Sermons For These Times
“[B]e attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (2 Peter 1).
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, 2C26
Transfiguration (Year C)
Baptisms 11:00 a.m. Eucharist Sunday
7 August 2022
Exodus 34:29-35, Psalm 99:5-9, 2 Peter 1:13-21, Luke 9:28-36
When we were first becoming friends I did not talk much about my old life. Before joining you I served at Christ Church, Los Altos for fourteen years. From inside, that church building looks like a jewel box. It has four massive walls of stained glass. Each 12 x 34 ft. window depicts a different season of the year. The stained glass alone weighs 19,000 pounds. As the first person to arrive there every summer morning I remember the silence and the overwhelming feeling of God’s presence in the light.[i]
Gabriel Loire (1904-1996), the artist who created those windows also made the Grace Cathedral Human Endeavor windows which honor Thurgood Marshall, Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, John Glenn and others. We have other Loire windows in the transept clerestory and the north quire aisle.
But what I really want you to notice today is the rose window that Gabriel Loire also made. It is dedicated to the patron saint of our city, St. Francis, and to the poem attributed to him called the “Canticle of the Sun” (1224-5), the oldest known poem in colloquial Italian.
This is the largest rose window in the far western United States. It is 25 feet in diameter and has 3,800 pieces of glass. Every morning, light from the sunrise filters through it. Every night we illuminate it from inside so that the city can see its beauty and be reminded of God.
In summary, I have spent pretty much every day for twenty-one years experiencing the beauty and love of God through Gabriel Loire windows. Then a month ago for the first time we visited the workshops where all of them were fashioned.
We set out from Chartres Cathedral on one of the most beautiful walks of my life past clay tennis courts and ancient sycamore trees, past a viaduct along a river which wound through green meadows. Without an appointment we walked up the driveway to the Loire studios and a man in white coat like a lab technician asked to help. It turned out to be Bruno Loire, Gabriel Loire’s grandson. He asked us to wait in the gardens and then totally rearranged his schedule so that he could show us everything.
We visited four different studios where they make the glass. We saw a secret project for fashion week. Bruno drove us to a nearby church to see the glass there. We had afternoon tea with Gabriel Loire’s widow. Bruno showed us how he makes the kind of stained glass in our windows. With a mallet he shattered a piece of blue glass and handed it to me as a gift. Still sharp, it cut my thumb. I kept trying to hide the fact that I was bleeding.
And here it is. I want you to imagine that this piece of glass is your truest self, your soul if you will. It is beautiful. It is utterly unique. Perhaps you find it easy to see this holiness and distinctiveness in children. As we get older people have a harder time seeing this beauty in us but it is still there. Whoever you are as you listen to my voice, I want you to know this: that like this piece of glass, you are beautiful.
The musician James Taylor speaks about his first twenty-one years in an autobiographical audiobook (called Break Shot). For a while at the end of his teenage years he was a psychiatric patient at Maclean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts at the same time my grandfather was a chaplain there. I sometimes wonder if they met.
James Taylor talks about being a jealous agnostic. He wants to believe, in part because he sees that if we live only for ourselves, if we only serve our own ego, this selfishness can be a dangerous trap. He sees the power of being in community of caring for other people and the world.[ii]
Today we celebrate baptisms together, the sacrament by which God adopts us as children. It is the way that we become members of the church. It is how we become one with Christ, experience forgiveness of our sins and have new life in the Holy Spirit.
If each of us is like this beautiful fragment of glass. Baptism is the reminder that we are even more beautiful together. Baptism is like having your beautiful fragment of glass included in a vastly larger window. That window is the church and it tells the story of what God did in the past and shows us what God is doing now. In the dark night of the world this light can give other people heart.
This brings me to a difficult topic. We along with 85 million other people are part of the global Anglican communion, the third largest Christian body in the world. This week the bishops of all these churches met together in England. On Friday a group calling itself the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans published a statement. In it they declare that a gathering of churches which cannot agree about same sex marriages cannot be in communion with each other.[iii]
Although these bishops have no authority over us here in North America, these are very alarming words, especially as we worry about the forces that seem to be undermining our nation’s commitment to marriage equality.
