Sunday, January 22, 2012

"WARNING: THIS CHANGES EVERYTHING!" - a sermon for the annual meeting of Christ Church Cathedral

Preached by the Very Rev. Michael Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 22, 2012
The annual meeting of the 193rd year of Christ Church Cathedral is now called to order.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, AMEN.


You can’t turn around today without seeing a warning label. If it can possibly have an effect that is going to bother someone, you can bet somebody has stuck a warning label on it.

Some of them are obvious. The pack of cigarettes that says: Warning, may cause cancer. Or even on your McDonald’s coffee – Warning: The contents of this container are extremely hot.

And then there are those that really make you scratch your head:

Take the bottle of Nytol sleeping pills that says “Warning: May cause drowsiness.” Really?

Or what about the cardboard sunshield that keeps the sun off the dashboard of your parked car that says “Warning: Do not drive with sunshield in place.”

And then there’s my personal favorite, the tag on the curling iron that says, “Warning: for external use only.”

We are told to beware of everything from peanut M&Ms to Happy Fun Ball. It seems like only the most innocuous thing could get away without having a warning label on it.

And maybe that’s the problem. Because the one place you can come and be free from warning labels … is the church. Look around the church and there is not a warning label to be found. By the world’s litigious logic, you would think that there is nothing about this place, nothing about this community that could possibly upset or harm or even change anything. And maybe that’s why it’s easy for us to think that the church is a place where we are supposed to be comfortable, where nothing is supposed to upset us and where nothing is supposed to change. Even the word we use to describe this space – sanctuary – speaks that message.

But that’s not the church of Jesus Christ. That’s not the beloved community of discipleship we hear about in this morning’s Gospel. That is not the beloved community of discipleship at Christ Church Cathedral.

If anyone ever should have had a warning label on him, it was Jesus. Jesus, walking along that shore of the Sea of Galilee should have been wearing a great big sandwich board that said “Warning: I will change everything.” Because that’s what Jesus did … and that’s what Jesus does.

It only took one sentence from Jesus to change everything for Peter and Andrew: “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” One sentence and everything changed. And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Same with James and John. A word. A phrase. A sentence. Follow me. And they left everything and everyone behind.

If we knew what we were doing, we would put big signs on our front doors, stickers on every Bible and prayer book and a big ol’ neon sign on the reredos.

Warning: This Changes Everything.

But you don’t need me to tell you this. We have seen it. We have seen what can happen when individuals and faith communities let the Gospel take root in their lives.

It changes everything.

Paul Farmer was just another undergrad at Duke in March 1980 when Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated. He went to a small prayer vigil on campus and Jesus changed everything. Because that night for the first time he realized that following Jesus meant siding with the poor, speaking out on behalf of the poor, even ending poverty itself.

And so when Paul went to Haiti years later while studying infectious diseases at Harvard and saw the incredible poverty there, he knew as a follower of Jesus he could not just let things stay the same. He could not just settle into private practice or academia and make a good living for himself. If he was to follow Jesus, things had to change. He had to promote the radical notion that there should be one excellent standard of health care for all people ... not one standard for the wealthy and a lesser standard for the poor. And so he began an organization called Partners in Health, and over the past 25 years he has revolutionized the public health care systems in Haiti, Peru, Russia, Lesotho, Rwanda and Malawi.

Paul Farmer knows the Gospel should come with a warning label:

Warning: This Changes Everything.

And Paul is not alone. Over the past year and a half we have met and been inspired by the life and work of Becca Stevens in Nashville. Now if anyone would have had a right to abandon the church and abandon her faith, you’d think it would have been Becca. Her father was killed by a drunk driver when she was a young child and then she was sexually abused by the senior warden of the church where her father had been the priest.

But Becca knew that Jesus heals everything and Jesus changes everything. And so she took that experience and followed Jesus. She noticed that Jesus spent his time with prostitutes – loving them and healing them. So she spent time with prostitutes … and learned that they had stories of abuse not too different from her own. She discovered, as she says, “there’s a thin line between priest and prostitute.”

