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Sunday, July 14
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Thursday 5:15 p.m. Evensong
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Sunday, July 14
How can You Be Happy
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life" (Luke 10)?
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How Can You Be Happy
“Teacher what shall I do to inherit eternal life” (Luke 10)?

Do you ever wonder, “Is there more to life than this? Am I happy?”

1. The composer Philip Glass writes, “In a clear way we are bound to our culture. We understand the world because of the way we were taught to see… because that’s what was installed… into our heads when we were very young. But it is possible to step out of that world.”

This is good news because most often we inhabit a secular environment which assumes in one way or another that there is no god. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor writes about this in his book A Secular Age. He explains that in earlier periods it was impossible not to believe in god. But in this place and time faith in God is only one view among many. This change in perspective does not arise out of any scientific discovery. It is a cultural change and it means that a secular worldview affects everyone whether you are a devout believer or a committed atheist.

This makes it hard to see what God is doing when you live in North America. It means that when it comes to the holy we have what psychologists call inattentional blindness. Because of our predispositions we cannot see what is right in front of us.

This summer I have been reading the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa’s (1888-1935) The Book of Disquiet. The character he invents for this pseudonymous memoir seems overwhelmed by modern, narcissistic despair. He writes, “Beside my pain, all other pains seem false or insignificant. They are the pains of happy people… I’ve noticed that unhappiness is something you see rather than feel, and joy is something you feel rather than see, because by not thinking and not seeing, you do acquire a certain contentment… All unhappiness enters through the window of observation and thought.” This insinuation that thought leads to unhappiness is only part of a larger constellation of assumptions that engulfs us in our secular time.

The theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) writes about this modern, individualistic way of seeing the world. In particular he points out how Friedrich Nietzsche’s (1844-1900) ideal of an übermench or superman is completely opposed to Christ. Barth writes that Nietzsche encounters Christianity as an enemy because it opposes, “the lonely, noble, strong, proud, natural, healthy, wise, outstanding, splendid man, the superman… with [Christianity’s] blatant claim that the only true [person is the one] who is little, poor and sick, the [one] who is weak and not strong, who does not evoke admiration but sympathy, who is not solitary but gregarious.”

Nietzsche described as “slave morality” the Christian insistence on caring for the poor, the wounded and the dispossessed. He writes that the powerful should not be held back by having to care for the weak.

2. In contrast people in the time of Jesus share a sense that the divine infuses everything, that nothing really is apart from God. In this setting a lawyer comes and asks how to inherit eternal life. This is no different than when we, in our individualistic environment, ask how to be happy. He wants to know what this is all about. He wants to know how to live.

We see into the lawyer’s heart. In testing Jesus he does try to show off his own wisdom but still beneath this lies a genuine question. In response, Jesus tells him one of the most famous stories of our tradition. Here in San Francisco we see such suffering on our streets that we live the story of the Good Samaritan nearly every day.

On the road to Jericho thieves strip and beat a man severely. The Greek word is hēmithanē – a hemisphere is half a sphere, hēmithanē means half dead. I’ve taught this story more often to children than adults and they feel horrified when the priest and Levite pass by on the other side of the road.

The story is not really about the unfortunate man, or even the authorities who ignore him. It is about the Samaritan, an enemy of the wounded man’s people. Yet this is the only one who sees him. The whole story turns on a single word splagnizesthai. It means more than simple compassion. This feeling comes from our guts, our bowels, the very deepest part of us. In the New Testament this word is only used for Jesus and other closely related figures in the parables. Our deepest suffering, what we cannot even express in words, Jesus takes on himself.

The Greek word for wound is traumata. Like the Good Samaritan, Jesus binds up our wounds, heals our traumas, leads us to the place where we can recover our life. Because we too often walk by people suffering terribly on the street we cannot feel worthy of Jesus’ invitation.

I don’t know about you but every so often the protective veil of illusion that I am indeed a decent person becomes torn and I see into the truth of my own selfishness. This week I felt this so deeply. This story with the events of our life can reveal us to ourselves. And sometimes we do not like what we see.

