Funeral Sermon for Jeff Batkin
We are here to do three things.
To remember Jeff Batkin
To grieve our loss
And to give thanks that God has raised him to new life.
First to remember.
I met Jeff in Athens,GA because Marguerite was getting a graduate degree at UGA.
And I think he knew more people in the congregation than I did.
He was not just an extravert---he was a people lover.
Jeff was interested in what was going on—People’s joys and pains
Not because he was nosy, but because he wanted to help.
He was into Appreciative Inquiry before there was Appreciative Inquiry—
Because he did more than appreciated people, he loved them.
“How ya doing?” He’d say—“Let’s play golf and talk.”
The most fun I had in 12 years as bishop was playing golf on Fridays with Jeff And Jim Pritchett and Austin Rios.
Because Jeff would help us laugh and forget all the nonsense.
And he loved to work. He worked hard and effectively.
He came to see me soon after I was consecrated-- “How can I help?”
“I can’t really pay you,” I said.
“I didn’t ask how much I can make,” I asked “How can I help?”
So when I didn’t know what to do with a Church, I’d sent Jeff.
I don’t know what he did, but everywhere he went,
the wardens would call me And say “Thanks for sending Jeff Batkin.”
I think of the many places he has touched through his ministry:
Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wyoming, Tennessee
It’s like Aslan in the Narnia breathing the breath of life on the frozen world.
Jeff made coat of arms for people—but I think his coat of arms would be
He loved God, he loved people, he want to make a difference
We will miss him. His laugh, his enthusiasm, his dedication, his friendship.
We remember then we grieve.
We weep for the dead because we miss them.
If you love, you will weep.
So Marguerite, Josh, Drew, Marilyn, Claudia, Wendy, Gabrielle, Christina, Henry, Will, Charlie, Bailey, Riley, Maggie and all of us here—
Today we are a community of tears.
There’s just a hole in our heart now that he is in the other world with the Lord.
I miss Jeff’s assurance that there wasn’t a problem that couldn’t be fixed---
And I miss the way is overflowing extraversion
was a tonic for me as an introvert.
I miss his laugh—and his deep friendship—and his zest for life.
He was a Southern version of Zorba the Greek.
We will miss his curiosity---and his contagious faith.
We remember, we grieve, And then we give thanks.
“Anyone who hears my word and believes in me has eternal life.”
Or as Paul says in the letter to the Romans
For I am convinced that neither death nor life nor angels nor rulers nor things presentNor things to come, nor powers,
nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation
Will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
We give thanks that Jeff is with Christ---
probably playing golf and talking and laughing about what’s going on here.
When I was a young priest after a church service a small boy—about six years old
Asked me why we pray for the dead
And I didn’t know what to say---
I couldn’t remember what they taught me in seminary.
So I blurted out what came to my mind--- “Because they aren’t dead.”
The love of the Lord has connected Jeff to God in the other world
And our love of the Lord has connected us to Jeff and all the saints.
When we gather around the altar today
we will give thanks with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.
And Jeff will be there whispering to Christie as the Celebrant,
that if she needs help, call on him.
We remember, we grieve, but most of all we give thanks
that God’s love erases the divide between death and life
and allows us at the grave to sing
Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.
I want to start with a story form Anne Lamott— from her book Grace Eventually
Anne Lamott was driving along one day and she passed a carpet store
She saw a roll of green carpet leaning against the wall
that looked perfect for her Sunday School room
So she stopped and bought it for $50.
When she rolled it out in the Church, she found a moldy spot in the very middle.
One of the other teachers took it back to the store to return it,
but when Anne talked to her,
she said the owner said he didn’t have $50 on hand,
and she’d have to come back later for a refund.
So Anne went back the next day,
but the owner said that someone else had already picked up the refund.
It turned out no one had.
When Anne went back again--- the owner showed her a receipt for the $50 refund.
They got into a heated argument and had what my mother called “Words”
Then Anne sent her boyfriend---
who was big and intimating, but with the same results.
So she went back again.
Finally after another argument,
The owner wrote Anne a check for $50.
Feeling triumphant she went to bank,
but the teller told her “the check bounced. There are insufficient funds.”
Now what do you think happens at this point in the story?
Well, Anne Lamott could get a lawyer---
She could write on Facebook how horrible the carpet guy is.
She could march in front of his store.
She could get the community to shun him—
She could ask the Archbishop of Canterbury to denounce him.
She could get all the carpet stores to exclude this store from their club.
She could look up all the biblical passages about corrupt carpet owners
and tell him if he didn’t repent, he would rot in hell.
Or she could do the Episcopal thing
She could ignore him---and practice what we call “tolerance”
which is to write him out of her mind and her life.
Today Jesus cancels all those options---
The only sign is the sign of Jonah
We are not called to stand above the world
with our scorecards of who is right and who is wrong
We are called to get into the belly of the whale---
Because It’s our self-righteousness that has to be put to death.
To be resurrected, we have to go underwater—into the dark depths
Where we can’t map the world—
Where all we have is the love of Jesus.
I think our time in history is the moment for the Church.
Because in a world riddled with division the only way forward is to go deeper.
Like Jonah—our business is not telling God who is righteous and who isn’t.
Our business is to let God kill off our ego---
so that as we are raised, we can be instruments of reconciliation.
It doesn’t mean we don’t take stands—it doesn’t mean we have marches
It doesn’t mean we become wishy washy
It means we do not close our hearts to anyone—
It means the change we seek must begin with us and not THOSE PEOPLE
It means it’s a sin to pray for God to destroy the Ninevites.
