Sunday, October 23, 2016


“In my beginning is my end (and) in my end is my beginning,”
         said T. S. Eliot.
My very first sermon was the stewardship sermon
right here at St. Michael’s 30 years ago.
As the sun begins to set on my ordained ministry,
         this is where I need to be.
Thank you Dean Demarest for inviting me back home.
Thank you Bishop Thom for giving the ok.

I want you to know that what this congregation does matters.
It mattered to me in 1980 when I came here,
 looking for some glimmer of hope in a darkened life.

I found Jesus here in you.
I first received received the Blessed Sacrament
kneeling at this altar rail.
St. Michael’s turned my life around.
I know this Church matters to many of you in the same way.

It also matters to all the folks outside these walls
         to whom each of us bear the Christ light in countless ways.
It’s like collateral damage -- only this is collateral blessing.
Like the Samaritan in our Gospel lesson
         we pass on the grace we have received.
I’ve gotten that part wrong many times.
         I’ve gotten it right a few times.
Let me tell you about one of those times.

It may sound like I’m talking about me,
But it’s really a story about you because
         when I’ve gotten it right, it was thanks to you.

I was rector of a small church in Macon, Georgia,
         when one day some people called me
to come see their dying mother.
She had never darkened a church door in Macon
         and no one had heard of her kids.
So I had no idea why they wanted me there.
And a little bit of  “these are not our people”
was stirring in me too.

But when I arrived, they explained
Mamma had been the pillar of her church
40 miles up the road.
She was head of the altar guild, first woman on the vestry, etc. etc.
She dearly loved that church.
But when she and Daddy got divorced,
the priest kicked her out -- literally excommunicated her.

Mamma had not been to church for 30 years.
She was bitter.
Now she lay dying.
Medically, by all rights, she should have died days ago
but she just couldn’t let go.  
The kids figured something was unresolved.

So I went in to see her  
         but instead of inviting her to confess her sins,
         I confessed the sin of the church against her
         and begged her forgiveness.
She wept and forgave us, then died peacefully the next day.

You sent me to do that.
Whatever Christianity I could draw on in that moment
         had its roots right here at St. Michael’s Cathedral.
What you do mattered to that old lady in Georgia
         and it matters to people in Boise
         whose lives are touched everyday by Episcopalians
         who’ve found their faith in this place.

The most liberating kind of faith I learned at St. Michael’s
         was the freedom the Samaritan had,
the freedom we get from giving stuff away.
It was here I learned that what I had wasn’t really mine.
I didn’t possess my stuff. My stuff possessed me.

I learned that all I had was God’s free gift
         and I could give it back --  trusting God
                  to provide for me as he’d always done.
I learned that to live we have to breathe.
To breathe in all the way, we have to breathe out all the way.
We have to give in order to receive.

The more we open our hands to God’s mission
         the more we open our hearts to receive the blessings
                  God wants to give us.
It isn’t magic. It isn’t buying a blessing.
It’s just opening our hands to open our hearts
to receive the blessings God already longs to give.
St. Michael’s taught me that,
         so I’m back here to say thank you, thank you, thank you
         for making my life so much richer.

Mohandas Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself
         is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Just so, the best investment of our money is in the service of others.

Jesus said – now listen up –
this isn’t some jackleg bishop from Sin City talking --
Jesus said this:
 “Do not store up for yourselves treasure on earth
         where the moth corrupts and the thief breaks in to steal.
Rather, store up for yourselves treasure in heaven,        
         where the moth does not corrupt and the thief does not
                  break in to steal.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

But St. Augustine replied, “Ok but where is this heaven?
         Is it in the sky? No,” Augustine said,
         “Heaven is in each other.”
Store up your treasure in each other.
Heaven isn’t some cloud we float on when we die.
It’s a network of compassionate generous relationship.

Yes it’s a safety net that catches us when we die,
         but we can live in that network right now.
Heaven is life in God’s mission.

