Sunday, February 28, 2016


As I was processing out of Church after this sermon, a disillusioned Viet Nam vet, who said his heart is still “torn apart,” handed me a note that said,“I don’t’ know if God exists, but if so, I want it to be the God you spoke of this morning.” Wanting God to exist is way better than just holding the opinion God exists without it really mattering. I pray that the god Moses met on Horeb is a god you want to exist and that such  a god does.

Today’s lesson from Exodus is the biggest zinger
            of a surprise in all religious literature.
Everything in the Bible turns on this.
But in order for us to get it,
            we need to do a little trick with our minds.
We have to forget about everything that happens in the Bible
            leading up to this moment.
The reason is: those beautiful and deeply true myths and legends
            would not be written until hundreds of years after the event
                        in today’s lesson.
This text would do a lot more to shape those stories
            than they could shape this event.

So forget all that.
Let me tell you another story instead – the story of religion          
            before Moses met God on Mt. Horeb.

Stone Age hunter-gatherers had some primitive religion,
            but we don’t know much about it,
            except that it was a pretty unstructured thing
                        done by guys out in the bear caves.
Formal structured religion was born with the invention of agriculture
around 10,000 BC.
Once we started farming, small groups of people began to acquire
            more and more land.
But to make use of that land, they needed farmworkers.
So that’s when we got forced labor,
            kings with taskmasters to keep the slaves in line,
            and standing armies to protect royal land claims
                        from greedy neighbors.

Religion grew up in the context of agrarian tyranny.
It really was, as Marx said, “the opiate of the masses.”
Religion explained and defended the injustice of oppression.
The gods and the kings, you see, were close friends, even relatives.
Some of the kings actually were gods.

For poor people, religion meant trying to buy a blessing
            with a sacrifice, a tiny bit of which was burned on an altar,          
            but the rest was kept by the rich folks to sell.
The gods helped the kings keep the poor folk in line.
In all of ancient religion, there was no exception
-- not one -- until that day on Mt. Horeb.

A god Moses did not worship, did not sacrifice to
-- a god he’d never head of and never spoken to –
out of nowhere that god spoke to him.
And God said the strangest thing.
He said, “I have heard my people’s cry.//
            I have seen how they suffer under their oppressors.”
Now those people didn’t worship this god either.
They did not sacrifice to this god, pray to this god, or believe in this god.
So what made them his people?
Just this: they suffered.

All of the other gods of the ancient world were gods of the rich and powerful.
Pharaoh was one of the gods himself and close kin to the others.
But the god of Horeb was the god of the oppressed.
And he said,
            “I have heard my people’s cry.
            So Moses, go tell Pharaoh, go tell that popinjay poser deity,
                        to let my people go.
            My people. Let them go.”

This was a revolution in religion on two counts.
First, we now had a god on the other side of class struggle.
Second, up to now, religion was not interested in morality.
It was about sacrifices to buy blessings or prevent curses.
Religion was a mix of cosmic graft and celestial protection money.
But this was a god who cared – and cared mightily –
about right and wrong – cared about morality --
and the morality he cared about was social justice.
This god was moved to act, not by bribery, but by his conscience,
which went hand in hand with his compassion.

So what had these people done to earn God’s blessing?
Nothing. They just needed him. So he showed up.

He didn’t say,
            “Moses, go tell the people I have this 613 commandment law
            and if they’ll keep it strictly for three years,
            I’ll have a word with Pharaoh.”
No, they didn’t have to do a thing.
God just acted out of his compassion to set them free.

After they were free,
            God gave them the law as a way to respond to his action.
But even then, the law wasn’t to meet his need.
It was to help the people live into the freedom he’d bestowed.
The word for law was halacha – the way of life.
“I set before you life and death,” God said, “choose life.”

Some of the law was still ancient ritual stuff
            they probably got from their neighbors.
But the heart of the law was God teaching the people compassion,
            teaching mercy for the down and out – the widow, the orphan,
                        the laborer, the outcast – and most of all the alien.

“Do not oppress an alien,” God said, “for remember that  
            you were once aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 22: 21.
In a world where religion was all about the right of the rich
            to oppress the poor,
            here was a god saying the way of life is not land acquisition
-- not exploiting the labor of the landless.
-- not leading powerful armies against your weaker neighbor.

Real life is found in simple acts of mercy.
When you harvest your crop, leave some for the poor.
When you hire a worker, pay a fair wage.
Loan money and if the debtor cannot pay, forgive the debt.

I cannot begin to express how utterly bizarre this religion was
in the Ancient World.
1,300 years later, Jesus did not reverse that religion of Moses.
The kings of Israel and their minions did that
when they turned into the Jewish equivalent of pharaohs.
But Jesus reclaimed it.
Jesus spoke with the same heart as that strange god of Horeb.

