Sunday, February 16, 2014

"Come. See. Hold. Live." -- A sermon for the sixth Sunday after Epiphany

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 16, 2014

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart. And I say to you that anyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of unchastity, causes her to commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery."

Are you nervous yet? Because Jesus brought his fastball this morning.

If you call your brother or sister a fool, you’re going to hell.

If you look at a woman with lust, you’re committing adultery

If you get divorced or marry a divorced woman, you’re committing adultery.

And don’t even think about swearing an oath!

What happened? Wasn’t Jesus just saying “You are the light of the world!” Wasn’t he just telling us “Blessed are the meek?” What is going on here? And how can this be good news for us?

How can this be good news for us when some of us are divorced? And some of us have married people who are divorced.

How can this be good news for us when every single one of us has called someone an idiot -- many of us while driving here this morning ... and every single one of us has sworn “I promise” and probably pretty close to every single one of us – giving a hall pass to our youngest members – have looked on another person with lust?

Well, I’ll tell you how. This is good news because Jesus isn’t Santa Claus. He’s not making a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice. This morning, Jesus is giving us a framework for living in community. He’s showing us what it means to live as the beloved community of Christ. And it’s about four things:

Come together
See each other fully
Hold on to each other tightly
Live together with integrity

Let me say those again, ‘cause they’re important:

Come together
See each other fully
Hold onto each other tightly
Live together with integrity.

First, come together. Jesus says:

“When you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift.”

That’s come together. Everything Jesus is saying in this Gospel reading is not about individual behavior but about how we live together as his Body. The Sermon on the Mount is preached in plural. And that means we are the Body of Christ first and individuals second. And it is all of our responsibility to make sure we are reconciled as a body. It is all of our responsibility to make sure we come together as one.

Did you catch what Jesus is doing here? He’s not saying “if you have a problem with someone” … he’s saying “if you know someone has a problem with you.” We need each to be so aware of the whole community that we know when someone has something against us, and then we don’t wait for them to come to us, we take it on ourselves to begin that process of making peace.

Everything we do, we do together. Before we do anything else, we come together.

And when we come together, we see each other fully.

Jesus says “everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” The sin of lust is not sexual attraction. Sexual attraction is not a sin. In fact, sexual attraction is really, really awesome! I don’t think many of us would be here without it! Sexual attraction and attractiveness is natural and wonderful -- but it is only a piece of who we are. The sin of lust is looking at someone solely for how they can gratify us. It is the sin of not seeing each other fully.

Now lust has been around for a long time. It was obviously a deal in Jesus’ time and really, way before that. We know it's at least as far back as David and Bathsheba, and I don't think he was breaking any new ground, either! But today, we have turned it into a foundation of our global economy. And I’m not just talking about the extreme examples – buying and selling women in prostitution and the multibillion dollar pornography industry. It’s so much bigger than that. Every time we turn on a TV or see a rack of magazines or log online we are being sold the lie that women are objects for sexual gratification. We are being told that it’s OK to see another human being as an object. To look at someone only in terms of what they can do for us.

And that’s the sin. It’s the sin because in Christ, we see the full person. If we see someone who is beautiful and whom we’re attracted to, that’s fantastic, that’s wonderful! But we never stop there. We appreciate the beauty and enjoy the attraction but never forget that there is so much deeper beauty and so much deeper joy in seeing the whole person – body, mind, and spirit. We never forget that each person is the image of God and sacred, and so each person must be respected and cherished and never, ever used.

When we come together in Christ, we are not blind to our sexuality, we celebrate it as a gift. But we celebrate it as a gift of giving, not taking. Of loving, not using. We see the full person. And we let ourselves fully be seen.

And then we hold onto each other tightly.

The scriptures on divorce are some of the hardest for us to hear because pretty much all of us have experienced divorce either personally or in our families or friends. And both church and society have bad records with divorce – the church for condemning it too broadly and society for allowing it too freely.

Marriage - and when I say marriage, I mean both  same- and different-sexed holy unions. Marriage is a sacrament that signifies to us the mystery of the union between Christ and his church. It is a relationship of intimate, self-giving love that is always life-giving and is never life-taking. And when marriage stops being that. When for any number of reasons it becomes toxic … not just inconvenient or annoying or boring … but toxic, where it no longer is a relationship of life-giving love but has become damaging or even deadly, then divorce may absolutely be the right decision because if the sacrament is already dead then divorce is just calling the patient.

