Sunday, February 28, 2016

"Moses was afraid to look at God. But God is never afraid to see the people." - a sermon for 3 Lent

And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt.” +

Moses was afraid to look at God. But God is never afraid to see the people.

Have you ever seen something that was just too much. Something that was just too powerful. Either too terrible or too beautiful or too something that you had to turn away. Something that was just too much.

Whatever it is, we’ve all had it. And we turn away before we even think of it – like shielding our face from bright sunlight when we’re coming out of a movie theater. Or how about accidentally walking in on someone getting undressed? Whoa! Our heads turn away and that hand shields our eyes before we can even think about it.

Or maybe not … I don’t know.

That’s what happens to Moses in the desert this morning. And who can blame him? He’s tending his father-in-law’s flock. That’s a solitary task. And he’s not even in the wilderness … he’s beyond the wilderness … he is really far out there, far, far away from everyone.

…But not from God.

Because suddenly, God is there. A voice calling “Moses! Moses!” telling him to take his shoes off. A burning bush that keeps on burning, never consumed. And just in case there was any doubt, the voice saying

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”

And instinctively, Moses says “Whoa!” His head turns away and his hand shields his eyes.

God – Whoa! Can’t look at that! Too powerful. Too terrible. Too wonderful. Too something.

Moses was afraid to look at God.

And then God speaks again. And as Moses turns his head and shields his eyes from God, God lets Moses know that God is not doing the same thing. The very next words from God are these:

“I have seen the misery of my people who are in Egypt.”

God says “I have seen the misery of my people.”

“I see you.” God says.

Moses was afraid to look at God. But God is never afraid to see the people.

When we dive into the Hebrew a little bit, this contrast is even more incredible.

Moses was afraid to even “look at” God – that’s the Hebrew mê·hab·bîṭ, which literally means “to look at.” Like looking at my hand. Or looking at one of these banners.

But God goes even further. God says I’ll see your fear of me-hab-bit and I’ll raise you raah. I have seen the misery of my people. The same verb that Jacob uses after a night of wrestling with the angel when he says I will call this place Peniel because I have seen God face to face and yet my life is preserved. The kind of seeing that comes from wrestling with someone all the way through the long, long night. Knowing every inch of the other’s body, all of their tendencies. Knowing their mind. Knowing their heart.

God doesn’t just look at God’s people. God sees them. Raah. God sees us. Raah. Face to face. Just as the verb yada connotes intimate knowledge when God says a second later “Indeed I know their sufferings,” here God is saying I have not just glanced down at my people, checking to make sure they are still there. I have seen them. Fully. Completely.

I have looked deeply into their eyes even as they are shielding those eyes from me.

Moses was afraid to look at God. But God is never afraid to see the people.

I want you to turn to someone next to you or near you. Find a partner. Everyone.

Anyone not have a partner? Raise your hand.

Now, get close enough to that person so you are less than a foot or two away.

Now I invite you to look into each other’s eyes, and hold that gaze.

(Wait 5 seconds).

See each other.

Know that behind those eyes is a life of victory and tragedy. Of love and pain.

Know that those eyes have shed bitter tears and danced with incredible joy.

Know that those eyes have seen beauty and horror.

Know that behind those eyes are a million memories of battles fought, love shared and loneliness endured. Of hopes realized and dreams shattered and rules mischievously broken.

Know that those eyes are a window to a life that is full of fragility and power, pride and shame, certainty and doubt.

Just. Like. You.

OK. You can look away – if you haven’t already.

Let’s just sit for a moment. Sit and consider that experience.

Was it easy or hard?

Was it welcome or intrusive?

Was it beautiful or terrifying? Or was it beautiful and terrifying?

Did it seem to last forever or was it over much too soon?

Whether it was all of these things or none of these things I guarantee you one thing it was not and that is meaningless. When we see each other deeply, when we dive into each other’s eyes and search to see the life behind them, and when someone does the same to us it is powerful. It is holy.

I wonder if why God told Moses to take off his shoes because he was on holy ground is not because God was on that ground but because Moses was on that ground. That even out beyond the wilderness, even so isolated and alone that Moses was days away from another human soul, God saw Moses, saw behind his eyes, saw into his heart, saw the beauty and complexity and ardor of Moses’ life journey and knew that the ground Moses was standing on was holy not just because God had shown up in a burning bush but because God’s child Moses was walking on it – and there is no holier ground in all the cosmos than our lives.

