Think About These Things: Another World Is Possible
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 4, 2020 Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 11:1-9; Philippians 4:8-9; John 17:20-23
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon at the end of this text and you can see the entire On Line Service by clicking here.]
Viktor Frankl wrote the book Man’s Search for Meaning about the lessons he learned as a psychiatrist who was a prisoner in Nazi death camps. The camps were designed to suck the soul out of people, to alienate them from one another and from all life and to destroy all hope that another world was possible.
Frankl teaches ways to save our soul and create a better world around us even when living in the worst of circumstances. He shows that another world is always possible. He was doing hard labor, half-starved, freezing, and in that moment found a love that gave his life meaning and kept his soul intact. He saw prisoners who maintained lovingkindness when most others had been reduced to savage animals, people who gave away their one scrap of daily bread, who offered words of encouragement in that pit of despair. They were ordinary prisoners, but they kept the ideal world alive in their hearts and minds, they envisioned it, and they lived into it even as they suffered the same deprivations, beatings and death threats as everyone else. They kept alive in the hearts of others the hope that they themselves might endure and live into that better world.
This week was another in a long stretch when the news seemed more shocking and chaotic every day. We are living as Nazi prisoners did in an ongoing collective trauma of threats, violence and uncertainty—the presidential debate, the climate catastrophe burning the earth, the virus continuing to spread, the racist oppression and economic injustice, and now the future thrown into confusion by the President’s sickness.
We each need to find a way to survive this with our sanity and health, and together we need to find a way to create a new world that nurtures life even as the old world continues to rage destructively around us. The good news is that people like Viktor Frankl have passed down to us the way and wisdom we need.
One of the Rev. William Sloane Coffin’s favorite quotes was from G. K. Chesterton. I remember Bill saying it in our sanctuary— “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”
Not just Christianity, but Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, Indigenous religions, every spiritual tradition I know sees that another world is possible. My brother George has traveled all over Europe and Asia having Golden Civilization conversations like the one he led in our church, and he has found that the vision of an ideal world is the same everywhere.
Not only do we know what it looks like, we know that humanity can do it. We may never be perfect at it, but there is no question in the minds of the wisest spiritual teachers that we can create a society that takes the Golden Rule, the love of neighbor as our self and compassion for people who are struggling as its dominant culture, a society with equality, justice and freedom for all. This is not only the best way to live, it is clear now that it is the only way that humanity and life on earth can survive.
Another world is possible, and it is cropping up every day within and around us. The Apostle Paul said, “Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is honorable, if there is any virtue and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” That is the first practical step toward making the realm of God on earth the dominant culture—to recognize it happening already, to focus on it and to shout out its praise so others can see and honor it as well.
We can think about the things Gandhi or Dorothy Day or Mother Theresa did, or we can think about the way Bill Burden worked so quietly and beautifully among us.
Think about the people we see responding with an outpouring of support to tragic accidents and house fires and neighbors with physical or mental illness or infirmity.
Think about teachers and first responders and recycling volunteers and too many examples to list of people making personal sacrifices and giving of themselves to create a world that is nurturing, loving and kind. Think about every single smile or wave or courtesy extended to a stranger in a store or on the road or on the phone.
Think about people living by their values and principles, choosing products that contribute as little as possible to pollution or injustice. We can see this if we make the slightest effort to think about these things. The trick is to recognize them for what they are—the realm of God breaking forth on earth like grass coming up through the cracks in parking lots, like pioneer trees in a thicket rising to heal and renew an overgrazed field.
Isaiah saw the kind of leadership humanity was capable of and the society it would create:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding…. with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the earth…. The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.… They will not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain; for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (11:2ff)
Jesus added to the vision of another possible world that he inherited from the prophets before him. He made more explicit the condition of oneness that their justice and nonviolence implied.
The motto of the United Church of Christ is taken from the 17th Chapter of the Gospel of John where Jesus prays “that they may all be one.” He goes on, “As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us….so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one.”
Spiritual teachers give us the vision of another world, and they also give practical steps to take down the path to that world. This is where the Chesterton wisdom that Bill Coffin loved to quote comes in, because almost all traditions agree it is the selfishness of the human ego that we need to overcome in order to have the ideal world, and the ego fights us every step of the way.
It is urgent that we choose this path, and keep taking steps to get past the ego and other obstacles.
One step is to set our mind on the realm of God visible here and now, to see what is true and honorable and praise those things. Another step is to strive first for the realm of God and all its right ways and let everything else follow naturally. Another is to love God with our whole being, and love our neighbor as our self. Another is to recognize that all creatures are one in God. These are all steps on the path to another world.
Paul said in the passage we heard last week from Philippians, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who…emptied himself.”
The way to another world is to have another relationship with ourselves and the world around us. It begins with self-emptying, kenosis, which leads to a transformation of our hearts and minds to a new level of consciousness, known as metanoia, and that leads to our becoming incarnations like Jesus of the love of God, agape, a universal and unconditional oneness that is the foundation for the Golden Rule and love of neighbor as our self.
Thinking about these things and practicing them make another world possible, and that other world, the realm of God on earth, is now our only hope. So let us resolve on this World Communion Sunday to be part of the worldwide movement to bring that world into being in our homes, our workplaces, our church and community and in our endangered nation. Let us practice the self-emptying of centering prayer now, spending the next minute turning from our thoughts and feelings to a silent opening to the loving and transforming presence of the Spirit within us. If your mind wanders, just gently return to that open, available, waiting heart. Let us pray…