Sunday, January 26, 2014

"The difference between Jesus and Jedi Mind Trick" - a sermon for the third Sunday of Epiphany

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at the 8 am service at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 26, 2014

And Jesus said, “Follow me.” And immediately they followed him.

Whenever I hear this story, what always jumps into my mind is Jedi mind trick. You remember, that scene in Star Wars where Obi Wan Kenobi is being questioned by the imperial stormtroopers, and he just looks into their eyes and waves his hands and says “These are not the droids you’re looking for” and the stormtroopers do exactly what Obi-wan wants - they follow him – they parrot those lines back to him and let them go on their way.

And when Luke incredulously asks how he did that, Obi Wan smiles and says “the force can have a strong influence on the weak-minded.”

The scene is at once comic and profound. And it begs the question – why do people follow.?Why did those disciples follow Jesus? Why do we follow Jesus? And, if we are to be Jesus in the world, why should people join and follow us?

Is it just Jedi mind trick? Some mass delusion that has perpetuated for nearly two millennia? Or is it something more?

Following Jesus is an invitation into a life that confounds conventional wisdom. We heard Paul say it this morning in his letter to the Corinthians:

For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Following Jesus is a path of giving up ourselves. In baptism, we die to an old way of life and turn to a new way of life in Christ – a way of giving up ourselves for the love of God and for the sake of the world God loves so much. A way of being focused on the needs of others more than the needs of ourselves. A way that lets our conviction that we are loved beyond bounds be a launching pad for us to live and love without fear, trusting that God and God’s love will follow us wherever we go.

In a world where insurance is multi-trillion dollar industry, this kind of radical trust, this message about the cross, certainly can seem like foolishness – so much so that we as the Church have too often shrunk back and softened the Gospel message, made it safe and more sensible … and robbed it of the power of God. We have too often become just one more nonprofit asking people to add us to their end of the year giving list, instead of being Jesus, inviting them to drop everything and follow. Taking seriously the words of the baptismal service and inviting one another to “put your whole trust in Christ’s grace and love.”

Last week, we sat in this space and wore nametags that said “Jesus” as a reminder that we are called to be Jesus out in the world. We are Jesus’ eyes and ears, hands and feet. We are Jesus’ voice saying “follow me.” And unless we are, with our lives living the radical and compelling way of the cross, we are giving people no reason to drop their nets and leave their boats and join us on this incredible journey. Unless we are really out there being Jesus, we are depending on our own charisma and Jedi mind trick … and there is a real question as to what we are inviting people into anyway, and what we are doing here ourselves.

A few years ago, Gallup took a poll and asked people to identify a leader and list words that best describe what this person contributes to their life. In essence the question was “Why do we follow?” The four most common words were:


This is how we are wired as human beings. How Jesus got those fishermen to follow him was not Jedi mind trick it was somehow communicating to them that as the living presence of God on earth, he was the living, breathing incarnation of all these things.

That he was trustworthy – that his words and actions would always line up because his words were not just words but indeed he was the Word that existed before time. That he was and that he would help them become people of honesty, integrity and respect.

That he would have compassion on them and would lead them into deep compassion for others, curing every disease and every sickness among the people, that he would love them without end and lead them into being that love for others.

That in him they would find the stability that comes from the certainty of God’s love and presence – that they could leave everything that had given them stability before because they could now always find that in him – lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

And finally, hope – that Jesus could give their lives deep meaning and direction. That this way of the cross, as strange and scary as it seemed, would lead them into lives that were more beautiful and meaningful than they could possibly imagine.


Something about Jesus on that seashore communicated those things so powerfully that Peter and Andrew and James and John – fishermen poor and rich – together left everything and followed him. And the movement of the Christ was born.

We are Jesus eyes and ears, hands and feet. We are Jesus’ voice saying “follow me.” And unless we are, with our lives living the radical and compelling way of the cross, we are giving people no reason to drop their nets and leave their boats and join us on this incredible journey

Later this morning, we are going to baptize Wayne Crum into Christ’s body, the Church and we are going to commission Cathy Johnston as a deacon for this congregation. When we reaffirm our baptismal covenant with Wayne, we are answering once again Jesus’ call to follow me. When we commission Cathy, we are asking her to join us in going out into the world in spreading that call far and wide.

