Listen to the Latest Services

Sunday, June 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
Download service leaflet
Thursday, June 14
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
Download service leaflet

Listen to Featured Sermons

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
Read sermon

The Very Rev. Alan Jones’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, June 10
Voices of Demons, Forgiveness of Sin
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

“Here are my mother and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mark 3).

 

Friday at dawn I saw the world through security and body cameras on the Internet. Police surrounding an unarmed man by an elevator severely beating his head as his slack body slides down the wall. Police in Oregon punching the back of a mentally ill man’s head as he lies on the ground and screams that he is disabled.[1]

Police handcuffing a ten-year-old African American boy scaring him so much that he wets his pants.[2] I saw the video of Stephon Clark’s death in Sacramento – all those shots in the dark as police kill this young father in his own backyard.

The Spirit opened a kind of window in my heart that allowed me to imagine what it would feel like to one minute be living my ordinary life, and then suddenly descend into the abyss, to feel the full force of this humiliation, pain and horror. The Oregon man’s screamed question haunts me. “Why are you doing this?”

One of the leading causes of death among police officers is suicide. I am grateful that these days I am not in many extreme situations which would reveal my own racism, fear and brutality. Mostly my demons are just less exposed.

People don’t believe in demons these days. But perhaps this is a way to avoid facing the irrational powers from beyond ourselves, powers that possess and control us.

This week handbag designer Kate Spade and television personality Anthony Bourdain succumbed to their demons and took their own lives. I worry about other struggling souls who might follow their example. We have a connected unconscious. We do not understand certain parts of ourselves. When we look inside, sometimes we see a force that threatens to destroy us, or that takes us away from who we really are.

A few days ago I talked with a friend who has recently been released from prison. He struggles with demons of hesitancy, self-doubt and fear. He doesn’t know how to get started or even if he’s going to find a way to survive. It is not clear yet whether or not the demons will gain the upper hand.

The idea of demons may seem archaic and weird. But using this language draws our attention to a universal aspect of the human experience that modern life tends to ignore. At times our society, and we ourselves, seem to be caught in, or possessed by, dynamics beyond our control. Sometimes we recognize these forces and can name them as: defensiveness, addiction, war, family dysfunction, sexism, anger, racism, homophobia or envy. Sometimes we feel this irrational power and have no way to articulate it.

In your challenges and the struggles of people you encounter I want to share two helpful ideas from our tradition. The first concerns our relation to God and the second is about how we might understand sin.

  1. The author of Mark believes that we inhabit a dark and dangerous world. Evil can be just as much in our hearts as it is out there. He seems deeply aware that our consciousness is porous.[3] He would recognize that the evil I see on the Internet has a deep kind of hold on me.

As our gospel today begins Jesus is enjoying fabulous popularity. It’s like he woke up and suddenly had 20 million Twitter followers. People have come to see him from all over that world even from distant Idumea (Mk. 3:8). That’s 150 miles away. The crowds are cheek a jowl, huddled so closely together that Jesus and the disciples cannot even eat bread (Mk. 3:20).[4]

There are several translation issues for me in this text. The Greek word bread appears here but doesn’t make it into the English translation. Similarly the Greek text says “oi par’autou” which literally means “those with him” but appears in the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible as “family.” In any event, worried that he has lost his mind people with him, or his family, go to overpower him (kratos or krateo) for his own good. Words related to strength, power, ableness appear throughout this story.

The lawyers from the capitol city of Jerusalem use this occasion to charge that Jesus has not just been possessed by normal demons but by the chief demon, Beelzebul. Jesus defends himself by pointing out that healing lies at the heart of his ministry. This is the antidote to the destruction and divisiveness of the demonic. Neither a divided house nor a divided kingdom could stand. If healing were to enter Satan would literally “have his end” or come to an end. Telos the word for end the finish line of the horse-racing track. It also means goal.

Then Jesus uses an analogy that I never completely understood. He describes his mission of healing as entering a strong man’s house. To rob him, one must first bind him up. What I didn’t fully recognize before is that for Mark this world belongs to Satan. Jesus has bound him so that we might be free of the demons that afflict us.

For some evangelical Christians salvation refers to the dividing line between the godly and the godless, the people who are “saved” or “not saved.” But I have a hard time believing that this is what Jesus means. The Latin word “salvus” is not about dividing us from them. It means healing, and that is what Jesus does. In order to heal us Jesus binds up the strong man, the demons that seek to possess us.

Then comes the really remarkable thing. I don’t understand the reason for this either but the translators leave out the word “all” which occurs in the next sentence. Jesus says, “all will be forgiven of the sons of Man, their sins and the blasphemies they have blasphemed.”[5]

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) asserts that Jesus can transform our lives through his concept of a loving God. Barth writes that by God’s, “gifts [people] lived always sustained with forgiving loving-kindness.” He goes on to say that if a person really were to grasp the truth of God’s love, he or she would have, “the feeling of waking from a dream.”[6] This is what Jesus wants for us. It is how he heals us.

I wish that people really heard that line but the next almost washes it from our consciousness. This too is translated in a way that makes the truth harder to understand. It says, “Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit does not have forgiveness in this age but is involved in an age-long sin.”

As you might gather I don’t think the point of the story is to inspire fear that we might inadvertently or intentionally commit an unforgiveable sin. I do believe Jesus wants us to take seriously the voice of God that speaks in our conscience. But this brings me to my second point which is about sin.

