Sunday, December 10, 2017

2 Advent

"John the Baptist" by Thomas Merton, who died on this day,
Dec. 10,  1968
December 10, 2017

Isaiah 40.1-11; Mark 1.1-8

+ When I was a kid, my beloved aunt was a member of the First Assemblies of God. The First Assemblies, for those of you who might not know, is very different than the Episcopal Church. It’s very Evangelical.

But occasionally, I would find these terrible little cartoon tracts at her church when I went with her, little booklets put out by an evangelist by the name of Jack Chick. Jack Chick was the perfect example of a Christian hatemonger.  He hated everyone who didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his or her personal Lord and Savior.  Everyone was going to hell except those who had made one simple confession of faith.

All one had to do to gain heaven and glorious eternity, according to Jack Chick, was make this simple statement: I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.  The rest of us, who didn’t make this statement, were in deep trouble.

Catholics, for example, were going to hell because they were being led astray by the Pope, whom Jack Chick saw as the Antichrist on earth.

For example he blamed Catholics even for the Assassinations of Abraham Lincoln (he said that was John Wilkes Booth was a Jesuit priest—I guess he never knew that Booth was in fact an Episcopalian).

Protestants that belonged to churches other than “Bible-believing,” “Holy spirit-inspired” churches—the Episcopal Church was lumped into this group—were going to hell because they were being led stray by liberal Bible Scholars who polluted the scriptures with false interpretations.

The only interpretation to follow, Jack Chick said, was the KJV and none other.  It truly was the inspired and unerring Word of God.

Now, as you know, I LOVE the KJV. I think it is one of the most beautiful translations of scripture. But it’s not perfect, and it’s not without error.

He also believed that there were Satanists everywhere, seeking to destroy true Christians.  They were in our schools, they were in our seminaries, they were even in the White House.

But for the most part, these awful little books would tell the story of some person or another who led a destitute life and who had died without accepting Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. Of course, they ended up in hell—usually pictured as a cavernous place full of fire and disgusting devils.

The moral of these stories revolved around the main character crying out in anguish: 

“If only I had accepted Jesus as my Personal Lord and Savior, I wouldn’t be here.”

At the time, as a teenager, these stories made sense to me. It was simple.  Christ should turn his back on those who didn’t accept him. I would turn my back on those who would not accept me. And there should be a place where we had to pay for the wrongs we did. We simply can’t sin and expect not to pay for it in some way, right?

But as I grew older, as I grew into my relationship with Christ and as I started to look long and hard at everything I had believed up to that point, I realized there was one thing Jack Chick and all those people who believed that way missed. It was one simple little word:

Grace.

Now, my very simplistic definition of grace is this: Grace is a gift we receive from God that we neither ask for nor necessarily deserve.

In the Gospel we heard this morning, we hear the echoing words of John the Baptist.

The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me;

He is that lone voice calling to us in the wilderness. It is a voice of hope. It is a voice of substance. It is a voice of salvation.

More importantly, John’s message is a message of Grace.

This powerful One is coming! There’s no avoiding it.  God is coming to us. This is the ultimate grace in a very real sense. Although we have been hoping for God to come to us and save us, it is not something that we have necessarily asked for or deserve.

God comes to us in God’s own time.

It is this one fact—grace—that makes all the difference in the world. It is what makes the difference between eternal life and eternal damnation.

Jack Chick and those who believe like him are very quick to say that there is an eternal hell.  And if you’re not right with God, they say, that’s exactly where you’re going.

The fault in this message is simple: none of us are right with God.  As long as we are on this side of the veil, so to speak, we fall short of what God wants for us. We have all sinned and we will all sin again.  That’s the fact.

But that’s where grace comes in.   Grace is, excuse my language, the trump card. Grace sets us free. Grace involves one simple little fact that so many Christians seem to overlook. And this is the biggest realization for me as a Christian:

Just because one doesn’t accept Christ doesn’t mean that Christ doesn’t accept us.

