Sunday, March 19, 2017

Thank You notes Show the Reach of Our Advent Gifts

During this time of Lent, Advent feels like it was a long time ago. But we recently received some notes that show the many blessings that came from the Advent project created by our outgoing Director of Children, Youth, and Families, Robin Taylor.

You may remember that more than 30 St. Paul’s families signed up to engage in Advent through an at home spiritual practice devised by Robin. Each family was given a basket and daily scripture and meditation cards, one for each day of Advent. Each family was also matched with a family in the All Kids Academy Head Start program at St. Alban’s in El Cajon, many of them refugee families. The cards asked the St. Paul family to meditate on an idea and, if they wanted to, add something to the basket for their match family. In January, Robin then took a carload stuffed full of gifts to St. Albans.

Last month, St. Paul’s received gifts of gratitude in return from some of the families at St. Alban’s. They sent thank you notes, chocolates, and a teddy bear. We invite you to read their touching notes, which have been transcribed below:

To the wonderful people at St. Paul’s Cathedral,

This is just a short note where I can’t say thank you enough for the beautiful Epiphany gifts and turkey. The card from your best friend A makes me want to explore and the scarf, hat and gloves were much appreciated for my daughter. My grandson is thrilled for baseball season to start to use his new glove and my son who is autistic fell in love with the backpack. Every item is cherished and appreciated.
Thank you,
T, K, KJ and M
Thank you for the Christmas gift and turkey. My family really appreciated the wonderful gifts and drawing! Love,
The H Family   *********************************************************************************
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. We are very honored and humbled to be blessed by the staff and families at St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Many love and blessings to you all,
The F Family
Thank you so much for the gifts. As a single mother of two small children, I am very appreciative of all of this. My children are as grateful as I am. Every bit helps make my life and my children’s life better. Again thank you so much. Happy Holidays from myself and my babies.
Thank you!
M, N, and N
Dear C
We are very grateful for the blessings you have given us. I’m also a grandma, and I know what is like to be proud of one’s family. God bless you, and your family too. Also, I know you like crafts, so I give these to you with love!
NP and family
Thank you for the act of kindness and everybody included.
Thank you from the B family *********************************************************************************
To Whom It May Concern,
I wanted to write a letter acknowledging the generosity and kindness this holiday season. My son was rewarded with a Three Kings Basket with numerous great gifts, as well as a holiday turkey. We are very grateful that we were chosen to receive such great gifts.
Thank you again,
S, R, and W
Dear A & family
Thank you so much for all the wonderful goodies. We truly appreciate them. We hope your holidays were great.
A & B
I really want to thank you for the beautiful gesture of generosity that you so kindly give to us. My kids and I enjoy the basket gifts and we also went on a shopping spree (groceries!). Words do not express my gratitude, but I am very thankful.
The R Family
Thank you so much for all the gifts. My son is very grateful and as a single mother of two children I appreciate it very much as well. My little family is very fortunate to have received these gifts. God Bless!

Amikas Tiny House Expo and City Council meeting

Visit the Amikas Tiny House Expo - A bridge from Homeless to Housed  held at St. Luke's March 15- MArch 26 .  Amikas will be presenting a demonstration of emergency sleeping cabins and very affordable bungalow homes at an Expo at St Luke’s Episcopal Church from March 15-30.   The structures could be a crucial part of San Diego’s efforts to house homeless people by filling the gap of insufficient emergency shelter and the scarcity of very affordable housing.   This part of an effort spearheaded by Amikas to amend the California Shelter Crisis Act to authorize a limited period where San Diego can build emergency bridge housing. 

Hopefully, they city will adopt this type of short term solution to house the current homeless population until long term plans are finalized.  There will be a special City Council meeting on March 20 @ 1:00pm - Golden Hall.  Any questions, please contact  Rev. Susan Asarita @301.943.4550 or Jen Jow @ 619.840.2327.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Meet your new People's Warden!

As your new "People's Warden" I was going to do a write up detailing who I am,  my credentials, and the ministries I participate in at St. Paul's. I felt this would give those who didn't know me a chance to learn more about me and why it is a honor and a privilege to serve this community.

I decided not to waste your time with boring details, but give you (the congregation) an opportunity to let me know you better. You are the foundation, heart and soul of this cathedral and in order for me to serve you best it is important to understand your needs and expectations. Open communication along with trust and respect for one another is my guide both personally and professionally.

You can look for me on some Sunday's after the 8am service by the greeter table, mingling with others in the courtyard, or headed to the forum. During the week there's a huge possibility that I am on campus attending a meeting, setting up for an event, or doing some type of volunteer work.

We are a large cathedral with lots of people gathering here daily, it can be quite overwhelming for those not used to all the hustle and bustle. I never knew that so much goes on here until after I started to serve on different ministries and volunteer to help with projects in the facilities and operations department.

I look forward to meeting and getting to know each of you better during this year and thank you for trusting me to serve you. . Please feel free to contact me at (routes to my personal email) or my cell 619.840.2327. Any feedback, questions, joys, and concerns are always welcomed.

Blessings and Peace,


Jennifer Jow
People's Warden and Outreach Chair

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Chapter Retreat

I agreed to write a blog about the recent Chapter Retreat that was held on the evening of Friday, Feb. 3 and all day Saturday, Feb. 4th. And it has taken me longer than I had planned, secondary to the depth of information that was imparted and what we were asked to reflect on. Being as I am a new member, Saturday evening was a time to meet all the members of the Chapter and that includes our treasurer, chancellor, etc. Actually, I knew most of them by recognition and some I have known for many years. I thought I knew what many did and then found out I really didn’t have an in-depth knowledge of the skills that so many of the Chapter members possess. I would say that St. Paul’s is lucky to have a such a variety of people representing many walks of life who want the best for St. Paul’s.

On Saturday, we heard in depth reports of our financial status, the campus building plans, the legal framework which we operate under, and what future hopes are. We also spent time reviewing our Baptismal Covenant and its origins including Old Testament and New Testament contributions. Our task is to come up with a Chapter Covenant that will spiritually guide our behavior in future chapter meetings and our interaction with our fellow parishioners and those outside of the Cathedral. I think that people left the retreat with a spiritual commitment.

After the retreat, a tour of St. Paul’s Plaza, a new facility in east Chula Vista was offered. Even though I had seen articles in the newspaper and live only 7 ½ miles from the Plaza, I was the only one that evidently had not taken the tour previously. At our first Chapter meeting the following Tuesday, I was asked how I liked the tour. They were surprised when I said it was a 90 minute tour. I am an Occupational Therapist that works with the elderly and I am not a spring chicken any more either. One of my professional interests is working with the elderly on accessibility so I wanted to see more than the usual tour plus I had many questions. The tour guide was knowledgeable and seemed to be pleased to accommodate my interests.

So, my overall impression of that weekend was I came away excited to be serving my fellow parishioners and finally being able to fulfill a desire I have had for several years of serving on the Chapter. I have been attending St. Paul’s since 1986, so I am able to see the progress we have made in serving so many needs and building the community we now have. I think the most important part in sustaining St. Paul’s is developing relationships with God as our guide within and outside of our community.

Susan McClure, Chapter Member 

St Paul's Cathedral Chapter Retreat, 2017

Sunday, March 12, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: God So Loved the World

There's a lot of baggage attached to this section of John's Gospel. Many of us have been beaten over the head with questions about being born again. We have become almost immune to the power of verse 16: God so loved the world ... because it's been abused and over-exposed, on billboards and even at football games. I have a vivid memory of being told, at age 13, on a car ferry in the middle of the Irish Sea, that a bad bout of seasickness on top of a sleepless night was God calling me to be born again (I didn't believe the earnest teenage evangelist who told me this). So let's admit that it's hard for many of us to hear this passage as the good news that it really is.

I wonder what happens if we come to the Gospel story by way of our Genesis story. You may remember that last week we heard the story of the Fall, the first time humankind was tempted to sin and of course failed the test. Now we have leapt to the twelfth chapter of Genesis. In the intervening chapters a lot has happened, and much of it isn't good: the first murder, the spread of violence and crime, the flood, Noah's drunkenness, the tower of Babel. It seems that humanity is determined to thwart God's loving plan for peace and obedience. So, God surprises us by coming up with a radical new approach: unconditional blessing. God will bless Abram (and Sarai, although she isn't mentioned here) to be a blessing for humankind. All they have to do is leave the nest, launch out into unknown territory, trust that God will guide them and care for them, and they will become the names by which all humanity will be blessed.

It's really quite astonishing. After all that disobedience and disappointment, in the face of all the evidence of humankind's faithlessness, God chooses to stick around, to remain in relationship, to continue to try new ways to care for the creation. God is not going to give up on loving us. And why Abram? We aren't told of any special virtues or gifts that cause God to single him out for this honor. In fact, the one thing we do know is that his wife Sarai is barren, and childlessness has usually been regarded as a sign of God's disfavor rather than the reverse. This elderly, childless couple will be the parents of a great nation. Notice how God repeatedly confounds our expectations and our small ideas of justice by choosing the most unlikely people to carry the blessing forward.

And it is carried forward, by one flawed individual after another, through treachery, adultery, violence, greed, incest, corruption, idolatry, murder - the pages of Scripture are filled with reasons for God to give up on us, and yet it never happens. God does make of Abram and Sarai a great nation, and that nation becomes the yeast that leavens the lump of humanity. Through God's people, all the people of the earth will be blessed, and the blessing has come all the way down to us, God's people in this time and place, flawed and sinful as God's people have always been, and yet still charged with carrying the blessing forward. And God loves us through it all, in spite of everything, no matter what.

We carry the blessing forward when we reflect the unconditional love of God. When we open our doors to our neighbors. When we go out and offer ashes to people hungering for God. When we give water to thirsty dogs in the St Patrick's Day parade. When we become extended family for those who have been rejected by their biological families. When we protest and march on behalf of immigrants, or women, or transgender people, or this fragile earth, our island home.

In their different ways, both the Genesis story and today's Gospel are pregnant with possibility. They speak of the future in God's longed-for world. If Abram obeys God's call he will be a blessing. If Nicodemus commits himself to God he will be born into a new life. God is always preparing something new, something we cannot articulate or understand. What is this new thing to be birthed? It lies ahead, just out of our sight on this pilgrimage of life. God is leading us towards a new thing, a fruitful future, and God is not concerned with the past or who we used to be but only with who we are becoming now.

