Kenosis, Metanoia, Agape, Koinonia
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
March 29, 2020 Sixth Sunday in Lent,
Palm and Passion Sunday
Philippians 2; Matthew 21 and 26-27
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text.]
This life matters.
It matters when masses of people die unnecessarily because of a greedy industry that knew its practices and products were deadly, or because of a self-aggrandizing government that ignores and then tells lies about a pandemic. It matters when even one life is taken by violence, even a local prophet in a remote corner of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.
The life of the flesh matters. Our personal relationships matter down to our most casual of interactions. How we live in community matters. How we vote, what we buy, how we cope with upsets and setbacks, how we treat the least of creatures or places—it all matters.
Life matters because we love life and we love people and creatures and places. Life matters because every living thing wants to live, and every little thing matters because in order to live we need the conditions to live, and life is complex and interdependent, so when species we have never heard of start to get stressed and sick because of environmental changes, it can unleash a microscopic life form that brings mighty empires to their knees.
But the ultimate, eternal reason why life with a little L matters is that it is the manifestation of life with a big L, the creative force of being that flows all around and within every living person, creature and place, within planet Earth and the solar system and galaxy and universe.
Life matters because Life itself wants to live, and not only live, but evolve. Evolution is not just for survival of the fittest—if you look at “the journey of the universe” or at the developmental progression of human consciousness over the millennia you can see evolution toward ever greater oneness, harmony and balance, toward peace and the things that make for peace.
If we had to choose one word to sum up the apparent goal of evolution it would probably be the word love. If we had to choose one human being who taught and lived and died and modeled that evolutionary love, it would probably be that spiritual teacher and prophet who was executed at age 33 in a remote corner of the Roman Empire two thousand years ago.
Our neighbor Mark Kutolowski talked recently in a contemplative training about this being an apocalyptic time. An article in the New York Times a few days later echoed what Mark said. It wrote, “The original word in Greek—apokalypsis—means an unveiling, a revelation…. ‘It helps us see something that is hidden.’” A professor at Union Theological Seminary said that the world situation today is apocalyptic in that it is revealing health care inequalities, class divisions and the fact that the most important workers in American society are among the least paid.
The Times cited a recent poll showing that “about 44 percent of likely voters in the United States see the coronavirus pandemic and economic meltdown as either a wake-up call to faith, a sign of God’s coming judgment or both.”
I see it as a different kind of wake-up call and sign of God’s judgment. The judgment I see is by the universal, creative, evolutionary force of love and life and light that flows within and all around us.
It speaks not through wrathful punishments but tragic consequences. It says that you cannot destroy ecosystems and throw the earth into imbalance, you cannot weaken immune systems and create breeding grounds for deadly viruses without going against all life and its creator.
It says that you cannot create a society of such obscene greed and inequity, oppression and desolation without coming into conflict with the consciousness that God has been at work evolving for thousands of years, a consciousness that has compassion for the vulnerable, that holds love of neighbor as our self as its highest law, that believes in the ethic of the Golden Rule.
The wake-up call I hear is that the moment has come when we must grow up into the full human maturity we see in Jesus and other saints who have attained that evolved heart and mind of oneness and love. We need to align our governments and corporations and communities and individual lives with the wisdom of all spiritual traditions expressed in the Parliament of World Religions’ “Global Ethic” and the “Earth Charter.” We can see the consequences of failing to choose that love more clearly every day.
In order to move our society to that maturity, we need to move a greater percentage of individuals there. So the wake-up call we all need to hear is what the scriptures today are saying to us, because the crisis our world is in is exactly what Jesus was trying to save us from, and his teachings and life and death showed us how we could save humanity and save the earth.
I have talked about this spiritual path before, so I will just quickly remind you of its four stages. They go by Greek names in the ancient Christian tradition: kenosis, metanoia, agape and koinonia.
Kenosis is the word for self-emptying. It is the word Paul used in the passage that Deadra just read, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself.”
Self-emptying is all about shifting from life with a small L to Life with a big L. Jesus emptied himself of selfishness and self-concern in the Lenten wilderness and the Holy Spirit welled up within him. He called us to lose our life to gain life, to empty ourselves so that the Spirit would become a stream of living water rising from our depths.
This is the first principle of the Christian contemplative tradition: when we free ourselves of our ego and its compulsive self-concern. That freedom enables personal and social transformation to happen, because we drop from the shallow surface into a deep inner connection with the Spirit of Life and Evolution that we call God.
Centering Prayer and Welcoming Practice and other tools that we learn in our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle help us open ourselves to be transformed by God’s Life and love.
The next stage or step follows naturally from kenosis. Metanoia means to change and move beyond where our heart, mind and spirit are now to a more mature and expansive place. Metanoia means the evolution of our consciousness to a new developmental level that is closer to the heart and mind of Christ, that sees our oneness with all people, all creation and the creator, that sees the realm of God on earth.
The next stage or step or way of being follows naturally from metanoia, and that is agape. Agape means the kind of love Jesus had, compassionate and generous-hearted. Agape means love in action, lovingkindness, acting with love and in the interest of love even when we do not feel love. Agape is the love that Gandhi and King placed at the core of their nonviolent movements, a power that could vanquish enemies by turning them into neighbors sharing a common goal of a good life for all.
The fourth step on the path is koinonia, a word that means participation or community or a sharing. Koinonia is what agape creates, the beloved community, a community that is a manifestation of the realm of God on earth. Agape creates a koinonia of equity for all, justice for all, compassion for all, sufficiency for all, a sharing of gifts by all. Everyone is welcome at the communion table of true agape koinonia, because it is founded on a metanoia perspective that sees all as one, grounded in a kenosis transformation, a heart emptied of selfishness and judgmentalism.
Jesus lived and died by kenosis, metanoia, agape and koinonia. His heart was broken, as we heard in David’s reading, because Jerusalem refused to choose that path of love, and chose instead the path of self-destruction. Our hearts are broken because Jesus had to die because the people would not undergo his path’s transformation.
Our hearts are broken because our society is suffering, hundreds of thousands of people are dying, millions of people are unemployed, the sixth mass extinction is underway, the climate is on the verge of creating even worse pandemics, wildfires, floods and droughts and social upheaval, all because we would not follow the inner path that leads to a world ruled by love.
That is where we end today—faced with the consequences of not choosing the sacred way. We end at the cross, at grief and fear. We end in the darkness that humanity has created by choosing the path of selfish greed and violence. We end where the disciples were on Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
But we know what they did not know. We know the power of light that can change history that comes from the choice that Jesus made, the choice of kenosis, metanoia, agape and koinonia. So in the overwhelming darkness of this time, we have this candle before us that may, just may, lead us to Easter dawn.
Let us pray in silence…