Sunday, June 26, 2016

"We are people of the choice" - a sermon for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral on Sunday June 26, 2016.

Almighty God, you have built your Church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Grant us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you. Amen.

We who believe in Jesus. We who would dare to say we want to follow Jesus are people of the choice.

And what we choose makes all the difference.

Most of you have heard the story. But maybe you haven’t heard the whole story.

It was the mid 1980s, and the “Reagan Revolution” was in full swing … a broad-ranging movement that cut crucial services to the poor and marginalized, and that cut taxes, further consolidating wealth in the hands of the already wealthy and privileged.

The mid 1980s also saw the rise of an epidemic and a movement. The epidemic was HIV/AIDS, which began to sweep across the American gay community with genocidal force. The movement was the rise of the religious right as a core constituency of the Reagan Revolution and one of the most powerful political forces in America.

And so played out a great national and spiritual tragedy. At the moment where gay Americans were most vulnerable, most in need of compassion, most in need of the kind of servant love that Jesus tells us is the hallmark of true greatness, the loudest voices in the name of Jesus shouted hate, preached God’s rejection and in the name of Jesus called on what they called a Christian nation to do the same.

Now the love of Jesus was not dead. It was powerfully alive. It was alive as men cradled their lovers’ heads in their laps as they died, as they wiped away one anothers’ tears. The love of Christ was alive as cities like St. Louis began Pride festivals and parades and gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender persons began to come out of hiding and claim their right to walk in the sun, claim the liberating love of God and the right to basic human dignity for themselves and for one other.

The love of Jesus was not dead, far from it. But it was on life support in many if not most of our churches who either through our apathy or antipathy to the cries of the dying were choosing crowd over cross and respectability over justice.

And it was a choice.

We who believe in Jesus. We who would dare to say we want to follow Jesus are people of the choice.

And what we choose makes all the difference.

The Dean of Christ Church Cathedral at the time was a man named Michael Allen. Many of you knew him. Like all people and all Deans, myself included, Dean Allen was a mixed bag of virtue and vice, wonderfully imperfectly struggling to live, as are we all, into God’s dreams for each and for everyone.

Dean Allen knew that we who would dare to say we follow Jesus are people of the choice, and that there was a choice not only in front of him but in front of this Cathedral.

At a time when people in the name of Jesus were preaching a false Gospel of hate, would we join in, stay silent or would we stand up and say, “In the name of Jesus, No More?”

At a time when churches in the name of Jesus would not bury people who had died of AIDS, much less let people who were living with the disease in their doors, would we join in, stay silent or would we stand up and say, “In the name of Jesus, No More?”

Dean Allen and the people of this Cathedral … some of the very people who are sitting in this room today…. stared that choice full in the face. Stared the costs of standing up and the costs of staying silent. Stared at the cost to their souls of choosing the crowd and the costs of friendship and finance of choosing the cross.

And in the end, God gave the people of Christ Church Cathedral both the vision to behold Jesus’ call and the grace and power to choose it.

And so this Cathedral made a banner … a huge banner that said “Our Church Has AIDS.” And on a day like this about 30 years ago this Cathedral marched behind that banner in one of the early St. Louis Pride Parades.

In the midst of a national movement that appealed to our worst, this Cathedral stood up and proclaimed that following Jesus was not joining the race to the lowest common denominator of prejudice and self-interest. That following Jesus was realizing and proclaiming that Jesus stands as, stands with and stands for those among us who are most marginalized, oppressed, targeted and afflicted.

In the midst of a national groundswell to demonize images of God who were poor, black, brown, gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender and even to do so in the name of Jesus, this Cathedral made a different choice. A choice that recognized that following Jesus is not maintaining a place of comfort, respectability and security but casting our lot with the Son of God who has nowhere to lay his head.

Most of you have heard the story. But maybe you haven’t heard the whole story.

Because there was someone else in that Pride Parade that day. A young rabbi who saw other Jewish congregations leaving the city and gathered with a small group of Jewish families to make a different choice. To keep a vibrant Jewish presence in the city “to be on the front line of fighting the racism and poverty plaguing the urban center.”

That rabbi’s name was Susan Talve. And last August, as Susan and I and hundreds of others poured out of this Nave with some of you in this room today and marched to the Department of Justice building on the first anniversary of Michael Brown’s death to demand an end to racially biased policing in this nation, Susan told me the story of that day.

She said she saw that banner. And she saw Dean Allen and the people of Christ Church Cathedral marching behind it. And she said, “in that moment I knew … that was what I wanted our congregation to be like. I wanted us to be like Christ Church Cathedral.”

Central Reform Congregation
was barely a dream that day about thirty years ago. Today, Central Reform Congregation is one of the greatest forces for the love of God and tikkun olam, the repair of the world, we have in St. Louis. And among their foundational inspirations was this Cathedral. Among their foundational inspirations was YOU.

Not because of our beautiful building.

Not because of our long institutional history.

Not because of the preaching from this pulpit or the teaching from our classrooms or the stunningly beautiful music that resonates from this holy space.

What inspired Rabbi Susan that day and what continues to inspire people in this city to this day to choose love over hate, to choose justice over respectability, to choose the cross over the crowd is the grace and power of God working through YOU, the people of Christ Church Cathedral.

You, in the face of fears and demonization of those of us who are struggling with poverty, hunger and homelessness, through God’s grace and power making the choice not to join with the crowd but to pick up the cross and throw open the doors of this Cathedral every day saying ALL are welcome here.

You, in the face of widespread white apathy and antipathy to the cries of young, black queer images of God on the streets of Ferguson and north St. Louis, through God’s grace and power making the choice not to stand with the crowd but to pick up the cross and invite those prophets in and let those prophets lead us out.

You, in the face of a growing national backlash movement of misogyny, homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, Islamophobia, and on and on and on, through God’s grace and power making the choice not to stand with the crowd but to pick up the cross and be a voice for the Gospel in this community that says love is love is love is love is love and the gifts of ALL God’s children will be embraced.

So it was, so it is now, and so it will be again.

It’s not the mid 1980s anymore, but we are at a similar place.

In America, a backlash movement against both the liberation movements of today and against the economic legacy of that Reagan Revolution of 30 years ago. A backlash movement of which the candidacy of Donald Trump is but a symptom is preaching a false Gospel of division and hate, appealing to that lowest common denominator of prejudice and self-interest, and taking even our best impulses – the desire of everyone to love and protect their families – and twisting them in fear to serve economic interests that continue to line the pockets of the uberwealthy and privileged at the continuing expense of those who have the least.

And that movement has company in other nations as the fear- and racism-based movement that led to the Brexit vote in England this past week has shown.

As much as we might wish that there really isn’t a choice. As much as the idea of choosing a side seems contrary to the Gospel of niceness and respectability that seems to govern so many of the churches of those of us who live in relative comfort. As much as we might want to cry out like Rodney King, “Can’t we just all get along?” the truth is there is a choice before us. And hearing this morning’s Gospel, we hear that it has always been this way.

Not a choice that would demonize those we might call our enemy but a choice to stand with Jesus and against the evil that would convince any of God’s children to choose fear and hate over love and compassion. The evil that would convince any of God’s children that preserving the privilege and comfort of some is justification for the oppression and enslavement of others.

As we hear in this morning’s Gospel reading, it is not a choice that asks God to have fire to come down from heaven and consume but it is a choice that demands we rebuke the forces of evil in this world and that we let Christ rebuke them in us. That I let Christ rebuke the evil in me. It is a choice that demands we choose proclamation over silence, justice over respectability and cross over crowd.

We who believe in Jesus. We who would dare to say we want to follow Jesus are people of the choice.

And what we choose makes all the difference.

Over the past seven years, I have seen you choose so bravely, so lovingly and so well, and you have given me the courage to try to do the same. And as I reflect not only on our time together but on the history of this incredible Cathedral, I know deep in my heart that, through God’s grace and power, you will continue to choose proclamation over silence, justice over respectability and cross over crowd.

Those choices were never about me. My job and my joy as your priest was merely to hold up who you have always been and challenge you to make the choice to lay your lives on the table with Christ as a new generation of choices were laid before us.

In the weeks, months and years to come you will face and make these choices as this Cathedral has made them for generations. Boldly, bravely, with God’s grace and power and with glorious song.

But there is one difference.

It is no longer an option to make these choices alone.

You have heard me say over and over again that God dreams us for one another. That following Jesus is too hard to do by ourselves and too good to keep to ourselves. I will say and believe that to my dying day.

