Sunday, March 18, 2012

Loving the Light -- A Sermon for Lent 4

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 10 am on Sunday, March 18, 2012
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

Earlier this week, a man named Greg Smith wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times titled “Why I Am Leaving Goldman Sachs.”

Now, you might think from listening to media reports that Goldman Sachs is and always has been the conscienceless Death Star of global finance. But Smith … albeit in a somewhat self-serving and self-satisfied way … painted a different picture. He said:

It didn’t used to be this way. Goldman Sachs used to stand for something else.

Here’s what he wrote:

“It might sound surprising to a skeptical public, but culture was always a vital part of Goldman Sachs’s success. It revolved around teamwork, integrity, a spirit of humility, and always doing right by our clients. The culture was the secret sauce that made this place great and allowed us to earn our clients’ trust for 143 years. It wasn’t just about making money; this alone will not sustain a firm for so long. It had something to do with pride and belief in the organization. I am sad to say that I look around today and see virtually no trace of the culture that made me love working for this firm for many years. I no longer have the pride, or the belief. “

“But this was not always the case.”

So the question is, “What happened?”  Let’s just for the sake of argument say Smith is telling the truth. Let’s say Goldman Sachs once was a company built on the four pillars of teamwork, integrity, humility and service and somehow mutated into being a company that will sacrifice any and all of these things for a profit margin … what happened?

Well, Smith asks and answers that question:

“How did we get here?” he asks. “The firm changed the way it thought about leadership. Leadership used to be about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing. Today, if you make enough money for the firm (and are not currently an axe murderer) you will be promoted into a position of influence.”

Well, OK. Leadership is important. But I think the answer is even deeper and more foundational that that. You can look at Goldman Sachs or any number of organizations and say, “Well, leadership is still about ideas, setting an example and doing the right thing.” But what has shifted is what the ideas, the example and the concept of what the “right thing” is.

If Smith is to be believed, what really shifted is what Goldman Sachs chose to love.

Easily overshadowed by the oft-bumper stickered John 3:16 in this morning’s Gospel .. is Jesus saying this:

This is the judgment … that the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.”

God doesn’t judge the people … God doesn’t judge or condemn us. The people -- We -- visit judgment on ourselves. And how? By even though we are given the gift of the light, choosing to love the darkness instead.

We choose to love the darkness.

I’m not sure there is a truer statement about human nature and the pain God feels about us than this.  The light has come into the world, and the people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.

And the people loved the darkness rather than the light.

Now, we must hear Jesus’ words this morning ever so carefully. Notice that Jesus doesn’t say that the people are evil. The people – all of us – we are made in the image of God and good. Nothing can change that. It is the deeds that are evil. And we are all vulnerable.

By the same token, corporations aren’t evil. Supreme Court implications aside, the truth is that at their core what corporations are is just groups of people. But groups of people are powerful things. We are made in God’s image after all. We are creatures of power. Individually, we are capable of great light and great darkness – of good deeds and evil deeds – but corporately, the good and the evil can be magnified exponentially.

And usually, the path to loving the darkness isn’t some big jump from one minute doing good and the next doing evil. It’s not Anakin Skywalker to Darth Vader. It’s gradual. Substituting lesser goods. Compromising those core values just a little bit for other lesser values like expediency or success or profit.

In the 1980s film Broadcast News, Albert Brooks’ character, Aaron Altman, has this great line talking to Holly Hunter about the Devil. He says:
“What do you think the Devil is going to look like if he's around? Nobody is going to be taken by some guy with a long, red, pointy tail…. He will be attractive. He will be nice and helpful. He will get a job where he influences a great God-fearing nation. He'll never do an evil thing. He'll never deliberately hurt a living thing. He'll just bit by little bit lower our standards where they are important. Just a tiny little bit. Just coax along, flash over substance. Just a tiny bit. And he will talk about all of us really being salesmen.

“And he’ll get all the great women.”

We hear this, and sure, we can see the Devil all over Greg Smith’s story of Goldman Sachs. But really, when we think about it, we can see the Devil everywhere. Everywhere we turn just a little bit from light to darkness. Everywhere we just bit by little bit lower standards where they are important.

