Christ, the Light of the World

May you experience the presence of Christ, the Light of the World, everywhere, in everyone, so that hope will abound in your life and the world you live in. There is no corner of the planet where Christ is not. And may you share the light of Christ that is within you with everyone you meet, wherever you are, everyday.

Wilfredo Juan Baez

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Born to Perfection

Born to Perfection

John 3:1-17
Genesis 4:1-4a

Wilfredo Baez, Ph.D.

Perhaps John Wesley’s most important teaching is his doctrine of Christian Perfection.  It is also one of his most misunderstood teachings.

When any clergy member of the UMC is ordained they are asked if they intend to go on to perfection in this lifetime.  The correct answer to the question is “I do” or “Yes. “ And everyone hedges and adds the statement “with God’s help.”  Then everyone laughs.

Interestingly, this question was not posed originally to clergy but to lay members of the church in their class meetings.

So are you going on to perfection in love in your lifetime?

Most people respond “Are you kidding.  Of course not.  Nobody is perfect.  Why are you asking such a silly question?”

But Wesley’s question does not presuppose that someone is going to be sinless his/her whole life long.  Rather Wesley is asking a motivational question.  He is asking a question about intention.  Do you intend to go on to perfection in love in this lifetime?  Are you committed to going on to perfection in love in this lifetime?

Jesus charged his disciple, “Be perfect as God is perfect.”

In order to succeed in fulfilling this commandment it is necessary to believe that you can accomplish it.  If you don’t believe that you can, you can’t.  And in order to believe that this is possible you have to believe Jesus.  If Jesus commands that you do something, you can do it.

Look at Abraham.  He and Sarah were old. God said to Abram:  “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

God made a promise of land to Abram; to Abram’s offspring.  Did I tell you that Abram and Sarai were old; old beyond child bearing years?  God promised them children and innumerable descendants.  As far as Abram and Sarai were concerned was what God was directing them to do was impossible.  But Abram believed God and God’s promises to him came through.  What if they did not believe?

Look at Nicodemus.  Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a leader of the Jews came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” Jesus answered him, “Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God without being born again.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can anyone be born after having grown old? Can one enter a second time into the mother’s womb and be born?” 

Nicodemus was incredulous:  “What are saying?  What you are saying is absolutely impossible.  Where did you study science?  I’m a grown man.  I’m bigger than my mother.  How am I going to be born all over again?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly, I tell you, no-one can enter the kingdom of God without being born of water and Spirit. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be astonished that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 

“Be perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect.  Leave your home.  Take your family and all of what you can take of your possessions and go to where I send you.  I will give you descendants and make of you a great nation and a blessing to all who would embrace you.  Be born gain, born from above, born in the Spirit.  Live in the light of resurrection.”

Abram and Sarai had their doubts but followed God’s instructions none the less.  Nicodemus had his doubts. And you have your doubts about being perfect.

Nicodemus said to Jesus, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you a teacher of Israel, and yet you do not understand these things? “Very truly, I tell you, we speak of what we know and testify to what we have seen; yet you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you about earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

You can be born again!

To be born again is to remember your spiritual origin, made in the image of God as you are.  What does God look like?  Look in a mirror, but not a physical mirror, a spiritual mirror.  Being born again is awakening to your original nature before original sin.  Look within to your spiritual essence.  Detach from who you think you are and be aware of the “you” who is thinking, feeling and acting.  Forget the past or learn from the past and get on from it.  Engage the present.  Change your mind about the future.  Believe what Jesus has said.  Believe what God has said.  That is how dreams and promises come true. 

Remember the song, “I believe I can fly.
I used to think that I could not go on
And life was nothing but an awful song
But now I know the meaning of true love
I'm leaning on the everlasting arms

If I can see it, then I can do it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread my wings and fly away

I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly, I believe I can fly
I believe I can fly

See I was on the verge of breaking down
Sometimes silence can seem so loud
There are miracles in life I must achieve
But first I know it starts inside of me

If I can see it, then I can be it
If I just believe it, there's nothing to it

I believe I can fly
I believe I can touch the sky
I think about it every night and day
Spread wings and fly away

I believe I can soar
I see me running through that open door
I believe I can fly, I believe I can fly$
I believe I can fly
Hey, 'cause I believe in you


To be born again you have to die.  Your body doesn’t have to die, but your ego has to die.  You have to let go of your way of thinking, perceiving and conceiving and discover a new way of being, perceiving and conceiving; a new way of being human; a new way of being you.  And to do this you have to radically trust God and trust life rather than resist God and resist life.  You have to accept reality as it is and live forward in faith.  That’s why you want to look to Jesus.  Eternal life comes from believing in Jesus; that is, by putting your entire trust in Jesus.

