Sunday, December 19, 2010

Advent 4A: "The gift of glorious, impossible, insanity."

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Dec. 19, 2010 

I’ve got a question for you. Suppose I told you that this week we found out that a splinter group called the Anglican Church in North America was saying that because Christ Church Cathedral had departed from what they view as a correct interpretation of scripture they were suing us for ownership of the Cathedral and demanding that we turn over control of this building to them by January 1, 2011.

What would your response be? Why?

Congregation responses were along the lines of “No way, ” “Fat chance,” and “because it’s ours.” And “because that’s crazy” … one person asked if they’d take the Tuttle building instead.

OK, What if I told you that Chapter met last Thursday night and voted to give not only the Cathedral building but the Tuttle Building and the parking lot to the Anglican Church in North America as of January 1. What would you think of your Cathedral Chapter and their decision?

How many people would agree with that decision? Raise your hands. No hands were raised.

How many people think that the Chapter would have been negligent in their responsibilities to the Cathedral and the Diocese? Raise your hands.

Many hands went up.

Suppose Jim McGregor stood up here and, with you all holding your pitchforks and tomatoes said here’s why we did this:

“In Matthew 5:40, Jesus said, “When someone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your cloak, too.”

How many would think Chapter was even crazier than before? Lots of hands went up.

And you know what, you’d be right. By every standard we are used to measuring things, that decision would be crazy. If this scenario played out, the world would call us crazy. And by every standard but one, we absolutely would be. But that standard is the standard of God in Jesus Christ. The standard of the Gospel. That standard wouldn’t necessarily tell us whether that decision was right or wrong. But it would say that the process we used -- the process of really listening to what Jesus said on the topic, the process of really struggling with not just what was the legal thing to do or the smart thing to do but what would Jesus have us do – that proces was right on the money. And it would say that if people were calling us crazy, that was a good sign that we were on the right track.

Our readings from the Bible each Sunday are selected in a three-year cycle, with a different primary Gospel for each year. Each new year begins in Advent. Last year, we heard from the Gospel according to Luke. This year, we get Matthew. And Matthew’s got a whole lot of crazy in it.

For Matthew, the Gospel is primarily a how-to book. It’s a training manual for disciples of Jesus. Matthew wants to take the law – the way that the people have been told they were supposed to live for hundreds and hundreds of years -- and say all of that has been summed up in one life … the life of Jesus. Matthew has a simple message for us. He tells the story of Jesus and says, “be like this.” And the story of Jesus is pretty unusual.

Take the story of Jesus’ birth. We’re used to the Luke story. The angel Gabriel comes to Mary and her incredible act of courage in saying yes to God. Shepherds and angels. It’s a beautiful story.

Matthew’s story is different.. First of all, in Matthew’s story, Joseph is the main character. Second, Matthew doesn’t spend a lot of time painting a picture.  Instead he tells a simple story with a very clear, three step pattern that runs throughout this whole Gospel. Here’s how it goes:

Step one: God or Jesus makes a statement or gives a direction that sounds absolutely crazy, with the only rationale being “because that’s my dream for the world.”

Step two: If you believe the crazy statement or follow the crazy direction, it means you are a disciple. If you don’t, you’re not.

Step three: Because following directions everyone else says are crazy is really hard, God promises to be with us every step of the way. Throughout the Gospel, God promises that we will never have to do this alone.

You see this pattern in this morning’s Gospel. Let’s walk through it. We start with the crazy statement:

“Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit.”

OK! Stop right there! Did you get that? We’re being told to believe that Mary became pregnant without the help of another human being?  And not only that, we’re told this in a completely matter-of-fact way, like instead of Matthew saying “she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit” he was saying “…and she was found to have a fondness for hummus.” He doesn’t give any explanation of how or even why.  And not only are we, as disciples in training, being told to believe this, Joseph, who by the way is engaged to this woman who has somehow shown up pregnant, is supposed to buy this, too! Pretty crazy.

OK. Step two. Now we get the crazy direction.

“An angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.”

Boom! Stop there. Joseph, you’re supposed to marry someone whom everyone will think is an adulterer – a crime potentially punishable by death, by the way. And perhaps end up with everyone thinking you are an adulterer, too.  Without any guarantee that this will all work out OK. Without any explanation why except for God saying, “because I said so.”

OK, That’s Step Two. That leaves Step Three. Now, we get the promise:
“All this took place to fulfill what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet: “Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall name him, Emmanuel,” which means, “God is with us.”’
You see, God knows this sounds crazy, and that’s why the very name of the child God is asking Joseph to adopt is a promise that God will be with him every step of the way. And, for good measure, God gives Joseph and Mary, the two people who said yes to all this insanity, God gives them to each other in marriage so neither one has to go through this alone.

In Matthew’s how-to Gospel of discipleship, there are three steps we’re supposed to follow. To hear God tell us something crazy. To believe and follow it without expecting or creating a rational explanation. To trust that God is with us and to look for and embrace the partners God gives us in this absolutely crazy life of following Christ.

Now this isn’t some call to biblical literalism or fundamentalism.  One of the reasons I’m an Episcopalian is that we don’t read scripture literally but use tradition and reason to help us interpret it. The problem is how we’ve used that word “reason.” “Reason” is supposed to be the process of us as a community coming together and using our thoughts, prayers and conversation to discover how a Christ who at every turn rejected the wisdom of the world means for us to live here and now.

But instead way too often, we use it as a qualifer for following Jesus. Follow Jesus … when what he’s saying makes sense.  We take the Gospel message and we take what makes sense to the world and we look for where the Venn diagram merges and we call that small section of it discipleship.

The problem is, the God who told Joseph “don’t be afraid to take Mary for your wife”  promises us many things, but making sense isn’t one of them. It’s actually the opposite. This is the same God who sings to Isaiah “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and my ways are not your ways.”  We follow a Jesus who every time we think like Alice in Wonderland and say “there’s no use trying, one can’t believe impossible things” invites us instead to be like the White Queen believing as many as six impossible things before breakfast! 

Impossible things like:
*Love your neighbor as yourself.
*When someone strikes you on the right cheek turn the other one toward him.
*When someone sues you for your coat, give them your cloak as well.

Impossible things like
*Rejoice when people curse you and criticize you
*Go, sell all that you have, give it to the poor and follow me.

Impossible things like “You are the light of the world.”

Jesus doesn’t let the world define crazy and sane because, frankly, the world doesn’t have that good a track record in the sanity department.

Look around us.

Look around and you’ll see a world where a child dies every three seconds of stupid preventable poverty.

Where we’re told it makes sense to spend billions of dollars on weapons to kill each other but we can’t afford to give millions of people basic medical care.

Where we’re told we should fear someone because of the color of their skin or what they believe.

Where I’m told that two people of the same sex who love each other is a threat to my marriage.

Where we’re told that a great way to celebrate the birth of Christ is to buy people who already have more junk than they know what to do with, more stuff that they don’t need in the first place.

And we’re letting this world tell us that Jesus is crazy?

Madaleine L’Engle calls the birth of Christ “The Glorious Impossible” … and as the body of Christ, that’s what we get to be, too: The Glorious Impossible. We get to hear things that the world says are insane. We get to come together and think and pray and talk, and without fear or rationalization really try to figure out how Jesus means for us to live like that. And then we get to believe impossible things and do impossible things and follow a God who promises never to leave us, and rejoice when people curse us and feel blessed if it makes us poor. 

