Bishops preach throughout Arizona diocese

September 19, 2010

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori and other Episcopal Church bishops preached at churches throughout the Diocese of Arizona on Sunday, Sept. 19. The bishops are attending the annual fall meeting of the House of Bishops Sept. 16-21 in Phoenix, Arizona.

The following sermons are included in full below:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida (in Spanish)
Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix

Bishop Nathan Baxter of Central Pennsylvania
St. Paul's Sudanese Congregation, Phoenix

Bishop Larry Benfield of Arkansas
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Phoenix

Bishop Gregory Rickel of Olympia
Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale

 


 

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori
Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix

Do you know anybody who's been laid off? Ever been laid off yourself? Most of us know what happens in a reduction in force, or an involuntary termination. Most businesses, once they get beyond a couple of employees, develop policies and procedures for dismissing employees. Those procedures have to comply with employment law. There is usually a different procedure if an employee is being downsized than if someone is being dismissed for cause. If it's misconduct, the employee may get notice of immediate termination, an escort to retrieve any personal possessions, and then be removed from the premises in the company of a security guard. For any employee, a layoff is usually filled with anxiety, embarrassment, fear, and uncertainty for the future, and probably a reasonable dose of anger. We've all heard about recent terminations or even the threat of investigating an employee's behavior that have resulted in shootings and suicides.

The owner in Jesus' parable is firing an employee for embezzlement, or the equivalent. The owner goes to the manager's office and demands the books, and in Jesus' day, that would have been the end of it – like Donald Trump saying, "You're fired!" No investigation, no probationary period, just, "You're outta here."

But in first century Palestine, it took a while for the news to get around. This former administrator has a few hours or maybe even a few days before his former boss' customers find out that he's no longer employed in financial management. So he goes around and calls on his various accounts, and like any good salesman, cuts a deal – a better deal for the customers and some hedge of security for his own future. He makes an investment in his own future using the proprietor's funds – which is apparently not new behavior. The striking thing is that he apparently realizes that the owner is an honorable man, and is unlikely to renege on the deals his former manager is making. He constructs his own severance agreement, knowing that it's going to hold, even if it is unilateral. He doesn't get angry, he doesn't really get even, he gets on with his life – as fast as he can.

And here comes the shocker – when the CEO finds out, not only does he not repudiate the reworked contracts, he tells his former employee that he's done an effective job. That crook has been phenomenally clever in assuring his own future, by using the same tools he presumably used to help his former boss make a pile of money.

This clever crook gets praised for his savvy. And then the parable goes on to say that this kind of behavior may help you get ahead in this world, but it doesn't guarantee you a place in heaven. Dishonesty or faithlessness in little things – like account books or business dealings – often gets carried over into bigger things, like caring for your neighbors, the way you treat your own family, loving yourself, and building a relationship with God. All of those infidelities can be, and are, forgiven, but they have consequences for the longer term and the bigger picture.

When I was talking to somebody about this being a difficult parable to preach from, he said to me, "Well, just choose some other reading you like, and tell them that's the reading you expected." The gospel can probably still be served, but there's a corrosive effect to misrepresenting reality. Using a lectionary keeps us wrestling with things we might prefer to ignore.

We can't love or dedicate ourselves completely to more than one way of being in the world. The values and skills required for excellence in the ways of the world are somewhat different than those needed for excellence in the ways of heaven. One requires an ability to speak the piece of truth required in the moment, and maybe put away the rest – "yes, I made you a profit on this contract, but I'm not going to tell you that I made an even bigger one for myself." The other set of values and skills requires a continuing willingness to reexamine our own motivations, our limited views, our prejudices and appetites. We can't strive for excellence at hiding the truth and at revealing the truth.

Our political conversations in this country tend toward truth-shading rather than full midday sunlight. Propaganda, like most of the advertising we see and hear every day, does a lot of partial truth-telling. I saw a YouTube video that sets out to teach people about the fertility rates in different countries and that a fertility rate of 2.3 children per couple is needed to "preserve a culture." It tells of declining fertility rates among citizens of western Europe, the United States, and Canada, and eventually goes on to say that immigrants' fertility rates are much higher everywhere. The kicker is that Muslim families in Europe have an average of eight children and that the Muslim population of the U.S. has increased 90 fold in the last 40 years. Beyond the reality of declining fertility rates in many western nations, most of the so-called facts in this video are just plain wrong, and the video doesn't bother to speak the larger truth – that higher fertility rates apply only to the most recent immigrants, and that once they become established, their fertility rates decline rapidly. In the second generation, children who have been educated here grow up with aspirations and expectations – and fertility rates – that are quite similar to those of people already here.

Now that video is pretty effective at evoking enough anxiety that many viewers will deepen their opposition to all kinds of immigration and even deny the full humanity of immigrants from other cultures and religious traditions – "they are going to overwhelm my culture." It is shrewd political advertising. It does not tell much truth at all, let alone the whole truth, and it certainly doesn't encourage the viewer to love the stranger in our midst, or to love newly arrived neighbors as ourselves. It's designed to evoke fear, which is about self-preservation. Life as a Christian is a continual invitation to examine our own self-centered motivations, and to think bigger – to love our neighbors as ourselves. That is what it means to turn in a new direction, to pick up our cross, to follow Jesus down the road.

