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Sunday, February 16
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
Honoring the Violins of Hope
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Tuesday, February 18
What is Spiritual Courage?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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What Is Spiritual Courage?

Not long ago a perceptive friend told me that I didn’t quite look right in my official Cathedral portrait. She was afraid of hurting my feelings and she was right. For the picture the photographer took me up to the balcony and asked me to stand very close to the edge. Naturally enough the look on my face is that of someone who is trying to smile but really feels deeply afraid of falling.

We know what physical courage is. It is staying calm and being effective in the face of threats to our body. This might be surfing double overhead surf at Ocean Beach, catching a football at kickoff, a soldier running on the field of battle or a gymnast or dancer or yogi going beyond the limits that usually contain us. Most often it has to do with how we face a medical emergency.

But what is spiritual courage? I believe there are two kinds of spiritual courage. The first is bravery in the face of spiritual forces that are so powerful that we want to look away. Being really present in the face of death or terrible suffering requires a kind of courage that we don’t often encounter. Most of us in one way or another avoid what we know might upset us. This leaves us unprepared for the time when we have to honestly face our mortality. It also closes us to a lot of life because suffering is all around us, and helping each other is part of what makes us whole.

The second kind of spiritual courage has to do with the power of spiritual symbols. When it comes to spirituality we need symbols because we are dealing with matters that are so far beyond us. We cannot say exactly what we mean by God, forgiveness, joy or reconciliation and so we use powerful symbols to draw us nearer to those realities.

The definition of a sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. These symbols are necessary for getting at the deepest truths of our humanity and they have extraordinary power. The second kind of spiritual courage comes from not being afraid to redefine these symbols for the sake of a deeper truth.

It may not seem like a big deal to you but when I was a child growing up there were no female Episcopal priests. In North America it was only in 1975 when women first began getting ordained in the Episcopal Church. One of my colleagues Ellen Clark-King became a priest in the first year that women were ordained in England (in 1994).

These women helped to change the meaning of a symbol (the priesthood) so that we could realize a deeper truth – that all people are made in the image of God and can effectively represent the church or serve it by pointing to God.1 The symbol is so powerful that change was especially hard.

These women suffered terribly as pioneers. At first people refused to take communion from them or to invite them to their churches. These women were abused verbally and even physically. People were unkind to them until their work of changing the meaning of that symbol began to be accomplished. It has been one of the greatest blessings of my life to be able to work with these women who are my heroes.

In how you speak and practice yoga and how you live, you are defining what spirituality means in our time. I pray that you will have the courage to not look away from death and suffering, that you will not insulate yourself from what it means to really be alive. I also pray that you will not be afraid when you meet opposition in your work for the sake of a deeper truth.

________________________

Yoga Quotes:

You haven’t yet opened your heart fully, to life, to each moment. The peaceful warrior’s way is not about invulnerability, but absolute vulnerability–to the world, to life, and to the Presence you felt. All along I’ve shown you by example that a warrior’s life is not about imagined perfection or victory; it is about love. Love is a warrior’s sword; wherever it cuts, it gives life, not death.

—Dan Millman

Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Healers are spiritual warriors who have found the courage to defeat the darkness of their own souls. Awakening and rising from the depths of their deepest fears, like a phoenix rising from the ashes. Reborn with a wisdom and strength that creates a light shines bright enough to help, encourage, and inspire others out of their own darkness.

—Melanie Koulouris

Sunday, February 16
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
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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!

 

Tuesday, December 24
Christmas Eve 7:30 PM Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from the 7:30 PM service on Christmas Eve
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Tuesday, December 24
Lessons and Carols Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermons from the Christmas Eve Lessons and Carols service
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Watch:

 

What story do you need to hear at this moment in your life?  What story will bring you joy, reinforce your sense of life’s purpose, gladden and open your heart?

