Monday, April 17, 2006

Fullness of Joy - A Talk By John Edminster

My Friend John Edminster, a fellow-member of 15th Street Meeting, was invited to present a sermon on the day called Easter to Manhattan Meeting, a pastoral meeting that meets in the same building as 15th Street Meeting. He sent me the text of his talk, which seemed to me so wonderful that I asked his permission to post it here. He agreed.

Fullness of Joy

Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy: at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

Thank you, Friends, for having me come and speak to you. May the Lord make our time together fruitful. Please join me in the Lord’s Prayer: …

I can’t speak to you on this day, of all days, without speaking about what Jesus’ suffering on the cross, and His resurrection from the dead, mean to us. Not just to us Christians, but to all humankind: for this, the very crown of Jesus’ earthly life, is the good news, the tidings of great joy which shall be to _all people._ Yes, even to the people at the ends of the earth that never heard of Jesus; to the babies that can’t understand anything about Jesus yet; and to the people exposed to a false, toxic and cruel counterfeit-Christianity that left them distrustful of anything to do with Jesus. Whatever good this Easter mystery has done, it has done for the good of everyone, and all creation benefits. “It is finished,” Jesus said before dying. – What was finished? What got accomplished? Let’s look at our own personal experience:

Do you find a moral law written in your heart, which makes you feel bad when you’ve told a lie or done a bad thing, and which supports you when you know you’re doing good? You are hearing the voice of Christ, the fulfillment of a promise made in Jeremiah 31:33. Do you ever feel that your steps are being guided, that you’re being led to where you need to go and put in touch with the people you need to meet, so that good things can get done? You’re feeling the guidance of Christ, a fulfilled promise of Isaiah 30:21. Have you ever been in trouble, and so afraid that you can’t think straight, and amazingly, you find words coming out of your mouth that you can tell are the right words, truthful words, the perfect words? That is the mouth and wisdom of Christ coming through you, promised us by Jesus before his crucifixion, Luke 21:15. Now people who are not Christian may often have these experiences, but not identify them with Jesus Christ. And that’s doubtless OK with Christ. But something more becomes possible when we recognize this as the work of One who is, in fact, our Savior. Something much more. Then these things are not merely helps to the ethical life from a well-wisher, but elements of a gospel plan for our salvation from death, from futility, from hopeless separateness from God – in a word, from sin. Once we recognize this as a gift of One who died to get it for us, we have an intimation of its enormous value. Once we discover that this One who died is risen and ever living, and invites us to participate in His eternal life, much more becomes possible for us – nothing short of a new life as a new person, who in turn is an organic part of a new people, among whom the living Christ walks as Prophet, Priest and King. I am speaking of this from my own experience. The twenty-six year-old George Fox could speak of this new life from his own experience: when he was being grilled on his beliefs before imprisonment in Derby, he told his captors that he knew Christ had sanctified him because he, Fox, “was in the paradise of God.” (Think of it: surrounded by hostile bullies, and yet able to experience paradise? If God made this possible to George Fox, is it too much to believe that God did the same for Tom Fox?)

So experience of Christ and His salvation is possible in this life – direct experience, not just acceptance by faith, or notional belief in words about it. Still, the passion and resurrection of Jesus are baffling to the mind on many levels. Did He really die, as the Christians teach, or just appear to die, as Islam teaches? If He died, how were the processes of death reversed, and the stone rolled away from the tomb? Why did His heavenly Father have Him suffer so? And why did He, surely capable of knowing better, pick Judas to be His disciple anyway? I expect that when we all return to God at the end of time, God will give us a full understanding of everything, including all this. Until then it may not be possible to understand it with the intellect: it does, however, seem to invite understanding by the heart, and if our own heart staggers under its weight, we’d do well to seek help from those of greater heart than ourselves.

Six hundred years ago, there lived a woman named Julian of Norwich, a lover of God with an enormous heart. As a young woman, she had prayed to understand Jesus’ passion, to suffer to the point of death for the sake of becoming more worthy of God, and to receive the wounds of true contrition, true compassion, and true longing for God. She was granted these wishes on May 8, 1373, at the point of death at age 30, her eyesight and breath failing and her body going numb as she stared at the face of Christ on her parish priest’s crucifix. Suddenly, she tells us, all her pain was taken away, “and I was as fit and well as I had ever been.” She prayed then to experience Christ’s pain on the cross. At once she saw blood flowing from under the wooden figure’s crown of thorns, and “at the same moment the Trinity filled me full of heartfelt joy, and I knew that all eternity was like this for those who attain heaven.” So began the first of her sixteen _Revelations of Divine Love_ that she dictated, later in her long life, to an anonymous scribe. In all her revelations she was shown the oneness of God, and she explains that where she speaks of Christ, or God, or the Holy Spirit, she means the Unity that encompasses them all. I will read passages from Clifton Wolters’s translation of the _Revelations_ into modern English:

[Chapter 22:] Then our good Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘Are you well satisfied with my suffering for you?’ ‘Yes, thank you, good Lord,’ I replied. “Yes, good Lord, bless you.’ And the kind Lord Jesus said, ‘If you are satisfied, I am satisfied too. It gives me great happiness and joy and, indeed, eternal delight ever to have suffered for you. If I could possibly have suffered more, I would have done so.’

