Sunday, May 13, 2012

"We will see you ... tomorrow night.... and the next day ... and the next!" -- a sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 13, 2012

I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

 Stay standing for a moment. If you can’t stand. Try this sitting or just watch.

Bend down and curl up. Crouch down. Turn into yourself.

Now hold that for just a second.

Now slowly open up. Arms raised. Head upward.

What did the first feel like?
What did the second feel like?
What did the transition feel like? OK … you can sit down now.

 On a Thursday night late last October, the Cardinals twice were down to their last strike. And if you hadn’t gone to bed, you were rewarded with a moment that you will remember forever. In the bottom of the 11th inning of Game Six, David Freese stepped to the plate at Busch Stadium and it sounded like this:

 How many of you saw that?

Now when you saw that, how many of you went like this (crouch)? NO! The entire city of St. Louis was like this (arms upraised).

For this whole city it was a moment of pure unadulterated joy. Man, Schroedter, Hayden and I almost destroyed part of our house we were jumping and dancing around so much! It wasn’t just that the Cardinals had won. It was that twice it had seemed like it was over. Twice it looked like this great impossible ride that began when we were 10 ½ games out in late August was going to fall just short.

And then Freese hit his triple in the 9th and his homer in the 11th. And we knew not only was it not over. We knew that dreams could come true.

And we went like this (arms upraised). Do you remember? Do you remember not just with your mind? Do you remember with your heart? Do you remember in your body?

 In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus says “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

There’s a refrain from an Indigo Girls song that sings “the hardest to learn was the least complicated.”

Man, that is so true. You know, we can learn the most complex things. We can build supercomputers and perform microsurgery. We can learn to hit an inside slider and dance the Lindy Hop. If you stop by Pi Pizzeria on March 14, you will hear people who can recite from memory pi—you know 3.14159 – who can recite that to more than 200 digits … for a T-shirt!

We can learn just about anything. We can remember just about anything. But somehow it is so easy for us to forget what Jesus says here.

 “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”

It’s so simple. It truly is the least complicated. But still over and over again, we manage to forget.

We forget that this is all supposed to be about joy. We forget that God’s dream for us is all about joy. We forget that following Jesus is all about joy. We forget that being the church is all about joy.

And that’s not a criticism. Sometimes it’s hard to see how we could remember. We are surrounded and consumed by so much that pulls our attention from joy to fear. The media brings anger and conflict into our lives 24 hours a day. We are told to fear everything … fear the economy, fear crime, fear each other – particularly those who are different from us. Fear for our children. Fear for our parents. Fear that we are just one strike away from it all collapsing down. Fear that if we swing away, that ball won’t connect with the bat and instead we’ll hear the thud of horsehide in a catcher’s mitt while we flail helplessly with the whole world watching.

And in our fear we start to believe that the posture for life is this. (curl up).

But we come together in this place to hear a different message. We come together here to remember and learn the simple truth that Jesus brings us. That we don’t have to be like this (curled). That we can be like this (uplifted). That Christ’s dream for us is joy. Christ’s joy in us. And our joy being full.

 So how do we do it? How do we remember? How do we embrace? How do we go from this (curled up) to this (arms raised)?

Jesus says: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.

That’s how we do it. We love one another. We lay down our lives for one another.

 Lay down our lives. Now that sounds like a chore, doesn’t it? That sounds like obligation. It’s not. It’s about joy. It is our greatest joy to lay down our lives for each other.

 It’s all about going from this (curled up) to this (arms raised).

And the way we do that is to give ourselves away.

And we already know this. We know this because the greatest moments of our lives come when we have done this. Everyone who shows up on Saturday morning to serve at Miss Carol’s breakfast or heads down to the Bridge for the Sunday lunch does it not out of obligation but because there is something in giving ourselves away that puts Christ’s joy in us and makes our joy full. We give our lives away as spouses and partners, as mothers and fathers, as teachers and friends. And when we do sometimes it is painful. Sometimes it is hard. But those are also the moments, those are also the relationships that bring us the deepest celebration. The deepest joy. The deepest this (arms upraised).

 And in those moments we know that our lives are a gift not to be jealously and fearfully guarded, but to be extravagantly and joyfully given away.

