Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, April 25, 2010
When I was doing the Episcopal chaplaincy at Washington University, two of my best friends were Father Gary Braun at the Catholic Student Center and Rabbi Hyim Shafner, at Hillel. We had this natural chemistry and friendship that continues today … and I think two things were at the heart of it.
First, all three of us love to laugh and joke around. It didn’t hurt that they are truly two of the funniest people I’ve ever met … I’m talking Cricket Cooper funny for those of you who have been around here awhile. But the other thing was that even though we came from different traditions – Hyim an Orthodox Jew, Gary a devout Roman Catholic and me just as firmly an Episcopalian -- we saw that as a strength and even a great source of joy and richness in our relationship, not anything we ever had to tiptoe around or shy away from.
One day as the three of us were hanging out in Holmes Lounge, Hyim turned to us and said, “I had this idea … Have you ever seen the MTV show, ‘Loveline’?” We both said, yeah … It was a popular call in show where a comedian and a therapist answered audience questions about relationships, love and sex.
“We should do that,” Hyim said. “We should do that show.”
Gary and I thought for a second and then we started smiling, because we knew Hyim was onto something. A live audience and call-in show on Wash U. TV where students could ask questions about relationships love and sex to a Rabbi, a Catholic priest and an Episcopal priest. What a great way to engage students right where they live. And when inspiration struck that we could call the show “Missionary Positions,” we knew we had a winner. And it was.
Missionary Positions became the most popular show on WUTV. The Riverfront Times and even Scott Simon from NPR’s Weekend Edition did stories on us. And while it was fun to focus on the convergence of clergy and sex, we quickly realized the real text of the show and of the students’ questions … was a search for meaning. And the show’s real strength wasn’t that we had a great chemistry poking fun at each other and throwing around the odd double entendre … but that each of us never shied away from really representing … we never did anything else but just be who we really were and say what we really believed. Hyim would give answers from the best and richest parts of the Jewish tradition. Gary would paint pictures of Roman Catholic theology that showed me a beauty to that form of Christianity I had never seen. And I felt free to just be myself, mining the depths of our rich Anglican tradition of an expansive reading of scripture and a belief in the continuing revelation of God and Christ not only in history but in the world today.
What I found was that Gary being the best Roman Catholic he could be and Hyim being the best Orthodox Jew he could be helped me be the best Episcopalian Christian I could be. And I think I helped them, too. That’s how our relationship has always been.
The deepest moment of this truth came actually a year or so before the show even happened. Hyim had been riding in a car with a friend of his and had been hit by a delivery truck. The friend was killed instantly and Hyim was in intensive care at Barnes. Hyim’s wife, Sarah, asked me if on Saturday I could visit Hyim in the ICU then come by their house and leave a note detailing how he was doing on their door. Remember, Hyim and his family were orthodox Jews, on the Sabbath not only could they not drive to the hospital but they needed to be at synagogue.
So Saturday morning I got up, visited Hyim in ICU, prayed by his bedside – he was still sedated – talked with the nurses and then drove to their house and left a letter on their door. And I realized as I was driving away that something amazing had happened. My Christianity was helping them be faithful Jews. And their faithful Judaism was inspiring me and giving me the opportunity to be a faithful Christian.
This morning, Jesus says something bold and astounding: “The Father and I are one.”
When we read this story, when Jesus says this is as important as what he says. John puts this story at the festival of the Dedication of the second temple. But by the time John was written, the temple had been destroyed, and the Jews were in crisis. The Temple was God’s house on earth, where God lived. And so reminding people of the Festival of the Dedication was not only painful, it begged the question that was eating away at their heart: Where is God now that the Temple has been destroyed?
And it is to that question that Jesus’ words are addressed. “The Father and I are one.” Where does God live right now? God lives right here, in me, in Jesus. And as a post-resurrection community that meant that God lives right here, in us, in the community of the beloved, in what Paul would call the Body of Christ.