Spare a thought for Nicodemus. Maybe you've been in that place of being a seeker, an inquirer, hesitant to commit. Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He is a public person, a community leader. Perhaps he has something to lose by being seen with Jesus. Our faith doesn't cost us anything - or at least, no more than the time, talent, and treasure that we willingly give. But there are Christians in the world for whom faith is costly indeed. This week I read a news story about a Syrian man who converted from Islam to Christianity and was baptized in an Oklahoma church. Knowing he could be in danger from violent extremists in his home country he asked the church not to publish video or photos of his baptism, but they were excited about the conversion and shared the news on the web. When the man returned to Syria for a visit he was captured and tortured by fundamentalists who included members of his own family. Fortunately he escaped before they executed him as they had planned. Not surprisingly, when he returned to the States he sued the church, to discourage other churches from advertising their conversions. Faith can be very costly, and we should never take for granted our privilege of the free exercise of religion.

So Nicodemus, as someone active in local politics, is cautious, and he chooses not to wear his faith on hs sleeve. I'm reminded of my shift of Ashes to Go at City Hall last week, and of the two elected officials who greeted me warmly but declined to have ashes imposed. Compare and contrast this with Tony Reali, the ESPN commentator who is known for wearing his ashes on screen every year. Reali wrote about his practice, and here's a little of what he said.

"Realizing faith and spirituality can have [a] current voice is a powerful thing when you consider where we are in the world today... What happens if it feels like the world isn’t progressing the way it should? Trying to answer that last question is like hugging smoke. But I think I know how I want my answer to start: by not being silent. Change starts with voices. Those voices might be sparked by anger — maybe we have to allow for that — but they can’t only be anger. What if the voice comes from empathy? What if the way to move forward is by staying engaged with other people and putting our feet on the street? What if we saw people as the human beings they are, not the scarf on their head, country on the passport, or ash on their face? These are the questions I find I’m asking myself. Questions that should not be silenced." (Washington Post commentary, March 4, 2017)

As we walk through these middle Sundays in Lent we will hear stories of Jesus interacting with a whole cast of characters: today Nicodemus, then the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, and finally Lazarus and his sisters. Each story takes us a step closer to the final drama of the Gospel. Each step leads us further along a path from disbelief to conversion: Nicodemus is at the beginning, not even ready to be seen talking to Jesus. The Samaritan woman not only talks with him in public but believes him and tells her neighbors about him. The man born blind miraculously receives the gift of sight and after being rejected by his own spiritually blind community becomes a disciple. And Lazarus is restored from the grave to life, demonstrating in the most dramatic and public way the power of Jesus to give new life to those who love him and who want to love him more.

Lent invites us to journey with these characters and with each other from wherever we found ourselves on Ash Wednesday to a place of new understanding, new trust, new life as God's beloveds, carrying the blessing forward. You won't want to miss a single Sunday as we walk together along this wilderness road to Jerusalem, to the Cross, and ultimately to the joyous miracle of Easter.

March 12, 2017
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Places in the Heart

Today is the 1st Sunday of Lent, 2017 - a season that draws us on, from the Incarnation of our Lord, from the starry sky of his divine manifestation, into the lengthening daylight of a more introspective season. For today, we ponder in our hearts how the Holy Spirit, who visited Mary, who gave Jesus life in the first place, and who blessed him at his bap-tism; how the Holy Spirit has now driven Jesus up into the wilderness - so that he may be tested during these 40 days and 40 nights, for the hard journey that lies ahead. What a change in perspective this is for us all - as from the glorious vision on the Mt. of Trans-figuration, that dazzled our eyes just last Sunday, we come now into this desolate place.

For then, the disciples saw the shining face of Jesus revealed, at high altitude, where God even spoke to them from the bright cloud - now God's Beloved Son shows forth the face of his human determination and conviction. Pared down. Flint hard. Uncompromising. Here in the wilderness, all sound is absorbed, we notice, and the silence is deafening... Yet, after 40 days and 40 nights, the silence is broken by the combat of Jesus with Satan. This is no mere word game, nor test of debate skills, no scriptural quiz show to reveal the weakest link. It isn't a question of who knows scripture better... For, when Satan attempts to deploy scripture as a weapon, it fails. The combatants may seem equally skilled, yet, it is Jesus, who prevails. And angels come to minister to him, as Satan slinks away...

Think of what Satan offered... Bread?! Yes, hungry people must be fed. Yet, all good things come from God's Providence, to feed so much more than just our bodies...

Physical safety? Jesus will not test God on this point... Political power? It will be cen-tral to the justice of the coming realm of God. Yet not power at any price, nor power for it's own sake. Certainly not power from bowing down before the personification of evil, and worshipping its malevolent form! Having fasted 40 days and 40 nights, Jesus clings to bedrock truth, and to God's commandments. For this combat is about spiritual allegi-ance and purity of heart. "Worship the Lord your God, and God only shall you serve."

And while it's true, that Jesus affirms the value of Satan's bait: food, security and power,

He will not compromise his own integrity. Jesus stands firm, holds fast to God's truth. He prevails with faith, not with force. And he steadfastly refuses to take credit - or to cast himself in the role of hero. Soli Deo Gloria. "To God alone, be the glory." The real bat-tle, Jesus shows us, is waged and won in the believer's heart, where our foes are internal... where we are tempted to fall prey to self-confidence, self-interest and self-promotion. We are tempted to confuse ends with means, to rationalize everything, every day, every step of the way, in the form of a self-centered triumphalism; all the while thinking that righteousness personified leads to personal pride and praise. Not by this season's light...