There's another way to look at that parable. The manager gets fired, but there isn't any retribution, and the owner doesn't go after him after he's fired him. He recognizes the gifts the former manager has, but he doesn't simply forgive him and keep him on in the finance department. The guy is not equipped to be an honest money manager, even though he does seem to be an effective campaign manager. The problem is that his campaign serves only himself.

How would things change if his focus moved toward the big picture? What if his organizing gifts and entrepreneurial skill were put to work as a campaign manager for the kingdom of God? What if he went to all those accounts and said, let's put our heads together to see how we can put more people to work and live in much greater security?

He'd have a job again, a lot less worry, and nothing to be ashamed of. And he'd discover that serving the wider community, the whole body of Christ, all our neighbors, usually takes care of loving ourselves as well. He just might turn into an advocate for full employment and just immigration reform.

 


 

Bishop Leo Frade of Southeast Florida (in Spanish)
Trinity Cathedral, Phoenix

Yo no se si ustedes aquí en Arizona ya se habrán enterado de que se puede probar por la misma Biblia que sin a lugar a dudas nuestro Señor Jesucristo hablaba con acento al igual que muchos de nosotros. No, no estoy bromeando, estoy hablando en serio pues hay pruebas bíblicas de que nuestro amado Señor Jesucristo aquí en la Tierra tenía un tremendo acento cuando él hablaba y predicaba en Jerusalén.

Desde que yo me enteré de eso, del acento de Jesucristo, esto ha sido para mi muy reconfortante pues yo también tengo acento al hablar.

La realidad es que yo tengo acento no solo al hablar inglés pero tambien cuando hablo español.

Me imagino que ustedes ya se habrán dado cuenta al oirme hablar que lo hago con un acento caribeño. Aunque la realidad es que cuando yo los oigo hablar a ustedes yo también escucho que ustedes hablan con acento. Algunos de ustedes tienen acento mejicano y otros todavía conservan su acento centroamericano pero también en cada país centroamericano hay un acento diferente. Es más por el acento se puede distinguir muchas veces de que país procede una persona. Un argentino habla diferente que un colombiano y un chileno ni se asemeja al hablar de un dominicano.

En los mismos Estados Unidos una persona de Arizona habla con un acento diferente a una persona que viva en Alabama, y una que vive en Boston habla diferente a una persona que viva en California. Los ingleses que a veces son tan dificiles de entender dicen que los Americanos no hablan el idioma inglés con el acento correcto. Algo parecido a lo que dicen los españoles de nosotros los latinoamericanos.

La realidad es que los diferentes acentos que tenemos nos han dividido por siglos y estas diferencias al hablar puede convertise en algo muy grave.

Hay una historia bíblica que se encuentra en el Antiguo Testamento, para ser más preciso en el libro de Jueces, capítulo 12:4-6 que nos cuenta como la tribu de Galaad una de las tribus hebreas se posicionó en los vados del Río Jordan para chequear el acento de la gente cuando estos trataban de cruzar el río, no el Río Grande sino el Río Jordan en Israel.

Estas personas de la tribu de Galaad eran algo así como la "Migra" o el "Border Patrol" de aquel tiempo.

La tribu de Galaad hacía poco se había peleado con la tribu de Efraín y no querían que nadie se les escapara cruzando el río salvando así sus vidas.

Cuando alguién quería cruzar le preguntaban a la persona si esta era de la tribu de Efraín y si esta decía que nó entonces les ordenaban que dijeran la palabra "Shibolet" pero la gente de Efraín no podían pronunciarla correctamente y en vez de "Shibolet" decían "Sibolet." Y dice la Biblia en el capítulo 12, versículo 6 del libro de Jueces que al no poder pronunciar la palabra correctamente le echaban mano y los degollaban. Yasí mataron 42,000 personas solo por no poder pronunciar esa palabra correctamente sin acento.

Yo les sugiero que no le cuenten esta historia bíblica a mucha gente pues Apeio, el Sheriff loco que ustedes tienen por aquí, la puede oir y empezar a degollar a los immigrantes en la frontera cuando esten cruzando.

Bueno yo empecé esta homilía diciendo que Jesucristo hablaba con acento pero quiero decirles que además de Jesucristo varios de sus discípulos también tenían su mismo acento.

Como ustedes ya sabrán José y María habían llevado a su hijo recién nacido desde Belén hasta Egipto donde se refugiaron. La Biblia no especifica si ellos cruzaron la frontera con papeles o si fueron indocumentados. Gracias a Dios que la Migra egipcia no los agarró pero si sabemos que después de la muerte del Rey Herodes ellos se fueron a vivir a Galilea y allí fue donde se crió Jesús. Allí vivió por muchos años y hoy sabemos que la gente de Galilea hablaban con un acento diferente de los que vivían en Jerusalem.

