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As you know by now, I was not in Church last week. My flight back from Honduras was
delayed and I spent an extra night in Houston. I was on my way back from something
Three years ago one of our people in Honduras Good Works met a Honduran man from
Houston. This man builds high-end homes and he uses a lot of cut stone tile. Our
representative, Jo Ann Swahn, hit him up for a donation. Instead he said, “Why don’t you
start a cut stone tile factory?” The idea grabbed her, and then the rest of our
imaginations. After three years of legal maneuvering, permits, changed rules,
importation of equipment, construction, remodeling, and negotiations we opened the Cut
Stone Tile Factory Cooperative of Corral Quemado, Honduras. It will employ 17 single
mothers, and the man in Houston will buy all of our output in country and export it
himself. This is the biggest and most elaborate community development project
Honduras Good Works has undertaken to this date, and it promises to have the greatest
However, the economic impact is really only a part of the whole. I met with the
prospective members of the cooperative three years ago to do some visioning. We talked
about WHY we are going to do this project, what it will accomplish, and why it is
important. The upshot was a mission statement that, to summarize, aims to change the
world. Here, they hold, there will be a different way of being human. In the larger
economic world the bottom line sets policy. The bottom line dictates personnel, plans,
etc., but in the cooperative other values will be at play, values of human dignity, of every
human being as in the eyes of God, and the importance of taking care of one another.
These are Kingdom values, that so often run counter to the values of our global economic
systems, so, surprisingly enough, in this little obscure corner of the second poorest nation
in the western hemisphere, is an experiment in human living that stands in stark contrast
to the status quo, a light in the darkness, joining, as it were, a thousand other such points
of light to tell the world that there is another way.
It constitutes, when you put it in the context of the world economy, a radical break, a
rethinking of things, a breaking apart of the old boxes in order to ground oneself again in
the ancient truths in new and life-giving ways.
The impact does not stop there. The precedent of breaking the old molds to find ancient
life made new is a deep spiritual experience. Such an experience brought me to the
Episcopal Church, a church in which I did not grow up. I broke from my upbringing and
chose this church in my 20’s for reasons that still compel me. In fact, most Episcopalians
today are not cradle Episcopalians. Could I ask for a show of hands of people who are
now Episcopalians but who did not grow up as Episcopalians? There you go.
In normal spiritual development these moments are bound to come. Even if we did not
leave the church of our childhood, the old ways of understanding things just don’t work
anymore. Sometimes we can say why, but usually we can’t. We just know that to
continue as we were is no longer possible without serious injury to ourselves on very
profound levels, and we jump ship. It happens individually and as communities of faith.
We and the Tile Factory Cooperative are on the same ship. We break with the old status
quo and forge a new way of being human which proves to be more Christian.
This is Parish Meeting Sunday. We will hold our annual meeting at which we do the
annual business of the Church. We will hold elections for Vestry members and delegates
and alternates to Convention, and we will take a look at our financial obligations for the
coming year. This is all fine and dandy, and totally necessary, but the spiritual side of
this is a much bigger, deeper thing.
The Episcopal Church has been good at organization and strategic planning, and yet we
continue to decline as a denomination. Money is short all over the Church, and not just
our Church but every mainline denomination from Baptists to Catholics. People are
searching for something that they think the Church doesn’t offer. Yes, people are going
to the new, non-denominational churches. Those churches are a phenomenon of our
times. They are filling in the gap of what the mainline churches no longer offer, and, in
my estimation, are not doing it very well. In 50 years those churches will have become
mainstream and will be facing the challenges we are facing now.
There are pockets where the church is thriving, still and the story of those churches is
telling. They are rethinking Church from the bottom up: church in the round, radical
leveling of authority structures, unexpected methods of evangelism, and radical
servanthood in the community. I am not advocating copy-catting these strategies. These
actions are not strategies employed for a given end. They emerged organically out of the
situation in which these churches found themselves. They stumbled into something that
works for them, by the action of the Holy Spirit. They faced the fact that if you keep
doing the same old thing you will eventually paint yourself into a corner, and they
figuratively “jumped ship.”
Being involved as I have become on the diocesan level I have become keenly aware that
we must rethink things. We must rediscover our ancient roots in new and radical ways.
We must drill down beneath the accretions and find again the living spring, and discover
ways to let it flow abundantly in our day and age and time.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
I met a most astounding lady in Honduras last week. She retired with what she called “a lot of
money.” She hurried to tell me that it wasn’t hers, it was God’s. Hers is to manage it in
such a way that she can fund works of mercy and justice—that is, for the Kingdom. She
is a major donor to our Tile Factory project, and this is but one of many such projects in
which she is involved. Being rich, she sees herself as poor, and being poor, she is rich!
