God’s Divine Math

Sermon for Sunday, June 20, 2021 || Proper 7B || 2 Corinthians 6:1-13

They say that when a couple has a second baby, their hearts expand to love the second just as much as the first. The love is not divided in half, so that the older child now only gets 50% (although from that child’s perspective it might feel that way). Somehow, using the exponential property of divine mathematics, love always expands to include every beloved. Leah and I did not have the opportunity to experience this second child expansion because our second was born about 30 seconds after our first. We got the double whammy, and, in the moment the nurses placed both babies in my arms for the first time, I could feel in my heart my ability to love expand. All of a sudden, I had all this extra love inside me and it started leaking down my cheeks. For those first few sleep-deprived days, I spent hours just staring into the tiny faces of the babies. They were the physical embodiment of my heart opening wider than I thought possible.

This is the moment in my life that I think of when I read our lesson today from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. After speaking of all the hardships he has had to endure to remain in relationship with the churches he has founded, Paul says: “We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return…open wide your hearts also.”

Paul invites the people of the church in Corinth (and the people of the church in Mystic) to open wide our hearts. He invites us to remove all restrictions in our affections; in other words, to love with no strings attached. 

Such a posture is difficult to imagine in our world because pretty much everything comes with a price tag. And with everything for sale, we make a fundamental mistake. We mistake price for value. Advertisers sell us the idea that little pieces of shiny rock are valuable because they are rare and expensive. But what’s truly valuable is not the shiny rocks themselves, but the relationships those diamonds adorn. 

The credit card company Mastercard took full advantage of our penchant to mistake price for value in a long-running ad campaign that you might remember. You know the ones I’m talking about. “Your child’s first baseball glove: $24.95. Fresh hot dogs at the game tossed to you from down the row: $10.50. Catching a foul ball at Fenway Park: Priceless.”

Do you see what Mastercard did there? They flipped the script on price and value and got you to think of the value of things so you wouldn’t notice how much you were spending on them. And so we spent more and more and more. (By the way, total credit card debt in the United States peaked at 930 billion dollars in mid-2020.)

So, why am I talking about price and value? Because of that divine math I mentioned earlier. When Paul invites the Corinthians and us to open wide our hearts, he is trading in the scarcity of the world’s economics for the abundance of God’s economics. And God’s economics is always based on inherent value, never on the prices we place on things. When we recognize that in divine math, price and value are two completely different properties, we become liberated to love with no strings attached. Indeed, in divine math, love is the most precious thing in the world, yet it grows more abundant when it is shared. That’s how a parent’s love can expand to include the new child – because the heart is an ever-expansive organ, always ready to grow in order to contain the love it wishes to share.

In his life and ministry, Jesus rejected the idea that price equals value. People just couldn’t understand why he was eating with people that couldn’t get him ahead or why he wouldn’t translate his celebrity into a comfortable lifestyle. At one point, Jesus says, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted.” Then Jesus jokes, “So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows.” In other words, God finds infinite value in the sparrow worth half a penny, so your value is beyond compare no matter what price the world places on your worth.

This is the economics of God’s divine math: value, not price; and precious love growing exponentially as it is given away.

When we love with no strings attached, we love like God loves. We love not transactionally, but relationally. We love not cautiously, but recklessly. We love our way into solidarity with those the world wants us to compete with. We love our way into the desire to end the disparities and inequities that our zero-sum society has convinced us are here to stay. We love with wide open hearts that expect to keep expanding in capacity as God opens our eyes to new beloveds.

So how do we put our wide open hearts out there in practical ways? How do we live into the exponential math of God’s love? First and foremost, with God’s help, we can retrain ourselves not to think in the scarcity-based, zero-sum math of the world. Here’s a case in point: yesterday was the first federally recognized celebration of the holiday Juneteenth, the day that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. Does this second Independence Day take away from the one two weeks later? No. What could be better than a second holiday celebrating our country’s movement towards true independence? 

When someone else receives a benefit, the scarcity-based world tells us to get upset because we didn’t get it. But God’s divine math reminds us this is just not true. In her new book, The Sum of Us, Heather McGhee coins the term “Solidarity dividend.” She says, “The old zero-sum paradigm is not just counterproductive; it’s a lie…Everywhere I went, I found that the people who had replaced the zero sum with a new formula of cross-racial solidarity had found the key to unlocking what I began to call the ‘Solidarity Dividend,’ from higher wages to cleaner air, made possible through collective action” (p. xxii)

When we have retrained ourselves to think in terms of God’s divine math, we join the Old Testament prophets in their indictments of unjust systems, where crooked scales kept the poor in poverty and widows and orphans were left to fend for themselves. We become advocates for equity, remembering that, in God’s math, value comes from inherent dignity, not market capitalization. When we live our lives under God’s math, with wide open hearts, we participate in the action of the Lord’s Prayer: “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is heaven.”

So let’s all go back to school and take a course in God’s divine math of abundance. With God’s love expanding our hearts, we bear witness in this scarcity-based world to another way, the way of loving with no strings attached.

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