Listen to the Latest Services

Sunday, May 20
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, May 10
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, May 20
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, May 13
Truth about Mothering
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

“I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17).

 

  1. In this our cathedral’s year of truth, I have been thinking so much about mothering and motherhood. I am grateful for the holiness I see in the mothers I know. Lately life has conspired to give me many opportunities to appreciate the skill required to intimately care for, and lovingly shaping, another human being.

At the same time Mother’s Day raises unique spiritual challenges. In this great Cathedral some of us badly wanted to have children, or a different form of family life, but were unable to. Some are in the trenches with two year olds and may not be particularly enjoying motherhood right now. Others had adoptions fall through, miscarriages, or recently lost a child. Some of us have contentious or difficult relationships with our children or mothers. Some here are still mourning our mother’s death.

One Mother’s Day, I had a conversation with an extraordinary friend. She shared her agony over not knowing where her son was or where he would sleep that night because of his addictions.

These are the stories you may not think of or hear on Mother’s Day. I bring them up to remind us of the spiritual complexities that lie beneath the surface of every life. We will not all have the privilege and challenge of being mothers. But we do have the chance to care for, “to mother” if you will, another person. I do not know how God is calling us to do this but we might consider it as our homework.

Our gospel today comes from Jesus’ farewell address to his friends. He says goodbye as a kind of spiritual mother. He offers a word of hope, a reminder that God’s spirit protects us. But he also assigns us a responsibility for the world. Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17).[1]

Motherhood is not merely a personal matter. Mothering happens or fails to happen at a social level too. This week at a speech in Arizona, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that it is the official policy of our government to separate children from their families if they cross the border without papers.[2] This is not the only sign of a tragic failure to care for children. On Tuesday the president’s office proposed cutting $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.[3]

  1. Russell Banks (1940-) one of the greatest living American novelists has had a special interest in the way adults manipulate children for our own purposes. This morning I will talk about how I both agree and disagree with him. You may have read Banks’ books or seen the movies based on them. They include: Continental Drift (1985), Affliction (1989), The Sweet Hereafter (1991), Rule of the Bone (1995), Cloudsplitter (1998) and others. Although I read his book The Sweet Hereafter twenty-four years ago, it still remains vividly with me. In this story of a small town in New York State a catastrophic school bus accident leads its citizens fight over a class action lawsuit. It shows how adult greed so easily leads to the exploitation of children.

A few years ago at Harvard Divinity School Banks gave the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality.[4] He follows in the footsteps of the philosophers William James and Josiah Royce, the theologian Paul Tillich, the scientist Stephen Jay Gould and most recently the novelist Toni Morrison.

Banks is an atheist with a great heart for people’s suffering. For him the fundamentalist faith of his mother is merely a fantasy. The truth of the world lies in a struggle of all against all, as people who have been hurt unthinkingly lash out and harm others. He points out that at their heart all stories are about the present. Historical fiction is merely our code of values projected onto the past. Stories about the future really are about our present anxieties. For Banks death is like this too. He keeps it at arms length.[5]

For Banks the only kind of immortality is one that we experience in the present. He opposes this to what he calls a Woody Allen kind of immortality. Woody Allen says, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment.”

In contrast to this, Banks refers to a thought experiment by the philosopher Samuel Scheffler.[6] Imagine if you knew that within thirty years after your death the world and all of humanity were to be utterly destroyed. Scheffler points out that this would fundamentally change how we think and how we behave. For instance, would cancer researchers dedicate their lives to this task with the same enthusiasm? Would we have constructed the new Bay Bridge or this Cathedral? In this way Scheffler reminds us that we are working together on long term projects that we expect to bear fruit after we are gone.

For Russell Banks Scheffler’s story about the future has enormous meaning to the present. The only immortality for him is the way our genes, culture and stories live on in our children. For him children are the afterlife.

But instead of allowing children to flourish for their own purposes we persist on using children to serve our needs. Our culture depersonalizes, objectifies, and commodifies children. Comparing the ancient practice of child sacrifice to modern capitalism, Russell Banks solemnly quotes the Book of Leviticus. “You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech…” (Lev. 18:21).[7]

Banks mentions changes in our court system that make children more likely to be treated as adults, that focus on retribution rather than rehabilitation. He also could have added the huge number of children in poverty with no access to good education.[8]

Banks hardly mentioned the way teenagers have their childhoods snatched from them through adult expectations about college.[9] Oddly enough learning and creativity are no longer the emphasis in our schools. Through standardized tests and curricula, relentless focus on competition, year-round sports, we communicate an unwavering message that children are made acceptable only by their accomplishments. In Palo Alto and across the country our children are dying metaphorically and literally because of the stories we are telling them, because it is not enough for them to simply be themselves.

Mostly though Banks refers to the deluge of advertising that colonizes our children’s consciousness. Banks calls the powerful force of materialism Moloch, after the idol in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In his poem “Howl” Alan Ginsberg says, “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!… Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!… Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body!”[10] Like the characters in the movie The Matrix we increasingly float through an unreal existence with our minds tethered to the machine.

At Grace Cathedral and Cathedral School we help children and their parents to resist Moloch. The openness and exploratory quality of childhood is very much alive here six days a week.

Russell Banks and I agree about the threat of Moloch to our children.[11] But for me real life is not like one of his novels. We do not inhabit a bleak, dead world characterized chiefly by everyone exploiting everyone else. Although we fall short of our own expectations and we do not always take in its beauty, we inhabit a living universe in which all things declare the glory of God. Life is not merely a dead-end cul-de-sac in which we race toward certain destruction, but an existence in which we constantly move more deeply into the divine reality as we grow into our potential as children of God.

Russell Banks reminds me how hard it is to live without meaning. This is true not just from an individual psychological perspective. It is hard intellectually. Meaning, even a kind of hopefulness, is a gift we receive from God. For most people it does not make sense to regard ourselves merely as individuals interested only in our own survival, sensual pleasure and well-being. This is because we are fundamentally connected to all creation.

 

This world is our home.  We are invested in it. We want it to flourish even long after we are gone. We might even imagine wanting to live forever in our own apartment. We care about species of animals that we will never see. Our minds reach into the farthest depths of the universe out of a longing that we hardly understand. Russell Banks feels disappointed because he too at some level of his being has an oddly persistent sense that the universe should be full of meaning. For me, this feeling is a kind of voice drawing us home to God.

This brings us back to Jesus’ last prayer. My friend, the New Testament scholar Herman Waetjen says its purpose is to convey the “awesome intimacy” with God which Jesus gives to us.[12] Jesus speaks in the second person singular to the creator of all things. He asks God to, “protect [us] from the evil one,” the one we know as Moloch. We are all God’s children. Jesus says we that do not “belong to the world” of exploitation and hatred. He prays that we will be sanctified in truth.

You and I face many choices about how to think and what to do. But we are not left alone or without hope. The love of Jesus brings us home to God. When we walk in Jesus’ path, we discover that the world is being healed by the creator of mothers and of all good things.

Let us pray: Gracious God, you formed us in the depths beneath our mother’s hearts. You know us from the inside out. Help us to care for the children and to fill the world with kindness and love. We ask this so that Jesus’ joy may be made complete in us. Amen.

[1] This morning we also have Jesus’ last words for his disciples in a prayer from the Gospel of John. The Bible actually has many farewell discourses like this from Jacob (Gen. 47:29-49:33), Joshua (Jos. 22-24), David (1 Chr. 27-29), Moses (Deut. 33), Tobit (Tob 14:3-11), and Paul (Acts 20:17-38). This biblical genre features an announcement about a person’s departure, a statement about God’s great works, a reminder of God’s commands, instructions to love each other and concludes with a prayer.

[2] He said, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.  If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies 2018 Spring Conference, Scottsdale, AZ, Monday, May 7, 2018. https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-sessions-delivers-remarks-association- state-criminal-investigative

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/05/usa-routine-separation-of-asylum-seeking-families-violates-international-law/

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/5/8/17327512/sessions-illegal-immigration-border-asylum-families

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children/u-s-cements-plans-to-separate-families-crossing-border-illegally-idUSKBN1I82AB

[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/congress-leery-of-trumps-cuts-to-childrens-health-program-1525822614

[4] Russell Banks, “Feeding Moloch: The Sacrifice of Children on the Altar of Capitalism,” Harvard Divinity School Ingersoll Lecture, 5 November 2015. http://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/11/05feeding-moloch-sacrifice-children-altar-capitalism

[5] Parenthetically he notes that there are two types of science fiction. Stories where they go here and ones where we go there. In either case these are stories about us right now. Banks seems to agree with the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) who uses the following logic to reason that death should mean nothing to us. When we are alive we cannot experience death and when we are dead we cannot experience anything.

[6] “A Philosopher’s Afterlife: We May Die But Others Live On,” National Public Radio, 9 October 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/10/09/230756192/a-philosophers-afterlife-we-may-die-but-others-live-on

[7] Any of the people… who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death…” Lev. 20:2.

[8] The way marketers treat children as the largest market category. Through television, Disney, Facebook, Twitter, EBay, Amazon, on cell phones and tablets the vast colossus reaches out and colonizes the consciousness of our children. Children become transformed into consumers.

[9] Tom Little and Katherine Ellison, Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools (NY: Norton, 2015).

[10] Alan Ginsberg, “Howl.” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179381

[11] This is the impersonal force of greed that lead us to treat people as tools for our pleasure rather than as ends in themselves. We agree that this is most heartbreaking when it comes to the children of the world. Beneath Russell Banks’ words and thoughts lies a profound disappointment with the universe. His weak solution is that writers and musicians in each succeeding generation will reintroduce us to our true nature.

[12] Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (New York: T & T Clark, 2005) 367-77.

Past Sermons

Sermons from the last six months are listed below. Older sermons can be heard through iTunes podcast.

Sunday, May 20
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, May 13
Truth about Mothering
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

“I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves” (John 17).

 

  1. In this our cathedral’s year of truth, I have been thinking so much about mothering and motherhood. I am grateful for the holiness I see in the mothers I know. Lately life has conspired to give me many opportunities to appreciate the skill required to intimately care for, and lovingly shaping, another human being.

At the same time Mother’s Day raises unique spiritual challenges. In this great Cathedral some of us badly wanted to have children, or a different form of family life, but were unable to. Some are in the trenches with two year olds and may not be particularly enjoying motherhood right now. Others had adoptions fall through, miscarriages, or recently lost a child. Some of us have contentious or difficult relationships with our children or mothers. Some here are still mourning our mother’s death.

One Mother’s Day, I had a conversation with an extraordinary friend. She shared her agony over not knowing where her son was or where he would sleep that night because of his addictions.

These are the stories you may not think of or hear on Mother’s Day. I bring them up to remind us of the spiritual complexities that lie beneath the surface of every life. We will not all have the privilege and challenge of being mothers. But we do have the chance to care for, “to mother” if you will, another person. I do not know how God is calling us to do this but we might consider it as our homework.

Our gospel today comes from Jesus’ farewell address to his friends. He says goodbye as a kind of spiritual mother. He offers a word of hope, a reminder that God’s spirit protects us. But he also assigns us a responsibility for the world. Jesus prays, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world” (Jn. 17).[1]

Motherhood is not merely a personal matter. Mothering happens or fails to happen at a social level too. This week at a speech in Arizona, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared that it is the official policy of our government to separate children from their families if they cross the border without papers.[2] This is not the only sign of a tragic failure to care for children. On Tuesday the president’s office proposed cutting $7 billion from the Children’s Health Insurance Program.[3]

  1. Russell Banks (1940-) one of the greatest living American novelists has had a special interest in the way adults manipulate children for our own purposes. This morning I will talk about how I both agree and disagree with him. You may have read Banks’ books or seen the movies based on them. They include: Continental Drift (1985), Affliction (1989), The Sweet Hereafter (1991), Rule of the Bone (1995), Cloudsplitter (1998) and others. Although I read his book The Sweet Hereafter twenty-four years ago, it still remains vividly with me. In this story of a small town in New York State a catastrophic school bus accident leads its citizens fight over a class action lawsuit. It shows how adult greed so easily leads to the exploitation of children.

A few years ago at Harvard Divinity School Banks gave the Ingersoll Lecture on Immortality.[4] He follows in the footsteps of the philosophers William James and Josiah Royce, the theologian Paul Tillich, the scientist Stephen Jay Gould and most recently the novelist Toni Morrison.

Banks is an atheist with a great heart for people’s suffering. For him the fundamentalist faith of his mother is merely a fantasy. The truth of the world lies in a struggle of all against all, as people who have been hurt unthinkingly lash out and harm others. He points out that at their heart all stories are about the present. Historical fiction is merely our code of values projected onto the past. Stories about the future really are about our present anxieties. For Banks death is like this too. He keeps it at arms length.[5]

For Banks the only kind of immortality is one that we experience in the present. He opposes this to what he calls a Woody Allen kind of immortality. Woody Allen says, “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve immortality by not dying. I don’t want to live on in the hearts of my countrymen. I want to live on in my apartment.”

In contrast to this, Banks refers to a thought experiment by the philosopher Samuel Scheffler.[6] Imagine if you knew that within thirty years after your death the world and all of humanity were to be utterly destroyed. Scheffler points out that this would fundamentally change how we think and how we behave. For instance, would cancer researchers dedicate their lives to this task with the same enthusiasm? Would we have constructed the new Bay Bridge or this Cathedral? In this way Scheffler reminds us that we are working together on long term projects that we expect to bear fruit after we are gone.

For Russell Banks Scheffler’s story about the future has enormous meaning to the present. The only immortality for him is the way our genes, culture and stories live on in our children. For him children are the afterlife.

