How can we stand together when we can’t agree to meet? There is yet truth in this world, and God is the key that will unlock it. This Sunday, come home to your True Self.
As Jesus walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him.
A PDF of the sermon as distributed at Calvary is available for download and printing.
When a Stranger Calls
Someone walks up to you while you are busy — working, reading, shopping, riding the bus, waiting for BART, writing a sermon — and this absolute stranger says: “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” No good morning, no references, no background checks, just some dude looking for “students.” Conversely, when the fishermen say yes to following him, that’s all the credentials he needs. It’s that simple.
By saying yes to Jesus, won’t their fishing contracts with the Empire be voided, won’t James and John’s father Zebedee see his boys who are his livelihood, his workforce and his retirement plan completely decimated? How could they say yes that easily, and then sashay away from stability and everything that’s normal? Who just walks away from all that’s expected of them!
An Appeal to the True Self
There must be something in the way J says it —“follow me”— something authentic in the way his body communicates something assuring and freeing, how, through Jesus, God’s very being calls to our very being.
It is through encountering the absolute safety of God that we discover our True Self, and in finding our truest self, we find a God who is always and forever larger than we expected. The truth of our identity, wrapped up in God, gives us a deep sense of radical okayness and yet humility about our fragility. What a paradox!
Those were the words of theologian Richard Rohr. He continues:
You are not your gender, your nationality, your ethnicity, your skin color, or your social class. These are not the qualities of your True Self in God! Why, oh why, do Christians allow temporary costumes…to pass for the substantial Self…?
Thomas Merton was famous for his similar theology: “If I find my True Self, I will also find God, and if I find God, I will find my True Self.” This discovery holds the keys to peace and unity. Colossians 3:3 goes on: “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.” When we, like Andrew, Simon Peter and the Zebedee Boys say “yes” to following Jesus, the False Self begins to fade, and the True Self awakens and is on its way to absolute wellbeing and the joy of humble dependence on God.
Now, even from up here, I can hear some of you thinking: uh, what? When you get to a quiet, comfortable place to meditate, go inward to look for the quiet fortress of the True Self. Many begin with a spiritual practice: noticing your breath. Breathe in the True Self, breathe out the False Self. Sit with that. Pray with that. This is the first step.
Zombies, Lizards & The False Self
Now, notice the False Self. The False Self is like an extra on The Walking Dead. I love The Walking Dead, don’t judge me. It’s a TV show about humans who, in order to survive, must kill all the zombies in central Georgia, and it takes their constant attention to make sure those zombies really die—and stay dead. The False Self is like a zombie, a master of fear and distraction, appealing to instinct, with its siren song of insecurity and inhuman values. (And brains.)
My theory goes like this. The impulse of the False Self originates in the basal ganglia of our brains. The basal ganglia evolved while we were yet still lizards whose survival depended on the practices of fight, flight or freeze. In other words, fear and insecurity are what fuels the False Self. It’s our job, scientifically speaking, to interrupt the flow of communication from False Self lizard brain to cerebrum. It can be done, and the True Self can emerge. That’s my theory.
The church in Corinth had once answered the call to discipleship with an easy yes, like the disciples in the first reading. But, being human, their False Selves eventually reared up and needed feeding, and, in groups of people, the False Self gains momentum exponentially. Hear this excerpt from a letter Paul wrote to the early Corinthian Jesus Movement, as their former pastor and founder.
1 Corinthians 1:10-18 (second reading)
Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters. What I mean is that each of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “I belong to Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Was [I] Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you, except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one can say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to proclaim the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, so that the cross of Christ might not be emptied of its power. For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
Drama, Ordeal & The Misleaders of the Free World
Paul is adorable when he is this human! He says: I’m glad I didn’t baptize any of you! Well, except that one couple…and that entire household. Anyway, I don’t remember! And God didn’t call me to baptize, I am called to share the Jesus teaching. God did not call Paul to administer sacraments nor to audition the perfect praise band—but to bring to fruition the ministry of Jesus Christ, to preach the love of God that depends on loving God and our neighbors as we love ourselves. It takes courage to answer the call to discipleship, because Christianity is rarely successful in isolation, and ministry can come at a high cost.
Now, the choir just sang of a beautiful truth — when “two or three are met together thou art in the midst of them.” Yes, truth. But theologian Ruth Lemmel adds: “When two or more are gathered, factions lurk in the midst of them.” In fact, in the book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), it is written, “My child, if you come to serve God, prepare yourself for testing.” Other translations say “prepare yourself for an ordeal.”