And if we truly are to be Jesus in the world. If we truly are not just going to try to get people to “go to church” but to join this Jesus movement, to be part of this transformative Body of Christ remaking the world, then it’s not about learning Jedi mind trick. It’s about in our lives out there being so compelling that people cannot help but want to follow us as Jesus. It is about being beacons of trust, compassion, stability and hope. It is about living our faith in Jesus out loud so that people will drop what they are doing and join us on the way to the cross, tossing aside concern for self in favor of concern for other, and joining with us and the heavenly chorus praising God for a love that never ends. Amen.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

"Hello, My Name is Jesus:" -- The Dean's Address to the Annual Meeting of Christ Church Cathedral

The address preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at the Christ Church Cathedral Annual Meeting Eucharist on Sunday, January 19, 2014

Come Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Take our minds and think through them.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our souls, and set them on fire.
We don’t usually sit like this in church. We usually sit like we do in a classroom or a movie theater – two places where we aren’t supposed to be talking to the person next to us, and so in church we usually don’t. But we’re not sitting like that today (the Cathedral is set up with chairs around tables), so we’re doing some things differently. This morning, maybe we’re more aware of who is sitting around us because we have had a chance to look one another in the eye.

So, you might have done this already, but I invite you to turn to the people on your left and on your right and shake their hands, and look each other in the eye and say, “Hello, my name is … “and share your name.

Names are powerful. Names define who we are. Each one of us was named by our parents – and every name has a story. For some of us ,our parents simply liked the sound, or maybe we were named after a significant person or family member. I even know a child whose name is the national park where she was conceived on a camping trip!

Perhaps the most moving moment in all of scripture is in the Gospel of John when Mary Magdalene stands at the empty tomb talking in panic to a man she believes to be the gardener asking where they have taken her beloved Jesus. And the man says her name: “Mary” – and immediately she knows it is Jesus. Jesus is who calls us by name. Jesus is who knows who we really are.

But Jesus is more than the one who knows us and loves us without bounds. Jesus is the one who sends us out into the world to know and love the world in his name. Jesus is not just who we follow. In the Eucharist, when we do what we will do here in just a few minutes … when we take our prayers and hopes and sorrows and dreams and gifts and lay them on the table with Christ and then receive new life in return, Jesus … the Body of Christ … is who we become. Jesus is whose name we bear.

“Be what you see … receive who you are” is what I say every Sunday. It is St. Augustine reminding us that Jesus is not just “up there” (in the air) or “up there” (on the cross), but right here (point to each person).

For the past 18, days your email box has been gifted each day with a glimpse of life at Christ Church Cathedral from the past year. 2013 was an amazing year for the Body of Christ at Christ Church Cathedral. We worshipped God with joy and beauty, we brought people from all over downtown together for conversations about hunger and homelessness. We brought hundreds of people into this space to sing blues at the foot of the cross on Good Friday and to launch Magdalene St. Louis. We heard powerful speakers and preachers, baptized and confirmed people young and old in the faith, celebrated our diversity with an amazing photo exhibit and a Pride Festival Eucharist.

We read the Bible together, launched a fantastic 20s and 30s ministry, and heard glorious music offered to God each Sunday and many other times throughout the week and year. We opened our doors to Lafayette Preparatory Academy and a partnership that is providing fantastic public elementary education to 74 children each day, and we bid farewell to some dear, dear friends as they joined the heavenly chorus.

And in 2013, we claimed a mission together. A mission that defines for us what being the Body of Christ at Christ Church Cathedral means for us.

We seek a deeper relationship with God and each other
in Jesus Christ through:
Celebrating the sacraments faithfully
Proclaiming the Gospel boldly
Embracing diversity joyfully
Serving all passionately
as a Cathedral.

As we’ve said so many times before, the core of our mission is that verb “seek” – we seek a deeper relationship with God and each other in Jesus Christ. We seek to do what happens in the Eucharist – to receive and become the Body of Christ. In the words of our Eucharistic prayer, that Christ may dwell in us and we in Christ.

And we do this by doing what we do in here – celebrating the sacraments faithfully. But so much of how we do this doesn’t just happen in here. Proclaiming the Gospel boldly. Embracing diversity joyfully. Serving all passionately. As a Cathedral. That happens out there.

