Thursday, October 28, 2010

Live From Las Vegas V: The Bishop's Address

We have had a remarkable year in Nevada.
Some congregations are growing in attendance.
Hispanic Ministries has taken off like a rocket.
Education, formation, and outreach programs are on the rise.
Most of our congregations are either living in harmony
or managing their conflicts creatively.
Despite the economy, we are getting along just fine financially.
There is much to celebrate.

All of us have a part to play in making the church work.
I want to thank each and every one of you for your part.
But I want to say a special word about vestries.
I want to thank our vestry members specially
because we have not always treated you very well.
Neither diocesan leaders nor the average person in the pew
know much about what vestries actually do.
But, at the highest echelons of diocesan governance,
odd fantasies about vestries sometimes arise.

We sometimes imagine that our vestries are running amok
in flagrant violation of the canons if not the 10 Commandments.
Meanwhile folks in the pews imagine that their vestries
are acting without a sliver of sense,
spending money like Louisiana fraternity boys
on a weekend in Vegas
This habit of blaming of vestries for all that goes wrong
or even for the inevitable struggles of being the church
is self-defeating.
Eventually, the best and the brightest among us
will figure out its more fun to sit in the pews throwing rotten fruit
than to sit up front with the vestry ducking.
Besides which, it just isn’t true.

The vestries I have met these past 3 years have been
conscientious, faithful, servants of God and God’s people.
Vestries are the backbone of our church.
So the best thing we can do for God’s mission
and each other would be to cut the blame
and give our vestries some trust and support.

We can do that if we make two simple attitude adjustments.
The first is in how we understand our problems and our challenges.
The truth is all our problems come down to one.
Whether it manifests as needing more money to maintain an old building
or someone to teach the Sunday School,
these are just symptoms of our one basic problem.
It is a problem with /our doors//.

I do not mean we need to paint them red.
That is my friend Andy Weeks – not me.
I don’t care if your doors are chartreuse.
The problem is that there are too many people outside our doors
who need to be inside them.
The core problem – the key challenge – is just that simple.
We have the people on the wrong side of the doors.

But what shall we do about it?
That leads to the 2nd attitude adjustment.
Back before Las Vegas was the entertainment capital of the world,
we were in another business.
What was it? The name of the street we are on tells us.
Rancho. The Las Vegas Rancho.
We were a ranch. That is our tradition.
And we know something about ranching.
Not much because we are now lounge singers and black jack dealers.
But we have watched Bonanza.
Is there anyone here who has never watched Bonanza?

So we know something about ranching.
We know the situation where we go out in the morning
and find the horses have gotten out of the coral.
What shall we do?

There are two basic approaches.
One is from CSI – Las Vegas.
We hang around the corral, dusting it for prints
and gathering DNA samples,
trying to figure out who left the game open.

The other approach comes from Bonanza.
We go out and round up the horses.

So I urge you all in this coming year, when troubles or challenges arise,
do these two things:
First, remember it’s really about the doors.
Second, ask yourselves, “What would Ben Cartwright do?”

But all that leads to a deeper question:
Why would anyone want to come inside our doors?
What do we have to offer?
There is plenty of good food at the restaurants,
fellowship on a bowling team, and the Comedy channel
is more entertaining than a liturgy.
What have we got to offer?

There is a difference between a fun time and a good life.
There is a difference between random misery
and suffering endured for a greater good.
There is a difference between a pleasant mood and joyful spirit.
But our culture is in danger of forgetting these differences
which are as fundamental
as the difference between right and wrong.

During World War II , the Jewish psychoanalyst Victor Frankl
was imprisoned in a Nazi concentration camp.
He watched a lot of people die.
He also watched a lot of people survive.
He became intrigued by the difference.
Eventually he figured out what made some people
more resilient than others.

He saw that people who found a larger meaning
in their experience could endure suffering
while people who suffered without insight into a deeper meaning
withered and died.
Meaning is the key to enduring bad times,
and it makes just as big a difference
for how we experience good times.

Happiness in a random world of chaos
is just a lucky break,
a brief distraction from the grind.
But happiness in a meaningful world is a gift from God,
and a promise of our ultimate well-being.

Faith is the heart-felt belief that our experiences all add up to something,
that our lives matter,
that our joys, our sorrows, our loves, and loathings matter.
Faith is trusting that there is a meaning and order to reality
that gives our lives purpose and a value.
We may not know exactly what the answer is
but we live out of our conviction that there is an answer.

Christian faith makes a striking claim about the meaning of life.
It isn’t an abstract principle.
Some of you remember that in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
someone asked the universe’s most powerful computer
the answer to life’s mystery.
Who remembers the answer? The answer was 42.

