Sunday, August 28, 2011

"Sacred Ground" - a sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 28, 2011  
How many of you have ever been to the Grand Canyon?

I grew up in Arizona, but it wasn’t until I was in third grade that I made it there. And I was with my Mom and my grandma. And I remember so vividly the first time I stepped up to the edge of the South Rim and looked down. I think for the first time I felt awe. (not “awwwww” but “AWE.”) Awe is that mix of deep beauty and fear. Awe is what happens when you are confronted with something real and deep and big.

Experiences of awe like standing on the rim of the Grand Canyon astound and scare us. They fill us with wonder and fear. When we step up to big deep places, we feel a connection with those big, deep places inside of us.

And we want to be quiet, but we’re uncomfortable enough with the awe that we’re actually a little relieved when a car comes up or someone tells a joke. It returns life back to our illusion of control.

If you were here Thursday night you might have met two amazing women named Sheila and Katrina, who came with Becca Stevens from Nashville. They are graduates of the Magdalene program, and amazing series of communities that save the lives of women who have deep histories of abuse, prostitution, drug addiction and violence. The communities are the way God does the healing. And if you were here for the Making Disciples conference yesterday in Schuyler Hall, you heard them tell their stories.

Sheila was six when the first of a series of her mother’s boyfriends and husbands began abusing her. By age 14 she had run away from home and was using drugs and selling herself on the street. And from that came the seemingly endless cycle of arrest, jail and being back out on the streets. And then she heard about the Magdalene program and at first it just seemed like a way to cut short some jail time but when she got there she realized – and it was so hard to believe it – that this was about deep love being for her, deep love that could lead her through the hard, hard work of healing. Deep love that could save her life.

I saw her tell this story in front of more than 100 people in Schuyler. With trembling voice and lots of “ums.” She was scared because it was her story and it was full of so many things that we shame each other for – sex, drug use, imprisonment, running away. Yet the people in the room were gifted with the grace to be willing to receive and see and hear. To not be the people who bring the boom box to the Grand Canyon. And because of that we sat transfixed, in awe.

We were in awe of Sheila’s courage to be that vulnerable.

We were in awe because her story was so real. And we realized the deep beauty in it. And that the stuff that we are most afraid of revealing – the stuff we look at ourselves and count as failure and cringe in shame and bury deep so no one else will see or hear of it. That stuff was the heart of the beauty. Because that stuff, our cries, is the heart of our deepest beauty – when we have the courage to share and when others have the grace to receive.

Isn’t it ironic that what we fear most is our deepest beauty? That we hide our deepest beauty. Isn’t it tragic that our world takes that stuff of our deepest humanity, our deepest wounds, the stuff that could be our deepest beauty and shames us for it, tells us to bury it deep, tells us to believe that because it’s there we are each less than beloved by God?

We were in awe because Sheila’s story was so real and it touched our deep, real stories that we hardly ever take out for a walk to get some air. And the tears we shed were not pity for another, they were the truest tears, when deep beauty and deep pain meet and we feel the presence of God and something in us says “It’s OK. It’s safe enough. You can let go and let it out for a second.”

And Schuyler Hall became sacred ground. Because it was there we met beauty and pain within and without. It was there we felt the power of God.

I love this morning’s story from Exodus. Because it is so deeply true.

The first thing we notice is that Moses doesn’t have to take some special pilgrimage to find God. God was right there where he was. He just had to turn aside and stop and notice.

The second thing we notice is why God is present. God is not on a sightseeing trip. God is present because where our pain is, God is. Listen again:

Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain."

Listen to the verbs:
-I have heard their cry.
-I know their sufferings
-I have come down to deliver them
-I will send you
-I will be with you.

I have heard, I know, I have come down, I will send, I will be with you. That is God’s eternal chorus to us. All the stuff we hide. All the stuff we’re told to be ashamed of. God looks at it and says that is where I will be. That is what I will heal. I have heard. I know. I have come down. I will send. I will be with you.

And then our response, our acknowledgment that we know God is present and that we want not to wallow in our pain but to let God heal and deliver us out of it, is that we will worship. The sign is we shall worship God on this mountain.

God’s presence is where the cry of the people is. Where the reality of life’s rubber hits the road. Where we bring all that stuff that keeps us up nights, that ties our stomachs in knots, that makes our shoulders sag, and our heart afraid. All of those things that we think “Oh, if they found out they wouldn’t like me. If they only knew, they wouldn’t let me be in a place like this or sit at table with them.” Where that is, God is, and it is holy.

