Sunday, March 31, 2013

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! This is not a drill!

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Easter Sunday, 2013.

Listen to the audio podcast of the sermon here:

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I want you to repeat after me … and say it loud, say it proud:

Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
(Alleluia, Christ is Risen)


Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
(Alleluia, Christ is Risen)


Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
(Alleluia, Christ is Risen)

That's the stuff! We do this every year, don’t we? We come together on Easter morning … some of us for the first time since last year, or at least since Christmas … and we shout these four words: Alleluia, Christ is Risen!

Now when we do something every year, it can become rote. When we do something every year, we can forget its power. When we do something every year and then we go back to life and business as usual, it can become just one of those things we do.

Which is why we need to add something to those four words this year. Something that reminds us that this is more than just tradition. So try this one more time … and then just as strong repeat what I say after.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
(Alleluia, Christ is Risen)

(This is not a drill!)

That’s right. Christ is risen. And this is not a drill.

What does that mean? It means that this is real, this is urgent, and that we are ready.

One more time:

Alleluia, Christ is Risen.
(Alleluia, Christ is Risen)

(This is not a drill!)

This is not a drill means that this is real. That Jesus really is risen from the dead. It’s not a metaphor, idea, illustration, concept, theory, analogy, simile, or treatment for a screenplay on The History Channel. It’s real.

God really did love us enough to be born in human form.

God really did love us enough to go to the cross to die.

God really DOES love us so much that even death cannot stop the love of God from reaching us, from binding us to God and binding us to one another.

This is real means that we really can trust in God’s passionate love for us … each of us – and yes, that means you, no matter what dark secret lurks in your heart that you think God thinks is unforgiveable. It’s not.

This is real means we really don’t need to let fear imprison us.

This is real means we really can live and love boldly and deeply, knowing there is no barrier that can be put in front of us that God has not already removed.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. This is not a drill. This is real.

This is not a drill also means that this is urgent.

When we hear “this is not a drill,” it kind of gets that adrenaline coursing through our veins, doesn’t it? That’s a good thing. When we hear “this is not a drill,” we know that it’s time to put everything else aside and focus. When we hear “this is not a drill,” we know that this moment – right now – is the moment of truth.

Holy Week is a drama we walk through every year – but really it is going on all around us all the time. And too much of our world, too many people get stuck before they get to the empty tomb.

Too many people and structures and systems of our world are stuck in the betrayal of Maundy Thursday , they’re stuck in the pain and death of Good Friday – they’re stuck there and believe that betrayal, that pain and death is the end of the story.

Now is the time. This very day. This very moment. Now is the time to proclaim in word and deed to this Good Friday world that there is an Easter. That Alleluia, Christ is Risen … and that this is not a drill.

Now is the time because there are people out there and people in here who can’t wait any longer to hear that resurrection is here.

Women on the streets of St. Louis right now who believe the only end for them is the life of prostitution, drug abuse and violence they have known since they were little girls, They need to hear Alleluia, Christ is Risen.

Children watching corporations use 3rd grade reading scores to decide how many prisons to build and seeing their Head Start funding cut in the sequester. They need to hear Alleluia, Christ is Risen.

People, some of whom are in this very room, struggling with unemployment and homelessness. A St. Louis broken by deep divides of race and class, deep poverties of trust and understanding, a Delmar Divide that looks like the Grand Canyon. A world suffering from a poverty of meaning for whom the false Gospel of endless consumption has consumed us in return. Sisters and brothers suffering from loneliness and despair. They all need to hear it, they’re waiting for us to shout it. Alleluia. Christ is Risen. This is not a drill.

We spent this Lent at Christ Church Cathedral on the mountaintop looking into the promised land, looking for that new thing that God is doing. And we’ve seen it. Behold, God IS doing a new thing and we can perceive it. We see it in Bridge Bread and Lafayette Preparatory Academy and Magdalene St. Louis and Home First. We’ve seen it in Miss Carol’s Breakfast and Grace Hill. We’ve seen God’s new thing in the conversations we’ve had as we’ve read the Bible together and we’ve felt God’s new thing as we’ve held each other’s hands through times of death and loss. We’ve been up on the mountaintop for 40 days and we’ve seen God breaking through all over the place.