I love my family, we say. And then we spend more and more hours away from them and tell ourselves it’s so we can buy them what they need … when what they really need is us.

I believe we should help the poor, we say. And then we spend our money building up our own standard of living at the expense of the poorest among us in the name of the lesser good of providing “security” for our families or even for our church.

Goldman Sachs is not evil and neither are we. But here is the judgment. And we all need to hear it.

It’s not that we don’t know what the light is.  

It’s not that the light hasn’t been given to us by a God who loves us beyond measure.

Here is the judgment -- that the light has come into the world, and we loved the darkness rather than light.

But if that is the judgment, then what is the antidote?

Love the light.

And what is the light? Some people call it “the good.” Lincoln famously and beautifully called it “the better angels of our nature.” At one point Goldman Sachs called it teamwork, integrity, humility and service.

We call the light by a name. We call the light Jesus.

The answer is love the light.

The answer is Love Jesus.

So what does that look like?  It’s really not a tough question to answer. We know instinctually what loving the light, what loving Jesus looks like. Our challenge is to articulate it and do it.

For the past month or so, your Chapter has been engaged in work around discovering our shared, core values. That’s just another way of saying “what does it mean for us to love Jesus?”  What is the light?

We have begun a process of articulating that – a process that this whole congregation, the diocese and even downtown St. Louis will be engaged in. But what we found in starting it is that we instinctually know what it is.  In fact when we took our first stab at it, it was amazing how quickly a sense of it emerged … a sense that was consonant with what scripture tells us we are supposed to be about.

In fact, I bet I could even ask us here. What are the core values of Christ Church Cathedral? What is the light that we believe Jesus dreams for us to love? In one or two words, what are the values you would say are closest to our heart here?

Congregation said words like "Compassion. Service. Diversity. Love." 

See? We have a sense of what it is. To my ears the words you just said and others like them are some of the same words I heard when I first got here and we had those coffees and conversations and I asked “what was it that drew you to Christ Church Cathedral?” They are some of the same words your Chapter came up with when we started this exercise at our workday last month.

And over the coming year, we just need to pray about it, and look for it in scripture and in our own history, and then articulate it. And then we need to more and more continue to live it.

We need to name the light and love the light. It's that basic.

And as we more and more continue to name, lift up and hold before us these values, this light that Jesus dreams for us to love. As we love the light, we will more and more become the light. As we love Jesus, we will more and more become the Body of Christ. And our lives will be transformed. And the sick will be healed, captives set free and good news will ring out from this place and throughout this congregation, diocese and city.

As together we learn more and more to love the light, darkness will fade. And God will do extraordinary things through us in this congregation, this diocese and in the City of St. Louis.

And then we will all be truly saved. Not in some cheap and easy, get of jail free card hand stamp to heaven way. But saved from the judgment of loving the darkness. And saved to the joy of loving the light. Saved to be the glory of God that is the Body of Christ come fully alive. AMEN.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Being Foolish - A sermon for Lent 3

Preached by the Rev. David Fly at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, March 11 2012 
“For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, 
and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” I Cor.

A clown is seated in the center ring of the circus. Carefully, he gathers his tattered coat about him, smoothing the winkles. He sews on new fancy buttons that shine and sparkle and takes a moment to admire them. He dusts off a black top hat, which he places on his head. He has really made something of himself. With his new look he will cut quite a fancy figure. Then he stands up and his pants fall down! His attempts to “put on airs” have been thwarted and he has failed. And we laugh at his failure. We laugh because in his failure we see a truth about ourselves. We see our own attempts at being something other than we are – we see his pride and are reminded of our own – we remember those times that we discovered, often to our embarrassment, that we really aren’t who we pretend to be.

Emmett Kelly walks near the crowd under the big tent. Today, our sad clown is hungry, really hungry. He rubs his tummy. A little boy reaches out to hand him some popcorn but Kelly’s arms are too short to reach it. Then our hungry clown gets an idea, the way clowns often get ideas: from his left pocket he pulls out a light bulb and puts it over his head. It lights up! Then he carefully reaches into his right pocket and pulls out a walnut. Food! But the food is encased in a hard shell. So close but so far away! Then he has another bright idea. He reaches back into his pocket and pulls out a huge wooden mallet. Ah, the end is in sight. He has a plan. He places the nut on a bench. You can see his excitement. He’s only a thin shell away from food. He raises the mallet high over his head and then SLAM he brings it down on the nut. Of course, when he takes it away, only a grease spot remains. Sad Willie looks even sadder. His plan has failed. We laugh, but we also know how often we invent elaborate schemes in our own lives that completely destroy the objective. We know what “overkill” is all about! The failure of the clown has shown us a truth about ourselves. We’re often so proud of our own plans that we get carried away with our own enthusiasm and SLAM goes the hammer on the very object we seek.
A clown walks into a telephone booth and begins to chat away on the phone. Other clowns have loaded the booth with dynamite. Suddenly, BOOM goes the explosion and the telephone booth is shrouded in smoke. Well, too bad for the clown. He’s messed with the ultimate terror: death. He has failed totally; death has once again won the day. Slowly the smoke clears and the clown is found standing in the same place, a little worse for the wear, but still chatting away on the phone. He dances away; his seeming failure a victory. At some deep level, perhaps only for a moment, we have touched our own fear of death and here is a clown who laughs at that which we fear.
To the Corinthians, Paul writes: The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written,

"I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
“God,” says Paul, “chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God choose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” Through foolishness, says Paul, God has not only made himself known to us, but, if you believe, God has done something that we cannot do ourselves. Though we cannot fashion for ourselves clothes that make us worthy even to stand in the presence of God, God has, in fact, clothed us in Christ. Though we cannot ultimately feed the true hunger in ourselves – the hunger for salvation – God has chosen to feed us through the self-offering of Jesus on the Cross. Though we cannot protect ourselves from the power of death, God has given us the victory through Jesus.

And to many of us, God’s actions are folly because we, like the Jews and the Gentiles, demand signs and wisdom. Like the Jews, we expect God to save us according to our own expectations, not through the cursed death on a cross. Like the Greeks, we believe that surely through the exercise of some kind of pure spiritual disciple we will find the salvation we seek, not depend on it from some lowly preacher in Galilee. The death of Jesus on the cross was clown-like to both Jew and Gentile in a way that we, perhaps, cannot understand, because we have lost touch with the Cross. No self-respecting Jew or Greek could buy the crucifixion as the way to salvation because it didn’t fit their preconceptions.
Later in this same letter, Paul says that when he came to them, he came as a fool. “I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling; and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in the demonstration of the Spirit and the power . . .” Like that clown in the phone booth, Paul walked into the presence of those cultured Greeks, with trembling in his knees and fear in his voice. And they had loaded the place with dynamite! But Paul stood in their presence speaking of the power of Jesus Christ and – when the smoke cleared – Paul was still standing and the people believed that God was present among them.
And that’s the way it’s been ever since. The power of God has made itself present in the most unlikely of people and in the most unusual of situations. If we put aside our own preconceived notions of how we will let God work in our lives, we will find that God is there working within us, making himself known to others through us. If we admit to a hunger that we cannot fill, we will give God the opportunity to surprise us and feed us with his presence. Neither the wisdom of this age nor the rulers of this age can give us what we need. Nor can we, as captains of our fate and masters of our souls, sail ourselves into safe harbors. Maybe that’s what Jesus was demonstrating in his “Occupy the Temple” action in today’s gospel. Rather, let us look to the Cross, the foolish wisdom of God – let us look to the Cross the foolish wisdom of God that proclaims to us a love greater than any we will ever know – a revelation that there is an acceptance at the heart of God that will be there when all else fails. Only then will we be able to boast because we will not be boasting of anything we have done to save ourselves, rather we will be boasting of the Lord who has saved us all. Amen.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Message from Malawi -- Pope Bequest bears fruit, brings hope and joy!

