The Office of Public Affairs

The Public Affairs Office provides statistics, biographies, photos, background information, and other resources to media representatives reporting on the mission and ministries of The Episcopal Church

Bishop Gregory Rickel to the Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale, AZ: “We can’t serve God and wealth, we have to choose.”

September 19, 2010

"We can"t serve God and wealth, we have to choose," Bishop Gregory Rickel of the Diocese of Olympia told the Episcopal Church of the Nativity in Scottsdale, AZ (Diocese of Arizona) on the Sunday during the House of Bishops meeting.

The following is the text of Bishop Rickel"s sermon.


The Rt. Rev. Gregory H. Rickel

Church of the Nativity, Scottsdale, Arizona

September 19, 2010

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.

Episcopal Diocese of Olympia:

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

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

Tagged in:

Nancy Cox Davidge
Public Affairs Officer