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Sunday, January 13
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, January 10
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, January 13
Seeking Reality
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

Seeking Reality

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear for I am with you” (Isa. 43).

All of us here this morning differ in so many obvious ways. We are different ages and races. We speak dozens of languages and come from hundreds of places. We are messy and neat, rich and poor, exhausted and alert, trying to fit in or hoping to stand out. We have different dreams, desires and beliefs.

But below the surface we share in common something profound. We all are seeking what is real. We hunger for it. You know what I mean. We encounter some much superficiality, so many half-truths and lies. And so we understand what it feels like to come across someone who really gets us. We appreciate someone who can be true.[1]

Peter Haynes was my priest in college. He is one of the most real people I know. He chooses words cautiously. He respects me enough to care more about being honest than whether or not I feel comfortable. He doesn’t hesitate to correct me. When I became dean of the Cathedral he drove six hours from Orange County just to shake my hand after the service. Then he drove six hours back home. He said the look on my face made it all worth it.

Although he once was the physically strongest priest in the Diocese he is frail and weak now. Yesterday I asked him what baptism means. He said that we are body, mind and soul. He pointed out that bodies and minds get a lot of attention in our society. But the challenge of our time is the world of the spirit.

For instance, fear drives us in irrational ways. I’m not just talking about the border wall. You can see this everywhere. We simply don’t feel right. In one of the richest societies in human history we feel impoverished, hounded by scarcity. We face an epidemic of despair. We see it in various addictions, rising levels of depression, isolation and loneliness. It lies behind our rising suicide rates and broken politics.

Peter Haynes says that baptism is the beginning of a spiritual life. It is how we start to tend our spiritual nature, how we receive the Spirit. The Bible is a library of different books written by different authors for different times and places. But the idea of a beloved child is a recurring theme. Think of all those joyful announcements about long awaited children being born.

Isaiah gives us a love letter from God. Shut your eyes and really try to hear this. “[T]hus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob he formed you… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned… Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…” (Isa. 43).

God calls Jesus his “beloved Son” and through him we become God’s children too. We are spiritually healthy when God’s love for us is most real. Through baptism with water and the Holy Spirit we encounter this reality. The bread and wine we share every week remind us that God loves us too much to leave us on our own.

Today I offer three very simple observations from the story of Jesus’ baptism about spiritual healing and strength.

  1. Chaff. With so much fear all around it is sometimes hard not to read the Bible in a fearful way. Luke uses a metaphor that we find confusing. He reports a short speech by John in which he talks about a “winnowing fork” and clearing the “threshing floor,” gathering the wheat into the granary and burning the chaff with “unquenchable fire” (Lk. 3). The Greek word for unquenchable is asbesto, the root of our word asbestos.

I want to be very clear. This metaphor is not about good people going to heaven and bad ones being burned in hell. It is about repentance or more precisely it is about the primary spiritual task called metanoia. That’s the Greek word we translate as repentance. It means to transform your life and soul.

At harvest each grain of wheat has a husk. The goal is not to separate good wheat from bad wheat but to save every grain. This is not a metaphor of separation and judgment. It is a metaphor of preservation and purification. The grain and the husks are thrown together into the air and the wind disperses the lighter husks.

There are large parts of ourselves that we will have to let go of in order to be happy, and for that matter to be part of God’s Kingdom. It is as if we were carrying a huge backpack that extended high over our heads and around our sides. As we approach a narrow gate we realize that not everything we carry will fit through.

Envy, anxiety, gossip, insecurity, prejudice, greed, our sense of superiority, narcissism, a spirit of revenge, along with so much else these have to go. The spirit helps to sift through our lives to make us more perfect. In his book The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis writes about this process of letting go of what is false. He says, “heaven is reality.”[2]

  1. Humility. The second thing I want to point out about the reading involves two seemingly inconsequential words. The preacher Fred Craddock says these may be the most important words in the Bible.[3] They are “Jesus also.” The passage goes like this. After John’s speech about the chaff, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also was baptized and was praying… the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form” (Lk. 3). “Jesus also.”