A message from Fr. Tom Mpinga of Nkope Anglican Church in Malawi giving us a further update on the effect the supplies bought with the first $5,000 of the $20,000 Pope Bequest gift from Christ Church Cathedral has had.

The Mission Malawi team is always looking for new members. If you're interested contact Jennifer Grant or Robert Kamkwalala.
On behalf of the committee I would like to report on how the materials bought are helping the Clinic and the community as a whole.
The mattresses are helping us a lot since this is the peak time for malaria so the Hospital is always full and no one is not sleeping on the floor as it was before. Even if some mattresses are not pressed on the beds but there is an improvement that people are enjoying the mattress
The Microscope that we bought is two in one equipment. It can capture TB viruses and also Malaria and other diseases that are found in Urine and stool. The in the beginning the medical assistant could just guess for the diseases by using history so there was no accuracy on the  treatment given to people. But now things are going on very smooth since if the doctor is not sure for the disease then he just send the patient to the laboratory department for proper examinations. These things might seem not helping for others but to us we are happy   with these.
The BP Machine is also another thing that is helping us a lot since this also is a two in one equipment. It measures the BP itself and also the pulse rate. These things were done in the past by guessing but now they are so accurate on these things of which the Patients are given recommended drugs for their problems.
In the beginning we could do this business of photocopy, printing scanning and printing in Mangochi our small town which could cost us transport and also charges on these things. But now we are doing this business right away at the hospital. indeed it is a great relief that we can walk tall and say praise to God our Lord for these gifts for sure we could not manage on our own to find there things in the clinic.
5. Auto scope
This Machine was also a problem to our hospital since a patient with a little problem could be referred to another hospital because of this machine only. But now there are no such referrals since the machine is giving the doctor accuracy in his job and he works effectively on issues which is deals with this machine.
So you can see that these things are having a very big impact to the clinic and the community at large since people are helped in time and within the clinic. So we have done this progress report so that those who contributed for this may see to it that things are okay here.
Wishing you and the whole church there all the best in this Lent period

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Third Sunday of Lent - 2012

"Let the words of mouth and the meditation of my Heart be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord my strength and my redeemer"

“I mean why does God rely on Jesus as his defense attorney? Can't God do all that on his own? Could it be that God really needs help from everyone else because he is supposed to have a certain amount of power. You know like Checks and balances? So if I could convince Heaven that I was better than God could I overthrow him? Anyways if Heaven is a dictatorship then how did Satan convince 1/3 of Heaven to join him? Can't God use his magical powers to silence Satan? Or could it be that he doesn't have that type of power?”

These are the words of Alex S in a recent post on the internet. Readers voted Kate’s response as best:

“May luck be with you when you are denied entry into heaven.

poor dumbass.”

Is it really that simple: ask dumb question - be denied entry into heaven. Likely if that is true -- than I am in big trouble.

I propose that simple answers to tough questions often limit of our view of God - often confine God to neat little boxes that are comfortable to you and I.

When tornado’s ravage the midwest week before last, Pat Robertson was quick to say that “if people had only prayed hard enough, God would have intervened.”

Two years before he stated that Hurricane Katrina’s devastating hit on the Gulf Coast was God’s judgement.

Recovering from Surgery a year ago I read Stephen Hawkins’ “A Grand Design” where he explores the world of quantum physics and the question of a creator of it all. He dismisses the need for a creator of the universe, by concluding that the complexity of quantum physics can explain it all.

It is not just Pat Robertson or Stephen Hawkins who readily box God in. You and I do it with regularity. “God took her home” or “why didn’t God answer my prayer” or “God knew you were strong enough to handle it”.

Tough questions --- simple answers. My guess is that, like me, you have real questions that are not easily dismissed.

In his 1961 book “Your God is too Small”, JB Phillips explores the ways in which we limit God - the ways in which we put God in a box that we can deal with -- that we can comprehend -- that fits into our world view.

