Read and Hear Martha’s Sermon from May 11
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St. Margaret’s Church
Sermon for 4A Easter
May 11, 2014
The Rev. Martha Kirkpatrick
Acts 2:42-47; Ps. 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
Several weeks ago we heard these words from the Gospel of John: “Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘we see,’ your sin remains.” (John 9:39-41). That was the end of the gospel story of Jesus healing the man born blind, which we read it back in Lent 4, on March 30. The gospel reading we just heard is a continuation of that same teaching. Chapters and verses and lectionary calendars were inserted much later, of course. We are Interrupting Jesus, as it were, practically mid-sentence. Today’s reading is not an isolated passage, but is within the context of Jesus’ teaching on spiritual blindness after having healed the man born blind. It follows a common structure in the gospel of John of sign-dialogue-discourse. Remember that the healing was not a miracle, but rather a sign, a sign of an evolving consciousness. Like the woman at the well and Nicodemus. Jesus performs a sign, the onlookers try to find out what it means, and Jesus teaches through a discourse. The Gospel of John came from the community of Jewish mystics who were followers of Jesus. Jesus came as a teacher of the transformation of consciousness.
Today’s teaching passage contains one of the seven “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John. “I am the bread of life.” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the good shepherd,” “I am the way, the truth and the life,” “I am the resurrection and the life,” “I am the vine,” and here, “I am the gate.” These passages have been so misunderstood. Jesus is not saying: “therefore, worship me.” These are images of the manifold and varied revelations of God’s grace. Jesus also says simply “I am” which recalls the passage in Exodus when in response to Moses’ question at the burning bush God responds “I am.” This is a subtle, deeply profound teaching. Jesus is identifying himself with being itself,with all life, and with it, the fullness of life, of full awakened consciousness in God.
With that in mind, I invite you into a way of leaning into this passage we heard today about sheepfolds and gates as as a meditation on spiritual seeing, a teaching on becoming awake. One way of doing that is to understand the sheepfold, the enclosure itself, as our own inner consciousness, and Jesus as the doorway, if you will, into that consciousness. Jesus is a doorway into a universal consciousness that no one can know until he or she steps into it.1
Viewing the sheepfold as our inner consciousness implies our action. We are invited in, but we make a choice to go there. And we have a great deal to say about what and who takes up residence in our consciousness. What books we read, what ideas we choose to ponder, whom we listen to. Whether we believe everything we read on the internet.
Many people live out their entire lives without ever looking inside themselves. This is a great tragedy. One reason many dare not go there is because of the thieves and bandits. The Greek terms for “thief” and “bandit” are not normally synonymous, so we might assume they are not here either. “Thief” usually refers to a simple robber, while “bandit” usually carries social or political meaning. We might think of the difference between a shoplifter and a corrupt politician or financier, whose impacts are further flung and longer lasting. Who are the thieves and bandits of our consciousness? A Thief might be our spending a couple of hours watching “The Price is Right” or reality TV. We know the difference between mental relaxation and the kind of stupor that certain kinds of mental activity can bring. A thief might be subliminal advertising, working on our subconsciousness. Some thieves and bandits do indeed enter by stealth. Bandits are more serious, and may be quite destructive. A bandit might be someone who has convinced you that you are unlovable. A bandit might be systemic oppression that makes whole classes of people feel less worthy — even despised. A bandit might be someone who has persuaded you to despise others. A bandit is someone who subjected you to psychological or emotional abuse. Bandits can rob us of a healthy psyche and can do a lot of damage, and thus to our inner consciousness. It leads to our shame, our isolation and sense of separateness. It cuts us off from the wholeness and abundance of life that God desires for us.
One of the keys to Jesus’ teaching here is that there is no dark space within our psyche that God cannot dwell, and indeed, where God is not already waiting for us. Jesus is there opening the gate, no matter how many doors the world may have slammed in our faces. That divine indwelling is what calls us. Sometimes we need the help of professionals to work through these demons of the inner psyche, and in fact most of us can benefit from that. The dark and scary place in our consciousness is not cut off from the divine I-am-ness, though it may feel that way. This is why we begin our services with the collect for purity “to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid.” that isn’t a threat, it’s a promise of protection and love. The life of God, the love of God, the being of God holds us, loves us and protects us. This God is beyond all human division and is always calling us to wholeness, within our selves, and among us, and with all creation.
We are given lots of teaching around how to enter the sheepfold of inner consciousness with Christ at the gate. It takes practice to put on the mind of Christ, and grow in Christ consciousness. Sit in silent prayer. If you haven’t done this, start small. A couple of minutes. No book. No music. No words. Breathe in and breathe out. Notice the thoughts as they arise, and let them go. Every arising thought is an opportunity to practice letting that thought go. Through this we practice letting go of our need for security, for control, for praise from the world. These are where our core wounds are and what drive most of the world’s hurt and pain. The goal, if you will, is simply to be present to God. We know this practice by its fruits, because it leaves to unitive consciousness. It leads to a growing awareness that there is nothing that separates us from the love of God and from each other. We know this growth in consciousness by compassion. Jim Marion puts it this way. “Jesus stressed that all the laws are fulfilled if we come to the place in consciousness (the Christ Consciousness) where we will be at last able to love God and our neighbor as ourselves (Luke 10:27), and where we are psychologically capable of loving each other the way Jesus loved us. (John 13:34). The extent of our ability to love, preached Jesus, is the sole yardstick by which God measures our spiritual progress (Matt. 24:31-46).2
Because here’s the thing: the gate swings in and out. We don’t just go into that inner space and stay there. We step out as a witness to faith. We go out into the world, to the green pastures of abundant life, following Jesus, following God’s mission in the world, to encounter the hurts and wounds of the world in a state of awakeness, unity and compassion, bearing the love of God. When we go out in the world without this inner conscious awareness, we end up doing it for ourselves, or out of guilt, we rely too much on our own resources, we get exhausted, depleted, and discouraged. With Christ as the Gate and the one who leads us, we go out and find life. Jesus says “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” We have to do the inner work of our consciousness in Christ in order for our outer work in the world to be grounded in and energized by the triune energy of God. And our work in the world then comes back to feed the life of the spirit.
The man born blind from birth has had his eyes opened. He is saved from isolation and marginalization. He put his life in Jesus’ hands, and, no longer living in blind fear as he sits and begs outside the city walls, he can now rest in the security of community. “I came that they might have life,” Jesus says, “and have it abundantly.” May it indeed be so. Amen.
1 John Shelby Spong, The Fourth Gospel: Tales of a Jewish Mystic (New York: HarperOne, 2013), 140.
2 Jim Marion, Putting on the Mind of Christ: The Inner Work of Christian Spirituality (Charlottesville, VA: Hampton Roads Publishing Company, 2000), 232.