This week as we prepare for Christmas, I have a challenge for us to walk in Joseph and Mary’s footsteps just a little. As you return from receiving communion you’ll pass by a basket with slips of paper in it. Each slip of paper has a passage from Matthew on it. Something that some people might think is absolutely crazy. I invite you to reach in and take one. Then let the passage rest on your heart this week. Share it with a friend or a family member, remembering that God invites us into the impossible but promises we’ll never go it alone. Ask yourself: “What is Jesus inviting me to believe? To be? To do?”

As we move toward Christmas, let’s spend this week not thinking about what makes sense but about how God is inviting us to believe gloriously impossible things and live in gloriously impossible ways. To celebrate the absolute craziness of a God who wanted to be born as a refugee child in a stable, and who invites us to be that gloriously, impossibly, crazy, too.  AMEN.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Advent 3, Light Fixture or Chandelier, Preached by Archdeacon Sluss at St. John's Tower Grove.

A little old lady from a tiny rural Episcopal Church in Nebraska passed away.

She decided to leave her meager wealth to the church for a brand new chandelier.

Her lawyer contacted the vestry about the wishes set in her will.

And the vestry meets and deliberates, and has discussions about her wishes.

They eventually draft a letter to send to the lawyer.

They say that though they are very thankful for her gift, they find that they are unable to accept the gift, for three reasons:

1. No one can spell chandelier.

2. Even if we had one, we’re sure the organist wouldn’t know how to play it.

And 3, what we really need is new light fixtures.

Now if you like that joke feel free to use it. If you do not, don’t blame me I got it from the Canon Precenter of the Cathedral Pat Partridge.

A gift given, even though we don’t know that it is exactly what we needed.

In hindsight I tend to see the truth of god’s blessings in the events in my life, after they have occurred.

I wish I could recognize those grace filled moments while they were happening, Instead of always understanding the grace given to me after the fact.

My perception is too narrow at times. I cannot it seems, see the grace because I am too involved in the aspects of my life.

I have not, though I wish to, given my all aspects of my whole life to God.
I still try to hold on to some things. Try to take control.

Thinking that perhaps that I shouldn’t have God worry about such petty things in my life, like I only have a few favors to ask of God.

That is why God gives us the gift of the community.

The gift of the church, to be with each other to have others to point out to us those grace filled moments.

When I lost my job last year, I for once allowed my self to be prayed for, allowed myself and my predicament to be open to the cathedral community, heck to the entire diocese.

It was this act of allowing those who knew my needs to pray for me, to raise me up. That sustained me in those times of doubt.

My family in Christ were the ones who helped me realize that God’s gift to me in the situation was having me lose my job. I was in a job I hated, and it was only in losing that job was I ready to make the move. Ready to trust that I would be cared for.

Ready to change my point of reference my perspective in what was going on in my life. From being so self perceptive, to community perceptive.

Seeing that one sure gift of God’s grace to me was my church family, and the realization earlier rather than in hindsight, of the grace of god working in my life.

God often has different things in mind for us. Better things than what we believe we need.

That is the promise of belief in God and a belief in the Savior gives us. God will give us better things than we can imagine.

You see sometimes what we get we don’t realize it’s just what we need.

That is what some in ancient Judea saw with Jesus.

Their Messiah was supposed to be this great warrior.
Who would kick out the Romans, restore the lineage of David.
Bring in a new era, of power and grace, to exceed Solomon’s reign.

And what did they get in Jesus, a poor, mendicant preacher. Roaming the countryside, eating with the unclean and outcasts.

This guy while preaching the good news of the kingdom of god, isn’t giving them what they expect.

For the past few weeks we have John the Baptist in the wilderness proclaiming that Jesus is this Messiah the one whom he says he’s unworthy to hold his shoes! The one he and his followers have longed for the messiah to return Israel to the favored people of God.

Only here is Jesus, he hasn’t raised an army. He’s preaching peace! He’s speaking of the kingdom as already being here, or near. How can that be, we still have the Romans with us.
And what’s more now he (John) is in jail! About to die.
So John’s question “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

He wants light fixtures, but gets a chandelier! He doesn’t understand what it is he’s gotten. So Jesus’ answer reminds him.

“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

You will notice that Jesus doesn’t answer John’s question, “are you the one?” with a yes or a no. Instead he tells John’s disciples, “tell John what you hear and see”

The proof of who the messiah is, is not in some definitive, proclamation of Jesus or in some preconceived expectation that we have, but in the fruits of what Jesus has done.

“The blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

In our baptism we vow to follow Christ as our savior to put our whole trust in his grace and love. We put our faith in this kind of a Messiah.

You want the Messiah? this is what you get with the messiah. All of Israel, (all of the world), made whole, in the sight of God. Not just one facet of the world saved, but the whole world.

So what is our reaction when people ask us, are you a Christian? What should be our response? The answer is as Jesus’ not a yes or a no, but “look at me, what do you hear and what do you see?”

We are to live our lives into our baptismal covenant. We are to resist evil, and repent, when we sin (and we will sin).
(Deacons call the world to repentence, when we bid and lead the confession)

We are to proclaim the good news, especially to those who have not heard the gospel.
(when we proclaim the gospel we proclaim the gospel, not our interpretation on it)

We are to serve all persons, and we are to strive for justice and peace, and respect the dignity of every human being.
(the poor, the sick, the lonely all those special population stated in our ordination vows)

All of these we should do, in proclamation that we are Christians.

This is also what we in the order of deacons are called to do. We are to be iconic of the servant Christ at work in the world.

Pointing out to the Church that with Christ as our light, that we together as his body in the world, compose those many lights of that chandelier.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Advent 3A: "The Greatest Show on Earth!"

