Sermon from September 22, 2019

Whoever Finds Me Finds Life
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
September 22, 2019
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proverbs 8; Matthew 10:16-20; Luke 16:1-13

“Wisdom is an ancient tradition…at the headwaters of all the great sacred paths. From time immemorial there have been Wisdom schools, places where men and women have been raised to a higher level of understanding… Wisdom has flowed like a great underground stream from these schools, providing guidance and nurturance, as well as occasional sharp course corrections, to the flow of human history.”
Cynthia Bourgeault, The Wisdom Way of Knowing, p. 4

“As one’s level of being increases, receptivity to higher meaning increases. As one’s being decreases, the old meanings return.”
Maurice Nicoll, quoted in The Wisdom Way of Knowing, p. 6

Albert Einstein said, “The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.” (New York Times – May 25 1946, p.13 – ‘Atomic Education Urged by Einstein’)

Nuclear power was the first technology to be recognized as a threat to human survival.  Today we know of many more that could spin out of control, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and of course the burning of fossil fuel that is speeding us toward unparalleled catastrophe.

Einstein’s insight is that no problem can be solved at the same level of consciousness that created it.  We have to move to a whole new type of thinking, a new developmental stage with its wiser perspective, in order to see a way to save and transform the world.

Gandhi understood the need for this new level of collective consciousness.  It is why a major part of his nonviolent movement was focused on meditation, prayer, the reading of scriptures, communal worship and the contemplative manual labor of spinning cotton and weaving cloth.  He knew, as Jesus did, that it was from hundreds of millions of changed hearts that the change in society had to come.

Gandhi applied this to the personal life as well. 

A distraught mother came to Gandhi begging his help.  Her son was addicted to dairy, but he was severely allergic to it and she was watching him waste away.  Gandhi said he would try to help, but she must come back with her son in two weeks.  She returned and Gandhi was able to help the son break his addiction.  Later someone asked Gandhi why he made her wait two weeks when the boy was suffering.  Gandhi replied that he, too, was addicted to dairy, and he knew he could not help the boy quit until he had quit himself.  As Gandhi’s grandson, Arund, put it, “We must be the change we wish to see in the world.”

“A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.”  Einstein was not the only one to say that.  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

This is what Jesus is getting at in the difficult passage from Luke.  A rich man is firing his dishonest manager and asking for an accounting before he goes. The manager cheats the rich man yet again by going to the rich man’s debtors and reducing their bills in order to win himself friends to take him into their homes when he is out of a job.  This manager plays the game of selfish materialism brilliantly.  The rich man is impressed.

But we are shocked.  It sounds as if Jesus is praising the shrewdness of dishonesty and greed.  He says, “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.”

It sounds as if he wants us to do the same thing as the dishonest manager.  How could he so utterly contradict his teachings of love of God and neighbor?  He is purposefully disorienting us, shocking our hearts and minds to move them to a whole new level of consciousness.  The first clue we have that Jesus is playing tricks with us is the phrase “eternal homes.”

If we read that verse enough times we realize he is saying to use our material resources to make a certain kind of friend who can welcome us into an eternal spiritual home.  Well, who has such a home?  God, the Eternal Spirit.  So Jesus is saying, use everything you have in this world to serve God and the realm of God, meaning use your time, skills, energy, money—your business if you have one—to serve the cause of universal and unconditional compassion, mercy, justice, peace, well-being and love.

Jesus says we have to be consistent, we have to be faithful, we have to live by our spiritual and ethical ideals in relation to the material world.  If we are not following the sacred way in material things, how can we think we are following it in spiritual things?  He concludes, that no one can serve two masters. You have to choose which level of being you will give yourself to, God or mammon, the spiritual realm or the material realm.

This is extremely important wisdom to understand, because if we get this wrong, we go down the path that says this life on earth does not matter and people who are spiritual don’t have to worry about destroying the planet.  To make the material realm our focus cuts us off from the spiritual realm, but the reverse is not true.  To focus on the material realm creates a dualistic viewpoint, it divides us from God, the rest of creation and our true selves.  To focus on the spiritual is to see the true oneness of all creation.  Then the Spirit leads us back into the material realm as a servant of the sacred way of God’s love.

