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.







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