Is it the very human story of good cheer and companionship, of feasting and merriment, of gathering with people who make you happy? Of presents and trees and eggnog and excited happy children? Of stranger greeting stranger with ‘Happy Holidays’, smiling at a moment of connection and shared celebration? If so you are in the right place because that is the story of Christmas.

Is it the other very human story of a teenage mother giving birth in the dirt of a stable because there was no clean safe space for the likes of her? Of refugee parents fleeing with their baby to another country in search of safety? Of these poorest and most displaced being the chosen family of God? If so you are in the right place because that is also the story of Christmas.

Or is it the divine story of the almighty, eternal God, transcendent, mysterious and wonderful loving you so much that they chose to become like you? Chose to experience the pain and delight of a human life. To know what it is to cry with laughter and with sorrow, to love and be loved, to grieve, to dance and to die. A God who says ‘you matter infinitely’, who says ‘I love you without question or restraint’, who says ‘I am with you now and always’. Because that is also the story of Christmas.

Whichever story you need to hear today let it become part of the narrative of your own life. Let it grow in you a sense of deep gratitude and the generosity that springs from thankfulness. Let it grow in you a passion for justice for all who are poor and marginalized. Let it grow in you a sense of wonder and hope, knowing yourself deeply, deeply loved and called to cherish this human family and this holy ground on which you walk.

And whatever your own story know that you belong here – here where we weave stories of thanksgiving, of justice, of love into one great narrative of meaning and hope.  Here where we build community, fight for the marginalized and worship the divine with truth and beauty.  Here where the story of Christmas is the story of our shared life and where the joy of the angels, the eagerness of the shepherds, the persistence of the wise men, the faith of Joseph, the courage of Mary and the peace of the Christ Child are always waiting to bless you.

Happy Holidays, and Merry Christmas to you all!

Sunday, December 22
Advent 4 2019
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
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For the first time this year I have encountered the Hallmark Christmas universe on TV. It’s a fascinating world, fun to visit, though a little askew from the one I know and live in. I learnt that big cities are bad and small towns good, that careers are bad but working with your hands is good, that all older men are twinkly and bear a surprising resemblance to Santa Claus, and that all women just want to find the right man and settle down. There is a lot that is warm hearted and life affirming in these movies but there is also a lot that is clichéd and constricting. Especially their picture of a perfect family which is usually white and always consists of a man, a woman, a child or potential children – and ideally baked goods and a dog!

Conventional happy families, socially acceptable families, could not be further from the Christmas story that we encounter in Matthew’s gospel this morning. Here is a betrothed couple on the verge of a painful separation that would put the woman at risk of being stoned for adultery. Here is a man facing the fear that the woman he loves loves someone else and has been unfaithful. And in the middle of this potential tragedy there comes an angel, a messenger of God, telling Joseph calm down, back off, accept Mary – that this is all the work of God not of man.

Now usually this Sunday we focus on Mary – as, frankly, we should. The young woman who risked everything she had, gave everything she was, to bring God to birth in the world. The young woman who sang of the poor being exalted and the proud brought low, who saw a better world beckoning and had the courage to be part of bringing it closer. The archetype of strong, vulnerable women down the ages from St Clare to the suffragettes to Rosa Parkes to Greta Thunberg. I sort of resent Matthew for pushing her back to the patriarchal sidelines and beckoning Joseph into the limelight instead.

But, to be fair, Joseph does deserve our attention. He is not your typical Biblical patriarch but purposefully sets aside social expectations to let something new develop. He does not stand on his rights to divorce this woman who is bearing a child not his own. He risks the judgment of his peers, he risks being called weak, being seen as less than a ‘real’ man. This is his heroism – to choose the promise of God and the love in his heart over the role that society had given him.

There is a poem by the English poet and theologian Nicola Slee that captures Joseph perfectly:

I like it that you are largely silent.

You speak with your actions rather than words.

You stood by Mary and did not disgrace her.

You raised the boy as your own,

though you knew he was not.

 

I like those medieval paintings of you,

doddery and old, falling asleep in the corner of the stable

or looking on from a little distance.

