15 August, 2021- Twelfth Sunday in Pentecost, Proper 15B
The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Richard Burden
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”
How’s that for scriptural relevance? It might be a bit much to say “the days are evil,” but the days are certainly fraught…anxious…alarming even…especially with the Delta variant and the dire warnings on Climate Change.
But it’s not just the “evil days” part that resonates…the whole sentence carries—not just resonance but—deep, transformational wisdom…the kind of wisdom that Solomon prays for…the kind that allows people to discern, and make decisions, and govern faithfully and well. Give us THAT wisdom.
Are you familiar with fractals? Fractals are those never-ending, complex patterns that are self-similar at all different scales. Think: broccoli and cauliflower, but also the veins and arteries in our bodies and the tributaries of rivers…the whorls of fingerprints and the spirals of galaxies… All through the natural world…“The micro reflects the macro and vice versa,” says one writer [Kat Aaron, quoted in Emergent Strategy]. Fractals are beautiful to look at—mesmerizing at times, especially when they are animated—but the truth…the wisdom…that is hidden (or rather that is revealed) in these repeating pattern of fractals—is that, the patterns always repeat and always reflect—micro to macro and back…
Writer, mediator, and emergent strategy facilitator adrienne marie brown says, “How we are at the small scale is how we are at the large scale. The patterns of the universe repeat at scale. There is a structural echo that suggests two things: one, that there are shapes and patterns fundamental to our universe, and two, that what we practice at a small scale can reverberate to the largest scale.” Let me quote her again so it sticks, “What we practice at the small scale sets patterns for the whole system.” [amb, ES]
In yoga or Zen parlance you might say, “how you do the mat is how you do life.” Or to put a Christian spin on it…Jesus says in Luke, “Whoever is faithful in very little is also faithful in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much,” [Luke 16:10]. The pattern repeats…
What we practice at the smallest scale sets the patterns for the whole system. So…Be careful how you live…
When you start looking at patterns and systems in our social, political, and business world…it doesn’t take long to notice that there is a LOT of dysfunction…a lot of problematic patterns out there.
Organizations where people are burned out, overworked, underpaid, dealing unrealistic and often unspoken expectations…groups that seem to forever be splitting into smaller and smaller factions, personal dramas disrupting relationships and the flow of community building; organizations that become fixated on measurements and metrics (and often money) instead of remaining focused on values and purpose; organizations that stagnate because of an inability to make decisions…and it’s not just the large organizations…these patterns repeat at every level…It’s in departments, and working groups, and even families… and…even in our own psyches…our own bodies.
Because what we practice at the small scale sets patterns for the whole system. Which in turn affects how we see ourselves and others…and how we treat others and ourselves.
So here’s the wisdom…Are you ready? This is something that spiritual teachers have known for millennia…but this is how Asian American philosopher and activist Grace Lee Boggs puts it: “Transform yourself to transform the world.” [quoted in ES]
adrienne marie brown adds that, “This doesn’t mean to get lost in the self, but rather to see our own lives and work and relationships as a front line, a first place we can practice justice, liberation, and alignment with each other and the planet…” [ES]
“Be careful how you live.” “Transform yourself to transform the world.” Create the patterns at the smallest scale that create healing, joy, justice, liberation, alignment…
Brown goes on…“In a fractal conception, I am a cell-sized unit of the human organism, and I have to use my life to leverage a shift in the system by how I am, as much as with the things I do. This means actually being in my life, and it means bringing my values into my daily decision making.”
It means asking: am I living a live of compassion for myself…for others…for the generations that come after…for the planet? Am I living a life of justice for myself…for others…for the generations…for the planet? Am I living a life that prioritizes accessibility for all…Am I in alignment with the earth and all the people who live on it?
It means being seen, being wrong, being curious. It means getting in touch with your body and your feelings… It means learning to work collaboratively, being adaptive, interdependent, iterative, resilient…it means being invested in creating possibilities.
It means living and loving the hard questions.
Brown writes: “Change is coming,—what do we need to imagine as we prepare for it? How do we prepare for not just suffering, but for sharing and innovation? How do we prepare the children in our lives to be visionary, and to love nature even when the changes are frightening and incomprehensible? How do we articulate a compelling economic vision to sustain us through the unimaginable, to unite us as things fall apart? How do we experience our beauty and humanity in every condition?” [ES] “As we are, so [our work, our families, our movements, our churches] will be.” [ES].
“What we practice at the small scale sets patterns for the whole system.”
“Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are…” scary?…(yes)…challenging?…(no doubt)…How about: an invitation to really live out our values…to really put our whole selves in the game and on the line…being bread for the life of the world…perpetually becoming what we receive…continually evolving into who we were created to be…and doing the work God gives us to do…every single day. The more we can embody being the body of Christ in everything we do…the more the patterns around us will change. God give us that wisdom, fill us with that courage, give us this day—and every day—the bread of life, so that we can give rise to your coming reign. Amen.