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The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.
There’s a lot of talk at the moment on social media about the Danish concept of hygge. Have you heard of it? It’s a word for that feeling you get on a cold and foggy afternoon when you’re curled up with a cup of tea and some chocolates and your favourite slippers on your feet and the person you most like to be with is curled up there too and all is snug and comfy and copacetic. I can feel my shoulders lowering and my mouth relaxing into a smile just thinking about it. The bliss of being warm and safe and comfortable! Hygge sounds so much more like good news than today’s gospel.
Did you hear what was being said to us? Shake off the dust from your feet of homes that do not welcome you, that everyone was harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd, that you will be hated because of my name, and worst of all, especially on Father’s Day: ‘brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death.’ Where is the good news in this? I want my slippers and chocolates and a whole Danish hygge-fest!
The easiest way to slip back into a hygge world is to dismiss this gospel as a word for its time and not for ours. That the gospel writer is expressing a reality for the early church that we have left behind us. And that is partially true. Whatever fundamentalist preachers might want you to believe, Christians are not a persecuted group in the western world today. Check your privilege if for a moment you believe that this society is out to get you because you attend church. Or better yet talk with a Jew whose cemetery has been desecrated, a Muslim whose mosque has been vandalized, or a black southern Christian whose church has been burned by white southern ‘Christians’. There are places in the world where to profess faith in Christ is a path to persecution – we should remember our sisters and brothers of faith in Coptic churches, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria – but we should not pretend that we share their vulnerabilities and dangers.
What we do share with the early church is a world where, despite its beauty and its wonder, there is violence, injustice and many feel harassed and helpless. There are still families which are torn apart by anger and resentment, homes that, far from being sanctuaries of cozy rest, are places of fear and intimidation for children and women, and occasionally men. I am still haunted by a memory from seminary when I was helping in a poor and understaffed local school. I can still picture one six year old boy crying and cursing and running away from his teacher and myself, begging not to be sent home to his temporary foster home. Not that he was abused there, not in most definitions of abuse, but just that he knew he wasn’t truly seen and valued and loved by those who were taking care of him. And let’s not forget that unhappy homes are not the prerogative of the poor and the ‘other’– there will be people in church today for whom home has been – maybe still is – a place of violence and fear.
This is getting grim for any Sunday, let alone one with the family focus of Father’s Day! So let’s hunt down the good news that is here. The good news that is harder edged than mere coziness but also far more effective in refreshing the human soul and the human situation. The heart of this for me is those short few words that occur early on – he (Jesus that is) had compassion on them – and what arises from them. Jesus doesn’t just wipe away a pitying tear and get on with life. He calls a group together, shares authority with them, and sends them out with orders to make a difference. In the language of that time ‘to cast out evil spirits’. In the language of our time to address the social as well as bodily ills that corrupt and twist and destroy individuals and whole societies.
This is one of the foundation stories of the church. This story is one of the reasons that Grace Cathedral, in all its beauty and grandeur and tradition, actually exists. This group of people being sent out to make a difference. This group of people who are, delightfully, called to be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves. This group of people who are called to be vulnerable, to be non-violent – to be sheep among wolves – but who are also expected to change the world and begin to heal its hurts.
We sometimes talk about the church as a family, but that’s an image I’m not too comfortable with. While, for most of us, family is a place of nurture and belonging and love it can also, as we’ve said, be a place of violence and hurt. I can’t forget the one unclaimed body from the Pulse massacre a year ago. A bereaved father refusing to collect his murdered son’s remains because that son was gay. ‘Family values’ as usually defined are not necessarily Christian values. They have become shorthand for valuing those people who most closely resemble us – our own kin first, then our own community, our own race, nationality and class, our own sexual orientation. Family values come to have more to do with deciding who is acceptable and who isn’t than with challenging all people to live lives of inclusive love.
This is not something that’s actually very easy for us to grasp. This is something that it was not very easy even for Jesus to grasp. There’s a line in this gospel that I wish I could ignore, because it challenges my belief that God is for all of us. But that’s cowardly for a Christian – we need to look harder at the places where our certainties are challenged not look away – and even more cowardly for a preacher. (It’s actually a good rule of thumb – never trust a preacher who ignores the troubling verses) It’s where Jesus says to the apostles: ‘Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” In other word, don’t go to the ‘others’ just stay within the family.
It is true that family and clan and race was where Jesus started. Like all of us, this was his comfort zone, his familiar territory. But this was not where Jesus ended. Remember last week’s gospel – the resurrected Christ sending his followers into all the world – that was where Jesus ended. Our incarnate God was completely human. Like us he had to learn to see the value in the other, like us his heart grew wider and more open the more he experienced God’s compassion living in him, like us his life involved a process of growth and learning. There is comfort and consolation here. We cannot judge our own limitations too harshly when we see these in the one we follow. We can know that we, like Jesus, can grow beyond our beginnings into heart-strong lovers of all God’s creation.
