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.

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