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Sunday, January 13
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, January 17
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, January 13
Seeking Reality
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Seeking Reality

“You are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear for I am with you” (Isa. 43).

All of us here this morning differ in so many obvious ways. We are different ages and races. We speak dozens of languages and come from hundreds of places. We are messy and neat, rich and poor, exhausted and alert, trying to fit in or hoping to stand out. We have different dreams, desires and beliefs.

But below the surface we share in common something profound. We all are seeking what is real. We hunger for it. You know what I mean. We encounter some much superficiality, so many half-truths and lies. And so we understand what it feels like to come across someone who really gets us. We appreciate someone who can be true.[1]

Peter Haynes was my priest in college. He is one of the most real people I know. He chooses words cautiously. He respects me enough to care more about being honest than whether or not I feel comfortable. He doesn’t hesitate to correct me. When I became dean of the Cathedral he drove six hours from Orange County just to shake my hand after the service. Then he drove six hours back home. He said the look on my face made it all worth it.

Although he once was the physically strongest priest in the Diocese he is frail and weak now. Yesterday I asked him what baptism means. He said that we are body, mind and soul. He pointed out that bodies and minds get a lot of attention in our society. But the challenge of our time is the world of the spirit.

For instance, fear drives us in irrational ways. I’m not just talking about the border wall. You can see this everywhere. We simply don’t feel right. In one of the richest societies in human history we feel impoverished, hounded by scarcity. We face an epidemic of despair. We see it in various addictions, rising levels of depression, isolation and loneliness. It lies behind our rising suicide rates and broken politics.

Peter Haynes says that baptism is the beginning of a spiritual life. It is how we start to tend our spiritual nature, how we receive the Spirit. The Bible is a library of different books written by different authors for different times and places. But the idea of a beloved child is a recurring theme. Think of all those joyful announcements about long awaited children being born.

Isaiah gives us a love letter from God. Shut your eyes and really try to hear this. “[T]hus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob he formed you… Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned… Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you…” (Isa. 43).

God calls Jesus his “beloved Son” and through him we become God’s children too. We are spiritually healthy when God’s love for us is most real. Through baptism with water and the Holy Spirit we encounter this reality. The bread and wine we share every week remind us that God loves us too much to leave us on our own.

Today I offer three very simple observations from the story of Jesus’ baptism about spiritual healing and strength.

  1. Chaff. With so much fear all around it is sometimes hard not to read the Bible in a fearful way. Luke uses a metaphor that we find confusing. He reports a short speech by John in which he talks about a “winnowing fork” and clearing the “threshing floor,” gathering the wheat into the granary and burning the chaff with “unquenchable fire” (Lk. 3). The Greek word for unquenchable is asbesto, the root of our word asbestos.

I want to be very clear. This metaphor is not about good people going to heaven and bad ones being burned in hell. It is about repentance or more precisely it is about the primary spiritual task called metanoia. That’s the Greek word we translate as repentance. It means to transform your life and soul.

At harvest each grain of wheat has a husk. The goal is not to separate good wheat from bad wheat but to save every grain. This is not a metaphor of separation and judgment. It is a metaphor of preservation and purification. The grain and the husks are thrown together into the air and the wind disperses the lighter husks.

There are large parts of ourselves that we will have to let go of in order to be happy, and for that matter to be part of God’s Kingdom. It is as if we were carrying a huge backpack that extended high over our heads and around our sides. As we approach a narrow gate we realize that not everything we carry will fit through.

Envy, anxiety, gossip, insecurity, prejudice, greed, our sense of superiority, narcissism, a spirit of revenge, along with so much else these have to go. The spirit helps to sift through our lives to make us more perfect. In his book The Great Divorce C.S. Lewis writes about this process of letting go of what is false. He says, “heaven is reality.”[2]

  1. Humility. The second thing I want to point out about the reading involves two seemingly inconsequential words. The preacher Fred Craddock says these may be the most important words in the Bible.[3] They are “Jesus also.” The passage goes like this. After John’s speech about the chaff, “when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also was baptized and was praying… the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form” (Lk. 3). “Jesus also.”

The writers of the Bible all agree that baptism is for repentance or metanoia. It exists to transform our souls. Although Jesus does not need repentance, although God does not need to change anything about himself, God comes among us in this startling way. If God can join humanity in this ritual of renewal, we too can live humbly. We need to reject all forms of arrogance and not put ourselves above others. Christians should always be seeking forgiveness, focusing on what we need to change about ourselves rather than on how others could be better.

  1. Prayer. The last simple thing you might have noticed in the Gospel has to do with prayer. The people have been baptized. Jesus himself has been baptized. Then Jesus prays and the Holy Spirit comes to him. And God’s voice announces, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased” (Lk. 3).

Our bodies require nutrition and exercise. Our minds need ideas, language and connections to other people. Prayer is the most important action for our spiritual life. We must have both what we call common prayer, that is prayer with other people in church, and individual prayer. In the New York Times this week Farhad Manjoo wrote an article called “You should Meditate Every Day.” It is about how meditation has completely improved his life.[4] It can help you too.

Prayer is the way we overcome the destructive fantasies we constantly generate and come to know something greater. It is the way we stop being a stranger to our self. It needs to be part of every day. We should set aside regular times for prayer and pray spontaneously too. As parents we should spend over ten years reading every night to our children. After you read tell your children what you are praying for and ask what they would like to pray for. Then say the Lord’s Prayer together. Pray at meals. Pray in the morning when you wake up, as you travel and as you prepare to sleep.

