Sunday, July 28, 2019


In his simplicity, Luke is clear that the Our Father 
          is just four petitions.
Matthew flowers it up a bit by putting the first and last petitions
into poetic couplets.
But it’s really quite a simple prayer.  

To get the point of the Our Father, 
                we start with asking what is prayer for.
John Macquarrie, the greatest 20thCentury Episcopal theologian,  
            said Prayer is the heart of all religion. 
The greatest Roman Catholic theologian of that century, 
         Karl Rahner agreed, calling prayer the great religious act.

Prayer isn’t magic. 
It isn’t a voo-doo incantation to impose our will 
             by paranormal means. 
We don’t conjure God up like a genie from a bottle 
                to do our bidding. 

To understand prayer we need to remember two things about God.
First, God whose love created this world and holds it in being
         already wants to bless us beyond our wildest imagination. 
But, second, God isn’t the Puppet Master of the Universe.
God creates the world by allowing it autonomy.

God’s love is intimately present in all situations,
         but God’s power is another matter.
God sets boundaries on God’s own power so that we can be persons
and not puppets.
It is as if there is a threshold to our world
         that God will not cross uninvited. 

Prayer is the invitation. 
Am I saying that if we do not pray that God is less able to help? 
Frankly, yes, I am saying just that. 
To the extent the world does not freely submit itself in prayer, 
         it eludes his gracious mercy. 

But when we pray, we are become channels of grace, 
drawing the whole world with us into a nearer communion 
           with its source.
That’s why the first petition in The Lord’s Prayer, 
         your kingdom come,
         doesn’t tell God what to do.
It invites God’s reign into our lives and our world.
We trust that when God reigns, all will be well.

The 2ndpetition Give us each day our daily bread
         didn’t feel relevant to me the first 60 years or so I prayed it.
I already had my daily bread. Then I noticed the key word – us.
In the Our Father,  we aren’t praying just for ourselves.
We pray for everyone – and some of us don’t have our daily bread.

We produce far more food than we need to feed everyone
         but 3.1 million children die each year 
          from malnutrition related conditions.
161 million are stunted physically and cognitively by hunger.
30,000 Syrians are starving in the Al Rukbar refugee camp
         10 miles from an American base.
That calls for some serious prayer and some action 
           to show we mean it.

The third petition makes us squirm because it seems to have 
         a price tag we don’t want to pay.
Forgive us our sins for we forgive everyone indebted to us.
We have all been hurt by others and we have a hard time 
                getting over it. 
We still hurt; so, we are still angry.
We may even need our anger to keep from getting hurt again.

But forgivenessin this prayer doesn’t mean not being angry.
It certainly doesn’t mean exposing ourselves to future abuse.
This is moral economics.
If someone makes us suffer, we feel we have a right 
            to see them suffer.
Luke make it clear, it’s a debt, like a moral I O U. 
God is our collection agent.
Forgiveness is cancelling that I O U.

We may still be angry, but we don’t live for vengeance.
Can we forgive those who have hurt us?
Look at that prayer again, Forgive us our sins.
That usincluded our enemies. 
We already released them from retribution.

The last petition, Do not bring us to the time of trialcomes easier.
It’s a prayer for the whole world to be protected from disaster.
That includes all the personal heartbreaks and devastations
         that hang like threats around us. 

But the Our Father is greater than the sum of its parts
         because it’s Jesus’ prayer and the ancient prayer 
          of his Church.
Each weekday, early Christian communities held 
          3 simple prayer services, centered around the Our Father. 
They rang the church bell so people who could not come
         might stop and say the Our Father where they stood.

We all get caught up in our own projects.
We can feel alone in them and that makes us anxious,
         sometimes even aggressive and competitive with each other.
Most of the time, Jesus isn’t on our minds    
         and if he’s in our hearts, he’s hidden too deep for us to notice.

But then we stop to pray his prayer with him
         remembering we all have the same Father,
so we pray for our own well-being by praying 
          for the well-being of us all.

In the Eucharist, the prayer of consecration
         isn’t just to transform bread and wine into Christ.
The bread and the wine represent us.
Sanctify us also, we pray. 
The prayer consecrates us to be one with Christ.
When it concludes with The Great Amen, 
          when we are one with Christ,
         then we say his prayer together. 

