Sunday, September 27, 2009

"There Are No Outsiders In God's Eyes" -- 17th Sunday After Pentecost - Sermon by the Rev. Canon Renee Fenner

Click above to listen to the sermon streamed online.

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

“But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us. For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.”

“Do not stop him…”

These words come after the disciples witnessed a man casting out demons in Jesus’ name. Now this probably would not have been an issue if this person had been one of them; a part of the inner circle. After all, by this time in Mark’s Gospel the twelve had a fairly strong relationship with Jesus and they themselves had been sent out by him two by two to cast out demons and heal the sick (Mark 6:7-13). We are not told who this man was or what connection, if any; he had to them or to Jesus but their attitude spoke volumes: ‘How dare this ‘outsider’ go out and do what we do? He is not one of us!’

We know how we are as human beings: someone new walks into the room and all eyes turn toward that person. We size him or her up. We wonder who that person is and what connection that person might have with anyone before we go on about our business. Depending on the circumstances we might make that person feel comfortable right away and sometimes we may not be so quick putting out with the welcome mat. It was that way with Jesus’ closest followers yet Jesus was not concerned that this man was acting in his name. Jesus knew that his world, just like ours today, needed all the help it could stand. Casting out a few more demons was and is a good thing! “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name,” Jesus told his disciples, ‘will be able soon after to speak evil of me. Whoever is not against us is for us.” Jesus had not come to form a closed fraternity where no one else is invited in. He was all about manifesting Himself in others and modeling for us ways to move aside our selfish ways and our differences. So often we fail to look for Christ working in the hearts of all of us; man, woman, boy and girl.

Jesus’ words this morning remind us that the Kingdom of God is not meant for some; that the work of God is not meant for a handful of a select few; and that God’s gifts are not stingily bestowed randomly upon certain individuals but rather, abundantly upon ALL! In Jesus’ name there are no outsiders. And if we are too focused on ourselves and our gifts we will miss out on the many gifts God wishes to give us through others.

People will come here at different levels of their spiritual walk. Regardless of where they are or where you are, they must be made to feel included in order for us to be truly whole, the Body of Christ given for the world. We will not get there by excluding those whose ideas might be a little different, or because they look or walk or talk a little differently. We are encouraged today to welcome ALL people who are willing to join the journey, putting on the mind of Christ every day of their lives.

Barbara Brown Taylor, a great preacher, once wrote, “The call of God is insistent, and whenever we limit who we will be to other people or who we will let them be for us, God gets to work, rubbing out the lines we have drawn around ourselves and calling us into the limitless country of his (God’s) love. We may well formulate new limits and draw new lines, but none of them last very long, because that is the way it is when people have been called out by God.”*

May we recognize the presence of Christ in our midst and that of the Holy Spirit working among us and all people. Today we need one another more than ever. I need you. You need me. We need one another. There are no outsiders in God’s eyes! Amen.

*Barbara Brown Taylor, “Crossing the Line”, The Seeds of Heaven, pp. 66-67

Sunday, September 20, 2009

"The Whole Truth: A Call to Greatness"

Click above to listen to the sermon streamed online.

Click above to listen to Cathedral treasurer Steve Kroll's announcement about the Cathedral's financial situation and our opportunity to step forward in faith.

Click above to listen to stewardship team co-chair Tom Manche's announcement about our "Sharing our Stories, Sharing our Gifts: Face-to-Face Stewardship Program" at Christ Church Cathedral.

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Sept. 20.

Jesus sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

In the email I sent out last Monday for you to gnaw on the Gospel for this week, I asked using Jesus definition of servant greatness, who was a model of greatness in your life? This morning, I want to tell you the story of someone who is mine. Someone who one early morning a long way from here changed my life forever.