Back when Paul was full of vision and energy for his emergent church, I imagine that they had experienced the True Self up close, but now, because they are human, their False Selves are hungry for fried-chicken dinners in the social hall, with candles and tablecloths, followed by a good church fight over worship style and the role of women. Overthinking, anxiety, insecurity and cynicism have creep in. This is not a judgment but rather it’s just how it is to be human.
Well, I liked Appolus better, and the way his wife dressed, oh, so nice; I belong to Appolus! I don’t like that new pastor. This just isn’t the same church I joined; I belong to Paul!
But if we read his letter to Corinth, we see that Paul has moved on. He wants them to move on, too, into deeper relationship with God and a deeper sense of call to heal the hurting world around them. He wants them to unify, not around a personality but around God’s claim on their lives, to love their neighbors, to bind up the brokenhearted, to listen to the voices of those long silenced — even by the church!
Now, pan out a bit, let’s widen the shote, fisheye lens, how might these group dynamics be observed today, in the our context?
I didn’t vote for that creature, and you can’t even make me say his name: not my president, not my president, not my president. Jimmy Carter my president; I belong to Jimmy!
I get it. We all get it. As a people, we have never been like this, not since the Civil War, and yet this is new: a post-truth world where our leaders mislead to benefit themselves. Now listen to me: we belong to something bigger. Do not surrender to the False Self, who is the perfect liar. Realize the True Self and our already perfect unity in the Divine Mind of God, wrapped up with Jesus Christ.
The church began with un-credentialed fishermen. Likewise, this nation once welcomed the un-credentialed tired, poor, huddled masses. Now, it’s “America first”, but Jesus was a “You first” kind of guy: love God, your neighbors, and then yourselves, your True Selves. Our nation is slipping into a new doctrine “Me first. It’s all about me, at all costs, me and my money, my power, my interests.”
Drama is Tradition & Inescapable
The Corinthian culture war drove Paul to his wit’s end. There were even Corinthians who denied the resurrection (and this letter is from the year 51, just a generation or two later). Chloe’s people reported chaos during worship, with the freeform worshipers at odds with well-heeled worshipers trying to concentrate. A woman testifies (which was controversial in itself), and, to make matters worse, her clothing falls open, like Janet Jackson at the Superbowl. Church has never been a safe harbor! Read the epistles! If a church is a place to come and tune out, it’s not part of the Christian tradition, for where two are more are gathered, there is drama. The True Church is comprised of diversity, differences and loving dialogue. I have been transformed by serving a church where people openly disagree with one another, where some of you openly disagree with me. That’s how we grow. I have been changed by you, and I would not trade this for the world. I am more because we did not shrink away from dialogue, and we did engage one another lovingly. Am I changed? Not my political views, but I have been changed on a more fundamental level. My True Self is now larger, and isn’t that the point?
You Are Called
And even in this day and age, when the Truth is an endangered value, we can still peel away the veneer of the False Self and discover Unity through the True “Light which illumines everyone” is always being born into the world. It’s our job to behold it. And here’s the clencher: the True Self does not cry “God is on my side!” but asks with humility, “Are we on God’s side?” All the while, the False Self waits in the corner, mumbling: “Really? You’re gonna fish for people? That sounds a little creepy. Let’s watch Netflix. Where’s the remote?” And we are soothed by the False Self’s call to inaction. “Yeah, you’re right. It is creepy. I’ll just wait. I’m behind on The Witcher. What do I have to offer anyway?” And while we wait, anxiety begins to mount, and that seems right because everybody else is anxious, and don’t you want to fit in? Then, we worry about time and money, talent and status, and we worry about worrying about all those things, especially money. Addressing that very condition, my friend, the Rev. Daniel Ross-Jones, writes, “The world doesn’t need an anxious church! The world needs a church that cultivates hope and transforms lives.” Watch the news, people know how to unify around fear, loss or scarcity, but we, people of faith, we have a superpower, and we have kept it a secret until now. We are already unified when we confess the True Self, hidden with Christ in God! We can cast our nets in new directions and rely on God for the outcome. Christ has gift-wrapped your True Self and it waits to be opened. The first, perhaps only, requirement is yes. Drop your nets in the name of the Way, the Truth and the Life.