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Sunday, September 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, September 19
Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, September 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Thursday, September 19
Dancing with All Our Might
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Then the prophet Miriam… took a tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them (Ex. 15).

We called our second floor Cambridge apartment Happy Woods. The light filtered in through the canopy of the oak trees and friends were always around. I was a stay-at-home dad during our son Micah’s toddler years. Through hot summers and snowy winters the two of us would check outCuban dance music from the local library, come home and dance with all our might. I can imagine heaven must be a little like that with Tito Puente, Ibrahim Ferrer, Buena Vista Social Club, and the people I love, we will all be dancing with all our might.

Dancing made our children love weddings – and we went to a lot of them. Then in elementary school at basketball practice one of Micah’s teammates told him that dancing was for girls. I was so proud of our son for speaking right up about the beauty and joy of dancing for all people.

I didn’t realize it but “dancing with all their might” is how the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible describes the way that King David and all of Israel danced when they brought home the Ark of the Covenant. When Michal daughter of Saul saw King David dancing, “she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16). She thought dancing demeaned him in the eyes of others (particularly “the servants’ maids”).

Dancing and opposition to it are more ancient than the Bible. When the people of God escaped from slavery in Egypt they couldn’t contain themselves. They danced with all of their might. The psalmist sings about praising God’s name with dancing (Ps. 149). In the story of the Prodigal Son the bitterness of the elder brother is magnified when he is coming in from the fields and hears the music and the dancing.

I think that despising dancing is a way that we hate ourselves. It is how we reject the joy that lies at the heart of our being. Today we honor the ministry of Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. Frankly it is in large part because their work brings us closer to God and to the gratitude and joy that we were created by God to share.

This year as our Artist in Residence Alonzo has become a kind of spiritual teacher for me. He has taught me that music, movement and light are the most primary way we experience creation and respond to it. He has shown me how physical gestures are often more profound than words, that what we do with our body has a fundamental effect on our spirit.

When Alonzo says, “my real work is the transformation of the self,” he says this as a dance teacher in the deepest sense of the word – as someone who teaches us how to in his words “move through the world.” Dance helps us to pay attention to that transformation. The movements of dancing make us who we are. They are one way our body becomes an instrument for discerning the truth.

On your way out have a closer look at the largest figure in the stained glass window of the North Transept. That is David and although he carries a large gold harp, don’t forget that he is a dancer. As you go your way say a prayer for Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. They are teaching the world to dance with all our might.

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, September 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Thursday, September 19
Dancing with All Our Might
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Read sermon

“Then the prophet Miriam… took a tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them (Ex. 15).

We called our second floor Cambridge apartment Happy Woods. The light filtered in through the canopy of the oak trees and friends were always around. I was a stay-at-home dad during our son Micah’s toddler years. Through hot summers and snowy winters the two of us would check outCuban dance music from the local library, come home and dance with all our might. I can imagine heaven must be a little like that with Tito Puente, Ibrahim Ferrer, Buena Vista Social Club, and the people I love, we will all be dancing with all our might.

Dancing made our children love weddings – and we went to a lot of them. Then in elementary school at basketball practice one of Micah’s teammates told him that dancing was for girls. I was so proud of our son for speaking right up about the beauty and joy of dancing for all people.

I didn’t realize it but “dancing with all their might” is how the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible describes the way that King David and all of Israel danced when they brought home the Ark of the Covenant. When Michal daughter of Saul saw King David dancing, “she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16). She thought dancing demeaned him in the eyes of others (particularly “the servants’ maids”).

Dancing and opposition to it are more ancient than the Bible. When the people of God escaped from slavery in Egypt they couldn’t contain themselves. They danced with all of their might. The psalmist sings about praising God’s name with dancing (Ps. 149). In the story of the Prodigal Son the bitterness of the elder brother is magnified when he is coming in from the fields and hears the music and the dancing.

I think that despising dancing is a way that we hate ourselves. It is how we reject the joy that lies at the heart of our being. Today we honor the ministry of Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. Frankly it is in large part because their work brings us closer to God and to the gratitude and joy that we were created by God to share.

This year as our Artist in Residence Alonzo has become a kind of spiritual teacher for me. He has taught me that music, movement and light are the most primary way we experience creation and respond to it. He has shown me how physical gestures are often more profound than words, that what we do with our body has a fundamental effect on our spirit.

When Alonzo says, “my real work is the transformation of the self,” he says this as a dance teacher in the deepest sense of the word – as someone who teaches us how to in his words “move through the world.” Dance helps us to pay attention to that transformation. The movements of dancing make us who we are. They are one way our body becomes an instrument for discerning the truth.

On your way out have a closer look at the largest figure in the stained glass window of the North Transept. That is David and although he carries a large gold harp, don’t forget that he is a dancer. As you go your way say a prayer for Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. They are teaching the world to dance with all our might.

Sunday, September 15
Joy in Heaven
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“There is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15).

 

At my last church I had a former cathedral dean as a mentor.[1] He told me that

good preaching is like the three-step process for candle making. First, you heat the wax, then you mold it and finally you harden it. This is what Jesus does with us today. The wax is our time-hardened picture of God. The process of heating and breaking down this idea may feel painful. After all, our understanding of God will always be close to our deepest assumptions about what the world is and what we should do in it.

Do you know the difference between a myth and a parable? A myth is not a fiction. It is not the opposite of fact. Instead, myths are about our identity. Myths explain who we are and where we come from.

People often ask how my wife Heidi and I met. It is a factual story about how we came to recognize each other, and how our very different stories became one story. We have myths about what it means to be an American, or an employee of Apple Computer Company, or a San Franciscan, or a white person, or any other identity. They show us how we belong.

Parables however, at least in the way Jesus uses them, overturn what we take for granted. They challenge our picture of ourselves. They force us to look for truer ways to understand who we are and who God is.

Sinners, sex workers, tax collectors, the collaborators of the occupying Roman army come to be near Jesus, to hear him teach. This deeply offends the religious people of his time. In Greek they diagonguzo, they mutter and murmur. In response to the complaints Jesus says, I came for the very people who offend you.

There is an old Celtic story about a monk who died.[2] They buried his body in the wall of the chapel. Three days later the monks heard sounds coming from inside the tomb. They took out a brick and were amazed to find the monk alive. He exclaimed, “Oh brothers, I’ve been there! I’ve seen it! And it’s nothing like the way our theology says it is!” So they put him back in the wall and sealed the tomb again. People who try to change our idea of God can expect resistance.

Jesus tells us strange parables about seeking something small and insignificant, finding it and then having a celebration wildly out of proportion for the occasion. He turns the familiar trope of searching for God on its head and instead talks about how God seeks us. Rather than a religious community defined by its morality, he gives us a picture of a church as a kind of celebration for sinners rejoicing in new life.

“Which of you having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the desert (eremos – like our word for hermit) to go after the one that is lost until he finds it” (Lk. 15)? Of course, the answer is that no one would do this. No supervisor at Intel, no water resource civil servant in Sacramento, no PG&E manager, no superintendent of schools, no reasonable person would put ninety-nine percent of her assets in danger to save one percent.

If this were not strange enough, the shepherd carries the dirty, cantankerous old ram home on his shoulders rejoicing and then tells everyone what happened. “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” Would anyone else really care the way that the shepherd does? The word for rejoicing repeated over and over here is xaris, as in the Eucharist, the rejoicing meal we share every week in which we are for a moment elevated to the presence of Jesus.

Or imagine a woman who only has one hundred dollars and loses a ten-dollar bill. She searches for it by burning a two-dollar candle and then invites her neighbors over to celebrate. The party probably costs more than the money she found. Three things stand out in these pictures of God.

  1. First, according to Jesus, we cannot comprehend God in the sense of being able to see all the way around the divine. At one level this is obvious. The duration of our life, what we are capable of experiencing is such a tiny crumb of everything. God has been at work making and sustaining the universe for 13.75 billion years. The edge of the observable universe seems to be 46.5 billion light years away.

We live in a strange world of surprising evolution, mathematical elegance, seemingly universal physical laws and unexpected beauty. God is unfathomable, extravagant, unbound by our understanding of reason. God’s ways are strange to us. They do not conform to our self-interested understanding of fairness.

  1. Second, Jesus seems deeply concerned about the way our ideas of fairness endanger our relationship with God. The parable of the laborers who work for a different number of hours and yet receive the same pay, the parable after this about the prodigal son who squanders his inheritance and comes back home and these two parables in which the ninety-nine unlost sheep and the 9 unlost coins seem superfluous – these all upset our ideas about God’s fairness. God does not conform to our idea of justice. At some level it bothers us that God loves people who are so much less lovable than we are.

Make no mistake, faith in God is not about belief, or analyzing evidence about a proposition. Our life is not a trial of God. Neither is it a process of earning rewards. More than anything in our time we worship success. If the tragedy of Jeffrey Epstein teaches us anything it should be that today in America you can do pretty much anything you like. As long as you are successful people will respect you and make excuses for your behavior. This makes Jesus especially hard for us to understand. One of our most deeply held, unexamined beliefs is our conviction that love is a reward for being good.

Faith means letting go of being offended that God is not the way we expect God to be. Really faith means beginning to see our self as one of the lost things in the universe, and trying to find our way home.

  1. So we do not know much about God. We have no idea how God creates matter, sustains the massive, complicated universe. We have no clue how God hears the prayers of all creation. But we do know one thing – that God is a determined seeker. It is in God’s nature to risk everything to recover what is lost. It is in a shepherd’s nature to herd sheep, it is in a householder’s nature to put a home in order and it is in God’s nature to seek us and then to rejoice at our homecoming when we change our heart.

This is good news for us, because even if you are on the right path at this moment, you know what it feels like to be lost. I am certain that you have friends and family who are lost right now. It could be the result of poor choices, sheer bad luck, or addiction. It could be because you desire something that is bad for you, or because you want something good too much. It happens for the teenager who cannot fit in and for the person facing her own death wondering what the world will be like without her.

The Kentucky farmer and poet Wendell Berry has his own parable about being lost. Berry writes about abandoned homesteads far out in the country. Every part of them that is not made of stone has rotted away. Foundations, chimneys, and cellars are all that is left. Often there is just a well.[3]

We can imagine a hunter out from a faraway city, leaving a job he does not like in order to be alone in the country on a Saturday. On a perfect fall day, he feels free. He leaves behind his constraints, worries and fears. Nobody knows where he is. Anybody who wanted to complain, accuse him, order him around or collect a debt would not be able to find him.

Then he steps on the rotten boards covering one of those old wells and falls through. He disappears suddenly out of the lighted world. It happens so quickly that he does not even have time to wonder what is happening. He hits the water hard, goes under with fragments of rotten wood. He comes up, swims and clings to the wall with his fingers between the rocks. You can imagine how he would feel – the autumn sky so expansive and free only seconds ago is now “just a small picture of itself, far away. He calls out… and hears himself enclosed” in the echoes of his frightened voice.

So how does this story end? Does he save himself? Does he manage to climb out? Does someone pass by and hear his cries for help? Does he just give up and drown? In his despair does he pray the first true prayer of his life?

A person of faith believes that this man is not lost. A person of faith does not believe this easily or without struggle and doubt, or even a certain amount of pain. This belief is beyond any way of knowing. It is the faith that no one will remain totally lost to God – not the person in despair, not the one who believes that success will save them, not Jeffrey Epstein, not the monk in the wall, not you or me.

I remember a relatively young woman who was dying of cancer. She told me her fear of the dark and the cold that will come upon her as her life ebbs away. God brought us together because I firmly believe that she will not be lost either.

Jesus teaches us that life is not about earning love or a reward from God, or keeping the good ones in and the bad ones out. At the heart of our miraculous existence is the experience of being lost and then found, perhaps even coming to see ourselves as part of the way that God goes about the business of finding people. So “rejoice with me,” celebrate, take pleasure that, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk. 15).

