Today I invite you to join a roaming, a ramble, a journey, as we continue to reflect on what it means to be “getting ready, getting through, surviving spiritually”. The journey for this morning’s sermon started out last Monday morning with a newspaper article entitled “Apple turns into the evil empire”. (For those of you not computer-savvy, this ‘Apple’ is not a healthy fruit to keep the doctor away – nor the fruit of Jesus Christ, the apple tree, about which the choir sang, but a colossal $NZ448billion computer empire.) The article was accompanied by a picture of hundreds (perhaps thousands) of people in a huge orderly queue that brought to mind customs queues at Heathrow airport. But the people in this picture were not jet-lagged weary travellers, but bright-eyed, mostly 30 and 40-somethings in a queue, winding around and around a square in front of a big New York Store on Fifth Avenue. Wrapped up warmly against the late winter chill – many with take-away coffee in hand – each person in this crowd was there waiting for the store to open, so they could purchase the latest Apple product – the new iPad2. According to the picture headline, these were ‘the converted’ of the Apple Empire, seeking the latest miracle – a ‘guaranteed route to salvation’. And many of us, with our iPods, iPhones and iPads would identify with these converts – even if we haven’t stood out in the cold to buy the most recent piece of amazing computer technology. We marvel and delight at these remarkable inventions, with their immediate accessibility to music, film, books, maps and friends – wondering how we ever managed without them. (Yes, I too am a convert – even as I found the article rather chilling!) Putting aside for a moment, the so-called evil-empire with its unparalleled powerful and invisible strings controlling and extending much further than one would wish for any one company – putting all that aside, I wonder how we – converts and never-to-become-disciples – how we operate within the climate of this empire, which extends into and shapes much of the reality we live and breathe.
With this morning’s Harvest Thanksgiving service firmly in my sights, as I read Monday’s newspaper, many questions began to be framed:
- how do we give thanks for the many harvests in our lives, including technology – and, who, or what, or how do we thank?
- how do we protect ourselves from being subverted by the values which drive the empires behind the technology?
- is the amazing creativity, which we know within this 21st century, part of the God of the ancients; or
- is God, in general – and Christianity in particular – just too antiquated to even enter the 21st century conversation?
- should we confine ourselves to celebrating a harvest of food, i.e. what we imagine an old version of God to have created – once and for all, long-time-ago; or,
- could we wonder how the whole of our lives responds to the ongoing Alluring and Yearning, Infinite and Mysterious Force of Creativity and Love, to which we apply the short-hand name of ‘God’.
As I pondered these weighty matters, some smaller questions, within the larger picture, began to emerge:
- How do we, as people of faith, hope and love, live within this world of amazing creativity?
- Can we live thankfully and generously in response to God – i.e. to the Evolving, Fascinating and Mysterious Creative Heart of the Cosmos?
- Are we so alive and responsive to the presence of this God that our way of being is attuned away from self-centredness and greed into spontaneous generosity?
Questions we all might ponder at any time, but especially on this Harvest Sunday.
Back to the newspaper article, where I began to speculate: how many people standing in that queue, were buying an iPad to give to someone else? I may be quite wrong, but I imagined there wouldn’t be many; although quite a number might in the days to come, be generous in a ‘left-over-generosity’ kind of way - passing on their old iPad1 or net-book, now that these older types had been superseded. But, I couldn’t imagine me queuing and buying for someone else – unless it was a very special person in my life. I’d be wanting the new one for myself. All those countless dollars applied to consumerist advertising have done their work well on me. In fact, the more I’m encouraged to think about it, the more I find myself convinced that my happiness depends on it – that I deserve the latest and the best. So much for celebrating spontaneous generosity.
Somehow giving away that which is not needed, may well be appreciated by the receiver, but, I mused, does it sit with what we understand to be Jesus’ teaching. The generosity of the widow’s mite, the paying back four times what is owed, the giving of your shirt to the one who takes your coat, seem to say something more - calling us away from the values of so-called evil empires into something different – a whole different way of being.
As I continued to reflect on the newspaper article, I wondered, have 21st century people forgotten how to be generous? And the answer is a resounding ‘no’ – the ongoing outpouring of money and gifts in the aftermath of recent disasters is clear evidence that we have not forgotten. However, I continued to muse, is the present generosity some form of latent Christianity, which we might join – or, do those of us who follow the Christian Way, still need a different focus and perspective?
My musings continued into a week filled with experiences of what I continued to recognise as forms of well-intentioned, not to be despised, but perhaps not particularly Christian exercises of ‘left-over-generosity’:
- A radio interview of a little girl in Christchurch who was thinking of giving her dolls house to a friend who’d lost her mother in the recent earthquake – “I don’t play with it any more”, the little girl explained.
- Loose change that found its way into various counter-boxes in cafes and stores – all labelled ‘for Christchurch’
- The restaurant urged diners to give tips, which would be matched in gifts for Christchurch.
And so to the supermarket, where I buy for harvest festival, reluctantly recognising that even there, left-over generosity is at play, as I balance how much to buy for ‘us’ and how much for ‘them’.
Bringing me to a realisation that most of my life – and I imagine yours too – operates with a well-engrained scarcity mentality; focussed on self and those closest to me above all else; nurtured by consumer values; fearing the rainy day that might come, when we might not have enough; reluctant and resistant to true generosity.
And there, in the supermarket, I hear afresh the words of Jesus, as understood by the one called John – words which summon us on our faith journey: “I have food to eat that you do not know about. My food is to do the will of the one who sent me and to complete God’s work.”
Doing the will of God – completing God’s work – bringing about God’s alternative empire, or kin-dom – bringing hope, healing and wholeness for all doesn’t quite tally with left-over generosity. Ghandi’s reminder continues to be a challenge to try to live by: “Earth provides enough to satisfy every one’s need, but not every one’s greed”
The words of the hymn we have just sung come to mind: “God, shake us with the force of love, to rouse us from our dreadful sleep; remove our hearts of stone, and give new hearts of flesh, to break and weep for all your children in distress and dying for the wealth we keep. Help us prevent, while we have time, the blighted harvest greed must reap.” (Alan Gaunt)
My friends, perhaps it’s time for us to become new converts - to a new spirituality; a new sense of perspective, where gratitude becomes the key framework and generosity the natural outflow. Perhaps it’s time to plug into the spirituality of abundant sufficiency, where enough is enough and abundant giving is our default position. Perhaps this Lent, now is time for us to re-synch our iPads, our iPods our iPhones and even our very I-selves – to another computer – direct to the Main Server – that which we call God.