We have just felt that. Or at least I hope you did. I hope as you gazed into another’s eyes and had them gaze into yours through the discomfort and through the uneasiness and through the fear and the vulnerability you got at least a glimpse of the holy. I hope maybe you got at least a little taste of an urge to take your shoes off because you felt that holiness that is the life each of us have lived and are living even to this day.

This morning we hear the story of the beginning of the liberation of God’s people from slavery, and it begins with this truth:

Moses was afraid to look at God. But God is never afraid to see the people.

So three things to take away from this for our life together and our life out there.

First, to know that God sees you.

God sees YOU. Yes, you. Even when you are beyond the wilderness. Even when you feel that nobody cares. Nobody knows. Nobody sees.

God does.

God sees you face to face. God sees the beauty and complexity and joy and horror. God sees all of you – even the parts that you hide from yourself.

And God calls it holy.

And God takes off her sandals when she sees you because your life, your body, your soul, is holy ground.

God is never afraid to see the people.

God lives to see the people.

God sees and loves – you.

Second, to know that the knowledge that God sees us and loves us is the beginning of liberation.

Knowing that God sees us and loves us and takes her shoes off in our presence and calls us holy because how could we not be after all we are made in God’s image … knowing all this is the beginning of not only our liberation but the liberation of all of God’s people who are in slavery of every kind.

Because the holy is never meant to be in bondage. The holy is never meant to be oppressed. The holy is never meant to be treated with anything less than untied sandals, profound dignity and deep, deep love. And where the holy that is every human being created in the image of God is treated with anything less than that dignity and love, God knows that liberation is the only course of action. And God will not rest until it happens. God will not rest not only until you are free from what binds you but until all of God’s holy children are free from what binds them as well.

Finally, as God sees us, and loves us, God also calls each of us by name:

“Moses! Moses!”

“Ed! Ed!”

“LaToni! LaToni!”

“Myrna! Myrna!”

And even as we shield our eyes and turn away because God is so amazing and we can’t possibly believe this love and this light and this voice could be for us. Even as we shield our eyes and turn away, God is calling us to see one another as God sees us. To seek out the holy. To seek out the beauty. To not turn away from the tragedy and the pain and the suffering but to see it even more clearly, more deeply, more truly.

And when people try to gaze into our eyes, to seek out our holiness and beauty … to see the tragedy and pain and suffering in our lives, God asks us not to turn away then, either. To dare to be vulnerable. To let the other in. To trust that being seen is not the path to destruction but the road to liberation.

God is calling us to gaze deeply into each other’s eyes. To take our shoes off on the holy ground of each other’s lives. To see where each of us is in bondage and to reach out a hand and say follow me to freedom. Let me help you. We’re gonna get there together.

Moses was afraid to look at God. But God is never afraid to see the people.
Beloved people of God, God sees you and that is nothing to fear. God sees you and knows your heart, and God has taken her sandals off and called the ground of your life holy.

Believe it.

Trust it.

Rejoice in it.

Go and do likewise.

Monday, February 22, 2016

"The Herods in Our Lives," a sermon for the Second Sunday in Lent by The Rev. Chester Hines, Feb. 21, 2016

The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom then shall I fear?

This morning, we find Jesus on His way to Jerusalem for what will turn out to be His greatest gift to each of us, His death on the cross which will pardon us from all our sins and open the gate for us to life eternal. 
On His way He is approached by some Pharisees.  The Pharisees are middle-class businessmen of the community.  They are in contact with the common man.  They are not the one per-centers of their day and time; they are held in high esteem by the community and generally have the support of the people.  They believe in God, the resurrection of the dead, they believe in reward and punishment on an individual basis in the afterlife and they believe in the existence of angels and demons.
However, they have not come to a full understanding of who Jesus is and what God is able to do through His son. They know He has a following in the community and people are drawn to Him.  But the Pharisees also have a following in the community and people are drawn to them.  Are the Pharisees in competition with support from the same people who are enamored with Christ?  Maybe, maybe not but on this day, they have intercepted Jesus and are warning Him to get away from this place because Herod wants to kill Him.  
This Herod would be representative of the one per-centers of his day.  He cared little for others and greatly about himself.  This Herod is the same Herod who had John The Baptist imprisoned and later beheaded.  It is not necessary for Herod to be connected or concerned with the people because in today’s language, he is self-sufficient.
Jesus hears and receives the information from the Pharisees and then gives them an assignmentGo and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I finish my course.”  Jesus had a timeline for what He had to do and today was not the day for interruption. 
Jesus understood His opposition was cunning like a fox, but calmly showed that this opposition would not stop Him from carrying out His mission of redemption, the saving of people from sin and evil.

Jesus told them to tell Herod that He is not worried about the threat and He will not stop working until His work is completed.
This gospel reading reveals Our Lord living on the edge of danger. Controversy is swirling around him. His outspoken style and his constant challenge to the established order have drawn the attention of powerful people and now Jesus has an increasing number of enemies.  When Jesus is given a warning that His life is in danger and responds with courage and determination we see what is meant by the contrast between the inclusive, abundant life given to us in Christ compared to the fearful frightened life that excludes and enslaves us. 

We later learn that even the warning from the Pharisees may have been a cloak for in the near future, they will join with the Sadducees, the one per-centers of the community, in calling for Christ’s death.  But Christ had a purpose and would not be distracted by outside threats. Jesus knew why he came into the world and what he needed to do. There was no way he would suspend his work and go into hiding. He set his face toward Jerusalem and nothing would deter Him.  The words of the gospel this morning challenges us to set an example like Jesus by living our lives with courage and resolve.

Most of us probably do not have the notoriety or status of local, state or national celebrity but all of us are affected by the influence of self-absorbed individuals and their effects upon institutions and the way of life of people within the community.  These powerful decision makers and the policy they create cause insecurity, fear, and anxiety in our daily life.  Thousands of our fellow Missourians right now wait in anticipation of action from our state legislature as to whether or not money for their life supporting benefits will taken away and given to the transportation department to repair the roads and bridges of our state. 

These decisions and related policy can become the Herod’s in our lives.  The acts and actions of those who influence how we live may not lead to our immediate demise but surly its effect has a long term impact causing us to experience a slow and agonizing deterioration.  It may be things, factors, issues, life’s challenges; those circumstances that hold of us and dominate our lives, keeping us from that peace that is given to us through Christ; keeping us from being whole. 

Many of you this morning can probably recall a time when you faced a type of Herod in your life; someone or something that you felt could or would cause you great harm but you had a greater call and it was necessary for you to walk into the danger zone because not to do so would in some way be an even greater loss.

As some of you are aware, I serve as the Chairperson for the Diocesan Commission on Dismantling Racism.  In that capacity I feel compelled to confront racism in all places and at all times in my life.  So, I’m sharing with you a personal experience where I had a Herod like experience; even though there was great risk, I had to tell the “fox” what was necessary in order for me to be able to live with myself. 

This situation occurred when I worked for St. Louis City Government, I had gotten into an employee/employer conflict with my immediate supervisor.  He directed me to do something that I didn’t think was appropriate so I refused; this refusal lead to my being sent to the Office of the Chief of Staff.  After having expressed my perspective on the situation, the Chief of Staff (who at that point became my Herod), clearly expressed his anger with me and he wanted and from his perspective needed to punish me; he needed to let me know he was large and in charge, so he informed me that I was to do whatever my supervisor directed me to do, quote, “if he, tells you to count bumps on the wall, you count bumps on the wall”.

Now hearing this directive, I first questioned myself as to whether what he said was what I heard; upon realizing I was not in the twilight zone but in his office, it was like a gunshot to my brain; my head actually felt like it was spinning.  

This powerful white man in my work relationship had just taken away all of my dignity and self respect in the last few seconds. He had achieved his task; he had reduced me to a person of low status in an arrogant and hurtful manner; he had accomplished his mission.

At that moment, I had come face to face with a Herod type experience.  I was in the danger zone; the next action on my part would set a challenging course; what would happen if I just accepted this personal disparagement, diminishment and racial aggression; what would happen if I spoke my heart just at this moment.  

Admittedly, my response probably was not Christ like because whatever I said in response to his directive lead to my termination a week later; this Herod experience lead to the death of my employment  with St. Louis City Government after twenty five years of service.

I tell you this story because my response was not professional but in my view it was necessary, I had to inform the Chief of Staff in a manner in which I thought he would understand that my task right at that moment was not to be concerned with job security and retirement but was to inform him of his racism and the detrimental effect it had on me. 