Preached by the Rev. David K. Fly at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 5, 2010.
         I don’t know about you but when I hear those words my heart starts to beat more quickly and my excitement begins to build. A ringmaster wearing a top hat and tails and wonderful leather boots takes his place in the center ring – the brass band plays a fanfare. The circus is about to begin!
         The task of the ringmaster is more than simply announcing the acts that are soon to come before us. It’s his job to build anticipation so that we put away all our cares and worries and look to the future. Something magnificent is about to happen. And within moments we begin to experience a world we didn’t believe could exist: animals jump through hoops, acrobats walk on the air above us, people are shot out of cannons and yet, they live! And in the midst of all these wonderfully talented people, the clowns fall flat on their faces and we laugh. It’s a sight to behold.
         “In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near . . .’ And John wore clothing of camel’s hair with a leather belt around his waist . . . then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river . . .”
         The ringmaster/ John the Baptist? The circus/ the Kingdom of God? Strange bedfellows, eh? However, Dr. Loren Mead in his book A Celebration of Life says this:
To the contemporary world of strife, violence, tension, suffering and anxiety, both the circus and the Kingdom of God present a view of a wholly different kind of world. Not a world of business as usual. Not a world of things as they have always been . . . but a world of surprise and delight . . . a world of new possibilities . . . a world that’s unpredictable . . . a world where all participate, where no one’s left out . . . even the fool . . . a world in which the unexpected and the unprecedented can happen . . . a world of celebration of all life . . . a world of laughter as well as tears. A world that celebrates Easter.
         John the Baptist doesn’t come into the world wearing a top hat and leather boots but he’s certainly a dramatic character and especially during the season of Advent he’s like the ringmaster proclaiming the coming of a kingdom and the arrival of a Savior. Jesus enters the center ring after his introduction and suddenly angels appear to shepherds and to Mary in the garden after the resurrection, the dead are raised, the lame walk, the blind see, the hungry are fed, untouchables are touched, even Paul, a persecutor of the Jews, runs away with the circus and describes himself as the least of all the apostles who walks at the end of the parade – no one is left out.
           Once we’ve known the kingdom Jesus brings, things will never be the same again. And you and I are called to play active roles in making the kingdom of God a reality. Not only are we called to repent – to leave the old life of sin and death behind – but to allow the new life of Christ to live in and through us.
                  When my daughter Jessie was three, I took her to the Ringling Bros./Barnum and Baily circus. As the ringmaster came to the center ring, Jessie’s eyes grew wide, “Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages (it was almost as if he had called Jessie by name!), welcome to the GREATEST SHOW ON EARTH.” And suddenly, high over our heads, there was an avalanche of activities as the acrobats filled the air over the ring and lion-tamers and clowns danced into the three rings. It was a sight to see and I was so entranced by all that was going on that I didn’t keep my eye on my daughter. When I turned around to say something to her I discovered she had left her seat and was walking down the aisle. I caught up with her. “Where are you going?” I asked. “Out there!” she said, pointing to the center ring. I said, “Oh Jess, circuses are only for watching.” And I tried to explain that even if she made it to the center ring, someone would have to turn her away.
         Well, three years later, the tables were turned on me when my old friend Nick Weber, a Jesuit priest, came to town. Nick had created something called the Royal Lichtenstein Three-Quarter Ring Sidewalk Circus and they travelled the country. They were in St. Louis doing a show in the parking lot of a shopping mall. I took Jessie. We stood and watched as Nick, a wonderful clown and mime in whiteface, came to the center ring. He stopped and looked at the audience and then, motioned to Jessie, calling her out of the crowd to join him, and when she did, he had her stand on a pedestal in the center of the ring. And while she stood there with a smile that could be “heard around the world,” he made her a paper flower out of dirty, old newspapers. Jessie was the star of his act.
         Later that afternoon, while near a wishing well at a local shopping mall, Jessie stopped to drop in a penny. When I asked her, “What are you wishing for?” Jessie said, “That Nick would take me away with him to the circus.” And by the time we got home, she had her colored chalk out and was drawing clown faces and beginning to practice juggling. It had taken her three years but she made it to the center ring!
         Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, Children of all ages. I don’t know how long it’s taken you. I don’t know what you long for but it’s here for you. The Kingdom of God is at hand. And no one is excluded. No one left out. Every Sunday, when we stand before this altar and the priest says, “Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit” and we respond, “And blessed be God’s Kingdom, now and forever. Amen”, we, in the presence of the Holy Spirit manifest a whole new world – an entire way of thinking about our lives and the world around us – we, like the ringmaster of the circus who welcomes the world to the greatest show on earth and John the Baptist in the wilderness, who says, “Jump on in, the water’s fine!” we say, “Hurry on down the aisle to the center ring and find the special place that God has prepared for you since the beginning of time.” Amen.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Barbi Click's sermon from Advent 2 Evensong at St. Paul's, Carondolet

Preached by Christ Church Cathedral parishioner Barbi Click at St. Paul's, Carondolet on Saturday, December 4, 2010. The Gospel text was Luke 7:28-35

“The Pharisees and lawyers rejected God’s purpose for themselves.”

That phrase leapt out at me.

I can just imagine the confusion the Pharisees and lawyers must have felt. What was Jesus talking about? They were following the letter of the Law – something they had studied all their lives.

Perhaps it impressed me simply because I am in the midst of reading Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s new book, Made for Goodness. For whatever reason, it is an age old quandary – why am I here? What is my purpose?

It is easy to get lost in all the information available – both then and now. The Pharisees thought they were doing what God intended for them to do. Here Jesus was talking about being baptized. What difference did that make to these men of the Law? It is so difficult to wrestle with the idea of what is known and that which is unknown.

In a world where there are so many unknowns, we reject the idea that God created us in goodness, for goodness – the point of the Tutus’ book.

Maybe that idea is just too simple to grasp.

St. Augustine wrote that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. But what does that mean? How do we find rest in this rush, rush world? Especially at this time of year? For that matter, how do we find God?

We hunger; we crave…something. This hunger eats away at us daily; causes us to seek and to sate that craving with things that take us so far away from the ideas of goodness and God’s purpose for us.

God blew breath into the first human – ruach – the breath of God.

God made those first humans and said, “It is very good.” Not just Good. Just good was for all the other aspects of creation. For the humans, God said it is VERY good.

We are made by God, for God, in goodness, for goodness.

It’s not that we SHOULD be good…it’s that we ARE good.
God said so. And that lives within us each moment of every day.

Yet even with that, the things that people fear most are alienation, separation…of being cast aside. We want to belong so badly that we seek out those things we that cause us to stray so far away from God’s purpose for us. Our lives are too often centered on trying to belong and … then, conversely, trying to run away. We want to be a part of things but when things get complicated we adopt the ‘fight or flight’ stance. We either join in some sort of fight… or we run away.

Yet if God created us all with the same goodness and if we are all called to love one another, then there has to be an understanding that we need one another
– every last one of us needs every last one of us, the first, the last and the most, the least – regardless of complicated relationships make our lives.
Recently, four of the world’s religious leaders, including the Dalai Lama and our own Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori, met at Emory University in Atlanta. One of the leaders, Lord Jonathan Sacks, Britain’s chief Rabbi stated that spiritual happiness is the “greatest source of renewable energy that we have.”

Spiritual Happiness...Greatest source of renewable energy.

As an environmentalist, this is a profound statement to me.

All the leaders agreed that the more we give, the happier we are. My grandmother used to say that the more we give away, the more that comes back to us.

If we do need one another, if that is the way that God created us and if God’s purpose for us is goodness, made in goodness for the sake of goodness, then I think it is safe to assume that the answer to the question of God’s purpose for us is fairly clear.

Do good. Not for ourselves…but for others. Do good.

We reject God’s purpose for us when we put our needs above the needs of others or when we make ourselves the center of things. And it’s easy to make ourselves the center of attention – one way is to take on too much – to be in charge of this or that. To have to control so many things.

We live in an I, Me, Mine culture which promotes the idea that the individual is far more important than the whole…and that we actually have some right that others should cater to our … quirks. It keeps us from seeing very far from our own center point of being – rather than being centered in God, we center ourselves on ourselves. Not very stable. Mainly, it keeps us centered on that which we know.

The unknown scares the living daylights out of us. It scares us into a stubborn ignorance.

That is basically what the Pharisee’s and the lawyers did: John & Jesus, young men, newcomers telling the same story with a very different spin on it. How could they possible know all that these wise, learned men know, these men who had dedicated their lives to study the Law?

But John and Jesus did. They knew God’s purpose for themselves and they knew that it was to do good for others.

Advent is a time of meditation and reflection while awaiting the coming of something so spectacular and phenomenal that it alters our lives forever. It is a time where all creation is reconciling itself to God.

On this 2nd Sunday in Advent, this Scripture reading from Luke calls us into a no uncertain recognition of God’s purpose for us -- reconciliation – with one another, this creation and with God.

When we reconcile ourselves to one another and to this great creation, we reconcile ourselves to God.

