Monday, November 17, 2014


This morning I’d like to mine the parable in our Gospel lesson
         for what it might say to us as we mark
the 25th Anniversary of Grace in the Desert.

Parables aren’t neat little allegories.
They don’t have one clear meaning.
They are stories you can take one way or another.
Parables are zinger tales to make us wonder.
No single interpretation works with all the detail
         of the story.

In this story of the master entrusting his property
         to three servants,
         it isn’t at all clear to me that the master is God,
         we are the servants, etc.

We might hear this as a story of injustice.
The poor guy with one talent did the right thing.
He followed the SEC investment regs of his day.
But he gets the shaft.
This may be a cynical “them that’s got gets” story.
Our conservative investor gets cast into the outer darkness.
But maybe it’s the outer darkness of Gethsemane
where he and Jesus will weep and gnash their teeth.

But we can just as easily take the story a different direction.
We can see ourselves individually as the servants
         who own nothing but have been trusted by God
to hold and care for his blessings.
The master handed his property over to the servants,
         and in the end, they returned it to him.
That dynamic is as profound as anything in the Bible
         and if we base our lives on it,
         we’ll find ourselves in a new world.

St. Ignatius of Loyola gave everything back to God
         when he prayed,
“Accept O God my memory, my will,
my understanding, my imagination.
All that I am and all that I have
         you have given me.
I give it all back //
         to be disposed of according to your good pleasure.
I ask nothing but the comfort of your presence
         and the joy of your love.”

To think of everything as a gift from God
         and to believe the best thing about that gift
         is the opportunity to give it back – that changes
                  how we experience everything.
To see the world as an ever flowing gift exchange
         between God and us is to join the cosmic dance.

Dorothy Day titled her autobiography The Long Loneliness
because that’s what our lives so easily become.
In Thomas Dumm’s book, Loneliness As A Way Of Life,
he describes the Death Of A Salesman character
Willy Loman  as lonely, alienated
-- cut off even from himself 
--trapped in the ceaseless struggle to acquire,
to succeed by amassing possessions, to have, have, have.

We trust owning things to insure our well-being and our freedom.
We are driven to become people “of independent means.”
But Dumm says that the life of having is empty, deeply lonely.
As Wordsworth put it,
“Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.
Little we see in nature that is ours.”
We’re like Citizen Kane dying with the word “Rosebud,”
the name of his boyhood sled, on his lips. 
He had built an empire but died longing
for the simple innocent humanity he had lost.

Psychoanalyst Eric Fromm wrote in his book, To Have Or To Be
that Western culture had gone off track.
It promises happiness through material possessions.

But that life of getting, spending, having, and clutching
had failed to make us happy.
It had drawn us away from authentic experience.
It had cut us off from our real selves, cut us off like Citizen Kane        
and Willy Loman from our humanity,
reduced us to jumping through economic hoops.

Fromm says there is another way.
It is psychologically possible to live deeply and happily
through participation in the whole dance of humanity. 
He calls that experience “being”
and says we develop the capacity for being      
--the capacity for life –
through letting go of possessions
in order to connect with each other.

But it’s bigger than that. The problem of having metasticizes
French philosopher Gabriel Marcel’s book Being And Having
 says the problem isn’t just material possessions.
It’s how we relate to everything.
It’s treating the world, even our own bodies and ideas,
as something we can watch, dominate, possess, manipulate.
That’s what Marcel means by “having.”
We can have our families as well as having our homes.
The problem is that we stand back one step
         removed from everything,
using it instead of celebrating it.
That’s lonely.

Real life is breathing in and breathing out,
         embracing and letting go.
We live out of our gratitude -- not just to have received
         but for the opportunity to give back freely and joyfully.

When we place our lives and labors
on the altar for Eucharist,
         God blesses our gifts and returns them to us.
The question is: how might we bless
         what we have received before
                  we give it back to God?

What can we do with our lives, our labors, our possessions,
         that would be gracious and pleasing to God?
That is the question for each of us to discern each day.
It is also a question for this congregation.
God has given us a church in Summrerlin.
The people who founded this parish delivered the gift,
         but it is fundamentally God’s gift to us today.
How do we bless this Church?
How do we give it back to God?

The answer lies in a shift like the one
         that Dumm, Fromm, and Marcel prescribed.
I call it the shift from Consumer Spirituality
to Missional Spirituality.

It’s natural that we come to Church as consumers
         needing something.
We are here “to get something out of it.”
People sometimes say “I stopped going to that Church
         because I wasn’t getting anything out of it.”
I just read a message from someone
         who in another congregation.
She was resigning from the vestry
         because she wasn’t “getting what she needed
                  from the Church.”

It’s natural that we start with what we need.
But the Catch 22 is that we only get what we need
         when we stop trying to get what we need.
When we step out of the Willy Loman
         mode of acquisition and
         to leap into the dance of Being,
our neediness dissipates like the fog.
So how does a Church do that?
By engaging the Kingdom Mission.

The Anglican Communion, the Episcopal Church,
         and this Diocese all define the Mission with 5 Marks:
         Proclaiming the Gospel
         Teaching and nurturing believers
         Caring for hurting people
         Challenging injustice
         Safeguarding the environment

The Church is a 5-cylinder engine.
To run smoothly, it ha to be hitting on all 5 cylinders.
You can do all those five marks right here in Summrerlin.

All it takes is time, effort, and money.
Right now almost 25% of your budget goes
to pay debt for your buildings.
You need your buildings.
You need more buildings to do more ministry.
But to do a world changing Kingdom Mission in Summrerlin,
         to do any of the 5 Marks well,
         you have to get free of debt bondage
                  to Pharaoh’s State Bank.

At the same time, you have to connect, connect, connect
         with this community around the 5 Marks of Mission.
We need some of you in Family Promise,
others in Nevadans for the Common Good,
         others teaching Sunday School,
         others publicizing Grace in the Desert all over town
         -- not because you need to grow
but because the people out there need some gospel.

When we join hands in God’s Kingdom Mission,
         we join the dance of Being.
The need to cling to our stuff falls away.
We forget about getting our needs met.
We celebrate what God has given us

         because giving it back is so much fun.