Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why are you here? -- A Sermon for the Feast of the Epiphany

“Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage."

We’re going to start our time together this morning with a question.

It’s a personal question, and because of that, and because you know how I am, I’m going to put you at ease by saying I’m not going to pass out cards and ask you to write the answer down, and I’m not going to make you turn and tell the person sitting next to you. I’m just going to ask the question and invite you to sit in silence for a minute or two and consider how you would answer it.

But here’s the thing. I want you to answer it deeply. And that means not be satisfied with your first answer. One way to do this is when you get your first answer just ask keep asking yourself “Why is that important to me?”

So, for example, if the question was “why did you go to the grocery store?” Our first answer might be – because I needed food. But then if we ask “why is that important to me?” enough times, if we keep drilling down, we get beyond the mundane, and we get to what’s at the core. Things like “I love my family” and “I want to live.”

So when I ask this question, use your first answer as a launching pad … and keep asking “why is that important to me?”

OK, enough suspense. It’s a simple enough question.

Why are you here?

Not “why are you here on this planet?” but why are you here at Christ Church Cathedral? Of all the places you could be right now. Of all the things you could be doing. Why are you here?

Now, one more thing before we go into silence to consider this. If your initial answer is about compulsion. If why you are here is because your spouse or partner or parent is making you come or because you believe God will cast you into the lake of fire for all eternity if you don’t – which, by the way, is NOT true – then I’d ask you to start with a slightly different question and that is “why might you choose to come here?"

OK, let’s just take a couple minutes. Why are you here?

(We observed two minutes of silent contemplation.)

Why are you here?

Now, if we were to share our first answers to that question, I think we’d be amazed how varied our answers are. If we were to share our answers after asking “why is that important to me?” four or five times, I think we would be amazed how connected our answers are.

I say that because I’ve asked this question and done the “why is this important” exercise with lots of people and groups throughout the years and that’s pretty much the way it plays out.

The first answers are about things like the beauty of the space or the music or the people or really feeling the presence of God or the liturgy or the chance to serve or learn or even that it’s just habit or loneliness.

But when we drill down, the answers start to sound more and more the same. And I’ve found there is something that connects almost all of them.

We come here because we’re looking for something. Because in our lives outside of this place and this community, something is missing.

What is that “something?” Well it might be different for each of us. We might describe it in different ways. But the truth is left to ourselves, something is missing from our lives. And we have learned that whatever it is, we can’t find it at the mall or online or at Kaldi’s or even in bed reading the New York Times on a lazy morning.

So we come together here. We come here because we’ve found it here. We’ve come here because we hope to find it here. We come here maybe because we don’t know where else to go.

But there’s one other reason we come here … to this place, to be in this community. Because lots of people feel something is missing, and they look for it in lots of different places. We come here, to this place, to this community because on some level we know or maybe even just hope that what it is that we need … is God. One some level we know or maybe even just hope that who has what we’re searching for, who is what we’re searching for … is Christ.

Christ, who turns the wisdom of the world upside down and says thing like love your enemies and sell all you have and give it to the poor and follow me. Christ, who hangs out with the prostitutes and lepers and says “don’t be afraid” when a tiny boat is being tossed in a fierce storm on a giant sea.

Christ, that place where God and humanity touch and where we catch even a glimpse of what it means to be fully loved and fully alive.

We come here, to this place, to this community because on some level we know or maybe even hope that what it is that we’re missing might be found in a child in a manger who ended up on a cross. And so this morning, we each embarked on a journey … a journey that led us here.

Today is the Feast of the Epiphany, when we remember the visit of the Magi to Jesus. But really every time we gather is a re-enactment of this Gospel. Because what were those Magi if not people who realized that something was missing. Who realized that despite everything else they had in their lives, it wasn’t enough, and that they had to search for something more. And who, like us, chose to search for it in what many think is an unlikely place. Who chose to look to a child in a manger to show us who we truly are, and who we truly can be.

W. H. Auden put it this way in his Christmas Oratorio

“We three know that this journey is much too long,
that we want our dinners,
and miss our wives,
our books,
our dogs.
But have only the vaguest idea
why we are what we are.
To discover how to be human now,
is the reason we follow the star.”

"To discover how to be human now,
is the reason we follow the star.”

We are here not to become something different, but to become whole … to become who we truly are. Like the Magi, we sometimes have only the vaguest idea why we are what we are. Like the Magi, we are hoping Christ will show us what it means to be fully human, fully alive.

And like the Magi, it is a journey we make together. We are individuals, that is true. But there is something that we become together that we are not separately. On this journey, the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. The Magi did not come one by one, they traveled as a group. And so do we.

Last year, we spent time speaking clearly and listening deeply to one another and talking about what the values are that bind this Cathedral community together. Who is it we believe God has made us to be? Who is it together we believe Christ is loving us into becoming.

But it was also our way of together answering the question … why are we here? What is it that is so compelling about our shared life here at Christ Church Cathedral that we are willing to give ourselves to it? What is it that we are together in this community, that is missing without it? What is it that, as we embrace it, makes us fully alive?

And together we discerned five core values, five things we believe Jesus dreams for us to love. You can see them on the piece of paper in your service leaflet. They are:

Spirituality and Faith

This isn’t just what I have said we value as a community or what your Chapter said we value – although when we went through this process, we pretty much came up with the same things. No, this is what our whole community has said we value. What together we have said we truly are about. About what God in Christ is shaping us more and more to become.

Spirituality and Faith

Now a couple things about these values.

First off, they did not just emerge randomly. They are deeply rooted in our scripture, in the tradition of the Episcopal Church and in the history of cathedrals in general and Christ Church Cathedral in particular. And our discerning them shows that we are similarly rooted.

This week, I’ll be taking one of these values each day and saying more about this rootedness and inviting to us to consider together the scripture and tradition from which these values spring. So watch your emails, Facebook, Twitter, and my blog and our website for that.

Second, these values are like the first answer to that question we considered this morning. They are a launching point. There are more questions we need to ask ourselves. Questions like “why is this important to us?” and “what are the opportunities for us to embody this now and in the future?”

And so, that’s our task for this week. You’ll see it on that piece of paper in your service leaflet. This week, take some time and consider each of these values. And ask yourself those questions?

Why is this important to us?

What are the opportunities for us to embody this now and in the future?

And next week, we’re going to gather for a different kind of annual meeting and share our thoughts on just these questions. Yes, we’re going to elect chapter members and diocesan convention representatives, and we’ll hear the treasurer’s report and talk about where we are financially and where we need to be. But most of the meeting will be us sharing a meal and sharing conversation. Everyone will have a chance to pick one of these values and share their thoughts on those two questions:

Why is this important to us?

What are the opportunities for us to embody this now and in the future?

And then, led by your Chapter and clergy and ministry leaders, we will take this wisdom and let it shape us as we move forward together into 2013 and beyond. These values and the wisdom that emerges about them will be the star that leads us to find what we are searching for, that will lead not just us to Christ, but will announce to the world that God is here.

We are all fellow travelers with the Magi. For different reasons we have all realized that something is missing and we are on a journey of discovery looking for Jesus. And as we find him, we will lay our gifts before him.

And we will be changed.

And we will be made whole.

And neither we nor the world will ever be the same again. Amen.

No comments:

Post a Comment