Sunday, November 17, 2013

"In my life, I love you more." - The Very Rev. Mike Kinman

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 17, 2013.

There are places I remember
All my life, though some have changed
Some forever not for better
Some have gone and some remain
All these places have their moments
With lovers and friends I still can recall
Some are dead and some are living
In my life I've loved them all

But of all these friends and lovers
There is no one compares with you
And these memories lose their meaning
When I think of love as something new
Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more

Though I know I'll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I'll often stop and think about them
In my life I love you more
In my life I love you more

When John Lennon was working with Paul McCartney on the songs that would become the Rubber Soul album, a journalist remarked to him that he should write a song about his childhood. So Lennon took up the challenge.

But “In My Life,” the song we just heard, did not come easily.

John’s first attempt was a rambling poem based on a bus route he used to take in Liverpool naming several sites along the way that would make their way into other songs – places like Penny Lane and Strawberry Field.

He finished the poem … and immediately hated it.

It was “ridiculous,” he said, and called it “the most boring sort of ‘What I did on my holidays bus trip’ song.”

That it was pedestrian wasn’t the only problem. As John thought about his childhood, he realized that the song was just wrong. That as much as he loved the places, things and even people of the past, there was a present love in his life – a love with which none of them could compare. And though he’d never lose affection for those people and things that went before, in his life, it was that love that was most important.

Attachment to things and places comes naturally to us, and it’s certainly nothing new. When we have an experience that has been meaningful, we naturally want to hold onto it … share it with our friends, even bequeath it to our children. And because we are physical creatures, that holding on often takes the form of wanting to preserve and embrace the place where we had the experience or the thing that gave us the experience.

Think of what it is for you. What are the places you remember all your life, though some have changed? What are the places and things that are holy for you because of how your life changed through them?

It’s natural for us to hold onto those places and things, but when we do, we forget that even though they were important conduits, almost always, it wasn’t the place or the thing that changed us – but an experience, an encounter.

But we forget. And so often, we end up holding onto or even worshipping the place or the thing rather than the reality behind it. And then when we’re faced with those places or things changing or even passing away, we can even feel like the encounter or experience behind them is dying, too.

In this morning’s Gospel, Jesus is talking about the temple. The Temple has a long history. It began way before the people of Israel were even building things out of stone. It began when they were still wandering in the desert.

Moses was up on Mount Sinai receiving the 10 commandments and while he was, the people melted down their jewelry to make an object to love – a Golden Calf. And they invested this object with all of the saving power they had experienced in being delivered out of slavery, forgetting that it was God, not this hunk of gold, that had done the saving.

We make other gods. That’s why the first commandment that Moses brought down was a reminder – “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me.”

But God also realized these people God created and loved were physical people, and they needed something physical to hold onto to remember God’s presence. And so God gave them instructions for how to build the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant – the physical place where God would always be present among the people. Because the people were still wandering around, the tabernacle wasn’t a permanent structure. But when the people got to the Promised Land, they built a permanent one, the Temple.

But an incredibly ironic - and incredibly natural - thing happened. The people began to forget God and instead to worship the Temple. They filled the temple with other gods, believing it was the place that was most important and not the presence of God. And so God reminded the people, tearing down the temple and sending them into exile … sending them back into the desert, away from any physical evidence of God’s presence. And then God came to them in the desert and said, “don’t you see … it never was the building. It was always me. And even here in the desert I am always here with you.”

And so God sang the song we heard in Isaiah today.

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

God said, I am doing something new. Do not remember the former things. Do not let the power of nostalgia and idolatry overcome you. Remember that it was always me and not the thing or the place. I am creating new things and new places. Be glad and rejoice forever.

And so God delivered the people out of Israel and built a new Jerusalem and a new temple. Only to have the same thing happen again. And so Jesus walks up to the Temple, and notice what the people are saying – they are not talking about how wonderful God is, but about how wonderful the Temple is – how it is adorned with beautiful stones and gifts.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who do not know history are destined to repeat it,” and the people did not remember their history. So Jesus says, “here we go again” and reminds them that it is not the Temple that matters but God. That in fact the Temple will be torn down stone by stone, but that if they cling to God, every little thing, every hair on their head, is gonna be all right.

