Monday, January 24, 2011

2011 Annual Meeting Address

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 23, 2011

The annual meeting of the 192nd year of Christ Church Cathedral is now called to order.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.

Sometimes the lectionary just gives us a gift. I didn’t look at what the Gospel text was for today when I set this as the date for the annual meeting, but I can’t imagine a more perfect text for us as we look at the present and future of Christ Church Cathedral.

You see, five key things happen in this Gospel reading, and they correspond to five key points of our life together here at Christ Church Cathedral.

Now, to set the scene, Jesus has just come out of his temptation in the desert and bested the devil himself. And so when we hear the very next words, “When Jesus heard that John had been arrested,” we’ve gotta be thinking, Man, Herod is going to get it. Jesus is going to just open up a can on him. And then we get the rest of the sentence, and this is the first key point of this gospel reading.

When Jesus heard that John had been arrested, he … withdrew to Galilee?

That's right. Confronted with a world that was hostile to the truth he brought and embodied, Jesus didn’t go on the offensive, he didn’t try to overthrow the government or change the world, he withdrew to the outlands. To create the beloved community that was literally Christ centered and Christ sent. That’s the first key point of this Gospel reading.

Second, Jesus didn’t just go anywhere … he withdrew to a land of diverse people – Galilee of the Gentiles; Galilee of the Nations: a community of diversity.

Now, diversity is an opportunity for all sorts of things – good and bad. In fact, if history has told us anything it’s that diversity plus scarcity equals war. So Jesus going into and gathering a diverse community is risky. Only Jesus doesn’t bring scarcity. Jesus brings abundance. Jesus brings the great light that shines in the darkness. Jesus brings the kingdom of heaven, the promise of our own belovedness by God. You can’t get any better than that.

And so we come to the third point. Jesus comes in the midst of this diverse community and invites them to be bound together by a common action – turning away from all the other things they had centered their life on and turning toward the presence of God in him. It is that conscious choice that will literally bind the nations together.

Fourth, Jesus, one by one, begins to assemble this beloved community. But look at how he calls them. In his call of Peter and Andrew, Jesus does two things. First he sees them as they are but also as what he knows they can become. And the two are related. Jesus doesn’t say, “you out there fishing, follow me and I will make you astrophysicists” No, he says, “Fishers, follow me and I will make you fishers of people – I will take this life you know, this person you already are and show you what it can be in ways you probably never even imagined!” It’s an incredible invitation, but as we see its one that also involves incredible dedication and incredible sacrifice.

Finally, the fifth key point. Matthew says that Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.

Jesus withdrawing to build this beloved community was not a separatist movement. This is a community that is both Christ centered and Christ sent. So even as he is gathering people around himself, they are all out in the world teaching and proclaiming and healing. Showing the world with both word and action that there is a great light that shines in the darkness, a light that can heal every sickness and every disease.

So five key points of this Gospel reading:

1) Jesus withdraws to build the beloved community, a community that is Christ centered and Christ sent.

2) This new community was one of great and intentional diversity – something that is a challenge and an opportunity.

3) What bound this diverse community together was the light of Christ, a light so strong that this broad diversity of people could stand together in turning away from the other things they had followed and follow Jesus instead.

4) This commitment involved conversion. Jesus meets and accepts people as they are but mostly holds out a vision of what they are capable of becoming. And this commitment involves sacrifice and leaving behind old ways to become something new.

5) Being this beloved community was not just being Christ centered but Christ sent. It was an active life of teaching, proclaiming and healing out in the world.

Beloved, this is our story. We can see Christ Church Cathedral alive in every word.

First, we are building the beloved community. A community that is Christ centered and Christ sent. I talked last year about building a foundation. About building deep so we could build tall. That is work that has begun but is not nearly finished. We have been through a lot, and we are coming together in some incredible ways.

We saw it in the wonderful work of the Pope Bequest team that you will hear reported on later this morning. I can’t recall ever seeing a group of people so completely set aside their own agendas and work for the good of the church like this body. There has been a dramatic shift in our Chapter meetings over the past two years as that body has begun to speak the truth to one another in love in wonderful ways, really pray together, really listen to one another. Chapter meetings are open, you should come check one out sometime. After a tumultuous era, we’ve begun the process of treating each other more gently and with greater respect and in a bit, we're going to reaffirm those Rules for Respect we adopted whe I arrived here.. We have begun to talk openly about our finances and have greater transparency in the deliberations and actions of the Cathedral leadership. There has been a slow building and rebuilding of trust in this congregation.

This is work that will not be accomplished in one year or two but is ongoing work that will build on itself year after year. But we’re making a great start. And you all should be proud of yourselves. In fact, I want you to give yourself a hand in celebration for the incredible work you all have done these past two years.

Second, like Galilee of the Nations, this community is one of great and intentional diversity. Most everyone I talk with here when you ask them what they love most about Christ Church Cathedral one of the first things they say is the diversity they see when they look around this room. And that is a joy. But we must remember that diversity is only the raw materials for the kingdom of heaven, not the kingdom itself. We are a diverse people, and in our recent history we have seen that diversity at its best and at its worst. We have seen ourselves band together in joy and turn against each other in anger. For us, grasping the opportunity of diversity means starting with naming and wrestling with our own histories. For example,

*For most of this past decade we have prided ourselves on being an Oasis congregation, intentionally welcoming to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people. But what does that mean for us today? Is it just a label? How does this effect who we are?

*We are a congregation founded by slaveowners, yet with a rich history of participating in the civil rights movement and with a vibrant African American and African population today. But are those of us who are of color allowed truly to effect and define the culture and community of Christ Church Cathedral? How does our mixed history with race live on in our life together today?

*We are a Cathedral that for the decade of the 1980s was the seat of a bishop who was an active alcoholic, and alcohol is a big part of our culture both here and throughout this brewery town. How did that effect us then and how are the systems of addiction a part of our present?

