Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Unique, Irreplaceable Word Of God

Proper 16b

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 can include 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 slot 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 most 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 40 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.
Thanks be to God. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A Life Worthy Of Your Calling

Proper 12b.09/ St. Peter’s
The gospel message is too big for any one generation.
That’s why each generation of Christians discovers
more good news, more grace in the New Testament.
Sometimes a forgotten part of the tradition
is suddenly remembered or rediscovered,
and takes on new life with a renewed meanng
for a new day.
That’s what has happened with MOAB,
the Ministry of All the Baptized.

In the 1940’s, there were major discoveries in archaeology
– the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi library,
for example.
We learned a lot about how the first Christians
went about being the Church.
We discovered that the first Christians were all ministers,
not spiritual consumers sitting at the feet of an elite clergy.
They were all ministers and their ministry is what made them whole.

Mutual ministry gave meaning to their lives.
Shared service taught them wisdom.
It exercised their characters so that they grew in virtue.
They become stronger, healthier, saner, holier people.

In the 1960’s, the movement to bring back that kind of vitality
in the life of the laity took off.
Ministry of All Baptized was especially strong in the West,
thanks to the Western School of Ministry
founded by Bill Spofford of Idaho,
Dean of St. Michael’s Cathedral in Boise,
and by the Dean of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Salt Lake,
a guy named Wes Frensdorff.

But the Ministry of All Baptized wasn’t just a local fad.
It was the driving force in Vatican II.
It dramatically changed our ecumenical theology of Baptism
in a major agreement in Lima, Peru in 1968.

After the Lima Statement,
Baptism ceased to be a private rite, a family bonding moment.
Instead Baptism became the central event in the life of the congregation,
and an initiation into the largest and most important
order of ministry.

And so, today when we consecrate this building,
to house St. Patrick’s Church,
we read our lessons in a new light.
These are the perfect lessons to mark this day
in your parish life
because St. Patrick’s is shifting its spiritual gears.
St. Patrick’s is making a spiritual shift directly parallel
to the spiritual shift today’s lessons
invite us to make in our personal lives.
The dedication and generosity of so many of you
have set this Church free from struggling
to maintain itself for itself.
You have set this Church free
to grow up spiritually,
and so become a center of transformation
where each of the members can grow up.
That’s s what today’s lessons are about.
Last week, we heard how hungry people flocked to Jesus,
and he miraculously fed them.
Today, we see them back again, hoping for more food.
Jesus is manifestly frustrated.

They hadn’t gotten the point.
He didn’t intend to transform bread just to up their calorie intake.
He was showing them what transformation looks like,
so they could be transformed themselves,
so they could manifest the power of God in their lives.
But they just kept trying to manipulate him
into meeting their needs.

We shouldn’t be too hard on them.
Most of us begin the spiritual life as consumers.
It may not be literal food we are after.
It’s more likely to be peace of mind, serenity,
a sense of being unconditionally accepted.
Most of us begin the spiritual life
trying to get our needs met.

At first, we get what we want.
Christ meets us where we are,
gives us graces and consolations,
heals our wounds and feeds our hunger.

But it isn’t quite enough.
Our spiritual needs come back.
We find ourselves once again restless.
And that’s a good thing.
This is the point for a crucial transition in the spiritual life.
Many people never make it.
They stay stuck at the consumer level of faith,
even though it isn’t really working for them anymore.
To move on, it takes a paradoxical shift.

The paradox is that our spiritual needs
get met far more deeply when we forget about them,
and go to work doing something for someone else.
The wounds in our souls heal while we aren’t looking.
Our weakened spirits grow strong
while we aren’t working on our spirituality.

A simple example:
If we want to learn a little something about a subject,
we can learn a little by attending a class on it.
If we want to really learn a subject all the way,
we volunteer to teach the class.
That’s how the Ministry of All Baptized
makes us all stronger, wiser, healthier, and holier.

This is what St. Paul pleads for in our Epistle lesson.
Invoking the language of baptism,
“one Lord, one Faith, one baptism”, he says,
“I . . . beg you to live a life worthy of your calling . . . . “
(W)e must grow up in every way.”

How do we grow up? He answers that each of us
is called by God to a special form of ministry.
Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel were called to be prophets.
Paul, himself, was called to be the apostle to the gentiles.
Just so, every Christian, at baptism, is called to a ministry.

Paul says,
The gifts (God) gave were that some would be apostles,
some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
to equip the saints for the work of ministry.
That list covers some of the most common ministries in the Church.
But there are others.
In 1st Corinthians, he gives a different list.
Different places need different ministries.