But instead of allowing children to flourish for their own purposes we persist on using children to serve our needs. Our culture depersonalizes, objectifies, and commodifies children. Comparing the ancient practice of child sacrifice to modern capitalism, Russell Banks solemnly quotes the Book of Leviticus. “You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech…” (Lev. 18:21).[7]

Banks mentions changes in our court system that make children more likely to be treated as adults, that focus on retribution rather than rehabilitation. He also could have added the huge number of children in poverty with no access to good education.[8]

Banks hardly mentioned the way teenagers have their childhoods snatched from them through adult expectations about college.[9] Oddly enough learning and creativity are no longer the emphasis in our schools. Through standardized tests and curricula, relentless focus on competition, year-round sports, we communicate an unwavering message that children are made acceptable only by their accomplishments. In Palo Alto and across the country our children are dying metaphorically and literally because of the stories we are telling them, because it is not enough for them to simply be themselves.

Mostly though Banks refers to the deluge of advertising that colonizes our children’s consciousness. Banks calls the powerful force of materialism Moloch, after the idol in the Hebrew Scriptures.

In his poem “Howl” Alan Ginsberg says, “Moloch whose mind is pure machinery! Moloch whose blood is running money!… Moloch whose soul is electricity and banks!… Moloch who entered my soul early! Moloch in whom I am a consciousness without a body!”[10] Like the characters in the movie The Matrix we increasingly float through an unreal existence with our minds tethered to the machine.

At Grace Cathedral and Cathedral School we help children and their parents to resist Moloch. The openness and exploratory quality of childhood is very much alive here six days a week.

Russell Banks and I agree about the threat of Moloch to our children.[11] But for me real life is not like one of his novels. We do not inhabit a bleak, dead world characterized chiefly by everyone exploiting everyone else. Although we fall short of our own expectations and we do not always take in its beauty, we inhabit a living universe in which all things declare the glory of God. Life is not merely a dead-end cul-de-sac in which we race toward certain destruction, but an existence in which we constantly move more deeply into the divine reality as we grow into our potential as children of God.

Russell Banks reminds me how hard it is to live without meaning. This is true not just from an individual psychological perspective. It is hard intellectually. Meaning, even a kind of hopefulness, is a gift we receive from God. For most people it does not make sense to regard ourselves merely as individuals interested only in our own survival, sensual pleasure and well-being. This is because we are fundamentally connected to all creation.

 

This world is our home.  We are invested in it. We want it to flourish even long after we are gone. We might even imagine wanting to live forever in our own apartment. We care about species of animals that we will never see. Our minds reach into the farthest depths of the universe out of a longing that we hardly understand. Russell Banks feels disappointed because he too at some level of his being has an oddly persistent sense that the universe should be full of meaning. For me, this feeling is a kind of voice drawing us home to God.

This brings us back to Jesus’ last prayer. My friend, the New Testament scholar Herman Waetjen says its purpose is to convey the “awesome intimacy” with God which Jesus gives to us.[12] Jesus speaks in the second person singular to the creator of all things. He asks God to, “protect [us] from the evil one,” the one we know as Moloch. We are all God’s children. Jesus says we that do not “belong to the world” of exploitation and hatred. He prays that we will be sanctified in truth.

You and I face many choices about how to think and what to do. But we are not left alone or without hope. The love of Jesus brings us home to God. When we walk in Jesus’ path, we discover that the world is being healed by the creator of mothers and of all good things.

Let us pray: Gracious God, you formed us in the depths beneath our mother’s hearts. You know us from the inside out. Help us to care for the children and to fill the world with kindness and love. We ask this so that Jesus’ joy may be made complete in us. Amen.

[1] This morning we also have Jesus’ last words for his disciples in a prayer from the Gospel of John. The Bible actually has many farewell discourses like this from Jacob (Gen. 47:29-49:33), Joshua (Jos. 22-24), David (1 Chr. 27-29), Moses (Deut. 33), Tobit (Tob 14:3-11), and Paul (Acts 20:17-38). This biblical genre features an announcement about a person’s departure, a statement about God’s great works, a reminder of God’s commands, instructions to love each other and concludes with a prayer.

[2] He said, “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you as required by law.  If you don’t like that, then don’t smuggle children over our border.” Attorney General Sessions Delivers Remarks to the Association of State Criminal Investigative Agencies 2018 Spring Conference, Scottsdale, AZ, Monday, May 7, 2018. https://www.justice.gov/opa/speech/attorney-general-sessions-delivers-remarks-association- state-criminal-investigative

https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2018/05/usa-routine-separation-of-asylum-seeking-families-violates-international-law/

https://www.vox.com/policy-and-politics/2018/5/8/17327512/sessions-illegal-immigration-border-asylum-families

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-immigration-children/u-s-cements-plans-to-separate-families-crossing-border-illegally-idUSKBN1I82AB

[3] https://www.wsj.com/articles/congress-leery-of-trumps-cuts-to-childrens-health-program-1525822614

[4] Russell Banks, “Feeding Moloch: The Sacrifice of Children on the Altar of Capitalism,” Harvard Divinity School Ingersoll Lecture, 5 November 2015. http://hds.harvard.edu/news/2014/11/05feeding-moloch-sacrifice-children-altar-capitalism

[5] Parenthetically he notes that there are two types of science fiction. Stories where they go here and ones where we go there. In either case these are stories about us right now. Banks seems to agree with the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) who uses the following logic to reason that death should mean nothing to us. When we are alive we cannot experience death and when we are dead we cannot experience anything.

