Monday, October 19, 2015


Job is a harsh, strange story.
It raises more questions than it answers.
But the part in today’s lesson is a simple answer
            to a complicated question: how do relate to our stuff.
We devote our days and nights acquiring material possessions,
cash,  those abstract numbers on accounts
that measure our wealth,
            and our status in the socio-economic hierarchy.

Job had done well at all of that.
He had earned it.  He had it.
Then through no fault of his own, he lost it.
Without his stuff, it was as if he no longer existed himself.
It had claimed his very identity.
So Job cried out to God for 37 long chapters of complaint.

After all that, at Chapter 38 verse 1, we read:
            “Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind.”
The answer comes in a series of rhetorical questions:
            “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
            . . .  Who can tilt the wineskins of the heavens  . . .?
            Can you hunt the prey for the lion . . .?
            Who provides for the raven its prey
                        when the young ones call to God?”

The point of the string of poetic questions is simple.
It all comes from God.
“All things come from thee O Lord.”
“For you are the source of light and life.”

A basic principle in philosophy of religion is contingency.
The very existence of everything depends on the existence
            of something else reaching back in the great Chain of Being
            until we get to the one Reality that depends on itself alone – God.

Job had made a mistake.
He thought he had what he had because he deserved it.
That isn’t how it works. It’s all a gift.

“But I’ve worked hard for what I’ve got,” we want to say.
Maybe so. But how did we get to be here in the first place?
Who gave us the hands, the minds, the strong backs
            or whatever it is we have parlayed into acquiring stuff?
God. It all goes back to God.

In the 16th Century, St. Ignatius of Loyola
            saw this basic point of all religion and prayed:
“Accept O God my memory, my will, my understanding,
            my imagination.
All that I am and all that I have, you have given me.
I give it all back to be disposed of according to your good pleasure.
Grant me only the comfort of your presence and the joy of your love.
With these I shall be more than rich and shall ask for nothing more.”

In that moment, Ignatius was set free.
It was freedom because,
as long as we are struggling to establish our own worth
            and acquire enough wealth to make ourselves ok,
            we are in bondage to the system.
We can never be self-sufficient.
Self-sufficiency is the carrot in front of the horse’s snout.
The horse keeps straining toward the carrot it can never quite reach.

Some decades ago the world’s richest man was an oil tycoon,
            named J. Paul Getty.
A young journalist once asked him,
            “Mr. Getty, how much money will be enough?”
J. Paul Getty replied, “A little more. Always a little more.”
That was Mr. Getty’s dealing with our stuff .
There  is another way – St. Ignatius’ way.
“All that I am and all that I have you have given me.
            I give it all back.”

Ignatius’ way is an act of acknowledgement and trust
-- acknowledgment that all we have is just on loan from God;
and trust that when we empty ourselves,
      God will fill us up again.

This, brothers and sisters, is the way of life.
Life breathes. We breathe in. We breathe out.
But when it comes to our wealth, fear kicks in.
We inhale and try to keep inhaling and inhaling,
            without ever exhaling – it doesn’t work.
Compulsive acquisition and retention
is how we lose spiritual consciousness.

Every time we exhale it is an act of trust that the next breath will be there.
When we give to God, it is an act of trust that God will still be there
and that God will still be the giver of life
in whom, as Paul said, we live and move and have our being.

 I am going to let you in on a spiritual secret.
The Church needs our money.
She can’t do God’s Mission without it.
The Church needs to receive our money
-- but not half as much as we need to give it.
We desperately need to exhale,
and make a party of giving.

We need a breath of freedom.
We need to give because  our money has a tighter hold on us
                        than we do on it.
A gift is a way to claim freedom in faith.

Now if we really want to exhale,
            if we really want to let go of the money
            and get ourselves free,
            we won’t fret overmuch
                        about whether the Church is spending  “our” money
                        the way we want it spent.
That isn’t giving. It’s buying influence.
Our souls will be better off if we write the check and let it go.

But most of us aren’t there yet.
So let’s look at what the Church does.
The Church worships God
            and worship takes bread, wine, oil, vestments,
            altars, books, and a host of material things.
The Church isn’t an air plant.
It is rooted in material reality so it costs money.

