Thursday, August 27, 2015


Whenever the bishop visits a congregation,
            we renew our baptismal vows.
It’s how we get back to the basics
            of what it means to be a Christian.
It’s how we remember that being Christian
            is based on God’s giving us life and hope;
                        but it doesn’t stop there.

Being a Christian is how we respond to God’s gift.
It isn’t just something we are. It’s something we do.
We take vows, solemn vows, vows to Almighty God.
Our spiritual health and well-being
            depend on how we live out those vows.

We are blessed this morning
            to have this Epistle lesson from St. James.
He is the clearest, strongest voice in the New Testament
            teaching us how to live the Christian life.
“You must understand this, my beloved,” he says,
            “you must understand this. . . .
            Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.
            Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

Christianity is a way of life – not just something we believe.
It’s something we do.
But what is it?

Some people look at Christianity
            in terms of what we don’t do.
They like the 10 Commandments
            all of which are negative
            --  “Thou shalt not” do this.
            -- “Thou shalt not” do that.
But the Jewish law is actually 613 commandments,
            most of which are positive.
Jews don’t just refrain from a few things.
Jews do a lot of things.
So do Christians.
What then do Christians actually do?
St. James says in today’s lesson:
            “Every generous act of giving, every pure gift,
            is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”
Christians who have received God’s gifts
            share those gifts with others.
Christians are godly.
As God is generous, Christians are generous.

God gives us life and hope and salvation
            – not because we deserve them,
            – but just because God is generous.
If we ask him, and if we will allow him,
            God will also bless us with the gift of generosity.
That gift will make our joy in Christ complete.

If we receive God’s gifts and do not share them,
            they go stale in our hearts.
They are like a seed planted that dies in the soil.
But if we are generous with what we have received,          
            the seed of joy in our hearts sprouts and grows.
It is like the mustard seed in Jesus’ parable.
It is the smallest seed when it is planted,        
            but it grows into a great tree
                        with branches that welcome all the birds.

God’s generosity  to us is like that.
If God blesses us and we just take it for granted,
            the gift brings little joy. It dies in us.
But if we stop and say “this is a gift of God,
            I must acknowledge that gift
                        by sharing it with others,”
                                    then joy abounds.
That is why the Bible says,          
            “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”
How then should we practice generosity?
It is not just generosity to our friends and families.
It’s generosity not just to our brothers and sisters by blood
            but to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
James says, Pure religion is this:
            “to care for widows and orphans in their distress
                        and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

He is using widows and orphans as examples
            of the vulnerable and needy.
In this same letter he takes the Church to task
            for disrespecting the poor.
He says,
            “It was those who were poor according to the world
                        that God chose to be rich in faith. . . .
            You . . . have dishonored the poor. . . .
            As soon as you make class distinctions
                        you are committing sin and are under condemnation. . .”

He goes on:
            “If one of the brothers or sisters is
                        in need of clothes and has not enough food . . . ,
            and one of you says, ‘I wish you well’ . . . without giving them
            these bare necessities of life,
            then what good is that? . . . .
           Faith, if good deeds do not go with it, is quite dead.”

We are not talking here about giving as a heavy duty.
We are not talking about guilt.
We are talking about changing the way we relate
            to whatever we have.
We learn to hold it lightly, enjoying it as a gift.
We learn the joy of generosity.
So I ask you to reflect on two questions today.
I ask you to reflect on them as you renew your vows.
I ask you to keep reflecting on these two questions tomorrow
            and the next day and for the rest of this year.

My first question: how generous are you with your church?
You may ask back: how generous am I supposed to be?
There are two answers: the first is quite specific.
10% of your income.
That is the standard we find in Scripture,
            and it has been affirmed by our Church teachings.

But maybe you cannot afford that.
That leads to the second answer.
This answer is not a specific rule with a number.
It is a matter of the heart.
How generous can you be?
Ask yourselves. You alone can answer.

No one can judge you for your answer.
So just be honest with yourself.
It is partly a question of your circumstances.
Do you have children to feed, medical bills to pay?
The church does not want you to ignore your duties.
But it is also a matter of the heart.