The writers of the Bible all agree that baptism is for repentance or metanoia. It exists to transform our souls. Although Jesus does not need repentance, although God does not need to change anything about himself, God comes among us in this startling way. If God can join humanity in this ritual of renewal, we too can live humbly. We need to reject all forms of arrogance and not put ourselves above others. Christians should always be seeking forgiveness, focusing on what we need to change about ourselves rather than on how others could be better.

  1. Prayer. The last simple thing you might have noticed in the Gospel has to do with prayer. The people have been baptized. Jesus himself has been baptized. Then Jesus prays and the Holy Spirit comes to him. And God’s voice announces, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3).

Our bodies require nutrition and exercise. Our minds need ideas, language and connections to other people. Prayer is the most important action for our spiritual life. We must have both what we call common prayer, that is prayer with other people in church, and individual prayer. In the New York Times this week Farhad Manjoo wrote an article called “You should Meditate Every Day.” It is about how meditation has completely improved his life.[4] It can help you too.

Prayer is the way we overcome the destructive fantasies we constantly generate and come to know something greater. It is the way we stop being a stranger to our self. It needs to be part of every day. We should set aside regular times for prayer and pray spontaneously too. As parents we should spend over ten years reading every night to our children. After you read tell your children what you are praying for and ask what they would like to pray for. Then say the Lord’s Prayer together. Pray at meals. Pray in the morning when you wake up, as you travel and as you prepare to sleep.

The twentieth century theologian Karl Barth writes, “And faith as the work of the Holy Spirit is not a magical transformation. It is not a higher endowment with divine powers. It is simply that we acquire what we so much need… a teacher of truth within ourselves.”[5] That teacher is Christ. This is the way we realize that because we are God’s children we have nothing to fear.

I vividly remember the day when I became a parent. I was standing at the hospital window, watching commuters on their way home as the sun was setting after a long summer day. I remember the light. It felt like such a contrast. The drivers were engaged in such an ordinary activity while for me the world seemed miraculous and utterly transformed. In that moment I knew everything had changed. I came closer to reality and to God.

We long for what is real. We won’t be satisfied by anything else. So cultivate your spiritual life. Purify yourself of the anxiety, fear and selfishness that diminishes you. Be humble and don’t regard yourself as better than anyone else. Persist in prayer so that Christ might shine more completely in your life. Never forget that you are “precious in [God’s] sight, and honored” and God loves you.

[1] It might even be bad news but we want to know the truth.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (NY: Macmillan, 1946) 69.

[3] This particular example and much else in this sermon is inspired by Matt and Liz Boulton, “Jesus Also: Salt’s Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Two,” 7 January 2019. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/1/7/jesus-also-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-epiphany-week-two.

[4] Farhad Manjoo, “You Should Meditate Every Day,” The New York Times, 9 January 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/opinion/meditation-internet.html

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part Two Tr. G. T. Thomson, Harold Knight (NY: T&T Clark, 1956) 242.

Thursday, January 10
The Star at its Rising
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
Read sermon

The Star at its Rising

“There ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising” (Mt. 2).

Nothing stays the same. No matter who you are, life is a pilgrimage. In body or spirit we either adapt to change or we die.

Last night at dinner Sarah Kay the poet and our former Artist in Residence told me about a college party at Brown University called Sex Power God. In short it is famous for having students dancing around in their underwear. The year before she arrived there the Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly sent an undercover reporter to video the event. Sarah described in detail how friends suddenly saw themselves half naked on television and worried about whether this would affect their careers.[i]

For years she forgot about the whole thing. Then last summer Sarah met a new friend who we will call Janet. They instantly recognized each other as soul mate. Janet is a filmmaker and a woman of color. When Sarah told her that she had gone to Brown, her friend said, “Oh” in the way people usually do when they had applied and not been accepted.

Janet explained that she loved Brown. The college had heavily recruited her in high school. Each week during the track season, Brown had called her coach to find out her times. In fact, Janet was not just accepted as an undergraduate but also into a special program that guaranteed her admission to medical school. It all seemed settled.

Then one day she came home as her father was turning off the television. He had been watching the Bill O’Reilly show. He had seen the episode about the party and told her that she was not allowed to go to Brown. Sarah feels convinced that the two would have been close friends in college and couldn’t help but wonder how this event changed the course of Janet’s life.

