Monday, October 29, 2012

The Value Added Grace Of Discipleship

It is good to be with you again 
at St. Martin’s.
I am grateful for the good example 
this congregation
         sets for others in the diocese.
I assume you’ve seen the filmthe national church 
produced about you.
We showed it at Convention,
not just to give you a pat on the back,
         but to inspire others.

That film did not mention the half of good things
afoot here in Pahrump thanks to St. Martin’s.
For one thing,
Julie has been teaching -- and several of you 
have been taking  --
a Basic Discipleship class.
It’s a foundational, Christianity 101 
encounter with the faith.
Basic Discipleship is the prerequisite
for most licensed lay ministries 
in the Church.
More importantly, it’s basic preparation 
for serving God in our daily life and work.
That brings us to our Gospel lesson.
Mark uses just a few words 
to make a point.
His message doesn’t get lost 
in a lot of clutter.
But you have to pay close attention.
Miss just a few words 
and you miss the point.
The point today 
is about discipleship.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, 
cried for mercy.
He wanted his vision back.
So Jesus said,
“Go. Your faith has made you whole.”
What happened next is the zinger.
Two things happened 
– and to put a point on it –
Mark says they both happened immediately.
First, Bartimaeus regained his sight.
His faith had made him whole alright.
But he didn’t “go.” He stayed.
The second thing 
that immediately happened was:
Bartimaeus followed Jesus.
He joined the disciples.
That’s what a disciple is – a follower.

The sequence here is crucial.
Bartimaeus did not become a disciple
then Jesus healed him as a reward.
No Jesus healed him 
just because he asked for it.
Jesus did not expect Bartimaeus 
to become a disciple.
He didn’t even bother to invite him.
But the minute the blind beggar 
saw the light,
he hit the road behind his master.

We can see here two kinds of grace,
         or maybe two stages of grace.
The first is the free gift of healing.
It’s pure mercy.
The most we ever have to do 
is ask for it;
oft-times it comes unbidden.

That’s the grace that forgives us, 
heals us,
slips blanks in our executioner’s rife.
Christ just does that out of love -- neither
         requiring nor expecting anything 
         from us in return.

We don’t even have to say thank you.
We just take it and
 -- as Jesus said -- “Go.”
We can go our own way 
sustained by God’s mercy
         without so much as a nod 
         or an acknowledgment.

But Bartimaeus wanted more.
He wanted Stage 2 grace – the disciple’s grace,
         the grace that transforms us right to the heart.
Bartimaeus wanted more because Stage 1 grace
healed his eyes,
                  but it didn’t change his soul.
It gave him mercy; but it did not make him merciful.
It showed him God; but it did not make him godly.
His character still wasn’t strong and noble.

He still wasn’t the kind of person
 who can fill a room with hope and serenity
                  the way Jesus did.
Spiritually, Jesus had given him a fish
Bartimaeus wanted to learn how to fish.
He wanted more; 
so Bartimaeus followed Jesus.

Now this brings me to the harsh point 
in today’s sermon.
I assure you 
I am not criticizing this congregation;
         though there are no congregations 
where this shoe might not fit someone.

I sometimes deal with 
the darker side of church life.
I know there’s a lot of authentic Christianity
         going on in our churches.
But day in/ day out, 
I see Episcopalians behaving
toward each other in ways 
that are not only unchristian;
         they aren’t even polite.
I often see congregations indifferent 
to the hurting world
while secular humanists are showing
the kind of mercy 
that used to be called “Christian.”

Sometimes veteran Episcopalians 
are mean-spiritedtoward each other, 
toward our guests,
 and toward the folks Jesus called 
“the least of these” and said 
“the way you treat them is how you treat me.”

Sometimes that discourages me.
I think, if I had an illness 
and had been taking a medicine
for it 20 or 30 years and wasn’t getting better,
 maybe I was getting worse,
 I’d give up on that medicine.

I see a lot of Christians 
who aren’t getting better.
Some of us are getting worse.
That makes me wonder.

It makes a lot of young people 
wonder too.
There are several reasons 
today’s young adults 
are not joining churches
 – but a big reason is that 
they don’t see authentic spirituality here.
They don’t see kindness, integrity, 
serenity, wisdom,
generosity of spirit.