So, my dear wise serpents and innocent doves, my dear church sent to be God’s healing presence in the world, this is the good news for this Father’s Day and for every day. Not just that God loves us but that God has a job for us to do. Not one that means we can always sit at home by a warm fire with slippers on our feet hygge-style. But one that means we can be the fire – God’s fire to warm and transform the world, a fire of healing, a source of warmth for the desolate and a fierce flame of compassion to burn out injustice. Those of you lucky enough to have loving good-enough fathers still with you, embrace them and celebrate and cherish them. And then turn your face to the world and go and do God’s work.
Sermons from the last six months are listed below. Older sermons can be heard through iTunes podcast.
Easter 3 2017
There were some wonderfully witty signs at the March for Science last week. Ours from Grace Cathedral wasn’t bad: ‘Let’s take a moment of science’ but I particularly loved some of the others. ‘Got the plague? Me neither. Thank Science.’ For the geeks out there ‘Think like a proton – stay positive.’ And the so true ‘You know things are bad when even the introverts are marching.’ But there was one t-shirt slogan that I really didn’t like. It was this: ‘Too stupid to understand science? Try religion.’
And that, right there, was why it was important for us to be at the march. To show that religion and reason are allies, not enemies. That religion is not where you go to when you want to turn your brain off but where you go to when you have questions that science isn’t designed to answer. Where you find a place to ask the ‘why’ questions as well as the ‘how’ and ‘what’ questions. But religion itself also still needs to be accountable to reason. Our faith claims cannot be tested in a laboratory to see if they are valid but they still have to make rational sense, they still have to provide a worldview that is coherent and compelling.
So how does the resurrection stand up to this condition? Not very well, it seems at first. These two travelers on their way to Emmaus meet someone who, by every tenet of science, should not be there. Someone who died very publicly and was even buried. So, not surprisingly, they fail to recognize their new walking companion – the last person on earth they would have expected to encounter. And their eyes are only opened when two things have happened. Firstly, Jesus has explained their faith to them in ways that give them a new understanding, a new perspective on reality, a new way of making sense of the world. Secondly, Jesus has done something so true to his nature that they can no longer fail to recognize him – he has offered hospitality and welcomed them into his table fellowship.
And what do we think, 2000 years later, hearing this story – one among many of the disciples encountering the risen Jesus? Does it make sense to us? Do we believe it because we credit the source from which it comes – the Bible? Do we doubt it because it goes against what we understand of the physical realities of death? Do we flop back and forth between belief and doubt as reason and faith wrestle for supremacy within us?
It’s worth mentioning here that, as the writer Anne Lamott points out, the opposite of faith is not doubt. The opposite of faith is certainty. No religious belief offers us certainty. I am far more certain of the truths of gravity, of a solar-centric planetary system, of the different states of H2O at different temperatures – far more certain of all of these than I am of the existence of the resurrected Christ. But none of these certain facts provides the motivation, the propelling force, of my life as does the doubt-filled and wonderful possibility of the resurrection.
This wonderful possibility feels worthy of trust partly because, though it takes us beyond the bounds of science it does not take us beyond the bounds of reason. Remember now that science isn’t the only tool we have for understanding the world around us. It is a tool that we can’t do without but it is joined in utility by, among others, history, philosophy, poetry, music and art, and by theology. Our reason does not only rest on what is discoverable in a laboratory, it also rests on what is comprehensible to the human imagination.
I have no scientific explanation to offer of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Sorry! But I do have a theological explanation that makes sense to me and that is beautiful in the truth it offers.
This explanation begins with a theory that, from the outset, takes us outside the realm of the scientific. And this is that Jesus the Christ, the one who was crucified and the one who was resurrected, was incarnate God as well as incarnate human. This is why his death, among the millions of other unjust innocent deaths, is so important. This is not just the death of a finite creature whose end is inherent in their beginning – those beautiful wonders of dust – like us – who know that it is to dust that we will return. This was the death of the one who stands outside the finite, who is the very breath of life of every living being.
And this death was chosen by God, chosen by the ground of all being. Chosen as a way of experiencing what her created beings experience. Chosen as a way of showing death’s true nature – as beginning rather than ending. Chosen as a way of breaking in to – and breaking us out of – a cycle in which violence endlessly provokes violence. Chosen as a way of bringing forgiveness and peace into the centre of humanity’s being.
But God is life, and death cannot conquer life, even a chosen death. Jesus Christ could not be ultimately contained within the limits of the physical, finite universe. Just as we, finite creatures though we are, have lives whose meaning and purpose are not contained within an arc that ends in death.
