Grace Cathedral is an Episcopal church in the heart of San Francisco.
We are both a warm congregation and a house of prayer for all people.
We welcome visitors from all over the world.

 

What’s Happening at Grace Cathedral?

Civil rights leader and founder of the Islamic Networks Group, Maha Elgenaidi, in conversation

Maha Elgenaidi on Who Belongs in America and the Muslim Experience

Sunday, October 2

Civil rights leader and founder of the Islamic Networks Group, Maha Elgenaidi, in conversation

Bring your beloved pet to Grace Cathedral for a special blessing on this Holy Day.

The Feast of St. Francis and Blessing of the Animals

Sunday, October 2

Bring your beloved pet to Grace Cathedral for a special blessing on this Holy Day.

Join other seniors for spiritual reflection and physical relaxation during the Senior Retreat.

Annual Senior Retreat

Tuesday, October 4

Join other seniors for spiritual reflection and physical relaxation during the Senior Retreat.

Best-selling author Gabby Bernstein shares powerful lessons from her new book

Gabby Bernstein’s “The Universe Has Your Back” Book Tour

Friday, October 7

Best-selling author Gabby Bernstein shares powerful lessons from her new book

Isabel Allende, the best-selling author and activist

Isabel Allende on Women

Sunday, October 9

Isabel Allende, the best-selling author and activist

Helping our neighbors in the Bayview/Hunter's Point neighborhood

Neighborhood Outreach at Bayview Mission

Monday, October 10

Helping our neighbors in the Bayview/Hunter's Point neighborhood

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, September 25
The Struggle Is Real
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon” (Rev. 12).
Read sermon

 

“War broke out in heaven; Michael and his angels fought against the dragon” (Rev. 12).

How do you prepare to go into battle? How do you get ready to talk to a friend about his addiction, or steel yourself to face the bigot who hates you? I do not even know what your struggle is – but you do. Maybe it is a difficult conversation that could save a friendship. It might have to do with conflict at work. It could be your health or a family member. Perhaps it lies in the fear that you might lose your job, spouse, home – your nation or your soul.

Some of our most cherished traditions at this Cathedral happen backstage. People here probably think it is odd that I sometimes describe the vestry as “the locker room,” but that’s what it is. When I played football we would enter the locker room dressed in our street clothes thinking about our romances, jobs, homework and being cool. As we put those pads on, we also prepared for battle, for an activity that demands all of you, and is dangerous to yourself and others. We put on our game face. We thought about what we had to do.

This very same thing happens in the vestry each Sunday as we prepare for worship. Initially we are chatting with each other about our week as we get our microphones and robes on. Finally, we quiet down to hear our assignments from the precentor and then gather for prayer. We say together Psalm 43. The people who have done this for years know it by heart.

It starts with these words. “Give judgment for me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people; / deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked. / For you are the God of my strength?” Then in silence we form our procession to enter this magnificent Cathedral.

Around here a question comes up surprisingly often. Why do we repeat such a glum psalm every week.[1] People especially ask me this, because I am fundamentally a joyful person. I absolutely love to worship here. It is one of my favorite things to do in the world. And the answer is this. Psalm 43 reminds us that there are forces in the world that work actively against the kingdom of God, that seek to enslave and degrade and destroy the children of God. We might like to forget it but this is the truth.

In his book War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning Chris Hedges writes, “There are always people willing to commit unspeakable human atrocity in exchange for a little power and privilege.”[2] The struggle is not even just against individual adversaries but structures and institutions and culture, against greed, violence, ego, fear and injustice.

Since the very beginning Christians have wondered how, in the face of all this, we can be brought back home to God. We have debated various theories of the atonement. A thousand years ago St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109) proposed that because God is by definition just, God could not merely dispense with our sins but required Jesus to suffer instead of us. A different much more ancient theory of the atonement called Christus Victor holds instead that Christ’s death set into motion the defeat of all evil and that we are still in the midst of struggle as this victory is worked out.

