Sunday, January 24, 2010

Epiphany 3C

Preached by the Rev. Robert Franken at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 24, 2010

We are just 3 weeks beyond the end of Advent and Christmas, a celebration of birth that ended on Epiphany. We are a mere three weeks away from the start of Lent a journey, to Calvary and death that starts on Ash Wednesday.

In our liturgical calendar we are in the PAUSE between living out the two great stories of Jesus’ life: his birth and his death and resurrection – Christmas and Easter. It is in this pause that we find today’s gospel. For Luke this is the beginning of Jesus’ teaching … and in many ways the essence of it all.

In the translation of the Bible called The Message, translating from the vernacular of Jesus’ day to the vernacular of out time, the reading from Isaiah that Jesus picks in the Synagogue goes like this:
God’s spirit is on me;
He’s chosen me to preach the message of good news to the poor.
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind
To set the burdened and battered free,
To announce, “This is God’s year to act.
Yet we know that there are still blind, burdened, and battered among us – and sometimes they are even us. These last 10 days we have witnessed … we have lived vicariously with the Haitian people as they struggle in their poverty with their batteredness from the devastating earthquakes.

These words are at the very beginning, and they are at the heart of what Jesus came to say and do. They set the tone for his ministry and mission. They set the tone for the Pause. And they set the tone for us and for our ministry.

Fast-forward for a second to Jesus’ final words before ascending, and hear what he expects from his followers – both then and now. ….when the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses … all over the world.

He told them to witness – not to browbeat, not to threaten, not to judge – but simply to witness. Telling others what they had seen and heard. We too are charged, through our baptism, with witnessing when we answer the question: “Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?”

This telling of stories in both word and action – stories of creation, stories of Jesus, stories of his first followers are echoed in the words of the Psalm this morning:
The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *
and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *
and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *
and their message to the ends of the world.
Stories passing from day to day, night to night from one generation to the next, building the blessed world in which we live.

Like all of God’s creation, we too are called to tell our stories – both in the way that we live our lives and the words we use to share what wonders God has done. We are called to witness. The quote most often attributed to St Francis seems to echo this message of sharing God through our actions: Preach the gospel always, use words if necessary. It is in living our lives and sharing our story of God’s work, that we become the witnesses that Jesus’ calls us to be.

In this vein let me share a moment with you from my story:

The last time I preached on this gospel was in 1991 at St John’ Chrysostom Episcopal Church in Golden Colorado in one of my early sermons as a deacon in that congregation. I preached from the split of the altar rail – sitting down. Two years, and two-dozen or more sermons latter, I started my sermon from exactly the same place but hesitantly walked over to the pulpit to finished the sermon. There was not a dry eye in the house – for they had never seen me stand.

You see, on the 21st of January 1975, I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. My MS became chronically progressive early on and by 1985 or 6 I was confined to a wheelchair. Then in late 1992 and early 1993 my condition started to improve. Not wanting to share false hope, I had kept this recovery a secret from all those around me.

This congregation had never seen me except in a wheelchair and had welcomed me with open arms – and provided me a place in which to exercise my diaconal ministry. A group of older ladies took it on themselves to pray for me regularly – even when I had given up any hope of a remission – they prayed.

That was almost 17 years ago. I never say the disease is gone – that would be arrogant and presumptuous – it also presents a real problem if it ever returns in force. I can still feel from time to time the twinges and limits of the disease.

In the 3-years leading up to my remission I had made some important life changes and engaged in significant “quality of life” work. But neither could have been sufficient reason for my remission. I am convinced that God’s hand touched my life in a special way at that moment. I don’t have good answers about why me, or why then, or for how long. That is not for me to know – it is not important. What is important is for me is to witness … for me to tell my story … for me to live my life in ways that witness to the power of our God.

You and I live our lives in the PAUSE between our birth and our death. Most of our stories are far more simple than that part of my story – and some may be even more dramatic. Simple, dramatic, or miraculous, we are called to share our stories. Share what our faith means to us in words …. and share what our faith means to us by how we live each day of our life.

The tie back to today’s gospel comes when we look at our own Baptismal promises. In our baptism, along with our promise to “proclaim by word and example” we promise to:
- …seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. To care for them and help them as Jesus himself would.
We promise to:
- …strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. To actively work for the disenfranchised, over burdened, and war ridden as Jesus himself would.

Ours is not to judge eternity – ours is not to threaten life or death – ours is not to browbeat another human being who has a different faith, or no faith.

• Ours is simply a call to live our lives in a ways that reflects these promises we made.
• Ours is call to spend our money in a ways that reflects our beliefs.
• Ours is a call to spend our time in a ways that reflects our faith.
• Ours is a call to share, to witness, the simple, the dramatic, or the miraculous.

In short, ours is a call to be in relationship with each other – within this community, within our state, within our country, and in our world through our sharing, helping, supporting, and praying.

This week we have witnessed hundreds of stories of hardship, survival, and yes, even death with the horrific tragedy in Haiti. We cannot get hardened … our lives cannot continue unaffected … we cannot simply turn it off because we are tired of it.

I urge you to act … to witness …. to share your life with theirs. Pray, give, act your faith to sisters and brothers, daughters and son whose lives have been ripped apart.

The other night on CNN I watch a little 12 or 13 year old girl in Haiti who suddenly found herself homeless listen to a reporter asking her about the increased level of violence – especially sexual violence against young girls – within the crowded tents where many of the 100s of thousands of homeless sleep. This girl took the reporter to her sleeping mat. On her bed mat was a bible. She picked it up and said, with a smile and a true air of confidence “I am not afraid, I have Jesus” This little girls shared a moment of her faith – her story – with the world, and in that moment became free.
The heavens declare the glory of God, *
and the firmament shows his handiwork.
And so must we – if we ever hope to truly experience the freedom from our burdens or prisons that Jesus came to bring to each one of us – to the whole world. “This is God’s year to act” - will you be his instrument?


Saturday, January 23, 2010

"Building Our Foundation" -- The Provost's Remarks at the Annual Meeting

A few months ago, John Kilgore loaned me a great book called Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I know many of you have read it and also its sequel, World Without End. They’re stories told around the building of a Cathedral in Medieval England. They’re great stories, but part of what I loved about them was that I learned a lot about the actual construction of a Cathedral.

In the second book, a builder named Merthin wants to take the existing Cathedral and build its main tower higher, so it’s the highest tower in all of England and it can be seen from miles around. But even before he could do that he had to deal with the fact that the existing tower was already cracking and pulling away from the rest of the Cathedral.

In investigating this, he discovered that when a previous builder had added to the original tower, he had neglected to reinforce and deepen the foundation. So he knew that before he could build it even higher – or even sustain the building as it was, he needed to deal with the foundation.

Before you build higher you need to see what your foundation is, shore it up, and if you want to build higher, you’ve got to build the foundation deeper.

Jesus knew this, and we see it in the Gospel reading we wrestled with tonight. The foundation is our confession of Christ. What I love about the piece from Sam Portaro that we also read is that even though he acknowledges that Jesus question of “Who do you say that I am” is the key one for us … that there isn’t just one right answer. We are not a narrow confessional church. But neither are we a “make Jesus in your own image and anything goes church.” We form our answer of that question together. And my answer informs your answer and your answer informs my answer, and so on.

That is our foundation. Where the story of our lives intersects the story of Christ. That is the foundation we need to reveal, discover, shore up and build deeper. We’ve already begun that work, and that’s where a lot of our energy is going to go this year. Buidling our foundation deep so we can build this Cathedral even taller to the glory of God so it can be seen from miles around.

So what does that look like?

First, it means organizing ourselves so everyone knows how things work around here.

We have a process for this already in place. We are using the Cathedral’s bylaws as a baseline and working with the committees that are defined in them. Every committee will have a clear description of responsibilities, meeting times, membership and not only identified leadership but a structure for transition of leadership so nothing becomes too dependent on one person and we’re always training new leaders.

We’re forming a personnel committee to look at job descriptions and personnel review and other issues. Mary Hovland, Steve Barney and Lorraine Kee are the initial members of that team. This is part of building our foundation.

But it’s also about what we do when we gather in those committees and teams. We live in a world where our to-do lists are getting longer and longer and the urgent often crowds out the important. The urgent is easy to identify – all the stuff that has to get done or we imagine big heavy things are going to come down on our heads.

The important is what we just did over dinner. Sharing our lives. Looking for the presence of Christ. Prayer. Reflection. Taking time to be with each other and honor and love each other.

When we meet in those committees, that work is going to rise to the top of the agenda. The first thing we will do is pray and spend some time with scripture and talk about how this intersects our lives and also look for what the gospel foundation of the work of this committee is. Why are we doing what we’re doing? What is God calling us to do not because it’s generally a good thing but because we are the Church, because we are Christ’s body.

A good example of this is community ministry. We have a long history of involvement in our community, particularly in ministries with our downtown neighbors. But we need to not just do things because we’ve always done them. We need to look at scripture and pray and take a fresh look at the community around us and listen to each other and to the members of the wider community. We need to have an accurate sense of what the situation and needs really are that is based on current information and not just suppositions and memories of days past. We also need to understand what our theological and scriptural foundation is for this work. We’re not the United Way. We’re not the Girl Scouts. Those are great organizations, but we’re called to be something different – the church. We need to discover what special calling we have as the church in our community and be sure we’re following that.

So, for example, as community ministry committee members meet this year, they will be looking at scripture around issues of poverty. They will be sharing stories from their own lives about what draws them to this ministry. They will be inviting people in from the city to educate them. They will be praying about what special role God has for us in this ministry. And they will be doing all these things not just for themselves but for all of us, and figuring out a way to bring us all along on their journey.

This is a transition. This is going to take time in setting this up and getting used to this new way of doing things. But this is where we’re headed because this is how we build deep to build tall.

But not everyone is on a committee or ministry team … and that’s not where the primary work of the church happens. The primary work of the church happens in our lives. At home. At work. At school. It’s about how we are changed people because of our faith and how we live differently because of our faith. And as a church we get to carry and support and hold each other accountable in that.

Church is not just something on Sunday. One way we’ve started trying to infuse this practice of faith seven days a week is through the Gnaw on This emails that encourage us to live with the Gospel all week long. To recognize as Dan Handschy said at our Eucharist and Community Life event in June that preparing to come to church on Sunday starts when we leave church the Sunday before.

But we need more than just an email to do that

You heard Jim McGregor talk about the energy around small group gatherings this year. I believe in looking at where the Holy Spirit is moving, looking at where the energy is and following that. So we’re going to take the energy around gathering in small groups and we’re going to run with that. Particularly in a church as diverse and geographically spread out as ours, small group gatherings are a wonderful way to build relationships of trust and support and accountability. To do what we have just done … know we have a place where we can share our lives and explore Jesus’ question together “who do you say that I am?” … and what does it matter?

So we’re going to continue that excitement.

I’m calling together a team to design and implement what I imagine will be several models of small group ministry for our congregation. B.R. Rhoads and Betsy Kirchoff have enthusiastically agreed to head that up, but anyone who is interested can help. All you need to do is see B.R. and Betsy and they’ll loop you in.

Now don’t’ get me wrong, we’re not going to circle the wagons this year. Building our foundation does not mean this is going to be a year of navel gazing. We are going to continue the great work we have begun to fling open the doors of this Cathedral and to hit the streets ourselves and to bring the city to our table. I want to talk about that a little bit.

First … some great news.

The Downtown St. Louis Residents’ Association, a nonprofit organization without a budget that works to build community among downtown residents was without office space. They were literally being run out of the volunteer executive director’s dining room table. I was meeting with her and she mentioned this and I said, “We’ve got this space on the fifth floor of our building that we’re not using … why don’t you use it?” So in the next months, the Downtown St. Louis Residents’ Association will be using office space and having meetings here at Christ Church Cathedral. They’re going to be raising awareness about this place and this congregation and we’re going to be actively giving back to this community.

Second, you know we have an ongoing relationship with Left Bank Books to host book signings whenever they have someone who will likely draw a crowd that is too big for their space. In 2009, we have both Madeleine Albright and Ree Drummond here to huge crowds. I’m thrilled to tell you that on April 10, Anne Lamott is going to be coming to Christ Church Cathedral as a part of that partnership with Left Bank Books.

That is not just an opportunity for some building use income. The people who will come here Anne Lamott are people who are spiritually inclined … people who will be open to what this community has to offer. This is an amazing evangelism opportunity for us!

But here’s the most exciting thing. This past Thursday, we reached an agreement in principle with Confluence Academy … the charter high school just down the street in the Central Library Annex … to rent out our gym five days a week, 12 months a year starting Monday, February 1.

Again, this is not just a great chance to get some building use income … though it is that. We’re going to have kids in and out of the building five days a week. It’s going to change the whole feel of this place. Plus I hope this is the beginning of a great relationship with Confluence Academy that will involve us in education in the City of St. Louis, which is something we absolutely should be involved in.

Now when we talk about us being out there in the community, I need to let you know how I’m spending some of my time. I am serving on the Grace Hill Settlement House board. I do that because Grace Hill is an excellent organization with Episcopal roots but also because with All Saints parish going through some very difficult times and the closing of Prince of Peace, we are the largest Episcopal presence not just downtown but continuing into North St. Louis. That’s our neighborhood, too, and we need to be involved in it.

I have also accepted a mayor’s appointment to the advisory board of the Gateway Mall Foundation, that wonderful new venture that will run from Kiener Plaza west along Market to Union Station and that CityGardens is the first great incarnation of. The northernmost part of the Master Plan for the Mall extends to the park right next to the Park Pacific building. And the most natural passageway connecting the Mall to the Washington Avenue retail is right past our front door. So I’m excited to be working with Tricia Roland-Hamilton on helping make this great project happen and have our Cathedral be a part of it.

I’m going to be accepting an appointment to one of the committees of the Downtown St. Louis Partnership and being involved in the development of the city that way.

I’m telling you this both to tell you what I’m doing with some of my time but also to say that I am intentionally spending a good deal of time engaging the city, but I can’t do that alone. You need to remember that everywhere you go, in all the places you work, live and go to school. In all the other organizations and activities you’re involved in, you are an ambassador of this Cathedral. Always be looking for ways for the city to be engaged with us and for us to engage the city. I’m doing this work, but it won’t work unless we’re all in this together.

To that end, we’re also calling together another group … an evangelism team. Now I’m someone who has never believed that Episcopalians are bad at evangelism. I think we’re naturals at it, we just have to get out there. We’re through having Christ Church Cathedral be the best kept secret downtown. I’ve asked Debbie Wheeler to be the convener and leader of this team … and I certainly can’t think of anyone better for this task. We’re starting with all the folks who checked an interest in evangelism on their time and talent sheets but just like the small group team, if you want to pitch in, just let Debbie know. There is room for anyone and everyone in this ministry
Finally, and yes, I do mean finally … I want to tell you what you’re going to be hearing from me this year over and over and over again. Three things: Prayer. Study and Reflection. Service. Not just in terms of what we do together, but in your daily life. This is how we build the foundation not just for our community but in ourselves. This is not just about building time in and adding to those to-do lists but often also reframing what you’re already doing. And so you are going to hear me asking are you taking time to pray every day. Are you taking time to study and reflect. Are you taking time to serve. That is discipleship. And if we’re not helping each other grow into that, then I’m not doing the main work God and you called me here to do and we’re not serving each other. And I need you to hold me accountable to living this myself. That I’m taking time for these things and not getting sucked into continual activity. That we’re supporting each other in living holy, healthy lives.

I’ve been here nearly 10 months. I can honestly say I haven’t been bored one second. It has been a joy. I said in our first “on the table” gathering when someone asked me why I took this job that it was the rare opportunity to be called into a community where you knew you already loved them. I knew you a little bit then, and I know you a little bit more now. And I really love you all. I am moved by the way you care for each other. I am amazed by the genuine way you welcome the stranger. I don’t know if you know this but you do this incredibly well, and it’s really rare. You find this incredible balance between being genuinely welcoming and not being creepy! Of letting people know that you are really glad they are there and you honestly are excited about them …and not having it feel like “AH … Fresh Meat!” I’m not sure you can teach that, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t need to be taught that. It’s a rare gift and you have it. And it and you are wonderful.

