Transcribed from a sermon Bo preached at the Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon.
When I was younger and I heard the passage from St. Paul, "Man hath no greater love than this, to give his life to his fellow man," I used to think laying down your life for your fellow man meant like stopping a train, or taking a bullet for somebody, or running into a burning house to save a baby. It's really noble and takes a moment of great courage but that's actually kind of easy. That's giving your death to your fellow man. As I began to realize what this passage is about, lay down your life, it's a little more persistent and involved. It means waking up every day and saying I dedicate my life to others today and then doing it again tomorrow and the same the next day.
There was a meeting of some western Buddhist teachers with His Holiness the Dalai Lama a few years ago and one of the teachers was asking him, "Isn't it necessary for us sometimes to step out of the roles we're in of teachers, preachers, ministers, and just be somewhere where you don't have that role?" His Holiness couldn't actually understand the question for quite a while, so they went back and forth with a translator's help, and finally His Holiness burst into laughter and said, "Buddha time off? Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha." He thought that was a hoot, the idea that we would take time off from our Buddhahood, from our Christhood-that we feel we need time off from the role of laying down your life, not your death, but laying down your life for all creation. I've registered that more deeply as I've grown older because I think all of us are operating against the flow of a culture that insists it is psychologically unhealthy to give our lives for each other.
I can't tell you how many people ask me, "Well, Bo, how about time you take for you, some me time," with a tone of pride. I might say to somebody, "I've got next Tuesday off," and there's this immediate culturally approved celebratory response: "You're taking some time for you. Good, good for you."
I can't tell you how ugly that is to me. It is like a repudiation and a mockery, as though everything I'm doing for everybody else is sort of effortful and obligatory. "I'm being a good boy to please God, and boy, it's a great day when I get a chance to kick back and be selfish as hell!" What happened to "Man hath no greater Love...?"
Jesus says, "I lay my commandment upon you: Love one another as I have loved you." Somebody without a self was saying that. Somebody who never took a "me day!" My Guru used to talk about Jesus constantly. He'd say, "Jesus gave everything away, even His body."
Jesus says, "Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world." I just wonder whether it is natural for us to take for granted something like, "I have overcome the world." Jesus also says, "Be in the world but not of the world."
That's very nice, poetic stuff, but then do we ever actually sit for an hour puzzled by the question, "What world am I of?" What does He mean? Is it just flowery words, some abstract concept? Or could it possibly be literally, not metaphorically, not symbolically, but literally true that right now, today, Sunday May 21st, 2006, you and I have within us literally a power, a glory, a kingdom of heaven? His disciples said, "Tell us more about this kingdom of heaven Lord," and he said, "Well, don't get the wrong idea. It's not out there, up there, over there, this kingdom I'm trying to describe to you is within you, and it's not later, it's at hand." Think about that: He said, "It's within you and it's at hand." Do we settle for too little, you and I?
The Dalai Lama stopped at one point in the middle of an interview a few years ago, and he said, "Sir, the Buddha was not just a nice man." Do we try to make Jesus into a nice man? Do we try to domesticate Christ, domesticate God, so that religion serves us instead of us learning how to serve God, and literally giving up the self? Not "I'm going to take some me time today." "Oh, congratulations, good for you."
I mean really, next time you're in an encounter with somebody and you feel that popular sentiment, try to experience it as viciously anti-Christ as I do. Because it's a vicious attitude, this "congratulations for being selfish." That's how the Antichrist is speaking through our culture of consumerism. "You need to be selfish. Let's all pay some lip service to this unselfish crap, but man, when you take off to do what you want, that's great!"
I spent three years in retreat many years ago reading all the bibles of the world's religions. I never came across that one. Yet Oprah, who is considered one of the good forces in our culture, says to her audience, "Learn how to say I want!" I searched the bibles of the world, never came across "Thou shalt learn how to say I want." I came across plenty of things saying, "Lay down your life for your fellow man."
So I wonder, do most of us religious people settle for something that's a fraction of the way there? We settle for being a nice man, a nice woman. We settle for taking these vaguely inspirational, abstractly inspirational messages that'll help me cope with this difficult world of events, but here He's saying, "I have overcome the world." Now He obviously didn't overcome it just for himself. It wouldn't be inscribed on the stained glass if it was just a personal message that He broke free of this. He's telling you and me, "I have overcome the world for you."
