Thursday, September 30, 2010

A Love You Can Trust

Pentecost 18, Proper 21    September 26, 2010

St. Christopher's Episcopal Church    Rev. Paul Moore

A Love You Can Trust

It was late, the light was beginning to fade. In the tropics when the light fades it goes quickly. I knew we were relatively close to the car, but it had been a while since I was in this neck of the Andes mountains. I picked a ridge and we burned muscle getting to the top. I looked around and groaned! There was the car, alright, on the next ridge over, separated by a large, steep, brushy draw—with no trail.

Have you ever felt that way, like whenever you rushed to get somewhere you ended up just out of reach of your goal? Like you climb and climb to the top of the ladder, only to discover it's leaning on the wrong wall? Julian of Norwich, English mystic of the 13th century called knowledge the sense of something, wisdom the right use of it. I have on my desk an article titled, "Trendspotting the Quick and Easy Way: How savvy executives stay on top of the latest trends, crushing the competition and multiplying profits." But is crushed competition and multiplied profits really what it's all about? Or will that put you on the wrong ridge?

I'm sure the rich man felt that way in Jesus' parable today. Notice how the poor man has a name: Lazarus. We know him. He has an identity that is rooted and solid. You see him every time you pass the street corner downtown. He holds a placard asking for a handout. He shuffles by you, hair tousled and unkempt, (ever notice how the homeless are never overweight?) We all know who Lazarus is. In fact, this parable is so definite that in Argentina a "lazaro" is any street beggar. It should not surprise us, then, when Lazarus dies, that the angels carry him to Abraham's bosom. In this life he had no rest, but in the life to come he does. In spite of appearances, he wasn't a bad man.

By contrast, the rich man is not named. He could be anyone or everyone. He shifts around, just out of sight of the needy. He prefers to ignore the ways he is hurting people for his own gain. He explains it away: If Lazarus would only work harder he would have a good life like me. And no, he doesn't have work for Lazarus, he doesn't hire people like him. So when he dies he is laid to rest...end of story...almost. Now he is in torment. The "good upstanding citizen" has become the one judged and condemned. It's not merely that there is a certain amount of good and ill that each of us will experience, and in the afterlife the books are balanced. No, if the moral of the story means anything at all it means the way we live here does affect the way we will live there. It matters what wall your ladder leans against, it matters what ridge you choose to climb. And the rich man saw nothing in this life that oriented him to the truth of the next.

So where is the good news in this? Abraham tells the rich man that his brothers have the testimony of Moses and the prophets. Ah, there WAS something in this life that could have oriented him for the next. He just didn't pay attention to it. It is the gift of revelation, the revelation of the heart of God. We, too, have revelation. Jesus also died, like Lazarus and the rich man. But unlike the rich man, He did come back. He conquered death, and redeemed all our dyings. In His hands is the final resolution of all things. Jesus' life, death and resurrection is the sum total of what God is like. The love that drove Jesus to the Cross is the love of God for creation. The power that raised Him from the dead is the power of God on our behalf. The wisdom that designed such a redemption is the wisdom that orients our lives now. This, then, is a love we can trust.

The rich man trusted in the love of his money and it didn't work out very well in the end. Lazarus had no one else to trust but the good hearts of generous souls who drifted in and out of his life. These good hearts knew and expressed the love of God, as ours can and ought to today. And in the end it worked. We, too, can trust the love of God. It will anchor us in life's storms. It will orient us to the ridge we need to climb. And in the end it will serve us well.

My hawk is now back in the air. Most of you know I'm a falconer, and I have a hawk with which I hunt small game. It's one of those things I do to keep myself sane and grounded. Some of you have doubts as to its effectiveness, but that's another story. The month of September has one of learning to trust. During the summer months I have kept the bird hog fat, relieved of his hunting duties. His sole task was to direct all his body's energies to growing good, strong new feathers for this coming year. And he has had little use for me... Now, however, it's time to go back into the woods. And I've had to reestablish the trust we had last year. It's a trust that orients and grounds our activities. He trusts the dogs and me to produce game for you to chase. He trusts me to help him with whatever he catch so he doesn't break feathers or get hurt. He trusts me to keep him safe and to bring him back to a safe, warm and dry place to sleep at night. I trust him to do his thing where I can watch, and not to fly away,

Trust in God, my brothers and sisters. Like the great falconer in heaven, He can be trusted. He will ground your life and give it purpose, direction and meaning. He will orient you to what is important in this life and the next. He will place you in a community of fellow-pilgrims with whom to share the journey, all He asks is that you trust His direction, and not fly away!