For Jesus, born and blessed by the Holy Spirit, knew that listening to Satan is always catastrophic. Listening to God alone is what we all are called to do. Jesus' own life was now set on a course that could end in no other way than in a direct and final confronta-tion with this tempter, who promises what can't be delivered. The stakes are very high, indeed... Who would have the last word over the future of this world? The Spirit of God, or Satan? There could be no compromise with this tempter, who spoke to Jesus in the desert. These two would constantly encounter one another in the months to come, until that final moment in another desolate place, called the Garden of Gethsemane... The temptations presented to Jesus there, will echo, throughout his hard journey to the cross.

Along the way, Jesus had to constantly warn people against speaking about his mighty deeds, lest those very deeds be turned against him. And, there would be other taunts, about turning stones into bread: As for the 5,000, not counting women, children and the elderly, who were fed in the wilderness from five loaves and two fish, they would want him always to feed them. To give them their daily bread. People would pursue Jesus as a miracle worker rather than as God's beloved Son. They would see how powerfully the word of God worked through him. So that he would have to say, "Your sins are for-given," before saying "Take up your bed and walk." For the two were conjoined in him, and release from suffering wasn't the only end in view, for his mission and ministry.

And, in the end there would be another taunt... to throw himself down from a high place:

"Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God." Do the spectacular, then we'll believe! There would be constant pressure for Jesus to wrest the mantle of power from the dominion of this world, in order to accomplish God's purposes. The people yearned for one to come, who would throw off the yoke of Rome. Even his disciples kept looking for him to do that. "Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory," James and John said. Even on the triumphal entry into Jerusalem - the tempter was there again, in all the "Hosannas," and acclamations of "blessed is he, who comes in the name of the Lord." "If you will bow down and worship me - I will give you all this!" was the echoing whisper in Jesus' ears.

Knowing all this, it shouldn't surprise us, that Christ's Church sets aside 40 days and 40 nights as a time for examination of the whole community of faith. In the early church, Ash Wednesday's penitential prayer called for any who had committed "notorious sin" to repent and do penance befitting their deed, so that they might be returned to the fold. That prayer was offered on our behalf, just last week, and I suspect that most of us didn't think the term: "notorious sin," applied to us, for we assume that none of our sins are excessive or dramatic enough, to be counted as "notorious." Yet, the Church crafted this prayer out of the early experience of persecution and oppression: Those who were not strong enough to resist, those who had betrayed their Lord, informed on their neighbors or paid bribes to be left alone, they had, in the eyes of the Church, "sinned notoriously."

Then, as now, private sin had public and political consequences. Lent became a season to refocus on love of God and love of neighbor, so that a homecoming might be possible, and Community in Christ restored. Even today the Church wrestles with "notorious sin" and its consequences in all parts of the world, on all continents, as we learn in daily news reports, and as we face the fears of extremist ideologies... that lead to threats of terror in places where the Church has been persecuted in the past, and even now is being persecut-ed - places where the Church, too, has been and sometimes still is complicit in wielding illegitimate, oppressive power... where fear for survival drives neighbors to hate, to be-tray, even to take lives. In all of these places, the Church agonizes over notorious sin. And yet, the Church in this season, is called to offer a healing absolution in response to heart-felt confession, truth-telling and repentance - so that reconciliation and restoration to right relationship is possible - between neighbors and nations, all around the world.

And, lest we think that Lent is only for the sake of others: our own spiritual fasting, lis-tening, and reflection leads us into our own personal self-examination, repentance, con-fession and absolution. And yes, a Holy Lent leads us toward our own personal recon-ciliation with God and our neighbor, as well. For the false gods of self-righteousness, arrogance, isolation, lust for power, even vengeance - these idolatries are always with us - always ready to lead us astray. And yes, the tempter will return, again and again, for sin is "always crouched at the door" of our hearts, "looking for an opportune moment." Yet, the Good News is - that we are not left alone in the wilderness of our struggles...

For God sends angels to us, too, who bring God's Spirit, to touch & restore us. These visi-tations will come suddenly - when we least expect them, when we are most exhausted & vulnerable, they will bring the Love of God to us - when we are most in need, they will come, to lift us up. Therefore, in our worship & service of God, Jesus' mission & ministry continues, as we bring our own witness into his Story of Salvation, his story of freedom from oppression, with justice, mercy and love. For yes, as Jesus has shown us today, we are not left to languish in a desolate place. And so, even with traces of ashes still on our brows, we move out - from the innermost places of our hearts, into all the earth. That is what the hard journey to the cross requires & the Holy Spirit strengthens us, on the way.


The Rev. Dr. Carol M. Worthing
March 5, 2017 St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral
1st Sunday of Lent 

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The Ash Wednesday Sermon: Two Lenten Truths

Holy God, You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind;
and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we
return. For so did you ordain when you created us, saying,
"You are dust, and to dust you shall return." All of us go down
to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song of hope and praise.

It is striking to me that as we hear the words “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return” the smear of ash across our foreheads does not stop with a horizontal smudge -- but continues with a second vertical line to form a cross. Perhaps that reflects the two truths the Church trusts that you hear tonight -- that your life will end, and God’s love for you is endless.

Oh, we know that first truth well enough. Well enough to do everything we can, consciously or unconsciously, to avoid facing up to it. The life of my friend Cassandra ended too soon by a car accident while we were in high school, and I remember realizing for the first time that there’s no reason that couldn’t have been me instead. It was a terrifying thought for a teenager convinced of his invincibility! The clarity of the realization faded in the weeks that followed; the truth that “we are all terminal cases” is difficult to bear in the conscious mind.

