Saturday, December 24, 2011

"When YHWH Met Sally"-- A sermon for Christmas Eve

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, 2011.

Silent night, holy night
Son of God, love's pure light
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth
Jesus, Lord, at Thy birth

Silent night. Holy night.

There is something about the silence of night that brings out the deepest questions of our heart. Questions that are so deep, that make us so vulnerable that we are afraid to speak them not only to each other but even to ourselves. Afraid to speak them because we are afraid of what the answers might be.

And of all the questions that come out to tug at our hearts at night, perhaps none is stronger or deeper than this one:

Am I loved?

Am I loved?

We try to pretend the question isn’t there for lots of reasons.

We pretend it isn’t there because when we acknowledge it, we’re so aware of how much we need someone other than ourselves, and that scares us.

We pretend it isn’t there because everyone else looks like they have it so together and we don’t want to be the weird, insecure person who is asking questions like “Am I loved?”

We pretend it isn’t there because secretly, in places that don’t come out in the light of day, we’re afraid the answer might be … no.

And really, can you blame us? It’s so hard for us to trust that the answer to “Am I loved?” is yes. We keep asking it because so much in life teaches us not to trust the answer is yes.

For every experience of unconditional love we have, we have countless others that tempt us not to trust it, that tempt us to trust instead that love is transactional and conditional. That if we don’t hide certain pieces of ourselves, love will be taken away or it will never come. That we’re not worthy of love as who we really are, and that we trust in love at our own peril.

And so from the earliest of ages we learn to cope and suppress. To pretend it’s all OK and silently guard and hide those pieces of ourselves that we are sure are unlovable. To treasure those moments of unconditional love but never to truly trust them. And to try not to think about it too much.

And yet in the silence of the night that question comes. The question that draws us together tonight. And it is in the silence of the night that we get our answer. And that is why we are here on this silent night. This holy night.

Am I loved?

The Bible is a lot of things. It was written over 1500 years by at least 40 authors, including kings, scholars, philosophers, fishermen, poets, statesmen, historians and doctors. It is history, poetry, law, prophecy, letters and a whole bunch of really freaky stuff. But if you have to say the Bible is one thing, it’s a love story. An epic love story. It is the story of millennia of God’s people struggling with the question “Am I loved?” and of God trying desperately to convince us that the answer is … YES.

Like all love stories, God’s epic love affair with us is a story of passion and frustration. Of adoration, rejection, pursuit and reunion. God creates us out of love and loves us dearly and desperately. And from the moment of creation, all God has ever wants is for us to trust in that love. Trust in that love and be able to live extraordinary fearless lives because we are so secure that the answer to “Am I loved?” is Yes.

And yet deep inside, a voice us says, “Yeah … right.”

Deep inside, we never seem to get it. Read the Old Testament. The Hebrew scriptures are one, long, crazy story of this. One long crazy story of God’s passion for us and God’s frustration with us not being able to trust in God’s love. One long, crazy story of adoration, rejection, pursuit and reunion … only to have us fall away again. Of God saying “please trust me, I love you.” And for just a moment of us believing it … only to have us fall away again because we couldn’t believe that God really meant it. We couldn’t believe that God’s love was really unconditional and really for us, that we were really that lovable. We couldn’t believe that we could truly trust in this love and not need anything else. Until one night, God had had enough. Until one night, one silent, holy night, God laid it all on the line and did something different.

More than 20 years ago, on Robin’s and my first date, we saw another great love story --- When Harry Met Sally. Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan. Two people who have each been burned by love and who are desperately in love with each other but are afraid to trust because they are afraid of being burned again. Afraid of hearing one more time the answer to “Am I loved?” is no. If we’re honest, it’s the story of all of us.

And finally, it all comes to a head in this one scene right at the end of the movie. Harry has been trying to reach out to Sally but she keeps pulling away and finally he’s had enough. It’s New Year’s Eve just minutes before midnight and Harry races through the streets of New York trying to reach the party where Sally is to tell her that he loves her before the clock strikes twelve.

And he gets there, running up the stairs and breathless, he gets there and he bares his soul and tells her he loves her, and still she resists – she just can’t bring herself to trust his love. And Harry is desperate. He loves her so much and he just can’t get her to trust. “I love you,” he says. And you can just feel the passion as he pleads with her: “Doesn’t what I said mean anything to you?”

And you can hear the pain in Sally’s voice, the pain of all the times she’s learned not to trust in love. You can just taste the pain when she says, “I’m sorry Harry. I know it’s New Year’s Eve, I know you’re feeling lonely, but you just can’t show up here, tell me you love me and expect that to make everything all right. It doesn’t work that way.”

“Well how does it work?” Harry says.

And Sally, almost in tears, says, “I don’t know but not this way.”

And then Harry says this:

“Well how about this way. I love that you get cold when it's seventy one degrees out, I love that it takes you an hour and a half to order a sandwich, I love that you get a little crinkle above your nose when you're looking at me like I'm nuts, I love that after I spend a day with you I can still smell your perfume on my clothes and I love that you are the last person I want to talk to before I go to sleep at night. And it's not because I'm lonely, and it's not because it's New Years Eve. I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of the life to start as soon as possible.”

That’s Christmas.

That’s God’s answer to us this silent, holy night. God knows we’re crazy. God knows we’re far from perfect. God knows we’re quirky and messy and that we make a million mistakes before breakfast. God knows we get cold when it’s seventy one degrees out and it takes us an hour and a half to order a sandwich. God loves us in spite of it and God loves us because of it. There is nothing that can change the answer to “Am I loved?” to anything but YES.

And so Christmas is God saying “enough!” I’m tired of leaving messages on your answering machine hoping you’ll return my calls. I’m tired of trying to reach you through prophets and sages, judges and kings. I’m not messing around any more. I’m coming down there to share life with you … in all its messiness and in all its holy imperfection. I’m going to become one of you. Emmanuel. God with you. That’s how much I love you.

Christmas is “When YHWH Met Sally” and we are all Meg Ryan. Christmas is God grabbing us and looking deep into our eyes and saying, “I came here tonight because when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to begin as soon as possible.”

Beloved, this silent night, the question doesn’t have to haunt us anymore. This holy night, the Son of God, love’s pure light, invites us, pleads with us to trust that he loves us more deeply than we can possibly imagine. To trust in that love and be able to start tonight an extraordinary rest of our lives together … secure that the answer to “Am I loved?” is Yes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

"Greatest Expectations" ... a sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Advent

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 18, 2011 

Expectations. Advent is about expectations. About expecting the coming of Christ. About preparing a mansion in us for Christ’s coming. But I want to talk about a different kind of expectation. One we have all known and felt.

Think back to when you were 15, 16, 17 years old. For some of us that will be pretty easy … for some of us that doesn’t mean thinking back at all … but for others of us it’s a little more of a challenge. But if it is “back” for you … think back. In fact don’t just think back but feel back. Feel back to what it felt like to be in high school. Remember that child. Feel that teenager inside you.

Who had expectations of you? (shout it out)

What were their expectations of you?

What was it like to consider not meeting those expectations? Doing something different? Being something different?

The world runs on expectations. Societies – big and small – set expectations and demand conformance. And we are valued and affirmed and even celebrated by how well we conform. And when we don’t meet expectations, we are not only not valued and not affirmed, we are to some degree cast out. So there are pretty strong incentives out there to meet expectations?

We’ve all felt that, right? We all still feel that, right?

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary.

From what we know, we can pretty well guess that Mary was 15, 16, 17 years old. Think Jasmine Cooper or Maya Jackson.

Mary had her whole life in front of her … and it was just starting to get interesting. Betrothal, engagement, was a time of excitement and anticipation but also trepidation. Because it was also a time of great expectation. Much would be expected of her – and at stake was not just her future but her family’s honor.

