04.17.2022

Transform Me

Sunday, April 17, 2022
Featuring: Rev. Richard Maraj
Final Week of the 6-week Lenten/Easter series, "Space for Grace"

Click HERE to download this transcript.

Click HERE to view Rev. Jimmie Scott's guided meditation during the service.

So this guy is driving on the highway [congregation laughs] and he sees this rabbit jump out. And so he swerves to try and avoid hitting it and, unfortunately, the rabbit got in the way and he hit it. So he got out of it out of concern, and he checks it out, and to his dismay, the rabbit's dead. And he's just bawling his eyes out; he's so heartbroken by this. And while he's crying, a woman's driving along the highway and sees him crying and stops to find out what's going on. And he says, "Well, I feel terrible; I accidentally hit this rabbit and it's dead."

And she says, "Don't worry!" And she goes back to her car, grabs a can, and then sprays the can on the rabbit. It jumps up and starts waving and smiling, and then hops 10 feet away. Turns around, waves and smiles. Ten more feet away, waves and smiles. And it keeps hopping and waving, and hopping and waving and smiling until it's out of sight.

And the man is astounded. He's amazed! It's the most miraculous thing he ever saw! So he turns to the woman, and he said, "What's in that can? What did you spray on that rabbit?"

And the woman turns the can and it reads, "Hare spray. Restores life to dead hare, and adds permanent wave." [Congregation laughs - drummer does "rim shot" drum roll] So, um ... Ha ha! Ha ha! So ...

Whether you like the joke or not, it's hard not to smile [congregation laughs] and feel good about Easter! Isn't it like one of the most beautiful times of the year? Everything: the flowers are blooming; the trees and the grass are so lush and vibrantly alive. There's a freshness to everything, and a new "aliveness" that I think is incredible.

And so the centerpiece of Easter, of course -- besides eggs and chocolates and bunnies -- is the incredible, the inspiring, miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ. Traditionally, the resurrection is seen as the prophecy that was fulfilled of the Messiah. Through his atoning sacrifice of giving his life; that, by the washing away of our sins by his blood, that we would have eternal life.

In Unity, we don't see the resurrection as the future promise or passport to an eternal life. We see it as a demonstration of the indestructible, invincible power of God to overcome everything in life, including death, and as an example and demonstration of the resurrecting power that we have available -- that is alive for us today.

The Episcopal Bishop of Newark, John Shelby Spong, said these words. He said, "The function of the Christ is not to rescue sinners, but to call you and empower you to be more deeply and fully human than you ever realized you had the potential to be. You and I are emerging people, not fallen people. Our problem is not that we were born in sin, but our problem is that we do not know yet how to achieve being fully human. We have not yet fully embraced and embodied our human and our spiritual potential."

Easter is not just a miraculous event; it is a message and a teaching for all of us to fulfill our divine potential. It is a reminder of this incredible power: this overcoming power that dwells in each and every one of us.

You know, when you look at Jesus' ministry, his entire ministry was about some form of resurrection or transformation or improvement or overcoming of something. And, of course, Lazarus: raising Lazarus from the dead, saying, "Rise and come forth," and he did. But it also included the story of the Loaves and Fishes. And that was a resurrection story; out of an experience of lack into an experience of abundance. The story of the Prodigal Son, who squandered his inheritance. And he was lost, and he had his life resurrected, returning back to his father. And his father even said, "My son who was dead is now alive." The story of the hemorrhaging woman -- who was debilitated and suffering for 12 years, touching the hem of Jesus' garment and was instantly healed -- is a resurrecting and overcoming story from illness and disease to health and wholeness.

I'll bet every single one of us has some area in our lives that we would like to transform. Something we want to overcome. I'll bet every one of us wants some area of our life to make a quantum leap from good to great; from just making it to thriving and prospering and succeeding. Just doing okay to doing fabulously well. Just having some love to have a deeper and more fulfilling experience of love.

And the truth is: we have the power to transform, to resurrect and to change those areas into something greater. We have that! Jesus said, "In this life there will be trials and tribulations, but be of good cheer; for I have overcome the world." That I've shown that power of overcoming, resurrecting and rising above.

Jesus also said, "He who believes in me shall to the works that I do and even greater things than these."

So this is to let us know that we have the power to overcome, to change, to transform, and to resurrect areas of our lives that are not feeling as fulfilling and enriching as we would like.

So today we wrap up our six-week Lenten series called "Space for Grace." Looking at those 40 days of prayer and fasting that Jesus did, that Moses did, to prepare themselves to create a greater space for God's grace to move through them to bring forth and do amazing things in them and in our world.

The titles of the previous messages, if you weren't here, were called "Use Me," "Heal Me," "Open Me," "Guide Me." Last week was "Inspire Me." And today we're going to talk about the message, "Transform Me."

