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Sunday, July 15
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, July 15
King Philosopher Television Celebrity
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

“King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known” (Mk. 6).

I remember endless summer days as a four-year sitting in my plastic wheelbarrow on the grass. I pretended that it was my boat, safe on a vast green sea. On this magnificent day imagine this great cathedral with its redwood-like columns and stained-glass filtered light similarly as your haven of safety. No matter what storms may be gathering in your life, or in the society that surrounds us, we have found a joyful, beautiful place of peace.

What a blessing it is for us to be here! For twenty years I have been away on vacation during this week of the church year.[1] Today’s stories feel so fresh and vivid to me. It’s almost as if someone had discovered new passages from the Bible.

In this year of reading Mark’s Gospel together we thought we knew what to expect – concise, compact, abrupt, simple – the unembellished skeleton of God’s good news for us. And then today suddenly Mark stops being like Mark. Instead of being the writer who leaves the most up to our imagination, without warning he becomes the one to give us the overlooked details of a compelling story.

I think he does this to show our whole human predicament in a miniature form. In a single tragic story Mark brings us back to first principles, to the basic facts of existence, so that we can understand what we need to do in our complicated lives.

Mark tells us that Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs. They travel light through all the cities of the region. They ask people to repent. They cast out demons and heal those who are sick. They meet with such extraordinary success that even King Herod hears about their adventures. But just before they get back home to Jesus, before they can tell him what they have learned, Mark interjects what might seem like a parenthetical story about something that happened earlier (Mk. 6:30). It is the story of John the Baptist.

My dictionary says that the word apostle can mean Jesus’ disciples, or important leaders of the early church, or the first missionaries in a new land. It comes from the Greek word apostello or “to send.” Mark tells this story about two ways of being sent, about the two paths that constantly open up in the journey of our own lives: the way of Herod and the way of Jesus.

Mark’s story feels so contemporary. More than at any other time in my life we are entranced by the personalities of wealthy, powerful celebrities. We have been getting used to the experience of the personal suddenly breaking in to public life with enormous consequences.

To choose just one example it seems as if decisions about who gets pardoned and who stays condemned seem more arbitrary, more political than ever.[2] What could be more relevant today than a swaggering, bragging king delighted by his daughter’s performance and distanced from his wife, making promises with life and death consequences, which he does not want to keep.

In the Cathedral’s year of truth we notice that the ball starts rolling when John the Baptist speaks the truth. He points out that King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife is illegal. This offends Herod’s wife who holds a grudge against him. She wants to kill him but has no power to do so. Herod sends (apostello) his henchmen to overpower John and put him in prison.

Herod comes to respect John’s holiness, righteousness and goodness. He takes pleasure in hearing John talk even though he cannot always follow what John is saying.[3]

At his birthday banquet Herod’s daughter dances so beautifully that he repeats his oath that he will give her anything even up to half his kingdom.[4] Filled with hate the girl’s mother asks her for John the Baptist’s head on a plate. Herod feels “deeply grieved” but everything happens quickly as he sends (apostello) his men to behead John in prison. This week I kept thinking about the shock John must have felt at this moment when the executioner arrived on the instruction of the king who felt connected to him.

The Greek word Mark uses for Herodias’s grudge also means “entangled” (enexō) and that image defines this dysfunctional family.[5] Mark contrasts them with healthy families like Jairus who seeks healing for his daughter (Mk. 5:22).

And here we see how this story summarizes our human predicament. Each person in Herod’s family wants to be loved but tragically cannot get what he or she really needs. Herod’s wife wants to be valued and loved as queen and to not have anyone questioning the legitimacy of her position. At the same time she seems to have little power to satisfy her desire. She can only try to persuade, to use love to manipulate others. But even this is not enough to compel her husband to love her.

Their daughter did not ask for her parents to be at odds and yet she is forced to choose between them. She will always have the murder of a holy person on her conscience and the image of John’s head on a platter in her memory.

Herod too cares about the respect of his guests and the love of a daughter who chose his wife over him. He cares about John and is forced into a situation in which he has to kill someone he likes. In the face of this tragedy I have two questions. First, what is the difference between Herod’s way of sending and that of Jesus? And second, what does it feel like to be sent by God?