Mary probably thought of herself as nothing special. And really, as far as the world was concerned, that’s exactly what she was … nothing special. Just another faceless young woman in the crowd. She was expected to be good and obedient. And very soon to be a good wife and mother.

Whether or not she was content with those expectations, we can’t know. But one thing we can imagine is that she probably didn’t want to be different. Different was bad. Different was the widow, the poor unmarried woman, the prostitute. Different was being poor, unclean, pitied and alone. Different was scary.

So Mary’s life was pretty well set. There was the path of expectation, and anything that strayed too far from it was too scary to consider.

And then God enters the picture. And God did what God does. God changes everything.

God said, “I’m about to do something different. Something that will confound people’s expectations of me. Something that will change the world forever. And I’m asking you to be a part of it. And that’s not just about nodding your head and rubber stamping a form and saying, ‘OK by me.’ I am asking you to put some real skin in the game.”

“You see,” God says. “I can’t do this alone. I need a partner. But if you’re going to partner with me you are going to have to take all those expectations that people have of you – and you are going to have them matter less than this … you are going to have to have them matter less than me.”

“You’re going to have to be willing to be different. To be poor, unclean, pitied and even alone.

These are amazing, exciting and absolutely terrifying words. They must have been incredibly hard to hear. And yet Mary says, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord. Let it be with me according to your word.” Mary says, with her lips and with her life. “Yes.”

How? How did Mary say yes so completely?

Because God’s invitation to Mary was not all God said through Gabriel. Before Gabriel asked Mary to be God’s partner in changing everything, Gabriel said three things. Three things that Mary had to hear and trust before she took this incredible leap of faith.

1) God says you are very good.
2) God is with you.

And because of that…

3) You don’t need to be afraid.

The world tells us that our goodness depends on how well we meet its expectations. But what does Gabriel say to Mary … “Greetings favored one…. You have found favor with God!” Or as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in his translation “The Message,” “You are beautiful with God’s beauty, beautiful inside and out.” It doesn’t matter what the world says. God looks at you and says you are very, very good, beautiful with God’s beauty inside and out.

The world tells us that our acceptance depends on how well we meet their expectations, and that if we don’t meet them well enough we will be cast off and alone. But what does Gabriel say to Mary … the Lord is with you. It doesn’t matter if everyone else leaves you, God says, you will never be alone because I am with you.

And because of these things, Gabriel is able to tell Mary, “Fear not. Do not be afraid.” Because there is no reason to fear. You don’t need to fear the world because the world has no power over you.

Mary, God says, you don’t need to fear those voices and looks in the world telling you that you are no good … because I’m telling you that you are very good. Mary, God says, you don’t need to fear the world rejecting you and casting you out alone … because I am with you now and I will be with you always.

The whole key to the annunciation isn’t that Mary was better or stronger or more holy than any of us. It’s that she was able to hear and trust when Gabriel told her that God said she was very good. She was able to hear and trust when Gabriel told her that God is with her now and always. And because she was able to hear and trust those things, she was able to hear and trust Gabriel when he said, Mary, you don’t need to be afraid.

And because she didn’t need to be afraid, she was free. Free to be a person of incredible power – God’s power. Free to be God’s partner in doing something that would change the world forever. Free to be a part of something that was so wild and nutty that Gabriel had to reassure her that “nothing will be impossible with God.”

A long time ago, I had a Roman Catholic friend named Bridget who loved her church dearly but was deeply frustrated and pained by the role of women in it. One day she said to me – you know what model is held up for women in my church? Mary. A virgin mother. That’s my model. That’s who I’m supposed to be like. How in the world am I supposed to live up to that?

I wish I could talk with Bridget again today. Because I think Mary isn’t just the standard for women, she’s the standard for all of us. And not to be a virgin mother, but to listen and trust and to be a fearless person of God’s power.

Because that’s the invitation to all of us. To listen. To trust. And to be fearless people of God’s power. Because God is speaking to us.

God is saying: “Greetings, favored one.” Greetings Emily and Celeste and Tom and Debbie and all of you, you are worthy and very, very good as who you are. Greetings, Franklin and Jeanne and Jim and Urlene, you are beautiful with God’s beauty inside and out.

God is saying, “I am with you.” “I have always been with you. I am with you now. I will be with you always.” People of Christ Church Cathedral, God says to us “I am with you.”

And if we can listen and trust those things, we can listen and believe when God says to us, “You don’t need to be afraid.” Because that is deeply true. Because God says we are good and beautiful with God’s beauty. And God says God will always be with us. There is nothing we ever need to fear.

But that’s not the end of God’s invitation to us. God is inviting us to be fearless people of God’s power today.

Because just as God said to Mary two thousand years, ago, God is saying to us today, “I’m about to do something different. Something that will confound people’s expectations of me. Something that will change the world forever. And I’m asking you to be a part of it. To let Christ be born in you and through you. To live out my mission in the world – to reconcile all people to God and each other in Christ. To be, as Paul says, ‘ambassadors of Christ’ entrusted with the mission of reconciliation, of healing all that is broken in a deeply broken world.”

And just like Mary, God is saying to me and to you, “I can’t do this alone. I need partners. But if you’re going to partner with me you are going to have to take all those expectations that people have of you – and you are going to have them matter less than this … you are going to have to have them matter less than me.”

“You’re going to have to be willing to be different. To be poor, unclean, pitied and even alone.”

Just like Mary, God is saying to us, “People of Christ Church Cathedral, this not just about nodding your head and rubber stamping a form and saying, ‘OK by me.’ I’m asking you to put some real skin in the game. I’m asking you to not just to give a little bit to this mission but to give yourselves to this mission. To be fearless people of my power. Fearless lovers with all you have and all you are. Because nothing extraordinary ever got done with people going half-way.”

What extraordinary, seemingly impossible thing God is asking us to partner with God in? How is God calling us to confound the world’s expectations in a way that helps God’s love break through in a new way? How is God inviting us not just to say “OK” to this work of changing our church and healing the world, but together, as one church, to embrace it with our lives? Together to be fearless people of God’s power. To be bold and confident and fearless agents of God’s love healing in this place and out there in the world.

Mary is our model because Mary heard and trusted but also because Mary didn’t just stay on the sidelines and cheer, but she got in the game in the fullest way imaginable. And so can we. We can do this together, because like Mary, we know that we are good and beautiful with God’s beauty. Like Mary, we know that God is with us and we will never be alone. Like Mary, we know we need never be afraid. And because of that like Mary, we are free to be fearless ambassadors for Christ, fearless people of God’s power for the church and in the world.

God, here are we, the servants of the Lord. Let it be with us according to your word. AMEN.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Putting God's Mission First -- our best future at Christ Church Cathedral

This past Thursday, your Cathedral Chapter met for more than four hours to wrestle with the budget for 2012. There were many figures discussed that involve how Christ Church Cathedral can continue to exist ... but none of that is as important as WHY we exist. 

Since we began journey together more than two and a half years ago, I have held up the mission statement for the church that is in our prayer book. "The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ." (BCP, p. 855). It is a mission of reconciliation and it is the definition Paul gives us in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one from a human point of view; even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way. So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Reconciliation -- breaking down the barriers, making real God's reconciling love in a hurting and broken world -- this is God's mission. The Church as an institution is only worth existing as we put God's mission first. The opportunity for the church today is to prune away things that aren't helpful to God's mission -- or are no longer appropriate to God's mission in this new day -- and put our energies and gifts on living that mission today as powerfully as possible.

Thursday night, Chapter used this scriptural text from 2 Corinthians and a sermon by Bishop Ian Douglas of Connecticut (click here to read it ... it's definitely worth the time!) to frame our discussion as part of our evening devotions. One of the questions we wrestled with is "What are the things that are essential for us if we are to 'put God's mission first.'"