[1] John Buenz was the Dean of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Washington. 16 Pentecost (9-12-10) 19C.

[2] Parker J. Palmer, “Taking Pen in Hand: A Writer’s Life and Faith,” The Christian Century, 7 September 2010, 25.

[3] From Lisa Keneremath, “Lost and Found” (Goodpreacher.com). The next four paragraphs closely paraphrase Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow (NY: Counterpoint, 1984), 356-8.

Thursday, September 12
Thursday Evensong Homily
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, September 8
The Life and Times of Bishop James A. Pike
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Behold, like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel”(Jer.
18).

On this day fifty years ago, by the shore of the Mediterranean Sea, in the ancient city of
Jaffa, the body of Bishop James A. Pike was laid to rest in a small churchyard. Carved
on his headstone is a verse he often referred to from Paul’s Second Letter to the
Corinthians. “We have this treasure in earthen vessels to show that the transcendent
power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor. 4:7). 1

For eight years Bishop Pike served here. He preached from this pulpit and the world
listened. In retrospect most of those who knew him would agree that he was a human
and earthly vessel for a transcendent power. On this Congregation Sunday I am going
to share his story so that we can consider both what Pike failed to see in his own time
and his ongoing gift to the world.

1. In the Gospel, huge crowds follow Jesus. He tells them to count the cost of becoming
a disciple. He points out that a person who started building a tower without first
calculating the expense would be ridiculed by his neighbors. That was exactly the
situation of Grace Cathedral. For a generation (from 1932-1960) construction on this
Cathedral had stopped with only half the nave completed. 2

When Bishop Pike arrived in 1958 the Singing Tower (on the north side) stood alone,
disconnected from the half constructed building. A massive sheet of corrugated tin
served as the temporary front of the Cathedral until Bishop Pike with Dean Julian
Bartlett raised the money to complete the building. They are the ones who chose Jane
Addams, Judge Thurgood Marshall, John Glenn, Albert Einstein and the others who are
depicted in the stained glass windows from that period. They built this redwood and
granite altar, and in many other ways we still live in the presence of their vision and
values.

Bishop Pike was born in 1913. His father died two years later. He grew up with his
mother as an only child and a devout Roman Catholic in Los Angeles. He went to
college at Santa Clara, UCLA, USC and then spent a year at Yale. He was a naval
officer and started a successful law firm. At the age of thirty he began to feel a calling to
ordained ministry in the Episcopal Church. For two years he was rector of Christ
Church, Poughkeepsie, New York and another two years was the chaplain for Columbia
University. From there he spent five and a half years as Dean of St. John the Divine
Cathedral in New York City.

The diverse group of my friends who knew him well loved him. 3 He was charismatic and
unbelievably hardworking. As dean he preached every two weeks, wrote dozens of
articles, essays and reviews while simultaneously writing seven books (from 1952-58). 4
He routinely worked at all hours in a way Canon Darby Betts described as “beyond
human endurance.”

In 1955 Pike began hosting the first successful national television program by a
Protestant minister. In the emerging Television Age he seemed at home home in front
of the camera. As a celebrity at a historical high point of American interest in religion
people recognized him. He was on the cover of Time Magazine and frequently in
national newspapers.

Pike was narrowly elected bishop of this Diocese in 1958 and faced objections in the
House of Bishops because he had already been married twice. In December 1960 he
published an article in the Christian Century and began to publically question doctrines
like the virgin birth, the trinity (which he called "a committee God") and the ascension.
For six years bishops in the Episcopal Church formally debated about whether Pike
should stand trial for heresy.

The mid-sixties were a time of terrible grief and turbulence for Bishop Pike. Although he
began addressing his alcoholism, he was besieged by his critics and his work was not
as well received as he hoped it would be. 6 Pike’s personal relationships suffered greatly
and he got divorced.
Seeking peace and a way to move forward Pike took a sabbatical with his son in
Cambridge, England. Not long after his return he was speaking at the diocesan
convention. When he finished his staff led him out of the pulpit to the parking lot that
was out the north door. In the cold February night they told him that his son had taken
his own life. The press was everywhere. Within a few months he had resigned as
bishop.
Completely grief-stricken Bishop Pike became known for his efforts to communicate
with the spirits of people who had died. He participated in a televised séance. Even in
his own death the world was passionately interested in him. With his recently married
third wife he drove out into the Judean wilderness using an inadequate map. Their car
became stuck and they found themselves lost in the tremendous desert heat. His wife
went ahead for help and was rescued by road workers but it took days for searchers to
find Bishop Pike's body. He had fallen from a great height and died of exposure.
2. Jesus says that it can be difficult to be his disciple, that it might even feel like bearing
our own cross (Lk. 14). Bishop Pike suffered both for the sake of the Gospel and
because of his own demons. A thick curtain has descended and separates us from the
people of sixty years ago. Massive social changes have made us strangers to that
generation. Because of this it is hard to be fair in evaluating Pike's thought and actions.

Bishop Pike worked so hard that it damaged his personal relationships and maybe even
inadvertently undid much of the good he intended. He probably loved controversy too
much. He was on the wrong side of history when he claimed that President Kennedy’s
Roman Catholic faith disqualified him for the office of the presidency, and in his public
criticism of Luci Johnson for deciding to be re-baptized as a Roman Catholic.
It is hard for me to imagine casually ridiculing the idea of the trinity while uncritically
embracing what people of that time called the paranormal. From the hindsight of history,
my problem with mid-century efforts to “de-mythologize” Christianity is that these
approaches assume that we can somehow get down to something that isn’t a myth. But
some myth will always be there (whether you call it the nation-state, good governance,
meritocracy, economic principles, psychological health or something else).

A fact comes into existence as a fact only through a story about what matters. Almost
everything we think we know involves large amounts of trust – in other people, in the
processes for deciding how we know, in our ability to understand.

Cultural fashions, scientific thought and what we call knowledge will always be
changing. Freudian psychology seemed like sound science to earlier generations. But
the Good News is this. God’s love for us, the gift of our existence and the imperative to
love each other – all of this come before anything that we think we really know. If God is
God we should expect God’s ways to be mysterious. We are grateful to know about
God’s love through Jesus.

3. The prophet Jeremiah describes God as a kind of potter shaping the house of Israel
on a wheel. God forms the clay into one purpose and then reuses it for another. We
don’t know exactly how God was shaping Bishop Pike but we might guess. Although his
shortcomings seem obvious, his extraordinary accomplishments may be harder to see
today because we take them for granted. Pike pushed the church to move in a new
direction and it did. He embraced approaches to bring various Christian denominations
together and controversially ordained a Methodist chaplain from Mills College to serve
almost as a kind of dual citizen in both churches. 7

Bishop Pike encouraged Grace Cathedral to share Holy Communion with all people
who believe in Christ. He insisted that women should be priests and he ordained Phyllis
Edwards as our Diocese's first ordained woman (a deacon). Pike vigorously opposed
racial injustice. He refused an honorary doctorate offered to him by The University of the
South when he realized that they excluded black people. The university learned this
from a New York Times interview with Pike. His action led to the admission of the first
African Americans at the theological school there.

Bishop Pike was far ahead of his time in welcoming gay people in the church. He would
be astonished and probably happy to see how far we have come in recognizing the
sanctity of human love. In part as a result of his ministry, heresy trials are not the way
that we as a church work out our differences. I think we are also more likely to be
honest about what we believe and more supportive of others’ beliefs.

Although some criticized him as an egotist hungry for press attention I believe that he
was a person who cared deeply about reaching modern people who felt like the church
could never be a place for them. This passion to meet people in the world still is central
to our identity as a cathedral.

On this day fifty years ago they laid the body of Jim Pike to rest. It is hard to conceive of
a time when an Episcopal minister could be a kind of rock star celebrity. And they could
never have anticipated the tidal wave of social change that was coming or how far short
we have fallen in our ideals for equality.
There is a picture of Bishop Pike in the mural depicting the final phase of Cathedral
construction. I invite you to look at it. Say a prayer for the good bishop because like him
we too have our treasure in earthen vessels. And may God the gracious potter who
shapes our lives draw you deeper into the transcendent mystery.