  1. Adam and Eve hear the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. Have you ever wondered why God calls to them saying, “Where are you” (Gen. 3)? Certainly God knows this. I think it is a little like when God says to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel,” when God knows very well that Cain murdered him (Gen. 4).[7]

The point is for the listener, for Adam, Eve, Cain, you and me to re-orient ourselves, to find our way back after having been lost. Instead of denying what we have done or blaming someone else, it is the moment to take responsibility.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) the theologian who was tragically killed by the Nazis shortly before the liberation of Germany puts it this way. The decisive moment for Adam and Eve is not when they decide to eat the forbidden fruit, or when they take that first bite. It is when they try to hide from God and from their true identity as God’s children. Where are you Adam? In the same way this morning God asks, “where are you?”

There are different metaphors for understanding sin. We hear most about sin as disobedience that requires forgiveness. But equally powerful is the picture of sin as an affliction that needs to be healed. There is also the idea of sin as separation calling for reconciliation. Bonhoeffer endorses this last picture of sin as a kind of alienation or division from God and our self.

This is one of the demons that Jesus casts out of our lives: the demon that says that the differences between us are more important than what we share in common. Jesus invites us to participate in this ministry of healing. He does this knowing that will be opposed by strangers, our work colleagues, friends and even our family. Our own fear of disapproval, our desire to not interfere may hold us back. But Jesus promises an even more extraordinary intimacy. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother” (Mk. 3).

In conclusion I do not know where you are, or exactly what kind of demons you encounter in your life. Jesus’ point is that we do not face these challenges alone. The strong man has been bound. In everything God will eventually prevail. We will find brothers and sisters who will help us. Jesus will not abandon us.

Let us pray: Gracious God you summon us out of the darkness of our own hearts and into the light of Jesus. Strengthen us to overcome our demons. Heal our divisions. Help us to find ourselves in you and to embrace the hope that all will be forgiven. We pray this in the name of your Son Jesus. Amen.

 

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=4&v=Ejf572xg02M

[2] https://www.nbcchicago.com/news/local/Video-Shows-Chicago-Police-Handcuffing-10-Year-Old-Boy-484629641.html

[3] Again Liz and Matt Boulton’s “Sin and Salvation,” in Salt (10 June 2018) has hugely influenced this sermon at every point. If I keep borrowing at this rate I will have to name my next child after them. I always associate this idea of the porousness of our consciousness to Matt along with the salvus idea that comes later. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/lectionary-commentary-for-third-week-after-pentecost

[4] I don’t know why translators left out the word “bread” in this verse. There are other translation issues that elude me like why are those with him referred to as his family. I should have brought my Nestle Aland home to check alternative manuscripts.

[5] I definitely have help in all these translations from D. Mark Davis, “Parables of Plunder,” Left Behind and Loving It: Living as if God’s Steadfast Love Really Does Endure Forever, 4 June 2018. http://leftbehindandlovingit.blogspot.com

[6] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part One Tr. G. W. Bromiley (NY: T&T Clark, 1956) I.1.460.

[7] I’m especially indebted to Liz and Matt for this and for what follows.

Past Sermons

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

Sunday, October 30
The Real Social Contract
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“Today salvation has come to this house… For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 9
Read sermon

We need a break from the vicious self-righteousness of our current election. We need someone like the English poet John Milton to remind us that all human institutions are tainted, to remind us of our solidarity as sinners and our solidarity in glory. In the face of paranoia we must choose metanoia. That is the Greek word for repentance and it describes the way that God draws us back to our right senses again.

I suspect that a few of us might long for the days of political apathy, when less seemed to be at stake in our national elections. Today we have been made to feel as if peace, prosperity, security, family, integrity, and all the values that we most cherish are at stake.

After the collapse of the Holy Roman Empire, political philosophers had a problem. For centuries people had believed that God chose kings and that it was our religious duty to obey them. After terrible religious wars and a new sense of the importance of the individual this no longer made much sense to many Europeans.

The English philosopher John Locke (1632-1704) turned this whole idea around.[1] Instead of God choosing a people and assigning them a king, he argued that we should understand government as a kind of social contract between the people and their leader. People give up their liberty (such as the freedom from taxes or to exact revenge). In exchange the ruler promises to protect both their persons and their property. If the king violates either of these stipulations of the contract, the people have the right to overthrow him.

This probably sounds very familiar to you as the philosophical justification of the American Revolution and for democracy as we practice it here today. Every election cycle we have the choice to in a sense overthrow our leaders.

I have faith in democracy, but I am not so sure that I believe in the social contract as articulated by John Locke. Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau imagined an ideal in contrast to civilization that they called a state of nature. I do not believe in the existence of this kind of anarchy. As social creatures we always exist in community. We define ourselves and become human through our relationships.[2]

For this reason I believe in a much more basic kind of social contract, between individuals. There are rules in each of our relationships that simply cannot be broken. When they are, the relationship fails. These rules and expectations differ. We have different standards for our three-year-old nephew and our grown-up daughter, for our husband and our daughter-in-law. We do not have the same expectations for our close friend or a business associate, for our boss or our employee, our mail carrier or doctor. But the rules are there and this usually unspoken contract always exists. If you cross the line, you break the relationship.

Each of you can give hundreds of examples of what happens when this trust breaks down. Your real estate agent lies to you. Your father deliberately insults your husband. Your business partner steals money from you. A friend betrays your confidence. We know from bitter experience what happens when these rules are broken by ourselves or by others.

