Sunday, September 10, 2017


Christian essayist, Anne LaMotte, said,
         Not forgiving is like drinking rat poison
         and waiting for someone else to die.
Holding a grudge against another person
         might or might not do them any harm.
But it’s guaranteed to do us harm,
guaranteed to be a blight on our own lives.

Conversely, forgiving another person
         might or might not make them happier.
But it’s guaranteed to make us happier.
Theologian, Lewis Smedes, said,
         To forgive is to set a prisoner free
         and discover the prisoner was you.
Lady Julian of Norwich explained it this way,
         For when the soul lingers over other people’s sins,
         a thick mist . . . falls across our eyes and . . .
         we cannot see the beauty of God.

The Bible, medieval mystics, and modern theologians agree:
Forgiveness is the key to our own peace of mind.
It isn’t just a nicey nice religious platitude.
It’s medical science.
The Mayo Clinic says that when we forgive our enemies
         the result for us is:
         Healthier relationships
         Psychological well-being
         Reduced stress, anxiety, and hostility
         Lower blood pressure
         Less depression
         A stronger immune system
         A healthier heart,
         And higher self-esteem.

Forgiveness starts with our own self-interest.
We do it for our own peace of mind.
But how do we do it,
         when our neighbors can be so insufferable?

There are three steps.
The first one, the moral step,
 isn’t easy, but it’s simple and doable.
It doesn’t require us to reduce our anger one whit
         or change our feelings an iota.

It’s as simple as tearing up an IOU.
When someone hurts us,
         we have a right to see them suffer.
In the law, we call it a cause of action, a right to sue.
In the moral world, we call it a grievance.
Like Shakespeare’s Shylock,
         we have a right to extract a point of flesh from our enemy.

The first step is: We just cancel the debt.
All it takes is a simple statement to God,
who is the arbiter of such things.
We just say,       
         God, the wrong they have done me, I forgive.
         Let no harm come to them.

It may not be easy.
But it is simple. It is possible.
We grit our teeth, and with God’s help, we can do it.

But if we want to reap the spiritual benefit
of that act, we need to take the second step,
         the theological step.
Our ability to forgive in our hearts
depends on what we believe about God.
The word God stands for our vision of the highest good.
God is what we strive for.
God is who we want to be like.
How we think of God the most important thing.
We become more and more like the God we worship.

Many of us have been taught to worship an angry vengeful God
         who punishes people for bad actions, bad feelings
                  or bad beliefs.
That God sits on the edge of his throne
         waiting to pounce on the guilty.

There are political reasons people portray God like that.
It scares us, keeps us in line, makes us behave
         even when no one is looking.
There are also psychological reasons.
Lady Julian and modern psychoanalysts agree
         that we project our own anger onto God
         and imagine he feels the way we do deep down.
Even some of the authors in the Bible painted that
         grim picture of God.

The problem with that kind of religion though
         is that it makes us into angry vengeful people.
In that mental state,
         we are in the words of the mental commitment laws,
         a danger to ourselves and others.
Worshiping a judgmental punitive God over a lifetime
makes us cruel and miserable.

Our best spiritual guides, like Jesus, Paul, John, and Julian of Norwich,    
show us a better God.
St. John wrote,
         God is love.
         There is no room for fear in love,
         for perfect love drives out fear.

Lady Julian almost died of the plague in 1395.
While a priest held a crucifix before her dying eyes,        
         she had 16 visions.
She survived and told us what she learned in her visions
         in the first book ever written in English by a woman.
She said she saw no wrath in God.
The wrath, she said, was all in us

Instead, she said,
         It is the most impossible fact . . . that God should be angry
         . . . . For he that dispels and destroys our anger
         and makes us humble and gentle must surely himself
         be the same, loving, humble, and gentle.
         all of which is the opposite of anger.

If we want to be free from the prison of our anger,
         we need Lady Julian’s god,
         not Jerry Falwell’s and Franklin Graham’s.

The third step we take right along with the second step.
It’s the spiritual step.
We work out our relationship with God
and our relationship with each other at the same time
because they are two sides of the same coin.
We practice heart forgiveness thorugh prayer.

Jesus said,
         Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
                  that you may be children of your father in heaven.
         He causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good . . .
In order to love unconditionally the way God loves,
         in order to get free of the bonds of grudge and grievance,
         we practice praying the way the Bible teaches

Paul said,
         Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse.
Jesus said,
         Pray for those who persecute you.
The Lord’s Prayer even contains the words,
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Bottom line: we don’t wait for our hearts to change.
We go ahead and pray for our enemies now.
We pray first and let the heart change over time.

If we want the thick mist of anger to disperse
         so we can see the beauty of God,
         if we want peace of mind,
         if we want to be set free to love as God loves,
         we cancel the moral debts of our enemies,
         we believe in a God of love,

         and we pray for our enemies until one day we mean it.


