Thursday, January 12, 2017

LOVE DON'T COME EASY



First Corinthians is hands down my favorite Epistle.
Paul is trying to help the Church in Corinth
            work though their human frailty
to become the Body of Christ and carry out his Kingdom Mission.

Paul is teaching the Corinthians how to be the kind of community
            that attracts people to Jesus by showing them
                        who Jesus’ followers become.
Paul wants people to see Christians and say two things:
            “I want to be with them” and “I want to be like them.”

Jesus said, “This is how people will know you are my disciples.
                        By your love for one another.”
St. John said, “Dear friends, let us love one another for love
                                    comes from God. . . .
                        If we  love one another, God lives in us
                                    and his love is perfected in us. . . .
                        God is love and those who abide in love, abide in God. . .
                        Those who say, ‘I love God’ and hate their brothers or sisters
                                    are liars,
            For those who do not love their brothers or sisters
                        whom they have seen
                        cannot love God whom they have not seen.”

200 years later, the Father of Western theology, Tertullian,
            summed up the basic strategy of how to show pagans
                        the beauty of the Christian way. He wrote:
“’See how these Christians love one another,’ the pagans say,
            for they themselves hate one another,
‘and how they are ready to die for teach other,’
for the pagans are ready to kill each other.’”

But to turn to another kind of Scripture,
            in the words of Diana Ross, “Love don’t come easy.”
It didn’t come easy to the saints in Corinth.
The first thing we hear about is the faction
            over some folks being fans of one apostle
            while others were followers of another.

Paul urges them to put aside those divisions. He says,
            “As long as there is jealously and quarrelling among you
                        are you not of the flesh
            and behaving according to human inclinations?”

So stop dividing up according to which apostle you like best.
Then he turns to lawsuits between church members
            and says it is better to be defrauded than to sue a brother.
Then there was the biggest fight of all.
It was about eating food that came from pagan sacrifices.
1st Century Christians were as worked up over what they ate
            as 21st Century Christians are worked up over sex.
Paul says that the ones who eat the meat are right theologically
            but he tells them to abstain anyway
            out of love for those who are offended by it.

And so the letter to the Corinthians proceeds
            petty issue by petty issue, church fight by church fight,
            until he breaks into a spiritual aria to explain his point.
That’s the famous 13th Chapter of 1st Corinthians,
            the hymn to love we always read at marriages,
            but it isn’t about marriage.
It’s about being a congregation.
“If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels,
but have not love, I am a nosy gong . . . .
Love is patient. Love is kind. Love is not envious or boastful
            or arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way.
It is not irritable or resentful.
It does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things,
            endures all things.”

That’s what love means.
God is love. Those who abide in love,
            those who follow the discipline of love
      and it is a discipline because Diana Ross is right                                                                   – love don’t come easy –
those who follow the discipline of love, abide in love,
God lives in them and they live in God.
And when we abide in love
            the 87% of Nevadans with no faith of any kind
            will say, “I want to be with them and I want to be like them.”

Paul never again wrote anything so beautiful as 1st Corinthians.
But I’m sorry to say they didn’t get it.
This story doesn’t have a happy ending
When we get to 2nd Corinthians, things have just gotten worse.
40 years later, decades after Paul was dead and gone,
            the Corinthians were still fighting.
By then, Clement, the bishop of Rome, had taken over Paul’s job
            and was still pleading with them to just get along
            and treat each other in Jesus’ way, not the world’s way.

Corinthians is pretty straight forward,
            but the Epistle to the Romans gets misunderstood
            and misused most of the time.
Actually, it isn’t the theological treatise people think it is.
It’s just like Corinthians, an effort to smooth out a church fight.
In Rome the Jewish Christians and the gentile Christians
            were going at it.
It got so bad the Emperor Claudius threw the whole lot     
            of them out of town kit and caboodle.
Paul wrote Romans to try to show them that it is better to be kind
            than to be right.

The Romans may not have gotten it right away.
But I think the point eventually sank in.
Here’s why I think they got it.

Between 165 and 180, a plague swept through
            the urban centers of the Empire,
            killing one-third to one-half of city populations.
The city of Rome was particularly hard hit.
It’s named Galen’s plague after Galen,
the Emperor’s personal physician.
Galen is famous because he figured out
            that people were catching the plague
            from contact with each other.
It was the first discovery of contagion in the Ancient World.

So Galen told everyone who had the wealth and ability
            to get out of town.
Well, that was fine for the people who could do it.
But it left the sick and the dying to their own devices.
It wasn’t pretty, a city of the sick, the dying, and the dead.

And everyone ran away – except the Christians.
The Christians had an odd notion that the love of God,
            that is God’s love living in their own hearts, would protect them.
And if it didn’t, then they’d just die in God’s service and go to heaven.
So the Christians stayed and nursed the sick, prayed with the dying,
            and buried the dead.

The pagans looked on in wonder.
They said, “See how these Christians love one another.
            See how they even love us.”
Christianity remained illegal in the Empire for another century.
But by the end of that century, one third of the Empire
            had converted to Christianity     
                        largely because of the love
            Christians displayed during Galen’s plague.

For us human beings, love don’t come easy.
But you know what G. K. Chesterton said,
            “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting.
            It has been found difficult and not tried.”

Nothing good comes easy.
What is best may be hardest of all.
But the reward is to live in God
            and have God live in us.

The hardest thing is the thing most worth doing.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

CATHEDRAL STEWARDSHIP: OPENING OUR HANDS TO OPEN OUR HEARTS TO GOD



“In my beginning is my end (and) in my end is my beginning,”
         said T. S. Eliot.
My very first sermon was the stewardship sermon
right here at St. Michael’s 30 years ago.
As the sun begins to set on my ordained ministry,
         this is where I need to be.
Thank you Dean Demarest for inviting me back home.
Thank you Bishop Thom for giving the ok.