Perhaps you are crouching over a small fire,

cooking up some mess for your young wife exhausted by labour,

or coaxing her to eat.

There is tenderness in your bearing,

a gentleness outdoing the painterly meekness of the donkey and ox.

You don’t demand our attention.

 

I like it that you didn’t lord it over wife and child,

that you let them be the stars.

I like the fact that you’re no paterfamilias, ruling the household.

I like the kind of man you were content to be.

This new family of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, this holy family, was not a Hallmark family. Most of our own families are not Hallmark families either. They may be a man, a woman and a child or children. They may be a man, a woman, children, step children, and exes. They may be single parents. They may be a man and a man, a woman and a woman, a couple who stand outside binary gender definitions, all with or without children. They may be a chosen family of close and supportive friends. Never let anyone tell you that your family is wrong, unchristian, unblessed by God. Remember that the upturning of social expectations around good and holy relationships began with the family of Jesus.

Not all our families are Hallmark families in another way too. Not all our families are places where we feel safe, cherished, seen and loved for who we are. Not all our families are physically safe. There will be people here today in this congregation who have faced abuse at home, verbal, sexual and physical. Know that this is never your fault. Know that this is never the will of God, never something God asks you to accept, never what God means by family.

If you are dreading spending the holidays with your family, or dreading spending the holidays alone, know that there is another family where you are seen, cherished and loved for who you are. This holy Christmas huddle of Mary, Joseph and Jesus has room for you too. It isn’t only oxes and asses and shepherds and magi who are welcomed into the stable’s light, it is you too. This is a family that has no boundaries, no limitations, that listens to the voice of the messenger of God saying conventions do not define you and being different is a blessing not a crime.

For see what it is that Christ needs to be born into our world, now as well as then. It isn’t security and certainty – Christ is not born into a Hallmark family (they weren’t white for a start!) or a Hallmark world. What Christ needs to be born is our willingness to be vulnerable, our openness to God’s creativity, our ability to love outside the boundaries of society’s expectations. Christ was born to a woman who made her own decisions, who spoke prophetic truth, who risked her respectable reputation and allowed her heart to be broken open. Christ was born to a man who chose to be gentle, who allowed himself to risk vulnerability, who nurtured others, whose heart was open to a different sort of family.

This Christmas may Christ be born into our world again. May all that is dark in our individual lives and our shared collective life be bathed with a light that brings love and healing. May love be stronger than any restrictive social convention and may every type of family know that their love is sacred.  May the warmth of Hallmark but none of its biases be present in your celebrations. May this cathedral community be as open, loving and nurturing as that first holy family. And may Mary the Brave and Joseph the Loving be present to you and all those you love in this sacred, vulnerable, wonderful season!

Sunday, December 15
Joy
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom… with joy and singing” (Isa. 35).
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“The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom… with joy and singing” (Isa. 35).

  1. How could you experience more joy? I’m not one of those Advent grinches who complains about celebrating Christmas too early. Still, this week as sweet and well-meaning people have wished me “happy holidays,” I’ve been surprised by my internal reaction. Something in my heart silently exclaims, “Advent is not a happy holiday. I’m longing for the second coming of Christ, for the Realm of God!” Usually I keep this thought to myself.

On the third Sunday of Advent, Christians light the wreath’s pink candle and wear rose colored vestments. We call this Gaudete Sunday. It comes from the first Latin word in the traditional introit which means “rejoice,” as in, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say rejoice.” This Sunday’s theme is joy.

At the end of a full day of interviews to be the dean of Grace Cathedral, the gathered committee asked me if I had any questions. I don’t know where it came from but I asked, “Is Grace a joyful place?” I immediately saw that I had made a mistake. Everyone looked uncomfortable and shifted in their seats. Finally someone said weakly, “We want to be joyful.” Well, that is a good place to start, because in a sense today joy is under siege and no one seems to notice or care about what we are losing.