As a Cathedral, this church is the physical representation of the bishop’s role as the guardian of the faith, unity and discipline of the whole church. That is why I am grateful, Bishop Smith, that you are here with us today. As you reminded our Chapter at our workday in February, Christ Church Cathedral is not just the mother church of this diocese but the mother church of every Episcopal congregation West of the Mississippi.

What we were for Central Reform Congregation was nothing new. It is who we always have been. It is in our DNA.

For generations you as the people of Christ Church Cathedral have steadfastly remained in the heart of the city while so many others have fled. You have strived to be the Beloved Community of Christ, a community dedicated to embracing the presence of Jesus particularly in those among us who are most marginalized, targeted and oppressed.

You have done it as each successive generation identifies less with and contributes less financially to denominational religion.

You have done it as our downtown neighborhood has more and more become an object of fear and derision in the St. Louis metro area and those of us in whom we believe Jesus is most profoundly present have become increasingly criminalized.

You have done it as these magnificent buildings are literally crumbling under the weight of time.

Every year, you are asked to meet rising challenges with fewer resources. You have gone from four full time priests to two full time priests and now to one and the question on all our hearts this morning is, “Dear God, what is next?”

We who believe in Jesus. We who would dare to say we want to follow Jesus are people of the choice.

And what we choose makes all the difference.

And this Diocese of Missouri has the gift of a choice before it.

Is this going to be forty some odd loosely affiliated congregations … or is this going to be one Diocese, united in mission, ministry and proclamation of the Gospel.

Will this diocese choose to imitate the social Darwinism that has long infected our region and that has led to massive inequalities of education, housing, economic opportunity and life expectancy not just in St. Louis but throughout this state and across this nation and choose to preach a Gospel of every congregation for themselves?

Or will this diocese choose to embrace the incredible opportunity truly of being the Body of Christ that breaks through church walls and bridge our many divides. Will this diocese choose not merely to see our mission field as the beautiful ministries that are happening in our own individual neighborhoods but as Jesus’ call to travel to the undiscovered countries of our own region, laboring, loving and living beside images of God far different from and less comfortable to us than our own?

Will this diocese choose truly to have and support a Cathedral – one from which it reaps the transformative benefits of interconnection, diversity and meeting and standing with Christ in the most vulnerable places, but also one for which it proudly and sacrificially claims deep responsibility both in financially sustaining and actively participating in that transformative work that springs from these glorious yet rapidly aging buildings.

Will these congregational banners that grace our Nave be mere relics of days past wistfully remembered, or will they be a sign of a renewed and united commitment to sustain the presence of Christ’s church in the heart of the city. A renewed and united commitment to make this Cathedral an instrument, as we prayed in the Collect this morning, to join us together in unity of Spirit by Christ’s teaching that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to God.

This is a phenomenal diocese with wonderful people and an incredible missionary history. The transformation in the name of Jesus that will happen from this place if this congregation, this diocese and this city come together to build on what God has done here and re-imagine it for the years to come truly knows no bounds.

The challenge and the gift is you will have to do it together.

We who believe in Jesus. We who would dare to say we want to follow Jesus are people of the choice.

And what we choose makes all the difference.

It has been a joy like no other to be your Dean for these past seven years.

To be able to gather you and invite you to lay your lives on the table with Jesus not just in here but out there and together struggling so mightily and honestly and bravely with that incredible call.

To be among you as you wrestled with the choice of following Jesus and often wrestled with me.

To be among those of you for whom the choices we made were like an oasis in the desert and especially to be among those of you who took issue with me the most but whose love for Jesus and this community was so great that you refused to leave.

I have said that I have not been your friend but that I have been your priest, and because of that I must fully leave so that another can take my place. I know that has been hard for some of you to hear, and I promise you it is no less hard for me to say. The prayer I have prayed every day since my first as your provost is “God, please love them through me.”

For the ways in which I been able to let that happen, I praise God and thank you, because your loved showed me how. For the ways in which I have fallen short, I beg God’s forgiveness and yours.

I hope during our time together you have come to know Jesus even a little better and to feel Jesus’ loving presence by your side and Jesus’ courage in your heart. To meet Jesus in unexpected places and to feel the holy discomfort of Jesus’ call on the choices of your life. I can only assure you that you have done the same for me and for that and for you I am and will always be deeply, profoundly and eternally thankful.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

And know that I will pray for you, I will love you and I will carry you on my heart forever. Amen.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

"Our name is Legion. A story of pain, anger, fear ... and love" - a sermon for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 and 10 am on Sunday June 19, 2016.

Jesus then asked him, "What is your name?" He said, "Legion"
What is your pain?

What is your anger?

What is your fear?

Notice I didn’t say “Are you hurting? Are you angry? Are you afraid?” That’s because pain, anger and fear are part of the human condition. Rene Descartes said “I think, therefore I am” but he could just as easily have said “I feel, therefore I am.” In fact, that might have been closer to the truth.

So what is your pain?

Your anger?

Your fear?

What are you doing to it?

What is it doing to you?

We are created in God’s image as creatures of deep feeling. Our feelings are so deep – not just pain, anger and fear, but love, pride, joy and more – that often those feelings are overwhelming… overpowering our rational selves and with them our illusions of security, of control over our lives.

There is a rawness to human emotion. There is a rawness to our pain, our anger, our fear. They can scare us in ourselves and they can scare us in each other. They are so scary that often, far too often, we try to pretend they aren’t there. We bury them deep, deep down inside. Shove them deep into a closet. Pretend that everything is just fine … and when we do that, we create a lie that imprisons all of us. Because we look at everyone else … and they seem to have it all together.

No pain.

No anger.

No fear.

We look at everyone else … and they seem to have it all together. And we begin to believe a lie … that something is wrong with us. That our pain. Our anger. Our fear. That we’re the only one who has them.

And we don’t want to be different.

We don’t want to be weak – which is what it feels like.

And so we pretend.

We pretend for each other and we pretend for ourselves.

We pretend that we’ve got it all together.

We pretend that the pain. The anger. The fear. We pretend that they aren’t there.

We pretend because we don’t want to be different.

We pretend because we don’t want to be cast out.

We try to bury them deep.

But they don’t go away.

They become the untreated wound that never heals.

The loneliness that never feels a loving touch.

The chasm between us that is never bridged.

The awful truth that is never told.

We try to bury them deep.

But they don’t go away.

And sometimes when we are too tired to keep them down, they burst out, attaching themselves to whatever has brought them out.

Sometimes when we are confronted with a person or action or situation that triggers that pain, that anger, that fear in us, those feelings burst out.

They burst out in ways that divide us one from another, building walls and casting out.

They burst out in ways that turn us against one another, preemptive strikes against these reminders of our own hidden humanity.

They can burst out in a sharp word or a caustic email.

They can burst out in fight, and they can burst out in flight.

In the extreme, the pain, the anger, the fear can burst out as they did at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando a week ago this morning.

And always, when they burst out, they divide and they multiply.

The outbursts, large and small. The demonizations and spewing of venom. They divide us one from other. They multiply the pain, the anger, the fear.

And they perpetuate the lie that we’re on our own, that we’re not all in this together. They perpetuate the lie that indeed we are not made for one another. That we do not need one another. That indeed we are not each other’s salvation.

What is our pain?

What is our anger?

What is our fear?

What are we doing to it?

What is it doing to us?

Do we dare to name it?

Do we dare to feel it?

Do we dare to believe that it could be healed?

This morning, we hear the story of Jesus meeting a man who had “many demons.” We are not told what they are, but it is clear from his cries that he is in deep, deep pain. It is clear from his broken shackles that he was incredibly angry. It is clear from how he had been cast out of his community – sent to live in the tombs -- that he was someone of whom everyone was very, very afraid.

And Jesus, God made human, the love of the divine come to be with us, to live with us, to feel with us, approaches him. And at first Jesus is too much for the man to bear. In the face of great pain, great anger, great fear, love or even the possibility of love is often too much for us to bear because love demands we look our pain, our anger, our fear full in the face. Love demands that we drag them out of their closet and pull them out of their depths. Love demands that we acknowledge them. That we feel them. That we give them their due.

Love demands that we confront the lies that our pain, our anger, and our fear so often convince us to believe. Terrible lies about our own unlovability. But lies that nonetheless have become the country we have grown so accustomed to inhabiting.

Jesus, the love of all loves, walks up to this man of pain, of anger, the man who inspires such great fear not because he is the only one with demons but because he reminds others of their own.

