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Sunday, September 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, September 21
Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, September 24
Gospel for the Superfluous
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
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“So the last will be first and the first will be last” (Mt. 20).

 

Imagine yourself standing in the middle of a long line of people. Far ahead, out of sight on the other side of a hill lies the American dream. You seem pretty far back but it is scary how many people are behind you. Mostly they are people of color without college degrees.

In principle you wish them well, but you have waited a long time and worked many hours to get here. You don’t complain but you have been exposed to dangerous work conditions. Your body is worn out. Your pension was cut. There don’t seem to be any jobs these days and some of your friends have just given up trying.

Always on time, you don’t cut corners. You do your best. People like you made this country great. You faithfully followed the rules but you notice that up ahead others are cutting in line. Some made bad decisions before the 2008 financial crisis; others are immigrants and refugees. Through affirmative action programs the Federal Government is putting them ahead of you.

When the Berkeley sociologist Arlie Hochschild interviewed people in the Louisiana Tea Party she discovered that what united them was not so much a party platform or a set of policies but what she calls a deep story. A deep story helps to explain our feelings. In this case it is about honor, fear, shame, resentment and the relation between social groups. Her study subjects instantly recognized themselves in this story.[1]

The moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt writes that, “human nature is… intrinsically moralistic, critical and judgmental,” that, “an obsession with righteousness (leading to self-righteousness) is the normal human condition… a feature of our evolutionary design.”[2] He goes on to point out that we are not primarily rational creatures. Our moral intuitions come first. Then we make up a rational argument to justify these feelings.

You can test this yourself. Next time you read a newspaper or drive a car try noticing, “the little flashes of condemnation that flit through your consciousness.” We constantly, without effort, form moral judgments.[3] At this preconscious level we make sense of the world and the meaning of our lives. Furthermore this basic non-rationality leads us to be even more resistant to change than we realize.

In the face of our human nature Jesus confronts us with his own deep story about the realm of God. In Barbara Brown Taylor’s words he challenges, “the sacred assumption by which most of us live our lives, that the front of the line is the place to be, that the way to win God’s attention is to be the best person, the hardest worker, the first one into the vineyard in the morning and the last one to leave at night.”[4]

Jesus’ example could not be more familiar. Right now in Madera, Fulton, Turlock, Winters and thousands of towns across the West, Spanish-speaking day laborers stand around waiting to be hired. In this case the landowner, an oikodespote, literally a “house despot” hires workers at dawn agreeing to pay them one denarius.

He returns four times to hire more workers. At the end of the workday he lines them all up to be paid. The workers are astonished when the foreman starts with those who were hired last and then pays every one of the workers one denarius or a full day’s wage.

One of my favorite Geek words is gonguzo. It sounds like what it means, “to grumble.” Most of us feel sympathetic to their complaint. “You have made them equal to us who have borne the burden (the weight) of the day and the scorching heat” (Mt. 20). Being paid last only adds insult to injury.

In what respect does Jesus mean that the kingdom of heaven is like this? It might help to look at the context in which he tells this parable. Immediately before this Jesus tells the disciples that, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mt. 19). Peter responds to this, bragging that, “we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?”

Immediately after the vineyard parable the mother of James and John asks Jesus for a favor. She wants her sons to be honored with the best thrones in Jesus’ kingdom at his right and left hand. She has in mind satin pillows, gold armrests, engraved coats of arms when Jesus knows that he will come into glory on the hard wood of the cross with a sign that says “King of the Jews.” He answers, “You do not know what you are asking.” We understand the irony but perhaps not his lesson.

Between 1932 and 1967 the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) in thirteen volumes wrote more than 9,000 pages of his never-completed Church Dogmatics. He re-wrote the earliest sections trying to establish his theological method. Barth did not want to begin with a particular philosophical or scientific picture of what it means to be human. He was concerned both that these kinds of ideas are constantly changing and that these assumptions would bias our theological conclusions.

