Sunday, August 24, 2014

"Shiphrah, Puah, Pharaoh and the Power of a Name" -- a sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Rev. Mike Angell at Christ Church Cathedral at 10 am on Sunday, August 24, 2014

“Oh, what’s in a name?” Probably, this is the closest I’ll get to playing Shakespeare’s Juliet. Standing here, in a dress, above you on this pulpit. “Oh, what’s in a name?” Poor Juliet, alone on her balcony with all her teenage angst, overrun by hormones, pining for Romeo. “What’s in a name?” she asks. A great deal. A great deal is in a name, young Juliet.

“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus. For once, Simon Peter gets it right. Peter understands Jesus‘ identity. He names the one before him. Messiah, and Son of the Living God, the power of that name. Others had names for Jesus as well. The pharisees saw him as an interloper, a pretender. The Romans saw an irritant, an enemy of the state, a protestor. How do we name? Who does the naming? Names are powerful.

Names are powerful in the Gospel, and they are powerful in this story we have from Exodus. When we think of Exodus, we often hurry past this chapter. We all want to hear about Moses: Moses, the name of liberation. Think about the number of times you have heard that name, Moses. We still use the name to describe liberators “A modern day Moses” we hear. But before there was Moses there were the Hebrew midwives named Shiphrah and Puah. That we know their names is itself important. We don’t hear too many women’s names in the Hebrew Bible, and when we do they tend to be queens. These are the first career women we have named. The midwives, working women, Siphrah and Puah. We know their names.

Shiphrah and Puah provide the context of liberation into which Moses is born. These wily midwives use Pharoah’s prejudice against him, and doing so save lives. Scholars have made the assertion, the midwives use Pharaoh’s prejudice against him. The story begins as a Pharaoh rises over Egypt, who “knew not Joseph.” That is to say, the relations between the people in power and the people of Israel have broken down. The Pharaoh who rises to reign does not remember the role a Hebrew person played in saving the people of Egypt. Pharaoh doesn’t know his history. Pharaoh has forgotten the relationship.

And Pharaoh is afraid of them ah there is the name. The powerful name: “Them. The other.” Pharaoh names the people of Israel as other. “Let us deal shrewdly with them.” “Those people.” “The other.” “Them.” Make no mistake, “them” is a powerful name. She’s one of “them.” “Those people” they are multiplying too fast. They have too many babies. Pharaoh to his people, blame them.

So Pharaoh summons Shiphrah and Puah, the midwives, and orders the death of the Hebrew boys. Pharaoh has named the Hebrew people “other,” and now we see the violence in that naming. By calling them them, by naming that distance, he de-humanizes the Hebrew people. He could never do this violence to “us.” Can we really imagine Pharaoh ordering, “kill our children?” Violence is done to those who have first been named them. We do violence to those we call other.

Can you imagine Shiphrah and Puah listening to this order. Unable to believe their ears, but unable to express their disagreement, for fear of their lives, they try to hold their composure, and back out of the throne room. You see, Exodus tells us that Shiphrah and Puah “feared God.” That is to say, they knew that Pharaoh’s name for the Hebrew babies did not match reality.

Siphrah and Puah, the midwives, come to understand that naming human beings as other has left Pharaoh vulnerable. Pharaoh has chosen his blinders himself. He has narrowed his view of reality, which gives the midwives room to work for liberation. When Pharaoh summons the midwives, demanding an explanation for their failure to kill the boys, they give him one of the best lines in the Bible. “The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women, for they are vigorous.” Vigorous. (Try calling a woman you know vigorous. I dare you.)

You have to watch out for vigorous women.

They may be your salvation.

Shiphrah and Puah play on pharaoh’s prejudice. The Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women. The them are not like you. The midwives trick pharaoh by using his own false names against him. There is power in a name. Power to destroy and power to save.

How do we use names? How have we been named? Identity politics is a phrase that has been thrown around a great deal in the last two weeks. There are politics in identity because there is a lot of power in a name. What names do we choose to use?

In the midst of it all, our scripture, our faith, invites us to be careful with our naming. There is danger, the Bible shows us, when we name human beings as “them.” When we dismiss someone, when we name the “other” we begin a process of separation between “us” and “them,” between truth and prejudice. When we name someone as “other” we begin a process that may end in violence, for the so-called “them” and the so-called “us.”

As a Christian people, we are accountable to a set of promises. We make a set of promises at our baptism. Let’s do these as call and response. Your response is “I will with God’s help.”

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

People I will, with God’s help.

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

I will, with God’s help.

These are questions of how we name. How do we choose to name? We have to choose the names we use for one another. The world we live in will give us a lot of names. “Oh, I can’t talk to her anymore, she’s a Republican.” “He doesn’t listen to reason, he listens to NPR.” We name one another all of the time, and the name beneath so many of those names? “Them.” “Not one of us.” Our baptism invites us to use a different set of names.

Through time the Christian way has been an invitation to use a new set of names. “Sister.” “Brother.” “Neighbor.” “Friend.” “Beloved child of God.” I have come to believe that these names set us free from the blinders we have chosen for ourselves. The blinders of prejudice. The blinders of other-ing. I have come to believe that the names that our faith teaches us to use for one another help us to more fully see one another.

