Sunday, August 22, 2010

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 22, 2010 

The Word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;”

I spent some time with God’s words to Jeremiah this week, and at moments they almost moved me to tears, they are so powerful.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were even born I consecrated you.

The only language we have to talk and think about God is human language based on human experience … that’s probably why some of our best expressions of the divine are not in words but through art and music. The Irish poet John O’Donohue says “music is what language would love to be if it could” and that’s why he felt songs of God were always more profound than his poems of God.

But because we are bounded by human expression, we tend to think of and experience God through the filter of human concepts, particularly our human relationships. And the truth is, even the best of those have limits to their intimacy.

No matter how deeply you love, no matter how much you want to be intimate with someone, there is only so tightly you can embrace someone, only so deeply you can dive into your friend or lover or child’s or parents or sisters or brother’s eyes and they into yours. Even when someone through living and observing and experiencing us in some ways knows us better than we know ourselves, there are still these places inside us that no one else can touch. We can try to tell someone about them or maybe even sing or draw or sculpt or play to try to express them, but no other person will ever fully know them, we know all too well that we will never be fully understood.

And yet we've got this love/hate, approach/avoidance thing going on with that, too. Because part of us craves being fully known, fully understood, but another part of us fears that so deeply and so intensely. Because the other thing about our human relationships is that for all of us from the moment of birth in addition to those wonderful moments of embrace and acceptance there have been so many moments of rejection and condemnation and somehow those are so often the easier ones for us to believe. And the deeper we let someone in to who we really are, yes, the greater the joy will be if the response is knowing and loving and blessing, but the more unbearable the pain will be if the response is that’s bad, or that’s stupid, or that’s ugly. And we’re just too afraid of that.

And so we build walls and hide inside, and maybe we let some people in, but its usually not without a lot of fear and trepidation. We don’t start out that way, we’re born trusting. But we’re such fast learners. We learn to be guarded. We learn not to share ourselves. We learn not to trust. And we teach each other to do it, too. We’ve all seen it happen. Probably most of us have helped do it to others. And certainly all of us have felt it ourselves. Being told we’re not good enough or not lovable on a profound level because we’re too loud or too fat or can’t draw or can’t sing or our skin isn’t the right shade or we’re not attracted to the right people or we don’t dress right or we’re not smart enough or have enough money or hang with the right friends or any number of things we aren’t that we should be or are that we shouldn’t. And each one of those messages strengthens our resolve not to trust, not to let anyone see who we really are, not to know us too deeply. And as we build those walls, sometimes we add spikes on the outside to hurt others before they can get too close to hurt us.

And yet into this world in which we live comes the words of God to Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you.”

What amazing, powerful, and liberating words. That first part, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” St. Augustine had this phrase – and it’s so beautiful in the Latin – “Deus intimior intimo meo” “Deus intimior intimo meo” – “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself.” God doesn’t need to reach around the spikes and break through the walls, because God is already there, in the deepest parts of us … and has always been there. We pray this every Sunday “Almighty God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.” God really does know us better than we know ourselves because God has known us more deeply and longer than we have known ourselves.

And we can feel in ourselves what Jeremiah must have felt hearing these words. At once the incredible joy of being that deeply known. The joy of “God actually KNOWS me.” And then almost immediately the terror. “Oh no, God actually KNOWS ME" Which is why God immediately follows “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” With “and before you were born I consecrated you.” I not only knew you, God says, I looked at you and said this is good. I blessed you. And I set you aside for something uniquely wonderful, suitable for the unique wonder that is you.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you. These are some of the most powerful words of God in all of scripture, and God says them to Jeremiah because God has an extraordinary job for Jeremiah. God wants Jeremiah to take a message to the people of Israel that they are not going to want to hear. And they are going to try to tear him down and make him doubt himself and think he is lower than dirt and who are you to even tell us what you think much less claim to speak for God. And so God knows Jeremiah needs to hear these words, because God knows Jeremiah is already full of all those messages of self-doubt and rejection and condemnation that he has heard already through his life just by virtue of him living the same human life we do. And so God says to Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you.

You are good. God says. You are worthy. You are lovable. And, God says, I oughta know. Deus intimior intimo meo. Because I am more intimate to you than you are to yourself.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus comes across a woman “with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” Luke says, “She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” What a powerful image. Her body has literally been contorted as one who is carrying a giant burden on her back … she is physically bent over. It is the posture of Jesus carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Its interesting that Luke doesn’t refer to an illness that is besetting her but that she is crippled by a spirit.