The French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) believed that the holiest thing that you will ever encounter is also one of the most common. It is another person’s face. Behind the face lies a mystery that we can never completely understand but which is at the same time so close to us. This is what it means to be made in the image of God. We have the chance to recognize God every time we encounter another person.

And so Levinas translates the word “philosophy” not as love of wisdom, but as the wisdom of love. He writes about “the primordial phenomenon of gentleness.”[6] He describes ethics as “first philosophy.” He asserts that love comes before every instance of knowing.[7]

The difference between the mission of Herod and that of Jesus is the difference between the impossible task of satisfying our ego and actively seeking the divine mystery in another person. It is the difference between going into the world to control other people (perhaps even ultimately imprisoning and beheading them) versus being sent to cast out demons and heal our universal sickness.

What does this feel like? The children’s television show creator and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers often sounds a lot like Levinas. He says, “Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”[8] Last week my wife and I saw the Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It may have a lot to do with the important role the show had in my life, but I have never seen a film before that touched me in quite this way.

It brought about a collision between my childhood and adult selves. It made me understand both how little I knew then, and yet how much I understood. I watched a lot of Mister Rogers as a child but experienced the characters in the Neighborhood of Make Believe so much on their own terms that it didn’t occur to me that Mister Rogers was the main puppeteer.

Mister Rogers felt appalled by children’s television with its cheap violence, clowning and the humiliation of throwing pies in people’s faces. He felt acutely conscious of the vulnerability of children, that their feelings are just as real and intense as ours are. So he dedicated his life to creating a world where children really are treated with respect and cared for, where their fears and concerns are taken seriously.

During the show’s first week on air in 1968 Daniel Tiger asks, “What is assassination?” On the show Rogers talked about war, death, divorce, the painfulness of change. During a time when whites refused to even integrate swimming pools Rogers famously invited Officer François Clemmons, an African American, to share his footbath. At some point in the series someone called the producers of the show to say that Clemmons was visiting a local gay bar. Mister Rogers told him not to go back there.

Still, in an interview you can see how just much Clemmons respected and loved Fred Rogers. He recalls a time when Mister Rogers said, “You are special and I love you just the way you are.” Clemmons joked, “Are you talking to me?” And Mister Rogers said, “I have been for two years, but you are only just now hearing me.” Clemmons went on choking back tears to say that neither his stepfather nor his birth father, no one, had told him that they loved him like that.

In the 1990’s commentators on Fox News asserted that not everyone was special and that Mister Rogers encouraged the sense of entitlement which epitomized exactly what was wrong with America. But in his testimony to Congress twenty years before then Mister Rogers spoke the truth. “You don’t have to do something really outstanding in order to be loved, or to love.”[9]

I talked about playing in my wheelbarrow boat on a grassy sea and about this cathedral as a great harbor of peace and hope. Soon God will feed us a holy meal. And then God will send us back out into the storms of our daily life.

We thought we knew what to expect but in the face of the human predicament we too need to decide on our basic first principles. We have to choose between the path of trying to satisfy the relentless demands of our hungry egos, or the humble way of Jesus, between the fruitless effort to force people to respect us, and the challenge to love others more deeply just the way they are.

Every face presents us with a holy mystery that is so near and yet utterly unfathomable. In this scary world every child gives us another chance to share respect, comfort and wisdom. Brothers and sisters you are special. You are loved. May God bless you – sweet apostles of grace.

#EmmanuelLevinas, #MisterRogers, #Herod

[1] In a phone conversation this week Cynthia Kittridge the President of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas pointed out that this Gospel does not appear in the old prayerbook lectionary but was introduced with the Revised Common Lectionary. Noël Coward said somewhere that work is more fun than fun. I guess that’s true for me too.

[2] https://www.outsideonline.com/2326556/trumps-pardon-hammond-bundy-family?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WYM-07132018&utm_content=WYM-07132018+CID_84e8f04b8cd3fdac78c49c88f0a820fc&utm_source=campaignmonitor%20outsidemagazine&utm_term=pardoning%20the%20Hammonds

[3] The word aporew in Greek is a conjunction of apo and poreuomai. Bluntly it means “can’t go.” In the world of thought Herod cannot go with John but he delights in hearing him (Mk 6:20).

[4] Biblical scholars guess at the age of Herod’s daughter. One believes she is twenty on the basis of historical evidence about when this happened in Herod’s court. Mann, C.S.  Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1986) 293-298.