The world’s names will still matter. Romeo and Juliet try to lose their names, only to tragically discover the power those names, Montague and Capulet continue to hold. I don’t believe we can forget the names our world uses. We can’t afford to lose the names we have been given. Tomorrow I head off to a conference for Latino/Hispanic ministry. The group could not agree on one of those names, Latino or Hispanic. I have friends who say, “I don’t speak Latin, why would I be called Latina?” I remember a friend in college who said, “I’m not HIS Panic. I’m not HER panic, I’m nobody’s panic.” Regardless, those are names with power. We can’t pretend they don’t exist. I am conscious as well, that as I name these names, I am a white man. I have been given the historical privilege. I can only talk so much of names of race, because I have not known prejudice directed toward me based on racial names.

This past week, as I’ve struggled watching what’s coming from the news-cameras in Ferguson, Maya Angelou, the poet prophet caught my attention. Listen to how she uses the names for her reality in some selections from her poem, “Still I rise.”

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise

I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise

Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise
I rise I rise.

Navigating history’s names will never be easy. It shouldn’t be easy. These names come with history we need to acknowledge. We need to own up to the history. We need the names to remember. The names live on. These names describe a context in which we live. We need to learn how people have claimed these names. How names have been used both to tear down and to build up. Names are powerful. Identity matters.

Yet, yet, knowing all of our names, to choose to name someone your social group calls “them” as “friend” strikes me as a particularly Christian project. Reaching out to the “other” to the “them” has been part of our Christian tradition since Jesus sat down at table with “sinners.” To explore the Christian tradition is to sit down at table with all the wrong people, and to name them your people.

This is the invitation, and the challenge, at the heart of our journey together as a community. We have to name names. To be church, to build the community of Jesus, we need names for one another. Through the centuries we have called our fellow Christians, sister and brother, friend, co-laborer. To be a church is to choose a network of relationships, to call one another by new names.

I spend a lot of time thinking about why people my age go to church. The Episcopal Church pays my salary to try to figure out how to get more young adults involved in Church. Too few are involved. Should we build churches just for people like me? I don’t think so. You see one of the biggest values of church, for me, is that I meet people who look and think and act so very differently from me. You all are pretty weird to me, and that’s great. You challenge me. You help me grow.

We gather together across all sorts and categories of people. Rich, not so rich. Beautiful, not so beautiful. Women, men. Young, old, not so young, not so old. Black, white, brown. Gay. Straight. Not quite straight. English speaking, hispano-hablante, Cantonese speaking. Democrat, Green, Communist (yes, even Communist), Republican (yes, even Republican). We come together knowing well all the names the world has given to us.

We come and call one another, sister, brother, beloved child of God. Through the din of world’s naming, we seek Christ in one another. We respect one another’s God given dignity. Rowan Williams, the former archbishop of Canterbury, once wrote that the church catches us up in “solidarities not of our own choosing.” That is the reality we celebrate here as we break one bread, share one cup. We are one body. One vastly variegated, beautifully diverse, body. There is no “them” in the body Christ. There is only “us.”

Several thousand years ago, a mad Pharaoh told Shiphrah and Puah to kill baby boys. They could not refuse outright, but they said with their defiant actions “we are not killing our sons.” Over and against the names of the world, they saw the value of those human lives. The midwives laid the groundwork for liberation.

What names will we choose for one another? What names will you choose for yourself? Amidst the “other-ing” names of the world, can we choose the names “sister, brother, friend?” Can we dare to use the name “beloved child of God?” That is God’s invitation, to each and every one of us. That is what your baptism means. God chooses to name you, yes you. God says of each of you, “this is my beloved child. With this child, I am well pleased.” How well do we live that name? How do we help others hear that name?

How will we choose to name? Will we be captivated by the names our world chooses, black and white, Jew and Arab, citizen and illegal, Republican and Democrat, Montague and Capulet? Or do we have the courage to hear God above the roaring name-calling? Can we call one another “sister and brother?” Can we see across the table and acknowledge our differences, own our disagreements, and still break bread together?

I believe we can. I believe we can do that right here at Christ Church Cathedral. That’s why I show up. And we don’t even need a modern day Moses to show us how. We just need some vigorous women (and even some vigorous men). My sisters and brothers, we are invited to stand up in the midst of the name-calling. We can defy the pharaohs. We can save OUR children from the violence. We can. God calls us beloved. We are named “the beloved of God.” That is what’s in a name.

“Who do you say that I am?” Who do we say we are? What names will you choose?

"The church of Jesus, the church of Peter, the church that leads the risky conversation" -- a sermon for the 11th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 am on Sunday, August 24, 2014

“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

Are you a little nervous yet?

Probably nobody ever told us to avoid those topics, we just know. We know by how we feel in those situations when someone brings them up. We know by how nervous we can get when we try to talk about them ourselves with people whom we don’t know well enough to know how they will react.


What is it about those topics that makes them so risky, so scary? I’ll tell you what it is: It’s because they’re all about identity.

Each of these topics – what we believe about them, what our experiences of them are -- reveal something about ourselves, what is most precious to us. They intersect pieces of our stories that are deeply personal, pieces of our stories that define who we are.

We avoid these topics because they are places of deep vulnerability. And we know this from experience. We know how easy it is to wound one another and to be wounded when we stray into these areas.

Even with people we have known and shared life with, these topics can be risky. But for people whom we don’t know well, whom we don’t have that foundation with, they can be absolutely terrifying – both on the speaking and listening end.

And yet these are the conversations we must have. And so we’re met with the reality that the most important conversations we can have, the conversations that have the chance truly to bring us together as a people are these conversations that we most vigorously avoid, because we know they hold in their hands the possibility of tearing us further apart as well.


These topics are the third rail of relationship. They have the power to kill, but they are also where all the energy is.

And I believe they are the conversations we as the church are called not only to embrace but to lead. And this morning’s Gospel shows us how.

This morning’s Gospel is all about identity.

Jesus asks the disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon Peter answers, “you are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

You are everything, he says. You are the one who saves. You are the love of God given for the life of the world.

Simon Peter gets the answer right. And Jesus tells him he is blessed. And his blessing is that Jesus will now tell him who he is.

And so Jesus looks at Simon Peter and says, “You have said who I am, and I will now tell you who you are.”

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

This is an amazing statement by Jesus … every bit as amazing as Peter’s confession of who Jesus is. And what makes it amazing is what is behind it.

Intimate knowledge.

Deep love.

Jesus’ words to Peter were based on deep relationship. Of Jesus knowing Peter and Peter allowing himself to be known by Jesus. Jesus looked at Peter and Jesus knew Peter in every possible way. Jesus knew him past, present and future. He knew what he had done and he knew what he was capable of doing. He knew his highest potential. He knew his greatest possibility.

He knew him because he looked deep inside his soul and listened deeply to the songs of his heart. And because of that, he was able to say, “Peter, this is who you are. You are the rock that will be the foundation of my church.”

Jesus could have this deepest and riskiest of conversations about identity because he looked, listened and loved. Peter and Jesus relationship was never easy. At one point, Jesus called Peter, “Satan” … and Peter for his part denied he ever knew Jesus not just once but three times. They disagreed and they fought, and yet Peter called Jesus the Messiah and Jesus called Peter his rock.

And in the end, as much as they fought, they each died for the sake of the other.

Jesus and Peter could have this deepest and riskiest of conversations about identity because they had a relationship of the deepest love and trust. There was nothing – not even deepest shame and cruelest death – that could destroy their relationship, such was their commitment to one another.

I can’t imagine Jesus and Peter shying away from any of those five topics, can you? They didn’t need to. They proved with their lives together that their relationship could handle anything.

“You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.”

The very foundation of our church, the rock on which we are built is the relationship between Peter and Jesus. A relationship that can withstand any conversation, any misstep, any offense because we are so deeply committed to one another.

Not a relationship without tumult and argument. Not a relationship without hurt and betrayal. But a relationship where the love that undergirds it is more powerful than anything people in other relationships might fear would tear it apart.

So what does that mean for us as the church?

It means that these risky, terrifying conversations about identity. These difficult and scary conversations about Religion. Politics. Race. Money. Sex. These are the conversations we as the church are called not only to embrace but to lead. Not because God has gifted us as great facilitators but because the foundation of our communion in Christ is such a deep commitment to relationship with one another, such a deep commitment to loving one another as Christ loves us, that we are perhaps the only container strong enough to hold the tempest these conversations will create.

“You are Peter,” Jesus said. “And on this rock I will build my church.”

That means when things happen like the past two weeks in Ferguson, we must not avoid the conversation but embrace it and even lead it. But we lead it not mirroring the contentious factionalism of the world but the tenacious, grappling love of Jesus our savior and Peter our rock.

We embrace and lead these conversations by putting before anything else our knowledge and love of one another. By remembering that love and embracing one another more tightly when we hear something come from the other that challenges or even offends us. With God’s help having the grace, in the words of the marriage ceremony, when we hurt one another to ask each other’s forgiveness and God’s.

We are entering into an extended moment of opportunity here in St. Louis. An opportunity not only to embrace but to lead a national conversation on race and class, on power and privilege and on the vast gaps of economic, educational and employment opportunity that exist in our nation.

And if we are to grasp this opportunity, it has to start right here. Right here in this room. We have to commit to one another to be the church with Jesus as our savior and Peter as our rock. We have to commit to holding onto one another, and listening deeply to one another, and being vulnerable to one another, and holding one another with the utmost grace, because there are going to be times when we have this conversation really, really badly and we will need to ask one another’s forgiveness and God’s.

If we are to grasp this once in a generation opportunity, we as Christ Church Cathedral will have to take the risk of first having this conversation ourselves. We will have to stand face to face and look deeply into each other’s eyes and listen deeply to each other’s stories. We will have to, in those words of St. Francis, seek not so much to be understood as to understand. We will have to remember that conversation and conversion come from the same root.

“You are Peter,” Jesus said. “And on this rock I will build my church.”

