Excerpts from messages being presented at area places of worship this weekend.
Nonin Chowaney, Nebraska Zen Center, Heartland Temple
Compassion is deep empathy for another being’s suffering and misfortune. When fully realized, it is accompanied by a desire to alleviate the suffering, or remove its cause.
Wisdom is deep understanding. When fully realized, the true nature of the universe and of human life is fully understood.
Wisdom and compassion are both essential to realizing the Buddha-way. Without one or the other, the way is only half-realized, and we who practice it are not yet complete.
Wisdom without compassion is cold and unfeeling. Compassion without wisdom is directionless pity.
Wisdom with compassion manifests as understanding the causes of suffering, deeply feeling our own and another’s pain, and knowing what to do about both.
Wisdom and compassion come together like our right and left hands when we put them together palm-to-palm in the Oriental gesture of respect and devotion called gassho in Japanese. The right hand is wisdom, the left, compassion. When they come together, they make Buddha, the completely realized awakened one.
Arising together, wisdom and compassion make buddhas; when they fall away, buddhas become ordinary beings. This is an endless process, one realized only through practice, for, in the words of Zen Master Dogen, “Practice and realization are one and the same.”
Dr. Arnold Peterson, Calvary Baptist Church, Glenwood, Iowa
Society seems increasingly characterized by anger. People are angry about personal problems, broken relationships, economic and employment losses, and changes in society which offend our values whether we are conservative or liberal. Anger comes from frustration that we cannot stop bad things or promote good things.
In Matthew 5:21-26 Jesus says that murder is wrong and will be judged, but if we are angry with our brother, we will also be judged. If we call a brother (neighbor, colleague or acquaintance) a fool or some other word of contempt, WE WILL BE in danger of judgment. If we are in worship and remember a broken relationship, we must resolve that before we can worship God sincerely. Solving anger issues is a higher priority than worshipping God! We must act quickly because if we insist on “getting our way,” we will wind up losing, broke, and more frustrated than when we started. What dominates our day? Is it anger? Or is it God’s love? It is our choice.
Barry L. Vennard, senior minister, Unity Church of Omaha
Thank God for My Story
The story of the Bible says we are unique creations of God. The story of science indicates that modern human beings are recently emerged life forms able to learn, tell and consciously participate in a 13.7 billion-year ongoing story of evolution. Is there a reality and a story in which both can be true?
In recent years, science has been revealing a universal story of emerging cosmological, geological, biological and cultural evolution. It’s a story that can seem at odds with the stories of many religions. Yet the fullness of the universal evolutionary story is truly awe inspiring in its scope, its magnificence and its mystery.
Many scientists and others are also discovering deep time mysterious aspects of the universal evolutionary story that can be compatible with mystically inspired stories and myths of religion.
For instance: The creation story in the Bible states that humans are made in the image and likeness of God — Genesis 1:22. That story could be interpreted as an allegorical representation of the emergence of the consciously creative human mind that acts upon and alters current circumstances in a creative and evolutionary manner.
That Bible story also says we are made of dust breathed into life by God (Genesis 2:7). Science reveals that we are literally made of stardust; of carbon and other atoms formed in the gravitational collapse of giant stars and spread throughout the universe through their supernova explosions. On Earth, this stardust has literally come to life! We humans are stardust that has recently started breathing; is awakened, curious and consciously evolving evolution itself!
In the Gospel stories, Jesus’ teachings focus on the coming Kingdom of God/Heaven. In Unity we believe that when the human mind is aware, awake and consciously connected with the ultimate reality of love and the oneness of all existence, it can create the coming Kingdom of Heaven/God that Jesus taught about. Could the next step in evolution occur when human self-interest and the interest of the planet are wisely and compassionately joined in the awakened human mind?
The good news is that it is present within us today — here and now. As we, individually and collectively, awaken to and are transformed by the indwelling presence of God, we discover our greatness. We are inspired to join with the greatness of others to create meaningful, satisfying and joy-filled lives today.
Despite appearances and human history, it is possible for awakened humans to create a world that works for all. Big history demonstrates how evolution delights in doing unprecedented stuff! Thank God.
The Rev. John P. Schlegel, St. John Catholic Church, Omaha
Challenges of Discipleship
Today’s Gospel may be more instructive than one might think on first hearing it. I suspect on closer dissection it is more autobiographical than most of you will admit.
The opening line of this passage begins a 10-chapter journey by Jesus and His disciples to Jerusalem, and Luke states boldly that Jesus was resolutely determined to make this journey. So it was an important journey: to meet His fate in Jerusalem.
No sooner does the journey begin than serious opposition is encountered. The Samaritans rejected Jesus’ attempt to enter their village because they knew He was going to Jerusalem. The animosity between these two groups was harsh and explosive, not unlike Israelis and Palestinians today.
The disciples wanted to call down destruction on the Samaritans; Jesus instead urged them to peaceably journey on to another village.
This begs a question for us as followers of Jesus: Who are the Samaritans, the “other,” in your life? — immigrants, people of color, unions, Republicans or Democrats, tea party folks or members of one’s own family or in our work place?
Do we/you handle these “Samaritan encounters” with the reasonable peacefulness of Jesus or the vindictiveness of the disciples? This could be the question of the day!
But the Gospel gets even tougher: Jesus encounters three potential followers who appear initially to be enthusiastic about joining him but cannot do so immediately. But each encounter is left open-ended; we are not told the fate of these potential followers.
The first person approaches Jesus expressing a desire to follow Jesus “anywhere,” sensing that following Jesus requires wholehearted dedication to Him. Jesus responds that His is an itinerant mission that demands mobility to go where needed and a letting go of physical possessions — even a bed!
In the second encounter, Jesus initiates the call to follow. Like Elisha in the first reading, the potential follower wants first to take care of family obligations to his parents. Jesus says no and invites him to embrace a larger family obligation: to extend his concern for life to all of God’s family as His kin and to proclaim well-being for all in God’s reign.
The third would-be follower expresses the same desire as the first — Yes, I will come, but first let me say goodbye to my family. Jesus warns that any who come with Him will not be able to return to what was before. They are forever changed.
So this is our dilemma: Where do we/you fall in this call to discipleship? What excuses do we/you use to avoid the responsibility to be a follower of the Lord on a daily basis?
That is a harsh question, but the times are harsh and demand it; and our possible misunderstanding of discipleship also demands it.
The call to discipleship has never been more serious or more needed. The call to follow Jesus is demanding and serious, and those who accept it must be willing to move ahead without looking back.