Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 29, 2011
“In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me."
One of the most damaging things about extremists is they make us feel safe.
OK, that sounds weird, so let me say that again.
One of the most damaging things about extremists is they make us feel safe.
Here's what I mean. Take the Ku Klux Klan or the people from Westboro Baptist Church that picket and shout hateful things at funerals. We can look at them and say. “We would never do the things they do. We'd never burn a cross on someone's lawn or picket a funeral. In fact we'll be the first ones to stand up and say how awful those things are.” And because we're not like that, we can tell ourselves that we're not racist or prejudiced. They make us feel like, in comparison, our own prejudices are tame and acceptable. They make us feel safe and secure and OK with the idea of an acceptable level of prejudice.
The same thing with those Wall Street CEOs who are reaping big bonuses and buying their 5th and 6th homes while more and more people are slipping into poverty. We're not like that. Now secretly part of us might wish we were, but since we're not, we can look at them and feel like, in comparison, our own consumption is tame and acceptable. That even though the money I spent on an iPad could have sent 10 kids to school for a year in Ghana, I can feel safe and secure with how I am living.
And then there's that guy who predictably mispredicted the rapture and has now come out with his adjusted prediction for next October. How many of us laughed at and made jokes about him? And there were some pretty good ones out there. And we could make the jokes and laugh because we looked at those people and said, "well, we're not THAT." And in fact, if you're like me, as the jokes and ridicule really got going, and as they expanded from just joking about him and his followers to some people lumping all Christians in the same boat with him, maybe you had the itch to make sure people knew that we weren't one of "those kind" of Christians. You know, the crazy kind. We were the kind that were with those laughing at him, who were smarter than all that. We're the rational, measured kind of Christian.
You know, Episcopalians.
Except here's the thing. While the Klan and Wall Street CEOs and hedge fund managers make us feel safe with our own levels of prejudice and consumption, the crowd that was predicting the rapture and people like that herd us as Christians into a different but equally perilous place of safety. A place where because we can say "Well I'm not a Biblical literalist or a fundamentalist." Because we can say, "No way, I'm not one of these people who believes the world is just 6,000 years old and that God ‘hid the dinosaur bones to test our faith.’" Because we can look at an extreme and feel safe in telling ourselves and others what we're not, we more and more shy away from or even loudly disavow one simple, honest, and absolutely central fact of our faith – and that is this:
To a world that demands tangible proof and rationality. Our faith, our church, our very presence here this morning … is crazy.
It just is.
Any way we slice it, any way we try to rationalize it. Any way we try to dress it up – and believe me, theologians have been trying to do that for centuries. The center of our faith -- not even just that God exists but that God became human in Jesus Christ and that God is right here with us in real and powerful ways today through the Holy Spirit – to anyone who doesn’t see with eyes of faith, that looks not only unprovable but yeah, just really crazy. And what's nuttier still is we hear in the Gospel this morning that this is by design. Jesus says to his disciples, "in a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me." You are going to see something that the rest of the world will not be able to see. Something that could either be called revelation or hallucination, depending on where someone is standing. You will be challenged to be a people who say not only "we believe in all things seen" but "we believe in all things -- seen and unseen.”
For us, that's an invitation to be called what the disciples were called by just about everybody -- crazy. And living in a world that more and more values the rational and sees belief in anything else as superstitious and primitive, that puts us in a real bind. Because we really don’t want people to think we're crazy. Its not comfortable, its not fun and, frankly, we have a lot to lose. When people start thinking you’re crazy you can lose friends and family and respect and even your livelihood … and who wants that?
So we try not to talk about it. And we as Episcopalians have gotten really good at this stuff. We've gotten great at pointing out the extremists and with more than a little edge of superiority joining in the laughter at them… and all the while ignoring the fact that sure, even though we absolutely weren’t among those who believed the rapture was happening that frankly, the things we will stand and say in a minute after "We believe" in the creed aren't that far off from those folks in blowing the top off a completely rational world's weird-stuff-o-meter.
And so more and more, little by little, we've gotten really good at hedging our bets. More and more we focus not on the unprovable things we believe but on tangible things we can do. Things like feeding the poor and working for justice. Good things. Worthy things. Things we should be doing. But also things that are rationally defendable apart from faith. Things we can talk about and focus on without giving people an opening to call us completely Fruit Loops.
But the truth is that the heart of our faith – the reason behind why we do all these things, what makes us the church instead of just another do-gooding nonprofit… in the eyes of a world that demands evidence and rationality, the heart of what drives us the heart of our faith sounds absolutely crazy! And in our nervousness and fear as we more and more shrink away from the big crazy at the center, that big crazy that starts with "I believe in God" and "I believe in Jesus Christ, God's only Son, our Lord." The more and more we shrink away from that, the easier it is for us to rationalize away all the other little crazies that come from it. And soon our faith has become safe and acceptable and nothing that anyone would ever ridicule us for. And with it we have lost the very thing that makes us different. The very thing that makes us makes us the church of Christ. The very thing that makes there be any point to us existing at all.
