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

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

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

Monday, December 25
Christmas Day Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Christmas Day Sermon
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Christmas 2017

Merry Christmas everyone! I wonder, what are you hungry for this Christmas? I don’t mean the turkey and all the trimmings, or a delicious vegetarian alternative, or even sugar plums and Christmas candy. What are you hungry for in the depth of your self? What is the emptiness that you long to see filled? Are you hungry for security in a time when the world seems wildly awry? Are you hungry for peace in a world that is constantly at war? Are you hungry for truth in a culture of misdirection and fake news? Are you hungry for connection in a city full of lonely individuals? What is your hunger this Christmas 2017?

I love this season of feasting and celebration, of lights and tinsel and glitter and gifts – even in my 50s, when I should, you’d think, be thoroughly and completely adult, I still wake up on Christmas morning with a sense of excitement and wonder! But if this season isn’t able to answer some of our true human hungers then it isn’t really worth the love and energy it receives. If it’s just a pretty story for children or a winsome theological concept for church geeks then there’s no meat to the feast. But if it does indeed contain food for our most haunting emptinesses then it might just be worth all the glitz that surrounds it.

Let’s remind ourselves of that pretty story and that winsome theological concept. A young working-class woman gives birth in the dirty surroundings of a stable with her husband by her side, though he’s not the baby’s father. They have had to travel hard because of orders from an uncaring government and found no one willing to give them a decent lodging when they arrived. So far so sadly everyday. But then the shepherds, the local rednecks, hear voices and see the first Christmas lights so come to find out what’s going on. And angels, messengers of the divine, start the first Christmas singalong. And we are given to understand that rather than the everyday we’re in the presence of the one-off: God born as a helpless baby in the middle of a poor and occupied country about 2000 years ago.

God, I love this story! Not because it’s pretty – it’s actually fairly grim -but because it speaks truth to the human heart. In particular because it speaks truth – striking, sparkling, glittery truth – about the worth of every single human ever born into this wonderful and weary world. Listen again to that verse from our gospel, try and hear it as if it’s fresh – after all it’s short enough to be the latest tweet: ‘God became flesh and dwelt among us.’

God – not the easiest word to get our heads around – in fact, by definition, the hardest word of all to get our heads around. God – the divine creator, the ground of all being, the source of all love and light, completely beyond everything you see and yet deep within everything you see – that God gave up the painless safety of divine transecendence and became one of us. Became flesh. Became subject to all the things that are beyond human control: loss and physical pain and death and helpless giggling and fear and hope and other people’s bad decisions.

And it certainly feels like we’ve all been subject to other people’s bad decisions this year! That the hunger in our hearts for justice and peace has got deeper as we’ve seen more of our sisters and brothers subjected to harassment and oppression. Christmas reminds us of the value of all people – of the refugee and DACA student, of the single mother facing the loss of health care for her family, of the black boy afraid to catch the eye of a police officer, of the girl too afraid to add her name to the metoo hashtag. Christmas reminds us that God became our flesh, became one of us – one of the poorest and most vulnerable and most oppressed – so that none of us should forget the overhwelming value of every single human life.

Christmas isn’t some spiritual feast meant only for religious people and detached from real life. Christmas is the most human of holy days. It’s the day when we all get to be reminded how deeply valuable and how deeply loved each one of us is. That’s why it’s so painfully ridiculous when people get upset over someone saying ‘happy holidays’ rather than ‘Merry Christmas’ – every greeting that celebrates our connection with another person is right and appropriate for this holy time of year. Every greeting that wishes well to another irreplaceable invaluable human being should be a cause of delight not dismay!

The value given to humanity by God becoming human is the meat of Christmas, the way that Christmas can answer some of those fundamental human hungers – though only with our help. Are you hungry for peace? Then let the peace of the Christ child live in your actions and your relationships as well as in your heart. Are you hungry for truth? Then let the fundamental truth of the deep worth of very human being keep you alert to all lies that would tell you otherwise. Are you hungry for connection? Then be the one to reach out with a greeting, whatever it is, knowing that the person you reach out to is infinitely beloved by God, as you are yourself.

