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Sunday, September 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday, September 19
Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, September 22
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young’s sermon manuscript will be available soon.

Thursday, September 19
Dancing with All Our Might
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
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“Then the prophet Miriam… took a tambourine in her hand and all the women went out after her with tambourines and with dancing. And Miriam sang to them (Ex. 15).

We called our second floor Cambridge apartment Happy Woods. The light filtered in through the canopy of the oak trees and friends were always around. I was a stay-at-home dad during our son Micah’s toddler years. Through hot summers and snowy winters the two of us would check outCuban dance music from the local library, come home and dance with all our might. I can imagine heaven must be a little like that with Tito Puente, Ibrahim Ferrer, Buena Vista Social Club, and the people I love, we will all be dancing with all our might.

Dancing made our children love weddings – and we went to a lot of them. Then in elementary school at basketball practice one of Micah’s teammates told him that dancing was for girls. I was so proud of our son for speaking right up about the beauty and joy of dancing for all people.

I didn’t realize it but “dancing with all their might” is how the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible describes the way that King David and all of Israel danced when they brought home the Ark of the Covenant. When Michal daughter of Saul saw King David dancing, “she despised him in her heart” (2 Sam. 6:16). She thought dancing demeaned him in the eyes of others (particularly “the servants’ maids”).

Dancing and opposition to it are more ancient than the Bible. When the people of God escaped from slavery in Egypt they couldn’t contain themselves. They danced with all of their might. The psalmist sings about praising God’s name with dancing (Ps. 149). In the story of the Prodigal Son the bitterness of the elder brother is magnified when he is coming in from the fields and hears the music and the dancing.

I think that despising dancing is a way that we hate ourselves. It is how we reject the joy that lies at the heart of our being. Today we honor the ministry of Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. Frankly it is in large part because their work brings us closer to God and to the gratitude and joy that we were created by God to share.

This year as our Artist in Residence Alonzo has become a kind of spiritual teacher for me. He has taught me that music, movement and light are the most primary way we experience creation and respond to it. He has shown me how physical gestures are often more profound than words, that what we do with our body has a fundamental effect on our spirit.

When Alonzo says, “my real work is the transformation of the self,” he says this as a dance teacher in the deepest sense of the word – as someone who teaches us how to in his words “move through the world.” Dance helps us to pay attention to that transformation. The movements of dancing make us who we are. They are one way our body becomes an instrument for discerning the truth.

On your way out have a closer look at the largest figure in the stained glass window of the North Transept. That is David and although he carries a large gold harp, don’t forget that he is a dancer. As you go your way say a prayer for Alonzo King and LINES Ballet. They are teaching the world to dance with all our might.

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!

 

Wednesday, February 10
The Gospel According to Cam Newton and Beyoncé
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also" (Mt. 6).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“For where your treasure is, there you heart will be also” (Mt. 6).

Here in San Francisco we have been living with Super Bowl controversies since before last summer when Mayor Ed Lee talked about homeless people making way as the city prepared to host the game. [1] After taking down the advertisements on Embarcadero Center, after the protests, after the objections about traffic and what the city paid to have the Super Bowl here, the rest of the country has joined us in this spirit of dissension.

Cam Newton the quarterback for the Carolina Panthers at 6 feet 5 inches tall and 245 pounds is bigger than any player on the Green Bay Packer’s team that won the first Super Bowl fifty years ago. He could be one of the best athletes of our time. What he does on the field seems positively miraculous to me. It seems like he is capable of anything.

Since losing the Super Bowl on Sunday Newton has been widely criticized for his behavior at the post-game press conference. Wearing a hooded sweatshirt, providing only monosyllabic answers, cutting the interview short and being generally moody led Michael Powell in The New York Times to write that he humiliated himself and acted “like a 13-year old.” [2]

Almost right away social media began comparing footage from Newton’s interview with the gracious speech of Peyton Manning, this year’s winning quarterback, from the day Manning lost the Super Bowl two years ago. As always there are two sides to the story. The NFL has had a surprisingly small number of African American quarterbacks and Newton has certainly been caught up narratives that he did not choose. It also matters that Manning is almost forty and Newton is 26.

