Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Priest Sermon 3

Ordination.Priesthood.09.St. Peter’s
Ordination is one of our sacraments.
Sacrament means God happening inside matter.
God happens in the bread and wine of Communion.
God happens in the water of Baptism.

It isn’t magic.
It isn’t that God is suddenly in a place where God wasn’t
until we conjure God up with the right words.
It’s that God manifests, becomes more palpable.
In the sacrament we notice God happening.
We pay attention.

In each sacrament, we see God happening in a different way.
So what are we looking for in ordination?
We are looking for something in Victoria
that is already there, has always been there,
but now it is going to manifest.

It is going to become more apparent
and we are going to pay attention
because it’s something we need to see.
But what is it?
Is she going to become more prayerful, more pious,
more serene, more wise?

It is important to know what we are looking for in a priest.
The people who look for too much,
are eventually disappointed,
and wind up expecting too little.
Some of us look for too little; so we miss a revelation.
For some odd reason I do not understand,
the people who start out looking for too little,
wind up expecting too much.

Some of us have gotten mixed up about Total Ministry.
It doesn’t mean expecting less of a priest.
It means expecting more of the laity and the deacons.

So what shall we expect of Victoria?
I have every confidence that she will continue
to grow in all the Christian virtues
– but she will not be suddenly perfected in them
when she changes her stole;
nor will she grow in the Christian virtues
any faster than the rest of the congregation;
nor is there any reason to believe she will be
more spiritual, more moral, or less squierrely
than the rest of us.

In all of these things,
she remains a Christian among Christians
muddling along as we all do.

The special grace we seen in the priest is her dedication
to a specific way of serving God and God’s people.
The best way I know to describe this ministry
is a certain metaphor.
I have been cautioned it’s a risky metaphor to use
in ordaining a woman,
but given Victoria’s successful career
in a field that used to be an old boy’s club,
I think I can risk it.

A priest, any priest, man or woman, is a homemaker.
In fact, most of the principles for priestly leadership
can be found in Better Homes and Gardens.
God is our true home.
God happens in the priest as one who makes a home for others.

Homer’s Odyssey still speaks to our hearts thousands of years
after he first sang it because it is the story of a man
whose single minded purpose is to go home.
Home is where we belong.
It may not be the town in which we grew up.
I never belonged in the town where I grew up.
I don’t know that I have ever been home.
I remember that line from Rocky Mountain High
about a man
“coming home to a place he’d never been before.”
I’m still hoping for that.

Our hearts need a place we know we will be accepted.
Remember Robert Frost said,
“Home is the place that when you have to go there,
They have to take you in.”
There’s such security and such strength
in knowing you have somewhere to go.

Do you remember in the movie An Officer And A Gentleman,
when the drill sergeant finally breaks through
Officer Candidate Zach Mayo’s tough exterior.
He is pushing Zach to drop out when Zach admits his desperation,
“I’ve got no place to go.”
He had to make it in the Navy because he needed it to be his home.
We need a place where we know they’ll take us in.

And we need a place to rest.
All the motion and commotion of our daily activity
drain our energy, our joy, our taste for life.
We need to find our still point, like a rolling stone
finding its angle of repose.

St. Augustine prayed,
“O Lord . . . our hearts are restless until we rest in thee.”
Our spiritual home is resting in God.
The church is our sacrament of homecoming.
The church is where we meet God as home.

The special ministry of the priest is to lead, guide,
encourage the people who are the church
to be a home for each other,
and to be a home to all the spiritually homeless folks
outside our walls.

Some of you may know the song by Chantal Kreviazuk,
Feels Like Home To Me.
You may have heard it performed by Bonnie Rait
or Linda Ronstadt.
It’s a love song using this image of home.
My favorite part goes:
A window breaks down the street
And a siren wails over my head.
But I’m alright cause you are here with me
And I can almost see through the dark there’s a light.

If you knew how lonely life has been
If you knew how I’ve wanted someone . . . .
To change my life the way you’ve done.
Feels like home to me . . . .
Feels like I’m on my way back to where I come from.

The church is a spiritual home, and it is an entry way
to our ultimate home in God.
We invite people here because they need
to be here.
They need someone with them
when the window breaks and the siren wails.
We all need that.

