In The Long Run


Texts: 1 Corinthians 15, Luke 6

In the long run, we’re all dead

That’s economist John Maynard Keynes, patron saint of liberal secular utilitarian civil religion, our dominant culture At our age, we’re all ‘cramming for our finals’!

The modern age of enlightenment obsessed over Blaise Pascal’s 17th C wager:

If there is a God watching and afterlife heaven and hell,
then the payoff or penalty is infinite.

If there is no God and afterlife heaven and hell,
there is no infinite payoff or penalty.

Given the risk of being wrong,and the payoff for being right –
Pascal chooses to think and act as if there is a God and afterlife heaven and hell

But if you take away the metaphysics, the issue of resurrection, participation in reign of God, Christ raised and we hoping to join him, what is the loss? We end up with a ‘gospel without demands’ – or ‘demands without a gospel’. I waste your time. You spend mine badly. I don’t have that many working years left, eh?

We risk being a club of glib liberals, stuck in adolescent rebellion, sophomoric shallowness or 20th C college smugness. Of course we have reached modern critical consciousness – but the world has moved on to post-modernity, with most of us living in pre-modern consciousness. Meanwhile, our subculture suffers an epidemic of STDs (sentimental therapeutic deisms).

Last week, Annual Congregational Meeting ACM reviewed our 2018 results, and 2019 plans. Katherine Bitzer offered the image of a stump feeding new shoots. She wasn’t just calling us rotten. Next week, our income tax receipts are out, along with our T4’s and other slips. I’m reminded of the Henny Youngman line:

I’ve got enough money to last me for the rest of my life..
As long as I die by the end of this month!

Soon, online at the UCC ‘Church Hub’, there will be a job posting for Trinity’s new minister. How would you describe us? What would a glimpse of our church look like from the outside? Worse, what do I look like online? Do you have anything to learn from a new minister, or any expectations that it matters?

How are you changed, by participating here? How are you formed, reformed, informed, conformed, transformed – changed from what and turned to what? What made that happen? Did the minister really matter? What with one person or small group taught and promised what wider community might be? Who do you trust enough to talk about it, to try to experience it more, or even share it?

For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.
Then those also who have died in Christ have perished.
If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people host to be pitied.

I may be wasting your time. You may not be spending mine well. Where else do you wonder about this stuff – who else to you trust enough to try talking about it out loud? If not here, with us, then where, and with whom? Am I wasting your time? How are you spending mine?

We all get only one trip through this world in Christian tradition – not successive incarnations, ‘do-overs’. Each mortal moment is all the more precious, and we each and all need more grace and mercy to get on with the next moment. Are we wasting your time? Spending mine? What were we saving it for or from?

Most of us value our acceptance among the ‘cultured despisers of religion’. We don’t admit in those circles being formed, informed, reformed, transformed by your religious life here? From what, and to what are we conformed here? If there is no heaven or hell, in the end, are we not simply pitiful and pathetic church folks – but cursed and damned church folks?

Barbara, our worship coordinator, said the draft worship plan looked Lenten, with bleak songs from More Voices about ‘What Calls Me From My Death’ and ‘God Weeps’. I blamed 1 Corinthians 15 and Luke 6. I avoided these texts since they came up in the lectionary in 2002 and 2004. I changed a hymn.

Congratulations, you poor – that’s not us. Woe to you rich – that’s us. That’s easy enough to preach in an inner city crowd, or to a crowd suffering racism as an ethnic group. It’s a hard word for us. Archbishop Tutu told it like this:

The elephant is standing on mouse’s tail.
Both agree it’s wrong, and things must change.
The elephant believes that ultimately, justice will prevail.
The mouse says ‘there’s no time like the present!’

A lot of old jokes start like this:

“I’ve got good news…
and I’ve got bad news…”

The lab reports say you’ve still got a week to live…
they were delayed a week getting to your doctor.

There will be an orchestra, or choir, or baseball team in the next life…
you are scheduled to play / sing / pitch tomorrow

The teenager announces to her parents –
the good news is that the air bags in the car work…

Translations of the beatitudes’ key word vary: blessed, happy, holy, fortunate. The Jesus Seminar’s Scholar’s version makes benediction ‘Congratulations!’

Congratulations, you poor!
God’s domain belongs to you.

Congratulations, you hungry!
You will have a feast.

Congratulations, you who weep now!
You will laugh.

We are more familiar with Matthew’s version, in older church authorised texts:

Blessed are the poor in spirit….
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are those who mourn… (we’re all bereaved)…

Matthew’s version is in good taste, more suitable for sharing with our friends the ‘cultured despisers of religion. Luke’s beatitudes deny us the ambiguities of spiritualizing the blessings. This is, as the lesson began, a Sermon on the Plain, not a Sermon on the Mount, concluded with a matched set of woes:

Damn you rich!

You already have your consolation.

Damn you who are well-fed now!

You will know hunger.

Damn you who laugh now!

You will learn to weep and grieve.

Yes we are rich, well-fed, laughing, and spoken well of… We are a generation of spoiled children, grown into old age, without enough eldership, or wisdom. Our horizons are narrowing, rather than widening. We parasite off endowments, and beggar our children, shoring up false security, indulging appetites, pursuing recreational pleasures, tuning out anything but applause.

The poor, the hungry, the weeping, and the rejected will be vindicated by our God, living in our insular world of people like us. Perhaps it has already begun. We are spiritually suffocated in monochrome monotony, the tyrannical march of neo-liberal hegemony of late capitalism, our institutions doing our sinning for us

We all get only one trip through this world in Christian tradition – not successive incarnations as ‘do-overs’. Each mortal moment is all the more precious, and reminds us how much we rely on grace and mercy to face the next one.

Congratulations? Damn you? What would Jesus say to us, to me and to you? Were we informed, reformed, transformed here, or are we just conformed to the dominant culture? It is too easy to deride ‘respectability’ of the last generation.

The bad news, as the jokes go, is that we are now the aging affluent, with so much to give in this one life, and so little gratitude or generosity to move us. God forbid we become the punch line of the joke – God grant that we get the humour. What word do you have for our hearts., O God, give us ears to hear.

Prayer for Grace

Writer Annie Dillard puts it like this:

Scholarship has long distinguished
between two strains of thought
which proceed in the west
from human knowledge of God.

In one, the ascetic’s metaphysic,
the world is far from God.
Emanating from God,
and linked to him by Christ,
the world is yet infinitely other than God,
furled away from the divine
like the end of a long banner falling…

the more accessible and universal view,
held by Eckhart
and by many peoples in many forms,
is scarcely different from pantheism,
that the world is immanation,
that God is in the thing,
and eternally present here,
if nowhere else…
to immanence, to the heart…
all things are one…

to eminence, to the mind,
Christ only touches the top,
skims only the top, as it were,
the souls of people…

What word do you have for our hearts

O God, give us ears to hear.