Are you hungry for security? Ah. Yes. Sorry. That’s not a hunger that Christmas can fill. Christmas is the opposite of secure. It’s full of wonder and risk and good news and joy and hilarity but not security. It’s all about God becoming vulnerable, giving up divine security, being ridiculously born to a poor family in an obscure part of the world. It’s all about being loved and loving others – not being safe but being out there – building peace, connecting with strangers, speaking truth to power. The good news of Christmas is peace, connection, truth and love – but not security.

I’ve talked enough at you for one Christmas morning! It’s now time to move on to the places where we are literally fed: to this altar table where we share the essence of God’s love in bread and wine. To our own home tables where we share a sense of celebration and of shared humanity. Feast this year on all the good things Christmas can offer. Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And may the peace, connection, truth and love of Christmas live with us all throughout 2018.


Sunday, December 24
The Gift of the Angels: Compassion and Joy
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness – on them light has shined” (Isa. 9).


Let me tell you about the gift of the angels. Sometimes we walk in darkness – the darkness of uncertainty, fear or hopelessness. On March 24, 2006 I sat with my friend Phil in his parents’ living room as he said goodbye to them. Later we drove alone in the car together and talked about the most ordinary things. Phil absolutely loved being outdoors and we shared stories about our favorite hiking trails.

A pedestrian bridge connects the parking structure to the Santa Clara County courthouse. On one side there was the bright daylight of freedom. On the other he would receive his sentence and be immediately incarcerated. We walked into that darkness together.

I was thinking of all the other people who wanted to support him. He was too ashamed to ask them for help and so we were alone. The judge delivered the sentence. Twenty-two years in prison. Phil had a wife and two very small daughters. In that instant their entire childhood with him was taken away. He would never be able to attend one of their concerts, games or teacher’s meetings. In the place of his ordinary suburban life he stepped into a horror of uncertainty, the fear of being beaten or murdered in prison.

In the poet W. H. Auden’s (1907-1973) Christmas Oratorio the second Magi or wise man says, “With envy, terror, rage, regret, / We anticipate or remember but never are. / To discover how to be living now / Is the reason I follow this star.”[1]

We can have a pulse but not really be alive. Through the darkness of regret or worry we become so deeply lodged in the past or future that we never really live now. The greatest gift of Christmas is the offer to be fully alive in the moment to compassion and joy. On this holy night God offers us these gifts and a new possibility that could change how we live every day.

  1. Compassion. Matthew and Luke each tell a different sort of story about the birth of Jesus. Matthew writes about a jealous king, wise magi and ultimately the flight of the holy family as refugees into Egypt (Mt. 2) to avoid a massacre of infants. Luke talks about the shepherds and their mysterious “good news of great joy to all the people” (Lk. 2). Both gospels share in common a central role for angels.

It might be hard for us to understand today but these stories convey a strong political message. They represent Jesus as a kind of threat to King Herod and the Roman Emperor. The titles the angels use to describe Jesus, “Son of God” and “Savior of the World,” are the same ones that Romans used for the emperor. It is a little like what it would mean today to call Jesus the Commander in Chief.

So what is the difference between the Peace of Rome and the Peace of Christ? John Dominic Crossan writes that it is not the “that” of peace, but the “how” which distinguishes them. For Rome, and for every empire in history, peace comes through military victory. The emperor crushes his enemies until the next more violent and destructive war.[2]

In contrast, the peace of Christ comes through justice, from the compassion that leads people to share what we have. Jesus does not descend upon the Roman governor Pontius Pilate with armies. He submits and through God’s grace a completely different kind of peace prevails. On Christmas Eve we participate fully both in the vulnerability of Jesus and in his resurrection.