Where I grew up, the word “hospitality” connoted trivial,
superficial manners toward guests.
But in the Ancient World of the Bible,
hospitality was the highest moral obligation.

Benedictine monks made the practice of hospitality
the centerpiece of their spiritual discipline.
Just so, the priest has the special ministry of hospitality,
of shaping the church into a home for the spiritually homeless.
This is a hard ministry.

It goes against the grain,
against the way of our inhospitable world;
Churches are not automatically hospitable.
To practice radical hospitality takes courage, patience,
faith, compassion – a whole complex of virtues.

Everything in the church – it’s architecture, its music,
the classes it does or does not teach,
and who it allows to teach them –
the way we include children on worship – or not
-- everything the church does is an opportunity
to let someone in or keep someone out.

Churches are not automatically safe places to be yourself.
The cruelest acts of exclusion I have ever seen have been in churches.
But the most unexpected, wonderful and downright miraculous
acts of inclusion I have ever seen have been in churches.
Sometimes we get it right.

The priest’s ministry is to make this place a home –
a home for those who have been here all their lives,
and a home for the stranger at the door.

There is homesickness in our nation, especially in our state.
People are dying of it – dying spiritually and even physically.
They need someone to keep the porch light on
and the hearth warm.

Let this church be a home to wayfarers and strangers
for we are all wayfarers and in our inmost hearts,
we are forever strangers in the world.
Let this church be a home.
And it will be richly blessed.
For in welcoming each other,
we will build ourselves a home in God.

Faith and Fear in Ambiguous Situations

Proper 8a.09.Holy Trinity/St. Alban’s
The first Christian theologians taught
that each passage from Scripture
has several levels of meaning.
You can read the lesson
first, as a literal historical account;
second, as a story with a moral point
telling us something about how to be human;
third, as a story with a spiritual point
telling us something about God;
and finally, as a story with an ecclesiastical point,
telling us how to be the Church.

I believe the key is to start with the story,
then get on to the other meanings.
It’s not good to put the cart before the horse.
Here’s what I mean.
Sometimes, we think we are reading the literal historical story,
but we aren’t.
We start with a theological assumption,
and twist the story in our minds to make it fit.

If we start with the theology and make the facts fit,
we may miss the actual facts and get the theology wrong.

Take today’s lesson.
It seems to be the story of resuscitating a dead child.
But is it really?
When Jesus raised the dead son of the Widow of Nain,
the young man was decidedly dead.
It says so right there on the face of the story. Luke 7: 12.
“A dead man was being carried out ….”
V. 15 “and the dead man sat up . . . .”
That’s resuscitation.

When Jesus raised Lazarus, Lazarus was definitely dead.
John chapter 11 verse 14, “Jesus put it plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead.’”

But in this story, Mark never says Jairus’ daughter is dead.
Jesus explicitly states, “She is not dead, but sleeping.”
We hear from some messengers,
“Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the teacher further?”

But Jesus said to Jairus, “Do not fear. Only believe.”
And he went to where the little girl was.
When he got there, he found a big commotion of grief.
But Jesus told them to cut it out.
“The girl is not dead, just sleeping,” he said.
But they wouldn’t hear it.
They had death stuck in their hearts.
So they went on wailing.

Jesus shook his head – “What can you do with such people?”
– went inside and woke the kid up.
Had she been dead, in a coma, or suffering from narcolepsy?
The folks outside the house said she was dead.
Jesus said she was not dead, but sleeping.
Who are we to believe?

When there’s a difference of opinion in Scripture,
and Jesus has taken a side,
I usually like to go with Jesus.
So let’s assume this child was not dead,
but she was pretty bad off and she was unconscious.
That’s enough to put any parent in a panic.
Sometimes we assume the worst, or just fear the worst.
That’s how it was for Jairus and his family.
They were in an ambiguous situation and they were afraid.
But Jesus said, “Do not fear. Only believe.”

That is a fair summary of Jesus’ teaching
about the proper attitude to take in life.
The commandment he gave most often was just this,
“Do not fear.”

In today’s lesson, he adds, “Only believe.”
Ok, but believe what.
We have gotten the word believe tied up with opinions.
I believe that the world is round, that 2 + 2 = 4;
and that parallel lines do not intersect.
But Jesus is using the word differently.
It’s not “I believe that.” It’s “I believe in.”
He means trust.
“Do not fear. Trust.”

