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What’s Happening at Grace Cathedral?

Dozens of performances and hundreds of performers bring the cathedral to life

San Francisco Movement Arts Festival

Friday, July 19

Dozens of performances and hundreds of performers bring the cathedral to life

In celebration of Jim Hodges’ artwork, Unearthed, on view at the cathedral through September 8, the vocal ensemble Bennington will perform

Bennington, A Vocal Ensemble

Friday, July 26

In celebration of Jim Hodges’ artwork, Unearthed, on view at the cathedral through September 8, the vocal ensem...

LINES Ballet’s dance class series for people with Parkinson’s Disease

LINES Ballet Dance for PD®

Thursday, July 25

LINES Ballet’s dance class series for people with Parkinson’s Disease

An adult education series for communities of Christian faith

Human Rights in Christian Perspective

Saturday, July 27

An adult education series for communities of Christian faith

Experience the labyrinth illuminated by candlelight

Candlelight Labyrinth Walk

Friday, August 9

Experience the labyrinth illuminated by candlelight

Listen to Featured Sermons

Sunday, July 14
How can You Be Happy
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life" (Luke 10)?
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How Can You Be Happy
“Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10)?

Do you ever wonder, “Is there more to life than this? Am I happy?”

1. The composer Philip Glass writes, “In a clear way we are bound to our culture. We understand the world because of the way we were taught to see… because that’s what was installed… into our heads when we were very young. But it is possible to step out of that world.”

This is good news because most often we inhabit a secular environment which assumes in one way or another that there is no god. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor writes about this in his book A Secular Age. He explains that in earlier periods it was impossible not to believe in god. But in this place and time faith in God is only one view among many. This change in perspective does not arise out of any scientific discovery. It is a cultural change and it means that a secular worldview affects everyone whether you are a devout believer or a committed atheist.

This makes it hard to see what God is doing when you live in North America. It means that when it comes to the holy we have what psychologists call inattentional blindness. Because of our predispositions we cannot see what is right in front of us.

This summer I have been reading the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s (1888-1935) The Book of Disquiet. The character he invents for this pseudonymous memoir seems overwhelmed by modern, narcissistic despair. He writes, “Beside my pain, all other pains seem false or insignificant. They are the pains of happy people… I’ve noticed that unhappiness is something you see rather than feel, and joy is something you feel rather than see, because by not thinking and not seeing, you do acquire a certain contentment… All unhappiness enters through the window of observation and thought.” This insinuation that thought leads to unhappiness is only part of a larger constellation of assumptions that engulfs us in our secular time.

The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) writes about this modern, individualistic way of seeing the world. In particular he points out how Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) ideal of an übermench or superman is completely opposed to Christ. Barth writes that Nietzsche encounters Christianity as an enemy because it opposes, “the lonely, noble, strong, proud, natural, healthy, wise, outstanding, splendid man, the superman… with [Christianity’s] blatant claim that the only true [person is the one] who is little, poor and sick, the [one] who is weak and not strong, who does not evoke admiration but sympathy, who is not solitary but gregarious.”

Nietzsche described as “slave morality” the Christian insistence on caring for the poor, the wounded and the dispossessed. He writes that the powerful should not be held back by having to care for the weak.

2. In contrast people in the time of Jesus share a sense that the divine infuses everything, that nothing really is apart from God. In this setting a lawyer comes and asks how to inherit eternal life. This is no different than when we, in our individualistic environment, ask how to be happy. He wants to know what this is all about. He wants to know how to live.

We see into the lawyer’s heart. In testing Jesus he does try to show off his own wisdom but still beneath this lies a genuine question. In response, Jesus tells him one of the most famous stories of our tradition. Here in San Francisco we see such suffering on our streets that we live the story of the Good Samaritan nearly every day.

On the road to Jericho thieves strip and beat a man severely. The Greek word is hēmithanē – a hemisphere is half a sphere, hēmithanē means half dead. I’ve taught this story more often to children than adults and they feel horrified when the priest and Levite pass by on the other side of the road.

The story is not really about the unfortunate man, or even the authorities who ignore him. It is about the Samaritan, an enemy of the wounded man’s people. Yet this is the only one who sees him. The whole story turns on a single word splagnizesthai. It means more than simple compassion. This feeling comes from our guts, our bowels, the very deepest part of us. In the New Testament this word is only used for Jesus and other closely related figures in the parables. Our deepest suffering, what we cannot even express in words, Jesus takes on himself.