In 1830 Benjamin Day launched the New York Sun, the first penny press newspaper. What he really invented was an idea that had a power than no one would understand for nearly a century. Before that time publishers regarded readers as their customers and wrote articles to convince them to buy the paper. Day on the other hand made money from advertisers by selling the attention of his readers.[1]

We are familiar with this business model from radio and television but twenty years ago we were not sure about how companies like Google were going to make money on the Internet. That question has been definitively settled. The largest and fastest growing companies make their money off our attention. During these two decades from almost nothing Apple ($1.22 Tr) became a trillion dollar company with Google ($929.53 Bn) getting close to this level of value.[2] Right now Facebook’s market cap is $553.55 Bn. To put this in context ExxonMobil’s market cap is $292 billion. Getting your attention is that much more valuable than what literally fuels the economy. Facebook has 2 billion users who on average are on their products for 50 minutes a day.

In Silicon Valley entrepreneurs describe new technologies as neutral. They say that it just depends on how you use them. But this is not true. The technology is designed to be used in particular ways and for long periods of time, to get and hold our attention. Those CEO’s in their t-shirts and jeans are selling an addictive product like nicotine. Today everyone carries a little slot machine that we check compulsively, not even stopping to drive, or to navigate city crosswalks. It’s called a cell phone.

We still do not really understand this massive social change. The generation that grew up with this technology seems to be suffering more from anxiety and depression. In 2015 Common Sense Media said that teenagers consume media for 9 hours per day.[3] Two problems in particular seem to be arising. First, human beings were made for complex interpersonal interactions that cannot be replicated by hitting a simple “like” button on our phone. As social animals we yearn to be in each other’s company. Second, we also need solitude. Psychologists say we need time alone, without someone else’s voice speaking to us, in order to prepare for when we are with people.[4]

Cal Newport’s book Digital Minimalism is about this phenomena and has a few recommendations. These include: being intentional about how we use technology so that we’re not just drawn into a vortex of nothingness as we mindlessly click link after link. He says to use technology to increase interpersonal time. He recommends scheduling solitude and taking our leisure more seriously.

  1. Changing your relation to technology may leave you more open for joy. But Jesus offers something so much more profound and transformative. For Jesus joy lies at the very center of reality. According to him we are connected to it in such a personal way that it is always a kind of home for us. We are constantly invited to return to God who loves us. If you have experienced joy you know what Jesus means.

This weekend as massive ocean swells shook the coast and rolled small boulders up and down the sand, I found myself out in the water with another surfer. We had somehow made it through the crushing waves of the impact zone and sat together in the deep, cold water feeling glad that we survived. I would never have guessed it but out there in the colorless fog and elemental forces I felt a profound joy in this stranger’s company.

C. S. Lewis’ biography is really a story of how he sought out joy. He wonders if, “all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.”[5] And discovers that all these moments: by a mountain lake, at breakfast with a loved one, on a long walk through fields, or in a great cathedral, share something in common – they are moments when we become conscious of God’s presence. We go beyond ourselves and meet something which in Lewis’ words refuses to identify itself with any object of the senses, or social need, or any state of our own minds and “proclaims itself sheerly objective.” He says, “we have a root in… utter reality. And that is why we experience joy.”[6]

John the Baptist asks Jesus from prison, “are you the one?” On the basis of my own encounters with joy I believe Jesus is the one. Jesus offers an interesting reply to John’s disciples. He does not say, “I am the Messiah, or I am the one who will help you realize your heart’s greatest desire.” Instead Jesus refers to one of the greatest poems about joy in history.

The prophet Isaiah writes, “The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it will blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing… They shall see the glory of the Lord.” “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, “Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God” (Isa. 35). The blind, deaf, people with weak hands and feeble knees will discover new capacities.

We all know what it means to have a “fearful heart.” We can imagine a prisoner going before the parole board, a family broken up at the border and still not reunited, a parent whose poverty exposes her children to dangerous chemicals, or a person suffering from domestic violence.