This story comes in the middle of a series of stories about how God didn’t just consecrate people like Jeremiah but that God has consecrated all of us to be unique and wonderful vehicles for bringing in the Kingdom of God. For showing the world the joyful, life-changing, trust-building, fear-destroying power of God’s love.

And yet something is keeping this woman from doing this. And as I pictured her bent over in pain, I found myself seeing not an old, grizzled woman, but a woman of about 18 years old. And the spirit that had been crippling her her whole life was the same spirit that cripples all of us, the same spirit that was crippling Jeremiah that caused him to say, “God, are you sure you dialed the right number, because I can’t possibly do this.” The spirit of rejection and condemnation and you’re bad and unlovable and not nearly good enough that builds in each of us and presses down on us more and more as we go through our lives.

As I was thinking of preaching this, I thought about bringing someone up here and putting a backpack on them and one by one loading that backpack with bricks representing all those rejections and condemnations we carry around … and then watch how the person gradually stoops down under the weight. I’ve gotta admit what mostly scared me off of that was worrying about actually hurting someone’s back doing this. But I’ll bet even in describing that, thinking of all those things that are burdening you, you can feel that weight. You can feel your shoulders being pushed down and your spine being bent.

And it was to this woman that Jesus came and said not “you are cured” but “you are set free.” You are liberated. You are free. With a touch, just as God had done with God’s words to Jeremiah, the burden was lifted. She was not whom she had been told she was and wasn’t, but she was once more what she was before the beginning, what God always knew she really was. And what could the woman do now? Do what she was born to do. What she had been consecrated since before birth to do. Stand up straight and praise God.

The late second century bishop and theologian Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” What God did to Jeremiah and what Jesus did to that woman was to make present the glory of God, to bring them fully alive. By knowing them more intimately than they knew themselves and by reminding them of the truth of creation. That even before we were created, God looked at each of us and said, “you are very, very good.”

And Jeremiah went out and proclaimed God’s message to the people. And the woman stood up and praised God. And some people in the synagogue got afraid. But more than that the entire crowd rejoiced, because ultimately that’s all you can do when you are confronted by the glory of God, by a human being fully alive … rejoice and marvel and wonder and praise that same God who has done this marvelous thing.

My friends, this is who we get to be for each other. This is who we get to be for the world. What are the burdens that have you stooped over? What is preventing you and us from standing up straight and praising God? What is preventing all of us from being fully alive? In these stories, God is asking us to trust. To trust that not only does God know us more intimately than we know ourselves but that that is nothing to fear, because we are blessed and consecrated and forgiven and redeemed and above all, loved and very, very, very good. And that each and all of us has a part in revealing the glory of God.

What are the burdens that have you stooped over. What is preventing you and us from standing up straight and praising God? What is preventing all of us from being fully alive? And how can we be like the woman, hearing Jesus call and actually letting him touch her? How can we be like Jesus, seeing one another as the God of Deus intimior intimo meo sees us? How can we be like the crowd … fearlessly rejoicing as we gaze on each other and on a world becoming more fully alive.


Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Formed of Fire" -- Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost


Preached by Ms. Shug Goodlow at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 15, 2010 

O Lord, my strength and my redeemer, I ask that you hide me so that only your Word is glorified. “ Take our minds and think through them. Take our mouths and speak through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire!” Amen.

“Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.”

These are pretty harsh words coming from The Prince of Peace aren’t they? I was at first happy to accept Mike’s invitation to preach this morning – until I realized what the Gospel reading was for today. I mean come on, what is a poor lay preacher like me supposed to do with this? This is like drawing the short straw! I’ve never even seen this gospel text on a refrigerator magnet.

My first thought was to run and my second thought was to preach on one of the other lessons. Then I thought, I’ll play it safe; I’ll talk about Luke. Finally, I realized there’s no escaping it. I’ll have to talk about this Jesus because we need to understand just who we think he is so we can come to know why today’s Gospel is so unsettling for us.

Obviously, there are differing ideas about who Jesus is. George Carlin, the late comedian and noted “religious authority” has offered the opinion that we have created God in our own image and likeness. In this morning’s Gospel, we find a rather unsettling portrayal of Jesus; Jesus as a disturber of the peace. “Do you think I have come to bring peace to the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division!” OK, who are you and what have you done with my Jesus? This is not the Jesus we know. This is not the Jesus we Episcopalians want to know. We want the other Jesus. We want the Prince of Peace. We want the compassionate Jesus. We want the one we sing about in O Holy Night, the one we put out on our lawns at Christmas. You know, we want the Jesus in the velvet paintings next to the ones of Elvis and the dogs playing poker.