If we are truly the church that calls Jesus our savior and Peter our Rock, then there truly is no conversation we cannot handle. Because our strength is in our God and our strength is in each other. And even the gates of hell will never prevail against us.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

"...and the child will be healed." -- A sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 17, 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.
"Like this Gospel story, 
this week started eight days ago 
with a mother’s wailing cry." 
OK, everybody take a deep breath.

I mean it. Take a deep breath.

And let it out.

Let’s try that again.

Everybody take a deep breath.

Let it out.

God is here.

God is here.

And that means right here, right now, in the middle of everything that has happened this past week, in the middle of everything that is happening all around us as we gather, this can be the eye of the storm. For this moment, right now, we can take a deep breath,

and let it out.

And feel the presence of God.


I could not believe my eyes when I opened my Bible this week and saw that we had this story of the Canaanite woman and Jesus. Because at a time when we desperately need healing, it is for my money the most remarkable healing story in all of scripture. Because it is the only story where Jesus is both the healer and the healed. It is a story not just about Jesus changing hearts but about Jesus’ heart being changed.

And in a week where we all need healing, and we all have hearts that need changing, I believe it has something to say to us.

Jesus is in a foreign land. He’s no longer in Galilee but he’s up north, in the Gentile district of Tyre and Sidon. To a faithful Jew, the people living in that region were unclean. People to be avoided, if they were to be acknowledged as people at all.

And Jesus and his disciples were faithful Jews. This is what they’d been taught ever since they were born. Both by word and experience.

Then all of a sudden here’s this Canaanite woman. And she starts shouting at Jesus. And what is she shouting? She is begging him to save her child. She’s pleading for the life of her child. And Jesus absolutely ignores her. And why not? He is a faithful Jew. And to a faithful Jew, a Canaanite – and particularly a Canaanite woman is a second-class person at best and less than human at worst. Ignoring people like her is how he was raised his whole life.

And the disciples, faithful Jews themselves, encourage Jesus. “Look the other way. Pretend you don’t hear her. Walk faster. She’s just one of ‘those people.’ She is no concern of ours.”

But this remarkable woman will not be quiet. She will not stop her pleading, because this is not just about her, this is about her child. And in fact she runs up to Jesus and gets in front of him, drops to her knees and blocks his path, literally stopping him in his tracks.

And she puts her hands up and pleads, Lord, save my child.

And Jesus looks down at her, and does he have compassion on her? No.

Does he say as he says to so many others, “My child, tell me what you want?” No.

Jesus looks down on her and to the shock of our ears, he calls her an animal. He calls her a dog.

But this amazing woman, who is pleading for the life of her child, like a tree standing by the water, she shall not be moved. She takes his insult and turns it right back on him. She knows who he is. She has called him “Lord, Son of David” and now she is reminding him who he really is, calling him to his best self.

“Even an animal,” she says, “Even a dog gets to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

And when Jesus heard these words he was, maybe for the only time in his life, brought up short.

And I have to believe he took a deep breath.

And let it out.

And realized that God was there, right there in front of him.

I have to believe he paused for a while to let her words sink in, to let them convict him and convert him, because his next words were so different from his last.

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." And her child was healed instantly.

This is a healing story, not just of the woman and her daughter but of Jesus. And what Jesus was healed of because of the persistence and the love of the mother, because of Jesus having ears to hear and eyes to see, because of Jesus’ ability to be moved and changed by seeing the deep humanity of the sister kneeling before her, what Jesus was healed of … was prejudice.

Let me say that again. Jesus was healed of his prejudice. And if Jesus can have prejudice and Jesus can be healed of his prejudice. Then so … can … we.

Prejudices are likes noses. We all have them, they filter the air we breathe, and while to other people our prejudices might be as plain as the nose on our face, to us we can only truly see them if we take a good honest look in the mirror.

And yet there are moments that cause us to take that look in the mirror – if we have eyes to see. Moments that invite us to realize that the air we have been breathing has been filtered in ways that warp how we experience and impact the world. Moments that invite us into that deeply Christian practice of self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life.

Those moments are moments of great potential and moments of great risk. Because they invite us to listen deeply to a voice that offers us a different reality, a voice that tells us a story very different from the one we have been told and have told ourselves, maybe even from birth. Moments that invite us, like Jesus, not just to hear that voice but to be changed by it and to change the world because of it.

To take a deep breath.

Let it out.

And realize that God is right here in the space between those false divisions of the me and the you, the us and the them.

We are in the midst of a moment like this. An extended moment where we are invited to hear different voices, different and crucial experiences of truth, and hearing them to be changed by them and like Jesus be called all to our best selves, to be convicted and converted ambassadors of Christ, reconcilers and healers.

Like this Gospel story, this week started eight days ago with a mother’s wailing cry. It is a cry that has been joined in chorus by mothers and fathers, daughters and sons. It is the cry of Black St. Louis, the cry of Black America pleading and shouting “Save our children.”

It is the cry of mothers tired of taking that deep breath when their boys leave the house and not letting it out until they arrive back home. Tired of using their breath to have the conversation they all must have with their sons about how to act when a police officer is around, knowing that a misstep could leave them in handcuffs or lying in the street. Tired of having themselves and their children stopped and searched and treated like criminals in ways that I and my children never, ever have or will have to endure.