Monday, September 27, 2010

A Joke?

On Telemundo a commentator they call "Papa Rush" was discussing the disgusting situation with Lindsay Lohan. He switched to English to say, "the U.S. court system is a joke." Another commentator called the media and legal system treatment of the situation tantamount to using her celebrity status in an immoral way to put forward their political or marketing agendas. She advised that if the courts were serious about helping this troubled young actor they would send her away to a rehab program far enough away from her previous life that she could actually get her feet on the ground, rather than playing revolving door with her.

Point well taken about Lindsay. I think their assessment of the situation is not far from the truth. I would agree that in many instances our legal system has reduced itself to a laughing matter.

But it sounds funny coming from the source it does. There's a TV show called "Locked Up Abroad" flouting the conditions in third-world country jails (implying not-so-gently that here in the US we're "enlightened" enough to have a humane corrections system....) Understood, Mexican jails are more of a deterrent to crime than U.S. jails are. But Mexico has lost control of its northern border to the drug cartels who have the whole legal system in the area under their thumb.

Looks to me like a fine case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The guy was a jerk!

The officer in California was definitely out-of-line. He blurred the lines of authority in using his police persona to confront the boy for boinkin' his daughter. He set a lousy example. If he wanted to straighten out the younger generation he should have had the cohones to do it as a father and not hide behind the power of the city. If he wanted to straighten out the younger generation maybe he should have had a better line on what his precious little girl was doing. Instead he let his frustration become anger at the wrong target—the hormone-soaked 15 year-old instead of his own testosterone-waning self.

Is the boy innocent? This brings up an anomaly in our culture. We turn a blind eye when consenting "adults" engage in all kinds of kinky stuff, even when such actions violate promises and ruin long-term relationships. And all the while we're looking at our kids and saying, "Do as I say, don't do as I do." We're all wusses.

The policeman threatened charges of sexual assault on his precious girl. Hmm…if I don't miss my guess he's teaching her that she can taunt and tease all she wants, but as soon as they guy initiates something that afterwards she feels guilty about she can cry wolf and society will charge to her rescue—or her father, anyway, borrowing the sword of the state. No fair again. We're all wusses.

I think it's pretty clear what happened. A couple of sets of parents were not really watching and a couple of hormone-crazed kids crossed the line. It's wrong of the kids, it has a way of ruining lives for a long time to come. (That's why the church says it's not a good idea.) And it was negligent of us parents, who could have had better communications with our kids to point them to examples of the power of restraint (preferably our own,) and then of parents who couldn't sit down and talk this out like adults, renegotiate limits, help the kids mop up the consequences and move on—like in 99% of these cases nationwide.

The guy doesn't have the cohones to be a cop.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Good God

Pentecost 17, Proper 20, September 19, 2010, St. Christopher's Episcopal Church    , the Rev. Paul Moore

Good God

Some researchers in Germany ran an experiment with some chimpanzees. They made it necessary to cooperate with another monkey in order to obtain a food reward. That wasn't so hard, until the dominant member of the team hogged all the food. Then the first monkey was unwilling to cooperate anymore! They ran the same experiment with human children. The children were much more apt to cooperate and share, and repeat the cooperative behavior even if they didn't get any reward for it. We seem to be hard-wired for altruistic behavior, and chimpanzees are not. Perhaps it is the real difference between the great apes and humans.

It is a big topic, one addressed repeatedly in Scripture. In the Old Testament lesson the prophet calls the people to honest living. The issue was not in what they were doing, but why they were doing it. They were following the letter of the law, but twisting it around to serve their own ends. Not much different from the dominant monkey! In the Epistle Lesson Paul calls on us to pray for those in authority. They draw any real authority they have from heaven itself. When the government is at peace the people are at peace. When the people are at peace it is easier to preach the Gospel of peace with God.

In the Gospel lesson Jesus addresses it directly. He uses a parable to set the stage. A manager mismanages the assets of the company. When he is caught he goes to the customers of the company and negotiates a deal with them on their outstanding invoices. His aim is really selfish--he wants to be able to have connections when he is unemployed! Then Jesus puts a twist on it: This man was shrewd in serving his own ends, but we should be shrewd in serving the kingdom's ends. In the end, serving one's own ends (wealth) is incompatible with serving God. Our faith calls us to be fully human. You can't be half and half.

