Holy Trinity Episcopal Church

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    Sep 22, 2019

    The 15th Sunday after Pentecost

    Passage: Luke 16:1-13

    Preacher: The Rev. Greg Farrand

    Series: Year C: 2019-2020

    Category: Pentecost

    Detail:

    Jesus shares this fascinating story that is distilled down to the final sentence in our gospel reading: you can’t serve God and money. You can’t have two masters. You’re going to love one and hate the other. You have to choose what or who you are going to serve.

    The implicit and assumed foundation of his teaching is that humans are wired to serve.

    You will have a master and your life is in service to this something or someone.

    Now, most likely you didn’t wake up this morning and say, “What am I going to serve today?” Usually, we make the choice on a subconscious level… but we all have something we serve.

    Philosophers call this the Summum Bonnum – “the highest good.” This is the ultimate goal according to which values and priorities are established. Everyone has a highest good… everyone has something or things that they believe if they had it, their lives would be full and complete… and that is the thing you serve. It is the solar around which your life orbits.

     

    In 1979, the brilliant poet and song writer Bob Dylan won a Grammy for his song “Gotta Serve Somebody.” Dylan articulated what Jesus was talking about…“You may be an ambassador to England or France, You may like to gamble, you might like to dance. You may be the heavyweight champion of the world. You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed, You’re gonna have to serve somebody. Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Bob Dylan and Jesus are saying the same thing.

     

    In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus says a very common highest good… a very common summum bonnum is wealth. It is very easy to have money dictate our priorities and values. Easy to believe that if we had a lot of money, we would finally be happy, finally be secure, finally be fulfilled. People orient their lives around money… their time, their energy. But while money is a wonderful servant, it is a horrible master. It does not deliver what it promises.

    Study after study shows that money does not bring happiness. Once you have a income level that meets your basic needs the level of happiness between someone with their basic needs met and a billionaire are negligible.

    In fact, a number of studies indicate that those with greater wealth experience more anxiety because of the fear they will lose their fortune!

    But regardless of these facts, wealth is a common summum bonnum… the solar around which their lives orbit. The master that determines their values and priorities.

    But money is just one of many highest goods that our culture tells us will bring us life.

    We think if I could just meet the right person, or if only I got that promotion, or only if my spouse would change, or I looked like that yoga teacher or you name it… you fill in the blank. What is it, that if you had it, would finally make you happy? At peace?

    And whatever it is, at core, is not a bad thing.

    These things are fine to desire… when we think that if we had them, we would be finally fulfilled and satisfied they become our master. And they are cruel masters.

    Author and brilliant Christian thinker Thomas Keating makes a compelling argument that all of our desires, all of our longings stem from three core instinctual drives.

    He says that we are born with core drives the impact every decision we make.

    He says if you feel a longing for something… if you examine it… and you follow the anchor chain down, you will see it rooted in one of these three core instinctual drives:

    The instinct for security

    For affection

    For power

    a sense of security, sufficiency, survival (that sense that there will be “enough” of what is needed to support life);

    affection and identity, an identity that gives one a sense of acceptance, love and belonging;

    power/autonomy/control, a sense of self-determination and integrity of being and the longing to make an impact.

    Basic emotional needs for a sense of security, affection and power. They are alive in all of us.

    These core instinctual drives aren’t bad. They are simply human. And when we are living in awareness of our deep connection with God, they flourish.

    When we have a deep sense of God with us, then we know we are secure, that God will care for us.

    We know we are loved, we have a secure identity, and

    we know our power… that we can make a profound impact in the world as we co-create with God.

    But if deep down we do not feel connected with God, if we believe we are on our own, like orphans in the universe, and have to fend for ourselves, these instinctual drives become dangerous.

    When we are operating out of the ego, and view ourselves as separate and isolated, the results are ultimately destructive.

    It is like the branch disconnected from the vine. We are disconnected from our true source of security, affection and power.

    We turn these longings into “highest goods” and develop strategies, emotional programs, for meeting these needs that are ungrounded, compulsive, and largely unconscious.

    We developed “emotional programs for happiness,” both personal and cultural, that do not really lead to the happiness we seek, that are unconscious, compulsive and addictive.

    In other words, when disconnected from a deep awareness of God, we are looking for love in all the wrong places.

    It is like flicking grains of sand into the Grand Canyon… will never fill it up.

    And in our Gospel reading, Jesus is calling us to sanity… to discover and rediscover that God is our only true source of life and meaning.

    Only God is worthy of your life and worship and only God will fill those core instinctual drives.

    And I wish it were enough for us to hear that and say OK… great. God is now my Summum Bonnum, my highest good.

