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Sunday, September 16
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, September 20
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, September 16
The Tongue Is a Fire: The Truth of Grace
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire” (James 3).

  1. Nothing is older or newer than grace. There was never a time before grace existed and yet, if we pay attention, grace will surprise us every day.

The Buddha warns his disciples that grasping his teaching can be like picking up a poisonous snake in the wilderness. Even well-meaning students may take hold of his words and draw the wrong conclusions. Furthermore they can be off not just by a little, but interpret them to mean the exact opposite of what he intended.[1]

The events in today’s gospel occur at a decisive moment in the center of the book and at a crossroads. Jesus and the disciples travel first through mostly Jewish territory and then through the Gentile lands on their way to Jerusalem. As hearers of this story we know who Jesus is, that at his baptism God called Jesus his beloved son. We watch the disciples learn this for themselves.

As they walk Jesus asks them “Who do people say I am?” And they respond, “John the Baptist… Elijah… one of the prophets” (Mk. 8). When he says, “Who do you say that I am?” Peter answers perfectly and calls him the Christ or the Anointed One. Jesus asks them to keep silent about this and goes on plainly to explain what this will mean. The Son of Man will suffer, be rejected by the chief priests and killed.

But Peter has been bitten by the proverbial Buddhist snake. He heard the teaching and knows the right words but interprets them in the opposite way. He rebukes Jesus and tries to convince him to turn aside from accepting suffering at the hands of the authorities. You might think that Jesus may be over exaggerating when he says to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan.”

But picture the scene. Jesus and his friends are walking the road toward Caesarea Philippi and the temple that Herod the Great constructed which Philip II dedicated it to Augustus (63 BC – 44AD) the first Roman Emperor. The Emperor’s title is “Divi Filius” or “Son of the Divine.”[2] The Gospels contrast Jesus and the emperor.

At the heart of Jesus’ teaching is an entirely new picture of what the word “Messiah” means. Jesus is not merely a stronger version of the dictators that we are all familiar with. He does not defeat bullying, abuse, and terror with more of the same. He does not simply replace the current king with a more powerful version. Instead Jesus subverts the whole idea that we should dedicate our lives to gaining power by manipulating and terrorizing over others.

He outlines the paradox of our existence as complex primates when he says that we will not thrive unless we deny ourselves, unless we live for something great even if it means taking up our cross. “For what does it profit a man, to gain the whole world and forfeit his life?” (Mk. 8).

  1. The other night I asked my family for examples of people we knew who had gained the world but in the process lost their lives. In the San Francisco of 2018 this is a common occurrence. Our friends, neighbors, even we ourselves have so much and yet somehow it isn’t enough.

Robert Sapolsky writes about the biology of pleasure in his book Behave. He points out that the more often our bodies are exposed to a positive stimulus, the less we experience satisfaction from it. Biologists call this habitation and it is the phenomena that, “nothing is ever as good as that first time.”

This is made more complicated because modern people have invented “pleasures far more intense than anything offered by the natural world.” This is true of food, sex, comfort, novel experiences, arresting images, vivid music, etc. He writes, “Once, we had lives that, amid considerable privation, also offered numerous subtle, hard-won pleasures. And now we have drugs that cause spasms of pleasure and dopamine release a thousandfold higher than anything stimulated in our old drug-free world.”

As a result Sapolsky claims that we experience a kind of emptiness arising out of, “this combination of over-the-top non-natural sources of reward and the inevitability of habituation.” Now we “barely notice the fleeting whisper of pleasure caused by leaves in autumn or the lingering glance of the right person… our frequent human tragedy is that the more we consume, the hungrier we get.”[3]

 

And so I guess there is a biological sense in which, “whoever would save his life will lose it.” One can also come at this from a social perspective too. The Process Theologian Bernard Loomer (1912-1985) writes about two kinds of power.[4]

First there is what he calls unilateral power. This is all too familiar in the rhetoric of our time. It builds walls, makes threats, and deploys overwhelming force to intimidate and demean. It is a sneering “us versus them” picture of the world, which forces others to submit rather than making decisions in consultation with them. This is the way of Caesar, or the Emperor.

Loomer contrasts this with relational power. This involves working cooperatively through inclusion, empathy and listening. It means learning from people who differ from us. Relational power respects the interests and experiences of others in the way that good couples and parents do. This is the way of Jesus who sees the blessedness in the meek and the extraordinary value of peacemakers as children of God (Mk. 5).

  1. Last night the Hawaiian activist Nainoa Thompson told some stories that give me a picture of what it looks like to lose your life and end up saving it. When my wife’s grandmother was a child it became illegal to speak the Hawaiian language in school. By law teachers had the right to beat Hawaiian children for simply communicating with each other. The flourishing Hawaiian culture of the nineteenth century with its high rates of literacy and large number of Hawaiian language newspapers was devastatingly suppressed.

Nainoa Thompson said that as a result of this, “Hawaiians were conditioned to fail. The pain of failure felt so severe that it meant that you just never tried as a result.”[5]

You might remember Thor Heyerdahl’s book Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific on a Raft (1950). Heyrdahl built and sailed a raft to test his hypothesis that the Polynesian Islands were settled by people who basically just floated there from the Americas.[6] Remarkably no one in those days seemed able to believe that the ancient Hawaiians were capable of getting there themselves. In fact they were the greatest navigators in human history and had the technology to sail against prevailing winds and currents.

So in 1973 the Polynesian Voyaging Society was established to try to recover the art and technology of long-distance canoe travel along with the culture that had been lost.[7] They built the Hōkūle’a and with the help of a Micronesian teacher they sailed to Tahiti and back. I saw the picture of the Hōkūle’a’s arrival in Papeete. It seemed as if half the population greeted them on the beach. The Hawaiians realized that this was more than just a Hawaiian project.

On the second voyage a huge storm with stacked waves flipped the canoe. It could not be righted. In the thunderous gale the thirteen person crew was sitting on the top of one hull periodically getting tossed into the sea and somehow managing to crawl back up again. Eddie Aikau the heroic lifeguard who made 600 rescues at Waimea Bay set off on his surfboard to get help.

Nainoa Thompson swam out to talk to Eddie and was the last person to see or touch him before he paddled over mountains of water. The rest of the crew was miraculously rescued by helicopter in the middle of the night. With tears in his eyes Thompson describes the terrible sorrow that he saw in Eddie’s mother when they arrived at the airport.

Eddie gave his life that day for the sake of the Hōkūle’a and its crew. But since then Nainoa Thompson also has given his life for this project too. Through his father’s inspiration the demoralized voyagers decided to not give up. In 2013 the ship circumnavigated the world. Hawaiians have a new sense of pride in their heritage as wayfinders and navigators. But his mission is not just about Hawaiians. He has dedicated his whole life to also helping us to take better care of the vast Pacific Ocean and the whole earth. The sister vessel Hikianalia arrives today. You can see it at Aquatic Park.

St. Augustine talks about a life that is “incurvatus se” or curved in on itself. Instead of living like a tightly closed fist Jesus invites us to open ourselves. Today at Grace Cathedral we celebrate 169 years of just this kind of openness as a congregation. The first rector John Leonard ver Mehr (1809-1886) arrived in 1849. He worried about whether the congregation understood his preaching But most of all he cared for everyone who crossed his path not just Episcopalians. He ministered to sailors who had been convicted of mutiny and were about to be hanged on their ship. He founded schools because he cared so much about children

From that first Sunday when miners slipped an envelope of gold dust into the church collection plate to today we have been gathered as a people losing our lives with each other, for each other and for the world. We have boldly courageous heroes like Eddie Aikau and humble ones who set the world on fire with their stories like Nainoa Thompson. In this world of people who are unable to really feel because they have been saturated and numbed by pleasure we find new life in Jesus. We call it grace. God’s grace is the ship that carries us. God’s grace always surprises us.

 

#RobertSapolsky, #EddieAikau,

[1] The Buddhist story and more coms from, Liz and Matt Boulton, “Crossroads: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for the Seventeenth Week after Pentecost,” SALT, 11 September 2018. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2018/9/11/crossroads-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-seventeenth-week-after-pentecost

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caesarea_Philippi

[3] Robert Sapolsky, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (NY: Penguin, 2017) 69.

[4] Bruce G. Epperly, “Jesus’ Lesson in Large Hearted Theology,” The Christian Century, 14 August 2018. https://www.christiancentury.org/article/living-word/september-16-ordinary-24b-mark-827-38

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bernard_Loomer

[5] Nainoa Thompson, “An Afternoon with Wayfinder and Master Navigator Nainoa Thompson,” lecture at Capachino High School, San Bruno, California, 15 September 2018.

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kon-Tiki_expedition

[7] http://www.hokulea.com/vision-mission/

Sunday, September 9
The Audacity of Faith, The Destruction of Nature
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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The Audacity of Faith, The Destruction of Nature

“Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened”

(Mk. 7).

  1. Sometimes in an otherwise ordinary moment God just opens us. You may remember the story. I’m visiting Jeannie Taylor on Pacific Avenue. I quickly go out to re-park the car. Rushing back through her apartment door I take a few steps before I feel an odd, unsettling sensation. The furniture and art seem vaguely different. I turn to go upstairs, and there are no stairs.

A total stranger walks down the hallway toward me with a completely puzzled look on her face and her husband just behind her. Suddenly, I experience the flash of recognition. I am in the wrong apartment. Panicking I blurt out the only thing that comes to mind. “I’m the dean of Grace Cathedral!” And somehow I make two fabulous new friends.

 

The story could have turned out differently. This week a white off duty police officer returned to what she thought was her home. In her confusion she shot an extraordinary and promising twenty-six year old man named Botham Shem Jean in his own apartment. It broke my heart to hear this young man’s family talk about his character and personality.[1] Before that moment his life seemed like an incredible gift of hope. And perhaps it would have been if he had not been black. Racial fear and the sheer number of guns in our society insure that tragedies like this will keep recurring.

But imagine a different version of this story. Imagine that my new friend on Pacific Avenue has just worked a twelve-hour shift as a surgeon at UCSF Medical Center and finally has the chance to relax with her husband at their home. Suddenly unannounced at 9:30 p.m. a woman walks into her kitchen to beg her to heal her sick daughter. What would happen?[2]

Hold this feeling of discomfort, violation and danger in your heart this morning as we step into the world of the Bible.

  1. Mark writes the simplest, most immediate, most abrupt gospel we have. He does this to open us up, to shock us into recognizing God. In chapters 5 and 6 Jesus goes through Jewish territory where he heals a suffering woman (5:24-34) saying, “daughter your faith has made you well” (Mk. 5:34) and feeds 5,000 people (Mk. 6:30-52).

Then in chapters 7 (7:24ff) and 8 Jesus ventures out into the world of the gentiles. Tyre and Sidon are not just foreign places. This is hostile territory.[3] The first century Roman Jewish historian Josephus (37-100) calls the Tyrians, “the most inveterate and implacable enemies of the Jewish name and nation.”[4]

Mark’s truth is simple in theory and terribly demanding in practice. He shows us how God’s love transcends all boundaries. It is like a pebble hitting the smooth surface of a lake with energy rippling to the edges. The gifts of healing, love, forgiveness and faith that Jesus brings first to his own people become available to all creation in ever-expanding circles. We are tempted to only care for our own. God constantly invites us to open up to others.[5]

This brings us to a difficult question of interpretation. Jesus does not want anyone to know he is there but he is unable to hide (this word also means forgotten). That has turned out to be so true. Jesus cannot be hidden or forgotten. Uninvited, a Greek (not Gentile) mother from a hostile people bursts into the house asking Jesus to heal her daughter.

Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, it is not fair to take the children’s bread (not food) and throw it to the dogs.” With wisdom and audacity she replies, “Lord (not “Sir” as it says in the NRSV), even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus then grants her wish, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter” (Mk. 7).

The question that no preacher seems capable of leaving alone concerns Jesus’ mental state. People usually offer one of two interpretations. The first group regards this story as tremendously out of character. Jesus famously tells an approving story about “the Good Samaritan” and seems remarkably open to talking with the Samaritan woman at the well, the Roman Centurion and other foreigners.

So these interpreters can imagine Jesus saying this perhaps with a twinkle in his eye or in a sardonic way. He knows that God’s love is for all people and he is allowing the Syro-Phoenician woman to make this important point. When it comes to God there is enough for all.

The second group regards Jesus as blinded by the conventional thinking of his culture and time. The Bible has a long tradition of prophets like Abraham (Gen. 18:16-33) and Moses (Ex. 32:14) arguing with God and even changing God’s mind. We cannot imagine a human being who does not evolve and learn. Jesus does this too.

Where do I stand in this perennial debate? Mark is open to both interpretations. We don’t know Jesus’ tone of voice or details that would make the meaning of this encounter clear. And for that reason, I don’t think Jesus’ attitude is what this story is principally about.

To me what matters most is that this story offers us a different definition, a biblical definition, of faith. And it is different than the way we use the word in everyday life. The spotlight of the story should be on the woman. For her faith is not defined as certainty (as opposed to doubt). Instead she shows that real faith is audacious. It is courage (rather than irresoluteness).[6]

In short she shatters rules of decorum with a shocking action that even today could get you shot. She is with James who writes, “What good is it… if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you” (Jas. 2)? Faith is living, active and surprising. It always opens us up more – to God and to others.

And that is the greatest challenge of our time, isn’t it? If you wanted to sum up the spirit of our age, you would say that we are closed off. We are closed off from each other by politics, media exposure, geography, race, religion, social class, etc. We are so closed off that we are shooting each other. So this morning I ask what are you closed off from? How is God trying to open you up?

Perhaps I am stating the obvious but we as a people are closed off from the natural world. Scholars say we are entering a new geological era called the Anthropocene as human beings alter the environment for every other being on the planet.[7]

In the year I was born Davis, California had 45 days that were 90 degrees Fahrenheit or above. According to the climate model recently published by the New York Times the year my daughter turns 80 there will be 85 days above 90 degrees. According to one estimate it could be ninety degrees or above for 30 percent of the year. In short, Davis will have the climate of Palm Springs.[8]

Again faith is not some magical form of certainty, it is bold action. These enormous oak tree columns, the earth superimposed on our rose window, the images of breaking ocean waves in the north transept, these were created for you – to open you up. What can you do? You can participate with the governor, lieutenant governor, interfaith leaders in the service of wondering this Wednesday at 4:00 p.m. You can attend the events around the Global Climate Action Summit this week here at the Cathedral. We are going to roll out a carbon-tracking app for you and our whole community. You can volunteer here to do something about this.

 

In this year of truth we invited the neuroscientist and primatologist Robert Sapolsky to be our St. Francis Day Forum guest and preacher. In his memoir he describes his childhood dream of joining the gorillas in a diorama at the New York Natural History museum. Instead he ended up joining a baboon troop as a researcher in East Africa at age 21. He gave them Old Testament names, he noted their every social connection. When the time came he even risked his life to save one who he had accidentally endangered.

At the end of his book he describes how unscrupulous neighbors began selling meat tainted with tuberculosis to a nearby tourist resort. He saw that the baboons foraging in their trash were dying. He tried nearly everything he could to stop them, but ultimately he failed.

He writes that as a young man, “I had an infinity of love to expend on a troop of baboons.”[9] Sapolsky does not believe in God, but he sees that these beings deserve his prayers. He writes, “I still have not found a Prayer for the Dead for the baboons… In a world filled with so many words of lamentation, no words have come to me.” Something opened his heart to those beings. With the Syro-Phoenician woman he shares an audacious generosity in reaching beyond the boundaries that most others accept.

Ultimately, though I do believe in God and this changes everything. In 1935 after the death of his nine year old son the composer Herbert Howells wrote the music for a hymn that describes my experience in the face of hopelessness and grief.

It is Hymn 665 and it goes like this, “All my hope on God is founded; he doth still my trust renew, me through change and chance he guideth, only good and only true, God unknown, he alone calls my heart to be his own.”