This unspoken social contract tempts us to withhold our love. Over the years a husband’s insensitivity, or a wife’s attempts to control her family may make them withdraw from each other. Perhaps people with rebellious teenagers understand this temptation best, but so do those with adult children who make bad choices. Your boss’s insensitivity to your hard work, the stupid mistakes that your employees make because they are less invested in your company’s success than you are, over time these shortcomings may make it hard to love these people.[3]

The most difficult secret about this truth is that we do the exact same thing – to ourselves. We see our sinfulness and shortcomings up close. Often we don’t like what we see. Our love for our self is conditional.

In the play “Angels in America,” a fundamentalist Mormon attorney leaves his wife to begin an affair with another man. He feels overwhelming guilt. He says what we have all thought about ourselves, “I’m a pretty terrible person Lew, I don’t deserve to be loved.” The word “integrity,” means to be whole. We are not even at one with our own self.

This is the world we live in. We are made human by our relationships, but all of these are subject to a social contract that we might break forever at any moment. The weight of this vulnerability presses down on each of us.

This is the same world that Jesus comes to save. In Jericho, one of the most important cities along the caravan route, lived the head tax collector, a Jewish man named Zacchaeus. The occupying Roman army has given him tremendous power. He can stop anyone on the highway, anyone in the town to take their money. If that person refuses he can have that person beaten by Imperial soldiers.

The empire demands its share. But he sets the tax rates much higher and this has made him a rich man in this city. His own people hate him. He collaborates with the enemy. He steals their money. They would kill him if he wasn’t protected by the Roman army. Zacchaeus may be rich, but he has broken the social contract with a vengeance. No one will love him.

When Jesus comes, crowds line the streets, but Zacchaeus isn’t among them. He sits ridiculous and alone in a sycamore tree almost to remind us of his isolation. Like one of those pseudo-Mediterranean mansions in the hills looking over Silicon Valley he signifies both wealth and loneliness.

Jesus intuitively seems to recognize the people who most need his healing. He calls to Zacchaeus and stays at his house even though the people of Jericho shun Zacchaeus as a sinner. Then the amazing thing happens.

In the nineteenth century people really began studying the scientific evidence for the truth of Jesus’ miracles. These scholars never considered this story even though in my experience it describes the greatest kind of miracle of all. I have always wondered about this. Jesus stays with Zacchaeus. They talk and suddenly Zacchaeus is completely transformed. What did Jesus say?

Jewish law places a ceiling on charitable giving at 20% of your income. Zacchaeus gives 50% of all that he owns to the poor. Jewish law requires that people who are guilty of fraud must return the amount plus 20%. Zacchaeus instead returns 400% of what he has been accused of stealing. God does not work on someone’s heart without changing that person’s actions. Money is a kind of tangible measure of our individual power. Having the faith in God that it requires to give that power away is one of the most miraculous signs of God’s spirit.

This season we are asking for your yearly pledge to Grace Cathedral. There are some people who give ten percent of their income to this church (and charity). That is the goal that the Bible sets out. Others give five percent or three percent. I pray that you will examine the percentage of your income that you give to this place and try to give more. Heidi and I are still trying to figure out our budget in this new situation but we are increasing our pledge this year. In a miraculous, mysterious paradox God makes us stronger when we give our power away. You have a chance to feel this new kind of freedom yourself.

But there is one more thing that I want to say about Zacchaeus, the man who broke the social contract and suffered for it. As I mentioned earlier I have always wondered what Jesus said that night in Zacchaeus’ house. Twentieth century philosophers noticed that words do not just communicate ideas. They are “speech acts,” they do things. In the middle of the marriage ceremony, when the priest says, “I pronounce that you are married,” this does not just communicate new information. Instead it changes who they are.[4]

Perhaps in the same way the exact details of what Jesus said that night are not as important as the simple fact of Jesus’ love. Probably everyone who knew Zacchaeus withheld their love from him. Most likely he even withheld love from himself. The most remarkable thing about this story is that when Jesus loved this unloved person, it completely transformed him.

Jesus loves you too, and if you let him, he’ll transform your life. Even if you don’t love yourself, he loves you and longs for you to know lasting joy. There is an old story about a rural Russian priest. A successful young physicist confronted him with a lengthy argument for atheism. Finally the scientist concluded saying, “Therefore I do not believe in God.” This didn’t upset the little priest. He just quietly replied, “Oh it doesn’t matter. God believes in you.”[5]

In conclusion, regardless of who is elected on Tuesday, God believes in you. God’s love does not depend on who you vote for, on any kind of social contract, on any rule that you may have violated in the past or could violate in the future. Let God’s love transform you and let your love be powerful enough to transform others.

[1] See John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (1690). The philosopher Thomas Hobbes introduced the idea of a social contract in Leviathan (1651). Jean-Jacques Rousseau developed this idea further after Locke. They all have very different ideas about the social contract that mostly arise out of their disagreement over what the natural state of human beings is.

[2] Another problem with this kind of ideal is that it fails to take into consideration what we already have. We are born into particular conditions, with a particular history and cultural experience. We cannot simply choose to start over again. The philosopher Martin Heidegger calls this “geworfenheit” or thrownness.”

[3] Edward Markquart, “Zacchaeus,” helped here. See his website, “Sermons from Seattle.”

[4] John Austin, How to Do Things with Words (1962).

[5] Desmond Tutu, God Has a Dream: A Vision of Hope for Our Future (NY: Doubleday, 2004), 18.

