Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas 1C: "In the beginning was the Word"

Preached by the Rev. Canon Renee Fenner at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 27, 2009.

They say it was a ‘silent night, a holy night, all was calm, all was bright’ when He was born. The Babe lay sleeping in a manger all nestled in hay with animals round about. They say that there were ‘certain poor shepherds in the fields’ watching their flocks when angels broke the silence of the night announcing the birth a newborn King. The angels lit the night sky as they sang their ‘Glorias’ and then they beckoned the lowly shepherds to “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere”. They say that three kings or magi came bearing gifts. They came having traveled ‘field and fountain, moor and mountain’ following ‘a star of wonder, star of night, star with royal beauty bright.’

The hymns and carols of Christmas so wonderfully familiar to many of us flesh out the story of Christ’s birth. They are beautiful- reflecting the traditional stories given to us in both the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Yet those are not the stories of a humble birth that we heard on this first Sunday after Christmas. In John’s poetic gospel there is no story of Mary’s ‘yes’ to the angel Gabriel. There is no telling of the journey to Bethlehem or of visitors coming from far and near to worship the Child. But John’s story is still a Christmas story. And in this story we are taken to another place. “In the beginning.” In the beginning before there was time or space, a time before the heavens were created and the earth was formed. John writes, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” All things came into being through the Word. The logos, Word that John speaks of is the Christ whom we worship this day and everyday.

Throughout John’s entire Gospel he urges us to see Jesus as the Divine One or as theologian Sandra Schneiders says, “the personal manifestation of God in this world.”* “The Word became flesh and lived among us” wrote John. Yes, God chose to live with humanity-in the midst of human weakness, suffering, confusion, and pain. God chose to live with humanity-in the midst of poverty and hunger, injustice and selfishness. God’s most precious gift, the Babe of Bethlehem was no ordinary human being as we know for He, Jesus of Nazareth, was and is the light that shines throughout the darkness, who brought with him grace and truth, hope and love. It is He, Immanuel-‘God with us’, who came and walked among us and who showed us how to live in this world. It is He, the Son of God, who suffered, died and rose again in order that we may have life abundantly. “God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”

We hold on to that truth this day, on this day in particular as we gather together for Eucharist once again and as we remember a man dear to many of our hearts. Many of you have heard by now that our brother and friend, Corporal Dennis Englehard of the Missouri State Highway Patrol, was killed on Christmas morning. Dennis died in the line of duty as he was assisting a motorist along the highway. We are indeed saddened, many of us still in shock by his sudden passing, but we reminded this morning that Christ walks with us, with Kelly, and with the rest of Dennis’ family and friends, in the midst of this darkness. And we as people of faith, as a resurrection people, an Easter people, know that death is NOT the end but only the beginning of everlasting life.

The society and the world in which Jesus lived were so much different than ours and yet the world is still pretty much the same. It is still a world in need of transformation and in need of God’s love and God’s most precious Gift is one that keeps on giving even in today’s world. The Word, Christ is with us still even in the midst of hunger and injustice, in the midst of sin and despair, in the midst of suffering and pain, of loss and uncertainty-even death. And it is through the Word made flesh, Jesus that we come to know our God and know God’s will in our lives.

This morning, I invite you not only to come to the Word. I invite you to be the Word to each other, to those you know and those you don’t know. I love what our Provost Mike Kinman says whenever he presides at this Table. When presenting to us the Bread and Wine, the Body and Blood of Christ, he never fails to remind us of the words of St. Augustine to “be what you see-receive who you are.” In others words, we are to be Christ’s hands and feet in this world. We are also to be God’s heart.

Perhaps some of us went over our Christmas budgets or maybe had to cut our giving by half but you know what? There is something we can give all year round. To your family and friends, to guests and strangers alike, be the light of Christ. Bring with you God’s grace and truth. Bring with you a message of hope and God’s unconditional love. In fact, “go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere”-on your job and at school, on the playground, here at church, and wherever God’s people are gathered. There is no greater gift that we can give.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” May the love of God Incarnate in Jesus empower us, as God’s sons and daughters, to make Him know again and again in this world for only then will the true spirit of Christmas last the whole year long.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of his righteousness,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders of his love,
And wonders, wonders of his love.

* Sandra Schneiders, Written That You May Believe, page 13

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve: "That's What Christmas is All About, Charlie Brown"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday, December 24, 2009.

Maybe more than any other time of year, Christmas is a time that comes to us in sounds and smells. Think for a second what they are for you. Is it the piney smell of the greens … or of a mother or grandmother’s baking. Is it, as it was in my house growing up, the sound of the BBC broadcast of Lessons and Carols at Kings College, Cambridge … or maybe even the barely distinguishable sound of snow landing on snow on a still winter’s night.

Smells and sounds do for us what our oldest stories do – they bring the past living into the present so strongly we feel like we could almost reach out and touch it. And Christmas smells and sounds are some of the most powerful of all.

But for me, there is one sound in particular that it wouldn’t be Christmas without. For most of my life, it hasn’t truly been Christmas until I heard one thing. And I’ll bet for many of you, it was true too. I want to share it with you, so close your eyes for just a minute.

How many of you are like me? For how many of you is Linus’ monologue from a Charlie Brown Christmas one of the most powerful and enduring sounds of Christmas in your life?

I don’t know how many people who have told me that they’re just like me … that it’s not Christmas until they’ve heard Linus say, “Behold” or “and they were sore afraid.” Linus’ voice telling the story is like a warm and cozy blanket to snuggle underneath. But it’s more than that. Linus’ voice is more than just another familiar sound of childhood. Linus’ voice is the perfect voice to tell this story. Because Linus is at once the voice of childlike wonder and absolute certainty. He paints a wondrous picture of angels singing and God reaching down to kiss the earth and then walks over to his friend and says as if it was the most self-evident thing in the world, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

But this Christmas as I heard this story, what resonated in my heart wasn’t so much Linus’ words as it was Charlie Brown’s cry that brought it all on.

Charles Schulz once said that the reason so many people connected with Peanuts was that everyone wishes they were Snoopy but most of the time we feel like Charlie Brown. And there may be no words that resonate more deeply with us than Charlie Brown’s cry tonight: “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

There is an exasparation to Charlie Brown’s cry. A weary hopelessness. The story of a Charlie Brown Christmas isn’t just a rant against commercialization – that’s way too simple – it’s a quest for deep meaning. Charlie Brown is who we are so often – someone who gets so wrapped up in trying to do everything right, and often feels like he just keeps coming up short, and wonders if this is all there is? And his cry is not just our cry, it is a cry as old as the ages.

It was the cry that Shakespeare put on the lips of Macbeth when he mourned that life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. It is the cry of Bono when he sings, “I have climbed highest mountain, I have run through the fields, only to be with you. Only to be with you. But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

What does it all mean? Can someone help me? Does any of this really mean anything?

Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?

This week, Robin and I were talking about our son, Schroedter, and how Christmas is tough for a fifth grader. You see, by fifth grade, you really have reached that point where there’s a loss of innocence about things like Christmas. But around that time, more than that all too often we lose something even more precious. We begin lose our sense of wonder. Our sense of the world as an amazing, magical place where if reindeer can fly then anything is possible. And like nothing else, the loss of wonder leaves us thirsting in the desert. We crave wonder. And perhaps more than anything in all creation right now, wonder is what we and this world most desperately need.

It’s not that wonder isn’t out there. It’s just that we treat it like some kind of high-carb food we’ve convinced ourselves is hazardous to our health. That it’s OK for kids but not for grownups.

We listen not to the Gospel that tells us to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves but to one that tells us to be wise as serpents instead of innocent as doves. A world that tells us that dreamers are impractical, seeing is believing and conventional wisdom is king.

And we’ve done it to ourselves. We have successfully divided everything into two categories – the rational and the irrational. That which can be logically proven and everything else, with thoughtful, grown-up people being on the rational side and everyone else labeled either superstitious, naive or just plain nuts.

And the biggest casualty in all this is wonder. Our openness to the glorious unexplainable, unprovable and impossible. The questions that are so deep that reason alone cannot provide an answer to satisfy not just our mind but our heart and our spirit. The answers that are so profound precisely because they cannot be expressed and explained but only felt and experienced like chords resonating deep in our souls.

And so while Charlie Brown asks a child’s question, his question is not a childish one. It is the question that draws us here to this table every time we gather, but especially this night where we long to hear and taste and smell again the wonder we once felt not only those Christmas nights and morns of years past where magic and wonder were still in the air, but with all those experiences of our lives that used to fill us with wonder but have somehow become routine.

It's that tentative first kiss that set our hearts on fire that has turned into the quick smooch on the way out the door. Love you. Love you, too. Bye! Bye! The first grasping of our child’s tiny fingers at birth that has turned into the wave as they drive away or the tap of the fingers to keep in touch in an email. The package under the tree on Christmas morning that just might hold our heart’s desire that has turned into the list of people we have to buy for before our Christmas work is done. The cloudless night where we lay on our backs and gazed at the infinite heavens that somewhere along the way has turned into a life where we can’t remember the last time we drew the big dipper in the sky with our finger and wondered if there was anyone out there looking down at us?

We know there is more to life than bottom lines and to-do lists, than rational explanations and sensible plans. And we know it not because we can prove it but because at the most important, meaningful and wonder-filled times in our lives, we have felt it. We have felt our hearts soar and sing. We have been amazed and astounded. Deep inside we know we remember what it’s like to have our eyes as wide as saucers and a smile so huge with surprise it felt like we could inhale the whole world.

But sometimes we feel so far away from that. Sometimes, as we live in our world of unemployment, home foreclosures and family stresses that would drive the Cleavers and the Huxtables into family counseling, wonder seems like a naïve and fleeting dream no matter how much we crave it, and so we cry from the depths of our heart with Charlie Brown, “isn’t there anyone … who knows what this is all about?”

