Sunday, October 28, 2012

"Show me where it hurts" -- a sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 28, 2012 

Show me … where it hurts.

If there is ever an invitation we both long to hear and fear to hear, it is: “Show me where it hurts.”

We long to hear it because it is the voice of care and compassion. It’s the loving parent kneeling down to meet the gaze of that tearful child that lives inside each one of us. That lives inside you and that lives inside me.

Show me where it hurts.

We long to hear it because it tells us that maybe someone not only cares but can actually understand. That someone will meet us where it hurts. Hold us where it hurts. Kiss us where it hurts. And somehow make it better.

At the same time … we fear it. We fear it because it is an invitation to be vulnerable. To let someone see something in us that they might think is wrong or weak or bad. Maybe they will think less of us? Maybe they will say, “Pffft. That’s nothing.” … even though to us it feels like everything.

Maybe when we show them, they won’t be able to see it or they won’t believe us at all?

Show me where it hurts.

But we also fear it for some of the same reasons we long for it.

As strange as it sounds, we fear “show me where it hurts” because someone might actually meet us where it hurts. Someone might actually hold us where it hurts. Someone might actually kiss us where it hurts and somehow make it better. We fear it because sometimes where it hurts has become such a big part of us that we aren’t sure who we would be without it. We aren’t sure how to be without it. We don’t know if there can be an us without it.

One of Robin Williams’ first movies about 30 years ago was called Moscow on the Hudson. He plays a Russian saxophone player visiting New York City with a touring group. And just before the group is about to go to the airport and back to the Soviet Union, he realizes he can no longer live the life he has had to live behind the iron curtain … and so he defects … right in the middle of Bloomingdale’s.

His new life in America is hard. Even though there is so much that is better, so much freedom he has that he didn’t have before, so much that is what he dreamed for, it is all so different. He doesn’t know who he is in this strange country. The life he had before was awful, but at least he knew who he was. Now he is having to find out who he was all over again in this strange place. And that is really, really scary.

At one point, he is crying with a friend, trying to help him understand why part of him still wants to be in Russia, as bad as things were. And this is what he says:

“When I was in Russia, I did not love my life, but I loved my misery. You know why?

Because it was my misery.

I could hold it.

I could caress it.”

As strange as it sounds, “Show me where it hurts” is scary because someone might actually kiss us where it hurts and somehow make it better. Because even though we might not love our lives, sometimes we do get pretty attached to our misery. Because it’s our misery. We can hold it. We can caress it. We know who we are with it and maybe we aren’t sure how to be without it. Maybe we aren’t sure if there can even be an us without it.

And yet, “Show me where it hurts” is exactly what Jesus asks us. He asks it so he can meet us where it hurts. So he can hold us where it hurts. So he can kiss us where it hurts and make it better. And then walk with us and help us walk with one another as we learn how to be and who we are without it.

If … we let him.

Bartimaeus is an outcast, and he knows it. His identity is rooted in what he lacks – sight and money. He is a blind beggar. He is his pain. He is his misery.

But this blind man has a vision. A vision that maybe things don’t need to be this way. That maybe there is a life beyond the misery. And that maybe this Jesus is the one who can make it happen. So screwing up all the courage he has, as Jesus walks by, he shouts “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

The disciples and others tell him to just… shut… up! After all, all they see is this man of misery. A blind beggar. What use could he be? But for some reason, Bartimaeus won’t be denied. He cries out all the more “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

And Jesus stops in his tracks and says:

“Bring. Him. Here.”

And so here is Bartimaeus, face to face with Jesus. Now he’s blind, so he can’t see Jesus, but he knows he is right there. And all he hears is this voice in the darkness. And the voice says:

Show me where it hurts.

It is the moment of truth for Bartimaeus. These are the words he has longed to hear from the one from whom he has longed to hear it. But his answer means everything. Because in front of him is the one who has the power not just to see where it hurts but to heal where it hurts. And then his pain, his misery will be gone.

But who will he be without it?

We tend to think of Bartimaeus’ voice was full of relief and joy when he answers , but I have to believe it was also full or fear and trepidation. I have to believe that maybe a cold sweat broke out on Bartimaeus’ brow when he heard Jesus say, “Show me where it hurts” … because sure, life before he gave his answer was miserable, but it was familiar.

Life after that answer … who knows?

I have to believe it took even more courage for Bartimaeus to answer “My teacher, let me see again” than it did to keep shouting Jesus’ name even when the crowd was telling him to be quiet. Because in Jesus’ question was an invitation not just to name his pain but to let go of his pain forever … and to join him in a new and utterly unfamiliar life on the other side of that pain … a life that he could only guess at.

When we come to Jesus, he asks us just three things:

Show me where it hurts.
Let me heal where it hurts.
Follow me to a new life.

That’s it. Just three things:

Show me where it hurts.
Let me heal where it hurts.
Follow me to a new life.

What Jesus is asking us to do is pretty scary. Jesus is not just asking us to be able to name our pain – and that can be challenging enough sometimes -- but to take that pain, that pain that is ours. That pain that we can hold. That pain that we can caress. To take that pain and let … it … go. Let it go so we can follow him to a new life. A life where we are not known by our pain. A life where we are known by who we really are … beloved children created in the image of a infinitely loving God.

I think it was Abigail van Buren who said, “Churches are hospitals for sinners, not museums for saing.” I think she’s right, churches are hospitals for sinners. But I would put it slightly differently:

“Churches are hospitals for sinners, not hospices for sinners.”

We aren’t here because we are perfect. We are here because part of us is just like Bartimaeus. Because Jesus calls us here in all our pain and imperfection and weakness and says “show me where it hurts” so we can lay it down and let it go.

Jesus calls us together at this time and place not so we can die holy deaths from our wounds but so together we can be healed from them and follow him into new life. A new life of loving extravagantly out there because we know Jesus love for us in here (the church) and in here (our hearts). A new life where we know we are neither blind nor beggars but beloved children of a loving, living God.

A new life where we are the ones going out into a world that is just as longing and just as terrified as we once were and maybe we are now. Going out into the world and asking them:

Show me where it hurts.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

And Jesus said, "One thing you lack: Wax on, Wax off."

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 14, 2012

And Jesus said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me."

Are you bracing yourselves yet?

Man, I know if I were sitting where you are and I just heard me quote that verse, I’d be bracing myself.

Here it comes. And conveniently placed in stewardship season, too. The Gospel reading about Jesus telling the rich man to give away all his money.

Here it comes. The holy putting on of the squeeze. The gunning for the green. The sacred shakedown.

Vito, would you please help this nice parishioner find his pockets?

Give. Give more. Give it all.

But why? That’s the question isn’t it? Why should we give?

And those of us doing the asking, we know we all are rational people who need and respect a well-crafted argument, so we don’t disappoint. We have honest, wonderful, sensible reasons to give.

We talk about how much money it takes to keep this place open and all the good works we do. We talk about ownership and responsibility and sometimes even about bang for your buck.

And it’s all good. It’s real. It’s true. And it makes sense. But somehow even at our best and most passionate and honest, it still all manages to sound kind of like an NPR-style begathon without the coffee mugs and tote bags.

But the question is still there, and it’s a good one. Why? Why should I give?

The answer I have for us this morning may sound simplistic. It might even seem so anti-intellectual that it offends us, which is why I think we usually try to find reasons that sound better. But I’ve finally come to realize there really is only one reason we give.

Because Jesus tells us to.

That’s it.

We give because Jesus tells us to. Because from the beginnings of the church 2,000 years ago, our foundation is not beautiful worship or good deeds but trusting that in Jesus Christ, God is saving us from lives of fear to lives of freedom. Trusting that in Jesus, God is calling us to a new life that is life at its richest and deepest and most wonderful.

And because of that, because we trust God, we give Jesus authority in and over our lives. Not just when it is convenient or makes sense but always.

Why do I give? Why should we all give?

Because Jesus tells us to

And if that doesn’t make sense or if it even seems like an infuriating abdication of our own intellect … well, no, it doesn’t, and yes, it is.

But there you have it.

Jesus used parables to teach tough concepts. So maybe this parable will help.

How many of you have seen The Karate Kid? I’m not talking about the remake, here. I’m talking about the original. The real deal. 1980s classic. Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita as Daniel Larusso and Mr. Miyagi.

It’s a great story. Daniel is an East Coast high school kid whose single mom has dragged him to Southern California for her new job … and he hates it. Life is awful. He’s alone in a new place, friendless and at the mercy of a gang of bullies who beat him up and are threatening to do worse. He’s angry and depressed and it feels like nobody cares. His world makes no sense anymore.

Daniel is the people of Israel in exile, only for him the promised land is back home in New Jersey and his wilderness is Reseda. You can almost hear him screaming “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? And are so far from my cry and from the words of my distress?” only for him Psalm 22 is him screaming at his mom, “I hate this place! I hate it! I just want to go home. Why can’t we just go home?... That’s it. I don’t understand the rules here, and I just want to go home.”

But since going home is not an option, there’s only one salvation Daniel can see: “I’ve gotta learn karate,” he says. He’s tried learning out of a book but he knows that’s not cutting it. He needs a teacher. A real teacher.

And then one day, he meets this elderly gardener from Okinawa, Mr. Miyagi. Something is different about this man. It’s more than just that he knows karate. There is something about him that feels safe. That feels like home even though he is so different. This man could teach me, Daniel thinks. Maybe if he could teach me, I wouldn’t have to be afraid. Maybe if he could teach me, life would start to make sense. Maybe if he could teach me, life might be good again.

And Mr. Miyagi agrees to teach Daniel, to be his sensei. But before he does, he looks deep into Daniel’s eyes and makes him promise something.

“We make a sacred pact,” Mr. Miyagi says. “I promise to teach karate to you. You promise to learn. I say. You do. No questions.”

And Daniel, having absolutely no idea what he is getting into, says “Sure. You teach. I learn. No problem.”

Daniel shows up the next day ready to learn karate. Mr. Miyagi hands him a sponge and points him to a lot full of antique cars. Wash all the cars in the lot. Then wax. Wax on with right hand. Wax off with left hand.

“Hey!” Daniel says, confused. “Why do I have to…”

“AH!” shouts Mr. Miyagi, “Remember deal. No questions. Wax on right hand. Wax off left hand.”

The next three days are the same way. Daniel arrives expecting to learn karate and instead is given another backbreaking and seemingly pointless chore. Sand the floor (make circular motion on ground). Paint the house (make motion side to side). Paint the fence (make motion up and down). And Daniel does it all. He doesn’t understand it, but he does it. And his confusion gradually turns to exasperation and finally to anger.

On the night of the fourth day, Mr. Miyagi comes back from a day of fishing, and Daniel is not only exhausted from painting, he is furious. And he starts screaming at Mr. Miyagi:

“I’m your karate student? I’m being your slave is what I’m being here. You’re supposed to teach, and I’m supposed to learn.”

“You learn plenty,” Miyagi responds.

“Yeah, I learned how to sand your decks, maybe. I washed your car. Paint your house. Paint your fence. I learn plenty.”

“Ah,” Miyagi says. “Not everything is as it seems.”

And then he proceeds to show him how every one of those seemingly senseless moves, repeated over and over and over again were ingraining habits in him, changing him, preparing him to use karate without thinking. In just four days, Daniel had mastered the basic moves that would save him.

From the very beginning, the basis of the church is a sacred pact. It is like the pact between Mr. Miyagi and Daniel only it is between us and Jesus: “He teaches. We learn.”

