…for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable! (Romans 11:29)
God is universal love and salvation is for all! Eventually all people will be saved by the everlasting grace and salvation of God. Or, you don’t believe it? I believe the church for many centuries made a devastating mistake in teaching salvation is only for a certain few select people. In my journey in and through the church, I’ve come to understand and believe that everyone has the touch or the presence of divinity within. In order to benefit by this presence, it’s not, however, just a matter of saying certain beliefs or creeds, but of awakening to the Presence. It was the simple but profound teaching of Jesus in the stories which have him saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Repentance as I have taught, simply means a change of one’s thinking, from believing God is outside of oneself to within. I believe every person has this Spiritual Presence and the potential to awaken to its power and peace within.
We may not like or love ourselves and others very much but such does not preclude the presence of Spirit within. It is like the principle of “always love the child, but not necessarily the attitude or the behaviors”! We may regret many actions or words we have said, but the presence of Divinity remains. Through forgiveness of ourselves and others, we experience this Divinity.
In the early church book of Romans, Paul defends this principle by writing all of the Jewish people from whom he was born and raised among are still among God’s children. They may not accept his understanding of the “revelation” he had received, but God still loves them. Earlier in the chapter, Paul wrote of how he too was once among the chief of the Pharisees and even though they now reject him and his teachings, he felt it was just a matter of time before fellow Jewish brothers and sisters would see the light.
“….for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.” (Romans 11:29-32 NRSV)
Paul believed the Jewish people were not cursed but just temporarily blinded. How were they blinded? By their basic beliefs and traditions they were blinded to the Christ within. Paul himself was once among them but now had awakened to this inner Christ.
The church later interpreted the actions of the Jews against Jesus as God’s curse upon them. Throughout history this interpretation inspired pogroms against Jewish people. The popular use of the cross in the fourth and fifth centuries became a sign of hatred and blame to the Jewish people for Jesus’ death. Some now claim that without Martin Luther’s strong anti-Semitism, the pogroms Hitler inflicted against Jewish people would not have occurred. Only in the 1960’s did the Roman Catholic Church officially state that Jews were not responsible for Jesus’ death, and only last May did Pope Benedict release a book exonerating Jews for the His death. Yes, all have the Spirit of Christ and healing from the Presence is available when awaken to it and remember.
In the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 15, Jesus responded to Pharisee criticisms. He was criticized for not keeping their laws and traditions such as the washing of hands in the proper way before eating. Jesus tells them “for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites!” Later on he says, “It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” In explaining to the disciples, he said, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, and slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
To illustrate his point, Matthew has Jesus leave that place and go into the district of Tyre and Sidon where he comes upon a Canaanite woman who pleads for Jesus to come and heal her daughter. At first he refuses to go. His disciples even asked if they should send her away for bothering him. But she returns and kneels before Jesus and crying out, “Lord, help me!” Jesus answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She answered, “Yes, Lord, yet even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters table.” Only then does Jesus answer her saying “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed.
Most of our lives we don’t get what we want without being tested. It’s like God or Spirit wants to know if we really want help for our lives or just temporary release from mistakes that we have made. (This could easily be another talk!) But the point made is ministry to such “outsiders” as Canaanite women, or the good Samaritan or the Roman centurion are all examples of how everybody has the potential to awaken to Christ within. God is everywhere, in every person because this love is universal and available to all. It does not require keeping certain forms, traditions and repeating creeds. It simply requires the decision to listen, understand it is within, and practice living the compassion and Love it is with God.
Throughout the Bible there is this theme of the universal love of God. The story of the Hebrews in what we have called the Old Testament is but a story of a people called to be a blessing to all peoples of the world. The psalms proclaim the time when all will come to the awareness of God. The prophets saw a time when all would be return Home and be one in accepting the universal love and spirit of God. One day all will get back to God for the love of all!