They look at us and they don’t see Jesus.
They don’t see Jesus because
so many of us amble about 
in a no man’s land between 
the Stage 1 Grace of forgiveness and healing
and the Stage 2 Grace 
of growth and transformation.

We have been blessed so we go to Church
         and say the words – all of which is more
than we have to do for Stage 1 Grace.

Church isn’t necessary.
We can take the goodies and go 
if that’s all we want.
If we want a blessing, 
all we have to do is ask for it.
If we want to be a blessing,
 we have to follow Jesus
– which takes a lot more than going to church.

Many of us don’t take the next step 
to become disciples.
Discipleship takes learning 
the core teachings of the faith,
 discerning our gifts, training to develop our gifts,
         and learning how to work with others
                  in a spiritually healthy way.
It’s work. It isn’t for spiritual slackers.

That’s why I commend those of you
who are taking Julie’s Basic Discipleship class.
Taking a class won’t make you a disciple,
         but it’s a start.

When Wes Frensdorff introduced 
Total Ministry to Nevada,
he wanted discipleship to go viral.
That was the point – not a  point – it was the point.
But a lot of our people 
who talk most passionately 
about Total Ministry have missed the point.
It isn’t a way to do church on the cheap.

It’s a way to form and nurture disciples of Jesus.
It’s a way to move from Stage 1 Grace
         of receiving a blessing
         to Stage 2 Grace of being a blessing.

That friends is 
where the real action is.
That’s where the grace 
doesn’t just touch
our outer circumstances.
It penetrates to our inmost being.
It opens our spiritual eyes 
to see God’s glory.
It breaks our hearts open to the world.

Sitting on the road 
and having Jesus toss us some grace
as he goes by is a good day.
Following Jesus along that road 
is a holy joyful life.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

You Do Understand This Is A Desert, Right?

A little over five years ago,
when the bishop candidates came to Nevada
         for a week-long bus tour,
our third stop was in Las Vegas.
One of the Church ladies said to us,
         “You do understand this is a desert. Right?”

She probably meant it literally.
Not everybody gets the beauty of a desert.
But she might have meant the resources are sparse here
     not many people, not much money.
The cultural climate is as harsh to religion
as the physical climate is harsh to animal life.
In many ways, it really is a desert out there.

On the Galilean mountainside, 
                 people were hungry.
It would be natural to send them 
        off somewhere to find food.
But Jesus didn’t want to do that.
He worried what would become of them
         along the way.
So Jesus said to the disciples, 
                “Let’s feed them here.”

They replied,
“You do understand that this is a desert. Right?
Where would we get enough bread in the desert
         to feed this multitude?”

It was the primal message Bob Honeychurch 
           told us about yesterday:
         “We don’t have enough.”
To which Jesus said, “What have we got?”

“We don’t have enough” is the universal game stopper.
To which Jesus responds every time, “What have we got?”
Often we come back at him with, 
                  “We don’t have the right stuff.”

What kind of fish do you suppose 
           they blessed and shared
on the mountainside that day?
Chances are it was Tilapia, the main fish 
                 in the Sea of Galilee.
But when they made the movie 
          The Greatest Story Ever Told,
         the Sea of Galilee was portrayed 
          by our own Pyramid Lake.
We don’t have Tilapia in Pyramid Lake;
         so the Tilapia were portrayed by Kooyooe.

Different lakes have different fish.
Suppose the disciples had said to Jesus,
         “Well we have two fish, 
                  but we have no salmon,
no cod, no trout, no kooyooe.
         We don’t’ have the right kind of fish.”
Jesus said, “What have we got?”
“We got tilapia.”
“Ok then on tonight’s menu we are serving tilapia.”

They had five loaves – of what?
They had Galilean bread – a filling but course bread
made from barley, not wheat.
Suppose the disciples had said to Jesus,
         “We have five loaves alright
but we have no garlic bread, no Nan, no pumpernickel,
no German black bread, no whole wheat or Wonder bread.”
Jesus said, “What have we got?”
“We got barley bread.”
“Alright then”

So they blessed and shared barley bread and Tilapia,
the bread of Galilee the fish of Galilee
         to feed the people of Galilee.
They called it “the gifts of God for the people of God.”