The third thing we notice is how God tells Moses to receive God’s presence. Take off your shoes. God has to tell Moses this because often that’s not our first reaction when we see the presence of God. Our first reaction is often fear and uncomfortability. The presence of God is a fearful thing so our first reaction is often to avoid or to try to make it go away. Moses hid his face out of fear. We have to be reminded, when God’s presence emerges, when we see the burning bush, DON’T GRAB THE FIRE EXTINGUISHER and don’t run away. Stay right there, and listen, and behold, and take off our shoes and tread gently. And be with God in that space. Just be.

And then together, we can follow God as God does the healing.

I will deliver
I will send
I will be with you.

The elements, those amazing verbs of the Exodus story are the same verbs that Sheila used to describe her life.

-God heard her cry.
-God knew her sufferings
-God came down to delivered her from the streets
-God sent her into a new life
-God has been and always will be with her.

And the same is true for all of us. God meets us as we are but does not leave us as we are . There is no wallowing in pain in the Exodus. And there is no endless wallowing in pain for us. God didn’t come down and stay with the people in Egypt but led them on a hard journey of looking honestly at where they are and looking honestly at how they got there and then helping them chart a course and walking with them into a new and better land. As Sheila says, you’ve got to deal to heal. We’ve got to deal with where we are and how we got there if we’re going to let God get us to that new and better land. You’ve got to deal to heal.

And that means we have to let the fire burn openly and honestly and know that we will not be consumed. Know that even though none of us can heal ourselves and none of us can heal each other, that we have a God who hears and knows and delivers and sends and is always with us. And that is all we need .

And that place where God meets us. Where God is revealed in the midst of your pain and mine. That is the church. That is who we can be for each other. That is who we can be for the world, one life at a time. We can be the place in our lives where we let that deep beauty, that deep stuff inside that we fear, where we start to let it out. But the only way we can be that place is if we remember. If we remember that what the world counts as shameful, God looks on with compassion. And to take our shoes off as we walk on the most sacred ground in creation. The ground of each other’s stories. The ground of each other’s lives.

If we remember that we can’t fix each other but together we can look for the God who hears, knows, delivers, sends and is with us, knowing that God can heal anything.

If we remember that we are not destined to stay in Egypt but that we are destined for a new and better and promised land. And that the journey of healing and deliverance will be long and hard but that God will guide us there together if we will follow. And though we, like the people of Israel, will stumble and fall and complain and chase after other gods, God will always be with us an urge us on the way.

And this will be the sign of our life together. That we will gather here, together, in honesty and fear and beauty and awe. That we will gather here each Sunday on this mountain and worship.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

"Bad Moon Rising? Bring. It. On." -- A sermon for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 7, 2011  

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side… When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And the disciples turned to each other, and began to sing:

I see the bad moon arising.
I see trouble on the way.
I see earthquakes and lightnin'.
I see bad times today.

Don't go around tonight,
Well, it's bound to take your life,
There's a bad moon on the rise.

I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

All right!

Hope you got your things together.
Hope you are quite prepared to die.
Looks like we're in for nasty weather.
One eye is taken for an eye.

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Amen

It’s all we hear these days. There’s a bad moon rising. The hurricanes are blowing. The end is coming soon.

We see it everyday. Big bad numbers are everywhere – a $14 Trillion dollar national debt. Unemployment hovering around 10%. The Dow falls 500 points in one day.

And everyone is looking for the magic answer … and everyone is so sure that they and they alone have the silver bullet that can save the day. Cut spending. Raise taxes. Cut taxes. Raise spending. Keep pulling different levers and pushing different buttons until we find the magic formula that is going to make it all right, that will calm the sea again, that will make America the mythical land of overflowing prosperity once again.

It’s easy for us to get frustrated at the people in Washington, but we’re doing the same thing ourselves.

Here at Christ Church Cathedral, we’re looking at a $55,000 deficit. And as I sit with Kris Reppert and the finance committee and Grace and Anne and the Chapter I know I want to find that silver bullet, too. I want to find that magic formula that’s going to make it all right, that will take away our fear, that will return us to the mythical glory days of Christ Church Cathedral. Cut the budget, raise more pledge income. Increase spending to try to increase attendance. The temptation is for us to pull the exact same levers and push the exact same buttons here.

