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Sunday, March 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, March 22
Seeing, Belonging, Becoming in the Days of Coronavirus
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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Malcolm Clemens Young 1 Samuel 16:1-13
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 2A14 Psalm 23
4 Lent (Year A) 11:00 a.m. Eucharist Mostly Online Ephesians 5:8-14
Sunday 22 March 2020 John 9:1-41

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, March 15
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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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!


Wednesday, January 22
What Is Your Calling?
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me” (Isaiah 49).
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Malcolm Clemens Young Isaiah 49:1-7

Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 2A5 John 1:29-42

Vine Sermon – Relationshift Series on Vocation

Wednesday 22 January 2020

What Is Your Calling?

“The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me”

(Isaiah 49).

What do you do? Whether you are just starting out, or you have been retired for too many years to count, whether your primary occupation is caring for another person or you are doing finance for a technology company, whether you are just passing through or you think you have found your life calling – today, for the next half hour, I want you to step out of ordinary time to think about where you are in life, who you are and where you might want to be.

Jude asks a tough question, “How do you build a bridge to your dreams or even to your true self?” This sermon series is called “Relationshift” and today we are considering what Christianity teaches about work.

The Ancient Greek or Stoic ideal was the upper class man who had leisure time dedicated to fashioning himself, shaping himself physically, intellectually and aesthetically. For them the only purpose of the vast humanity which works was to make this aristocratic existence possible.1

In contrast to this, Christianity asserts that to be human necessarily means to be in relationship with others, and with God. Even God works. And the highest form of human existence is to work alongside the one who is not a stranger, but the Holy One, who is closer to us than we are to ourselves. Jesus takes this idea further. He teaches that in contrast to the opinion of the world, the greatest leader does not lord it over others but rather will be the “servant of all” (Mk. 9:35).

The New Testament uses the Greek word klēsis for calling and in nearly all cases it simply means to be called to live as a child of God in the way of Jesus. There have been historical epochs when we have strayed from this idea. In Medieval times it became more common to regard religion as something that was chiefly the business of priests and monks. They were the ones, who in the language of the time, “had a calling.”

During the Reformation, Martin Luther (1483-1546) sought to correct his through a very powerful idea. He believed that all people could in effect dedicate their whole life to God in a way that was similar to how monks lived. Not everyone had to make lifetime vows of chastity, poverty and obedience, but they could still do everything for the glory of God. One could have a family and work life with God at the center.

Thomas Cranmer (1449-1586) the author of our prayerbook devised a whole system of daily prayers and readings for ordinary people based on the daily services in monasteries. At Grace Cathedral we pray in this way several times every day.

In Reformation times just about everyone worked as a farmer, with a few skilled artisans and a handful of professional people. Then the Industrial Revolution fundamentally changed our lives. Trade and specialization led to scientific and efficiency breakthroughs that have altered the face of the globe. We live in a time when many people worship “work.”

Juliet Schor points out that Americans have been adding dozens of hours at work each year and that over decades this has accumulated to the point where we work far more than recent generations.2 It has gotten to the point where we are on the verge of breaking natural systems with the rationale that we are creating jobs and wealth.

The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) points out that in our world millions do mindless, soulless work that is fundamentally dehumanizing.3 He wonders if we might work in such a way that provides us with enough of a living to really live for the sake of the community of God.

In our readings the Prophet Isaiah speaks about the way that the Lord called him before he was even born. That God shaped his abilities to speak and to convince others making his “mouth… like a sharp sword.” He writes that, “God has become his strength” (Isa. 49). In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians Paul writes that God has chosen us out of the world to be called saints or holy ones (1 Cor. 1:1-9).

The Gospel of John tells the story of how John first recognized Jesus. God speaks to us both in our hearts and in outward events. This is true of John who explains that, “the one who sent me… said to me… this is the Son of God” (Jn. 1). When Andrew and Simon with hearts full of questions feel the tug of God, Jesus says to them “Come and see” (Jn. 1).

In my twenties I worked as a management consultant. It was the perfect life. I had more money that I have ever had. I lived on the beach in Southern California. My colleagues

were fascinating people. But I began to feel a nagging dissatisfaction that arose both out of the events in my external life and what was happening my heart. As part of my research I was asked to go along with lies that other consultants had told to gain access to a company’s secrets. I had other moral concerns about my work.