Christ accepts us.  Plain and simple.  Even if we turn our backs on Christ.  Even if we do everything in our limited powers to separate ourselves from Christ, the fact of the matter is that nothing can separates from Christ.  Christ accepts every single person—no matter what we believe, or don’t believe, no matter if Christ is some abstract concept to us or a close, personal friend.

That’s right, I did say “personal.”  Because, yes, it’s wonderful and beautiful to have a personal relationship with Christ.  Our personal relationship with God is essential to our faith, as you have heard me say many, many times.

But the fact is, Christ isn’t the personal savior to any one of us in this place.  He saves all of us, equally.

That is grace. That is how much God loves us.

Now, I have preached this message my entire adult life as a Christian, and certainly as priest. And, as you can imagine, there have been, shall we say, a few critics. And some of these critics—actually quite a few of these critics—have been quite vocal.

In fact, I once preached this very same message one evening not long after I was ordained to the priesthood in a very diverse venue of     what I thought were somewhat progressive Lutherans. Later, I learned, I was essentially blackballed from that venue for that sermon.

I also preached it once at another congregation, at which I was a guest. After I preached it, the presider at the service actually got up and “corrected” my sermon in front of everybody.

Critics of this message say that what I am talking about is cheap grace.

Cheap grace?

No, I counter. And I still counter! Again and again.

No, not cheap grace.  It’s actually quite expensive grace. It was grace bought at quite a price.

And no, I’m not being na├»ve or fluffy here.   Trust me, I have known some truly despicable people in my life.  I have been hurt by some of these people and I have seen others hurt by these people. The world is full of people who are awful and terrible.  Some of them are running for office in Alabama, for example. And sometimes the most awful and terrible person we know is the one staring back at us in our own mirrors.

But the fact is, that even when we can’t love them or ourselves, when we can’t do anything else but feel anger and hatred toward them, Christ does love them.  

Christ accepts them, just as Christ accepts each of us. Christ doesn’t necessarily accept their actions. Christ doesn’t accept their sins, or their failings, or their blatant embrace of what is wrong.

But, not even their despicable nature can separate them from Christ’s love.  

Nothing can separate us from Christ’s love and from Christ’s promise to eternal life.  That is how God works in this world. That is why God sent Christ to us.

I believe in that image we hear from our reading from the prophecies of Isaiah today:

[God] will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,

We will be gathered up by our God, and we will be carried into our God’s bosom. I love that image! Because it conveys God’s true and abiding love for us.  It’s a hard concept for those us who were taught otherwise.  It was a hard concept for me, who read those Jack Chick tracts, to accept.

But I do believe it.  I believe it because of the personal relationship I have with Christ.  The Christ I have come to know and to love and to serve is simply that full of love.

So, do I believe we’re all going to heaven when we die? I don’t know. It’s not up to me.  But I sure hope so.  And I lean toward the direction of “yes,” we do all get to go.

Why?

Because, the love of Christ is just that big.  It is just that wonderful and just that all-encompassing. It is just that powerful.  If one person is in some metaphysical, eternal hell for being a despicable person, then, you know what?  the love of Christ has failed.  Something has, in fact, come between that person and Christ. I do not believe that hell or Satan or sin or anything else is big enough to separate us fully and completely from Christ.  Not even we, ourselves, can turn our backs on Christ because wherever we turn, Christ is there for us.

So, listen.  In this Advent season of hope,  John’s voice is calling to us from the wilderness.  He is saying,

Christ is near.

Christ is coming to us.

Let us go out, in grace, to meet him!

Come, Lord Jesus!








Monday, December 4, 2017

4 years Vegan

Four years ago today, I gave myself an early birthday present and went vegan. The best part of being vegan: my health. I never thought I would this great at my age. The worst part: all the people who suddenly become nutritionists and experts in protein and vitamins (uh…yeah..I’ve actually seen what most of those people eat on a regular basis).  




