The Omega Point
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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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