I went to my clergy group on Wednesday with these feelings and through God’s grace a colleague read Mary Oliver’s poem “Gethsemane.” It is about the way that the disciples failed to stay up with Jesus on the night before his arrest.

“The grass never sleeps. / Or the rose. / Nor does the lily have a secret eye that shuts until morning. // Jesus said, wait with me. But the disciples slept.// The cricket has such splendid fringe on its feet, / and it sings, have you noticed, with its whole body, / and heaven knows if it even sleeps.”

“Jesus said, wait with me. And maybe the stars did, maybe / the wind wound itself into a silver tree, and didn’t move / maybe / the lake far away, where once he walked as on a blue pavement, / lay still and waited, wild awake. // Oh the dear bodies, slumped and eye-shut, that could not / keep vigil, how they must have wept, / so utterly human, knowing this too / must be part of the story.”

When my colleague read this I felt a huge relief. In a way I joined the human race again. We are all brothers and sisters who fall short. We are all together as people who know what we should have done but somehow couldn’t do it.

So if the power of the story does not lie in making us feel guilty, what does it do? It gives us a vivid picture of what will make us happy, of what we can do to inherit eternal life. It reminds us that love is primarily an action and only secondarily is it a thought or a feeling. It encourages us to start where we are, to begin with little steps like helping when we don’t really feel like it, or being patient with someone who we find difficult, or trying to be less angry when we feel slighted.

Karl Barth believes that the whole purpose of being human is to profoundly encounter God and each other. Every moment, in every thought and action we move closer or further away from that ideal. Quite simply if you want to be happy, find a way to take care of your neighbor – because that’s what we were made to do.

From Jesus’ perspective migrant children at the border are not a distraction from the economy or competing with the people who already live here. Caring for those like them is the reason for human society.

3. As you go out to be Samaritans in the world I want to share the story of one ordinary person who was inspired by Jesus to do something really heroic. On December 11, 1969 at the 11:00 a.m. service with five hundred people in attendance a shy, unassuming, perhaps even awkward thirty-two year old acolyte named Richard Daller stood up to read the Epistle at this lectern. Instead he read a prepared statement that condemned the way that gay people are treated in society. His powerful words about the love of Jesus have helped us come along way show in recognizing the humanity of every person.

You can imagine the tension. Six people walked out, one of whom yelled, “Give up the pulpit. You have no right to do this!” Three quarters of the way through Dean Julian Bartlett walked calmly over and whispered to him. The Dean waited for him to finish and then went into the lectern and stood there silently for a moment before addressing the crowd. He described Daller, “as a faithful member of the church who has served it well.” He drew our attention to the pain that was so powerful that it would lead one of us to do this.

In conclusion it is possible to step out of the world as we were taught to see it. We can be free of the narcissistic individualism focused exclusively on pampering our needy ego. We can begin to see the holiness that stands right in front of us. Real people are not superior, brilliant, independent, beautiful and above everything. The true person is vulnerable and imperfect, not deserving but worthy of love, like you and me.

So begin where you are. Wait with Jesus. Find happiness in your neighbor so that you may live. See how the divine infuses everything. Inherit eternal life.

Sunday, July 7
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
Pentecost 4, 2019
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This is going to sound a bit odd in my English accent, but I want to read you a little excerpt from Alice Walker’s classic book, The Color Purple. This is Shug talking to Celie: ‘Celie, tell the truth, have you ever found God in church? I never did. I just found a bunch of folks hoping for him to show. Any God I ever felt in church I brought in with me. And I think all the other folks did too. They came to church to share God, not to find God.’

Whether you agree with Shug or not her question of where we find God resonates this Sunday. Resonates because of our gospel reading about the 70 disciples being sent to share their knowledge of God in local villages. Resonates because it’s the Sunday after Independence Day when we need to consider where we find God in our national life, as well as in our personal spirituality.

As a child in England I grew up with a very simple, very wrong, understanding of Christian mission. Basically, mission was something you did somewhere foreign – not like France foreign but Asia and Africa foreign, where people looked different and had different customs and worshiped different gods. The point of mission was to make those people more like us – and most especially to tell them all they had been doing wrong religiously and baptize them as good little Anglicans.