Instead he had this idea of beginning with the Word of God. Faith does not come from inductive or deductive reasoning. Through the Holy Spirit, scripture and preaching God gives us faith. Perhaps like our moral psychologists, Barth understands that we are not as rational as we like to think we are.

According to Barth scripture becomes a way of getting beyond our natural self-righteousness with its “little flashes of condemnation.” He writes, “As [one] knows God’s word… It becomes real… There takes place an understanding, a personal involvement, an acceptance, an assent, an approval, a making present of remote times, an obedience, a decision, a halting before the mystery, a stimulation by the inner life, a basing of man’s whole life on this mystery that is beyond himself.”[5]

We need this help right now more than ever, as individuals and as a society. Our two greatest problems are the environment and an existential crisis about the meaning of work. Since the 1970’s when American jobs began moving offshore we have been experiencing the effects of globalization. Really this is a subset of vast and disruptive technological change that has only just begun. This will affect every sector of our society. We are not just talking about jobs in manufacturing, coal mining and steel. The Los Angeles Times newsroom has only a third of the people it did at the turn of the century.[6]

If you spend a day in Mountain View California you may see as many as a dozen driverless cars. The next generation of these robots will soon replace the 3.5 million professional truck drivers (and many of the 5.2 million other people who work in this industry).[7]

We have to face up to the reality that, whether you like it or not, today earning is becoming decoupled from wealth. Yes, in the future how hard you work will have even less to do with what you ultimately receive. Although this accelerating problem has been with us for a while, politicians have no idea what to do about it. The left has not taken the problem seriously enough. Right leaning politicians bent on shrinking the government and cutting taxes have only exacerbated massive inequality that threatens our democracy itself.[8]

The problem is that work gives us meaning. Since 1999 death rates for middle-aged white people have increased dramatically. More and more people are dying of despair and hopelessness, from suicide and addiction.[9] The poverty breaking families today, and the isolation of having no meaningful contribution to make, is creating an epidemic of loneliness.

In many respects it is strange that Jesus’ story about the day laborers troubles us at all. Imagine being there and the feeling of the last workers’ gratitude as they hear that they are being paid twelve times what they had earned. Nearly everyone in the story is better off than they expected and even the early morning workers received fair pay. And yet we feel dissatisfied.

What we think Jesus’ story means depends on what we believe we deserve. For whatever reason many of us tend to identify with the early morning workers. We grumble that the vineyard owner is not fair and that the Kingdom of Heaven might not be either. We do not understand it but the God of Jesus seems to love everyone without even thinking about who deserves it.

Really submitting to the authority of scripture even in difficult passages this Word transforms us so that we do not merely go through life reacting thoughtlessly to what upsets us. Barth writes, “The Christian is not a stone that is pushed or a ball that is made to roll. The Christian is the [one] who through the Word and the love of God has been made alive, the real [one], able to love God in return, standing erect just because he has been humbled, humbling himself because he has been raised up.”[10]

Imagine that line of people again. Only this time rather than finding yourself in the thought experiment of a sociologist, picture yourself among the laborers waiting to be paid. Do you even know where you stand in this line? What do you think you deserve from God?

If you find the tumult of today’s politics unsettling, it may actually get worse. As technological change accelerates and upends all the social arrangements that comfort us, there does not seem to be much hope for you and me, for creatures who constantly and often harshly judge others without thinking.

And yet Jesus still invites us to be his people. Can we believe in Jesus enough to put him ahead of our self-righteousness? Can we put God in the place of our picture of fairness? What will it take for us to allow our hearts to believe that God loves everyone equally, for God’s deep story to become our own?

[1] Arlie Russell Hochschild, Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right (NY: The New Press, 2016), 135-151.

[2] Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion (NY: Pantheon Books, 2012) xiii.

[3] Ibid., 45.

[4] Barbara Brown Taylor, “Beginning at the End,” The Seeds of Heaven: Sermons on the Gospel of Matthew (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004) 100.

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part One Tr. G. W. Bromiley (NY: T&T Clark, 1936) 219.

