Sunday, February 5, 2023

Epiphany 5-A, 2023: Living in Christ Consciousness

Lectionary: Isaiah 58:1-9a, [9b-12]. Psalm 112:1-9, (10); 1 Corinthians 2:1-12, [13-16]; Matthew 5:13-20 

En el nombre del Dios que es Trinidad en unidad. Amen. 

One of my favorite companions among in the communion of saints is St. Julian of Norwich who once
said: “For our soul is so deeply grounded in God and so endlessly treasured that we cannot come to knowledge of it, until we first have knowledge of God, who is the creator to whom it is united. For our soul sits in God in true rest, and our soul stands in God in sure strength, and our soul is naturally rooted in God's endless love. And all this notwithstanding, we can never come to full knowledge of God until we first clearly know our own soul.”

Knowing our own soul and our relationship to God and one another is what St. Paul is talking about when he says we have received the Spirit of God, so we must have “the mind of Christ.” Priest and theologian Jim Marion says: “For the Christian… the Way to the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus Christ himself. (Jn 14:6) More specifically, it is ‘to allow God to transform us inwardly by the complete renewing of our minds’ (Ro 12:2) so that… ‘We have the mind of Christ (1Cor 2:16)… that is, the Christ Consciousness… which is the goal of the Christian path.” Source: Putting on the Mind of Christ (Hampton Roads, Publishing, 2011), xiii) Icon pictured: ©2005, Anne Pinkerton Davidson, Iconographer.

In Jesus, we witness how a beloved life lives in the world. No matter how the world reacted to him or treated him Jesus maintained a consciousness of love and mercy even forgiving his executors from the cross on which they hanged him.

Jesus showed us that Christ consciousness takes us beyond obedience to fulfillment of the law of love which forgives, restores, and reconciles all the world to God; and this is what Jesus is teaching in today’s gospel from Matthew.

Salt was a valuable commodity in the ancient world. In addition to salt’s unique ability to enhance the flavor of food, it was also used to preserve food, which often meant preserving life.

You are a commodity of great value, Jesus says. You are a preserver of life. And he followed that up with an equally powerful statement: you are the light of the world – something he said about himself…

When we hear this today, do we hear the power of these statements? Jesus says we are, not we will be, and not we could become… but we are a commodity of great value, “endlessly treasured” by God, as Julian of Norwich said, and the truth of this should radiate from us. As my other beloved companion in the communion of saints, Mother Theresa of Calcutta once said, “When you know how much God is in love with you, you can’t help but live your life radiating that love.”

The sad reality is that many people don’t know or experience this truth. The world is far too ready to make us believe that we are valued only if we have lots of money, beautiful bodies, or light skin. We are valued if we are social media influencers, the first ones picked to be on the team, or we walk a red carpet bathed in the admiration of others.

It seems true, but it isn’t. It’s an earthly trap, a temptation that leads us to bondage in sin. Henri Nouwen once said: “…When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection... [which is] the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”

And that’s why we who follow Christ must let our light shine. We must radiate with the light of our Christ consciousness and the truth of our existence: that we are endlessly treasured and beloved of God.

But what do we do when we don’t feel like we’re endlessly treasured or beloved? When the world beats us down and we can’t hardly stand up much less radiate our belovedness we come to church where among our family of faith is someone who will be radiating the light of Christ for us. Standing near their light is enough to dispel our darkness and open our eyes and hearts again to the Christ consciousness.

We come to church and worship, because even when we can’t utter the words ourselves, even when we aren’t sure we believe a single bit of it, the prayers of the community uphold us like a life raft on the river of life.

Recognizing the truth of our belovedness as individuals is only the first step, but it leads to the second step: recognizing everyone else’s belovedness too. Over the past couple of weeks, we have experienced a communal trauma in the beating death of Tyre Nichols, another beautiful young black life lost to unjustified violence. The hardest part of this is that Tyre is only the most recent example. There have been so many more before him: George Floyd, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Stephon Clark. There are simply too many to name here, but each one was beloved, valued, and treasured by God, but not by our society - and the color of their skin had a lot to do with it.

As Stephanie Spellers, Canon to the Presiding Bishop, and an African-American woman, said in her recent reflection: “Even if brutality like this has happened before and will happen again, we need to sit with this particular incident. We need to sit and wonder why traffic stops so quickly escalate into police brutalization and then to tragic loss of life. Sit and acknowledge the depravity human beings are capable of when mob mentality kicks in. Sit and feel our own broken, haggard spirits, still raw from deaths too numerous to count… There have been other Tyre Nicholses, and I weep anticipating all the Tyres to come… Pray today that God will fill us with wisdom and courage, and move us to transform systems and hearts shrouded by evil, especially when those hearts might just be our own.” 

It is only when we all are willing to do that – to shine our light so systems and hearts shrouded by evil can be transformed - that we can be set free from the bondage of earthly blindness and look at ourselves and others with the eyes of God. Then we are living in Christ consciousness and as Nowen says, “Every time we encounter one another we are offered an occasion to encounter the sacred.”

The church must be a place where the truth of everyone’s belovedness is intentionally and even counter-culturally lived out. Every church’s mission is to shine the light of the truth of everyone’s belovedness until everyone believes it… and lives it… and glorifies God for it. Then we shall be called repairers of the breach, restorers of the streets we live in.

It isn’t our light we shine, of course. It’s the light of Christ. As I mentioned last Sunday, the world will often work to cover or douse that light in us. Our communion of saints is replete with martyrs whose light was so doused. But the light of Christ lives on and now it lives in us.

I close by reading our Divine Purpose statement, developed last year by your vestry. You can find this in your bulletin on the last page or on our website at the bottom of the Welcome page. This is how we currently commit to shining our light in the world:
WE BELIEVE that we are called to live in service to others following the example of Jesus Christ, our Savior, helping to heal a broken world by preserving God’s creation. As a Spirit-filled community of believers we welcome all to come as you are: LGBTQIA+, married, single, divorced, marginalized, from the youngest to oldest, exactly as God created you, regardless of where you are on the spectrum of faith or doubt. 
WE WORSHIP in community, in-person and online. We have a strong liturgical tradition grounded in the Book of Common Prayer with prayer and music that embraces diversity of spiritual life in this world. In our worship all people are welcome to receive Holy Eucharist at God’s table, and all are invited to participate as they are called and gifted. Our “prayground” reflects the importance of the presence of children in our worship. 
WE SERVE a broad community of people of all ages. In partnership with our local, national, and international neighbors, we serve all of God’s people learning from them and working with them toward true justice and equitable access to God’s bounty.
Shine on, Emmanuel. The bright light of Christ radiates warmly from you. Amen.

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