Sunday, December 3, 2017

I Advent

December 3, 2017

1 Corinthians 1.3-9; Mark 13.24-37

+ In case you haven’t noticed, it is the first Sunday of Advent. It is a beautiful time in the Church, and here at St. Stephen’s. This morning, we have the beautiful Sarum blue frontal on the altar made by Gin Templeton.  I get to wear the beautiful blue vestments.  We have the first candle lit on the Advent wreath.
It is a time in which we, as the Church, turn our attention, just like the rest of the world, toward Christmas.

But…we need to be clear: it is not Christmas yet for us Christians. Christmas starts on Christmas eve, on the evening of December 24.

For now, we are in this almost limbo-like season of Advent.  All the major Church feast days—namely Christmas and Easter—are preceded by a time of preparation.

Before Easter, we go through the season of Lent—a time for us to collect our thoughts, prepare spiritually for the glorious mystery of the Resurrection.

Advent of course is similar.  We go through Advent as a way of preparing, spiritually,  for Christmas, for the birth of Jesus.

What a lot of people don’t realize is that Advent is as much of a penitential time—a time in which we should spend time fasting and pondering about our place in life—as Lent is, to some extent.

In this way, I think the Church year reflects our own lives in many ways.  In our lives, we go through periods of fasting and feasting.  We have our lean times and we have our prosperous times.

And with the latest Tax Bill just passed by Congress on Saturday morning, it looks there are lean times coming for many people.  An aside about this Tax Bill: this is one of the most un-Christians I have seen recently by our government (and there have been a lot in this past year). It is absolutely appalling.  

But, my hope is that it will all somehow balance out in the end.  Because there is a balance to our lives in the world and there is a balance, as well, to our church lives.  We will feast—as we do on Christmas and on Easter—but first we must fast, as we do during Advent and Lent.

Do you ever notice how, when you know you’re going out to eat with friends at a nice restaurant, you cut back on your food during the day?  You maybe eat a little less at breakfast and only a very light lunch.  Or if you’re like me, you just don’t eat at all.  You avoid snacking between meals, just so you can truly enjoy the supper that night (even if you are a bit lightheaded) .

That is what Advent is like. We know this joyous event is coming, but to truly enjoy it, we need to hold back a bit now.  

Advent then is also a time of deep anticipation.  And in that way, I think is represents our own spiritual lives in a way other times of the church year don’t.  We are, after all, a people anticipating something.

Something.

But what?

Well, our scriptures give us a clue. But what they talk about isn’t something that we should necessarily welcome with joy.

In our reading from Isaiah this morning, we find the prophet saying to God,

O that you would tear open the heavens and come down,
so that the mountains would quake at your presence--
as when fire kindles brushwood
and the fire causes water to boil--
to make your name known to your adversaries,
so that the nations might tremble at your presence!


That doesn’t sound like a pleasant day to be anticipating. Even Jesus, echoing Isaiah, says in our Gospel reading:  In those days,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in clouds” with great power and glory. 
Well, that’s maybe a bit better, but it’s still pretty foreboding.

However, it doesn’t need to be all that foreboding.  Essentially, all of this is talk about “the day of the Lord” or the day when the Son of Man will come in the clouds” is really  all about waiting for God, or for God’s Messiah.

It is all about God breaking through to us.

That is what Advent (and Christmas) is all about.

God breaking through to us.

God coming to us where are we are.

God cutting through the darkness of our lives, with a glorious light.

For the Jews before Jesus’ time, waiting like we are, for the Messiah, they had specific ideas of what this Messiah would do. Oppressed as they were by a foreign government—the Romans—with an even more foreign religion—paganism—, they expected someone to come to them and take up a sword. This Messiah would drive away these foreign influences and allow them, as a people, to rise up and gain their rightful place. And for those hearing the prophet Isaiah, the God who came in glory on that day would strike down the sinful, but also raise up those who were sorry.

The fact is, as we all know by now,  God doesn’t work according to our human plans.

God isn’t Santa Claus.