The Chapter came up with the following list:
*Trust in God and each other
*Putting God first
*Love and care for the community as a whole
*A place to worship
*A way to worship together
*A commitment to serve and give of ourselves
*The Bible
*A common understanding of what it means to live together in Christ as a baptized community.

We talked about which of these things can cost money ... and there is many of them that can. We also realized that if this is what faithfulness to God's mission looks like, we can be faithful no matter what our budget is ... but particularly that commitment to give of ourselves will determine not just the resources we have available for God's mission but the depth of our own commitment to incarnate God's mission in the world ... to be the Body of Christ.

We talked about how if we were just starting out planting a church, this would be a very different conversation. We would feel much freer to create new structures and embrace God's mission in new ways. But we are far from a church plant. We have huge old, beautiful buildings and even bigger old, beautiful traditions -- all of which can be assets and barriers to God's mission. We talked about sacred cows and the difference between an icon -- something that helps us encounter God and God encounter us -- and an idol -- something we worship in the place of God ... and the importance of looking at all we have and making sure we are embracing icons and destroying idols.

We talked about how many of us just want to come to church as a sanctuary from the difficulties of the world -- difficulties that include uncomfortable change, and the last thing we want to hear about when we're here is how we need to change even more. I noted that God always loves us as we are but never leaves us as we are ... and so figuring out how to let God love us through the change we need is a key part of the leadership task we share as Chapter and clergy.

Throughout the whole evening, again and again we came back to God's mission ... not just how we as a Chapter can live it more deeply but how we can lead the whole congregation (and the diocese and the city) into God's mission of reconciliation. As we struggled with using endowment monies to -- once again -- bail out our budget, I felt a consensus and a commitment emerge to no longer allow "business as usual" to be the rule of the day. That Clarence and Zua Pope have given us a gift of a bridge to tomorrow ... but if we use it to stay in yesterday we will have not only dishonored their legacy but will have missed a great opportunity God is giving us to be at the forefront of God's mission in the future.

I wish you all could have been at this Chapter meeting Thursday night (and all Chapter meetings are open!). I encourage you to come to Chapter meetings, which are on the third Thursday of each month at 6 pm. Talk with your Chapter members. Ask how you can help.

Most of all, look, listen, pray, worship, learn, serve give. Be a part of God's mission.

It's who we are. It's what we are about. It's the best that Christ Church Cathedral can be.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A few words from our treasurer...

Here are CCC treasurer Kris Reppert's remarks to the congregation on Sunday, December 11.

Good morning.  I’m Kris Reppert.  I am your Treasurer.  I’m here to report on the status of the 2012 budget.

In August, the Finance Committee outlined the process Chapter would follow for next year’s budget and we also met with the Stewardship team to set a target for pledges – something that had not bee done in the past.  Our target for pledges is $445,000 and represents 89% of our employee Compensation and Benefits.  (this info has been in WW and the service program for several weeks and if you’re interested in further details of how we came up with that number, please come see me). 

With the stewardship campaign coming to a close, and having received input for expenses from Chapter members and various committees, the Finance Committee met on two evenings last week to compile a budget for Chapter’s consideration at their next meeting, Thursday December 15.

Our pledge total as of last Monday was $253,000.  We believe there’s another $97,000 still to come in based on people who have pledged in the past, but have not yet pledged this year.  That’s $350,000 almost $100,000 short of our goal of $445k.  We will be drawing $347,000 from our various investments and there’s another $117,000 from non-pledge and miscellaneous income, for a working total for revenue of $814,000.

Our total requested for expenses was $913,000 – a deficit of $99,000 – keeping in mind that assumes we get the additional $97k in pledges we think will come in.

Using that scenario as option 1, we went to work on option two, then option 3.  For option 2 we made some tough choices and reduced our expenses where we thought we could – and reduced the deficit in half to $49,000.  For option 3, we made some severe reductions – I would say draconian reductions - and that scenario has a surplus of $2,300. 

In addition, I made a promise to the Finance Committee, the Chapter, all of you and myself that we would not slip into bad practices and that we would not rob from ourselves to cover cash flow problems this year, but would draw on our $100,000 line of credit for any cash flow shortfalls this year.  The line of credit – which was zero till the end of May – now sits at $77,000. 

So here’s the situation: we owe $77,000 for 2011 and our full budget request for 2012 sits at a $99,000 deficit.  For Chapter members sitting in the congregation this morning, fair warning – this is what we will be dealing with on Thursday.  Interestingly enough, the $99,000 deficit is almost exactly the difference between the goal for pledges of $445,000 and the likely amount of $350,000.  We will probably need to draw on the fraction of the Pope money we had set aside to do great things related to program here at the Cathedral and once again, the dead will have bailed out the living.  This is no one’s preference.

So – I know times are tough – I was out of work for 2.5 years.  But I am asking you: if you haven’t pledged, please pledge, pledge something.  If you have pledged, please prayerfully reconsider your commitment.  There are pledge forms in today’s service bulletin.  But if you commit, we will really need you to fulfill that commitment – we will have made decisions based on your commitments and will be counting on you. 

There is so much to love about this place.  I mean, even if this art isn’t your cup of tea, isn’t it the greatest thing that we’re hosting this event?  Isn’t so cool to have LBB events here – from Jonathan Franzen to Michael Oher?  Isn’t our music program the best?  It’s been called a gem by local reviewers.  Isn’t the Back to Basics program terrific and intellectually challenging?  Isn’t our Saturday Breakfast program the best little energizer bunny?  It just keeps going and going and going.  Isn’t this all worth supporting and helping even to grow?  Please consider it.

Thank you.  

"Roof for the Inn" -- a Cathedral Christmas Challenge

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” – Luke 2:7

Wandering through the desert, Mary and Joseph wanted only one thing that night … a roof over their heads so they could give birth to their son, the child named Jesus.

We remember that night with crèches and carols. But what if this year, we did more than just commemorate? What if this Christmas, we gave our sisters and brothers in the desert what Mary and Joseph needed that night … a roof over their heads so they could meet the Son of God?

Earlier this month, Bishop Stephen Dokolo from our companion diocese of Lui in the Republic of South Sudan led us in worship and thanked us for the prayers and support that have helped sustain his people through a trying and exciting period of reconstruction after decades of civil war.

Then he said that Fraser Cathedral … our sister Cathedral in Lui … has for more than a decade had a roof that leaks profusely during the rainy season and traps the heat in during the heat of the dry season (I've been there ... he wasn't kidding!). He asked for our help again. He asked Mary and Joseph’s question: Can you give us shelter?

Has there ever been a better opportunity for us to embrace the spirit of Christmas than this?

So this year, let’s make two gifts of thanksgiving this Christmas. One gift in this envelope to support the mission and ministry of Christ Church Cathedral … and one to go toward putting a new roof on Fraser Cathedral in Lui.  You can give to CCC by sending a check  made out to Christ Church Cathedral and sending it to 1210 Locust Street, St. Louis, MO. You can give to Lui by going to and clicking on the CCC/Fraser Cathedral option.

It’s no secret (or it shouldn’t be) that we are having financial issues of our own. We’re running a deficit of more than $70,000 and are facing serious financial challenges for 2012 as we are still far behind our pledge goal. But Jesus teaches us that salvation lies not in focusing on ourselves but in trusting God and loving those who have the least. And especially at Christmas, Jesus calls us to rejoice in the joy of doing what he did … giving ourselves for the life of the world.

So please give generously. Let’s help turn Fraser Cathedral into an inn worthy of the birth of the Prince of Peace … and for his people to gather to praise him. 