Have any of you ever done a trust fall or a trust lift?  In a trust fall, you fall back into someone’s arms trusting that the person will catch you.  In a trust lift, you lie down and a group of people lift you and rock you.  You feel like you are floating up as they lift you and floating down as they put you down.  To be born again from heaven or in the Spirit is to be a spiritual person, in the body, in the world, but not in the world, transforming the world by virtue of being alive, awake and aware in it, consciously choosing your response to it from moment to moment.  This is the path of Christian Perfection.

Sunday, March 9, 2014


Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7 and Mathew 4:1-11
Rt. Rev. Dr. Wilfredo Baez
March 9, 2014

There are all kinds of desires aren’t there?   There are physical desires, sense desires, emotional desires, desire for pleasure and relief of pain, desire to be fed when hungry, desire to be warm when it is cold outside, desires for treasure, talent and trophy, desires for attention, recognition and reward, desires for peace and quiet, desires for love and acceptance, desires for self-esteem, and spiritual desires like to climb the stairway to heaven, to be enlightened, perfected, forgiven, liberated and saved.  There is always something better than the here and now and we better get going after it or we’re never going to get to it.  Or we’re never going to get to it, so we are not even going to try. 
The Buddha said that the root of suffering was desire; reaching, grasping desire.  Spike Lee said it was the desire for more, better and different.  We all know that the grass is always greener somewhere else or with someone else.  We all want to do the right thing to get us to the right reward; the right person, the right place, the right experience.  In the U2 song we just heard, “Desire” we heard of the desire for bright lights and urban delights, for entertainment, for highs from substances and experiences, for possessions, for money, for protection.  Human desire is an insatiable hunger and thirst.  We want more, better, different.  We want higher.  It drives us to fulfill desire after desire.

What are some of your desires?

What was Adam and Eve’s temptation?  They were tempted with the desire for knowledge of good and evil.  And even more than that, they were tempted with the desire for power, to be like God. 

When God made Adam, the first human, God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden with instructions to till and keep it.  And God commanded Adam, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.”  Seeing Adam alone in the Garden, God thought to provide Adam with a partner.  So God made, from the earth, all the animals and birds and presented them to Adam as helpers.  Adam did not know that he desired anything else but the animals and birds proved unsatisfactory.   Then God decided to make for Adam a partner out of Adam’s own flesh, a partner like Adam and complementary to him.  Waking up from a deep sleep during which God performed this operation, Adam was not one, but two, and seeing the woman, Adam said, “This is what I desire.”

Adam’s desire was met but Adam had not desired.  Adam had been provided for.  Adam’s desire was a desire that did not involve wanting, search, reaching and satisfying.  For Adam was not looking for something outside of Adam but within Adam.  Desire was not something Adam did, yet Adam’s need was met by God before Adam even had a need.  Adam and the woman clung to each other.  They were naked together, yet they were not ashamed.  There was nothing unnatural and embarrassing about their relationship.  There was nothing good or bad about their existence and what they might share together. They merely belonged together.

Then another creature came upon the scene, a crafty creature called a snake.  He slithered to the woman hissing, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden?’” The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’“ But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”  Prior to this the woman had no designs on the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  She was innocent.  But the snake opened her eyes to see that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise.”  Seeing that, the woman took of its fruit and ate; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate.  He had been innocent, too. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves. They heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.”

The man and the woman could see now in a new way.   They looked at themselves and each other differently.  They were naked before, but now they knew they were naked.  They were not ashamed in their nakedness before, but now they were ashamed.  The felt vulnerable and so they covered up their nakedness.  It was no longer natural for them to be joined as one.  They were separate.  They belonged to themselves not to each other.  They minded each other.  And they felt separate from God, separate on account of their guilt.  They minded God.  They hid from God not wanting to be exposed for their choice.  They tried to deflect responsibility for their choice, first to one another and then to the snake.  But they could not escape their nakedness or their responsibility.   They were faced with a curse.  They would no longer be provided for.  They would provide for themselves.  No longer would their needs be met.  Rather they would suffer.  The woman would desire children and suffer birth pangs.  She would desire a husband to rule over her.  The man would desire to provide for his family but need to work the ground for food.  He would desire to protect them from the wilds of life.  They would have to work.  The root problem in our primordial story was not pride or disobedience but desire.
Desire to have what one did not have before was introduced into the hearts of human beings, right from the beginning. And that desire produced suffering.
Jesus was tempted to utilize spiritual power for personal comfort, power, prestige and privilege.   After all, he was the Son of God.   And the tempter of Jesus is not unlike the tempter of Adam, this time not a snake, but the devil.

