Sunday, August 26, 2012

The Letter to the Ephesians --- The Director's Cut

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 26, 2012

“Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God… Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit!”

Man, that feels good to stand in a pulpit and say.

Makes me feel strong. Makes me feel powerful. Makes me feel good!

But here’s the thing … What is the armor of God? What is the sword of the Spirit?

The first thing I saw when I stepped off the plane onto the dirt airstrip in Lui, Sudan, was spent shell casings … the remains of bullets that had been fired in the not too distant past right there where we had just landed.

This was evidence of Sudan’s civil war … a two-decade holy war between the Muslim north and the primarily Christian south that killed more than two million people. There was a fragile peace but still much evidence of war – mine craters in the road and teenagers with automatic weapons.

But more than that, there was what I came to call the “arming of the heart.” The same eyes that embraced us with love brimmed with hate when they talked about the soldiers and planes from the north. Choirs sang Onward, Christian Soldiers with a passion and fire of people for whom the armor of God, the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit were not metaphors but physical instruments of their very survival against an enemy they saw as nothing short of demonic.

And I imagined that if I had lived the life they were living, my heart would be armed the same.

As we gathered our last evening, Bishop Smith asked Bishop Bullen, may he rest in peace, what it was that they needed most from us. I expected him to say bore-wells or school buildings. But Bishop Bullen knew his people, and he knew Jesus. And so he looked at us and said, “We need you to teach us about reconciliation.”

This man, whose own brother was brutally murdered in front of his eyes was begging us to help them reconcile with his murderers. Peace agreements might get rid of the bombs and the guns. But what about the armor of the heart?

“Teach us about reconciliation.”

What he was saying was, “Teach us how to be the Body of Christ.” What he was saying was the words of the Greeks who come to Philip late in John’s Gospel: “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Words which prompt Jesus to tell his disciples that the hour had now come for him to go to the cross.

Those words have stayed with me since that night. They have stayed with me as I have realized this is not something we have to teach and our sisters and brothers in Lui have to learn, but something that we desperately need Christ to teach us all. We all need to see Jesus.

We are a heavily armed people … and I’m not just talking about the size of our military or the guns on our streets and the gates on our communities. We are armed with airtight, self-reinforcing political, theological, social and cultural ideologies. Our armor has labels on it: Fox News and MSNBC. Liberal and Conservative. Red and Blue. Black and White. City and County. Gay and, as Desmond Tutu calls it “so-called straight.” The list goes on and on and on and on … and on.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Whole Grain High Fiber Jesus

A sermon preached by the Ven. Mark Sluss at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 19, 2012

John 6:51-58

Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

... This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

All right, so we are now on, the 4th out of 5 readings in the lectionary this summer that has to deal with bread. It is a time when preachers get a little nervous, really how much can we spin and take, and reflect on bread???? This is when having enough clergy to have a preaching rotation helps.

Over the past 25 years I have worked in the food industry. First as a microbiologist, then as a regulatory and nutrition scientist, I’ve seen many different foci of eating programs come from the government. When I started my first job nutritional labeling was voluntary. Child nutrition programs which are run by the USDA had to meet certain criteria for use in a school lunch program. 25 years ago, that basically had to do with calorie content and nutrient density, for example the food had to be a good source of a single vitamin or mineral or protein to be included in a school lunch program.

There wasn’t a real concern of fat, or cholesterol, and trans fats weren’t even on the radar. This was the era of white bread. There was no whole wheat (unless it was home made), or multigrain. Rich families on our block bought their kids Wonder Bread, but most of us got the local grocery store private label white bread

Now the government puts out food pyramids, and dietary guidelines for every possible population. Elderly need this, children need that, the diabetic needs something completely different. The standards to be able to supply foods for the School lunch programs are much tighter. Foods cannot be high in fat, saturated fats, or cholesterol and lets not even start to discuss the trans fat issue.

Now we know the breads that are better for you will be 100% whole grain, and high in fiber. Way back when wheat bread if the stores carried it at all was usually something that bakeries referred to internally as “Cheater Wheat” which is white bread colored brown with caramel color, to give it a perception of being made from the whole wheat kernel.

The perception, at least in America is what most of us think of when we think of bread these days is a big fluffy loaf of Enriched bleached white bread. Think about this. Something that is really not the way it would normally be found in nature. (to be enriched is, to put back in the vitamins and minerals that are removed because the bran, has been removed from the wheat kernel). White bread using bleached white flour is not the type of bread that Jesus would have eaten.

In Ken Follett’s book “Pillars of the Earth” artisan and cathedral builder Tom Builder, and his crew were given what was called “horse bread” to eat. While the monks and the bishop ate fine milled white bread. Horse bread had various grains in its mix, it was the multigrain, whole grain bread of it’s time. White bread was a status symbol, and the more healthy horse bread was given to the laborers.

I think it kind of funny that the bread which Jesus would have available, (outside of the Passover holiday which would have centered around unleavened bread), what he would have eaten normally day to day was probably some kind of horse bread.