We are a wonderfully diverse congregation. All the raw materials are here. But for us to become the beloved community we need first to look deeply into each other, and listen deeply to each other. We need to name and cast out some demons while at the same time name and rejoice in the many angels in our past and present. And the time to do that has arrived. We’re strong enough to look honestly at our past and our present and listen to where God is calling us through it into a future of health and wholeness.

Third, like the beloved community Jesus built in Galilee, what has, is and more and more will bind this beloved community together is the light of Christ.

That light has shined in this community for almost two centuries. We have a strong and wonderful history of powerful liturgy with transcendent music in a glorious space that has inspired and fueled ministries of deep compassion, particularly among those least privileged and most despised in the world. That is what has gotten us this far. What will carry us where we need to go is a renewed commitment to centering everything we are and do in Christ. A renewed commitment to individual and corporate spiritual practice. – to weekly commitment to attend worship and a daily commitment to prayer and study of scripture.

There are no shortcuts here. We will come together and thrive as a Cathedral if Christ is at the center. And the only way to put Christ at the center is through that daily and weekly gift of our time and attention. The Back to Basics classes that we have started are the how-to lynchpin of this effort. In Basic Bible, which begins this Wednesday (and we’ve got 20 people signed up already and there’s still room for more), in Basic Bible we’ll be not just learning about what scripture is but how to craft a discipline of sitting with scripture and instead of us interpreting it letting scripture interpret us. In Basic Christianity, we’ll be learning about how to embrace a God’s eye view of the world. And in Basic Discipleship, we’ll be looking at how we support each other over the long haul of becoming changed people by walking this path together.

At last week’s forum for the candidates for Chapter, Laura Lambrix asked an excellent question. “When new people come into our Cathedral, what will we ask them to do?” And the candidates had a series of really good answers about newcomer incorporation. As I was leaving the room, I went up to Laura and said, “there’s a two word answer to your question, “When new people come here, what will we ask them to do?” And those two words are “follow Jesus.”

There are no shortcuts here. If the house we build is centered in Christ then nothing will be able to prevail against it. But if it is built on our own agendas or reactions against the workings of the world – our own versions of Herod arresting John – than it won’t take much more than a stiff breeze to topple it down.

Which leads us to the fourth key point. Being a Christ centered community means conversion. Part of our commitment to inclusion is affirming that Jesus meets us and loves us wherever we are. and that is so true. But the other half of that truth is that Jesus isnt content to leave us as we are. Our discipleship means being honest about who we are but also willing to sacrifice much for what we are to become.

First of all, what we are now. And this may be the most difficult truth for us to hear.

We are called a Cathedral, our building is a Cathedral building, but we are not a Cathedral.

A Cathedral is a large and vibrant community that is a center of the light of Christ not just for itself but for the wider church and for the whole city and region. We can point back to times in our history when this was a Cathedral but today we are not a Cathedral. Frankly, we are not even close to being a Cathedral. What we are is a midsized parish with a huge, old, beautiful building and a bishop’s chair.

Now I don’t say that to make us feel bad or unworthy. Being a midsized parish with a beautiful old building isn’t a bad thing to be. But what we need to do is be honest with ourselves about what we are and what we aren’t right now … and ask ourselves “is this who Jesus is calling us to be?”

Remember, what we know from the Gospel is that Jesus meets us as who we are but isnt content to leave us that way. And so just as firmly as I believe that we are not a Cathedral right now and that Christ meets us and loves us as who we are right now, I deeply believe that our calling and destiny is to be a Cathedral once more. That like his words to Peter and Andrew, Jesus is saying “Follow me, and I will make you a Cathedral.” Not by a return to the days of old but by leading us on an adventure into an exciting but as yet unknown future.

And what we learn from that Gospel is that it will be a process that will take time, will take sacrifice and will take casting away things of the past to embrace things of the future. Last year, we celebrated with our Canon Pastor and Liturgist her call to be rector of St. Barnabas in Florissant. And then instead of filling a previous position, we called something new – a Vicar. A Vicar is a priest who has primary authority over the congregation so that the Dean can concentrate on leading the work of being a Cathedral – of being that center of the light of Christ for the wider church and the world.

I called a Vicar – and an absolutely extraordinary one at that, in Amy Cortright – not because we are a Cathedral now but because the only way to become one is to begin to structure ourselves as one. Because even those things that we love that have gotten us where we are today may not be what we need to get us where we need to go. And that is one of the biggest questions before us, starting with our decision on a new dean. Not how much do we love what has gotten us this far, but who and what will get us where Christ would have us go.

In the next six weeks, our Vicar and your Chapter will be introducing you to a new way we will be structuring ourselves in terms of the committees and ministries of the congregation. We will be taking a hard and fresh look at our worship life and our financial life. We will be setting aside some old ways and living into some new ways. In all things we will be looking at what excellence means. Both in terms of what is sustainable excellence now and how we are moving toward becoming an excellent Cathedral in the future.

And just as it was for those first disciples and all disciples since, it will take sacrifice. Right now we are facing a $50,000 shortfall in what was pledged in 2010 and what was given. We are facing a $70,000 gap in what we were expecting in pledges for 2011 and what we got. I don’t know what that is about, but I do know that it’s not acceptable. There are no shortcuts here. Cathedrals do not just happen. This one will be built not just in our commitment to worship, prayer and study but in our commitment to giving. In our making supporting Christ’s work in this community as much of a financial priority for each of us as any other area of our lives.

Finally, being this beloved community means not just being Christ-centered but Christ sent. Just as Jesus and those first disciples didn’t sit on their hands and navel-gaze, neither can we. In addition to our commitment to the spiritual practices of worship, prayer and study we must commit to the spiritual practices of proclaiming and serving. Let me ask you... Do you love this community? Do you love Christ Church Cathedral? Do you love the life of Christ you have met in this place and with these people as much as I do? (I can’t hear you!) Then tell people about it. Invite people into it!

