Tuesday, July 28, 2015


Six years ago, I was privileged to consecrate a beautiful Church building for a dynamic, energetic, intellectually curious, congregation at Lake Tahoe. Their slogan was "A Church for Others." I find it helpful to look back on what I said then. Perhaps it may still be of some help for someone today.

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 meaning
                  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.

Monday, July 27, 2015


For the past few weeks we have been reading
         about what a fine fellow King David was.
Actually, he had a pretty rough rise to power
         and was something of a motorcycle gang outlaw
         before opportunistically laying claim to the throne.
But a lot of 2nd Samuel and all of Chronicles appear
         to have been written by the royal press secretary.
A couple of weeks ago we read how David gathered thousands of his people
         and fed them all a decent meal.
King David was an impressive benefactor to his docile servants.
Still, we have today’s lesson
         in which we see how that power has corrupted the good King.
It isn’t just a bit of hanky panky. It’s the murder of Uriah.

Israel’s first king, Saul was crazy as a coot. 
The second monarch, David, was a murderer.
His son, Solomon was an oppressive tyrant 
who taxed half his people into ruin
         and forced the rest into involuntary military service
         so he could greedily expand his empire.
After that the kings turned bad.

Flash forward a few centuries to our Gospel lesson.
Jesus had been teaching about a new kind of Kingdom,
         the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom built on love
instead of dominating power, a Kingdom of peace, justice, and mercy.
So the people got the notion he was campaigning for office.
Then Jesus gathered thousands of them as David had done
         and he fed them as David had fed them.

The crowd reasoned, if it walks like a king and quacks like a king,
         it must be a king.
So they planned an insurrection to make put Jesus
on his granddaddy David’s throne.  
But that isn’t the kind of kingdom Jesus had in mind.

In a few months, Jesus would be waiting in a garden
         for people coming to take him the cross.
That time he stood his ground.
But this time, when they were coming to take him to a throne,
         Jesus high tailed it.

Yes, the Romans were a gang of thugs
         but having them overthrown by another gang of thugs
                  wouldn’t change anything.
They’d done that before when Jewish rebels threw out the Greeks,
then turned out to be oppressors themselves.
The road to peace is not war.
The kind of power Jesus wanted and already had
         was not the dominating power you exercise from a throne.

So when Jesus heard they were going to make him king,
         he skedaddled.
I suspect he did it somewhat because he didn’t want the job;
         but mostly he did it for us.
He knew we didn’t need that kind of a king.
We needed a savior who moved the world with love.
We are apt to underestimate love.
We think love is soft and won’t really do much.

But Francis Spufford, author of Unapologetic, says:
         “The universe is sustained by a continual and infinitely patient
                  act of love.”
Dante wrote about the
         “love that moves the sun and all the lesser stars.”
Lady Julian of Norwich had a vision of a hazelnut
         and asked God what that little nut was.
God answered, “That is the entire universe.”
Lady Julian said, “How can it exist? It is so small.
         What keeps it from falling into nothingness?”
God answered, “It exists because I love it.”
There are so many things in the world we cannot compel
         with guns, tanks, and armed drones.
We cannot create life with the means of death.
Only love can do that.

So Jesus, who taught us about this different kind of kingdom,
         the Kingdom of God, would not wield the worldly power
         of domination – only the heavenly power of relationship.

Our Epistle lesson tells us what that means for us.
Paul says,
         “I pray that God may strengthen you in your inner being
         with power . . . and that Christ may dwell in our hearts
         as you are being rooted and grounded in love.”//

I hardly know where to begin saying why I love this text so much.
First, it is about strengthening us.
Our religion isn’t about being nice and namby pamby.
It’s about being strong – not a brittle surface strength –
         but deep strength.
“That God may strengthen your inner being with power.”

It’s about our being filled with power.
Now look where that power comes from.
“That Christ may dwell in your hearts.”
Our religion is about a Christ who isn’t just up in heaven
         helping us out when we are in a fix.
This is a Christ who rejected the worldly throne
         because he wanted to live in us instead.

Linda and I used to live with a Christian community
         of musicians named The Fisherfolk.
They sang a very simple little song with these verses:
         “The Lord desires a throne not of gold nor of silver.
          The Lord desires a throne in you.”

This Christ who lives in us is the one who calmed
         the raging sea.
He healed the sick, the lame, and the bind.
He looked Pilate in the eye blinking.
He broke open the gates of hell.
And he conquered death itself on Easter morning.
That’s power.
And he lives in us.
That power is in us.
God puts it there.

But what kind of power does God give us?
It is the power of love.
It is the power that grows inside us, Paul says,
         “as we are being rooted and grounded in love.”
Our power is none other than the power
         that sustains the universe “by a continual and infinitely patient
                  act of love.”
It is the same power of love that in Dante’s words,
         “moves the sun and all the lesser stars.”
It is the power of love that God told Lady Julian
         holds the fragile cosmos in being.
It’s big power. Really big.
But it is not the life crushing power of violence and dominance.
It is the life giving power of caring.

The other words I love in our lesson are
         “rooted and grounded.”
This love is not an airy-fairy thing.
It isn’t a passing feeling, a mood, or an emotion.
It’s deep and solid as the earth, only more so.

An Episcopal priest named Becca Stevens
         has founded 22 Magdalene Houses
         to shelter, educate, and heal
         drug addicted street prostitutes.
Becca took one such woman in recovery, Doris,
         to the ocean in Florida.
As a Nashville streetwalker,
she’s never seen the ocean and was just amazed by it.
Standing in the water as the tide was rising,
         she threw her hands up to the sky and said,
         “Has this been happening my whole life?”

Becca said, “Yes, Doris, as long as the moon has been
         going around the earth, these tides had been moving.
         But long, long, forever long before that,
         a greater power was moving – the power of God’s love.”

And that’s the power in which we are rooted and grounded.
When we confirm a new church member,
         we don’t pay, “Oh God make this person nice.
         Oh God teach this person the rules and scare her into obeying.”
We pray “Strengthen O Lord your servant with your Holy Spirit.
         Empower her for your service,
         And sustain her all the days of her life.”
We embrace this faith, we receive these sacraments,
         We study God’s word to be “rooted and grounded in love”
-- “O the deep, deep love of Jesus,” another hymn says.
and that’s the love God instills in us.
That love will get us thorugh the hard times of life – Praise God –
         Because we all need that.
But it’s not just for getting us by.
It’s to transform us into a force that will change this broken,
         fallen, suffering world into the Kingdom of God.