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Sunday, May 19
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, May 16
Thursday 5:15 Evensong
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Sunday, May 19
The Dream of God
Preacher: The Rev. Kristin Saylor
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See, God is making all things new. Amen.

“I was in the city of San Francisco, praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. There was something like a large sheet coming down from heaven, being lowered by its four corners; and it came close to me. As I looked at it closely I saw human beings in costumes of every kind, zombies, mermaids, and superheroes. I heard a voice saying to them, ‘get up, and run from the Embarcadero to Ocean Beach.’”

Happy Bay to Breakers Sunday! As a relatively new San Franciscan, it is my first time experiencing this particular expression of local culture and, I have to say, it feels a little like I might be in a trance…or still dreaming. This level of chaos and randomness is exactly the kind of thing my subconscious might conjure up. The veil between dream and reality feels particularly thin today – if thousands of people dressed as tacos and penguins can run freely through the streets of San Francisco, then what else could happen?

Perhaps you, like Peter in our reading from Acts this morning, have had an experience where the line between dreaming and real life starts to blur. Maybe it was a dream that felt so real, you woke up panicking that you really did forget to study for the exam, or you really were supposed to be on that 4:00 am flight to Sydney. Or maybe you had a waking experience so surreal, you had to pinch yourself to make sure you weren’t still dreaming.

The boundary, the thin space between what is real and what is imagined (and I don’t mean imaginary, as in fictitious), the boundary between what is actual and what is possible, is a very unnerving place to be. It is a place without landmarks, a space where the usual rules for how the world works don’t apply. It is the realm of dreams and visions, which we sometimes glimpse in transcendent moments of art and music. It is the Holy Spirit’s very favorite place to dance in our lives.

And it is everywhere, surrounding us, in these Great 50 days of Easter, this blurring of distinctions, not just between what is and what could be, but of binaries of all kinds. Peter’s vision in Acts is a prime example. Outwardly about the distinction between clean and unclean foods, it raised the question of whether Jewish dietary laws still needed to be observed in a young Church that was growing to include Gentiles as well as Jews. But the meaning of Peter’s’ vision and the events that follow extend far beyond food, and point to a deeper question that we continue to struggle with today: what classes and categories of people do we see as unclean?

Less than? Not worthy of a place at our table? And how do we treat those people when they come knocking on our doors?

The sheet in Peter’s vision, full of the every imaginable kind of animal, clean and unclean all jumbled up together, is an evocative image of the holy, messy, radically inclusive community that God dreams for us. We catch a glimpse of it when Peter, prompted by the Spirit not to make distinctions, follows a group of Gentiles all the way to Caesarea, where he baptizes an entire household of new Christians. Rigid categories of clean and unclean, sacred and profane, Jew and Gentile are blurred by the hand of God. Suddenly, everyone is clean, everything has the potential to be holy, everything is made new. It takes Peter a minute to wrap his mind around this new reality but, to be honest, he recovers faster than I imagine I would. In this passage, we witness Peter’s movement from an indignant, “by no means, Lord!” to a surprising stance of, “who am I that I can hinder God?”

Peter is swept up by the boundary-breaking grace of God – and we are invited to join him. Peter’s conversion of heart raises a crucial question for us as the Church today: how do we react when the way we’ve understood and made sense of the world for our whole lives no longer applies? How do we respond when we are invited to risk vulnerability by opening our doors and our hearts wider, without knowing who all might wander in? How do we react when the entire rulebook suddenly gets thrown out the window?

Because, my friends, that is exactly what the Resurrection does. By rising from the grave, God in Christ is breaking all the rules and blurring the most fundamental binary that we live with: the distinction between life and death. The Risen Christ challenges the most basic assumption of how the world works: that dead people stay dead because death is final. Suddenly, with the Risen Christ wandering around Jerusalem, passing through closed doors, showing off his scars, cooking breakfast on the beach for his friends – anything seems possible.

And a world where anything is possible can be a very confusing and even threatening place. And when we are threatened, often, our first reaction is to retreat to safety. We make ourselves smaller, tighten the circle of who and what we let into our lives, and then, if necessary, we fight to defend our bastion of security. Fight or flight. We see this tendency at work across the globe, in the waves of xenophobia, white supremacy, and oppressive misogyny that are racking our world with violence rooted in fear – fear of the other and fear of scarcity. If everyone is welcome, if everyone is equal, then will there be enough left for us? Will we still matter? We fear what we might lose, what we might have to give up if we loosen our grip on the labels that define us, on the armor, the entrenched opinions that (we think!) will keep us safe.