At Grace Cathedral we believe that every person without exception is deeply loved by God. This is true of LGBTQ+ people. It is true of same sex couples. We will not stop marrying these couples who come here seeking God’s blessing. We see the Holy Spirit at work in their lives.
Let me close with that poem of praise from the thirteenth century that I mentioned earlier as the inspiration for our window, Francis’ “Canticle of the Sun.”
“Praised be my Lord God, with all creatures, and specially our brother the sun, who brings us the day and who brings us the light; fair is he, and he shines with a very great splendor. O Lord, he signifies to us thee! // Praised be my Lord for our sister the moon, and for the stars… which he has set clear and lovely in heaven.”
“Praised be my Lord, for our brother the wind, and for air and clouds, calms and all weather, by which thou upholdest life in all creatures. // Praised be my Lord for our sister water, who is very serviceable to us, and humble and precious and clean.”
“Praised be my Lord for our brother fire, through whom thou givest light in the darkness; and he is bright and pleasant, and very mighty and strong. // Praise be my lord for our mother the earth, … which doth sustain us and keep us, and bringest forth divers fruits, and flowers of many colors, and grass… Praise be my Lord for all those who pardon one another for love’s sake… blessed are they who peacefully shall endure, for thou, O Most High, wilt give them a crown.”[iv]
The face of Moses shone after he had been talking to God. When Jesus spoke to God on the mountain, Luke says that, “the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Lk. 9). You too are God’s beloved child. You too shine with the glory of God’s majesty.
There are 3,800 pieces of glass in our rose window that is about the same as the number of people who worship here at Christmas. We are beautiful together. And the light of God shines through us.
[ii] James Taylor, Break Shot: My First 21 Years, 2020.
[iv] This translation piously includes the note that another stanza in praise of death was added to the poem on the day St. Francis died, 4 October 1225.
“Praised be my Lord for our sister the death of the body, from whom no man escapeth. Woe to him who dieth in mortal sin. Blessed are those who die in thy most holy will, for the second death shall have no power to do them harm. Praise ye and bless the Lord, and give thanks to him and serve him with great humility.” Translated by Maurice Francis Egan. https://www.bartleby.com/library/prose/2051.html
The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young , ThD
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco 2C24
7 Pentecost (Proper 12C) 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Eucharist
Sunday 24 July 2022
Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)
The Holy Spirit is here. An urban legend has it that when David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom packed up his office he left three envelopes for his successor Theresa May with a note saying, “Open one of these when you get into trouble.”
When negotiations with the European Union over Brexit started she opened the first envelope. It said, “Blame your predecessor.”[i] Later when she lost the first Brexit vote she opened the second envelope which read, “Reshuffle your cabinet.” Finally, after she lost the third vote on her Brexit plan she opened the final envelope. It said, “Prepare three envelopes.”
This story comes from Sam Wells the Vicar of St. Martin in the Fields. We met with him in London early in our journey this summer. He says there are two primary anxieties in our time, that can be simply expressed by two questions: First, is the universe simply meaningless and accidental, merely dead matter decomposing according to the principle of entropy into isolation and coldness? Second, will I be okay? In the face of this situation Jesus presents us with three far more helpful envelopes for us to open when things go wrong.
I want to talk about these instructions in the context of our Cathedral Tour journey. As we move into the next phase of the pandemic this is a crucial moment in the history of Christianity. Over the winter 31 trustees attended dinners I arranged to talk about how Grace Cathedral can lead and serve in this context. This week my wife Heidi and I returned from visiting over fifty churches in England and France where me met with church leaders to talk about what they see. We took 80 pages of notes, recorded twenty-five video interviews, posted dozens of pictures on social media – I have not yet fully assimilated what we saw or learned but I want to share this experience with you today.[ii]
- Repentance. When Jesus returns to his friends after being away in prayer, they seem anxious and they ask him to teach them to pray. Jesus gives them what we call the Lord’s Prayer, the Our Father. You can carry this around in your heart and when you need help, it gives you a place to begin.
