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Sunday, July 5
Independence in our Interdependence
Preacher: The Rev. Heather Erickson
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Independence in our Interdependence

 

Last week I was on the phone with my grandmother. She’s 93. She’s lived alone since my grandfather died a couple of years ago, and in the past 3 and a half months I’m pretty sure she’s only left her house once. I’m grateful she’s safe. I’m grateful for her friend who’s been bringing her groceries. I’m grateful for my family who have been by for physically distanced porch visits. My grandmother asked me, “When will this all end?” And I wanted to be there with her, to see her in real life and give her a hug. When will this all end?

It’s been 112 days, I think, since I left my office on a Monday afternoon for what I thought would be 3 weeks of working at home. Back in March I remember talking with a friend about how resilient human beings are, and that we can do anything for a short period of time. The next few months are kind of a blur of emails, zoom meetings, distance learning schedules, some complicated art and engineering projects, lots of hand-washing and a drive-through preschool graduation. Right now, in my household it feels like things are on hold – there are promises that playdates and birthday parties and piano lessons will happen at some point when it’s “safe” – when will this all end?

It seems like something has recently shifted, though. I’m still confident in our resilience. And now I’m even more grateful for our ability to adapt and endure. And I’m frustrated with our short-sightedness and inability to take responsibility, to work together. The work of endurance is hard, though, especially amidst the uncertainty and the absence of predictability.

We’re also in this constant process of letting go – of plans, of hopes, of assumptions and expectations, of the illusion of control, of a naïveté about the systems of dominance that have shaped our modern world and perpetuated horrendous oppression and injustice.

Yesterday was Independence Day, a 4th of July unlike any other, where many of us held the celebration of the Declaration of Independence and its promises of equality, and the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, alongside the hypocrisy and abomination of chattel slavery and its effects which continue to reverberate today.

Frederick Douglass’ gave an important speech in Corinthian Hall to white members of the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on this day in 1852, 168 years ago, in which he says, “What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July?  I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” These words were offered about a decade before the Civil War, and as the Black Lives Matter Movement reminds us, are still relevant today.

Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, in an article published in The Atlantic last year, offers a lens through which to honor the 4th of July. He writes, “We should be celebrating our disobedience, turbulence, insolence and discontent about inequities and injustices in all forms.”

In her book, Disunity in Christ, Dr. Christena Cleveland writes about power and privilege and she offers an insightful reminder of “Christ’s cross-cultural, privilege-abdicating example in the incarnation.”

The incarnation. The Holy One, birthed into this world through Mary, the Theotokos, the God-bearer.

I keep thinking that we are in the midst of birthing something new. I have hope that we are in the process of shaping a new way of being a country, and a new way of understanding and sharing power. I believe the church is being transformed as we discover new ways of connecting with each other and expressing our life in Christ. Education is changing. For many the way in which we work is changing. Our world has fundamentally shifted, and – we’re not quite there yet. The future is not quite clear. The process of laboring a new creation into the world is not usually easy, either. From my experience, there’s an intensity to it, and uncertainty. Each labor unfolds in its own way and there’s an ease that comes with working with it, responding to it and following its rhythms. During my first experience of labor, I remember reaching a point and thinking – I can’t take much more. I’m not going to be able to sustain this. The intensity is too much, and it’s constant, and I need a break but there’s no way to pause this process. It was happening whether I was ready for it or not. And just when it felt like more than I could bear, it was over. And my life has never been the same since. During my second experience of labor I remember all of a sudden realizing that I was holding back, I was fighting against it and while the intensity didn’t diminish, once I chose to work with it, there was an ease, an acceptance of the unfolding experience and once again, my life has never been the same since.

Imagine this new creation. What does it look like to you? Jesus saw a world where the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. Imagine a world where everyone has enough food to eat and a bed to sleep in every night. Imagine a world where we recognize our interdependence and put our neighbors’ needs ahead of our own. Imagine a world where everyone has enough. Imagine a world where justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.

