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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Sunday, July 21
Coach Jesus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Josiah Royce
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever" (Psalm 25).
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Coach Jesus, Jean-Paul Sartre and Josiah Royce

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever” (Psalm 25).

Chad Harbach in his novel The Art of Fielding writes about Schwarz a stocky, strong young football and baseball player. He feels determined not to become one of those “ex-jocks” who considered high school and college the best days of their lives.1 For this reason, despite everyone’s expectations, he resists going into coaching.

The author describes his state of mind. “He already knew how to coach. All you had to do was to look at each of your players and ask yourself: What story does this guy wish that someone would tell about himself? And then you told the guy that story. You told it with a hint of doom. You included his flaws. You emphasized the obstacles that could prevent him from succeeding… People love to suffer as long as the suffering made sense. Everybody suffered. The key was to choose your form of suffering… A good coach made you suffer in a way that suited you.”

The Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards’ (1703-1758) perhaps second most famous sermon was called “The Excellency of Christ.”2 Edwards describes “the admirable conjunction” of opposites in Jesus who is both the Lion of Judah and the Lamb of God. Christ sits in power at the right hand of the Almighty, above galaxies, at the origin of all things, and yet is so humble that he would be our friend.

Nowhere does Edwards describe Jesus as a coach. But this is one way that the mystical Christ becomes present in our life. Christ offers stories that can become our own, that will change how we experience everything. My life has been transformed by Jesus and continues to be. This story of Martha and Mary has sunk deep into my consciousness and profoundly affects how I understand the world and how I act in it.

Martha invites Jesus over. Mary breaks social taboos by sitting at the feet of Jesus with the male disciples. Martha bitterly insists that Jesus should order Mary to work like her. And Coach Jesus says, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things; one thing is needful. Mary has chosen the good portion, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk. 10).

At various stages I have asked friends what they think of this story and often they have strong feelings. Many times they feel frustrated and take offense at Jesus. They identify with Martha. They point out that someone has to do these tasks. They want her work to be rewarded. The relationship between all siblings is complicated and many of us simply identify more closely with Martha.

Often Bible stories simply do not affirm our sense of fairness.3 Stories like Mary and Martha, the Prodigal Son, the Parable of the Day Laborers, Jacob and Essau, Cain and Abel unsettle us. These are stories about people who did not work hard, who should not have been rewarded, but somehow received more than they deserved. In our secular time stories still are what provide orientation in our life. Because we deeply believe in meritocracy, the Bible’s lack of respect for our notions of fairness is hard for us. Being deeply attached to fairness may be for us a sign that we lack faith in God.

In life context is everything. That is true for the Bible also. This morning we have only part of the story. The episode begins when a lawyer comes to Jesus wondering how to inherit eternal life. Jesus asks what scripture says and the lawyer correctly answers that there are two great commandments, to love the Lord your God with all of your heart and soul and mind. The second commandment is like unto it, love your neighbor as yourself.4

The lawyer asks, “who is my neighbor?” and Jesus answers with the story of the Good Samaritan. It illustrates that loving our neighbor means transcending our identity, and reaching across boundaries to care for another person. This story of Martha and Mary on the other hand is an answer to the question of how we love God. For me, after a lifetime of study, each year it becomes less about fairness and more about learning to listen. Paying attention is how we love God. This morning I want to point out three brief implications of this kind of listening from two philosophers and a theologian.

1. Choosing. On October 28, 1945 the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980) gave a talk at the Club Maintenant in Paris to a surprisingly large crowd He concluded by telling the story of an ex-student who had come to him for advice during World War II. The young man’s brother had been killed in battle in 1940 fighting the Germans. His father became a collaborator with the Germans and deserted the family. This young man was his mother’s only support and companion.5

The young man really wanted to go across the border through Spain to England where he hoped to fight the Nazis with the Free French forces in exile. In this way he longed to avenge his brother, defy his father and save his country. The only problem was that there would be no one to care for his mother during this time of food shortages and

violent upheaval. How do you decide between contributing to the greater good and caring for your mother?

