Meet Genevieve

Posted in hiking with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on February 12, 2017 by timtrue

This is Genevieve.

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She is a 24 year-old Geo Tracker, from coastal Oregon, with two doors, a hardtop (relatively rare, mind you–called “tin top” by those who care, to distinguish it from an aftermarket fiberglass hardtop), and air-conditioning–a must for Yuma.  She is mostly stock–no suspension or body lifts–but check out those sweet rims!  A bargain for $2500.

Our first adventure together was getting her home from Oregon.  Picked her up last Thursday in Eugene after finding a $39 one-way flight to Portland and shuttling to Eugene to meet her in person at last.  Once I determined she was the one, we raced a winter weather advisory into California.  Got a little hairy around Mount Shasta with strong wind gusts and driving rain threatening to freeze.  But we both lived to adventure on.

So, this post is about our second adventure together, which happened yesterday.  And it happened like this.

About a year ago I attempted to hike to a peak not far from Yuma called Stud Mountain. For a refresher, see https://timtrue.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/stud-mountain/

Well, since I didn’t summit it that time, and since the road there was a little too rough for that other, two-wheel drive car I own, our adventure was clear before us.

Taking you through it in pictures, then:

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We find the real trailhead this time!  Also, this time I pack enough water.

But right here I realize I didn’t pack everything I should have.  For, just as I reach to shut off the ignition, Genevieve, my new SUV with miniature attitude, stalls.  Radio’s silent.  No buzzers.  No lights.  Dead.

I check my cell phone.  No reception.

And I think, “What kind of idiot takes a 24 year-old car he’s not too familiar with out into the middle of nowhere desert without at least a simple set of tools?”

And I begin to look for a low hill to climb to seek cell reception.  Even so, who would I call?  My wife?  To drive the aforementioned 2wd car out onto a 4wd road she wouldn’t have the foggiest idea how to find in the first place?

And then a local search-and-rescue helicopter flies overhead, from the local Marine base, probably training.

And I think about waving it down.

But, instead–heaven stays my hands I suppose–I unlatch the hood and immediately see that the positive cable has slipped off the battery terminal.

Looking closer, the clamp’s broken, snapped at the bend.  But the nut and bolt are still on and maybe I can just twist it all just so and hand-tighten it this way and pound it onto the post with my fist like that and . . .

It’s back on now.

And Genevieve starts right up.

And I say a prayer that it stays on until I get home.

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Anyway, it’s as good a place to park as any.

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So I grab my water bottle (three of them, actually) and am on my way.

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This is my trail ahead.  In other words, I’ll be trailblazing.  By the way, recent rains have left the desert quite green.  Do you see it?

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Ascending now.

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And a look back.  Genevieve is the dark dot in the middle of the photo.

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As I turn back around, “Hey, is that a path on the next ridge over?”  Mental note to self: go down that way.  (Paths are almost always easier than trailblazing.  And at 48, easier factors in prominently.)

By the way, it’s even warmer today than it was a year ago.  Which reminds me: I forgot something else: Advil.  My head tends to produce debilitating migraines when heat and fatigue work in tandem.  But at least this year I’ve got enough water.

Then:

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A vulture is watching me!  Really?

If I were into omens, I might find this disconcerting.  But, hey, this is the third millennium; augury is out.

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Oh well, might as well take another photo of Genevieve.  She’s there in the background, just to the right of the rocky precipice in the foreground.

Speaking of rocky precipices, I have found that when trailblazing it is often easier to walk on the tops of ridges than to traverse slopes or ascend steep washes, at least in this region.  Slopes are much more shaley and slippery, even though more attractive; ridges much more stable, though scarier.  And there’s this: debris falls onto slopes and into washes; yet away from ridges.  Still, if you’re afraid of heights or suffer from vertigo or have had one too many, well, you’re probably wise to stay away from ridges.  But if you can stomach harrowing appearances, trust your footing, and have decent balance, they often make your life easier.

Like some people I know.

Just then, wouldn’t you know it?

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Litter!  Right here in the middle of nowhere, Desert, California!  So,

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always the good hippie, or, eh hem, the faithful steward, I pack out what litter the wind blew in.  But,

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“What,” I call out, “now there are two of you?  Don’t you know I’m trying to clean things up for you?  Quit following me, would you?  Besides, augury is dead!”

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Probably also a result of the recent rains, and maybe suddenly a little more wary of my surroundings, I suddenly spy more fauna.  There are at least three bighorn sheep in this photo.  One can be seen in the middle, a little more than a third of the way up.  Zoom in and see if you can spot the other two.

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And for something really spectacular, nearing the summit, traversing the top of a knife-blade ridge, I come across these white rocks.  And I realize here are eagle eyries.  So I look around and see several large birds of prey circling in the air currents below–not just eagles but red-tail hawks and peregrine falcons, soaring, swooping, even fighting in mid-air.  Sadly, my camera isn’t fast enough to capture any of it.

At last, I reach the summit.

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And I gain my bearings:

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To the north and a little east, Picacho (in CA).

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To the east and a little north, Castle Dome (in AZ).

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To the east and a little south, Telegraph, Planewreck, Flag, and the Goldwaters (in AZ).

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To the south, Pilot Knob (in CA); and, on the horizon, the Sea of Cortez (in MEX).

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And to the west (all CA).  On the horizon lie the mountains between me and San Diego.  Glamis (Google it) is in the sandy looking swath in the middle, sandy because, well, they’re sand dunes.

And now, to descend.

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It’s a little blurry, I know.  But Genevieve is there, down in the bottom of that valley, just in front of a little hill jutting up in the middle of the photo.  Do you see her?

Onto my third water bottle by now, head throbbing, and coming to grips with how far I’ve got to descend, I wish I’d brought my base jumping suit with me.  But, alas, that’s something I gave to my wife on our wedding day, a sort of pre-nup, and haven’t seen since.  I bet she doesn’t even know where it is.

A couple good tips, though, for any base jumpers out there: eagle eyries generally make good bases from which to jump; and you Yosemitites won’t find any antagonistic National Park Rangers in these parts, not even in the middle of the winter when it’s 75 degrees here and the Valley is socked in.  Just saying.

So, next best thing, I turn my attention from fauna to flora.

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Cool flora, eh?

And I’m back with Genevieve.

She starts right up, no hint of broken circuitry.  The windows are rolled down and, hey, well, I really haven’t tested out the 4wd in earnest yet.  So instead of making a right towards home on the BLM road home we turn left.  “I looked at a map last night,” I assure Genevieve.  “This road will curve around and put us out on Picacho Road.”

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But it never curves right–north then east.  Instead, it goes to the left, north then west.  Which leads to some excellent vantages of Stud Mountain:

And to this road:

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But truth is truth.  Genevieve and I are lost in the middle of the nowhere, Desert, California.

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We have no tools, no Advil, and the water is gone.

No matter.  Genevieve is a 24 year-old Geo Tracker.  And I have enough boy-scout sense to know west from east.