Another believes she is twelve on the basis of the word tō korasiō. Liz and Matthew Boulton, “The Powers that Be: Eighth Week of Pentecost,” SALT, 10 July 2018.

[5] Enexo.

[6] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Tr. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969) 150.

[7] This is why Montaigne will always be a better philosopher than Descartes and a better person too.

[8] Won’t You Be My Neighbor Official Trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

[9] This is a paraphrase of what I could remember from the film.

Sunday, July 8
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Read sermon

Pentecost 7 2018

Do you remember the first forms of politeness your parents taught you? In our home they were: Say please. Say thank you. Don’t tease your little sister. Don’t hit your big brother. Share your toys. And, whenever you go to someone else’s house, say ‘thank you for having me’ as you leave. Even if you hated the bony fish they gave you for dinner. Even if their child was mean to you, their cat scratched you and their dog growled at you. Whatever. Still say ‘thank you for having me’ before bolting for the safety of home.

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as he sends them out to other people’s houses sound a little less civil. Far from saying ‘thank you for having me’ they are to shake the dust from their feet when they leave houses that have made them feel unwelcome. They are not to offer a pretence of gratitude just to be polite. The work they have to do – casting out unclean spirits, calling people to repent – to change their ways of being with each other – is too important to be hindered by good manners.

Which brings us to where we’re at today in our own civic life as we try to work out how far civility should stretch. Is it ever ok to be less than polite with one another? Does our call to love always include a call to respect the person, or the office, to be nice, to be meek? I’m asking these questions not because I have a pre-packaged answer to put before you today but because I’m wrestling with them myself. I want to make sure that my faith is part of any answer I come up with. That, as Grace Cathedral, our faith is part of the answer we come up with.

It’s interesting that these first disciples are being sent out right after an encounter in which Jesus faces rejection. His hometown refuses to see him as more than the craftsman they have known him to be – his hands are supposed to be shaping wood not healing people. And Jesus’ reaction is twofold. He doesn’t stay to argue with them but neither does he accept their judgment. He walks away and focuses his mission on the villages outside. He is amazed at their unbelief so sure he is of who he is and what he is called to do.

There are some things I am also sure about in who we are and what we are called to do. I am sure that we are called to cast out the unclean spirits of racism, misogyny, trans and homophobia, white privilege, Islamophobia, antisemitism – all those forms of hate and fear that oppress God’s children. I am sure that we are to call the powerful to repent and change their ways whenever we see them acting out of these forms of hate and fear. I am sure we are to protect the little ones, the orphans, the weak and the vulnerable. I don’t think there is anything in life I feel surer about than this.

But how do we do this? How do we do this without creating deeper divisions? Without forgetting that every human being, even those whose opinions we loathe, is a beloved child of God? How do we do this and remain kind, remain nice? Where in all this does civility help and where in all this does civility hinder?

For remember that civility is not the same for all people, and nor are we all held to the same standards of civility. For Canadian First Nations, for example, civility includes letting elders speak as long as they feel moved to rather than respecting the time limit set for a meeting. The western need to ‘keep to time’ feels to them like extreme rudeness. Telling someone to ‘be civil’ can be a way of telling them to stick to the white male middle-class norms – not to laugh too loudly, not to express valid anger at unjust treatment, not to call out the privileged elite, not to rock the boat or upset the apple-cart.

But sometimes the boat needs rocking and the apple-cart needs to be upset. Remember when wondering what would Jesus do that flipping tables and chasing people with a whip is one of the options! Being Christian doesn’t always mean being nice. While the world, and our own nation, remains a place where refugee children can be caged away from their parents and the needs of the poor ignored by the greed of the powerful then nice doesn’t cut it as a form of opposition. Telling the truth to power is a higher Christian virtue than being sweet and polite.

But while we may not be called to be nice we can’t duck the fact that we are called to be loving. That one of the most radical, and difficult, of Jesus’ teachings is that we should love our enemies as well as our neighbours. Unlike private citizens and business owners, the Church must never shut its doors to those we consider egregious sinners or refuse to share its table with those whose actions we despise. We are always called to teach repentance, always called to believe that forgiveness and change are possible for anyone – remembering how much we need them ourselves.

