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Sunday, August 9
Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sunday, August 9
"Nothing to Fear"
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Scot Sherman
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The other night my wife and I watched the musical Anni–(which seemed right for ‘Fogust’ in SF “The Sun’ll come out …in October!” Something to lift our spirits. I learned that it’s based on a comic strip Little Orphan Annie, begun back in the 20s, written by Harold Gray, a right-wing populist believed poor should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, loathed FDR and the new deal. But when Thomas Mehan adapted it for Broadway in 1970s, he subverted Gray’s politics. Anni is compassionate toward the homeless, and she’s rescued from the murderous orphanage director by none other than FDR himself! Musical ends with a rousing number, “we’ll have a new deal for Christmas!” We ended the day, toes tapping, reminding each other: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself!”

Well, that didn’t last long; we were back to our doomscrolling ways by bedtime, which is why I so need to hear today’s gospel, as someone still learning to live in faith, not fear.

Now, not all fear is bad. Chanequa Walker Barnes is a public theologian and clinical psychologist, just published an essay entitled “The Fear God Gives Us”, distinguishes healthy vs unhealthy fear:

“Unhealthy fear is fear that is afraid of itself, fear that has morphed into anxiety, will even refuse to adapt to clear and present danger and will belittle and attack those who do.”

Think of the irrational and defiant resistance we’re seeing to wearing face masks. She contrasts this with healthy fear, “function of God-given limbic system of the brain, capable of 1500 different biochemical responses to threat! From dilating the pupils, decreasing the sense of pain, even producing more blood clotting platelets in case of injury.” IOW, fear triggers the limbic system, makes your stronger, faster, more focused. What may have evolved to save us from saber tooth tigers, now kicks in when we face stressors like saber toothed economic instability, lack of medical coverage, saber toothed racism, raging wildfires, or a once in a century health crisis storm whose waves are battering the entire world.

It is REASONABLE to be afraid in this world! We just marked the 75th anniversary of nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki this week; the same week former secretary of defense William perry writes in a new book, “we stand today in greater danger of nuclear catastrophe than we faced during the cold war.” Fear is not just REASONABLE, if I weren’t afraid of what’s happening in the world right now, honestly, I’d look into getting a CAT scan.

So what are FDR and Jesus going on about? What is bad fear? The disciples are terrified of a storm, incidentally, their 2nd traumatic boating incident; in the 1st, recorded in Mt 8, there’s a storm and Jesus is asleep; their fear isn’t just for the storm; the fear is that he doesn’t care that they’re going to perish. This time, he sends them away while he deals with the crowd he’s just fed; they find themselves adrift in a storm. He put them there! Now he’s nowhere to be found. They are abandoned and afraid. Then, he comes to them, across the water, saying “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  Take courage because “it is I” the Greek phrase [ego eimi] the words used to translate the divine name revealed to Moses, “I am.” I am! There’s a resonance here that identifies Jesus as the son of God, the one performing and revealing the will of God. Then he tells them not to be afraid, and calms the storm.

We get this same story in Mk and Lk, but only here do we get this detail about Peter’s walk. The late Swiss theologian, Ulrich Luz, said that Peter is the “archetypal disciple”—he’s us, his stumbles are a picture of all our stumbles—the 1st to believe Jesus is the Messiah, he gets the meaning so wrong that he’s rebuked with a “get thee behind me Satan”; called to watch and pray with Jesus at his darkest hour, he falls asleep; bragging that he will never deny Jesus, his hits a triple denial before the cock crows. And here, he steps out in faith, but he gets spooked by the wind and sinks, until Jesus takes him by the hand.

Notice Jesus’ question to Peter. (Jesus is like a good spiritual director, or therapist—just when you want them to explain something they ask you a great question…it’s so exasperating). “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” He uses a word there than can also be translated “hesitate” the kind of personal confusion that prevents action or commitment. This is bad fear—incapacitating fear under which he sinks, under which we sink, because we don’t believe God is present and able to save.

It is a holy moment, not only for Peter for all of them. When Jesus calmed the storm in the 1st story, they ask “who is this?” This time, they worship and confess “Truly you are the son of God.” Matthew is giving us this question as well.

Are you flooded by fear, and is it causing you to doubt God’s love? To hesitate to love? Are you cultivating a mindset of scarcity and anxiety, or of abundance and trust?

Do you see how Jesus dispels the illusion of abandonment that feeds the neurosis—he moves towards Peter, towards us with God’s gracious and loving presence. He invites them into a spirituality that learns to move through fear into the security of God’s loving, mothering arms.

That’s the wisdom that enables Joseph to persevere thru enslavement, resist cynicism and bitterness, forgive his brothers and see God’s purposes for justice at work; it’s the faith that enabled Paul to see past imprisonment, death threats, and rejection to believe that God’s faithfulness was good news for all people.