Well, it’s time to come down from the mountain and get into the game. And we’re already doing it. But it can no longer wait. What is it for you? What is it for us? There is no shortage of options, but the time is now.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen! This is not a drill.

Finally, this is not a drill means that we are ready.

Yes, this is real. Jesus really is risen from the dead. Yes, death really has been defeated. Yes, there is a living God who is moving all creation out of sin into righteousness, out of error into truth, out of death into life.

Yes, now is the time for us to get in the game and jump on the train.

And yes, we are ready. We are ready to be this Easter people.

We are ready not because we have no doubts. Not because we have some airtight and unassailable theology. We are ready not because we know exactly what we’re doing and have a brilliant five-point plan for transforming the world.

We have none of these things – in fact just the opposite. But that’s OK, in fact that’s great.

We are ready to be Easter people because it’s not up to us. It’s God’s power and wisdom that has made and is making and will make all this happen. And we are ready because God has promised that if we get out in front that God will have our backs.

We are ready because like Mary at the empty tomb, the risen Christ looks at us and says, “You got this. Go!”

But most of all, we are ready to bring this Easter life to the world because we are ready to for joy. Because we are ready for life. Because we are ready for transformation and celebration of cosmic proportions.

We are ready to enter the promised land and continue the proud legacy of Christ Church Cathedral in new ways for a new St. Louis for new generations. We are ready with our deep prayers, faithful companionship, powerful words and bold actions to partner with God in making St. Louis a city that makes glad God’s heart.

We are ready to live without fear. To love without judgment. To give without counting the cost.

We are ready to shout, Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Shout it so loud that there is not a corner of this city or a far reach of this globe where those words do not knock Good Friday into Easter Sunday.

Because this is Easter. And this is real. And this is urgent. And we are ready.

Alleluia, Christ is Risen. And this is not a drill.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

A sermon for the Memorial Eucharist and Burial of the Rev. Priscilla R. Allen

A sermon preached by the the Rev. Jason W. Samuel at Christ Church Cathedral  for the Memorial Eucharist for the Rev. Priscilla Allen on Saturday, March 9, 2013

I am sure many of you have heard many times, the reading today from Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creations, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Today especially, I hope you did more than hear it, I hope you let it sink deep into your hearts and minds. I have had the pure joy of knowing Priscilla for sixteen years. Many of you have known her much longer and are filled with stories of how your lives were touched by knowing and being in relationship with her. I hope you all will continue to share those life changing stories with each other as we journey through our grief, knowing God’s promise of love and life even while we hurt, and celebrating life - as Priscilla so well knew – that nothing could ever separate us from the love of God in Christ.

This passage from Romans is one of the few passages of scripture where I had a lengthy discussion with Priscilla. In 1999, we were just beginning our second year at Church of the Transfiguration in Lake St. Louis. Honestly, I was overwhelmed and fearful of my abilities to be the priest this congregation needed. Michael and Priscilla perceived the need for us to get away, so they invited us to come and share time with them on Martha’s Vineyard. At some point, Joe was off smoking a cigarette and Michael was off on one of his walks. Priscilla and I sat on the patio in quiet until I could resist the urge no longer to run off at the mouth. Somehow I could not resist telling her all the burdens of my heart.

Of course, she listened and listened. I finally stopped with all my anxious talk and she asked, “Are you done”, I said yes – she said, “good”.

She then proceeded to love, nurture and care for me in a way that I had not experienced, especially since I began my ministry as a priest. I know this does not surprise you. Priscilla was always the natural pastor and care-giver, even if it wasn’t what you wanted to hear. I moaned on about that I may not be a good enough priest for this congregation and I was not sure if we could make it. She said, you’re right, you will never be good enough, and you just don’t have that much power. In all that you have learned Jason, I hope you have found that it is not being a priest, but it is Christ who dwells in you and that you allow yourself to be a messenger of justice and love. She then said what I will never forget, “Jason, just remember this – love them as you are, not as the one they want you to be. Be Jesus to them, with all your brokenness and all your joy and never forget – nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ.”

That day, Priscilla help set me free from all the false expectations which the church and I had on myself and to the ministry for which we are all called.

