Path of Descent

Path of Descent

Mark 10:35-45; Philippians 2:5-11

 We live in a universe that teaches us that the more things move out and away from their source, the weaker they become, and that the way to get strength back is somehow to go backwards. Our Christian faith kind of disagrees with that!

Cynthia Bourgeault[i]  speaks about the particular law of physics[ii] that describes how, as sound or light waves move away from their source, they lose intensity/ energy/frequency and become ‘less’ somehow… certainly less than what they were at their source… And so, it follows that it’s only by somehow being able to stop that outward flow and to reverse course, to ‘ascend’ – go back upwards like a salmon choosing to swim back up against the downward current – that things may once again return to their initial strength and purity. But, as I said, that’s not the Christian way.

As we believe we are created in the high image of God, and ever evolving outwards and downwards from that, becoming ever more enmeshed in the physicality of all that’s unfolding in creation, so we may be tempted to believe that we too are eroding, somehow becoming less Godly, more corrupted… And that the only way for us to get back to what we once were is for us to go backwards… to ASCEND, rather than to continue to DESCEND!

And so, we tend to want to re-make the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be all about our spiritually ASCENDING back up to where God is, away from where we are down here with all this grubby physicality… But that isn’t what Jesus did and nor is it what he still does! It’s just the opposite! Jesus – the Christ – takes all this physicality very seriously indeed! So seriously that he comes to fill it with his very own poured-out Christ-presence! His teaching is always and only ever the way off the cross which is very much about Christ’s coming down here to wherever we are. It has virtually nothing to do with our needing to force our way backwards to get back to God. It’s about our recognition of coming down/ falling into God’s grace…

And that’s kind of our reading for today!

May our spirituality never be like James and John, our wanting to be getting anything that looks like self-promotion/ self-aggrandizement. May it instead always be about sensitizing/ transforming us to be able to see & to appreciate & to include everything and everyone where we are in what we are increasingly coming to see as God’s all-embracing Christ-soaked presence. Once our spirituality becomes about our needing to be perfected rather than about moving us toward and into values that come to embrace/ revere/ support the whole, we’ve kind of lost it! The challenge is that we tend not to want to do that – instead, we want to hold on to what we think is power – OUR power…as opposed to Paul’s reference to Jesus ‘not holding on to power’  – His power actually being all about poured-out-love!

But we all so easily DO want to turn our Christian growth into an upwards thing. I think we can all relate to James & John’s pretty arrogant request asking to have some special upward status as Christ-followers. ‘the more faithful we are, the more honour and power we believe we deserve, the more we think we get to be in control’.

But it’s not upwards! It’s downwards. How we all need to be put back in touch with the Christ-like embracing of powerlessness that allows us to be out of control.

How about this for a fine piece of truth: it’s only our mutual realization of powerlessness that draws us closer together. Any truest sense of sacred community happens only as we come to realize Christ’s presence with us in how much we need one another. It’s the all-powerful businessman who needs nothing or nobody, who may find himself in a broken marriage and facing a rapidly developing drinking problem, who is now being accepted and loved by a community who just keeps arriving at his door with homemade casseroles and other demonstrations of their care, that for the FIRST TIME ever begins to know Christ’s presence and God’s love… in his vulnerability…

But we are very good at developing ways of avoiding that: holding on to what we see as power.

What would you say are some warning signs we should be aware of, signs that we are trying to go up and backwards instead of to where we know the risen Christ always is – down here, right with us, where we are!

I’m grateful to a podcast entitled ‘Another name for Everything’ which describes the 6th theme of Richard Rohr’s Alternative Orthodoxy as being ‘the Path of Descent’.

One of the most subtle ways of our trying unhelpfully to hold on to power is by our holding onto unforgiveness. All held-on unforgiveness is a power game – it’s about our clawing our way back up onto our perception of higher ground. It’s about us keeping quite separate up on our high ground as the moral superior of the offending party: ‘I was hurt by you/or them and so no, I won’t go down where you are by turning the other cheek…’

Another way of trying to stay above it all is by being falsely self-righteous. Any stance of moral superiority, they say, is a trap. What a relief to know that we don’t have to pretend to be any better or holier than we are…. We can give it up and become real.

It was St Therese of Lisieux who in her ‘Little Way’ described how we approach God not by trying impossibly to stretch back upwards toward some neverland ideal of perfection, but by embracing all this where we are: it’s by our noticing/ embracing /admitting/ and then honestly bearing our littleness, with contentment. She said it so beautifully: ‘Whoever is willing serenely to bear the trial of being displeasing to herself (sic) that person will be a pleasant place of shelter for Jesus’.

Richard Rohr tells of his time as a leader of a fledgling but rapidly growing intentional faith community in the early 1970s called ‘The New Jerusalem’.  As this group of young, bright-eyed visionaries, they were brainstorming their values toward building a vision statement, when one of them, named John, came up with the following deeply sobering piece of ordinary wisdom: ‘May we never want nor need to be too important’

Isn’t that something of what Jesus meant in the Beatitude: Blessed are the POOR in Spirit…

But we don’t like that. Instead, how we love to have our opinions. Why do some of us – so often people just like me – always need to feel so compelled to speak up? Why do we need to feel important? Powerful? In control? Why do we find it so difficult to just let go…?

Have you noticed how increasingly, it seems that there truly is not enough silence, and far too much conviction! We see it on TV talk shows, news channels… we see it in our communities, our families…

It was the poet Yeats[iii] who wrote in 1919 after WW1 that ‘the best lack conviction while the worst are always full of passionate intensity’. OMG, isn’t that just awful? True, but awful!

As I said, I can so identify!

Truly, we would probably all do very well to hold our own opinions a little more lightly than we do. Certainly, we don’t always have to be heard. We don’t always need to feel important – and we don’t always have to be right, or in control.

We don’t become any holier by puffing ourselves up!

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who,
though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,

taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form, he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death — even death on a cross.

The call to James and John and to each of us is to go there – actually, but without becoming all negatively morose about it, to go there with the absolute hope that THAT is how God’s poured-out love works it’s way out in creation – it’s how Christ is revealed…

How are you still missing the reality of Christ with you ANYWHERE and EVERYWHERE you are, as you insist on reaching back up to some spiritual reality outside and above your context to find him?

To what extent are you encountering the poured-out love of God in your life?

And touched by that awesome awareness, how are you living as a channel of God’s poured-out-for-all peace: in your home/ work/ community…?

May we all come to be so blessed with poured-out humility to know that Christ-reality where we are, and may our knowing and living it come to make the risen always and everywhere-present Christ all around us, smile…


Rev. Robin Jacobson reserves all rights © 2021.
You are welcome to use, copy, edit or reproduce this sermon summary with copyright attached. Publication is prohibited. 

[i] ‘The San Andreas Fault in the Country of the Heart’, Onening, An Alternative Theology, Vol 1, No.1, 9Pgs 74ff

[ii] ‘Cosmological Redshift’ as things move to the red end of the energy spectrum, also known as ‘Doppler Effect’.

[iii] The Second Coming, written in 1919