So when I talk about building a foundation this year, it’s clear that we’re not building from scratch. There is a strong foundation already here. Just look around you. And as we build down, and build up, I can’t wait to see where God leads us. Amen.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Epiphany 1C: Baptism

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 10, 2010

Just like you and me, Jesus developed an understanding of who he truly was during the formative years of his life, because, just like you and me, he was a human being. He did not have a God switch in his head that turned on the divine knowledge about being God's only begotten Son. He had to go through the inner struggles we all do to develop a sense of his authentic self. My guess is that during his adolescence he began to suspect that his relationship with God was different from that of his friends, and even other members of his family. I believe he gradually began to surmise that he had a closer intimacy with God than those around him.

I think he was concerned enough about this unique relationship that he went to follow John the Baptist for a while in order to wrestle with what today we would call an identity crisis. As today's gospel tells us, it was when he was baptized by John that his suspicions were confirmed. The experience of receiving God’s Spirit while he was praying after that event and hearing the affirmation, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased,"confirmed that he had a unique relationship with the God he began to call his Father. It is not too much to conclude, therefore, that Jesus' baptism was crucial to him for gaining a full understanding of his identity.

I would like to suggest that Baptism can be as crucial to us in knowing who we are and what we are to do with our lives. I know that most of us were baptized before we could comprehend what that means. But as we grew up and were formed in the faith, the meaning of our baptism was impressed upon our minds and incorporated into our identities as adults. Those of us who were baptized as young people or adults have been privileged to incorporate its meanings directly into our adult identities. Regardless of when we were baptized, we are reminded about its importance for who we are and what we are called to do each time we reaffirm the baptismal covenant at baptisms or in special liturgies such the one that follows this sermon. Those occasions reinforce our fundamental beliefs about who God is and who we are in relationship to him, so that we can know who we truly are.

The covenant each of us makes with God in baptism begins with an affirmation of our beliefs about God in the words of the Apostle's Creed. We acknowledge that God's power exceeds anything we can imagine because he is the Creator who made everything in the universe, from subatomic particles to entire galaxies. Yet we also acknowledge that this omnipotent, omnipresent, and omni-everything-else God did not keep his distance from us. God came among us as one of us to free us from death and show us the way to be in an everlasting relationship with him. We further acknowledge that God has given us access to his Holy Spirit, to guide us to truth and strengthen us to love. We believe the Holy Spirit binds us together as a special set-apart people, known as the holy catholic church, and that she incorporates us into a divine family, known as the communion of saints.

Just think about what these fundamental beliefs say about who we are. First of all, they say that we are created beings, which means that we have limits. We have less control than we would like over those things that govern our existence on this planet. However, through the life, death, and resurrection of his Son, God has revealed that we are his beloved; forgiven sinners who need no longer fear the power of death which is the most important thing we cannot control. As the beloved of God, we are brothers and sisters of one another in the communion of saints. Finally, we are made members of a community of set apart people, namely the Church, to express our love for God in worship and our love for each other and for all others in caring service.

Who are we? We are God's limited but beloved creatures, brothers and sisters in a divine family, bound together in a community of faith, to love God and one another.

The five promises we make in the baptismal covenant spell out how we will live into this identity:

We will grow in our knowledge of God, worship him, and enjoy the fellowship of the worshipping community.
We will strive to do good and avoid evil, but turn to God when we need to be forgiven after our strivings fail.
We will live in such a way that other people can know the good news about God's love in Jesus Christ by what we say and do..
We will care about all persons whose lives touch ours as if they were Jesus, himself, and we will minister to them as our beloved neighbors.
We will do our part to make sure that all persons are treated with dignity, receive justice, and live in peace.
These are the things people do if they are God's beloved creatures, brothers and sisters of each other, and bound together in the community of faith.