We have come to the moral point of our story.
How shall we live? How do we dare to live a human life?
Answer: Do not fear. Only believe. Just trust.
There are a lot of ambiguous situations in life
– like this one where we don’t know if the girl is dead or alive.
There are a lot situations where we don’t know
how it’s going to turn out.
The future is unknown. We can’t see over the hill.

Every time we drive over a hill we can’t see past,
we have to trust there is a road on the other side.
I suppose we could stop, get out, and walk slowly up to the top
of each rise in the road and take a look.
But that would be a pretty tedious drive.

Some folks get through life just that fearfully
and their lives are just that tedious.
But that isn’t the Christian life.
We live more boldly.
We live boldly because we trust God.
That’s the moral point.

But the moral point of our story depends on the spiritual point.
How can we trust God if we can’t see God?
Answer: We have seen Jesus.
Jesus shows us God and he shows us a God
we can believe in, a God we can trust

That doesn’t mean nothing bad will ever happen.
It doesn’t mean we won’t ever get hurt.
It’s during the bad times we need those words of Jesus,
“Do not fear. Only believe.”

What do we believe?
We believe in Jesus. We trust in Jesus.
We trust him because he has been to the cross too.
Whenever our life comes to a suffering like the cross,
he goes there with us.

And he doesn’t just go there so we will have company.
He goes into the tomb with us so he can raise us up.
He raises us up from the tomb of despair day after day.
And he will raise us up from our last tomb on the last day.

That’s the spiritual point of our lesson.
This lesson shows us who God is.
It shows us a God who doesn’t panic, or fall into despair
or lose himself in grief.
He walks into the room of our grief,
calmly and kindly, to say, “Rise up.”

And this brings us to the ecclesiastical point.
We know who God is because we have seen Jesus.
But, in times of stress, we tend to forget.
We tend to panic.
That’s when we need the Church to remember for us.

It’s very hard to walk calmly to the exit
when you are in a crowd that is stampeding.
We need a faith community, a community that walks calmly.
We need that kind of community
because our individual faith is apt to falter.
But the Church remembers.
The Church’s remembrance is called anamnesis.
That’s part of the Eucharistic Prayer.

Each and every time we celebrate the Eucharist,
we tell the old, old story.
We remember who God is
and what he has done for us.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” Jesus said.
He didn’t say that because he had an ego need
to leave a legacy or be a legend.
He wanted us to remember him so that we would not fear,
but only believe.

So remember Jesus, brothers and sisters.
When life is hard, and death is at our door,
when despair is at our side and hope seems lost,
remember Jesus, do not fear, only believe.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Exile Is Over

Proper 3a.08.Epiphany
Our first lesson is about the Exile.
Two prophets, Hananiah and Jeremiah,
agree the exile is about over.
Later, they get into a spat about
just how soon it will be over.

Actually they were both wrong about the dates
– but they were both right about the main point:
the Exile was coming to an end,
and it was time for the home folks in Jerusalem
to turn on the porch light and put out the welcome mat.

The context: In 598 BCE,
Babylon conquered Judah and took
the entire leadership class of Judah,
away from their homeland into captivity.

The prophet Ezekiel gave that historical fact
a spiritual interpretation.
He had a vision in which he saw the Spirit of God
rise up from the Jerusalem Temple like a mist,
float away from Judah, and come to rest over Babylon.

It was not just the people of Judah who were gone.
God’s Spirit was gone too. It left with the exiles.
And we can see evidence of that.
During the Babylonian exile,
Judaism grew up.
It went from a tribal religion sacrificing goats
to win the favor of a war God,
to a world religion of deep spirituality
and profound social ethics.

Those things were already part of Judaism,
but during the Exile,
they took root like Sequoia seedlings
after a forest fire.

The Jews grew in exile.
They learned from another culture,
learned from another religion.
But that kind of growth can only go so far.
Eventually, it was time to go home.

Through Jeremiah, God said,
“I will fulfill my promise . . . and bring you back
to this place . . . .
I will bring you back from the place
from which I sent you into exile.”
And that’s what happened.
After 48 years, God and God’s people came home.

