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Pastoral ponderings . . .
The promise that our death is not the end, but the beginning of a new and transformed life forever is at the heart of the gospel of John: “The one who eats this bread will live forever,” says our Lord. This promise of victory over death washes over us once and for all in baptism, and then we get to eat and drink that promise of something more, beyond this life, every time we receive Holy Communion. It’s at the center of our worship life, and our daily practice of our faith. It’s meant to empower us to serve others, practice generosity, and practice self-surrender because trusting God’s promise in Christ that eternal life is what comes next, can empower us to surrender this one more readily.That’s the effect the promise can have on our lives: awakening us to how much we can let go of now, because so much more is coming to us, through Christ. Love for God, and love for neighbor as ourselves, can come from the promise of eternal life. A love that doesn’t just live for this life, but lives for the good of all creation, surrendering every day in a generous letting go, can change the world. That’s the effect that eating and drinking God’s sacrificial love in this holy meal is meant to have on us.The promise that there’s more coming in the next life means that profound generosity can be the way we happily live this one.
Christianity isn’t about “pie in the sky when you die!” Christian discipleship is meaningful for the well-being of not just all humanity, but for the future of the planet itself that God made! Jesus says in the gospel of Matthew: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven . For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
If we treasure most what is coming to us next in Christ Jesus, our treasure here becomes simply a source of profound generosity and love for this planet and our fellow travelers who will someday outlive us. This is a spirituality of generosity, that the Living Bread from Heaven is meant to grow in us, as we receive this free gift in the Eucharist. The spirituality of generosity is what our fall congregational program, Stewardship for All Seasons, is about.
I spent 10 days in Berkeley last month, studying the newest philosophy of the 21st century, called “Transhumanism” reading about it, talking with experts about it, and thinking about it. I traced its origins to 19th century Russia. Transhumanist philosophy is opposed to nearly all the ethical and moral claims of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. I find it selfish, escapist, narcissistic, and wrong-headed. In essence, its goal is to make humans ageless and immortal, through science. And turning science and technology toward engineering a race of superhumans was the goal of the Nazis in the last century.
What I have learned, is that this desire to create a Super Race has re-emerged in the 21st century, and captured the imaginations of some of the smartest and wealthiest people on the planet today. And they are Americans. I think that educating ourselves about the reasoning and motivations behind Transhumanism will help us see how it is clearly opposed to the ethics of Christian discipleship, and can help us stand up in public and private, and name its harms, when we recognize its presence.
Our trust in the promise of eternal life with Christ after our death is not meant to be escapist. Christians who do use it to stick their heads in the sand, have missed the message! Because in fact, it’s meant to empower a radical altruism in us. To inspire us to relentlessly seek the common good in everything we are about. I believe it’s meant to empower a radical generosity today toward not only those of our own species, but every species God created and told us “is good.” Eating the promise of eternal life in this holy meal is meant to grow an awareness that we have nothing to lose in this life. Anything we earn, receive, or make can be surrendered to the cause of love, because so much more is still to come in Christ!
Transhumanist thinkers are fond of pointing to the Anti-science fundamentalist Christians, and saying that Christianity is escapist. Humans are afraid of dying, transhumanists say. So humans developed these fairy tales of religion to relieve their fears. Who can say whether we will be afraid or not, when we see our death coming? I have witnessed in 30 years of pastoral care, people who approached their impending death with great peace, confidence, and surrender. I have also painfully witnessed great fear in others; who were baptized and raised in faith, that nothing I said or did could relieve. They were baptized in the promise of God’s love, and ate the promise of eternal life in Christ, but died in such fear and trembling. God’s promise, coming to us in the sacraments, is meant to relieve our fears of our own mortality. It’s meant to comfort us in the inevitable times of death and profound grief, because God is Love, and God loves us. And the life-long effect of eating and drinking the promise of eternal life, is meant to turn us from living life focused on death’s power, to living a surrendered life of generosity in thanks for all that’s still to come: a generosity and altruism that has the power to change the world.
So transhumanists are right, humans do have a healthy fear of death. It’s what keeps us thinking about the consequences of the laws of physics! And we live a little longer as a result! But transhumanists accuse the Church of using that fear of death to become anti-science; converting humans from rational thinking to magical thinking, and converting us from altruism into people with their heads in the sand. Point taken. I agree, there are many Christians in America like that today. But there are others. There are those of us who gather at the round table of Mount Tabor’s altar, who see God doing something different: not calling us to live with our heads in the sand, or for the pie in the sky, but for the common good. A place where we are fed with the promise of a whole lot more, a promise made from the yeast of sacrificial love; the yeast of altruism and compassion that empowers us to live this life with radical generosity.
We aren’t a bunch of Luddites at Tabor’s round table! We are faithful skeptics, and doubting disciples. We are people of faith and the scientific method. We are Lutherans, in love with scientific discovery. We are followers of Jesus in the 21st century, committed to living God’s revolutionary love in this world, for the sake of the world; not escaping the world’s suffering, but reforming it for those yet to come.
This meal we share with anyone who comes, is meant to comfort us in our grief and empower us with hope, reminding us that there is still so much more life, that is to come. So much more,that we really have nothing to lose in this one.
That’s what this eating and drinking, this sharing and singing together of a promise that keeps on coming is growing in us. A promise that keeps love for neighbor and ourselves alive, and somehow, in this way, making all Creation new again.
That’s why we welcome all to the meal of living bread, and the promise God has made. Welcome to the future that Love is making. Welcome to Tabor!