Sunday, October 23
The Table where everyone is welcome: Testing for the Heart of Things.
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

“In Wonder all Philosophy began; in Wonder it ends: and Admiration fills up all the interspace. But the first Wonder is the offspring of ignorance: the last is the parent of Adoration.” Samuel Taylor Coleridge

OCTOBER 23, 2016 

I: PERFECT STORY FOR OUR TIMES AS WE APPROACH THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION! Luke 18:9-14 — He told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt. Sounds familiar in the present political climate. It’s worth repeating.
“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’


But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

This is Good News — a promise of an explosion in what it means to be human. How? Humility is the grounding for celebration as we seek to celebrate our values!

The Gospel gives us back a true sense of self – a release from our having to see ourselves as better than others. “At least I’m not one of the idiots who are voting for X!” You know what I mean.

“Look at him who thinks he’s nothing!”

Giving up our own low self image! If you don’t think you’re a sinner you don’t need any good news! Having a truthful and accurate view of things. The first rule of the spiritual life is accuracy. BUT we tend to claim to be innocent – at least in our politics — as we push our punitive certitudes – keeping honest debate at arms length. John Milton’s tough insistence that there is no human activity that it entirely innocent – we like to think that that we have committed no trespass that needs to be forgiven! We tend to think that we have a right not to be offended and a right to feel good about ourselves! I was told years ago by one of the monks who trained me for the priesthood: “Alan, never, never examine your motives! They’re bound to be vile and disgusting!” Not completely true but they do point out the fact that a pure motive is a rare thing.

The resilient power of the Gospel is that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. This is good news!

BUT these are . . .

II: PECULIAR TIMES – ESTRANGED FROM FACT – THE ESCAPE INTO TRUTHINESS! Post-truth politics – we espouse things that “feel true” or “ought to be true!” But with no basis in fact. Makes us open to authoritarianism – even totalitarianism. [i]

Sore losers always accuse the other side of lying. It’s not that truth claims cannot be falsified or contested but rather truth is of secondary importance. Feelings not facts matter most. We are comforted by ways which reinforce prejudices. “It must be true. I read it on the internet.”

Truth can also be distorted by a willful or naïve appeal to “fairness” and false equivalency. A NASA scientist reports that Mars is probably uninhabited. Professor Snooks says it’s teeming with aliens – as if these two assertions are somehow equal in value. Post-truth politics hates complexity. We become experts at creating a reality in which we are the good guys.

We are flooded with distracting information. There are so many “Facts” now – the data junk yard. You can harness lots of little “facts” in the service of a great lie. “. . . the post-truth strategy works because it allows people to forgo critical thinking in favor of having their feelings reinforced by soundbite truthiness.”

At the end of William Golding’s stunning novel The Lord of the Flies Ralph (who started off as the shipwrecked boys’ leader) is running for his life. The boys-turned-savages are screaming for his blood. He is to be sacrificed to the stinking corpse who has become the boys’ god, the Lord of the Flies. Ralph manages to reach the beach just in time where a naval officer stands on the sand. At the sight of a figure of authority from the “civilized” world the boys begin “to come to their senses.” They remember their well ordered past and the reassuring stability of the world from which they had been exiled. Golding himself later asked the unnerving question: the naval officer rescued the children from their own terrible violence, but “who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?”

The question of “eternal authority” – the question of the sacred as “the really real” — wont go away and we will either cobble together our own from our fears and the bits and pieces of our experience (and both believers and unbelievers do this) or we will be committed to a conversation in search of such an authority – a conversation in which no one has the last word and where no one is excluded from the table.

         This is the amazing authority of this Table, of the Eucharist. You want to know what’s really real? Gather around this Table. What’s at stake is what we think being human is all about. Here’s a poem by a Roman Catholic sister.

 

The kingdom of God is like a seed planted in a woman’s heart

slowly, silently stretching it

beyond family and friends, church and nation

until one day the heart bursts open

         revealing a Table

         wider than the world

         warm as an intimate embrace.

 

To this Table everyone is invited

         no one is a stranger, no one unfit;

         each brings a gift, work of one’s own hands, heart,

                                             mind

                  — a morsel for the Table —

         and there is always enough

                  enough because no one keeps hidden the

                           bread of the morrow

         enough because the sharing is the

                           miracle of multiplication.

 

From this Table each rises

         strengthened by a morsel and a sip

                           heart seeded

                           pregnant.[ii]

III: THE CHALLENGE AT THE HEART OF THE CALL TO BE HUMAN! The election just around the corner! Politics – separation of Church and State doesn’t mean that we’re not concerned with our being called to live in a certain kind of POLIS = City, and be a certain kind of people. The great thing about the Gospel is that it puts a big question mark beside every other allegiance. This is at the heart of a our freedom. You’re a Republican? Be a questioning one. You’re a Democrat? Don’t give the party you ultimate allegiance! Remember the classic response of the New York City taxi driver when asked who he was voting for. “Sometimes your have to forget your principles and do the right thing!”

“You get old, and you realize there are no answers, just stories.” Garrison Keillor. The trouble is that there are conflicting stories about what it is to be human, some of them, with bloody consequences. How do we choose?­ The Bible is a collection of stories and for centuries people have been using them for their own ends.

To be human is to be a citizen – civic virtues as opposed to rancid individualism. Hospitality rather than Hostility. Banquet/Fortress. Which is to be? As we stand together – both sinful and justified (to use to old language) 

Two principles hidden in the stories – the first question God will ask us when we get to heaven: “Where are the Others” Où sont les autres? There’s no private deal: — and remember James Joyce’s definition of the Catholic Church — “Here comes everybody! There are two great doctrines! Everybody matters and We’re in this together. It’s a way of affirming the sacred – what is really real — at the heart of things.