Jesus, the love of all loves, walks up to this man and asks him one question:

“What is your name?”

When Jesus walks up to the man and says “What is your name?” he is really asking:

What is your pain?

What is your anger?

What is your fear?

And the man says the name.



I have so much pain.

I have so much anger.

I have so much fear.

My name … is Legion.

In saying that one word, “Legion,” this naked, outcast man shows himself to be a person of deep courage.

For in saying that one word, “Legion,” he is owning and naming his pain, his anger and his fear.

In saying that one word, “Legion,” he allows the process of liberation to begin.

We are in a time of great changes – and we’ve been there for quite a while. The pace of technological, social and political change in our lifetimes has perhaps been greater than any time in human history.

In our nation and around the world, the past decade and particularly the past several years have seen movements of liberation that are blessedly taking structures of society that have long imprisoned people underprivileged because of skin color, gender, sexual orientation and countless other categories and breaking those structures apart … but not without backlashes that in their pain, anger and fear try to refasten those chains even more tightly.

Not only in this Cathedral but throughout mainline American Christianity, so much of what we have held dear for our entire lives is changing as well. Changing as it becomes unsustainable in a world that no longer flocks to church on Sunday mornings, and as beautiful buildings and huge institutions erected a century ago to the glory of God begin to crumble under their own weight.

And the truth is we are hurting. And we are angry. And we are afraid.

And it is not unreasonable. We have legitimately done things to wound and anger each other. The massacre of our lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender siblings in a place that was supposed to be a sanctuary has wounded and angered us. I know some of you feel wounded by me and by some of the changes that are happening here at Christ Church Cathedral. There’s nothing I can say to change that, and the last thing I want to do is tell you that you shouldn’t feel that way. That’s the opposite of what I want to tell you this morning.

The change before us is deeply unsettling and fear is not unexpected. The pain. The anger. The fear….They are incredibly natural. They are incredibly human. We feel therefore we are. The last thing I want to do is tell you that you shouldn’t feel. For if I have learned one thing from our time together, it’s that we have to feel to heal.

But I do know that feeling is hard. I do know that we feel so deeply that it sometimes is too much. So deeply that we are tempted to pretend we don’t feel at all and hope that the feelings just go away. So deeply that we are tempted to turn against one another. So deeply that we are tempted to build walls and fire arrows – hoping that if we can cast out or defeat an enemy that the pain, the anger and the fear will depart as well. And that road leads nowhere good. That road leads to the tombs where the man with his demons raged and moaned. That road leads to nothing but death.

But there is good news. Because as much as we are tempted to shrink away or lash out, in the midst of our pain, our anger and our fear, Jesus does not shrink away from or lash out at us. Jesus walks right up to us – seeing the pain, the anger and the fear, impervious to our attempts to conceal it from one another, from Jesus and even from ourselves. Jesus walks right up to us and asks us a question that is three in one.

What is your name?

What is your pain? Your anger? Your fear?

Can we name it? Can we have the courage of the man who had been relegated to the place of the dead? Can we have the courage to name our pain? To name our anger? To name our fear?

Can we have the courage to look not just Jesus but one another full in the face and instead of building walls and firing arrows to say:

I’m hurting.

I’m angry.

I’m afraid.

And I’m wondering if maybe you are, too.

The pain, the anger, the fear can be so overpowering. But in Christ, can we meet in that place and feel them together? Not shrinking away from feeling deeply ourselves but also holding each other gently as we each do the same? Not turning against each other but turning toward each other? In Christ and through Christ, can we have that grace, that power, that courage?

Today’s Gospel tells us … yes, we can.

There were so many responses to the massacre at Pulse that moved my heart this week, but among them were two I want to share with you because they each speak to how much we struggle with the rawness and depth of what we are feeling right now and how hard it is to live together in the midst of it.

One was from Jarek Steele, a beautiful transgender man and co-owner of Left Bank Books. Jarek wrote:

“It's as if every human in every group is screaming "recognize my pain" right now. And it's so hard to recognize and care for someone else's pain when you're in it too. Let's all be gentle and patient with each other, and when we're not able to be patient and gentle let's recognize that as a reaction to pain - not an indictment of our character.”