I did not get out of bed that morning with the idea that I would have a conflict with the surrogate of an elected official of the City of St. Louis but in retrospect, I see how Christ puts us in places and calls us to do things that are completely removed from our minds.  Christ gives us the opportunity at the most unsuspecting time to demonstrate our faith in our relationship with Him; He gives us the opportunity to be an imitator of Christ in this world we live in today.  He lets us know there are storms in our lives but we are called to endure and move forward knowing He will never leave or forsake us.

That morning for me was an opportunity for me to demonstrate to myself that I was a believer in the power of Christ.  On that morning with the Chief of Staff, as I was speaking the words that lead to my firing, I heard the voice of Christ in my head and felt His spirit in my heart.  I understood better how faith in God can become a shield and buckler against the Herod’s in our life.

Jesus was walking into danger and yet He was still working to and seeking ways to bring the community to the grace of God.  When Jesus walked the earth, people gathered as they could to express their personal faith in God; to hear the word of God, to seek a greater understanding of the mystery of God and Jesus Christ.

Now it is important for us to have a personal faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and our faith is deepened when we are a part of the body of Christ, which is the Church.  And when I say the church I don’t mean the physical building where we gather, I mean the personal and spiritual relationships we have with each other in our relationship with Christ.  A place to gather is important but the church is that which lives in each of us. And our task today and always is to be the eyes, hands and bodies of Christ on earth for those seeking solace and a better understanding of life with Jesus Christ.  And like Christ you are only going to find these tasks in the places of challenge, discomfort and on the edges of humanity.

We are called to talk about and act like Jesus in the places we go; Herod is there lying in wait to do us harm if possible but Christ is there also steadfast with His love. 

No doubt you have heard the story about the young man in a family of farmers. The hen house on the grandfather’s farm burned down just up the road from his home.  His dad arrived just in time to help put out the last of the fire. As he and the grandfather sorted through the wreckage, they came upon one hen lying dead near what had been the door of the hen house. Her top feathers were singed brown by the fire’s heat, her neck limp. The grandfather bent down to pick up the dead hen. But as he did so, he felt movement. The hen’s four chicks came scurrying out from beneath her burnt body. The chicks survived because they were insulated by the shelter of the hens wings, protected and saved even as she died to protect and save them. 
That is the story of Jesus. Jesus acts like that mother hen who would rather die than see its children suffer in agony. Jesus longs to gather his beloved under his wings to protect them; but we have a part in the process, we have to be willing to receive Jesus and live in accordance with His commandments.   Jesus did not fear Herod just as we should not fear the Herod’s in our life for we have a covenant with God through Jesus Christ which is a living document that protects us from all evil and despair and allows us to meet all the challenges and strife of life. 
When we live in Christ, the flesh need not fear death; for the Lord is our light and salvation and in Him we have no fear. Scripture (Palms 91:4) tells us that He will cover you with his feathers and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart. Make the Lord the strength of your life for He will overcome all of the Herod clones in your life.  Whatever you are confronted with know that God has the power, the grace and divine intervention to nullify the bad, to make smooth the rough places in your life, to defeat the foes and adversaries who gather against you.  God does all of these things with the greatest weapon we have ever known, He does it with LOVE. 
So let us strive to be people of courage and determination, resisting the Herods in our lives.  Let us stand up to strife, confusion, and wrongs wherever we find it, always living as citizens of God’s Kingdom.


Sunday, February 14, 2016

"The sin is the choice that is no choice" -- a sermon for Lent 1

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday, Feb. 14, 2016.

The sin is the choice that is no choice… And the Devil convinces us it’s the best we can do.


So, here we are again – back in the desert with Jesus.

It seems like just yesterday that things were so very different. Jesus was coming out of the Jordan River, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

Surely, this was the beginning of something great, something powerful, something amazing.

Surely, the next stop was liberation and power and glory, heading to Jerusalem to knock Herod off his throne and the Romans out of Israel.

Instead that same Spirit, the one of the beautiful voice and those words we all so long to hear, and believe about ourselves – you are my Beloved, in you I am well pleased. That same Spirit led Jesus not toward Jerusalem, not yet … but into the desert.

A place of hunger.

A place of poverty.

A place of powerlessness, vulnerability and fear.

The Spirit led Jesus into the desert because the Spirit knew that was where he belonged, that is where God always resides.

In the desert, in the wilderness – in the places of greatest poverty, greatest powerlessness, greatest vulnerability, greatest fear. That is where God resides – not on a throne but in a manger. Not in a palace but in a shelter.

Not at a lush oasis but in the desert.

And Jesus didn’t just visit. Jesus became a desert person. He stayed there for forty days, which is Bible-speak for a long, long time.

And he became poor.

And hungry

And powerless

And vulnerable

And afraid

And the Devil was there with him.

It seems like just yesterday that things were so different. That dawn was about to break and empires were about to fall.

And yet that is always when the Devil makes his appearance – just when we are sure he is nowhere to be found.

As French poet Charles Baudelaire wrote:

“My dear friends, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

Jesus, the Son of God, the beloved, in whom God was well pleased.

Was poor.

And hungry

And powerless

And vulnerable

And afraid

And the Devil was there with him.

And that should be no surprise to us.

The Devil is always where Jesus is. Because Jesus is always with us when we are at our most vulnerable. And that’s where the Devil makes his living. That’s where the Devil eats his lunch. When we are at our most vulnerable.

Offering us the choice that is no choice.

And convincing us it’s the best we can do.

The Devil caught Jesus at his worst and most vulnerable -- and instead of doing what God would do … having compassion on him, meeting his worst with God’s best. The Devil did what the Devil does – he preyed on him. The Devil tried to take advantage of Jesus’ vulnerability to enslave Jesus for himself.

The Devil offered him a choice that is no choice – and tried to convince him it’s the best he could do.

Jesus was hungry, and powerless and fearful. And instead of offering him food, and power and assurance. Instead of reminding him, “Hey -- you are God’s child, the beloved, in you God is well pleased,” the Devil says: “I will give you food … I will give you power … I will give you assurance … but you have to play by my rules. You have to live by my values. You have be slave in my house.

The sin is the choice. The sin is the choice that is no choice. The sin is when people are forced to choose between starving, powerlessness and fear on one hand …. and slavery on the other.

It is the choice that is no choice that the Devil in the form of Pharaoh offered when the people of Israel were starving in a famine:

Become slaves and eat … or stay free and die.

It was the choice that is no choice that the desert tempted the people of Israel to be forced to make again when they longed for the fleshpots of Egypt – return to slavery in Egypt or starve in the desert.

That’s not the way of God. God met the people in the desert … God met their worst with God’s best. And God provided bread from heaven and water from the rock. A pillar of cloud to guide them by day and a pillar of fire by night.

In the desert, the Devil offered the choice that is no choice – and tried to convince Jesus it was the best he could do.

But Jesus remembered.

As poor, powerless, vulnerable, hungry and afraid as Jesus was, Jesus remembered the voice, and remembered the words.

Jesus remembered that he was God’s beloved, and that in him God was well pleased.

Jesus remembered that the love of God would never leave him. Jesus remembered the bread from heaven and the water from the rock, the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

And Jesus said to the Devil, “I am not a slave to you or to any. I am a child of God. I am beloved. I make God dance and sing and I will not suffer your lash no matter how sweet you make it sound.

“And I will be fed. And I will be strong. And I will be safe and secure not because of your lies. Not because of your choice that is no choice. We can do better. Because I am a child of God. I am beloved. And the whole reason I am in the desert is because God takes care of God’s own.”

Well that ‘ol Devil bowed his head
Because he knew that he’d been beat.
And he took his leave from Jesus
Until a more opportune time to meet.

Sisters and brothers, the Devil is alive and well – and now is his opportune time.

And that means it is time for the church to get prayed up and suited up.

To put on the armor of light and the helmet of salvation.

Like Jesus, it is time for us to remember that the love of God will never leave us. To remember the bread from heaven and the water from the rock and the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night.

Like Jesus, it is time for us to remember to hear and to believe that we are God’s beloved in whom God is well pleased – to hear and believe that truth in the deserts of our lives and to take that truth to the deserts of our community.

To the places in our hearts and on our streets where God’s people are poor.

And hungry

And powerless

And vulnerable

And afraid

“My dear friends, do not ever forget, when you hear the progress of lights praised, that the loveliest trick of the Devil is to persuade you that he does not exist.”

Do not be fooled, the Devil is here.

The Devil is right here in St. Louis, where God’s children are dying of hunger, poverty, powerlessness, vulnerability and fear.

The Devil is here offering the choices that are no choices – and with a silver tongue convincing us it’s the best we can do.

The Devil is here in the form of the gun lobby, meeting people who are hungry for real power over their lives, hungry to feel like human beings with control over their own destiny and offering them instead the power of the gun that enslaves us all to a culture where violence begets violence and trauma begets trauma in a never-ending cycle.