Priscilla knew of which she spoke. Life at times had been harsh or difficult for her. I know in the many years of marriage, Michael and Priscilla had to face great challenges from both the church and world. The gospel of Jesus Christ was not something for her just to ponder; the gospel was a reality in how she chose to live her life.

Many of you know the many little sayings that people mean well when the say them, but that can become trite, like “what would Jesus do”. But there is one saying which has never lost its meaning for me, attributed to St. Francis, which says, “Preach the gospel at all times, when necessary, use words.” In many ways, Priscilla was an embodiment of this saying. If fact, just the other day, someone told me how they wished Priscilla would have preached more. At first I agreed, and then I said, well, you know Priscilla really did preach a lot, just not always in the pulpit. She proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ every time she listened and loved someone who felt rejected and shamed by the world or the church. She preached the gospel every time she made a witness for the justice found in the kingdom of God, but that the church had not yet embraced. She preached the gospel of Jesus Christ every time she showed us exactly who she was, another broken human being, continuing to grow and be healed by the love, mercy and grace of God. I believe we need more preachers for Christ like her than some of the fluff we hear too often in our churches.

As we grieve today, I hope you also rejoice. Rejoice that a life so full of the love of God touched and helped changed our lives. I used to joke that, I think Michael would go where even angels fear to tread and scare a few of them in the in the process; then it would be Priscilla who would go and be the one to say, “Do not be afraid, peace be with you.” We all have different ministries in this church made up of many peculiar people.

I am grateful that in these last sixteen years I have become more keenly aware that in the end, all I have to truly do is love others, exactly as I am. We give thanks today for this woman, this priest, mother, wife and friend to so many, who helped us understand Jesus’ words in the gospel today, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.” Thanks be to God that the gospel can be preached in so many ways and that we can take our next step in this journey knowing that absolutely nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

"If Only..." -- a sermon for the Third Sunday in Lent

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

Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

If only…

There is nothing in the universe that holds us back, nothing that enslaves us, nothing that keeps us from grasping the new thing that God is offering more than sentences that begin with those two words.

If only…

“If only” is the tip of the sword. What comes next is what cuts us to the heart.

If only I could control my drinking.
If only I could find a better job or any job.
If only I could find a place to live.
If only her surgery had gotten all of the cancer.
If only I could figure out how to talk to my children.
If only my children would talk to me.
If only I had someone, anyone who wanted to be with me.
If only…
If only…
If only…

What is your “if only?” What is that thing in your life that is keeping you from grasping something new because it is grasping onto you? Think about it for a moment. What is your “if only?”

And its not only individuals who have “if onlys.” Communities have them, too. We have them as a Cathedral community … and they hold us prisoner as well.

“If only we could get more income and stop being in deficit.”

“If only we could hire a staff person for children and youth.”

And it’s doesn’t stop there. We have “if onlys” as a city and as a nation:

“If only we could fix our schools.”

“If only we could get everybody health care.”

“If only Congress and the administration could get their act together.”

To paraphrase Rodney King, “If only we could just get along.”

Our “if onlys” are not just litanies of excuses … though sometimes they can be. Our “if onlys” are windows through which we see the deepest brokenness in our lives. How we finish those “if only” sentences reveal where we are in most need of healing, where we are in most need of liberation, where we most need God to break into our lives and do a new thing.

If only.

The first Sunday of Lent, we heard God’s promise to the people in the desert, and we talked about how this year, we are getting out of the desert and getting up on the mountaintop to catch a glimpse of the new thing that God is doing and is inviting us into right here, right now.

Last Sunday, we heard the story of the call of Abraham and talked about God’s new thing for us being a puzzle that we don’t have the boxtop for … but one that is much bigger and more glorious than we can imagine. Abram had his own “if only” … “If only I had a son” … and yet he couldn’t believe it when God said he would not only have one son but descendants that numbered as the stars. When we think small and despair, God dreams big and says “that’s what I’m talking about.”

And this Sunday finds us still on the mountaintop. And we’re straining to see what that finished puzzle looks like. But we realize that in order to grasp God’s new thing, in order to get to this promised land, we have to be freed from the old things, we have to leave the old land behind.

The new thing God is doing is about freedom. The new thing God is doing is freeing us from our “if onlys.”