One of the things we learn in the Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle is to observe those two realms in ourselves.  Centering Prayer is a technique for switching from the surface, material realm to the spiritual depths.  We do it by being aware when we are caught up in our thinking, and using a gentle, simple technique to help us let those thoughts go and sink down into the pure connection to the Spirit that we find in silence.  We shift modes of being and ways of knowing.  Gradually we learn to bring the spiritual depth into everything we do.

The late great master of Centering Prayer, Father Thomas Keating, used the image of thoughts as boats on a river.  Thoughts are constantly sailing down the stream of consciousness.  Most of the time we get caught up in them and sail along, but we can learn to dive off and swim down to the bottom where it is quiet.  The thoughts are still sailing by overhead, but we are not attached to them or engaged with them, we let them go without paying much attention to them and let ourselves be in the presence of the Spirit.

Jesus said as he sent his disciples into the world, “See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves…. Do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say; for what you are to say will be given to you at that time; for it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of God speaking through you.”

This is what happens when we change our level of consciousness from the material to the spiritual.  We lose the shrewd competitive edge of the dishonest manager, but we gain wisdom and innocence, wise as serpents and nonviolent as doves.  The wisdom and way of being that we gain is not from ourselves, it is the Spirit of God speaking through us.

I had a long talk with the Rev. Jim Antal at the Climate Strike gathering on Friday.  We started by sharing how deeply moved we are by Greta Thunberg.  God, or the universe, or human consciousness, desperate to keep humanity from killing itself, has given rise to this wise and innocent voice, a tiny young girl exactly the age of Mary when she became the mother of Jesus, who speaks with a prophetic power as great as any prophet the earth has ever heard.

Greta says simply that our house is on fire, the earth is in a state of emergency, and all she asks is for adults to drop everything and respond appropriately.  Yes, but exactly how do we put that fire out and rebuild an entirely new kind of fire-resistant house? And how do we convince people to make that change once we can agree on the complex details of the plan?

Jesus gives us the way—and the Mahatma Gandhi and Albert Einstein and Gus Speth and Cynthia Bourgeault and Maurice Nicholl—the answer is that we must change our level of consciousness, change our thinking, let the Spirit that created the earth move through our hearts and minds, and it will give us the Wisdom that the earth needs us to have.

But where today are we going to learn the skills, techniques and practices that can help us shift to the wise, spiritual level of consciousness?  Where are we going to get that teaching and training as quickly as we need it in order to save our world from unparalleled catastrophe?

We have many important and worthy organizations, but only one kind of institution exists for the purpose of helping us transform our hearts and minds to a new spiritual level of consciousness, and that is the spiritual community, the wisdom school, the synagogue or mosque or sangha or in our case, church.

The church has largely forgotten that wisdom school role, disastrously, but our Future Directions vision says, “We want to learn and grow.”  This comes exactly at the center of our Unison Statement.  It forms the core of our calling as a congregation.  Our survival depends on fulfilling it.

Einstein said, “The unleashed power of [human technology] has changed everything save our modes of thinking and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe…. A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.”

The good news is, all we have to do is dive off the boat of our old level of consciousness and open to the Spirit in our depths and it will give us the new mode of thinking that our world needs.  The church has the same Wisdom tradition that Gandhi followed to help us get there.  Our house is on fire, as Greta says, and Jesus tells us that turning our focus to the Spirit is how we can save it.

So let us pray in silence, turning and opening right now, sinking down from the surface where the thoughts are sailing by, sitting on the bottom in stillness, attentive to the presence of God…

The Rev. Jim Antal strides toward justice at the 9/20/19 Global Climate Strike in front of Barrett Hall, South Strafford, Vermont.

One Comment on “Sermon from September 22, 2019

  1. Pingback: Upcoming Service Notes for October 6, 2019 | United Church of Strafford, Vermont

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