I have no doubt that what Jesus intended was for his followers to be united in thought and united in faith. I am also almost certain that unit of practice really did not matter much and that faith, at least from what I understand from this passage, is more important. Now, that is not to say that practice is not, but the uniformity of that practice is not necessary.
Let me make this point abundantly clear, none of this matters. No church or cathedral matters. No bible, no prayer book, and certainly no theology book matters. Robes, stoles, communion plates, gold crosses, hymn books, none of it matters if we stand counter the message of Jesus Christ, I’m not even saying the message of the Gospel, I’m saying, and please quote me correctly, if we ignore the plain and simple message of Jesus Christ then all of this is wasted. If we are not changing lives, beginning with our own, if we are not caring for the “least of these,” then none of this matters.
I’m not sure how many of you have heard of Richard Rohr. Richard Rohr is a Roman Catholic priest of the Franciscan Order and is a modern-day mystic. In many, if not all of his writings, Fr. Richard makes the bold statement that what the world needs are more mystics and fewer theologians. Rohr would say that we have taken much of the mystery out of our faith and no longer look at things in a mystical sort of way. We want proof, we desire facts about situations where there is no proof, and there are no facts.
Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did Jesus heal the blind people? Did Jesus make the lame walk, the blind see, and the mute able to speak? Did Jesus walk on water and calm the storms? I don’t know, and I don’t care. What I do not and what I do care about are the people behind every one of those stories. We focus on the tangible, and we lose sight of the mystical.
As many, if not all of you know, I began my seminary training in a Roman Catholic seminary in Boston. Like many of you, I grew up in the Church of Rome, and I owe a lot to the Church of Rome. I learned to pray, and I learned to serve in those formative years, and I believe that my spirit awoke and that is what has lead me here to this moment. You see, I think nothing happens by accident. But apart from the theological training was the practical training which focused on what goes where and what one should wear for which ceremony and how one should hold one’s hands. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in ritual, and I think ritual is essential in our lives and when we perform rituals they should be formal and meaningful, but how I hold my hands or whether I am wearing the right garment should not matter. What matters is the faith, what matters is what is all means.
Back to Fr. Richard for a moment, he has written a new book, I think the guy has written more than 100 books in his lifetime, so It is hard to keep up. But his latest work is called, The Universal Christ, how a forgotten reality can change everything we see, hope for, and believe. In the book Rohr challenges all of us to go deeper into our faith, to push past the headlines and soundbites and to really go down deep and see what is sacred in each person and in everything. Rohr speaks of reshaping the incarnation of Jesus Christ past the Nativity, past the Resurrection and asks us to look at the first Incarnation of Jesus Christ as creation itself. God has revealed God’s self in all of creation; we just need to look for it.
This is a fantastic book. I have had this book for about three weeks, maybe four, and I am only on page 37! When I read, I sit with a highlighter to remember passages. At one point, I think I had every word on every page highlighted. Just when you think you cannot learn anymore, a book like this comes along. Anyway, it’s a great book, and I suggest you pick up a copy, but only if you want to be challenged!
One of the critical ideas that come across in the book is that our aim is off, we have lost focus of what is essential. Rohr says this:
“Too often, we have substituted the messenger for the message. As a result, we spent a great deal of time worshiping the messenger and trying to get other people to do the same. Too often, this obsession became a pious substitute for actually following what he taught – and he did ask us several times to follow him, and never once to worship him.”
We worship Jesus because it’s easy. We worship the person of Jesus, we talk about a personal relationship with Jesus, we invite Jesus into our hearts. None of which Jesus ever asked us to do. Nowhere in anything Jesus said or did ever pointed to himself. When Jesus prayed, he prayed that God works through him for God’s glory, not his own. Jesus commands us to love God, not love Him, believe in him sure but never does he even hint that we should love him. Jesus said to his disciples, “follow me.” Jesus is not physically here with us, so we cannot follow the person of Jesus. But he did leave us his way, and that is what we should focus on.
I agree with Rohr, we have substituted the messenger for the message. We focus far too much energy on the person of Jesus whilst losing the message of Jesus. We love Jesus, we invite Jesus into our hearts, but we hate creation, we hate the incarnational aspect of Jesus in other people. The message requires that we love God and therefore love creation. We should be inviting others into our hearts, not just Jesus! Oh, if you invite Jesus into your hearts, that means you are asking him to change you not just sit around and do nothing. Jesus did more than offer thoughts and prayers, just got up off of his, hindquarters, and did something. When the leapers approached him, when the blind man came, when they brought the man who could not walk to him on his pallet and lowered him through the roof, Jesus did not wave his hand and offer thoughts and prayers, he actually did something!
In a few moments, we will symbolically gather around the table that has been prepared. Much care has gone into the preparation of what you see before you. I prefer the elements to be laid out a certain way, and so I come up and tinker with them after they have been placed. Words will be spoken, elements will be passed, we will consume what is presented to us. After that, biologically, those elements will break down and enter our system and literally become part of us and give us nourishment. But none of that matters if we do not allow this simple ritual to change us.
Back when the church was “one,” whatever that means, the ancients taught that before you take communion, you should make things right with those you have harmed or those you hold something against. In fact, they would say, leave the church, go and make things right, and then come back and take communion. And we could go outside right now, set up a card table, place these elements on paper plates and a plastic jug and it would still be communion. Ritual is important, ritual is sacred, what we are about to do is holy, but if we do not allow it to change us, it is worthless.
I said at the start that I believe that Jesus wants us to have unity of belief, Jesus prayed that we would be united in God just as Jesus is united in God. A few weeks ago we heard Jesus tell those around him how the world would know that we were united, what was that way? I will give you a hint, it’s not by the buildings we use, it was not by the ritual we recited, it was not even unity in theology, it was love. Love truly is the answer for everything.