And, if I remember correctly, there’s a road not too far to the west, Ogilby Road I think, so let’s just keep going that way.

Which we do.

And it pans out.

And soon we are on I8 heading east into Yuma.

And our second adventure is over.

Genevieve, you proved yourself mightily, hardly flinching in 4wd low, navigating one of the toughest local Jeep roads (I discovered later) with dignity and aplomb.

So, anyway, there’s got to be some great take-home lesson in here about risk-taking and how it’s worth it even if you have to navigate eagle eyries and fend off territorial bighorn sheep and defy vultures and suffer bad migraines and fix broken cars in the middle of the desert with no tools or means of communication and who needs a $30K Jeep anyway?  But I’ll leave that for you to figure out.

Genevieve, here’s to many more adventures to come!

(But first I’m gonna fix the broken battery cable clamp.)

(And don’t be offended if I pack some tools next time.)

On Being Christmas-and-Easter Warriors

Posted in Doing Church, Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 22, 2017 by timtrue

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Matthew 4:12-23

Before we get into today’s Gospel, let’s gain our liturgical bearings. Where are we in the liturgical year?

Think of a pie graph.  Starting at the top, we have a purple section, Advent, which lasts between four and five weeks.  Next is white for a few weeks, Christmas, up to the Epiphany.

Then for some weeks we find ourselves here, in a green section of the year, the season after the Epiphany, or as my Roman Catholic friends call it, “ordinary time.”

Ordinary.  Ho-hum.  Not much of a ring to it, eh?

This year’s season after Epiphany is eight weeks.  Then we go to purple again for the season of Lent, for five Sundays.

We then have a narrow sliver of red on Palm Sunday; followed by seven Sundays of white—for Easter the resurrection, and the Ascension; another narrow sliver of red for Pentecost, and one more of white on Trinity Sunday.

And now we’re only halfway around our pie graph.

Do you know what color the rest of this graph is?  For the remaining 26 Sundays this year—with only two exceptions (Transfiguration and Christ the King Sundays, both white)—it is all green.

Yeah, green time.  Ordinary time.  Ho-hum time.

Which brings up a concern for me.

My concern is that as a church we love Christmas and Easter.  We focus our liturgical calendar around the birth, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.  And well we should!

But do we focus too much on Christmas and Easter—to the exclusion of all the other times in the year—that green section after Christmas; that long spell after Pentecost; all that ordinary, ho-hum time?

Christmas and Easter aren’t enough to sustain us through our ordinary, ho-hum times.

I remember my freshman year of high school.  My parents had recently divorced; I wasn’t in a very good place.  But it was an El Niño year, meaning lots of snow was coming to the Sierras.  Maybe Dad understood I wasn’t in a very good place, I don’t know.  But he knew my brother and I loved to snow ski.  And so that year we planned three three- or four-day trips to Mammoth Lakes, as well as some a one-day trips to the local soCal mountains—Mountain High, Mount Waterman, and Mount Baldy—promising at least one ski trip a month through the winter.

Well, I remember how much I looked forward to those trips in the months, weeks, and days leading up to them.  I also remember how much I relished the recent memory of those trips after returning home from them.

But what I remember most keenly was the dread I felt when I got out of bed each morning realizing that I had to plod through another day of the prison sentence I called high school.

That year, my freshman year, I tried to live for my skiing adventures, with the resolve that the anticipation and memory of them would sustain me until the next one.

But they were few and far between compared to the everyday, ordinary, ho-hum experience of high school, my daily grind.

That year, the only moments I lived in were when I was skiing, escaping from the daily grind.  While enduring the daily grind itself, I never lived in the moment, but rather always in the future or the past.

I had become a bona fide weekend warrior.

When we in the church live for Christmas and Easter, we risk not living in the moment of the ordinary, ho-hum times that, frankly, comprise most of our corporate life together.  We instead become bona fide Christmas-and-Easter warriors.

Now we’re ready to turn to today’s Gospel.

In it, Jesus begins his ministry by calling four disciples: Simon Peter; his brother Andrew; and two other brothers, James and John, the sons of a certain Zebedee.  All four of these men were fishermen.  And, because Jesus says, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people,” we usually focus on the evangelism theme here: we, too, need to fish for people.

But I want to look at another theme, having to do with—you guessed it—the ordinary, ho-hum life Jesus called these men to live.

So, track with me.  These men, all four of them fishermen, were living a comfortable life.  They were settled, doing what they knew how to do, continuing the vocation their fathers had passed on to them.  So routine were their lives that they knew what to do without thinking.

They knew the sea—where to find the most fish, when the best times of the day were to find fish, what seasons of the year were better or worse for a kind of fish they’d like to catch, and so on.  When boat repairs were needed, they knew what to do.  If a boat sprung a leak while out on the surface of the sea, how to get to shore (or whether they could make it to shore) was almost an afterthought.  Their vocation was second-nature.

Moreover, we can surmise—along with biblical scholars—that these men had fairly lucrative businesses.  Fish were in demand as a food throughout the region.  People paid relatively high prices for them.  And, as with many established routines, overhead costs were low.  These men enjoyed high productivity and low overhead, a recipe for a comfortable life.

One more consideration: these men more than likely were married with families.  In fact, we know that Simon Peter was married: Jesus cures Peter’s mother in-law in Matthew 8.

Point is, Jesus called these four men to follow him; and following Jesus for them meant sacrificing a lot!  Comfort.  Stability.  Established homes.  Financial security.  Predictability.  Routine.  Plans.  Nest eggs.  Family.

What does it mean for us to follow Jesus?  Those who manipulate the good news of the Bible for their own ends—who make a gospel out of prosperity or family values—would do well to consider today’s Gospel!  So would we, as in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church—which we’ll get to shortly!

Now, sure, Peter, Andrew, James, and John had heard of Jesus by the time he came calling.  He was probably something like a celebrity by now, a household name.

Do we all know the name of our presiding bishop, Michael Curry?  So, imagine if he sought you out personally and said, “Jane, John, Insert-Your-Name-Here, I have a job for you.  Come with me now, and see.”

Well, yeah, there’s a certain amount of adventure and excitement around this.  At least initially.

But today’s Gospel doesn’t end there: with the celebrity Jesus coming to these four men and saying, “Follow me on the adventure ahead, and I will make you fish for people.”  In today’s reading, there’s another verse.  Jesus and his new followers then set out traveling, teaching, preaching, and healing.

These four men followed Jesus, sure.  But they weren’t following him into a kind of weekend-warrior life of adventure.  They followed him into a kind of ho-hum, ordinary life.  And they left their established, comfortable lives to do so.

These apostles weren’t Christmas-and-Easter warriors—by any stretch of the imagination!  The feast of the Epiphany and the Last Supper could not have sustained these men for the three years ahead of them—and not just for the three years with Jesus but for the lifetime beyond that, for they all went on to build the church of Jesus Christ.

