I am a parish minister currently serving the Eliot Church of Natick MA. Eliot Church is a Community Church affiliated with the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ. Any statements made and postions held in "Unity," however, are solely mine(of course, they may be used with appropriate atribution). Therefore if you disagree, please do not blame the church!

Monday, October 23, 2006

Sermon: Who's the Boss?

So here are the notes to another sermon. Alas! I put a lot of these up, I know. A few folks asked for copies and it seemed easier to just post it here and direct folks to it. Some of the readings came out of a new book from the UUA who's name is escaping me. It is very nice, however...

The others came from the Bible and from a collection of sermons and writings by Henry Ward Beecher.

Who’s the Boss?
Eliot Church
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot

No doubt when some of you read
The title for today’s sermon:
Who’s the Boss?
Your mind naturally went to a certain television sit-com
Popular in the 1980’s
And starring the incomparable Tony Danza

In a way, this is fitting
That program was a product of its time
And dealt with changes in gender roles
And class relations
That continue to develop in
Somewhat different ways today
But in the midst of all the madcap mayhem
The dated situations, clothes and hair
Was the serious—even timeless—question
Embedded in its title

For regardless of who we are
What we do for work
What our family and private live may be like (after all)
We ultimately are accountable to
Responsible for
Must serve someone or something

Who is the Boss?
Perhaps more importantly,
Who is our boss?
What rules govern our lives?
It is the sort of question
That can drive someone to church
It is a question that gets at our identity
And at our sense of place and belonging
Our understanding of where we fit in

In fact, this question can move us
In many different directions
Depending on temperament and interests

In our more reflective moments
The search for the answer to this question
Drives our actions
And our thoughts
Because of this
(while we usually begin with good intentions)
We need to be vigilant
As it is tempting to cut corners

In our reading from Mark today
Jesus starts by responding to his questioner
You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.
But this isn’t what the rich man is asking
He is looking for more than that
At some level he must have understood
That there was more to life
Than going through the motions/
Obeying the rules

But when Jesus tells him to sell his possessions
He doesn’t know what to do
He despairs and walks away

The disciples, too, despair
When Jesus says It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." They were greatly astounded and said to one another, "Then who can be saved?"
One might wonder why they were so concerned
Having done, in most cases,
Just what Jesus had told the questioner to do
But they understood that the issue
Isn’t so much what one owns
But how much value we place on our possessions

In addition many of the things that we hold dear
And that may hold us back
Are not physical objects
But ideas and habits, addictions and beliefs
These can become a burden as much as the objects
That represent them

These possessions that burden us
Are hard to see and comprehend at times
Since we are so close to them
So we often do not know who the boss really is
Uberto Eco, in his novel The Name of the Rose
Writes that When your true enemies are too strong, you choose weaker enemies… Only the powerful always know with great clarity who their true enemies are.
In other words, when we, like the rich man
Try to do the right thing
We often are distracted by lesser problems and difficulties
Smaller ways in which we can improve
And so miss the power that truly controls us

This can be true for groups as well as individuals
Especially when it comes to ideas and beliefs
For example, we can consider the debate
That has raged with little development
Since the 19th century
Concerning how the world came to be
The Creationists on the one hand and Evolutionists on the other
Now, the scientific method
Allows for the possibility that Natural Selection
The theory developed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace
May some day be proven wrong
(It has been altered and adjusted over the years
As new research and new discoveries
Have given birth to new ideas)
Yet I doubt that one fine day
We will discover that a literal reading of Genesis
Is the most accurate description
Of the beginning of the world

The Congregationalist minister and abolitionist
Henry Ward Beecher
In defense of the theory once said
We forget that the scripture itself…is…a proof of Evolution. There is no fact more absolutely patent than that every moral idea from the opening of Genesis…Every one of the great moral ideas rose like a star, and did not shine like the sun until ages had given it ascension. One thing is very certain, that the human race began at the bottom and not at the top, or else there is no truth in history or religion.

Still, it is hard to give up
The comfort of the past
So that image of Adam and Eve
The serpent and the garden
Exists as fact for many Americans
And out of their belief comes many implications
For the environment, medicine, the rights of women
And other important facets of our lives on this planet

Also, our general western culture
Drives us toward a specific concept of success
We keep score in our lives by comparing how much we make
Our tendency to be defined
By the conditions of our employment
(or what we “do”)
Is so well known as to be barely worth repeating
Yet it makes us look in strange directions
For enlightenment
It makes us seek out lesser enemies
And smaller dragons to slay

Or in the words of Waldemar Argow
A past minister of this church
More people poison themselves by what they think than by what they drink.
Often we human beings accept unquestioningly
Things that just turn out not to be true
Standards that are false and unhealthy
And make them the frame through which we look at the world

But there is also a flip side,
There is another way
Argow goes on to say that
Vastly more people find happiness and contentment by what they hold in their minds than by what they hold in their bank accounts.

This is, I think, what Jesus is trying to tell us
We have the freedom to think what we will
Happiness, enlightenment
These things cannot be purchased
Nor can righteousness, and goodness
Power in this world
Can be obtained with worldly weath, sure
But not understanding, not strength of the heart
And of the soul

We can get weighed down
And we all fall short of the ideal
But our lives, if we wish it,
Can be dedicated to the proposition
That there is a better master to serve
Than the one that tells us
How we have to look, what car we should drive
And where our children absolutely must
Go to college

There is another story in the Bible
That seems appropriate
In it we find Jesus and his followers
At the now famous Passover meal
The “Last Supper”
Down at the end of the table
Some of the disciples are
Participating in an apparently eternal argument
About who among them is the greatest/the best

Jesus hears them and responds
The greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves
In this church we provide many opportunities to serve
The reason as I have mentioned before
Isn’t just to do nice things for people
But because humility and service are a crucial part
Of the religious life
So, too we are motivated to participate in other community projects
Like Natick 360

Such work helps us—when it is done with intentionality
To find what in eastern religions
Is often referred to as a childlike nature
Or simplemindedness/Openness
It is the ability to look with wonder at the mundane
It is a great and difficult thing
To put aside the noises in our minds
Our education, the pressures that decide our actions
The basic concepts that dictate our thoughts
And see things as they are
Because, as the writer Benjamin Hoff said
As any old Taoist walking in the woods can tell you
simplemindedness does not necessarily mean stupid

The simple mind is what Jane Rzepka was seeking
At the Brooklyn Zoo
And it is the discovery that Sarah York makes
When in seeking out the deer in her back yard
She actually misses them

Now, Who’s the Boss lasted eight seasons
(A good long time for a television show)

But much more influential
Has been a work called The Wizard of OZ
A highly allegorical movie
That just about every American has seen
(How many of you have seen it?
It is the most watched movie in the country)
The Wizard of OZ
Is about the journey of self-discovery
About leaving the comfortable routine
And what does Dorothy find
After all that she sees and does on her way to the Emerald City?
She makes that same discovery that is made by Rev. York
Namely that The answer to our questions
Can be found in our own back yard

Who’s the Boss?
Certainly in exact formulation
It is different for each of us
But whatever brings us true understanding
Helps us when we are lost
And brings us to touch the Divine
This is what demands our loyalty
Our lives and our faith

May each of us find a way
To take even one small positive step
On our personal journeys
Away from chaos and toward comprehension
To approach this way-too-adult world
With just a little bit more of that simple
And childlike soul
That we have all been gifted with
That we all still possess