Equity, the Seventh Dimension
This morning you heard the prophet Amos and a parable from Jesus himself. Both Amos and Jesus were sounding an alarm. Amos didn't sound his wake up call because the faithful were Taking it easy in Zion or Lying on Ivory Couches or even Drinking wine by the bowlful. Not a bad life. But that was just a symptom. The problem was worse. The faithful, God's People were asleep in Zion, asleep on their ivory inlaid beds, asleep over their bowls of wine. They were asleep and indifferent to the inequities in Israel. And, since they were too zoned out to even notice the inequities, they were unforgiven.
Jesus wake up cry was not that the rich man was rich, that he dressed in the best fashions and tailored clothes or that he dined sumptuously every day. Jesus wake-up warning was that the rich man was asleep. He was indifferent to the inequities at his own doorstep. He was uncharitable, inequitable to Lazarus, the miserable poor man. Jesus parable tells us why this rich man was now in torment, in agony in the flames of Hades and why he could not be relieved by even a drop of cooling water. Because he was right up to that moment, uncharitable, unrepentant and unforgiving, he could not be not a recipient of Charity himself. Why? Balance and Equity. Equity requires that he, having dealt out lack of Charity must now remain miserable, unforgiven, in an unrelieved tormented state. Remember Jesus promise, "The measure by which you measure will be dealt out to you." Equity.
Balance? Equity? Isn't this just God getting even? What is Equity anyway? Isn't it just a balance sheet term, or another word for stock ownership? What's Equity got to do with religion and being a good Christian?
Let's take a jump to the present. Have you heard of "String Theory"? String Theorists are physicists and mathematicians who believe the underlying make-up of all matter and sub-atomic particles are tiny vibrating strings of energy. String Theorists surprised the world a few years ago by claiming there were Ten Dimensions, maybe Eleven. This was a big surprise because for centuries everyone believed there were only three. Length, width and height. Beginning of last century, Einstein demonstrated there was a fourth dimension. Einstein added space/time as a companion to our friendly, familiar three dimensions of length, area and volume. Most of us, myself included, still don't fully understand this mysterious fourth dimension, and now there are six or seven more?
Science is a bit buffaloed by this discovery. It's hard enough being a scientist in four dimensions. After all, Science, by its own rules, has to operate in realms measurable by our physical senses. The rules of science require Science deal only with items and objects whose existence can be viewed or tracked by our physical senses. Science requires an object or it's influence to be seen, whether by giant telescopes searching the stars or powerful microscopes looking for quarks. Physical measurability, or the ability to be perceived by our limited human senses is the iron rule - and shackle - of Science. Three dimensions is tough enough. Four has challenges. But the next six haven't even been named yet! What's a rational person to do?
Fortunately, religion has been dealing in all Ten dimensions for over two thousand years. Religion deals with the entirety of human experience, not just those experiences measurable by our physical senses. The mathematicians have not asked Religion for help yet, but when they do, there are answers to what the next six or seven dimensions might be. I'll outline them briefly, just to provoke your thinking a bit. When better minds than mine get to work on this issue, they will be more precise. The dimension discussion is where Religion and Science meet. Or, where today's Science begins to point toward Religion. I'm focusing on today's Gospel theme of Equity and Forgiveness. I think using dimension "language" may help. We'll see where it takes us.
After the fourth dimension of space/time, comes the fifth - Infinity. We have the general idea of infinity, but it is pretty hard to really wrap your mind around it - never mind scientific measurement. Infinity means, "no end." That is, no end to time, no end to space, no end to acceleration. No ruler or spectrascope or nuclear microscope can show our eyes where "no end" is. No end is no end. This dimension will allow us to understand that the phenomenon of gravity may just be the result of infinitely accelerating expansion. Everything may still be expanding at an accelerating rate. Not just at the edges. The big bang is still going strong. Always has been. You don't need a grand unified theory to explain gravity. Just the concept of infinity. And Religion has been talking about this for millenia. As we just sang in the Gloria, "World without end."
So if we get – or don't yet – the 5th dimension of Infinity, what comes next? What's after "No end"? Well, it's not after, because dimensions intersect. The next, the Sixth dimension is Opposition. We know, scientifically, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. Yes, but opposition extends to energy, thoughts and motives as well. Every thought and intention has an equal and opposite counterpart. In religion, opposition is called The Opposer, The Devil, or Satan. He, or it, is always with us. In the scientific arena, the result of the Sixth dimension of Opposition is visible in Black Holes, anti-matter and anti-particles.