The Exile story may be like some of our lives.
We may have left home spiritually,
wandered in some Babylon or another,
then come back with new wisdom and insight.

In fact, the Exile really is the story
of Christianity in the past half century.
Just as Judaism had become complacent and lackadaisical
before the Exile,
Christianity in the 1950’s degenerated into
an all too respectable Churchiainity
- Beaver Cleaver’s family at prayer.

Some Christians had authentic faith back then,
but there was also a lot of cultural religion
that didn’t go very deep.
So people with a genuine spiritual hunger, in the coming decades,
often looked outside the Church
to find the Spirit.

Sociologist Robert Wuthnow says, in that time,
the basic metaphor changed from the “church home”
to the “spiritual journey.”
In 1948, Thomas Merton’s autobiography smugly described
how he had found all the spiritual answers
in a cloistered Catholic monastery.
But in 1968, Merton was tramping around
India, Thailand, and Burma studying Buddhism.

Countless honest sincere God-seekers
left the Church to look for God.
Theologians from Dietrich Bonheoffer to Harvey Cox
said religion had lost its flavor.

Just like in Ezekiel’s vision,
the Spirit had left the Temple,
and some of our best people went with it.
They have been wandering in Exile
from one Babylon to another for a long time now.
But I am here to say, the Exile is coming to an end.

My family is an example.
My daughters both had their Wiccan phases.
As teenagers they told me that they were now Wiccans,
so I went to Barnes & Noble and bought $250 worth
of books on witchcraft, and said,
“If you are going to be witches,
be good ones.”

I do not know what cut short their neo-pagan paths.
It may have been my reading list was too long,
or it may have been their encounters with poison ivy
in the woods where the wiccans did whatever it is they do.
All I know is:
they and their families are back in the Episcopal Church
- one at an edgy, drum-beating creative parish;
- the other at a historic traditionalist parish.

Is that a predictable change for their stage of life? Maybe.
But other odd things are happening.
Ann Rice, queen of the vampire novelists,
is now writing the life of Jesus.
Her books are, by the way, excellent.

Stranger still, pierced, tattooed, urban 20 year olds,
who would have been Goths or perhaps Grunge in the 90’s,
are now showing up for Rite One Morning Prayer.
People who left the Church to become Tibetan Buddhists
are hearing His Holiness the Dalai Lama say
“Go home. You need Jesus”
- and they are doing it.

Others who left the Church to practice Zen
are hearing Tich Nhat Hahn say,
“Go home. You need Jesus”
- and they are doing it.

The returning exiles have learned much on their journeys.
They aren’t rejecting what they have learned.
They call themselves “Christian pluralists.”
They still chant mantras, do yoga asanas,
and work with transpersonal psychologists
and Jungian analysts.
But the Christian tradition offers something unique
their souls need if they going to
to become balanced and whole.

We have the mystical soul shaping rituals
of our ancient archetypal liturgy.
“Praying shapes believing,” we say.
And it is true.
This worship we do doesn’t always churn our passions,
but it forms our will at a deep level.

We have private spiritual practices
honed and refined over the centuries:
centering prayer, lectio divina, the rosary,
contemplation of icons, the Ignatian exercises,
and the Jesus prayer -- just to name a few.

Our blend of corporate prayer and sacraments
with individual spiritual practices
balances our need for deep community
with our need to meet God in our own unique way.

And we have our own form of karma yoga.
We call it the corporal and spiritual works of mercy.
We serve the suffering and advocate for justice
not as a politically correct position
but as a spiritual practice.

Through the corporal and spiritual acts of mercy,
we are transformed ourselves,
and the world around us shares in our transformation.

That is why the Exiles are coming home.
But the question is: will there be a home waiting for them?
It cannot be the old “church home” of the 1950s.
It would not have a clue what to do with these folks.

It must be a 21st Century Temple
open to the new pluralism,
a house of prayer for all people,
a place that delights in the diversity
of human beings and their sometimes odd ideas,
a place where thoughts are free
and hearts can sing new songs.

It must be a place eager to welcome all manner of new people
to join the family, living and growing here with us,
and equally willing to be an oasis, a way station,
for pilgrims, seekers, and sojourners
who are just passing through,
but need a place to rest and drink from Jacob’s well.

