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Thursday, December 13
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, December 9
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sunday, December 2
The Advent Procession
First Sunday of Advent 3 p.m. Procession
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Thursday, December 13
Bending the Map
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
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“To all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…” (John 1).

You can’t help but sympathize with the title character in the musical Dear Evan Hanson. Evan is so socially awkward. He has enormous difficulty making friends. Evan’s therapist requires him to write an encouraging letter to himself every day. One day at school he is printing out one of these letters to himself when the school bully snatches the paper and puts it in his pocket.

It seems like a total disaster. But then in a bizarre turn of events the bully takes his own life. When the parents find Evan’s letter in their son’s pocket, they assume that the two boys had been friends and reach out to him.

This story concerns a new reality in our society. Today young people have two separate lives in a way that they never quite did before. Often what happens to them and how they look online matters just as much as real life. Parents who did not grow up with these technologies don’t know what to do. Young people are just as much at a loss. For that matter everyone is.

Technology has changed. This affects our jobs, elections, what we read, listen to and buy. It changes our identity, politics, international relations, our sense of satisfaction, who we choose as our friends and pretty much everything else.

Search and rescue experts use an expression to describe the early stages of being lost. They call it “bending the map.” At first a person may not even believe that they are lost. Reality doesn’t exactly match the map but they don’t really notice it yet. They make excuses for how a mountain or a lake on the map doesn’t match the actual landscape.[1]

I think as a civilization we are bending the map when it comes to technology. We keep talking and acting as if we were in the old world even though so much has changed. We never seem to be honest about what is happening.

The Prologue to the Gospel of John addresses us. It says, “the true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him… But to all who received him, who believed in his name he gave power to become children of God” (John 1).

Jesus is this light. In the simplest terms he knew God so intimately that he realized something that changed all history. Every person is a child of God. Every person has infinite dignity and value. No one like you has existed from the beginning of the world until now. This is bedrock truth, no matter how much technology changes.

At any moment of the day you will see people in this Cathedral. Some are tourists, others are Anglicans from distant places, some are our neighbors looking for quiet and beauty. Many come because they carry burdens. Our Cathedral chaplains and greeters meet them and care for them. They share the good news that nothing needs to stand between God and us.

Let me read the second part of a poem about Jerusalem by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai called “Tourists.”[2]

Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”

I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

There is such a great power that comes from really seeing someone. It is true of Evan Hanson, the poet with the baskets and everyone in a world convulsed by technological change. Thank you for letting the light of Christ shine in your words and actions.

[1] John Edward Huth, The Lost Art of Finding Our Way (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2013) 30=1.

[2] Yehuda Amichai, “Tourists”

Visits of condolence is all we get from them.
They squat at the Holocaust Memorial,
They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall
And they laugh behind heavy curtains
In their hotels.
They have their pictures taken
Together with our famous dead
At Rachel’s Tomb and Herzl’s Tomb
And on Ammunition Hill.
They weep over our sweet boys
And lust after our tough girls
And hang up their underwear
To dry quickly
In cool, blue bathrooms.

Once I sat on the steps by a gate at David’s Tower,
I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists
was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. “You see
that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there’s an arch
from the Roman period. Just right of his head.” “But he’s moving, he’s moving!”
I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them,
“You see that arch from the Roman period? It’s not important: but next to it,
left and down a bit, there sits a man who’s bought fruit and vegetables for his family.”

Sunday, December 9
Prophets of the Silences
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine…” (Phil. 1).

Let this Advent be for listening. In the silence above the static hear the voice of God and repent. I offer you three short chapters on silence, static and wholeheartedness.

  1. Silence. On a clear October night in 2003 Gordon Hempton awoke to a deep thumping noise. An auditory ecologist who makes his living by recording sounds ranging from the flutter of butterfly wings to coyote pups and waterfalls, he thought he was hearing a new class of supertanker offshore from his home on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. It turned out that although Hempton’s consuming passion was listening to the world, he was losing his hearing.

Hempton’s life went into a nosedive. Suddenly he was cut off from what he loved most. He couldn’t work and fell into debt. But then after many months his hearing miraculously returned to normal. When it did he knew that nothing would ever be quite the same. He dedicated his life to protecting the natural soundscape or, more precisely, what he calls silence.

Hempton writes that, “Silence is not the absence of something but the presence of everything… Silence can be found and silence can find you.”[1] We will never experience silence in the world if we cannot hear it within ourselves. There is a reason that we never evolved earlids and that the audio cortex never sleeps. A deep connection exists between silence and a creature’s feeling of safety. That is the reason wild animals do not linger long at a river whose sound masks the approach of predators.

Furthermore Hempton points out that just as species are rapidly going extinct, places of natural silence are too. A silence of longer than fifteen minutes has become incredibly rare in North America and is entirely gone in Europe. Mostly because of air traffic, there are fewer than a dozen quiet places left in the U.S. And so his dream is that by preserving silence around a single square inch in Olympic National Park a new respect for silence might be introduced into human life again.

I want to say one last thing about this. Hempton thinks of silence in two ways. First, there is what he calls inner silence. This is a feeling that we carry with us wherever we go. It is a kind of sacred silence that orients us and reminds us of the difference between right and wrong. Second, there is outer silence. This happens in a naturally quiet place that invites us to open our senses and to feel our connection to everything. Outer silence replenishes our inner silence. It fills us “with gratitude and patience.”[2]

  1. Static. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar… the word of God came to John the son of Zechariah in the wilderness” (Lk. 3). In the wilderness, in the presence of a silence we no longer experience, God speaks. My daughter teaches Sunday school here at Grace Cathedral. She says that prophets are people who come so close to God and God comes so close to them that they know what is most important. They know what to do. John the Baptist is a prophet of the silences.[3]

This was the second year of Donald Trump’s presidency, when Mitch McConnell was senate majority leader and Jerry Brown was governor of California, when Joel Osteen and Franklin Graham were high priests of American religion. To us these might seem to be the most important facts of our time. But for God this is just static.

This week I made a new friend. Nathan’s father was a Lutheran pastor who moved his family to Addis Ababa Ethiopia a few days after the communist Derg took power. Nathan remembers driving to school and seeing corpses along the side of the road with signs around their necks. Thousands of people were simply executed in the night.

These same communists were the ones who chose the man who became be the Ethiopian pope. As a result for years many people believed that the government and the church were irreparably compromised. This was also the situation in ancient Palestine and its whole chain of command from the Roman emperor to the local high priest who collaborated with his officials.

The situation seemed hopeless. Where was the word of God to go? To describe this Luke uses the Greek word egeneto. It is related to our words beget, gene, generate. As in those times, today the word comes into being, it is begotten, in the same places where it always has been, in the silences removed from the places of power.

Last week on the First Sunday of Advent we celebrated the beginning of a new church year. For the next twelve months we will be closely following the sophisticated, cosmopolitan Gospel of Luke. The word gospel means good news. These poetic and practical stories were meant to be read aloud. Their purpose is to provoke hearers to re-examine their lives, to repent and believe, and ultimately to change the world.[4]

The gospel is a kind of story-telling technology for transforming the self. The problem is that we have such strong expectations for what these stories mean that we too easily miss the point. Furthermore, the words have gotten worn out in the retelling.

Everything we need to hear today is in one line. John “went into all the region about the Jordan preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Lk. 3). The word we translate as repentance is really metanoia it is a transformation of heart, mind and soul. The word for forgiveness is aphesis; it means to be released from captivity or slavery. The word sin is hamartia and means to miss the mark as an archer might miss the target.

 

This whole story is about how you can be released from what constrains, dehumanizes and destroys you and how you can help others to become free too. In the Book of Exodus the Hebrew word for Egypt is mitzrayim. It means literally the narrow place. Do you remember this summer when the Thai youth soccer team spent weeks trapped in a cave that was filling up with water? You can imagine how terrifying it would be to come to a narrow place and not know if you can make it through.

That is mitzrayim. For us the narrow place might be despair at our politics, fear of deportation, racism, homophobia, mental illness, addiction, job and housing insecurity or family conflict. Whatever might be holding you back right now, Jesus brings us the New Exodus, the real freedom to flourish in the way that God created us to.

  1. Wholeheartedness. My last point is that seeing the world in terms of sin and repentance is a kind of technique for breaking the forces that hold us captive. Brené Brown is an Episcopalian and a university professor in Texas. She began her career by studying how people derive meaning from their relationships. The more she talked to people about connection and love the more she heard about alienation and heartbreak. This led to a huge breakthrough.[5]

Brown defines shame as the fear of being disconnected from others. Every person experiences this. It is the voice inside us that says, “if they knew what I have done, they would never speak to me again,” or, “I don’t deserve to be loved,” “they prefer her to me.” The more we deny our shame or ignore it, the more powerful its hold on us. It leads us to view vulnerability as weakness and to hide who we really are.

When we hate our self it is hard not to constantly despise others. Shame isolates and brings out the worst in us. Just think of the most upsetting things you have seen on Twitter. This week in our discussion of the book White Fragility we talked about how white shame makes it difficult to have racial reconciliation in our country.[6]

Brown contrasts shame and guilt. Shame is a pervasive feeling of inadequacy that says, “I am bad.” Guilt on the other hand means doing something bad. It leads us to say, “I made a mistake.” These are really two different ways of being. On the one hand there is blame, defensiveness and denial. On the other hand there is what Brown calls wholeheartedness. Although most people associate vulnerability with weakness, vulnerability is key to this way of living. It is how we love with our whole heart.

Fear of being ridiculed, dismissed or ignored does not stop wholehearted people like this from seeking connection to others. They take risks. They are not afraid to say, “I love you,” or, “I’m sorry,” or, “forgive me.” Wholehearted people embrace the idea that what makes them vulnerable or imperfect is also what makes them beautiful.

The language of Jesus enables us to live in this better, more silent place. Sin as missing the mark, repentance as the constant process of changing our hearts, and, forgiveness as release from captivity – these basic ideas help us to see ourselves as children of God. They give us the confidence of someone who believes that nothing can irrevocably alienate us from God.