The only unknown in this is just to what extent will our lives be transformed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

First Sunday of Advent: "The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 28, 2010  

"Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming ... The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour."

It’s the first Sunday of Advent. And Advent has sort of a double paradox to it.

First, we’re told we're supposed to be waiting expectantly. But we’re supposed to be waiting expectantly for something that has already happened.  That’s kinda weird.

Second, we're told in this morning’s Gospel that "we don't know the day or the hour" when clearly we do. You can even by these countdown Christmas ornaments that tell you how many days, hours, minutes and seconds until the hour comes. And in fact here, we schedule a brass quintet to come help us celebrate it! Again, kinda strange.

The way we talk about Advent is strange. And it makes me think that maybe there is something more to it, something that has to do with this cryptic Gospel reading that so many people have used to scare people with books like the Left Behind series. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because in the past few weeks this Gospel reading has taken on a new and profound meaning for me.

Most of you know that I’ve had a health scare recently, that I found out a couple weeks ago that I have a dissection or a tear in my left carotid artery, and that I’m on blood thinners and blood pressure medicine. And I’m doing really, really well. But there’s a bit of a story of how I got to that diagnosis, and I want to share it with you not because I believe either I or my experience is unique and special but precisely because I believe it is not.

It all started at that great cathedral birthday party we had in Schuyler Hall. I began to have trouble speaking, started tripping over my tongue. At first I thought it was allergic reaction, maybe to some Thai food I’d had. But then the next day came and it was still there and it was still there on Sunday.

One of the many great things about being here at the Cathedral is we have a canon who is also a doctor in John Kilgore. So on Sunday morning, I asked him to take a look at it (you doctors get that all the time, don’t you … hey doc, take a look at this!). And John got a worried look on his face and said, “you should really get that checked out.” That got me a little concerned. But I really got concerned the next morning, when John called me at 8:15 am and said, “you’re going to get that checked out, right? I’ve called your doctor and he’s expecting you!”

So then I was really nervous. So I did the natural thing in situations like that. I came into work, got on the computer and Googled “tongue paralysis” and a whole bunch of mean, nasty, ugly things came up. So I went to the doctor. My usual doc was out sick so I saw someone else. And he looked at my tongue. Did a couple other very basic tests just sitting there and then looks at me and says:

“Well, it’s either a tumor, a growth, or something weird.”

And I said, “What’s something weird?”

“Oh, MS, Lou Gehrig’s disease, something like that.”

And so I said, “Is there any chance that it’s something minor?”

And he shook his head and said, “Nah.” And then he sent me out to be scheduled for a brain MRI the first thing the next morning and then sent me home.

Let me hit pause here and say to any doctors in the congregation … never do this. This was not helpful. Don’t just leave someone like that! Because in the space of one sentence my life had changed. In the space of one sentence everything I had just assumed – that I would live a normal life, watch my kids grow up – all of that was now up for grabs and frankly, wasn’t looking too good. I stumbled out of that office in a daze. What had just happened? It didn’t seem real.

Robin was home that day so I went home and talked with her. We said, “I guess this is what ‘in sickness and in health’ means.” I emailed my amazing colleague group because I knew I needed their support. I came down here and talked with Amy, who prayed with me and was just amazing. I talked with the Bishop. I needed to let them know what had happened and what the doctor had said. I got great advice from a friend to try to tell my kids as much as I could because they were going to know something was up, but also to try to find that line where I was giving them enough information to feel powerful but not so much a sense of what might be that they would be terrified. 

I didn’t sleep a lot that night. I kept thinking of a guy Robin and I knew named Rick Dodd, who was my age with a bunch of kids. One day he’d woken up with numbness in his left foot, and in less than a year and a half he was dead of a tumor on his brain stem. And I realized that where I was was at the foot of the cross. And I kept hearing my own words, words I have said over and over in the year and a half we have been together. About how when we come together up here we lay our lives on this table. About the experience I talked about in my stewardship letter of realizing that my life was not my own. I absolutely meant those words every time I had said them. They were never just words, but they took on a whole new depth of meaning now. The rubber had hit the road. The son of man had come at an unexpected hour.

Now I don’t want you to think for a second that I was facing this stoically and with a brave face. I may be half British, but there was no stiff upper lip thing going on. This was the biggest roller coaster I had ever been on. I would be in tears or fighting them back. And then I would just be terrified. And then I would just be numb. And then this incredible peace would just come over me. Sometimes all in the space of a minute. And I found myself praying for something that we pray for every Sunday .. the peace that passes all understanding. And it would come, but then just as quickly it would go again. And that’s the way it went.

For the 30 hours from when that doctor had said those words to me and when I got the MRI results back, I found myself at the foot of the cross. And it was not a fun place to be. It was a terrifying place to be. It was a dark place to be. But in the middle of that fear. In the middle of that darkness, I found something amazing. I found that Jesus was there. And he was begging me to trust him. He was begging me to believe in the words I had said so many times.  To believe that my life was not my own and that was nothing to fear. To believe that all would be well. To believe in him. To let go.

It was an extraordinary experience. The kind of experience we generally try to protect ourselves from even thinking about. You see, we live with an illusion of control. One of the things i have learned as I have traveled to places like Ghana and Sudan and Rwanda is that generally the more wealth we have the greater we are able to reinforce that illusion of control – which means we Americans are REALLY good at it. And the more also that we are afraid of losing control and the more unprepared we are for that inevitable moment when the illusion of control is shattered and we are standing naked and alone at the foot of the cross. And make no mistake. That moment or moments are inevitable. And they are the most amazing Christmas gifts in the most terrible and terrifying wrapping, if we are able to accept them. I call them Christmas gifts because they are the gift of Christmas ... The gift of Christ staring us right in the face, giving himself for us ... And offering us the chance to do the same.

And so Monday night turned into Tuesday morning. And John met me at St. Mary’s and prayed with me before I went in for the MRI. And then they stuck me in one of those long tubes that sounds like people are pounding on it with hammers. And then came one of the longest days of my life. Robin had instituted a new rule. I think she figured that she was going to make sure I was going to take care of myself, so the rule was if I don’t sleep the night before, I don’t go to work the next day. So the idea was I would stay home and sleep. Only of course I didn’t. I dozed a little bit but mostly I just waited for the phone to ring with the test results.

The darkest hour of that day came around 3 pm, right before my kids were to come home from school. And I didn’t want to be a mess and fall apart with them because that would just be terrifying for them. And I realized who I needed to talk to. And so I picked up the phone and called a friend from seminary, Dahn Gandell. Dahn’s mother died of cancer when we were in seminary and she had just had a malignant melanoma removed from her leg last year. Dahn is one of what I call my nuclear powered pray-ers. And I knew I needed her.

As I said, I had already talked with Amy and the bishop the day before. It was important if the really bad stuff was going to come down that we work together as a team to make sure we found a way to use this for the good for this congregation. But at that moment I was thinking about my family. And in that moment, I realized the hardest thing for me wasnt to give my life to Christ, it was to give them to Christ. To trust that they would be OK.

And so I asked Dahn, I said, “This may sound a little morbid, but I need to ask you that and I need you to give me an honest answer.” She said “OK.” I said, if the worst happens, will you be there at the end holding my hand and holding Robin’s hand. And she said, “Duh! Of course!” And then I’m not going to say I was OK, but there was a way it was OK. In that moment, she was Christ for me, that physical incarnation of God’s presence.  At that moment, even though I was still on that roller coaster, I had been given a gift … that peace that passes all understanding. And I realized something about that peace. It doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid. It doesn’t mean that you’re not sad. It means that it’s OK to be those things and that in addition to my life, and my family’s life, I could give those things to Christ as well … and that even though it didn’t make them go away, that I wasn’t carrying them by myself.

