Whatever Happened to the "Common Good"?

This sermon was originally preached by Rev. James Morasco on July 15, 2018..
There is no higher religion than human service. To work for the common good is the greatest creed.
— Woodrow Wilson
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
and the calf and the lion and the fattened calf together;
and a little child shall lead them.
— Isaiah 11:6
To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
— 1 Corinthians 12:7

In the midst of a world that seems intent on tearing itself apart, an amazing thing happened this past week.  The whole world watched and prayed and held its collective breath as twelve children and their soccer coach were rescued from deep within a cave system in Thailand.  They had been lost for over a week and many predicted they would never be found alive.  People from every country, celebrated together this “miracle." But only to have their hopes diminished by the daunting task of bringing them out. And adding to the situation, it is the beginning of the Monsoon season which meant they were racing against the weather and the clock to get them out before it was too late.  An international team of experts were assembled.  The rescue mission they faced had never been attempted before.  Caves filled with water, narrow passageways, and razor sharp rocks.  As some of the experts were interviewed on TV and their prognosis was grim.  Some said it would be impossible.  One highly trained diver drowned trying to get back out of the cave after his oxygen supply ran out.  But they didn’t give up; they didn’t let the challenges defeat them.  Everyone, regardless of race, nationality, religion, and all the other man made obstacles human beings use to separate ourselves from one another became a part of the team.  

One has to ask themselves, when we live in such a tumultuous world, with everyone retreating into their corner and willing to fight to the death in order to prove their “right” – why did this incident happen now?

Do you think it might have been a “time out lesson” for us to remember what is truly important?

Do you think this might be a “wake up call” for the rest of the world “trapped” in its cave system of exclusivity and discrimination?  

Do you think we can apply these lessons to our collective lives and understand the concept of “common good"?

Theologian and author, Jim Wallis writes - Whatever Happened to the “Common Good"?

Recommitting ourselves to the general welfare could solve the deepest problems this country and the world now face.

There is an ancient idea that we have lost, but can and should find again. It’s called simply the common good. It goes back many centuries, but the need for a new dialogue about what it means and what its practice would require of us has never seemed more critical.

The common good has origins in the beginnings of Christianity. An early church father, John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), once wrote: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.” Of course, all our religious traditions say that we are indeed our neighbor’s keeper, but today people of every faith don’t often actually say and do the things that their faith says and stands for.

The notion of the common good has both religious and secular roots going back to Catholic social teaching, the Protestant social gospel, Judaism, and Islam (to name a few).

A commitment to the common good could bring us together and solve the deepest problems this country and the world now face: How do we work together? How do we treat each other, especially the poorest and most vulnerable? How do we take care of not just ourselves but also one another?

The common good is also the best way to find common ground with other people—even with those who don’t agree with us or share our politics.  Both liberals and conservatives could affirm the moral standard of the common good.

The common good should impact all the decisions we make in our personal, family, vocational, financial, congregational, communal, and yes, public lives. It is those individual and communal choices—from how we raise our own children, to how we engage with our local communities, to what we are willing to bring to our elected officials—that will ultimately create the cultural shifts and social movements that really do change politics in the long run. The nation will soon be deciding on immigration reform, new efforts to prevent gun violence, and how to find a path to fiscal sustainability that reflects our nation’s soul. Only by inspiring a spiritual and practical commitment to the common good can we help make our common life better.

 

As with everything else we do in life, we all have an opinion, a bias, our own set of truths that we live our lives with.  But I believe it’s important to keep in mind that none of us live in a vacuum. We are all dependent on one another.  We all have a role to play in adding to the common good. 

Often in counseling I have seen people so entrenched in the way they see things, that they are unable to even look at what the other has to say.  They are so focused on proving themselves “right”, they miss the reality that both share in the situation.  Is it more important to believe you are right or to compromise and rationally decide on something everyone can agree on?  When we let our emotions get in the way, they often distort the truth and therefore color our decisions.  Again, the reality is we all bring our own perspective – not right or wrong, but different.

 

One day, the father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the express purpose of showing him how poor people live.  They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be considered a very poor family.

On their return from their trip, the father asked his son, “How was the trip?”

“It was great, Dad.”

“Did you see how poor people live?” the father asked.

“Oh yeah,” said the son.

“So, tell me, what did you learn from the trip?” asked the father.

The son answered: “I saw that we have one dog and they had four. We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end. We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night. Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole horizon.

“We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that go beyond our sight.

“We have servants who serve us, but they serve others. We buy our food, but they grow theirs.

“We have walls around our property to protect us, they have friends to protect them.”

The boy’s father was speechless.

Then his son added, “Thanks Dad for showing me how poor we are.”

 

So think about what we started with, discussing how when people stop blaming others and come together, they can overcome the worst situations.  We have a choice every day – do we pretend we are the only one with the answers or do we “love our neighbor as our self” and add to the common good?  I know many people that would rather complain about the worlds troubles rather than help solve them.  What choice will you make?

I’ll end with a reflection I wrote about this week’s rescue:

 

Humanity’s Cry

 

Lost to the world

In darkness they wait

As the water rose higher

Wondering what is their fate

*

And the world stood still

People holding their breath

Collectively praying

For life over death

*

Twelve boys and their mentor

Down deep in a cave

Huddled together

Being so brave

*

Then the world became one

For a time we were blind

No barriers, no fences

Just a mission to find

*

And all who had feelings

All who had heart

Felt compassion and suffering

Each day from the start

*

After over a week

Hope was slipping away

Then light in the darkness

Good news of the day

*

It would take several more

To get the boys out

Our prayers were answered

You could hear the world shout

*

Why do we wait

For disaster to fall

To remember God’s rule

There’s no difference at all

*

To show God’s love

So others might see

God’s spirit in you

God’s spirit in me

*

Pray we learn

And not turn a blind eye

Let “together in peace”

Be humanity’s cry

                                                              Rev. James Morasco

 

I will end today repeating the message of John Chrysostom (c. 347–407), read earlier: “This is the rule of most perfect Christianity, its most exact definition, its highest point, namely, the seeking of the common good . . . for nothing can so make a person an imitator of Christ as caring for his neighbors.”