August 27 2023 “Who Is Christ For You?”
Who Is Christ For You?
“Who Is Christ For You?” Rev. Lisa Wiens Heinsohn
There is a woman named Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor whose brother has schizophrenia, and out of her intense desire to understand and help him she became a neuroanatomist. She studied severe mental illnesses and specifically how the brain of a well person and the brain of a person suffering from a severe mental illness act differently. And one morning, at age 37, Jill had a massive stroke, and over the course of four hours, understanding perfectly well what was going on, she watched the entire left hemisphere of her brain shut down. Over those four hours she slowly lost all capacity to speak, walk, read, write or remember anything about her life. She said that she became an infant in an adult body, and it took her eight years to fully recover. She gave a ted talk about this whole experience and has written books about it, and you should listen to the ted talk or read the transcript. It’s amazing.
According to her the left brain thinks sequentially; it organizes, differentiates, analyzes, and makes lists. It thinks in words. The right brain, on the other hand, thinks in pictures, is only right here, right now, and is mainly connected to our senses. It is about energy and wholeness and the connectedness of all things. When this woman’s stroke was complete and she was limited only to her right brain, she said she could not tell where her body was located in space, and so she felt huge, expansive, and couldn’t imagine how she was going to squeeze her vast self back into that little body. She felt utterly euphoric and at peace and connected with everything and everyone. And she has never lost her ability to access the vast connected consciousness of her right brain. She has dedicated her life to helping people experience this consciousness, believing this will help create a more peaceful and compassionate world.
Our right brain knows things that our left brain has to interpret and provide words for. Sometimes when we pray and meditate we become centered in the consciousness of the right brain where we are only right here, right now, and we truly perceive the connectedness of all life and the love of God. And from that place, we can receive guidance and help. Hold all this awareness, please, and try to stay in this place of wonder as I transition to the scriptures for today.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus asks his disciples who everyone is saying that the Son of Man is. The Son of Man was a term used in the apocalyptic branch of their scriptures, and it is the term Jesus most used to describe himself. The Son of humanity. The True Human. Jesus’ disciples answer by sharing who people have said he is. They are orienting him in the lineage and stories of their tradition. He is Elijah. He is one of the prophets. He might even be John the Baptist come back from the dead. But then Jesus asks, who do you say that I am? And Simon Peter answers, you are the Christ, Son of the living God. And Jesus tells him that the Spirit has revealed this to him, his own inner knowing connected with God has revealed this to him. Jesus for Peter is right here, right now, anointed for this time and this place for a purpose.
We are in a beautiful and complicated tradition, this Episcopal branch of the Jesus movement. We have many stories that tell us who Jesus is. But there comes a time when each of us needs to answer for ourselves, who is Jesus, who is the Christ? Who is he for us today, right here and right now? Because of the tremendous baggage and harm done by the church, especially the false idea of believing the church has the only right way, the only way people can have access to God, many people would rather focus on God the Creator or the Holy Spirit, the more universal aspects of our religion, and focus less on Jesus. But he is kind of our guy. So who is he for us? Who is he for you?
Franciscan priest Richard Rohr has written a book called the Universal Christ, and in it he answers the question of who Jesus is—I believe from the perspective of both halves of his brain. He says that the essence of God is to pour Godself out in love and become physical reality. God’s first incarnation was to become the physical universe. God is both hidden and revealed by the natural world. God’s presence in the natural world is what Rohr calls the Christ—the fusion of spiritual and physical. And God’s second incarnation was to become the person of Jesus. He writes:
Christianity has become clannish, to put it mildly. But it need not remain there. The full Christian leap of faith is trusting that Jesus together with Christ have us one human but fully accurate window into the Eternal Now that we call God (John 8:58, Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3, 2 Peter 3:8)….Christ is God, and Jesus is the Christ’s historical manifestation in time.
Jesus was a human being who fully expressed the essence of God, which is love and healing and compassion, and who also showed us what it is to live a truly human life in its fulness. To embody the image of God, the love of God. Many scriptures insist that the Christ, the Logos, the Wisdom of God, pre-existed the person of Jesus, and also transcends Jesus.
For me personally, Christ is the energy of God filling us with infinite compassion, boundless love, and permanent wholeness in which we can never be alone. This is accessible to us at any time. It is what happens when we live from the fulness of left and right brains, grounded in the heart and soul and body. You know that St. John’s has five values, and the first of them is sacredness? Sacredness names that the Christ, the living presence of God, is inherent in all created things. No one religion can own this. This is a nondualistic perception of the universe that all great spiritual traditions express.
And it matters that we perceive this, because if everything is truly connected, we can have peace. We can treat everything and everyone with profound respect and love, even though there is still evil in this world, there is still injustice. But we will be seeking to heal injustice from a much different place than if we are stuck in the feeling of being entirely separate and different from everyone. We can have a moral imagination grounded in the reality of sacredness and union instead of separation.
Who is the Christ for you?
Before I became a priest I became a spiritual director, and I hope you will humor me by accepting my invitation to a short exercise. If you are willing, please close your eyes and get in a comfortable position in your chair. Make sure your feet are grounded. Now become aware of your breath, effortlessly giving you life without you having to think about it. Become aware of your left brain, the part of you that thinks in words and makes judgments and distinctions. Now, seek to become of your right brain, that thinks in pictures and sensations and does not think about the past or the future but only right now. What is happening in this part of you? Let’s spend a little time in quiet, seeking to notice what is happening there. If you need to you can watch the pictures and just let the images flow through you.
Who is Jesus, who is Christ, for you?
I’d like to invite you to turn to your neighbor and, if you’d like, share something of how you understand Jesus or the Christ. If you’d prefer to just listen you can do that too. We’ll have a few minutes to do this.
I’d like to close by reading for you a section from 2 Corinthians:
…Today a veil covers the heart when the words of Moses are read; but in the moment when one turns toward the Spirit, the veil is removed… in any heart where the Spirit of the Lord is present, there is liberty. Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into that same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it. Amen. 2 Corinthians 3:12-18 (selections)
 This story is a distilled version of a ted talk that Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor gave in February 2008, which can be accessed at https://www.ted.com/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_my_stroke_of_insight/transcript?language=en
 Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ (Center for Action and Contemplation, 2019) at 19.