So that was how I used to see this gospel passage. That the disciples, those in the know, are taking their knowledge about God to those who don’t know God. But I think I was wrong about this passage, just as I was wrong about the true meaning of mission. Because, let’s be clear, mission is never about taking God to places where God is not. That’s a literal impossibility. The most impossible of all impossibilities! As Shug knows all of us bring God with us wherever we go, the Spirit of God is deep in the heart of every human being created in her image.

So I’ve come to a new understanding of why the disciples are told to shake the dust of unwelcoming villages from their feet. The sin of these villages lies not in rejecting the disciples’ understanding of God but in rejecting the disciples. The sin is their failure to see God’s presence in the stranger as well as in themselves. The denial of another’s full humanity because they see God differently from you is something we need to shake from our feet and from our society.

For when we fail to recognize that God is present in an individual or a society then we are free to demonize them. We can judge them less than human, less than us, exploitable and expendable. And then see all the evil we can do. We can enslave, we can conquer, we can massacre: often shamefully using our Christian faith as an excuse. And to name names, we Brits and white Americans have been at the heart of this dehumanization of others.

We see this evil still tainting this nation, even so long after we have abolished slavery and, at least partially, recognized the rights of indigenous peoples. It lives on in the everyday racism we see around us – police violence against black youths, the disproportionate poverty of African American communities, the fact that we talk about Asian Americans and African Americans and Native Americans but European Americans are just ‘Americans’. There is a soul sickness at the heart of the United States and its name is racism. We need to see this so we can finally change it.

But all is not ugliness in this country, there is also great beauty. There is infinite beauty in each one of us sitting in the pews, in each human being finding God in their own way. To quote Shug from The Color Purple again: ‘But if God love me, Celie, I don’t have to do all that [going to church]. Unless I want to. There’s a lot of other things I can do that I speck God likes. Like what I ast. Oh she says. I can lay back and just admire stuff. Be happy. Have a good time.’

‘I can lay back and just admire stuff.’ I can lay back and look at the beauty of the Pacific Ocean or the grasses caught by the wind on the Marin headlands. I can admire all the many people in this country who believe in an ethic of equality and personal freedom, who approach the world with a spirit of optimism and strive for self and societal improvement. I can look into the eyes of my friends and see the gaze of the divine looking back at me.

We need to take all this beauty, to gather it up, to embrace it, to wonder at it and to give thanks for it. We need to let it give us refreshment and hope, to let it seep into our pores, to let it embrace us as part of itself. We need to see God in it, to see God in one another, to see God in ourselves, to see God in the ones who see God differently. When we do this we find new courage to live into the beauty. Not because we become blind to the real ugliness of the world but because we are able to confront that ugliness from a place of love.

I’m sure you all know the hymn Amazing Grace and the story behind its author, John Newton. How he was that most despicable of human beings, a slave trader, and how he repented and became a tireless advocate for abolition. And you may think that he wrote Amazing Grace after that repentance. But he didn’t. When he wrote that hymn he was still chaining and selling and brutalizing human beings. The freedom he sang of was freedom from the simpler sins of lust or envy or anger. As Francis Spufford writes in his book Unapologetic ‘it’s rather as if a [Nazi] death-camp guard had had a moral crisis, but over cheating his colleagues at poker, and then continued to come to work stoking the ovens, while vowing shakily to be a better person.’ p37

But that hymn was the beginning of change for John Newton not its end. As he came to see God’s presence in his life so he began to see that life for what it was. Having opened his heart a fraction to the light of divine grace he was finally able to see the true ugliness of the whole inhuman trade. And this opening of our hearts to God is what I hope we do in church each week. Open our hearts to the light of divine grace so we can see ugliness and discover beauty and be transformed. And so we can bring God’s kingdom a little nearer to these United States.

