Sunday, July 1, 2012

"This is what holiness looks like" - a sermon for the fifth Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, July 1, 2012

"My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live." … "If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well."

Three Cathedrals. Three stories.

Coventry Cathedral. For more than 500 years, Coventry Cathedral was one of the most beautiful Cathedrals in all of England. A towering monument to the power and glory of God. Then on November 14, 1940, the German Luftwaffe came and dropped 500 tons of high explosives and more than 36,000 incendiary bombs on Coventry. Nearly 600 people were killed and more than 1,100 injured. 4,000 homes were destroyed. Two-thirds of the buildings in Coventry were severely damaged. And Coventry Cathedral burned to the ground.

The next morning and in the days to come, survivors gathered at the shell of this once great Cathedral. They brushed off what was left of the altar. They found two beams in the shape of a cross that had fallen from the ceiling and two nails that had been fused into the shape of a cross by the heat of the fire. They laid them on the stone altar and laid their lives on that altar with them. Broken lives laid on a broken table. They cried together and they broke bread together. And together they found Christ was with them … and even though they didn’t know what a future could look like, they found that Christ gave them what they needed to go on.

I first heard that story when my dad took me to Coventry the summer after my 8th grade year. That’s when he told me for the first time that, growing up in nearby Rugby, he used to ride his bike back and forth to Coventry. That how on that night in 1940, he had heard the bombs drop and had seen the glow of the flames of the town and Cathedral burning from miles away.

We stood in that burned out shell and he told me the story of those people crawling out of the ruins and gathering the next morning around that broken table. About how they brought the world together in love and healing after World War II to build the new Cathedral that today stands right next to the old. He told me those stories and I thought to myself, “That’s what holiness looks like. “

Canterbury Cathedral. We know Canterbury as the Mother Church of the entire Anglican Communion. Robin and I were blessed to be able to visit there many years ago and walked by the shrine of St. Thomas a Becket. And I looked down and I noticed that there was a long, smooth depressed line in the stone that passed right by the shrine. And so I asked our guide what this was, and he said, “That is from centuries of pilgrims coming to this place and passing before the shrine on their knees.” The faithfulness and penitence of generation upon generation, the honest offering of people’s lives had literally reshaped the stone of this great Cathedral.

And I thought to myself, “That’s what holiness looks like.”

Christ Church Cathedral. We call this Cathedral a holy space, and it surely is. But what makes it holy? Not the beauty. Not the age. It’s holy because like those others it is where truth meets truth. Where the deep reality of God meets the deep reality of our lives. It is where pretense has been stripped away, and generations of people have allowed themselves to be laid bare before God and God hangs right there on the cross laid bare before us.

It is where we can be and have been Adam and Eve before the fall – naked and yet unashamed. It is where we can meet and have met the risen Christ in that upper room – showing us his wounds and even inviting us to touch them.

It’s happened in this space for nearly 150 years. It happened on Sept. 19, 1901 when the city of St. Louis gathered in this very room as the whole nation observed silence during the funeral of President William McKinley. It happened nearly 100 years to the day later on Sept. 11, 2001 when the city came in here once again to look for solace and God’s presence as our nation endured another great loss that shook us to our core.

It has happened every time someone has wandered off the street to pray and every time we have gathered to bury a friend.

And it happened again last Sunday.

Last Sunday, we wrestled together with several questions. The first one was “what are the storms in your life?” And as soon as we started answering it, this space changed. Holiness began to happen. Because our answers were dead honest. Grief and struggle. Aging parents. Losing jobs. Struggling with money. And then when we asked “what is Jesus saying to us in the midst of this storm,” and we heard the word trust over and over again. But there was deep honesty in other forms there, too. At 8 am, one person said, “I hear so many voices, I’m not sure which one is Jesus.” Another person said, “Nothing. When I listen for Jesus I hear nothing at all.”

I listened to all your voices and looked up at that cross, and I said to myself, “This is what holiness looks like.”

In a world that asks us to act powerful, we shared a space where we allowed ourselves to own our powerlessness. And to own the fear that comes with that. But also to claim that we are not alone in our powerlessness. That we are in the boat together and that Jesus is in the boat with us. And because of that we can live extraordinarily fearless lives … not because we’ve got it all together, but because we don’t have to be afraid of not having it all together. And because Christ is in it together with us.

