Last week, I went to Richmond, Virginia to preach at St. Stephens Church. A beautiful church, it is located in a historic neighborhood full of gorgeous homes. The azalea bushes were just blooming and the weather was perfect. The congregation is huge, about double our size at least. They have six services on Sunday and five full-time priests. The people are successful, hard-working, well-educated Episcopalians. Discussion at both my Saturday workshop and Sunday forum was rich and engaging. I could tell that they listened to my sermons. And yet, there was something missing for me. I missed you. I missed my home. I missed the Cathedral.
Life here in the Urban Core is messy. Just a few days ago, I encountered a young man who for the past year and a half has been telling me he has been given three months to live. Deeply troubled, he suffers from schizophrenia, is chronically homeless and constantly wants to get on a bus and leave town. He wanders in the core asking people for money and telling them that he is going to die. He smells bad and always wants to give me a hug.
Why come here to the Cathedral? Why come to the heart of a city that is full of homelessness, empty buildings and there isnt even a Starbucks? Why am I drawn here like a magnet? I came to be your Dean because you were in the urban core. Maybe its because I grew up in the inner-city of New Haven, where a gang war was going on. I remember a lady being raped across the street from our house and my dad going out with a baseball bat at night. I was chased by a homeless man when I was in third grade. So why do I keep coming back? And why do you come?
Jesus knew that something terrible would happen in the city. He knew that his death was approaching. He rode into the city of Jerusalem with the knowledge that there was pain in front of him. He could have stayed outside the city, roamed the Galilee, played it safe, but he didn't. He rode into the city publicly, so that everyone could see where he was going. He chose to come to the urban core to die.
I guess that there are many kinds of love. There is romantic love. There is love of life, where you find a beautiful place to live and just relish life and rest and good food. And then there is this hard core love, the kind that propels you to go where life is hardest and do your best to help. Mother Theresa had that kind of love when she went to Calcutta to work with the poorest of the poor. She knew it would be hard. She knew that she would die doing it. And she knew, like Jesus did, that resurrection would be found on the other side.
In the Old Testament, cities are hubs of sin and suffering. Adam and Eve were originally created to live in a perfect garden. But after the fall, after their son Cain murdered his brother Abel the first thing that Cain did was to build a city. The city was the antithesis of Eden, full of sin and darkness. From that point on, cities are places that anger God. The people of the city of Babel tried to build a tower to touch God and this made God angry so God destroyed that city. Sodom was almost destroyed for its sin. But Jesus changed everything when he came because he loved the city. He would sit on a hill above walls of Jerusalem and cry for its people. For Jesus too, the city was a nexus of all that was wrong with humanity, but he chose to enter into it and suffer inside it. Jesus died in the city for us and that changed everything.
I find it incredibly important that, in the book of Revelation, a picture of heaven itself is painted and heaven does not look like a garden. Heaven looks like a city, a city perfected and redeemed by God, with streets of gold, where God himself is king.
There is no doubt that, in the Bible, redemption occurs in and through the city. The book of revelation does not talk about the salvation of just one soul. It is the entire city of Jerusalem that is saved. There is no salvation without the salvation of the city.
Jesus chose to ride into town and face the music. He moved through agony itself only to bring us life on the other side. Now that is hard-core love. That is love at the core. Somehow, the cross has always been most present in the city. And if you are the kind of hard core Christian that does not avoid the cross but understands that Easter can only be found by facing the cross and moving through it, then eventually you too will end up serving God in the urban core. Because here life is hardest.
Who are we? We are a people who follow Jesus into the heart of the city. We love at the core. We find that resurrection is only possible when we look at the cross itself, when we follow Jesus into the city and seek to love God there. Thank you for being here with me.