[6] James Warren, “Big Cuts Coming to L.A. Times, Likely Other Tribune Papers Amid Tumult,” Poynter 15 September 2015. https://www.poynter.org/2015/big-cuts-coming-to-l-a-times-likely-other-tribune-papers-amid-tumult/373014/

[7] Santens, Scott. “Self-Driving Trucks Are Going to Hit Us Like a Human-Driven Truck.” Medium. 14 May 2015.https://medium.com/basic-income/self-driving-trucks-are-going-to-hit-us-like-a-human-driven-truck-b8507d9c5961(accessed July 12, 2017).

[8] Thomas Piketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century tr. Arthur Goldhammer (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014.

[9] Jessica Boddy, “The Forces Driving Middle-Aged White People’s ‘Deaths of Despair,” Shots: Health News from NPR 23 March 2017. http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2017/03/23/521083335/the-forces-driving-middle-aged-white-peoples-deaths-of-despair

[10] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part Two Tr. G. W. Bromiley (NY: T&T Clark, 1956) 662.

Sunday, September 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: Garrison Keillor
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Listen to Past Sermons

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

Sunday, December 27
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Elizabeth Grundy
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sermon from Sunday’s 11 a.m. Eucharist

Friday, December 25
Christmas Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Jude Harmon
Sermon from the Christmas morning Eucharist
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Sermon from the Christmas morning Eucharist.

Thursday, December 24
Christmas Eve 7:30 Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon From the Christmas Eve 7:30 Eucharist
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Sermon From the Christmas Eve 7:30 Eucharist.

Thursday, December 24
When Do You Say, “I Love You”?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined..." (Isa. 9).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined…” (Isa. 9).

Sometimes it is hard to say “I love you.” Perhaps this is because walking in darkness may seem like the most obvious thing about us as human beings. Darkness means that no one can see really well – either themselves or each other. It is why we do not really know where we are going, or what will happen to us, or for that matter were we stand right now. We experience darkness in every kind and level of conflict. [1]

Because understanding this darkness matters to me, this fall I read a book called Tiny Beautiful Things. It is a collection of advice columns by Cheryl Strayed whose pen name is simply “Sugar.” People who usually write this kind of thing for newspapers sound official. They seem detached and in full control. They speak with a definitive, often judgmental voice. They call in expert advisors, use civil language and say almost nothing about themselves.

Sugar does just the opposite of this. Most shockingly she writes vividly about absolutely awful things that have happened in her life including her experience of sexual abuse, addiction, infidelity, divorce, stealing and promiscuity. Like the waitresses I used to know at Denny’s Restaurant she expresses her affection for these desperate letter writers and calls them “sweat pea,” “darling,” and “honey bunch.”

Let me read a quick example of a question that Johnny asked her. He writes, “Dear Sugar, My twenty-year marriage fell apart. Whose fault? Mine? My wife’s? Society’s? I don’t know. We were both too immature to get married… and we both worked hard to avoid dealing with the unhappiness that was hanging over us.”

Since the divorce and after dating a few other women Johnny has found someone whom he “click[s] with very nicely.” But he goes on, “I’m afraid to say it out loud, as my experience shows that the word “love” comes loaded with promises and commitments that are highly fragile and easily broken. My question to you is, when is it right to take that big step and say I love you?” [2] Yes, Johnny knows about darkness. [3]

I do not know where and from what directions you face darkness in your life right now. But let me share a summary of Sugar’s advice to all those who contact her in case it might be useful. First, seek out that friend who shows you some affection and sympathy – you may find that just being called “sweat pea” changes the whole picture. Next, recognize that a sense of entitlement, and the implied superiority behind it, makes us weak and dependent. It cuts us off from the resources that could help us to weather the storm. Chief among these is an extraordinary inner strength that most of us fail to see in ourselves. Finally, recognize that you cannot change other people. The best you can do is to set up healthy boundaries that show you love yourself too.