Last Sunday, holiness happened because we took our storms and showed them to each other and brought them to Jesus. And when that happens, we are in the presence of the holy, we become the holy. When that happens, our lives are changed for the good and forever.

This morning’s Gospel is really the same story told a different way. It is a story of two people with two pains. One is urgent and searing – facing the death of a child. The other is chronic and debilitating – a literally life-draining hemorrhage that has not only robbed a woman of her health and vitality but has separated her from society, making her unworthy of being touched.

Two people from different ends of the social spectrum. One a respected synagogue leader the other an outcast woman. Today it could be Mark Zuckerberg and a woman living on the street whose name we wouldn’t even know unless we bothered to ask. And yet the pain of life is the great equalizer, for both find themselves completely powerless in the face of what life has thrown at them. Both in deep need. Both pleading for Jesus’ help not so much because of deep and abiding faith, but because they have exhausted every other option and they are absolutely desperate. 

Both of them. The respected man and the discarded woman. In deep pain and fear. Powerless and desperate.

They both did the same things: Both laid themselves out before Christ and didn’t care who saw it.

Both were honest about their wounds … allowed themselves to be naked and unashamed.

Both said, “Jesus, I need you.”

And then both let Jesus touch them and change them forever.

The story of Jairus and the woman with the hemorrhage is our story when we are at our best. And ironically, when we are at our best is usually when things are at their worst. Because pretty much it is only when things are so godawful bad that we have no choice but to admit they are out of our control that we are open to doing what Jairus and that nameless woman beloved by God did.

To enter a space where truth meets truth.

Where the deep reality of God meets the deep reality of our lives.

Where pretense has been stripped away and we have allow ourselves to be laid bare before God and God hangs on the cross laid bare before us.

Where we give Christ the power to touch us, to change us, to heal us.

And that’s really what it’s about. Giving the power to Christ. Trusting. You all named it last week. It’s about trusting. Trusting Christ and trusting each other. And trust is hard. We all have so many experiences of trust not being rewarded and in fact of trust being betrayed. We are so used to having sales pitches thrown at us every waking moment that we have become hard-wired not to trust, to always expect an ulterior motive, to live an ethic of suspicion and to have our Gospel be “let the buyer beware” instead of “do not fear, only believe.”

These Gospel stories aren’t just stories of two people a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This is us. And hard as it is, this is who we are being invited to be. And it has two critical pieces.

The first is we are invited to be a people who allow ourselves to be vulnerable with each other, who are honest with each other, who trust each other. We are invited to own our own powerlessness but also to hold each other safely in that powerlessness. We are invited to share a space that is real and honest and safe.

That is one piece, but it is not the only piece. If we stop there, the church becomes nothing more than a support group. Now there’s nothing wrong with support groups. Support groups are great, and I hope everyone has some version of one in their lives. But that is not what the church is.

As you’ve heard me quote out of the prayer book hundreds of times, the mission of the church is to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ. It is literally to do what that panicked synagogue leader and that desperate hemmoraghing woman did … to reach out and ask Jesus to touch us, to change us and to heal the brokenness that exists within us and between us.

What makes us a beloved, holy community is that yes, we are vulnerable with each other, yes, we are honest with each other and yes, we trust each other … but also that together we seek to touch Jesus and have him touch us. That together we in claiming our powerlessness, gather at the foot of the cross, at the foot of where ultimate power and ultimate powerlessness meet, and look to trust Jesus more deeply, follow Jesus more closely and give ourselves to Jesus more fully. What makes us a beloved, holy community is our belief that God in Christ loves us as we are but that means God loves us too much to leave us as we are.

It means together facing the reality that Jairus faced. That Jesus doesn’t tell us “don’t worry, that which you fear won’t happen to you,” but rather “that which you fear may very well happen to you, only it is nothing to fear.” Your daughter may indeed die, but death is not the end we think it is.

It means together facing the reality that the woman faced. That there may indeed be long periods where it feels like Jesus is silent or not present, and that we must persevere with faith in those times, demanding like her hand grasping for his cloak, that he heal us.

It means together committing truly to being a beloved community of the table. Coming together each week and laying our lives on this table with Christ and getting back new life in return that is a piece of Christ and a piece of each of us. Coming together in that space where truth meets truth. Where the deep reality of God and meets the deep reality of our lives and realizing that when that happens WE are what holiness looks like.

Coming together in all our brokenness and powerlessness before Jesus and asking him to heal us and make us whole. And together trusting that when he touches us, we will be made well.