Sunday, November 20, 2011

"The Shepherd King and The Reunion" -- a sermon for Christ The King Sunday

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 20, 2011 

(The whole congregation sings together)

You better watch out
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town
He's making a list
And checking it twice;
Gonna find out who's naughty and nice
Santa Claus is coming to town
He sees you when you're sleeping
He knows when you're awake
He knows if you've been bad or good
So be good for goodness sake!
O! You better watch out!
You better not cry
Better not pout
I'm telling you why
Santa Claus is coming to town

No, I’m not Buddy the Elf.

But I do have a question for you. Do you know what an interpretive lens is? It’s an academic term. It’s a filter through which you look at something like the way sunglasses filter out some of the spectrum of light and help us see things differently.

We have lots of interpretive lenses. Many of them come from how we grew up. And they shape how we view everything.

Well I’ve come to believe that the primary interpretive lens through which we look at today’s Gospel reading from Matthew … is Santa Claus is Coming to Town. Jesus is making a list and checking it twice. Gonna find out who’s naughty and nice. Stockings full of good stuff for the good people and flaming heaps of coal for the bad.

Now not only do I think ”you’d better watch out” isn’t a helpful lens for the Gospel – and by the way neither is its cousin, – a bumper sticker I’ve seen that says “Jesus is coming … look busy.” Not only are those not helpful interpretive lenses, they aren’t accurate ones.

And so we’re going to spend a few minutes this morning looking more closely at this scripture through different lenses. We’re going to take off the naughty and nice lenses of Santa Claus is Coming to Town and put on some different lenses. We’re going to look more deeply at what the reading itself says but also look at it through the lens of the rest of Matthew’s Gospel … and see if we can see Jesus – and ourselves in a different light.

If we use the rest of Matthew’s Gospel as a lens, four distinct truths emerge about Jesus and about ourselves.

The first truth is this … Jesus longs for reunion.

Today is Christ the King Sunday, the end of the liturgical year. And Matthew talks about Jesus coming as a king. But he comes as a really strange kind of king. A really different kind of king.

Jesus is a shepherd king.

Now here is our first chance to put on the lens the rest of the Gospel of Matthew, because this isn’t the first time Matthew has used shepherd as an image for Jesus and God. So we know what he is talking about when he describes Jesus as a shepherd king.

In Matthew 18 God and Jesus are described as shepherd in the parable of the lost sheep. Jesus is the shepherd who leaves the flock of 99 and searches far and wide for the one sheep that is lost.

That’s who Jesus is. Jesus is a shepherd king. A King who seeks us out and who longs for us to seek him out A King who adores us, who longs to hold us close. A king who dreams of reunion.

Jesus is the shepherd king who breaks down every barrier that separates us from him and from each other. He is the shepherd that leaves the 99 and goes after the one … and isn’t that an interesting lens through which to view the Occupy movement. However we divide ourselves up. 99%, 1%. Jesus seeks after the one and seeks to bring them to himself and to bring them back to the whole … to reconcile and recreate the 100%.

Jesus longs for reunion.

Second truth … this reunion happens out there.

The reunion with Christ doesn’t happen in places that are safe and warm. It happens in places that are vulnerable and dangerous. It happens with the poorest of the poor. We meet Christ and Christ meets us in those who have the least.

Why the poor? When I was thinking about preaching, I started to try to come up with a logical explanation to explain why Jesus is present in the poor, but really that’s not the point. Frankly, all we need to know is that we meet Jesus in the poor because that’s where Jesus says we meet him. And he oughta know.

But it is more than that. Because we have also felt that. We know it to be true. We have all had those experiences where we encounter someone in the depths of vulnerability and we allow ourselves to be vulnerable to them. Where everything is stripped away and all that is left is the intensely real. We have all had those moments and it is like time stops. There is a depth to those moments. A deep presence to those moments. A deep reality and meaning and even joy to those moments and that is the presence of Christ.

So number one, Jesus longs for reunion.

Number two, the reunion with Jesus doesn’t happen in places that are safe and warm but out there in places of poverty and danger and vulnerability.

