“You are the Messiah, the Son of the Living God!” Mt. 16:16
Have you ever been anointed? What does it mean to you? I usually offer anointing during the worship services and some often ask, “What does that mean?”
Anointing is an ancient ritual which is still practiced today in many traditions. The word “anoint” literally means to have oil poured over the head. As such anointing was a sign of authority being given, or a special uniqueness proclaimed.
In the ancient Hebrew Scriptures, which we have called our Old Testament to the chagrin of our Jewish friends, a special anointing was given to Saul and then later to one of his servants David, the latter going on to become a king.
In a sense, everyone who is baptized receives anointing or the proclamation of a special identity. Now, besides the use of water, we also are encouraged to even use oil anointing.
In this sense of identity and purpose, anointings are given to presidents, to corporation leaders, community leaders, installed pastors, medical people, teachers, and so forth.
Anointing, however, is the English pronunciation of the word Messiah. In the Hebrew Scriptures, there were at least 39 such anointings, including the ones mentioned above. However, Jesus never had such an official anointing as to his identity and authority in life. In the gospel of Matthew, chapter 16, the simple street teaching itinerant was thus given a special anointing by one of his disciples, Peter. “Who am I?” He asked the disciples to which Peter responded saying, “Christ, the son of God!” Literally it meant, “Anointed as the Son of God!” In response Jesus returned the favor to Simon by renaming him and giving him a new special identity as being the rock upon which the church will be built. Immediately following these anointings, he tells his disciples to keep it quiet as they returned to the streets.
“Why keep it quiet?” Would not such anointings be things they would want to tell everyone? Not really. Having the sense you are anointed as the Son of God is something you may want to keep to yourself for a while. Telling people you are the Son of God may cause them to kill you! The great teachers of the faith have said it is a great darkness to accept our identities as being the Children of God. Such acceptance will throw most people, including myself, into a deep darkness about who we really are and why are we here. So it’s better to walk the talk awhile before you talk the talk! Ponder it’s meaning regularly.
Years ago when I entered Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, one of my entrance tests was a psychological one. Later when I went over the results with Dr. Gordon Jackson, the registrar, I asked him what this test showed about me. He responded saying it showed I had promise to someday be a pastor or spiritual teacher. I asked what would have been the worst thing the test could reveal? He responded saying, “The majority of candidates to the ministry, we have discovered, find ordination as a kind of shortcut to being an authority figure in the community.” Sometimes it’s better to just keep quiet and hopefully, let your life do the talking.
Still, everybody needs an anointing. Everyone, I believe, needs an anointing with the identity that he or she is a Son or Daughter of God. This becomes the very key to our identities. This teaching also will put you in conflict with many of the historic church’s teachings. Since the Fourth Century, the official church teaching has been Jesus as the only official Son of God. Before that, there were many within the so-called Gnostic community who saw the whole purpose of spirituality as people coming to awareness of their identity as God’s Child. In the early book of St. Thomas, Jesus asked his followers, “Where did you come from? And we are to say to them, ‘We came from the light, the place where the light came into being by itself, and was revealed through their image.’ If they say to you, ‘Who are you?’ say, ‘we are its children, the chosen of the living father. There is light within a person of light, that lights up the whole universe. If it does not shine, there is darkness.’” (Gospel of Thomas, 50)
One of the continuing conflicts of my own evolvement in ministry has been my self identity. This identity is not necessarily as man or minister or husband or father, (Although I have struggled with them as well!) but as a Child of God. The first teacher I had who clearly taught me this identity was Fr. Anthony DeMello from India. He was teaching one summer at LeMoyne College in Syracuse. When I went to meet him to plan my trip to India, I received much more than just places to visit. His lectures and talks were about identities, about not being our bodies in this temporary dimension of space and time, but we were directly one with God as spirit, as part of the holy Trinity. It not only shocked me, but most of the priests and Catholic sisters who were there with me. A year later, after the present Pope Benedict the 16th, then Cardinal Ratzinger, criticized him for destroying Catholic faith, father DeMello was found dead in his room at Fordham College in New York City.
The summary or essence of the criticisms of myself, since that time, have all been around this issue. It is a summary of the criticisms I have received while being here as your weekend speaker. It revolves around the identity of who we are. Is Jesus the only Son of God or are we too included in that Sonship? Jesus was put to death by religious leaders of his day on the charge of calling himself the Son of God (Mt. 26:63). He answered the charge by quoting the ancient psalm, “You are gods and all of you Sons of the Most High!” (Ps. 82:6)
Perhaps part of the criticism against people who see their identities as being one with God is the darkness and shock of discovering such a new identity. It is frightening to see your whole worldview begin to evolve to a different viewpoint. That has been my struggle as a Presbyterian pastor these past 40 years. I was ordained to teach and pastor in a denomination that bases its beliefs upon Fourth Century creeds which teach Jesus is the only Son of God. To evolve to a place of understanding myself also being part of that Son of God has created conflict and stress in my life, my family’s, and the congregations I have served.
It does create conflict to realize or awaken to this world as not our home. Yet it is a crucial part of the earth journey back to our real home. As the voice of Jesus said to Helen Shucman in the 1960’s, “My home awaits me. I will hasten there. If I so choose, I can depart this world entirely. It is not death which makes is possible, but it is a change of mind about the purpose of the world.” (Lesson 226, A Course in Miracles) That change of priorities will cause conflict. It will obviously cause conflict in most congregational identities of who they are and what their mission is.
I think often of the story of Prince Philip of England who as a teenager despised his identity as the Queen’s son. He wrote how he wanted to his identity to be a commoner of this world like all of his friends. But as he tried to act like a commoner, people kept saying, “But isn’t your mother the Queen? Are you not the Queen’s son?” So after a few years of trying to be a commoner, he gave it up and accepted his identity as the Son of a Queen. And as flawed his practice of that role might have been at times, it yet remains his identity to this day.
Our task is to change our identities from just being commoners of this world to being the Sons and Daughters of the Most High! And with these identities we strive to live with forgiveness of ourselves for being lost in illusions, with forgiveness and love for all others beyond what we see in their body manifestations.
To me, that is the call, the anointing and the mission of religious bodies in the world. It is an ongoing growth and experience which the world, despite its many attachments to mortality and death, longs to find and follow a somewhat authentic model.
Recently, we had dinner at our daughter’s house in Orchard Park. It is a ritual which we do quite often. When we go, we usually take our little miniature Dachshund dog with us. A week ago, as we were leaving for home with our dog, I realized our keys were missing. So while Naomi got into the car, I went into the house to retrieve our keys. We then left and drove part way home before we realized we had forgotten our dog Carmel! I quickly called my daughter’s home and asked my son-in-law to see if the dog was still someplace in the front yard. We drove back and found her in my son-in-law’s arms as he told us the dog was found sitting in the front driveway with a very lonely look on its face as if to say, “Don’t they love me anymore?”
To me, not having identities as the Children of God, the very Sons and Daughters of God, is like being left lonely on the driveways of a foreign home. This world is not our home. Our home is in Spirit, one with God, one with Jesus, one with all in all places and all times. Amen.
Summary of talk given at the First Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, August 21, 2001, by Rev. Dr. David G. Persons