Choose Life So That You and Your Descendants May Live
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
February 16, 2020
Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
Deuteronomy 30; Sirach 15;
I Corinthians 3:1-9; Matthew 4:12-5:12
The future of the world depends on a change of human consciousness if life is to continue. So say Gus Speth, Joanna Macy, Cynthia Bourgeault and a host of other leading thinkers. Albert Einstein said, “A new type of thinking is essential if [humanity] is to survive and move toward higher levels.”
Common sense says that we cannot solve a problem by the same approach that got us into the problem. Gus Speth is famous for saying, “The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation.” Selfishness, greed and apathy have created problems before—problems of injustice, violence and abuse. Oppressive empires are built on selfishness and greed and depend on apathy to maintain their power. To solve the problems we need to address the underlying causes.
These are old problems, so we should not be surprised that Moses, Jesus and Paul were dealing with them thousands of years ago.
Much of the law of Moses is about trying to curb our selfishness and greed and inspire us to live by love instead of apathy.
Jesus called people to expand their hearts and minds in the process of metanoia so that they could see from a new level of consciousness and recognize the realm of God on earth and choose that way of life instead of selfishness, greed or apathy.
Paul urged people to have the heart and mind of Christ because only through that transformed, expanded consciousness could they hope to understand and follow the way Jesus showed. We heard Paul say in last week’s passage that those who are unspiritual see God’s ways (unselfish, ungreedy, loving neighbor as self) as foolish, but “those who are spiritual discern all things.”
In today’s passage Paul says that the Corinthians are not spiritual. He accuses them of being “of the flesh,” which means to be living by materialistic values, because they have divided into factions. They are fighting over their rival loyalties to two leaders who had worked with the church at different times, Paul and Apollos. This is only human, but it is materialistically human, not spiritually. Paul tries to lift their consciousness to a spiritual perspective that sees that all sides are truly on the same side in God.
The paradox is that God asks, “Which side are you on?” God says, “I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life, so that you and your descendants may live.”
This appears to be a duality: two sides. How can God be divisive? The word devil comes from the same Greek root as divide. God is all about making us one. So how can God be asking us to take sides?
Here is one way to untangle the paradox. We can define the choice that Moses calls “death and curses” by Gus’s terms, selfishness, greed and apathy. The perspective of that path is dualistic. The world is divided and the only satisfactory reconciliation of sides is capitulation, when one side loses and gives in to a more powerful side of selfishness and greed.
But if we have the perspective of the path of life and blessings, our spiritual selves are constantly spanning all sides with unconditional love, serving love’s needs wherever they appear, living by the ethic of universal compassion and the Golden Rule, transcending all duality in oneness. The material side creates and perpetuates sides, the spiritual side leads to the true unity of flesh and spirit and all other sides.
Remember the story of Louise Degrafinried. An escaped inmate showed up at her door with a shotgun and forced his way into the house, but Louise said, “Young man, I am a Christian lady. I don’t believe in no violence. Put that gun down and you sit down. I don’t allow no violence here.” He looked at her and then did as she told him. She made him breakfast and then sat with him and talked and prayed and poured love and compassion out to him. Eventually the police came and she told them the same thing, “I don’t allow no violence here,” and she made them put down their guns and helped the young man go back quietly. He became like a son to her for the rest of her life.
Louise was on her own side, she was the only one preaching Christian nonviolence, but it was a spiritual side that enabled her to bring nonviolent resolution to the seemingly irreconcilable sides of the armed, escaped prisoner and the heavily armed police.
We need to choose life as individuals, like Louise, but it is even more urgent now that we choose life as a society. The South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission designed by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu was a model of a government choosing life so that it and its descendants might live. The Commission was a national institution and system created by a Christ-like level of consciousness that saw, as Martin Luther King Jr. put it, that “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”
There were clear sides in those Truth and Reconciliation hearings. On one side sat the victims and on the other sat their oppressors who had tortured and murdered their beloveds. Those sides were real, and yet there was another side, the side of God, the side that wanted to create a new future for themselves and for all sides of South Africa. The two sides were divided and at the same time united on that common side. Both victims and oppressors chose life.
