Sunday, June 17, 2012

Becoming the Kingdom of God -- a call to pilgrimage

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Wednesday, June 6, 2012
“With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it?” 

There are basically three types of journeys. The difference among them is not the destination but why we take the trip.

First, there’s tourism. The purpose of tourism is to consume. We collect stories and photographs and experiences that we can remember and share with others. Maybe we relax and recharge our batteries a bit, but when it’s all over, both we and what we visited are pretty much the same as they were before.

Second, there is mission. We may collect stories and photographs and experiences, here, too … but that’s not the point. Mission is outer-directed. We are there to work, to make a piece of the world a better place. To change people’s lives for the better. When we are done, the place we have visited is not the same.

Finally, there is pilgrimage. Here, we may collect stories and photographs and experiences. We may also work to make a piece of the world a better place. But the purpose of pilgrimage is for us to be changed. As pilgrims, our goal is for us to be changed as human beings. When we are done, we are different forever.

Now a journey doesn’t have to be a trip somewhere far away. A friendship is a journey. Opening a book can be a journey. Even a two-minute encounter on the street can be a journey. What kind of journey it is depends on us. Do we approach it as a tourist, as a missioner, or as a pilgrim? Are we interested in being entertained or recharged or collecting experiences? Are we interested in making a difference for the good? Or are we interested in being changed forever?

Our life together as the Church is a journey. And this morning, we hear the destination is this mysterious thing called the Kingdom of God. That is our destiny. A world where God is at the center and the life of all creation is in harmony with the divine.

But what kind of journey is it?

Jesus gives us clues in parables. And he talks about seeds.

 Now before these parables that we heard this morning, Jesus told another parable about seeds just before this in Mark's Gospel. But this one he explained. He said that the seed is the word of God, the living wisdom of God, the very essence of God. And what we are is the ground.

And then he told the parables we hear this morning.

“The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground – remember, the ground is us -- , and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.”

“The Kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground – remember, the ground is us – when sown upon the ground is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade."

The kingdom of God is not something we go and look at. The kingdom of God is not even something we build with our hands. The Kingdom of God is something we become. The Kingdom of God happens when God’s word takes root in deep inside us and in ways we don’t even know how changes us so that individually and together we become it. The Kingdom of God is something we become.

When we come together in Jesus’ name, we may get entertained and recharged and leave with some good stories to tell. And that is good, but that is not the point. We may engage in service and make a difference in the world for the good, and that is certainly good, but that is not the point.

Jesus tells us that as the Body of Christ, we are pilgrims. We are here to let God’s word in scripture, in worship, in relationship be planted deep in our hearts and change who we are. To have the kingdom of God happen in and through us.

 Of the parables we heard this morning, the parable of the mustard seed is perhaps most instructive. Jesus tells us that the word that takes root in us doesn’t need to be huge--in fact it can be really small--but if we are receptive, fertile ground, it will become something that will not just change who we are, it will change and bring love to all creation … shelter for the homeless birds of the air in need of shade.

The smallest word, planted in us, can change our lives and change the world.

About a dozen years ago, I got on an airport shuttle in New York and sat across from a young woman mostly because she was wearing a t-shirt that said, “My economy went global and all I got was this stupid T-shirt.”

The shirt was a great conversation starter, so we started talking. I was a college chaplain, and she was just out of college and really wanted to make a difference in the world. And she asked me what advice I had for her. And I shared with her what I had learned.

Keep your overhead low.

Basically, the lower we can keep your standard of living, the freer we will be to do amazing things. Because once we have a standard of living, we basically become hostage to it and we have to earn enough to keep it up. But if we don’t need much, we’re free to do just about anything.

We parted at the airport, and I thought that was it. And it was ... until a few months ago, when I got this email from that same young woman. 12 years later, she tracked me down. Google is an amazing thing! She wrote:
I'm emailing to thank you for a piece of advice that you gave me. We were discussing social justice, and how to make place for it in modern lives, and you told me something very simple that I somehow had the sense to take to heart: Keep your overhead low. 