Here's how it happens…
Take the story of the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus what he needed to do to get eternal life. Sure, Jesus' answer was "Sell all you have, give it to the poor and come and follow me." But smart people realize he didn't really mean that literally. If you look at things rationally, he couldn’t possibly have meant that. Everyone knows it was a metaphor! That's what rationalization and our fear of the crazy lets us say.
Except, no ... if we’re going to really be the church and not be just another safely acceptable do-gooding nonprofit, we have to say that it really wasn’t a metaphor. When we hear the story of the rich young ruler, the answer isn't "No, Jesus didn't really mean that." but “Yeah, Jesus really did mean that and the problem is it sounds crazy and it is so hard.” The answer is “yeah, we really are supposed to do that. But I just can’t bring myself to do it. God, I want to be that person who says yes, I will sell all I have and give it to the poor and follow you, but instead I really am the person going away sorrowful because I have many possessions ... and who will continue, by the way, to rule and be respected -- in the world of the rational.”
We shrink away from the big crazy at the center and all the other little crazies that come with it because we’re afraid of being called crazy but also because the things they call us to are so hard. Washing the world's feet … is hard. Standing in a public space and saying "We believe" and then saying a whole bunch of fantastic, unprovable things … is hard. Letting go and trusting our lives to a God we can't definitively scientifically prove even exists … is hard. And that's why Jesus, sitting with his disciples says, look, I can’t make it less hard, but I can promise you I won’t make you go it alone. That's why Jesus says, "I will not leave you an orphan." This is too hard for you by yourself. I will stay with you and I will gather you in a community where you can help each other and let me help you do this.
And if we are going to be worthy of being the church, if there is going to be a reason for us to be here beyond just providing some social and cultural services, we have to not only not be afraid of the crazy, we have to run to the crazy, celebrate the crazy. We have to live the crazy … and not expect anyone else to understand.
In January, your Chapter decided to take $120,000 of the bequest we got from Clarence and Zua Pope … that’s 10% of what was left after we used much of it to pay off our debts – to take it and dedicate it to outreach. This past Thursday, Chapter accepted the recommendations of a faithful, prayerful, hard-working group – Miriam Jorgensen, Tom Edelman, Thom Gross, Celeste Smith, Heidi Clark, Alice Stanley, Eli Anderson, and Robert Kamkwalala to take that $120,000 … and give it away.
That’s right. We’re going to just give it away. $120,000. And, yeah, we’re going to give it away to some amazing organizations who are going to do wonderful things with it. We’re giving it away to an Anglican Mission Hospital in Malawi where it will mean the difference between life and death for some of the world’s poorest people. We’re giving it away to The Bridge, Centenary United Methodist Church’s fantastic organization down the street that is one of the primary caregivers for our sisters and brothers living in poverty right on and even inside our front door. We’re giving it away to Doorways, an assisted living facility for people living with HIV/AIDS, to Places for People, which helps find housing and care for people with mental illness and to the LGBT Center of St. Louis and to the St. Louis Crisis Nursery and the Alzheimer’s Association of St. Louis and a group on the Pine Ridge reservation where our J2A group went last year and to the Treehouse Wildlife Center and Episcopal City Mission and Grace Hill and the school in our companion diocese of Lui in Sudan.
We’re taking $120,000 ,and we are giving it away. And there have been some who have said that’s crazy. Some have said it’s crazy to give $120,000 away when we’re facing a budget deficit ourselves. Some say it’s crazy to give $120,000 away and not hold some of it back when some opportunity for outreach might come up next week that we might love to have some of that money to fund.
And if you’re one of the people who think it’s crazy for us to give this money away, my only response to you is that you are absolutely right. You bet it’s crazy. It’s crazy to give away that much. It’s crazy to trust that much that God will provide for us if we give to others. If we see as the rest of the world sees, it makes no sense whatsoever. In a nation where storing up treasure on earth is virtue and insurance is a $2 trillion industry, giving away money while we are in deficit and just trusting that if a need comes God will provide is absolutely nuts.
But if all we are doing is seeing as the world sees, then we should close up shop anyway. We should take this beautiful building and give it to someone who can use it as a concert hall and we should just liquidate our assets and give them to the tornado victims in Joplin.
It is crazy to give this money away, but guess what? We are here to be crazy. It is our greatest joy to be crazy. To see what the world cannot see. To do strange, crazy, impossible things because “we believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth.” And we need to give this money away not so much for the great good it will do but for the sake of our own souls. Because it’s too easy for us to forsake our high calling and instead chase after the safety of the rationally defendable. Because it’s too easy for us to forget that what the world says is crazy – trusting in God and giving our lives away -- is actually what we’re supposed to be about.
Because our salvation lies not in being safe and acceptable or just one more do-gooding nonprofit, but in actually being the church. Because we're not supposed to be like everyone else and run from the crazy, but instead when people throw that label of crazy at our feet we will pick it up and wear it as a badge of honor.
So, in God’s name, what crazy thing can you do … today? AMEN.