As a result, miraculous transformations took place. Many on both sides were lifted to a new consciousness and way of being where they could be one in unconditional compassion and love. There were many stories like Louise and the escaped prisoner that came out of the Truth and Reconciliation hearings.
Jesus began his ministry by taking a bold and brave stand on the side of John the Baptist. Jesus took up John’s core message after King Herod had arrested John. Jesus went around the countryside preaching it, knowing full well that it could lead to his arrest as well. The message was, “Undergo metanoia, open your heart and mind to be changed and expanded (translated as “repent”), for the realm of God is at hand.”
Jesus called his disciples to follow him and pledge their allegiance to this other kingdom that King Herod saw as a threat. Not only did Jesus ask them to take sides, he said instead of catching fish from now on they would catch people, they would be movement organizers recruiting people to take their side. Herod was right to feel threatened.
But unlike the selfish pride and greed of Herod’s side and the apathy of those who passively submitted to oppressive empire, the side Jesus stood on said “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Blessed are those who are merciful, and those whose hearts are pure of selfishness and greed, and those who are passionate peacemakers, and those who make themselves vulnerable taking stands for the side of oneness and love, risking ridicule, revilement and persecution.
The poor in spirit and the meek are on one side, but their goal is not to defeat the other side, it is to build the realm of God on earth, to change governments and corporations and institutions and all relationships to live by the laws of oneness and love, seeking the well-being of all sides.
If you read these scriptures, it is so clear which side we need to choose. If you look at the world, it makes so much plain common sense to take a stand on the side of love, compassion and oneness, on the side of peace, justice and the care of God’s creation, because who wants to live in a loveless, hard hearted, violent, unfair, polarized, toxic world? Really! For goodness sake! How can this even be a choice? Choose life so you and your descendants may live!
And yet here we are, and the other side has fanatical support and appears to be on the brink of destroying all life. We were told clearly what was at stake, a future for our children or no future, and the dominant force in our society at this moment has chosen the side of death and is actively pursuing it despite the evidence of all that is dying.
And yet the side of choosing life is not dead, and we appear to be in the midst of a major shift of consciousness. Paul Hawken has done exhaustive research and discovered the largest social movement in the history of the world, involving as many as two million organizations and tens of millions of people, working in hundreds of different ways, all choosing life so that we and our descendants may live in a sustainable, just, peaceful, healthy world. (See Hawken’s book Blessed Unrest.) The more people who choose this side and dedicate their lives to it, the better chance we have of creating a world where all are on each other’s sides, where compassion and love override all differences to make us one, where we are able to save this life that we love.
We have no time to lose for this spiritual and cultural transformation, so what can we do to help make it happen?
Bill McKibben says that the first thing an individual can do is stop being an individual. Join a side and use all your gifts to serve it. Just make sure that it is a side like Louise’s that transcends all sides with its love, make sure it is a side like Nelson Mandela, Bishop Tutu and the Truth and Reconciliation process, a side that builds the infrastructure of the realm of God on earth, bringing all sides together and creating a sustainable future for all lives and lands.
There is another thing that we need to do, and if the children were here they would know what I am about to say. Yes: pray, and particularly centering prayer or some other form of meditation. Contemplative prayer trains our hearts and minds to practice continuous metanoia where we keep shifting our consciousness to the spiritual realm while in the midst of our material lives. It opens us to the transformation of our heart and mind to a level of consciousness that can see our true oneness that spans all sides. Contemplative practice transforms us, and transformed people transform people and cultures.
So let us practice for a minute or two now. It is really simple. Form an intention in your heart to spend this moment opening yourself to God’s love and transforming power, and then let go of all thoughts including that one and just wait in wordless openness. You will probably catch yourself thinking again in just a few seconds, and when you do, don’t feel bad, just let that thought go and return to being completely open to God’s love and transformation. Every time you catch yourself getting caught up in your head, sink back down into the wordless silence of your heart where the Spirit is waiting. Let us pray…
Here is a talk that Paul Hawken gave on his fascinating research and observations leading to the book Blessed Unrest. The quality is not the best, but it is well worth the work to catch every word: