Sunday, May 31, 2009

Pentecost: Listening in Languages Not Our Own

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 31

We come here for one reason and for one reason only.

A group of us were meeting a couple weeks back preparing for the Eucharist and Community Life event we’re having here this coming Saturday. And as we were going around the table sharing our personal histories with worship, Shug Goodlow began by saying these words:

We come here – to church – for one reason and one reason only. To encounter God.

Now there may be many reasons we say we come to church – the music, community … engaging sermons … even an hour or so escape from the rest of our lives. But that we choose to seek those things here, in THIS place, shows that what we are really after, what we really hunger for, whether we’re even conscious of it or not, is an encounter with God.

I think Shug is absolutely right. We want something deep inside us to be touched by the one who is far beyond us. And underneath that desire is a deep, maybe even desperate hope that the God who is so far beyond us actually wants to encounter us, too.

And it’s that hope makes our Christian story so compelling. It’s a love story. And it’s not just any love story but the best love story in history … the love between God and us.

Ours is a love story that leaves Casablanca in the dust, and it’s all about the ending. We’re promised not just a classic finish where those left behind toast to the beginnings of a beautiful friendship. The God who could so not bear to be apart from us that she became human in Jesus doesn’t leave forever with Victor Lazlo because she has more important work to do and because someday she might regret not going, Maybe not today. Maybe not tomorrow, but soon and for the rest of her life. No. This God stands with us and says, even though I am leaving, I will send the Holy Spirit to be your companion.

This is not a God who says “Here’s looking at you, kid” and “we’ll always have Paris.” But “Lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.”

We come here as players in the greatest love story that is still being written. We seek that love that seeks us. We seek that presence that never leaves. We seek that understanding and answers to the questions that amaze and perplex and trouble us so our minds and hearts and spirits can be at peace.

And when we find it, when we encounter God, it is powerful. And that word powerful doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. When we have that encounter, when we catch even a glimpse, feel even a whisper of God, it is like a chord resonating deep inside us. It gives us meaning and purpose. Comfort and strength. It becomes a sacred touchstone for our lives. God has spoken, and even more amazing, we have heard and understood it. How can we not be changed?

It is the eternal story of Christ’s Church. And we hear it today in the Pentecost reading from Acts:
The crowd gathered and was bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each. Amazed and astonished, they asked, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language? Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabs—in our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power.” All were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?”

In our own languages we hear them speaking about God’s deeds of power. What does that mean?

What made the Pentecost experience memorable and life-changing for the onlookers wasn’t just that God was there, but that God encountered them where they were. God met them and reached out to them where they were as who they were. They heard the Word of God in their own languages.

But God made a choice there. So let’s think for a second about what God didn’t do. God didn’t make everyone able to hear and understand ONE language, or perhaps speak in a language like music that is universally accessible. God chose to speak in the individual languages of each of the members of the crowd. Which means that even though everyone there could say they heard God’s word in their own language, none of them could say that it was ONLY in their own language. And there’s a powerful message in that for us.

When we have that encounter with God, it does change us. It gives us meaning and purpose, comfort and strength. Often it can give us a sense of conviction or even certainty upon which we build other pieces of our lives. And that can a wonderful thing. Great people throughout history, the Martin Luther Kings and Mother Teresas and Dorothy Days of the world, have built on the foundation of their encounter with God and led movements of passion and conviction that have changed the world.

But because the experience is so powerful for us. Because we have heard God speaking so strongly to us in our own language, sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking the language is as important as the divine speaker behind it. And so we enshrine the vehicle the encounter with God came in. And we become rigid not just about how we have and can encounter God, but how others can as well. And we start to have litmus tests for true discipleship that have nothing to do with truly following Christ but have everything to do with our enshrining the ways God has spoken to us.

Litmus tests of liturgical preference – God has to be worshiped in this way. Only this is “real” Anglican worship. Not recognizing that just as God spoke in many different tongues on that day of Pentecost that God can speak through and be praised through many different styles of worship and that the point is less the style that is chosen but that the offering given with joy and integrity and the self-giving love shown to us in Jesus Christ.

Litmus tests of education and economic status. The subtle, silent elitism of believing that only those who have a certain education and live above a certain level have the intellectual capacity to grasp theology. That only certain people can be teachers and bearers of the word and dismissing those who don’t make the cut. Not recognizing that the heart of discipleship is a love that can be grasped and taught to us by the smallest child, the poorest woman on the street, the man who can’t read enough to order off a menu or the parent or grandparent with Alzheimer’s who so painfully sometimes can’t even remember our name anymore.

Litmus tests of political affiliation. The dominant political culture in Amertica the past decade has been that you had to be a conservative Republican to truly follow Christ. But as many of us as bristled and were even indignant at that, the fundamentalism of the left is equally as insidious and that is the insistence that you have to be a liberal Democrat truly to follow Christ. Not recognizing that not only can God speak to us in different ways but that faithful discipleship can lead us to different convictions about how best to bring in God’s realm of wholeness and love, and that it is in demonizing and silencing the other that all of us fall short of God’s dream for us and for the world.

This Cathedral will become the church of Pentecost, the community God dreams for us to be when we not only rejoice in how God has spoken to us but eliminate our litmus tests for true discipleship and seek that encounter with God in languages that are not our native tongue.

We will become the church of Pentecost, the community God dreams for us to be when we approach our liturgy not with a rigid sense of preserving exactly the way God has spoken to me but with a sense of joyful adventure exploring the many ways God is speaking to the other. When we seek to hear God’s voice not just by “rounding up the usual suspects” but by listening to those that the world out there tells us have nothing to offer but that Christ and we know different.

We will become the church of Pentecost, the community God dreams for us to be when the voices of conservative Republicans, liberal Democrats and everyone in between are equally welcomed and accepted as capable of bearing the divine Word. When we can have truly honest and wisdom-revealing conversations about political issues because we are all embracing the possibility of the deepest truth coming from the lips of the one most different from us.

Pentecost is about rejoicing that yes, God speaks to us in our own language. But even more it is about rejoicing that God doesn’t just speak any one language. Even more it is an invitation to learn each other’s languages, to seek to understand and embrace one another, to hear what the word of God sounds like in another’s ears because when we do we expand our own possibilities of having that encounter with God, that encounter with God we crave. That encounter with God that is the reason we are here.


Friday, May 29, 2009

Discernment and the Vocations Conference

Over 3 days in Mid May, I helped to facilitate the Diocesan Vocations Conference; this was part of my duties as a member of the Diocesan Commission on Ministry. The Commission on Ministry is tasked with continuing wider (larger community) discernment of individuals for whom their local parish discernment groups have affirmed a call to ordained ministry. For many aspirants this is the first time they will have met the Commission and will be able to put a name with a face other than, their postulancy interview. The conference was held on the grounds of the Marianist Retreat Center in Eureka. The center is a lovely facility, perched on wooded lands, bordered by the Meramec River. We were visited in the early mornings by a variety of deer and various birds of Missouri’s woodlands. It was a very peaceful setting, in order to contemplate the call that God gives to everyone. Everyone is called to ministry; the act of discerning comes about to figure out what that call is. What was important about this conference, is that this year we left a lot of free time for the aspirants (those discerning God’s call), interspersed with worship, and presentations on what to expect from the discernment process within the Diocese of Missouri. This year’s conference was unique in that we wanted to include a presentation on what a discerned call to lay leadership looks like.

Too often discernment is perceived to always be a call to the ordained orders. But in reality, the largest order of ministry within our church is the Lay Order. We deacons often joke that when you read about the orders of ministry in the back of the Book of Common Prayer in the catechism, the rank goes: Deacon, Priest, Bishop and Lay. So Deacons actually through their ordination go from the #1 spot to #4. There are so many opportunities that the lay order can tackle in ministry, that can just be freely done, and without approval. For ordained persons, the vow of obedience requires us to ask permission first.

What is interesting to me is the preconceived notions that many aspirants who come to the conference. Many believe that they are called to be ordained, and while that may be true, and a good part of the conference is dedicated to instructing persons in the process of discernment to the ordained orders. The Commission on Ministry has begun a process of training local parish discernment groups, and we are contemplating encouraging a model that was created by the Washington University Campus Ministry group, called Circle Discernment. Where the entire group is discerning their call, this turns the normal process of discerning on its head. And in truth, the majority of persons going through discernment are NOT discerned to the ordained orders. The persons coming to the Commission for wider discernment to the ordained life is the minority. In his book “A Hidden Wholeness” Parker Palmer describes “circles of trust” which really describe the Campus Ministry model for discernment.

I think it is time for members of Christ Church Cathedral to start circle discernment and to break out of this time of waiting (i.e. waiting for our Provost to come), and to take action, and form some circles of trust to discern what it is that God is calling each of us to. For a very few, it might be ordination to the Diaconate, or the Priesthood, but to the majority it maybe some new amazing ministry that we haven’t thought of yet. The excitement surrounding the cathedral is so real that you can actually feel it. The spirit is moving in and around us, and I believe she truly desires to work using the gifts that each of us bring to our ministries. We just have to be clear and honest with ourselves about what those are. It will take some work, but I believe that we will be a much tighter and healthier body of Christ once we do this work.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Easter 7: An alternative way of life

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 17

We are an Easter People living in a Good Friday world. For the last seven weeks we have been celebrating the historical fact that Easter changed our conception of reality. Because his disciples testified they had encountered a risen Jesus who had entered a new, glorious and eternal life, we no longer need to fear death as the power that rules our lives. But the world has not accepted that reality. It still thinks a crucifixion can fix things that have gone wrong. The world’s various principalities and powers continue to believe that death has the final say. So they either threaten us with death or promise to protect us from death to gain power over us.

According to John’s gospel, Jesus anticipated that this difference would be the dilemma of his disciples. That is why he prayed at the last supper for his disciples to be in the world but not of the world. He told his Father, “They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world… I am not asking you to take them out of the world… As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.” Jesus’ mission to restore all people to a right relationship with God and with each other could continue only if his disciples engaged the world as he had. But he also knew that the world’s understanding of meaning, identity, and value could capture the minds of his followers if they did engage it. To participate in his mission, Jesus’ disciples had to remember that they belong to Jesus, not to the world—that they were not of the world even if they were in the world.

It’s a good theory. But, as they say, the devil is in the details. How do we go about being in the world without being of the world? Ever since Constantine adopted Christianity as the cause that would win him the Roman Empire, Jesus’ disciples have often been as much of the world as in it. We only need to recognize how some Christian groups have used politics to push their agendas to realize how much today’s Christians are of the world.

That is what happens when we forget that Christianity is not a religion but a way of life. Religions are a combination of ideologies and institutions that serve a social purpose, like keeping people moral, maintaining public order, and justifying or critiquing public policy. But Jesus did not come just to update the religion we had so that it would do those things better. He came to reveal and enable a new way of life to be lived for its own sake; a way of life that would immerse us in the love of God. If we are going to be in the world without being of the world, we need to live out the alternative lifestyle to which Jesus calls us instead of the lifestyle to which our culture tempts us.

It would take a book to describe that alternative lifestyle and how it contrasts with the world’s lifestyle. In fact, several books on that subject have already been written. But let me offer you one very central contrast between the world’s way of life and a Christian way of life to show you what I mean.

With their 1985 book, Habits of the Heart, the sociologist Robert Bellah and his associates began to document how the American way of life has been dominated by individualism. People who affirm individualism believe that the meaning of life is found in pursuing personal achievement and success. They identify themselves as “self-made” persons who worked hard to become what they have become. They believe their value is based on how much prestige, power, and wealth they have accumulated for themselves.

By way of contrast, the Christian way of life calls us into a community of mutual caring, in which the meaning of life is not found in what we get for ourselves but in how we love our neighbors. The fullest expression of who we really are does not come from what we make of ourselves, but from the difference we make in the lives of our neighbors and the various communities in which we all participate. What we value most is not what we accomplish as an individual but the compassionate relationships we have nurtured with our brothers and sisters on this planet.

When we live by the core values of mutual caring and donating ourselves to the communities we inhabit, we will look for ways to use those values in transforming our social environment. When we intentionally try to live a Christian way of life, we work to restore peace to families, cooperation to work places, civility to community politics and society, and possibilities for genuine renewal to leisure activities. By being disciples who belong to Jesus rather than to this world, we can help transform the worldly way of life that isolates people from each other and divides groups against each other to a Christian way of life in which empathy, compassion, caring, and love unite us with each other.

As much as I am attracted by this vision, I have no illusions that we will quickly change the Good Friday world by living a Christian way of life. But we can keep that world from dominating the way we live by intentionally affirming the core values of a Christian lifestyle. In that way, we at least participate with God in working for his mission to reconcile all people to him and with each other. And who knows, some of the people who do not belong to our community might see that we live an alternative way of life that is not cheapened by the world’s way of life. And they might be attracted to live our way of life when the see the joy we have in living the way we do. In that way the values of God’s kingdom can gain a foothold in this world without ever having to be of this world.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Easter 6: Leaving Room for the Spirit

Preached by the Rev. Mark Sluss at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 17

In 1993, I had started to attend the Cathedral in Chicago, after moving into the city from the Northwest Suburbs. My roommate attended there, so we went to church together, he was already plugged in there and I needed to meet people, so it seemed like a good idea. I attended there for about 2 years. Then in 1995 I was doing all kinds of ministries, I was an acolyte, a thurifer, sub deacon, and a Master of Ceremony (comparable to our Vergers), and in support of my room mate we were starting a Young Adult group at the Cathedral. We had planned a couple of events. And to be completely honest they had very low attendance. I was beginning to feel spread very thin. In spite of all the things that I was involved in, in spite of all the friends I had made, I just did not feel “connected” to God in that space. Yes everyone was nice, the church was beautiful, they prided themselves in doing GREAT Liturgy. Due in part to their Canon Liturgist who ran the acolytes, readers and intercessors with an iron fist! But the feeling I came away with most Sundays was “that was a good performance, no one messed up today”. Instead of feeling renewed, refreshed, or regenerated, I felt like we had just put on a show.

Given the poor fruit we were bearing in the one endeavor that I was trying to get off the ground, the one thing that I thought would fill me up, I became discouraged, and a bit bummed over the situation. At that time I reviewed those times in my life where I truly felt connected to God. When did I feel that what I was doing was blessed by God, and truly connected and blessed in whatever action I was doing? It is a practice I advise you to do from time to time. Look back at your life, when did you feel God was right along side you, honestly leading you, and giving you blessings? What was the time like? What were the feelings? What action did you do? What about the situation seemed to hold God with you? What was your attitude? What was your subconscious doing???

I began to think about the period of time just after I had been baptized. It was in March of 1988. I was graduated from then Southwest Missouri State University (now it is Missouri State University). I moved to Columbia Missouri, and was attending Calvary Episcopal Church. I was involved with the campus ministry group, and truly felt connected. OK, sure I wasn’t a student, and I was attending the parish and partaking of the young adult group there. I first met Heidi Clark then and she invited me to help out with the parish youth groups. And it was within those groups that I truly felt the presence that god was working with us. I don’t know if it was the fact that I was recently baptized, or living in community, or what, but everytime I did something for and with the community at Calvary I felt blessed. I felt connected and a part of something greater. The feeling was one of elation, one of a true “lightness” of body and mind. My attitude was one of awe and wonder at what God was doing with us. Yes it was messy at times, but that was part of the wonder for me. We were doing things at least to me that seemed “from the hip’ and God was working through us.

When I reflect back on this time, with regards to the situation I was in at the Cathedral in Chicago, I realized that at least for me, with the pretty building the regimental acolyte corps, the perfect liturgy a sort of restriction was being placed on us. It was then that I made the decision to change parishes. I told myself it was the “corporate-ness” of the cathedral that wasn’t feeding me. And that is true, but in the end I truly think it was that I didn’t feel empowered to get down to ministry with the living God, Life is organic and the Cathedral in Chicago was to me a sterile controlled environment to interact with God. Things worked out well for me though. Once I made the decision to move from the Cathedral, I decided to try the little parish church in the adjoining Ravenswood, neighborhood just south and west from where I lived, All Saints, Ravenswood.