What do you suppose would be on Paul’s list
if he were writing to St. Patrick’s, Incline Village?
In the mysterious Providence of God,
the ministries that are needed here
are aligned with the gifts and talents
of this community of faith.

I don’t know what they are.
Do you need spiritual directors, pastoral care givers,
health care ministers, ministers of healing prayer?

Is there anyone who gets the notices from
Episcopal Public Policy Network
and organizes this congregation to advocate
on behalf of the social justice issues
where our Church has made a stand?
Do you need a minister to visit the elderly?

Do you need a visual arts ministry to make grace
visible as beauty?
Van Gogh and Caravaggio have told me more about God
than any sermon.
Or do you need mentors to companion new members?

The General Convention has just created
the new licensed ministry of lay evangelist?
So I know that every one of our parishes needs that lay minister,
and none of us have one yet.

I don’t know what ministries are needed here.
I certainly don’t know what particular ministry
is your calling.

But I do know this,
if you are baptized, you are called
– called to serve God by serving God’s people
in your own special way.
And I know your calling, your form of services,
is unique.

Theologian, Karl Rahner, said,
“Each of us is a unique irreplaceable word of God.”
Brothers and sisters, each of you
is “a unique irreplaceable word of God.”
If you do not live into your calling,
that word of God will never be spoken.
Only you can speak it.

So I implore you to discern and then to act.
“I . . . beg you to live a life worthy of your calling . . . .”

We dedicate this building to be a holy place.
But it will take more than rituals to make it holy
It will take personal transformation – it will take spiritual growth
from just being recipients of grace
to being agents of grace.
This Church becomes holy by becoming
what Fr. Jim calls a “Church for others.”

This will not be a sacrifice of our own spiritual life,
but a fulfillment of it.
Rabbi Hillel said,
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me?
But if I am only for myself, who am I?
If not now, when?”

So when will we plunge out into the life for others?
“Now” is the best possible time.
It is in fact, the only time.

Transforming the Mundane

Proper 12b.09/ St. Peter’s
Today’s Gospel lesson tells of Jesus taking
a small amount of food, blessing it,
and turning it into a feast for thousands.
It’s a central story in the New Testament, the only miracle
recounted in all four Gospels.
It’s obviously super important but what does it mean?

When Jesus did something miraculous
it wasn’t to hear the crowd gasp and then applaud
like at a magic show.
He was trying to show us something.

The next time Jesus saw this crowd
he challenged them for just eating the bread
but not seeing the sign.
They had missed the point.

Mark’s account of this story is close to John’s.
Jesus multiplies the loaves and fishes.
That night he walks on water to help the disciples
when they are having trouble on the sea.
When he gets in the boat, Mark says,
“They were dumbfounded because they had
not seen what the miracle of the loaves meant.”

So what does this miracle mean?
It’s a story of transformation, change,
miraculous change that happens by God’s grace.
The point is not to get stuck at the material literal level.
It isn’t about changing a little bread into a lot of bread.
It’s about changing hearts trapped in scarcity
into hearts of abundance.

It’s like the Eucharist.
One liturgical scholar reminds us
“The Eucharist isn’t about changing bread;
it’s about changing lives.”
Just so, Jesus’ miracle of the loaves
is an outward and visible sign
of inward and spiritual grace.

Let’s stay with the food situation and bring it up to date.
963 million people live with daily hunger.
Each year, 3 million children die of malnutrition before the age of five.
A child dies of hunger-related causes every five seconds.

But there is already enough food to feed everyone.
The cost of eradicating world hunger is less
than the United States and Europe spend on pet food.
The problem isn’t our capacity to produce food.
The problem is with our hearts.
Hunger is a spiritual issue.

Senator Mark Hatfield said,
“We stand by as children starve by the millions
because we lack the political will to eliminate hunger.
Yet we have found the will to develop missiles
capable of flying over the polar ice cap and landing
within a few hundred feed of their target.
This is not innovation.
This is a profound distortion
of humanity’s purpose on earth.”

We don’t need more food, more houses,
more of any material thing.
We need more love, more grace, more generosity.

St. Paul’s prayer in our Epistle lesson
describes the kind of change of heart
the miracle of the loaves represents.
It’s the same change of heart the Eucharist represents.
He prays that God “out of the riches of his glory” will bless us
in these ways:
That we might be strengthened in our inner being
with the power of the Holy Spirit;
That Christ might dwell in our hearts;
That we might be rooted and grounded in love;
That we might comprehend the depth and breadth
and height of God’s grace;
That we might know the love of Christ
which is beyond the reach of human understanding;
That we might be filled with God.

