Posted by: dacalu | 11 March 2012

What We Value

I had the privilege of joining St. Michael and All Angels’ Episcopal Church, Tucson, this morning.  Here is the sermon I preached.


Exodus 20:1-17 (the 10 commandments)

Psalm 19 (the statutes of the Lord are just)

1 Corinthians 1:18-25 (“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise”)

John 2:13-22 (Scourging of the Temple)




Life involves making choices.

Everyday, we choose between getting up or staying bed.

We choose between breakfast cereals.

We choose which lane to drive in,

and what to do first when we get to work.

We choose what we do and how we spend our time.

And it can be so easy in a consumer society

to think that these are the important choices.

Let me propose to you that they are not.

Let me propose that that can be so much missing the forest for the trees.


Christ calls us into a more profound choice –

the choice of what we will name important in our lives.

It seems a bit abstract at first,

this question of naming.

Some call it metaphysics or teleology.

Others aesthetics or moral theology.

And I fear it has become very unpopular in modern culture.

“We want something practical,” they say, “something tangible.”

“Better to stick with choosing toothpaste.”

Alright, that’s a bit exaggerated.

What people say is more often, “Better stick with practical questions, like

“How will I support myself?”

“How can we keep the economy going?”

“How can we stay safe?”

Those are all valuable things, but we must ask why.

It comes in subtler, more religious forms.

People argue that we must focus on righteousness or social action,

purity or charity.

Closer, perhaps, but it still begs the question.


Why should we be kind?  Why should we be righteous?

During Lent, we strip away the trappings of life,

we wander in the wilderness and ask,

at the base of all of this, what is there?

Why do I do what I do?


I can give you my answer.


I can’t tell you when we met, exactly;

surely when I was very young.

He was there in the morning when I woke up.

And he was there in the evening when I went to sleep.

God was present in a sunbeam, that shone through the window

in the living room door.

And the gust of wind that greeted me

as a I walked down the driveway.

Sadly, English fails me, when I talk about God.

I hate to say “he” when for so long that pronoun has been used

to make exclusive statements about God,

as though He could not be a She as well.

And yet, there is no neuter word for a person in English.

There is no way of saying It in English that does not make of it an object.

And, when I am a presider and a theologian,

I usually craft my words very carefully,

to avoid a dichotomy between he and she.

Today, I am telling you how I feel,

and my closest relationship with God

has always been with God the creator,

whom I experience in a way that lines up most closely with he.

I have no doubt that he is a she for some of you.

and for others something that transcends gender altogether.

It is right and a good and joyful thing

that each of us has a personal relationship with God.

But back to mine.

What can I say?

God is someone who walks with me,

dances with me,

laughs with me when I’m happy,

and grins at me when I’m sad.

He brightens my day at the worst of times

and at the best of times.

And it all sounds so hackneyed and cliché.

I suppose love always works that way.

You see, at some point,

even before I can remember,

I fell in love with him,

and through his eyes the world has become a lovable place.


As some of you know, I spend every Wednesday on campus,

on a hill in front of the administration building,

with a collar on and a sign.

Right now, the sign says,

God bless everyone, no exceptions.

A group called the Hill Society joins me.

Some folks are regulars.

We talk about religion, faith, ethics, and hope.

We talk about science and reason and reality.

Others come up to ask questions or argue.

It’s a great time,

and, I think, a good way to make Christianity more accessible

to a generation alienated by loud, obnoxious Christians,

who seem far more focused on accomplishing some mission,

than they are on accepting grace,

more focused on winning the prize, than running the race.

Many atheists talk to me on the Hill,

and I get frustrated on occasion,

because often they don’t see themselves

as the protagonist in their own story.

As reasonable and rational as I can make faith seem,

still they have some notion of reality

that they think prevents them from changing their values,

changing the way they look at the world.


This week, I was up at Chapel Rock,

the camp and retreat center for our diocese

with all the other priests from around Arizona.

I shared my frustration with John Kitagawa,

the rector at St. Philip’s,

and he said something very interesting.