You support a priest so she can be there for people
            in times of joy and times of trouble.
She is here to baptize, marry, counsel, and bury.
When people pass through life’s trials,
            they need God to be present not as an abstract idea
                        but mediated by a person of God
                        trained in pastoral arts and soaked in prayer.

The Church’s money goes to Episcopal Migration Ministries
            making new homes for Syrian refugees.
It goes to Episcopal Relief and Development
            combatting disease and starting economic programs
                        to lift people out of severe poverty
                        (defined as living on under $1 per day)
                                    in Haiti, Kenya, and around the world.

The Church challenges the power brokers
            to actually care for people.
For years, human trafficking legislation in Nevada could not even
            get out of committee until we weighed in.
Then it passed unanimously.
We were the first to support adequate funding for public schools.
We delivered the votes for the Care Act so families know
            how to meet the needs of patients when they come home.
We got Medicaid to increase funding for home health care
to keep people out nursing homes.
We build schools and safe houses in Kenya
            to save girls from genital mutilation and forced marriage.

But most of all we proclaim a gospel of love
            In a world where religion is too often a pretext for hate
We are the outward and visible sign of a God
            who created and loves Black and White, rich and poor,
            straight and gay, Jew and Muslim – all of us.

If you can’t make a gift to God without strings attached,
            then feel free to look at what we do.
I have no problem with that, because what we do is the gospel,
            and as Blessed Paul said,
            “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,
            for it is the power of God that brings salvation.”

Today we begin inviting your pledges.
We will cherish and celebrate them whether they are large or small.
In our church we teach proportional giving.
We give in proportion to two things.
First, we give in proportion to the wealth we have.
Second, we give in proportion to our faith.

Where each of us stands both economically and spiritually
            determines what we can do.
I wish you all well economically but more importantly
            I wish you well spiritually.
There is no pressure. No guilt. No blame.
We must each do what we can at this point on our journey.
The standard is there in 2nd Corinthians chapter 9:
            “Each of you should give what you have decided
in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion,

            for the Lord loves a cheerful giver.”

Sunday, October 11, 2015


We have gathered at this convention to learn
the art of encouragement.
“Encourage” means to instill courage, to cast out fear.
The dictionary definition of “discourage”
         is “to deprive of courage, to dishearten.”
Discouragement and fear are connected.

Last week, when a student killed nine people
on the campus in Roseburg, Oregon,
it was our 45th school shooting in 2015.
In the first 274 days of this year,
         there were 294 shootings involving 4 or more victims.
Our response to such news is fear
-- fear that we or those we love will be threatened
-- fear that the government will take away our guns
-- or just unfocussed in-the-gut fear.

Violence isn’t our only fear.
The threat of shame or failure makes me shake in my boots.
You are afraid of this, I am afraid of that,
         our friends are afraid of something else.
But it’s all fear.
The level of fear in today’s world
         makes the 1950s age of anxiety look like a pic nic.
And the Church too is infected.

These days some of our congregations
         are livelier, healthier, and stronger than ever.
Others are turning things around after years of decline.
But others are still discouraged and afraid
-- afraid that the congregation will die.
Their main mission is just to stave off death.
Believe me I get that.

Nevada’s culture isn’t hospitable to religion.
American has been hostile to religion since 9/11.
Mean-spirited Christians have given us a bad name.
We have been torn apart by internal fighting.
Numbers are down.
That’s scary. It’s discouraging. I get it.

Isaiah was talking to people
         who had good reason to be discouraged too.
Assyria had annihilated 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Babylon had conquered the remaining two,
         razed Jerusalem, and carried their leaders into exile.
Now they were struggling to rebuild Judah, as a vassal state
of the Persian Empire – all in all, pretty grim.

 Then God spoke to people. He said,
         “Do not fear for I am with you. . . .
         I will strengthen you, help you, uphold you . . .
         When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;  . . .
         because you are precious in my sight and I love you . . ..
         Do not fear or be afraid.”