Bob Lipscomb dashed me off an email this week in reply to my “Gnaw on This” thoughts on this Gospel. He said simply, “This lesson is heavy and extremely important and powerful stuff. Upon this MUCH has been built.”
And all I can say, is AMEN, preach it Bob.
We make an incredible claim as Christians. We make it in our creeds. We make it in our baptism when we promise to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord and put our whole trust in his grace and love. We say that we believe that God became human in Jesus. That we believe that God’s Spirit, every bit as much God as the Father and the Son, infuses our lives and our community. We say that we believe that God in Christ gathers us at this table and sends us out into the world to love one another and all creation with the same self-giving love with which God loves us. We say with Paul that all things are possible through that love, through Christ who strengthens us.
I and the Father are one. Upon this MUCH has been built. As the church, this is our reason for being. And so it should be.
But it’s not that simple. Because our history isn’t that simple. The Church became not just the Body of Christ but the power of the Empire. The Gospel instead of being offered in the spirit of the servant Christ too often was cloaked in triumphalism and imposed by force. I have been to Cape Coast Castle in Ghana and seen the chapel that was built on top of the slave dungeon. A chapel into where the ancestors of me and many members this congregation marched the ancestors of others in this congregation for baptism before cramming them below deck on ships for a horrifying journey to a horrifying life of slavery.
But for those of us who, like me, are embarrassed of that piece of our history and others like it. For those of us who believe the Gospel must be offered but not imposed. For those of us who believe that other faiths have wisdom to offer, too, something has happened. And it’s killing us as the Christian Church.
In our deep desire not to repeat the mistakes of the past. In our even deeper desire not to be identified with people who would do the same today or who have such narrow view of the Gospel that we scarcely recognize it as Christ, we too often forget the promises we made at Baptism and the strength of the words we say in this creed every Sunday. We too often become, if not outright apologetic about our faith, certainly unwilling to state it strongly and passionately. To say anywhere but in this space once a week: “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord.”
And our failure is double. First off, in refusing to offer the Gospel in any compelling way out of fear of offending, or having someone mistake us for Pat Robertson, we are denying something that truly is lifesaving from a world that desperately needs it and in fact by our lukewarmness actively repelling people from it.
In a world where more youth know X Men and Wolverine than the stories of our faith. In a world where people invest in timeshares in Bimini while more than a billion people live on less than $1 a day, don’t you think the Gospel has something to say? When Larry Rice, using the mantel of the church as authority sends homeless men and women into a dangerous train tunnel to force a confrontation with the city and chooses to spend his energy defending their right to be homeless instead of supporting efforts to actually find them homes … don’t you think the Gospel has something to say?
But until we actually stand up and say it, we will continue to be a country where people are 10 times more likely to look to Oprah Winfrey for spiritual guidance than the Episcopal Church.
But it’s more than that, because the other failure is one of deep irony. Because when we live our faith out loud, when we proclaim Christ and the love he has for us and the love he wishes to love through us to the world. When we do that as a loving offering, as servant ministers and as leaders by example as well as word, we find that we don’t trample on others’ faiths. We find what I learned from Gary and Hyim … that when we live our faith with strength and love and with an openness to others, we invite them to live their faith just as strongly, just as lovingly and with just as much openness to learn. That the best way to help someone be a strong Jew or a strong Muslim or a strong Hindu is for each of us to be a strong Christian. To represent our faith in the world. To challenge one another and also be open to learn from one another. Forging relationships of friendship and love that are strong enough to handle the inevitable conflict … but never, never, never to shrink back and be less than who we are for fear of offending each other just as we should never expect a Jew or a Muslim or a Hindu to be anything less than who they are for fear of offending us.
Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.” It was a bold statement. A controversial statement. And on it much has been built and much has been done. Simply put, it means God is here. And that is good news. News worthy of being shared. News of a God who never worried about offending but was only concerned with speaking the truth and loving. News of a God who calls us to do the same. AMEN.