There is a phobia or syndrome
whose name I’ve forgotten,
in which anxiety is centered in the dread
of a human structure collapsing.
When looking at a bridge for example,
or a tall building,
the person will obsess
about structural weaknesses
or points of vulnerability
and what could go wrong
to make it come tumbling down.
I have a mild case of that phobia
but when I was much younger
it was more pronounced.
I could get freaked out to the point
it would sometimes cause me
to get cold and clammy.
Here is an example.
I used to have season tickets
to The Ohio State football games.
For ten years I went to the 105,000-seat stadium
where I was crammed like a sardine
in with tens of thousands of others.
The stadium was built in 1922
and sometimes as the game went on
and fans cheered and shouted with vigor,
I would look above me at those huge steel girders
with rivets the size of my fist,
and all I could think about was…the Titanic.
“Hmmm,” I would muse to myself,
“the Titanic was built in 1911
with defective steel caused by human error
in the manufacturing process…”
Such thoughts led me to think about
should the deck above me fall
as the thousands of bodies up there
started stomping their feet and singing,
“We will, we will, rock you!”
I see the humor in my thoughts,
and I did even then.
But not so much as a kid.
When I was young,
a passenger in my parent’s car
and everyone else enjoying the five mile drive
across one of the world’s longest
spanning the straights of Mackinaw, in Michigan,
I would push my face up against the window
and inspect the cables for fraying as we passed.
Later, as an adult,
flying home from Africa with Katy,
I revealed that the source of my white knuckles
was the thought
of the those little rivets in the wings popping out.
But even more troubling to me
than the idea of the plane crashing, I confessed,
was to then be eaten by a shark.
She assured me that we wouldn’t be alive
when we met the shark.
Well, I call such thoughts, “The Jesus Syndrome.”
Of course I would – but not
because I think of myself like Jesus.
I call it that because
it reminds me there is good reason
to have limited confidence in anything human,
and to always keep the long view,
even while trying to accomplish
the short-term task.
I love the image from today’s gospel
in which Jesus is gazing upon
the amazing Temple,
whose majesty was extolled
across the Roman Empire.
“Yep,” Jesus says matter of factly,
“one of these days those babies are coming down.”
If we think about the first century
and Judean and Galilean peasants
living in those parts,
there would not have been many superstructures
for them to ogle over.
Peasants did not travel far
and they would have had no access to
a palace, Praetorium, and coliseum.
The Temple in Jerusalem
would have been a unique experience
for someone marginalized like Jesus,
because it was a rare architectural giant
they could actually walk into –
even though, once inside, they would have had
very limited access.
Calling my little phobia “The Jesus Syndrome”
also comforts me with the idea
that Jesus had crazy thoughts too.
But this story reveals
that Jesus’ thoughts weren’t all that crazy.
His fantasy about the Temple falling down
turned out to be true.
Thirty-eight years after Jesus was executed
the Roman army reduced the Temple to ruins
and all that remains of it today
is that bitter irony called the “Wailing Wall,”
which rests underneath
the Muslim Temple Mount.
But there is something else to notice here too,
and we get a whiff of it in that squib from Daniel.
Every story has an ending.
Every story has an ending but, like beginnings,
not all endings are equal.
We have been washed and dried
in the Tumble Press of Walt Disney
in which every story has ahappyending.
The United States civic culture
is spun from the threads of happy ending stories
whether old Westerns,
animated folk heroes or romance.
We rarely tell a story
that does not have a happy ending.
At least not in the popular culture.
Some streams of alternative culture
do let the end come with violence,
or without resolve,
but they are perceived to be dark,
cynical and negative.
Still, every story must have an ending.
We tend to think of the Gospel
as ending with the resurrection –
a kind of tortured happy ending, I suppose.
But that is not how Jesus
chose to end the story of his public ministry
in gospels of Mark, Luke or Matthew.
His last public story, in each of those Gospels,
is the one we heard in part today.
It is a story about the endof time
and it is a pretty dog-gone dark story.
In all three Gospels, the last story Jesus tells,
is provoked by some knuckle-headed pilgrim
ogling at the Temple
and exclaiming how beautiful it is.
Something about that sends Jesus
into his darkened depths
to forecast what is going to happen
at the end of time,
when God runs out of patience
or humans run out of options.