So how can we chase out the unclean spirits of racism and nationalism and all the other ‘isms’ that keep oppressed people oppressed while still holding out the hand of love. We can’t do this (hands pushing away) to any child of God. But we can’t do this (hands open in acceptance) to any teaching or practice that harms other children of God. So we have to do this (one hand open, one pushing back). A complete no to any ideology or practice that oppresses others. A complete yes to the humanity of the person oppressing. But, when I’m weary with marching and heart-broken over crying children, this (hands pushing away) would be so, so much easier!

So, as a Church, here are ways we will be civil and we will be loving. We will remain open to all people, whatever their political persuasions and ideological attitudes. We will listen to hear the ways in which God lives in them, knowing that they are God’s beloved just as we are. We will look for the light in them not just focus on the dark, and we will remember the darkness that inhabits our own hearts too. And we will accept that this is sometimes hard but that this is always essential to our faith.

And, as a Church, here are ways we will be prophetic and we will be loving. We will be a voice for those who have been silenced by detention or by any form of oppression. We will listen to God’s call for justice and we will put that justice ahead of our own self-interest and our own comfort. We will put our obedience to God before our obedience to any earthly authority, never resorting to violence but never being afraid to stand for the right. And we will accept that this is sometimes hard but that this is always essential to our faith.

Jesus sends us out today as he sent the 12 so many years ago. He sends us out together so that we can support and encourage one another. He sends us out with no signs of privilege and no promise of being welcomed. He sends us out to cast out demons and to call for people’s hearts to change. He sends us out to be God’s presence in the world; to say an endless ‘yes’ to all her beloved people and an endless ‘no’ to all evil and oppression. Let us say yes to being sent!

Past Sermons

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

Sunday, July 15
King Philosopher Television Celebrity
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

“King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known” (Mk. 6).

I remember endless summer days as a four-year sitting in my plastic wheelbarrow on the grass. I pretended that it was my boat, safe on a vast green sea. On this magnificent day imagine this great cathedral with its redwood-like columns and stained-glass filtered light similarly as your haven of safety. No matter what storms may be gathering in your life, or in the society that surrounds us, we have found a joyful, beautiful place of peace.

What a blessing it is for us to be here! For twenty years I have been away on vacation during this week of the church year.[1] Today’s stories feel so fresh and vivid to me. It’s almost as if someone had discovered new passages from the Bible.

In this year of reading Mark’s Gospel together we thought we knew what to expect – concise, compact, abrupt, simple – the unembellished skeleton of God’s good news for us. And then today suddenly Mark stops being like Mark. Instead of being the writer who leaves the most up to our imagination, without warning he becomes the one to give us the overlooked details of a compelling story.

I think he does this to show our whole human predicament in a miniature form. In a single tragic story Mark brings us back to first principles, to the basic facts of existence, so that we can understand what we need to do in our complicated lives.

Mark tells us that Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs. They travel light through all the cities of the region. They ask people to repent. They cast out demons and heal those who are sick. They meet with such extraordinary success that even King Herod hears about their adventures. But just before they get back home to Jesus, before they can tell him what they have learned, Mark interjects what might seem like a parenthetical story about something that happened earlier (Mk. 6:30). It is the story of John the Baptist.

My dictionary says that the word apostle can mean Jesus’ disciples, or important leaders of the early church, or the first missionaries in a new land. It comes from the Greek word apostello or “to send.” Mark tells this story about two ways of being sent, about the two paths that constantly open up in the journey of our own lives: the way of Herod and the way of Jesus.

Mark’s story feels so contemporary. More than at any other time in my life we are entranced by the personalities of wealthy, powerful celebrities. We have been getting used to the experience of the personal suddenly breaking in to public life with enormous consequences.

To choose just one example it seems as if decisions about who gets pardoned and who stays condemned seem more arbitrary, more political than ever.[2] What could be more relevant today than a swaggering, bragging king delighted by his daughter’s performance and distanced from his wife, making promises with life and death consequences, which he does not want to keep.

In the Cathedral’s year of truth we notice that the ball starts rolling when John the Baptist speaks the truth. He points out that King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife is illegal. This offends Herod’s wife who holds a grudge against him. She wants to kill him but has no power to do so. Herod sends (apostello) his henchmen to overpower John and put him in prison.

