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.


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