This is an element of the biblical narrative
I have ignored most of my professional career.
I have dismissed apocalypse and eschatology,
along with Fundamentalist talk of Armageddon
and the Grim Reaper.
Like most liberals, I focused instead,
on the stories and sayings of Jesus,
which I like a whole lot better.
I am not proud of my self-serving cowardice
but there it is.
We could explain away
the fact that the last public story Jesus tells
in all three Gospels,
is a story about a dark and violent ending
to human history.
But recognizing it is in all three gospels,
I think we have to take it seriously
rather than explaining it away.
Whether it was actually Jesus’ last story
or it was the story-tellers
placing it as Jesus’ last public story,
it was done with intention.
In other words, Jesus was living close to the end
and he knew, even if they didn’t,
that his compatriots
were living close to their end too.
It was plaguing his thoughts
and filling his heart,
so when someone made a stray comment
about the beauty of the stained-glass windows
– oops, I mean the glory of the Temple –
it evoked all that emotion in Jesus
and it came gushing out.
One of the best funeral sermons
I ever heard, was delivered
by a seventy-something year old priest,
talking to hundreds of seventy
and eighty-year-old friends
gathered to say good-bye
to a long-time associate.
The preacher began
by saying to his contemporaries,
that it was an auspicious occasion
for all of them to think about
what they wanted their own lives to stand for.
And then, he went on to ask
specific questions designed to provoke
an evaluation of the distance
between what we say we stand for
and how we actually live our lives.
It was brilliant,
and something I could not have preached
at the time, due to my youth.
I think that may be the kind of thing
Jesus was doing
by ending the story of his life
with a reminder of even the Earth’s mortality.
What do you stand for in this world?
What does your “one small and precious life”
mean in the vast sea of time and space?
Who are you exactly?
Who are you…and what do you want
your life to be remembered for?
As crazy as it may seem,
I think that is a wonderful Thanksgiving meditation.
It connects up with what we are grateful for
because, what we are grateful for
is probably associated
with what we want to be remembered for.
Those things we value most
are probably also the things
that we should want to assist others
So, as we consider what we are grateful for,
we could also ask ourselves
whether or how we have assisted others
with gaining access to them as well.
Some of that is easy and just plain obvious.
We value good, nourishing food
and as we give thanks for it,
we could also ask ourselves when and how
we have enabled others to have access
to good, nourishing food too?
That could lead to a reflection
on those who make it possible for us to eat –
farm workers – immigrant farm workers –
farmers, truckers, and folks
who work at the grocery.
We are grateful for what they produce and deliver,
so what have we done, or what could we do,
to ensure they have access
to good and nourishing food also?
You see, it is an easy equation to contemplate.
This is a great time of year
to do a gratitude inventory –
brainstorm a list of all the people and things
we are especially grateful for.
Then we can do an inventory
of when and how we might be able
to assist others to access
those very things
we have so appreciated ourselves.
It doesn’t have to be a big, complicated list,
and we certainly do not have to carry
responsibility for the whole world on our backs.
I’m talking about simple inventory of our abundance.
There is a kind of spiritual symmetry
between what we are grateful for
and what we may be able to do
to return that very goodness to others.
My guess is, when all is said and done,
we would be pleased to be remembered
for providing to others
what we have been so grateful for ourselves.
Well, like I said,
all stories have an ending,
and all sermons do too – or at least,
we hope they do.
Mine is to give thanks
for this congregation, for our communal
and so to ask, how might we,
as a spiritual community,
encourage and strengthen others around us?
May you have a blessed Thanksgiving this week.
This sermon is about “core strength.”
Core strength is a mainstream
health concept these days,
and the ever-popular disciplines
of yoga, palates, cross-fit, and barre
all promise to improve core strength.
make a promise about core strength too.
It is a wildly ridiculous promotion
that would be utterly unbelievable
and easily rejected, except…
on a deeply personal level,
we know it is true.
But before we get to any promises
about core strength,
I want to begin with what connects us.
What connects us
will lead to the crazy core strength promise.
When so little seems to connect us
and there seems to be so few
universal threads to weave us together,
what brings us here to an oddball community
of worship and spiritual inquiry?
That is not a question about Trinity Church,
it is a question about you and me.
What connects you and me, personally
to these strange and lovely
people here today,
and even to those not here today?
Take a moment and look around the sanctuary.