So how do we serve God? You serve God by being like God. God has given us the good earth on which to live. God has given us people who know and love us. God has given us government that allows us to serve Him. God has given us the truth of His Son, Jesus, by which we have peace with God, with one another and with the creation itself. Jesus is the prime example of altruistic self-sacrificing love. He said, "Greater love has no one than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend." He gave His own life on the cross for us, only to take it up again for us. He sent the Holy Spirit to call us into life with Him, which is our own best life. God has set the example.

And so we serve others as we have been served, in gratitude and love. We need not be overly concerned with our own good, since we have Someone who is watching over that. Some concern is wise—it allows us to maintain the resources necessary to serve others. Paul says in Ephesians 4 that we should not steal, but work with our hands in order to have something to share. This idea is not restricted to merely thievery and shoplifting. We steal whenever we exclude another from resources that they could rightfully use in order to consume them ourselves, like using up all the ground-water in cities when the ranches that produce our food are in drought, or polluting the air that the world breathes because we can afford the fossil fuels. We steal when we throw thousands of tons of uneaten food scraps in the landfill (we won't even feed them to our pigs) and build a wall along our southern border to keep the hungry and starving out (unless the famous plaque on Lady Liberty somehow applies to Ellis Island and not to the Rio Grande,) and when we deport workers who would willingly do the work we will not and then turn and buy cheap apples and live in homes we can afford because of the below-standard wages we pay them. It's the difference between being a monkey or a human. Paul enjoins us to make an honest living in the context of our community so that we give rather than take. It must always be a means to a larger end—that of serving others in Christ's name.

We can do this because, in that God pours Himself into us, we are free to pour ourselves into another. Suddenly it's not really important who gets the reward or even the praise. It's important that people are OK. And that means that they are supplied, it means that they have community, and it means that they have the justice that leads to peace.

We don't get it in our newspaper, but I really like the comic strip, Kudzu. In one episode a couple is sitting across the desk from the Rev. Will B. Dunn. They magnanimously announce, "We've decided that it's time to start a family. We just have so much love to give. Besides, the gold fish died!" We do have so much love to give, not because we have an open slot in our list of recipients, but because we have received so much love. And love is not a substance that one saves up and then dishes out. It is a stream of altruistic concern that, like a river, is enhanced by how much it delivers.

Dios Bueno

Pentecostés 17, Propio 20, Septiembre 19, 2010, Iglesia Episcopal de San Cristóbal,     El Rev. Paul Moore

Dios Bueno

Científicos en Alemania han realizado un experimento con chimpancés. Les pusieron en una situación en que la cooperación con otro era necesario para obtener el premio de comida. No fue difícil hasta que el más grande robó todo el premio, entonces el primero ya no quiso cooperar. Hicieron igual con niños humanos, y los humanos eran mucho más listos a cooperar y compartir el premio, y también repetían la cooperación aún si no compartían en el galardón. Parece que en el cerebro tenemos una predisposición a comportamiento altruista y el chimpancé no lo tiene. Tal vez esto es la diferencia entre el humano y los monos.

Esto es un tema grande en la biblia. En la lectura del Antiguo Testamento el profeta llama a la gente a vivir honestamente. La cuestión tenía que ver no tanto con el qué hacían, sino el porqué. Seguían a pie de la letra de la ley, pero la torcían para servir a sus propios fines egoístas. En eso no les quedaba mucha diferencia con el mono. En la Epístola San Pablo nos pide orar por los que tienen autoridad, pues la tienen directamente del cielo. Cuando el gobierno está en paz el pueblo está en paz, y cuando el pueblo está en paz es más fácil predicar el evangelio de la paz con Dios.

En el evangelio Jesús va al grano. Con una parábola nos ayuda a entender. Un mayordomo malgasta los bienes de su patrón. Cuando el patrón lo descubre él va a los clientes de su patrón y les rebaja sus deudas. Su fin es muy egoísta al fin, pues cuando ya no tiene trabajo quiere que la gente le reciba. Entonces Jesús da su aplicación que va a otro rumbo. Este hombre fue muy listo en servir a sus propios fines. Seamos listos en servir los fines del reino de Dios. Al fin, un puede servir a sus propios fines, que se simboliza por el dinero, o se puede servir a Dios. Nuestra fe nos llama a una humanidad completa, uno no debe ser medio hombre y medio mono.

