“To Be Rich in Helping Others“
Rev. Richard Feyen
recorded on 29 Sep 2013
First Reading: An Excerpt from Shafts of Light: Selected Teachings of Swami Ashokananda for Spiritual Practice edited by Sister Gargi and Shelley Brown
“Imagine God in the heart of all beings.
“Every single being that exists is an inexhaustible mine of beauty and love.”
“Unless we see divinity in every being, we will never see unity in the world. Intelligence is that which sees unity among apparently separate things.”
“You can have a true democratic spirit if you can really persuade yourself that everyone is divine.”
“Behind what appears to you as a dull face, a bright face, or a vicious face is God alone. All these various pictures we see are but misreadings of the one truth, just tricks of the mind. Actually, everything is perfect.”
“Everything brings the message of God; from everywhere comes the touch of my Beloved.”
Second Reading: 1 Tim 6:6-10 From The Message by Eugene Peterson
“A devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God. Since we entered the world penniless and will leave it penniless, if we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough. But if it’s only money these leaders are after, they’ll self-destruct in no time. Lust for money brings trouble and nothing but trouble. Going down that path, some lose their footing in the faith completely and live to regret it bitterly ever after. … Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage – to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.”
Panentheism: Panentheism considers God and the world to be inter-related, with the world being in God and God being in the world.
Pantheism: Pantheism may be understood positively as the view that God is identical with the cosmos, the view that there exists nothing which is outside of God, or else negatively as the rejection of any view that considers God as distinct from the universe.
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One of the things that I strive to do in my own reading of the Sacred text, and in the lessons that I try to preach, is to concentrate on the de-humanization of what I think of as “God”. What I want to do is take the word . . . G-O-D . . . and think of it as what it means. What we (and I mean most Christians and Jews at least) tend to do is become caught up in the personification of that which we call God. Right down to the capitalization of the word as a personal pronoun. I don’t think it is. In the attempt to reflect on a personal god, we have gone way too far.
The Hebrew people, and good Jewish people today, won’t even write the word, let alone say it aloud – because to do so attempts to capture a meaning, or encapsulate a concept; and when it comes to what it is we consider Sacred, the image is more than a word can capture.
In both of these readings, the first thing we must begin to do is understand all the possibilities when we refer to God in a sentence. And as difficult as it is, we must not imagine a single ‘thing’- but must imagine God in, as the first reading suggests, all things. Much of the language of the Bible does not let us do that however, and that is why it gets complicated. Theologically, pantheism and panentheism have been at odds with one another for a long time. Panentheism states that the divine interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it. Pantheism differentiates itself, as it holds that the divine is synonymous with the universe.
But . . . let’s keep this simple, shall we? I want to think about us being filled with the wealth that comes from the rich simplicity of being yourself before all that we worship, in front of that which we call God; without thinking of God as someone, or something, or someplace – but as more than that which is in and of everything.
We are still looking at this letter from Paul to Timothy, as he acknowledges that he is nearer the end of life and ministry, and he is trying to make sure that his young associates understand the message. Paul knows what he has learned of Jesus, and he longs to pass it on. He understands Jesus as the living revelation of all that is sacred and divine; in his actions and teachings; the way he was with others. That is what Paul is trying to convey; that the devout life which Jesus led was filled with the wealth of being of service to others before the divine. He says the wealth, the richness of serving others, before the divine and holy, is found in the simplicity of all you do – when all you do is lead a life devoted to the service and care of others.
In order to do that, we must be frank and honest with ourselves and who we are. We must present ourselves to others in a way that is as authentic as possible – because, if the sacred is in all and of all, then we are always in the presence of the sacred; from the homeless person whose eyes we struggle to avoid contact with, to the person we most long to impress; each is the presence of God in our midst.
I (like many young people growing up) had this thought or image of God as being everywhere; like having a camera on every street corner and in the corner of every room. I felt, always that God, and those who had died before me, could see everything I ever did. Sometimes, as a teen, I just had to say, “To heck with it!”, and sneak that alcohol out of the house and smoke that cigarette anyway! Sometimes, in that naïve state of mind, I would do the “bad thing” – like go to a dance or a movie and say (in my mind) to God, “Forget it! A guy can’t be good all the time! I won’t have any friends if I don’t do it.” At least that’s the way I felt – like someone was always watching!
But . . . what I believe this text is trying to convey to us today, is that we are ALL part of the great Sacred and Divine that is; and that, in our service to others, we present ourselves to the divine and holy, as we are, the real self, the inner self, the person that is within. What matters is neither the material wealth we accumulate nor the things we have but what matters is the way we are with one another!
From the respect we show the panhandler and the homeless, to the care and hospitality you offer the stranger. From the way we treat the least desirable, to the attention we pay the one’s we regard with the most respect. From the politician and the government employee, to the custodian you might pass in the hall day in and day out without saying a word and … from the dandelion in your yard that you curse, to the field of sunflowers in full bloom or the view from atop a mountain; everything is an aspect of the sacred world around us. Everything and everyone deserves to be treated as part of the whole of creation, a sacred trust we have been put in charge of for all time!
When Paul says, “Go after God, who piles on all the riches we could imagine,” he is referring to neither material wealth nor a being in a place but, I believe, he is referring to vastness of love and appreciation that is both part of who we are and present in all whom we meet. To do ‘good’, in Paul’s context here, encompasses everything from going on a mission trip to South Dakota next summer for the sake of the Native Americans, to recycling your water bottles and soda cans in an attempt to be extravagantly generous to the earth. It is, in all of it, an effort to be extraordinarily rich in helping others – for in those acts of kindness lays the richness Paul talks about. You are building a treasure in the storehouse of the divine and holy that will last – truly last – for yourselves and others, because love is eternal. So, as we work together to find that wealth together, we work together for peace and wholeness in the world; because, as we read from Shafts of Light, “Unless we see divinity in every being, we will never see unity in the world,” and so, find unity in what otherwise appears to be separate.
As we work for the sake of others, we become more aware that God is not a separate, independent being; but one with all and in all. Striving to interpret God (or the “sacred”) in all that is, becomes easier and easier. When we do that, the first line of the passage from Timothy that Patsy read for us sounds far more natural to say, “A devout life does bring wealth, wealth in the rich simplicity of being yourself before All That Is.”
With Great Hope, friends, AMEN.