Go ahead, it’s okay to stare
because we are all going to do it.
Take a good look at who is here,
and also think about those people
whose faces you know, who are not here today.
What is it that connects us
when there may be so little common ground?
Do you have it yet?
There is more than one answer, of course.
But there is a fundamental, existential answer
as well as a deeply concrete and practical one.
What connects us
and holds us together
in a practical and experiential way,
is evoked by the 23rdPsalm.
Surely the most universal, existential connection
that we all share as human beings,
is the shadow of death.
Now, some of you might well respond to that
with an “Oh bummer.”
You may consider the reminder
that we live in the shadow of death
to be bad news.
But I want to suggest it is worth the reflection
because death brings life into focus
as nothing else can.
It is what Martin Luther King, Jr.
meant when he said,
“No one really knows
why they are alive
until they know
what they would die for.”
Now, if you are the kind of person
who believes in categorical absolutes,
knowing what you are living for
is not a tough question.
When the universe is a clearly defined place,
where right and wrong are neatly divided,
and you have a book of rules and regulations
with the authority
to arbitrate any confusion, then
what you would live and die for
is not a very difficult question.
I suspect however,
that most of us here do not divide
the world into such clean and precise categories.
But even so, most of us have specific people
who we know we would give our lives for –
children, lovers, friends.
Fewer of us, perhaps, hold beliefsand ideas
that we would be willing to die for.
In this post-modern twenty-first century
we recognize the extreme elasticity
of beliefs and ideas over time –
how they change.
2018 is a tough year to die for your country
or your constitution
or your religion.
Not for some, but for many.
If you are not a categorical thinker, and
you do not see the world and life
in starkly either/or terms,
then it becomes more difficult
to lie down on the tracks
for the imperfect institutions
that represent cherished ideas.
And yet, knowing in our heart-of-hearts
what we are living for
is a basic building block
of any truly spiritual quest.
If we do not know
what it is we would die for,
we will not know
what it is we are living for.
You may have discovered long ago
that happiness is not big enough
or deep enough
to carry us through.
If self-indulgence and feeling good
are the drivers,
then the ordinary crises of life
will pick us apart
like piranha on a carcass.
We will be left
holding nothing at our core
at the very moment
we need core strength the most.
Even people we love
will not be raison d’être enough
to hold the center
through the stormiest parts of life.
Children grow up and
move away, and build their own lives elsewhere
And as much as we love them
and they love us,
their evolution and re-orbiting away from us,
will make clear
that even loving them unto death
is not enough to hold the center.
A spouse or lover too, will die, leave,
or be taken away.
If we thought that he or she was IT –
the pier to which we could lash ourselves
against the worst of life’s squalls –
we will likely discover
he or she was not pier enough to weather all furies.
That most cherished life’s partner
will be diminished,
or become absent,
so that even our love for him or her,
and their love for us, will not be enough
to hold the center against all storms.
This is one of those core spiritual awakenings,
and it brings us to that moment
when we discover what it is we are living for.
I do not know what you are living for.
I do not think it is my job, or the task of the church,
to tell you what you should be living for.
We are not that kind of a church.
My job, and the task of the church,
IS to share what the Gospel invites us
to hold as the center of our lives.
The Gospel says – and here comes,
that zany, ridiculous, claim –
that at the core of our lives,
the one thing
that will hold the center –
if it is our core strength –
is to spend our lives
so that others might live.
See, I told you, it is a ridiculous
and outrageous claim.
But that is the claim of the Gospels,
and we heard it in spades today in John’s Gospel.
The only thing that will hold the center
against life’s greatest tumults and fiercest tempests
is to spend our lives
so that others might live.
And those others
are not only those we know and love,
but even those we do not know,
may not love,
and may not even like.
That which has the strength
to hold the center against all odds,
is a life spent for others.
Cogitate on that for a moment:
Spending your life, and
how your life is spent.
If your life were currency,
how are you spending it
and what are you spending it on?
That, the Gospel says,
is the center that holds, even
against the most horrible storms.
We all have different things
to spend our lives with:
all of us have some money,
but that is not the only currency we have
for spending our lives.
It may be your voice,
it may be your art,
it may be your intellect,
it may be your hands,
it may be your peculiar wisdom,
it may be your creative thinking,
it may be your personal power,
it may be your charisma,
it may be your woundedness…
Each one of us has a currency,
maybe more than one,
that we can spend so that others may live.