Henry Nouwen (1932-1996) taught at my seminary just before I got there. He used to say that happiness depends on our circumstances, but joy lies deeper in us. He explains that, “Joy is the experience of knowing that you are unconditionally loved and that nothing – sickness, failure, emotional distress, oppression, war or even death – can take that love away.”[7] This is the reason we can still experience joy even in the face of heartbreak, injustice and sorrow – because God is present even when things go horribly wrong.

Jesus’ message to John is that the expressions of joy we find in Isaiah are being fulfilled already. Joy is not something we have to wait around for. It is the gift we can receive right now. St. Augustine (354-403) defines a sacrament as an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Jesus teaches us to live that vision which sees the world as the ultimate gift of a loving father.

The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) saw many philosophers basing their ethics on the idea that life should be respected. But he offered an alternative. He said that gratitude is a more fundamental basis for understanding reality. We should begin by experiencing our life and the life of every other being as a gift.[8] It is another way of saying that joy is at the heart of everything.

  1. The picture we share of God changes over time. It can make a deeper intimacy with God more possible or more distant. This week the older members of my clergy group talked about how much they missed the affectionate language that characterized the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. They talked about their disappointment with the factual, clinical ways we describe God today.

Although sometimes it seemed stiff, that old way of praying joined together the rational and factual with the passion and feeling which are also part of human experience. It was not afraid to refer to God in emotional ways. It spoke of God’s “favor and goodness towards us” (83), that God’s “property is always to have mercy” (80) and “fatherly goodness,” (81) that God is gracious and tender towards us (80).[9]

How could we experience more joy? How might we more deeply embrace the life in God that Jesus shows us?  This may be the most important question of our time. Do not forget that your attention is more valuable than oil and do not squander it. Make time to be in the presence of real people. Be intentional about cultivating a life of prayer that has room for solitude.

Let your longing for joy and your experiences of it teach you something about our condition. You are rooted in utter reality and unconditionally loved by God whose affection we have only begun to imagine. So rejoice always, again I say rejoice!

 

[1] Tim Wu discusses this in his book The Attention Merchants. A great deal of what follows on digital technology comes from, Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (NY: Penguin, 2019) 215.

[2] During these two decades Microsoft is now valued at 1.18 Tr) with Amazon (873.07) getting close to this level of value. Kara Swisher, “There Is a Reason Tech Isn’t Safe,” The New York Times, 13 December 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/13/opinion/uber-silicon-valley.html?searchResultPosition=1

[3] Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World (NY: Penguin, 2019) 103-15.

[4] Ibid., 131ff.

[5] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life (NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1955) 170.

[6] Ibid., 220.

[7] Matthew Boulton, “Visible Joy: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Advent Week Three,” SALT, 10 December 2019. https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/12/10/visible-joy-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-advent-week-three

[8] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.4 The Doctrine of Creation. Tr. A. T. MacKay, T. H. L. Parker, H. Knight, H. A. Kennedy, J. Marks (NY: T & T Clark, 1961) 327ff.

[9] Page numbers refer to: The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church According to the Use of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America, Together with the Psalter or Psalms of David (NY: Oxford University Press, 1952).

Sunday, December 8
Decolonize Your Mind!
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing…” (Romans 15).
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“May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing…” (Romans 15).

What is the good news of John the Baptist?

  1. In every conversation lies an implicit promise that we will be informed, entertained, expanded, perhaps even appreciated, loved or saved. But this is not always how things work out. This week I found myself at the most elegant Christmas party of my life. Original paintings by Edgar Degas (1834-1917), James Tissot (1836-1902), Claude Monet (1840-1926), Mary Cassatt (1844-1926), Pablo Picasso (1881-1973), René Magritte (1898-1967), David Hockney (1937-) and others surrounded the guests in every room. Near the end, feeling exhausted, I took refuge alone on a sofa in the front room when a gracious older man approached and asked if he could sit with me.

