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Sunday, December 10
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, December 7
Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, December 3
The Advent Procession
First Sunday of Advent 3 p.m. Procession
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Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, December 10
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. Dr. Alan Jones’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, December 3
Waking Up
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“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.[1] 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.[2] 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.

  1. We follow a three-year cycle of readings. Each year focuses on a different (synoptic) gospel. Of these the Gospel of Mark is the simplest and shortest one. It feels sharp and immediate, a paired down gospel of essentials. In this reading Jesus uses the simplest image to help us understand what we need to become.

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.[3]

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.[4]

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!”

  1. I hope that these stories will help you to wake up as much as they have helped me. But what do we do next now that we are “woke”? Let me propose an experiment.

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.[5]

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.”[6] 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.

[1] Tuesday 10 October 2017.

[2] Stories by Mike Smith, Gregg Cassin and Vince Crisostomo at “World AIDS Day: Stories and Song,” Grace Cathedral, Friday 1 December 2017.

[3] 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

[4] “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).

[5] 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.

[6] I have no official source for this. Jeremy Clark-King told me this quote in November 2017.

Listen to Past Sermons

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

Sunday, November 5
We are all God’s children now
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Beloved, we are God’s children now.

 

On All Saints Sunday we celebrate all God’s beloved children. We celebrate the saints you see in the stained glass windows – our family picture album of the great and glorious and frankly somewhat weird characters who are heroes of our faith. This year we remember those we see in the other family album of the AIDS quilts – mainly young men, mainly gay, who allowed us to share in their hard journey of suffering, allowed us to embrace them as brothers and sisters. And every year we give thanks for all the unsung saints of our own lives who have brought God’s love a little closer to us.

For this isn’t primarily a day for the Shakespeares and Einsteins or even the Kardashians of the kingdom of God. It’s a day for the everyday Janes and Joes whose names are not remembered by the church but who are equally precious in the sight of God. This is not a day when we celebrate the shining accomplishments of the few but the blessed loveliness of the many.

Beloved, we are God’s children now.

Let me tell you of one of my own saints, my oldest brother – Geoffrey. His life was desperately short – he was just three years old when he died from the multiple disabilities that had been with him since birth. I was only born a few weeks before Geoffrey died so I never got to know him. But I lived in the gift of his legacy. In one way Geoffrey could not be said to have achieved anything in his short life – he was never even able to walk or speak or feed himself. But in another way he achieved so much. His birth began my mum and dad’s journey as parents, while his total dependence gave them and his other carers an opportunity to offer unconditional love. He opened the hearts of those around him by his need and vulnerability and so made the world a more loving, God-filled place.

There is no life which is too restricted, too little, to be a beacon of God’s love. To be a saint in someone’s life. This is one of the ways that our faith is so stunningly counter-cultural. We don’t place premium value on doing and accomplishment, we place it on being and on loving. These 13 young lives who are being welcomed into the cathedral family today are all equally beloved by God. They will continue to be equally beloved and equally valued whatever they achieve or fail to achieve in their lives. There is no competition here – no way to gain more of God’s love or to lose even a drop of it – we are God’s beloved children now.

And this takes us some of the way but not quite all the way into the story of All Saints Day. For it’s impossible to think about All Saints without thinking about death as well as life. All these people remembered around us in the windows and the quilts are dead. They haven’t ‘passed’ – after all no one gets to fail the test of death – they died.  And death is scary, let’s not pretend otherwise. That’s why we all dress up in silly costumes and go out in the dark on hallowe’en – to scare away the monsters and bogeymen that hide in the dark of death. Getting some life-giving sweetness along the way from the candy given by the kindness of strangers.

Death is scary partly because it brings with it the heartbreaking pain of loss for those left behind. And it is also deeply scary because we don’t know what happens to us next. But our readings today give us some hints if we are willing to accept them. There is the reassurance of Revelation’s promise that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Then there is the letter of John admitting we don’t know exactly what we will become, but also saying: “What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him”. We will be like Christ, like God. We will be like our heavenly parent.

