Sunday, March 28, 2010

Palm Sunday - "Good morning, Christian Leaders"

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

Good morning Christian leaders.

Now my guess is you’re not used to being called that. But that’s who you are. It’s who we are. Every one of us. We tend to think of leaders as other people … people with more power, authority and position than we have. But we are … every one of us in this room … leaders. Every one of us has arenas in our lives where we have authority, where we exercise leadership. And I know that because every one of us is in relationship with other people and every relationship has the opportunity for leadership.

Some of it is easy to spot. Do you have children? Do you have employees? Do you have constituents or even parishioners? Are you the chair of a committee or do you hold an office? Well, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re a leader.

But it goes beyond that. Do you have friends? Do you have co-workers? Do you have brothers, sisters, classmates, playmates? Do you have a spouse or a partner or even a really good buddy? Do you have people you’re in a book group or a fantasy baseball league or a knitting group with? Do you have anyone in your life or are you ever in a situation where someone is watching you or listening to you or you have a chance to affect the way someone else thinks or acts or feels? Well, then you are a leader. You have authority.

Jesus had people leaving everything and following him all over the country not because he held an office or had a degree or his own show on Fox News Galilee. People followed him because he spoke and lived and loved – and this is what scripture says -- as one with authority. An authority that came not from a position or a title or some letters after his name – He didn’t have a line in the service leaflet at the sermon on the mount that said “Preacher: Jesus of Nazareth, BA., M.Div.” And yet he was the greatest leader the world has ever known. He changed the world more than any leader before or since. His authority came from how he lived and who he was. Same for us.

And that’s what makes today so interesting. So interesting that year after year we either miss or ignore or just plain forget what Jesus teaches us as Christian leaders about leadership today.

I never really liked that we read the passion gospel on Palm Sunday. It feels like jumping the gun. But I’m coming around to it. Because I’m thinking the point is the contrast. The contrast between the leader the people wanted Jesus to be and who Jesus was. A contrast we as Christian leaders are faced with every day of our lives.

And predictably, it’s about power.

When we blessed the palms and had our festival procession and told the story of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem we were re-enacting a coronation. It was Jesus’ Grant Park on election night or Inauguration Day. Full of hope and excitement … and expectation. The people who were screaming Hosanna wanted Jesus to be a king who used his power to drive out and establish … who used power coercively over and against others. That was really no different than Pilate except for one thing … he would be using it for them and against the Romans. His power would be their power. He would be the way they would get their agenda accomplished.

I wonder what it must have been like. Have you ever had crowds of people shouting your name? Crowds of people who are casting their hopes and dreams on you? Probably not. Few if any of us have. But we’ve all felt it on a smaller scale.

We’ve all heard the words.

You’re wonderful. You’re just the right person for this job. I know you can do it. You’re just who we need. You’re so much better than that last person who was here. You’re just who we’ve been waiting for. We like you.

We’ve all heard it. And the words can be heartfelt and sincere and still incredibly seductive. They feel great and part of us just wants to keep ‘em coming. And so we want to keep those people who are saying them happy.

Think about when you’ve felt like that … and then multiply that by a couple thousand and that’s how I’ll bet Jesus felt coming into Jerusalem.

How easy would it have been for him to try to be who the crowd wanted – the divinely appointed revolutionary leader at the front of the army of insurrection. To ride the crowd’s energy and cast out the oppressor. It would be a win-win-win. He wouldn’t have to disappoint. He could get that adrenaline rush that comes not just with praise but with feeling that you are the righteous one defending the downtrodden. And who knows, it might even work … and then he could go down in history as the man who defeated the greatest empire the world had ever known.

How incredibly seductive the crowd’s voice must have been. And for a moment this morning, we were there, too. We heard and even sang the song of the crowd: Use your power, Jesus. Use your power for good. Do what we know you can do … what we want you to do … and do it to those people we want you to do it to. And it felt good. It felt triumphant. And then in an instant we were given the contrast.

