Monday, 21 August 2017

Matthew 15, 10 - 20 - Spiritual community?


Where would you end up if you followed a person conceived without sexual desire, tortured without a trace of resentment, and killed off unsuccessfully?   

The Christian spiritual journey is like someone who comes on a tall tower and steps inside to find it dark.  As they grope around, they come upon Christ, as if a circular staircase, and curious to know where it leads, they let climbing begin, but a sense a uneasiness grows in their heart.  They look behind, horrified to see that each time they climb a step, the previous one falls off and disappears. Stairs wind upward but they have no idea where to. Behind yawns an enormous black emptiness, so they have no choice now, but to go on, in love, trust, obedience.

Abraham is also praised in the Bible for obeying a path to God despite not knowing where it would lead, so little wonder so few opt for this, or go for institutional religion, which is much easier. But institutions tend to institutionalise people.  Abraham’s obedience despite not knowing developed into ten commands, kerbstones on a path of obedience, then food laws, ritual handwashing and all kinds of other rules. Jesus said no amount of these are a substitute for the need to watch our heart and surrender its thoughts. Why?

Just imagine a world in which everyone has a loudspeaker on their head to instantly amplify their thoughts.  Emotions spill out in anger, unforgiveness, selfishness, gossip, betrayal, resentment, and bitterness, and as prophet Jeremiah said, the human heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.

By saying it is not what goes into a man that defiles that man, but what comes out, Jesus dismisses religious rules such as “You shall eat no fat, of ox or sheep or goat, you shall eat no blood whether of fowl or of animal,” and makes mercy matter more.
He knows our own brains are meat anyway, and at their base are the three basic instincts not only to eat, but also to mate and to kill.  

So he wants us to watch thoughts intimately.  He calls God Abba - Daddy in Aramaic – because he models a relationship intimate enough to admit to and surrender anger, slander, lying, stealing, adultery, to learn the facts before assuming, to understand before judging, and to feel and think before speaking. No wonder Pharisees go for something much easier, and become blind guides. Their attitude is of course still alive today in buildings with crosses on the top.

When Jesus tells Peter “you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church,” what is he referring to?  A building, a social club, an institution, a business, or a place we surrender the heart?
  The word we now translate as Church, a Greek word, Ecclesia, means a people called out, but from what?  From religion, as defined by Pharisees, a failure to surrender the heart, and from shopping and technology and business and limiting beliefs about ourselves and what real life is.  I was given a clue when I was offered a lift up a mountain to a community which gathered over several hours to listen to chanting and join in, but mostly they were chatting outside the building, because it wasn’t about the building. 

Gradually, they came into the building until it was full, but not full of them. It was full of herbs and plants and flowers they brought in baskets, to fill the air with sweet smells, to remind them that human sensation is a gift, and will be taken any moment, it isn’t to be taken for granted. It was full of loaves of bread baked and brought to pray over and distribute, to remind people to connect to other people who were not there, and candles lit, pictures kissed, to connect them to those who died but lived on.  Ecclesia was a community of God’s heart.

I could not understand a word of it, I could feel all of it.  This spiritual community met under painted stars on the ceiling, but a spiritual community recognises limitless stars, one hundred thousand million in one galaxy, millions of other galaxies, in a sacred universe under infinite God,
but not as an object of belief, rather as the experience of a heart surrendering, obeying the gospel.

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