Sunday, September 22, 2013

A sermon for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost - The Rev. Canon John Kilgore

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore, M.D., at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 22 2013

Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.

So who are you in this story? Think about it. Are you the dishonest manager? Are you the rich man who hired the manager? The disciples listening? Or perhaps Jesus teaching moral lessons? Who are you? Who am I?

It might be instructive to consider this gospel passage from those different perspectives. The dishonest manager was in a tough spot. He had been squandering the property of the rich man. He apparently had the favor of his boss but lost it when others brought charges against him. When faced with losing his job, he capitulated and did what he had to do in order to ‘save his skin.’ His earthly skin. Imagine that he thought something like, ‘I am about to lose my job, I am going to be out on the street. I can’t do physical labor and I certainly am too proud to beg. And my family! What will I do? I will find a way to get out of this one. If I forgive my master’s debtors they will be indebted to me and I will be OK. Sounds like a good plan!’ So he discounted the various bills. Clearly not an honest guy.

If we go to the perspective of the master, he may have thought, ‘I am sorry to lose this guy, I thought he was pretty good but others have brought charges against him and now I find he is not as I thought he was. Despite the fact that I previously trusted him, I cannot have my business and wealth squandered. So how do I deal with him? Well, I certainly must commend his cunning; that was clever. But he has to go.‘ The manager was not as his master had originally thought he was.

And the disciples listening to this story told by Jesus must have wondered, as do we, what he meant when Jesus said, ‘the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light...make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.’ ‘What could he possibly mean by that?’ they might have been saying to one another. “Is he endorsing the dishonest manager?’ Is he really suggesting that we make friends by dishonest means?’

And then there is Jesus’ perspective. Remember the context here. Jesus is in Galilee, crowds have been gathering around him, probably for days and days. And he is teaching in large open venues. This passage is from Luke 16. Luke 8 talks about Jesus going ‘on through the cities and villages, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God.’ The beginning of Chapter 12 says, ‘Meanwhile the crowd gathered in the thousands…’ and mentions they trampled on one another. Chapter 13 references the Galileans he was among. Chapter 14 opens, ‘One one occasion Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat.’ And later says that large crowds were traveling with him. Chapter 15 begins, ‘Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

Remember that there weren’t auditoriums or speaking venues. What homes there were were small and certainly didn’t have gathering places. And there was no PA or sound system, not that it always makes a difference if you have one! The only real venues might have been a Roman amphitheater such as at Caeserea Philippi, outdoor theaters, but the Bible doesn’t mention his use of these. So they likely would have been on hillsides, perhaps on the slope beside the Sea of Galilee. The terrain there is characterized by gentle rolling hills, natural spots for open air gatherings, and out in the weather, I might add.

So Jesus is teaching group after group, telling many stories and a number of parables. This section of Luke is chock full of parables, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the parable of the barren fig tree, the prodigal son. And the story of Lazarus follows our gospel passage today. So Jesus addresses this part of the discourse to the disciples, but others were listening in. The next line after today’s gospel passage says, ‘The Pharisees who were lovers of money, heard all of this, and they ridiculed him.’ It sounds like Jesus was addressing this as special instruction to the disciples, knowing full well that others were listening on. Jesus really likes to get the attention of those listening by telling them things they don’t expect to hear. In so doing, he really is asking us to look more closely at what he is saying; not just take it at face value. So maybe he was goading them a little bit. The New Oxford Annotated Bible footnotes here that verse 8 is the point - the manager was commended for his shrewdness, the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. The Oxford Bible footnote says, ‘The dishonest manager was prudent in using the things of this life to ensure the future. Believers should do the same.’ Using the things of this life to ensure the future. Jesus may have been thinking, ‘I can’t make it too easy for them. I can’t always spoon feed them. What I want them to do, to understand, is that they must prepare appropriately. Believers should be as shrewd in preparing for their heavenly future as those are who worry about this world.’

He is talking about how we live our lives. Our integrity. Interior integrity. Integrity being adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty. Developing our interior moral self so that we are in harmony with God’s will for us. It is about looking, not on the outside but on the inside. Our lives are so conditioned by looking on the outside. But God knows our heart. Jesus here is talking about face value versus interior worth. Perhaps the surface meaning of his words belie the deeper meaning of his message. Everything is not always as it appears.