Still for people who criticize him, Newton seems pretty unrepentant. Cleaning out his locker room on Tuesday he said, “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” [3] If this were not enough, many people cannot decide whether Beyoncé’s halftime Black Panther tribute was disrespectful of law enforcement or a prophetic message about racial injustice.

At Ash Wednesday how do Christians form moral judgments? How does faith inform our opinions about what is happening around us?

One of teenagers’ favorite expressions these days is simply “don’t judge.” Many young people may see “not judging” as a contrast with what they regard as judgmental institutional church, but I believe that the original impulse for this expression comes from Jesus himself. Jesus tells us not to worry about taking the tiny speck out of someone else’s eye until we take the log out of our own. He also says, “let the one without sin cast the first stone,” and, “judge not lest ye be judged.”

But this does not mean that we should stop caring about what is good and what is bad. At a dinner party a few months ago I met a high school student who couldn’t even bring himself to say that ISIS is wrong to enslave women or terrorize villages or behead journalists. He said that according to their worldview what they were doing is right. For him, not judging means becoming agnostic about the good, the true and the beautiful.

This is not at all what Jesus teaches. There is a spirit of Jesus that we can recognize in people who follow him. It is a way of looking at things and acting that comes out of his teaching.

I often think about how different my life would be and how my experience of the world would have changed if I had not struggled so hard to practice my faith for so many years. One of the most important ways that Christian faith has shaped me has to do with just this question – what is righteousness.

In this respect Christianity seems markedly different from our sister religions Judaism and Islam. I may be wrong about this but for Jews and Muslims it seems genuinely possible to be a righteous person. The laws of these two religions may be very demanding but it is possible to keep these commandments. Eating kosher or halal may be hard in a restaurant, getting up before dawn may seem inconvenient, keeping the Sabbath and refraining from work may mean you have to plan ahead more than you would like or miss certain things, but we can imagine being able to keep these commandments. [4]

Judaism and Islam make it clear just what you need to do to be faithful and I imagine that it would be very comforting to know exactly what your religion demanded of you and probably even more satisfying when you accomplished this. These religions in many ways feel more humane to me by insisting on orthopraxy, that is doing the right thing rather than orthodoxy, which is a concern about right teaching or thinking.

In those religions it doesn’t matter if you are bored while you pray, or that you keep kosher to please your mother, or that you go on Hajj or pilgrimage to make important business connections. You just don’t have to second-guess it. In these religions what you do is what matters.

Perhaps it is because I know a lot more about it, but Christianity seems like a more complicated proposition. Our Ash Wednesday reading illustrates this. Jesus contrasts what we should do with those he calls hypocrites. The Greek word is hupocritai. It has the Greek word krisis or judgment in it and means the same thing that it does in English.

But plainly Jesus means that simply giving the right amount of alms or money to charity, praying the correct way and amount of time, and even fasting in the way that has been taught is quite simply not enough. We also need to not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing. We have to pray in secret so that our father who sees in secret will reward us. We are required to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven away from the moths and rust (Mt. 6). In Christianity it is not enough to simply do the right thing. Jesus cares about the mental state with which do it.

It makes sense in a way. As human beings we can do terrible things without even seeming to cross a line. I think about married couples. You can say something that seems like nothing in public but which deeply betrays and hurts your spouse. You can kill your marriage with words that no one outside of the couple would recognize as dangerous. Intention matters. When the bully at school says sneeringly, “Nice hair!” we know she means just the opposite.