This week at George H.W. Bush’s funeral Alan Simpson talked about his friend’s wholeheartedness. He said, “George… never hated anyone…. Hatred corrodes the container it’s carried in.”[7] This week for homework I invite you to drain your container of hatred. Try forgiving someone – it could be someone in public life like the president, or the person who lives next door to you.

In the presence of everything, discover the Holy Spirit that penetrates the static. Let repentance be your path out of shame. Enter into a wholehearted life in Christ. Come close to God so that you will know what is most important, so that you will know what to do. Let this Advent be for listening. Let silence find you.

[1] Gordon Hempton with John Grossmann, One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Search for Silence in a Noisy World (NY: Free Press, 2009) 2

[2] Ibid., 31.

[3] Melia taught the Godly Play lesson on the prophets for 1 Advent last week.

[4] This paragraph and next from: Matt and Liz Boulton, “Peace & Freedom: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Advent Week Two,” SALT, 5 December 2018.

[5] 3 Epiphany (1-26-14) A. See “The Courage to Be Vulnerable,” On Being, 21 November 2012. Also her TED talks:

Brené Brown, “The Power of Vulnerability TEDxHouston,” December 2010,

Brené Brown, “Listening to Shame,” TED, March 2012.

http://www.onbeing.org/program/transcript/4932

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_listening_to_shame.html

[6] Robin DiAngelo  White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism (Boston: Beacon Press, 2018).

[7] Alan Simpson, “Eulogy for George H.W. Bush,” National Cathedral, Wednesday 5 December 2018. https://www.townandcountrymag.com/society/politics/a25412509/alan-simpson-george-hw-bush-funeral-eulogy-transcript/

Past Sermons

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

Thursday, August 9
Evensong sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
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There was an article in the Guardian newspaper a couple of years ago, written by a hospice nurse, on the five things people regretted most at the end of their lives. These regrets had nothing to do with barns full of stuff or any other financial or social achievements. Instead they were all about who they had been, and who they had failed to be.

The first was: I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” People saw and deeply mourned that they had not lived true to their own truth, true to their own dreams. The second: “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.” People, especially older men, regretted spending so much of their lives on job success and economic achievement. The third “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.” Many felt they had buttoned down their true emotions to fit in with others and keep the peace, and so had never experienced life in an open heart-strong way. The fourth and fifth seem the simplest and saddest of all “I wish that I had stayed in touch with my friends” and “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

“I wish that I had let myself be happier”. This evening’s two Bible readings reflect this basic truth of human existence – that meaning and value never lie in what we accumulate but in who we become. Jesus in Luke’s gospel calls it ‘being rich towards God’. Being rich towards God means being the person God created us to be – living into our own unique identity, valuing ourselves for who we are rather than what we do, expressing our feelings fully and not being afraid to love, building strong lasting relationships, and allowing ourselves to be joyful, thankful, laughing creatures.

These are the things that stop life being mere vanity and a waste of divine breath. These are the building blocks of a life that we can leave knowing our time has been blessed and we have been a blessing to others. Don’t let yourself become rich in possessions and poor towards God. Don’t allow the fog of the demands of daily living to obscure this core divine and human truth: God created you to add to the delight of the world. So, in the words of poet Mary Oliver: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Sunday, August 5
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
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Sunday, July 29
Abundance
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
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A few years ago I had to give a seminary class a Bible verse to take with them as they left and headed out into the world. It could be any verse from the entire Bible, so there were many tempting options. Appropriate for the end of a long period of study was Ecclesiastes 12.12: “Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh.” Useful for ensuring they didn’t annoy people in their new parishes was Proverbs 27:14: “If a person loudly blesses their neighbour early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.” Popular with the Episcopalians at least was Ecclesiasticus 31:28: “Wine drunk at the proper time and in moderation is rejoicing of heart and gladness of soul.” But in the end I went for my old favourite, John 10.10: “I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

This call to abundance, echoed in our gospel miracle, feels extra important just now. I was very struck by something one of the participants in our civil discourse program said last week. He was talking about having conversations with people who disagree with him – in his case this meant people in the right wing – and he went on to say: “It’s when they say ‘I’m a Christian’ that I really give up. I know they’re not going to listen to me.”

What a sad reputation for us Christians to have! Close minded, afraid of argument, living in a guarded world in which we are right and everyone else is wrong. Seeing truth as a vulnerable scarcity that has to be protected from any disagreement.

Christians aren’t alone in this. We live in a world predicated on scarcity; on the need to compete for the available resources in the understanding that there is not enough to go around. The rarer something is the more value is attached to it – the more exclusive a resort the more expensive. Consumerism calls us to focus on all the places where there is not enough to go round. We look for lack and we find lack. Abundance is a wonderfully counter-cultural concept.

Which is why this miracle story of the feeding of the 5000 is such a wake-up call for us. It is, par excellence, the miracle of abundance – one boy’s small picnic satisfying the hunger of a multitude. It is also the most often repeated miracle story in the gospels. John’s gospel alone has two versions of it, and it is the only miracle which appears in all four gospels. This is significant, the repetition tells us, think about this. This is more than a sweet story to tell to children – this has something to teach us, this matters.