And it is a cry those of us who look like me have ignored for far too long. It is a voice that White America has been ignoring far too long.

And those who are crying, like the Canaanite woman, right now, they are planting themselves in front of this city and this nation as she did in front of Jesus with their hands up and they are saying “We will be ignored no more. You will save our children. And we will not be moved, we are not going away, and we are not shutting up until you do.”

And for White America. For those of us who look like me. This is our “What would Jesus do?” moment. And we know what Jesus would do because we have just heard what Jesus did.

What would Jesus do when a woman whom he victimized with his prejudice, when a woman he has treated like a second-class citizen … when a woman he has treated like a dog is kneeling before him and pleading for the life of her child?

How do we live as people of Christ in this moment? We do as Jesus did.

We take a deep breath.

And we let it out.

And we realize that we are walking on holy ground. We realize that this moment, painful as it is, tragic as it is, frightening as it is, is deeply sacred. We realize that God is right here standing in the breach and bridging the gap between all our us’s and all our them’s, staring at our prejudices as plain as the nose on our face and inviting us to look in the mirror at them, too. And we look at this amazing woman with great admiration, and with equal parts joy and pain, through self-examination, confession, repentance and amendment of life we find a way to say:

“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Last week, I said that we were born to walk on water. That we can do impossible things. That we were born to walk on water but we have to get out of the boat. Well it’s one week later and we have a foot out of that boat now, but now it’s time to put both feet out on the water. And Jesus is showing us how to do it.

And unlike the Gospel reading, this child is not going to be healed instantly. But if all of us work together, with God’s help, she will be healed.

All of us working together, with God’s help, can close the gap of educational opportunity in St. Louis.

All of us working together, with God’s help, can mentor young black men and women in St. Louis.

All of us, working together, with God's help, can confess and remove the prejudice in our hiring practices, our investment practices and our social choices.

And yes, all of us, working together, with God’s help, can with the power of our voice and the power of our vote stand up against racial profiling in our police forces – and at the same time listen deeply to the voices of our police officers, because they have a cry as well.

Our police officers have a cry of every day going out into streets where there are ungodly numbers of guns everywhere. Trying to protect and serve in a nation that refuses to regulate guns any more than it regulates catching fish. Putting their lives on the line every day and not knowing which door they open or corner they turn is going to have them looking down a barrel or facing the emptying of a clip.

Their cry is not justification for the slaying of Michael Brown. It is not justification for racial profiling. But it is a cry all of us need to hear as well. A cry that echoes out of every squadroom lined with pictures of police officers who also ended their lives on the streets.

The police and the justice system needs to hear the cries of the people and the people need to hear the cries of the police and the justice system, and we as followers of Jesus are the ones to stand in the breach between and even as we are being convicted and converted ourselves, help everyone on every side have their Jesus moment of conviction and conversion, of truth and reconciliation. We as the church are the ones to follow the example of our friend and neighbor Pastor Rodney Francis at Washington Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church and get the guns off our streets and away from our children.

The cry is ringing out from St. Louis around the world. The mothers are crying “Save my child,” and it is time for us to hear that cry and let it change our hearts and with changed hearts together lead this change in the world.

St. Louis, this is our moment. And we know that this is not a child that will be healed instantly. The tasks are many, the obstacles are large and the journey will be long. But we are the Body of Christ and, with God’s help, together we will get the job done.

This is the moment God is providing. And like Jesus, we can walk on water and do impossible things.

Like Jesus, we – all of us -- can at long last see and hear the woman with her hands up before us pleading for the life of her child.

Like Jesus, we – all of us -- can use this moment to examine our own role not just in the killing of Michael Brown but in the outrage that has erupted in its wake.

And like Jesus, we – all of us – can be moved and changed by seeing the deep humanity of the sister kneeling before us.

We can be brought up short

and we can take a deep breath.

and we can let it out.

And we can realize that God is right here.

And together as a changed people, as ambassadors of Christ, as ministers of truth nd reconiliation, black and white, rich and poor, city and county, standing together we can look this amazing woman in the eyes and say “Woman, great is your faith. Let it be done for you as you wish.”

And the child will be healed.


Sunday, August 10, 2014

"We were born to walk on water ... but we have to step out of the boat" - a sermon for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 10, 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.

Louis Head, stepfather of shooting victim Michael Brown,
sobs at the memorial set up at the site of the shooting.
Photo by Steve Giegerich, St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Yesterday afternoon, 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by police in Ferguson. We don't know all the facts of the case, but witnesses say that he was unarmed and had his hands in the air when he was shot multiple times by a police officer. His grandmother went out looking for him and found his body in the street.

We do not have all the facts of this case, but we do have facts. We have the fact that there are too many guns on our streets and too many mothers and grandmothers mourning their children. We have the fact that there are deep divides of race and class in our city and region and nation and world. And that these divides continue to bring us nothing but misery. We have the fact that for far too many black children and families, the police are not the ones you run to for protection but are ones you flee from in fear.

We do not all have the facts of this case, and it is so important that a thorough investigation be held and that the facts of this case be brought to light, and that justice be served in sunlight and not in secret. But we do know that this is all-too-familiar. We do know that this is not an isolated incident in this city or in this country. We know that Michael Brown now joins the list of our sons cut down that includes D’Andre Berghgardt, Jesus Huerta, Jonathan Ferrell and countless other young men of color who have been, all of them unarmed, killed by police just in the past year.

