Monday, October 26, 2009

"Take heart. Rise."

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 25, 2009.

Of all the Gospels, the one that suffers the most from being chopped up into little pieces for reading on Sunday mornings is the Gospel of Mark. Mark is the shortest of the Gospels and the fastest paced. It’s also masterfully constructed with themes that rise and fall and layers of meaning that emerge if you’re paying attention.

The Gospel of Mark is kind of like the TV show Lost. You can pick a random episode and watch it and even enjoy it … but there will be huge pieces that will just go right on past you unless you’ve been watching the whole series. But if you have, you just sit there saying, “Wow … that’s amazing.”

So really, the best thing to do is to read the whole Gospel of Mark at one sitting. And I really encourage you to do that. But since we can’t do that this morning, let’s just review a little bit and remind ourselves what’s been going on before we get to this morning.

Six weeks ago on Celebration Sunday we heard the story of Peter’s confession at Caesarea Philippi. You remember that story, Jesus asks “Who do you say that I am.” And Peter says, “You are the Messiah, the Christ.” It’s this incredible moment of revelation – Jesus, who has been doing all these amazing things, is revealed as who he is – and we and the disciples are all feeling great because we had it figured out already. Peter and all of us got the answer right. Yes, he’s the Messiah.

But then like in any great story, there’s an immediate twist. While the disciples are planning the coronation scene in Jerusalem, Jesus says, “but here’s what you need to understand about being the Christ.” “I have to suffer and be killed and after three days rise again.” And Peter immediately refuses to hear this. And he even gets in Jesus’ face. He says, “No, Jesus, you didn’t hear me … you’re the Christ.” And Jesus shoots right back at him, “No Peter, YOU didn’t hear ME … that’s what being the Christ means.”

Now for the past 6 weeks, we’ve had this same thing happen again and again. As Jesus gets closer and closer to Jerusalem, three times he reminds his disciples what him being the Christ really means – not triumph but suffering and death. And every time the disciples absolutely refuse to get it.

Finally, last Sunday the contrast between the vividness of the description of what was to happen to Jesus and the depth of the disciples’ lack of understanding reached its peak. Jesus, for the third time and in graphic detail, tells the disciples “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles; and they will mock him and spit upon him, and scourge him and kill him; and after three days he will rise.” This is not a drill. This is real. And this is happening at the end of this road. And immediately after he says this, James and John, completely missing the point say “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” and ask him for positions of power for themselves.

It’s like asking the flight attendant if she has any more peanuts when she’s just told you to get into crash positions.

And so we arrive at this morning’s Gospel. Jesus is leaving Jericho, the last major stop on his way to Jerusalem. And his heart must be heavy not just because of what he is facing but because these friends who have been with him through so much still don’t understand what is happening. They are his friends and his disciples in one sense, but in another very real sense, Jesus has no friends. Jesus has no disciples because how can you truly be with someone when you refuse to listen to them? How can you follow when you refuse see where it is you are being led. And in that context, the story we hear this morning is nothing short of astounding.

Because onto the scene comes a nobody, a blind beggar, appropriately named Bartimaeus, which means “son of the worthy one.” And he begins to cry out to Jesus as he passes by. And as much as the disciples could not grasp who Jesus was and what he was about, somehow this blind beggar does. And our first clue is what he cries out,

“Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

First, look at what he is calling Jesus – Son of David. It’s a messianic title. Bartimaeus immediately recognizes Jesus as the Messiah. But then look at his posture. Unlike the disciples who see Jesus’ power and wonder how they can get it for themselves, Bartimaeus does just the opposite. Have mercy on me. He is acknowledging that in the face of the power of Christ he is powerless. The posture before Christ is not to have your hand out but to have your head bowed

And the disciples, in this great irony, are so blind themselves that their immediate reaction is to tell Bartimaeus – who is finally responding appropriately to Jesus – to be quiet. But Bartimaeus will not be silent and he cries out even louder. “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” And Jesus stops. And here’s where it really gets interesting. Because in writing this story, Mark begins to use language that is unlike any he uses anywhere else in the Gospel. He starts using the language and imagery of baptism.

Jesus tells the disciples to call Bartimaeus, and the disciples do so by saying “Take heart; rise.” This is liturgical language. In Greek, tharsei, take heart or be comforted, was funeral language common to tombstones. And the word for “rise” is literally translated “be resurrected.” The invitation to come to Jesus is an invitation to death and resurrection.