Let me be clear. Three things distinguish Jesus’ ethics. First, we must do the right thing – no hypocrisy or saying one thing and doing another. Second, we must do it with the right motive (and not for the approval of other people). Third, Jesus makes frankly extreme demands. He asks us to be perfect even as our father is perfect. He tells the rich young man to give away all that he has to follow him. Jesus asks us to love strangers the way we love our families, to not defend ourselves when we are attacked. Finally, Jesus also uses hyperbole. He famously says that if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off.

All this makes me long for a simple religious code with specific rules, a clearly defined way to be righteous. But that is the whole point. Jesus makes impossible demands. He does not give simple rules to follow but maddeningly general commands. He does not care about what you do but what you think, about how you meant what you did. He asks the impossible.

So what is the point of all this? Everyone fails this test without exception. There is no righteous person in the Christian universe. For Christians no set of rules will ever be enough. Jesus does not teach this to make you miserable or frustrated, but because how you feel about yourself is less important than how you care for other people

The direct result of Jesus’ teaching is that no line divides saints from sinners, the pure from the unclean, the justified from the unjustified. In fact, if we get right down to it Jesus throws out the whole idea that we really can be saintly, pure and justified.

Ta Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me he writes about the deep need that white people feel to be exonerated, to be let off the hook for the horrible things that have happened to African American people in the past and going into the future. [5] Coates will not bend to this need and in many respects Jesus won’t either.

During Lent Christians remember that our time on this planet is finite, from dust we come and to dust we shall return. When the rest of the world points their fingers at the mayors, sports heroes and pop stars, we take this chance to look at our own lives. We celebrate the freedom from the rules that separate us from each other and the joy that arises in our hearts through Christ’s love and forgiveness.

Let us pray: Most gracious God, you show us a vision of what it might mean to be perfect, and you open our eyes to see the ways that we have come up short, so that we might be more understanding with each other. During these forty days of Lent bless us and draw us more closely to the home that we can only find in you. Amen.
[1] Matier & Ross, “Mayor: Homeless ‘have to leave the street’ for Super Bowl, The San Francisco Chronicle, 25 August 2015.

[2] Michael Powell, “Cam Newton, Sacked Six Times Brings Himself Down,” The New York Times, 8 February 2016.

[3] “Cam Newton Defends Postgame Behavior after the Super Bowl,” The Associated Press, 9 February 2016.

[4] Francis Spufford, Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense (NY: HarperCollins, 2012), 44ff.

[5] Ta Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (NY: Spiegel and Grau, 2015).

Wednesday, February 10
Ash Wednesday 12:10 Sermon
Preacher: The Rt. Rev. Marc Handley Andrus
Sermon from the 12:10 Ash Wednesday Holy Eucharist
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Text and PDF for this sermon are not available.

Sunday, February 7
Desiring the pleasure of God
Preacher: The Rev. Andy Lobban
The upcoming season of Lent invites us to practice fasting, prayer, and giving. When we remember the underlying purpose of these disciplines, they can be to us vehicles for experiencing the joy of God in ways we have never yet known.
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The upcoming season of Lent invites us to practice fasting, prayer, and giving. When we remember the underlying purpose of these disciplines, they can be to us vehicles for experiencing the joy of God in ways we have never yet known.

Tuesday, February 2
Yoga Introduction
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
Malcolm's introduction from Tuesday night's Yoga class.
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Malcolm’s introduction from Tuesday night’s Yoga class.

Sunday, January 31
The True Home that Beckons: Annual Meeting
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor. 13).
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The Sermon from Sunday’s 11 a.m. Eucharist.

Sunday, January 24
Letting Go and Levinas
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom" (Lk. 4).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom” (Lk. 4).

In our recent move we threw away stacks of children’s art projects (cards that said “Daddy I Love You”!), letters and photographs from friends who have died, old toys, clothes, and picture books. It hurt to leave things that represented our kids’ childhood at the curb. We held tightly to those objects. They tenuously connected us to a whole stage of life that is now gone.

