United Church of Jaffrey
The sermon below begins at 8 minutes in the video above.
I suppose I’m old fashioned.
I like doing things the old-fashioned way – even if it takes longer.
Especially if it takes a longer.
Things that take time are old-fashioned – or at least they seem that way — because these days anything that is considered new must be designed to be fast.
Internet access. Fast.
Credit approval? Fast
Grocery store checkout. Fast.
Amazon Delivery? Fast.
Everything is fast.
Fast, fast, fast!
As a culture we seem to be obsessed with speed. But all this fast is not just for the fun of being zippy.
Fast, you see, is not limited to just getting from A to B in as little time as possible. It is also a way of life, a belief system that lies at the core of global culture. You’ll see what I’m talking about when you hear fast’s other name…
Efficiency is the modus operandi of Modern capitalism. Efficiency is the assumption at the core of innovation.
All things modern have efficiency built into their DNA.
To be modern is to be efficient – to spend as little time as possible doing this, so that you can quickly move on to the that.
Why be in such a hurry?
Because it is profitable.
The less time you spend doing this (the theory goes) the more you can get done, and the more you get done, the more productive you are. Produce more, sell more, make more money. Good capitalism.
I sound critical – and I am driving at something here, but I need to hasten to add (before I go any further) that I am, by no means, categorically against efficiency.
That would be foolishness.
There are many things – like developing a vaccine for the corona-virus, for example – that should be done efficiently. As carefully and efficiently as possible.
Efficiency, itself, as a procedural method, is not the problem – an efficient car uses less gas, and I won’t argue with the claim that this makes it superior to a gas guzzler.
But a car is one thing, and the human soul is another thing altogether.
When you put fossil fuels into a gas tank, carbon dioxide and nitrogen oxide comes out the tailpipe.
When the human soul uses energy, the result is activity. Learning.
What is good for a machine, is not good for the human soul.
We were not engineered. We were created. We evolve. We respond to our environment, and we are nourished.
To do this, we must act in the world, and fully experience that the results of our action.
But when a process is made efficient, we are deprived of the fullness of the experience of that process.
Almost without noticing it, we have made an agreement with the designers of leaf blower, for example, that it is more important to get the leaves removed quickly, than it is to experience the raking of leaves.
We have agreed with the manufacturers of the treadmill, that it is more important to work out on a rubberized track with variable speeds and a built in heart rate control program in the comfort of our own basement, then it is to walk through the New Hampshire woods when the crocuses are out.
When I lived in Sri Lanka, back in 1987, I once spent an afternoon washing my clothes by hand. Crouched next to a spicket, I rubbed soap all over each item of clothing, rinsed it and smacked it dry against a big rock. The rinse-and-smack part of the process had to be repeated multiple times to get the stubborn suds out – a maneuver that was tiring and probably not great for the longevity of my clothes. I can’t say I was having much fun, but while I was at it, I was physically aware of having seen old woman doing this same thing at roadside spickets and riverbeds all across Asia, and it was humbling to learn, in this bodily way, how millions of poor people in the world live their lives. Today, I can’t look over the mountains of laundry my household creates without a shudder — remembering that experience, and imagining hand washing it all!
The inefficient experience of hand washing my clothes in this way had the dual effect of making me intensely thankful for my fancy, efficient, washing machine, and viscerally aware of what it means to without a fancy washing machine.
I may not have had much fun washing my clothes by hand – but I learned something from it.
Being mindful of the process awoke me to an inequity.
Experiencing the fullness of the process gave me an intimate awareness of effect of poverty on the human soul.
And any process that brings about an intimate awareness of the human soul can be understood to be a religious process.
Today’s scripture lesson from the 24th chapter of the Luke’s Gospel, is a rather inefficient story.
Two men are walking. The gospel tells us that they are bound for a village that is seven miles from Jerusalem.
Jesus, who has been resurrected, appears to them.
But they don’t recognize him.
Jesus has just risen from the dead – the act that, like no other act, confirms his status as the long-awaited fulfillment of Jewish messianic hope, and he appears to two men, who don’t even recognize him, and walks with them for hours along a dusty road toward a distant village.
What was the plan here? If there was a plan, it was a pretty inefficient one. Why didn’t the post-resurrection Jesus appear before a multitude in the Jerusalem temple?
This same observation was made by Tim Rice, the librettist of Jesus Christ Superstar, who has the ghost of Judas return at the end of the musical to issue an indictment to Jesus:
You’d have managed better if you had it planned
Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land
If you’d come today you could’ve reached the whole nation
Israel in 4BC had no mass communication!
It’s a good point. If God could choose any time in human history to make a splash, why send the Messiah to earth in a time before cable news?
Why raise Jesus from the dead only to let him wander a dusty road with two men headed home after a long day.
The answer is quite clear to me.
It is because religion is a process that deals intimately with the workings of the human soul, and hence, it is, at its core, inefficient.
The terrain where this process takes place cannot be the glitzy Fox news or MSNBC studio. That might be efficient, but it would not be true.
The terrain where this process occurs, is the dusty road, where humble working men walk home at the end of the day.
The moment when Jesus is recognized is not when the instant replay of his resurrection is shown during the Superbowl commercials to a record number of viewers.
The moment of truth, is a normal, everyday moment – when the bread is broken and served.
God is not concerned with efficiency.
God is concerned with truth.
God is concerned with love.
Truth – intimate human truth…
Love – patient, real love
cannot be made more efficient.
Truth is inefficient.
Love is inefficient.
Jesus himself taught us this.
Has there ever been a love greater than his? A love that would bear the greatest inefficiency of all – to be nailed to a cross to die?
Love is not easy.
You must experience it fully to know it fully – that’s the truth…
The inefficient truth.