Monday, November 2, 2009

Every Breath I Take

Convention Sermon.09
The deep truth of things is like the Amargosa River.
It flows along mostly unseen, underground.
But once in awhile it bubbles us as a spring or a stream.

We can’t conjure up the deep truth at will.
It emerges into our consciousness whenever it chooses.
Our part is to keep an eye out for it;
then remember and be faithful.

Some truth has been especially clear to me
these past few weeks.
It has been clear and on my heart in a good way.
The truth is that every breath I take is a gift of God.
I have no claim on this life of mine.
I have not earned it. I have no right to it.
If anything, I have failed to use my life
to God’s glory so often,
that it is only by God’s compassion and mercy,
that I have been given this new day.

I have no right to this life.
I have no guarantee of a future.
But, God’s generous heart keeps giving me
sunrise after sunrise, sunset after sunset,
and people to share it all with.
I have not a clue why God does this.
All I know is that God is like that.
God does this sort of thing.
God does it for me. God does it for you.

“I am the vine and you are the branches,” Jesus said.
Our life comes from him.
Without our connection to Jesus,
we wither inside.
We may keep putting one foot in front of another,
but it isn’t real life.
The loving energy, the creative spark, isn’t there.

But when we put our trust -- not in our own power --
but in his generosity and mercy,
then we are strong.
Then we can work wonders in the name of Jesus
by the power of the Holy Spirit.
“I am the vine. You are the branches,” he says,
Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

To abide in Jesus means to trust in his love,
not our own cleverness, charm, and hard work,
to sustain us in life.
Do we own real estate and mutual funds?
Their value goes up and down.
We can own it but we can’t count on it because it isn’t grace.
But the steadfast love of the Lord abides forever.
“Though the mountains fall and the hills turn to dust” Isaiah says,
“the love of the Lord endures.”

“Surely it is God who saves me.
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
for that Lord is my stronghold and my sure defense
and he will be my Savior.”
There is nothing subtle about this.
Without God’s grace, we can do nothing.
With God’s grace,
there is no limit to what we can do.
“Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.”

Bearing fruit means living a life that counts,
a life that means something.
Different people bear different fruit.
For one person it is making art that doesn’t just decorate a room,
it touches someone’s soul.
For someone else, it is saving lives by sending
mosquito nets to Kenya.
For someone else, it may be teaching a child to read,
or keeping a neighborhood safe from crime
or helping a person in recovery stay sober.

God is the life force behind anything we do that is worth doing.
Sometimes we know that. Sometimes we forget it.
Sometimes we are blessed as I have been recently
by a heartfelt awareness that we are floating in grace.
But we lose that sense of grace. It slips out of our minds.
The first mission of the church is to help us remember.
The church is the tangible place we abide in Jesus’ love.
We hold out our hands for his body and blood.
We kneel and pray for his blessing.

The church holds each of us in the awareness of grace
so that we can bear much fruit
in our daily life and work,
so that we can live lives that count
each in our own unique way.

But the church can only hold each of us in the awareness of grace,
if the church itself lives by grace,
if the church itself trusts God to empower us for mission.
That’s why Bishop Wes and Bishop Katharine
insisted that we are about mission, not maintenance.
We do not exist to keep church doors open,
but to “bear fruit,” as Mother Theresa put it,
to “do something beautiful for God.”

If we do that, God will keep the doors open.
If we don’t bear fruit, if we don’t live boldly for the gospel,
keeping the doors open isn’t worth our effort.

Paul says in our Epistle lesson,
“Since it is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry,
we do not lose heart . . . .”
We do not lose heart. Our wills are not weak. We are not timid.
We do not fret over keeping doors open.
We dare to save souls from addiction and despair.
If we trust in God’s mercy, we take risks.
We move from maintenance to mission.
We do something beautiful for God.

His grace abounds, Brothers and Sisters.
Otherwise we would not be here.
Grace abounds. Look at our Old Testament lesson:
“For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven
and do not return until they have watered the ground
making it bring forth and sprout
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater;

so shall my word be that goes out of my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in that for which I sent it.”

Who do we think planted the church in Nevada?
It was God.
And God put us here for a purpose.
It isn’t just keeping doors open.

In a place where despair is a deadly epidemic,
by God’s grace, we offer hope.
Where addiction holds our people captive,
by God’s grace, we offer freedom.
Where the school dropout rate is one of the nation’s worst,
by God’s grace, we give children a future.
We are the word sent forth from God’s mouth.
We will accomplish the purpose for which God sent us.

It will not be by our own power or our own merit,
but by the grace of God
remembered and received in the sacraments.
It will not be with our own resources
but with God’s gifts received and yet to come.

All we have to do is abide in the love of Jesus.
Sometimes we cringe in fear of the future.
Sometimes we dwell in old hurts and grievances.
Neither fear of the future nor replaying old wars
will glorify God, save a child,
or make a meaningful life.

Abiding in the love of Jesus will do all that and more.
Brothers and sisters, I tell you this from my heart.
Do not take your next breath for granted.
It is a divine gift. It is a miracle and a wonder.
It is a sign of God’s love.

Live a life worthy of the grace you have received.
Just so, this diocese and each congregation in it
is a gift, a miracle, and wonder.
If we remember that every day,
we will live a life that counts.
We will bear fruit.
We will do something beautiful for God.