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Sunday, March 29
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, March 29
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may the Spirit of God be present.

 

What is your greatest fear right now? Is it the loss of someone you love who is vulnerable, the loss of your own job and any vestige of financial security, the loss of your own health, or the loss of the world as it used to be just a few short weeks ago? My greatest fear is coronavirus getting into my mother’s senior home in England and her dying without me having any way to say goodbye.

 

It seems like anyone who isn’t afraid at the moment isn’t awake. And, to be clear, fear and distress are allowed, expected, even healthy in situations like these. God’s people have always expressed the full range of their very human emotions to God. From the rage and despair of the psalms – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  – to Jesus weeping, maybe even ugly crying, at the grave side of his friend. We are a people who know what it is to walk through wilderness, to walk through despair, to walk through death and to be accompanied by God for every single step. We are a people who know what it is to walk through the bleakest shadow and to find new light on the other side.

 

I’ve always thought there is something deeply ironic in today’s readings coming at this point in the church year. We’re still deep in Lent, we haven’t even reached Passiontide yet, let alone the new life of the resurrection. But God’s promise of new life doesn’t wait for us to get to the crucifixion or to the empty tomb, It doesn’t wait for the end of a pandemic. it comes to surprise us with joy before we could ever expect it. It breaks into our quiet time of discipline, preparation and separation with a shout of new possibility, new hope, new life.

 

Our Hebrew scripture reading and our gospel tell us of two different ways that God gives new life, each of which we need to hear and cling to in the midst of this pandemic.

 

Lazarus first. He is called out of the cool quiet safety of the cave in which he sleeps in death into the fierce light of life, into the painful joy of his sisters, into noise and hubbub and renewed responsibilities and relationships and life. Let’s be clear Lazarus was not taking physical isolating to extremes, he was dead. God’s fierce gift of life in Christ reaches across that narrow barrier and calls this man to return. To return and then one day to die again.

 

I do not think we can expect ourselves or our beloved ones to be called back to this life from being dead three days. That sharp divine focus on one life seems now to be a broad divine panorama of all lives. God’s voice doesn’t now call one person back from death – but calls all of us back from the many small deaths that keep us from living free, loving, joy-filled, purposeful lives. The death that is despair – I doubt I’m the only one who has woken in the night to cry into my pillow, the death that is indifference – surely those old folk don’t mind dying so that my prosperous life is secure, the death that is hate – let’s make this virus an excuse for yet another brand of racism. Hear Christ’s voice calling you to come out from those small deaths, follow that voice into the light of hope, of cherishing the other, of deep love for all fragile humanity.

 

And then there is the new life that comes to that valley of the dry bones. That wasteland of a society that had turned away from God’s call to justice and to love and had lost its claim to humanity in the process. A society that no longer has the softness of flesh, the vulnerability of blood, the potential of muscle; one that has been reduced to hardness, to scarcity, to the unyielding breakable insufficiency of bone.

 

Ezekiel may have been speaking of what he saw in his own time and people. A people defeated by their own inner demons as well as by outside forces of oppressive, aggressive empires. We need to speak of what we see in our own time and our own people.

 

We are a profoundly broken society, broken long before Covid-19 came along to highlight our deficiencies. We choose leaders for ourselves who consistently put the economic prosperity of large companies above the basic needs of the poor. We rate our own safety as more important than the well-being of others and use fear as a reason to hold children in cages. We fail to weep whenever we see a fellow human being sleeping in dirt on a street corner. This is us – me as well as ‘them’ as well as you. Our society. Our responsibility. Our loss of humanity to become bare cold bones.

 

But we are not a forsaken society. New breath, new gentleness, new vulnerability, new life can come to this bleak valley, to these stripped bones.  Can these bones live? Yes they can, now as then! It is beyond time to open ourselves to God’s breath in us. To the breath that brought us life in the first place. To the breath that speaks words of love and forgiveness. To the breath that breathes in every human being, every living creature, and that unites us more closely more fiercely than our shared vulnerability to Covid 19.

