Tuesday, August 9, 2016


Today’s lessons are tricky for a preacher
            so I’m going to need your understanding.
In Isaiah, God starts out looking at what I call “vertical religion.”
That’s what we do to cozy up to God and get God on our side.
He’s talking here about the way they did it back then,
            with sacrifices and such.
But it’s not any different from our rituals
            if they are done for the same reason.
It’s not any different from going to a box Church,
            holding your hands up over your head
            with a blissed out smile on your face
            swaying with the music and getting high on Jesus.
Whatever the style,
            it’s the vertical thing – us and God.

But in this lesson God ain’t buying it.
God says he hates that stuff.
I gather it’s because he knows it isn’t really about him.
It’s about us trying to get the power on our side for our purposes
or getting ourselves into a zone so we can feel good.
It is all about us and it’s worse because it’s pretending to be about God.

God says he hates that stuff.
He says there’s something else we ought to be doing.
I call that something else horizontal religion.
It’s looking out for each other,
and the more somebody needs looking out for
            the more we look out for them.

“Seek justice. Rescue the oppressed.
            Defend the orphan. Plead for the widow.”
That’s what God says in Isaiah.
Whoever is in need – the poor, the minority, the alien, the disabled –
            real religion is looking out for them.

Now here’s my problem.
In our time and place, vertical religion is what we are expected to preach about.
But you see my problem. God says he hates that stuff.
And what I call “horizontal religion” – looking  out for the outcast –
            most of us call that “politics.”
And todays lesson about looking out for the downtrodden
            isn’t a fluke.
It’s in the law. Exodus and Deuteronomy are full of it.
It’s all through the prophets –  Amos, Hosea, Jeremiah, Mica, all of ‘em.

And the prophets aren’t preaching to a food bank.
They’re talking to the King – “i.e., the government.”
Well nowadays us preacher’s aren’t supposed to talk about that.
But that’s what God says we’re about.

Now in our mostly godless time and place,
            we do cherish our political convictions dearly.
We got ‘em from our momma and daddy.
It’s what we have in common with our friends.
Our politics are at the core of who we are,
            and we don’t want the church messing
with anything that important.

I get that. I respect that.
But you need to look at my situation.
I was taught how to preach the Bible.
I was ordained to preach the Bible.
Three times I stood up in front of God and big crowds in church
            and signed on the dotted line swearing to preach the Bible.
I was hired to preach the Bible.
This diocese sends me to preach the Bible.
And friends this is the only Bible I’ve got.
This is what it says.

If you got a problem with that, you’ll have to take it to my Supervisor.
I’m just the messenger.
You want me to say something else, get me another Bible.

Isaiah gives us our Old Testament lesson.
He was Jesus’ favorite prophet,
and our Gospel lesson flows right out of Isaiah’s message.
Jesus says that storing up treasure for ourselves on earth  
            is a waste.
That could be accumulating wealth, or fame, or good reputation,
            or learning a bunch of stuff to make us smarter than the next guy.
It’s anything we do to pad our egos with something
that insures we will be ok.
Jesus said it won’t work because the stuff of earth is unreliable.
Easy come, easy go.
Or hard come, easy go.
A lot of us learned that in 08.

Instead he says to store up treasure in heaven by giving alms
            because where our treasure is our hearts will be also.
He really does mean give money to poor people,     
            but not just money – it’s time, attention, caring.
It comes down to giving our hearts away.
It’s more of that horizontal religion.

This is a story that didn’t make it into the Bible.
I’m not saying it really happened.
It’s just a story to make a point.

After the Ascension, St. Thomas decided he liked city life
            so he was hanging around Jerusalem.
One day in the street the Risen Lord came up to him and said,
            “Thomas I want you to take the gospel to India.”
But Thomas said, “Are you crazy? Those people look funny.
            They talk funny. They aren’t even Jewish. They got strange gods.
            Just no!”
Jesus shook his head and walked off.

The next week, Thomas was bopping down the same street,
            when he looked across the street and there was Jesus
            talking business with a slave trader.
After awhile, the slave trader handed Jesus a wad of bills,
            which Jesus pocketed and walked away.
The slave trader came over to Thomas and said,      
            “That man said you belong to him. Is that right?”
Well Thomas allowed as how he guessed he did.
The slave trader said,
            “Well he just sold you to me so let’ go to my ship.”

The slave trader took Thomas to India and sold him to a raja.
It turns out Thomas was an architect
            And the raja wanted him to build him the most magnificent palace
                        In India.
Thomas said, “I can do that but we need construction costs.”
So the raja gave Thomas a bundle of money which Thomas
            promptly gave to the poor.
A few months later, the raja asked Thomas how construction was going.
Thomas said it wasn’t going because they were out of money.
So the raja gave Thomas a bunch more money
            which Thomas immediately gave away.

This happened two or three more times,
until finally the raja said,
            “Thomas I want to see the palace – finished or unfinished
      I want to see it now.”
Thomas said, “Well Raja it’s like this.
            I looked all over and there was no place on earth
                        worthy of your palace.
            So I gave the money to the poor
                        in order to build you a palace in heaven.”
The Raja nodded and said. “Ok, then, thank you.”

Here’s a little theology to make sense of that story.
St. Augustine was hands down the greatest Christian teacher of all time.
He wrote a lot of stuff including a commentary on the New Testament,
            in which he elaborated on the meaning of this phrase – “in heaven.”
It’s in our lesson today about the place to store your treasure.
It’s also in the Lord’s Payer – “Our Father in heaven.”

So Augustine asked “Where is this heaven place?”
In his day, “heaven” usually meant the sky.
Was Our Father a sky god like Jupiter?
Augustine didn’t think so.

If heaven is in the sky, he said,   
            then birds would be holier than people.
And people who lived in high elevations
            would be holier than people in valleys.
Now that may preach here in Tonopah – but it won’t fly in Boulder City.

So Augustine thought it through
and our greatest Christian teacher concluded
            that heaven is to be found in each other.
That’s why giving alms stores up treasure in heaven.

And that brings us to our Baptismal Covenant.
It defines the Christian way of life.
It consist of “seeking and serving Christ”
-- but where? Where do we seek him?
 Where do we serve him?
You know the answer: “in all persons.”

It turns out that old time religion isn’t getting high on Jesus
            or cozying up to God.

It’s looking out for one another.