Message 75: “Winter Readiness: Harvesting What We Sow”

© Doug Slagle, Pastor at the Gathering UCC, All Rights Reserved

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Writing what most experts believe was the earliest New Testament document, Paul said in his letter to the people of Galatia – that of modern day Turkey, that the Divine cannot be mocked.  There is a universal spiritual law from which people cannot escape.  We shape our own destiny and every one of our actions have consequences.  As Paul wrote, a person reaps what he or she sows.

Expressing this Christian version of Hindu or Buddhist Karma, Paul warned early Christians not to rest on faith that Christ was in control.  The good and the bad that happen to us are the result of our own actions.  Do not mock universal spiritual principles by believing otherwise.

What we do in life has consequences and our goal is to harvest from our actions the kind of consequences that resonate into eternity.  I recently read about a California waiter named Kenneth who befriended a homeless man by bringing him restaurant food each day on his way home from work.  As time went on, he learned the reasons for the man’s homelessness.  He was an Iraq veteran whose wife, while he had been serving overseas, cleaned out their bank account and took virtually everything he owned. On his discharge from the Army, he had nothing and was forced onto the streets.

Kenneth decided to help his new friend.  He paid for the first and last month rent on an apartment, bought him new clothes and set him up for a job interview as a computer technician – the man’s old Army job.  The homeless man got the job and within three years had purchased his own small home.  When he promised to repay these debts, Kenneth told him to pay him back by doing something helpful for someone else in need.  He should pay forward the good that had happened to him.

And this formerly homeless man decided to mentor a teenage boy who had dropped out of high school.  The boy was a star baseball player but had no prospects as a dropout.  As a result of being mentored, the boy returned to school, graduated and was soon drafted by the Los Angeles Dodgers.  He now plays on one of their minor league teams.  He too was asked, in turn, to help someone else.

This young ball player now works with the Make A Wish Foundation and helps terminally ill kids attend baseball camps, appear on the field at ball games and meet famous players.  Parents of these kids were asked to, once again, pay forward the help they received and some have turned this chain full circle – they serve in programs assisting the homeless.

Because of one good deed to help one homeless man, and by encouraging a pay it forward attitude, Kenneth indirectly touched many additional lives.  Using the analogy I have used before, one small pebble dropped into the pond of life sends ripples out far and wide to touch distant shores and distant lives – ones never known or seen.

At this time of year when we begin to make preparations for a new, and much colder season, we get our homes ready, we buy warm clothes and we make holiday plans.  Our message series topic for this time of preparations, for November – will be one I have called “Winter Readiness”.  Each Sunday we’ll look at ideas associated with this time of year – harvesting, threshing, and finally, storing up for the future.  How do these ideas speak not to farming, but to our lives?  Today, we’ll ask what “reaping what we sow” and karma really mean and how do they affect life?  Next Sunday, I will look at how the idea of threshing – or experiencing challenging events – shape us into something useful and better.  On the third Sunday, we’ll talk about how we can ethically store up and save for the future….in a needy world.

I believe that reaping what we sow is actually a law of moral causation.  We cannot escape the consequences of our actions.  Thomas Jefferson said, “Such is the moral construction of the world that no crime passes unpunished in the long run…the seeds of hatred and revenge which are sown with a large hand will not fail to produce their fruits in time.”

Thich Nat Hanh said it best, “Our actions are our only true belongings. We cannot escape the consequences of our actions. They are the ground upon which we stand.”  Like Karma, reaping what we sow is not a theistic force or master puppeteer of the universe.  According to the Buddha, it is like water – Karma seeks its own level not in the form of punishment or reward but as a sequence of inevitable events.  Good, productive, helpful or positive deeds, in this theory, inevitably produce further good events – in our own lives and in the lives of others.  As the Old Testament writer of Ecclesiastes noted, “Cast your bread upon the waters.  After many days, you will find it again.”  And the same is true with negative energy or deeds.   The ideas of Karma and harvesting what we sow are the ultimate forms of free will and life choice.   How we choose to act – being kind, charitable, hard working and forgiving – or the exact opposites – will bring about those same qualities into our lives.  The things that happen to us are thus not by luck or supernatural manipulation.  We create not only our own destiny on earth – whether we are happy or sad, successful or not – but also our eternal destiny – how our actions carry forward into the future.

This does not deny the fact that the hand of fate does hurt many and bless others.  But such fate is not, I believe, absolute.  And this is a key factor in Buddhist Karma.  It is not a form of predestination.  We can change the harvest we reap by the actions we sow.  We must not make excuses for how we live now based on the hand we were dealt.  Most of us have the power, as I spoke in my last message series, to create our own heavens or hells.  Which do we choose to build?

We can have immense riches and abundant skills but if we lack the ability to find inner peace, the heart to love and care for others, the mindset to forgive and the impulse to give, we will be as poor in spirit as the most miserable of humans.

We see this so often in life – those who prosper by the will of positive life choices and attitudes are the most happy.  Our birth, parents, education, careers, money, gender, health – nothing holds complete influence over our destiny.   We alone – by our actions and our thoughts – determine whether we live in the heaven or hell of our making.   As the well known contemporary motivational speaker Wayne Dyer puts it, “How other people treat you is there Karma.  How you react is yours.”  With even greater wisdom, the Buddha said, “We are all heirs of our own actions.  We are the architects of our own fate.”