 

How to do that? How to let the prophetic breath of God into our society’s dry bones? How to let the life-giving voice of Christ into our personal little deaths? It is only through the second that we can do the first. To let Christ call us from our small deaths of selfish choices, our small deaths of fearful living, our small deaths of hopelessness. To decide to live as if each person mattered as much as we do. To decide to live as though we truly believe in a God who can bring forgiveness out of judgment, abundance out of scarcity, hope out of despair, life out of death.

 

And to live like this without denying the storm of emotions that sweep through us on a daily basis. The fear, the despair, the anger, the longing for life to be otherwise. Bring these to God. Speak these to others. Know your humanity, and in knowing your own, know the humanity of every person who shares this world with you.

 

I’ll leave you with the words of Australian poet Michael Leunig

 

When the heart

Is cut or cracked or broken

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open

 

Let the wind

From the good old sea blow in

To bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting

 

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing

A simple song like a tiny bell

And let it ring

Thursday, March 26
Giving Your Life
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
Read sermon

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” John 12.

 

This poem is called “Ask Me,” by William Stafford (1914-1993):

“Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

 

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.”[1]

 

Is what you have done your life? What difference have those who love you and hate you made?

Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12). He puts into question what it means to live or die. He makes us less certain what our life really is. I believe that it takes someone with the power of Jesus to dispel our most persistent illusions. Some fantasies can be so widespread within a culture that it can take generations to understand the truth.

On August 18, 1967 at Boston’s Fenway Park Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro was at the plate facing California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton. On the first pitch Hamilton threw a fastball that crushed the left side of Conigliaro’s face. Conigliaro never completely recovered from his injury. He left baseball in 1975 and died at the age of forty-five. That moment changed Jack Hamilton forever too.

In 1990 when Conigliaro died, Hamilton gave an interview with the New York Times in which he recalled what happened that day. “I’ve had to live with it,” He said,”I think about it a lot. It was like the sixth inning when it happened. I think the score was 2-1, and he was the eighth hitter in the batting order. With the pitcher up next, I had no reason to throw at him.” Hamilton remembers visiting him in the hospital that afternoon. He also remembers wondering whether he should return to Fenway for the next series of games that season.

Although Hamilton probably thought about this day many times his recollections were almost completely wrong. The accident didn’t happen in the sixth inning but in the fourth. The score was not 2-1 but 0-0. Conigliaro wasn’t the eighth hitter but the sixth. It wasn’t even a day game so Hamilton couldn’t have visited him in the hospital that afternoon, and there were no other games in Boston that year for him to wonder about whether or not he should go back there.[2]

It should come as no surprise to us that our memories are unreliable, that we get important details wrong. A cognitive psychologist asked forty-four students the question, “How did you first hear the news of the space ship Challenger explosion.” He asked them the morning after the explosion and then two and a half years later. Although they described the memories as vivid during this second interview, none of their memories were completely accurate and one third of their memories were what the researcher called “wildly inaccurate.” Many of these students couldn’t believe that their revised memories were wrong. “This is my handwriting, so it must be right,” said one student, “but I still remember everything the way I told you [just now]. I can’t help it.”[3]

In modern times there are so many subtle ways of not believing in God. One of them is to understand ourselves as a kind of videotape that summarizes our past, to think that in a significant sense we are our memories. If this is the implicit picture that someone has of himself, a psychologist’s claims that the tape is unreliable can seem like an attack on a person’s identity.

For me this way of understanding our selves is in contrast with the Bible. According to Christian tradition we do not have an existence that is independent of God. Who we are does not derive from who we were. Our life is not something that came about accidentally because of the lust or love of two other human beings a long time ago. We don’t earn our life. Instead we constantly derive our life from God. Who we are is a gift from God that we receive every day.