Even as the echoes of that song were still in our ears and on our lips, we heard a new song. One of the most beautiful in all of history – the Christ hymn from Philippians. The anthem of a totally different insurrection, a totally different way of using power. And as the crowd continues to scream Hosanna, the authority of Jesus’ life quietly and powerfully begins to sing these words:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

And then we told and heard the rest of the story. The story of what that song looks like when it’s not just sung but lived. The story of the journey not to the throne but to the cross.

Putting these stories – the story of the triumphal entry and the story of the passion side by side is a clear message to us as Christian leaders. We have a choice. Well, two choices actually.
The first choice is do we even go on the march at all. We all have power and authority, and our first choice is whether we’re going to claim that at all or whether we will shrink back and consider ourselves powerless and spend our time in the crowd shouting our hopes at others believing that’s all we’re good enough for or even afraid to do any more.

But if we claim that power that God gave us when God made us in the divine image, we have a second choice. And that is how are we going to use it? Will we use it the way the vast majority of the world uses power … coercively, using it over and against people to get our own way, suppressing dissent in the name of efficiency and fear that it might get us off track, and even feeling righteous and good while doing it.

Or will we truly be Christian leaders. Will we recognize that even the ultimate authority – equality with God – is not something to be exploited and wielded but to be claimed by giving away in servanthood, in emptying ourselves for one another.

The choice of Palm Sunday is, in our hearts, whom do we want to be. And that’s all we have to do today … not commit to doing it without fail, not even knowing how to do it but just saying, “Yes, I want to be a Christian leader.” Or maybe even, “Yes, I want to want to be a Christian leader.” And if you can say even that, then the next step is to join us not just next Sunday for Easter but throughout this week as we physically walk through, embody and live what it means to claim that authority. On Thursday as wash each other’s feet, share a meal and wait fearfully in the garden. On Friday as we come forward and kiss the cross. On Saturday as we huddle in the empty darkness and then watch the light of Christ grow … and then finally on Sunday for the victory of Easter, where we claim the love of Christ lived in us still as the only empire that can never be overthrown. AMEN

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sermon by Deacon Mark Sluss 5th Sunday of Lent 2010

John 12:1-8
Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus' feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, "Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?" (He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) Jesus said, "Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me."

For myself, my sense of smell brings such vivid memories to me.
Certain smells bring back to me those times in my life where I encountered those smells. I will never be able to smell Patchouli without instantly thinking of Debbie Nelson-Linck. The smell of cherry pipe tobacco and butterscotch candies remind me of my grandfather. I especially remember the smells of the state fair in Ohio. I remember the smell of roasted corn; I remember the smell of French fries with malt vinegar, cotton candy and candy apples. My Dad loved going to the fair and we always hit the roast corn booth as soon as we got into the fair grounds.

I got this (hold up cologne bottle) from my mom, when we were cleaning out some of dad’s things. This for all intents and purposes, is what my father smelled like. This was his favorite cologne. I still take the cap off, and just smell, when I’m missing Dad, and it helps. What are the smells that trigger the most memories for you? Are they Christmas cookies baking?? How about thanksgiving turkey cooking? Anything else???

You see, smell is such a great trigger of memories. I try to place myself into the gospel reading today, here is Jesus, at the home of his friends, Lazarus, Martha and Mary, they have made a brief stop on their way to Jerusalem for the Passover. Bethany is within walking distance of Jerusalem they are having a dinner party for Jesus and his disciples are there as well. And as usual Martha is tending to the kitchen, and Mary is about to do something. Now recently Jesus has just recently raised Lazarus from the dead. So in an act of pure joy and respect and to honor Jesus for the gift of her brother’s life, Mary, who along with Martha would have been destitute without Lazarus, Mary does something so out of the ordinary, she takes a jar, of pure spikenard, and she gets down and anoints Jesus’ feet.