The Greek word for wound is traumata. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus binds up our wounds, heals our traumas, leads us to the place where we can recover our life. Because we too often walk by people suffering terribly on the street we cannot feel worthy of Jesus’ invitation.

I don’t know about you but every so often the protective veil of illusion that I am indeed a decent person becomes torn and I see into the truth of my own selfishness. This week I felt this so deeply. This story with the events of our life can reveal us to ourselves. And sometimes we do not like what we see.

I went to my clergy group on Wednesday with these feelings and through God’s grace a colleague read Mary Oliver’s poem “Gethsemane.” It is about the way that the disciples failed to stay up with Jesus on the night before his arrest.

“The grass never sleeps. / Or the rose. / Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. // Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.// The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet, / and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, / and heaven knows if it even sleeps.”

“Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe / the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move / maybe / the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, / lay still and waited, wild awake. // Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not / keep vigil, how they must have wept, / so utterly human, knowing this too / must be part of the story.”

When my colleague read this I felt a huge relief. In a way I joined the human race again. We are all brothers and sisters who fall short. We are all together as people who know what we should have done but somehow couldn’t do it.

So if the power of the story does not lie in making us feel guilty, what does it do? It gives us a vivid picture of what will make us happy, of what we can do to inherit eternal life. It reminds us that love is primarily an action and only secondarily is it a thought or a feeling. It encourages us to start where we are, to begin with little steps like helping when we don’t really feel like it, or being patient with someone who we find difficult, or trying to be less angry when we feel slighted.

Karl Barth believes that the whole purpose of being human is to profoundly encounter God and each other. Every moment, in every thought and action we move closer or further away from that ideal. Quite simply if you want to be happy, find a way to take care of your neighbor – because that’s what we were made to do.

From Jesus’ perspective migrant children at the border are not a distraction from the economy or competing with the people who already live here. Caring for those like them is the reason for human society.

3. As you go out to be Samaritans in the world I want to share the story of one ordinary person who was inspired by Jesus to do something really heroic. On December 11, 1969 at the 11:00 a.m. service with five hundred people in attendance a shy, unassuming, perhaps even awkward thirty-two year old acolyte named Richard Daller stood up to read the Epistle at this lectern. Instead he read a prepared statement that condemned the way that gay people are treated in society. His powerful words about the love of Jesus have helped us come along way show in recognizing the humanity of every person.

You can imagine the tension. Six people walked out, one of whom yelled, “Give up the pulpit. You have no right to do this!” Three quarters of the way through Dean Julian Bartlett walked calmly over and whispered to him. The Dean waited for him to finish and then went into the lectern and stood there silently for a moment before addressing the crowd. He described Daller, “as a faithful member of the church who has served it well.” He drew our attention to the pain that was so powerful that it would lead one of us to do this.

In conclusion it is possible to step out of the world as we were taught to see it. We can be free of the narcissistic individualism focused exclusively on pampering our needy ego. We can begin to see the holiness that stands right in front of us. Real people are not superior, brilliant, independent, beautiful and above everything. The true person is vulnerable and imperfect, not deserving but worthy of love, like you and me.

So begin where you are. Wait with Jesus. Find happiness in your neighbor so that you may live. See how the divine infuses everything. Inherit eternal life.

Sunday, July 7
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Pentecost 4, 2019
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This is going to sound a bit odd in my English accent, but I want to read you a little excerpt from Alice Walker’s classic book, The Color Purple. This is Shug talking to Celie: ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They came to church to share God, not to find God.’

Whether you agree with Shug or not her question of where we find God resonates this Sunday. Resonates because of our gospel reading about the 70 disciples being sent to share their knowledge of God in local villages. Resonates because it’s the Sunday after Independence Day when we need to consider where we find God in our national life, as well as in our personal spirituality.

As a child in England I grew up with a very simple, very wrong, understanding of Christian mission. Basically, mission was something you did somewhere foreign – not like France foreign but Asia and Africa foreign, where people looked different and had different customs and worshiped different gods. The point of mission was to make those people more like us – and most especially to tell them all they had been doing wrong religiously and baptize them as good little Anglicans.

So that was how I used to see this gospel passage. That the disciples, those in the know, are taking their knowledge about God to those who don’t know God. But I think I was wrong about this passage, just as I was wrong about the true meaning of mission. Because, let’s be clear, mission is never about taking God to places where God is not. That’s a literal impossibility. The most impossible of all impossibilities! As Shug knows all of us bring God with us wherever we go, the Spirit of God is deep in the heart of every human being created in her image.