Change lies at the heart of all things. We are always accepting invitations or turning them down, embracing new possibilities or trying to shelter ourselves from change. During the Season of Epiphany we look for the light. We also listen for how God calls us out of our old habits and into a new relationship of love and gratitude with the world. We recognize that what we do and how we live matters for people who we haven’t even met.

In our Lessons and Carols service tonight we have three stories about invitation and persistence. The Magi leave everything behind to follow a star. At first they meet an insecure tyrant whose fear leads him to kill children. They persist in seeking. Ultimately they are, “overwhelmed with joy” when they encounter the baby Jesus (Mt. 2).

In the wilderness John thought that he understood what it would be like when the Messiah came. But he had to change. He had to accept the idea that he would baptize the Messiah. And when he did he saw, “the Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Mt. 3).

Finally at first Jesus himself seemed to imagine that his first miracle would involve a more weighty matter than providing wine for a wedding party. But his mother invited him to help and something moved him to begin his public ministry at that party.

Maybe you will be at a party when God calls you. Perhaps you will be at a track meet or in a newsroom or sitting watching television or in the wilderness or at Grace Cathedral.

Nothing stays the same. No matter who you are, life is a pilgrimage. In body or spirit we either adapt to change or we die. Listen for God. Persist in your calling. Do not be afraid to change your plans. Allow Jesus to transform the ordinary water of your life into something more. Let the star of God’s grace guide you.

[i] Meryl Rothstein, “Fox News airs footage of Sex Power God,” The Brown Daily Herald, 15 November 2005. http://www.browndailyherald.com/2005/11/15/fox-news-airs-footage-of-sex-power-god/

Past Sermons

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

Sunday, January 13
Seeking Reality
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

Seeking Reality

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear for I am with you” (Isa. 43).

All of us here this morning differ in so many obvious ways. We are different ages and races. We speak dozens of languages and come from hundreds of places. We are messy and neat, rich and poor, exhausted and alert, trying to fit in or hoping to stand out. We have different dreams, desires and beliefs.

But below the surface we share in common something profound. We all are seeking what is real. We hunger for it. You know what I mean. We encounter some much superficiality, so many half-truths and lies. And so we understand what it feels like to come across someone who really gets us. We appreciate someone who can be true.[1]

Peter Haynes was my priest in college. He is one of the most real people I know. He chooses words cautiously. He respects me enough to care more about being honest than whether or not I feel comfortable. He doesn’t hesitate to correct me. When I became dean of the Cathedral he drove six hours from Orange County just to shake my hand after the service. Then he drove six hours back home. He said the look on my face made it all worth it.

Although he once was the physically strongest priest in the Diocese he is frail and weak now. Yesterday I asked him what baptism means. He said that we are body, mind and soul. He pointed out that bodies and minds get a lot of attention in our society. But the challenge of our time is the world of the spirit.

For instance, fear drives us in irrational ways. I’m not just talking about the border wall. You can see this everywhere. We simply don’t feel right. In one of the richest societies in human history we feel impoverished, hounded by scarcity. We face an epidemic of despair. We see it in various addictions, rising levels of depression, isolation and loneliness. It lies behind our rising suicide rates and broken politics.

Peter Haynes says that baptism is the beginning of a spiritual life. It is how we start to tend our spiritual nature, how we receive the Spirit. The Bible is a library of different books written by different authors for different times and places. But the idea of a beloved child is a recurring theme. Think of all those joyful announcements about long awaited children being born.

Isaiah gives us a love letter from God. Shut your eyes and really try to hear this. “[T]hus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob he formed you… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned… Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…” (Isa. 43).

God calls Jesus his “beloved Son” and through him we become God’s children too. We are spiritually healthy when God’s love for us is most real. Through baptism with water and the Holy Spirit we encounter this reality. The bread and wine we share every week remind us that God loves us too much to leave us on our own.

Today I offer three very simple observations from the story of Jesus’ baptism about spiritual healing and strength.

  1. Chaff. With so much fear all around it is sometimes hard not to read the Bible in a fearful way. Luke uses a metaphor that we find confusing. He reports a short speech by John in which he talks about a “winnowing fork” and clearing the “threshing floor,” gathering the wheat into the granary and burning the chaff with “unquenchable fire” (Lk. 3). The Greek word for unquenchable is asbesto, the root of our word asbestos.

