I have a little story book in my hands today, because today I'm going to begin my homily with a little story. You remember when you were a kid and your teacher would call all the students to come forward, and you'd sit on the floor, and the teacher would read you a story? Well, you know, Jesus did that with his disciples.
Jesus, we see throughout the Gospels, calls his students together, and he shares stories with them, stories that he called parables.
The story I'm going to read for you this morning is not one of Jesus's parables. In fact, it's not even a Christian story. It's an ancient Hindu story. Hinduism has been called the world's oldest religion. It's more than 5,000 years old. And like Christians, Hindus believe there's just one true God.
We have many names for God, and so do Hindus. And one of their names for God is Brahma. This is a short story about Brahma. It says, There was once a time when all human beings were gods, but they so abused their divinity, that Brahma, the chief God, decided to take it away from them, and to hide it where it could never be found. Where to hide their divinity was the question. So Brahma called a council of gods to help him decide. “Let's bury it deep in the earth,” said one of the gods. But Brahma answered, “No, that won't do, because humans will eventually dig into the earth and they'll find it.” Then another God said, “Well, let’s sink it in the deepest ocean.” But Brahma said, “No, not there, for they'll learn to dive into the ocean, and they'll find it.” Another God said, “Well, let's take it to the top of the highest mountain, and we'll hide it there.” But once again, Brahma said, “No, that won't do, because eventually they'll climb every mountain in the world, and they'll discover their divinity.” Another said, “Well, we don't know where to hide it, then, because it seems there's no place on earth or in the sea that human beings will not eventually reach.
Brahma thought for a long time about it. And then he said, “Here's what we'll do. We'll hide their divinity deep in the center of their own being, where humans will never think to look for it. All the gods agreed this was the perfect hiding place, and the deed was done.
And since that time, human beings have been going up and down the Earth, digging, diving, climbing and exploring, searching for something that's already within themselves. The Divinity within humanity is still the best kept secret of the ages.
Good story. But you know, the theme of that story is not just unique to Hinduism. All of the world's major faith traditions speak to that theme of the divinity within Buddha, Moses, Jesus. Great thinkers like Socrates, and Plato and Emerson, they all spoke about that discovery of God's light, God's presence and power within us.
And that really is supposed to be the purpose of religion. The word religion, in Latin if you take it apart, means to realign to reconnect the human with the divine.
And that's what Jesus meant, in Luke 17, when he says, “The kingdom of heaven is within you.” As I mentioned at the top of the service, this theme – the kingdom of heaven is within you – is the central teaching of Jesus's ministry. Marcus Borg was one of the leading progressive Christian theologians of our time. He passed away a few years ago, but he once said that if you call together 100 of the world's greatest biblical scholars, and you asked all 100, what was the central teaching of Jesus? All 100 would reply, the kingdom of heaven. Because if you read the gospels, you see Jesus spoke about it more than any other subject. He spoke about it more than 200 times.
So my question is, why didn't we get it? Growing up in the church, we were kind of taught the opposite, weren't we? I wasn't taught that the kingdom of heaven was within me. I was taught heaven was so far away from me, it was all the way up in the sky, up in the clouds.
God couldn't be within me, you see, because I was a sinner. I was bad and broken. God was so far removed from me, I was taught, that maybe in this lifetime, if I was good enough, if I was saved, then maybe I would enter into the kingdom of heaven in the next life.
But that's not what Jesus was teaching. Jesus's teachings weren't about how to enter into the kingdom of heaven in the next life. Jesus's teachings were about how to experience the kingdom of heaven in this life. That's what he was trying to teach us. That's why he said, The kingdom of heaven is at hand. It is here and now. And it is within you.
And so in today's Gospel reading for the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, he gives us so many parables, to point to the location of the kingdom of heaven. So as we just heard, he said, The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed in the ground. It's like yeast in bread, it's like a pearl in a shell. And it's like a treasure hidden in the ground.
Why give so many examples? Well, Jesus knew he was speaking to students who came from a variety of backgrounds. Some of them were farmers, some of them were homemakers, some of them were merchants. So he tried to give examples that all of them would understand.
