Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Sound of SIlence -- A sermon for the Fifth Sunday After Pentecost

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hello darkness, my old friend,
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence.

 Next year it will be 50 years since Paul Simon wrote those words. The shots fired by Lee Harvey Oswald were still echoing in our nation’s ears. And Paul Simon sat in his bathroom in the dark with the water running and wrote this song.

Hello darkness, my old friend.

Any list of potential anthems for the Boomer Generation has to include the Sound of Silence. But like many of our old anthems, time makes them both ring true in new ways and also brings out a sense of irony in retrospect.

Paul Simon wrote the Sound of Silence as a warning. A warning about disconnection. A warning about technology. A warning about submission to groupthink and manipulation by government and corporate forces.

Now 50 years later, we see that much of what Paul Simon warned us of does ring true, but not in the way that he envisioned, and not without a lot of irony. And, like most things, it’s really complicated.

Disconnection. A half a billion people are on Twitter, 1.1 billion people on Facebook. And while that enables us to maintain relationships over space and time like never before, it also creates this tidal wave of surface contact among us that leaves us thirsting for real deep relationship.

Technology. We can Skype and FaceTime with people around the globe that we used to have to wait weeks and months to hear from by mail. But we also text, Tweet and watch YouTube videos while sitting across from one other in coffee shops.

Manipulation. We can read hundreds of millions of blogs and things like the Arab Spring can happen largely fueled by individual grassroots reporting, yet most of our information still comes from a handful of corporate interests whose primary concern is appealing to our basest instincts so they can sell us things.

But what Paul Simon didn’t envision in his ballad is that the primary ripple effect of the changes driven by technology would be pace and attention. We are busier and more distracted than ever before. There has been a 70% increase in work productivity over the past 25 years and that means what we all know … that those of us who are blessed enough to have jobs are working longer and harder.

And as the pace of email and Twitter becomes the expected pace of life, we have become more and more distractible and less and less able to hold our attention on any one thing. My generation and my kids’ generation and the generations to come are literally having different neural pathways cut in our brains and cultivating dopamine addictions craving the chemical hit our brain gives us when we get that tweet or email or the adrenaline rush when the next newest crisis hits … even if it is only a news alert about Kanye and Kim.

This week, we sat down as a family and watched Star Trek II, The Wrath of Khan, because we’d just seen Star Trek: Into Darkness and we wanted to show the kids the movie it was based on. Now this isn’t Citizen Kane, this is The Wrath of Khan. But there were ways it was difficult to watch – not just for the kids but for me – because the pace of the movie seemed so incredibly slow – and so incredibly different than what we have become used to.

What Paul Simon didn’t envision – and here’s where the irony is -- is that how these changes would manifest themselves wasn’t in the silence … but in activity and noise. It is not the sound of silence that grows like a cancer, it is the proliferation of noise and activity. The jumping from one crisis, one shiny thing, one dopamine hit to another. The marketing of drama and conflict and adrenaline. The demands of increased productivity and the normalizing of multitasking.

As it turns out, the sound of silence isn’t what we need to fear, it’s what we need the most. And it’s become not only more difficult for us to find but more difficult for us to bear.

The sound of silence is not a phrase that Paul Simon came up with in his bathroom 50 years ago. It’s much older than that. It comes from this morning’s reading from 1 Kings.

Elijah is in trouble. Last week, we heard how he gave King Ahab the bad news that he was going to pay for his actions in his wife Jezebel having Naboth killed so he could take control of his vineyard. And now Jezebel has put a price on Elijah’s head and Elijah is running for his life.

Elijah is in deep trouble. He needs God. But where is God to be found? An angel tells Elijah that God is coming and that all he has to do is to stand on the mountain and wait. So that is what he does.

And here is what happens next: “Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence.”

Elijah heard the sound of silence. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And then, and only then, did God’s voice come to him and tell him what to do and where to go.

God was not in the wind or the earthquake or in the fire. What Elijah needed to enter into to find God was the sound of silence.

