When I first moved to Silicon Valley, I was a bit perplexed by the wonderfully eccentric Katharine. Sitting in Katharine’s office over tea one afternoon, we talked of many things about my new community. We talked of Stanford University being just up the road. We talked about the booming tech industry Apple Google Tesla all in our backyard. I remember remarking that I had never seen so many Maseratis. Katharine shared with me that California is the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation and in fact, if Cali were its own country, her own economy separate from the rest of the US, would make it the 7th wealthiest nation in the world.
Now here’s where the conversation turned weird—remember I told you Katharine was a bit eccentric “If you’re going to live here then there is a book that is absolute required reading.” With that, she handed me a book titled Fail, Fail Again Fail Better.
My God can you think of anything scarier or weirder to say in heart of Silicon Valley?
How about Saint Croix Valley? Are we much different?
What would we say to such advice as Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better being required reading for us? Would we give this advice to our children?
Today Jesus tells us the path to God for him is suffering and death and the path to God for us is suffering and losing. In a word, we are, he is going to… FAIL.
Would if, beloved ones of God, failing is how we graft into our hearts love of the divine name, and how we increase within us TRUE Religion which our collect invites us to desire.
I don’t know about you, but this is truly scary stuff. I mean it’s almost pledge season Jesus and the best you got is dying and suffering? And saving our life requires losing it? Jesus, if you were alive and in Silicon Valley today, Apple would definitely try to give you a rebrand.
Sacrifice is definitely not glam. And True Religion. EWW! That doesn’t sell. That’s not popular—it’s no wonder the church is going under. Sacrifice is just not very appealing. Suffering and failing? God forbid...
And yet, here it is week after week. We are called to the sacrifice. We are called be a LIVING sacrifice.
Would if I told you that the birthplace of compassion is failing, showing up to suffering and grief and loss in our lives. When life doesn’t go as we hoped, our disappointment can help us choose something new. In that slim volume that the weird and wonderful Katharine required that I read, the author, a Buddhist named Pema Chodron writes, “what if failure wasn’t just okay, but the most direct way to becoming a more complete, loving, fulfilled human.”
Those who lose their life will live.
Something we share with our Buddhist cousins is common ground about the nature of suffering and sacrifice being a pathway to wholeness. The Buddhist calls it enlightenment for us it is salvation. What saves our life might just be how we lose our lives and fail. How we manage grief: will it make us better or bitter?
How do we offer our sacrifice and live with sacrifice? For the Christ follower, sacrifice is about compassion and solidarity. Jesus’ sacrifice unmasks the evil forces of death and violence as empty and sets the whole universe FREE.
There are all kinds of sacrifice at work in our world and our job is see and know them, to be aware of them and in solidarity with all the sacrifices that create unjust immoral suffering.
From the food we eat to the land we live on. Something failed for us to live this way. What are we going to give back? How are we going to say thank you with our lives?
What are we going to give? What is our intention that we offer to God, to the source of life that forged the universe and sent a child, a teacher, a savior to show compassion, to show us the wholeness we call salvation?
If you ever want to see me get really hopping mad, wild eyed with fury, suggest that sacrifice is no longer necessary in our civilized world.
We live in a culture that utterly neglects the deep human reality of sacrifice and losing— our world hates true religion. We bundle up our children in a protective bubble against the risks of failing when really we need to give them safe spaces to fail and learn. We hate our neighbors especially if they are different from us. We walk through the grocery store unaware of how our meat got there, how our produce got there. All of it was sacrifice. We live in a culture that turns off and tunes out anything that is uncomfortable, or inconvenient. We say everyone wins without admitting everyone loses too. And how we lose matters more than how we win. We are teaching people to consume without teaching them how to give back, give thanks and how to sacrifice. All of life is sacrifice and now more than ever, we need to give, to be willing to lose. We need to see and know sacrifice so that we can also learn to say Thank you and feel gratitude down to the core of our souls.
In 1925, a priest at Westminster Abbey preached a list of what he called the 7 social sins. They were later published in a newspaper called, Young India and have spurred on the likes of everyone from Gandhi to Peter Gomes to Stephen Covey to examine them and consider. Here is the list of social sins that young preacher saw in between the two world wars. I wonder how many you will see on your way out of church today:
Wealth without work
Pleasure without conscience
Knowledge without character
Commerce without morality
Science without humanity
Politics without principle
Religion without sacrifice
Work, conscience, character, morality, humanity, principle and sacrifice come from the heart of compassion. And compassion is born in losing and failing.
This is True Religion. God help us. Amen.