Herod comes to respect John’s holiness, righteousness and goodness. He takes pleasure in hearing John talk even though he cannot always follow what John is saying.[3]

At his birthday banquet Herod’s daughter dances so beautifully that he repeats his oath that he will give her anything even up to half his kingdom.[4] Filled with hate the girl’s mother asks her for John the Baptist’s head on a plate. Herod feels “deeply grieved” but everything happens quickly as he sends (apostello) his men to behead John in prison. This week I kept thinking about the shock John must have felt at this moment when the executioner arrived on the instruction of the king who felt connected to him.

The Greek word Mark uses for Herodias’s grudge also means “entangled” (enexō) and that image defines this dysfunctional family.[5] Mark contrasts them with healthy families like Jairus who seeks healing for his daughter (Mk. 5:22).

And here we see how this story summarizes our human predicament. Each person in Herod’s family wants to be loved but tragically cannot get what he or she really needs. Herod’s wife wants to be valued and loved as queen and to not have anyone questioning the legitimacy of her position. At the same time she seems to have little power to satisfy her desire. She can only try to persuade, to use love to manipulate others. But even this is not enough to compel her husband to love her.

Their daughter did not ask for her parents to be at odds and yet she is forced to choose between them. She will always have the murder of a holy person on her conscience and the image of John’s head on a platter in her memory.

Herod too cares about the respect of his guests and the love of a daughter who chose his wife over him. He cares about John and is forced into a situation in which he has to kill someone he likes. In the face of this tragedy I have two questions. First, what is the difference between Herod’s way of sending and that of Jesus? And second, what does it feel like to be sent by God?

The French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) believed that the holiest thing that you will ever encounter is also one of the most common. It is another person’s face. Behind the face lies a mystery that we can never completely understand but which is at the same time so close to us. This is what it means to be made in the image of God. We have the chance to recognize God every time we encounter another person.

And so Levinas translates the word “philosophy” not as love of wisdom, but as the wisdom of love. He writes about “the primordial phenomenon of gentleness.”[6] He describes ethics as “first philosophy.” He asserts that love comes before every instance of knowing.[7]

The difference between the mission of Herod and that of Jesus is the difference between the impossible task of satisfying our ego and actively seeking the divine mystery in another person. It is the difference between going into the world to control other people (perhaps even ultimately imprisoning and beheading them) versus being sent to cast out demons and heal our universal sickness.

What does this feel like? The children’s television show creator and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers often sounds a lot like Levinas. He says, “Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”[8] Last week my wife and I saw the Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It may have a lot to do with the important role the show had in my life, but I have never seen a film before that touched me in quite this way.

It brought about a collision between my childhood and adult selves. It made me understand both how little I knew then, and yet how much I understood. I watched a lot of Mister Rogers as a child but experienced the characters in the Neighborhood of Make Believe so much on their own terms that it didn’t occur to me that Mister Rogers was the main puppeteer.

Mister Rogers felt appalled by children’s television with its cheap violence, clowning and the humiliation of throwing pies in people’s faces. He felt acutely conscious of the vulnerability of children, that their feelings are just as real and intense as ours are. So he dedicated his life to creating a world where children really are treated with respect and cared for, where their fears and concerns are taken seriously.

During the show’s first week on air in 1968 Daniel Tiger asks, “What is assassination?” On the show Rogers talked about war, death, divorce, the painfulness of change. During a time when whites refused to even integrate swimming pools Rogers famously invited Officer François Clemmons, an African American, to share his footbath. At some point in the series someone called the producers of the show to say that Clemmons was visiting a local gay bar. Mister Rogers told him not to go back there.

Still, in an interview you can see how just much Clemmons respected and loved Fred Rogers. He recalls a time when Mister Rogers said, “You are special and I love you just the way you are.” Clemmons joked, “Are you talking to me?” And Mister Rogers said, “I have been for two years, but you are only just now hearing me.” Clemmons went on choking back tears to say that neither his stepfather nor his birth father, no one, had told him that they loved him like that.

In the 1990’s commentators on Fox News asserted that not everyone was special and that Mister Rogers encouraged the sense of entitlement which epitomized exactly what was wrong with America. But in his testimony to Congress twenty years before then Mister Rogers spoke the truth. “You don’t have to do something really outstanding in order to be loved, or to love.”[9]

I talked about playing in my wheelbarrow boat on a grassy sea and about this cathedral as a great harbor of peace and hope. Soon God will feed us a holy meal. And then God will send us back out into the storms of our daily life.

