Sunday, June 14, 2009

Second Sunday After Pentecost: Telling the Whole Story

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Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 14

Over the last 10 years, I spent a lot of time as a guest preacher on very specific topics. And I have to admit you can kind of get in a groove … and it’s all too easy to kind of go into autopilot sometime. In my case, I got to the point where I could take any text in the Bible and turn it into a sermon about either the importance of campus ministry or the Millennium Development Goals.

I felt that impulse creeping up this week with the reading from Samuel. It’s a great story. God tells Samuel to go to Jesse’s house to look for a new king because Saul has displeased him. And so Samuel goes and Jesse presents all the sons he thinks might fit the bill, but God doesn’t want any of them. Finally, Samuel says, “are you sure this is everyone?” And Jesse says, “well, I do have one more, but he’s just a little kid. He couldn’t possibly be what you’re looking for.” But of course that child is precisely who God is looking for. That child is David. David, the youngest, David, the tossed aside. David becomes the great king of Israel.

And I could feel this impulse as the sermon was almost writing itself. God choosing the one we least expect, in this case the youngest. What an easy sermon on really valuing our youth, especially on a Sunday where we’re trying out this new family space for our worship.

But then I was going over the readings with a friend of mine, Emery Washington. And Emery asked a question.

Why did Israel need a new king? What did Saul do that was so terrible that God rejected him?

It’s a good question. And if you only read the lectionary, you’ll never know the answer? Anybody know the answer?

You've got to turn to the beginning of Chapter 15. There were these people called the Amalekites, and God wanted to punish them for opposing the Israelites when they came out of Egypt. So God told Saul to wipe them out. I mean completely, not one person, not one piece of livestock left.

And so Saul did what he was told. He wiped out the Amalekites, but at the last moment he had a change of heart. And he had mercy on the king of the Amalekites, and spared him along with the best of all their livestock. He let them live.

Saul did what I as a follower of Jesus Christ would have hoped he would do. He had mercy. But God didn’t see it that way. God said, “that’s it for you, Saul. You will no longer be king over Israel.” And then for good measure, Samuel went and took Agag, the king of the Amalekites whom Saul had spared … and cut him into little pieces.

We don’t read that in church. Probably because it’s incredibly hard to wrestle with. It doesn’t mesh with who we think God is. But it’s there. It’s part of our story. It’s part of who we are. I don’t know what to tell you about a God who would reject Saul for sparing a life and embrace Samuel for butchering him. I’d like to think that Jesus brings us to a different understanding of God where Saul could catch a little slack.

But what I do know is that this is part of our story – like it or not. And what we shouldn’t do is just ignore it because it’s uncomfortable or because we don’t have an easy answer for it. Because if our faith is only about those things we have easy answer for, I don’t think it’s going to be worth that much. We’ve got to tell the whole story.

And so it got me thinking about our story here at the Cathedral. There is so much we are proud of and rightfully so. But that’s never the whole story? How do I know? Because we’re human. And are stories are never that simple. They’re always more interesting than that.

I’ve been doing some reading.

You all know about Henry Shaw, philanthropist, botanist, parishioner and pillar of Christ Church Cathedral. If it wasn’t for Henry Shaw, we wouldn’t have the Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Luke’s Hospital, Tower Grove Park, the Missouri Historical Society, the Missouri School for the Blind and given the financial straits he helped this Cathedral out of, very possibly without Henry Shaw we wouldn’t have Christ Church Cathedral.

Henry Shaw was a slaveowner. He had a slave named Esther who tried to escape across the river to Illinois where she was captured and returned – because that was the law under the Fugitive Slave Act. And as punishment Shaw, contracted with St. Louis’ largest slave dealer, Bernard Lynch, owner of a place called Lynch’s Slave Pen, sold her – but not her children, down the river to a plantation in Vicksburg, MS. Shaw was a leader and a prime contributor to this congregation. His legacy is not separate from ours.

