Sunday, September 9, 2012

Listen Deeply. Speak Plainly

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 9, 2012

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Listen deeply. Speak plainly.

Breathe in. Listen deeply. Breathe out. Speak plainly.
Breathe in. Listen deeply. Breathe out. Speak plainly.
(inhale) Listen deeply. (inhale) Speak plainly.

Listen Deeply. Speak Plainly. They go together. They are the heart of what it means to be not just individuals following Jesus, but to be the Body of Christ. Listening deeply and speaking plainly is what the family of God does.

Growing up in Tucson, Arizona,  my family was loving and my family was caring. What my family wasn’t, was close. We didn’t share a lot with one another. We didn’t listen deeply and speak plainly.

What I’ve come to realize is that there were barriers inside my parents. Barriers that kept them from speaking plainly and listening deeply. It wasn’t their fault. In fact, fault is a really unhelpful way of looking at things like this. They came by it naturally. We always do.

You see, my mom grew up at China Lake, a Navy secret city in the middle of the Mojave Desert in California where her dad was working on the Polaris missile. Only recently has she shared with me what that was like, and it was a life of secrets. Of not only don’t ask and don’t tell but if you accidentally overhear, don’t listen. Recently, she told me of a time when a plane that her father was supposed to be on before he gave up his seat to a subordinate disappeared, was missing for months and was later found crashed in the mountains with no survivors.

“We didn’t talk about it,” she said. “Ever. That’s just how it was. You didn’t talk about things.”

My Dad grew up in England during World War II. His older brother, Jack, joined the Royal Air Force and was shot down and killed over Germany. His parents closed the door to Jack’s room and shoved all their feelings about it down inside.

They didn’t talk about it. Ever. That’s just how it was. You didn’t talk about things.

And just as my parents learned those things from their parents. My brother and I learned them well from ours. People used to say how well we got along, and it’s true we never fought. But it’s also true we never talked. I remember one time he had pulled some prank in high school and another kid had turned him in and he had to go to court. It was a process that took several months, but I only discovered it when someone at school said, “Hey, your brother’s court date is today, how did it go?” and I said, “Court date? What court date?”

I was talking with my mom on the phone yesterday asking her if I could share these stories. We talked for awhile – not just about the stories you’ve just heard but about some of our feelings behind them. I realized that it was only in the past 10 years that we all were having conversations like this. That we were starting to speak plainly and listen deeply. That we’re starting truly to become a family.

And it’s all about: Speak plainly. Listen deeply.

And somewhere inside, we know that, right? Somewhere inside we know that the best moments in life come when we speak plainly and listen deeply.

Speak plainly. Listen deeply is wonderful. But before it’s wonderful, it’s scary.

Think of a time you’ve “gotten something off your chest” with someone you care about. There’s a reason they call it “getting it off your chest.” Because afterwards we can breathe easier. It’s liberating. But it sure doesn’t start out that way. First it can be terrifying. The very idea of speaking plainly can be so terrifying that the fear binds us and silences us … or maybe on the other end of the spectrum causes us to hit and run, say our piece and leave … and not stay around to help the other person listen deeply, or to listen deeply ourselves.

Think of a time you’ve listened deeply to someone you care about. And maybe you’ve finally understood something about them that you never understood before. It’s wonderful. It takes the relationship to a new level. But before it’s wonderful, man, it can be frightening. Think about it, are there any four words that dig a bigger pit in your gut coming from someone you care about than “We. Need. To. Talk.”?

Yet it’s absolutely the key. Speak plainly. Listen deeply. This is nothing new. Communities and families thrive when we speak plainly and listen deeply, and we die deaths slow and fast when we don’t. It’s been that way for thousands of years. And we know it from this morning’s Gospel.

The healing Jesus performs this morning is not of some random malady. The man brought to Jesus is deaf and has a speech impediment. He has barriers to the two most important pieces of being in community. He cannot speak clearly or listen deeply.

Now Jesus has been on a roll breaking barriers. Last week we heard him remove the barrier of the purity laws that actually separated people from honoring God. In the first part of this morning’s reading, we hear him healing a Gentile woman, removing the barrier that separates the Jews from the other peoples of the world. Now in healing this man, he removes the barriers that separate us one from another within the gathered community.

But the way Jesus does it is different. This healing isn’t just a wave of a hand. He does it in a deeply physical way. Spitting. Touching the man's tongue. Sticking his finger in the man's ear. Groaning to the heavens. The barriers that separate us from each other only are removed when we get into the messiness of human life.

And the word he groans to the heavens is “Ephphatha!” Be opened.

Ephphatha. And the man is able to speak plainly. Listen deeply.

That’s what Jesus does. Jesus removes barriers – then and now. Barriers that prevent us from speaking plainly and listening deeply. And Jesus is with us still. Loosening tongues and unstopping ears. Inviting us to speak plainly. To listen deeply.

Ephphatha. Ephphatha. Ephphatha.

But we struggle mightily with speaking plainly and listening deeply. In the 3 ½ years I have been here, the issues that keep coming up over and over again not just in this community but in the diocese and in the city are communication and trust. That’s all about speaking clearly and listening deeply. And we struggle with it.