[6] “A Philosopher’s Afterlife: We May Die But Others Live On,” National Public Radio, 9 October 2013. http://www.npr.org/2013/10/09/230756192/a-philosophers-afterlife-we-may-die-but-others-live-on

[7] Any of the people… who give any of their offspring to Molech shall be put to death…” Lev. 20:2.

[8] The way marketers treat children as the largest market category. Through television, Disney, Facebook, Twitter, EBay, Amazon, on cell phones and tablets the vast colossus reaches out and colonizes the consciousness of our children. Children become transformed into consumers.

[9] Tom Little and Katherine Ellison, Loving Learning: How Progressive Education Can Save America’s Schools (NY: Norton, 2015).

[10] Alan Ginsberg, “Howl.” http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/179381

[11] This is the impersonal force of greed that lead us to treat people as tools for our pleasure rather than as ends in themselves. We agree that this is most heartbreaking when it comes to the children of the world. Beneath Russell Banks’ words and thoughts lies a profound disappointment with the universe. His weak solution is that writers and musicians in each succeeding generation will reintroduce us to our true nature.

[12] Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (New York: T & T Clark, 2005) 367-77.

Sunday, May 6
Joy and Trauma: ‘To us all, love comes.’
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Read sermon

I have one of those unfortunate faces that lapses into a frown in repose. It doesn’t mean I’m unhappy or disapproving but my mouth just naturally sits with a downward curve rather than an upward one. This meant that when I was younger I was subject more than most to shouts on the street of ‘smile, darling’ or ‘cheer up, love, it might never happen.’ I longed to have the chutzpah to come up with some wittier response than an ironic fake grin or a hard stare. But I would generally just blush and try hard to remember that ‘pleasing random men’ was not my life’s work.

These sexist, controlling and embarrassing comments were clearly inappropriate and are still a bane on many women’s life. What is more socially acceptable, but potentially no less damaging, are those modern cure-alls of ‘positive thinking’ or ‘being in the moment’. We are told that we only need the right mindset to rise above the sadness and strain of our lives. I’m not a naturally angry person, but this really angers me. No amount of positive thinking is going to lift a depressive illness or make a time of trauma bearable. No focus on being in the moment ever cured cancer or erased the pain of loss.

Which may be a strange way in to a sermon that is taking as its focus those words from the gospel ‘that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.’ But I want to make sure from the start that we find the right foundation for joy, the right focus for joy. A foundation and focus that do not rely on our own ability to think ourselves happy. A foundation and focus that pay attention both to the unhappiness in many of our lives and to the uncontrollability of many of our minds and moods.

There are few experiences lonelier than sitting in a large group of people thinking to yourself that you are the only one who is struggling. That you are the only one who lives with depression or struggles each day against anxiety or who has issues with addiction. That you are the only one who doesn’t have their life together, the only one not able to experience the joy that woman in the pulpit is going on about. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness you are very far from alone – mental illness affects 1 in 5 Americans every year, and 1 in 25 find their life severely impacted by it. I would think many more than half of us here have had our own lives or the lives of those we love touched by mental illness.

If our joy as Christians is to be real, to be more than a false smile pasted on because we think God is shouting at us ‘smile darling’, then it has to be a joy that can reach into this reality. There are a couple of theologians who have done some work that can help us here, both working in the field of trauma and faith – Serene Jones and Shelly Rambo. They have attended to the experience of those who have gone through great hardship – sexual abuse, the traumatic stress of warfare – and who have to live with the continuing ripples of this reality.

The reality they deal with is hard. It is the opposite of an easy, happy-clappy triumphalist Christianity. Rambo says: “Life, for many, does not triumph over death. Instead life persists in the midst of death, and death in the midst of life.”[i] Traumatic events do not find closure, they do not get left behind, they shadow us even as we move into a continuation of life. Yet also traumatic events are survivable – they do not end our capacity for living. And she also says: “Redemption is, in essence, a divine love story.”[ii] Somehow we need to locate joy in this mix of anguished survival and divine hopeful love.