The truth is, we will lose something in this new reality that God dreams for us, be it power, privilege, ego, or certainty. Resurrection does not happen without the Cross. But what we gain when we dare to look beyond divisive, narrow categories is beyond anything that our human minds can imagine. What we gain is nothing less than the dream of God, breaking into our world and flooding everything with light and grace. We see it in this dazzling promise in Revelation, where the heavenly Jerusalem descends from above and God’s abiding presence with humankind is established forever. Where death, mourning, crying, and pain will cease to exist. Where the highest law will be the new commandment that Jesus gives his disciples, “that we love one another as Christ has loved us.” Where no one is unclean and everyone belongs.

We’re by no means there yet, but even in a world as full of brokenness as ours, we catch glimpses of this divine dream just as Peter did; swells of grace, love, and beauty that take our breath away and leave us hungry for more. We see a lot of them right here in this Cathedral. The groundwork has been laid in the Resurrection, and we are invited to participate in ushering in the fullness of God’s dream. As we do that, we must ask ourselves: are our religious beliefs and moral values like a barbed wire fence, employing threats and fear to separate us from the unclean and dangerous other? Or are our values more like an open gate, urging us to push the boundaries of our imaginations and discover how what we label as “other,” or “unclean” might show us the face of God in fresh ways. After all, “what God has called clean, we must not call profane.”

In this season of Easter, we are invited to make God’s dream our own. To partner with our God, who longs to erase the human divisions that keep us isolated and afraid and usher in a new order of grace and love. To let the power of the Resurrection soften the prejudices and fears that keep us small and open our hearts to the wild inclusivity of our God. In God’s dream of

enormous possibility, what will we dare to create? Who will we dare to include? Where will we let the Holy Spirit dance in our lives? See – God is, at this very moment, making all things new – beginning with us. Amen.

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.

Watch Easter Sunday Sermons:


 

 

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

 

Sunday, March 13
Love, like a spring bubbling up from within
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Dr. Randal Gardner
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sunday, March 6
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. W. Mark Richardson
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Tuesday, March 1
Yoga Introduction
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Malcolm's welcome at the Tuesday night Yoga class
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Sunday, February 28
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Staci Currant
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Sunday, February 21
Race, history, and healing in the community of Christ
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Dr. Randal Gardner
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent
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What could possibly have been in the minds of my French and English ancestors to think that they had the right to claim any land to which they could sail as their land, that they had the right to slaughter so many hundreds of thousands who lived in those lands, that they had the right to capture the people of those lands for slaves? These were Christian nations, acting as if they could not possibly have heard the teaching of Christ.

If, like me, you are repulsed by our national history of slavery, cruel racism, murder and oppression of others based on race, you are probably not a racist. If you look for ways to deepen relationships and move beyond ignorance with people of other races, you are not a racist. That is the good news. There is no need for private and neurotic guilt about our racially oppressive past.

But the deeper work requires moving beyond what any of us can do individually, so that we join in taking part in a struggle against a set of cultural biases toward whiteness that are so deeply ingrained in our nation’s history that we cannot even recognize them. There are biases so deeply embedded in who we are as a nation that they have become as pervasive and unseen as the air we breathe.

Kelly Brown Douglas, Professor of Religion at Goucher College and an Episcopal Priest, describes a history of white assumptions in her book, Stand Your Ground, Black Bodies and the Justice of God. The claim of white superiority has its roots in a mindset shaped in early Europe. Anglo-Saxon culture and history asserted the claim of white supremacy over all other peoples of the earth, and those assumptions were built into our nation’s founding. Slavery was certainly a manifestation of that sense, but so too were laws passed in the 1700’s which defined whiteness as an essential characteristic for citizenship in the United States. So, too, were laws and practices that embedded discrimination into our history, whether in the Jim Crow laws of the south or the subtle suppression of wages and opportunities in the north.