¿Cómo servimos a Dios? Servimos a Dios en ser como Dios. Dios nos ha dado esta buena tierra en que vivir. Dios nos ha dado gente que nos conoce y nos ama. Dios nos ha dado un gobierno que nos permite servirle a Él. Dios nos ha dado la verdad de su hijo Jesucristo en quien tenemos paz con Él, el uno con el otro, y con la creación. Jesús es el ejemplo primario de un amor altruista. Él dijo, «Amor más grande no hay que esto, que un hombre da su vida por su amigo.» Él dio su vida por nosotros en la cruz, y luego la tomó vuelta por nosotros. Él mandó al Espíritu Santo a vivir con nosotros para compartir con nosotros su vida, que es nuestra mejor vida. Dios nos pone el ejemplo.

Por tanto, servimos a otros como hemos sido servidos, en gratitud y amor. No nos concierne mucho nuestro propio bien, porque hay Quién lo guarda. Si hay por qué cuidar según la necesidad, pues esto nos permite obtener los recursos necesarios para servir a otros. San Pablo dice en Efesios 4 que no debemos robar, sino labrar con las manos para que tengamos qué compartir. Esta idea no se aplica simplemente al robo, sino que cualquier situación en que le quitamos a otros recursos que bien y por derecho podrían usar para consumirlos nosotros, como tomar toda el agua del suelo para las ciudades dejando a los ranchos que nos producen los alimentos en sequía, y dañando el aire que respire todo el planeta porque nosotros tenemos con qué pagar los combustibles carboníferos. Robamos cuando tiramos a la basura toneladas diarias de migajas de comida mientras se construye una cerca para que los hambrientos no entren al país (acaso la placa que existe en la estatua de la libertad aplica solamente a Ellis Island y no al Rio Grande,) y robamos cuando deportamos a los que hicieran los trabajos que nosotros no queremos hacer y luego compramos manzanas baratas y compramos casas lujosas que ellos construyen pagándoles bajo el sueldo mínimo. Es la diferencia entre ser mono o ser humano. San Pablo nos urge trabajar en sentido honesto en el contexto de la comunidad para que damos más de lo que tomamos. Siempre los bienes de uno sirven un fin mayor, que es servir a otros en nombre de Cristo.

Esto lo podemos hacer porque en que Dios se ha dado a sí mismo a nosotros, podemos darnos a nosotros mismos a otros. Ya nos importa quién recoja el premio o las gracias. Nos importa que la gente estén bien. Esto quiere decir que tienen lo que necesitan, que tienen comunidad, y que viven una justicia que lleva a la paz.

En nuestro periódico no nos llega esta tira cómica, pero me gusta Kudzu. En una tira una pareja está con el Rev. Suvo Lunta. Con gran palabrería le anuncian que han de comenzar una familia. Es que tienen tanto amor para compartir, y también se les murió el pez dorado! Nosotros también tenemos tanto amor para compartir, no porque nos sobra para los que tenemos para amar, sino porque hemos recibido tanto. El amor no es una substancia que podemos almacenar y luego distribuir. El amor es un flujo de intención altruista, que como un río, se hace más grande según cuanto da.

Un Amor de Confianza

Pentecostés 18, Propio 21, Septiembre 26, 2010, Iglesia Episcopal de San Cristóbal,     El Rev. Paul Moore

Un Amor de Confianza

Ya era tarde, y la luz del día se nos iba. En latitudes trópicos el día termina pronto. Supe que el carro estaba cerca, pero era tiempos que andaba en esas zonas de los Andes. Elegí una montaña y la subimos, quemándonos los muslos de las piernas. Al llegar encima espié al carro—a otro lado de la quebrada estrecha, honda y llena de montes espesos, y no había camino para allá.

Tal vez te has sentido así, que corres para llegar a cierto lugar, pero al llegar tu meta está fuera de tu alcance. Es como subes y subes una escalera, solo para descubrir que está arrimado en la pared equivocada. Julian de Norwich, mística inglesa del siglo 13, describió el conocimiento como el sentido de una cosa, y la sabiduría, el buen uso del mismo. Tengo en mi escritorio un artículo titulado, «Cómo detectar las modas del día: Así lo hacen ejecutivos buenos para estar al tanto de la honda, aplastar a la competencia, y multiplicar las ganancias.» Pero, ¿la vida es aplastar a la competencia y multiplicar ganancias y nada más? O, en ese camino, ¿te hallarás en la montaña equivocada?