In our Chapter meetings in 2013, we began a practice of inviting guests in from our downtown community to talk with us for 10 minutes or so and to give us a view of Christ Church Cathedral “as others see us.” And consistently a message we heard is “Christ Church Cathedral is wonderful. You have a beautiful space and you are doing fantastic things, and people are starting to notice … but still so many people have no idea you are here.”

And so in those Chapter meetings, which we moved from the Guernsey Room right here to the sanctuary so we can do what we are doing this morning – realize that there is no division between our worship and our work and so we can be reminded by the cross that everything we do is about Jesus – in those Chapter meetings we have started talking about “turning the Cathedral inside out.” How can we take the beauty and power that is so evident when we are in this space … an turn it outward. How can we be what God proclaimed to Isaiah, what we just discussed in our table groups “given as a light to the nations.”

In this week’s Gnaw on This Gospel email, I wrote about the story we hear in this morning’s Gospel. We see John hanging out with two of his disciples and he sees Jesus walk by and he points him out: "Look, here is the Lamb of God!" And how that's what we get to do -- we get to point out Jesus to a world who doesn't know him.

And then I asked the question: So how do we spot Jesus? How do we know when the "Lamb of God" has come into view?

We know when we see people following the commandments Jesus gave us.

When we see someone touching someone on the margins with compassion.

When we see someone surrendering power for the common good.

When we see someone giving God the glory instead of grasping onto it for themselves.

When we see someone emptying themselves with joy for the love of the world.

But there’s a second part to that. When we do these things ourselves. When we celebrate the sacraments faithfully and proclaim the Gospel boldly and embrace diversity joyfully and serve all passionately, people look at us and see Jesus. When we do those things, we are being what we see and receiving who we are. When we do those things, our presence no longer goes unnoticed

But it is not just our presence as Christ Church Cathedral or our presence individually with the names we were given at birth.

Because when we do those things, we take on a new name. In the life of the world out there we bear and become Jesus the Christ. And that is our mission this year and into the future as we turn this Cathedral inside out. To not just draw people into this space – though we will certainly continue to do that – but to go into the world, into the places we live every day, and be Jesus. Celebrating, proclaiming, embracing and serving.

This is not some new idea. Nearly 500 years ago, the Spanish mystic St. Teresa of Avila sung these words:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours,
no hands but yours,
no feet but yours,
Yours are the eyes through which to look out
Christ's compassion to the world;
Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good;
Yours are the hands with which he is to bless now.

We are Jesus.

On your tables you’ll see an envelope and inside it are some name tags – ones that say “Hello my name is…” Pass those around your table. Now, I invite each of you to take one of those and grab a pen and write one name on that.

Write Jesus.

Now put it on.

Now turn to the person to your right and your left and introduce yourself again to one another, only this time say what’s on the nametag. Say, “Hello, my name is Jesus.”

Now let’s say it all together “Hello, My Name Is Jesus!”

Again, louder, and with joy:

Hello, My Name Is Jesus.

I know it might feel silly, or it might make you feel uncomfortable, but in wearing that nametag, each of us and all of us are making a profound statement. We aren’t giving up our own names. We still have them and Jesus still calls us by those names and loves us without bounds. But in claiming the name of Jesus, each one of us and all of us are claiming a joy of bringing Jesus and his love to the world.

How do we do this? Well, you already have at least one or two ideas of how you do this from your table conversations. Ways each of you can live out our Cathedral mission. Gifts each of you have for mission and ministry and maybe an inkling of how God is inviting you to use them both in this place and out there in the world.

Again, this is nothing new. We are standing in the footsteps of the first Christians to whom Paul said, “You are ambassadors of Christ, since God is making God’s appeal through us.” Ambassadors speak with the authority of the one whom they represent. Being an ambassador of Christ means with every word and action we say to the world “Hello, my name is Jesus.”

The days of Christ Church Cathedral being the best kept secret in St. Louis are over. Because from this day forward we are sent as a light to the nations. We are Christ Church Cathedral. And we seek a deeper relationship with God in Jesus Christ through:
Celebrating the sacraments faithfully,
Proclaiming the Gospel boldly
Embracing diversity joyfully
Serving all passionately
as a Cathedral.

