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What’s Happening at Grace Cathedral?

A new light art event by our 2016 Artists in Residence

Miracle Fragments

Friday, February 24

A new light art event by our 2016 Artists in Residence

Mardi Gras revelry to support Grace Cathedral


Tuesday, February 28

Mardi Gras revelry to support Grace Cathedral

Join us in remembering the loved ones lost in the Oakland warehouse fire.

Elegy for Ghost Ship

Thursday, February 23

Join us in remembering the loved ones lost in the Oakland warehouse fire.

Celebrate your 50-plus years of marriage at this beautiful service.

50+ Anniversary Evensong

Sunday, February 26

Celebrate your 50-plus years of marriage at this beautiful service.

The San Francisco Chronicle's East Bay columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr. on art, artists and Oakland

Otis R. Taylor Jr. on Oakland

Sunday, February 26

The San Francisco Chronicle's East Bay columnist Otis R. Taylor Jr. on art, artists and Oakland

Yoga is cancelled this week.

Cancelled: Yoga on the Labyrinth

Tuesday, February 28

Yoga is cancelled this week.

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, January 29
The Newspaper and the Bible: Testing the Beatitudes
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“What more does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6)?


Karl Barth (1886-1968), perhaps the most influential theologian of the twentieth century, taught that we should hold the newspaper in one hand and the Bible in the other. He said that we should read the news through what we know about the Bible.[1] This is a two-part sermon and begins with this week’s news.

  1. Brothers and sisters so much has happened since we last broke bread together. I hardly know where to start. Overnight it seems as if fear has became the primary organizing principle for our federal government.

Through a flurry of executive orders and official pronouncements we now have a clearer idea of what lies ahead. Our Muslim brothers and sisters have been especially targeted. Muslims from seven countries have been banned from entering the U.S. on visas for 120 days. Syrian refugees, a group of people currently suffering more than perhaps any other on the planet, have been banned indefinitely.[2] We seem to have forgotten both our nation’s tradition of welcoming immigrants and that Mary, Joseph and Jesus were refugees themselves.

This week journalists were arrested and charged with felony rioting. We have begun to worry that government scientists will be silenced for political reasons. The word “alternative facts” came into our popular vocabulary. The President continues to exaggerate the number of people at the inauguration and still insists that voter fraud was the reason he lost the popular vote. This raises a fear that voter suppression tactics could be in our future.

The Affordable Care Act is being dismantled endangering our poorest people. The Dakota Access Pipeline seems on its way to being revived. Clean water and healthy soil, other species and the earth itself seem to be at greater risk. We have put America first and turned our back on the global good. We are nullifying trade agreements and treaties. We are seeking to reduce funding to the United Nations and cutting foreign aid programs. The president publicly advocated torture and leaked documents suggest that we may be returning to an era of secret oversees torture facilities (“black sites”).[3]

The president has ordered the construction of a ten million dollar wall along the Mexican border and a brutal crackdown on immigrants.[4] The administration has threatened to withhold federal funds from jurisdictions that do not cooperate. This includes San Francisco. We may soon know better from experience what it means to be “persecuted for righteousness’ sake” (Mt. 5).[5]

These days test the truth of the Beatitudes. In short, it is not a good week for the poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, the merciful or the peacemakers. What I have described are not the acts of a people who “love kindness” or “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6). As a people we are acting out of fear and selfishness. A mean spiritedness has crept into our public life. We are scapegoating the weakest among us, those most in need of our courageous defense.

Some of you might share my sense of urgency. Let me be absolutely clear about my message to the whole world today. The message is: “you are not following Jesus if your heart is hardened against Muslims and immigrants or if you support torturing a fellow human being.”

  1. But I have another message too and this is especially for you here today. It takes a little longer to articulate. The scriptures appointed for the Fourth Sunday of Epiphany have enormous importance for me personally. I preached my first Sunday sermon on this day. Since then I have preached on fourteen Fourth Sundays of Epiphany.[6]For me the most important verse in the Bible is the one we just read from the Book of Micah. “What more does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6)? For homework you might even memorize this yourself. We named our firstborn son Micah to remind us to pattern our life on this ideal. You might notice that it is not about what you need to believe, but rather it is about the condition of your heart and how this shows forth in your life.

To his friends in Corinth Paul writes, “the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1). This is a big promise, but also true in my experience.

This brings us to the Beatitudes. In this mountaintop scene Matthew subtly compares Jesus to Moses the lawgiver of the Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus repeats the word makarioi which we translate as blessed but also means honored or happy. It is a counterintuitive message. He says that the meek, the merciful, the poor in spirit, the very people who seem not to be blessed, really are blessed by God.

