Presiding Bishop's Sermon for Lexington's Diocesan Convention

February 25, 2010

What’s your image of the kingdom of heaven? What would the world look like if everything were healed and reconciled? Where would you start?

Stop the wars. Cure the disease that’s killing your friend. Make sure that the kids around here grow up with plenty of adults who care about them, and schools that nurture and challenge their gifts. Build adequate houses for everybody in Haiti – and on every reservation in South Dakota and in every Appalachian cove and holler. Make sure that everybody has enough to eat, and enough for a little feasting once in a while. Bless all adults with meaningful opportunities to put their gifts to work, in ways that are adequate to support families. Heal the earth and its creatures – clean up the fouled air and water, restore the denuded and decapitated mountains, and figure out how to turn the stuff we call garbage into a blessing.

When we start to look at the particulars, maybe it’s easier to see how interconnected all the pieces of this dream are. We’re not going to find decent and meaningful employment for everybody unless we figure out how to share more of the abundance. Sufficient numbers of good schools, and health care for everybody both depend on a more equitable economic and political system. If we destroy the garden we aren’t going to be able to feed everyone. And before we go too far down the line of things we dream about, remember that wars usually get fought over resources – land and what it holds or represents.

When Jesus and the prophets before him proclaim a vision of the kingdom of heaven or the reign of God, they’re talking about all these interrelated realities. That’s what all the language is about – water in the desert, comforting the grieving, strong hands and firm knees, the blind seeing and the deaf hearing, and a straight road home through the terror of the wilderness.

Lent is a good time to dream dreams, to remember who we are, and whose we are, and where we’re going.

That dream has much to do with realizing that God loves all that is – poor people as well as wealthy ones, folks here and in Bangladesh, and all the rest of creation, not just people. God intends all creation to flourish, not for some to get fat on others’ privation. Yet we human beings love to divide up the world into categories of privileged and shunned, like the old ballad I remember the Kingston Trio singing, “The French hate the Germans, the Germans hate the Poles, Italians hate Yugoslavs, South Africans hate the Dutch, and I don’t like anybody very much!” The kingdom of heaven doesn’t have room for that.

That’s a good part of what it means to be poor in spirit – those folks that Jesus says are blessed with the kingdom of heaven. If you’re poor in spirit, you’re not lording it over somebody else, you’re not playing those games of in and out, acceptable and despicable, better and worse. It’s sort of like getting a bronze medal in the Olympics. You’re just thankful for making it to the medal stand. The silver medalists are the ones who seem to have more trouble – at least one of those athletes wants to tell the world what should have been different; he wants to know why he didn’t get the gold.

Jesus also blesses the folks who are attacked for trying to build that dream of God’s – ‘blessed are you who are persecuted for your right sense of relationship.’ These are the people who ask the challenging questions, like why can’t this country manage to provide even minimal health care for everyone, when other developed nations can do it, and far more cheaply? And those obnoxious questions about why some people get treated differently, even though we insist that all are created equal.

That dream is why we’re here. This kingdom of heaven work is what we’ve been sent to do. It’s the mission of this church, but even more clearly, it’s God’s mission, it’s literally why God sent Jesus – to heal divisions, and repair the breach, and fix what’s broken between God and human beings. This body gathered here is a tool for doing that work – it’s a body equipped to dream the dream and live it. The body of Christ is a dreamworks. Dreamworks is not Steven Spielberg’s monopoly, though he is very good at showing people what the ancient dream means – people and alien creatures of many different sorts struggling to live together in peace.

The dream begins in loving God with all you are and all you have, and loving your neighbor as yourself. The first part means that we recognize that all we have and are is gift, from the size of our feet (basketball or ballet?) to the passions we have – teaching children to read, organic farming, peace in our time. And the second part, loving neighbor as self, means joyfully putting those passions to work to begin to make that dream reality.

This body called the Diocese of Lexington is here to help people dream the dream and begin to live it. Blessed are those who get past the fear that there won’t be enough, and blessed are those who yearn for a healed world, hungering and thirsting for restored relationships – their yearning will be answered.

How do you dream around here? Reading Camp has changed lives right here in Kentucky; it’s gone to South Africa, and not it’s on its way to Liberia and even Kenya.

Deacon Lois has been sharing Godly Play with little ones for 20 years, and now she’s taking it to Alzheimer’s patients along with the children.

Pyramid Professional Resources is restoring dignity to people on the streets, and sharing the skills needed for meaningful employment.

Your dream includes working with Haitians to heal the gulf between us. It sounds like your dream is growing into a vision that will serve people of other languages and families and tribes and nations – including the Cherokee in Corbin.

I was tickled to see that you even have a dream budget for 2010. Do you mean it?

What part of the dream of God challenges you? What keeps you from engaging it? Usually it’s fear – so what are you afraid of? That fear in each of us is healed by recognizing how well we are loved, and that others are also well loved. Like the old sweatshirt that says, “Jesus loves you… but I’m his favorite.” Well, we’re all his favorite!

Blessed are those who dream dreams with the heart of God – for they will indeed see that dream become reality. Blessed are the humble and poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, right here in Lexington and Eastern Kentucky. Will you dream? Will you dream? Will you dream?