But over the centuries, the pact has gotten more and more obscured. The words are still right there in our baptismal service:

Do you turn to Jesus and accept him as your savior?

Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

And like Daniel, having absolutely no idea what we’re getting into – how could we! - we say. I will. I will. I will. “Sure. You teach. I learn. No problem.”

And before the chrism is dry on our foreheads we start arguing with Jesus like Daniel looking at that sponge and the lot of cars. And before we know it, we have gone from “follow and obey him as our Lord” to “do those things he says that make sense to us.”

Before we know it, we are re-defining Jesus’ commands in terms of what the world has taught us is sensible. We are re-defining faithfulness as effectiveness. We are re-defining good stewardship of church finances as “being smart with our money” and “getting the most bang for the buck.” We are re-defining following Jesus as “going to church and leading a good life.”

And as we do, Christ’s individual claim on our lives becomes a distant echo, if we can hear it at all.

Jesus looks in our eyes and says, “We make a sacred pact. I promise to teach the secrets of life to you. You promise to learn. I say. You do. No questions.”

It has to be that way because from the beginning Jesus’ earliest followers knew that the things Jesus tells us to do by themselves make no sense.

Things like praying every day to a God we can’t see, hear, taste or touch.

Things like reading a 2,000 year old book every day to learn how to live our lives.

Things like giving away money that everyone else us tells us is ours and we should do what we want to with it.

Things like believing that a cross can be a throne and enemies are for loving.

These things make no sense in the eyes of the world. But we do them, because like wax on, wax off, we are changed by doing them. We become wise. We become loving. We become generous. But most of all we become like Christ. In fact, we become Christ’s. We become fearless and free. We become able to embrace life like a skydiver hurtling from a plane.

The more we pray and give our lives to Christ each day, the less anxiety has a hold on us.

The more we read the Bible and seek wisdom from it each day, the less the cacophony of this Fox News/MSNBC world tees us up and sets us off.

The more we give … not just to the church but anywhere. The more we give, the less hold money has on us and the freer we are to live and love and fully embrace this great gift of life God gives us.

The more we love, the less hate binds us. The more we lay down on the cross, the less anyone and anything else can have any power over us.

We follow the master to become like the master. Free. Fearless. And fully alive.

We’re hearing testimonies this month, so here is mine. Why do I give?

I don’t give because the church needs the money. I don’t give because I think it’s a good investment or because it makes me feel good.

I give because Jesus tells me to. And why does that matter?

Because I am Daniel Larusso – and I wonder if maybe you are, too. I live in a world that doesn’t make sense. A world where still every three seconds a child dies of preventable stupid poverty. A world where corporate criminals are lionized and single moms are spat upon. A world where friends and lovers can leave us but it's cancer that comes back. A world that makes me want to cry out like Job and the Psalmist and Daniel Larusso: “I don’t understand the rules here … and I just want to go home.”

I give because I’ve met someone named Jesus. I’ve met him in people who know him and are trying to follow him. I’ve met him in his words. I’ve met him in the stillness of my heart. I have met him in this place and in you. And something is different about this Jesus. Something about him that feels safe. That feels like home even though he is so different and he says things that are so strange. Maybe if this Jesus could teach me I wouldn’t have to be afraid. Maybe if this Jesus could teach me, I could understand. Maybe if this Jesus could teach me, I could be free and fearless and alive like him.

I give because in a world where so little makes sense, Jesus offers a promise of a love that is more powerful than any of the pain or fear or even death. So I give because I am trying to give Jesus authority in my life not just when it is convenient or makes sense to me, but all the time.  I give because I need to follow Jesus not because if I don’t I’m afraid of hell, but because it’s the only way my life makes sense.

And so, I pray because Jesus says so. I read the Bible because Jesus says so. I give because Jesus says so. And I’ve never regretted it. Not once. Because like waxing the cars or sanding the floor, every time I do, little by excruciating little, I know I’m becoming something. And I know that it is the only salvation I have. Amen.