Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Day @ Grace Cathedral

Once upon a time, about ten years ago, a group of eager American college students visiting rural Tibet set out to visit an elderly monk who had been meditating in a cave for over 15 years. The students had been told that the monk would introduce them to a guide who could lead them to somewhere truly special.  The guide, they were told, would lead them to another cave, but this other cave was not found on many map.  In this secret cave, the students were told that the famous Milarepa, the first Tibetan to reach enlightenment, had meditated.

The students could hardly contain their excitement as they approached the monk's cave.  One student suggested they could all end up on the cover of a Buddhist journal.  Another student speculates that all of them could easily be accepted into graduate school with a story like this under their belts.  At the entrance to the elderly monk's cave, the eager students were welcomed inside to sit by the holy man's fire, and to share a cup of tea and some potatoes he had cooked for breakfast. Time passed, and the impatient students ate potatoes and sipped tea.  Eventually, through their translator, the students learned from the old monk that the guide was not able to join them that morning.  The students were disappointed, but they  thanked the elderly monk for his hospitality and left. Only years later did it occur to one of the students that the other cave really wasn't that important after all, and that the breakfast with the elderly monk was infinitely important on its own.

Today with people all around the world we come together in this sacred cave of sorts to celebrate Jesus of Nazareth’s birthday. Many scholars believe that the holy family if the birth stories are to be taken as fact likely found shelter in a cave in Bethlehem since caves were the customary place where animals would have been kept and if the new born baby was really placed in a manger, an animal feeding trough, then a cave makes sense.

We could go on at length about the significance of caves and our human ancestors emerging out of them, we could talk about cave paintings, and sacred rituals that take place in caves even to this day in some cultures. As interesting as that exploration and investigation might be --- what does Jesus’ birth, the son of Man, Jesus the savior, liberator, prophet, teacher, and king --- the eternal word/logos/reason of God, the second person of the Trinity made flesh --- what real difference does this make beyond a festive fun filled family holiday full of carols, good food and good cheer? What’s the big idea?

Well, theologians would call it the incarnation --- the divine taking on flesh. The incarnation though is not just about a single event long ago, but is about the elevation of human life for all time. As St. Athanasius of Alexandria wrote in the 300s, "God became man so that humanity (man) might become god."

So we need not head to Palestine to find a particular cave where X marks the spot: here is the "sacred cave" where you can experience the fruits of the incarnation. No, the truth of the incarnation is that there are many caves to be explored, an infinite number of places where we humans may discover the divine presence ---- the invitation is to seek the nativity, new life, everywhere among everyone most especially in the context of our actual daily lives.

As Dean Shaw quoted Meister Eckhart in her introduction to the cathedral Christmas concerts “What good is it that Christ was born 2,000 years ago if he is not born now in your heart?

St. Francis of Assisi who invented Christmas pageants by dressing up his hometown like the holy family --- seemed to understand that in order for us human beings to get the significance of the incarnation we long to somehow see, touch, and feel the divine presence --- we can’t just be told God abides with us --- we have to be shown. St. Francis told his followers --- preach the gospel, the good news at all times if you have to use words. Francis, our city’s patron, privileged the embodied word over the spoken --- whether it was his rebuilding of an abandoned church, standing naked before the questioning crowds, wandering through a battlefield to meet face to face with the supposed enemy of his people. The nativity --- the cave where Christ is born is not somewhere else, far away but within you, within us in the very fabric and context of our lives.

We often seem to refuse this gift --- the gift of the incarnation --- we would rather believe that God is somehow very far away --- difficult to reach, some place other than where we are. The ancients believed that if a person beheld God they would die. There is a privileging of the transcendent within the tradition, perhaps because to really appreciate the incarnation we have to let go of a certain kind of ambition, we have to accept life on life’s terms, we must deal with that difficult neighbor, we must deal with ourselves.