Ok, so what does it teach us? Something about old-fashioned, under-rated, un-cynical, un-ironic faith and trust. Significantly it is a child who facilitates the miracle. A child who offers all that they have, meager though that is, without worrying about whether it will be enough. A child who knows that they can’t solve the whole problem but who doesn’t let this knowledge stop them doing what they can. A child who has yet to learn the limitations of the world and who does what is right just because it is right.

We can get caught up on the logistics of this miracle – did Jesus miraculously multiply those loaves and fishes, or did the child’s generosity lead everyone to share the food they had been saving for themselves? I am rationally inclined to the latter, but as a true fan of the miracle of the incarnation I won’t rule out the former – when God becomes human anything can happen! But, in either case, knowing the how is not the point.

The point is knowing that where God is there is abundance. To be with God is to be satisfied. To be in God’s commonwealth of love is to be in a place shot through with, characterized by, overflowing with abundance. This is the point that is to change us, and give us a now model to live by.

If we stay in a world-scape of scarcity we can find ourselves repeating the sort of behaviour that King David showed in our first reading. That self-regarding desperation to satisfy our own needs and desires that treats others as if they are means to our ends rather than full human beings in their own right. The selfishness that eyes the whole world as a resource to be exploited rather than a gift to be cherished. That sees worth and beauty as in such short supply that we need to snatch them for ourselves and gobble them up and to hell with whoever stands in our way.

So how do we live differently? How do we take abundance rather than scarcity as our starting point? Without just taking a Polyanna view of reality and closing our eyes to the real shortages and deprivations that do exist? It ain’t easy, but it is important and challenging and holy and central to our choice to follow Christ.

First of all we consider what it takes for us to be satisfied. Not to be replete, not to have everything we could possibly want – my own list is pretty endless!, but to have enough – to be enough. And we live accordingly. Seeking out the things that really fill our hearts and give joy to our lives – friendship, love, meaning, purpose, a relationship with the divinity who creates and delights in us. Refusing to believe that happiness lies in acquiring more and more and more stuff.

Think back. What is your happiest memory? One that still makes your soul smile? I may be wrong, but I’m betting it is to do with relationship or nature or accomplishment and not the moment when you bought your favourite dress or car or latest Apple gadget. One of mine is walking on a sunlit hilltop with the wind blowing my hair every which-way and my husband’s hand in mine. That was a moment of true abundance!

Secondly, we open our eyes to see the five thousand, the many millions, around us and to feel their needs as our own. We see the hunger of the world and at the same time we see the wealth of the world. So we give, knowing there actually is enough for all; we campaign, helping others see there is enough for all; we recycle, take transit, have shorter showers so there will continue to be enough for all. Each individual action may seem vanishingly small, compared to the needs of our world. But that is how living abundantly happens: not through grand gestures, but by living day by day, at ninety degree to our culture.

And to make that living strong and joyful we do a third thing – we offer everything to God. That’s the scariest part, the wonderful, mystic, non-sensible part. Like the child in the miracle story, we take all that we were relying on to feed us and we put it into God’s hands. Trusting that we will still be given all that we need in return. Echoing my favourite words from the English marriage service: “All that I am I give to you, and all that I have I share with you.” Knowing we are offering ourselves to one who loves us and cares for us more completely and thoroughly and gently than even our beloved partners and friends.

And lastly, we come to this table. Where a small piece of bread and sip of wine are enough to bring God’s life to life in us. Where the holiest of food is shared with any who hold out their hands. Where, in a true image of abundance, all are fed and no one, no one, is denied.

Sunday, July 22
Our Favorite Fictional Character
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Our Favorite Fictional Character

“[Y]ou who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace…” (Eph. 2).

  1. Each of us is our own favorite fictional character in a story that we tell about ourselves every minute of our lives. We find this drama endlessly interesting. The story we tell inside our hearts may be preventing us from reaching our potential. It could be destroying us, or it might be the only thing keeping us alive. That interior monologue may so fill us with joy that it transforms the lives of all those around us.[1]

This week my wife Heidi gave me an early anniversary gift. She put together a thick binder with 125 letters I wrote during our courtship. They opened a window into the inner stories I told my twenty-three year old self. Back then I worried about whether I was the intellectual equal of my fellow classmates. I doubted that I would ever be able to support my family and most of all I dwelled on my parents’ opinions of me.

We spend an enormous amount of energy trying to prove that the story we tell ourselves is an accurate one. We want others to believe it and frankly we want our story to be right. Still the philosopher Martha Nussbaum says that, “we love made-up people, people we have made up to be the people we can love.”[2]

To be human means to be always in danger of creating an idyll. That is, a private and constructed reality, over and against the common social world that surrounds us. My friend and teacher Margaret Miles described her parent’s Christian fundamentalism as, “a private, carefully sheltered, unrealistic and frayed idyll.” She writes that because of all the commonsense assumptions of our shared social world, it takes incredible strength to sustain an idyll. Idylls tend to collapse not because they are illusory, but because they require an enormous amount of energy to maintain.[3]

Sometimes what seems most real isn’t. Over the past two years many of us have begun to answer the personal question, “how are you?” with a report on what the politicians are doing. Collectively we have been contributing to a shared dys-idyll nightmare which reinforces the sense that the only thing that matters happens in Washington, DC.

