UNITY OF VANCOUVER
3814 FRANKLIN ST. VANCOUVER, WASHINGTON 98660 360-696-0996
The Lost Religion of Jesus
Reverend Bernadette Voorhees
March 28, 2021
All Rights Reserved
I invite you to close your eyes and turn your mind’s full attention toward your breath experience right now; to the air flowing in and out of your nose. The ‘breath of God’ is a theme and presence throughout the Bible and just as Yahweh ‘breathed life’ into Adam in the creation story God is breathing life into you in this eternal moment. On your next exhale, push all the air out and hold on empty a few moments, get hungry for air, then relax and let your next inhale come rushing in through your nose all on it own and affirm “God is breathing me.”
Feel yourself relaxing into this loving, healing Presence that is the very truth of you and say “I let go of the past and future and embrace this eternal moment.”
Feel yourself letting go of all those things that fill you with fear and anxiety and turn your attention to your heart center, that place within you that is pure love and absolutely peaceful, that place within you that is the truth of your being—that place which is God. Affirm: “I surrender my human will up into the higher Will and greater good of God.”
Continue to speak these words to your heart and willingly remove the barriers you have established around your personal self in order to take on a wonderful individual ego identity through which to have the adventure of earthly experiences. Now focus your attention on your heart and affirm “I open my heart to receive God’s love.”
As you feel the powerful flow of love moving in you as you, you are ready to take the final leap of faith. Shift fully, entirely into the ‘receive mode’ of your spiritual self. With your next inhalation feel yourself moving deeply inward with the breath as you say to yourself, “I am quiet” and as you gently exhale, say, “and listening.”
With each inhale, feel yourself moving more deeply inward as you say to yourself, “I am quiet” and as you gently exhale say, “and listening” so that your whole body becomes receptive. Remain in this heart-breath focus and continue to expand into a deeper quality of inner listening open to receive whatever new insight or healing Spirit might bring you in the silence of prayer. (Pause)
As you surrender to God’s will in your life, you also surrender to God’s healing grace and experience the power of God’s healing touch, bringing calm where there was upset, courage where there was despair, love where there was anger and joy where there was sadness. Having received God’s grace in meditation you are now empowered to offer these gifts to your family, your friends, your pets and your world. Amen.
THE LOST RELIGION OF JESUS
In the 4 gospels, Jesus is often referred to as Rabonni or teacher. But Jesus wasn’t a teacher of information. He did not tell people what to believe. He also wasn’t a teacher of morals. He didn’t tell people how to behave. He was a Sage and a teacher of Wisdom. There are basically two types of Wisdom: Conventional Wisdom and Alternative or Subversive Wisdom. Unity is based on the first century teachings of Jesus. The teachings of Jesus before Paul reinterpreted them and before ‘the church’ organized a bunch of spiritual and religious customs into the accepted dogma of ‘the only true church.’ Unity also doesn’t tell people what to believe or how to behave. It has no set dogma. It is non-denominational.
Let’s begin by examining the two basic types of Wisdom: Conventional Wisdom and Alternative or Subversive Wisdom. First century Jewish Conventional Wisdom was grounded in 3 things.
1. It was grounded in the tradition that God had entered into an exclusive covenant with the people of Israel through Moses at Mt. Sinai.
Jesus’ Alternative Wisdom was based on an image of God as gracious and compassionate (womb like). He talked about two ways of being in this world or being religious: a wise way and a foolish way, a way of life and a way of death, the Broad Way and the Narrow Way. Jesus taught by appealing to people’s innate intelligence and imagination using vivid images to diagnose the human condition. He told stories of people whose preoccupation with possessions caused them to miss the banquet to which they had been invited; of a farmer who spent his life gathering his goods into barns and then died before he really began to live; of a rich man who day after day ignored the beggar at his gate saying of him, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.”
To understand Jesus’ Alternative Wisdom as the basis of the new world order he sought to establish, you must first understand how psychologically, Conventional Wisdom becomes the basis for identity and self-esteem. Within a socially constructed world, life is organized around the dominant culture. We become socialized to our cultures’ Conventional Wisdom by simply growing up in it. We see what our culture conditions us to see and pay attention to what our culture says is worth paying attention to. A glance at the cover of Glamour, Elle, or Sports Illustrated will show you what the dominant idea of beauty is in our culture. I look at that cover and instantly begin measuring myself against it. I’m aware that I’m not the most attractive person in the world but because I am more attractive than ‘some’ I’m ‘okay.’ Glancing about, I form an unconscious judgment, ‘You’re ok too.’
