Sunday, August 21, 2016


After 60 years of captivity in Babylon,
the Jews returned to their hometown, Jerusalem,
to find the wall of their city torn down.
Back then, the city wall was the national security system.
To live in a city without a wall was like
living in a bad neighborhood in a house with no door.

But security also meant having God on your side.
To keep God on your side, you needed a Temple for God to live in.
No Temple, no God was how they saw it.
But the Temple had been destroyed. It was rubble.
If they didn’t have a Temple,
         they didn’t think they could get by
         agriculturally, economically, or militarily.

 So they set out to make Jerusalem great again
         starting with building the Wall and the Temple.
But it wasn’t going well.
The capital fund drive flopped.
People were squabbling with each other,
         blaming and blame shifting, left and right.

They felt poor -- and the  poorest among them,
         the am ha-aretz, the people of the land,
         were a burden on the better off folks.
The better off folks weren’t mean or stingy or greedy.
They were just afraid.
They were financially, militarily, and spiritually afraid.
They didn’t have enough army, enough police, enough wall,
         enough Temple, enough anything.
Scarcity and fear were the hallmarks of the day.
So they hunkered down. They pinched their pennies.
They launched a campaign to deport    
         immigrants from their neighbor country, Moab.
They adopted a fortress mentality -- suspicious of outsiders
and even of each other.

Then along came Isaiah with this surprising message from God.
“If you want to restore your City,
you’re going about it all wrong.
you gotta do it different.
Here’s how:

If you remove the yoke from among you . . .
if you offer your food to the hungry,
         and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light will rise in the darkness
         and your gloom be like noonday.”
The word of the Lord.

They added up the construction costs
         and saw there just wasn’t enough money
                  in the building fund.
So God said, “Not a problem. Here’s what you do.
          Take some of that money in your building fund
                  and put it in outreach.
You don’t have enough construction workers on the wall project?
Send a few of them over to tutor the children of the poor folk.”
 “Just do it,” God said, “and watch what happens.
“Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt,
         you shall raise up the foundation of many generations,
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
         the restorer of streets to live in.”
The word of the Lord.

God is saying something completely backwards:
When you don’t have enough,
         take some of what you’ve got and give it away.

It doesn’t make sense, does it?
That’s because God doesn’t play by our rules.
God also said through this same prophet,

         “'My thoughts are not your thoughts;
         nor are your ways my ways,' says the Lord.
'For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
         so are my thoughts higher than your thoughts
         and my ways higher than your ways.'”
 God says that at the deep down core of things,
         when you get to realest possible level of real,
         the take it to the bank truth of life,
         everything we think we know is wrong.

It’s wrong because everything we think we know
         is based on fear and scarcity.
Our basic assumption is that life is a zero sum game.
There isn’t enough of it to go around.
But God says “not so.”
Jesus said,
“I came that you might have life and that you might have it abundantly.”
Life isn’t something to be seized by fang and claw.
It’s a gift to be received in faith,
         and the test of faith is generosity,
-- the courage, when we don’t have enough,
                  to give away some of what we have.

Crazy? Of course it’s crazy.
Some spiritual traditions call it “crazy wisdom.”
I know churches that live like that.
I was once at the budget meeting of our congregation in Pahrump.
They adopted a deficit budget without blinking an eye.

Then they began expressing their concerns, their real worries.
They had heard some other congregations were struggling
         and they wanted to help.
So they added a line item to support another parish.

They got an unexpected gift and they sent it to a local ministry.
We sent them their assessment rebate.
They gave it to St. Jude’s Ranch For Children.
You just can’t help some people.

I’m describing faith, a leap into the dark.
It is a leap into God’s ways – the ones that are higher than our ways
         -- God’s ways of faith, hope, and love.
It’s like exhaling in the faith that the air will still be there
         so we can inhale again.
It’s crazy like that.
But you know that crazy little congregation somehow
manages to pay the light bill,
         and last year they bought additional land.
How do they do it?
They don’t. It’s a God thing.

I like to see a congregation walk by faith
         because that’s the only way
into the Kingdom Mission;
and the Kingdom Mission is what makes life count.

But the best thing about it is a faithful congregation
teaches its people how to live faithfully.
It doesn’t just talk about faith and trust.
It shows us what they look like.
Such congregations teach the art of breathing.
You have to breathe out all the way so you can breathe back in.
One basic thing I’ve noticed about living churches and living people:
They breathe – in and out.
The heart of being a Christian is living
by God’s ways instead of human ways
-- by faith instead of fear.

When we are baptized,
         we take our stand on this earth as believers.
Believing is our trust.
We don’t just say, “I believe that God exists.”
That’s just an opinion.
An opinion and 2 bucks will get you a tall coffee at Starbucks.
We say “I believe in God the Father. I believe in Jesus.
         I believe in the Holy Spirit.”
I jump out of this burning building of mortal life
         because I trust God to be holding the net.

I know a young man in another of our churches,
         a financially prosperous young man,
         who carefully calculates the Church’s value to him
-- it’s the difference between his kids’ tuition at Camp Galilee
and the tuition at a comparable private camp.
He subtracts the Galilee tuition from what he’d have had to pay
         a private camp,
then he gives the difference to the Church at the end of the year
         after he makes sure all his other obligations are paid first.

And God says,
         “My thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor your ways my ways.
         My measures of worth are not your measures of worth,
nor your calculations my calculations.”

Brothers and sisters, this isn’t about a bill we owe to God.
It isn’t about a moral debt we owe the Church or the Church
         owes the community.
It’s about a chance to breathe.
It’s about an opportunity to live in God’s ways of faith
         instead of our human ways of fear.

God’s ways are lighter, freer, happier, in every way – better.