This means that you are fundamentally safe. You do not need to worry about losing your job, your spouse, your health, the respect of the other kids in school. The self that you are is not something that you achieve through some kind of work. It is not something that comes into existence because of what you think. This self is safe from the world

Perhaps what Jesus means is that the part of ourselves we are so afraid of losing isn’t really us anyway.

The novelist Ernest Hemmingway writes about a father in Spain who wanted to be reconciled to his runaway son. The father takes out an advertisement in the Madrid paper El Liberal. It says, “Paco, meet me noon on Tuesday at the Hotel Montana. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.” Paco was a common name in those days. When the father showed up he found eight hundred young men looking for their fathers.[4]

The way that Jesus speaks through the Bible is like this. Right here we have a whole sworld full of Pacos, of children returning to their father. We are not our memories, our thoughts or even our actions. Like California pitcher Jack Hamilton we will make minor mistakes and some terrible life-changing ones.

But none of this changes the truth. You can ask me if what I have done is my life or about the influence of people who have loved and hated me. But that is not what I am. We are children of God who Jesus calls to return. And one day he will lift us all up into the fullness of divine joy.

 

[1] Published in Twentieth-Century American Poetry, Ed. Dana Gioia, David Mason, Meg Schoerke (NY: McGraw Hill, 2004), 530.

[2] Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketchem, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 75.

[3] Ibid., 91-2.

[4] Thomas Tewell, “The Things We Dare Not Remember,” Thirty Good Minutes, 16 November 2003. http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/tewell_4707.htm

Sermons from the last six months are available below. You can also listen to our sermons as a podcast, Sermons from Grace, wherever you get your podcasts!

 

Sunday, March 29
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
Read sermon

Between the words that are spoken and the words that are heard, may the Spirit of God be present.

 

What is your greatest fear right now? Is it the loss of someone you love who is vulnerable, the loss of your own job and any vestige of financial security, the loss of your own health, or the loss of the world as it used to be just a few short weeks ago? My greatest fear is coronavirus getting into my mother’s senior home in England and her dying without me having any way to say goodbye.

 

It seems like anyone who isn’t afraid at the moment isn’t awake. And, to be clear, fear and distress are allowed, expected, even healthy in situations like these. God’s people have always expressed the full range of their very human emotions to God. From the rage and despair of the psalms – My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?  – to Jesus weeping, maybe even ugly crying, at the grave side of his friend. We are a people who know what it is to walk through wilderness, to walk through despair, to walk through death and to be accompanied by God for every single step. We are a people who know what it is to walk through the bleakest shadow and to find new light on the other side.

 

I’ve always thought there is something deeply ironic in today’s readings coming at this point in the church year. We’re still deep in Lent, we haven’t even reached Passiontide yet, let alone the new life of the resurrection. But God’s promise of new life doesn’t wait for us to get to the crucifixion or to the empty tomb, It doesn’t wait for the end of a pandemic. it comes to surprise us with joy before we could ever expect it. It breaks into our quiet time of discipline, preparation and separation with a shout of new possibility, new hope, new life.

 

Our Hebrew scripture reading and our gospel tell us of two different ways that God gives new life, each of which we need to hear and cling to in the midst of this pandemic.

 

Lazarus first. He is called out of the cool quiet safety of the cave in which he sleeps in death into the fierce light of life, into the painful joy of his sisters, into noise and hubbub and renewed responsibilities and relationships and life. Let’s be clear Lazarus was not taking physical isolating to extremes, he was dead. God’s fierce gift of life in Christ reaches across that narrow barrier and calls this man to return. To return and then one day to die again.

 

I do not think we can expect ourselves or our beloved ones to be called back to this life from being dead three days. That sharp divine focus on one life seems now to be a broad divine panorama of all lives. God’s voice doesn’t now call one person back from death – but calls all of us back from the many small deaths that keep us from living free, loving, joy-filled, purposeful lives. The death that is despair – I doubt I’m the only one who has woken in the night to cry into my pillow, the death that is indifference – surely those old folk don’t mind dying so that my prosperous life is secure, the death that is hate – let’s make this virus an excuse for yet another brand of racism. Hear Christ’s voice calling you to come out from those small deaths, follow that voice into the light of hope, of cherishing the other, of deep love for all fragile humanity.