The rest of the story is pretty straightforward. I got a call that afternoon from the doc that said my MRI was clean (or as Robin liked to say, my brain MRI came back negative!). That took a lot of really bad stuff off the table, but still left some nasty stuff on there. I went to an ear, nose and throat guy who got me a CT scan of my neck and on Friday afternoon, my doc calls. He says the good news is there’s no tumor, but you’ve got a dissected artery with a clot that was impinging on the nerve to the tongue. Come on in, I want to talk with you about it.

The rest most of you know. My left carotid artery has a tear in it with a clot that has formed. I’m on blood thinners to keep the clot from growing while my body does its normal job of dissipating the clot. I’m on medication to keep my blood pressure down, which is just as important. The dissection is in a tricky place and they really don’t want to do surgery, but they’re also pretty confident that with the treatment I’m getting there’s a really good chance it will heal itself. And if it doesn’t, well, we’ll figure that out if it comes to it.

And so I’m living in this amazing place right now. When I was in the hospital, the doctors kept telling me two things almost in the same breath that sounded really strange together ... what you have is very, very serious ... And we think you're going to be ok. But here’s the thing I’m dealing with now really much more than anything medical…

I feel fine right now.  So it is easy for that illusion of control to slip back and for me to lose the profound sense of being in the hand of God. And so I’m wrestling with how not to do that. How to grasp the opportunity not just for me but for all of us to cultivate for ourselves and each other the sense that we every day are at the foot of the cross, thanking God for the gift of this life but remembering that it is not our own. And whether it lasts 5 more seconds or 50 more years it is a gift.

So why am I sharing this story? Well, to steal a line from Alice’s Restaurant, I'm telling you this because you may know someone in a similar situation. Or you may be in a similar situation. And frankly, if you haven’t yet, you will be. The phone will ring. The doctor will say words you never thoiught you would hear. The illusion of control will be shattered. We know it because we have lived it.

We know it from last Christmas Day when the phone rang and we learned Dennis Englehard had been killed.

We know if from this fall when we said goodbye to Don Kay at the parish picnic and then he was hit by a car and killed later that afternoon.

We know it from finding the pink slip we never saw coming on our workstation.

From the phone call that lets us know that it finally is time to look at assisted living for our parents or watching our parents or spouse slowing slip away to Alzheimers.

We know it from the children we had hoped for and loved whose lives ended in miscarriage. From the phone call in the middle of the night that said, “Mom, I’m in jail.” From the car crash. From the terrifying moment in front of the mirror when we say “Oh my God, what is that lump?”

We know it from all the things we see all the time on the news or other peoples facebook statuses but until that moment, we somehow never think will happen to us.   I’m here to tell you, as if you don’t already know, that we do not know the day or the hour but we do know it will happen. But here's the good news. When it does it will not be the coming of a Christ who is just crashing the party as it ends, it will be the revealing of a Christ who has been with us a along, and who in those times we are given the gift of seeing him face to face.

You see, there really is no paradox of advent. Because we're not preparing for something that has already happened. We’re not preparing for the birth of Christ. Advent is allowing ourselves to realize that Christ is with us all along. Advent is allowing ourselves to realize that an sense of control we have over our lives is just an illusion, but it is an illusion we can try and try and try to let go of without fear because on that night in Bethlehem more than two thousand years ago, God bent down and kissed the earth and promised that when life happens and the unexpected hour comes and that phone rings or that doctor says those words that just produce a dull ringing in our ears because they are so incredibly unreal, we will not be alone but God in Christ will be there. And as members of Christ’s body we will be there for each other, the embrace and gaze and tears and touch of Christ for each other.

There is a truth that it is at those times when life seems most threatened, when we live the deepest, when we become most aware of how precious life is. And at that moment when we are so aware of how precious every minute is, we are invited to place that precious life - ours and those whose lives we would trade ours for in a second ... in the arms of Christ.

And as hard as it is in that moment to do that, in many ways that’s the easier time to do it. In those moments of crisis we are so aware of how incredibly important the truly important things are and how incredibly unimportant all the rest of it is. There is a perspective that comes with the unexpected arrival of the Son of Man that slips away so quickly when life returns to normal and the illusion of control returns.

And so I think maybe the invitation of Advent is not to prepare for the birthday we know is coming, but to, just for a season, help each other live more consciously of how little we know, how little control we have and how much we all live in the hand of God. To be a little less afraid of meeting Christ at the foot of that cross. To be a little less afraid of asking for a sister or brother’s hand while we’re there. To be a little more aware of the gift of each breath, the gift of each other, the gift of a God who doesn’t promise it will be easy but who always delivers on the promise that we’ll never have to go it alone.


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Speaking against Proposition A - a message from the Provost

On Saturday, October 23 and Tuesday, October 26, I will be speaking at rallies against Proposition A, which would pave the way for the potential elimination of the 1% earnings tax for those who live and work in the City of St. Louis. I encourage you to read the official ballot language and an excellent summary of the arguments for and against the measure at Ballotpedia. More information about those rallies is at the end of this piece.

I'm writing here for four reasons:

*To clarify the ability of clergy and the church to take public positions on political issues.

*To clarify my thought process in taking a public stand as provost of Christ Church Cathedral.

*To explain why I have chosen to accept these invitations to speak against Proposition A.

*To describe my hopes for us as a community with diverse political and theological views.

This is a little lengthy, but only because I think it is critically important that I be clear on each of these points and I want this to be a resource. Mostly, I want you to come to me face-to-face so we can have a loving, civil conversation about this or any issue.

The Church and Political Advocacy

Christian churches have a long and proud history of political activism ... back to Jesus himself. There is a lot of misinformation and fear about our ability to be political advocates because of our nonprofit status. In simplest terms, churches and church employees can publicly advocate for or against any political position or ballot initiative. Churches and church employees (in their capacity representing the church) cannot campaign for or provide real or in-kind assistance to any candidate for office. When I was executive director of Episcopalians for Global Reconciliation, I wrote a two-page summary of the "can's and cant's" of advocacy for religious organizations. If you have questions, I encourage you to read it here ... and also to go to the EGR advocacy page and the Episcopal Public Policy Network for more resources (and I hope you will join EPPN ... it is an excellent and incredibly well-run organization).

Speaking as Provost

Only the Dean is authorized to speak for Christ Church Cathedral. This creates a challenging situation for me as provost. I am very clear that I am not the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral. At the same time, I -- through agreement of the Bishop and Chapter -- carry the title Very Rev. and function in much of the capacity as Dean (including serving as Vice President of Chapter and chairing meetings in the absence of the president of Chapter, Bishop Smith).

I have wrestled with this issue and have come to a place that I am mostly, though not entirely comfortable with. But I'm also convinced it's the best I can do.

If we come to a point that we believe God means for us to be together as Dean and Cathedral, part of that will mean you believe that I am the person you want to speak for the Cathedral in the public square. That piece of discernment is incomplete so it would be wrong of me to assume that mantle.