In Christ’s love,

The Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman

Thursday, December 8, 2011

"I've Got Good News and I've Got Bad News" - a sermon for Advent II

Preached by the Rev. John Good at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 4, 2011 

Isaiah has good news to tell: "‘Comfort, oh comfort my people,’ says your God. ‘Speak softly and tenderly to Jerusalem, but also make it very clear that she has served her sentence, that her sin is taken care of—forgiven! She’s been punished enough and more than enough, and now it’s over and done with.’" If you listened carefully to this translation of today’s first lesson,1 you realize that Isaiah’s news is good news only in the context of bad news. The bad news is that Israel had been punished for her sin, even over punished.

Let me remind you of why Israel had been punished. The whole nation had turned away from trusting the God who had saved them from slavery in Egypt. They had become fat and happy in the land flowing with milk and honey. They put their trust in the fertility gods of the people they conquered, because that seemed more appropriate for a people who were now farmers instead of nomads. As they turned away from trusting the God who had delivered them, their leaders forgot the basic moral code God had taught them. They did not remember that God had commanded them not to exploit the weakest among them to feather the nests of the strong. So God had good reason to punish Israel. And that is what he did. He abandoned the nation to the ravages of the Babylonian armies. The invaders laid waste to Israel's crops and their capital city with its Temple, before carting a bunch of them off into exile.

Before all of that happened, God had warned them that it would. He had sent prophet after prophet to expose the ruling elite’s faithlessness and immorality. The prophets condemned their conceit and injustice, their arrogance and lack of compassion. In other words, before God called upon Isaiah to tell his people the good news, he had called upon Isaiah and many other prophets to tell them the bad news about themselves. The prophets warned them of their gloomy prospects if their leaders did not repent.

What we learn from all this is that we cannot truly hear the good news until we have heard the bad news, because good news is always, in some way, a response to the bad news in our lives.

So when the first words of the gospel according to Mark are, "The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God," our first question has to be, "What is the bad news to which the good news of Jesus responds?" Mark answers our question immediately by telling us about the career of John the Baptist before he ever mentions Jesus again. In Eugene Peterson's translation, Mark says that John "appeared in the wild, preaching a baptism of life-change that leads to forgiveness of sins. People thronged to him from Judea and Jerusalem and, as they confessed their sins, were baptized by him in the Jordan River into a changed life." John did preach the good news that Jesus was coming with the power of the Holy Spirit to make God's kingdom a worldly reality. But before people could appreciate that good news, John said, they had to acknowledge their need to change their lives so that they could welcome the changes the good news would make possible. Confessing the bad news would make them ready for the good news that Jesus was bringing.

Like most people, we don't like to hear bad news so we do our best to avoid it. During Advent, we tend to focus more on the coming of Jesus than on our need to change our lives. So the joy of Christmas does not last all year because we do not first acknowledge the bad news. We do not confess how the various powers of evil have corrupted us and the world we live in. The failure to admit our powerlessness over evil prevents us from truly appreciating how really good the Good News is. Until we can confess to ourselves and to God how much we need God's forgiveness in our sinfulness, God's love in our loneliness, God's compassion in our needfulness, God's strength in our weakness, and God's healing in our sickness, we will never value the gifts that Jesus has brought to our lives. If we cannot confront the bad news and confess our need for God's remedies, Christmas day will pass without any change in our lives or any lasting joy in our hearts.

On the other hand, if we will honestly take time during this Advent season to undertake a searching self examination of our fears, our regrets, our resentments, our isolation, our sickness, and our sins, we will truly be able to hear the Good News that responds to the bad news in our lives. We will receive the comfort that Isaiah proclaimed to his people that our sins are forgiven, and, as John the Baptist promised, we will rekindle our love for God and renew our enthusiasm for the Good News. That is all it takes to make Christmas last all year.


The translation of all scriptural passages in this sermon come from Eugene Peterson, The Message.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Shepherd King and The Reunion" -- a sermon for Christ The King Sunday

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 20, 2011 

(The whole congregation sings together)

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

No, I’m not Buddy the Elf.

But I do have a question for you. Do you know what an interpretive lens is? It’s an academic term. It’s a filter through which you look at something like the way sunglasses filter out some of the spectrum of light and help us see things differently.

We have lots of interpretive lenses. Many of them come from how we grew up. And they shape how we view everything.

Well I’ve come to believe that the primary interpretive lens through which we look at today’s Gospel reading from Matthew … is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Jesus is making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Stockings full of good stuff for the good people and flaming heaps of coal for the bad.

Now not only do I think ”you’d better watch out” isn’t a helpful lens for the Gospel – and by the way neither is its cousin, – a bumper sticker I’ve seen that says “Jesus is coming … look busy.” Not only are those not helpful interpretive lenses, they aren’t accurate ones.

And so we’re going to spend a few minutes this morning looking more closely at this scripture through different lenses. We’re going to take off the naughty and nice lenses of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and put on some different lenses. We’re going to look more deeply at what the reading itself says but also look at it through the lens of the rest of Matthew’s Gospel … and see if we can see Jesus – and ourselves in a different light.

If we use the rest of Matthew’s Gospel as a lens, four distinct truths emerge about Jesus and about ourselves.

The first truth is this … Jesus longs for reunion.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the end of the liturgical year. And Matthew talks about Jesus coming as a king. But he comes as a really strange kind of king. A really different kind of king.

Jesus is a shepherd king.

Now here is our first chance to put on the lens the rest of the Gospel of Matthew, because this isn’t the first time Matthew has used shepherd as an image for Jesus and God. So we know what he is talking about when he describes Jesus as a shepherd king.

In Matthew 18 God and Jesus are described as shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus is the shepherd who leaves the flock of 99 and searches far and wide for the one sheep that is lost.

That’s who Jesus is. Jesus is a shepherd king. A King who seeks us out and who longs for us to seek him out A King who adores us, who longs to hold us close. A king who dreams of reunion.

Jesus is the shepherd king who breaks down every barrier that separates us from him and from each other. He is the shepherd that leaves the 99 and goes after the one … and isn’t that an interesting lens through which to view the Occupy movement. However we divide ourselves up. 99%, 1%. Jesus seeks after the one and seeks to bring them to himself and to bring them back to the whole … to reconcile and recreate the 100%.

Jesus longs for reunion.

Second truth … this reunion happens out there.

The reunion with Christ doesn’t happen in places that are safe and warm. It happens in places that are vulnerable and dangerous. It happens with the poorest of the poor. We meet Christ and Christ meets us in those who have the least.

Why the poor? When I was thinking about preaching, I started to try to come up with a logical explanation to explain why Jesus is present in the poor, but really that’s not the point. Frankly, all we need to know is that we meet Jesus in the poor because that’s where Jesus says we meet him. And he oughta know.

But it is more than that. Because we have also felt that. We know it to be true. We have all had those experiences where we encounter someone in the depths of vulnerability and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them. Where everything is stripped away and all that is left is the intensely real. We have all had those moments and it is like time stops. There is a depth to those moments. A deep presence to those moments. A deep reality and meaning and even joy to those moments and that is the presence of Christ.

So number one, Jesus longs for reunion.

Number two, the reunion with Jesus doesn’t happen in places that are safe and warm but out there in places of poverty and danger and vulnerability.

Now here’s the third truth.

The reunion Jesus longs for is intimate and personal.

Listen to the verbs that Jesus uses here.

Feed. Clothe. Give drink. Welcome, Tend. Visit.

These are intimate verbs. Think of when you have done these things. Think of when you have fed someone … not just plopped a plate of food in front of someone but fed someone spoon to mouth. Remember when you have given someone a cup to their lips. When you have literally helped dress someone. When you have visited someone in prison and looked at them through the translucent divider. Or when you have tended someone in their hospital bed or sick bed, held their hand, wiped their brow.

These are intimate, personal acts … and that is where we meet Christ and where Christ meets us.

Lets look again at what this Gospel reading actually says! Jesus says:

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to ONE of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

To ONE of the least of these. This is not about big programs that will save the world. The reunion with Christ happens not with “the poor” as a faceless, nameless class, but in intimate, personal actions. It comes in doing what Mother Teresa called “small things with great love.”