Because It’s one thing to throw rocks at the Ninevites—
it’s another to go into the whale
Until you get spit on their shore[PT1] and wait for God to use you for God’s work
I remember how angry white liberals got with Will Campbell
Because he would go and eat with the KKK.
He once said, “I’m Will Campbell—
I am pro-Klansman because I am pro human being.”
“there’s nothing in the Scripture that said visit the sick if they are morally sound.”
Back to Anne Lamott: she writes:
I sat outside the bank for awhile. Look I said to God: it’s up to YOU, pal.
Then I sat in the sun and [started]… to laugh.
I felt deep inside that I’d gotten it…a kind of miracle.
I stopped hating myself.
The carpet guy had cheated me,
but he was also an innocent bystander in a very old story
He was the ledger inside of me of every time I had been humiliated and stiffed.
Well, I said to God, the Eagle has landed. Now what am I supposed to do?
After a few minutes, I knew.
[I went] to Safeway…[and bought] a bouquet of daisies for the carpet man…
I wrote him a note: “Here is your check back.
I am very sorry for the way I behaved. Anne.”
The carpet store was locked….I tied the daisies to the doorknob
and dropped the check and my note through the mail slot….
I called the carpet store from my kitchen at five….
“Hi” I said. “This is Anne Lamott”…
“I got your letter,” he said, “That was a decent thing.”
And just as I began to savor his words, he added, “but you behaved badly.”
It started up in me again, but this time it didn’t take over,
because something got there first.
You want to know how big God’s love is?
The answer is…it’s bigger than you are comfortable with.
This is the mystery of getting in the belly of the whale.
This mystery is our calling to leave the shore of our self-righteousness
And go into the deep dark
so that God can open our hearts to speak the words
That must be spoken if our land is ever to be whole.
Like Anne Lamont we all have a ledger
And I am tired of seeing politicians take up so much space on mine.
My better angel reminds me it’s a sin to pray for his downfall
So I am trying to get in the water and let the whale swallow me
And take me where I don’t want to go--but where I need to be
So that I might be whole and God might use me for healing.
My brothers and sisters, The Lord invites us to a holy Lent
Let’s don’t lose sight of our task.
This isn’t about chocolate or any spiritual Olympics
It’s about resurrection—the resurrection of the world but beginning with us.
You want to know how big God’s love is?
The answer is it’s bigger than we are comfortable with—
Because that love pushes us in the water and into the whale.
Porter Taylor---Address to the Diocese of Louisiana Convention—11/16
This morning I want to say two things that seem contradictory but aren’t.
(1) I want to name that we as the Episcopal Church swim in the sea of alcoholism (2) But paradoxically I want to assert that those of us who are addicts in recovery have a gift the Church desperately needs. So it’s sort of hard news first---and hopeful news second. At our last General Convention, resolutions called for our Church to “confront and repent the Episcopal Church’s complicity in a “culture of alcohol, denial, and enabling.” Now I am not the Grinch who is here to steal Mardi Gras or tailgating at the Saints game next week.
I am here to remind us of our mission--to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. The unity we seek is deeper than the comradery that comes after a few drinks and it’s much deeper from any denial we have that addiction in its many forms is not eating away the soul of this country and this church. Alan Jones once said, “You are the veil that separates you from the paradise you seek. Our addictions are one of the veils that separate us from knowing heaven here and now. Addictions make us smaller and they are walls that keep us from communion.
I stopped drinking when I was 40. I come from a family of big drinkers. When the doctor told my dad to limit his drinking to 2 ounces a day, my father said, “Hell Doc, I spill that much.” When I told my mother I wasn’t drinking anymore, she said “You’ll never have fun anymore.” Because she couldn’t imagine how her son could be joyful without alcohol. In my family, drinking was the language we used to say “You belong. But we as the Church have a different vision. Our goal is to experience paradise—heaven here and now as well as after our death.
We cannot swap the Lord’s promise to us for a hazy counterfeit sense of alcohol induced comradery because we’re afraid we won’t have fun anymore. I am not trying to go back to prohibition---I am trying to remind us of our mission. As St. Catherine of Siena said, “All the way to heaven is heaven and all the way to hell is hell.” For a lot of people--drinking is a gift to being social—There is an aesthetic enjoyment that is a gift of creation. There’s a reason Jesus turned all that water into wine at Cana, but drinking will not bring us heaven or Pentecost or holy communion.
And therefore, we in the Church, need to remember the limits of alcohol and respect that for some of us—it’s poison. We as a Church need to change our perspective about alcohol and addiction because addiction takes us away from our mission; it keeps us from heaven.
That’s thing ONE. To get to thing two we need a poem.
Kindness-- by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.
Alcoholics talk about themselves as Grateful Recovering alcoholics. This morning I primarily want to talk about where that gratitude comes from and what it has to do with the Church. Because my goal for our Church is not simply to get our addictions under control--it’s not to stop certain behaviors so they don’t cause the Church anymore problems. No—to quote from St. Paul, the goal is to lead a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called (Ephesians 4: 1). And Paul goes on to describe this process----As followers of the Lord Jesus, “we are grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Our mission is this growth—as individuals and as a body.
We talk about addictions this weekend for two reasons. One--they hinder the whole body. They keep everyone from growing into the likeness of Christ. But TWO—Those of us in recovery have good news for the Church because we have lost things---before we found kindness. We have seen the future dissolve like salt in a weakened broth and have known sorrow as the other deepest thing. The recovery movement has many gifts to give to the Church. And I want to hint at what some of them that might be.
1. We know that by losing we are found. Our weakness is our strength. And that when we die we are raised to new life. We used to live in what W. H. Auden called “The Age of Anxiety,” But now we live in a world of terror. When black men keep getting shot in our streets; when mass murders no longer surprises us; when we see whole countries dissolve into chaos—Syria or Venezuela, is it any wonder that we drink or stick poison in our veins or gamble?