I recently received one of those humorous Emails from my mother that is perhaps instructive here. The story goes something like this:

Charley, a new retiree-greeter at Wal-Mart (and there is a picture of him gray haired, clearly a retiree, standing there smiling with his Wal-Mart vest on and many buttons pinned on it espousing various causes) just couldn’t seem to get to work on time. Every day he was 5, 10, 15 minutes late. But he was a good worker, really tidy, clean-shaven, sharp-minded and a real credit to the company and obviously demonstrating their ‘Older Person Friendly’ policies. One day the boss called him into the office for a talk. (And you can just envision this 30 year old new manager thinking he knows it all) ‘Charley, I have to tell you, I like your work ethic, you do a bang-up job when you finally get here; but your being late so often is quite bothersome.’ ‘Yes, I know boss, and I am working on it,’ Charley replied. The manager responded, ‘Well good, you are a team player. That’s what I like to hear.‘ ‘Yes sir, I understand your concern and I will try harder,‘ Charley continued. Seeming puzzled, the manager went on to comment, ‘I know you’re retired from the Armed Forces. What did they say to you there if you showed up in the morning late so often?‘ The old man looked down at the floor, then smiled. He chuckled quietly, then said with a grin, ‘They usually saluted and said, Good morning, Admiral, can I get your coffee, sir?‘ The final picture is of a younger Charley in his uniform!

It is not what is on the outside. It is what is on the inside. We don’t always know that, but God does. We know about ourselves but not about others. When we look in on someone, we don’t necessarily see that person as they are interiorly. Kahlil Gibran said our worst fault is our preoccupation with the faults of others. Bertrand Russell said, no one gossips about other people’s secret virtues.

God knows our virtues, secret and otherwise. God knows our faults, secret and otherwise. And God knows the virtues and faults of others. This gospel is perhaps calling us to be as shrewd for the things of God, as we are in our worldly dealings; shrewd about good relationships, justice in our dealings, and love for each other. Not judging on the outside. And being true ourselves.

Who are we to God? How well does God know us? How well do we know God? Are we close friends with God? Or passing acquaintances? Whatever we may look like on the outside, God knows us on the inside. Are we true to ourselves? Are we true to God?

When we had the icons show here a couple of years ago there was one piece that I particularly liked, and bought. Probably because Ludmilla, the artist, explained it to me. It is pretty much beige three dimensional piece with a lot of deep surface scratches on it. Very textured. The only thing readily identifiable is in the lower right hand corner some pieces of stone in the shape of a doorway. There is an individual in the doorway, passing through. When you look closely at the textured scratches on the background they are actually people. The message is that we come into this life alone and we go out of this life alone. The people in the background are the people on the other side waiting to welcome us. Our loved ones gone before us. But we go through the door alone. However, standing at the side of the door, sketched into the framework of the door, is Jesus. In the final analysis it is just us and God.

We come into this world naked and alone, we go out of this world naked and alone through the narrow door. Only God knows our interior, and the interior of others. So the message is twofold. We are to live our lives with integrity. And we are to treat others as if they have the integrity God wants all of us to have, regardless of what they look like on the outside. We are to treat every individual as if they were Charley the admiral with all the respect we have, since we do not know what is on the inside. Only God knows.

Who are you in this story? Who am I in this story? We are all children of God. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much.


Sunday, September 15, 2013

"Giving God permission to use us" - a sermon by the Ven. Robert Franken

A sermon preached by the Ven. Robert Franken at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 15 2013

"Jesus has a very special love for you. As for me, the silence and the emptiness is so great that I look and do not see, listen and do not hear."

"I have no Faith - I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd in my heart and make me suffer untold agony."

"Such deep longing for God and ... repulsed empty no faith no love no zeal. ... Heaven means nothing pray for me please that I keep smiling at Him in spite of everything."

"What do I labour for? If there be no God - there can be no soul - if there is no Soul then Jesus You also are not true."

All of these words, and many more, were written by Mother Teresa during the last 20 or so years of her life. She herself acknowledged the apparent contradiction with her public persona of a tireless nun working to feed the poor and care for the hopeless, by describing her everpresent smile as "a mask" or "a cloak that covers everything."

Some of the writings seem to suggest she doubted God's existence but the Rev. Brian
Kolodiejchuk (who knew her for 20 years and is the postulator for her sainthood) argued that, when read in context, Mother Teresa's faith remained. Her unwavering belief that God was working through her shows that what she missed was the feeling of connection with God. A certainty of feeling God / Jesus’ presence walking with her, and sitting with her as a friend and teacher.

Jeanette Petrie, who co-produced two films on the life of Mother Teresa said 'She had an expression ... "Give God permission to use you without consulting you". Jeanette continued, “I think she must have truly lived that.”

The Rev. James Martin of the Jesuit magazine America, author of "My Life With the Saints," said the window into Mother Teresa's inner life will help doubters and spiritual seekers. "Most of us tend to think of the saints as being in constant union with God, therefore everything they do is easier for them because of this union. This shows that not only do they have it as tough as we do, but sometimes they have it tougher," he said.

This issue of doubt is not unique to Mother Teresa or to Christianity. In another story about the founding prophet of Islam, Leslie Hazleton, a Jew, writing a Biography of Mohammad, explored what happened on a desert night, in the year 610 of the common era, on a mountain outside of Mecca. What happened is seen by Islam as their core mystical question. But Ms Hazelton would argue that even more important is 'what did not happen that night'. Mohammad did not come floating of the mountain. He did not come running down the mountain shouting, Hallelujah. Did not radiate a special light. There were no choirs of angels. Instead, in his own words, he was convinced that what had happened could not have been real. In the very best scenario, he felt that it had been an hallucination or a trick of the mind.

More likely he believed that he had been possessed. In fact, he rapidly became so convinced of this, that his first instinct, when he found himself alive, was to jump off a cliff and put an end to his life, rather that live a life possessed. Mohammed was a man who fled down the mountain - not with joy but with primordial fear. A man overwhelmed, not by conviction, but by doubt.

Whatever we think about Mohammed and where those words came from, inside himself our outside. It really clear that he experience them with a force that would shatter his sense of his world and would transform this otherwise normal man into a radical advocate for social and economic justice."

Even Richard Dawkins, the contemporary evolutionary Biologist and outspoken atheist, registered a small bit of doubt about his own certainty that there was NO God - as he wrote in his 2006 book, “The God Delusion” - when earlier this week he admitted that “he would consider going into a church, and would miss the ‘aesthetic elements’ such as church bells if they were gone.” Why would you miss that to which you had no affinity or small tug - no element of doubt.

When looking at today's gospel, we most often focus our conversation on how wonderful it is that God is so persistent in loving each one of us so much that, regardless of who we are, where we are, or what we are doing God would continue to search for us and to love us.

But the other thing that is important in this story is that the sheep got lost, the silver coin was lost. So why is that important? Because the sheep was once part of the fold, and wondered away - likely, often doubt grew to a point where the allure of other things took over and it wandered away to other pastures. And I am sure that there are other sheep in the flock looking at the greener grasses on the surrounding hills. And if the shepherd is gone too long looking for the lost sheep, others will wonder away also.

Just think of the Israelites while Moses was on the Mountain receiving the Ten Commandments - doubt creeped in so quickly that they melted their gold and made idols to worship. Like the sheep they saw greener pastures and wondered away.

This is the story of the bible over and over again. This is our story. The story of God’s people who come close to God and then wander away in search of greener pastures or a new certainty somewhere else. We would be wrong to think of it as negative, instead it is a part of the faith journey.

It is doubt that is essential to faith - not certainty

Sometimes I hate my own doubt, my own feeling of disconnection from God. It is easy to feel like a fraud standing in front of you talking about the importance of our faith and our relationship with God, with Jesus - with my own doubts and desert periods. But, I am convinced that doubt is actually at the heart of the matter.

- Look at Abraham, the Father of Judaism and Christianity: After God calls him to leave his home, over and over again he and his wife face doubts about God's ability to take care of them. These range from his lying to king of the region that Sarah was his sister, to Sarah laughing at the angels when they said she would have a baby in old age, to their deciding that Hagar was the way in which God would bring them this child.

- Then there is Jacob who stole the inheritance blessing from his brother to help God fulfill his promise of the inheritance, and he struggled through the night and wrestled with an angel to squeeze out a blessing from God.

- And even Jesus was tempted for 40 day and nights in the wilderness. It is easy to dismissthis time as something that was easy for the God Jesus to do, but the reality is that in order for a temptation to be real - it must actually have had the chance to that Jesus would succumb to those challenges.

- The writer of 1st John asks us a poignant question: "If you cannot love your neighbor whom you have seen, how can you love God, whom you cannot see."

In each of these examples in holy scripture, from Abraham and Sarah to Jacob to Jesus, doubt exists.

In Hebrews the 11th Chapter the writer says: "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen." In the translation of the bible called the Message those same words are translated as: "The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living."

In neither of these versions, or any of the other that I looked at, including the dutch, is the word certainty is never mentioned. Instead words like hope and trust are used instead.

The simplest definition of certainty is: "without a doubt".

Certainty is not faith - doubt is. But doubt tempered by those words in the book of Hebrews - Hope and Trust help lead us to the conviction - that give us faith.

- It was hope and trust that convicted Abraham and Sarah leave all family behind to go to the promised land.

- It was hope and trust that convicted Jacob to wrestle with the angel

- it was hope and trust the convicted Jesus to turn down the tempting offers of power and wealth.

- it is hope and trust that guides your journey and mine through our life with God.

- But just as Peter could walk on the water with faith - he started to sink with Doubt and Jesus was there to lift him back up. In exactly the same way Jesus is there for each one of us, each and every moment, even in - maybe especially in - our moments of doubt.

So what is wrong with certainty?

The elimination of all doubt leaves us with an absolute certainty. And then as a person of certainty, you know you possess the Truth. And. it takes little for this certainty to devolve into dogmatism.

There is also a growing sense of pride in being right. Having the perfect answer. It feels good knowing that you are a little better that those who aren't quite as sure, or who have things a little bit wrong. Like the Pharisee praying in the temple; ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.’ It feels good to know that you are that much closer to God. This is the pride of fundamentalism.

In fundamentalism there are no questions, only answers. Absolute certainty – fundamentalism - is a perfect antidote to thought and thoughtful conversations - and a real refuge from the demands of faith.

People who live in this place - even you and I when we live in this place - don't have to struggle like Jacob did while wrestling through the night with the angel or struggle like Jesus did with temptation for 40 days and nights in the wilderness.

We live in a world where this kind of Fundamentalism corrupts not only Islam and Judaism - but it corrupts Christianity in exactly the same way. Whether it is our certainty about Christianity being the perfect road to God for everyone in everyplace, or even our views on homosexuality, abortion, the inerrancy of scripture, charismatic expression, or a host of other issues - it corrupts the very faith we strive to hold so dear.

It is one of the beautiful thing about the Anglican tradition that we hold Scripture, Tradition, and Reason in the three-legged stool that generates constant dialogue, change, and even doubt.

Real faith has no easy answers - it is difficult and stubborn - an ongoing struggle.

Are you and I the sheep of the flock starting to wander over to greener pastures? Are we more interested with building up our 401(k) plan than we are in the poor or homeless of our community? Are our eyes set on getting that next promotion rather than the needs of our neighbors in Sudan or Malawi, who struggle to gain the basics of life, and the beginnings of good education? Are we more focused on planning our next vacation than we are about the mentally ill or depressed, who live down the street from us.

Do we wrestle with what to do with the homeless man who is begging for money? Or do we easily walk by caught up in our own lives.

Do we even lift our eyes to see our neighbor lying on the side of the road, or do we consciously cross the road and walk by him or her - rather than stopping to help?

This summer riding our bikes around the lake in Frisco, Colorado, Nancy and I crested a hill only to find two young boys horsing around laying in the middle of the bike bath. It was only as we went by them, and I was saying that it was a bad place to be laying, that we heard the one crying about lots of blood. It would have been easy to keep riding, after all 13 and 14 years olds are prone to exaggeration, But we stopped. It turns out that Zack's cousin had a small mishap on his skate board, causing Zack to hit the brake full on, going down this steep hill. He had flipped over his board and punctured his front lip with his teeth and managed a large gash under his chin. After we stopped more people came and we were able to keep him mostly calm, clean him up some and finally get ahold of his mom. When she came they went on their way to go to the ER. And we went on our way.

How many Zack's do we miss as our busy lives cruise towards our carefully planned futures?

So the question for today is: How do we convert our hope and trust - and "yes" our doubt - into a living faith?