The question naturally arises whether this is a matter of what one ought to do or rather how the world is. I believe that the beatitudes are simply the way the world is. You should not try to be more mournful or poor in spirit. The point is that God is with people who are suffering, and with us when we are in pain.

Especially in these modern times we associate happiness with comforts, power, money and prestige. But the human spirit has deeper needs. We do not just want to be admired, we long to be good. It is not just about money, we yearn for our lives to have meaning. Jesus makes the point that there is a greater nobility in goodness, in living a life of compassion, fairness and honor. The satisfaction (the blessing, the happiness, the honor) that comes with this manner of life is hard for the world to recognize.[7]

You probably have a sense for most of us this already but there is more that we need to be reminded of right now. Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) puts it into rhyme. “How small, of all that human hearts endure, that part which laws or kings can cause or cure.”[8] He means that government has an important role in our life, but it is not all of our life. Politics is not the sum total of what makes your existence meaningful. It should not be our whole identity.

I think that part of how we arrived here as a people is related to this point. Right now we seem to have fairly close to full employment, a growing economy, working environmental regulations, low crime rates, increasing numbers of people with health coverage, even decreasing numbers of people who immigrated without papers and a remarkable safety from terrorism.

The rhetoric of offense, shame, injury, with all the talk of people who are ignored or victimized does not match the official government statistics about our collective health. This is because we have come to define who we are by our politics. It has become a false god, an idol for us, a distraction from the ways that we have come up short and need to change our own lives. Government is not supposed to supply the meaning of our life or solve all our problems.

In his 1972 novel The Manticore Canadian author Robertson Davies’ (1913-1995) tells the story of David Staunton through transcripts of his Jungian analysis. Although initially David looked up to his well-to-do father, in his last conversation with a long admired Anglican priest he realizes that his father has been unfaithful to his mother and to love.

In the shock of this recognition David lashes out and calls the priest a fairy. The priest grows smaller, hesitates and responds saying, “[L]isten very carefully. I am a homosexual… I’m a priest, too. By efforts that have not been trivial I have worked for over twenty years to keep myself always in full realization of both facts and to put what I am and the direction in which my nature leads me at the service of my faith and its founder. People who have been wounded much worse than I, have been good fighters in that cause… it was my personal sacrifice of what I was to what I loved.”

The priest goes on, “however fashionable despair may be about the world and people… not everybody or even most people, think and live fashionably; virtue and honour will not be banished from the world, however many popular moralists and panicky journalists say so. Sacrifice will not cease to be because psychiatrists have popularized the idea that there is often some concealed, self-serving element in it…. Nor do I think love as a high condition of honour will be lost; it is a pattern in the spirit, and people long to make the pattern a reality in their own lives, whatever means it takes to do so.”[9]

Offense and cynicism are barriers to the self-understanding which lies at the heart of becoming a better person. You may have a hard time getting the sense of it from such a short excerpt but there is a blessedness, a quality of the beatitudes in this priest’s ordinary struggles and in yours too.

In conclusion, my message to the world is that followers of Jesus seek love and reconciliation among all people not just Americans. My message to you is to encourage you not to get derailed by politics. Cultivate your longing for goodness and continue to give your life to God.

So this is where my message to the world and my message to you converge. With all the lies that we have been hearing this week I want to point out one of the most serious. People have been talking as if true religion is special loyalty to a group. This is not true. Real faith is humility, justice and kindness. It is foolishness to those who are perishing but to us it is the power of God (1 Cor. 1). It is striving for an encounter with the Holy that will change your life.

“Blessed are the meek.” “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” “Blessed are the peacemakers.” “Blessed are you…” (Mt. 4).

[1] Tracy Dickerson, “The Bible in One Hand and the Newspaper in the Other,” 22 October 2010.

[2] Michael D. Shear and Helene Cooper, “Trump Bars Refugees and Citizens of 7 Muslim Countries,” The New York Times, 27 January 2017.

[3] Reuters, “Trump May Reinstate Secret CIA ‘Black Site’ Prisons – US Officials Say,” 25 January 2017.

[4] Julie Hirschfeld Davis, “Trump Orders Mexican Border Wall to Be Built and Plans to Block Syrian Refugees,” The New York Times, 25 January 2017.

[5] Instead of building more wealth one cannot help but wonder if the federal government will just end up redistributing resources on the basis of political affiliation.

[6] This includes nine lectionary Year A sermons.

