similar karmic tit for tat exists in the world of spiritual currency, where the intersection of spiritual motives and material effects creates our personal dualistic blend of spiritual and carnal reality. I submit that in rendering to either Caesar or God, Karmic cycles of attachment are initiated which play themselves out in the associations we maintain in our daily dealing with these two higher and lower worlds. Furthermore, it is the character of this blend of mundane and divine that results in the ultimate quality of our existence as we straddle the gap between these two worlds.

There is no standardized blueprint for the "right" relative proportions--as in all things, these proportions are a matter of choice; moreover, some of these choices have already been made before the world began, so that, even if we wanted to, we would be incapable of changing some of our limitations and potentialities in this regard. Some of us have had the world of spirit opened up to us in dramatic one-time events, while others of us follow a somewhat tedious, step-by-step course along the spiritual path. Nevertheless, for each one of us, the relationship of God to Caesar in our lives is a unique combination of higher and lower mind states, the sum of which is who we are and who we will become. And all of us have, at some point been faced with a Rubicon moment--a moment when we had to choose God or Caesar--and from that moment all subsequent moments have logically, inexorably ensued. The quality of the offerings we place on each of these opposing altars determines the level of our identification with those altars, our level of commitment to them, and our ultimate Karmic reward.

Let us pray: Jesus thank you for the opportunity to live in this marvelous natural world in which many THINGS come to us for us to use and enjoy. Let us never lose sight of the divine presence resonating in our palaces and in our garbage cans. Let us invest appropriately in the savings accounts of earth and heaven so that the coins of Karma might eventually add up to a wholesome balance that satisfies our mundane needs, but also adds to our store of spiritual treasures. At the end of all our speculations, as at the beginning, let us render unto Caesar that which is Caesar's and unto God that which is God's. And please lend us the wisdom to tell which is which. Amen.

Glennallen AK,
October 2, 2011