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Sunday, October 6
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, October 13
Why Worship?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Luke 17).

  1. Why is it important to go to church? Why do we worship God? We know the answer to this question in an instinctual and subconscious way. But if we are going to talk to anyone about what really matters to us we need to put this into words.

We should be able to talk about why faith matters today as Turkish forces kill our former allies in Northern Syria, as the branches of federal government war against each other, as rolling power outages somehow surprise us into remembering that humans are altering the climate in every place on the planet. Jesus in the Gospel of Luke says a great deal about faith.

In today’s Gospel Jesus travels the last part of his journey to Jerusalem. At the beginning of this trip Jesus and his friends were refused hospitality in a Samaritan village (Lk. 9:51-56). In their humiliation and anger the disciples said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” Jesus reprimands them. Obviously they have a long way to go. Worship is not about setting apart good people like us from bad people like them.

Jesus got into trouble in his hometown when he said this at the beginning of his public ministry. That day in the synagogue Jesus alluded to a story about how the prophet Elijah healed Naaman, a foreign general suffering from leprosy. The crowd became so angry that they tried to kill him (Lk. 4). For Jesus worship and faith are not primarily about national or religious identity.

Jesus is clear about this and frequently refers in positive terms to the people his wn nation regard as the enemy – the Samaritans. Who are the Samaritans? They are the northern people who are descendants of intermarriage between Jews who were left behind after elites were exiled in Babylon and the conquering Assyrian invaders. Samaritans shared a similar culture and even some overlapping scripture but worship in a different temple. Although the Samaritans and Jews seem to share so much, the two peoples regarded each other as enemies.[1]

The comedian Trevor Noah in his autobiography Born a Crime points out how our worst conflicts are not with people who we see as completely different from us. We have our most bitter disagreements with people who are somewhat similar but who we perceive as having somehow betrayed our basic principles. This dynamic characterized the situation when Anglicans in Africa condemned the American church for embracing LGBTQ people ten years ago. Our similarities made it a hotter conflict than if we had been completely different.

  1. In the Gospel of Luke As Jesus passes through the borderland between Samaria and Galilee, between his ministry in the countryside and the temple, ten lepers come to meet him. Keeping with the normal practice these outcasts stop at a distance from Jesus and lifting up their voices they call out, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Lk. 17). Jesus tells them to go to the temple and present themselves to the priest. As they go they are healed. Nine of them go on but one audacious Samaritan who has been ostracized and cast out does something remarkable. He praises God, comes right up to Jesus, throws himself on the ground and thanks him.

Before we go further I want to point out something that is easy to miss. This language of turning and praising God comes up at important points in the Gospel of Luke as an indicator of faith. At the birth of Jesus, after meeting the holy family, the shepherds “returned glorifying God for all that they had heard and seen” (Lk. 2:20). Then at the very end of the Gospel the disciples, “returned to Jerusalem with great joy and were continually in the temple blessing God” (Lk. 24).

This turning and praising God are also what set this foreigner apart. Jesus points out that the others did not return and give praise to God. Jesus seems moved by this courageous Samaritan. He says, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well” (Lk. 17).

All ten lepers heard Jesus’ instructions. They trusted him and obeyed. But faith is more than hearing, trusting, obeying or even receiving God’s healing. It has something to do with returning and praising God.

  1. Many of us have memorized the summary of faith. We call it the Great Commandment and inherited from our Jewish brothers and sisters (Deut. 6:5ff). It has two dimensions. The first is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind.” And the second dimension is that we are to love our neighbor as we love our selves (Lk. 10:27).

When a young lawyer asks Jesus what does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself, Jesus tells him the story of the Good Samaritan. You remember it. A man is beaten nearly to death by thieves and left by the roadside. His people’s religious leaders pass by on the other side of the road. But the one who his people regard as an enemy, a Samaritan, picks him up and nurses him back to health. A neighbor is one who risks crossing social boundaries to help. In this way Jesus explains the second dimension of the Great Commandment.

