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Sunday, July 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, July 19
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, July 22
Our Favorite Fictional Character
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Our Favorite Fictional Character

“[Y]ou who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…” (Eph. 2).

  1. Each of us is our own favorite fictional character in a story that we tell about ourselves every minute of our lives. We find this drama endlessly interesting. The story we tell inside our hearts may be preventing us from reaching our potential. It could be destroying us, or it might be the only thing keeping us alive. That interior monologue may so fill us with joy that it transforms the lives of all those around us.[1]

This week my wife Heidi gave me an early anniversary gift. She put together a thick binder with 125 letters I wrote during our courtship. They opened a window into the inner stories I told my twenty-three year old self. Back then I worried about whether I was the intellectual equal of my fellow classmates. I doubted that I would ever be able to support my family and most of all I dwelled on my parents’ opinions of me.

We spend an enormous amount of energy trying to prove that the story we tell ourselves is an accurate one. We want others to believe it and frankly we want our story to be right. Still the philosopher Martha Nussbaum says that, “we love made-up people, people we have made up to be the people we can love.”[2]

To be human means to be always in danger of creating an idyll. That is, a private and constructed reality, over and against the common social world that surrounds us. My friend and teacher Margaret Miles described her parent’s Christian fundamentalism as, “a private, carefully sheltered, unrealistic and frayed idyll.” She writes that because of all the commonsense assumptions of our shared social world, it takes incredible strength to sustain an idyll. Idylls tend to collapse not because they are illusory, but because they require an enormous amount of energy to maintain.[3]

Sometimes what seems most real isn’t. Over the past two years many of us have begun to answer the personal question, “how are you?” with a report on what the politicians are doing. Collectively we have been contributing to a shared dys-idyll nightmare which reinforces the sense that the only thing that matters happens in Washington, DC.

Perhaps the simplest definition of a Christian is a person who agrees to have her story corrected through the presence of the living Christ and the church. Prayer extracts us from the grips of our own idyll and brings us back to reality. Prayer gives us the chance to step back from this fictional character who claims all our attention so that we can see other people as children of God.

  1. Our Gospel today reports on outer events that give us a picture of what might be happening in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples. You may have noticed that verses have been excerpted out of the reading in order to fit a regular worship service. I will try to fill in what we missed (and encourage you to read them at home).

The narrative begins at a high point. After having been sent out in twos Jesus’ friends have met with remarkable success. We do not have many opportunities to see them at work apart from Jesus. They have been healing and teaching with great success and probably relish telling him their stories.

He recognizes their need for rest so they try to withdraw to a “deserted place by themselves” (Mk. 6). But the crowds follow them wherever they go. They do not even have time to eat. Rather than feeling frustrated Jesus has compassion on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word for feeling compassion, splagxnizomai means the kind of love that grabs in the guts.

Jesus simply loves these sheep and so he asks his disciples to help feed them. Even after their great successes they respond with sarcasm. “Are we… to buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” After the five thousand have been fed and twelve baskets of leftovers have been collected Jesus leaves everyone to pray on a mountain alone.

He rejoins the terrified disciples on a boat in the midst of a great storm. In the calm that follows the disciples, “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mk. 6). Then Jesus returns to healing the people of Gennesaret.

A story that began with triumph and success collapses into misunderstanding and fear. Rather than working with Jesus for the sake of God’s Realm the disciples step back into passivity and fear as they watch him work alone. He has been teaching, but they seem incapable of learning. Despite the abundance, the healing, and being saved from the storm their interior monologue resists being changed.

  1. Karl Barth. Some of you remember that I have been systematically studying the life work of Karl Barth (1886-1968) a twentieth century Swiss Reformed Theologian. Between the end of World War I and his death in the 1960’s Barth wrote an incomplete thirteen volume, 9,000 page systematic approach to theological knowledge.

My primary advisors and teachers were shaped through their opposition to Barth’s ideas. My dream is that by really understanding his perspective, I will be better informed in what I believe and teach. I should mention that I have not yet met a single person who thinks this is a good idea. Finishing the fourth volume (CD II.2) I want to report on my progress.

As a Reformed theologian following in the footsteps of John Calvin, Barth values God’s sovereignty above everything else. God creates, sustains and redeems us. God, “governs and determines everything.”[4] We have no power to compel God. God can never owe us. Furthermore we have not learned to say the word “God” correctly if we speak only in abstractions as if we can stop being totally dependent on God.