The wonderful Franciscan theologian Richard Rohr talks about what he calls the five M’s – how churches ... and really any organization … evolve if we do not remember this history and strive not to repeat it. Forgive the sexist language, but the five Ms he talks about are Man-Movement-Machine-Monument-Museum.

Man. Movement. Machine. Monument. Museum.

We start off with a man, a person. In our case, Jesus. This person is the vision bearer. In our case, he is our savior. Jesus is the embodiment of the truth. Jesus is who we worship, follow and adore. And that person Jesus attracted a crowd. And that crowd is the movement.

Movements are dynamic and creative. People flock to them and join them and that’s what happened with Jesus. They are high-energy and almost all of that energy is directed outward. But movements cannot sustain forever. And so if a movement lasts long enough it needs to structure itself for longer-term survival or it will die out. And that’s where movements inevitably institutionalize and become machine. And that’s what we did as the church. We organized and structured. We built buildings and hired staffs and we have meetings and budgets and five-year plans. None of these are bad things. In fact they can be good because they can ensure the living truth that began with the person Jesus and spread into the movement continues on and on and on.

But here is where the fall happens. Here is the history we need to know lest we become doomed to repeat it. Human nature is for the machine itself to become the object of attention. To worship the structures and forget the original person behind them.

The temptation for us is the same as it was for those people in the desert and those people with Jesus in Jerusalem. The temptation is for us to believe that faithfulness is not to follow the man Jesus but to preserve a monument – the fourth M. To make sure the building and the institutional structures are running and to invest all our energy into that.

That tipping point between machine and monument is the critical moment for us as the church. Because when we tip over from devotion to Jesus to devotion to the structures of the church, we move from machine to monument and the next step becomes inevitable … the step to museum. Where the church becomes a fond reminder of what used to be, a place that people remember all their lives but not one where God is continually breaking into the world today.

As Christ Church Cathedral, we struggle mightily with this tension. We have a glorious building – a national historic site even, with all the trappings of monument. Which makes it even more crucial for us to remember that it is not the building or the institutional structures that matter but the one around whom we gather, the living presence of God in Christ.

It’s why our mission statement begins “we seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ” and the other stuff – celebrating the sacraments faithfully, proclaiming the Gospel boldly, embracing diversity joyfully and serving all passionately as a Cathedral --- those things are just means to the end. But our mission is to be the movement that follows Jesus.

Here’s one example. For the past several months, we’ve been having conversations about how we lead our children and youth into following Jesus. And they have been hard conversations. They are conversations that should not just be for a few people who happen to have children but for all of us. Because all of us at every baptism promise to “do all in our power to support” each child “in her life in Christ.” Forming our children as disciples of Jesus is ALL of our job … but more than that it is all of our joy.

But part of what we struggle with is separating the structures and experiences that have been meaningful to us in the past from the reality that made those structures and experiences so meaningful – the reality of the living presence of God in Jesus Christ.

The temptation is to ask the question “how do we staff Sunday school” instead of “how do we draw our children and youth into deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ … and let them draw us into those relationships, too.” realizing that Sunday school very well might be part of that answer, but that it also might not.

Not being so attached to one form that we close ourselves off to God breaking through in new ways. And how can we do it together – realizing that just as Black history month is not just for our black parishioners and that pride Sunday is not just for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender members, that Christian formation for children and youth is a ministry to which all of us are called.

This is one example but there are so many others. We have a glorious history of outreach ministry in this Cathedral – but how are we being called not to be a museum of past accomplishments but a movement and a machine centered in seeking and serving Christ in the most vulnerable among us?

God is singing that song from Isaiah right here, right now.

For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.

The former things have been wonderful, but that is not where our gaze should be trained. God is creating us anew each day, each moment as a joy. God is creating us anew each day, each moment as a delight. Think about that … we are a delight to God!

The past is powerful and full of meaning and there is a place for honoring it. There are places we’ll remember all our life. And though we know we’ll never lose affection for people and things that went before. Though we’ll often stop and think about them, our song to God this day and every day is: “God, in our life, we love you more.”

No comments:

Post a Comment