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Sunday, August 9
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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!

 

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.

Sunday, November 29
Beginners’ mind and enders’ mind
Preacher: The Rev. Andy Lobban
When we allow ourselves to experience life as being brand new or in its final stage, we uncover the glorious mystery of how much we matter in God's economy.
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When we allow ourselves to experience life as being brand new or in its final stage, we uncover the glorious mystery of how much we matter in God’s economy.

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