That said, I believe all baptized Christians have a responsibility to speak out when they believe the Gospel compels them to. I also believe that part of the role of being Provost of the Cathedral is nurturing relationships of solidarity with other churches and like-missioned organizations in the City of St. Louis. I also believe that for you as the people of Christ Church Cathedral, hearing my voice and knowing my views will be an important part of the discernment of whether or not I should be your dean.

The balance I have come to is this. As provost, I will not seek out the press, write letters to the editor under the title "Provost, Christ Church Cathedral" or do anything proactive to attach my opinions on political issues to the name of Christ Church Cathedral. I will, however, accept invitations from organizations, and allow myself to be interviewed on political issues when the press requests. I will also accept the request of Bishop Smith to speak as a representative of the Episcopal Diocese of Missouri on his behalf (as is the case with the rally at which I will be speaking on Tuesday afternoon at Keiner Plaza). Because I know the public will perceive me as speaking for Christ Church Cathedral and will not get the provost/dean nuance, I will only do this in cases where I feel the issue at stake has a clear Gospel imperative ... as I did when I was invited last year to speak in favor of health care reform. I will always be willing and eager to have the theological conversation with you.

Should I become Dean, you can expect that I will be more proactive in taking stands on issues in the public square. But you will also know that I will have not just a personal and political but most important, a theological rationale for these positions that I believe is consonant with the theology and mission of the Episcopal Church and Christ Church Cathedral. That does not mean everyone will always agree with me. It does mean that I will always listen and strive to hold the experience of the whole people of God at Christ Church Cathedral in my heart and mind as I speak. More on that in a bit.

Why speak against Proposition A?

I was invited by two different groups, St. Louis Area Jobs with Justice (Rally at 10 am Saturday in Tower Grove Park) and Metropolitan Congregations United (Rally at 5:30 pm on Tuesday at Kiener Plaza). In the case of MCU, both the Bishop and I were invited and the Bishop asked me to speak on his behalf. Both of these organizations are reputable and have good histories of partnering with Episcopal congregations in St. Louis, including Christ Church Cathedral.

I was once in favor of eliminating the earnings tax. I saw it as short-sighted and a barrier to attracting business to the City of St. Louis ... and I still acknowledge that it might be such a barrier (though, as the Post-Dispatch has reported, "St. Louis's tax is neither high nor uncommon. Cincinnati and Cleveland have 2 percent taxes, as do Louisville and Lexington, Ky. New York City's can reach higher than 3.5 percent; Philadelphia's, can go to nearly 4 percent.").

I have been turned around on this issue and see it as a fundamental theological choice for or against loving our neighbor as Christ loved us.

The city earnings tax funds 39.2% of the city's revenues. That is revenue that could not be recouped by any other means short of a huge tax increase in other areas ... most probably a large, regressive increase in the city sales tax. And even in that case, it would result in a massive gutting of city services. While this initiative would not in itself repeal the city earnings tax, it would open that door and require the spending of millions of dollars to fight off an attack against eliminating something that, simply put, the city needs to survive.

The mission of the church is to "restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." It is a mission of reconciliation. St. Louis needs reconciliation and the last thing we need is more division. We are an incredibly divided city, with divisions of city/county, race, economic class and more. The earnings tax, though burdensome to some, is one tangible way we care for one another ... and particularly where those with means provide basic services for those without. The spirit behind the move to repeal the earnings tax is a spirit of hoarding and scarcity. A spirit of keeping for ourselves instead of giving for the common good. It is a spirit not of increased reconciliation but of increased division antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is why I have accepted the invitations to speak out against it.

What if you disagree? How do we live together as a diversely believing community?

In Philippians 2:12, Paul exhorts the people:
Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
We are all working out our salvation with fear and trembling, trusting that the God who humbled the divine self into human form in Christ is with us and that it is God's wisdom we are all most imperfectly seeking. Put another way, it means we all can be wrong. And we need to cultivate in our community the humility that allows each and all of us to be challenged lovingly.

The great beauty of Anglicanism is that it is about a process of doing theology (a study of scripture through the lenses of tradition and reason) not about a determined outcome. We have plenty of experiences of faithful people coming to different conclusions about issues. But we also cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed into silence by our lack of complete certainty ... just able to stay in conversation, stay in prayer, stay gathered around Christ's table as we proclaim the Gospel the best we can and work out that salvation with fear and trembling.

So if I or any member of this Cathedral community -- clergy or lay -- speak out in a way you disagree with, here's what you do:

*Say your prayers. Prayerfully consider what they have said and see if God's wisdom might be speaking to you through it. Pray for them as they sort out their salvation with fear and trembling.

*Talk with them. Lovingly ... not angrily, but lovingly and face-to-face (not in an email, please!) share your concerns or your differing view. And while you should try to make your position known as well, take a page from St. Francis and strive "not so much to be understood as to understand."

*If you feel called, use your voice just as that other person or people have used theirs. As you consider what that looks like, consider Christ's call to love one another as Christ loves us, and let that be your guide.

*Keep coming to the table. Christ's table is the great equalizer. It is where we all lay our lives down in realization that we all are broken and fall short but that in Christ, together, we are one.

I will strive to live by these guidelines with you and I pray you will live by them with each other and with me. I think you will see in them an extension of the Rules for Respect to which we have all pledged. Most of all, I want you to know it is OK to disagree with me ... and I hope you will do it lovingly and to my face. Because that's how I learn and grow. Because I do make mistakes. And because I'm working out my salvation with fear and trembling, too ... and we all need each other to get to the promised land.

in Christ's love,


The Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman
Provost, Christ Church Cathedral

The rally on Saturday sponsored by Missouri Jobs with Justice will begin at 10 am at the Turkish Pavilion in Tower Grove Park. Here is a map of Tower Grove Park. Please see the inset map that shows where the Turkish Pavilion is on Center Cross Dr. off of Arsenal. More information is at their Facebook event page here.

The rally on Tuesday afternoon sponsored by Metropolitan Congregations United will be at 5:30 pm at Kiener Plaza. 

Sunday, October 3, 2010

19th Sunday After Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010  

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, `Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, `Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, `We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"

If I’m going to be honest with you, my first reaction to this Gospel reading was to get really annoyed. I don't need this. I don't think you need this. We don't need to be told that we don’t have enough faith. We don't need to be told that we are only worthless slaves. We don't need to work our tails off and try to be the best people we can and turn to Jesus and have him say "What do you want, a medal?" And that’s what this Gospel felt like when I first read it. Like Jesus was berating me and beating me up. And I just wasn’t in the mood.

And then I looked a little closer at the reading, and I noticed a couple things. The first is the Greek word that is translated as “worthless” doesn’t really mean that. It doesn’t mean “having no value” but rather “those to whom nothing is owed.” Now that’s a big difference. Jesus isn’t saying we should view ourselves as worthless … but as not being owed anything. We shouldn’t have a sense of entitlement because of our status or our accomplishments.

You might not know it because the lectionary skipped over it, but this reading follows closely on the heels of the parable of the Prodigal Son … and there is no more poignant story in all of scripture of God’s boundless love for us no matter what we do. We’re not worthless. We are infinitely valuable … but we shouldn’t feel like God or the universe or anybody owes us anything. We shouldn’t think of ourselves as better than anyone else.