This grace of God is what we come to church to both find and to share. As Shug says, we come to church to share God and to find God in ourselves and in one another. We bring God with us because it is impossible for us to do otherwise. But we also find God here welcoming us in the sacraments we share, in the bread we break and the wine we drink – in the food that transforms us into the body of Christ. And we find a deeper tie than any of creed or nationality or even race, a tie of humanity created and beloved by God, forgiven and graced by God, one people under heaven, one people on God’s beautiful earth.

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Sunday, November 22
Are you the King? Pilate’s Question and Ours
Preacher: The Rev. Jude Harmon
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sermon from Sunday’s 11 a.m. Eucharist.

Sunday, November 15
The Place Where We Are Right
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds encouraging one another as you see the Day approaching" (Heb. 10).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

It is hard. It is hard to understand what happened in Baghdad, Beirut and Paris this week. Ordinary people like you and I casually went to see friends at a stadium, at a funeral, in a concert hall, cafes, restaurants and streets. [1] Total strangers indiscriminately killed them. I guess that is the point of this kind of violence. One person shows how intensely he cares about politics by murdering someone who has almost nothing to do with his grievances. The very arbitrariness of the act is intended to strike fear in the hearts of whole groups of people.

Do not forget that each of the ones we lost was a perfectly unique child of God. Each was filled with beauty, grace, goodness and potential that came into being just once in the history of the whole universe. Their mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, children and friends will never forget Friday. They will never be quite okay ever again.

We find ourselves in that moment when we have to choose what events like this will mean to us. Again we have to decide what we will do, how we will live and who we will be.

Twenty years before the birth of Jesus, King Herod the Great began reconstructing the Temple in Jerusalem. It cost many fortunes and became one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The Temple stood on a great platform of more than 900 by 1,500 feet. This made it twice as large as the Roman Forum with all its temples. It was four times as large as the Athenian Acropolis and its Parthenon. The retaining walls included forty foot long white stones the remains of which you can still see today. [2]

The ancient historian Josephus writes that the 150 foot square front of the temple had so many gold and silver decorations that on sunny days it nearly blinded anyone who looked at it. Pilgrims approaching the temple could see it from miles and miles away.

You can imagine how this might strike one of Jesus’ disciples. A peasant from rural Galilee would have been amazed. He would regard the temple as God’s dwelling place at the center of the world, the very symbol of the Holy One’s connection to the people. How shocking it is for Jesus to respond to his awe saying, “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Mk. 13).

Later Jesus goes on to warn “Beware that no one leads you astray… When you hear wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed; this must take place but the end is still to come.” [3]

As Christians we have to decide what these words will mean to us. I think that there are three obvious options. First, one might interpret this passage simply as Jesus’ prediction about the Jewish Temple. In the beginning of August in the year 70 Titus conquered the city of Jerusalem and destroyed the temple. We could regard Jesus simply as someone who understood human nature and groups well enough to make accurate predictions about the future.

Second, many other Christians believe that these statements are about the end of the world, when everything will be destroyed to make room for God’s new creation. Some American Christians make predictions about the end. They let their imaginations run wild taking them far beyond what the Bible actually says.

I do not know if the point is that Jesus accurately predicted the results of the First Jewish-Roman War or how the world will end. I do believe that there is a kind of ongoing destruction over time that happens as God’s Word continues to permeate human experience. God’s Kingdom breaks down every structure, every human institution, every form of oppression until we are free. Jesus unleashed a power into our world and we still can barely fathom all of its implications.

I wonder if you can answer this question: what was the most controversial Christian doctrine at the beginning of the church during the first centuries? [4] From those years we have different historical accounts of what their Roman neighbors thought about Christian teachings. So what do you think offended them the most? You might be thinking about conflicts over whether Jesus was essentially divine or human, miracles, Mary, divine healing, the body and blood of Christ, infant baptism or bodily resurrection.

According to the Romans the most radical and controversial Christian doctrine was the idea that every person matters. Even after twenty centuries of proclaiming this truth it still is incredibly controversial. ISIS does not believe it. Our modern democracies only partly believe it. Even today the spirit unleashed by Jesus leads to surprising, radical revolutions.