At the core of my addiction to alcohol was a fear that I wasn’t loveable, and I thought Jack Daniels could drown those voices. Before you can know what kindness really is, you must lose things. None of the miracles in my life have been a result of any of my strengths or accomplishments. All of them have started with the word God always hears--- “PLEASE" .In 1990 on a spring day in Nashville Tennessee, I got a letter from Bishop George Reynolds. I had been in the discernment process for a year and a half. As soon as I read the words “I am writing to inform you that I hereby make you a postulant for holy orders," a voice came into my head that said “You need to stop drinking because the church doesn’t need another drunk priest.” But I didn’t know how and didn’t think I could and started to talk myself out it. And then the only word I could say to God was “Please help me.”
What if we turned away from being the Church with all the answers to the Church who asked God from our hearts— “Please show us the Way”? What if we embraced our weaknesses and saw them as the roads which would lead us back to God? I cannot read anymore books about the New Church---or the emerging Paradigm because newness doesn’t start with a design model or a program or a plan. It starts with simply saying HELP.
Our Church has an addiction to thinking that in order to be important we have to look a certain way---- or have a certain number of members---or maintain a certain order. But our calling is to proclaim the mystery of the cross: Christ has died Christ is risen Christ will come again. Recovery can give the Church courage to let the self that is taking our life away die so a resurrected self can be born. Before you can know what kindness really is---you must lose things.
1. By losing we are found.
2. You can’t heal alone.
WE live together; we die together; but we are always together. There’s a reason recovery programs are group processes. The first time I walked into an AA meeting, I thought “Why do I have to listen to all these other people talk about themselves?” And why do I care about whether they are sober? But the reason I drank was because I bought into a scarcity theology. I was so scared there wasn’t enough blessing for me that instead of opening my hands for the bread of heaven, I drank ALONE late at night to quiet my fears of being left out.
My brothers and sisters---as a world will either live together or die together but we are together. The way you keep sober is by paying attention to the well being of others who cry for help and I would say the way you grow in holiness is by being connected to God and by paying attention to the well being of others who cry for help
This is the Church’s mission. We are in the together business—the communion enterprise. After all of our sacraments require other people. You can’t absolve yourself; you can’t bless yourself; you can’t marry yourself; you can’t receive the Eucharist by yourself; you can’t baptize yourself. We are about HOLY COMMUNION. The sobriety of the Church requires that we pay attention to the voices who are in pain—or who feel lost---or do not know how to get out of hell but want to.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
Sometimes we are on the bus and sometimes we are on the side of the road.
The recovery movement reminds us that it’s not about you—it’s a movement. It’s about being part of God bringing us from error into truth, ,from sin into righteousness, from death into life.
1. By losing we are found.
2. You can’t heal alone.
3. This moment is the only moment we have to be alive.
Like you, I am aware that something’s going to happen next Tuesday. And because one person will be elected as the next President and the other person won’t, some of you will be happy and some of you will be in despair. But there’s a gift that the recovery movement can give us. One day at a time. This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Remember the last two words of that line--- We can only be alive when we are IN IT. Alcoholics, Drug Addicts, Sex Addicts, Compulsive Gamblers or Shoppers, all addicts share this trait--- It’s hard to be in this moment. We all want an alternative reality-- We want to live in a different story, and we as believers in the sanctity of the Incarnation have a gift to give to our nation because underneath all the political rhetoric on the left and the right as a nation we are scared to death.
This Saturday—I think is HOLY SATURDAY. It’s a time when our nation is standing still. And because that is scary, it’s tempting for us to get out of the moment with some distraction----some addiction---some way to keep the fear and tension away. But we as Christians are called to a different response---Like Mary Magdalene---we are called to go to the Garden and wait in the calm of sobriety. Realizing that as long as we vote---and please God tell me you will vote-- As long as we vote, it’s all out of our hands. All we have is our faith. All we have is God’s promise. All we have is the love of the Lord which is in our hearts. But because we have that---we know there will be resurrection. Not because of us—but because God’s love is stronger than death.
So, my brothers and sisters, May you have the courage to confront your complicity in a Church wide culture of alcohol. But may you embrace the gifts the recovery movement can give us
Losing is finding.
We are always together.
And this is only moment we have to be alive.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
…only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
Diocese of Louisiana Convention--Sermon
November 4, 2016
Let’s begin with a poem from the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai
From the place where we are right
Flowers will never grow
In the spring.
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
And a whisper will be heard in the place
Where the ruined
House once stood.
A French philosopher was asked why he didn’t go to church for decades,
And he replied--- “I preferred my aching hunger to being fed.”
We prefer our aching hunger because we get stuck in the place where we are right.
The banquet feast is always all around us—
The Eucharistic table is not limited to any Church
---it’s at the restaurant on Borboun Street and it’s at your kitchen table.
The only reservation is in our heads and hearts.
Because we have such a hard time believing that grace is grace is grace.
We want to make it about us—our worthiness; our wonderful accomplishments
Rather than about God and God’s unbelievable love for us.
We prefer our aching hunger to being fed
because deep down------we think we have to feed ourselves.
At its core Christianity is about being fed and being free.
It’s about letting go of our sense of worthiness---
and our notion that we deserve anything.
Our job is to admit our hunger---
To realize that we cannot feed ourselves
and to turn again and again to Jesus Christ and open our hands.
And ask for our Daily Bread—which is the Bread of heaven.
And then eat and be glad that we are not in control.
And that all of life is gift.
As the Psalmist says, “One day in the Courts of the Lord are worth a thousand in my own room.”
