Sermon: Oneness

I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you…

JOHN 14:15-21 (ESV)

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[b] in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

Good morning,

Two weeks ago we spoke about “the Good Shepherd“, and how we have protection, guidance, purpose, security, blessing, and healing every single day.  During this, we spoke about the Omni-Presence of God in all of life:  I AM the way, the truth and the life.  It is the breath of life that we breath each moment of every day.

Last week, María de Lourdes spoke to us about 1 Corinthians 13, and the love that we need to have in our lives.  More particularly, she spoke about how one of the translations for 1 Corinthians 13 is not whether we “have” love, but rather “I am” or “being” love.  So verses one to three of 1 Corinthians changed from:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but have not love, I gain nothing.

and became:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but I am not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but I am not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned,[a] but I am not love, I gain nothing.

And so today, in John 14, verse 15 we read:

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

Which commandments, well, quite simply the most important two that Jesus identifies, which sum up all of the prophets and the law:

“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This reminds me a little bit of the safety briefing you receive when you are sitting on the airplane, waiting to take off.

In the event of sudden loss of cabin pressure individual oxygen masks will automatically drop from the panel above your head.  
If this happens, remain seated and pull down firmly one mask to start the flow of oxygen. 
Place the mask over your nose and mouth and breathe normally. 
Secure the mask, using the strap and adults traveling with young children, please attend to your own mask first. 

Before you can love others, you need to have God’s love filling you and your own life.  And so, I am struck by this passage we read in John 14, where Jesus assures us, time and time again, that we are going to have help, and that God will not just be with us, but in us!  Sunday, June 4th, is Pentecost Sunday – when we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit as promised by the prophet Joel:

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh…” (Joel 2: 28-29)

So, in this passage in John, we find Jesus making a promise to the disciples, that God, represented by the Holy Spirit will be IN us – not just with us!

And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[a] to be with you forever,17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[b] in you. 18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live.20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

How are we meant to interpret this statement from Jesus: to be “in the Father”, and us to be “in Jesus” and Jesus to be “in us”? I made the mistake of doing a Google search for “What does it mean to be in God?”, and the search results came up as:

  • What does it mean to serve God?
  • What does it mean to Seek the Lord?
  • What it means to be God’s Woman
  • What does it mean to be in the presence of God?
  • What does it mean to be God-centered?
  • What does it mean to walk with God?

In John 14, Jesus didn’t say ANY of those things… he said “in”, not serve, not seek, not in the presence of, not God-centered, not walk with… he said “in” God.  So, I changed the search: “What does it mean to have God in me?” And once again, the first result from Google seemed to ignore my question!

  • What does it mean that God is with us?

I didn’t ask that – I said “God in us”.

But, the results after that were a little different and more to the point:

  • Christ in us – from Life, Hope & Truth
  • How can God be inside us?  – and that’s from the newspaper Telegraph
  • 8 verses that show Jesus Christ Lives in You
  • Greater is He that is in Me (the Real Meaning of 1 John 4:4)
  • Union with God – the Way to Righteousness
  • What does abiding in Christ mean?

So, out of curiosity I went with the verses that mention Christ living within us, and then found some more:

  1. John 15: 5 – I am the vine and you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit
  2. John 17:21 – that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us…
  3. John 17:23 – I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
  4. 1 John 4:4 Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you…
  5. Romans 8: 10 – But if Christ is in you… the spirit is life…
  6. 2 Corinthians 13:5 – Or do you not realise about yourselves that Jesus Christ is in you?
  7. Galatians 4:19 – Christ is formed in you
  8. Ephesians 3:17 That Christ may make his home in your hearts
  9. Colossians 1:27 Christ in you, the hope of glory
  10. Galatians 2:20 – It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me

These verses are not talking about the Holy Spirit within, they speak of Christ being within.  Of Oneness with God, with Christ and with the Holy Spirit.  John chapter 1, verse one starts with:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Jesus, the Word, was with God and was God.  And Jesus promises the disciples this same level and quality of oneness or union with God.

How is your relationship with God?  Do you speak to God as “You/Thou”, as if God were separate from you?  Why the separation?  What is standing between you and perfect oneness with God?  I want us to take a moment and just contemplate this…

I don’t know what your experience of this is, but I can tell you mine:

That same separateness from God is exactly what separates me from others.  Whatever barriers I have between me and another person, are the same barriers between me and oneness with God.  When I experience, however fleeting, oneness with God, I experience that same love and oneness with others!  And each barrier that I allow to arise between me and another person, is the same barrier I experience when I try to turn back to God!  

