Rev. Meg Barnhouse
April 16, 2017
First UU Church of Austin
4700 Grover Ave., Austin, TX 78756
The spiral, one of the most ancient of human symbols, indicates a path which travels to the center and then back out again.
Call to Worship
by John Banister Tabb
“Out of the dusk a shadow
Then, a spark.
Out of the cloud a silence,
Then, a lark.
Out of the heart a rapture,
Then, a pain.
Out of the dead cold ashes,
exerpt from The Painted Drum
by Louise Erdrich
Life will break you. Nobody can protect you from that, and living alone won’t either, for solitude will also break you with its yearning. You have to love. You have to feel. It is the reason you are here on earth. You are here to risk your heart. You are here to be swallowed up. And when it happens that you are broken, or betrayed, or left, or hurt, or death brushes near, let yourself sit by an apple tree and listen to the apples falling all around you in heaps, wasting their sweetness. Tell yourself you tasted as many as you could.
Happy Easter Sunday! I told a dear church member this week that I was planning to talk about Jesus this Sunday. ”I’m not coming, then,” she said. “Been there, done that!” I told her I’d been here six years now and had preached five Easter sermons without telling the Christian faith-story, and that it was time. Some among you are going to have a sinking feeling, hearing this. I ask for your trust. I’m not going to suddenly tell you what you need to believe and I’m going to remind you up front that we don’t believe in a supernatural place called hell.
Some of you may wonder why I’m being so careful, hedging the beginning of this telling with so many reassurances. Others, easily triggered by any talk of Rabbi Jesus, will wonder why I just don’t preach about something else for a sixth year.
As I’ve said before, the way I approach faith stories of all religions is the same way I would approach a dream. Whether from the Hindu Upanishads, the Buddhist Sutras, or the Jewish or Christian Scriptures, faith stories often express a truth from the deep ocean of gathered human wisdom. Carl Jung would have called it the “collective unconscious.” When I was studying Jung at Duke, in seminary, with my Aunt Ruth, who was a Jungian psychiatrist, and then later with Polly Telford, a retired Zurich-trained Jungian analyst living in the hills of Appalachia, I was asked to picture the Collective Unconscious as a great sea, and our individual consciousness as an island in that sea. The deep truths wash up on the shore, or seep up through the ground and show up in a culture’s folk tales and fairy stories. They also come up in a culture’s faith stories. Some adherents to some religions insist that the stories are historical, in the way that a reporter would write about what is happening. We know that even history is not historical, but is written with a point of view, with an agenda, and that many important things are left out by those with the power of print and publishing.
So we have the very true (but probably not historical) story of Rabbi Jesus, who serves Western culture, Jung said, as a symbol of the Self. Deeper than the Ego, the Self is your Soul place, the place where you are most who you are, your Inner Wisdom. For this element of Jesus, the syllables by which the Roman culture made his actual name Jeshua easier to pronounce, for this deep more eternal element of who he is in the faith story, Christians use the word “Christ.” Jeshua was his name, and the Christ is his role.
The story of this past week is that the Teacher knew he was in trouble with the authorities, both Roman and religious. He had said things that made people think unsafe thoughts toward both kinds of authority. Even though he was in trouble, he rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. This disappointed many of his fans, because they thought he was going to ride in on a horse like a military conqueror to sweep out the Roman occupation forces who had made a colony of their country most people prefer a satisfying show of force to dealing with things in a more radical way, “radical” meaning getting at the root of the problem. He gathered with his disciples for a meal and then went out into the garden. One of his disciples had sold him out, told the authorities where to come pick him up. They put him on trial, and the puppet ruler, Pontius Pilate, under pressure to keep peace by appeasing all the factions that were upset, turned him over to the soldiers who beat him, made him carry his own cross, the instrument of his execution, to the place made to carry it by the soldiers. Pressed into service rather than volunteering. Catholic church tradition, not the Bible, says that a woman named Veronica came out of the crowd and gave Jesus her veil to wipe his face. The soldiers of the Roman Supremacy system crucified him alongside two criminals, tormented and humiliated him for their amusement, and left him to die. He was buried in a tomb, a cave-like opening that was then sealed, probably with a rectangular stone, if it was like almost all of the other burial caves of that period. The story continues that, on the third day, two women who were his followers came to visit the grave and found the stone moved from blocking the entrance and the tomb empty. The stories continue by telling about people having mystical and/or physical experiences of him after the empty tomb was discovered.
We have an intense story of the journey of courage, of facing fear and death, abandonment and debasement. The journey in this faith story parallels the story of Innana’s descent into the underworld, where she is stripped of her finery, then her clothes, then hung on a hook for three days before she revives and returns to life. This is a Sumerian poem (modern day Iraq and Kuwait) from about 1600 BCE. The story of a divine being dying and rising again is told in many faith traditions, and many times the journey is represented by a spiral or a labyrinth. On one level it parallels the journey of a seed, which falls from a plant into the earth, is dormant until it is cracked open in the darkness and its new shoots find their way to the light and life. On another level it parallels a journey that most human lives take at least once, but more often in many small ways. We have all been through the experience of being stripped of what matters to us: a relationship, a job, a place, our health, our capacity, until it feels that there is nothing left. Marianne Williamson speaks of her nervous breakdown this way, saying that a nervous breakdown is a highly underrated way to reach enlightenment. Many of us have felt that what is important to us has been stripped away by the political and/or the religious authorities. Sometimes there are helpers, people who carry our burden with us because they are forced to by the same authorities stripping us of our powers, and some are volunteers who could be safe but choose to emerge with a touch of sympathy or compassion.
The point of the story is not what “churchianity” makes it, that an angry God killed his own son for sinful humanity. That is child abuse, and we know that. We are not better parents than God.
The point I would take from it is that if you are a disruptor of the system that benefits the powers that be, they will try to kill you, and sometimes they will succeed. That is the reason he died. The deeper point is that love knows that life will break you, and that the Great Love doesn’t stand apart from us, looking at us in pity, but joins us in brokenness. The Easter part of the message is that Great Love then brings life from the brokenness, and leads us again toward the light, toward life. Over and over again.
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Most sermons delivered at the First UU Church of Austin during the past 16 years are available online through this website. You will find links to them in the right sidebar menu labeled Sermons. The Indexes link leads to tables of all sermons for each year listed by date (newest to oldest) with topic and speaker. Click on the topic to go to a sermon.