So, we’ve looked at the liturgical calendar; and we’ve looked at the Gospel. Now it’s time to do some harder work: to look at us, St. Paul’s.  Loosen your collars: it might get a little warm in here.

I’m concerned that we are a church of Christmas-and-Easter warriors: that we think these principal feasts are enough to sustain us through all the ordinary, ho-hum times of the year.

On page 15, the BCP says there are seven Principal Feasts in the liturgical year, which all point (at least loosely) to Christmas or Easter: Easter Day; Ascension Day; The Day of Pentecost; Trinity Sunday; All Saints’ Day; Christmas Day; and the Epiphany.

The word “feasts” suggests that we should break bread together, which is another way to say celebrate Communion together, on these seven days.

But when I got here, we weren’t doing this: we weren’t coming together for all these feasts—which is one indication that maybe, over a long time of doing church together, we have become Christmas-and-Easter warriors.

In addition to these seven Principal Feasts, on p. 16 of the BCP, we read, “All Sundays of the year are feasts of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

All Sundays are feasts.  Thus, we should celebrate Communion together on all Sundays of the year.

Which is why our Constitution and Canons make it clear that, unless we are unable to obtain a supply priest, we should celebrate Communion on any given Sunday.  Otherwise we demonstrate a lack of respect for the Eucharist.

Now—to turn up the heat a little more—our operating budget for 2017 is just north of $200K.  To date, pledges for 2017 are south of $140K—about $70K shy of our operating expenses.  In an ideal world, our operating expenses and pledges would be equal.  But they’re not.  Leaving the vestry with some difficult challenges and questions.

Their chief question of late has been where to cut costs.

It’s a question faced by a lot of organizations.  Public schools, for instance.  Long has it been a complaint among my friends and family members that the first budget corners to be cut in education are in the arts.

So, here’s my main concern.  As a way of cutting costs for the year, the vestry has proposed allotting only $1000 for supply clergy in this year’s budget.

Now, I anticipate being away for seven Sundays this year—a normal amount.  Father Paul is not here anymore; we can’t ask him.  Which means we need to fund supply clergy; or go without the Eucharist on the Sundays when we cannot obtain a supply priest.

With travel, accommodations, and a supply fee, it costs St. Paul’s approximately $500 per week of supply.  In other words, the budget should be at $3500 ($500 x 7 Sundays) for supply clergy, not $1000.  $1000 covers only two Sundays.

What will we do for the other five?

We could have a Morning Prayer service, yes.  But, unless we cannot obtain a supply priest—and supply priests are available!—we should celebrate the Feast.

So, anyway, that’s the what part of my concern.

The why part, however, concerns me even more.  Why would we cut corners here?  Sundays are feast days.  It’s when we gather as a corporate community.  And gathering for Communion—the Eucharist—is our chief corporate act of worship: not singing; not preaching; not praying; but Communion.

As your rector I’ve been called to be the spiritual leader of this community.  I don’t want us to be Christmas-and-Easter warriors.  That attitude will never sustain us spiritually.

Thus, I leave you with a few questions to contemplate in this week leading up to our annual meeting:

  • Have we become Christmas-and-Easter warriors?
  • Like the apostles, is St. Paul’s ready to follow Jesus wherever he calls?
  • Where have we become too comfortable in the way we do church? In our routines?  In our spiritual disciplines?
  • Where and how do we need to change? Along these lines, when we say we want to change, do we actually mean that we want to return to the way it was twenty years ago?  Are we really desiring to move forward?
  • Is our present way of doing church sustainable? The budget suggests that the answer to this question is no.  So, where do we need to cut corners?  Really?
  • Is cutting supply clergy costs a sufficient excuse to neglect the Sacrament?
  • Do we respect the Sacraments as we should?

Beyond the Prison Cell

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 11, 2016 by timtrue

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Matthew 11:2-11

Spoiler alert!

Does anyone in this room believe in an actual, literal Santa Claus—you know, the jolly rotund guy in a red suit with fuzzy white fringe who somehow manages to deliver presents to several billion people all over the world in the mere space of twenty-four hours via a magical sleigh and some flying reindeer?  Anyone?

Well, if so, you might not want to be here for the next few minutes.  I mean, I don’t want to be the one who puts an end to this innocent dream of yours.  Far be it from me to point out that people have been lying to you—your brothers and sisters, your parents, maybe even the whole world.

Okay, maybe not the whole world; that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  But it might feel that way.

I can remember the day clearly—almost exactly forty-two years ago today.  Mom was out playing tennis.  Dad was tinkering in the garage, probably working on one of the cars.  Point is, both parents were preoccupied.

Technically, I suppose, my brother Andy and I were being supervised.  He was seven; I was six.  But, hey, this was the seventies: technically speaking, supervision meant Dad was home, sure; but in reality his two young boys might escape his watchful eye for an hour or two—or several.

Andy realized this.  He was the firstborn and therefore already quite savvy to Mom and Dad’s ways.  I, however, was the second-born and still the baby of the family, quite content to let everyone else fuss over the details of day-to-day life so that I could focus on what really mattered: not on how things really were but on how things ought to be.

Anyway, Andy, realizing that we boys were out from under Mom and Dad’s watchful eye for a while, stood up and walked across the avocado green shag carpet of the family room and turned off the TV and said, “Tim, I want to show you a secret.”

Secret, did he say?  I’m in!

So I followed him upstairs to the entryway closet.  We entered.  He pulled the string that turned on the single 40-watt bulb that dangled at the end of a cord from the ceiling.  And he shut the door.

Then, inside this secret space, he said, “Follow me,” and he ascended the built-in ladder, pushed open the attic door, and disappeared overhead.

“We’re not supposed to go up there,” I reminded from below.

No response.

Well, what was I to do?  What would you do?

I ascended the ladder and entered the attic.

And to my great surprise there were several beautifully wrapped presents, apparently ready to be set out under the Christmas tree.

Andy had a pocketknife and a roll of scotch tape with him.  How they got there, I didn’t ask.  But by now I was thinking this all was premeditated.

His plan, I learned, was to unwrap the presents carefully enough to find out what our gifts were.  He was savvy, remember.  And his head was rooted in pragmatic reality.

But my head was rooted in the world of ideals.

As such, that morning my world caved in.  For I read a few labels.  One said, “To, Timmy; with love, Santa.”  Another said, “For, Andy; love, Mr. and Mrs. Claus.”  And the gig was up.

“Um, I’m leaving now,” I told my big brother.  And without waiting for his approval I left that attic, exited the entryway closet, and went to my bedroom, where I closed the door, fell despondently onto my bed, and cried forlornly into my pillow.

My brother had lied to me.  My parents also, I realized, had lied to me.  Good grief, the whole world had lied to me!

I remember this story from my childhood about this time every year. What triggered it this year was John the Baptist’s question in today’s Gospel: “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

Now, John the Baptist was an idealist.  His head usually was not caught up with the way things are.  Rather, his concern was with the way things ought to be.