He led his people up a mountainside, a place like the one
            where Moses heard God’s voice.
And Jesus said,
            “Blessed are the poor.
             Blessed are the bereaved.
             Blessed are the hungry and thirsty.
             Blessed are the merciful.”

God has shown us his heart
            and invites our hearts to beat in sync with his.
That is the way to life and true happiness.
So, where do we stand this Lent? On Mt. Horeb.

Our God is the one who hears people cry.
Do we hear them?
The top 1 percent earn an average $6 million dollars per year
-- more than doubling their share of the national income in my lifetime.
The bottom 90 percent average $33,000 per year, which means
            a lot of them are earning way less.

We have the highest incarceration rate in the world.
We lock up dramatically more of our people than countries
            we call totalitarian.
Latinos are three times as likely as whites to be incarcerated.
Blacks are six times as likely.
One out of every 10 black men in his thirties is in prison.
And this is not about the crime rate.
The crime rate went down,
            but the incarceration rate keeps going up.

Others of God’s people are imprisoned in addiction or domestic abuse.
And we do have the alien in our land
-- the Salvadoran alien, the Mexican alien, the Syrian alien,
the Pakistani alien.

So brothers and sisters, our feet this Lent are on Mt. Horeb
            and God is speaking to us.
I do not hear God saying,
            “Give up Facebook for a few weeks
                        and lay off the lattes.”
No, God is saying,
            “I have heard my people cry.
             Do you not hear it? Are you deaf?
            Go tell your American pharaohs
                        to let my people go.
            My people. Let them go.”

Tuesday, February 23, 2016


As I have been working a lot on raising money to help our friends in Kenya this Lent, my mind turns to this sermon I preached at All Souls Cathedral, Machakos, Kenya in Lent of 2012

I bring you greetings from the Episcopal Church in Nevada.
I will share with you today what I believe the Holy Spirit
            is saying to us through our Gospel lesson
                        about Jesus’ cleansing the Temple.

But first I ask you patience.
I want to tell you about my home
            and what it means for me to be here.
Like Kenya, my home is beautiful but it knows suffering.
Nevada is a very large state with not many people in it.
It takes many hours to drive from one church to another.
Our land is a vast desert with hundreds and hundreds of mountains,
            more mountain ranges than any other state in the USA.

In much of Nevada, it is too dry to grow crops or raise cattle.
In the countryside, our main way to make money is mining.
We mine all sorts of things, especially gold.
The only place in the world
            that produces more gold than Nevada is South Africa.

We have one large city, Las Vegas, where there is a lot of entertainment.
Some of it is good, healthy entertainment. Some is bad for people.
You have heard that there is much drunkenness
            and other bad behavior in Nevada.
It is true.
Much of this is caused by loneliness.
Very few of our people grew up there.
Most of us do not have families living near us.
I have no family in Nevada except my wife.
So it can be lonely.

There is more despair than faith in our land.
87% of our people have no connection to any religion.
So it is not surprising that our suicide rate is two times as high
            as the average in the USA.
Many people are addicted to drugs or alcohol.
There is much violence in the families and much divorce. 

Nevada is a beautiful barren place,
            much like parts of  the Holy Land where Jesus lived.
Our people are brave, humorous, strong, and kind.
You have to be strong to live in the desert.
But there is loneliness and despair all around us.

So God has given our Church an important mission.
We are there to proclaim Jesus’ message of hope.
We are there to speak up for the poor and the suffering,
            to reach out to the lonely and the hopeless.
It is a hard mission, but an important one in God’s eyes.

We need your prayers.
I pray for this Diocese of Machakos every day.
Please pray for us in Nevada.
Pray that God will pour out his Spirit on our Church
            like a long steady rain that we may be Christ in our desert.

There are probably many things about the Church in Kenya
            that I cannot understand because I am not Kenyan.
I hope to understand more after this visit.
There may be things about the Church in Nevada or the USA
            you do not understand.

I can tell you this much.
Many people in my home land need Jesus
            but have no idea who Jesus is.
They do not even know the most famous Bible stories.
We are trying our best to bring people to Jesus.
I learned this expression
            from a old political movement 40 years ago.
“By any means necessary.”
It’s basically the same thing St. Paul said,
            “I want to bring people to Jesus
                        by any means necessary.”

That is what we are trying with all our might
            to do in Nevada which is a desert of land
                        and a desert of the spirit.
I am very happy to be here with you today.
I am happy for several reasons.
The first is that there are so many Anglicans here.
There are five times as many Anglicans in Kenya
            as in the USA.
In Nevada, there are very, very few of us
            even compared to the rest of the USA.

We are a small church in a large desert.
So it is a great joy to be here
            where there are so many people
            who worship and pray in the same way I do.

The second reason I am happy to be here
            is that we cannot know who we are
                        unless we know our story,
            and that includes the story of our ancestors.
So I am here to see and to touch the land of my ancestors.

