Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A reflection on Black History Month at Christ Church Cathedral -- by Deborah Nelson Linck

Black history month is drawing to a close and this year’s celebration has been amazing. Thank you to church family for welcoming the “As if we weren’t there” photography exhibit. It has been a source for stimulating conversation, allowing us to share our stories with one another and reflection. Our guest speaker, photojournalist Wiley Price shared some of his personal experiences capturing the St. Louis community and sharing and preserving new stories. The Richard Allen/ Absalom Jones celebration offered opportunities for congregations in the Diocese to gather and share stories of race in their churches and begin to formulate plans of action for insuring that their churches would continue to work towards inclusive places of worship.

The final activity for the month was our annual Pot Luck brunch. This year we were joined by Terence Blanchard and he shared his experiences as a musician, teacher and composer. Mr. Blanchard promoted his new Opera in connection with Opera Theater. This year’s potluck was amazing! A variety of delicious foods, desserts and drinks made for a successful event. Best of all, the potluck brought us together as a Cathedral family. Dedicated women and men manned the kitchen heating dishes, refilling the banquet table, clearing dishes, setting the tables and cleaning afterwards. Lovingly prepared dishes, homemade and carefully shopped for, poured in. The tables were mixtures of visitors, Sunday regulars and special neighbors and guests all enjoying food and fellowship. The event offered us the opportunity to be who we are at our very best. With tired feet, legs, backs and dishpan hands, we deemed the event a huge success.

Black history is the history of ALL of us. It is the story of how all of God’s less than perfect citizens have worked together to create our country. While February is designated Black History Month, each day is an opportunity to celebrate the many accomplishments of all people who work towards equality and speak Truth.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Being Awake When the Sun Rises -- A sermon for Lent II

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, February 24, 2013

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’

Happy Lent! Blessed Lent! Here we on the second Sunday in Lent. That season of penitence, fasting, prayer, reflection, and giving up. But this year the Dean has asked us to do something different for Lent. On our website he says, “Instead of a Lent of anguish and guilt, [let us get] ‘out of the desert and up on the mountaintop’ where we can glimpse the Promised Land God has in store for us.” You may have read it in his email, or on the website, or heard his sermon last week. Our mission statement says that we are to ‘restore to unity all people with God and each other in Christ through embracing our core values.’ Those core values are Spirituality & Faith, Diversity, Communication, Growth, and Service.

So we are caught in this paradox of Lent, a season of essentially stopping and reflecting and being penitential and all that; and a need for a time of reflecting and moving forward. I have to admit that when I first learned of the Dean’s take on what I might call ‘a new Lent’ it gave me a bit of pause. But then I began to think about it.

Yes penitence, and reflection, and giving up and all that are good. Cleaning the slate if you will. But cleaning the slate for the sake of an empty slate is not all that good by itself. Perhaps it is wise, very wise indeed, to observe Lent from the mountaintop rather than from the valley. Out of the desert.

Now I am not suggesting you give up whatever Lenten discipline you may have already undertaken. But a modification may be in order. Look at our five core values. Spirituality & Faith - good solid tenets and very positive; Diversity - we are diverse and celebrate that and thanks be to God, just look around the Church or the community and see how well we celebrate that; Communication - we are striving for better communication all the time, both on Chapter, among the clergy, and with each other; Growth - a good thing for a Cathedral in a downtown undergoing a Renaissance; and Service - Jesus taught us how much better it is to give than to receive and that we are living best when we serve others.

With those core values in mind we are to look from the mountaintop at what God has in store for us as we look out. The Dean raises two questions for us to ponder during Lent - What new thing is God trying to do in our life? and What new thing is God trying to do in my life?

Many great things are occurring here at Christ Church Cathedral - Lafayette Preparatory Academy, Grammy award winning musician Terrence Blanchard here today, a blues festival on Good Friday, the Magdalene effort, working with the Bridge, and a very exciting and forward looking Chapter. Life here at Christ Church Cathedral really is very exciting; what God has in store for us is uplifting. It is important that we stand on the mountaintop and look out at what new thing God is trying to do in our communal life at the Cathedral and in all our lives.

In our Old Testament reading today Abram is worried about his legacy and God says, ‘Look toward heaven and count the stars if you are able...so shall your descendants be…’ Abram had trouble seeing it. Our vision is limited by our humanity. But God’s vision, God’s plan, God’s grand scheme is not limited. It is up to us to expand our vision, to look from a high vantage point, from the mountaintop, not the desert valley, to see what new thing God is doing in our life, in my life, in your life. And to do that we really have to have our eyes wide open.

