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Sunday, June 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, June 21
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Listen to Featured Sermons

Wednesday, June 20
The Vine Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Jude Harmon
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Sunday, June 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Very Rev. Alan Jones’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Past Sermons

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

Tuesday, April 17
The Voice Behind All Things
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Tuesday April 17th Yoga Introduction
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The Voice Behind All Things

We have all heard a voice. It offers us guidance and direction, and sometimes even warns us. It is so ubiquitous that, when we know where we are going, it just fades quietly into the background and we cease to notice it at all.

We hear it in hospitals, subway systems and 250 airports around the world. It may be one of the most frequently heard voices in all history. Although you may have doubted whether this public address system voice belongs to a real person, it does.

Her name is Carolyn Hopkins. She lives in Northern Maine. She makes the recordings in her own house and emails them to the public address company. When asked about what makes people around the world prefer her voice she guesses that they might hear the smile behind it.

In the 1980’s Wim Wenders film Der Himmel Über Berlin (The Wings of Desire) invisible angels can hear the thoughts of people as they go past. In one scene the angel walks through a library hearing what is in every person’s heart.

In our heads we all carry voices that we recognize. Some of these may be disapproving voices that point out our failures and our limitations. They say things like “You can’t do this!” or, “they never loved you,” or, “you’re just like your father” or, “your brother was always better than you.”

Sometimes I think those voices of our thoughts become so dominant, so loud or constant, that we cannot really hear what is happening. This cathedral has different sounds. The woosh of the cable cars, the rain against the stained glass windows, the wind blowing over Nob Hill. One of the most beautiful sounds to me is that of preparation as people get ready for Yoga. A kind of spirit speaks to us in these moments that we often don’t recognize.

Eknath Easwaran started an ashram in Petaluma and was the one who taught me to meditate. He introduced me to the idea that if we can learn to lay our busy thoughts to the side, we might experience more moments of divinity, the holy.

He taught a form of passage meditation. I want to share one of my favorite passages with you tonight. It comes from St. Augustine’s autobiography Confessions.[1]

“Imagine if all the tumult of the body were to quiet down, along with our busy thoughts about earth, sea and air; if the very world should stop, and the mind cease thinking about itself, go beyond itself, and be quite still; if all the fantasies that appear in dreams and imagination should cease, and there be no speech, no sign:”

“Imagine if all things that are perishable grew still – for if we listen they are saying, We did not make ourselves; he made us who abides forever – imagine, then, that they should say this and fall silent, listening to the very voice of him who made them and not to that of his creation;”

“So that we should hear not his word through the tongues of [people], nor the voice of angels, nor the cloud’s thunder, nor any symbol, but the very Self which in these things we love, and go beyond ourselves to attain a flash of that eternal wisdom which abides above all things.”

“And imagine if that moment were to go on and on, leaving behind all other sights and sounds but this one vision which ravishes and absorbs and fixes the beholder in joy; so that the rest of eternal life were like that moment of illumination which leaves us breathless:”

“Would this not be what is bidden in scripture, Enter thou into the joy of the Lord?”

When I am with you on Tuesday nights I hear this voice. When we are together I can hear the smile behind all creation.

Darren’s theme – The Earth as a Temple

[1] Translation of Augustine’s Confessions by Michael N. Nagler in Eknath Easwaran, God Makes the Rivers to Flow (Petaluma, CA: Nilgiri Press, 1991) 171.

Sunday, April 15
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, April 8
The Spiritual Life of Children
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes… and touched with our hands concerning the word of life” (1 Jn. 1).

 

You think about your children before you even have them. In your dreams you watch that imagined person travel through the joys and tribulations of life before they even exist. At first December 22, 1998 in Boston felt like a spring day with temperatures in the sixties and brief downpours. By noon snow squalls were gathering and I took a break from my academic work at Lamont Library and returned to our apartment for lunch.[1]

After checking the answering machine I called my wife Heidi at work. She told me that she was pregnant. I immediately took the subway into her downtown office and we called every person we knew. It was only two days before Christmas Eve and suddenly we were part of one of the holiest stories in history.