We – us everyday and extraordinary Janes and Joes – will be like the one who loves all of us intimately, individually and equally. We will be like the one who defeated death. We will be like the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness and who longs for all her children to be peacemakers. We will be part of a whole ginormous shining crowd of people who are like God. Part of the crowd with the Blessed Virgin Mary, with Francis, with Gary and Andrew named on the quilts, with my brother Geoffrey, with your own beloved dead.

Beloved we are God’s children now. This is the identity we celebrate and claim for our own in baptism. This is the identity we live into together as a community of faith, a family of spiritual seekers. This is the identity we share with the whole communion of saints, living and dead. And this is the identity that awaits us all on the far side of death as we are transformed to an even closer resemblance to our heavenly mother.

Beloved we are God’s children now. How will you live into that identity? What legacy will your life leave for God’s children who are being baptized today and those yet unborn?  How will you have touched the world with God’s gentleness? Where will you have sown seeds that bear fruit in the future? What will you have given time, talents and treasure to in order to build a hope-filled world?

 

My closing prayer is very short and comes through words by Michael Leunig:

“Let us live in such a way

That when we die

Our love will survive

And continue to grow. Amen.”

 

 

Sunday, October 29
In the end, we shall be examined in love!
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones preached from notes.  No manuscript will be available.

Thursday, October 26
Downhill Skateboarding for Your Life
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“… whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be servant of all” (Mark 10).

 

The film begins with an indistinct figure furtively pulling a chain across a country road. The next frame shows professional skateboarder Liam Morgan charging down hill. Watching him draws you to the edge of your seat – he seems so close to disaster. He shifts into a speed crouch accelerates and then carves through impossible turns. He slides into light and then shade, on a perfect afternoon.[1]

 

A voice-over interviewer asks for his advice. “What would you say to kids who want to be pro downhill skaters?” As he answers you realize that the chain was to stop cars from coming up the road while he was bombing down it.

People often complain about getting older. They are right about your body not working as well. But one of the greatest blessings is that as you add more seasons to your life you encounter more people. You see how their stories develop and connect. There is a joy in watching time pass, in seeing the changes it brings. God blesses us with the gift of holding the past and the present simultaneously in our mind.

I have known Liam for his whole life. I think I baptized him. A third of the video shows him skateboarding the same street our old church is on and talking about how various friends were injured there.

He answers the question of how to become a pro skater. He says that the most important thing is not getting sponsored. It is not the free equipment, travel, fame and money. He says that you need to skate for the love of the activity itself. In fact, he says it will be more fun for you without the money and fame.

We have a hard time understanding this. In our society so much seems to be based on buying, selling and competing. We see so many advertisements that tell us that we will be happier with an upgrade to first class, an exclusive sports car or a beautiful house. We are more likely to be fooled into thinking that going to the best college or getting the most prestigious job will make us happy.

When James and John ask Jesus for the seat of honor it is like calling shotgun to claim the front passenger seat. They want to be upgraded, set above and apart from the other disciples. This makes their friends angry.

It is easy for us to look down on them as if we were not trying in our own way to get seats of honor ourselves. Because we stand on this side of history we know that the people on Jesus’ right and left are the ones who are crucified with him.

Jesus says that being the winner, having that seat of honor or any other special privilege that sets us apart, is far less joyful than being the one who serves others. We were made to care for each other, to find fulfillment in our connections, even by our dependence on each other. The most complete person will be the one most fully committed to others.

So many times I have heard this story about the greatest one being servant of all. It is not wisdom that you hear once and then are immediately changed forever. We keep coming back to Jesus’ words because we need help with this. The presence of Jesus in stories like this transforms our life over time. We hear this story over and over and like a sunflower we turn our face to the light.

Last week I received a letter from a friend who used to surf with Liam’s dad and me. He wrote, “even more than the waves I remember our time together on our way to the ocean.”

I sometimes wonder how Liam will answer the sponsorship question twenty years from now. I wonder if he will say that even more important than skating itself are the friendships he has made through it.