According to Sartre established authorities like priests and scholars have nothing to offer. Our inner voice is also confused by competing values. We wonder if we are deceiving ourselves. In short, nothing can relieve us of the burden of freedom. Social conventions, our history, psychology and habits are what he calls “the situation” in which we act. But they do not finally determine what we will do. We are free to choose and in that decision we become who we will be. With each decision we create our self.

Although the young man faces a particularly dramatic decision, all of us are in the same situation. We are compelled to invent who we will be. In every instant we are determining what kind of a relationship we will have with God. We can be so busy with our careers and our cell phones that we create a self that is incapable of sitting still and listening to Jesus.

2. Loving. The turn of the twentieth century Harvard philosophy professor Josiah Royce (1855-1916) grew up in Grass Valley California. As a boy he would visit the grave of a gold prospector behind his house and wonder what it would feel like to live and die so anonymously, alone and far from home. He always felt a bit like an outsider.6

Royce’s son Christopher was diagnosed with “acute abulia” a mental illness that we might call depression today and died in his twenties. While his colleagues emphasized experience and individualism Royce talked about community. Royce worried about the way modern life seems to detach and isolate us. He always emphasized the importance of belonging to a greater whole, of our loyalty to, even our love for, this world entrusted to our care.

One of his students William Ernest Hocking (1873-1966) with his wife Agnes wrote a book called The Meaning of God in Human Experience. The tile of Chapter 23 is “Prayer and its Answer.”7 They call prayer active, a way of seeking the Divine through worship. The answer comes when we passively and effortlessly receive God. They write, “The best known of all experiences of [this] mystic type is that of discovering the individuality of another person.”8 Mary discovers Jesus in just this way. We too meet Jesus in our deepest connections with other people.

3. Joyfully. The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) writes that our humanity arises out of what he calls being in encounter, from the quality of our relationships with other people. This is always a reciprocal relationship. It involves really sharing ourselves and being genuinely open to someone’s real differences from us.

He describes four elements to this. First, it means really looking another person in the eye in a way that allows our self to be seen. Second, it involves really listening to others and speaking the truth about ourselves. Third, it means being ready to help and to be helped.

But these are not enough. To really be human we need to do these things “gladly.” At our very heart, if we do not do something gladly, it is not who we really are. Our fundamental humanity is not something that we can just choose to put on or take off like a hat.9

If someone said “be joyful!” you might wonder where to start and what to do. We usually regard joy as a passing feeling that just happens to us rather than a habitual disposition that shapes our experience of the world. If you really want to experience joy you need to realize that it comes to us when we cultivate a sense of gratitude and humility.

Joy arises out of a life of prayer. Anne Lammott writes that the most essential prayers fall into three categories that can be each described with a single word. “Help. Thanks. Wow.” In each of these moments turning to God leads us more deeply into an experience of gladness.

In conclusion, like a good coach or better like a true friend, Jesus tells us the story that will transform our lives, so that some good may come of the suffering that is uniquely our own. As I listen at the feet of Christ this week I am learning that we can be free from the past, that with every choice we can draw closer to God and create something beautiful with who we are.

Just as Jesus calls Martha in from her solitary work, he invites us also to step out of the isolating individualism of our culture and to seek that mystic experience of the holiness present in every person. The cares and anxieties that we take on do not have to own us. By living with gratitude, humility and love we can open find abiding joy.

Let us pray:

As Martha served you, Lord, so too may we with faithful hearts and loving care prepare all things for your feast. But grant us more, O Lord, that as we work we may be tuned with Mary’s ear to hear in all we do, the lessons that you teach. Amen (Adapted from Lucy Mason Nuesse).10 1 Chad Harbach, The Art of Fielding (NY: Back Bay Books, 2011) 149. 2 Jonathan Edwards, “The Excellency of Christ.” http://www.leaderu.com/cyber/books/edwards/excellency.html 3 7 Pent (7-19-98) 11C. 4 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets. 5 Sarah Bakewell, The Existentialist Café: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails (NY: Other Press, 2016) 7-9. 6 John Kaag, American Philosophy: A Love Story (NY: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016) 165ff. 7 William Ernest Hocking, The Meaning of God in Human Experience: A Philosophic Study of Religion (New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1912). https://archive.org/stream/meaningofgodinhu027626mbp/meaningofgodinhu027626mbp_djvu.txt 8 Ibid., 175. 9 Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics III.2: The Doctrine of Creation tr. H Knight, G.W. Bromiley, J.K.S. Reid, R.H. Fuller (NY: T & T Clark, 1960) 267. 10 Diocesan Altar Guild (6-19-04) 11C.

