Monday, July 24, 2006

07/23/06, Sermon

What evidence can you put forth in support of the idea that Christ would be a Christian? Which denomination do you think Jesus would join? Would he be non-denominational? Charismatic? Evangelical? Main Stream? What would Jesus do, and what makes you think so? Who would Jesus exclude from his company? On what basis? Are they the same people you would exclude from your company? On the same basis? Do you see the problem?

If money can be made, money will be made. If it’s good for business, it’s good. If it’s bad for business, it’s bad. If it’s good for business, it’s US policy, foreign and domestic, and it is verrry patriotic. If it’s bad for business, it’s a threat to national security. Do you see the problem?

There is nothing about the life of George Bush that has prepared him to be President of the United States. He could not be Principal of Itta Bena Elementary without being prepared. But, he can be President without being prepared. All it takes are some scripted sound bites and 400 million dollars. Do you see the problem?

What are we going to do about it? About any of it? About all of it? That’s what I want to know.

“Tell us plainly, O Master—will it all work out?”

“I tell you the truth, my children. Everything will all work out nicely in the end. And, if it doesn’t, it won’t matter.”

That isn’t what we want to hear. We don’t want to spend our time on things that aren’t guaranteed to perform as promised, achieve acceptable results in a reasonable amount of time, and deliver the goods. We don’t want to spend our time on things that don’t pay off. We want to know up front, before we sign on, if this is the “real deal.” And, we would like a time table. Where is this train going? When will it arrive? How will we measure progress? How will we know we aren’t just being “taken for a ride”?

We want to know what we can do to stop the war; to stop global warming, to wake Bush up and bring sanity and sensibility to life in the world. We want to be sure we aren’t just “rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.” We want to know that our actions will bring relief to the world. How can we end hatred, stop the violence, institute justice, and establish the eternal reign of peace and compassion throughout the earth? “Tell us plainly, Lord, what will work?”

We think our lives are to be measured by our successes, achievements and accomplishments. We have to have those long and short range goals, you know, and that career path, and that five-year plan, and those intermediate steps to measure our progress along the way. “A sailor without a destination can’t tell a good wind from a bad one.” “If you don’t know where you are going, any path will take you there.” “If you don’t know what you stand for, you will fall for anything.” We have to know what we want to do; know how to do it; and know how to evaluate our progress along the way. And, we don’t have time to waste on things that don’t work.

On the other hand, we can avoid indefinitely the inconvenience of actually doing anything if we dismiss everything on the grounds that it is a waste of time and won’t work. For instance, we don’t have to quit driving and start walking in order to reduce global warming, because we can ask, “What good would that do, given the fact that nobody else is quitting with us, walking with us?” We don’t have to do anything as long as we can ask, “What good would that do?” about everything. We get to look concerned without having to change our life style. Which brings to mind one of Brian Andreas’ “Story People” stories: “I’ve always wanted to change the world,” she said, “but I would like to do it from the comfort of my normal life.”

Jesus stepped outside the comfort of his normal life. Jesus died in the service of his understanding of the good. Jesus did what was good whether it did any good or not. He lived a life of complete integrity, that is, complete alignment of inner with outer. Jesus was in harmony with himself. His actions were in synch with his words, and his words were in synch with his beliefs. You can sum Jesus up with such phrases as “non-violence,” “radical equality,” “identification with the least important people of his day,” and “fluid integration of the qualities of God in his life and being.” If you want to see God as God is, you can’t do better than Jesus. And, Jesus calls us to follow him. If people can’t look at us and see God, we need to get with the program.

The program is being God. The program is being as God is. The program is not changing George Bush. Jesus did not change Caesar. The program is not putting an end to war and violence. Jesus did not stop crucifixion. The program is not reversing global warming, ending hunger, homelessness, poverty, and any of the other ills that plague the world. Jesus died with all of the ills of his day firmly in place. But, if you looked at Jesus, you saw God.

“The master does his work, and steps back, and let’s nature take its course,” says Lao Tsu, or words to that effect. The master does her work because it is her work to do, and not to achieve results. Maybe it achieves results, and maybe it only sets the stage to achieve results in the next generation, or in the generation after that. And, maybe, nothing comes of it at all. Nevertheless, it is not a complete waste of the master’s time. It was the master’s work to do. It was an expression of who the master is. The master could not have failed to do it and still have been the master.

Our work—that which we do because we must, because we love it, enjoy it, delight in it, believe in it, and cannot leave it undone without failing ourselves in some significant way—is an extension of our identity, of our integrity. It is the unveiling of ourselves, the incarnation of who we are. It is us. And so, Gerard Manly Hopkins can say, “What I do is me/for that I came.” There you are.

What must we do? What must we do because we must do it, and not because we feel obliged to be doing something that “must be done”? Why must we be accounted worthy by doing worthy things? By achieving marvelous outcomes? By accumulating honors and stockpiling accolades and being Somebody? Why must we make a name for ourselves with the results of our living? Why can we not simply live? Where do we get the idea that we are not enough as we are? That we have to be more by doing more and accomplishing more? Where do we get that idea? At what point do we get to be enough? What is it really that we are trying to achieve with our achievements? Who is it that we are trying to please? Upon what does our happiness, contentment, satisfaction, fulfillment, and peace depend?

These are not questions to skirt or ignore. These are questions to sit with in the silence of our soul until something stirs. What drives us? Haunts us? Robs us of life by requiring us to live “successfully”? Upon what does our success depend? What would it take for us to live at peace with ourselves? These are important things to know.

Until we can name our demons, own our ghosts, invite them into conversation with us, and hear them to the heart of what they have to say, we will be at the mercy of the needs and fears that fuel them. Our demons have demons! Our ghosts have their own ghosts! Who is going to listen to them, heal them, if we don’t? Or, did you think we could walk the spiritual path to wholeness and peace without sorting through our emotional baggage? Did you think spirituality was an escape from the pain having been where we have been? That we can just wink ourselves from one identity to another? And be “saved” from our past without dealing with it?

The Parable of the Prodigal is about us welcoming our failures, defeats, and disappointments to the table. The Parable of the Good Samaritan is about us taking care of all that is reprehensible and disgusting about ourselves. The spiritual task is looking ourselves in the eye, and being reconciled with all that is within. The work of being spiritual is emotional reconciliation. Spiritual peace is emotional at-one-ment at the heart of being. It is not about believing a doctrine or two, undertaking a ritual or two, reciting a mantra, and having it made.

When Jesus was saying, “Repent! The Kingdom of God is at hand!”, he could as well have said, “Change your way of living! The Revolution has begun!” The call to the Kingdom was a call to Revolution. But, it was a different kind of revolution. It was a communal revolution, not a military revolution that Jesus had in mind—a communal revolution with political implications. It was a revolution of civility and commensality, of justice and compassion. It was a revolution of deportment, and style, spirit and grace.

The nature of Jesus’ revolution was to turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, love your enemies, and your neighbor as yourself. It was to treat one another and all others like the prodigal’s father treated the prodigal, like the Samaritan treated the Jew in the ditch. It was to be a genuinely decent human being to all human beings. It was to be the right kind of company. To belong to, and participate in, the Kingdom of God, was, and is, to be the right kind of company—was, and is, to be as God is.

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