He seemed so familiar! We talked as if we had been loosely acquainted for years.[1] And then he told me this story about when he served as a community liaison for the police force and Jim Jones, the charismatic cult leader, invited him to Sunday worship.

Jim Jones told him the time to be there and the uniform he should wear. When my friend arrived Jones had two hulking bodyguards with him. He never took off his sun glasses and looked away at the wall as they talked. After the police officer gave his lecture to a thousand people in the congregation he sat enjoying the choir. Although the service wasn’t over and he wanted to stay, the two bodyguards flatly told him it was time to leave. My friend didn’t know what to do but really he had no alternative.

That week someone else who had been there told him what happened after he left. Jim Jones took the stage and told his followers, “Did you see that police officer, he came when I told him to come, wore what I told him to wear and left when I told him to go. Stay with me because I have power.” Within a couple of years Jones murdered 918 people in Guyana. My new friend wonders how many of them were at church with him that day.

  1. So what is the difference between John the Baptist and the cult leader Jim Jones (1931-1978)? At first the two might seem to have a similar image and message. Depictions of John the Baptist in this Cathedral and elsewhere often make him seem angry and unstable. For centuries the most identifying features of John have been his uncombed hair and rough clothes. In the Willets stained glass window John seems to be shouting as a lightning bolt strikes from heaven.

John exclaims, “You brood of vipers who warned you to flee from the wrath that is to come.” And we feel condemned. As the axe lies “at the root of the trees” we might even worry that we have the “unquenchable fire” as our destiny (Mt. 3).

This is the second week of the new Christian year. For the next twelve months on Sundays we will read through the Gospel of Matthew. Matthew cares about faithful Jewish people. He constantly tries to show us how Jesus fulfills the prophecies of the Old Testament. The word gospel means “good news” and the point of this art form, of these stories, is not to record ancient history. It is to provoke us to really see.

John the Baptist’s camel hair clothing and leather belt, his life in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey – these identify him with the prophet Elijah and Isaiah’s promise of a time when the “earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” (Isa. 11).

Jim Jones ruled through fear, intimidation and violence – a more extreme version of what we experience in the news from leaders every day. In contrast, John the Baptist offers the opposite. He gives us an inclusive vision of hope for all people. We have the chance to experience lasting joy and he doesn’t want us to squander this opportunity.

Every time a word is used its meaning becomes slightly altered. You can see this when we repeat something that has already been said. Words change meaning. They also wear out over time. “Awesome” used to be a serious word with religious content before it became a meaningless cliché.  The most important word for Matthew in this passage and perhaps even the whole gospel is the Greek word metanoia. It means to change your mind or soul, to be transformed. The worn out Christian word for this is “repentance.”

John the Baptist isn’t scolding us, or imploring us to be good, like some finger-wagging Puritan. John wants to change our entire orientation to the world. We are in chains and John wants to set us free. He wants to free our minds.

Let me point out three signs of hope in his message. First, this is a radically open invitation. He addresses everyone. Each person has dignity and he baptizes Jew and non-Jew alike. With even the temple leaders everyone flocks to the wilderness to see him. He says your race, nationality, religion is not the most important thing about you. Not being related to Abraham will not hold you back when it comes to God.

Second he says that everyone has a chance, because this is not about our identity: who our father was, or our income, status, political party, race, etc. What matters is the fruit that our lives bear. This is simple. Do our actions lead to indifference, violence, manipulation and destruction or to love, healing and wholeness?