Every time we pray the Our Father, 
it is an act of communion with Jesus and with each other, 
because we can’t have one without the other. 
Every time we pray the Our Father, we become the Body of Christ.

At each Baptism, we make vows to God and to each other.
We promise to continue in the apostles’ fellowship, 
          in the breaking of bread,
         and in the prayers
This is the number one prayer.

So, pray it, brothers and sisters.
Wrap your life in it.
Pray the Our Father till it seeps into your soul and makes you one with Jesus.
Pray it in the morning when you rise.
Pray it in the evening when you rest.
And when you come to die, pray it with all the saints 
who’ve been praying this prayer for you all along.

Monday, July 22, 2019


Methodist pastor J. Cliff Christopher tells the story
            of a young parson fresh out of seminary.
The bishop sent him to a little church in rural Kentucky.
His first Sunday, he preached fervently on the evils of tobacco.
After church, the lay leaders took him aside and said,
            “Pastor you can’t talk about tobacco here. This is Kentucky.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said.

Next Sunday he held forth on the evils of alcohol.
After church, they said, “Pastor, Jack Daniels built this Church
            and Jim Beam pays your salary.”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he answered.

Next Sunday, he warned them against gambling,
            especially playing the horses.
After church, the lay leaders said,
            “Son, you’ve got one more chance.”

That’s what happened to the prophet Amos in last week’s lesson.
He had prophesied against the policies of King Jereboam
            at the Shrine of Bethel.
The priest said to him,
            “You’re not from around here, are you?
             Get on back home, boy.
             We don’t have that kind of talk here.
             This is /the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom.”/

The irony is that Bethel means “house of God.”
But the priest said, “it’s the king’s sanctuary.
We say what pleases the king here.”.
Today we hear a little more of the message
            so we get a better idea what the king didn’t like.

Hear this, you that trample on the needy,

and bring to ruin the poor of the land,

saying, ‘When will the new moon be over

so that we may sell grain;

and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale?

We will make the ephah small and the shekel great,

and practice deceit with false balances,

buying the poor for silver

and the needy for a pair of sandals,

and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’

The LORD has sworn by the pride of Jacob:

Surely I will never forget any of their deeds.”

God didn’t like the way the economy ran.
The poor were stuck in poverty while the rich
multiplied their wealth.

But the priest said,
         “You can’t talk about that Amos.
That’s politics. That’s business.
Religion isn’t about those things.
Religion is about our inner feelings.”

But Amos was following the way of Moses.
Pharaoh didn’t much like it when he 
delivered God’s message “Let my people go.”
Pharaoh said “Shut up, Moses. That’s politics. 
         Slavery is none of your God’s business.”
So when King Jereboam told Amos,
         “Shut up, that’s politics,” Amos kept on.
That memo on what religion can’t talk about,
         Amos didn’t get it.

Neither did Isaiah, Hosea, Mary, or Jesus.
Neither did Chief Albert John Lutuli who we remember today,
or the women our church commemorated yesterday,
         Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Amelia Bloomer,
         and Elizabeth Cady Stanton.
Neither did John Wilberforce, Dorothy Day,
         Thomas Merton, Daniel Berrigan,
Martin Luther King, or Desmond Tutu.

My question today is this:
         What is the business of religion?
Or: just whose sanctuary is this?

Christianity has teachings on wealth and power.
The Episcopal Church has gospel-based positions 
on matters of public policy. 
So do our mainline and Catholic ecumenical partners.
We call them the social justice teachings of the church.
But we usually don’t talk about them,
         because our teachings on wealth and power
are not popular with some of the wealthy and powerful.
We’re too afraid someone will say,
         “that’s not the business of religion.
This is the king’s sanctuary, the temple of the kingdom.”

Even the most powerful people in the church sometimes
lack the courage of our Christian convictions.
Despite the strong economic justice teachings of the Roman Church,
Pope Francis once told American nuns
         to back off on demanding better care for the poor
         and stick to abortion.
Religion can talk about sex, but not money or power.