I stand before you this morning maybe as you do, with a heavy heart and a troubled spirit.

I weep for Michael Brown, for his parents, his grandparents, his community and his friends.

I weep for the police officer, and I wonder what caused him to pull that trigger again and again, I weep for the cost that is exacted on his or her soul for taking another human life.

I weep for my friend, mayor James Knowles of Ferguson, trying to hold his community together in a time of great tragedy.

I weep and I sigh and I shake my head ,and I am tempted to despair.

I'm tempted to despair because this keeps happening, and I don't know how to make it stop.

I'm tempted to despair because the divides among us are so deep and so wide, and they seem impossible to bridge, they seem at times like this like they may swallow us up.

I am tempted to despair because if a whole generation of young black men, part of that generation that is supposed to be our hope and our future, is learning not to trust the people whom we as a community lift up and charge to protect and to serve, is learning not to trust and in fact to fear the ones who are charged with keeping the peace and ensuring justice, what hope do we have?

And as I look around and I see not just that storm clouds are gathering but that this storm is in full force and has been for a long time, in my despair, I am tempted to shout out, "Jesus, where are you! Jesus, why don't you do something?"

And then I hear this morning's Gospel reading. And I see Jesus calmly walking towards us. With the storm whipping all around us and the storm whipping all around him. And I know he is there. And I know he has some words for us.

This morning’s Gospel is one of the most powerful images we have of the life of following Jesus. Of why we gather here every week. Of who we are to be as the church.

It is scary. It is the opposite of safe. It is a morass of courage and hesitation, failure and success. It is our mission if we choose to accept it, it is our only hope in times like these, times of trouble and despair,

…and it will be our salvation.

Jesus has gone off to pray and the disciples are in a boat heading away from him across a stormy sea. The Gospel tells us that “the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them.”

Battered, with the wind against them. Sounds familiar.

And early in the morning, Jesus comes walking toward them on the sea. The disciples are terrified, and the first thing they imagine is he is a ghost – because certainly no human being could walk on water. But Jesus says what he always says, “It’s OK. It’s me. Don’t be afraid.”

But still the disciples aren’t convinced. So Peter speaks up. This person or whatever it is says he is Jesus, but Peter needs more, he needs to see some ID, so Peter answers him:

“Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”

Think about that for a second. The proof Peter needed that this was Jesus wasn’t Jesus doing something but Jesus ordering Peter to do something, something that had never been done before. Something risky and scary and dangerous and to the eyes of anyone watching absolutely insane – stepping out of the boat in the midst of a storm and walking across the water.

But Peter knew. Peter knew Jesus well enough to know that the real Jesus would never just leave them in the boat tossed around by the storm. The real Jesus wouldn’t just make life easier by calming the seas and making everything nice and comfortable. The real Jesus knew that we are born to walk on water. That we can do impossible things.

Peter knew that if this was really Jesus, he would tell him to step out of the boat.

And Jesus says: “Come.” And Peter steps out of the boat.

Far too often we read this as a story of failure. We remember Peter taking his eyes off Jesus and looking at the wind whipping round and becoming frightened and beginning to sink.

We forget this sentence: “So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus.”

Peter did it. He risked and he trusted and despite all the evidence from the dawn of humanity to the contrary, he did something absolutely crazy and impossible. He stepped out of a boat in a storm onto the sea and he did what no human being who wasn’t named Jesus had ever done before. Peter walked on water.

Peter proved it can be done.

That we were born to walk on water.

We can do impossible things.

We were born to walk on water but we have to step out of the boat.

And yes, he took his eyes off Jesus and began to sink, but look what happened when he did. He cried out to Jesus “Lord, save me!” and that’s exactly what Jesus did. And Jesus chastisement of Peter is not for failing – he didn’t say “Peter, you bonehead, don’t you know how to do this?” No. Jesus gently chastises Peter not for failing but for not trusting that he could succeed.

This Gospel story is one of the most powerful images we have of the life of following Jesus, of who we are to be as the church. Remember, this is the same Peter that Jesus calls “the rock on which I will build my church.” The foundation of the church is not and never has been people who play it safe. The foundation of the church is and always will be people who know that we were born to walk on water, and that we can do impossible things and that Jesus always, always will lead us there and meet us there but we have to step out of the boat.

Because Jesus doesn’t command us to do the easy and the expected. And Jesus certainly doesn’t command us to cling to the sides of our boats, tossed about by the waves and despairing of the storm. Jesus commands us to do what seems impossible. – to walk out on the waters into the very heart of the storm.

He does not promise that it won’t be scary. In fact, we can pretty much guarantee that it will be scary. He does not promise us that we will always succeed. But he does promise us that if we keep our eyes on him we will not perish. He does promise us that in him, nothing is impossible, but we have to step out of the boat.

And stepping out of the boat means doing two things that are hard for us, but which we have done before and we can do again if we do them together and if we do them with our eyes locked on Jesus.

We have to risk and we have to trust.

First, we have to risk.