Jesus said “follow me,” and Becca followed him. She has founded Magdalene and Thistle Farms and dedicated her life to bringing love and healing to women who have survived lives of abuse, prostitution and drug addiction. And her congregation, St. Augustine’s in Nashville, has walked together with her in becoming a community of deep prayer, humble service, and overflowing joy.

Becca Stevens and the people of St. Augustine’s know the Gospel should come with a warning label:

Warning: This Changes Everything.

And we know it, too. We know it because it is our history as Christ Church Cathedral. We know it from Montgomery Schuyler alienating friends and parishioners by visiting both Union and Confederate soldiers in the hospital because he knew following Jesus meant loving everyone, not just those you agree with.

We know it from this Cathedral’s courageous solidarity with people living with AIDS in the early 1980s, welcoming people into our community when other churches wouldn’t even bury their bodies.

And we know it from this past year together. I imagine that any notion we had that the church is a place where we are supposed to be comfortable, where nothing is supposed to upset us and where nothing is supposed to change has disappeared after this last year. 2011 saw enough change at Christ Church Cathedral for five years in most congregations.

When you go upstairs you’ll find on the tables a list of all the new things that happened in the past year. And I hope you’ll take a good, long look at them so you can really get a sense for how much we have done and how much has happened and how much God’s Spirit has been moving in this place and in this community. But even if we just hit the highlights, it is astounding how much change there has been.

In 2011, we changed our Sunday service schedule and began the Liturgy of the Word for Children. We paid off more than $1.4 million in debt, instituted a new ministry structure, and hosted a major art exhibit. We began partnerships with the Bridge, Nkope Health Clinic in Malawi and became a Winter Outreach shelter. We finished the first round of Back to Basics classes and started a discipleship group for people to support each other in lives of prayer, worship, learning, serving and giving. We closed the Cathedral bookstore and ended the tradition of the Flower Festival Eucharist and street fair. We began a renewal of our liturgical ministries with the establishment of the Guild of Vergers, and have been the catalyst for bringing Becca’s vision of extravagant love and healing for women who have survived lives of prostitution and drug abuse to our city in the birth of Magdalene St. Louis.

When we go upstairs, we will hear from six people who have been part of some of these new and revitalized ministries at Christ Church Cathedral. They will each speak briefly not so much about the nuts and bolts of what is happening but about their experience of following Jesus through these new expressions of our life together.

Now not everyone agrees with all the change … and that’s OK. That’s to be expected. Some of this change has been wonderful and some has been painful. And some of the change has been different things to different people. But every piece of it has been the result of faithful people working together, straining to hear Jesus’ call of “Follow me” and asking “what does it look like for us to follow Jesus TOGETHER.” And what we are learning is what we already knew … that it means things are going to change.

What we are learning is that Jesus changes everything.

And so there has been change. And there will continue to be change. And thank God.

When we go upstairs we will also hear from our treasurer, Kris Reppert. And Kris will do what she does best and that is speak the truth. And at the risk of stealing her thunder, I will tell you that there are two big truths that Kris will speak. The first is that we cannot continue on the road we have been going down financially. And the second is we are all in this together.

Last month, Chapter passed a budget that, if income stays the same, will require nearly $75,000 we had set aside from the Pope Bequest for new program and staff to be used instead to balance an already lean budget and just maintain current staffing and services. Our hope was never to have to use Pope bequest money to balance the budget … partly because we wanted to use that gift for new missions and ministries, but partly because it is a repeating of the robbing Peter to pay Paul history that unfortunately has become an all too familiar part of our life together these past decades.

The budget passed by the slimmest of margins, that’s how conflicted our Chapter was about this. But one thing we were united in is that things must change. We must continue to embrace God’s mission and grow but we also cannot let this just be another case of kicking the financial can down the road.

And so last Thursday night, Chapter met and we had a wonderful, Spirit-filled conversation about the year to come. And Chapter identified two areas that need immediate and ongoing attention if we are not going to be repeating the insanity of doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. And as I close, I want to share that conversation with you … and invite you to think and pray about how we can all be part of it together.