Sunday, July 14
How Can You Be Happy
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Luke 10)
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How Can You Be Happy
“Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10)?

Do you ever wonder, “Is there more to life than this? Am I happy?”

1. The composer Philip Glass writes, “In a clear way we are bound to our culture. We understand the world because of the way we were taught to see… because that’s what was installed… into our heads when we were very young. But it is possible to step out of that world.”

This is good news because most often we inhabit a secular environment which assumes in one way or another that there is no god. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor writes about this in his book A Secular Age. He explains that in earlier periods it was impossible not to believe in god. But in this place and time faith in God is only one view among many. This change in perspective does not arise out of any scientific discovery. It is a cultural change and it means that a secular worldview affects everyone whether you are a devout believer or a committed atheist.

This makes it hard to see what God is doing when you live in North America. It means that when it comes to the holy we have what psychologists call inattentional blindness. Because of our predispositions we cannot see what is right in front of us.

This summer I have been reading the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s (1888-1935) The Book of Disquiet. The character he invents for this pseudonymous memoir seems overwhelmed by modern, narcissistic despair. He writes, “Beside my pain, all other pains seem false or insignificant. They are the pains of happy people… I’ve noticed that unhappiness is something you see rather than feel, and joy is something you feel rather than see, because by not thinking and not seeing, you do acquire a certain contentment… All unhappiness enters through the window of observation and thought.” This insinuation that thought leads to unhappiness is only part of a larger constellation of assumptions that engulfs us in our secular time.

The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) writes about this modern, individualistic way of seeing the world. In particular he points out how Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) ideal of an übermench or superman is completely opposed to Christ. Barth writes that Nietzsche encounters Christianity as an enemy because it opposes, “the lonely, noble, strong, proud, natural, healthy, wise, outstanding, splendid man, the superman… with [Christianity’s] blatant claim that the only true [person is the one] who is little, poor and sick, the [one] who is weak and not strong, who does not evoke admiration but sympathy, who is not solitary but gregarious.”

Nietzsche described as “slave morality” the Christian insistence on caring for the poor, the wounded and the dispossessed. He writes that the powerful should not be held back by having to care for the weak.

2. In contrast people in the time of Jesus share a sense that the divine infuses everything, that nothing really is apart from God. In this setting a lawyer comes and asks how to inherit eternal life. This is no different than when we, in our individualistic environment, ask how to be happy. He wants to know what this is all about. He wants to know how to live.

We see into the lawyer’s heart. In testing Jesus he does try to show off his own wisdom but still beneath this lies a genuine question. In response, Jesus tells him one of the most famous stories of our tradition. Here in San Francisco we see such suffering on our streets that we live the story of the Good Samaritan nearly every day.

On the road to Jericho thieves strip and beat a man severely. The Greek word is hēmithanē – a hemisphere is half a sphere, hēmithanē means half dead. I’ve taught this story more often to children than adults and they feel horrified when the priest and Levite pass by on the other side of the road.

The story is not really about the unfortunate man, or even the authorities who ignore him. It is about the Samaritan, an enemy of the wounded man’s people. Yet this is the only one who sees him. The whole story turns on a single word splagnizesthai. It means more than simple compassion. This feeling comes from our guts, our bowels, the very deepest part of us. In the New Testament this word is only used for Jesus and other closely related figures in the parables. Our deepest suffering, what we cannot even express in words, Jesus takes on himself.

The Greek word for wound is traumata. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus binds up our wounds, heals our traumas, leads us to the place where we can recover our life. Because we too often walk by people suffering terribly on the street we cannot feel worthy of Jesus’ invitation.