We experience this triumph in new possibilities for our interpersonal relationships. And we see it at play in the most powerful forces of our time. Michael Ignatieff points out that after the final collapse of colonialism in 1989, for the first time in history there is a kind of global consensus that each people should be permitted to decide for themselves. He writes, “The new normative dispensation is the idea that every person, every faith, and every race and creed should enjoy the same right to be heard and the same right to shape national political outcomes.”[3]

We have not perfectly realized this peace of Christ, but it continues to profoundly shape us today.

  1. Joy. On this holy night the second gift we receive from the angels is joy. This evening we have the chance to experience something beyond mere pleasure. It may happen when we see an old friend or as we sing “Silent Night” or “Joy to the World.” It may happen when we receive a piece of bread and suddenly realize how much God loves us.

This same joy can be an abiding delight for us, part of our daily life. If pleasure is like fast food, joy is the real nutrition that sustains us. It comes from savoring life, from opening ourselves to the holy through gratitude. It often means doing only one thing at a time so that we can really pay attention to what is happening to us.[4]

This joy presumes that each moment is pregnant with God’s real presence, that if we can stop to pay attention, we will recognize the real gift that God is giving us. The theologian Karl Barth defines faith as saying yes in our hearts to God and turning our life toward holiness.[5]

This “yes” means interrupting our constant daydreams of how things could be better. It means accepting the life we have actually been given. It involves receiving the good gifts that we have instead of living in a state of resentment for what is not there or for what is no longer there. It means changing the stories we live by from ones about entitlement and fairness to stories of gratitude.

The monk Curtis Almquist (SSJE) writes that the word paradox is an amalgam of the Greek words for other and glory. Joy is the paradox of God’s glory appearing in a way other than we expected it. Don’t just visit your life as if you were passing through it on the way to something more important.

  1. W. H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio also includes this wonderful line (from Simeon), “the course of History is predictable in the degree to which all men love themselves and spontaneous in the degree to which each man loves God and through Him his neighbor.”[6]

Many times compassion and joy come together in a way that surprises us. Before closing let me tell a story about this. The poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) grew up in a frontier Chilean railroad town with a population so illiterate that the hardware stores used giant street signs with colossal pictures of padlocks, saws, boots or whatever they sold.[7]

Playing in an empty lot behind his house one day he discovered a small hole in the fence. Looking through it he saw a similarly wild and uncared for place. He didn’t know why but he stepped back to see what would happen. Suddenly the tiny hand of a boy about his age appeared and was gone, leaving behind a wonderful toy sheep.

Neruda went into his house to bring out his own treasure, a delicately opened, fragrant pinecone. He left it in the same place he had found the sheep. He never saw the hand, the boy or the pinecone again. Years after he had lost the sheep in a fire he still couldn’t help stopping by toyshops to find a replacement.

The poet writes about this. “I have been a lucky man… To feel the love of people we love is a fire that feeds our life. But to feel the affection that comes from those whom we do not know… (who are watching over our sleep and solitude, over our dangers and our weaknesses –) that is something still greater and more beautiful because it widens out the boundaries of our being, and unites all living things… [M]aybe this… mysterious exchange… remained inside me also, deep and indestructible, giving my poetry light.”

One of my favorite moments of the year at my old church happened after everyone went home and I was alone locking up the church on Christmas Eve. In that darkness I prayed for the people who walked in darkness, and especially for my friend Phil.

This week I received a beautiful hand painted Christmas card depicting a stand of Giant Sequoia trees from him. He does not say it but reading between the lines I can see he has received the gifts of the angels too. All these years later he lives a life of compassion, at peace with the guards and other prisoners.

Instead of longing for the gifts that will never be his, he has learned to receive what is given to him every day. He cherishes new friendships. He teaches GED classes in the prison school and also has learned to be an electrician. He discovered new forms of music and with a collaborator he has even written an opera. In two months Phil will be released. We plan to go walking together again through the oak woodlands. We will walk out of the darkness into the light.