We know nothing about his early life, except that he leapt in the womb when he met his cousin Jesus, also in utero.  But we can pretty easily surmise that he spent a lot of his early life in study, trying to discern the signs of the times.  For, as an adult he assumed the role of a prophet.  He knew a lot of theology.  He connected his current, pragmatic world to God’s ideal world—the way the world ought to be, when the kingdom of God becomes reality.

All this was fine during his formative years, when he was able to study.  All this was fine as he began his prophetic ministry, as an adult.  All this was fine when the multitudes came to him to be baptized in the Jordan.  All this was fine when Jesus came to him too; and he publicly proclaimed that here is the very Messiah himself.  All this was fine when his message of the way things ought to be was well received.

But then reality interfered and interrupted.  Herod arrested John and threw him in jail.

Wait a minute!  This isn’t how things are supposed to go.  If Jesus truly is the Messiah, then he should be righting wrongs.  He should be increasing while the powers of this world are decreasing.  Yet Herod has thrown John in jail.  The powers of this world are yet triumphing.  Reality is not allowing Jesus to gain a foothold.  All is not fine now!

And John wonders: Maybe my brothers and sisters have lied to me; maybe my parents and teachers have lied to me; maybe the whole world has lied to me.  Maybe Jesus is not really who I think he is—who I’ve been told he is.

So: John the Baptist, the top kid in the class, the one person about whom the scriptures say no one born of a woman is greater, this John the Baptist asks a question that pesters all of us.

Maybe it only comes around only once or twice in your lifetime.  Maybe it comes around annually with Santa Claus.  Or maybe it pesters continuously.  But here it is: Jesus, are you really the Messiah?  Or are you nothing more than a sophisticated Santa Claus story?

Has my family been lying to me?  Have my teachers been lying to me?  Has the church been lying to me?  Has the whole world been lying to me?

And I’m glad John asks it.  Because, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be the kid to raise my hand and ask a stupid question.

I don’t want everyone else to know that my faith is a struggle; that my faith is weak; that maybe at times my doubt is in fact stronger than my belief, maybe even for long stretches of time; that I often wonder if I even believe at all anymore.

I don’t want to be the one to admit I’ve lost my faith, especially when I’m sitting here in church!

But what about when I’m sitting in my own prison cell, and it sure seems like Jesus isn’t doing anything about it?

We all have them, you know: our own prison cells.

You might feel imprisoned by large events in the world: terrorist acts; supernatural disasters; large-scale events that produce chaos.  You sit there in your cell, imprisoned and powerless to do anything about them.

Or your prison cell might be a past relationship gone bad, and now it’s impossible to seek any kind of reconciliation.  You’re there in your cell, imprisoned and powerless, a cell made for you by another person.

Or your cell might be past mistakes you’ve made as an individual; and now you must face the consequences of your past choices, consequences you’re powerless to change.  Your cell has been made by your own hands.

Whatever your prison cell of brokenness, you are left with no other alternative but to cry out to a savior.

But what if your savior doesn’t deliver?  What if Jesus does not do the things you always thought he would?  What if Jesus does not do the things everyone always told you he would?  What then?

Has your family lied to you?  Has the church?  Has the whole world been lying to you?

I’m glad John the Baptist asks this question from his prison cell today.  Aren’t you?  For he’s the top kid in the class.  And if the top kid in the class struggles with this question, somehow that makes it okay for me and for you—for us—to struggle with this question too.

Jesus, are you the Messiah, the Christ, the Savior and Redeemer of this sin-infected world?

Or are you merely a sophisticated Santa Claus story?

So, guess what: Jesus does not answer John’s question directly; which compels me to think, by extension, that neither will Jesus answer our doubts directly. We’re talking about faith, after all; not proof.

Nevertheless, Jesus does give John a kind of answer.  And it is this: look outside your prison cell.

“Go and tell John what you hear and see,” Jesus says: “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

And I imagine John’s response: “Fine and well, Jesus—for the blind, the lame, the lepers, the deaf, the half-dead, and the poor.  But what about me?”

I know it doesn’t feel like Jesus is saving the world as you sit there in your prison cell with John the Baptist.  But Jesus says to look outside your own prison cell.  And, when you do, if you are able, what do you see?

Despite all the bad news, great strides are being made in the world towards liberation—from oppressive governments, from poverty, from illiteracy, from terrorism, from disease.

And it’s not just global society I’m talking about: great strides are being made right here in Yuma County.  And it’s not just the corporate: we hear an awful lot these days about individual mental health and personal wellness.

All around us, people are being liberated.  Take a look beyond yourself and see and hear it.  Any time we see or hear about liberation for a person, a family, a community, or the globe, this is Jesus at work.  And this gives up hope.

But what about those people who just can’t do it?  What about those who just cannot seem to see beyond their own prison cells, no matter how hard they try?

If this is you, please, I ask, let someone know, someone you trust, someone who might be able to help you in your prison cell.

But know this.  Even there, imprisoned and unable to see beyond the very walls of your cell, Jesus is with you.  You have been fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God.  Whatever dignity you can find within yourself, whatever self-respect, there is comfort: Jesus in you.

Comfort, comfort, ye my people, says the Lord.

The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom;

like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing.

. . .

And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing;

everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Right Ahead

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2016 by timtrue

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This sermon was delivered on November 20, 2016.

Luke 23:33-43

One thing our church gets right is eschatology.

A definition I read this week defines eschatology as, “The part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.”  Eschatology is the study of the eschaton, or of last things.

Our church gets this right.

Consider our church calendar.

Today is the last day of the year in the church calendar, Proper 29, otherwise known as Christ the King Sunday.  It’s called Christ the King, for on this day we focus on the culmination of all of history, that day when Christ’s absolute supremacy will be realized.  Did you notice today’s color is not green but white?

Next week we’ll start over, with Advent.  For four weeks we’ll reflect on Christ’s coming.

Then, from Christmas through Easter we focus on the realization of Christ’s incarnation; and from Ascension Day through Pentecost and the following season we focus on the realization of Christ’s supremacy.

All year, then, in some sense anyway, we’re looking forward to today, the one day of the year when as a church we consider “death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind.”

Our church gets this right.

Also, consider today’s Gospel.

At first reading—and maybe at the second and third—it sounds and feels more like a Good Friday text than anything else: “When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left” (v. 23).

In fact, nearly the whole passage focuses on the details of the moment at hand: the soldiers cast lots for Jesus’ clothes; the people stand by and watch; leaders scoff and mock; even the criminals on either side join in.

But where does this passage end?  Or, in other words, what is this passage’s culmination?

One of the thieves next to Jesus says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  And Jesus replies, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Today, though we begin at Good Friday, we focus ultimately on Paradise: the Realm of Christ; the culmination of all history.

Our church gets this right.

But it seems kind of brief, doesn’t it? I mean, only one day of the year?  What if we miss it?  What about all the people who couldn’t make it to church today?  Especially the ones with legitimate excuses?  Do they have to wait until Proper 29 rolls around again next year?  Really, why don’t we spend more time focusing on eschatology?