So I’ve come to a new understanding of why the disciples are told to shake the dust of unwelcoming villages from their feet. The sin of these villages lies not in rejecting the disciples’ understanding of God but in rejecting the disciples. The sin is their failure to see God’s presence in the stranger as well as in themselves. The denial of another’s full humanity because they see God differently from you is something we need to shake from our feet and from our society.

For when we fail to recognize that God is present in an individual or a society then we are free to demonize them. We can judge them less than human, less than us, exploitable and expendable. And then see all the evil we can do. We can enslave, we can conquer, we can massacre: often shamefully using our Christian faith as an excuse. And to name names, we Brits and white Americans have been at the heart of this dehumanization of others.

We see this evil still tainting this nation, even so long after we have abolished slavery and, at least partially, recognized the rights of indigenous peoples. It lives on in the everyday racism we see around us – police violence against black youths, the disproportionate poverty of African American communities, the fact that we talk about Asian Americans and African Americans and Native Americans but European Americans are just ‘Americans’. There is a soul sickness at the heart of the United States and its name is racism. We need to see this so we can finally change it.

But all is not ugliness in this country, there is also great beauty. There is infinite beauty in each one of us sitting in the pews, in each human being finding God in their own way. To quote Shug from The Color Purple again: ‘But if God love me, Celie, I don’t have to do all that [going to church]. Unless I want to. There’s a lot of other things I can do that I speck God likes. Like what I ast. Oh she says. I can lay back and just admire stuff. Be happy. Have a good time.’

‘I can lay back and just admire stuff.’ I can lay back and look at the beauty of the Pacific Ocean or the grasses caught by the wind on the Marin headlands. I can admire all the many people in this country who believe in an ethic of equality and personal freedom, who approach the world with a spirit of optimism and strive for self and societal improvement. I can look into the eyes of my friends and see the gaze of the divine looking back at me.

We need to take all this beauty, to gather it up, to embrace it, to wonder at it and to give thanks for it. We need to let it give us refreshment and hope, to let it seep into our pores, to let it embrace us as part of itself. We need to see God in it, to see God in one another, to see God in ourselves, to see God in the ones who see God differently. When we do this we find new courage to live into the beauty. Not because we become blind to the real ugliness of the world but because we are able to confront that ugliness from a place of love.

I’m sure you all know the hymn Amazing Grace and the story behind its author, John Newton. How he was that most despicable of human beings, a slave trader, and how he repented and became a tireless advocate for abolition. And you may think that he wrote Amazing Grace after that repentance. But he didn’t. When he wrote that hymn he was still chaining and selling and brutalizing human beings. The freedom he sang of was freedom from the simpler sins of lust or envy or anger. As Francis Spufford writes in his book Unapologetic ‘it’s rather as if a [Nazi] death-camp guard had had a moral crisis, but over cheating his colleagues at poker, and then continued to come to work stoking the ovens, while vowing shakily to be a better person.’ p37

But that hymn was the beginning of change for John Newton not its end. As he came to see God’s presence in his life so he began to see that life for what it was. Having opened his heart a fraction to the light of divine grace he was finally able to see the true ugliness of the whole inhuman trade. And this opening of our hearts to God is what I hope we do in church each week. Open our hearts to the light of divine grace so we can see ugliness and discover beauty and be transformed. And so we can bring God’s kingdom a little nearer to these United States.

This grace of God is what we come to church to both find and to share. As Shug says, we come to church to share God and to find God in ourselves and in one another. We bring God with us because it is impossible for us to do otherwise. But we also find God here welcoming us in the sacraments we share, in the bread we break and the wine we drink – in the food that transforms us into the body of Christ. And we find a deeper tie than any of creed or nationality or even race, a tie of humanity created and beloved by God, forgiven and graced by God, one people under heaven, one people on God’s beautiful earth.

Discover Grace

Stewardship 2019

The Year of the Body

Above the Fog

Stewardship is a cherished practice of the Episcopal Church that helps us connect our lives to the core mission of Grace Cathedral.

With our annual financial gifts, we deepen our own spiritual awareness of our blessing and share with others in service.

Our 2019 theme is the body.

Every year Grace Cathedral chooses a theme to unify and inspire our community to improve their lives and the world. Our 2019 theme is the body. Join us in exploring this theme through worship, the arts, social justice and more.

Listen to the first season of our new podcast!

Above the Fog is the podcast series from Grace Cathedral that shares the city’s stories with a new lens. Your guides will be the city’s artists, thinkers and doers together with cathedral voices who will inspire you with what’s meaningful about life.


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