1 Pike chose this quote for the title page of his book. James A. Pike, A Time for Christian Candor (NY:
Harper & Row, 1964).
2 Michael D. Lampen, Grace Cathedral Sourcebook: For Internal Use (San Francisco: Grace Cathedral,
March 2019).
3 I have particularly in mind Owen Thomas, Dick Millard, David Forbes, Darby Betts and others.
4 David M. Robertson, A Passionate Pilgrim: A Biography of Bishop James A. Pike (NY: Alfred A. Knopf,
2004) 77-84.
5 Television interview with Canon Darby Betts, "In Search of: Bishop James A. Pike," In Search Of, 1981.
6 At home Pike seemed to feel a growing distance between himself and his children. He later questioned
whether he had been a good father to them.
7 Pike ordained George Hadley. Robertson, 101. See also,
https://keithwatkinshistorian.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/bishop-pike-and-a-new-kind-of-church-in-
america/

Wednesday, September 4
Baptism into Chaos, Joy and a New People
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Do not fear for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isa. 43).

Before they expanded the harbor on the north rim of Half Moon Bay we used to go there during winter storms on days when triple overhead surf made it almost impossible to paddle out at Ocean Beach. My friend Mike and I drove in from Oakland late one December afternoon in his roofing pickup truck. It smelled like cigar smoke and neoprene wetsuits. The ocean didn’t look good but we came so far that we felt like we had to go in. So we paddled our surfboards out at Princeton Jetty in rough waters.

Sometimes out there you become so intent on just trying to survive that for a few moments you almost forget about the surfing. That probably wasn’t so much the case that day, I don’t remember. Mike went in early and I was vaguely conscious of him standing on the beach watching me.

Just before sunset large waves push a terrifying darkness before them as they eclipse light from the low-hanging sun. I took off on one cold wave that seemed impossibly steep and tucked in as the lip pitched over my head and a sheet of water formed a perfect barrel. It was almost as if I stepped out of the world and into the presence of the holy. Surrounded by danger and chaos I felt the strangest calm and such a deep sense of joy that part of me is still in that wave and in that moment.

Even today twenty-five years later I love being in the water. My wife says that for me it is like therapy. I leave the continent behind, time stops and I receive whatever gift God may want to give me in that moment. So often the experience is not even about the waves that I rode but the whales breaching offshore, or the way that a million rain drops just seemed to hover over the water, or an encounter with an old friend.

Jude thought that this passion for riding waves might have something to do with baptism and so he invited me here today to speak about this connection. I have three parts on the way we are baptized into chaos, baptized into joy and baptized into the people of God.

  1. Chaos. Christian tradition has this idea of a sacrament. A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. We are spiritual beings but our bodies are the way that we experience God. In other words faith is not just something that happens in our conscious mind. We are constantly experiencing more than we can realize through stories, symbols, images, and through tangible things that engage our whole selves.

The sixteenth century reformers believed in water, bread and wine. For them baptism and Eucharist (or Holy Communion) were the only two sacraments. They were the way that we meet God every week. The puritan John Calvin (1509-1564) writes that baptism is a, “sign of the initiation by which we are received into” the Christian community. He used Paul’s metaphor of a shoot that is engrafted into Jesus to describe how we become part of Christ.[1] God adopts us as homeless children.

The water symbolizes life. All life requires water. It is a sign of becoming free in the way that the people of God passed through the waters of the Red Sea into their freedom. It symbolizes being purified or made clean. It also refers to death, the way that we participate in Christ’s death and also share in his resurrection.[2]

This is where the chaos comes in. A certain part of our self has to die in order to truly belong to God. The self that always demands on having its own way, the self that thoughtlessly harms others, the self that insists on always being pampered, the self that constantly agonizes over how it is being perceived by others – that self has to pass away.