Everybody wants to transform their life. I'll bet every single one of us wants to do that. But we don't always want to do the amount of work needed to make it happen. I will tell you that there have been times that I have wished for success more than I've worked for success. [Congregation laughs] I think we all have that! And the thing is: this is the hardest kind of work, because it's spiritual work. It's inner work. It's not fun or easy work.

So I would say that the power of transformation is in us, but it takes courage to do that work and those practices. And there are four not-so-easy practices that requires our courage and our effort to do -- to transform -- that Jesus demonstrated that we're going to look at today to say to God, "Transform me."

And so the first one is, to look back at last week at Palm Sunday, and it's to HAVE THE COURAGE TO STEP INTO YOUR JERUSALEM. You every had something important you had to do, but it was really hard, so you put it off as much as you could? Or avoided it if you could? Anybody ever have that? [Congregation laughs] And you've got something really difficult in your life that you don't want to deal with right now, but you know you've got to deal with it at some point?

Whether it is an uncomfortable conversation; whether it's a tough decision; whether it's an awkward family issue that needs to be addressed; whether it's about not being fully honest with yourself; or having to make an important change in your life. Every one of us -- like Jesus: Jesus had to step into Jerusalem. He knew it was going to be painful! He knew it wasn't going to be great, but he knew it was necessary for him to fulfill and to transform himself and do the work he was here to do.

And I bet every one of us has a "Jerusalem" in our lives right now of something that we know we're supposed to do that isn't going to be easy. Something that is important that will help change us and transform us and bring greater things into our lives, and help us fulfill the work that we are here to do.

Sometimes we want to run and avoid. I heard somebody once say that, "Until you move through it with grace, it'll always show up in your face." [Congregation laughs] Ha ha! That's the spiritual version of, "You can run, but you can't hide!" [Congregation laughs] Ha ha!

So my question is: What in your life that you're avoiding right now do you need to face? What is that tough thing you need to do and is it time to do that you haven't done yet? What "Jerusalem" -- what is that next big spiritual step that you're being called to take that you haven’t been willing or have been procrastinating doing?

Rabindranath Tagore, the great Indian writer, said, "To find God, you must welcome everything." That if you really are committed to your spiritual life and fully fulfilling the purpose you are here for, it's not to run and avoid things. Even when they're challenging, you must be willing to step into it. To learn from it. To move forward through it.

So Step #1 in transforming our lives, resurrecting and overcoming is to be willing to have the courage to step into your Jerusalem. To face that thing you know that is uncomfortable, but vital to your growth.

And the second one is to HAVE THE COURAGE TO DIE TO THE OLD. You know, we love the whole thing of the resurrection. Rising from the dead! We're not as crazy about the crucifixion part. [Congregation laughs] But we like the resurrection. But the truth is: if there wasn't a crucifixion, there wouldn't be a resurrection.

You ever wonder why they call it Good Friday? Okay, I haven't either. But! [Congregation laughs] I'll tell you what the answer is! The word "good" used to include a definition of being pious and holy. So it's actually about how sacred that day was. And that was the day that Jesus died.

Now, spiritually crucifixion means dying to the old to be born to the new. And that principle is in nature in a lot of ways. Like the caterpillar has to die to itself to be born anew as a butterfly. Lizards have to shed their skin or they will die! They have to actually shed and die to that old part of themselves to be born anew and to grow. Same with lobsters; they have to shed their shells so they can grow. Pruning trees: you've got to cut off all the dead stuff to bring more life.

Paramahansa Yogananda says that death is not a punishment; death is not failure; and death is not the end of life. It is a new beginning in the experience of life. he said death is really a releasing and a liberating so we can move forward to a greater awakening and greater experience of life.

When you think of it, dying to the old is a necessary part of transforming our lives and ourselves into something greater. And I'll tell you: the hardest thing for us human beings to "die" to in our lives are limited and rigid beliefs that we often hold, and don't even realize that we're holding them. They're an important part; dying to those is an important part of transformation. That's why Paul said, "Be transformed by the renewing of your mind." That the way to transform our lives is to transform our minds, particularly the limiting beliefs that we have. Remember when Jesus talked about having old new wine in old wineskin? It's the very, very same principle. You've got to die to the old to be born to the new.

I mean, I want you to think about these mindsets that we live out of, and tell me how you think they would affect our lives. If we had the mindset and lived in the belief that, "I'm not good enough," how do you think that would affect how we show up, and how we see and interact in life? Or how about the mindset of, "Life is unfair." How do you think that would affect how we see things and interact, and what we belief about ourselves and others? Or, "I always get hurt." You know, "People always take advantage of me." "You can't trust men." [Congregation laughs] I didn't intend that one to be a joke, but I appreciate it! [Laughs] I'll take laughter any way I can get it!