I want to be very clear. This metaphor is not about good people going to heaven and bad ones being burned in hell. It is about repentance or more precisely it is about the primary spiritual task called metanoia. That’s the Greek word we translate as repentance. It means to transform your life and soul.

At harvest each grain of wheat has a husk. The goal is not to separate good wheat from bad wheat but to save every grain. This is not a metaphor of separation and judgment. It is a metaphor of preservation and purification. The grain and the husks are thrown together into the air and the wind disperses the lighter husks.

There are large parts of ourselves that we will have to let go of in order to be happy, and for that matter to be part of God’s Kingdom. It is as if we were carrying a huge backpack that extended high over our heads and around our sides. As we approach a narrow gate we realize that not everything we carry will fit through.

Envy, anxiety, gossip, insecurity, prejudice, greed, our sense of superiority, narcissism, a spirit of revenge, along with so much else these have to go. The spirit helps to sift through our lives to make us more perfect. In his book The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis writes about this process of letting go of what is false. He says, “heaven is reality.”[2]

  1. Humility. The second thing I want to point out about the reading involves two seemingly inconsequential words. The preacher Fred Craddock says these may be the most important words in the Bible.[3] They are “Jesus also.” The passage goes like this. After John’s speech about the chaff, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also was baptized and was praying… the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form” (Lk. 3). “Jesus also.”

The writers of the Bible all agree that baptism is for repentance or metanoia. It exists to transform our souls. Although Jesus does not need repentance, although God does not need to change anything about himself, God comes among us in this startling way. If God can join humanity in this ritual of renewal, we too can live humbly. We need to reject all forms of arrogance and not put ourselves above others. Christians should always be seeking forgiveness, focusing on what we need to change about ourselves rather than on how others could be better.

  1. Prayer. The last simple thing you might have noticed in the Gospel has to do with prayer. The people have been baptized. Jesus himself has been baptized. Then Jesus prays and the Holy Spirit comes to him. And God’s voice announces, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3).

Our bodies require nutrition and exercise. Our minds need ideas, language and connections to other people. Prayer is the most important action for our spiritual life. We must have both what we call common prayer, that is prayer with other people in church, and individual prayer. In the New York Times this week Farhad Manjoo wrote an article called “You should Meditate Every Day.” It is about how meditation has completely improved his life.[4] It can help you too.

Prayer is the way we overcome the destructive fantasies we constantly generate and come to know something greater. It is the way we stop being a stranger to our self. It needs to be part of every day. We should set aside regular times for prayer and pray spontaneously too. As parents we should spend over ten years reading every night to our children. After you read tell your children what you are praying for and ask what they would like to pray for. Then say the Lord’s Prayer together. Pray at meals. Pray in the morning when you wake up, as you travel and as you prepare to sleep.

The twentieth century theologian Karl Barth writes, “And faith as the work of the Holy Spirit is not a magical transformation. It is not a higher endowment with divine powers. It is simply that we acquire what we so much need… a teacher of truth within ourselves.”[5] That teacher is Christ. This is the way we realize that because we are God’s children we have nothing to fear.

I vividly remember the day when I became a parent. I was standing at the hospital window, watching commuters on their way home as the sun was setting after a long summer day. I remember the light. It felt like such a contrast. The drivers were engaged in such an ordinary activity while for me the world seemed miraculous and utterly transformed. In that moment I knew everything had changed. I came closer to reality and to God.

We long for what is real. We won’t be satisfied by anything else. So cultivate your spiritual life. Purify yourself of the anxiety, fear and selfishness that diminishes you. Be humble and don’t regard yourself as better than anyone else. Persist in prayer so that Christ might shine more completely in your life. Never forget that you are “precious in [God’s] sight, and honored” and God loves you.

[1] It might even be bad news but we want to know the truth.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (NY: Macmillan, 1946) 69.

[3] This particular example and much else in this sermon is inspired by Matt and Liz Boulton, “Jesus Also: Salt’s Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Two,” 7 January 2019. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/1/7/jesus-also-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-epiphany-week-two.