And what does Bartimaeus do? He doesn’t just get up and walk over to Jesus … he casts off his mantle – he strips himself naked – the posture not only of baptism but of utter vulnerability – and naked and completely vulnerable he stands before Jesus.

Bartimaeus is presenting himself for baptism. He knows what the other disciples do not. He knows that baptism into Christ is about death first, and then resurrection. He knows the only posture for encountering Christ is stripping yourself of everything and standing before him in complete vulnerability. And Jesus, looking at him, asks him the same question he asked James and John last week: “What do you want me to do for you?”

And while James and John answered that question with a request for power … in the height of irony, Bartimaeus, this one who can see Jesus better than any one of the disciples ever has says, “Master, let me receive my sight.”

And even this request has more layers to it. There is the irony of the blind man being the only one who truly sees Jesus. But beyond that, Bartimaeus’ yearning is more than just for eyes that work. Being blind relegated him to the margins of the community. He was a discarded person and barely considered a person at all. Jesus had already begun to heal that breach by taking him from the margins, from the side of the road where the disciples were telling him to be quiet and calling him into the center of the gathered community. But the job wasn’t done yet. “Master, let me receive my sight” is more than just about seeing, it is a cry of “let me be whole.”

And in fact that’s the better Greek translation of how Jesus responds, “Go your way; your faith has made you whole.” And immediately Bartimaeus receives his sight. And then the most amazing thing of all happens. Mark tells us he “followed him on the way.” On the way to Jerusalem.

Of all the people Jesus has touched and healed throughout Mark’s Gospel, NONE of them followed him … until Bartimaeus. Others go home, go running off, go back to their families … Bartimaeus is the only one who knowingly follows Jesus on the road to the cross. In fact, you can say that in the whole Gospel of Mark, Bartimaeus is the only one who, with eyes wide open, truly follows Christ.

Something incredible happens when we hold this story of Bartimaeus up with the stories of the disciples leading up to it … and then hold both up to our own lives. A truth emerges. We can make all of our lives and particularly our lives as a Christian community so complicated. We can work so very hard at being wise as serpents that we forget to be innocent as doves. In our lives at home and at work, at school and at church, out in the world and in the silence of our room staring up at the ceiling as we try to go to sleep at night. Like James and John, we can make great plans and we can dream of power. We can shmooze the right people and use all the good business sense and pull all the right levers. We can buy all the insurance in the world to protect us from harm and strive somehow for that perfect balance where all the plates are spinning and all the balls are in the air in perfect synergy and symmetry. And we can do wonderful things … and at the end of it all, like James and John we will have entirely missed the point.

Or we can be like Bartimaeus. Bartimaeus, who teaches us that our baptism into Christ really is about dying to an old life, so that we can receive a new one. And it’s no wonder the other disciples didn’t want to hear that because on first blush it is absolutely terrifying because it is about giving up control of our lives and begging Jesus to come and change us. It means the depth of our faith is not measured by something we are used to, something we can control from a position of strength – like “how much have you accomplished” but by our ability to strip ourselves bare, stand before Christ and in those wonderful words of Richard of Chichester say “Take me as I am. Help me want nothing more than to see you more clearly, follow you more nearly, love you more dearly.” It means starting each day looking at that cross and saying, “Jesus, of all the things on my to-do list, of all the worries and anxieties, of all the things that crowd my mind and weigh on my heart, all I have to do today is love you and let you love the world through me.” And at the end of the day falling back into those arms knowing that no matter how that day went, it’s OK because the one thing that matters most in all the cosmos is the one thing that can never be taken away and that’s God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.

It sounds so easy … but of course it’s anything but. Just look how hard it was for the disciples to even consider it! And yet it is the life to which Jesus calls us in our baptism. A life laid at the foot of the cross. And I am convinced that the only way we can hope to live that life is together. And that living that life is the first and best and really only real reason for us being together.

And so in these uncertain times as we move forward into this uncertain future together, we need to remember Bartimaeus. To remember that it’s not only OK to admit we are powerless and to cry out to Christ for help but that’s what we’re supposed to do. To remember that opening ourselves up, stripping ourselves bare and being vulnerable to one another in this Body of Christ is the heart of the discipleship we share. To continually and lovingly challenge and support one another not to be more perfect or to produce more but to love Christ more deeply and to open ourselves up more and more to let Christ love the world through us.