My name is Porter and I am an alcoholic.
I know how hard it is to ask make this turn and ask for Daily Bread
Instead of poison.
I have been this woman in this gospel story and at times I still am this woman—
Standing on the street looking in at the banquet
but certain no one like me could ever get to the table.
I never doubted God’s love and the grace and mercy of Jesus
I just never thought that they were available to someone like me.
I grew up with a hole in my heart that I thought only alcohol could fill.
But as some of you know---
there’s never enough drink or drugs or sex or gambling or any addiction to fill that hole.
And at the end—it’s a vicious cycle
The more you drink, the worse you feel about yourself
Which means you drink more.
Remember where we started?
“I preferred my aching hunger to being fed.”
And sometimes that aching hunger has turned me into Simon—
Being afraid of my unworthiness---my shame at my unmanageable hungers
That I masked those hungers—not with wealth—not servants
But diplomas—BA; MA, PhD---
In my late thirties—I had two lives
I was an English professor during the day---
Which means I looked smart and accomplished and professional
I was like Simon in the story—convinced I could make the world work.
I was Dr. Taylor---with degrees to prove my worthiness.
But at night I wandered the house when everyone was asleep
Because I was thirsty to feel whole.
I was like this woman----on the doorstep of the banquet
But unlike her, I didn’t think I could ever get invited in.
And so I tried to drown my fears---I tried to drink away all my doubts.
But it’s a vicious cycle—the more I drank, the worse I felt about myself
Which meant I had to drink more.
There’s only one way I out of this.
We admit we are powerless to make our lives work.
And turn our lives over to the living God.
We stop listeningto our doubts
And move to the center and grab the Lord’s feet and wash them with our tears/
Christianity is about being fed and being freed---
When we receive God’s grace, we are freed from our own self righteousness---
Freed from our own sense of control and entitlement
and most of all freed from our illusion that we can do anything without Jesus Christ.
The people who think they are in control and that they are worthy—stay hungry.
This woman standing in front of Simon’s house has no illusions about her need---
She sees herself crystal clear—
But finally her hunger pushes her to the table----
Even though going into that house with those men is the last place she wants to be.
So the question for all of us—
because we are all addicted to our egos—or our self image
The question is how badly do we want Jesus?
He will be in the house of the person who is our worst nightmare—
Jesus is not going to be at Desmond Tutu’s house----
Jesus is only to be found in Donald Trump’s house—
-or conversely Hilary Clinton’s house—
Or for you LSU fans—in Alabama’s house.
The question is---- will our hunger push us to go to the center of the house to be fed?
Do we long to be fed or to be right?
Do we long to witness heaven or gather around us people who look and think like we do?
Do we come to the table with empty hands or our list of how the world should look?
We can only get to the table when we admit our powerlessness,
And that our lives are unmanageable.
From the place where we are right flowers will never grow in the spring
The place where we are right
Is hard and trampled
Like a yard.
But doubts and loves
Dig up the world
Like a mole, a plow.
Our doubts about our own ability to make our lives work
And our love of the Lord dig up our world
And bring us to the table of the Lord
That love restores us to sanity if we to turn our lives over.
We have to leave the street of self righteousness
The place where we think we know how the world works---
Because it’s not that the woman is righteous and Simon is not
It’s that she is willing to be changed—
The question is--- are we?
What if Jesus is eating with Hilary Clinton—would we go the table?
What if Jesus is eating with Donald Trump---would we be willing to move our feet?
From the place where you are right, flowers will never grow in the spring.
I have been meditating on this story for decades because it is so dear.
But what has come to me this week—
Is that the woman is not weeping for herself alone.
She weeps for Simon and his friends.
She weeps for the heart that dare not acknowledge its hunger.
She weeps for everyone who is the grip of some addiction that imprisons them.
She weeps for the self-righteous who cannot open their lives to know heaven.
Four days before the election she weeps for our nation.
She weeps for our Church.
May her tears open our eyes—and our hearts---
May they be the water of baptism
that move us through the door to the table where all God’s children are fed.
August 21, 2016
Let me start with a story. It’s my story but I think it’s also our story for this time. My wife Jo and I adopted our son Arthur in 1984. From the time he was verbal, he knew he was adopted. When he was four, we told him we were seeking to adopt a second child. One day, we got a call from the adoption agency saying they had a baby to place with us. Jo and I were excited beyond our wildest dreams, and in his four year old way, so was Arthur.
We talked about the future. We imagined what this child, this baby boy, would mean for all of us. We knew our lives were opening up, that we were part of some plan, some calling in a larger horizon. God was with us and God would carry us into this new place. We planned a party to welcome this sign of the glorious future into our lives. Two days later, the agency called us back. The birth parents had changed their minds. The future we knew that God called us to was snatched away by a phone call. With that deadly seriousness that only parents can have, we sat Arthur down, and told him. He was very quiet---and as serious as a four year old can be. Then he looked at us and said--- “Can we still have a party?”
This is my story in 1984, but it’s our story in 2016. In age of terror---bombs in Paris; shootings in Charleston, in the midst of a very contentious election; when the new century turns from a dream of possibilities into a time of fear
can we proclaim The Great Thanksgiving—?
Today we hear the words of the prophet Isaiah---
And he is writing to a people whose dream has not come through in the way they imagined. Yes, they have returned from exile, but their home is not really home. Nothing is as it should be: Jerusalem is devasted; the land is barren; the economy has tanked. Yet God anoints Isaiah to celebrate, to party, to be the Good News in a world diminished by despair. God anoints Isaiah to remember God’s great reversal: If Israel is faithful; God will satisfy their needs in parched places. The people will be like a watered garden in the desert. And all that is lost will be restored---your ancient ruins will be rebuilt.