Jesus longs for reunion. And it is a reunion that happens not where it is safe and warm but where it is cold and dangerous and vulnerable. And the reunion happens … we meet Christ and we let Christ meet us when do small things with great love. When we meet in places of personal intimacy. When we learn each other’s names and let each other into our lives.

And that leads to the final truth.

This reunion is eternal joy.

When we meet Christ, when the reunion happens, we “inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the beginning of the world.” We enter into Christ, we experience and even become a depth of joy that without the reunion we can scarcely imagine.

It is a joy and a life that is eternal. Now we tend to think eternal in terms of a length of clock time. Like, “Man, when that Kinman preaches, it’s just eternal!” But that’s not the primary meaning of the word here. Eternal is much more about depth of life and experience.

Dan Handschy, who is the rector of Church of the Advent in Crestwood like to talk about this in this way. Imaging biting into the ripest, freshest, juiciest peach you can imagine. Just imagine it. You can feel the tartness in the corners of your mouth and you can just feel the juice spilling out of your mouth and dribbling down your chin. You experience that peach with your whole body. That scratches the surface of what an eternal experience of eating fruit is like.

Now think of that as your life. Think of that in terms of this reunion with Christ. Eternal joy.

This isn’t the first time Jesus has used that word in Matthew, either. And here we’re going back to putting on the lenses of the rest of the Gospel If you go back to the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus and asks what must he do to inherit what? Inherit ETERNAL LIFE.

This guy has obeyed all the commandments and he thinks he’s in great shape. And do you remember what Jesus says?

Jesus says ONE THING you lack. ONE THING. That you sell all you have, give it to the poor and come and follow me. That’s not two things or three things … that is ONE THING. And that one thing is totally directing his life toward the poor. That is the same as following Jesus because it is living as Jesus lived … totally directing his life toward those who were the most vulnerable and were most on the margins.

And do you remember what the young man did? That’s right .. he went away. But he didn’t just go away. How did he go away. That’s right … he went away sorrowful. Deeply sorrowful. Eternally sorrowful.

That’s what’s happening here. When we embrace the reunion with Christ, when we direct our whole selves toward Christ in the poorest and most vulnerable, we enter into eternal joy. But when we turn from Christ and turn into ourselves, we separate ourselves from the greatest love and joy there is. And we enter into a different type of eternity. Eternal separation. Eternal sorrow. We cut ourselves off from our very inheritance. The greatest gift that we could ever receive. The gift of joy and Christ that is our destiny.

Jesus call to us is not another verse of Santa Claus is coming to town. There is no “you’d better watch out.” Because it’s not about earning points by being naughty or nice. It’s about a Christ who longs for reunion, who seeks us out and longs for us to seek him. Who tells us that we find him when we turn not inward to ourselves but outward giving ourselves as he did, for the life of a wounded world. It’s about a Christ who tells us to meet him in imitating him – doing small things with great love. Learning that his name isn’t just Jesus but William and Annabeth and Angel and Steve.

It’s about a choice Christ gives us to embrace a reunion of eternal amazing joy or retreat into fearful life of self-focus that only brings pain.

Jesus is the shepherd king. And he’s searching for us and longing for us to search for him. And praise God, he has even told us where we can find him – not in the places of safety and warmth but in the places and with the people – one by one -- of vulnerability and danger and poverty.

And really all that’s left for us is the choice. All that’s left for us … is to come to the party.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Saints I have known: A Passion to Serve" - A sermon for All Saints Sunday

Preached by the Rev. John Good at 8 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011 
We all have had occasion, at one time or another, to characterize a person we admire as a "saint." For forty years in the ordained ministry it has been my privilege to know a number of them in every congregation I have served. Today is "All Saints' Sunday," and a good time to remember at least a few of them.

I think of Bruce and Cindy, from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Florissant, who went from one parishioner's house to another during a winter storm, collecting food and warm clothing for an inner city church that had broadcast on television a request for help in supplying those things to the poor during that weather emergency.

I remember Harvey, from the same congregation, who risked his job by telling his boss that he would not implement the racist policies that his boss had established for hiring new personnel in his department at McDonnel-Douglas.

I remember Cliff, an African-American dentist and member of Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who worked tirelessly with both whites and blacks in that racially divided city to bridge the gulf between them, and was maligned by people of both races for his efforts.

I remember Bill, from St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Gallipolis, Ohio, who organized teams from five different congregations in that little town to prepare and serve a good dinner once a month for the hungry in that town. It was always scheduled for the last Sunday in the month to help those who had run out of food stamps.

I think of the sisters-in-law, Gloria and Susie, at The Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, whose average Sunday attendance was only about 30. But they did not think their church was too small to start "God's Creation Youth Group" for all of the children between the ages of 8 and 13 in that tiny town.

I think of John and Diane, from a suburban Episcopal church in the Detroit area, who, more than ten years after they started, still lead Bible Study and worship once a week for those incarcerated at the Macomb County Jail

I think of Michelle who volunteered to start and run St. Alban's contribution to the Food of Faith program in Bay City, Michigan. The program expected our parish to fix and serve a dinner for 75 to 100 hungry persons about 3 or 4 times a year. Michelle volunteered us once a month plus an extra one on Christmas day. Before three years had gone by over seventy members of that congregation had participated in that ministry.

None of these saints is likely to be recognized as a saint beyond their own congregations. None of them is likely to have a day designated on the calendar of the Church year to remember them. But they are remembered today, along with the legion of Christians from all generations, whom we honor on All Saints' Sunday.

What sets saints apart is their passion to make a difference for good in the lives of other people. They regard their membership in the Church as a calling vocation—to transmit the love of God in Christ through service to others. They would never be content just to go to church on Sunday and bask in the fellowship of their congregation. They want Jesus to use them as his mouth, his hands, and his feet to make his love tangibly known to those most in need of love.

The saints of our congregations do these things because they know they are blessed, as Jesus defined what it means to be blessed, in our Gospel for today.

They are blessed by the joy of doing something significant with their lives that is of ultimate importance to the world.

They are blessed by the joy of knowing themselves to be partners with God in establishing his reign of love where they live.

They are blessed by the joy of knowing they have spiritual gifts to give to others that are more precious than all the accumulated wealth of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, combined.

These saints I have had the privilege to know would never have known these blessings, nor used them to make a difference in the lives of others, had they not been part of "the communion of saints"—that is, the Church. They learned in church that there is an alternative way of life that is not enslaved to the selfish pursuit of power, privilege, and possessions, which characterizes the quest of so many people in our world. They learned in church that seeking to be significant to others is more fulfilling than seeking to be a success on the world's terms. They learned in church to trust God, and follow where he leads, rather than trust the messages of our worldly media that lead us to worship things that cannot last.

The communities of faith that produced the saints I remembered in this sermon are still doing that. Saints are not found only in history books, they are found in every congregation of Christians that nurtures people to follow that alternative way of life. In other words, saints are found here, in this congregation, today. Take a look. They are all around you. They probably are you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Dean's Stewardship Message for 2012


I want you to try something … right now. (Like in school, read the instructions first.)

Either standing or sitting, curl up your body as tightly as you can —hunch over, fists closed, arms to chest. Then slowly release. Uncurl. Arms extended. Fingers extended. Back straight. Head up.

Do it slowly. Do it again – a little faster. And again. And again. What do you notice? What does that feel like? What does it feel like at each extreme?

This is the motion of liberation. Of casting off. This is what we are about.

Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:29-30) Following Jesus isn’t just taking on his yoke, but casting all else off.

So how do we do it? We give.