We are Christ Church Cathedral. And individually and together, in the Eucharist we become what we see and we receive who we are.

We are Christ Church Cathedral, gathered in Jesus name and sent out into the world to love and serve the Lord.

We are Christ Church Cathedral, and when people see us walk by, when people see us celebrate, proclaim, embrace and serve, they will know that we are Christ Church Cathedral. And that our name is Jesus. Amen.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

"Not to wish upon a star, but to follow one" -- a sermon for the Second Sunday of Christmas

A sermon preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 5, 2014

Sing with me, because I know you know this…

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

We’re coming up on 75 years since the first time the lights dimmed in a movie house and Jiminy Cricket sang those words. 75 years since we saw Geppetto make a wish upon a star, that his marionette, Pinocchio, could become real.

Of course, if we remember the rest of the story, we remember it took a lot more than wishing to make it so. For Pinocchio to become a real boy, he had to be brave, truthful and unselfish and tell right from wrong by listening to his conscience.

When Geppetto awoke, Pinocchio looked like a real boy, but he wasn’t one yet. He had to learn what it was to be real through some pretty horrifying trial and error involving child trafficking and a carnivorous whale. Ultimately, he only became real when he gave his life up for the one who had given him life in the first place, Geppetto.

When the movie opened, Jiminy Cricket made it sound so easy.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you

But we know – and, in fact Pinocchio discovered, too – the truth is not so easy. And yet it is no less wondrous. In fact, even more so.

This morning, we hear the story of another star. And far below on the earth, three rulers of their age saw it, but they did not just make a wish upon it, hoping their dreams would come true. They followed that star. They followed it for a thousand miles and more over dangerous terrain. They followed that star to the house under which it stopped and then knelt down and worshipped a child, offering him gifts of incredible riches … gold, frankincense and myrrh.

When we look at the story of the Magi through 21st century eyes, it can seem as fanciful as Pinocchio. Stars can no more move and rest over one specific house than a marionette can come to life and a cricket can sing. But stories do not need to be factual to be true.

The Magi saw something extraordinary. They saw the presence of God breaking into the world in a new way. And they knew that as much as they already had – wealth, power, everything the world valued -- it was nothing compared with the chance that star offered to them. A chance to, in the words of the collect we prayed this morning “share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, Jesus Christ.”

Or, in the words of Pinocchio, to become real. To become the fullest of what humanity can be.

That’s what Jesus shows us. Jesus shows us God’s dreams for all of us. Jesus shows us what it is to be truly, really human. And it is not about striving after thrones and crowns, wealth and power. Those are the ways of Herod. It is about giving those things away in love.

The God whom they found under that star is a God who came into the world as one of its most vulnerable citizens and invites us to join him in that vulnerability. To take all that we have and all that we are and lay it down in love for the life of the world.

Like Pinocchio, it isn’t just about wishing but ultimately about giving our lives away. But unlike Pinocchio, this isn’t just about following our internal compass of a conscience and being brave, truthful and unselfish. It isn’t about those things any more than it is about just wishing on that star and hoping our hearts desires will come to us. It is about what we will promise in a just a few minutes, when little Palmer Bettis Runnels is presented for baptism.

It’s about Jesus, and it’s about some promises. Promises that are to us what the Magi laying those gifts before the child were to them.

We’re going to ask Palmer three questions … and because she is too young to answer for herself, her parents and godparents are going to answer for her:

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?
Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?

And the answer each time is I do. I do. I do.

This is what being fully human is. It is doing what God did in Jesus. Putting our whole selves in Christ’s hands the way God put the divine self in our hands in that little child. Putting our whole trust in Christ’s grace and love. Laying all that we are and all that we have at Christ’s feet and saying, with the same intensity that we do in the marriage service “with all that I am and all that I have, I honor you.”

Lore has it those kings were rulers of great power, with nations at their command. But in laying their gifts at Jesus’ feet they were subordinating that citizenship to a greater one … that of being God’s people on earth. Of sharing the divine life of the one who humbled himself to share our humanity.

And that is what we do, too. Because we see something extraordinary, too. In this world, even in this place, Christ is still being born. God is breaking into the world in a new way. And as much as we already have –wealth, power, everything the world values – it is nothing compared with the chance this star offers us. A chance to share in the life of the divine. A chance to be freed from a life of fear and other people’s expectations and to live boldly and love without counting the cost.