We can’t control God or make God do what we want.

And if we try, let me tell you, we will be deeply disappointed.

The Messiah that came to the people of Jesus’ day—and to us—was no solider.  There was no sword in Jesus’ hand. The “Son of Man” that came to them—and to us--was a baby, a child who was destined to suffer, just as we suffer to some extent, and to die, as we all must die.

But, what we are reminded of is that Jesus will come again.

It is about what happened then, and what will happen. This time of Advent is a time of attentiveness to the past, the present, and the future.

Attentiveness is the key word.
 Actually, in our Gospel reading for today, we get a different way of stating it.  We get a kind of verbal alarm clock.  And we hear it in two different ways:

“Keep alert.”

“Keep awake.”

Jesus says it just those two ways in our reading from Mark: It seems simple enough.

“Keep alert” and “keep awake.”

Or to put it more bluntly, “Wake up!”

But is it that simple?

Our job as Christians is sometimes no more than this.  It is simply a matter of staying awake, of being attentive, of being alert, of not being lazy.  Our lives as Christians are sometimes simply responses to being spiritually alert.  

For those of us who are tired, who are worn down by life, who spiritually or emotionally fatigued, our sluggishness sometimes manifests itself in our spiritual life and in our relationship with others.  When we become impatient in our watching, we sometimes forget what it is we are watching for.  We sometimes, in fatigue, fail to see.

For us, that “something” that we are waiting for, that we are keeping alert for, is none other than that glorious “day of our Lord Jesus Christ,” that we hear St. Paul talk about in his epistle this morning.  That glorious day of God breaking through to us comes when, in our attentiveness, we see the rays of the light breaking through to us in our tiredness and in our fatigue.

It breaks through to us in various ways.  We, who are in this sometimes foggy present moment, peering forward, sometimes have this moments of wonderful spiritual clarity. Those moments are truly being alert—of being spiritually awake.  Sometimes we have it right here, in church, when we gather together.

I have shared with each of you at times when those moments sometimes come to me. There are those moments when we can say, without a doubt: Yes, God exists!

But, more than that. It is the moments when we say, God is real.

God is near.

God knows me.

God loves me.

And, in that wonderful moment, in that holy moment, the world about us blossoms!

This is what it means to be awake, to not be lazy.

See, the day the prophet talks about as a day of fear and trembling is only a day of fear and trembling if we aren’t awake. For those of us who are awake, who truly see with our spiritual eyes, it is a glorious day. For us, we see that God is our Parent. Or as Isaiah says,

 O Lord, you are our Father;


We are God’s fully loved and fully accepted children.  And then Isaiah goes on to say that

we are the clay, and you are our potter; 
we are all the work of your hand.

Certainly, in a very real sense, today—this First Sunday of Advent— is a day in which we realize this fact.

Advent is a time for us to allow God to form us and make us in God’s image. It is a time for us to maybe be kneaded and squeezed, but, through it all, we are being formed into something beautiful.

The rays of that glorious day when God breaks through to us is truly a glorious day!

In this beautiful Sarum blue Advent season, we are reminded that the day of God’s reaching out to us is truly about dawn upon us.  The rays of the bright sun-lit dawn are already starting to lighten the darkness of our lives.  We realize, in this moment, that, despite all that has happened, despite the disappointments, despite the losses, despite the pain each of us has had to bear, the ray of that glorious Light breaks through to us in that darkness and somehow, makes it all better.

But this is doesn’t happen in an instant.  Our job as Christians is somewhat basic.  I’m not saying it’s easy.  But I am saying that it is basic.

Our job, as Christians, especially in this Advent time, is to be alert.

To be awake.

Spiritually and emotionally.

And, in being alert, we must see clearly.

We cannot, when that Day of Christ dawns, be found to lazy and sloughing.

Rather, when that Day of our Lord Jesus dawns, we should greet it joyfully, with bright eyes and a clear mind.  We should run toward that dawn as we never have before in our lives.  We should let the joy within us—the joy we have hid, we have tried to kill—the joy we have not allowed ourselves to feel—come pouring forth on that glorious day.

