Monday, July 30, 2018


What you think of our current political leaders
         depends mostly on which tv news channel 
         you choose to watch. 
It’s like that with the kings of Israel.
On one hand, the prophets did not think higly of the kings. 
On the other hand,
a lot of 2ndSamuel and all of Chronicles appear 
         to have been written by the royal press secretary. 
A couple of weeks ago we read how David gathered a crowd
         and fed them all a decent meal. 
He was an impressive benefactor. 

But then, in today’s lesson, it’s as if a reporter from CNN
snuck onto Fox or vice versa.
The prophet Nathan shows up and points out 
that the King is feloniously corrupt.
It isn’t just the adultery. It’s the murder of Uriah. 
It’s a story about power fatally misued.

Israel’s first king, Saul was crazy as a coot. 
Next, David was a narcissistic murderer. 
Next, Solomon, a greedy tyrant, taxed half his people into ruin
         and forced the rest into involuntary military service
         so he could expand his empire.
After that the kings got 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.
It sounded like he was campaigning for office. 

Then Jesus gathered thousands of people as David had done
         and fed them as David had fed them. 
The crowd figured, if it walks like a king and quacks like a king,
         it must be a king.
So, they started planning an insurrection to put Jesus
on Granddaddy David’s throne.  
But that isn’t the kind of kingdom Jesus had in mind.
When they were coming to take him to a throne,
         Jesus high tailed it.

As Jesus saw it, the Romans were a gang of thugs
         but another gang of thugs overthrowing them
                  wouldn’t change anything. 
The road to peace isn’t war.

Jesus didn’t want the dominating power of an earthly throne.
So, when he heard they were going to make him king,
         he skedaddled.
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 we cannot compel
         with guns, tanks, and armed drones.
We cannot create life with the means of death.
Only love can do that. 
Jesus 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.”

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

But it’s a different kind of power than we usually think of. 
This power grows inside us, Paul says,
         “as we are being rooted and grounded in love.”
It isn’t the life crushing power of violence and dominance.
It’s much bigger than that. 
It’s the power that sustains the universe 
“by a continual and infinitely patient act of love.”
It is the power that Dante’s says,
         “moves the sun and all the lesser stars.”
It is the power that God told Lady Julian
         holds the fragile cosmos in being.
It’s big power. Really big.

The other words I love in our lesson are 
         “rooted and grounded.”
This love isn’t 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, Doris,
         to the ocean in Florida.
As a Nashville streetwalker, 
she’d 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.”
We are rooted and grounded in that power.

When we confirm a new member,
         we don’t pray, “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 for becoming a force that will change this broken,
         fallen, suffering world into the Kingdom of God.

Thursday, July 26, 2018


There is One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.
Paul said that – a lot – in different ways.
His Epistles are all about the same thing:
            how to be the Church, the Body of Christ. 
The first churches were always dividing up into factions
            over this issue here; over that issue there.
In Corinth, some folk spoke in tongues and some didn’t.
Some ate meat, and some didn’t. 

In Syria, next door to Israel,
most of the Christians were ethnically Jewish
            and still practiced Judaism.
For them, Christianity was another party within Judaism,
            like the Pharisees or Sadducees.
But take things up to Western Turkey
and demographics shift.
Things were different around Ephesus.
There were Jews and some of the Jews were Christian.
But the majority of the Christians were gentiles.
So, the church division was still between Jew and gentile.

There had been a real blowout nearby in Galatia,
            over whether you could even be a Christian
            if you didn’t convert to Judaism first,
            and for men that meant getting circumcised.
That’s the kind of division Paul was writing into.

We have all seen Christians divide up over all sorts of things:
            women’s ordination, dancing, drinking, movies on Sundays – 
            whether the born-again experience is essential to salvation,
whether baptism in the spirit with tongue speaking 
                        is essential to salvation; 
            whether the promised millennium of peace and justice
                        is to come before or after the rapture;
            whether there will be a rapture;
            whether the virgin birth is literal or symbolic.

We have divided over incense, prayer book revision,
            abortion, gay marriage, background checks for gun buyers,
and whether it is too Catholic to put candles on the altar.
You name it. 
In Nevada, we divide up urban versus rural, 
            North versus South, and East versus West. 
Whenever we run out of issues to divide up over,
            we get busy inventing some new ones.

