Sunday, September 20, 2015

IS GREED GOOD? -- A SARDONIC CRITIQUE OF THE REAL FAITH OF OUR TIME


Our Epistle lesson raises two basic issues:
         First, is greed a good or a bad basis for our individual lives
                  and for our society?
         Second, what is the true nature and destiny of humankind?

James takes the Christian view. He is against greed.
“Where there is envy and selfish ambition,” James says,
“there is disorder and wickedness of every kind . . . .
Those conflicts and disputes among you,
where do they come from?
Do they not come from your cravings
that are at war within you?”
This was not breaking news.
Jesus said,
“Be on your guard against all kinds of greed.” Luke 12: 15
I
n the 6th Century B.C., Lau Tzu said,
“There is no greater calamity . . . ,
         no greater curse than greed.”
Buddha said, “There is no fire like greed . . . ,
         no sickness like hunger of the heart.”
A thousand years before Jesus, the Vedic Scriptures said,
         “Greed is the root cause of all sin.”

It’s core Christianity and common wisdom
of the world religions.
Greed has been listed as one of 7 soul-killing sins
since St. Evagrius Ponticus in the 4th Century.
But that all changed in the 19th Century,
when an agnostic English philosopher
named Herbert Spencer invented Social Darwinism.  

Spencer misconstrued Darwin’s biology into a radical theory
of survival of the fittest
     meaning human nature has been defined
by a cut throat struggle for survival
and we continue to progress
through that same dog eat dog contest.

Actually, Darwin didn’t say that.
To the contrary he said that we live in groups.
We survive – or not – in groups.
So our well-being depends on how well the group functions.
Good teams win. Bad teams lose.
Darwin said survival depends on teamwork and cooperation.
He said, “The best measure of a man’s worth is his friendships.”
Today’s real biologists like Mary Beth Saffo agree.
But nobody reads them except other scientists.
The popular books are by another group called sociobiologists.
They are still unscientifically stuck in Herbert Spencer’s dogma
that we evolve, we become better,
through cutthroat competition.
Even if we don’t read their books, we are indoctrinated
         in their pseudoscientific faith
         through pop culture, though novels 
         by Ayn Rand and the t v show Survivor.

I once knew a head of the medical records department
         of a hospital who ordered her staff to watch Survivor
                  because that was how she was going
to run her department.
Kill or be kill, betray before you are betrayed,
         was her deliberate, explicit personnel policy
for a medical records department.

George Mason University economist Walter Williams,
writes in his atheist blog,
         “It’s human greed that gets
the most wonderful things done. . . .
Unfortunately,” says Williams,
“many people are na├»ve enough to believe                    compassion and concern are superior human motivations.
         So they fall prey to charlatans.”
Those would be charlatans
like Lao Tzu, Buddha, Jesus, and Charles Darwin.

Sociobiologists E. O. Wilson and Robert Wright
         claim that human nature is innately selfish and greedy.
That turns out to be just wrong as a matter of science,
         since biologists have identified
human genes and hormones
         that make decent, caring behavior natural.
But let not facts interfere with a faith that sanctions
         whatever is worst in us.
Greed, Wilson and Wright contend, is better than natural.
It is a good thing because
selfishness and greed promote progress.

As for Christian virtues, Wright actually says this –
         “Wherever brotherly love is practiced society falls apart.”//
He offers no evidence, examples, or proof
of that sweeping claim.
But when I read this statement,
so many things suddenly became clear.

At last I understood the chaos and terrorism in Syria.
It is an outbreak of brotherly love.
Northern Sudan did not commit rape, murder, and genocide
in Southern Sudan because they wanted the oil.
It was brotherly love.
Greed did not cause the wheeling and dealing
that wrecked American banks in 2007.
After deregulation,
         the bankers just ran amok with brotherly love.

Here in Nevada, I wonder.
When children are bought and sold on our streets,
         our addiction rates top the charts,
         we lead the nation in divorce
         but rank 49th in high school graduations,
                  is it the contagion of Christian spirituality
                  making society fall apart
-- or might the Bible have something to teach us?
“Where there is envy and selfish ambition,” James says,
“there is disorder and wickedness of every kind . . . .”

Maybe atheist economist Walter Williams is right.
Maybe the most wonderful things in his life
         are the results of his own greed.
But when I consider the most wonderful things in my life
--the love of my wife and children,
the support of my friends,
the consolations of prayer –
none of my most wonderful things came from greed.
They came from grace – the merciful grace of God
         mediated to me by caring, compassionate people.

How about you?
What are your most wonderful things
         and where did they come from?

A single mom in our diocese once told me how she had
tucked her daughter in bed
then had go back to kiss her goodnight one more time.
She banged her head on the bunk bed
         and her daughter ran to the kitchen to get her an ice bag.
Where does that fit in in the theory
that we are innately and naturally selfish?

If grace and kindness are so obviously the source
of the most wonderful things for us
          individually and as families,
         how is that when we think of ourselves
                  as a neighborhood, a state, or a nation,
                  avarice becomes the fount of every blessing?

Everything turns on who we believe we are
         and who we want to become.
Social Darwinist theory claims we are the selfish product
         of a ruthless power struggle,
         and that our highest aspiration is to stand,
         hands dripping with blood,
         atop a mound of corpses of the brothers and sisters
we have conquered.

The Bible says we are created in God’s image
     that the love which created the cosmos
is imprinted in our hearts.
And our destiny is to be like Jesus.

Williams, Wright, and Wilson can fight their way to the top
         if they like.
But I want to be like Jesus.
How about you?
In your heart, who do you believe you?

Who do you want to be?

Saturday, September 19, 2015

GET OVER IT



This is a rare and precious service we do today.
We restore our brother Steven to the holy order of priesthood.
It is a healing and a homecoming.
It is a setting things right,
which is the real meaning of “righteous action” in the Bible.
But what we are doing here isn’t just about Steven.
It’s about all of us and our way of being the Diocese of Nevada.
All of the clergy here will be renewing vows to day.
So I want to speak to every one, but especially to the clergy.

We have a huge mission before us,
         ushering the Kingdom of God into a broken, bleeding world.
There are refugees from Syria, mass incarceration,
         the school-to-prison pipeline, an epidemic of gun violence,
         racial animosities, Islamophobia.

It is our mission to shine the light of Christ
into that darkness of broken families, the addiction, the despair
         and cynicism eating away at the souls of our people.
As blessed Francis prayed,
         “Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
          Where there is injury, pardon;
         Where there is doubt, faith;
         Where there is despair, hope;
         Where there is darkness, light;
         And where there is sadness, joy.”
I don’t know about the world you live in.
But the world where I live needs some of that.

At one of our clergy meetings recently,
         one of our folks told us about someone who had
         checked out our Church and not come back.
The clergy person didn’t blame them.
She said sadly, “What do we have to offer?”//
Those words have been echoing in my head for weeks.
“What do we have to offer?”

We have Jesus.
We have the Savior of the world.
We have the love of God in human form.

I don’t just mean the historical Jesus.
I don’t just mean Jesus in heaven
         with his sentimental picture on a prayer card.
I mean the living breathing body of Christ,
         the fellowship of faith
         that lifts up the fallen,
         forgives the guilty,
         and tells the shamed what they are truly worth.
They are worth the blood of Jesus, shed to pay their price.
I mean the Church --  the bodily, fleshly, human Church,
-- the Body of Christ who lives and breathes today
         to heal the broken hearts
         of the very people the historic Jesus died to save.
We have something to offer alright.

When we forget what we have to offer,
         forget what we are here to do,
         we begin fretting, fussing, and fighting
         over getting our way,
                  as if we were the secular world.
But we are not the secular world.
We are -- God as my witness -- the Body of Christ.

Friends, we’ve got a life-and-death mission.
But there is one and only one way we can carry it out
-- together.
Being the Body of Christ requires us to lay down
         our own agendas to serve together.

Sometimes we fail at that mission.
We fail when Nevada leads the nation
in women killed in domestic violence
when our high school graduation rate is 47th in the nation;
when our suicide rate is double the national average.

We fail in our mission most often
because we are stuck in old conflicts.
I once served a Church that, decades before I got there,
         had a fight over whether to buy an organ.

During my 14-year tenure, whatever issue came up,
         the congregation would divide up right along
the old party lines of pro-organ versus anti-organ.
The last I heard, some of them were still divided over
whether or not they should have bought     
that little electro-pneumatic organ back in the early 80s.
They are not unusual. They are the norm.

In Nevada as much as anywhere, we cling to our old conflicts.
So with whatever authority may be vested in me
         by apostolic succession running from
         St. John the Evangelist to Theodore of Tarsus
to Wes Frensdorff,
         as their voice today, I say unto you:
For the love of God, get over it!
                  We’ve got real work to do.

To do this work that God has given us to do,
         we need leadership.
We need lay leadership and, yes, we need clergy leadership.

These two kinds of leadership do not conflict.
They do not compete.
They support each other and grow each other.
So clergy, in the name of God, dare to lead.

But lead the right way.
I’m just going to say one thing  about the right way.
No matter how good a priest is,
         somebody is going to hate that priest.
No matter how bad a priest is,
         somebody is going to love them.

 Your job is to know it isn’t about you.
In 1st Corinthians 3, they had divided up over
         who liked which apostle.
Paul called that division a work of the flesh.
He said the same thing in Galatians 5.

The power of sin divides God’s people
         over their liking or disliking clergy     
as they might like or dislike political candidates.
It discredits the Church in the eyes of the world
         and drives from our midst the people
         who so desperately need the Peace of God.
We cannot – absolutely cannot –
be an Instrument of God’s peace
while we are fighting with each other.

 So whether somebody is for you or against you
         doesn’t mean squat.
Don’t get distracted by it.
Your job is to knit the people to each other
regardless of whether they are for you or against you.

Your job is to bring people together,
         not just at the altar but over coffee,
         and in the various ministries of the laity
                  both inside and outside the church.
The measure of your success
isn’t what the people say about you.
it’s how they feel about each other.

Christianity liberates people from the bondage to sin
and the prison of self by inviting them into relationship.
It’s relationship in Christ with flesh and blood people
         that truly sets us free.
 Look at soldiers who take
the most heroic risks in battle.
When interviewed, it turns out that the soldiers
         who put their lives at extraordinary risk
         didn’t do it for love of country, flag,
or a political principle.

They did it for their fellow soldiers,
         real people whom they had come to love.
Your job is to knit the people into that kind of network,
         so that they love each other enough
         to forget their own agendas, even their own lives.
When that happens, this thing we do at the altar on Sunday
         becomes real.

Let us pray,
         “Almighty God, you gave your servant Theodore of Tarsus
         grace and wisdom to establish unity
where there had been division,
order where there had been chaos:
Create in your Church, by the operation of your Holy Spirit, such godly union and concord that it may proclaim
both by word and example,
the gospel of the Prince of Peace,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God forever and ever. Amen.