You see we’re all just like Bartimaeus. We are all blind. Blinded by desire. Blinded by greed. Blinded by pain. Blinded by our own sense of power. But when we come together as Christ’s body we also see. We catch a glimpse of ourselves as God sees us – infinitely loved and infinitely free. And if we can hold that vision even for a second maybe we’ll even have the presence of mind and heart to cry out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” And then hear that marvelous invitation to die so we might live: “Take heart. Rise.” And together, vulnerable yet whole, loved and free, follow him on the way to Jerusalem.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Our lives need to be a ransom!

Preached by Reverend Mark D. Sluss
Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday October 18, 2009

“For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”

I learned a very important lesson these past few weeks. Many of you know that I was permanently laid off from my job.

And to be honest for the past year, I was not very happy with the company that I was working for.

We received a new director, who really did not understand what the function of our department was, or what each of us did.

But he demanded an accounting of our time. I remember one big organization meeting where we had to give a presentation on our function to the senior management of the company.

The one thing that I came away with was that they still did not understand what it was our function did for the company.

We used to comment, that if we weren’t there to do the job then they would understand.

Over the last 4 years working at that position with the company, we survived, 4 different Reductions in Force (layoffs).

We weren’t touched, because enough middle management people understood that our function was needed.

We had built ourselves up, to think that our position was entirely too important for the company to survive without it.

Then September 3rd came, and I lost my job. The perceived importance, meant nothing, when it came down to numbers and dollars.

What was even more shocking was realizing that how much stock I had put in the power that I thought came from what I did for a living, it’s quite common in western society, we define ourselves by what we do, and we attribute a power system a social status to that.
I think it is a human condition to try to evaluate how important we are, in most venues of our life.

We compare ourselves to those around us. We try to determine a person’s station in life by their clothes, their car, their homes, and in St. Louis, “where did you go to High School?”

There is an odd desire, almost a need to want to be in a position of power.

This is not a modern day social dynamic, for we hear in the Gospel reading today, how the disciples are arguing over the places of power between them.

The disciples never seem to quite get it do they?

You see in their mind, they are still relating to the phenomena of Jesus and his teaching about the coming kingdom in terms that they understand.
Their society was a patronistic society, those with little power, had to petition those with greater power for favors, whether in business, or government (sounds a bit like lobbying).

Even their Passover rituals at the temple were a practice in patronism.

A sacrifice, is given to garner favor from the divine, in hopes that the favor will be granted.

James and John even petition Jesus for a favor, they want him to grant them each a seat at his side in the coming kingdom.

It’s like they didn’t’ even hear him say that he was to be killed, in the previous passages. “oh yeah, after all that’s over, can you do US a favor, give us seats of power?” If I were Jesus I’d be tempted to give them both an Eye Roll and say “sure I’ll get right on that you two”.

But Jesus uses this as a continued opportunity to again teach the disciples.
If they are ones who will remain loyal to Jesus, they will be treated by the Romans the same as Jesus.

And as with any group, the disciples don’t really consider themselves each equals and a family of believers, you see they are connected to Jesus the central figure, not to each other, with the exception of James and John who are connected to each other as brothers.

They disregard the others and ask their favor for seats of power. The other disciples were of course angry.

Jesus quiets this by stating that “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you will be slave of all” that most certainly would be a shock to them.

They had expected to ride along with Jesus and climb that social ladder, but Jesus goes and defines his mission not with the priests in the temple, or the elite of Judea, but lower than that, with the servants, and slaves.

Since servants and slaves would have worked in the family households, the disciples would have known that they performed the needs of the family who owned them without concerns or expectation to be paid back.

The disciples were to behave that way, as a part of the household, but not expecting payback. AND that is the way that we are to live, as servants of each other, performing the needs of the family and not for any type of payback.

When we offer our gifts and our sacrifices of support for the Cathedral, we should change our expectations, we shouldn’t give expecting to get a favor, or expecting some sort of recognition or payback.

That is still living into the patronistic society. We should approach this as slaves, or the way that Jesus told them, as a RANSOM.

That word just jumped out at me in the gospel this week. It constantly was the one word that caught my eye and my pondering.
A Ransom is an economic exchange that pays for the release of hostages. A sacrifice is a ritual to facilitate the transfer of a favor from God to the person giving the sacrifice.

A sacrifice is selfish, a ransom is not. For a Ransom pays for the release of hostages, persons who have no power, from one who holds power over them.

Jesus’ death is not a sacrifice for us, Jesus is a RANSOM. Think of it this way. When Jesus as the last supper describes the cup as being his blood “poured out for many” it does NOT refer to the sacrifice of forgiveness of sins that was made at the temple.