Other churches do.

Ever hear of Hal Lindsey’s The Late, Great Planet Earth?  A best-selling book published in 1970, Lindsey compares then-current events to biblical prophecies about the end times.

He speaks of an event called the Rapture, at which time, he says, all believers in Christ will be called by a trumpet blast suddenly home to heaven.

The Rapture will be followed by a Great Tribulation, a seven-year period of a literal hell on earth, he says, where the king of the world will be Satan himself.

Finally, an earthly age called the Millennium will follow the Tribulation, he says, during which time Satan will be locked up and the world’s king will be Christ; and all the world’s leaders will be faithful risen Christians.

By the way, this book was made into a movie in 1976, narrated by none other than Orson Welles, the same voice that generated mass fear in 1938 in a radio adaptation of The War of the Worlds.

Well, since the publication of this book, all sorts of modern American evangelical Christian leaders have joined in the fray.  Whole denominations today abide by Statements of Faith that include fundamental beliefs about the Rapture, the Great Tribulation, and the Millennium.

Individual scholars, seeking to clarify where they stand on the matter, have authored theological tomes on this subject, attempting to argue from literal interpretations of the scriptures just how and when our world will come to an end.

And who of us has not heard about the relatively recent phenomenon called The Left Behind Series—arguably the quintessential eschatological distraction of our day?

So—surprise, surprise!—disagreements have arisen.

Is there such a thing as the Rapture, or not?  The word rapture nowhere appears in the Bible, after all.

What about the so-called Great Tribulation?  The books of Daniel and Revelation mention a seven-year period of great struggle; but will Christians actually escape it, or will they have to endure it—or will they be raptured away mid-way through, before things get really tough?

And the Millennium!  C’mon!  A literal thousand years!  Really?

Those who care about this subject demand to know where others stand.  Are you Pre-trib or Post-, they ask?  Are you Pre-millennial, Post-millennial, or A-millennial?  Do you believe in the Rapture?

To which I say, “I’m pan-millennial: I believe it’ll all ‘pan’ out in the end.”

But it’s all quite pessimistic.

For, no matter how you look at it, the whole cosmos is just gonna burn up.  So, after all, what does it really matter what we do for the common good in our lifetimes?

My seminary professor Rob MacSwain tells of a time he attended a conference at an evangelical University in the Midwest.  After he could not find a recycle bin to throw away a piece of paper, he inquired only to be answered, “There aren’t any: the world’s just going to burn up anyway; we don’t believe recycle bins are necessary.”

For Christians who hold this pessimistic view, faith becomes no more than an individual kind of Gnosticism: we work on our own, internal relationships with Jesus; we are saved by faith alone (and not by works).  In the end, one is either in or out; saved or damned.

And where is God’s love in that?

Anyway, it’s not just modern American evangelical Christianity that’s drunk these waters.  The dominant culture has a preoccupation with eschatology too.  Yeah!  Except it doesn’t call it eschatology; it calls it apocalypse.

There are variations on apocalypse, sure.  Some stories feature zombies; some aliens; some dastardly supervillains, like Lex Luther who bought a bunch of property out here in the desert and planned to send California into the ocean so that he’d suddenly own beachfront property.  And some stories feature just us humans, in over our heads with nuclear weapons.

Either way, whether in the subculture of evangelical Christianity or in the dominant culture, how it’s all gonna end is an American preoccupation.

But not with the Episcopal Church.

And, I maintain, our church gets it right.

Our church acknowledges the culmination of all things.  We understand that Christ has left us with a mission: not to sit around wondering how it’s all gonna end but to transform the world into his kingdom.

The realization of Christ’s incarnation—his birth—was when his kingdom first came; the realization of Christ’s absolute supremacy—his second coming—is when that kingdom will be fully realized.  In the meantime the kingdom of heaven is only partial.  Our mission is no less than the transformation of the cosmos: to increase Christ in the world and decrease the anti-Christ until the second coming.

Our eschatology is not pessimistic; it’s optimistic.

Our church gets it right.

So, we’re caught up in this in-between time: in between the realization of Christ’s incarnation and supremacy.

We work at Christ’s mission: trying to bring his realm into the world.

But there’s a tension.

For we know the importance of doing Christ’s mission.  And we feel the need to do it—keenly!

But it’s overwhelming.

It’s overwhelming because we can’t accomplish much on our own, as individuals.  And it’s overwhelming because bringing Christ’s kingdom to our world will take much longer than the time we have in our lifetimes.

And these things go against our American grain.  We love our individualism; and we want to solve the world’s problems yesterday.

So, we end up failing Christ and his mission—or at least we feel we do.

And when this final Sunday of the year comes along—Proper 29, Christ the King Sunday—we’re so distracted by bad eschatology; or we’re so preoccupied with doing the mission of Christ; or we’re so overwhelmed and caught up in our own failures that we end up missing the optimistic culmination we’ve so been looking forward to all year.

Just like we end up missing the point when we read today’s Gospel.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise,” Jesus tells the thief on the cross next to him.

And today our church gets it right.

Today it doesn’t matter whether you’re distracted.  Today it doesn’t matter if you’re preoccupied.  Today it doesn’t matter if you feel overwhelmed; or if you’ve failed Jesus; or if you’ve given up on your faith; or even if you’ve committed crimes worthy of crucifixion.

Today, none of this matters!

For today, we know that we will be with him in Paradise.

Systems Failing

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2016 by timtrue

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This sermon was delivered on November 13, 2016.

Luke 21:5-19

I begin today’s homily with a riddle:

This thing all things devours:

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;

Gnaws iron, bites steel;

Grinds hard stones to meal;

Slays king, ruins town,

And beats high mountain down.

It comes from a famous riddle dual in English literature; more specifically, from the fifth chapter of J. R. R. Tolkien’s beloved The Hobbit, where Bilbo Baggins and Gollum meet for the first time, and square off.

They pose riddles to each other, in turn, until one of them gets the wrong answer.  If Bilbo wins, why, Gollum will show him the way out of the cave in which he is now lost.  But if Gollum wins, he will eat Bilbo—or so he threatens.

Now it’s Gollum’s turn; and he poses this riddle.  (Repeat.)

What is this thing?

Is it an army?  I suppose an army slays kings, ruins towns, and even beats high mountains down.  The Roman army, for sure, was a force to be reckoned with.  Still, can you say that armies devour birds, beasts, trees, and flowers?  What about gnawing iron, or grinding stones to sand?

Maybe it’s a natural disaster.  Yeah.  Disasters have been known to turn stones to sand, especially tsunamis and hurricanes.  And a hurricane certainly ruins towns and devours birds and beasts.  But gnawing iron?  Ruining kings?

Hmm.

Well, why don’t we set that aside for the time being? We’ll come back to it later, I promise.  But for now I want to engage in a different kind of mental exercise.  Now, let’s imagine ourselves taking a tour of Washington, DC; and let’s imagine that our tour guide is Bishop Mathes.