So when we come for communion, we take the bread, look at it. When does a starch wafer, come to mean bread for us? It doesn’t really resemble bread as we know it does it? When Todd and I had our commitment ceremony 11 years ago, the church we had the ceremony in used a loaf of bread for the communion. And my nephew, who was a young maybe 3 year old, looked up when the priest broke the loaf and said rather loudly. “Mommy that’s not communion that’s BREAD”. He was so used to communion being the round wafer used in the church he and his parents attend.

Bread as Jesus references today, is to mean the main component of the meal. Bread and water were the stuff that sustained life. Bread provided the calories for energy to do labor. Meat was a luxury for holidays and celebrations like weddings, and the normal meal may have been only a bit of fish and a hunk of bread, may be a few olives, some dates or figs. A substantial whole multi grain high fiber piece of bread, would have been their major calorie component. So when Jesus says he is bread that is what he means something that will sustain life! Not a little communion wafer.

Now being the geek I am I find this interesting, but they have done nutritional analysis on communion wafers, this is where my 9-5 job comes in. Communion wafers have 6 calories, and ½ a gram of fat per wafer. They are composed of 70% carbohydrate and 30% fat. Not a lot to sustain us in a heavy day laboring in the lord’s vineyard is it?

But that’s why communion is symbolic for us. Communion is a sacrament, An outward visible sign of an inward grace. Eating this piece of “bread” is like eating bread at the feeding of the five thousand. Everyone eats their fill.

So when you come for communion, take a look at that piece of bread, consider that it is for us the flesh of Jesus, and he says if we eat this we will never be hungry again. The bread should transform us.

Take a look at those around you who come up for communion. Look at their stance. See their faces. Some come with joy on their faces, some with pain. Some come hoping that something will happen, something life changing.

But all of us, come as beggars. With outstretched hands, in a beggar’s pose, begging to be fed. Some of us kneel. Some stand, but all have outstretched hands. Hoping for a sliver of ‘bread”, a crumb from under the table.

Jesus said that by eating this bread that we will be changed. If we eat this bread we live forever. Something in us changes.

If we come with any other desire than an expectation to be changed and transformed, then we haven’t really understood what communion means.

Communion will transform you into being a part of Christ. Where our weakness becomes strength, our disease becomes health, our doubt becomes faith, and our isolation becomes community.

That’s what it means to be in communion, we are in community, and we become transformed from individuals into something greater.

We become a part of Christ in this world. We are part of his body, a part of the bread, a bit of horse bread in this life, a coarse multigrain loaf, with a few cracked grains, some seeds, some flakes and maybe a few nuts as well.

As Mike says in the Eucharistic prayer: “Be what you see, receive who you are” AMEN

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"More and Enough" - a sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Michael D. Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 5, 2012

Repeat after me....

More. Enough.

More. Enough.

More. Enough.

More. Enough.

We think about cosmic forces battling we think good v. evil. God v. Satan. Luke Skywalker v. Darth Vader. But all scripture and life is really a battle between these two forces:

More and Enough.

It is a battle being fought throughout this nation. It is a battle being fought around the globe. It is a battle fought every moment of every day inside each of us.

More. Enough.

More. Enough.

More. Enough.

Which side we choose determines the course for our lives and for this world.

Let’s start with more. More is a hunger. It’s a hunger that seems to come from deep inside.

One of the best images of “More” I can remember came from Al Franken. You might remember that before he was a senator, Al Franken was a comedian. And in 2004 he was speaking at Graham Chapel during the election season and he was talking about listening to former Tennessee governor Fred Thompson speak – you might remember Fred from his presidential bid or from his stint acting on Law and Order.

And Al Franken imitated Fred’s southern drawl and said he heard Fred say:

“I have more guns than I need … but not as many guns as I want.”

And Al paused and said, “and I found myself thinking … ‘This man is very different from me.”

And it was a great laugh line. And it was because Al knew his audience – it was an audience of mostly liberal college students. It was a joke that was designed not just to make us laugh but to make us feel good because we felt superior.

But really, when we think about it … Al missed the point. Fred Thompson really isn’t that different from Al Franken or me or you or any of us. We might not say that we have more guns than we need but not as many as we want … but we all say that about something. For all of us there is something – and frankly, many somethings, where there is a huge gap between what we need and what we want … and we are driven by the hunger of the want.

We hunger. And our hunger drives us.

And it feels like it's always been that way.

If we go back millennia when our ancestors were writing the first creation stories and trying to explain how we got here and why we are what we are, look at the stories we wrote. The story of the Garden of Eden begins with a litany of abundance. There is plenty. There is enough. Adam and Eve had no lack at all. They had everything they needed.

And then came the serpent, more subtle than any other beast. And the serpent sowed the seed of discontent. The serpent went to Adam, who was absolutely at peace and content and pointed to the one thing in the garden that Adam didn’t need but also couldn’t have. Pointed to it and said, “Hey … what about that fruit. Wouldn’t it be even better if you had that? Don’t you want that?”