There is a medical phrase that says, ‘you only see what you look for; you only look for what you know.’ The phrase is describing vision. It is referring to being knowledgeable about medical diseases and conditions in order to be able to recognize them. A radiologist looking at a chest x-ray or CT scan won’t recognize a shadow as a breast cancer or TB or pneumonia unless that same radiologist knows what each of those look like. Interestingly our lives of faith are different. We don’t see as God sees. We have to intentionally enlarge our vision to appreciate what God puts in front of us, and even then we so often don’t see it. We have to really take the blinders off and really look.

It really is a matter of perspective. C.S. Lewis, that great Christian writer wrote, “The Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English evangelicals who abolished slave trade, all left their mark on the earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with heaven. It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world, that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at heaven and you will get earth ‘thrown in’: aim at earth and you will get neither.” Which is why our gospel today ends, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.’ We are best when we walk in the name of the Lord.

We really must enlarge our perspective to see the promised land God has in store for us. It is said that God usually operates in our peripheral vision. That his work usually isn’t directly in front of us. And we have to be very alert to see it! And open up our perspective. As an example, if I ask you what is half of eight, you most likely will say four. But if I tell you it is zero you will likely tell me I am wrong. But actually the numeral eight is two zeros on top of each other. If you take half of it, you have zero! Or if you draw a line down the middle of eight, cut it in half, you get two three’s facing each other, so half of eight could be three… Or you may have seen the black and white drawings in a couple of books on paradigm that have a picture of a chalice, initially. Until someone suggests that it is indeed an old woman, and suddenly you can see the profile, the outline of the cap, the forehead, then nose and the protruding chin. And then you can’t see the chalice any more.

How much is our perspective limiting what we can see? Or what we recognize? And how hard are we looking?

There is the story of the disciple who asks the master, ‘What can I do to attain God?’ The master answers by asking, ‘What can you do to make the sun rise?’ The disciple says indignantly, ‘Then why are you giving us all these methods of prayer?’ And the master replies, ‘To make sure you’re awake when the sun rises.’

Perhaps a modification of Lent is in order. Perhaps remembering our mission statement, considering our core values, and standing on the top of the mountain looking out will allow us to really be alert and see those things that God is doing in our peripheral vision. Or perhaps, it is just about being awake when the sun rises.


Sunday, February 17, 2013

Out of the desert and up on the mountaintop -- A sermon for Lent 1

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 10 am on Sunday, February 17, 2013
It’s Lent. And we just finished the Great Litany, so I know you are pumped. You are on the edge of your seat ready to launch into these 40 days, right? Not so much?

And I know I’m supposed to stand here and talk about how this is a season of penitence. I know I’m supposed to stand here and talk about how this is a season of denial. Where each one of us should give something up as a way of taming the desires of the flesh. A season where we journey with Jesus into the desert.

And that’s all good stuff. Penitence is good. Self-denial is good. Giving something up as an offering to God and in remembrance that all we need is God and each other is good. But somehow this Lent, it just seems like piling on. Somehow this Lent, I feel like if we did that, we might need to start passing out Prozac with communion.

Somehow this Lent, talking about journeying with Jesus into the desert doesn’t make sense. Because we’ve already been in the desert for way too long. And I think most of us are ready for the scenery to change.

This past week, I led Ash Wednesday services in two places. The first was at One Metropolitan Square and the second was at The Bridge at Centenary United Methodist Church.

At first glance, you couldn’t pick two more different congregations. One Met Square is the largest office building downtown and the congregation was made up of lawyers and other professional people. The Bridge is where some of the poorest people in our city spend their days … unemployed and homeless men, women and children who find there a place to give them lunch and time with a social worker and a place to hang out for the afternoon.

But dig deeper than that first glance, and we see something more. Dig deeper and we see that those two congregations weren’t as different as they seemed. When you stop and listen to the stories that come from the people in each place, we learn that they all -- we all -- come carrying heavy burdens. Families that are fragmenting. Addictions that are binding. Fears that are paralyzing.

Dig deeper still, and you see something even more profound that they all … that we all in this room have in common. That as deep as our brokenness might be, we still come together in hope. We still believe or even want to believe or even want to want to believe in God’s promise of a better day, a better way, a promised land.

And on some level, even though we are buoyed by our hope, we’re all tired … and wish that Promised Land would get here soon.

In this morning’s reading from Deuteronomy, we hear Moses talking to the people of Israel. The people of Israel know all about hope and they know all about tired. They know all about wishing that Promised Land would get here soon.

They have been in the desert for 40 years. God delivered them out of bondage and swore to lead them into the Promised Land. But it’s been 40 years of wandering. They are tired. And they are still hearing God’s word of promise. They are still hearing God tell of the land that is their inheritance to possess. The land that God swore to their ancestors to give them. The land of milk and honey.

But where is it?

