Saturday, March 26, 2016

"Our defiant cry: 'The Light of Christ'" -- a sermon for the Great Vigil of Easter

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at the Easter Vigil, March 26, 2016.

The light of Christ! Thanks be to God.

We began this night – about six or seven hours ago – on the steps of this Cathedral.

The steps of Christ Church Cathedral are a threshold. They are a hinge. They are the place where the world meets the church and the church meets the world.

If what we do in here has no relation to what happens out there – then there is no point to any of it.

If what happens out there has no relation to what happens in here – then there is no hope for any of it.

Standing on that threshold, that hinge between the church and the world, we can see the glorious $70 million renovation of Central Library, the $110 million renovation of the Park Pacific. We can see a refurbished Lucas Park with a great shiny playground, and we can hear the activity of the restaurants and street life on Washington Avenue.

We can also see evidence of the deteriorating infrastructure of St. Louis, where the water main outside the Cathedral has broken three times already this year. We see a sign we put up asking people not to congregate on those same Cathedral steps when we are not open because they had become a place where people were meeting at night to sell K2, the newest cheapest street drug. We see where members of this community who have nowhere else to lay their heads curl themselves into the alcoves of the Cathedral for makeshift shelter at night.

Standing on our Cathedral steps, we can gaze up at a penthouse apartment and gaze down on a concrete cot.

Standing on our Cathedral steps, we can hear the glorious sound of organ and the sweet sound of choir and the shrill sound of sirens and the sharp sounds of street arguments.

Standing on our Cathedral steps we see and hear and even smell the entire spectrum of humanity. All our glory and all our shame. All our success and all our failure. All our wonder and all our brokenness.

And standing in the midst of it, the words we sing this night are the words this Cathedral proclaims every day and every night.

The light of Christ. Thanks be to God.

For nearly 150 years, Christ Church Cathedral has stood on this space. When the cornerstone was first laid, this was a place for the wealthy and powerful. Lucas Place, the first private neighborhood in St. Louis, extended west along Locust Street. But by the end of the 19th century, the neighborhood had changed and St. Louis with it. The wealthy and powerful had moved west and most of the neighborhood churches had moved with them.

Except Christ Church Cathedral. We stayed.

We stayed in the heart of this city because the Gospel doesn’t follow the path of comfort. We stayed because as this neighborhood changed, one thing didn’t change – the need for Christ’s presence in it. The need for a place and a people to proclaim:

The light of Christ. Thanks be to God.

This is the night, we sing. God, this is the night when you brought our fathers and mothers, the children of Israel, out of bondage in Egypt, and led them through the Red Sea on dry land.

This is the night, when Christ broke the bonds of death and hell and rose victorious from the grave.

How blessed is this night, when earth and heaven are joined and we are reconciled to God.

As darkness falls this night, we sing:

May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find it ever burning – he who gives his light to all creation and who lives and reigns for ever and ever.

The light of Christ. Thanks be to God.

St. Louis is in trouble. We are in a Lent, a deep desert time, that seems to have no end. We are being called the most dangerous city in America. For decades and more we have been one of the most segregated metropolitan areas in this nation. For the past two years, our deep racial divides have been broadcast for all the world to see and yet so many in our own city still refuse to open our eyes to see them ourselves.

Our schools are failing. Food deserts are expanding. Drugs and guns are everywhere. And we spent nearly $17 million on a plan to build a stadium for a team that didn’t even want to be here and a mount a campaign to repeal a tax that provides more than a third of this struggling city’s budget.

There is an appalling lack of leadership and vision in this city. An appalling unwillingness to come together to do anything but cheer for the Cardinals and refurbish the Arch grounds. An appalling unwillingness to come together and let basic human decency and care for the common good trump political expediency and the grab for the quick vote or the quick buck.

It is especially appalling because there are amazing, wonderful people in this city. Compassionate people. Brilliant people. But we have allowed ourselves to become hostage to our own parochialism. We have allowed ourselves to let a social Darwinism run amok become the defining and driving economic and cultural force. Our approach to our deepest problems increasingly is for those of us with power and wealth to try move away from the problems or move the problems away from us. To say not “we’re all in this together” but instead “Hey, I’ve got my own problems … that race, crime, poverty, education, unemployment, deteriorating buildings thing you all have in the city … good luck with that.”

It is not worthy of us. It is not worthy of a great city. It is not worthy of a great people. It is not worthy of us as images of the living God.

We began this night on the steps of this Cathedral.

The steps of Christ Church Cathedral are a threshold. They are a hinge. They are the place where the world meets the church and the church meets the world.

If what we do in here has no relation to what happens out there – then there is no point to any of it.

If what happens out there has no relation to what happens in here – then there is no hope for any of it.

The salvation history we hear this night is the story of God never giving up on the people even in our darkest hours. It is the story – OUR story – of triumph. Of liberation in the face of slavery. Of life in the face of death.

St. Louis is in trouble. We are in a Lent, a deep desert time that seems to have no end. And yet after we hear the long story of God’s faithfulness, as sirens wail outside, we throw on the lights and we cry "Alleluia! Christ is Risen! The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!"

St. Louis is in trouble. And this is the night. It has to be. I don’t know how many nights we have left to keep these lights on.

This is the night when we rededicate ourselves to doing what Christ Church Cathedral at our best has always done –

defiantly standing against self-interest and parochialism,

defiantly standing against the clamor for the easy vote and the quick buck,

defiantly standing with those who are most oppressed, most targeted, most ridiculed, most marginalized

calling all people to come together for the common good

working together to solve our problems and not just pushing them around so they are out of sight and out of mind of those of us who could actually do something about them, not just pushing drug dealers away from our steps but actually addressing the underlying issues of hopelessness, mental illness and poverty that create the demand for drugs.

Not waiting for leadership to somehow emerge from somewhere else to name our inequities and injustices and call us to a greater justice, a greater equity, a greater common purpose but taking that mantle of leadership on ourselves.

Standing on those Cathedral steps – joining heaven to earth and earth to heaven -- staring into the darkness this is the night we with one voice defiantly cry “The light of Christ. Thanks be to God!”

The salvation history we hear this night is the story of God never giving up on the people even in our darkest hours. It is the story – OUR story – of triumph. Of liberation in the face of slavery. Of life in the face of death.

It is the story that reminds us that there is no darkness so deep that the light of Christ shining through us can’t dispel.

It is the story that reminds us that there are no bonds so strong that the victory of Christ cannot break.

It is the story that reminds us that there is no despair so great that the hope of Christ cannot dissolve.

This is the night when we – not just the congregation that gathers here on Sunday, but all of us in this city and around this diocese -- continue to write the next chapter of that story. When in the midst of darkness we ask God once again to send God’s saving power into our lives, to liberate us from all that binds us, to heal all that wounds us and to shine a light from this place and from each one of us that will touch the hearts of all St. Louis.

Not just any light.

But THE light.

The light of Christ.

Thanks be to God.

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