… and then, this night, with that cry still echoing in the gathering stillness, the voice of a child gives us the answer. Not in a formula or a rule or an explanation that makes good sense, but in a love story.
“And there were in that same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And Lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them, and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, ‘Fear not. For behooold, I bring you tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior, ‘tis Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good will toward men.”
What’s it all about? It’s about a love story. And what is more wondrous than that? It’s the story of a God who loved us so much that he could not bear to be separated from us. A God for whom no mere embrace was close enough. No this is a God who had to become one of us. A God who reached down and kissed the earth with all the tenativeness and wonder of that first kiss, the divine heart at once both soaring and breaking.

What’s it all about? It’s about a story of a long time ago in a place far, far away … and yet like all wondrous stories it is a story that cannot be bound by time and space. It is a love story … the story of God and us.

What’s it all about? It’s about a story that holds in its hands an invitation for each of us and all of us. An invitation for us to be people of wonder once more, because being filled with wonder is what we were created for.

It’s an invitation for us to kiss and be kissed like it’s the very first time. To touch each other’s fingertips and be touched like with each handshake we are witnessing the miracle of new life reaching out to us. To see each person we meet as a wondrous Christmas present with the gift of a unique life and a unique story inside just waiting to be unwrapped and embraced. To lay on our backs and gaze at the heavens knowing that there are not only saints and angels looking down on us but that even as we cry out “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” we are being loved and held by a God who is still not content to just look down on us from above but remains Emmanuel, God with us, closer than the air around us, in this very room this holy night.

This holy night we are invited to be people of wonder once more. Invited by a God in Jesus Christ who even as we sit here is whispering love in our ear, kissing us tentatively, gently and with soaring and breaking heart hoping that we will kiss God back.

That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Advent 2C: "Speaking the Word of God"

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 6, 2009.

Let me introduce you to the cast of characters listed at the beginning of today’s story from Luke’s gospel. We begin, as we must, with the Emperor, Tiberius Caesar, who ruled from Rome. He had succeeded his step father, the great Caesar Augustus, 15 years earlier in September of 14 A.D. Tiberius appointed Pontius Pilate governor of Judea on the advice of his anti-Semitic counselor, Sejanus, who knew Pilate was cruel enough to keep the Jews in line. The Emperor also installed the Hebrew potentate, Herod Antipas, as the ruler of Galilee. Antipas was the son of Herod the Great, who had built the great Temple in Jerusalem and slaughtered the innocents in Bethlehem. He also made Herod Antipas’ half-brother, Phillip, the ruler of what is now Syria. Phillip was the offspring of Herod the Great and the infamous Cleopatra. We don’t know very much about Lysanius, who ruled the Bekka Valley within Syria, but he owed his positions to the Romans, as well. The Romans also controlled Jewish religious life. In 6 A.D the Roman governor appointed Annas to be High Priest and chairman of the Jewish council that ruled Jerusalem. In 15 A.D. the same Roman governor deposed Annas. Eventually his son-in-law, Caiaphus, succeeded him in 18 A.D.

You may wonder why I took so much time to tell you some of the facts about each of the men mentioned by Luke. I want to put some flesh on the bare bones of Luke’s story to confirm the interpretation of a a commentator who wrote, "Luke…seems to be saying that when ‘the Word of God came [to John the Baptizer],’ it really came. It came all the way down to this world; it came into our world, the world of political, economic, and religious power, the world of the Caesars."1 Not only did the Word of God come to that world, it came to speak to that world, because God cares about our political and economic life.

Some folks think that those who speak for God should not speak to the economic and political power structures of our world. To give you an example: two weeks ago our Provost addressed those structures on "Facebook," the internet networking contraption that can become addictive if you’re not careful. He urged Christians to speak out for justice in reforming the way we pay for health care in this country. One respondent replied that church people should stay out of that debate and stick to reforming what they know— their own institution—the church.

But John the Baptizer did not come to speak the Word of God primarily to the faith community of his time. He came to speak it to the principalities and powers of the everyday world we live in. To be sure, those included the power structure of the religious establishment, but the Word was meant mostly for the powers behind the power structure—the Roman officials, the tax collectors, the soldiers, and the like, as we shall see in next week’s gospel.

John’s purpose in speaking the Word of God was to prepare the world—the real, week day world of political oppression and economic exploitation—for God’s even more intense intervention into the life of that world. He pointed to the idols that were leading the people of his time away from a right relationship with God. He knew the people could not appreciate God’s intervention in Jesus of Nazareth if they did not understand how idols were leading them astray.

The most important idol was the Emperor, who, by law, was worshiped as a god. He was declared god because of the peace—the "Pax Romana"—he had brought to such a large part of the world. This peace was obtained by the victories of the Roman legions that allowed them to impose Rome’s will on the territories surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. It was maintained by those same legions who supported the rulers the Romans put in charge. In Palestine that included all of those mentioned by Luke at the beginning of this story. They all worshiped the power who gave them their power. Power itself became an idol that made them feel equal to God, and, therefore, made God irrelevant to them. John came to speak God’s Word to that reality of that real world.

If John were speaking the Word of God today, I think he would identify the "Pax Americana," maintained by American soldiers and economic power as our major idol. After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1989, the United States became the only nation that could impose its will on any of the weaker nations of the world. That led a cabal of scholars and politicians to believe that America should impose its will on irascible countries, such as Afghanistan and Iraq. While that cabal has lost its influence, the idol still controls the thinking of our political leaders. President Obama’s recently announced policy on Afghanistan assumes that we must maintain "Pax Americana" with military intervention. Our idolatry assumes that the only way to secure peace is to depend on America’s power to wage war. So we continue to worship that idol with the sacrifices of tens of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of billions of dollars.

We need to remember that the Word of God came to John to prepare the way of the one we call "the Prince of Peace." But his peace was not won and maintained by violence. Rather it was won by nonviolent resistance to injustice and maintained by the establishment of justice in which all human beings, regardless of age, gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation are valued equally and preciously as gifts of God. When economic and political authorities make it their goal to establish peace by first establishing justice through nonviolent means, they are responding to the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. The Word of God will have been spoken to power and converted it.

Who will speak the Word of God to power today, pointing out the idols that prevent us from having a right relationship with God? Who will use peaceful means to prepare the way of the Lord, turning us from idol worship to making God’s desires the focus of our political and economic thinking? Are we the ones God is waiting for? If we are, then we will be but a small voice crying in the wilderness against the chorus of media that will not only overwhelm us, but probably condemn us. But if our voice is truly speaking the Word of God to power, God will give it power to be heard.


1 James F. Kay in The Christian Century, (Nov. 19-26, 1997) quoted in Synthesis for December 7, 2003 (Published by The School of Theology of the University of the South) Italics in original.

Monday, December 7, 2009

World AIDS Day sermon -- Barbi Click

“If God is for us, who is against us?...It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?

The answer to that first question must seem simple to many. The World AIDS Day theme for 2009 is 'Universal Access and Human Rights'. The very idea that there must be a theme to focus an awareness campaign on universal access for life saving drugs and the issue of human rights shows that there are indeed many who are against those who live with HIV/AIDS. God may justify in the end but in the mean time, far too many seem to condemn.

Stigma and discrimination are major factors in HIV/AIDS awareness. Few diseases can cause a person to become a social outcast as quickly as HIV/AIDS. Family, friends, neighbors, church communities, fellow workers – we all know the stories of people diagnosed who have suddenly been alienated from all they knew and love. We all know stories of those who have died alone and forsaken.

And what is the fear? What is the difference between the AIDS pandemic and any other pandemic? Why the particular onus on this one? Would the AIDS pandemic have ever achieved the high level of notoriety it did were it not for the number of gay people affected?

My mom had a friend from high school who had a son that was just a month of so older than me. He and I used to play together when we were little. My mom and she lost touch as we grew up but in the late 80s, they had occasion to meet again. Her friend told my mom that her son had died. She wouldn’t tell my mom how or why but she did say that they burned his belongings, even his mattress. At the time, Mom was shocked that someone would do that. It only occurred to her later as she learned about AIDS that his death might have been AIDS related.

I remember when I was first touched by an AIDS story. As is often the case, the news stories didn’t affect me until it affected someone I knew. The rector at our parish spent his sermon time telling us about his son, Stephen. Actually, I didn’t even know he had a son until that moment. He told us that they had been estranged for some time because Stephen was gay. The problem was not because Stephen was gay, he admitted, but because he, as Stephen’s father, had a problem with Stephen being gay. Having no idea where he was going with the information, we all sat spellbound as he told us how they had only reconnected when he found out that Stephen was dying from AIDS. He then went on to tell us about Stephen’s partner, John and how special he was because John loved Stephen when even his own father could not. There was not a dry eye in the church by the end of the story. I don’t know how many minds our rector changed that day but I do know that he touched every one of us. I do know that out of that story was born an AIDS outreach from that parish to the local AIDS Outreach Center that ran a food pantry and cared for those dealing with end of life issues. The outreach is ongoing today.

Strangely enough, AIDS opened a path from Stephen to his father. Prior to Stephen’s sickness, ignorance clouded his father’s mind. His love for his son could not overcome the disappointment he felt at Stephen being gay. It was in the knowledge of death that the ignorance was lifted and love overcame the fear. Through John’s love and tender care for Stephen, our rector learned true love, that unconditional, steadfast kind.

So many names… So many dead…. So many more dying… What opportunities for learning lie in wait for us as the veil of ignorance and fear is lifted? What unconditional love might be learned as the knowledge of death touches us? What gifts have those who have died left for us? There is still so much to learn…so much to do.

The drugs needed to combat HIV/AIDS are now available for many. As is always the case, the more one can afford, the more one will receive. Those who suffer from poverty and lack of insurance also lack the ability to receive the needed care. Many of the ones dying today are the ones who simply cannot afford to live.

Ignorance that HIV/AIDS is a “gay” disease hinders proper funding to make the anti-retro-viral treatments available to many who live with HIV.

Fear of condoning or even promoting promiscuous sex in our youth and teens prohibits funding for sex education in our schools so that at risk behavior might be lessened.

Major theological battles are in the process within our largest denominations and religions about the right or wrong of being gay.

In the extreme, the government of Uganda is promoting a resolution to not only increase the punishment for being gay but to make it a crime for anyone to help someone who is gay. That means medical workers and pastoral care givers will be at risk of imprisonment when they try to help.

We cannot allow HIV/AIDS to continue being viewed through the eyes of fear and ignorance.
THAT is what this day is all about – raising awareness.. Awareness that the number of people living with HIV has risen from approximately 8 million in 1990 to an estimated 33.4 million people worldwide today and that 2.5 million of those are children;

THAT 25 million people have died of AIDS since 1981,

THAT there were 2 million deaths in 2008 alone;

THAT by the end of 2008, women accounted for 50% of all adults living with HIV worldwide
and In North America alone, there are 1.5 million adults and children living with HIV/AIDS.

In addition to all of that, in developing and transitional countries, 9.5 million people are in immediate need of life-saving AIDS drugs but only 42 % of those are actually receiving the drugs.

This is not a “gay” disease… regardless of how it has devastated so many lives of those who happen to be gay.

It is a disease that threatens all people. It is especially a threat to the “least of these” among us – our children and those who live in poverty. One of the fastest growing groups of people in the US living with AIDS is heterosexual women, in particular, teenage girls.

In its short 28 year history, HIV/AIDS has proven to us that it breeds very well in ignorance. It thrives in systems of fear.

HIV/AIDS has shown us that it will not go away on its own. In fact, if we continue on the course we are on, it will only continue to grow.

It is up to us to break the bonds of ignorance and fear.

Whether we do that by urging our national government and church leaders to speak out against the resolution in Uganda,

…Or work to end discriminatory laws at home,

…Or work for the passage of a national health care bill or

…Or medically and pastorally tend to those who have been cast aside due to the stigma of AIDS; regardless of what we do, we must do something.

To ignore the problem is to be a part of the problem.

We know that “creation waits with eager longing…to be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory for the children of God.” Creation is groaning for us to awaken from our slumber.

This is not about being gay. It is about living in love, not in fear. It is about taking care of one another; not condemning that which we do not understand. It is about standing up against that condemnation.

We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper; we have a great amount of work to do.

Let us get on with it.

( statistics come from

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"Closing Time"

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 15, 2009.

Then Jesus asked him, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.”

Are you secure? Do you have security? If you do what makes you feel secure? If you do not, how could you feel more secure? Being wrapped in your mother’s or father’s arms? Having a sizable bank account, or a comfortable home? Living in America with laws and rules and regulations that make life quite predictable? Being able to worship in this majestic church?

This stuff around us, religious trappings, homes, friends, won’t always be here. It might remain through most of our lives. But it might not. We think we are secure but it is oh so fragile. In Mark’s gospel passage today Jesus is with the disciples in Jerusalem. They marvel at the temple, that place built as a home for God to reside in, a very important concept in the Jewish tradition at that point, and Jesus says ‘Get over it!’ That won’t last and is not important. Can you imagine how incredulous the disciples must have been? ‘What is he saying?’ they might have queried. ‘This is the temple built to house God. Look at its size and grandeur, it is secure and stable,’ they may have continued. But Jesus says to them, ‘Get over it!’ Then they ask him when does this happen, when is the end time?

The thirteenth chapter of Mark is called the Little Apocalypse. It opens with this story then goes on to tell of the end times, the last days. There are some pretty sobering accounts and warnings: the one in the field must not turn back to get a coat; pray that it may not be in winter; the sun being darkened, the moon not giving its light; false prophets.

There is a movie recently out called 2012. In it a planet is headed for the earth with certain destruction of the earth. The trailer shows destruction of the major buildings and monuments around the world that we know: the Vatican, the White House, the Washington monument. Mountains are flooded, ocean liners turned over. A Tibetan monastery on a high peak is washed away. The trailer looks pretty scary. It is based on the premise that the Mayan calendar predicts the end of the world December 31, 2012. There is a website 2012 that has had over a million hits. It is big news. People are worried so it seems. NASA has posted a notice on its website that there is no planet headed for earth. But it looks like an exciting movie!

When I was in the third grade there was a prediction of the end of the earth. I remember we kids were scared. The teacher, Mrs. Ellis, pulled the Bible out and read to us where Jesus tells us that no one will know the hour or the day. In this thirteenth chapter of Mark, verse 32, ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.’ Do not be afraid. A teacher couldn’t do that in most schools today… I remember in the 1960’s a woman named Jean Dixon predicted nuclear war in 1989 I think. And not too many years ago here in St. Louis Iben Browning predicted an earthquake based on a certain alignment of the sun, moon, and earth. Many were very worried including some of my office staff who prepared their homes and took December 9th off work.

We don’t know what is coming. But we do know that things change. Things that we are comfortable with, secure about, have been tremendously upset in our lives. 9/11 and the Madrid train bombings come quickly to mind; the fall of the World Trade Centers in New York. I had dinner at the top of the World Trade Center. Amazing that it is gone. Institutions that were stable icons of our existence are gone – IBM, Ma Bell, McDonnell Douglas, Enron. People invested in Enron and Bank of America thinking they were very secure, and lost huge life savings, retirements. Then we have ideologies that are gone. Who would have thought, those of us that lived much of our lives in the middle of the 20th century, that communism would fall. This week there were celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the dismantling of the Berlin Wall. The Economist magazine wrote, “Even to those who had been confident of the eventual triumph of the West, the fall of the Berlin Wall was surprisingly accidental…Of all places it was in divided Berlin in divided Germany in divided Europe that the cold war erupted into an east-west street party” [20 years ago]. This week’s article goes on to say, “The destruction of the Iron Curtain on November 9, 1989 is still the most remarkable political event of most people’s lifetimes: it set free millions of individuals and it brought to an end a global conflict that threatened nuclear annihilation. For liberals in the West, it still stands as a reminder both of what has been won since and what is still worth fighting for.”

The world changes in ways that we cannot imagine. The fall of the Berlin Wall and the dismantling of the Soviet Union are staggering events. Nothing is permanent. Not stones on stones, not buildings, not ideologies, not Christ Church Cathedral, not us. No wonder management gurus tell us that dealing with Generation X’ers and Millenials is a whole different personnel management process. These young adults have seen ‘stable’ institutions and ideas crumble before them and have a very different idea of permanence. Don’t ask them to work for 30 years for ‘the corporation’ and get the gold watch! A different idea of permanence.

So what does this mean for us? For we who espouse Christianity and strive to live a life of faith? What is permanence? What is security? How are we to live?

Two Stories

The Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard, tells a parable of a theater where a variety show is proceeding. Each show is more fantastic than the last, and is applauded by the audience. Suddenly the manager comes forward. He apologizes for the interruption, but the theater is on fire, and he begs his patrons to leave in an orderly fashion. The audience think this is the most amazing turn of the evening, and cheer thunderously. The manager again implores them to leave the burning building, and he is again applauded vigorously. At last he can do no more. The fire raced through the whole building and the fun-loving audience with it. “And so,” concluded Kierkegaard, “will our age, I sometimes think, go down in fiery destruction to the applause of a crowded house of cheering spectators.”

At the end of the 19th century two French writers went to visit the well-known French scientist, Pierre Berthelot. Berthelot was a kind of scientific prophet. He forecast some of the weapons of mass destruction which would appear in the next century. He said to the writers, “We have only begun to list the alphabet of destruction.” Silence fell over the meeting. Then the elder of the two writers said quietly, “I think that before that time comes, God will come like a great gatekeeper with his keys dangling at his waist and say, ‘Gentlemen, it’s closing time.’”

Brothers and sisters, it is closing time every day. Jesus asked the disciples, ‘Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” But he went on to say, ‘Beware that no one leads you astray…you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed…’ Do not be alarmed. That reassurance of Jesus is couched in the middle of this sobering gospel passage but it is key. And Jesus repeats that message to us over and over. Do not be concerned. For we do not understand the ways of the world, the things to come, the tragedies, apocalypse, Armageddon. But we don’t need to understand them. For our lives are to be lived differently than worry about all that. Holy Scripture reminds us over and over of the birds of the air, the lilies of the valley and the loving care of our heavenly father – caring for all. Do not be concerned. Store up not treasures here on earth where moth and rust and thieves break in but store up treasures in heaven.

R.A.Charles Brown, an English priest of the last century said, ‘Christ did not come down to earth to unmake but to remake. So we are gathered up as fragments into the unity of humans and angels into Him who is our beginning and our end. There in the scrap of bread is dimly seen the triumph of life over death.’ The triumph of life over death is seen in the scrap of bread you will receive in a few minutes.

Life is a matter of building. Each of us has an opportunity to build something – a business, an edifice, a reputation, a family, a career, a relationship to God. But so many things are not permanent and can disappear in an instant. Daniel Webster offered this excellent advice. “If we work on marble it will perish. If we work on brass, time will efface it. If we rear temples, they will crumble to dust. But if we work on humans’s immortal minds, if we imbue them with high principles, with just fear of God and love of fellow beings, we engrave on those tablets something which time cannot efface, and which will brighten and brighten to all eternity.”

Bothers and sisters, we are to work on our relationship with God and with fellow human beings. And then we do not have to be afraid.


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Scribes, widows and "Where did you go to high school?"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 8, 2009.

Of all the rules and laws we learn in our life, one of the first laws we learn is the law of the schoolyard. The Law of the Lunchroom. Think back to your school days … and maybe that means you only have to think back to Friday, but think back. Who are the cool kids? Even if it was 50 years ago, I’ll bet you don’t have to think long. It was 30 years ago for me and I can tell you … Mike Clements and Amy Breck and the people who hung out with them.

You know who the cool kids are. Everyone knows who they are – that’s part of what’s cool about them. And you also know that you didn’t hang with them or sit at their table unless you were one of them.

Now maybe you were one of the cool kids. Or maybe you just wanted to be one of them. Or maybe you were happy where you were. But wherever you were, you definitely don’t want to be at the other end of the spectrum, and you definitely don’t want to be the cool kids’ target, living at the bottom of the lunchroom food chain.

So here’s the law. In the schoolyard, in the lunchroom, in the social structure of children and teenagers you can try to climb the ladder and join the cool kids – and that’s not without risk -- but what you never want to do is slip down. You never want to lose the place you have, lest you find yourself rejected, at the bottom of the ladder.

And if you are at the bottom, you want to be as invisible as possible. Because you can learn to live at the bottom, but the last thing you want is to be the target of ridicule or worse from those who are at the top.

Now in one way or another, we all know this, and we all have our stories of how we have fit into it. And we also all know that it doesn’t end when you leave the lunchroom and the schoolyard. There’s still a cool kids table wherever we go and no matter how old we get. We call it different things now, but it’s still there … who is in the cool group and who is not. We sometimes get more sophisticated and politically correct about framing it … and sometimes we just get more brutal … but it’s all still there.

It’s like how we all laugh at that quintessential St. Louis question “Where did you go to high school?” but there’s an edge to our chuckle. Because we also know that how we answer that question is extremely important. Because based on that answer, we are slotted. We are given status and standing. And we know it.

And the rules remain the same, too. If you’re not part of the power group, there’s stuff you’re shut out of and places you can’t go. You can aspire to higher status and try to move up, but the one thing we are never supposed to do is to risk the standing we have. To embarrass ourselves. To do anything that would throw us down to the bottom of the food chain where we are rejected and laughed at and scorned.

And so we live lives bound by a subtle and unspoken fear – subtle and unspoken because almost as long as we can remember it has always been a part of our lives. Whatever power and standing you have, whatever you do don’t lose it, do what you need to do to preserve it and even gather more … but above all don’t do anything in the world to endanger it. Don’t slip down that food chain. Because you don’t want to pay that bill.

One of the most amazing people I have ever met is a priest in Nashville named Becca Stevens. Becca knows about people at the bottom of the food chain, the people who are the farthest orbit out from the cool kids table. She and her congregation founded an intentional community for women breaking the cycles of abuse that have them trapped in the world of prostitution, and those women are about as rejected by society as you can get. Becca commented to me once that we are a society that permits everything and forgives nothing. What she is talking about is a life bound by that fear. That fear of losing the power we have and even worse of having the wrath and ridicule of the more powerful focused on us. And because of that fear, we permit those of us with power and standing to get away with terrible things. I’m not just talking about Wall Street brokers gambling with people’s 401Ks or celebrities buying their way out of drug charges. I’m talking about when people like you and me are standing with a group of peers and someone makes a racist or sexist or homophobic comment or says something about someone else behind their back and we let it pass. We permit everything because we’re afraid of what might happen if we spoke up. We’re afraid of the joke being turned on us.

And on the flip side when people don’t have that power or standing, we forgive nothing. And that’s not just about the Don Imus’s and Bernie Madoff’s who have fallen from grace and have people who cozied up to them for years pretending they never knew them. That’s about anyone whose ever been pulled over for a DWB … you know what that is … driving while black. That’s about black and Hispanic people making up 24% of the U.S. population but 55% of the U.S. prison population(1). It’s about young black men with NO criminal record being less likely to be hired for entry-level jobs than the same young white men who DO report criminal backgrounds(2).

Yep, whether it’s a wedgie in the locker room, or what you say in the board room, the same rules apply. If you’re one of the cool kids, we permit everything. If you’re at the bottom of the food chain, we forgive nothing.

And so the message is clear. When you have power and standing, don’t risk it, do what you need to do to preserve it and above all don’t do anything in the world to endanger it. Because the last thing you want to do is find yourself on the outside looking in.

This is nothing new. Not only because this is how we grew up in the schoolyard and the lunchroom but this is how things have been for thousands of years. And we see it in this morning’s Gospel as Jesus contrasts two people – the scribes and a widow.

These are people on the opposite ends of the food chain. The scribes are educated and powerful. They’re the cool kids and they literally sit at the cool kids’ table. They have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets. And Mark’s Gospel says they “love” these things. They love them more than anything and there is no way they are going to risk them … and in fact they are going to do everything they can to preserve them. And they know that just like today, they live in a society that permits everything and forgives nothing … so they aren’t taking any chances. They aren’t rocking any boats. They say long prayers so they’ll look really good and devour widow’s houses … and certainly don’t call each other on their terrible behavior. They are the ones with the power. And they use it all right. Use it to keep it. They’re not taking any chances.

And then there’s the widow. The widow has no power. In first-century Palestine, widows were among the most vulnerable people in society. In Hebrew law they had no right to inheritance so they were at the mercy of the heirs of their husband’s estates and whatever charity anyone else wanted to throw their way. But the widow still had something to lose. The widow had no power, but if she stayed anonymous and didn’t give anyone a reason to look at her. If she knew her place and kept to it, then even though she might not have power, at least she wouldn’t risk the wrath and ridicule of this society that permits everything and forgives nothing.

But that’s not what she did. In the midst of all these rich people coming forward and putting large sums of money in the treasury, this widow steps forward and puts in a penny. Now Jesus lauds her for giving out of her poverty, and she certainly did that … but that’s not all she did. She didn’t just give everything … she risked everything. Putting that tiny gift out there next to those huge gifts of the wealthy she risked ridicule and shame, she risked being told she didn’t know her place and being laughed out of a temple many of them thought she had no business being in to begin with.

And yet Jesus says the widow was the one who glorified God. Because the widow was the one who did what God did. God, who had all the power in the universe, didn’t hold onto that power but instead emptied the divine self into human form, even though that meant not only the pains of life but the risk of suffering and death, which of course is what ended up happening.

God didn’t live out of fear of a society that permits everything and forgives nothing. If God had, then Jesus would have been born a emperor instead of a refugee. But Jesus knew and that widow knew, too, that there is only one equation that matters and that is that love is greater than fear. So when Jesus grew in respect and people started calling him teacher. When Jesus started showing some cool kid potential, he could have taken the route of the scribes and used that power to get himself a place at that table. But instead he took the route of the widow, risking everything to offer his gifts in love. He hung out with and valued those most tossed aside by the world – tax collectors, prostitutes, the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. And this morning, however cool or uncool we might be, he invites us to do the same.

Jesus puts these two examples in front of us – the scribe and the widow – because there really is no grey area between them. A hundred times, a thousand times a day we make choices big and small about which one we’re going to be. Will we use our power to preserve our power, to stay or become one of the cool kids? Or will we risk our power to love this world as God loves us, to love those who live furthest out from that cool kids table, to dance and sing and live out loud … and not care who is watching.

Will we support the health care plan that is best for us or the one that gives the most to those with the least?

Will we shop for the best bargain for us, or instead care more whether the people who made the products we buy were given a fair wage and work in safe conditions?

Will we go sit with the kid in the lunchroom who doesn’t fit in with the other kids, or pass the ball to the kid who is only being allowed to play because the teacher is watching, or talk to the person at coffee hour who is sitting off by themselves.

Will we get over our fear of ridicule to offer our own gifts in love? Will we sing and dance because it’s in our hearts even though we really are terrified what others’ might think? Will we float a new idea even though someone might call it stupid. Will we have the courage to speak truth to power instead of mumbling it to those who agree with us when power has left the room?

And most of all when we see other people having the courage and faith to do these things will we not only not throw rocks at them but actively stand with them and sing with them and dance with them and get each other’s backs.

Jesus’ holds up the scribes and the widow for us this morning and asks us if we as a Cathedral are going to care more about being respectable or being boldly loving, realizing that those two things don’t always come in conflict, but that when they do there’s a Gospel gut-check to be made.

Jesus holds up the scribes and the widow for us this morning and invites us to stop asking one another “where’d you go to high school?” and instead start asking ourselves “are we scribes or are we widows?” And together pray to God to help us choose wisely, boldly and together. AMEN.
1. Sabol, William J., PhD, and Couture, Heather, Prisoners at Midyear 2007 Washington, DC: US Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics, June 2008, NCJ221944, p. 7.
2. Todd Clear, Imprisoning Communities: How Mass Incarceration Makes Disadvantaged Neighborhoods Worse, p. 63.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

“Let your light shine! Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!”

Preached by the Rev. Canon Renee Fenner at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2009.

Good morning, saints! Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saints, which is undoubtedly one of the most important feasts in the Church year. All Saints is a day that calls us to prayerfully remember all those who have gone before us and to remember those who still walk among us. This morning I would like to share the story of a saint who touched my life.

Her name was Thea Bowman. She was born in the small town of Yazoo City, Mississippi. Thea was the granddaughter of a slave and an only child. Her father was a doctor whose patients paid their bills with eggs and chickens and all sorts of odd jobs. Her mother was school teacher who witnessed the poverty of children not only in the classroom but in her neighborhood and actually did something about it. Thea often told the story of her mother making tuna fish salad and placing scoops of it into ice cream cones. For some of her friends it was the only meal they had that day. The Bowmans were Methodists, so was Thea until one day she discovered a nearby Roman Catholic Church. At the age of nine years old Thea announced to her mother that she wanted to be a Catholic. When interviewed many years later, Thea said that it was not the beauty of the liturgy that drew her in. “It was not the doctrine (I didn’t know anything about that” she said); it was the witness of Catholic Christians who were really making a difference in people’s lives.” In her late teens Thea joined the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration, a Roman Catholic women’s religious order. Sr. Thea had a brilliant mind and taught in primary schools as well as at the university level. After 19 years of teaching, the bishop of Jackson, MS invited Sr. Dr. Bowman to become the consultant for the Office of Intercultural Awareness for the diocese of Jackson. Sr. Thea accepted the bishop’s invitation and worked feverishly to break down racial and cultural barriers. She was a strong advocate for the marginalized and disenfranchised and spoke often about literacy and healthcare for all. She also made it her life’s mission to share her African American heritage and spirituality “in song, prayer, teaching, and preaching.” Boy, that woman could preach! By the time I met her in 1989 she had already been diagnosed with breast cancer. Did that slow her down? No! She only worked harder to bring people closer to God. And she had a knack for bringing out the best in us. She used to say: “You have a gift. You have a talent. Find your gift, find your talent and use it. You can make this world better by letting your light shine and doing your part. You can help somebody just by caring about somebody, just by loving somebody. And then when you get through showing them how much you love them, sometimes folks need to hear it, so make sure you tell them, I love you, I love you, I love you. I really, really, really, really love you!”*

To Thea, it didn’t matter if you were black, white, purple or green. It didn’t matter if you were male, female, gay or straight. It didn’t matter if you were Roman Catholic, Baptist, Episcopalian, or Jewish, if you had a church or no church at all. Everyone was a child of God!