In this morning’s reading from Exodus, we’re back way before where we were two weeks ago. The Exodus hasn’t happened yet. The people of Israel are still in slavery in Egypt and they are saying “if only we could be free. If only those promises God made to our father Abraham could be true. If only God would remember us.”

And God appears to Moses in a burning bush and says, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses says, “Here I am.” And God says, “Take your shoes off. The place you are standing on is holy ground.” Because God is about to have a real, honest conversation with Moses, a conversation about the “if onlys,” a conversation about the real stuff that’s going on in the lives of the people. And wherever the honest reality of our lives meets the presence of God, that’s where holiness happens.

And then God lets Moses know that God has been keeping track of what’s happening to the people. God says, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry.”

God says, “I have seen them. I have heard them.” That’s good news by itself for the people. God is at least aware that they have been suffering in slavery for generations. Nice to know. Thanks for checking in, God.

But then God says something amazing. God says “indeed, I know their sufferings.” That word “know,” is one of the most powerful words in scripture. It’s the Hebrew word “yada” … only when God says “yada, yada, yada” here, it really means something. Yada means to know intimately. You know what I’m talking about, like “Adam knew Eve.” (wink, wink, nudge, nudge, know what I mean?) That kind of know. In “the biblical sense.” God knows the sufferings of the people … intimately, physically, feeling them as intensely as they do. God has not just been observing the people’s sufferings from afar. God knows their sufferings.

God says “Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

This is the Word of God for us this morning. In the midst of all the “if onlys” that hold us hostage, God comes to us in this holy space, this holy space where we bring the unvarnished, warts-and-all reality of our life into God’s presence. God comes to us and says not just I have seen your sufferings. Not just I have heard your cries. God says “Yada. Yada. Yada.” I know your pain. I feel your pain. Your “if onlys” are my “if onlys”

And I am about to do a new thing. I am about to deliver you from them.

God’s response to knowing our pain, to hearing our cry … is to set us free. God’s dream is to liberate us. To break us out of the “old things” that imprison us and deliver us to a “new thing.” To break the iron grasp of “if only” in our lives, in the life of this Cathedral, this city, this nation, this world.

But God does not do this alone. God calls on Moses to be God’s partner. God says, Moses, you will go where I have been and indeed am right now. You will go into the heart of the people’s suffering. You will fearlessly name the suffering. You will say that I have sent you to them in the midst of the suffering. You will proclaim that I am more powerful than the suffering. You will lead them out of their suffering.

And that is God’s Word to us today, too. This new thing of liberation. This new thing of freedom from our “if onlys.” God does not do this alone. We will be God’s partners in it. God doesn’t do TO us. God does WITH us. Like Moses, we are God’s partners in liberation … bringing ourselves and the people out there who don’t even know it yet to a new life of freedom.

And so this week from our vantage point on the mountaintop, we hear the story of the call of Moses and we realize that the new thing God is doing is about freedom. And because of that, we realize that we can’t look forward to the new thing God is doing until we look back and look around at what it is we need to be liberated from.

This week, we hear God’s call to Moses and we realize those words are for us.

That every time we cry “If only,” God not only sees us cry and hears us cry, but God intimately knows the pain of those if onlys.

That for ourselves and for the world, God is calling us to fearlessly name the suffering. To go with God into the heart of the suffering. To proclaim with one voice that God is more powerful than the suffering. And with God to lead the people and be led ourselves out of the suffering.

And like Moses and like Abram before him, we struggle with all of this.

We struggle with the ground we stand on being holy, with God’s presence actually touching our own.

We struggle with believing that God really knows our pain.

We struggle with the possibility of liberation.

We struggle with God wanting to partner with us.

We struggle with our own worthiness

We struggle with what authority we have.

We struggle with “what if people challenge us?”

And because we struggle, the first thing we do is remember that like Moses, we do not do this alone. We bring our “if onlys’

Like Moses, our answering this call will not be easy. But we will not do it alone. God will be with us. And if we trust God, we will be given power over the “if onlys” in our lives that we can scarcely imagine today. If we trust God, we will be given power to free not just ourselves but the world from the “if onlys” that bind us and that keep us from getting to the promised land.

What is your “if only?”
What is our “if only?”
What is the “if only” that is echoing from the deepest valleys and most desolate streets out there?
What is God’s song of freedom we are being given to sing?