Sugar points out that two kinds of people write to her: those who have the answer already and those who are genuinely lost. Incidentally, most of us fall into the first category although we do not realize it or are afraid to act on what we do know.

You may be wondering why I am bringing this up on one of the holiest nights of the year. The reason is that in your hearts I want you to touch something real tonight and this doesn’t happen when we deny the dark parts in our life, or only bring our best selves to church.

After the emperor’s decree, after the journey to Bethlehem, after the baby, the angels, the shepherds, the fear, exhaustion, amazement, and joy – there is a quiet moment I especially appreciate. Luke writes, “Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Lk. 2). Although I love this translation it conceals something that you might not otherwise notice. More literally one might say instead, “Mary preserved these words.” Then for the word ponder the Greek is sumballousa. It means meeting, comparing, considering, bringing together. Mary brought these things together in her heart.”

Sumballousa is also the Greek word for symbol. Mary is the only adult from the stories of Jesus’ birth to have a role in the rest of his life. She puts things together. Most importantly she possesses the special gift of holding on to the meaning of things as others just go back to business as usual.

The linguist George Lakoff and philosopher Mark Johnson have a particular interest in symbol and language. They point out that we live according to expressions, symbols and ideas that lie beneath our conscious awareness. This is the reason we act (to use their words) automatically in so many situations. [4] Our feelings and emotional life are so much more powerful in relation to our rationality than we recognize. We are metaphors that we have not always consciously chosen.

The biggest problem with this is that the meanings of these symbols will not stay fixed. I remember first hearing Adele sing “Chasing Pavements.” Her voice sounded so fresh and different. It seemed like I would never get tired of those songs, but I did. When my mother was in college she listened to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony so many times that it completely lost its magic.

This is the same problem that we have with Christmas and Christianity in general. We are creatures in time, and meaning will not stay still. Perhaps that’s part of Johnny’s problem with saying, “I love you” to someone he cares so much about. I do not want you to miss Christmas so let me tell you about two symbols in particular that have lost their meaning and make this sacred night confusing to us.

1. Sin. Today when you see the word sin it almost always refers to something like chocolate. For us, sin means indulgence in a harmless pleasure – lingerie or ice cream or a cocktail. The only dimly remembered ancient associations of Adam and Eve, the idea that we are doing something that we shouldn’t, only makes it more fun. This is what sin means in our consumer society. That is why normal people find it impossible to understand why Christians would care much at all about sin.

When Christians use the word sin it means to screw things up, to break what we really care about, often for the sake of some far less important and more temporary feeling. It might mean anything from saying something clever at the expense of someone’s feelings to Johnny’s experience with his twenty year marriage. We are the people who walk in darkness. Sin is another word for that darkness, that world of addiction, abuse, broken relationships, hurt feelings, self-defeating behaviors, thoughtless remarks. Self-reflective adults recognize the way that we come up short, that contradictions lie at the very heart of our thoughts and behavior. But we no longer have as rich a vocabulary for recognizing this darkness.

2. Another word that we do not understand today is Christianity. I think that those who never moved beyond a child’s faith and those who never had it at all regard Christianity as a kind of theory about the universe, a child’s story of something that could never happen. Christians might seem like a club of self-righteous people forcing themselves to believe something that is obviously unbelievable.

Francis Spufford in his book Unapologetic writes about a sign that atheists put on London buses a few years ago. It read, “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” [5] You see what the problem with this is don’t you? Think of how that sign sounds to my friend whose barely surviving as he takes care of his mentally ill wife, or my other friend who never knows where her homeless and addicted son is sleeping that night, or yet another friend whose partners summarily fired him and took his shares after he put years of his life into the company. Really – just enjoy yourself. What that bus sign says is that if you are in darkness there is no hope.

My point is that the normal state of things is not peace but a surprising amount of darkness. This is why John Lennon’s song “Imagine” has always bugged me. You remember the song, “Imagine there’s no heaven / It’s easy if you try…” He makes it sound as if without religions and countries and possessions everything would be perfectly peaceful. Nothing in my experience confirms this. Living together in peace is not our default condition. Peace is an achievement attained when people are at their wisest and inspired by something great.