A chance to be freed to be a real person – not defined primarily as a St. Louisian or an American or even as a Citizen of Facebook but as part of Christ, God freely given out of love for the life of the world.

And there’s one more way this isn’t like Pinocchio. We don’t do it by ourselves. Because there’s one more promise coming up, and it’s one for all of us.

In a few minutes, I will turn to all of us gathered here and ask “Will you who witness these vows do all in your power to support this person in her life in Christ.” And we will answer with a volume so loud it will rattle the rafters:

We will!

We will shout those words because this life in Christ is too challenging and too wonderful to do by ourselves. And so we do it together. When we are tempted to hoard our gifts and power for ourselves, we are here to remind one another that isn’t who we are … that being real is about giving our lives away.

We will shout these words because being formed as Christians is not just the job of parents or Sunday School teachers but of all of us. All of us take on the responsibility of forming our children as followers of Jesus and when we do, we find that they are some of our best teachers, too.

We will shout these words because this life is our hearts’ desire. It really is. Because this life in Christ is a life where we continually know that we are deeply beloved and delighted in by God, where we are free to live boldly and love extravagantly in return. And where we never need to fear anything not because nothing bad will ever happen but because when those bad things do happen, we know that God will never leave us and we will never leave one another.

Most of us grew up listening to Jiminy Cricket sing, and most of us have probably at one time or another wished upon a star. And maybe those wishes have come true, and maybe they haven’t.

But today, we come together not to wish upon a star, but to follow one. And it truly does make no difference who you are. Because when we follow the star that leads to the house where the child is. And when together we lay our gifts before him and put our whole trust in Jesus’ grace and love, our lives will become more real and we will become more deeply human than we can possibly imagine.

And everything our heart desires will come to us. Amen.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

"Dots and Dashes" - A sermon for Christmas I by the Rev. Dr. John Kilgore

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, December 29, 2013

‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.’

I love to think about that…in the beginning… Imagine that time, in the beginning. There was nothing, only God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit sitting around. In eternity. Time before, time after. Space. A formless void. Nothingness. Or everythingness. No earth, no sun, no stars, no planets. And it may well be that way at the end as well. Eternity.

In the beginning. It is something so big we cannot wrap our arms around it. Our minds cannot fathom it! We just can’t take it in, cannot comprehend. In the beginning. Maybe, just maybe we can imagine a little tiny piece of it. A dot or a dash. We know such a small piece of it. Perhaps God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit were sitting around, you know the Trinity really is community. The gospel today tells us that, the Word was with God and the Word was God. One in the same yet all different. The Trinity. So God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit; God, Creator, Redeemer, and Sanctifier. Whatever terms you want to use to talk about, to describe the Trinity, they were all sitting around and perhaps said, ‘Let’s create an earth. Let’s create a sun and planets and stars. Let’s create the earth, inhabitable, with mountains and valleys and streams and dry land and oceans. Let us [as it says in Psalm 147 we read today] count the number of the stars and call them by their names…cover the heavens with clouds and prepare rain for the earth…make grass to grow upon the mountains and green plants to serve mankind…provide food for the flocks and herds and for the young ravens when they cry…give snow like wool and scatter hoarfrost like ashes…scatter hail like bread crumbs…blow with the wind and make waters flow. Yes, let us make an abundant earth and wonderful beings in our own image.’

But then there may have been a dialogue, or a trialogue; some form of discussion among the members of the Trinity. Maybe it went like this:

Son - Well, we have just created the earth and humankind in our own image and given them reason and intellect above the creatures. What if they don’t get it? What if they don’t understand us? What if their humanity and free will become a problem?

Holy Spirit - Well, that’s when we infuse our godliness into them and remind them of their being created in our own image.

God - They might not get it. But let’s give it a try. Nothing we create is imperfect. Just awaiting in its fulfillment, in its perfection.

Several millennia later.
Son - I told you they wouldn’t get it. We tried a flood, forty years in the wilderness, burning bushes, time in the belly of whales, falling walls in Jericho, plagues and frogs, Kings and Prophets. They’re not getting it…

Holy Spirit - Perhaps they need more of us. More spirit infused in them. More of our essence among them.

God - They have that they just don’t recognize it.