Although at the time I recognized their inadequacy, I wrote down words describing what I felt. “Synchronicity, great comfort, natural trust, hope, joy, love.” It was a spiritual experience. Suddenly I had a new relation to the universe and God.

On an August afternoon during the first week our son was home from the hospital he was lying on my chest. I looked into his eyes and suddenly felt overwhelmed by the conviction that he had just seen God. Many of you might have your own stories about feeling awe, mystery and transcendence in the face of new life. The sleep deprivation and other challenges of early childhood also may make us forget the power of these moments.

But today, I do not want to talk so much about the spiritual experience of having a child. Instead I want us to consider the spiritual experience of being a child. I’m not going to hide the ball. The most important point that I have to make is simple. Children are not like an empty pitcher that you fill up with religious knowledge. They already have a rich spiritual life. This is the truth about being human – we hear a mysterious call from beyond ourselves.

Our goal is to learn how to be a kind of gardener for the spiritual life that children are nurturing. I mean this for us both as adults who are responsible for particular children as grandparents, parents, uncles, aunts, teachers and neighbors, but also for this Cathedral congregation.

I’m going to offer a few complex adult interpretations and then share a child’s perspective on today’s gospel.[2] After the crucifixion Jesus’ closest friends feel absolutely demoralized. They had believed that Jesus would be a Messiah, the Warrior King who would overthrow the Romans. They were terribly disappointed, probably embarrassed, afraid for their lives. Although they had heard that Mary Magdalene had seen Jesus, they do not seem to really believe her. Then Jesus comes among them, but Thomas is not there.

When the others tell Thomas what he has missed, “he says unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands… I will not believe” (Jn. 20). It amazes him that bitterness is not enough for him to abandon his friends. Church is like this too, isn’t it? We are all in various stages of belief and doubt but we keep showing up. The next time they are gathered, Jesus appears and Thomas is there. After seeing his friend Jesus, Thomas declares, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

  1. One thing we have learned over the last two hundred year is that modern people have a hard time letting faith be faith. As a result, we want to turn it into certainty. We tend to treat the Bible more like a faulty science textbook than as a love letter from God.

In 1799 the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (1768-1834) wrote a book called On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers. In it he outlines a version of faith entirely in modern terms. He has no room for anything supernatural. The twentieth century thinker Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976) proposed that we can “de-mythologize” the Bible. His contemporary Paul Tillich (1886-1965) re-described all of theology using the language of philosophical existentialism.

The Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) did just the opposite. Rather than trying to describe faith in modern terms, he describes modern life entirely in Christian terms. He points out that our picture of the universe is always changing. Isaac Newton imagined one picture of physics. This was supplemented by what Albert Einstein taught us in the twentieth century. Barth argues that we should not begin with a scientific picture of reality that is constantly changing. For him we need to start by being God’s children not by being God’s judges. Barth famously writes that,” the Gospel is not a truth among other truths. Rather it is a question mark against all truths.”[3]

Where do I stand in all of this? I believe that as a species moving deeper into the twenty-first century we are coming to a new appreciation of our connection to all other creatures. We are more than just rational beings. We are creatures that dream, imagine, draw, compose, and love. There is room for faith. We have good reason to experience ourselves as being in God’s hands.

  1. Our daughter Melia heard the story of Thomas when she was eight years old and proposed her own interpretation. Quite simply she said, “maybe Thomas wasn’t doubting. Perhaps he just felt like a bad friend.” For Melia the story is about human nature. We have a harder time believing when we feel isolated and alone. The people who surround us build up or undo our faith. Human life and our experience of God simply don’t happen in a vacuum.

A few years ago I interviewed Lisa Miller a faculty member at Columbia University. Dr. Miller believes that children have what she calls a “natural spirituality” and that we are severely neglecting the spiritual life of children, especially in affluent communities. As a result our children suffer from much higher levels of drug and alcohol addiction, depression, mental illness, hopelessness, sexual promiscuity, isolation, eating disorders and suicide.[4]

My teenaged children confirm Dr. Miller’s claims. Some of their amazing classmates travel the world leading incredibly enriched lives. But at the same time they are totally ignorant when it comes to religion and feel spirituality empty.