This is not Jesus meek and mild. He’s just doesn’t sound very nice here. If this is the good Jesus, Lord I don’t want to be around when the other one shows up! Let’s face it, this Jesus doesn’t sound too happy with us. We don’t want this Jesus!

But what does that say about us? We want it nice and easy don’t we? Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die. We don’t want to do the hard work. We just want to come to church, listen to the pretty music, drop a few dollars in the plate and have a cup of coffee before heading off to the Cardinals game. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s our nature to want things to be peaceful. We don’t want any drama. In the words of Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

The truth, of course, is that we are called to do more than just go through the motions if we are truly followers of Jesus. In today’s gospel lesson Jesus is telling us that following him means that we will have to make some hard choices at times. We might not always be able to do the fun thing or the easy thing. We might not always be able be with people we want to be with. We’re gonna have to do some work!

Jesus flat out warns us that there will be division if we follow him. “ From now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three; they will be divided.” Talk about your family feuds!

I’ve learned first-hand that discipleship is not for the faint of heart. Why do you think there were only twelve of them? Jesus doesn’t want part time disciples. He could have millions of those. Discipleship can bring alienation from our friends, family and co-workers. It can illicit scorn from people that don’t even know us. That is what we risk if we take up with this fellow we call Jesus.

Again, Jesus said, “I came to bring fire to the earth. How I wish it were already kindled.” My God, the passion. This is powerful imagery for me. At first my impulse was to see fire as a thing to fear; as a destructive force. But then I came to see it differently. There are lots of images associated with fire in Scripture. Moses heard God’s voice in a burning bush. A chariot of fire carried Isaiah up to Heaven.

Some of you know that Doris and I are jewelry and glass artists. Much of what we create is formed by fire. Many of the delicate glass vessels we make are carefully shaped and placed in a kiln of 1400 degrees or more until we achieve the desired result. The hotter the fire, the more brilliant the color. On the other end of the spectrum, think about the work of the blacksmith. He creates by banging away at a piece of metal and repeatedly thrusting it into a hot fire and quenching it in water until he gets it into the shape he wants. Aren’t we like that? Some of us have been gently and carefully shaped as on the potter’s wheel. Lovingly caressed and shaped by gentle hands into a thing of beauty.

But others of us have been banged into a thing of utility by repeated striking and thrusting into the fire more times than you might imagine. If you haven’t been struck upon the anvil of life it might be hard for you to understand how some of us have been shaped in this way.

I have friend named Sandy Smith who is an inspector for the Los Angeles City Fire Department. She has fought a great many fires from inner city Los Angeles to Malibu. Some of you may be aware that most of Malibu burns just about every year; homes, businesses, vegetation. The insurance companies refuse to insure the homes anymore but they’ve got more money than God in Malibu so they keep rebuilding it. One year in particular I lamented the loss of so many homes, especially the vegetation and Sandy wanted to comfort me so she told me something very interesting.

She said that trees in the forest need to be exposed to fire to make new growth possible and that suppressing the fire would actually be detrimental because the dead trees and other debris create a tinderbox effect and destroy any new growth. The heat from the fire actually opens the cones on cone-bearing trees and releases the seeds. The seeds germinate and re-grow the forest. What a radical concept; life formed of fire!

Isn’t this what our gospel reading is about today? This fire that Jesus brings is filled with chaos and promises to bring division. But if fire can make new life possible what do we need to set fire to in our own lives in order to re-grow it?

We live in a time of situational ethics. What attitude, what behavior, what habits do we need to change? One of my favorite images of fire in the Bible happens after the resurrection. Jesus is walking along the road to Emmaus with two of the disciples. The disciples don’t recognize him until they break bread that evening. When they realize they had been in Jesus’ presence they said to each other, “Weren’t our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road!”

To burn with the fire of Christ! The thought of it is both wonderful and terrifying. My grandmother used to tell me that the very thing that’s a blessing can also be a curse. To have our hearts burn within us is to be assured of kinship with God. To have our hearts burn within us is to desire to seek a closer relationship with God. Do any of you remember that Chaka Khan song from the 80s called “Through the Fire?” Here’s a little of the refrain.