So the question today, Sisters and Brothers, is to you.
Will you, the good people of Epiphany,
be that place of spiritual transformation
for the Exiles in Henderson?

Will you really proclaim out loud
by word and example
the good news of God in Christ?
Not will you go through the motions --
but will you celebrate the sacraments
in a way that gives hope to those
who so desperately need it?
Will you serve the suffering and stand up
for the despised and the outcasts?

I believe you will.
And the Diocese of Nevada believes you will.
This Diocese believes in you.
Even more, we believe in what God
is doing here among you.

We believe you will be a house of prayer for all people,
that you will embrace the exiles
not with cheap grace
but a strenuous life of soul shaping
Christian spiritual practice.

That is why the Standing Committee has promised
to underwrite the cost of doubling your worship space
in the very near future.

Do you know what this means?
We are committing thousands of dollars
to your ministry here at Epiphany
because the Exile is over.

The Exile is over. Thanks be to God.
Let us roll up our sleeves for the mission
which will be our joy and God’s glory.
Alleluia. Amen.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Small Rant Against Pop Spirituality

Proper 6b.Trinity.Reno
Virtually everything Jesus said or did
was meant to show that the Kingdom is as near to us as our next breath, and that’s good news.
But he never said exactly what the Kingdom is.
He couldn’t say what it is because it’s a mystery
– something beyond the reach of our mind.
So Jesus would say the Kingdom is like this in one way,
and it is like that in another way.

When we piece together all of Jesus’ teachings,
we can tell a few things about the Kingdom.
First, it isn’t where we go when we die.
I’m not saying we don’t go to heaven.
I’m just saying life after death isn’t what Jesus means
by the Kingdom.
It’s not about the afterlife.

The Kingdom is a radically different social, economic, and political order.
But it is also a different orientation of the heart.
And the two go together.
For Jesus, social justice and spirituality go hand in hand.
You can’t do one without the other.

Today I want to focus on the spirituality side of it.
The Kingdom is a spiritual state in which we don’t obey God
out of fear of punishment or hope for reward.
We don’t obey God because we want to keep our conscience clean,
feel good about ourselves, and get a good night’s sleep.

Being in the Kingdom means we do the will of God spontaneously.
Our wills are aligned with the will of God.
Our heart beat is synchronized with the heart of God.
And we find ourselves in harmony with the universe.

But how do we get there?
There are so many products for sale in the spiritual supermarket,
all promising to put us in the groove.
40 days of purpose; 7 habits of highly effective people;
this meditation; that prayer retreat; primal scream,
baptism in the Spirit, born again experience.
There are more spiritual concoctions on the market
than pharmaceuticals on the shelves.

Spirituality is big business.
Not many people are religious anymore,
but everyone is spiritual.
It was all foretold by the 1960’s rock and roll prophet Joe South.
Some of you may remember his lyrics,
“People walkin’ up to ya
Shoutin’ glory hallelujah
While they try to sock it to ya
In the name of the Lord.

They’ll teach your how to meditate
Read your horoscope and cheat your fate . . .” and so on.

All these spiritual techniques have their good points.
A lot of them can be helpful.
But there’s also something about them a little off kilter.
It’s a certain self-centeredness.
Do you know any of those really spiritual people
who are always so serene
and they smile at you in that patronizing way,
you just want to hit them?

There is something pretentious about a lot of spirituality.
Whether it’s ancient Eastern spirituality or New Age spirituality
or Christian spirituality, it doesn’t quite ring true
when we are too focused on it,
when it gets to be about our experience
or how enlightened or integrated or whatever it is
we have become.
So look what Jesus says in today’s lesson.
“The Kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed on the ground
and would sleep and rise night and day,
and the seed would sprout and grow.
He does not know how.”

I love that last line, “He does not know how.”
The Kingdom of God is as if someone scattered seed on the ground.
He didn’t even plant it. He didn’t plow first. He didn’t fertilize.

He just scattered some seed -- then forgot it
and went about his business.
One day, he looked back and darned if it hadn’t
sprouted up into a crop. Go figure.
He did not know how.

When I was young I used to want a spiritual technology.
Eat this. Don’t eat that. Recite this prayer.
Stand on your head. Breathe in one nostril and out the other.
Do it for three months and you’ll be in some sort of state.
And you can do that, but it isn’t the Kingdom.
It’s your own personal accomplishment.
You can brag about it to your friends.
That’s how you know it isn’t the Kingdom.

