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The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.
“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mk. 13).
Let me tell you what it felt like when I woke up… Not long after the AIDS Quilt went up this fall here in the Cathedral I participated in Tuesday night Yoga. When you are doing balance poses it helps to focus your attention on a distant point. That evening I gazed at the names of the people on the quilts.
Most of the people I knew who died of this disease back when I was in my twenties seemed a lot older than me. But that night for the first time I saw them from the perspective of my older self. Arthur died at the age of 33, Jerry at 41, Michael 37. And the list goes on Bob, Jack, Rick, Bill, Art, David, Ken, James, Margaret, and Joseph. So many didn’t even have the chance to experience the world as a forty year old, or to have a fiftieth birthday.
These thoughts passed through my consciousness like a sparrow entering a high church window and then flying out again. At the end of yoga we all lie down on our back in the most comfortable pose of all Shavasana (sometimes known as corpse pose). The full weight of this hit me as I was lying there. And I started weeping. I had forgotten what it felt like to cry like this – the tears flowed down my face through my hair into my ears.
On Friday night Mike Smith, one of the co-founders of the AIDS Quilt, said that he had kept his feelings in a black box within a box, within another box. On that night during shavasana it felt like I was opening the boxes again. I woke up after having been asleep for a long time.
In 1992 I served at St. John the Evangelist, a church (on Bowdoin Street) known for blessing the relationships of gay and lesbian people and for our ministry to homeless people in Boston. My first pastoral visits were with young people who were dying of AIDS. They were full of creativity and love. Now when I talk to younger people about that time I find it nearly impossible to convey the terror and depth of this tragedy.
Thousands of young people were rejected by their own communities, churches and the families who should have taken care of them. Many had nowhere to go so they came to our church. We cared for them while they were sick. And when they died we treated their memory and bodies with respect. I have vivid memories of our all night vigils in the soft candlelight of the small chapel before their funeral mass the next day.
I remember traveling far away from the subway line to a decrepit Victorian house in Dorchester to visit John a monk who was dying. He had Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS). His shoulders and kind face seemed so hollowed out. I would not have been able to do this with most people but something about his spirit invited me to ask this priest for his advice about how to give pastoral care. A few weeks later I was washing dishes in the soup kitchen and broke down when I heard that this gentle teacher of mine had died.
After moving to a California suburb in 2001, I buried a lot of these memories. In hospitals I saw mostly older people. The times changed too as treatments improved and HIV Positive people were less stigmatized by society. In a sense I fell asleep.
Today on what we call the First Sunday of Advent we celebrate the first day of the church’s new year. We enter a season of preparation that has almost nothing to do with the commercial preparations for Christmas that we see and hear around us. As people following the way of Jesus how should we be? What should we do? I want to give you a long answer and a short suggestion.
Jesus describes the world as a vast household. Its owner goes on a journey and leaves us, his slaves, in charge “each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.” “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn… And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mk. 13).
The Hawaiian word for this is maka ala. It means literally with eyes open, keep alert. Keep awake to the generosity of God. Keep awake to the humanity of others.
You can see the spirit of Jesus’ words in the expression “get woke” or “stay woke.” It arose out of African American activist communities. With regard to what happened after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson Missouri “Stay woke” might mean, “stay conscious of the apparatus of white supremacy, don’t automatically accept the official explanation of police violence, stay safe.
Our World AIDS Day speakers on Friday spoke especially movingly about what it means to wake up. Gregg Cassin has survived with HIV for over thirty years. In his twenties when Gregg was struggling over whether he should come out as a gay man, his first boyfriend spoke to him about Jesus.
The boyfriend said that society might despise you. Your family, the government and the church might too. But Jesus does not belong to an institution. Jesus says I am the truth and the life. This is about truth. It is about life, and you have to speak this truth.
Gregg describes his experiences at 1980’s AIDS support groups. Before he discovered them he had a terrible struggle and couldn’t help but associate the disease with immorality. He said, “I felt dirty.” At the meetings each person got up and told his story. They did this with such vulnerability and courage, that each time Gregg would think, “I love this man!” At the end of the meeting he looked around the room and a simple thought occurred to him. These men are innocent. These men are innocent and I am too. This extraordinarily gentle and thoughtful man in the most Christ-like way has dedicated his life to serving others.
Vince Cristosotomo told another story about bringing the AIDS Quilt to Guam and being the first Chamorro person there to speak openly about being gay and HIV positive. Not long after arriving he met a woman. She told him about her brother who had been abandoned by the family and died alone of AIDS in New York City.
It turned out that this had been James Torrey the aerobics instructor Vince had lost touch with years before. It seemed like a miracle but after going through the panels of the quilt they found Vince’s.
The authorities had given Vince a long list of banned topics but the last person to talk to him before going onstage was his aunty. She looked him in the eye and said that no matter what happened she would always protect him. Then she gave him $20 for an ice cream cone. After the speech a man embraced Vince and just wept without letting him go. It was the father who had abandoned James. He cried, “James was such a good boy. I’m so sorry for what I have done!”
Three weeks ago the actor Peter Coyote was our forum guest. In his book he writes about the idea of becoming what he calls “a life actor.” This is someone who consciously creates the role one plays in everyday life. It requires skill and imagination to break out of the implicit rules that constrain us.
Our homework this week is to wake up and to let go of the role we unconsciously play every day, the role of “Ego.” This is that part of us that is infinitely eager to assert itself, to get ahead. Strangely enough it is also that part of us which is most easily offended by the perceived slights of others.
In its place, try on the role of the compassionate Jesus. For each of us this is going to mean something different. For some of you it may involve being a lot more assertive. In that case this is your chance to speak a difficult truth, to stand up for someone who is being dismissed, perhaps to reach beyond your privilege to come closer to reality.
For others this means letting go of always having to be right, of the myth that our life could be perfect or the world could be fair. It might mean being kind to someone who has treated you badly or simply just letting someone else go ahead of you in traffic. Try listening more and talking less. Do something nice for someone who you are fairly sure is rotten inside. Be faithful in a way that only God knows about. Be less defensive.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that, “the church is created each time we gather around Jesus in the sacraments and tend to the hopes and hurts of people.” I believe this. Thank you. Thank you for being the church that responded so heroically to the AIDS crisis and thank you for being the church we are creating right now. Thank you for all the ways you teach me to be awake. Thank you for constantly showing me the generosity of God and the humanity of all God’s children.
 Tuesday 10 October 2017.
 Stories by Mike Smith, Gregg Cassin and Vince Crisostomo at “World AIDS Day: Stories and Song,” Grace Cathedral, Friday 1 December 2017.
 Charles Pulliam-Moore, “How ‘woke’ went from black activist watchword to teen internet slang,” Splinter, 8 January 2016. https://splinternews.com/how-woke-went-from-black-activist-watchword-to-teen-int-1793853989
 “Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him”” (Jn. 6:10).
 Peter Coyote, Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998) 33. In Keith Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and Theater he writes that every interpersonal interaction involves the communication of status. I don’t know that I believe this, but I do think another helpful exercise is to allow yourself to assume a different level of status in an interaction with another person this week. Johnstone writes that a person who plays high status implicitly sends the message, “Don’t come near me, I bite.” A person playing low status says, “Don’t bite me, I’m not worth the trouble.” Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theater (NY: Routledge, 2015 (1981)) 43.
 I have no official source for this. Jeremy Clark-King told me this quote in November 2017.
Sermons from the last six months are listed below. Older sermons can be heard through iTunes podcast.
Jesus was praying in a certain place, and… one of his disciples asked him, ‘Lord teach us to pray’” (Lk. 11).
During vacation this summer on the island of Maui I was walking to church for the 7:00 a.m. Eucharist. My wife’s cousin Woozer was driving downhill toward the beach with a surfboard in his car. He stopped, one thing led to another and before I knew it we were surfing Ho’okipa together. As we came in I asked him, “You are a surf coach what suggestions do you have for me; how can I get better?”