I don’t know what darkness you may be in. But I know some people who have walked in darkness and seen a great light. On this holy night, when God speaks to us through the birth of a child, say “Yes.” Say to “Yes” to your life as it is right now. Let compassion and joy guide you. Receive the gift of the angels.

[1] W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio ed. Alan Jacobs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013) 27.

[2] In Matthew an angel explains to Joseph why he should not abandon pregnant Mary. The angel warns him to escape from King Herod’s wrath, and later tells him when he can safely return to Nazareth. Matthew’s angels speak through dreams and ensure the fulfillment of prophecies.

In Luke angels establish the parallels between the lives of John the Baptist and Jesus. The angel Gabriel communicates to Zechariah and Mary. “[H]e will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” (Lk. 1:5-25). In the cold night an angel tells the shepherds not to be afraid and that, “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah” (Lk. 2:11-12). Then suddenly a multitude of the heavenly hosts sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven…” (Lk. 2)!

John Dominic Crossan, “The Challenge of Christmas,” The Huffington Post, 12 December 2011.

[3] Michael Ignatieff, The Ordinary Virtues: Moral Order in a Divided World (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2017) 12.

[4] Curtis G. Almquist, The Twelve Days of Christmas: Unwrapping the Gifts (Lanham, MD: Cowley, 2008) 29-35.

[5] “Faith is the total positive relationship of man to the God who gives Himself to be known in his Word. It is man’s act of turning to God, of opening up his life to Him and of surrendering to Him. It is the Yes which he pronounces in his heart when confronted by this God, because he knows himself to be bound and fully bound. It is the obligation in which, before God, and in the light of the clarity that God is God and that He is his God, he knows and explains himself as belonging to God. But when we say that, we must at once also say that faith as the positive relationship of man to God comes from God Himself in that it is utterly and entirely grounded in the fact that God encounters man in the Word which demand of him this turning, this Yes, this obligation; becoming an object to him in such a way that in His objectivity He bestows upon him by the Holy Spirit the light of the clarity that He is God and that He is his God, and therefore evoking this turning, this Yes, this obligation on the part of man. It is only in this occurrence of faith that there is the knowledge of God; and not only the knowledge of God, but also love towards Him, trust in Him and obedience to Him.’ Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.1 The Doctrine of God tr. Parker, Johnston, Knight, Haire (NY: T&T Clarke, 1957) 12.

[6] W.H. Auden, For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio ed. Alan Jacobs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2013) 51.

[7] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Property (NY: Vintage, 1979) 281-2.

Sunday, December 24
Christmas Eve 7:30 p.m. Eucharist Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 7:30 p.m. Christmas Eve Eucharist
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Sunday, December 24
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Mary Carter Greene
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The Rev. Mary Carter Greene’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, December 17
The Grammar of Violence and the Way of Light
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Grammar of Violence and the Way of Light

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances… Do not quench the Spirit…” (1 Thess. 5).


  1. Who are you? At holiday parties when you meet new people how do you answer this implied question? For that matter how do you respond every day in your gestures, the way you dress, what you look at online, what you buy and say? Do you begin by telling someone about your job, home, school or family? What are you afraid that people might see in you?[1]

Who we really are depends a great deal on what we believe about the world. The theologian David Bentley Hart writes that today we have a choice between two narratives.

On the one hand there is the story that in his words, “finds the grammar of violence inscribed upon every foundation stone of every institution and hidden within the syntax of every rhetoric.” If you are thinking of Nietzsche or Foucault you are on the right track. In this dark picture of things, might makes right and everyone always acts selfishly to get away with as much as possible regardless of what might be best for others.

