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.

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