And wipes his feet with he hair. That’s what I find weird. Her hair? I mean come on.. ask Martha for a towel. How very odd, especially since this is such an intimate action. Especially within their culture, Mary and Jesus were not married, neither were they related. So surely the action would have been shocking to those present.
Can you imagine the smell of this Nard, filling the house. It would have been hard to not notice it. And then the criticizing starts, Judas chimes in, that this is such a waste, that it could have been sold and the money given to the poor. Blah, blah, blah.

I try to imagine Mary here. Here she was doing something that she thought showed the joy and wonder of being friends with Jesus, and then to becomes the subject of criticism. I can imagine a bit of shame and embarrassment, when Judas attempts to call her to the carpet. But just then Jesus steps in.
He tells everyone to back off, and that Mary has done a good thing. The poor he says will always be with them, he himself won’t always be there.
And that Mary had bought the Nard to use for his burial. I can see Mary’s rationalization, she has just seen Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead and as a gift to Jesus, who she must see as one who defies death, and she uses the Nard to anoint him as a sign of joy and adoration.

You see nard is a fragrant oil, derived from the roots and hair stems of a plant not native to Palestine, but to the Himalayas. Nard had to be imported by caravan all the way from North India and Nepal. Half a world away to those in ancient times. This perfume was imported and used for a wide variety of purposes. Celebratory, cosmetic, medicinal and mortuary.

I look at it this way, Jesus was allowing this anointing to happen, knowing that he was to go to Jerusalem and die on the cross, he permits the use of the Nard so that they could form a very intense memory about their time together. Jesus gives this to them as a gift. Tying it to the smell of the nard, and then during the time of strife and persecution and in celebration, they would be able to remember back to the happy event at the home of Lazarus.
The woodsy, musty smell of Nard would always remind them of Jesus and a happier time, when he was living among them.

I think that one of the most amazing things about the action of the church is anointing. The church anoints to consecrate to set aside things.
And often our anointing oil is scented, with herbal components.
Often Sandalwood or rosemary, or some other aromatic I believe we honestly want to create a memory of the time. We anoint at baptisms, we anoint at times of sickness and we anoint at times of death. We want to hold those moments with us.
A dear friend once told me after a time in my life when I was praying very intently for guidance and on behalf of someone to come through a medical emergency, how powerful prayer is to a person. He went on to say, that when a prayer is answered, you fully realize how much an awesome responsibility prayer is. And I would add to that, and say what an awesome responsibility and power it is to pray in community.

And then to add another layer, that of anointing to the act of prayer is a very powerful sensory combination. We are fully engaged in almost all of our senses, sight, sound, and smell. We are fully there and in the moment.
No distractions, fully in the prayer. I have felt that total immersion in prayer once.
When my father had taken a very bad turn in the hospital, and my mother and brothers and I were told by the doctors that there was nothing left for them to do. And that Dad would not recover. I was devastated. I was thoroughly emptied. I went home and just cried and cried, But the next morning as I usually did I went to visit dad in the ICU. Mornings were the best time to go. Before regular visiting hours. The nurses didn’t seem to mind me being there. And quite frankly wearing a collar into a hospital gets you access to places people don’t normally get to go after hours. I took a bottle of anointing oil with me. And I started talking to my dad. I started out with just telling him how much he meant to me.