This is the kind of cynicism that justifies delaying approvals for Supreme Court nominees until your party has another chance to get into power. It is the cynicism that leads to endorsing a candidate just because he might support your policies even when he has done horrifying things. It justifies lying about your enemies and the belief that since we cannot really get to the bottom of things we can just choose to believe what is most convenient for us. This attitude funds the pessimism, scapegoating and blame that has become so much more obvious to us this year. It may be the reason some powerful people are calling for the suppression of ongoing FBI investigations.

Sometimes there seems to be no break in the extent of the darkness. Hart contrasts this with the idea that, “within history a way of reconciliation has been opened up that leads beyond, and ultimately overcomes, all violence.”[2] For me this way beyond violence is the way of the light – the way of Christ.

  1. The Gospel of John opens with a spectacular hymn of cosmic beauty. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God… All things came into being through him… in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1). At his very core John believes that despite the hatred, violence and cynicism there is a light. We long for it and we can come to experience it.

If you really believe in this light it can even lead you to heroic acts. Let me change the image from an ordinary exchange at a Christmas party to a congressional hearing. The question is still the same, “Who are you?” But it has a different meaning in this setting.

In October 1991 Anita Hill testified at confirmation hearings about Clarence Thomas who went on to become a justice on the Supreme Court. She described in vivid terms the unrelenting sexual harassment she experienced from him and its terrible effects on her life. In one video frame of the testimony you can see her alone before seven white men in black suits. It took incredible courage to face Congress and to speak a difficult truth in the face of immense pressure for her to suppress what happened.[3]

Not long after those days my wife Heidi taught a class together with Anita Hill and we became friends. In fact Anita was the first person who predicted Heidi was pregnant with our firstborn child. But this is not what made her a prophet. Her power as a prophet came from believing that there is more to our life than darkness. Even when she seemed totally alone Anita trusted in the light. We still believe you Anita!

I really want you to imagine what it would feel like to sit in her chair on that day. You face your accusers. They say, “who are you?” And you know that any response you give will be held against you. That is how this Gospel depicts the situation of John the Baptist when the religious leaders from Jerusalem seek him out in the desert.

Even the language John uses, the words “witness,” “confess,” “testimony,” “deny,” come from the courtroom. Although the Greek word erōtaō is translated in our text as “ask,” a better rendition would be “to interrogate.” This is the same word used for the high priest’s interrogation of Jesus before his crucifixion (Jn. 19:19).

For me there is a huge difference between a genuine seeker asking a friendly question at that holiday party, (“Hey, by the way, are you the Messiah?”) and the men John faced. Those religious leaders repeatedly asked him who he was, because they were not satisfied by his answers. “Are you Elijah?” “Are you the prophet?” They even asked him to sympathize with their need to provide their bosses with an answer. “What do you say about yourself” (Jn. 1) they insist.

For us baptism is the sign of faith and repentance. It marks a new participation in the realm of God. For those leaders it seems like a terribly subversive act aimed at overthrowing the social order. Finally, John bravely and simply quotes the prophet Isaiah, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.” And in what might even sound ominous John seems to say something like, “You are right to be worried. If you think that I’m dangerous, among you stands someone you do not know but who is even more threatening than me.”[4]

  1. This week, John’s Gospel has taken on new meaning for me. I have always been moved by that beautiful hymn, the one about Christ’s presence and activity at the beginning of all things. But this time I noticed the fierce warfare between light and darkness. I realized that before the earthly Jesus even makes an appearance, we meet his enemies, his accusers, the ones who eventually succeed at putting him to death.

This does not lead me to blame someone else for Jesus’ death. Instead I see that I am like those religious leaders. I too am blocking my own way to God. Although the Word creates the world so beautifully in and through himself, we do not experience that perfection first. While the world’s goodness is the most original thing, everyone steps into a history that is already broken. In Martin Heidegger’s language everything is “always already” in the darkness of conflict.

