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.


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