This week I especially noticed how the way we say this prayer differs from the words in this gospel. We pray, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” But this translation of the Bible says, “Forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone indebted to us” (Lk. 11). Preachers often make a big deal about the conditional nature of this instruction – if we do this, then God will do something for us. But this morning what strikes me most is that people who love God will naturally want to be forgiving. The struggle over forgiveness and repentance lies at the heart of the spiritual life. A mature believer knows that as we want justice for ourselves, others desire this too.
This leads me to a difficult subject that I need to address. It was very hard for me to leave and to go on this cathedral tour because of tensions here at home in our own community. This is embarrassing for me to talk about, but not long before departing I and many others learned that some Executive Committee trustees were very disappointed in my leadership.
After the pandemic we never resumed meeting in person and what I have to repent for is my role in not doing a better job of communicating and staying connected to them. COVID twists, distorts and confuses so much. It kills relationships as well as people.
One of my most cherished moments of the summer came when we visited the cathedral nearest to our former dean Alan Jones’ childhood home. I kept wondering what Winchester taught him about how to be a dean here 5,000 miles away. A docent named Matt Winter took us on an alarming tour that began with graphic evidence of an ongoing and serious flooding problem in the crypt. He showed us how the very walls of the apse had begun to buckle in the late 1800’s.
Then he talked about the hero who saved the cathedral. A diver named William Wallace rode the train from his home in Croyden every day (on occasion he biked home, but that is another story). At first he had a partner, but that person had to quit because the work was too terrifying. Wallace was a diver in one of those old fashioned suits with the metal fishbowl helmets. His helper had to continuously pump air for him as he went into the dark murky water beneath the massive and collapsing cathedral walls in order to carefully place heavy bags of concrete which then hardened in place. For eight hours a day over five and a half years he did this.
Repentance and forgiveness can be like this – terrifying, difficult and demanding, but this is how a cathedral is really built.
- Persistence. Jesus tells about a man knocking on his neighbor’s door at midnight. The neighbor will give him bread not out of generosity but because he wants to be left alone. It’s a strange image that Jesus uses to encourage us to be persistent in seeking God.
In his book on St. Augustine, Rowan Williams the former Archbishop of Canterbury writes about memory and time.[iii] When we sing a song from memory, the whole song is not available to us at once, just the part of it that we are singing at that moment. In a sense the end and the beginning of the song are with us but not in our immediate consciousness. It’s like that feeling we have when we are trying to think of a word or name. We say, “it will come to me in a minute.” This gives us a picture of who we are.
In a sense we are our memories and yet our memories are not totally available to us. This is how we experience our self and God. The whole is never completely present to us. Our memories and their meaning are shifting according to the stories we tell. Church gives us the chance to recalibrate, so that our stories again harmonize with the truth. That is a central reason we need to persist in worship.
One of my favorite conversations this summer was with Sub-Dean Richard Peters at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford. A week ago after spending four hours with us (drinking sherry in the garden, touring and evensong) he said what he had just inadvertently demonstrated, “Hospitality is fundamental to the Christian life.” This generosity of spirit comes from someone who has been and is constantly not welcomed by the church because for thirty-five years he has loved his life partner Nicholas who happens to be another man.
Richard went on. He said, “Prayer is not that difficult.” We struggle with it, but really it is simply talking to God. This is what allows us to receive the gifts of wonder and awe that are one way that we enjoy God and take delight in God.[iv]
- God’s love. The final envelope that Jesus leaves us is his description of God’s love. How we love our children is an analogy for how God loves us. We know how to give good gifts and God does too. The most important thing I want to share with you today is this. What God is giving us is enough, because what we receive is the Holy Spirit.
One of the best of summer was time with our twenty-one year old daughter Melia. We were not together. I would do anything to please her. We wandered through thrift shops on Brick Lane, small shops in Notting Hill, outdoor markets and the Sky Garden.
We said goodbye sitting at a picnic table in a small Bloomsbury park at dusk. Because I will not be helping her to move into college this year, we don’t know when we will see each other again. Deep feelings like this help us to understand God’s love for us. As we walked away into the night I felt an enormous sense of gratitude for my wife Heidi. She is not just the Executive Producer of our films but a delightful, bright companion through every moment of the summer.
