Sunday, September 22, 2013

18 Pentecost

September 22, 2013

Amos 8.4-7;1 Timothy 2.1-7; Luke 16.1-13

+ As I’ve shared with some of you, I have been studying Zen Buddhism intensely this summer. he writer I’ve been reading and re-reading intensely is the Vietnamese Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh. If you do not know Thich Nhat Hanh (and I will quiz you after Mass on how to spell his name), I would highly recommend him, especially a book he wrote on the comparison between Christianity and Buddhism, Living Buddha, Living Christ. Thay is currently on tour of the United States and I’ve heard it’s quite the impressive.

As I’ve shared many times here over the years, back, many years ago, when I was doing a lot of spiritual searching after leaving the Roman Catholic Church, I found Zen Buddhism. Now before you bristle at the thought of your priest exploring strange Eastern religions my experience with Zen was a very good one. Zen—like all Buddhism—is not so much a religion, as it is a philosophy—it is a way of seeing things. And back in those days following my leaving the Roman Catholic Church, Zen filled a huge void.

Certainly much of what I learned during that time has stayed with me through the years, and through my faith life as a Christian.  Yes, I am very solid Christian. But I have a kernel of Zen deep inside me.  And I am very thankful for that Zen kernel.

One of the things I have always enjoyed exploring is what in Zen—and all Buddhism—is called  karma. Karma is one of those Buddhist words that is thrown around quite a bit. But Karma is more than just some strange esoteric concept.

Karma is fascinating. Essentially the thinking behind Karma is this: that when you do something, there will be a reaction. If you are cruel to someone, someone else will be cruel to you. If you are kind to someone, someone will be kind to you.  It’s all about balance. A cosmic balance. Anything we do results in a reaction.

Now, for those of you who have known me for any period time, you have heard me use a phrase that captures karma to some extent. I often use the term, “The chickens have come home to roost.”  Essentially it means that what goes around, comes around. We reap what we sow. There are consequences to our actions.

For us followers of Jesus, such concepts of karma might not make as much sense. But today, we get a sense, in our scriptures readings, of a kind of, dare I say, Christian karma. Jesus’ comments in today’s Gospel are very difficult for us to wrap our minds around. But probably the words that speak most clearly o us are those words, “Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful in much.”

Essentially, Jesus is telling us this simple fact: what you do matters. There are consequences to our actions. There are consequences in this world. And there are consequences in our relation to God.

It often surprises me that Christians think they can “get by” with dishonest things. We read in the news about clergy doing bad things. But not just clergy.  We hear about church treasurers doing bad things. We hear about people who claim to be good Christians doing very unchristian-like things. But Jesus message to us is very clear. For us, our faithfulness involves how we deal with others. It’s not just the big stuff, like sexual impropriety and financial misdealing’s. It is also about how we treat each other. How we treat each other as followers of Jesus and how we treat others who might not be followers of Jesus.

We have few options, as followers of Jesus, when it comes to being faithful. We must be faithful. Faithful yes in a little way brings about great faithfulness. So, logic would tell us, any increase of faithfulness will bring about even greater faithfulness.

Now, faithfulness in this sense means being righteous. Or to use a Zen word, Right-minded. Or even another word used in Zen, mindful.

Thich Nhat Hanh, that Vietnamese Zen master, often writes about mindfulness and, in speaking to Christians, says that mindfulness is the equivalent for us of the Holy Spirit in us. This Zen  writer, I have to admit, is one of the best writers I know on the Holy Spirit. And when I read about his belief that the Zen concept of mindfulness is equivalent to the Holy Spirit’s working in our lives, it made great sense to me. So, if we are faithful—if we are right-minded, if we are mindful in a few things, we are faithful in much.

Jesus is saying to us that the consequences are the same if we choose the right path or the wrong path. A little bit of right, will reap much right. But  a little bit of wrong, reaps much wrong.

I think most of us have found these to be true in our own lives. Doing wrong is a slippery slope. One we step foot on it, we find ourselves sliding farther and farther into more wrongness.  And it’s hard to stop.

That wrong path is not the path intended for us as followers of Jesus. Jesus is not walking that path, and if we are his followers, hen we are not following when we step onto that path.  Wrongfulness is not our purpose as followers of Jesus.  We cannot follow Jesus and willfully—mindfully—practice wrongness. We must strive—again and again—in being faithful. Faithful to God. Faithful to one another. Faithful to those who need us. Faithful to those who need someone.

Being faithful, being mindful, being right-minded, takes work. When we see wrong—and we all do see wrong—we see around us all the time—our job in cultivating faithfulness means counteracting wrongfulness. If there are actions and reactions to things, our reaction to wrongfulness should faithfulness.

Now that seems hard. And it is. But it is not impossible.  We can do something in the face of wrongfulness. We can, when we step foot on that slippery slope of wrongfulness, make a concentrated effort to not slip, to turn around and do the faithful action.  We can cultivate faithfulness in the face of wrongfulness.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s students wrote a fun book that I read this summer and really enjoyed. The book is called The Dharma of Star Wars by Matthew Bortolin.  Bortolin likes to make the comparison between Jedi master and students of Zen Buddhism. And he does it pretty well. In the appendix of the book, he includes, in a section called “Zen Contemplations for the Would-Be Jedi,” a series of thoughts that sound very much like Jesus own beatitudes. Bartholin writes that  the “Young Pupil” must always remember this:

Where there is anger, offer kindness.

Where there is selfishness,  offer generosity

Where there is despair, offer hope.

Where there are lies, offer truth.

Where there is injury, offer forgiveness.

Where there is sorrow, offer joy.

Where there is hatred, offer love.

Where there is evil, offer goodness.

Those actions are actions each of us as followers of Jesus are also called to cultivate and live into. As Christians, we are called to not only to ignore or avoid wrongfulness. We are called to confront it and to counter it. We are called to offering faithfulness in the face of wrongness.

So, let us do just that in all aspects of our lives.  Let us offer kindness and generosity and hope and truth and forgiveness and  joy and love and goodness, again and again and again whenever we are confronted with all those forces of wrongfulness. Let us offer light in the face of darkness.  Let us strive, again and again, to do good, even in small ways. For in doing so, we will be faithful in much.

“For surely I will not forget any of their deeds,” God says in our reading from Amos today.

What we do matters. It makes a difference in our lives and in the lives of those around us. So let us, as faithful followers of Jesus, strive, always to truly “lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.”

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