In a sense, our material things come to own us, but our opinions and thoughts, they seem like they are us. How much harder it is to leave these at the curb. So often we act as if the spiritual life consists primarily in adding new disciplines, and responsibilities when what we most need to learn is to let go, to give over our life to God. What do we need to let go in order to find our home in God? What do we leave behind when we live in Christ?

1. Text. We follow a three-year cycle in our Sunday readings. This year we focus on the theology of Luke. Luke uses the most complex Greek vocabulary and syntax of the Gospel writers. He feels at home in the cosmopolitan world of the Roman Empire. He also has a very clear idea about what it means to follow Jesus. The theology that lies at the heart of his Gospel is exemplified in Jesus’ first public act of ministry.

After being baptized and then tempted in the wilderness Jesus returns to the area around his home. Through his teachings he becomes “doxazomenous upo panton.” This word doxa is related to our word doxology. It means praise and at first Jesus is praised by all. But then he returns to Nazareth, where he was “tethrammenos” we would translate it as “where he was raised,” or where he grew up. The Greek word trepho literally means where he was fed or nurtured. The very cells and physical material of his body came from the food grown on the hills outside of town. Luke emphasizes that these are his people.

By this point Jesus has established his routine. He reads scripture to the congregation and then in accordance with the ancient teaching practice he sits to explain what it means. He chooses to read the prophet Isaiah. “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor” (Lk. 4). We have only half the story this week with the rest next coming next Sunday. I’m going to spoil next week’s surprise.

After his reading, after his teaching, the crowds try to kill Jesus by throwing him off a cliff. Why do they become so angry? Let me suggest three possibilities. First, you might think that the idea that he has a special mission to the poor and oppressed was controversial. In response, I would say that his audience would have been familiar with this theme from the ancient prophets. Furthermore, they were likely to regard themselves as the poor whom God favors. Second, the crowd could have been angry over the suggestion that he is the anointed one or the messiah. However, directly after making this statement, Luke writes, “[a]ll spoke well of him” (Lk. 4). Luke wants us to see that what really angers the crowd is Jesus’ rejection of a special obligation to his own people. Jesus refers to Old Testament stories in which God heals gentiles (non-Jewish people) and points out that during those times faithful Jews were allowed to die. This infuriated his hometown.

At the center of Luke’s faith lies the impossible idea that God’s love is for all people regardless of kinship, nationality, religion, social status or any other claim that we might make for special treatment. According to Luke we have to give up our tribe when we follow Jesus.

The Apostle Paul deeply believes this too. The most important fact for people living in the Roman Empire must have been its rigid social stratification. And yet Paul writes, “Jews or Greeks, slaves or free… we were made to drink of the same spirit” (1 Cor. 12). He calls those who follow Jesus one body. Some Romans thought that Christians drank blood and sacrificed children. But what really shocked them most was that a man and a woman, a senator and a slave could treat each other as equals.

2. Doctrine. The twentieth century philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1906-1995) has helped me to understand the meaning of Luke’s teaching for our own time. Growing up as a Jew in the Russian Empire in what is now Lithuania, Levinas experienced the 300th anniversary celebration of the Romanov dynasty and the Russian revolutions of 1917. He began an academic career in the French-speaking world going on to serve in the French army during World War Two. After his unit was captured in 1940, he spent the rest of the war reading and writing in a prisoner of war camp. Although his wife and daughter were safely hidden in a monastery, the Nazis killed most of his family.

Levinas’ philosophy may be difficult to understand. Let me begin with the context. In the twentieth century philosophers called positivists believed that the only kind of knowledge that really counts is what can be proven by science. You may be one step ahead of me in wondering if science can prove that science is the only reliable knowledge, but that is roughly what they believed. In contrast to this kind of approach, Emmanuel Levinas believed that there is far more to experience than thinking (“cogito”).