It does not take certainty - Mother Teresa and Mohammed, Jacob, and even Jesus have proved that to us. What we can do is, rather than gazing of to distant greener pastures and making lofty plans for a grand future, is, like Mother Teresa, to "Give God permission to use us without consulting us"

Give God permission to use us, like we have already promise God we would do, in our baptismal covenant - to open our eyes and ears - to be the hands and feet of Jesus - as we:

- Seek and serve Christ in all persons, and love our neighbor as ourself. As we:

- Strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.

So how and where is God try to use you to accomplish these promises? Will you give Him "permission to use you without consulting you"?

I share these words in the name of God who Creates, Redeems, and Sanctifies us -AMEN

Saturday, September 14, 2013

A sermon for the Memorial Eucharist for the Rev. John Good -- by the Rev. David K. Fly

A sermon preached by the Rev. David K. Fly at Christ Church Cathedral at the Memorial Eucharist for the Rev. John Good, September 14 2013
Many years ago, when I was in seminary, I was taught that Episcopalians don’t do eulogies at burial services. It took me a long time to learn why that’s so. It’s so because a person is always more than the sum total of that person’s parts. We are many things to many people and to presume to capture a person’s life in a few words is to dishonor who that person was. I could read a long, long list of accomplishments of John Good, of facts and figures that describe his activities and the various roles he played from husband and father, to accomplished teacher with textbooks to his credit, to priest and pastor, to trusted friend. But it would only scratch the surface.

Instead, what I have come to understand is that the most eloquent eulogies ever preached at a funeral are those that are never heard. They are the silent memories of those of you who are present. Each of you here this morning knew John in a unique way. He touched each of you, Joanne, Ian, Debbie and Rob, friends and colleagues. And, if you’re like me, those are the memories that come flooding back today as we gather to celebrate his life. And it is those memories, offered in the silent spaces of this service, that weave together to create a tapestry more beautiful than any words we could speak.

Having said that, there are some qualities of John’s that I want to mention because they are so much a part of the color and richness of that tapestry we weave this morning.

If you have ever spent more than five minutes listening to John as he described the most recent Cardinal victory or simply seen the picture of John in his Cardinals’ tee shirt and cap, you would see in his face, the face of a kid who’d never really grew up but was captured by this magic game that he knew inside and out. And if you ever heard him talk about his most recent golf game you would have heard the pleasure in his voice – and occasionally frustration.

Last summer, John went to a family reunion where they had their annual golf tournament. John could no longer swing a club – but he could putt. So they let John putt on each hole. To this day, I can see and hear John describing the last putt on the last hole. By the time he got back to St. Louis, the putt was 30 feet long. John carefully described how he read the putt. “It broke this way, but I knew there was a bit of a break back the other way at the hole. And I made the putt!”

And John was a learner. We never had lunch when he did not talk about a book he was reading and the excitement was visible as he described some new insight. I remember him saying, “Oh, if I had only read Marcus Borg earlier in my life!”

John was a preacher and he put the same effort into his preaching when he was preaching for 17 people or for 150. On July 21st, John preached at St. Vincent’s in the Vineyard. He told Joanne that if it that happened to be his last sermon, he would be happy because it was the best he had preached.

He said in that sermon that our preoccupation with “personal religion” shifted our attention away from the true focus of Scripture. “Our personal transformation,” he said, “is intended to prepare us to participate in God’s mission to transform the whole world – especially the communities where we live – into the kingdom of God.” And John was a priest. Not too long ago, Father Dan Appleyard came to call on John and read from the Prayer Book. John said to me later, “David, do you realize how the language of the Prayer Book has formed us!” And that was true of John Good.

The words of Scripture and the Prayer Book provided a lens and a rich language with which he both saw and described his life. John spoke of death and resurrection. He knew the death of alcohol addiction and the resurrection to sobriety. He experienced the death of his beloved wife Norma and received the gift of new life with Joanne. He would say of Joanne, “She’s the best thing that could have happened to me!” In the midst of his own dying, John also faced the coming death of his daughter Becky with the confident faith that “If we have life, we are alive to the Lord, and if we die, we die in the Lord. So, then, whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s possession.” Becky died two weeks after her dad. John knew Good Friday in his life but it was always trumped by Easter!

On August 6, the Feast of the Transfiguration, John wrote to his many friends, “In a conversation with my doctor, it became obvious to me that I was not going to win my battle with cancer. I decided to accept the palliative care of hospice to make the quality of the rest of my mortal life as good as possible. This decision has made me very serene. I believe my wife and my children also accept this decision as the best course for the months I have left. I look forward to experiencing the last great mystery of life, and I face the days ahead with joy.” His words sounded to me like the Serenity Prayer. John died on August 18th.