"I have overcome the world." The fellow who said this died on a cross. When we pray for God's mercy, when we pray to be healed of cancer, when we pray for our loved ones to be safe or whatever, are we settling for too little? Are we forgetting what it means or never reflecting on what it means? He overcame that world. It's okay. We can die of cancer. Life may indeed crucify us. We're supposed to strive for peace and mercy and justice every day of our lives, like Mahatma Gandhi strove to free India from British domain. But when somebody asked Gandhi, do you think India will be liberated from British rule because of your effort, he said, "That's none of my business. My part is to strive to do this because it's right, not because I think it's going to work."
"I've overcome the world." Pontius Pilot just wants to see Jesus tremble a little. He says "Don't you know I have the power to free you or crucify you?" Jesus says, "You have no power over me. I've overcome the world." The night before, in Gethsemane, Jesus has a conversation with God and says, "I'd rather not be crucified, nobody would want to be crucified, but I submit to Thy will." That's what it says at the bottom there (pointing to bottom of stained glass window): "Thy will be done."
And so He's already said, I know we can't control this mortal world. When He tells Pontius Pilot the next day, "You have no power over Me," Pontius Pilot thinks, "Well, how wrong can somebody be? Crucify Him!" And they do. Pontius Pilot certainly wasn't one of the people in his lifetime who recognized the resurrection, who understood that Jesus made trivia out of death, who understood what Jesus meant when He said, "You have no power over Me." That torture, crucifixion, and death are trivial to this power that I am. "I'll come back in three days. The temple will be rebuilt." There is nothing that can touch this. This mundane world is small and the eternal world is huge and glorious.
Pontius Pilot didn't understand any of that. Pontius Pilot went to his grave thinking how wrong he proved that scraggly guy who said "You have no power over Me," because then he exerted power over Him and Jesus died. We understand what Jesus was referring to when He said, "You have no power over me." It goes along with, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's."
Even the body itself is Caesar's. We cannot control what the world does to it. But what is God's? Our Love, our attitudes, our generosity, all our good and noble qualities.
This is supposed to be a model for you and me when we look at imprisonment, at cancer, at grief, at loss, at failure, at insecurity, at the fragility of life. Be of good cheer. I have overcome the world. Jesus is saying to us, "You're going to die, you're going to get sick, you're going to lose everybody you love, everything in the world may go wrong, and I have overcome that. Be in that world, show up to work in it, serve it with your last breath, strive for what is right: peace, mercy, justice, love. But that's not where you live, that's only where you work. You live in Me and I have overcome that world. Don't worry about a thing-even when you are facing Pontius Pilot and he says, "Crucify Him!"
So I ask again, do we settle for too little? Are we in front of Pontius Pilot quaking at the power he has over us, saying, "But where is Jesus? God, help me!" Are we trying for, "The world has no power over me" to mean that as long as I have faith in God this isn't lung cancer that's in my lungs? That Pontius Pilate will say instead, "Spare his life?" Are we settling for too little? T
There is a modern wave of Christianity, where ministers are assuring their congregations: "You don't have to believe in miracles to be a good Christian. You don't have to believe in the virgin birth or the resurrection or walking on water or raising the dead. These are metaphorical things. I mean, we all sort of rise from the dead when we've been addicted and go into recovery, or when we have a trauma and we recover. You don't have to stretch your credibility. You know, if that all seems hokey to you, just set it aside."
Oh sweethearts, are we settling for too little? That's being in the world and of the world. That's assuming this world is all there is and that all the rest is just poetic, flowery words for children. What He came to show us by the resurrection, which I absolutely take literally is, "This world is trivial to the love that I am." And we are never safe in this world of Caesar's. Forget that. In fact, the only reason that we have a group of vicious people in charge of the country right now is because they played to our fears about wanting little Johnny to be safe. Johnny can never be safe in that way.
