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Sunday Message for August 13, 2023


I would like to talk today about two things. Number one is that right now we sit at God's feast. Whether we recognize it or not - all of God's abundance is at hand. And number two is that no matter how great or small the flow of resources is that runs through your life, there is a flow that you help shape.

To start off, I would like to read something from Walden by Henry David Thoreau. He writes:

I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute.
I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only. Why, the owner does not know it for many years when a poet has put his farm in rhyme, the most admirable kind of invisible fence, has fairly impounded it, milked it, skimmed it and got all the cream, and left the farmer only the skimmed milk.

And again Thoreau states:

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor. It is something to be able to paint a particular picture, or to carve a statue, and so to make a few objects beautiful; but it is far more glorious to carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look, which morally we can do. To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.b

Many of us were told as we entered the work force, "People who work hard get taken care of. If you work hard, you're set for life. If you give your company your best, they will take care of you in return."

But today, this isn't the main piece of advice many fathers are probably giving their children as they head out into this economy to find their way. In fact, broadly speaking, the idea that companies can even afford to treat people like family has become kind of a joke. This is evidenced by the fact that it's a major plot theme on the award-winning TV sit-com, The Office.

In this comedy, the main character, Michael Scott, is the branch manager of a paper supply company. When Michael is asked to go to a meeting in New York City to share his branch's numbers with the new CEO, he decides the best way to make a good impression is not to start with charts and numbers, but instead by highlighting the family like relationships he perceives between the people working at his branch.

So when it's his turn to start, with the CEO and all the other branch managers sitting around the table, Michael doesn't start a Power Point presentation, he switches the screen to play a video he has made. It opens with a slow moving montage of the employees' faces and then you hear it, the familiar sound of the U2 song, "I Can't Live With or Without You."

America loves this, thinks it's hilarious. We laugh in part because we no longer expect that most companies are going to be able to treat their employees like family, to take care of them through all of their working years and into retirement.

So the old advice doesn't hold water anymore. Those in managerial positions have been asked to lay people off. Managers and bosses used to be sculptors of people, helping them bring their best qualities to the surface. But now they are being asked to sculpt the bottom line by cutting jobs and people.

For many, the American Dream has become more like a nightmare. We know we're reaching record numbers in terms of unemployment and foreclosures of homes, but what we don't see as easily is the increased number of phone calls to suicide hotlines. When it comes to money, people are struggling with more than making ends meet. People are struggling to find hope.

I believe this is where our faith comes in. We have only to look to our past and present prophets for this hopeful path through the thorny wilderness we now find ourselves in.

150 years ago, Henry David Thoreau warned America in Walden that we were losing our way. He wrote "Our life is...made up of petty states... The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which by the way are all external and superficial, is...such an unwieldy and overgrown establishment...and the only cure for it...is...in a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose."c

Thinking back to the first reading from Walden, we can see the elevation of purpose Thoreau is pointing to. He wrote, "I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of the farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only." And then Thoreau questions us, "Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life? We are determined to be starved before we are hungry." Let me repeat that, "We are determined to be starved before we are hungry."

In our day, I think this translates to say we can end up working so hard we miss out on the glories that surround us and make life meaningful. When we are too busy to notice life's gifts, we end up starving at a feast. Thoreau offers us hope by reminding us, each of us has the ability to know we are sitting at a feast. He wrote, "I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor...To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts."

To illustrate what this looks like today, in our contemporary settings, I am going to tell you a story from Lynne Twist. Twist has been a fundraiser for 20 years and has raised over $150 million to end world hunger and protect the rainforest. Along the way, she has worked with a broad range of people, from the wealthiest to those who are considered the poorest in the world. Through her fundraising path, Lynne has come to know a truth similar to Thoreau's, a truth that reveals hope in our human capacity to wake up to the wealth we have, to wake up to the feast of our lives.

Lynne was asked to meet with some of Microsoft's top women executives, women who on average have a net worth of $10 million, have young children, and are about 36 years old. Realizing these women weren't your average women, she decided to have tea with some them to learn more about their daily lives. She found out that most women started their day by 6am with breakfast with their kids. After that some were lucky enough to be able to get their kids ready for school. Others weren't and they had nannies that did it for them. Many of them noted that this morning time was the only time they were able to spend with their families. They were at their desks by 8, worked through lunch and dinner to return home by 9 or 10pm. They would eat a late dinner with their husbands, kiss their sleeping children goodnight and get back online to work sometimes until 1am. Apparently their weekends weren't much different; if they weren't at the office, the computer was on at home.