All Saints Parish was unique, they were a mission church on the rebound in an up and coming rehabbed community of Chicago. The sanctuary had old radiator heat that leaked in the winters and the carpeting was frayed and held together with duct tape. In the summer, because of an ambitious sexton’s idea to varnish the pews, in the scant few weeks of heat of Chicago, the varnish melted so you had to bring towels and sheets with you so that you didn’t stick to the pew. And no one seemed to mind. You see All Saints was a parish that was alive. If you wanted to try to do something you could. I often say that All Saints was messy enough that we left room for the Holy Spirit to move amongst us. God was at All Saints and at Calvary doing new things with us. We weren’t afraid to fail. We weren’t afraid to look foolish.

What it is that gave us that attitude, I have to say that it is friendship. Friends do not point and laugh at you for your failure. But uphold you and cheer you on in your endeavors. That was the difference between the cathedral in Chicago and All Saints yes I went to the Cathedral with a friend, and to make friends, but that community for me did not take shape. All Saints did. And to be honest Calvary was the same situation, I became friends with our Mike Kinman and Heidi Clark, some twenty one years ago. And we were doing good things. And we were being blessed in our endeavors. And we are going to continue to do good things and I pray we will continue to be blessed in our endeavors.

And now we have a new Provost that 21 years ago was just my friend Mike and still is, and plans are being implemented here at this cathedral. I feel an excitement and an anticipation that I haven’t felt in a while. I feel a great sense of possibilities. The possibilities that could and will occur when we lighten up and let the spirit move in and around us. Yes it is going to feel strange and dangerous, it usually does feel dangerous when the spirit starts working, to let loose of those things that feel comfortable for us. But it is a new time for us, and the spirit longs to be set free to do the new things that God calls us to do. The spirit wants to move in this place. The spirit is not a pet to be kept with us, kept in a pen of rigid liturgical formulas, like in the cathedral in Chicago felt for me, the spirit wants to be loose!

God does new things all the time. New and unexpected things. It is a common theme, that when we send missioners out from this place, that they come back, and say “it wasn’t what I expected”. “I thought I’d be ministering to them, and in fact I think they served me more than I did them”. It is the relationships we build that help us to minister together. Not at or for someone else. And it’s making those friends and traveling together, getting dirty together, in the vineyard, that the spirit comes and dances and abides with us.

God pours out his spirit on to all, in our reading of Acts, even Gentiles get the gift of the Spirit, can you believe it?? EVEN the Gentiles; wonder what the historical equivalent of GAFCON, or the Southern Cone thought about that, even to the GENTILES! The mission to spread the gospel to the gentiles was solemnized by the gift of the spirit at that moment. If God pours out the spirit to even Samaritans, Ethiopian Eunuchs, and now in this reading, Gentiles, who are we to say that spirit isn’t offered to gays and lesbian folk as well? I have seen the spirit move and bless LGBT people, in many communities, and especially at Pride fest. We hear stories from those attending on how God is blessing the fruit of ministries in these areas. And like Peter says “Can anyone withhold the water for baptizing these people?” And if so then how can we deny these baptized members all the sacraments that the church offers? Ordination and yes even Marriage. Many of you may have been reading about the recent happenings with the Anglican Consultative Council, and their adoption of the most recent Covenant statement (of course with some changes). But it still calls for moratoria on Blessings and Ordination to the Episcopacy. To those of us LGBT persons it appears that the instruments of communion are trying so tenuously to keep the communion together, trying for unity sake to hold onto relationships with those that want to exclude a group that God obviously calls into the family as well.

It is disheartening at times to hear the rhetoric being offered by bloggers and observers, of persons working behind the scenes to sabotage all the good work that the communion is doing. IT is those provinces that are working together that see such fruits and blessings of god in progressing the mission and works that we feel called to do together. Take for example our own missions together with the Diocese of Lui. Our friendship and sharing of stories and relationships together bless us both with the grace to travel together. Yesterday and today our missioners are leaving for Lui. And I know that the spirit dances and moves in those relationships and friendships that will be rekindled and those that will be created.
God works and supports us through our community of Friends. When we gather together we can accomplish greater things.