Douglas’s book, in a review of the thinking behind Stand Your Ground laws and the killing of Trayvon Martin, uncovers this complex but persistent history in great detail. Stand Your Ground is derived from a deeply ingrained belief that for a black or brownperson to approach a white person without an invitation and appropriate deference is in itself a criminal act. She argues that the black body engenders an assumption of criminality, so that any further perception of misbehavior by a black bodied person amplifies or confirms criminality. Stand Your Ground permits white anxiety to manifest in violence against black and brown people, simply because their blackness and brownness implies trouble,

implies criminality. It is difficult to imagine that Trayvon Martin would have been acquitted for killing George Zimmerman simply because he felt threatened and needed to stand his own ground. Standing one’s ground is an historically and deeply seated bias within the cultural assumptions of whiteness.

Even if we do not personally practice racist language or behavior, we are all part of a system in which people of black and brown skin live with a sense of fear and cautiousness that I almost never feel as a white man. I trace a series of benefits that I have received as a white man that would probably not have come so easily to me if I were a black or Hispanic or Asian man – from access to a college that honored diversity but where nearly all of us who attended were white, to relatively easy access to mortgages and the selection of my homes, to the occasions when I have been stopped by police officers who treated me with respectful deference and have always called me Sir.

We have to be willing to consider that we, who are not inclined to be racists, are still involved in a systematic racism in our nation and in our culture. Who can save us from this morass of history and assumption that persists in oppression and racist reality? Thanks be to God, it is Jesus Christ!

For at the center of the Way of Jesus Christ has been a remarkable practice of reconciliation and mutuality, produced not only by a conversion of the mind but also by a healing of the heart. Our ancient ancestors were not persecuted for believing in Jesus or the resurrection. They were persecuted because they demonstrated a new way of being a society that contradicted and contrasted the oppressive societies in which they gathered. They were persecuted precisely because they did create harmonious accord between races and classes, precisely because they conveyed worth and dignity to the oppressed poor and outcast, precisely because they conveyed authority and power to those who had been powerless and voiceless. They were persecuted because they empowered Greeks to be church leaders in the midst of Jerusalem, because they ordained slaves to be bishops, because they defended the rights of women to own property and wealth. Few expressions were more threatening to the society of the day than Paul’s proclamation that in Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female.

Our work within the struggle against racist systems is significantly through prayer, in which we seek God’s help for deep healing in our churches, so that our churches can once again stand for a contradiction and contrast to the societies in which we sit, so that once again the church may be seen in the midst of the society as gathering in which there is truly a sweet spirit of accord, in which the notion of brotherhood and sisterhood is not a bible quote but is an authentic expression of the reality at the core of who we are.

Our work within the struggle against the racist systems requires that we, the faithful, play our part as leaders and conscientious citizens speaking up for justice, speaking up for what is right. We have a part to play in asking for a serious, thoughtful and open-minded

conversation about redressing past wrongs through economic justice. We have a part to play in having open hearts, open minds, and courageous speaking to invite a serious conversation in this country about economic reparations, about being fair with those whose labor and lives have enriched so many, about how those who enriched others have a claim on back wages and an expectation that the ground needs to be leveled for all, not just for white people.

I cannot say to you that I hope you can forgive me for stealing your car, so long as your car is still parked in my driveway. Some repentance requires restitution to become authentic. We, who believe in Jesus Christ, are the people who can lead the nation into that level of seriousness about justice.

In the midst of our cathedral’s observance of black history month we look back at our history, listening to what our African American brothers and a sister had to say about this new nation, founded on an imagination of all men being created equal and yet built around laws that specifically limited the benefits of this new nation for white males.

Richard Allen and Absalom Jones were born into slavery in Delaware before the Revolutionary War, and both were eventually able to purchase their freedom. They were deeply convinced in their faith in Jesus Christ and began to carry out ministry and preaching among other slaves and freed blacks. Their effectiveness as ministers in their church in Philadelphia led to such dramatic church growth that one Sunday they were met at the door and told that black members would need to sit in the balcony from now on.

Leaving that church they developed their own congregation and were faithful and effective ministers. Absalom Jones sought to be ordained in the Episcopal Church, where he became the first priest of African descent in our Anglican church’s history. Richard Allen would not trust that a white church would ever truly welcome the African American people, and he founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church, becoming its first bishop.