Do you believe that you are beloved by God? Do you believe that that love is not just for you but for a deeply broken world? Then keep getting out and keep loving that world. You can do it as many already do through portals we offer here at Christ Church Cathedral. You can do it through volunteering with the Saturday breakfast program or Episcopal City Mission or our relationship with Lui in Sudan. But service doesn’t have to have the Good Episcopalian Stamp of Approval on it to count. Volunteer at the International Institute or for the United Way or at Centenary United Methodist’s Bridge Program or at St. John’s Episcopal Church’s Peace Meal program. Right now, I’m not so interested in us having a brochure full of Christ Church Cathedral programs that we can point to with pride as I am having each and every one of us engaged in some service, maybe just one day or one morning or one afternoon a month, serving somewhere as a loving response to a God who loves us without bounds.

We’re coming to the end of our second year together. For me it has been an amazing and life-changing walk. Both God and you have taught me much. And in the next several months we will decide whether this provost period should change into a relationship as dean. We will be deciding if this is the right match not so much for what we’ve done already but for path Christ lays out before us. As I do my part of that discernment, I’ve realized the most important thing is for me to continue to be as clear as possible about what I see God’s call to us is and the tasks before us are. And from that we’ll figure out if we’re meant to walk together some more.

I hope you’ve always experienced me as someone who has been loving, honest and straightforward with you. Anything less is not worthy of us as the Body of Christ. I hope in this report you have heard me clearly that the road ahead of us is incredibly challenging, because it is. I also hope in this report you have heard that looking around at how far we have come so far and where we are headed I am filled with incredible hope and hope you are, too. But most of all I hope this morning you have heard that the commitment on which all of this depends is our commitment to be centered in Christ and sent by Christ. To believe we are the beloved community. That every one of you is beloved by God and given the joyful opportunity to love those whom God loves, both in here and out there. And to trust that if we put our trust in Christ there is no darkness that can overcome us, no story that cannot be told, no wound that cannot be healed and no joy that cannot be reached.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 17, 2011
“Look, here is the Lamb of God!”

This is an interesting scene in John’s gospel. This first chapter of John is about declaring who Jesus is and then Jesus assembling his team, if you will. It starts out, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God…’ but then quickly goes into the story of John the Baptist. Our gospel reading today starts at verse 29 but in verse 19, just before, John is being interrogated by priests and Levites from Jerusalem who ask him who he is. They want to know if he is the Messiah, Elijah, or a prophet. He responds, ‘no that is not me, I am just pointing the way.’ John was a herald in fact. So verse 29 begins, ‘The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”’ This is Him, The One. Not me. Him.

The Lamb of God. There are a lot of names for Jesus. Handel’s Messiah, which we heard just a few weeks ago, summarizes those names well, ‘wonderful, counselor, mighty God, the Prince of Peace.’ Also Emmanuel meaning God is with us. But Lamb of God is a popular epithet for Jesus. Many of our symbols in the Church, much art, and writings portray Jesus as the Lamb of God.

That is very apt, as lambs are soft, gentle, trusting, nonaggressive, and nonviolent. Young children are like that, gentle, trusting, nonaggressive, and nonviolent. It is when children grow up that the less desirable qualities come to the fore. Scientifically the rudimentary part of our brains, which we share with the reptiles and lower animals, are wired for survival. Feeding, fighting, fleeing, and reproduction are basic instincts bequeathed to us by the reptiles and rooted in the base of the brain, the hypothalamus. The ‘all about me’, the survival part of the brain. But that is a very small part of our brain. The neocortex, most of the space of our brain, is about higher cognitive function, reasoning, and emotion. We are wired for this fight or flight response to assure our survival. But we are also wired for compassion and love and thoughtful subjugation of our basic survival impulses. Yet these two tendencies, for survival and compassion exist in tension.

This has been a very difficult week in our country. An assassination attempt on a member of Congress, Gabrielle Giffords, the murder of six individuals including a federal judge, and the wounding of thirteen others in Tucson last Saturday has dominated the news. And much of the media discourse, of which there has been a tremendous amount, has been about the polarization of our society and the meanness of our politics today. The right wing media and Sarah Palin, the vitriolic diatribes on talk television and radio have been blamed for fostering an attitude in society that is responsible for such heinous acts as the Tucson shootings. And there are now calls for a softening of our approach to each other. As I was driving to the Cathedral this morning I heard letters to the editor on NPR. Someone said, ‘People on both the left and the right are saying outrageous things. Name calling doesn’t help.’ Yes, the meanness is on both the left and the right. And name calling doesn’t help.

There was a piece on CNN a couple of days ago where they showed the seating in Congress and described how the Democrats always sit on one side and the Republicans always sit on the other side. Across the aisle. They are divided. There is a rapidly growing movement for the members of Congress to mix up the seating, abandon the traditional seating and all sit intermixed, Democrats and Republicans next to each other during the State of the Union address next week. It’s about time for compassion to resurface there, and among us.

We live in a difficult and dangerous world: passions are inflamed around the globe, there is an imbalance of wealth, an imbalance of power, terrorism abounds, the Arab/Israeli conflict, Christian/Muslim tension, India/Pakistan, North Korea/South Korea, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative. And we can be mean one to another unintentionally in the course of our daily lives.

A recent book out, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, by Karen Armstrong gives a recipe for living a more compassionate life. In the first chapter she writes, “One of the chief tasks of our time must surely be to build a more global community in which all peoples can live together in mutual respect; yet religion, which should be making a major contribution, is seen as part of the problem. All faiths insist that compassion is the test of true spirituality and that it brings us into relation with the transcendence we call God, Brahman, Nirvana, or Dao. Each has formulated its own version of what is sometimes call the Golden Rule, ‘Do not treat others as you would not like them to treat you’ or in its positive form, ‘Always treat others as you would wish to be treated yourself.’ Further, they all insist that you cannot confine your benevolence to your own group; you must have concern for everybody – even your enemies.”