What is true in the church is especially true in the wider society.
In his landmark book, The Big Sort, Bill Bishop lays out the facts.
America is more diverse than ever.
But we have divided ourselves up as never before 
to ensure that we only interact people like ourselves
--- people who look, think, and even eat like we do.

We live in neighborhoods of people like us.
We go to churches where we all think alike.
We watch news channels carefully programed to offer only facts
            that support whatever opinions we already hold. 
Social media logarithms insure we see the posts
            that will pour gasoline on whatever fire
            we have already have going. 

The social and political impact is obvious: division and discord.
We have redrawn the congressional districts into conservative
            or liberal
so candidates do not have to campaign across ideological lines.
That’s why there are no longer any moderates to broker deals
and Congress no longer works.

Our divisions also have a personal impact.
Philosopher Martha Nussbaumsays we are losing 
            our very ability to imagine how things look to someone else.
That makes our world smaller. It shrinks our lives. 
We can divide up Black versus white,
            English speaker versus Spanish speaker, liberal versus conservative. 
The categories don’t matter.
What matters is the very act of dividing up 
            that isolates us and narrows our minds.

It was into just such a division that Ephesianswas written.
You can substitute any of our contemporary divisions       
            for the division of Jew versus gentile in this letter
            and we’ll see how the message plays. 
Paul said, Now . . .you who once were far off 
            have been brought near by the blood of Christ.        
For he is our peace. //

In his flesh he has made both groups into one
            and has broken down the dividing wall,
            that is the hostility between us.

My bishop in Georgia used to have a saying.
When people would ask him if he could work 
            with some person or group of people, he’d say,
            I haven’t met anyone yet that Jesus didn’t die for his sins.//
And that, my friends, is where it stands.
There may be somebody we don’t agree with. 
We may not even like him very much.
But you know what: Jesus went to the cross for him too.
Jesus shed his blood for him too.

We drink that blood in Holy Communion to make us one.
We lay down our grudges and animosities
            in order to take Jesus into our hearts at the rail.

There are so many standards 
by which we judge each other as right or wrong,
wise or foolish, good or bad.
Paul had a word for those standards.
He called them the law.
And we’ve got all kinds of law:
            we have liberal laws that judge conservatives
            and conservative laws that judge liberals.
We got a law lurking around every corner. 
The law is the standard of judgment we use to set ourselves apart.
But Paul says,
            (Jesus) has abolished the law with its commandments . . .,
            that he might create in himself onenew humanity;
in place of the two, thus making peace,
            and might reconcile both groups into one body through the cross.

One speaks Spanish; the other, English.
One is black descended from slaves; the other, white,
descended from slave owners.
One is straight; the other, gay. 
And we all got a law to make us right and the other guy wrong.

But the Bible says, (Jesus) has abolished the law . . .
            that he might create in himself onenew humanity.
How did he do that?
He went to the cross for both sides
            of every division we can invent.

Paul says Jesus . . . reconcile(d) both groups into one body 
through the cross.
When Jesus brings us together in the Body of Christ,
            he doesn’t abolish our differences.
He doesn’t make us all alike. 
He leaves us different.
But he gives us something in common
-- something that runs deeper than our differences.
He gives us grace. 
He gives us salvation.
He gives us the love of God. 

We may have religious differences or political differences
            or different spiritual styles. 
And that’s a good thing.
How bland it would be if we were all alike!
How dull life would be if we didn’t know people
            who saw the world through different eyes.
We get to enjoy each other’s differences
            because we have something deep in common.
We act out that something in common at the communion rail.

Here’s the thing with Communion. 
We can get the gluten out of the bread.
We can get the alcohol out of the wine. 
But we can’t strain the grace out.
When you receive the bread and wine and you receive 
            the grace that forgives your sins.
But here’s the catch: that your is plural.
The grace that forgives your sins
            forgives those other people too.
You are in the same boat – the Ark of Salvation.

Remember how Noah loaded the Ark two by two.
You enter the Ark of Salvation two by two,
            and that person beside you may not be
            anyone you would expect.

It’s Thegifts of God for the people of God.
Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you (plural)
-- died to make all of us one body –
and feed on him in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving.