Tuesday, November 11, 2014

What is holding you back?

Proper 21 A    Sept. 28, 2014 
St. David’s Church & St. Paul’s Cathedral
Exodus 17:1-7
Ps. 78:1-4, 12-16
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Our lessons today – from Exodus and from Matthew – give church leadership a bad name. We are whiners, complainers. We change our minds at the drop of a hat. All we want to do is give the right answer and for the life of us, we don’t know what it is. On and on it goes, the conventional readings of these miserable lessons.

Yet, if we turned the gospel lesson on its head, a bit, we might get a different reading about both lessons. So let’s think about authority: what is authority? It is given to us: from above, often, if we are under orders to do something – if our power derives from someone above us who has expectations for what we are to do. In other cases, in democracy, for instance, authority comes from below, from the consent of the governed. In a democratic system, we have to live up to the expectations of the people who have elected us to lead them.

There is another kind of authority, as well. It is the authority of the past. This can be a kind of tyranny, especially if someone in the past has harmed us, or if we are filled with remorse over our own past wrongdoing. That remorse, those regrets, that person who wronged us – all of those things can have tremendous authority over us. Those memories can govern our present behavior, can direct our future, can make us afraid to take another step for fear of harming again, or being harmed in the same way. We can fear what we think we have to lose – that “authority of desire” or fear of losing what we have, can paralyze us. The tyrannical authority of our own past prevents us from living a full life now, and from living fully into the future.

There is something of that tyranny of the past that Jesus brings up in this encounter with the people around him. These people are worried about what they might lose. They are worried about doing the wrong thing. They cannot imagine a future other than one circumscribed by all of their past. They are paralyzed by Jesus’ “trick” questions. They think something might be happening around them, with this John the Baptist and this Jesus, but they cannot get out of the authority of their past long enough to see what it is.

You could make the same observation about the Israelites following Moses out of Egypt. This new life of freedom is hard, in the wilderness, so hard that it is nearly impossible for them to recognize the gifts of freedom and grace, of manna from heaven and water from the rock, that through Moses, God gives them. The authority of their past – their lives as slaves in Egypt – prevents them from this new life of grace, this new identity as the people of God.

I’m sure you recognize yourselves, or people you know, in these stories. I do. It is understandable to get caught up in the authority of our own pasts; after all, our experience is all we know. It is hard to imagine a better future – but that is exactly what God is doing here. God – unlike ourselves – does not count our past misdeeds, our grudges, complaints, mistakes or hurts against us. “God … refuses to define us by what we do (or what has been done to us), but instead regards us always and only as God’s beloved children.”[i]

How do we learn this radical obedience to a joyful and welcoming God? Who are our gospel role
models for such behavior? Probably not the “people like us” from those pages – probably not the well-behaved establishment types, probably not the chief priests and elders. We learn radical obedience to a joyful and welcoming God from our gospel role models who lived at the bottom of the social heap. From the tax collectors and prostitutes. From all those people Jesus healed. From people Jesus moved from exclusion to the inside, from the street to the table. People who gathered hungry on a mountaintop and left fed and full in body and spirit. People who realized that could be free from a past that bound them to a restricted and unhappy life, and instead move into a new and fuller future where they recognized with their own eyes, touched with their own hands, and tasted with their own senses all the delicious, delightful, sparkling and wonderful gifts God had given them. That’s the future I want. That’s the future we can all have.

[i] http://www.davidlose.net/2014/09/pentecost-16a-open-future/

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Fair is good: but God is not fair

Proper 20-A; Sept. 20, 2014
Exodus 16:2-15
Psalm 105
Philippians 1:21-20
Matthew 20:1-16

God is the only Landlord
To whom our rents are due.
God made the earth for everyone
And not for just a few.
The four parts of creation --
Earth, water, air, and fire --
God made and ranked and stationed
For everyone's desire.[i]

The text of our prayer after communion comes from the Iona Community. In it, we ask God for the ability to live fully to the glory of God, and that we do that within the two natures of our lives in God: “both as inhabitants of earth, and citizens of the commonwealth of heaven.” In the commonwealth of heaven, God is indeed the only landlord – it is God’s earth we inhabit, and God’s earth is filled with God’s glory – God’s earth fairly sparkles with divinity. God’s blessings are freely given and available to all.

Iona is an island in Scotland, and hasn’t Scotland been all over the news this week. The vote for Scottish independence goes back to something that happened 300 years ago – around the same time the English colonies here in North American were beginning to agitate for our separation from the same imperial power. From what I can tell the pro-independence Scots (and many of the others, too) wanted their homeland to be more of a commonwealth, a place where resources were distributed more equitably, and where they had more of a say in where those resources went. It sounds like many Scots want to decide for themselves where the manna drops, and who determines just what is a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work. “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

But it seems like from the story from Exodus, and from the parable from Matthew, that fairness is not God’s concern. Even the mean and grumbly Israelites get all the manna they can eat. Even the shirker ne’er-do-well gets as much in his wages as the virtuous worker who has born the heat of the day. In “the commonwealth of heaven” we do not get to call the shots. We don’t get a vote for independence and income redistribution. We get what God gives us, and miraculously, it is all that we could ever want for, and more.

I think this parable of the landlord ranks right up there with the parable of the prodigal son for the teachings of Jesus that make the most people mad. This is just not fair, and for those of us for whom the world mostly works the way we want it to, we want it to be fair. Fair is good.

But: God does not give the workers, or the grumbling Israelites, what is fair. God gives them what they need. God is the only landlord – or vineyard owner. It is God’s commonwealth in which we hold our citizenship, God’s earth we inhabit, God’s house in which we dwell.

Yesterday I attended the Diocesan Anti-Racism training, the first to be held here since the General Convention voted in the year 2000 that all of us should, and would, deal with what we called “the sin of racism.” There is so much to learn about how being white privileges us in all parts of our lives, about how the very structures of “business as usual” keep the American descendants of African slaves structurally impoverished, kept in a lesser level of citizenship, always a day late and a dollar short of achieving full participation in our society. About how this is not merely “prejudice” but about disadvantage institutionalized over generations. If we play fair, by the rules, racism ensures that there will always be people late to the game, working one hour to our eleven, and it will always be wrong for them to get the same wages that we do.

It is scandalous that God, apparently, does not play fair. That God, apparently, wants to short-change us out of our hard-earned goods. Indeed, why work at all, if Mr. X down the street gets as much for an hour as I do for “bearing the burden of the day and the scorching heat?”

But there is something funny about generosity: the more you give away, the more you have. The vineyard in the parable, the manna from heaven, the love parents have for each of their 6 children: the measure of anything really important is that it is not a zero sum game. Mr. X’s gain is not my loss.

And a good thing too. Not a moment too soon. I might want to think of myself as that virtuous “bear the burden of the day” worker. But let’s be honest: aren’t there things we all forget? Connections we fail to make? Aren’t we always a day late and a dollar short to the commonwealth of heaven? And when we get there, isn’t there always enough to go around?

[i] Tune: Wir Pflugen und wir streuen "We plough the fields and scatter" (MIDI): A grand old Anglo-Catholic Socialist hymn, based on Charles Dalmon's "St George for Merrie England". Ken Leech has revised this version.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

What Would Jesus ... have US do?

Proper 19-A; September 14, 2014; PICNIC!
Exodus 14:19-31
Psalm 114
Romans 14:1-12
Matthew 18:21-35

“WWJD?” “What Would Jesus Do?” People have many different reactions to that little slogan. Some resonate with it, of course; perhaps they are VERY sure what Jesus would do in any situation and equally sure that they would do it, too. Others kind of cringe, recoiling from what they think smacks of fundamentalism and a simplistic reading of the Gospel.

Actually, I think it is a very good question, a proper and even an easy question to ask. It is, however, not such an easy question to answer, or to hear the answer Jesus might make.

Peter’s question to Jesus is a version of “WWJD.” Just how far should my forgiveness go when someone has really been bad to me? What would you do, Jesus?

As is the case with many of the parables in Matthew, Jesus tells a story to illustrate his position. The story comes from one world – the everyday world of economics, of right and wrong, of do’s and don’ts – but the meaning of the story lies in quite a different world, the world of unlimited, abundant, overflowing, embarrassing, foolish mercy and grace. The master is willing to forgive every last cent of debt owed him by the slave, but the slave does not learn this lesson well. This time, the master’s mercy turns to wrath. If Jesus is the master, we can then understand what Jesus would do when asked to forgive: he would forgive abundantly. It seems pretty clear that the one forgiven should also do as Jesus did: forgive the debts owed him. What does Jesus do then? I’m afraid it’s not a pretty picture.

There’s another slogan that’s popular in some Episcopal circles: “It’s not about rules; it’s about relationships.” This came from the Episcopal student community at Washington University, in St. Louis, and was the product of some intense discussion or retreat they had on the gospel. It’s a version of “What would Jesus do?” When given a choice, they would say, Jesus would choose the relationships over the rules. Forgiveness is more important than the amount of debt owed. The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
What would Jesus do? It’s a very good question. The answers, however, I think come not from rules but from relationships. The answers are best formulated in a community, in the push and pull of friendships and commitments, where what we think is the “right” answer is challenged by someone else’s opposite version of the “right” answer. 

What would Jesus do about global debt forgiveness? What would Jesus do about same sex marriage? What would Jesus do about racism? I might think I have the answer, but I just might learn more about what Jesus would do from the answer you have, or from the opinion you have formed from reading the gospel, or from the facts you bring to the table.

What a value, then, to a church as a diverse community, a place where the tough questions Jesus raises can be tossed around and debated from different points of view – to be a place where all of us can ask those questions and hear some answers, in the context of our conversations, our relationships, our listening to not only what Jesus would do but what Jesus would have us do.

Monday, September 8, 2014

What are the BEST things that have happened to you here?

Proper 18A     Sept. 7, 2014
Exodus 12:10-14
Psalm 149
Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

Let’s look at this gospel as an ASPIRATIONAL mission statement for the church. It is a remarkable person, with enormous spiritual depth and maturity, who can actually live out what Jesus seems to be commanding all of us to do. Conflict between individuals, within families, among groups like congregations, at workplaces, or on the world stage – it happens all the time, and not to put too fine a point on it, but conflict is really hard to resolve. In all of those places, we have to ask, is trust really and truly present? Do the parties to those conflicts – between individuals, within families, among like-minded groups like congregations, at workplaces or on the world stage – do those people have enough trust in the other party to believe that he or she really will do what they promise, to resolve the conflict?

If we read Paul’s letter to the Romans, or listen to John Lennon and Paul McCartney, then we know the answer: love is all you need. Love, love, love. True. Love is the lubricant that makes all of this work. But love is a complicated thing. First and foremost, it is a gift from God, and so freely given and not something “earned.” But as any marriage counselor will tell you, love is also something that requires some work: intention, will, deep listening, a receptive heart, a desire to make it grow. And so we can also read what Paul writes as another “aspirational” mission statement: “The commandments … are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

What is the VISION of the church, of this church, of any church, of the whole world wide body of Christ? You could come up with any number of things, but this one – “Love your neighbor as yourself” – could be probably as comprehensive a one as there is. So let’s just take a few seconds and go there in our minds. Let us imagine what that would be, if we, as individuals, as members of families, as members of this congregation, of our wider community and of the world, loved our neighbors as ourselves. Think about it.

So how does that “loving your neighbor” you were just thinking about connect with this, the mission statement of St. David’s Church? What is the work behind the love?

This week the vestry will use this mission statement as a focus for our reflection and planning. The program year is beginning, with a stewardship campaign coming up soon, an array of concerts, service opportunities, times we can enjoy each other’s company, all in the works. So this is the time to reflect on our vision – what is God calling us to be? – and our mission – what is God calling us to do in this place?

Let’s spend some time thinking about this connection between vision – loving our neighbors – and mission – what we do in this place. Take a few minutes now to jot down your thoughts. These notes won’t be published – names aren’t needed – but they will be shared at the vestry retreat. This is not a survey; it’s an opportunity to tell a little story. Also, we will not have tons of time to do this – we’re doing it right now, and write what you want, how much you want – it’s not an exam – and not a take-home! But I hope you keep with you, in your head and heart, your thoughts about this connection between loving our neighbors and what we do here, as the body of Christ.

  • Best Experience: Reflect on your entire experience with St. David’s. Recall a time when you felt most alive, most involved, spiritually touched, or most excited about your involvement here. Describe in some detail this one memorable experience. What made it an exciting experience? Who was involved? Describe how you felt. Describe what you did as a result of the experience.

  • How has Jesus statement of the great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, become real here at St. David’s? Again, describe one experience, if possible, in each of these mission areas:
  • supportive of each other
  • music and the arts
  • spiritual growth
  • community service

Burning Bushes and Carried Crosses

Proper 17 A     August 31, 2014
Exodus 3:1-15
Psalm 105:1-6, 23-26, 45c
Matthew 16:21-28

Labor Day weekend. With the end of the summer upon us, no one wants to think too hard. The State Fair, family gatherings, school starting, just sitting in one’s one back yard, strolling along the lake front, taking a drive in the country, can be enough of a blessing, enough of a way to praise God for the beauties of the world we inhabit. “Take up your cross?” That is pretty far away from where we want to be just now.

Two articles on life in retirement caught my eye in the newspaper this weekend. Maybe because it is Labor Day weekend the editors surmise we are all thinking about what we might do when we stop laboring. The two articles profiled the opposite of the post-laboring life. One group of people sold their homes and all of their possessions to live nomadic lives: some as full-time volunteers in places of need – building houses, disaster relief, environmental conservation; others just travel, tenting (can you imagine retirement-age tenting?) or renting a home in some faraway place for months at a time. In the other article, the author talked about a simpler, and just as happy retirement. For a certain kind of person, the ultimate luxury is the ability to spend the day in a library. As the reporter – a financial reporter! – wrote:

My work brings me joy. But as I looked around at the older patrons especially, I was overcome by a single emotion: jealousy. It had been too long since I’d sampled the simple but profound pleasure of losing myself in the stacks. I wanted to feel it again.[i]

To talk about retirement as the simple life is not just about sour grapes, meaning these people who spend their days in public libraries are just too poor to do anything else. If they’d really been smart they’d have enough resources to spend months hiking the Great Wall of China. That is not the point. Different things – interests, challenges, abilities – come to us at different times in our lives. We may hear Jesus say, “Take up your cross,” but that cross may be a different one today, than it was when we were 20.

When we are young, we have a lot going on in ourselves. Adventure suits us. It is part of the process of figuring out who we are and what God is calling us to be. Look at Moses. He is in the prime of young adulthood. Like a lot of young men, he was caught up in some bad activity and chose to run away rather than face the consequences. Remember the baby in the bulrushes from last week? He grew up to be a privileged son of Pharoah’s household. But when he recognized himself among the Hebrew slaves being beaten, he killed an Egyptian and ran away, hoping, no doubt, for the safer and simpler life of a shepherd. But God had other plans for this young man, even if it took setting a bush on fire to get his attention.

Later in life, however, that challenge from God takes a different form. Even Moses slowed down. By the time he got to the Promised Land, he was only able to look across and see it. But maybe for Moses that seeing, that contemplating, that simpler way of engaging with God’s promise was enough. Even though he “only” saw the Promised Land, he was nonetheless fully there.
God keeps coming after us. We hear that challenge from Jesus to follow him, to lose our lives, to take up our crosses all the time. Sometimes, God calls us to move whole nations, burning bushes in our faces all the time. At other times, God challenges us just to sit still: to browse, to think, maybe even to pray. Even in the simple life we have crosses to bear. Even in the simple life, God urges us to draw closer to glory in the kingdom of God.

[i] Ron Lieber http://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/30/your-money/affixing-more-value-to-the-ordinary-experiences-of-life.html?ref=business&_r=0

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Who's in charge here?

Proper 16-A                August 24, 2014
Exodus 1:8-2:10
Psalm 124
Matthew 16:13-20

When my daughter was seven, she went to church with some Roman Catholic friends. The mother explained to Laura that since her friend hadn’t made her first communion, the girls wouldn’t take the sacrament today. Laura, who had been receiving communion since she had been baptized as a baby, Harumphed, and said, “Who’s in charge here?” Her friend’s mother was taken aback, and after the service went to the priest and introduced Laura as her daughter’s friend, who was used to receiving communion in her own church. Then Laura spoke up, “I just wanted Jesus in my heart.”

It seems to me that that kind of authority trumps something that is merely imposed by a set of church rules. Who, indeed, is “in charge” over someone who knows the reality of Jesus in her heart?

Jesus does give Peter such authority over binding and loosing – so much authority that whatever Peter says, goes. I can’t quite imagine what it means that something bound on earth is bound in heaven, but indeed, Jesus gives Peter the keys to this kingdom. And over two millennia this authority has been given to Peter’s successors. To the question, “Who’s in charge here,” some people give a very definite answer.

Rules. We all live by rules. Nations rise and fall by rules, by definitions of who is in charge, and during the centuries when the Egyptians were building the pyramids, Pharaoh was in charge. What he said, went. And when he said, there are too many of those Hebrew children around here; kill the boys – that rule was supposed to be followed.

This is the beginning of the Exodus story, the story of God pulling the Hebrew children out of Egypt and into their own nationhood as Israel. This is the beginning of the most important story in the Hebrew bible – and look at what a fragile and precarious beginning it has. A baby ordered killed is hidden in a basket, floating in the very river in which he should have drowned. And this child is saved because of a conspiracy of women who broke the rules. Who’s in charge here? Pharaoh. But who is in the hearts of the Hebrew midwives, and the baby’s mother and the baby’s sister? God is in their hearts. The God of love, whose love causes them to find a way around the rules to save the baby’s life. And then Pharaoh’s daughter, who sees the baby and wants him for her own. She breaks the rules, too. She must know this is a Hebrew baby, a boy hidden in a basket among the reeds. Who’s in charge here? Compassion rules her heart, and through a marvelous twist, she takes the boy home, along with a woman to nurse him who just happens to be the boy’s mother, and the child of slaves is raised as a prince in Pharaoh’s household. This boy of illegitimate beginnings grows up to be just the leader to bring the Hebrew nation out of bondage into freedom.

Who’s in charge here? It’s not always who we think it is – and if God is ultimately in charge, if we take our authority from these rules of love and compassion and empathy and mercy which God puts in our hearts, then hey: there are often some surprising changes about who is in charge here in earth.

Listen to this story told to me by a friend, a retired priest who once served a parish on the West Side of Chicago.

One morning many years ago I went out of the apartment house where I lived … and found a little
ten year old neighbor, whose nickname was "Boo", sitting in his grandpa's old Cadillac car, with a set of keys in his hands, busily working to get the padlock off the steering wheel. Little Boo looked guilty to me, and he did have a criminal record, for he had swiped an apple from my refrigerator the week before. So I said to him, "Michael, did your Grandpa give you those keys? Does he know that you are out here in the car?" Boo slowly shook his head, No. I at once had a vision of Boo careening around Union Park in this huge vintage Cadillac, his little head bobbing over the dash board. I triumphantly retrieved the keys and took them upstairs to Grandpa's apartment, next to my own. I knocked on the door, and soon learned that indeed Grandpa had not given him the keys, but Grandma had! She had told Michael to go down and get the padlock off the steering wheel and to wait in the Cadillac for her to come down in a few minutes. When I went back downstairs, Michael had recovered his dignity along with his Grandma and the keys. And I had a bit of a red face, for not having recognized his received authority to have the keys in the first place, from another with the power to give them.

“The keys to the kingdom are something like that,” my friend went on to say, “for Jesus has been an indulgent Grandma, who has handed over the keys to the likes of us, and to a variety of others, some of us juveniles too young to drive, but with the benevolent counsel to go ahead and open the vehicle, and wait for the wise ones to come down and accompany us.”[i]

Frankly, I’m not too good with change. When the rules are set, I like them to stay that way. But the world I live in now is not the world as I thought it would be when I was ten years old. Pharaohs and Josephs come and go, and what we thought secure is now precarious. How difficult to imagine that our salvation will depend on a baby in a basket, or the wily, subversive women who hid him there. But imagination is just what we need. With every new age, every change in time or circumstance, with every new Pharaoh, God entrusts us with a new set of keys. But the kingdom those new keys unlock remains the same: love, justice, and the reign of God.

[i] Grant Gallup, Homily Grits, 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Year A, Proper 16; gallup@tmx.com.ni

Sunday, August 24, 2014

God shakes it up

Proper 15         Aug. 17, 2014
Genesis 45:1-15
Psalm 133
Matthew 15:21-28

We are never quite sure who we are supposed to forgive. Or who is supposed to forgive us. Joseph’s brothers are flipping out when they realize who the generous Egyptian is, all wealthy and powerful, standing before them. Jesus himself gets caught up short by that feisty foreign woman who calls him out on his vaunted declarations of God’s abundance. Joseph forgives his brothers even before they ask for it. And does Jesus even beg the woman’s pardon? Or is it all ok now, that her daughter is healed?

The stories in the Gospel of Matthew we are reading for these several weeks have this in common. The action in each of these stories is set in motion by what happened when Jesus fed those thousands of people with a little bread and some fish. Matthew, the one who structured how these stories appear in his Gospel, shows that the ramifications of that miracle travel far and wide. The way the world itself is ordered is now changed: God’s grace is so powerful that human beings can walk on water. God’s abundance is so overflowing that even Jesus underestimates its power – it takes a foreign woman with her shocking challenge to teach Jesus that God’s generosity extends even to her and her ailing daughter.

We never know who God will use to get that point across to us. The people of Ferguson, MO, have been at each other’s throats over who is responsible for the death of a young man. Who would have thought that a career state policeman would walk among the angry mobs, shake their hands, hear their stories, and disarm the most heated conflicts? The situation got tense again over the weekend, but on Friday, this highway patrolman brought hope:

Captain Johnson, a burly and plain-spoken Missouri native, cited the Bible, preached tolerance and simultaneously represented both law and order and the fear and anger of seething residents. He turned a news conference into a town hall meeting, waded into the crowd and seemed to listen as much as he spoke … [i]

This is no quick fix, but Captain Johnson surprised everyone, police and citizens alike, the way the Canaanite woman surprised everyone around Jesus, the way Joseph surprised his scoundrel brothers. That intervention of surprise shook up what was going on, and introduced the possibility that God had other ideas about those situations. Joseph’s brothers had to come to grips with their grievous wrong-doing. Jesus had to realize that God’s grace extends to more people than he had imagined.

Don’t we all wish that life would just settle down and be normal? That there would be a reliable status quo? We yearn for that stability so much that we are willing to sacrifice justice for it. We are willing to harbor grudges, to hide our fears, to bury our angers, to silence our longings, stifle our objections, just to keep things on an even keel. Like Joseph’s brothers, we have kept all sorts of bad stuff inside for so long, that the love of God is almost unrecognizable to us when we come upon it. We have lived that way for so long: why would we ever want to change?
But God knows when that even keel that we desire so much is out of whack. That’s when God intervenes, shakes things up, destabilizes the status quo. God comes in the guise of angry demonstrators and brave police captains, in the guise of snarky mothers who want the best for their children.

Watch on when you think you have it all figured out. God may have something else in mind.

Sunday, August 10, 2014


Proper 14 A     August 10, 2014
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
Psalm 105, 1-6, 16-22, 45b
Matthew 14:22-33

There is an old cartoon in The New Yorker which shows two men watching another person walk across the top of the water. One observer says to the other, "It's been a long time since that has been done well!"

In fact, walking on water is one of those things that seem to belong to Jesus alone, and ever since Jesus, people, try as they might, have had difficulty following Jesus' effortless performance. Like Peter, we attempt the impossible -- we go out too far and find ourselves sinking, because we do not know or we forget that deliverance comes only from God, not from our own cleverness or strength or luck.

Relying on self alone, we sink, and struggle to get back to where we wanted to be all along: safe in the boat. Shivering and wet maybe, but in the boat, with its well defined boundaries and its protection, however feeble, from the stormy seas.

This can happen to us at any stage of our lives, when challenges beckon and we think we can meet them on our own, unaware that we are woefully unprepared – that we have not, after all, assembled the right tool kit for this task. Any of those change points of our lives can feel like venturing out onto stormy seas: leaving high school for college, leaving college for some kind of career, and now, as is the case for nearly everyone, finding that career upended and we are back in the water again, floundering. It can be the time the children leave home, or when retirement is reached, or a spouse or a parent dies, or grandchildren are born. We think we are ready to walk smoothly across those waves, but we are not. We are not.

I don’t think there is any formula for “relying on Jesus” at those times. God’s saving help to us must take different, completely unexpected forms each time we need it. If we think the same old words, the same old faith, the same old patterns that got us from high school into the work world, or when we were newlyweds, or through problems at work, will apply to our stormy seas now, we are mistaken. We’ll sink like a stone. In the words of the old hymn, “New occasions teach new duties; time makes ancient truth uncouth.” As new challenges appear in our lives, and we find our selves out on that stormy sea, we have to find some way to stop and listen to what God is saying to us now – not just march on and think we have it all together, not just do those same old things and expect different results, and certainly not just think that the old way forward is to get back into the boat. God is with us in those terrible places, calling forth new things, new strengths, new faiths, new abilities, that we never thought we had – that we had never even imagined before. “You of little faith,” Jesus says to Peter. The “little faith” that Peter relied on was the old way of thinking and being and doing. Jesus called Peter – and calls us – to the new, the uncharted, the unimagined and unexpected – and is there with us all the way.

You know this is true in your own life. It is just as true in church life. This parish, the Episcopal Church, all churches, will go nowhere if we think all we have to do is to stay in our safe – albeit wet and leaking – little boat. Jesus calls us, in the words of a contemporary English theologian, to “journey out,” to find mission and ministry not in this safe place but out on the margins of the community. Our initial impulse might be just to try to fix our status quo – to “do church” a little better, or even just to do the things we have always done with more energy and vigor. But that is like rowing backward against the current. It is undeniable in these times that something powerful in the culture and wider world around us is pushing us quickly into uncharted waters – and just to keep this maritime metaphor going, it is very likely that the boat of the institutional church will break apart on the shoals.
Nevertheless, journeying out is exactly what Jesus is calling us to do. It is an anxious time. It feels crazy, but we hear it again and again through these ancient scriptures: God calls us to transformation – to take on God’s new life as individuals, and as individuals to be part of an ever new, ever transforming world.

Ann Morisy is the English theologian and church worker who wrote her book Journeying Out about 10 years ago – an eon ago in this rapidly changing world. But she has some pithy quotes that still ring true: the church is not a “waiting room for the hereafter.” “The church, if it is to honor the gospel, has to journey out, embrace strangers, work for social peace and justice and partake of God’s gracious gift of salvation.”[i]

That is so hard for “we of little faith” to hear, even for those of us who have heard these stories all of our lives. But knowing who is calling us to journey out, what are we waiting for?

[i] Ann Morisy, Journeying Out: A New Approach to Christian Mission (Morehouse, 2004), p. 5

Two weeks of baptisms: water and rest

Proper 8-A + baptism           June 29, 2014
Genesis 24:1-2,10-27
Psalm 13
Matthew 10:40-42

I remember driving through a part of the city that was run-down and gritty, on a hot day in the early summer. I saw a boy sitting at his lemonade stand. His hand-written sign said a cup of lemonade was 25 cents. I almost stopped. Seth and Laura used to do lemonade stands, and one year – when they said they were raising money to give their parents an anniversary gift -- they made almost $100. (Lesson here: people give to people with a cause.)

Normally, though, lemonade stands don’t make a lot of money. After getting someone to front the initial investment, the young entrepreneur can be on his or her own, replenishing supplies out of the profits. But the profits will be modest.

The street corner where the little boy had set up his stand was not the tree-lined university campus where Seth and Laura made their killing in the lemonade market. This was a place of cracked pavement, car exhaust, weeds in the hedges, that sort of thing. It was a hot day. You could say, then, that that little boy was a prophet: he saw that his block was the sort of place where people would need a cup of lemonade. He saw his street corner, not as we would see it, as a dusty, God-forsaken no man’s land that we speed by, but as a place where people would stop and drink some lemonade, and he’d get a quarter and maybe a nice conversation out of it. That little boy saw hope on his street corner. He saw his street corner the way God sees his street corner.

No one sets out to be a prophet; prophets can only be recognized from the outside, when people see their prophet-nature in what they say and what they do. That little boy didn’t set out to be a prophet; he just set out a lemonade stand. But he is a prophet. He sees his neighborhood as it is going to be. The little boy is a prophet of the resurrection.

Our story from Genesis is another story of water and hope – of water and hospitality as investments in the future. As we continue the story of Abraham and his descendants, we see that the hospitality shown by Rebekah to the stranger is a sign of her blessedness – and that her hospitality brings a blessing to Abraham’s whole family. Rebekah will marry Isaac, and the promise that God made to Abraham – that his descendants would number as the stars in the heaven – takes one step closer to coming true.

We are delighted that we have these two little girls here today, so we can continue our own story of water and blessing and hope for the future. Children are a sign that there is more to come. They are the new life promised by God to all of us. They shake us up, challenge us, teach us new things and bring us to the brink of exasperation. We gather today to bless them as they have blessed us. We douse them with water – that same water Rebekah drew from the well, that same water from which the little boy on the dusty street corner made his lemonade – and welcome them into this household that we dare to call the household of God. We promise to take care of them and support them and hold them close and let them go when they are grown. We promise to teach them about God’s promises to us: that God is always renewing life, that God is always with us, that God is always leading us forth to new pathways and peoples and adventures, and that God will always, always, welcome us home.

Proper 9-A + Baptism           7/6/2014
Genesis 24:34-38,42-49,58-67
Psalm 45:11-18
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

Summer is a time for rest and recreation – for sitting with family and friends – for re-connecting with the
beauty of all God has made. God built the desire for rest into our very essence, for in the creation story we know, famously, that God rested on the seventh day. Augustine, theologian and bishop of the church’s early centuries puts our innate longing for rest and for God together:

"You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you."[i]

Augustine reminds us that we are part of the creation in which God delights, and that no matter how much we do what God would have us NOT do, God has created us with a homing device, as it were: the true rest we seek we find at home, and our home, our hearts’ home, is with God. Our hearts are restless until they rest in God.

Our Old Testament and Gospel lessons would seem, on the face of it, to have nothing to do with each other. Matthew gives us some sayings of Jesus; in Genesis we continue the story of how Isaac, son of the patriarch Abraham, and also a patriarch-to-be, got himself a wife.

These lessons do have something in common: they talk about rest, Sabbath rest, rest that leads to salvation.
In the desert lands of the Near East, where one finds water one finds salvation.

A river flows through the garden of Eden, and later splits into four rivers, which flowed to the corners of the earth. For the inhabitants of the arid ancient near east, water is a restoration of Eden. … In the Bible, if you’ve found abundant water, you’ve found your way back to paradise. If you find water, you’ve entered sabbath.[ii]

Isaac, the one God promised to be the father of many nations, is looking for a wife, a worthy partner with whom to fulfill this promise. And where does he (or the servant he sent) find her? At a well. This is not just a story about an ancient version of matchmaker.com. This is a story of God fulfilling God’s promises with the abundance of flowing water, an oasis in the desert, the living water that leads to eternal life.

And what is Jesus saying? Don’t miss that well in the desert. Don’t miss the signs that point to it. Don’t miss out on your chance for the abundant life! What will it take for us to recognize Jesus for who he is? He points to the contrast between John the Baptist, the forerunner – the ascetic, desert-hardened one who first brought the Good News of this new world. “You called him demon-possessed!” Jesus says. And then he goes on, “And then here I am! I eat and drink, I hang out with sinners and unsavory people. I party with everybody! I bring the same message as John, and yet you pay no attention to me, either! You think you are so wise? Hah!” Listen to how another Biblical scholar interpreted what Jesus said:

… sit out the dance in your pseudo-wisdom if you want to, but the blind are seeing, the deaf are hearing, the lepers are made new, the dead are raised, and the poor have finally heard some music they can kick up their heels to – and that is the essence of wisdom...[iii]

We have two beautiful children to thank today for reminding us of the promises that water symbolizes, and the joy that water brings. I bet you all have been dipping more than your toes in the sacred waters of Skaneateles. We thank you for bringing some of that party here to us. In your baptisms today you are helping all of us re-connect with the springs of the water of life – with the promises God made to us at creation, that we, created in the image of God, are good.

In the waters of baptism we find our salvation. We renew those original promises of creation. We can lay
down our burdens, Jesus says, at the wellspring in the desert, and there we will find rest. We will find eternal life. We will find a terrific party – a feast to end all feasts. There at the well, we can put things in proper perspective. We can leave behind our tortured lives, doing what we know we should not. We can let our troubles just dry out there on the hot sand. We can forget our tension and anger, and take on the gentleness and humility that Jesus offers. We can gather the children in our arms, and see in them that God’s promises for our lives – for life itself – are fulfilled. We can cast off all our restlessness, for here, at this well of refreshment, of easy burdens and light duties, our hearts can finally find their rest.

[i] The Confessions of St. Augustine, Bishop of Hippo: http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/augconfessions/bk1.html
[ii] Peter J. Leithart, from Blogging Toward Sunday, July 6 (6/30/2008) in Theolog, the blog of The Christian Century: http://www.theolog.org/blog/2008/06/blogging-towa-4.html
[iii] From “Sacred Rest” by Kate Huey, from Weekly Seeds, the Bible study blog of the United Church of Christ: http://i.ucc.org/StretchYourMind/OpeningtheBible/WeeklySeeds/tabid/81/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/67/Sacred-Rest.aspx. Kate Huey quotes Thomas Long’s commentary on the Gospel of Matthew from the Westminster Bible Companion Series

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Who's in charge here?

Proper 7-A; June 22, 2014
Genesis 21:8-21

Psalm 86:1-10, 16-17
Matthew 10:24-39

Because of his wife’s jealousy of the “other woman,” Abraham casts his first-born son into the wilderness to die. Hagar, the Egyptian slave woman who is the child's mother, has run out of food and water. She lays the exhausted, parched and famished boy under a bush, and says, to no one, for there is no witness to this act, "Do not let me look on the death of the child." She then cries aloud and weeps.

This could be a scene from South Sudan, from the Mexican border, from Syria, or from countless desperate places on our planet today, where mothers and children are abandoned by family, by warring governments, by economic forces beyond their control, and sent out to many kinds of wilderness to die. Friday was World Refugee Day, and a good thing, too, because I hear that today there are more refugees than at any time since the end of the Second World War.

If the day's Gospel lesson reflects Jesus’ “family values,” it does not fare much better. "I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law." Jesus declares. "One's foes will be members of one's own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me."

This passage comes from a section in the Gospel of Matthew concerning discipleship: what does it mean to follow Jesus? What would it look like in my life, the disciples are asking themselves, to take part in the breaking in of this kingdom of heaven? What does it mean to take up my cross, to lose my life, to understand God not as the bringer of peace but as the wielder of a sword?

As important as family is to us today, our modern ears cannot hear it quite the same way as Jesus’ followers would have. We moderns are all about “ME,” about self-actualization and self-realization. We strike out on our own, we value independence and self-reliance: the Lone Ranger, the pioneer on the frontier, the corporate raider, the “Army of One.” But in the world in which Jesus lived, you were not an individual apart from your family. Your family gave you your identity, gave you not just your name but your place in the community and in the world, and your family protected you from that world. Your family was a good thing, a precious thing; you didn’t just strike out on your own. Jesus isn’t some 1960s hippie cult leader telling you to tune in, turn on, drop out, from a family that oppresses, abuses or bores you.

There were plenty of bad things in first century Palestine, plenty of things that Jesus might exhort you to leave behind, but the family was not one of them. The Romans were bad, because they were an occupying army in your homeland. The temple authorities were bad, because they colluded with the Romans in exchange for privilege and protection. The civil bureaucracy was bad, because it taxed the people nearly to death. Indeed, death and fear were the operative social norms. The family was the refuge from all that. No one could survive without a family.

So when Jesus says, “Follow me,” he is asking the disciples to leave behind one of the few institutions in society that works. Jesus’ call upsets every apple cart there is, and then he says, don’t worry. Don’t be anxious. Consider the lilies, remember the sparrows. The kingdom of heaven means the whole world is about to be re-ordered. Everything will be uncovered. There will be no more secrets, no more power brokers, or back-room deals. This news is so good that it must be shouted from the rooftops – no matter what the consequences. No matter how many authorities you anger, no matter how many armies they unleash. God’s kingdom HAS to challenge this kingdom, and even the blessed and good family, the loving parents, the bonds of affection and kinship – even these can get in the way of this truth of God which cuts like a sword. The new thing which God is doing is even deeper, even more important, even more powerful that the deepest, most important and most powerful parts of our lives, the parts of our lives that make us most truly human. God is a sword which pares away even our relationships, our kinships, our families.
Where is God taking us with this confusing, and maybe even terrifying, lesson? Is discipleship some sort of desert wilderness? Are we called to be like Hagar and Ishmael, stumbling around until the water runs out, cut off from family and security and hope and the future?

Look again at this astounding story of Hagar and Ishmael – and God. Even though God has apparently blessed the dismissal of the two into the wilderness, God will not let them suffer. The voice of the angel of God raises Hagar’s hopes, and promises that even this discarded son of Abraham will be the father of many nations. Even these two hopeless creatures, these outcasts and discards, this tiny remnant of a broken family will have a great future in store. Abraham may have cast out Ishmael but God stayed with him.

If Jesus calls us as disciples to turn away from even the good parts of our lives, if they distract and keep us from the gospel, it is because being a disciple leads us into so much more. We see this broken world now as Jesus sees it. Freed from our own particularity, we can act as perhaps Jesus would have us act. We can even take our families with us. We can see the Hagars and Ishmaels of today, in the countless desert places, the violent streets, the lonely corners. We can resolve to be that angel of God who shouts from the rooftops that it doesn’t have to be this way, the angel who brings God’s gifts of water, sustenance and hope to a world that too often cries in despair.

Proper 29 C     Nov. 24, 2013
Jeremiah 23:1-6
Canticle 16 – Luke 1:68-79
Colossians 1:11-20
Luke 23:33-43

One of the founding stories of our democracy is “no taxation without representation.” It is hard indeed, after all these years, built on stories like that, to get our American heads around the Sunday of “Christ the King.” Many Christians now call this day “the Reign of Christ,” which seems to downplay the patriarchal tint to the word “king,” but the monarchy is still there: we small-d democrats and small-r republicans have no intention of living under anybody’s “reign” – monarchs reign; in a democracy, our leaders govern with the consent of the people. We are citizens, not subjects, and even at times like this, when our democracy seems a little bit lumpy and not working as well as we would like, we’re not going back to be under anybody’s “reign.”

Yet our most frequently used prayer goes like this: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and lead us not into temptation.” No matter what our system of government is, apparently the best way we can describe what the world should be like is that it is under the reign of God – a reign under which all basic human needs, like that of daily bread, are met, where “structures of domination and subjugation [are] overcome… [where] all dwell in harmony with God and each other[i]” beyond the temptation and corruption of evil.

If we Americans live in a democracy, yet with this memory of monarchy, the people of Jesus’ day found themselves living in an unjust monarchy, yet with a memory of democracy – or at least of republican government. They remembered the rule of law. They remembered when their wretched taxes did not go to support an imperial military force that imposed order whether it was lawful or not. The days of Caesar Augustus, as the evangelist Luke is so keenly aware, are the days of the first emperor, the emperor who wrenched power from the elected consuls, now no more than the shell of republicanism. “All the world is at peace,” Caesar declared. “First victory, then peace.” The people longed for order and for peace. They longed for a society in which they could safely earn their daily bread, a society which kept at bay for the forces of chaos and disruption. But under the emperor, who needed all those rumors of war to stay in business, peace came from a permanent military. Peace came at the price of crippling and permanent taxation from which there was no hope of relief. Peace came at the price of the erosion of the rule of law. Peace came at the price of justice.

The Jesus mocked as “the king of the Jews” has no power to impose anything like the peace and order of the Roman Empire. By the time this Gospel is written, decades after anyone alive had witnessed that crucifixion, people were beginning to understand what this “reign of God” meant – what this alternative kingship was about. Jesus went to his death talking about a different kind of world order. In his life and in his death, Jesus ‘[grappled] with the disorders of injustice, suffering and death. The darkness of death,” writes Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, is pushed back one emergency at a time.” Over the course of his life and in the manner of his death, Jesus demonstrated to ordinary people – like us – that he knew just what they were going through, that he stood with them, and us, and that most importantly he WITHstood the worst that lawlessness and chaos could dish out.

People knew that Luke wrote the truth about Jesus. They knew it because the people who stood up for
them, and with them – the people who were willing to go to their deaths in place of them, were the people who believed in this upside-down kingship of Jesus. The people of Luke’s day knew they could pray to the Emperor all they wanted, but there was no bread without justice, no peace without justice. The imperial army could be powerful and rich, but the people still suffered from want and lived in fear. The people of Luke’s day began to follow “the servants of this new king. [These] practitioners of this newly ordered world” took their leadership public. When Luke told this story of standing at the foot of the cross, of hearing in Jesus’ last words that he was still turning the world around, it gave people courage that they could do that too, in their own day and in the face of their own challenges.

This day of Christ the King is for us, citizens and subjects alike.

[i] Rosemary Radford Ruether, in Sexism and God-Talk, quoted by Suzanne Guthrie in http://www.edgeofenclosure.org/reignofchristc.html

Monday, June 30, 2014

Creation, Trinity and the Celtic Knot

Trinity Sunday June 15, 2014

Genesis 1:1-2:3
Ps. 8
2 Corinthians 13:11-13
Matthew 28:16-20

Today we read the beginning and the end: God as Alpha and God as Omega. “In the beginning God created heaven and earth,” and “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” What do these texts say to us about the nature of God? The activity of God? The being of God?

There certainly are literal interpretations of these texts, and of the understanding of the Trinity as a God with three faces, or three bodies – that Old Guy, Young Guy and a Bird image that you know is somewhere in the recesses of your mind. “God in Three Persons, Blessed Trinity” IS hard to grasp, as you will hear in this story of the little girl and her mother, talking about God.

Is God big? the little girl asked. Yes, said the mother, God is very big. Is God everywhere? asked the girl. Yes, said the mother, God is everywhere. Could God do anything he wanted to do? The girl continued her line of questioning. Yes, said the mother, getting a little concerned about where this might be heading. God loves us, she assured her daughter, and wants always to be near us. Could God get into my cup? the little girl asked. Well, I suppose so, said the mother. The little girl triumphantly clapped her hand over the cup. Got him! she shouted.