She goes on to write, ‘In a world where small groups will increasingly have powers of destruction hitherto confined to the nation-state, it has become imperative to apply the Golden Rule globally, ensuring that all peoples are treated as we would wish to be treated ourselves. If our religious and ethical traditions fail to address this challenge, they will fail the test of our time.’ Her book has twelve chapters on living the compassionate life.

You can read her book and gain insight into living today. But you can also read our book, the Bible, and gain much insight from our teacher, Jesus, the Lamb of God. Jesus, in his life and actions, shows us time and again the way to be compassionate. Turn the other cheek he says, forgive your brother or sister not seven times but seven times seventy, let the one without sin cast the first stone. And He gave us instructive parables: the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the Prodigal Son, as well as the admonition ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’

Making a difference in the world involves living a compassionate life and it all begins right here…with you and me. Fostering a culture of compassion and nonviolence. There is a bumper sticker that reads ‘Think globally, act locally’. It begins right here with each and every one of us. Mahatma Gandhi said that we must ourselves become the change that we wish to see in the world. The fight or flight part of our brain is in conflict with the compassionate rational and emotive part of our brain. It is our challenge to live into compassionate lives as Jesus the Christ dramatically showed us, and as all other faith traditions promote.

It starts with overcoming the idea of ‘other’. We are all we. It is not liberals and conservatives, democrats and republicans, black and white, gay and straight, South county and North county, city and county St. Louis, eight o’clockers and 1115’ers. We are all children of God. Perhaps we should erase all labels! We are all we.

In her wonderful book Uncommon Gratitude – Alleluia for All That Is Joan Chittister talks about having been in Russia, then the Soviet Union during the height of the Cold War and the feeling of ‘otherness’ that she experienced officially. Yet the people were always individually warm to her as a foreigner. She then laments that the Cold War is over but the enemies have changed, “Russia, we have decided, is no longer our enemy. We have uncocked our missiles and torn up our propaganda pieces and turned our sites on other ‘others.’ Now more likely targets. Now more sustainable enemies. Now more politically advantageous opponents. Now we find ‘other’ in men, in women, in gays, in Arabs, in liberals, in conservatives…We look for differences and call them ‘bad’ rather than simply ‘different.’ But ‘otherness’ is an alleluia gift of great measure that takes us out of ourselves, beyond ourselves, into the best of ourselves. Being open to the ‘other’ expands our vision of the world…The ‘other’ is the one who teaches us that we are not the whole world. We are only a piece of it waiting for the ‘Other’ to make us more than we were when we began. Alleluia.”

We can get rid of the labels and not be black or white or conservative or Arab or Jew, but life would be pretty monotonous. Or we can celebrate our differences and say alleluia that such diversity exists. It is said that America is no longer a melting pot but rather now a salad bowl. What a great analogy. We need the lettuce and the carrots and the radishes and onions and peppers and dressing and crouton. We need all the parts. But we must exist in harmony and treat each individual with compassion and respect. We don’t blend it into a slaw or a soup. All the parts recognizable. Remember that in our Baptismal Covenant we promise to respect the dignity of every human being. Every. So we either need to get over the idea of ‘other’ or respect it.

And after we overcome the idea of ‘other’ we are to continue with guarding our behavior from mean and violent words and actions, even those we do so habitually without thought – our survival part of our brain struggling with the compassionate major portion of our brain. My work as a physician here the past twenty-five years has been mostly in the SSM Healthcare system. Based on the values of the nuns that run the healthcare system, they have a strong commitment to avoiding the use of violent language and to using inclusive language. In meetings when we discuss strategy we do not use terms like clobber the competition, beat them up, massacre. We don’t have targets but rather audiences or objectives. Power point presentations do not have bullet points but rather dot points. It is amazing how often we have to correct ourselves for using violent language, but also amazing how easy it is to find alternative wording. Just Friday an executive said in a meeting with me, ‘It is time for us to pull the trigger on this decision…’ He immediately stopped, apologized, and said, ‘We have to make a timely decision here.’

Tolerance of differences, compassion for others, and gentleness in our dealings. What a way to live. May we be so worthy. We have great examples of leaders who remind us of tolerance and compassion. Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day. Thankfully now a national holiday when we celebrate a great leader who advocated nonviolence and helped us get better in our thinking of ‘otherness’. We are all one. Race relations in this country and South Africa for example have come a long way, but still have a very long way to go. Getting over our ‘otherness’ is very much Christian, and in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Another great example was Jesus, the Lamb of God. Gentle and kind though still demanding. We are to follow his example and be gentle and tender one with another. When we raise our voice at someone, are demeaning to another, cast aspersions or make ugly comments about someone we are not living the compassionate life. When we are condescending or self-righteous we are less than Jesus models for us. Remember that on the night he was betrayed, when they came for him in the garden a guard’s ear was sliced off. And Jesus fully well knowing that he was going to be crucified, healed the guard’s ear. That’s compassion.

Yes becoming a compassionate human being is a project, a process, a lifelong project. And takes work. But it begins with a daily effort and how we talk to one another. Martin Luther King called for nonviolence along with action and reflection, as did Gandhi and others. Congress is planning to sit with Republicans and Democrats next to one another rather than across the aisle.

We must learn how to talk to one another, not over one another or down to one another, but to each other, civilly. May we as the Church lead the country. May we as individuals lead the Church and the community. It begins with us in our daily encounters – compassion, nonviolence and respect for the dignity of every human being. Every. No exceptions. Every.

And when we live that way they will say, ‘Look Here is Lamb of God!’ Thanks be to God.