And in that moment, all those miserable things we have been dealt—all that loss, all that failure, all that unfairness—will dissipate like a bad dream on awakening.

“Keep alert,” Jesus says to us.

“Keep awake.”

It’s almost time.  Keep awake because that “something” you have been longing for all your spiritual life is about to happen.  It is about to break through into our lives.  

And it is going to be glorious.




Saturday, December 2, 2017

The cover of the new book of poems!

Here’s the cover of my next (lucky #13) full-length book of poems, ONLY THEN, which will be published in January 2018 by Pilgrim Soul Press, featuring this wonderful painting by Gin Templton. 


Sunday, November 26, 2017

Christ the King

November 26, 2017

Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24; Matthew 25.31-46

+ For any of you have known me for any period of time, you’ll know this about me before too long:

I have an issue with authority. I know: you look at me and you think, “”That guy is no rebel.  He’s such an Anglo-Catholic! Look at him up there in his black clericals, cassock and vestments. He looks like a person who follows the straight and narrow.”

And, yes, I actually kind of do.

But I still have issues with authority. Especially when authority attempts to control and to manipulate. I have issues with authority when authority becomes lazy or when authority is misused or when authority is used for things that run counter to following Jesus.  And don’t even get me started on politics and the current political situation!

Yup, I have issues with authority. I had issues with teachers telling me what to do in school. I’ve had issues with clergy who got a bit too heavy-handed and with Bishops who have thrown their weight around too liberally. And I have certainly resisted when I see any church leaders (ordained or not) try to control or manipulate a congregation or a church body.

And resisting authority in any way is not easy. Let me tell you, there are often repercussions for such resistance. Being the rebel labels one. It puts one of the fringes, even more so for those who are already out on the fringes.

But, this is the way it is. And my conviction is clear: sometimes being a follower of Jesus means doing exactly what Jesus did.

And, as we know, Jesus had a few issues with authority himself. Which makes this whole Christ the King Sunday even more interesting.

This issue of authority came up in a fascinating little article I just read about Christ the King Sunday from All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California, The article, written by Melissa Hayes, the Director of Liturgy at All Saints, is fascinating.

For example, according to the article “Pope Pius XI instituted the Feast of Christ the King in 1925 to remind Christians that their allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven as opposed to earthly supremacy, which was claimed by Benito Mussolini.”

Very, very interesting!  Especially considering how many of us might be feeling about the current political situation.

Hayes goes on to write,

“Our group [at All Saints] discussed Jesus standing against the empire and what that leadership looks like. We admitted our human response to someone of great spiritual authenticity is to venerate them – even if titles and hierarchies are not important to them. Our findings led us to conclude that Jesus ‘kingship’ does not involve domination or triumphalism — but the radical, all-powerful compassion and love of Jesus seeking justice for all.

So, yes, today, is Christ the King Sunday. And for some reason, I don’t have much of an issue with the idea of Christ as King, despite my deep-seated issues with authority. I love this idea of Christ as Ruler.  

And, as you know, I love preaching about the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is a good thing to preach about.  

Also, it’s an important Sunday for another reason.  It is the last Sunday in that very long, green season of Pentecost.  Today, for the Church, it is New Year’s Eve.  The old church year of Sundays—Church Year A—ends today.  The new church year—Church Year B—begins next Sunday, on the First Sunday of Advent. So, what seems like an ending today is renewed next week, with the coming of Advent, in that revived sense of longing and expectation that we experience in Advent.

Today, we get this reading from the Prophet Ezekiel, with all its threats of judgement and punishment. But, we also hear God saying things through Ezekiel  like,

“I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”  

And (I love this one)

“I feed them with justice.”

We also get to hear Jesus tell us that story of the sheep and the goats, echoing in many ways our reading from Ezekiel.

