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Sunday, March 18
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, March 15
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Wednesday, February 14
Ash Wednesday 12:10 Service
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Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, March 18
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer
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The Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, March 11
Mutual Admiration Society: God and Humankind
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
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Past Sermons

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

Sunday, January 28
The Man in the Cage
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Hallelujah! I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright, in the congregation” (Ps. 111).

  1. Imagine a hammock slung between coconut palms, the sound of waves lapping up against a rock pool, the smell of tropical flowers in the air and the islands of Lanai and Moloka’i floating above perfectly blue waters in the near distance. This was our daily life on Maui during summers when our children were little. After surfing all morning we would eat a picnic lunch, paint with watercolors and then sit on a big blanket to play the ukulele and sing.

You would recognize some of the songs like “Brown Eyed Girl” or “Freebird.” But many of them were what the recording industry calls “Hawaiian Contemporary,” a genre that you’d find mostly unfamiliar. One song was called Margarita. I’ll sing the first two lines to give you a sense for it. “On a hilltop in Tahiti as I gaze across the bay / At the island of Moorea in the sunshine of the day.”

Last week at a USF basketball game my wife called me over to introduce me to a shy and modest plumber she had just met. His name was Justin Fawsitt. As we talked we realized that Justin wrote “Margarita.” In 1981 he was living in Tahiti playing music at a bar when Skippy and Israel Kamakawiwo’ole heard him and asked him to teach them the song. The version they sang on the radio became popular among Hawaiians.

What made this moment so powerful was the transformation you could see in Justin. His timidness fell away and he just shined. His sense of humor came out like the sun on a cloudy day. This happened because someone recognized who he really was. Someone saw below the surface.

Being recognized can save our life. Let me remind you that we are on a journey together. Each week in Epiphany something new becomes revealed to us about Jesus and about God. This week we see the first moment of Jesus’ public ministry. We witness his tremendous power to recognize and heal the people around him.

  1. Each author of the Gospels evokes a different sensibility. Often Mark’s world seems full of darkness, looming threats and danger. For him, life is riddled with demons who warp creation and constantly threaten to overcome all goodness. Mark regards human beings as porous creatures, like sponges open to spiritual influences, with low resistance to infections by dark forces.[1]

We can imagine being recognized in an uncanny, sinister or unsettling way also. Last week at ACT we saw the Harold Pinter play The Birthday Party which someone described as a ”comedy of menace.” Stan, a boarder at a seaside B&B, frightens his landlady by suggesting that men might come and take her away in a wheelbarrow. That night two gangster-like figures arrive and keep insinuating that they know him. Everything in the play conspires to produce a vague sense of danger, a fear that makes freedom impossible.

This sense of a looming threat hangs over Jesus as he enters the synagogue and impresses the people with the exousia of his teaching. That word used twice by the admiring crowds means power or authority. It bears a family resemblance to ousia which is the word at the heart of the Nicene Creed and means being or substance. Sometimes you will see “ho on” written on icons. It means the being, the one who is. For me it is another way of saying that Jesus is the source of our existence.

Unlike the scribes Jesus speaks with authority. A man with an unclean spirit cries out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth… I know who you are, the Holy One of God” (Mk. 1). Jesus heals him. The crowds again admire his exousia. Word about him spreads.

The structure Mark uses to tell this story is called a chiasmus (after the Greek letter chi for “X”). [2] The first verse and the last are paired and discuss geographical details. The second verse and the second to last one match in describing the astonishment people feel about Jesus’ power, etc. If you do not notice this at first it might seem as if Mark unnecessarily repeats himself.

Mark uses the structure for an important reason. It focuses our attention on the two central verses describing the encounter between the man with the unclean spirit and Jesus. First the unclean spirit recognizes Jesus, and then in an even deeper passage the reader sees through Jesus that the man is more than just the spirit that convulses him.

The Greek text literally says that the man is “in” an unclean spirit, almost the way that a person might be inside a cage. In some ways the person and the spirit are identical. When the spirit speaks it seems to speak through his mouth. But in other ways they are different. The unclean spirit seems to be able to see things that the man alone cannot.[3]

There are two ways to misunderstand the man’s situation. If we regard the man as simply another person, as wholly different from the unclean spirit, we minimize the “tragedy of his life.” We would fail to see all the ways that this spirit has damaged his consciousness, “his body, his relationships,” and every potential he had to experience joy or love. Even though that suffering may have felt excruciating, it has become part of that man’s history and identity.

