Morality In The New Age, 1-26-20


Good morning everyone. It is a pleasure to be here with you today. Since we haven’t met before, I’d like to share a little about myself. I have been in Unity since 1986 … so over 35 years … and in active Unity ministry for 20. And, I have NEVER felt as blessed to be a student of Unity principles as I feel today.

You see, as a native Washingtonian, the state of politics today troubles me deeply. From early childhood, I was taught to thank God every day for the gift of growing up in the land of the free. My father read to us from the front page of the Washington Post every morning and called us to gather around the TV set every evening for Walter Cronkite’s news broadcast. There was never a question about whether or not he was telling us the truth. Trust in him and the inherent goodness of the United States was bedrock.

I tell you this because I want you to understand the urgency behind my message to you this morning. I am not here to judge anyone … I speak only for myself. But today I stand before you with a broken heart. Not just because things are not as they were back then, but because I believe that something precious has been lost and because we patriotic Americans, regardless of political perspective, are suffering from disillusionment, disappointment and confusion. As a result, I’ve spent many an hour praying to understand what has happened to our country.

I often think about the opening scene from Fiddler on the Roof in which Tevye is struggling to keep his balance which playing his violin on the roof of his house. And he says something like … what is it that keeps me from falling? Why, tradition! By which he means the guiding principles of his Jewish faith. Unity principles keep me from losing my balance.

My mentor, E.J. Niles said something very meaningful a few years ago. She said, “these are the times Unity was made for.” I believe she’s right on. If you and I remain diligent about living the principles and thereby growing in consciousness day by day, we can right this ship. As we speak our truth and listen in love, we can help to heal the anger that’s tearing us apart. We in Unity are relatively few … but we are part of the new morality – a huge movement of people dedicated to values like compassion and commitment to the great Truth that we are one with God and each other … that separation is an illusion … and that love is more powerful than fear. So … where do we begin?

Well, when chaos seems to be taking over, isn't it a good idea to go back to basics … to unambiguous principles of ethics and order. Wouldn’t adherence to them calm things down and set us back on track? Wouldn’t life feel a whole lot safer in a society where people had agreed to follow basic ethical guidelines?

So to begin the process of really making America great again, I’m thinking it would be a good idea to review the Ten Commandments … a topic not often talked about in Unity churches. Thinking about those “shalt nots” has a way of causing us to think about sin, and we don't like that much do we?! But it helps to remember Charles Fillmore’s definition of sin: “missing the mark”. We’ve all done that, right?

So, you probably remember the story of how the 10 Commandments came to be. Remember … Moses had freed the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and was leading them across a vast wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. The people had become tired and discouraged … they were moaning and groaning and blaming Moses. Some even said they should have stayed in Egypt … at least they knew where their next meal was coming from. And so, not knowing how to handle this, Moses went up on the mountaintop to talk to God. And God gave him stone tablets on which were written some basic rules of behavior which he could use to govern the people.

So Moses comes down from the mountain carrying the tablets only to find that things had gone from bad to worse. The people have built a huge golden calf and are dancing around it in an orgy of eating, drinking and sex. Without principle-centered leadership, they have reverted to their basest instincts. We know how that could happen, don’t we.

When Moses sees this, he’s enraged and demands that they melt down their "false god of gold”. He shows them the tablets and tells them that these rules have come straight from God, and that they will perish at God's hand if they do not follow them. Well, the people fear God even more than the unknown terrors of the wilderness and so they obey.

These Ten Commandments are known as the Old Law, and they represent a huge leap in consciousness. For the first time, there are clear rules for ethical behavior. To this day, they are a foundation for health of body, mind, soul and spirit … and for the kind of right action that leads to authentic self-esteem and personal power.

So what was on those tablets? Let me refresh your memory:

I am the Lord your God. Do not put false gods before me.

Do not take God’s name in vain.

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.

Honor your father and mother.

Do not kill.

Do not commit adultery.

Do not steal.

Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Do not covet your neighbor's wife.