It’s what gives me courage. Grace Cathedral has been my sponsor for ordination (for which I am incredibly grateful). I’ve entered the transitional diaconate in a season when churches can’t gather physically, in a time where there were already deep, troubling  questions about the future of the church. I don’t have all the answers! But, thanks to this gospel, I know the way forward from little faith, doubt, and fear: it is to fix our eyes on one who is ever present, ever moving towards us in love, saying, “Courage, I’m here, Do not be afraid.” Amen.

Sunday, August 2
Pentecost 9
Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Ellen Clark-King
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I dare not face my brother in the morning,

I dare not look upon the things I’ve done,

Dare not ignore a nightmare’s dreadful warning,

Dare not endure the rising of the sun.

My family, my goods, are sent before me,

I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,

I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,

And my own soul rejects me to the core.

 

This is the first part of British poet Malcolm Guite’s poem on Jacob wrestling with God. It speaks to me at this time of confronting racism, of the fear sparked by Covid 19, of isolation from my faith community. Many of us who are white dare not look upon the things we’ve done, or the things done in our name. Many of us struggle to sleep through the night in these Covid days. Many of us feel from time to time that we are at odds with ourselves, fundamentally out of sorts, fundamentally wrong, that our own soul rejects us to the core.

And in this time of anxiety and separation my own soul cries out, where is God? Usually I find God in the community I worship with every Sunday but that is denied us. Usually I find God in the bread and wine that strengthens my soul, but that is denied us. The places that previously were abundant feel scarce, the promise that we will all be fed with food that satisfies us to our core feels a lie, the God who was present from the beginning of all things feels absent.

 

But in the desert darkness one has found me,

Embracing me, He will not let me go,

Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,

Until he tells me all I need to know,

And blesses me where daybreak stakes it’s claim,

With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.

 

That is how Guite’s poem continues. In the desert darkness one has found me. In the Covid darkness one has found us. The one who finds us even when we are lost from ourselves. The God of Jacob and Rebecca, the God of Paul, the God embodied in Jesus. Not the safe, tame, easy, domestic God we sometimes seem to picture but the wild, dangerous, disturbing, fierce God whose blessing is more like a full on football tackle than a gentle caress.

And God’s blessing is not a simple putting to rights of what was wrong – wrong in ourselves or in our world. And, to be completely honest, I get pissed with God about that. I’m tired. Tired of trying and failing and trying again to be the person I’m supposed to be. Tired of seeing the world suffer and not knowing how to put it right. Tired of hearing the daily rising Covid death toll. Tired of seeing the natural world get slammed by humanity’s greed. I would love God to reach down from some celestial sphere and put me and everything else to rights!

But God’s blessing wounds as well as heals. It’s not a magic spell that sends out a Harry Potter style patronus to chase all our demons away. It’s a calling and a discomfort at the same time as paradoxically being our deepest security and most powerful source of peace.

Its wound is to our complacency, our blindness to wrongs, our willingness to let injustice and suffering continue through our inaction. Its wound is the healing wound made by the unpleasant medicine or the surgeon’s knife – the wound that that causes pain to bring great healing. The wound that may, like Jacob, make us limp for a while but which frees us to move forward.

And it is not all wound. It is not all demand and wrestling and painful action. It is also sweet balm for the weary soul. It is a blessing that tells us, in the midst of all our doubts and weariness, that we are not in this alone. That, as well as being cherished adults called to action, we are beloved children called to rest in out heavenly mother’s arms, as safe as a babe at the breast. It is a blessing that allows us to put down our burdens when we are weary and rest, knowing that God still holds all this world in an embrace of love.

I have found that balm in unlooked for places. In seeing more people wearing masks to keep other people safe – a sign of loving community that echoes the time we could gather on Sundays. In the bright red blossom on the Australian gum tree outside my study window – a small part of the beauty that God entrusts to our care. In the tender trust of being allowed to gaze upon my friend’s beautiful new baby – a sign of the new life and potential that is still being born amongst us.

Jacob wrestled with his God. He did not pretend all was well with himself but opened himself up to wounding and healing. And in that wrestling he received both but, most importantly, the healing to move forward. To see past his shame and tiredness. To see hope in love renewed. To accept the embrace of the God who is strong enough to hold all our anger and fear and who will never fail to bless. And God’s name? God’s name is Love.

 

I dare not look upon the things I’ve done,

Dare not ignore a nightmare’s dreadful warning,

Dare not endure the rising of the sun.

My family, my goods, are sent before me,

I cannot sleep on this strange river shore,

I have betrayed the son of one who bore me,

And my own soul rejects me to the core.

But in the desert darkness one has found me,

Embracing me, He will not let me go,

Nor will I let Him go, whose arms surround me,

Until he tells me all I need to know,

And blesses me where daybreak stakes it’s claim,

With love that wounds and heals; and with His name.

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
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.

Sunday, January 17
Justice, Marriage and the Wedding at Cana
Preacher: The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes
Sermon from the Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sermon from the Sunday 11 a.m. Eucharist

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