The secret to growing into being human is what GKC called “the thin thread of thanks”, and praise at the sheer wonder of being alive and aware.

As one expert on Dante’s vision of hell has written: “Hell is not a place. It is a series of consequences of human action.”[iii]   This is the fearful consequence of our freedom. We’re free to infernalize the world or make it hospitable. In other words, we get the world we deserve – we have to choose between communion or cannibalism.

In Essex in the UK in late August, six teenage boys were arrested for allegedly murdering an immigrant because he was heard speaking a foreign language. Hell.

What are our freedoms and responsibilities as human beings?

Ram Dass: “”When all is said and done, we’re just all walking each other home.”

IV: OUR TWO POLITICAL PARTIES (WITH THE INDEPENDENTS AS WELL) HAVE THEIR SHARE OF THE SELF RIGHTEOUS: One of the challenges on the liberal side of things is that, “Liberal Progressives have discovered that forwarding every question of responsibility to the courts makes them feel like they have done their duty! The people on the Right know how to make American great again.  What both sides have done instead is to create an insatiable monster and confirm the notion of victimhood for all citizens.” Everyone’ can claim victim status and find someone to blame. Yes, there are real victims but we are in danger of being in perpetual war with each other and we invoke the law and use it as a blunt instrument. ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’” I might not be much but at least I’m not one of those (you fill in the blank – there must be someone you feel superior to!)

SO

V: WHERE ARE WE NOW? Hard to be thankful in a world falling apart? A world marked by cultural plurality and religious strife. New information technologies – we live in a data junk-yard. On one side is a strident materialistic critique of religion. On the other a world of militant faiths. Hostility rather than hospitality?

The poet John Keats wrote about negative capability – three elements doubt, uncertainty and mystery. Things that all honest human beings have to live with. In 1817 – “I mean Negative Capability, that is, when a [human being] is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.”

This is a hard vocation in a world where people are addicted to raucous certainties and crude feelings of self-righteousness.

Ram Dass: “”When all is said and done, we’re just all walking each other home.”

This binds all people of good will together before we get to religion and politics. All the stories we tell are footnotes to these two pillars or doctrines.

VII: YOU WANT TO KNOW WHAT’S REAL? GATHER AROUND THIS TABLE!

Is anything sacred? Salman Rushdie in a beautiful essay: “I grew up kissing books and bread. In our house, whenever anyone dropped a book or let fall a chapatti or a ‘slice’, which was our word for a triangle of buttered leavened bread, the fallen object was required not only to be picked up but also kissed, by way of an apology for the act of clumsy disrespect. I was as careless and butter-fingered as any child, and, accordingly, during my childhood years, I kissed a large number of ‘slices’ and also my fair share of books. Devout households in India often contained, and still contain, persons in the habit of kissing holy books. But we kissed everything. We kissed dictionaries and atlases. We kissed Enid Blyton novels and Superman comics. If I’d dropped the telephone directory I’d probably have kissed that, too. All this happened before I had ever kissed a girl. In fact it would be true, true enough for a fiction writer, anyhow, to say that once I started kissing girls, my activities with regard to bread and books lost some of their special excitement. But one never forgets one’s first loves. Bread and books: food for the body and food for the soul – what could be more worthy of our respect, and even love?”[iv]

VIII: AND ALL IN THE CONTEXT OF STORY-TELLING! “You get old, and you realize there are no answers, just stories.”

In David Edgar’s play Pentecost, refugees and hostages tell each other stories in the depth of the night. The one of refugees protests that it will be much harder to kill the hostages if it becomes necessary because they have shared stories with each other. Story-telling binds people together. This is its magic. It not only crosses barriers, it breaks them down, and with their fund of stories and myths, these refugees and hostages discover that they have more in common than they thought, in spite of the fact that they all speak different languages, in spite of the fact that they live in a world riven by war and fragmented by fiercely guarded borders. The lesser truths of ethnic and class identity gave way to the greater truth that there is but one human heart, and to know that in Africa, to know that in Israel/Palestine, to know in Iraq and Syria, to know that in these United States is to begin to bind up the wounds of the human family.

”When all is said and done, we’re just all walking each other home.”

So let’s do it!

Welcome home! Welcome to the banquet! Communion not cannibalism!

Let’s be signs of good news by walking each other home – fellow sinners – loved and forgiven.

Oh, and VOTE!

And PLEDGE!

 

[i] (The Economist, September 10th, 2016)

[iii] See Robert Pogue Harrison’s review of Marco Santagata’s Dante: The Story of His Life in the NRB, October 27, 2016.

[iv] Granta, Issue 31, 1990, p.98f.

 

Sunday, October 16
Will There Be Faith?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“… when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Lk. 18)?
Read sermon

 

“… when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth” (Lk. 18)?

Last week Mark Stanger told a wonderful story about an ancient priest who taught that one word sums up the meaning of everything you see and hear. The word is gratitude. Gratitude because life is a gift – a gift of many other gifts.[1]

It reminded me of a letter I received from an equally old and experienced priest. During my high school years he had been the rector of the church in the town just north of our home. He wrote to tell me that he could not, in good conscience, come to my ordination. I have kept his letter for over twenty years because of his acute sense of despair.

