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?

Filmmaker and advocate Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Jennifer Siebel Newsom on Masculinity

Tuesday, September 27

Filmmaker and advocate Jennifer Siebel Newsom

Choir of Men and Boys at AT&T Park

Wednesday, September 28

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

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, September 11
My Weight Is My Love
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“… I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15).
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What is worth dying for?[1] This question might help us decide how to live. Our job at Salesforce or Google or Facebook, our iPhones, the San Francisco 49ers or our success or good looks obviously are not worth it. Not too many of our neighbors would die for their religion or for their country any more. Twenty-first century America may be defined by no longer having anything worth dying for.

On Friday I was having lunch at the elegant apartment of a fashion designer and former Grace Cathedral trustee. It is a beautiful bright space with an interior staircase up to a solarium on the top floor. After delivering the other guests and visiting for five minutes I went down to re-park the car. This took longer than I expected. So I ran upstairs, went in, shut the door and then realized that there was a lot of Asian art that I hadn’t noticed the first time.

I turned to the staircase, and there was no staircase. Just as I began to feel completely disoriented, a woman came down the hallway with a puzzled look on her face asking if I was someone who I had never heard of. In that instant her husband walked into the room, and I realized it. I was in the wrong apartment. I had no idea what to do so I simply explained that I was the dean of Grace Cathedral and that I was visiting her neighbor upstairs. We talked about all the people we know in common and I left feeling like I had made two new friends.

All of us at some point have experienced the sinking feeling of realizing we are lost. I have felt it in a New England forest at dusk, in the High Sierras and distant cities, and most of all as a child in a crowd of unfamiliar faces. Perhaps we are lost too when we have not found what is worth living or dying for.

There is a wonderful parallel between the first two sentences of today’s gospel highlighted by Luke’s use of alliteration. All of the sinners and tax collectors engizontes which means to come near to Jesus to listen to him. The Pharisees and scribes diagonguzon or grumble that he welcomes sinners and eats with them. These are the people who are lost and know they are lost, and the people who are lost but have not discovered it yet. They are you and me.

We use the word repentance to describe what is at stake but I sometimes wonder if that word has been worn out in the way that a lot of religious words have been. The Greek word is metanoia and means literally a changed soul. You might call this ecstatic transformation. Jesus explains with two examples. A shepherd leaves behind ninety-nine sheep to find the one who is lost. He rejoices as he hoists it on his shoulders and then again as he calls friends and neighbors to tell them the news.

A woman takes all the furniture out of her house to find a lost coin and calls her neighbors to celebrate. Jesus is trying to express the impossible – the joy God feels when we are no longer lost. Jesus wants you to know how deeply and irrationally God loves you.

Let me offer another example. Imagine that my wife Heidi as a law professor discovered that one of her undocumented immigrant law students was in danger of flunking out. What if she immediately cleared her schedule, stopped showing up to committee meetings and class so that she could spend more time tutoring this person. Imagine she worked with her every night until 11:30 p.m. in the library going over hypothetical cases and the law. Then when the student successfully graduated suppose Heidi exhausted all of our savings renting out the Fairmont Hotel so that the entire law school community could celebrate this one student’s accomplishment?

On the one hand you might be irritated and identify with people Heidi neglected, but you cannot get away from the fact that she deeply loved this one student. Jesus wants us to feel the weight of this, not so that we grudgingly go around feeling indebted, but so that we fully experience God’s love and rejoice in a life of purpose.

Today we are celebrating Homecoming Sunday. Our theme this year is home. It has given us a chance to learn more both about what home means in general and our own home. From a team of doctors who greet Middle Eastern refugees on the shores of Europe we heard that according to the United Nations there are 65 million refugees in our world today. That is one out of every 113 people on the planet.[2]

At our first Forum on September 25 we will continue our discussion on homeless with San Francisco’s Jeff Kositsky first Director of Homelessness, Audrey Cooper the Editor-in-Chief of the Chronicle and Ken Reggio. We have talked about the earth as our home, gentrification and racism in San Francisco and the unique cultural contributions of this region.

This week I have been reading Harvard Government professor Nancy Rosenblum’s book Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America (2016). It makes me realize that the words home and neighbor exist in relation to and define each other. You simply cannot have one without the other. Rosenblum writes that neighbors are our environment. She describes home as a “fragile refuge” “where we are uniquely vulnerable and retreat is impossible.”[3] In a way home is a gift that we are always receiving, or failing to receive, from our neighbors.

Rosenblum writes about the most horrifying violations of our expectations concerning neighborliness. When Japanese Americans were moved to internment camps in World War II many of their neighbors did not even wave goodbye. Instead they looted and stole from them before they had even left town.

