When you Fall, God Catches You
A Sermon Integrating the Yoga Tradition at St. Leonard’s Anglican Church, Denmark, Australia, 3 May, 2015
To listen to the sermon. please download from this Link: 01 Track 1
This week’s reading from John gives us agricultural metaphors familiar to the people of the time and place of the gospel writing.
Commitment to the spirit of Jesus is framed in terms of pruning.
We are told that God is like a gardener. If a worshipper does not “remain” in Jesus, s/he is like a branch that God cuts from the tree and burns.
So we have the theme of pruning and the theme of faithfulness and the theme of constancy—just as a branch constantly draws sap from a tree, we are encouraged to exercise fidelity so as to remain fruitful and productive.
We are told we can’t bear fruit unless we stay “in” Jesus.
Of course, we are “bearing fruit” all the time. Paul has said, “The reaping and sowing are one.”
That is to say, the fruit we bear will also be the fruit that returns to us—as the Indian Law of Karma tells us. Jesus framed the karma of teachers and preachers when he said, “By their fruit, ye shall know them”–saying the character of a spiritual guide is revealed by the quality of his follower’s acts.
Part of our good activity as Christians is to reflect well on Christ. We uphold the standards of Christianity when we act in the spirit of Jesus.
Doing this, the fruit of our actions will be good. In 2nd Samuel, 7:26, we read, “your name will be magnified.” If we stay connected to the true vine, we will glorify both our name and that of The Good Shepherd.
As many of you know, I’m a yoga teacher. I’m a strong student of the Hindu traditions, but I’m a hybrid, too: I took Masters degrees in both Hindu and Christian studies at different points and my parents were both Methodist ministers. I see Hinduism through Christian eyes and Christianity through Hindu eyes
Both help me understand the other.
In the modern yoga tradition, there is a modest and famous teacher who lived to be a hundred, dying in 1989; His name was Krishnamacharya.
Today, he is globally known, but in his lifetime, he was only reputable in India, and other teachers of his era were much better known.
In the time of Jesus, too, there were many great teachers, messianic figures, and miracle workers. We have a story of one of these in Mark 9:38 where the disciples report on an unknown miracle-maker casting out devils, and in the apocryphal Maccabees books, we have messianic warrior brothers who appear in Israel in the century before Jesus was born.
But I mention Krishnamacharya as one among many because, like Jesus, it was his followers who made his greatness known. Krishnamacharya’s important disciples changed world yoga and “glorified” his name. Out of the broad mix of influential teachers of his era, most were forgotten and Krishnamacharya is remembered—because his fruit was good. He had many disciples, and those who stayed loyal to him in an exclusive way became extremely great.
Christ is saying the same to us. “Remain loyal to me.” Do not forsake him as did Peter in the immediate aftermath of the crucifixion, as told in Mark 14. Draw power from him and trust that you can do great things in his name. This is how we magnify Jesus’ name, how we glorify the vine that we are a branch of.
History tells us about the Age of Discovery when French, British, Portuguese, Spanish, Italian and Dutch explorers knit the world together through their travels—including, in that time, exploring Australia. In those days, the mariner Vasco da Gama landed in Cochin, in Southern India. There, he found Indigenous Christians who were branches of the vine of Thomas, he of doubting fame who we heard about in church a few weeks ago.
Thomas is a favorite of mine because he shared a deeply mystical understanding of Christ—much like Hinduism and John’s gospel–the book our sermon comes from this week. In the year 52, Thomas traveled to India to become its first Christian “guru.” He founded churches there, and its branches were discovered in 1502 by Da Gama—they were not known to Europeans before then.
The apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, part of the Nag Hamadi discoveries of 1945, has a powerful mystical quote from Jesus. He says, “I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Upturn a stone, and you will find me there.”
Jesus is identifying himself with the force behind all life in this quote. He is the source of all “fruit” and all wealth. As John 15 1 – 8 says, we will supply spiritual “fruit” to the world if we, “remain in him.”
In the book of Thomas, he says he’s already in us. We might say Jesus is our very atomic structure. He is the substance of our being.
In India, Thomas’s church grew up side by side with the emerging worship of an elephant-headed god of wealth, called Ganesh.
Our Christianity is a devotional religion, as is the cult of Ganesha.
As Ganesh’s myth evolved in India, he, too, was seen as rooted in the very structure of reality. He was identified with the Earth element that supports everything in manifestation. To acknowledge him is to remove life’s obstacles and bring life’s fruit to you. The same thing is being promised by Jesus in John’s passage.
I think we all feel a holy presence in our bodies and in our lives–as if the vibrancy we associate with Jesus is singing in us. All the technologies of yoga and Christianity help us feel this more: chant, prayer, yoga poses, hymns, taking in a sermon. These things make us feel sacredness and aliveness more—and with regular devotion and practice—we can be animated by this most of the time.
Christ tells us he is the very spirit of life and therefore is the ground of all being. The Christian religion and the Jewish religion from which it sprang are very much religions of history, and it is perhaps in our own personal histories where we find the presence of Being and Christ most measured.
In yoga, we have this concept of “edge”—the midway place the body goes to, to find its capacity to grow. The edge is that place of presence—not pushing past fear, and not retreating from fear, but staying right in the place where our fear—and everything else we feel—is transforming into joy and courage.
It is from trusting this that we may leap into Gods arms and let him catch us.
Here, in this midway week between Easter and Pentecost, I challenge you to spend some time looking at your edge.
Where is that place where you can go adventuring, trusting that you will bear fruit, freeing yourself from fears of the future? Where is your conscience urging you to go where you will surrender something of your old self and habits, and enter into a new age of discovery through understanding your own history?
Part of your branching story is foreshadowed in the reading from John today—we are promised good things if we let our relationship to the divine grow.
The gospel forms part of its message as a negative: we will not be cut off from Christ and “burned” if we trust in him—if we reach back to him for inspiration. “Split a piece of wood, I am there. Upturn a stone, and you will find me there.” God is found everywhere, but most nakedly and vibrantly God is found in risk—in risking for what is best.
I challenge you to look at your lives this week. Just as Ganesh is known as the Remover of Obstacles, allow this message from John to assure us that if we remain “in” the spirit behind all life in anything we do, obstacles will be overcome, and we will prosper.
Is there a dream you have let die on the vine? Is there an undertaking you have ignored? Have you become your own worst obstacle in preventing yourself from learning or experiencing something? Is there a leap to be taken in which you fear you will not be caught?
This week’s gospel reading assures us that God will catch us if we listen to destiny’s call—be it a still, small voice, or a thunderous one—like a storming ocean.
Go ahead! Act in the name of the highest, act in the name of the unnamable spirit which is the sap of all things; act in that spirit that calls itself Jehovah or Christ or Ganesh, that calls us to a new edge, to a new and maybe risky chapter in the history of our lives.
Fulfilling what you were put on this earth to do, is a link to the true vine, for in our deepest self, we are Christ, too. We are waiting to be born as our Greatest, to make our life a worthwhile story. Like Vasco Da Gama, who found the courage to be the first European to sail to India, we have challenges awaiting us that will expose our greatness—we can swing from the true vine into the Promised Land.
Here in our little town of Denmark, we are near the sea. As it did for Vasco Da Gama, our ocean promises gifts from the unknown.
In today’s reading, Jesus says, “ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.”
He is telling us to dive into the sea of our highest potential, to ask for whatever we want from life, to trust that we can “bear much fruit.”
Trust your spirit and leap.
God will catch you.