Now I’m not against spiritual practices and disciplines.
Some of them are quite helpful. I still do a few myself.
They lower the blood pressure
and make me more patient with priests.

But Jesus is talking about something God does in our lives.
We can’t manufacture it.
We can’t conjure it up with the right techniques.

All we can do is scatter the seed.
Now I don’t honestly know what that means.
It could mean read a little Bible, say a few prayers,
do an act of kindness once in awhile.
From what I’ve seen watching spiritual lives for a few decades,
that looks to me like the kind of thing
that can pop up into a crop.
But you can’t do those things to make something happen.
You just do them, then get on with your business.

Live an ordinary life.
Get your children ready for school. Go to work.
Clean out the gutters on your roof.

And while you are not looking,
the Kingdom of God will sprout up in your life.
How does that work? We don’t know.
We don’t know because we don’t do it.
God does it. It’s a gift.

Let me borrow a story from Zen teacher. He said:
A man was in his living room, sitting in lotus position,
meditating on his breath.
He heard his wife in the kitchen doing dishes,
and he thought, “She is not practicing Zen.”
But, the teacher said, it was the wife, not the husband,
who was practicing Zen.

Just so in Christianity,
we can do our spiritual practices and disciplines.
They have their place.
But the Kingdom of God is not something we can build.
It sneaks up on us when we are not looking for it.
The point is to stop trying to be spiritual superstars.
“What does the Lord require of thee?”
Only this: “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”
Then just be in this world and let God do what he will in your life.
God is pretty good at what he does. So let him do it.
Meister Eckhart said,
“All God asks is that you get out of the way
and let God be God in you.”

The top of the line spiritual experience
in Catholic Christianity is a vision of the Virgin Mary.
St. Theresa of Avila was abbess of convent.
One night a nun came to see her in great joy
saying, “Reverend Mother I have seen a vision
of the Blessed Virgin.”
St. Theresa responded, “Just keep praying. It will go away.”

I sometimes go on retreat at a Carmelite hermitage
that has a sign at the entrance.
It says, “No fuss.”
“No fuss.” Just live and let God live in you.

God really is quite good at life.
We don’t have to do anything special.

We can live the most ordinary life you can imagine
but if God is in it, that life will be sacred – truly sacred
in the deepest, most genuine way.
No fuss, just holy.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Breathing In -- Breathing Out

Pentecost b.All Saints
Faith doesn’t make life easy,
but it does make life livable.
Faith opens the door of our heart
to strength and power from God.
Without that infusion of divine strength,
we cannot live with the kind of energy and confidence
that life demands.

Faith matters – not just on Sunday.
It matters at work, at home, and on the highway.
That’s why we need to know as much as we can
about the God we have faith in.
The better we know God,
the more faith we can have.

So, this Pentecost, I want to say a little about the Holy Spirit.
There is a lot of misunderstanding about the Holy Spirit.
Many people confuse the Holy Spirit with religious emotions.
They sing upbeat music; listen to an emotional sermon;
feel a surge of passion and think that’s the Holy Spirit.

I am all for religious emotions.
They can be good for us.
But our feelings are our feelings.
They are not God.
Our feelings are too flimsy, too flighty, too easily manipulated
to be the eternally faithful God.

We can’t have faith in our feelings.
Sometimes the holiest of people are depressed.
Sometimes they are overwrought with grief.
But that doesn’t mean the Holy Spirit isn’t with them
working to heal and redeem.
The Holy Spirit is bigger than our mood swings.
And the Holy Spirit is faithful,
always there to heal and empower.

So who is this Holy Spirit?
In the 12th Century, the poet Saint Hildegard of Bingen
described the Holy Spirit this way:
Holy Spirit,
giving life to all life,
moving all creatures,
root of all things,
washing them clean,
wiping out their mistakes,
healing their wounds,
you are our true life,
luminous, wonderful,
awakening the heart
from its ancient sleep.

The Holy Spirit is first and foremost the force of life itself.
In our lesson from Ezekiel, the Spirit restores the life and hope of Israel.
The Nicene Creed calls it “the Lord, the giver of Life.”
The Spirit is the breath God blew into Adam’s nostrils.
It is the divine force that raised Jesus from the dead.