He said I need to share my own relationship with God.

I needed to put context on my values.

And, even though I’m an Episcopalian,

And even though I’m a hopeless academic,

I think maybe I can do that.


One of the benefits of Elizabethan English,

is this lovely word “thou.”

They knew perfectly well how to say “you.”

If you pay close attention to Rite I prayers,

you’ll notice that sometimes we say you, your, and yours

and sometimes we say thee, thou, thy, and thine.

In Elizabethan English, thou was the single familiar form of address.

We see it as formal these days,

because we only hear it in church,

but the word was chosen to indicate

a close, personal, even informal relationship with God.

So I refer to God as thou, and beloved.

He is as close as my heartbeat,

and as constant as my breath.


I think we make a mistake when Christianity focuses

too much on what we ought to think or ought to do

and too little on who we are, and with whom we are in a relationship.

And it becomes particularly challenging,

because the very people who use this language –

this talk of personal relationship with Jesus Christ,

this notion of covenant, belonging, and personal friendship –

are so often the same ones who are rigid

about correct thought and correct behavior.

I love the evangelical gospel, because it tells us God is a person.

It tells us the good news that our faith really is trust in a person,

and not in a doctrine.

I love the reform gospel (that’s Calvin, if you’re unfamiliar).

It tells us that we can rest in faith,

rather than depending on our own merits.

And yet, I am unreservedly an Anglican –

and a catholic leaning one at that –

because when all is said and done,

it may be an intimate relationship,

but it is not an individual one.

Jesus Christ is our corporate Lord and Savior,

and God is our Way, our Truth, our Light.


We need to learn from our evangelical brothers and sisters

how to share our personal story,

our personal joy,

and our personal healing,

without losing track of the work God does

with us, and in us, and through us

as a community.

And without ever forgetting that God’s love for us

can never be earned, justified, demonstrated,

or even properly expressed.



In today’s Gospel, John tells us of Jesus scourging the Temple.

The Sadducees had lost sight of the Temple’s purpose.

It had ceased to be a space where God hosted the people of Israel,

as guests in his house.

It had become a place where priests sold access to distant Lord,

who could as easily have been a personal friend.

It had become a place where the people tried to buy insurance

Instead of asking forgiveness.


We must never forget that Christianity is not

a better way of pursuing the goals of the world.

It is not a path to popularity, pleasure, riches, and long life.

It requires choosing something radically different.

Christianity means choosing to love people,

even when you don’t like them and they don’t like you.

It means giving up daily pleasures,

not for the sake of abstract pleasures,

but for the sake of building relationships.

It means looking not for more power or more time,

but for deeper, fuller, and more fulfilling commitments

to God and neighbor.


What do you name important in your life?

If you were to catalogue your actions,

what would they say about your priorities?

What have you chosen?


I have chosen God.

I’ve chosen jobs that give me time to meditate on my beloved,

in silence and in voice,

in action and in rest.

I’ve chosen to get to know the people God has given me to know,

not because I ought to, and not because it will get me something.

I’ve chosen to get to know them because every single relationship

has given me a fuller, deeper, and more joyful picture of the world.

The person that I met in my childhood –

Adonai, Elohim, God,

that playmate and provocateur,

that Lord and helper,

that friend –

He is with me every day.

His presence brings me joy,

and, because he loves me too,

I know how to love, I know how to give,

I know how to make that same kind of relationship with others.


You will never have enough money or power,

though a certain amount is certainly helpful.

Pleasure and popularity are fleeting,

though they to be enjoyed while they last.

Safety is an illusion.

Life could end at any moment,

though I cling to mine because it was and is a gift from my beloved.

The real treasure,

which neither rust nor moth can consume,

the pearl of great price,

the better part,

means choosing love of God and neighbor over anything else.


It’s a fundamental and primal choice.

You cannot be compelled or even convinced.

At the end of the day, you simply choose to say yes to other people,

to say yes to God,

with all the vulnerability that entails.

But I will tell you,

from my perspective,

it’s worth it.

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