We have a responsibility to each other, and we’re in this for the long-haul. Leaning into the discomfort, renewing our minds, opening our hearts, taking action that makes our interconnectedness – our interdependence – visible, this work is tremendous and important. It is holy. And I believe that this work will change us, it will transform us, and we will become a new creation, a beloved community. This work will also exhaust us and deplete us if we approach it alone. Jesus invites us: Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

Years ago, when I first started paying attention to this invitation, I imagined picking up a harness of sorts that I expected to be heavy, only to discover it became lighter as I lifted it up onto my shoulders. Then at some point, I began imagining a yoke built for two, with Jesus shouldering one side as I took my place next to him, teammates working together side by side, knowing that when I grew tired, he would be there to support the weight and carry me through. Recently I’ve been imagining a different kind of yoke – one that doesn’t make any sense or seem in the least bit practical – it extends out in every direction connecting person to person – a bit like how I’ve been envisioning church during these last few months of virtual gathering –  a network of sorts, each of us connected to each other. An interdependent chosen family of people linked together. There are so many of us, connected in all directions, the yoke stretching beyond the limits of our vision. It’s massive and yet there’s a lightness, an ease and flexibility to it, because it’s the body of Christ. The church – where together, with Christ moving in us and through us and among us, we can do far more than we could imagine.

Sunday, June 28
Pride Sunday
Preacher: The Rev. Altagracia Perez-Bullard, PhD
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From today’s Psalm:

1  I will sing of your steadfast love, My God [O Lord], forever;

with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.

2  I declare that your steadfast love is established forever;

your faithfulness is as firm as the heavens.  AMEN.

 

Good Morning and Happy Pride Day!

If this were any other Pride Day, this would be the point where we would have hooting and hollering, we’d be cheering with the festiveness this day has come to represent for the community of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, and other sexual minorities, also known as the LGBTQIA+ community.  I trust some of you are shouting in your homes, and I know that my heart is filled with memories of Pride Days gone by…especially my first Pride March: the beauty and the spectacle, the empowerment and of course, the music and dancing.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the first Pride March, the Christopher Street Liberation Day March, held on the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising in New York City. And although for all of our well-beings, we are not having Pride Marches, we are indeed witnessing, and some of us participating in various ways, in the ongoing struggle, the ongoing movement for human rights, as people march in the streets across the nation and the world, demanding that black and brown bodies be treated with the dignity and respect that is the right of every person.

And for those who know history, we understand that the demand for equal rights and protection under the law being made today is another manifestation of that demand made in the Village 51 years ago. The Stonewall Inn catered to the most marginalized in the gay community, a description that sounds painfully familiar: people of color, gender non-conforming folks, homeless youth and transgender people, who survived on the streets hustling what they could, even their own bodies. Faced with yet another violent police raid, where the primary transgression was their very existence as LGBTQ persons, the queens rose up, as others before them sat-in, and fought back, leading to three days of rioting, which galvanized and organized LGBT societies into activists. Today we remember and celebrate Marsha P. Johnson, who was part of the Stonewall Riots, an advocate for justice and equal rights, and Sylvia Rivera who together with Marsha established STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) to help homeless young drag queens, gay youth and trans women.

They represent a prophetic move embodying God’s truth, a self-evident truth declared although not yet realized in this nation’s founding documents, that all “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”  And as Jeremiah attests to, and we ourselves have witnessed, a prophetic word is not welcome when it calls us to account for our transgressions against each other, when it calls out injustice and unfaithfulness to God’s word and will for us. False prophets may declare prosperity and peace, but while God’s children, and especially the least of these, the marginalized and the oppressed, are crushed with reckless disregard for the sanctity of their lives, we will know no peace. No justice, no peace.

For those of us who believe, who know and understand the wisdom and the power of Jesus, who seek to live in a Kin-dom of abundant and everlasting life, where justice and righteousness are the watch words and peace and love are enjoyed, we have our marching orders here in the 10th chapter of Matthew. I invite you to read it to understand the times in which we are living and the call of God to live as faithful disciples, students of the Good News.

In today’s gospel reading we are both encouraged and challenged. Jesus after describing the hard road that awaits those who follow him, encourages them, reminding them that as they seek to speak and practice justice, heal and care for the wounded, be and learn from the marginalized, they will be a blessing and they will be blessed. They will be blessed by those who welcome them, providing hospitality, however basic, even offering them a drink of water, which in the desert is no small thing.

The gospel lists this triad: the prophets, the righteous and the little ones, and they can describe different members of the community, but they also describe the interrelated aspects of our discipleship. One scholar describes them this way: the prophets bring “proclamation and miraculous demonstrations of divine power,” the righteous demonstrate an “enduring pursuit of justice and of the healing and restoration of relationships,” and the little ones, the vulnerable, discounted, devalued, show that this whole enterprise is God’s mission, we are “wholly dependent on God’s power and presence.” (Saunders)

That last group, the little ones, might come as a surprise. We might have expected “the wise ones,” or “the holy ones,” (Saunders) but instead it reflects reality, how God’s mission is lived out in the world: change does not, and never has come from some hero, some eloquent speaker, some person in power. What was true in 1857 is true in 2020, in the words of Frederick Douglass: “Who would be free, themselves must strike the blow.” Or in the words of June Jordan, “we are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Here lies the encouragement and the challenge. Reading this gospel in today’s context, we are invited to understand that this is about us coming and going. That we are to live into our call to be prophets, speak truth, show miraculous power, what God can do through us; to be righteous and give ourselves to the enduring pursuit of justice and healing; to be the little ones, vulnerable, learning, growing. And that although it will not be easy we will be welcomed and refreshed, those who will minister to us will be blessed as we are blessed by their ministrations.

But we are also invited to understand that we are called to welcome and minister to the prophets, the righteous and the little ones. Those who have felt the movement of the Spirit and are encouraged and bold, demanding their humanity be recognized and accorded the dignity and justice that are their inalienable right as the children of God.

Welcome those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement, who seek justice from the systems that are sworn to serve and protect, welcome those involved in the Poor People’s Movement, who seek to unite us across lines of difference as we demand good and just salaries, health care, education, environmental care from institutions created to serve the common good, welcome those who continue the fight for LGBTQ rights, because the right to marry, and now, thank God, the right to work without suffering discrimination, is only the beginning of insuring equal rights.

We are to welcome these prophets, these righteous, these little ones:  Not tolerate, and not suspect, or judge, or fear, but welcome, because we who seek to live into God’s will understand that by welcoming these strangers, we may be entertaining angels unaware. (Hebrews 13:2)

In these welcoming and refreshing encounters we, “us and them,” we, will be blessed and we will be a blessing. These relationships will strengthen us, feed us, and help us to grow. Together we will learn to live more fully into God’s call for us, that we would be fully human, humane in our treatment of one another and of all God’s creation, that we might have life and have it more abundantly. (John 10:10).

So today we remember and celebrate those who have gone before us and all those who journey with us in seeking justice. Let us remember and celebrate our call to be righteous and prophetic little ones, relying on the power of God to transform us and through us the world. Let us welcome one another, and keep the feast. May the party begin!

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

 

Sunday, December 20
Sunday 11 a.m. Sermon
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus
Sermon from Sunday's 11 a.m. Eucharist
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Sermon from Sunday’s 11 a.m. Eucharist

Sunday, December 13
The Nearness of God
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!... The Lord is near" (Phil. 4).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!… The Lord is near” (Phil. 4).

These are the days. These are the days of fear and blame. Many Americans live in fear of terrorists, that the next victims of a mass shooting will be someone they know or love. This week one of our presidential candidates proposed that we should refuse to let Muslims into the country. As a result, he immediately surged forward in the polls. This in turn led to even more fear, that our country would lose sight of its most central values, that we would become like the Nazi state or revert to the racist policies of the Japanese internment camp era.

Here in the city at the center of the modern gold rush people worry about losing their homes as landlords look for opportunities to evict low-rent tenants. We worry about the big companies that bring so much money to the Bay Area. We feel anxious that San Francisco will lose the diversity we love because of income inequality.

I had another conversation with a friend who worries about the economy in the rest of the country. She points out that large numbers of relatively young unskilled laborers are on permanent disability. As people who are likely to never hold a regular job again, they face a terrible crisis of meaning. In Hale County, Alabama one in four working-age adults is on disability. [1] My friend worries about the dangers to family life and our democratic republic of having large regions of the country with this kind of chronic unemployment. Perhaps fears about politics and the economy are merely a relief from our more personal anxieties.

As people of faith how do we move beyond fear, and fearful reactions to fear? How do we step out of the polarization, the blaming, the unkind ways we ridicule and shame each other? How do we move decisively into the presence of God?

To the church at Philippi which he loves so deeply, the Apostle Paul writes very simply. “Rejoice!… The Lord is near. Do not be anxious” (Phil. 4). But practically speaking how can we do this? This morning I offer three different but related answers from a mystic, a philosopher and a poet.

