Sunday, August 28, 2011

Heaven on Earth Project: A Systemic Overhaul pt. 1

The Heaven on Earth Project: A Systemic Overhaul, pt. 1

One of my all-time favorite teachers was Mr. Middleton, 8th Grade earth science.  He was 5 - 6, African American, with long dripping jheri curls.

To be honest, I don’t remember much of the earth science part.  But I remember him climbing on top of his desk to get our attention.   

He would hold his prepubescent audience captive captive by espousing life philosophies which have stuck with me even after all those years. 1990.

Might, might not, you can never tell, more than likely, not hardly.

Don’t talk about anybody, unless they are famous or a politician.  

My favorite:
You don’t have to do anything!  (that was great for an eight grader who didn’t do his homework. Middleton had no problem flunking anyone - teaching there are consequences for not doing)

Unless he taught us that the earth was round, I don’t remember much of earth science, but I remember those things.
We remember our favorite teachers.  
But sometimes, we don’t always remember the purpose of their teachings.

Who are some of your favorite teachers?  

Do you consider Jesus one of your favorite teachers?  
Well, what was the point of his teachings?

[What follows draws heavily from Cynthia Beaurgault’s Wisdom Jesus:]
We may remember:
The good samaritan. prodigal son, lords prayer.
some beatitudes.

What was he trying to teach?

One texas theologian who remembers after growing up going to sunday school week after week, coming away with the whole of Jesus teaching in this way:
“Jesus is nice, and he wants us to be nice, too.”  

Is that what Jesus wants from his followers? To be nice?

I wonder why we don’t know more about what he taught.  

Well, most of Jesus’ teachings were in parables.
And sure, a few of his parables are easy to understand.
But, most really are difficult to understand.  

Jesus said: The reason I speak to them in parables is that "seeing they do not perceive, and hearing they do not listen, nor do they understand.' (Matt 13:13)

No wonder we don’t spend must time on his teachings.  
We’re just being obedient, we don’t understand.  

And aside from parables, Jesus taught hard to and impractical lessons such as love your enemies; yet, our country, where the majority say they are Christian, loves to make war.

Jesus taught: Do not Judge,
yet the American Church is infamously known as being judgemental.

Jesus taught: “it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven.”  
Yet, the American Dream implies accumulation of wealth and things.

As a result of the difficulty of understanding and much less applying Jesus’ teachings,
for the past 1600 years in the church, there seems to have been a lot more emphasis teaching about Jesus, instead of what he taught.
Many Christians have been trained fairly well in systems of belief.  
having the right belief. Doctrines and dogmas.  
If we can believe the right things, That will save us.    
So we make sure we call Jesus God and human,
affirm his birth by a virgin
His Suffering under pontious pilate.  His crucifiction, death, burial, and on the third day, her rose again from the dead.  He assended into heaven.  And sittith on the right hand of God the Father almighty!
We have learned pretty well teachings about Jesus
But, the earliest followers of the way of Jesus seemed much more focused on what Jesus taught, than on right doctrine.  

And maybe we should, too.

The rubber hits the road not in what we can affirm about Jesus, but in putting his teachings into practice.
Jesus says this himself:

"Not everyone who says to me,
"Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven..”

So today, and in the following 5 weeks we are going to look at some of these evidently intentionally confounding teachings,
with a specific emphasis on when Jesus teaches about “the kingdom of heaven.”  
The kingdom of heaven.

Quite often, when we think kingdom of heaven, we think of that home far away, up in the sky. sweet by and by.  Heaven.  The place of the afterlife.  The place where we one day hope to go.  
But, is that what Jesus is talking about?

At the beginning of matthew’s gospel, John the Baptist appears in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming,  "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." (Matthew 3:1-2)
Jesus, [too] proclaimed, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." matthew 4:17
that doesn’t sound like some place way off in the distance?
It has come near; it is at hand.
Even, it is within--something accessible to you right here an now.

Another way in which people have understood the kingdom of heaven is that is it is some kind of political utopia. An earthly utopia.  
realm in which there is an equal distribution of goods - a sign of God’s justice.  
But, Jesus seems to deny this as well.
His own people wanted him to be the Messiah who would establish this earthly utopia--
A political system which would re-establish the reign of David.
But Jesus rejects that understanding, and instead accepted the cross.

But perhaps what Jesus is getting at in his teachings, is a systemic overhaul within the minds of his students.
He teaches, so that our system --the system of our minds--experiences a complete overhaul.

It has been suggested that “kingdom of heaven” is a code word for a state of consciousness.
Not a place you go to, but a place you come from.  
A transformed consciousness.  
Non-dual consciousness. Or unitive consciousness.   
Non duality is a state of no separation.
No separation between God and humans,
no separation between humans and humans,
No separation between humans and creation.  
We are one. Somos Uno.  

The transformation of consciousness is the repentance that Jesus may be talking about.
The word “repent” comes from the greek: metanoia -
Repent may not really mean:
feel bad or feel sorry for yourself for all the bad things you’ve done.

Instead meta noia - literally means go beyond the mind,
or go into your larger mind.  
See with the eye of the heart,
JEsus is the master of repentance,
as he leads followers see with the heart.   