Even more bracing was my first experience taking our then three-month old daughter Robin to the Ash Wednesday service at our seminary. When the priest told her that she too was dust and that she too would return to the earth, I got angry. If my perfect baby daughter wasn’t going to live forever -- well. Maybe something was deeply wrong about this entire project, experiment, whatever you want to call it -- life -- that God placed us into.

Sitting in the NICU at UCSD Medical Center with our second child, Jem -- seeing the tiny, tiny babies around us living only with the help of machines, fighting to stay alive -- I found a new gratitude so close to the edge separating life from death.

But are we ever that far from the edge ourselves? How precarious is the ledge we’re standing on? And we don’t live in Raqqah. Or Mosul. Or South Sudan. Remember that you are dust. Your life will end.

And yet. Even at the grave, even at the edge of our existence, we make our song of hope and praise. Because God’s love for you is endless. You! I know, it doesn’t make any sense. We don’t deserve this love. We turn away from God time after time after time, forgetting who made us with tender thoughtfulness and affection. We disregard, often willfully, God’s wise guidelines for right living, and reap the consequences of these poor decisions. Even worse, we fall into bad habits and addictions that strip us of our free will. We become slaves to our desires, our insecurities, our fears. Have mercy on us, oh Lord! And God does. I don’t know why, but God does.

As most of you know Laurel and I are working at St. Luke’s in North Park now -- missing y’all though! (I’m still pastoring the Cathedral’s 1 pm Spanish-speaking congregation, too.) Last night St. Luke’s held a Shrove Tuesday pancake dinner -- which not one of our Sudanese congregants attended, incidentally -- I guess we missed the cultural memo on that one -- but was attended by some of our early morning service parishioners. Beautifully, at least a dozen of the participants of our Tuesday night AA group came early and enjoyed a meal with us. The scene was unlikely and strange and perfect in a way that only the Holy Spirit could orchestrate. With only a few minutes before the start of their meeting, I invited a tall, 50s something man looking for the group to grab a plate and dig in. With some Zydeco music playing on my phone in the background, he said hello to our pancake flipper, asked about the syrup, grabbed a couple sausages, and found a napkin and fork. He turned to go, then hesitated, suddenly looked me in the eye as if answering a question I’d just asked, and spoke in the voice you’d use if you were asking the love of your life to marry you, “I’m 412 days sober. This is new life.” And he walked out of the room, taking my breath with him. I didn’t even know his name. But I know his God.

412 days of new life. God has mercy on us, and God loves us every single day of our new lives and our old lives. Your life will end. God’s love for you is endless.

Ash Wednesday marks day one of a “searching and fearless moral inventory” that you are invited to pursue through the forty days of Lent. During this time of courageous introspection we will be following Jesus on the road to Jerusalem. He is walking toward his cross, and the crowds that followed him in Galilee are thinning. Fewer and fewer are ready to make that trek, especially when they find out Jesus’ final destination. But what about you? Are you ready to follow?

You don’t need to know for sure. Because you don’t have to do this alone. We’ll be walking together -- so take the next step and join the Wednesday night inquirers class, or the community-wide book study, or make a habit of attending church each week and staying afterward to meet someone new.

You are infinitely treasured by the Creator of heaven and earth, and you were made for relationship with Jesus, God’s beloved Son. Though your life will end, God’s love for you is endless. Make these days count for good.

The Rev Colin Mathewson

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Be Transfigured

When I worked at the children’s hospital, one of the most difficult tasks children and their parents encountered was physical rehab.

Oftentimes, the kids would have come in to the hospital from a car wreck, or from a long-planned surgery, or some other big life event. And just when they were starting to feel human again, just when whatever ailments and brokenness the world had thrown at them was starting to feel like it might be finally letting up, it would be time to endure the regular rituals of the torture of physical therapy.

Of course the fun thing about physical therapy in a hospital was that it was never something anyone did alone, and oftentimes it looked very different than for adult counterparts. It would be easy to smile on the inside and outside when watching a five year old peddling a big-wheel down the hall with a community of support cheering her on, until I’d look at her face and see that this wasn’t all fun for her, it was work.

I remember one patient in particular screaming at her therapist and parents begging not to have to get up and go to therapy; pleading to be able to lay in her safe space and continue her healing. The pain of healing those muscles by exercising them was just too excruciating after experiencing the healing of being sedentary and recuperating in bed.

But of course the pain of therapy was also part of her healing. Otherwise she would just be stuck in the bed forever. She needed both.

The gospel today comes just a few paragraphs and, according to the text, six days after Peter has rebuked Jesus for talking about being killed, and Jesus rebuked right back for Peter’s focus on worldly instead of divine things.

I wonder what it was like for these disciples to be on this journey with Jesus, to have this man becoming such a source of light for them in a broken world, only to have him tell them that he would die in the end? I can only imagine I might have begun to doubt, to break down, to lose the hope I had in this man for the healing of the brokenness of the world that I had thought he was going to change.

And so I imagine them going to the top of the mountain in this passage with some weariness, with the cares of the world heavy on their shoulders, because this Jesus, this man they thought was going to release them from the empire, give them back their freedom and dignity, save them from the persecution of Rome, has said he is going to die at their very hands and that they are not focused on the right things.