The women shared that they wanted to live differently and promised their families that they would come home earlier, that after this project, it will be different. After this deadline, I'll make more time for us, they'd say. And yet there was always the next project to be done and their days looked the same. When Twist asked them about their wealth, she realized that few, if any, of them were able to enjoy it. They used it to pay for childcare, which only allowed them to work harder and longer. Their wealth, she writes, "didn't give them freedom or vitality in the way they had once hoped, and even at one time expected, and their promise to themselves was that someday it would. Someday they would retire and live happily ever after."

Twist had been asked there to speak about her experience at the 4th World Women's conference in Beijing. She decided this was an opportunity to connect these money rich women with the stories of the one billion women living on $2-5 a day. She told them how women in Senegal and Bangladesh also worked 16-18 hours a day, how they were committed to their families, and how the women faced such odds and marginalization in their societies that they had to turn to each other for support. Twist told them how the women used song and dance to find the courage and strength to make it through together. She characterized these "resource poor" women as, "centered in appreciation...for the little that they had, but also the bounty of relationships they shared, born of necessity... In this connection and caring, these women not only survived, but experienced their true wealth."

Upon hearing this story, there was a notable change in the room. Twist said that "the revelation that life might be completely passing them by became palpable." Hearing these women's stories had allowed them to see their own lives differently. According to Twist, it gave them perspective to reconsider, their "unexamined allegiance to the chase for more."

She notes that Americans tend to define wealth by how much we accumulate. To be successful in our country means that a person earns an excessive amount of money, not a sufficient amount, not a fair share amount, but a "killing". She warns when we come to know ourselves by what we own rather than what we give, we lose wealth. Twist notes that, the path these women were on, "robbed them of any sense of victory or fulfillment, and the rules of the game were based on the conditions of scarcity: they had to get more, [but] more was never enough, and the chase was never ending."

Her story illustrates how often we don't even know wealth when we're drowning in it. Without stepping back to pay attention to how we are defining "wealth" we can fall prey to the myth of scarcity and miss out on the experience of having and being enough.

One of the main points in her book, The Soul of Money, is that scarcity is a cultural myth rather than a natural reality. Twist tells us, "Scarcity is a lie, it is an unexamined and false set of assumptions, opinions and beliefs that we are in constant danger of having our needs unmet." For many, she says, "anxiety over having enough is based on a set of assumptions, rather than circumstances."d To illustrate this, she tells stories about her work with millionaires who also fear they do not have enough. Millionaires! Millionaires like the women from Microsoft who missed out on what they already had in their never ending chase for more.

Hearing about the women in Bangladesh and Senegal helped the Microsoft women to see the feast they were missing right before their eyes. The women started reflecting on their own experience of wealth, they considered the gifts they already had, gifts like lives without violence, legal rights as women, the opportunity to work and achieve, how their work had provided them with homes with heat and running water for their loved ones, education for their children, and so on. The women paid attention also to the gifts within them: their health, ability to work, their passion, and love of life. They noticed what was fulfilling them. In slowing down they felt what it was like to have enough and be enough. It was only in paying attention to what they had and its sufficiency that they finally came to realize the true abundance of their lives. They found the feast.

It's so easy to rush past the experience of having and being enough, to overlook the feast. I can relate to this. Regardless of my job or paycheck I can feel a great sense of lack one day and then experience overwhelming gratitude for the abundance in my life the next. What is clear is that it is my attitude not my circumstances that change. Can any of you relate?

Scarcity blocks us from seeing that we have enough, and not only do we have enough, but we also stand in the continual flow of resources which pours through the world. There is no such thing as the haves and the have-nots, according to Twist. No one stands on the bank; we all stand in the flow and we also help shape it as we direct our resources back into the world.

This is a shift. Some of us may not see ourselves as the "haves" and we may not feel comfortable with that label. Even though there are probably few of us who are millionaires like the women from Microsoft, Twist says, "No matter how much or how little money you have flowing through your life, when you direct that flow with a soulful purpose you feel wealthy."e Abundance comes not from accumulating, but from generosity.

One night Twist met a woman named Gertrude in Harlem when she was doing a presentation on the Hunger Project. Meeting this one, particular woman cemented for her the very real fact that scarcity is a lie and that every single last one of us stands in the flow of money. The only white face standing in a leaky, church basement in Harlem, Lynne finished her presentation to the 75 people and waited through what she recalled to be an uncomfortable silence.