Now we’ve read the rest of Deuteronomy and on into Joshua. So what we know that those people don’t as they listen to Moses speak is that they are right on the edge of it. What we know that those people don’t is that Promised Land is just over that next mountain. They can’t see it yet … but it’s right there. All they have to do is trust.

I wonder what it was like for those people of Israel in the desert to hear Moses tell them of God’s promise one more time. After all, they’d heard it all before. They heard it when he led them out of Egypt. They heard it for 40 years of wandering in the desert. And sure, God had provided for them if not every want, certainly every need. But it had been 40 long years in the desert. I wonder what they thought when they heard Moses talking about the promise … again.

Only we don’t have to wonder, do we? Because those people of Israel, those people in the desert … they are us and we are them. And we’ve heard this before, too.

It’s been 45 years since Dr. King quoted this same book of Deuteronomy and said he had been to the mountaintop and had seen the Promised Land. 45 years since an assassin’s bullet cut him down the very next day. He may have seen it, but we certainly weren’t there yet. And we’re still not there today.

We’re not in the Promised Land when all we have saved up from a life of hard work can vanish with a housing bubble pop or a pension fund disappearing.

We’re not in the Promised Land when the color of our skin determines the quality of our education.

We’re not in the Promised Land when we can buy crack on a street corner and an assault weapon over a store counter but can’t find a place to get mental health care or job training or to take our children when they get sick.

And so we cry out as the people of Israel cried out. We cry: “How Long, Oh Lord. How Long.” We cry out because we are tired. We’re tired of the desert.

We cry out … but we do not despair.

We do not despair because just as it was the people of Israel thousands of years ago and just as it was to Dr. King a generation ago, God’s promise to us is not a false hope. God’s promise to us is who we are. We are people of the promise. We are people of God’s promise of a better day, God’s promise of a better way, We are people of the promise of God to lead us into a new land and to fashion of us a new people.

And so one more time, as we do every year, we come to Lent … a season where we are told we join Jesus in the desert. Except that we’ve already been in the desert for way too long. And we’re ready for the scenery to change.

We’re ready to finally catch a glimpse of this land that God has prepared for us.

We’re ready to finally catch a glimpse of the people God is fashioning us into.

And so, we do not need 40 days of a Lent of anguish … because we have had enough of that.

We do not need 40 days of a Lent of grief and guilt … because we have had enough of that.

We do not need 40 days of a Lent of thirsting in the desert … because we have had enough of that.

No, we are not at the Promised Land yet and yes, we are probably still a long way off, but we are ready for a glimpse of it that will refresh us.

We are ready for a taste of it that will invigorate us.

We are ready for a vision of the Promised Land that will show us where God is leading us and what we are on our way to becoming.

We’re ready to hear the words God spoke to the prophet Isaiah, words we will be building toward through these 40 days of Lent. Words we will hear on that last Sunday before we join Jesus on his journey into Jerusalem:

I am about to do a new thing.

We’re ready for 40 days of a Lent of promise.

We’re ready for 40 days of a Lent of hope.

We’re ready for 40 days of a Lent of inspiration – literally the breath of God touching our breath, the text of God’s promise touching the text of our lives.

We’re ready to catch a glimpse of this Promised Land that is out there and in here right now, of this new thing that God is about to do and even now is already doing. And to say with Isaiah: “Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”

And so this Lent, that is what we are going to do. This Lent, we are not going to talk about spending time together in the desert but as we journey together toward the cross, we’re going to ask God to give us a glimpse of the resurrection land and resurrection life that God dreams for us and promises to us at the end of that desert, on the other side of that mountain. This Lent, we are going to look at what that life on the other side of Good Friday has looked like for others who have dared to follow Jesus there and imagine what it might look like for us.

This Lent, we will spend time with people like Kacie Starr Triplett and Kathleen Wilder, who followed Christ’s call and left behind positions of political power and material riches to give their lives to God’s dream of health care and an end to poverty for all God’s children in this desert.

This Lent, we will spend time with Susan Marino, the new head of school of Lafayette Preparatory Academy, and together dream about how we can give ourselves to God’s dream of excellent education for all God’s children in this desert.

This Lent, we will spend time with people at Bridge Bread and HomeFirst, and together dream how we might join them in being a part of God’s dream of jobs and housing for all God’s children in this desert.

This Lent, we proclaim together that even though we have been wandering in the desert a long time that it is not a desert without end. That there is a Promised Land closer than we think. And that we will get there someday together.

This Lent we proclaim together that the promise of God is real. That there is no brokenness … be it in our lives or in our world … that cannot be made whole. That there is no thirst that cannot be slaked or hunger that cannot be sated. That there is no division among us that cannot be healed or poverty among us that cannot be relieved.