For centuries reformed theologians argued that God had chosen and set apart some people from before the beginning of the world, and then they agonized over those left out of the divine plan. Karl Barth seems to have a different idea in mind. He writes that the whole gospel is about election. Jesus does not leave people out so predestination, “is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation,” but rather “a proclamation of joy.”[5]

This “love of God is His grace… It is love which is overflowing, free, unconstrained, unconditioned… It is love which is patient, not consuming the other but giving it place.”[6] For Barth, the world was created not so that we would be God’s slaves but because God desires to be the “companion of [each person]. Against our No [God] places his own Nevertheless… the creature’s opposition to [God’s] love cannot be any obstacle to [God].”[7]

We are not disinterested spectators. God’s love is not abstract, not something that we deduce from the laws of physics, but individual and personal. No believer should ever regard another’s example of unbelief as permanent.[8] Faithful people need to constantly proclaim in personal terms that those in our lives are “not rejected” by God.[9]  Jesus is the only one chosen by God, but through him all creation is made free.

Barth goes as far as to say that even Judas, the one who rejected Jesus and conspired with those who arrested him, never stopped being an apostle. We are like the disciples who experience such great things and repeatedly hear Jesus’ teaching, only through fear to fall short in understanding and faith. God’s abundance and grace is for us as it was for them.

  1. Study Hall. A while ago a friend of mine named James and I were discussing Julian Barnes novel, The Sense of an Ending. We talked about going back to the people we knew in our youth and seeing things through our adult eyes. He told me this story.

In high school study hall James met a boy who mostly kept to himself. But when the two of them started talking about music, books and philosophy it almost felt like time stopped. They became close. One Friday James gave his friend the John Knowles novel A Separate Peace and inscribed it inside the front cover.

The next Monday his friend approached him to talk, “My parents said that we can’t be friends.” And that was it. They didn’t speak again, until twenty years later when circumstances brought them together. At that time James first visited his now adult friend’s house. It was as if nothing had changed. In fact the friend’s wife kept repeating how great it was to meet someone who meant so much to her husband and that he frequently talked about his high school friend James.

So what happened back then? James always thought it was because he was African American. I wondered if the parents thought the boys were romantically interested in each other. But it was for neither reason. Last week I talked about how vulnerable children are. The friend’s parents had been in the process of splitting up. They didn’t want anyone to know and so they kept James’ friend isolated during his high school years. Only recently did James realize what his small kindness really meant. Sometimes it takes half our life for our story to be made true.

The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “I circle around God, around the primordial tower. / I’ve been circling for thousands of years / and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, / a storm, or a great song?”[10] We too circle God sometimes drawing closer to the truth in the great song of our prayer. What is your story? What do you tell yourself about the fictional character that is you?

Our story and the story of every unbeliever is not final. The disciples of Jesus hardened their hearts and resisted but ultimately God won them over. They rediscovered their power in the hope of Jesus’ message. Likewise let your story of reconciliation and forgiveness and above all your joy transform everyone you meet.

[1] Margaret Ruth Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 23.

[2] Margaret recommended this book to me so many years ago and it continues to influence my understanding of emotions and reason. Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (NY: Oxford University Press, 1992) 326.

[3] Margaret Ruth Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 30.

[4] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 The Doctrine of God tr. Bromiley, Campbell, Wilson, McNab, Knight, Stewart (NY: T&T Clarke, 1957) 7, 5.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Ibid., 327.

[9] Ibid., 322.

[10] Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,” Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (NY: Riverhead Books, 1996) 48.

Thursday, July 19
Why a Rugby Evensong?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10).

A year ago when Ellen Clark King, the Cathedral’s Executive Pastor, and I heard that the World Seven’s would be in San Francisco this summer we instantly knew what we had to do. We felt compelled to host a Rugby Evensong. Since then dozens of people have asked us “What is a rugby evensong?”

I need to begin by saying something about what evensong and rugby are. Evensong has a special meaning to the global English-speaking church. Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and the other originators of this tradition imagined that profound daily worship should not just be for monks and nuns. They took the monastic service and shared it with everyone.

We love how Evensong especially values harmony, beauty, simplicity and humility. It is about the daily rhythm of our life, the movement from light and security into the perils of the dark. It is about the way God blesses every moment of our day, and our life, and even our death.

