Sunday, September 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ripple effects.

Nelson Mandela knew all about ripple effects.

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

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

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

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

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

Ripple effects.

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

It’s about ripple effects.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For two minutes, the bell tolled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep it up.

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

"Forgive, Forgive, Forgive" - A sermon for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at 8 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Sept. 11, 2011  

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.

This gospel reading today begins with Peter coming to Jesus and asking, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive?  Seven times?’  And Jesus answering ‘not seven but seventy-seven times!’  Wow! Are we really to be that forgiving?  That totally forgiving?

Today is the tenth anniversary of 9/11.  Every one of us here will remember where we were that day when we heard the report of a plane flying into the world trade center. Seeing the bodies falling from the twin towers.  Watching the video of the twin towers collapsing.  And the plane flying into the Pentagon. That day is emblazoned on our minds.  And will be for the rest of our lives.

Our world has seen a lot of change since that time.  Every report of a random shooting is followed by a question of ‘is it an act of terrorism?’ Suspicious packages are cordoned off and blown up.  White powders are suspected of being anthrax.  And of course there is the all too presence of security in our lives, whether it is entering the Cathedral here, a skyscraper business building, or passing through airport security.  Our world is different.

And actually, I suppose, that we are both the victims and the perpetrators of this nightmare.  We individually, we corporately, and we nationally, responded with anger and bile at the possibility that someone could attack us on our own soil and bring down two icons of American prowess, and change the skyline of our major city forever.  How could they do that to us?  How could that happen here?

And yes, we captured Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden.   And they are both dead.  We have our pound of flesh.  Our retribution.  But do we?  What has become of us in the process?  Are we any less angry?  Any more secure?  Any less tense?  Any more free?  Free from…?

Over three thousand people were killed on 9/11.  In the war since, in Iraq and Afghanistan over 919,000 people have been killed.  The majority of them civilians.  More people have died every month since 9/11, for ten years, than died on the one day of 9/11.  9/11 for us, the Madrid train bombings, the London subway bombings…  How do we react?  What do we do?

Jesus had a different approach.  Turn the other cheek he told us.  Forgive seventy seven times.  Wow!  What if we had done that?  There is a significant part of the world that probably still would hate us.  But perhaps not so many.  We would not have slaughtered so many innocent bystanders.  900,000 people dead.

In the Old Testament reading today from Exodus we have an account of God protecting the Israelites from the Egyptians as they crossed the Red Sea.  Many times God does protect groups and individuals.  And many times groups presume God’s protection, God’s being on their side, God’s authorship to substantiate their actions of aggression, war, and killing.  Think the Crusades, the driving of the Jews from Spain, modern day jihaad, the Arab-Israeli conflict.  How do we know if God is on our side?  In the Civil War, Abraham Lincoln was once asked if he thought God was on his side.  He responded that he didn’t know but he certainly hoped he was on God’s side.

In the New Testament reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans we he hear of people doing all kinds of actions on account of their faith, eating anything, eating only vegetables, not eating; observing the Sabbath on one day versus another.  And it ends advising us not to judge one another.  Someone’s actions done in earnest for the Lord may be just as valid as ours done in earnest.  Perhaps!  But it is not up to us to decide that.  Contemporaneously we may consider the 7th Day Adventist Church who admonish those of us who don’t worship on the seventh day, Saturday.   Or the Church of God who don’t use any musical instruments because of an islolated verse of scripture.  Are we all so sure we know the mind of God?

Our gospel reading today begins and ends with Jesus advising us to forgive not seven but seventy seven times, and reminding us that our heavenly Father will do to us as we do to others.  And we retaliate in the world? 

Is this gospel message a lofty ideal or Jesus’ tough gospel?  Can we live it or even begin to approach living it?  Retaliation does not seem to be a part of the gospel equation. 

A recent church billboard was circulated that read ‘Message from God: Governor Perry, that voice in your head is not God.  Go back on your meds!’  It is not heresy to admit that we don’t know the will of God.  In fact it maybe a better testimonial of faith to say that we do not know the mind of God.  H.L. Mencken, the famous early 20th century journalist in Baltimore, wrote, ‘All great religions, in order to escape absurdity, have to admit a dilution of agnosticism.  It is only the savage, whether of the African bush or the American gospel tent, who pretends to know the will and intent of God exactly and completely…  The difference between religions is a difference in their relative content of agnosticism.  The most satisfying and ecstatic faith is almost purely agnostic.  It trusts absolutely without professing to know at all.”

It trusts absolutely without professing to know at all.  Using our faith, using our believed knowledge of God to harm others is always a dangerous supposition, a very slippery slope.   We would do well to truly turn the other cheek.  Give the benefit of the doubt to the other.  And truly forgive seventy seven times.  When we judge another’s intentions or actions or values, we are playing God.  When we say that another’s faith is wrong and ours is right, that we know God better, we are playing God.  When we forgive and just love we are being godly.  And are living Jesus’ radical gospel.  Concerned about retribution or justice or correcting evil? Those who have done the heinous acts are accountable to God.  That is between them and God, not up to us.  We are to forgive seventy seven times.  Regardless of the cost.  It is our gospel imperative.  Perhaps we really are to be that forgiving!