The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) writes that there is something desperate about our drive for “self-preservation.” It leads us to assert our independence so forcefully that we end up resisting God (and carrying the whole world like a kind of Atlas). He says, “Therefore finally and at the deepest level [the human being] will always be an enemy of grace and a hater and denier of his [or her] real neediness.”[5]

The Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) dedicated his life to understanding what belief means. In his early days he hoped to establish a philosophical superstructure that would support all mathematical reasoning. After groundbreaking work in this field he abandoned this project.

Wittgenstein realized that the way philosophers understand language was one of only many different possibilities. What seemed to be genuine philosophical problems turned out to be misunderstandings of how language really works.[6] He felt strongly that faith could not be reduced to some form of certainty.

His biographer writes, “Wittgenstein did not wish to see God or to find reasons for His existence. He thought that if he could overcome himself – if a day came when his whole nature ‘bowed down in humble resignation in the dust’ – then God would, as it were, come to him; he would then be saved.”[7]

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971) said that original sin is “the only empirically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” Although the situation may seem hopeless, at the heart of John’s Gospel lies a faith that belief is not about accepting a set of propositions about reality. It is about coming into a new relation with Jesus that allows us to find our way back to the light. Trusting Jesus makes it possible to overcome this fatal part of our nature, to be reunited with the beauty of the universe’s creator.

As a cathedral our theme this year has been “the Gift.” I hoped for us to enter more deeply into the realm beyond commerce and marketing. I wanted us to move beyond those dominant places where everything has to be earned and advertised. We tried an experiment together. We wondered if we really began to experience our existence as a gift how would that change our lives? What would happen if we stopped always asserting ourselves and opened our hearts to what we are receiving?

The monk Thomas Merton writes that the begging bowl of the Buddha, “represents… openness to the gifts of all beings as an expression of the interdependence of all things.”[8] I hope that we have become more conscious of that interdependence and of the generosity of God.

Who are you? You are a child of God who sees beyond the grammar of violence to recognize the light that shines in the darkness. You are the prophet, like John the Baptist or Anita Hill, nurturing a vision of what is right that gives you strength as enemies confront you. You are the one who knows that faith cannot be reduced to false certainty. You receive the gifts of God. You walk in the light of our brother Jesus.

So “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thess. 5).

[1] I keep thinking about this story about a woman who was afraid of this question that lies at the heart of so many of our social interactions. Pella, the only female character in Chad Harbach’s novel The Art of Fielding, dropped out of Yale to marry a much older San Francisco architect. Harbach writes, “It was confusing to have leaped precociously ahead of her high-achieving, economically privileged peers by doing precisely what her low-achieving, economically unprivileged peers tended to do: getting married, staying home, keeping house. She had gotten so far ahead of the curve that the curve became a circle and now she was way behind.” The questions she feared most [were]: Who are you? What do you do? Well, what do you want to do?” Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding: A Novel (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2011) 84-87.

[2] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s, 2003) 2.

[3] Anita Hill Testimony, CNN, 11 October 1991.

[4] D. Mark Davis, “Witness Under Fire,” Left Behind and Loving It (December 2017).

[5] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.1 The Doctrine of God tr. Parker, Johnston, Knight, Haire (NY: T&T Clarke, 1957) 371, 136.

[6] For Wittgenstein language is not just representation. He distinguished between meaning as representation and meaning as use. There are many different language games including: joking, translating, thanking. There is more than to human experience than a view of language as just a kind of model of the world.

[7] Ray Monk, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius (NY: Penguin, 1991) 410.

[8] Lewis Hyde, The Gift: Imagination and the Erotic Life of Poetry (NY: Vintage, 1979) 23-4.

Sunday, December 3
Waking Up
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mk. 13).


Let me tell you what it felt like when I woke up… Not long after the AIDS Quilt went up this fall here in the Cathedral I participated in Tuesday night Yoga.[1] When you are doing balance poses it helps to focus your attention on a distant point. That evening I gazed at the names of the people on the quilts.