This weekend Alan Jones and I were talking about the tendency to romanticize Greek and Roman culture. Alan cites a letter from Hilarion, an ancient Roman man who moved away from his wife and child for work. The author (a laborer at Oxyrhnychos) clearly cares about his wife. At the end of the letter he tenderly writes “You told Aphrodisias, ‘Do not forget me.’ How can I forget you? I beg you therefore not to worry.” But he also writes about what she should do if it turns out she is pregnant. He orders her, “If it is a boy let it live. If it is a girl expose it” (P.Oxy 4.744). There was no place in his heart for a girl, or for the idea that his wife could have any voice in this matter.

The Romans enjoyed watching people get torn apart by wild animals and gladiators. They owned slaves. The family patriarch had absolute control over those under his authority in matters of sex, life and death. The Romans would crucify hundreds of slaves along the road just to intimidate the others. But Alan pointed out that what most offended the Emperor Julian (331-363) was that in a Christian assembly a senator might find himself sitting next to a slave.

In this context the idea that who you are as citizen or foreigner, free or slave, male or female, rich or poor is of secondary importance to being a child of God – this idea is still revolutionary. Human beings have not completely discovered exactly what this means. We are not very attractive and certainly do not deserve it but God is madly in love with us. Alan said that the monks at The College of the Resurrection (Mirfield) talked about “how disgusting it is that God so lacks taste as to really love everyone.”

David Bentley Hart (1965-) is a contemporary theologian who writes about the contrast between Christian thought and modern atheist philosophers like Friedrich Nieztsche (1844-1900). Hart points out that in the modern postmodern world many sophisticated people believe that there is nothing more than power. When you probe how they think and talk you will discover that they believe that power is what we all long for, that power and those who have it write the stories that ultimately determines what is true. For them, beneath power, there is nothing more than power.

Hart writes, “the difference between two narratives: [is] one… finds the grammar of violence inscribed upon the foundation stone of every institution and hidden within the syntax of every rhetoric, and [the other] claims that within history a way of reconciliation has been opened that leads beyond, and ultimately overcomes, all violence.” [5]

I love what Hart writes later. He says, “We are music moved to music… partaking in the inexhaustible goodness of God… the restless soul, immersed in the spectacle of God’s glory, is drawn without break beyond the world to the source of its beauty, to embrace the infinite.” [6] The twentieth century writer Dorothy Sayers describes Dante’s Divine Comedy as the drama of the soul’s choice between good and evil. She writes that we put ourselves with God or far from God, and where we are tells us who we are. To quote Alan once again, “we become what we are by choosing and the Good News is that God chooses us.”

Mahatma Gandhi says my religion is kindness. The New Testament states that “God is love” (1 Jn. 4:8, 16). Every moment we have the chance to choose love, to choose God.

So how will you live in that love? How will you prevent yourself from becoming another kind of terrorist, that is, a sort of mirror image of the terrorist – someone who merely differs in one’s belief about who needs to be protected and who is dispensable?

People who try to be citizens of God’s kingdom begin with humility, with letting God be God.

The Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai (1924-2000) expresses this in his poem “The Place Where We Are Right.”

“From the place where we are right

Flowers will never grow

In the spring.

The place where we are right

Is hard and trampled

Like a yard.

But doubts and loves

Dig up the world

Like a mole, a plow.

And a whisper will be hear in the place

Where the ruined

House once stood.” [7]

It is hard. It is hard to understand what happened in Paris this week. It is difficult for us to move from the place where we are right, the place of easy answers, the place that is hard and trampled. It is hard when we feel like our world is being dug up, and not one stone will be left on another.

But a way of reconciliation has been opened. And we can hear the whisper in the place where the ruined house once stood.

Yes, we are music moved by music as the inexhaustible goodness of God draws us to embrace the infinite. So let us, by choosing, become what we are and live in God’s love.
[1] Adam Nossiter, Aurelien Breeden and Nicola Clark, “Paris Attacks Were an ‘Act of War’ by ISIS, Hollande Says,” The New York Times, 14 November 2015. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/15/world/europe/paris-terrorist-attacks.html?action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=span-abc-region&region=span-abc-region&WT.nav=span-abc-region

[2] These three paragraphs from A. Katherine Grieb, “Living by the Word,” The Christian Century, 11 November 2015, 20.