I don’t know about you but every so often the protective veil of illusion that I am indeed a decent person becomes torn and I see into the truth of my own selfishness. This week I felt this so deeply. This story with the events of our life can reveal us to ourselves. And sometimes we do not like what we see.

I went to my clergy group on Wednesday with these feelings and through God’s grace a colleague read Mary Oliver’s poem “Gethsemane.” It is about the way that the disciples failed to stay up with Jesus on the night before his arrest.

“The grass never sleeps. / Or the rose. / Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. // Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.// The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet, / and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, / and heaven knows if it even sleeps.”

“Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe / the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move / maybe / the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, / lay still and waited, wild awake. // Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not / keep vigil, how they must have wept, / so utterly human, knowing this too / must be part of the story.”

When my colleague read this I felt a huge relief. In a way I joined the human race again. We are all brothers and sisters who fall short. We are all together as people who know what we should have done but somehow couldn’t do it.

So if the power of the story does not lie in making us feel guilty, what does it do? It gives us a vivid picture of what will make us happy, of what we can do to inherit eternal life. It reminds us that love is primarily an action and only secondarily is it a thought or a feeling. It encourages us to start where we are, to begin with little steps like helping when we don’t really feel like it, or being patient with someone who we find difficult, or trying to be less angry when we feel slighted.

Karl Barth believes that the whole purpose of being human is to profoundly encounter God and each other. Every moment, in every thought and action we move closer or further away from that ideal. Quite simply if you want to be happy, find a way to take care of your neighbor – because that’s what we were made to do.

From Jesus’ perspective migrant children at the border are not a distraction from the economy or competing with the people who already live here. Caring for those like them is the reason for human society.

3. As you go out to be Samaritans in the world I want to share the story of one ordinary person who was inspired by Jesus to do something really heroic. On December 11, 1969 at the 11:00 a.m. service with five hundred people in attendance a shy, unassuming, perhaps even awkward thirty-two year old acolyte named Richard Daller stood up to read the Epistle at this lectern. Instead he read a prepared statement that condemned the way that gay people are treated in society. His powerful words about the love of Jesus have helped us come along way show in recognizing the humanity of every person.

You can imagine the tension. Six people walked out, one of whom yelled, “Give up the pulpit. You have no right to do this!” Three quarters of the way through Dean Julian Bartlett walked calmly over and whispered to him. The Dean waited for him to finish and then went into the lectern and stood there silently for a moment before addressing the crowd. He described Daller, “as a faithful member of the church who has served it well.” He drew our attention to the pain that was so powerful that it would lead one of us to do this.

In conclusion it is possible to step out of the world as we were taught to see it. We can be free of the narcissistic individualism focused exclusively on pampering our needy ego. We can begin to see the holiness that stands right in front of us. Real people are not superior, brilliant, independent, beautiful and above everything. The true person is vulnerable and imperfect, not deserving but worthy of love, like you and me.

So begin where you are. Wait with Jesus. Find happiness in your neighbor so that you may live. See how the divine infuses everything. Inherit eternal life.

Sunday, July 7
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Pentecost 4, 2019
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This is going to sound a bit odd in my English accent, but I want to read you a little excerpt from Alice Walker’s classic book, The Color Purple. This is Shug talking to Celie: ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They came to church to share God, not to find God.’

Whether you agree with Shug or not her question of where we find God resonates this Sunday. Resonates because of our gospel reading about the 70 disciples being sent to share their knowledge of God in local villages. Resonates because it’s the Sunday after Independence Day when we need to consider where we find God in our national life, as well as in our personal spirituality.

As a child in England I grew up with a very simple, very wrong, understanding of Christian mission. Basically, mission was something you did somewhere foreign – not like France foreign but Asia and Africa foreign, where people looked different and had different customs and worshiped different gods. The point of mission was to make those people more like us – and most especially to tell them all they had been doing wrong religiously and baptize them as good little Anglicans.

So that was how I used to see this gospel passage. That the disciples, those in the know, are taking their knowledge about God to those who don’t know God. But I think I was wrong about this passage, just as I was wrong about the true meaning of mission. Because, let’s be clear, mission is never about taking God to places where God is not. That’s a literal impossibility. The most impossible of all impossibilities! As Shug knows all of us bring God with us wherever we go, the Spirit of God is deep in the heart of every human being created in her image.