Jesus called his disciples friends and Facebook wasn’t around then so he must have meant it to be more than just a status update. It is in friendship and love that we are known to be followers of Christ. It is in community that the spirit comes and guides and blesses our works. Like my friend Mike said last week, it is time for us to reach out across the various services and spend some time abiding with each other. Being friends with one another, not just Facebook friends like the 2516 friends Mike has on Facebook, but honest face to face friends, friends in the body of Christ. Supporting each other and ministering together and to each other. Being friends, dinner friends, shoulder to lean on friends, altar guild friends, Saturday morning breakfast friends… friends in and around all the ministries that we are called to by being friends in and of Christ. And being friends in Christ is a ministry in itself. So let’s get dirty, let’s get messy and lets make a few mistakes, lets try something new and be willing to admit our failures. Let’s give each other a Monopoly “get out of jail free” card that can be turned in when you sing the wrong verse, turn the wrong way, drop a prayer book or leave floaters in the chalice. Let’s allow enough room to recognize the Holy Spirit in here with us. Moving amongst us, blessing us and empowering us to do all the good things God promises will come to us when we do abide together as friends. Let’s abide with one another this summer and rediscover the friendships we share that make US the community that is Christ Church Cathedral. Amen.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Easter 5: The invitation of being branches of Christ

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 10

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Before I start, I hope you’ll excuse me for a moment, I just want to check Facebook here on my phone and see what some of my friends are up to. Let’s see …

Lara is reading Saturday’s article by next Israeli ambassador to the US. Not encouraging.

Oh, Dawn just ordered some scented geraniums for her balcony. :)!!

Over here I see, Blake shaved off his beard and watched his daughter pleading to "put it back on."

And Jon is amazed ABC anchors can say "Live Mega Doppler 7000 HD" with a straight face.

What Lara, Dawn, Blake and Jon all have in common is we all went to high school together. I haven’t seen any of them in years, and yet because of this thing called Facebook I can keep track of their activities and random thoughts pretty much all the time.

For those who are thoroughly confused right now, Facebook is what is called a social networking site on the internet. You can sign up and you get a webpage where you can tell all sorts of things about yourself and then you invite people to be your “friends” Someone who is your friend can see all your information and pictures on your page and you can see theirs.

There’s also this thing called a Facebook status. That’s what I just read. It’s a short phrase you update that tells all your friends what you’re doing or thinking or some other potentially witty thought that just crossed your mind.

Facebook is just one piece of evidence that we are more connected as human beings than at any other time in history, and that’s pretty cool. But even as we are nearly drowning in this sea of connectivity, perhaps also more than any time in history we have a deep, unslaked thirst for real relationship. For intimacy. For real friends.

Maybe on this Mother’s Day, the most profound mother we can quote is Mother Teresa, who having experienced some of the most abject physical poverty in the world noted that “the most terrible poverty is loneliness, and the feeling of being unloved.”

Mother Teresa could have been describing this brave new world. Where it’s possible to have a thousand friends and yet no one to hold your hand. Where it’s possible to know that someone you went to high school with has six loads of laundry to do at their home and not know the names of the couple living two doors down from yours. Where information about too often has replaced being with.

But into this world, Jesus speaks this morning. And here is what he says:

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

Now there’s a different vision of being connected! Not as electronic blips across fiber optic lines and satellite transmissions but organic and growing …and strong. Vines are not some wimpy plant, they can be bound together to make rope that can lift hundreds of pounds.

It’s not just that wonderful image of the vine and the branches, either, there’s that word, abide, over and over again. Abide in me. I abide in you.

Abiding is about spending time, about meeting someone where they are and sticking around through thick and thin. Jesus doesn’t just want to know our Facebook status . There is a depth and a permanance to the word abide. It is about Christ being bound to us and about we in Christ being bound to each other and in each other’s eyes glimpsing infinity.

I have some friends in more evangelical nondenominational circles who use the phrase “doing life together” to describe this way of being the church – and I really think that gets to the heart of the opportunity we have as branches of the vine of Christ. In Christ we are all life partners.

And what we know about that relationship from our other life partnerships is that it doesn’t mean that we will never hurt one another or annoy one another or disagree with one another but it does mean that at our best and with God’s help we will never leave one another…

…that at our best and with God’s help, we will reach out to one another and open ourselves up to one another,

…that at our best and with God’s help even in those moments when we don’t like one another we will always, always try to love one another.

This is about having transforming relationships. Relationships of one body like the branch to the vine. And what happens when we live into and tend those relationships? Those relationships bear juicy, delicious fruit. They shows us that together we can live extraordinary lives and do extraordinary things.