But who said that?
Was it Roger Williams, the father of religious freedom 
in America? 
No. He said the government should not interfere
         in a person’s intimate relationship with God,
         his practices of prayer and worship.
But Roger Williams vigorously applied the gospel message
         to the social issues of his day,
         particularly the rights of Native Americans.

Was it Thomas Jefferson who gave us the 1stAmendment?
Again, no. Jefferson said that the government
         should not establish a religion and make people join it.
But Jefferson did not hesitate to call for days of fasting and prayer
         to support the American struggle for liberty and justice.

Christians have been at the forefront of social movements
         from abolition, to women’s suffrage, to nuclear disarmament.
So tell me what is the business of religion,
         and whose sanctuary is this?

If you want to understand movements in philosophy,
         it’s like a criminal investigation. Follow the money.
American wealth exploded after the Civil War
         and the concentration of wealth increased.
That’s when philosophers turned legitimate love of county 
into a state religion, with its own rituals, sacred objects, 
secular saints, sacred places and a monopoly
         on questions of justice.
They pushed traditional religions to the sideline.

The distribution of wealth and power were no longer our concern.
Freedom, justice, equality, and peace, 
were no longer our concerns.
None of the things that occupy the time, energy, 
         thoughts, and passions of most of humanity 
         most of the time were our concern.
Religion became irrelevant to most of real life.

What then are we here to do? What will the king allow us to say?
The business of a religion is to stir up certain vague emotions
         in its followers occasionally.
Some want to feel that way for an hour a week.
Others get by on an hour a month.
Others just want that feeling twice a year.
Modern religion is a wisp of an idea 
embroidered with sentimental lace.

Even if it’s pumped up and passionate
         during the weekly hour of religious feeling,
         even if it’s a mega-church where everyone
         is happily entertained and high on Jesus.
it doesn’t reach us where we live.
It doesn’t matter on Monday.

But the religion of Moses, Amos, and Jesus
         is mostly about what goes down on Monday.
Amos’s God said Israel was treating the poor badly,
         and there would be consequences.
God said that if Israel persisted in economic injustice
         there would be a famine – but not like we think.
God said, 
         “I will send a famine on the land;

not a famine of bread, or a thirst for water,

but of hearing the words of the LORD.

They shall wander from sea to sea,

and from north to east;

         they shall run to and fro, seeking the word of the LORD,

but they shall not find it.”

A few years ago, God has turned my understanding
         of religion upside down.
This passage sums up that reversal.
I used to think people heard God’s word first.
Then, inspired by God’s love, they went out 
         into the world doing justice and loving mercy.
But Amos puts it the other way around.
And it fits what I see in the Christians I know 
– especially the young ones.

 Justice comes first. Spiritual experience follows.
Serving God’s mission of mercy comes first. 
Touching the world’s pain with our bare hands
         opens our hearts to hear God’s word.
If we aren’t at work in the mission,
         we can forget about authentic spiritual experience.
We can forget the peace of God
         that passes human understanding.

The mission is where God shapes our souls.
The mission is where real joy can be found.
The mission is the field where we see our Savior
         -- nowhere else, the mission field.

Sunday, July 14, 2019


One afternoon 43 years ago,
when I was younger and dumber,
            I was hitch hiking from Denver to Greeley.
Two young men 
in a seriously dented car picked me up.
They were fresh out of prison
            on parole for serious felonies.
One of them intended to rob me.
The other did not.
Unfortunately, their communication with each other
            was unworthy of partners in crime.
Criminals, like spouses, need to talk to each other.
 The one without larcenous intent
            told me way too much about them.

They drove out into the beet fields
            Northeast of Ft. Lupton and Southeast of LaSalle, flashed a gun,
            relieved me of my $15, and put me out of the car.
Then they realized they’d told me their names,
            their parole officer’s name, etc.
            so letting me live wasn’t a smart option.
They came back and ordered me 
            into the car.

I had by now smartened up enough 
not to get back in that car.
So one of them got out and started to drag me in.

Then, the miracle. 
A car came driving down that dirt road.
With a surge of adrenalin,
            I dragged my assailant into the path
                        of the oncoming vehicle.
He let go and I started flagging down the car.
When I saw the driver, I knew I was ok.