Born in West Africa at about the same time as Allen and Jones, Phillis Wheatley was taken from her parents as a little girl for slavery in the United States. She became widely acclaimed and admired for her poetry even as her words undermined the assumptions that made slaveholding possible. Referred to as the delicate revolutionary, she discloses the pain and trauma of her removal from her home, the hypocrisy of ignoring the humanity of the African people. Wheatley was set free by her master upon his death.

Listen to their words as Richard Compean reads from Richard Allen’s essay, “An Address to Those Who Keep Slaves, and Approve the Practice;” as Deacon Doe Yates reads from Phillis Wheatley’s poem, “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth;” and as Ron Johnson invites us into a prayer of Absalom Jones from “A Thanksgiving Sermon,” preached in thanks for the ending of slave imports into the United States.

I pray that what I have offered today has been faithful and true to the spirit of Jesus.

Readings:

The words of Richard Allen in his essay, “An Address to Those Who Keep Slaves, and Approve the Practice”

“That God who knows the hearts of all men, and the propensity of a slave to hate his oppressor, hath strictly forbidden it to his chosen people, “Thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian, because thou wast a stranger in his land.” Deut. 23. 7.

The meek and humble Jesus, the great pattern of humanity, and every other virtue that can adorn and dignify men, hath commanded to love our enemies, to do good to them that hate and despitefully use us. I feel the obligations, I wish to impress them on the minds of our colored brethren, and that we may all forgive you, as we wish to be forgiven, we think it a great mercy to have all anger and bitterness removed from our minds; I appeal to your own feelings, if it is not very disquieting to feel yourselves under dominion of wrathful disposition.”

“If you love your children, if you love your country, if you love the God of love, clear your hands from slavery, burden not your children or your country with slavery, my heart has been sorry for the blood shed of the oppressors, as well as the oppressed, both appear guilty of each other’s blood, in the sight of Him who hath said, He that sheddeth man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed.”

“[ Slaves] appear contented as they can in your sight, but the dreadful insurrections they have made when opportunity has offered, is enough to convince a reasonable man, that great uneasiness and not contentment, is the inhabitant of their hearts. God Himself hath pleaded their cause… Many [enslavers] have been convinced of their error, condemned their former conduct, and become zealous advocates for the cause.”

A reading from a poem by Phillis Wheatley, entitled “To the Right Honorable William, Earl of Dartmouth”

Should you, my lord, while you peruse my song,

Wonder from whence my love of Freedom sprung,

Whence flow these wishes for the common good,

By feeling hearts alone best understood, I, young in life, by seeming cruel fate

Was snatch’d from Afric’s fancy’d happy seat: What pangs excruciating must molest, What sorrows labour in my parent’s breast?

Steel’d was that soul and by no misery mov’d

That from a father seiz’d his babe belov’d:

Such, such my case.

And can I then but pray Others may never feel tyrannic sway?

A reading of a prayer from a sermon by Absalom Jones, called “A Thanksgiving Sermon”

Let us pray.

Oh thou God of all the nations upon the earth!

We thank thee, that thou art no respecter of persons, and that thou hast made of one bloodall nations of men. We thank thee, that thou hast appeared, in the fullness of time, in behalf of the nation from which most of the worshipping people, now before thee, are descended. We thank thee, that the sun of righteousness has at last shed his morning beams upon them.

Rend thy heavens, O Lord, and come down upon the earth; and grant that the mountains, which now obstruct the perfect day of thy goodness and mercy towards them, may flow down at thy presence. Send thy gospel; we beseech thee, among them. May the nations, which now sit in darkness, behold and rejoice in its light. May Ethiopia soon stretch out her hands unto thee, and lay hold of the gracious promise of thy everlasting covenant.

Destroy, we beseech thee, all the false religions which now prevail among them; and grant, that they may soon cast their idols, to the moles and the bats of the wilderness. O, hasten that glorious time, when the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ, shall cover the earth, as the waters cover the sea; when the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them; and, when, instead of the thorn, shall come up the fir tree, and, instead of the brier, shall come up the myrtle tree: and it shall be to the Lord for a name and for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.

We pray, O God, for all our friends and benefactors, in Great Britain, as well as in the United States: reward them, we beseech thee, with blessings upon earth, and prepare them to enjoy the fruits of their kindness to us, in thy everlasting kingdom in heaven: and dispose us, who are assembled in thy presence, to be always thankful for thy mercies, and to act as becomes a people who owe so much to thy goodness.