This second picture of atonement is the theology of Michaelmas, the Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, which we celebrate this morning. Michaelmas falls at the Autumnal Equinox, this precarious time of temporary balance between light and darkness. It reminds us how close the battle between good and evil is.

Most times when an angel appears in the Bible, the first thing we hear, is “Do not be afraid.” This is because the natural response to the power of God embodied in an angel is sheer terror. In the Book of Revelation Michael and the angels win a provisional victory casting out Satan into this world.

John records the conclusion of this battle in his dream saying, “Rejoice then, you heavens and those who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, for the devil has come down to you with great wrath, because he knows his time is short” (Rev. 12)!

Young people today have an expression I appreciate. When you suggest that they might be complaining too much, they say, “the struggle is real.” I have no idea what effect it has on others but it leads me to reappraise my original judgment and to appreciate that another person’s challenges are different than my own. So this morning I say, “Woe to the earth” “the struggle is real.”

We are struggling these days in America. Two more African American men were killed by police this week. A terrorist set up bombs in New York and New Jersey. One hundred people were here for our Forum on homelessness this morning. Tuesday night we will be talking about the power of confining and destructive images regarding masculinity in our culture.

Perhaps the most obvious struggle that we share in common now has to do with our politics. Arlie Russell Hochschild points out that for the first time in history a significant number of Americans choose where they will live on the basis of the political views of their neighbors. She lives in Berkeley which she describes as one subnation but wanted to write about a radically different subnation. In the last election 39% of white people voted for Obama, 28% of the white people in the south voted for him and 11% of the white voters in Louisiana did.[3]

Hochschild ended up spending five years with them. They have become Donald Trump’s biggest supporters. Louisiana is the third poorest state and ranks last in overall health. In 2013 twenty percent of 16-24 year olds there were neither in school nor work. Perhaps as a result of “Cancer Alley” pollution they have the second highest incidence of cancer for men.

Globalization has fundamentally changed what workers can expect in America today. The plentiful manufacturing jobs that used to exist are gone. Many find their prospects and standard of living are worse than that of their parents. Among the poor the institution of marriage has collapsed. Poor people have significantly lower levels of participation in churches and a high percentage of children growing up in households with only one adult. They are far less likely to say that they trust their neighbors or that they are happy. Rates of suicide and drug addiction in this demographic are appalling.

There is a fundamental crisis now in our society about the meaning of work.[4] One of the women interviewed said, “You’ve done everything right and you are slipping back.” From her perspective President Obama’s federal government merely pulls down the hard-working rich and struggling middle class in order to lift up the idle poor.

Hochschild writes that one can dismiss these voters with statistics like the one that says 66% of Trump supporters think that Obama is a Muslim. But this doesn’t get to the deep story. She says that the deep story is about shame, need, unfairness, anxiety and downward mobility. She writes that it “feels” true to nearly white every person she met in Louisiana.

Hochschild proposes a picture to help us understand this deep story. Imagine standing in the middle of a long line stretching beyond the horizon to where the American dream waits. People keep cutting ahead of you and it is President Barak Hussein Obama with your tax money who is helping them. They say, “it’s not our government anymore it’s his.” This may not at all be your vision of reality. But whoever gets elected, this is the world our neighbors live in. The struggle is real.

At Michaelmas, the feast of the struggle between good and all that threatens it, I want to propose two images for this Cathedral as our home. The first comes from story of Michael and the Angels. This home is the fortress where we prepare for the battle which is our life.

Another image comes from the book of Genesis. As Jacob travels he stops to sleep. “Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head… And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top reaching toward heaven; and the angels of God ascending and descending on it” (Gen. 28). Bishop Marc Andrus asks, “Where does this ladder lead but to your heart?” This Cathedral home is also a refuge where we draw inward and experience the connection between heaven and earth.

Today is the beginning of our stewardship season when we make financial pledges to support our Cathedral. Our theme is “Home Is Where the Heart Is.” A pledge differs from every other way that we use money and corresponds to the two images of our Cathedral as home. First, we give to support the needs of this church, so that society will always have a place for exploring the full depths of our humanity, where our lives can be made whole through a connection to Christ.