Giving is about freedom – our freedom. It’s about letting go of what we hold most dear and saying “Jesus, I love you more than these” (John 21:15-19). It is about letting go of lots of things whose hold on us burdens us. Letting go of time, grudges (for-giving), agendas and anxiety. But it is also most definitely about money. Because money is what our culture holds most dear. Too often, we make money the object of our greatest desire and let money be the source of our greatest fear.

Let it go. Give. And because we are human beings who need concrete markers of progress in things like liberation, this year we’re giving ourselves a road map.

Figure out what you gave last year as a percentage of your income. This year, we challenge each other to give at least 1% more of our income to Christ Church Cathedral.

For example, if you gave 5% of your income to the Cathedral this year, give at least 6% in 2012.

Let me be perfectly clear that my first passion is that you give more so that you can be more free … regardless of where you give it to. We do have a pledge target of $445,000 and that’s important because we all need to know what it takes to sustain this Cathedral in its current state, but meeting that is a distant second priority to this goal of our liberation from the fear and worry about having enough, and trust that with God there is always enough. We ask each other to give specifically to the Cathedral because we believe we can become a Cathedral that spreads that Gospel of liberation more deeply among ourselves and more broadly in the world.

Is 1% more a stretch? It’s meant to be. Call me. We can sit, talk and pray through it together. Because this is important. It’s important because Jesus wants us to be free. And we don’t just want to be freer someday, we want to be freer now.

In Christ’s love,

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman

Living among the Icons (Some teaching ideas for our young parishioners)

Our own Deborah Nelson-Linck, longtime Cathedral parishioner and kindergarten teacher at Long Elementary School, has written a helpful guide for us to help our youngest parishioners live with the Icons in Transformation exhibit. Thanks, Debbie!

The Icon exhibit will be with us for a long time and we need to know how to live among the new works of art.

What is an icon?
An icon is a religious work of art, commonly a painting.

The icon is usually a flat panel painting of a holy being or object such as Jesus, Mary, saints, angels or the cross.  

What are icons for?
Icons are for looking at.  Many people stare at icons and it helps them to focus or center their thinking.  It helps their prayers to be more focused and they are not distracted by things around them.  

Some people just enjoy the beauty of the pictures. 

Can we touch the icons?
When an artist creates a work, they like to show it to many people.  If too many people touch what an artist has created, it changes.  It’s like if you make something with clay and you’re very proud of it and you show it to your friends and family and everybody touches it.  Some people will handle it carefully but others might be rough with it or some people might have a firm touch.  Soon the clay changes shape and doesn’t look like it did at first.  

So…...Icons are for looking at.  A good way to look at any piece of art, your friends or an artist at the art museum or the art in the cathedral is first think of a good place to put your hands so you won’t be tempted to touch.  You can put your hands at your side, behind your back or in your pockets.  You can put your hands together, but use your eyes to touch the painting. 
How can I get around the icons?
The best way around the icons is to walk.  There are sooo many things to see, you don’t want to rush past.  Touching can also be with your body, you don’t want to accidentally knock into any piece of art.  Always, walk carefully around the icons.

Can I climb through the big icons or lean on them?
Again, the icons are for looking, enjoying their beauty and centering in prayer.  Although some of the big icons might look fun to climb through, like on a playground, we don’t want to accidentally knock a piece over or hurt it so it doesn’t look like the artist wanted it to look. 

How can we help care for the icons?
You can tell people about the icons, about how they are a gift the cathedral is sharing with St. Louis.  You can keep them safe by not touching them and walking carefully around them and reminding others to do the same.  The icons are a gift from the artist for us to share with anyone who visits the cathedral.  It is our job to take care of them and return them to the artist the way she gave them to us so she can share them with others. 

Bring in some play dough and make a bowl.  Pass it around to the group.  Assign some people a job when handling the bowl.  You will be rough, you will be gentle, you will be firm etc.  Talk about how the bowl looks when you have passed it all the way around the group.  Help the group to understand that too many hands can change the art (bowl) so that it does not look like the artist wanted it to look. 

Tell the children they are going to tour the icons.  Talk about what they will do with their hands while they are on the tour.  Leader, place your hands behind your back and show the group your choice for looking at the icons.  Take a walk around several pieces; compliment those who are making good choices with their hands.  Thank them for taking care of the art.   

Stop at one piece of art, talk about what it looks like.  How might that feel, without touching it?  What did the artist use to make the icon?  Stare at it, does it make you think anything or feel any special way?  Does it look back at you?  Etc. 

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"10,000 Hours, We are the 100% and God Wants All of Us." - A sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at 10 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 16, 2011 

And Jesus said, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's.” When they heard this they were amazed and they left him and went away.

The Pharisees were amazed. And then they left him and went away.

We read the Gospel every Sunday. Many of us have done this our whole lives. We hear Jesus in little snippets and stories and they have become so familiar. There’s comfort in that. But when was the last time we were amazed by the Gospel. I mean open-mouth, head shaking, heart-stopping amazed? Because Matthew tells us that’s what happened here. The Pharisees were amazed. And then they left and went away. That’s how amazed they were … they just couldn’t take it, they had to get out of there. Well, I look around and we’re all still here and nobody has called any paramedics yet, so I’ve gotta believe the Pharisees are hearing something we’re missing. Something that would stop us in our tracks and rock our world. Something truly amazing.

What could it be?

The Pharisees are coming to Jesus trying to trap him with this question about taxes. If Jesus says taxes should be paid then it looks like he’s in with Rome and he loses his street cred as a prophet. If Jesus says taxes shouldn’t be paid, then he’s a criminal and they can have him arrested. They’re thinking Jesus is the one who is going to be amazed at their cleverness and go away.

But Jesus does the amazing here. And not just because he was clever enough to avoid the trap. Jesus takes a coin and uses it to say that whatever image is on something tells us who it belongs to. The coin has Caesar’s image on it so it belongs to Caesar. Let Caesar have his own. No big deal there. But Jesus doesn’t stop there.

Jesus said, “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.”

Well what is God’s? What bears God’s image? That’s what makes what Jesus says amazing. Because the answer is … us.

We are made in God’s image. We bear the image of God. And God will have God’s own. The implications of this are staggering. And if they don’t amaze us, then we are not paying close enough attention. What does it mean to give to God what is God’s? It means three things that can be summed up in one sentence:

God wants all of us.

First, God wants all of us.

A few years back, Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book called “Outliers,” which looks at what makes exceptionally successful people exceptionally successful. He found that, yes, there is a certain level of innate giftedness but even more than that it is about opportunity. And the most important opportunity is the opportunity to practice. And he tells this story about a boy named Billy.

Billy grew up in suburban Seattle in the late 1960s. Now every year, the Mother’s Club at Billy’s school did a rummage sale to raise money for something for the school. One year they decided to use the money to do something that was really weird for a middle school in 1968 … they used it to buy a computer terminal. What that meant is that at a time when most colleges didn’t have public computer terminals, Billy was able to do real-time programming as an eighth grader.

And he loved it. Billy lived in the computer room for hours and hours and even days and days. And so when the University of Washington was looking for people to work on some software in exchange for even more computer time, he jumped at it. At age 15, Billy was logging 20-30 hours of programming time a week, even sneaking out of his house in the middle of the night to take advantage of the 3 am to 6 am slack period when the computer at the university wasn’t in demand.

By now you may have guessed that Billy … is Bill Gates. And Gladwell’s point is not that Gates doesn’t have real talent but that what made him one of the world’s great masters of computer technology was not so much a superabundance of talent but this unique, ahead of his time opportunity to practice. Because here’s the thing: If you look at people across cultures who are world-class masters in something – anything – from figure skating to fiction writing, from being a master craftsman to being a master criminal , they invariably have one thing in common – they have at least 10,000 hours of practice. Ten thousand hours. That is the universal threshold for mastery.

10,000 hours. That’s 8 hours a day, seven days a week for nearly three and a half years without a break. That is giving your life to something. But if we are to become masters … at anything … that’s what research shows that it takes.