Most of the people I knew who died of this disease back when I was in my twenties seemed a lot older than me. But that night for the first time I saw them from the perspective of my older self. Arthur died at the age of 33, Jerry at 41, Michael 37. And the list goes on Bob, Jack, Rick, Bill, Art, David, Ken, James, Margaret, and Joseph. So many didn’t even have the chance to experience the world as a forty year old, or to have a fiftieth birthday.

These thoughts passed through my consciousness like a sparrow entering a high church window and then flying out again. At the end of yoga we all lie down on our back in the most comfortable pose of all Shavasana (sometimes known as corpse pose). The full weight of this hit me as I was lying there. And I started weeping. I had forgotten what it felt like to cry like this – the tears flowed down my face through my hair into my ears.

On Friday night Mike Smith, one of the co-founders of the AIDS Quilt, said that he had kept his feelings in a black box within a box, within another box.[2] On that night during shavasana it felt like I was opening the boxes again. I woke up after having been asleep for a long time.

In 1992 I served at St. John the Evangelist, a church (on Bowdoin Street) known for blessing the relationships of gay and lesbian people and for our ministry to homeless people in Boston. My first pastoral visits were with young people who were dying of AIDS. They were full of creativity and love. Now when I talk to younger people about that time I find it nearly impossible to convey the terror and depth of this tragedy.

Thousands of young people were rejected by their own communities, churches and the families who should have taken care of them. Many had nowhere to go so they came to our church. We cared for them while they were sick. And when they died we treated their memory and bodies with respect. I have vivid memories of our all night vigils in the soft candlelight of the small chapel before their funeral mass the next day.

I remember traveling far away from the subway line to a decrepit Victorian house in Dorchester to visit John a monk who was dying. He had Kaposi’s Sarcoma (KS). His shoulders and kind face seemed so hollowed out. I would not have been able to do this with most people but something about his spirit invited me to ask this priest for his advice about how to give pastoral care. A few weeks later I was washing dishes in the soup kitchen and broke down when I heard that this gentle teacher of mine had died.

After moving to a California suburb in 2001, I buried a lot of these memories. In hospitals I saw mostly older people. The times changed too as treatments improved and HIV Positive people were less stigmatized by society. In a sense I fell asleep.

Today on what we call the First Sunday of Advent we celebrate the first day of the church’s new year. We enter a season of preparation that has almost nothing to do with the commercial preparations for Christmas that we see and hear around us. As people following the way of Jesus how should we be? What should we do? I want to give you a long answer and a short suggestion.

  1. We follow a three-year cycle of readings. Each year focuses on a different (synoptic) gospel. Of these the Gospel of Mark is the simplest and shortest one. It feels sharp and immediate, a paired down gospel of essentials. In this reading Jesus uses the simplest image to help us understand what we need to become.

Jesus describes the world as a vast household. Its owner goes on a journey and leaves us, his slaves, in charge “each with his work and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.” “You do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn… And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake” (Mk. 13).

The Hawaiian word for this is maka ala. It means literally with eyes open, keep alert. Keep awake to the generosity of God. Keep awake to the humanity of others.

You can see the spirit of Jesus’ words in the expression “get woke” or “stay woke.” It arose out of African American activist communities. With regard to what happened after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson Missouri “Stay woke” might mean, “stay conscious of the apparatus of white supremacy, don’t automatically accept the official explanation of police violence, stay safe.[3]

Our World AIDS Day speakers on Friday spoke especially movingly about what it means to wake up. Gregg Cassin has survived with HIV for over thirty years. In his twenties when Gregg was struggling over whether he should come out as a gay man, his first boyfriend spoke to him about Jesus.

