Rev. Dr. Kate R. Walker
25 November 2015
Interfaith Thanksgiving Service
Published as The Master Plan in Church of the Larger Fellowship, Quest, December 2017
I know the master plan of the universe. Really, I do! I did not figure it out all by myself. I had help, from Hollywood. It was Chicago Hope, a television show shown in the 1990’s. One of the main characters returned from the dead, he had been shot the previous year in an epic dramatic scene. He had been a lawyer for the hospital before being shot, but then he reappears in a hallucination to a hospital administrator who was having his own dramatic health crisis.
The episode focuses on the conversation between the two. It was a well-written dialogue covering life, the universe and God, which in full disclosure was a distinctly Unitarian theology. The lawyer explains how the universe works in simple terms, but he kept qualify himself by saying, “It’s more complicated than that.”
Toward the end of the episode, as viewers are shifting back and forth between the emergency room drama for the hospital administrator and the hallucinatory conversation, the lawyer decides to share the Master Plan of the Universe with the administrator. He writes it on a piece of paper, which is hidden from the camera. The administrator looks at it, shares a puzzled expression, and say’s “That’s it?” The dead lawyer, “Yes, it’s that simple, and more it’s more complicated than that.”
Of course the administrator then takes a turn for the worse, and viewers get a commercial break. With commercials blaring, the Master Plan of the Universe sits on a piece of paper, offering answers to humanity’s long sought deepest questions. For upwards of 10,000 years we’ve been looking up at the sky wondering what’s it all about to no avail. For most of us, silence has been the loudest response. A few people (mostly white guys) have reported answers, and directed them to others, and a small percentage of those answers have found their way into religious texts. So now humanity, or at least viewers of Chicago Hope, are waiting once more while cleaning products and automobiles are thrust into view.
The hospital administrator is saved, the lawyer returns to heaven, actually it’s more complicated than that, and the Master Plan of the Universe is revealed. The administrator reads the small piece of paper – it turns out we don’t need all those religious texts after all.
Here it is, I share it with you in case you missed this Hollywood revelation: It’s giving and receiving. It’s that simple, and it’s more complicated than that. Giving and receiving! There were no trumpets, no clouds finally parting with clarity coming down in gold letters from the heavens. No loud voices or angels in chariots.
The Master Plan of the Universe is giving and receiving. Simple in so many ways, and more complicated because we humans make it more complicated.
They go together, we give because we want to believe service is a form of prayer. And we receive with gratitude, mostly, if we’re having a good day and remember to be open to love and generosity. Religious leaders have been saying this for centuries. They’ve been using metaphors, images, art, poetry, and offering songs in thousands of languages. The message has always been about giving and receiving.
Yet, pathetic as it is, I didn’t get it, really get it until I heard it in plain simple language on a dramatic TV show. It was not the medium, it was the mode: It was simple, it was clear, it was gentle, and I let it sink in. “Giving and receiving,” I like saying it. I like hearing it. I like letting it rest on my lips, three simple words.
We make those three words so complicated with ego, pride, shame and guilt. We are so fearful of appearing weak, incompetent, ignorant, insulting or offending people.
At the heart of our complications is fear of the other. We make it complicated because we’re scared of each other. My personal favorite is our absurd attachment to individualism, which looks too much like isolationism and nationalism at its worst. Individualism often undermines religious community. The religious community, with our value placed heavily on community, requires us to walk with one another, to being with one another in an eternal giving and receiving of love, compassion, solace, and the celebration of joy. It requires to bearing witness to solidarity, to advocacy and to reclamation of human dignity where oppression has forced it way into the world.
If giving and receiving is The Master Plan, we have to do it despite the pain and anger, and in spite of our pain and anger not out of protest, but for our very survival. When we are deeply hurt, we are called upon to open ourselves to love and compassion in order to heal. When we are angry we open ourselves to letting it transform into action on our behalf and for the sake of others. For where there is anger, there are the roots of change.
In Genesis, Abraham lives in the hot desert where hospitality rules because survival is on the line. When three strangers appear before Abraham, who has no clue his life is about to radically change in an act of deity size generosity, he respectively bows before the strangers. An exchange of greetings is offered, peace, shalom, salaam, and the stranger’s feet are washed. They are invited to rest under a tree, and a feast is prepared. Life and death are on the line in the hot desert. Giving and receiving are the rule of the land.
Sometimes it feels like we are living in a desert. We are searching for hope in a world often filled with an empty landscape. Yet it is in our DNA to reach out to one another for hands to help when we are lost in the wilderness. It is in our DNA to respond with an outstretched hand, ready to grasp, pull in and offer refuge.
Ecclesiastes 5:17, All their days they eat in darkness,
with great frustration, affliction and anger.
It would be easy in our fear to sit in darkness, feeling frustrated, angry at the universe when things don’t go our way. It is easy it is to make the Master Plan of the Universe more complicated than simply giving and receiving. But the rest of text of Ecclesiastes is “This is what I have observed to be good: that it is appropriate for a person to eat, to drink and to find satisfaction in their toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given them—for this is their lot. Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil—this is a gift of God.”
Ecclesiastes is the book of vanities, all is vanity; it is the book of question, of doubt, the book that often asks more of us than we ask of our self. It invites us to offer thanks even when we’re lost in the wilderness. It invites us to recognize, that in the end, we can’t know God’s or any other master plan … even if the answer is in a well-written dialogue, said by a character in a TV show.
I may not know for sure, but I’m going with giving and receiving as my master plan. It’s easy with two gerunds, active verbs, not passive, not nouns. It is a plan offering something to practice, not items on a list of things to do.
The plan calls for a reaching out from the depths of our heart and soul. It invites a letting go of fears, ego, pride, and sacred individualism. It pushes us to reach beyond our comfort zone, into the unknown, and trusting all will not be lost.
Jesus did just this, stopping in his busy life. He turned to a blind man and saw a human being, not a sinner. Jesus offered himself to the blind man, and the man was healed. Jesus gave of himself, and the man received the healing. A simple story that has withheld the test of time and is beyond the realm of truth, because it is honest. It is the story that we see day after day when we choose to see the countless acts of generosity and compassion that are endlessly unfolding before our eyes. These acts of generosity can help us heal our own blindness.
Our lives are full of chaotic energy and mayhem on most days. As we wake each day, we are called to give and receive. Call it the gracious cycle of life. From the day we’re born, from the day we’re going to die, and everything in between, we are called to give and receive. We are offered moments in time, of holy exchange, one soul to another soul, two hearts meeting in true reciprocity.
Giving and receiving is not about a brokered deal, or an exchange of material gifts or Hallmark cards. It’s about seeing the holiness in the other, being present to that holiness, accepting that holiness, and celebrating the divine relationship between us and the presence of love.
The Master Plan of the Universe begins with one holy gift: You and me. We’re all gifts from and a part of the universe. From and a part of the god of many names and faces, the God of love, of compassion of justice.
I believe we’re here to be present to one another, to be present to and faithful to the holy. I believe we’re here to give and receive in the holy exchange of living. Let’s not make it more complicated than that.
Amen and blessed be.