The machines were still going and beeping and whirring in their endeavor to keep him alive. I entered his room and the smells hit me, antiseptic, the smell of medicines, the smell of his perspiration and the smell of the soap that the nurses used to clean him up. I then started to pray. I prayed to God to take one of his own. I prayed that God would welcome dad, I prayed that the transition would be quick and not painful or scary for dad. I sat some in periods of silence. I sometimes begged and pleaded. And I cried some more. I then started to feel that there was another person in the room with me. Looking around expecting to see a nurse at the door, I saw no one.
But I started to feel at peace with the decision we were making, to let dad go. I realized at that very moment that Jesus was in the room with me.
Holding me up, in my time of grief and longing. Knowing full well what I was going through. Jesus understands grief. Jesus knows how much it hurts. Jesus wept at the tomb of his friend Lazarus. I then took out the bottle of oil and I started to anoint my father, and to say good bye to him.
I started with his head. The fragrance was sweet not overpowering, the oil was warming in my hands. I put it on his head and I kissed him. I then moved to his arms which were bruised from the many IV punctures.
And I rubbed the oil on them, I moved to his hands held them in mine, swollen noticing the indention where the previous week the hospital had to cut off his wedding ring. I put my hand up to his like I used to do as a child, to see how big his hands were next to mine. Almost the same size now.
His much more calloused, scarred from years of working. And I anointed them. Then I moved to his feet. Holding them up noticing that his body would react, a reflex we were told, his feet would kick and move.
I put oil on them, noticing how rough and dry his skin had become, noticing that the oil permeated the cracks of his heels.
When I finished I covered his feet with the blankets, placed his prayer quilt over him.

And the smells of the hospital room were replaced with the smell of the oil.
I washed my hands. I sat by his bed for another 15 minutes in silence and I finally said good bye to him. I left the room and never returned again alone, only going with family.

I had said my goodbye.

4 days later, the day we had decided that we would have the doctors turn off his respirator, was very sad. There were many friends there with us.
Renee Fenner was there, Ron Clingenpeel was there, and others were checking in as well, knowing what was to happen. I remember feeling confident that this was right. I remember crying of course, but not over the loss of dad, more over the grief of my mother and my brothers.
I was upset that they were hurting so much. I caught a whiff of the smell of the oil that had remained on the prayer quilt we had left with him. And I felt better. The preparation was so important for me.

It allowed me to be more involved in helping my family get through this time. I had grieved. And I would grieve more, but I was able to be there to help my family.

This is one thing that the church does very well for each other. When our provost Mike Kinman and I first met after he accepted the call here,
he asked me to think about what it is that the church can do for the community that other social service agencies cannot. What can we do that would better the community. I truly believe that to pray for our community, Pray for thanksgiving and in celebration of with and for our community.
In that total engagement that I experienced in praying for my father. I have seen what the church can do, in those times where we reach out. Not afraid of looking foolish to the community.

I am still awed by the reaction we received at the Komen walk last year, when Mike went out and Asperged the crowd in blessing. This year lets offer anointing as well! I am amazed at what the church does for the GLBT community at pride. Mass on the Grass is one of the major evangelical celebrations for the city. In sad times we can also pray for the community.
I picture a yearly celebration of the lives of police and firefighters who have lost their lives in the call of duty, held here in our space. I can picture a requiem mass for the downtown homeless who have lost their lives on the street, offering the church’s blessing to those who have lost their lives.

The city is right outside our doors every day. During the summer months there are fairs and street fests near the Soldiers Memorial that we can be open to offer support for. There are many marathons and parades that are held within blocks of us. We can gather to celebrate those who run and march. I look forward to us engaged with our community, opening ourselves and our gifts to blessing the city and our community.

Prayer is the only thing I can think of that we can offer the community that other social service agencies cannot. We can pray in celebration, in thanksgiving and in grief. We can bless and consecrate our city through our presence and active participation in the surrounding neighborhood.
Lets not be afraid to step out and offer this gift to the neighborhood.
Afraid of embarrassment, for expending our gifts to something some would consider unnecessary and silly. We can serve Christ by anointing our neighbors, when we reach out to the community, when we hold up our neighbors, in their grief and celebration.

When we anoint and pray for our community we can engage our senses, and perhaps we can try to remember the story of the gospel today. That in building memories of our lives together in this city and neighborhood, that we honor Christ in each of us, we can become partakers of that dinner party in Bethany, and remember Jesus’ life here among us. We can remember the gift that Mary has given Jesus; we can remember that we can offer the same gift to Jesus, by reaching out to our neighborhood, with our extravagant gifts of prayer. For it is when we offer our selves wholly in prayer in love and celebration and mourning, to the city of St. Louis, we anoint Jesus once again.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lent 4c - What was the terrible thing you said?