What can you give with joy – not grudgingly to ward off guilt
            – but gladly in thanksgiving for the blessings
                        God has given you?
How much do you trust God to provide for you
            when you have risked yourself
                        with generosity?
Search your hearts and do what seems right in your conscience.
Then let no one judge.

Ask yourselves these questions.
Pray over them. Then answer honestly.
If you do these things,
            I am confident you will be
                        a strong independent congregation.

My first question was: how generous are you with your church?
My second question is:
            how generous is this church with the poor?
I do not know whether each person can afford
            to give 10% of their income to the Church.
But, let God be my witness, I know that each church
            can and must give 10% of its income
                        to the poor.
Unless the church is generous,
            we cannot teach our people generosity,
                        and we betray the gospel of Christ.
The Episcopal Church and the Diocese of Nevada
            have said repeatedly that each congregation
            should give .7% of its income
                        for the Millennium Development Goals.
These goals are about relieving poverty and disease
            around the world.
Malaria is one of the main diseases we are fighting.

Malaria is prevalent in 57 of the 79 provinces in the Philippines.
It impairs individual lives while weakening the whole society
            and its economy.
But the Province of Sorsogoon this year became malaria free.
We are well on our way to making the entire Philippines
            malaria free in just 11 years.
 Episcopal Relief and Development is part of that fight.
Every Episcopal congregation should be part of that fight.

Here in Las Vegas, the root of poverty is our failure in education.
Nevada ranks last in the nation in our high school graduation rate.
Clark County has one of the worst graduation rates in Nevada.
The state’s graduation rate dropped by 10% from 2001 to 2007.
As with malaria in the Philippines, individual lives are diminished.
As with malaria, the whole society suffers
            and the economy with it.
When a child fails, everyone loses.

But Communities In Schools Nevada is changing that.
Last year, for the first time in a long time,
            the graduation rate in Las Vegas improved.
Communities in Schools supports children with
            food, clothing, medical care, and moral support.
But they don’t have any of this to give
            unless others in Las Vegas help.
That is why the Episcopal Church at this year’s convention
            made it a mission priority for our congregations
                        to partner with our schools to help all the children. 
So I ask: how generous is the church
            with the poor?

The futures of children in Las Vegas are at stake.
Brothers and sisters, our own spiritual health is also at stake.

Christians are doers of the word – not just hearers.
Christians support their churches.
Christians fight malaria.
Christians help children through school
            to give them a chance in life.

So I beg you, brothers and sisters,
            to prayerfully search your hearts.
Search your hearts earnestly

            asking what does the Lord require of you.

Monday, August 24, 2015


In today’s lesson from Ephesians
            Paul urges us to gird ourselves for spiritual battle.
He says strap on your gun belt
            but you need a different kind of gun
            because this is different kind of enemy.

We are not fighting against flesh and blood.//
That means we are not fighting against each other.
We are not fighting the people in our family.
We are not fighting our neighbors
            or the members of the other political party.
We are not fighting Iraqis or Afghans.

We are fighting against “the cosmic powers of this present darkness.”
We are fighting against “the spiritual forces of evil.”
That sounds pretty dramatic.
It sounds like Lord of the Rings stuff.

When Paul talks about spiritual warfare,
            it includes big cosmic struggles.
But spiritual warfare also happens
            in subtle every day ways.
Anyone who has read C. S. Lewis’s classic,
            The Screwtape Letters,
            knows that evil flourishes in the mundane
                        habits of everyday life.
A little malice here, an ounce of sloth there,
            and before you know it,
                        you’ve got a soul on the path to perdition.

So let’s look at spiritual warfare in ordinary daily life.
As usual, Jesus is our best example.
I stand in awe of his words and actions in today’s lesson.
He has just taught them about the Eucharist.
He has said, “Whoever eats me will live. . . . “

Well the crowd did not understand.
It sounded like cannibalism to them,
            and they were repulsed.
Up to now, the Jesus movement had been gaining momentum,
            but this was a crisis.
Jesus had offended the crowd.
He was on the verge of losing them.