My brothers and sisters, our calling is to boldly proclaim the gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, and this world in this time is desperate to hear it. We have too much fear, too many yokes upon us. Too much pointing the finger and speaking of evil. The Word of Good News needs to be spoken, that is our calling. We celebrate because God is in Charge. We give thanks because the Great Reversal is here; the year of Jubliee is upon us. God is about to do a new thing here and now:
As Isaiah proclaims a few chapters on--- liberty to the captives; release to the prisoners; good news to the oppressed even in the midst of war and fear and terror. As The poet, sweet George Herbert says: “Away Distrust—My God hath promised and He is just”. Can we still party even when the new birth doesn’t seem as if it will come?
Do we have the faith, the hope, the courage to speak the word, to make the gesture, to take the first step?
Look what happens when those anointed bring the good news: the people build up the ancient ruins, they raise up the foundations of new cities. They repair the breech—
They restore the cities to live in.
What might that mean for the cities in the USA or Paris or Syria?
Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “You must do the things you think you cannot do”
But if our people are to do them, we must speak the dream, we must remind them of God’s future. We must be the voice of hope in this world of ever increasing despair. Like Paul, we must say over and over again--- rejoice, again I say rejoice! Not just “It will be okay.” Not just “God is with you.” Not just “it will all work out.”
But— rejoice---good news---liberty---release.
God is calling us to see a different way to live together. God is calling us to proclaim the Beloved Community---
The Israelites won’t feel at home by just moving back to Jerusalem; they will feel at home when they live the way God wants all God’s children to live:
So what does this mean?
The theologian Douglas John Hall quotes P G Wodehouse: I believe there are two ways of writing novels.
One is mine, making a sort of musical comedy without music and ignoring real life altogether; the other is going right deep down into life and not caring a damn. Douglas John Hall says, “to not care a damn” is to be free or to be fools for Christ, to dig down deep and be a church that is about things that matter. To not give a damn—because we speak the word of hope even when the evidence doesn’t warrant it. We are called to celebrate even when the phone call doesn’t tell you what you want to hear.
What does this mean---?
It means the world needs the Church to be the Church and boldly proclaim God’s vision—Let’s don’t try to get this world back to where we were; let’s work to go where God intends us to be---No more war; no more division; no more hunger. No more barriers to schools, homes, medicine, good jobs. Cities where the old have a place to sleep and the young can play in the streets. Let us speak God’s vision with confidence and let us act upon it now and see the vision become flesh and dwell about us. Dig down deep and not give a damn about what the neighbors or the cynics say.
Oh, we did have a party that night.
We got some ice cream and watched cartoons, and we remembered the hope, the promise, the horizon. A year later, the phone rang again, and two days later we brought Marie home. My brothers and sisters. Now is the time for us to follow our call. We have been anointed. Spread the news: the Great Reversal is here. God is changing the world.
August 7, 2016
Let’s begin with the great theologian Rienhold Niebuhr:
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime;
therefore we must be saved by hope.
Nothing which is true or beautiful or good
makes complete sense in any immediate context of history;
therefore we must be saved by faith.
Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone;
therefore we must be saved by love.
No virtuous act is quite as virtuous from the standpoint of our friend or
foe as it is from our standpoint.
Therefore we must be saved by the final form of love which is forgiveness.”
What Niebuhr points to is exactly what we don’t want to know— We live in time; we live in the incomplete; whatever it is we want to accomplish, it won’t be finished in our lifetime because the world is always moving.
Too often we want to turn faith into a coin we can put in our pocket. Faith becomes a thing—a set of propositions or principles. But our faith is less my faith that these ideas are true. And much more my faith IN the Living God.
WE fight wars and we label others as less than us when we believe THAT. When we have a faith that believes IN, then it changes our whole stance to the world. Because we don’t have to defend our beliefs, we have to strengthen our connection. Christianity is not a philosophy, it is not a political platform. It is not a set a propositions that we have to guard. Christianity is a love affair with the living God revealed in Jesus Christ. It’s why our Creeds proclaim WE believe IN one God. We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ. We believe in the Holy Spirit. Remember where we started this morning?
“Nothing that is worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope."
Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen. Our faith enables us to do what we are called to do here and now. Knowing that we are only building on the work of the saints gone before and laying a foundation for those coming after us. Those to be confirmed or received need to know that you are not receiving special powers nor a promise of a pain free life. You are being empowered to serve the Lord and that empowerment is a deeper faith. This doesn’t mean you’ll know how to solve the world’s problems. But it does mean you’ll have confidence that God knows and will use you as God will. What matters is that you catch a vision, believe in it, and move your feet. Like Abraham---to walk not knowing where he was going—with his faith as a compass. And to know that all of the promises won’t come true in his lifetime. The only land Abraham possesses is a small field near Hebron that he buys for a burial ground for his family. Abraham lived in tents but he looked forward to “the city that has foundations whose architect and builder is God.”
When we say in the Eucharist, “Lift up your hearts/ We lift them to the Lord”, we mean we are lifting up our intentions, our horizon, our hopes. We are not thinking about what we can do but about what God can do through us. We won’t know how to get there, but we know that we must begin.
Think about our world today.
A world where so few have so much and so many have so little. A world where numerous black men have been shot in the streets by police in this year alone. A world where so many countries are like ours—we know who we are against. But we have forgotten who we are for.
Faith is faith is faith. The world has never needed faithful Christians as it does today. Not because we have answers, but because the world is sinking in despair. The world no longer has the assurance of things hoped for.
