A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, October 6, 2013.Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice.
Last weekend I was in Virginia, sitting out on the deck in the Shenandoah mountains, a beautiful autumn day with a clear blue sky. The leaves were changing, early color, but clearly the fall season. And I looked up and said, ‘That’s why it’s fall!’ A puff of wind had dislodged a whole bunch of yellow leaves from a tree and they twirled and sailed and tumbled onto the side of the mountain. And we commented that those leaves were about to have their molecules recycled and to become something else again. Perhaps another tree, a squirrel, a bear, a human, some water or air. Then we conjectured what those molecules might have been before. Perhaps the molecules in those leaves were once a dinosaur walking on this very spot of earth. Who knows what they were.
It really is interesting to consider this cycle of life. We are made of substances, bone, muscle, blood, that are comprised of molecules. Molecules are the smallest particles in a chemical element or compound that have the properties of that element or compound. Molecules are our building blocks, our leggoes, if you will. They are made up of atoms held together by chemical bonds; atoms being, carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen. And combinations of those atoms are molecules. Molecules can be very small, such as helium which is a one atom molecule; a bit larger such as oxygen which is two atoms of oxygen together; even larger such as carbon dioxide which is one atom of carbon and two of oxygen; or a protein which is a long chain of hundreds or even thousand of atoms. A molecule is the smallest particle that is that particular substance. There are molecules of air, molecules of water, molecules of carbohydrates, proteins, DNA. Molecules have energy and resonance and attraction. And they are recycled over and over and over, throughout the eons. Molecules may be broken down into atoms or they may coalesce into larger molecules. But the same substances in this earth, molecules, atoms, are being recycled over and over and over again.
Did you ever think about the fact that the molecules in you might have been a dinosaur or a leaf or water in a stream? Interesting thought! And what your molecules and atoms might become in the future… We are all the same stuff just recycled over and over and reorganized into different groupings. The particular grouping today is what we are.
And we in the church are a bit like that. Different gatherings, different collections, different rearrangements of people who gather together at any one time. Look at this collection of people here today. Look around! Really. Even those of you who don’t like to pass the peace, look around! This is the church. This is God’s people. And we come in many sizes and shapes and styles and collections and, over the years, we get reorganized. Over and over.
And, yes, we come in many shapes and styles. Two Sundays ago I was in Barcelona, Spain and I wandered into a Serbian Orthodox Church. Orthodox worship is very different from ours. Our service is kind of linear. We have an outline of the liturgy, a pattern, a structure, people sit in pews, and have a set way to do it. Orthodox liturgy is much more... meandering... is perhaps a good word. The priest is up front, at times in the inner sanctum behind the rail, at times out front. There are many candles, incense in several places, flowers, shrines and icons all surrounded by lots and lots of real beeswax candles sometimes dripping over onto the floor and flaming up. At this church there were loaves of bread and bottles of wine with flowers and cookies and candy for the children sitting near the back on a small low table that was, at one point in the service, processed around and censed with incense and holy water. There are no pews except for a few benches around the edge for those needing to sit. Most of the room was open with people standing, talking, milling around, genuflecting before icons and kissing them, moving from place to place within the sanctuary. People were hugging one another, talking; and kids were doing their thing. Chaos but also very formal. Very high levels of ritual, processing around in a very structured way swinging incense, ringing bells, with a small choir of eight chanting in the corner the entire time. There was something ethereal, mystical, enchanting about it. All the while the congregation was disorganized milling, wandering, communing one with another and with God, and praying. Clearly God was present, and was praised.
We come in many shapes and styles. About a month ago my cousin Ronnie in Joplin got married for the first time at the age of 53. It was in a small rural church. One of those small square white nondescript buildings that you see when you drive through the countryside. It was about as far to the other end of the spectrum as you can be! Very simple, no idea of the sacraments, no altar, a few silk flowers for the wedding, a pretty informal event but lovely and loving and a tender ceremony of two people before God who love each other and God and are committing themselves to both. No ritual. Scripture and spontaneity.
Ronnie’s church of God. The Serbian Orthodox Church in Barcelona. Christ Church Cathedral here in St. Louis. A downtown urban Cathedral that grew from Christ Church at Third and Chestnut streets, only a few blocks away. Begun in 1829, consecrated in 1834 by the Reverend Benjamin Bosworth Smith; moved to Fifth and Chestnut in 1839 consecrated by Jackson Kemper. A famous name. Twenty years later there were so many communicants that we needed a larger building and in 1859 this plot of land at Thirteenth and Locust was bought and this Gothic-style stone building was begun. The Civil War slowed the construction, the chapel was completed first, and in 1867 on Christmas Day the first service was held. A hundred forty six years of Christ Church Cathedral. And it became the Cathedral of the Diocese of Missouri in 1880. The Tuttle Building was later added, the bell tower in 1910, major repair and remodeling in 1949 and 1960. And here we are today! Look around, again. At the building. At the people. Christ Church Cathedral 2013!
Like molecules rearranged again and again and again. We are this collection of God’s people at this time called Christ Church Cathedral 2013. And thanks be to God for the diversity, for the good works, for the homeless ministry, the Saturday breakfast, for the care of each other in need. Thanks be to God for the worship, for the liturgy, vergers, acolytes, altar guild, money counters, the music and choir and canon precentor, the Shepley music series and Evensong. Thanks be to God for those who tend the building, the sextons, the garden committee, Cathedral Chapter. The clergy. And thanks be to God for the worshipers. All of you here in the pews. And thanks be to God for what Christ Church Cathedral is becoming in the community: a gathering place for downtown events, book signings with famous people, gatherings to talk about homelessness in St. Louis, candlelight vigils memorializing school violence, Good Friday Blues at the Foot of the Cross, art exhibits such as the Icons exhibit two years ago, celebrations of African American history and Martin Luther King Day speeches, blessings of animals, asperging runners with holy water at the Susan Komen race. And now the home of a new starter school and Magdalene House for women with troubled lives. Christ Church Cathedral 2013! We are on the move! Alleluia! Molecules reorganized over and over. We are this particular group of molecules and individuals organized thus today. Here we are today. And thanks be to God.
So how thankful are we and how do we say those thanks? How well do we give those thanks? So often we pray for something. So often we ask God for something. So often we are in petition to God for getting us out of a jam, for healing, for companionship or love, or for one in need. Our prayers are always answered...in some way. One of my best friends in the world who preached my ordination and my partner Ray’s funeral, who has been a profound inspiration in my life is Father John Andrew. Rector Emeritus of St. Thomas Church Fifth Avenue in New York City. I have learned so much from him. Unbeknownst to him, he taught me a lesson. I suspect almost everyone here says grace before meals. Short or long. Most of us give thanks and pray before the meal. Father John Andrew, always, after the meal, stands, and quietly behind the chair where he has eaten, says a brief prayer of thanks and makes the sign of the cross for what he has been given. What he has eaten. After the meal as well as before. He remembers to give thanks, after the meal.
In the gospel reading today, there were ten lepers who approached Jesus. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” They were made clean and went on their way. But one of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. Jesus asked, were not ten made clean? The other nine where are they?
It is stewardship season at Christ Church Cathedral. We are all asked to fill out our pledge cards and to give as able. Better yet, to give as we are thankful. We are Christ Church Cathedral 2013, different than other places, molecules reorganized into this. Wonderful stuff is going on here. We are blessed. We have been healed, we have eaten the meal. Will we give thanks after the meal? Will we be the nine lepers or the one? Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back praising God with a loud voice. Jesus concluded this story saying, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.”