Through the fire, to the limit, to the wall
For a chance to be with you
I'd gladly risk it all
Through the fire
Through whatever, come what may

Powerful! Now, as we move on to verses 54-56 Jesus gives the crowd what for. “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” I think what he’s really saying is “I’ve had it with you people. You just don’t get it. I’ve told you and showed you that I am on fire for God. Silly me, I thought you would be too!

You think all you have to do is sing a few songs about peace on earth and send out a few cards at Christmas. Can’t you see that following me can separate you from the rest of the world? Can’t you see that following me can separate you from your family? No wonder Jesus is upset with us; we can’t see the forest for the trees.

Doris and I were having lunch one Sunday after church and overheard one woman telling another that she had called her pastor out on the carpet that day about his sermon. Her friend asked her what the problem was and she went on to say that she told him she was tired of hearing about those poor people and that she thought it was inappropriate for him to keep bringing them up in his sermons. Her friend looked stunned. We were so stunned we stopped eating. She then went on to say that they should just go out and get jobs then there wouldn’t be any more poor people and she wouldn’t have to hear about it. She said “That’s not why I go to church.” Lord, some of us don’t want our gospel adulterated by…uhhh…the gospel.

If we were all the same, if there were only one kind of Christian, if we had no differences, if we were never challenged, if we were never confronted with things we don’t want to see, how would we ever grow in our faith?

Why can’t we see what really matters? Are we armor bearers for Christ or not? Are we bearing witness to His presence in the world today? What are we afraid of? I mean, would we understand what Jesus wants from us better if he had a blog? We come to church every Sunday yet we have trouble seeing the signs of Jesus’ presence within and among us. We profess our Christianity but seem to be confused about so many things. We confuse pity with compassion, privilege with entitlement, biology with family, age with maturity, being straight with a reason to hate, and being white with being right and being black with having to step back.

We mistake kindness for weakness, being poor for being irrelevant, being wealthy with being superior, lack of education with lack of intelligence, and the ability to write a big check with being a good Christian.

We confuse this place we call church with being a country club for saints, the bringing of war with the making of peace, and perhaps worst of all – we confuse legalism with justice. And we won’t even talk about all the isms…sexism, adultism, ageism, racism.

Author Juan Carlos Ortiz says that most Christians fail to read what he calls the Fifth Gospel. He says, “Open your bible and look at the verses you have circled, highlighted and underlined…the verses like “For God so loved the world” and “I am with you always” and “Nothing can ever separate you from God.” It’s all right there in the four Gospels, Ortiz says.

But the verses you do not underline, the ones you do not circle or highlight or memorize; those are the Fifth Gospel. Verses like Luke 3:11, “If you want to be my disciple, whoever has two coats must give one to the person who has none and the same with food.”

Jesus ministered during a time called the Pax Romana – the Roman Peace. As long as you didn’t make waves you were pretty much left alone. Now I haven’t sat across the porch from God and spoken with him to know exactly what he meant when he talked about interpreting the present time but I think it’s safe for us to guess that he doesn’t want us to just go along with the status quo. He wants our eyes wide open. He wants us to see. Jesus wants us to stand with him. He wants us to burn with passion for him and for our faith. He wants us to upset the apple cart, especially our own. This may mean sacrifice, it may mean a change of direction, it may even mean loss of relationships.

Some sermons are meant to comfort the disturbed; this isn’t one of them. This one is meant to disturb the comfortable including myself. In fact, I must confess, I’m probably preaching more to myself than to you. I think this gospel is so hard for us to hear today because it calls us out, it makes us accountable; to have the courage of our convictions.

Do we really welcome everybody? Are we really willing to serve everybody? Do we really love everybody? Do we really stand with Christ?

My friends, I know you probably don’t think there is any good news today but here it is - God is not ever going to leave us alone. Every Sunday the Eucharistic bread is broken so that we may take it in and be made whole. And we drink Eucharistic wine that has been poured out for us so that we can be filled. So I ask you, what in our lives needs to be broken so that it can be made whole again? What changes do we need to make? I know there are some things I need to change.

At the end of the day, we can’t ignore that Fifth Gospel that Ortiz talks about. God’s work is our work. He is asking us to be committed to the mission of the church but He is not asking us to go it alone. He is asking us to do it in community; he is asking us to do it with him.

Jesus said, “I come to bring fire to the earth.” May he set our hearts on fire. Amen

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Ken Dickinson's Memorial Eucharist Sermon

Preached by the Very Rev. J.C. Michael Allen at Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, August 14, 2010 

In my father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you so where I am you may be also.

We gather together this morning to celebrate the life our brother Ken Dickinson.