Hoy en día la distancia entre Galilea, especificamente la ciudad de Nazareth hasta Jerusalén se puede hacer en menos de 2 horas en una autopista muy buena pero en aquellos tiempos tomaba varios días en llegar a Jerusalén.

Sabemos que la gente de Galilea hablaba con un acento diferente a los de Jerusalén y lo sabemos pues hay un pasaje bíblico que habla de esto. En el evangelio según San Mateo, capítulo 26, versículo 73, si ustedes lo buscan verán como Pedro que era también de la región de Galilea, cuando Jesús fue arrestado empieza a negar que lo conocía.

La gente al escuchar su acento galileo acusan a Pedro de también ser un seguidor de Jesus y como prueba de esto leemos en el versículo 73 que le dicen:

"Verdaderamente tu eres uno de ellos, porque aun tu manera de hablar te descubre."

Era el acento galileo de Pedro que reconocían pues ese era el acento que nuestro Senor Jesucristo también tenía al hablar.

Se pueden imaginar que cosa más linda y que privilegio es eso para nosotros los que hablamos con acento. Cuando alguién nos diga que se les dificulta entendernos por el acento le podemos decir que lo mismo le va a suceder el día que Jesus les hable.

Pero oigan esta otra cosa que les voy a decir del acento. Yo me atrevería a decir que el acento se nota no solo al hablar. Creo yo que también se puede tener acento al actuar. Estoy seguro que nuestro Señor Jesús actuaba con un acento diferente al acento de los fariseos, de los saduceos, de los maestros de la ley, y del mismo Rey Herodes. No era solo el acento de Jesús al hablar pero también su acento al actuar que lo hacía muy diferente.

Cuando toda aquella gente religiosa muy indignada querían apredear la mujer adultera que menciona San Juan en su evangelio en el capítulo 8:1-7. Ellos que eran la mayoría, estaban indignados pues tenían la ley a su favor, una ley que habían aprobado y decían que el mismo Moisés mandaba apedrear a las mujeres adulteras.

¿Qué hizo Jesús? Seguramente cuando habló lo hizo con un acento galileo pero también con un acento de amor y de perdon dijo:

"El que de vosotros esté sin pecado sea el primero en arrojar la piedra contra ella."

A eso es a lo que me refiero cuando señalo el otro acento de Jesús. No solo en su pronunciación pero también en su acción llevaba un acento diferente a lo que el mundo estaba acostumbrado pues el acento de Jesús era un acento de perdón y un acento de amor.

Creo que todos estamos de acuerdo cuando decímos que los diferentes acentos que nosotros tenemos al hablar nos pueden dividir y a veces distanciarnos. Pero de la misma manera el acento de nuestras acciones, de nuestro modo de tratar al prójimo, de nuestra habilidad en perdonar y en amar entonces ese acento de nuestras acciones logra curar nuestras diferencias y lograr que podamos convivir como hermanos. Cristo hace que nos acerquemos y tratemos de curar nuestras divisiones.

Lastimosamente en este amado país en que vivimos en los últimos tiempos se han estado creando grandes divisiones.

Vemos como los ricos se han hecho más ricos y los pobres mucho más pobres. Hemos presenciado con dolor como tantos que aquí viven padecen de grandes necesidades, pierden sus hogares y son despedidos de sus trabajos.

También con gran dolor hemos presenciando como a los latinos en especial se les margina y discrimina. Oigan bien pues no les estoy hablando solamente de aquellos que viven entre nosotros sin papeles. Les hablo de residentes legales y de ciudadanos americanos de origén latino que algunos consideran como de segunda clase.

A mi en especial me molesta cuando personas de origen irlandés discriminan contra los latinos. No saben ellos que fue un latino quien los defendió a capa y espada en Nueva York cuando ellos eran recién llegados a esa ciudad y considerados casi como animales por la clase dominante de aquel tiempo.

Fue el Padre Felix Valera, un cubano que era un cura católico romano expulsado por la corona española por predicar la independencia de Cuba. Fue a dar a Nueva York en el siglo 19 y allí llegó a ser el Vicario General de la Diócesis Católica de Nueva York. Hace años se hizo una estampilla de correos para recordar su memoria, un latino que está reconocido como el defensor de los inmigrantes irlandeses.

Yo le doy gracias a la Reverenda Carmen, al Deán y al Obispo Kirk por permitirme predicar en esta catedral. Yo quiero que ustedes los latinos de Arizona sepan que no están solos y que han estado en nuestras oraciones. Esa funesta ley que promovió y firmó vuestra gobernadora y otros políticos anti-latinos, esa ley con un acento bien fuerte de discriminación y de odio a nuestro pueblo es una ley injusta contra la que lucharemos juntos a ustedes para eliminarla.

Doy gracias a Dios que el gobierno federal, pues por lo menos se ha enfrentado a esa ley injusta. Les pido que aquellos que puedan votar en las próximas elecciones de noviembre que lo hagan y defendamos nuestros derechos en las urnas apoyando a los que nos apoyan y rechazando a todo candidato o partido politico que nos discrimine.

