Thursday, October 1, 2009

"But I Have Called You Friends"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Thursday, October 1 at the "Celebration of Cathedral Ministry" service.

“But I have called you friends.”

Is there a more comforting, is there a more profound, is there a more holy word in all creation than friend?

Lover has heat and passion but will it last the test of time? Father, mother, sister, brother – those are kind of a mixed bag. Some of us have wonderful relationships with those family members, others … well, not so much.

But friend. While friend doesn’t carry with it the physical intimacy of lover or the blood is thicker than water connection of family, I think it carries with it a bond that runs even deeper. Think about it: The highest compliment you can pay to and the deepest joy you can receive from one who is your lover or parent or even child is to be able to say in the end, “but even more than that, they were my friend.”

True friendship is the relationship to which all other relationships aspire. To be someone’s friend, I mean to be their true friend, means that they chose you and you chose them. That you would cross rivers and run through walls for each other because that’s what friends do. The voice of a friend on the other end of a phone can make a thousand mile distance seem as close as an embrace. A true friend can make a strange land as cozy as your favorite chair or take the darkest night and not make the darkness go away but somehow make it bearable, survivable and alive with hope that somewhere out there, dawn is coming.

It’s why betrayal by a friend is perhaps the deepest pain there is. That’s why as much as those nails hurt going into Jesus’ hands and feet on Good Friday, I have to believe he still would have endured them a thousand times before again feeling the pain of being betrayed by a friend. It was that betrayal, even more than the crucifixion, that tells us there is no pain so great that God has not borne it.

“But I have called you friends,” Jesus says. I have chosen you. I would cross rivers and run through walls for you. There is no darkness that you can enter that I won’t come, too. There is no distance that I will not traverse. Is there any greater honor that God has paid us, perhaps even greater than our creation itself, than calling us friends.

As someone who loves to talk, I gotta tell you there aren’t many ways I aspire to being a Quaker … but I do covet their name, because I think it absolutely nails the best of who we can be as Christ’s church … a society of friends. And really, that is our history as Christ Church Cathedral. We love like friends. Sometimes we fight like friends – passionately, because we really care. We hold onto each other and celebrate the light and huddle in the darkness like friends. We surprise each other with abundant grace like friends, and in our weakest moments we even betray each other as friends sometimes do.

When we had our coffees and conversations this summer, I you all what kept you coming back to this Cathedral. And more than the beautiful space and the gorgeous music, more than the compassionate ministries and engaging programs over and over again you sang the same refrain. It’s the people. These are my friends.

It is that friendship that draws us here tonight. Through Christ and with each other.

Stand up for a second. Look around. See your friends. Look each other in the eye. Remember the life we have shared.

Of course there are many friends whose time here has come and gone. But if you listen and look closely you can hear and see them – and a few have even come back for a visit. Listen closely and I think you can still hear the booming voice of Michael Allen, which rendered sound systems pointless and called us to live lives as bold and resonant as it was. Close your eyes and I know you can see the penetrating wise countenance of Kathryn Nelson, the gentle smile of Ray Miller and even just down the hall hear the curmudgeonly grumbling of Jim McGahey, each merely different ways of expressing a love that defies words still. And as the last notes of the last hymn fade away tonight, see if you don’t hear the echoes of Cricket Cooper’s infectious laugh and Ron Clingenpeel’s harmonica reminding us that life is to be reveled in and that churches are for dancing, too.

And there’s another dear friend, Susan Nanny. A friend we really never got to say a proper thank you to, or to tell her how much her expansiveness of mind, heart and spirit, how much her friendship made us better friends to one another and the world. But you know, my mother taught me that it was never too late to do the right thing, and I see Susan is here tonight so Susan, I know you hate this, but could you please stand just for a moment and let us even express a little bit of how much we praise God and are grateful for your years of friendship among us.

(Susan stood and an extended standing ovation followed)

Each of these friends and so many more have made us who we are today. We are a part of each other. And so we gather tonight, as a congregation, as a diocese, as just that. We are a society of friends. Friends in the name of the one who called us friend first, Jesus Christ.

But as that society of friends, we need to remember the calling of that friendship is not to be a mere social club and it certainly is not the life of a gated community. Our friendship is grounded in the fact that we have looked one another in the eye and pledged to uphold each other in living a life that is different. A life grounded in the life of our friend Jesus. A life grounded in loving boldly and not counting the cost. In giving of ourselves and sowing seeds of joy and hope. A life grounded in not just talking about light in the darkness but being that light in the darkness for a world where for too many people darkness is all they see. A life where there is no river we won’t cross, no wall we won’t run through for each other, but also knowing that Jesus stands not just in here with us but out there with the most rejected and helpless and powerless and says to us, “but remember, these are your friends, too.”

For as powerfully as God has worked and as richer as our lives have been through the friends who have led us this far, I believe God has even greater things in store in the days and years to come. This is a moment of truth for this Cathedral and this diocese and really for the whole church. A defining moment where old ways of being the Church are rattling their last breaths and we can either choose to serve hors d’oeuvres at the wake or prepare for the resurrection! Gone are the days where places like this are where people expect you to be on Sunday morning. Gone are the days when we could automatically claim the power and prestige in society of being the “church of presidents.” Gone are the days when you didn’t risk at least a quizzical look by telling people that yes, you actually do go to church.

Now, don’t get me wrong, those were good days. They were the days that shaped us. They were days that shaped me. But as much as those days and that Church meant and mean to us, do not be fooled and let us not fool ourselves, those days are gone and they are not coming back. And while we may shed some tears, the chorus that should ring from our lips is not wailing but, ”Thank God. Let the dead bury the dead.”

Because as that last light of the old days where the role of the Church was unquestioned fades into the western skyline, when we turn to the East we see the first light of a new day dawning. A day where Christ is ready to rise anew in us. In this new day, nothing will be handed to us easily, but that is precisely the gift this day bears in its hands. In this new day, we must not only talk the talk of Jesus love but we must walk the walk because if we don’t, the world will toss us aside and well it should.

That is the gift of this new day. That we have to prove ourselves worthy of bearing the name of Christ. That we have to prove to the world not just with flowery words but with deeds of love and power, with friendship to the friendless that the way of the cross is the way of life, and that every sacrifice made to follow that way is worth it in the depth and breadth of the joy our lives are filled with in return.

It is a new day fraught with risk and challenge, but my friends, it is not only the adventure we’ve been waiting for it is the day God has been preparing us for.

Consider this: We live in a city where less than 50 percent of students in city schools graduate from high school and the dropout rate is nearly 20 percent. Where the crisis in education is so bad that two years ago the State Board of Education stripped the District of its accreditation and took over its management. And just in case there’s anyone who thinks that educational crises don’t have far reaching effects, do you know what prison planners use to project how many beds they’ll need in the future? Third grade reading scores.

The challenge of education in this city is huge. It is a mountain. But I look around this community of friends and I see some of the best educators in this city. People like B.R. Rhoads and Deb Holmes, Lynne Glickert and Debbie Nelson Linck; Urlene Branch and Robin Kinman … and I’m just getting started with that list. I look out at this community of friends and I believe God is preparing us to meet just this challenge.

We live in a city where an urban renaissance is being expressed increasingly through a commitment to the arts and culture in places like Citygardens and the Gateway Mall Project and the renovation of our good neighbor the Central Library. And then I hear Pat Partridge and our choir in this not only beautiful but amazing acoustic space … and I believe God is positioning us to be a spectacular part of that new day.

We live in a city where if you scratch the surface of any major concern we face you will find deep-seated and longstanding issues of race. There are chasms of distrust and misunderstanding that must be breached, wrongs that must be made right and new friendships that must be forged if we are to have a future together. But then I look around this community of friends that God has gathered and I see the diversity of color and class, often still segregated even as we gather together inside these walls … but there nonetheless. I see it and I believe God is calling us to build and nurture the friendships across racial divides that will show this city how rich this new day can be.

And finally, we live in a diocese where difficult times have made us increasingly concerned with our individual congregational survival … and we certainly understand that here … but where if we look around we realize we share many of the same challenges and opportunities of aging buildings and changing cultures. And I look out at the friends from around our diocese who have assembled here tonight and I believe God is calling us to work together in new ways to bring this new day of the church to dawn.

And so this night is not about some new priest at the Cathedral – man, wouldn’t that just be shrimp in a pea pod at the funeral home! In fact, this night is not even just about this Cathedral community. This night is about all of us, the friendship that has shaped us in the past, the friendship that binds us together and the friendship with Christ and with each other that has prepared us to embrace these great opportunities that lie before us.

As Christ’s church, we proclaim the bonds of that friendship by looking each other in the eye and binding ourselves to Christ and each other with sacred vows. And so it is a “good and joyful thing” that as we gather to celebrate this incredibly and diversely gifted community of friends that we reaffirm those vows not just as a way of confirming our friendship but of joining hands and hearts and greeting the new dawn as one.

And so in a minute we’re going to stand and do just that. We will all reaffirm our baptismal covenant to live and love boldly not just in here but out there. Our priests will reaffirm their vows to gather God’s people in places like this around the presence of Christ the friend in word and sacrament. Our deacons will reaffirm their vows to lead us out from this place into the world where we are all called to serve the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. Finally we will lead our bishop in reaffirming his vows boldly to lead us in proclaiming the Gospel and to be a sign to us that we are connected beyond ourselves around this globe in ways we can only begin to understand.

But even more important as we reaffirm our vows, we will all have the opportunity to pledge our support and friendship to one another. To say and hear that we know we are in this together, and that while none of us can do it alone, that together, God working through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

A new day is dawning. And we stand on the shoulders of those who have come before and praise God for working through them to prepare us for this day. We do not have the security or assurances of days gone past when the Church was the ecclesiastical version of the “bank too big to fail.” But one assurance has not changed. That Christ still looks into our eyes deeply and says, “But I have called you friends” … and bids us to look on each other and the world and do the same.

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