Does it surprise you that a white man would say that?
African-Americans have always looked to Africa
            to learn the ways of their ancestors.
But today, our best scientists believe that the whole human race
            – black, white, brown, or yellow – all of humanity
            began in East Africa, very possibly right here in Kenya.
And they believe that it all began with one human couple
            just as the Bible says,
            that this is Eden and Adam and Eve were East Africans,
                        possibly Kenyans.

You probably already know this.
Most Americans do not.
But the likely fact that this is where human life began
            makes your home a sacred place
                        – a holy place like Jerusalem –
            so I feel blessed and grateful to be here.

My wife Linda and I thank you for welcoming us
            to your beautiful home,
            a place of rich culture and tradition,
            a place of ancient civilization,
                         the place where all our stories began.

Today’s Gospel lesson describes one of the most striking moments
            in our Christian story.
It tells us that when Jesus went to the Temple
            for Passover, he found people doing all sorts of business.
He found cattle, sheep, and doves being sold for sacrifice.
He found money changers doing a banking business.

This is the one time when Jesus was violent.
He drove them all out with a whip, turned over their tables.
            scattered their money, and shouted at them,
            “Stop making my Father’s house a market place.”//

Now Jesus did not have anything against market places.
He went to them and through them all the time.
He taught and healed people in the market place.
He used the business of the market place
            to make spiritual points in his stories.
Jesus had nothing against doing business in the marketplace.
What made him angry was using the Temple for a marketplace,
            because the Temple is holy.

Matthew tells us that when Jesus drove the merchants and bankers
            out of the Temple, he said “My house . . . is a house of prayer.”
Business is ok in the business district,
            but not in God’s house.
The Temple is for prayer and prayer alone.

There are two important things we can learn from this story
            – one is important for our private lives
            – the other is important for our mission as the Church.
Let’s start with our private lives.

What does Jesus cleansing them Temple have to do with us?
What does Jesus cleansing the Temple have to do
            with your heart, your spirit?

St. Paul said to the Corinthians and he says to us,
            “Do you not know that you are God’s Temple
                        and God’s Spirit dwells in you?”//
Your heart is the Temple of God.
Your heart was created to be a house of prayer.
But often we turn our heart into a marketplace.
The busy thoughts of the world take possession of us.
We plan, we plot, we think “if this happens then I may gain something.
            It that happens I may lose something.”
And our heat beats faster with the hope of gain or the fear of loss.
Our hearts beat faster like the hearts of the gamblers in Las Vegas.

And we think “If I do such and such, I will have a better chance.
            But what if this or that happens? Then what shall I do?”
And our heads do not rest easy in our beds.
We breathe a little too quickly and take in too little air
            with each breath.
We have no peace. We have no serenity.
We are out of balance and we cannot pray.

Jesus said “My house . . . is a house of prayer.”
Your heart was shaped by God to be a house of prayer,
but most of our hearts are often busy and fretful like marketplaces.

Now it is a good thing to do business.
It good to grow food or make things to sell.
The marketplace is part of life.
The market place is human and God loves it.

The marketplace is where justice can happen.
It is where mercy and friendship happen.
The marketplace is good. We belong there.

But we also need a house of prayer.
We need a serene center in our selves, a place of peace.
We need hearts that hear the word of the Lord, saying
            “Be still and know that I am God. . . .
            Search your hearts while you are in bed and be silent.”

It is good to jump into the busy hustle and bustle of life,
            to go to the marketplace to buy and to sell,
            to talk, to tell stories and listen to stories.
But we also need to leave the marketplace a little while each day.
Jesus left the hustle and bustle of his ministry of teaching and healing
            to be alone and to pray.
He withdrew into solitude, withdrew into the temple
            of his own heart.
“Go to away by yourself and shut the door,” Jesus said,
            “pray in secret to your father who is in secret.”

Brothers and sisters, save the very center of your soul
            as a place to be alone with God.
Maybe you have a room in your house where you can pray.
Or maybe you go out walking alone.
Pray while you watch the sunset.
Or get up before dawn and pray while the sun is rising.
Pray as you take your bath.
Pray as you put away your tools at the end of the day.
Each of us must choose his own time and his own place.
Because it is a time and place that belongs to you and God alone.
The active life of business and family is a gift from God,     
            but it can be as stormy as a typhoon.
We are often caught up in the busy activity of life
            and it blows us around in circles like a typhoon.
But even in the typhoon there is a still center.

We call it “the eye of the storm.”
I don’t know why we call it that.
Maybe it’s because it is when we step out of the whirling wind
            into the still place, that’s where we can actually see
                        what’s happening.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus invites you to step out of the storm
            into the still center of your own hearts each day.
God says, “Be still and know that I am God.”