On the other hand if we see the spirit and the man as simply one thing, as we most often do, we lose his humanity. We begin to regard him as just another object. Jesus had the power to see both the man and the spirit. Jesus has the power to bring about his healing and ours.

  1. In the twentieth century we exist in a ubiquitous cloud therapeutic jargon, as if everything can be reduced to a kind of psychological illness with a cure. We talk about processing things, being paranoid and getting closure. I don’t know if you noticed but not one dies anymore. They just pass away. When we don’t like the president we look for a psychiatrist who will tell us he is crazy.

The language of demon possession may sound strange to us at first. But it is a way of honestly talking about the universal experience of not having total control over our thoughts and compulsions. It is a way to speak vividly about the cunning of racism, hatred, anger, envy, sexism, lust and the fear of what seems foreign to us. We encounter these forces not just on the outside. An inner voice speaks this way too. This is also another way of talking about our addictions.[4]

Johann Hari wrote about this in an article called “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered (and It Is Not What You Think).”[5] Hari points out that there are two prevailing metaphors when it comes to addiction. On the one hand conservatives use the language of individual ethics. They blame addicts for their hedonism and for partying too much. This has led to a War on Drugs that sought to simply eradicate the chemicals that alter our consciousness in this way. It brought mass incarceration on the social level and “interventions” on the personal level which threaten to cut off support for addicts who refuse to change.

Liberals use the metaphors of addiction as a kind of disease as if our brains had been “chemically hijacked.” Hari points out that one problem with this is that not all people respond the same way to chemicals or other stimulus like gambling. Hari claims that a large number of soldiers in Vietnam were addicted to heroin and that ninety-five percent simply stopped using when they returned home. When people leave the hospital most are able to stop using the painkillers they depended on before.

At the heart of Hari’s claims are two studies on rats. In the first scientists put a rat in a cage with a choice of water or water with cocaine or heroin. Ninety percent of the rats keep coming back to the water with drugs until it kills them. Later a psychology professor named Bruce Alexander tried a different experiment. Instead of leaving a rat alone in a cage he built Rat Park. It had toys and tunnels to explore and plenty of other rats. In this environment he gave them the choice between the two kinds of water.

What Alexander found was that the rats with good lives “didn’t like the drugged water.” They consumed less than a quarter of the drugs that the isolated rats used. Furthermore none of them died. In other words the rats who were alone became heavy users and the rats in the happier environment did not.

Hari concludes that we cannot talk about addiction without looking at that person’s cage, that is at her overall social condition. Perhaps he is wrong or the experiments were not properly conducted. Still it is powerful to realize that major and minor addictions may not be merely about individual morality or brain chemistry.

We are social animals. We depend on each other so profoundly that experts now recommend not only a healthy diet and exercise but that we systematically pay attention to our social needs. Between 20 and 43 percent of all American adults over the age of 60 report “frequent or intense loneliness.” Recognizing the severity of the problem and its affect on health, the United Kingdom just announced the creation of a Minister for Loneliness.[6] In our daily life we can do something about this. Before you even leave this building you could form a new connection.

Let’s face it going to church is inconvenient. We could all be out getting exercise, volunteering for a noble cause or at home reading the Sunday paper. We could be at the beach but we come here in part because we realize something about the human condition – that we are made for connection with each other and with God.

What is your cage? What demons are you wrestling with as menacing messages of hate swirl around you? This morning on our journey through Epiphany Jesus welcomes us with our unclean spirits into this temple. He sees that we are more than our compulsions. He has power and authority over all that threatens us. Jesus invites us into the healing mystery of God’s love. Being recognized can save our life.

[1] Matt Boulton, “With Authority: Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany 4,” SALT 23 January 2018.

[2] Mark 1 Chiasmus:

21 ¶ They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,

24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching—with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

[3] This idea and the words in quotes come from D. Mark Davis, “Separating a Man from His Cage,” Left Behind and Loving It, 21 January 2018.

[4] Matt Boulton, “With Authority: Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany 4,” SALT 23 January 2018.

[5] Davis linked to this article in Left Behind: Johann Hari, “The Likely Cause of Addiction Has Been Discovered (and It Is Not What You Think)” Huffington Post Politics, 20 January 2015 (Updated 18 April 2017).

[6] Ashley Fetters, “What Loneliness Does to the Human Body,” The Cut, 22 January 2018.

