Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Every Picture Tells A Story, Don't it?" - A Sermon for the 4th Sunday After Epiphany

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, February 3, 2013

The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.

God has known us since before we were born. Stop a minute and think about that. What is your earliest memory of life itself? Whatever it is, God has known us longer than that, longer than we even can remember. As well as we know our own stories, God knows them better than we do. And the stories we have long since forgotten … God remembers, and God knows them, too.

Each of us has a story. A story that began from that first time God saw us, when God first breathed life into us. Each of us is created uniquely and wonderfully in the image of God and each of us is appointed a prophet to the nations.

Each of us has a truth. It is a truth that happens when God’s breath meets our breath. It is a truth that happens when the text of God’s Spirit meets the text of our lives.

The life each of us has lived and are still living has a truth, a story to tell.

Look around you. Each person here. Every single one is known and loved by God. Each person has a word from God that has to do with the story of their life. With their passions. With the wisdom that has become a part of them from the life they lived and a word that was implanted by God even before they were born.

When you came into the Nave of the Cathedral this morning, you noticed something different. There are pictures everywhere. Lots of pictures. Today and over the next month please take the time to look at them.

As Rod Stewart sings, “every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Every one of these pictures tells a story. And the stories are our stories. Stories of people in this congregation and this city, of our families and generations past and present.

Many of these are untold stories. And that’s because we live in a world that believes that some stories matter more than others and some stories matter not at all. These photos have been gathered by Debbie Nelson Linck from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation through the Civil Rights Movement. It is a time that much of white America preferred to acts as if Black America wasn’t there … something we still way too often do today.

But we did that and do that at our own peril and to our own poverty. And we don’t ignore those stories here. Because that is not the church. We hear the words of God to Jeremiah and we believe they are God’s words to all God’s children and we know that all these stories matter. We believe that God has gifted each of us with a Word for the community and the world.

As a Cathedral community, we have discerned that one of the core values that is central to our mission is embracing diversity. It is one of those things that sounds wonderful … and is … but is also hard, hard work. Because embracing diversity is about being open to the word of God being on unexpected lips and in unexpected forms. Embracing diversity means actively looking for that word of God on every person and not dismissing any person as incapable of bearing it.

A friend of mine, Stephanie Spellers, a priest in Long Island, talks about this in terms of three levels of welcome that church communities can have. All three are welcoming, so none of them are bad … but they are different degrees of being the church in our most glorious.

The first is an inviting congregation. An inviting congregation invites everyone to come in … that’s good. But you are invited to come in and be like us. Everyone is welcome here, as long as you adapt who you are to who WE are. And the people already here get to determine who the WE is.

The second is an inclusive congregation. An inclusive congregation invites everyone to come in and even lets people be who they are. But if you’re not like “US” … you can be who you are … over there, where it doesn’t effect anything and doesn’t change who “WE” are.

The third is a radically welcoming congregation. This is kingdom of God stuff. A radically welcoming congregation realizes that when any new person comes in the community changes. That every person has been known by God since before they were born and gifted with a word for the community … and if we are to be the richest, most Spirit-filled, God loving, Christ following community we can be we are always looking for ways to hear those stories and we are willing to do the hard, hard work of listening to one another and to changing so that who “We” are reflects the entire community, a community that is always shifting and changing.

A radically welcoming congregation says there is no “us” and “them.” A radically welcoming congregation is not a congregation of clicques and groups. A radically welcoming congregation is one where all around us we see the evidence of the diversity of the whole body … and we invite the difficult challenges that diversity brings to our own prejudices and comfort zones.

A radically welcoming congregation is one that says no story should remain untold. Because every picture tells a story, don't it? And every story is our story.

What might that look like for us? What might it look like is every person who walks in here is allowed to influence who we are? What might it mean if every one of these stories are our story? What might it mean to speak and listen fearlessly, trusting that God is speaking to and through us?

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