At a deep level we hunger for learning. When someone excels at something that we care about, we ask that person how we might improve. The disciples see prayer at the center of everything Jesus does. Jesus prays alone in the desert, and in the midst of large crowds at the sea. In prayer he begins his public ministry. He prays as he heals people, chooses disciples and shares meals with them. He prays on ordinary days and as he dies. It is almost as if he is no longer praying but has himself become the prayer.
The disciples recognize prayer as the basis for his extraordinary peace and wisdom. They want this for themselves and say, “teach us to pray.” In response Jesus gives them two very different things. He provides them first with a model for how they should say their own prayers and then with help in forming the disposition or the heart for prayer.
These days we have begun to realize that prayer is good for us. Twenty years I felt mildly embarrassed when other people would learn that I had a meditation practice. Today most people I meet recognize that mindfulness, centering prayer, forms of breathing prayer and yoga reduce stress and lead to overall better health.
Before going much further I need to be clear on the importance of prayer in my life. I pray at regular times of day, before meals and at bedtime. I pray for people and the world. I have a meditation practice which involves quietly repeating passages written by great saints. I say a kind of mantra repeating the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us”). My most frequent prayer though arises from my heart as spontaneous appreciation for all the blessings of this life – for the natural world, the beauty of this great city and her people.
You might have asked yourself the question, “Does prayer work?” And my answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Prayer has shifted my whole disposition. It has put joy at the center of my life as I grow to feel more and more like a child of God. Prayer continues to fundamentally change my relationships with other people.
We call Jesus’ model for prayer the Lord’s Prayer. Although I visit evangelical churches where they do not say the Lord’s Prayer, here at Grace Cathedral we repeat the prayer together at every public worship service. The version Christians use most often comes from the Gospel of Matthew. In today’s gospel from Luke Jesus gives us an even simpler version of the prayer.
My friend the biblical scholar Herman Waetjen has written a whole book on this subject. He believes that we misuse the prayer, that it becomes meaningless through mindless repetition. He admires a prayer inspired by the Lord’s Prayer in the New Zealand prayer book. It goes like this:
“Eternal Spirit! / Earthmaker, Painbearer, Lifegiver, / Source of all that is and that shall be, / Father and Mother of us all, / Loving God in whom is heaven: / The hallowing of your name echo through the universe! / The way of justice be followed by the peoples of the earth! / Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!”
“Your commonwealth of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth. / With the bread we need for today, feed us / In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us. / In times of temptation and test, strengthen us. / From trials too great to endure, spare us. / From the grip of all that is evil, free us. / For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and forever. Amen.
This week for homework try praying the Lord’s Prayer in your own words. Keep in mind that the word that Jesus uses for father (abba) is intimate like daddy. The prayer addresses God’s hallowedness or holiness and we might think about how this becomes real for us. What do we depend on as our daily bread (is it coffee)? When we ask for God’s kingdom to come what does this mean?
This might be a great opportunity for us to really think about temptations to deviate from the path of goodness. It gives rise to the question of how forgiveness can set us free from being enslaved to the past.
For me the precise words of the Lord’s Prayer have not devolved into meaninglessness through repetition. As I have said many times, there is far more to us than our conscious or rational thought. These words are among the last I say every night and they may be the last words I ever say. I have been with people near death whose minds were wasted with dementia. This prayer was the only thing they could say, all that was left.
Distrust has always been a fundamental feature of the human condition. Each of us in our past has trusted people. Each of us has been disappointed by them. But even beyond our individual experiences, the zeitgeist, the spirit of the modern age involves a kind of extreme cynicism. We are jaded. We don’t believe what we hear. We question the media, and educators. We distrust authorities and their motives. We believe we are being lied to even when we are not. So much of what we call news is the story of distrust. And all this has an influence on our spiritual life.
Distrust was the defining characteristic of the snake in the Garden of Eden. The one who tempted Adam and Eve did not doubt the existence of God. He raised the question of whether God would act in the best interests of human beings. We are still doing this. We worry about being duped. We do not trust God in part because we think we know better than God. It reminds me of the old one liner, “The difference between God and you is that God doesn’t think he’s you.”
Jesus tells the story about a man going to his neighbor for bread. Even if the neighbor won’t help for the sake of generosity, he will do it so that you will stop yelling in the middle of the night. Jesus’ point is that we need to persist in prayer, not that God will only answer our prayers to shut us up. When our children ask for a fish we do not give them a snake, or a scorpion instead of an egg. We know what is good for our children and God who loves us knows what is good for us. God answers our prayers so that anyone who seeks will receive the Holy Spirit.
People with experience in praying have asked God for what turned out to be the wrong thing. We have had our later prayers answered by having our earlier prayers refused. We have been surprised and had our deepest longings satisfied by God in completely unexpected ways.
In the fourth century St. Augustine wrote about the inner struggle each of us faces as we decide whether we are going to trust God or ourselves. As Augustine came into manhood his mother Monica saw how tempted he was by sensuality and the paganism of his father and the greater Roman Empire. He wanted to be a great scholar, famous for his speeches, to study with the greatest minds in the world.
Monica believed so deeply that the only way for him to become a Christian would be for him to stay near her in North Africa. Monica prayed that he would stay. In fact she was praying in a chapel at the very moment that Augustine left North Africa. She thought she had lost her son, that God had not heard her prayer.
It happened that in Milan one of Augustine’s pagan teachers told him he should go to hear the sermons of Bishop Ambrose, not for their content but for the genius of their structure and expression. At that time Ambrose had perhaps the best education of any Christian and was deeply respected by intellectuals. Of everyone in the world Ambrose was the one person who had the best chance of reaching Augustine’s questioning heart. And he did.
Until that encounter Augustine writes, “I was not yet in love, but I loved the idea of love… I was starved for inner food (for you yourself my God).” After this encounter he came to know the peace of Jesus. His teaching has shaped nearly every Christian’s experience of God since then.
The point of the story is that we have such deep longings for something more than the merely ordinary. We have ideas about how these desires might be satisfied but ultimately we have to trust God.
Beyond our questions about how prayer works and how we ought to pray, beyond the struggles of our ego, beyond even the tragedies and joys of our life, we face a question. Are we going to live as if goodness and love lie at the heart of reality. But even beyond this, we encounter the living God who promises that when we ask for the Holy Spirit we will receive it.
 Larry Dossey, Prayer Is Good Medicine: How to Reap the Healing Benefits of Prayer (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1996).
 I have read that Jim Cotter of the Church of England wrote this prayer. It appears in the “Night Prayers” section of: A New Zealand Prayer Book (He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa), The Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia (Christchurch: Genesis Publications, 1989), 180-1. http://anglicanprayerbook.nz
 Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1967), 71-2. John R. Claypool uses this story in “To Whom Do We Pray?” Day1 25 July 2004. http://day1.org/454-to_whom_do_we_pray
 Augustine, Confessions tr. Rex Warner (NY: Signet Classic, 2001), 38.
 These are the last days of my first year here and I have been praying a great deal. Sometimes I simply cannot believe that God gave me both such a deep desire to serve as a priest and teacher, and the perfect opportunity to exercise this ministry here.
The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes preached without the use of a manuscript.
“Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing” (Luke 10).
Listen. Can you hear what God is saying to you? What seed is God trying to plant in your heart?
Thomas Merton (1915-1968), the twentieth century monk and mystic, felt convinced that every moment and every event plants something in our soul. He writes that, “For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds, so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of [human beings]. Most of these unnumbered seeds perish and are lost, because [we] are not prepared to receive them: for such seeds cannot spring up anywhere except in the good soil of freedom, spontaneity and love.”
