Good morning. I want to share with you this morning my testimonial, my story.
And I hope we can come from this service with the realization that we are blessed and a sense of how we can become the blessing that the world needs.
What is my place in the world? Growing up, in my heart I never believed myself to be a bad or sinful person. I was not filled with shame or guilt or self-loathing. I had more self doubt, if you know what that means. I doubted myself and was often anxious, growing up, in a way that many people are, not about anything in particular, just about new things in general, like first grade, or taking the school bus, or going to a dance, or just girls.
In retrospect, I realize that much of my anxiety came from the fact that I was overweight which contributed to my sense of being different. And anyone who is in some way different can tell you it can be challenging, whatever your difference might be.
I also had this this feeling for most of my life that I was looking for something, as if I were on a journey or quest as far back as I can remember. We grew up in Western Michigan in a house surrounded by woods. And as a child I would spend hours walking in the woods behind our house exploring, as if perhaps one day I would come upon that thing which would make me feel secure and complete. I did not know it, but I think I have always been looking for God.
My family is Episcopalian. My mother’s father was a priest and on her side of the family we have priests, Bishops, Deans of Seminaries and even Deans of Cathedrals. My Grandmother’s uncle was the Very Reverend Alward Chamberlaine who was the Dean of St. Michael’s Cathtedral in Boisie, Idaho, about 100 years ago. Two years back I was in the Diocese of Idaho doing a presentation on Latino ministry, and I told them about this connection and they said, Welcome home, which was so nice.
So I am trying to set the stage for what I imagine are the various pieces of life that we all share, and to simply explain: I was not content, I was anxious, sometimes lost, feeling like I was looking for something more. But at the same time, I had, in my pocket, this tradition of Christianity which was, for me, the Episcopal Church. And it was a faith I did not really embrace. I was not embarrassed to be Episcopalian, but it meant little to me for I never went to church.
Throughout my childhood, my parents and sister went almost every week and I stayed home. Perhaps if there had been more of a youth group at church, or perhaps if there had been even one cute girl, I would have gone. I don’t know.
My life went on, I moved to Boston, went to college and did all those things you do in your early twenties. But there was really no movement in the direction toward Jesus or organized religion. I would have said, as so many do, that I was spiritual and not religious.
Jesus really came into my life as an object of study when I took religion classes as an undergraduate. Our professor of New Testament said, “don’t be embarrassed to be seen reading your Bible on the subway. It’s your homework.” So I learned about Jesus and studied him, and little by little, he began to speak to me.
Today in the Gospel, the word the Chief priest and elders use when they talk to Jesus is the word “Authority.” They say, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” The word authority is defined as, “the power to give orders or make decisions.” And in the Gospel, the chief priests and elders are and asking- who are you, Jesus, to give us orders and make decisions for us?
I think as my heart began to warm to Jesus, I began to look at just this thing that they are talking about today. I began to give to Jesus Christ the authority to order my life. I began, little by little, to ask Jesus to help me make decisions: what should I do here in this situation? Where should I go next? And I began to ask him to show me his presence: Jesus, where are you in this? How are you speaking to me?
I remember as a twenty something going through this process where I struggled to come to terms with being a Christian. And I remember the first time I told a friend, “I believe in Jesus,” how difficult that was.
I wonder if you have felt this way? I felt like I was wrestling with myself, asking: do you really want to share authority with him? It sounds crazy to give the authority of your life over to another, even if he is the Son of God. And especially because you don’t see that person in the flesh, you don’t have the sense of their always being right next to you. It’s more of a feeling – something you cultivate here at church.
Yet little by little I tested it out. And it seemed to work for me.
So, what do I get from sharing my life with Jesus? How has it changed me? As a child, I felt like I was always searching for something, and while I am still not completely content, I must say that Jesus has helped me be at peace way more then I otherwise would be. Jesus has guided me toward experiences I would have been afraid of before, and I am more patient and kind and accepting as I am trying to be his follower.
