Saturday, July 25, 2015


I hope I will not shock you too much if I am a bit critical
            of Amos and John the Baptist.
I don’t mean to disrespect the Bible.
But apart from Jesus, God only makes
            cameo appearances in Scripture.
He shows up, says a few things, then exits the stage for several centuries.
Most of the Bible is various people holding forth
            on what they believed God thought about this or that.
The problem is these various people had so many different opinions.

Thankfully, we do not worship a book but the Risen Lord.
So whatever anyone says or does in the Bible
            we measure against the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Now Amos had some strong feelings about social justice.
He was pretty angry at the good church-going folks who,
            in his words, “trampled the poor.”
Amos said was definitely right,
            but the ferocious way he said it wasn’t very effective.
It didn’t change anything.
More importantly, his tone did not bespeak the gospel.
There was a lot of justice in it, but not much love.

John the Baptist was a passionate guy too.
Every second Sunday of Advent we hear him calling
            his congregation “a brood of vipers.”
One of our priests once called his vestry “a brood of vipers”
                        in the Advent II sermon.
It wasn’t very effective.

John the Baptist was dogmatically certain that Herod’s marriage
 to his half-brother’s ex-wife was immoral and illegal.
But both the network of family relationships and the law
            were pretty tangled up and confusing.

So what John said may or may not have been right,
            but the hostile, dogmatic spirit in which he said it
            did not bespeak the gospel.
The spirit in which we speak Is more important
than whether we are right or wrong.
One day I was in the sauna at my gym with two men
who had both been forced into early retirement.
They were ranting bitterly against those who had cut off their careers.
One of them was blaming business management wishing he had a union
            to defend his rights.
The other was blaming the union for selling him out.
They were substantively taking opposite positions.
But they didn’t’ notice it.
They thought they were agreeing
            because they were united in their bitterness.
That is a dark side of the spirit trumping the substance of what we say.

There is another side, the gospel side.
St. Paul described the gospel spirit this way to the Philippians:
“If there is . . . any incentive in love, any participation in the Spirit,
. . . . have the same mind, … the same love, being in full accord. . . .
Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility
count others better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to your own interests
but also the interests of others.
Have the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus
            who, . . .  emptied himself taking the form of a servant . . . “
Paul says again and again, being right doesn’t matter.
Love matters. “Knowledge puffs up. Love builds up.” 1 Corinthians 8: 1.

Jesus had one simple theme -- the Kingdom of God.
“Seek ye first the Kingdom of God,” he said. Matthew 6: 33.
He was not talking about going to heaven when we die.
The Kingdom of God is a spiritual state
            that guides us as  we speak and act here and now.

Paul called that spiritual state “being in Christ.”
And that meant love, humility, even sacrifice.
We enter the Kingdom, we live in Christ,
            first by laying down our pride, selfishness,
            cockiness, aggression, and self-will.
That’s what Paul meant by crucifying the ego. He said,
“I have been crucified with Christ and yet I live.
            No. Not I. It is Christ who lives in me. . . .
            I live by the faith of the Son of God who loved me
            and gave himself for me.”

To enter the Kingdom, to be in Christ, is to lay down our egos
            and live as Paul describes:
“Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility
count others better than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to your own interests
but also the interests of others.
Have the same mind . . . that was in Christ Jesus”

The Kingdom is not the way of this world.
It isn’t what we learned in school.
It certainly isn’t what we learned in our workplaces
            that operated by Darwinian completion.
The Kingdom is God’s way – not the world’s way.
Because it isn’t the world’s way,
            we don’t see it very often.
But the Kingdom does happen.
It breaks in at the most unexpected times and places.

The last place I would ever expect to see the Kingdom
            is a legislative session of the General Convention.
Our Convention isn’t designed for the Kingdom.
It’s designed to look like Congress – opposing factions
            fighting to get their way.
But last week I saw the Kingdom make a surprise appearance.

The bishops who favored gay marriage had the votes to win.
We did not need to make any concessions to the other side.
Concessions would not get us a singe vote.
Besides we did not need a single vote from them.
But we worked long and hard to revise the canon to make sure
            that dissenters would not be forced
to do anything contrary to their conscience.
After the canon, passed the minority,
who call themselves “the Communion Partners,”
 told us they would have to, as a matter of conscience,
make a public statement  criticizing and disavowing our action.
But they said it gently, courteously, assuring us of their respect
            and that they had no intention of leaving our  Church.

The Bishops responded by passing a unanimous resolution, saying:
“We . . . . wish to express our love and appreciation
for (the) Communion Partners . . . . .  We value and rely on
their commitment to the Episcopal Church . . . .
Our church needs their witness . . . .The equanimity, generosity, and graciousness with which (they) have shared their views  . . .
and remain in relationship is a model for us to follow.”

I dream of parishes in which we all treat each other respectfully,
            graciously, and compassionately.
I dream of a diocese in which parishes are eager to help one another
and support our common mission, the Kingdom Mission.
Once in awhile my dream comes true .
Whenever the Kingdom breaks into the church,
            we are all blessed
            because we have, for that moment, been in Christ.
We have emptied ourselves of our Selves and known the peace of God.

If the Kingdom of God can break in at Church
            it could happen anywhere.
If we catch a glimpse of the Kingdom here,
            we get a feel for what it’s like to live
            by God’s way instead of the world’s way.
That holy way of being can spread out into our homes,
            our workplaces and the whole of our life.

When that happens we catch a glimpse of a new and better day.
As blessed Paul, said,

            “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”