He writes, “I shall not weary you with an explanation. It is sufficient to say that I am a traditional 1928 Prayer Book priest… When I was made a deacon in the 40’s the church was experiencing great growth… These golden days can be restored with orthodoxy and Christian moral principles. The baton will soon be in your hand. Forgive my generation for having corrupted the church and given you a contaminated pasture.”[2]

Why did Father Clark send this letter to me when I was so young and hopeful about the future? Was he helping me, simply telling the truth, trying to persuade me to be more orthodox? Or was he just doing his best to convince himself that his life’s work had not been in vain?

Now all these years later it seems to me that Father Clark was simply afraid. He wondered, “when the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth” (Lk. 18). We all feel defeated sometimes. In these moments despair and hopelessness seem inevitable – as if that is the way the world is, rather than one way that we are tempted to see the world. And in those times Luke speaks directly to us. “Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart” (Lk. 18).

Like Father Clark you may be alarmed about the declining influence of religion in our culture. In that case pray and do not lose heart. You may be anxious about what seems like the collapse of civil discourse in America.

We will not be quite the same again after this week. In election news we heard vulgar and lewd comments that amount to bragging about sexual abuse. We have heard threats to imprison political adversaries and that paying taxes is for losers. Unjustified claims that our voting system is rigged undermine our whole faith in the democratic process.

Make no mistake this is about faith. My favorite twentieth century theologian H. Richard Niebuhr (1894-1962) writes, “We see this possibility – that human history will come to its end neither in a brotherhood of man nor in universal death under the blows of a natural or man-made catastrophe, but in the gangrenous corruption of a social life in which every promise, contract, treaty and “word of honor” is given and accepted in deception and distrust. If men no longer have faith in each other, can they exist as men?”[3]

Will Christ find faith on earth when faith is so fragile? Brothers and sisters pray and do not lose heart. Jesus tells us stories startling enough for us to make real change in our lives. He calls these parables. They can shock us out of our indifference. Today Jesus tells about an unrighteous judge who does not fear God or respect human beings.
A widow comes to him repeatedly asking for justice against her accusers. The judge does not care about the widow but to keep her from wearing him out with her constant complaints he decides the case in her favor. Reading the text in Greek, two elements particularly strike me. First the Greek word that we repeatedly translate as justice means vengeance. The stakes are high. The tone is intense.

Second, Luke conveys a feeling of hurry, impatience and conviction that gets lost. Greek uses double negatives to add emphasis. It’s almost as if Jesus raises his voice to underline what he means. A more literal version might be, “And will not God give vengeance to his chosen ones who are crying day and night? And be impatient to help them!”

The point is not that God resembles the unjust judge. In almost every respect Jesus describes God as the opposite. The judge is self-centered. He only uses people. But God is full of love, impatient for his children to have what we require to thrive, and even unafraid to be humiliated for our sake. The purpose of the story is for us to trust God and to value persistence in prayer.

Right here in the Bay Area we need to hear this news more than ever. Yesterday in his address to the Diocesan Convention Bishop Marc Andrus called this the most perilous time in all of history. As a species we have never been so close to destroying our planet. He pointed out that this is not primarily about fossil fuels. It is a spiritual problem. Pray and do not lose heart.

When the Son of Man comes will he find faith on earth? I have suggested that this expression could be about the church, our civil discourse, the health of our planet. It could also be about the vulnerability of our children.

When I told my seventeen year old son Micah that I wanted to talk about the importance of spirituality for children he was pleased. He said that it is harder to be a spiritual person in a Bay Area middle school or high school than anywhere else on the planet. He might be right.

The anthropologist Clifford Geertz defines religion as, “a system of symbols that… establishes powerful, pervasive, and long-lasting moods and motivations that make sense in terms of… a general order of existence.”[4] The dominant religious myth that most of us experience in Northern California is the atheist myth.

It goes like this. “In the past humans were primitive and backward (as they still are in other less enlightened places). They made up myths because they did not understand what happens in the natural world. Today we believe only in material things, only in science.” For people like this there is no such thing as spiritual truth. Anyone who disagrees is simply ignorant or a coward who cannot face the obvious facts about reality.

Today’s forum guest Lisa Miller believes that denying our spirituality is not just untrue, it is unhealthy for us and especially for our children. She writes that before the late 1990’s social scientists for various reasons did not adequately study spirituality, especially in children.

Since then using new techniques that range from twin studies to neuroimaging scientists now have a different appreciation for the role of spirituality in human flourishing and happiness. On this basis she claims that all children innately possess what she calls “natural spirituality.” According to her this interest in transcendence, this “direct sense of… the heartbeat of the living universe… precedes and transcends language, culture and religion.”[5]
Most importantly during adolescence as their brains mature young people experience a corresponding spiritual hunger. The problem, Dr. Miller says, is that today when it comes to children many adults focus almost entirely on accomplishment (12). Parents are so unsure of their own faith that they avoid even talking about spirituality. When young people ask spiritual questions, adults simply do not have much to say. She quotes one parent who says, “I didn’t realize for a long time that when my child asks a question and I say, “I don’t know,” and just leave it at that, I’m actually stopping the conversation (47).”

With the spiritual conversation stopped, young people during this time of surging hormones and extensive brain development are more likely to suffer from depression or to search for transcendence with alcohol, drugs and risky behavior. This is all the more crushing because during adolescence young people have the chance to establish a spirituality that will carry them through a whole lifetime of ups and downs. Miller recommends us to put aside our discomfort and really talk to our children about the mystery and the beauty at the source of all life. This is a special challenge in our city.
At this Cathedral and in our school we are taking important steps to address this spiritual epidemic among young people. Last week Mary Carter Green joined the Cathedral staff as our Children, Youth and Families Minister. She has a deep passion for the spiritual life of young people. During the summer we asked Jude Harmon to explore how we can spiritually support people in their twenties and thirties.