But we also give for ourselves, for our spiritual wellbeing, as part of our own inward journey in faith. This happens for the simple reason that making a gift changes the relation we have with money. Giving alters the control that money has over us. In this way giving makes us more free. Giving helps us to move beyond having money as our god toward the freedom of experiencing the real God as our god. I know that this is not easy. It’s harder for some than for others. The struggle is real.

I began by asking how you prepare to go into battle. In these days when it is hard even to remain a hopeful person we all have our different ways of putting on our game face. But my desire is that you find strength in prayer. Allow yourself to rely on the one who has loved you even from before you were born, the one who has walked with you to this day, the one who will hold you up to the end.

[1] One of the lines is, “why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul? and why are you so disquieted within me?”

[2] Chris Hedges, War Is a Force that Gives Us Meaning (NY: Anchor Books, 2002) 88.

[3] Arlie Hochschild, “I Spent Five Years with Some of Trump’s Biggest Fans, Here’s What They Won’t Tell You,” Mother Jones, September / October 2016.

[4] A large portion of the population in Louisiana depends on federal disability payments just to survive. Many of these people are open with their other neighbors about how they lie to cheat the system.

Sunday, September 18
The Unthinkable Debt
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“No slave can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth” (Lk. 16:1-13).
Read sermon

 

The Unthinkable Debt

“No slave can serve two masters… You cannot serve God and wealth” (Lk. 16:1-13).

Imagine that this is the last day of your life. Are you ready to die? What if this was your last moment. What are you feeling? What do you wish you had done differently? Have you really lived? Or have you wasted your time with unimportant things, with worry, blame, denial and false regrets. What do you wish you did more of… or less of?[1]

Ancient Greek philosophers used thought experiments like this to remind themselves that we will not live forever. They believed that this kind of exercise could help us understand what really matters and that this could change us for the better.

Let me introduce three Greek important words from these ancient teachers. To describe the goal of human life ancient they used the word eudaimonia. Literally it means “good spirit” but most often it is translated as happiness, welfare, joy, human flourishing. It means living well in every sense: being successful, enjoying pleasure, making a difference. Aristotle called this happiness (eudaimonia) the highest good.

Although they disagreed about so much, ancient Greek philosophical schools including: the Stoics, Epicureans and Skeptics agreed that the best way to achieve eudaimonia was through ataraxia which we could define as tranquility or imperturbability, a kind of freedom from worry. Ataraxia means to keep an even keel, to not be swept away by either good fortune or disaster. It means to have control over our feelings and the way we respond to the world. For Aristotle phroneisis is practical wisdom and the way in which among other things we recognize the importance of this control.[2]

I’m grateful for their reflections on how to live but Jesus offers us so much more. The gospel uses this same word for wisdom but Jesus teaches that life can be more than just a struggle to control our emotions. Like a blue whale ranging across the vast Pacific Ocean or the Arctic Tern, a bird that migrates between the Arctic breeding grounds and the Antarctic each year, we have a homing instinct.

Hidden within every person lies an equally mysterious and reliable map for finding our way home to God. It shows where we came from and how to return. Through his parables Jesus teaches that God’s kingdom is already breaking into this world and that if we learn to pay attention we can be part of it.

Like the ancient Greek philosophers Jesus gives us thought experiments, stories to help us understand the meaning of God’s kingdom. We call them parables. They help us to think the unthinkable. Jesus probably meant them to be jarring, to disorient us and make us question what is reliable and stable. Parables upend the world because the good news of Jesus changes the meaning of everything for us.

Unlike most other parables, today’s appears only in the Gospel of Luke. Many people find it difficult and deeply unsatisfying. I have read over a dozen commentaries and sermons on it. The only easy way to interpret it is to make unwarranted assumptions about the context.

After addressing the religious leaders Jesus turns to speak to his disciples. He tells them the story of a manager for a rich absentee landlord. A crisis occurs when the manager hears that he is going to be charged with squandering the wealthy man’s property. Too weak for labor and too ashamed to beg he anticipates being let go and decides on a plan. He goes to each person who owes his employer and reduces the debt on the account books: from one hundred jugs of olive oil to fifty, from one hundred sheaves of wheat to eighty.