Several years ago, I had the honor of spending six weeks in Ghana working with a friend named James. One of the statistics you learn when you work with global poverty is that there are more than 1.2 billion people who live on less than $1 a day. Well, James used to be one of those people. He grew up in extreme poverty outside Accra, Ghana. Through his own hard work, some help from others and lots of the grace of God, James managed to get an education … all the way through a PhD. But the remarkable thing about James is after getting out of that impoverished community, he dedicated his life to those same people. He founded his own NGO – that’s like a nonprofit – which did wonderful healing work throughout Ghana, but like many like it, it was always in pretty bad financial shape. When I was there they literally didn’t know where the money was coming from to pay the electric bill the next month.

I was living with James and every morning we would get up early for prayer. And one morning when we getting ready there was a knock on the door. It was a man from the fishing village near where James had grown up. He came because he needed help, and James was someone who had helped people in his village before.

James called me over to hear his story because, well, he just figured whatever he had to say I needed to hear it . Here’s what the man said: He was a fisherman and he and his family had one boat and one big net. But the previous morning as they were dragging it through the water, it had caught in some sharp metal junk floating in the bay and the net had been torn to shreds. Now for a fisherman like this to lose his net is serious business. This is literally the difference between his family eating and starving. So he came to James asking if there was any way he could help.

While he’s telling his story, I’m starting to think. I knew I was going to give him something and I was already starting to feel good about myself for being a generous person. The only question is how much. So I start doing the mental arithmetic. I’d had a certain amount of money with me. There were things I wanted to buy – stuff for my kids; Robin was coming over for my last week there and I wanted to make sure we had enough to travel. And then there was the question of how much SHOULD I give – what percentage of the total cost of the net was it appropriate to give him.

While the gears are whirling in my brain, James gets up, goes to the table and picks up the cigar box that had all the money his NGO and family had on hand. He opened it, lifted out a big wad of Ghanaian cedis bound with a rubber band, flipped through it, walked back over to the man and handed it to him. Then we prayed … and he went on his way.

I was stunned. I don’t think my jaw literally hit the floor but it felt like it did. I think it was a good two minutes before I could even say anything and when I did all I could say was “James …. you’re just about out of money … how could you give him everything.” And he got a smile on his face … one I recognize from the one I get when my kids say something so wonderfully na├»ve. And like he was explaining 2 + 2 = 4 to me, he looked at me and said … and I’ll never forget these words… “God sent him. He needed it. What else could I do?”

At that moment I was filled with two things at the same time. The more immediate and lesser thing was shame. But what almost immediately overwhelmed that was just a deep hunger. I looked at James, this person who had grown up in poverty I couldn’t imagine, who still lived in what just about anyone in this country would call poverty, I looked at the joy in his eyes and I thought to myself “this is the freest man I’ve ever met. I want what he has. I want to be that free.”

I said that morning changed my life and it did. It changed forever my relationship with wealth. I used to think of giving as an obligation … or even as something I could do to make me a better person. But now I realize my need to give isn’t about that. It’s about the greatness Jesus talks about today, but even more than that, it’s about liberation. I want to be like James. I want that joy. I want to be that free. And you’ve gotta believe me when I say that from the bottom of my heart, as your priest and your friend, I really, really want you to be that free, too.

Some of you might have noticed that I carry around a baseball – or more recently this corkball that Gary Johnson found for me. I do it because of something I read once in a book by an old pitcher named Jim Bouton. He said, “you spend most of your life gripping a baseball … and in the end you realize it was the other way around the whole time.” Now whether Jim Bouton knew it or not, he was preaching the Gospel. Whatever we grip onto most tightly is what really has us most tightly in its grasp. And more than anything else, what we in America grip onto most tightly is our money, our wealth. I carry this baseball as a reminder to always be looking at what I am holding on to too tightly. Because what I have found to be as true as anything I know is that whatever it is I am gripping so tightly is doing one thing … keeping me from letting go and holding onto Christ. It’s keeping me from letting go and grabbing on to the amazing life Christ dreams for me. It’s keeping me from being free. And I want to be free. And I want you to be free, too.

I need to talk with you for a few minutes more and share some very simple and plain things with you about our life here at Christ Church Cathedral. The first piece I’ve already talked about … about our need to give. You hear a lot about that when priests talk about stewardship, but I hope and pray what you hear me saying this morning is that yes, we do have a need to give – but it is not about obligation but about opportunity, about our own liberation, about an opportunity to live lives and a life together that is extraordinary and transformative … and free. If you hear nothing else from me this morning, I hope you walk away knowing that is my dream for you, I believe it is God’s dream for us, and I hope you walk away with even the tiniest bit of the hunger I felt that morning that it might be a dream you want for yourselves.

But there are two other pieces I need to share with you. One is about the church’s need to receive … and the other is about our as the church’s need to be worthy of receiving.

Let me take the first one first.

Christ Church Cathedral has big financial needs. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone because we’ve been talking about it for awhile. The budget we passed at the last annual meeting had more than $100,000 deficit. I stood before you last month and told you we were still running a sizable deficit and were in danger of having to dip into our bank line of credit … and you all responded wonderfully and generously to that and as of yet we have not had to do that. Now for the past two months the finance committee and Chapter have been looking at the budget for 2010 and it’s time for us together to face some truths:

*First, we’ve got to have a balanced budget of income and operating expense for 2010. Because of a history of deficit spending we can no longer continue and restrictions on our endowments, the only alternative would be a bank loan, which would quickly dig us into a hole we might never get out of.

*Second, that means if income does not increase, we will have to cut roughly $94,000 from the budget. The only really feasible way to do that is by eliminating staff.

*Now, we’ve heard stuff like this before and we’ve cut staff before. Frankly, we are at a skeleton level with staff right now. One thing the chapter and the finance committee were in unanimous agreement about was that we really can’t afford to lose any more staff. But while we agreed the loss of any of our staff would be incredibly difficult, the Chapter and finance committee have determined that unless anticipated income increases for 2010, we will have to eliminate the second full-time clergy position, the canon pastor position.

So there’s the truth. We have to balance the budget. If income doesn’t increase, we’ve got a $94,000 shortfall to make up, the only way to make up that much money is to cut staff and our leadership has determined – and I stand with them – that if income doesn’t increase, we’ll have to cut the canon pastor position.

That’s the plain truth, and we know that’s a hard truth and that’s why as you leave today there will be members of the finance committee handing out a list of questions and answers you might have about our finances. That’s why members of the finance committee will be available in the Davis Room after the service to answer your questions and why next week at 10 in Schuyler Hall the treasurer and finance committee members will again be available to answer any questions. And Jim McGregor, Walt Johnson, Steve Kroll and I are available to answer your questions, too. Bring those questions to us.

OK, now everyone take a deep breath. Let it out.

As I said, this is the plain truth … but it’s not the whole truth. And the whole truth is the most important part.

The whole truth is we are NOT going to let this happen. We are not going to let this happen because the mindset of cutting has been killing the church, and this church is not going to die on our watch. God has way too much in store for this congregation for us to slip back now. We have been through too much and the horizon ahead of us is too brilliant for us to falter and fall away. We will not permit it.

In my final interview with the Chapter before you called me to be your provost I told them that I was not interested in coming here to be a manager, but that if you wanted someone to be your priest, to talk together about Jesus, to together look at where Jesus was calling us and together to take the amazing leaps of faith that Jesus invites us to take, then maybe God meant for us to be together. Well I believe that God meant for us to be together at this time. Not just me, but I believe that every one in this room is here by design, because in this time and in this place, God means for all of us to be about something extraordinary. And we are not going to let fear or anything stand in the Spirit’s way from that happening in us and through us. But that means we have to seize this moment of opportunity right now.

And that means two things. First of all, it means that we are going get the money. And while there are long-term revenue streams we are looking at for the Cathedral in the short term there is only one place it’s going to come from … and that’s us. And, you know, that’s good. That’s the way it should be.

Starting Sept. 28 and running for an entire month members of this congregation are hosting 20 small-group gatherings in their homes … and we’ll schedule more if we need to. We need every single adult in this congregation to sign up for one – and I want your ideas for how we can do this with the children too. These will be gatherings where we will talk honestly about what messages about money shaped us growing up, we’ll do some Bible study, pray together, talk about what we believe God dreams for this Cathedral. And then at the end of the evening you’ll be asked not to write a check or a pledge card but to commit to go home and pray, talk with the people with whom you share your life … and then, holding each other’s hands, to take the leap of faith to give in time, talent and treasure whatever God puts on your heart. If each of us does that, we’ll be just fine – and we’ll have more money and volunteers than we can imagine. Because God never gives us a mission without putting the resources to accomplish it out there … and those resources are right here.

But it means something else, too. We each need to give because it is part of our liberation and salvation. The church needs to receive so that it can continue to survive and thrive … but perhaps most important we as the church must commit ourselves to being worthy of the gifts of all of the faithful who write checks and give time and talent.

That means we must hear the Gospel this morning and Jesus’ definition of greatness and be continually pressing to live into that more and more and more. One of our largest expenses is this glorious building … but it is a building that more often than not stands empty six days a week. Entire floors of the Tuttle Building are barely used at all. We have a nearly two-century history of being at the forefront of ministries of compassion and justice in St. Louis and while our hearts are as big as ever over the past decade and more we have followed much of the rest of the church and shrunk back from that call in ways that do not become us as followers of the one who said “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."

I had a seminary professor who said “never take a job at a church that calls itself historic” … because they’re usually more concerned with celebrating the past than charging into the future. Well, I am happy to say that this is not HISTORIC Christ Church Cathedral … because I believe our best, greatest, most deeply servant-hearted days are ahead of us. And I believe that because I have gotten to know you all in this room … and you are amazing … and God has gathered and will continue to gather in more the right people for the job.

This is a challenging moment for us as Christ Church Cathedral, but I believe it will be one of our finest hours. I believe this will be the moment where we will let go of what we grasp onto most tightly so we can grasp onto the abundant life and freedom of Jesus Christ. I believe this will be the moment where we will not slip back into the hopeless mire of continually cutting back but will step forward in faith and grow the mission and ministry of this Cathedral. And most of all, I believe this will be the moment where the servant greatness that is in each and all of us will take new root and find new flower. Where we’re going to show this city and the whole church what a great Cathedral looks like. A Cathedral that takes amazing leaps of faith. A Cathedral that grasps onto the servant call of Christ with both hands. A Cathedral whose glorious praise of God is only surpassed by our generous compassion for those to whom God sends us.

My friends, it is go time. Let’s go get it done.


Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Carrying Our Cross" - 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Click above to listen to the sermon streamed online.

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 30.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

“Worshipping in Spirit and Truth” - Nine O’Clock in the Morning at Christ Church Cathedral

This is the text of the bulletin insert about the new 9 o'clock worship from this coming Sunday.

“The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers
will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” – John 4:23

Like the early church on the Day of Pentecost, we are doing a new thing and singing a new song at 9 o’clock in the morning at Christ Church Cathedral. Your experience of worship this morning is part of an ongoing process of seeking to worship in spirit and truth. Seeking to communicate both the spirit of our living God and the truth of who that God calls us to be as the Body of Christ at this Cathedral.

This morning’s worship is guided by five principles this congregation has said represent the life of Christ at this Cathedral that we want this service to communicate:

1) Unifying –physically and spiritually bringing us together as a community around Christ’s presence in word and sacrament.
2) Inclusive –accessible and engaging for all ages, races and sorts & conditions of people
3) Participatory – encouraging active participation from the entire congregation and engagement of all the senses.
3) Traditional, not traditionalistic -- grounded in the deep roots of our Anglican tradition to feed the growth of something new and appropriate for the present world.
4) Evangelistic – an experience of God in community we’re excited about sharing.