For me, church is a bunch of people just like this. We are the ones who screw up. We gather together try to repair what is broken. We depend for help on something beautiful and mysterious lying beyond ourselves. This is what gets us through the darkness. This is the light of Christ, the one whose birth we celebrate tonight.

Luke constantly describes Jesus as a kind of alternative to the Roman emperor, as someone who would risk everything for the sake of love, who would change what it means for all of us to be human.

You may be wondering how Sugar responded to Johnny’s question about when to tell someone that you love them. Sugar said that “love” was the last word that her mother had said to her before dying. She writes, “Love is the feeling we have for those we care deeply about… It can be light as the hug we give a friend or heavy as the sacrifices we make for our children. It can be romantic, platonic, fleeting, everlasting, conditional, unconditional, imbued with sorrow, stoked by sex, sullied by abuse, amplified by kindness, twisted by betrayal, deepened by time, darkened by difficulty, leavened by generosity, nourished by humor, and “loaded with promises and commitments” that we may or may not want to keep.” [6]

In short Sugar tells Johnny to say, “I love you” and then talk about what it means. Don’t try to protect yourself from the junk that comes with love by withholding or avoiding.

This is my first Christmas at Grace Cathedral and it has been magical, like the most extraordinary dream. Today the baby Jesus was fussing in her manger and so I got to hold her for the whole Christmas pageant. She called me off the script and that little baby made time stand completely still. And there I was with light streaming through these stained glass windows, with thousand of others standing simply in the presence of holiness. It was the perfect symbol for how Jesus has interrupted my life.

In the darkness of this night as the symbols around you constantly change, as you mess things up and then try to set the world right, remember Mary’s gift of holding on to meaning over time. Hold on to the hope that Jesus is always with you, then say it, say I love you with your life.
[1] If you are a person who prays, darkness is what you pray about. If you are a person who does not pray, you probably stopped for that same reason. This paragraph is a paraphrases from Frederick Buechner, “Come and See,” The Hungering Dark (NY: Harper, 1969) 50.

[2] Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (NY: Vintage, 2012), 13-18.

[3] Others write to her with agonizing questions: Should I break up with my spouse? What do I do about my “icky” sexual fantasies? Should I continue to support the adult children who live with me? How do I handle parents who reject me because of my sexual orientation? How can I ever by okay after the death of my child?

[4] George Lakoff and Mark Johnson Metaphors We Live By (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1980).

[5] Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (NY: HarperCollins, 2013), 7.

[6] Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (NY: Vintage, 2012), 15.

Sunday, December 20
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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Sermon from Sunday’s 11 a.m. Eucharist

Sunday, December 13
The Nearness of God
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!... The Lord is near" (Phil. 4).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!… The Lord is near” (Phil. 4).

These are the days. These are the days of fear and blame. Many Americans live in fear of terrorists, that the next victims of a mass shooting will be someone they know or love. This week one of our presidential candidates proposed that we should refuse to let Muslims into the country. As a result, he immediately surged forward in the polls. This in turn led to even more fear, that our country would lose sight of its most central values, that we would become like the Nazi state or revert to the racist policies of the Japanese internment camp era.

Here in the city at the center of the modern gold rush people worry about losing their homes as landlords look for opportunities to evict low-rent tenants. We worry about the big companies that bring so much money to the Bay Area. We feel anxious that San Francisco will lose the diversity we love because of income inequality.

I had another conversation with a friend who worries about the economy in the rest of the country. She points out that large numbers of relatively young unskilled laborers are on permanent disability. As people who are likely to never hold a regular job again, they face a terrible crisis of meaning. In Hale County, Alabama one in four working-age adults is on disability. [1] My friend worries about the dangers to family life and our democratic republic of having large regions of the country with this kind of chronic unemployment. Perhaps fears about politics and the economy are merely a relief from our more personal anxieties.