Estoy convencido que llegó el momento de definirnos y decir cual será el acento de nuestras vidas. ¿Vamos a actuar con el acento de aquellos que están dispuestos a hacer guardia frente a la frontera y degollar a los que vienen escapando del hambre, de la persecución, del desempleo, y la desesperación?

Quiero hacer un llamado a todos los episcopales de este país, gustenle o no los latinos, gustenle o no los imigrantes de otros países, tenemos que tomar una decisión en toda nuestra iglesia de estar con el Cristo que tiene no solo un acento galileo pero un Cristo que tiene también un acento de amor al prójimo, al que no tiene, al que está hambriento y al que está sufriendo. Hay millones de personas viviendo en este país sin documentos, gente decente y trabajadora. Es hora de que aunemos nuestro esfuerzo y que se lleve a cabo una reforma migratoria que permita regularizar la residencia de millones de personas que han convivido con nosotros por años y con o sin papeles seguirán trabajando y luchando honradamente para sostener sus seres queridos.

Yo les garantizo que ese Jesús de Galilea, no nos va a dejar solos pero nos toca a nosotros el luchar y por supuesto también el perdonar pues ese es el acento del Señor Jesús.

Todos tenemos cicatrices que son díficiles de sanar. Son heridas que el odio y la discriminación nos han hecho. Una de los sucesos dolorosos para mi fue lo que le pasó a mi amigo y tocayo cuando llegó a Miami de Cuba. Les hablo del que fue el Obispo Sufraganeo de Texas, Monseñor Leo Alard. Valga decir que Leo venía de una familia episcopal muy antigua de Cuba. Su abuela fue confirmada en la Iglesia Fieles a Jesús en la ciudad de Matanzas en 1890. Toda su familia fue siempre episcopal y él llegó a ser Presidente de los Jovenes Episcopales de Cuba.

Al llegar a Miami sin saber mucho inglés al primer domingo de su estadía visitó la iglesia espiscopal que quedaba cerca de donde vivía.

Antes que empezara el culto el cura episcopal estaba saludando en la misma puerta a todos los que llegaban. Leo que en aquellos tiempos apenas tenía 20 años se acercó a él y en un inglés muy elemental empezó a decirle que era miembro de la iglesia episcopal y que estaba recién llegado de Cuba

Este señor cura al oirlo lo agarró por el brazo y saliendo fuera de la puerta le señalo a una iglesia católica romana que está a una cuadra de distancia y le dijo: "Allí, allí es donde perteneces."

Confundido Leo le insistió que él era Episcopal y hasta le enseñó un carnet de los Jovenes Episcopales de Cuba.

Pero oigan esto, el cura continuó insistiendo que Leo no pertenecía en su iglesia y ni siquiera lo dejó entrar. Leo confundido, dolido y rechazado por su propia iglesia por ser cubano tuvo que volver a su casa.

Yo conocí a Leo Alard y él fue quien años después cuando ya era sacerdote me dió las clases de confirmación cuando yo me hice miembro de esta iglesia.

Bueno él me contó que después de dos semanas sin ir a ninguna iglesia decidió entonces tratar otra iglesia episcopal que aunque más lejos esta vez lo dejó entrar y más tarde él y otros episcopales fundaron una iglesia Episcopal con los episcopales que estaban llegando de Cuba en los años sesenta.

Lo gracioso del caso es que hoy en día esa misma iglesia que rechazó a Leo por ser cubano ahora es una iglesia donde el Rector es cubano y el 99% de sus miembros son latinos de todas partes y por supuesto con una mayoría de cubanos.

Conozco muchas historias tristes y acciones de discriminación pero aunque la cicatriz del rechazo no se borra siempre es importante perdonar y seguir adelante. Si nos quedamos con el mismo odio de aquellos que nos rechazan entonces nuestras vidas no tendrán un acento cristiano.

Duele mucho cuando somos rechazados sin saber quienes somos, solo por el hecho de ser como somos, por hablar con acento, por haber nacido en otro país, por el color de nuestra piel o por practicar una religión diferente.

Esos odios y discriminaciones tienen que desaparecer de nosotros y del corazón de todo aquel que pretenda llamarse episcopal.

Jesús nos llama a perdonar y aunque a veces esto cuesta trabajo estamos llamados también a amar aquellos que nos persiguen y nos vituperean.

No obstante eso, también estamos llamados a luchar por nuestros derechos y los derechos de nuestros hijos.

No olvídemos que a pesar de aquellos que nos quieran dividir todos somos una raza.

Al cruzar el río no te preguntan si eres mejicano, hondureño o colombiano, no te preguntan si eres católico o protestante, conservador o liberal, solo te dicen que digas Shibolet y si dices sibolet o si no enseñas tus papeles, bueno ya sabes que te va a pasar. Quizás hoy en día no te degollen el pescuezo pero sí degollarán tus esperanzas de trabajo y de ayudar a tu familia.