The story takes a perplexing turn when the rich man commends the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. Jesus adds on several sayings that leave us unsure just where we stand. He says that the children of the age are more shrewd than the children of light, that we should make friends with dishonest wealth, that whoever is faithful in small matters is likely to be faithful in larger ones. Jesus concludes saying, “You cannot serve God and wealth” (Lk. 16).

Some interpreters simplify the problem this raises and argue that the manager only gave away his own commission but this is not at all clear from the text. Others point out that foreign absentee landlords had a terrible reputation for cruelty. On Thursday night the reading from 2 Kings (4:1-7) was about a widow whose creditors were about to sell her children into slavery. The word Luke uses for the “charges” against the manager is diaballow. It means accusation and is related to the word accuser which is also the name for the devil.

Furthermore it is not completely clear that this is a dishonest manager. The word in Geek is not “dishonest” it is adikias or unrighteous. Because the genitive case is tricky one cannot quite say if he himself is unrighteous or simply a manager of unrighteous things. Perhaps forgiving debts is the right thing to do even if the manager does it for the wrong reasons.

In any event preachers assure their congregations that the point of the story is not for us to act dishonestly. Just as the manager faces a crisis in his life and must act intelligently, people of faith need practical wisdom as we face the crisis of God’s kingdom. What matters is the contrast Jesus draws between faithfulness and unrighteousness. His point is that our use of wealth has serious spiritual implications.

You know the parable is beginning to do its work when you find your world turned upside down. This week after studying this parable for twenty hours the effect it had on me was to unsettle my understanding of money and debt.
In our time, the market, our economic system, functions as a kind of unacknowledged religion. Our religious language carries within it economic metaphors of sin, debt, forgiveness, freedom and redemption. But our economic ideas also include assumptions about value and morality.[3] Jesus’ parable confuses us partly because of our deep sense that debts must be paid. A manager who dissolves these obligations troubles us because we tend to treat money and credit as our gods.

The anthropologist and activist David Graeber tells the following story about the Third World debt crisis. In the 1970’s OPEC countries began investing their large oil profits in western banks. These banks made loans to small, poor countries, or rather to their dictators and politicians who then deposited large sums of this money into their private Swiss bank accounts. Although interest rates were initially lower, tight monetary policies in the United States during the 1980’s and 1990’s drove these rates much higher and the loans began to fail.[4]

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) stepped in and, as a condition of refinancing, forced poor countries to abandon price supports for food, to deplete strategic food reserves and to abandon free healthcare and free education for some of the poorest people on earth. This had many terrible effects including taking food from children who need it. One concrete example of this suffering involves the way that these IMF policies led to the abandonment of a relatively cheap anti-Malaria program in Madagascar. Ten thousand people died there as a result. This all happened so that Citibank didn’t have to cut its losses on an irresponsible loan.[5]

Whether we are creditors We assume that loans are entered into freely and arranged on a fair basis when that might be an exception in history. Jesus’ parable points to a kind of invisible and implicit violence in the way that loans can function. Loans can keep people permanently in poverty. Our bias that indebted people deserve some kind of punishment make it hard for us to notice the signs of God’s kingdom in which there is enough for all.

You may not understand it but this is how Jesus’ parable has turned my world upside down. What is fair, who is good, what are our responsibilities to each other, seem less clear than when I started the week. Money, our systems of debt and credit, feel less reliable and real to me now in the face of God’s generous love.

Earlier I mentioned the thought experiments that Greek philosophers used to communicate practical wisdom (phroneisis) and to control their feelings (ataraxia). They did this to attain the happiness (eudaimoniea) that they describe as the highest good. This story of Jesus does not create in us the sense of the disinterestedness (ataraxia) which Greek philosophers believed would lead us on to happiness (eudaimonia). The story Jesus offers this morning involves finding our way back home by removing the barriers that stand between us and God.