The more we spend it
the stronger our core becomes.
The converse is also true, and is terrifying:
Others may suffer and die
when we do not spend the currency
we have been given
in order that others may live.
Figuring out our currency
is a major element of our spiritual work.
It may be quite urgent work as well,
because there are other people whose well-being
may depend upon us figuring out
what our currency is, and then spending
as much of it as we possibly can.
When we talk about “giving thanks
for the abundance of our lives,”
our currency is exactly what that means.
When we spend the currency
we have been given to spend
so that others may live, then there is no
such thing as scarcity.
The more we spend, the more abundant
our lives become –
it is the kind of whacko-mysticality
we should have come to expect from God.
When we spend the currency of our lives
so that others might live,
our own lives deepen
and in short, become more abundant.
Abundance does not mean affluence,
it means plentiful – it means full.
When we spend the currency of our lives
so that others may live,
our own lives become more full.
The more we spend, the more full we become.
That is the bizarre, miraculous truth
So, the core strength which the Gospel
claims will hold the center no matter what,
is from a lifespent
so that others may live.
The outrageous claim is,
that in the process of spending our lives
so that others may live,
our own life becomes ever more abundant.
Now, because we are the kind of church we are,
I feel the need to add
that just because the Gospel says it,
does not mean you and I have to believe it –
or adopt it, or live by it.
God will love us either way.
Which happens to be another element
of the abundance.
You see, the spiritual secret
embedded in figuring out what we are living for,
is that there is no carrot or stick.
We build our core strength
around something because we hold it,
and cherish it, and are convicted to it,
and not because of any promise of reward
or threat of punishment.
Core strength comes
from the act of holding something
as the center of our lives,
not from the hope of reward or
the fear of punishment.
In fact, among the ancient Hebrews,
the people and community from which
our core wisdom comes,
we know by now,
the word for “faith” can be translated,
“to hold onto.”
What do you hold at the center of your life?
What is the currency
with which you spend your life?
Answer those questions
with the fierceness of passion,
and whether we are 19 or 93
we will know what it is we are living for.
Two Texts for Preaching
Matthew 14:13-21, and,
by Denise Levertov
Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
I who don’t know the
the line. They
(through a third person)
they had found it
but not what it was
what line it was. No doubt
by now, more than a week
later, they have forgotten
the line, the name of
the poem. I love them
for finding what
I can’t find,
and for loving me
for the line I wrote,
and for forgetting it
a thousand times, till death
finds them, they may
discover it again, in other
happenings. And for
wanting to know it,
assuming there is
such a secret, yes,
most of all.
The powers that be,
the ones that designed the Common Lectionary
that we use each Sunday,
and which prescribes the Biblical readings
for each and every Sunday,
has an editorial bias.
Of course they do, all of us do.
Which readings they chose
out of the sixty-six books of the Bible,
and when they chose them to be read,
and which ones they chose to be read together,
all influences what we hear
when we listen to those readings.
Like I said, it is not strange or unusual
because that is what happens when we make choices
from among alternatives –
we always skew or influence the outcome.
No big deal.
But we still need to recognize
that every Sunday there is a silent secret agent
hidden among the readings.
And that is just one more reason
to add a reading that is NOT from the Lectionary –
which we do.
It rattles the arrangement
and throws a monkey wrench into the plan.
The liturgical poem we use
will insert itself into the fabric
and cause us to ask questions
we might not ask otherwise.
the powerful memory from childhood,
when excitedly discovering
some great secret truth
that is just as promptly forgotten,
Levertov’s poem also begs us ask
if indeed such secret truths exist?
Perhaps instead of the giant peach-of-a-truth
so many people reach for as if a huge, shiny nugget of gold
in a river of rocks,
truth is more like a pile of pick-up-sticks –
each little piece
connected to other little pieces,
and incoherent apart from the
precariously balancing relationships.
That may be more than we want to contemplate
mid-morning in the summer,
but it does open up that Gospel reading
to more than the usual Disney fantasy.
Going back to the editorial layout of the Lectionary,
they left out half of the Matthew story.
There must have been a reason they did that,
because as it is,
we are being asked to put together
a complicated jigsaw puzzle
without knowing what the subject is,
AND without all the pieces.
