God In Us: The Mystical Experience – Part Six of a six-part series
Text: Luke 4: 14-21
14 Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee, and a report about him spread through all the surrounding country. 15 He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. 16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written:
18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
20 And he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant, and sat down. The eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. 21 Then he began to say to them, “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
There are a couple of things I want to point out about this scripture before we really dive into the mystical experience wrap-up that I have planned for today. The first thing I would like to mention is that this event follows the time that Jesus had just spent in the wilderness; so if you want to believe the sequence here, we can assume that Jesus had a few mystical encounters in the wilderness and then the text says he returned “full of the power of the spirit”. I especially like the description of the Spirit as power; because power is energy and energy is power. More about that later.
The other thing I find interesting about this text is that after returning from some mystical experiences in the desert, Jesus seems to know exactly who he is and what his calling to ministry looks like. He has zero doubt about that; he has a confidence that actually astounded those present in the temple when he read from Isaiah. In other words, he had a tremendous level of self-definition and a depth of understanding about who he was and what his place in the world is to be.
I would like to suggest to you that these two observations we can make about this scripture are a product of the mystical experiences Jesus had in the wilderness just prior to this event. We can draw the conclusion that perhaps mystical experiences grant us the power of the Spirit and they also grant us great insight about ourselves, who we really are and what we are called to do.
That being said, my primary goal for today is to offer you a roadmap of sorts that may lead you to the mystical experiences we all seek and we all cherish when they happen. For five weeks I have been telling you about some of my own personal experiences and offering tidbits of insight along the way. Today, I want to wrap everything together into a nice neat package so you can begin to seek your own experiences in your own way.
The best way I know to do this is to review where we have been and remind you of what we have talked about over the past few weeks. I began with an observation from what might be considered an unlikely source; Oral Roberts University. But the logo of that university spells out that humans have three parts we need to pay attention to and try to develop the best way we can. Those three parts are the mind, the body and the spirit. If you remember I said that we can train our bodies and we will get stronger, we can train our minds and we will become smarter, so isn’t it logical that we can also train our spirits? I think it is possible and very logical. So I offer the first in a list of ways you can become spiritual and encounter the mystical experience for yourself. Number one is to recognize the power of preparation and practice; in other words, train your spirits.
The second week of this series I told you about an experience I had while creating this photograph of 11-mile canyon in the morning. Things did not begin well for me that morning, I got snowed on, I wasn’t sure there would be any sun, I almost turned back twice, but I went on. I would suggest to you that the power of intention plays a role is our success of encountering the Divine. What we intend to have happen, often does. So number two on my list is the power of intention.
The third week we explored a couple of contrasting experiences I have had; one very positive experience in Lower Antelope Canyon, and an almost opposite but equally as moving experience while touring Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam. I explained a little about thought and emotions as energy, and how sometimes that energy remains in a place long after the people who had the thoughts and emotions have left. That collective energy can be felt and observed by those who pay attention. This is the power of place. This church and this sanctuary also benefit from the power of place. Many people who meditate, do so in their homes, and they create a special place to do that. So the third point in your roadmap to spirituality is simply the power of place.
In our fourth week of this series I told a story about growing up in Iowa and how something as simple as going to McDonald’s for lunch had become a significant and meaningful memory for me. So significant that it also began to take on mystical qualities, if you remember I talked about the 50-cent limit and all the things the family shared as we dined in fine style at McDonald’s. The point of that story was to call attention to the power of tradition and ritual; the way that sometimes when we participate in or remember something ancient, it brings us closer to the Divine in ways that we can’t always identify. Communion is such a ritual and we celebrated the Sacrament of Communion following that sermon. So the fourth point in your roadmap is simply to remember the power of ritual and tradition.
Week five, which was just last week, found us talking a little bit about meditation. I mentioned that I thought meditation was a bit of a lost art form, and as Christians, particularly here in the US, we have forgotten about the importance of meditation and all the benefits that can come from this spiritual discipline. We experienced a little guided meditation by focusing on our breathing and I hope you have been experimenting some in this last week. This brings me to the fifth and final point on your roadmap, and that is the power of the mind.
These five powers can bring you to the spiritual encounters you desire. These five powers are all within your reach and can all be brought forth and pursued in a variety of ways. These five powers can equip you to strengthen your spiritual bond with the Divine and to experience the mystical encounters with God we seek.
Not every experience requires all five elements. But if you can find a way to combine two or three of these elements into a particular experience, then your chances of having something wonderful, I believe, go way up. I approach every worship service with these things in mind.
For example, I begin with the intention that it will be a great worship service. There is a lot of preparation and practice that is evident; the choir has rehearsed, the musicians have rehearsed, I have prepared a sermon that I can deliver without notes-all of these things are done to improve our experience of the worship service. Then we begin to introduce other elements, like the power of place-we hold the service in a special place. We utilize the power of ritual and tradition. We also ask for moments of silence and prayer so we can begin to use the power of our minds as well. You see, each and every Sunday, we incorporate these elements in hopes that you might encounter the Divine at some point during our service. And often, I’m told, we are successful.
But you can too. That is the point; you can create your own experiences in your own way. There are things and places that are special to you that can be utilized in the creation of your own personal mystical experience. Consider the five powers of preparation, place, intention, tradition and mind; as you do may the mystical encounters of the Divine be within your reach.
Food for thought. Amen.