In spite of the pain from the cancer that later riddled her bones, Sr. Thea, though wheelchair bound, was a constant source of hope as she traveled from one corner of these United States to other and from one continent to the other with a message of inclusion, of tolerance, of inspiration, and of joy in the Lord. Thea was not afraid to challenge laity and bishops alike. When she could no longer travel she taught from her sickbed. When asked about her impending death she would simply say, “I am going to live until I die.” That is what she did. My friend and mentor died in late March of 1990 at the age of 52.

Today are many schools, centers, and organizations named after this amazing woman. Sr. Thea Bowman is not an official canonized saint though I am told that her congregation, the Franciscan sisters, and others are making a case for Thea’s canonization by the Roman Catholic Church. Regardless of whether her name goes through that rigorous process or not-she is a saint to many. I admire her not only for her strength and courage but for the way she pointed everyone to Christ. She always reminded her hearers to let their lights shine. “Your light is supposed to shine!” she would say. “Don’t hide it under a basket!” Then with a chuckle she would sing, “Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!” Her life fits one of the best definitions of a saint I’ve ever read. It comes from the former dean of Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, the Rev. Alan Jones who once said, “Saints are those persons whose lives are so transparent to God that God’s light shines through them into the life of the world, and into its structures, organizations, and programs.” That is just so right on!

There is a great story of a mother and young son who stopped to pray in a church that had many beautiful stained-glass windows. The boy kept interrupting his mother’s prayers, asking her who was pictured in this and that window. The mother would explain, “That’s St. Joseph.” “That’s St. Andrew.” The boy was silent for a moment, then he said, “I know what I want to be when I grow up. I want to be a saint.” “Why, Billy,” the mother replied, “you don’t even know what a ‘saint’ is.” “I do so,” the boy said. “A saint is a person the sun shines through.”

Have you known people like this? Whose lives are so transparent that all you can see is God’s radiance? Perhaps we do a disservice to this Feast of All Saints when we ONLY remember those saints who are immortalized in stained-glass and stone or whose names appear in our calendar.

Look around you. Go ahead, look around you and see all the other people sitting in this service. There are people you know and people you don’t know at all. There is probably someone or perhaps a few someone(s) you know by sight but for whatever reason you’ve never gotten a chance to speak to. See the visitors and guests among us. Now, think of those persons who are away today and those who cannot be here because of illness or infirmity and other reasons. Think of those persons who were once part of this community who have moved away. Imagine the thousands of people who have been a part of Christ Church Cathedral for 190 years. Now, imagine those yet to come. And finally think for a moment of those you have personally loved, whose lives touched yours in some way, who have gone home to God. ALL of these people, all of us, are members of the communion of saints we honor this day.

Today let us remember that there is nothing that keeps you and I from being saints in this journey called life. There is nothing that can keep us from living godly lives except living selfishly for ourselves. There is nothing that can keep God’s radiance from shining forth in us. Let us each continue to reflect God’s glory in this world. And let God’s light/your light shine. “Let it shine! Let it shine! Let it shine!”

*taken from “Thea Bowman: In My Own Words”, compiled and edited by the Rev. Dr. Maurice J. Nutt, C.Ss.R., page 73.

For further reading on the life and witness of Sr. Thea Bowman please see:

“Thea Bowman-Handing on Her Legacy”, edited by Christian Koontz, R.S.M., Sheed & Ward (a service of National Catholic Reporter Publishing Company, Inc.), 1991

“Sister Thea Bowman, Shooting Star: Selected Writings and Speeches”, edited by Celestine Cepress, FSPA, forward by Mike Wallace, St. Mary’s Press, 1993.

Monday, October 26, 2009

"Take heart. Rise."

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 25, 2009.

Of all the Gospels, the one that suffers the most from being chopped up into little pieces for reading on Sunday mornings is the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the shortest of the Gospels and the fastest paced. It’s also masterfully constructed with themes that rise and fall and layers of meaning that emerge if you’re paying attention.

The Gospel of Mark is kind of like the TV show Lost. You can pick a random episode and watch it and even enjoy it … but there will be huge pieces that will just go right on past you unless you’ve been watching the whole series. But if you have, you just sit there saying, “Wow … that’s amazing.”

So really, the best thing to do is to read the whole Gospel of Mark at one sitting. And I really encourage you to do that. But since we can’t do that this morning, let’s just review a little bit and remind ourselves what’s been going on before we get to this morning.

Six weeks ago on Celebration Sunday we heard the story of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. You remember that story, Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am.” And Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” It’s this incredible moment of revelation – Jesus, who has been doing all these amazing things, is revealed as who he is – and we and the disciples are all feeling great because we had it figured out already. Peter and all of us got the answer right. Yes, he’s the Messiah.

But then like in any great story, there’s an immediate twist. While the disciples are planning the coronation scene in Jerusalem, Jesus says, “but here’s what you need to understand about being the Christ.” “I have to suffer and be killed and after three days rise again.” And Peter immediately refuses to hear this. And he even gets in Jesus’ face. He says, “No, Jesus, you didn’t hear me … you’re the Christ.” And Jesus shoots right back at him, “No Peter, YOU didn’t hear ME … that’s what being the Christ means.”

Now for the past 6 weeks, we’ve had this same thing happen again and again. As Jesus gets closer and closer to Jerusalem, three times he reminds his disciples what him being the Christ really means – not triumph but suffering and death. And every time the disciples absolutely refuse to get it.

Finally, last Sunday the contrast between the vividness of the description of what was to happen to Jesus and the depth of the disciples’ lack of understanding reached its peak. Jesus, for the third time and in graphic detail, tells the disciples “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” This is not a drill. This is real. And this is happening at the end of this road. And immediately after he says this, James and John, completely missing the point say “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” and ask him for positions of power for themselves.

It’s like asking the flight attendant if she has any more peanuts when she’s just told you to get into crash positions.

And so we arrive at this morning’s Gospel. Jesus is leaving Jericho, the last major stop on his way to Jerusalem. And his heart must be heavy not just because of what he is facing but because these friends who have been with him through so much still don’t understand what is happening. They are his friends and his disciples in one sense, but in another very real sense, Jesus has no friends. Jesus has no disciples because how can you truly be with someone when you refuse to listen to them? How can you follow when you refuse see where it is you are being led. And in that context, the story we hear this morning is nothing short of astounding.

Because onto the scene comes a nobody, a blind beggar, appropriately named Bartimaeus, which means “son of the worthy one.” And he begins to cry out to Jesus as he passes by. And as much as the disciples could not grasp who Jesus was and what he was about, somehow this blind beggar does. And our first clue is what he cries out,

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

First, look at what he is calling Jesus – Son of David. It’s a messianic title. Bartimaeus immediately recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. But then look at his posture. Unlike the disciples who see Jesus’ power and wonder how they can get it for themselves, Bartimaeus does just the opposite. Have mercy on me. He is acknowledging that in the face of the power of Christ he is powerless. The posture before Christ is not to have your hand out but to have your head bowed

And the disciples, in this great irony, are so blind themselves that their immediate reaction is to tell Bartimaeus – who is finally responding appropriately to Jesus – to be quiet. But Bartimaeus will not be silent and he cries out even louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stops. And here’s where it really gets interesting. Because in writing this story, Mark begins to use language that is unlike any he uses anywhere else in the Gospel. He starts using the language and imagery of baptism.

Jesus tells the disciples to call Bartimaeus, and the disciples do so by saying “Take heart; rise.” This is liturgical language. In Greek, tharsei, take heart or be comforted, was funeral language common to tombstones. And the word for “rise” is literally translated “be resurrected.” The invitation to come to Jesus is an invitation to death and resurrection.

And what does Bartimaeus do? He doesn’t just get up and walk over to Jesus … he casts off his mantle – he strips himself naked – the posture not only of baptism but of utter vulnerability – and naked and completely vulnerable he stands before Jesus.

Bartimaeus is presenting himself for baptism. He knows what the other disciples do not. He knows that baptism into Christ is about death first, and then resurrection. He knows the only posture for encountering Christ is stripping yourself of everything and standing before him in complete vulnerability. And Jesus, looking at him, asks him the same question he asked James and John last week: “What do you want me to do for you?”

And while James and John answered that question with a request for power … in the height of irony, Bartimaeus, this one who can see Jesus better than any one of the disciples ever has says, “Master, let me receive my sight.”

And even this request has more layers to it. There is the irony of the blind man being the only one who truly sees Jesus. But beyond that, Bartimaeus’ yearning is more than just for eyes that work. Being blind relegated him to the margins of the community. He was a discarded person and barely considered a person at all. Jesus had already begun to heal that breach by taking him from the margins, from the side of the road where the disciples were telling him to be quiet and calling him into the center of the gathered community. But the job wasn’t done yet. “Master, let me receive my sight” is more than just about seeing, it is a cry of “let me be whole.”

And in fact that’s the better Greek translation of how Jesus responds, “Go your way; your faith has made you whole.” And immediately Bartimaeus receives his sight. And then the most amazing thing of all happens. Mark tells us he “followed him on the way.” On the way to Jerusalem.