…In his word ‘If I could possibly have suffered more, I would have done so’ I saw that he would have died again and again, for his love would have given him no rest until he had done so…. And here…I saw that the love which made him suffer is as much greater than his pain as heaven is greater than earth…. This deed and this work for our salvation was ordered as well as God himself was able to order it. And I saw Christ’s complete happiness; his happiness would not have been complete if it were at all possible to have done it better.

[Chapter 23:] …It is the will of God that we too should delight with him in our salvation, and thereby be greatly comforted and strengthened. And his will is that our soul should cheerfully occupy itself with this fact, helped on by his grace. For we are his happiness: in us he ever delights….

…I mean, that as far as we can manage it, our delight in our salvation should be like Christ’s…. As if he were saying, ‘It is sufficient joy and delight for me to know that I can truly satisfy you. I ask you nothing else as the results of my suffering.’

…he rejoices that the deed is past and done, and he shall suffer no more; he rejoices too that he has raised us to heaven, and made us to be his crown and eternal delight; again, he rejoices that by his passion he has bought us out from the eternal pain of hell.

Really! Until I read Julian I’d never gotten it that God is actually thrilled by our salvation, so delighted that Christ puts us up on His head to wear like a party hat! It’s just like the parable of the prodigal son, isn’t it?

[Chapter 26:] After this our Lord showed himself, in glory even greater than I had seen before – so it seemed to me. By this I was taught that our soul can never rest until it comes to him, and knows him to be fullness of joy, friendly and considerate, blessed and life indeed. And he said again and again ‘It is I; it is I; it is I who am most exalted; it is I whom you love; it is I whom you delight in; it is I whom you serve; it is I whom you long for, whom you desire; it is I whom you mean; it is I who am all. It is I whom Holy Church preaches and teaches; it is I who showed myself to you here.’

All the women I’ve had my heart broken by – it was God I was longing for! All that wealth and comfort I so set my heart on! All those cigarettes and cups of coffee I so used to crave! Not realizing that it’s God that I delight in, and in Whom, alone, I’ll find fullness of joy! What insanity, to forget that!

[Chapter 27:] …[Sin] can only be known by the pain it causes. This pain is something, as I see it, which lasts but a while. It purges us and makes us know ourselves, so that we ask for mercy…. Because of his tender love for all those who are to be saved our good Lord comforts us at once and sweetly, as if to say, ‘It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain; but it is all going to be all right; it is all going to be all right; everything is going to be all right.’ These words were said most tenderly, with never a hint of blame either to me or to any of those to be saved. It would be most improper of me therefore to blame or criticize God for my sin, since he does not blame me for it.

In these words I saw one of God’s marvelously deep secrets – a secret which he will plainly reveal to us in heaven. And when we know it we will see the reason why he allowed sin to come, and seeing, we shall rejoice in him for ever.

Oh, Friends, this is God’s message to you today, and Christ’s, and Julian’s, and mine: it is all going to be all right. In spite of all this madness and cruelty that are taking lives and wasting the earth, it is all going to be all right. If God could create everything out of nothing, then God can also turn all evil into good, and this Christ promised to Julian and promises to us. Twice in the Book of Revelations (7:17, 21:4) we are told that God will wipe away all tears from our eyes, and those tears include all tears from the atrocities and injustices being done in the world today, all tears of rage and despair and self-loathing, and even all tears of doubt that all this suffering might have been unnecessary. The God that does not blame us for sin, but only wants to free us from it, today raises Jesus from the dead to tell us: everything is going to be all right! It is time for us to tell the whole world that everything is going to be all right.

John Jeremiah Edminster
Saved as: 060415EasterSermon.doc

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

That's a very fine sermon. I was deeply moved by paragraph 3 ("Do you find a moral law written in your heart, &c...."), which to me has always been the essential
Quaker gospel.

6:47 AM, April 20, 2006  
Blogger Paul L said...

This must be the fourth or fifth time I've come back to read this.

In part because it speaks to me, but also because there's a nagging question about it I can't figure out, neither the question nor the answer, that is.

The question has to do with the "something more" John talks about after acknowledging that anyone may discern the law written in his heart, or feel led by Christ without knowing the identity of the guide.

I guess I'm wondering about whether knowing that Christ is the giver of these gifts, the agent of salvation, really matter? If we agree that Christ's saving work is for all the world, including those who do not recognize Christ as the Savior, why isn't experiencing salvation enough?

I understand John as saying Christ's work is "enough", and can be accessed by every human being, but that there is still more joy to be found when you realize who did this for you, which sounds to me like two levels of salvation: coach class for everyone who wants a ticket, and first class for those who know the pilot (forgive the clumsy analogy. . . .)

I guess it makes some sense (to shift metaphors): I may love a book and have it deeply affect my life, but there is something "more" if I actually meet and befriend the author. Not knowing the author doesn't diminish my enjoyment of the book, but knowing her adds to it in an incomparable way.

But I'm still uneasy with this, not because I disagree, but because I don't really understand.

11:57 PM, April 24, 2006  

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