We thought we knew what to expect but in the face of the human predicament we too need to decide on our basic first principles. We have to choose between the path of trying to satisfy the relentless demands of our hungry egos, or the humble way of Jesus, between the fruitless effort to force people to respect us, and the challenge to love others more deeply just the way they are.

Every face presents us with a holy mystery that is so near and yet utterly unfathomable. In this scary world every child gives us another chance to share respect, comfort and wisdom. Brothers and sisters you are special. You are loved. May God bless you – sweet apostles of grace.

#EmmanuelLevinas, #MisterRogers, #Herod

[1] In a phone conversation this week Cynthia Kittridge the President of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas pointed out that this Gospel does not appear in the old prayerbook lectionary but was introduced with the Revised Common Lectionary. Noël Coward said somewhere that work is more fun than fun. I guess that’s true for me too.

[2] https://www.outsideonline.com/2326556/trumps-pardon-hammond-bundy-family?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WYM-07132018&utm_content=WYM-07132018+CID_84e8f04b8cd3fdac78c49c88f0a820fc&utm_source=campaignmonitor%20outsidemagazine&utm_term=pardoning%20the%20Hammonds

[3] The word aporew in Greek is a conjunction of apo and poreuomai. Bluntly it means “can’t go.” In the world of thought Herod cannot go with John but he delights in hearing him (Mk 6:20).

[4] Biblical scholars guess at the age of Herod’s daughter. One believes she is twenty on the basis of historical evidence about when this happened in Herod’s court. Mann, C.S.  Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1986) 293-298.

Another believes she is twelve on the basis of the word tō korasiō. Liz and Matthew Boulton, “The Powers that Be: Eighth Week of Pentecost,” SALT, 10 July 2018.

[5] Enexo.

[6] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Tr. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969) 150.

[7] This is why Montaigne will always be a better philosopher than Descartes and a better person too.

[8] Won’t You Be My Neighbor Official Trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

[9] This is a paraphrase of what I could remember from the film.

Sunday, July 8
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Read sermon

Pentecost 7 2018

Do you remember the first forms of politeness your parents taught you? In our home they were: Say please. Say thank you. Don’t tease your little sister. Don’t hit your big brother. Share your toys. And, whenever you go to someone else’s house, say ‘thank you for having me’ as you leave. Even if you hated the bony fish they gave you for dinner. Even if their child was mean to you, their cat scratched you and their dog growled at you. Whatever. Still say ‘thank you for having me’ before bolting for the safety of home.

Jesus’ instructions to his disciples as he sends them out to other people’s houses sound a little less civil. Far from saying ‘thank you for having me’ they are to shake the dust from their feet when they leave houses that have made them feel unwelcome. They are not to offer a pretence of gratitude just to be polite. The work they have to do – casting out unclean spirits, calling people to repent – to change their ways of being with each other – is too important to be hindered by good manners.

Which brings us to where we’re at today in our own civic life as we try to work out how far civility should stretch. Is it ever ok to be less than polite with one another? Does our call to love always include a call to respect the person, or the office, to be nice, to be meek? I’m asking these questions not because I have a pre-packaged answer to put before you today but because I’m wrestling with them myself. I want to make sure that my faith is part of any answer I come up with. That, as Grace Cathedral, our faith is part of the answer we come up with.

It’s interesting that these first disciples are being sent out right after an encounter in which Jesus faces rejection. His hometown refuses to see him as more than the craftsman they have known him to be – his hands are supposed to be shaping wood not healing people. And Jesus’ reaction is twofold. He doesn’t stay to argue with them but neither does he accept their judgment. He walks away and focuses his mission on the villages outside. He is amazed at their unbelief so sure he is of who he is and what he is called to do.

There are some things I am also sure about in who we are and what we are called to do. I am sure that we are called to cast out the unclean spirits of racism, misogyny, trans and homophobia, white privilege, Islamophobia, antisemitism – all those forms of hate and fear that oppress God’s children. I am sure that we are to call the powerful to repent and change their ways whenever we see them acting out of these forms of hate and fear. I am sure we are to protect the little ones, the orphans, the weak and the vulnerable. I don’t think there is anything in life I feel surer about than this.

