Sermon from February 24, 2019

Vision for a Golden Civilization, God’s Realm on Earth
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 24, 2019    Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Psalm 37; Luke 6:27-38, 10:25-28

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave one of his most important speeches from the pulpit of Riverside Church where years later William Sloane Coffin would serve as Senior Minister.  Bill may have been sitting right behind him when King spoke.  It was a meeting of Clergy and Laity Concerned About Vietnam, an organization that Bill co-founded, and he had been working with others to encourage King to make the kind of historic speech he did.

The meeting took place on April 4th, 1967, a year to the day before King was assassinated.  It was one of the first times King spoke out against the war, but he did not stop there.  He called for a revolution of values, he called for society to do what we are describing on the Parish Hall walls, to follow the Golden Rule and ethic of love instead of selfishness, fear and what King named “the giant triplets of racism, materialism and militarism.”

The Riverside speech has become more poignant since last October, when the global scientific community gave us notice that we have less than twelve years to undergo a revolution of values and way of life.

King said in his conclusion,

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.  In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late… Over the bleached bones and jumbled residue of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late…’  We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.  We must move past indecision to action…. The choice is ours, and though we might prefer it otherwise we must choose in this crucial moment of human history.”  [“A Time to Break Silence” from A Testament of Hope, p. 231]

King ended his talk by quoting another hymn by James Russell Lowell, “Once to Every Man and Nation,” which Bill Coffin used as the title of his autobiography a decade later.  [Note: We had sung “Men, Whose Boast It Is That Ye” earlier in the service.  Lowell was a leading abolitionist, writer and editor in the decades before the Civil War.]

This is the context of where we stand today, surrounded by a cloud of witnesses in the fierce urgency of now, faced with the fact that the tomorrow we thought a half a century away is suddenly today, knowing that already we are too late to prevent devastating hurricanes and wildfires, but hoping that we are not too late to save our civilization.

We might prefer it otherwise, but the choice is now ours to make. The most crucial moment in human history is upon us.  Other generations have faced times of terrible crisis in the past—we are not the only ones—but we are the first generation in a position to choose the fate of all future generations.  We have been warned what will happen if we do nothing.  We need to move past indecision to action now, or it will be too late.

This is why our meeting on Sunday, March 3rd after worship is so important, because the questions we will be addressing are the last step before we are ready to act as a congregation.

We have reached the culmination of our process to discern how we will fulfill the part of our Future Directions vision statement that says “We intend to be a force, not merely a presence, effecting positive social change for peace, justice and the care of God’s creation.”

The Church Council’s Ad Hoc Committee on Fulfilling Our Vision has grappled with a complex challenge, caught between the urgency of now and the desire to have a careful, inclusive discussion.

We are aware of urgent actions we could take immediately and yet we realize that the very fact that so many issues are in crisis means that we need to step back to see as clearly as possible what the world most needs that our congregation could most effectively offer.  We have limited resources of time, energy and money, yet there is no limit to what countless organizations ask of us.  Each glance at the news can move our hearts to add yet another important cause to our list.

I am so grateful for the Committee’s wisdom to pause for perspective and ask what a society would look like that lived by the Golden Rule and love of neighbor that we heard Jesus teach today.  It is important to have a vision of where we would like to go so we can take the most direct and effective steps to get there.

The Book of Proverbs in the Bible says that where there is no vision, the people perish, or the people fall into confusion which amounts ultimately to the same thing..  My brother George’s new book is entitled A Golden Civilization and the Map of Mindfulness.  In it he writes,

“A Golden Civilization requires a great vision that stimulates the passion and the vigor of a people as it calls forth their authenticity and their compassion.  It is time to create that vision and hold to it.  It is not a time for compromise.  It is time to build the movement that will ensure a Golden Civilization for a thousand generations.  We must end corruption and abuses of power.  Without integrity in all our systems, planet Earth is not a sustainable home for Homo sapiens and Homo sapiens are not the proper guardians for the species of Mother Earth….

“If we wish to send a satellite to Saturn’s rings, our aim must be impeccable.  If we miss by even a few inches for every mile we travel we will never arrive.  How much clearer must we be in our vision of that foundation on which a Golden Civilization will be built…. And we must have courage and constancy, for if we shy away from the ideals that would deliver us into a Golden Civilization, the complexity of our modern machinery will carry us irretrievably far away from where we wish to go.  As impossible as it might seem, it is time for us to craft the vision and go for it.  Our alternative is untenable.”

Take a tour of the Parish Hall walls and you will see parts of this vision emerging.  We ask ourselves three questions on each issue poster, “What might it look like to apply the Golden Rule to this issue, thinking society-wide?  What feels positive to me about applying the Golden Rule to our actions on this issue?  What makes it feel difficult or complicated to apply the Golden Rule?”

Our congregational circle conversations have added wisdom and greater detail to the poster responses.  We see how daunting it is to change society, but we also see how the Golden Rule and ethic of love can apply to every issue and interaction.  One person summed it up saying, “Acceptance and respect kept coming up as we looked at applying the Golden Rule to these issues. What does that look like, accepting and being respectful in every situation? The obstacles in all cases were fear and selfishness.”

This is a hugely important insight.  Both the obstacles and the solutions arise from the way we think and feel.  Our reflections are confirming what Gus Speth has written:

“Many of our deepest thinkers and many of those most familiar with the scale of the challenges we face have concluded that the transitions required can be achieved only in the context of what I will call the rise of a new consciousness. For some it is a spiritual awakening —a transformation of the human heart. For others it is a more intellectual process of coming to see the world anew and deeply embracing the emerging ethic of the environment and the old ethic of what it means to love thy neighbor as thyself. But for all it involves major cultural change and a reorientation of what society values and prizes most highly.”  [from The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability]

The good news is that the church is in the spiritual awakening business.  We have tools that can do what the world desperately needs.  The teachings and life of Christ; our tradition’s centuries of music and writing; all our spiritual practices, especially the contemplative ones we work with on Thursday evenings: these are designed to transform human consciousness and help us live more according to the ethic of love that we heard Jesus teach today.

Next Sunday I will share more of what we have learned in our Fulfilling Our Vision process so far, and then after worship we will meet to start making the precise calculations to launch this beloved satellite of ours to reach Saturn’s rings, doing our part to help establish the golden civilization of God’s realm on earth in our time.

One day thirty years ago I stopped in the doorway of my mother’s hospital room where she was dying.  My father was on his knees beside her.  She was 65 and they were about to retire after scrimping and saving to put four boys through college.  In the instant that it took me to back out of the doorway I heard my father ask her, “How did we do it?”  And my mother answered, “Because we had to.”

My brother George invites us to imagine that we are living a thousand generations from now looking back at our generation today with gratitude because we made the change of consciousness we had to in order for there to be future generations.

We can do this.  We know we can, because Jesus gives the great commandments to love God and love our neighbor as our self and then says, “Do this, and you will live.”  We know we can do this, because the Psalm promises us, “Commit your way to God, trust in God, and God will act, and will make your vindication shine like the light and the justice of your cause like the noonday.”

We can do this because we have to, and because the Spirit that created the earth and the universe is within us, already guiding and empowering us to work the next miraculous evolution of human consciousness.

So do not fret at the fierce urgency of now.  Do not fret at the seemingly impossible task.  We are already on our way.  Keep the faith, and come help us move another step forward after worship on March 3rd.

Let us pray in silence, being still before God, opening our hearts and minds to the Spirit…


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