Sermon from September 8, 2019

Giving Up All Your Possessions
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
September 8, 2019
Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Jeremiah 18:1-11; Luke 14:25-33

The Hebrew and Christian scriptures could not be clearer.  They insist that there is a sacred way to live, and if we are wise enough to follow it, we will have life and have it abundantly.  If we do not, our path will lead to destruction, not just for us but for our children and civilization.

The description of the sacred way is consistent across religions.  They share a core spirituality known as the perennial tradition.  They teach practices to help our consciousness evolve to the place where we see we are one with God and all creation.  The major religions share a universal ethic based on the truth of our oneness, the ethic of the Golden Rule, love of neighbor and compassion toward everyone, especially the poor, vulnerable and oppressed.  Living by the sacred way enables us to be a blessing to the earth and its creatures.

The condition that our society and earth are in now is a direct result of choosing our path unwisely, following the dictates of short-sighted selfishness, greed and pride as our culture’s dominant ethic.

We need a new consciousness to solve today’s most destructive problems.  We need a spiritual and cultural transformation.  We need to choose the path of life instead of self-destruction.

A huge tragedy in human history is that most Christian churches have chosen the path of self-destruction.  This was not always the case.  For the first three centuries the followers of Christ more or less truly followed him, trying to shape their lives by the sacred way he modeled and taught.

They practiced nonviolence because how could you have Christ-like compassion for the least of creatures or love your enemies while doing them violence?  No Christian served in an army, no Christian participated in businesses or governments that oppressed the poor and vulnerable.  They were peace makers, and the churches had warehouses of food to give away that were bigger than their sanctuaries.

Meanwhile, in desert monasteries and bishops’ studies leading spiritual teachers pioneered the Christian contemplative life, striving to follow Jesus inwardly as well as outwardly, knowing that if we are not following the sacred way in our hearts our actions will not be likely to follow it either.  Outer cultural transformation flows from the inner spiritual one.

Tragically the church abandoned that path when the Roman Empire took it over.  There have been exceptions: saints and mystics, Mennonites and Quakers, but the dominant culture of the Christian church has supported the values of the materialistic, violent societies that surrounded it, even while continuing to provide comfort and assistance to the victims of those societies.

Christians have fought the empire’s wars, they have served in oppressive governments and greedy corporations, they have been complicit in allowing genocide, weapons of mass destruction and now mass extinction.

“Choose life,” the voice of God cries out to us through Moses, “so that you and your descendants may live!”

The good news is that we still can choose.  God still holds out this hope.  Choosing life means the many acts of kindness in this congregation that people do every day—if we could see them all together at once, what a powerful affirmation of life it would be!  Choosing life means staying home from work and not doing business as usual for the Climate Strike on September 20th and joining our neighbors that morning down by the school.  Choosing life means participating in communication workshops to learn how to solve conflicts nonviolently and resolve differences in a way that makes us closer instead of dividing us.

These are all outer signs, but the sacred way begins in the heart, and that is what Jesus is trying to shock us into seeing, like an electrical cardioversion procedure, shocking the heart to reset it.  Jesus would never ever tell anyone to hate as he does in this passage, and as for getting rid of all our possessions—he was in the business of giving possessions to those who had none!  He is using shocking words to reset our hearts so they can comprehend a deeper truth.

Jesus is talking about what the contemplative tradition calls kenosis, or self-emptying.  He is not saying have no possessions, he is saying have no possessiveness.  We have to be careful not to let anything own us and keep us from following the sacred way.  We have to let go of identifying exclusively with our tribe in order to see that all humans and all creatures on earth are our family, as St. Francis recognized.  The book Active Hope explains that when jazz musicians improvise together the individuals bring their own gifts but they have to identify fully with the whole.  The non-possessiveness that Jesus is teaching frees us to participate in a greater whole.  As Active Hope says, “When our central organizing priority becomes the well-being of all life, then what happens through us” is the restoration of the world.

Choosing life can also look like sitting in silence with our eyes closed.  Every Thursday at 5:45 the Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle meets in our Parish Hall.  We are trying to step onto the sacred way that begins with self-emptying and non-possessiveness in our hearts and minds and ends by making us one with all the world.  So what does this mean, practically?

This past Thursday I asked the group to listen to what the Spirit was calling them to do or be or become, what was their next step on the sacred way.  The conversation reflected the spiritual transformation Jesus is calling us to undergo, out of which will blossom the cultural transformation that we desperately need, so I’d like to end by sharing some of what was said.  As you will see, the seeds are in each of our hearts right now.

A person who is starting a new chapter of life heard the Spirit whisper the word become, but then it divided into be and come, meaning all we have to do is be and be open and the spirit will come and lead to new life.

A person who is facing an extremely challenging relationship heard, “accept and love.”

Another person felt called to live more by intuition—listening for the Spirit’s guidance, following the way of the heart or gut more than the head.

Someone who had been away from the circle for months felt gratitude for the structure, the simplicity of coming for an hour and emptying of thoughts and worries and having conversation from that uncluttered place.

Someone else felt a yearning to create more of a structure of prayer and spiritual reflection in daily life, like a secret garden to go into and let the flowers of the Spirit grow and be at peace.

And then someone who has felt called to reduce the physical clutter in their home spoke of a miracle happening.  They had started by clearing all the piles of papers off the dining room table.  After a day or two they came home to find a surprise—a beautiful bouquet of flowers that their partner had put right in the middle of the table.  It was an uncharacteristic, impulsive purchase at the roadside stand by Barrett Hall, inspired by the beauty of the uncluttered space.  An inner spiritual transformation had blossomed into a cultural transformation in that home.

Thursday’s conversation felt like a miracle.  We arrived at the perfect metaphor for what happens when we follow the non-possessive self-emptying of Jesus.  If we can be like a cleared table the Spirit will come with some kind of miraculous bouquet.  If we can live with acceptance, love will come.  If we can let go of our compulsive, clinging thinking, intuition will come.  If we create the simplicity of structure and create a spacious place within our life, grace will come.

If we undergo this spiritual transformation together, the miracle of cultural transformation will bloom around us.  We will restore the earth.

Let us pray in silence…

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