Let Jesus drive the fears and ambitions, thoughts and plans
            out of your hearts so that you can be alone with him
                        in prayer, give yourself to him in prayer.

And what shall you do in the solitude?
What shall you say to the Lord?
You can recite a prayer from the Prayer Book.
Or you can speak to Jesus of your deepest desires.
You can tell him what you truly want in life.
Or you can just imagine his face.
St. Francis used to sit in silence and pray for hours.
Someone said, “Francis, tell us how you pray.”
Francis answered, “I look at him and he looks at me.”
It can be as simple as that.

There is no one else who can love you so perfectly as Jesus,
            no one else who accepts you so completely just as you are.
It is a sacred duty to spend time with Jesus in prayer.
But it is also the deepest joy, the quietest peace we can know.

St. Augustine, the greatest African saint,
            regretting how much of his life was wasted in busy ambition,
                        prayed these words,
            “So late I came to love you, O Beauty so Ancient and so new.
            So late I came to love you . . .
            I ran after . . . the things you have made.
            But you were inside me. And I was not with you. . .
            You called, you cried, you shone through my blindness. . . .
            You touched me, and (now) I ardently desire your peace.”

If we turn away from the things of the world a little while each day,
            then our hearts will prepared to worship together
                        when come to church on Sunday.
Our prayer and our singing, our taste of the Holy Communion,
            will be so much deeper than if we have spent the whole
                        week lost in the ways of the world.

If we have spent time with Jesus in the solitude and silence,         
            we will bring a larger soul to the Church on Sunday.
And we will bring a larger soul into our acts of kindness
            for one another and our work for justice and peace.
We cannot bring peace to a war torn world
            unless we first have peace inside ourselves.

Now we have arrived at the second point we can learn
            from the story about Jesus’ cleansing the Temple.
This point is about the mission of the Church.
I do not know how this is in Kenya.
But we have a challenge in the America.

There are other Churches there
            that preach a different message from ours.
Their religion is all about prosperity.
They say that if you believe in Jesus,
            he will make you rich, healthy, and successful.
Their religion does not have the cross in it.
They would never observe the season of Lent.

Their religion is all about becoming rich and powerful
            in this world.
They have nothing to say about justice, mercy, and compassion.
They have nothing to say about the duty and joy of helping each other.
It’s all about how to get God to serve us,
            not how we serve God’s mission of peace and love.

Naturally, those churches are popular and they are growing.
It is a candy-coated gospel. It is a sweet poison.
But it is popular because it promises people  
            what they want in their pockets,
            not what they need in their souls.

So our people in the Anglican churches
            say “Look how they are growing.
            Their message is popular.
            Why don’t we do that in our Church?”

I have heard that other religions in Africa
            and even some other Christian churches
                        are doing the same thing.
I have heard that other religions promise
            all sorts of worldly rewards
                        for people who will join them.

This may not be an issue for you yet.
But if you have not already been tempted,
            you may someday be tempted to become like them.
But I beg you in the name of Jesus, do not be led astray.
I beg you in the name of Jesus, do not turn the Church
            into a marketplace.

Each human heart is a little Temple of God.
When we bring our hearts together in the Church,
            when we unite our hearts in the Holy Communion, 
                        this is God’s Temple.
God is here.
And Jesus said, “My house is a house of prayer.
            Do not make it into a market place.”

Brothers and sisters we are not here to sell our religion.
We are not here to twist our sacred truths
            to fit what the market demands,
            we are not here to sell whatever people are most likely to buy.

We are here to proclaim Christ crucified.
Our Jesus did not turn the stones to bread,
            did not accept political and military power over the whole world,
            and did not  perform his miracles in public to make himself a hero.
He was born in a stable,
            wandered without a home to teach God’s truth,
            and went to the cross to suffer and die
                        – all out of love for us.

Our faith in Christ crucified calls us to help one another,
            not use God to help us get ahead of our neighbor.
Our faith calls us to share what we have in love.
Our faith calls us to befriend the outcast,
            to stand up for justice against power,
            to give ourselves to Jesus who gave his life or us.

It is a costly faith.
But it offers so much more in return
            than worldly wealth and power.
It offers the peace of God which surpasses all understanding.

I know the Anglican Church of Kenya helps people
            to have better, happier lives.
I know of your work in clinics, orphanages, and schools.
I know a little of your work in economic development.
These are acts of justice and mercy.
They are God’s mission.

But God’s mission must be done from the heart
            which is God’s Temple.
All of our good works in the world depend on prayer.
“Unless the Lord builds the house,
            its builders labor in vain.”

So I beg you, Brothers and sisters,
            make each of your hearts a house of prayer
                        where you give yourselves to Jesus;
            preserve this Cathedral as a house of prayer
                        where we give our common life to Jesus.
Then we can go out into the world to do the work
            God has given us to do.
We can go in peace to love and serve the Lord.