In conclusion, last week I told Isabel Allende our forum guest last week that dozen times a day I see something beautiful and in my heart I say, “Thank you!” I told her that I talk to God throughout the day, that God for me is a friend. She looked at me and said, “You’re crazy!” Maybe I am. I do not seek out God’s presence because I want God to do something for me, or because it will somehow make me happier. I just feel drawn to the source of life’s mystery.

Perhaps part of the problem is how we understand prayer. Spiritual maturity means moving beyond a picture of prayer as a kind of shopping list of things for God to do. Prayer is a way of being, a way of noticing what is happening and feeling grateful.

Kathleen Norris writes, “prayer is not asking for what you think you want but asking to be changed in ways you can’t imagine. To be made more grateful, more able to see the good in what you have been given instead of always grieving for what might have been.”[6]

Do not be afraid that your life work has been in vain. Do not despair that one day in our country every promise may be given and accepted in deception and distrust. Do not lose hope for our planet, our country or our children. Remember one word for the meaning of everything. Gratitude. Pray always and do not lose heart.

[1] Mark Stanger, 11:00 a.m. Sermon at Grace Cathedral, 9 October 2016.

[2] Letter from the Reverend Mr. James Brice Clark 30 July 1994 (321 Bartlett Ave., Woodland, CA 95695). St. Luke’s tenure from 1975-1988).

[3] H. Richard Niebuhr, Faith on Earth: An Inquiry into the Structure of Human Faith ed. Richard R. Niebuhr (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press), 1989) 1.

[4] Robert N. Bellah, Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011) xiv.

[5] Lisa Miller, The Spiritual Child: The New Science on Parenting for Health and Lifelong Thriving (NY: Picador, 2015) 25.

[6] Kathleen Norris, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (NY: Riverhead Books, 1998) 60-1.

Sunday, October 9
At last: the answer!
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
Can you name one thing that just might the answer to all human and spiritual striving?
Read sermon

Can you name one thing that just might the answer to all human and spiritual striving?

Also:  a small 99% Muslim village in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian West Bank keeps the memory of today’s Gospel story.  Church of the Ten Lepers  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqin_Church

Sunday, October 2
The Really Real
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11).
Read sermon

“Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11).

In twelfth century Europe when universities came into existence, the first professors were consumed by a question that might seem odd to us. You could call it the problem of universals.

They wondered, whether particular objects in the physical world are the primary existing entity, or, if what really matters is the general class to which they belong. For example, are particular people what is real and the idea of humanity comes from summing up all the individuals, or is “humanity” the real thing in which individuals participate.

Nominalists were the ones who believed in the particulars. Realists thought that what mattered most were the general categories of things. William of Ockham (1285-1347), the nominalist credited as the source for Ockham’s Razor, proposed what we call the law of parsimony. This is the principle that arguments should be as simple as possible. He argues convincingly that in most cases referring to a universal does not add anything to our understanding.

Today in our individualistic world we have difficulty even understanding the realist position. Some claim that nominalist ideas lie at the heart of the Protestant Reformation and have in effect won the argument. Our scientific methods, democratic political system, even capitalism arise out of this faith in the reality of the particular. It is hard for us today to even think like those realists and perhaps this makes it difficult to recognize all the ways that we participate in something larger than our selves.

This morning we celebrate the feast of our city’s patron saint Francis of Assisi (1181/2-1226). Francis speaks to us from this time when truth, humanity, virtue and the cosmos had a more substantial kind of reality than they do today. He took the twelfth century philosophical question “What is real?” and reframed it. Everything that Francis did and taught answered the question, “Where should our attention be if we want to grasp the most significant thing about God, the world and ourselves?”

The historian Diarmuid MacCulloch calls Francis “the playboy son of an Italian millionaire.” Indeed you could imagine Francis starting out life as the son of a prosperous silk merchant going off to win honor by fighting in a war. He lived to impress and to experience all the pleasures of life like a college fraternity man driving around in his father’s red Lamborghini.

The lepers in town thoroughly frightened and repulsed him. One day he realized that he was the one who needed healing, not them. He went over and hugged one of these outcasts and from that point on he made himself a kind of outcast for Christ. He writes, “that which was bitter to me was changed into sweetness of soul and body.” This transformed Francis horrified his father, but attracted thousands of others. He had discovered what was real.

Francis taught his friends that the most significant thing about our existence is not your position, career, accomplishments, possessions, attractiveness, longevity or health. Instead it is really being alive, noticing our connections to others and feeling gratitude for our existence.

In short reality has nothing to do with how special we are, our particular situation or isolation. What matters is our participation in the natural world. Nature is not some distraction from a deeper more spiritual existence. It is where we meet God.

On St. Francis Day we remember that we experience divinity in our pets. They show us that there are other ways to exist and experience the world. In his book Dog Sense John Bradshaw writes that dogs are both more and less intelligent than we expect. On the one hand they are such experts at reading our nonverbal behavior that they are able to know how we are feeling and predict what we will do better than we can. At the same time dogs are also more trapped in the moment. They have difficulty understanding the consequences of their actions. Our pets show us that love does not just belong to human beings.