We have one of the most racially diverse congregations in the Diocese of Missouri. But this week our tour guide extraordinaire Ron Thompson was telling me, that until the 1940s people of color weren’t allowed in the nave of this Cathedral … only in Bofinger Chapel. In fact, most were encouraged to go to All Saints Church, a church specifically founded for what the church called “Negro Work”

We have our own varied story around violence and war.

Montgomery Schulyer, first dean of this Cathedral, had people – parishioners, friends – shun him on the street and not speak to him because he visited both Union and Confederate soldiers in the hospital.

Carroll Davis, dean of this Cathedral a hundred years ago, took a leave of absence to serve in the U.S. Army in France in World War I.

Bishop Will Scarlett preached incessantly for peace in this very room leading up to and through World War II, and only reluctantly supported the war because it “will determine who will reshape the world.” And give us a chance to “build a world structure in which so far as it is humanly possible the major causes out of which wars arise are overcome.”

For Will Scarlett, the only acceptable rationale for a war was that it might actually be a war to end all wars.

And yet, men and women from this congregation have served in wars, and this Cathedral has been a haven for servicemen and women. The first Sunday after Pearl Harbor, December 14, 1941, the Sunday evening program was converted into a program for servicemen and women … the swimming pool was open, a jukebox provided and clergy were always present to give such counsel as might be asked. And that program ran past the end of the Korean War.

On the other hand, in June, 1972, women from many women's organizations - including Bella Abzug - met at Christ Church Cathedral for a public hearing on U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia. Following a day of testimony, participants at the meeting demanded an immediate end to the Vietnam War. And yet we had people from this Cathedral who fought in that war and indeed have people who sit with us today who were a part of that war.

We have a rich history. It is full of the wonderful and the terrible. We need to be honest about the parts of our story that are disturbing, that are conflicted, that are even shameful. We can’t just whitewash and tell the good parts. Because it’s the total package that makes it real.

You see, it’s all of a piece. How we deal with the terrible, conflicting, pieces of our history and how we deal with the terrible or conflicting pieces of our present.

I’ve never understood when people tell me we shouldn’t talk about political things in church. Because politics literally means “the things that concern the people!” Things like what happens when we get sick and the schools we send our kids to. Things like whether we’re safe walking to our cars or even in our homes. Things like whether we are going to send our children off to war, and when if ever that is justified, and how do we deal with it when we disagree about that?

I think we’re hesitant to do it for the same reason that chapter about Saul and the Amelkites isn’t in the lectionary. Because it makes us uncomfortable. Because maybe it creates conflict. Because it’s definitely easier not to.

But, you see, I’ve gotta believe Jesus has got something to say about these things. I’ve gotta believe that Jesus has something to say about health care and Jesus has something to say about education. I’ve got to believe Jesus has something to say about violence and guns and homelessness. I’ve gotta believe that Jesus has something to say about war. And I’ve gotta believe that we’re supposed to talk through and pray through and wrestle through what that might be. Because if Jesus doesn’t speak to the things that concern us – what use is he? And if we’re not bringing Jesus into the conversation about the things that concern us and the world – what use are we?

We need to tell the whole story – our whole story in scripture and our whole history as a Cathedral. We need to tell the whole story because each one of us and all of us together have a story right now that isn’t all neat and tidy.

And if we can somehow be honest about and deal with the whole story of our past, then maybe we can do the same for our story of the present.

Maybe we can talk honestly and unashamedly about our own spiritual doubts, about losing our jobs, about our kids who are having trouble in school, about our fear of not being able to pay our bills. About how we can bring health care to people who don’t have it. About what Jesus would do in Iraq or Afghanistan. Maybe we can have the conversations that aren’t the easy ones but that are the real ones.

If we can learn to tell the story of Saul along with the story of David, maybe we can be a people who can share our whole stories, too, and together see what Jesus has to say to help us.


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