Perhaps the simplest definition of a Christian is a person who agrees to have her story corrected through the presence of the living Christ and the church. Prayer extracts us from the grips of our own idyll and brings us back to reality. Prayer gives us the chance to step back from this fictional character who claims all our attention so that we can see other people as children of God.

  1. Our Gospel today reports on outer events that give us a picture of what might be happening in the hearts of Jesus’ disciples. You may have noticed that verses have been excerpted out of the reading in order to fit a regular worship service. I will try to fill in what we missed (and encourage you to read them at home).

The narrative begins at a high point. After having been sent out in twos Jesus’ friends have met with remarkable success. We do not have many opportunities to see them at work apart from Jesus. They have been healing and teaching with great success and probably relish telling him their stories.

He recognizes their need for rest so they try to withdraw to a “deserted place by themselves” (Mk. 6). But the crowds follow them wherever they go. They do not even have time to eat. Rather than feeling frustrated Jesus has compassion on them, “because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” The Greek word for feeling compassion, splagxnizomai means the kind of love that grabs in the guts.

Jesus simply loves these sheep and so he asks his disciples to help feed them. Even after their great successes they respond with sarcasm. “Are we… to buy two hundred denarii worth of bread?” After the five thousand have been fed and twelve baskets of leftovers have been collected Jesus leaves everyone to pray on a mountain alone.

He rejoins the terrified disciples on a boat in the midst of a great storm. In the calm that follows the disciples, “were utterly astounded, for they did not understand about the loaves, but their hearts were hardened” (Mk. 6). Then Jesus returns to healing the people of Gennesaret.

A story that began with triumph and success collapses into misunderstanding and fear. Rather than working with Jesus for the sake of God’s Realm the disciples step back into passivity and fear as they watch him work alone. He has been teaching, but they seem incapable of learning. Despite the abundance, the healing, and being saved from the storm their interior monologue resists being changed.

  1. Karl Barth. Some of you remember that I have been systematically studying the life work of Karl Barth (1886-1968) a twentieth century Swiss Reformed Theologian. Between the end of World War I and his death in the 1960’s Barth wrote an incomplete thirteen volume, 9,000 page systematic approach to theological knowledge.

My primary advisors and teachers were shaped through their opposition to Barth’s ideas. My dream is that by really understanding his perspective, I will be better informed in what I believe and teach. I should mention that I have not yet met a single person who thinks this is a good idea. Finishing the fourth volume (CD II.2) I want to report on my progress.

As a Reformed theologian following in the footsteps of John Calvin, Barth values God’s sovereignty above everything else. God creates, sustains and redeems us. God, “governs and determines everything.”[4] We have no power to compel God. God can never owe us. Furthermore we have not learned to say the word “God” correctly if we speak only in abstractions as if we can stop being totally dependent on God.

For centuries reformed theologians argued that God had chosen and set apart some people from before the beginning of the world, and then they agonized over those left out of the divine plan. Karl Barth seems to have a different idea in mind. He writes that the whole gospel is about election. Jesus does not leave people out so predestination, “is not a mixed message of joy and terror, salvation and damnation,” but rather “a proclamation of joy.”[5]

This “love of God is His grace… It is love which is overflowing, free, unconstrained, unconditioned… It is love which is patient, not consuming the other but giving it place.”[6] For Barth, the world was created not so that we would be God’s slaves but because God desires to be the “companion of [each person]. Against our No [God] places his own Nevertheless… the creature’s opposition to [God’s] love cannot be any obstacle to [God].”[7]

We are not disinterested spectators. God’s love is not abstract, not something that we deduce from the laws of physics, but individual and personal. No believer should ever regard another’s example of unbelief as permanent.[8] Faithful people need to constantly proclaim in personal terms that those in our lives are “not rejected” by God.[9]  Jesus is the only one chosen by God, but through him all creation is made free.

Barth goes as far as to say that even Judas, the one who rejected Jesus and conspired with those who arrested him, never stopped being an apostle. We are like the disciples who experience such great things and repeatedly hear Jesus’ teaching, only through fear to fall short in understanding and faith. God’s abundance and grace is for us as it was for them.

  1. Study Hall. A while ago a friend of mine named James and I were discussing Julian Barnes novel, The Sense of an Ending. We talked about going back to the people we knew in our youth and seeing things through our adult eyes. He told me this story.

In high school study hall James met a boy who mostly kept to himself. But when the two of them started talking about music, books and philosophy it almost felt like time stopped. They became close. One Friday James gave his friend the John Knowles novel A Separate Peace and inscribed it inside the front cover.

The next Monday his friend approached him to talk, “My parents said that we can’t be friends.” And that was it. They didn’t speak again, until twenty years later when circumstances brought them together. At that time James first visited his now adult friend’s house. It was as if nothing had changed. In fact the friend’s wife kept repeating how great it was to meet someone who meant so much to her husband and that he frequently talked about his high school friend James.