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, March 14, 2010

So, what was it? What was the "terrible thing" you said to your father. What was it?

I told him I could never respect a man whose hero was a criminal.

Who was his hero?

Shoeless Joe Jackson.

He wasn't a criminal. You knew that. So why'd you say it?

I was seventeen. He died before I could take it back.

What was the terrible thing you said?

It’s been 20 years since James Earl Jones’ Terrence Mann asked Kevin Costner’s Ray Kinsella that question in Field of Dreams.

What was the terrible thing you said … to your father. What was it?

Whether you liked the movie or not, whether you’ve even seen the movie or not, there is something about that conversation as they drove through the night in that VW bus turned confessional. Something about that question that hits all of us, an answer each of us has.

What was the terrible thing you said?

To your father.

To your mother.

To your husband.

To your wife.

To your partner.

To your friend.

To your son.

To your daughter.

Or maybe even, what is the thing you didn’t say? The words that stuck in your throat in that moment of truth but then the moment passed and the silence grew?

“What shall we use to fill the empty spaces where we used to talk?” Pink Floyd sings that in The Wall. That song. This movie. The Gospel parable we just read. They’re all ways of telling the same story we know so well. A story of injury and regret. Of things said and left unsaid. Of terrible moments that came and went and the empty space between where we used to talk that just grew and grew because we either didn’t know how or it seemed just way too hard to reach across it.

This morning’s Gospel is so familiar not just because we’ve heard it but because we’ve lived it. Jesus tells the story of a son and a father, but really it could have been any combination of family, friends or lovers. And the son says something terrible to his father. Something really terrible. He asks for his inheritance. Now, that’s not “Dad, can I have the car keys?” Asking for your inheritance is saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead. In fact, Dad, you are dead to me.”
I imagine it was one of those moments where once the words were said, there was just this silence – and maybe a tiny gasp (gasp) -- because everyone knew a line had been crossed. That words had been said that could never be unsaid and maybe for a minute the words just kind of hung out there in the air as father and son looked at each other in anger and pain and disbelief and numbness. Like when we break the bread at Eucharist, that was the crack … and then came the drifting apart.

What was the terrible thing you said? And whom did you say it to?

Or what was the thing that you could have said at that moment of fracture? And to whom were you silent?

Or was there not one moment but ten, a hundred, a thousand little moments where things were said and left unsaid until the space between became like oceans even when you’re sitting in the same room or lying in the same bed. Oceans maybe we long to cross but don’t know how. Oceans maybe we long to cross but we’re so afraid that when we get to the other side we’ll be rejected. Oceans maybe we long to cross but we’re afraid in trying we’ll lose ourselves and the waters will swallow us up. Oceans maybe we long to cross but even thinking about it just makes us feel so very, very tired.

And it’s not just our relationships with each other, either, but our relationship with God. We convince ourselves that there are things beyond God’s forgiveness, beyond the reach of God’s love. We convince ourselves of it so easily and so certainly What is the terrible thing you have said or done? What is the critical thing you didn’t say or didn’t do? What in your life, known only in the secrecy of your heart do you believe that God cannot forgive you for … or love you through … or embrace you in spite of. And so the ocean grows between us and God, and God becomes dead to us.

The story of the prodigal son is the story of all of us. From the moment of first human relationship we have been uncanny in our ability to absolutely screw it up. It is part of the extreme humanness that binds us all together. We hurt and are hurt by those whom we love the most, and precisely because we love them so much and the stakes are so high and the risk is so great we become paralyzed and unable to repair the damage, unable to reach across the increasingly widening empty spaces between.

Unable to do what the younger son in this story finally did.