We are in deep need of God. Maybe we’re not running for our lives like Elijah was, but it sure feels like we are running and it sure feels like we are being tempted to be afraid at every turn. And so we look for God, we even cry out to God, and we sometimes wonder why God doesn’t answer.

And then we hear these words and remember.

God was not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire. What Elijah needed to enter into to find God was the sound of silence.

Now, here’s the thing about wind, earthquake and fire. They are smart things to pay attention to. They’re not a Sex and the City marathon or another guilty pleasure type distraction. They’re real. Not only that, if we’re standing on a mountain and a hurricane or an earthquake or a forest fire comes, common sense tells us that we’d not only should pay a little bit of attention to it, we’d better spring into action and focus all our attention on it because our life depends on it.

But Elijah does just the opposite. If Elijah had said, “AUUHGGGH! A windstorm! Quick, everyone take shelter!” or “Waaaaaaah, fire! OK, you get water, you chop down those trees to make a fire break.” If he had done what just about every one of us would have done in those situations, he would have been sucked into them and missed the voice of God that would save his life.

Instead, Elijah waits. He waits for the sound of silence. And because he does, he finds God and God finds him.

We are in deep need of God. Maybe we’re not running for our lives but it sure feels like we’re running and it sure feels like we’re being tempted to be afraid at every turn. And there are no shortages of windstorms, earthquakes and fires of every variety that very legitimately demand our attention and tempt us to spend our lives fearfully leaping from one crisis to the next.

And God is there, watching us, trying to talk to us, saying “hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you.” But God’s words like silent raindrops fall and are swallowed up not by the sound of silence but by the deafening roar of the wind, the earthquake and the fire, the crisis du jour and the beeping smartphone and the list of things that are so important that they can’t wait because my job, my family, my career, my life hangs in the balance.

The winds, earthquakes and fires will never stop. They’ve been around since way before Elijah and they’ll be around way after we’re all gone and this building is dust. And we will continue to be tempted to put the urgent before the important and jump fearfully from one crisis to the next. 

But this morning we are reminded that our call is to be patient and wait. To understand that while there is urgency to the wind, earthquake and fire, that even more important is to seek the wisdom and presence and voice of God that we will not find in those places. To every day spend time in the sound of sheer silence. To cultivate and defend that time.

At first it might be hard not just to find but even more difficult to bear. Many of us will literally have to retrain our brains for this kind of listening and mindfulness. But if we are to follow Jesus and live the resurrection lives that will be saving for us, there is no other way.

We need God. But where is God to be met?

God is with us in the wind, the earthquake and the fire, but all too often God’s voice gets drowned out by them. God’s voice is still and small. And we have to still ourselves to hear it.

God’s voice is not in the wind. It is not in the earthquake. It is not in the fire.

It is whispered in the sounds of silence.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

"What if we expected Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary?" - A sermon for the Third Sunday After Pentecost

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, June 9, 2013

What if we expected Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary?

My friend Michael is way healthier than I am. I’m convinced that some of that comes from living in Alaska. When you live in Alaska, you do lots of hiking and camping and fishing, and Michael and his family do those things. And so Michael always has this healthy glow about him. And it’s ironic, because Michael has been closer to death than anyone I know.

A few years ago, Michael started having some strange symptoms one night and his wife took him to the emergency room. The doctors made a diagnosis and gave him a shot of something that was supposed to clear it up … only they gave him the wrong shot and horrible things began to happen.

Very rapidly, the systems of Michael’s body began to shut down. The doctors scrambled to try to reverse it and couldn’t. They tried everything they knew. But Michael slipped into a coma, and they had to hook him up to machines to keep him alive.

Michael wasn’t even 40 years old. He was married with two schoolage kids. Just days before, you would have said he was one of the healthiest people you knew. And now the doctors were telling his wife, Nancy, there was nothing they could do. They were telling Nancy that she needed to prepare herself and her children for the fact that her husband, her kids’ father, that Michael was going to die.