Now, I actually don’t hate this parable—even with its threat of punishment (on which everyone gets hung up), and its judgment.  I love this story because there is something beautiful and subtle going on just beneath the surface, if you take the moment to notice.  And that subtle aspect of this story is this: If you notice, the reward is given not to people who work for the reward.  The reward is not given to people who help the least of their brethren because they know they will gain the reward.

The reward is granted to those who help the least of their brethren simply because the least need help. The reward is for those who have no regard or idea that a reward awaits them for doing such a thing.

Now I don’t think I need to tell anyone here who the least of our brethren are.  The least of our brethren are the ones who are hungry, who are thirsty, who are naked, who are sick and who are in prison.

I think this ties in beautifully to our own ideas of why we do what we do as followers of Jesus.  Why do we do what we do, we must ask ourselves?  Do we do these things because we think we’re going to get a reward for doing them?  Or do we do these things because by doing them we know it goes for a greater reward than anything we ourselves could get?

In our Gospel reading today, we find that the Kingdom of God is prepared for those who have been good stewards, who do good for the sake doing good.  It is prepared for those who have been mindful of what has been given to them and have been mindful of those around them in need.

For us, we need to realize that the Kingdom is prepared for us as well.  It is prepared for us who have sought to be good stewards without any thought of eternal reward. For us who strive to do good for the sake doing good.  It is prepared for us who have simply done what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.

To love God, and to love others.

That is why we do good.

For us, in our own society, we find that these same terms found in Jesus’ parable have a wider definition.

Hungry for us doesn’t just mean hungry for food.  It means hungry for love, for healing, for wholeness. It means hungry, also, for God.

Thirsty doesn’t just mean for water.  Thirsty for us means thirsty for fairness or justice or peace. And thirsty for God.

Naked doesn’t just mean without clothing.  It means, for us, to be stripped to our core, to be laid bare spiritually and emotionally and materially, which many of us have known in our lives. We have known what it means to be spiritually and emotionally naked.

To be sick, doesn’t necessarily mean to be sick with a disease in our bodies.  It is means to be sick in our hearts and in our relationships with others. It means to be sick with despair or depression or spiritually barrenness.

And we all know that the prisons of our lives sometimes don’t necessarily have walls or bars on the doors.  The prisons of our lives are sometimes our fears, our prejudices, our addictions, our very selves.

To not go out and help those who need help is to be arrogant, to be selfish, to be headstrong.  To not do so is to turn our backs on following where Jesus leads us.

Because Jesus leads us into that place wherein we must love and love fully and give and give freely—of ourselves and of what we have been given.

It means to “feed with justice,” as God tells us in Ezekiel.

I like that because that is definitely what we have all been striving to do here at St. Stephen’s. That is what that window in which we celebrate welcoming all as Christ and which we will be dedicated in a few weeks is all about.  We practice our radical hospitality to everyone who comes through our doors.  And, I think, we accept everyone who comes through those doors fully.

Here, we not only welcome people, but I think we allow people to be the people God created them to be—without judgment, without prejudice, just as the Kingdom no doubt will be.  And is.  

Again, that brings us back to Jesus’ parable.  The meaning of this story is this: If you do these things—if you feed the hungry, if you give drink to the thirsty, if you welcome the stranger, if you clothe the naked, if you visit the sick and imprisoned—if you simply respond to one another as human beings—if you do these things without thought of reward, but do them simply because you, as a Christian, are called to do them, the reward is yours.

The Kingdom is not only awaiting us in the next world, on the other side of the veil.  The Kingdom, when we do these things, is here.  Right now. Right in our midst.

As Christians, we shouldn’t have to think about doing any of those things.  They should be like second nature to us.  We should be doing them naturally, instinctively.

For those of us who are hungry or thirsty, who feel like strangers, who are naked, sick and imprisoned—and at times, we have been in those situations—we find Christ in those rays of hope that break through into our lives. It is very similar to the hope we are clinging to in this moment as we enter Advent—that time in which the Light of Christ is seen breaking into the encroaching darkness of our existence.  And we—in those moments when we feed the hungry, when we give drink to the thirsty, when we welcome the stranger, when we clothe the naked, when we visit the sick and imprisoned—in those moments, we become that light in the darkness, that hope in someone else’s life.