Give to God’s what is God’s.

10,000 hours. Giving our life to something. That’s what God wants. God wants all of us. God wants us to know God like Bill Gates knows computer code. God wants us to know God like Albert Pujols knows the spin on a split-fingered fastball. God wants us to know God like Pat Partridge knows the organ! And the only way we do that is to give our lives to God. Not just an hour a week or a little bit here and there. But 10,000 hours. Minimum. That means 10,000 hours of prayer at home and worship here. It means daily reading of the Bible. It means every month, every week, every day, giving ourselves to God in service of loving those most different from us and challenging to us. It means practicing giving of our money, of opening not just our hearts but our wallets and over and over and over again giving until we learn that money is not our master but just another way of giving glory to the God who gives us all.

Give to God what is God’s. And that is all of us. 10,000 hours. Minimum. And just ask Bill Gates, just ask Pat Partridge, there are no short cuts. God wants all of us.

But it doesn’t stop there. Because God doesn’t just want all of us. God wants all of us.

Our former Bishop, Hays Rockwell used to say, “The image of God is on every single person … only on some it is in deep … deep … disguise.”

I know many of us have been following the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York and some of us have been involved in the Occupy St. Louis protest at Keiner Plaza. I spent part of a morning there this week listening and learning. One of the priests in my colleague group, Daniel Simons, works at Trinity Wall Street in New York and wrote the best piece I have seen on the protests and I want to share a bit of it here:

Daniel writes:

“One of the taglines most seen and heard on the street is “We are the 99 percent.” It has an unintended double-entendre. It points to the supermajority who are suffering the systemic manipulation by ruthless profiteers, but it also points to the fact that we are all complicit in creating (and resolving) what ails us. And from my perspective it doesn’t go far enough: We are the 100 percent.

“I write and preach regularly that in God’s economy there is only an “us,” and whenever we fall back to us-and-them thinking, we are contributing to a powerful but failed system that Jesus came to tip into collapse. Jesus in his Resurrection, steps beyond death and creates a new dimension. There is no retribution for his killers, how could there be? – he has just stepped into larger life where the only message can be: ‘Come on, join in the party.’ Any act of scapegoating - it’s their fault; this one is to blame - feeds the old death-bound beast. Making something new is making something together - receiving something together from a God who gives all.”

Give to God what is God’s. And God doesn’t just want all of us. God wants all of us. And there is no them. We are not the 99%. If we are in Christ we have to be the 100%. Because the image of God is not just on some of us, it is on all of us. It sounds great. It sounds great when we sing of ourselves as a fully inclusive Cathedral. But the truth is it’s incredibly hard.

And that’s why Daniel goes on to say:

“Pretty as it sounds, it’s never smooth; there is huge upheaval and conflict along the way to larger life; there are huge risks and uncertainties, and there’s always the underbelly of human fear and insecurity that all of us strive to overcome. Fortunately, Jesus is pretty patient, since it’s taking us awhile to get it.”

“We are the 100%.” No scapegoating. No exclusiong. Only “Come on, join in the party.” When we call ourselves an Oasis congregation that is what we are saying, but it can’t just stop at the water’s edge of sexual orientation. God wants all of us. I hope if someone came here and said, “You know, no offense, but I really don’t want to be around gay and lesbian people and ‘their culture.’ So sure they can be in the room, but they just need to go over there and not bother us.” I hope that if someone came in here and said that, that nobody in this room would have any problem saying “I’m sorry, that might fly in other places, but it’s not OK here. Because Christ Church Cathedral is for everyone.” And having said that say, “Come on in, join the party.”

But here's the thing. If that’s going to be our answer for that, it has to be our answer for everything. It has to be our answer when someone says, “You know, I really don’t want to sing those African-American spirituals … can’t they just do that at the Black History Month potluck and leave us out of it.” Or “You know, I’m really not interested in being around children – why do we have to worry about whether they are connecting with our liturgy.” God wants all of us and God gives all of us to each other. And we get to receive those great gifts! And we’re all invited not just to join in the party but to join Jesus in throwing the party together. We are the 100%. Poor and rich. Young and old. Liberal and conservative. Gay, straight and everything else. White, black, brown and more. And it’s hard work seeing that image of God on each other. It’s hard work letting the people most challenging to us have an equal voice in shaping things that are so dear to us. But this is the party Jesus is throwing with us. But that’s the path to the kingdom of God. Because God wants all of us.

Are we beginning to see why the Pharisees were amazed and went away. God wants all of us. God wants all of us. 10,000 hours. Fully embracing the people who make us the most uncomfortable. A party with lots of different music, some of which we’re not really sure about. It can feel like climbing Everest. Except there’s one more amazing thing … the most amazing thing of all.

Give to God’s what is God’s. Well we belong to God. God wants all of us. The greatest power, the deepest love in all the universe and God passionately wants each and all … of us! We begin every Eucharist with a prayer that starts “Almighty God, to Whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from Whom no secrets are hid.” And like Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, I think if we ever truly got what we were saying we would scream and fall over unconscious.

Because what we’re saying is God WANTS ALL of US. That God knows us intimately, better than we know ourselves. God knows us in ways that if we stopped to think about it would scare the pants off us. If it takes 10,000 hours to master something, God has not only a master’s degree in each of us but a Ph.D and 15 post doctoral degrees. That God knows us that much and wants us more than we can possibly imagine. More than Bill Gates wanted to be at that computer. Enough to live for us and die for us.

The life we are called into together is amazing. And if we’re not amazed we need to look and listen again. The life we are called together to embrace is challenging and rewarding beyond measure. It will take 10,000 hours and more and there are no shortcuts. It will take rejecting the world’s us vs. them thinking and not settling for anything less than “We are the 100%.” It will take the security of loving each other into believing that God knows us more deeply than we are comfortable anyone knowing us and loves us more faithfully and powerfully than we can believe possible.

But we can do it. Together.

Together, we can give our lives to God, 10,000 hours and more.

Together, we can face the incredibly challenging quest to be not the 80% or even the 99% but the 100%.

Together, we can love each other through any conflict and slay any giant. And together with Jesus we can throw the blowout party of all time.

Together, we can do all these things and more because what we all have in common is each of us and all of us are loved beyond bounds by a God who will let no barrier keep God from us. We are loved by a God who wants us more deeply than we can imagine wanting anything. And who will walk with us every step of the way. AMEN.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

"Ripple Effects" - A sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at 10 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011  

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

John Donne, one of the most brilliant preachers the Anglican Church has ever known is most remembered for this part of a sermon he preached

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;

Put another way, we are all waves in the same ocean. And every action, every event, … has ripple effects in that ocean that spread out in every direction. Ripple effects that change who we are and shape not just our lives but life itself.

Ripple effects.

Nelson Mandela knew all about ripple effects.

Mandela spent 27 years in Robben Island prison for opposing apartheid in South Africa. Twenty seven years because he saw the world as it was and knew it not only should be different but that it could be different. But even from the depths of his prison cell,  Nelson Mandela knew that he could not do it alone. He knew he needed a whole nation united in purpose and dedicated as much to one another as they were to the idea of one South Africa. 

And so even though he was told he was in prison for life, he began building that nation from his cell. Because actions – all actions -- have ripple effects. And he did it by starting small. If the only way to bring down Apartheid without mass slaughter was for black and white South Africa to do it together, he would start right there, right in the prison where he had been sentenced even for trying to bring this about.

