Sermon from April 21, 2019, Easter

They Shall All Know Me in Their Hearts
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
April 21, 2019 Easter
Psalm 118; Jeremiah 31:31-34; John 20:1-18

Did he really rise from the dead?  We want to know.

Our species is called homo sapiens, after all.  Homo means human and sapiens wise or discerning.

We are creatures who want to know, but calling ourselves wise proves us to be fools.  Jesus was wise, preaching oneness and love of neighbor and the Golden Rule, but human civilization has failed to discern the wisdom in that and the proof of our foolishness is written across the earth.

We understood so little about the universe back in 1758 when we first took the name homo sapiens.  Einstein did not give the world his theory of general relativity until 1905.  Even then, were we wise and discerning?  According to Einstein’s theory stars could collapse or matter condense to create what we call black holes whose gravity is so intense even light cannot escape, yet Einstein did not believe his own theory could possibly be right.  He wrote a paper in 1939 saying that black holes could not exist.

It was not until two weeks ago that we finally saw proof that even Einstein would have to accept, an image of a black hole compiled from data collected by a network of telescopes all over the world. Here it is:

So now have we earned the bragging rights to call ourselves homo sapiens?  Have we finally arrived at the highest evolution of wisdom and discerned all truth?  Of course not.  We still fail to see that all creation is one, we still do not guide civilization by the Golden Rule, and there is still so much we do not understand about the universe.

For instance, we do not know what happens after we die, although we do know that many people who come back to life say that they entered a realm of light where they met a being of light who told them that the purpose of life is to love and—get this—to become wise!

Wisdom is not just about the mind.  It is even more about the heart. The Prophet Jeremiah said we would find God when we searched with all our heart.  Jeremiah foresaw a day when all humanity would finally evolve to know God, when we all would look within and find the laws of the universe written in our hearts.

E.B. White wrote about such hearts, “Who is there big enough to love the whole planet? We must find such people for the next society.” (from his essay “Intimations” written just after the attack on Pearl Harbor)

Wisdom and love go hand in hand.  Truly wise people have great hearts.  They show great love.

Homo sapiens may be a good name if we take it as a goal challenging us to grow in wisdom and love. 

One of the most helpful pieces of wisdom that humans have discerned is that we progress through developmental stages from the simplicity of earliest childhood to the greater wisdom of midlife when we can embrace the complexity of the world.

The most mature level of spiritual development is called the Universalizing stage.  It is characterized by seeing all creation as one, and extending love and compassion unconditionally to all.  People at that stage have the heart and mind of Christ.  They have become big enough to love the whole planet.

The way we get that wise is by entering the spiritual equivalent of a black hole.  Jesus said we had to lose our life to gain life.  The Apostle Paul said we had to empty ourselves as Christ did.  Self-emptying, letting go of our ego and self-concern, is like diving into a black hole.  What is left when we empty our self of our self?  Thomas Merton put it this way,

“At the center of our being is a point of nothingness…a point of pure truth, a point or spark which belongs entirely to God…. It is like a pure diamond, blazing with the invisible light of heaven. It is in everybody, and if we could see it we would see these billions of points of light coming together in the face and blaze of a sun that would make all the darkness and cruelty of life vanish completely.”

Black holes are some of the most brilliant sources of light in the universe.  This may seem odd because no light can escape a black hole, but its gravitational force gathers stars and planets and dust around it, and as they begin their journey into nothingness, they give off a massive amount of light.  Quasars shooting from the edge of black holes can be more brilliant than our entire Milky Way galaxy of a hundred billion stars put together.

Most people do not self-empty enough to reach the Universalizing stage of greatest wisdom until they draw near the black hole of death.  I have watched people be pulled into gravitational darkness after a terminal diagnosis, but then I come to visit one day to find them suddenly full of the most brilliant light and love, shining those gifts to everyone who comes near them for the rest of their time.  That light of wisdom is what is left when we empty ourselves of our self and open to what is.

Thea Bowman was a granddaughter of slaves, a Franciscan nun, a college professor with a doctorate in English Literature, and an acclaimed speaker and singer of spirituals who practiced contemplative prayer and worked for racial justice and world peace.  She was absolutely beautiful in every way.  Thea said in an interview on 60 Minutes, “Sometimes people think they have to do big things in order to make change, but if each one of us would light a candle, we’d have a tremendous light.”

Thea Bowman was diagnosed with cancer when she was in her 40s and lived only another six years.  Toward the end she said, “I have tried to make a day-by-day decision that I want to live joyfully.  I want to be good news to other people…. I’m going home like a shooting star.”

Thea was more like a quasar than a shooting star—shooting stars go dark, but her light is still increasing thirty years after her death.

Did Jesus rise from the dead?  The wisdom of the mind may never know, but the wisdom of the heart says, look at the light that can shine from a person during and even after their death.  Look at the quasar of light coming out of that black hole of Christ’s empty tomb.  Look at what Christ’s light has done through people like Thea Bowman and Thomas Merton, look at all the saints in whose dying faces we have seen some of that same glowing light, and look at how their light continues to move us.

Does Jesus live?  His light lives.  His love lives.  His way lives, and it will lead us to universal compassion and oneness if we follow it all the way into its black hole.  Paul wrote: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)  In other words, ‘I have entered the black hole of self-emptying, and it is no longer my light that shines, but the light of Christ that shines through me.’

The question we should be asking if we want to live up to the name homo sapiens is not how Jesus could rise from the dead but how we can rise to his level of wisdom and love.  We do not have to wait until we are on our deathbed.  We can do it now, and it is urgent that we do, because what E. B. White said at the start of World War II has become a matter of life and death for all species of the earth: “Who is there big enough to love the whole planet?  We must find such people for the next society.”

Where will we find such people to create a new human civilization of justice and peace that heals and nurtures the earth?  Well, look around this room.  We are it.  There will be no other generation to come along, there are no other people we can look to, we are all we’ve got.  So how do we do it?

Jeremiah saw that the path to the next society of God’s realm on earth begins with us seeking that realm with all our heart.  Then we will find its laws written in our hearts.  The God that created the universe will help us grow into true homo sapiens.

Next week my brother George will be here to talk about how humanity can evolve into a Golden Civilization.  George sees mindfulness as the path to social transformation.  His map of that path of mindfulness looks like Jeremiah’s journey through the heart, resulting in wisdom and a creative outpouring of love.  George’s map also looks exactly like a diagram of a black hole, or the diagram of Jesus entering the tomb and rising from it as a quasar of light.

There is a mysterious black hole at the heart of every galaxy and the same mystery is at the heart of every human.  It is the mystery that we are here to celebrate today, the mystery of death and resurrection, of entering into the darkness of self-emptying and rising transformed into a powerful creative light, which is the one power that can accomplish the miracle we now need.

What matters about Easter is not whether Jesus really rose from the dead, but whether we will really follow his way with our whole heart so that our life and death will join his in saving this world.  Ultimately we, the living body of Christ, are what Easter is all about.  Together, we are its hope.  More than that, we are its joy!

Let us pray in silence, sinking into the black hole within us and rising with the light…

 

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