 

And then there is the new life that comes to that valley of the dry bones. That wasteland of a society that had turned away from God’s call to justice and to love and had lost its claim to humanity in the process. A society that no longer has the softness of flesh, the vulnerability of blood, the potential of muscle; one that has been reduced to hardness, to scarcity, to the unyielding breakable insufficiency of bone.

 

Ezekiel may have been speaking of what he saw in his own time and people. A people defeated by their own inner demons as well as by outside forces of oppressive, aggressive empires. We need to speak of what we see in our own time and our own people.

 

We are a profoundly broken society, broken long before Covid-19 came along to highlight our deficiencies. We choose leaders for ourselves who consistently put the economic prosperity of large companies above the basic needs of the poor. We rate our own safety as more important than the well-being of others and use fear as a reason to hold children in cages. We fail to weep whenever we see a fellow human being sleeping in dirt on a street corner. This is us – me as well as ‘them’ as well as you. Our society. Our responsibility. Our loss of humanity to become bare cold bones.

 

But we are not a forsaken society. New breath, new gentleness, new vulnerability, new life can come to this bleak valley, to these stripped bones.  Can these bones live? Yes they can, now as then! It is beyond time to open ourselves to God’s breath in us. To the breath that brought us life in the first place. To the breath that speaks words of love and forgiveness. To the breath that breathes in every human being, every living creature, and that unites us more closely more fiercely than our shared vulnerability to Covid 19.

 

How to do that? How to let the prophetic breath of God into our society’s dry bones? How to let the life-giving voice of Christ into our personal little deaths? It is only through the second that we can do the first. To let Christ call us from our small deaths of selfish choices, our small deaths of fearful living, our small deaths of hopelessness. To decide to live as if each person mattered as much as we do. To decide to live as though we truly believe in a God who can bring forgiveness out of judgment, abundance out of scarcity, hope out of despair, life out of death.

 

And to live like this without denying the storm of emotions that sweep through us on a daily basis. The fear, the despair, the anger, the longing for life to be otherwise. Bring these to God. Speak these to others. Know your humanity, and in knowing your own, know the humanity of every person who shares this world with you.

 

I’ll leave you with the words of Australian poet Michael Leunig

 

When the heart

Is cut or cracked or broken

Do not clutch it

Let the wound lie open

 

Let the wind

From the good old sea blow in

To bathe the wound with salt

And let it sting

 

Let a stray dog lick it

Let a bird lean in the hole and sing

A simple song like a tiny bell

And let it ring

Thursday, March 26
Giving Your Life
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
Read sermon

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” John 12.

 

This poem is called “Ask Me,” by William Stafford (1914-1993):

“Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life. Others

have come in their slow way into

my thought, and some have tried to help

or to hurt: ask me what difference

their strongest love or hate has made.

 

I will listen to what you say.

You and I can turn and look

at the silent river and wait. We know

the current is there, hidden; and there

are comings and goings from miles away

that hold the stillness exactly before us.

What the river says, that is what I say.”[1]

 

Is what you have done your life? What difference have those who love you and hate you made?

Jesus says, “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (Jn. 12). He puts into question what it means to live or die. He makes us less certain what our life really is. I believe that it takes someone with the power of Jesus to dispel our most persistent illusions. Some fantasies can be so widespread within a culture that it can take generations to understand the truth.

On August 18, 1967 at Boston’s Fenway Park Red Sox outfielder Tony Conigliaro was at the plate facing California Angels pitcher Jack Hamilton. On the first pitch Hamilton threw a fastball that crushed the left side of Conigliaro’s face. Conigliaro never completely recovered from his injury. He left baseball in 1975 and died at the age of forty-five. That moment changed Jack Hamilton forever too.