Monday, January 10, 2011

"You are my beloved" -- A sermon for the feast of the Baptism of Our Lord

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

And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”

You are God’s beloved.

You are God's beloved.

What is it like to hear that? Is it wonderful? Is it terrifying? Is it both and neither and all sorts of other things. What’s it like to hear it?

Ed, you are God’s beloved.

Rick, you are God's beloved.

Huldah, you are God's beloved

You are God’s beloved.

That word “beloved" means every inch of what it sounds like. In Greek it is, “agapetos” which means “loved with agape” – loved with a love that is deep, active, self-sacrificing and absolutely unconditional. This is a love that doesn’t have to be earned. This is a deep love that just is.

Maybe love was like this for us once, but for most of us, it’s not what our experience of love is. Most of us have learned to believe we have to earn love – from God, from each other and from the world. But that’s not what being God’s beloved means – it’s about being loved unconditionally and without having to earn it.

This kind of love is especially hard to believe in the church because the church has for centuries taught the opposite. Be good .... and you’ll get to go to heaven. We’ve turned our relationship with God into an economic transaction to go along with all the other economic transactions in our lives. But that’s not what the Gospel says. The Gospel tells us that God’s relationship with us is the most unbalanced, unfair economic transaction of all time.

Because here are the terms. God gives us life and unconditional love. We are told to give God – nothing.

That’s right, nothing is demanded of us before or after in return. There is nothing we can do that will cause God to stop loving us. Nothing will cause that love to be taken away. Instead we get an invitation, one that we are free to embrace or ignore. God invites us just to trust in the gift, to trust in the active, unconditional love God has for each one of us. Just to trust in it. That’s all.

Now that sounds great, but of course it’s not that easy. And the problem isn’t God, it’s us. If you’re like me, hearing God say “you are my beloved” … well, it’s the ultimate approach/avoidance situation. There is nothing I crave more than being loved that deeply and unconditionally. But there is also nothing that is harder for me to trust than that I am that lovable, that that kind of love is out there for me just because I am and not because of anything I do.

In fact trusting that love is so hard, we can’t do it alone. God’s unconditional love for us is so hard for us to trust that we need each other to remind us of it and to help us trust it. And that’s what the church is supposed to be. That’s who we are supposed to be.

We call ourselves The Body of Christ. And what that means is we are the Beloved Community. That just as God looked at Jesus and said, “This is my beloved,” God looks at each and all of us and says the same thing.

So if we’re the Beloved Community, what does that mean? Well, let’s start off with what it doesn’t mean. It doesn’t mean that God loves Christians best. This isn’t some cosmic Smothers Brothers routine. God’s agape, God’s unconditional love starts for everyone in creation, not just for Christians with baptism.

But our baptism, just like Jesus' baptism, does mean something. What being baptized into the Beloved Community means is that we are part of a community who does what Jesus did that day at the Jordan – who hears the voice that says “You are my beloved.” Who hears that voice and who trusts that God is talking about each of us, all of us, and the whole world.

So let’s take just that first one. Being part of the Beloved Community is hearing that voice speaking to us. Let’s try that one out. Find someone near you. Pair up and turn to each other. Has everybody got someone? If you’ve got to get up and find someone, get up. If youve got to do a threesome make it work out.

Now look in each other’s eyes and say “You are God’s beloved.”

Do it again. “You are God’s beloved.” One more time. “You are God’s beloved.”

"You are God's beloved"

Now again, if you’re like me, part of you is ready to weep for joy and part of you is saying “Yeah, right.” But let’s just try to trust in that voice for a minute. Try to trust just for a minute that you are God’s beloved.

If you trust that you are God’s beloved. If you trust that the most powerful being in the universe loves you without bounds, without merit and that love will never go away, then there is nothing that can be taken away from you that matters. That means there is no reason for you to fear anything. There is nothing that need hold you back. Life itself can be taken from you and it won’t matter if you trust that you are now and always God’s beloved.

So that’s the first thing we are about as this Beloved Community… about helping each other trust that we are God’s beloved. Now here’s the second thing. The second thing we are about is remembering that not only am I God’s beloved but that everyone else in this beloved community is, too.

Being a Beloved Community means looking around this room and looking one another in the eyes and not just hearing those words for ourselves but saying

…are you black or are you white? You are God’s beloved.

…are you homosexual, heterosexual or bisexual? You are God’s beloved.

…are you Republican or Democrat? You are God’s beloved.

…are you rich or poor? You are God’s beloved.

…are you young or old? Employed or unemployed. Married, partnered, single, divorced, widowed? You are God’s beloved.

Being a Christ-centered community, being this beloved community means we not only see ourselves as Christ sees us – as beloved by God – but that we see each other as beloved by God as well. It means that the first thing we think of when we see each other, when we hear each other, when we talk to each other, when we email each other is: "Wow, I am seeing, I am hearing, I am speaking to, I am emailing, I am texting … a beloved child of God."

It’s envisioning that each one of us has a tattoo on our forehead “Jerry … beloved of God.” "Rick … beloved of God.” “Fred … beloved of God” And remembering to treat each other with that same love, not because we are earning points to heaven by being nice, but because when we look at each other and see before anything else someone beloved by God just like we are, it is our greatest joy to remind them they are so loved and to be a part of God loving them, too.

So the first thing we’re about is remembering that we are beloved by God. The second thing is to remember that everyone else in this community is beloved by God. The third thing we’re about is to remember the whole world is beloved by God.

What we don’t hear in this reading is what happens next to Jesus. We’ll get that reading in Lent, but let’s take a sneak peek. Does anybody know? Yes. The same spirit that called Jesus beloved, sent him out into the wilderness. Now let me tell you a little about the wilderness. The wilderness is not Jellystone Park. The wilderness is a dangerous place. Things can eat you in the wilderness. But that’s where Christ gets sent. And that’s where the Christ-centered church, that’s where the beloved community gets sent. And we get sent because even though the wilderness is scary, if we believe we are God’s beloved, we can live without fear. We get sent there because the wilderness is where God’s beloved are, too.