And the Devil is saying “that’s the best we can do.”

The Devil is here in the form of the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, meeting people in North St. Louis who are hungry for jobs so they can feed their families and know the dignity of an honest day’s work and offering them the promise of jobs – jobs most of them would not qualify for anyway – only if they will sell their souls to an agency that coordinates drone strikes on civilians in far away lands and illegally monitors the young activists in our own city who are working the hardest to bring true liberation.

And the Devil is saying “that’s the best we can do.”

The Devil is here forcing lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered children of God to choose between hiding who we are and keeping our jobs or getting an apartment.

The Devil is here forcing the abused woman to choose between staying in a marriage that is killing her slowly or risking the violence that could kill her or her babies quickly.

The Devil is here forcing women trapped in prostitution to choose between turning a trick in the back of a car or getting beat if they don’t come back to their pimp with the cash.

The Devil is here offering us the choice that is no choice – and convincing us it’s the best we can do.

The Devil departed from Jesus until an opportune time – and that time is now.

But now is our opportune time as well.

We are the Beloved Children of God, and now is our opportune time and instead of doing what the Devil does – instead of catching God’s people at their worst and preying on them. Instead of trying to take advantage of our vulnerability to enslave us for himself. Now is our opportune time to be God’s beloved, to be those in whom God is well pleased, to follow Jesus into the desert – if we’re not there already -- and do what God does when we are poor.

And hungry

And powerless

And vulnerable

And afraid

To meet the people’s worst with our best.

To people hungry for power over their lives not offering a gun but real authority over what happens in their lives and in their communities.

To people hungry for the dignity and fruits of a job not offering the empty promise of being a part of morally bankrupt instrument of death but the best jobs, green energy jobs, hi-tech jobs, community development jobs, jobs selling fresh produce and providing excellent education not just where the white and wealthy reside but in those desert neighborhoods that need those jobs the most.

To we who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender not the choice of silence or poverty but the power of constitutional protection.

To we who are abused women not the choice of dying slow or dying fast but a route to escape and safety.

To we who are women trapped in violence, drug abuse and prostitution not the choice between rape and assault but communities of health, and love and recovery.

Here we are again – back in the desert with Jesus. And the Devil is right here with us.

And that should be no surprise to us. The Devil is always where Jesus is. Because Jesus is always with us when we are at our most vulnerable.

And when the Devil offers the most vulnerable among us the choice that is no choice, Jesus reminds us to stand together with him – and to get right in the Devil’s grille, to look him dead in the eye and say:

“I am not a slave to you or to any. I am a child of God. I am beloved. I can make God dance and sing and I will not suffer your lash no matter how sweet you make it sound.

“And I will be fed. And I will be strong. And I will be safe and secure and not because of your lies. Not because of your choice that is no choice. We can and we will do better. Because we are children of God. We are beloved. And we will be out in the desert offering real love to God’s people because God takes care of God’s own.”

Here we are again – back in the desert with Jesus and the Devil.

Whose side will we be on?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

"Remember that you are dust" -- A sermon for Ash Wednesday

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Ash Wednesday, 2016.

We are tired.
We are hungry
And we can’t remember the last time we had a good night’s sleep.

We didn’t get the job.
We didn’t get the girl.
And we really, really want that cigarette

Our clothes don’t fit.
Our kids won’t talk.
And we’re putting off getting that lump on our breast checked out because we really don’t want to know.

We are scared.
We are lonely.
We feel utterly inconsequential.

We barely got up this morning, and by 10 am it was all we could do not to crawl back into bed.

People stopped asking us what we want to be when we grow up a long time ago and those dreams of what we could be died about that same time.

We try not to wonder what it’s all about … because most of the time we haven’t got a clue.

And we smile.
We pretend.
We say “OK” when people say “How’s it going?” not because we want to lie but because that’s the reflex, that’s what people want to hear.

Because this is what OK has become.

Because the real truth will just make us more different.
More vulnerable.
More alone.

Remember that you are dust.

How can we forget?

Today is the day we tell our secrets.
Today is the day we take off our masks.
Today is the day we wear our imperfection, our weakness, our mortality, our neediness for all to see.

Today we wear a sign that not only will these bodies return to the dust someday but indeed we already are. Strangely, wonderfully, problematically, troublingly shaped piles of dust making our way through the world.