Finally, comes the most difficult part to explain. Because identity matters so much to us we feel a stubborn compulsion to misinterpret John’s most frightening metaphor about the wheat and chaff. This is not a metaphor about righteous or evil groups. John does not mean that some people are valuable and should be gathered into the warm barn while others deserve to burn. He is using a metaphor of purification. The fire is a refining fire that burns away impurities. The Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn (1918-2008) writes that the line between good and evil does not run between various groups of people but through every human heart.[2]

We all have a kernel of goodness, wisdom, bravery and value that deserves to last forever. We also all have imperfections in our character that are fundamentally incompatible with life in God. We know what impurities need to be rooted out of our lives: the hounding negativity, unkindness, anxiety, self-centeredness, indifference, insecurity, greed and fear of those who are different. This chaff exists in every human soul. It includes the bitterness of homophobia, entrenched white supremacy, persistent misogyny.

  1. So instead of that old language we hear from street preachers about repentance, listen this morning as John invites you to decolonize your mind. I have learned so much on this subject from the Kenyan author Ngūgī Wa Thiong’o (1938-). Ngūgī grew up in a Kenyan household with a father, four wives and about twenty-eight children. They spoke Gīkūyū as they worked in the fields and around the home. Before attending school he inhabited a harmonious world held together as all are by stories.

Ngūgī writes that English was more than just a language it became the language. If children spoke their own language in the vicinity of school they were beaten, fined money that they didn’t have or made to carry a metal plate around their necks that said, “I am stupid.”[3]

Ngugi writes that the “real aim of colonialism was to control the people’s wealth; to control, in other words, the entire realm of the language of real life.” This comes about through what he calls “the cultural bomb” whose effect is to “annihilate a people’s belief in their names, in their languages, in their environment, in their heritage of struggle, in their unity, in their capacities and ultimately in themselves. It makes them see their past as a wasteland of non-achievement and it makes them want to distance themselves from that wasteland.” [4]

Hawaiians had one of the highest rates of literacy in the world during the 1800’s. But then after Americans criminally overthrew the government it became similarly illegal to teach the Hawaiian language in schools. For three generations local people say the “white is right” movement dominated official culture. If you are my age and native Hawaiian you are very likely to have been entirely cut off from your own language, cultural practices and a large part of your own self. Ngūgī says it is like being made to stand outside yourself to understand yourself. Being a Christian today is a little like this. You can’t help but feel such hope for the new generation coming of age in Hawaiian immersion schools.

Here in North America if you are a gay man, you have to struggle so that our culture’s demeaning and dehumanizing stereotypes do not remain part of your picture of yourself. This is true of white supremacy and misogyny too. These demonic pictures distort our inner landscapes. They divide us from each other and from God. They are the chaff in every person’s heart that needs to be incinerated by the Holy Spirit so that we can be our truer selves.

In every conversation lies an implicit promise. At the party I gradually recognized that I was talking to Frank Jordan. He served as mayor of San Francisco in the 1990’s when my wife and I first moved here. In that conversation his humility and graciousness showed me he didn’t need to belittle others for the sake of his ego.

About one quarter of the New Testament is attributed to the Apostle Paul. You might say that his whole message can be boiled down to this statement. In the impenetrable ambiguity of human life when we seem like slaves of the messages that we hear, God offers us freedom from our compulsive preoccupation with human authority.[5]

It is time. It is time for the earth to be full of the knowledge of the Lord. It is time to decolonize our faith and free our minds. And that is the good news of John the Baptist. “May the God of hope fill you with joy and peace in believing…” (Romans 15).

[1] He told me about growing up south of Market Street, joining the San Francisco Police Department about the Season of the Witch years in the 1970’s when mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk were murdered by their colleague Dan White.

[2] Matt Boulton, “Change Your Mind: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary on Advent Week Two,” SALT, 3 December 2019. https://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/12/3/change-your-mind-salts-lectionary-commentary-for-advent-week-two

[3] Ngūgī wa Thiong’o, Decolonising the Mind: The Politics of Language in African Literature (Nairobi, Kenya: Heinemann Kenya, 1988) 11.

[4] Children growing up in this setting “exposed exclusively to a culture that was a product of a world external to [themselves]… being made to stand outside of [themselves] to look at [themselves].”  Ibid., 16, 3.

[5] “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28 NRSV).

Sunday, December 1
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
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