Lynne Twist, the leader of an organization called Hunger Project, tells of a trip she and some volunteers took to a village in the desert of Senegal on the western tip of Africa. The village’s water supplies were gone and their well was dry. As a result, the children were sick, and the animals were hungry and the crops were dying. When the Hunger Project volunteers arrived, they sat in a circle with the tribal leaders who were men. The women of the village sat in an outer circle. After some time, Lynne Twist asked if she could speak to the women, the women told her they had a vision that underneath the village was an underground river. But men wouldn’t let them dig because visions didn’t come to women. Lynne Twist and the women spoke to the men and then the men spoke among themselves. Finally they let the women dig. And so they did—day after day; week after week; month after month.The men laughed at them—but the women had a vision---they had hope---they had been promised by God.
After a year of digging---they found water. After a year of acting on the promise---the promise came true. The children got well, the animals prospered and the crops grew. Years later they still have water.
What’s the dream God has implanted in your heart to bring water and peace and schools and food and harmony
and health care and the Beloved Community to this land? And will you move your feet towards that---with only your faith. Knowing that your faith connects you to God and God’s vision for this world?
In 2005, my first year as a bishop, my daughter, Marie, went on a summer trip to the Caribbean. We used frequent flyer miles to get her there. So to get home she flew from Miami to Newark and Newark to Asheville. Except that when she got to Newark—the flight was cancelled. She was 16—it was 8:00 on a Sunday night and she’s stuck in the Newark airport. I was talking to her on the phone—trying to tell her how to fix this. But I didn’t know how to fix it. So I said the only logical thing a father can say—“Talk to your mother”
While they talked, I tried to think of who I knew in New Jersey. And the answer was---no one. And then I remembered—there’s a bishop in Newark—I confess, I didn’t remember his name. I looked him up in the bishops’ list---Jack Croneberger. So I called him on the other line--- “Jack, this is your best friend, Porter Taylor”
Long pause. “Oh hi Porter”. I explained about Marie and then said— “if you could just get a priest or deacon to go to the airport and take her to a motel and get her settled—I’d be grateful for life.” Longer pause. “Just a minute” he said. Soon he got back on the phone: “Porter. Tell her that a fat white guy in a black Volvo will be there in 20 minutes.”
Amazing Grace how sweet the sound---20 minutes later the Bishop of Newark showed up at the airport,
picked up my daughter and took her to his home—his wife fed her---and they showed her to a guest room
and put her in a cab at 5:30 the next morning going to the airport.
I tell this story because the Scripture readings today are about two Christian Virtues that are really the same virtue:
The Gospel is about humility and the epistle is about hospitality.
I can talk a long time about each of them. I can tell you the Greek etymology and give a scriptural history or talk about what St. Bernard of Clairvaux of the 12th Century said about them. Or I could make this a political sermon and talk about immigration. I could talk about North Carolina’s HB2 laws.
But we would never get to the heart of the matter—
Which is about opening our hearts.
Because the heart connects humility and hospitality. Humility reminds us of who we are—and once we know that, hospitality is our response. So first—humility. The word “Humility” comes from “humus”—which means dirt. Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. We remember we are created by God—And that our lives are short and fragile—And therefore we need each other—because all of us get stuck somewhere. That recognition —opens our hearts---opens our definitions of others. Opens our houses and our lives. Humility—Remembering I am dust and to dust I shall return---makes us hospitable. Because we remember where we are going. We remember that this earth is not our home---it’s a way station. Our home is with God in the New Jerusalem. Where all God’s children live in peace and harmony—No more wars, no more politics, no more hurricanes or fires or shootings. And our task is to have a foretaste of that heavenly city here and now. All the way to heaven is heaven. Love God—love your neighbor—everything hangs on these two laws.
Which could mean going to the airport on a Sunday night after you’ve worked all day to pick up a 16 year old stranger to give her a place to sleep. Which could mean much more about how we treat all our neighbors.
When we get out of our heads and into our hearts, we remember Christianity is not a philosophy. It’s not a set of principles—it’s not a rational list of rules and it’s not a political platform. It’s receiving the love God showers upon you and loving your brother and sister in return. It’s about remembering that once we were all lost---and God found us—and brought us not just from an airport to a home. But from death to life.
There is so much bad religion all around us. There is so much effort to turn Jesus into Benjamin Franklin. A Rule giver---a person that offers us 12 steps to a pain free life. Or we turn Jesus into a loud speaker who---surprise—has the same political positions as we do. Yes—we do need to have the Christian voice in the public square and Yes—as a bishop I have taken stands on many political issues. But each time I do, I try to remember--- “I could be wrong.” I remind myself---“I am making my best guess on this issue.” Because on this side of heaven—we see in a glass dimly and know in part. All we know for sure is that the love of Jesus has come into our hearts and changed everything, which means we are all connected. Which means we are called to be welcome others into our churches and our lives—which is hospitality. As Paul says in his letters--- I am a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Once we belong to him then we are out of the sorting business of who belongs and who doesn’t and we are in the loving business.
My brothers and sisters—humility---hospitality are gifts we as the Church must give to the world. There is so much division, so much fear, and so much suffering. We are inundated with political ads about what’s wrong and then there’s Isis and Zika, and the California fires, the Italian earthquakes, and the Louisiana floods. It’s tempting to close down---to protect ourselves---to wait it out. And it’s tempting to label the world and not welcome those we think are unworthy. But that is not our calling----even when we think we are right.
There’s a story about Jesus coming to talk to St. Peter at the Gate to Heaven. Jesus says—“Peter, we have gone over and over the list of qualifications, but I keep seeing people in heaven that shouldn’t be here. What’s the problem?
Peter says, “It’s not me Lord. It’s your mother. I tell them no but then they go to the back door and she lets them in.”