Every aspect of the liturgy has been carefully crafted to communicate these principles and provide an opportunity for God’s people to worship in spirit and truth. For example:

SPACE – We are using an altar that is closer to the people and have removed the front kneelers as a way of breaking down barriers between worship leaders and congregation.

MUSIC – We have a team of music leaders that uses the varied musical gifts of the congregation. We have moved away from the organ, which provides a grand, powerful, transcendent experience of the divine more suited to the traditional “Anglican Cathedral worship” of the 11:15 service, to instruments like guitar and piano, which create a greater sense of God’s immanence.

LANGUAGE – We are using Enriching Our Worship as our liturgical text because of its emphasis on expansive (non-sexist) language.

ENGAGING THE SENSES - We bring our whole selves to worship – not just our minds and hearts. Drawing on our Anglo-Catholic tradition of sensual worship, we asperge (“sprinkle”) the congregation with water at the absolution as a reminder of our baptism. We use an extremely light offering of incense as a visual reminder of our prayers ascending to God and the fragrance of our praise to our creator.

In addition, here are some other aspects of this morning’s liturgy you might notice:

PROCESSION – Everyone who has a role in leading worship is invited to take part in the procession as a way of communicating the communal aspect of worship leadership.

PRAYERS – Times of silence are provided during the prayers of the people, during which you are encouraged to add your own prayers, either silently or aloud. In addition, note cards and crayons are offered when you enter for people of all ages to write or draw prayers, which will be collected at the offertory and presented at the altar with the other gifts.

THE EUCHARIST – Much like the early church, we celebrate Eucharist as our “family meal.” Members of the congregation assist in setting the table. We invite children to gather around the altar during the Eucharistic prayer because we have learned that being up close helps draw our youngest members in and lets them know they are a part of what is happening there. We use home-baked bread from parishioners as a further way of communicating that we are offering “our selves, our souls and bodies” at Christ’s table. We receive communion in a circle around the table to communicate physically that Eucharist is a communal action of gathering around and receiving the presence of Christ and not merely an act of individual piety.

Doubtless, there will be other things you will notice about this morning’s liturgy that will be different for you. Some aspects may immediately feed your spirit. Other aspects may leave you disquieted. Such is the case with anything new. That is why we are clear this is a work in progress—an adventurous work of God’s Spirit moving through this community. The liturgy you will help create this morning is but a stage in that process.

This liturgy is in every sense the “work of the people” that liturgy is supposed to be, as at every level it has been the people of Christ Church Cathedral that have designed and will continue to design it. In mid-November, after we have lived with it for a while, we will have an opportunity to reflect on it and make decisions for the future.

In the meantime, we invite you to worship with us in spirit and truth. We pray your time at Christ Church Cathedral this morning will be a true celebration of Eucharist, that you will come to Christ’s table knowing that as you have truly given yourself, so you have truly received Christ’s life anew. We pray that your experience of worship this morning will lead you more deeply into the heart of Christ … more deeply into loving relationship with your sister and brother next to you and across from you at Christ’s table … and more deeply into loving relationship with the world into which Christ sends us all.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Renouncing the Worldly Powers: The Exploitation of the Health Care System

Preached at Christ Church Cathedral September 6, 2009 by The Rev. John M. Good,

Almost two thousand years ago the Letter of James warned us about showing favoritism to the rich. As Eugene Peterson translates a portion of today’s second lesson in The Message, James wrote,"If a man enters your church wearing an expensive suit, and a street person wearing rags comes in right after him, and you say to the man in the suit, ‘Sit here, sir; this is the best seat in the house!’ and either ignore the street person or say, ‘Better sit here in the back row,’ haven’t you segregated God’s children and proved that you are judges who can’t be trusted?…Isn’t it clear by now that God operates quite differently? He chose the world’s down-and-out as the kingdom’s first citizens, with full rights and privileges…And here you are abusing these same citizens! Isn’t it the high and mighty who exploit you?"