But how do we do this? How do we do this without creating deeper divisions? Without forgetting that every human being, even those whose opinions we loathe, is a beloved child of God? How do we do this and remain kind, remain nice? Where in all this does civility help and where in all this does civility hinder?

For remember that civility is not the same for all people, and nor are we all held to the same standards of civility. For Canadian First Nations, for example, civility includes letting elders speak as long as they feel moved to rather than respecting the time limit set for a meeting. The western need to ‘keep to time’ feels to them like extreme rudeness. Telling someone to ‘be civil’ can be a way of telling them to stick to the white male middle-class norms – not to laugh too loudly, not to express valid anger at unjust treatment, not to call out the privileged elite, not to rock the boat or upset the apple-cart.

But sometimes the boat needs rocking and the apple-cart needs to be upset. Remember when wondering what would Jesus do that flipping tables and chasing people with a whip is one of the options! Being Christian doesn’t always mean being nice. While the world, and our own nation, remains a place where refugee children can be caged away from their parents and the needs of the poor ignored by the greed of the powerful then nice doesn’t cut it as a form of opposition. Telling the truth to power is a higher Christian virtue than being sweet and polite.

But while we may not be called to be nice we can’t duck the fact that we are called to be loving. That one of the most radical, and difficult, of Jesus’ teachings is that we should love our enemies as well as our neighbours. Unlike private citizens and business owners, the Church must never shut its doors to those we consider egregious sinners or refuse to share its table with those whose actions we despise. We are always called to teach repentance, always called to believe that forgiveness and change are possible for anyone – remembering how much we need them ourselves.

So how can we chase out the unclean spirits of racism and nationalism and all the other ‘isms’ that keep oppressed people oppressed while still holding out the hand of love. We can’t do this (hands pushing away) to any child of God. But we can’t do this (hands open in acceptance) to any teaching or practice that harms other children of God. So we have to do this (one hand open, one pushing back). A complete no to any ideology or practice that oppresses others. A complete yes to the humanity of the person oppressing. But, when I’m weary with marching and heart-broken over crying children, this (hands pushing away) would be so, so much easier!

So, as a Church, here are ways we will be civil and we will be loving. We will remain open to all people, whatever their political persuasions and ideological attitudes. We will listen to hear the ways in which God lives in them, knowing that they are God’s beloved just as we are. We will look for the light in them not just focus on the dark, and we will remember the darkness that inhabits our own hearts too. And we will accept that this is sometimes hard but that this is always essential to our faith.

And, as a Church, here are ways we will be prophetic and we will be loving. We will be a voice for those who have been silenced by detention or by any form of oppression. We will listen to God’s call for justice and we will put that justice ahead of our own self-interest and our own comfort. We will put our obedience to God before our obedience to any earthly authority, never resorting to violence but never being afraid to stand for the right. And we will accept that this is sometimes hard but that this is always essential to our faith.

Jesus sends us out today as he sent the 12 so many years ago. He sends us out together so that we can support and encourage one another. He sends us out with no signs of privilege and no promise of being welcomed. He sends us out to cast out demons and to call for people’s hearts to change. He sends us out to be God’s presence in the world; to say an endless ‘yes’ to all her beloved people and an endless ‘no’ to all evil and oppression. Let us say yes to being sent!

Sunday, July 1
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Mary Carter Greene
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The Rev Mary-Carter Greene’s sermon will be available soon.

Sunday, June 24
And They Said To Jesus, “Don’t You Care?”
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
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Proper 7B – 24 June 2018

I Samuel 17:57––18:5, 10-16; Psalm 133; II Corinthians 6:1-13; Mark 4:35-41

 

“He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ’Peace! Be still!’”

The noise and storms in our country’s life

continued at gale force this week as we were unable to turn away

from the faces and voices of families from other countries and cultures seeking refuge from places of violence and want,

desiring a new life of productivity, safety and freedom.

Fears and passions all around about security, resources, fairness,

rule of law, basic humanity, care for the most vulnerable,

fear about “what we’ve become.”

Much of our information and emotion about these events

were carried in persistent sights and sounds: images:

 

  • a sea of crinkly, shiny blankets

which we first had always associated with space travel,

then as shoulder wraps for panting marathon runners,

and now, universally and finally,

with the shivering refugee plucked from the cold sea

or their children,

laid down to rest on the concrete floor

of a sloughed-off shell of a dead Wal-Mart.