The Seventh dimension, our subject for today, is Equity. This is the natural balance point of action and reaction. Science understands that Nature seeks a balance of opposing forces. Humans, too, are capable of equity in human interactions, but our animal nature fights it. We instinctively want to maximize our own pleasure, our own safety and our personal control, no matter what. This is well-known to religious practitioners. One of the great roles of religion is to teach us to overcome this instinctive original animal drive by an act of human Will. Failure to overcome our animal instincts leads to inequity. We'll come back to this.
The Eighth dimension is Love, conscious awareness of our connection to others and all things. This is a state of compassionate, active, empathetic identification. We cannot fully Love until we have at least reached a state of Equity. Nature, as well as humans, demonstrates and plays out the first seven dimensions. But Love is the first of the dimensions that can only be reached by humans beings. Nothing else in nature is capable of expressing and experiencing this unnatural, empathetic identity with God's creations.
Once having achieved the dimension of Love, we are poised to reach the Ninth. The Ninth dimension is Holy Sacrifice, the willing Death of self. Jesus demonstrated this for us all.
The Tenth dimension, the dimension beyond willing Sacrifice of ego, letting go of Self, is Peace, Unity and Union with the All. This Tenth dimension is often called the Kingdom of Heaven.
That's Ten. The Eleventh? Mathematicians believe the Eleventh dimension, called the M dimension, is a Master dimension which contains the other ten. This is a reasonable description of the loving Creator's realm.
There. A three minute description of ten dimensions. I'll talk more about these in November at the Men's club. But today, we want to explore my Seventh dimension, Equity. You don't have to accept the structure of ten dimensions to explore Equity, but it provides a useful framework. Equity is also called Justification or Righteousness. You know the Justification tab on your word processor, the margins are equal, the words are balanced left and right? That's also the principle of Equity. Balance.
Nature seeks it. But it requires an act of Will on the part of humans to achieve it. Equity is not Communism, it is not socialism, it is not paying high taxes. It is significantly more than just sharing. Jesus describes the scene.
Across an uncrossable gulf, the chasm, the rich man calls out to Abraham, "Send Lazarus with a drop of water for me. I'm in agony!" The rich man obviously knew Lazarus, knew his name, but even at this moment doesn't bother to speak to him. Even now he does not address Lazarus. He likely was offended by Lazarus, laying on the sidewalk in front of his home. This was an affront to his dignity and a desecration of the beauty of his house. Just think how the curb appeal of his house was hurt by a miserable beggar out front attracting dogs to lick his sores.
The rich man asks for relief. Abraham tells him it can't be done. Equity must be worked out. "You had it easy in life, yet you didn't stretch out your hand to Lazarus. You didn't send someone to tend his sores or even give him crumbs from your table. Now he has it easy, you're the one in agony, and he is not permitted to stretch out even a finger to you." He cries out to Abraham, again ignoring Lazarus, "Then send him to my father's house to warn my five brothers." Once again he dismisses Lazarus, treats him as an object, or a slave, and expresses his indifference if not contempt for his fellow Israeli. Notice, no repentance for the way he treated Lazarus, no respect at all shown to his brother. Not a whisper of repentance for the way he treated Lazarus. Even at this moment, knowing of Heaven and experiencing Hell, the rich man remains unrepentant. Just concern for his personal discomfort. It makes me wonder whether the habits built up in this life extend to the afterlife. Maybe the great gulf has been put in place by a lifetime of habit, indifference, of lack of charity. Maybe the gulf was created by the rich man, as it might be by us.
Father Abraham says, in effect, "Balance must be established, Equity must work out." Many of us were taught as children – even as adults – that God rewards and punishes. I'm not so sure. It makes me wonder whether it is God rewarding or punishing behavior in this life that sends us to "our reward," Or, maybe the habits established during a lifetime - and the weight of them, like Marley's chains - tip the divinely arranged balance of Equity against the unrepentant bad actor. Maybe the rich man now in Hell was so used to a lifetime of self-righteousness and luxury and indifference to others that even at this eternal moment with both feet planted firmly in Hades, he couldn't and didn't repent of his uncharitable behavior. And maybe that's why Father Abraham told him, that if his brothers were similarly so numbed by their lives of self-righteousness, they would not be able to listen to or even believe in someone returned from the dead.
It's not easy to look at the big and small inequities we practice. And, until we've looked hard at what we do and fail to do, what harm we do to others unintentionally as well as with malice, we can't begin to restore Equity. Once we see the bad habit, that's the beginning. We can't throw it off until we repent of it. To repent means to turn and face in another direction. We cannot eliminate the bad behavior, the sin, until we face it, and turn away from it.