In fact if there’s a theme that runs through this section of Luke it’s just that … that God’s love for us is infinite and that it doesn’t fit into human categories. We are the lost coin that the woman searches for, the lost sheep that the shepherd leaves the 99 to go after. We are the prodigal son who told his father “I wish you were dead” and for whom his dad still killed the fatted calf. But lest we think we have any special place because of who we are, what position we held, what family we were born into or where we went to high school, Jesus lets us know in no uncertain terms the answer is no. He does this by embracing and eating with and loving those whom the world rejects the most, the poor, the weak, the sick and the lame.

In Luke, Jesus draws a distinction between how he sees us and how the world sees us. The world measures us by race and class and job and talent. By how successful we are or how productive we are or how much we can contribute. Jesus looks on us and sees only the image of God, infinitely beautiful but also infinitely gifted because the love that is the heart of being the image of God is the most powerful force in the universe. Jesus looks on each one of us and sees someone who really could uproot a mulberry tree or move mountains … if only we could for even a second see ourselves as Christ sees us. If only we could have faith.

And that’s the second thing I noticed … that word, faith. It’s not about believing something up here. The better translation of the word is trust. And so what’s really happening here is that Jesus, who looks at each one of us and sees deep beauty and amazing power, is really just saying, “Trust me.” Trust that the way I see you is who you really are. Trust that you can let go of all the other ways you have of defining yourself. Trust that you can let go of all the labels that other people use to define you. Trust that you can believe you are lovable just for who you are and not for what you produce. Trust me, Jesus says.

And it’s so true. When we trust Jesus just a little bit. When we believe we are the person Christ sees us as and not the box the world tries to cram us into, the possibilities are literally endless. But that “little bit of faith,” that “little bit of trust” is so incredibly difficult. And we’re so afraid to do it.

My friend John Ohmer’s favorite story is of a woman who was out for a hike in the mountains. She slipped, and fell off the path, and started to tumble down a cliffside but at the last second was able to grab onto the root of a tree. She was hanging there swinging back and forth … a couple hundred yards below her jagged rocks, everything above her smooth rock face, no way to climb back up. She didn’t consider herself particularly religious, but she was in a terrible spot, so she looks up to heaven and says, “IS ANYONE UP THERE?”

Much to her surprise, the clouds part and she hears a voice say, “It is I, the Lord God of the Universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. You are my beloved child; have no fear. You need only to let go.”

She looks back down at the rocks, looks back up to heaven and says, “Is anyone ELSE up there?”

I don’t care whether you’re 8 years old or 80. We’ve all been shaped by powerful messages that tell us that our worth is tied up in how much we produce or how beautiful we are or what color our skin is or how much money we make or what gender we’re attracted to or, yes, where we went to high school. We all had the music teacher who told us we couldn’t sing or the coach who told us we couldn’t play or the boy or girl who wouldn’t go out with us if we were the last person on earth. And those messages – good and bad – defined us and in many ways became self-fulfilling prophecies. We became who they said we were. Because we believed them, we trusted them. And because we’ve spent our whole life trusting those voices, we are convinced they are all there is. And that if we let go of them, if we stop listening to them, we will be rejected and ridiculed and bullied and all those things that we have been carefully trying to avoid all our lives that make those jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff seem like a pit full of feather pillows.

And yet in this place, in this community, we hear another voice. We hear the voice of Jesus, who sees us as God sees us … as not owed anything, as not any better or worse than anyone else, but also as infinitely worthy, infinitely lovable, and infinitely capable. And that voice says, “Trust me!” “If you could trust me even this much …. If you could see yourself even this much as I see you … if you could let go even a little bit of those other voices that have shaped you and of which you live in such deep fear … if you could do that, you would not believe what amazing things you could do.”

That is the community we get to be for each other. A community that looks at each other as God sees us. Who sees the extraordinary and the beautiful that the world cannot or maybe simply just will not see. A community that knows the truth of what our friend Becca Stevens says, that the love that is in each one of us is the most powerful source for social change in the world, but more than that, that love heals … and that we are not called to change the world. We’re just given the gift of the chance to love it.

What message are you holding onto that is holding you back from letting God love you and letting you love the world? How can you turn to the person next to you and help them see themselves as God sees them, as amazing and beautiful and gifted? How can we together have the courage to trust that the only social category that matters is child of God, and that because that’s what we all are, there is no limit to the wonders that we can do.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

18th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Ven. Mark Sluss at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 26, 2010 

Sunday, September 19, 2010

17th Sunday After Pentecost

Preached by the Rev Canon Amy Chambers Cortright at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 19, 2010 

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gnaw on This ... The Gospel for This Sunday

The Gospel isn't just to be gulped down on Sunday morning, but gnawed on throughout the week so it really becomes a part of us. Here's the Gospel for this Sunday (and some notes and more "food for thought"). You can click here to find all the readings for this Sunday.
Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost - Luke 15:1-10
All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."
So he told them this parable: "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.' Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

"Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.' Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."
What's the Backstory?
These parables are part of a set of three (the third being the Prodigal Son, Luke:15:11-32) about redemption -- being lost and found. The image of the people as lost sheep cared for by God the shepherd is in several places in the Gospel and would also be familiar from the Hebrew scripture (e.g., Ezekiel 34:1-15).
It's notable that the immediate context of these parables are teachings about our relationship with wealth and power (the stories we've read the past 2 weeks from Luke 14 and the stories of the dishonest manager and the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16), and the trigger for Jesus telling the stories is his association with people whose sin is associated with wealth (tax collectors). In addition, the central image of these three parables is of a lost coin. Jesus is drawing a clear connection between our relationship with wealth and power and our state of relationship with God (a connection that is dramatized even more in the parable of the prodigal son).
Something to chew on:
*Where am I lost? Where is God passionately searching for me? This is the first question these parables beg of us. We tend to think of our relationship with God as a hide-and-seek with us being the seeker (we even use that word ... seeker). Jesus tells us that we are the hidden, and God is the seeker. How does that feel? Is that hard to believe? Remembering that Jesus was telling this story in the context of our relationship with wealth and power, how does your wealth and power -- or desire for the same -- keep God from finding you? How do you use your wealth and power to help God find you?

*Who are the "other lost?" What is our attitude toward them? How are we part of God's seeking? This is the second question of these parables. The history of Christianity is littered with theological or political opponents of Christians being labeled as enemies and demons. But Jesus is saying something different. The lost are not supposed to be demonized or destroyed, but lovingly searched for ... and rejoiced in and with when they are found. Nelson Mandela says was able to help transform South Africa because he never saw people as enemies -- even when they were beating him and imprisoning him -- but instead saw them as future friends, beloved by God. Where are you living this in our lives? Where could you live it better?
Try this...
One of the things I find is missing in most of our lives is a deep sense that God rejoices in us before we DO anything or HAVE anything. We experience God as a judge or a parent figure we have to impress, instead of a passionate lover who pines for us. And yet, God as passionate lover pining for us, delighting in us, rejoicing in us is the epic image of God that echoes throughout the story of scripture. This week, take 5 minutes each morning when you get up and sit or take a walk in the fall morning air ... and just rest with the thought that God is searching for you, that God rejoices in you. Think of someone you love simply because your heart can't help it. What does it feel like to think of God loving you like that ... and more?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

13th Sunday After Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 22, 2010 

The Word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you;”

I spent some time with God’s words to Jeremiah this week, and at moments they almost moved me to tears, they are so powerful.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. Before you were even born I consecrated you.

The only language we have to talk and think about God is human language based on human experience … that’s probably why some of our best expressions of the divine are not in words but through art and music. The Irish poet John O’Donohue says “music is what language would love to be if it could” and that’s why he felt songs of God were always more profound than his poems of God.