In Jesus’ case, filled by the Holy Spirit as he was, I do not think he felt tempted because Jesus had only one desire; that to please God, a desire as natural to Jesus as breathing in and out.  But he was tempted.

 “The devil said to Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘it is written: ‘one does not live by bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’’’ 
“Then the devil led Jesus up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours. ‘Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’’’ 

“Then the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

The devil knows where human beings are most vulnerable.  As a human being Jesus had desires.  We are most vulnerable at the level of desires.  Jesus was vulnerable there, too.  If we had no desires we would not be subject to the devil’s wiles.  Jesus proved that despite having desires, he was not subject to desire.  He was only subject to the will or the desires of God.  Jesus transcended all human desires, sublimating them to the will of God.  In Jesus’ case, God’s will was Jesus’ will; they were one and the same.
Jesus transcended the desire to be comfortable and have pleasure. He was hungry and weak.  He could use his power to feed himself.  But it was his fasting and isolation that put him in the state that he could face these temptations.  Jesus could wait to eat until he was done with his testing.  Why would he have to feed himself when God was feeding him?

Jesus transcended the desire for power, prestige and authority.  Jesus had no need for power, prestige and authority outside of himself.  He had nothing to prove to anyone including himself.  Jesus accepted who he was.

Jesus transcended the need to be known or recognized as the Son of God and to put responsibility for his life in the hands of others, including God and God’s angels.  He did not need to have God prove his status with God.  That was already a given.
So how does this apply to us?  You say that the root of all suffering is desire.  What about good desires or right desires?   All desire produces suffering.  There can be good suffering.  Jesus’ suffering under Pontius Pilate is an example.   Your hard work in school, at work or at home often has good results.  Or did Jesus suffer?  An Indian saint was having surgery on his arm without benefit of anesthesia.  He was asked if he felt pain.  He responded “Of course I feel pain.  But I was not suffering.”  Suffering is often the mental anguish we have about our condition or situation.  The pain cannot be eliminated, but the anguish can.  Jesus certainly felt the hooks on the whip cut into his skin.  He felt the thorns from the crown of thorns break the skin of his brow and scalp.  He felt the weight of the cross on his shoulders, back, arms and legs as he carried it.  He felt the nails hammered into his hands and feet and spear jammed into his side.  He felt parched as he hung from the cross in the scorching sun.  But he was not suffering when he cried out “Father, forgive them for thy not what they do,” or when he stated “It is finished.  Into your hands I submit my spirit,”  “or even Father, why have you abandoned me.”  In the latter case, he and the Father were one.”  Jesus had one desire; that was God’s desire.  Any other desire God provided for without Jesus asking.  Remember Jesus’ statement, “Seek first the reign/rule of God and all these things will added to you.”

My father died when he was 36.  I was 14.  He told me, before he died not to quit school.  He expected me to go to college.  When I was 25 years old I was in a doctoral program.  I completed my exams and was advanced to candidacy.  I had written the dissertation except for results and conclusion.  I had data in hand.  Interpretation of the results was dependent upon an outsider to do.   The agent I had set to do that could no longer do it.    The project was virtually finished.  But instead of saying something to my committee I quit.  I did not ask for help.  I recalled this recently and discussed it with a friend.  Why did I sabotage what I had worked so hard to attain?  What was I afraid of?  My father had told me not to quit school.   I realized the truth.  If I had completed the dissertation and graduated I would die.  But I was not afraid of dying.  What I was afraid of was life after the dissertation.  It is amazing how one’s understanding of God can be formulated by human experience.   I worked so hard at spirituality.  But I could never do enough to experience the highest state or please God.  What I realized as I realized that there was nothing I could do to please my father was that I did not want to die.  But I was not afraid of dying.  I was afraid of life after death.  I was afraid of resurrection living.  I was afraid of living fully in the light, because it was an unknown.  Then I realized that there was nothing that I had to do to be myself.  I did not have to prove myself to my father.  I did not have to prove myself to God.  I did not have to do anything, pursue anything, seek anything or find anything.  I just had to be.  The rest would take care of itself.  And that’s true about you.  You have nothing to prove.  You don’t have to do anything to be accepted by God.  God has made you and has called you good.  And if you have done wrong God has forgiven you.  You can relax and just be and God will provide.  You will realize what you need when you need and respond with wisdom and compassion to events around you quite naturally, just by being awake and responsible.