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California Fires: How to Help

Tuesday, November 20

You can make a difference

Honor the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Tuesday, November 20

Honor the memory of those whose lives were lost in acts of anti-transgender violence.

Share a Thanksgiving meal with our community

Thanksgiving at Grace Cathedral

Thursday, November 22

Share a Thanksgiving meal with our community

Experience the influential vocalist, composer and visual artist presents an incredible drone-based work using her late husband’s collection of guitars and amplifiers.

Laurie Anderson: Lou Reed Drones, Viola Duets

Friday, November 30

Experience the influential vocalist, composer and visual artist presents an incredible drone-based work using her late h...

Hear a stirring live performance of songs from the AIDS Quilt Songbook

AIDS Memorial Quilt Concert for World AIDS Day

Saturday, December 1

Hear a stirring live performance of songs from the AIDS Quilt Songbook

Help bring light to the city and world in this festive holiday event

World Tree of Hope

Monday, December 3

Help bring light to the city and world in this festive holiday event

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, November 18
Getting Disillusioned
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Beware that no one leads you astray” (Mk. 13).

 

It hurts. It hurts so much that for two years I just tried not to think or talk about it. All my life I have cherished places of beauty, faith, tradition, and learning – places like the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

My grandfather who, was an Episcopal priest, studied at that seminary in the 1930’s. He married my grandmother in St. John’s Chapel on campus. Then in retirement they lived around the corner from its grassy lawns and stone buildings. As a child I used to ride the bus to visit them and they often took me there.

The location in Harvard Square with all the resources of the university was perfect for world-class scholarship. As a young man I took classes at EDS. I even asked Heidi to marry me in that same chapel. I associate that beautiful place with clergy and teachers who had the deepest influence on my thought and faith.

Then in midsummer of 2016 the trustees voted to close the school, sell the campus and transfer the endowment to Union Seminary in New York City. The library, chapel, the teachers and that precious green space at the heart of the city will be gone and no one will ever be able to have it back again. No stone will be left standing on stone.

There was no other place like this in my life. Mark evokes this same feeling of loss and disillusionment in today’s gospel when he talks about the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

We chose our Cathedral’s theme of truth, knowing that we would be reading through Mark this year. Of all the gospels this is the most direct, undistracted and paired down. Mark uses the simplest vocabulary and sentence structure. He desperately longs for us to see past our illusions and to know the truth.

The liturgical year started with the second half of this reading and finishes today with the first half. In Chapter 13 Mark employs an ancient literary form called apocalypse. It means to uncover or reveal, to literally pull back the veil so that we can see reality. Other examples of this genre appear in the Books of Daniel and Revelation.

Apocalyptic often employs vivid, poetic, even cryptic language to describe the current political situation and what will happen when God comes in glory. It describes a future when the stars fall to the “earth as the fig tree drops its fruit when shaken by a gale,” It tells of the day when everything will be finished and God will roll up the sky like a parchment (Rev. 6:13-14).

One hundred years ago W.B. Yeats (1865-1939) captured this spirit in his World War I poem “The Second Coming.” “Turning and turning in widening gyre / The falcon cannot hear the falconer; / Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; / Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, / The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere / The ceremony of innocence is drowned; / The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”[1]

Ultimately Apocalyptic as a genre is entirely about the hope that God will set things right. No matter how off kilter the world becomes God will repair all that is broken.

Some people dismiss the disciple’s amazement at the size of the Temple as the naiveté of country people who find themselves in the big city. For me what they are really saying is, “Really Jesus? This is what we are taking on?” The temple is not just about piety. It is about power.[2] For faithful people it was the sacred heart of the entire world.

Herod the Great began building this, the third temple, in 20 BC. It took 80 years to be completed. That was in the year 63, only seven years before its destruction by the Romans. The stones were 35 feet long, 18 feet wide and 12 feet high. It seemed like they would be there forever. Jesus warns that it will all be completely swept away.

