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Sunday, March 17
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, March 14
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, March 17
The City that Kills the Prophets
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord" (Luke 13).
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St. Patrick died just over fifteen hundred years ago today. Born in Britain, as a young man he was captured by raiders and first arrived in Ireland as a slave (for the druid priest in Slemish).[1] After six years a dream inspired him to escape and he went home. Later he returned to Ireland as a Christian missionary and a bishop. The Celtic style of Christianity matters here and you can see him in the nave stained glass window closest to the north transept.

Patrick carried a staff of ash wood and preached wherever he went. He would drive the stick in the ground upright and just start talking. At Aspatria he preached for such a long time that when he finished, he couldn’t pull the stick out of the ground. It had sprouted roots and grew there.[2]

For me the miracle was not that he could talk that long but that anyone would stay around to listen. There is no preaching without a congregation and I’ve been worried that talking about the news this week might make you want to get up and leave. So many horrible things happened that we just want to forget.

The people of the United Kingdom failed to agree about leaving the European Union. The president’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort was convicted of fraud and conspiracy against the United States (in his work representing pro-Russian foreign interests). He received a mild sentence totaling seven and a half years.[3]

A family from my daughter’s high school paid a consultant who photo-shopped a picture of their child’s face onto an athlete’s body in order to get her accepted at the University of Southern California. The long-term former soccer coach at my son’s college received bribes so that he would fraudulently admit students.

By far the worst of all was Friday when 50 people were shot to death and more than 40 others were wounded at two mosques in Christchurch New Zealand. Our brothers and sisters were worshipping God when a white supremacist rushed in and killed them. In human history we have never experienced a tragedy quite like this. The shooter filmed and broadcast this murder in real time to get attention on the social media that had done so much to inflame his hatred.[4]

People ask Jesus why tragedies like this happen. In the beginning of Luke’s thirteenth chapter Jesus is on the road to the Temple in Jerusalem. The people refer to a strikingly similar incident in which Pilate murdered visitors from Galilee while they were worshiping in the Temple.

Perhaps the crowds want to know if this was a sign from God, perhaps they wondered if it signaled a future divine retribution. Jesus answers that we should never use the suffering of others for our own purposes. We should not ask if they deserved it or if constitutes some kind of message (as if God were merely using other people’s lives to get our attention). Instead we should take all suffering as a reminder to repent, to make ourselves right with God.

Jesus goes on with another example. He says that the tower of Siloam fell and killed eighteen people. “Do you think that they were the worst offenders in Jerusalem? No I tell you; but unless you repent, you will perish just as they did” (Lk. 13). Every natural disaster or illness or act of violence should inspire us with greater reverence for all life. These horrifying events should remind us how precious our existence is. They should always motivate us to deeper love for others and God.

Jesus continues his journey toward the Temple and the story goes on. The Pharisees, the most faithful people in his society, warn him to get away. They say that Herod wants to kill him. But Jesus has set his face to Jerusalem and nothing will deter him. He says, “tell that fox… I am casting out demons and performing cures.”

Then in a moment of deep emotional power he says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing.” The city, that place of unique human culture and violence, elicits Jesus’ profound affection. It draws him not just to his death, but to his resurrection.

Human beings and cities evolved together. At some point in history agriculture made it possible for a few people in society to work at something other than gathering food. From the very beginning in Mesopotamia and Egypt, in Asia and the New World, cities were defined by the concentration of wealth. This made possible the flourishing of human culture. The cities were the home of the market, the garrison and the temple, of kings, generals and priests. The history of the city is the history of the lordship of one human being over others. It is the story of power and inequality.[5]

The oldest city excavation in Palestine is at the biblical city of Jericho (Tell es-Sultan). It was founded between 10,000 and 9000 years ago, more than six thousand years before the first books of the Bible were written. Archaeologists discovered that the defensive walls were built before the people there had been introduced to pottery. It almost makes one ashamed to be human. We learned to build walls to protect our wealth before we learned to make bowls and jars to preserve it.[6]

One could read the Bible as the story of the city. From the beginning God seems opposed to the concentration of human power and the oppression to which this leads. God confuses human languages at Babel and washes away the cities of the earth in the time of Noah. God destroys the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Our faith all started with a rich nomadic herdsman named Abram. In the hill country of Cana, God asked him to “look toward heaven and count the stars… So shall your descendants be” (Gen. 15). From that point on, the people of God suffered at the hands of the centralized power represented by the city, but they also undermined that force.

