Tuesday, January 27, 2015


God said to Jonah, “Get up and go to Nineveh,
and proclaim to it the message I tell you.”
“Get up and go.”
It wasn’t the first time God had said such a thing.
God said to Moses, “Go to Pharaoh and tell him
            to let my people go.”
God likes that word “go.”
Isaiah stood before the throne and heard God wondering,
            “Who shall I send and who will go for us.”
The prophet replied. “Here I am. Send me.”
And God said “Go and tell this people (my message.)

So when God told Jonah to “get up and go,”
            he’d said it before.
And he would say it again.

Jesus’ last words to his disciples were,
            “Go and make disciples of all nations,
            baptizing them . . . and teaching them. . . .”

When I look at churches I see a lot of
            “abide in my love” religion,
            but not so much “get up and go” religion.
Jonah didn’t much want to go anywhere either.
God dispatched Jonah to Ninevah,
            capital of Assyria – the cruelest empire ever.
God sent Jonah to carry a word of tough love to Ninevah.
If it had been an irrevocable curse,
            Jonah might have done that.
He hated Ninevah.
He decidedly did not want to see them
            turn around and live in God’s mercy.

So Jonah took a ship the opposite direction.
But, as we know, God rather insisted.
So, Jonah reluctantly delivered God’s message to the evil empire
            and they were saved.

What does this story say to us?
Jesus said “You are the light of the world.
            No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel.”
Well Jesus had never been in an Episcopal Church.
More often than not, we do just that.
We like to keep the lamp of God
            for our own family nightlight,
            rather than spread that light into a darkened world.

What is our Ninevah?
It is not so far as Assyria was from Judah.
Our Ninevah is the secular world – not in a distant land,
            but right here in this Oasis of Nevada.
87% of the state of our state is functionally unchurched.
They may be on membership rolls somewhere,
            but 87% rarely inhabit a pew.
Maybe that’s their business – not ours.
Then again that’s what Jonah said about Ninevah.

So maybe we need to ask this question about 87% of our neighbors:
            how’s that working for them?
 Let’s just do a spiritual assessment of our home state.
I don’t mean to pass moral judgments and wag a pious finger.
I mean a needs assessment.
How are our neighbors doing when it comes to hope and joy,
            serenity and courage?
Do they have a “sure and certain hope” that all will be well?

Nevada has the 4th highest suicide rate in the United States.
Suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death of Nevadans
            between 15 and 24 years of age.
Nationally, in the 2nd decade of major drops in church attendance,
            suicides among people 35 to 64 increased by 30%

Our rate of deaths from alcoholic liver disease
            is 1.7 times the national rate.
That means we have almost twice as many people
            dying of drink as elsewhere in America.
Meanwhile we lead the nation in women killed
            by domestic violence.
Does that sound like a people who have soaked
            in the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer or Romans Chapter 8?
“Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything in all creation can separate us from
the love of God that is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”
Ain’t that good news?

Brothers and sisters, hope and joy are our stock and trade.
With 87% of our neighbors unchurched,
            and so many signs that they are in despair,
            that ought to tell us something about our mission.
There are folks out there who need to be in here.
The people just outside that door are our Ninevah.
And we don’t want to go there. I get that.
Sharing faith is not so safe.

 But God’s love is a funny thing.
We cannot keep it for ourselves.
We cannot hold it within the confines of a sect
            of like-minded people who already know each other.
God’s love hoarded in a congregation turns stagnant and brackish
like a dammed up stream.
But God’s love is a wild rushing river.
You can dam it up to keep the water all in one place,
            but then it isn’t a wild rushing river anymore.
If we want to live in God’s love, 
            then it has to flow all the way through us
                        to those outside.
 We have to go to Nineveh.

I don’t mean door-to-door proselytizing.
But we need to ask at least these three things:
First, are we organizing ourselves
            in a way to spread the Gospel;
            or are we planning how to maintain our group
                        the way it is?
Are we planning for maintenance or for mission?
Second, what are we offering our neighbors?
I saw a billboard ad for a church last week.
It said: “Relationship problems? We can help.”

The average Nevadan driving down the road
            isn’t thinking about Jesus or wondering
            what time our services are.
She’s thinking about her relationships.
If we can help people sink the roots of their relationships  
            in God’s love, they just might not shoot each other.
That’s only one example.
The point is: we need to provide what people need
            and let them know about it.

We serve a lot of sandwiches in our soup kitchens,
            and that’s a good thing.
But what about people who are hungry for some healing
            of the heart and spirit?

Finally, it may be unacceptable to tell unbelievers
            right off about our relationship with Jesus
            – but what about provocative things happening at church
                        and how much we value them?
If we go to a movie and like it, we tell a friend.
If there is something worth mentioning at church,
            would we tell a friend?
And if there isn’t anything happening at church
            we would want to share with a friend,
                        maybe there ought to be.
Maybe a needs assessment for the wider community
            can start with ourselves.
What do we need to make our lives happier and holier,
            more meaningful and serene,
Do we need to learn better ways to pray?
Do we need to have some fun?
Then if we are doing something that makes life better,
            we might we be willing to tell a friend.