Clearly, the Lectionary Committee
wanted us to think of Matthew’s story
as a miracle story
inflating the powers and status of Jesus.
But it is not a miracle story.
Rather, it is a political commentary
and an economic and social criticism.
In fact, I will go so far as to say
that the so-called feeding of the 5000 story
is as close as we come
to uncovering Jesus’
political and economic manifesto.
But that is not what we hear
because we read only half of the story.
What we get
is the Disney Gospel
instead of the Jesus Gospel.
The Disney Gospel
is a consumer gospel that gives the religious consumer
what he or she wants to hear,
which is usually what consumer economics does.
But I think we will see,
if we acknowledge the whole story,
that it is not about magic
or satisfying wishes.
Today’s reading from the Lectionary begins,
“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew in a boat
to a deserted place by himself…”
With the Lectionary, we do not get to know what he heard,
but clearly it was the motivation for his leaving
wherever he was before this part of the story.
So let’s back up
because instead of this story being the feeding of 5000,
it would more properly be called,
the tale of two feasts.
(And, just to touch the Levertov poem again,
we are uncovering a secret).
This story properly begins far, far away
from hungry peasants;
it begins, far away on the other side of the lake.
This story begins in a palace.
It begins where King Herod lives.
It is Herod’s birthday
and he throws a big party for himself.
Because he is king,
it is an opulent feast and it is
the first of two feasts
in this story from Matthew.
At Herod’s feast
there is the heavy aroma of lamb
sizzling on the spit.
Seasoned duck and pheasant perhaps,
along with soft, steaming bread
and thick flavorful hummus.
There is juicy, succulent fruits and wine,
lots and lots of wine.
(Hmmm, I wonder what’s for Coffee Hour today?)
At Herod’s feast
they eat while reclining on pillows.
At Herod’s feast, there is music.
At Herod’s feast, there is dancing.
At Herod’s feast, in fact,
there is a dance performance –
a sensual dance
with youthful bodies
schooled in the art of seduction.
Herod is smitten with one of the dancers.
No, smitten is not the word, it is too wholesome.
He is engorged with lust
and not for just any dancer.
It is for his teenage stepdaughter.
He becomes senseless with craving as she dances.
We have all known the sensation
of being captured by our own desires,
perhaps not to the degree Herod displays in this story,
but we can imagine it.
His hunger is riding on a horse of affluence
and so it can never be tamed.
Herod’s affluence diminishes his boundaries.
over-indulged and over-empowered
by the unreal degree of his affluence,
stretched his capacity for restraint
into an insatiable, bottomless pit.
and he falls prey to his obsession.
“Keep dancing!” he begs
as the music stops.
“Keep dancing and I will give you anything you want.
What makes you happy?”
“None of that,” she says,
“just cut off the head of John the Baptist
and serve it to me on a platter.”
I know, right? How did John the Baptist
get into this story. Crazy.
John the Baptist is another prophet
and social critic,
more renowned than Jesus at the time.
He was a severe critic of the Disney religion
in his own day,
and Herod was often the foil of his critique.
But I don’t want to get into all of the politics
and palace intrigue today.
Suffice it to say,
an entourage of kitchen slaves arrives
carrying a large handsome silver platter.
Ceremoniously they make their way
through the feasting crowd
and place the human head with eyes wide open,
lips curled into a crooked grimace,
truth written all over his face,
on the table in front of the king.
This tale of two feasts
is not quite the Disney tale we imagined
when we only heard half the story.
But this is now where Jesus comes in,
and the second feast.
Jesus hears the story about John’s beheading.
Immediately he leaves where he was
for a “deserted place.”
Matthew tells the story of the first feast
and then immediately,
Is he freaked out and afraid?
Does he immediately read the punch line
of Herod’s action:
Those with power do not give it away,
and those who own affluence will not soon part with it?
Perhaps it is both:
Jesus’ grief and a strategic retreat,
all at the same time to consider his options.
Either way, Jesus is followed.
He is followed by people who are hungry.
He is followed by people who hunger for hope
as much as for food.
Hunger for hope that he is the chosen one
who can fix things.
Hunger for hope that he will take down Herod
and the Roman occupation.
Now for the second feast in the tale of two feasts.
At Jesus’ feast, there is no music.
At Jesus’ feast, there is no protein.