Instead of beginning with a theory about how the world is (ontology), or what we know about the world (epistemology), we need to start with our experience (or how the “world shows up for us” to use an expression from Werner Erhard). According to Levinas, the idea that we need to throw out is that we can have more confidence about abstract notions of logic or reason than in the simple experience of another person’s need. For this reason he calls ethics “first philosophy.” [i]

Levinas writes that we try to think beyond what can be thought. But that does not mean it has to remain completely inaccessible. “[T]he idea of the infinite or my relation to God, comes to me in the concreteness of my relation to the other [person]… [in my} responsibility for the neighbor.” [ii] We experience this infinite, this connection to God, through another person’s face. It makes a demand on us. It creates an obligation that we cannot ignore.

We make constant judgments based on other people’s faces, we respond with unconscious prejudices. But for Levinas, another person’s face reveals infinitely more than we are able to take in. [iii] He calls this an epiphany, our only chance to grasp the infinite. It is the way that the holy presents itself to us.

For this reason Levinas frequently quotes Alyosha Karamazov in The Brothers Karamazov who says, “We are all responsible for everyone else – but I am more responsible than all the others.” [iv] All thought, all experience, all goodness and holiness begins in our obligation to the other person. Let me move on to one way that Levinas’ philosophy changes how I experience the world.

3. Application. The struggle to realize Luke and Paul’s ideal continues today. The Anglican Communion is the third largest Christian body in the world. Grace Cathedral participates in this fellowship. We Anglicans do not have an international hierarchy or a pope. Each national church chooses its own leaders, makes its own decisions and prays in its own way. No foreign bishop, not even the Archbishop of Canterbury, has any jurisdiction in America at all.

For ten years, some of the other Anglican churches have felt alarmed by our new policies supporting gay marriage. Last week the primates, that is, the heads of the various churches chose to exclude the American branch from participating on high level Anglican committees for three years. I do not completely understand the politics of the whole decision, but I do know that Americans feel hurt and excluded.

For Levinas each vulnerable face reveals far more than I can ever take in and becomes my chance to experience God. Praying about this has changed my understanding of the Anglican infighting. These days I have been wondering about what has led other Anglicans to condemn our church. I have asked myself what pain and fear oppresses their souls.

But even more importantly, Levinas has helped me to see the most defenseless faces, to hear the powerless voices who hardly seem to be part of this conversation. GLBT people suffer terribly around the world. Their love is criminalized. They are beaten, imprisoned and persecuted. They are forbidden from being themselves. Yes, the American church will not be allowed to participate in meetings, but these children of God are losing their lives.

I began by talking about how hard it is to throw away the extra things that our family has accumulated over the years. Although so many of these objects seem to preserve our connection to the past, they are no longer useful today. Just as with those things, we also carry ideas and opinions that no longer serve us.

In this process the Buddhist teacher Timber Hawkeye encourages us to keep asking ourselves which of our thoughts arise out of fear and which come from love. He quotes the eighth century Buddhist monk Shantideva who says, “All happiness in the world stems from wanting others to be happy, and all suffering in the world stems from wanting the self to be happy.” [v]

The theology of Luke and Paul that God loves every creature does not come easy to us. It is hard to let go of the thought that we need to help ourselves first and then the people who are most like us. It is difficult to imagine that what really matters in life might not be scarce after all. I do not expect that we will always recognize another person’s face as an epiphany, but we can begin to look more closely in each other for the infinite, for the holy, for the meaning that will always exc
[i] This experience of the Other is more central than Rene Descartes’ question about what knowledge can we regard as reliable.

[ii] Emmanuel Levinas, Of God Who Comes to Mind. Tr. Bettina Bergo (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1998), xiv.

[iii] The word “face” refers to, “the way in which the presentation of the other to me exceeds all idea of the other in me Emmanuel Levinas, The Levinas Reader. Tr. Seán Hand (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989), 5.

[iv] Emmanuel Levinas, The Levinas Reader. Tr. Seán Hand (Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1989), 1.

[v] Timber Hawkeye, Buddhist Boot Camp (NY: HarperOne, 2013), 4.

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