In my heart I also realized that life is precious. We only have one chance to be alive. I was reading about Martin Luther King Jr. and I began to ask myself what is worth dedicating your life to. I was fortunate in having church along with good friends and mentors who helped me find the path I am on now.

The theologian Karl Barth points out that the primary truth of our life is that we are limited creatures. In our time the world “limit” almost always has a negative connotation. For him though it is what makes possible our distinctiveness and achievements. We exist in time. Our life is on loan to us for a brief moment. He says it is like we are lost in a vast desert or on a tiny island.4

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791) used to go to bed every night thinking about his death, that on the next day he might “cease to be.” And yet he called this the key to his happiness. He had a deep faith that God had given him precisely this chance.5

Huge numbers of people have come before us but they are dead now, as we will one day be. In short, this is our time, our age, briefly given to us as a gift from God. We exist with just these technologies, in this particular social circumstance, with our race and family background and age. We have been given just this particular body, this disposition, this mind, our own unique form of creativity. The question is what are we going to make of it?

Our limitations are not a mistake, they are what makes us, us. We do not do this work alone either. God stands on the threshold of our consciousness. God reaches out a hand to help us. God meets us in the unique opportunities and places of our life. God is our partner in every good work that we undertake.

God has known you since before you were born. God calls to you now. Come and see. 1 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) 474. 2 Juliet Schor, The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure (NY: Basic Books, 1992). 3 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) 532. 4 Ibid., 571. 5 Ibid., 589.

Sunday, January 19
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: Alonzo King
"I relax, and cast aside all mental burdens Allowing God to express through me his perfect peace, love, and wisdom."
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Thank you Dean and thank you everyone at Grace who have been so warm and so inviting, it has been a wonderful time that LINES has been here and it’s not over. We are thrilled to be here.

I would like to start with an affirmation by Yogananda. I’m going to say it and if you could repeat after me.
“I relax, and cast aside all mental burdens
Allowing God to express through me his perfect peace, love, and wisdom.”

This time of year, we’re still in January; it is a boon in the way it is structured, because we come out of the joy of Christmas and the celebration of Christ, and we step into the new year with support and cheering assistance so that we can renew ourselves. We look at ourselves, and this is where resolutions arise, and we say we too want to renew in the new year, and usually that means some cleaning. It’s always easy to look at someone else and see what needs to be repaired, but when it comes to ourselves, it’s not so easy. And so that introspective look of impersonal analysis that examines our habits, and sees where we are going, what we’re becoming – it’s a great opportunity to look at that and say, do I like what I’m becoming and where I’m going. That introspection, buoyed by this new year, can help us to change; and we human beings, individuals changing ourselves, are helping the entire world – that is how we assist.

There is a story that is common in India where they talk about going to the Ganges. And that if you bathe in the Ganges that your sins are washed away. The joke is that when you step toward the Ganges all your negative habits and negative ways of thinking, they leave because they don’t want to get into those holy waters. So when you step into the holy waters you are refreshed and you feel new and you feel rebirthed and clean. And when you get out of the water, those habits are waiting. And as soon as you get out, they jump right back on you. They call them the monkeys. The monkeys that are waiting in the trees after you get out of the refreshing dip in the Ganges. And so, too, that is like us – we begin with this firm conviction, we go forward with zeal, and inevitability, the monkeys come and jump on our back again.

I watched the Martin Luther King, Jr. speech that he gave at Grace, last night. It was incredibly powerfully moving and I wanted to read some words from it: Dr. King said that “Man must seek to develop his inner powers in a brilliant manner, no matter how small it may be according to the world’s standards. He must see that it has cosmic significance if it is for the upbuilding of humanity. He must come to see that whatever he is called to do is significant, if it is for the making of a better world. So, if you can’t be a pine on the top of the hill, be a scrub in the valley – but be the best little scrub on the side of the rill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be the sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or you fail, be the best of whatever you are. And this determined push to the end of self realization, this inward drive to develop one’s inner powers is the length of a human being’s life.”

It’s beautiful. And in it’s deeper meaning, it’s pointing to the fact that we are souls. And that when we human beings who have our essence disguised in these bodies, and we identify with these bodies, when we delve into the senses like food, you identify with the body, you’re locked in, but in reality Christ has told us who we are and what we are. His words in John, “Ye are gods.” – “Know ye not that ye are gods and that the kingdom of Heaven resides within you.” Not outside somewhere to run to, but within you. Very deep, profound statement.