The boyfriend said that society might despise you. Your family, the government and the church might too. But Jesus does not belong to an institution. Jesus says I am the truth and the life. This is about truth. It is about life, and you have to speak this truth.[4]

Gregg describes his experiences at 1980’s AIDS support groups. Before he discovered them he had a terrible struggle and couldn’t help but associate the disease with immorality. He said, “I felt dirty.” At the meetings each person got up and told his story. They did this with such vulnerability and courage, that each time Gregg would think, “I love this man!” At the end of the meeting he looked around the room and a simple thought occurred to him. These men are innocent. These men are innocent and I am too. This extraordinarily gentle and thoughtful man in the most Christ-like way has dedicated his life to serving others.

Vince Cristosotomo told another story about bringing the AIDS Quilt to Guam and being the first Chamorro person there to speak openly about being gay and HIV positive. Not long after arriving he met a woman. She told him about her brother who had been abandoned by the family and died alone of AIDS in New York City.

It turned out that this had been James Torrey the aerobics instructor Vince had lost touch with years before. It seemed like a miracle but after going through the panels of the quilt they found Vince’s.

The authorities had given Vince a long list of banned topics but the last person to talk to him before going onstage was his aunty. She looked him in the eye and said that no matter what happened she would always protect him. Then she gave him $20 for an ice cream cone. After the speech a man embraced Vince and just wept without letting him go. It was the father who had abandoned James. He cried, “James was such a good boy. I’m so sorry for what I have done!”

  1. I hope that these stories will help you to wake up as much as they have helped me. But what do we do next now that we are “woke”? Let me propose an experiment.

Three weeks ago the actor Peter Coyote was our forum guest. In his book he writes about the idea of becoming what he calls “a life actor.” This is someone who consciously creates the role one plays in everyday life. It requires skill and imagination to break out of the implicit rules that constrain us.[5]

Our homework this week is to wake up and to let go of the role we unconsciously play every day, the role of “Ego.” This is that part of us that is infinitely eager to assert itself, to get ahead. Strangely enough it is also that part of us which is most easily offended by the perceived slights of others.

In its place, try on the role of the compassionate Jesus. For each of us this is going to mean something different. For some of you it may involve being a lot more assertive. In that case this is your chance to speak a difficult truth, to stand up for someone who is being dismissed, perhaps to reach beyond your privilege to come closer to reality.

For others this means letting go of always having to be right, of the myth that our life could be perfect or the world could be fair. It might mean being kind to someone who has treated you badly or simply just letting someone else go ahead of you in traffic. Try listening more and talking less. Do something nice for someone who you are fairly sure is rotten inside. Be faithful in a way that only God knows about. Be less defensive.

The former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams said that, “the church is created each time we gather around Jesus in the sacraments and tend to the hopes and hurts of people.”[6] I believe this. Thank you. Thank you for being the church that responded so heroically to the AIDS crisis and thank you for being the church we are creating right now. Thank you for all the ways you teach me to be awake. Thank you for constantly showing me the generosity of God and the humanity of all God’s children.

[1] Tuesday 10 October 2017.

[2] Stories by Mike Smith, Gregg Cassin and Vince Crisostomo at “World AIDS Day: Stories and Song,” Grace Cathedral, Friday 1 December 2017.

[3] Charles Pulliam-Moore, “How ‘woke’ went from black activist watchword to teen internet slang,” Splinter, 8 January 2016.

[4] “Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him”” (Jn. 6:10).

[5] Peter Coyote, Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle (Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 1998) 33. In Keith Johnstone’s book Impro: Improvisation and Theater he writes that every interpersonal interaction involves the communication of status. I don’t know that I believe this, but I do think another helpful exercise is to allow yourself to assume a different level of status in an interaction with another person this week. Johnstone writes that a person who plays high status implicitly sends the message, “Don’t come near me, I bite.” A person playing low status says, “Don’t bite me, I’m not worth the trouble.” Keith Johnstone, Impro: Improvisation and the Theater (NY: Routledge, 2015 (1981)) 43.

[6] I have no official source for this. Jeremy Clark-King told me this quote in November 2017.

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