The day after David Ison retired as dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, he took us on a behind the scenes tour. At the very end he talked about hearing a confession that upset him so much that he went to pray in a small crypt chapel. Although he had already been dean for years, he discovered something new about his cathedral.
Behind the memorials for Horatio Nelson and the Duke of Wellington there is a small grave for the first modern professional dean of St. Paul’s. Before his time deans might collect a salary from, but not often visit, their own cathedrals. Dean Millman though was a poet and an Oxford University professor who loved his cathedral ministry.
Around his coffin an inscription lists the books he wrote and the nineteen years he served. But a larger inscription encompasses his grave and another. It says, ““IN PIOUS MEMORY OF MARY ANNE THE BELOVED WIFE OF HENRY HART MILLMAN SOMETIME DEAN OF THIS CATHEDRAL CHURCH. BENEATH THIS STONE RESTs IN ONE GRAVE WITH HIM FOR WHOM SHE MADE THE POETRY OF LIFE REALITY.”[v]
My friends, I missed you so much this summer. What a blessing it is to be home with you again and to hear the words of Jesus together. We inhabit a world in agony, struggling over anxiety that can be expressed in two questions: “Is this a dead universe? Will I be okay?” But Jesus does not leave us unprepared. Jesus shows us how to pray.
Although we cannot fully know ourselves or God, let us continue to keep repentance and forgiveness at the heart of our shared life. Let us be known for our persistence in seeking God and in offering hospitality. And finally let us not forget that what God is giving us, is enough. The Holy Spirit is here.
In Luke’s gospel, the story of Jesus’ visit with Mary and Martha guides us toward a qualitative approach to hospitality and ministry. What can we do with presence? The work of Christ Episcopal Church, Pottstown, PA, offers a potent example of this discerning approach. In their continued outreach ministry to the hungry, they have been fined by the local zoning board for exceeding the function of the church. And their community remains focused around hospitality and outreach as central to, not a distraction from, being church. How might we, by the same gospel commitment and discernment, be clearer signs of Christ’s presence for one another and for the world?
Proper 11C (RCL)
Amos 8:1-12; Psalm 52; Colossians 1:15-28; Luke 10:38-42
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Nevaeh Alyssa Bravo, 10
Jacklyn Cazares, 9
Makenna Lee Elrod, 10
Jose Manuel Flores Jr., 10
Eliahna Garcia, 10
Irma Garcia, 48
Uziyah Garcia, 10
Amerie Jo Garza, 10
Xavier Lopez, 10
Jayce Carmelo Luevanos, 10
Tess Mata, 10:
Miranda Mathis, 11
Eva Mireles, 44
Alithia Ramirez, 10
Annabelle Rodriguez, 10
Maite Rodriguez, 10
Lexi Rubio, 10
Layla Salazar, 11
Jailah Nicole Silguero, 10
Eliahana Cruz Torres, 10
Rojelio Torres, 10
Memorial Day is supposed to be a patriotic time of public mourning and remembrance for the brave women and men in uniform who gave the last full measure of devotion to defend these United States. Instead, in a perverse inversion of this day, we remember little children whose lives were cut down by weapons of war, not used to defend this country from foreign aggressors, but turned on its own citizens in a callous act of unforgivable aggression. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I should preach on this today. These shootings have become so frequent that if we clergy addressed them each time a new one occurred, we wouldn’t preach on much else. But as the predictable tweets of thoughts and prayers were fired off by the same lawmakers and pastors who consistently block not only legislation, but even conversation about legislation, to address these atrocities, I felt literally nauseous.
We do not need platitudes from the pulpit. On this eve of Memorial Day, let’s not mince words: these children are dead because they are casualties in a Culture War not of their choosing. Involuntary conscripts into a war to determine the future not only of this nation, but of our faith. Thoughts and prayers aren’t the solution; they are the problem. These mass shootings can only continue because the Church in this country refuses to behave like the Church. When I was a loyal Southern Baptist footsoldier on the other side of the Culture Wars, it was common to talk about the four “G’s”: guns, gays, God and gynecology. We’ve seen this month that strategy hasn’t changed in fifty years.