In my language of faith, I hear the word Jarek describing as “grace” … it is holding one another with unmerited love. Loving whether or not that love is returned. And with that on my heart, I read these words from the Episcopal Bishop of Pittsburgh, Dorsey McConnell, that reminded me that the grace of which Jarek sings is not something we need to wish for … it is already ours in Jesus. Bishop McConnell writes:

We would understand that The Problem is this: We fear our own death more than we love the lives of others. 

Because we fear, we put our sins on someone else’s head. We push them away. We kill in the hope we will finally find peace.

But the saints, in their silence, know what we can only believe: the peace we are looking for has been won in the Cross of Christ. No further sacrifice is needed or allowed. No scapegoat. No enemy.

(Read Bishop McConnell's whole reflection piece here)

This morning’s Gospel reading is not a story about some poor soul. It is not a story of “there but for the grace of God go I.” The story of the Gerasene demoniac is our story. Each of us and all of us.

What is our name?

Our name is Legion.

And this story is the story of our pain.

Our anger.

Our fear.

It is the story of the power of that pain, anger and fear to tear us apart inside and to rip us apart from one another.

But ultimately, it is the story of how Jesus, the love beyond all love, meets us in the midst of it, invites us to name it, stands with us as we feel it, turns us not away from each other but draws us toward each other and meets all of us together in a loving, healing embrace.

What is our pain?

What is our anger?

What is our fear?

What are you doing to it?

What is it doing to you?

Do we dare to name it?

Do we dare to feel it?

Do we dare to believe that, in Christ, it – and all of us -- can be healed? Amen.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

"Saying Goodbye, Rejecting Shame, and Choosing Extravagant Love" - a sermon for the Fourth Sunday After Pentecost

The Very Rev. Mike Kinman, who has faithfully led Christ Church Cathedral in downtown St. Louis since 2009, announced Sunday, June 12 that he has accepted a call to be the new rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, Calif. Dean Kinman shared the news with the congregation during Sunday services. He will preach his last sermon as Dean of the Cathedral on June 26; his final day in the office will be June 30. After that, he will resume his Cathedral-granted sabbatical until it ends in September.

Preached by the Very Rev. Mike Kinman at Christ Church Cathedral at 8 and 10 am on Sunday June 12, 2016.

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace we may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion. Amen.

OK … what’s he doing here?

Whatever suspense there is, I want to end right away. I’ve come back early from my sabbatical to begin the process of saying goodbye.

Earlier this week, I accepted a call to become the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California. Other than a couple days this week where I’ll be taking Schroedter on a college visit, I’ll be back here through the end of June so we can say goodbye and do some of the work of transition. I’ll then take the rest of my sabbatical before beginning at All Saints later in the fall. Robin, Schroedter and Hayden will spend the next school year in St. Louis before moving out to join me next summer.

For some of you this will be a shock. Others of you may have sensed this coming. I expect you now and in the days to come to have feelings across the emotional spectrum including some of you having no feelings at all. That’s natural.

I know my feelings about this are all over the place. I am excited about this opportunity and this genuine and unexpected sense of God’s call on my life. I am also grieving having to leave a diocese that has been my home for 30 years, a city that I’ve called home for 20 and where Robin and I have raised our family, and a Cathedral that truly is the most extraordinary, diverse, kooky and beautiful Christian community I have ever known.

You have shown me Jesus. Over and over and over again. I am the person and priest I am today because of you. I will carry you in my heart forever. I love you and I will miss you terribly.

I first shared this possibility of this call with your Chapter in January and I am grateful for how they, your wardens and your vicar, Amy Cortright, have led this Cathedral with grace and power through this period of uncertainty. After the service we’re going to have an On the Table forum here in the Nave where I want to hear from you, what is on your hearts and minds … and where we will answer every question the best that we can.

I would love to meet with as many of you as wish it before I leave at the end of this month so I can listen to you and express my deep gratitude for how important you have been in my life and the life of this Cathedral.

This schedule leaves me with three final opportunities to stand before you and preach the Gospel. And even though your brain might not register anything after me saying that I have come back to say goodbye … you know me, I can’t let any opportunity to open my mouth and preach the Gospel go by unheeded.

Before I left on sabbatical, I talked about this being a time of reflection for all of us … and certainly that is even more so now. We have spent seven years together and they have not been dull. There has been a tremendous amount of change and not a small amount of controversy. Many of you have come to Christ Church Cathedral during that time, others have left and some of you have been here the whole time and even long before reminding us that clergy come and clergy go but the people of God and the Holy Spirit of Christ that sustains us endures. That this has been but one more season in the nearly two centuries’ long life of this community and that others surely will follow.