This Advent I’ve been reading and re-reading a poem by E.A. McLaughlin a poet, artist, and African American Episcopal priest who built the current church building of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church at the intersection of Lyon and Turk Streets in San Francisco and later served as a canon at Grace Cathedral but I’ve been told he never preached from this pulpit ---- here’s a portion of McLaughlin’s poem,

 “Love” cries out for a human self, and waits for a response;
It remains but a theory, until given human expression.
A word is only an idea unless it’s acted out.
“Love” is a passive symbol, without embodiment.

So as we approach the cave, to discover the light of the world, may we be truly present and not anxious about getting some place else, or making some significant gain ---- let us simply appreciate the gift of love embodied in the eyes and actions of a newborn stranger.

What might life be like if we were always seeking Christ in one another, including our enemies, what might life be like if we lived fully with the conviction that Christ is within us? What fears would we let go of? What hopes would arise? What new possibilities could emerge? How might we welcome and care for the immigrants among us, how might we provide healthcare, shelter, education and food to those in the greatest need.

May we like Francis discover ways to act out the nativity --- not just in pageants but also by walking across the battlefields of our daily lives, finding ways large and small to embody love.

Christmas is about love being given a human self, not just in a baby born in a manger but also in our own dark and damp caves. In time we may discover there a fire has been lit, and that tea and potatoes are waiting for us.

A personal note:

At the end of December, I will leave the staff at Grace Cathedral to focus my work at St. Cyprian's Episcopal Church in San Francisco whose congregation leadership have called me to serve as Priest-in-Charge and in time as Vicar. I will be part-time there, and seeking employment in the surrounding neighborhoods. I am very grateful for the four years I have been at Grace Cathedral, and am excited about the adventure ahead. One of the sadness about leaving Grace for me is not having the opportunity to work closely with the new Dean, Dr. Jane Shaw whom I appreciate and admire very much. However, the histories of the cathedral and St. Cyprian's are intertwined and my hope is in the years ahead these links will continue to be sources of mutual joy, growth and inspiration. Please keep us all in your prayers. Merry Christmas!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Christ the King/Reign of Christ

Today in churches all over the world folk will be celebrating Christ the King, some places will have long processions, triumphant hymns, and lots of hoopla. At St. Cyprian's we'll be sharing a  Litany of Resistance as published in "Jesus for President" by Shane Claiborne & Chris Haw which was created with the help of their friends Jim Loney (CPT Reservist) and Brian Walsh (activist theologian). When I look at the litany I am reminded of the pledge of nonviolence written by MLK and signed by those who marched with him in 1963.
  1. As you prepare to march meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus
  2. Remember the nonviolent movement seeks justice and reconciliation - not victory.
  3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for God is love.
  4. Pray daily to be used by God that all men and women might be free.
  5. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.
  6. Observe with friend and foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.
  7. Perform regular service for others and the world.
  8. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart.
  9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.
  10. Follow the directions of the movement leaders and of the captains on demonstrations.
Print Name ______________________________
Signature _______________________________
There's some interesting discussion of Christ the King/Reign of Christ
over at Episcopal Cafe as well. What does this day mean to you?

As I was getting ready to head out the door this morning, Pandora Radio played a

Dar Williams song that somehow fit this day, "The Great Unknown."
Here are the lyrics,

Once upon a time there was a nuclear family,
And we lived in a family time, we'd unite in a family way.
And off the ancient mountain, they were splitting every nucleus. They said "don't be alarmed, just don't try this at home." And they were the mystery that made the world run
And we had the power, 'cause they were the sun
And we called them our heroes, and the future had come.
They said,"look at the light we're giving you,
And the darkness we're saving you from."
Soon they were bringing it into our showroom,
And they'd unveil it with it's title,
Bring your family, bring your family,
It's the Great Unknown.
You can look, but you can't fathom,
It's the Great Unknown.

