Sunday, March 18, 2012

Loving the Light -- A Sermon for Lent 4

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 10 am on Sunday, March 18, 2012
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

Earlier this week, a man named Greg Smith wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.”

Now, you might think from listening to media reports that Goldman Sachs is and always has been the conscienceless Death Star of global finance. But Smith … albeit in a somewhat self-serving and self-satisfied way … painted a different picture. He said:

It didn’t used to be this way. Goldman Sachs used to stand for something else.

Here’s what he wrote:

“It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief. “

“But this was not always the case.”

So the question is, “What happened?”  Let’s just for the sake of argument say Smith is telling the truth. Let’s say Goldman Sachs once was a company built on the four pillars of teamwork, integrity, humility and service and somehow mutated into being a company that will sacrifice any and all of these things for a profit margin … what happened?

Well, Smith asks and answers that question:

“How did we get here?” he asks. “The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an axe murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.”

Well, OK. Leadership is important. But I think the answer is even deeper and more foundational that that. You can look at Goldman Sachs or any number of organizations and say, “Well, leadership is still about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing.” But what has shifted is what the ideas, the example and the concept of what the “right thing” is.

If Smith is to be believed, what really shifted is what Goldman Sachs chose to love.

Easily overshadowed by the oft-bumper stickered John 3:16 in this morning’s Gospel .. is Jesus saying this:

This is the judgment … that the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

God doesn’t judge the people … God doesn’t judge or condemn us. The people -- We -- visit judgment on ourselves. And how? By even though we are given the gift of the light, choosing to love the darkness instead.

We choose to love the darkness.

I’m not sure there is a truer statement about human nature and the pain God feels about us than this.  The light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.

And the people loved the darkness rather than the light.

Now, we must hear Jesus’ words this morning ever so carefully. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the people are evil. The people – all of us – we are made in the image of God and good. Nothing can change that. It is the deeds that are evil. And we are all vulnerable.

By the same token, corporations aren’t evil. Supreme Court implications aside, the truth is that at their core what corporations are is just groups of people. But groups of people are powerful things. We are made in God’s image after all. We are creatures of power. Individually, we are capable of great light and great darkness – of good deeds and evil deeds – but corporately, the good and the evil can be magnified exponentially.

And usually, the path to loving the darkness isn’t some big jump from one minute doing good and the next doing evil. It’s not Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. It’s gradual. Substituting lesser goods. Compromising those core values just a little bit for other lesser values like expediency or success or profit.

In the 1980s film Broadcast News, Albert Brooks’ character, Aaron Altman, has this great line talking to Holly Hunter about the Devil. He says:
“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken by some guy with a long, red, pointy tail…. He will be attractive. He will be nice and helpful. He will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing. He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He'll just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along, flash over substance. Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen.

“And he’ll get all the great women.”

We hear this, and sure, we can see the Devil all over Greg Smith’s story of Goldman Sachs. But really, when we think about it, we can see the Devil everywhere. Everywhere we turn just a little bit from light to darkness. Everywhere we just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important.

I love my family, we say. And then we spend more and more hours away from them and tell ourselves it’s so we can buy them what they need … when what they really need is us.

I believe we should help the poor, we say. And then we spend our money building up our own standard of living at the expense of the poorest among us in the name of the lesser good of providing “security” for our families or even for our church.

Goldman Sachs is not evil and neither are we. But here is the judgment. And we all need to hear it.

It’s not that we don’t know what the light is.  

It’s not that the light hasn’t been given to us by a God who loves us beyond measure.

Here is the judgment -- that the light has come into the world, and we loved the darkness rather than light.

But if that is the judgment, then what is the antidote?

Love the light.

And what is the light? Some people call it “the good.” Lincoln famously and beautifully called it “the better angels of our nature.” At one point Goldman Sachs called it teamwork, integrity, humility and service.

We call the light by a name. We call the light Jesus.

The answer is love the light.

The answer is Love Jesus.

So what does that look like?  It’s really not a tough question to answer. We know instinctually what loving the light, what loving Jesus looks like. Our challenge is to articulate it and do it.

For the past month or so, your Chapter has been engaged in work around discovering our shared, core values. That’s just another way of saying “what does it mean for us to love Jesus?”  What is the light?

We have begun a process of articulating that – a process that this whole congregation, the diocese and even downtown St. Louis will be engaged in. But what we found in starting it is that we instinctually know what it is.  In fact when we took our first stab at it, it was amazing how quickly a sense of it emerged … a sense that was consonant with what scripture tells us we are supposed to be about.

In fact, I bet I could even ask us here. What are the core values of Christ Church Cathedral? What is the light that we believe Jesus dreams for us to love? In one or two words, what are the values you would say are closest to our heart here?

Congregation said words like "Compassion. Service. Diversity. Love." 

See? We have a sense of what it is. To my ears the words you just said and others like them are some of the same words I heard when I first got here and we had those coffees and conversations and I asked “what was it that drew you to Christ Church Cathedral?” They are some of the same words your Chapter came up with when we started this exercise at our workday last month.

And over the coming year, we just need to pray about it, and look for it in scripture and in our own history, and then articulate it. And then we need to more and more continue to live it.

We need to name the light and love the light. It's that basic.

And as we more and more continue to name, lift up and hold before us these values, this light that Jesus dreams for us to love. As we love the light, we will more and more become the light. As we love Jesus, we will more and more become the Body of Christ. And our lives will be transformed. And the sick will be healed, captives set free and good news will ring out from this place and throughout this congregation, diocese and city.

As together we learn more and more to love the light, darkness will fade. And God will do extraordinary things through us in this congregation, this diocese and in the City of St. Louis.

And then we will all be truly saved. Not in some cheap and easy, get of jail free card hand stamp to heaven way. But saved from the judgment of loving the darkness. And saved to the joy of loving the light. Saved to be the glory of God that is the Body of Christ come fully alive. AMEN.

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