Sunday, October 6, 2013

"Faith conquers fear." - The Very Rev. Mike Kinman

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 6, 2013.

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!" The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, `Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you. 

Think back for just a moment to when you were a child. What was that thing that you wanted to do but you were scared? You wanted to do it, you wished you weren’t afraid, you hated that you were afraid but you couldn’t help yourself. The fear was there.

You wanted to do it and you were scared and someone – maybe a parent or an aunt or uncle or brother or sister or maybe a friend, but someone looked in your eyes and said “It’s going to be OK. You can do it.”

“Trust me.”

Was it diving off the high dive at the neighborhood pool? Taking the training wheels off your first bike? Your first day at a new school? Going away to summer camp or asking that boy or girl you liked to dance?

What was it for you? Take a moment to think about it? Do you have the picture in your mind? Can you feel the tightness in your chest? Maybe even just the memory makes your palms sweat a little bit?

What was it for you? (members of the congregation shout out examples -- riding a bike, getting their driver's license, going to a friend's birthday party)

For me, I was in eighth grade, and I was at my friend Wells’ birthday party at Justin’s Water World in Tucson, one of those places with the really big water slides. We were there with all our friends, and we had waited in line and gotten to the very top of the tallest slide and it was just about my turn to go down.

This is probably a good time to mention that I was pretty terrified of heights. And I’d been sweating it out as the line snaked up and we kept getting higher and higher and higher. I kept looking down and thinking, “man, it didn’t seem this high when I was down there looking up!” But now I’m at the top, and I’m looking into that hole I’m supposed to launch myself down and I’m thinking:

“This is crazy … I’m going to die!”

And now the lifeguard is telling me it’s my turn, and I’m about to be in a panic because I’m not sure if I’m more terrified of plummeting to my death through this gaping watery hole in front of me or having the slow death of a thousand humiliations of walking back down past most of my eighth grade class whom I was sure would have excruciatingly long memories about this.

And right behind me in line was my friend Wells. And I turned around to him and I didn’t have to say a word. He could see it in my eyes. And he just looked at me and, very quietly so nobody else could hear but me, said: “You can do it. Trust me. I’ll be right behind you.”

I launched myself down that slide not because I wasn’t afraid. But because in that moment, I trusted my friend. I trusted him that if he said I would be OK, I would be OK. I also trusted him that he would be right behind me. And he was. I went down that slide not because I wasn’t afraid but because my trust in my friend was greater than my fear. My faith was greater than my fear.

I must have gone down that slide a dozen more times that day. And each time I enjoyed it more. I felt like a conqueror. And I was. I had conquered fear. But I had not done it alone. What had led me to conquer fear was trust. Trust in a friend. Faith conquers fear.

You can do it. Trust me. I’ll be right behind you.

Faith conquers fear.

Jesus’ disciples say to him, “Increase our faith!” Man, they sure knew what to ask for.

The kind of faith they’re talking about is not just some intellectual pursuit. The kind of faith the disciples are talking about is the trust that enables us to face our deepest fears and not let the fears beat us down. The kind of faith they are talking about is the kind of trust that lets us live as conquerors of fear not as those conquered by it.

It is the kind of trust that turns us from admirers of Jesus to followers of Jesus, able to change the world and be changed ourselves because we believe him when he looks in our eyes and quietly says:

You can do it. Trust me. I'll be right behind you.

Faith conquers fear.

Jesus is right that just the tiniest bit of this kind of trust can do extraordinary things. Just the tiniest bit of this kind of trust in Jesus can set us free to live extraordinary lives.

But trust is hard for us. In fact, trust might be harder for us today than in any time in our nation’s history. There is no time that we have been more bombarded with messages from advertisers who are trying to manipulate us for their own purposes. There is no time that we have been more privy to and aware of the betrayals of trust from our leaders and their own survival and profit-driven ulterior motives.

Just a generation ago, the most trusted person in America was Walter Cronkite – the man who gave us the news, defined our reality, who said, “and that’s the way it is ...” and believed that’s the way it was … because we trusted Walter Cronkite.

They did a survey of who the most trusted public figure in America in 2013 is. Do you know who it is?

Tom Hanks.

Do you know who is number two? Sandra Bullock.

Number three? Denzel Washington.

Number four? Meryl Streep.

The most trusted public figures in America are not our leaders and decision makers. They are not the people who are giving us the news and information on which we are to make our decisions. They are actors. People we know primarily from the fictional roles they play.

Thank God number five was a poet, Maya Angelou, that at least gives me some degree of hope. At least we can still trust a poet to be a truth teller!

Skepticism and even cynicism have become our default positions. Worse than that, in many quarters, skepticism and cynicism have even become synonymous with not only intelligence but wisdom.

If you trust you are a sucker. President Reagan helped launch us on this course with “Trust but verify,” which, come on, if you’ve gotta verify, you’re really not trusting at all! The cheated spouse “should have seen it coming if you’re gonna marry a guy like that.” Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Don’t want to be proved an idiot? That 90s TV show the X Files gave us the mantra for a generation:

And yet as Christian people we are invited to be bizarrely different. In this era of Ponzi schemes and single digit approval ratings for Congress, when we trust Forrest Gump more than President Obama and Jon Stewart more than Brian Williams, when trusters are suckers, we are invited to join with the disciples, walk right up to Jesus, look him in the eyes and say “Increase our faith!” Help us to to trust you more.

And we have to do it. We just have to. If we don’t do it, there is little point in us being here beyond just an hour or so of sanctuary and beautiful music in a beautiful space. Jesus is calling us to do extraordinary things. Jesus is calling us to be his hands, feet, eyes, mouth and ears as he takes this broken world – starting with each and all of us – and makes it whole.

And we look at these things – not just the huge societal things of healing our divides of race and class, ending the culture of violence and giving every one of God’s children enough food, shelter and health care to be a thriving part of society. But the things in here, too.

Things like conquering our own sense that love is something we have to earn and that we’re never quite good enough to believe it won’t go away. Conquering our own fears of abandonment and failure. Conquering whatever fear it is that holds us back from diving off that high dive or trying that new experience or taking the training wheels off that bike or launching down that water slide. Conquering whatever fear holds us back from being the glory of God that is a human being fully alive.

Take a dollar bill out of your wallet, if you’ve got one. Flip it over. What does it say .. right above the big ONE and under The United States of America.

In God We Trust.

This is either a statement of deep faith or an instance of incredible irony. Because our wealth, whether we think we have a little or a lot, our wealth is the way we hedge our bet. Our wealth is our ability to provide for ourselves so that we don’t have to depend on anyone else – including God. Maybe especially God.

And yet our wealth is also our greatest opportunity to proclaim the truth of what is written on this bill. To proclaim that it is in God and not in the money that we do indeed put our trust.

We have been together for nearly five years here at Christ Church Cathedral. And I have always said the same thing about giving. I care more that we give than where we give it to. Yes, I hope that we give to Christ Church Cathedral to be a part of expanding the amazing things that God is doing here, but far more than that I want us to give as an act of liberation. I want us to give because Jesus is responding to our cry and is increasing our faith. I want us to give so that what is written on our money is a statement of fact and not of irony.

Dahn Gandell challenged us last week to give hysterically – to give to that point where it seems crazy. She was absolutely right. Because it’s when our giving – be it to Christ Church Cathedral or St. Patrick Center or the LGBT Center or Magdalene St. Louis or Grace Hill or whatever ministries of the Gospel we believe God is calling us to be a part of – it’s when our giving goes beyond the threshold of what we know we can do with ease, when it gets to that point where a voice inside us is saying “this is crazy” … that is when Jesus steps in. This is when we really start building that relationship with Christ.

Because it isn’t until we’re faced with the thing of which we are afraid. Because it isn’t until we’re looking down the gaping hole in front of us and thinking “this is crazy!” that we even think to turn around for help to the Jesus who has been behind us all along.

And here’s the thing. When we do turn around, Christ is there. And we won’t even have to say a word because he will see it in our eyes. And through the voices of this community, through his word in scripture and through his still, small voice in our hearts in prayer, Jesus will look deep into our eyes and say “You can do it. Trust me. I’ll be right behind you.”

We are Christ Church Cathedral. And as Christ Church Cathedral we can do extraordinary things and follow Christ into extraordinary places. We can give hysterically and be conquerors of fear rather than those conquered by fear.

We are Christ Church Cathedral. Each of us and all of us. And this moment and every moment is a chance for us to face our deepest fears and together to hear the voice of Christ saying “You can do it. Trust me. I’ll be right behind you.” And to launch ourselves into that fear not because we’re not afraid, but because in that moment our faith has been increased and we trust Jesus.

We trust Jesus that because he says we will be OK, we will be OK.

We trust Jesus that because he says he’ll be right behind us, he’ll be right behind us.

We are Christ Church Cathedral and we do the extraordinary not because we are not afraid but because our trust in Jesus is greater than our fear. Our faith is greater than our fear.

We can do it. In God we trust. Jesus is right here with us.

Faith conquers fear.


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