We are still in the world of the Bible. Jesus cannot be hidden or forgotten. His energy continues to ripple through the universe. We are not working on this alone. We also have others. And sometimes in an otherwise ordinary moment God just opens us.

[1] Matthew Haag, “Dallas Police Officer Kills Her Neighbor in His Apartment, Saying She Mistook It for Her Own,” The New York Times, 7 September 2018.

[2] To complicate things imagine that the doctor and her husband grew up in Vietnam and the woman is from a white California family. What would you expect the doctor to say?

[3] This section and the material including the two interpretations of Jesus and so much else in here comes from Liz and Matt Boulton’s SALT Commentary for 16 Pentecost, 4 September 2018.

http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2018/9/4/be-opened-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-sixteenth-week-after-pentecost

[4] The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus, Chapter 9, tr. George Henry Maynard. “The royal Psalmist reckons the Tyrians among the most inveterate and implacable enemies of the Jewish name and nation.”

https://quod.lib.umich.edu/cgi/t/text/text-idx?c=evans;cc=evans;rgn=div3;view=text;idno=N18799.0001.001;node=N18799.0001.001%3A99.1.9

[5] The American Puritan Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758) wrote a book called The Nature of True Virtue. Ultimately human beings can only be good in what he calls private systems. We are good and someone within our group is obligated to look after us. God alone is capable of true virtue, of real disinterested love that is not bounded by personal identity.

[6] Again, grateful for this insight to Liz and Matt Boulton’s SALT Commentary for 16 Pentecost, 4 September 2018.

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthropocene

[8] I calculated the 30% by taking the highest number of days in the range as the basis for my estimate. Nadja Popovich, Blacki Migliozzi, Rumsey Taylor, Josh Williams and Derek Watkins, “How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born?” The New York Times, 30 August 2018.

https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/08/30/climate/how-much-hotter-is-your-hometown.html

[9] Robert Sapolsky, A Primate’s Memoir: A Neuroscientist’s Unconventional Life Among the Baboons (NY: Simon & Schuster, 2001) 303, 301.

Past Sermons

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

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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Sunday, April 10
Christ is rising in me right now
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Dr. Randal Gardner
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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When I say Alleluia, Christ is risen,
you say,      The Lord is risen indeed, alleluia.

This time, when I say
Alleluia, Christ is risen,
you say,      Christ is rising in me right now, Alleluia.

Alleluia, Christ is risen;
Christ is rising in me right now, Alleluia.

 

There you are. That is what all this is about. That is what the Easter meaning is. Christ is rising in me right now. Christ is rising in you, right now. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is not an event, it is a process that is as active and dynamic right now as it was on the day we hear about in the gospel. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is an ongoing, eternal process that enlightens our existence and gives meaning to the reality of the struggle between good and evil that you and I are part of. It is a process that depends upon light and dark, upon life and death, upon righteousness and sin, on success and failure, on power and emptiness, on good and evil. The resurrection of Jesus creates the center point on which paradox becomes an indicator of divine presence, on which paradox becomes the way of salvation. We sing in full voice, “Earth thy footstool, heaven thy throne,” and that is true. We sing the canticle, “the one who is mighty has magnified me,” and that is true, too.

The gospel writers have given us such a gift in telling us, in every one of these resurrection encounters, that some of the witnesses did not believe, that some were afraid, that some were terrified, that some were unable to recognize Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is not an “aha” moment. It is, instead, the offer of a new reality into which we must move, and our movements will be fitful and uncertain. The resurrection of Jesus is an invitation to discover that in the unrecognizable one, that in the one we hear about but never see, there is such a deep blessing offered that in accepting it we will simultaneously die and rise to life beyond the broken imaginations we have been taught to settle for. The resurrection of Jesus invites us into a confrontation and conflict with all we have been taught to trust, because a truer and deeper reality is the only place where we will find our true worth, our abiding joy.