In this worldview of Conventional Wisdom, identity and self-esteem depend upon these kinds of outer comparisons, most of which are unconscious but nevertheless very powerful and destructive to our peace of mind. It is a life of anxious striving; of feeling okay or not okay to the extent that you do or don’t measure up. Ironically, in this paradigm, we try to be outstanding—to stand out –by conforming to the standards that our culture values most highly. It’s a life of profound self-preoccupation-with how well am ‘I’ doing, establishing MY IDENTITY, MY SECURITY, MY FAMILY, MY RELIGION and thus a life of profound SELFISHNESS. Not selfishness in the sense of reaching for the biggest piece of cake on the plate; but selfishness as a preoccupation with our body self to the exclusion of our Spiritual self. Jesus’ criticized his culture for being self-centered; and anchored in matter/externals rather than God centered and anchored in Spirit/internals.
The Broad Way of being is not unusual or wrong. It simply reflects a normal adult consciousness, both in Jesus’ time and in our time. In an important sense becoming an adult means internalizing the Conventional Wisdom of one’s own culture by becoming a successful Conformist. The image of God as Ultimate Reality that goes with the world of Conventional Wisdom is God as a Lawgiver and Judge that we must satisfy and whose requirements we must meet.
In the Narrow Way Alternative Wisdom of Jesus the listener was invited to see Ultimate Reality or the image of God as Gracious and Womb like rather than as the Enforcer of the requirements, boundaries and divisions of Conventional Wisdom. Jesus invited people to join him on a path of transformation that leads away from the life of Conventional Wisdom that is centered in the human self, limitation, fear and anxiety to a life that is Centered in God, unlimited good, trust and joy.
Jesus’ Alternative Wisdom, which he called the Narrow Way, or just The Way wasn’t new, it was the essence of the radical monotheism of the Hebrew Scriptures crystallized in the Shema and recited twice daily by faithful Jews. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” If Jesus had simply said the Shema was the ‘Great Commandment’, everyone would have agreed, but Jesus deliberately contrasted centering in God to the central concerns of the Conventional Wisdom of his day, family, wealth, honor and religion which he saw and taught were all rival centers. He saw religious or spiritual life as an intimate, love relationship with God, not a life of requirements and rewards based on culture.
Jesus used three central images to illustrate the essence of the Narrow Way as a path of radical transformation: a new heart, centering in God, and the way of death. Let’s take a closer look at what these images meant to Jesus
1. A NEW HEART: A new heart as the fundamental determinant of both being and behavior was central to the teachings of Jesus. He spoke of the “good man who produces good out of the treasure of his heart and the evil man who produces evil out of the evil treasure of his heart.” We often view the heart as the home of emotions but within ancient Jewish psychology, the heart represented the self at its deepest level. The heart was the source of perception, thought, emotion and behavior. The character of your heart depends upon what it’s pointed toward, what it’s centered in or fundamentally loyal to and that is what drives your choices. To begin to know the ‘character of your heart,’ ask yourself the question: When I look out at the world, what do I see first, Spirit or Matter? What you see first is what you value most. What you see first is what you are investing your life energy into, “wherever your treasure lies, there you will find your heart.” According to Jesus, if you know God as womb like, compassionate and gracious, then your response to life is trust. But if you see God as a Stern Judge and Enforcer of Law your response to life is anxiety and fear.
Similarly, he said, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it but whoever loses his life will preserve it.” “Whosoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.” Before Jesus death, ‘the cross’ wasn’t a Christian symbol. It referred solely to a method of execution used by the Romans. A person sentenced to be crucified carried the horizontal beam of the cross to the place of execution. “Taking up ones’ cross” meant walking the road to death. The way of death Jesus spoke of didn’t mean physical death. It was a metaphor for the internal process of transformation by crossing out the old ways of being and crossing over into a new consciousness and a new way of living based on that new consciousness. The world to which one must die isn’t the physical world and body. Jesus is talking about the world of Conventional Wisdom and Culture with its preoccupying identities and securities; and the personal or ego self which must die, is the self-preoccupied self.
A heart centered in culture can’t be transformed by simply making a decision with your mind or by using human willpower. The ‘dying‘ Jesus is referring to is something that happens to the ego self during the process of prayer and meditation as opposed to it being something that the self accomplishes. The transformation brought about through this internal death is the heart of the religion of Jesus and early Jewish Christianity for the first 100 years. Paul describes himself as having undergone such a death: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” It’s found in the Gospel of John, “Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
The way Jesus’ physical life ended accounts in part for the power his figure has had over the centuries. Though unintentional, the metaphor of dying on the cross became incarnate.