As we gather right now, a half a world away, people are voting on a referendum on independence in Southern Sudan. It’s a vote that may lead to a dangerous place getting even more dangerous. And in the months to come, we must continue to support them not only with our prayers but with our presence. Why? Because we are the beloved community. And meeting God’s beloved in the wilderness is what we do.

Last year, nearly 150 people met violent deaths in St. Louis City, the vast majority of them were black males and most were under age 35. We have to be out in the streets bringing an end to the violence. Why? Because we are the beloved community. And meeting God’s beloved in the wilderness is what we do.

Number 1: We are beloved by God.

Number 2: Everyone else in this community is beloved by God.

Number 3: We are sent into a world that is beloved by God.

People ask me what my vision for this Cathedral congregation is. Well this is it. It’s not flashy. It’s really pretty simple. It’s being Christ-centered and Christ-sent. It’s being the Beloved community.

It’s us being a people who through prayer and study listen to God’s voice saying “You are my beloved” and who every day grow a little less fearful and a little more trusting that it is true.

It’s being a people who look at each other and see before anything else someone whom God adores. Who every day try a little bit harder to be a part of God adoring every one of us.

It’s being a people who embrace being sent as God’s beloved into the wilderness. Who every day step out a little more into the world without fear not because it happens to agree with our political agenda, but because as God’s beloved we are sent to stand with and pray with and love God’s beloved in the wildernesses of our city and our world.

It’s being who I believe God dreams for us to be. A people who hear and trust and are sent by a voice from heaven. A voice that says You are My Beloved, in whom I am well pleased. A voice that is hard for us to hear and even harder for us to trust. A voice that will be our life and set us free. AMEN

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Candidates for Diocesan Convention Delegate

The following people have offered themselves for election as Christ Church Cathedral delegates to diocesan convention. The election will be held at the annual meeting after a 10 am service on Sunday, January 23. Please keep all the candidates in your prayers. 
Hulda C. Blamoville, MD; MPH; MBA
Dr. Blamoville has been a member of Christ Church Cathedral for more than 30 years. She was baptized, confirmed and married in the Anglican-Episcopal Church. She is married (39 years) and has two children and one granddaughter. She has served as an acolyte, Sunday School teacher, vestry member, greeter, usher, committee member and chair in three different states and three different continents in the Anglican Communion.

Dr. Blamoville was a medical missionary in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Zaire. She was called “Nangabuka” by the people of Zaire because she chose to fly a small WWII plane for her medical visits.

Dr. Blamoville is presently connected with St. Louis Children’s Hospital, Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Cardinal Glennon Hospital, and has her clinic “Our Children’s Clinic” in North St. Louis. She also has faculty status with Washington University. She has served on several boards dealing with the well-being of children, and is a delegate to the National Medical Association. She volunteers in the St. Louis and Wellston school systems mentoring and tutoring.

She says things she will always remember are:
1)   meeting two presidents: John Kennedy and Barack Obama
2)   being detained in Nairobi, Kenya Airport (they thought she was Angela Davis)
3)   meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL
4)   being asked to leave Christ Church Cathedral with her two young children, because they were too restless.

Ron Freiwald
Mr. Freiwald started attending Christ Church Cathedral in 1994 and was confirmed in February 1995.  Since that time Ron has been an usher, lector and a member of several committees.  He served a term on Chapter 2001-2004, led several adult education bible studies and am currently part of the Adult Education Committee.

Outside of CCC, Mr. Friewald is on the faculty in the Mathematics Department at Washington University.  In addition to teaching, he does a lot of administrative work coordinating the department’s undergraduate program and relationships with math majors and minors.

Mr. Freiwald served a term as a Convention delegate five years ago.  Apart from attending the Diocesan Convention, he found that the quarterly meetings of delegates from our Metro (a regional grouping of nearby churches in the diocese) to be a useful way to learn what was going on in other congregations and build bridges. He is willing to serve again as a delegate if elected.

Michael W. Reiser
Mr. Reiser was introduced to the Cathedral by a friend in 1990, started attending regularly, and was confirmed in 1992. Many of his closest friends are people that he has met here.

Michael has a MBA in marketing and finance from Southern Methodist University and a BS from Truman State University. He feels that he has a strong gift of compassion, integrity and community. He lives his life trying to recognize, and be open to, the will of God. He shares his faith, and the wonderful healing and strength that he receives as a member of Christ Church Cathedral.

He is currently a member of the Standing Committee, and has served on the Cathedral Chapter and as a Convention Delegate. During the past three conventions, he has worked with the diocesan staff as the Convention Coordinator.

The results of the past few years have made Michael realize that there is a work to be done, which requires cooperation and education of people at the local, diocesan and national levels. He loves his church and wants to work with other members of the diocese by representing the community values and outreach that he sees represented here.

Candidates for Cathedral Chapter

The following have offered themselves as candidates for a three year term on Cathedral Chapter. Four from this slate will be elected at the annual meeting after a 10 am liturgy on Sunday, January 23.  Please keep all the candidates in your prayers.

Mr. Thomas K. Edelmann
Mr. Edelmann has an A.B. from Fordham University and a J.D. from Washington University. He is a member of the Missouri Bar, the Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, the St. Louis County Law Library, the American Bar Association and the Estate Planning Council of St. Louis.

Mr. Edelmann has been a member of the Boards of Directors of Nerinx Hall High School, Doorways, Grace Hill Settlement House and Care and Counseling. He has served on or chaired planned giving committees for the Arthritis Foundation of Eastern Missouri, the St. Louis Symphony Society, the St. Louis Effort for AIDS, St. Louis Children’s Hospital, and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, as well as the endowment council of the St. Louis Art Museum.

