The Future Spiritual Community – John Wessel
22nd September 1932 – 29th December 2018
[Presented to the Gold Coast SoFia Conference, 2012]
Yesterday, Karen Armstrong spoke about the urgent world wide need to establish a Charter of Compassion. Today I intend to present a practical way that Future Spiritual Communities can become agents to make this Charter a reality. I want you to be courageous enough to-
IMAGINE – WE CAN CHANGE THE WORLD
Gretta Vosper in her book With or Without God says
“When we allow the progressive scholarship of the past century to challenge us to reconsider the foundations of our faith, we find ourselves left with an enormous task: constructing something viable to replace what we find to be no longer working”
We who have gathered have entered a process of walking with a group of people, however slowly, toward the future.
What I intend saying has a Christian perspective about it simply because Christianity is my spiritual home, I know no other. We each inherit our particular faith, along with our language and our culture so then that particular faith becomes ‘right’ for each of us. However, I believe what I have to say is also applicable to all religions because all future spiritual communities will have to take into account the modern social and cultural context in which they must work.
I believe that the church has not come to grips with, or has understood the effects that post-modern cultural change is having of the thinking of modern people. By clinging to the past we not only lose sight of the present but we fail to allow the future to be born.
Hugh Mackay – a well know social annalist has said – “the cultural shift is so radical that it amounts to the discovery of a new way of thinking…. a new kind of change is taking place in our society… we are at a turning point… these recent changes have affected Australia’s’ view of life and religious faith in a very profound and irreversible manner”
A whole new way of presenting the Christian story will have to be developed if it is to make sense to our modern world.
The traditional package we offer to this new world came out of a completely different culture and world view and is no longer adequate to deal with the challenge of this age. Religions have always been based on the human search for meaning. The central question for all religions is, “What do humans want?” In Christianity the traditional answer has been salvation from sin.
When we reply today to the question “What do humans want?” with the above answer, we find it is an answer that only a few are seeking and for the majority it has little meaning. Modern culture wants to find harmony and liberation; wants to find some wisdom for living in the here-and-now, in an otherwise religion- less world.
We are living through what may be the greatest time of change in Christian history. All institutions, political, secular and religious, are being questioned.
Bp. John Spong says: – I believe Christianity is in deep decline because it cannot bring itself to face the fact that the presuppositions on which our faith story was erected in the past are today no longer self-evidently true or even believable. We are living through a cataclysmic transition from the presuppositions by which we once lived – and have no idea how to tell our faith story in terms of the emerging world view for which our religion of yesterday has no relevance. So churches are dying. Church’ business as usual’ is a prescription not only for disaster, but for extinction”.
What have all the above statements been saying? They have clearly said that because of globalisation which had its birth following the Second World War and in the light of our now pluralistic world, along with many other issues, there is an urgent need for all religions to implement some radical change from within.
The spiritual community of the future must not be based upon what we believe so much as on how we live. It must be a pathway we walk, a journey we take, into the Divine Presence; a journey of connection with people, not just about ideas and dogma which too often divide. It must therefore proclaim a new concept and understanding of “Incarnation”…..What do I mean?
In his book “Eternal Life” John Spong says “ if we read John’s Gospel through a mystical lens we see that his story is not of a divine life invading the world, as we have been accustomed to reading it, but a portrayal of Jesus as a human being having a relationship with the holy – an inseparable unity. “I am in the Father and the Father is in me.” What this means is that the time has come when we need to define humanity –®
as that in which the life of the Divine lives,– define
human love as that through which the Divine loves- and how in humanity
the being of the Divine is made manifest in the world.”
This means that the Divine is not met beyond life but at the very heart of life. Therefore the task of any future spiritual community becomes no longer that of clinging to creeds and doctrines that are based on a dated world-view that is bound by the idea of an external theistic deity: the task of such a community is to seek a humanity in which the divine is part of, and indeed, at the very heart of what it means to be fully human.
To walk in Jesus’ footstep is to be conscious of the indwelling of the Divine Presence in all people. This then will direct and influence the way we live,… how we relate to others,.. and to the world at large. Thus our presentation must teach and live the Way of Jesus – as follows.
First, Unconditional love is an important aspect for any New Community. Unconditional Love. Think about what ‘Unconditional’ means.
Then, if love matters in our personal lives, we must also find ways to give love expression in the public and political arena. That is, in the justice of political systems; systemic justice. Such love is grounded in the interconnectedness of all life
Secondly the New Story must break down all barriers that divide. Read the Gospels and you will clearly see that Jesus broke down so many of the religious and cultural barriers of his time- this was important for him, it must be important also for us. However, from the time the Creeds were formulated they have created division and barriers, both within the church itself and beyond.
Coupled with this, and part of the breaking down of barriers, any future spiritual community must eradicate prejudice in all its forms by the way all of its people think, speak and act.
And Inclusiveness is a keystone that needs to be central in any New Story. (e.g. The stories of the Good Samaritan, of Jesus eating with the tax collectors, his touching lepers, and his conversation with the woman at the well.) All are about inclusiveness.
If you think about it, for some to be “Chosen” means that there are others who are ‘unchosen’ (excluded). This can have no place in any future Spiritual Community.
Jesus early followers were known as followers of The Way. This Way was a way of life…. Jesus called his followers to interact with their world with peace, compassion, respect, tenderness, grace and justice.