Moreover, Jesus has shown me, from time to time, glimpses into eternity. And I feel like I have seen a little of what heaven is like
From time to time, I have seen the peace which passes understanding. I have held the hands of amazing people and blessed the lives of the dying and seen courageous acts of love done in his name. I have fed people who are hungry and been there to speak against egregious injustice. And I have been privileged again and again to see Jesus in the hearts of people who have come to me. And to know him in my own heart as a living and active presence.
And none of this because I am a priest. I just happen to be a priest. All of this because I am a Christian. And I have made the decision on this day and on most days to let Jesus guide me. Every morning I make the decision not to be ruled by fear or anxiety, but to know in my heart that the God of love, through the presence of Jesus Christ, has made me complete. I am complete, and you are complete, in Jesus Christ.
Still, like all of us, I struggle. And the struggle most often exemplifies itself in my attachments, especially my attachment to money. You know, as I know, that Jesus speaks about money more than about sex, and that his followers then were no different than the followers of today, people living month to month, hand to mouth, who need money to survive, who never have enough, and who can appreciate all that it does. And it is this place of money in my life that almost every day I come to put before Jesus and pray to him: give me your orders and help me make decisions.
Our stewardship this year invites us to ask the questions: “What difference does Jesus make in your life? And what difference do you make in the world?” And I believe that the difference of Jesus in my life means I can choose him over my commitment and attachment to all things, including money.
Money is tricky because it wants to be a central figure in our lives. Money wants to have this elevated place, like a jealous God who wants to be the reason we live and who guarantees our happiness and defines our success. And so often it is.
But what about Jesus? Jesus says: You cannot serve both God and money (Luke 16:13). You have to choose. So how do we choose well?
We start by seeing the place of Jesus in our life, and we look at his presence in our past, and we simply say: Jesus thank you. I think our ability to give thanks to God is the beginning of our ability to give everything else away.
My friend Alex is a priest, and he tells a story about when he and his family were moving to the United States from Peru. His father was a pastor who secured a religious worker visa to come to serve a church in Texas. And they had been blessed with a little bit of money, but not much.
So they were on a layover at the airport in El Salvador, and they had to spend the night. And Alex’s father took all the money he had, essentially all the money he had in the world. And he counted it and it wasn’t much, and he bought his family hamburgers so they could eat. We have nothing more, he said, but we have enough.
And in the morning they went to the gate to get on the plane, but the airport officials informed them that they needed to pay an airport tax for spending the night. It was $8. Which might as well have been a million dollars, for all the money they had. Back then there was no ATM, no wire transfer, they knew no one, and the airport was firm that they had to pay.
So Alex’s father was in a panic trying to figure out what to do. He had with him one valuable item, which was an accordion. He often played it in church for the services. And he started to go from person to person offering to sell them his accordion. And suddenly a man came and said: you know -let me pay the airport tax for you. I’ve been watching you and your family. I know you are good people. Here’s $8.
Alex was a little kid when that happened, not yet a teenager. Yet he tells that story as if it were yesterday. Because it was such an important moment of generosity in his life. And he says that much of what he does today, as a priest, is in thanksgiving for that person, a total stranger who gave to his family in a difficult time, and Alex saw Jesus.
Alex gives for that. I give for other reasons. You give for something that perhaps happened to you at some point, maybe at a difficult moment in your life or maybe in the course of a regular day when you were just watching the sun rise. And you said: thank you for this life.
It is that decision to put our authority and the order of our life into giving thanks that makes us Christians, followers of Jesus, who can change the world. Our authority is in giving.
We give because we have been given to, and because we know whose we are. We give because we know this is our place, this Cathedral, and this is our Authority, Jesus Christ, and in every way he gives to us. We give to meet the real needs of the world in the ministries of this Cathedral, and to help pay for programs and music and preaching, and pastoral care, and discipleship. and all we do. But mainly, we give because God in the form of Jesus Christ, through others, through our hearts, through our spirit, has been present in good and bad, through struggle and joy, and has given to us, every step, along the way. And for that we give thanks.