[4] Farhad Manjoo, “You Should Meditate Every Day,” The New York Times, 9 January 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/opinion/meditation-internet.html

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part Two Tr. G. T. Thomson, Harold Knight (NY: T&T Clark, 1956) 242.

Thursday, January 10
The Star at its Rising
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
Read sermon

The Star at its Rising

“There ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising” (Mt. 2).

Nothing stays the same. No matter who you are, life is a pilgrimage. In body or spirit we either adapt to change or we die.

Last night at dinner Sarah Kay the poet and our former Artist in Residence told me about a college party at Brown University called Sex Power God. In short it is famous for having students dancing around in their underwear. The year before she arrived there the Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly sent an undercover reporter to video the event. Sarah described in detail how friends suddenly saw themselves half naked on television and worried about whether this would affect their careers.[i]

For years she forgot about the whole thing. Then last summer Sarah met a new friend who we will call Janet. They instantly recognized each other as soul mate. Janet is a filmmaker and a woman of color. When Sarah told her that she had gone to Brown, her friend said, “Oh” in the way people usually do when they had applied and not been accepted.

Janet explained that she loved Brown. The college had heavily recruited her in high school. Each week during the track season, Brown had called her coach to find out her times. In fact, Janet was not just accepted as an undergraduate but also into a special program that guaranteed her admission to medical school. It all seemed settled.

Then one day she came home as her father was turning off the television. He had been watching the Bill O’Reilly show. He had seen the episode about the party and told her that she was not allowed to go to Brown. Sarah feels convinced that the two would have been close friends in college and couldn’t help but wonder how this event changed the course of Janet’s life.

Change lies at the heart of all things. We are always accepting invitations or turning them down, embracing new possibilities or trying to shelter ourselves from change. During the Season of Epiphany we look for the light. We also listen for how God calls us out of our old habits and into a new relationship of love and gratitude with the world. We recognize that what we do and how we live matters for people who we haven’t even met.

In our Lessons and Carols service tonight we have three stories about invitation and persistence. The Magi leave everything behind to follow a star. At first they meet an insecure tyrant whose fear leads him to kill children. They persist in seeking. Ultimately they are, “overwhelmed with joy” when they encounter the baby Jesus (Mt. 2).

In the wilderness John thought that he understood what it would be like when the Messiah came. But he had to change. He had to accept the idea that he would baptize the Messiah. And when he did he saw, “the Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Mt. 3).

Finally at first Jesus himself seemed to imagine that his first miracle would involve a more weighty matter than providing wine for a wedding party. But his mother invited him to help and something moved him to begin his public ministry at that party.

Maybe you will be at a party when God calls you. Perhaps you will be at a track meet or in a newsroom or sitting watching television or in the wilderness or at Grace Cathedral.

Nothing stays the same. No matter who you are, life is a pilgrimage. In body or spirit we either adapt to change or we die. Listen for God. Persist in your calling. Do not be afraid to change your plans. Allow Jesus to transform the ordinary water of your life into something more. Let the star of God’s grace guide you.

[i] Meryl Rothstein, “Fox News airs footage of Sex Power God,” The Brown Daily Herald, 15 November 2005. http://www.browndailyherald.com/2005/11/15/fox-news-airs-footage-of-sex-power-god/

Sunday, January 6
Feuerbach Epiphany
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

“When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy…” (Mt. 2).

In January 2007 on massive fairgrounds outside of Addis Ababa, our family celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany with the patriarch of Ethiopia. There were tens of thousands of other faithful Christians there. I remember hundreds of empty plastic water bottles launched through the air for priests to fill with holy water for healing friends and family who could not be present. Although the crowds seemed overwhelming they were only a tiny fraction of the planet’s two billion Christians. This Epiphany around the world we read Matthew’s story about the Magi following the light from the East, seeking a divine child.

The word epiphany comes from the Greek word (epi-phanero) meaning “to shine upon,” to show, to reveal. We see God’s light in this child. This light does not come from another place. It is not foreign to the world. It is a light that is already here. It is a light we see more clearly through the person of Jesus. The Apostle John writes that this, “light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it” (Jn. 1:5). It is the light that lies at the source of all things, from which all things come. Every person in that huge crowd of Ethiopians, each of you, has this light in your heart.