Many physicists have said that this cosmos looks more like a grand mind, than just a working machine. The brilliance of an unimaginable, Omnipotent mind. In our struggle to claim our real identification, we have mentally separated ourselves from that mind. That Omnipotent mind is just beneath the surface of our minds. Just behind the darkness of our closed eyes. Yogananda, author of Autobiography of a Yogi says, “We are waves on the vast ocean of that omnipotent mind.” But we are like bottles of ocean that are corked and we have to uncork that bottle and dissolve back into that Magnificent Ocean. We can tap into that ocean because thoughts are universal. We think, individually, that we’re thinking about our own little thoughts in our own little world – no, we plug into that limitless realm of thought. Whether it’s negative or positive, God was the creator. Good or bad, He created all of creation. And so, we have the ability, as waves, to find the way where we can relax, and let go. Find that identity – and how is that found? It’s akin to the way salmon have to go back to their spawning grounds – swimming upstream against the current, a rushing roaring, impossibly difficult, current. We have to travel against that stream to return back to bliss.

Dr. King said, “While the Montgomery boycott was going on, India’s Gandhi was the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change. Gandhi referred to his form of nonviolence as satyagraha meaning truth-force or love-force.” Each of these great mighty men were using love as the transformative force to help mankind. Gandhi, in his literature on nonviolence, says that it’s not just about saying I’m nonviolent, but it’s actually to begin to love that person and realize that that person is merely playing a role. And I read recently that he said, “Even if a vegetarian admonishes a meat eater for eating meat, that is violence.” Dr. King goes on to say, “I came to see for the first time that the Christian doctrine of love, operating through the Gandhian method of nonviolence, was one of the most potent weapons available to oppressed people in their struggle for freedom.” And the question arises, who is not oppressed on planet earth? There is the schisms, there’s the war, religious sectarianism, the greed, materialism, the boomerang of evil, but they both talk about how that can be transformed through love. The application is that everyone of us has some form of oppression inside of us – again those monkeys – that we too, through our behavior and the way that we think, want to eradicate. Because it helps the world, it helps mankind, or humanity, I should say.

Dr. King and Gandhi were looking to remove oppression from the world and how to rid the world of evil by helping their brothers and sisters. The Gita says that a lot of the struggle is actually karmic. There is personal karma, there’s karma in families, there is karma in cities, countries and there’s world karma. Karma is really the law of retribution, what you put out, returns to you. The old testament, when they are talking about karma, they say “God is an angry god and he seeks revenge.” It’s impossible for God to be angry. It doesn’t make sense, it’s an aberration. God is love. God is unconditional love. No matter what mistakes we make, no matter what bad habits we have – God is unconditional love. But the old testament was referring to the law of cause and effect. The law that was created by God and God is above the law. Yoganada says, “Since God is not bound by his cosmic law, devotion is also necessary to summon his attention. Devotional demand is greater than law, than the law of cause and effect, because it touches the heart of God and makes him answer his naughty and good children alike. Law is based on mathematical precision – justice weighted according to the law of cause and effect. Devotion is based upon claiming God as your own true love. Law is exacting in it’s demand, but love presupposes God’s mercy and thereby attracts his response whether or not the full measure of the law has been met.” That’s tremendous – that love is above the law.

Dr. King says, “If you can understand and feel, even in the midst of those critical and often physically painful moments, that your attacker is as much a victim as you are, that he or she is a victim of the forces that have shaped and fed his anger – then you are well on your way to the nonviolent life.” Seeing roles – every person has to play their role. This is teaching us how to see people. When people identify as this age, race, sex, religion, we must respect that. But we have to see people no matter how they appear or behave, as souls. Souls with roles – we all have our roles to play. And this brings the Shakespearean statement, “All of life is a stage” into a true reality. Some play huge roles on earth, others small personal roles. But, all souls are equal. So whether it’s on the big stage of the planet with the entire world watching, or in a little village, the soul shines. All souls are equal.

A few definitions of the soul. This self, soul, is never born, nor does it ever perish, nor having come into existence, will it again cease to be. It is birthless, eternal, changeless, ever the same, unaffected by the usual processes associated with time. It is not slain, when the body is killed.

The universal everything is made of the singular consciousness of God. When a spark of that consciousness is individualized by God, it becomes a soul, capable of ultimately expressing the God image in which it is made. In essence, the soul is perfect and complete. An exact reflection of God’s ever existing, ever conscious, ever new bliss.