We implore thy blessing, O God, upon the President, and all who are in authority in the United States. Direct them by thy wisdom, in all their deliberations, and O save thy people from the calamities of war. Give peace in our day, we beseech thee, O thou God of peace! and grant, that this highly favoured country may continue to afford a safe and peaceful retreat from the calamities of war and slavery, for ages yet to come.

We implore all these blessings and mercies, only in the name of thy beloved Son, Jesus Christ, our Lord. And now, O Lord, we desire, with angels and arch-angels, and all the company of heaven, ever more to praise thee, saying, Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty: the whole earth is full of thy glory. Amen.

Sunday, February 14
The Cathedral of Your Self
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"If you are the Son of God throw yourself down from here" (Lk. 4).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“If you are the Son of God throw yourself down from here” (Lk. 4).

I spent twenty-four hours on retreat at my friends’ cabin in Big Sur yesterday. Writing outside in the mottled light of a small lichen-covered tan oak forest I could see stretched out below a basin of meadows, redwood trees and a sycamore creek bed meandering toward the vast Pacific Ocean as fog gathered in the far distance. With the smell of madrone, chaparral and fresh earth along with the sound of the distant ocean I fell asleep and then decided to go for a walk.

Wandering across the hillsides through fresh green grass, I knew that I should not be cutting across the top of the earth dam but I did it anyway. As I went, what at first looked like concrete, responded to my footsteps more like diatomaceous earth. Looking back I realized that by walking on the dam I had inadvertently destroyed it. A few people came to see what happened and I tried to hide. I didn’t want them to see what I had done. At this point I realize that I am naked. Earlier I had taken off all my clothes to feel the warm sun on my body and now I can’t find my pants. I have no idea how my subconscious mind wove these fears and worries into this unlikely dream.

This kind of experience happens in my waking life too. Last week at sunrise I ran across the Golden Gate Bridge. I must have frustrated the bike riders because I kept veering toward the center of the path. The rail is so low and it kept occurring to me that, in less time than it takes to think, I could leap over it into oblivion. I do not think I am crazy. I have never considered taking my own life, but there is a kind of voice that I do not choose but which is part of my inner life.

You might hear something like this too. The voice might say, “You’re not good enough.” “You should have tried harder.” “You are too old to do this now.” “What you are doing won’t make a difference.” “You’ll never be as good as your brother.” “People will discover the truth about you.” “You are making a terrible mistake.” “You always disappoint everyone.”

On Valentine’s Day especially you might hear that voice say, “You’ll always be alone.” “No one will ever love you.” “You will never be happy.” “Everyone else is having more fun than you.” “You are nothing special.”

The nineteenth century poet and philosopher of religion Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834) writes that we confuse biblical inerrancy for biblical authority. Christians can focus so much on a theory about the Bible that they neglect to actually hear what it says. In other words God did not write the Bible. The power of scripture comes out of its humanity. It has authority because these authors, writing about their spiritual experiences, end up helping us interpret how the spirit speaks in our lives.

Coleridge writes the Bible “finds me” only when these “heart awakening utterances of human hearts,” speak to our human condition. [1] This morning I hope that this dreamlike experience of Jesus might be able to find you and heal you. After reminding you about this story I will talk first about Cathedrals and then about the Cathedral that is your self.

We use the expression “the devil” as a proper name. The Greek word ho diabolos also means “enemy” or “adversary.” After forty days in the wilderness, Jesus faces this adversary in a series of visions. The devil tells him to turn stones into bread. In the kind of instant (en stigma xronou) that we only know in dreams, the enemy takes Jesus to the top of the highest mountain and promises Jesus all the kingdoms of the world in exchange for worshipping him. Finally the devil brings Jesus to the top of the temple, a kind of Cathedral in ancient Jerusalem, and invites Jesus to throw himself down from that high place and that angels will save him. In each case Jesus will not be deterred from doing God’s will rather than choosing what might be most satisfying in the moment.