If the Good Samaritan is Jesus’ explanation of the second dimension, this story of the Thankful Samaritan is his answer to the first dimension of loving God. We probably hear about the Good Samaritan more often because we live in a society that at some level recognizes the importance of helping our neighbor even if we mostly fail to do it. In modern San Francisco there are plenty of people who would encourage us to be merciful or kind to our neighbor, but far fewer who see why worship, gratitude or praise for God matter.

Many don’t believe in God. They might say that God does not need our prayers. So why do we worship? Why should we return and praise God? For many years psychologists mostly studied various forms of illness. About twenty years ago psychologists like Dacher Keltner in Berekeley began studying happiness more closely.[2] One of their primary conclusions is that happiness and gratitude are intimately connected. In some senses we were created to give thanks. It is our nature to glorify God if you will.

My friend Matt Boulton explains it this way.[3] Imagine a child receiving a meal as a gift prepared by her parents. She might consume it simply as fuel, or take it for granted as a privilege. It might be a matter chiefly of sensual pleasure for her. It might be all of this at once. But if that is it, she has missed something essential. She has not received the gift. She does not understand what really happened.

It is only when she recognizes the meal as a gift and thanks her parents for it, that it becomes what it really is – a blessing for her. Her thanks is part of receiving the gift and understanding their love. It completes the gift, it makes the gift what it really is. Matt says that, “gratitude is the natural echo of grace.”

And that is why we worship. We have received our existence as a gift and it becomes more complete in our recognition of this truth, in returning and praising God. The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) writes that keeping the Sabbath day, honoring God in church has two benefits.[4]

First, it allows us to be free from our selves, to rejoice and be in God. If you work a hundred hours a week at Facebook Mark Zuckerberg in effect becomes your god. If you work for yourself you make yourself a kind of god. The Sabbath reminds us that we cannot trust in our own powers but only in the God who is for us. Church helps us know ourselves not in what we do, but through our faith in God.

Second, keeping a holy day, participating in church makes us free for God. It gives us a chance to hear God’s Word and understand what it means for us. Martin Luther writes that the Word of God is a sanctuary above all sanctuaries. Through it Jesus shows us that we are God’s beloved children.

Barth points out that some people say that they find God on the golf course, in nature, a museum, reading a good book or attending the symphony. But all of these are forms of escape. When you come to church you are not merely a passive listener. You become part of this community that God has gathered. Look around you. You didn’t choose these people. God did. Coming here you make yourself open not just to God but to unpredictable contact with others. This experience of worship will change who you are all week long.

Yesterday we had the funeral for Dr. Ron Johnson who has exemplified this ideal of joy and worship and community more than almost anyone. He was the gate of love through which many of us arrived here and the gate of compassion for countless people who died of AIDS. A few weeks ago I saw him. He radiated joy from his deathbed. He said he felt ready to be with God. Deeper than word in his smile I dropped into a mystical understanding of how much Dr. J loves us.

Why do we go to church? We know the answer to this question. At some level we understand the lesson of both the Good Samaritan and the Thankful Samaritan. We come here because living is more than breathing and eating and being respected by others. We come here because we depend on God’s love, because we long to experience the joy of being fully alive. We were made for gratitude. The gift of our life becomes more complete when we rejoice and thank our creator for it. So let us turn and praise God.

 

[1] A great deal of this sermon comes from Matt Boulton, “Thanking is Believing: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for the Eighteenth Week After Pentecost,” SALT, 8 October 2019. https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/10/8/thanking-is-believing-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-eighteenth-week-after-pentecost

[2] Dacher Keltner, Born to Be Good: The Science of a Meaningful Life (NY: Norton, 2009).

[3] Matt Boulton, “Thanking is Believing: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for the Eighteenth Week After Pentecost,” SALT, 8 October 2019.

[4] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.4: The Doctrine of Creation tr. A.T. Mckay, T.H.L. Parker, H Knight, H.A. Kennedy, J. Marks (NY: T & T Clark, 1961) 47-72.