 

At a primal level, there almost seems to be a choice that we have to make between our freedom, and access to the wealth of the city. Joseph and his brothers had to decide. They went down to the Pharaoh’s city in Egypt to avoid starvation and their children lost their freedom. When the Hebrews escaped Egypt and gained their liberty in the desert, they constantly complained because they missed Egypt’s wealth.[7]

 

Jerusalem became a political and religious center. Throughout the monarchy the authors of the Bible write mostly about two experiences of this city. They point out first, the injustices committed by the powerful against their own people. Second, they describe the impending threat of Ninevah and Babylon, the human cities and powers that were even greater than those in the Holy Land. (To put this into perspective, Ninevah was a city of 1,720 acres. Jersualem covered only 33 acres).[8] The prophets speaking on God’s behalf are slaughtered in the very city that they seek to warn. To make matters worse, the prophets end up being right. When the Hebrew people put their trust in the city instead of God, invaders from larger cities over-run it.

Today’s Gospel continues this story of the city. Jesus is a rural Galilean on the road to a place where human inequality thrives – Jerusalem. In the city, people have the strongest beliefs in the stories that justify political, economic and religious inequity. Jesus goes to reveal the truth – that God loves every person without exception.

Over the passage of centuries the dynamics of human social life have not changed so much. When we stop looking for ways to condemn others, this week’s news becomes especially horrifying because we recognize our darker self in these stories. Our false philosophy of scarcity and our habit of regarding a person’s identity as more important than her humanity cause real harm.

The Manafort sentencing reminds us how far we have to go to achieve equal justice. The Brexit debates show our desire to tighten the circle of our concern, to ignore the stranger and care for only those who are close to us. The college cheating scandal exposes another effect of living in an ungenerous and increasingly unequal society (exacerbated by tax, education and healthcare policies that shrink the middle class). Our anxiety about falling into poverty makes us more likely to always put ourselves first and to cheat.

None of us would consider murdering another person online. And yet we hold onto racism, prejudice and judgment in our hearts. We are part of the bigotry we see around us. It is a rare person these days who has not in some way bent or stretched the truth on the internet, who has not manipulated reality for their own purposes.

Two nights ago I dreamed that I was preaching in a massive ornate English Cathedral. At first I kept worrying that I didn’t have a stole. Then they asked me to split my sermon up and to preach multiple times in the service. Then I lost my notes… Finally someone pointed out that I was sitting in the queen’s chair. I don’t know why I was so afraid of getting this wrong. Perhaps it is especially difficult to talk about inequality and bigotry because I have personally benefited from these forces.

When Jesus sets his face to go to Jerusalem what he is really doing is going into the heart of danger, into the place where human beings are at their worst. He moves without relenting into the pain and the darkness. He refuses to use any person’s suffering for his own purposes. He brings the light of resurrection. He gathers fragile little chicks like you and me under his wings so that we can live without fear. May this good gardener plant us like St. Patrick’s staff so that we might flourish with new life.

[1] Michael D. Lampen, Grace Cathedral Source Book (San Francisco: Grace Cathedral, 2019).

[2] Matt and Liz Boulton, “A Brief Theology of St. Patrick’s Day, SALT 12 March 2019. http://www.saltproject.org/progressive-christian-blog/2019/3/12/a-brief-theology-of-st-patricks-day

[3] https://www.vox.com/2019/3/13/18264011/paul-manafort-mueller-sentence-amy-berman-jackson

[4] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/15/world/australia/new-zealand-mosque-shooting.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage

[5] These five paragraphs about the city come from 2 Lent (3-7-04) C.

[6] Harper Bible Commentary, “Cities,” 171.

[7] The Bible depicts the time of the Judges as a golden age. The Judges are not kings. They do not hold court in a capitol city. But the people beg God to give them a king so that they can be like other nations. When they ask for a human ruler, God fully understands what this means. He tells Samuel, “They have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” Samuel tells them that having a king means losing your sons to the king’s army, losing your daughters to the king’s service. “He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers “(1 Sam. 8).

[8] Harper Bible Commentary, “Cities,” 171.

Sunday, March 10
Lent 1
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Past Sermons

Sermons from the last six months are listed below. Older sermons can be heard through iTunes podcast.

Sunday, December 18
Divine Disorientation
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Let me just take a moment to look at you! It feels a long time that I’ve been waiting to be at home with you all at Grace. Thank you to all I’ve met so far for the warmth of your welcome. Thank you all for being ready to share your worshiping home with me. It is truly good to be here.

Which isn’t to say it isn’t also a little disorienting. A new cathedral, a new city and a new country are a lot to take in all at once. Especially when the country itself is still in the midst of a fairly disorienting election period. So it’s entirely appropriate that today’s gospel reading is also disorienting – as the gospel so often is. Disorienting because it brings together things that seemingly don’t fit with one another – angels and carpenters, virginity and motherhood, God and humanity. Disorienting because it re-arranges social norms to fit with God’s norms – a woman pregnant outside wedlock is accepted, not dismissed. Disorienting because it invites us to reassess how we respond to God’s call ourselves.

I want to focus on one particular disorientation today. It’s one that many people stub their brains against when they think about the Christmas story – or even when they say the creed week by week. It’s one that makes Christianity feel alien and strange to many who come to the story for the first time, and one that many seasoned believers still find hard to swallow. It’s that virgin mother thing, that impossible Blessed Virgin Mary who is at the heart of today’s story.

Mary is at the heart of the story but Matthew the gospel writer leaves her strangely off stage. Joseph is his main protagonist – as befits a patriarchal writer in the midst of a patriarchal society. The focus of Matthew’s story is not the young girl with the courage to say yes to the angel but her betrothed husband who has to say yes to his own call from God. And God’s call to Joseph’s is to step outside the privilege of patriarchy. A call to not be the hero of his own story but to accept a supporting role in the unfolding history of salvation. And in putting the call of God and the needs of his beloved before his own male pride Joseph is one of the first and finest feminist male role models in the Bible.

For Joseph needs to stand to one side now so that we can focus on the figure of Mary. Not the stained glass Mary, not the statue Mary with pretty features and delicate clothes, crowned with stars and queening over heaven. But the peasant girl Mary. The one with hands roughened from years of helping in home and field, the one with dusty feet and plain worn clothing, the one who looked the messenger of God in the eye and said yes to her world being turned upside down.

Today when the church looks at Mary it is her courage and her faithfulness that we tend to value most highly. Her willingness to take the risk of becoming mother to a God of reckless love. Her readiness to put aside her own dreams of comfort and security in order to dream God’s dream of a world turned upside down into a commonwealth of love. Her nurturing of the child Jesus with a love that helped him to be open to the love of God. This we can see and honour and love in Mary.

So there is a natural desire nowadays to value Mary Theotokos – that is Mary the God-bearer – but to quietly lose Mary the Blessed Virgin. We can easily see why. Mary’s virginity is a doctrine that has been shamefully used over the centuries to put women in a catch 22 situation. None of the rest of the female sex can live up to Mary. Either we fail to be virgins, and so are insufficiently pure, or else we fail to be mothers, and so are insufficiently loving and generative. And some of us – married but childless – manage to fail at both, like me!

But a number of theologians are giving us a new take on Mary’s virginity. Remember that in the society of her time a woman was not her own mistress. A girl passed from the control of her father into the control of her husband. To be a respectable woman was to be under the wing of some man – which is why the plight of widows is so often mentioned in the Bible along with that of orphans – to lose the male head of the household was to be in a vulnerable position in this thoroughly patriarchal society.

It is two feminist theologians from South America – Maria Bingemer and Ivone Gebara[1] – who have pointed out the relevance of this social situation for our understanding of the virgin birth. In Mary we have a girl who is in a position of transition. She is betrothed – and so has begun the journey away from her father’s control. But she is not yet married, still a virgin, – and so is not yet under Joseph’s control. It is just at this point of fluidity and ambiguity in her social position that Mary is invited to become the mother of God. And it is just at this point that she is able to answer for herself in a unique way. No longer defined just as ‘daughter’, not yet defined just as ‘wife’, Mary is free to answer for herself. Her ‘Let it be to me according to your will’ is an assertion of her right to decide for herself, as well as a trusting response to the invitation of God.

This is the importance of the doctrine of the virgin birth – not that it exalts virginity over sexual activity but that it allows the woman Mary the space to respond for herself. We see Mary being able to find a home with Joseph that allowed her to be fully herself, to speak her own truth and to find her own – spectacular – calling. This is the freedom and the homeland that God offers to us all – a place where we can be fully and joyfully ourselves unconstricted by oppressive power structures and limiting social expectations.

The coming of Christ disorients everything. A new order begins with a socially insignificant woman saying yes to God without consulting her father or husband. The doctrine of the virgin birth does not tell us that human sexuality is tainted with sin and, therefore, not a fit beginning for one who is Messiah and the Son of God. But maybe it tells us that the old order of relationships between men and women is tainted with sin and, therefore, not a fit beginning for the Messiah and the Son of God.