[7] In fact it might be mostly invisible to people and this itself causes suffering.

[8] Matt Fitzgerald, “Columnist David Brooks: Chasing Beauty, Finding Grace,” The Christian Century, 1 February 2017, 27.

[9] Robertson Davies, The Manticore in The Deptford Trilogy (NY: Penguin Books, 1990) 428-9.

Sunday, February 5
The Saltiness of Grace
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5).


The contemporary theologian James Alison (1959-) asks us to imagine two groups of scientists. The first have a whole library of maps with diagrams and tables of figures. They take turns looking through a powerful telescope at distant galaxies and stars. They describe what they see and make minor changes to the maps.[1]

The second group of scientists stands on the rim of a great crater on the surface of the earth trying to figure out what happened. They ask about the dimensions and speed of the object that produced this and about the consequences for life on earth.

Alison says that theologians are most like this second group. Theology is a distinctively Christian discipline. It presupposes a happening, a breakthrough, an interruption that has ongoing consequences. Furthermore it depends on the idea that this impact is not a blind collision but an act of communication from God. This means the theologian is involved not merely as an objective outsider commenting on what happened but is “part of the communication from the inside.”

Another way to put this is that we are involved not just in observation but in what Alison calls “undergoing.” It is not merely what we see but the self, the one who is doing the seeing, is changing. In his words we are undergoing God.

I would propose a third metaphor. I would say that theologians are more like the scientists who read weather maps and open ocean buoy readings. They study vast stretches of the sea so that they can predict the wave energy, the surfing conditions in their own neighborhood. They follow tremendous forces that are happening right now and affecting everything around us even with life and death consequences. This power shapes how we plan our day. In the salty ocean we can touch the energy of a storm that originated 5,000 miles away.

Regardless of the picture we use to describe this life-changing communication, it is the reason we are here this morning. We hope to encounter the force that fashions the galaxies and the winter storms. We seek the Holy One who lies closer to us than we are to ourselves, who calls us each by name.

Last week I mentioned the parallels that Matthew suggests between Moses the Lawgiver and Jesus. On a mountaintop Jesus teaches his disciples about the blessedness of the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and all those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Today we have a continuation of this teaching.

He goes on to say very simply, “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored… You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid… In the same way let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven” (Mt. 5).

  1. This morning as we try to understand God’s communication to us let me begin by examining our saltiness as individuals and then go on to our ministry together. According to Jesus this saltiness, this light, is not something that you have to earn or get. You already have it. You can no more hide the light that comes from God than you can disguise San Francisco perched on all these hills and visible from miles away.

This might lead you to ask about the salt that looses its taste. The Greek word that Matthew uses for salt that looses its saltiness is moraino. We accurately translate it as tasteless but more frequently it means foolish. You might recognize it already as linguistically related for our word “moron.” Many of us have experienced the foolishness of not being what we really are.

Our homework for this week is to really consider the question, “What is my saltiness?” “What makes me unique?” “How can I shine?” Sometimes what embarrasses us most about our self becomes our real gift to the world. It might be hard to imagine but our suffering can even end up helping others to heal.

This year our theme at the Cathedral is “the Gift.” In February we are especially considering the gift of love. Last week I asked for your help in how we can become more aware of this gift.

On Friday in response I heard from a woman who told me that she recently took a psychological test and was surprised to learn that her principal strength is love. This made her re-evaluate her professional life. My friend said that as a child in church she learned to pray for her enemies. Over time this practice evolved to the point that now, when she is faced with someone who makes her angry or afraid, she imagines, in her words, opening her heart and “shining a warm golden beacon of love onto them.”

Although she began her career in a very technical field she has become known for her skill at solving tremendously complicated problems (like contract, employment and property disputes, etc.). Probably none of her colleagues realize it, but her ability to bring peace to contentious places comes from a practice of prayer. With the level of fear and anger we are now experiencing in our public life she says, “Somehow love will have to be the catalyst for the solution, but it will take all of us sending our love into the dark places.”[2]

  1. “You are the salt of the earth… You are the light of the world” (Mt. 5). The Greek word for you is plural in this passage. It means you all, you as a collective, you as the church. This week two friends from Grace asked me the same question. What should we as a congregation do next in the face of new dehumanizing government laws and policies?