And so Mandela set out to learn about the Afrikaners, the descendants of the Dutch settlers who were the power of white South Africa. He learned their language and he built relationships with some of the white, pro-Apartheid, Afrikaner guards.  When Mandela and other prisoners set up schools in the prison to teach one another, he insisted that the guards who asked to be included be welcomed. And a funny thing happened. They found common values and common loves, including a common love for South Africa. And even though there were still many things about which they disagreed and even deep fears of one another, by looking each other in the eye day after day, by learning to speak each other’s languages, by uncovering and discovering the common humanity they shared, buried deep as it might have been, they not only stopped demonizing each other, they slowly became not an us and a them, but a we.

And these small actions, this new way of being … had ripple effects.

The first ripple effects were in Mandela himself. What had begun as an idea -- that we must always view enemies as future friends and treat them as if that day of friendship has already arrived – what had begun as just an idea became a conviction that would shape him and shape history. And that conviction had ripple effects, too. Ripple effects that burst the walls of that prison even before Mandela did. Ripple effects that led to a nearly bloodless revolution that nobody believed could ever happen. Ripple effects that led to an inauguration where his former jailers stood by him as Nelson Mandela ascended to the presidency of that one South Africa -- black and white. Once enemies that were now friends, because Mandela refused to wait to treat them any other way.

Ripple effects.

Peter came and said to Jesus, "Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?" Jesus said to him, "Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

It’s about ripple effects.

We have to look at this Sunday’s Gospel together with last Sunday’s, where Jesus laid out the widening circles for when someone sins against you in the church – first go to someone directly, then take one or two witnesses, then go to the whole church.

Why does Jesus say that? Why bring more and more people in, if necessary, expanding that circle like ripples in a pond? Because sin is never just about one person or two. Like everything else, sin has ripple effects.  John Donne was right. None of us is an island. What affects one affects all. And so if it takes the whole community to make it right, that’s OK, because whether we can see it or not, the action affects the whole community … and beyond.

The same thing is true this morning when we hear Peter ask about forgiveness. But here it gets even trickier. Forgiveness is not a get out of jail free card. It is a sacred bond that comes from looking deep into each other’s eyes and hearts and pledging ourselves again to beliefs and a way of life that we hold together. In the church, it is restoring that relationship of mutual, self-giving love that we pledge to each other and God in baptism. That means both parties – the one who has sinned and those sinned against – we look at each other and say, “OK, we’re all in. We messed up but we will try our best once more to love one another as Christ loves us.”

It’s what the exchange of the peace in our liturgy is all about. It’s not a greeting. It’s a sacred bond. A sacred bond of deep love and reconciliation. When we look at each other and say “the peace of Christ be with you” we are gazing deep into each other and saying whatever has come between us that is unloving – whatever we have just confessed in the confession – we renounce that.  And together, we reaffirm and embrace our commitment to loving each other because God loved us first. That’s why when it’s time for the peace, we should actively seek out those whom we have the most conflict with, and look them deeply in the eye and pledge once more together to try to love one another as Christ loves us.

And Jesus says in that case there is no limit to the number of times we should forgive and be forgiven. Why?

Well, first, we forgive without limits because we have been forgiven without limits. That is the depth of God’s love for us. But God's forgiveness is not "oh, its all right, it doesn't matter." Jesus is clear that our behavior does matter - for ourselves and for the community. God’s love is not conditional on our actions, we don’t have to earn God's love and we can’t lose God's love. But we also can't embrace God’s love if we do not live God's love. God loves us as we are but does not leave us as we are. Forgiveness is "go and sin no more." Forgiveness is “Go and love lots more.”

But we also forgive without limits because just as sin has ripple effects, forgiveness does, too. The smallest act of grace. The smallest act of forgiveness, deeply done, can change lives.

And so we are individuals and we are a people with a choice. Which ripple effects will we let spread out endlessly in all directions? Will it be the ripple effects of sin and death and hatred? Or will it be the ripple effects of love and forgiveness and grace?

Jesus knew this choice from the cross, which is why he said to God about the people who even at that moment were torturing and killing him, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And it is that choice he gives us this morning and every morning, noon and night. An amazing opportunity to love and forgive because as we live this kind of love and forgiveness, the ripple effects will change our hearts, will change our families and our Cathedral community, the ripple effects will change the world.

Perhaps the choice before us has never been more clear than it is this morning.

John Donne begins, “No man is an island,” but he concludes just as famously.

Any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.

And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

At 7:46 this morning, several of us climbed the steps of the bell tower and began to ring the great bell, the largest bell in the state of Missouri.

It was 10 years to the minute that American Airlines flight 11 smashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center.

For two minutes, the bell tolled.

It tolled for the women and men who died in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania that day. For everyone who lost a mother, father, sister, brother, lover and friend.

It tolled for the first responders who have since died from terrible diseases from working on the pile.

It tolled for the 7,500 coalition military women and men and for the estimated nearly one million civilians who have died in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for all those who have lost jobs and had needed services cut as in the wake of $1.3 trillion dollars spent on those wars -- wars the choices we made about how we would respond to that day 10 years ago.

It tolled for the lost innocence of all our children who now live in a world with color coded threat levels and having their shoes x-rayed for explosives at airports, for Muslims across our nation and around the world who for fear and ignorance have been made to feel as not only less than Americans but less than human.

It tolled for the wasted opportunity of Sept. 12, 2001 when the French newspaper Le Monde proclaimed “Today we are all Americans.”  For all those who embraced us then but deride us today. It tolled for you and it tolled for me. Ask not for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee. It tolls for we.

We have seen the ripple effects of this senseless act of blind hatred 10 years ago today. This week, in the media we have heard again many stories of love and sacrifice and grace that emerged in its wake, and the deep ripple effects they have had. But we are also so aware of the deep and wide ripple effects that meeting these attacks with vengeance and fear and hatred has wrought upon us all. We are all diminished by the human suffering that has rippled out from that day, because we are all involved in humanity.

But we have a choice. The choice Jesus made from the cross. The choice Nelson Mandela made sitting from his cell. We have a choice and it is a small choice, an everyday choice. A choice for you and for me and a choice we make as the community of Christ Church Cathedral.

Throughout our lives in this Fox News-MSNBC nation, will we choose to call those who differ from us enemies, or will we embrace each other as future friends.

Will we continue the cycle of bickering, demonizing and blame throwing between the city, downtown residents, the business community, New Life Evangelistic Center, nonprofits and faith communities. A cycle that has characterized decades of response to homelessness downtown. A cycle whose ripple effects have cemented a status quo that improves no ones lives and is beneath all our human dignity? Or will we learn each other’s languages, seek our common ground, build new friendships and partnerships whose ripple effects can actually help build a city that makes glad the heart of God?

Will we deal with the honest differences that come up in our own life as a Cathedral community by backbiting and turf-defending? Or will we continue to embrace the peace and this Table as the center of our life – where anything that might divide us pales before the unifying love God has for us as sisters and brothers in Jesus Christ.

In the words of our baptismal covenant, will we, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord, look each other in the eye and ask for God’s forgiveness and each other’s. Will we, in the words of Gandhi, in our homes, in our lives and in this place, be the change we wish to see in the world?

This morning, while the world looks back at that day 10 years ago and all that has happened since, we have gathered together in this Cathedral to say with one voice that we have had enough of bells tolling. And we have had not nearly enough of dancing.  To say with one voice that we believe with Nelson Mandela and countless others before and since that there is a different and more excellent way. The way of Christ. Loving and forgiving 70 times seven and beyond. And that like in that jail cell, it begins small, right here, right now.

In our time together, I have seen us all come together and embraced God in each other in amazing ways … and I know you’ve seen it, too. We are looking honestly at the challenges we face, and we are seeking creative solutions and God’s wisdom together. We are learning one another’s languages and the vision of a new and wonderful undiscovered country before us is starting to come into view.

We have made the choice for life, for grace, for forgiveness and all we need to do is keep making it and the ripple effects of the Holy Spirit will take care of the rest.

So sisters and brothers, I have just one message for you this morning.

Keep it up.

And let’s watch ... and be what happens.