(There are no fish in Matthew’s version).
At Jesus’ feast, there is no wine.
At Jesus’ feast, there are no pillows.
At Jesus’s feast, there is no dancing.
At Jesus’ feast, there are no slaves –
or more probably, if slaves were there
they were without their masters.
At Jesus’ feast, there is only bread.
At Jesus’ feast, the host
shares what he has
and acts like that will be enough,
even without knowing ahead of time
if it will be enough.
At Jesus’ feast, there is no affluence
but there is abundance.
So right there, we have landed on the fulcrum
upon which this tale of two feasts balances.
Affluence is what we have
when we own wealth and resources.
Abundance is what we have
when what we have is more than enough.
We can have more than enough and not be affluent.
An economy based upon abundance
ensures that everyone has more than enough:
whether no one is wealthy
or some are wealthy,
everyone still has more than enough.
Abundance is the invisible guiding hand
in the economy of God,
and that is what the tale of two feasts is all about.
The Disney Gospel,
which is the primary narrative of OUR economy,
is that we should own more than we need
and accumulate as much as we can.
Our economy is guided by the invisible hand
of Natural Selection that grabs for as much as it can get.
But in fact, our economy
is built on scarcity so that affluence is shared by only a few.
Affluence deepens our hunger
and it deepens our desires
and it seduces us
with promises of more and more wealth and riches.
Abundance, on the other hand,
insures that we have enough,
and more than enough,
no matter how much or how little we have
relative to everyone else.
An economy of abundance may include people with wealth
but it does not allow anyone to suffer deprivation.
The moral of the story,
according to the tale of two feasts,
is that affluence leads to jealousy,
anxiety, and violence
while abundance leads to generosity,
empowerment, and community.
Now here is a critical moment of truth:
we do not get to decide
which economy we live in,
even though we likely live in both –
side-by-side as if straddling two dimensions
at one and the same time.
We live in our economy
even as we might desire to live in the economy of God.
Our spiritual task then,
is to release ourselves as much as possible
from the seductive power of affluence,
and nurture in ourselves and one another,
the hope and work of abundance.
The Lectionary Committee
would have us hear that Jesus is a miracle worker
when instead, the tale of two feasts that Matthew tells,
is about us
and about which economy we will actually thrive in.
Like those two girls
discovering the secret of life in a line of poetry,
there is a secret to be uncovered in this story
we thought we already knew.
It is also likely a secret we will forget again and again,
and that we have discovered before.
It’s clutch time in the old church today.
All three readings slap us on the one cheek
and ask that we turn the other for more.
Leviticus and Matthew in particular
place us in the midst of a dilemma,
and you know what?
This dilemma is exactly
what the whole religion-thing is supposed to create.
We like to imagine
that spirituality or religion
is about getting peaceful and groovy with God.
In fact, it is about being led by the nose
to a moment of decision.
More often than not,
this thing we come to a place like this in search of,
squeezes us between a rock and a hard place.
This morning we are being challenged
to ask ourselves:
Do we really want to spend the currency of our lives
in the Economy of God,
when what we know and trust most,
is the Economy of Self-Preservation?
That is the dilemma and the decision
we are brought to by these readings:
Choose between the Economy of God
and the Economy of Self-Preservation.
The central figure of our religion –
who is an itinerate,
dispossessed Holy Man –
is actually urging us
to reverse the impulse of Natural Selection.
That’s crazy, right?
Note to Christians.
This is one of those things
that lead almost anyone outside the churches
to label Church-people as a bunch of hypocrites.
Think about it.
We stand so far,
so impossibly far,
from Jesus, who is our teacher.
We are twisted
in a clear and basic conflict of interest
between how we actually live lives
and how Jesus said we should live our lives.
So here we stand,
between the Economy of God,
and the Economy of Self-Preservation.
Those labels, by the way,
are my metaphors for
the kingdom of God
and our culture of consumerism.
At the heart of Jesus’ wisdom is a blaring dissonance
with what we have been told,
and generally accept,
as our self-interest.
Here is a cogent distinction
between these two economies.
There is no measuring our value
in the Economy of God.
Nor is there an exact way to measure
the benefits to us
of spending our lives as currency
in the Economy of God.
But in the Economy of Self-Preservation
there is a cost-benefit formula
for every action and decision.