Finally, one woman stood up and said to her, "Girl, my name is Gertrude and I like what you've said and I like you. ... Now I ain't got no checkbook and I ain't got no credit cards. To me, money is a lot like water. For some folks it rushes through their life like a raging river. Money comes through my life like a little trickle. But I want to pass it on in a way that does the most good for the most folks. I see that as my right and as my responsibility. It's also my joy. I have fifty dollars in my purse that I earned doing a white woman's wash and I want to give it to you."

Twist says that Gertrude "walked up the aisle and handed me her $50. It was in five-dollar, ten-dollar, and one-dollar bills. Then she gave me a big hug. As she headed back to her seat, other people started coming up and making their own contributions in singles and five-dollar, ten-dollar, twenty-dollar bills. I was so moved that I started crying. I couldn't hold all the bills in my hands, so at one point, I opened my briefcase and put it on the table to act as a kind of basket for the money. These moments, with people streaming up to give their money, had the feeling of a ceremony. There was a sense of integrity and heart. The amount of money that we received - maybe $500 at the most - was more precious to me than any I'd ever seen before."f

So the question is not do we stand in the flow of money, the question is how do we stand in the flow of money. We all stand in the flow. We all do, even when we're in an economic downturn. This point is critical. The way through our economic challenges is not just to replace our losses. The way to regain meaning and hope for our lives is to recognize that a true experience of wealth comes with giving in a soulful way.

This church tithes out of the tithes we receive from you. All resources that flowed into our lives we have chosen to channel back into the world to serve needs greater than our own. So even when, no especially when we are feeling the pinch financially, as the church has from time to time, we need to tithe out. We are part of the greater Unity movement in this world. We know that true wealth comes with giving, and we share the gifts of life we've been given.

You, and all Unity people, are the religious leaders. And it's so important to remind ourselves of this right now, to be vigilant about remembering this. Our nation needs more than a President to move us through these hardships, our nation needs leaders like all of you to lead by example. We need to be the ones who rise above this nonsense in consciousness and change it.

When you leave here today, I want you to remember these two things: I want you to remember that you already sit at the feast. This day is full of poetry, ready to gift itself to you at all times. And secondly, I want you to remember no matter how great or small the flow of resources is that runs through your life, there is a flow that you help shape. And the shape you have given it is beautiful. The resources and money that flows through your hands carries your mark, it carries your love and your purpose, and as a congregation we can feel proud of the way we share our resources, the way we steward life's gifts. We set a powerful example when we tithe to this church.

So as a gift to you, I invite you now to close your eyes and savor this knowing. Imagine yourself standing in the flow of money. The water flows around you.
How does it flow? Is it a rush or a trickle?
Is the water warm, cold?
Is it inviting, relaxing?
Is it chaotic and unpredictable?
How do the waters of money flow in your life?

As the water moves around you, notice how you direct its flow.
Once you've directed your resources to meet your basic needs, where do you direct your abundance?
Where does your relationship with your resources make you feel alive?

What does this tell you about what your soulful purpose might be?
When you give your money to your soulful purpose, your vision for the world, how does this feel different from the other places you direct your money?
When do you feel wealthy?

Now that you've hopefully embodied what your true wealth feels like, I want you to visualize with me all the people you've set an example for and thereby helped to wake up to their wealth, too. Picture their faces: family members, friends, co-workers, homeless youth and adults, children and their families. Imagine how the power of your very real leadership is rippling out into the world right now. Imagine all of the people you've impacted who can see the feast at their fingertips more clearly now because of your prayers.

Before you open your eyes, I want you to notice where in your body you know this is true and if you're comfortable I want you to place your hand there. Notice what it feels like. As we open our eyes, I invite you to leave your hand there so that we can all look around to see where we hold our wealth.

Let this be our feast and the nourishment we offer the world.
Let it be your way.

aThe Thoreau Reader: Annotated works of Henry David Thoreau Thoreau Society
bThe Thoreau Reader: Annotated works of Henry David Thoreau Thoreau Society
cThe Thoreau Reader: Annotated works of Henry David Thoreau Thoreau Society
dSoul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources Twist, Lynne
eSoul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources Twist, Lynne
fSoul of Money: Reclaiming the Wealth of Our Inner Resources Twist, Lynne

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