When word came to me that John had died, I was surprised that the first thing that came to my mind was not a prayer but one of my favorite passages from Herb Gardner’s wonderful play, 1000 Clowns. Murray, who is a rebel against conventional society, has care of his 12-year-old nephew and a social worker comes to discuss taking the boy out of Murray’s custody. And Murray expresses his concern for the boy’s future. And his words said “John Good” to me:

“I want him to know the subtle, sneaky, important reason he was born a human being and not a chair. I will be very sorry to see him go. He is a laughter, and laughers are rare.”

Well, that was John, he knew the subtle, sneaky, important reason he was created a human being and not a chair and he lived his life to the fullest. And, if you spent any time at all with John, you know he was a laugher and laughers are rare. He knew the words of the Psalmist, “Weeping may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.” And we will miss him now that he’s gone.

The serenity, grace and, yes, good humor with which John faced that final mystery could only come from a man who believed the confident words of St. Paul:

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

"Don't be a hater. Be a truster. Be a risker."

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, September 8 2013
“Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.”

Are you kidding me? Really?

I don’t know about you, but I think Jesus’ timing needs a lot of work. I mean, haven’t we had enough hate? Haven’t we had enough loss?

We’ve got downtown about to square off in what has to be at least round 10 of the perpetual cycle of fighting between residents and business owners and the city and New Life Evangelistic Center, fighting which has never and will never actually help move one person out of homelessness.

We’ve had about as much loss as we can take, too. In the last six months, we’ve had to say goodbye to some of our dearest friends – Priscilla Allen, Gussie Feehan, John Good … and now Michael Allen.

We’ve even got Bashar al-Assad using sarin gas against his own people in Syria and us faced with this Sophie’s choice of lobbing missiles or letting the slaughter continue.

And so Jesus, you really think this is the right time to pull out “you’ve gotta hate your father and mother?” Couldn’t you hum a few verses of “love your neighbor” for us this morning? ‘Cause it sure feels like you’re telling us to hate the players and to hate the game.

I want to say, “Really, Jesus. Hate? Isn’t that what we are here to get away from? Isn’t that what we leave here to witness against?”

“Really, Jesus?”

But we can’t ignore this Gospel, because we can’t just ignore the Gospel when it gets hard to hear. But I think we need a little help this morning. I think we need a little perspective. I think we need a way to understand what Jesus is calling us to do that helps us make it through these times and not bury us underneath them.

Fortunately, God does put another song on our lips this morning. And it’s a song we have to sing and hear first if we are going to be able to grasp where Jesus is coming from. It’s the song of Psalm 139.

Now, if scripture is the story of God’s tempestuous epic love affair with humanity, then the psalms are the soundtrack. And this is a love song. This is a song of God’s passion for us. This is a song of God’s deep devotion to us. This is a song of God knowing us better than we know ourselves and adoring us.

This is a song about God being John Cusack standing in our front yard holding a boom box over his head blaring Peter Gabriel.

So let’s turn to it and say it again. But not say it like we’re doing some rote memorization exercise … “Lord, you have searched me out and known me.” Stand up. Let’s say it from right here (gut). Suck the marrow out of these words. Really feel what we’re saying about God’s love for us:

LORD, you have searched me out and known me; *
you know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.

You trace my journeys and my resting-places *
and are acquainted with all my ways.

Indeed, there is not a word on my lips, *
but you, O LORD, know it altogether.

You press upon me behind and before *
and lay your hand upon me.

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; *
it is so high that I cannot attain to it.

For you yourself created my inmost parts; *
you knit me together in my mother's womb.

I will thank you because I am marvelously made; *
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you, *
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book; *
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

How deep I find your thoughts, O God! *
how great is the sum of them!

If I were to count them, they would be more in number than the sand; *
to count them all, my life span would need to be like yours.

This is God doing Diana Ross. This is God singing:

Ain’t no mountain high enough.
Ain’t no valley low enough.
Ain’t no river wide enough.
To keep me away from you.

This is God looking at all of us – everything we have been and done since before the beginning. Everything we want to hide. Everything we think is ugly. Everything that fills us with shame, and God leans down and whispers in our ear “Te amo.” “Te amo.”

