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.


  1. I'm glad you posted this, both because I missed church on Sunday and because it deserves to exist for awhile in written form for us to digest and discuss.
    I'm excited about the summer schedule and getting to know folks better who typically attend other services than I.
    I also applaud your point about the dichotomy of our relationship with the poor and homeless -- us and them, missionaries and beneficiaries. Yes, we are called to service, but the ultimate mission is "that all may be one."
    --from Thom Gross

  2. Thanks for posting. As I listened last Sunday, it made be feel that CCC was moving in a hopeful direction.

  3. Mike,

    Many thanks for (finally) posting your sermons. They are a pleasure to read, and I look forward to reading more as you post them.

    Much love,