It is a good thing to minister to the needs of anyone
            who is suffering for whatever reason.
Feeding a hungry person we will not see again
            is still a good thing.
But to touch the aching heart of someone
            who may become part of our family of faith
                        – frankly that is harder.
We are reluctant to form those bonds.

But that’s where the spiritual action is.
That’s the point at which we are all at risk of being transformed.
Maybe that’s what makes us nervous about Ninevah.

But maybe Ninevah is the place our joy will be complete.  Amen.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


Our Old Testament lesson begins,
“The word of the Lord was rare in those days,
            and visions were not widespread.”
But that doesn’t mean God wasn’t speaking.
The Bible tells us that God speaks creation into being.
If God were not speaking his creative word right now,
            we wouldn’t be here.

So if “the word of God was rare in those days,”
            it means no one was listening.
Maybe they were too busy.
Or maybe they thought God was too far away
            to speak to them.

Our lesson tells the story of how a little boy
            named Samuel learned to listen to God.
Samuel was the servant of Eli, the blind old priest in Shiloh.
Together they lived in a simple dwelling, little more than a tent,
but the Ark of the Lord was there.

In front of the Ark stood “the lamp of God,”
an olive oil lamp on a gold stand.
It burned all night every night
            as a sign of God’s presence.
Samuel slept each night before the Ark
            with the lamp of God as his nightlight.

Probably he had already been asleep
            and had awakened early.
It was before dawn because the Bible says,
            “the lamp of God had not yet gone out.”
So he awakened in that magical mystical pre-dawn darkness
            to hear somebody calling his name.

It never occurred to Samuel that God might speak to him.
So he replied to Eli.
And Eli said, “I didn’t call you. Go back to bed.”
Again Samuel heard the voice and replied to Eli.
Again Eli said, “I didn’t say anything. Go back to bed.”
It happened a third time, and this time Eli got it.

He said, “It is the Lord calling you, Samuel.
            If he calls again, answer him.”
The next time Samuel heard his name,
            he prayed, “Speak Lord for your servant is listening.”
That’s how Samuel became God’s prophet.
The Bible says, from that time on
            he let none of the Lord’s words fall to the ground.

Samuel shows us a better way to pray.
It is a good thing to talk to God.
            -- a good thing to ask God for help.
Each day, I give God a long to-do list.
I give God a lot of advice on how to run the universe.
That’s fine. I am sure it makes God laugh.
But that can add up to a lot of talking
            and not much listening.

Prayer is a conversation for building our relationship with God.
It’s how we get to know God.
But that doesn’t happen if we do all the talking.
Talking to God is only half of it.
The other half is listening.
So how do we listen to God?
One way uses our imagination.
We can use our imagination to hear God saying
            what the Bible tells us God is saying all the time.
God called Samuel’s name.
God calls the stars by their names. Psalm 147.
Jesus calls each of us by name. John 10: 3
Jesus is calling your name, every day,
            just as he called “Samuel. Samuel.”

So start by hearing in your mind the voice of Jesus
            calling your name.
Then answer as Samuel did in a way that invites
            Jesus to tell you what he wants to say.
Ask, “Lord what do you want me to know?
            Lord what do you want me to do?
            Lord, what are you doing in my life?
            Lord what do you want for me?”
Then use your imagination to hear God’s answer.

Maybe the answer will really be Jesus speaking to you.
Maybe it will be something you have just made up yourself.
So whatever we hear though prayer, we need to hold lightly.
We need to be humble.
First we listen to God with our God-given imaginations,
            then test what we hear.
We ask: does this fit the Scriptures and the teachings of the Church?
            Does this further the Church’s mission to reconcile all people
                        to God and each other in Christ?
            Is this true to the gospel message of God’s love for all people?
If the words we have imagined fit with the those things,
            then it just may have been Jesus talking.

We may think the word of God must be a long way off.
We may think that only the priests can hear it and tell us what God wants.
But listen to what the Bible says.

            “(God’s word) is not in heaven so that you should say
            ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and get it . . . ?
            Neither is it beyond the sea that you should say
            ‘Who will cross the sea for us and get it.  . . .?
No the word is very near to you.
            It is in your mouth and in your heart
            for you to observe.” Deuteronomy 30

God speaks to you through your own heart and your own mind.
Teachers from St. Ignatius Loyola to C. S. Lewis
            have said that God gave us our imagination
            as well as our eyes and our ears.
The imagination is the eye of the heart
            that can see spiritual truth.
It can also go haywire. It can be crazy.
That’s why we have the Bible and the Church
            to keep us straight.

So we don’t need to be afraid to listen to God.
Every day, Jesus calls your name,
hoping you will answer like Samuel,
“Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”