And there we are, taking it all in.  The White House, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument—all in its intimidating beauty.  This is stability.  This is security.  Just looking at all this solid, changeless architecture is enough to tell us our country is solid and unchanging.  It’s built to endure, to stand the test of time.  This visit is enough to say, “Our country and especially the freedom for which it stands is permanent.”

But then the bishop says something like this: “Do you see all this beauty, all these magnificent buildings?  What if I were to tell you that they would all be destroyed within a generation?  I had a vision last night.  Within a generation, leaders of our own army will come in, take over, and destroy everything you see right here before our eyes.  All will be razed.  Nothing will be left standing.”

What would you think?

Now, admittedly, this isn’t so hard to imagine.  Prophets of doom stand on street corners all the time, holding or shouting out messages of death, doom, and destruction.  In fact, I am willing to wager that this very morning just such prophets were standing on street corners preaching their doom and gloom in DC.

But the bishop?  He’s a little more sensible, isn’t he?

So, to tax our brains a little more, now let’s imagine that it’s several years later and it actually happens.  Just as the bishop said, our own army comes in, takes over, and destroys everything.  All the buildings are razed.  And we realize that it’s just as the bishop said, down to the last, fine detail.

Would this be at all disconcerting?

When some people were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, [Jesus] said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

The Temple Mount in Jesus’ day was a lot like Washington, DC in our day.

It wasn’t just a Jewish thing, you know, for them, those people, to worship as they do with all their animal sacrifices and other peculiarities.  No!  The temple, the Temple, Herod’s Temple, was a building of incredible significance, sanctioned by the Emperor, an architectural wonder of the ancient world, a source of Roman pride, as well as Jewish.

Herod began its construction in 19 BCE.  During his building campaign, he more than doubled the size of the Temple Mount.

The temple itself was wonderful, completed in about eighteen months, and, yes, was the principal place of worship for the Jews.  But Herod’s building plan included colonnades around the temple, a lot like an outdoor mall, where activities like buying, selling, teaching, and speech-making occurred daily.

In fact, so extensive was this project that it was not completed until the reign of Nero, some thirty years after Jesus’ death, some eighty years after construction had begun.

The Temple Mount was solid, immovable, built to endure, to stand the test of time.  It represented the Roman and Hellenistic ideology of solidarity in diversity.

And like a prophet of doom and gloom on a street corner, Jesus looks at it and says, “Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Was this at all disconcerting?

How about a few years later?  Was it disconcerting in 70 CE, less than a decade after Nero completed Herod’s magnificent building project, when the Temple Mount was completely destroyed?  Was it disconcerting that, in some serendipitous fit of cosmic irony, it was in fact destroyed by the Roman army, the army of the same empire that had just completed building it?  Was it disconcerting that it happened just as Jesus had said?

Yes!  Especially if your faith was in government.

So: I think now’s a good time to return to Gollum’s riddle.

The answer is time.  Time is the thing that devours all other things, whether birds, beasts, trees, flowers, steel, iron, hard stones, kings, cities, high mountains, or even Temple Mounts and White Houses.

Look, we live in a tremendous country.  We experience wonderful freedoms.  We have a government that is vitally concerned about protecting these freedoms.  We have a military that is unlike any other in the world.  I for one am extremely grateful to be an American citizen.

But I don’t have to remind you that every great civilization in the history of the world rises and falls.  In our history books we read about the Medes and Persians; the Greeks; the Romans; the Ottomans; the Turks; the Plantagenets; the Tudors; the Huns; even the so-called Holy Roman Empire.  Yet all of these are no more.  Time has a way of putting an end to all things.

And, at the risk of stating the obvious, our great nation will one day cease to be great too, just like all the others.

Is this disconcerting?

Are you frightened as you look around?  Do the changing world events terrify you?  Do wars and rumors of wars; reports of ISIS; another headline of another senseless shooting; nuclear tests in North Korea—do these kinds of things send jolts of fear down your spine?  Do you ever wonder if we might actually witness something as significant as the destruction of the Temple Mount in our own lifetimes?

We have good reason to fear.  Just like the disciples in the time of Jesus, we have a lot to be afraid of.   There will be wars, insurrections, natural disasters, and false leaders.  Nation will rise up against nation—in other words, race against race.  There will be earthquakes and other destructive natural disasters; and maybe even dreadful portents in the heavens.  These things will happen.  Jesus doesn’t try to skirt around it.  And this is scary stuff!

But there’s another side to it.

It’s all disconcerting, yes, if we place our faith in government.  We know this.  Luke knew it too.

And we can add to the picture a little bit: it’s not just government.  We can talk about any established system—the church, the company you work for, relationships.  Regardless of how solid and stable any system appears, there’s always the possibility of instability, erosion, and failure.

And this is disconcerting!

But here’s maybe something we don’t know, something maybe we can learn from Luke today.

Luke wrote his biography of the life of Jesus looking backwards.  That is, when we hear today’s account of Jesus foretelling the future—looking at all the parts of the Temple that will be destroyed—by the time Luke actually wrote it all down, the Temple already was destroyed—the future Jesus was foretelling was actually already in the past.

You know why he did this?  He did this in order to tell his readers—in order to tell us—yes, it is all disconcerting; but there is something in which we can put our faith—someone—who is stable where everything else is not; someone who endures, who stands the test of time; who is the one thing Gollum’s wicked riddle cannot destroy.

And that someone is Jesus.

Entitled or Grateful?

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2016 by timtrue

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This sermon was preached on October 9, 2016.

Luke 17:11-19

Two students come to mind from my time in Sewanee.

One was entitled.  She cheated.  But she beat the system.  Curiously, her parents are alumni and supporters.  I cannot help but wonder if she in fact expected to be the system.  She was forever angry at me afterward, for I was the professor who called her out.  Her attitude said, “What can Sewanee do for me?”

The other student was thankful.  He was a refugee from Sierra Leone, for all intents and purposes an orphan, for his parents remained in SL.  He came to Sewanee on a full scholarship.  He was a joy to be around; he loved each day.  And he offered to the Sewanee community what he knew: dance.  Many children and students benefited from his knowledge and love of this art form.  His attitude said, “What can I do for Sewanee?”

Now, in last week’s sermon we learned a couple of things that faith is not.

Faith cannot be quantified.

In our consumer, materialistic culture, we hear Jesus say, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed”; and we think in terms of amount.

The mustard seed is a tiny seed; and from it grows a shrub so large that sizable birds come and roost in its branches.  If only we could have faith like that!  Then we could say to a mulberry tree or even a mountain, “Be cast into the sea!” and it would obey us.

But then we try it.  And it doesn’t work.

Neither is faith cause-and-effect.

You receive terrible news: say, a family member has cancer.  So, as many modern-day Christian voices have taught, you reason that all you need to do is believe hard enough and God will heal your family member.

And if healing happens, well and good.  But if it doesn’t, you’re left thinking that you didn’t pray hard enough and believe deeply enough: you simply had too little faith, less than a mustard seed’s worth.