 

  • The stunning image of an alleged adult sporting a sloppy $39 jacket designed (what a word), no doubt,

for the constantly replenished worldwide market

of sullen pre-teens:

“I really don’t care, do u?”

 

  • And the audio image (can I say that?) of fearful and panicked cries

of kids, ordinary kids in extraordinarily terrifying circumstances.

 

  • And the noise and nonsense from other alleged adults ––news anchors and panelists and politicians––

shouting over each other to define what is true

about these events and their consequences.

“Peace! Be still!”

 

What image keeps returning to you

and how does it inform

what you think about, feel about, believe about, and

if your answer to the jacket’s question is, “Well, yes, actually I do care, ” what you intend to do about this particular crisis, moment of judgment.

 

Besides all these and others,

two other small images remain with me.

 

 

  • One commentator caught the frustrating absurdity of it for me,

marveling and lamenting

the impassioned “nitpicking about the precise meaning of a ‘cage.’”

This is the level of discourse, debate and discussion

to which we’ve descended.

 

  • The second abiding image I have is also of a “designed” piece of clothing, a t-shirt.

Six years ago the very talented 31 year-old American singer, songwriter, rapper, record producer and photographer

Frank Ocean

broke the rigid rules of Hip-Hop music culture

by revealing on his Tumblr blog

that his life’s first and most significant love

had been with another man.

A commentator in that field bypassed the old predictable knee-jerk response of disavowal and prediction of a career tanking.

Instead he wrote:

“Today is a big day for hip-hop.

It is a day that will define who we really are.

How compassionate will we be?

How loving can we be?

How inclusive are we?”

 

Frank Ocean showed up at a notable summer music festival a year ago

wearing a message on a t-shirt he had designed:

Why be racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic

when you could just be quiet?

[“Peace! Be still!”]

Someone this week suggested adding, “Why be xenophobic,

or Islamophobic … when you could just be quiet?”

 

Followers of Jesus may be called to imitate him

and to silence destructive or false clamors and claims

and to call forth some peace:

 

No, it’s simply not true

that violent crime is increasing or even significant

in immigrant populations.

No, we will not be swayed by charged terms like “infest”

or disgraceful references to groups of people being called “animals.”

 

Because, yes, we really do care.

We will speak out, witness for, and engage in hard debate

about assessing challenging situations

and struggling for polices and practices

to resolve challenges in our shared life on this planet.

 

In this case, a recent study

(from the UN, six months ago, I have the reference)

there are now an estimated 258 million people living in a country

other than their country of birth —

3.4% of the world’s inhabitants today are international migrants.

Less than two years ago, the UN General Assembly adopted

the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants,

in which Member States agreed to implement

well-managed migration policies.

They also committed to sharing more equitably

the burden and responsibility for hosting and supporting

the world’s refugees, protecting the human rights of all migrants, and countering xenophobia and intolerance directed towards migrants. …

“Reliable data and evidence are critical to combat misperceptions

about migration and to inform migration policies”

 

Reliable sources of our faith and hope and just what we stand for

are critical as well:

“They took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”

No armed king or superhero, no demagogue

but the good shepherd who would one day be the gentle lamb led to slaughter. Jesus, “just as he was,” accompanies us

through every dark storm or encounter with systemic evil fueled by fear.

 

His weapon and method are a creative, healing word: “Peace! Be still!”

St. Paul’s announces this morning:

“Now is the day of salvation

Now is the acceptable time.”

For what?

To define who we really are.

To ask: “How compassionate will we be?

How loving can we be? How inclusive are we?”

If Hip-Hop can do it,

maybe our citizenry, our press, and our leaders can do it.

Personal life circumstances, and the challenges facing

our city, our great nation, and the global community

are almost overwhelming.

“A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat,

so that the boat was already being swamped. …They woke him up…

Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

Yes, I do care.

“Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?

Get to work.

Set sail, keep rowing,

silence the storms and the demons,

and bring some peace and decency and refreshment.

 

Wednesday, June 20
“Who do you think you are?” A Pride Message from The Vine SF
Preacher: The Rev. Jude Harmon
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Sunday, June 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Very Rev. Alan Jones preached from notes rather than a prepared manuscript, so a text of the sermon is not available.

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