But anyway ... Or how about this one? "If I tell people I love the truth about how I feel, they won't love me." There are a lot of limiting beliefs we hold on to. I have a friend who, in her 50s, just realized that all her life she's been living out of a mindset that she needs to do everything for her mom's approval. We hold on to beliefs about lack and unworthiness. We hold ourselves in the mindset of shame and regret and fear. And we need to die to those old beliefs to liberate ourselves to move forward to greater things. Because those things ... It might sound simple, but those things affect how we live! And we keep wondering why aren't we progressing? Why am I not having success? Why is my life not getting better? And it's because we are still stuck in those old beliefs.

Remember when the Apostle Paul said, "I die daily”? And he's trying to talk about the same principle; if you don't die to some old past idea, you'll keep reliving it! Ever have the same experience, or the same arguments, or the same financial issues? Or date the same people? I mean, we have all kinds of similar things that just keep repeating. Again, it's because we have not allowed that past to die; to have something else new be born.

Anybody remember the movie, Good Will Hunting? With Matt Damon? And so, like, he is this mathematical genius, but he's working as a janitor. I think it was in a university. And then he got into a fight and got into trouble. And the math guy was trying to help him and sent him to a therapist that was played by Robin Williams. And then it was discovered that he had child abuse, but also the pattern of always pushing women away, and running from relationships.

And then there was a scene about him coming to terms with his abuse, and the limiting beliefs it created. And do you remember when he was holding him and he was saying, "It's not your fault. It's not your fault. It's not your fault." And he starts bawling his eyes out ... because you could see right there: that abuse had him believe that it was his fault. That he didn't deserve happiness. He didn't deserve love. And those old beliefs had him sabotaging his relationships. Sabotaging his present so he couldn't create something new and better. And finally, when he was aware that he had to die to that old belief, he was willing at the end of the movie to go after his girlfriend.

You know, somebody once said that old habits die hard. And it really does take some work. It takes effort to be willing to let go.

So let me ask you this? What is one limiting belief or idea or negative self-image that you have that, if you were to die to it and let it go, that it would open your life to new and greater experiences and joys and possibilities? Greater levels of happiness and love? And would you be willing to go to the place to discover that, to be aware of it, and to let it go and release it? Because it does take courage. It's not easy!

The third step is to HAVE THE COURAGE TO SURRENDER AND TO REST IN THE SILENCE. Something I always found interesting is that Jesus was dead in the tomb for three days. So could you imagine what that would have been like? It would have been quiet and silent. And nobody knows what happened in there, but something happened! Something miraculous happened in the silence in that tomb that brought forth his life; that regenerated him; that had him resurrected.

That, in many ways, you can think about the tomb as the ultimate place of surrender. And it is the full surrendering, and sitting in the silence, that something incredible comes out of it.

Rumi said, "There is a voice that doesn't use words. Listen." There is an intelligence and a wisdom in you that does not speak. But listen!

Remember how Paul was blinded on the road to Damascus? He was an angry, hateful guy? He was blinded, coincidentally, for three days in the dark – in the silence -- and came out of it joyful and positive, preaching the Gospel. And he's considered the person that spread Christianity through the world. There is something that happens when you surrender your will, your attachments, your desires fully to God. And in the quietness and the silence, something miraculous happens if we are willing to go there.

In 1 Kings it says, "After the wind, an earthquake. And after the earthquake, the fire. And after the fire, a sound of sheer silence." And what he's trying to say here is: we're always looking for the big, huge things we think are going to change our lives. But the power to really change your life at depth -- and have lasting, meaningful change -- lies in your ability to connect with sheer silence.

That's why that line Jimmie loves is, "Be still, and know that I am God." There's something about being still and surrendering that can bring greater transformation. That anything we can think and anything we can do on our own. When you look at all holy men, during difficult times what did they do? They didn't run out and start doing stuff! They retreated to a mountain or to a cave or a quiet place, surrendered to God's will, and prayed and meditated.

So my question is: What role does silence play in your life? And how willing would you be to surrender whatever problem, and surrender your will and your life fully to God?

And the thing I'm not ... This is not easy. Surrendering isn't easy. Let me give you the most powerful example I can. When Jesus was up on the cross, they said that his last seven words ... They weren't words, they were statements. And here is what they were.

The first one was, "My God! My God! Why has Thou forsaken me?”

The third one was, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."

The last one was, "Into Thy hands I commit my spirit."

Can you see the progression of surrendering? "My God! My God! Why has Thou forsaken me?" is probably not the best example of surrender. [Congregation laughs] But it was purposely there, and that process, to show that fully surrendering your life -- and letting everything go to God -- isn't easy. It takes time. It takes willingness. It takes practice and intention. But the difference it could make ... The transformation it can make ... Just like what happened in that tomb: something could resurrect in us when we fully surrender. And God can do amazing things if we are willing to have the courage to surrender, to let go, and to trust and listen into the silence.