In 1990 when Conigliaro died, Hamilton gave an interview with the New York Times in which he recalled what happened that day. “I’ve had to live with it,” He said,”I think about it a lot. It was like the sixth inning when it happened. I think the score was 2-1, and he was the eighth hitter in the batting order. With the pitcher up next, I had no reason to throw at him.” Hamilton remembers visiting him in the hospital that afternoon. He also remembers wondering whether he should return to Fenway for the next series of games that season.

Although Hamilton probably thought about this day many times his recollections were almost completely wrong. The accident didn’t happen in the sixth inning but in the fourth. The score was not 2-1 but 0-0. Conigliaro wasn’t the eighth hitter but the sixth. It wasn’t even a day game so Hamilton couldn’t have visited him in the hospital that afternoon, and there were no other games in Boston that year for him to wonder about whether or not he should go back there.[2]

It should come as no surprise to us that our memories are unreliable, that we get important details wrong. A cognitive psychologist asked forty-four students the question, “How did you first hear the news of the space ship Challenger explosion.” He asked them the morning after the explosion and then two and a half years later. Although they described the memories as vivid during this second interview, none of their memories were completely accurate and one third of their memories were what the researcher called “wildly inaccurate.” Many of these students couldn’t believe that their revised memories were wrong. “This is my handwriting, so it must be right,” said one student, “but I still remember everything the way I told you [just now]. I can’t help it.”[3]

In modern times there are so many subtle ways of not believing in God. One of them is to understand ourselves as a kind of videotape that summarizes our past, to think that in a significant sense we are our memories. If this is the implicit picture that someone has of himself, a psychologist’s claims that the tape is unreliable can seem like an attack on a person’s identity.

For me this way of understanding our selves is in contrast with the Bible. According to Christian tradition we do not have an existence that is independent of God. Who we are does not derive from who we were. Our life is not something that came about accidentally because of the lust or love of two other human beings a long time ago. We don’t earn our life. Instead we constantly derive our life from God. Who we are is a gift from God that we receive every day.

This means that you are fundamentally safe. You do not need to worry about losing your job, your spouse, your health, the respect of the other kids in school. The self that you are is not something that you achieve through some kind of work. It is not something that comes into existence because of what you think. This self is safe from the world

Perhaps what Jesus means is that the part of ourselves we are so afraid of losing isn’t really us anyway.

The novelist Ernest Hemmingway writes about a father in Spain who wanted to be reconciled to his runaway son. The father takes out an advertisement in the Madrid paper El Liberal. It says, “Paco, meet me noon on Tuesday at the Hotel Montana. All is forgiven! Love, Papa.” Paco was a common name in those days. When the father showed up he found eight hundred young men looking for their fathers.[4]

The way that Jesus speaks through the Bible is like this. Right here we have a whole sworld full of Pacos, of children returning to their father. We are not our memories, our thoughts or even our actions. Like California pitcher Jack Hamilton we will make minor mistakes and some terrible life-changing ones.

But none of this changes the truth. You can ask me if what I have done is my life or about the influence of people who have loved and hated me. But that is not what I am. We are children of God who Jesus calls to return. And one day he will lift us all up into the fullness of divine joy.

 

[1] Published in Twentieth-Century American Poetry, Ed. Dana Gioia, David Mason, Meg Schoerke (NY: McGraw Hill, 2004), 530.

[2] Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketchem, The Myth of Repressed Memory: False Memories and Allegations of Sexual Abuse (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 1994), 75.

[3] Ibid., 91-2.

[4] Thomas Tewell, “The Things We Dare Not Remember,” Thirty Good Minutes, 16 November 2003. http://www.csec.org/csec/sermon/tewell_4707.htm

Sunday, March 22
Seeing, Belonging, Becoming in the Days of Coronavirus
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

Malcolm Clemens Young 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 2A14 Psalm 23
4 Lent (Year A) 11:00 a.m. Eucharist Mostly Online Ephesians 5:8-14
Sunday 22 March 2020 John 9:1-41

Seeing, Belonging, Becoming in the Days of Coronavirus
“For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of the light…” (Ephesians 5).