The answers to James’ questions are "Yes," Yes," and "Yes."

Yes, while the members of this Cathedral show greater respect for the very poor and less deference to the rich, like every church we are impressed with wealth and anxious about the poor.

Yes, every chapter of all four gospels describe how Jesus operated differently by ministering to the "down and out" as worthy citizens of his kingdom.

And yes, "the high and mighty" still exploit us who are not as powerful as they are.

Thom Hartmann reveals how the very wealthy have recently increased their exploitation of working people in a book that reminds us of our recent history. Begining with the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt, he writes, "In his first term, [Roosevelt]…sent to Congress the National Industrial Recovery Act, which set standards for wages and working hours and established the right of laborers to organize. This set the stage for labor groups to bargain for wages and conditions. Thanks in large part to FDR’s work on behalf of labor, in the twenty-five years after World War II the real incomes of the middle class doubled." But things have changed, he says, "Today America is regressing. Middle-class income has stopped growing. The net worth of those who earn less than $150,000 per year (which includes everybody from the working poor to the highest end of the most well-off of the middle class) is down by 0.6 percent…The real income of people whose net worth exceeds $100 million is doubling. What’s happening is simple: the rich are getting richer and the entire spectrum of the middle class is disappearing." 1

The way we pay for health care is one way the rich and powerful exploit the middle class. Those who are not covered by medicare or eligible for medicaid and federal insurance for children get their health insurance from for-profit companies. These companies must always consider their bottom line when they make a decision to pay for legitimate medical needs. Those companies who do well on the bottom line gratefully compensate their chief executive officers for keeping the dividends coming. Aetna pays its CEO 24 million dollars a year. Cigna pays 12.2 million, WellPoint 9.8 million, Coventry 9 million and our own local Centene pays Michael Niedorf 8.7 million.2 Those of us who pay for this insurance pay not only the doctors, nurses, and technicians for their care, but also the CEOs and other well paid executives of the corporations that insure us.

Are the words of James, written so long ago, relevant to the way our health insurance system helps the powerful exploit the powerless? Hear what the late Ted Kennedy saith. When a reporter asked him why he cared so much for the poor, he replied, "My God, man, have you never read the New Testament?" You would think Christians who have read the New Testament ought to be clamoring for a new health insurance system that does not enrich the already rich and delivers quality health care to all people, regardless of income.

That seems logical. But the other day my son-in-law asked me, "If Jesus calls us individually to love our neighbors by helping them when they have needs, should we then ask the government to force rich people to care for their poorer neighbors? That’s a very good question. When the government forces us to love our neighbor it really isn’t love.

But my son-in-law, like so many Christians, thinks that Jesus came only to transform the lives of individuals. They are not aware of the scholarship of Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossen who have demonstrated that Jesus was also a prophet who came to expose and oppose the evils of domination systems. In his time, the Jewish toadies of the Roman Rulers had become a privileged elite who dominated a vast peasantry. They emphasized keeping the laws of purity to oppress and economically exploit the powerless people of Israel. Jesus challenged this elite by violating Sabbath laws and adopting a cavalier attitude toward "the purity tradition of the elders," which we heard about in last week’s gospel. Those were the acts that aroused the ire of the Jewish political and religious establishment. That’s why they crucified him. They did not murder him because he advocated loving your neighbor.

Jesus calls us to work at changing those political, economic, and social systems that make it possible for a privileged elite to oppress and exploit the powerless. We hear that call when we are baptised. We agree to "renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God." That means renouncing systems— systems that use race, gender, age, and sexual orientation as excuses to oppress people. It means renouncing a health insurance system that exploits the middle class to enrich the elite. To make good on this renunciation, we promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being" to keep our part of our Baptismal Covenant with God. Justice requires access to health care for all people as a way to respect the dignity of every human being. On this Labor Day it is more than appropriate to focus on how we might keep that promise by seeking a just health insurance system for all Americans.