Poverty of spirit is a radical reliance on God for our supply, as the source of the resources
that we have and that we need. It frees us up from slavish protection of what we falsely
think is our own for innovative management for the sake of God’s kingdom.
Paradoxically, in the Kingdom, a poor spirit is a generous one. Dare we live so
precariously on the edge?
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” A friend of mine just lost her
mother. She has posted post after post on Facebook sharing her mourning with us. She
finally asked forgiveness for boring us with her angst. More than I wrote back. “We,
too, have lost loved ones. We know your struggles. We will walk with you as long as
you need us to.” Mourning is a profoundly human experience. It can be the doorway to
radical community, one that recognizes the real, honest and naked needs of people and
not just the socially acceptable responses.
Mourning is an invitation to radical community. Dare we be so transparent with one
another? Dare we not?
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” On Saturday, January 21, 500
people hit the streets of Silver City. It was part of a worldwide movement that some
estimate to have involved 5 million people. There were some who used the moment to
vandalize, and perpetrate violence on innocent people, which violated the very purpose of
the event. Here, as well as the vast majority of places, the protests were peaceful.
No matter what the matter be, I defend the rights of people to march peacefully to make
their voice heard. Meekness is not weakness. It is a clear articulation of one’s position
while respecting the position of another. Dare we be so bold?
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Hungering and thirsting for individual righteousness sounds like a noble ideal, but it is
not a very biblical concept of righteousness. In the town of Corral Quemado that I
mentioned above there are two clans. Periodically they get at one another’s throats about
something. Each one blames the other—one side for being high and mighty and holierthan-thou,
and the other for being lowlifes who don’t understand the most rudimentary
concepts of the Gospel. Into this place comes a tile factory cooperative whose goal is to
change the world by employing the most needy—single mothers. Here is justice, a
forging of relationships that are based on the equal worth of every human being, and
responding to the needs of each as they are.
The hunger for righteousness is blind. It refuses to see the social criteria that would place
one person higher than another, and refuses to buy into society’s excuses for not
responding to the needs of the needy. Dare we be so hungry?
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” In a discussion about
immigration issues a law enforcement officer once told me, “If a starving man breaks into
Walmart and steals a steak it’s still theft, and the cost of my steak still goes up. That’s not
right.” No, it’s not right, but the context was immigration. Mercy asks the troublesome question,
“Why?” Why is this person starving? Why can there not be a way for him to
have food when I have it in abundance? Why must he flee from his native land that he
loves in the first place? What must be done so that this person can be treated as a person
and not as a non-person?
Since the very earliest days to the present the Church has gotten in trouble with the
government for being merciful. Usually the issue is one of being shown up, and
inadvertently eroding the popular support of a government for doing what the
government is not doing. Dare we be so risky?
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” I know what you’re thinking. The
pure in heart are the ones who never go to “those” internet sites, who never look on
another with lust in their heart, and, if we’re really strict, never think a bad word. In the
Bible purity is often described as being refined like gold, being heated until the dross
comes to the surface to be skimmed off. It leaves a gold that is only one thing—gold.
Can you imagine a pure church, one where there is but one driving ideal? Where the
alloys of other, even noble, ideals do not distract single-minded service to the world for
Christ? Dare we be so clear of eye?
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” I had a boss once
who had a plaque on his desk that read, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall
never be unemployed.” Yes, it’s funny, but it also misses the point. Peace as in God’s
great Shalom is not just the absence of conflict, or worse yet, a balance of belligerencies.
It is the harmony of the whole. It’s much more demanding, for it requires that we find
that common oneness of being at the core of existence; that transcends the divisions by
which we so commonly live. In peace there is no you vs. me, only you and me. In peace
there is no us vs. them, only us and them. Dare we be so profoundly, open?
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom
of heaven.” As I child I saw a lot of persecution. In my own home I was taught that
Catholics will get to heaven by the skin of their teeth at best, and probably not. On the
other hand, Catholics were told to run by the houses of the Protestant missionaries
because that’s where the Devil lived.
Persecution thrives on half-truths. The advantages of half-truths are many. One can
ignore pertinent but troublesome information, one can decide without the facts.
However, half-truths are blind to their own fatal flaw. Resisting persecution meekly
gives the lie to the half-truth, and calls forth the whole truth in the end. The whole truth
is always much more complicated, and almost never so damning. Dare we be so strong?
Last week Sarah read you a version of the Prayer of St. Francis that does not sound like
the original, yet if you truly understand the life of Francis, and the context in which he
said what he said and did what he did, that version of the prayer captures the spirit of the
saint exquisitely. “Lord, make us instruments of your disturbance.” May we be so
willing to break out of our comfortable molds and be the people of God in this town!