Seguro que el hombre rico en la parábola de Jesús de hoy se sintió así. Vale notar que el pobre tiene nombre: Lázaro. Le conocemos bien, tiene una identidad sólida, enraizada en la sociedad. Lo ves en las esquinas del centro de la ciudad. Se para allí con un letrero malhecho pidiendo limosnas. Tiene el pelo sucio y la ropa arrugada (¿te has dado cuenta que el que no tiene domicilio nunca es gordo?) Sabemos todos quién es Lázaro, tan bien que en Argentina un «lázaro» es cualquier mendigo. No nos ha de sorprender, pues, que cuando muere los ángeles le llevan al lado de Abraham. En esta vida no tuvo su descanso, pero en el venidero sí lo tiene. No obstante las apariencias no fue mal hombre.

En contraste, el rico no tiene nombre. Puede ser cualquier. Siempre está esquivando, evadiendo la vista hambrienta del necesitado. Prefiere ignorar las maneras en que sus maniobras para la ganancia dañan a la gente. Lo justifica diciendo que hasta Lázaro tuviera una vida mejor si trabajara. Pero a la vez, no tiene trabajo para Lázaro, pues el no da trabajo a tales gentes. Por tanto cuando muere lo entierren y ahí termina el cuento…casi. Ahora él sufre. Este «buen ciudadano» ha llegado a ser el juzgado y el condenado. No es que todos tenemos que sufrir y gozar, y se igualan las cosas o aquí o allá. No, si le moral de esta parábola tiene un sentido es que la manera en que vivimos aquí tiene un efecto en cómo se vive allá. Si importa en qué pared está arrimado tu escalera, si importa qué montaña piensas subir. Y el rico no vio nada en la vida que le oriente a la verdad de la vida venidera.

Entonces, ¿aquí dónde está la buena noticia? Abraham le dice al rico que sus hermanos tienen el testimonio de Moisés y los profetas. Ah, pues si hubo qué le oriente en esta vida a la venidera, solo que no lo prestó atención. Esa orientación la tenemos en la revelación del corazón de Dios. Nosotros también tenemos esa revelación. Jesús también murió, como estos dos, pero Él volvió de la muerte. El arruinó la muerte y trajo una redención a todas nuestras muertes. En sus manos está la resolución de todo al fin de los tiempos. La vida, muerte y resurrección de Jesús es reflejo total de cómo es Dios Padre. El amor que mandó a Jesús a la cruz es el amor de Dios para su creación. El poder que le resucitó de los muertos es el poder de Dios para con nosotros. La sabiduría que diseñó tal redención es la sabiduría que nos orienta en la vida ahora. Esto es, pues, un amor de confianza.

El rico puso su confianza en su amor a su dinero y al fin no le sirvió bien. Lázaro no tuvo en qué poner su confianza menos en los corazones de gente generosa que de vez en vez le vieron. Estos corazones conocieron y expresaron el amor de Dios, tal como hoy deben los nuestros. Y al fin sí le sirvió. Nosotros también podemos confiar en el amor de Dios. Nos orienta en las tormentas de la vida. Nos indicará qué montaña subir en la vida, y al fin nos ha de servir bien.

Mi aguililla está otra vez saliendo a cazar. Soy cetrero, y tengo una aguililla con qué cazo animales pequeños. Es uno de las cosas que hago para mantener la sanidad. Tal vez tengan sus dudas en cuanto a su eficacia, pero eso es otro cuento. El mes de septiembre es un mes de restablecer la confianza. Durante el verano lo tengo gordo, y no tiene que cazar nada. Su único trabajo es deshacerse de las plumas gastadas del año anterior y crecer nuevas que son sanas y fuertes para este año. Y en mí él no ha tenido mucho interés. Pero ahora es tiempo de volver a la caza. He tenido que restablecer la confianza que tuvimos el año pasado, y esa confianza es lo que nos orienta en el campo. El confía de que los perros y yo hemos de producir algo para perseguir. El confía de que le he de ayudar con lo que caza para que no se lastime ni dañe sus plumas. El confía de que le he de traer otra vez a la casa a dormir en un lugar seco y sano. Y yo confío que él ha de hacer lo que le es natural donde yo le pueda observar, y que no me vaya a ir.

Confían en Dios, hermanos y hermanas. Como el gran cetrero celestial, a Él se le puede confiar. El te orientará en la vida y te dará una dirección. Él te indicará lo que te es importante para esta vida y la venidera. Él te pondrá en una comunidad de otros que también confían en Él, con quien compartir el camino al cielo, y a ti te pide que confíes de su dirección y que no te vayas a ir.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Slay the Messenger!