[3] “[T]he sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven” (Mk. 13).

[4] I’m very indebted to conversations with Alan Jones (November 12-14, 2015) for most of this sermon from Hilarion to Yehuda Amichai.

[5] David Bentley Hart, The Beauty of the Infinite: The Aesthetics of Christian Truth (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing, 2003), 2.

[6] Ibid., 195.

[7] http://daysofawe.net/shebotzodkim.htm

Sunday, November 8
Hiding Death
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on" (Mk. 12).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“She out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mk. 12).

Your heart beats seventy-two times per minute for 1,440 minutes a day. That is 103,680 beats per day, 37,843,200 beats per year, 2,936,632,320 in the average person’s lifetime. [i] This small part of your body, this fist sized piece of flesh, can never rest. Without it we quickly die. Life is precarious and fragile. Death lies so near to our bodies, and yet strangely, so far from our thoughts.

When the Buddha was born, prophets told his father that he would either be the world conqueror or the world savior. As a king himself the Buddha’s father longed for his son to be a conqueror. But he knew that this would only be possible if his son never awakened.

So the father gave his son everything – unimaginable wealth, palaces, music, art and luxury. But to prevent his son from waking up spiritually, the father hid from him all evidence of poverty, disease, old age and death. He knew that if his son never experienced suffering he would never gain spiritual insight.

In his secret visits to the town outside the palace walls the young Buddha saw a diseased person, a decaying corpse and a religious ascetic. These experiences in themselves were not enough to awaken him spiritually but they did provoke him to leave home and follow the spiritual path. This led ultimately to the bodhi tree under which he sat when he attained enlightenment. The Buddha discovered a new relation to suffering.

In many respects our culture functions much like the Buddha’s father. It hides death and suffering from us. Our hospitals have special corridors and elevators so that we do not ever have to encounter a dead body. Modern American life is so segregated by age that unless young people are part of a church they will not even know an old person who is not related to them. We hide death from ourselves and we are unenlightened.

This week I was talking about how sad it is to see severely mentally people on the streets in this city. It breaks my heart that we cannot do more to take care of them, to provide them with food, clothes, healthcare and safe shelter. At the same time I wonder if seeing them on the street in part upsets us because so much of the other suffering in life has been hidden.

Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924) composed his requiem between 1887 and 1890. Someone has called it a “lullaby of death.” The beauty of this work allows us to hold death in a different way. It reminds us of those who went before us so that we can more honestly consider what it is that we are leaving behind.

Death reminds us that we have choices when it comes to deciding how to live. In the gospel Jesus compares two kinds of people. These are really two paths each of us take at different times.

On the one hand he warns, “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues” (Mk. 12). These are the people who crave attention and respect. They long to be regarded as superior to other. All of us have an ugly voice in our thoughts that looks for ways that we can feel offended.

In the readings for Ash Wednesday Jesus emphtaically teaches us to do good things for their own sake and not “in order to be seen” by others (Mt. 6:1). We should linger a little over the Greek word for “best seats.” It is protokathedrias, literally the first chair. A cathedral is built around that first chair. This hierarchy is a pretty deep part of cathdral culture and we need to be especially conscious of it. We should not be mistake all human life has variations of the first class lounge.

In contrast to this Jesus commends a widow who puts a few pennies into the temple treasury. This woman does not care about looking good. She gives because it is the right thing to do and she gives generously. Jesus says, “For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (Mk. 12). In Greek she gives “holon ton bion.” We know the word bios from our “biology.” This widow not holding back anything, gives her whole life.

