15 Pentecost—Proper 20-A
September 21, 2014
Psalm 105:1-6, 37-45
I was watching Ken Burns new multi-part film called “The Roosevelts: An Intimate History” when he was showing the horror of the Great Depression: 30% unemployment. Bread and soup lines stretching into the distance. Life was hard and people assumed it would remain hard.
Unless something intervened they could only imagine this going on forever.
In his inaugural address in March 1933 Franklin Roosevelt, standing on polio ravaged legs, says the famous words, “We have nothing to fear, but fear itself.”
He is declaring a new future, an invented future, that can replace the default future of despair.
In his first fireside chat, with most of the country listening to the family radio, he expands that invented future and tells the people to take the money they withdrew from the banks and now keep under their mattresses and return it to the bank.
Miraculously, the next week billions of dollars were returned to the banks so the economy could head toward a new future.
You and I also live with a default future—not as grim as the one for our forebears living in the 1930s—but just as hard to change. This future is determined by how we see and understand the present. Remember: we don’t’ see things as they are, we see things as we are. We see things as they occur to us, not as they are in themselves.
As Business Consultants Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan say in The Three Laws of Performance, Benjamin Franklin did gave a similar gift when he coined the word, American. This word began to transform how the 13 independent colonies saw themselves: from the many into one: E Pluribus Unum.
And 52 leaders signed a document called, not “the description of independence”, but the “Declaration of Independence.”
Without that declaration most people couldn’t imagine anything other than the default future of British rule.
Jesus has even a higher calling: he is declaring the future called the Kingdom of God. Kingdom of God or as Matthew calls it Kingdom of Heaven is not the place we go when we die, but what God is doing on earth here and now.
That’s why he tells us to pray for God’s will to be done, “on earth, as it is in heaven”.
Jesus is declaring this new future and those who catch the vision are transformed by it and join in the transforming of it. All of a sudden they can see right in front of them what they had been unable to see before because of their default vision of a future of sin, violence, and separation.
Our default vision is seen through a lens that divides everything into twos: there is up or down, win or lose, us or them. All life is binary and therefore a zero sum competition: if someone gets more it means I get less, and if I get less it means a great injustice has been done!
So Zaffron and Logan say imagine two families: one earns $200,000 a year and the other earns $50,000 a year. Then the next year each family earns $100,000.
To the family used to $200,000 this comes as a disaster. They must sell their home, give up their vacation cottage, and put the kids in public schools. To the other family used to $50,000, however, it is a great boon. What joy! They can finally buy a house and take a vacation and maybe buy some new clothes.
Each family has the same amount of money—yet one is depressed while the other rejoices.
As we listen to this story with our dualistic minds our feelings will depend on which family we identify with. If we are more prosperous we’ll feel the depression of the rich family and if we are less prosperous we’ll feel the joy of the family that sees its income doubled.
It all depends on where we are standing, not on the facts of the story. And this is true about everything in life: it’s not what happens but how we interpret what happens that makes all the difference.
So too with today’s parable of the Generous Owner. Each person gets the same amount of money. Those who have worked hardest get exactly what they agreed to work for. They are not being cheated in any way. But when they see that those who barely worked at all get the same as they did, they are incensed: “we worked hard through the heat of the day—while those lazy bums did almost nothing!”
If we identify with the hard working this is exactly how we interpret the story.
But if we identify with the ones who can’t find work and only work an hour and yet are given a full day’s wage we will celebrate the owner’s generosity.
We don’t see things as they are we see things from where we place ourselves in the story.
Let’s be clear: Jesus is not telling us how to run a business. He is not arguing for a new economic model. Rather he is helping us become aware of how WE see the world, so we can catch a glimpse of how GOD sees the world—which is the only truthful way to see it.
God sees through a non-dual lens. God does not see 8 billion separate individuals which he divides up into the loved and the unloved, but rather God sees one family with many children all of whom are beloved.
Jesus says to live in God’s Kingdom now we must practice loving our neighbors as ourselves: this doesn’t mean to love our neighbor like we love ourselves—it means to love our neighbor as ourselves—as if they are us.
From God’s point of view they are us. We are all connected into what Paul calls the Body of Christ.
We all know that when you hit your thumb with a hammer the whole body feels it. No one in their right mind does such a thing on purpose.
From God’s perspective a family in Dorchester is as much a part of the Body of Christ as my hands are part of me.
Look at it this way: When a person has leprosy he loses the ability to feel pain in his extremities. He can’t feel his finger burning when it touches a hot stove, he can’t feel the infection in his foot, and before too long the finger and the foot have to be amputated, and without treatment the person soon dies.
The human default future is a form of social leprosy—we lose the ability to feel another’s pain because we have bought into the fiction, which feels so real, that that other is not connected to us. We have lost the ability to see that what happens to one happens to all.
We’re starting to see that if we don’t heal those with Ebola in Africa then one day it will show up in Chelmsford.
When communities decide it costs too much to provide food for the hungry and shelter for the homeless then the rates of TB go up and everyone is at risk.
When we throw trash in the ocean we are fouling our own nest!
But look what happens when we see reality in a non-dual way:
When an undocumented Hispanic girl gets a full scholarship to U. Mass, Lowell we rejoice because she’s our daughter too. When unemployment rises to 25% among young Black men we work to change the system, because they are our brothers, too.
So Jesus declares to us all:
The Kingdom of God is among us. Change your glasses and believe the good news!