Friends, as I am coming up now on 8 years here,
I find that I do love this place.
I love driving down from Reno into the Carson Valley
all gold or green or yellow depending on the season
with a haze hanging just above the earth
in the mornings.
And there is the breath-taking view
of the Washoe Valley seen from high up
on the Comstock Highway coming down from Virginia City.
I also like the not so popular valleys,
like the broad flat stretch that runs up from Vegas
until you come to that little Joshua tree forest that says,
“It’s almost time to turn the radio back on and set the dial
to 89.1 Radio Goldfield, the Voice of the Old West.
But the best of all may be the Pahranagutt Valley with its marsh
and lakes all golden on an autumn afternoon.
We can’t have valleys without mountains, so we’ve got a few.
Everybody loves the Sierra Nevadas, and that includes me.
But the truth is I have a special place in my heart
for the Pequops and the Rubies.
I am moved almost to tears by their humility and their loneliness.
In September, 1861, Samuel Clemens
opined that Lake Tahoe “is the fairest picture
the whole world affords.”
That is true.
But the sparkling Truckee River runs down from Tahoe
to a not so famous body of water.
And let me tell you this.
I have been to Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee,
I have been to Jerusalem, the Sea of Galilee,
Ephesus and the Isle of Patmos where John saw heaven.
But I have never anywhere on this earth
been so gob struck awed, driven to my knees,
by the majestic holiness of God
as I have been at Pyramid Lake.
Our land is a work of art,
but displaying art is all about the light.
It may be that the reason Nevada is beautiful
is of the unique and lovely light
radiating down from that pale blue dome above us.
In the whole world over I have never seen such light
as we have here.
It falls soft and silver in the morning, warm and bronze
in the evening.
It shifts -- changes angles with the seasons,
so that the same desert is new each time I look upon it.
And when night falls, the moonrise over Wells
speaks mystically, glowing a message
that bypasses the rational mind and goes straight
to the heart.
Ambling about all this spaciousness,
I have met a lot of people.
And I have come to love them too
-- not in a sentimental way.
-- not even in a particularly moral or spiritual way.
I just enjoy them, find them hugely entertaining,
and keep alert to their always-surprising wisdom.
There are the dozier drivers and forklift operators
from Round Mountain
-- the nuclear engineers at the test site,
and the Vegas activists trying to shut the test site down.
I like the teachers, the cops, the black jack dealers,
and the folks who work backstage at the Vegas shows.
I number among my friends servers at the casinos
and casino executives on opposite sides
of the labor management divide.
It is impossible not to enjoy Nevadans.
They are as wild and crazy as the land.
But it is a slippery slope from enjoying them
to caring about them.
Just as we rise up in protest if someone tries to destroy
a beautiful place,
it hurts when the people we enjoy
are suffering, their lives constricted,
cut off from one another, disempowered and in despair.
A little recreational gambling is just fine,
but when I see someone, especially an older person,
at a Dottie’s or a convenience store gaming machine,
chain smoking, and glued to the screen at 7 in the morning,
I groan inside.
The look on their faces is blank or sad.
There is a deadness about them.
The Rev. Helen McPeak, used to worry
about having to lead her boys past the gaming areas
in casinos to take them to a movie.
So she made a game out of it.
She had them count the number of happy faces they saw.
They didn’t see many.
I don’t care whether these folks gamble.
But I do care whether they are happy.
I see a lot of regret and emptiness.
87% of Nevadans are functionally unchurched.
They may be on membership rolls somewhere,
but 87% rarely inhabit a pew.
Obviously, no one has to go to Church.
But maybe we need to ask this question:
how’s that working for them?
Let’s just do a spiritual needs
assessment of our home state.
How are our neighbors doing when it comes to hope and joy,
serenity and courage?
Do they have a “sure and certain hope” that “all will be well”?
Nevada has the 4th highest suicide rate in the United States.
So many people retire here that
we have the 2nd fastest growing elder population
in the nation.
As they arrive without family or social supports,
we have by far the highest elder suicide rate.
But it isn’t just our elderly who are in despair.
Suicide is the 2nd most common cause of death
for Nevadans 15 to 24 years of age.
Nationally, in the 2nd decade of major drops in church attendance,
suicides among people 35 to 64 increased by 30%.
Whether our neighbors come to our churches isn’t just a matter
of our feeling successful or attractive.
For them it is a matter of life and death.
It isn’t just suicide.
We have almost twice as many people
dying of drink as elsewhere in America.
Meanwhile we lead the nation in women killed
by domestic violence.
Does that sound like a people who have soaked
in the 23rd Psalm or the Lord’s Prayer or Romans Chapter 8:
“Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,
neither the present nor the future,
neither height nor depth,
nor anything in all creation can separate us from
the love of God that is in Christ Jesus Our Lord.”
Our neighbors are missing that.
Have we told them? Have we shown them?
Because -- God help me -- I do love this people,
I want something better for them.
I want something better for you – for all of us.
What I want may not matter much.
But the Church teaches me that my capacity to love
is there in my human nature but only in a limited way.
God’s capacity to love is infinitely greater than mine.
I cannot begin to conceive how much God loves us.
And when the beloved of God are suffering like this,
Christ is on the Cross.
I know as sure as I’m standing here
that God desperately longs to save us – all of us –
from addiction, grief, loneliness, and despair.
He wants to save us the only way we can be saved
-- by giving us himself in the person of Christ Jesus.
That would be “Jesus, the name that charms our fears,
that bids our sorrows cease.”