The Economy of Self-Preservation
on the basis of productivity and
Because there is a clear bottom line
with a gain-loss ratio,
nothing is valuable
unless it can be measured.
God’s economy trades on
Now theology and God-talk can be gooshy
but what I am talking about here
is actually quite concrete, if not measurable.
For example, Love creates love.
There is no scarcity in love, only abundance.
Even more than that,
loving our enemies frees us from
the burden of hatred and resentment.
Think about this in economic terms,
because abundance is intrinsic in love.
The willful choice to love someone –
someone we could more easily hate than love –
actually heals our woundedness over time.
Think about that in bottom-line,
and it will blow you away.
Love generates a greater capacity to love,
and the more we do it,
the more of it we have.
But this capacity of love to be self-generating
would make capitalists miserable
as a commodity to trade.
A self-generating resource,
with an ever-increasing capacity for production,
would be a subversive element
to any economy based upon scarcity and self-interest.
The Economy of God
has this self-generating abundance of love
sewn into its lining.
has a similar subversive characteristic.
Forgiveness attracts forgiveness.
It is astounding if we stop to think about it.
Forgiveness is like a cell attracting other cells
in the process of forming new life.
Forgiving someone actually generates within us
an even greater capacity to forgive ourselves –
thus bringing us nearer
to self-acceptance –
the capacity to actually accept who we are,
just as we are,
even without further improvement.
Forgiveness is synergistic:
the willful choice to forgive someone
we could more easily resent,
conditions and builds spiritual muscle
that we also need
in order to more deeply accept ourselves.
So like love,
the nature of forgiveness
is abundance rather than scarcity.
But in the Economy of Self-Preservation,
the presence of forgiveness
would sound the death-knell
to whole industries,
and their expansive marketing programs
which prey upon
self-doubt and self-hatred.
Whether in electronic or print media,
simply count the proportion of advertising
that conveys an obvious or subliminal message
rooted in self-doubt and self-hatred.
It is staggering.
The Economy of Self-Preservation
trades in the power of diminishment and injury.
Forgiveness, on the other hand,
is subversive to our economy
because it generates healing.
The same is true
about another currency in the Economy of God:
Mercy spawns mercy.
Mercy is so seldom mentioned
in our day-to-day conversations.
When was the last time you even uttered the word?
Yet mercy is such a crucial element
of any universe
we would ever want to live in.
What mercy does
is melt away our drive
to be right
and to win at all costs
and to demand punishment or retribution.
Mercy bears such a succulent fruit
of impossibly sweet joy, that it can hardly be named.
By the willful choice to be merciful
when we could more easily demand fairness
or distributive justice,
we are freed to enjoy the sensation
How sweet is kindness?
If we assume that God is kind –
kind even to the ungrateful and wicked –
then we no longer need to worry
about heaven and hell,
or try to figure out
how the good guys and bad guys
are all going to get what’s coming to them in the end.
If, as the prophets suggest,
God loves mercy more than justice,
we might be able to undermine our own economy
simply by encouraging one another
to be merciful.
But there is more.
In addition to love, and forgiveness, and mercy,
the Economy of God
has another self-generating currency:
The risk to stop clutching
what we own
also begins to dissolve of our anxiety.
The willful choice to let go
or give away
when we could more easily
clutch and hoard,
actually fans the flames
of greater generosity.
The impulse toward generosity
produces an almost miraculous affect,
which is to raise the level of trust
and ignite abundance
where only moments before
there was scarcity.
In the Economy of Self-interest,
if unleashed, the power of generosity
would transform every barren divide
between have’s and have not’s
and turn us into a field of dreams.
So, whereas our economy
creates and trades in currencies based on scarcity,
the self-generating currencies of God’s economy
are love, forgiveness, mercy, and generosity.
But that only takes us back to where we started
with our basic and daunting dilemma:
Do we really want to spend
the currency of our lives
in the Economy of God
when what we know and trust
is the Economy of Self-Preservation?
Let’s not be glib.
Is it even possible to love our enemies?
Is it even possible to live by the assumption of abundance rather than scarcity?
Is it even possible to forgive people
who have wounded us so deeply
that we will forever carry the scar?
The answer is, “No!”
“No,” if by love and forgiveness
we mean some kind of emotion or feeling,
or mythologized state of being.
The answer is, “Yes,”
if we mean an embodied action.