We gather together at the table he loved, the table where he was nourished and loved all his life.

It is a table totally unlike any other table in our world. It is a table to which each and every one of us is invited. No one is turned away. Everyone who comes to this table receives the same morsel of bread and the same sip of wine. It is enough to sustain us on our journey toward the holy mountain, the holy city to which we are all headed.

At this table we do not accept nor do we condone the ways of this world, the way we separate people from each other, separating rich and poor, male and female, gay and straight, black and white, and all the other ways we use to demean and belittle the people around us.

No, at this table all are equal, all are loved, and all are fed the same food in the same amounts.

This is the table which promises it is only a beginning, only a foretaste of what is to come at the great heavenly banquet to which all of us will be invited, the table to which Ken has now gone, the place of life and love and peace and joy.

Ken loved this table. He was nourished by it over many, many years. And in his years at this Cathedral he took his part.

And often enough his part was to play his violin during the Sunday service bringing life and beauty to our worship.

I have a vision of Ken at the heavenly banquet playing his violin with the heavenly orchestra as the people around him join in the dance as they prepare for the meal in all its fullness.

It will no longer be a morsel of bread and a sip of wine, but a feast of all the delicacies and the delights of life, rich meats, fine wines, and more than enough for all to have their share. It will be

all that the prophet Isaiah imagined in his vision of the heavenly banquet.

Ken is there waiting for us. He is calling to come and join him, waiting for us to dance to his music, and rejoice that we are joined together with all those we have ever loved and who ever loved us.

In the meantime we make our journey towards the heavenly city, moving from mansion to mansion, each full of its own joys and sorrows, all of them preparing us for that great mansion we can only dream of now.

Each of us has our stories of those times and places we have been together with Ken as we now reflect on his life.

I first knew him in college. It was 1947. The place was Harvard. Ken had come back from the war. I had come back from the army, but not the war itself. I was four years younger than Ken.

Ken never talked about his experience of the war. Not then.

Only in recent years did he talk of it. I never knew until now that he was a hero in that war. But that was Ken in his simplicity and modesty.

We immediately became close. We lived across the courtyard from each other at Leveret House. We ate together. We drank together. And above all we moved from bull session to bull session as we pursued the heart of our college education.

He was the first of my friends to whom I introduced Priscilla Morison. I wanted my friends to love her as I loved her and he did and they did.

And that is why Ken was an usher at our wedding, one of the young men who stood by my side as Priscilla and I exchanged our marriage vows. It was a blessed moment and Ken was part of it.

Each of us has our story to tell of our times with Ken. Each of us knew him at different times, in different places – different mansions as we made our way together towards the heavenly city.

Those moments were precious to me and those moments have been precious to each of us here. As we remember Ken we do well to dwell on them, share them, and find life in them.

There are many mansions we have all lived in, times when each of us has had our moments with Ken as we made our journey towards the holy mountain, the heavenly city for which this table as we gather this morning is but a foretaste of what is to come.

It is because we have experienced these deep and mysterious things of life in each mansion that we can believe that a greater mansion lies ahead,

Jesus spoke to his frightened friends, frightened at the prospect of the death he was about to die. He spoke to them of the many mansions in God’s house and the mansion to which he was going to prepare a place for them

To prepare a place for them and for us.

For me and perhaps for you as well it is the experience of this presence of God in each of the moments in our lives that have built the trust that the God who has been faithful to us in this life will be faithful to us at the end of our lives. We know now that God is faithful and will always be so.

It is because we have gathered here at this table, this extraordinary table that goes against all the practices and the structures of this life that we can believe that a far greater table lies ahead for us as we move from mansion to mansion in our father’s house.

We can believe that Ken is now preparing a place for us, preparing the feast, playing his music to lead the dance to which we are all called.

In my father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you so that where I am you may be also.

Those are the words of Jesus but they are also the words of Ken Dickinson who waits for us to join him at the great heavenly table. He is calling us now. Can you hear him?

Sunday, August 1, 2010

He who dies with the most toys LOSES

“One’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions” then he told them a parable. “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, “what should I do for I have no place to store my crops?’, Then he said, ‘I will store all my grain and my goods.’ And I will say to my Life, “Life, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink be merry.’ But god said to him ‘you fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared whose will they be?” so it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward (in to) God”

A brief note here, the word translated soul here is Psyche, which in previous citations in this and other gospels is translated as LIFE, not Soul. It puts a more intense interpretation of this text to me. For if we say “Life! You have ample goods, relax, eat.” This phrase, suggests to me that a person will have the desire or sense of no longer living to a potential or an idea.