But they get to the top of this mountain and something changes, you see, something amazing happens. They have this spiritual experience that gives them a glimpse of what Jesus was talking about. And they are so excited about it that now Peter gets it! He doesn’t want to go back down into the brokenness of the world-- he wants to stay up here in this more spiritual plane and build permanent housing so he can live this way forever!

And I have to tell you I can relate. This week alone has been trying. National news has been tough anyway in recent times, but this week I’ve watched several people I know harrassed and bullied personally. I was called urgently to the hospital yesterday as a parishioner fell sick. I was faced with the pressing pastoral care of more than one call for folks who are challenged with the daily grind of existence, and whose struggles relate very little to what is going on in Washington or anywhere but trying to eat, or find housing, or whatever.

So, when I am broken myself, whether by the cares of the world, or physical distress, or by the overwhelming sense of not being able to believe that its going to be ok for whatever reason, I need a place to go where I can have a change like Peter and the disciples on the mountaintop, where I can see and have hope and be a witness to a transfigured reality-- where I can rebuild hope again and see the glowing and radiant love of God.

Like the girl in the hospital bed there is a time to lie still and be changed by a passive kind of healing, by a kind of restoration that comes from experiencing the care of others, the disciples witnessing the voice boom out, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased!” And somehow knowing that because of that you are the beloved too, and that we are all the beloved, and letting your beloved-ness permeate your weariness, and sink down deep into your bones until you feel hope again.

I have to tell you, the high-church tradition does a wonderful job of creating that kind of mountaintop experience, at least for me-- of making a space to feel your own belovedness, to be a witness to the change happening within that reminds and restores your own belovedness, and makes you cry out, “This is so good, It is good for us to be here!” Like Peter. I find those mountaintop experiences not only in good liturgy, but in communing with nature, in quiet and stillness, in music, and in the company of good friends.

But of course that isn’t the end of the story. The disciples can’t stay there, they can’t build booths; they can’t live on that mountaintop. The mountaintop is a place of witness to the deep change of God. But the change they experience only has real effects if they go back down the mountain and live differently as a result. The mountaintop is the key to living a life without fear down the mountain in the messiness of a world that is hurting.

The girl in the hospital had the surgery, relieving her pain, but it’s of no use if she doesn’t get up and do the rehab to make her walk again, then walk differently using all that happened to her.

In the transfiguration story, the thing that happens immediately after the disciples get down the mountain is that they try to heal a boy with demons. They don’t succeed and Jesus has to help them, but they try, together.

And, for me, that is the real essence of the high-church tradition. We are made into one in the waters of baptism-- as the deacon says when she sends Eucharist out to homebound parishioners: “We who are many are one body.” One body. We are changed by God, transfigured, shown a different way as the church, brought out of the brokenness of the world. We are offered healing and respite. But- and this is where the high-church tradition sometimes screws it up in practice- we can’t stay there. We go out, as one body, not as individual zealots, understanding that some parts of the one body need more time for healing and some are called to go further down the mountain. We won’t risk an individual for sacrifice but perhaps will be called to risk the whole body together as the Church in order to save the world. Former presiding bishop John Hines said during a former period of civil strife that only a crucified church can speak for a crucified savior. We don’t go as you and me and him and her. We who are many are one body because we share of one bread, one cup. We are sent out each and every week as one body to go back down the mountain, to put our own healing to work, to love and serve with gladness and singleness of heart, we who are one body, to go down the mountain and be instruments of the One who heals the sick and mends the wounds and relieves the anger and has empathy for the misunderstood and who brings justice for the oppressed and who knows each and every living thing as God’s very own beloved.

You know, I used to be a member of a parish that had this beautiful, giant stained glass window behind the altar. The messianic figure depicted in that window had open arms, embracing many children coming into them. I imagined myself in this image as one of those children, running full speed into that embrace for healing and wholeness, to be changed by the very act of being loved after being broken by the world outside.

I also imaged that open embrace turning, after a time, into a gesture of sending forth. Go! You’ve got work to do. We’ve got work to do. And so, I imagined, the cycle would work. Come and be transfigured, changed, and healed. Go, be sent into the world, and no matter how broken that world might be, put my love for you to work. Come And be healed, be sent and heal others, come and be healed, be sent and heal others. It’s the work of us, this one body, together.

It only put a small damper on my vision of that window when I found out the figure in it was a woman who had donated a large sum of money some fifty years prior So she could see herself up there every week, and that the figure was not, in fact, Jesus. But I think the image is still true and I still call her Jesus anyway.

This is the last Sunday of the season of Epiphany. As one of my colleagues says, I invite you to keep on Epiphing as we turn toward Jerusalem and enter Lent, as we come down the mountain and face the brokenness of this world. Stay in a rhythm of coming, being healed, and of being sent and open to the wounds of the world. Be transfigured, and be changed in the one who loves you as beloved, now and always.

The Rev Jeff Martinhauk
26 Feb 2017

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Holy God, Holy People

 Let's start by acknowledging how hard this is.

Matthew Chapters 5-7. The Sermon on the Mount. The Beatitudes. It all sounds so harmless, so poetic. Lovely titles for impossible demands.

This long series of Jesus' teachings, from which our Gospel readings have come for the last four weeks, starts with paradox - blessed are the poor in spirit - and proceeds to the unthinkable. Rejoice when you are reviled? Keep every jot and tittle of the 600 plus demands of the Law of Moses? Pluck out your own eye if you have a lustful thought?

