Some of you may be familiar with the contemporary spiritual writer and teacher whose name is Eckhart Tolle. Eckhart Tolle has written many books. His two most famous are called The Power of Now and A New Earth. They both sold millions of copies and, they really have become contemporary spiritual classics. If you have not read them, I recommend that you do.
Eckhart Tolle has a very interesting personal story. Through much of his life, he suffered from depression. And one night, when he was experiencing a dark night of the soul, if you will, he found himself repeating to himself over and over again. “I can't live with myself anymore. I can't live with myself anymore.” And in that moment, when it appeared he was having a breakdown, he was actually having a breakthrough. He realized, if I can't live with myself anymore, then there must be an “I,” and a “Self” with which it could no longer live.
Eckhart Tolle knew he was just one guy. He knew there couldn't be two. So in the search for the true self, he awakened, and was freed. And he wrote, “What a liberation it is to realize that the voices in my head are not me. Who am I?” Then he added, “I am the one who sees that.”
Now, my friends, almost every Sunday, I am encouraging you to find time during the week for meditation and prayer. Because that's what we're doing in the silence. We're bringing those thoughts – those worries, those fears, those resentments, those thoughts of lack and limitation – bringing them to the silence. And there, we recognize the truth, that we are God's beloved, that God's presence and power is within us, that we can never be separated from it.
Father, Richard Rohr, who wrote our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning said, “We don't have to do anything to attain God's presence, because we're already totally in God's presence. The only thing lacking,” he said, “is our awareness.”
That's what the spiritual life is all about my friends, becoming more and more aware of God's presence with us and within us.
Now, the title of my homily this morning is called “Oneing.” And that may be a new word to you. But as we heard this morning, it's not a new word. It was coined by the medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich, who was later silenced by the church. Now Oneing may be a difficult concept for you to wrap your minds around, but I know you can do it.
So today we're going to really dive deep. Okay? Are you ready?
Oneing means that you and God are not separate. There are not two. There is one. And the purpose of the spiritual life is to become more fully one with the One. Capital O. Jesus did that. Jesus says in today's Gospel reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, “I am the father of One. Somewhere in Jesus's spiritual life, he recognized, he awoke to God's presence and power within him.
We don't know when that was. Some people think maybe when he was a baby in the manger he already knew. Others think maybe those 40 days and nights in the wilderness at the age of 30, when he came to that awareness. But once Jesus discovered his oneness with God, he made it his mission to go out into the world, and to show others the way.
And that's why in today's Gospel reading, he says, “All of the things that I have done, you can do.”
The Gospel reading for today is part of Jesus's farewell discourse. This is on the eve of his arrest and trial. So he knows these are his last words to his apostles. He really wants to make sure they get this. And he says to them, “I am in the Father. You are in Me. And I am in you. Do you understand? If A equals B and B equals C, then A equals C. You are one with God. And you are one with one another.
The Mystics like Julian of Norwich understood that. That's why we call them mystics. Mysticism means union with God.
If you were with us a few Sundays ago I was talking about the Gnostics. The Gnostics, the early Christians. Gnostic means knowing, but it's not intellectual knowing. It's an intimacy and knowing of the heart.
The Gnostics believed that the light and life, the power and presence of God dwells within us, and that we could free it by having Gnosis with it, intimacy with it.
Now the Gnostics wrote gospels, but you won't find them in the Bible. The early church fathers decided not to include them. And in fact, they hid them away, hoping they would never be discovered. The Gnostics believed, as Jesus did, that God's presence was within us. But the Christian church for centuries, taught us the exact opposite. They said, You are so far removed from God, you're a bad, broken sinner. You have to earn God's favor. And win God's love. God isn't within you, God is up there – out there – so far removed from you, separated from you.
This teaching my friends is wrong. And it must stop.
One of my favorite progressive Christian theologians was the late Marcus Borg. And he said this. “Is the Christian life centrally about believing? Or is it about relationship? Is it about believing in God as a supernatural being who is out there? Or about a relationship with a spirit? Who is right here.”
And Richard Rohr said, “We worshipped Jesus instead of following him on the same path. We made Jesus into a mere religion, instead of a journey towards union with God. This made us into a religion of belonging and believing, instead of a religion of transformation.”
Christianity has been about belonging and believing. But my friends, if we are to grow spiritually, we have to move from that to becoming. The spiritual life is about becoming one with the one.
Many Christians pull back when they hear that. To them, it sounds heretical. But Jesus said, “All of the things that I've done, you can do. Then he added, “these things and greater.”
Now why would Jesus tell us this if we couldn't achieve it, if it wasn't possible? And I know, it's so much easier to sit there and worship the one guy who did it, the sole exception, than actually do what he did. Because that was his wish for us.
And we've been talking about the Christian mystics, but you know, there are mystics in all of the world's faith traditions. Many of you love the poet Rumi. Rumi was a Sufi. Sufiism is the mystical branch of Islam. Now the mystical path of Judaism, which was Jesus's religion, is known as Kabbalah. It's an ancient form of mysticism.
One of the foremost Kabbalah scholars of our day is Rabbi Michael Berg. And he wrote a book called “Becoming like God. Now it doesn't say “Becoming God.” I want to be clear, we are not God. But our purpose for being is to become more and more like God, to see people in situations in our life and in our world the way God sees them, to love people the way God loves them.
And in his book, Rabbi Berg writes this, “The journey to God means moving from me, to we, to a place where the self, through to a place beyond the self, where we begin to recognize that all are expressions of God.”
We become like God by transforming into beings of love, because God is a force of infinite love. In other words, becoming like God means loving, like God. Loving like God. Can you imagine if we all actually did that? If we really truly as Christians said, Oh, we follow the way of Jesus?
Well, that was the way of Jesus, loving like God, if we all began to truly love as God loves, we would transform the world.
The truth is, my friends, whether you know it or not, you are the oneing of God. That's why Jesus said, these are his words, not mine. The kingdom of God is within you. And he said, “You are the light of the world.” Jesus's wish for us was to recognize our oneness with God and with one another. And in his final discourse, he expresses his wishes for us. They are the words that are now emblazoned on the crest of the United Church of Christ. And his wish for us was, “That they may all be one.”
May we, in this season of Easter, this time of new growth and new life, may we find time to be still and know that God is with us and within us. May we recognize more fully God's presence, God's oneness with us and within one another. When we know that truth, really know it, and start living from it, we will be set free
Rev. Salvatore Sapienza
Words of Integration & Guidance
Father Richard Rohr
The divisions, dichotomies, and dualisms of the world can only be overcome by a unitive consciousness at every level: personal, relational, social, political, cultural, in interreligious dialogue, and spirituality in general. This is the unique and central job of healthy religion (re-ligio = re-ligament!). A transformed person unites all within himself or herself, so they can then do the same in the outer world. My favorite Christian mystic, Lady Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), used the Old English term “oneing” to describe what happens between God and the soul. As Julian put it, “By myself I am nothing at all, but in general, I am in the oneing of love. For it is in this oneing that the life of all people exists.” She also says, “The love of God creates in us such a oneing that when it is truly seen, no person can separate themselves from another person,” and “In the sight of God all humans are oned, and one person is all people and all people are one person.” This is the perennial tradition. Our job is not to discover it, but only to retrieve what has been discovered—and enjoyed—again and again, in the mystics and saints of all religions. As Jesus put it in his great final prayer: “I pray that all may be one.”
What did you think?