He goes on to explain that, “In all the situations of life the “will of God” comes to us not merely as an external dictate of impersonal law but above all as an interior invitation of personal love.”  I feel so excited to be here and to be speaking with you this morning because, today’s gospel about the sisters Martha and Mary, has changed my life. This story has become a deep part of how I respond to the world, how I understand God and to other people.
In church last week and this week we heard two stories that were always intended to be read together. Last week Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. A man is robbed and nearly beaten to death on the road to Jericho. As he lies there dying the greatest leaders of his people pass by on the other side without helping him. A Samaritan, one of his people’s enemies, saves his life and pays for an indefinitely long stay at an inn until he can recover (Lk 10).
The context of this story matters. It occurs in a discussion about the meaning of the primary two commandments: to love our neighbors and to love God. This first story is in particular about loving one’s neighbor. In fact, Jesus uses the Good Samaritan story to answer the question, “who is my neighbor?” The simple answer is that we become neighbors not by sharing an identity for instance as Americans, or immigrants from Mexico, or Christians, or Berkeley graduates. We become neighbors by actually helping each other.
On the basis of this story it might be tempting for us to think that we should be constantly doing good works, that in every instance and opportunity we should be like that good Samaritan, that we should be perfect.
I believe that it is in response to this tendency that Luke tells the story of Martha and Mary. After hearing about how to love our neighbor this gives us a simple instruction on how we can love God too.
Jesus visits the house of two sisters: Martha who is anxious and worried and busy taking care of everyone, and Mary who sits at the feet of Jesus and listens. Martha becomes angry but instead of talking directly to Mary she does what today we would call triangulating. She asks Jesus to straighten out her sister.
Instead, Jesus says to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10).
Contemporary biblical scholars point out that Martha may have been angry with Mary for more than failing to share the work. By sitting at Jesus’ feet Mary makes herself equal to Jesus’ other disciples. In a commentary on scripture ancient rabbis wrote, “Let thy house be a meeting-house for the Sages and sit amid the dust of their feet and drink in their words with thirst… [but] do not talk much with womankind.” By supporting Mary, Jesus defends her right to be a leader among the disciples. This value was what most set apart the early church from the rest of society. As Paul says, for followers of Jesus, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
At every church I’ve served people have found the story of Martha and Mary to be frustrating and unjust. Often it offends just the kind of people I appreciate the most, those who roll up their sleeves and get to work in helping out. Jesus’ stories have a vividness sometimes exacerbated by upsetting our understanding of what is fair.
Ancient Christians from the fourth century however point out that Jesus is not dismissing Mary or her important work. St. Ambrose (350-397) writes, “Virtue does not have a single form.” John Cassian (360-435) says, “To cling to God… this must be our major effort, this must be the road that the heart follows unswervingly.” He says that we need to be careful of, “any diversion however impressive.” St. Augustine (354-430) writes that singing Alleluias, “is the delightful part that Mary chose for herself, as she sat doing nothing but learning and praising.”
I do not know what seed God planted in you that brought you to this place but I pray that you experience holiness. Just by virtue of being here you have all chosen to be Mary’s for a while. And in our culture we need more of you. With foreign coups and continuing terror attacks. We need more people who have a deep foundation and are not merely swept here and there by the tidal wave of different events. We need people who respond to the world not out of fear, or a sense of scarcity, but with a heart of compassion.
This is not just an individual project. The stories of the Good Samaritan and of Martha and Mary have special importance to us in these days of racial tension. Last week I came away from the story of the Good Samaritan with two convictions. The first is that people of color and white people will only become neighbors through actions. Our identity is of secondary importance to how we treat each other.
Second, our country is not defined by its geographical borders or by the peoples who have settled here but on principles of fairness, compassion, honesty and equality before the law. At this time of global conflict, African Americans and other people of color, immigrants, GLBTQ people, disabled people, and the elderly may be the ones to save us.