At first, rugby might seem like just a game that began around the time this Cathedral was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century. At Rugby School in England William Webb Ellis famously broke the rules and picked up the ball and started running. The game that grew from that act, involves moving an oblong ball up field by passing it backwards or laterally to your teammates as opponents try to stop the ball by tackling you.

Of course there is so much more to it than this. Rugby also includes kickoffs, rucks, line outs, scrums, kicking to touch, etc. The sport involves far less individual specialization than American football or baseball. As a result its players exhibit an impressive overall athleticism that makes it unique. Everyone on the field plays defense and can score. Every player has a high level of stamina, strength, speed and agility.

Rugby is a dangerous activity. It requires physical courage. This week we will be praying for players in the tournament and around the world. We will pray that all players will use the courage they learned on the field to make our world better.

This all brings us back to our original question. Why would Grace Cathedral host what might be the world’s first Rugby Evensong? I have two answers.

First, in our mostly automated world rugby is one of the human endeavors that requires a total commitment of one’s whole self. Every player on the pitch needs to maintain complete focus physically, emotionally and mentally. This makes it a kind of metaphor for the spiritual life. At no moment do we cease to be spiritual beings. To use a phrase from William James there are no moral holidays, our actions matter.

In our gospel reading tonight Jesus asks a young man to answer his own question about inheriting eternal life. To do this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10). Just as William Webb Ellis broke the rules to create something new and beautiful Jesus asks us to do the same. We are called to love our neighbors in ways that might upset how things are usually done.

Second, rugby in my experience is unique in its culture of fellowship and unity. In our society winning has become everything. Yesterday a New York Times reporter pointed out that this naturally leads to “toxic hostility” even toward youth game referees.[1] In rugby excellence matters but there is always a higher value.

I’m grateful to have been introduced into adulthood by older rugby players and coaches who understood how important this spirit of fellowship is. In my days as a player and coach we always hosted opposing teams for meals after the game. It was a chance to celebrate and socialize. After the best game of my life I remember meeting the player who had just broken my finger. His family owned a restaurant along Highway 80 and I always think of him when I drive past there.

This week Barak Obama gave a lecture on the centenary celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth.[2] He talked about the long road from colonialism and racism to a new world of democracy and human dignity. In these times of polarization and distrust rugby is part of how we overcome the greatest challenges of our time.

In the rhythm of my life I have become old enough so that I will probably never charge down the rugby pitch to make a tackle, or leap into the air to catch a lineout or kickoff, or bury my head in the scrum. But I still dream of these things. More than ever before I have come to understand the darkness and perils of this life.

But I also have a greater appreciation for the power of humble people, for the way that simple human fellowship can drive away despair. And with every year, I grow in gratitude that through each moment God continues to preserve and nurture us.

[1] Bill Penningnton, “Parents Behaving Badly: A Youth Sports Crisis Caught on Video,” The New York Times, 18 July 2018.


Past Sermons

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

Tuesday, May 10
Yoga Introduction
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Introduction from the May 10th Yoga class
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Sunday, May 8
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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Sunday, May 1
Do you want to be made well?
Preacher: The Rev. Andy Lobban
Jesus' interaction with a man who has been sick for 38 years is telling. When we take the time to ask another if he/she wants to be made well, we leave room for true humanity to shine through. This is the sort of dialogue that enables us to see and treat others fully as human beings rather than objects
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Jesus’ interaction with a man who has been sick for 38 years is telling.  When we take the time to ask another if he/she wants to be made well, we leave room for true humanity to shine through.   This is the sort of dialogue that enables us to see and treat others fully as human beings rather than objects.

Sunday, April 24
A New Creation
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“I saw a new heaven and a new earth… And I heard a loud voice… saying, “the home of God is among mortals” (Revelation 21).
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  1. On this magnificent spring day, at the center of the waters of ocean and bay, surrounded by the rose gardens of Grace Cathedral, Earth Day weekend continues to unfold. This morning I want you to entertain an idea, a possibility. It’s hard to simply put this into words, but it begins in the conviction that there is so much more to what is happening at this moment, right here, than we consciously realize. What if the new creation, the new heaven and new earth vividly proclaimed by John of Patmos lies immediately close at hand?