For a congregation to move into its own first building
            is a big life step.
It is like the young adult getting her first apartment
             or the young married couple buying their first home.
It is a kind of growing up and that’s something to celebrate.

It’s also a time to reflect on: just what is it we are up to?
What does it mean to be the Church?
What does it mean to be the Church in Reno, Nevada
                        in the year of our Lord, 2017?
What are we here to do?
Who are we anyway?
What is God calling us to become?
Some of my bishop friends are wringing their hands
            trying to figure out how to be the Church
            after Christendom.
Being a good church member is no longer necessary
              to be a respectable member of society
               as it used to be back East.
I tell them Nevada hasn’t gotten to Christendom yet.
We are still in the pre-Christian era.
No one in Nevada goes to Church to be respectable.
We don’t much want to be respectable and if we did
           Church attendance wouldn’t be the way to do it.
So, what are we doing here?

 When St. Catherine’s was worshiping in a school chapel,
                        the possibilities were somewhat limited.
You didn’t have to think about what kinds of programs to offer
                        during the week because you couldn’t offer any.
You didn’t have to think about how to let the outside world know
                        of your existence because you were so well hidden.
Now here you are.
This new place raises all sorts of questions.
Who is God calling you to be? What is God calling you to do?
And what’s it all for anyway?

I am not going to answer those questions for you.
It isn’t that I am hiding the answers.
It’s that I don’t know them.
The answers lie in the heart of God
                        and are for you to discover prayerfully,
                        in honest open conversation with each other
                        and in honest open conversation with the world
                                    outside your walls.
The answer will not be a little slogan you can put on your letterhead.
The answer will never be fixed and final.
It lies forever just beyond our grasp.
The core questions demand to be asked over and over.

What I can offer you is a couple of guiding principles
                         for your discernment.
First, the Church is the Body of Christ.
That means we are here to continue the Incarnation.

There are many mutual support groups, 
          many social service agencies, and many groups 
          that practice mind expanding spiritual practices.
There are many book clubs.
A parish can do all those activities and more.
But none of them are its core identity.

The Church is the Body of Christ.
That changes things considerably.
Most of us come to Church wanting something.
We want things to be this way or that way.
We want the Church to suit our fancy,
                        to make us feel some way we want to feel.
We want it our way.

But that is a process of filling the Church with ourselves
                        instead of filling ourselves with Christ.
If we want it our way, we should go to Burger King.
The Church is where we set our way aside
                        to discover the mind of Christ.

What would Jesus do? replaces What do I prefer?
How do we know what Jesus would do?
We can’t know for sure.
But if we are going to have a clue,
                        we have to get to know Jesus.
That takes practices.

It takes some serious Bible study.
It takes some serious prayer.
We can’t know Jesus unless we’re on speaking terms.
And it takes paying close attention to the realities
            at hand because Jesus always manifests 
             in the present situation.
That means we pay attention to what’s happening in our own souls,     
         what’s happening in the lives of others in the congregation,
                        and what’s happening in the world around us.

That kind of attention doesn’t happen automatically.
It takes intentional practices of talking with each other
          at an authentic level – not casual church chit chat.

The first thing I can tell you is that being the Church
            begins with laying aside our preferences
            and humbly, openly, curiously looking for Jesus.

The second thing is that St. Catherine’s           
           needs to be partly like every other Church
            and partly different from any other Church.
The alike part is what make’s St. Catherine’s a Church.
It’s the core stuff of Sacraments, Creeds, 
              and relationship to the Diocese, the Province, 
              the Communion, and the Church Universal.

The different part is what makes this Church St. Catherine’s.
Karl Rahner said of us as individuals,
         Each of us is a unique irreplaceable word of God.
You could say the same of a parish.
Each parish incarnates Christ in its own distinct way.
God does not need a clone of any other parish.
God needs you to be you because no one else can be.

St. Catherine’s has grown well.
You have had your ups and downs
        and that’s a good thing.
It humanizes you and sanctifies you.
You have done good service to the wider community.

But you have only just begun.
Our rituals here today are not enough to make this place holy.
It what you do here in years to come.
T. S. Eliot concluded his immortal poem, The Four Quartets,
            with a piece about Little Gidding,
              a 17th Century religious community
              founded by the deacon Nicholas Ferrar.
The Christian poet George Herbert
              was a friend of the community.
It was destroyed by the Puritans in the English Civil War.

Eliot visited Little Gidding in the 1930’s, and wrote,
          You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid.//
Their valid prayer had made the place holy
           evoking reverence.
But what makes prayer valid?

One definition of valid is
              having force, weight, or cogency.
Prayer has force, weight, and cogency
                if and only if it is authentic,
                 if it is the real deal, if we mean it.

The task before you is to get real – to get real together.
That takes having your hope in heaven and your feet on the earth.
It takes asking questions to which 
               you truly do not know the answers
                and speaking the truth of your own hearts.
Do that brothers and sisters 
                and you will live out our prayers today.
You will truly consecrate this place to the glory of God

                and for the salvation of God’s people.