On Good Morning America this morning Congressman Mike Pence responded to Christine O'Donnell's admission that she had dabbled in witchcraft by saying she had an obligation to explain herself to the voting public (and I agree.) He then went on to make an interesting appeal. He asked us to look at the message, not the messenger. It's interesting because humanity has never been good at that. We're far more prone to attack the messenger.

Socrates was executed for his message.

Jesus was crucified for His message.

The apostle Paul was persecuted and finally executed for his message.

Mohammed fought wars launched by his enemies with the intent of killing him for his message.

Martin Luther was hounded by conservative elements in the church for his message.

Martin Luther King was murdered for his message.

Why? Because it works. In the majority of cases if you close the mouth of the messenger you no longer hear the message. Of course, this doesn't mean the message was or was not worth hearing, and it doesn't necessarily mean the message won't find another mouthpiece, as in the case of all of the above (save Mohammed who was not killed by his enemies.) But we have learned a skepticism about messages and messengers gleaned from messages that were incomplete, inaccurate, or even downright maliciously misleading. We hold to an assumption that if the messenger is untrustworthy then the message is suspect (and therefore not worthy of being heard.) Of course, this does not mean that the message is in fact untrustworthy, but perhaps because it has proved so in enough cases we are willing to risk throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

One problem comes when the messenger IS the message. Not all messengers claim this, but some do. Socrates was so caught up in his message that when offered exile instead of death he chose death as a lasting testimony to his conviction that he was not guilty of wrong-doing—he chose death for his message. Jesus brought the message that He IS the message, very confusing to those who condemn him. So then maybe, just maybe, slaying the messenger is a kind of Medieval test of the message. If the message can survive the messenger it is worth hearing. Barbaric, unscientific, and in the end horribly unjust, I submit, but perhaps we've found that it works. In the case of Jesus it did—He is the only messenger I know that survived His execution!

So am I saying we should slay the messenger? No, absolutely not. With the one notable exception above, the message may not be the messenger, but the two are inextricably intertwined and related. Judge each one separately, but then put them together and take a second look. Try that one on for size, Mike.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

She Could Have Known

Reporter Inez Sainz, who calls herself the hottest reporter in Mexico, entered the Jets' locker room after a tense game against the Baltimore Ravens (which they lost.) She got "harassed" by the players, and Jets' owner Woody Johnson, has publically apologized. I don't condone unwelcome sexual advances of any kind, and the apology publically upholds that ideal of our culture. The men were out of line.

On the other hand, she said she wasn't too concerned about what happened…understandably. That kind of behavior in Mexico is quite common and not seen as offensive. Perhaps they have a better sense of the real vs. the ideal. Ideally players will act the gentleman and ignore the cleavage and the tight jeans. Reality, however, is often quite different. Football is driven by testosterone, in the males who play and in the males who watch. (The women's side of that story is another one altogether.) Pumped up like that, they go into their "cave" (the locker room) to nurse their wounds, and low and behold, into their space comes a female, an attractive one at that, wearing what our culture deems suggestive clothing. We men are culturally and physiologically wired to be the initiators. Granted, the substance of the initiative behavior was out of bounds, and is not OK, but it is certainly understandable given the circumstances.

If she doesn't want this to happen in the future (which is not at all clear at this point) perhaps she shouldn't combine testosterone with suggestion. After all, we men are rather hard-wired to be the initiators.

But it does launch the dialog about the ideal vs. the real. Ideally we are redeemed in Christ, fully forgiven and acceptable to a holy God. Reality, however, is that we continue to struggle against sin. We must be honest about both, and we must not confuse the two. And finally, we must recognize that our struggling is a grace given by God, and even our failings can work His will in the world. What that will might be in terms of Sainz and the Jets is yet to be seen, but perhaps it can help us not be so uptight about our own failings without losing sight of the goal.

Monday, September 13, 2010

To Keep a Promise

30 years ago Nancy (now) Brinker promised her sister the world. At a time when people thought breast cancer was contagious, her sister, Susan, died of it. On her death bed she asked Nancy to make it so her death was not meaningless, and Nancy promised to find a cure. She launched the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation with just $200 and a shoebox full of contacts. Now, 30 years later, her foundation has assets of 1.5 billion and is the largest non-profit non-governmental source of funding for breast cancer research. Due partly to research funded by the foundation, survival rates have risen to %98 in developed countries. The reality today speaks volumes about Susan's relationship with her sister, but it is most eloquent about Nancy. She is a woman of incredible vision and drive.