It refers to the Passover lamb, whose blood protected the households of the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, and facilitated their release from bondage.

The Passover lamb gives its life as a Ransom for many. Now some might say that I am just splitting hairs here, no matter what lamb is referenced, the sacrifice or the ransom, the ultimate goal is the forgiveness of our sins right? Well yes and no.

The ultimate goal is the release from the bondage of poverty, sickness, loneliness (which are all symptoms of the separation from god), of our COMMUNITY, and I don’t mean the community of the Cathedral, but our City, and the world.

This naturally begs the question then “if we are the body of Christ, in the world today, how then do make our talents and gifts, to be a ransom?”

First off, we need to change our focus, like the disciples, we cannot give, and expect something in return, we are to be slaves.

We are to give ourselves as a ransom, to release a soul in our community.

Our giving should be not just a handout. Because that is a sacrifice. An offering to gain a particular outcome, most likely to get the person to move away from you. Give them a dollar so they’ll leave us alone!

No! our giving should be for ransom, we should give to those programs and services which release our neighbors from bondage, we should give to agencies that offer assistance for mental health, for addiction issues, for hunger issues.

We need to make our payment to release God’s people from those things that enslave them. We do good things here at the Cathedral.

But we have fallen into the trap of a quid pro quo, we give hoping for some favor to befall us or some particular outcome to come to fruition.

We give to assuage some guilt we have, over how much we have.

Our focus needs to be to give our gifts away. Give it all away to save even just one person, from the power that holds them. That holds them in the darkness of their captivity, we must purchase their release.

I am going to be working with the Justice and Mercy committee of the Cathedral to identify those services we can support that will bring about the release of our sisters and brothers who are in bondage.

And I am going to need your help to do this, if anyone has recommendations of those groups that we can reach out to in support, please forward those names to me.

I have already met with other clergy of the 6th ward, and we are developing a list of service providers, so that we do not duplicate efforts, and so that we can support each other.

Each of the Christian congregations of the ward are all working as servants, all slaves to release our friends from captivity, and to welcome them into the household of believers, out of their bondage, out of the dark.

Monday, October 12, 2009

"Mercy and grace to help in time of need"


Click above to listen to the sermon streamed online.

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 11, 2009.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.


For as many times as I have issues with the lectionary, the Old Testament, Psalm and Epistle for this Sunday were just masterfully put together. They reach deep inside us and pull out our heart. They do to us what Christ does for us – meet us as we are but do not leave us as we are.

So for just a few minutes, now that you’ve heard them once, we’re going to walk through them again together. And I do mean together … which means you’re going to need to help.

We started with Job. Good ol’ Job. You know, I think Job is Charlie Brown, God is Lucy and everything in Job’s life is that football. All his life, Job has tried to do what is good and right like Charlie Brown lining up that kick and building speed as he charges toward that ball only to have Lucy at the last moment snatch it away and send him flying WUMP! flat on his back on the ground. Job is destitute. His life is like this smoldering pile sitting in front of him … he’s lost it all. And for comfort, he is surrounded by really helpful friends who say really helpful things like, “Well, you must have done something wrong.” “This has got to be your fault somehow.” I’m sure if you translated the Hebrew somewhere in there is a “Job, you blockhead.” So Job is not only depressed, he is mad. Hell no, it’s not his fault. He’s lived a good life … and not without resisting more than a few temptations to choose otherwise, thank you very much. He didn’t do anything to deserve this. And so what Job really wants to do is to give God a piece of his mind. Listen to Job talk about God:
Oh, that I knew where I might find him,
that I might come even to his dwelling!

I would lay my case before him,
and fill my mouth with arguments.

I would learn what he would answer me,
and understand what he would say to me.

Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?
No; but he would give heed to me.

Job is not only going to give God a piece of his mind, he’s so sure of himself that he’s going to change God’s mind. He knows this isn’t the way things are supposed to be and he is seriously horked and God is going to see the wisdom of his ways. Job is fed up … and God better watch out.

Then we moved on to the psalm. Now, the psalmist finds herself in a place of destitution a lot like Job, but her reaction is different. Instead of raging, she despairs. Instead of storming the gates, she weeps, she pours herself out in loneliness and agony. She begs God, whom she cannot find anywhere, to please find her. She cries:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? *
and are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?

O my God, I cry in the daytime, but you do not answer; *
by night as well, but I find no rest.

Our forefathers put their trust in you; *
they trusted, and you delivered them.