In Jewish theology the word yetzer refers to two competing tendencies, inclinations or impulses. One yetzer, yetzer ra is to selfishness, pride, the desire to satisfy one’s own needs without thinking of others. This is not evil, It is merely the tendency that makes us long for special treatment and honors. The second yetzer is yetzer tov. It leads us to empathy, compassion and righteousness. The purpose of God’s law is to remind us which of these tendencies we should encourage. [ii]

I have a friend named Russ Toll who seems to always live out of his yetzer tov. Like the widow he does not hold anything back but shares his holon ton bion, his life, to every noble activity he undertakes. This hulking man who seems so gentle with his toddler and infant sons served as a tank commander in Iraq. He saw terrible things there and still feels haunted by the friends he lost.

He once talked about visiting the body of a fellow soldier in a funeral home. “The strangest part is, you’re looking at his face and thinking about all your memories, and a smell hits you. It’s not the burning grass, rain, livestock smell of Iraq, but old formaldehyde. It really blurs your memory and your reality.” [iii]

Russ rarely talks about this pain. These days he is a doctoral student in neuroscience at Stanford. God has done so much to heal him. Russ’s message now is simply, “If I were to give a recommendation for what people should do on Veteran’s Day, I would say to take five minutes to just sit on a bench somewhere and look around you.” See what God has made and what what those before have added to creation. Give thanks.

This week I hope that the fear of death will not prevent you from coming closer to enlightment, to knowing how blessed this life God gives is. I pray that in a moment of sanctity between you and God you discover something worth giving your life to. I pray that your yesher tov prevails over your yesher ra.

I pray that in the busyness of these days you have the chance to listen to your heart.

[i] Assuming a life expectancy of 77.6 years.

[ii] From Jack Crossley and http://www.jewfaq.org/human.htm

[iii] Niuniu Teo, “Veterans Day Vignettes,” The Stanford Daily, 11 November 2012.

Sunday, November 1
Teach them Gratitude
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"See I am making all things new" (Rev. 21). "Unbind him and let him go" (Jn. 11). "Let us be glad and rejoice" (Isa. 25).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“See I am making all things new” (Rev. 21). “Unbind him and let him go” (Jn. 11). “Let us be glad and rejoice” (Isa. 25).

What does God want for you and for the children we baptize today? What stands in our way, how are we constrained or bound up, unable to be free?

My friend the Bible scholar Herman Waetjen has a wonderful interpretation of that moment in the Gospel of John when Jesus says, “Unbind him, and let him go.” [1] After Lazarus has been in the grave for four days, after he has been brought back to life, he still needs help from the community of people who care for him. He needs to be unbound. At many points in our life we do too.

For me religion is not so much about dogma or doctrine. It is not a requirement to think or believe certain things. It does not oblige you to feel sorry for what you have done in the past, nor is it mostly a promise to make better choices in the future. Instead, at its very heart, faith frees us. It is a gropu of people who help each other to become unbound. This happens in the experience of thankfulness to the Holy One, to the power which brings us into being and sustains us in love.

Religion at its best gives us both a direction to be thankful and practice in cultivating gratitude. In this way faith helps make it possible to receive the gifts that otherwise might be invisible to us.

Today we celebrate the Feast of All Saint’s. We give thanks for all the people who came before us, for those who personally nurtured and sheltered us spiritually. We even bless God for those forgotten people who wrote scriptures, created art and built sacred spaces like this so that we would know God. We bless those who in their lives and words preserved the knowledge of God that enriches us.

So the short answer to my first question is that God wants us to be happy. Strangely enough we lay claim to this in our gratitude. I am not alone in this conviction.

Six years ago I first met Christine Carter a sociologist at UC Berkeley. [2] She taught me that for decades social scientists studied individual and social problems like mental illness and persistent poverty. For years they were so dedicated to solving questions about how to heal suffering that they did not ask about what conditions make people thrive. Then they realized that not suffering is different than being happy. And so less than twenty years ago they began studying the causes of human happiness.

This research led them to the conclusion that less than half of our happiness comes from our individual genetic predisposition. In other words the the choices we make have a huge influence on our sense of satisfaction and joy. We can establish habits that bring out our better selves. We can live the stories that give meaning and help us to make the world better.