Of all the people Jesus has touched and healed throughout Mark’s Gospel, NONE of them followed him … until Bartimaeus. Others go home, go running off, go back to their families … Bartimaeus is the only one who knowingly follows Jesus on the road to the cross. In fact, you can say that in the whole Gospel of Mark, Bartimaeus is the only one who, with eyes wide open, truly follows Christ.

Something incredible happens when we hold this story of Bartimaeus up with the stories of the disciples leading up to it … and then hold both up to our own lives. A truth emerges. We can make all of our lives and particularly our lives as a Christian community so complicated. We can work so very hard at being wise as serpents that we forget to be innocent as doves. In our lives at home and at work, at school and at church, out in the world and in the silence of our room staring up at the ceiling as we try to go to sleep at night. Like James and John, we can make great plans and we can dream of power. We can shmooze the right people and use all the good business sense and pull all the right levers. We can buy all the insurance in the world to protect us from harm and strive somehow for that perfect balance where all the plates are spinning and all the balls are in the air in perfect synergy and symmetry. And we can do wonderful things … and at the end of it all, like James and John we will have entirely missed the point.

Or we can be like Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus, who teaches us that our baptism into Christ really is about dying to an old life, so that we can receive a new one. And it’s no wonder the other disciples didn’t want to hear that because on first blush it is absolutely terrifying because it is about giving up control of our lives and begging Jesus to come and change us. It means the depth of our faith is not measured by something we are used to, something we can control from a position of strength – like “how much have you accomplished” but by our ability to strip ourselves bare, stand before Christ and in those wonderful words of Richard of Chichester say “Take me as I am. Help me want nothing more than to see you more clearly, follow you more nearly, love you more dearly.” It means starting each day looking at that cross and saying, “Jesus, of all the things on my to-do list, of all the worries and anxieties, of all the things that crowd my mind and weigh on my heart, all I have to do today is love you and let you love the world through me.” And at the end of the day falling back into those arms knowing that no matter how that day went, it’s OK because the one thing that matters most in all the cosmos is the one thing that can never be taken away and that’s God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

It sounds so easy … but of course it’s anything but. Just look how hard it was for the disciples to even consider it! And yet it is the life to which Jesus calls us in our baptism. A life laid at the foot of the cross. And I am convinced that the only way we can hope to live that life is together. And that living that life is the first and best and really only real reason for us being together.

And so in these uncertain times as we move forward into this uncertain future together, we need to remember Bartimaeus. To remember that it’s not only OK to admit we are powerless and to cry out to Christ for help but that’s what we’re supposed to do. To remember that opening ourselves up, stripping ourselves bare and being vulnerable to one another in this Body of Christ is the heart of the discipleship we share. To continually and lovingly challenge and support one another not to be more perfect or to produce more but to love Christ more deeply and to open ourselves up more and more to let Christ love the world through us.

You see we’re all just like Bartimaeus. We are all blind. Blinded by desire. Blinded by greed. Blinded by pain. Blinded by our own sense of power. But when we come together as Christ’s body we also see. We catch a glimpse of ourselves as God sees us – infinitely loved and infinitely free. And if we can hold that vision even for a second maybe we’ll even have the presence of mind and heart to cry out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And then hear that marvelous invitation to die so we might live: “Take heart. Rise.” And together, vulnerable yet whole, loved and free, follow him on the way to Jerusalem.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our lives need to be a ransom!

Preached by Reverend Mark D. Sluss
Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday October 18, 2009

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”

I learned a very important lesson these past few weeks. Many of you know that I was permanently laid off from my job.

And to be honest for the past year, I was not very happy with the company that I was working for.

We received a new director, who really did not understand what the function of our department was, or what each of us did.

But he demanded an accounting of our time. I remember one big organization meeting where we had to give a presentation on our function to the senior management of the company.

The one thing that I came away with was that they still did not understand what it was our function did for the company.

We used to comment, that if we weren’t there to do the job then they would understand.

Over the last 4 years working at that position with the company, we survived, 4 different Reductions in Force (layoffs).

We weren’t touched, because enough middle management people understood that our function was needed.

We had built ourselves up, to think that our position was entirely too important for the company to survive without it.

Then September 3rd came, and I lost my job. The perceived importance, meant nothing, when it came down to numbers and dollars.

What was even more shocking was realizing that how much stock I had put in the power that I thought came from what I did for a living, it’s quite common in western society, we define ourselves by what we do, and we attribute a power system a social status to that.
I think it is a human condition to try to evaluate how important we are, in most venues of our life.

We compare ourselves to those around us. We try to determine a person’s station in life by their clothes, their car, their homes, and in St. Louis, “where did you go to High School?”

There is an odd desire, almost a need to want to be in a position of power.

This is not a modern day social dynamic, for we hear in the Gospel reading today, how the disciples are arguing over the places of power between them.

The disciples never seem to quite get it do they?

You see in their mind, they are still relating to the phenomena of Jesus and his teaching about the coming kingdom in terms that they understand.
Their society was a patronistic society, those with little power, had to petition those with greater power for favors, whether in business, or government (sounds a bit like lobbying).

Even their Passover rituals at the temple were a practice in patronism.

A sacrifice, is given to garner favor from the divine, in hopes that the favor will be granted.

James and John even petition Jesus for a favor, they want him to grant them each a seat at his side in the coming kingdom.

It’s like they didn’t’ even hear him say that he was to be killed, in the previous passages. “oh yeah, after all that’s over, can you do US a favor, give us seats of power?” If I were Jesus I’d be tempted to give them both an Eye Roll and say “sure I’ll get right on that you two”.

But Jesus uses this as a continued opportunity to again teach the disciples.
If they are ones who will remain loyal to Jesus, they will be treated by the Romans the same as Jesus.

And as with any group, the disciples don’t really consider themselves each equals and a family of believers, you see they are connected to Jesus the central figure, not to each other, with the exception of James and John who are connected to each other as brothers.

They disregard the others and ask their favor for seats of power. The other disciples were of course angry.

Jesus quiets this by stating that “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all” that most certainly would be a shock to them.

They had expected to ride along with Jesus and climb that social ladder, but Jesus goes and defines his mission not with the priests in the temple, or the elite of Judea, but lower than that, with the servants, and slaves.

Since servants and slaves would have worked in the family households, the disciples would have known that they performed the needs of the family who owned them without concerns or expectation to be paid back.

The disciples were to behave that way, as a part of the household, but not expecting payback. AND that is the way that we are to live, as servants of each other, performing the needs of the family and not for any type of payback.

When we offer our gifts and our sacrifices of support for the Cathedral, we should change our expectations, we shouldn’t give expecting to get a favor, or expecting some sort of recognition or payback.

That is still living into the patronistic society. We should approach this as slaves, or the way that Jesus told them, as a RANSOM.

That word just jumped out at me in the gospel this week. It constantly was the one word that caught my eye and my pondering.
A Ransom is an economic exchange that pays for the release of hostages. A sacrifice is a ritual to facilitate the transfer of a favor from God to the person giving the sacrifice.

A sacrifice is selfish, a ransom is not. For a Ransom pays for the release of hostages, persons who have no power, from one who holds power over them.

Jesus’ death is not a sacrifice for us, Jesus is a RANSOM. Think of it this way. When Jesus as the last supper describes the cup as being his blood “poured out for many” it does NOT refer to the sacrifice of forgiveness of sins that was made at the temple.

It refers to the Passover lamb, whose blood protected the households of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and facilitated their release from bondage.

The Passover lamb gives its life as a Ransom for many. Now some might say that I am just splitting hairs here, no matter what lamb is referenced, the sacrifice or the ransom, the ultimate goal is the forgiveness of our sins right? Well yes and no.

The ultimate goal is the release from the bondage of poverty, sickness, loneliness (which are all symptoms of the separation from god), of our COMMUNITY, and I don’t mean the community of the Cathedral, but our City, and the world.

This naturally begs the question then “if we are the body of Christ, in the world today, how then do make our talents and gifts, to be a ransom?”

First off, we need to change our focus, like the disciples, we cannot give, and expect something in return, we are to be slaves.

We are to give ourselves as a ransom, to release a soul in our community.

Our giving should be not just a handout. Because that is a sacrifice. An offering to gain a particular outcome, most likely to get the person to move away from you. Give them a dollar so they’ll leave us alone!

No! our giving should be for ransom, we should give to those programs and services which release our neighbors from bondage, we should give to agencies that offer assistance for mental health, for addiction issues, for hunger issues.

We need to make our payment to release God’s people from those things that enslave them. We do good things here at the Cathedral.

But we have fallen into the trap of a quid pro quo, we give hoping for some favor to befall us or some particular outcome to come to fruition.

We give to assuage some guilt we have, over how much we have.

Our focus needs to be to give our gifts away. Give it all away to save even just one person, from the power that holds them. That holds them in the darkness of their captivity, we must purchase their release.

I am going to be working with the Justice and Mercy committee of the Cathedral to identify those services we can support that will bring about the release of our sisters and brothers who are in bondage.

And I am going to need your help to do this, if anyone has recommendations of those groups that we can reach out to in support, please forward those names to me.

I have already met with other clergy of the 6th ward, and we are developing a list of service providers, so that we do not duplicate efforts, and so that we can support each other.

Each of the Christian congregations of the ward are all working as servants, all slaves to release our friends from captivity, and to welcome them into the household of believers, out of their bondage, out of the dark.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Mercy and grace to help in time of need"

Click above to listen to the sermon streamed online.

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 11, 2009.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

For as many times as I have issues with the lectionary, the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle for this Sunday were just masterfully put together. They reach deep inside us and pull out our heart. They do to us what Christ does for us – meet us as we are but do not leave us as we are.

So for just a few minutes, now that you’ve heard them once, we’re going to walk through them again together. And I do mean together … which means you’re going to need to help.