I love you. I love you.

That’s where we start from. God knows us beyond measure. God delights in us beyond measure. God loves us beyond measure.

And because God does, God knows all the glorious things we can do and become. God knows what it looks like when we -- each and all marvelously made – come fully alive. And God yearns for that so much that God actually became one of us in Jesus to show us what trusting in God’s love looks like. To show us what living fully, honestly, naked and unashamed, looks like. To show us what it looks like to become fully alive.

And that’s where this morning’s Gospel comes in. Because what holds us back from all those wonderful things? What holds us back from the dreams for us that just make God giggle uncontrollably because she can’t wait for us to realize them? What holds us back is fear.

We are afraid. We are afraid of rejection. We are afraid of failure.

We are afraid that those closest to us. Those we care about the most. Those whose opinions matter to us most. Those in whose eyes we look for the love and validation that we hear in that in that psalm. We are afraid that we will lose that and in losing that we will be and have nothing. We will be outcasts, rejected, unloved, unwanted. That all our worst fears – that if people actually really, really knew us – knew everything we had done, knew all our brokenness, knew all the secret thoughts of our hearts. That if people actually knew us they would think what we secretly fear might be true about ourselves – that we aren’t worthy of love, after all.

Psalm 139 promises us that God knows us fully and loves us fully. And God in Jesus Christ shows us what trusting in that love looks like. And it looks like the cross. It looks like letting go of the fear of rejection from those closest to us.

It really doesn’t mean hating our families. But it does mean willing to risk even those relationships to love as Christ loved. Being willing to end up as Jesus did, naked and abandoned, because we know even if that happens we will still be known and loved beyond measure. Because we know that even if that happens, God will be singing:

Ain’t no mountain high enough.
Ain’t no valley low enough.
Ain’t no river wide enough.
To keep me away from you.

Jesus invites us to let go of our fear of rejection and failure and pick up the cross and follow him not because he is wishes pain for us but because that is the road to freedom. To being fully alive. To not being bound by fear but instead free to give ourselves away in extravagant love.

And we know this.

Think of these people past and present whom we admire so deeply and who have changed and inspired our lives. The John Goods and Michael Allens. The Kathleen Wilders and Becca Stevenses. One thing they all have in common is we don’t look back at them and say, “He was so good at playing it safe. He changed my life!” or “What an inspiration, she always invested her money at the highest rate of financial return and never said anything that made me feel uncomfortable.”

This morning’s Gospel is not about being haters. But it is about being trusters. It is about being riskers. It is an invitation to trust God’s knowledge and love of us so profoundly that we cast aside our fears of what others might think or how others might react or whether or not it fits safe, conventional wisdom and instead ask: How can we truly live and love in a way that helps us grow in relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ.

Or … more simply put… to ask instead:

What would Jesus do?

Not what would my family like? Not what would make my friends happy? Not what would agree with conventional wisdom and good business sense. But “What would Jesus do?”

We have incredible assets – more than 8 million dollars in endowment funds and two buildings in the heart of downtown St. Louis.

What would Jesus do?

We have access to systems of power – financial, political and others – that can change the world.

What would Jesus do?

We have the power through learning a name and holding a hand and listening to a story and saying a prayer to help someone trust they are not alone and are in fact loved without measure.

What would Jesus do?

We live in a city deeply divided by race and class and political ideology, with profound gaps in opportunity among God’s children.

What would Jesus do?

The answers will rarely be simple, but we will usually be able to tell them because they will lead us into places of great risk.

If we are liberal, they will sometimes put us at odds with our liberal friends and if we are conservative, they will sometimes put us at odds with our conservative friends. If we are smart business people, they will sometimes have people calling us fools, and if we are radicals they will sometimes have people calling us sellouts.

And that’s how we will know we are on the right track. Because it will be scary and risky and it will feel unsafe. And we will walk it together, reminding each other every step of the way that we walk not under our own power but with the power of a God who knows and loves us without bounds.

It turns out we did need this Gospel this morning. We need this Gospel every morning. Every morning we need to be reminded that God dreams for us to take risks for love as big as the risk God took for us being born in human form and giving himself up on the cross. To not worry about what others think of us, but to rejoice in God’s knowledge and delight in us.

Together to pick up our cross – ask Jesus to show us the way – and to make our lives extraordinary.