This Lent we proclaim together that like our ancestors in the desert before us, we are a people gathered for a purpose. That God is about to do and even now is doing a new thing, right here, right now … in each of our lives and through all of our life together.

So this Lent, let’s get out of the desert and get up on the mountaintop. Let’s strain our eyes and catch a glimpse of that Promised Land that God has destined us for. Let’s dream of not only what that land might be, but dream about who God is making us into as people of that land.

This Lent, let’s get out of the desert and get up on the mountaintop. Let’s give ourselves to God and say “Lord, do with us what you will. Make that Promised Land come in this land of St. Louis. In this land of Christ Church Cathedral. In this land of my home, my family, my life. ”

This Lent, let’s get out of the desert and get up on the mountaintop and ask “What is the new thing God is about to do … through us?”


Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Every Picture Tells A Story, Don't it?" - A Sermon for the 4th Sunday After Epiphany

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, February 3, 2013

The word of the LORD came to me saying,
"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.

God has known us since before we were born. Stop a minute and think about that. What is your earliest memory of life itself? Whatever it is, God has known us longer than that, longer than we even can remember. As well as we know our own stories, God knows them better than we do. And the stories we have long since forgotten … God remembers, and God knows them, too.

Each of us has a story. A story that began from that first time God saw us, when God first breathed life into us. Each of us is created uniquely and wonderfully in the image of God and each of us is appointed a prophet to the nations.

Each of us has a truth. It is a truth that happens when God’s breath meets our breath. It is a truth that happens when the text of God’s Spirit meets the text of our lives.

The life each of us has lived and are still living has a truth, a story to tell.

Look around you. Each person here. Every single one is known and loved by God. Each person has a word from God that has to do with the story of their life. With their passions. With the wisdom that has become a part of them from the life they lived and a word that was implanted by God even before they were born.

When you came into the Nave of the Cathedral this morning, you noticed something different. There are pictures everywhere. Lots of pictures. Today and over the next month please take the time to look at them.

As Rod Stewart sings, “every picture tells a story, don’t it?” Every one of these pictures tells a story. And the stories are our stories. Stories of people in this congregation and this city, of our families and generations past and present.

Many of these are untold stories. And that’s because we live in a world that believes that some stories matter more than others and some stories matter not at all. These photos have been gathered by Debbie Nelson Linck from the time of the Emancipation Proclamation through the Civil Rights Movement. It is a time that much of white America preferred to acts as if Black America wasn’t there … something we still way too often do today.

But we did that and do that at our own peril and to our own poverty. And we don’t ignore those stories here. Because that is not the church. We hear the words of God to Jeremiah and we believe they are God’s words to all God’s children and we know that all these stories matter. We believe that God has gifted each of us with a Word for the community and the world.

As a Cathedral community, we have discerned that one of the core values that is central to our mission is embracing diversity. It is one of those things that sounds wonderful … and is … but is also hard, hard work. Because embracing diversity is about being open to the word of God being on unexpected lips and in unexpected forms. Embracing diversity means actively looking for that word of God on every person and not dismissing any person as incapable of bearing it.

A friend of mine, Stephanie Spellers, a priest in Long Island, talks about this in terms of three levels of welcome that church communities can have. All three are welcoming, so none of them are bad … but they are different degrees of being the church in our most glorious.

The first is an inviting congregation. An inviting congregation invites everyone to come in … that’s good. But you are invited to come in and be like us. Everyone is welcome here, as long as you adapt who you are to who WE are. And the people already here get to determine who the WE is.

The second is an inclusive congregation. An inclusive congregation invites everyone to come in and even lets people be who they are. But if you’re not like “US” … you can be who you are … over there, where it doesn’t effect anything and doesn’t change who “WE” are.

The third is a radically welcoming congregation. This is kingdom of God stuff. A radically welcoming congregation realizes that when any new person comes in the community changes. That every person has been known by God since before they were born and gifted with a word for the community … and if we are to be the richest, most Spirit-filled, God loving, Christ following community we can be we are always looking for ways to hear those stories and we are willing to do the hard, hard work of listening to one another and to changing so that who “We” are reflects the entire community, a community that is always shifting and changing.

A radically welcoming congregation says there is no “us” and “them.” A radically welcoming congregation is not a congregation of clicques and groups. A radically welcoming congregation is one where all around us we see the evidence of the diversity of the whole body … and we invite the difficult challenges that diversity brings to our own prejudices and comfort zones.

A radically welcoming congregation is one that says no story should remain untold. Because every picture tells a story, don't it? And every story is our story.

What might that look like for us? What might it look like is every person who walks in here is allowed to influence who we are? What might it mean if every one of these stories are our story? What might it mean to speak and listen fearlessly, trusting that God is speaking to and through us?