So how do we live into it? How do we accept this amazing invitation to be branches of the vine of Christ. How do we bear incredible fruit for ourselves and for the world? Well, I’d like to lay out three opportunities for us as a community to do just that.

First is right where we live. Think for a moment. What are the relationships that feed you? Relationships where you experience the God who is love. Relationships that in giving yourself to you find life? Is it your spouse or partner? Children? Nieces and nephews? Co-workers? Brothers/sisters? Friends. Family of choice or chance. Here’s my question for us? How are we as a Cathedral community helping each other feed and strengthen those relationships?

We need to get away from a way of life where church is just about what happens in this place but also the community that helps us attend to those relationships, helps us abide with Christ in them, helps those relationships bear wonderful fruit where we live.

Second, here with each other. Abiding, being those branches is about deep relationship. About sharing our faith and life with one another. That only happens with spending time together. From doing life together. And this summer we’re going to do just that.

Starting June 7 and for the rest of the summer we’re going to come together in a different way on Sunday mornings. Just for the summer, we’re going to shift to two services – at 8 and 10, so we can reconnect across some of the service time boundaries and abide with each other. And we’re going to care less about whether on any particular week we’re using the style of worship that might be our particular favorite and we’re going to choose to care more about the chance just to be together, to abide with each other.

And not only that, between the two services every Sunday we’re going to have an opportunity for everyone – young and old and in between to come together in Schuyler Hall. We’ll be looking at some scripture, sharing some things in table groups, talking about some things as a whole group, and with God’s help leaving each time knowing Christ and each other a little better and with some practical thoughts of how to deal with some of the real stuff going on in our lives. This summer, we’re going to spend some time abiding with Christ by abiding with each other.

Finally, our life out there. As long as I have been around the Cathedral we have struggled with our relationship with those of us who live on the streets of St. Louis. We’ve even struggled with finding language to describe it, most recently settling on the phrase “our downtown neighbors.” None of the terms we’ve used have ever sat well with me, and I’ve finally figured out why. Because in coining any term, we’re creating an us and them – and that’s not what being branches of the vine of Christ is about.

So we need to ask ourselves, what does it mean for us to know each other, to meet each other, to abide with each other and to meet Christ in the process? How do we bridge the chasm between the chairs in the front 80% of the church and the sides and very back? How do we bridge the gap between the front door and Lucas Park? Between the people who eat here on Saturday mornings and those who feast at this table?

I don’t know exactly how we do it, but I think the first step is learning how just to be with one another – learning how to abide. Learning, as we heard last week in the Gospel of the Good Shepherd, to call each other by name. I find myself longing for the day when we refer not to our “downtown neighbors” but to Stanley or Melinda, or Joshua or Old School. Where we know each others’ names and stories and we make that shift from viewing each other not as a problem to solve or even a population to serve but as a companion on the journey. Because maybe we can’t really fix anything. But we know we can abide with and love. It begins with exchanging the peace. It begins with just coming on Saturday mornings and hanging out. It begins with asking a name and sharing yours and saying “where you from” and telling about yourself.

It begins with recognizing that the deepest poverty is loneliness and feeling unloved. And that despite our bravest faces and best facades, we all have it more often than we’re willing to admit. For some of us it’s the loneliness of the streets. For some of us it’s missing the presence of children from our worship and for some it’s feeling like our children aren’t welcome as who they are. For some of us the loneliest place is the dinner table or the marriage bed or the silence of not knowing what to say to a teenager who is 2 feet and a million miles away or maybe a parent whom you love but just can’t seem to get to understand you anymore. Recognizing that for some of us the loneliest place is the glow of a computer screen and the touch of the keys instead of the touch of a hand or the TV echoing through an empty house, providing noise as an anesthetic against the painful silence.

It begins with recognizing that poverty of loneliness is out there, but that it doesn’t need to be. Because there is no pain that cannot be eased, no joy that cannot be made sweeter, no fruit of our lives that cannot be made juicier by sharing it together in Christ. By being not just Facebook friends but true abiding friends. By simply being what we are given the gift of being in each other’s hands and God’s: branches in the vine of Jesus Christ. Amen.