So what happened back then? James always thought it was because he was African American. I wondered if the parents thought the boys were romantically interested in each other. But it was for neither reason. Last week I talked about how vulnerable children are. The friend’s parents had been in the process of splitting up. They didn’t want anyone to know and so they kept James’ friend isolated during his high school years. Only recently did James realize what his small kindness really meant. Sometimes it takes half our life for our story to be made true.

The Austrian poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes, “I circle around God, around the primordial tower. / I’ve been circling for thousands of years / and I still don’t know: am I a falcon, / a storm, or a great song?”[10] We too circle God sometimes drawing closer to the truth in the great song of our prayer. What is your story? What do you tell yourself about the fictional character that is you?

Our story and the story of every unbeliever is not final. The disciples of Jesus hardened their hearts and resisted but ultimately God won them over. They rediscovered their power in the hope of Jesus’ message. Likewise let your story of reconciliation and forgiveness and above all your joy transform everyone you meet.

[1] Margaret Ruth Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 23.

[2] Margaret recommended this book to me so many years ago and it continues to influence my understanding of emotions and reason. Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (NY: Oxford University Press, 1992) 326.

[3] Margaret Ruth Miles, Augustine and the Fundamentalist’s Daughter (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2011) 30.

[4] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics II.2 The Doctrine of God tr. Bromiley, Campbell, Wilson, McNab, Knight, Stewart (NY: T&T Clarke, 1957) 7, 5.

[5] Ibid., 13.

[6] Ibid., 10.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Ibid., 327.

[9] Ibid., 322.

[10] Rainer Maria Rilke, “Ich lebe mein Leben in wachsenden Ringen,” Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God tr. Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy (NY: Riverhead Books, 1996) 48.

Thursday, July 19
Why a Rugby Evensong?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10).

A year ago when Ellen Clark King, the Cathedral’s Executive Pastor, and I heard that the World Seven’s would be in San Francisco this summer we instantly knew what we had to do. We felt compelled to host a Rugby Evensong. Since then dozens of people have asked us “What is a rugby evensong?”

I need to begin by saying something about what evensong and rugby are. Evensong has a special meaning to the global English-speaking church. Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and the other originators of this tradition imagined that profound daily worship should not just be for monks and nuns. They took the monastic service and shared it with everyone.

We love how Evensong especially values harmony, beauty, simplicity and humility. It is about the daily rhythm of our life, the movement from light and security into the perils of the dark. It is about the way God blesses every moment of our day, and our life, and even our death.

At first, rugby might seem like just a game that began around the time this Cathedral was founded in the middle of the nineteenth century. At Rugby School in England William Webb Ellis famously broke the rules and picked up the ball and started running. The game that grew from that act, involves moving an oblong ball up field by passing it backwards or laterally to your teammates as opponents try to stop the ball by tackling you.

Of course there is so much more to it than this. Rugby also includes kickoffs, rucks, line outs, scrums, kicking to touch, etc. The sport involves far less individual specialization than American football or baseball. As a result its players exhibit an impressive overall athleticism that makes it unique. Everyone on the field plays defense and can score. Every player has a high level of stamina, strength, speed and agility.

Rugby is a dangerous activity. It requires physical courage. This week we will be praying for players in the tournament and around the world. We will pray that all players will use the courage they learned on the field to make our world better.

This all brings us back to our original question. Why would Grace Cathedral host what might be the world’s first Rugby Evensong? I have two answers.

First, in our mostly automated world rugby is one of the human endeavors that requires a total commitment of one’s whole self. Every player on the pitch needs to maintain complete focus physically, emotionally and mentally. This makes it a kind of metaphor for the spiritual life. At no moment do we cease to be spiritual beings. To use a phrase from William James there are no moral holidays, our actions matter.

In our gospel reading tonight Jesus asks a young man to answer his own question about inheriting eternal life. To do this, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Lk. 10). Just as William Webb Ellis broke the rules to create something new and beautiful Jesus asks us to do the same. We are called to love our neighbors in ways that might upset how things are usually done.

Second, rugby in my experience is unique in its culture of fellowship and unity. In our society winning has become everything. Yesterday a New York Times reporter pointed out that this naturally leads to “toxic hostility” even toward youth game referees.[1] In rugby excellence matters but there is always a higher value.

I’m grateful to have been introduced into adulthood by older rugby players and coaches who understood how important this spirit of fellowship is. In my days as a player and coach we always hosted opposing teams for meals after the game. It was a chance to celebrate and socialize. After the best game of my life I remember meeting the player who had just broken my finger. His family owned a restaurant along Highway 80 and I always think of him when I drive past there.

This week Barak Obama gave a lecture on the centenary celebration of Nelson Mandela’s birth.[2] He talked about the long road from colonialism and racism to a new world of democracy and human dignity. In these times of polarization and distrust rugby is part of how we overcome the greatest challenges of our time.