Son - Maybe we don’t understand them well enough…

God - Son, I’ve got a job for you. And we are all in this together. You are going to make words like The Incarnation, Emmanuel, Son of Man, Prince of Peace real to them, and them real to us. Pack your bags, Son, you are going on a trip!

Two millennia later.
Son - What do you think? Did they get it? Do they understand?

God - Maybe. Better. The lessons you taught of caring for all, the worldly standards as they know them are not as we know them, the first shall be last, and all that were good for them. Holy Spirit, what do you think?

Holy Spirit - I sense our presence among them. It seems better. And perhaps we understand them better.

Son - You know the problem is that they are too close to the ground, among the trees and don’t have the perspective to see the forest as we do way up here in the clouds. Though we really aren’t in the clouds, they just think like that.

God - Well, Son, you do have a perspective, having been there among them. Other thoughts?

Son - Well, as a matter of fact. Think about this. They have these things on earth called newspapers. Well they used to; they are pretty much going out of style now but they do still exist. And in the back of them are what they call funny papers. Drawings and cartoons in color. They are in panels and they tell a story, often humorous. But if you get down really close and look at them they are just a bunch of dots of different colors and make no sense. It is only when you back up enough, get far enough away, and have enough perspective that you see the figures and the pictures and the story line. And there are also artists that paint like that, they call them pointillists. They paint with just a bunch of dots. Thousands of them. The paintings don’t look like much until you back up and get away from them a bit. You know, having been there among them, it is fairly clear that they get bogged down in the details, in the day to day. Too close to the dots. They have difficulty taking time to back up and see the big picture. They are very immediate.

Holy Spirit - Hmmmm. So how can we get them to understand better?

Son - They have to be alert and paying attention. And work to get our perspective.

God - Not only that, they need to know us better, listen and pay attention.

One of my spiritual mentors told me years ago that God doesn't work right in front of us. God doesn't work in our direct vision but rather in our peripheral vision. A headline in a newspaper. A conversation mentioned to us. A passing encounter. We have to be looking at the whole big picture and be paying attention to see God's hand at work.

Story from the days of steamships and telegraphs. Before there was radio or cell phones or the internet.

Waiting in a steamship office to be interviewed for a job as a wireless operator, a group of applicants filled the room with such a buzz of conversation that they were oblivious to the dots and dashes, the Morse code, that began coming over a loudspeaker.

About that time another man entered and sat down quietly by himself. Suddenly he snapped to attention, walked into the private office, and a few minutes later came out smiling with a new job.

“Say,” one of the group called out, “how did you get in ahead of us? We were here first?”

“One of you would have gotten the job,” the successful applicant replied, “if you had listened to the message from the loudspeaker.”

“What message?” they asked in surprise.

“Why the code,” the man answered. “It said: ‘The man I need must always be on the alert. The first one who gets this message and comes directly into my private office will be placed on one of my ships as operator.’”

Dots on paper. Dots and dashes of sound. Dots and dashes only make sense if one is alert, paying attention, and puts them in perspective. Such is life. And such are our lives of faith.


"Unqualified love" - A Christmas sermon by the Rev. Dr. John Kilgore

A sermon preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Christmas Morning, 2013

In the beginning was the Word…and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us

Merry Christmas! A Blessed Christmas to you! A Blessed Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ as it is also called. In our Church Calendar we have holy days celebrating and commemorating various events in our religious heritage. They are not all the actual anniversary of the event itself, but rather, an occasion to remember, to commemorate, to memorialize an event or a person. And we all do it a bit differently. Calendars are a bit arbitrary. For example, in the United States, one’s birthday is a major personal celebration and when friends call and send greetings and good wishes. But in Italy, the day of one’s birth is not celebrated thus. Rather, the ‘Name Day’ is the day celebrated. If a girl’s name is Catherine her annual celebration will be on St. Catherine’s Day rather than the day of her actual birth; Or a boy named Stephen would be on St. Stephen’s Day (coming up) rather than the actual day of his birth.

Whether in the secular calendar or in our religious calendar holy days or ‘feast days’ or ‘memorial days’ are actually our human attempt to put some reminder, some remembrance, some ‘honoring’ of special events into our calendar. Into our collective wisdom. They may or may not correspond to the actual event. Christmas, the Nativity likely didn't occur at this time. But today is our day to memorialize the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Or Christmas Day.