Faith hasn’t worked.

You’ve spent hours upon hours in personal prayer.  You’ve attended seminars on increasing your personal faith.  You may even have sent tax-deductible contributions to that man on the TV who promised that doing so would increase your faith.  But still the answer hasn’t gone the way you wanted it to.  Surely, you conclude, my faith lacks.

Last week, then, the Gospel of Luke offered a picture of what faith is not: it’s not quantifiable; it’s not cause-and-effect.

By contrast, this week the Gospel of Luke (in the very next passage/pericope) offers us a picture of what faith is.

There are ten lepers.  They see Jesus and shout out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Do these lepers have faith?

Here’s an interesting thing about lepers in the ancient world—at least in the region of Palestine where this story takes place.  A leper had to be declared clean not by a physician but by a priest.

If a person had leprosy—a term used to describe any number of skin infections—the normal protocol was to go and live in a colony, away from society.

A leper couldn’t go to synagogue to worship with his or her community.  A leper couldn’t go to the local market to buy, sell, or barter.  A leper couldn’t carry on whatever trade or skill he knew.  Lepers had to move out, away from the life and people they’d always known.

To come out as a leper was thoroughly disruptive, upsetting the equilibrium of not just one life but entire households, even communities.

Once publicly known, the leper would move out of her community and into a colony with other known lepers.  There, quarantined away from society, she would depend on others—friends and family—for sustenance.  She couldn’t go to the market after all!  And these others—the friends and family—came to the leper colony at their own risk.

Talk about social outcasts!  Lepers of the ancient world knew what it was to be exiled—perhaps more keenly than anyone else.

And the only way for lepers to enter back into society was through the priests.  If a leper’s skin cleared up—a big if, mind you!—he or she must then go to a priest for inspection and approval—a declaration of cleanliness—before re-entering society.

The whole thing was a cumbersome process, a kind of ancient Jewish red tape.

So then, on this certain day when Jesus and his apostles are going through the region between Samaria and Galilee, they pass near enough to a quarantined leper colony that ten lepers are able to approach them.

And they say, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!”

Do they have faith?

Well, here’s what we know.  Jesus answers them, saying, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.”

Jesus does not heal them then and there.  The text makes this quite clear: “And as they went,” it says, “they were made clean.”

This is an important detail.  When Jesus tells them to go to the priests, the lepers aren’t yet healed.  This is an important detail because it demonstrates faith—or at least a kind of faith.  If Jesus is truly their Master, as they call him, then it is an act of faith to obey Jesus before they are actually healed.

So, I ask again, do these lepers have faith?

Yes.  Or, at least, they show a kind of faith.

But only one turns back. Only one comes back to Jesus to express gratitude.  And only to this one does Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.”

Now, to be sure, a lot of theological discussion of this text revolves around the point that this one is a foreigner, a Samaritan.  For Samaritans were viewed in Jesus’ day with thorough disdain.  They were the racial scapegoats.  Jews especially viewed them as less than human.  They were half-bloods with a cheap and highly compromised religion.  So, this one leper who turns around and comes back to Jesus is doubly an outcast.

Nevertheless, this Samaritan leper was still required to go to the priests in order to return to normal society as he knew it.

In other words, let’s not make too much of this racial sub-point.  The main point here is that this one turns around and the other nine do not.

Where do the other nine go?  Without a doubt, to the priests.  They want to re-integrate with society, after all.

Does this mean that the one who turns around does not go to the priests?  Not at all!  He wants to re-integrate with society just as badly.

But before he goes to the priests—and this is the main point here, above everything else!—this one foreigner turns around in order to express gratitude.

And what happens?

Ten are made clean.

But only to the one does Jesus say, “Your faith has made you well.”

If the nine show us one kind of faith, the one shows us another.  The nine demonstrate a utilitarian faith; the one demonstrates a grateful faith.  The nine are made clean; the one is made clean and well.

Shouldn’t gratitude be intimately connected to our faith?  According to this week’s Gospel, this is what faith looks like.

Last week we saw that faith is not cause-and-effect. In other words, it’s not utilitarian.  This week we see gratitude.

There’s a great lesson here for us.

Are we merely going through the motions?  Is faith for us merely utilitarian?

Our faith makes us clean.  We see it in the waters of baptism.  We hear it when we renew our baptismal vows together, and indeed whenever we say the Nicene Creed together.  And we feel it whenever we commune together at Christ’s Table.

But we can’t leave it there.  If that’s all our faith is for us, it’s a utilitarian faith.

But what about when our faith involves gratitude?  What if we wake up each day thanking God for our friends, our family members, our pets; or simply for the warmth and light of a new day?  What if, when troubles come our way, instead of focusing on hardships we look for the good?  What if we focus on resurrection instead of death?

Then, not only does our faith make us clean; it also makes us well.

What we see today, then, is really two kinds of faith.  One is utilitarian; the other is grateful.

Or, in other words, one is entitled; the other thankful.  Like those two students from Sewanee.

When our faith is utilitarian, or entitled, the driving question becomes, “What will Jesus do for me?”  Our faith cleanses us, sure; but to what avail?

But when our faith is grateful, the driving question becomes, “What can we do for Jesus?”  Now our faith makes us both clean and well.

Generosity from Abundance

Posted in Homilies with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 29, 2016 by timtrue

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This sermon was preached on September 24, 2016.

Luke 16:19-31

Wealth is not a sin.

Can I just say this at the outset?  I mean, we’ve just heard a parable about a very rich man and a very poor man, polar opposites on the socioeconomic spectrum.

One feasts sumptuously every day; the other sits outside the gates and waits in hopes of a few scraps to stave off his pangs for a few minutes.  One walks around his estate in fine linen, a different outfit for every day of the week, enjoying what he has been able to build up for himself; the other is clothed in the same old rags he’s worn since who knows when, and also in wounds that stray dogs come and lick—though he probably doesn’t mind so much because, hey, at least here’s a modicum of companionship.  One lives in a gated community; the other is homeless.

Then the tables turn.  Both men die.  One—the poor man, Lazarus—finds himself at Abraham’s side, enjoying all the blissfulness that that brings.  The other—the unnamed rich man—finds himself in torment—in Hades, the Greek understanding of the underworld, far from the blessed Jewish understanding of eternity he surely thought would be his.

In the afterlife, fixed between them is a great chasm; in real life, fixed between them was just as great a socioeconomic chasm.  And we hearers of this parable are left with the distinct impression that, surely, wealth must be a bad thing.

For this rich man hadn’t done anything wrong; not that we can tell from the parable anyway!  He didn’t persecute Lazarus in any way: we don’t hear about him marching down to City Hall and lobbying for a ban on panhandling at his gates.