Jesus’ ethic of divorce was extreme because in his day a woman who was divorced was cast away with no means of support. And in Christian community we don’t do that. We don’t cast one another aside. In Christian community we come together, we see each other fully and we hold onto each other tightly.

Jesus’ teaching on divorce is not just about two persons’ marriage but about how we live together as a community. We are in it together for the long haul. Yes, if a relationship becomes toxic and death-producing, someone may need to leave. But we don’t turn tail at first sign of trouble … or because it’s gotten boring … or because we are having a fight … or because maybe someone better comes along. As Christian community we come together, we see each other fully and we hold onto each other tightly.

Finally, we live together with integrity.

Jesus says: “Do not swear at all … Let your word be `Yes, Yes' or `No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one.”

If we live together with integrity, we never need to say “I promise” because our word is always good. Our word is always enough. When we say “I promise” it really calls into question all the other times we say something and don’t say “I promise.” As a community of truth-tellers. As people who come together, who see each other and allow each other to be seen fully and who hold onto each other tightly, we mean what we say and we say what we mean and with God’s help we walk our talk.

So we never have to guess what someone is really thinking or what ulterior motive might be driving them. As Christian community, what you see is what you get. As Christian community, we live together with integrity.

Come together.
See each other fully.
Hold onto each other tightly.
Live together with integrity.

Is there a better recipe for an extraordinary life? Could there possibly be a more wonderful and transformational way to live? Where we all deal with conflict lovingly and celebrate each other for who we are as images of God and stick together through thick and thin and know our word is as good or better than gold?

That is the beloved community of Christ. That is who we are. It is how we are the salt of the earth and the light of the world. It is the powerful meekness that will inherit the earth. And it is not just good news, it is the best of news.

Come together.
See each other fully
Hold on to each other tightly
Live together with integrity

Be the people of God. Amen.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

"You ARE Salt. You ARE Light" -- a sermon for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany

Preached by Diocesan Youth Missioner Elle Dowd at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, February 9, 2014

Grace and peace are yours from the Triune God, the source of all power and light. Amen.

Our Gospel reading this morning comes from Matthew chapter 5, part of Jesus’ famous Sermon on the Mount. So as you’re participating in worship today, you’re actually hearing TWO sermons. And I’ll still get you outta here on time.  So yes, today’s sermon is about… a sermon.

Probably the most well-known part of the Sermon on the Mount actually happens a few verses before our reading for today, when Jesus addresses the crowd with a series of blessings known as the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit….blessed are those who mourn…blessed are the meek…blessed are the merciful...blessed are the peacemakers.”

Our reading begins right where the Beatitudes leave off. Jesus continues to address the crowd saying,

“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid. In the same way let your light shine before others so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”

It’s a scandalous statement Jesus is making here, really. Because the people that followed Jesus around, the people Jesus spent his time with, and the people that he would be addressing here included characters such as uneducated, and maybe unwashed fisherman. A tax collector, a former employee of The hated Empire. A few women who wouldn’t learn their place. Outliers and outcasts. Stubborn, messy, cranky people. People with egos. People with pasts. People…like us.

And Jesus looks out at his horde of broken, beloved people and says, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You.”

Jesus doesn’t guilt us with, “You should be the salt of the earth. You ought to be the light of the world. “ No, Jesus tells us, “You ARE the light of the world.” Not “once you get your act together.” Not “once you figure things out.” Right now, as you are, YOU ARE salt. You ARE light.

The metaphor that Jesus uses of salt and light are two ordinary, earthly things. Yet these small, every day things have the extraordinary power to be able to break into, invade, and completely change their environments. Salt is one of those basic things we keep in the hearth of our homes, on our kitchen tables. But salt has the power to preserve and keep food, to completely change the flavor of our meals. Light has the power to illuminates things. Light casts out darkness and fear. These small, ordinary things have the power to change our lives, to make them more beautiful. To bring zest and flavor and sparkle and twinkle to a weary, worn out, world.

God loves to meet us here, in these small things. Things that are woven into the fabric of our lives. Things like water, and wine and bread, and salt and light. Our God of the common things, who works in these common elements, shows us that we need to look for and listen to those simple things in ourselves and in others.