And it's the same thing for each one of us. Every year it feels like we’re trying not just to do more with less but even to just try to break even with less, right? And so we’re all looking for the magic formula. How do we get more money, and cut expenses. How do we make it balance out. Mostly, as we watch the news and as we watch our own bills pile up and as many of our jobs become more and more tenuous, we want someone to snap their fingers and make it all OK, help us believe we can be confident and unafraid, that our children and grandchildren will enjoy the mythical epic prosperity that the rest of the world looks to America and aspires to.

This bad moon has been rising for awhile. The storm has been brewing and it is now starting to whip up real good. Although some of us have been feeling those winds and waves a lot longer than others of us. But now there aren’t a lot of people left who aren’t looking at the dark sky and feeling nervous. Who aren’t feeling tossed by the waves and worrying if the ship is going to make it.

There’s a bad moon rising. And it’s been rising for awhile. Because here’s the truth. The truth is the math hasn’t worked for a long, long time. Here in America, we are 5% of the world’s population and we’re responsible for 30% of the world’s consumption of resources. You just can’t keep that up indefinitely. It’s only a matter of time before the bills start coming due.

The truth is, our American lifestyle is not sustainable economically, it’s not sustainable environmentally and it is not sustainable morally. And here’s the thing… There is no silver bullet. There is no magic combination of levers pulled and buttons pushed that is going to bring a new day of superabundant material prosperity. Not for our nation. Not for Christ Church Cathedral. Not for your household or mine.

And let me tell you, we don’t want to hear that. The last major American politician who tried to even start to tell us the truth about this was Jimmy Carter and every politician since saw what happened to him and has said, "I'm not trying that again!"

And so we elect leaders who tell us what we want to hear. That this superabundance of wealth is our birthright as Americans and that it will return again. That it is absolutely sustainable if we swallow whatever magic economic policy pill they happen to be offering. That it is “those other people” who are the problem – they’re the ones. They’re the flies in the ointment and if we could just get rid of them we could all live in the land of plenty once more.

Some use soaring rhetoric that lifts our hearts and many, many more demonize and divide and tempt us to cower in fear, but none of them are telling us the truth.

And the truth is that we are 5% of the world’s population and we’re responsible for 30% of the world’s consumption. You do the math. So, be my guest. Cut taxes. Raise taxes. Cut spending. Raise spending. Knock yourself out. Unless we address our own addiction to consuming, our own addiction to a lifestyle that is unsustainable on every level, in the long run, none of it is going to matter.

And, at first blush, that’s really scary. It’s scary because for most of us, this lifestyle is all we’ve ever known. It’s how we judge our own worth. Our success and failure. We can’t imagine living any way that’s significantly different. Not only do we not have any easy answers, we’re not even sure what questions we should be asking. We don’t even know where to begin.

And so the voices that tell us they have the magic answer are really tempting to listen to. The voices that urge us to care only for ourselves and to build high walls around our houses, our incomes and our savings accounts no matter how great the need is elsewhere ... those voices are so tempting to listen to. The voices that tell us to be afraid and run away and stick our heads in the sand are so tempting to listen to.

But there is another voice. A voice not only older than the storm but older than the very sea this storm is tossing. A voice that knows as fierce as this storm is, it cannot touch the power of God. A voice that sees the sky darken, the waves roll and the winds blow and says just three words.

Bring. It. On.

And that brings us to this morning’s Gospel.

This morning’s Gospel finds the disciples just like we are. In a boat in a storm.

Now for these disciples, it isn’t 2011. There’s no GPS to guide them or coast guard to bail them out. Jesus, the guy who put them on that boat and sent them on this journey, is off on a mountain somewhere praying. As far as they can tell, they are all on their own. Which means if that boat capsizes, they are done for. It’s all over.

And morning begins to break, and Jesus walks toward them on the water and all they can think is “People don’t walk on water” so they grasp for any explanation that makes even a little bit of sense and they settle on “it must be a ghost!” And that scares them all the more.

And what does Jesus say to them? Do you remember?

Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.

Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.

So let’s press pause there and recap.

Like us, the disciples are in a boat in a storm and they’re scared. That’s OK. That’s natural. Storms are scary. And even when they see Jesus coming, their first reaction is not to recognize him and to be even more afraid. That’s OK, too. That’s natural. That’s human. Our fear doesn’t make us bad people. It makes us human people. It’s what we DO in the face of fear that makes all the difference.