And so for a few more minutes this Sunday, I want to look back on our time together through the lens of this morning’s readings. And as the lectionary so often does, it could not have provided us with a better story through which to view our seven years together and the transition now before us. Because it is a story of radical, liberating, extravagant love that takes place at the center of a power that tries to deny it.

Jesus has been invited to eat with the Pharisees. And so the first question we have to ask ourselves is: “Why?” Probably several reasons. Some of it is probably curiosity. Some of it is probably reconnaissance, scoping him out so they can assess the threat. But some of it is assuredly trying to co-opt him into respectability.

Our friend Pastor Starsky Wilson has said you have to be careful when the powers that be start giving you awards because what they’re often hoping is that you will start to care more about getting the awards, care more about keeping the seat at the table of power than about continuing to work for justice, liberation and the peace of Christ. That what looks like support is actually a graduation certificate from relevance and into the back pocket of those with power.

And history has shown it works really, really well. But not so much with Jesus. Because immediately after he sits down we hear that someone only identified as “a woman in the city, who was a sinner” enters the room.

Respectability demands that Jesus have nothing to do with her. In fact, respectability demands that Jesus judge her and judge her harshly. After all, she already has two strikes against her.

First of all, she is a woman … and what business does a woman have in conversations where authority was being exercised? Power is for men. She does not belong.

Second, the Gospel euphemistically tells us that she is “a sinner.” But it’s clear what the text was talking about. This woman had dared to have sex outside the very strict male-authority-dominated purity codes the law set on women. Whether this was the result of her being compelled by physical force or economic necessity or her daring to claim agency over her own body, we are not told and frankly it does not matter. What is clear is that because of either what she had done or what was done to her, the Pharisees and truthfully all of society see her as other, see her as less than, see her as shameful and to be despised.

This woman is one of my greatest heroes in all of scripture. Because she is everything the Pharisees say she is not and she is everything the Pharisees are not.

She is bold and brave, she is proud and powerful. Because she not only dares to enter the room, right in the face of the Pharisees, she doubles down on every shaming criticism they would have against her.

She brings an alabaster jar of ointment and she drops to Jesus’ feet and begins to express her love for him incredibly intimately, even erotically and certainly scandalously. She begins to cry, tears borne of the pain of her rejection, tears borne of the pain that women and all shamed and marginalized images of God carry with them. She begins to cry and she caresses those tears of pain into Jesus’ feet – feet being not only an intimate part of the body but themselves a sexual euphemism throughout scripture. Then sensuously she takes her hair and dries his feet …and then just in case anyone somehow was missing the message she begins to kiss Jesus’ feet and she breaks open the jar of fragrant ointment and begins to give him a deep, tender foot massage.

“You try to shame me?” this incredible woman says. “You try to shame me for my body? This body that God created in God’s own image? This body that God created out of love for love? You try to shame me?”

“Well shame this.”

“Shame you.”

And then there is this pause. And the world stops. And waits. Waits to see how Jesus will react. Surely, the Pharisees say to themselves, Jesus will “do the right thing.” Surely, he will choose the way of respectability. Surely he will join us in shaming this disgraceful woman who dares actually to assert power over her own body and use it as she wants to express love. Surely he will join us in shaming this woman who dares to behave so brazenly, so scandalously, who dares to behave so much like … a man.

There is this pause. And when Jesus speaks it is to name a sinner, but it is not the woman he names but the Pharisees themselves. For what the Pharisees see as shameful, Jesus knows is beautiful. What the Pharisees see as a scandalous breach of respectability, Jesus knows is the height of extravagant hospitality and love – hospitality and love offered by this amazing woman and not by the hosts of the house. Extravagant hospitality and love that judge her worthy and the Pharisees wanting.

Jesus embraces the woman. Jesus does what he does with all of us … meets us in the place of tears and meets us there in love. The woman’s sins – whatever they are – are forgiven. The Pharisees receive no such absolution.

Five years ago, when Chapter voted to call me as dean after two years of my being provost, we talked about how to celebrate this new stage in our life together. Traditionally in the Episcopal church we have what are called “celebrations of new ministry” … which end up looking more like coronations of individuals and which I am convinced make Jesus alternately chuckle and weep.