For those who know computers, think of it like upgrading your operating system.
From OS Binary to OS Unitive

we’re calling this series on Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of heaven:
The Heaven on Earth Project: A Systemic Overhaul

This title, suggested by Holly Roach, a new comer to WPC, gets to exactly what I think Jesus is trying to teach.  

For starters, we’re going to get a glimpse of these kingdom of heaven sayings and parables.
A sampler plate of Jesus teachings.  
And then week by week, we’ll look more in depth.  

Jesus talks about the Kingdom of Heaven throughout Matthew sometimes in short phrases,
sometimes in parables,
to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like.

This morning six different people or groups are going to present on these parables in their own creative and fun way.  

Each narrator is saying the words of Jesus but,
most of the translations they will be using come from the Message Translation.  
So it may sound a bit different from what you’re used to for more familiar parables.

The Heaven on Earth Project: A systemic overhaul.

Hear what Jesus teaches his followers:

9"Are you listening to this? Really listening?"

Cindy: Matt 13:25-30
Jesus told a story. "The kingdom of heaven is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too.
27"The farmhands came to the farmer and said, 'Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn't it? Where did these thistles come from?'
28"He answered, 'Some enemy did this.'
  "The farmhands asked, 'Should we weed out the thistles?'
29-30"He said, 'No, if you weed the thistles, you'll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I'll instruct the harvesters to pull up the thistles and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.'"

"Are you listening to this? Really listening?

Mike and Keri:
From Matthew 13:44-51

31-32Another story. "The kingdom of heaven is like a pine nut that a farmer plants. It is quite small as seeds go, but in the course of years it grows into a huge pine tree, and eagles build nests in it."

"The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field for years and then accidentally found by a trespasser. The finder is ecstatic—what a find!—and proceeds to sell everything he owns to raise money and buy that field.
45-46"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a jewel merchant on the hunt for excellent pearls. Finding one that is flawless, he immediately sells everything and buys it.
47-50"Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a fishnet cast into the sea, catching all kinds of fish. When it is full, it is hauled onto the beach. The good fish are picked out and put in a tub; those unfit to eat are thrown away. That's how it will be when the curtain comes down on history. The angels will come and cull the bad fish and throw them in the garbage. There will be a lot of desperate complaining, but it won't do any good."

Another story. "the kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman works into the dough for dozens of loaves of barley bread—and waits while the dough rises."

"Are you starting to get a handle on all this?"

Three: Chavez/Nadell   Mt 18:23-35
23-25"The kingdom of heaven is like a king who decided to square accounts with his servants. As he got under way, one servant was brought before him who had run up a debt of a hundred thousand dollars. He couldn't pay up, so the king ordered the man, along with his wife, children, and goods, to be auctioned off at the slave market.
26-27"The poor wretch threw himself at the king's feet and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' Touched by his plea, the king let him off, erasing the debt.
28"The servant was no sooner out of the room when he came upon one of his fellow servants who owed him ten dollars. He seized him by the throat and demanded, 'Pay up. Now!'
29-31"The poor wretch threw himself down and begged, 'Give me a chance and I'll pay it all back.' But he wouldn't do it. He had him arrested and put in jail until the debt was paid. When the other servants saw this going on, they were outraged and brought a detailed report to the king.
32-35"The king summoned the man and said, 'You evil servant! I forgave your entire debt when you begged me for mercy. Shouldn't you be compelled to be merciful to your fellow servant who asked for mercy?' The king was furious and put the screws to the man until he paid back his entire debt. And that's exactly what my Father in heaven is going to do to each one of you who doesn't forgive unconditionally anyone who asks for mercy."

"Are you listening to this? Really listening?

Four: Trasie, Bruce, Little
Mt 20:1-16
1-2 "The kingdom of heaven is like an estate manager who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard.
They agreed on a wage of a dollar a day, and went to work. "Later, about nine o'clock, the manager saw some other men hanging around the town square unemployed. He told them to go to work in his vineyard and he would pay them a fair wage.
They went.
"He did the same thing at noon, and again at three o'clock. At five o'clock he went back and found still others standing around. He said, 'Why are you standing around all day doing nothing?'
"They said, 'Because no one hired us.'
  "He told them to go to work in his vineyard.
"When the day's work was over, the owner of the vineyard instructed his foreman, 'Call the workers in and pay them their wages. Start with the last hired and go on to the first.'
"Those hired at five o'clock came up and were each given a dollar. When those who were hired first saw that, they assumed they would get far more.
But they got the same, each of them one dollar.
Taking the dollar, they groused angrily to the manager, 'These last workers put in only one easy hour, and you just made them equal to us, who slaved all day under a scorching sun.'
"He replied to the one speaking for the rest, 'Friend, I haven't been unfair. We agreed on the wage of a dollar, didn't we?
So take it and go.
I decided to give to the one who came last the same as you. Can't I do what I want with my own money?
Are you going to get stingy because I am generous?'

"Are you listening to this? Really listening?