I have been in that position more than once.
You know what I have usually done.
I have started back pedaling – or explaining.
“No. No,” I would have said,
            “I didn’t mean that. It’s just a metaphor.
            If that doesn’t work for you,
                        forget it about it.
            Let’s talk about something nice,
            like the shepherd knowing all his little sheep by name.”

In the face of conflict,
            I would have rushed lickety split
                        to smooth things out.
But Jesus didn’t do that.
He said, “Does that offend you.
            Well wait until you hear this.
            And he told them even more astounding things
                        about himself.
            He added “if you don’t believe it,
                        you just haven’t been blessed by God
                        with the ability to get these things.”

That’s when almost all of Jesus’ followers said,         
            “It’s been real. We’re out of here.”
When Jesus saw that he still had 12 followers left,
            He said “What are you guys doing here?
                        Don’t you want to leave too?”
But Peter said,
            “Where would we go?
            You have the words of eternal life.
            You are the Holy One of God.”

The most striking thing about this story
            isn’t Jesus’ shocking teaching.
It’s how solid Jesus was in himself,
            how ready he was to tell the truth,
            the pure unvarnished truth
            without regard to how it would play in the press.

Jesus was the human dwelling place of God
            because he was pure 100% unadulterated Jesus.
In the presence of the Pharisees, he was Jesus.
In the presence of the Sadducees, he was Jesus.
In the presence of Galilean fishermen, King Herod,
            Pontius Pilate or his own best friends, he was always Jesus.
He didn’t need anyone’s approval or permission to be Jesus.

So what’s that got to do with Christianity in general
            and spiritual warfare in particular?
Just this. God made us to be ourselves.
Theologian Karl Rahner said,      
            “Each of us is a unique irreplaceable word of God.”
That means we speak God,
            we reveal God precisely by being ourselves.
If we are not ourselves, then who will be us?

If we are not ourselves, a unique irreplaceable word of God
            will never be spoken. Never.
St. Ignatius Loyola said,
            “All things glorify God by being themselves.”
To the extent we fail to be ourselves,
            God is not glorified.

 St. Ireneaus of Lyons said,           
            “The glory of God is a human being fully alive.”
To the extent, we are not fully alive,
            God is not glorified.
 Do you see how this leads to spiritual warfare?
We rarely kill, steal, or worship idols.
But the struggle to be oneself – that’s a challenge.
 Why is it so hard to be our unique selves?
Paul says, we have enemies standing in our way.
He calls them “the cosmic powers of this present darkness . . . .
            the spiritual forces of evil.”

How do comic power and spiritual forces
            work to keep us from being ourselves?
Let’s start with all the cultural messages that tell us
            what men and women are supposed to be.
Let’s start with all the social definitions of success.
I spent the first 30 year of my life
            mad at God for making me who I am
            instead of a movie star hero.
I let Hollywood and Madison Avenue
            tell me what I was supposed to be
            instead of seeing myself through God’s eyes.
 Hollywood and Madison Avenue were the cosmic powers
            and spiritual forces – or at least their agents.
They made me ashamed and afraid to be myself.

Then there is all the negative feedback
            we get from family and even friends,
            telling us lies about who we are.
We see ourselves through their eyes,
                        not God’s eyes.
That keeps us from even knowing ourselves accurately.

 So how do we fight against the spiritual powers
            that want more than anything to prevent us
                        from being who we are?
Where do we get the grace to be ourselves,
            to live out of our true selves,
            to glorify God by being fully alive?

Paul says we must “take the shield of faith
            which will quench the arrows of the evil one.”//
Faith means trusting that God has made us
            precisely the way God wants us to be. 
Faith comes from discovering that God loves us,
            not in a pitying tolerating way,
            but God enjoys us just the way we are.

 The courage to be ourselves
            comes from knowing that the world
                        has no jurisdiction over us.
The judgments of the world don’t count.
God’s judgment counts,
            and God has judged us good.
God has declared us worthy.

God is greater than Hollywood, Madison Avenue,
            our families, and social definitions of success.
“If God is for us,
            who can be against us?” Paul asked.

The answer is: Nobody.