The Rector’s Annual Address to the Parish

The Annual Address of the Rector to the Parish is always part of the All Saints Church Annual Meeting — and this year, rector Mike Kinman offered that address from the pulpit on Sunday, March 5th at all four services. 

Come Holy Spirit, and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Take our minds and think through them.
Take our lips and speak through them.
Take our souls, and set them on fire.

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

What’s the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning?

Do you head for the bathroom? Stumble toward the coffeemaker? Reach for your phone? Do you give someone next to you a kiss? Do you throw the cat off your face?

First things are important. When we attend to them, we notice what our priorities are. First things tell us what is most urgent in that moment.

Our first taste of the Word this first Sunday of Lent begins with these words:

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

This is Jesus’ first action after his baptism. His first act of ministry. Jesus’ first thing is to go to a place that will invite him to trust with his whole life in the words he has just heard. That’s right. Because Jesus being led into the wilderness was in response to something. Matthew tells us “Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness” … which means there had to be a now that came before that then. And that now was this.

“When Jesus has been baptized… a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my child, my Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ THEN Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness.”

Before Jesus did his first thing, God did her first thing. And God’s first thing, not just to Jesus, but to each and every one of us is saying “You are my child, my Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”

First things are important. When we attend to them, we notice what our priorities are. First things tell us what is most urgent in that moment.

And so, if we are to follow Jesus, we must make God our first thing — not out of sense of obligation or for fear of divine retribution or a need to somehow shed some wretchedness and become worthy but because it is the only way we can fully embrace the truth that God’s first thing, God’s first thought, God’s first passionate, pulse quickening, palm-sweating, shout-it-from-the rooftops I’m so obsessed with you I can’t eat or sleep love … is us.

Today is the second part of the annual meeting of All Saints Episcopal Church, and instead of preaching a traditional sermon, I’m using this time at each of the services today to deliver my rector’s address to the congregation.

We have an annual meeting in part because we are a nonprofit organization in the state of California. The church as an institution functions in that not-for-profit world of bylaws and audits, of best business practices and tax exemptions, and yes, of annual meetings. tTese are all important things and provide a structure for our continuing existence. But they should never be confused with the reason for that existence.

We are not just another nonprofit. We are the Church. And that means we do things differently. We have a different first thing.

We are the Church. The Body of Christ. And that means our first thing is not a profit margin. Our first thing is not customer satisfaction. Our first thing isn’t even institutional survival.

We are the Church. The Body of Christ. Our first thing is God. God is at our center. Yesterday. Today. Tomorrow. Forever.

We are the Church. The Body of Christ. Our first thing is God. And that means, with our lips and with our lives, we remind one another and we remind this world that God’s first thing … is us. All God’s children. Everywhere. No exceptions.

Monday night, Becca Stevens stood in this (our) pulpit as we officially launched this new chapter of our life together, and her first thing … the first thing she said was, “I want to tell you a love story.”

What an amazing and appropriate first thing to say. Partly because there is no better way to describe how we are different as the church than by reminding us we are people of a love story. And partly because there is no other way to describe how I feel after our first four months together. I have fallen deeply, madly, passionately in love with you, how you love one another and how you love this world. You have welcomed me and are teaching me who you are and you are so, so, so beautiful. And as I watch and taste and feel and learn who you are, who we are together as All Saints Church, I find three dreams taking wings in my heart. And it is those dreams I want to lay before us this morning (afternoon).

The first is that as this love story continues to be written, it will not just be a romance of two but an ever-expanding romance of all people as God’s first thing. And that as love always does, we all will be changed in the process.

For decades unto generations, this congregation has lived out the wonderful truth that “Whoever you are, and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, there is a place here for you.” It has made us not only a beautiful and diverse community but more and more a community where our center, where our table is not only in here but out there.

As this love story continues to be written, I dream and pray we will continue to fall deeply in love not only with one another in this place but with the multitudes who have never and may never find their way inside these four walls. Who long for a different kind of church than the one that has rejected or shamed or ignored them in the past. And love means being willing if not eager to be changed by the other. Love means going into the wilderness together and placing our lives in one another’s hands and in God’s.

And in a relationship of love, there is no domination. There is no dominant culture, race, class, gender or generational identity. When we say “Whoever you are, and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, there is a place here for you,” that place is an equal place at Christ’s table, with each able to offer our gifts fully and with every person and gift having the power to change who we are as a whole body.

In a relationship of love, there is no domination. And so as we all meet and fall more deeply in love with one another, we must confront that there are still dominant cultures here at All Saints Church that without malice but still with great power silence those among us who are not parts of them.

That we have a beautiful diversity AND there is a dominant culture that is white, middle class and above, and of older generations.

That we have wonderful satellite ministries for and with those in our community who are Latinx and black, who are children, youth, and young adults, or who are struggling with poverty and homelessness AND that is not the same as people of color, children and youth, and the most economically vulnerable among us being able to have those gifts unique to their race, culture, generation and class take a fully equal part in defining the overall culture of who we are as the people of God at All Saints Church.

That the majority of this community identifies as women AND, like most of the world around us, we have leadership and organizational structures that are patriarchal and that tacitly expect women to adapt and function as men instead of being changed by the gifts of women and developing structures that are less transactional and hierarchical and more creative, collaborative and transformational.

That the fastest growing ethnic population in Pasadena is Chinese AND that as Bishop Bruce did in presiding at the Eucharist Monday night, we must be willing to hear and speak the Gospel and make room at the table for the incredible gifts of language, culture and more our Chinese and other Asian siblings bring.
In a relationship of love, there is no domination, and so the gift of this new chapter in our love story with one another is to remember and embody the truth that every person is equally God’s first thing, God’s passion and joy, God’s unique gift to us as a whole and that we will never be whole until the gifts of every one of us are fully offered and allowed to define who we are.

That the joy of life in God’s Spirit is that even after generations of powerfully living out those words “Whoever you are, and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith, there is a place here for you,” God is not done giving us new ways to discover their meaning.

The second dream that is taking wings in my heart is that as this love story continues to be written, we will know deeply that it is a part of what Becca called “the bigger love story that began with the first Word and will continue after us…. The love story that is comedy and lament as well as thriller and mystery.” That we will never forget that we are not just another nonprofit trying to do good in this world. That we are the Church. We are the Body of Christ. And that means our first thing is God and we are a part of God’s epic love story that transcends time and space.

As this love story continues to be written, I dream and pray that as we continue to fall deeply in love with one another, we will also fall more deeply in love with God. Through immersing ourselves in the daily spiritual practices of prayer, worship, study, service and giving. As Becca said, “falling more deeply in love with the divine through struggle, births, deaths, marriages, protests and finding the gift of where the quiet leads us in the work of resistance.”

And that leads to my final dream and prayer that as this love story continues to be written it will continue to do nothing less but heal and change the world. Because love is what heals and love is what changes. And loving God, loving one another and loving the world is how the world is healed and changed truly, deeply, and permanently.

I dream and pray that we will become so conversant in God’s love language and God’s epic love story in scripture that our very way of being will heal and transform not just ourselves but through us the world. That ordinary conversations will become theological conversations, that the corporeal acts of healing and mercy will become as natural a part of our routine as doing the dishes or checking Facebook, that we will be so changed by God’s passion for us and our deepened desire for God that people meeting us on the street will know there is something different about us and have their own curiosity sparked and desire awakened.

I dream and pray that this congregation that has blocked trains to internment camps, and stood with Dr. King, Dolores Huerta, and Cesar Chavez. This congregation that was the earliest of champions for the ordination of women, care for those among us struggling with homelessness and claiming the blessing of being gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender. That we will continue to follow the Holy Spirit into those wilderness places where we will have no power on which to depend but the power of God’s love and where once again we will find it more than enough.

I dream and pray that the courage of generations past will inspire new trips into the wilderness for this generation of All Saints Church. Journeys into the wilderness out there, but also the wilderness in here (the room) and in here (our hearts). For the wilderness is always the first place God leads us after the bonds of slavery are broken. The wilderness is always where the first insecure longings for a return to the security of slavery will reemerge. The wilderness is wherever we are challenged to resist those temptations to return to slavery and instead trust completely in God and God’s promise that we truly are God’s first thing, God’s first thought, God’s first love. And that God will provide. That God is enough.

Together we are beginning a new chapter in the life of God’s epic love story at All Saints Church. God has assured us of our belovedness, equipped us with the broad shoulders of faithful ancestors on which to stand and is calling us to love in new ways for a new generation of God’s children.

Together, we are beginning a new chapter in the life of God’s epic love story at All Saints Church. It is a time of dreaming dreams and casting visions. Of asking God to change us even as we pray that through us, God’s love might change the world. Of letting go of some of what has been in hopes of grasping onto the joy of what might be to come.

Together, we are beginning a new chapter in the life of God’s epic love story at All Saints Church. It is a new morning. What shall we do first?

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