And how do we attain that oneness?  In stillness and quiet: in opening our hearts and spirits to God and saying “I want to become One”.  Does it come at a price?  Yes – you may have to set your ego and pride aside.  You might have to deal with pain and hurt that you have been carrying. There are many things you may have to let go of in order to obtain that.  Remember the rich young ruler – he was happy to fulfill the commandments, but when Jesus asked him to sell all he had, and give it to the poor, he went away sorrowfully – he wasn’t willing to let that go.

I would invite you this week to do a simple exercise, for just one minute, five times a day:  when you awake, at each meal and before you go to sleep.  For just one minute, take a moment to be present, in the moment, and on each in-breath say “God is…” and on each out breath say “I am…”.  Ideally, if you were to add, God is “love”, you should be able to say “I am love”, and if you were to say “God is kind”, you should be able to say “I am kind”.  But for now, just try this – 5 minutes a day.  “God is… I am…”.  And just be aware of any responses or reactions that you feel, which may be the Spirit telling you what you need to deal with in your life.

Sermon: The Good Shepherd

Welcome to the Good Shepherd Sunday, the fourth Sunday of Easter (or the third Sunday after Easter if you prefer), where every year we remind ourselves of a special relationship that we have with our Creator.  Each year, we read on Good Shepherd Sunday two particular readings:

  • Psalm 23:  The Lord is my Shepherd
  • John 10: 1-10

Throughout our three-year cycle of the Revised Common Lectionary, while we may read different Epistles or different Prophets, the reading of the Psalm and this particular Gospel remain unchanged.  So I would like us to consider, this morning, what we can learn from them regarding our day-to-day living, because being of the Christian faith isn’t something you do on Sundays: it’s how your live your day-to-day life.  And the Creator’s offer to “shepherd” us is not something that we only need on Sundays: it’s a protection, guidance, purpose, security, blessing, and healing that should happen every day for each of us.

In the Old Testament, like in the book of Exodus, Yahweh is represented as a shepherd.  The prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel compare Yahweh’s care and protection of His people to that of a shepherd.  “He is like a shepherd feeding his flock, gathering lambs in his arms, holding them against His breast and leading the mother ewes to their rest” (Is. 40:11).

I would like to start with some thoughts, briefly, regarding the Gospel from John, and then focus on Psalm 23.

10:1 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.
10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.

John starts chapter 10, speaking metaphorically of us as sheep and of the Christ as our shepherd, and he begins with entrance into our lives.  John reminds us that the legitimate way into our lives is through the gate: anyone who climbs in by any other way is a thief and a bandit.  Leaders may enter our lives through false pretenses, lies, manipulation, false promises, deceit, masquerade, pressure, threats, or playing on our fears (think of political leaders, electoral promises, fears that are preyed upon), but I AM enters our lives through the relationship that we voluntarily establish with God’s Presence, drawing our spirit into Oneness with God’s Spirit.  It is only in the presence of pure love that we can openly and willingly open the door our hearts, souls and spirits, to become one with the Holy Spirit, voluntarily.

10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.

Whose voice are you listening to? Maybe you are listening to political commentary, webinars, self-help gurus, podcasts by your favorite fitness guru. But do you take time in your day to listen to the voice of the Shepherd?  Is your life so busy and so caught up that there is no time for silence?  If you are feeling like you are a hamster on a wheel, maybe it is time to start saying “no” and learning to enjoy the Silence and stillness of “Be Still and Know that I AM that I AM”.  The promise we have in John 10 is that I AM will call you by name and lead you out, but in order for this promise to be fulfilled, you need to actually hear I AM’s voice.  That means time in silence.  Time in prayer.  Time in quiet peace and meditation.  And once you hear I AM’s voice, then you will hear where he wants to lead you.  Not your plans, but I AM’s plans and leadership.

