Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 18, 2020 Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Romans 12:1-2; Matthew 22:15-22
Strafford has been blessed for decades with extraordinary teachers, many of whom are part of this congregation. Mary Newman is a product of Newton School teaching who has become an extraordinary teacher herself at The Sharon Academy, and now the head of school there. Her daughter Elizabeth played Mary the mother of Jesus in last year’s pageant, but other than pageants the family has not been active in the church.
Recently, though, Mary Newman has become one of Strafford’s leading spiritual teachers. Her pulpit is on the CaringBridge website where she has written journal entries about her husband Ross Gortner’s recovery from a near-fatal bicycle accident and devastating stroke.
Mary does not preach from scripture, she teaches from the depths of faith, hope and love. She exemplifies the best of what the church’s spiritual tradition teaches us to be and do.
Mary is transforming suffering into wisdom, to borrow a phrase from the Buddhist teacher George Kinder. One of Mary’s journal entries recommends the book My Stroke of Insight which teaches wisdom gleaned by a Harvard neuroscientist from the experience of having a stroke.
The book talks about the different mode of perception that comes when our usually dominant left hemisphere of the brain is silenced and we look out of the right hemisphere. Suddenly the ego’s illusion of being a separate entity drops away and we see revealed that we are one with all people and all the world.
The Christian contemplative teacher, Richard Rohr, says in his book Falling Upward that great love and great loss can work in a similar way. They can shift us from our smaller, separate self toward a more expansive, spiritually mature self that sees our true oneness.
Rohr’s colleague, Cynthia Bourgeault, writes in her book The Heart of Centering Prayer that contemplative practice is another experience that can rewire our consciousness to a nondual kind of perception that sees the oneness of all.
We need these teachers who have appeared among us at this turning point of history because we are faced with threats that humanity may not survive. Humans have created these threats because we have lacked the wisdom of love and the perception of oneness that all spiritual traditions have urged us to attain.
We are in the final days of an election that needs to be our highest priority—not just voting, but getting out the vote, helping especially people whose ability to vote has been compromised. But beyond this immediate step, our highest priorities need to be learning and helping others learn to see the oneness of all people and all the earth, and changing human civilization based on that wisdom.
Jesus clearly had this transformed consciousness. It led him to try to transform society to live by the love of neighbor, the Golden Rule and compassion for the vulnerable—the code of ethics that naturally arises when we see that we are one.
This brought him into conflict, like the prophets before him, with a religious and political establishment that could not see oneness. The Pharisees and supporters of Herod rested their sense of identity and their power and privilege on divisions between insiders and outsiders.
Today we call it a culture war when different levels of consciousness come into conflict over their perceptions of who is a neighbor and who is not, who is to be loved and who is not, who deserves our compassion and who does not.
Conflict arises when some attain a consciousness that says we are all one, all neighbors, all to be loved, all to be met with compassion. It is ironic that the one consciousness that could heal all division should cause a divide, but until it becomes the dominant consciousness of a culture that is what naturally happens.
The Pharisees and Herodians tried to trap Jesus in today’s Gospel passage. They asked him whether Jews should pay taxes to Rome. If he said yes, he would be divided from the oppressed people he spent his life trying to help. If he said no, he would be arrested and executed for inciting rebellion.
Jesus was able to prevent the division that his enemies in the culture war were trying to force upon him. He was able to do it because he was at a level of consciousness that saw the true oneness that already exists and that was able to follow the intuition and guidance of the Spirit within him. This is what we need today in order to find creative solutions to our seemingly unsolvable problems.
What gets in our way of being like Jesus is the human ego. Our ego wants to believe it is a separate individual and better than others who are different, and it does not want the Spirit interfering with its ambitions.
Paul taught us how to move past the ego’s divisive consciousness. He wrote, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice.” That means we should sacrifice the ego’s selfish control of our lives. He described this as “spiritual worship.” That means to give the Spirit the highest worth, and to choose the Holy Spirit within us as the controlling force in place of the ego.
Paul said, “Do not be conformed to this world,” which acknowledges the culture war that breaks out when we choose to expand beyond the ego’s divisive consciousness to the Spirit’s universal oneness. He said instead of conforming, “be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” moving into a new consciousness, what he calls elsewhere “having the mind of Christ.”
This spiritual consciousness can sense the Spirit’s presence and intuitively know its will, which includes resolving division into oneness by means of nonviolent wisdom and love.
This is what Jesus did that so amazed the Pharisees and Herodians. He said “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and give to God what is God’s.” It works because the ego is happy with that division, but an enlightened consciousness sees that there is no division. Everything is God’s including Caesar and his coins, including us and all we own. If we truly give to God what is God’s we create the realm of God’s oneness and love on earth.
Just as Mary Newman has been transformed into a whole new kind of teacher by the way she has responded to the tragedy she faces, just as her beautiful wisdom and love are transforming the community that is opening its heart wide to walk with her, so we can be transformed by the crises we face.
Prayer, especially contemplative, listening prayer can help us quiet the ego and let the Spirit speak within us. Immersing in the wisdom we find in spiritual writing and art can help us tell the difference between our ego’s will and the Spirit’s. Spiritual support can help us choose to let the Spirit guide and empower us—a spiritual director, a wise spiritual friend or a group like our Heartfulness Circle. Serving others as Jesus did can transform us as well.
We can be part of the change of consciousness that our world needs in order to heal and gain a new life. Unexpected doors will open to us, revealing solutions to problems that seemed unsolvable.
So let us be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Let us pray in silence, practicing ignoring our ego’s insistent voice and listening for the silent presence of the Spirit within us…