Of course this cannot make sense to a materialist, for whom this material universe is the be all and end all of existence. But it can make sense to those of us willing to accept the possibility that truth is larger than the material. If we are willing to take the daring step of belief in God – and no one but you can decide if you are willing – then we should surely expect God in her love to choose to share our suffering and God in her limitlessness to break through that suffering to bring us new life. New life that is characterized by the fellowship that draws us together to break bread with one another, as once happened in a roadside inn near Emmaus.
And if you do take this step of belief then you have this wonderful possibility of resurrection to guide and motivate your own life. You have the understanding that God is on the side of abundant life, that defeat need never be final, that death is not the end. You can affirm that violence will never have the final word and that love will never be extinguished. You can gather together with others ready to take the risk of believing in a world that is better than the one we live in today. You can have the courage to go and be the change you long to see.
Do I think it’s important that you share the same understanding of the resurrection that I do? Not really. My finite reason and finite faith are quantum light years away from being infallible. And I don’t believe our loving creator God is waiting with a quiz to test us on the tenets of our faith at the end of our lives. What I do think is important is that you bring your reason and your faith into the same head space. That your questioning, wondering minds are engaged in your worship and faith-life just as they are in every other aspect of your experience. Don’t expect certainty in religion and don’t expect the end of doubt. Do expect wonder and mystery. Do expect the motivation to change the world. And do also, without fail, expect, and demand, reason.
The Rev. Mary Carter Greene’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.
The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.
The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young’s Easter sermon was read by Ellen-Clark King.
The Gift of Resurrection
“[Y]our life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed in glory” (Col. 3).
Alleluia. Christ is risen!
The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams once wrote that the basic fact of Christianity is judgment. What if instead, at its heart, it is a gift? This year to test this hypothesis the Cathedral chose “the Gift” as our theme.
The vast majority of our life happens in the secular world where who we are is determined by money, by what we have to exchange with others. But we also have an innate sense that we are more than our net worth. You are more than a consumer, or a provider for your family, or a worker. You are more than your job or what you accomplish in your career. You are more than what you make or buy.
A gift is something we cannot get through our own efforts. We cannot buy it or exchange it or acquire it through an act of will. Our life is a gift that we can never fully understand. Love and transcendence are gifts too. When we lose our faith, resurrection is the restoration of the power of the gift of life and love in the face of our fear.
The great novelist Joseph Conrad (1857-1924) writes that, “The artist appeals to that part of our being… which is a gift and not an acquisition – and, therefore, more permanently enduring.” This morning God also speaks to this part of us. Let me share three words about the gift of resurrection.
When Mary Magdalene and the other Mary come to the tomb they arrive at dawn and they have lost everything. They feel utterly distraught, afraid and hopeless. But they still are there. They have not run away from the suffering. They are true and faithful, loyal to their duty.
Being a priest for me has sometimes seemed like being constantly summoned into the darkness. I served for fourteen years as a priest in a relatively small town. When I first arrived no place had any particular meaning. When I departed I left behind a whole geography of tragedies.
Across from the fire station was the house where I visited my friend Jennifer, a forty-year-old professional opera singer. I saw her every week of the last year of her life before she died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. At the café in town a man told me that he was losing a job he loved. I was with dozens of families to say goodbye for the last time to loved ones at the VA Hospital. In every corner of town there were the houses and apartments where families talked to me about recent diagnoses of terminal diseases.
There is the freeway hotel where my friend began her affair. It was there that a teenager who I’d known since she was in elementary school overdosed. There was the central park where another friend told me about his affair and the regional park where a gentle quiet man I knew, suffering from depression and despair, had unsuccessfully tried to take his own life. On my last day at my office I could still see the faces of a family whose son had succumbed to his struggle with PTSD.
Every place I go in that town is so full of ghosts and so full of stories. There were indeed moments when God seemed far away. But the strangest thing to me is there are so many more times when we were gathered around a hospital bed, in the church, at a chance encounter on Main Street or at a funeral planning meeting when God felt tangibly present. Like the two Mary’s Jesus has surprised me in the dark places of my life.
Sometimes being a Christian in today’s secular society feels like this. Each of us might look like just another dot on the page but we carry a much greater message of hope than is initially be obvious.
The Apostle Paul writes, “your life is hidden in Christ” (Col. 3). He uses the Greek word krupto which means to hide and is related to our words cryptography and encryption. The gift of resurrection is not something that we see. It happens invisibly. In the beginning of all the resurrection accounts Jesus is hidden from the friends who seek him. Indeed often our connection with God is hidden from those around us and sometimes even we have a hard time seeing it.
The Greek language has two words for life. The word bios (like biology) is limited life. It is a particular individual example of life. It is life that dies. On the other hand, zoē is life that endures as, “a thread that runs through all bios-life and is not broken when a particular [being] perishes.”