I'm no ordinary princess, I was born in the cold war,
And my team is the Rockets. Go team, it's a dangerous time.
And I dream of the moon and building lunar clone colonies.
And I build my peace with strength, that's the best weapon you've got.
Oh, I am the brainchild, I am the mortar,
With a plastic trophy and an eating disorder,
And vision as big as a great big wall,
And they tell me that I'll move forward for the good of us all,
And the good of nuclear families all.
And they think I think I am important.
I know I never was, I wasn't.
No I never, and how could I be?
It's the Great Unknown.
Now we've built it, now it's ticking,
It's the Great Unknown.

And I am your children, I am millions.
And I wanted to sell out, I wanted to try,
But you know the sky got too low, and the ocean got too high, and, I had to take God into my own hands.
Am I too late? Is it over?
Have I sacrificed my family to the Great Unknown?
There's a war between my conscience and
The Great Unknown.

So I walked out into the Gamma fields
Out in Mercury, Nevada.
Where I stood in circle and that circle started to pray.
And the wind at the nuclear test sights floats the data at the radiation, from the underground testing,
Cross the line, you'll get arrested.
And we came from all over in a silent appeal
As the drill comes down like a presidential seal.
And we stand for the living, and we stand for the dead,
And we looked out to see your enemies,
And we see that you're looking all at us instead.
You think I am being disruptive?
But no I'm running home, I'm running,
'Cause I'm trying to put the atom back together.
It's the Great Unknown.
I'm just trying to put the atom back together.
It's the Great Unknown.

Monday, November 01, 2010

getting out of the tree

Notes from yesterday's (October 31, 2010) sermon

Luke 19:1-10
He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him.All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.

Love changes things, relationships change things, paying attention, doing uncomfortable things like making friends with supposed enemies, and inviting yourself over to strangers houses changes things, showing hospitality, opening ourselves up to other people’s perspectives changes things.

Now we may not be particularly interested in being changed, we may not really be into the idea of being transformed by the Spirit, or climbing out of our trees, or making surprising friendships --- that’s okay but we’re not going to be saved by fear, we’re not going to be saved by our self protective illusions of security, we are not going to be saved by minding our own business and ignoring what’s going on around us.

In today’s gospel we meet Zacchaeus a short guy with deep pockets, who was rich and may have gotten that way by collecting taxes for the enemy, the Roman occupiers. I say may have, cause who knows he may have inherited that money or got it some other way. The gospel just says --- this little guy was a tax collector, and was rich. So Zacchaeus saw a crowd gathering around Jesus and something must have made him want to find out who that person was, and what they were saying. So Zacchaeus climbs up in a sycamore tree to get a better look. Now Sycamore trees are not just any old tree, they can grow quite large having a dense round crown of spreading branches and they were cultivated almost exclusively by ancient Egyptians.  The Egyptians of course once enslaved the Jewish people, these are the same Egyptians that Moses, Miriam and their people escaped from --- I don’t think the author of this gospel accidentally tells us that the tree was a Sycamore, that was intentional. The author perhaps wanted those reading this gospel to notice, wants us to draw a connection between this rich, tax collector in the tree, and those old, distant oppressors of the people. But there’s also another interesting thing about the sycamore --- the leaves are heart shaped.

Perhaps this tree climbing was 1st century surveillance, but instead of remaining inconspicuous Jesus notices Zaccheus and seems to know him, calling him down and inviting himself over to his house. Maybe Jesus likes a little luxury every once in a while, I mean as scripture says, “foxes have holes, and the birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head”  --- or perhaps Jesus knows just how significant, how transformative being in relationship with this wealthy guy might be.  The grumbling, anxiety and fear begins immediately though --- the crowd doesn’t like what they see, Jesus the revolutionary teacher, the rumored savior and redeemer of the people becoming pals with that rich traitor. Jesus doesn’t seem to be bothered by the whispering, they’ve barely spent much time together, haven’t even made it to Zaccheaus’ pad, but Zaccheaus hears the crowds horror at the sight of Jesus hanging out with him that he is moved to give away half of his possessions, to the poor; and pay back four times as much to those he may have defrauded.