You sit here and think, hmm-I feel a little lump in my neck. Suddenly next week your whole world is doctors and nurses and chemotherapy and cancer and surgery. I leave here in my car and I stall at an intersection and get wiped out by a truck and this is the last group of people I ever talk to. We are never safe in this world. That's not what Jesus ever promised us. He died on a cross and He said, "Do you want to be my followers? There's a cross waiting for you. Pick it up and follow me." Now, the symbol of Christianity is not the shroud and it's not the sepulchre. It's the cross and He said pick up your cross and follow me. But then He tells us: "Be of good cheer as this world destroys you, because I've overcome that world, and you live in Me. So I want you to show up for work everyday to be in that world. Serve all my brothers and sisters." You don't have to take any "me time."
I certainly take days off-for my service to you, because I can't function going 20 hours a day, every day. It's natural. It's not prideful and it's not selfish. The only way that I can show up at the prison in decent shape in two days is if I take Tuesday off. This is the 7th event that I've had since Friday night, so Tuesday is a complete day off for me. It's not "me time." There's no difference between "me time" and "you time." I'm taking a day of rest because this is a physical body. I need to crash, play some music, go for a walk, so that I can be fresh for the next group of people the next day.
Obviously we have to take care of ourselves. But I think most of you probably know the tone that comes across when you tell people you're taking some time off. I'm just saying let's start questioning that. Next time someone congratulates you on taking some "me time," say, "Oh, I'm only doing this so I can be a better servant, a better citizen. This is just part of the balance; just how it all works best."
But we have only one life, and that's in God. Christ doesn't say, "Make sure some of your motivation is for yourself." Christ says "Love thy neighbor as thyself. Love one another as I have loved you." But remember, this is not just about being a nice person, this world we see around us is not all there is. He tells us, "Be in the world, but try to spend a little bit of time every day silent and humble before Me. Know that I am with you until the end of the world."
"I am with you," not, "I'll come to you." I am with you. Are you spending enough time opening to where He is with you, or are you settling for too little, thinking all of this is just a bunch of flowery words? Jesus is saying, "I have a force inside of you that can literally walk on water, move mountains, raise the dead. It's in you right now, and I'm here, I'm a'waitin' for you, babe. I'm waitin' for you to find that balance with being in the world but not of it. You live and you breathe and you rest in Me and you work out there on My behalf and it's none of your business whether it is going to go in a better direction or not."
Somebody asked me this morning: "Do you see any hope in changes for the better in what we are doing in prisons? Is there any light on the horizon?" I said no, absolutely not. It's horrible, it's brutal, it's stupid. We're paying dearly for it, and we're going to continue paying dearly for it. I don't see any light on that horizon, and yet I will keep going into these brutal, stupid institutions and have some of the richest, most wonderful loving human experiences that people can ever have with each other.
And so that's why we do it. Not because we have hope that things will get better, that's not our business. We're in a dim age as far as that's concerned. We're in a dim age as far as lots of things are concerned. Is it going to overwhelm you and me so that it saps our energy? "Be of good cheer. I have overcome that world. I've done it for you. That's not where you live and belong. Don't tie your activism, don't tie your generosity, don't tie your charity to results. Do it because you do it for Me. Leave the mystery of how it all works up to Me. But know that I am in you. I love you, and you can feel Me directly if you believe in it, make time for it, and persevere in that. You can touch Me directly."
Mother Teresa said, "When I look into the eyes of the dying I see Christ." She was not being a sweet old woman with flowery words for children. Imagine literally, "I look into the eyes of the dying and I see Christ already in there looking back at me." That's why Mother Teresa committed that most heinous sin of the Catholic Church all those years: ministering to thousands of dying people and not inviting them to accept Christ as their savior.
What's she going to do, look at a dying man and say "Do you accept yourself as your savior?" She's seen Christ there. The love that Mother Teresa brought with her is a mystical force. This isn't just being a nice woman. She brings Christ's love to this dying beggar and she cradles him in her arms and Christ is there inside the beggar and looks back at her saying, "That's what I want you to do." So it's redundant for her to say, "Do you accept Jesus as your savior?" Jesus already accepted this person because of her love. She's carrying His love to them.
Do we settle for too little by glossing over the mystical? Mother Teresa was a mystic, not a nice lady. You and I, ultimately, have a mystical connection with Christ, right here and now. It'd be nice to take a little time every day to explore that, wouldn't it?
God Bless You.
Do We Settle For Too Little?
Transcribed from a sermon Bo preached at the Ainsworth United Church of Christ in Portland, Oregon.
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