A land, a country, a nation, is conserved through it’s masterpieces of humanity. And so, again, our work is to realize that we’re not weak, whining mortals, we are immortals. A difficult task. Often people say, “I feel I have a great purpose to accomplish in life” and that is true, that purpose is to find out who and what we really are. And Christ tells us who we are when He says, “Know ye not that ye are gods.”

I’d like to close with what is known as the quality that God cherishes most, humility. By Andrew Murray, “Humility is Perpetual quietness of heart. It is to have no trouble. It is never to be fretted or vexed, irritable or sore; to wonder at nothing that is done to me, to feel nothing done against me. It is to be at rest when nobody praises me, and when I am blamed or despised. It is to have a blessed home in the Lord, where I can go in and shut the door, and kneel to my Father in secret, and am at peace as in a deep sea of calmness, when all around and above is trouble.”

I would close with one last affirmation by Paramahansa Yogananda, if you could repeat after me.

I am submerged in eternal light.
That light permeates every particle of my being.
I live in that light.
The divine spirit fills me, within and without.
I am submerged in eternal light.
That light permeates every particle of my being.
I live in that light.
The divine spirit fills me, within and without.

Sunday, January 12
How to Hear the Voice of the Lord
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
“See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare…” (Isa. 42).
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“See, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare…” (Isa. 42).

We have celebrated moments of such great joy in this cathedral. Ten thousand people came here over Christmas and it felt electric. But this is also where we gather in times of unthinkable tragedy. On Thursday we had the funeral for Elizabeth a wonderful 43 year old mother of one of our choristers. She had succeeded at the top universities, worked in the most prestigious jobs, and then was the best single mother you will ever meet for an eight year old daughter and a ten year old son.

Elizabeth’s father asked the school chaplain to read the eulogy he wrote for his daughter. I do not think I will ever forget the agony on his face as he heard the priest reading his own words to all of us. At the end he talked about how Elizabeth had been with the children for their most formative years, that her values would always be their values… that her voice would always be deep within them.

One way of describing what it means to be human is to say that we are a collection of these voices. All sorts of voices speak to us in our inner life. Some that tear us down. Others that support us. They say things like “You’re stupid,” “That’s not good enough,” “you’ll never make it” or “She loves me no matter what,” or “this is my home.”

The voices come from many different sources – from the people we knew in the past, from kids at school, work colleagues, Sunday School teachers. They come from television, newspapers and the internet. But at a certain stage the loudest voice comes from our parents.

Many of you may not be aware of this but we are facing a public health crisis right now among our young people. The rates of anxiety, depression and suicide among teenagers and people in their early twenties has shot up.[1] Some wonder if this is related to the rise of social media. Those internet voices are in all of us. They may be part of what is making life so crazy in our world right now.

But there is another voice in us: a deep, resonant undertone that brings us back to our true self and into harmony with all of creation. That is the voice of God. I believe that this voice speaks to us in every moment of our life – it is just hard to hear with all the distractions of modern times.

So my question this morning is a simple one. How could you as parents, godparents, grandparents, friends and ordinary people help others, especially children, to hear the voice of the Lord? Let me suggest three things you might teach by word and example that will help us hear God.

  1. First, teach yourself, and each other, to pray. People ask me what prayer is and how to do it. All prayer begins with desire, with what Barry and Ann Ulanov call an “affectionate reaching out to God.”[2] In today’s psalm (Ps. 29), “the voice of the Lord is upon the mighty waters.” It “breaks the cedar trees… and makes the oak trees writhe.” “The voice of the Lord splits the flames of fire” (Ps. 29). I find God in the vast Pacific Ocean, among the Monterey Cypress trees at Land’s End, and in moments like this when we are together and the light streams through the stained glass windows.

The German philosopher Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) said that prayer is the only way to really know God. You can read about God in the Bible or through great spiritual writers, but you actually meet God in prayer. For that matter it is also how we begin to really know ourselves. Prayer may be the moment when we come closest to saying who we really are – not who we should be or who we would wish to be, but who we really are. In prayer I am often surprised to discover what it is I really want.

In his autobiography St. Augustine (354-430) writes that we have deep drives that scatter us and even distort our lives through unhealthy addictions and compulsive behavior. Prayer helps to shape these desires for good.[3] Prayer gives us an enlarged sense of self. It helps us to see other perspectives. And ultimately we discover that what we thought was our seeking turns out to be responding to the Other, to God, who first sought us.

