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The Omega Point


Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 19:23-25

New Testament Reading: 1 Corinthians 10:15-17; 15:21-28


Today is World Communion Sunday. Last week Donna asked me if I planned to say anything to point out the fact. World Communion Sunday occurs every so often, but I usually don't mention it. This time I said I would.

What is World Communion Sunday? The practice presupposes that the various denominations have different schedules of observance for Communion. Baptists observe it once a month, some Presbyterians once a quarter, Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox every week. Some Episcopalians have it every other week, alternating with Morning Prayer. But on this day things are synchronized so that we may all partake together on the same Sunday.

The Eucharist is the classic Christian symbol for the oneness of the local body of Christ. Partaking of the one cup, the one loaf, the one Christ, we are made one. And on World Communion Sunday, we are witnessing to the fact of the spiritual unity between ourselves and Christ's flock throughout the world.

I know this much to be true. So much constitutes the official textbook version, I imagine. But what I want to preach on is a wider application of the term "World Communion Sunday" taken as a metaphor, and as a prophecy.

Do you want to know what came to mind when I first thought of preaching on World Communion Sunday as a theological theme? I thought of the process theology of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Unlike most of what goes under the name of Process Theology, the kind some of you may recall Don Morris preaching on some years ago, Teilhard's theology was not based on the thought of Alfred North Whitehead.

Instead it was an outgrowth of the learned Jesuit's attempts to reconcile theological teleology (or some sense of God's purpose in the universe) with biological evolution. Teilhard was a paleontologist. And his books melding science and theology were forbidden by the church to be published until his death. How appropriate: that Teilhard's own books should themselves become fossils disclosed only after his own extinction.

Did you ever see the movie Shoes of the Fisherman? Anthony Quinn plays a Slavic cardinal who becomes Pope. What a fantasy, eh? Anyway, he is surrounded by the old guard of the Curia, but he infuriates them by retaining as his adviser a young Dutch priest-theologian whose works have won him a summons before the Holy office of the Inquisition. He is a thinly-fictionalized version of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.

And what was his heresy? He saw the gradual evolution of life and the emergence of intelligence as part and parcel of a great sweep of salvation history. The first great step was the emergence of what he called the Biosphere on the nascent planet. Next followed the appearance of intelligence, or the Noosphere. Teilhard feltthat the world and everything in it were suffused by a great etheric ocean of intelligence, that there was rudimentary inwardness in even a stone or a mushroom. He was a Panpsychist. There was Buddha nature in a dog.

So there was intelligence everywhere, but the end had not yet come. One day, Teilhard predicted, the goal of planetary evolution would be fulfilled when all consciousness would become linked in a universal, unitive consciousness. This, and not the nightmare fantasies of the Apocalypse, would constitute the Second Coming of the Christ, the Omega Point. The earth would be filled with the knowledge of God as the waters cover the sea.

But this Mother Church, Mommie Dearest, could not abide. This new Galileo of the Spirit was sequestered and silenced, but his ideas leaked out. Was it the truth? Who knows? Is a dream the truth? Or is it perhaps better than the truth? Perhaps it will become the truth if enough of us share the dream. And that may have been just what he was getting at. I hope Teilhard is not forgotten today, when his vision would seem so ideally tailored to modern eco-theology. Is not Teilhard's Cosmic Christ the same as Matthew Fox's? Is Teilhard's interdicted gospel the same as the Gaia Hypothesis, namely that the earth is one single organism and that the human species represents the dawning of consciousness on the part of this vast creature? Full awakening of Gaia would seem to require something like Teilhard's emergent Noosphere.

I imagine that what Teilhard envisioned must be something like the nondualist vision of the blinders falling away, individual consciousnesses collapsing into the great ocean of Satchitananda: Being-Consciousness-Bliss.

If amnesia is the forgetting of the rest of your self that lies back in the past, then perhaps we might say that right now we are victims of a kind of ­lateral­ amnesia: forgetfulness of, obliviousness of the rest of our self that lies right now beyond the thin walls of this ego. And if these wall should fall away? "And God shall be all in all."

That is what the phrase "world communion" triggers in my mind. It is something like the old doctrine of the communion of the saints, something like the notion of the Mystical Body of Christ, again, like the Buddhist vision in which none is saved till all are, and all will be. "Earth shall be fair, and all her people one, nor till that hour shall God's whole will be done."