As people of faith how do we move beyond fear, and fearful reactions to fear? How do we step out of the polarization, the blaming, the unkind ways we ridicule and shame each other? How do we move decisively into the presence of God?

To the church at Philippi which he loves so deeply, the Apostle Paul writes very simply. “Rejoice!… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious” (Phil. 4). But practically speaking how can we do this? This morning I offer three different but related answers from a mystic, a philosopher and a poet.

1. The twentieth century Episcopal priest and spiritual teacher Alan Watts (1915-1973) liked to talk about ways that we could imagine the nearness of God. He points out that human beings are stuck. Our ability to think about the world, to use the symbols that make reasoning possible, also leaves us distant from the world and from ourselves.

Rationality bestows on us enormous power over our situation but it naturally leads to a kind of anxiety. It gives rise to the question, “Have I thought enough?” or “How do I know that I know?” “Who is the “I” lying behind all of our observations? Who is this silent witness, this unamed namer of reality?

Trying to understand ourself and the world sometimes feels a little like looking at a mirror reflected in a mirror. The line of our increasingly smaller selves stretches out into infinity. [2]

This leads to a persistent illusion, a kind of alienation from the world that at times seems impossible to overcome. And so we act like powerless victims, as if the world merely happens to us. We come to think of ourselves as not belonging in the world, as if we were some kind of cosmic accident, when we should be experiencing the cosmos as the drama of God.

Yoga classes in my old church begin with an invocation. “Om namah shivaya gurave. Saccidanda murtaye…” It means “I open my heart to the power of God who lives in, and around us, as being – consciousness and joy.” [3] Saccidananda comes from Sat or that which is. Chit means that which has consciousness. Andanda is joy or bliss. For a devout Hindu, at the very structure of the world and consciousness is joy. Jews and Christians believe this too. In the Book of Genesis after each act of creation God calls what was made good.

Alan Watts proposes a little thought experiment. [4] Imagine that in one night you were able to live every detail of a full seventy year life with complete control. In your first night you would fulfill all your wishes. It would not take many nights of this kind of dreaming to experience every pleasure, every possible desire that you could envisage. So to have new pleasures and new experiences you would relinquish control.

As a result some mornings you would wake up and think, “that was horrible! I’m so glad that one is over.” But having variety would be worth it. We are deeply drawn to what is new. And so you would cycle through every life, every possible event, every action and reaction, until… you would dream that you were sitting in Grace Cathedral on the third Sunday of Advent in the year of our Lord 2015 experiencing what your life is right now.

You would be sitting there pretending to yourself that you are not intimately connected to God. Alan Watts suggests that it might even be the nature of God to pretend to not be God. God is love. The goal and fulfillment of love is to give itself away, not to hold on to or protect it.

The word person comes from Graeco-Roman times. Per means through. Sonna is sound. The personna is the mask actors speak through on the stage. The Dramatis Personae is the list of masks in the front of the program. We’ve forgotten this. Person, that is what we once recognized as “the mask,” is now simply what we genuinely believe ourselves to be. [5]

This is one account of how we might be so very near to God and still not know it. We do not have to take this as our life’s philosophy. The point is that we also do not have to believe all those voices that tell us to be afraid. We do not have to believe that the goal of our life should be to protect our masks. We do not have to accept the theory that we are an inconsequential and accidental speck in an immense universe, or for that matter that we are terrible dirty sinners at the foot of an old man’s throne. We are not marionettes whose happiness depends on what appears on the front page of The New York Times.

We can choose what person we are going to put on. We can decide which story we will bring to the table. And our story, according to our brother Jesus, is that we are intimately connected to the being, the consciousness, the mystery and the joy of the universe. Indeed we have reason to rejoice.

2. This morning, because we have moved so far in this direction I want to talk about a philosopher who means a great deal to me, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). In his early life Wittgenstein worked on the philosophy of mathematics. But as the twentieth century progressed he began to write arguments against the idea that science is the only real form of knowledge.