God said, “You are precious in my sight and I love you.”
And, as St. John says,
         “There is no room for fear in love
          for perfect love casts out fear.”
Can you hear God speaking to you in this text
– to you as an individual,
         and also to your congregation, saying,
         “Because you are precious in my sight and I love you,
          do not be afraid or discouraged.”

Hearing that word of God would take
an act of rebellion against the system. 
Besides fear-mongering journalists and politicians,
every time I walk through McCarran airport
         a PA system announcement begins,
         “Due to heightened security . . . “
Heightened from what?
TSA is constantly, over and over,
proclaiming the system’s message:
“Be afraid. Be very afraid.”

But God says, “Do not be afraid.”
According to Walter Brueggemann:
         “This God speaks against fear,
          the very fear by which the gods of the empire
         have kept all parties on orange alert.”

The Bible says “Do not be afraid” 365 times
-- once for each day of the year.
God invites us to what Brueggemann calls
         “a counter-loyalty,” a different way of living,
a security achieved not by gunning up,
shutting down , or breaking off 
                  but by trusting in his grace.

What if we stepped out in faith – out of fear and discouragement
into God’s sustaining love?
What if we remembered that we have been
 “marked as Christ’s own forever”?
This branding iron we use as the verger’s mace
         has a cross in the middle of it.
You know what else has a cross in the middle of it?
Your forehead.
You got it at your baptism
         when you were marked as Christ’s own forever.

If we remember that,
then we just might remember that some bishop somewhere
put hands on our heads saying,
“Strengthen O Lord your servant with your Holy Spirit.
Empower her for your service and sustain her
all the days of her life.”
Don’t just get her by in her secular life project,
but “empower her for your service.”
The next thing God said after teaching Israel
not to be afraid was this:
 “It is too light a thing that you should raise up
         the children of Israel . . . .
         I will give you as a light to the nations
         that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

God called Israel to live by faith instead of fear
         so they could teach the nations to live
by faith instead of fear.

“The nations” then would have been the Persian
         and Egyptian empires.
God called Israel to convert the empires
and change the world.
“I will give you as a light.” It was an echo.
In the beginning, when darkness was all around,
God’s first words were, “Let there be light.”
In 539 BC, God looked at a world darkened by fear,
         and said, “Let there by light.
         Isaiah, listen up, that would be you.
         You are the light.”

500 years later, on a mountain in Galilee,
Jesus told his disciples,
         “You are the light of the world.”
You are the ones to take faith into the world,
         setting all the captives free from the fear
                  that binds them.

 A year later, the risen Lord met his disciples
on a Galilean mountain, maybe the same one.
Jesus said, “Go. Make disciples of all nations . . . .
         teaching them to obey all the commandments
                  I have given you.”
Do you know what commandment
he gave more than any other?
“Do not be afraid.”

“Go to all nations.”
In those days that would have been the Roman Empire.
Go. Convert the Roman Empire.
It took 300 years, but they did it.

 Can you hear God speaking light into the darkness
of today’s fear-crippled world?
Do you know who God has commissioned
         to bear that light into the world?
As Nathan said to David, “that would be you.”

But who are the nations today?
Who out there is living by fear instead of faith?
We won’t have to look far.
They are all around us.
Our friends and neighbors are huddled in darkness.

A few years back, the mystery novelist
         Nevada Barr was out walking in the snow and darkness
         one night in a small town on the Western Slope in Colorado.
Her husband had dumped her. She was out of work,
         and was drinking too much.
Nevada Barr was afraid her life was irredeemably wrecked.
It was a bad night.
But she saw the light on in a little Episcopal Church.
She was an atheist but she tried the door anyway.
To her surprise it opened.

A few older ladies were inside singing along
with a recording of Taize chants.
She tried to get away but they nabbed her.
She’s a good Episcopalian today.
But more importantly, she’s alive, creative,
         and in the game.
The church ladies were there encouraging each other.
Then they encouraged her too.

So brothers and sisters, encourage one another.
Turn on the light at your Church on a weeknight.
Be there and when someone drops in,
         offer them a place at the hearth.