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The Time Has Come to Give What’s Mine

October 9, 2022
Rev. Russ Daye
Thanksgiving Sunday
Psalm 100

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
    Worship the Lord with gladness;
    come before him with joyful songs.
Know that the Lord is God.
    It is he who made us, and we are his[a];
    we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.

Enter his gates with thanksgiving
    and his courts with praise;
    give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good and his love endures forever;
    his faithfulness continues through all generations.

John 6.25-35

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill.  Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.  For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So, they asked him, “What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you?  What will you do?  Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”

Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “always give us this bread.”

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

As a number of people in Lectionary pointed out on Thursday, the reading from John has been problematic because we use this passage to reject people of other faiths for a very long time, including during the Crusades and it’s led to violence and it’s led to great abuses including being part of the rhetoric, part of the justification for Indian residential schools.

But I want to point out today a different problem with that passage, and I want to do it by telling you two stories and juxtaposing them.  They’re both contemporary stories, in fact, they’re both playing out right now.

I’ve mentioned to you before in worship and in sermons that I was quite involved with a retreat centre in Nova Scotia called Windhorse Farm which is a sustainable forest and an organic farm and a retreat centre that was opened and run by Buddhists.  And the Buddhists and I and some Indigenous people and some African Baptists used to run retreats there. Virginia and I built a house adjacent to it on a lake.

Last year, the people who owned that retreat centre – Symbolic Buddhists – gifted it back to the Mi’kmaq.  And my son Sam who decided he had had enough of Covid university on little screens left Ste. Avecs, moved to the lake house and now works for Ulnooweg – the Indigenous organization that runs Windhorse Farm.  And do you know what they’re doing starting tonight?  A multi-day ghost dance led by a spiritual elder Mi’kmaq woman.  They fast and dance from dusk till dawn as many nights as they need to until the ancestors come – referring back to the word I used in the land acknowledgement – and until the veil is lifted and they’re fully present in the Vanua.  They’ll know that the ancestors have come because there’s an elder whose been through these dances and it’s his charism to recognize the moment of their arrival, and that’s when rituals shared with ancestors are engaged in.

There’s no schedule – the ancestors aren’t set to arrive at 3:47 on Tuesday morning.  That’s not how it works.  But there will be a profound sense of what’s already happening on this land which is that the veil is lifted and the land, and all the people who’ve lived on it, and all of the ancestors of the Mi’kmaq people who have been the stewards of that land, and the unborn children move into a space in which they are all present to each other.  That’s one story.

I keep bouncing back and forth between whether this is what the gospel passage says, or this is how it’s been interpreted, but the other story is a profound Christian dualism that has spread in response to passages like this, separating bread from heaven from real bread, separating the ancestors from the land.  So, somehow if the communion of saints shows up, it’s in some airy, fairy spiritual fashion that has nothing to do with the land we live on, with the Creation and with our bodies.  And probably the greatest extension of that dualistic theology is in something that has arisen recently called the Church of Perpetual Life.

Let me just take a step back and say texts often get used for purposes that their authors would have abhorred.  I’m sure both Nietzsche and Wagner would have been horrified with what the Nazis did with their art and their philosophy.  I’m sure that whoever it was that wrote the amendment to the United States giving everybody the right to bear arms, which means in case the government becomes overbearing local militias are able to have their single-shot muskets, would see the justification of the legalization of uber automatic weapons that have been used in school shootings as an abhorrent use of what they wrote 200 plus years ago.

There’s been a trajectory of the use of New Testament dualism from passages like this and one of the weirdest ones now is the Church of Perpetual Life which is involved in what’s called the trans-humanist movement.  It has nothing to do with gender transitioning.  The trans-humanist movement believes that if we can perfect artificial intelligence, then we don’t need to die.  Not because they can make our bodies live forever but because they can digitalize our minds and souls and put who we are, digitally, into computers, into the machines – the hardware – that enables artificial intelligence, and so you will live on forever in a digitalized fashion.  Your eye rolls and my Dad jokes will be digital forever.

There’s another movement that’s to lead to human immortality, this is a movement which medical science is being used to try to produce bodies that just don’t die, that are not subject to aging, so it involves genetic manipulation in other forms of treatment.