Mr. Edelmann is a member of Christ Church Cathedral, and he has been a member of Cathedral Chapter for three different terms. He has served as junior warden once and senior warden twice.

Mr. Gabriel A. Johnson

Mr. Johnson was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo (then the Belgian Congo), where his father was working as an Accountant with a Belgian Import/Export firm. In 1961, his family returned to Freetown, Sierra Leone when war broke out in the Congo.  He had both my primary and secondary education in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and after graduating from Secondary School (High School), worked in the Civil Service for 3 years, as a Field Auditing Assistant in the Office of the Auditor General, whilst pursuing a diploma course in Book-keeping and Business Management from Jersey, England. He was awarded a diploma on completion of the course.

Mr. Johnson later joined Standard Chartered Bank (Sierra Leone) Ltd. as an Accounting Assistant, gained working experience in several of the Bank’s branches ending up as a Senior Accounting Assistant in the Bank’s Head Office Accounts Department, in charge of compiling and tracking the various branches monthly performance, and preparing monthly and quarterly balance sheets.

Mr. Johnson traveled to the US in February, 1990, at the beginning of the civil war, for further studies. His wife Letitia, joined him the following year, and they have been living here since. They have been married for 24 years; have two daughters, one in Laurel, MD with her family and the other in London, UK working on completing her ACCA (the British equivalent of the CPA).

Mr. Johnson has a B.A. in business administration from Lindenwood University and is currently in a training program for Electronic Health Records (EHR) administered by the DHHS that would lead to certification in Health Information Technology.

Dr. Robert Kamkwalala

Robert Kamkwalala is a professor of Finance and Business Administration at Harris-Stowe State University. He received his doctorate in management and master’s in finance from Webster University. He is an alumnus of Harris-Stowe State University where he received his bachelor’s degree in business administration with honors.

Dr. Kamkwalala has received several awards, most notably the “2007, Yes I Can Award” by the City of St. Louis, and the “2008 Best Teacher Award” by Collegiate 100.

His academic and research interests include organizational effectiveness, organizational behavior and organizational development.

In his free time, Professor Kamkwalala spends time with this children, Rebecca and Robert, Jr.

Ms. Leah Montre

Ms. Montre has attended Christ Church Cathedral since she was 13 and says the thing that has always brought her back was the people and their enthusiasm for encouraging spiritual development. Whether it is the children’s Sunday School Program, special speakers and performances, new worship styles, the congregation commits to any new change we face.

In college, Leah took a lot of religion classes to try and understand her faith. One thing that particularly stood out for her was that as life changes and the world changes, faith and the soul’s need for spirituality does not. She believes that spirituality can come in many forms and her goal as a member of chapter will be facilitate these changes will focusing on what makes the Cathedral a welcoming place for people of all backgrounds. Leah would like to expand our social mission in the community and get the entire congregation more involved in social justice.

Leah feels she would be a great asset to Chapter because of my flexibility, youth, and commitment to diversity. She says she welcomes adversity and is able to examine any new development from all sides and try and find the best compromise. As a younger member of the congregation she believes she could offer insight from a different perspective. She says growing up in Saint Louis has taught her to appreciate all sorts of people from all races, creeds, sexual orientation, etc. and believes making the Cathedral a place where everyone feels welcome would be a great accomplishment.

Mr. Donald W. Peel

Mr. Peel was born and raised in an American Baptist family in Alton, IL. He graduated from high school in 1949, and enlisted in the Air Force in 1950. In September, 1954, he entered SIUC, and graduated with a BME in 1958. He received his MME in 1964. He has served his community teaching elementary band. He has played French horn in the Evansville, IN Symphony, and served as secretary, vice president and president. He also has served on the IEA State Board. 

Mr. Peel has been married for 52 years to Carol, and has a son and a daughter. In January, 1993, they moved to Belleville to be closer to their grandchildren. On Easter, 2009, they became members of Christ Church Cathedral. They both feel that the Lord led them here.

Mr. Bob Schleipman

Bob was baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Diocese of New York. He served in the U.S. Air Force from 1952-1974, retiring as a master sergeant. He was a civilian employee of the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department from 1975-1993.

Mr. Schleipman has served as an acolyte and lector in many Episcopal churches. During his time at Christ Church Cathedral, he has served on the Chapter from 1985-1988 and was junior warden in 1987. He has also been a member of the Cathedral’s stewardship committee, and currently serves on the Evangelism Team, as a volunteer garden worker and as a member of the Wednesday morning Bible Study Group. Previously, Mr. Schleipman worked as a volunteer at the Club Cathedral daily breakfast for the homeless. He and his wife, Helen, have been married 56 years and have four children and nine grandchildren.

Ms. Celeste M. Smith

Ms. Smith is a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). She is married to Tom Boyle, and they are raising a three-year-old daughter, Rose Marie Boyle.

They joined the Cathedral in September, 2009, and have fallen in love with the community, the building and the ministry. She has become a regular attendee of the Adult Forums on Sunday mornings. She has volunteered with the Cathedral Life Committee and is chair of the Community Ministry Committee.

If elected to Chapter, she will be committed to our tradition of service, our stewardship of resources, and our movement toward a vibrant future. 

Dr. Timothy William Smith

Tim grew up in the Episcopal Church. It began with St. Francis, then Holy Trinity in Greensboro, NC. and served as an acolyte through much of his school years. He went to a Methodist university (Duke) for college and medical school, where there was a small but active Episcopal Campus group.  Between college and med school, he spent three years at another Christ Church, in England, for graduate school.   He loved that cathedral, its ritual and its music, and served as an acolyte there, too.  In Boston for several years of post-medical school training, his attended Trinity Church with his wife, Miriam, where their older daughter Olivia was baptized.

