Due to technical difficulties, the video for this service was not recorded. Below is the text of Pastor Cynthia’s message. We apologize for the inconvenience.”
First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Rev. Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: December 29, 2019
Wisdom Readings: Matthew 2:13-15, Rumi
Sermon: “Hero’s Journey”
Hear these words from the Gospel of Matthew that came soon after the magi came to honor the Christ child:
Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.”
Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, “Out of Egypt I have called my son.”
Hear these words from 13th century Islamic theologian, Rumi
There is a life-force within your soul, seek that life.
There is a gem in the mountain of your body, seek that mine.
O traveler, if you are in search of that
Don’t look outside, look inside yourself and seek that.
We are in the season of story, myth, narrative— immersed in the story of rebirth. Why do we love stories so much? This first Sunday after Christmas again finds us standing at the panorama of a New Year, wanting to look to the future and make resolutions, but also wanting to reflect upon the past year. And in between the past and the future, we experience three realities that converge in the present. The first reality is the normal world. We wake up. We breathe. We decide what to wear. Sometimes things go right. Sometimes things go wrong. Someone says something nice to you, someone criticizes you. In some ways, life is predictable. And then the phone call comes. A loved one has been admitted to the hospital. Or you make a mistake with devastating consequences. You don’t have the energy you used to. That is the reality of the normal world.
Another reality we live in includes our dreams. The world in which we want to help change things for the better, realizing at some point we can’t just disengage. We must engage, have the compassion to help overcome the despair that doubt keeps sending our way, diminishing our dreams. As I look into the Year 2020, this is the reality that predominates my view. I care about justice, about public policy that affects our earth and humanity. The climate. Politics. Equality. Health care. Economics.
The third reality that surrounds us comprises a reality of beauty, the world in which the Divine calls us to see and experience—a reality full of love, compassion, kindness, gratitude—a reality where there is no dualism of labels or judgments. A reality we often are unaware of if caught up in a news cycle that perpetuates fear and doubt based on dualistic thinking where people are placed on some invisible ladder of who is more important; based on an economic paradigm where poverty and excessive wealth reign; based on even religious judgments where some are going to hell, and others to paradise.
Joseph Campbell, an explorer of life-meaning, developed a theory that all stories in the world, no matter time, the culture, are a variation of a universal story he called The Hero’s Journey (see bulletin). We are all on an amazing journey, a hero’s journey. Using the language of hero and journey is a shift in perspective of our reality—not only individually, but as a faith community. Liturgically, in the Christian church, no matter one’s theology, we follow this cycle that begins with the birth of Christ. The journey of Jesus Christ is our journey, our reality, a journey of self-discovery and transformation that can bring inspiration to those around you. Stories that we love draw our reality into the reality of the story mentally, emotionally and affect us physically.
Looking at this template, where are you? Possibly you’ve charted numerous journeys: Pilgrimages of adventure and crossing a threshold, a quest to overcome trials and failure, to experience spiritual death and rebirth, and to return to the normal world to help others on their journey.
Often, I get stuck at trials and failures. For the past 43 years, I’ve followed the Star Wars saga. I can tell you the theater I first was introduced to the characters, and from this mythological story that follows the template of the Hero’s Journey, comes one of the most valuable wisdom nuggets I grasp on to when the walls of despair seem to be closing in, spoken by Yoda: “The greatest teacher failure is.”
One of the greatest failures of the Christian church is getting tied up with the capitalistic templates of consumerism where spiritual evolution stagnates in the normal world and we forget that the hero’s journey Christ calls us to live is very much political. I wonder why the church has disengaged from being part of public policy discussions, from being active in politics. But then the Christmas story comes and reminds us that at the heart of the Christian story—the birth of Christ, is a rebirth of our self. We converge with the journey of Christ, mirrored across the ages and we have full insight, full comprehension into the heart of the Divine. The soundtrack of our journey becomes as inspirational as the Rocky theme propelling us through trials and failures towards the spiritual transformative process of death and rebirth. And we awaken to the reality of the Divine, Emmanuel, God with us.
Yes, I am aware that the body has limitations, but the mind does not. Our mind reacts to the consciousness that is awakened to a remarkable understanding that the presence of Christ in this world awakens us to the reality of love, kindness, compassion….it is a journey we are called to go on, becoming aware that the reality we live stems from the narrative of consciousness flowing from our heart, from our mind.
So often we exist in the normal world, one of electricity, the Internet, social media. No century in recorded history has seen such radical, social and technological transformations than the last 100 years. And I wonder the impact the last 100 years of technological progress has had overall on our collective consciousness, our awareness?
A story is good when our consciousness is absorbed mentally and emotionally in the narrative. This past week I was caught up in a fictional story, an eco-thriller, entitled Station Eleven, that begins to count years from the moment a massive flu pandemic wipes out 99% of humanity. Electricity, the Internet, Social Media—all gone. And so while reading, there were moments I was so absorbed in the reality of Station Eleven, which describes the world we know as full of “high-functioning sleepwalkers” and hell as “the absence of the people you long for.” When I became consciously aware, I was outside of the story, there was this moment when I was grateful for electricity, for the Internet, for all the comforts that living in the 21st-century offers.
What makes Star Wars, Rocky, The Iliad, Just Mercy, Shakespeare …whatever story impacts you; a timeless tale is one of rebirth. A dream coming alive. Dreams happen when we are aware, awake. How does this happen? Begin with your mind. Your belief system. Christmas is about hope, rekindling the fire. Finding your joy. Christ is the best version of us-love, kindness. This community of faith is one giant mentor to help on the journey. To help pick us up when we fall. When we are discouraged. When we lose hope. For doubt invades our soul even more so than failure, or fear.
What does the Christmas story mean to you? What if the Christmas story is a telling of each of our stories-the rebirth, the awakening? Or as Richard Rohr explains in the book Universal Christ: Order, Disorder, Reorder. Our spiritual evolutionary journey begins at a level of unawareness. Hopefully, we are not high-functioning sleepwalkers. Our paths follow converging paths presented to us by the church, by our family, by history, by Netflix—the holiday narrative is overloaded with expectations of gift-giving and receiving—but we have been given all we ever nee-the reality of the Divine. Our Scripture today represents the three realities: the normal, the world of dreams, the world of the Divine. As you reflect on the past year, remember difficulties are essential for transformation. Failure is part of spiritual evolution. And Christmas comes and we are reborn. May we grasp the revelation that the rebirth that happens at Christmas is our awakening to see the reality of the Divine. That is the rebirth that happens at Christmas, and out of Egypt we come. It’s 2020, dare to dream.