I have been entrusted to you ever since I was born; *
you were my God when I was still in my mother's womb.

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, *
and there is none to help.

You can hear not only the desperation but the utter exhaustion in her voice. It’s just too much. God, where are you. I can’t hang on much longer. You promised you’d be here, but I don’t see you. Help!

In Job and the psalmist we hear people who are at the end of their rope. It’s just all too much. They don’t understand why they’re in the mess they’re in and they can’t see a way out. And they’re mad … and depressed … and confused .. and maybe worst of all, they feel alone.

Do me a favor. Everybody close your eyes just for a minute. Now, keep your eyes closed. No peeking. Now I want you to raise your hand if in the last month you’ve had some of these same thoughts and feelings that Job and the psalmist have had. Fed up, mad, depressed, confused, alone.

Now keep those eyes closed and everyone whose hands are up go ahead and keep them up … and everyone else I want you to raise your hand if someone you care about is going through some of the same feelings that Job and the psalmist had.

OK, now eyes still closed and hands still up … for anyone whose hands aren’t up I want you to raise your hand if in the last year you or someone you care about has had some of these same thoughts and feelings that Job and the psalmist have had.

Everyone keep your hands up. Open your eyes. And look around.

(almost every hand in the church was raised)

Friends, this is where we live. And the gift of Job and the psalmist is they lay it right out there. They don’t hide it. They don’t put on a nice smile and a strong front. They just lay it on the table. And that’s their gift to us. Because they show us that we can do the same thing.

So what is it for you? I need you to be brave here. What is it that has you or someone you love fed up, mad, sad, confused or feeling alone. Come on, I really need you to be brave.

(People named a variety of things – unemployment, sickness, death, landlords, having unbearable job responsibilities because others have been laid off, divorce, etc.)

So what do we do with this? Well that’s where we move into the Epistle. The author of the letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we are not alone. That we are not the only ones who have felt this way.

He says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are.”

Hebrews reminds us that as much as looking around this room and seeing all those hands up reminds us that we have all been there or are there that the very words that the psalmist cried and that might feel so at home on our lips were cried out by Jesus himself on the cross: My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.

And really, his crying that on the cross and this room full of upraised hands are the same thing. Because as the Body of Christ we get to be his presence to each other and the world. So when Hebrews goes on to say: “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need,” what it’s talking about is keeping doing what Job and the psalmist did, what we have just started to do here and that is be honest with each other. To share in each other’s troubles and together to lay them on this table and at the foot of the cross. And then when we do to receive from Christ, and often through each other, those wonderful, sustaining life-giving things – mercy and grace to help in time of need.

You remember a few weeks back, I brought out that big crossbeam, that pitibulum, and then I gave everyone little ones to write down some burden you were carrying and then everyone picked up someone else’s to carry around for the week? I don’t know what it was like for you, but that week was a holy experience for me. It was an experience of mercy and grace in a time of need. I carried around someone else’s struggle with addiction all week, and I don’t know who it was but I felt so connected to them by week’s end. And by the end of that week I hoped they knew they weren’t in it alone … and then I realized that someone had been carrying around my fear that I was going to somehow not be able to balance my life in this community and my life with my family, and I knew I wasn’t alone either … and I felt the presence of God. I felt mercy and grace to help in time of need.

And I realized then it’s not about solving the problems. It’s not about always knowing the exact right thing to say. It’s just about being Christ for each other as we face them together. It’s about answering the psalmist’s cry of “Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help.” With “don’t worry, I’m right here.” It’s about being merciful to each other. And graceful to each other in this time of need.

Being merciful and graceful to each other in a time of need is also about recognizing that we’re in a stressful time right now … and we need to cut each other some slack. There’s lots going on not just in our lives but here in this community … lots of change. For some people it’s the new 9 o’clock liturgy. There’s people who like it and people who don’t like it. People who love the music. People who hate the music. That’s OK. When you have change that’s the way it’s going to be if its something we care about. But change can also spike our anxiety and we can get kind of cranky. I know, cranky in the church, it’s hard to believe! But I think we can do something different. I think we can use this as a chance to be merciful and gracious to one another. We can try to take a deep breath and dial down the anxiety and remember that we’re all just human beings trying to figure this out together and that everyone in this room is just trying to praise God and make it through the week the best we can.

