Sermon given at the ecumenical Thanksgiving Service, St. John’s Episcopal Church, Pine Meadow, CT 11/21/2017 “God’s Math”
It’s funny how things stick with us. When I lived in Rochester, NY may years ago, my roommate was about 6’5” and not particularly heavy. He, however, always thought of himself as “fat”, because apparently he’d lost a lot of weight at some point. He would say, “once a fat boy, inside, always a fat boy”.
As someone who grew up as “the nerd” at my school, I have always felt that Christianity was the place for weird people. Not “bad”, mind you, but weird, as in “unique”, “sticking out”, “different”. If you think about it, we believe some pretty weird things. If we just look at our texts this evening, you’ll see what I mean.
Starting right off, we believe that one Being – God created everything we see. We can argue about the seven days thing or not, but the “fact” of our faith is that we believe that God created all of this. We believe that a God we can’t see made everything we can see. We believe that God made us. We believe that there are consequences for a nation that doesn’t do either of those things – believe in God or follow God’s way as told in the commands and commandments. Then we believe that consequences are only to bring us back to our rightful place, not to utterly destroy us. Coming in December, we’ll be asked to believe in a virgin giving birth, and a star that kings followed. After that, we’ll be asked to believe that God came here, healed us, taught us how to be, was killed for it, and then rose again. How many of you have literally seen God? How many of you have seen an actual miracle – like healing people’s leprosy with just a word. And – at the very crux of our faith — how many of you have seen a resurrection from the dead? And yet, that’s what we believe– we and our ancestors for between 2,000 years for Christians and 4,000 years for Jews. See what I mean?
And yet society tells us a different story. It tells us we should believe in what we see, and what we know, and what we can prove. Society tells us to believe in ourselves as the maker of all things, as the ruler of all things, as the owner of all that is around us, including each other if we have enough money or fame or power. And boy, does this society love money and fame. In fact, right now, the world teaches us that you can never have enough of them! Which brings us back to weird.
We live in this society, but we believe Christian things. We value different things. Sadly, this Thanksgiving, as the new Boston Declaration points out, we in this room, are probably weird (in the best kind of way) to other Christians living in this country. Real Christians are now weirder that weird. If you can remember math and picture a Bell Curve, you would see that Real Christians are two standard deviations off of the norm according to society, in this day and age.
But God’s math is different than ours. God’s version of the Bell Curve puts Christians in the center of what’s valuable. It sees the rich, the famous, and the powerful on the far outskirts of what should be the norm. God could care less if you have money, or power, or fame. God is not impressed with your fur coat or how good you are at avoiding taxes in offshore accounts. God is not impressed by buildings or monuments with your name on them, or how many medals you have won. God is not impressed with all of the trappings of this life.
God is impressed by care. In God’s math, if you have two coats and you give one of them away, you are richer than you were before. In God’s Algebra, you and you and you are equal. What ever you do to one side of the equation, you do to the other. If you give kindness to people, there is more kindness in the world, not less. If you give hope to another person, there’s more hope in the world than there was when you started.
Last year, around this time, my friend Rick and I went to see The Chapin Family Reunion as a benefit for WhyHunger , an organization that helps to feed people in sustainable ways, and The Harry Chapin Foundation which supports the arts on Long Island among other things. In short, the organizations support caring and awe in the world. It was one of the best nights of my life, not because of the flash of the performers, or the fame of the people on stage, or the volume of the music – 100 watts of POWER! It was a night of kindness. People in the parking lot were polite parkers, people in the audience brought cans of food, people on the stage sang about hope, love, joy, and treasuring people. They even sang a song about a man who had been put down by the media, and they let the man himself sing it, restoring a part of his soul in the process. When Rick and I left, we felt loved, because we had loved others. The kindness filled every fiber in our being and we remembered that we had power to change the world by healing it. We were fed by feeding others. That is how God’s math works. In the words of St. Francis of Assisi,
When we give thanks to God by giving to others, we affect the world in ways unseen, but always felt. When we act in loving ways, we don’t get tired, we gain energy. When we are awed by the beauty of nature, and seek to protect it rather than own it, many more people can experience awe. When we see each and every person around us as worthy in God’s sight, we realize our worth to God as well, and the world changes some more. Think about the people you actually know in your life who are the kind of Christian I am describing. Are they famous? Are they powerful? Are they stingy? Do you care about their money? No. Are they important to their community? Yes. So very much.
And there are more logical “jumps” in God’s math. When everyone has enough to eat, there is the chance for peace in the world. When the lonely are remembered, there is less cynicism about the old or the younger generation and more faith. When we think of others, our belief in ourselves rises. This is the way it has always been. This Thanksgiving, as the world gets weirder and weirder and makes the world a less thankful place, brothers and sisters, I encourage you to get weirder to it. Share with each other and receive more than coupons. Feed others and sleep better at night, because the world is that much more peaceful. Love people that other people despise and see them become people you want to be with. Spend time with the lonely this Thanksgiving and see a smile break out over a board game – remember those?
One final thing: If you do it without making a fuss or seeking fame, in God’s math, you’ll become known and loved among people here on earth (and the angels in heaven, if you believe in that kind of thing).
God set up the universe to run one way. Society sets it up another way. Any day now, we’ll stop trying to fight God’s way of love, mercy, and kindness. In the meantime, let’s just be weird. Amen.