But because we are bounded by human expression, we tend to think of and experience God through the filter of human concepts, particularly our human relationships. And the truth is, even the best of those have limits to their intimacy.

No matter how deeply you love, no matter how much you want to be intimate with someone, there is only so tightly you can embrace someone, only so deeply you can dive into your friend or lover or child’s or parents or sisters or brother’s eyes and they into yours. Even when someone through living and observing and experiencing us in some ways knows us better than we know ourselves, there are still these places inside us that no one else can touch. We can try to tell someone about them or maybe even sing or draw or sculpt or play to try to express them, but no other person will ever fully know them, we know all too well that we will never be fully understood.

And yet we've got this love/hate, approach/avoidance thing going on with that, too. Because part of us craves being fully known, fully understood, but another part of us fears that so deeply and so intensely. Because the other thing about our human relationships is that for all of us from the moment of birth in addition to those wonderful moments of embrace and acceptance there have been so many moments of rejection and condemnation and somehow those are so often the easier ones for us to believe. And the deeper we let someone in to who we really are, yes, the greater the joy will be if the response is knowing and loving and blessing, but the more unbearable the pain will be if the response is that’s bad, or that’s stupid, or that’s ugly. And we’re just too afraid of that.

And so we build walls and hide inside, and maybe we let some people in, but its usually not without a lot of fear and trepidation. We don’t start out that way, we’re born trusting. But we’re such fast learners. We learn to be guarded. We learn not to share ourselves. We learn not to trust. And we teach each other to do it, too. We’ve all seen it happen. Probably most of us have helped do it to others. And certainly all of us have felt it ourselves. Being told we’re not good enough or not lovable on a profound level because we’re too loud or too fat or can’t draw or can’t sing or our skin isn’t the right shade or we’re not attracted to the right people or we don’t dress right or we’re not smart enough or have enough money or hang with the right friends or any number of things we aren’t that we should be or are that we shouldn’t. And each one of those messages strengthens our resolve not to trust, not to let anyone see who we really are, not to know us too deeply. And as we build those walls, sometimes we add spikes on the outside to hurt others before they can get too close to hurt us.

And yet into this world in which we live comes the words of God to Jeremiah. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born, I consecrated you.”

What amazing, powerful, and liberating words. That first part, “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” St. Augustine had this phrase – and it’s so beautiful in the Latin – “Deus intimior intimo meo” “Deus intimior intimo meo” – “God is more intimate to me than I am to myself.” God doesn’t need to reach around the spikes and break through the walls, because God is already there, in the deepest parts of us … and has always been there. We pray this every Sunday “Almighty God to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.” God really does know us better than we know ourselves because God has known us more deeply and longer than we have known ourselves.

And we can feel in ourselves what Jeremiah must have felt hearing these words. At once the incredible joy of being that deeply known. The joy of “God actually KNOWS me.” And then almost immediately the terror. “Oh no, God actually KNOWS ME" Which is why God immediately follows “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” With “and before you were born I consecrated you.” I not only knew you, God says, I looked at you and said this is good. I blessed you. And I set you aside for something uniquely wonderful, suitable for the unique wonder that is you.

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you. These are some of the most powerful words of God in all of scripture, and God says them to Jeremiah because God has an extraordinary job for Jeremiah. God wants Jeremiah to take a message to the people of Israel that they are not going to want to hear. And they are going to try to tear him down and make him doubt himself and think he is lower than dirt and who are you to even tell us what you think much less claim to speak for God. And so God knows Jeremiah needs to hear these words, because God knows Jeremiah is already full of all those messages of self-doubt and rejection and condemnation that he has heard already through his life just by virtue of him living the same human life we do. And so God says to Jeremiah:

Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. And before you were born I consecrated you.

You are good. God says. You are worthy. You are lovable. And, God says, I oughta know. Deus intimior intimo meo. Because I am more intimate to you than you are to yourself.

In this morning’s Gospel reading, Jesus comes across a woman “with a spirit that had crippled her for eighteen years.” Luke says, “She was bent over and was quite unable to stand up straight.” What a powerful image. Her body has literally been contorted as one who is carrying a giant burden on her back … she is physically bent over. It is the posture of Jesus carrying the cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Its interesting that Luke doesn’t refer to an illness that is besetting her but that she is crippled by a spirit.

This story comes in the middle of a series of stories about how God didn’t just consecrate people like Jeremiah but that God has consecrated all of us to be unique and wonderful vehicles for bringing in the Kingdom of God. For showing the world the joyful, life-changing, trust-building, fear-destroying power of God’s love.

And yet something is keeping this woman from doing this. And as I pictured her bent over in pain, I found myself seeing not an old, grizzled woman, but a woman of about 18 years old. And the spirit that had been crippling her her whole life was the same spirit that cripples all of us, the same spirit that was crippling Jeremiah that caused him to say, “God, are you sure you dialed the right number, because I can’t possibly do this.” The spirit of rejection and condemnation and you’re bad and unlovable and not nearly good enough that builds in each of us and presses down on us more and more as we go through our lives.

As I was thinking of preaching this, I thought about bringing someone up here and putting a backpack on them and one by one loading that backpack with bricks representing all those rejections and condemnations we carry around … and then watch how the person gradually stoops down under the weight. I’ve gotta admit what mostly scared me off of that was worrying about actually hurting someone’s back doing this. But I’ll bet even in describing that, thinking of all those things that are burdening you, you can feel that weight. You can feel your shoulders being pushed down and your spine being bent.

And it was to this woman that Jesus came and said not “you are cured” but “you are set free.” You are liberated. You are free. With a touch, just as God had done with God’s words to Jeremiah, the burden was lifted. She was not whom she had been told she was and wasn’t, but she was once more what she was before the beginning, what God always knew she really was. And what could the woman do now? Do what she was born to do. What she had been consecrated since before birth to do. Stand up straight and praise God.

The late second century bishop and theologian Irenaeus said, “the glory of God is the human being fully alive.” What God did to Jeremiah and what Jesus did to that woman was to make present the glory of God, to bring them fully alive. By knowing them more intimately than they knew themselves and by reminding them of the truth of creation. That even before we were created, God looked at each of us and said, “you are very, very good.”

And Jeremiah went out and proclaimed God’s message to the people. And the woman stood up and praised God. And some people in the synagogue got afraid. But more than that the entire crowd rejoiced, because ultimately that’s all you can do when you are confronted by the glory of God, by a human being fully alive … rejoice and marvel and wonder and praise that same God who has done this marvelous thing.

My friends, this is who we get to be for each other. This is who we get to be for the world. What are the burdens that have you stooped over? What is preventing you and us from standing up straight and praising God? What is preventing all of us from being fully alive? In these stories, God is asking us to trust. To trust that not only does God know us more intimately than we know ourselves but that that is nothing to fear, because we are blessed and consecrated and forgiven and redeemed and above all, loved and very, very, very good. And that each and all of us has a part in revealing the glory of God.

What are the burdens that have you stooped over. What is preventing you and us from standing up straight and praising God? What is preventing all of us from being fully alive? And how can we be like the woman, hearing Jesus call and actually letting him touch her? How can we be like Jesus, seeing one another as the God of Deus intimior intimo meo sees us? How can we be like the crowd … fearlessly rejoicing as we gaze on each other and on a world becoming more fully alive.