Just days before, she was looking forward to raising children and growing old with the man she loved. And now she was facing life as a widow and her children were facing life without a father. Just days before they had been playing and laughing together. And now it was up to her to decide whether to take him off the machines and let him die.

One morning while Michael was in the hospital, his Bible study group came in to see him and pray for him. They stood around his bed as he lay there in a coma and they began to pray. And one of them started off the way we pray so many times – God we lift Michael to you and if it is your will we ask that you heal him. … and then he stopped … and he said:


No. That’s not good enough.

Jesus we know you can heal him. We need Michael. His family needs him. His church needs him. So you just need to do it. You just need to heal him right now because this is wrong. And you know it’s wrong. And you can do something about it. So you need to just do it. You need to just heal him right now.

Within a few hours, Michael started to emerge from the coma. The doctors have no idea how or why. But Michael does. He says he doesn’t remember much from being in that coma, but he remembers that Bible study group being in that room. And he remembers them praying.

What if we expected Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary?

We come together each week and we hear stories like this morning’s Gospel story. A story of Jesus doing something extraordinary. And this story is one of the most incredible of all.
It’s a story of deep tragedy. It’s a funeral procession … which can be tragic enough … but the story tells us that this is a widow’s only son. So the mother is now not only in deep grief she is destitute. She has literally no one who will care for her. The die has not only been cast for her son being carried to his grave but for her as well.

And then along comes Jesus. And something extraordinary happens. He walks up to the widow and speaks to her, he touches the litter the pallbearers are carrying and then he speaks to the dead body … and the man sits up, alive.

Extraordinary. Absolutely extraordinary. Dead is dead. And here is this dead man, sitting up, talking, alive.

But something else extraordinary is happening in that scene.

The people make room for Jesus.

Think of the funerals that you have been to. What would happen if a strange person all of a sudden came up and accosted the grieving wife or mother and then walked up and grabbed on to the casket and started talking to the body.

I don’t know any funeral I’ve been to where that person wouldn’t have been intercepted and hustled away as quickly as possible. There’s a couple I’ve been to where I know a couple of big guys would have had him down like a calf at a rodeo.

But that’s not what happened. Jesus showed up and instead of walking more quickly or hustling him away or even body-checking him into the next province the people stopped. They made room for Jesus. They let him do what he needed to do.

And something extraordinary happened.

That’s what happened in that hospital room in Anchorage. The doctors were saying that Michael was going to die. It was inevitable. It was irreversible. They had done their best and that was all that was to be done. But that group of faithful people knew that they needed to just make some room for something else. They needed to make room for Jesus to enter in.

They needed to expect Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary.

And they did.

And he did.

What if we expect Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary?

Now I’ll be the first to say I don’t know how this works. I know that I have made room for Jesus before and I couldn’t tell you anything that happened. I have stood at the casket of a 21 year old girl and pleaded with Jesus to do for her what he did for that man in this morning’s Gospel story and even though I knew Jesus was there, she did not come back to life. And I also know that Jesus was there in that hospital room in Anchorage, and I know that my friend Michael is alive and that Jesus is why.

I don’t know how this works.

But I also don’t think it’s up to us to know how it works. It’s up to us to do what the people did in that funeral procession, to do what Michael’s Bible study group did in that hospital room and to do what I did standing at a funeral home in front of that young woman’s casket. It’s up to us to make room for Jesus. To not assume that what we can see and measure and predict is all there is. To know that there is a power greater than any other in the universe -- a power that can turn all our wisdom into foolishness and all our best laid plans to dust.

It is up to us to expect Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary. And when he does to not be surprised but certainly to be awed.

It is up to us not just in the great moments of crisis in our lives but in every moment of our lives to make room for Jesus. In every moment to look for his presence and to bid his presence. To know that we are not bound by the limits of our own wisdom and ingenuity. To know that life can come from death and even that which seems most lost can be saved. To know that Jesus can enter in and stop us and touch us, and wipe our tears and bring life from death.

To know that Jesus can show up and amazing things can happen – if we make room for him.

What if we expect Jesus to show up and do something extraordinary?