And along with the calendar we have appointed readings that go with each day. There are three readings for Christmas, one of them being appointed for Christmas Day. And the readings for today are actually bit curious. They don’t really sound very Christmas-y. Do they? And that, I think, is for a reason. Last night was Christmas Eve. The big service. Actually services. Several of them. And at Midnight Mass the place was packed. A full service with full choir, many hymns, the Bishop here, and all the faithful, whether they are used to coming to church or not. A really big service, beautiful and glorious. The lessons were readings of the Christmas story. Joseph and Mary and angels and shepherds. And a miraculous birth. Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is a great service. But I think that today actually eclipses Midnight Mass. This is my favorite service of the year.

It is still Christmas, or the Feast of the Nativity. The Cathedral is beautifully decorated. We have Christmas music. And people are here because they want to be. For whatever reason. People are here quietly on Christmas morning. And there is a blessing in that. For this morning there is time to sit quietly and contemplate, to enjoy, to savor, the message of Christmas.

And therefore the readings are not the obvious retelling of the Christmas story. But rather a ‘backed up’ view. A story from a higher perspective. If you put it in theater parlance you might even go so far as to say that the intellectually curious Believers are here today! This morning. Last night was the show. The musical extravaganza. This today is the serious one act play.

In the beginning was the Word…..and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…

In the beginning. Today is the day to quietly reflect on, and to put the Feast of the Nativity in perspective. Think about it. There is a long history of God interacting with humankind. Think of the creation story with God creating the heavens and the earth, making the dry land and bounding the seas, making all living creatures, and the first humans. Remember God’s interaction with Moses, leading the Israelites in the wilderness for 40 years. The Ten Commandments. Noah and the Flood. The test of Abraham with Isaac. God wrestling with Jacob. Destroying the Tower of Babel. Joshua leading across the River Jordan. Samuel and King David and Jonathan. Elijah and Elisha. And the prophets - Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel. There is a long history of God interacting with God’s people. God trying to get our attention. Trying to get us to stand up and take notice and ‘behave.’ God must shake His Head and say, ‘Why don’t they get it? I gave them free will, but why don’t they get it?’

And then, in this long history of God interacting with God’s People, God does something absolutely amazing. The Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. God became Man and in so doing Man's relationship with God was dramatically altered.

And this Jesus of Nazareth, born in Bethlehem, teaches us lessons of tolerance and forgiveness and non judging and unqualified love in ways we never knew before. Jesus calls us to welcome the stranger (including the person dressed as in middle eastern garb reading the Quran on our airplane), give to the poor (including the eighth person in a row on a street corner with a hand out), comfort the bereaved (including the thousands decimated by the catastrophic storm of the week), feed the hungry (yes, also the one who is perhaps hungry not out of situation but out of intent). And we don’t do all of that! And Jesus, now God become human, knows how human we are and lets us get away with it.

For we are still loved, regardless of what we have or have not done; regardless of the need, to which we have or have not responded; regardless of our insensitivity. We are still loved. And that is the message of this Feast of the Nativity. And the message we have time to contemplate this quiet Christmas Morning.

It is the message of unqualified love.

There is a story of two brothers who worked together on the family farm. One was married and had a large family. The other was single. At the day’s end, the brothers shared everything equally, produce and profit. Then one day the single bother said to himself, “It’s not right that we should share equally the produce and the profit. I’m alone and my needs are simple.” So each night he took a sack of grain from his bin and crept across the field between their houses, dumping it into his brother’s bin. Meanwhile, the married brother said to himself, “It’s not right that we should share the produce and the profit equally. After all, I’m married and I have my wife and my children to look after me for years to come. My brother has no one, and no one to take care of his future.” So each night he took a sack of grain and dumped it into his single brother’s bin. Both men were puzzled for years because their supply of grain never dwindled. Then one dark night the two brothers bumped into each other. Slowly it dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another.

God gave us Jesus the Christ. The Word became flesh and lived among us. What do we give God back?

Today, the Feast of the Nativity, Christmas Day, is our day to quietly contemplate this message of unqualified love. And to give thanks for it. The Word became flesh and lived among us! And for that we say thanks be to God and Alleluia.