Sunday, October 6
Francis and the Dream of Chivalry
Preacher: Brother Desmond Alban
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‘Whoso pulleth out this sword from this stone and anvil is the true-born King of all Britain.’

 I am very grateful to have been invited back to Grace Cathedral this morning just a day after a celebration here of the 100th Anniversary of Franciscan friars in the Episcopal Church.  But why, on this St Francis Sunday, am I opening, not with the scripture, or a quotation from Saintt Francis, or from our own founder Father Joseph, but with a snippet of British folklore?

I was probably about 10 or 11 years old when TH White’s story of Britain’s mythical Once and Future King became my favorite childhood book.  That my middle name, Arthur, was shared by its hero added to the magic.  About the same time, a slim volume of prayers passed on to me by my lay preacher father, introduced me to the magnetic attraction of Saint Francis of Assisi.  This was also, roughly, the close of an era in my life when my otherwise positive school report cards tended to lament a propensity for daydreaming.   

There is a lot more to Francis than birdbaths, animal stories and the words of a beautiful Peace Prayer which, though true to his spirit, he certainly didn’t write.  It is a shame that some of the things he actually did say or write are not better known.    But one remarkable discovery for me as I began to learn more of the lesser-known Francis, was that he and I shared a common subject matter for our childhood dreaming! We both loved the world of true-born kings, knights, minstrels, heralds and heroic quests.  The writings of Francis bear direct witness at certain points to the inspiration he found in the legend of Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, as do his early biographers.  Francis’ life reminds us that God can speak to us in our dreams and visions, both literal and metaphorical.  But it reminds us too of the power of the Gospel to transform and rework those dreams in ways that we might never imagine.

A statue of St Francis outside his basilica in Assisi can rather surprise the casual pilgrim.  It does not portray him as the famous, charismatic friar.  Nor is this the fashionably well-dressed youth who was the heart and soul of the of parties of his age-group and social class.  And this is not the young warrior who once set out proudly from Assisi with the best armor and attire that money could buy.  That had happened in Italy in 1204 or 5, not of course in the England of the 1970s, and the dream of actually becoming a knight was for him a credible one.  Francis set out to join the forces of Count Gentile of Manipullo, fighting for the noble cause of the Pope against the Emperor, and it was actually feasible that if he had acquitted himself well he might have been made a knight by the Count, right there on the field of battle.   In a sign, however, of the traits that had always been present in the character of this young man, when he had found an actual knight, but one shabbily and shoddily equipped, Francis had given away his own armor and finery.  Subsequently in two night-time dreams in the city of Spoleto, Francis had received, first, what he thought was a glorious confirmation of all that he had dreamed of ever since he learned the French ballads that told these tales of chivalry: a dream of Francis himself, feasting in a fine castle with knights that were somehow his knights.  But the second dream challenged him to a radical reinterpretation of what that glory and call really was, a challenge to let go of all that he thought was his deepest desire and hope for his future.  The statue depicts Francis returning to Assisi having never reached the battlefield, slumped over on his horse, lacking the finery with which he had set out, returning covered not with glory but with confusion and bewilderment, engaged in a process of  radical disillusionment, the literal loss of an illusion that had been cheered by his family and friends as he had set out earlier.

That was just one of a series of incidents that turned Francis’ life upside down.  But through them all, he began to realize that the fashionable ideal of knightly chivalry that had gripped the wealthy young men of Europe was a poor shadow of a far greater spiritual reality.  According to the modern Franciscan author, Brother Mark of Whitstable, Francis ‘re-invented the ideal of chivalry through a kind of inversion’.  Feudal pride was subsumed by the ideal of humility.  Knightly quests were replaced by long and hazardous journeys across Europe preaching the gospel.  The sword was displaced by a message of peace and reconciliation. And the very status of knighthood itself gave way to Francis and his brothers calling themselves the Friars Minor or Lesser Brothers, identifying themselves firmly with the underclass, the minore of medieval Italy.  Unlike the rich young man in our Gospel, who turned away from the call of Jesus with such sadness, the rich young man of Assisi found perfect joy in giving away everything to live in the freedom of the gospel.