Do not covet your neighbor's goods.

You'd think that after more than 3,500 years, we would have evolved to a place where we could follow these straightforward rules … but it seems that we still have a long way to go, especially if we take an expanded view of them. So I’ve prepared an insert for your bulletin that describes what an expanded view might look like. My hope is that you’ll be willing to spend a little time this week reflecting on these ideas.

If we are serious about becoming more conscious and committed to being a healing presence for our ailing world, it’s important to begin with self-reflection. Not out of guilt or fear, but out of a desire to grow spiritually strong. I’ll never forget the first time I saw the plaque over Charles Fillmore’s office door that says in bold letters: Know Thyself. I got chills realizing how important this axiom must have been to Fillmore, a brilliant man who had dedicated himself to transforming people’s lives through his speaking, teaching and writing. The message … that his personal transformation had to come first … really landed for this first-year ministerial student.

So, reading over the expanded 10 Commandments, I asked myself: where am I in relation to the Old Law? If I’m off course, what changes do I need to make? Remember, Jesus said, “I have not come to abolish the Law; but to fulfill it.” He wanted the people to understand that the Old Law must not be disregarded, but that obeying the commandments is not enough. Today, we get it … that belief in God and basic ethical behavior are essential entry points onto the spiritual path. They lay the groundwork for the New Law. What’s more, there can be no movement into the New Law until these rules are understood and accepted.

So, what is the New Law? You know it! You shall love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. There is no law greater than this. There IS no greater law than this.

Now … here's a real challenge. A mandate such as this makes a list of clear-cut rules seem rather simple, doesn’t it? Maybe this explains the enduring power of fundamentalist thinking. Beliefs that divide the world into right and wrong, black and white, good people and bad people are pretty comforting … especially if you happen to think of yourself as one of the good people. And salvation through Jesus is a great relief for those who think of themselves as sinners. But this sort of "reductionist" thinking has a very dark side … which has caused an untold amount of pain, grief and violence.

Jesus saves alright … he sure does. But the salvation he offers is this: Love God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind and all you strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. We call this the Christ Consciousness. The need has never been greater for us to plant our feet in this Law, as challenging … as confusing … as paradoxical and ambiguous as it may sometimes seem.

To begin, I think it’s important to understand the word “Love” and the depth of spirituality it points to. To be sure, the love Jesus is talking about has little or nothing to do with the sentimental emotion we usually ascribe to the word. In our humanness, we seem to have a hard time with any concept other than the one we see in movies. We see crimes committed for love, violence perpetrated for love, control called love, fear confused with love, sex called love, permissiveness and dependency called love. It's very confusing and misleading.

Yet, love is so essential to life that human beings since the earliest days of recorded history have struggled to figure it out. Who knows … maybe the ancient people created the white-bearded old man up in heaven and called him God because they so desperately needed a human-like figure they could imagine loving and being loved by. But trying to love this imaginary figure was very confusing too. By projecting human characteristics onto God, they created a mythical figure who could be benevolent one minute and cruel the next. Think about those poor Israelites. They cleaned up their behavior, but only out of fear. They knew that if Father God up in Heaven got angry, all hell would literally break loose. Theirs was a love liberally sprinkled with terror. It's really not difficult to see how loving God could become as dysfunctional and confusing as loving other people.

Yes, it's clear … in the New Age, we need an expanded idea of God and a deeper understanding of love. So, if God is not this humanoid figure created by earthlings – who or what is God?

Unity teaches that God is not an entity at all. Rather, God is Spirit – Life-Force Energy – Source – the ultimate creative power. The language of modern-day quantum physicists, as they explore the nature of consciousness, is very much aligned with these definitions. The word "God" is so loaded with mixed meanings, that they do not use it. Instead they refer to "The Field". The Field of Life-Energy … the Field of Infinite Possibility … The Field of Infinite Abundance.

Imagine God as the ocean. The waters of this ocean are teeming with life – living creatures are constantly being birthed in its fertile substance. This is analogous to The Field … that rich, redolent energy of life that we are all made of and are walking around in.