How do you see things differently now? As coronavirus fear takes hold, and society shuts down, what is changing in you? I have three chapters on seeing, belonging and becoming.

1. Seeing. Annie Dillard writes that, “Seeing is… a matter of verbalization. Unless I call attention to what passes before my eyes, I simply won’t see it. It is as [John] Ruskin says, “not merely unnoticed, but in the full and clear sense of the word, unseen.””

Dillard describes what happened when surgeons first learned how to perform safe cataract operations to give sight to dozens of people of all ages who had been blind from birth. Many doctors tested their patients’ sense perceptions before and after the surgery. They found that the vast majority of patients had no sense of space at all. They fundamentally did not understand the idea of form, distance, size or depth. The world just looked like flat patches of vivid color to them.

Before the operation the doctor would give the patient a cube or a sphere to hold. After the surgery they were showed the same object, but it seemed unrecognizable unless they could touch it. When the doctor asked a girl how big her mother was she held her index fingers a few inches apart. One newly sighted person played a game with herself of tossing a boot on the floor and then trying to guess how far away it was.

Some patients were terrified by the tremendous size of a world that previously seemed manageable and touchable. They felt overwhelmed by the effort required to comprehend everything new. Others experienced an uncomfortable new self-consciousness. They felt ashamed of what others had been seeing in them all along.

A disturbing number of patients wanted to return to being blind or simply refused to use their new sense. One girl, whose father had longed for the operation, never seemed happier than when she would carefully shut her eyes as she walked around her house. A doctor wrote about, “the rapid and complete loss of that striking and wonderful serenity which is characteristic of those who have never seen.”

At the same time many who gained their sight so profoundly relished their new visual experience that they help us to not take its wonders for granted. Althought our hnds are mostly invisible to us, one patient marveled at it. She described it as, “something bright and then holes.” A little girl visiting a garden paused, speechless standing in front of a tree. As she touched it she called it, “the tree with the lights in it.”

A twenty year old girl was so dazzled by the world’s brightness that she kept her eyes shut for two weeks. At the end of that time she opened her eyes with an expression of such joy and astonishment, as she kept repeating, “Oh God! How beautiful!”

2. Belonging. What we see arises out of how we belong. This is true of what we see physically and what we see spiritually. We might forget that this is part of the philosopher Plato’s (423-347 BC) point in his book Republic. He gives us that memorable image of prisoners confusing shadows on the back of their cave for reality. Plato wants us to understand that the ruling elite construct our shared reality and maintain it for their own purposes. They try to determine how we will all see.

Just prior to our Gospel story, Jesus has come into severe conflict with the authorities over exactly this issue. The argument gets so heated that they try to kill him right there but he escapes into hiding (Jn. 8:59).

Then walking along Jesus meets someone who is invisible to nearly everyone, a blind beggar. Like us, from childhood he has been socialized. He has been taught to believe in a particular picture of the world, that our health is determined by our own sinful actions or those of our parents. His society regards him as unclean and he probably sees himself in that way too.

We might think that we have grown out of this way of thinking. But as events unfold around the coronavirus I am sure we will continue to hear people who want to blame and scapegoat others for our suffering. I refuse to believe that our Chinese brothers and sisters are responsible for this no matter who it is that accuses them.

The religious leaders ask Jesus, “who sinned this man or his parents that he was born blind?” This is not just about politics. It also reminds me of people who cannot believe in God because of the suffering that they see. Jesus replies that it does not help to ask why the man was born blind. Instead we should be looking for a way to do God’s work.

Jesus spits in the dirt, makes it into clay, puts it on the blind man’s eyes and asks him to wash in the Pool of Siloam. Through this baptism this man is completely transformed. He is reborn not just physically but spiritually. For him the world is no longer a place in which God punishes people with blindness, or where we have to accept the judgment of leaders who continually assert their own superiority over others. His identity has changed too. He’s not the blind man any more. He’s not the beggar, but a new person who can see the truth and has the confidence to confront authorities. And this makes him unrecognizable to nearly everyone.