1. The twentieth century Episcopal priest and spiritual teacher Alan Watts (1915-1973) liked to talk about ways that we could imagine the nearness of God. He points out that human beings are stuck. Our ability to think about the world, to use the symbols that make reasoning possible, also leaves us distant from the world and from ourselves.

Rationality bestows on us enormous power over our situation but it naturally leads to a kind of anxiety. It gives rise to the question, “Have I thought enough?” or “How do I know that I know?” “Who is the “I” lying behind all of our observations? Who is this silent witness, this unamed namer of reality?

Trying to understand ourself and the world sometimes feels a little like looking at a mirror reflected in a mirror. The line of our increasingly smaller selves stretches out into infinity. [2]

This leads to a persistent illusion, a kind of alienation from the world that at times seems impossible to overcome. And so we act like powerless victims, as if the world merely happens to us. We come to think of ourselves as not belonging in the world, as if we were some kind of cosmic accident, when we should be experiencing the cosmos as the drama of God.

Yoga classes in my old church begin with an invocation. “Om namah shivaya gurave. Saccidanda murtaye…” It means “I open my heart to the power of God who lives in, and around us, as being – consciousness and joy.” [3] Saccidananda comes from Sat or that which is. Chit means that which has consciousness. Andanda is joy or bliss. For a devout Hindu, at the very structure of the world and consciousness is joy. Jews and Christians believe this too. In the Book of Genesis after each act of creation God calls what was made good.

Alan Watts proposes a little thought experiment. [4] Imagine that in one night you were able to live every detail of a full seventy year life with complete control. In your first night you would fulfill all your wishes. It would not take many nights of this kind of dreaming to experience every pleasure, every possible desire that you could envisage. So to have new pleasures and new experiences you would relinquish control.

As a result some mornings you would wake up and think, “that was horrible! I’m so glad that one is over.” But having variety would be worth it. We are deeply drawn to what is new. And so you would cycle through every life, every possible event, every action and reaction, until… you would dream that you were sitting in Grace Cathedral on the third Sunday of Advent in the year of our Lord 2015 experiencing what your life is right now.

You would be sitting there pretending to yourself that you are not intimately connected to God. Alan Watts suggests that it might even be the nature of God to pretend to not be God. God is love. The goal and fulfillment of love is to give itself away, not to hold on to or protect it.

The word person comes from Graeco-Roman times. Per means through. Sonna is sound. The personna is the mask actors speak through on the stage. The Dramatis Personae is the list of masks in the front of the program. We’ve forgotten this. Person, that is what we once recognized as “the mask,” is now simply what we genuinely believe ourselves to be. [5]

This is one account of how we might be so very near to God and still not know it. We do not have to take this as our life’s philosophy. The point is that we also do not have to believe all those voices that tell us to be afraid. We do not have to believe that the goal of our life should be to protect our masks. We do not have to accept the theory that we are an inconsequential and accidental speck in an immense universe, or for that matter that we are terrible dirty sinners at the foot of an old man’s throne. We are not marionettes whose happiness depends on what appears on the front page of The New York Times.

We can choose what person we are going to put on. We can decide which story we will bring to the table. And our story, according to our brother Jesus, is that we are intimately connected to the being, the consciousness, the mystery and the joy of the universe. Indeed we have reason to rejoice.

2. This morning, because we have moved so far in this direction I want to talk about a philosopher who means a great deal to me, Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951). In his early life Wittgenstein worked on the philosophy of mathematics. But as the twentieth century progressed he began to write arguments against the idea that science is the only real form of knowledge.

Wittgenstein believed that after the seventeenth century philosopher René Descartes (1596-1650) we became tricked into believing that the world could be simply divided into things and thoughts, matter and ideas, objects and subjects. We act as if we have perfect knowledge of ourselves and need to be suspicious of what our physical senses say. In response, Wittgenstein writes that we cannot touch reality apart from our value systems and that the mind cannot be transparent to itself. We cannot step outside or rise above being human.