The German mystical teacher Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) understood this acutely.[6] He writes that all things owe their being to God, and that it is, “God’s endeavor to give himself to us entirely.” In response to God’s love we are, “becoming as we were before we were born.”[7] We do this by abandoning our attachment to worldly things so that we can direct our lives back toward God. Eckhart says, “we come alive when we give away what [we have] received.”[8]

The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda writes about a moment in his childhood when an unknown neighborhood boy left a toy (a wholly white sheep) for him at a hole in his back fence. He then left a toy for him in return. He writes, “To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know, from those unknown to us who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses – that is something greater and more beautiful because it widens the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things… That exchange brought home to me for the first time a precious idea: that all humanity is somehow together. This is the great lesson I learned in my childhood in the backyard of a lonely house.”[9]

Let us pray: God of Mystery, you find grace even in the devious and compromised.[10] We thank you that today is not our last day and that you have walked so far with us to bring us to this holy place. Inspire our hearts to make good use of what you have given us as we rejoice in your unfolding kingdom. Amen.

[1] When I tried this thought experiment myself I felt a wave of gratitude for this year at Grace Cathedral, for these amazing experiences of beauty in worship, for new friends, the choirs, the breathtaking space, Easter and Christmas, quiet foggy mornings as tourists discover our art, etc.

[2] Sarah Bakewell, How to Live or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty-One Attempts at an Answer (NY: Other Press, 2010), 109-110.

[3] Introductory economics textbooks even have the equivalent of origin narratives. Like the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden they speculate about a time when people bartered for everything they had and the way that this system grew into the invention of money. This story and others like it are not based on anthropological evidence but have been a central part of how we pass economic ideas from one generation to the next.

[4] David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years (NY: Melville Publishing, 2011) 2-4.

[5] Perhaps even more damning Graeber writes about the United States as an empire with hundreds of overseas military bases. He describes the loan costs as a kind of tribute paid by client states.

[6] Once someone came to Meister Eckhart and complained that no one could understand his sermons. He said, “To understand my preaching, five things are needed. The hearer must have conquered strife; he must be contemplating his highest good; he must be satisfied to do God’s bidding; he must be a beginner among beginners; and denying himself, he must be so a master of himself as to be incapable of anger.” Margaret Ruth Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005) 194.

[7] Edward F. Mooney, “A Lyric Philosophy of Place,” Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy from Thoreau to Cavell (NY: Continuum, 2009) 31, 48.

[8] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (NY: Vintage Books, 1979) 54-55.

[9] Ibid., 282.

[10] This line comes from Steven Shakespeare, Prayers for an Inclusive Church (NY: Church Publishing, 2009) 105.

Discover Grace

Stewardship Season

The Community Preschool

Tour Smart with GraceGuide

Stewardship is a cherished practice of the Episcopal Church that helps us connect our lives to the core mission of Grace Cathedral. With our annual financial gifts, we deepen our own spiritual awareness of our blessing and share with others in service.

During this season of stewardship, we invite you to reflect on the “Home” theme and how we open our spiritual home to San Francisco and the world. For every pledge made, we will add a heart to the stole of St. Francis to show the congregation’s special love for Grace Cathedral and welcoming others to be a part of it.

The Community Preschool is an extraordinary early childhood program that prepares children not just for kindergarten success but for life itself. We founded the school because we have a passion for learning.

The Community Preschool is an intentionally diverse early education program that brings together children from families that are very varied in terms of culture, socio-economics, race and more. Our preschool  changes lives by providing scholarships to preschoolers who reside in the Tenderloin and other at-risk San Francisco neighborhoods.

Let our mobile app lead you through one of the city’s most beautiful and beloved landmarks.

Our mobile app GraceGuide gives visitors a fun, new way to see the cathedral. A series of compelling audio stories available on the app spans the architecture, artworks, history and role of Grace Cathedral in the community today. Current offerings are a welcome by Bishop Marc Andrus, a cathedral highlights tour, music for reflection and a treasure hunt for kids and their families. GraceGuide is available for download in both the Apple and Google Play app stores.

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