Sunday, May 17, 2015

"Barsabbas Moments -- the sacred opportunity of rejection" -- a sermon for the 7th Sunday of Easter

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 11, 2015

“So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. Then they prayed and said, "Lord, you know everyone's heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.”


What happened to Barsabbas?

Our reading from Acts tells the story of the disciples choosing a replacement for Judas. There are two finalists, Barsabbas and Matthias. They pray and ask God which one of these two should be chosen. Who should be the 12th apostle? And they cast lots, which was pretty much the first century version of flipping a coin and trusting God to guide the result.

Heads, Matthias. Tails, Barsabbas.

Heads it is. Matthias is one of the twelve. And he goes on to do great things.

Tradition holds Matthias planted the faith in Cappadocia and on the coasts of the Caspian Sea. Every February 24th, the Church celebrates the Feast of St. Matthias and we pray “Almighty God, grant that your Church, being delivered from false apostles, may always be guided and governed by faithful and true pastors.”

Matthias is remembered to this day.

But what happened to Barsabbas?

Barsabbas is never heard from again.

We’re a little schizophrenic about our faith. We hear Jesus say things like “the last shall be first and the first last” and “those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Paul gives us the beautiful image of the Body of Christ and says “The members of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and those members of the body that we think less honorable we clothe with greater honor, and our less respectable members are treated with greater respect.”

The central image of our faith – Jesus on the cross – is the very embodiment of the worst of rejection. He is mocked, spat upon, nailed to a cross and killed and we call it his glory.

And we know all of this. And then what do we do? We turn around and we celebrate Matthias the winner … and we think Barsabbas is someone mispronouncing the name of the thief whom the crowd wanted released instead of Jesus.

So I want to spend just a few minutes this morning talking about Barsabbas. Because we don’t like to talk about Barsabbas. We don’t know what to do with Barsabbas. Most of us live in fear of becoming Barsabbas … or worse of being discovered that we have been Barsabbas all along.

That’s because Barsabbas was a loser. Literally. Barsabbas and Matthias both offered themselves for a position of great honor and difficulty. Matthias was told “Yes” and Barsabbas was told “No.” Winner. Loser.

So right there, we need to stop and own something.

Losing stinks. Not being chosen hurts.


Well, I suppose there are lots of reasons. When we get chosen, we get an opportunity and when we aren’t chosen we don’t get that opportunity. But I think we all know it’s more than that.

Not being chosen, whether it be in a job, in a relationship, in the church or wherever. Not being chosen taps into our deepest insecurities and triggers painful memories.

Not being chosen can fill us with embarrassment and shame. It can make us feel two inches tall and want to run away and hide.

Not being chosen stabs like a knife. It makes our hearts cry out “Why not me? What’s wrong with me? Why am I not good enough.”

Or even worse, it makes our hearts crumble and whisper: “See, I knew it, I’m not good enough. I was right all along.”

Not being chosen is like a giant amplifier for all the voices in our head and our heart that tell us we are less than, that we are unworthy, that we are unlovable.

Losing stinks. Not being chosen hurts.

And because we don’t like that. And because especially in the church where we are called to love each other -- and not choosing someone doesn’t feel particularly loving – especially in the church, we don’t deal with this particularly well. My experience in the church is we deal with – let’s call them our “Barsabbas Moments” – the experience of not being chosen, in one of three ways.

One, in the words of Brene Brown, we “silver lining it.” We tell people it’s not that bad, encourage them to see a bright side even if it takes some serious gymnastics to invent one.

Two, we offer consolation prizes. You didn’t get chosen for this? OK, we’ll give you this to make you feel better.

Three, we say and do … nothing. We don’t mention it because we fear mentioning it will be painful and make things even worse. So we just say and do … nothing.

Now all three of these responses have several things in common.

First, they are incredibly human and they are at least in part motivated by compassion. We hate to see each other in pain.

Second, they are each at least equally motivated by our own discomfort. We feel badly that someone else didn’t get chosen so we want to make them feel better so we’ll feel better.

Finally, none of these responses actually make it better and mostly they make things worse. Because, frankly, we all know when someone is trying to make us feel better and though we might appreciate the effort, often we end up just being more embarrassed and half the time end up reassuring them.

So what do we do instead?

We realize that our Barsabbas Moments are an incredible opportunity to lean into the deepest truth of our faith.

Hall of Fame baseball manager Sparky Anderson once said: “I’ve had to fire a lot of people. Most of them 18 year-old kids. When you tell them they can’t do it, they think you’re talking about life, when all you’re talking about is second base.”

Much of the time, not being chosen is painful because we take a single experience of “sorry, not this” and inside turn it into a rejection of who we are as a person. And that begs the question where does our sense of worthiness as people come from?

The truth we absolutely must remember is while we can and should affirm each other’s goodness and belovedness, if we are dependent on human beings for that sense of goodness and belovedness we will always be subject to brutal disappointment.

The deepest truth of our faith that our Barsabbas Moments invite us to lean into is that our goodness and belovedness come from God and God alone.

We can know we are good because God created us in the divine image and looked on us and said “this is very good.”

We can know we are beloved because for each and all of us, God loved us so much that God was willing to empty the divine self into human form and love us to the point of death on a cross.

Our Barsabbas Moments are opportunities for us not to lean on the admiration and adulation of one another but in those moments where we are feeling the deepest rejection to lean back into the loving arms of a God in whose eyes we are always good and always worthy and always deeply, deeply beloved.

And that is incredibly difficult to do. And that’s why we have to help each other. And we help each other not by offering consolation prizes or silver linings or silence but by speaking deep truths to one another.

We help each other by speaking the plain truth when we believe someone is not the right person for the job. And if those words are painful to hear, we sit together in the pain, letting words and tears flow as need be. Not offering a consolation prize or looking for the silver lining but just being with each other in the pain and reminding each other that even though any rejection can be hard, our goodness and our belovedness are never up for debate. Our goodness and belovedness were established by God in creation and sealed by Jesus on the cross. And let our steadfast love for one another, let our ability to sit in the pain and not try to fix it be the incarnational testimony to that.

One of the best leaders I have ever known is the Bishop of Nebraska, Scott Barker. I’ve known Scott for nearly 17 years now and I have seen him fearlessly speak difficult truths, take bold chances and offer himself up to the flip of a coin. And through it all he maintains a calm, deep faith and sense of self.

And so I asked him one day, Scott, how do you do it? How do you risk rejection and suffer disappointment so well? And he looked at me and said with utter conviction:

“Because I’m absolutely, positively sure that Jesus loves me.”

As we as a church cultivate that conviction in ourselves and one another. As we more and more joyfully embrace our Barsabbas moments as opportunities to lean into the arms of Christ , there will be no limit to what we can do and who we can be.

What happened to Barsabbas? We are Barsabbas. Rejected and hurting. Beloved and good. Letting the truth of Christ’s love take root in our hearts, in our lives and in this world.


Sunday, May 10, 2015

"Showing up and saying stop." -- a sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, May 11, 2015

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.

I have been feeling decidedly unbrilliant this week. I look at this Gospel that is the heart of what Jesus offers to us .. “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you” … and I want to break this open in some new way that is going to help us. Some way that will give us insight. But I kept coming up with nothing.

But as I prayed with this, what I kept coming back to is that this is not so much a passage that needs to be broken open but a passage about being broken open. And I couldn’t just stand up here and talk about being broken open but that I had to let myself be broken open … not as a way of making this about me, I never want to do that … but about going to a hard place first and inviting you to come along, and maybe finding out in naming it that we’ve already been standing in this hard place together.

This has been one hell of a year. I don’t know any other way to say it. It has just been one hell of a year. I know it has been for me and I know it has been for you and for us all. And it just keeps on going and going and going and going.

