Sunday, October 14, 2012

You Do Understand This Is A Desert, Right?

A little over five years ago,
when the bishop candidates came to Nevada
         for a week-long bus tour,
our third stop was in Las Vegas.
One of the Church ladies said to us,
         “You do understand this is a desert. Right?”

She probably meant it literally.
Not everybody gets the beauty of a desert.
But she might have meant the resources are sparse here
     not many people, not much money.
The cultural climate is as harsh to religion
as the physical climate is harsh to animal life.
In many ways, it really is a desert out there.

On the Galilean mountainside, 
                 people were hungry.
It would be natural to send them 
        off somewhere to find food.
But Jesus didn’t want to do that.
He worried what would become of them
         along the way.
So Jesus said to the disciples, 
                “Let’s feed them here.”

They replied,
“You do understand that this is a desert. Right?
Where would we get enough bread in the desert
         to feed this multitude?”

It was the primal message Bob Honeychurch 
           told us about yesterday:
         “We don’t have enough.”
To which Jesus said, “What have we got?”

“We don’t have enough” is the universal game stopper.
To which Jesus responds every time, “What have we got?”
Often we come back at him with, 
                  “We don’t have the right stuff.”

What kind of fish do you suppose 
           they blessed and shared
on the mountainside that day?
Chances are it was Tilapia, the main fish 
                 in the Sea of Galilee.
But when they made the movie 
          The Greatest Story Ever Told,
         the Sea of Galilee was portrayed 
          by our own Pyramid Lake.
We don’t have Tilapia in Pyramid Lake;
         so the Tilapia were portrayed by Kooyooe.

Different lakes have different fish.
Suppose the disciples had said to Jesus,
         “Well we have two fish, 
                  but we have no salmon,
no cod, no trout, no kooyooe.
         We don’t’ have the right kind of fish.”
Jesus said, “What have we got?”
“We got tilapia.”
“Ok then on tonight’s menu we are serving tilapia.”

They had five loaves – of what?
They had Galilean bread – a filling but course bread
made from barley, not wheat.
Suppose the disciples had said to Jesus,
         “We have five loaves alright
but we have no garlic bread, no Nan, no pumpernickel,
no German black bread, no whole wheat or Wonder bread.”
Jesus said, “What have we got?”
“We got barley bread.”
“Alright then”

So they blessed and shared barley bread and Tilapia,
the bread of Galilee the fish of Galilee
         to feed the people of Galilee.
They called it “the gifts of God for the people of God.”

There is always resistance to blessing
the simple gifts of the desert,
always the idea that we don’t have enough
or what we have somehow isn’t right.

1,300  years before Jesus,
when the children of Israel traversed the Sinai Desert, 
they complained  because they wanted Egyptian cuisine.
All Moses had to give them was the bread of heaven,
the food of angels.
But they wanted something from somewhere else.
They wanted Egyptian, Thai or Italian maybe.
Somewhere that has good food.
Moses said, “Sorry. We got no Pad Thai noodles,
We got no tacos.
All we got is this bread of heaven, the food of angels.”

There are three points here.
First, we all get hungry sometime for something
-- truth, love, meaning, hope, serenity -- something.
My favorite line from the late poet Ann Sexton
         is as simple and as it is poignant.
I suspect it was special to Ann Sexton too,
         because she used it in two poems,
                  one religious, one not.
It goes: “O my hunger! My hunger!’//

We all hunger for something.
It goes with the turf of being human.
There is an emptiness inside us.
17th Century philosopher Blaise Pascal called it
“the God shaped hole in the human heart.”

Second point: when we get hungry,
we think we need to go somewhere 
for what we need.
We look around our own personal wilderness
         and say, “This is a desert. I don’t have enough.”
We want a jazzier philosophy, a more exotic diet,
a new lover, a religion that is more cerebral
         or more emotional or more something we are not.
Because “This  life of mine is a desert. 
                 I don’t have enough.”

The third point is God’s answer to our restlessness.
 Moses said,
         What you need “is not up in heaven so that you have to ask,
         ‘Who will ascend into heaven and get it for us?’
         Nor is it beyond the sea so that you have to ask,
         ‘Who will cross the sea and get it . . . . ‘
         No, the word (of life) is very near you.
         It is in your mouth and in your heart.”

We have what we need right here
         to do the work God has given us to do right here.
We have the bread of heaven, the food of angels.
To be satisfied, all we have to do
is bless and share what we’ve got.

Hemanos y hermanas, tenemos hambre.
The people of Nevada are hungry – spiritually hungry,
         existentially hungry, emotionally hungry.
We have what we need and we are the people
         to feed the Nevada’s hunger.

The point of the English Reformation
         was that the Church in England
         does not have to be identical to the Church in Rome
in order to be the Church.
After the American Revolution,
we discovered that the Church in  America
does not have to be identical to the Church in England
in order to be Anglican.
 The Church in Nevada does not have to be identical
to the Church in Chicago
in order to be Episcopal.

So let’s start with the basic point. We are different.
But different does not mean deficient.
It means different. God made us different
         to play a different part in God’s mission.

A Carmelite monk once prayed,
         “O Lord make me another St. John of the Cross.”
God replied, “No thank you. I’ve already got one.
         I need you to be you.”

Part of our difference is 
         special assets, strengths, capabilities.
Why do you think the National Church
 makes movies of our Latino Ministries
and the work of St. Martin’s to show 
all over the country?
It isn’t because we’re deficient.
It’s because we do some things well.

Nevada is special.
We have turquoise, underground rivers,
         Area 51, entertainment extravaganzas,
         wild burros, and the rare but not endangered
                  Armargosa toad.
We also have the most interesting, 
          colorful human beings
         anywhere in the world.

Do we have deficits?
Yes, we lead the nation in high school dropouts, 
         suicides, divorces, and women killed 
          in domestic violence.
That’s our mission field. That’s the hunger part.
That’s why evangelism isn’t about propping up
         our institution and meeting a budget.
It’s about saving people on the brink.
We’ve got a lot of neighbors on the brink.
Nevada is beautiful, wonderful, 
             and endlessly entertaining.
Nevada is also broken, hurting, and hungry.

Jesus looked out at the crowd on the mountain
and said “I feel compassion for these people.”
That same Jesus sees this hunger 
            of our Nevada neighbors
and says, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
And someone says,
         “It’s a desert here. You know that right?
          We don’t have enough.”

But Jesus says, “What have we got?”
And someone says,
         “Well we have the Episcopal Diocese.”