The final thing I want to talk about with transformation is HAVING THE COURAGE TO RISE AND COME FORTH. I always found that really impressive how Jesus just said to Lazarus ... Lazarus was dead, and he says [loud and confidently], "Lazarus, rise and come forth." And he did! And the reason he said that is because Jesus knew there was more life in him. Jesus knew there was more that he needed to be done. Jesus knew there was more greatness in him, and more love and things he was supposed to contribute, and a difference he was supposed to make. He said, "Rise and come forth!" He was calling forth the life that was still in him, and the talent and the greatness in him.

And I would suggest that, in every one of us, there is still a better version of ourselves than we have allowed to come forth. That there's still more life in us; more light in us; more talent and goodness. And something waiting for us to say, "Rise and come forth!" Something in us that is actually saying to let it rise and come forth.

And maybe that better version of ourselves is a kinder, gentler version. Maybe it's a more patient; maybe it's a more positive and more optimistic version. Maybe it's a more spiritually centered one; maybe it's a more confident one. I don't know what it is, but I know there's a better version of all of ourselves than we have allowed to come forth.

In 2 Timothy it says, "God did not give you a spirit of fear and timidity, but a spirit of power, love and self-discipline." And it's saying that, no matter what conditions or circumstances you find your life in, you have the spirit and power in you. The question is: Are you willing to let the best in you come forth, and let it rise and be fully expressed in your life?

Two days ago, they celebrated the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson being the first black player in Major League Baseball. In 1947 there were segregation laws; he couldn't stay with his team. There were all kinds of racial slurs and insults, not only from the opposing fans, but from the Brooklyn Dodger fans. Even some of his own players were cold to him. But he allowed the best in him to rise. To not just play good baseball ... which he did. But to hold his head up with integrity, and to keep going, even in the face of that adversity. Seventy-five years later, still considered a hero. Still considered a role model, because he allowed -- in difficult circumstances -- the very best in himself to rise and come forth.

 

I shared that my brother, Derek, passed away from pancreatic cancer, and I just got back from doing his funeral. And he was close. We're 10 kids; he's number one, I'm number eight. Youngest boy. And the guy was my brother, my parent, my friend. He was huge in my life. But at the funeral service, I've got to tell you: he's even better than I thought! All these people -- friends of 50 years; some guy he rented an apartment and said, over time, Derek became his best friend; my nieces and nephews saying how he got them through tough times. You know, sometimes you don't realize the impact we have -- people have on us -- and we have on them.

But the thing that impressed me the most was: the last year of his life was probably the worst year of his life easily. And even in that, he expressed such joy. He never complained about his pain. He was still always reaching out. I mean, he'd just found out he had a third tumor growing -- got that bad news -- and he says, "So, how are you doing?" [Congregation laughs] "What goals are you working on? What could I help you fulfill?" I mean, this guy was amazing. And even in that difficult circumstance -- the worst year of his life, a tough experience -- he let the very best in him rise and come forth.

And I'll tell you, in some ways, some of the best memories we had. I think I love him and admire him more because of the way he showed up in that last year.

You know, whatever circumstances we're going through in our own lives, there is something in us calling us to let the best of ourselves rise and come forth. And it happens in all different ways! Thomas Edison let the best of him rise and come forth when he failed 1,500 times while discovering the filament for the electrical light bulb. Mother Teresa let the very best of herself come forth in Calcutta when she was serving the poor. Elon Musk let the best of himself ... you know, he's an entrepreneur and, I mean, creative ideas all the time. Lady Gaga!

I could give you all kinds of examples, but the most important example is you! In your life, are you letting the best in yourself rise up to fulfill your goals and dreams? Are you letting the very best of yourself rise up to maybe forgive somebody that has betrayed you or hurt you, and to let go of the past? Are you willing to let the best of you rise up? To be the best friend or partner? Or to be more optimistic? Or the best rise in you so you take care of your health and your body?

I mean, whatever it is, I know that there is something in all of us calling us to rise up to a higher level, and to bring forth the very best in ourselves.

You know, Easter is a miraculous, fabulous, incredible experience. But it's also a great and tremendous reminder of the spiritual capacity that is in us, that is sometimes untapped. That the power to overcome; to resurrect; to create; and to live at our highest and best is in us! But we must be willing to step into our Jerusalem; that we must be willing to have the courage to die to the old; the courage to surrender; and the courage to rise and come forth. When we do that, we will create a greater space for God's grace. We will rise up; we will transform; and we will truly have a great and amazing personal Easter experience.

God bless you, everybody, and happy Easter to you!

[Congregation applauds]

Copyright 2022 Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center/Rev. Richard Maraj

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Unity of Phoenix Spiritual Center

1500 E Greenway Pkwy
Phoenix, AZ 85022
Phone: (602) 978-3200

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