Look around today. This light shines through the rain falling on the cypress trees at Land’s End. It shines through every creature, each new blade of grass. The mountains, the soil, stones and elements born out of a thousand suns have this light in them, as does the vast ocean and our sheltering atmosphere.

Maybe this light seems perfectly obvious and even luminous to you this morning. Or perhaps you are having difficulty making it out because of your busyness, worries, anger, or sadness. This light shines in the Christ child. This epiphany can help us to see the world freshly again; it can make this the first day of creation.[1]

The story of the magi is about taking a risk. It is about leaving home and facing danger to seek out the light. This light has such important political consequences that it can become a matter of life and death. Strangely enough, sometimes when we listen to our dreams we become the means by which the light is preserved.

This morning I want to metaphorically leave home with you and consider the ideas of one of the most intelligent critics of Christianity in history, Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872). Understanding his thought involves a risk and a journey that may help us to be more carefully attuned to the light.

Feuerbach was the nineteenth century German thinker who inspired the atheism of Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud and Friedrich Nietzsche. He himself was a student of the German philosopher Hegel (1770-1830). Because he lived in a vastly different time, and responded to very different political and cultural circumstances, some of his ideas may be hard for us to understand.[2]

Feuerbach thought of himself as a kind of modern day Martin Luther (1483-1546).[3] He hoped to inspire a religious revolution in the same way that Luther did. Although he continues to inspire atheists, Feuerbach would not have described himself as an atheist. According to him the question of whether God exists or not belonged to the sixteenth and seventeenth century. For him, modern people should be talking about what they mean by God. When atheists confront me today I do my best to say the same thing. Most of what they reject about God (as an old man living in the sky) is not what I believe either.

I really appreciate this about Feuerbach. Even as the foremost critic of Christianity in the last two centuries he does not regard religion as entirely wrong. He recognizes a kind of truth in Christianity. He just believes that Christians fundamentally misunderstand it.

Feuerbach writes, “Religion is the dream of the human mind. But even in dreams we do not find ourselves in emptiness or in heaven, but on earth, in the realm of reality.”[4] In other words he believes Christianity is made up of something real. According to Feuerbach Christians take the best elements of human nature, the finest qualities of our species and then project them outside of ourselves on to a God which we falsely believe is separate from us.

He writes, “Theology is anthropology,” “the consciousness of God is nothing else than the consciousness of the species.” God to Feuerbach is an objectified and idealized version of the qualities of our species. Human beings are creative, powerful, capable of fairness, morality, intelligence and love. God is the perfection of these qualities. According to Feuerbach we just need to realize that God is not separate from us.

For Feuerbach this mistake about God leads Christians to falsely choose faith over love. He believes that we are more concerned about protecting God’s honor than about actually loving other people. In his words “the highest commandment [for Christians]… is Believe!” when it should be to love.

Clearly Feuerbach has been hurt by Christians. He hates their arrogance.[5] He criticizes them for being so concerned about the afterlife that they do not seem to care much about those around them except as a means for getting into heaven.

If we can hear these criticisms I wonder if they could make our faith stronger and clearer, maybe even truer. This is not new. For twenty centuries we have been aware of tendencies in the faith toward superiority, false pride, self-centeredness and otherworldliness.[6]

Still the Christianity that Feuerbach describes seems foreign to me. My faith is not primarily about God’s honor or what happens in the afterlife. I don’t think it makes me feel superior to others. Christianity for me is a way of receiving God’s gifts. It is living in gratitude for something other than my own ego. It is trying to act as a partner with God. It is being engaged with God in healing the world. The problem is that maintaining this frame of mind and living for others isn’t always easy.

I have two primary criticisms of Feuerbach. First, he doesn’t seem to understand what it means to be human. There is a rational part of us but there is so much more too – our desires, dreams and subconscious. We don’t totally control our inner life. He offers a kind of unintentional idolatry. John Calvin described the human mind as “a factory of idols.” Without the real God we make our own gods. Feuerbach does this explicitly. In our time this too easily becomes a kind of narcissism, a self-centeredness that feels no need to really be accountable to others. Being a child of God means first of all being responsible to creation.

