Vicky Hanjian’s Sermon April 14, 2024

“A Recognition Event”
Chilmark Church
April 14, 2024
Hosea 6:1-3
Luke 24:36 – 49

We pick up the Easter story just after the folks who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus have shared their “heart-burning” experience of recognizing Jesus in the sharing of bread.  The word “recognize” is interesting: to know someone or something because you have seen or experienced them before.  For the folks on the road to Emmaus, the progress from the sensation of their “hearts burning within…” to actually knowing Jesus was a bit slow – – but they got there.

They head back again to Jerusalem, in the midst of their story telling to the 11 who were gathered, Jesus shows up again and blesses them with his peace.  As though they have not heard him, they respond with surprise and terror.  Once again they are ready to believe they are seeing a ghost – – much as they thought when Jesus appeared to them on the Sea of Galilee a few stories ago.   Poor guys – their belief in and their fear of ghosts must have paralyzed them.  I rather suspect there is a note of amusement in Jesus’ voice when he asks them “Why are you afraid? – Why do you doubt?”   He offers them the tried and true remedy for deciding whether a ghost is present or not – – in the culture of the time, the test for a ghost was whether or not one could feel the bones in the hands and feet of the suspected apparition.  Jesus offers them his hands and feet.  “Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones.”    They feel a mixture of joy and disbelief – – so he offers them another proof of his presence – “What do you have to eat?” – – And he eats a piece of fish in their presence.  He doesn’t need to tell them that ghosts do not eat food.

The story doesn’t explicitly say that they finally get it.What is  it does say is that  he “opened their minds” and began to teach them.  First, with a  reminder from the Prophet Hosea:

“Come, let us return to the Lord,
    for it is he who has torn, and he will heal us;
    he has struck down, and he will bind us up.
2 After two days he will revive us;
    on the third day he will raise us up,
    that we may live before him.
3 Let us know, let us press on to know the Lord;
    his appearing is as sure as the dawn;
he will come to us like the showers,
    like the spring rains that water the earth.” 

Hosea’s call to Israel to “return to the Lord” – – was a call to a new mind – – a mind that would be open to the refreshing presence of God like a sunrise or a spring shower.  It was a promise that after the struggle that comes with understanding the losses and suffering Israel had endured, the Holiness of God would be revealed to them again in a new way.

So apparently,  Jesus is satisfied that their minds are open enough: “See, I am sending upon you all that my Father has promised – – so hang here a bit until you are clothed with power from on high.”  – – – An allusion to what will follow in the Book of Acts with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day Of Pentecost. Wow!  A lot  happens in these few verses.

Father Bruno Barnhart, a priest in the Benedictine tradition who lives and and writes as a hermit and mystic in the Benedictine Camaldolese Monastery in Big Sur , California writes about  what he calls“recognition energy” in this way: As we accompany Jesus through the gospels we are present at one dramatic meeting after another. One person after another experiences the mysterious power in Jesus that from that moment changes the course of his or her life. If we are fully present at the moment when we read such a narrative, we ourselves [may] experience the liberating power of this awakening…time after time we [may] feel the break – through of life – the wave-front of wonder.

The gospel writers give us stories that offer us the possibility of recognizing Jesus – of re-knowing Jesus – over and over again in our own experience – when our minds are open.

Like the disciples, we may be encumbered by beliefs that limit our knowing – – perhaps even cause us to question or deny  our own authentic experience of the Presence of the Living One here and now.  We come to the Resurrection stories with 2000 years of tradition and conditioning that invite us to believe what is handed down  through many filters  – –  and sometimes, if we are honest, we find ourselves questioning these inherited beliefs when they conflict with what we know in the deep and quiet place within where the profound truth of Jesus lives in each one of us.