Sunday, January 21
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Thursday, January 18
Do You Love Me?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Malcolm Clemens Young Ezekiel 34:11-16 Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA Y3 John 21:15-22 Evensong 22 Confession of St. Peter (Readings for St Peter and St Paul) & 3 Easter C Thursday 18 January 2018

Do You Love Me?

“Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’” (Jn. 21).

1. How hard it is to really know another person. Perhaps this is especially difficult because so much of our life seems to be an exercise in subtly asking what other people think of us. Many of our interactions can be boiled down to a simple question, “do you like me?”1

On his first day of seventh grade my father’s teacher asked him what he wanted to be called. The teacher thought my dad would say “Stephen, Steve or Stevie.” Instead my father said, “I’d like to be called ‘Ace Sir.’” For the rest of the year that teacher addressed him as Ace. Oftentimes this was confusing for my father since no one else had ever called him Ace before.

What I like about this story is the way it reminds us that we are always making decisions about what self it is that we are sharing with others. The way we present ourselves may have very little to do with who we really are. Furthermore the self we show others may be unrecognizable to us.

Of all Jesus’ friends the one who had the biggest “Self” had to be Peter. Peter wasn’t even really his name. He was Simon son of John but the disciples referred to him as Peter which means “the Rock.”

Peter tried to give the world a very definite and exaggerated picture of himself. He wanted to be known as the one who was most zealous, most bold. He wanted to say the most extreme things, take the most pronounced risks, to be first in all things, to walk on water. He wanted them to believe that he would be faithful to the end.

As this conversation unfolds Jesus knows that this picture that Peter wants the world to have, this image that he mostly believes himself, is about to be utterly wiped away. Later when Jesus is arrested Peter, the one who promised always to be faithful, denies him three times. Three times he says about his friend, “I do not know the man.”

But in this conversation Jesus asks Peter “do you love me?” three times and then repeats the same words “feed my sheep.” Finally, in an astonishing moment the narrator of the

1 “Is it possible, finally, for one human being to achieve perfect understanding of another? We can invest enormous time and energy in serious efforts another person, but in the end, how close are we able to come to that person’s essence? We convince ourselves that we know the other person well, but do we really know anything important about anyone?” Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles tr. Jay Rubin (NY: Vintage, 1997) 24.

E 3 Easter (1-18-18) C

story tells us that Peter felt hurt (Jn. 21). It may be one of the only times that a gospel describes the inner feelings of Jesus’ disciples in this way.

I think that Jesus is preparing Peter for the terrible moment when everything is stripped away from him, for that time when all that he said and believed about himself will be shown to be a lie.

2. How hard it is to really know another person. In October of 1990 I received a phone call from my one of my best friends. I was planning to ask Heidi to marry me and he tried to convince me not to. He said, “how do you know that she is the one?” He had a good point. I was on the verge of a monumental decision and all I had to offer him were inadequate words about how deeply I loved her. I had that and this sense she was more important to me than what I might look like to the world.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860) writes about a group of porcupines on a winter night. They want to huddle together for warmth but they inevitably puncture each other with their spines.2 For me this describes the human experience. We huddle and hurt each other. We long for intimacy and separation. Because of this we need to remind people that we love them.

On that day Jesus gave Peter two things. First Jesus showed Peter what to do when everything else was taken away, when all the stories Peter told about himself unraveled. Jesus teaches him to worry less about what the world thinks about him and more about how he cares for others. Tend my sheep.

Second Jesus gave him the chance to speak about his love. For each time that Peter denied him later, Jesus gave him the chance to almost redeem himself in advance by expressing his deep love for Jesus.

This week we have a chance to step out of the story we tell about ourselves and into the adventure of taking care of the people around us. Although we know that we will hurt the people in our life. We also have the opportunity to tell them that we love them. Let us do this in the confidence and strength of God’s love for us.

Malcolm Clemens Young 2

2 Arthur Schopenhauer, Essays and Aphorisms tr. R.J. Hollingdale (NY: Penguin, )

Sunday, January 14
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Yolanda Norton, Professor of Theology at San Francisco Theological Seminary
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sunday, January 7
The Truth about God
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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The Truth about God

“The voice of the Lord is upon the waters; the God of glory thunders” (Ps. 29).


What is the truth about God? [1] Our 2018 Cathedral theme is truth and this seems like a good place to begin. Eleven years ago our family found ourselves behind a square iron fence at a fairground with perhaps a hundred thousand people outside. The electricity generated by all those souls felt tangible. I remember the beautiful young dancers, old men in bright robes carrying holy objects and prayers chanted so loudly over loudspeakers that you could almost think of nothing else.