I want you to know that what this congregation does matters.
It mattered to me in 1980 when I came here,
 looking for some glimmer of hope in a darkened life.


I found Jesus here in you.
I first received received the Blessed Sacrament
kneeling at this altar rail.
St. Michael’s turned my life around.
I know this Church matters to many of you in the same way.

It also matters to all the folks outside these walls
         to whom each of us bear the Christ light in countless ways.
It’s like collateral damage -- only this is collateral blessing.
Like the Samaritan in our Gospel lesson
         we pass on the grace we have received.
I’ve gotten that part wrong many times.
         I’ve gotten it right a few times.
Let me tell you about one of those times.

It may sound like I’m talking about me,
But it’s really a story about you because
         when I’ve gotten it right, it was thanks to you.

I was rector of a small church in Macon, Georgia,
         when one day some people called me
to come see their dying mother.
She had never darkened a church door in Macon
         and no one had heard of her kids.
So I had no idea why they wanted me there.
And a little bit of  “these are not our people”
was stirring in me too.

But when I arrived, they explained
Mamma had been the pillar of her church
40 miles up the road.
She was head of the altar guild, first woman on the vestry, etc. etc.
She dearly loved that church.
But when she and Daddy got divorced,
the priest kicked her out -- literally excommunicated her.

Mamma had not been to church for 30 years.
She was bitter.
Now she lay dying.
Medically, by all rights, she should have died days ago
but she just couldn’t let go.  
The kids figured something was unresolved.

So I went in to see her  
         but instead of inviting her to confess her sins,
         I confessed the sin of the church against her
         and begged her forgiveness.
She wept and forgave us, then died peacefully the next day.

You sent me to do that.
Whatever Christianity I could draw on in that moment
         had its roots right here at St. Michael’s Cathedral.
What you do mattered to that old lady in Georgia
         and it matters to people in Boise
         whose lives are touched everyday by Episcopalians
         who’ve found their faith in this place.

The most liberating kind of faith I learned at St. Michael’s
         was the freedom the Samaritan had,
the freedom we get from giving stuff away.
It was here I learned that what I had wasn’t really mine.
I didn’t possess my stuff. My stuff possessed me.

I learned that all I had was God’s free gift
         and I could give it back --  trusting God
                  to provide for me as he’d always done.
I learned that to live we have to breathe.
To breathe in all the way, we have to breathe out all the way.
We have to give in order to receive.

The more we open our hands to God’s mission
         the more we open our hearts to receive the blessings
                  God wants to give us.
It isn’t magic. It isn’t buying a blessing.
It’s just opening our hands to open our hearts
to receive the blessings God already longs to give.
St. Michael’s taught me that,
         so I’m back here to say thank you, thank you, thank you
         for making my life so much richer.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself
         is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Just so, the best investment of our money is in the service of others.

Jesus said – now listen up –
this isn’t some jackleg bishop from Sin City talking --
Jesus said this:
 “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth
         where the moth corrupts and the thief breaks in to steal.
Rather, store up for yourselves treasure in heaven,        
         where the moth does not corrupt and the thief does not
                  break in to steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

But St. Augustine replied, “Ok but where is this heaven?
         Is it in the sky? No,” Augustine said,
         “Heaven is in each other.”
Store up your treasure in each other.
Heaven isn’t some cloud we float on when we die.
It’s a network of compassionate generous relationship.

Yes it’s a safety net that catches us when we die,
         but we can live in that network right now.
Heaven is life in God’s mission.

God has entrusted St. Michael’s with three parts of that mission.
First, as a congregation, you extend God’s love to one another
as you shared it with our family back in the 80s.

As the Cathedral, you have two other missions.
You have a mission to Boise.
This city has grown and changed beyond anything
         I could have imagined when I left.

Boise today needs a community engaged Cathedral
to be its spiritual heart,
         showing everyone of any faith or no faith
         some Christ light that is open-minded and generous of spirit.
The Falwells, Robertsons, and Franklin Grahams
have branded Christianity as a hateful bigoted cult
that young people, bright people,
         and good-hearted Idahoans won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Those good people are cut off from Christ,
         and good people need Jesus too.
Your mission is to show Jesus to Boise as he is
-- not as others have slandered him.

Third, as the Cathedral, you have a mission to other churches
         in this diocese – a mission to help them out
         with resources small congregations
         can’t generate from their own ranks.
That’s what it means to be a Cathedral.
A Cathedral is a resource church for a whole diocese.

There is no lovelier state than Idaho.
But it gets lonely out there and small towns are struggling.
They need help and you have it to give.

Those three missions take money – the money
         our culture has brainwashed us to think is ours.
But it’s God’s money entrusted to us for God’s mission.

Brothers and sisters, you have blessed many lives.
You have blessed my life richly.
But God has given you the ability to do so much more.
God has given you the ability to do things
         that will make Boise sit up and take notice –
         that will make Idaho sit up and take notice.
God longs to do a new thing here -- to flower in a new way.
 a bigger, brighter, altogether better way.

But God won’t do it without you.
God loves you too much for that.
God loves you too much to leave you out
         of this adventure.

God invites you to open your hands and your hearts
         to this mission -- not just for the sake of all those
         who have been alienated from the faith by bigots,
         not just for the sake of struggling congregations,
         but for your own sakes.

God wants you to know the freedom and the richness
                  of placing your treasure and your heart
in this living breathing network

                  of human relationships that Jesus called heaven itself.