Five: Holly, Mt 22:1-14
1-3 Jesus told still more stories. "the kingdom of heaven is like a king who threw a wedding banquet for his son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn't come!
4"He sent out another round of servants, instructing them to tell the guests, 'Look, everything is on the table, the prime rib is ready for carving. Come to the feast!'
5-7"They only shrugged their shoulders and went off, one to weed his garden, another to work in his shop. The rest, with nothing better to do, beat up on the messengers and then killed them. The king was outraged and sent his soldiers to destroy those thugs and level their city.
8-10"Then he told his servants, 'We have a wedding banquet all prepared but no guests. The ones I invited weren't up to it. Go out into the busiest intersections in town and invite anyone you find to the banquet.' The servants went out on the streets and rounded up everyone they laid eyes on, good and bad, regardless. And so the banquet was on—every place filled.
11-13"When the king entered and looked over the scene, he spotted a man who wasn't properly dressed. He said to him, 'Friend, how dare you come in here looking like that!' The man was speechless. Then the king told his servants, 'Get him out of here—fast. Tie him up and ship him to hell. And make sure he doesn't get back in.'
14"That's what I mean when I say, 'Many get invited; only a few make it.'"

Are you starting to get a handle on this?

Six. Avery, Mt 25:1-13
Jesus taught: "the kingdom of heaven is like ten young virgins who took oil lamps and went out to greet the bridegroom. Five were silly and five were smart. The silly virgins took lamps, but no extra oil. The smart virgins took jars of oil to feed their lamps. The bridegroom didn't show up when they expected him, and they all fell asleep.
6"In the middle of the night someone yelled out, 'He's here! The bridegroom's here! Go out and greet him!'
7-8"The ten virgins got up and got their lamps ready. The silly virgins said to the smart ones, 'Our lamps are going out; lend us some of your oil.'
9"They answered, 'There might not be enough to go around; go buy your own.'
10"They did, but while they were out buying oil, the bridegroom arrived. When everyone who was there to greet him had gone into the wedding feast, the door was locked.
11"Much later, the other virgins, the silly ones, showed up and knocked on the door, saying, 'Master, we're here. Let us in.'
12"He answered, 'Do I know you? I don't think I know you.'
13"So stay alert. You have no idea when he might arrive.

Are you listening?

Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Repent, go beyond the mind, and move into the heart.  
Let us learn from Jesus’ teaching and be transformed so that as we go, we may proclaim the good news, for "The kingdom of heaven has come near.' (10:11)

Daniel 2:44 NRS

And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall this kingdom be left to another people. It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever;

What do we think of when we hear the kingdom of heaven. Different from the other gospels of Mark Luke and John who speak of the kingdom of God.  Jesus, in matthew when talking about a certain kingdom, he says the kingdom of heaven.  
At bible study Wednesday, we thought that Kingdom of God makes clear who is the ruler...God.
And kingdom of heaven seems to refer more to a geography.  The place where the kingdom is located.

Maybe we can think of it in this way (again Beaurgault)
How many computer geeks are out there?
Well, how many of you use computers?
Do you know what an operating system is?
If your a PC user it’s called Windows
And if your a mac user its called Lion, or Tiger, but not yet Bear.
The computers we buy come with an operating system; and if we have them for a while we usually need to upgrade that operating system in order for them to work better with the latest and greatest apps. Are you with me?  

So think of us humans being born or at least growing up with a particular operating system.
The binary operating system.  The ability to see difference. To separate.
To distinguish between one thing and another.
We learn how to think in terms of good and bad, right and wrong, up and down, before and after.  That is the binary mind.

But, perhaps when Jesus is teaching about the kingdom of heaven, he challenges us to install a new operating system. That of unitive, non-dual thinking. That of seeking one. Of seeing wholeness.  That it no longer is about right and wrong, right and left, but,
that in Christ there is no east or west, north or south...
IN christ there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, ...
We are one.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Our Days Will End

Many in our society struggle to let go and say goodbye.  The Christian Tradition, while providing us healthy optimism for resurrection hope (so long as we, of that Tradition, aren't going around condemning everyone not like us to hell in the process;).  

Perhaps because of this anticipation of eternal life, we struggle to let things go and acknowledge that we don't understand what the reality of resurrection means for our lives, nor, because of the resurrection, escape the inevitability of death and its consequences, namely separation and loss, particularly for those we leave behind.

The Buddhist Tradition has language that helps to come to grips with the reality of life's finalities.  I think it could be very healthy for us Christians to pay attention to this language so that we may be better suited to face that reality.  We affirm life's sacredness. Might we affirm the sacredness of death as well.  We celebrate beginnings, might we also learn to celebrate endings.  A breathing practice (from Larry Rasmussen's forthcoming book: New Kind of Creature):

Breathing in, I know that I am of the nature
to grow old.
Breathing out, I know I cannot escape old age.
Breathing in, I know that I am of the nature
to get sick
Breathing out, I know that I cannot escape sickness.
Breathing in, I know that I am of the nature
to die.
Breathing out, I know that I cannot escape dying.
Breathing in, I know that one day I will have to
let go of everything and everyone I cherish.
Breathing out, there is no way to bring them
Breathing in, I know that I take nothing with me
except my actions, thoughts, and deeds.
Breathing out, my actions comes with me.