And yet, I would not trade it for anything. I cannot unsee what I have seen and I cannot unknow what I am coming to know, but even if I could, I would not. Because so much of what has made this one hell of a year has been the beginnings of scales falling from my eyes, my beginning to see realities that have always been there but from which I have turned away. And as easier as it was for me to live in that former world, the Jesus I follow will not let me and I thank God for that. Because if Jesus is going to be our savior, he has to save us from something and save us to something and part of that is saving us from a life of the prisons of self-deception and saving us to a life of honesty and truth that will set us free, even if sometimes that truth is hard to discern and even harder to bear.

My first day back from vacation last summer was August 10. And all I was looking forward to was being back together with you all and having a joyful and exciting year. And I was feeling recharged and refreshed, and as I was getting ready to get in the shower that morning, I got a text from Traci Blackmon asking me to join her at the Ferguson Police Department that afternoon for a prayer service. The day before, a young man named Michael Brown had been shot and killed and his body had laid in the street for four and a half hours and we were gathering the community to pray and to cry and to cry out.

And I knew then that this was going to be a thing. That the stories Ruby Sales had told us when she had been here in February of the epidemic of young black men being killed by police – that this is what it looked like. And so I tore up my sermon and rewrote it. And that afternoon some of us in this room were in that gathering in front of the Ferguson Police Department. And we watched young people start sitting down in the streets, and all I wanted was for them to get out of the streets because I didn’t want any trouble. I didn’t realize that trouble had been happening, too much trouble had already happened and that’s why they were in the streets.

I knew this was going to be a thing but I had no idea how big a thing it already was … and how big a thing it was going to become. That from that street a movement would start that would sweep across this nation … that Ferguson, Missouri of all places would become a national symbol for how far from Dr. King’s dream we truly were … that the seismic energy that has been building since the 1960s and 70s about race and class in this country was about to be set loose and that we in St. Louis were at the epicenter.

I don’t need to go through the litany of the last nine months, we all know it too well. Not just what has happened in our city and our nation that started in that street but what has happened in this Cathedral community and what has happened in each of our lives.

And not just this Sunday, but through the whole ordeal, Jesus has always been telling us “Love one another as I have loved you.” And I have kept coming back to that commandment over and over again this year, trying to figure out what that looks like. And nine months later, I still have so many more questions than answers.

What does it look like to love like Jesus when I see incredibly courageous young people standing up for freedom, committed to walking the tightrope of expressing their rage and staying nonviolent … and chastising the church for not being out there with them.

What does it look like to love like Jesus when I sit across from a police officer who tells me through tears in his eyes how betrayed he feels by me when he sees me standing with those young people, when he tells me how he stays up at night thinking about being faced with a young black man with a gun and hesitating because he doesn’t want to be the next Darren Wilson and then imagining that moment of hesitation ends with his wife and kids standing over his casket.

What does it look like to love like Jesus when some of us are so tired of talking about race and class and poverty and justice because it makes us feel guilty and bad and we come to church yes, to be challenged, but also to have our spirits fed and can’t we just have a break?

What does it look like to love like Jesus when some of us are hearing these same conversations and sermons and are feeling like we can finally breathe because at long last we are finally talking about the reality of our lives that has been there all along.

What does it look like to love like Jesus when we have a $150,000 budget deficit, when we have different ideas of what it means to be faithful with money and when are trying to figure out the future of Christ Church Cathedral at a time when some of the stands we are taking might very well be upsetting the people who have the money and the power in this city?

What does it look like to love like Jesus as the Cathedral of the whole Diocese of Missouri when many, many people in our diocese believe this movement is wrongheaded at best and that we are supporting and inciting violence at worst?

What does it look like to love like Jesus when while all this has been going on our lives haven’t stopped. That we are still trying to raise kids and care for aging parents, navigate troubled marriages and fight for the very right to marry, struggle to pay our mortgages and try to figure out where we are going to sleep tonight or get our next meal.

Jesus says “love one another as I have loved you” and every time I hear those words I have so many more questions than answers. But what I keep coming back to is that this is not so much a passage that needs to be broken open but a passage about being broken open. And when I ask what that looks like, where I am right now is that it looks like at least two things – showing up and saying stop.

First, showing up.