Without all or even any of the answers.
Knowing our days are numbered but not knowing how many.
Utterly powerless against the forces of time, and decay and death.

Today we stand up and proclaim what we already know but  hardly ever say.
That we are dust.
That we feel like crap.
That we’re really not OK.
And that we don’t know what to do.

Today we remember that we are dust.
As if we could ever forget.

Today we remember one thing more.

That God is dust as well.

Today we remember that these strangely, wonderfully, problematically, troublingly shaped piles of dust that we are, are the very image of God.

That we being ashamed of our dustiness was something that we learned and not how we were made.

That hating our dustiness was something that we learned and not how we were made.

That God so loved our dustiness that God became dust once more in Jesus, to remind us of what we had forgotten. That we are not only W-H-O-L-L-Y wholly dust but that we are also H-O-L-Y holy dust.

And that no amount of fatigue or hunger, not getting the job or not getting the boy. No amount of rejection or castigation, fear or loneliness, pain or disease, uncertainty or despair can ever change that.

Remember that we are dust.

And that is how God made you.

That is how God continues to make you.

And God looks on you, yes you, in all your dustiness.

Different from everyone else’s dustiness and yet all in God’s image.

A dustiness that defies categorization despite so many efforts to try to make you fit into someone else’s idea of what that image should be.

God looks on you, yes, you in all your dustiness

And God smiles.

And dances.

And sings

And delights.

And rejoices.

And gazes on your dustiness and says, “This is very, very, very good.”

Remember that you are dust.

Dust not bound by others’ standards of beauty

Or success.

Or gender.

Or excellence.

Remember that you are dust.

Wholly and holy.

One with creation.

Never separate.

Never alone.

Remember that you are dust.



Never needing to be ashamed.

Remember that you are dust.

In pleasure and in pain.

In joy and in sorrow.

In soundest sleep and through the sleepless night.

In highest ecstasy of dust bodies being rejoiced in and in deepest agony of dust bodies being despised.

Remember that you are dust.

Strangely, wonderfully, problematically, troublingly shaped piles of dust.

Dust that is the image of God.





Remember that you are dust.

Your pain is exquisite.

Your hunger is ravenous.

Your doubt is devastating.

Your fear is paralyzing

Yet you need not hide.

You need not be ashamed.

For your dustiness is your divinity.

For your dustiness is your salvation.

Your dustiness is God’s delight.

Remember that you are dust.

Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.

Ever beautiful.

Ever worthy.

Ever the dancing light in the eye of God.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Love is patient, love is kind... but love is also difficult. A sermon for 4th Epiphany, Jan. 31st 2016, by Peter Armstrong

“Today, this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” The first words we hear Jesus preach in the Gospel of Luke, referring to the section of Isaiah we heard him read in the synagogue last week, tell of his coming to bring glad tidings to the poor and let the oppressed go free. At first, the listeners from his home town, who know Jesus from his youth and have watched him grow up, are pleased with him. However, as he continues on to spell out how that fulfillment of scripture might mean serving foreigners, as well, rather than just those closest to him at home, the Nazarenes become angry and attempt to throw him off a cliff. The story of Jesus’ first sermon ends with him slipping away from the murderous crowd, ostensibly leaving all his bridges to burn.

It was not until long after I had signed up to preach today that I realized the coincidence of delivering my first sermon on Jesus’ first sermon. Now, rest assured; as far as I can tell, there is no reason to believe that any scriptural prophecies are coming true on this last day in January, 2016. And neither, you’ll be grateful to know, did I just come from spending 40 days in the wilderness. And with luck, the end of this day will also turn out a little bit better for me than it did for Jesus. However, I do find it remarkably auspicious, just as when Jesus was given to read that section from the prophet Isaiah for his first sermon, that today I get to preach on the chapter on love from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. I say this not because I’m a hopeless romantic, which I am; and also not because I’m planning on getting married soon, which I am not; but rather because I believe that to love is what we are called to do, first and foremost, as members in this community known as Deaconess Anne House.

The word “love” in the English language has many facets to it. It can mean romantic love, which is what we most often associate with the words “I love you.” The term “love” can also signify the emotion felt between close friends. In both of these cases, the love is built upon some sort of give-and-take relationship. But in the original Greek, Paul is writing specifically about agapelove, the type of love that requires a complete outpouring of the self in service to another, without regard for one’s own self. This is the type of love we believe God has for us, and the type we hope to cultivate in ourselves for God and for each other. The extent to which we fail at this becomes obvious if you pause and reflect upon how unlikely it is that you would find yourself one day saying “I love you” to a stranger.