There is too much to say about this. To maintain their false picture of an all-embracing sacred order the religious leaders threaten the parents with expulsion from the synagogue. Ultimately these authorities give up their argument with the blind man. They want to put him back in the box saying that he was born in sin. They excommunicate him. But by this time everything is clear.

Jesus finds him and points out the obvious. Jesus has come, “for judgment so that those who do not see may see and those who see may become blind” (Jn. 9).

3. Becoming. Seeing and belonging ultimately lead us to the truth, the Holy One, the source of all things. As the coronavirus threatens our souls, as fear grips the people around us, as the foundations of the social order appear to be melting, people of faith have an invisible source of consolation. The Christian tradition reminds us what it was like when we went through times like these before.

About once in every generation from the 1340’s to the 1600’s Christians faced the plague. Imagine life for St. Catherine of Siena when between early spring and the end of August in 1493 four-fifths of the population died. Someone wrote, “for this illness seemed to strike through the breath and the sight.” There were not enough survivors to bury the bodies.

Great mystics of these dangerous times have contributed to our spiritual DNA. At the gate of death, in an almost fatal illness, Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) came so close to God that we still remember the words that moment inspired. She wrote about the power of divine love to be everything for us saying, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

The great preacher Meister Eckhart (1260-1328) taught that the, “seed of God is in us,” that we were created for union with God. He believed that the capacity for outer vision is so nurtured by the distractions of life that it is over-developed. While our inward or spiritual vision is correspondingly weak.

Eckhart believes that we identify ourselves with the wrong things – with our status or reputation. Our ego needs seem insatiable. And our soul is so busy with frivolous details. But God’s love draws us toward the Divine. And when we strip away the clutter we find ourselves at the self that understands its being is from God. He writes, “Grace is not a stationary thing; it is always found in becoming.”

Finally, Eckhart says, “when this birth really happens no creature in all the world will stand in your way, and what is more, they will all point you to God… Indeed, what was formerly a hindrance becomes now a help. Everything stands for God and you see only God in all the world.”

A month ago coronavirus seemed like a problem for far distant peoples. Today we are sheltering in place, talking constantly about superspreaders, flattening the curve, social distancing and the supply of ventilators as the global economy melts down.

Stay at home. Prepare yourself and those around you for the worst. But also, remember that we do not experience the world as it is but only through the stories that give us meaning.

Be baptized. Be reborn. Use this sabbath time to see more deeply into reality, into this vast, beautiful and colorful world. Stretch your picture of belonging more widely to recognize what we did not quite notice before, that without exception the whole human family is one. Become more fully alive in God.

We did this before. So let God’s works be revealed in you. Live as children of light. All will be well.

Sunday, March 15
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sunday, March 8
Love in the Time of Coronavirus
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (Jn. 3).
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Thursday, March 5
Seeker of Truth
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Creator of the earth and skies to whom the words of life belong, grant us your truth to make us wise, grant us your power to make us strong” (Hymn 148).

Alan Jones once wrote, “When it comes to the story of my life, I want the deepest and best interpretation put on it by a sympathetic narrator.” I read this many years ago and no one could feel more surprised and honored than I do to find myself in this position tonight. Alan is the best Dean Emeritus I could imagine. At every stage he has helped me in small matters and consequential ones. He has walked in my shoes and I’m profoundly grateful for his kind encouragement and wisdom.

Alan is one of the most prominent preachers of our time and tonight as we celebrate his birthday I want to consider what God shows us through his thought and life. I believe that Alan’s power comes from his absolute dedication to truth. He courageously  teaches us that the people you have to lie to, own you. He writes that, “The truth that makes us free, is for the most part, truth I prefer not to hear.”[1]

Alan speaks in a compelling way about the truth of spiritual struggle and darkness, of uncertainty and isolation. And yet his conclusions about beauty, humility and mystery have become a deep and hopeful part of us. Let me briefly explore each of those subjects to give you a sense for what I mean.