Now part of the attraction of the legend of King Arthur, for me as for Francis, was the fellowship of the Round Table, the wonderful solidarity of those brothers in arms, celebrating the heroic deeds of each and all, holding one another in mutual honor and respect.  But what a limited fraternity, not least in the restricted, gendered sense of that term!  In English at least, it is very difficult to find a truly inclusive term for a concept like Fraternity or Sorority.   By the end of his life Francis’ vision of who, or what was his Sister or Brother had expanded to include… everything.  Not just those close to him or sharing a faith with him.  Not just human beings.  Not even just animals.  It is appropriate that we honor the Christ-light in animals by bringing them to Church today for a blessing, but not only because there are some cute stories about Saint Francis and the animals.  For some years as a Brother I had on my wall poster that had been issued to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, portraying a kind of evolutionary family tree linking the whole variety of animal and plant life.   It became the subject of contemplative reflection for me.  I believe Saint Francis would have loved the theory of Evolution, once he’d got over the shock of it.  All living things really are, in effect, sisters and brothers.  My own scientific field was not biology – I used to teach High School Physics and Astronomy – but many who have followed Francis, especially those writing today, have explored our connection, our common origins, not only with all living things but in stars and galaxies as well as the connectedness of the tiniest particles in the quantum behavior of matter itself.  Francis himself, writing in the last years of his life recognized not only living things as his sisters and brothers but also Mother Earth, Brother Sun, Sister Water, Brother Fire, even Sister Death.  His great poem – the first to be written in vernacular Italian – is best known in English as the hymn All Creatures of our God and King.  The relevance to our present world crisis needs no further exposition.

But loving Christ in the whole created order is sometimes easier than loving other people! That is why I also want to highlight one other incident in the life of Francis, one that took place a few years before the end of his life, and one that is again highly relevant to the social and political currents of our present culture.

One truly terrible consequence, in part perhaps, of the idolization of chivalry in the time of Francis, was the appalling ideology of the Christian Crusades.  But these terrible events provided the context for one of the most significant quests of Francis’ transformed chivalry – and one that illustrates how having your dreams challenged and reformed, is not something that happens just once, but is rather an ongoing process.

When Francis arrived in a Crusader Camp in Egypt in 1219, he did not do so, like the Cardinal Pelagius who was also there, to urge the soldiers on against the Muslim enemy.  He was done with holy war!  Crossing the front lines with a companion, at enormous jeopardy to both of them, his mission rather was to seek an audience with Sultan Malik Al Kamil.  Now actually, I don’t believe that when he set out Francis was motivated, 800 years ahead of our time, by some progressive vision of interfaith dialogue.  But that is partly what makes what happened next so remarkable.  His dreams had, indeed, already changed at least once.  He no longer had a vision of military glory, fighting for the forces of God against the powers of darkness.  But I do believe that the dream with which he set out to Damietta was not the same as the vision with which he returned.  On setting out, either of two outcomes would have been OK for Francis.  The best, his first intention, would have been the conversion of the Sultan and his people.  The crusades would surely end when everyone had become Christian!  The second, a very real possibility, and one fulfilled in some of his brothers in Morocco the following year, would have been the spiritual glory of a martyr’s death.  But the Sultan was not converted.  And Francis was not martyred.  From the perspective of those dreams, the quest was a failure.

The historically attested story of the Sultan and the Saint was told in a 2016 film, screened last year on PBS and produced by the Unity Productions Foundation, a team of American Muslim scholars with those from other faith backgrounds.  It describes how the Sultan allowed Francis to preach freely, and how the two spent some days together.  One of those who speak in the film is Franciscan friar and historian Michael Cusato, who comments, ‘I believe… watching Muslims pray, men and women, five times daily… really struck Francis unexpectedly. I believe it profoundly moved him.’  Sister Kathleen Warren adds, ‘The respect they had for each other spoke volumes to Francis that this, indeed, was not an enemy, this was not a beast, but this was truly a brother.’