God has entrusted St. Michael’s with three parts of that mission.
First, as a congregation, you extend God’s love to one another
as you shared it with our family back in the 80s.

As the Cathedral, you have two other missions.
You have a mission to Boise.
This city has grown and changed beyond anything
         I could have imagined when I left.

Boise today needs a community engaged Cathedral
to be its spiritual heart,
         showing everyone of any faith or no faith
         some Christ light that is open-minded and generous of spirit.
The Falwells, Robertsons, and Franklin Grahams
have branded Christianity as a hateful bigoted cult
that young people, bright people,
         and good-hearted Idahoans won’t touch with a 10-foot pole.

Those good people are cut off from Christ,
         and good people need Jesus too.
Your mission is to show Jesus to Boise as he is
-- not as others have slandered him.

Third, as the Cathedral, you have a mission to other churches
         in this diocese – a mission to help them out
         with resources small congregations
         can’t generate from their own ranks.
That’s what it means to be a Cathedral.
A Cathedral is a resource church for a whole diocese.

There is no lovelier state than Idaho.
But it gets lonely out there and small towns are struggling.
They need help and you have it to give.

Those three missions take money – the money
         our culture has brainwashed us to think is ours.
But it’s God’s money entrusted to us for God’s mission.

Brothers and sisters, you have blessed many lives.
You have blessed my life richly.
But God has given you the ability to do so much more.
God has given you the ability to do things
         that will make Boise sit up and take notice –
         that will make Idaho sit up and take notice.
God longs to do a new thing here -- to flower in a new way.
 a bigger, brighter, altogether better way.

But God won’t do it without you.
God loves you too much for that.
God loves you too much to leave you out
         of this adventure.

God invites you to open your hands and your hearts
         to this mission -- not just for the sake of all those
         who have been alienated from the faith by bigots,
         not just for the sake of struggling congregations,
         but for your own sakes.

God wants you to know the freedom and the richness
                  of placing your treasure and your heart
in this living breathing network

                  of human relationships that Jesus called heaven itself.

Thursday, September 15, 2016


In the Parable of the Vineyard,
         some work dawn to dusk,
         some work noon to quittin’ time,
         others work just for the last hour of the day;
         but they all get paid the same.
Jesus says God’s Kingdom is like that.

I first read this story about 50 years ago,
         and it didn’t make much sense to me then.
I studied it in seminary and I’ve heard
         at least a dozen sermons on it.                                               
In fact, I’ve preached a few myself.
But I never felt like I got it until this year.

It clicks for me now because I’m looking at it
from a new perspective.
My new perspective comes from a lot of years
         laboring in the vineyard of the church
         and from the novel I’m reading these days.
Sometimes literature can shed light on Scripture.

So let’s start with the novel.
I am reading Larry MacMurtry’s Lonesome Dove.
The principal characters in Lonesome Dove are driving a herd of cattle
from the Rio Grande Valley to Montana.
Even if you haven’t read the book or seen the mini-series,
         I’m sure you get the picture.
The crew has to work together, hard work,
         dangerous work, facing and surmounting hardships.
There isn’t any room for ego-pampering.
There isn’t time for jealousy or competition.
There isn’t any tolerance for whining.
The only thing to do, day in day out,
         in good times or in bad,
         is to cowboy up and get on with the drive.
The heroism of Augustus, Captain Call, and the other characters,
when they are heroic, is just this: they get the job done.

I have always read this Gospel lesson
         from the standpoint of the laborers
         and I have accepted unquestioningly
         that their purpose in working is just to get paid.

But let’s look at it for a minute from the perspective
         of the landowner.
His goal is to produce a crop of grapes.
He may have paid those who worked an hour
         the same as those who worked all day
                  out of some eccentric view of justice.
But more likely he just wasn’t that interested
         in his personnel costs.
He didn’t want to buy a time clock,
or hire a human resources department,
         a comptroller, and an EEOC compliance officer.
He didn’t bother to keep track of the time sheets.
He was just trying to grow some grapes.
If it doesn’t help you to imagine this guy
         as Robert Duval in Lonesome Dove,
         then try Henry Fonda in Sometimes a Great Notion.
Sometimes you have to just get the job done.