And this spiritual law of reaping consequences in life is reflected in science as well.  We see it theories like quantum physics where there is a duality between matter and energy.  Nothing dissipates or is eliminated.  One action naturally causes another, but different, reaction.  And Carl Jung, the famed psychologist, believed in a synchronicity between actions and emotions.  Unresolved emotional issues and feelings in our lives cause us to behave in certain ways.  We reap what we inwardly sow.  Our goal must be to not only expose such inner demons but to confront them and consciously change them – that is if we truly wish to change.  Good crop.  Bad crop.  We choose.

How do we speak to others?  If we harvest a bumper crop of fights and misunderstandings with loved ones or co-workers, such are likely due to how we communicate.  Is there a large crop of friends or enemies in our lives?  Do we react to the negative Karma others inflict upon us with equally negative Karma – or do we forgive?  Do we turn the other cheek and ultimately let go of hurt?  Do we turn a potential enemy into a friend?  And what of the resources that we have in life – are they due to diligence, hard work, wise decisions, prudent spending and generosity?  Or have we reaped the consequences of laziness, unwise spending and little saving?

Not all of the world’s poor created their own poverty nor have all the rich been blessed by their own hard work.  But reaping what we sow and karma affect them too.  A poor individual can be just as hard working, generous, content and charitable as others – and thus reap the rewards of peace, genuine meaning and real happiness.  Those who are rich who do not share, who amass fortunes through greed, and misdeeds, who are self-focused with little care for others – they too harvest the whirlwind of discord, unhappiness, and a diminished soul.

Karma inclines us to act for the basic purpose of doing good.   What farmer chooses to plant weeds?  They choose instead to plant good crops simply because it is a waste to plant the bad – and the same is true for us.  We must choose to plant the seeds of goodness for ourselves and for the world.

Such is a principle that defines my understanding of spirituality.  We create it.  We affect it.  Humans are to build heaven on earth – not a theistic being, not Christ, not God.  They are us and we are them.  The powers of love, generosity, empathy and compassion are real supernatural forces at work in our world through human actions.  So too are greed, hate, revenge, arrogance and selfishness.  Once again, do we sow good karma or bad karma?

If, as I have said before, life is not about the self and Karma is not a reward for acting good, the ideal must be to simply do good.  To operate in this manner is to adopt a pay it forward attitude.  My good deed for another is simply my way to repay a good deed I have received.  We do not pay back our benefactors.  We advance it to another.

This pay it forward practice is one I encourage for all people – and all organizations including the Gathering.  It has been adopted into legal contracts where a lender and borrower agree that repayment does not go to the original lender but to a new third party in need.  The Karma Seed Foundation, (you can find it on the internet), was created to promote just this principle.  After helping someone else, you register that deed online and receive an identifying number and card you download and print.  You give this card and number to the individual you assist with instructions to honor your assistance by helping someone else.  That new deed is registered online and the card, number and same instructions are again passed forward to be repeated, hopefully, endlessly.  E-mails are sent to you with each deed in the chain you created and one can go online to see how that original seed bears endless fruit.

Paying forward must be operative in our lives.  It is the principle that must inform all of our giving – including for this church.  We pay forward the blessings we receive in life – by putting a quarter in a meter about to expire, by paying the bill of someone behind us in a fast food drive-thru line, by allowing the person behind in a grocery line to go ahead, by large and small random acts of kindness done anonymously and without any expectation of repayment.

It should be the goal of this spiritual community to pay member pledges and other income forward – by striving to give away ten per cent of annual income.  For example, in 2012 the Gathering would give away $6000.  If every individual and every organization practiced paying it forward, the exponential good that resulted would be explosive!

You will NEVER hear me say that financial gifts or service to this congregation buy blessings in your life.  They WILL, however, buy helpful blessings in other lives.  And that is our goal.  The money we give here is not donated under compulsion or guilt.  We give freely according to what is in our hearts to help others.  Each of us has received many blessings in life and the harvest we receive is paid forward by our financial gifts – to the Gathering and to other worthy organizations.

A tithe, my friends, is NOT a command.  It originated in the Old Testament but it remains a useful formula for how to manage and to pay forward what we earn.  Ten per cent for charity, ten per cent set aside for the future, eighty per cent to use for living.

It might be cliche to say this but I believe giving is a part of our spiritual growth.  We are called to be generous people.  We are called to be selfless.  We are called to pay blessings forward – all so that we might become spiritually mature people.

When I was the minister in charge of Pastoral Care at my previous church, I visited many nursing homes.  I visited one woman who was in declining health.  Her children and grandchildren loved her but did not visit often.  She waited for a passing that seemed near.  I visited her often and we talked about many subjects.  Mostly, she enjoyed talking about her life and her years growing up in and raising a family in rural Corbin, Kentucky.  We laughed and I shared things about my life and my girls.  We grew very close.  One day near her death, I asked if there was anything about which I could pray for her or hold in my good thoughts.  She pondered a moment and then asked me to pray that one day, when I am old, alone and sick, someone would be there to visit me.

While I did not pray that prayer – her request has stuck with me.  I hope that I spiritually grow in ways that I create good Karma – that I cast my bread upon the waters of time by engaging in gentle speech, by forgiving, by being compassionate, by being less selfish – and that such bread will wash upon distant shores – and perhaps on my own – to nourish people and events I can only imagine.  I pray, along with all of you, that the harvest of our lives will be a blessing.