So World Communion Sunday makes a start toward linking all Christians together in the common bread and cup. But does it stop there? Oh no, definitely not. The unity of Christians, however complete it might one day be, would still be a fragmentary pointer to the greater unity of all peoples, of all faiths. And we dare not qualify that goal by specifying "the unity of all peoples in Christ." As I have said before, it is a false and idolatrous Christianity that is but one more competing sect. A truly universalizing gospel must somehow be more than a single brick in the wall (or in the rubble). It must be mortar that binds all bricks together in a mighty edifice.

I reject as false religion any notion of Christian missionary imperialism, a mission to ride forth upon the world like the horsemen of the apocalypse spreading a gospel that wins its way only by trampling upon the cultures and religions of whole segments of the human race.     

But how else is inter-religious unity to be achieved? How else can the Omega Point be arrived at? Surely differences among religions would form dams keeping the waters of life from mixing. How to break the dams so that all may drink?

We can dismiss the notion of any single religion conquering the others. It can never happen. It would be a bad idea for it to happen. And as Tillich recognized, it would be equally disastrous for all the religions to merge into some type of de-natured, lowest-common-denomination. A religious Esperanto. God forbid that the treasures, the wonders of the many religions should become absorbed into a religious Mulligan stew. May they live forever!

But I see two possibilities before us. Two ways to realize the unity of religions.

The first is what I call a postmodern spirituality of the individual. Schleiermacher once argued that so-called Natural Religion was a chimera, a phantom of the textbooks, an academic abstraction. Deists and Rationalists might prefer it to any of the historic religious communities, any of the so-called Positive religions. But Schleiermacher argued that Natural Religion was merely religion in general. A pale negation. A ghost. One may reinterpret the doctrines of an existing Positive religion, but one has to choose one of them. There is no real religious life outside the specific religions, Schleiermacher held. It is like trying to be married in general, Schleiermacher thought. There is no such thing: one must marry a specific spouse.

This is what George Lindbeck argues in his book The Nature of Doctrine. He calls it post-Liberal theology, but I make him simply a classical Liberal like Schleiermacher. And that is good company to be in.

But I believe that in the present day things have moved on, and though we may pledge grateful allegiance to some particular religious camp, it no longer remains possible for us to be simply married to one of them. Marriage is no longer the apt analogy.  Citizenship is more like it. And may still be a loyal citizen if he appreciates other countries than his own, if he travels among them and brings back souvenirs, whether in the form of manners or opinions.

But one can finally transcend one's identity as a citizen of any particular country and come to feel instead that one is a ­citizen of the world­, even though, the map being what it is, one will inevitably live within the boundaries, upon the soil of some individual nation. And I feel that in the post-modern period many of us must become the religious equivalent of world citizens.

Schleiermacher was wrong--or at least he is not right any more! We can be religious in general! We can no longer live within the constraints of one religion and its theology, its spirituality. We read all scriptures, believe literally none of the myths of any of the religions, of our own or others.

I can envision a congregation of such people. It may fly, for example, the Christian flag, but it is made of religious "world citizens."

We may congregate here about the name and the teachings of Jesus. But that by no means requires us to parrot the same creeds about him or about anything else. Our beliefs will be the richer for the cross-fertilization they receive from the different beliefs of our brothers and sisters.

We may be a church gathered to consider the wisdom and the faith of Jesus of Nazareth, but remember, Jesus is scarcely the property of Christians alone! You know by now, though your forbears did not seem to know it, that God is not the exclusive possession of Christians. Well, neither is Jesus!

Many Jews accept Jesus as a prophet of Israel. All Muslims believe him to be the Messiah and await his second advent. Hindus often regard him as an avatar of God, while Buddhists recognize him as an atoning Bodhisattva. Baha'i's look upon him as a Manifestation of God like their own Baha'ullah. I see no reason why members of any of these religions could not and should not gather as one to hear and heed the words of Jesus. (Of course, nothing would stop them from going to other houses of worship on other holy days, either.)

Can there be such a church, an inter-religious church? Praise God, you are in one right now! At the moment, or in recent years, the membership and the list of regular participants here has included people maintaining their identities as Jews, Roman Catholics as well as Protestants, atheists and agnostics, those at least leaning strongly to Buddhism or Sufism, Jews, Zoroastrians, Baha'i's. It thrills me that we are so international a congregation. I am equally delighted for us to be an inter-religious one as well!

If you are not a Christian, you are nonetheless welcome here. I am not sure that I am a Christian. I am not sure any more what it means to be a Christian.

As to the actual sacrament of Communion, if you do not count yourself a Christian, make of it what you will. Partake or not as you see fit. Just being here is communion with one another. But remember, if communion means nothing else to you, you might participate as a simple gesture of your solidarity with this community of seekers, if that's what you want. A microcosm of the world that might be, the world united in the Omega Point, on this World Communion Sunday.





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