Your life is an adventure. Take a risk to live for something other than getting ahead of everyone else. Launch yourself down hill. Feel the wind on your face. Enjoy every turn. Love this life for its own sake. Look for chances to take care of each other.

[1] Prism Skate Company, “FACES – Liam Morgan,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I1X-BEz9suM&feature=youtu.be

Sunday, October 22
Tyranny of the Emperor
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“I will give you the treasures of darkness and riches hidden in secret places” (Isa. 45).

1. What is your brand, your style, your look? What values do you communicate in your gestures and talk, how you buy, eat, read and live? Young people today refer to their “brand” in a way that I would never have imagined a decade ago. In some ways we have become more aware of how companies and politicians manipulate and control us.

Today, “nearly two-thirds of Americans get at least some of their news from social media.”1 It seems as if mass communications cannot be separated from mass manipulation. Every day we make so many conscious and unconscious decisions about how to present ourselves online.

On Tuesday The New York Times had an article about a self-improvement course for women that devolved into a kind of cult. Attracted by the promise of personal empowerment, initiates were forced to provide compromising photos or stories about themselves. Leaders threatened that this “collateral” would be used against them if they tried to leave.2

The leaders called themselves “masters” and the newer women assigned to them “slaves.” In this pyramid scheme, every night and morning slaves are required to send text messages to their master. If their master sends them a message, they have sixty seconds to respond or to suffer consequences. The initiation ritual involves being stripped, held down and branded below the hip bone with a “cauterizing device.” The brand contains the initials of the male supreme leader (who is also known as “the Vanguard”).

No matter how badly we want to be empowered we cannot accomplish this without being dependent on something else. We bear the mark of that dependency. It is part of our brand.

In 1979 Bob Dylan released a song about this experience. He says, “You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride / You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side / You may be working in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair / You may be

somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir. / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody… / Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord. But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”3

2. Most often we use the expression “rendering to Caesar” as if God deserves a little of this and the government is entitled to a little of that. Jesus has something far more compelling in mind than this. Jesus strikes at the heart of our identity, our brand.

After the people had thrown palms before his path and celebrated Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, Pharisees send their students along with the Herodians to trap him. Both groups wanted political independence for Israel and hoped to discredit Jesus, to dissipate his remarkable power.

They begin by flattering him. They say he is authentic, that he speaks the truth. In the Bob Dylan sense they say that he does not serve anyone, that he is independent and impartial (the Greek expression literally means to decide without seeing a person’s face).

These religious leaders put Jesus in a double bind. They ask him, “Is it lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not” (Mt. 22). Jesus fully understands the stakes. Our translation says Jesus is, “aware of their malice,” and calls them hypocrites. He knows that if he says the tax is lawful he will be discredited among the people. And if he says it is unlawful he knows that the Imperial authorities will arrest him.

Instead Jesus says, “show me the coin used for the tax.” He then asks them whose eikon or image and inscription are on the coin. The students of the Pharisees and the Herodians answer “the Emperor.” And Jesus famously replies “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Except that’s not quite right the word. Didomi means to give, paradidomi means to pay back. More literally “pay back what belongs to the emperor and pay back what belongs to God.”

Some argue that in providing the denarius, the coin, the religious leaders have violated the first two commandments against having other gods and making images of god. In any event they are amazed and leave him.

What astonishes me about this exchange is that today the whole structure of Roman society with its emperor, slaves, centurions, temples, and coliseums, all that everyone in this story took for granted and seemed everlasting, is gone. And these simple words of Jesus are still with us. What would have been obvious to the first hearers of this gospel needs careful explanation in our time.

So let’s begin at home with the family. In Roman times, the pater familias had absolute authority over the family to the point where he could take the lives of anyone in the household with impunity. The pater patriae, literally the father of the fatherland, or the emperor, had the same power over everything and everyone in the empire. The emperor, the Caesar, is an image of god. In the same way the coin is an image of the emperor.4

Jesus says that rather than worship an image of a false image of god, dedicate yourself to the true God. He goes beyond that. Every person bears the stamp of God from the moment of our creation. Each person is a true image of God. Jude Harmon points out the perverse irony that the Emperor does not even understand his own real value.