Let’s not pretend that, 2000 years later, we live in a world where patriarchy no longer pertains, where men and women have found a radical equality. We still live in a world where many men feel they have the right to dictate what happens to a woman’s body and where many women live under male control. We still live in a world where both women and men are bent out of shape in order to fit into the categories of ‘real men’ and ‘real women’ that fit neither gender. We still need the message of a God who is born among us to upset this old order and disorient us enough that we can see the world from a fresh perspective.

Disorientation is always unsettling, often scary and seldom entirely welcome. However such shake-ups are sometimes a necessary part of creating a new home. Joseph and Mary standing together against patriarchal expectations made a home in which God could come to live with us. On a far more modest scale the disorientations in our own lives can bring us to new homes and blessings – as mine has done for me. It is beyond wonderful to be here to share with you in the disorientation of Advent and the joy of Christmas. My hope is that together, over the next few years, we can be open to the always surprising, always disorientating presence of God among us and, like Mary, like Joseph, say yes to the challenge and change that brings.

[1] Mary Mother of God, Mother of the Poor (Eugene Oregon: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2004).

Sunday, December 11
The Call to Prophesy
Preacher: The Ven. Malcolm H. Manson
Sermon From Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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John the Baptist was the greatest prophet.  In all of the prophets’ lives and witness there are compelling lessons for these times.

Thursday, December 8
Thursday Evensong Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Sermon from Thursday's Evensong Service
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Sunday, December 4
From Wishing to Hoping
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Susanna Singer
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Oh, don’t we wish?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get a great big dose of hope, kind of like a blood transfusion or (even better!) a bulk purchase of dark chocolate?

Something that would help us to go on, to find our way in the darkness, to come to a place where “joy and peace in believing” feel real?

Maybe that’s why some of us have come up this hill this morning – to search for some hope that is a bit more solid and lasting than what’s on offer down in Union Square.

The trouble with hope, though, is that we can’t get it by wishing.

Hope is that strange thing that we Christians call a virtue.

Which means it is a disposition of the heart, a quality of the imagination, a way of living, that only comes into being in us and in the world in so far as we practice it.

We become hope-full – full of hope – by hoping, just as we become a skilled parent by parenting, or a great tennis player by playing tennis, or a wonderful cook by cooking.

Most of us start out being terrible at hoping and we get better bit by bit, as hope itself increases in us.

And hope spills over into the world only through our concrete practices of hoping, carried out over time for the sake of making the world a more hopeful place.

Hoping is a hard thing to do, and it’s risky.

It makes us vulnerable, because hoping is about things that are terribly important, and we are likely be disappointed.

It’s so hard to hope that mostly what we do is wish instead.

Wishing is so much safer – wishing takes us away from reality, into a place of airy castles that never come tumbling down; wishing is a flirting with what might be so, a playing around the edges of new possibilities.

But as my grandmother used to say, usually as she was rolling up her sleeves and reaching for a saucepan, or jamming on her hat and heading for the door, “Well, wishing won’t make it so.”

Hoping is much more likely to make it so.

Hoping is what we do when we look up at the star of wishing as it twinkles in our sky, let it light a candle in our heart, and then start taking one step at a time, carrying the light, steadily moving forward towards the place to which it points us.

I think our God is above all a hopeful God, a God who hangs stars in our skies and then encourages us to start walking by their light towards the divine vision that they illuminate.

“In those days,” our Gospel this morning tells us, John the Baptist appeared.

And his message was like a bucket of cold water for the people who were indulging in vain wishing.

“Those days,” when John came on the scene, were bad days for the people of Israel – occupied and oppressed, crushed under the boot of the Roman Empire.

John preached the need for people to repent – do a total turn-around in their way of living – in order to respond to the kingdom of God that he saw breaking in on his people’s benighted lives.

He baptized in the Jordan to give people a tangible sign of their commitment to turning-around and beginning the practice of hoping for something new.

And a whole lot of people took him up on it, including some pretty unlikely characters – soldiers, tax collectors, collaborators, all kinds of riff-raff – all of whom John baptized without any questions asked.

But then the religious leaders showed up, and John really lit into them: “You brood of vipers!”

Because basically they were just trying to hedge their bets.

They were willing to be baptized just in case John was on to something with this vision of God’s kingdom, but what they really put their trust in was their inherited religious privilege.

“We have Abraham as our ancestor.”

“Dream on!” retorts John, “Wishing won’t make it so. All that counts in God’s eyes is whether you move from wishing to hoping, and make a real change in the way you live your lives.”

That was “in those days,” but what about “in these days”?

“These days” – which are dark days, whichever way you look at them.

I’m not talking about party politics here, because I don’t need to.

I’m talking about the nest of vipers that is visible to all of us, now we’ve collectively lifted up the rock.