Some of these boxed-in-Gods that Phillips outlines may be familiar to us - either in ourselves or someone we know or have listened to:

  • The resident policeman
  • The Parental hangover
  • The grand old man
  • A meek and mild savior
  • The Heavenly bosom
  • The managing director

Any of these sound familiar? The reality is that most of us put God in a box --- expect God to respond the way we want, and then we read scripture to fit God into our mold.

Some of these gods sound more like the mythical figures of the gods of the Greeks - of Atlas, Zues, Thor, Posiden, Hades, Hestia, and Hera. Or gods of our own creation - Money, Power, Status, Success, Sex, Alcohol, or dozens of other things that might rule our life, or take precedence over God.

Instead, listen again to the opening words of todays Psalm:

The heavens declare the glory of God, *

and the firmament shows his handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another, *

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language, *

and their voices are not heard,

Their sound has gone out into all lands, *

and their message to the ends of the world.

It is hard to fully appreciate what this means - unless we get out of the city at night - in a really dark place - and then look up at a perfectly clear sky. Most recently I had this experience in my trips to South Sudan. The planets, the multitude of stars, the galaxy, that is our island home.

When almost 15 years ago Nancy and I visited Dinosaur National Monument - on the boarder of northwestern Colorado and Utah, with the girls, on one of our first trips together as a family; we marveled at fossils from 500 million years ago, and dinosaur bones from 150 million years ago. We are mer specks on the timeline of this tiny speck of a planet in our immense universe.

The reality is that if this is a simple representation of the power, breadth, depth of God - than there is no way that my brain can handle imagining the fullness, the complexity, the immenseness of a God who created it, and rules over it all.

Paul acknowledges this in todays reading from 1st Corinthians: “For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.”

Even Jesus - walking the earth takes this tact according to Michael Battle, an episcopal priest. Michael says that in the gospels Jesus does not speak in parables “to confuse us, rather the parable is the judgement against confined ways of our thinking of boxing in God. Jesus (through these parables) is trying to cox us away from our limited way of understanding reality.”

We get stuck in answering the questions - in trying to understand a God that that is bigger than you or I can ever comprehend.

So how then do we cope? How do we understand? How do we comprehend?

Certainly it is not in the simplistic answers to the tough questions - for I will likely never understand why a tornado hits one house and not another - why a young mother dies of cancer while an apparent evil person lives to 90 disease free - why some are born to wealth and others destined to live lives in poverty? Why earthquakes and tsunamis are allowed to kill tens of thousands? Why some are born with multiple mental or physical disabilities?

Surprisingly for me -- it is in the simplicity, that I can find a way forward. I know I said that “simple answers to tough questions are often limiting of God”. But I also think the right “simple answer” can be immensely freeing.

We listened to the reading of the law this morning and I propose that our clue comes from Jesus’ summary of that law. Listen to Jesus words from Luke, it as it has been translated in the Message:

“Love the Lord you God with all your passion and prayer, and muscle and intelligence --and that you love your neighbor as well as you do yourself.”

The simplest answer in all the complexity of Theology may lay in this very simple word -- LOVE

This incomprehensible God - loves you and loves me -- and what we are called to do is to love each other. Because it is in loving each other that we learn how to love God - how to understand how much God loves us - you and I, tiny specks on the the timeline of this tiny speck of a planet in an immense universe.

In 1st John, John writes:

“If we won’t love the person we can see, how can we love the God we can’t see?”

You and I are called to make a difference - at this moment in time - on this island home. That is what we mean when during our renewal of baptismal vows we say that we

“will SEEK and SERVE Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourself”;


“will will STRIVE for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being”

Seek, Serve, Strive they are the active words of loving our neighbor.

It is here that we can put away our own gods - it is here that we can take God out of our box and honor that first commandment:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.”

During this lenten season I encourage you to reflect on--

What box have you placed God into?

How can you release the immensity of God into your life?

Who are you being called to love?

Where and how are you being called to seek, to serve, or to strive?

What gods have you you placed before the One God that keep you from doing this?

Let us pray:

O Divine Master, grant that we may not so much seek

to be consoled as to console;

to be understood as to understand;

to be loved as to love. Amen