The way that this happens is that we become part of God’s world. We stop constantly trying to protect our ego and put ourselves in situations that may not otherwise choose. We go to the places where people are hurting because that is where Jesus is.

The theologian Rowan Williams (1950-) writes about this. He says that baptism involves recovering the humanity that God intends for us.[3] Quite simply we become more human when we step out of what is comfortable and go to the places where we are not always in control, into the chaos that is real life.

  1. Joy. When Martin Luther was in danger he used to tap himself on the forehead and say, “Remember Martin that you have been baptized!” We are baptized into joy. Imagine what it would be like to always live with the full knowledge that we are loved by God, to never forget, or fail to believe that we are God’s children. How would we be different if we had that confidence?

We would not be afraid of what other people thought about us. We could speak honestly about what was on our mind. We would care less about our appearance or job security or what other people thought about our accomplishments.

Others would look more like our brothers and sisters instead of like objects that were in our way, or in competition with us for love or money. We would care more about equality, fairness and justice. We would worry less about the future, about dying. We could trust the goodness of our existence and live in a kind of perpetual rush of gratitude.

In short we would experience a healthy inner life. This is the joy that God desires for us. The prophet Isaiah writes about this uncanny feeling of being protected by God. “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you… when you walk through the fire you shall not be burned… for I am the Lord your God… Because you are precious in my sight, and honored, and I love you… Do not fear, for I am with you” (Isa. 43).

In his Gospel Luke says that heaven is opened or unlocked or revealed in Jesus’ baptism. That voice from heaven says the same thing to us too. “You are my child, the beloved” (Lk. 3). God’s spirit comes into us. That is what this joy is. It is the love that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit have for each other. We participate in this. We are baptized into joy.

  1. People of God. Finally, baptism is the way that we become part of the church. When I studied the question I was astonished by how much Christians have in common with each other. One difference though arises over the question of whether to baptize children or have them grow up and decide to put themselves forward for baptism as adults.

We baptize children because we want them to be full members of the church right from the beginning. It’s not so much about our decision to follow God as it is about God’s decision to choose us.

Baptism brings us to this table with other people who feel invited by God to share in this life together. Rowan Williams writes about this also. He says, “There is no way to be a Christian without being in the neighborhood of other Christians… We receive life from others’ prayers and love, and we give the prayer and love that others need… We are implicated in one another, our lives are interwoven.”[4]

My own children have been profoundly shaped by the people they met in church. There they have met: the rascals and misfits, egotists and geniuses, gossips and caregivers, the onetime visitor and the faithful ones who go to every church event. Together we remind each other what is really important and we show each other the integrity of the Christian life.

Every summer a lady in her 80’s named Alice Larse would always have a pool party for the teenagers of the church. Our church used to host a rotating homeless shelter. We would take guests for one month along with eleven other churches. When an emergency came up, Alice ended up taking the homeless people into her own home.

Alice is not crazy, or naïve, or odd. She is like you and me, except a perhaps braver, kinder version. She is humble because she knows that her gifts come from God. Church has brought so many people like this into my life and the life of my children.

My surfing friend Mike was also one of those people from church. He saw me make that barrel in Half Moon Bay. I felt so proud as we talked about it in the truck on the way home. When he taught me to surf he was introducing me to a lifetime of putting myself into chaos, finding unforgettable joy and a new community of friends. It was like a kind of symbol for our baptism. We were brothers in Christ stepping off the rocks into the heart of chaos and finding moments of inexpressible joy together.

When the storm builds and the waves of life are pushing darkness before them into your path, when you are afraid, remember that you have been baptized. You are a beloved child of God.

 

[1] John Calvin, The Institutes of the Christian Religion tr. Ford Lewis Battles (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1960), (1303), 4.15.1.

[2] The Book of Common Prayer, Thanksgiving over the Water, 306.

[3] Rowan Williams, Being Christian: Baptism, Bible, Eucharist, Prayer (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing, 2014).

[4] This isn’t a perfectly exact quote. I don’t have the book at hand right now. Ibid.

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