Wittgenstein rejects our modern individualistic ideas. For him thoughts do not so much occur in our minds as they do out in the world, in our communities of meaning. In being together we tacitly agree on what constitutes the truth, how we should take turns, when we are justified in feeling offended, the questions that are inappropriate for us to ask, and a thousand other values. Together we share a sense for what fun is or what loss feels like. [6]

If meaning is not something that exists simply in our head, if what constitutes us as beings is our interaction with each other, then what really matters is how we act. [7] When the people go out to see John the Baptist they ask quite simply, “what should we do (poieo)” (Lk. 3). He tells them share your clothing and your food. Begin with who you are. If you are a tax collector do not collect extra for yourself. If you are a soldier do not extort money from the people.

I do not know what this might mean in your life. The Cathedral priest Andy Lobhan found himself getting tangled up in the cycle of fear, hatred and shame. Rather than merely being a victim of the world or simply living in his own private universe, he changed his story, took matters into his own hands and wrote a letter of love and support to every muslim person he knows. Each of us can move beyond complaining about how the world is, to changing how the world will be.

3. Let me leave us with one more picture of what it means to rejoice and act in the knowledge that God is near. This comes from a poem by Wendell Berry called “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.” [8]

“Love the quick profit, the annual raise, / vacation with pay. Want more / of everything ready-made. Be afraid / to know your neighbors and to die. / And you will have a window in your head. / Not even your future will be a mystery / any more. Your mind will be punched in a card / and shut away in a little drawer. / When they want you to buy something / they will call you. When they want you / to die for profit they will let you know.”

“So, friends, every day do something / that won’t compute. Love the Lord. / Love the world. Work for nothing. / Take all that you have and be poor. / Love someone who does not deserve it. / Denounce the government and embrace / the flag. Hope to live in that free republic for which it stands. / Give your approval to all you cannot / understand. / Praise ignorance, for what man / has not encountered he has not destroyed.”

“Ask the questions that have no answers. / Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias… Expect the end of the world. Laugh. / Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful / though you have considered all of the facts…”

“Swear allegiance / to what is nighest your thoughts. / As soon as the generals and the politicos / can predict the motions of your mind, / lose it. Leave it as a sign / to mark the false trail, the way / you didn’t go. Be like the fox / who makes more tracks than necessary, / some in the wrong direction. / Practice resurrection.”

In conclusion my friends, you are not a cosmic accident or a victim of fear. In this beautiful, mysterious and surprising life you can choose your mask and your story. So move decisively into the presence of God. Be compassionate in your own way. Be joyful though you have considered all the facts. Practice resurrection.

“Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say Rejoice!… The Lord is near” (Phil. 4).
[1] In 2013, “Every month 14 million people [got] a disability check from the government.” “The federal government [spent] more on cash payments to disabled former workers than it [spent] on food stamps and welfare combined.” Chana Joffe-Walt, “Unfit for Work: The Startling Rise of Disability in America,” NPR Planet Money, 2013. http://apps.npr.org/unfit-for-work/

[2] Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives, Disc 2, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2004).

[3] “Om namah shivaya gurave / Saccidananda murtaye / Nispraprancaya shantaya / Niralambya Tejase / Om.” Invocation from John Friend. Thanks for help from Darren Main.

Translated as “I open my heart to the power of Grace / That lives in us as goodness / That never is absent and radiates peace / And lights the way to transformation (by Denise Benitez). Or, “I bow to the presence of God within / Our true and highest teacher / That lives in and around us as / Being, consciousness and bliss. / It is ever-present and radiates peace / Lighting the way to transformation.”

[4] Alan Watts, Out of Your Mind: Essential Listening from the Alan Watts Audio Archives, Disc 2, (Boulder, CO: Sounds True, 2004).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Stanley Cavell, Themes out of School, 223-4 cited in Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein, Second Edition (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1986, 1997), 75.

[7] Fergus Kerr, Theology After Wittgenstein, Second Edition (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1986, 1997), 65.

[8] Wendell Berry, Collected Poems 1957-1982 (Berkeley, California: North Point Press, 1984), 151-2.

Sunday, December 6
The Call of John the Baptist
Preacher: The Rev. Tyrone Fowlkes
Sermon from Sunday's 6pm Service
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Sunday, December 6
Sunday 6pm Sermon
Preacher: Anna Deavere Smith
Sermon from Sunday's 6pm Eucharist
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Sermon from Sunday’s 6pm Eucharist.