Jesus tells us the younger son, alone and exhausted after trying to fill that empty space between with so many things, had a moment of truth and realization. A moment where he realized that as tired as he was and as terrifying as it was to imagine reaching across the great chasm between his father and him, he had to try. As terrified as he was of navigating the journey home. As terrified as he was of being rejected when he got there. As terrified as he was of losing face, or even losing himself in the process, that anything was better than living with this hollowness inside. That even rejection was better than this horrible limbo of things said and unsaid and never repented. Of exile in the land of “too late” and “if only.” It was a moment of incredible courage of the sort that happens when we finally realize that the only thing worse than what could happen if we do, is the life we know we’ll continue to lead if we don’t.

This moment. This journey. This is why we’re here.

Grab a prayer book, they’re those red books in between your seats. Grab one and turn in the back to page 855. It’s a section called the Catechism and it’s a handy summary of the church’s teaching about what we believe, who we are and what we’re about.

855 … got it. It’s way in the back. Now look at those three questions and answers on the top of 855.

The first is, What is the Mission of the Church? What does it say?

The mission of the Church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.

How about the second question. How does the Church accomplish its mission?

The Church pursues its mission as it prays and worships, proclaims the Gospel and promotes justice, peace and love.

And now that third question. Through whom does the Church carry out its mission? All together:

The Church carries out its mission through the ministry of all its members.

That’s right! The mission of the Church, the mission we proclaim and live out in this place and as we leave this place, the mission that is not just the joy and challenge of clergy or “really involved people” but of all of us … is this mission of reconciliation. About restoring broken relationships. Relationships between us and God. Relationships between us and each other. The mission of the Church is to cross those oceans, to bridge those chasms, to close the empty spaces where we used to talk. To restore those relationships among ourselves. To work to restore those relationships between nations and peoples and races. And together to give each of us the courage of that younger son, the courage we each might not find in ourselves alone. The courage to travel back across those empty spaces in each of our lives, secure in the knowledge that in that journey and the destination because Christ walks with us and we walk with each other, we are never traveling alone.

So how do we do it? We do it by living every piece of this parable. We do it by talking with each other and praying with each other. We do it by being open and honest with each other about the brokenness in our lives and in our relationships. We do it not just by having our name put on a prayer list with no details leaving the community to wonder what’s going on, but by saying “Hey, I lost my job!” or “Hey, I don’t know who my husband is anymore and I don’t think he knows who I am either!” or “Hey, I don’t think my father loves me” or “Hey, I’m just really, really scared” or for me, “Hey, I’m kind of sad this morning because my friend Pearl died this week and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.”

How do we do it? We do it by standing with each other in those moments where we need the courage to “come to ourselves” as the younger son did and take the risk to reach across the empty spaces between. We do it by walking with each other on the long journeys back and holding each other’s hands as we say the words we most fear to say.

But mostly we do it knowing that because there is no guarantee that those from whom we are estranged will respond as the Father in the story did. Because, frankly, life tells us that as often as not we will be rejected because the people we are crossing oceans to embrace are just as broken and terrified as we are. And so mostly we accomplish this mission by making sure we live out the end of this story. By making sure we all remember that though there are things that can separate us from each other there is nothing that can separate us from the extravagant celebratory love of God for each of us. By making sure the party happens no matter what. By making sure that all are celebrated and all are invited. By making sure that although we have no more control than Jesus did over whether our offerings of love and reconciliation throughout our lives will be accepted or rejected that in here, in this community, we will every chance we get sing and dance and kill the fatted calf and celebrate the great gift God gives us in each other. Celebrate each other as God sees us, as created in God’s image and beautiful and good.

What was the terrible thing you said? What was the thing you didn’t say? What were the ten, the hundred, the thousand little things said and unsaid that have created the empty spaces where you used to talk?

Don’t be afraid. You can share it here. Even though it might not look like it because we’re all so great at hiding the oceans that separate us from those we love, we all have them. I have them. You have them. And if you’re too afraid or too tired to make that journey by yourself, that’s OK … you’ve got a Cathedral full of people to cross that ocean with you. And, most important, no matter what happens when you get to the other side, in this place and at this table, you will always have a community who sees you as God sees you -- as beautiful … and good … and deserving of a great party. AMEN.