The currencies in the Economy of God
are not emotions,
or idealized states of being and consciousness.
Currencies in the Economy of God
are embodied actions.
It is impossible for us to feel love
for an enemy;
but it is possible for us to do good,
even bless and pray, for an enemy.
Love is a verb,
and that means love is enacted not felt.
It is impossible for us to be non-judgmental;
but it is possible for us
to act mercifully
toward those for whom
we feel judgment.
It is impossible for us to give away
everything we own to whoever begs from us;
but it is possible for us
to give them something of ourselves –
whether it is our attention,
or even our money.
Please, let’s not romanticize love, forgiveness,
mercy, and generosity.
There is no promise here,
that by loving our enemy,
he or she will become likeable.
There is no promise here,
that the enemy’s behavior will change,
or that by acting in love
our feelings about them will change.
There is no promise here,
that by our assuming abundance
we will suddenly erase the experience of scarcity.
Instead, the promise here,
is that the Economy of Self-Preservation
can do nothing
but further a culture of death.
The promise here,
is that the Economy of Self-Preservation
has no other potential
than suffering and death.
only those who love us;
only to those who can pay us interest;
only to those who will give back;
abusing those who abuse us;
all routine transactions
in the Economy of Self-Preservation;
guarantee the perpetuation
of suffering and inequality.
They are self-generating also,
and require no choice on our part.
Simply go on as we are,
and they will be perpetuated.
But you and I are called upon to demonstrate
That is our dilemma:
an agonizing decision placed in our lap
by coming to a place like this
and opening a book like that one.
To love those who do not love us;
to grant mercy when we are within our rights
to exact justice;
and to forgive when no one expects us to.
These raise the possibility of an economy
driven by a different currency,
and trading on different commodities.
So that is our dilemma,
and I think we should take it seriously
rather than pay false homage to it.
But before we do,
here is one more thing for us to think about.
When Jesus urged his contemporaries
in this subversive way of thinking,
he was talking to ordinary people.
Think about that:
he was talking to people
with far fewer resources than we possess.
Jesus wasn’t preaching Love your enemies
to a cloister full of Hildegard of Bingen’s –
mystics and monastics who had attained a high degree
of spiritual enlightenment.
He was talking to spiritual pedestrians like us!
What he was teaching was possible, he said,
for ordinary people like us.
dispossessed Holy Man
spoke as if you and I,
can actually reverse the impulse
of Natural Selection.
So there is another dilemma for us:
Are we going to trust him?
Are we going to invest authority
in these crazy ideas and teachings
that have been handed down to us?
Or, do we prefer to invest greater trust and authority
in that which impregnates
the Economy of Self-Preservation?
I didn’t say it was a walk in the park, did I?
Our vision…a Trinity Church known in the community as a welcoming home to everyone, responding effectively to the needs of our community, in collaboration with fellow Episcopalians and other faith communities
Our mission…to strive in our daily life and parish life to respect the dignity of every human being, and to treat each person entering our doors as if that person is Christ.
We are striving to be as open as the table Jesus hosted, in solidarity with the people of Geneva, and an accessible partner to others who share our sense of the gospel.
It also means we have opened ourselves to the future, and not only moved but adopted a new way of being church from the more traditional model. Join us at Trinity Place, 78 Castle Street in downtown Geneva, NY.
Trinity Place, An Open Space for Growth, Wellness, Healing, & the Arts
“Open Space” means open and inclusive, welcoming the Geneva and FLX community to use our space, and to partner with us in building an inclusive community for spiritual inquiry and wellness.
“Growth, Wellness, Healing, & the Arts” means we are pointed toward a particular dimension of life, specifically that which strengthens the relationship of body, mind, and spirit.
Trinity is a Christian community of worship and spiritual practice welcoming all, and an Episcopal Church in particular. However, we welcome all spiritual traditions and those who have no particular spiritual background but are engaged in a mission consistent with ours. We are looking for partners in mission not members (although we love to welcome new members too).
Trinity’s historic building and our adaptive reuse plan has been named and embraced by The Landmark Society of Western New York. Among thousands of worthy historic sites and projects, Trinity’s was selected. Follow this link to read more: https://landmarksociety.org/2019-five-to-revive-announced/
The Rev. R. Cameron Miller is our rector, which means the resident clergy leader. In addition … Read more