Paul writes to the church in Corinth about love, not to provide them with a beautiful hymn to be incorporated into their wedding ceremonies, but to instruct them on the basic attitude with which they must learn to form the Body of Christ in this world. In the previous chapter Paul described this Body of Christ as a literal body; members such as the ears and eyes and hands and feet must each go about doing their own duty, not trying to be anything they aren’t for doing so would mean spurning the essential purpose of whatever role they had in the first place. But now that the eyes know to see, the ears know to hear, and the feet know to walk, they must learn the glue that binds them all together, the lifeblood which enables and is essential to the success of any one member; this, Paul writes, is love.

“Love is not envious nor boastful nor arrogant nor rude.” Even more than simply performing the tasks that we have the skills to accomplish, Paul reminds us that it is the attitude in which we carry out our duties that makes or breaks our relationships. Back home at Deaconess Anne House, I imagine what it would be like were my roommate Burton to continue to perform his oh-so-common role of sharing his wealth of knowledge about obscure cultural details with us, but to do so impatiently and in a mean spirit; or for Sophie to still unload the dishwasher every morning, but to complain in her heart while doing so against the rest of us for using so many dishes the night before. I can tell you one thing: in such an environment, it would be hard to call Deaconess Anne House anything close to home. Though we could still be called a group of young adults living and sleeping within the same four walls of a house, I doubt anyone would truly call that “community.”

What binds any community together are the bonds of love shared between its members. And even though I imagine it will feel slightly awkward to do so, I want to try something out. Sophie, Olive, Burton, Jose, Maria, Martin, Rebecca: I love you. I love you.

I want to sit with that for a moment. Once we become comfortable using that phrase to mean more than the limited sense of passionate, infatuating and often lustful romantic love, what else can it mean? Paul writes, again, that love “does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful.” At Deaconess Anne House, we would never get anything done if we all wanted to have things our own way. Every Monday evening, we prepare a dinner and eucharist with invited guests from the community – you could come too, if you wanted to make the long drive – and we split the tasks of cooking for, entertaining, and cleaning up after our guests. I doubt that there has ever been a time where everyone was completely happy with how things went, or when we were all excited about the jobs we were given. But thanks to the love we choose to share with each other and with our guests, we are able to continue this joyous, though often stressful, ritual.

As a community, we have also undertaken more ambitious projects of hospitality and service, such as collecting and distributing several hundred coats to those in our neighborhood who needed them back in November, and we are currently working on a blanket drive for the same population. Without love for the stranger, none of this would be possible. Rebecca may have many connections through building up friendships in the neighborhood, and Olive may have the unique ability to keep us all organized, on track, and in good cheer, but without love to push us into action we would accomplish nothing.

Finally, Paul writes that love “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.” Love is not about sugarcoating our experience, nor avoiding hard truths for fear of offending. It is this aspect of love that I see in Jesus’ first sermon to his home town of Nazareth. There, his fellow Jews complacently accepted the story of their being God’s chosen people; they consciously or unconsciously saw non-Jews as somehow less valued, less worthy in God’s eyes. But Jesus tells them the hard truth of God’s love for all people by showing how, like him, the other prophets came not just for the Jews but for the sake of foreigners, as well. Jesus essentially tells them that Gentile Lives Matter, and their response is to throw him out and attempt to run him off a cliff.

It is impossible to love while shying away from hard truth. And once we have recognized that truth, true love calls us into action. One cannot say, “I love you, people of Flint, Michigan,” without feeling called to speak out against their suffering. I cannot stand before you and say I love my neighbors Johnny and Gretchen and Talea without feeling called to try to alleviate their poverty and suffering, because they sleep out in the cold every night while I am warm and dry and snug in the blankets of my own bed. I cannot say I love the members of my community at Deaconess Anne House without feeling called to listening to their needs in community, obeying the core values at the heart of our program and amending my own impulses to become a more loving member of the community.

Love is patient, love is kind, yes. But love is also difficult; it sets a high bar for our values, provides the impetus to action and, in so doing, becomes the life force which keeps any community together. Love is all these things, and more. May God bless you this day with love, and transform you in your hearts to be all that he wants you to be. Amen.