The twentieth century theologian Karl Barth writes, “And faith as the work of the Holy Spirit is not a magical transformation. It is not a higher endowment with divine powers. It is simply that we acquire what we so much need… a teacher of truth within ourselves.”[5] That teacher is Christ. This is the way we realize that because we are God’s children we have nothing to fear.

I vividly remember the day when I became a parent. I was standing at the hospital window, watching commuters on their way home as the sun was setting after a long summer day. I remember the light. It felt like such a contrast. The drivers were engaged in such an ordinary activity while for me the world seemed miraculous and utterly transformed. In that moment I knew everything had changed. I came closer to reality and to God.

We long for what is real. We won’t be satisfied by anything else. So cultivate your spiritual life. Purify yourself of the anxiety, fear and selfishness that diminishes you. Be humble and don’t regard yourself as better than anyone else. Persist in prayer so that Christ might shine more completely in your life. Never forget that you are “precious in [God’s] sight, and honored” and God loves you.

[1] It might even be bad news but we want to know the truth.

[2] C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (NY: Macmillan, 1946) 69.

[3] This particular example and much else in this sermon is inspired by Matt and Liz Boulton, “Jesus Also: Salt’s Lectionary Commentary for Epiphany Week Two,” 7 January 2019. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/1/7/jesus-also-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-epiphany-week-two.

[4] Farhad Manjoo, “You Should Meditate Every Day,” The New York Times, 9 January 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/09/opinion/meditation-internet.html

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics Volume 1, Part Two Tr. G. T. Thomson, Harold Knight (NY: T&T Clark, 1956) 242.

Thursday, January 10
The Star at its Rising
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
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The Star at its Rising

“There ahead of them went the star that they had seen at its rising” (Mt. 2).

Nothing stays the same. No matter who you are, life is a pilgrimage. In body or spirit we either adapt to change or we die.

Last night at dinner Sarah Kay the poet and our former Artist in Residence told me about a college party at Brown University called Sex Power God. In short it is famous for having students dancing around in their underwear. The year before she arrived there the Fox News commentator Bill O’Reilly sent an undercover reporter to video the event. Sarah described in detail how friends suddenly saw themselves half naked on television and worried about whether this would affect their careers.[i]

For years she forgot about the whole thing. Then last summer Sarah met a new friend who we will call Janet. They instantly recognized each other as soul mate. Janet is a filmmaker and a woman of color. When Sarah told her that she had gone to Brown, her friend said, “Oh” in the way people usually do when they had applied and not been accepted.

Janet explained that she loved Brown. The college had heavily recruited her in high school. Each week during the track season, Brown had called her coach to find out her times. In fact, Janet was not just accepted as an undergraduate but also into a special program that guaranteed her admission to medical school. It all seemed settled.

Then one day she came home as her father was turning off the television. He had been watching the Bill O’Reilly show. He had seen the episode about the party and told her that she was not allowed to go to Brown. Sarah feels convinced that the two would have been close friends in college and couldn’t help but wonder how this event changed the course of Janet’s life.

Change lies at the heart of all things. We are always accepting invitations or turning them down, embracing new possibilities or trying to shelter ourselves from change. During the Season of Epiphany we look for the light. We also listen for how God calls us out of our old habits and into a new relationship of love and gratitude with the world. We recognize that what we do and how we live matters for people who we haven’t even met.

In our Lessons and Carols service tonight we have three stories about invitation and persistence. The Magi leave everything behind to follow a star. At first they meet an insecure tyrant whose fear leads him to kill children. They persist in seeking. Ultimately they are, “overwhelmed with joy” when they encounter the baby Jesus (Mt. 2).

In the wilderness John thought that he understood what it would be like when the Messiah came. But he had to change. He had to accept the idea that he would baptize the Messiah. And when he did he saw, “the Spirit of God descending like a dove” (Mt. 3).

Finally at first Jesus himself seemed to imagine that his first miracle would involve a more weighty matter than providing wine for a wedding party. But his mother invited him to help and something moved him to begin his public ministry at that party.

Maybe you will be at a party when God calls you. Perhaps you will be at a track meet or in a newsroom or sitting watching television or in the wilderness or at Grace Cathedral.

Nothing stays the same. No matter who you are, life is a pilgrimage. In body or spirit we either adapt to change or we die. Listen for God. Persist in your calling. Do not be afraid to change your plans. Allow Jesus to transform the ordinary water of your life into something more. Let the star of God’s grace guide you.

[i] Meryl Rothstein, “Fox News airs footage of Sex Power God,” The Brown Daily Herald, 15 November 2005. http://www.browndailyherald.com/2005/11/15/fox-news-airs-footage-of-sex-power-god/

Past Sermons

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

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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Text and PDF for this sermon are not available.

Sunday, March 27
Sermon from The Great Vigil of Easter
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from The Great Vigil of Easter
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Text and PDF for this sermon are not available.

Friday, March 25
Good Friday Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Mark E. Stanger
Sermon from the Solemn Liturgy of Good Friday.
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Thursday, March 24
The Miracle of Seeing Past Condition to Nature
Preacher: The Rev. Andy Lobban
Sermon from the Solemn Liturgy of Maundy Thursday
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Tuesday, March 22
Yoga Introduction
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Malcolm's welcome at the Tuesday night Yoga class
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