Scholars believe that Mark wrote his Gospel in the immediate aftermath of the Temple’s destruction. The Roman troops had killed thousands, refugees flooded into other lands, the temple lay desecrated and in ruins. These are the ones Mark addresses.

He speaks to people in chaos and catastrophe. He stands beside the soldier damaged from the wars, the refugee with only two shirts in a smoky Wal-Mart parking lot or the one walking in an interminable caravan toward a closed distant border. He stands with the pregnant teenager, the addict, the hurt, the despairing, the ignored and left out.[3] He stands with you and me.

He gives very simple advice, “Beware that no one leads you astray” (Mk. 13). He also shares with his friends the gift of disillusionment.No one enjoys being disillusioned. We do not wake up and think, “I really hope to be disillusioned today.” We do not want to give up our false images of God, of who we are and what we deserve. We like being the center of our world. We fight against a fresh picture that reminds us just how much we depend on God.[4]

Of course the problem with fighting against our own disillusionment is that we never change. We remain stuck, remote from the truth, from the reality we crave. God disillusions us so that we might reconfigure our life, so that we might serve God in a way we had never imagined before.

We live in the time of disillusionment. This week the New York Times ran articles about Facebook’s strategy to delay, deny and deflect. These actions amounted to a refusal to take responsibility or change even as it was being manipulated by foreign spies to disrupt American life.[5]

Another three part series described the vast extent of Russian disinformation campaigns such as the false story that the American government made the AIDS virus and the one about Hilary Clinton that we call Pizzagate. The authors point out that all of us should be actively disillusioning ourselves. At every level of society we need to constantly be alert for false stories and stamp them out in the way that Eastern European countries have learned to do.[6]

Marion Nestle our Forum guest today makes a well-argued case that what we think of as healthy food has been utterly distorted by corporate interests who dominate nutrition science.[7] Over the last two years we have been taking an unasked for crash course in disillusionment. We see how much more deeply racism, sexism and homophobia infect us.

For our Advent book group we are reading Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility. She points out that white people have a huge tendency to ignore race altogether. Then when the subject is brought up we white people become so upset that we are distracted from ever really doing something to correct this vast problem.

I pray that these last ten days of unbreathable air, the destruction of a whole town, California environmental refugees, and a still rising death toll will be enough to wake us up. We have to stop believing the illusion that the natural world is unaffected by human activity. We urgently need to do something about climate change.

It hurts doesn’t it? It hurts to become disillusioned. But that is the story of our time. Perhaps we have to become disillusioned about church too. I began by telling you how much pain I feel about the closing of Episcopal Divinity School. I wasn’t as forthcoming about another strong emotion that I associate with this – my sense of regret. Every time the matter comes up I think of the ways that I could have helped and didn’t.

These days I often remember the times when I didn’t respond to a request for feedback on a faculty tenure decision, or when I just threw the fundraising appeal away. I could have tried harder to participate in the governance of the school. In short I didn’t always act with the energy of someone who intensely cared about the school’s mission.

When our society had more people who participated in religious life, it more easily supported a larger number and variety of religious institutions. Fewer people today identify themselves as religious and frankly this means we have to change.

On Wednesday our Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed a new mission statement for Grace Cathedral. It is “Reimagining church with courage, joy and wonder.” As society changes radically, we cannot simply be satisfied to do exactly the same things in the same way. We need to see ourselves in God’s hands, changing what we do in response to the Holy Spirit.

Today on Stewardship Sunday you have the opportunity to participate in the life of the church, to be part of this reimagining. Beware that no one leads you astray. If you love what Grace Cathedral stands for, now is the moment to step up and help.

Jesus gives the gift of disillusionment. Sometimes that hurts. But he also offers hope in the middle of disaster. He gives us the chance to change our life, to serve in ways we never imagined.