The serpent introduced a new word into our language. A word that would be our downfall and drive us to this day.

The serpent spoke the word …. MORE. Adam --- don’t you want more?

More. More. More.

We hear that story with the Israelites in the desert. God leads them out into the desert and in the middle of nowhere provides food for them … manna raining from heaven. And there is only one instruction – gather only enough for one day, so that they might live in trust that God will provide fresh each day. It’s where the phrase “give us this day our daily bread” comes from. Just one instruction. But the people looked at it and said, “MORE!” and they gathered more … and it all spoiled.

The past few weeks we’ve heard the story of David and Bathsheba. David who has power and riches and a huge abundance of wealth because of the grace of God. David who has hundreds of wives – and by the way for those who think we should be following literally the Biblical prescriptions on marriage, we might want to consider that! … what does he do? He looks across and sees Bathsheba and his heart says “More.” And instead of saying “No. I will praise God for all I have and that it is enough.” He takes more. He takes what is not his. And it is his downfall.

In history we look at Alexander the Great, who conquered everything they knew to conquer and instead of being satisfied, what are we told he did? He wept because there were no more worlds to conquer. Instead of being content and saying enough. He wept because he wanted more and could not get it.

There’s something in us that keeps hungering . That is never satisfied. That never lets us be at peace. Something that cries more. And more is never enough.

We hear it in this morning’s Gospel. The people are fresh off the feeding of the 5,000, where we are told they all had eaten their fill. But still they track Jesus down the next day. And what do they say, “Give us more!” “More! More! More!”

And Jesus tries to enlighten them. “Don’t work for the bread that perishes. Work for the bread that leads to eternal life.” And in this hysterical moment of so not getting it, they say, “Eternal life bread? That sounds great. Give us more of that! More! More! More!”

Always wanting more but never being satisfied. Psycholgists have a phrase for this … they call it the Hedonistic Treadmill.

And finally Jesus has had enough and he says it as clear as he can say it. He says “I am the bread of life. Whomever comes to me will never be hungry. Whomever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

We are stuck in this insane cycle of more that is never enough. A cycle that creates discontent and war and poverty. And in the midst of it, Jesus stands and gives us a way out of the madness. A way to get off the hedonistic treadmill ... to break the cycle in our life and in the life of the world. A way to be at peace. A way to hunger and thirst no more.

When we feel the hunger of more -- and we all feel it. It doesn't make us bad to feel it. It's what we do with it. When we feel the hunger of "more," Jesus gives us a way out, a way to freedom. Jesus says, "If you trust me, when you feel like crying 'More!" I can help you know and even sing 'Enough.'"

There’s actually another Al Franken character that illustrates this in a pretty cool way. If you watched Saturday Night Live at all in the 1990s … or even if you didn’t, you probably remember Stuart Smalley.

Stuart was a parody of the self-help movement. He was a member of dozens of 12-step groups and his whole life was one string of affirmations. And he would begin each of his little shows sitting in front of a mirror saying “I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And doggone it, people like me.”

Stuart was funny for many people because it created a character of someone who was addicted to self-help and made us feel superior. But the thing is, there was also a gentleness and a peace to Stuart Smalley. And if you look at what Stuart was preaching, there was a link between it and the Gospel we hear from Jesus. Because Stuart was preaching the good news of “enough.”

I’m good enough. I’m smart enough. And gosh darnit, people like me.

Stuart Smalley was saying there can be an enough.

Jesus says “This is the one work we must do – trust in the one God has sent.” Trust in Jesus. So it’s not self-help, but it’s Christ help. But Jesus is telling us some pretty similar things.

Jesus is telling us: “God is enough. You have enough. You are beloved by God.”

God is enough. You have enough. You are beloved by God.

In fact, let’s do Stuart. Let’s say that together.

God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

Feels kind of silly maybe? Kind of silly in the way that we laugh at Stuart Smalley. Well imagine what our lives would be like if we started every day looking in the mirror and saying

God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

Imagine what our lives would be like if we not only said it but lived it.

We would be free of anxiety and fear. We would hunger for nothing except for God. We would be like Paul, counting everything as loss for the surpassing love of God in Christ. We would never be hungry and we would be free.

God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

Imagine what the world would be like. No wars. No poverty. No hunger. Just peace and contentment. Enough.

God is enough. We have enough. We are beloved by God

More and Enough. They are the two forces that are battling over our souls and over the life of the world. So let’s try something this week.

First, just be aware. Be aware of the role “more” plays in your life. Be aware of when you feel driven to want more than you have. Then remember. Remember that Jesus says the one work we have to do is trust in him. And then ask him for strength. Ask Christ to help you take the hunger for more and turn it into the peace of enough. If it helps, even start your day looking in the mirror and saying, God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

If each of us can just one time every day – even one time this week - choose enough instead of more, we will be on a path that will change our lives and change the world.

God is enough. I have enough. I am beloved by God.

More or enough. There is a way out of the madness. Christ is waiting to help us. But the choice is ours.