Sunday, December 6
To Conquer or to Host: The Theology of Airbnb
Preacher: The Very Rev. Dr. Malcolm C. Young
"Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight..." (Lk. 3).
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The recording can be found at the bottom of the page.

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…” (Lk. 3).

After college I worked in Santa Monica at the GTE Building right where Wilshire Boulevard meets the vast Pacific Ocean. I will never forget winter sunsets from that corner conference room, the dark looming mountains in the north and the brilliant reds and oranges of the sky reflected in the smooth bay waters.

Renee Labran, our managing director insisted that whether we were leaving for a month long assignment in London or just overnight, our desks should be neatly ordered. Although clients only rarely visited, she wanted us to be prepared for anyone who might arrive. It is still my habit here at Grace Cathedral. I try to leave everything so that if someone were to need a space to work, there would be plenty of room for them at my desk or table.

This week a few staff members and I visited the corporate offices of Airbnb. The motto for those who work there and for the people who rent out their homes is simple: “be a host.” You could see this culture everywhere. People practically tripped over themselves to hold doors open for us (to remain cheery when we were blocking the halls or spilling our tea). Most employees there have no regular workspace and so they constantly meet new colleagues when they sit down in different places with their laptop computers.

Conference rooms look like kitchens, basements, living rooms, libraries, and playgrounds. You can have a meeting in a little airstream trailer, a kind of yurt, an alpine ski cabin, a camping tent, a ball pit, or my favorite, an exact replica of the founders’ apartment where the company began. Meeting spaces are named after the most beautiful and distinctive places in the world: Paris, Barcelona, Bali, Reykjavik and Berlin.

The way a place looks matters to what happens there. And it takes time to prepare. I think of this when I make the bed, do the dishes, put away books or generally clean up. You have heard me say that our reasoning, logical mind is only a tiny part of who we are. What a place looks and feels like speaks to a deep part within us. A place can give rise to thoughts, dreams and experiences that would otherwise be impossible. It can make it possible to welcome someone (either a relative from out of town or a new friend) and to form the kind of connection that is one of the greatest joys of this life.

As crowds come out to see John the Baptist in the wilderness he says the same thing. “Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” (Lk. 3:1-6). We pay special attention to this work during the church season of Advent. In John’s case the places we are to prepare include our selves. You might think of it as spring cleaning for your soul. During Advent we varnish the floors of our heart, dust the shelves of our memories and clean the windows through which we see God and each other. We make ready that house which we are always building, that is, our life.

Brothers and sisters we have been through so much this week. As often seems to be the case I feel stunned by the way scripture seems to speak to our very situation. On Wednesday Syed Rizwan Farook (28) and Tashfeen Malik (29) killed fourteen and injured twenty-one people at the San Bernadino Health Department where Farook was employed.

Two elements in particular stood out. First, for a couple of days the public hovered in an odd state of limbo. No one knew quite what to think about these events. Was this the case of a disgruntled employee? Were these “anti-government activists?” What did this case share in common with the boys who had been bullied at Columbine or the racist who killed the African American Christians who were praying with him in Charlotte? Were the shooters simply insane or was this planned from abroad like 9/11? What exactly is a terrorist anyway – aren’t all shooters terrorists? Does it matter whether someone is a domestic or foreign terrorist when you are dead?

The New York Times pointed out that if you define a mass shooting as one in which four or more people are killed or injured, then in the last 336 days we have had 209 mass shootings in this country. [1] It took no time for the gun control and immigration debates to ramp into high gear. It makes me wonder if there is some other way to talk about this beyond the language of fear, anger and blame.

The second thing that seemed particularly strange was that after the FBI investigation landlord Doyle Miller allowed journalists to poke through the couple’s home. Because the way a place looks matters to what happens there we were fascinated to look over their shoulders. News articles mentioned social security cards out in plain sight, dishes piled in the sink as if someone would soon be home to clean up. We saw their family photos, images of the infant’s crib. The wall calendar had nothing special written on it for the day of the tragedy. We debated about whether reporters had violated the family’s privacy.

Perhaps we were shocked by the juxtaposition between how ordinary their life seemed and the terrible preparation involved in building bombs and amassing weapons and ammunition to kill people who have nothing to do with their cause. Honestly this tragic act of murdering colleagues and neighbors is a message that I do not understand. I wish that they had left behind a statement beyond the vague reference to a Facebook message supporting ISIS.