We embody Christ and Christ’s Kingdom when we become the conduits of hope.

So, as we celebrate the end of this liturgical year and set our expectant eyes on the season of Advent, let us not just be filled with hope.  Let us be a true reflection of Christ’s hope to this world. Let us be the living embodiment of that hope to those who need hope.  And in doing so, we too will hear those words of assurance to us:

“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for….”

I am going to close today with the prayer they pray at All Saints, Pasadena on this Christ the King Sunday. It’s a beautiful prayer. So, let us pray,

Most Gracious God, who in Jesus of Nazareth showed us an alternative to the kings, queens and emperors of history, help us to revere and emulate Jesus’ leadership: To love, and to seek justice for all people. Help us to recognize the true grandeur and life-changing power based in loving you and all of our neighbors. In Christ Jesus with you and the Holy Spirit, may we co-create a world ruled not through domination, but in that radical and all-powerful compassion and love. Amen.




Sunday, November 19, 2017

24 Pentecost

November 19, 2017

Matthew 25.14-30

+ Last week, in my sermon, I just happened to mention in a kind of jokey, passing manner that I have been accused of being full of hubris once or twice in my life. After Mass last week, someone came up to me and said, “Did someone really say you were full of hubris? If so, I just want to say, they obviously don’t know you very well. That made me feel pretty darn  good last week.

But I had to say, there have been much worse things said about me behind my back (and to my face)  than being accused of hubris. As you may or may not know, the priest is often the catch-all of a congregation. If things are going bad in a congregation, the priest often is the one who gets the blame, whether or not she or he really is the problem. If people want to complain about things in a congregation, it is often much easier to complain about a priest.

Now, I knew this fact long before I ever went into the priesthood. I tell anyone who is heeding a call to ordained ministry that the first thing they need to develop is a very thick skin.

Luckily, here at St. Stephen’s, I have not had that issue much. People here seem pretty content with me for the most part. And I’m grateful for that. And if there are criticisms, which trust me, usually get back to me (they just do), I usually can go with it.

But there is one accusation that cuts through the thick skin of my “Priest armor.” Actually, maybe I shouldn’t even share my personal Kryptonite with you, but, I will…

The one accusation I don’t handle well is actually one that has never been leveled at me here at St. Stephen’s (at least I haven’t heard it). It’s an ugly word. It even sounds ugly. And it cuts deeply.

Words with the letter “z” often seem to have a razor-edge to them. The word is…

..”lazy.”

I despise that word. Now, you can say I’m full of  “hubris” all you want.  But, “lazy” is not something I handle well.

All this talk of laziness ties in well with this strange, difficult parable for this morning.  We get this parable of the talents, of money lent and the reward awaiting those who were entrusted with the money, complete with its not-so-subtle wag of the finger at us.  Trust me, I did not purposely pick this scripture for today; it just happened to come up in the lectionary today.

This parable is actually a very good story for us.  Most of us can relate to it.  We understood how good it is to have people invest money for us and to receive more in return.  It certainly speaks in a very special way to us in this strange, scary and unstable financial environment in which we are living at this moment.

But, this parable isn’t really about money at all, as we probably have guessed.  The parable is about taking what we have—and in the case of today’s reading Jesus is talking about the Gospel—and working to expand it and return it back to God with interest.

We, as Christians, are called to just this: we are called to work. We are called to do something with what we’ve been given.  And the worse thing we can imagine as Christians is being called by that ugly word I mentioned earlier:

“lazy.”

Lazy.

See. It cuts like a razor.

None of us want to hear that word directed at us, especially regarding our faith. It is that shaming admonition we hear in this parable:

“You wicked and lazy slave!”