This is one amazing story. But what does this story mean to us here at St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church on the corner of Turk & Lyon Street as we approach our 50th anniversary in this spot? How are we to respond to this story of strange friendship? Who are the Zaccheaus’ we as the body of Christ may be called upon to befriend? Or are we up in the tree just checking things out, minding our own business ---- how do we respond to Jesus taking an interest in us, are we prepared to be transformed, to give away stuff so that salvation may be experienced in our house?  Or are we like that poor crowd anxious, offended, and scared by the very thought of a relationship between that rich traitor and Jesus?  What transformative things might happen in our lives, homes and communities if we open ourselves to unexpected blessings. What might happen if St. Cyprian’s more and more became a community who befriended tax collectors, traitors and sinners, what might happen if we instead of watching Jesus from the sidelines, accepted his intrusion into our homes, what shift would happen in us, could we be in for a similar redistribution of our resources ?  What if instead of being hostile to the surprising friendship between that rich guy and Jesus, we too sought out our opposites --- if we’re doing okay financially, what would it be like for us to individually become friends with someone who is struggling? Or if we’re having a tough time, what if we made a point of really trying to become part of the life of a rich person?  In a city like this one, there’s plenty of wealthy and plenty of poor to befriend --- perhaps those of us in the middle need to make some introductions?

From where I stand, up here in this pulpit --- I see a lot of befriending going on, a lot of new relationships emerging, I’ve actually been quite surprised by who has taken a look at our little community, sometimes checking us out from above, sometimes from below, and on the side --- my prayer is that we together can become more and more comfortable being joyfully surprised by these new friendships, open to whatever might happen in our hearts and in the hearts of others --- ready to experience salvation in our lives and community. 

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Sunday Sermon @ Grace - Whole Self In

Jesus the home wrecker, anti-consumerist, varsity coach invites us to jump into the deep end of the pool.

You can listen to Sunday's sermon here.


Thursday, July 29, 2010

getting real with Jesus & each other

I preached today at Grace Cathedral's 12:10 Eucharist, I don't always type out my homilies but did today. So here it is. 

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany
John 11:1-7, 17-44

Today, the church honors a peculiar family of two sisters and brother. The strangeness doesn’t just lie in this arrangement, of two unmarried women needing the protection of a male relative in a patriarchal society. But strangely Jesus their rabbi, guru, healer and teacher with a revolutionaries following doesn’t race back to heal his friend. But instead delays his journey almost as though he’s wanting the situation to get worse for these vulnerable siblings. Talk about nonanxious pastoral presence, Jesus is nonanxiously absent from the scene.

With the typically confused disciples Jesus  finally arrives at Mary and Martha’s. Lazarus has been dead 4 days and the whole community is gathered around in mourning. Martha and Mary both in their grief express frustration and disappointment with Jesus  “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” You can feel the pain, the anger. As the story unfolds we see Jesus himself grieving the loss of his friend, and finally Jesus puts flesh on the words he said to Martha, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live.” Jesus asks that the stone of the tomb be rolled away and he cries out to the dead man “Lazarus, come out”, wrapped in strips of cloth, like someone in mummy costume Lazarus walks out.

This is one of the famous stories of our faith, prefiguring Jesus own resurrection from the dead. But what does this story, of confused, anxious disciples, disappointed, grieving sisters, curious, pesky neighbors, a dead man and Jesus have to say to us today?

I think this story reminds us that our journey of faith if we are really attentive to it, does not deny the reality of death, loss, confusion, disappointment or pain but helps give meaning and purpose to our lives and our deaths. This perplexing story tells us that those who were the closest to Jesus, his disciples and friends were often afraid, anxious, and disappointed -- and Jesus responds to their honest, blunt, and angry words with solidarity, compassion and care. Being close to Jesus means we can be real with him.  This story can help us discover the presence of Jesus who raises the dead in the context of our actual daily lives --- not as an abstract, distant, far off, fancy concept but as a living reality rooted in the here and now, as part of a tangible community that breathes, weeps, cries, flexes its muscles, and rolls away stones together.