We are entering an exciting season as Christ Church Cathedral. In the coming weeks and months, our Chapter will be inviting us to gatherings where together we will imagine what God dreams for us to be as not just a Cathedral congregation but a Cathedral for the city of St. Louis. Where we will look at scripture, at our history and tradition and at the world both within this Cathedral and without and imagine who God is calling us to be as Christ’s body today and into the future. How exciting is that?

 I’m not going to presume to guess what that dream might look like, or what specific Christian values are going to emerge that have us raising our arms and saying “Yes, this is who we are!” “Yes! This is what makes God do this (arms up) when we embrace.” But I will guarantee us one thing, ‘cause it’s right here in the Gospel.

I guarantee that whatever we realize God’s dream for us is. Whatever Christian values we believe we are called to embody. Whatever mission we commit to undertake it will not be for ourselves but for the world whom Jesus loves.

Our destiny as the Cathedral for this diocese, our destiny as the Cathedral for this city and this region is not holding on tightly to what we have, not curling up into ourselves, but throwing open our doors and giving ourselves and this glorious space away in love. Throwing open our doors and going out into the streets. Throwing open our doors and inviting the world in here. Throwing open our doors and living out loud our faith in one who looks deep in our hearts and reminds us that our lives are not possessions to keep but gifts to be given away.

We’ve been through a rough few years together. And we have gone through it together. We have had times of great pain and fear and moments of deep beauty and joy. And we still have a couple big strikes against us. We’ve got a $70,000 deficit that we’ve got three years at the outside to erase. We’re still too staff dependent and have newcomers, hospitality and children’s ministries that are suffering greatly because of it.

But, you know, this is St. Louis. And if last October taught us anything, it’s that two strikes means we’ve got ‘em right where we want ‘em. And we’ve got a big swing left in us. A swing of loving the world as Christ loves us. A swing of rejecting fear and throwing open our doors and laying down our lives. A swing whose sound when it connects will echo throughout this city and this region and signal that Christ is alive at Christ Church Cathedral. Come one. Come all. We will see you tomorrow night … and the next day … and the next…. and the next … and the next.

We’ve got a big swing left in us. But we’ve gotta get the bat off our shoulder. How is Christ inviting you to be a part of it? How is Christ inviting us to throw open the doors of this Cathedral and love the world more extravagantly?

How is Christ inviting us to go from this (curled up) … to this (arms raised)?

Amen. Alleluia!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

A wedding sermon for Cecily Stewart and Nick Hawksworth

Preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday, May 12, 2012

 “Yes?” said Pooh. 
 “When I’m—when--Pooh!” 
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” 
 “I’m not going to do Nothing any more.”
 “Never again?” 
 “Well, not so much. They don’t let you.” 
Pooh waited for him to go on, but he was silent again. 
“Yes, Christopher Robin?” said Pooh helpfully. 
“Pooh, when I’m—you know—when I’m not doing Nothing, will you come up here sometimes?”
 “Just me?” 
“Yes, Pooh.” 
 “Will you be here too?” 
 “Yes, Pooh, I will be, really. I promise I will be, Pooh.” 
“That’s good” said Pooh. 
 “Pooh, promise you won’t forget about me, ever. Not even when I’m a hundred.” 
 Pooh thought for a little. “How old shall I be then?”
 Pooh nodded. “I promise,” he said. 
 Still with his eyes on the world Christopher Robin put out a hand and felt for Pooh’s paw. 
“Pooh,” said Christopher Robin earnestly, “if I—if I’m not quite---“ he stopped and tried again - “Pooh, whatever happens, you will understand, won’t you?”
 “Understand what?”
 “Oh, nothing.” He laughed and jumped to his feet. 
“Come on!” 
“Where?” said Pooh.
 “Anywhere,” said Christopher Robin. 
--From The House at Pooh Corner by A.A. Milne

I used to wonder why we cry at weddings. After all, weddings are happy times. At first I used to think it was because it was just so beautiful, and sometimes deep beauty makes us cry. I think that's part of it. But I finally realized that we cry at weddings because every new beginning involves and ending. And we grieve endings.

Cecily, you and Nick chose for one of your readings today the incredibly profound text "The House at Pooh Corner" ... and if we are going to fully dive into the deep theological underpinnings of this piece we're going to have to understand that backstory of the part we just heard.