Henry David Thoreau dedicated every day of his life to watching how God appears to us in nature. In his Journal he writes, “We are receiving our portion of the Infinite.”[1] In his book Walden, “Nearest to all things is that power which fashions their being. Next to us the grandest laws are continually being executed. Next to us is not the workman we have hired, with whom we love so well to talk, but the workman whose work we are.”[2]

The American philosopher and psychologist William James describes this in different terms. In 1901 he delivered the Gifford Lectures in Scotland that later would become a book called The Varieties of Religious Experiences. He describes in detail mystical experiences using historical and contemporary examples. These accounts include men and women from different religions and even non-believers. They range from the ordinary to the peculiar, from the terrifying to the ecstatic.
As a young man James suffered from a debilitating illness and deep despair. In the book he anonymously includes a mystical experience that he himself had when he felt saved by something beyond himself. James does not wish to endorse one particular religion or another but he does conclude that we are connected to what he calls “the more.” At certain moments in our life we become conscious of a higher part of ourselves which is, “conterminous and continuous with a MORE of the same quality, which is operative in the universe outside of [us].”[3]

From his study of others and his own experience James believes that when everything goes to pieces in our life we can be saved through, “the subconscious continuation of our conscious life.” There is something, someone, absolutely near to us and yet often unknown to us – the Holy One.

  1. Why do we almost inevitably fail to hear this voice? The twentieth century composer John Cage (1912-1992) had a theory. He based it on the great religious thinkers and mystics who influenced him. From the Zen teacher Huang Po, Cage learned that by moving beyond our likes and dislikes we might make contact with what he called “universal mind.” There is a sense in which mind creates the world we live in. Cage believed we can learn to overcome our unnecessary feeling of separation from the world.

The Christian mystic and preacher Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) also had a huge effect on Cage. Eckhart thought the idea of our self that comes from our senses is not at all like our real soul. He writes, “Consequently there is nothing so unknown to the soul as herself.”[4] If we hardly know our self, what chance do we have to know God?

Above all Eckhart believed in the mystery of God. We draw closest to that mystery not by trying to describe the positive attributes of God but by meditating on what God is not. We see the true God not by dwelling on the needs of our self but in the world beyond us.

According to John Cage part of the problem is that modern people, and especially artists, think that happiness and truth come from self-expression. In contrast to this Cage asserts that the stories in our heads, th[5]e tapes we play in our brains to understand what is happening – these are precisely the problem.

Cage admired Henry David Thoreau, that he, “got up each morning and walked to the woods as though he had never been where he was going to, so that whatever was there came to him like liquid into an empty glass. Many people taking such a walk would have their heads so full of other ideas that it would be a long time before they were capable of hearing or seeing. Most people are blinded by themselves.”[6]

Around the age of forty researchers at Harvard University invited Cage to try their anechoic chamber, a room so thoroughly insulated that it was probably the quietest place on earth. Cage looked forward to experiencing complete silence. However, in the room he noticed two different kinds of sound. Afterward the technician explained that the high pitched whine was the sound of his firing neurons and the dull roar was the blood coursing through his body.

This realization that there is no such thing as silence came as a spiritual revelation to him. In 1952, inspired by this experience, he composed the controversial 4’33” a piece performed by expert musicians who make no deliberate sounds on their instruments. Many ridiculed him. At performances they could hear nothing but their own egos. But a few experienced a kind of opening into a deeper level of experience, a new appreciation of holiness in everyday sounds.

The piece had this effect on Cage himself. Three years before his death he told an interviewer, “No day goes by without making use of that piece in my life and in my work. I listen to it every day… I don’t sit down to do it; I turn my attention toward it… More than anything else, it’s the source of my enjoyment of life.”[7]

  1. For Cage, hunger for self-expression, our inner narratives, the ego prevent us from fully experiencing what matters most. So how do you peel back the ego to hear the beautiful sounds where others perceive only silence or themselves? The poet and potter M.C. Richards (1916-1999) was among the remarkable number of modern artists who John Cage counted as friends. You can see some of her works by the south wall as part of the Stations of the Cosmic Christ.

Richards believed in what she calls “centering.” She writes, “the deeper we go… the more contact we make with another’s reality… I claim that the center holds us all and as we speak out of it, we speak in a common voice.”[8] For her what is real, what makes it possible for us to experience the beauty that surrounds us comes from that deep place where we meet each other.

