The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
The first Noble Truth in Buddhism is: “Life is suffering.” Now that sounds bleak, I know. It sounds depressing. If there’s anything most of us want to do in life, it’s avoid suffering. But doing everything we can to avoid suffering is exactly what causes suffering, Buddhism teaches. We cause our own suffering either by wanting what we don’t have or being afraid of losing what we do have.
Think about it. Real happiness, real contentment, happens when we are at peace with what is, with what we have, with who other people are. When we can acknowledge that there is enough for everyone—enough resources, enough thriving. When we can share without being afraid that there won’t be enough for ourselves later.
Buddhist teaching points to our inability to see this abundance, our inability to see this enough-ness, as the cause of all deep suffering in our world.
The people who can’t rest in their own enough-ness need to tear down others to experience abundance. Racism is about a group of people who need to feel power at the expense of those who look different from them. It’s about creating vast systems that hoard resources for their group at the expense of the thriving of others.
Whenever we need to tear down someone who is different from us in order to feel like we are enough, we are acting out of our own sense of scarcity, our own unacknowledged suffering. Whenever we feel threatened by how another person looks differently or experiences gender differently or believes differently or thinks about the world differently, we are acting out of our own sense of scarcity, our own unacknowledged suffering.
That goes for me fighting with Trumpers on Twitter about trans rights. Or going toe to toe with a distant family member on Facebook about wealth inequality, doing my best to tear down what I perceive as his selfish way of thinking.
It’s not that I don’t think trans rights and more equitable wealth distribution are worth fighting for. You all have heard me fight for these things from this very spot. It’s that I feel like I need to tear down those who disagree with me in order to fight for these things.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
A vicious take-down on social media gets us lots of likes and shares and retweets, so we keep posting—and liking and sharing—vicious take-downs. Our culture celebrates and obsesses over people who have amassed more money than they could spend in 100 lifetimes, even as so many of our neighbors struggle to pay rent and buy groceries and get the healthcare they need. And there is a political war being waged over people’s rights to own objects whose sole purpose is to kill.
We are living in a time that valorizes and even rewards stealing, killing, and destroying. And I am not immune. And I bet you aren’t either.
I think it’s interesting that today’s gospel reading about Jesus being the shepherd is paired in our lectionary with this from the Acts of the Apostles:
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
Now no one knows if this is actually what happened in the early Christian community. But it’s my sense that if this is what was written down, it’s what the author thought was the ideal, the hope, among the apostles.
The ideal, the hope, was to share all things equitably, according to each person’s need. They spent time together, broke bread together, praised God with glad and generous hearts together. From living that ideal, from living that hope, more and more people were attracted to this new way of believing, this way of love that Jesus demonstrated.
This is how the sheep of Jesus’ flock were called to live, and living that way was how the flock grew.
I don’t think we, Jesus’ flock in the world now, believe this most of the time. I don’t think I believe this most of the time. Sure, love your neighbor, great. I say hi to my neighbors when I see them. I help people move when they need it. I give that unhoused person at the intersection a couple of bucks a few times a month.
But am I really willing to risk giving up my excess and living according to my actual need so that others can live according to theirs?
That’s what the very earliest Christians believed their faith was calling them to do. The apostles who heard Jesus’ teachings from his own mouth.
And not just financially, but are we willing to give up our need to be right in order to love someone more fully? Can I give up on convincing Uncle Joe that income inequality is a thing and get curious about the experience in his life that taught him that it was important to believe that all people earn what they have?
Are we willing to give up our self-protective ways of being in order to make space for another person’s different way of being? Can you give up on your resistance to they/them pronouns in order to recognize that those pronouns make someone feel truly seen?
And not just because it’ll help that person thrive, and not just because it’ll help the whole community thrive, but because it will also help you thrive.
You might have been wondering why I was talking about Buddhism earlier when we are Christians. Because I think there’s a lot of overlap between Buddhism and what Jesus taught, and the kind of life his followers strived for after he was gone.
Our fear of not having enough or being enough, or when we do have or feel like we are enough, our fear of losing it—of losing our wealth or our power or our beliefs—that causes our pain, as Buddhism teaches. It is the cause of all our suffering, whether we’re inflicting our fear on others or other people’s fear is being inflicted upon us.
In Jesus’ language, it is the thief who comes to steal, kill, and destroy. But, Jesus says, I come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.
Leaning into abundance means leaning into love.
And love means leaning into trusting Jesus, trusting that when we step up to care for others in need, others will step up for us when we’re in need.
And like that early Christian community in the Acts, that’s our ideal, our hope. It’s what we practice doing here. We practice seeing the abundance of community all around us. We know that when we are sick, people will bring us food if we need it. We know that when we go through a challenging time, we know that our family here will sit with us, pray for us. We know that if we can’t make rent or pay the electric bill, I have a Clergy Discretionary Fund that we all contribute to so that we can help with that.
We also practice celebrating different ways of being, different gifts, different perspectives on how things should go here. That’s also what it means to practice abundance. And that’s not always easy. We don’t always agree on what’s best for our church building. We don’t always understand why a person cares so much about something that seems so small to us. We don’t always acknowledge some of the more mundane things folks do around here to keep us thriving.
But love means leaning in, even into what we don’t understand about one another, and trusting that it is part of the abundant life Jesus has for our community.
When I pray with our musicians and acolytes before service, I almost always pray something along the lines of, “help us to nurture your love in this place so that we may go out and live it in the world.”
Living our faith doesn’t end when we walk out these doors. In fact, church life is practice for how we are called to live in every other part of our lives. So: what are you willing to risk to live God’s love, to truly lean into abundance, beyond these doors?