Back door---front door---windows---
We have to leave space for all God’s children to know heaven but to do that—like Mary---we have to be so in love with God that we long for everyone to know what that love is. And we always leave a door open. In this age of terror and division—this is the time for the Church. To be agents of grace---of humility or hospitality. Everyday someone gets stuck at the airport. Maybe we’re the one who gets called in the middle of the night. Hearing “my child is at the airport”—or somewhere alone—“can you go”?
Let us pray that we will remember how fragile and short life is
Let us pray we will remember why we are Christians
Let us pray we will say Of course I can because I love the Lord.
Jeremiah lived in bad times. The Babylonians are at the gates. And Jeremiah knows that there is no way that Judah can withstand their attack. He is confronting the decline of an entire way of life. Jeremiah is in prison for telling the truth. He told the king the Babylonians would invade---yet the King called him a traitor. And now Jeremiah again tells the king a great darkness is about to descend. People will be unemployed. And towns will have fewer and fewer people. Property will be foreclosed---and the homeless will increase. The young will leave and the streets will be filled with the elderly.
It’s an in between time---the old has died and the new has yet to be born. Jeremiah has warned his nation---
over and over he has told them that this day is coming. But here he speaks a new word—and it is the word we as faithful people need not only to hear. We need to let it come from our mouths. The word is HOPE. When you get to the end of what you can do—then it’s time to find out what God will do. And to invest in that.
Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners, says this about hope:
Hope is believing in the promise despite the evidence and watching the evidence change. Hope comes from thinking about what God has promised and not what we can do and investing in God’s future despite what the world says. We believe there can be peace in Syria. We believe that the US Congress can pass bills for the common Good. We believe that no more black males will be shot by police in the streets. We believe the elected leaders in North Carolina will lead.
Not because we can do these things by ourselves. But because God can do anything and God loves God’s children and God is God. All God asks is that we partner with the divine. Believe in God’s promises and make the first step. And of course, that’s what Jeremiah did. The Babylonians have invaded Judah and the Judeans are fleeing. But Jeremiah—even as he is imprisoned—doesn’t try to protect himself or his holdings. No---he does a counter cultural thing--- He invests in the Lord’s promise. He bought a field even though the Jews have been removed into exile. One commentator called this “the Worst land deal in history”. It’s like buying land in Syria or Venezula. Jeremiah literally invests in the future because it’s not his future—it’s God’s future. Hope is believing in the promise despite the evidence and watching the evidence change
Our world doesn’t need any more skeptics—we have plenty. And we don’t need to take more positions to declare what we don’t’ like. Tomorrow night we don’t need to watch the debate hoping Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump will say something stupid so that we can feel morally superior. Because we have become a nation of cynics—afraid to believe in anyone or anything. We need to remember what we are for and invest in that. Regardless of the circumstances. We need men and women filled with hope and willing to step forward with a vision of God’s kingdom. People willing to buy a field—even if seems crazy or naïve. And our world is desperate to remember what Hope looks like in action. I have been thinking that more and more our country resembles the circle in Dante’s Inferno for the angry. The wrathful fight eternally on the surface of the river Styx and bite one another’s necks while the sullen gurgle underneath. This is what hell looks like---but we as Christians are called to taste heaven. So how do we remember who we are—and true calling? It doesn’t take much---an opening in your heart the size of a mustard seed.
A few years ago two women—Ann Fritschner and Lisa Clark—came to see me. They said that wanted to do something about human trafficking. I kind of nodded my head. I had no idea how two women would stop human trafficking. They said they would build a safe house in India in cooperation with our Companion diocese. I said okay—and then got busy with my important life. Last year I went to India---Jo and I have become godparents to one such girl---Lakti. So when I went over to India, I didn’t know what to bring her. She’s 14. I brought her colored pencils and art pads and an inflatable globe. Lakti is very short and skinny. I blew up the globe for her and she threw it to another girl and soon it was bouncing around the courtyard. Then the bell rang for school---and all the children ran to their class---all except Lakti. She began walking towards the sewing room where adults made the students’ uniforms. When I asked one of the teachers why Lakti wasn’t going to school, she said “She’s too ashamed to go to school because of her past”. So she goes and sews with three of the women. But she feels good about herself---and she makes uniforms. It enables orphaned children to feel like they belong. When I looked at her—I marveled at my lack of faith in Ann Fritschner and Lisa Clark. Because they bought a field—Lakti has a home and a future.
Hope is not about some inner enthusiasm. Hope is not a guarantee that everything is going to work. Hope is a call for us to join with God in what God what’s to do in this world. A call for us to take a step. Regardless of the evidence and then watch the evidence change. There’s plenty of brokenness and sinfulness in this world. We know far too much about it. But let’s remember instead God’s promises. That all God’s children will live in safety. No more war, hunger, pollution, murder, prejudice, division. And if we believe those promises, then it’s time to buy a field.
So—let me tell you about Becca Stevens—Magdalene Project and Thistle Farms. Becca began her ordained ministry as the chaplain at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. One day she was driving home from work with her son—still in elementary school. Levi, her son, asked her “Mom, why is that lady smiling?” Becca looked up and saw an exotic dancer standing next to a strip club. With a cat costume—with ears and a tail and a smiled fixed on her face. Becca could have driven past this woman. She could have gone on with her day and her career and her life.
But she could not. She was convicted that God was calling her to pay attention to the plight of women who were forced into prostitution or the sex trade. And she began by inviting them to Church. And then she invited them into a house. And then she invited them into a new life. Her project is called Magdalene house---And it goes straight into the sleaze of the city of Nashville and reminds these women that God has another promise for them. The women of Magdalene/Thistle Farms range in age from 20-50, and many have been sexually abused between the ages of 7-11, began using alcohol or drugs by 13, have been arrested on average a hundred times, or have spent about 12 years on the street prostituting.