We decided that didn’t work for us. That this wasn’t about me but about the whole Cathedral and our life in and for the city of St. Louis. So instead we had a “celebration of the Cathedral in the City.”

We talked about the Cathedral being a Eucharistic table not just for our own private gathering on Sunday mornings but a place where we gather the entire city around whatever looks like Jesus, invite everyone to lay their lives on the table with it and then watch as God takes all that life mixed together and creates something new not just for us but for the life of the world.

And what did we decide to gather this city around and invite them to lay their lives on the table with? What looked like Jesus?

It was a community of extravagant love and hospitality. A community that embraced women who were most despised, shamed and rejected and helped them name themselves bold and brave, proud and powerful.

It was a community of heroic women like this one. It was Magdalene.

And so we brought in Becca Stevens and Katrina Robertson and Shelia McClain and they told their stories of power and survival. Of extravagant love and hospitality. And we as Christ Church Cathedral gathered the city of St. Louis around and said “if this looks like Jesus to you, even if you wouldn’t use that language, we invite you to lay your lives on the table with the lives of these amazing, bold, brave, proud and powerful women who sure look like Jesus to us.” And St. Louis did. And a year ago, because of the Eucharistic leadership of this Cathedral community, Magdalene St. Louis opened and right now in that house just north of here there are bold, brave, proud and powerful women who are giving and receiving extravagant love and hospitality. Women who are saying to a world that would shame, despise and reject them:

Shame this.

Shame you.

And you have not stopped. As this city has continued its sinful and dehumanizing treatment of those among us struggling with homelessness, you as Christ Church Cathedral asked that simple question yet again … what does extravagant love and hospitality look like? And we are learning that it looks like dismantling the sinful structures of us and them, of “parishioner” and “downtown neighbor” and of recognizing that we are all one beloved community and all of our job and joy is to make it a community of equity and justice for all … and from the simple act of nametags for everyone to the bold act of a housing partnership that gives the dignity and the basic human right of a home, you chose the side of Jesus over the side of the Pharisee.

When after Michael Brown was killed and his body left in the street for four and a half hours, young people took to the streets rejecting the respectability politics of our time, shouting in language that was profane but not half as profane as the conditions they had been living in. When there was a pause as the powers that be waited to see how the church would react, you chose side of Jesus over the side of the Pharisee, some of you joining the young people out in the streets and all of you opening up this Cathedral, giving away power and saying “this house is yours.”

Over and over again in our seven years together you have found new ways to live into what Christ Church Cathedral has been about for generations in the past and I pray will continue to be about for generations to come. Choosing extravagant love and hospitality over respectability. Choosing Jesus over the Pharisee. Choosing liberation, joy and love over shame, despair and fear.

Over and over again in our seven years together you have lived the words of this morning’s collect. You have proclaimed Christ’s truth with boldness and ministered Christ’s justice with compassion. And that must and will continue. We only have to hear the news this morning of more than 50 people massacred early this morning at a nightclub popular with the LGBT community in Orlando to know that we are so far away from Christ’s beloved community. That there is much truth left to be boldly told. There is much justice left to be compassionately and powerfully ministered.

God have mercy.
God have mercy.
God have mercy.

And God, use us to do so.

Christ Church Cathedral has not been an easy place to go to church. It has not been an easy community to be the church. And thank God. Easy is siding with the Pharisee. Easy is going along with the crowd. Easy is avoiding the conflict, playing it safe, and thinking diversity ends by just having a few token others in the room.

I have come back this Sunday to begin to say goodbye. And that means things will change here at Christ Church Cathedral. But what will remain the same is Christ’s call on us – on you and on me. And that is a call wherever we are to bring those of us who are most on the margins into the center and to let those voices be the church’s teachers and leaders. To reject this pervasive culture of coercive shame and embrace a life of extravagant love, liberation and hospitality for all. To choose justice over respectability. The way of Jesus over the way of the Pharisee.

This mission did not begin with my arrival and does not end with my departure.

This message I offer to you this morning is nothing more than a reflection back of what you have shown me these past seven years. You have lived this. You are living this. You have shown me Jesus in ways I can never forget. In ways that have changed me forever. And from the bottom of my heart and the depths of my soul all I can say is I thank you, and I love you. Amen.