10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Do you know and hear the voice of I AM?  Or have you become so deaf to this voice that you are following the voice of strangers?  Searching for an earthly shepherd to take care of you, to allay your fears, to give you safety and security?  Who is your shepherd?  When we start to only follow the voices and advice and direction from our leaders, we start to believe that only they can hear the voice of the Shepherd and we simply do what they are telling us.  It’s certainly easier this way, we can abdicate “responsibility” and if anything goes wrong, “it was their fault”: certainly nice to have a scapegoat.  And that’s a sermon for another day…  Are you running from the strangers and following the voice of the Shepherd?  Or have you become so accustomed to the voice of the stranger that you have stopped following the voice of the Shepherd?

As I said at the beginning, I want us to turn now to Psalm 23, and go through this line by line, understanding a little bit more today our relationship with I AM.  Some of you may be wondering why I have used I AM so frequently through my sermon this morning:  God’s name is almost always translated LORD (all caps) in the English Bible. But the Hebrew would be pronounced something like “Yahweh,” and is built on the word for “I am.”  So every time we read or hear the word “Yahweh”, or our poor translation of it as “LORD” in the English Bible, you should think: this is “I am”, reminding me each time that God absolutely is. “YHWH Raah” – I AM, my Shepherd.

And Psalm 23 starts with this:

The Lord is my shepherd,

I AM is my shepherd.  I want you to think about this “I AM” for a moment.  This I AM is the same I AM that Moses encountered at the burning bush;  this is the I AM that the children of Israel followed out of Egypt and through the desert.  This is the I AM that is the way, the truth and the life. This is “I am the bread of life”.  “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.” (John 8:58). I am the light of the world.  I am the door of the sheep. “I AM the good shepherd.The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) I am the resurrection and the life.  “You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. (John 13:13). I am the true vine.  “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8).  I am the first and the last.   That’s our shepherd: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, all-presence.

This verse speaks about our relationship with I AM. And I would like to invite you, for a moment, to consider your idea of who and what God is.  If we are to effectively pray, listen and communicate with God we need to become clear on exactly who and what we think God is, and become clear about our feelings toward God.  Religions around the world typically classify God as Thou/You, Me (the indwelling Spirit), or He/She/It.

This first view of God: Thou/You – is “Our Father, who art in Heaven”.  The second view of God, is problematic for some Christians, as it views God as being within us, and yet we profess that we believe the Holy Spirit to abide inside us, and say “not I, but Christ that lives in me”.

 

And that third face of God is the Omni-Presence of God in all of life:  I AM the way, the truth and the life.  It is the breath of life that we breath each moment of every day.  As Christians, we are quite fearful of this face of God, seeing religions that are idol worshipers, because they focus on God in things and creation.  Yet, we fail to see that this is God:  “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  God, as Omni-Presence does not mean God in the air, “around” all things… it is God IN all things.  It is God that is IN this pulpit, it is God IN the floor, it is God IN the pew-bench on which you are seated, it is God in your car, in your steering wheel, in the gear shift.  It is God in your home, in your sofa, in your bed.  It is God in each bird, each butterfly, each mosquito (sorry… terrible example!). We say we believe God to be Onmi-Presence, but then when we talk about God, we seem to limit God to just being in the air “around”, rather than literally EVERYWHERE.

Let me try to explain this a little better:  you stand on a beach looking out at the vastness of the Ocean.  There are waves breaking on the shore, and in each wave that breaks on the shore, you will find the Ocean.  You take a bucket and you fill it with water, and in this water you will also find the Ocean.  If you took just one drop of that water, it would still be part of the Ocean.  Now, that drop of water is not the whole Ocean, obviously.  But how do you separate that drop of water from being Ocean.  And that, for me, is the Omni-Present God:  God is much more than JUST the bird or the butterfly or the mosquito… but God is there!

And having said all of this, I will admit, I don’t understand God: I don’t even begin to. God remains unfathomable to me!  I cannot wrap my tiny human brain around a definition that even comes close!

So, I invite you this morning to answer this question this week:  Who or What is God for you?

I apologise that I have spent so much time discussing this first verse of Psalm 23, that it will not leave me much time to go through the rest of the lines of Psalm 23, but I felt that “how we see God” is the very crux of how we interpret Psalm 23.

I AM is my shepherd,

And so, let’s continue with Psalm 23:

I shall not want.

Some translations write this as “I have everything I need” or “I lack nothing”.  YHWH Jireh, my provider.  I AM, my provider.  Are you allowing God to provide for you? Physically? Mentally? Spiritually?  Do you allow God to nourish your soul?
As a parent, I reserve the right to say “no” to all the whims and requests of my daughter. She would love ice cream, M&Ms and candy every day: I think about the teeth, the enamel and vitamins and minerals.  She will not lack anything, she will have everything she needs.