Look what it says in the passage from John – Jesus tells us he says these things to us that his joy may be in us and our joy may be complete. So what is this joy of Jesus? It is not a joy that floats above suffering. Jesus’ whole ministry has been among people who are suffering – through the demons of their own illness or through the demons of an occupying empire. And Jesus speaks these words to his disciples during the gospel’s farewell discourse – when Jesus is himself preparing to face the trauma of betrayal, torture and death. This cannot be a heedless joy he promises us but something rooted in hard reality. A joy that walks hand in hand with the hard truths of life. A joy grounded in vulnerable love.

Jesus’ joy, and our own, is not a veneer covering over our pain but a life-giving energy in the midst of pain. This is how Serene Jones beautifully puts it: “to be saved is not to be taken elsewhere. It is to be awakened – to mourn and to wonder. And to stand courageously on the promise that grace is sturdy enough to hold it all – you, and me, and every broken, trauma-ridden soul that wanders through our history. To us all, love comes.”[iii]

Now it is only through this love that comes to us all that joy can come to us all. Not through our own efforts, not through cutting ourselves off from the rest of suffering humanity, not through the power of positive thinking. It is a joy that lives in the sudden wonder of connection, in relationship, in finding our identity as part of the whole glorious and wounded mass of creation. Joy is not the same as safety, nor is it the negation of negative emotions. It is the glimpse of a flowering cherry that reminds us beauty still lives in the world, it’s the touch of a human hand when we thought ourselves forgotten and alone, it’s the awareness that others struggle too and, even with our own woundedness, we can ease their pain.

And there is no ‘ought’ connected to joy. We should never beat ourselves up for not feeling joyful. The same Jesus who calls us to joy was the one who cried out with despair ‘My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?’. What we may be able to feel when joy is far away is its faint echo in hope. And when we can’t even feel that we may be able to hold on to the ‘promise that grace is sturdy enough to hold it all’. And when our grip weakens even on this then we can let our faith community hold us and hold this truth in safe keeping till we can open to it again.

And remember that even when we are in the abyss we are not alone. To quote Shelly Rambo again: “Divine and human meet in the middle, and there is an intermingling of breath in the abyss; it is the point at which the silent human cry meets the silent divine cry.”[iv] The God who calls us to joy is also present in its absence, loving us through everything and never abandoning her hurting children. Our most painful breath is breathed by God also.

Oh my dear fellow strugglers I pray that the joy of Jesus may be in you and that your joy may be complete. And I pray that when your joy is far from complete you can still know that grace is sturdy enough to hold you. And I pray that this community may help make real the truth that faith and Easter resurrection attests: “to us all, love comes.” For this is the truth: To us all, love comes.

 

[i] Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining, Louisville Kentucky: John Knox Westminster Press, 2010, p165.

[ii] Ibid, p153.

[iii] Serene Jones, Trauma and Grace: Theology in a Ruptured Word, Louisville Kentucky: John Knox Press Westminster, 2009, final sentence.

[iv] Spirit and Trauma, p170.

Thursday, May 3
The First Gentile Christian
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord.” (Acts. 11).

What does it take for a Bible passage to really come alive for us? So much of what we hear every day fails to really penetrate our hearts. Often it is even more difficult to imagine someone like Peter or Cornelius as a real person caught up in the tragedy of real life.

This morning I received a voicemail message from a very old friend named Janet. We first met in church and I’ve known her for maybe thirty years. We studied the Bible together and shared our lives. In fact, for a while, I was even the executor of Janet’s estate. Her voice was so full of pain. She felt embarrassed that people are laughing about the Episcopal Church because of last week’s Beyoncé service. She said, “How could you do this in that beautiful Cathedral?”

The writer Rebecca Solnit points out that we use the word “lost” in two disparate ways. On the one hand we all have the experience of losing our keys, a homework assignment, a book or an article of clothing. When this happens we still know where we are. Everything is familiar except that one element.

But then there is the experience of losing oneself. You may have been lost in the woods or a strange city. Solnit describes this as the moment when the world becomes larger than our knowledge of it.[1] In both the ways that we use the word “lost” the striking feeling involves a loss of control.

This was how Janet sounded in her message. It is the way that “the circumcised believers criticized” Peter when they said, “Why did you go to uncircumscribed men and eat with them” (Acts 11)? Religious rules of the time did not permit faithful Jewish men to share meals with outsiders. I can imagine Peter’s discomfort in this confrontation.

Change is difficult for all of us, for Janet and me, for Peter and his friends. Peter offers two responses one from a dream in which he met God and the other from his personal experience.

Peter was praying when he had a vision of a large sheet being lowered from heaven with different kinds of animals on it. A voice told him to eat and he refused because according to his faith these animals were unclean. God told him, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

The Spirit then told Peter to go with some non-Jewish people who appeared and “not to make a distinction between them and us.” When he arrived at their house he began to speak. He describes it to his angry friends, “the Holy Spirit fell upon them just as it had upon us in the beginning.” Finally to his questioners Peter says, “If then God gave them the same spirit that he gave us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could hinder God?”