The life you have in Christ is zoē. It connects you to what is eternal and runs through all of creation. You may not always be able to see it but it is there whenever you need it. In all of time there has never been anyone quite like you. Everywhere you go you bring a connection to the source of life that is always making the world new.
The rejoicing that began then is still going on, echoing through the centuries to this very moment. As the sun streams through these beautiful windows and we break bread, as the Men and Boy’s choir draws us as close to heaven as is possible on this earth – Jesus is present right here with us.
There have been dark times and places when the lamp of faith seemed to be burning out. Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin (1888-1938) first became famous as one of the Russian Communist leaders of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. An intellectual and the editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda, there is an apocryphal story that in 1930 he delivered a lecture to a huge crowd on the subject of atheism.
His talk lasted an hour. Full of insults and philosophical arguments, he concluded saying, “Therefore there is no God; Jesus Christ never existed, there is no such thing as the Holy Spirit… The future belongs to the State; and the State is in the hands of the Party. Are there any questions?”
He looked out to a silent crowd whose faith seemed absolutely refuted. An old priest raised his hand, came up on stage next to the communist leader. He looked slowly at the audience from one side of the auditorium to the other. Then in a quiet voice he said, “Christos voskres! Christ is Risen!”
As one the whole crowd stood up and shouted. “Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed!”
Perhaps Rowan Williams is right about Christianity and judgment. But I don’t think he is. For me the gift of resurrection is not about something that happened long ago. It is a whole way of praying, living and serving others today. I feel the presence of Jesus in all my experiences of joy – at my daughter’s sixteenth birthday celebration, even on those sparkling spring days riding bike through the city or catching waves at Ocean Beach.
Karl Barth says that at the heart of Easter is the disciples’ experience and our own. “[W]hen they lost [Jesus] through death they were sought and found by him as the resurrected [one].” Jesus finds us in our “soul-making” and in our darkness. Jesus finds us when the zoē, the life that connects us to the divine, has become invisible to us. Jesus finds us in the joy we feel together this morning.
Alleluia. Christ is Risen!
 I have Williams’ comment in notes I made fifteen years ago. I’m not sure what sermon or book this comes from.
 So much of my understanding of this topic has been shaped by Lewis Hyde. This line comes from Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Poetry (NY: Vintage, 1979) xi.
 Cited on Ibid., xi.
 Ibid., 191.
 The Greek word epiphoskousē means “to dawn” and is literally to “shine upon.”
 Simon Singh, The Code: The Science of Secrecy from Ancient Egypt to Quantum Cryptography (NY: Anchor Books, 1999) 7.
 Hyde, 32.
 Jeremy Clark-King told me this story and found the following material on the Internet.
Nikolai Ivanovich Bukharin was a Russian Communist leader who took part in the BolshevikRevolution 1917, was editor of the Soviet newspaper Pravda (which by the way means truth), and was a full member of the Politburo. His works on economics and political science are still read today.
There is a story told about a journey he took from Moscow to Kiev in 1930 to address a huge assembly on the subject of atheism. Addressing the crowd he aimed his heavy artillery at Christianity hurling insults, argument, and proof against it. An hour later he was finished. He looked out at what seemed to be the smoldering ashes of the crowd’s faith. “Are there any questions?” Bukharin demanded. Deafening silence filled the auditorium but then one old priest approached the platform and mounted the lectern standing near the communist leader. He surveyed the crowd first to the left then to the right. Finally he shouted the ancient greeting known well in the Russian Orthodox Church: Христос воскрес! Christos voskres! Christ is Risen
En masse the crowd arose as one and the response came crashing like the sound of thunder: Воистину воскрес! Voistinu voskres! He is Risen Indeed!
It has also been set in other places:
During the time of the Cold War a local political official in one of the Slavic nations oppressed by communism decided to have a town meeting….
“I am reminded of a story from 1918 in Russia, when the new Communist commissars were fanning across the countryside preaching the gospel of Marx with evangelistic zeal to peasants who had been…
From Charles Rush in 2007
Lesslie Newgin quoted it as a “well-known story” in 1968
and N. T. Wright “Following Jesus”:
“The communist lecturer paused before summing up. His large audience listened fearfully. ‘Therefore,’ he said, ‘there is no God; Jesus Christ never existed’ there is no such thing as a Holy Spirit. The Church is an oppressive institution, and anyways it’s out of date. The future belongs to the State; and the State is in the hands of the Party.’
He was about to sit down when an old priest near the front stood up. ‘May I say two words?’ he asked. (It’s three in English, but he was of course speaking Russian.) The lecturer, disdainfully, gave him permission. He turned, looked out over the crowd, and shouted: ‘Christ is risen!’ Back came the roar of the people: ‘He is risen indeed!’ They’d been saying it every Easter for a thousand years; why should they stop now?”
 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Index with Aids for the Preacher (NY: T&T Clark, 1977) 383.
Wednesday, June 28
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