Somos todos una raza, pero también somos hermanos y hermanas en Cristo y nuestro Señor nos llama a que hablemos y que actuemos con el acento del amor. AMEN.

 


 

Bishop Nathan Baxter of Central Pennsylvania
St. Paul's Sudanese Congregation, Phoenix

There is much discussion in American Protestantism these days about the "Emerging Church." There are major conferences & workshops, statistical research and much media attention. Our own Episcopal Church (including my diocese) keeps speakers like Diana Butler Bass, Phyllis Tickle and Brian McLaren quite busy helping us to understand this "new conversation with the culture," as on bishop has put it.

This all comes at a time when Western Christianity, especially mainline Protestantism, is in a very vulnerable state of decline in numbers, appeal and resources. Many see this movement as a kind of revival, a renewal of main-line middle-class Christianity. We hope it may be a way to recapture our sociological significance and statistical dignity; to recapture our younger communities, including our children and grand children and those of the communities with which we most identify.

We also see the Emerging Church movement as away to recapture our existential meaning…to find reassurance that God may have purpose for us and our institution in a vastly changing world. As we are seeing other religious movements and varieties, evangelicals, independence, and growing secularism, we ask not just the church, but our selves, are we become extinct, irrelevant, antiquated. But the Emerging Church---ways to understand the psychology and spirituality of newer generations---as a way we might adapt and appeal as more than a politically conscience aging community with elegant but antiquated ways of worshipping.

I must admit that we are finding some benefits from our openness to these developing phenomena, this emerging Church dynamic. It is helping us to ask hard questions, to recognize that there is great spiritual hunger being expressed in the world around us, including our children, grandchildren and our neighbors. That the needs being expressed are not just economic, social or political but a real hunger for engagement with God. We are find the will to consider how our congregations might make changes which could make us more responsive and welcoming to our own and our neighbors. As Brian McLaren stresses, the Holy Spirit is moving in our times and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is more relevant that ever before, if we are open to the Spirit's guidance.

McLaren's distinct evangelical view of the Emerging Church presses us to see not just the sociological and cultural dynamic but to look through the lens of faith…..What is God doing???? What ways might God be reviving and changing the Church to serve and witness in these times???

Archbishop Tutu has said that sometimes "God has to shake a Church too satisfied with itself by the scruff of the neck; so that it see what God wants it to see and be." Liberation theologians have taught us to use, what they call the "hermeneutic of suspicion." To ask, what and who are we missing when claiming God is working. I believe that with all the enthusiasm about the Emerging Church in America we are missing a special gift of the Spirit…THE IMMIGRATION CHURCH!!

If we look at the Emerging Church movement its face is young, white and culturally middle-class. Non-whites are invisible in the conferences leadership, icons and publicized literature about the movement. One could think that this movement of the Holy Spirit is about saving white western middle-class cultural Christianity; not about a radical movement of God the Holy Spirit rebuilding the Church of Jesus Christ for a new age.

Earlier immigration movements which were European and were Christians from a Christian country shaped in a Christian culture…Catholic or Protestant. For example the Roman Catholic Church grew from Irish, Italian and Polish immigration; Lutheran churches from German, Norwegian and Scandinavian immigrants. They brought different languages and customs, but increasingly gave strength and new liveliness to their churches and mission.

Most contemporary immigrants are yellow, brown and black. Many, while Christian, come from societies which are non-Western, often Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu or indigenous. The customs and culture of daily African life are very non-European or Middle American.

The ways of worship and the sounds of music are often exotically different but richly spiritual. The stories of faith are far different than our stories; the challenges, fears and passion for a new, safe life are as exotic as their music to us. Yet, they tell a story of faith, of God's miraculous working in human realities, witnesses which can revive the faith of the Church if we receive it.

Our Presiding Bishop and the Episcopal Church are growing in its commitment to receive all the gifts of the immigrant church. Your bishops gathered here in Phoenix have been spent days listening to the story of Mexican immigrants. But the stories we have heard have not been only about the gross injustices of immigration laws and the racism they endure; nor just about the dangerous journeys to cross the borders. No, it has been even more…we have heard their stories of faith. How faith in God has brought them through unimaginable peril, how they have found hope and hospitality in many Episcopal Churches; and how we can reach out to both help our immigrant neighbor and receive the great powerful gifts of faith they offer us.

Now while so much attention is focused on Latinos, I want you to know that the Episcopal Church has not forgotten about you…your presences here in America and the struggle of the Church in the Sudan. Our Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori has called The Episcopal Church to a Season of Prayer for the Sudan. She said in her Sept. 15 letter that the Episcopal Church can stand in solidarity "with our brothers and sisters in Sudan as we enter a season of preparation by prayer, study, and action." She went on to say, "I want to challenge us as a church to pray for the people of Sudan, to learn more about the forces driving the violence, and to advocate for a peaceful referendum, and whatever the outcome, a peaceful future…" She recognizes the extraordinary courage and leadership of the Church in the Sudan, saying "The Episcopal Church of the Sudan…has been a leader in seeing basic human rights, including religious freedom, as well as the hard work of peacemaking." St. Paul's, The Episcopal Church has not forgotten about you!!!!