Well for Christians the answer is not a number.
It isn’t an abstract principle or an idea.
At the heart of reality, something personal throbs
-- something feels, aspires, cares, hopes.
The universe is born from and sustained by
something that is more like a person than a principle.

So it was natural that this foundational personal reality
should reveal itself to human kind as a human being
– as Jesus of Nazareth
who “share(d) our human nature, who live(d) and die(d) as one of us.”
To be a Christian is to know Jesus,
and when we wonder what it’s all about, what it’s all for,
to think of him.

.We live in a changing, challenging time
– a time when environmental and social conundrums
threaten to overwhelm us.
Living in such a time demands spiritual intelligence.
“Spiritual intelligence” isn’t stuffy intellectualism.
It isn’t talking in special language no one understands.
Spiritual intelligence is knowing our story
so that we can know our Savior.
It’s seeing the connection between what we do
at our job each day and the moral order in Holy Scripture,
the connection between Gospel truth and social action
in our neighborhood and the wider world
It’s experiencing the connection between our emotional ups and downs
and the disciplined practice of prayer.

The 21st Century demands wisdom, spiritual intelligence.
But that is in short supply today.
Someone said, “We have mastered the simple secret of the atom,
but we have forgotten the Sermon on the Mount.”
College students ask their professors, “Who came first Jesus or Moses?”
I am not making this up. It happens.
At jewelry stores, a customer asks to see a cross.
The sales clerk says,
“Do you want a plain cross or the kind with the little man on it?”
These are true stories.

Just as schools and colleges are the guardians and bearers
of secular knowledge,
the Church is the guardian and the bearer of spiritual wisdom.
We do not have a monopoly on wisdom.
But our truth is the core without which the adages
of even the best life coaches, counselors, and 12 step sponsors
do not hold together.

Let me say this straight and without apology.
Brothers and sisters, there are thousands of people
in this state who need Jesus.
There are thousands of people who are dying
for want of Jesus.
Their happiness is not joy but distraction.
Their sorrow is not sacrifice but despair.
Their lives wither because their roots have found no water.

What are we doing about it?
Someone said, “The world comes to us looking for Christ
and we give them the Church.”
When people come to us spiritually hungry
it will not do to regard them as potential supporters
for our religious club – as church workers or pledge units.
We need to feed them gospel.
We need to show them Jesus.
Jesus said,
“When I am lifted up . . . I shall draw all people to myself.”
It’s time for us to lift him up.

But we can’t show people a Christ we do not know
and know well.
We have to know our story which begins with his story
We have to know what he did and what he said.
But that is not enough.
To understand Jesus we have to know
the psalms he prayed, the laws he obeyed,
the proverbs he lived by, the prophets who inspired him.
We have to know how the mystics have experienced him
the theologians have explained him,
and the saints have shown him to the world.
We need to eat, breathe, sleep, and sweat Jesus.
That means we have understand his connection
to our experience at home, at work, at the ballot box,
and the football stadium.
We need to take our passions into prayer,
to see God’s hand in the blessings of our lives,
to see our work, our family, and our friendships
as part and parcel of God’s mission.

That’s what Christian formation is about.
But in a recent Pew Survey on Americans’ knowledge of religion,
atheists scored almost twice as well as mainline Protestants.
How are we going to proclaim Christ to people
who know more about him than we do?

I love the stories of young people who see physical suffering
and study medicine so they can do something about it!
Look at the spiritual suffering around us
– the addiction, despair, and moral callousness –
look at that suffering and ask,
what if you could learn something to alleviate it?
What if you could learn the words of life and share them?

Our mission is not to preserve an institution.
It isn’t to keep doors open and pay utility bills.
The truth is we don’t even have a mission.
As Episcopal evangelist Wayne Schwab says,
God has a mission and we get to be part of it.
God’s mission is to save people from despair.
It’s to share the gospel of eternal life.

We have been doing new projects.
We have done some teaching.
We have started some new ministries
that have brought more people to Christ
than we have done in a long, long time.
We can celebrate that.

We are planning more new projects.
We can add up the numbers. We can quantify results.
We can write reports for the church office in New York.
But the meaning of what we do is Jesus.
If we aren’t connecting people to Jesus
we should go home and turn the church over
to somebody who will.
We are here to plant Jesus in the hearts of children,
to give the drunkard Jesus instead of liquor,
and the money hungry business person Jesus
instead of a portfolio.

The prayer for the mission of the church says,
O God . . . remember the multitudes
who have been created in your image
but have not known//
the redeeming work of our Savior Jesus Christ;
and grant that, by the prayers and labors of your holy Church,
they may be brought to know// and worship you
as you have been revealed in your Son.”

This is what we are here to do for each other
and what we equip each other to do for the people
outside our doors.
We know and worship God,
our foundation, our source and our destiny,
our purpose and our delight,
as God is revealed in the face
of our Savior Jesus Christ.

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