In Elaine Pagel’s book, “Beyond Belief; The Secret Gospel of Thomas” she describes how she was raised in a conservative evangelical church. After going to college and studying the Greek language and theology, she found herself outside the church for many years. She married and when their son was four years old, he was diagnosed with a rare disease, which gave him slim chances of survival. When he died in 1982 at age 6, she was very distraught and overwhelmed in grief. One day she finished jogging in New York City by walking through the open door of the large Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on Fifth Avenue. She sat and experienced peace with a sense of transcendence surrounding her. In the weeks following the son’s death, she attended Sunday’s services in the church and found and experienced a deep peace. She realized she did not agree with many of the traditions, creeds and doctrines taught in the church, yet something there reminded her of a transcendent presence around her and within. Years later she published her book, “Beyond Belief” convinced that before the 4th Century, the early church, in all its varieties, had been weak on creeds but strong on the inward awakening to the Divine Spark. What she had experienced in an old traditional church, as I myself have many times, she called “Beyond Belief” as normally understood.
Doctrines and creedal statements have a place but the basic purpose of being alive as a religious community is to encourage one another to stay awaken to Christ within. I believe the reason millions have left the church in the recent generations is because the transcendent experience has not been emphasized much in contrast to doctrines, teachings, traditions and actions ever trying to change the outward world with social programs. The words are “Seek first the Kingdom (Presence) of God, and the rest will be added….” (Matthew 6)
The universal presence of God is the universal presence of love. The beginning, the middle and the end of our purpose is to know and share this love. It’s a love beyond the physical body and the forms of our structures, the physical world and universe. These all die and passed away but the Word and Spirit are forever. We thus use our bodies and forms as mediums to convey love to others who still have not awaken. In living together, and often being ridiculed, criticized and at times despised, we learn to identify more with Spirit than brains, ideas, or surroundings. We use our bodies and our structures as mediums encouraging one another to live and treat one another as bearers of Love and Compassion.
Last weekend my wife Naomi and I were part of our high school class’s fiftieth reunion. We traveled to Sherman on Friday and Saturday to be a part of the alumni recognition and our own class banquet on Saturday. Of the 38 or so who graduated in 1961, 7 or 8 had died but there were still 25 of us who gathered for the banquet. One of the classmates was a woman from California who had not been back to the school or the town since graduation. She had come to Sherman a few years before graduation as a foster child from Dunkirk. She told us how she was placed in a Sherman home after being abused by a stepmother and began to attend Sherman Central. After graduation she went to Binghamton, NY where she began attending a Baptist Church and College. When her Catholic foster parents discovered this news, her foster father brought to her the few things left in their home, gave them to her, and told her she would never be welcome again in the town or village of Sherman. In time she ended up marrying a wonderful Baptist minister and most of their lives have been spent in the West and for the past several years in California. A few weeks ago my wife called her and asked if she was coming and she said “no.” But at my wife’s insistence, she finally came. She told us how very nervous she felt about returning to the town. She felt no one would know her and she would not be welcome. However, she was overwhelmed with the wonderful reception that members of the school gave her and her classmates who remembered her. On Saturday we drove her to her childhood roots in Dunkirk where she saw the grave of her mother who died when she was three, the house that she had been raised in until around age 15, and the old school, which was now closed and surrounded by heavy trees. By the time she left Sunday, she said it had been a wonderful experience. She said she felt like she had returned and found her home again and that she was truly loved and accepted. Not only did people know her but she loved the way all her classmates hugged her and said how much they had missed her. For Naomi and me, it was wonderful to be a part of this reunion and healing.
I think of the church at times so lost in its traditions and rules that it’s been away from its Home a long time. Thousands and millions have left because they felt no one really wanted them there or cared, or if they did go they would not be liked or welcomed. Many of us who’ve been in the church for many years have often felt this same sense of distance from our true home. Today, thank God, there is a wonderful new consciousness about the presence of Christ being in every one of us. To experience this Christ we simple must want and awaken to It and remember it is a part of our essence as eternal spirit.
Christ love comes to us to then help others find the Home again too. Yes, God’s love is universal and in each person forever. It may take us 50 years or 50 lives to get back Home, but when we do, we discover we are most welcome, never forgotten or lost, because Spirit is Eternal, beyond our beliefs and traditions, and the journey really was without any distance or years, with us all the time.
Talk offered at First Presbyterian Church, West Seneca, NY, on August 14, 2011 by David Persons