Sunday, May 11, 2008

I hear. Do I obey?

     Last summer, I had the distinct pleasure of working with one of the luminaries of the Anglican/Episcopal universe, Rev. Canon Dr. Michael Green. I say distinct pleasure because Michael's entire life is a sermon. And, as a six-preacher at Canterbury, you can imagine what his spoken sermons and teachings are like. The other reason it is a pleasure is because Michael was teaching the clergy and laity in attendance about the Gospel of Matthew, and I always love to work ahead whenever possible. One of Michael's passions is Matthew's Gospel. In particular, Michael spent a great deal of time teaching us about the ethical demands of the Christian life as laid down by Christ Himself in the Sermon on the Mount. Indeed, one of Michael's foci was on our very readings over the last two weeks. What made the teachings instructive was Michael's perspective. As a Brit who has served in congregations in the South of the United States, Michael was able to draw some interesting comparisons between the hearers of Christ's Sermon on the Mount and many American Episcopalians (if not "Christians").

     In the sections of the Sermon which we have read the past few weeks, Jesus has asked His audience some uncomfortable questions. Actually, the questions are innocent enough; it is our answers to His questions which may cause our discomfort. Jesus asks us this week if we are wise or foolish. But before He asks us the question, He defines the difference between the wise and foolish person. The wise person builds on Him; the foolish person builds on anything but Him. The consequences for the foolish are catastrophic, while the consequences for the wise are, in the end, comforting and sure. Each of us has a choice, Jesus declares. We can be wise or we can be foolish. What do you choose? So Jesus leaves the crowd, and often us, astounded by His teaching.

     Though many of us want to be wise, what does it mean to build our house on His rock? How can we build a life on Jesus? The whole point of the Sermon has been to answer that question. The answer to how we build our houses on Jesus is the same as it was in the Old Testament: to hear and obey. We are called, as His disciples, as His brothers and sisters, to hear and to obey. The modern world and many churches, unfortunately, are full of vacuous "God Talk." In many places, people hear ad nauseum about God. What God calls us into, however, is radical servanthood, a radical relationship. That is best demonstrated by hearing Him and obeying His call to practical and generous obedience. The obedience demanded by God always has profound effects upon the lives of His disciples. Our characters are transformed through obedience (5:11-12); obedience affects our influence (5:13-16); obedience demonstrates itself through practical righteousness (5:17-48); obedience grabs hold of our devotional life (6:1-18); obedience radically transforms our ambitions (6:19-34); obedience alters our relationships (7:1-12); and obedience testifies to the world that the disciple is a true servant of the King (7:13-27).

     Upon what or whom do you build your life? When I first arrived at St. Alban's, I asked the Vestry if the community around us would miss us if we closed up shop. As it turned out, many in our immediate community did not even know that we existed. Two years later, I am certain that question would have a much different answer. People may not come to our church yet, but they sure know we are here and that we are here to serve. What of that question as it is applied to your own life? Were you to tell your family members, your co-workers, your
neighbors, your friends that you were a wise disciple of Christ, would they believe you? Or would they, instead, scoff and disbelieve? Our obedience to His word is often the best sermon anyone will ever hear about the redeeming God who calls all humanity into relationship with Him. Our responsive practical and generous obedience to His offer of salvation is often the most profound hint of the Kingdom to which our Lord and Savior calls everyone.

Christ's Peace,

Monday, May 5, 2008

"What on earth are you doing?"--It is a question which I often ponder, particularly as the ride goes on and on and on. It is also a question which a number of parishioners from the diocese of Iowa ask as well. Why are we riding around the diocese and state of Iowa trying to raise money for people whom we are never likely to meet? The brief answer is that it is the Gospel imperative. "As you did to the least of these, you did to Me."

Every day, 4500 children die as a result of dirty water. In underdeveloped nations such as Swaziland and the Sudan, children and adults die from diseases such as cholera, e coli, dinge fever, and other disease which we no longer fear here in the developed world. Imagine your drinking water coming from a trough that has collected the rain. Worse, imagine your drinking water coming from a livestock runoff pond rather than a tap. These are the conditions faced by people day in and day out. Bishop Scarfe warned us that after a few days, when the body neared exhaustion, we would begin to see spiritual connections which were not obvious before we began the circuit. Better still, he claimed, we would begin to see Iowa as very few ever do. One of the connections I have noticed is how like the farmers we bike riders really are. The farmers have been jumping into their fields plowing the last few days. Some have been spreading fertilizer. This, of course, will lead up to the planting of the seed. Ultimately, assuming the conditions are favorable (rain and sun and soil), the seeds will produce a harvest. Each farmer whom I have passed on my bike believes that his efforts will yield a harvest sometime later this summer or early fall. Our effort is very much similar. We are calling attention to an easy solution. We have the technology (yes, it is Iowa produced) to provide clean water for an entire nation. Each unit that we purchase provides clean water for 50 families! Think about that for a second. Each $350 that St. Alban's has rasied will care for 50 families. More than 99% of the bacteria which kill those children (and sometimes adults) are killed by the chlorine produced by these chlorinators! Our church, as small as it is by worldly standards, may well bring clean water to a village the size of Durant.

Better still, think of the seeds we are spreading. At some point in the future, a clergy or lay person will likely enter that village. That evangelist will have the Gospel already planted in the life and hearts of that village and every village which receives a unit from us. Can you imagine the Gospel connection? Our Lord promises living water, water which assures us that we will never thirst again. Even a not-very-gifted evangelist can relate our efforts to provide clean water to those in need to Christ's offer of living water, our provision of clean water to the cleansing water of baptism, our love of stranger/neighbors to Christ's command to love our neighbors and the least among us. So, why am I, why are we at St. Alban's doing this? Because He first served us, because He commands us to care for the least and forgotten, and because we are stewards of all that He has provided us, even our technology and money.
Christ's Peace,