Let me offer three practical suggestions for helping children to cultivate their spiritual lives. First, begin right now to inaugurate family rituals that direct us to God. Pray at meals and before bedtime. Learn about the church’s calendar and observe the various seasons of the church in your own home. Read books about spirituality.

Second, talk about faith. In her book Dr. Miller quotes one parent who says, “I didn’t realize for a long time that when my child asks a question and I say, “I don’t know,” and just leave it at that, I’m actually stopping the conversation (47).” Don’t be afraid to talk about death or any other topic that addresses the mysterious or transcendent. If you need help in these conversations talk to someone like Mary Carter Greene, our expert in children, youth and family.

Finally, participate in the life of a spiritual community. Grace Cathedral may be too far away for some families but we are committed to helping every child and every adult realize their full spiritual potential. Figuring out what faith might mean for you is so much easier in a community. We have wise elders, energetic young people, survivors of great tragedies, creative people with lots of heart.

This week we have been observing the anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s martyrdom and his example has been deeply on my mind. Once Dr. King was awakened late at night by a man who screamed at him over the phone and threatened to murder him and his family.[5]

Dr. King couldn’t fall back asleep. He paced the floor, couldn’t stop worrying about his family. He began to go over all the theology and philosophy he had studied. He probably longed to go back to a northern college and lead a quiet scholarly life. He wanted to quit. He brewed coffee in his kitchen. He felt so alone that he even imagined going back to live in his own parents’ house.

With tears in his eyes he put his head down and prayed. “Oh Lord, I’m down here trying to do what is right. But, Lord, I must confess that I’m weak now. I’m afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership… I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I can’t face it alone.”

At that moment King felt a kind of presence, a stirring in himself. Suddenly it seemed as if his inner voice was speaking to him with confidence. “Martin Luther, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for truth. And, lo, I will be with you, even unto the end of the world.” King saw lightning flash and thunder roar and it became for him the voice of Jesus promising that he would never be alone. His extraordinary spiritual strength changed the world.

You think of your children before you even have them and they may come to think of us long after we are gone. In dreams we meet the ones who have gone before us; people like Thomas, Friedrich Schleiermacher and Martin Luther King Jr. Do not fear the mystery of transcendence. Do not be afraid to be wrong. Cultivate your faith and nourish the spirituality of the children. This is the truth about being human – we hear a mysterious call from beyond ourselves.

[1] Malcolm Clemens Young, Harvard Journal Notes, Chapter Six (12-22-1998) 6.

[2] Put first let me share a huge revelation I recently had. During Holy Week I found myself meditating on the massive windows above the South Transept. They are some of the largest stained glass windows in Western America and they refer to today’s gospel and another story.

Salome was the mother of two of Jesus’ disciples, James and John. She goes to Jesus and asks for her two sons to sit at your right and left hand when Jesus come into your glory. The biblical story seems to be about a terrible irony that she does not at the time see. That is, Jesus comes to glory on the cross and no mother would ask for her children to be crucified.

That seems to be the end of this story. It seems as if she did not get her wish. But then twenty centuries later at this great Cathedral at the edge of a still unknown continent James and John are in a kind of glory at Jesus’ right and left hand.[2] In the same window we have Peter who denied he knew Jesus three times. Then on the far right-hand side you can see Thomas. The official notes say that the figure depicted in the windows is John the Evangelist not the John who is the son of Zebedee and Salome, but I’m not sure. See Michael Lampen, Cathedral Source Book, Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, California, 2015 Revised Edition, 21.

[3] Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 6th Edition, Tr. Edwyn C. Hoskyns (NY: Oxford University Press, 1968) 35. All Saints Day (11-6-16).

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

[5] Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (NY: Harper & Row, 1982) 84-5.

Sunday, April 1
Easter Sunday Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Every Person We Ever Were

Alleluia. Christ is risen!

You are every person you have ever been from the moment you were born to now. This includes the openness to wonder of your five-year-old self, the simple enthusiasms you had at age ten, the gathering complexity of your teenaged aged years – every stage of your career and personal life.

