Monday, June 20, 2011

"...and Jesus said, 'Get over yourselves." -- A sermon for the First Sunday After Pentecost (Trinity Sunday)

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 19, 2011 

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And Jesus came and said to them, 

“Get over yourselves.”

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, AMEN.

What did creation sound like?

Astronomers like my dad talk about “the Big Bang.” And then you get all those “if a tree falls in the forest questions about it.” Was it really a sound? The creation story we heard this morning doesn’t even mention sound at all. It’s all about the visual. Day by day passing. Light coming from darkness. Land from water. Gradually all that we know as creation appearing on the scene.

Well, I don’t know what creation itself sounded like, but if I had to guess what the moment before creation sounded like, it would be something like this:

Isn’t that a great sound??? It is the chaotic sound of potential … of anticipation. When you hear that cacophony of instruments tuning and then the baton tapping ... and the pregnant pause … you just know that something beautiful is about to be created. Because each instrument has finished focusing on itself. From now on they will be watching only the conductor and listening deeply to each other … because that’s the way the beauty of the symphony is created.

If there was a soundtrack to the creation story in Genesis, it would begin with that sound. And the music that followed would be the most brilliant and harmonious ever written.

Because that’s what our creation story is. It is a story of God bringing order, harmony and deep beauty out of chaos. And every step of the way, God echoes the refrain.

And God saw that it was good.

It was good.

It was good.

Until finally God is finished and steps back and says,

yes, Yes, YES! … that is VERY GOOD.

Every time I hear this story, I wish we could just push pause when the reader is finished. Because it all goes downhill from there. But at that moment, that precious fleeting moment, all is as it should be. It’s the “for one brief shining moment it was Camelot.”

God is at the center of all existence, and not only is all creation very good, all creation knows it is very good, in fact knows and believes it so much that it doesn’t worry if anyone else knows it, doesn’t worry about having to individually prove its goodness to itself or anyone else. And like that orchestra, with eyes trained on the maestro and listening deeply to each other, all that is left for all creation is to create beautiful music for all eternity.

The ultimate



But that’s not what happened, is it? Because we know the rest of the creation story. We know how sin entered in with that tempting serpent saying, “but you could be like God.” You could be at the center. You see, the fall isn’t about creation becoming evil. What God creates as very good is always very good. The fall is about us forgetting that.

The fall is about all humanity falling away from a God-centered harmony of believing in and celebrating our goodness -- to a self-centered insecurity of doubting our goodness, of fearfully needing to put ourselves at the center above God and all others. The fall is about the fall from resting in the strong, loving arms of the divine to huddling around the fragile, fearful shells of our own egos.

The problem isn’t that we became evil. The problem is we forgot that we are good.

But God didn’t forget us. God kept reminding us, and God kept urging us to remind each other. And God gave us a beautiful gift of a word. A word of remembrance.

The word … Bless.

Now the word “bless” doesn’t make something good any more than the fall made anything evil. The word bless literally means “to speak well of” … to say “this is good.”

The word bless is God’s gift of remembrance to us. So that whenever we see something that is very good, whenever we see something that reminds us that we are good, reminds us that we can live without fear, reminds us that all we have to do is keep our eyes on the maestro and listen deeply to each other and create amazing beauty. Whenever we see something like that we bless it. We say in the name of God, “this is very good.”

And the rest of the world looks at it and says “Ah … I remember…. That’s what that looks like. That’s what we all can be. Isn’t that beautiful. How can I be like that. How can I remember that I am good, too.”

It’s why we do house blessings. Not to bestow some magical spell of protection but to affirm the holy desire of the people who live there to open their home up in hospitality. And so we bless it and them and affirm, “this is good, this is very good.”

It’s why we bless animals every Feast of St. Francis. To point to the loving, faithful companionship they give and affirm “this is good, this is very god.”

It’s why at this Cathedral we bless unions of self-giving love between two people. To point to the Christlike laying down of lives for each other they are about and affirm, “this is good, this is very good.”

Someone asked me why we stood out there in the sea of 65,000 racers at Race for the Cure blessing them with holy water and I said because where there are people giving themselves up for the sake of love and healing, the church needs to be there saying “this is good, this very good”.

We forget that is our job sometime, but it is. Somewhere along the line someone got the idea that the church was here to turn bad people into good people. Not true. As the church, we are here to remind us that we are already good, and that we don’t need to lead these fearful, hoarding lives of those who doubt their own goodness.

It’s not hard. Here’s how we do it. Here’s how we do our work of blessing.

Get aspergelium and get out of the pulpit.

Who here gave an hour of their time this week to help others? -- You are blessed. You are good. (apserge with holy water)

Who here spent time yesterday playing with a child? - You are blessed. You are good. (apserge with holy water)

Who here did something you don’t like to do to show your spouse or partner you love them? You are blessed. You are good. (apserge with holy water)

Who here gave time or money or prayer to this church or someone in this community this week without thought of reward or recognition? You are blessed. You are good. (apserge with holy water)

Think for a second. What is blessed. What is good in your life? What is blessed. What is good in our lives. Have you blessed someone recently? Have you heard a blessing for yourself?

We are a blessed, beloved community but we are more than that. We are a community of remembrance. Of reminding each other that we are blessed and beloved. Of reminding each other that God made us good and that we don’t need to focus on ourselves but we can live fearless lives focusing on God and listening deeply to each other and creating beautiful, beautiful music together.
And that brings us to the Gospel reading for today. The eleven disciples are with Jesus on the mountain and in Matthew this is the first and only time they will see him after the resurrection so Jesus has to be brief and not pull any punches. And so here is what he says:

“Hey … Get over yourselves.”

Ok, so that’s a rough translation. But that’s really what he is saying. He says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me, Jesus says. The battle is over. Christ has risen from the dead. The goodness can’t be held down. You don’t need to worry about yourself anymore. Worrying about yourself is for people who doubt their goodness. Worrying about yourself is for people who doubt God’s love for them. Worrying about yourself is about people who are afraid they will be left without. Get over yourself. That’s not you. You are my beloved – now and to the end of the age. And I am reminding you now and always that you are good. That you are blessed. But that reminder isn’t just for you. As Dahn Gandell said last Sunday, “Transformation not shared is wasted. “

So Go. Get over yourselves and go and make disciples of all nations. Go remind everyone that they are good. You see, there is a whole world out there that lives in fear and that is crying in pain and that has forgotten that they are good. That has forgotten that they don’t have to concentrate on themselves, but that they can take their gaze off themselves and put it on God and listen deeply to each other and create beautiful, beautiful music.

One of the biggest mistakes the church ever made was taking this Great Commission and turning it into a fearful, self-righteous message of “convert or die.” That’s not what Jesus is telling us. He is looking at us with great love and saying, “Get over yourself.”

We’re not sent out with the message “convert or die” but “wake up and live.” We’re ready to play this song. All we have to do is remember that we are very good, and because we are we can set your eyes on Christ, listen deeply to each other and have our life be a symphony. Have our life be the ultimate, eternal, jam.

If there was a soundtrack for the mountain top that day. If there was a soundtrack for us as we prepare to head out from this place into the world, this would be the sound we hear.

Beloved, we are tuned and ready to play. We are very good. We know we are very good because God says we are very good. And because we remember that, we can keep our eyes on Christ, listen deeply to each other, and create incredible beauty together.

The baton is tapping.

What amazing music will flow through us next?


Wednesday, June 1, 2011

"Go Crazy, Folks, Go Crazy!" - a sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

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.