We have tremendous assets here at Christ Church Cathedral, individually, as a community and as an institution. We have a reputation in the St. Louis community that is nearly two centuries old, beautiful buildings that we cherish and love, we have eight and a half million dollars in endowment and a budget of more than $900,000 a year that it takes to keep this place running even at the most basic level. We have the gifts and talents of every person in this room and others who aren’t here this morning. We have the precious gift, each of us, of our time, our passions and our faith.

Stepping out of the boat means being willing to put it all on the line for the sake of Christ and this world he loves so much. To dedicate all of it not to serving ourselves but in love and service to the world. To not shrink from the storms like we find ourselves in this morning but to claim a vision that is even bigger and bolder than the winds and the waves, a vision that doesn’t cower from the storm but that ventures out into the waves. To claim that vision and put it all on the line for it. It is the only way that great things happen. And great things are what Jesus knows we are born to do.

How do we risk? Where do we get the courage to put it all on the line when the voices in the crowd and the little voices in our head are saying “this is crazy!”

We trust. We trust not that success is guaranteed but that no matter what happens, success or failure, Jesus will be there for us when we cry out and will keep our head above the waves. Trust that all we really need -- God’s love for us and belief in our goodness and worthiness – is never at risk and will never go away.

We trust one another, stepping out of the boat not individually but together, as sisters and brothers in Christ. Trusting that just as Jesus has our hand and has our back, we have each other’s hands and backs, too.

And my sisters and brothers, St. Louis is waiting. St. Louis is waiting for someone to do something extraordinary. Someone who is willing to step out of the boat and show us who we truly can be, who we truly are, show us the greatness of which we are truly capable. Show us that this storm, of whom Michael Brown is only the latest victim, is not more powerful than God and God’s people.

St. Louis is waiting. Waiting for us. Each of us and all of us. To risk and to trust. To show that love is greater than fear. To listen deeply and speak plainly. To demand justice and to build bridges over divides that are deep and wide.

This morning, the storm seems too big and the challenge seems impossible. But we were born to walk on water. We can do impossible things. And this city and region needs us not to fall back into despair or in our privilege turn our gaze to something else but to step up and step out and not be more victims of the storm but instead be walkers on the waves.

It is scary. It is the opposite of safe. But it is our mission if we choose to accept it, it is our only hope in times like these, times of trouble and despair,

…and it will be our salvation.

At 3 pm today, I will be standing on the steps of the Ferguson Police Department as local clergy gather this community in prayer, and I ask you to come there too so we can stand together. We will be praying for peace, for justice, for our children, our communities and our police departments. We will be praying because prayer is the foundation of all that is good and bold and courageous. We will be praying because, in the words of Rabbi Ferdinand Isserman,

“Prayer invites God to let God’s presence suffuse our spirits, to let God’s will prevail in our lives. Prayer cannot bring water to parched fields, nor mend a broken bridge, nor rebuild a ruined city; but prayer can water an arid soul, mend a broken heart and rebuild a weakened will.”

I hope we can stand together this afternoon not as a final act that absolves us of further action but as a beginning, a first toe out of the boat onto the water. Asking Jesus to command us to venture out into this storm with him and meet him there. Reminding us that we need to keep our eyes on him lest we sink beneath the waves. Proclaiming that as powerful as this storm of race and class and violence and fear is, it is no match for the power of our God, that we were not created to cower in fear of the stormy sea.

We were born to walk on water.

We can do impossible things.

We were born to walk on water
…and it’s time to step out of the boat. Amen.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

"And all ate and were filled." -- A sermon for the Eighth Sunday After Pentecost

Preached by the Rev. Canon John Kilgore at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, August 3, 2014

‘And all ate and were filled.’ Satiety. What a great feeling having a meal and feeling full. Fulfilled. Think about some wonderful meals you have had and the memories surrounding them… Memorable meals. Savor those memories for a bit. We will come back to this.

When I think about special and memorable meals a couple come immediately to mind. First would be the retirement luncheon that Ray Clouse and I gave for Bishop Rockwell. My bishop, who launched me on my journey toward priesthood and who has remained a good friend since, was just about to leave St. Louis. We hosted a group of eight for a Saturday luncheon. Ray prepared a gorgeous and sumptuous feast. I don’t remember exactly the menu but I do remember lunch on the porch at Riverwoods overlooking the Missouri River with a beautiful table — lovely tablecloth and napkins, crystal, china, fine wines, and a very special bottle of dessert wine. A lovely prayer of thanksgiving and a long leisurely outdoor meal with spectacular weather, gorgeous vistas, lovely conversation and great conviviality. When I think of that day and the joy we all experienced it warms my heart and I smile. And it was all prepared and offered in a spirit of loving and giving, and saying thanks.

And when I think of other meals, the ones that come to mind, actually a series of them, are Sunday dinners at Grandma Kilgore’s house. A very different kind of meal from the one I just described. Grandma and Grandpa Kilgore were lovely, sweet, salt of the earth people. Their parents immigrated from Ireland and Scotland during the potato famine of the early 1800’s. They grew up in lead mining villages in southwest Missouri and had very little in the way of material possessions. But loving and warm and caring they were. And Grandma Kilgore fixed the best Sunday dinners. My brother and I and our three cousins had countless Sunday dinners around Grandma and Grandpa Kilgore’s fairly spartan appearing dinner table. And occasionally when ‘all the family’ were together they would set up a second table, a card table in another room. As there were only four seats at ‘the kid’s table’ and there were five grandkids, I, as the oldest grandchild, got to eat at the ‘adults’ table’.