Christine claims that happiness is not an emotion but a skill that we can learn. Happiness is not something that simply happens to us when we are lucky. It is more like a muscle that we keep strong through exercise. It is a learned behavior, that arises out of habits we decide to cultivate.

The practice of gratitude – to family, strangers and God – lies at the heart of happiness. I do not know how she measures these things but Christine claims that people actively practicing gratitude feel better than others. They are 20% happier. They exercise more, sleep better, and are more likeable. They are more supportive, attentive, persistent, stronger, and socially intelligent. They have a higher sense of self worth.

Christine has very practical suggestions for how to cultivate gratitude. For instance, she says that having meals together as a family is more important than reading to your child. If you are a single person, look for ways to break bread with other people, maybe even those who you meet here. Over meals we weave the stories that make sense of our lives. These can be gripes about minor ways that others have inadvertently offended us or life giving accounts about how God continues to bless us.

For entirely secular reasons Christine recommends that people say grace together before meals. Our brains are giant filters of the world and saying out loud what we are thankful for helps us to attend to blessings that we might easily overlook. When we thank God our blessings become more real to us.

We live in a crazy time and place. Sometimes it feels like we are trapped in the abundance paradox. That is when the more you have, the more disappointment you feel when you don’t get what you want. In many respects gratitude is the opposite of entitlement. It leads to the kind of compassion that social scientists say is so close to happiness that your body reacts to it in almost exactly the same way.

Even more important, gratitude is the way we live in the presence and reality of God. I’m new here and received very stern instructions that with all the baptisms I should preach for only half as long as I usually do.

But before closing I want to tell you about my favorite film. It is called Here and Now. The trailer says, “The average wave lasts six seconds. The rest of the day is spent getting there. This is that day.” The producer Taylor Steele enlisted more than 25 surfers and photographers to record a single twenty-four hour period on May 2, 2012. In hundreds of of seconds long clips we see the surfers sleeping, waking, eating, training, making music, laughing with friends in places around the world.

Two of them arrive by boat at a remore location on the south shore of Maui to find almost no waves but good fishing. Others compete in a Southern California contest. Another surfs barreling, left-breaking waves alone just beyond the woods in British Columbia. I love the idea that at every moment somewhere someone is riding a wave.

It took me a long time to realize it but surfing is not even about the waves. [3] On one day it might be a line of pelicans coming through the fog, or the light on the water at dawn or a dolphin in the coolness of the water at the beginning of a hot summer day, or the way a million rain drops can seem suspended above the ocean in the semi-darkness of a December day.

People ask me if I write sermons out there. I don’t. All I think about is getting into position for the next wave. The most important thing in surfing is the present moment. It is being able to see and receive the gift that God is giving you right then. It is the practice of gratitude that opens the door to the mystery of our being.

I want to conclude with a quote from the theologian Kallistos Ware. He says, “It is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question, but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” [4]

“Let us be glad and rejoice” (Isa. 25)!

[1] “Lazarus has responded to Jesus’ bellowing summons, “Come forth.” But in order to be free he needs the gracious aid and helping hand of those around him. Jesus’ liberation from the death of the living and the death of the dying requires a two-fold response: the act of Lazarus himself to hear and exit, but also the caring involvement of his community.” Herman Waetjen, The Gospel of the Beloved Disciple: A Work in Two Editions (NY: T&T Clark, 2005), 283.

[2] Christine Carter, “Raising Happiness,” Lecture at Christ Episcopal Church, Los Altos, California, 20 October 2009.

[3] I learned from Mike Lawler that surfing is not just about the physical act of riding waves. It is about history, culture, music, science, meteorology, art and style that surfers pass down between the generations.

[4] Cited in Donald Schell, “Treasures New and Old, Tradition and Gospel-Making: Reflections on Principles Learned at St. Gregory of Nyssa, and How These Principles Might Apply in Other Contexts,” Forthcoming lecture at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, November 2015, 8.

Sunday, October 25
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Canon Dr. Randal Gardner
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sermon from Sunday’s 11 a.m. Eucharist.

Sunday, September 13
Take Up Your Cross
Preacher: The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes
Sermon from Sunday's 6pm Service
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