It’s kind of like my family. We struggle because we have learned well the lessons of the past. We struggle because we have been taught not to risk speaking plainly and listening deeply. We struggle because we have been taught not to trust one another enough to take the chance.

But it’s time. It’s time for us to take the risks. It’s time for us to learn better how to speak plainly and listen deeply. It’s time to let Jesus touch the messiest parts of our lives and say “Ephphatha” … be opened.

So what does that look like? It looks like a different way of being church then we are probably used to.

It used to be that the Dean of this Cathedral or the rector of any parish was the law. What he -- and in those days it was always a he -- what he said went. It was kind of an Old Testament model, like when Moses brought down the 10 Commandments to the people of Israel and acted as a mediator between God and the faithful. And some wonderful ministry came of it.

A quarter century ago, Dean Michael Allen stood up in this pulpit and with incredible courage said, “Our Church Has AIDS,” and because of that, Christ Church Cathedral became a powerful center of ministry for people who were being discarded by every other segment of society. It was a powerful and great ministry. But the vision came from one man. One man who knew his Bible, said his prayers and loved his people. But one man nonetheless. And we weren’t unique. That’s the way just about all churches were back then.

But we’re remembering now that the wisdom of Christ is not vested in one person, but is present in the whole community and emerges when together we speak plainly and listen deeply. We are remembering that when two or three are gathered, Christ is there not in a Dean but in the midst of us.

That means my role as Dean of this Cathedral is different than you might be used to.

My role is not to define and dictate the Word of God, but to gather us around it. It’s all about the motion of the Eucharist. We come together and lay our lives on the table with Christ’s life. That life gets mixed together and we receive new life in return – life that is a part of each of us and a part of Christ. Then the deacon sends us out to live that Gospel life in the world until we come together again and the process starts all over.

My role is not to bring a message from the mountaintop, but to gather us around what we think might be the presence of Christ and not to dictate “this is exactly what it looks like” but with Amy and the Chapter to invite us together to listen deeply and speak plainly. To name our hopes and fears and listen for Christ’s call in scripture, in the texts of our lives and on the lips of one another.

My role is to remind us that as a Cathedral we do not just gather by ourselves around this table, but, together with our bishop, to remind us that we gather as a diocese and also as a city … and that we can be a place where those communities meet Christ and speak plainly and listen deeply, too.

My role with Amy and the Chapter is to keep our gaze trained on Jesus and help us to help one another do that, too. To encourage us to read, study and pray with scripture until we can’t help but framing every issue in our lives theologically and scripturally. To ask the question: “What do you think Jesus means for us to love?” and keep our eyes and ears trained on Christ while we look and listen for the answer. To listen deeply to God’s word in scripture and Christ’s wisdom on your lips every second of every day and to lead us in listening for that wisdom on the lips of one another.

Together it is about us inviting Jesus in to touch our lives in the messiest places and say “Ephphatha” … be opened. To free us up to listen deeply and speak plainly.

That’s the point of the conversation we’re having about alcohol and addiction the next two Sundays.

Because we are a Cathedral that has had alcoholics in this pulpit and in that bishop’s chair. We are a Cathedral of a brewery town that has struggled with addiction for decades if not centuries. It’s important because alcohol does to families what secret cities and German antiaircraft guns did to mine … encourages us not to speak plainly and listen deeply. And because we need to find a way to have a healthy relationship with each other and with alcohol that is neither prohibition nor denial.

That is the point of the process we’re going through to discern our shared, core values. It is a process of we as a congregation, a diocese and a city speaking plainly and listening deeply so that when we do discern what those values are, it’s not just something THE DEAN thinks we should be about, but work we have done together. And from it will spring a vision that we will become together.

That’s the point of the groups we are gathering to look at a vision for outreach, how we do stewardship, what the role of the Cathedral is in political and social action and even what stuff goes back in this Nave. To have a chance for us to look for Jesus, to listen deeply and speak clearly. And to see what our life mixed with Christ’s life looks like and take our best shot at what living it in here and out there means.

For all of us, it is about letting Jesus into the messiness of our lives and letting him say Ephphatha. To let him remove any barriers to us listening deeply and speaking plainly

It is a call for all of us, but I know it has to start with me. And so if you believe I am not speaking plainly, tell me.

If you believe I am not listening deeply to either you or Jesus. Please, please tell me. Because listening deeply to you and helping us all listen to Christ is my deep joy and my sacred duty.

If you believe I have any other motivation than for us and this diocese and this city to be drawn into a deeper relationship with God in Jesus Christ, tell me. Because I don’t want any other motivation creeping in.

Can we do this? Can we speak plainly to one another? Can we listen deeply to one another? Not just you all and me, but all of us with each other? Can we?

I'm really asking, Can We? (The congregation says "We can!")

I absolutely believe we can. We can live together as the Body of Christ. The community of Ephphatha. The community of “be opened.”

One thing I've learned is that it’s never to late to be a better family. We can be grateful for and honor the past and yet be honest about it and not be trapped by it.

We can invite Jesus into the messiness of our lives to touch our tongues and unstop our ears and to say Ephphatha. And we will speak plainly. And we will listen deeply. And we will know and love Jesus. And we will know Jesus knows and loves us.

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