In my last year of seminary I took a leadership class in the School of Government. Perhaps my teacher Ronald Heifetz’s (1951-) most important lesson had to do with the distinction between technical problems and adaptive challenges. Technical problems might be as simple as changing a bicycle tire or as complex as landing a person on the moon. They involve applying rules to problems that have been solved in the past. You identify the problem, gather the resources you need and then apply best practices to solving it.[3]

In contrast, there is no roadmap to resolving an adaptive challenge. No one knows ahead of time what should be done, because fixing the problem requires the organization to address conflicts in values, beliefs and behaviors. You cannot just do a better job of what was done before and succeed. The people need to work together to create a solution that does not yet exist.

I would not be surprised if my old teacher were to say that leaders in Washington will make our situation worse by treating adaptive challenges (like healthcare, immigration, trade, etc.) as technical problems. In the face of this unprecedented change, what we do next as followers of Jesus is an adaptive challenge. As we begin to figure this out together I want to point out two kinds of saltiness that characterize Grace Cathedral.

An immigrant named John Leonard ver Mehr (1809-1886) founded Grace as one of the first churches west of the Mississippi River. He loved learning and children. He devoted his life to starting new schools and churches. From the beginning Grace has been both modern and traditional like our steel-reinforced concrete gothic-style Cathedral (with its modern lectern and ancient pulpit). One of our most distinguishing features has been our embrace of social change that seeks to include a wider range of people.

Two weeks ago in the Martin Luther King, Jr. Forum the Stanford professor Clay Carson pointed out that before the 1960’s tremendous numbers of people in the world were not even full citizens of their own countries.[4] King recognized that the Civil Rights movement was far larger in scope than most people imagined at the time. This value lies at the heart of our life together too. It explains why ministry to people with HIV/AIDS and advocating marriage equality and full inclusion of all people mean so much to us.

Finally, our saltiness involves our commitment to beauty and the experience of transcendence. The mystic Richard Rohr distinguishes between dualistic thinking and contemplative consciousness. Dualistic thinking means seeing reality from the perspective of a detached and individual ego. It involves comparison, oppositions and differentiation. It asks the question “what’s in it for me?”[5]

In contrast, a contemplative approach to the world means feeling fully united to God in love and experiencing the world as a gift. We lose our consciousness of being separate from the world when we look at someone we love, or watch a child playing, or hear the sound of running water. Although for much of our life we tend to just skim along the surface, we can cultivate an openness to receiving this gift. Grace Cathedral, with its smell of incense, the whoosh of cable cars, the light through the stained glass, our singing and companionship makes this a kind of instrument for uniting us to God.

We all could share our own examples of the salty divinity we see in the people here and of the light that we all share. Last Sunday I met a man in his thirties after the first church service he had ever attended in his life. I asked him “what did you notice?” He was flustered as he searched for a response. Finally he answered with just one word. “Unity. I love the unity.”

Even as the world around us seems to be deteriorating, even before we know just what we will do about it, we have found life in this mysterious communication from God. This message radiating out across the centuries, like waves from a storm, does not merely inform us. It changes us. We are undergoing it together.

You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world.

[1] James Alison, “Of Concavities and Tent Poles,” Undergoing God: Dispatches from the Scene of a Break-In (NY: Continuum, 2006) 1.

[2] She went on to make another observation. She cited Gary Chapman’s book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate. Each of us have different ways of expressing regard, affection and love. These include: gift giving, quality time, affirming words, acts of service and physical touch. My friend said that it can be hard if a family member is aching to hear words of love from a family member who is already expressing love through acts of service. We easily miss the love that people are already bringing into our life and inadvertently disguise the way we express our care. Email 3 February 2017.

[3] Ronald A. Heifetz, Leadership Without Easy Answers (Harvard University Press: Cambridge, MA, 1994) 22, 23.

[4] Clayborne Carson, “Remarks,” Martin Luther King Panel, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 15 January 2017.

[5] Richard Rohr, “Dualistic and Nondual Thinking,” Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, 28 January – 3 February 2017.

Discover Grace

The Shop at Grace Cathedral


Honoring Dr. King

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.

This year's Carnivale is on Mardi Gras!

Carnivale is the gala we hold each year to benefit our many cathedral programs and cultural events. This year’s theme will coincide with a holiday. Read more about the festivities at this upcoming fundraising bash.

In January and February, we honor and explore the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and African American history month. Click on the link below to learn about all the cathedral events around MLK and African American history month.

Dr. King visited the cathedral in 1965, drawing perhaps the largest-ever crowd here. A week later, the civil rights activist was assassinated. Watch his historic sermon. On Sunday, January 15, we will host our annual King and Faith Interfaith Evensong and Conversation, with the panel discussion continuing on Sundays, January 22 and 29.


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