In Romans the Apostle Paul writes that, “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Jesus says that, “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will not pass away” (Mk. 13:31). Elsewhere he says, “my peace I give to you” (Jn. 14:27). In the good times and the bad times, in catastrophe and ruin, God’s grace will always be with us. Christ perpetually present moves us faithfully nearer to the God who calls us each by name.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Second_Coming_(poem)

[2] D. Mark Davis, “Things that Are Pangs in the Birth,” Left Behind and Loving It, 11 November 2018. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com

[3] Matt and Liz Boulton, “Birthpangs,” SALT 14 November 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/lectionary-commentary-for-twenty-sixth-week-after-pentecost

[4] Brad Roth, “Living By the Word: November 18, Ordinary 33B,” The Christian Century, 16 October 2018.

[5] Sheera Frenkel, Nicholas Confessore, Cecilia Kang, Matthew Rosenberg and Jack Nicas, “Delay, Deny and Deflect: How Facebook’s Leaders Fought Through Crisis,” The New York Times, 14 November 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/14/technology/facebook-data-russia-election-racism.html

[6] Adam B. Ellick, Adam Westbrook and Jonah M. Kessel, “Operation InfeKtion: The Worldwide War on Truth,” The New York Times, 13 November 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/video/opinion/100000006188105/countering-disinformation-active-measures.html?auth=login-email

[7] Marion Nestle, Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat (NY: Basic Books, 2018).

Sunday, November 11
Becoming Visible
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God, and no torment will ever touch them” (Wisdom 3:1).

 

Being human involves constantly passing in and out of visibility. Most of us, most of the time, are invisible – simply a means to someone else’s end. We’re the car that stands between the person behind us and catching the next green light. People regard us as the way some kind of work gets done or even as an inconvenience to be overcome.[1]

Children can become invisible to their parents. They can be merely a source of pride or embarrassment. Parents can treat their child as a task, as something to be perfected rather than a person to be loved. Even our friends can treat us primarily as a way of fulfilling some purpose in their life that has little to do with who we really are.

We experience this invisibility from strangers and even people who are supposed to love us. But at the same time we long to be noticed, to be seen as we really are. One of the greatest joys in life happens when someone really recognizes us or when we experience the humanity of another person.

On a hot midsummer day I experienced this in a very strange way. I did the early stages of my dissertation research in the Harvard Law School Library. I remember taking a quick break from my work and discovering a special archive exhibit on Ruhleben.

Walking around the room I gradually learned more about this German concentration camp. The inmates were British men unlucky enough to find themselves in the German Empire at the outset of World War One. I saw the map of this former horse racing track in the Berlin suburb of Spandau and read how prisoners slept on the hard floors of un-insulated horse stalls during the freezing winter.

Two layers of security kept the prisoners behind wooden and wire fences. The rules printed in German and English effectively showed that every aspect of life was absolutely regulated by the clock. Prisoners only received one meal of vegetable soup and bread each day with an ounce of meat on Sundays.[2]

The exhibit had photos of black sailors who had been working on British merchant ships when they were captured, and of other prisoners standing in endless lines out in the snow. I saw chits from the laundry service and the barber. There was a model of the living quarters, playbills from prisoner theater performances, pictures of incarcerated musicians, examples from art exhibits and everyday objects like cups and uniforms.

Other than their identity as Englishmen, these prisoners had became invisible to the Germans. But through the objects in the glass display cases they were becoming more real to me. I wondered what visits were like with their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters. What did it feel like to be caught in a struggle between empires and confined in this cold place.

It was a remarkable coincidence really. It even took me a while to understand. My great-grandfather was one of those prisoners. I looked for his name in the registers. I tried to spot his face in the crowd photos, but there is no one alive to tell me what happened. Looking back at my family’s history, I know that he bore the marks of that invisibility for the rest of his life. The inherited trauma still affects my family.

Today we remember, we strain to see again in our imagination, all the ones whom we have lost. We also recall that on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in 1918 an Armistice was signed ending World War I. The word Armistice comes from the Latin words arma (or “arms”) and sistere (“to stand still”). You can imagine the stillness and quiet when both sides in that conflict laid down their arms, emerged from the trenches and began to really see each other for the first time and when the gates of Ruheleben were opened.