She quotes James Cameron an African American man who survived a mob’s attempt to lynch him. The most upsetting part was that these were people he knew in town. He writes, “It is impossible to explain the impending crisis of sudden and terrifying death at the hands of people I had grown to love and respect as friends and neighbors.” “I recognized… customers whose shoes I had shined many times… boys and girls I had gone to school with were among the mob and neighbors whose lawns I had mowed and whose cars I had washed and polished.”[4] Rosenblum also writes about people who behave in a truly heroic manner and risk their lives to save others.

For me what is most missing from Rosenblum’s world of terrible and good neighbors is any experience of the holy or the transcendent. It is as if she regards our neighbors as a small, unimportant distraction from the real business of living, which might involve for instance, working one’s way up to partner in the law firm, or getting tenure at Harvard. According to her we refrain from bothering our neighbors so that we can all accomplish great successes. But what if our neighbors, this area of our life that we regard as peripheral, really is the main thing?

Of all the writers in the first five centuries of Christianity St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) sounds most contemporary with our time. In his autobiography he writes about being utterly lost. He says that as a young man, “I was in love with the idea of a happy life.”[5] And yet everything he did to satisfy this desire ended up making himself miserable.

In short, Augustine struggled deeply with lust. We all have our shortcomings perhaps you are greedy, have a bad temper, or you constantly compare yourself to other people, for Augustine it was sex. He believed that his worst fault was the way sex for him seemed completely out of control. Fifteen hundred years later he is still famous for praying, “God make me chaste… but not yet.”[6]

My friend, the history professor Margaret Miles says that Augustine experienced two conversions. In one he heard a child’s voice singing “Take and read.” When he opened the Bible to Romans 13:13-14, he read about abandoning drunkenness, sexual licentiousness, quarreling and jealousy and putting on Jesus Christ. He writes, “my heart was filled with a light of confidence and the shadows of my doubts were swept away.”[7] But my friend Margaret says that Augustine experienced another even more powerful transformation.

Augustine realized that our shortcomings, our greed, envy, lust, sense of superiority, impatience and anger all arise out of the power that fear exercises in our lives. In his case lust came out of both his fear of missing out on something and his self-centeredness. His metanoia, his transformation, occurred when he realized that he could instead channel this energy into loving others. He could allow himself to be totally immersed in God. Augustine had a kind of mission statement for his life, “My weight is my love; by it I am carried wherever I am carried.” He began to allow God, and not his ego, to be the center of his life and to guide him.

For Augustine love is not a feeling. It is an action. He was not an expert at this right away but he realized that through daily decisions in each particular circumstance we can learn to participate in God’s love. We can love our neighbor. We can be part of how those around us find their home. This is how Augustine became a Christian, a follower of the God who is love. It is how he discovered what he would die for and what he would live for.

Rejoice. On this homecoming Sunday welcome sinners and eat with them. You are the one who chooses to draw near to Jesus and not to grumble about him. You are the coin that has been lost. You are the sheep that has been found again. Our weight is our love, by it we are carried home.

 

[1] This introduction and the material on St. Augustine comes from notes for a lecture called “To Die For: Bodies, Pleasures, and the Young Augustine,” that Margaret Ruth Miles intends to deliver at Villanova University 16 September 2016.

[2] These statistics are for the end of 2015 and come from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/20/world/unhcr-displaced-peoples-report/

[3] Nancy Rosenblum, Good Neighbors: The Democracy of Everyday Life in America (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016), 12.

[4] Ibid., 181-182.

[5] Augustine, The Confessions of St. Augustine tr. Rex Warner (NY: Signet Classic, 2001), 188.

[6] Ibid., 164.

[7] Ibid., 174.

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).
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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

Yoga

The Community Preschool

The Shop at Grace Cathedral

"Once a week there is a yoga gathering unlike any other in San Francisco, and it's all about the inspiring setting."

Yoga on the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral is a unique experience. Several hundred people of all ages, from all over the city, of many different faith affiliations, including none, gather as one to practice yoga in the darkened cathedral. Colorful mats cover the labyrinth the aisles and even the altar. Tuesday yoga exemplifies our commitment to meeting people where they are and recognizing there are many ways to be spiritual. Everyone is welcome; we even have mats to loan if you don’t have one. Namaste!

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.

Take a piece of the cathedral home with you

Visit The Shop on the lower level of the cathedral for an eclectic, enticing and reasonably-priced selection of books, music, jewelry, gifts, labyrinth items and more. 

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