    But it doesn’t work that way. We usually have to experience the disappointment and struggle of our faulty idols crumbling… as the things that we thought would bring us life fail us.

    And it usually takes a painful wake up call to reveal that these highest goods will not deliver.

    Over the years I can’t tell you how many CEO’s or company presidents or partners have come to me and said, Greg, I’ve spent my life climbing the corporate ladder and I am at the top of my career. Great salary, the beach house and mountain house, amazing resume, everything that I thought would fill me up but I am miserable.

    Often on they’re 2nd or 3rd marriage, they tell me they prioritized work above their family.

    “I’ve spent my life climbing this ladder only to get to the top and realize it was leaning against the wrong wall. Please tell me there’s something more.”

    And the joy for me is to say yes! Yes there is! It is walking the inward journey of faith and discovering the unspeakable joy of the presence of God within! And this changes you and reverberates out to heal the world!

    But it usually takes a shattering of our highest good before we are open to exploring God as our true Source of life.

    And this is not a one time event.

    For me, one of my highest goods is that I want other people to think I am smart and competent. Somewhere along the way as a kid, I metabolized the belief that if everyone thinks I am really competent, I will be fulfilled.

    And so, over the years I have attempted to cultivate this image. And, like all false summum bonnum’s, all of these strategies will ultimately fail… they will not bring me life. And for me, that has typically been through some form of public humiliation.

    I remember when I started working here in 2011. Like any time you start a new job, you want to put your best foot forward, want to perform well. Well, add to that my deep desire to present myself as super competent.

    Well, around that time, my across the street neighbor asked me for a favor.

    Mattress story. – Across the street neighbor, elderly, ask me to take his mattress to be donated. Sure. Goodwill, Salvation Army, Habitat – none would take it. Looked like about to rain. Put in dumpster.

    Ann Dortch – A true southern lady. She spoke with this wonderful Charleston Accent. “What kind of person throws a mattress into a dumpster. Everyone knows you can’t throw a mattress into a dumpster!” Murmers of agreement all around.

    About to say something when I learned matrress wedged. A second round of what kind of person throws a mattress into a dumpter. Eric into dumpster.

    The image of competent, smart, together minister was unraveling.

    Ego - Tempted to hide it. No one needs to know. There are no security cameras. This is best kept under wraps.

    Or go out and do something really smart… whatever that might be.

    And there was a small voice saying… or you can be honest. Be vulnerable. Be transparent.

    Your identity, your security is not about an image. The real you is the one I love. We all make bad decisions and you are free to be totally honest and real.

    So I did. I emailed Tim and Tammy the parish admin and confessed… I was the mattress dumpster culprit. It was me.

    Now, I didn’t have the courage to tell them face to fce… I had to tell them by email but ai did it.

    They both responded in minutes with laughing emoji’s and telling me they were cracking up.

    Here is the wild thing… if we face the awfulness of our idols crumbling and are willing to let them go… we find freedom and sanity and God on the other side.

    Far from people thinking I was a horrible person, they started laughing with me. Eric, to this day, breaks into a grin whenever I bring it up.

    Instead of something to hide in shame, it actually become a place of deepening connection.

    So the invitation this morning is to shine the light of awareness on what it is that drives us… what is our summum bonnum. What is it that defines our choices and priorities.

    Because if we are living without a deep and authentic awareness of Gods loving presence with us, we will try to fill up our instinctual drives for security, affection, and power in all the wrong ways.

    This morning we are being invited to cultivate our awareness of God’s loving presence. To grow in awareness that God is truly the source of our deepest longings and to rest in God’s loving presence.

    This requires intentionality.

    This requires a supportive community as we walk the inward journey of faith.

    Coming here on Sunday mornings is a great start… but we need more than that.

    That’s why we have foyer groups… opportunities to connect over a meal.

    ECW and Men’s fellowship… and EYC for our youth.

    That’s why we offer pilgrimage. We are creating spaces for you to grow in awareness of God’s presence and connect with like-hearted pilgrims.

    And that’s why we offer Second Breath courses. And, as usual, I shamelessly promote these classes that start this week because they are powerful opportunities to walk the inward journey, to experience the loving and powerful presence of God all around you and within you. My life was transformed and I encourage everyone to sign up.

    Regardless of how you walk the path, Jesus is inviting us to let go of the things that are dragging us down, that will not fulfill us. To let go of those false Summum Bonnum’s, those highest goods that will not bring life.

    Jesus is inviting us to discover and rediscover the joy found in trusting and abiding in the presence of a God who loves you wildly. A God who will never leave you or forsake you. A God who is with you right now, closer than your thoughts, closer than your breath, inviting you to real rest and real life.