72% percent of the women who join Magdalene are clean and sober 2 1/2 years after beginning the program.
That is your calling now because we are always in between—It’s always an interim between what was and what is coming. What are the hurts and hopes of Polk County?And where can you give the word of hope God longs to speak through you? We can’t do everything but we can do the one thing given to us to do. Find that---and act upon it. Even if it feels as if the Babylonians are on the border—buy a field.
September 11, 1998
This week we have heard a lot about forgiveness and repentance--
Bill Clinton has filled our airways and computer screens and conversations.The problem is that repentance is wrapped up in questions of resignation and impeachment. As a result----our focus is limited---we only want to know if the President will have to leave office; Our concern is on the external consequences. We want to know what the Congress will make him do. How much will his mistakes cost? There are consequences to sin----penance is part of repentance--but repentance is bigger than just figuring out what the punishment is.
Today Jesus tells the Pharisees a parable that takes us into the heart of what repentance is about. The parable tells us something about the sinner---about God---and about us. "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
First, what does the parable say about repentance for the sinner? The sheep is lost---the Greek word for lost is "apollymi"--which can also mean "to be put to death"---or "to die". True repentance is not about surviving a crisis. The question of whether or not Bill Clinton should be impeached is a political and legal question-- -but it is not at the heart of repentance. Repentance means putting the old self---the false sinful self---to death. Repentance----metanoia---means "to turn around". To stop going in the direction that leads you toward death and to turn towards life. It's less about being sorry and more about wanting to be changed. We repent when we recognize our own wretchedness. As the 12 step language says--- We admit that our lives have become
unmanageable. As Dante says---- "I found myself in a dark wood where the straight way was
lost". The fact is the lost sheep cannot find his way home. The lost sheep has no idea what to do next----except admit that he is powerless to save himself. That is at the heart of repentance. It's not "How much is this going to cost me?". It's not even "How can I get back to where I was?". The real question is "Who will kill off my false self and give me new life?"
W. H. Auden says "We would rather be ruined than changed". He means we would rather not pay the price, because the price is death to what binds us. Our tendency is always to manage our disasters----to find a way to cope. But repentance is not about managing---it's about admitting that our lives have fallen apart and then turning to God--because only God can remind us of our true name.
Only Christ can bring us home.
Second---the parable tells us that new life comes from God. The shepherd will go and find the lost sheep. The woman lights a lamp---sweeps the house--and searches carefully for the lost coin. Too often we think of God as doling out judgement for our transgressions. When I was an Assistant Principal of a High School, part of my job was to keep track of demerits. When a student accumulated so many, then he or she had to come back on
Saturday to work them off. That's not the picture the parable presents. God is the one who goes to wherever we have wandered and brings us home. God longs for us to become the people we were created to be. Each of us has a true self----and God yearns for us to incarnate that self. Jesus says I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly. God's intention is not that we are punished for our false life---not that we
wallow in our mistakes. But that we have new life---resurrected life.
Think of Saul who becomes Paul----He discovers who he is. He is able to turn around---he is able to let his false self die and his true self be reborn. Think of Mary Magdalene---she is set free from her 7 demons, and in that freedom she becomes the chief apostle, the first person to witness the resurrected Christ. Think of someone like Charles Colson---a convicted felon in Watergate who has become an evangelist for Jesus Christ. So with Bill Clinton---of course the question of his resignation or impeachment are important--sin always has consequences, but those really are not the key questions for his soul. The key question is his becoming the person God created him to be in the Divine Comedy as Dante enters Paradise, Beatrice, his guide, says to him: I'd have you disentangle yourself from this point on from fear and shame.That's the heart of repentance---to be disentangled from what binds us to sin and death, so we are free to embrace resurrected life.
Finally, the parable is about us--
And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Rejoice with me. This morning Jesus is talking to the Pharisees---the people who are right about everything. These are the people who are grumbling about the company Jesus keeps. This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them they complain.There is part of the Pharisees that needs someone to be wrong so they can be right. They need for "sinners" to be a separate category from them. "I've never gotten lost" they say If the wolves eat him, it serves him right. They are big on justice but not so big on mercy. They like the part about sinners being punished, but not the part about sinners being transformed. On the other side of penance is mercy. The good shepherd is not about keeping people lost so he can remind them of their mistakes. The good shepherd is about bringing people home. And we are to rejoice when that happens.
Our deepest longing for people is to mirror God's longing, which is that each person become the person God created them to be. The kingdom of God is not about your discovering your personal Jesus.The kingdom of God is about God redeeming all of creation. That means I can't be fully me until you are fully you; That means I have a stake in your salvation---and you have a stake in mine.
Forgive me for repeating a story---
After the crucifixion, Judas fell into despair and fell headlong into a dark pit that was miles below the surface of the earth. For years and years he lay in darkness---face down---with no hope. One day he looked up and far in the distance saw a faint gleam of light. And so he turned from the darkness toward the light and began the long
journey up. For a long time he crawled up and up the pit until he finally reached the surface. When he pulled himself out, he found himself in a small Upper Room in Jerusalem--People sat around a table----and in the middle was a Rabbi holding bread and wine. The Rabbi spoke and said----Judas---welcome---we've been waiting for you--
Come-----join the feast. In the midst of this talk about resignation and impeachment---let's remember what repentance is--And pray that Bill Clinton and each person turn from the false self and discover the true self.
Let us pray, that he realize the Good Shepherd is there to bring him home---
And then---let us rejoice as we welcome the lost sheep home.