Yesterday our dog Poppy thought that we had all left for the day. She didn’t realize that our daughter was in the backyard. When Melia looked up she saw Poppy sunbathing on the kitchen table. Poppy was mortified. She was not afraid of punishment. She just did not want to do anything that would hurt her relations to our family.

Francis experienced a kind of deep connection with all nature. One of the most beautiful features of our Cathedral is the Rose window at the east end of the nave. At twenty-five feet in diameter with 3,800 pieces of glass it is the largest rose window in Western America. The artist Gabriel Loire dedicated it to the oldest poem in colloquial Italian, Francis’ song “The Canticle of the Sun.”

Let me read just a short selection from the Canticle. “Be praised, my Lord, through all Your Creatures, / especially through my lord Brother Sun, / who brings the day; and You give light through him. / And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor! / Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.”

“Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars; / in the heavens You made them bright, precious and beautiful. // Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, / and clouds and storms, and all the weather, / through which You give Your creatures sustenance. //  Be praised, my Lord, through Sister Water; / she is very useful, and humble, and precious, and pure.”

“Be praised, my Lord, through Brother Fire, / through whom You brighten the night. / He is beautiful and cheerful, and powerful and strong. // Be praised, my Lord, through our sister Mother Earth, / who feeds us and rules us, / and produces various fruits with colored flowers and herbs…”

I have found inspiration in another saint from this period, the Sufi mystic Jalal ad-Din Rumi (1207-1273). Rumi’s followers affectionately refer to him as the Maulana or master. As a Muslim he lived in Konya (a city in present day Turkey) at the crossroads of the world. This brought him into close contact with Jews and Christians. He respected other faiths and learned from other forms of wisdom.

Above all, Rumi is someone deeply in love with God. He describes himself as a kind of reed cut from the banks of a stream and carefully trimmed by God into a flute. His profound music, created by the breath of God, continues to inspire us all these centuries later.

In 1219 St. Francis traveled to Egypt to bring peace in the wake of the Fifth Crusade. Sometimes I imagine him taking a detour on the way home to meet with the teenaged Rumi in Turkey. Just as the Franciscan monks look to Francis as their spiritual leader, the whirling dervishes find their inspiration in Rumi.

Francis and Rumi share a kind of freedom in ecstatic mystical union with God. Nature is not dead to them but full of God’s love and care and beauty. Nature has so much more than enough for us to find our home. Rumi writes,

“An ant hurries along a threshing floor / with its wheat grain, moving between huge stacks / of wheat, not knowing the abundance all around. It thinks its one grain /is all there is to love. // So we choose a tiny seed to be devoted to. / This body, one path or one teacher. / Look wider and farther. // The essence of every human being can see, / and what that essence-eye takes in, / the being becomes…”

“The ocean pours through a jar, / and you might say it swims inside / the fish! This mystery gives peace to / your longing and makes the road home home.”

Jesus teaches that in a sense there is nothing easier than being the child of God that you were created to be. He says “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Mt. 11). This week as homework let’s receive this gift. Try to leave behind the particulars and do something to experience the whole, to meet God in nature.

Fall in love again with your pet. Spend time with Sister Moon and the stars. Set down that one seed you are devoted to, so that you can see the abundance all around. Let God’s ocean pour through you. Discover again what is really real.

Tuesday, September 27
Taking Off the Masks
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
September 27th Yoga Introduction
Read sermon

What was the best day of your life? You might have in mind the responsible parent answer. It was when my children were born or on the day I married my spouse. You might also have in mind the fantasy version to this answer. You might have a picture of being up at the cabin or on a white sandy beach in Hawaii. Perhaps your answer is more accomplishment-based. Perhaps it was when you beat the odds and managed to graduate. Maybe it was when you were reconciled to a parent who had always been difficult for you. Perhaps it had something to do with self-knowledge. Perhaps it was that moment when you just realized who you really were.

Today in this place I am celebrating the anniversary of one of the best days of my life. Last year with huge crowds of people and friends and family from every stage of my life, I was installed as the ninth dean of Grace Cathedral. It seemed like every person who I loved in the world was here – and they were full of love for me.
My priest from college drove seven hours to get here, missed one of the most important Sundays of his church’s calendar and all just to stand in line so that he could hug me and say, “I love you Malcolm!”

That was one of the days when I became aware of putting on my mask as dean of Grace Cathedral. I’m still not completely sure how it fits. When I say it this way it sounds like a bad thing and it certainly could be. That mask could be merely a mass of entitlement that disconnects me from everyone else. It could be a mask of fear, that someone will find out who I really am.

But this mask of being dean could also bring about great good in the world. It could be a deep sense of love and responsibility for the people who work here, and for those who come here to feel a connection to the infinite. It could be the sense of gratitude, that so many people in so many ways, right up to this point and to you, are making this a place in which people can become more human, more humane.

What is the difference between a destructive mask and a good one? They both direct how we grow. Some times I might want to react with impatience or anger, and the mask helps me to not do that, to begin to grow into the better image of this role.

Tonight after yoga we will be talking with Jennifer Seibel Newsom about the mask of being a man in our culture, about how it can distort and dehumanize. After our conversation you will have the chance to see her powerful, life-changing film The Mask You Live In.

During your practice tonight however, I pray that through our efforts together you will get below all the masks that you put on and take off. I pray that you will find that place where we are all brothers and sisters, where the mystery of that infinite and loving presence that brought you into the world is not too far away.

What's Happening at Grace Cathedral?

Connect with Us