This morning on this Feast of Ascension, I am left with the difficult conclusion that these precious children and their teachers are dead because the mostly white Christian evangelical lobby does not believe that Christ is risen, ascended and reigning at God’s right hand in glory. They do not believe in God, at least not any God I recognize from the Gospels. The same lot that sang “Some may trust in horses, some may trust in chariots / But we will trust in the name of our God” in the 1980s and 90s, have proven time and again since then that the only thing they really trust in is their assault rifles. Their faith is in the NRA.
If you think this is hyperbole, consider The Washington Post’s disturbing report that two days before the massacre in Uvalde, the gunmaker who manufactured the weapon used by the killer posted a photo online advertising its AR-15-style rifles showing a young boy – a child – holding a semiautomatic on his lap with this caption from Proverbs 22:6: “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” The sad part, of course, is that they’re right.
The Church has a profound moral obligation to call out the NRA on this point. They justify their pistol-peddling politics with the circular logic that gun ownership should be easily accessible because we live in a dangerous world where an 18 year old might shoot up an elementary school. Carried to its logical conclusion, the NRA envisions a world where everyone is armed to the teeth; where parents, instead of reminding their children not to forget their lunch boxes, will remind them not to forget their guns. Please, someone explain to me what part of that vision conforms to anything we know about Jesus in the Gospels?
The Parkland Shooting survivors are right: some love their guns more than their children. In Christianity, we have a name for that: idolatry. How ironic that the most outspoken defender of the NRA in our lifetimes is also best known for his role as Moses in the 1956 epic The Ten Commandments. Would that he had understood those commandments better, perhaps he would have held a different view. Because, in fact, there was a very practical purpose for discouraging the worship of other gods in the first commandment of Exodus. We hear about it in the next book, Leviticus. As a gay man, I’m used to evangelicals breaking out Leviticus 18:22 against me. But if they backed up just one verse, they’d read in 18:21: “You shall not give any of your offspring to sacrifice them to Molech and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.” Chapter twenty gets even more pointed, claiming that to do so amounts to defiling the sanctuary of the Lord, and that God will destroy everyone who turns a blind eye to this abhorrent practice of child sacrifice.
Interestingly, Molech is only mentioned by name once in the New Testament – in the Book of Acts, nine chapters before the odd story we heard this morning. That’s no accident. Acts of the Apostles is nearly obsessed with this question of idolatry. Acts 16 goes out of its way to tell us twice that the reason Paul and Silas are imprisoned is not because of some doctrinal dispute with the local authorities, but because they put an end to child exploitation. In doing so, they incurred a heavy financial loss for the men who were using the girl to turn a profit in exchange for her fortune telling powers. We need to return to this standard, when those who called themselves followers of Jesus put child-welfare above profits. The Church must demand that our governments and churches stop sacrificing our children to this Molech, this idol of easy gun ownership, even military-grade guns, turning a handsome profit for manufacturers every year, which in turn allows them to pour even more money in lobbies like the NRA.
One of the few children to survive the massacre did so only because she dipped her hand in the blood of a friend next to her, smeared it all over her body and played dead, hoping the teen-turned-angel-of-death might pass over her. No child should ever have to become living lintels and doorposts. How odd that a branch of Christianity fixated on the blood of Jesus, blood that can supposedly protect against COVID can’t protect children from their own designs, from having to play in some warped retelling of the Exodus story. Jesus is called the Lamb of God by John’s Gospel because of his sacrificial self-offering on a Cross. We’ve watched the memorial set up outside the school grow to include 19 small wooden crosses with hearts and Jesus fish at their center. When I saw that, it reminded me of a fact few Christians today realize. The cross did not become the official, or even a common symbol for Christianity until the late fifth or sixth centuries. Why?
As mothers plead for action, as they plead for the state not to forget their slaughtered babies, every Christian in this land should ask themselves how Mary would react if she walked into their sanctuaries. How would she react to the giant gilded cross suspended in our apse? It’s easy for us to take the Cross for granted today as a decorative element in our piety, but for those who actually lived in its terrifying shadow, it was unthinkable to represent it visually. Instead, early Christians opted for images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, or images of a fish because the Greek letters used to spell fish ICTHUS acted as a verbal gloss of “Jesus Christ Son of God, Savior.”