God saw the relationship between divinity and creation crack and crumble in an instant one day in a garden, and promised to redeem it. Over the millennia in countless ways God has been up to fulfilling the promise. Now, through Christ, the tension that seems so natural between being human and being divine is an unnecessary burden to bear, we can lay it down and be finally truly free, not that we become gods, but that we participate and harmonize with the divine in such a way that we begin to share divine characteristics and properties. The ancient doctors of the Christian faith called it "theosis," from "theo," the Greek word for God.

Nancy shares a bit of that theosis, in that she also dreamed big for the good of creation, and made it happen. Hats off to a powerful woman who shows us something of what God is like.

Like Water to a Fish

You've all seen it before. The little boy sits in his high chair glaring. He didn't want to play "airplane" with his peas. He threw chicken nuggets on the floor, he even turned his nose up at ice cream for dessert! And to all his nastiness his mother forces her frustration out of sight, and looks for another way to engage, another way to break through the barrier of tiredness and willfulness. All of a sudden his eyes begin to droop, and before you know it his head is headed for the mashed potatoes that still remain on the tray. A quick hand catches him, and soon he is nestling into mommy's warm shoulder on his way to bath and bed. All through the frustrating scene there is a constant. Mommy loves her little boy, and there's nothing in the world that can change that.

A mother's love is one image of God's love, but there are others in Scripture. In today's Gospel lesson. Jesus is criticized by the Jewish leaders for mixing with the wrong crowd. In response Jesus tells them the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin. Which one gives greater joy in heaven, the righteous one or the sinner who repents? The righteous already knows the love of God, when the sinner comes to accept the love of God it is clear that it has always been there. You get the point now. The love of God is like water to a fish, like air to a bird, always there, always sustaining, always life-giving, and relentless in its desire to be known and to be in relationship.

So what difference does it make? Ask a fish or a bird! A fish will die without water, a bird is earth-bound without the air. You and I are nothing without the love of God, in it we can become everything we should be. More concretely, the Love God makes us free.

The love of God makes us to be OK. The love of God prods us to move.

The Love of God makes us free. The same little boy who had such a bad time at supper one day learned to walk. As he took his first steps his mother was right there ready to keep his head from colliding with the corner of the coffee table. He may or may not know it, but his mother's love is giving him the freedom to learn to walk. We are children of our heavenly Father. The love He has for us is the very love that created the world. As we learn to live as we were made to live His loving hands are right there around us. We can risk, make mistakes, even fall—God will always be there. The cave that you fear contains the treasure that you seek. The love of God gives us the courage to face the fear and find the treasure, which is relationship with Him, with one another, with ourselves, and with the earth.

The Love of God makes us to be OK. Thomas Harris, MD published a book in 1969 that became a New York Best Seller. I'm OK, You're OK, was a transactional analysis approach to human maturity. The late Bishop Donis Patterson of Dallas once rephrased the title. I'm not OK, you're not OK, but because of Christ, that's OK! He missed the point of the book, but he nailed redemption right on the money! Our creation is good, we start out OK. But sin corrupts us and then we're not OK. So God did something about it, something we couldn't do—He sent His Son to redeem us. Now in Christ, we're OK with God, and we can become OK with one another, with ourselves and with the earth.

The Love of God prods us to move. Movement is part of healthy human existence. Learning to walk, becoming OK…when you stop moving you're dead. The question is, where are we going? Things are not as they should be. We are ignorant of wisdom, we are short-sighted in action, and sometimes we're just out-of-sorts bad, like the little boy at the beginning of this sermon. Where we need to go is toward what God made us to be. His greatest glory is shown when we are who we should be, the greatest bliss is ours when we are as we should be. It's a win-win, who wouldn't want it? Sometimes God entices us. I had an administrator once who was a past master at facilitating my action. I told myself that when I grew up I wanted to be like him...God entices us into what is good for us. Sometimes God pushes us. In Ecuador once I ran across a pack train on a trail. One donkey wouldn't climb the muddy hill. One of the drivers took his tail, bent it in half, and squeezed. All of a sudden the donkey thought better of his stubbornness! But we can know this, whatever God prods us into is for His best glory and our greatest happiness. We can depend on that.

The love of God is everywhere, even in money. Your pledge tells the world that you are free to do with what is yours what you believe is consistent with who you are. At the very core of you is your relationship with God. You are not bound by the expectations of a consumeristic world. You are free to manage your finances in such a way that they reflect that inner truth of who you are. You are free to give.