In the rhythm of my life I have become old enough so that I will probably never charge down the rugby pitch to make a tackle, or leap into the air to catch a lineout or kickoff, or bury my head in the scrum. But I still dream of these things. More than ever before I have come to understand the darkness and perils of this life.

But I also have a greater appreciation for the power of humble people, for the way that simple human fellowship can drive away despair. And with every year, I grow in gratitude that through each moment God continues to preserve and nurture us.

[1] Bill Penningnton, “Parents Behaving Badly: A Youth Sports Crisis Caught on Video,” The New York Times, 18 July 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/18/sports/referee-parents-abuse-videos.html?emc=edit_sp_20180719&nl=sports&nlid=1350863320180719&te=1

[2] https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/17/world/africa/obama-speech-south-africa-transcript.html

Sunday, July 15
King Philosopher Television Celebrity
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“King Herod heard of Jesus and his disciples, for Jesus’ name had become known” (Mk. 6).

I remember endless summer days as a four-year sitting in my plastic wheelbarrow on the grass. I pretended that it was my boat, safe on a vast green sea. On this magnificent day imagine this great cathedral with its redwood-like columns and stained-glass filtered light similarly as your haven of safety. No matter what storms may be gathering in your life, or in the society that surrounds us, we have found a joyful, beautiful place of peace.

What a blessing it is for us to be here! For twenty years I have been away on vacation during this week of the church year.[1] Today’s stories feel so fresh and vivid to me. It’s almost as if someone had discovered new passages from the Bible.

In this year of reading Mark’s Gospel together we thought we knew what to expect – concise, compact, abrupt, simple – the unembellished skeleton of God’s good news for us. And then today suddenly Mark stops being like Mark. Instead of being the writer who leaves the most up to our imagination, without warning he becomes the one to give us the overlooked details of a compelling story.

I think he does this to show our whole human predicament in a miniature form. In a single tragic story Mark brings us back to first principles, to the basic facts of existence, so that we can understand what we need to do in our complicated lives.

Mark tells us that Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs. They travel light through all the cities of the region. They ask people to repent. They cast out demons and heal those who are sick. They meet with such extraordinary success that even King Herod hears about their adventures. But just before they get back home to Jesus, before they can tell him what they have learned, Mark interjects what might seem like a parenthetical story about something that happened earlier (Mk. 6:30). It is the story of John the Baptist.

My dictionary says that the word apostle can mean Jesus’ disciples, or important leaders of the early church, or the first missionaries in a new land. It comes from the Greek word apostello or “to send.” Mark tells this story about two ways of being sent, about the two paths that constantly open up in the journey of our own lives: the way of Herod and the way of Jesus.

Mark’s story feels so contemporary. More than at any other time in my life we are entranced by the personalities of wealthy, powerful celebrities. We have been getting used to the experience of the personal suddenly breaking in to public life with enormous consequences.

To choose just one example it seems as if decisions about who gets pardoned and who stays condemned seem more arbitrary, more political than ever.[2] What could be more relevant today than a swaggering, bragging king delighted by his daughter’s performance and distanced from his wife, making promises with life and death consequences, which he does not want to keep.

In the Cathedral’s year of truth we notice that the ball starts rolling when John the Baptist speaks the truth. He points out that King Herod’s marriage to his brother’s wife is illegal. This offends Herod’s wife who holds a grudge against him. She wants to kill him but has no power to do so. Herod sends (apostello) his henchmen to overpower John and put him in prison.

Herod comes to respect John’s holiness, righteousness and goodness. He takes pleasure in hearing John talk even though he cannot always follow what John is saying.[3]

At his birthday banquet Herod’s daughter dances so beautifully that he repeats his oath that he will give her anything even up to half his kingdom.[4] Filled with hate the girl’s mother asks her for John the Baptist’s head on a plate. Herod feels “deeply grieved” but everything happens quickly as he sends (apostello) his men to behead John in prison. This week I kept thinking about the shock John must have felt at this moment when the executioner arrived on the instruction of the king who felt connected to him.

The Greek word Mark uses for Herodias’s grudge also means “entangled” (enexō) and that image defines this dysfunctional family.[5] Mark contrasts them with healthy families like Jairus who seeks healing for his daughter (Mk. 5:22).

And here we see how this story summarizes our human predicament. Each person in Herod’s family wants to be loved but tragically cannot get what he or she really needs. Herod’s wife wants to be valued and loved as queen and to not have anyone questioning the legitimacy of her position. At the same time she seems to have little power to satisfy her desire. She can only try to persuade, to use love to manipulate others. But even this is not enough to compel her husband to love her.

Their daughter did not ask for her parents to be at odds and yet she is forced to choose between them. She will always have the murder of a holy person on her conscience and the image of John’s head on a platter in her memory.

Herod too cares about the respect of his guests and the love of a daughter who chose his wife over him. He cares about John and is forced into a situation in which he has to kill someone he likes. In the face of this tragedy I have two questions. First, what is the difference between Herod’s way of sending and that of Jesus? And second, what does it feel like to be sent by God?

The French Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) believed that the holiest thing that you will ever encounter is also one of the most common. It is another person’s face. Behind the face lies a mystery that we can never completely understand but which is at the same time so close to us. This is what it means to be made in the image of God. We have the chance to recognize God every time we encounter another person.