Jesus’ raising Lazarus is a provocative sign that God’s concern is real life, life with all its joys and sorrows, struggles and confusion. Jesus, the incarnate word made flesh ---  that presence at that tomb, those tears, transforms the boundaries between life and death. Christ’s presence in our lives, at our tombs, in our tears, transforms the world not just in abstract and philosophical ways but in concrete, tangible actions of compassion and solidarity.

Being a follower of Jesus, means eventually showing up to the pain, oppression, sadness, disappointment, grief, complexity and confusion of our real lives wherever those dark places may be. As the saying goes there can be no Easter with out Good Friday, there can be no transformation with out pain, no true reconciliation with out truth telling, no hope with out grief.

Being close to Jesus means we can be real with Jesus. Being a faithful community means we can be real with each other. Martha and Mary, Lazarus too this families honesty, their raw vulnerability creates space for Christ to enter the picture and do holy transforming work in words, tears, and sweat. May we find the same courage to be ourselves, to be real with Jesus and with each other.

The queer Episcopal lay theologian celebrated by the Archbishop of Canterbury on his visit to our last General Convention said

"Being holy, becoming and being a saint, does not mean being perfect but being whole; it does not mean being exceptionally religious, or being religious at all. It means being liberated from religiosity and religious pietism of any sort. It does not mean being godly, but rather being truly human." 
-William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word

Thank you Mary, Martha and Lazarus for showing us yourselves, for inviting us to be ourselves in our tears, at our tombs in all our confusions, longings, disappointments, sorrows and helping us discover Christ right there, right here with us. 

Monday, April 26, 2010

Gathered Lambs

You can listen to last Sunday's sermon here.

This little guy joined me in the pulpit.

I also mention, this event/book Jesus for President,  you can see a video about the San Francisco part of the tour and a blog posting about what happened at Grace Cathedral on a Friday a few years back.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

I am still here.

It has been a long Sunday, and it is only 4:15 p.m. Today, Saint Cyprian's welcomed a new member into the household of God and celebrated the 95th birthday of one our community's oldest members. Below is the sermon I prepared to preach, but today with so much going on (more on that some other time) I didn't stick to it word for word. 

Blessed Easter Three. 

A few months short of a year ago, I called one of the oldest members of this congregation, Ruby McDowell to set up a visit with her, and one of the first things she said to me, very clearly and deliberately was “I’m still here.” Each time since that first phone call  I have walked into her lovely home carrying communion from St. Cyprian’s, Ruby has said these words again and again “I am still here.” with clarity and commitment.  There is a connection between the words of  this amazing typical Jamaican as Ruby calls herself  --- “I am still here” and the powerful proclamation that Christians throughout the world make again and again about Jesus’ resurrection, “Alleluia, Christ is Risen.”  Just as her beloved St. Cyprian’s Church says again and again to everyone who passes her by, or walks into her doors, or hears about something new going on within, we say clearly and deliberately “we are still here.” “Alleluia, Christ is Risen”  Resurrection is about the persistent and insistent Spirit of God made known to us in Jesus, it’s a belief that despite all evidence to the contrary there is a powerful life force lifting us and all creation up,  giving us hope, giving us peace and helping us embrace change. Jesus says to us in the resurrection,  just as Ruby does, just as this little church does “I am still here.” Despite all the challenges, pain, sadness, betrayal and disappointment  of life, the Risen Christ persistently and insistently clearly and deliberately says again and again “I am still here.”

