7 Epiphany, Year A, 2017: The Economy of God

  • Post author:
  • Post category:Sermons

Good morning.
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,
pulled taunt
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
measures everything
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.

By contrast,
God’s economy trades on
and abundance.

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,
quantitative economics
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.

Likewise, forgiveness
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
and promote
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,
like love,
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
of kindness.

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 choose
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,
our time,
our compassion,
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
an alternative.

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.
Our illiterate,
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?