Brothers and sisters salvation does not just consist
in what happens to us in the afterlife.
Salvation is becoming radically changed
right down to the core of our being
– not someday – now, today.

Is that possible?
The resounding answer of Scripture and our faith is Yes!
Paul’s lesson concludes by reminding us
that this isn’t something we do.
It’s something God does.
And, in Paul’s words, “God’s) power working in us
can do infinitely more
than all we can ask or imagine.”

There is no limit to what God can do.
Remember what Mary said to the Angel Gabriel
at the Annunciation? She said,
“ How is this possible?’
And the angel said, “All things are possible for God.”

God acting though an illiterate peasant girl in Galilee
brought forth the savior of the world.
Do you think God can do anything less in you?
Do you think God cannot touch your heart
and change your life?

What are our lives about, Friends?
What do we spend ourselves on?
“Getting and spending we lay waste our powers,”
Wordsworth said.
And it’s true. We slog along through lives
that are beneath the dignity of human nature.

But God can change that.
God wants to change that.
God wants to transform us
– to transform each individual heart in this room
– and to transform us together into agents of change
in this darkened world.

God did not want 120 children to die of starvation
during the time of this sermon.
God wants to change that – but he’s not going to do it
with a magic trick.
He wants to eradicate hunger though changing us,
through opening our hearts to compassion and mercy.

Christ wants to live in us.
The Holy Spirit wants to empower us for abundant life
and bold action.
Are we willing?

God can do anything,
but some things God will not do.
God will forgive us whether we like it or not.
God will love us whether we like it or not.
But God will not change us without our consent.

When we receive the Body and Blood of Christ today,
will we receive it as sustenance only
– or will we be transformed?

Are we willing to live a larger life,
a life that will not tolerate the cruelty and injustice
of this world?
Are we willing to undertake a mission
that is beyond our human power
so that we have to rely on God’s power?
Are we willing to be transformed into the likeness
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?

How long will we live in his exile?
How long will we tolerate the desolation
of a routine, respectable, mundane life?
When will we become the people our Maker
intends us to be?

That is what salvation is.
Salvation is becoming whole.
Salvation is coming into our own,
being transformed into our true selves.
When will we be saved?

Paul answered that question for the Corinthians.
He wrote: “(God) says, ‘. . . In the day of salvation I helped you.’
I tell you,” Paul says, “Now is the time of God’s favor,
Now is the day of salvation.”

God speaks to us in the now.
Now is the time to become a new being,
a child of God, worthy of our parentage.
Now is the time to be strengthened in our inner being
and invite Christ to dwell in our hearts.
Now is the time to be rooted and grounded in love;
so that we comprehend the depth and breadth
and height of God’s grace.
This is the day to know the inestimable love of Christ
and be filled with God.
And before the sun sets, “God’s) power working in us
will do infinitely more
than all we can ask or imagine.”

Monday, August 3, 2009

Priest Sermon 4

Ordination: James the Apostle/ St. Peter’s
Carl Jung said, “There are no coincidences.”
When two events come together,
it means something.
So what does it mean that Kim and Mike are here
to be ordained on the Feast of St. James the Apostle?

James bar Zebedee was one of the brothers Jesus called
“the Sons of Thunder” suggesting they were rather
forthright with their views.
We could use a little more thunder
in the Episcopal Church.
I don’t mean more bombastic tirading.
That doesn’t do a bit of good.

I mean some volume for the gospel.
I mean proclaiming the all inclusive, radically welcoming
love of God in Christ Jesus.

The tone of public discourse today
is mostly loud and mean-spirited.
I was at Java Detour this week watching a so-called news program.
The sound was off but just by looking at the faces
of the men talking, you could see
it was the usual small minded viciousness.

Usually, that small minded viciousness is so loud.
The voices of reason and mercy are so soft, so timid.
William Butler Yeats said,
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

It’s time for the best to get some conviction.
It’s time to turn up the volume of truth.
We could use a little thunder right now.
We could use a little boldness of word and deed.
We could use some clergy leadership
to claim the name of Jesus for social justice.
We could use some clergy to claim the whole Bible
for what it is, a complex story about simple mercy.
We ordain Kim and Mike tonight to turn up their volume,
to hear them speak the truth
for God’s reign in our time.

There is more to learn from James about tonight.
James did just not take a notion he wanted to be an apostle.
He heard a call.
It started out so simply.