In fact, he might even have been doing good.  The text tells us that Lazarus lay at his gates because he longed for the scraps that fell from his table: Lazarus was probably receiving scraps regularly, which is why he was there in the first place.  It’s possible, then, that the rich man was even delivering food scraps to Lazarus, that after every meal he’d pull aside one of his slaves and say, “Hey, Agricolus, I want you to wheel these leftovers down to the poor man who sits outside my gates, you know, that guy with the dogs.”

But in the afterlife the tables are turned.  And we’re left with the question, “Is Jesus suggesting that wealth is inherently evil?”

But here’s the thing. From the very beginning, abundance is seen as a blessing.  And what is wealth, but abundance?

Consider creation.  In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.  The heavens shone with the sun and moon and vast abundance of stars, far too numerous to count.  And the Bible says it was good.

When God created the fauna and flora, God didn’t just create a few plants, just the bare necessities to give us a healthy diet—tomatoes and avocadoes and apples and onions, and (of course) grapes for wine and grain for bread; but a vast array, so vast that even in our day we have not yet catalogued them all.  God created an abundance of fauna and flora, and it was good.

More than once the creation account speaks of the oceans filled with “swarms of living creatures.”  And it was good.

God did the same with the land and sky—an abundance of animals and birds—insects, mammals, reptiles—and it was good.

And God said to them all, “Be fruitful.  Multiply.”  Abundance!  Abundance!  Abundance!

And, finally, after all this abundant outpouring of creative energy and generosity, after creating Adam and Eve as stewards to manage faithfully all this abundance, what does God do but take a day off?

It’s as if God says, “Whew!  I’ve poured myself out over and above what I needed to—exceedingly abundantly!  I need a rest!”

And at last—the scriptures say—all this abundance was very good.

Is it any different with God’s people Israel?  All those people—scholars estimate it was more than a million!—were wandering in the wilderness with Moses.  And, logically enough, they were hungry.  So what does God do but pour out an abundance of manna from heaven for a million people?

The life of Jesus demonstrates this theme too.  Do you remember his first miracle?  He turned water into wine—about a hundred fifty gallons of it!—and probably the best vintage in the history of the world!

And do you remember the woman who poured out the expensive perfume on Jesus’ feet—when Judas asked, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?”  Three hundred denarii!  That’s the modern-day American-dollar equivalent of something like $50,000.  Poured out on Jesus’ feet!  Talk about abundance!

Throughout the scriptures, abundance is connected to blessing.

So, to return to my opening statement: Wealth is not a sin.

So what’s the problem? Why does Jesus make such a negative example out of the rich man in this parable?

Just this: Somewhere along the line, someone decided to extract generosity from abundance.  And whenever you extract one thing from another, like squeezing the juice from an orange, you’re left with a fairly mangled original product.

God created an abundance; and it was good.  God blessed Abraham with an abundance; and it was good.  God gave to Moses and the Israelites an abundance of manna; and it was good.  Jesus turned an abundant amount of water into wine; and it was very good.

But, we read, sometimes abundance becomes too much for us.  What then?  Will we give it away?  Can we give it away?  Or do we simply (selfishly) hold on to it?

Abraham and Lot parted ways because their abundance had become too great: the resources at hand could not sustain both of them.

Later, in the time of Joseph, Pharaoh hoarded grain and stored it away so that when a drought came upon the land he would sell it for great profit to those who most needed it.

Great profit at the expense of the needy!

This is the fundamental principle of economics: supply and demand.

And, by the way, this is in fact how the people of Israel became slaves: from Pharaoh capitalizing on this fundamental economic principle; or, to say it another way, from an abundance devoid of generosity.

When I was a boy one of my favorite pranks to play on my friends involved a stick of gum.  I’d take one stick out of a pack of 25 or whatever it was.  Then, very carefully, I’d unwrap the wrapper and foil and pop the stick of gum into my mouth.  Next, while chewing, I’d very carefully put the foil and wrapper back together and slip it back into the pack.  Finally, still chewing, I’d make sure to be around when the unsuspecting victim grabbed that false stick of gum—and I’d laugh and giggle and gloat and otherwise congratulate myself on my awesome display of cleverness.

I tell you about this prank to illustrate abundance devoid of generosity: it’s no more than a disguised gift, an empty piece of trash.

Abundance devoid of generosity amasses wealth only for itself.  Abundance devoid of generosity hoards.  Abundance devoid of generosity turns a blind eye to others, especially those in need, those who cannot benefit me.  Abundance devoid of generosity is the rich man of this parable.

My thinking is that we are much more like him than Lazarus.

Sure, we don’t all live in gated communities; or wear fine linen clothing, purple or any other color; or feast sumptuously every day—though, I dare say, most of us in this room are able to eat as much food as we want.

But we do hoard.  We do store up things for ourselves, probably motivated by a fear of scarcity, like Pharaoh.  We do turn a blind eye to the poor people sitting, begging at our very gates, even when we tell ourselves we’re doing good to offer them our leftovers.  For this is the American way.

From the abundance God has given us, we have extracted generosity.  We enjoy a tall, cold glass of orange juice by and for ourselves leaving only a heap of fibrous rinds to those in need.  Or we take out that stick of gum and enjoy it alone while we carefully fold up the wrapper and give only trash to someone else, giggling under our breath at our own cleverness.  In our abundance, we are generous actually only to ourselves.

Which leaves us with a challenge: How do we recover the generosity we have extracted from our abundance?

Well, first, why not share the orange juice we’ve already extracted?  I mean, we can’t put the juice back into the orange now that it’s been separated.  But we can share from the abundant store already in our possession.

There’s a term for this, by the way; a term we throw out every year during the pledging season: faithful stewardship.

But there’s also a second way to recover the generosity missing from our abundance—and this is a more important way: Why not share the whole orange in the first place?  Why not share what God has given us as is, without fashioning it into the orange juice we think we want?

And here, yes, I’m talking about church.  We are in God’s house.  God has given us an abundance.  As a church, shouldn’t we then lavish this abundance on the world around us, on the community of Yuma?

So: why don’t we hire a musician, and pay him what he’s worth, to build our music program—one of the most important forms of outreach for any church in any place at any time?

Or, why don’t we do something with our baptismal font?  We’re a people oriented around our baptismal vows, after all.  Why then do we have a little, roll-away baptismal font tucked away in the corner over there in front of the lectern?  Instead, let’s hire a local artist to sculpt an original font and place it smack dab in the middle of the narthex, permanently.  That way, any time a baptized person passes it by, every time she enters this sanctuary, she is reminded visibly, physically, and concretely of her vows.

These are just a couple ideas.  Of course, to realize them would take resources—an abundance of resources.  But isn’t this where faith comes in?

Listen.  Vestry, listen.  I get it.  We, as a corporation, have a budget.  And, for good reason, we plan and try to make our budget every year.

But we, as a church, have a much nobler and greater purpose than simply to make our budget.  As a church, we should be transforming lives in Jesus Christ.  And sometimes this purpose of transformation requires us to step out in faith, to be a little risky, to trust in God’s abundance even when we can’t see where it will come from in the budget.

Otherwise, how will we ever share God’s abundance with the world around us?