 But what I remember about those meals was the food. Grandma Kilgore’s fried chicken and mashed potatoes were absolutely the best! She kept a coffee can on the back of the stove with bacon fat in it. I don’t know what she did to make it so tasty but I can still see that chicken popping and crackling on the stove in that large skillet full of grease. And mashed potatoes! She boiled five pounds of potatoes and had one of those S-shaped wire devices that she hand mashed the potatoes with. No electric mixer. Lots of work. Oh, but they were good. Lots of butter and salt. She never used enough salt and the first thing said at the table after the prayer was always ‘pass the salt’. And the family legend is that my first words at her dinner table as a toddler were, ‘Pass the salt…’ as I had heard my dad and uncle say that at the beginning of every meal. But once you got the salt on, what a feast. And Grandpa was a gardener. The strawberries out of his garden with freshly hand whipped cream, again, no electric mixer, were scrumptious.

Two meals, very different but both replete with wonderful memories. Memorable meals. Meals that fed the body, and the mind, and the heart, and the soul. Meals that nourished. Different as those memories are, there are some common threads. Food lovingly prepared to love, honor, and cherish those we care for; wonderful table fellowship and conversation; people lovingly gathered together; and prayer to start it off.

Yes, prayer to start it off. Times have changed and the statistics of families that regularly have meals together are dramatically different from what I grew up with. In my family of four on a daily basis we always sat down to dinner at the table, seated my mother before the men sat, put our napkins in our laps and ‘said grace.’ We always said a prayer before the meal.

In our gospel reading today, Jesus gave a meal. It was quite a repast and didn’t even require any prep - no picking strawberries, no mashing potatoes, no setting the table, washing crystal or china. But a very successful meal. ‘And all ate and were filled…’ the gospel says. And there were twelve baskets left over. This really was quite an event and made an impression on the people. It was one of those memorable meals. People obviously told the story over and over for seventy years and then when the gospel got written, the story was written down. This is the only one of Jesus’ miracles that appears in all four gospels. It obviously made quite an impression on the disciples. And on the people. When asked to recount memorable meals, those there that day would certainly have thought of that story.

Jesus was big on meals. So many of the stories about Jesus revolve around meals: the dinner at the wedding in Cana, in the house of Mary and Martha, the healing of Jairus’ daughter (give her something to eat, he said after she was revived), parables about meals, his appearance on the road to Emmaus, of course the Last Supper, and others.

There was something special about the way Jesus did meals, about the way he brought people together, about the fellowship. And there was genius behind his use of meals. The feeding of the five thousand with five loaves and two fish isn’t so much about the miracle of expanding the atoms and molecules of the fishes and loaves many-fold, but rather it is about the linking together of the spiritual, the holy, the mystical, with our physical needs. Body and soul. And making it memorable. Jesus knew the importance of giving sustenance to our bodies. He knew we need to eat. He also knew the importance of sustenance for our souls. Doesn’t the Lord’s Prayer, which he taught us, say, ‘Give us this day our daily bread,’ just before it says something about ‘forgive us…and lead us not into temptation’? So he tied the two together. Sustenance of our bodies and souls, linked. We have to eat several times a day. How novel to link our eating with a prompt to remind us to think of God, and to give thanks. Beginning a meal with a prayer. Always.

In seminary we priests are taught that there is a threefold action in that great meal, the Holy Eucharist. The bread is taken, blessed, then broken. Jesus did the same. In Israel in his time food was a holy thing and it was required for the head of the household to say a prayer over the food every time one ate. And they would put their arms up in what we call the orans posture. Jesus prayed that way. It was a pious custom that Jesus would have been well acquainted with and followed. Rabbis in those days maintained that a meal without prayer was a meal accursed.

Special meals. Memorable meals. I wonder how many of us, when I suggested we recall some special meals at the beginning of this sermon, thought about a eucharistic meal? Perhaps we should remember some special times of Holy Communion. Do you remember the first time you took communion? Do you remember the last time you took communion? Do you remember some really special times you have taken communion? Perhaps in the hospital, or at a funeral or wedding. Special meals. Memorable meals. Every meal with Jesus is a special and memorable meal.

In talking about communion Thomas Aquinas says the Eucharist is called communion because ‘through it we communicate with Christ…and through it we communicate and are united with one another.’ That’s what Jesus did then with the loaves and fishes, and that’s what Jesus still does today every time we are around this table. It is him and us [point up and down]…and us and us… [point side to side]. It is vertical and horizontal. You don’t come to Holy Communion for that tiny sip of wine or that small morsel of bread; they wouldn’t sustain your physical body very long. You come because there is something more, something holy, something mystical, something special. Something memorable. This is the memorable meal we are to recall.

‘All ate and were filled.’ Yes they were. And yes they are.