This is partly because in Rome, by senatorial decree or self-proclamation, the Emperor was a god. This false reality was backed up by the full power of the state’s propaganda. The image of the emperor was ever-present on coins, statues, and military insignia. Authorities forced people to worship the Emperor.

In Marguerite Yourcenar’s novel Memoirs of Hadrian she tries to imagine what this felt like. In this fictional letter to Marcus Aurelius, Hadrian says, “I began to feel divine… as near perfection as my nature would permit, in fact, eternal.”5 According to this imagined Hadrian, love was a kind of control over others and in his life only perfectly achieved at one time, in one person – Antinoös (an exception to Bob Dylan’s rule).

When his lover Antinoös drowned in the Nile River in 130 AD, the Emperor Hadrian built a whole city in his memory along with twenty-eight temples throughout the Empire. He made two thousand sculptures so that we have more statues (115) of Antinoös than any other classical figure with the exception of Augustus and Hadrian. The practical effect of this state propaganda is to always remind you that you owe your very life to the emperor. What the emperor loves, you must love, because the emperor is always there.

3. At this point we have reached what Puritan sermons called “the Application.” What I said might sound like ancient history, but rulers still strain to be everywhere at all times. Visiting Kenya in the 1980’s I remember the ubiquitous official portrait of President Daniel T. arap Moi (1924-). You could find it even in the smallest most remote tea shop. A friend joked about it until we heard that people were beaten for disrespecting the image.

This brings us to an issue that has been especially troubling for me. At the end of last summer San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick (1987-) began protesting police brutality against people of color by sitting during the national anthem. Since then

other players have joined this protest. Recently the president has repeatedly condemned these players and called for owners to fire them. He has ignored their complaint about racial injustice and has said that this action showed a lack of respect for people who serve in the military.

With so many issues and other injustices in the world I have been surprised by how much this upset me. Although I have not heard anyone describe it in this way, for me this is a religious issue. The president of the United States and owners of professional football teams should not compel anyone when it comes to patriotic displays – especially when this is a matter of moral conscience. The whole point of our national anthem should involve the freedom of choosing how and whether to participate. For me it feels like an empire forcing someone to pray. It is treating the nation and its leader as a god.

But this is only one of many possible examples that we see today as humans usurp the reverence that should belong only to God. Through social media, through the invocations of those who either revere or hate him, we have given the president a power over our conscious thoughts that no person has had in history.

So let me ask again knowing that you gotta serve somebody. In this world where power comes from dependence and everything comes from God – what is your brand? Around you some might have it seared on their hip, or bestowed on them through text messages. It may be part of their pride in belonging to a secret society. For others it is instantiated by statues, political parties and social media.

In this vast and beautiful and sometimes cruel world love is not control over others. We will never be satisfied by worshiping the father of the Fatherland. You and the emperor and everyone you meet shine with God’s glory. Through our actions and words let us help others to see the stamp of our maker. Let our god be God. Let our image be the image of the true God.

 

1 Social Media companies are not benevolent “curators” of information but have a direct stake in keeping you in their particular ecosystem even if that is accomplished by falsehoods. Benedict Carey, “How Fiction Becomes Fact on Social Media,” The New York Times, 20 October 2017.

2 Barry Meier, “Inside a Secretive Group Where Women Are Branded,” The New York Times, 17 October 2017. Barry Meier, “Complaints About Branding Inside Secretive Group Are Under Review,” The New York Times, 19 October 2017.

3 Bob Dylan, “Gotta Serve Somebody,” Slow Train Coming, 1979. “You may be an ambassador to England or France / You may like to gamble, you might like to dance / You may be the heavyweight champion of the world / You may be a socialite with a long string of pearls. // But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed / You’re gonna have to serve somebody, / It may be the devil or it may be the Lord / But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” Thanks for Eric Shafer “You’re Gonna Have to Serve Somebody,” Day1 22 October 2017.