Theologians love to write about the Trinity, and – surprise! – they use stories that are a lot more complicated than that one of the free-thinking little girl and her more conventional mother. One theologian uses the metaphor of water for the Trinity: God as the source, as the spring and as the live-giving stream.i It really makes more sense to talk about God as activity, creating and enlivening and nourishing us all, all the time.

Ancient theologians thought of God as a dance. The Greek work that describes how God the Trinity relates to God’s self is parachoresis, dancing through. The reality of God is that God is dancing among God’s self, bubbling and babbling, twisting and turning, and all the while creating life, reaching out to creation in love and reconciliation, and breathing on it life-sustaining spirit.

Genesis tells us the story of creation, of how God created not only heaven and earth, fish, birds and animals, but some other creatures as well, creatures made in the image of God. God created them, humankind, male and female. This is the image and likeness of God. This collective body of humanity, this maleness and femaleness, tells us something about what God is like. Certainly not everything about us is God-like, for we know the human propensity to pull away from God, from our God-nature. Sometimes we do bad things.
But what is there about being human that draws us to God? In thinking of God as activity, what activity draws us closest to God? How can we behave in a way that could be described as God-like? Surely that is love. And how do we love? In relationship, in community, even if it is only a community of two. And are relationships, even loving relationships, simple? No; they are many-faceted and difficult to describe in their entirety. You certainly can’t put a face on a relationship and say, there, that sums it up, because there will always be something else about the relationship, or the person you love, that will bubble up and surprise you in a new way.

That is where the language of the Trinity came in: from the need Christians had to describe just what this relationship with God was about. Christians had to find words for their experience of God, especially God in this new way: God had become human – begotten – because God loved us so much that God wanted to save us from ourselves. God did not want us to keep pulling away – but how could God be up there and down here? It got too complicated to think of God in only one way, or as only one thing, for now God was doing many more things. Hence: God as the dance, the spring of living water, the fount of every blessing, comforter, Incarnate Word, mighty source, Ancient of Days, immortal, invisible, only-wise, silent as light. In the beginning, and with us always, even to the end of the age.

Read this prayer along with me. It was written down by someone in 19th century Scotland, but it is much, much older than that. This “Rune before Prayer” is really an invitation to pray. When words were not enough to describe the reality of God to the believer, we have Celtic Christianity to thank for just piling on more and more words, and because they did, we are the richer.

I am bending my knee 
In the eye of the Father who created me, 
In the eye of the Son who purchased me, 
In the eye of the Spirit who cleansed me, 
In friendship and affection. 
Through Thine own Anointed One, O God, 
Bestow upon us fullness in our need, 
Love towards God, 
The affection of God, 
The smile of God, 
The wisdom of God. 
The grace of God, 
The fear of God, 
And the will of God 
To do in the world of the Three, 
As angels and saints 
Do in heaven; 
Each shade and light, 
Each day and night, 
Each time in kindness, 
Give Thou us Thy Spirit.  ii

i. David Cunningham
ii. Ancient Celtic prayer collected by Alexander Carmichael (1832-1912), published in Carmina Gaedelica (Edinburgh: Floris Books, 1992)

Proper 28 C     11/17/2013
Isaiah 65:17-25
Canticle 9
2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Luke 21:5-19

I bet you have heard of the “new atheists” – scientist, journalists, philosophers who are on their own kind of crusade to say that religion, spirituality, belief in a higher power is all superstitious bunk. One journalist[i] I read interviewed and read several of these “atheists” and noted that their “creed” was in fact kind of that: a dogmatic system for which they were very evangelical. The world is in danger from religion, some atheists proclaim; all religion tends toward fanaticism. Religious people are dupes; nothing can be proven. It is all very logical, the journalist noted.

And in that logic, the journalist noted, is the rub. Taking a “logical” approach to something as vast as the meaning of existence leaves people a little cold. As journalists do, he contrasted the atheists with a Christian church – and as journalists do, it was a big mega-church with an evangelical rock band performing a concert/worship service/altar call to 500 teenagers. However logical, however intellectual, the journalist noted, the new atheists can’t draw a crowd or build up enthusiasm like the direct, emotional appeal of that Christian evangelical crowd.

Our lessons today certainly are fodder for the new atheists’ scorn. Endtimes, prophecies of doom AND abundance, talk of salvation and the saving of souls would just be proof of our illogicality and foolishness.
But like the young evangelicals headed to an altar call to the strum of electric guitars, the appeal of our
lessons today is in their very big-ness. These lessons remind us that we are part of grandness of God. We are not small, insignificant blips; we participate in God’s great creative adventure. The prophet Isaiah, who never minced words when he told the people of Israel how badly they behaved, now sings lyrically of restoration, of what blessings the people will receive when they return, as promised, to their home in Jerusalem. Jesus’ words bolster people whose lives are on the line, who face imminent imprisonment and death. The people to whom these sayings are directed are not interested in logical arguments, small helping hands, or social niceties. They are involved in a great cosmic drama, and God, our God, is right there with them. To be called by God to God’s mission means being part of the bigness of God.

We don’t have to be prophets to know that there are lots of changes going on in Episcopal Church nationally and locally. I have heard talk at many parishes, including this one, that people are few, resources are scarce, and that the end is near! Such talk demonstrates about as much trust in the mission of God as those “new atheists” admit. Thinking small, thinking shrinking takes everyone down a road of no return.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Episcopal Church, and this parish in particular, have a future, a sustainable future. Our future is in participating in the bigness of God’s mission. Our future is thinking and acting in ways that might be different than in the past, in partnering with other churches and non-churches, on the exciting work of connecting God’s mission with the needs of our community, but also on the practical ways we can be sustainable and steward our resources collectively for a future role in God’s big mission
It is the Sunday of the pledge ingathering. We are giving today – giving who we are and what we have, and nothing that we give is small. No matter the size of our pledge, our giving, here or anywhere else, our gifts are part and parcel of the greatness of God, of the bigness of God’s mission. We give back because we have been promised big things – because we can participate in things that are big enough to be worthy of our gifts – because what we give here inspires and encourages all of us to go out into that great and immense mission of God. It is not logical, it is not intellectual, and it certainly can’t be scientifically proven, but it is true. It is a great adventure. It is the cosmic journey of all creation. Participating in this mission is what it means to be blessed, what it means to gain our souls.

[i] Gary Wolf, “The Church of the Non-Believers,” Wired, November 2006  http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/14.11/atheism.html