Our gospel accounts of the crucifixion are quite spare, but it was a gory affair. Suffocation over days as birds of prey slowly picked at victims flesh while they were still alive as people who probably knew them passed by. It was a vivid demonstration of Rome’s power to utterly erase humanity and dignity. Because of this, it was one of Rome’s most effective deterrents. It is sometimes assumed that when Constantine or Theodosius finally outlawed the practice, they did so for pious reasons: so that others could not die in the same manner as Christ. But, in fact, the earliest source tells us that it was more from a place of concern around humane treatment. Hanging replaced crucifixion because it was quick and far less painful. In other words, Christian rulers banned this weapon of terror because it was the right thing to do in light of their faith. Only when the actual thing disappeared did the symbol emerge.
We must pray for every parent of every child, and every family or friend of every victim of gun violence during this time when images of these weapons are circulating so widely in our media. But we must do more than lobby for better trigger warnings before movies and in social media feeds. We must demand that those who call themselves by Christ’s name stand up against this insidious idol. Molech didn’t attack and impose himself on the ancient Israelites, they adopted him as their false god by choice. There are glimmers of hope. Republican Representative Chris Jacobs came out in favor of stronger laws restricting the sale of semiautomatic weapons, limiting magazine capacity, and excluding the sale of body armor to the general public. Some conservative evangelical pastors are beginning to consider supporting similar measures.
The Church in this nation needs to wake up. There are many things that divide us, but this should not be one of them. The Mainline Church cannot be the only one mobilizing. Here at Grace, we have an altar to the victims of gun violence in the back of our sanctuary, and it has become one of the most visited sacred sites in this space. Everyone who calls themselves by Christ’s name should be as united in our disgust of easy access to AR-15 style weapons as we are in our love for the victims, families and friends who have already suffered so much, too much. The Church must come together, laying down our arms in the Culture Wars, to advance this crucial conversation, and to effect real and lasting change. Thankfully, we have a great high priest, who, knowing our weakness, knowing that we are plagued by ego and division, knowing that it would take not a single lifetime, but a lifetime of lifetimes to join in a more perfect union, prayed that we all might be one.
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco, CA 2C23
Memorial Service 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday 25 May 2022
My strongest recollection of that September afternoon always includes the clean smell of heat, that Northern California smell of chapparel, something like rosemary and dust, with a touch of campfire smoke. As a newly ordained 27 year old, at my first Bishop’s Ranch clergy retreat, David Forbes in cut-off jeans, was the first person to greet me. He already knew my name and that I had graduated from the University of California. He welcomed me at the very beginning of my life’s profession. In those days no one paid much attention to me but he knew me by name.
David always loved beginnings. It’s part of what made him such a compelling character. His enthusiasm for the future always made he seem young. He was part of the beginning of this Cathedral. When he arrived to serve here as a deacon, there was only one priest here and the building was only half finished. It had one bell tower disconnected from the rest of the nave which was shut off from the elements by a kind of tin roof material descending 100 feet from the ceiling.
Even more important in those days the Cathedral was unknown to people in the city. He used to like telling the story of a cab driver, who told him, “That’s a Presbyterian church and they’ll never finish it.”
David had a hand in bringing into being pretty much everything you see around you. He was involved in the design of this high altar and its placement here in the transept crossing. We still wear vestments that he designed. His work on how worship is conducted here influences churches around the world. He chose the words carved into the lectern. They say, “in the beginning” and are written in Hebrew, Greek and Latin.
As you have heard Burns describe he was a driving factor in creating the Cathedral School for Boys (1961), St. Paul’s School in Oakland (1975) and the National Association of Episcopal Schools. He accomplished so much more than we can outline today. The New York Times columnist David Brooks writes about what he calls “resume virtues” and “eulogy virtues.” David Forbes had more than enough of both, but I’m going to especially miss the encylopedic quality of his knowledge about things that deeply matter to me.
