Radio Sermon with Brother Layne
This week’s Radio Sermon. • Subscribe to the podcast via iTunes.
It has become a popular form of conversation, among certain people who consider themselves clever, to wonder aloud if we are living in a simulation—the idea being that as technology accelerates, the odds of our existence being a game of some kind also increase, and that it would be impossible to prove one way or another if our reality is accidental or the work of a creator.
Live long enough, and even the creation stories will come back around claiming to be something new. Something to do with video-game developers.
We want to believe there’s a purpose to all of this, a forward momentum, a goal of one kind or another. Maybe it’s having descendants. That’s all Abraham was offered, anyway. Eternal life for that migrant Sumerian Bedouin meant lots of children and grandchildren:
“I will indeed bless you and make your offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand on the seashore.”Genesis 22:17
That’s the God of Abraham speaking through the Angel of the Lord. This was Abraham’s payment for being willing to slaughter his only son, Isaac. Not that Abraham had much choice in the matter. As Bob Dylan put it, God told Abraham, “You can do what you want, but the next time you see me comin’, you better run.”
With the Romans’ destruction of the Temple and the rise of Christianity across the Empire, there came an end to the slaughtering of animals and humans to win the favor of the gods. Everybody did it, back in the day, back in the time of Jesus: The Hebrews, the Romans, the Greeks, the Persians, the Celts, in Africa and Asia and the Americas. Usually animals. Sometimes people. Occasionally a lot of people. A bad habit. The Hebrew priests of Jesus’ time knew it wasn’t good to get used to taking lives. These holy men, the Kohanim, they took turns killing the animals, so that taking life would never become routine, never become mundane. And of course the Israelites ate the meat. The offering was symbolic, like the bits of food left for the Kitchen Gods outside apartments in Beijing and Daly City, or the cigar and shot of rum set out for Baron Samedi in Haitian rituals.
A sacrifice is an offering of something of value. We still sacrifice animals for food, but outside of Kosher and Halal and organic farms, it is not done with any reverence for the lives that are taken. You don’t have to be religious to give thanks before a meal. It’s a good habit, to sit at a table and not in front of the TV, to put down your phones and look your companions and family in the eye. To give grace. To acknowledge the sacrifice, from the Latin sacrificium: made sacred.
We still sacrifice people, too. Especially in America. Like a gruesome Aztec or Incan ritual, we slaughter our adolescents, feed human blood to our oppressor. And we have millions of executioners at the ready, so that we can always rely on some killer possessed to sacrifice a bunch of children, every few weeks, sometimes every few days. These sacrifices are to the gods of Death, the Destroyers who occasionally take control of our societies, when we have lost our way. When we have lost our morals.
Our purpose is to progress. To put away, as Paul the Apostle said, “childish things.” It is as cynical to believe we’re helpless characters in a simulation as it is to believe our unseen creators demand the blood of our children and animals. The sacrifice that matters in this life, in this universe, is that which is given in grace, with the aim of relieving suffering instead of causing it. As Aretha Franklin sang in 1971:
With my arms open wide, I threw away my pride.
I’ll sacrifice for you, dedicate my life to you.
I will go where you lead, I’ll be right there in time of need.“You’re All I Need To Get By,” Aretha’s Greatest Hits
Until next time, may your days and nights be visited by grace.
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