So make prayer a normal thing in your house and for the people around you. Pray before bed, at meals, in moments of spontaneous disappointment or appreciation. This week for homework try praying at a time that you ordinarily would not. Listen for that voice singing beneath all creation and know yourself better as a result.

  1. My second suggestion for hearing God is to cultivate humility. By this I do not mean the false humility of people who try to pretend that they are not good at something when they really are. I mean the spiritual humility required to be a humane person. This is the humility of being at home in one’s own skin. It is what we see in people who do not need to feel like they are better than others, because they have already been accepted by God.

This week in The New York Times, one of my favorite contemporary theologians, David Bentlely Hart, discussed his experience writing about hell. He says that the scriptural evidence is thin for the later church’s picture of an eternal, permanent place where souls are tormented. The Apostle Paul does not mention it and many New Testament passages appear to suggest that everyone will be eventually saved by God. Great Christian thinkers through the ages including Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and many others all the way to Karl Barth in the twentieth century have argued that it is impossible for anything to resist God’s love indefinitely, or for there to be a place beyond the reach of God’s compassion. Hart suggests that the idea of hell became a more powerful force for the purpose of controlling ordinary people after the Roman Empire embraced Christianity.[4]

But this isn’t Hart’s main point. He said that of all he has written over time, this position generates the most controversy. You would think that it might be a relief to hear that no one would be subjected to everlasting torture. But this is not the case. People are attached to the idea of hell and this is why. Because we have a hard time letting go of our deep need to be vindicated, to be right, to be superior over others. We carry a little hell within us when in our competitiveness we cannot imagine being considered good unless someone else else is bad, that we cannot succeed unless they fail.

I want to share one more example because humility is both so central to the Christian life and at the same time so hard to understand today. This fall at the age of 52, James Hatch a former Navy SEAL and combat-wounded veteran, started his freshman year at Yale College.[5]

From social media he heard that he could expect to meet “snowflakes” there. For those of you who haven’t heard this expression, a snowflake is a word that people use to describe someone “who thinks he or she is unique and special when that person is not.” His friends sometimes wondered what college with the liberal snowflakes was like and so he wrote an article to describe his experience.

Hatch described amazing personal stories of resilient young people working on Alaska fishing boats, dedicating days to solving intricate math problems, composing music for the cello. At first he hated the way they talked about safe spaces. But then he realized that what this really means is a place where difficult subjects can be discussed openly without the risk of disrespect or harsh judgment. He instantly understood that almost everyone resists bringing their ideas into environments where people would disagree with them. And yet that this was the only way to make progress on humanity’s most challenging problems.

Bridges is our Cathedral theme this year. And Hatch writes that a good leader is a bridge builder. Someone who is confident enough to recognize that they could be wrong who actively reaches out to hear other views than one’s own. To completely realize that God accepts us and the power that comes with this is humility.

  1. This brings me to the final lesson. This is what we should always be teaching to everyone around us. It is so simple. The word Gospel means good news. And the good news of Jesus is easy to understand. At his baptism God’s voice speaks from heaven and says, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased” (Mt. 3). The Good News of Jesus is that each person is loved by God. God loves us so profoundly that nothing can keep God from reaching us – not even death.

This is what I have been thinking about in the days since Elizabeth’s funeral as I prepared for the moment of joy we are sharing today. There is another voice in us: a deep, resonant undertone that brings us back to our true self and into harmony with all of creation. That is the voice of God. I believe that this voice speaks to us in every moment of our life.

What will you do to help the people around you to hear the voice of God?


[1] Karen Zraic, “Teenagers Say Depression and Anxiety Are the Major Issues Among Their Peers,” The New York Times, 20 Feb 2019.

[2] The observation about prayer as desire, Husserl, etc. come from the following. Ann and Barry Ulanov, Primary Speech: A Psychology of Prayer (Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1982) 1, 8.

[3] Augustine, Confessions Tr. Rex Warner (NY: New American Library, 1963).

[4] David Bentley Hart, “Why Do People Believe in Hell?, The New York Times, 10 January 2020.

[5] James Hatch, “My Semester with the Snowflakes,” Medium, 21 December 2019.

Sunday, January 5
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Jude Harmon
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Sunday, December 29
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Heather Erickson
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Wednesday, December 25
Christmas Day Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Kristin Saylor
Sermon from the Christmas 11 a.m. Eucharist
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