Any New Story needs to stop concentrating on the after-life, on judgement and the rescue role of Jesus and face the spiritual and practical needs of this life. It needs to help all people find LIFE, life in all its fullness in the here-and-now. It will need to teach people “how” to live and NOT dwell on ‘what” to believe. It must encourage people to walk, every day, within the divine Presence.
Jesus followers felt that the Divine Presence was part of who Jesus was and now that same Spirit was calling them to give expression of its presence in their lives. Humanity was seen as the vessel in which the divine lives and loves. That is what has been lost and it is that which must be experienced anew in any future community.
The challenge that confronts all religions today is a practical one. It calls me, as a Christian, to actually live my understanding of what it means for me to follow the Way of Jesus. But, I cannot do this alone.
This brings me to my final point.
This Way of life that I have described was what Jesus meant when he spoke of The Kingdom of God. This phrase appears 140 times in the four Gospels. Thus, for Jesus, and the gospel writers, this phrase embodied a concept of primary and foundational importance and perhaps was the very core of his message to the world.
He had lived his whole life in bondage to an occupying, dominate power. Israel knew many dominate powers during its history. His followers would have clearly understood the difference between dominate kingdoms and that of Jesus’ “Kingdom of God.”
It involves giving who you are and all you have completely, wholly away to something greater than yourself. The Divine Presence is at work in each of us, in you and me and yet, there is also a cosmic reality about it that no longer rests on the narrow association with any one religion.
At a gathering in Brisbane where Lloyd Geering was the guest speaker I had the opportunity to ask him what his vision was for the future church. His reply was “The Kingdom of God”. I did not immediately understand what he meant until I read his book, “Christian Faith at the Crossroads”. In it he explained that the Old Testament and the Jewish faith did not look for salvation in another place called “heaven” which was beyond earth; it looked for the Kingdom of God to be established on Earth (when the Messiah would come.) Jesus would have known this, he was a Jew, a man of his time, so when he spoke about the Kingdom of God he was teaching and living an example of what the Kingdom will look like when we humans live in such a way as to make the Kingdom come, here on earth.
For 2000 years, because of the Gentile influence, we in the church have got it wrong. We have placed the emphasis in the wrong place. We have allowed the dualistic concept of natural and supernatural – of earth and heaven – to blur us from hearing what Jesus was saying to us.
He was pleading with us to actually live in such a way as to enable the Kingdom of God to be experienced here on earth. He saw that the Kingdom can be a present reality. It is not a future hope to be found elsewhere as was developed by later Gentiles.
The concept of the Kingdom of God is not clearly understood in modern Australia. We do not live under, nor have ever lived under, a dominate king, so to use words that capture Jesus concept and place them in a modern context, I want to alter Jesus’ wording, as suggested by John Dominic Crossan, and use in its place the phrase The Companionship of Empowerment.(R)
This means that together we are to empower each other to live Jesus dream for the human race.(R) .
As a companion, as a mate, we empower, we encourage each other to:-
To rid ourselves of prejudice
To dismantle all barriers that divide
To seek justice for all – both personal and systemic
To respect other people… and our planet Earth
And to live with compassion
Any future spiritual community needs to create an atmosphere, an expectation, a Companionship of Empowerment to ensure that ALL people whoever they are and wherever they live experience abundant life.
We stand today on the edge of a new, exciting journey;
a journey of unknown opportunities and perils;
a journey of yet unfulfilled hopes and dreams
The question is… have we the nerve and the will?
Our choice lies between continuing the spiritual decline that we see today, which is clothed in private comfort and security… and a spiritual greatness where the inner spirit breathes new life and new hope into the world.
You may ask, “Can I do this, can we do this?”
My answer is YES –YES – Why? – Because,
“The K of G is within you”®
All human life is part of who the Divine Mystery is and what it is, and this Mystery is part of who we are and what we are.
As a human being Jesus modelled this generosity; modelled, this new Way of living, which became the experience in others that gave birth to Christianity.(R)
This birth took place when his followers “saw” (realised), after the shock of the crucifixion had passed, that they too could model this Way of Jesus’, by giving who they were and all they had completely, wholly away to something greater than themselves.
Tim Costello recently said,
The Kingdom that Jesus proclaimed involved the transformation of our hearts and minds, our society, our politics and our economics.
If only, that insight into what Jesus meant by the Kingdom of God, became today the motivating force and the Way of life within the modern Spiritual community, as it did with his disciples, Jesus’ dream for humanity would be fulfilled and that Future Spiritual Community would breath NEW LIFE into the world.
Such a community would be the place where we freely and openly reflect and process our life experiences with others, in such a way, that it encourages us all,
empowers us all, to become more compassionate, more loving human beings whose life’s goal is to seek justice for all and thus through whom the love of the Divine Presence becomes known.
I conclude by saying that any future Spiritual Community must seek a global ethic through which salvation is not found in… or confined to… any one set of theological doctrines, rather;
Salvation is to be found in people’s hearts; a salvation that is experienced daily and which governs the way we live and how we relate to all people by showing them respect, compassion and seeking justice.
I may be too idealistic but such a Community, I believe:-
Would indeed be “Good News” for our modern, confused and angry world.
So I invite you to go from this place and simply
ENJOY THE JOURNEY.