Communist or Commonwealth?

Preached on 7 August 2016 at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Snohomish, WA
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, Year C

When I walk for 4 or 5 hours at a stretch, my mind usually wanders.  I have time to explore ideas more than usual.  Well, this week, when I was walking, I began to wonder.

With the technology and resources that we have available now, how much would everybody have to work to produce enough for everybody – enough food, clean water, housing, clothing, care for the children and the elderly and the disabled, provide good education and health care for everyone.  And I don’t mean just enough food to survive, I mean to be able to eat well; delicious, fresh food, fine dining at times, good wine, you get the idea.  If everyone could fully develop and offer their talents and skills, pursue their passions.

In this world I imagined, some would produce beauty making it available to everyone:  Art, music, sports, dance, theatre, travel, study and research, education that allows us to broaden our horizons and plumb the depths of the body of knowledge and add to it …  all the pursuits that make life good and beautiful.

I wonder, How much would everybody have to work?  And how much leisure time would we have – time to spend with family, friends, neighbors, time to just be?

Of course, I have no idea what the answer is.  But I can imagine that world.

If money is not part of the system, it eliminates at least three major industries that I can think of off the top of my head – freeing those people to work at other pursuits that more directly benefit the community.

If you know that there will always be enough, you don’t have to worry about saving to educate your children or for retirement, or for the proverbial rainy day.  You don’t have to be afraid, because your community will be there for you if you are ever in need; you won’t end up homeless or hungry.

And as my mind went down that path, I thought,
“I sound like a communist!”  But then it occurred to me, I think that’s what the kingdom of God is like.  And no, I’m not saying that God is a communist.

God’s deepest desire is the well-being of the world – of all that God has created, of each and every one of us.  God does not favor one over the other, desiring that one prosper at another’s expense.

In today’s gospel, Jesus tells the disciples, “It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  You don’t have to be afraid.  This is God’s promise.

We hear God’s promise to Abram in today’s reading from Genesis, too.  This is the first time God promises Abram that he will have children.  God tells him to look at all the stars in the sky.  His descendants will be as numerous as the stars.  And yet, it will be many, many years before that promise is fulfilled.

When I think about Abram going outside and looking at all the stars, with no light pollution, it reminds me of the story of the rabbi who carries a stone in each pocket.  On the one in his left pocket is written,
“You are but dust and ashes.”  And on the other,
“For you, God created the entire universe.”  Both are true simultaneously.

We marvel at the magnificence of Creation and that we are part of that marvelous creation and it is there for us to use and enjoy.  At the same time, we recognize our own existence within that creation – small, brief, yet eternal.

You are beloved of God, loved beyond measure.
You are unique.
And so is everybody else:
The person sitting next to you, the person at work that drives you nuts, the person who supports the other presidential candidate.

This is where we live – in the waiting between the promise and the fulfillment of the kingdom.

When Wes and I went to New Zealand a few years ago, we went to the local Anglican church.  I noticed that in some of the prayers, it referred to the Commonwealth of God, rather than the kingdom.  To me, that seems like such a good word to describe what I imagine it to be like.  Commonwealth points to the well-being of the whole community.

So, how do we choose to live while we are here, in the waiting between promise and fulfillment?

Jesus reminds the disciples of God’s promise and then immediately invites them to live it.
“Do not be afraid, little flock,” he says.  Let go of your fear.  Loosen your hold on your possessions enough to be generous; to share what you have with those who have less.
How much does fear drive our lives?

Jesus invites them and us to live as if the Commonwealth of God is very near, so near you can touch it, you can visit.  We can imagine it.
What if we choose to live as if it’s already here?