Now you are almost certain to misunderstand what I just said.
I do mean absolutely that what will save our people is Jesus.
But I don’t just mean the historical Jesus in the Bible.
Necessary, but not enough.
And I don’t just mean Jesus in heaven
with his sentimental picture on a prayer card.
Again, necessary but not enough.
I mean the living breathing body of Christ,
the fellowship of faith that lifts up the fallen,
forgives the guilty, and tells the shamed
what they are truly worth.
They are worth the blood of Jesus, shed to pay their price.
When I say Jesus,
I mean the Church -- the bodily, fleshly, human Church,
-- the Body of Christ who lives and breathes today
to heal the broken hearts of the very same people
the historic Jesus died to save.
When I say Jesus, friends, I mean you.
You are God’s agents to bear the Christ light
to each other and to those lonely despairing people
outside our walls.
We serve a lot of sandwiches in our soup kitchens,
and that’s a good thing.
But what about people who are hungry for some healing
of the heart and spirit?
I mean the lonely, the despairing, the divorced,
the addicted, the old, and the young trying to grow up
in a world that has lost its way.
We can be Jesus to them -- but only if we look like Jesus.
And we don’t look like Jesus when we are divided,
cranky, quarrelsome, nit picking, and trying to get our way.
Before we can do anybody any real good,
we have to become the kind of community
that someone would want to join
– not the kind of community
that will compound their pain with our own bickering.
But here’s the good news.
We can look like Jesus.
Blessed John said,
“We are God’s children now.
It does not yet appear what we shall be.
But when he appears we will be like him.”
The Christian life is a process of growing
into the likeness of Christ.
Now that is a process -- a group process.
It starts with how we treat each other.
Jesus was rarely hard on people.
The only thing he confronted people about
was being hard on each other.
He talked about the way we look at each other.
We can bless someone or curse them,
just by the way we look at them – or don’t.
So Jesus taught us taught us how to look at each other.
Take the plank out of your eye before you mess
with the speck in your brother’s.
It would be better to tear your eye out of your head
than to look on another person with judgment
The only thing that Jesus judged was the act of judging.
Other than that, he was about forgiveness, reconciliation,
and saying to his ragamuffin followers:
“You are the light of the world.
You are the salt of the earth.
As the Father loves me, so I have loved you.”
Brothers and sisters, we can do this thing.
We can look like Jesus.
We can resolve, henceforth, from this day forward,
to encourage one another
the way Jesus encouraged his disciples.
We can look for the good in each other.
Sure we are all quirky and irritating sometimes.
We are Nevadans – “battle born.”
But God didn’t make anyone without something to admire.
We can intentionally, deliberately, as a spiritual discipline,
think of each other the way Paul taught us.
He said when we think about each other,
“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right,
whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable
– think on these things.”
Instead of faultfinding, we can make a spiritual practice
Then we will be a community that can do
what Isaiah says we are anointed to do
-- bind up the broken-hearted
and comfort those who mourn.
When we speak to someone, what we say
will sound like good news.
People keep saying to me,
“Bishop we don’t know what you want us to do.
Just tell us what you want us to do.”
Ok, this is it. Do this. Become that kind of community.
That’s the kind of community I’d want to join.
That’s the kind of community God wants us to be.
And wouldn’t that be beautiful.
Wouldn’t that be the kind of community
our land deserves and our people need.
But brothers and sisters, don’t just wish for it.
“It’s hard work. It’s intentional work.”
But it’s God’s work.
Go back to your parishes, get your leadership together,
and do what Canon Chuck
has taught us at this Convention.
Get your leadership to review your congregation’s sacred bundle.
Create two or three specific ways to be church
for the wider community.
Jesus did not say build yourself a building,
and do lovely rituals inside until the nations come to you.
He said “Go. Go to the nations.”
St. Catherine’s, Reno is our model for how to do that.
Ask them their story. They’ll tell you how they did it.
Make an intentional plan so that
when a visitor comes your way,
you don’t try to sell them on your church.
Befriend them. Then adopt them.
Then make them insiders.
St. John’s, Glenbrook is our model for that.
Visit there and see how they do it,
or call them up and ask them.
And do more.
Last year, St. Paul’s, Sparks decided to become
an open community where people can belong
without having to fit in.
The results have been fantastic.
You can do it too.
Ask them how they did it. They’ll tell you.
Or form a Reconciliation Project group in your parish.
So the yeast-in-the-loaf group in your congregation
can help each other go deeper into the spiritual life.
Those groups are revitalizing congregations
at least from California to Nebraska that I know of.
Your priests know how to do this.
I’ve been peppering them with ads for it for months.
Or send someone to an Art of Hosting conversation training.
-- you can Google it or go to artofhosting.org -- and get them to lead your people in the spiritual practice
of talking to each other in a new way.
Or send someone to Parker Palmer’s Circles of Support
so they can come back and teach your congregation
how to listen to each other with respectful open curiosity
instead of judgment and critique.
Or invite Canon Catherine to come to your congregation.
Give her a chance to help you become a safe place
where your members can let each other see the cracks
in their lives because the light of Christ
will stream through those very cracks.
Changing the way we do Church doesn’t just happen.
It takes work.
But it’s God’s work.
It will transform our souls and bind up the broken-hearted
in our midst and outside our walls.
By the grace of God, we can be Jesus
for a beautiful broken world
that needs Jesus desperately.
Glory to God whose power working in us
can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.