So when Jesus is saying, “You are salt. You are light.” he isn’t giving us some rule about what we should aspire to be. He is reminding us of who we already are. He is affirming our deepest and truest identity; someone made in the image of God, the source of light and beauty and power. And God continues to remind us of this every day in the Word and in the Sacraments. You might notice that when Dean Kinman gives the invitation to Eucharist, he often quotes St. Augustine saying, “Be what you see. Receive who you are.” These ordinary things that serve as an extraordinary eminder of who we already are.

When Jesus affirms our identity to us, saying, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.” He’s also saying, “God is with you. God is for you.” and even more than that, Jesus is saying, “God is COUNTING on you.” God has a plan to change the world, and its you. You are the salt. You are the light. YOU are the one who is going to change the world.

God is trusting us as co-creators of a Kingdom Come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

I can only speak for myself, but that’s just about the most terrifying thing I’ve ever heard. I’m the plan?! Me? I spend most of my time feeling like a complete imposter. I’m more than a little bit sure that I am not up for that task. I spend a lot of my energy running from this identity.

There’s a poem written by Marianne Williamson, that was made popular when Nelson Mandela quoted it. It says, “It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us. Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

And even scarier sometimes than the idea that God is counting on us, is looking to the person next to us and realizing, despite all of their flaws, “God is counting on THEM?” Because you know what that means, right? If God is counting on me, and God is counting on you, and God is counting on all of us….then we have to learn to work together. We have to be vulnerable. We have to listen to one another. We have to give up some control.

It can be particularly hard to see God’s plan, to see that light shining in other people, when those other people don’t look like us. If they don’t dress the way we do. If they are from a different part of town. If their skin is a different shade. If they are in a different part of life than we are. We’ve have made huge mistakes, historically as a church, by discounting and discrediting the way that God is already at work in all of us. In marginalized people, in people of color, in the LGBT community, and in our youth. We have put bushel baskets over lamps, refusing to let their lights shine, because we refused to see the work that God was doing. And we’ve suffered for those mistakes. Not only because we have hurt people whom God calls precious, but because we are missing out on the amazing gifts that those people bring in building the Kingdom of God. God working through common elements is a humbling reminder: If God can come incarnate as a crying brown baby in an occupied land, if God can work through the every day building blocks of water and wine and bread, then God can certainly use me and my neighbor.

And so here we are, a fragmented and failed people and Jesus says to us, “You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are my plan bring Heaven to earth.”

The Good News here is that its not as if God doesn’t know what God’s doing. It’s not that God doesn’t truly see us and the messes that we’ve made. No. God made us and God knows us. God sees us in all of our frailty and says, “YES. THESE are the people for the job. Because these are MY people.”

Jesus reminds us in scripture today that he’s not really up to anything new. When Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have not come to abolish but to fulfill” Jesus reminds us that using common, messy things, has always been the way that God works. We are reminded of the Moses, a murderer with a speech impediment, who was the bearer of the Law. We’re reminded of the Prophets, people of common birth who railed against the establishment and lived on the fringe. Jesus is reminding us that coming to ordinary, problem-riddled people and through ordinary, everyday things is something that has been part of God’s plan all along. This isn’t new. This is the way God operates.

And if God operates this way, in the small things, then so can we. As Desmond Tutu said, “Do a little bit of good wherever you are. Its those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” When we do simple, radical acts like loving God, loving ourselves, and loving our neighbor, we start to invade a dark and flavorless world and inject it with an infectious and unstoppable force that fills the whole earth with radiant, never-ending light.

So may you be empowered to love the God who has already extravagantly loved you. May you believe this truth: that you are worthy and powerful beyond measure because you are claimed as such by the one who made you. And may you have the eyes see God at work in your neighbor, so that together, our light will shine so brilliantly, that all who see it will give glory to our Father in Heaven.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Bishop's Visitation Sermon

Preached by the Rt. Rev. George Wayne Smith at the 10 am service at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, January 26, 2014
Jesus says in that gospel reading, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near. That has a nice churchy sound to it. Repent for the kingdom of heaven is near.

Friends, he is telling us that we have to change, for the sake of God’s eternal changelessness.

I have been around long enough to know my own heart and to recognize human nature for what it is: to know that change is hard. And change is likely to be resisted, sabotaged, and denied every which way. And I have been around long enough to know that it is not less so in the church; if anything it is more so. And yet I know in my own heart, and in human nature, and even is the church that there is a restlessness, an often unnamed yearning, calling us into something deeper, something more.