I have wrestled with the gospel this week, over and over and over. IN one sense I come to feel that this is a commentary on wealth, for you see the rich man is defined as foolish. And we also have other examples of wealth in the gospels, the rich young man, who questions Jesus as to what must he do to inherit eternal life. Even the prodigal son is a commentary on wealth. Wealth is such a sticky topic to cover, especially in our 21st century Western Culture. We have pledges, bequeaths, unknown sources of Dollars. Sometimes we seem to be in the year round mode of fundraising and for what?

Robert Capon, in his book about the Parables of Jesus “Kingdom, Grace, Judgment Paradox, Outrage and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus” interprets this interaction in the terms of a warning. A WARNING?!? It is a warning “against our less refined desire for material wealth”. Capon frames the meeting with the young man as a conflict between justice based on wealth and the ultimate justice. “The man’s case, no doubt, was good enough” Capon states, “But Jesus’ ministry is not the incidental patching up of injustices. Rather it is the bearing of the final injustice – death- and the raising up from it of an entirely new and reconciled creation”. He adds “We clutch at our lives rather than open our hands to our deaths. And as long as we do that, the real life that comes only by resurrection remains permanently out of reach”. It is living, yes, but living in fear of death. If we truly are a resurrection people, then Death has no hold on us, no sting, it should be nothing to fear! No matter what balance ends up in your bank account or what material wealth you have hidden away.

How many people remember the bumper stickers and t-shirts that touted, “whoever dies with the most toys wins”? Flippant, and pithy and most certainly sure to bring a chuckle, BUT come on, we know that’s now the type of life God is calling us to be a part of. God is calling us into eternal life. Not this life here.

It is this individual first attitude of this life and this world that is so very troubling to my deacon identity. The let me take care of me first! I’ll donate time to do this, once the kids are in school this fall, once they are in high school, once they are at college. I will pledge to church when I get my next raise. This type of life and rationale of thinking is very self-centered. It’s all about the individual.

It doesn’t take into account the community as a whole. It doesn’t enshrine the basic tenets of a Christian faith. When we hide behind the “whoever has the most toys” attitude, we ignore the fact that there are persons all around us suffering. That just because we have been given the gift of affluence, which can be obtained a variety of ways, but often times it is an advantage of privilege, it does not meet with the Christian call to social justice.

And please just let me take a brief detour on this point. When we hear talk show hosts tell us that we should RUN from churches that preach a social justice gospel, what is our reaction? If we are shouting “YES Social justice is wrong!” from the top of our lungs are we truly Christian? Or have we fallen to a false idol of individualism? Saying that to not reach out to the least of us goes against the mandate of Christ to the Body, is heresy! The response of a Christian to the question “Am I my brother’s keeper?” is YES." Jesus tells us that the greatest commandment is to love God and love our neighbor. Loving your neighbor is a better Christian response than telling your neighbor to leave you alone, or you are responsible for your own lot in life. Or I got mine you go get yours, when inequities in our society inhibit them to do so. Both compassion and social justice are fundamental Christian responsibilities, and while the body of Christ is called to live out both facets, government is also held accountable to the requirements of justice and mercy. I want a government that works for the people not because of the people. One that betters peoples lives, not existing because of the office.

So what should be done with wealth? Wealth is a gift, whether rightly received through hard work and determination, or at a cost, or perhaps through sheer luck and circumstance, but what should be done with our wealth. I think this is a pertinent question at this time with the Pope bequest in our coffers. What do we do with wealth

How can this gift be used to better the community? And not just the community of Christ Church cathedral parish, but of the community of the diocese, of the city of St. Louis, how can it be used for the future good of all? These are sticky and very thought provoking

I would certainly suggest that we need to evaluate if our life was being demanded of us, and we had to give it all away, what would bring the greater return? Because that is what the gospel says to us, today. Gathering up treasures and storing them for a leisurely life is not what we are called to do. What we are called to do, is to live a life as if we are striving to die! Or more radical, that we are already dead! A life where we are plodding along to enter into that next phase of our lives in the body of Christ, the life of resurrection, a life of being without possessions and only in the communion of Christ within the holy Trinity. That life we are resurrected to is not one that is measured in wealth but in how much we helped our neighbors, and how much we gave away. It’s not about dying with the most toys; it’s dying without anything in our pockets. For we gave all we had, to the better of the body, the church of Christ.