After moving to Boston, it was some time before the Smith’s picked a parish, but eventually, Christ Church was the overwhelming choice.  They were drawn as much by the music as the community.  Mr. Smith served as a lector  (and as a spouse of a J2A teacher!).  Katherine, their second child, was baptized here.  The Smith family attends both the 11:15 and 9:00 services, and doesn’t believe they have to be locked into one service.

Mr. Smith is a cardiac electrophysiologist (he studies and treats the heart rhythm) on the faculty of the Washington University medical school.  The Smiths love travel when they can and he is a dedicated music lover.

Mr. Smith is eager and willing to serve the Cathedral in any way he can.  

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Take care of the poor, and don't be a jerk!

The Christmas Cards, and Creche’s picture a full scene. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, sheep , camels, oxen, cows, some have elephants, turtles. And something unusual. The Magi. The magician or wise men from the East. Now Matthew is the only gospel that has the Wise Men in the story. The only one? Did the other three just decide it wasn’t that important? Or was it written for a certain audience a certain purpose. It is said that Matthew was written to an audience who was familiar with the scripture of the Old Testament. It was written for the Jewish population at the time.

And this story of the Wise men is shared to show that EVEN THE GENTILES RECOGNIZE JESUS AS THE MESSIAH. These wise men, these gentiles, Who follow a Star to Jerusalem, to find a child they do not know. Of a faith they do not hold. It is proposed by some that these Wise men, are seers from Babylon, who were part of the sect that learned of the Messiah from the Prophet Daniel while Israel was in exile in Babylon

There are of course speculations, and wild stories of what the Star was, an alignment of planets, a comet, a super nova, even a flying saucer. But the basic truth is that these learned wise men from the east, interpreted the appearance of a star that a king was to be born in Judah. And they decided to travel to acknowledge this happening. So what is unusual about them being in the Manger scene for us is that they didn’t appear then. We like to think that they were there with the Shepherds on that night, but that’s not what the gospel says.

You see I think that the Star appears at the birth of Jesus, and then it goes away. That is until the Magi finally set out from Jerusalem to go to Bethlehem. “…and there ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at it’s rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was”
They offer their gifts, and then when warned in a dream they leave for their country, by another road, not returning to Herod.

What happened to the Magi, afterwards?

If these magi, returned after paying homage to Jesus, it seems that they did nothing to truly spread, the word that the messiah was born. Perhaps even though they arrived to pay homage to a new king of Israel, they didn’t truly understand what Messiah means? Their interpretation was that this was simply another king.
In his book “Lamb: the gospel according to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal” Author Christopher Moore, reintroduces the magi who visited Bethlehem upon Jesus’ birth. Making use of what happened to Jesuus’ during his teenage years, and his proposed, travels in the East, Moore has Jesus and Biff visit a monastery in modern day Afghanistan to learn the secrets of the Tao from Balthezar, continue to China where they learn the ways of the Buddha from Gaspar and finally journey to India to learn Hindu mysticism from Melchoir. Along the way, Jesus learns these Eastern philosophies he will bring back to his homeland to use in his ministry. He will also have his first cup of coffee, and his first taste of bacon!

Over the course of the novel, Moore reveals the minor secrets of Jesus’ ministry (how and why he walked on water) as well as the major ones (what the H. stands for in Jesus H. Christ (it stands for Hallowed. You know.. “hallowed be your name”)
It is hilarious, fiction but it does offer a bit more about the Magi, and what their purpose could have been in visiting Jesus.

I like to think that the Magi had some other contribution to the story something to have given here, other than to get Herod all worked up, to slaughter the innocents.

That to me is most disturbing is that this new king who was born, and announced to the authorities, by the magi, brought FEAR.

Fear to Herod, and according to Matthew, all of Jerusalem with him.

Why fear? What about a toddler is so fearful?

Loss of power. Loss of the Status Quo. Herod and the rest of the power authority in Jerusalem, must have known what the arrival of the Messiah must mean. Change. Change is coming to them and to the world they knew.

That seems to be the theme of Jesus’ life here. Jesus overturns authority, and teaches a new way. No longer are our lives dictated by laws and patronage from those in power. But we realize that we gain even great gifts from God, by doing those things that are not normal for the time. Heck it is not really normal for our time. The least shall be first. Love your neighbor as yourself, take care of the poor.

This is not what we are told to do in our lives, by this secular world.
Looking out for number one, a definite sense of egoism is among us. We measure our lives in what we have won for ourselves.
Certainly in our current elections mean-spiritedness rules the tv airwaves.
It’s like the ancient world is back among us. Charity is short. Favors and patronage is what seems to rule the day. Especially when we read about Political deals being wrought in order to secure continued unemployment benefits, or continued middle class tax cuts. It’s like the Herod’s are back. You do me a favor and I’ll do one for you. No one seems to be looking out for the common good. We need to remember the lessons that the birth of Christ teaches us. That Christ comes into the world to change the world. The world and all of creation are transformed.
How we normally go about things is not the way God’s wants us to be.
We need to be nicer to each other. To be nicer to those around us. Start seeing the poor among us. There are more than you realize, in this downward economy.

We are not to work for rewards here, on earth, to do those things that bring us recognition and fame. We are only to do those things that glorify god. How are we to know what that is?

It has been summed up by many people, and it comes down to this. Take care of the poor and don’t be a jerk.

It is time to use our gifts to love, heal, bless, evangelize, and share his words and his reality with new people each week. Go. Feed the hungry and comfort the hurting. Where is your heart drawn to help others, renew love, and make Jesus real to people? Is your heart drawn to making miracles happen, blessing others, teaching, supporting your church and its people? What gifts do you have to offer? What gifts do you want for the journey of sharing your witness and Christ’s love, words, and reality? Pray for those gifts. It is time. This new year begins a time of a greater commitment to Jesus and the journey of faith. It will take humility. Look to Mary. It will take courage. Look to Joseph. It will take faith and love. Look to Jesus.