A New Teaching
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 7, 2021 Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 104:1- 2, 13-24, 27-31, 33; Mark 1:21-28
Call to Worship: Welcome to the United Church of Strafford, Vermont on this Fifth Sunday after Epiphany.
Epiphany celebrates seeing the presence of God—the spirit that creates and evolves the universe—revealed in Jesus, in other people, in nature and in ourselves. What we see revealed is more than random, static occurrences, it’s a story that progresses from a beginning long before us toward an end far beyond us.
Humans are story-tellers. Stories shape our understanding of the universe and our place in it.
Right now we have an Old Story about life that has dominated Western Civilization for almost two thousand years, and we have a Story we call new even though it has roots in Jesus and the ancient wisdom tradition of all cultures. Over the past century the New Story has been rising to replace the Old.
Thomas Berry was the Catholic priest and teacher who coined the term New Story. He wrote in his book, The Dream of the Earth, “The deepest crises experienced by any society are those moments of change when the story becomes inadequate for meeting the survival demands of a present situation.”
We are in that situation now. The Old Story interpretations of humanity and the earth have led us to the crises of racial and economic injustice and environmental degradation that threaten our survival as a society and species.
Crisis means a crossroad of danger and opportunity. Today we are celebrating the opportunity for a New Story with its epiphanies about the relationships between God and humanity and the earth that could help humanity survive and create the realm of God on earth.
As Jesus said, that realm is near, so let us worship together with hope and thanks and praise, and with determination to bring the New Story about in our time…
[The sermon begins below.]
A New Teaching
Today the Gospel of Mark tells the story of Jesus beginning his ministry. He teaches in a synagogue and exorcises a man with an unclean spirit. Jesus restores the man not only to his true self but also to full participation in the community. People are amazed. We can hear them gasping at the end, saying, “A new teaching—with such authority!” Then the people went out and told the story.
The new teaching is that the realm of God is at hand, here and now, and that we need to repent our old ways, undergo metanoia, literally change our hearts and minds in order to see and live into that New Story of the realm of God on earth.
The authority Jesus shows and gives to us is the power to make healthy and whole, to end separation and make divided people one, which is to create the realm of God around us, a beloved community of justice and compassion and care for all.
It still is a New Story, and yet it was already ancient in Jesus’ day. We heard it in Psalm 104, the story of the interdependence of all of God’s creation, the unity underlying earth’s beautiful, amazing diversity, and the blessedness of a sustainable sufficiency lovingly provided for all.
The 20th Century saw this New Story embodied in Gandhian and Kingian nonviolence. We can trace their movements back directly to the new teachings and authority of Jesus.
Their nonviolence believes that all people have a true self that is a spark of divine light and love, but in wrong-doers or enemies it is clouded by something like an unclean spirit. Nonviolence believes that clouded spirits can be exorcised and healed, that all people can have their eyes and hearts opened to the true oneness of the creation and the realm of God on earth through nonviolent strategies of courageous, constructive love.
Michael Nagler taught the first courses ever offered at an American university on two subjects, meditation and nonviolence. He has been studying and teaching both since the 1960s and has written important books that show the relationship between them. This connection between contemplation and action is what Mark Kutolowski was talking about in his Metanoia of Vermont reflection this week.
Gandhian nonviolence gains through meditation a measure of the spiritual power that Jesus showed in today’s passage. Like Jesus, nonviolence engages in both obstructive resistance to what is causing harm and constructive work toward a new way of being. A spiritually based nonviolent movement helps heal and restore to their true self both individuals and society. It ends the separation that divides us so that we can love our neighbor as our self.
Michael Nagler’s latest book is entitled The Third Harmony: Nonviolence and the New Story of Human Nature. Nagler sees that nonviolence forms the heart of the New Story that Jesus and the Buddha taught and that thousands of teachers like Joanna Macy and Mary Evelyn Tucker tell today.
Like Gus Speth, Nagler asks how we can bring about the rapid shift we need from the Old Story to the New. He lifts up one of Gus’s six ingredients as the most important: to realize that we have a New Story to tell, and go out and proclaim it.
Nagler points out that one of the secrets of Gandhi’s success was that he never missed the opportunity to explain the principles and the philosophy of life behind everything he did.
We have a New Story to tell. It is a story that could save human civilization and life on earth. It is the story that Jesus sent his disciples out to tell. It is the story of St. Francis and the Celtic teacher Pelagius, it is the story mystics and indigenous religions have always told.
Today the leaders of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, representing one and a half billion people, are passionate proclaimers of the New Story. We just heard a President and poet preach it at the inauguration. Paul Hawken says that the largest social movement in history is promoting it, building a just, nonviolent way of living on earth.
We have a New Story to tell, and now is its moment. It is time to lift every voice and sing. It is time to be filled with the spirit of the Hebrew poet who wrote, “I will sing this as long as I live.” It is time to go out as witnesses of the New Story’s authority, its power to heal and restore all the earth.
We need to keep doing the kinds of things we have done in Strafford to address the Climate Crisis and racism, we need to keep supporting people in need and nurturing spiritual lives. These actions show the New Story, but we need also to tell it, to share our understanding of the universe and our place in it. People need to hear a church talking about oneness, about nonviolence, about a new society that lives in harmony with its neighbors and planet, a golden civilization that is the realm of God’s justice and mercy, peace and love on earth.
How are we in this congregation going to tell that New Story that the world so urgently needs to hear?
Let us pray in a moment of listening silence, wordlessly asking the Holy Spirit to guide us….