May God bless those who have died on 9/11 and since in the cause.  And may God bless each and every one of us as we live in His love and learn to forgive, forgive, forgive.


Monday, September 5, 2011

A sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost

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

The old adage says, "Nothing is certain but death and taxes." Those "old adagers" had a pretty dim view of what we can expect in life. Most of us don’t want to die, and we’re not too tickled about paying taxes. But have you ever considered that the "old adagers" who linked death with taxes may have unwittingly demonized taxes? I would agree that most of us dread death. But can the same be said about taxes? Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendel Holmes famously said, "Taxes are what I pay for civilization." Without taxes we would not have the infrastructure of a civilized nation: schools, roads, airports, railroads, navigable rivers, power lines, clean water, waste disposal, street lighting, security, and many other shared benefits.

I have begun this sermon with a reflection on taxes because today I am joining a significant number of other preachers around Missouri and all over the country who are using this Sunday before Labor Day to bring the concerns of working people to the pulpit. This year organized labor in Missouri has asked us to focus on the morality of the Missouri Tax Structure. I want to be up front about this, because this is a political issue and I know some of you think politics has no place in the pulpit. But God is not apolitical. Today’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures is about how God became political to end the immorality of Pharaoh’s oppression of the Hebrews in Egypt. It is the beginning of the final chapter of Yahweh's political contest with Pharaoh to free his people from slavery. It is the story of the Passover in which God finally resorts to extremely violent methods to accomplish his victory.

I believe that when moral issues have political dimensions, God wants his people to get politically involved. The tax structure of any state always involves moral judgments because important values determine the rate at which the state will collect money from its citizens. Needless to say, Christian values are not always the values that inform and shape the taxation policies of the states, including Missouri.

As Paul says in our second lesson for today, the bottom-line-value of Christians is love. "Owe no one anything, except to love one another" he wrote; "for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The [ten] commandments…are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." When Paul defines love as not doing wrong to a neighbor he has identified justice as an important aspect of love. If we permit our government to do wrong to our neighbors, we have forsaken the value of love by being complacent about injustice. We have not kept our baptismal promise to "strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being."

Our country does wrong to our neighbors by not taxing ourselves enough. Taxes do not only pay for the infrastructure which benefits all of us, they also pay for human services like health care, unemployment benefits, food stamps, and other welfare programs that benefit the citizens who have been left out of the country’s prosperity. With the percent of people living below the poverty level increasing year by year during the current recession, low taxes cannot adequately fund the so-called "safety net" that these marginalized Americans need to survive.

Of the developed nations of the world, only four of them tax themselves less than the United States.1 We appropriate only about 27% of our nation’s gross domestic product in taxes. The average slice of gross domestic product collected in the other 30 economically developed countries is 36%, with most European nations collecting more than 40%. In our low tax nation, only five states tax their citizens less than Missouri, and only four states spend less per capita on all government programs.2 In trying to balance state budgets and reduce our nation's deficit, American politicians would rather find ways to reduce government spending than add more revenue through taxation. Forty-one U.S. Senators and 236 members of the House of Representatives have signed a pledge never to increase taxes in any way.

I think politicians who refuse to consider increasing taxes have become obedient to the chief idol of our nation—the American Dream. They believe the American Dream is achieved by individual effort and not by cooperative action, even though no one can possibly achieve the dream without help from the infrastructure provided by taxation. The idol inspires the belief that money belongs to the individual who acquires it and should be shielded from collection by the government, even though starving the government will make it less able to guarantee the liberty, security, and educational resources individuals need to make money. The idol emphasizes individual responsibility for taking care of oneself and condemns those who can't of being lazy, even though our economic system has failed to sustain enough jobs for all who want to work. Finally, and most important, the idol of the American Dream justifies selfishness at the expense of love of neighbor.

Instead of defining morality by America's idol, we who follow Jesus define it in terms of the kingdom of God, the community of the beloved and the loving. As Paul says, the commandment to love our neighbors means at least that we will do no harm to them, but even more than that, it calls us to care for them. Those who worship the idol argue that the state should not compel that kind of love, that it is up to individuals acting on their own to care for their neighbors. However, as Frank Schaeffer reveals in a recent book,3 for the last 1000 years Christian leaders have seen government as the medium through which Jesus' disciples work together for the common good. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes the government's responsibility to provide justice for those who are oppressed and exploited. Jesus, himself, criticized the Pharisees, the political elite of his time, for "[tying] up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they, themselves, are unwilling to lift a finger to move them" [Mt. 23.4]

While the din of the idol worshippers seems to be drowning out the voices of the kingdom at the present time, more and more of God's advocates are urging us to increase revenue through taxation instead of starving the government through spending cuts. They argue that the government needs resources to supply the basics of civilized societies and care for those who have been marginalized by our political, economic, and social systems. They understand that taxes are not the pariah the idol worshippers contend that they are, but the moral approach to making justice a key component of loving our neighbors.


The Tax Policy Briefing Book, Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution, (taxpolicycenter. org)

"The Tax Tale: 50 State Comparison" in JSOnline: Milwaukee, Wisconsin Sentinal Journal,

Frank Schaeffer, Sex, Mom, and God, (Philadelphia, 2011)