I think I need to start with Paul’s letter to the Corinthians where he describes the message of the cross as foolishness, and describes God’s foolishness as being wiser than man’s wisdom and God’s weakness as greater than human strength.
To many people including both Jews and Muslims Jesus ending up on the cross cannot be of God because it ends in suffering and apparent defeat. It does look very much like a failure rather than a success.
And in worldly human terms it is hard to disagree. But it is in spiritual terms that this is a victory. For one thing, the chain of events fits the prophetic profile exactly. Everyone in Jewish history who stands up for the spiritual path tends to be attacked, vilified, ignored, arrested or killed.
And by a spiritual path I don’t mean a way that simply retreats to the wilderness to stay there and contemplate our navels but a path that retreats in order to advance, to retreat in order to gain the strength to be the change you want to see in the world and to walk a path that wants to see transformation. Personal transformation certainly, but also political, social, economic and environmental transformation. For Christians all transformation has its root in personal transformation.
When personal spiritual transformation (or personal enlightenment, or the raising of our own consciousness) is neglected, there is no impetus or energy for any other kind of transformation. When personal spirituality is neglected in the church, the soul of the church dies. The rituals, words and buildings are still there but without a lively spirituality it can become a legalistic empty shell.
Only ourselves can change our own consciousness. Others can be a great help but we need to have at least an iota of personal commitment in order to do it. We might think of ourselves as inadequate to the task and lacking all sorts of gifts including the one of having very little faith to begin with but Jesus knew that.
He also said that even if your faith – or trust – in God is as small as a mustard seed, which is very small indeed, that is a starting point and from something you think is totally insignificant, can blossom and grow into something quite magnificent. Lots of people together with trust as small as a mustard seed can achieve even greater things when we work together.
Changing our level of consciousness is a tremendous task and a wonderful opportunity. It is one that I have been charged with as an ordained man. In practical terms what does this mean?
In practical terms I want to raise both my and your consciousness of God from being an exterior being outside of creation to an interior being at the heart of all living things. We need to realise that we are a Temple of God because God resides in us.
I want to raise our consciousness from seeing all things as entirely separate from each other to having an underlying unity – and that principle of unity is God, the ground of all being.
I want to raise people’s consciousness from seeing human life as being framed by birth and death to being concurrent with all creation.
I would like my and your consciousness to be raised to see that personal peace can be ours because it is ours already underneath. We need to acknowledge what is already ours as a divine gift. To know we are loved and therefore held at all times in all circumstances is the gift of peace that we need to cultivate and live out. This peace is not determined by our circumstances in life and cannot be bought or traded.
We need to raise our consciousness to accept our limitations – which is humility – but also our extraordinary potential, which is a potential for life in all its fullness. The potential that when we are changed we can change the world around us.
Engaging with the divine mystery as we are here this morning, we need to surrender ourselves to, or immerse ourselves in the mystery. We don’t control it – we live in it and under it.
But surrendering ourselves to the mystery is not something we have been trained to do in modern society. We are trained in modern society to retain sovereignty over all my affairs in my life, to trust no-one fully, to keep my cards close to my chest, to not show weakness because that will be exploited, and perhaps the biggest fear of all, largely unarticulated, is that in abandoning myself I will lose sight of myself and change into someone else.
The witness of religious people down the ages though is that in losing yourself by immersing yourself in the mystery, you in fact find your true self. As Paul puts it “It is not I who live but Christ who lives in me”. This is a Chistocentric way of saying that at the centre of all life is the life of God.
And this revelation is perhaps the greatest of all leaps of consciousness for modern Western people who have been taught, or have gleaned, that life is a two dimensional mechanistic thing without meaning or purpose.
We are engaged in all those things this morning. We can take our courage in our hands and take the plunge or give in to our fears and splash around in the shallows afraid of getting wet. But church, if in no other place, should be a safe house, a place where we should be able to lower our guards and explore in safety. I think it is everybody’s responsibility to help someone more fearful than we are to take those tentative few more steps over a period of time until as many of us as possible are able to swim confidently.