Today in addition to celebrating the inspiring and long life of Ruby McDowell, this little church --- aka the little church that could --- from that famous old children’s book called “the little engine that could,” welcomes into the household of God Lukas, baptizing him in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Lukas and his family are communicating something profound to us and to God --- they are saying with clarity and commitment ---- we love, we trust, we believe in that persistent and insistent life force --- we love, we trust, we believe that sharing our lives with the wider community and wisdom of the church is a gift worth giving --- this family is saying something profound to us St. Cyprian’s, their saying we’re drawn to you, we feel a connection with your story and we see not only that you are still here, but that the Spirit of resurrection is overflowing, is spilling out of our doors and down the street.  Lukas will one day hear the story of his baptism, he may even remember it, wherever he may be and he will learn about Ruby McDowell about the warmth and love of this little church that could, and this community will be part of his story and part of his own Easter proclamation “Alleluia Christ is Risen.”

The gospel this morning is one of my favorite stories in the entire New Testament, I love the image of Jesus making his disciples breakfast on the seashore. Now, the gospel tells us this is the third time Jesus has appeared to the disciples --- there’s a lot we could explore in this story , lots of questions we could ask like “why do the disciples go back to their fishing boats in Galilee?” and “what about that miraculous catch of fish?” but for today lets just appreciate how this story  insists that we be prepared to run into Jesus anywhere and everywhere --- in the familiar and in the extraordinary. The disciples returned to Galilee a place they knew well, where they began there journey with Jesus and there he said to them “ I am still here.” but even in that well known place, the extraordinary happens in the catch of that giant net of fish so in the surprises, in unpredictable Jesus also says to us “I am still here.” At the end of the gospel, we here again that insistent and persistent Spirit of the Resurrection communicating to us, as Jesus speaks with Peter about his own death --- that even in the pain, struggle, confusion and terrifying perhaps most of all --- Jesus is still here.

Baptism is a powerful rite of initiation into the community of faith --- it’s a sacrament an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace. Like all sacraments, its polyvalent  ---  has many meanings and values.  On this day though, this Earth Sunday as we pour this water, say these prayers, and make these commitments let us keep in mind all the ways that water serves us --- all the ways that water communicates to us the power,  love, and the enlivening Spirit of God. Listen closely to the prayer over the baptismal waters --- and consider water in your own life --- the water of showers, and baths, of pools and oceans, the water of rain and leaks, and garden hoses. Think of all the rain we have been having this spring, think of all the places that water goes, all the ways it gets in and under and around. The resurrection spirit of God --- is like that water --- it goes all over the place --- and affects everything.  May the water we pour on this day, and all the water of our lives communicate to us as Ruby and this church do regularly and persistently that we are still here, that Christ is still here --- may the whole world see and know “Alleluia, Christ is risen.” 

Sunday, April 04, 2010

living spaces - Easter Sermon at St. Cyprian's

why do you look for the living among the dead?”

Resurrection is about changing our perspective --- recognizing that what once divided us ---- what once brought us so much fear is turned into an opportunity for rejoicing, new life, new hope, new possibility.

The gospel, the good news of the resurrection, the good news that we celebrate on this day --- is that there’s a different way to live, beyond the dictates of conventional society, that transcends the oppression of unjust systems that can overcome the greatest evil and wrong. The resurrection pushes us to look at things differently, regardless of what we believe --- the very idea of the resurrection compels us to ask questions --- might another way be possible, may there be more going on then I previously thought?

The women who went to that tomb in the early morning, with spices thought they were going to find the dead body of the mystical revolutionary rabbi they had followed. What they found perplexed them, an empty tomb --- and in their confusion they meet two angels who ask them a rather odd question “why do you look for the living among the dead.”

I imagine they asked that question in a kind of cocky way, like come on folks you ought to know that Jesus is alive.

But what about you and me, “why do we look for the living among the dead?”

In what ways, do we carry spices into the caves of our lives hoping just to find a corpse not a living, fleshy, wild, animated human being? Easter asks us to change our perspective, to put our trust in something more real than death, the surprising and liberating love of God.