1. Cathedrals. My friend Margaret Miles taught Christian history for decades at Harvard. She writes that between the years 1170 and 1270 Western Europeans built 580 cathedrals. From their perspective they were not creating architecture, but new ways to worship and experience God. For believers in those days Jesus seemed mostly like a judge – just, impassable, pure and perfect. For them Mary felt more approachable and forgiving. [2]

During that time Mary inspired artists to create thousands of songs, devotional manuals, dramas, sculptures, stained glass windows the Cathedrals (almost all of which were dedicated to her). In Chartres Cathedral alone there were 175 representations of Mary depicting her both as a reigning monarch and as a humble maiden. The three aisles in cathedrals symbolize the way that Mary contains the Trinity within her.

Even for those of us who remember the incredible coordination of research and activity involved in putting a person on the moon, it is almost impossible to comprehend how relatively simple societies could undertake such a large project as this system of cathedrals. We simply cannot imagine the energy, expense and organization required for this work.

As you might expect there were some controversies about cathedrals. St. Bernard (1090-1153) abbot of Clairvaux writes, “The church sparkles and gleams on every side, while the poor huddle in need; its stones are gilded while the children go unclad; in it the art lovers find enough to satisfy their curiosity, while the poor find nothing there to relieve their misery.” [3]

But the majority of people then believed that beautiful objects lead us to a new experience of God. They designed cathedrals to mystically transport worshippers into the spiritual universe. Abbot Suger of Saint-Denis (1081-1151) writes about how material things make it possible to rise above the material. He describes the way beauty can trigger mystical experience. Suger quotes Dionysius saying, “every creature, visible and invisible, is a light brought into being by the Father of lights.” Cathedrals help us to see, “the goodness and beauty” of existing things that we might otherwise miss. In fact, Suger believes that cathedrals help make this mystical vision more democratically accessible to illiterate and uneducated people.

At the end of her reflections Margaret wonders how did the first worshippers experience the present moment in cathedrals like Chartes? Did they feel pressed between a painful past and a terrifying, unknowable future so that the present in effect disappeared? Or did this new way to pray and meet God cause them to realize the preciousness of what can only happen in this life? [4]

I wonder about our cathedral today. What controversies and temptations do we face? Our Sunday readings follow a three-year cycle. This week I heard that Lent readings in Year A especially concern spiritual growth for new believers. Year B readings speak to people already at home in their faith. Year C in Lent focuses especially on those who feel “alienated from Christ and the church.” [5]

You might think of these as the categories of people that the church has responsibility for serving. Year B people need to be especially conscious of making Grace Cathedral a place for entering into the Holy that also works for new believers and those who have lost their faith.

Some of our temptations include thinking that we can be a church that is just for adults, or people like us, or the sort of people we’ve always served, or those we used to call “cultured.” We may be tempted to believe that maintaining the high quality of what we do is enough. We may be tempted to think that we can just be faithful to tradition without worrying much about the way society is changing around us, and what people need today. Most of all like any institution or group of people we feel tempted to believe that we can function without God.

2. The Cathedral of the Self. You are a cathedral too. The divine light shines even more beautifully through your life than it does through these windows. But this brings us back to those voices that the Bible calls the enemy or the accuser or the devil. These voices try to convince us that we are less than we are, that we can be satisfied living only for ourselves. These voices invert the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer, as if our daily bread comes from ourselves, as if we do not walk in need forgiveness. These voices say, “hallowed be my name, for mine is the kingdom, mine is the power and mine is the glory.” Living in Jesus shows us that this is not true.

We need to remember that the story goes on. Jesus accomplishes much greater miracles than those proposed by Satan. He feeds hungry people for generations. He proclaims and initiates a Kingdom of God that continues to alter the course of history. He does not throw himself down from the height of a cathedral but shows us what it could mean to live entirely in the confidence of God’s truth and grace.

I wonder what we will discover as we resist the voices of the accuser. What will happen as we continue to realize that we are not meant to live only for ourselves? Can new believers, the faithful and the alienated learn from each other here?

How will the story of Jesus find us? What will happen in this cathedral to help us enter into the beauty of the Holy One? How will these stained glass windows enable us to see the way God’s light shines through all things, especially our life?
[1] James C. Livingston, Modern Christian Thought: The Enlightenment and the Nineteenth Century, Volume 1 (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1997), 91.

[2] Margaret Ruth Miles, The Word Made Flesh: A History of Christian Thought (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005), 174-177.

[3] Ibid,, 176.

[4] Ibid., 179.

[5] Malinda Elizabeth Berry, “Living by the Word,” The Christian Century, 3 February 2016.

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