Just to name one tiny piece of that yearning: The consumerism, the materialism of our culture is usually an attempt to fill in the hole in the middle of human life. It never works. We cannot pour enough consumer goods into that hole to fill it up

The only cure for that pain of restlessness is the resting-place to be found in God’s own life.

The desire for such a place, in our over-adrenalized, over-caffeinated, hurry-up, double-click culture is profound.

The answer for what ails folks in this spiritually hungry world is not more caffeine, more places to double-click, or a faster internet connection.

We have got to change. This basic datum of conversion holds for personal lives, and it holds for life together.

William Alexander Percy wrote that familiar hymn about those fisherfolk whom Jesus called. It is incomplete to describe Andrew and the rest as “contented peaceful fishermen,” “just off the hills of brown” and “such happy, simple fisherfolk, before the Lord came down.”

These were hard working people, you had better believe it, but archeology has helped us realize they were, first of all, entrepreneurs running a micro-enterprise.

If you worked hard, you could get rich. And some Galilean fishers did.

The market for fish was phenomenal. They could not catch enough fresh-water fish to meet the demands.

All around the Sea of Galilee were fish processing plants, at places like Bethsaida and Magdala. And we are not talking Mrs. Paul’s. We are talking about factories that turned raw freshwater fish into gourmet delicacies.

Galilee cured those fish every which way imaginable. Oil cured. Pickled. Sun-dried. Fresh salted. Dry salted. The latter was a favorite snack food of the time. Fish so tasty and interesting and salty that people craved them. From Damascus to Jerusalem, people paid good money for this foodstuff. You could become well-off, working the fishery trade in Galilee. Every house excavated in Capernaum has been found full of coins, tucked into nooks and crannies, spaces between stones. A house remembered having belonged to Simon Peter, remembered by believers since the second century, was full of coins. A good living was there to be had by all.

And passing along the Sea of Galilee, Jesus saw Simon and Andrew, Simon’s brother. They were casting their nets into the Sea, for they were fishers. And Jesus said to them, Come follow me, and I will turn you into fishers of people. Immediately, they dropped their nets and followed.

My question is: What if they hadn’t? What they had been so captivated by the inertia of doing the familiar and the comfortable, and what they liked? Which, by the way, was a good and honorable thing, their work of fishing. The issue was not (and is not) always one of leaving behind something evil.

The issue was (and often is) that of leaving something good, for the sake of something better.

When they dropped their nets that day, they dropped good money and they dropped interesting work. They didn’t wait until they knew everything they needed to know. Mark’s gospel, more so than Matthew’s, has a breathless immediacy about it. They followed first; they asked questions along the way; they never got all of them answered. They learned about a new life that was so salty, so tasty, so full of flavor, that you wouldn’t want to live without it.

They followed their restlessness into a life with Jesus.

If they had not dropped their nets that day, you can bet there would not be a Christ Church Cathedral. Peter and Andrew and the Zebedee boys would have faded into the history of so many successful but now forgotten Galilean fishers. But they dropped the net.

There is nothing scarier than net-dropping. Stop doing what you’ve been doing? And know how to do? Now both Peter and Andrew eventually got killed, because they decided to drop their nets that day in Galilee. But friends, it was something worth dying for.

Jesus call to repentance is a great big project that happens to get personal and to get local. It has a cost. God is Christ Jesus is transforming—changing—an entire universe. But God’s project of transformation includes you, and it includes this Cathedral and this Diocese.

The first words of Good News that Jesus speaks in Matthew’s gospel are about repentance. The Good News is about radical change. I love what Stanley Hauerwas says about this point. He says that contrary to a popular saying, God does not accept me as I am, that in fact, he does not want God to do so. For him to remain the same broken human being as he is now for all eternity would be in fact be hell.

Stanley Hauerwas doesn’t want God to accept him as he is; he wants God to meet him where he is and to transform him.

Change is a necessary part of the gospel. Necessary for the Diocese of Missouri. Necessary for the Cathedral. We must leave behind the bad, and sometimes we must leave behind the good. For something better. Necessary for every one of us, you and me.

Drop nets? Or not. Follow Jesus? Or not. Change? Or die. Or die anyway, but find in the process something so salty, so yeasty, so savory and interesting that it is, like the Kingdom of God, worth dying for. Amen.