I will always be the fourth grader with the broken arm, the high school student working at the lumberyard, the twenty-three year old bowled over by love, the youngest priest in the Diocese, and the awe-inspired new parent. These identities never leave you. They just get in the car and go along for the ride. The question for you this morning is: which of them is driving.

The rock star Bruce Springsteen points this out in his autobiography. His aunt had been killed as a child while riding her tricycle and his father grew up in a household still mourning this tragedy. Springsteen writes of his own childhood, “When my dad looked at me, he didn’t see what he needed to see. This was my crime… He loved me but he couldn’t stand me.”[1]

In his late twenties Springsteen writes that he had such a deep-seated anger that he could almost never feel at ease. He had no home, no family, no real life outside of performing. He felt depressed, afraid of love, of needing someone too much. Playing concerts provided him with, “the illusion of intimacy without risk or consequences.”[2] Our lives have many interpreters besides ourselves.[3] Is this story true? How would one know?

Our theme at Grace Cathedral this year is truth. We find ourselves at a moment of crisis for truth-telling. None of us can remember a time when our society held in such low esteem expertise in foreign policy, economics, government, law, journalism, science, etc. Technology is changing our experience of truth. Three years ago we didn’t even realize that elections could be manipulated with social media. We hadn’t heard of “fake news.”

So together we are studying truth – the truth about ourselves, each other, the natural world and God. This morning we have before us the truth of Easter. I want to make three simple points.

  1. First, truth begins with the facts. Truth is not a matter of tribal solidarity.[4] Audrey Cooper the editor of the San Francisco Chronicle says that, “Nobody has a right to an uninformed opinion.” Today we hear claims that violent immigrants constitute a major threat to our society without facts to support this fear. We hear that more guns will make us safer. We are told that participating in global climate treaties will harm the economy.

But the fact is, the planet is getting hotter. Our tax code increases inequality. It is a fact that on March 18 Stephon Clark was shot by police in Sacramento. He was hit by eight bullets, six of them in his back. We always need to begin with facts.

At the same time we cannot simply end with the facts. Facts do not do all the work by themselves. Ken Wilbur (1949-) writes, “Surfaces can be seen, but depths must be interpreted.”[5] This is especially true of the Bible.

If I told you that at a meeting they were “kicking him while he was down,” you might ask, “do you mean that literally?” But this distinction between literal and metaphorical makes no sense when it comes to the whole Bible. There is no “literal” meaning to the Bible. There is no “default” meaning. It always has to be interpreted. In this sense it is impossible to take the Bible literally.

The Bible presents us with facts. Many in Ancient Israel expected a Messiah-King to rise up, to defeat the occupying Roman army and to establish an era of justice. No one at the time could imagine the far more radical idea that god would be crucified for us and rise again.[6]

Very early on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome come to the tomb. They see a young man who frightens them so profoundly that they are utterly silenced. In Greek the two words are related and next to each other. Greek uses double negatives so literally “they tell no one nothing.”

The angel says, do not be alarmed. But they are seized by tromos or trembling and by ekstasis, the amazement related to our word for ecstasy. They are standing outside of themselves when he says, “go, tell Jesus’ disciples… that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you” (Mk. 16).

For me Galilee is a bit like Vacaville or Lodi. It is the ordinary place where ordinary people have a sense for the ongoing presence of Jesus. Today, twenty centuries later, two billion Christians have this experience of Jesus. When we suffer and when we rejoice, Jesus brings us to God. In one way or other Jesus brought us here together in joy this morning.

Last night sixteen adults were baptized at our Easter Vigil service. Their average age was probably about 27. At midnight they came up to the altar. During the blessing you could see the tears in their eyes. Jesus was here! Jesus is here.

  1. My second point is that truth is social not private. We share this existence. A friend of mine says that the world is a wedding and we are all betrothed to each other.[7] This Wednesday will be the fiftieth anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (1929-1968) martyrdom. Reading his biography as a young man gave me a picture of a scholar, pastor, and activist that I had never before imagined. He inspired me to dedicate my life to this path, to studying the philosophers and theologians King loved.