At Grace Cathedral these days we too have a dream. It comes from a deep desire to reach out into the world, to allow God to draw us into new relationships with others. In the same spirit as Peter, we want to meet new people and to hear what God is saying to them. Although this may at times leave us feeling lost, we do not always have to be the ones in control. God is in charge. God will always draw us into a world that is larger than our knowledge of it.

[1] Rebecca Solnit, A Field Guide to Getting Lost (NY: Penguin, 2005) 22-3.

Sunday, April 29
Truth about Fear
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear… We love because he loved us first” (1 Jn. 4).

What does it mean to say that perfect love casts out fear?

Over a hundred years ago G. K. Chesterton (1874-1936) wrote, “There are some people – and I am one of them – who think that the most practical and important thing about a man is still his view of the universe. We think that for a landlady considering a lodger, it is important to know his income, but still more important to know his philosophy…”

“We think for a general about to fight an enemy, it is important to know the enemy’s numbers, but still more important to know the enemy’s philosophy. We think the question is not whether the theory of the cosmos affects matters, but whether, in the long run, anything else affects them.”[1]

All these years later I think that the most striking thing for Chesterton about our implied individual and collective philosophy would be our fear. On the one hand we live in one of the safest, healthiest and wealthiest societies in all history, and at the same time we are obsessed by unlikely threats and a false sense of scarcity.

In the last presidential election unemployment was at 5%, there had been six years of steady economic progress, our country was developing the technologies of the future, and our military power was unrivalled. And yet many Americans seemed irrationally afraid – of immigrants, terrorists, people of color, government officials, etc.

In these early days of the vast social experiment which we call the Internet, sometimes it seems like people just want to be offended and angry. Fear generates fear and since then we have become even more afraid. We worry about the viability of our democracy itself, environmental degradation, trade wars and actual wars.

Sasha Abramsky my forum guest today points out that our smartphones are “changing our physiology” through stress. He also claims that we are afraid of the wrong things. We worry about Ebola, terrorists, plane crashes, violent immigrants, when we should be worrying about traffic. In ten years 400,000 vehicular passengers and another 45,000 pedestrians were killed on American roads. In 2015 thirty-eight thousand people were killed by cars in the US, an increase of 8 percent probably the result of distracted driving.[2]

Fear makes Americans more dangerous. It leads to policies like the “Stand Your Ground” laws, mass incarceration, overzealous policing, the legitimation of torture and reckless foreign interventions. Because tens of millions of Americans believe they need guns to protect themselves we live with higher rates of suicide and accidental death. In 2014 Gun War News reported that for every American soldier killed in Afghanistan over the previous eleven years, thirteen American children had died from being shot.[3]

  1. This morning we have two readings that particularly address the universal human challenge of overcoming fear. John dedicates a large portion of his Gospel to what scholars call “The Farewell Discourse.” At his last meal Jesus washes the feet of his friends. He inaugurates the tradition of a holy meal that we will experience this morning. He tells his friends what is about to happen, that he will be betrayed and delivered to the authorities and humiliated.[4]

You might imagine how horrifying this would sound to someone who had given up everything to follow Jesus. They loved him and believed so deeply in his message. They couldn’t help but think that his disgrace would be theirs too. You can almost imagine the desperation and fear Thomas feels when he says, “How can we know the way.” So Jesus explains. He’s not delivering a social science lecture. He is trying to comfort his friends.

In the Gospel of John Jesus offers seven “I Am” statements to help us to understand God. He says, “I am the bread of life… the light of the world… the door… the Good Shepherd… the resurrection… the way, the truth and the life…” Finally, Jesus gets to the last image that he hopes. Each of these pictures has been leading to this.

Jesus says, “I am the true vine and my father is the farmer” (Jn. 15). The scriptures often used this image of God as the farmer and the people of Israel as a kind of grapevine. In those contexts God condemns the whole nation for bearing poor fruit and threatens to uproot the vines. Jeremiah complains about the bitterness of this fruit and God’s righteousness in destroying it (2:21).[5]

But in this context with his very dear friends, Jesus is not so much threatening them with death, as a consequence of choosing to be cut off (as I imagine some might read this passage). Instead he says, “You have already been cleansed (or pruned) by the word I have spoken to you” (Jn. 15). He is promising a whole new kind of intimacy and connection. He is saying, “Don’t be afraid, we will always be together. Your life and all of its fruits will be signs of our ongoing intimacy. I will be with you and our companionship will be even closer than it is now. Today we walk side by side but in the days to come, I will live in you.”[6]

  1. The second reading comes from the First Letter of John. The Biblical scholar Ray Brown believes that this letter was written during a time of struggle within the early Christian community by a person who was concerned about Gnosticism. John wrote this epistle in the face of a religious movement that emphasized secret knowledge about a war between spirit and the physical world.[7]

For John faith is public and visible. Over and over he repeats his conviction that belief and knowledge are always secondary to love. Or to put it more accurately, we recognize the truth by the fruit it bears. Especially when Christians disagree we have to always keep this message in mind.

