Sermon
July 31, 2005
First Congregational Church, 36 Main Street, New Milford, Ct  06776
Rev. Michael Moran
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Scripture Readings

Isaiah 55:1

Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.

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Sermon: The Great Hunger of Humanity

I read the news today, O boy, John Lennon’s hand written copy of “All You Need is Love” sold at auction for a million dollars. Apparently he left it behind on the music stand after the Beatles made their final television appearance in 1967, and some clever person gathered it up for their collection. The news editors had fun with headlines like All You Need Is Love – And Cash.

The prophet Isaiah asked the question: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? In a sense, Lennon’s song is a traditional romantic answer to that question – All you need is love. A traditional religious answer might be All you need is God. But maybe some people don’t need love – maybe they don’t need religion – maybe they don’t need cash, companionship, community, or any of the other commodities we might consider as basic and essential.

It struck me when I was on vacation that while there may be an infinite number of galaxies out there in the beautiful summer starry sky, there were an equal number of universes in the crowds on the beach – each person in their own mind at the center of their own private cosmos, a place filled with hopes, dreams, ambitions, needs, fears, friends, enemies, and passers-by.

And so in approaching the answer to the question of Isaiah: Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? I shy away from a single declarative thought – like all you need is love – and wonder if there are not a million answers waiting for a million different people.

Perhaps the one thing all these answers might have in common is that to find them you need to know who you are, to value who you are, to be who you are in freedom and security, to be accepted for who you are, to fulfill your destiny.

This may sound like a simple thing, but there are many obstacles and many distractions. Some of the greatest obstacles are the expectations of our families and our cultures – the ways we are expected to fit into other peoples schemes and dreams, the way we are conditioned by their anxiety and fears. Great struggles over generations have been undertaken to lead the children of God out of slavery in Egypt across the wilderness into the promised land.

It’s an old story and yet it is happening today – just look at the various roles imposed on women in different cultures across our globe in this so called modern era, the twenty-first century.

It could be depressing to do that, but I’d like to illustrate this point with a humorous reading from a book my daughter Kathryn gave me on Father’s Day. It’s called “Me Talk Pretty One Day” by David Sedaris. In this chapter Sedaris is talking about his father and his sisters.
My father has always placed a great deal of importance on his daughters’ physical beauty. It is, to him, their greatest asset, and he monitors their appearance with the intensity of a pimp. What can I say? He was born a long time ago and is convinced that marriage is a woman’s only real shot at happiness. Because it was always assumed that we would lead professional lives, my brother and I were free to grow as plump and ugly as we liked. Our bodies were viewed as mere vehicles, pasty, potbellied machines designed to transport our thoughts from one place to another. I might wander freely though the house drinking pancake batter from a plastic bucket, but the moment one of my sisters over spilled her bikini, my father was right there to mix his metaphors. “Jesus, Flossie, what are we running here, a dairy farm? Look at you, you’re the size of a house. Two more pounds and you won’t be able to cross state lines without a trucking license.”

In response to his vigilance and pressure, my sisters grew increasing defensive and self-conscious. The sole exception turned out to be Amy – nothing seems to stick to her, partly because she’s so rarely herself. Her fondness for transformation began at an early age and has developed into something closely resembling a multiple personality disorder. She’s Sybil with a better sense of humor.

There’s a lot I don’t tell my father when he calls asking after Amy. He wouldn’t understand that she has no interest in getting married and was, in fact, quite happy to break up with her live-in boyfriend, whom she replaced with an imaginary boyfriend named Ricky. The last time she was asked out by a successful bachelor, Amy hesitated before saying, “Thanks for asking, but I’m really not into white guys right now.” This alone would have stopped my father’s heartbeat. “The clock is ticking,” he says, “If she waits much longer she’ll be alone for the rest of her life.” This appears to suit Amy just fine.

Amy inhabits her own universe – the bread that satisfies her hunger would go uneaten on my plate. We might embrace her with an attitude of live and let live, yet down inside something might be flashing cautionary lights about her life and her choices. Somewhere, we believe, there is a set of rules we all must follow, and those who push their individuality too hard against the grain of conformity may start out as amusing but soon enough become a source of anxiety and fear.

Religion plays a big role in establishing these rules and enforcing this conformity. The author John Sanford speaks to this in his book The Kingdom Within. “Traditionally,” he says, “sin has been identified with the breaking of the laws of God, especially by giving way to passion…. The great sins are regarded as sexual sins, including adultery, homosexuality, and masturbation…The collective attitude is: You know better, God gave you the rules, you deliberately chose to disobey them and now you must be punished.” This Sanford says, is the ethic of obedience.

However, he notes, Jesus had very little to say about the sins of passion. His main concern was with the sins of the spirit. In the New Testament we get a different picture of what constitutes sin. There the Greek word for sin mean literally to miss the mark. It is the same word an archer would use if he shot an arrow at a target and missed it. He missed it because he failed to be on center and shot unconsciously without taking proper aim. Sin, in this view, is not about breaking rules, but about acting without awareness, acting in darkness.

In the place of an ethic of obedience, Sanford says, Jesus places an ethic of creativity – action based on knowledge of oneself and of God. The key is consciousness, bringing that which was in the darkness into the light.

Sanford is a little difficult to read, but I think we can get the picture of what he means when we see Jesus with the Pharisees. In the opening chapters of the Gospel of Mark, Jesus has a number of run-ins with the Pharisees over the rules regarding the Sabbath. Let me just read the end of chapter two and the beginning of three:

Mark 2:23-3:6 One sabbath he was going through the grainfields; and as they made their way his disciples began to pluck heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the sabbath?” And he said to them, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need of food? He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it is not lawful for any but the priests to eat, and he gave some to his companions.” Then he said to them, “The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is lord even of the sabbath.”

Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there who had a withered hand. They watched him to see whether he would cure him on the sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man who had the withered hand, “Come forward.” Then he said to them, “Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the sabbath, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. He looked around at them with anger; he was grieved at their hardness of heart and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately conspired with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

This was no small matter, no insignificant confrontation – Jesus was going against the grain, violating the ethic of obedience – and in response the religious leaders conspired to destroy him. And if you look at some of the issues we wrestle with today, especially around marriage which brings together sexual identity and societal roles, if you look at that through this question of an ethic of obedience or an ethic of creativity, it’s clear why there is such a divide in the religious community and culture at large.

I think, to repeat what I said at the beginning, that there is no single solution to the hunger in the heart of humanity. God has made us individual and different and if we don’t know who we are, if we don’t accept and love ourselves, if we don’t embrace our destiny, then we will truly miss the mark and live a life of scarcity and hunger. So, by the power vested in me by the United Church of Christ and the great State of Connecticut, I hereby give you charge - be yourself.


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