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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“God is light and in him there is no darkness at all” (1 Jn. 1).
The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young, ThD
Grace Cathedral. San Francisco, CA
Evensong 46 Charles Shipley Installation and Farewell 5:30 p.m.
Thursday 28 April 2022
1 John 1:1-2:
2 John 20:19-31
When all the ministers for a cathedral service are lined up and it is time, Charles Shipley looks you in the eye, nods his head, and almost under his breath he says, “let’s go.” Then he turns and we all walk into a mysterious, living stream that has flowed for centuries. We simply take that first step and eternity carries us forward, into the deepest places, into the very presence of God.
From skinned knees to post op stitches, scabs and scars and wounds protrude as signs that something somewhere went sideways. On this Second Sunday of Easter, we hear the story of “Doubting Thomas.” The often disparaged disciple teaches us about the need to see and touch wounds in order to touch resurrection. Wounds are often a source of identity and personal history, and we don’t rise in Christ apart from touching our own wounds, the scars and scabs of the earth, its peoples and nations. This is especially true in Israel/Palestine, where the inability to touch the other’s wounds perpetuates enmity and violence. Together, fearlessly putting our hands into wounds, we can become messengers of reconciliation and redemption.The Rev. Canon Anna E. Rossi Canon Precentor Director of Interfaith Engagement Easter 2C RCL Acts 5:27-32; Psalm 150; Revelation 1:4-8; John 20:19-31
The Very Rev. Malcolm Clemens Young, ThD
Grace Cathedral, San Francisco 2C16
Easter Sunday (Year C) 8:30 a.m. and 11:00 a.m. Eucharist
Sunday 17 April 2022
Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24
1 Corinthians 15:19-26