Last week we had further reminders of something that anyone over the age of thirty has known for a very long time. African Americans and white people have a fundamentally different experience of our justice system, our economy and our social life. It is almost as if we live on different planets.
We learned this after the beating of Rodney King, the OJ Simpson trial, 9/11, the Iraq War and all the way down to the tragic murders of Eric Garner, Freddy Gray, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice to Philando Castile last week. Each time the tensions seem unbearable and we think that something has to change… but it doesn’t.
That is why when a white person says to me, “well [while clearing their throat]… all lives matter,” I just have to object. For me, this is equivalent to saying, “I feel so defensive about being held responsible that I refuse to listen.”
My challenge for us this week is to resist the urge to defend ourselves or to jump to a conclusion and to instead try really listening, going beyond that moment when we feel the irresistible impulse to say something.
As a child I enjoyed the television show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. One Sunday at church Fred Rogers took the time to really listen. What he heard was the singing voice of an African American man named Francois Clemmons. In 1968 Rogers invited him to become the first African American cast member of an American Children’s television series.
Clemmons grew up in the ghetto and at first was not sure if he wanted to accept a role as the local police officer. Ultimately he did. He remembers two episodes in particular. In 1969 they where filming on a hot day and Fred Rogers had his feet in a little plastic children’s pool to cool off. He invited Clemmons to join him. Clemmons said, “The icon Fred Rogers not only was showing my brown skin in the tub with his white skin as two friends, but as I was getting out of that tub, he was helping me dry my feet.”
Clemmons described Fred Rogers not primarily as a colleague but as a lifetime friend. One day as usual Mr. Rogers finished the program by hanging up his sweater and saying, “You make every day a special day just by being you, and I like you just the way you are.” This time as he said it Rogers seemed to be looking right at Clemmons. When the camera stopped he walked over to him. Clemons said, “Fred, were you talking to me?” “Yes, I have been talking to you for years,” Rogers said, “but you heard me today.”
Remembering it Clemmons said, “It was like telling me I’m okay as a human being. That was one of the most meaningful experiences I’d ever had.”
Two commandments. Two stories. A world of complexity, tension and beauty. An interior invitation of personal love. A life of freedom and spontaneity. “You make every day special just by being you.”
Listen. Can you hear what God is saying to you? What seed is God trying to plant in your heart?
 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation (NY: New Directions, 1961), 14-15.
 This is from a third century written account of oral commentaries that were already centuries old. Behind this text I think is a fear of strong relationships between me and other men’s wives. M. Abot 1.45 See Herbert Danby, ed. and trans., The Mishnah: Translated from the Hebrew with Introduction and Brief Explanatory Notes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1933), 446. Reference from The New Interpreter’s Bible Vol. IX, Luke, John (Nashville, Abingdon Press, 1995), 231.
 Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: Luke, Vol. 3, ed. Arthur Just, (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 182-183.
 When you ask people how they are, most answer that they are busy. We have more to be distracted about than perhaps any other people in history. This week Pokemon Go arrived at Grace Cathedral. You can download the app and look through your phone to see both what really exists and the virtual monsters that computer programmers have stationed here. They call it “augmented reality.” Although I have been greatly enjoying all the extra guests who have come in and visited, it does make me wonder why ordinary unaugmented reality isn’t enough.
I am glad for the Pokemon hunters who have gotten out and explored parts of this city that they have not seen before. But I also beg all of you to seek out ways in your life to spend time listening to God. Nurture the seeds of goodness that God is planting in you.
 Clemmons was also a Grammy Award winning singer who performed in 70 musical and opera roles and founded the Harlem Spiritual Ensemble. “Walking the Beat in Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, Where A New Day Began,” Story Corps, NPR Radio, 11 March 2016. http://www.npr.org/2016/03/11/469846519/walking-the-beat-in-mr-rogers-neighborhood-where-a-new-day-began-together
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young preached without using a manuscript.
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young spoke without using a manuscript.
Bishop Marc preached without using a manuscript.