The siege, tragically, and to the disgust of Francis, continued after the meeting between the two men, with the Crusaders wiping out 80,000 people in Damietta, and the Sultan forced to retreat.  The balance of power was dramatically reversed later when the Crusaders found themselves bogged down in flood waters and mud, surrounded and starving.  The Sultan could have let them die, or sent his soldiers in for an easy kill, but instead he sent his enemies food, and feed for their animals.  Many lives were saved and both sides returned home.  What we know as the love and mercy of God revealed in Christ was not confined to just one of the men in this encounter.

I mentioned earlier that there are prayers and devotions written by Francis which are not well known.  I thought it beautiful when I realized that some of those prayers, and some of the particular devotions practiced by Franciscans and later by other Western Christians, show the clear possibility that they were influenced and inspired by the devotions and practices of Muslims observed by Francis in Egypt.

At a time when so many leaders in our public life seek to make political capital by stirring up our fears of those who may be different to ourselves, we need that discovery of the primary unity of all people as our sisters and brothers.  And all of us, throughout our lives, need to remain open to the challenge and invitation to have our dearest dreams radically transformed, and retransformed, as we learn to encounter ever more deeply the God of love revealed by Christ in unexpected people and unexpected places.

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 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.

Sunday, September 1
The defeat of the 3am goblins
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
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“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”

 

Oh those 3am internal conversations! Those nights when your body refuses to sink into sleep’s sweet embrace or when your mind drags you out of the deepest dreams with a jolt of worry and dismay. That darkest part of the night, literally as well as metaphorically, when you watch the endless replay of all the mistakes of the day, or the week, or – when things get really fun – your entire life up to this point. When you remember every stupid thing you ever said or did and blush again in the darkness. When you look at the entirety of your life and it suddenly seems a joke without a punchline, a goblin stomping with heavy boots across the universe crying ‘panic and emptiness’, a cracked cistern, barren and dry.

Usually, thank the good God, we find sleep and wake in the morning with our nighttime distress a fading memory – the cistern patched and the goblin hushed. And we get on with life as it was before. But sometimes, like the prophet Jeremiah, we hear a truth in those night hours that refuses to lie down when we get up. Sometimes we awake knowing that our life has truly exchanged a fountain of living water for the stale remains in a cracked water bottle.

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

“They have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” I hear this lament echoing through those regrets. An awareness that life could have been much more than they let it be. That they had let true joy and fulfilment slip away and had instead settled for someone else’s definition of what makes life worth the living. A realization of having lost the truth of who they were and the truth of what life is really for.

And I’m going to pause for a moment. Take a breath. Listen, for a moment, to the voice of your own heart, your own truth. Listen to the breath that fills this sacred space. What do you hear of meaning? What do you hear of life? What do you hear of your own deep purpose?

 

silence

 

The Church used to be so obsessed with heaven and hell and the afterlife that all we cared about in this life was escaping eternal damnation and wining that eternal reward. So this life was weighted down with rules to make sure it didn’t get too unruly and fun and distracting – faith was all about the everlasting destination and nothing about the joy of the journey. And now, when we have learnt to value this precious God-given life, it can sometimes feel as if it’s still all about guilt – you’re not doing enough to solve poverty, help your neighbour, end homelessness, save the planet. All deeply, deeply true – but not the whole truth, any more than our 3am worries are the whole truth of our lives.

For the whole truth has to take account of the God who is a fountain of living water, pouring herself out for us to drink freely and delightedly of her divinity and love. The whole truth has to take account of Jesus’ promise that he came to bring life and bring it abundantly. We are not a people or a faith who are to be fed by stale water from broken cisterns but by living water freely flowing, enough to satisfy our deepest, deepest thirst and truest longing.