My second problem with Feuerbach is that he presents such a small vision of the world. Its narrow attention to the human condition seems like a kind of wishful thinking that exaggerates our individual power and freedom. In exchange for this control Feuerbach seems to give up the possibility for real awe, gratitude, and the transcendent. I hear God speaking to me every day. Perhaps for this reason it seems far more likely to me that Feuerbach is projecting “Not-God” on to the universe than I am simply imagining God.

The author George Saunders in an interview tries to express this when he says that he, “doesn’t buy the humanist verities anymore.” For him when we consider our own death we realize that these truths are only, “a subset of what’s true.” He goes on, “It would be so weird if we knew just as much as we needed to know to answer all the questions of the universe… Whereas the probability is high that there is a vast reality that we have no way to perceive, that’s actually bearing down on us now and influencing everything. The idea of saying, ‘Well I can’t see it, therefore we don’t need to see it,’ seems really weird to me.”[7]

Before us today we have two choices for how we will see the world. We can regard it as chiefly a dark and silent place. In this picture we are isolated in our own heads, bravely facing a silent universe, free to do whatever we will. For people who see the world this way there is nothing higher than our own consciousness, no true companions – just a dead world and dumb luck.

Or we can choose to seek out the light, to notice it in every unexpected event, every form we come across and even to cultivate it in ourselves. We can receive the bread and wine, the hymns and praise that bring us closer to God.

A child changes your life. As a graduate student, I kept a journal for the first two years after we became parents. The light is on every page. Here is a random example (from 9 February 2001, 12 July 2000). “How could a day like this be improved? Micah is growing. He talks about surfing all the time.” “If only people were given an advisory angel instead of a guardian angel. This angel would alert us to give thanks for the irreplaceable moments in our lives which pass slowly by like leaves, floating… on the river of time, and then gone forever.”

Rabbis tell the story of Moses. After killing a man and fleeing into exile Moses was working for his father-in-law as a shepherd (Gen. 2-3). I do not know how much Moses misses his old life, whether he feels sorry for himself or just grateful to be alive, but one day, God’s angel appears to him in a bush. It seems to be burning, but not consumed by the fire. Perhaps what matters is not that the bush is burning but that Moses notices it.

I believe that every bush is burning; every thing and every moment is alive with the light of God. The world around us shines because God is at its heart. The light that the magi recognize and follow in the star is the light we seek also. The light they see in the baby Jesus can change our lives forever too.

Let us pray:

Dazzle us with your light O God. Draw us into the holy fire of your mystery. May the light of Christ transform our hearts so that we can begin again our work of healing the world and shine anew. Amen.[8]

[1] This paragraph and story about Moses were influenced by John Philip Newell, “The Light Within All Life,” Day 1, 6 January 2013, http://day1.org/4403-the_light_within_all_life

[2] Feuerbach’s teacher Hegel had a kind of evolutionary view of history. He believed in what he called Spirit or Mind which was both above and expressed through human culture and institutions. As human beings become more modern they become more explicitly conscious of Spirit. For Feuerbach who rejected much of Hegelian Idealism, the important spirit was the awareness that we project the values of our human species onto a being that is exterior to us rather than recognizing this godliness as our own inner nature. Marx took this idea of historical development and used it as the basis for his idea of historical materialism and the inevitability of certain economic and political relations.

[3] James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought, Volume 1: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1988), 223.

[4] Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity. Tr. George Eliot (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 1989), xix, xvii, 270, 260.

[5] “Faith is arrogant, but it is distinguished from natural arrogance in this, that it clothes its feeling of superiority, its pride, in the idea of another person, for whom the believer is an object of particular favour…” Ibid., 250.

[6] Again though, as is the case with many atheists, what Feuerbach criticizes is what many orthodox Christians would describe as heresy anyway. The Christian tradition includes exactly these self-criticisms (we have words for them like antinomianism, quietism, gnosticism, etc.).

[7] Joel Lovell, “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read this Year,” The New York Times 3 January 2013.

[8] See Mary Oliver, “The Ponds.” http://www.poetry-chaikhana.com/O/OliverMary/Ponds.htm

Sunday, December 30
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Kristin Saylor
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Tuesday, December 25
Christmas Day Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Mary Carter Greene
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Monday, December 24
Midnight Mass Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Watch Here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2xVG2TClEbA
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