Now here’s the third truth.

The reunion Jesus longs for is intimate and personal.

Listen to the verbs that Jesus uses here.

Feed. Clothe. Give drink. Welcome, Tend. Visit.

These are intimate verbs. Think of when you have done these things. Think of when you have fed someone … not just plopped a plate of food in front of someone but fed someone spoon to mouth. Remember when you have given someone a cup to their lips. When you have literally helped dress someone. When you have visited someone in prison and looked at them through the translucent divider. Or when you have tended someone in their hospital bed or sick bed, held their hand, wiped their brow.

These are intimate, personal acts … and that is where we meet Christ and where Christ meets us.

Lets look again at what this Gospel reading actually says! Jesus says:

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to ONE of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.'

To ONE of the least of these. This is not about big programs that will save the world. The reunion with Christ happens not with “the poor” as a faceless, nameless class, but in intimate, personal actions. It comes in doing what Mother Teresa called “small things with great love.”

Jesus longs for reunion. And it is a reunion that happens not where it is safe and warm but where it is cold and dangerous and vulnerable. And the reunion happens … we meet Christ and we let Christ meet us when do small things with great love. When we meet in places of personal intimacy. When we learn each other’s names and let each other into our lives.

And that leads to the final truth.

This reunion is eternal joy.

When we meet Christ, when the reunion happens, we “inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the beginning of the world.” We enter into Christ, we experience and even become a depth of joy that without the reunion we can scarcely imagine.

It is a joy and a life that is eternal. Now we tend to think eternal in terms of a length of clock time. Like, “Man, when that Kinman preaches, it’s just eternal!” But that’s not the primary meaning of the word here. Eternal is much more about depth of life and experience.

Dan Handschy, who is the rector of Church of the Advent in Crestwood like to talk about this in this way. Imaging biting into the ripest, freshest, juiciest peach you can imagine. Just imagine it. You can feel the tartness in the corners of your mouth and you can just feel the juice spilling out of your mouth and dribbling down your chin. You experience that peach with your whole body. That scratches the surface of what an eternal experience of eating fruit is like.

Now think of that as your life. Think of that in terms of this reunion with Christ. Eternal joy.

This isn’t the first time Jesus has used that word in Matthew, either. And here we’re going back to putting on the lenses of the rest of the Gospel If you go back to the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus and asks what must he do to inherit what? Inherit ETERNAL LIFE.

This guy has obeyed all the commandments and he thinks he’s in great shape. And do you remember what Jesus says?

Jesus says ONE THING you lack. ONE THING. That you sell all you have, give it to the poor and come and follow me. That’s not two things or three things … that is ONE THING. And that one thing is totally directing his life toward the poor. That is the same as following Jesus because it is living as Jesus lived … totally directing his life toward those who were the most vulnerable and were most on the margins.

And do you remember what the young man did? That’s right .. he went away. But he didn’t just go away. How did he go away. That’s right … he went away sorrowful. Deeply sorrowful. Eternally sorrowful.

That’s what’s happening here. When we embrace the reunion with Christ, when we direct our whole selves toward Christ in the poorest and most vulnerable, we enter into eternal joy. But when we turn from Christ and turn into ourselves, we separate ourselves from the greatest love and joy there is. And we enter into a different type of eternity. Eternal separation. Eternal sorrow. We cut ourselves off from our very inheritance. The greatest gift that we could ever receive. The gift of joy and Christ that is our destiny.

Jesus call to us is not another verse of Santa Claus is coming to town. There is no “you’d better watch out.” Because it’s not about earning points by being naughty or nice. It’s about a Christ who longs for reunion, who seeks us out and longs for us to seek him. Who tells us that we find him when we turn not inward to ourselves but outward giving ourselves as he did, for the life of a wounded world. It’s about a Christ who tells us to meet him in imitating him – doing small things with great love. Learning that his name isn’t just Jesus but William and Annabeth and Angel and Steve.

It’s about a choice Christ gives us to embrace a reunion of eternal amazing joy or retreat into fearful life of self-focus that only brings pain.