Showing up just means we have to hang in there and we have to hang in there together. We have to plead with God to help us remember that what binds us together is so much greater than what might tear us apart. And when it gets hard – and real relationship will always get hard – when we are most tempted to run away that is when we hold onto each other most tightly.

That we remember that the heart of loving each other is vulnerability. That there is no greater vulnerability than that space between saying I love you and waiting for the response. But that space is where Christ lives.

And so I need to say first of all something I don’t say nearly often enough and that is not just that God loves you but that I love you. And that every day I ask God to love you through me and to help me love you better.

I have the best job in the world. Because I get to sit with you during the week and stand here at the altar every Sunday and look out at you and love you all so much. Do you have any idea how beautiful you all are? Do you have any idea how incredible it is that you keep showing up here. This is such a hard place and you all know it, because if you were looking for a church that was easy you certainly would have chosen somewhere else. This Cathedral has never been easy, but this year we have taken it up about 20 notches and you are all still here. And that’s what love looks like. Love looks like keeping showing up.

Second, saying stop.

This week, Celeste Smith was telling me a story of spending a morning in court just watching the proceedings. And she said every single person who came before the judge was set up to fail. She told me about a man who pled guilty to failure to pay child support – and given a series of fines and jail time as punishment. How is he supposed to pay a fine much less the child support when he couldn’t pay the support to begin with and he can’t earn money when he is in jail?

It’s the same with women who are arrested for prostitution. They are given jail sentences and fines … only the only way they can pay the fine when they get out is by turning more tricks.

And every time this happened, she just wanted to jump up and scream “STOP! This is CRAAAZY! Can we just take a minute and look at what we’re doing here? Can we just stop and take a minute and see what it might be to listen to each other, to be human with each other, to look at a model of justice that is actually about restoring human dignity instead of further stripping it away?”

What happened in that courtroom wasn’t just the judge’s fault or the public defender’s fault or the defendant’s fault or the fault of any one person. It was the fault of systems that are overburdened and broken. It was the fault of a society that has criminalized poverty and made sane justice increasingly something that is available only the rich, who usually happen to be the white.

The impulse Celeste had was absolutely the right one. When Jesus says “Love one another as I have loved you” it is absolutely not just about showing up but when we do … and when we see ourselves doing things that are denying of human dignity treating one another as less than beloved images of God, we jump up and say, “STOP! This is CRAAAZY! Can we just take a minute and look at what we’re doing here? Can we listen to each other – even each other’s pain and anger that is so hard to hear because it is scary and it triggers so much inside us? Can we try to find another way?”

More than any other time in my life, this year we have faced situations that just leave us shaking our heads and not knowing what to do. And these situations are gifts, because it is when we face situations that are beyond our capacity we are forced to turn to Jesus and say “'you gotta take this one because I just can't do it.”

And every time this happens I hear his words that we hear this morning and say the same thing … “We’ve just got to love each other through it.”

And a lot of times I don’t know what that looks like …except we keep showing up, and we keep saying stop. And we listen with our hearts. And when things are crazy we find a way to listen more carefully, to trust more deeply and to say “no more.”

It’s been a hell of a year and my guess is we’re just getting started. But there is no place I would rather be than Christ Church Cathedral and there is nobody I’d rather be with than you. And I hope you feel the same, and even if you don’t – especially if you don’t – God bless you for showing up anyway.

Jesus says, “A new commandment I give you, that you love one another as I have loved you.” We will continue to try to do this knowing that we – and certainly I -- do this spectacularly imperfectly.

I don’t know what the next year is going to hold … I don’t even know what the next week is going to hold. But I do know this. We are going to keep going. We are going to keep our eyes on the cross and our ears tuned to Jesus’ words. We are going to keep showing up and we are going to keep saying stop. We are going to keep saying I love you and living in that space of vulnerability that follows. We are going to wrestle and fight but we will not hide from the truth and we will not hide from each other and we will not hide from the presence of Christ calling us into new and strange lands.

As Christ Church Cathedral we are going to love one another as Jesus loves us. My God be with us, and may God help us … each and all. AMEN.