Friends: Today is Sunday, and I so think it a good day to ask what makes Sunday different from the other days of the week. Why do we reserve one day of each week to talk about the value of friendship and caring, to denigrate the pursuit of wealth and power?
Today’s reading is from Heart Sutra: “All truths are emptiness. . . There is no purity and no end to purity.” Now, before I explain this bit of piffle, let me return to the question I posed above: Why do we reserve one day of each week to talk about the value of spiritual riches, and denigrate the pursuit of material wealth?
I once asked this of my friend, Mr. J. A. Patel, who was a practicing Hindu until he came to our town to run the local “Best Western” after the previous owner was indicted on a minor matter of racketeering and criminal conspiracy. At first, of course, I was surprised that a lodging house devoted to the Best Western values should be run by an Easterner. But when I posed this to J. A. (as members of our flock are wont to call the jovial innkeeper) he told me not to worry because he was from Western Kerala, and in any case Kerala can be reached by traveling west just as easily as it could by traveling east.
The truth of his assertion I confirmed using the globe in the Rectory several times over the next week. To my continued astonishment, I found the same principle applies if one holds the globe upside-down! Since then, I have enjoyed my visits to J. A.’s office just next to the lobby of his hotel. So it was, as I was pondering the question of what makes Sunday different from the other days of the week, that I asked this of J. A., and J. A. answered that it is for the same reason that we close our eyes to sleep at night. We enter a dream world so that we can awaken on Monday, assure ourselves that Sunday is over, and get back to applying the screws once again.
Now, I didn’t want to contradict Mr. Patel at that time, especially as his ravishing daughter Gwendolyn was reading her college assignments in the lobby, and could hear our conversation. But since neither of them are here with us now, I can tell you frankly that this is a pig’s trotter of a theory. If it were true, that would mean that the entire edifice of religious law does nothing but enable unethical behavior. Further, it would mean that preachers are nothing but the doctors that stitch up wounds to allow soldiers to be rushed back into battle. Surely this noble profession does not deserve such slander, and surely right and wrong are more than being awake and asleep!
I could only assume that J. A. was pulling my proverbial leg. The next day, upon finding J. A. away on innkeeper’s business and only Gwendolyn, of the long dark eyelashes, in the lobby, I seized on the opportunity to relate her father’s answer to her. I noted she was reading a copy of theHeart Sutra, which seemed rather inferior to our own Holy Scriptures in both length and variety. She considered her father’s answer, and asked me: Did I know of the parable of the dreaming rat? Now, I knew all manner of parable from my time in Seminary. Though I studied Divinity at the most difficult time one can imagine – shortly after the Seminary went co-ed – I still was able to concentrate sufficiently to bone up on my parables, and I was fairly certain there were none about rats, dreaming or otherwise.
“Since he was small,” the lovely Gwen explained, “Our friend rat had raced other rats, and been rewarded for racing faster and harder. At night, however, the rat dreamed of a Land of Peace and Brotherhood where he did not spend his time racing, and where each rat was given the same amount of food regardless of how hard or fast they ran. One day he decided that he would hang back, and, lo and behold, the other rats noticed and slowed down, too. The rats all still got a moderate amount of food, and our friend fell asleep thinking that he had created a Land of Peace and Brotherhood for himself and his fellow rodents. While he slept, the supervising scientist, reasoning that the rat was exhibiting behavior that might skew the results of his study, injected our furry friend with a fast-acting lethal poison. And that is how the parable of the dreaming rat ends.”
Again, I can only assume that the fair Gwendolyn was pulling my other proverbial leg, because her parable in no way shed light on her father’s strange answer. The parable of the rat can only mean one thing, and I am sure my more attentive listeners have already reached the appropriate conclusion. Science is the natural enemy of religion, and scientists are, with few exceptions, cold-blooded murderers.
Now I had two cryptic answers to ponder, and resolved to have it out with these outlandish Patels the next day. It is one thing to operate a “Best Western,” it is another to open an unlicensed mystical franchise and start proffering all manner of Easternisms that only serve to obfuscate the rather plain questions I like to use to kick-start my sermons! And this was Saturday, and so the deadline for my sermon was fast approaching. So I went up the street to the “Best Western” and found that not only was J. A. absent from his office, but Gwendolyn with her soft voice was not at her post in the lobby! Leaning on the counter, I thought to learn something about the “heart” from the economy-sized holy book on the counter. I opened it to the page I had seen almond-eyed Gwendolyn reading the previous afternoon, and what I found shocked and surprised me!
There, in the Heart Sutra were underlined the words: “All truths are emptiness. . . There is no purity and no end to purity.” In the margin, she had scribbled my own name, followed by an explanation point! At first, I was flattered and excited that her delicately articulated hand had penned my name. And then I started to wonder what she meant by associating me with this particular line in the scripture. In particular, was she saying I was both pure and impure? And what could she mean by that?
And then it struck me that I had an answer to not only my question about the difference between Sunday and the other days, but also an insight into the difference between East and West. For as I stand here on Sunday, I stand knowing that there is purity, and there is impurity, something the Heathen among us seem to question. Purity is not just a bumper sticker, and the War on Impurity is something we in our Church wage every day. Not for a moment could we consider the truth that we should not kill as being an “empty” truth (though, in fairness, it may be momentarily vacated by the need to pursue Evil-doers)!
Though the so-called “Best Western” remains open for business on Sunday, the rest of us take this as a day of rest in order to bask in the certainty of the purity of the Lord. And I know this purity is no dream, just as I know that at this moment I am standing right in front of you.
Labels: Sunday Sermon