According to M.C. Richards education is the process of waking up to this shared Self. Rather than projecting our consciousness onto the world we can learn to take the world into ourselves. In her book Centering in Poetry, Pottery and the Person Richards writes, “Joy is different than happiness… I am talking about joy. How, when the mind stops its circling, we say YES, YES to what we behold.”[9]

This connection to each other in our center lies at the heart of Jesus’ life and teaching. It exists above any commitment to nation or family or ideal. Jesus says, “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (Jn. 13). My experiences over the last two weeks have shown me just how new this commandment is.

Last Saturday our family went on a Duck Tour in Boston Massachusetts. With the tourists we rode in an amphibious vehicle over the streets of Boston and the waves of the Charles River. Before long it seemed more like a journey in an “ambiguous vehicle.”

For the first time since childhood I heard all the stories of the Revolutionary War. But this time, rather than being struck by the inevitability of the conflict (or the righteousness of the cause), I felt an overwhelming sadness. One third of the colonists were loyal to the crown, one third wanted to try a new experiment in government and another third couldn’t decide. Imagine the kind of tensions in that society.

Listening again to the founding myths of our country filled me with a sense of tragedy. I felt sorry that the colonists could not have more of a role in governing themselves, for the people killed and those who did the killing in the Boston Massacre, that Britain attempted to quell dissent through a massive occupation. It seemed horrifying that there were a thousand British casualties and five hundred American casualties at the Battle of Bunker Hill (Breed’s Hill). I almost wanted to weep at the Old North Bridge memorial marker for the British soldiers who died so far away from home.

Patrick Henry’s slogan “Give me liberty or give me death” began to sound a lot more like “I’ll die for my political beliefs but I’ll also kill because of them.” I began to wonder if life here is so different from Canada that it justifies the death of so many young men. I love this country very much but I love it for the good we create together not for what we have lost. Last night at the “Ireland’s Poet-Patriots” event I felt a similar feeling.[10]

The old way tells us that we have to harden our hearts against human feeling. But in the new creation, which keeps challenging us in different ways, love comes first. At every moment in minor decisions and major ones, we can choose to perpetuate the cycle of tragedy and loss or we can rise with Jesus to new life in forgiveness.

I began with an idea – that “nearest to all things” lies our creator, the one William James describes as, “the more,” that unconscious connection between us and a higher life. We fail to see and hear this holy one because ego has made our soul unknown to itself. We have constructed a kind of anechoic chamber of the heart that makes us deaf not only to the existence of our beautiful source but to the needs of others.

According to John Cage we can be transformed by the ordinary. His friend M.C. Richards shows that we have great reason for hope. The closer we draw to the center, the more we see the common ground that we share. We will not always be perfect, but we can all return to the love at our heart.

I pray that we will be able to carry this idea with us as we leave this place and that it will transform our vision and our life. Let me conclude with Bishop Marc Andrus’ favorite quote from Richards. “Within us lives a merciful being who helps us to our feet however many times we fall.”[11] I give you a new commandment that you love one another.” “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.”

[1] Henry David Thoreau, Journal ed. John C. Broderick and Robert Sattelmeyer, Vol. 4 (Princeton NJ: University Press, 1981-), 52-54. and “Economy” in Walden.

[2] Henry David Thoreau, The Illustrated Walden (Princeton, NJ: 1973), 134.

[3] William James The Variety of Religious Experiences in Writings: 1902-1910 (NY: The Library of America, 1987), 454, 458.

[4] Kay Larson, Where the Heart Beats: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artists (NY: Penguin Books, 2013), 129.

[5] Ibid., 269.

[6] Ibid., 187.

[7] Ibid., xviii.

[8] Mary Caroline Richards, Centering in Pottery, Poetry, and the Person (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1962), 4.

[9] Ibid., 13, 15.

[10] Pádraig Pearse (1879-1916) one of the men cruelly executed after the Easter Uprising in Dublin, Ireland on May 3, 1916 put it so well in his poem. “I blinded my eyes… I closed my ears… I hardened my heart… and turned my face to the deed that I see and the death that I die.” Pádraig Pearse, “Renunciation.” The poet probably did not intend it, but devotion to a nation can mean no longer seeing the humanity of another person, closing one’s ears to the needs of another and hardening one’s heart to human kindness.

Sunday, April 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Elizabeth Grundy
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sunday, April 10
On Hope, Food and Purpose
Preacher: The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes
Sermon from Sunday's 6pm Service
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