Unity also teaches that God is Law … meaning that God is constant and unchanging. Returning to our analogy … God can only be the ocean -- only the fertile substance of creation -- and God, by its nature, can only be Love and create Good. This is Law, and it flies in the face of the human-like God figure who loves AND punishes; creates AND destroys; prefers one nation of people over another or one religion over another; that heals some people and not others. God as Law is constant, unchanging goodness … and cannot be anything else. The ramifications of this are huge … the difference between living in fear and anger and living in love and peace.

When the Hebrew Scriptures were written, people believed God was responsible for everything. If the rain fell and the crop was abundant, God did it. If there was drought and the crop failed, God did that too. They interpreted natural consequences and the cycles of nature as God rewarding or punishing them. This concept is the foundation of conditional love, and we are steeped in it. We've learned to love God when things are easy and blame HIM when they are painful … to love people when we approve of their behavior and reject them when we don’t.

It’s a sad thing when people burdened by illness or misfortune think they are being punished by God. But, why wouldn't they think that? Most of us were taught as children to ask God for what we want … and assured that God would always answer our prayers. We were confused and angry when our wishes were not granted … and our needs were not met?

Reminds me of the story of Billy, who had been praying for a new bicycle for several years … with no results. So now his 12th birthday is approaching and he is fed up. What a shock when folks arrive for Mass one Sunday morning to find that the beautiful statue of Mary has disappeared. On the pedestal where she once stood was a note … a ransom note: OK God, this is your last chance. If you ever want to see your mother again, there had better be a red bike in my living room by 9:00 AM on May 5th. Signed: “You know who this is.” For Billy, larceny seemed like an easier solution than a paper route. Lots of folks still think like this.

People have always had a desperate need to understand why bad things happen? The Unity path challenges us to surrender our "why" questions. With God as Source … unchanging Good … unconditional Love ,,, there arises the belief that in the vast cosmic scheme, all things are somehow working together for our greatest good. When this belief is home base, it's pretty easy to exchange the "why" question for a "what now" question … leaving only one thing to consider: how am I going to respond to what has happened? Because, in Unity we’ve learned that how we choose to respond … in thought, word and action … will determine how the situation unfolds … and whether we are diminished or empowered by it.

So, how do we love this Creative Source … this Infinite Goodness we call God? Rocco Errico, the great Aramaic Bible scholar, says that the answer lies in our understanding of love. He says that whether we’re talking about love of God or ourselves or another person, love is openness … trust … and receptivity. It is the very opposite of stubbornness or resistance. Love is recognizing value and cherishing it. The Tao calls Love “innocent good will”.

Openness … trust … receptivity … valuing … innocent good will. God – infinite, unchanging Goodness – is present AND available at every moment. We pray for circumstances to be different … we pray that our problems will go away … when what we REALLY need is a new way of seeing our problems and conditions. What we REALLY need are creative ideas. And these things never stop flowing. What could be more wonderful than this! How truly precious this God is! Loving God is being open and receptive to this unceasing stream of Good. The great theologian Thomas Merton once said, "I may not be able to see God but I can smell God's scent everywhere."

Yes we can … if we're awake. The other day my sister Patty and I were talking about how certain smells trigger fond memories from our childhood. For her it was waking up to the smell of bacon frying. For me it was waking up to the smell of fresh ground coffee percolating. The interesting insight we shared was that the scents we recalled were the ones we experienced at the moment of awakening. The memory of these scents from so long ago was still vivid and alive. Talking about them made us feel warm and connected to each other. In that moment we were aware of the artificiality of time … today is yesterday and yesterday is today.

I believe Thomas Merton's wisdom is that an embodied, visceral love of God begins to take root when we start noticing what’s right in front of us. It grows as we awaken to the beauty and perfection of life itself. It’s about being fully present. Not so easy for those of us whose attention is usually riveted on screens that continually show us the chaos human beings are creating. Some days we walk the razor’s edge between love and anger, doubt and faith, separation and connection, don’t we?!

