Sunday, February 26, 2017


A lot of Episcopalians are kinda nervous these days
            because Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
            is enlisting us in something called “the Jesus Movement.”
They say they don’t know what he means.
But when he has invited church leaders
            to try to spell out what “the Jesus Movement” is,
            some of us have nervously shied away from the question.

I can’t say I’m surprised.
It was a running joke back in my seminary
that we had an informal taboo on our preaching.
We were not to say, “the J word.”
We could talk about “Christ” vaguely,
 meaning what Theosophists
            call “the Christ principle” defined as
“a spiritual abstraction and no living man.”
But Jesus of Nazareth made us nervous.
This talk about Jesus feels out of bounds.
We recently asked a group of our Episcopal leaders
            what Nevada needs that the Church might offer.
No one mentioned Jesus. No one said the gospel.
We talked instead in the secular language of the world,
            and Jesus is no part of that.

But today’s Gospel lesson says, “it’s all about Jesus.”
“They looked up and saw no one except Jesus, himself, alone.”
I want to talk about that lesson
It can be hard to really hear a story we’ve read so often.
So, let me tell you another story first – a wild, fantastic, magical story
from an entirely different religious tradition.

The Ramayana is a sacred Hindu epic about Ram, an avatar,
            which is essentially an incarnation of god.
When Ram’s wife Siva was kidnapped by the forest monster, Humbaba.
he enlisted his friends in a bold rescue mission.
About a thousand pages later,
after they had Siva back home safe and sound,         
            Ram threw a thank you party for his comrades.
He gave each of them a valuable ring with a precious stone.

One of his friends was a magical talking monkey named Hanuman.
Hanuman looked at his ring, chewed it up, and spit it in the trash.
Others said, “Look at that foolish monkey,
            ruining and discarding such a valuable gift.”
Hanuman answered, “Not so.
            This ring was worthless to me
            because it had not the name of my Lord Ram
            anywhere on it.”

The others laughed and said,
            “By that standard, you should discard your own body.”
“Not so,” Hanuman replied,
            and he pulled open his chest to show them,
            he had carved the name of Ram on each of his ribs.

That’s the Jesus movement.
It’s a religion -- not about an idea -- but about a person.
A whole way of life flows out of our relationship with that person,          
            but the heart of it is the person, Jesus.
Some of us think we’re too sophisticated for
that personal of a faith.
Well then, just briefly I promise, let’s talk a little philosophy.
Philosophy begins in the basic mystery.
I notice that I am here. You seem to be here too.
In fact, there is a here for us to be – a universe.
We wonder: why is there something rather than nothing?
The Big Bang isn’t an answer. Who lit the fuse?

Western philosophy for centuries answered that question
by talking about Being with a capital B,
            the suchness of things, an impulse to Being that creates and sustains.

Eastern philosophy looked at the emptiness of things,
            the way they seem to come from nothing and return to nothing.
Instead of Being they talked about, Sunyata, the Void.

In the 20th Century, a group of Japanese philosophers
            began reading Western Theology.
They read Karl Barth who was all about Jesus.
And these Japanese philosophers learned something.
They said, the universe is born from the Void because the Void
            is procreative. It is personal. It loves.
The Void is not just nothing.
It looks a lot like a man on a cross.

In the world of philosophy, the hymn came true.
“In Christ, there is no East and West.”
Both sides of the great philosophical divide agreed that
            the Source, the Destiny, and the Meaning of the Universe
            isn’t an idea, it isn’t a spiritual abstraction,
            it isn’t a cosmic order.
It’s personal. The Source, Destiny, and Meaning of Everything
            thinks, feels, cares, desires, intends, and loves.
Christians meet the Source, the Destiny, and the Meaning of Life itself
            in Jesus.
The disciples had two ways of understanding life,
two ways of living it, two ways of being in the world.
They had the law and the prophets – morality and spirituality.
So, when they saw their rabbi talking on a mountaintop    
            with Moses, the father of moral religion
            and Elijah, the father of Jewish spirituality,  
            Peter said to Jesus, “Let’s build three dwellings here
            – one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”
He meant it as a compliment, to put Jesus on a par with those giants.
But Peter had missed the point.
So, God showed up as a “bright cloud” and thundered,
            “This is my beloved Son . . .. Listen to him.”
And the disciples were afraid.

They were afraid because they had rashly answered
            life’s ultimate question
            – the question of what really matters
            – and they had gotten it wrong.
In a multiple-choice question,
            with the answers being morality, spirituality, and Jesus;
                        they’d answered, “all of the above.”
But that wasn’t’ God’s answer.
They’d missed that the ultimate value of God’s own self
            was right there in this human person,
this peasant preacher who would end up a convict, this Jesus.
All of morality and all of spirituality lead to this this glory in the dust.

The disciples thought the terrifying cloud was the Epiphany.
So, they fell on the ground and hid their faces.
But the real epiphany happened next
when Jesus touched them, and said,
            “Get up and do not be afraid.”
God isn’t a terrifying cloud driving us to the dust in fear.
God is a brother reassuring us, “Get up and do not be afraid.”
The real epiphany was Jesus, himself.

As a Pharisee, St. Paul practiced the moral life to perfection.
As a Mer-kobah mystic, he achieved the most advanced
            states of spiritual contemplation.
But one day Paul, just like the disciples,
            saw a light shining from Jesus
            – and what he saw changed everything.

Decades later, he looked back on his life,
all his ethical discipline, all his mystical practice, and said,
            “Whatever gains I had, these I count as loss
             because of the surpassing value of knowing
                        Christ Jesus my Lord.”

Paul no longer billed himself as a just man or a mystic.
He didn’t bill himself at all.
He said, “It is not ourselves that we proclaim.
            We proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord and ourselves as your servants
                        for his sake.”

Paul carved the name of Jesus on his bones --
no deeper than his bones -- in his very heart.
Paul tossed aside every prize he had every claimed,
            every success he had ever achieved,
            like Hanuman throwing away the priceless ring, and said,
                        “I’d rather have Jesus.”

Paul’s faith – our faith --  is all in the words of another old spiritual,
            “In the morning when I rise, give me Jesus.
            When I am alone, give me Jesus.
            When I come to die, O when I come to die, give me Jesus.
            You can have the whole world.
            You can have the whole world.
            Just give me Jesus.”