As the Presiding Bishop has made clear, we recognize the critical political and economical challenges before your brothers and sisters at home. As we work with you we will learn from you how we can prayerfully support. But we also welcome your great gifts of faith and worship into the American Church. The power of the Gospel in your experiences of faith, coupled with ours can bring revival in our congregations and our communities. Your differences can be a great gift to us if we can receive them. That you exist as a congregation in the Diocese of Arizona is a witness that we want and need you in our life.

In my diocese (Central Pennsylvania) we have some of the Lost Boys. As I learn of their story, it inspires my faith. In famine, war, religious and political oppression the stories of faith amaze and challenge my all too comfortable faith. One of the Lost Boys studying at a University in my diocese reminded us of the words of a brother Lost Boy, John Bul Dau. Jon Bul Dau words are the title of the powers 2006 movie, God Grew Tired of Us.

"It was as if the last day, as people say in the Bible, that there will be a last day, that Jesus Christ will come, and whatever on Earth will be judged. That was my imagination. I though that God felt tired of people on earth here, felt tired of the bad deeds, the bad thing that we are doing, yet God is watching on us. I thought God got tired of us and he want to finish us. When I think of it back…it was so bad anyway. You can even think of – you can even regret why you were born. Why you were born. Now I wonder, I'm now again wearing clothes, feeling very happy, and so anyway, everything has an end. Has an end. Even if there's problem in Sudan still maybe one time, one day, one minute it will come to an end."

God is NOT tired of you. And the Episcopal Church has not forgotten about you!!! You are part of the Emerging Church in America and we need you!!! Here are a few examples:

The Presiding Bishop's Officer for Black Ministries, Canon Angela Ifill, has a new initiative to engage Sudanese congregations. My Diocese of Central Pennsylvania is starting a mission congregation among Sudanese in the Harrisburg area. The Diocese of Long Island is bringing my friend, Bishop Bernard of the Diocese of Torit in the Sudan, to plan a new Partnership. The Union of Black Episcopalians has established a seat on their National Board for leadership from Episcopal Sudanese Communities. The UBE's new strategic plan is that together with all of Episcopalians of the African Diaspora will share together in ministry growth, building the mission of all our congregations, and become strong parts of God's witness in and through The Episcopal Church.

Remember, you have something to give. You are not here by accident. You are part of God's Emerging Church in America. You, with all of the members of the new immigrant communities of faith are part of the Holy Spirit's work in our time. Your story is part of God's message of redeeming love and hope. Your ministry is part of the Holy Spirit's revival of the Church. Your mission of faith and reconciliation is part of God's mission here and at home. And what is that mission?? Well, you know what it is…..it is John 3:16. So please say it with me: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." To this I say, Amen and Amen!

 


 

Bishop Larry Benfield of Arkansas
St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Phoenix

You have heard of St. Matthew, St. Paul, and St. Stephen. You may have even heard of St. Thomas á Becket and St. Augustine and St. Alban. But there are also the Martyrs of Memphis (Tennessee, that is, not Egypt) and Phillips Brooks (a 19th century preacher from my seminary) and Dietrich Bonhoffer (who wrote from a concentration camp) and Florence Nightingale (a nurse) and Sojourner Truth (an abolitionist).

They are all in a book called Holy Women, Holy Men, an Episcopal publication that contains the names of people whose lives we commemorate for their witness to the good news. Lately the list has grown and become, I say with some sheepishness, more politically correct. Folk argued that people of various ethnic backgrounds were not nearly well enough represented, nor were people who were not so overtly religious but whose work inspired others. So we have added Copernicus and John Muir and John XXIII, and even that Baptist missionary, Lottie Moon.

Given that we are trying to be more inclusive, a priest friend of mine and I have another name we want added to the list, a name very appropriate given today's gospel lesson about wealth. Our candidate: J. P. Morgan, the American robber baron and, not so coincidentally, founder of the church's pension fund, the man who made certain that Episcopal priests would perhaps one day be the best paid retired members of the clergy in all of Christendom. If you ever want to see a group of members of the clergy vote their pocketbooks, go to a future General Convention of the Episcopal Church should his name be submitted for inclusion on our commemoration list and watch them even think about voting against the man.

I say he was a true follower of today's gospel. After all, the gospel's commendation is to "make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth," and J.P. Morgan became the clergy's friend. And I can argue with the best of them that J. P. and his fellow robber barons followed Jesus' injunction better anyone else of their age, perhaps better than anyone ever in America until the unprecedented wealth accumulation of our own generation of robber barons. Given today's gospel, I don't want anyone from those fundamentalist churches trying to tell us that we live in an increasingly godless generation. If the proof of faith is in the rise of the extremely wealthy, even in this recession, then we are in the midst of a Holy Ghost revival.