Let me bring you from the sublime to the commonplace, for we have to begin with an understanding of the resurrection as a reality that fits into everyday life. Think of all the resurrection appearance stories. Today we have the story of a group of friends fishing through the night. There are stories of Jesus asking a woman who is weeping what is troubling her. The disciples are told to return to Galilee, the district of jobs and marriages and aging parents and needy children. There is an evening meal, in which the new reality becomes clear just as the friends begin to pass the bread. There are breakfast encounters, and encounters in the midst of traveling along a road on the way to the next stop on a business trip.

All the resurrection encounters are set in the midst of mundane, everyday life events. We have been taught to see them, perhaps, through the wondrous awe depicted by Titian and Caravaggio and Giotto, but the descriptions in the words of the gospels are simple, straightforward and free of drama. In the barely receding darkness of an early morning, Jesus has built a small fire on which to cook some fish. The campfire is a flickering beacon in the dimness of dawn. There is a request to get some of the freshly caught fish; there is an invitation to eat, and then an invitation to take a walk together. In this simple encounter we see Peter drawn out from life encaged by guilty remorse for having denied Jesus in the high priest’s courtyard, set free through a reaffirmation of love that will enable him to become the great leader of the Jesus movement.

In these simple encounters there is a personal confrontation which, if we can accept how intimately aware it is, creates transformation and new life. In the garden Jesus speaks to the weeping woman, “Mary.” In the upper room Jesus speaks to the ashamed disciple, “Place your finger in my wounds; place your hand into my side.” In a walk along the beach Jesus speaks to his close friend, “Simon Peter, do you love me?” letting his friend exclaim with a sob, “Lord, you know I love you.” In the midst of a caravan trek across the desert Jesus calls an enemy by name, “Saul, Saul why do you hate me?”

The resurrection of Jesus, in a rather remarkable way, requires some level of participation from each one of us as individuals in order to be true. The resurrection does not reveal some lofty standard toward which we must strive, but it is about bringing life into the midst of death, about bringing holiness into the midst of the common, about bringing righteousness into the midst of sin. Not only does Jesus of Nazareth enter into the fullness of suffering and the death of the tomb, but the risen Christ enters into the sorrow of Mary, the grief of Thomas, the shame of Peter and the animosity of Paul.

It is this gritty, human, broken reality that is where the life giving power of God’s intervention takes hold. It is in the midst of what is lost and enslaved that the liberating gift of redemption brings new possibility and genuine freedom.

It is in the most honest assessment of who you and I are as individuals, that the reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ becomes transformative and even world changing. We as unique and entirely distinct individuals must each wrestle the reality of our own stories into some kind of relationship with the story of Jesus Christ so that we are able to see the unique and life defining truth that we hold onto as individuals. Only when we are able to appreciate that the resurrection gives the fullness of life to who each of us is as individuals, in whom the divine truth is expressed in us and in our unique voices, can the power of Christ be released and the fullness of life be received. Alleluia, Christ is risen. Christ is rising in me right now, Alleluia.

Your unique story — in which the brokenness and wounds, in which the triumphs and failures, in which the doubt and skepticism are embraced as part of your own beauty, as part of the image of God in you – is the true page on which the gospel of Jesus Christ is written.

Carl Jung, near the end of his life, began to assert that it will be the willingness on the part of enough individuals to enter into the deep and demanding effort to bring forth the truth of who we are that is the only thing that can save us from the abandonment of the spirit and the loss of beauty in the world. The over-reliance on interpreting everything through analysis, through assumptions that see everything as cause and effect will create an aridity of feeling and a failure of compassion. Only the deep work of integrating the great stories and the great symbols into the fullness of our unique selves will enable the beauty of the image of God to be seen in the midst of human endeavor too easily limited by shallow assessments of value and profit and measured success.

We can only do this work by feeding on Christ. There is the image of that feeding in the bread and wine of Holy Communion. There is feeding in the stories and teachings of Christ in the scripture. There is the feeding that we do in prayer and conversation with others. We feed on Christ to bring the fullness of his being into our deepest imagination, so that it can connect with our self-examination, our self-imagination. We feed on Christ in order that what is full of death within can be buried with Christ in his death, only to rise with him into that new life which can never be lost.

Alleluia, Christ is risen.

Christ is rising in me right now, Alleluia.

Sunday, March 27
Home for Easter
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.” Luke 24
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