Do you accept that God may say “no” to your whims and fancies?

He makes me lie down in green pastures,

Are you resting with God?

He leads me beside still waters.

Are you following God beside still waters, so that God can refresh your soul?

He restores my soul;

How do you allow God to heal you?  YHWH Rapha: I AM that healeth.

He leads me in paths of righteousness,

We sing “Jesus take the wheel”, but do you let God actually drive?  You ask for guidance, but do you follow the guide?  “No, not there!  That’s not where I want to go… I want you to take the wheel when I’ve already got myself into trouble – just get me out of this and then give me back my steering wheel!”

For His name’s sake.

Are you living a purpose driven life?  I AM that I AM… His name’s sake…

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

Sometimes, on the road to greener pastures there will be trials and hardships and difficult paths.  Do you trust I AM?

I will fear no evil;

I will fear no evil.  This is a powerful declaration!  I will fear no evil.  How often do we allow fear to dictate our lives?

For You are with me,

YHWH Shammah – God is faithful, omni-present, everywhere we are.

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.

The rod and the staff – they are for fighting off the wolves, the lions and the bears.  And for stopping us from going down the wrong path, to pull us back us (sometimes around the neck) when we’ve started to go over the edge.  Sometimes pulling us kicking and screaming from the edge, when we don’t realise we are about to step over the edge.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies,

We have hope and abundance and moments of rejoicing!  Do you enjoy those feasts that God provides?

You anoint my head with oil;

We are consecrated to God.  Do you live your life as a consecrated child of God?

My cup runs over.

Are you truly thankful?

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.

You are blessed – richly blessed!  Goodness and mercy follow you – do you show goodness and mercy to everyone in your life?  Do your acts reflect this goodness and mercy you have received?

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

God is everywhere… you dwell in his house at every moment of every day.  Not just while you are here in the house of the Lord which is this building. But every moment. Do your actions and thoughts reflect that?

Forever.

Eternity… it’s a long time.

As you leave today, consider this:

  • Who, what and where is God for you?
  • What is your personal definition of God?
  • What does that definition mean for your relationship with God?  With others?
  • Who are you listening to? Do you recognise the Shepherd’s voice?
  • Do you allow the Shepherd to guide you?  To provide what you need?
  • Do you give thanks for the rich blessings, allowing goodness and mercy to shower those who come into contact with you?

Be blessed in every way!

 

Originally in the sermon, but then edited out to make it more understandable:

In The Three Faces of God we read:

“Most of us are familiar with three different perspectives from which to approach and describe God. These perspectives determine whether we address God in the first, second, or third person:
God as Ground of Being is the First Face of God. It is the experiential “I”—God within us, or God immanent.
God as an entity to whom we relate and pray to is the Second Face. It is God as “Thou” or “You.”
God present in the manifest world as the Web of Life, as Nature, as All That Is, is the Third Face. It is ‘He/She/It’ and is understood through our senses.”

This book, the Bible, attempts to teach us that God is all three.  We know this as the Trinity: God, as Holy Spirit, is the “I” within each one of us, the “not I but Christ that liveth in me” that connects directly with our spirit, bringing us to complete Oneness with God.  When we completely still, when we allow ourselves to finally connect, it is the still small voice that speaks to us.  God as the Father we know as Thou or You, this is the God that we pray to.  In many senses, it is the God we have a relationship with – some see God as a Santa Claus, that we make our requests to, others see God as an angry or justifying abuses.  The Three Faces of God reminds us:

“It’s the unhealthy version of the Second Face of God that has created so much trouble throughout history. Since medieval times and within hierarchical religions, the Second Face of a judgmental God who metes out punishments and rewards has been used as a weapon to marginalize, kill, emotionally wound, and control people and circumstances. Abuse of the Second Face of God resulted in a judgmental superbeing before whom we all stood as sinners.”

“Yet by rejecting the Second Face of God relationship entirely, we miss the richness offered by a healthy version. This is an understanding of God with whom we can experience personal and intimate relationship in our daily lives, to whom we can express gratitude and love and surrender. It’s God as unconditionally loving parent, comforter, supportive friend.”