We were celebrating Timkat, the Feast of the Epiphany, in Addis Ababa as the special guests of the Abuna, a kind of pope for forty million Ethiopians. I will never forget the feeling I had when the people threw thousands of plastic bottles over the fence to be filled with blessed holy water.

In Greek, the word epiphany means to shine upon or to reveal. We associate this season with three images. First, it reminds us of the light present from the beginning of our world which is Christ. Second, we remember the magi, the three wise men, visitors to the baby Jesus, who some regard as representatives of, “the exotic, the secular, and the scientific world.”[2] The other guiding story for this time tells about the baptism of Jesus when the heavens were torn apart and God’s spirit came to rest on him.

My old teacher Peter Gomes used to say that Epiphany, “is the season in which the identity of Jesus, his real identity, is made clear and clearer to all who will look and see.” He told us that what begins as a very private message to Mary and Joseph comes to be shared with, “an ever-expanding audience of witnesses.” He compares it to the ripples formed when you drop a pebble into a smooth pond (until the entire surface is witness to the initial movement of that one stone).[3]

That Ethiopian day in the midst of the largest crowd I had ever seen we lost our five-year-old daughter. So much was happening, I took a photograph, and in a heart stopping instant she was gone. Then we noticed all the television cameras moving to a place where there was a commotion. There was our daughter sitting on the Abuna’s lap as he presided from his throne over the largest religious ritual I will ever see.

My wife picked her up and the two of them were on every television station and the front page of every newspaper. Wherever we went in Ethiopia after that people recognized them and gave them special gifts. This event led to an amazing sense of connection to others.

We long to be known, and during that time we were. It was as if the special admiration that we have for our own children, the way they seem so beautiful to us, was suddenly shared by a whole country of people. For those weeks it felt like all of humanity was our family.

All of us know about the opposite experience too, when instead of a person we become “traffic” to others, that is an inconveniently placed object for them. We also know what it feels like to be isolated and lonely. This week I read an article sent to me by a friend called “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?”[4]

The argument may be familiar to you already. It holds that the smartphones, which didn’t even exist when we went to Ethiopia, have disrupted a whole generation’s experience of childhood. They are guinea pigs measuring the effects of colossal social changes. According to the author today’s young people are far less likely to use drugs and alcohol, to have sex or even to go out with their friends. They spend about the same amount of time doing homework as earlier generations.

The difference is that young people today spend a massive amount of time on smartphones and social media. This leads to loneliness, a feeling of being left out, depression and suicide. The author writes that girls’ depressive symptoms have increased by fifty percent. Three times as many 12 to 14 year old girls kill themselves today than did in 2007. She also writes that those who attend religious services have a much lower risk for depression.[5]

This is a time when we really need God to be revealed to our children, and to us. Yet sometimes it seems as if even devout Christians are strangely uninterested in coming to know God. Many people seem satisfied to say simply that “God is love” without caring much about the details, without learning what the Bible and tradition teaches about God’s nature.[6]

This puzzles me. Imagine if we were having a conversation and I told you that I love my wife. What if you asked where she grew up and I said, “I don’t know.” You might say, “Well what kind of music does she listen to?“ or “what does she look like?” “is she shy or gregarious?” If I told you that I didn’t know, you’d probably think there was something seriously wrong with our relationship. One of the most upsetting realizations we can have about someone we love is that they do not really know us.[7]

Loving someone means trying to learn about that person. We find out about God through prayer and worship, in studying scripture and the tradition, by talking to each other and by trying to follow God’s teaching in how we live (by the way this includes everything from how we drive to how we talk about other people).

In baptism we promise to learn more about God and to help our children to do the same. In baptism we renew a relationship that God first began at creation. In baptism we say, “I belong no longer to myself, to my parents, my work, to the Internet or the world; I belong to God.”[8]

Some of you may know that I am on a quest to understand God through the eyes of the theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968). Last year I read 2,000 pages of Church Dogmatics his 9,000 page systematic theology. He asserts that we can know something about God because God cares enough about us to show himself in the Bible, in preaching and the person of Jesus himself.[9] For Barth, this God of the scriptures is above all the Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. And the Epiphany story of Jesus’ baptism shows us each aspect of who God is.

Trinity means that we experience God as three persons who have one being or essence. In an analogous way you might experience me as a husband on a double date, as a parent coaching rugby, or as a priest here at Grace Cathedral. You will see a different aspect of me in each of those settings but the being behind all of those experiences, that is me, is the same.

