The title of tonight’s vesper is catchy and actually the title of a song I like. It is a bit irreverent, if you can imagine that, with a rocking, bluesy beat. Yet in its essence, it is Unity—the soul lives on and it never dies.
Typically, we think of resurrection only in connection with Jesus and Easter. Yet there are other stories of death not being the end. The prophets in the Old Testament raised people. Jesus lifted several people up from death. The theme of overcoming death is really centered on faith.
In the 5th book of Mark, just after the story of when pigs fly, Jairus, the leader of a synagogue approaches Jesus about saving his daughter from death. On the way to his house, Jesus heals the woman who was bleeding. Busy day! When they get near the leader’s house friends say his daughter is dead and to stop bothering Jesus. But Jesus says, “Do no fear, only believe.” Then the daughter awakens.
In Luke we find two stories of overcoming death. The first is about the slave of a Centurion. Now Centurions were Roman soldiers, not your first idea of faithful but remember, the author of Luke was all about portraying Christianity as being a faith available to everyone. So, in the story, Jewish elders are sent to appeal to Jesus on behalf of the Centurion and they assure Jesus this soldier is worthy. While Jesus and the group are still on the way the Centurion sends his friends out to meet Jesus. His message is this: He is not worthy to have Jesus in his home but he is confident of the authority of Jesus. Just as the Centurion can command people to go here and there, so Jesus can speak the word and his slave will be healed. Jesus says, “Not even in Israel have I found such faith.” As so the story says the friends returned to find the slave in good health. Just after this Jesus encounters a funeral procession for a man who has died. He is the only son of his widowed mother. It says ‘when the Lord saw her he had compassion for her and said, “Do not weep.” Then he speaks to the dead man: “Young man I say to you rise.” And he got up.
The final story is the story in John of the raising of Lazarus. Dead and in the tomb for 4 days, he was stinking. Both Mary and Martha lament that if Jesus has been there, their brother wouldn’t have died. So Jesus asks them if they believe. Even in the stench, they say yes, they believe. Jesus commands Lazarus to come out.
What does all this mean and what does it have to do with Unity of Lehigh Valley?
First of all, rising from the dead stories are always about letting go and getting back up. There is nothing in the stories to say anyone who lived went on to accomplish anything grand.
The daughter of Jairus was only 12. The Centurion asked for healing for a slave. The son of the widow we really know little about except his mother engaged the compassion of Jesus. And Lazarus, we hear nothing more about. Second chances don’t have to be about grand gestures. Maybe it is just about making progress. There is more to be done in our soul work and so we let go of what was—die to the old—and rise up anew. But do we believe it is possible—this rising up new? Are we young and inexperienced? Are we in bondage to believing in limitation? Have we experienced great sorrow? Have we been stuck in our old ways and “stinking thinking” so long a new beginning seems highly unlikely? These stories seem to say none of these are obstacles to overcoming and beginning anew.
Of course, metaphysically, these are all about our consciousness. Eternal life is what animates our consciousness. Dying to the old is what happens in our consciousness. Our soul’s evolution is simply opening our consciousness to greater expressions of our divine potential—which is already complete.
Two Sundays ago, which seems like a really long time ago, I mentioned Charles Fillmore’s belief in reincarnation. In the 1931 pamphlet he discusses, “We believe the repeated incarnations of man to be a merciful provision of our loving Father to the end that all may have opportunity to attain immortality through regeneration, as did Jesus.” Repeated incarnations are our path to fuller expressions of Spirit. It occurred to me as I was preparing for this sermon, each new minister who serves a church is like a new incarnation for the life of that church. Some lives are brief, and yet I believe the purpose for that life is accomplished. Some lives are long and there are multiple opportunities for growth and starting over. The tenure of some ministers is brief and yet, if the community is awake and aware, lessons can be learned and spiritual growth is accomplished. The tenure of some ministers is long and different growth unfolds. With each new minister, a new version of the church is born. When I leave, never quite the same, the congregation will shift, the leadership will shift and in or out of a building, a new expression of Unity of Lehigh Valley will rise up.
In the end, it hardly ever seems like it is the end. When we believe in the possibilities; when we believe in new expressions of our gifts, we rise up anew. It ain’t over when it’s over!