Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 23, 2014“`Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.' `Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.' And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
It’s all about the body.
This spring, Magdalene St. Louis will open its doors to our first group of women. This wonderful ministry, birthed out of Christ Church Cathedral, will give women who have endured lives of violence, prostitution and abuse two years of housing, wraparound services and, most important, a community of love and trust where they can rebuild their lives. Where they can make the transition from victim to survivor.
The women of the original Magdalene in Nashville know it’s all about the body. They know it because for almost all of them, their bodies were first sexually abused when they should have been playing CandyLand or building with Legos. They know it because before they were old enough to drive they were putting crack and heroin into their bodies to try to escape the pain. They know it because of the bruises on their faces and the broken bones that were never set received from years of life on the street.
More than anyone I have ever met, the women of Magdalene are my teachers, my heroes and my hope.
And they have taught me that it’s all about the body.
Regina was one of the first women to move into the first Magdalene house in Nashville, and she tells the story of one morning early in their community’s life together. One of the women was coming out of the shower and another was going in when an argument broke out.
“You need to go back in there and clean the shower,” said the woman going in.
“I already cleaned the shower,” said the woman coming out.
“Well it’s not clean. Go back and clean it again.”
“It is clean, and if you don’t like it, you can clean it.”
A third woman joined in, and the argument escalated into screaming.
“Well I’m gonna call Becca!”
“Go ahead, call Becca!”
Becca is Becca Stevens, the founder of Magdalene, and a few minutes later she arrived.
And when she did, she didn’t chew anybody out. She didn’t send anybody to their rooms. She didn’t try to negotiate a peaceful compromise.
Becca gathered the women together in a room with a big piece of paper, and on it she drew an outline of a woman’s body.
And Becca simply asked a question:
Who do we want to be? What do we want this community to be?
And it was all about the body.
“What do we want in this community?” Becca asked. “Write it inside the body.”
And they did. They wrote things like love … and trust … and hope.
“What do we not want in this community?” Becca asked. “Write it outside the body.”
And they did. They wrote things like drugs … and violence … and abuse.
What began as a vicious fight that could have torn the community apart instead became an opportunity for them to choose who they were going to be. To decide what values they would embrace and what values they would reject. To affirm that even though they were very different people, and that even though they were all deeply addicted and wounded and in the process of recovery. That even though they would continue to slip and act out of that addiction and woundedness, that they had the power to choose something different.
That love had the power to give them that choice.
That love had the power to hold them in that choice.
That love had the power to heal them. Each of them and all of them.
And that it was all about the body.
This is Christ the King Sunday, and, coincidentally enough as we ride this roller coaster waiting for the grand jury decision and living in deep anxiety and fear about its aftermath, our Gospel is also about a day of judgment. Our Gospel is also about a day of decision. Our Gospel is about Jesus holding a mirror up to us and asking the question that Becca asked that morning:
Who are we going to be? If it is all about the body, what is our body, the Body of Christ, the body of this city, the body of our world going to be like? What are we going to let inside the body and what are we going to keep out?
Are we going to be a body where the hungry get fed, where the thirsty get drink, where the stranger gets welcomed, where the naked get clothed, where the sick get healed and where those in prison get treated with compassion as beloved images of God? Will we be a body of justice and love? A body where we look at each other and see nothing less than Jesus the Christ?
Or will we be a body divided by privilege. Will we be a body where we say as long as I have mine, I don’t care if you’ve got yours? Will we be a body where the naked go cold while coats hang in closets, where children die of the flu for lack of one shot while we spend billions giving the wealthy one more month of life in which they will never see the outside of a hospital room?
Will we be a body where we build prison cells based on third grade test scores in poor and minority communities, where we imprison generation after generation of African-American young women and men, treating them like criminals just for how they look walking down the street, limiting their economic and educational possibilities and then acting like it is some innate moral deficiency when some of them turn to crime or slip into hopelessness?
Will we be a body of liberty and justice for some? A body where we look at each other and see “the other,” see someone to be feared, someone to be labeled, someone never to take the risk to truly know?
That is the choice that Christ the King puts before us this morning. And he doesn’t tell us “it would be nice if you did these things.” He tells us there are consequences, deep and abiding consequences to the choices we make. This morning Jesus tells us it is the choice between a life of heaven and a life of hell. Jesus looks us square in the face this morning and asks, “Who are you going to be?” “What kind of body, what kind of city, what kind of world are you going to be?” Make your choice. But know that one choice leads to life and joy, and the other choice as it has in our past will only continue to lead to pain and death.
We have heard this reading before, but for most of us, hearing it is not enough. For most of us, hearing it has been little more than an intellectual exercise, only a reminder to be a little bit kinder, to do a few more good deeds, to be a little more compassionate to those others in need.