And so Levinas translates the word “philosophy” not as love of wisdom, but as the wisdom of love. He writes about “the primordial phenomenon of gentleness.”[6] He describes ethics as “first philosophy.” He asserts that love comes before every instance of knowing.[7]

The difference between the mission of Herod and that of Jesus is the difference between the impossible task of satisfying our ego and actively seeking the divine mystery in another person. It is the difference between going into the world to control other people (perhaps even ultimately imprisoning and beheading them) versus being sent to cast out demons and heal our universal sickness.

What does this feel like? The children’s television show creator and Presbyterian minister Fred Rogers often sounds a lot like Levinas. He says, “Love is at the root of everything, all learning, all relationships. Love or the lack of it.”[8] Last week my wife and I saw the Mister Rogers documentary, Won’t You Be My Neighbor? It may have a lot to do with the important role the show had in my life, but I have never seen a film before that touched me in quite this way.

It brought about a collision between my childhood and adult selves. It made me understand both how little I knew then, and yet how much I understood. I watched a lot of Mister Rogers as a child but experienced the characters in the Neighborhood of Make Believe so much on their own terms that it didn’t occur to me that Mister Rogers was the main puppeteer.

Mister Rogers felt appalled by children’s television with its cheap violence, clowning and the humiliation of throwing pies in people’s faces. He felt acutely conscious of the vulnerability of children, that their feelings are just as real and intense as ours are. So he dedicated his life to creating a world where children really are treated with respect and cared for, where their fears and concerns are taken seriously.

During the show’s first week on air in 1968 Daniel Tiger asks, “What is assassination?” On the show Rogers talked about war, death, divorce, the painfulness of change. During a time when whites refused to even integrate swimming pools Rogers famously invited Officer François Clemmons, an African American, to share his footbath. At some point in the series someone called the producers of the show to say that Clemmons was visiting a local gay bar. Mister Rogers told him not to go back there.

Still, in an interview you can see how just much Clemmons respected and loved Fred Rogers. He recalls a time when Mister Rogers said, “You are special and I love you just the way you are.” Clemmons joked, “Are you talking to me?” And Mister Rogers said, “I have been for two years, but you are only just now hearing me.” Clemmons went on choking back tears to say that neither his stepfather nor his birth father, no one, had told him that they loved him like that.

In the 1990’s commentators on Fox News asserted that not everyone was special and that Mister Rogers encouraged the sense of entitlement which epitomized exactly what was wrong with America. But in his testimony to Congress twenty years before then Mister Rogers spoke the truth. “You don’t have to do something really outstanding in order to be loved, or to love.”[9]

I talked about playing in my wheelbarrow boat on a grassy sea and about this cathedral as a great harbor of peace and hope. Soon God will feed us a holy meal. And then God will send us back out into the storms of our daily life.

We thought we knew what to expect but in the face of the human predicament we too need to decide on our basic first principles. We have to choose between the path of trying to satisfy the relentless demands of our hungry egos, or the humble way of Jesus, between the fruitless effort to force people to respect us, and the challenge to love others more deeply just the way they are.

Every face presents us with a holy mystery that is so near and yet utterly unfathomable. In this scary world every child gives us another chance to share respect, comfort and wisdom. Brothers and sisters you are special. You are loved. May God bless you – sweet apostles of grace.

#EmmanuelLevinas, #MisterRogers, #Herod

[1] In a phone conversation this week Cynthia Kittridge the President of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas pointed out that this Gospel does not appear in the old prayerbook lectionary but was introduced with the Revised Common Lectionary. Noël Coward said somewhere that work is more fun than fun. I guess that’s true for me too.

[2] https://www.outsideonline.com/2326556/trumps-pardon-hammond-bundy-family?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=WYM-07132018&utm_content=WYM-07132018+CID_84e8f04b8cd3fdac78c49c88f0a820fc&utm_source=campaignmonitor%20outsidemagazine&utm_term=pardoning%20the%20Hammonds

[3] The word aporew in Greek is a conjunction of apo and poreuomai. Bluntly it means “can’t go.” In the world of thought Herod cannot go with John but he delights in hearing him (Mk 6:20).

[4] Biblical scholars guess at the age of Herod’s daughter. One believes she is twenty on the basis of historical evidence about when this happened in Herod’s court. Mann, C.S.  Mark: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, Anchor Bible Series (New York: Doubleday & Co., 1986) 293-298.

Another believes she is twelve on the basis of the word tō korasiō. Liz and Matthew Boulton, “The Powers that Be: Eighth Week of Pentecost,” SALT, 10 July 2018.

[5] Enexo.

[6] Emmanuel Levinas, Totality and Infinity: An Essay on Exteriority. Tr. Alphonso Lingis (Pittsburgh, PA: Duquesne University Press, 1969) 150.

[7] This is why Montaigne will always be a better philosopher than Descartes and a better person too.

[8] Won’t You Be My Neighbor Official Trailer. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhwktRDG_aQ

[9] This is a paraphrase of what I could remember from the film.

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