So here's what that piece of advice has let me do: 
-Travel the world for six months -Maintain financial independence 
-Build a career reporting on poverty and low-wage work 
-Learn Spanish 
-Write a book on food and class – coming out this month* 

 I'm emailing because I was recently asked what was the best piece of advice I had received, and how I'd managed to build such an unusual and meaningful career. And I realized that, really, both answers were rooted in that conversation I'd had on the bus with you. I stayed in a cheap apartment even when my income rose -- and was able to withstand changing jobs so that I could keep doing work I loved. A cheap apartment meant I could save money to travel, and that finding a subletter was easy—and gave me enough perspective to do better work writing about poverty and opportunity here at home. And it meant that I could accept a tiny book advance to do an amazing project. 

 In its own way, that conversation has meant the world to me. I'm incredibly grateful to have had it. 

I wasn’t giving her any great wisdom from me. In fact, I wonder how much my life would be different and better if I’d taken it to heart as much as she has. Really, what I was saying was straight from scripture. There is an ethic of enoughness that runs throughout the Bible. All I did was tell the story of the rich young ruler in another way.

So, two lessons from this. First, be careful what you say to someone on a bus. Or, maybe, really, be fearless in what you say to someone on a bus, because God is always at work! But the second lesson is that when we let the Word of God take root in us, amazing things happen, our lives become extraordinary, and we become, even just a little, the Kingdom of God. It really works.

We are pilgrims. And God draws us here together because God loves us dearly as we are but loves us too much just to leave us that way. Because God longs to have God’s love take root in our heart and for us to become fully alive, for our lives to be extraordinary.

We are here as pilgrims to let God’s word take root in our heart and become the Kingdom of God. To be the ground that those mustard seeds are planted in and from which amazing trees sprout.

So how do we do it? That’s the adventure, isn’t it?

And this morning, I want to challenge us to embrace this call to pilgrimage in two specific ways. First as a Cathedral community.

This summer we are holding house meetings in 13 of our parishioners’ homes. The meetings are for us to answer one question together, “What are the core values we believe Jesus dreams for us to live out as Christ Church Cathedral?” Put another way … “What are the mustard seeds for Christ Church Cathedral?”

Naming the values Jesus dreams for us to embrace and embody is identifying what that word of God is for us. It is naming the seeds that will become the great tree. And when we have them we will not just stick them in our pocket. We will look at how we can be fertile ground to embrace them, and we will ask God to use them to bless and challenge and change us as we become the Cathedral God dreams for us to be.

So if you haven’t signed up for one of these meetings, do it today. (You can click here and do it right now!) Whether you’ve been here 50 years or 50 minutes. Sign up. If they fill up, we’ll schedule more. This is about the Kingdom of God coming into being and there is nothing more exciting than that.

Can we do this? Can we do this together? Can I get an AMEN?

The second way I want to challenge us to embrace this call to pilgrimage is individually in our lives.

The Word of God comes in many forms, but our primary source for God’s life-changing wisdom is the Bible. If God’s word is going to take root in us, we have to spend time with it. We have to read it. We have to pray with it on our hearts. We have to ask God, how are you loving and shaping me through it?

So this week … let’s do just that. In your service leaflet is a piece of paper with the Gospel reading for next week (click here to download). This week, every day, take at least 10 minutes … just 10 minutes … I don’t care how busy you are, you can spend 10 minutes a day … take 10 minutes and read next week’s Gospel and then sit in prayer with it on your heart.

 If you need some help, you’ll find some questions to sit with printed below the reading, but this isn’t about figuring it out with our brains it is about reaching out with our hearts and saying “God, what Word would you have take root in me?” “Jesus, what message of love do you have for me?” “Jesus, what is your call on my life that this story is helping me hear?” 10 minutes a day, and then next week, we’re going to talk about what we noticed.

Can we do this? Can we do this together? Can I get an AMEN?

This is important. This is important because each of us and all of us are deeply beloved by God … and God wants us for God’s own. And so God is inviting us down the pilgrim’s path. To let God’s love be the center of all we are as a Cathedral and as human beings. To let the Kingdom of God come into being through us.

And as we are open to it. As we embrace this journey as pilgrims and let God’s loving Word take root in our lives and in the life of this Cathedral, amazing things will happen, our lives will become extraordinary, and we will become the Kingdom of God. AMEN.

*The young woman's name was Tracie McMillan, and the book she has just published is called The American Way of Eating: Undercover at WalMart, Applebees, the Farm Fields and the Dinner Table. It's an entertaining, insightful and important book. I highly recommend it.

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