  1. God is the Creator of the universe, the Father we address in the Lord’s Prayer, the one who says “This is my son, the Beloved” (Mk. 1). John the Baptist preaches a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” The Greek word for sin is hamartia and means to miss the mark. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia and it means to change our consciousness and transform our life.

Barth points out that there is within us a kind of enmity toward God. We are kind of like frenemies (friend-enemies) with God.[10] This isn’t just about us as individuals. We learn how to be with God in large part from our culture, which in Western Europe and North America has begun to bend further away from God.

In a recent article the actor Russell Brand who plays the rock star in the old movie Forgetting Sarah Marshall writes about what he is learning in overcoming his addiction to drugs. In a 12-step program Brand recognized his powerlessness over drugs and turned his life over to God, the only one who could save him. It made him realize that all of us live by an unconscious myth that in his words, “we can make ourselves feel better with external stuff, be it behavior or chemicals.”[11]

  1. God is also the Redeemer, the person Jesus Christ, the man John baptized in the Jordan River. This means that God is not just a kind of physical force creating and holding together the world. God is not less than a person. In Jesus, God knows about human life from the inside. Jesus expresses the reality that we can experience intimacy with God. We can talk to God and even hear back from Him.

With our lives we may often miss the mark but Jesus shows that we do not have to be lost in our misplaced efforts to find security and love by putting ourselves above others.

  1. Finally God is the Sanctifier, the Holy Spirit. At Jesus’ baptism when the heavens are torn apart the Spirit descends on him like a dove. The barrier between heaven and us has been removed. The spirit rests on us now too. This Spirit makes it possible for you to trust God. It is the part of God that is present in you. Barth says, it is not a magical transformation but, “a teacher of the truth within ourselves.”[12] This Holy Spirit abides with us, so that we will never be disconnected from God.

Over time this Spirit changes us so that gratitude is no longer just the way we think or even behave. Gratitude becomes our very essence.[13] For Barth, in the end this is all about joy.[14] God’s joy leads to the creation of the world. In this same joy God invites us into the Divine life and through the Spirit gives us the ability to say “yes” to God with our whole being. It was this joy that I sensed on that day as the Ethiopians threw their water bottles over the fence.

Brothers and sisters welcome to the Year of Truth at Grace Cathedral. We all long to know and to be known. Like those exotic, secular and scientific Magi let us follow the star of wisdom and come to know the One we love. In the face of all that threatens this generation let the light of Epiphany, the person of Jesus become ever clearer to us. As the ripples of the waters at Jesus’ baptism reach the shores of our time let us find our own way to say, “I belong to God.” Imagine the truth about God we are about to discover.

[1] Our Cathedral’s 2018 theme is truth. I hope that we will learn new truth about our own lives, and our relation to others. We will explore the truth in journalism, ethics, politics, the economy, sociology, the natural and biological sciences and technology. This week our federal government opened up the process to begin selling offshore oil drilling leases. In our time we need to especially open our eyes to the truth about nature and our planet. Associated Press, “Alaska May Open Up Again for Oil Leasing, but Risks Linger,” The New York Times, 5 January 2018.

[2] Peter Gomes, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002) 31.

[3] Ibid., 30-6.

[4] Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” The Atlantic, September 2017. David Smith sent the article.

[5] “Eighth-graders who are heavy users of social media increase their risk of depression by 27 percent, while those who play sports, go to religious services, or even do homework more than the average teen cut their risk significantly.” Ibid.

[6] This reminds me of the sense of misplaced attention in the billboards that say that we spend more time reading billboards than planning for our retirement.

[7] Ethan Renoe, “The Tragedy of Dumbing Down Christianity,” Relevant, 22 December 2017.

[8] Paraphrase of Peter Gomes, Sermons: Biblical Wisdom for Daily Living (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2002) 33.

[9] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God tr. G.W. Bromiley (NY: T&T Clarke, 1936), 88-120.

[10] Ibid., 444ff.

[11] Jesse Carey, “The Second Coming of Russell Brand,” Relevant, 8 October 2017.

[12] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics I.1 The Doctrine of the Word of God tr. G.T. Thomposon, Harold Knight (NY: T&T Clarke, 1956) 371

[13] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.1 The Doctrine of God tr. Parker, Johnston, Knight, Haire (NY: T&T Clarke, 1957) 669.

[14] Ibid., 647.

Sunday, December 31
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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