Wittgenstein believed that after the seventeenth century philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) we became tricked into believing that the world could be simply divided into things and thoughts, matter and ideas, objects and subjects. We act as if we have perfect knowledge of ourselves and need to be suspicious of what our physical senses say. In response, Wittgenstein writes that we cannot touch reality apart from our value systems and that the mind cannot be transparent to itself. We cannot step outside or rise above being human.

Wittgenstein rejects our modern individualistic ideas. For him thoughts do not so much occur in our minds as they do out in the world, in our communities of meaning. In being together we tacitly agree on what constitutes the truth, how we should take turns, when we are justified in feeling offended, the questions that are inappropriate for us to ask, and a thousand other values. Together we share a sense for what fun is or what loss feels like. [6]

If meaning is not something that exists simply in our head, if what constitutes us as beings is our interaction with each other, then what really matters is how we act. [7] When the people go out to see John the Baptist they ask quite simply, “what should we do (poieo)” (Lk. 3). He tells them share your clothing and your food. Begin with who you are. If you are a tax collector do not collect extra for yourself. If you are a soldier do not extort money from the people.

I do not know what this might mean in your life. The Cathedral priest Andy Lobhan found himself getting tangled up in the cycle of fear, hatred and shame. Rather than merely being a victim of the world or simply living in his own private universe, he changed his story, took matters into his own hands and wrote a letter of love and support to every muslim person he knows. Each of us can move beyond complaining about how the world is, to changing how the world will be.

3. Let me leave us with one more picture of what it means to rejoice and act in the knowledge that God is near. This comes from a poem by Wendell Berry called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” [8]

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise, / vacation with pay. Want more / of everything ready-made. Be afraid / to know your neighbors and to die. / And you will have a window in your head. / Not even your future will be a mystery / any more. Your mind will be punched in a card / and shut away in a little drawer. / When they want you to buy something / they will call you. When they want you / to die for profit they will let you know.”

“So, friends, every day do something / that won’t compute. Love the Lord. / Love the world. Work for nothing. / Take all that you have and be poor. / Love someone who does not deserve it. / Denounce the government and embrace / the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands. / Give your approval to all you cannot / understand. / Praise ignorance, for what man / has not encountered he has not destroyed.”

“Ask the questions that have no answers. / Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias… Expect the end of the world. Laugh. / Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful / though you have considered all of the facts…”

“Swear allegiance / to what is nighest your thoughts. / As soon as the generals and the politicos / can predict the motions of your mind, / lose it. Leave it as a sign / to mark the false trail, the way / you didn’t go. Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction. / Practice resurrection.”

In conclusion my friends, you are not a cosmic accident or a victim of fear. In this beautiful, mysterious and surprising life you can choose your mask and your story. So move decisively into the presence of God. Be compassionate in your own way. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. Practice resurrection.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!… The Lord is near” (Phil. 4).
[1] In 2013, “Every month 14 million people [got] a disability check from the government.” “The federal government [spent] more on cash payments to disabled former workers than it [spent] on food stamps and welfare combined.” Chana Joffe-Walt, “Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America,” NPR Planet Money, 2013. http://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/

[2] Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives, Disc 2, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2004).

[3] “Om namah shivaya gurave / Saccidananda murtaye / Nispraprancaya shantaya / Niralambya Tejase / Om.” Invocation from John Friend. Thanks for help from Darren Main.

Translated as “I open my heart to the power of Grace / That lives in us as goodness / That never is absent and radiates peace / And lights the way to transformation (by Denise Benitez). Or, “I bow to the presence of God within / Our true and highest teacher / That lives in and around us as / Being, consciousness and bliss. / It is ever-present and radiates peace / Lighting the way to transformation.”

[4] Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives, Disc 2, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2004).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Stanley Cavell, Themes out of School, 223-4 cited in Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein, Second Edition (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1986, 1997), 75.

[7] Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein, Second Edition (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1986, 1997), 65.

[8] Wendell Berry, Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Berkeley, California: North Point Press, 1984), 151-2.

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