You know how Jesus is talking all the time about the kingdom of God? And how that word ‘kingdom’ doesn’t sit too well in our 21st century ears – especially in a republic? Well one suggestion for its replacement is ‘party’[i] – the party of God. That Jesus is inviting us into the greatest God-blessed party of all time, and asking us to go and share the invites with everyone we meet. It’s a party where we don’t worry about taking the places of honour because there is room enough for all. A party where we don’t need to restrict the guest list because there is a welcome for all – and, who knows, we may find ourselves sitting next to an angel unawares. A party which pays no heed to our political divisions or any petty distinction of age or gender identity or race or sexuality – a party where we can let our hair down, dance like nobody’s watching and be our truest, silliest, happiest self!

There may be some 3am part of yourself that is whispering in your inner ear ‘I don’t deserve a party’. Well, you’re invited anyway. The invitation doesn’t depend on the worth of the guest but the boundless love of the host. Or there may be some self-righteous imp prompting you to think ‘well they don’t deserve a party’ – whoever they may be – addicts or gang members, fundamentalist evangelicals or Trump supporters, whoever your bogeymen are. Well, they’re invited anyway. The invitation doesn’t depend on the worth of the guest but the boundless love of the host. You, and they, can always say no. But please don’t. Please accept God’s invitation – it won’t be the same for any of us without you.

When I find myself awake at 3am listening to those goblins whispering in my ear there is one way I know to shut them up. It’s to pray the simplest of prayers. The words don’t matter, There is just something about allowing the divine fountain of living water to splash over you that distresses goblins and washes their lies from your heart. Prayer reminds you that you don’t have to rely on your own cracked cisterns but that there is a fountain of lifegiving love always within reach. Let it give you the courage to live a life that is true to yourself, that is full of feeling and friendship, that allows you to be happy. Let it give you the courage to accept the invitation to God’s party and to dance your life as if no one is watching.

[i] I most recently came across this suggestion in Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus: Uncovering the Truth that Could Change Everything, pages 144-46.

Tuesday, August 27
Be Here Now
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Imagine the place where you feel most at home, where you are comfortable and safe, the place where you have the greatest chance of feeling abiding joy. This morning we talked about this as I met with a couple who are getting married in a month. We agreed that every day you wake up and never know what you might remember forever.

I told them about my wedding day 27 years ago. Standing at the altar, the doors of the church were opened and the brightest sunlight flooded in. As someone held the bell rope to the side my wife ducked and stepped into the building. I remember the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks outside the open window and the sweep of her arms as she danced hula during the service. I remember walking next to my best friend down the aisle past everyone who mattered most to us and into a new life.

Because our past is so rich it is tempting to spend too much of our time there. The theologian Karl Barth (CD III.2, Ch. X) writes that the only past we have is an ever-changing and evolving story of what has happened. The future is merely a collection of our fantasies and fears about what will come.

We are in time. All we really have is Now. We constantly cross this boundary from the past to the future. It is Now that we will have or not have, be or not be, know or not know, act or fail to act.[1] We have time. God gives it to us. And every now comes only once – whether we perceive and grasp it, or fail to.

Last night I interviewed Alonzo King the founder of LINES Ballet. He said that a cathedral is a nuclear site, a kind of constellation of subatomic particles. It is in the shape of the body with legs, arms, a head and that the altar sits at its heart. The height of the pillars, the color of the stained glass are images of the depth we experience in ourselves. It is related to our body.

A cathedral certainly is connected to the past but the whole reason for its existence is for us to really be here now, to bring us back to our spiritual selves. We are spiritual beings and this means two things. First it involves recognizing our connection to each other and the world. Second, being a spiritual person means cultivating a sense of gratitude toward our creator for the beauty of life.

I’m surprised how often people ask me if I get ideas for sermons while I am surfing at Ocean Beach. In those moments I am so deeply attuned to the conditions, looking so intently at the horizon that the past and future completely slip away. In that moment I exist entirely in the Now. I am completely alive.

Tonight as we practice together I pray that this may become a place where you are spiritually at home. May the architecture of this cathedral, the collected wisdom of your yoga practice will bring you deep into the present moment. I pray that you will experience your connection to all things, that you will receive the gift that is this moment.

[1] http://karlbarthchurchdogmatics.blogspot.com/2016/01/barth-volume-iii2.html

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