The truth of the matter is that we have a very difficult gospel today, especially when compared to the Old Testament lesson. In Amos we hear God railing against lying in commerce, while the gospel talks about the advisability of lies in the accounting department. For a people who have been brought up in the American religious tradition that hard work is good, honesty is a virtue, and greed corrupts, today's gospel stops us in our tracks. Was Luke perhaps confused or sleepy when he sat down to write this part of his good news?

What most people do with this gospel is skip over the parable and go straight to the end. Most folk can quote the last line, "You cannot serve God and wealth" or "God and mammon" as the King James Version states it. But no one likes to talk about Jesus' apparent commendation of someone who will falsify accounting records to save his own skin. On the surface, it does not make sense.

I think, however, that Luke knew what he was doing when he wrote this portion of the gospel. Remember that Luke is the gospeler who has a special affinity for the person on the margin. It is why, for example, the familiar Christmas narrative is written by Luke from Mary's point of view: women were not as important as men, and Luke wanted the woman's voice heard.

Here we get Luke recording that Jesus says people can be faithful with dishonest wealth. If that message is to have any sort of resonance with 95% of us listeners, then it has to be about more than financial assets, since only about 5% of our citizens are really wealthy. Add Jesus' dishonest wealth comment to the parable about cooking the books, toss it in with the truth that the gospel is universal in its application and Luke's penchant for the outcast, and we get a story that is saying that God's kingdom has a place in it for people other than solely the virtuous. God's kingdom has a place for people who can find something holy in the very brokenness of their lives, the daily dishonesty of life as we live it.

And that really is our hope. We go about our lives as far less than perfect people. We don't always play by the rules. But somehow God's presence still seems to be made known through us. Paradoxically, we find some faith to hold on to in the very midst of our unfaithfulness. As I constantly remind people, the face of Jesus is in you and me and everyone we encounter on the street. Somehow God is enfleshed in normal, stumbling folk, people who have no choice but to find faith in the midst of broken lives. It is a picture of a God made real in the likes of you and me. And let's face it; it is the way that God has always been made known.

We hear today that we can find faith in our own un-ease. That truth is liberating and powerful. But I think Luke is telling us something else as well. He is telling us that we ought not be so afraid of coloring outside the lines, so to speak. Now, as someone who was a finance major and who appreciates the precision of accounting, I find the assertion disturbing that perhaps God is likely to be found in the lives of those who stand on the edge of respectability, whose lives don't quite add up. But that message is certainly consonant with Luke's own affection for the outcast.

Look at Jesus: apparent illegitimate son of a woman in what must have been an embarrassing marriage partner from her husband's standpoint; Jesus not married himself as far as we know, no children to leave as the legacy that any good Jew of his day would want; and his always associating with tax collectors and prostitutes and various ne'er-do-wells. He colored outside the lines, found himself on the edge.

Look also at those saints with whose names I opened this sermon: Thomas á Becket, a shrewd political animal if there ever was one; Sojourner Truth, seen as an uncontrollable feminist and abolitionist in her day; Florence Nightingale, who was rumored not to have been baptized and to have provided a wide variety of ministries to the soldiers whom she followed, if you catch the gist of what I am saying. They all stood on the edge of respectability; refused to stay within the lines of propriety; showed God's mercy to be wider than the moral accountants of the day would ever certify. In the eyes of some, the wealth of blessing they got from God was dishonestly gained. But God's love showed through them. Their lives showed that God will cut us some slack, just as in the parable the unjust steward is able to show that his master's account books could be jiggled with the result an outpouring of mercy that even the master commends.

That may be why I only half-jokingly want J. P. Morgan on our calendar of saints. In a world in which wealth is held up as good, why not have a robber baron on the list? He used his influence to help the church advance its mission and thus help preach the good news. He is a sign that broken people can be used by God in ways we might never imagine. And if God can use him, then I am sure that God can use every one of us, even if our portfolios are smaller, our gifts seemingly less. What we are called to do is to see how that good news can be pulled out of our otherwise dishonest and broken lives. Amen.

 


 

Bishop Gregory Rickel of Olympia
Episcopal Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale

We have some choices to make. Life is made of these, continuous choices, sometimes mundane, almost automatic, sometimes life or death. But we have choices. Some of the choices in this world are made for us, or we like to think so. Some we hide behind, some we are in denial about. Just like us, the church, and we make that up you and I, have choices too. So let me begin with one I think we make.

I believe the Church suffers from a culture of niceness. I find this to be a huge problem. Don't get me wrong, there is nothing bad necessarily about being "nice." But this alone should not be our foremost attribute. I might even be bolder and say, the culture of niceness is killing us. Rabbi Edwin Friedman didn't call it exactly this, the culture of niceness, but he did suggest that we had a problem on our hands. He said our present predicament, in the church, can be summed up by saying that ... our focus shifts toward pathology rather than strength, safety becomes more important than adventure, adaptation is toward the dependent and empathy becomes more important than responsibility.

We could spend a lifetime mining those words, You and I don't have that kind of time.