Many of those beliefs imprison us in minds that see  life in “either/or”  in “black or white” in “full or empty” in “good or bad” – dead or alive – – stranger/friend  – – what the mystics call the dual mind.  We glimpse it in the folks on the Road to Emmaus . Their eyes are blind to who Jesus is – there is death and there is life – – and Jesus is dead so they do not recognize him – – they cannot re-know him in those moments when they are imprisoned within their grief and their  beliefs about what has happened.  We glimpse the dual mind again in the terror of the disciples – – there is life and there is death and Jesus is dead – therefore this must be a ghost.  In those moments, their profound grief determines reality for them.

But Jesus doesn’t leave them with their limiting beliefs.  He is the Master of the non-dual mind.  He calls the disciples to see things “whole.”   The metaphor of the old View Master came to mind.  For those of you too young to know what this was –  when I was a kid, it was an often coveted device that looked something like an odd pair of binoculars.  It came with a set of slide images framed in a circular cardboard disc.  There were dual identical images arranged opposite each other on the disc.   If you looked at the images without the device, they were blurry.  But when you slipped the disc  into the View Master and began clicking the lever, the blurred images were brought together into a clear and 3 dimensional image.

The View Master transformed the duality of images into a unified image that was crisp and clear.  The image was seen whole. 

Theologian, Cynthia Bourgeault,  points out that when the disciples signed on with Jesus, it was because he activated some truth in them – – something that resonated as real and authentic – and they were drawn to his wisdom and compassion and to the truth he revealed to them and, more importantly, to the truth they already carried within them.  When they signed on, they had no idea about where it would all end – – no anticipation of death or resurrection – – just the hunger for an authentic relationship with this amazing teacher.

As he traveled with them He opened their minds to a new way of seeing – a way that permitted love for the stranger, compassion for the poor, healing for the sick, justice for the oppressed – a way of seeing not just the parts of any situation, but the whole – – without judgement – – of seeing how to hold all things in a heart – mind filled with the Oneness of God.

In their sadness and grief and fear after his death,  entrenched beliefs took hold – and they could not recognize him – – but he did not leave them there.  He greeted them again – he opened their minds with his unfailing wisdom – he saw them whole – he liberated them from the narrow confines of their dual minds – he gave them clarity of vision – he  empowered them and they went out into the world transformed – – to become transformers.  In his risen power – he still does this for us now – – moment to moment – – giving us the joy of living in the wonder of His ongoing living presence among us and within us.

So – what does this mind opened by the Living Christ look like for us?   In these tumultuous times, I have been asking myself “What is our role as Followers of the Way?”  “How are we to be in a world that is so immersed in conflict and enmity and the degrading of the human spirit?”   “How are we to cultivate a spacious heart/mind” so that we might bring the peace of Christ into the world?’

Over and over the answer seems to be that we are to cultivate in us what Paul calls “the mind of Christ” when he writes in the 2nd chapter of Philippians:

 5 Let the same mind be in you that was[a] in Christ Jesus.

Having the mind of Christ within us and among us means being able to let go of what the mind loves to do – – to see situations and other human beings as either/or; as good or evil, right or wrong, included or excluded. To be open-minded is the Risen Christ’s gift to his disciples – he opened their minds to be able to see the wholeness -the oneness of all creation…

In the 12th chapter of Romans, Paul is also concerned with the state of our minds.  He wrote so powerfully:

2 Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of the mind, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.[a]

I’d like to suggest that this congregation knows something of the mind of Christ having come through a strenuous process of discernment culminating in the decision to pursue life in Christ as an independent community church committed to full inclusion of all God’s children. 

Cultivating the mind of Christ within us is not some high and unattainable goal – – it is practical, pragmatic – –  true – -and loving  — we summon the courage to see the world differently than rule bound institutions and traditions demand that we see.  The open mind that Christ gives often means hard work in the service of justice.  May the Risen One give us the grace to summon the courage to see life as whole – – not broken and fragmented – – to see with open hearts and minds willing to freely embrace all of life with open-heartedness without the separation that the world clings to.   May we embrace the mind that was in Christ – – and be transformed into His Living Presence in the world. AMEN