This scholarship has given me an appreciation for King’s “personalism,” his sense that God is not merely the creative force that sustains the universe, but a person that we meet in our prayers and worship. When his house was bombed, his friends killed and his life threatened, the person of Jesus gave King miraculous courage and strength. In the face of virulent racism and hatred God kept him focused on love. King insisted that our concern should never be limited just to people like ourselves. As a result he spoke out not just about race, but poverty, colonialism, the Vietnam War and the environment.

On March 28, 1965 King stood in this pulpit and spoke to overflowing crowds of 5000 people. He said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He said, “All life is interrelated. And we are caught in an inescapable web of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be, until you are what you ought to be.”[8]

  1. Finally, Easter truth is personal. For Christians truth is not something that happened a long time ago. Truth is not even chiefly about the Bible. It is about a person, the person of Jesus. The truth of the resurrection is not about dead bodies coming to life. It is not even primarily about what will happen after we die. It is the truth of God’s power over death and sin, that God overcomes the tragedy that we call ordinary reality.

This week as I rushed around town worrying about being late and whether I would get everything done, I found myself on Fulton along the border of Golden Gate Park. Suddenly I saw the most spectacular cherry tree in full blossom. It felt like God had just handed me a bouquet of flowers and said, “you look like you need these.” In that moment of self-forgetfulness a larger truth came to me. This all has to do with love. The philosopher and novelist Iris Murdoch (1919-1999) writes that love, “is the extremely difficult realization that something other than oneself is real.”[9]

The playwright Arthur Miller (1915-2005) wrote about a particularly difficult time for his wife the actress Marilyn Monroe (1926-1962) as she suffered from depression, paranoia and heavy barbiturate use. One night watching over her drugged sleep he thought, “I found myself straining to imagine miracles. What if she were to wake up and I were to say, ‘God loves you, darling,’ and she were able to believe it! How I wish I still had my religion and she had hers.”[10]

What is the truth? What is the truth about Marilyn Monroe or Bruce Springsteen or Martin Luther King, Jr., or Stephon Clark? What is the truth about you and me? I believe that, “God loves you, darling” might be it. For me this truth lies at the very heart of reality.

The truth of Easter begins with the facts. No one can know for sure what happened that morning before the women arrived at the tomb. But two billion people today experience Jesus going ahead of us in our ordinary life.

Easter is the truth of the “inescapable web of mutuality.” In God death and sin do not have the last word. Nothing good is lost forever. Easter is the insight that the most powerful truths are personal. The self-forgetfulness we experience in love opens the door out of our conflicted inner life into reality.

You are every person you have ever been since the moment you were born. These identities never leave you. They just get in the car and go along for the ride. This Easter what would it be like to wake up to God’s love? What if we let our most Christ-inspired self do the driving. God loves you darling.

[1] Bruce Springsteen, Born to Run (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2016) 265, 28, 29.

[2] Ibid., 270-2.

[3] Alan Jones, Living the Truth (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 2000) 93.

[4] Ibid., 17

[5] Ibid., 25.

[6] Jon Meacham, “Jesus Died Only to Rise Again, Where Did the Concept of the Resurrection Come from?” The New York Times, 30 March 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/30/books/review/resurrection-jesus.html

[7] Alan Jones, Living the Truth (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 2000) 100.

[8] Martin Luther King, Grace Cathedral Sermon, 28 March 1965. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=so8kSH8IwIA&t=387s.
On the day before King’s death he talked about threats that had been made to his life. He said, “I would like to live a long life. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And he’s allowed me up to the mountain… And I’ve seen the promised land. And I may not get there with you… [but] the brotherhood of man will become a reality.” Stephen B. Oates, Let the Trumpet Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. (NY: Harper & Row, 1982) 467.

[9] Alan Jones, Living the Truth (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 2000) 11.

[10] Ibid., 9.

Saturday, March 31
Easter Vigil Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Saturday's Easter Vigil
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Friday, March 30
Good Friday Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
Sermon from Friday's Good Friday Service
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