On David’s last visit to San Francisco he took me on a wild drive around the city (he was almost 96 years old). He showed me the houses he lived in, took me down Lake Street. We would stop at an ancient brick apartment building in the Richmond District and he would talk about being a kid and watching as it was being constructed. And then he pulled over looked me in the eye and told me that I was going to be the preacher at his funeral.
The purpose of the long drive and our lunch together was for him to help me with what I am going to say to you today. David has left us with a kind of puzzle, a mystery that we are all going to solve together. David chose everything about this service. The readings, the hymns, the ritual of the meal we will soon share. These all include a message addressed individually to each of us. They articulate the answer to a simple question: who will God be for you? What difference will God make in your life and through your actions, in the world?
I’m only going to make three short points. First, we live in a world that is alienated and alienating. We often feel cut off from God. We do not experience things as they actually are. Instead the world’s social construction of reality often makes it difficult for us to perceive the light of God which has shined since the first day of creation. As it says in the Prologue to John, “In the beginning was the word… The light shines in the darkness and the darkness did not overcome it” (Jn. 1). David was deeply acquainted with this darkness and profoundly concerned about it. Hatred, conflict, racism, mental illness, prejudice against gay people, poverty, the desecration of the planet deeply troubled him. He would be in despair today over the school shootings in Texas.
My second point has to do with the image David gives us of the Good Shepherd. In the face of this darkness we have a choice. We can decide who will be our master. I know so many successful, wealthy, brilliant people who are at the same time deeply miserable. They are unhappy because their lives are held in the grips of a relentless and heartless master. They are slaves to the whims of their ego. In short we have to choose between our ego and the Good Shepherd. So what is a good shepherd?
In high school I learned something about sheep from my my friends in 4H Club. Psalm 23 says, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures…” Sheep will only lie down if four conditions are met. The sheep needs to be free from fear, free of parasites, free of hunger and at peace with the other sheep. The Good Shepherd is the one who makes this freedom possible. For me, having Jesus as my Good Shepherd makes me more free from fear, more at peace with the people in my life.
My last point is that this image of the Good Shepherd comes from Jesus’ last meal with his friends. At that meal Jesus tells his friends that he gives them a new commandment, that they love one another. The New Testament scholar Herman Waetjen emphasizes that this love (agape) is not just a personal emotion. Instead, he calls it “the service that liberates.” The response to this love should not be a mystical devotion to Jesus but to practically love one another.
For this reason David devoted his life to the liberation of all people. In his nineties he was serving on the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Taskforce at a crucial time for the Cathedral School. His comments in trustee meetings were constantly about lifting up students from disadvantaged backgrounds.
Who will God be for you, and what difference will that make? The congregation here at Grace Cathedral is used to me giving homework in sermons. I’ve never given homework at a funeral before, but here’s what I have to offer. Take the bulletin home. And spend some time really thinking about the words of the last hymn (665).
It goes like this: “All my hope on God is founded; who doth still my trust renew / me through change and chance he guideth / only good and only true. / God unknown, you alone, call my heart to be thine own.”
I will always love David. He was such a good listener. He was constantly looking after other people. He made us feel valued, like we mattered. He was humble. He lived in a state of gratitude. He had a kind of inner light. I miss him very much and think of him nearly every day. I’ve been having a tough time lately and I could use his help.
No one knows what happens after you die. But for the past few months as David has been saying goodbye to his friends, he has been saying, “See you on the other side.” David has been faithful. He has been a good shepherd to us.
I don’t know what heaven is but I imagine it to be like the countryside uphill from the Russian River as it winds through Healdsburg. As we approach the Ranch House there, ready for our new beginning, I can imagine David welcoming us and greeting each of us by name.
The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young,
ThD Grace Cathedral, San Francisco 2C22
5 Easter (Year C) 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Eucharist
Sunday 15 May 2022
I try to preach each sermon as if it was going to be my last one, because what we do together every Sunday deeply matters. We are trying to do no less than help each other to grow in grace, to more completely become children of God, to allow Jesus through the Spirit to guide our lives. We seek to be forgiven.