That surprising and liberating love God makes known most fully in the resurrection --- and the story we heard read this morning from the Acts of the Apostles comes about by that same Spirit of resurrection. Peter’s speech is part of one of the most important stories in the entire New Testament, it’s about how the early church began the move from being just a peculiar and small sect of Judaism to being a global community made up of people from various cultures and races. Peter and the other apostles like Jesus were devout Jews who practiced dietary laws from the Hebrew Bible banning foods like pork and shellfish. Also, they were wary of contact and relationship with Gentiles --- anyone who was not circumcised and did not subscribe to their religious practices. The speech that Peter gives is during a visit with an Italian named Cornelius and his household. Cornelius and Peter have through dreams and visions, felt compelled by the Spirit to meet and Peter’s words, “God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him” marks an expansion of the Christian movement to encompass the reconciliation of all people with God and with one another.

What Peter said and did was controversial; he crossed a strict religious and cultural norm and later had to justify what happened before a group of confused and perplexed disciples back in Jerusalem.

I like to think of the Bible sometimes as a family photo album, a record of humanities long term relationship with God --- this chapter in Acts is about new family and different members appearing in the album, people who don’t share the same story, culture, or language as previous generations.  As one reads the Bible from Genesis to Revelation one gets the constant sense that God cares for all people, yet decides to work with a particular few --- yet as one reads on --- we find that God’s concern for all translates into more and more inclusion of others. The Bible often reminds us that God’s household, God’s family is much more diverse, and expansive ---- than any specific, narrow arrangement of people. No matter how much we human beings might want to limit the number of people we are to care about, or the type of people we are to look after --- God is always doing something to open us up, to expand our notion of family --- calling us to pay attention and to look out for others particularly the most vulnerable among us. Biblical values are concerned not just with your family or my family but with the whole human family.

Today’s readings remind us that God’s presence is not locked up in some tomb some place but is every place including in the house of those strange and different neighbors.

The purpose of Christian living, of being people who practice resurrection is to seek to love and forgive all members of the human family as limitlessly as Jesus loves and forgives us. We are to seek and serve Jesus, not by hiding ourselves away from engagement with others who are different from us, but by being called out (the Greek word for church is ecclesia which literally means to be called out) into relationships with new and different members of God‘s family. Through the Holy Spirit --- human beings are sent out into the world to discover that our family is much larger than we realized. That our true family is not limited to the few people we happened to be born to, or married to but is among everyone.

So if the true meaning of the resurrection --- is that we can encounter Christ and the Holy Spirit everywhere and among everyone --- if the meaning of church, ecclesia is “called out” what are we supposed to do with our buildings?

Christ couldn’t sit still in the tomb on Holy Saturday legend has it that he cleansed hell, and on Sunday dashed off to Galilee --- how are we to keep up with this restless, living one? Jesus didn’t have a home of his own, let alone a synagogue, what is the church supposed to do with all her buildings?

Perhaps the invitation is for us to imagine what it would mean to make our spaces, all our spaces, our homes, our neighbors homes, our schools, our places of work, our churches ---- places where the Spirit compels us to transcend old patterns of division and embrace one another as sisters and brothers in Christ. Perhaps our spaces, all our spaces need to become intentional places of intersection, of healthy, life giving, holy boundary crossing --- where strangers become friends, and life in all its fullness is celebrated and honored.

This little church has been many things to many people through the years, listening to Ruby who turns 95 later this month, or Cathryn another long time member of our congregation --- this community in the 40s, 50s, and 60s was a bustling hub of activity where new urbanites from far away found community, comfort and inspiration.  At times St. Cyprian’s was a center for music, poetry, art and activism reflecting the pressing concerns of the day.  A place where the young discovered the wisdom of elders, and the dreams of youth were nurtured for a better tomorrow.