4 These three paragraphs come from my conversation with Jude Harmon 19 October 2017.

5 Marguerite Yourcenar, Memoirs of Hadrian tr. Grace Frick (NY: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux, 1974) 144, 155.

Sunday, October 15
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: Sarah Kay
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, October 12
In the Face of Fire
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
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“Were not our hearts burning within us…” (Luke 24)

 

During the Vietnam War my friend’s twenty-year-old cousin Steve took all his money, everything that he had saved on his paper route for eight years, and left the country. He moved to England where he spent the whole sum on a beautiful, varnished-wood, 1920’s-era sailing sloop. He lived a nearly perfect life on that boat with his wife Ruth. For two years they would sail to small ports on the south coast of England while he made a modest living as a skilled carpenter and cabinetmaker.[1]

Eventually the two crossed the English Channel on the way to visiting Steve’s sister in Holland. While they were at a harbor in Northern France a storm came up. Because Steve didn’t understand French he missed the radio reports which warned about the severity of the storm. They continued on their way.

Very soon after they left Steve realized that he had made a terrible mistake. Strong winds and huge ocean swells made it impossible to return to the safety of the harbor. It seemed as if they would lose their lives on this boat. Steve even tied Ruth to the mast so that she wouldn’t go overboard.

As the storm drove them toward land, Steve fought to make it out to deep water but was steadily pushed back until the boat was driven onto the beach and they were rescued. People on the shore watched their sloop along with five other boats being pounded into splinters in the heavy surf.

Years later in their house, they had a starkly beautiful picture of the waves breaking over the boat. Steve would say, “I love that photograph. It reminds me of the day we lost everything. That was the most important moment in my life.” He goes on, “It shaped the course of everything that happened later.”

Today we are in the midst of a massive unfolding disaster. 170,000 acres have burned. No fire is more than 5% contained.[2] Lives are being lost, workshops and homes and all they contain destroyed. The skies are choking us with the ashes of our friends’ homes. We are breathing in their family photo albums, packs of burning love letters from last century, wedding dresses, children’s toys and furniture carefully passed down through the generations.

I keep hearing from more friends who have lost everything. People are asking me, “Where is God in all this?” Perhaps questions like this don’t get us anywhere. But maybe we also can’t stop asking them. Strangely enough today I have a kind of provisional answer.

When Heidi and I were young our house burned down too. All these years later and I still miss things that we lost. At the time I didn’t realize it but it was the perfect preparation for serving at St. Clement’s Church Berkeley. One quarter of all the parishioners there had lost their homes in the Oakland Fire.

I learned a few things from these experiences. First, amazingly enough most of those people who lost everything in the fire would tell me. “Those were only things! What really matters is that we’re okay!” Another thing I realized is that being part of a community saves lives. Dozens of people were saved because their neighbors realized something was wrong and went to look for them. We depend on each other. What I remember most about our own fire is the people who took care of us and the love I still feel for them.

This is what I think that Steve meant by saying that losing everything in the shipwreck was the most important moment in his life. Like me he loved Jesus. Part of the reason we do is that there is something invisible to us in our everyday life that can become clear in moments like this.

When the disciples encounter Jesus walking along the road, at first they do not recognize him. But in sharing stories, a meal and ultimately ourselves we begin to see past the surfaces of life to what really matters.

The greatest miracle is the simple gift of our life. Whether we are suffering or rejoicing God is always present. We feel that presence more profoundly when we really begin to see each other. When we look deeply into the humanity that we share. When we offer help. Even when we depend on others.

Tonight we are dedicating our collection to people who are suffering from the fires. I pray that God will help us to see Christ hidden in our own situation. I pray that God will protect us from harm and give us hearts to love each other.

[1] Donald Schell conversation Wednesday 11 October 2017. Clarification email 12 October 2017.

[2] “Notes and Resources,” San Francisco Emergency Operations Center Community Branch Call #1, 12 October 2017.

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