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.