James and John were mending their fishing nets
when Jesus came by and said, “Follow me
and I will teach you to fish for people.”
James got right up and left his nets to follow Jesus.

Kim and Mike didn’t get here by applying for a job.
They got here by following Jesus.
This is where it has led them so far.
God only knows where it will lead them in the future.

We call that trust. We call that faith.
We follow Jesus without knowing where we are going.
We just know we are going with him.
It’s a different way of being in the world.
We don’t have a feasibility study for the Christian life.
We don’t have a strategic plan for salvation.

We follow Jesus.
When our clergy do that,
they model the courage of Christian life.
They invite all of us to go on an adventure of faith
– faith that the transformation the Holy Spirit
works in our individual hearts and in our community
is for good, and not ill.

As James followed Jesus,
their friendship grew closer each day.
Along with Peter and John, James was one
of Our Lord’s closest friends.
Many times, Jesus drew apart to be with just them.

They were there when he went to pray on Mt. Tabor,
so they alone saw him transfigured into glory.
They were there when he went to pray in Gethsemane,
and were the ones closest to him in his anxiety
and despair.

To others, Jesus was the wonder worker.
But to them, he was a vulnerable, all too human friend.
Brothers and sisters, most people don’t know Jesus at all,
and many of those who do, know only the wonder worker
– the Jesus who meets our needs.
But it is friendship with the Jesus who is just as human today
as he was then, it is friendship with him
that enlivens our souls and humanizes our hearts.

I didn’t know him very well when I was ordained.
Kim and Mike, I hope you know him better than I did.
But this kind of friendship takes time.
And time enough, there will be.

You have answered the call to follow Jesus.
If you simply do that, follow Jesus
– not the latest manual on church leadership,
not the hot new book from Alban Institute –
just follow Jesus and you will know him better each day.
You will find a friend who will change you to your core
as no ideology or spiritual technique ever could.

The Lord called James to friendship -- and to mission.
The mission was to fish for people.
Before we start fishing for somebody,
we better make sure they are in the water.

If someone is faithfully following another religious tradition,
and it is blessing them with inquiring and discerning hearts,
they are encountering the awesome beauty of the divine,
and they are growing in compassion and delight for the world,
then they are not in the water.
They are just on another boat.
Leave them alone.

But if someone is struggling to make sense of life,
or if they are in anxiety or despair,
or if their hearts and hands are not engaged
in tikkum olam, the healing of this broken world,
or if they follow a religion or philosophy that stifles the mind
and intimidates the spirit,
then they need some help
and it is our duty to offer it.

The Lord called James to fish for people.
Legend has it, he went to Spain to spread the gospel.
He sowed faith in the land that was to give us Sts. Lawrence of Rome,
Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola,
and Francis Xavier who took the gospel to Asia.

Just so, Kim and Mike, you are to tell your story
and the story of Jesus,
which will become more and more intertwined.
Some who hear will believe
and who knows what God may do through them?

But first, you must tell them your story.
Faith comes through hearing.
That means you are called to speak.

James got it wrong sometimes though.
He and his brother had their mother ask Jesus
to give them the prestige seats of power
in his kingdom.
It was probably back door maneuver to out rank Peter.
They thought Jesus’ kingdom was about rank.
They thought it was about power and prestige
like an earthly system.

Over the years I have watched people
scheme, stew, manipulate, work tirelessly,
lie, cheat, steal, and betray
all to become kings of some absurdly small hills.
Some of them have been church hills.

But if the church is a hill, it already has a king and it’s none of us.
We don’t do ministry to fortify our egos.
We do it because God is profligate with grace.

We come to God as an empty vessel,
about a gallon worth of empty vessel,
longing to be filled.
But God gives grace only in 10 gallon units.
God pours 10 gallons of grace into our one-gallon emptiness.
God’s grace overflows and we have to share it
with someone else.

For example, Kim and Mike, you will receive grace tonight.
You will, by grace, receive authority and power.
But authority and power to do what?
Not much in yourselves.
You get to dress funny in church and get to say the straight man lines
while the congregation says the main part.

But the authority you get that matters
is the authority to authorize others to do ministry.
The power you get is to empower others to do ministry.
You are called to call others into ordained, licensed,
and commissioned ministries, to be the Body of Christ,
a robust body,
a team in which all players are on the field
and in the game.

You are called to call others.
So turn up the volume of your gospel truth,
follow Jesus, become his friend,
and invite as many people as you can
into this life.

It’s isn’t an easy life but it’s a human life.
It will break your heart – break it open to the world.
That’s when the joy and wonder begin.