Your pledge tells the world that in Christ you are OK. The world makes demands on your material possessions, but you are the owner of them, not the world. YOU are capable of choosing what you buy, not your television set. You can also choose to live on less than 110% of your income by trimming things that are really not necessary. You're OK, you can do that. You can even choose to tithe.

Your pledge pushes you to move. God has set a pattern for giving that is a picture of the heart's relationship with Him. 10% for God's peoples' needs, 90% for your own needs. If you are giving less than 10% then here's your push—see what you can do to move it toward that goal. I'll tell you now that Karisse and I give 10% and more, and we are not in need.

The love of God is the very foundation of our being. What is the area in which you feel bound? God wants you to know that if you just relax in His love you will be free. What is the area in which you do not feel OK? God's love for you holds you to be well worth the effort of loving. What is the area in which you need to move? God wants you to move, God will push you to move, because He loves you.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The God Gene

Scientists in Germany have isolated the ability of humans to be altruistic with one another as one of the primary differences between ourselves and the great apes. If this ability is the place where we are pre-programmed to seek the highest good possible, it makes us incorrigibly religious—homo orans, the praying man.

Genesis portrays us as the pinnacle of creation, not just last, but strategically balanced between creation and eternity—breath of God, clay of the earth. The King James misleads us moderns with the words, "fill the earth and subdue it." They reflect the last vestiges of a medieval understanding of society which was highly hierarchical, with God at the top and everything below serving the next step higher. A better rendering for today would be "fill the earth and manage it."

Here in we are called to offer creation precisely what it largely cannot offer itself—the call to serve the higher good. It falls to us to manage, to keep as to keep a garden, but not our own garden, though we are sustained by it, but the garden belonging to that higher good.

"Good", "God," one word is the shorter version of the other, as if the first is the particular, the latter is the general. That which is good by definition draws its goodness from God, and in that it partakes of godness, and so we call it good. The priest is the one who stands between the divine and the community of faith. Humanity stands as priest of creation. When we fail we are merely animals.

Of Monkeys and Men

Researchers in Germany are exploring the real difference between the great apes and humans. It's part of a particularly Western quest to establish the real meaning of what it means to be human. Other cultures around the world do not concern themselves with the question. After all, monkeys are part of the community in their own rite and in their own niche, and humans occupy another part of the community in our own right and in our own niche. But since the Reformation when the church's definition of human as having a soul found itself without scientific support, our increasingly empirical society has wondered what functional difference sets us apart from our closest relatives, the great apes.

Their findings are quite telling. It seems the difference lies in our ability to put ourselves in another's skin and see the world from the other's point of view. Empathy. The ability to relate to you and not merely use you or work out a mutually beneficial truce that lasts as long as my perceived benefit outweighs my perceived investment, the desire to cooperate even at my own expense, is clearly present in children from an early age, but absent in the great apes at any age.

So the missing link has been found. Depth psychologists like Jung talk about the concepts of the higher self vs. the lower or darker self. We acclaim the one who gives of him/herself without seeking reward, and call those who use others "inhuman." No matter how unjust the war, the self-sacrificing soldier is a hero. The difference between a politician and a statesman is the clear trust we place in a statesman to serve the larger good and not some hidden personal or local agenda. And Jesus said, "There is no greater love than when a man lays down his life for his friend."

Have these scientists discovered the place where we are genetically programmed to relate to the highest good possible? Could we call it the God gene?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Breaking Up is Hard to Do

The billionaire breaks up with his live-in girlfriend and won't grant his bastard children normal inheritance rights to his vast wealth. She takes it to court and finds out the truth…she wasn't his wife. Another moneyed couple breaks up and fights over who gets the L. A. Dodgers. She said he defrauded her into signing away rights to them, but now she wants him to ante up. No wonder the church didn't want to have anything to do with marriage until about the 8th century! We thought it was about sex, but we were wrong. It's about money—inheritance money, who gets what.

The church calls it a sacrament, a means of grace. Where's the means of grace here? Certainly neither of the parties is being graceful! The ones who celebrate the sacrament of marriage are not the clergy, but the couple. Each promises to love the other until death parts them. It is intended (as per Ephesians 5) to be a model to the world about how God's love works. It seems to me that if these two couples had come to it from a Christian understanding the first woman would have had a ring on her finger and the second wouldn't care who owned the Dodgers. On the other hand, they probably wouldn't be breaking up in the first place!