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Sunday, July 14
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, July 18
Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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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.

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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!

 

Thursday, May 16
Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Thursday's 5:15pm Evensong Service
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We spend a lot of time in our 21st century church comparing ourselves to earlier generations and lamenting how we have fallen away from their greatness. We complain that we don’t share the simple joy and togetherness of the earliest churches, like the one described in Acts; that we have lost the passion and beauty of the mystical theologians, the commitment and idealism of the Victorian social reformers, the sheer numbers of the 1950s congregations. We long for the fruit of earlier generations and grumble about how we are a church in decline, barren and unproductive.

But the events we are celebrating this evening give that view of contemporary church reality the lie. Never doubt that the EfM graduates’ four years of study has involved joy and fellowship, that they have grown in togetherness as they shared their struggles and triumphs. Never doubt that all those touched by Jude’s ministry, whether through the labyrinth, yoga or the Vine, have encountered passion and beauty in his preaching and liturgy, and been called to deeper commitment and idealism through the spirituality they have shared. Ours is not a barren and unproductive church, it is not a dying church, but one that continues to touch and transform lives and bear God’s fruit of justice, compassion and love.

There are indeed ways in which we are a very different institution from that of the 1950s and before. We do not bring in the numbers that thronged the pews in the 50s – except just sometimes when we offer a Beyoncé Mass or provide a spiritual space for yoga community. But while I would love to see Grace cathedral and all the churches of our diocese filled to overflowing every week I would not welcome this if it meant returning to an earlier way of belief and being.

Unlike the legislators of the state of Alabama I do not want to turn the clock back to the 1950s and to a patriarchal moral code that controls the bodies of women and declares LGBTQ people deviant. I want to see the church continue to move courageously and vulnerably forward. For this we need lay members who explore theology at depth and have the confidence to validate their own experience of the reality of God. For this we need the delight of a priestly ministry that works at pushing the boundaries of what we understand to be Episcopalian and that refuses to limit the scope of God’s love. It is in these ways that God’s joy is in us as an institution and that our joy may become complete.

So this evening let us give thanks for all the fruit that shows the church of today is truly a branch of the Vine, overflowing with the love and life of God’s very self. Let us celebrate the commitment and fellowship of our EfM graduates. Let us celebrate the passion and creativity of Jude, our newest Canon. They are the leadership the church needs in the 21st century. They are the ones who can help ensure we move forward, not backward, rooted in the eternal love of God and bearing the fruit that is needed to feed God’s world today.

Tuesday, May 14
The Chosen Tribe
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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The Chosen Tribe

Darren’s theme this week is “The Chosen Tribe.” I don’t think that he means to say that one particular group of people is more righteous or valuable or has greater responsibility than any other. This is not about a “Chosen People.” Instead I believe that he wants us to think more about how we ourselves choose the groups that then give us our identity.

Most of us start out in a functioning dysfunctional family. But then we go out into the world. We in effect choose a different family of friends. We choose our tribe. I’m so grateful to be part of our Grace Yoga tribe on Tuesday nights.

Trevor Noah’s book of autobiographical essays about growing up in Apartheid-era South Africa is called Born a Crime. Noah’s father was a white European Swiss citizen and his mom is black and Xhosa. His parents relationship was illegal (“Most children are proof of their parent’s love. I was proof of their criminality”).[1] As a child it was dangerous to be seen in public with them.

Noah writes about the moment when he most explicitly became aware of race. After being in a Catholic school he moved to a large public school. A placement test put him with one other person of color in an otherwise all white class. Then came lunch and as hundreds of children streamed onto the playground he had to decide where he would go.

He could go with the white children he had spent the morning with in class. He could go with the children who most looked like him that South African called “Colored People.” These were not people of mixed race but children of two other colored people who had married. Or he could go with the black children. “I saw myself as the people who were around me, and those people were black.”[2]

Trevor Noah had the hardest time with the group of people who looked most like him. He said that if you are a white person immersing yourself in the culture and practices of the black world, they would more or less accept you. If you were a black person wearing ties and honing your golf game in the white world people would accept you too.