Jeremiah didn't seem to either, he summed it up by saying, "My joy is gone." Not very wonderful words to start out with today, but that is where Jeremiah begins. My joy is gone. He goes on to lament, and ask, is there no balm in Gilead; Balm, to sooth our souls, our wounds, the pains of our lives? My joy is gone.

In this life we live these days, it is quite easy to confuse joy, with pleasure. They are very different things. Thomas Merton once suggested that we need to know the difference between joy and pleasure. He suggested that most of what masquerades as joy in our world, really resides in the world of pleasure. We work at finding joy by seeking the pleasures all around us. It reminds me of the Hummer commercial of a few years ago, which simply showed a Hummer moving quickly across the shore, and finally the words just beneath quietly appear, Need is a very subjective word.

Amazing that we would be hit right between the eyes with such truth by those who might stand to lose the most by letting it out of the bag. Agree with it or not, that is the kind of truth telling we need, even if we don't like hearing it.

Merton suggested we seek pleasure at great expense of our soul, finally suggesting that if you do not yet know the difference in joy and pleasure, then my friend, you have not yet begun to live.

This is an age old problem, it is not new, and so Jeremiah laments, "my joy is gone."

Let me throw out perhaps a radical idea, Joy is a choice. Joy does not simply happen to you or I. Oh yes, we might accidently run into it, or it into us every now and then, but the readings today, and I would venture to say the experience of our lives, is that joy is a choice. That is what all the readings are about today, and if we push this enough I think I might make the case that this is what the entire Christian endeavor is about. Choices. The Balm in Gilead, truth be known, is there always, present, ready to applied, but for it to work one has to apply it. It doesn't work simply on its own.

I believe this parable in Luke is often misunderstood, and for good reason. Does it not seem that Jesus is condoning craftiness and dishonesty? I guess it could be read that way, but quite frankly I think the point is about responsiveness, more than morality, choice more than shrewdness, intention more than cleverness, adventure, more than safety, responsibility, more than empathy.

We are not really equipped in the Church of today to hear this because, we have far too often succumbed to a pervading culture which has two basic principles, avoid all conflict, and most of all, be nice. If we ever challenge or hold anyone accountable, we are chided for not being nice, or kind, or even, as they would often say in the South, "that is not very "Christian" of ya!"

M Scott Peck called it "pseudo community", and he posited that most Christian community stays there. It is easier there, more comfortable, to simply hover below the conflict, the discomfort of accountability. Peck believed that communities had to go through the conflict and discomfort, and then experience a kind of emptying. In our Christian life we might call it a death of sorts, laying down all that we have been holding on to so tightly, so that we might know true community.

Avoiding all discomfort and being nice is not a prescription for depth in a life together. And Jeremiah is even suggesting it is a recipe for disaster, for losing all joy. Jesus, today, says, you have some choices to make.

Of course, for us, the New Testament and the life and saving reality of Jesus Christ, is the true balm, it is the answer, in a sense to Jeremiah's lament, but even as this good news is proclaimed we hear this: "You can't have it all, that is not the Gospel."

We are not called to become doormats for Jesus. We may be called to give our lives. Those are not the same thing, and it would be good for us to continue to struggle with that choice.

Jesus seems to ask his followers to have the same resourceful zeal for God's Kingdom as the children of the people of the world have. They work to overcome every barrier in order to achieve, and possess the pleasures of this world. Jesus wants the same zeal for those who are striving for the Kingdom of God, knowing full well there is a different country for those that follow that way, one filled with joy, not pleasure. [1]

There is a shrewdness about our lives, a willingness to use some strategy in order that God's word might be better known and lived. It is to be responsive enough to believe something is at stake here. As the community of Christ we are called to face reality, to look at the facts of our situation, to examine hard things at times about ourselves, about our life together, and to make some difficult choices too. We can't have it all, that is not the Gospel.

It is like the bus in CS Lewis, Great Divorce, offering a free ride to the foothills of heaven, but you have to get on, you have to make the choice to catch the bus, to ride it. You have to make the choice to leave behind the familiar and the known. You have to trust that God will, and is, leading you, but you cannot stay, …and go. You have to choose.

In my travels and experiences of these last days in your diocese my eyes were drawn to this poem by Heather Murray Elkins, entitled, A Travel Advisory for Pilgrims of Love in a Time of Terror.

Pack only what you need and are willing to share.
Leave every weapon except Truth at the border.
When it comes to currency be wise.
Avoid gold
Carry copper instead/
The guard dogs of Ceasar can't track its trace until it's too late.
Any penny is a common wealth, and two cents builds trust.
Every true sense of liberty (hammered by wisdom and wired with the Gospel)
Conducts electric vision
With malice toward none, charity toward all…
The hidden assets of the widow's might.[2]

I hate to tell you, good news is often bad, before its good, no matter what this world says, you can't have it all. And Joy is not found there anyway.

Pack only what you need and are willing to share. Leave very weapon except Truth at the border.

We can't serve God and wealth, we have to choose.

[1] Lectionary Homiletics, August-September, 2010
[2] Lectionary Homiletics, August-September, 2010