And here’s what Jesus doesn't do in the face of fear – in the face of theirs and in the face of ours. What Jesus doesn’t do is immediately calm the storm. He doesn’t say the magic word, pull the lever or push the button and make it all OK. Instead he just stops and stands there, stands there on the place they fear the most – in the middle of the storm itself and he calls out to us, as we clutch to the sides of the boat:

Take heart. It is I. Do not be afraid.

And then Peter has one of his moments of incredible inspiration. Peter devises the perfect test to see if this really is Jesus. Because Peter knows the Jesus that looked at the 5,000 and said “you give them something to eat” wouldn’t just stand there in the storm, he would say, nuh-uh-uh-uh-uh … you’re coming out here with me. Jesus doesn’t tell them don’t be afraid because he’s going to protect them or help them run away from the scary stuff. Jesus says "Bring. It. On." He tells them “don’t be afraid” and then charges right into the teeth of the scariest stuff there is.

So Peter says, “Jesus, if that’s really you, yeah ... OK ... Bring. It. On. Command me to come out onto the water with you.”

And you’ve gotta believe Jesus was smiling right then. Peter, my man, my rock, you get it. Bring it on. And so he commands him to get out of the boat and Peter delivers. Peter does what to anyone else watching seemed crazy. He got out of that boat and started walking on the water toward Jesus.

We tend to remember this more as a story of Peter’s failure. We remember him taking his eyes off Jesus and fearing and starting to sink. And that’s a real shame. Because this isn’t a story of failure. This is a story of the power of "bring it on." The story of someone who believed even for a second that we have the power to face any fear, to do what seems impossible. Sure he faltered and fell, but man, he got out of the boat. The man walked on water! He proved what we are capable of when we keep our eyes on Christ.

Jesus meets us where we are but if we turn our lives over to him, he will never leave us as we are. If we, like Peter, ask him to, he will always invite us to look into the storm and join him in that chorus of Bring. It. On. He will always invite us step out of the boat and join him right in the midst of the stormy sea. He will always invite us to charge together into the teeth of our fear – so that we can truly discover that we can walk on water. That we don’t need the safety of the boat. And that even though the storms are blowing all around us that we can take heart and not be afraid.

We all see the bad moon rising. And if all we do as a Cathedral and all we do as individual followers of Jesus in our own homes is play the game the way everyone else is, then we are missing a once in a generation opportunity to live the Gospel and proclaim it to a nation that needs to know there is a different and better way.

Right now our nation is running scared. You see it on Wall Street. You see it everywhere. But we see Jesus in the middle of the storm, so we can link arms and step out of the boat that everyone else is clinging to in fear. Step out and run toward him, right into the heart of the storm. Because we believe Jesus is both our destiny and the one who has our backs, we can feel the wind and waves swell around us and we can say with one voice:

Bring. It. On.

It means that while we’re looking at our own budget we get to set our eyes on Christ, to read scripture deeply, pray deeply and listen deeply for his voice on one another’s lips. We get to look for new ways to be not just the church but new ways to be Americans. Ways that look Jesus full in the face and invite him to command us out onto the water. Ways that invite him to challenge even our most deeply held assumptions of what we need not only to be Christ Church Cathedral but to be members of this American society. And as long as I am your dean, that is the path we will seek. It is not the path of the quick fix or the easy answer, but we don't want those paths. those paths are not worthy of us. Those paths aren't worthy of a people who can walk on water.

I tell my kids that courage isn’t being unafraid. Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway. Courage is looking at moments of fear not as moments of personal weakness but as moments of opportunity to reach down deep and find out who we are and whose we are.

Beloved, I have no magic words, silver bullets or miracle cures for us. All I have is our trust that this moment is here to teach us that we are images of God and we belong to Christ. And that walking on water ain’t no thing. I can’t tell you how to walk on water and maybe before we get iit down, we'll start to sink a hundred times and a hundred times have Jesus lift us up and put us back in the boat and shake his head and smile and say “when are you going to get this?” But we’re going to keep stepping out of that boat. We're going to keep heading into the storm. And we're going to find a new way of living for ourselves and for the world.

We see a bad moon rising?

Well, Alleluia.

Bring. It. On.