Our catechism says,
The Holy Spirit is . . . God at work in the world.
And God is always at work in the world
– always as the giver and sustainer of life.
That’s something we can put our faith in.

But let me say more about how the Spirit works.
“Spirit” doesn’t mean something abstract or paranormal.
“Spirit” means breath – the breath of God.

God breathes in and breathes out.
These are the two movements of the Spirit.
First about breathing in:
That is God gathering us together, centering us.

We can get so scattered in life.
We do so many jobs and tasks, play so many roles,
we lose touch with who we really are inside.
We need to be pulled back to our true selves.

We want so many little things, worry over so many little things,
strive for so many little goals,
we lose touch with our basic desire in life.
We need to be pulled back to our purpose in living.
Just as our personal lives get scattered,
our community gets scattered.
We split off from each other.
We get distracted and don’t pay enough attention
even to the people we love most.

When we do connect with the people, who are like us,
we may cut off the rest of the world.
In his book, The Big Sort, sociologist Jim Bishop
says American culture today is becoming
more and more fragmented.

More than ever before,
we live near people like us.
We socialize with people like us.
We talk only with people like us.
We gather in groups of the like-minded,
listen to the like-minded,
and become increasingly small minded.
As a society, we are divided into little enclaves.
We need to be pulled back to each other.
That’s the work of the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is our connector.

When we defragment a computer,
it sweeps all the random pieces of data together
because when they are strewn all over the hard drive,
the computer doesn’t run so well.
That’s what the Holy Spirit does in each of our souls,
and it’s what the Holy Spirit does in our community.
It pulls us back together so we can live well -- together.

Now the outbreath.
The Spirit draws us together in unity.
But it also sends us out into the world in diversity.
We see that in our lesson from Acts,
when the Spirit empowers the apostles
to preach the gospel in many languages.

The Spirit makes us one in our love for God and each other.
The Spirit makes us many in that we are wildly different from each other.
If we have unity because we look alike, dress alike,
enjoy the same music,
and agree about everything, that is not life.
It’s boring as being dead.
If we have only diversity, each one doing his own thing,
that is too lonely to be life.

But when God given diversity meets in God given unity,
it’s like linking the positive and negative poles of a battery.
You get a spark of life.
When cultural and individual differences are honored,
but not set up as barriers to the gospel,
Christianity is most fully itself
and we are most fully alive.

So how can we expect the Spirit to act in our lives?
First, the Spirit pulls us together.
When we are scattered in the week’s commotion and demands,
the Spirit draws us back to ourselves
– most often through prayer and worship
but also in quiet moments each day.
“In quietness and trust will be our strength,” Isaiah says,
“in returning and rest, we shall be saved.”

When we forget about each other or get too caught up
in our individual goals and worries,
the Spirit reminds us to reconnect to each other,
first our families, then our church,
then to strangers in need.
The Spirit connects us to the world in compassion and delight.

The next thing we can expect the Spirit to do
is blow us out of our routines now and then,
challenge us with new experiences and relationships.
The Spirit is always calling us to do old things
in new ways.

And that brings us to the last point.
The Spirit has been moving in exciting ways at All Saints
these past few years.
There has been a flowering of growth and diversity.
All this has happened during Fr. Ed’s rectorate.
But now he has announced his retirement,
and it is natural that you may wonder
if this good work will go on.

The first thing to remember is that Fr. Ed is still here.
He is still the spiritual leader of this parish.
His ministry at All Saints is not done yet.
So if you just stay the course with him
during these coming months,
the ministry will go on.

The second thing to remember is that Fr. Ed
is a first rate priest but he is just acting
as an agent for the Holy Spirit.
Fr. Ed is going to Oregon,
but the Holy Spirit will still be right here with you.
This Church is rich in Spirit-filled ministry.
The people, priests, and deacons of All Saints
will keep this train on the tracks.
The Diocese of Nevada and I will be here to help.

So don’t let fear of the future
dampen your ministry today.
The Spirit is with you.
Rejoice in that. Live.
Breathe in. Breathe out.
Come together as the Church.
Go forth as the Church in the world.
God is faithful.