At the top of every Chapter agenda since I have arrived here, we have printed the mission statement of the Church that is in our prayer book. It reads: “The mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.” It comes straight from Second Corinthians when Paul tells the church that we are ambassadors of Christ and the mission Christ gives us is the mission of reconciliation, of bringing God’s people together..

Beloved, that is the work before us. And that is the call your Chapter has identified for us to share.

The first task group that Chapter formed was one called fundraising. Sounds ordinary enough, right. It’s something that will be distinct from the discipleship emphasis of stewardship and the budget and management functions of finance and look at how we can get income from outside this community. But really, what that is really about is reconciliation, about bringing God’s people together. Because if we are to raise support from outside this congregation, that’s what we need to do. We need to go out into the world and spread the word about and build investment in this Cathedral from the surrounding community. We must continue to demonstrate that Christ Church Cathedral is a place where the Spirit of God is alive and show that we are a Cathedral that brings God’s people together for prayer and worship, for service and giving. We must continue to demonstrate that Christ Church Cathedral is a catalyst and hub of spirit, culture and service for St. Louis and the region. We must show that this Cathedral is a heart of this city that the people of St. Louis must come together and enthusiastically and joyfully support.

The second task group that Chapter formed will look at ways WE can continue to come together as a community. How we can communicate better with one another. How we can realize that the mission and maintenance of this Cathedral are not just the responsibility of the few but the opportunity of the many. How we can embrace shared responsibility, shared opportunity and shared leadership. How we can pray and play, study and serve, worship and give. In short, how we can follow Jesus … together.

If you are looking for a church home that is easy and calm, where there is no conflict because there is no change and where you’re sure not to be challenged or upset … I think you know by now you’re in the wrong place. Because that’s not the church we are.

Who are we?


We are the church of Paul Farmer and Becca Stevens, the church of Oscar Romero and Montgomery Schuyler.

*But more than that, WARNING - we are the church of Kris Reppert, who has spent more hours than anyone can count helping us chart a sound financial course for this Cathedral’s future.

*WARNING - We are the church of Becket Clark, who turned a fundraiser for his band into a food-raiser for the Saturday morning breakfast.

*WARNING – We are the church of Jim Kimmey, St. Louis’s own version of Paul Farmer, who lives his faith by dedicating his life to working for excellent health care for all.

*WARNING - We are the church of Ronnie Smith, John Kilgore and Chip Helms, who saw a vision of a church filled with iconic windows into the heart of God, and a vision of the city of St. Louis coming inside our doors to experience is, and with a mighty team made it happen all around us.

*WARNING - We are the church of Deborah Nelson Linck and Alice Stanley, whose vision of Black History as ALL of our history is changing the way we see ourselves as a community and the way this community of St. Louis sees us.

*WARNING - We are church of Robert Kamkwalala, who has brought us a vision of meeting and serving Christ halfway around the world in Nkope, Malawi and WARNING we are the church of Susan Adams, Mark Sluss, Tim Hamilton, Michael Reed and Orrin Dieckmeyer, who last Tuesday night turned this Cathedral into a shelter from the storm in our first night of Winter Outreach.

*WARNING – We are the church of Carolyn Herman, Miriam Jorgenson, Olivia Smith and Deb Holmes, who took their concerns about our need to more fully incorporate children into the life of this Cathedral and instead of just complaining in the parking lot, engaged leadership in respectful honest, conversation that is leading us into a deeper look at what it means to be a fully inclusive community.

*WARNING - We are the church of Mike Kyzer, Miriam Jenkins, Roy Garcia, Mary Seager, Susan Adams, Jane and Patty Mayfield, Fred Peterson, Penny James, Ronnie Smith and Alex Weymann, who have formed our first discipleship group to support and hold one another accountable to lives of following Jesus through regular prayer, worship, study, service and giving.

WARNING - We are the church of too many names to mention. We are the church who has heard and is still straining to hear Christ’s call to follow him. We are the church that knows and welcomes the change that following Christ invites us into.

So if this is you are new to Christ Church Cathedral, know you have come to an amazing place. But have no illusions. We are the church that is following Jesus.

And Warning. This changes everything.

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