So I’ve come to a new understanding of why the disciples are told to shake the dust of unwelcoming villages from their feet. The sin of these villages lies not in rejecting the disciples’ understanding of God but in rejecting the disciples. The sin is their failure to see God’s presence in the stranger as well as in themselves. The denial of another’s full humanity because they see God differently from you is something we need to shake from our feet and from our society.

For when we fail to recognize that God is present in an individual or a society then we are free to demonize them. We can judge them less than human, less than us, exploitable and expendable. And then see all the evil we can do. We can enslave, we can conquer, we can massacre: often shamefully using our Christian faith as an excuse. And to name names, we Brits and white Americans have been at the heart of this dehumanization of others.

We see this evil still tainting this nation, even so long after we have abolished slavery and, at least partially, recognized the rights of indigenous peoples. It lives on in the everyday racism we see around us – police violence against black youths, the disproportionate poverty of African American communities, the fact that we talk about Asian Americans and African Americans and Native Americans but European Americans are just ‘Americans’. There is a soul sickness at the heart of the United States and its name is racism. We need to see this so we can finally change it.

But all is not ugliness in this country, there is also great beauty. There is infinite beauty in each one of us sitting in the pews, in each human being finding God in their own way. To quote Shug from The Color Purple again: ‘But if God love me, Celie, I don’t have to do all that [going to church]. Unless I want to. There’s a lot of other things I can do that I speck God likes. Like what I ast. Oh she says. I can lay back and just admire stuff. Be happy. Have a good time.’

‘I can lay back and just admire stuff.’ I can lay back and look at the beauty of the Pacific Ocean or the grasses caught by the wind on the Marin headlands. I can admire all the many people in this country who believe in an ethic of equality and personal freedom, who approach the world with a spirit of optimism and strive for self and societal improvement. I can look into the eyes of my friends and see the gaze of the divine looking back at me.

We need to take all this beauty, to gather it up, to embrace it, to wonder at it and to give thanks for it. We need to let it give us refreshment and hope, to let it seep into our pores, to let it embrace us as part of itself. We need to see God in it, to see God in one another, to see God in ourselves, to see God in the ones who see God differently. When we do this we find new courage to live into the beauty. Not because we become blind to the real ugliness of the world but because we are able to confront that ugliness from a place of love.

I’m sure you all know the hymn Amazing Grace and the story behind its author, John Newton. How he was that most despicable of human beings, a slave trader, and how he repented and became a tireless advocate for abolition. And you may think that he wrote Amazing Grace after that repentance. But he didn’t. When he wrote that hymn he was still chaining and selling and brutalizing human beings. The freedom he sang of was freedom from the simpler sins of lust or envy or anger. As Francis Spufford writes in his book Unapologetic ‘it’s rather as if a [Nazi] death-camp guard had had a moral crisis, but over cheating his colleagues at poker, and then continued to come to work stoking the ovens, while vowing shakily to be a better person.’ p37

But that hymn was the beginning of change for John Newton not its end. As he came to see God’s presence in his life so he began to see that life for what it was. Having opened his heart a fraction to the light of divine grace he was finally able to see the true ugliness of the whole inhuman trade. And this opening of our hearts to God is what I hope we do in church each week. Open our hearts to the light of divine grace so we can see ugliness and discover beauty and be transformed. And so we can bring God’s kingdom a little nearer to these United States.

This grace of God is what we come to church to both find and to share. As Shug says, we come to church to share God and to find God in ourselves and in one another. We bring God with us because it is impossible for us to do otherwise. But we also find God here welcoming us in the sacraments we share, in the bread we break and the wine we drink – in the food that transforms us into the body of Christ. And we find a deeper tie than any of creed or nationality or even race, a tie of humanity created and beloved by God, forgiven and graced by God, one people under heaven, one people on God’s beautiful earth.

Sunday, June 30
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Mary Carter Greene
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Wednesday, June 26
Sister Act Mass Sermon
Preacher: Brandan Robertson
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Sunday, June 23
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Jude Harmon
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