What’s happening in both of those expressions of the pursuit of immortality is that it has entirely become about me and not about we.  There’s no sense that our horizon of salvation, that the goodness of our future is not only collective but is buried in the earth.  That if there is a communion of saints that we are to join someday and to gift our wisdom, our strength, our love and our bad senses of humour forward, for generations, it is not separated from each other or from the earth!

The reason I asked for this song (Thrasher by Neil Young) is because almost a half century ago – 43 years ago, to be exact – Neil Young was picking up on this dissonance in this song.  The song’s essentially a story.  He’s gotten up early and he’s driving through agricultural valleys of Southern California.  And as the sun comes up and shines on the golden grain about to be harvested by thrashers, combines that look like they’re two lanes wide rolling down, harvesting the grain, he identifies with the grain, with the soul in the hay that’s about to become haybales, and move into the animals.

He ends the song by saying,

When the thrasher comes, I’ll be stuck in the sun

Like the dinosaurs in shrines

But I’ll know the time has come to give what’s mine,

but I’ll know the time has come to give what’s mine.

Friends, I cannot accept a theology of salvation that does not involve our being harvested, that does not involve our being profoundly changed and reworked so that we become nutrition – perhaps the nutrition of wisdom – for future generations.  If I’m hived off in some digitally hermetically sealed way and I continue to exist as Russ for millennia, that’s not good enough for me!  I’ve spent 60 years learning about all the parts of Russ that need to be harvested and recycled and turned into something else, and some things that may move forward as nutrition the way they are.

And Neil Young also picks up brilliantly on the temptation in our age because the outcome of a theology and philosophies that say we’re just individuals, we just live on our own, our salvation’s not in the Vanua – is not in the collective – has been this:

They had the best selection,
they were poisoned with protection,

there was nothing that they needed, nothing left to find.
They were lost in rock formations,

or became park bench mutations,

on the sidewalks and in the stations, they were waiting, waiting.

What he’s talking about here, I believe, specifically some friends who succumbed to drugs – the ‘crystal canyons’, you can guess what that refers to.

But we turn to the crystal canyons, we turn to materialism, we turn to the promises of digital mortality because we don’t have the comfort of being a collective and in the earth.  And the neuroses of the consumerism, and the late stage capitalism that’s driven by that neurotic individualism is, with dark irony, destroying the earth.

And so, how do we give what’s ours?  On Thanksgiving Sunday, in which we offer gratitude for the harvest, how do we become the harvest?

I want to end by telling you just a couple of little stories that are digital, capitalistic and good news:

Has anybody heard of Hossein Rahnama from Toronto Metropolitan University?  Also, a visiting faculty at MIT?  Hossein is involved in a digital project called Augmented Immortality, which doesn’t pretend that the digital version of you is you Lauren (Rev. Hodgson) but still wants to be able to gift digitally your humour, your laughter, and what you’ve learned to future generations.  What they’re doing is creating digital personas that we don’t believe are us but that capture what we would choose to teach and saving it to give to future generations.

So, if you choose, you could pass your eye rolls and Dad jokes onto your grandchildren and your great-grandchildren, and your great, great-grandchildren but also in these programs – for their benefit, not for yours, it’s not a pretense of individual immortality for you – something is being stored, so that what you’ve learned can be passed forward as much as possible, like with a book but with an emotional presence that a book can’t give.  Now, I think that’s being harvested and giving what’s ours.

The other example is Patagonia, the clothing company that’s worth $3 billion and has $100 million profit every year and they have just given themselves – their founder Yvon Chouinard and his family – to a single shareholder, which is the earth.  They’ve created a NGO and a Trust whose sole purpose is to fight climate change and they have gifted Patagonia to that Trust.  At 83 years of age, he’s decided to be harvested and to give what’s his.

We don’t have to read this fantastic passage from John the way it’s been read for 2,000 years or too often.  We can look for the good in it, and the good is when Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life,’ and what did I do?  I walked to a cross, and I allowed what I was to be harvested for the future generations.

We can all find our own way to do that.  If anybody wants to share a coffee, or a glass of wine and brainstorm with me sometime about the ways we can do this, I’d like to do that with you.

God bless you.

Image credit: Nadiia Vynar – unsplash.com

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