One more thing needs to be said. Jesus’ baptism confirmed for him what was at the core of his identity. All other cultural influences such as his Jewish heritage, his occupation as a carpenter, or his subjugation to Roman rule were secondary to who he was. His identity and vocation as God’s unique Son were central to his understanding of himself. Given the multitude of influences that shaped our lives as our sense of self was formed, there is no guarantee that our baptism lies at the core of who we are. That is something each of us needs to evaluate for ourselves, so that we will understand just how important our relationship with God is to our identity. I intend to pray about that. I hope you will, too.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Feast of the Epiphany

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, January 6, 2010.

Let me begin by wondering why some discerning, non-Jewish sages made a significantly difficult journey to worship a toddler who had been identified by angels, shepherds, and at least two people in the Jerusalem Temple as the promised Jewish Messiah. The hope of a Messiah was peculiar to the Jews. It was not a hope of the Gentiles, which is what the Jews called all the other peoples around them. Why, then, did these gentiles, whom Matthew calls wise, drop everything when a strange star appeared and set out to find this Jewish Savior?

I think the answer is found in the yearning of all people of all cultures to find meaning, identity, and worth in an absurd world. Those longings have never been confined to any one group of people or to any one particular era. It is a universal urge that is manifest in the deep desire of all human beings to attach themselves to something much greater than themselves—a cause, an institution, a nation, or a religious faith that transcends the limits of their personal lives. Those are the kinds of things that give human beings a purpose beyond their own need for self-gratification so that they can know their place in the grand scheme of things, and feel they "amount to something in this world." What made the wise men wise was that they understood the universal need of human beings to answer the ultimate questions about meaning, identity, and worth in this life and consciously pondered the mysteries of the universe to find answers to them. When the Star of Bethlehem signaled another mystery unfolding before them, they followed it hoping to find more answers.

The years have not changed the longings of human beings. We want to know the deeper meanings that lie beneath the surface of this life as much as the wise men of old. We want to know that we amount to something because we have lived for something that transcends our selfish wants and needs—something that serves some eternal purpose. But where is our star? What sign do we have that will lead us to the source of meaning, identity, and worth?

Our star is right here, my friends, in this Cathedral. Here is where God’s salvation of meaning, identity and worth is proclaimed and where his gifts to us are celebrated. Here is where the good news is broadcast that God has entered our life and bought our freedom from slavery to sin with his own blood. Here is where we proclaim and celebrate God’s vindication of a life lived for others, justified by the resurarection of the crucified Jesus. Here is where we come to worship Jesus, as the wise men came to worship him so long ago, in gratitude that God has revealed to us, through the life of this human being, the mystery of love that makes the struggle of life worth the effort.

We who gather week after week in this place have found our star. But for every one of us there are four or five or even a dozen others who do not know that the Church is the wise man’s and the wise woman’s star of today. Remember that not all the gentile sages who saw the star of Jesus recognized it for what it was. So again, in our own day, there are millions upon millions in our own country who do not recognize the Church as the star that can lead all people to the mystery that will satisfy their deepest longings.

Yet those very same millions who do not see the church as a star still yearn for the mystery that gives meaning, identity, and worth to individual human lives. Our star can become their star if our star’s light shines brighter than the tinsel stars of the secular world that compete for followers in our earthly galaxy. If each of us takes it upon ourselves to be a missionary of the Messiah where we live, work, and play, showing our love in concrete ways to everyone we encounter as our Messiah showed his, our star will shine more brightly than the others. People who do not love others, and especially people who do not love themselves, will wonder what we are up to when we love them. They might even ask us why we do that. If they do, we can point to the star that led us to discover meaning, identity, and worth in life, and invite them to come with us to see the Messiah to which our star led us.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Christmas 2C: "Where else would I be?"

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 3, 2009.

Jesus said to them, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?"

This morning’s Gospel reading is the only glimpse we get in the whole Bible of Jesus between birth and adulthood. That means there’s this huge gap between when he was presented at the temple at 40 days old and this story that happens when he was twelve years old. That’s a big gap.

What makes it worse is that Jesus in this story seems less like a child and more like a little adult. In fact , when you see this portrayed in movies about Jesus’ life, the boy Jesus, who always for some reason seems to have a British accent, seems kind of creepy and otherworldly in the face of his frantic parents.

“Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”

It’s a little better when we read it like most 12 year olds I know:

“Pfffft! Why were you searching for me? Didn’t you know I was going to be in my Father’s house? DUH!”

But still there’s something missing. How did we get here?

It’s an important question for each of us, because this 12 year old knows something wonderful and remarkable. He knows where he belongs. He knows where home is for him. “Of course, I’m here, where else would I be? This is my home!”

Some of us spend our whole lives trying to find that for ourselves. Trying to find that place where we feel we can absolutely be ourselves. Where we are held and loved and challenged and can flourish. The place where we can say, “Of course I’m here. Where else would I be? Where else would I ever want to be?”

If Jesus is fully human and fully divine, it doesn’t seem right that he didn’t have even a little bit of this search. And so we look at that gap between 40 days and 12 years and ask of the boy Jesus at the Temple. “How did you get here?”

And believe it or not, there are some answers. You won’t find them in the Bible, but you will find them in some ancient scriptures that never made the cut .One of these is a second century Syrian text called the Infancy Gospel of Thomas.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas didn’t make it into the Bible for any number of reasons. The process of deciding which texts made it and which didn’t was not only a theological but a political process. But what we do know is that it tries to answer our question. What happened to Jesus growing up? And because of that, the story of Jesus at the temple that we heard this morning is not at its beginning but its end.

The picture this Gospel paints is of a Jesus who is at once the Son of God, with all the powers that means – but is still a kid.

Think of it, you’re five years old and you can do things that no one else on earth can do … but you’re still five years old! Take this story. Jesus is playing by the side of a stream. He made a dam and collected a bunch of the water in a pool and then started making clay sparrows on the bank out of the mud from the pool. Pretty standard five year old stuff. But then Joseph comes and yells at him because he’s not supposed to be doing this on the Sabbath, so Jesus claps his hands and the mud sparrows turn into real birds and fly off. Pretty cool.

But then the son of a scribe who was with Jesus takes a branch and destroys the dam Jesus had made. And Jesus gets mad at him and starts yelling at him … again, pretty standard five year old stuff. But this isn’t any ordinary five year old. So when Jesus gets mad he curses the other boy and the other boy immediately wrinkles and ages and becomes like an old man. Not so cool.

This gospel is full of stories like this of Jesus coming to grips with who he is and with the power he has. There’s a story of him walking through the village and a boy bumps into him and Jesus curses him and the boy falls down dead. But there’s also the story of when he was eight and he was out with his father sowing seed in their field. And Jesus takes a single seed of grain, plants it, reaps it, threshes it and turns it into about 650 bushels of wheat and calls all of the poor of the village together and gives it to them.

The Infancy Gospel of Thomas is a story we can relate to. It’s the story of a child who is struggling growing up. A child whose teachers are afraid of him not just because of what he can do but because he knows more than they do. A child who is continually getting into trouble because he doesn’t know how to control himself. But even more than that it is the story of a child who just doesn’t fit in. Who feels different, who knows he is different and just doesn’t feel like anyone ever really understands him. Because whether people are praising God because of him or fleeing from him in fear one message is clear. You’re not one of us.

And it is after 12 years of that that Jesus goes to Jerusalem with his parents for the Passover and we have the scene we have heard today. But the Infancy Gospel of Thomas paints an even more detailed picture. Here’s how it tells the story:
And after the third day they found Him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the teachers, both hearing the law and asking them questions. And they were all attending to Him, and wondering that He, being a child, was shutting the mouths of the elders and teachers of the people, explaining the main points of the law and the parables of the prophets. And His mother Mary coming up, said to Him: Why have you done this to us, child? Behold, we have been seeking for you in great trouble. And Jesus said to them: Why do you seek me? Do you not know that I must be about my Father's business?
And here’s the different part:
And the scribes and the Pharisees said: Are you the mother of this child? And she said: I am. And they said to her: Blessed are you among women, for God has blessed the fruit of your womb; for such glory, and such virtue and wisdom, we have neither seen nor heard ever. And Jesus rose up, and followed His mother, and was subject to His parents. And His mother observed all these things that had happened. And Jesus advanced in wisdom, and stature, and grace. End of Gospel.
The entire infancy Gospel of Thomas puts this event into context and describes why it was really important. You have this child who no matter how hard he tries can’t fit in, can’t find a place where he is appreciated and accepted, who even when he is doing good things makes people afraid and anxious and uncomfortable. And suddenly, he finds this place, this community, these people, who accept him. Unlke Luke’s version this Gospel goes out of its way to let us know that the scribes and Pharisees in the Temple, even though Jesus is challenging them in difficult ways accept him and see him as a gift and a blessing.