Baptism was the Jesus Movement’s and the early church’s ritual of initiation into the mysteries as well as a way of joining the Jesus/John movement. It celebrated the death of an old self centered in the world and a resurrection of a new self centered in God and a new member of the all-inclusive family of Our Father. From the Gospel stories of Jesus’ baptism by John, we see that the Holy Spirit comes to us not as a mere ‘thought or idea’, but as a ‘whole-body experience. It says, “And Jesus was filled with the holy Spirit.”
One of the reasons that people then and now have difficulty accepting the reality of Spirit is the disappearance of the deeper forms of prayer from our experience. In the Western World, we’re most familiar with a form of prayer where God is addressed with words, either out loud or internally for a brief time, often no longer than a few minutes. Verbal prayer is only one kind of prayer in the Jewish/Christian tradition. In fact, it’s only the first stage of prayer; beyond it are the deeper levels of prayer characterized by internal silence and lengthy periods of time during which one enters into the deeper levels of consciousness.
PRAYER IS A PROCESS through which ordinary levels of consciousness are stilled and one sits quietly in the presence of God. Verbal prayer is just the first step one takes to enter the realm of Spirit and experience God. “Narrow is the gate & few are those who find it.”
The form of prayer Jesus’ practiced has become quite unfamiliar within the modern church. Moses and Elijah spent long periods of time in solitude and communion with God. Jewish historian Josephus writes “Galilean holy men regularly spent an hour stilling their minds in order to direct their hearts toward heaven.” The form of prayer Jesus taught was an inner discipline intended to shift the focus of attention from intellect to the heart.
Each of us is born with an amazing brain that gives us almost miraculous potential for exploring the outer and inner world and also for reflecting on these experiences. Not only can we be aware of all the sensory input that bombards our minds moment to moment, we can also think about, remember and reflect on what we encounter, so that we become aware of our own presence in the world. This seemingly unique human capacity for reflective self-consciousness is what makes spiritual experiences possible.
You yourself possess a sum total of not just one, but six distinctive mental functions, all working together (or sometimes at odds with each other) to generate your moment-to-moment experience.
1. THINKING: Right now you’re using your cognitive intellectual function to process and make sense of the words and sounds that you are hearing and reading.
These are the Four Mental Functions that support your survival in everyday life. But you have two other key ways of using your mind that are often overlooked and undernourished but that truly make you human and whole – and raise your quality of consciousness into spiritual realms.
We do best when we nurture all six functions of the mind. And, although this fact has often been overlooked by traditional Christianity just as it was in Judaism in the time of Jesus, regular time needs to be devoted to quieting the mind, calming the emotions and letting go of the past and the future, so that in reflection and meditation you can contact deeper wisdom, inspiration and guidance and maintain your inner life immersed in spiritual realms so that like Jesus you are ‘in the world but not of it’ and can live life without anxiety and fear.
When Jesus prayed, those around him saw a difference in his face, in his aura. According to Mark’s gospel, shortly before Jesus began his final journey to Jerusalem, the inner core of the disciples saw him Transfigured, his form and clothing suffused with light and there appeared to them Moses and Elijah and they were talking to Jesus.
Jesus sought to transform his social world by creating an alternative community based on an image of God as womb like, gracious and compassionate; a spiritual community grounded in Spirit and structured around compassion, inclusiveness, acceptance, love and peace.
The lost religion of Jesus’ wasn’t a list of requirements or dogma but an invitation to see and experience things as they really are—to see that at the heart of everything is a Reality that is IN LOVE with us and that Reality is loving us and loving through us as us.
TODAY’S DISCUSSION POINTS
1. Have you ever been so preoccupied with something that you missed an opportunity to do something and later deeply regretted it? Are you putting anything off until tomorrow?
2. Is God telling us to ‘Be Still’, and at the same time delve into deep theological reflection on what it means to be God? Or are we supposed to truly be still and know directly, beyond all words and beliefs the direct experiential reality of God? How do we “Know that I am God”?
3. Of the 6 functions of mind, thinking, memory/imagination, emotions, perceptions, intuition, and meditation, which comes easiest to you? Do you find that you nourish some and ignore others? Can you switch from one to another at will?
4. Have you ever received inner guidance to do something that seemed to be just the opposite of what Conventional Wisdom would dictate?
5. What is courage? What is spiritual courage? Can a person have one and not the other? How can a fearful person gain the courage to follow inner guidance?
What do you think?
© Unity of Vancouver, 2004 All Rights Reserved.