Last week St. Cyprian’s welcomed nearly 50 diverse young people from across the west coast and Hawaii --- they slept on our basement floor, hiked to Grace Cathedral to honor Archbishop Oscar Romero, showered at the University of San Francisco, prayed, sang and even preached in this sanctuary. The hospitality that St. Cyprian’s offered last weekend I believe is deeply rooted in this congregations DNA, but even more it is part of the long history of Christian hospitality and pilgrimage going back before the time of Peter in the home of that odd Italian, Cornelius.

A couple of months ago, I met a professor from the University of San Francisco --- I don’t know really much about her religious commitments, but after spending a little over an hour with her, I sensed in her a deep interest in the history and future of St. Cyprian’s. Within a few days my husband Matt and I were invited to her home in San Mateo for a crowded New Year’s party where there was a ton of delicious food and dancing. The next month she came to a Common Era meeting a gathering of neighbors and congregation members who want to help share in our dreaming about the future.

Yesterday, I entered St. Cyprian’s to let our guest organist in to practice thinking that I was going to find an empty church building --- but instead we discovered the place was full of life ---  Lee, Jim, and Robyn were cleaning and decorating getting things in order for today’s worship.

Like those women long ago walking into that tomb, like Peter entering the house of a stranger --- God will show us surprising, liberating, death defying love. May we this Easter catch up with the Spirit of the living Jesus that is everywhere and among everyone --- may all our spaces become intentional places of intersection, of healthy, life giving, holy boundary crossing --- where strangers become friends, where we find ourselves part of God’s ever expanding family album and life in all its fullness is celebrated and honored.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Jesus Freak: Feeding, Healing, Raising the Dead

My friend Sara Miles' new book has just been published and I'm loving it. Her honest, humorous, and sensitive writing is such a gift and inspiration. There's a great review of Jesus Freak on the Beatitudes Society blog, and you can watch a video of Sara talking about her book below.

Grace Cathedral has made Jesus Freak one of our Lenten reads, and we're using it to invite laity and clergy to talk about their own love affair with Jesus, the Boyfriend.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

RIP Howard Zinn

Earlier this week I had lunch with Alan Jones, Dean Emeritus of Grace Cathedral; as he shared some of his adventures since retiring, he expressed great excitement about an upcoming interview of the influential historian Howard Zinn he was preparing for at City Arts and Lectures. As I left Grace Cathedral that same evening, I walked past a movie set where Zinn's friend and former Cambridge neighbor Matt Damon was filming. Sadly, in the midst of last night's State of the Union Address I learned along with many others that Howard Zinn had passed away.

I first learned of Howard Zinn's work in college, but didn't really read A People's History of the United States until seminary, when I was taking a class at the Church of the Savior's Servant Leadership School in Washington, DC. A few years later Matt and I attended a reading at Busboys and Poets,  where we heard Marian Wright Edelman, Julian Bond, and Howard Zinn movingly read the words of some of the voices  chronicled in A People's History. In so many ways that gathering was like attending a revival --- it was packed with one of the most diverse crowds I've ever been part of, black, white, hispanic, young, old, gay, and straight and there wasn't a dry eye in the place. has a moving tribute to the tremendous life and work of Howard Zinn. May our lives take inspiration from his commitment to sharing the stories of the people. RIP Howard Zinn.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010


In college as part of my Introduction to Environmental Studies class we were given the opportunity to participate in a program teaching environmental literacy organized by the Orion Society. As one does, I learned a lot by attempting to teach something. Now, every time I walk into a bookstore I try and find a copy of the latest issue of the beautiful and provocative Orion Magazine. I don't always buy a copy but yesterday I did. While the interview with Kevin Kelly, founder of Wired magazine called Tending the Garden of Technology was what initially caught my attention, there's a ton of other stimulating material within those 80 pages. Check it out.

Monday, January 04, 2010

What is the answer? What is the question?

You can listen to yesterday's sermon at Grace Cathedral, here.  Happy New Year!

Many thanks to these two...