My hunch is that their reasons would be deeply connected to our gospel this morning. Luke tells us exactly when John the Baptist began his ministry. “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius” (Lk. 3). He then lists the kings: Pontius Pilate, Herod, Philip and Lysanius, in the order of the size of their various jurisdictions. In English we use different translations for one repeated Greek word, “hegemonias.” It means ruler or to rule. It is also the origin of our English word “hegemony.” The dictionary defines hegemony as dominance especially by one country or social group over others over others.

In the twenty first century the rule of the emperor or making paths straight for the coming king may sound quaint to us. The metaphor no longer has the power that it once did. In Roman times this was serious business. During the Jewish-Roman Wars (66-77 CE) roads and ramparts were built for 60,000 invading Roman troops. They massacred whole populations.

The Books of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are about a simple contrast between two different sons of God. The “Son of God” was another name for Julius Caesar and all the Roman Emperors who followed him. Luke asserts that the real Son of God is Mary’s son, Jesus of Nazareth. We all face this stark choice between hegemony and love, between the emperor’s kind of power to compel through force and Jesus’ power to inspire through empathy and compassion. We can fight power with more power or we can look for other solutions that begin by seeing with the eyes of love. In San Bernadino we saw a couple who chose the way of the Roman Empire.

Because we spend so much time living in the world of the Empire’s values, we ourselves constantly fall back on this way of thinking. That is why John the Baptist proclaims the baptism of repentance. For many Christians the word repentance feels worn out. We mistakenly regard repentance as the process of listing the things we did wrong and then feeling sorry about them. Repentance too often becomes self-flagellation, a mere intellectual exercise or a vague plan to become nicer or more spiritual. [2]

The Greek word for repentance means something altogether different than this. It is metanoia Meta is change, nous is soul and it means to change your soul in the sort of way that everything around you becomes transformed. You see the same things but in a totally different light. Often it feels more like something that happens to you than something you completely chose for yourself.

You might be like my friend, Nick who came back from serving with the Peace Corps in Kenya and found himself paralyzed by all the choices in his local supermarket. As a result of this metanoia Nick spent the next twenty years living and working in Africa. You might be like my neighbor Sally whose life as a lawyer dissolved when she began caring for her elderly mother, or my friend Lena who gave up a very real chance to be a Silicon Valley CEO in order to raise her children. Maybe also like them you might discover a whole new intimacy relationships that at first seem like burdens. You might even find that in some sense or other you were born to do this.

We live so deeply immersed in media that we almost need to be reminded that reality isn’t terrorism or the triumph of empire. Reality is what happens in ordinary moments and ordinary places when the spirit invites us into the profound mystery at the heart of our existence.

In these words I have brought you to lovely places, sinister places and wacky places. Let me tell you about one more. Yesterday at Fort Mason our family experienced Janet Cardiff’s art installation “The Forty Part Motet.” In a large oval she arranged forty sound speakers (five groups of eight) at ear height. Each speaker plays a single voice from the men and boy’s choir at Salisbury Cathedral as they sing Thomas Tallis’ Spem in alium nunquam habui (I have never put my hope in any other).

After watching the sun set and the lights come out on the Golden Gate bridge I shut my eyes. It felt like I stood at the very threshold of heaven, as if God were the only other presence in this world. In that moment I experienced such deep gratitude for our own Cathedral choirs. They prepare every week for us. They make great sacrifices to bring beauty alive so that we will be prepared to receive God.

In this Advent season I pray for a revolutionary change that leads us not to dwell on the past but to live in the gift of this moment. I ask that we will have the wisdom to think and engage with what is good and not with what destroys. I pray we receive God and transmit holiness through our life, that over and over we choose to be a host rather than a conqueror.

[1] The New York Times also claimed that while Islamic Jihadists have killed 45 people in America since September 12, 2001, during the same period “Anti-government, racist and non-jihadist extremists have killed 48.

[2] The next few paragraphs are inspired by Barbara Brown Taylor’s sermon, “Living Between Steps.” https://www.goodpreacher.com/backissuesread.php?file=4283

Saturday, December 5
Ordination Sermon
Preacher: The Rev. Rebecca Edwards
Sermon from The Ordination of Deacons and Priests
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Sermon from The Ordination of Deacons and Priests.

Saturday December 5th.

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