And now, today's verses ask us to forgive our oppressors, to love our enemies, and to be perfect as God is perfect.

OK, right about now you might reasonably be planning to spend future Sunday mornings watching the talk shows and drinking good coffee. Because this stuff is too hard. Jesus, you call us to follow you, but then you ask us to do totally unreasonable things. As the disciples once complained, "This teaching is difficult: who can accept it?"

The church has put a lot of effort over the centuries into interpreting the sting out of these teachings, to make Christianity seem easy, compatible with business as usual, a set of intellectual propositions, rather than what it is: a transformative and counter-intuitive way of being that defies convention and sets expectations of our behavior that we cannot possibly match.

The Gospel continues a theme of the Leviticus reading, which gives us a tiny sliver of the pages and pages of the Holiness Code, a section of the Law of Moses that lays out how the people of God are supposed to live. Where Leviticus says, "you shall be holy, for I the Lord your God am holy," Jesus exhorts his followers to "be perfect ... as your heavenly Father is perfect." Holy or perfect, both seem equally out of reach for most of us.

I need to point out that the last verse of our Gospel passage is translated in a way that doesn't convey the full meaning of what Jesus said. "Perfect" here refers to reaching a goal or completing a task. Perfection as we understand it wasn't even a concept in the ancient Jewish world. There was no Hebrew word for it. Jesus is however suggesting something equally unachievable: we are to imitate the characteristics of God: unconditional love, compassion, and generosity, we are to be indiscriminate in our inclusion. The scholar Walter Wink suggests this translation: "you must be all-inclusive, as your heavenly Abba is all-inclusive."

It's helpful for us to identify the people addressed in each of these texts. In Leviticus, Moses addresses people who are privileged and influential in their community: landowners, employers, judges. The admonitions in those verses are for those who affect the lives of others. By contrast, in Matthew, Jesus is talking to the dispossessed poor, people who are beaten down by military occupation, who have nothing of value left but their dignity and their hope that God hasn't abandoned them. And he's apparently asking them to submit to further abuse.

As we read these texts we do well to remember that most of us here are privileged by any global standard. It's hard for us to enter imaginatively into the mindset of someone who is not so privileged. This month our adult formation program is exploring the theme of reconciliation by focusing on race. Our Sunday forums have been opening our eyes to what it's like to be in a place of powerlessness in this powerful nation, giving us a glimpse of another kind of existence, a life more like that of Jesus' listeners than most of our lives or the lives of ancient judges and landowners.

This context gives us different questions to ask of the text. How do you offer the other cheek to the rogue police officer who threatens you with violence? How do you give more than the predatory lender demands? How do you offer extra effort to the employer who routinely expects you to work overtime for no additional pay? How can any of this be the way God wants us to live? This is a real struggle for people of faith. How can such submission affirm your identity as a beloved child of God, made in God's image?

The answer lies in knowing the historical context of Jesus's words, and there is good news here. Jesus offers those who feel powerless the gift of affirming their own humanity, their own inestimable value in the eyes of their creator. He offers the gift of living fully as a child of God in the midst of a sinful and broken world.

To slap someone on the right cheek, using the right hand (which would always be the case in the middle east), would require a back-handed blow, which was only used in the Roman Empire to admonish an inferior. So a backhand slap is intended to humiliate, to put someone in their place. When you as that someone turn the other cheek you are saying, "Try again. You have not taken away my dignity. You have not shamed me. I am still as human as you are."

The other two examples - being forced to hand over your clothing or go the extra mile - likewise refer in the Biblical context to actions designed to shame and humiliate people who were lower on the social scale than the perpetrators. By showing willingness to go further than the oppressor forces us to go, we assert our dignity. In teaching us that we can choose to love those who hate us and dismiss our humanity, Jesus teaches us to reclaim our agency and reject the identity of victim. And loving our enemies, for Jesus, is about our actions, not about our feelings.

Last week I saw the movie "Fences", an adaptation of the August Wilson play. The main character, played brilliantly by Denzel Washington, is an African-American man who believes his early hopes and aspirations were destroyed by racial prejudice, and whose anger over this injustice continues to simmer under the surface, doing terrible damage to his relationship with his teenage son. It seems that the only way he can maintain his self-image as a man with dignity and worth is to dominate and control his son. At a critical moment in the story, the son confronts his father with a question, "How come you don't like me?" I don't think there was a single person in the theater whose heart didn't crack when we heard that question.

As we awaited the father's response I found myself sitting forward in my seat, longing to say to him, "Tell him about love. Find it within yourself to acknowledge the love for your son that we all know is buried deep within your heart. Don't let this opportunity for transformation go by."

You will have to see the movie or the play for yourself if you want to know the father's answer.

For people who follow Jesus, love is the answer. We serve one who actually did turn the other cheek, did bless those who persecuted him, did pray for his enemies and even gave his life for people who were indifferent and unappreciative.

The way to follow Jesus is to learn to love as he loves. It's a hard lesson and we resist it mightily, because we want to see justice done: we don't want the wicked to prosper; we want to keep our hard-earned cash for ourselves. We know we can't be perfect in this life, and that knowledge, honestly faced, is what drives us into the embrace of one who will love us anyway, and who will, to our dismay, love just as much the people we despise and condemn.