Repentance and forgiveness are always linked in Scriptures. The ancient Catholic rite of Confession, now called Reconciliation, is a searching of one's behaviors and attitudes to identify the sin, and to acknowledge it. The process of repentance itself leads to asking for forgiveness. When we are forgiven, the distortion, the load weighing us down and creating the inequity is removed.
But as difficult as it is to acknowledge, or even look for, our distorting sin, we often overlook an equally important part of forgiveness. That is, forgiving others. Equally distorting as sin we commit is not forgiving what's been done to us or our loved ones. To be truly in balance, we must forgive as we are forgiven. To not forgive is as sinful and as distorting as being unrepentant. The rich man was both.
The way it works is this: When we are out of balance from having harmed someone, or failed ourselves in some way, religion – and to some extent psychotherapy – lays out the steps. First, we must recognize the problem, the sin, or debt. Then we confess it, at least to ourselves if not to a religious or a therapist. Then we sincerely repent of it and commit ourselves to a change of attitude and behavior, a turning of our face in another direction. This is Repentance. Now we are halfway to Equity. The other half? To be clear of distortion, in balance, we must also forgive. We have to release whatever anger or vengeance or bitterness we harbor against someone or life or God or circumstance. Why? Because, as Jesus taught us, we pray, "Forgive us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors." Then we reach balance, Equity.
Is our forgiveness complete? Do we have to pay a penance, deliver an ox to the minister – or a few steaks? No, the divine rules are very simple. Once we forgive others, we are immediately forgiven. How? Exactly as we have forgiven others.
There is only one thing we promise God every time we pray the way Jesus taught the Apostles. We pray as we did this morning; "Forgive us our debts", we ask, "as we forgive our debtors." We promise to forgive our debtors. This is the one action we commit to in the Lord's Prayer. Forgiving others. Everything else is praise and petition. Or in other translations, "Forgive us our trespasses, our sins, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Or, "Forgive us the wrongs we have done as we have forgiven those who have harmed us." Whatever the translation, we ask God to treat us exactly as we treat others, and to forgive us exactly as we have already forgiven others.
Among our most harmful behaviors are holding on to and nursing, almost savoring sometimes, the wrongs that have been done to us. These sins and errors and debts are piled up because of our natural instincts to oppose. We oppose anything and anyone that threatens us, crosses us, displeases us, or disrespects us or our children. But, as long as we consent to this opposition and pile up grievances and hurts and a sense of being wronged, we carry a distorting load. We – and all of nature – are distorted by our bearing and nursing grudges and grievances. Until we release these grievances, and grudges, and desires for vengeance we will be out of balance, out of Equity. These are what we promise God we will let go of. I believe carrying these toxic grudges distorts not only our own lives, but the Balance of the universe. It grieves God's Holy Spirit and his whole creation, as well as harming ourselves right now.
You could say that confession, followed by repentance followed by our forgiving others is how we receive full forgiveness, and so restore Equity. Otherwise, if we do not repent and forgive, Equity will be restored in ways we do not necessarily like. This is the promise of Moses, the Prophets and of Jesus Himself. I think God himself rejoices whenever we ask for forgiveness, and forgive others. No matter when. It's never too late, but beware of becoming so habituated that, like for the rich man, it may become too late.
Equity is reached by repentance and forgiving others. This also sets the stage for the entry to the next dimension. You can chuckle at my dimensions, but it does help me think about the multi-dimensionality of Jesus' message.
The dimension beyond Equity is Love. Once, through repentance and forgiving we are in a state of Equity, we are able to fully Love. And then, Loving, reach on to the next Christian dimension, self-sacrifice in the full sense of the word. And then God's peace.
So what does this say about the intersection of religion and science? Paul teaches in First Corinthians; …where there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away... Now I know in part; but then I shall know, even as also I am known.
Science today knows in part. It has barely entered the fourth dimension. It will advance over time. Jesus teaches in all ten dimensions. God is complete. Jesus teaches us to believe and act on that we can not yet see. Our message for today is this: Repent and Forgive. Take care to listen to the alarm and wake up and see. Equity will be achieved one way or another. Jesus shows us the better way. Repent and forgive.
The Nicene creed which we will all read in a moment begins;
We believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
Let's all stand and proclaim our faith together in the Ecumenical Nicene Creed found on p. 15 of your hymnal.