That’s not what Jesus is saying. He is saying this is about life and death. He is saying this is about heaven and hell. He is saying this is nothing less than choosing what our future is going to be. But we can’t just hear that. We have to feel it. We have to feel the consequences of our choices deep inside us in a way that cuts us to the core and shakes the very foundations of our life.
Becca didn’t gather the women around the drawing of the body on their first day in the house. She didn’t call a meeting when everyone was feeling comfortable and say “OK, so what are the house rules going to be?” … or at least if she did, she discovered that’s not what forms the body. The wisdom and the choices that came out of that holy moment gathered around the outline of that body could not have happened and Magdalene never could have become the incredible community of transformation it has been for nearly two decades without the deep, terrifying and even rageful conflict that happened that morning.
Truly to choose to be that body of love and trust and hope, they had first to go to that place of pain and conflict and rage. They had to look it square in the face. They had to lean deeply into the conflict and the anger, feel what it was all about, feel the power it had to tear them apart, feel the power it had literally to take away their lives and their hope for the future. They had to feel deep in their bones the consequences of past choices and the consequences of their present answer and only then could they truly answer the question in a way that was not just about words but that could be about deep commitment to how they were going to live together for the rest of their lives.
Only after experiencing the conflict and the pain and the rage could they gather around the body and truly ask themselves is this who you want to be? Is this the body you want? Is this the future you choose? Or is there something else?
And so it is for us.
For the past weeks and especially the past days, anxiety and even terror has been building in St. Louis. We are anxious and even terrified over what the reaction to the grand jury decision is going to be. We have been told we are in a state of emergency and in fear we are bringing in soldiers, stockpiling arms, boarding up storefronts and surrounding buildings with concrete barriers.
And it's all because we – particularly people of power and privilege like me -- are terrified of the pain and the rage and the conflict. Those of us with power and privilege who are used to being able to control just about every aspect of our life are afraid because this all feels so much out of control. And so we are tempted to use the language of praying for peace when what we really mean is “please God, just make it go away.”
It cannot go away. It will not go away. It must not go away. And for me, it is a hard truth to hear, but it is deep truth. Although I have been and will continue to pray fervently that the reaction to this grand jury decision is nonviolent, if there is not an indictment, I do not pray that it is calm and peaceful. Because I listen to Jesus this morning, and his words are not words of peace and quiet and calm.
It is all about the body. And there is pain, there is rage, there is deep conflict and deep injustice in our body. We have been making terrible choices as a people for decades and even centuries, and those choices have real, human consequences and those like me who have used our privilege to shield ourselves from those consequences need to have those walls of privilege torn down and feel the pain, the rage and the conflict in ways that cut us to the core and shake our foundations.
I have heard so much talk about Truth and Reconciliation over the past months. But if you look at history, the places where truth and reconciliation has even worked a little bit have been places like South Africa and Rwanda where first everyone had to have an experience of the pain and rage wrought by segregation and discrimination and overprivilege and underprivilege. An experience of that pain and rage so profound that it gave them no choice but to gather around the body and ask those deep questions and make those deep choices about who they were going to be.
It took staring the rage and the pain and the conflict full in the face before they were forced to make choices that inevitably saved them from a future of pain and death and pointed them toward a future of life and joy.
The day is coming. It could be tomorrow. It could be the next day. It could be in one week or two. But the day is coming. It is a day of judgment. It is a day of decision. And if, as many of us suspect, it is a day of deep pain and rage and conflict, we need to know that yes, it may be terrifying but Jesus bids us not to flee from it but together to lean into it. Because the rage, the pain, the conflict are the labor pains that will birth new ways of being. As counterintuitive as it seems for the Prince of Peace, conflict is the birth canal through which Christ enters in.
And if conflict is the birth canal through which Christ enters in, then St. Louis has become the labor and delivery room for America. And the choice of what will be born here is up to us in this day and in this hour.
What has begun as a vicious fight that has the power to tear our community apart can become an opportunity for us to choose who we are going to be. To lean deeply into the pain, the rage and the conflict, to stare it full in the face, to let it cut us to the core and shake our very foundations and confront us with the decision of what way of life we will embrace and what way of life we will reject. To affirm that even though we are very different people, deeply addicted, wounded and in the process of recovery, that we have the power to choose something different.
To remember that it is all about the body.
And that instead of killing ourselves completely, we can gather around the outline of a body of a young boy who lay dead in the street for four and a half hours. And we can look across at one another, and we can see the pain and we can see the rage and we can feel the conflict. And we can look down at that body and not just see Mike Brown, but see our own child. We can look down at that body and realize that each and all of us are that body. And we can ask ourselves:
Who do we want to be?
What do we want in this body?
What do we not want in this body?
Love has the power to give us that choice.
Love has the power to hold us in that choice.
Love has the power to heal us. Amen.