I’m talking about the deep fault-lines that divide us, that separate us by race and class, by ethnicity and education, by sexual orientation and religion, by wealth and poverty, by where we live, by age and gender.

“These days” are days of division and bitterness, days of conflict and uncertainty, days when the lives of black and brown people and the water rights of native people and the dignity of working people are being thrown under the bus, days when our highest ideals are crumbling in our hands, days when it seems like money can buy anything at all except what we really need, days when the sheer magnitude of the world’s problems overwhelms us.

And “in these days” we need to move from hand-wringing and hopelessness, from closing our eyes and retreating into our relative privilege, towards repentance and active hoping.

That star of wishing needs to come down to earth in our lives and become the candle of hope – a living flame that needs sheltering and care, and which is a whole lot more trouble than just wishing on a star.

Because real hope cannot be bought, except with the currency of vision and action.

Real hope only happens when we live hopefully, through particular actions, for the sake of a compelling vision of the way things could be different.

The virtue of hope that we are cultivating can only become a force that shapes our Christian character, and a force in the world that changes everything, through specific actions done by particular people, by us.

Today God jumps-starts this work by providing us with the compelling vision we need, the bright star towards which we are called to walk, cradling our fragile little candles of hope.

That vision is found in Isaiah’s picture of the righteous branch of Jesse, the leader who stands as a sign to the nations.

A leader whose justice and righteousness, whose breathtaking integrity, is in absolute contrast – not with any singular political leader (let’s not succumb to crass and easy finger-pointing here) – but with ALL political systems, ALL economic systems, ALL social systems whose aim is division in order to conquer, and domination of some by others.

The vision offered to us this morning stuns us with its inclusion, with its overcoming of differences and hostilities that we can so easily think of as “natural” and insurmountable.

The image of the animal kingdom that Isaiah uses (wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, lion and cow lying down together, and a little child leading them), is even more powerful when we apply it to the human world:

“Black and White shall live as neighbors, Native American and Asian-American and Latino shall dwell in harmony. The farmer and the technologist and the manufacturing worker shall find prosperity together; the Muslim and the Christian shall set up shared communities; men and women, straight people and queer people shall come together for the common good; and a little child shall lead them. They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Our desire for that kind of unity across difference has to be more than wishing.

Our hope for the life-giving freedom of God’s kingdom has to lead us to practice resisting the death-dealing structures of the world.

Having glimpsed God’s promise, we need to turn ourselves around and move from wishing to hoping, by finding the particular actions that each of us is called to practice.

Peace on earth is an enormous star of a Christmas wish, but living peacefully where we find ourselves is a manageably difficult Advent hope, which we can tend with particular actions, with particular people, in particular places –places like Grace Cathedral.

I remember more than twenty-five years ago, when I served as clergy here, the children and young people of the cathedral wrote a play and performed it here in the Nave.

They portrayed a group of lost children on pilgrimage, searching for a bright-feathered bird that had led them up a mountain to a ruined temple.

They walked down the aisle wondering if this could be the place where they would find their bird.

They met the Dean on the altar steps, where they sat and talked together about their hopes and dreams, and suddenly the bright bird flew out of the pulpit (on a long kite-pole!) and danced above their heads.

I wonder what it would be like if the memory of those children could lead us?

It’s been a long time since I served here, and so I hesitate to say “us,” and “we,” and to speak about specifics, but perhaps you might indulge me because of my great love for this cathedral, and my high estimation of what could be possible here?

Because I wonder if, “in these days,” Grace Cathedral could become one particular place in the world where wishing really is turned into hoping by the lives of hopeful people?

I wonder if this cathedral could become a sanctuary on a holy mountain, a place in which people of all kinds could come together to practice the virtue of hope by learning how to listen and speak across divisions, by sharing God’s vision and acting on it together, by really meeting each other in their differences?

I wonder if the Peace exchanged in worship could become peace that is put into the hands of every person who enters these doors, and many, many who remain outside them?

I wonder if, because we practice taking the risk of coming forward each week with open hands, trusting that God will come to meet us here and feed us with God’s very self, we could learn to take the risk of meeting strangers with equally open hands?

I wonder if the star of wishing could come down to earth right here, and become a candle of hope lit in all of our hearts, whose flame we tend, and whose light we carry out into the darkness of our world?

“May the God of hope fill us with all joy and peace in believing, so that we may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

Sunday, November 27
Sunday 11 a.m Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones’ sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Sunday, November 20
Remembering Christ and Each Other
Preacher: The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes
Sermon from Sunday's 6pm Service
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