We started with Job. Good ol’ Job. You know, I think Job is Charlie Brown, God is Lucy and everything in Job’s life is that football. All his life, Job has tried to do what is good and right like Charlie Brown lining up that kick and building speed as he charges toward that ball only to have Lucy at the last moment snatch it away and send him flying WUMP! flat on his back on the ground. Job is destitute. His life is like this smoldering pile sitting in front of him … he’s lost it all. And for comfort, he is surrounded by really helpful friends who say really helpful things like, “Well, you must have done something wrong.” “This has got to be your fault somehow.” I’m sure if you translated the Hebrew somewhere in there is a “Job, you blockhead.” So Job is not only depressed, he is mad. Hell no, it’s not his fault. He’s lived a good life … and not without resisting more than a few temptations to choose otherwise, thank you very much. He didn’t do anything to deserve this. And so what Job really wants to do is to give God a piece of his mind. Listen to Job talk about God:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!

I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.

I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.

Job is not only going to give God a piece of his mind, he’s so sure of himself that he’s going to change God’s mind. He knows this isn’t the way things are supposed to be and he is seriously horked and God is going to see the wisdom of his ways. Job is fed up … and God better watch out.

Then we moved on to the psalm. Now, the psalmist finds herself in a place of destitution a lot like Job, but her reaction is different. Instead of raging, she despairs. Instead of storming the gates, she weeps, she pours herself out in loneliness and agony. She begs God, whom she cannot find anywhere, to please find her. She cries:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.

You can hear not only the desperation but the utter exhaustion in her voice. It’s just too much. God, where are you. I can’t hang on much longer. You promised you’d be here, but I don’t see you. Help!

In Job and the psalmist we hear people who are at the end of their rope. It’s just all too much. They don’t understand why they’re in the mess they’re in and they can’t see a way out. And they’re mad … and depressed … and confused .. and maybe worst of all, they feel alone.

Do me a favor. Everybody close your eyes just for a minute. Now, keep your eyes closed. No peeking. Now I want you to raise your hand if in the last month you’ve had some of these same thoughts and feelings that Job and the psalmist have had. Fed up, mad, depressed, confused, alone.

Now keep those eyes closed and everyone whose hands are up go ahead and keep them up … and everyone else I want you to raise your hand if someone you care about is going through some of the same feelings that Job and the psalmist had.

OK, now eyes still closed and hands still up … for anyone whose hands aren’t up I want you to raise your hand if in the last year you or someone you care about has had some of these same thoughts and feelings that Job and the psalmist have had.

Everyone keep your hands up. Open your eyes. And look around.

(almost every hand in the church was raised)

Friends, this is where we live. And the gift of Job and the psalmist is they lay it right out there. They don’t hide it. They don’t put on a nice smile and a strong front. They just lay it on the table. And that’s their gift to us. Because they show us that we can do the same thing.

So what is it for you? I need you to be brave here. What is it that has you or someone you love fed up, mad, sad, confused or feeling alone. Come on, I really need you to be brave.

(People named a variety of things – unemployment, sickness, death, landlords, having unbearable job responsibilities because others have been laid off, divorce, etc.)

So what do we do with this? Well that’s where we move into the Epistle. The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are not alone. That we are not the only ones who have felt this way.

He says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.”

Hebrews reminds us that as much as looking around this room and seeing all those hands up reminds us that we have all been there or are there that the very words that the psalmist cried and that might feel so at home on our lips were cried out by Jesus himself on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

And really, his crying that on the cross and this room full of upraised hands are the same thing. Because as the Body of Christ we get to be his presence to each other and the world. So when Hebrews goes on to say: “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” what it’s talking about is keeping doing what Job and the psalmist did, what we have just started to do here and that is be honest with each other. To share in each other’s troubles and together to lay them on this table and at the foot of the cross. And then when we do to receive from Christ, and often through each other, those wonderful, sustaining life-giving things – mercy and grace to help in time of need.

You remember a few weeks back, I brought out that big crossbeam, that pitibulum, and then I gave everyone little ones to write down some burden you were carrying and then everyone picked up someone else’s to carry around for the week? I don’t know what it was like for you, but that week was a holy experience for me. It was an experience of mercy and grace in a time of need. I carried around someone else’s struggle with addiction all week, and I don’t know who it was but I felt so connected to them by week’s end. And by the end of that week I hoped they knew they weren’t in it alone … and then I realized that someone had been carrying around my fear that I was going to somehow not be able to balance my life in this community and my life with my family, and I knew I wasn’t alone either … and I felt the presence of God. I felt mercy and grace to help in time of need.

And I realized then it’s not about solving the problems. It’s not about always knowing the exact right thing to say. It’s just about being Christ for each other as we face them together. It’s about answering the psalmist’s cry of “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” With “don’t worry, I’m right here.” It’s about being merciful to each other. And graceful to each other in this time of need.

Being merciful and graceful to each other in a time of need is also about recognizing that we’re in a stressful time right now … and we need to cut each other some slack. There’s lots going on not just in our lives but here in this community … lots of change. For some people it’s the new 9 o’clock liturgy. There’s people who like it and people who don’t like it. People who love the music. People who hate the music. That’s OK. When you have change that’s the way it’s going to be if its something we care about. But change can also spike our anxiety and we can get kind of cranky. I know, cranky in the church, it’s hard to believe! But I think we can do something different. I think we can use this as a chance to be merciful and gracious to one another. We can try to take a deep breath and dial down the anxiety and remember that we’re all just human beings trying to figure this out together and that everyone in this room is just trying to praise God and make it through the week the best we can.

Maybe if we’re tempted to concentrate on how something isn’t the way we’d like it or someone has done something we didn’t like, maybe when we’re tempted to snipe at each other like Job’s friends, we can realize those wonderful merciful words “Is everything OK?” and “How can I help” fill our cups with grace so much faster. We can, when we’re tempted to send an angry email or even think uncharitable thoughts stop and ask ourselves, what is this really about in me. Why am I so upset about this? And think about how we can bring that to Christ’s table … and ask for and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.

One of the things I learned during my six weeks in Ghana was you have to be living day to day with the people in a new place for quite a while before you find out what’s really going on. Because it’s only when you’ve really been with people every day for awhile that they take off their Sunday best, and begin to start treating you like one of them. I think part of it is that it’s just too difficult to keep up the façade after awhile. But when you cross that threshold it’s wonderful … because it gets real.

I’ve been here six months now. And I truly am joyful when I tell you that I think the honeymoon is over. Every week I’m less and less the new guy and more and more just Mike – for good or for bad. And really, that’s the way it needs to be. Not just between us, but among all of us. We need to be real – and merciful and graceful -- with ourselves and with one another … and the good news is we can. For even though trouble is all around, there are many to help – just look around you. We are the Body of Christ and individually members of it, and together there is no storm big or small we cannot love each other through is we commit before anything to do just that – be honest with one another and love one another. To together approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Health Precautions as we enter the Influenza Season -- Canon John W. Kilgore, MD.

With the arrival of fall we approach we enter the influenza season, earlier this year than ever. There is significant concern and anxiety about the H1N1 influenza (Swine flu) this year as well as concern that the influenza season is occurring earlier and may be more intense than previous years since influenza activity has persisted though the summer in an unusual pattern.

Influenza is spread by droplet secretion. Coughing, sneezing, and transferring microscopic droplet from nose to hand, and then from hand to nose of another are the primary ways one becomes infected. Individuals with influenza can transmit the virus from one day before symptoms appear until 7 days after symptoms appear. Obviously in a church community such as ours some will become ill and spread may occur. While concern exists about use of the common cup, casual interaction and handshaking likely pose more risk than the common cup. The risk of contracting influenza from the common cup is extremely low, though not nonexistent. Saliva is not a significant form of influenza transfer. Sitting next to someone coughing and sneezing or shaking hands with such an individual without washing hands or using an alcohol gel before touching your own face and nose are much higher risk than drinking from a common cup.

That said we will be undertaking some precautions this influenza season to minimize the risk. At Christ Church Cathedral, all involved in distributing communion will use alcohol gel prior to distribution. We will continue to use the common cup. We are asking all clergy and chalice ministers to absent themselves from distributing communion if they have any concern that they are ill or may be infected with influenza. For those with concerns about the common cup, and for those who may be concerned that they might be ill we suggest that you instinct the wafer. Intinction is the dipping of the wafer into the chalice of wine, then placing it into the mouth, rather than drinking from the common cup. Intinction will be done only by clergy or chalice ministers and from a chalice reserved for intinction. A theological point is relevant here – Holy Communion is equally valid when ‘administered in only one kind.’ That is, receiving only the bread constitutes full communion. The common cup will still be available. If you do wish to instinct, please hold the wafer in your hand until the chalice minister or clergy comes with the cup and that person will dip the wafer for you, then hand it back to you to consume.

In our communal times together there are several things you can do to help ensure the health of all here at Christ Church Cathedral.

• If you are ill or feeling you might be getting ill or know you have been exposed to influenza, stay home until well and without fever for 24 hours
• Cover all coughs and sneezes with a handkerchief
• When you are present for communion, have a low threshold for intincting if you have concerns about your own health or possibility of being infectious
• Follow good ‘cough etiquette’ – cough only into a tissue or into the angle of your elbow, not into a bare hand
• Maintain good hygiene by washing hands or using an alcohol gel after coughing, sneezing, using the restroom, and after greeting large numbers of people
• Consider a more reserved passing of the peace, greeting only those around you rather than the entire congregation
• Get influenza vaccines early – both seasonal and the new H1N1 (swine flue) when available

One additional consideration: children under the age of 10 and pregnant women have been particularly susceptible to this strain of influenza and have become sicker with it. Consider extra precautions for these individuals, including not partaking from the common cup, and practicing extra good hygiene.