Jesus has found a home. And because he has finally found a place, found a community that praises God for him just as he is, he is able to do from then on what he had never been able to do before – go back home and be obedient to his parents until his coming of age. Because he knew there was this place, this community that saw him as he was, appreciated, loved and even needed him, he could find the strength to go out into the world and live his life.

This is our story! This is our search! Because we have all been that child Jesus. I’m not saying that we could make clay sparrows fly or strike people dead by looking at them. But we all have pieces of ourselves that we learned growing up or that we are learning growing up that people don’t understand, or make other people anxious or afraid. And so we learn, often through much trial and error, what to show and what to conceal. But we long in our hearts for that place, that community, that person, where we don’t need to censor and closet, where we can just be fully ourselves and know that the only response is going to be “Praise God for the blessing that is you!”

And when we are so fortunate, so blessed to find such a place, to find such a community or such a person, and someone asks us why we are going there or why we are with that person, sometimes we can’t help but answer like that 12 year old Jesus. “Where else would I be? DUH!”

And when we are so fortunate, so blessed to find such a place, to find such a community or such a person, it gives us strength to be out in the world and live the rest of our lives.

This was all brought home for me in the past week by the life and death of our dear brother, Dennis Engelhard. Dennis was as kind a soul as ever walked this earth. And like so many of us, he struggled to find a place where he was accepted, where he was rejoiced in for who he was. But he was also so blessed to find that in three places.

He was blessed to find that in the Missouri State Highway Patrol, where he died doing what he loved to do so much … helping people in need. When we ask the question, “Why did he have to be at the side of that road helping that motorist that icy Christmas morning,” I think Dennis would give us the same answer Jesus did at the temple. “Where else would I be but helping people?” Being a trooper and helping others was home for Dennis.

He was blessed to find that in this Cathedral community. My lasting memory of Dennis will always be him kneeling at the altar rail with the look of great humility and grace in his eyes as he received the Body of Christ. He found here a community that embraced him as who he was and certainly rejoiced in it. And we know that by how keenly we feel his departure from us.

But perhaps most of all, he found it in Kelly, his partner and soulmate for nearly 15 years. In each other’s eyes and arms they found the joy of Adam crying “this at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” They found the joy of knowing and being known and being rejoiced in fully … a joy that like the boy Jesus at the temple gave them the strength to live in a world that often didn’t understand them and out of ignorance feared who they are and what they share.

But this Gospel is reflected in more than just in Dennis’ life. It’s reflected in this community’s commitment to one another. In the group of Cathedral folks who made the journey across the state to Brookfield to be with Kelly for Dennis’ funeral service. And I know if you’d asked any one of them why they did it, their answer would have been the same, “Where else would I be but here for each other? Where else would I be but with the ones in whom I rejoice? Where else would I be but with the ones who rejoice in me?”

Jesus said to his parents, "Why were you searching for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father's house?" For him, those words were both the ending of one journey and the beginning of another. And the same is true for us. Because we all know the pain of the search. Of trying to find the place, the community where we don’t have to hide. And if God can continue to create that place in us around Christ’s table. If we can say more and more, “of course I’m going to Christ Church Cathedral … where else would I be? … why don’t you come, too?”

If we can truly be a home for all people, if in this place we can break down our own walls of judgment against each other and build up the bonds of rejoicing in each other, then just as in the Gospels a new story will begin to be written. A story that isn’t about what happens in here, but what happens out there. A story where we all increase not only in years but in wisdom, and in human and divine favor. A story where we know so well that we are loved in here that we can leave this place and love out there. Amen.