It’s not what we want to hear.  Rather, we want to hear:

“Well done, good and trustworthy servant; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”

Over and over again in Scripture, we find this one truth: God is not really ever concerned with what we have; but God is always concerned with what we do with what we have.  And we should always remind ourselves that it is not always an issue of money that we’re dealing with when we talk about what we have.   The rewards of this life include many other things other than money—an issue we sometimes forget about in our western capitalist society.

The fact is, God is not always concerned about who we are or what we do. God does not care about or hubris. God does not care about our ego. But, God is always concerned with what we do with who we are and what we do.  And when we’re lazy, we purposely forget this fact.

When we’re lazy, we think we can just coast.  We think we can just “get by.”  We think we can just give lip service to our gratitude and that is enough.  We expect others to do the hard work while we sit back.  But it isn’t enough.

To be "good and trustworthy”  is to take what we have and do something meaningful with it.  By doing something good, we are showing our gratitude for it.

In this week leading up to Thanksgiving, we might find ourselves thinking about all the things in our lives we are thankful for.  And we should be expressing our thanks to God for those things.  But what God seems to want from us more than anything else is to let that thankfulness be lived out in our lives.

Yes, we should give thanks to God with our mouths. But we must give thanks to God with our actions.

Today, we are reminded that, essentially, from that first moment when we became Christians in the waters of baptism, we are called to live out our thankfulness to God in our very lives, in what we do and how we act.  Our thankfulness should not simply be the words coming from our mouths, but also the actions we do as Christians.

Let me tell you, right now, in places like Alabama, we see Christians behavior deplorably. I am not going to hold back on this issue.  What we see there, right now, with the defense of Roy Moore by people who use their Christian faith in their defense is a brand new low in Christianity.

For Christians to hide behind their Christian faith and the Bible in their defense of someone like Moore is morally, reprehensively wrong.  Each of us should be offended to our very core by them and their talk. When Christians know something is wrong and still refuse to turn away it, is hypocrisy. True and real hypocrisy.

And I want to be clear: this has nothing to do with forgiving someone who is a repentant sinner. I hear not repentance in any of the stories coming out Alabama.  This is an affront to God, to the teachings of Christ and to everything we hold dear as Christians.

This is not what God wants from our actions. This is not what baptized Christians do.

As Christians truly thankful to God for all we have been given, we are to live a life of integrity and purpose and meaning.

Integrity.

Purpose.

Meaning.

And we must stand up again and again to what is wrong.

We show our thankfulness to God in our stewardship—in the fact that we are thankful by sharing what we have been given.  By sharing the goodness we have been given.  And in that sharing, we find the true meaning of what it means to be gracious.  In that sharing, we find purpose and meaning in our lives.  In that sharing, we find true contentment.

We all have our treasures in this life. We all have these special things God has given us.  It might be our talents, it might be our know-how, it might be a blessing of financial abundance.  It might just be our very selves.

We have a choice with these treasures.  We can take them and we can sit on them.  We can store them away and not let them gain interest.  And in the end, all we have is a moldering treasure—which really isn’t a treasure at all.  Or we can take a chance, we can invest them and, in investing them, we can spread them and share them.

During this stewardship season, the message is not “Give” The message of this stewardship time is “be grateful.” Be grateful to God for the treasures of this life.  

These are the things we have—our talents, our God-given abilities, the material blessings of our lives—and to be truly thankful for those things, we need to be grateful for them and to share them.

We can’t hoard them, we can’t hug them close and be afraid they will be taken from us.  And we can’t go through life with a complacent attitude—expecting that others are going to take of these things for us. We must share what we have. And we must share what we have with dignity and self-assurance and with a graceful and grateful attitude.  

We must not be the lazy slave who hoards what is given him, afraid to invest what he has.  We must instead be like the wise servant, the one is alert and prepared, the one who is truly gracious.

And if we are, we too will hear those words spoken to us—those words we all truly long to hear—

“Well done, good and faithful one…enter into the joy of your master.”