Jesus is the shepherd king. And he’s searching for us and longing for us to search for him. And praise God, he has even told us where we can find him – not in the places of safety and warmth but in the places and with the people – one by one -- of vulnerability and danger and poverty.

And really all that’s left for us is the choice. All that’s left for us … is to come to the party.

Friday, November 11, 2011

"Saints I have known: A Passion to Serve" - A sermon for All Saints Sunday

Preached by the Rev. John Good at 8 am at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Nov. 6, 2011 
We all have had occasion, at one time or another, to characterize a person we admire as a "saint." For forty years in the ordained ministry it has been my privilege to know a number of them in every congregation I have served. Today is "All Saints' Sunday," and a good time to remember at least a few of them.

I think of Bruce and Cindy, from St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Florissant, who went from one parishioner's house to another during a winter storm, collecting food and warm clothing for an inner city church that had broadcast on television a request for help in supplying those things to the poor during that weather emergency.

I remember Harvey, from the same congregation, who risked his job by telling his boss that he would not implement the racist policies that his boss had established for hiring new personnel in his department at McDonnel-Douglas.

I remember Cliff, an African-American dentist and member of Grace Episcopal Church in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who worked tirelessly with both whites and blacks in that racially divided city to bridge the gulf between them, and was maligned by people of both races for his efforts.

I remember Bill, from St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Gallipolis, Ohio, who organized teams from five different congregations in that little town to prepare and serve a good dinner once a month for the hungry in that town. It was always scheduled for the last Sunday in the month to help those who had run out of food stamps.

I think of the sisters-in-law, Gloria and Susie, at The Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Mechanicsburg, Ohio, whose average Sunday attendance was only about 30. But they did not think their church was too small to start "God's Creation Youth Group" for all of the children between the ages of 8 and 13 in that tiny town.

I think of John and Diane, from a suburban Episcopal church in the Detroit area, who, more than ten years after they started, still lead Bible Study and worship once a week for those incarcerated at the Macomb County Jail

I think of Michelle who volunteered to start and run St. Alban's contribution to the Food of Faith program in Bay City, Michigan. The program expected our parish to fix and serve a dinner for 75 to 100 hungry persons about 3 or 4 times a year. Michelle volunteered us once a month plus an extra one on Christmas day. Before three years had gone by over seventy members of that congregation had participated in that ministry.

None of these saints is likely to be recognized as a saint beyond their own congregations. None of them is likely to have a day designated on the calendar of the Church year to remember them. But they are remembered today, along with the legion of Christians from all generations, whom we honor on All Saints' Sunday.

What sets saints apart is their passion to make a difference for good in the lives of other people. They regard their membership in the Church as a calling vocation—to transmit the love of God in Christ through service to others. They would never be content just to go to church on Sunday and bask in the fellowship of their congregation. They want Jesus to use them as his mouth, his hands, and his feet to make his love tangibly known to those most in need of love.

The saints of our congregations do these things because they know they are blessed, as Jesus defined what it means to be blessed, in our Gospel for today.

They are blessed by the joy of doing something significant with their lives that is of ultimate importance to the world.

They are blessed by the joy of knowing themselves to be partners with God in establishing his reign of love where they live.

They are blessed by the joy of knowing they have spiritual gifts to give to others that are more precious than all the accumulated wealth of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates, combined.

These saints I have had the privilege to know would never have known these blessings, nor used them to make a difference in the lives of others, had they not been part of "the communion of saints"—that is, the Church. They learned in church that there is an alternative way of life that is not enslaved to the selfish pursuit of power, privilege, and possessions, which characterizes the quest of so many people in our world. They learned in church that seeking to be significant to others is more fulfilling than seeking to be a success on the world's terms. They learned in church to trust God, and follow where he leads, rather than trust the messages of our worldly media that lead us to worship things that cannot last.

The communities of faith that produced the saints I remembered in this sermon are still doing that. Saints are not found only in history books, they are found in every congregation of Christians that nurtures people to follow that alternative way of life. In other words, saints are found here, in this congregation, today. Take a look. They are all around you. They probably are you.