The above said, caution is warranted but not panic. Influenza has been around for years and the human body is amazingly resilient. Furthermore, if the common cup were a real threat priests would have had short lifespans and died out quickly hundreds of years ago! Most individuals who contract influenza have relatively mild illness. That said, observe precautions, and be well.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

"But I Have Called You Friends"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday, October 1 at the "Celebration of Cathedral Ministry" service.

“But I have called you friends.”

Is there a more comforting, is there a more profound, is there a more holy word in all creation than friend?

Lover has heat and passion but will it last the test of time? Father, mother, sister, brother – those are kind of a mixed bag. Some of us have wonderful relationships with those family members, others … well, not so much.

But friend. While friend doesn’t carry with it the physical intimacy of lover or the blood is thicker than water connection of family, I think it carries with it a bond that runs even deeper. Think about it: The highest compliment you can pay to and the deepest joy you can receive from one who is your lover or parent or even child is to be able to say in the end, “but even more than that, they were my friend.”

True friendship is the relationship to which all other relationships aspire. To be someone’s friend, I mean to be their true friend, means that they chose you and you chose them. That you would cross rivers and run through walls for each other because that’s what friends do. The voice of a friend on the other end of a phone can make a thousand mile distance seem as close as an embrace. A true friend can make a strange land as cozy as your favorite chair or take the darkest night and not make the darkness go away but somehow make it bearable, survivable and alive with hope that somewhere out there, dawn is coming.

It’s why betrayal by a friend is perhaps the deepest pain there is. That’s why as much as those nails hurt going into Jesus’ hands and feet on Good Friday, I have to believe he still would have endured them a thousand times before again feeling the pain of being betrayed by a friend. It was that betrayal, even more than the crucifixion, that tells us there is no pain so great that God has not borne it.

“But I have called you friends,” Jesus says. I have chosen you. I would cross rivers and run through walls for you. There is no darkness that you can enter that I won’t come, too. There is no distance that I will not traverse. Is there any greater honor that God has paid us, perhaps even greater than our creation itself, than calling us friends.

As someone who loves to talk, I gotta tell you there aren’t many ways I aspire to being a Quaker … but I do covet their name, because I think it absolutely nails the best of who we can be as Christ’s church … a society of friends. And really, that is our history as Christ Church Cathedral. We love like friends. Sometimes we fight like friends – passionately, because we really care. We hold onto each other and celebrate the light and huddle in the darkness like friends. We surprise each other with abundant grace like friends, and in our weakest moments we even betray each other as friends sometimes do.

When we had our coffees and conversations this summer, I you all what kept you coming back to this Cathedral. And more than the beautiful space and the gorgeous music, more than the compassionate ministries and engaging programs over and over again you sang the same refrain. It’s the people. These are my friends.

It is that friendship that draws us here tonight. Through Christ and with each other.

Stand up for a second. Look around. See your friends. Look each other in the eye. Remember the life we have shared.

Of course there are many friends whose time here has come and gone. But if you listen and look closely you can hear and see them – and a few have even come back for a visit. Listen closely and I think you can still hear the booming voice of Michael Allen, which rendered sound systems pointless and called us to live lives as bold and resonant as it was. Close your eyes and I know you can see the penetrating wise countenance of Kathryn Nelson, the gentle smile of Ray Miller and even just down the hall hear the curmudgeonly grumbling of Jim McGahey, each merely different ways of expressing a love that defies words still. And as the last notes of the last hymn fade away tonight, see if you don’t hear the echoes of Cricket Cooper’s infectious laugh and Ron Clingenpeel’s harmonica reminding us that life is to be reveled in and that churches are for dancing, too.

And there’s another dear friend, Susan Nanny. A friend we really never got to say a proper thank you to, or to tell her how much her expansiveness of mind, heart and spirit, how much her friendship made us better friends to one another and the world. But you know, my mother taught me that it was never too late to do the right thing, and I see Susan is here tonight so Susan, I know you hate this, but could you please stand just for a moment and let us even express a little bit of how much we praise God and are grateful for your years of friendship among us.

(Susan stood and an extended standing ovation followed)

Each of these friends and so many more have made us who we are today. We are a part of each other. And so we gather tonight, as a congregation, as a diocese, as just that. We are a society of friends. Friends in the name of the one who called us friend first, Jesus Christ.

But as that society of friends, we need to remember the calling of that friendship is not to be a mere social club and it certainly is not the life of a gated community. Our friendship is grounded in the fact that we have looked one another in the eye and pledged to uphold each other in living a life that is different. A life grounded in the life of our friend Jesus. A life grounded in loving boldly and not counting the cost. In giving of ourselves and sowing seeds of joy and hope. A life grounded in not just talking about light in the darkness but being that light in the darkness for a world where for too many people darkness is all they see. A life where there is no river we won’t cross, no wall we won’t run through for each other, but also knowing that Jesus stands not just in here with us but out there with the most rejected and helpless and powerless and says to us, “but remember, these are your friends, too.”

For as powerfully as God has worked and as richer as our lives have been through the friends who have led us this far, I believe God has even greater things in store in the days and years to come. This is a moment of truth for this Cathedral and this diocese and really for the whole church. A defining moment where old ways of being the Church are rattling their last breaths and we can either choose to serve hors d’oeuvres at the wake or prepare for the resurrection! Gone are the days where places like this are where people expect you to be on Sunday morning. Gone are the days when we could automatically claim the power and prestige in society of being the “church of presidents.” Gone are the days when you didn’t risk at least a quizzical look by telling people that yes, you actually do go to church.

Now, don’t get me wrong, those were good days. They were the days that shaped us. They were days that shaped me. But as much as those days and that Church meant and mean to us, do not be fooled and let us not fool ourselves, those days are gone and they are not coming back. And while we may shed some tears, the chorus that should ring from our lips is not wailing but, ”Thank God. Let the dead bury the dead.”

Because as that last light of the old days where the role of the Church was unquestioned fades into the western skyline, when we turn to the East we see the first light of a new day dawning. A day where Christ is ready to rise anew in us. In this new day, nothing will be handed to us easily, but that is precisely the gift this day bears in its hands. In this new day, we must not only talk the talk of Jesus love but we must walk the walk because if we don’t, the world will toss us aside and well it should.

That is the gift of this new day. That we have to prove ourselves worthy of bearing the name of Christ. That we have to prove to the world not just with flowery words but with deeds of love and power, with friendship to the friendless that the way of the cross is the way of life, and that every sacrifice made to follow that way is worth it in the depth and breadth of the joy our lives are filled with in return.

It is a new day fraught with risk and challenge, but my friends, it is not only the adventure we’ve been waiting for it is the day God has been preparing us for.

Consider this: We live in a city where less than 50 percent of students in city schools graduate from high school and the dropout rate is nearly 20 percent. Where the crisis in education is so bad that two years ago the State Board of Education stripped the District of its accreditation and took over its management. And just in case there’s anyone who thinks that educational crises don’t have far reaching effects, do you know what prison planners use to project how many beds they’ll need in the future? Third grade reading scores.

The challenge of education in this city is huge. It is a mountain. But I look around this community of friends and I see some of the best educators in this city. People like B.R. Rhoads and Deb Holmes, Lynne Glickert and Debbie Nelson Linck; Urlene Branch and Robin Kinman … and I’m just getting started with that list. I look out at this community of friends and I believe God is preparing us to meet just this challenge.

We live in a city where an urban renaissance is being expressed increasingly through a commitment to the arts and culture in places like Citygardens and the Gateway Mall Project and the renovation of our good neighbor the Central Library. And then I hear Pat Partridge and our choir in this not only beautiful but amazing acoustic space … and I believe God is positioning us to be a spectacular part of that new day.

We live in a city where if you scratch the surface of any major concern we face you will find deep-seated and longstanding issues of race. There are chasms of distrust and misunderstanding that must be breached, wrongs that must be made right and new friendships that must be forged if we are to have a future together. But then I look around this community of friends that God has gathered and I see the diversity of color and class, often still segregated even as we gather together inside these walls … but there nonetheless. I see it and I believe God is calling us to build and nurture the friendships across racial divides that will show this city how rich this new day can be.

And finally, we live in a diocese where difficult times have made us increasingly concerned with our individual congregational survival … and we certainly understand that here … but where if we look around we realize we share many of the same challenges and opportunities of aging buildings and changing cultures. And I look out at the friends from around our diocese who have assembled here tonight and I believe God is calling us to work together in new ways to bring this new day of the church to dawn.

And so this night is not about some new priest at the Cathedral – man, wouldn’t that just be shrimp in a pea pod at the funeral home! In fact, this night is not even just about this Cathedral community. This night is about all of us, the friendship that has shaped us in the past, the friendship that binds us together and the friendship with Christ and with each other that has prepared us to embrace these great opportunities that lie before us.

As Christ’s church, we proclaim the bonds of that friendship by looking each other in the eye and binding ourselves to Christ and each other with sacred vows. And so it is a “good and joyful thing” that as we gather to celebrate this incredibly and diversely gifted community of friends that we reaffirm those vows not just as a way of confirming our friendship but of joining hands and hearts and greeting the new dawn as one.

And so in a minute we’re going to stand and do just that. We will all reaffirm our baptismal covenant to live and love boldly not just in here but out there. Our priests will reaffirm their vows to gather God’s people in places like this around the presence of Christ the friend in word and sacrament. Our deacons will reaffirm their vows to lead us out from this place into the world where we are all called to serve the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. Finally we will lead our bishop in reaffirming his vows boldly to lead us in proclaiming the Gospel and to be a sign to us that we are connected beyond ourselves around this globe in ways we can only begin to understand.

But even more important as we reaffirm our vows, we will all have the opportunity to pledge our support and friendship to one another. To say and hear that we know we are in this together, and that while none of us can do it alone, that together, God working through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

A new day is dawning. And we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before and praise God for working through them to prepare us for this day. We do not have the security or assurances of days gone past when the Church was the ecclesiastical version of the “bank too big to fail.” But one assurance has not changed. That Christ still looks into our eyes deeply and says, “But I have called you friends” … and bids us to look on each other and the world and do the same.