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An Other Kingdom: Departing the Consumer Culture

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
April 24, 2016

On Earth Sunday we acknowledged the great challenges our planet faces. We grieve for all that has already been lost. We acknowledged that grief is an important first step toward real change. But I promised we would continue the exploration this week, in a more positive vein! First you grieve, then you begin to vision a new way.

Our Scripture readings this morning seem to point us in the right direction.  The reading from the Gospel According to John reminds us to follow the law of love in all our decisions. How can we practice love as we address the very real needs of our whole world? Perhaps it is by acting locally with persistence and patience both with each other and our communities that we can find our way forward.

There is a danger however in taking our reading from Revelation literally. Climate change deniers often claim to be trusting God’s promise to do away with this world and give us a new one. But Revelation was written late in the 1st Century in the genre of dream apocalyptic common to that time. John of Patmos was in exile and angry at the terrible injustices and persecutions of the Roman Empire. His Revelation was meant as a coded condemnation of that Empire, not as a vision for the 21st Century. Abandoning our planet in the hopes that God will plant us in a new world is a kind of literalism denied by logic, science and the teachings of Jesus. God created our world and called it Good. Jesus commands that we love our neighbor as ourselves, because truthfully we are one with all of life. All of life is our neighbor.

Jesus’ vision for the Beloved Community, “the Kingdom of God,” meant working together in service to all. Jesus calls us into covenantal relationships. We are in covenant with one another and with God. Every thing we have is a gift from God.

“An Other Kingdom” (by Peter Block, Walter Brueggemann and John McKnight) calls covenantal vows “neighborly disciplines.” For much of the last 2000 years Jesus’ vision has seemed unrealistic, but more and more folks are beginning not only to imagine a better way, they are working to create it.
Neighborly covenants (like what we are building her at the Congregational Church of Belmont) rest on beliefs in Abundance, Mystery, Fallibility and the Common Good.

Abundance reminds us that we already have enough, more than enough,  even when we cannot know what the future holds.

Mystery is not a problem to be solved but an opening into holiness and blessing. There is a story told that Martin Luther King sat alone in his bombed out house where his children had almost been killed and he was devastated. But he heard a voice tell him, “Martin, don’t be afraid!” And from that day forward he chose not to give in to fear. That moment was a mystery. It cannot be explained and to try to would be to try to put the mystery of God into a box. God is mystery – definition boxes and destroys.

Fallibility reminds us that we are all human, that there are limits to growth, that we are going to make mistakes, and forgiveness keeps us in covenant. Grief is always a part of it.

We need to reclaim the Common Good. Enough is enough! We need parks and clean air and rivers and Time! We need to heal our world.

Today we live in a world governed by Free Market Consumer Ideology. It rests on four pillars: Scarcity, Certainty, Perfection and Privatization.

Scarcity tells us that no matter how much we have it is never enough. It is born of fear and exactly opposed to God’s promise that when you give you receive much and more.

Certainty and perfection cut us off from each other. Groucho Marx said, “I’d never belong to a club that would have me as a member!” My own perfectionism used to make me proud, now I see it for the egoistic defect of character it really is! We’re all bozos on this bus! Thank God!

Privatization has been growing rampant since the 19th Century, but has always been a source of injustice, and Jesus challenged it. The rugged individualist ideal in American society demands that we pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Biblical teachings ask, “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  The answer has always been Yes!
Richard Rohr has been focusing all this week in his daily meditations on the importance of remembering Jesus’ prayer “That they may all be one.” (Which is also the United Church of Christ motto). He talks about the Free Market Consumer Ideology this way: The Apostle Paul called them Powers and Principalities –
“Today we might call powers and principalities our collective cultural moods or mass consciousness or institutions considered "too big to fail. We are mostly oblivious to this because we take all these things as normative and absolutely needed. It is the "absolutely" that gets us into our blindness and idolatry. Because we share in this collective evil, it doesn't look like evil. For instance, I've never once heard a sermon about the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet your neighbor's goods," because in our culture that's the only game in town. It is called capitalism.”

When I was in seminary one of my professors did do a sermon on the 10th Commandment and it has stayed with me all these years! Now it’s my turn.

“An Other Kingdom” challenges us to notice the soup we swim in:
“Economic systems based on competition, scarcity, and acquisitiveness have become more than a question of economics; they have become the kingdom within which we dwell…” We can “imagine an alternative set of economic beliefs that have the capacity to evoke a culture where poverty, violence, and shrinking well-being are not inevitable – a culture in which the social order produces enough for all.”
It is what Jesus preached every day as the Kingdom of God.

And many people, including us, are finding ways to work together to build the beloved community. As Todd Wynward, a former intern at the Center for Action and Contemplation, writes,
"A Christian discipleship community … following the Way of Jesus could become a beacon of resilience, spreading good news and [much needed] social and environmental justice in its community."

We practice covenantal relationships. When we joined the church and when new members come, we remind one another that we are here to “pledge to one another our support and our prayers… to teach and learn, trust and be trustworthy, forgive and be forgiven, serve and be served, love and be loved.”
We practice these covenants in board meetings and encounters all throughout the many years we share together. As Paul Anderson mentioned in our last Council meeting… “I see our meetings as a learning lab.” We grow because it is safe to make mistakes and learn from one another. There is mutual respect and kindness in most all that we do.
We teach our children the deep values we share. Because they feel safe and supported they dare to share those values in the wider world of their schools and playgrounds. Our own young Michael White shared with me that when he was on the playground he saw two friends starting to fight. He told them to stop, to remember to come from peace and love! The arguers didn’t stop but what a powerful example of what our children are learning in our midst!

We can do more! Do we want to start a food co-op? What about a community garden? How can we work together to bring more justice to the Peninsula? Margaret Mead reminds us: "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."

We may be living in what Jesus called “Kairos” time, rather than being locked into clock time. We may see the possibility for changing the world, at least our part of it!

“An Other Kingdom” closes with several covenantal promises we might consider strengthening in our midst:
First, Make Time ~ Can we make more of it by prioritizing relatedness and hospitality over speed, individualism and being with people just like us?
Then Food ~ Can we share it more often, both with one another and those in need?
Next, Silence ~ There is a need for contemplation in our daily lives, a way to open to the mystery we call God. Shall we start a meditation group?
And finally, Sabbath ~ Another commandment that falls by the wayside in this consumer culture. To make a commitment to time for rest, that even God requires, is a revolutionary act!

The book closes with this wonderful quote from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a movie I dearly loved set in India in a retirement community for Westerners. The lovely young man with the vision for this enterprise said: “Everything will be all right in the end…if it’s not all right, then it’s not the end!”