He was a well-dressed, clean-cut young white guy
            -- my kind of people.
I knew I was saved.
He nearly killed me – sped up 
            and rushed right past
            as I had to leap out of his way. 

The robber resumed dragging me 
toward their car.
Then, miracle of miracles,
            another car came up the dirt road.

Again, the robber let me go.
Again, I tried to flag it down.
But this time when I saw the driver,
            my heart sank.
 I heard myself think,
            “I am definitely dead.”

The driver was a Latina mother,
            a poor person, with a car load of kids.
No way was she going to stop for me,
-- not in a dangerous situation.

She didn’t stop.
She slowed down, threw the passenger door 
open for me to jump in on the run, 
then hit the gas and sped me to safety.

She turned out to be the wife
            -- someone with a strong reason
to avoid situations.
That family were precisely
            the kind of people we are deporting today.
But I’m kinda glad they were here in 1976.
If they’d been legally in Mexico
Instead of illegally in Colorado,
            I’d be sugar beet fertilizer in Weld County.

Our Gospel lesson starts with a lawyer
            saying our eternal life depends
              on loving our neighbor as ourselves.
But he asks: who is my neighbor?
Jesus answers with the Samaritan story.
A Jew was beaten, robbed, and left in the road.
The Jewish priest and Levite, 
            who were bound by race,
            religion, nationality, community, and vocation
            to help their fellow Jew, just passed him by.  

Then along came the Samaritan
            -- wrong race, wrong religion, wrong nationality,
            --  wrong everything.

But he stopped and helped
beyond what might be expected of anyone. 
That Samaritan is Jesus’ proto-type
            of the neighbor we are to love.

So, why did I assume the young white guy
            would save me?
Why did I think the Latina mother would not?

Psychologist Jonathan Haidt says
            our basic attitudes are evolutionarily wired 
            into our heads by things our prehistoric ancestors 
found helpful to survive in their context.

One of those primitive attitudes is about 
who we owe help to and who we don’t, 
            who we can count on and who we can’t.
It’s the attitude of  tribalism -- us vs them  -- 
our group vs their group:
White vs Black, Christian vs Muslim, 
Liberal vs Conservative, Straight vs. Gay, 
Native vs Immigrant.

We fought the Cattle vs Sheep wars 
largely because cattlemen were white and spoke English
            while shepherds were brown and spoke Spanish.

Dividing into antagonistic groups is human nature,
wired into all of us.
It’s the way of the world.

But enter Jesus.
He said, In this world you will have trouble.
He might have elaborated,
            You will have racism, classism, 
            divisions of religion, politics, and language.
Jesus said, In this world you will have trouble.
            But take heart. I have overcome the world.
Jesus wants to set us free
            from those constraints that separate us 
-- divisions that shackle our minds,
            holding us back from  full humanity. 
They make our hearts tighter, 
our minds narrower, and our lives smaller.

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum, in her book, 
The New Religious Intolerance,
            discusses our capacity for participatory imagination,
            the ability to see things 
              through another person’s eyes,
                        walk in their shoes, feel what they feel.
Basic empathy expands our experience 
           and therefore our wisdom immeasurably.
Nusbaum calls this capacity a fundamental part 
         of being human.

We call people who can’t connect that way sociopaths.    
But Nussbaum says today, 
       with fear intensifying our divisions,
we are regressing into tribalism 
and losing our capacity for participatory imagination. 
Without that capacity, our own lives are diminished.

Jesus said, I have come that you might have life
            and that you might have it abundantly.
To make our life more abundant,
            Jesus teaches us to love our neighbor,
then tells us our neighbor is 
            the wrong race, the wrong nationality and religion,            
            the wrong language, the wrong sexuality,
            the wrong political party, the wrong everything. 
Love that person as yourself
            and – bam! -- the size of your life doubles.

But how can we possibly go against human nature
to love across the divide?
The answer is grace 
– enabling, empowering, amazing grace.
Whatever Jesus commands us to do,
            he gives us the power to do it. 

To love across the divides
            is a supernatural act.
But we can do it – with God’s help.
We just direct our hearts toward anyone Jesus call us to love.
His grace will do the rest.