But Greater Reality always beckons … if we’ll just look up from our problems and our screens. There is no more precious moment than the one in which we awaken to beauty. This awakening can happen in an instant. Like when you're driving home from work … tired after a long day and you glance in your rear view mirror and there … right there … framed in the rear window of your car … is a magnificent sunset. You gasp …how many days has it been right there and I didn't notice? How many more wondrous things am I too preoccupied to see? The scent of God is everywhere in every moment of existence and every person we meet. When we're awake, loving God is as natural … as profound … as essential … as breathing.

Loving God … loving ourselves … loving our neighbor are one and the same thing. Love is a lens to the world that dissolves every disagreement and opens every door. Love and Truth are one and the same thing. We often say that God is Love. But do we also remember that Love is God?

So, do you see the connection between the Old Law and the New Law? The Commandments help us to prepare ourselves to be vessels of the New Law. By steering us toward ethical behavior, they cultivate our sense of worthiness so that we can let go of fear and lay hold of the vast Love that is our birthright … our potential … and the way to abiding peace and prosperity. That sequence is a perfect example of Divine Order in action!

And finally, I’ll close today with a love song to God from the great Sufi poet, Rumi:

Love has taken away all my practices

And filled me with poetry.

I tried to keep quietly repeating,

NO STRENGTH BUT YOURS,

But I couldn’t.

I used to be respectable and chaste and stable,

But who can stand in this strong wind

And remember those things?

A mountain keeps an echo deep inside itself.

That’s how I hold your voice.

Praise is the ocean. My words are but little ships.

Being held by the ocean is the greatest gift there is.

Knowing I am held by the ocean is a total awakening!

Why should we grieve that we’ve been sleeping?

It doesn’t matter how long we’ve been unconscious.

We’re groggy … but let the guilt go.

Feel the motion of tenderness all around you.

Feel the buoyancy of the ocean.



THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

I am the Lord your God. Do not put false gods before me.

False God? Don’t we live in a world where money is God? Are our leaders supposed to be gods? Can they fix everything? Whatever in this world we worship … whatever we see as responsible for our wellbeing or the answer to our problems … whomever we believe will rescue us … this is our god? So we are instructed to call on God as our Source … nothing else and no one else.

Do not take God’s name in vain.

How much atrocity is done in the name of God? How much harm is done through literal interpretation of the Bible? What about the denigration of women? How about the hatred of gay and lesbian people or foreigners or people of other faiths based on the most primitive reading of the scripture?

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.

A beautiful reminder that we are not machines … that we need to set aside time to nurture our minds, bodies and spirits. Through rest and prayer and meditation and nature, we honor ourselves and our Creator.

Honor your father and mother …

Acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of our parents, spiritual masters, gurus, teachers and all those who have nurtured and mentored us. Honoring them is wisdom, humility and gratitude.

Do not kill.

Let’s understand that murder includes things like character assassination, resentment, bullying and gossip. And what about self-criticism and self-hatred? And where does this leave us when it comes to the idea of problem-solving through violence?

Do not commit adultery.

Adultery means betrayal of integrity … failure to hold sacred our promises and commitments. This commandment warns us that not keeping our word can cause harm to others and do damage to our own psyches and souls.

Do not steal.

Stealing includes, not only the taking of another person’s belongings, but also their ideas, reputation, time or peace of mind. Ever cheat on your taxes?

Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.

Bearing false witness means lying or gossiping about another, lying to ourselves or pretending to be someone we’re not. Does anyone really think that lying and in-authenticity do not damage the soul? Think about this right now … at a time when lying is so prevalent that we cannot tell what’s true and are losing our ability to trust anyone. It is a serious breach in the web of life.

Do not covet your neighbor's wife … or goods.

This commandment cautions us about the destructive force of envy … how it erodes relationships and can cause us to neglect the most important things in our lives in order to “keep up with the Joneses”. Jealousy is a deep, insidious form of anger that can eat us up from the inside out.

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