Secret of Life

Secret of Life

ImageAccording to the Gospel of Mark our scripture today is one of the few times Jesus revealed his messianic secret to his followers.  He started by asking the disciples, “who do the people say that I am?”

“John the Baptist returned from the dead, the prophet Elijah returned to earth, one of the other prophets come back to life,” they replied.

Then true to form, Jesus made his revelation by asking another question, “but who do you say that I am?”

And Peter, always quick to rush in, where angels feared to tread, Peter, the baby Huey of the bunch blurted out, “You are the Christ!”

And Jesus told all the disciples, “don’t tell anyone,” thus, the messianic secret.

ImageThere was another secret shared at Caesarea Philippi, but before I get into that, I want to comment for a minute about why Jesus chose to reveal himself as messiah to his followers in that place.  We should remember that Jesus was very deliberate in his teaching and his ministry.  He chose times and places that were highly symbolic in his effort to communicate the love of God to ordinary people.  Caesarea Philippi lays at the base of Mt. Hermon the tallest mountain in Israel nearly 10,000 feet in elevation.  The snow pack on Mt. Hermon feeds a system of underground reservoirs.  There is a large cavern at Caesarea Philippi, where one source of the Jordan River gushes out of the bottom of the mountain.   Less than a quarter mile away, another spring literally bubbles up out of the ground forming another source of the great river.  And we can note that the Jordan is the life blood of Israel.  In a hot, dry and dusty land this place of clear bubbling water is a symbol of life.

ImageJesus brought his disciples to Caesarea Philippi in order to impress upon them he was revealing to them the secret of life in the same way clear living water is essential to life on earth.   As soon as the words, “you are the Christ,” had escaped Peter’s lips, Jesus began telling his disciples they were all going to Jerusalem, where he would be arrested by the temple authorities and executed.



Peter who was hoping to become the Prime Minister when Jesus was crowned King, said, “Come on Jesus stop being such a gloomy Gus.  We’re going to Jerusalem to establish the Kingdom of God and you are our King.”  (And we are going to have cushy jobs in your government.)

Image“Stop tempting me,” insisted Jesus.  “You want me to exercise power like Herod and Caesar, and that is not what we are about.  The Commonwealth of God begins with a change in the human heart.  For if you would follow me, you must deny yourself and follow the way of self-sacrificing love.” Jesus was revealing the secret of life – self-sacrificing love.

But what did Jesus mean by self-sacrificing love?  Can we embrace self-sacrificing love Imageand still have a healthy ego, or does following Jesus lead to a martyr complex or co-dependency?  What do I mean by a martyr complex?  I don’t want to be sexist or racist but some of the best illustrations are ethnic jokes about smother mothers.   All of these jokes are about a mother-martyr complex.  Here are some examples.

Q: Why don’t Jewish mothers drink?
A: Alcohol interferes with their suffering.

Q: How many Italian mothers does it take to change a light bulb?

A: (Sigh) Don’t bother, I’ll sit in the dark, I don’t want to be a nuisance to anybody.

Q: What is the most common disease transmitted by Irish Mothers?

A: Guilt.

Q: What’s the difference between a Rottweiler and a Greek Mother?

A: Eventually, the Rottweiler lets go.

Codependency while often associated with women is an equal opportunity dysfunction.  You might be codependent if you are kicked off of a jury for insisting you are the guilty one.

ImageA healthy ego has appropriate boundaries.  Jesus taught us, love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all of your mind, all your strength, and your neighbor as yourself. We are told to love ourselves as much beloved children of God. God doesn’t make junk.  Each of us is precious.  So too we are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves, because they also are precious much beloved children of God.  We also recognize that God is God and we are not, an important boundary we ignore at our own peril.  The biblical narrative teaches us that we are truly ourselves when we reach up ambitiously to make more of ourselves (without yearning to be God), reach out generously to one another, offer compassion to those who need our aid, and make sacrifices on behalf of those who cannot help themselves.  So Christ leads us in seeking a healthy ego that lies somewhere between hubris and humiliation.

ImagePart of the spiritual formation of a healthy ego is to seek to transcend the self in order to connect with the divine.  Through meditation and prayer, we can open ourselves to a perspective that transcends our individual egos to experience expanded awareness – God consciousness.  The experience of nature can also open us to awe and wonder that expands our awareness to feel our oneness with creation and with the creator.  From this more transcendent perspective we are more likely to become sensitive to the thoughts, feelings and needs of others, and our awareness of our essential unity with all things can inspire us to become more responsive to our community and our environment.

ImageOpening ourselves up to connect with transcendent spiritual energies carries with it both danger as well as opportunity.   Not to sound too much like Obi Wan Kenobi, but there can be a dark side to spiritual energy.  There is cursing as well as blessing.  All over the world fundamentalism in all religions is unleashing powerful and destructive spiritual energies – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu.  Mobs fueled by zealotry are threatening to destabilize the whole world.  My old professor Robert Moore wrote about these dangers is his book Facing the Dragon.

Working as both a Jungian psychoanalyst and spiritual theologian, my recent research has focused on the powerful, grandiose ‘god-energies” that burn fiercely in the heart of every human being.  When we face these energies consciously in faith and with authentic respect, they reflect in us the numinous, creative, and transformative power of the divine presence.  But when human ego engages in pretentious “unknowing” of the reality and significance of this presence, the result is existential idolatry and malignant narcissism.

Existential denial of the divine presence creates a demonic alchemy that hijacks the sacred energies of the soul and twists them into destructive powers of hideous strength, powers of aggressive nonbeing that reveal themselves as addiction, racism, sexism, homophobia, all forms of political oppression, ritual violence and war, and the ecological destruction of our planet.  These same grandiose energies fuel both corporate greed and religious fundamentalism.

Robert Moore notes that regular prayer, meditation and physical exercise are both essential in regulating our spiritual energies and containing our egos.  Consciously choosing spiritual symbols that direct us toward God and the good are important in our spiritual formation.

Opening ourselves up to a relationship with God also prepares us for the eventuality of our deaths.  Each of us is a unique precious child of God, and none of us will live forever.  We are each created to find our purpose in life, and ultimately to surrender our lives back to God.  As we experience transcendence in this life, we are prepared for the final transcendence we will meet in death.  Death is part of life.  Or in the words of our scripture this morning:  “whoever would save his life will lose it.”  As we grow older we realize we cannot take possessions with us, when we die.  We end up giving it all away, willingly or unwillingly.  In the end we must even say good-bye to earthly relationships, a source of real grief and pain we should not underestimate.

But Jesus was also making a promise, when he revealed the secret of life.  Love is never lost.  Love survives.  Love lives.  Love that is not afraid to sacrifice transcends death and becomes one with God.  And when our relationships are in covenant with God, they become a part of God.  When Ron encouraged Keith to seek baptism, he wanted the assurance that their relationship was in covenant with God.  “There is no fear in love, for perfect love casts out fear.”  The secret of the life is love that is unafraid to sacrifice lives.  Follow the way of Jesus and connect with the power of God’s eternal love.

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