But if you look at them, there's a commonality among all of them. They're all things of great value that are hidden, and need to be discovered. So let's look at each one of them briefly. There's the mustard seed, Jesus says it's the tiniest of all the seeds. But when planted in the ground, it can grow into the greatest of all shrubs and trees where the birds will make their nests. Jesus is trying to say within that tiny seed is this great potential for abundance.
Then Jesus talks about yeast. Again, it's so tiny, you can only see it in a microscope. That's how tiny it is. But yeast is alive. And it has power, power to make bread rise, and to nourish us.
Then there's the pearl in the shell, and the treasure in the ground. Again, things of great value that are hidden and must be discovered.
Jesus's point was, hidden within you is this great potential and power and value, this treasure within you, just waiting for you to discover it.
So why haven't we discovered it? Well, I think it's what Eckhart Tolle said, in our Words of Integration and Guidance this morning, that Reverend Ginny read for us. He said, stop looking outside yourself for scraps of fulfillment, pleasure, love, security. Because deep within you there is a treasure that is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.
That's the message of Jesus. And Jesus was not the only spiritual teacher to tell us this. So for example, we hear the Hindu Swami Vivekananda. In fact, our Jerry Coates is not here today, because he's in Fennville at the Vivekananda monastery this morning, they're having a retreat. Well, Hindu Swami Vivekananda said, “The kingdom of heaven is within us. God is within us. God is the soul of our souls.”
So God is in your soul. This is the practice of religion. This is freedom, he said.
And then there's the Sufi poet Rumi, and now we have a lot of Rumi fans here. Sufiism is a mystical branch of Islam. And Rumi said, “I searched for God and found only myself. I searched for myself and found only God.”
And the 13th century Christian mystic Meister Eckhart said, “The seed of God is within us. Just as pear seeds become pear trees, God seeds become God.”
And one of the very first Christians, Saint Irenaeus, said, “God became man so that man might become God.”
And more recently, in the 20th century, Joseph Campbell wrote, “God is within you. You, yourself, are the creator. If you find that place within you, from which you brought this thing about, you will be able to live with it and affirm it, perhaps even enjoy it as your life.”
And Leo Tolstoy said, “Don't look for God in temples. You are the temple.”
Which is very much in line with what Paul said. In his letter to the Corinthians. He said, “Do you not know that you yourself are God's temple, and that God's Spirit dwells within you?”
God's temple is holy. And you are that temple. My friends, for thousands of years, century after century, spiritual teachers, of all the world's major faith traditions, they were all pointing to that same thing. That's why Jesus gave example after example, after example.
So again, why didn't we get it? Well, it's not really our fault. For those of us who grew up in the Christian church, we weren't taught that. And if you really think about it, if you're told something over and over again, as a child, you grow to believe it.
If you tell a little kid every day, “You're not good enough, you're not smart enough, you'll never amount to anything,” that kid starts to believe it. So we were told you're bad, you're broken, you're a sinner, God doesn't live within you, he’s up in the sky. We tend to believe it.
And some people, some theologians have speculated that the church didn't want us to learn this truth, because they wanted people to be reliant on the church. If the kingdom of God is within me, then what do I need the church for? And so keeping that secret from people was a way of controlling them.
So from here on, my friends, I want you to stop believing that lie, that you are not good enough, that you are not worthy enough, I want you to really affirm the truth of your being. The truth of your being is that you are a child of God. As Jesus said, You are the light of the world, the kingdom of God is within you.
That isn't arrogant, that isn't heretical. That's the purpose of why we're here, to make that discovery. We are to discover the light within us, and then shine that light for all the world to see, so that we can bring forth the kingdom of heaven, here on Earth. That's what Jesus wanted us to do.
And so my friends this week, what I would like you to do is to find time each and every day, to enter into the kingdom of heaven. It's here and now and it is within you. And you enter into it in the silence. In the silence, as you stand before that gate of heaven, may you come to more fully discover and recognize that the power, the presence, and the light and life of God is with you and within you. As Jesus said, When you know this truth of your being, you will be set free.
Words of Integration and Guidance
by Eckhart Tolle
A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.
The point of the story: Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment, for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.
What did you think?