Now what do the laborer’s care about in today’s parable?
At their best, the real heart and soul cowboys
in Lonesome Dove cared about the cattle drive.
They cared about the cattle
         and in their cantankerous Texan way,
         they sometimes even cared about each other.

Would it be too much to hope that vinedressers
         might care about the vineyard?
Sure they would expect to get paid what was promised,
         but assuming that was done,
         their minds might be on the vineyard
                  instead of competition.

They might be more interested in whether
they had properly pruned or tied the vines,
         than in how the landowner kept his books.
When they begin whining about someone else
         getting too much pay, the landowner replies
         in a way that sounds to me a lot like,
         “Just cowboy up and get on with the drive.”

Jesus is teaching a religion here,
         but it isn’t the one we may think of as Christianity.
He’s talking about the Kingdom
         which turns out not to be a reward for our morality
                  but a way of life committed to doing God’s will.
 God’s will is to give us a mission.

We Anglicans spell out that mission
         as five fundamental projects.
1.    To proclaim the Gospel to the world – that’s evangelism.
2.    To Baptize and educate new believers – that’s Christian formation.
3.    To respond with mercy to suffering – that’s charity and pastoral care.
4.    To challenge unjust social structures – that’s prophetic advocacy.
5.    To sustain and renew God’s creation – that’s earth stewardship.

At stake are the lives of children.
A child dies of hunger related causes every five seconds
while more of our foreign aid goes to buy guns
than to buy food.
At stake are the hopes of people falling into despair
in a culture grown cynical and grim.
At stake is the survival of our planet.
Our mission is bigger than a grape crop, bigger than a cattle drive.
There is no room in it for pettiness, jealousy, or ego-agendas.

Yet the typical parish church spends half its energy and attention
         making sure everyone who wants their way
gets it often enough.
I have seen church people at each other’s throats
         over the kind of floor covering to put in a parish hall,
                  while the polar ice caps are melting.

Likewise, dioceses dissipate their energies making sure this parish
         does not feel slighted by some attention to that parish.
Then there is the competition of denominations,
         and jockeying over moral superiority
         or whose theology can be more orthodox or erudite.

When I look at Church squabbles, I hear Christ say,
         “Cowboy up and get on with the drive.”
Unless and until we do that,
         I don’t know why people outside the church
                  should get mixed up with us.

I used to think the pettiness, jealousy, and bickering
         in churches was just human nature.
Maybe it is, but I think there is also something wrong
         with our religion that makes these vices worse, not better.
Too many of us have gotten the idea that Christianity
         is about doing something, or believing something,
                  or having some kind of experience
         that is our ticket on the Wonderland Express of salvation.

It may be moral living or orthodox thinking
         or spiritual giddiness – but the idea is to earn some spiritual wage,
         to get the gold star of God’s blessing.
And we would like to be more moral, more orthodox, or more spiritual
         than the next guy so we can get more of the blessing
or be more sure that we have our religious nest feathered.

But Jesus says in this parable, “it isn’t about that.”
The kingdom of heaven is not like Oz at the end of the yellow brick road.
It is like this story of the vineyard.
The kingdom is laboring in the vineyard for the sake of the vineyard.
We don’t save the planet to get a Nobel Prize.
We do it because we love the planet.

We don’t share the gospel to show how good we are.
We do it because we love the gospel and the people we share it with.

Suppose we lived -- not just our church lives --
         but all of our lives without so much concern
                  for getting our fair share of credit.
Suppose we lived like Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Jr.,
         Theresa of Avila or any of the saints who were
                  so caught up in the mission they lost themselves in it.
Suppose we found our true lives
         by losing our egos in God’s Kingdom.
Then we might come into ourselves and live life fully,
         enjoying the game for the thrill of the game,
         not distracted by keeping score.

That kind of life would be living in God’s Kingdom.