Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, November 2, 2014Alice Stratton, you have no idea what you are getting into this morning.
There’s no way you can. All you know in the world is hunger, which brings your mother’s breast, and fear, which brings your father’s embrace. You know crankiness and cooing, peaceful sleep and rambunctious play. You know fits of crying and moments of wonder and learning in ways we can’t conceive because we can’t remember what it is like not to think in words.
Alice, Alice, Alice … you have no idea what you are getting into this morning.
Today is a day unlike any other in the church year. A day we celebrate that as Christ’s church even as we exist in the present moment, we are not bound by its limitations. A day when we celebrate that our God binds us together in three realities:
The witness of the past.
The ordeal of the present.
The hope of the future.
We began this day with names. Names like Wilbur DeVos, Isatu Koroma, Bill Baker, Michael Brown. We say their names not just in memory, not just in thanks for what was, but in conviction that they are with us still. As St. Paul reminds us that nothing, not even death can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, we say these names in the knowledge that we are bound together with these saints and they with us for all eternity. That even as we stand on their shoulders, they are the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven who join us in singing “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.”
The witness of the past is not just fond memory. It is our teacher and companion. It is the communion of saints who surround us, watch over us and sing with us still. It is the reminder that we are rooted in something much greater than just ourselves and this present moment.
The witness of the past is living memory that Christ’s church has and will endure. Because the past used to be the present. And the present is always an ordeal.
Our reading from Revelation today talks about, "the Great Ordeal," “the ordeal” writ large, “Ordeal” with a capital O. It is a time of tragedy, trial and persecution. John envisions it being just before the end of days, but we know it is ongoing. We know that every present has its piece of the ordeal. Every people, every generation has its share of the ordeal. And this Cathedral is no stranger to any of it.
Look around you at this Cathedral. We gather this morning in the same spot where people gathered in fear on December 7, 1941 and September 11, 2001. We gather where people of color used not to be allowed in, and where we sewed a banner that says “Our Church Has AIDS.” We gather where Martin Luther King preached and protesters once chained themselves to this pulpit. We gather where marriages have begun and loved ones have been laid to rest. Where people struggling with homelessness have found shelter and where some of the world’s wealthiest people have come when money could not slake their deep thirst for love and meaning. Where countless of the faithful and the not-so-sure-of-their-faith have knelt in prayer, in joy, in grief, in hope.
We as Christ Church Cathedral are as we always have been. We are as we ever shall be, a place St. Louis comes to pass through the ordeal. And that is certainly true today as we face the ongoing ordeal of our deep divisions of race and class and the truth that not all of us are treated as beloved images of God. It is true as we face the coming ordeal of a grand jury ruling we fear will tear us apart. But this is nothing new for us. We have passed through ordeals in the past, and we will pass through ordeals in the future.
As always, the choice is not to whether or not to go through the ordeal. The ordeal is not a choice. All must pass through the ordeal. The choice is how we go through the ordeal. The choice is who we will be as we go through the ordeal. The choice is who we trust we will have become when the ordeal is finally through.
In the letters to the churches earlier in the Book of Revelation, John tells us what it looks like to go through the ordeal as churches of faith. We see that a church faithfully passing through the ordeal is not a church where all is well. A church faithfully passing through the ordeal is living on the edge and feeling broken. It is giving itself away, not saving itself for tomorrow. A church faithfully passing through the ordeal is much more likely to be struggling than secure.
As the church, we know we are faithfully passing through the ordeal not when our attendance is booming and our budget is overflowing but when we are living the Beatitudes life. When we are poor in spirit, mourning and meek, hungering and thirsting for righteousness, merciful and pure in heart, peacemaking and persecuted, and reviled and slandered on account of Jesus Christ.
We know we are faithfully passing through the ordeal when we refuse to shrink back in fear because we trust the ordeal is not the end. Because we know the rest of the story. That after the ordeal there will be a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne of God, worshipping God day and night. And we will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike us, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be our shepherd, and will guide us to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes.
Alice, you have no idea what you are getting into this morning. For this morning we are not just baptizing you into one church but three. This morning, you are baptized into the church of the witness of the past. And yes, you are certainly baptized into the church of the ordeal of the present. But the witness of the past and the ordeal of the present are always met by the hope of the future. The vision that even as we pass through the ordeal, the outcome is already decided. And so most of all, you are baptized into the church of the hope of the future, the church from every nation, tribe, people and language that will gather and sing around the throne. The church from whose eyes God will wipe away every tear.
And our ingathering, the offering of our gifts to sustain and grow this Cathedral in the coming year, the gifts of our very selves on this table, is an offering of that hope. The gifts we lay on this table today are nothing less than a defiant statement of the sure and certain hope of the future that is, was and ever shall be our song.
Yes, as always, we are in the midst of the ordeal. And ordeals tempt us to hoard for ourselves. Ordeals tempt us to trust in our own selves for security. Ordeals tempt us not to lean on God but to lean on our own understanding.
But we are the Body of Christ. We are people of hope who do not shrink back. And so we offer our gifts today as our act of that sure, certain and defiant hope.
An act that says we will not give in to the anxiety and fear.
An act that says we will not hoard for ourselves.
An act that says not only do we believe that we shall overcome, that we shall be gathered together singing around that throne some day, but that our conviction of this is so sure, that just as generations have done before us, we sing that song already and we will never, never, ever stop.
That’s right. We are the Body of Christ. And our hope is so sure, so certain, so defiant that we do not wait for the ordeal to be done to begin our song. Even in the midst of the ordeal we make our song – “Holy, Holy, Holy Lord, God of power and might. Heaven and earth are full of your glory. Hosanna in the highest.”
Alice, you have no idea what you are getting into today. Or maybe you do. Maybe you do more than any of us. Maybe you more than any of us know what it is to live in the sure and certain hope of this song of love and trust.
Because you trust hunger will always bring your mother’s breast. You trust fear will always brings your father’s embrace. In your parents and in this community you know what it is to have a shepherd guarding and guiding you. You know what it is to lift your voice in song, and you know what it is to have every tear wiped away.
Alice, maybe you know what this day is about more than any of us. And on this day we welcome you to the journey with us as our fellow pilgrim and even as our guide.
We anoint you with the witness of the past.
We baptize you into the ordeal of the present.
But most of all, we invite you to join us in defiantly singing the hope of the future. Where the many will become one, all tears will be wiped away, and from every nation, tribe, people and language all will gathered in song around the heavenly throne.