Maybe if we’re tempted to concentrate on how something isn’t the way we’d like it or someone has done something we didn’t like, maybe when we’re tempted to snipe at each other like Job’s friends, we can realize those wonderful merciful words “Is everything OK?” and “How can I help” fill our cups with grace so much faster. We can, when we’re tempted to send an angry email or even think uncharitable thoughts stop and ask ourselves, what is this really about in me. Why am I so upset about this? And think about how we can bring that to Christ’s table … and ask for and receive mercy and grace to help in time of need.

One of the things I learned during my six weeks in Ghana was you have to be living day to day with the people in a new place for quite a while before you find out what’s really going on. Because it’s only when you’ve really been with people every day for awhile that they take off their Sunday best, and begin to start treating you like one of them. I think part of it is that it’s just too difficult to keep up the fa├žade after awhile. But when you cross that threshold it’s wonderful … because it gets real.

I’ve been here six months now. And I truly am joyful when I tell you that I think the honeymoon is over. Every week I’m less and less the new guy and more and more just Mike – for good or for bad. And really, that’s the way it needs to be. Not just between us, but among all of us. We need to be real – and merciful and graceful -- with ourselves and with one another … and the good news is we can. For even though trouble is all around, there are many to help – just look around you. We are the Body of Christ and individually members of it, and together there is no storm big or small we cannot love each other through is we commit before anything to do just that – be honest with one another and love one another. To together approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

AMEN.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Health Precautions as we enter the Influenza Season -- Canon John W. Kilgore, MD.

With the arrival of fall we approach we enter the influenza season, earlier this year than ever. There is significant concern and anxiety about the H1N1 influenza (Swine flu) this year as well as concern that the influenza season is occurring earlier and may be more intense than previous years since influenza activity has persisted though the summer in an unusual pattern.

Influenza is spread by droplet secretion. Coughing, sneezing, and transferring microscopic droplet from nose to hand, and then from hand to nose of another are the primary ways one becomes infected. Individuals with influenza can transmit the virus from one day before symptoms appear until 7 days after symptoms appear. Obviously in a church community such as ours some will become ill and spread may occur. While concern exists about use of the common cup, casual interaction and handshaking likely pose more risk than the common cup. The risk of contracting influenza from the common cup is extremely low, though not nonexistent. Saliva is not a significant form of influenza transfer. Sitting next to someone coughing and sneezing or shaking hands with such an individual without washing hands or using an alcohol gel before touching your own face and nose are much higher risk than drinking from a common cup.

That said we will be undertaking some precautions this influenza season to minimize the risk. At Christ Church Cathedral, all involved in distributing communion will use alcohol gel prior to distribution. We will continue to use the common cup. We are asking all clergy and chalice ministers to absent themselves from distributing communion if they have any concern that they are ill or may be infected with influenza. For those with concerns about the common cup, and for those who may be concerned that they might be ill we suggest that you instinct the wafer. Intinction is the dipping of the wafer into the chalice of wine, then placing it into the mouth, rather than drinking from the common cup. Intinction will be done only by clergy or chalice ministers and from a chalice reserved for intinction. A theological point is relevant here – Holy Communion is equally valid when ‘administered in only one kind.’ That is, receiving only the bread constitutes full communion. The common cup will still be available. If you do wish to instinct, please hold the wafer in your hand until the chalice minister or clergy comes with the cup and that person will dip the wafer for you, then hand it back to you to consume.

In our communal times together there are several things you can do to help ensure the health of all here at Christ Church Cathedral.

• If you are ill or feeling you might be getting ill or know you have been exposed to influenza, stay home until well and without fever for 24 hours
• Cover all coughs and sneezes with a handkerchief
• When you are present for communion, have a low threshold for intincting if you have concerns about your own health or possibility of being infectious
• Follow good ‘cough etiquette’ – cough only into a tissue or into the angle of your elbow, not into a bare hand
• Maintain good hygiene by washing hands or using an alcohol gel after coughing, sneezing, using the restroom, and after greeting large numbers of people
• Consider a more reserved passing of the peace, greeting only those around you rather than the entire congregation
• Get influenza vaccines early – both seasonal and the new H1N1 (swine flue) when available

One additional consideration: children under the age of 10 and pregnant women have been particularly susceptible to this strain of influenza and have become sicker with it. Consider extra precautions for these individuals, including not partaking from the common cup, and practicing extra good hygiene.

The above said, caution is warranted but not panic. Influenza has been around for years and the human body is amazingly resilient. Furthermore, if the common cup were a real threat priests would have had short lifespans and died out quickly hundreds of years ago! Most individuals who contract influenza have relatively mild illness. That said, observe precautions, and be well.

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.