There is always resistance to blessing
the simple gifts of the desert,
always the idea that we don’t have enough
or what we have somehow isn’t right.

1,300  years before Jesus,
when the children of Israel traversed the Sinai Desert, 
they complained  because they wanted Egyptian cuisine.
All Moses had to give them was the bread of heaven,
the food of angels.
But they wanted something from somewhere else.
They wanted Egyptian, Thai or Italian maybe.
Somewhere that has good food.
Moses said, “Sorry. We got no Pad Thai noodles,
We got no tacos.
All we got is this bread of heaven, the food of angels.”

There are three points here.
First, we all get hungry sometime for something
-- truth, love, meaning, hope, serenity -- something.
My favorite line from the late poet Ann Sexton
         is as simple and as it is poignant.
I suspect it was special to Ann Sexton too,
         because she used it in two poems,
                  one religious, one not.
It goes: “O my hunger! My hunger!’//

We all hunger for something.
It goes with the turf of being human.
There is an emptiness inside us.
17th Century philosopher Blaise Pascal called it
“the God shaped hole in the human heart.”

Second point: when we get hungry,
we think we need to go somewhere 
for what we need.
We look around our own personal wilderness
         and say, “This is a desert. I don’t have enough.”
We want a jazzier philosophy, a more exotic diet,
a new lover, a religion that is more cerebral
         or more emotional or more something we are not.
Because “This  life of mine is a desert. 
                 I don’t have enough.”

The third point is God’s answer to our restlessness.
 Moses said,
         What you need “is not up in heaven so that you have to ask,
         ‘Who will ascend into heaven and get it for us?’
         Nor is it beyond the sea so that you have to ask,
         ‘Who will cross the sea and get it . . . . ‘
         No, the word (of life) is very near you.
         It is in your mouth and in your heart.”

We have what we need right here
         to do the work God has given us to do right here.
We have the bread of heaven, the food of angels.
To be satisfied, all we have to do
is bless and share what we’ve got.

Hemanos y hermanas, tenemos hambre.
The people of Nevada are hungry – spiritually hungry,
         existentially hungry, emotionally hungry.
We have what we need and we are the people
         to feed the Nevada’s hunger.

The point of the English Reformation
         was that the Church in England
         does not have to be identical to the Church in Rome
in order to be the Church.
After the American Revolution,
we discovered that the Church in  America
does not have to be identical to the Church in England
in order to be Anglican.
 The Church in Nevada does not have to be identical
to the Church in Chicago
in order to be Episcopal.

So let’s start with the basic point. We are different.
But different does not mean deficient.
It means different. God made us different
         to play a different part in God’s mission.

A Carmelite monk once prayed,
         “O Lord make me another St. John of the Cross.”
God replied, “No thank you. I’ve already got one.
         I need you to be you.”

Part of our difference is 
         special assets, strengths, capabilities.
Why do you think the National Church
 makes movies of our Latino Ministries
and the work of St. Martin’s to show 
all over the country?
It isn’t because we’re deficient.
It’s because we do some things well.

Nevada is special.
We have turquoise, underground rivers,
         Area 51, entertainment extravaganzas,
         wild burros, and the rare but not endangered
                  Armargosa toad.
We also have the most interesting, 
          colorful human beings
         anywhere in the world.

Do we have deficits?
Yes, we lead the nation in high school dropouts, 
         suicides, divorces, and women killed 
          in domestic violence.
That’s our mission field. That’s the hunger part.
That’s why evangelism isn’t about propping up
         our institution and meeting a budget.
It’s about saving people on the brink.
We’ve got a lot of neighbors on the brink.
Nevada is beautiful, wonderful, 
             and endlessly entertaining.
Nevada is also broken, hurting, and hungry.

Jesus looked out at the crowd on the mountain
and said “I feel compassion for these people.”
That same Jesus sees this hunger 
            of our Nevada neighbors
and says, “If you love me, feed my sheep.”
And someone says,
         “It’s a desert here. You know that right?
          We don’t have enough.”

But Jesus says, “What have we got?”
And someone says,
         “Well we have the Episcopal Diocese.”