The part Barbi just read comes from the very end of the book. And what's going on is Christopher Robin is going off to school. His days of doing Nothing -- that's "Nothing" with a capital "N" -- His days of doing Nothing with his cuddly toys, Winnie the Pooh, Piglet, Eeyore and all the rest – are coming to an end. And Christopher Robin is begging Pooh not to forget him – but we know that it's really Christopher Robin who is about to forget him. Childish things are being put away. He is off to something new … and no matter how many promises they make to each other they know it will never be the same.

And it’s sad. Even though Christopher Robin growing up and going to school is a wonderful thing … it’s sad because he's leaving a part of his life that has been precious and wonderful behind and it will never be again. 

It’s why we all cried at the end of Toy Story 3 when Andy gets in the car and drives off to college leaving Woody and Buzz behind. It's just the same story told for a different generation.

We live in a world where everything has seasons. Friendships come and go. Favorite toys get outgrown. Careers change.  We live in houses for years and then the moving vans come and someone else calls the space we have consecrated with our lives home.  Everything except this.

A few minutes ago, you told me that you were ready to make some promises to each other.

To live together in the covenant of marriage. To love, comfort, honor and keep, in sickness and in health, forsaking all others be faithful.

And then you said “I will” to seven words … seven words that make all the difference. Seven words that make what you are entering into today different from all the other things that do have seasons. All the other things that do come and go. The seven words you said “I will” to were:

As long as you both shall live.       As long as you both shall live.

When this service started, in words that are easy to miss because the buzz of the excitement of the moment is still filling our ears, our prayer book said this about marriage:

It signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his Church.

The mystery of the union between Christ and his church is love … that’s clear enough. But it’s not just love. It’s love that is always putting the other first. Love that is always giving itself for the other so much that each puts their own well being second to the thriving of the other. For us, it’s a love that only works in mutuality. And the covenant of marriage is that safe place where each of you will be able to risk loving the other more than yourself, because you know that loving of yourself piece is taken care of. You’ll be able to not worry about watching your own back because you know your partner will always have that job.

But it’s not even just that. The mystery of the union between Christ and his church is not just love, not just a love that is self-giving, it is a love that is eternal. It is the love of “Lo, I will be with you always, even until the end of the age.”

It is the love that you will pledge to each other in a few moments when you promise that you will have and hold one another from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until you are parted by death.

It is an extraordinary thing that you are promising. It is a promise of a love that is sustaining and unassailable. And it is too wonderful and too difficult for you to do it alone. And that is why you are not getting married off somewhere by yourselves but here with all of us, your family and friends and faith community who love you.

Because I don't know if you remember, but you're not the only ones making a promise here today. A few minutes ago, I asked all of us here an important question. I asked "Will all of you witnessing these promises do all in your power to uphold these two persons in their marriage?" and you absolutely shook this place with a resounding "We Will!" It was fabulous ... and it needed to be. Because Cecily and Nick, you need to know that we are with you in this. You need to know that our support for you doesn't end today it's just beginning.

Because I want to tell you what we have just promised these two. We have just promised that we will be with them through good times and bad. When things are going great in their marriage, we are going to be there to celebrate with them and say "Way to go!" And when things aren't going so good ... and EVERY marriage has times when they aren't going so well. Because we live in a world that tries to tell us that we need to be much more concerned with our own back than watching each other. But when things aren't going so well, ... well, we're going to be there, too. And we're going to remind you of the promises you made here today and even more than that of the love that binds you together.

And there is one more thing that we're going to do. We're going to count on you. All of us. All of us in our marriages and partnerships and friendships. All of us in all our relationships where we hope to live lives of giving ourselves to each other ... we're going to be watching you in hope. In hope that you can show us how it's done. That we can learn from you and have our lives strengthened and our loyalties confirmed.

Our hope for you is that you will be what the Gospel you chose calls us to be. That you will be salt and light. Showing us all how rich life can be. As rich as your love this day.

So, it’s OK to cry today. It’s OK to laugh. Today is a day of endings and beginnings. Like Christopher Robin, your lives will never be the same. But that is good news. The promises you make to each other today are not the promises of Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh. They are the promises of Christ. The promises of love through good times and bad. The promises of care through cross and resurrection. And above all, the promises of lo, I will be with you always, even to the end of the age.