The historian Barbara Tuchman opens her book The Guns of August with nine kings riding in the funeral procession for King Edward the VII of England in 1910. They are followed by a list of the princes and emperors who were present. These included, “five heirs apparent, forty imperial or royal highnesses, seven queens” and more. “Together they represented seventy nations in the greatest assemblage of royalty and rank ever gathered in one place.” [3]

Despite the fact that the sovereigns of Europe were siblings and cousins they still managed to plunge the entire world into a war of poison gas, aerial bombing and trench warfare that killed nine million combatants and seven million civilians.[4] It is important to remember that the war arose out of a complex system of alliances and a kind of paranoia about being invaded.

It was also the culmination of an arm’s race, that with the new pervasiveness of mass shootings, should remind us that having weapons makes us more likely to use them.[5]

The Russian, German, Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman Empires were swept away. The punishing terms of the Treaty of Versailles led directly into the fascism that only twenty years later resulted in World War II. While the “war to end all wars” erased the lives of millions it also led us to new ways of seeing each other.

At the end of hostilities the scholar W.E.B. DuBois (1868-1963) pointed out the sacrifices made by African American soldiers who still were not free in their own land. He writes, “This country of ours, despite all its better souls have done and dreamed, is yet a shameful land. It lynches.”[6]

In the United Kingdom “the slaughter-bench that birthed the 20th century,” also led to the legalization of voting for women who were over thirty and qualified as householders (or were married to a householder).[7] Accompanying the horrors of this last century were global movements toward liberation and the recognition of every person’s dignity. In our own day we continue this work.

At school chapel on Friday Kevin Fox spoke about the Fauré Requiem that we are hearing today. He said that in contrast to the drama of other requiems Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) hoped to compose something peaceful, consoling and quiet. He wanted to evoke the comfort of resting fully in God.

 

I believe we need this kind of peace and sanctuaries like this cathedral to experience others and ourselves as we really are. For me Jesus is the ultimate example of someone who really sees every person he encounters. He constantly reminds us that no one is ever invisible to God and that, “there is no situation in which God’s presence  doesn’t make a difference.”[8]

Being human involves constantly passing in and out of visibility. Today in this place of stillness and quiet let us remember the joy of laying down our arms. Let us accept the challenge of seeing the people who are invisible to the world. May those who sacrificed and our beloved dead be seen again as we become visible to each other through God’s grace.

[1] For other people we are the subject of entertaining gossip. At some point we also have been used to make someone else feel superior.

[2] “Tells of Suffering as German Prisoner: No Medical Attention for the Sick and Impossible Food – An Ounce of Meat a Week” New York Times, 28 June 1918.

[3] Barbara W. Tuchman, The Guns of August (NY: Random House, 1962) 1.

[4] The “World War I” Wikipedia article notes that between 50-100 million lives were lost as a result of the war if you include genocides and the Spanish Influenza epidemic.

[5] Between 1870 and 1914 military spending in Germany increased by 73% and in Russia by 39%. Wikipedia article “World War I” accessed 10 November 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_War_I

[6] W.E.B. DuBois, “Returning Soldiers,” The Crisis, XVIII (May, 1919), p. 13.

[7] Susan Pedersen, “A Knife to the Heart,” London Review of Books 30 August 2018.

[8] Rowan Williams, Tokens of Trust: An Introduction to Christian Belief (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2007) 156.

Discover Grace

The Year of Truth

Stewardship 2019

What important truths are you learning about other people, especially those who may seem different from you?

 

Every year Grace Cathedral chooses a theme to unify and inspire our community to improve their lives and the world. Our 2018 theme is truth. Join us in exploring the truth about ourselves, each other, the world and God. This Pentecost season, we are exploring the truth about each other.

Stewardship is a cherished practice of the Episcopal Church that helps us connect our lives to the core mission of Grace Cathedral.

With our annual financial gifts, we deepen our own spiritual awareness of our blessing and share with others in service.

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