He said the problem was when you adopted the culture of another group but remained in the group you came from. He writes that, “people are willing to accept you if they see you as an outsider trying to assimilate into their world. But when they see a fellow tribe member disavowing the tribe, that is something they will never forgive.”[3]

This dynamic of human community makes it hard to choose your tribe. That is one of the reasons why our yoga practice is particularly important. We are trying to teach our bodies to be flexible, our breath to be even. We are training our balance so that when we meet obstacles they become part of the story of how we became stronger.

Alonzo King of LINES Ballet is our Artist in Residence this year. On Sunday he talked about how often people tell him dancing horror stories. They say, “I quit because the teacher said I was too short or my bottom was too big or my feet stuck out in the wrong way.” His response was, “if dancing is so meaningful why would you ever let these criticisms derail you?” Part of life is meeting opposition and using that force to make us better.

My prayer for you is that in all the ways you are blocked, you might find the inspiration of Grace, that you might find a way to use that experience of rejection to better care for others.

_______________

 

 

Theme: The Chosen Tribe

We are called to be strong companions and clear mirrors to one another, to seek those

who reflect with compassion and a keen eye how we are doing, whether we seem

centered or off course … we need the nourishing company of others to create the circle

needed for growth, freedom and healing.

—Wayne Muller

https://amzn.to/2PCwLCR

Some people think they are in community, but they are only in proximity. True community requires commitment and openness. It is a willingness to extend yourself to encounter and know the other.

—David Spangler

https://amzn.to/2ZV9bpM

 

[1] Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (NY: Random House, 2016) 27.

[2] Ibid., 59.

[3] Ibid., 118.

Sunday, May 12
Tell Us Plainly
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want” (Psalm 23).

“Stories surround us like air; we breathe them in, we breathe them out. The art of being fully conscious in our personal life means seeing the stories and becoming their teller, rather than letting them be the unseen forces that tell [us] what to do.”[1] Rebecca Solnit said this in a commencement speech at Berkeley. Although she may be over-optimistic about our ability to transcend unconscious forces she makes a good point. We need to pay greater attention to the stories that guide our lives and form our picture of reality.

The first Mother’s Day was celebrated in 1908 at a Methodist Church in Grafton, West Virginia. They honored Anne Reeves Jarvis a peace activist during the Civil War who cared for wounded soldiers on both sides. Her daughter campaigned to make this a national holiday.[2] We have holidays for great individuals and occasions. Today we honor one of the most intimate relationships human beings can experience.

In this place you will find such an extraordinary variety of relationships that people have with their mothers. Our mothers are nurturing, nagging, inspiring, indifferent, self-sacrificing, punishing, wise, fragile, resolute, faithful, dissatisfied, forgiving, controlling, heroic and loving. Some of us feel such a profound sense of gratitude, we miss our mothers so much that it feels like a kind of deep pain. Others may have a hard time forgiving our mothers for the grief that they couldn’t help but pass on to us.

We are responsible for these stories and all the stories we tell ourselves. The Bible helps us to make sense of our most important stories. The Holy Spirit works through Scripture and changes who we are. My sermon has three parts: 1. a longer section on what Jesus teaches us, 2. a brief observation about modern life and 3. a spiritual practice.

  1. Time and place always matter. Every moment in time is unique, even singular, and yet also in an almost mystical way connected to other particular moments. Each place also has a presence and symbolic power that we often don’t fully appreciate. We know what a place evokes. Think of Rodeo Drive, the Lincoln Memorial, the Magnificent Mile in Chicago, Boston’s Old North Church, Times Square, the Las Vegas Strip, and Castro Street here closer to home.

During the Festival of Dedication, which we call Hannukah, Jesus walks in the Portico of Solomon – both this time and place have enormous symbolic meaning for first century Jews and for what the word “messiah” means.

After Alexander the Great (356-323 BCE) conquered the region a severe conflict emerged between cosmopolitan Greek culture and the local practices of Jewish people. During the second century before Christ, King Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria continued to brutally suppress Judaism. In 167 BCE he built an altar to Zeus in the Jewish Temple (Dan. 11-12) and mandated sacrifice to Greek gods in every city. When soldiers tried to enforce this edict in the village of Modein a priest named Mattathias killed the royal official presiding at the ceremony.[3]

This led to a massive revolt and a guerilla war launched by Mattathias’ five sons from the Judean Hills. Against all odds his son Judas Maccabeus (“the Hammer”) succeeded. In 164 he rededicated the Temple. This is the event that Hannukah celebrates.

The place is significant too. Solomon’s Portico was constructed by the last leader with a family connection to the Maccabees. Herod the Great married the last of the Maccabees and ultimately killed her and his own sons. Of course history doesn’t end there. The first readers of John would know that during the Jewish uprisings in the year 70 CE, the Romans completely destroyed the rest of the Temple.

Hannukah at the Portico of Solomon, this time and place symbolically stand for desperate hopes that end in disappointment. In the face of our human tendency to put ultimate faith in armed struggle, Jesus changes the story. He moves us beyond the military hero that the people have in mind to a different picture of what it means to be the messiah.

In the Gospel of John people disagree about who Jesus is. For some he is a demon-possessed fraud and to others he is the savior of the world. This conflict builds as Jesus welcomes sinners, teaches and heals the sick. The leaders come to Jesus and say, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (Jn. 10).[4]

Why do the opponents of Jesus then and today fail to see who he is? Is there some idea, concept or perspective that would help? What argument would convince them to believe?[5] This is Jesus’ point. There is already plenty of evidence available on both sides. Signs can always be doubted. Arguments have counter-arguments. Believing is not simply a matter of accepting certain intellectual propositions. The faith Jesus speaks about is not an argument but a relationship.

Instead of a Warrior Messiah Jesus gives us the image of the Good Shepherd. He says, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish” (Jn. 10). Jesus teaches that we can have the most intimate relationship with God. We can find meaning serving other people. With this, we are drawn to him both by his willingness to die for our sake and our experience of his resurrected presence.

On this Mother’s Day imagine a child with ideal loving parents. In everything this child has a sense for their love. She is not objectively weighing the evidence. She does not need some form of the scientific method to understand this relationship. Her experience of their love is not even a matter of a verbal description she can offer. It rests on her experience. She knows that her parents care about her and want the best for her. She feels it in all her interactions with them.[6]

Jesus says that faith is like this. It is a trusting relationship with the God who created us and continues to care for us even when we are oblivious to this fact. This unity and intimacy with God and our neighbors is what it means to have “life abundantly” or the peace “which passes all understanding.”

  1. We need God’s peace more today than ever. Last week at the Conference of North American Deans we heard an extraordinary lecture on the Seven Deadly Sins. The list includes: Pride, Envy, Wrath, Sloth, Avarice, Gluttony and Lust. It originated in fourth century desert monasticism. Instead of thinking of these as discrete actions (like cheating on your taxes) it is more helpful to see them as a way of recognizing that humans going wrong in predictable ways, according to reliable patterns. They are tendencies that lead to sin.[7]

Our speaker Thomas Williams pointed out that these days our whole society has a particular problem with wrath, that indignation has become normal for us. We are encouraged to be angry all the time (If you aren’t angry you aren’t paying attention). He asked if anger is ever justified and pointed out how easy it is for us to slip from feeling angry about social injustice to being furious over slights to our own ego. Although being envious is miserable, anger just feels so good. The problem is that it blinds us to our own faults and to others merits.

  1. We can move closer to a personal experience of God but it is hard because of deeply ingrained habits like anger and envy. So what are we to do? How can we do more to invite holiness into our life? For homework this week I recommend that we memorize Psalm 23. In this abundant time of exaggerated scarcity we need to be reminded that, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want” (Ps. 23).

The Psalm begins by referring to God in the third person. “He revives my soul and guides me.” Then as we, “walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” it begins to refer to God in the second person. “You are with me… You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me…” Over many years Psalm 23 has helped my relationship with God become more personal. It has increased my desire to “dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”

Before closing I want to tell you a brief story from Trevor Noah’s autobiography Born a Crime. Although his parents loved each other their relationship as a black woman and a white European in Apartheid-era South Africa was illegal. Trevor grew up being forbidden by the state to even acknowledge his parents in public places. As a young child he went to his Swiss father’s house every weekend. Then during his teenaged years his father moved from Johannesburg to distant Cape Town.

Noah writes, “When a parent is absent, you’re left in the lurch of not knowing, and it’s easy to fill that space with negative thoughts  [like] ‘They don’t care.’ ‘They’re selfish.'” Because his mother always spoke in such positive terms about his father he writes, “I knew [my father’s] absence was because of circumstance and not lack of love.”[8]

By the time he turned 24 he began to have some success as a comedian, radio DJ and children’s television personality. His mom insisted that he become reacquainted with his father. Noah did not have his father’s address and it took some time to find him. Not knowing what to expect or if he’d even recognize his own father he went to visit. His father cooked the food that was his favorite as a thirteen year old. As he ate his dad got out an oversized photo album. It was a scrapbook of everything Noah had ever done from the most minor club dates all the way through to that week.

Noah writes, “For years I’d had so many questions. Is he thinking about me? Does he know what I’m doing? Is he proud of me?” And in that instant Noah knew. He says, “Being chosen is the greatest gift you can give another human being.”

Stories surround us like air. What will the story of you and God be? In this time of wrath and indignation are we so busy searching for a good argument that we can’t hear the Good Shepherd?

 

[1] Rebecca Solnit, “Break the Story,” in Call Them By Their True Names: American Crises (and Essays) (Chicago, IL: Haymarket Books, 2018) 157.

[2] She also bitterly resisted the commercialization of Mother’s Day. Theologian’s Almanac for the Week of May 12, 2019, SALT, 7 May 2019. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/5/7/wjx6b4l32tpx06yt0a4o8ka04m1ewy

[3] These four paragraphs are influenced by 4 Easter (4-29-07) C.

[4] Jesus seems to be saying that actions mean more than just words. “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me: but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep” (John 10).

[5] Matt and Liz Boulton, “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing: SALT’s Lectionary Commentary for Easter 4,” SALT, 7 May 2019 http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/5/7/szzwsi6kvgfyedq0mg23rkw8qbv0ba

[6] Ibid.

[7] The Seven Capital Vices began to come into being with Evagrius Ponticus (345-399 CE). John Cassian developed the list and Gregory the Great (540-604 CE) made it more widespread in the Middle Ages. Thomas Williams (University of South Florida), “The Seven Capital Vices,” The Conference of North American Deans, 3 May 2019.

[8] Trevor Noah, Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood (NY: Random House, 2016) 108-10.

Sunday, May 5
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
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Sunday, April 28
The Disabled God
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Easter 2 2019
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You can’t see it from where you are but I have an old scar on my chin. This was acquired at the age of 8 and was my first – and so far only – church-related injury. I was at a Christmas party in our parish hall having a wonderful time skidding around the highly polished floor in my socks when – inevitably, given my entire lack of co-ordination – I fell straight over and cracked my chin open. Blood poured dramatically and the vicar rushed me off to the hospital to get stitches. And the mark is there to this day.

Our history is written on our bodies – in our scars and in our posture, in our stretch marks and our wrinkles, as well as in our choice or not of tattoos and piercings. Our life sculpts our bodies, interacting with our original genes to shape us into the people we become. Our history walks with us, stored not only in our memories but also in our bones.

And this is true for the resurrected Jesus as well. In order to reassure the disciples that they are not seeing a ghost he directs their attention to his scars: “He showed them his hands and his side.” Thomas, the patron saint of all faithful but questioning, Christians – basically the first Episcopalian – insists that it is only by touching these reminders of the crucifixion that he will believe in the resurrected Christ.

And in doing this Thomas helps bring us face to face with one of the great truths of the resurrection – that it does not un-do what happened at the crucifixion. Jesus brings all that he experienced of pain and betrayal and abandonment into his new life. He does not shed his suffering human body to return to a divine essence but brings his whole human history with him into the Godhead. The risen Christ is still and always who he was: the crucified Jewish carpenter from Nazareth.

This is important. Nancy Eiesland, a writer of disability theology who herself living with disability makes it clear why. She asked other adults with disabilities how they could truly believe that God was with them, and cared for them intimately. One of them said that they could only believe and trust in God if they saw God in a sip-puff wheelchair – one of those manouvered by sipping or puffing into a straw-like device. This is what Eiesland goes on to say, and I am going to quote her at some length:

Several weeks later, I was reading in Luke’s Gospel about an appearance of the resurrected Jesus (24:36-39). The focus of this passage is really on his followers, who are alone and depressed. Jesus says to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see.”

This wasn’t exactly God in a sip-puff, but here was the resurrected Christ making good on the promise that God would be with us, embodied, as we are — disabled and divine…

The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear the marks of profound physical impairment.

This was my epiphany. The resurrected Christ is a disabled God — one who understood the experience of the others in my Bible study in the rehab center, as well as my own… In emptying himself of divinity, Jesus enters the arena of human limitation, even helplessness. Jesus’ own body is wounded and scarred, disfigured and distorted.

‘The resurrected Christ is a disabled God.’ ‘Embodied as we are – disabled and divine’. The resurrected Christ did not disown any part of his bodiliness but brought it all with him – its disability along with its ability. God does not disown any of our bodies – those differently abled or disabled or temporarily fully abled by society’s definitions. All these new vulnerable beautiful bodies about to be washed in the waters of baptism are beloved and valued. Just as much when they are helpless babies with no bodily control as when they are productive adults, just as much when they are aged and infirm, just as much however their bodies develop and change.

Christ brings all his woundedness with him into resurrection life. His disfigurement does not define him but neither does it detract from his divine identity. It is a part of his eternal being, not something that he sheds with the end of his earthly life. And here lies part of the wonder and paradox of the whole theology of resurrection. The resurrected Christ is far more than the resuscitated body of Jesus – he has been transformed. But also the resurrected Christ is all that Jesus was in bodily reality as well as spiritual identity – he is the same.

The resurrection does not negate any part of Jesus’ human identity, it transfigures and contains it. The late Celtic theologian John O’Donohue wrote about the relationship between our souls and our bodies in his book Anam Cara : “The soul is not within the body, hidden somewhere within its recesses. The truth is rather the converse. The body is in the soul, and the soul suffuses you completely.” This is how it is with the resurrection life of Christ: the body of Jesus is within the resurrection life and suffused with it completely.

And here is the secret to what our attitude could be to our own bodies, whatever level of scarring or different ability or physical perfection we currently live with. They are us – they allow others to recognize us, they dictate some of what we are able or not able to do, they bear our life story within them – and they are to be valued and cared for. And they are also an integral part of our eternal identity as beloved children of God – they are always transfigured and suffused by the soul in which they live.

God has taken our disability and scarring and disfigurement into the very heart of Godself. God teaches us that there is nothing shameful about our bodies, whatever their shape or scars or ability. We are icons of Christ in any disability or disfigurement we bear on our bodies, true children of our disabled God. So let us now go to the font where we will welcome 15 new bodies into the life of the resurrected Christ and rejoice with each one of them that they are now and always will be beautiful and beloved and suffused with the divine.

Sunday, April 21
Easter Sunday 6pm Sermon
Preacher: Anna E. Rossi
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