John writes that, “We love because [God] first loved us. Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers and sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 Jn. 4).

John encourages us to show our faithfulness to God through our kindness to each other. “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 Jn. 4).

This week again the news has been full of reminders about the severity of racial injustice in America where unarmed African Americans are five times as likely to be killed by police as white people.[8] You may have read about the National Memorial for Peace and Justice dedicated to people who were terrorized by the lynching of African Americans.[9] Perhaps you heard about the African American women golfers who were playing at their own club when the police were called to escort them off the grounds.[10] You could have seen the video of Desmond Marrow a former NFL player who was thrown to the ground and choked by police officers in Atlanta, Georgia.[11]

We have reached a horrible place in our society when significant numbers of people believe that calling the police puts African American people at risk of being humiliated or killed.

In the film I Am not Your Negro, we hear the writer James Baldwin (1924-1987) reminiscences of his friends Medgar Evers, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know if you have ever had a friend who was murdered, but it makes a difference in how the world looks to you. Despite this Baldwin can say, “I refuse to hate you. In fact you and I are one. The great lie is that we are two people. I’m your cousin. I can’t hate you because we’re family.”[12]

So much about fear is mysterious. What feels terrifying to me could seem totally irrational to you, in fact it could be even exhilarating to you. Chapman University charts American’s top fears every year.[13] You can see the trends. Fear is a social phenomenon.

When I first arrived at Grace Cathedral riding my bicycle down California Street seemed terrifying. Like an old style roller coaster you come up to Jones from the Taylor Street steps with the wind howling over the top of Nob Hill. Then you launch yourself downhill. Car doors swing open. Uber drivers pass you within inches as you go almost thirty miles per hour trying to avoid cable cars and their accident-causing rails.

It’s dangerous because you are exposed. You have a different kind of vehicle and so the people around you don’t understand (maybe that makes it a little bit like other ways of being different in our society). Over these years I have come to love what I previously feared. Now I see that every day in that place is wonderfully different and I’m filled with joy. I’m enjoying the ride more than the destination.

I began with the idea that your philosophy of life matters to hundreds of small and large decisions in our life. The life of faith is like riding down that hill. To others we might seem vulnerable and a little reckless, as too quick to forgive. We look more exposed to suffering because of our commitment to love. But we have something that cannot be seen. We are part of the true vine. Jesus lives through us. God’s fruits are being born in us. We experience the love that casts out fear.

Let us pray: May all that is unforgiven in us / Be released. / May our fears yield / Their deepest tranquilities. // May all that is unlived in us / Blossom into a future / Graced with love.[14]

[1] G.K. Chesterton, Heretics quoted in William James, Pragmatism and the Meaning of Truth (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978) 9.

[2] Sasha Abramsky, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream (NY: Nation Books, 2017) 95.

[3] Ibid., 74.

[4] The discussion below comes from Liz and Matt Boulton, “Abide in Me: SALT Commentary for Easter 5,” Salt, April 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/lectionary-commentary-for-easter-5

[5] Herman C. Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (NY: T&T Clark, 2005) 225-352.

[6]Liz and Matt Boulton, “Abide in Me: SALT Commentary for Easter 5,” Salt, April 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/lectionary-commentary-for-easter-5

[7] Raymond E. Brown, The Anchor Bible: The Epistles of John, Volume 30 (NY: Doubleday, 1982).

[8] Sasha Abramsky, Jumping at Shadows: The Triumph of Fear and the End of the American Dream (NY: Nation Books, 2017) 146, 159-60.

[9] https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-partisan/wp/2018/04/26/the-lynching-memorial-ends-our-national-silence-on-racial-terrorism/?utm_term=.863fff961c74&wpisrc=nl_popns&wpmm=1 and https://museumandmemorial.eji.org/memorial

[10] https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/business/wp/2018/04/24/white-golf-course-owners-said-five-african-american-women-were-playing-too-slow-then-they-called-the-police/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.f113bf7ddaf6

[11] http://www.ledger-enquirer.com/news/state/georgia/article209961214.html

[12] Donald Schell conversation 25 April 2018.

[13] https://blogs.chapman.edu/wilkinson/2017/10/11/americas-top-fears-2017/

[14] John O’ Donohue, To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (NY: Doubleday, 2008) 97.

Wednesday, April 25
Beyoncé Mass Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Yolanda Norton, Professor of Theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary
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