  1. Beauty. At the very heart of Alan’s message is a simple idea. He says that “life is a gift from God. It is all a gift.” Surprisingly often on Thursday nights I imagine Alan at his first Evensong when he was only seven years old. No none could have imagined how he would serve the church over the next seventy-three years.

One of the things he learned early was that music and beauty help us to receive our life as a gift. In Alan’s thought, gratitude for our existence comes before any other story or reasoning. He points out that what we attend to most is what most shapes our soul.[2] For him it is a spirit of thanksgiving to God.

2.Humility. Alan says frankly, “I have always preached to those who have lost their way.” It just so happens that most of us fit right in to this category. You will rarely hear a preacher who is as acutely conscious of his own sinfulness and the power of sin to distort human life. Alan does not hide his own brokenness.

Alan says, “As we get older, the full truth about ourselves involves a long story of mistakes, betrayals, loves, failures…” But he also points out that over time, “our longing for truth becomes more like a longing for integrity and forgiveness than the longing to rearrange the facts of the past in our favor.” He says, “I would like to give the gift of my unguarded self.”[3]

  1. Mystery. I’ve never heard anyone point this out before but one of Alan’s most frequently used expressions is “I haven’t a clue.” Alan honors the mystery of God and the mystery that we are to ourselves. He calls God “the great incomprehensible presence within each of us” and says that we are both more and less than we think we are.[4]

Alan quotes Gary Wills who writes, “We seek one mystery, God, with another mystery, ourselves. We are mysterious to ourselves because God’s mystery is in us.” Refering to a conversation between Ram Dass and himself, the two agree that, “The name of the game we are in is called ‘Being at one with the Beloved.”[5]

Beyond his theology Alan has also taught us that, “truth-telling creates a community of trust.” And that is what Grace Cathedral is. It would be irresponsible if I did not point out some of the extraordinary things we accomplished as a community with Alan’s guidance. Lauren Artress and Alan started the worldwide labyrinth movement. During Alan’s tenure we responded valiantly to the AIDS crisis and built the Interfaith AIDS chapel. We started a yoga practice that hosts 600 people each week (perhaps the largest regular yoga practice in the world).

Grace Comm revolutionized how religion happens on the Internet and gave the Cathedral an outsized presence there. Under Alan’s leadership we started the Forum and the simply miraculous Community Preschool.

At UC Berkeley there is a plaque in memory of the architect John Galen Howard which says something like, “His monuments stand all around you.” That is true for Alan too. The garage, the crypt, the great stairs, the plaza, the chapter house, huge sections of CSB – these all consumed hundreds of hours of Alan’s attention.

What we think of as the modern Grace Cathedral would be inconceivable without him and his vision of truth as a community project requiring vulnerability and faith.

In conclusion, Alan likes to tell the story of the playwright Arthur Miller writing about his wife Marilyn Monroe as she slipped into a terrible period of depression and paranoia. One evening watching his drugged and sleeping wife. Miller wrote, “I found myself straining to imagine miracles. What if she were to wake up and I were able to say, “God loves you darling” and she were able to believe it! How I wish I still had my religion and she had hers.”

In response Alan writes, “God loves you darling comes closer to the absolute truth than any phrase I know.”[6] Thank you Alan for what you have taught us about gratitude and beauty, for your vulnerability, for opening a door to the greatest mystery. Life is a gift from God. It is all a gift.

 

[1] Alan is citing Michael Venture speaking in the Sun in September 1999. Alan Jones, Living the Truth (Boston: Cowley Publications, 2000) 101, xi.

[2] Ibid., 122, 153.

[3] Ibid., 85, 120.

[4] Ibid., 23.

[5] Ibid., 134, 53.

[6] Ibid., 9.

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