God loves everyone with equal unbridled, undeserved, extravagant love. This is an essential part of God's nature. We will never be completely confident of God's love for us while we deny God's love for our enemies, because that opens the possibility that God might not love us.

Martin Luther once wrote, "This life is not a state of being righteous, but rather of growth in righteousness; not a state of being healthy, but a period of healing; not a state of being, but becoming; not a state of rest, but of exercise and activity; we are not yet what we shall be, but we grow towards it. The process is not yet finished, but is still going on; this life is not the end, it is the way to a better. All does not yet shine with glory; nevertheless, all is being purified."

And so we strive for that goal, because we are holy people who belong to a holy God, temples of the Holy Spirit, striving to love our neighbor and our enemy as God loves us, and learning to trust in the one who made us, who heals us, and will never let us go.

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
February 19 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Letter from the Dean re. episcopal transition

Dear people of St. Paul's,

By now many of you have read the letter our Bishop sent out early Monday morning, letting us know that he has accepted a call to serve the community at Virginia Theological Seminary. This comes as a surprise to many of us. Bishop Mathes has led the Diocese of San Diego for twelve years and has shepherded it through some tumultuous times. He has built a collegial clergy community and transformed the face of diocesan leadership with the move of the offices to the Episcopal Church Center. He has been an exemplary and inspiring bishop. As his cathedral, St. Paul's has enjoyed a special relationship with our bishop, celebrating our major feasts together and benefiting from his presence at midweek services and special occasions alike. Bishop Mathes welcomed me to San Diego three years ago and has been a steadfast encourager and mentor for me as a new Dean. His wife, Terri, offered the cathedral her professional expertise in our 2015 staff transition, and she is a beloved member of the congregation. We owe both of them much, and we will miss them dearly.

The good news is that the Episcopal Church has a strong and deliberate process for the transition of bishops, and our Standing Committee, which will lead the diocese during the interim, has a good roadmap to follow as this diocesan community sets out on the road to discern whom God will call as our next bishop. You can read the Standing Committee's letter here. I have no doubt that a number of Cathedral members will be involved in various ways as this process unfolds over the next two years.

Meanwhile, St. Paul's Cathedral will continue to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All without interruption. Our day-to-day, Sunday-to-Sunday life will not change. St. Paul's will continue to be a leader and resource for the rest of the diocese, and we will support the diocesan staff in every way possible.

I know you will join me in praying for Bishop Mathes, Terri, the diocesan staff, and the Standing Committee as they navigate the coming weeks and months. We will have several opportunities to give thanks for our Bishop's ministry among us and to say goodbye in appropriate style. He will be with us for the Easter Vigil and on Easter Day, and we will certainly plan a splendid liturgical leave-taking event in early July, marking the formal end of his episcopate.

Virginia Theological Seminary is blessed to be welcoming the Mathes family and we have been blessed to have them among us. Thanks be to God for faithful leaders and for a church which can meet the challenge of change.

Your sister in Christ,

The Very Rev Penny Bridges, Dean

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Power, Reconciliation, Resistance

Let’s talk about power.

Let me give you two images: the beheading of John the Baptist is the first. The second is the feeding of the thousands in Jesus’ ministry.

Somehow, this world does not doubt the former. Sometimes it is wielded by Herod, sometimes by Pharaoh, others by Caesar- the rulers of this world wield that kind of power and we covet and fear it. The imagery of the beheading of a dissident is visceral, present, and real. We can see it, we can imagine it.

But what about the power that comes to mind with the feeding of thousands of people from just a few loaves and fish? Even in the church, that kind of power is, well, doubted. It’s harder to get behind.

But let’s stick with it and build that picture out for a minute: imagine a world where everyone has enough. Imagine a community where all basic needs are met. Just for a moment, picture people being so kind to each other that even when there is a threat of not having enough for everybody, somehow the community wields so much kindness that somehow that scarcity turns it around into having enough for everybody. That spiritual energy of love is so strong in this image that the little bit of food mysteriously becomes enough. And that is a different kind of power than cutting off a man’s head. But for some reason, the world- and maybe even we- have a hard time giving it credence.

The psalm today is my favorite psalm in the whole psalter. It is the longest psalm in the text. It is an ode to the love of Torah, to the love of God’s law.

I know it’s a little weird to be a favorite. God’s law may invoke strange images, maybe involving Charlton Heston and lightning.

But if some kind of angry, wrathful God comes to mind when we mention the law, then that’s a distortion of what the law, the Torah, meant for the ancients.

The law for them was not restrictive. It was not a limitation on freedom. It was freedom. It was the way to a better life. It was the description of how to achieve that second elusive kind of neighborly power we were just talking about. The Israelites knew the first kind of power. They lived under Pharaoh's rule. Biblical scholar Walter Bruegemann describes their lives under Pharaoh like this: “Make bricks. Make more bricks. Make bricks without straw. Make more bricks. Do not take a break. Keep working.

Keep producing. Keep making bricks. These bricks will benefit Pharaoh and the building of Pharaoh's reign. Pharoah’s law for the predatory economy is ‘be more productive.’ Those who are not more productive do not get resources. It is coercive productivity. Pharoah is so anxious about losing his status, belongings, and authority that he chooses to kill his own work force, Hebrew baby boys.” 1

But they escaped, and they got to Sinai, and they received this new set of commandments, carried down the mountain by Moses, this new way of life. And its focus was not making bricks for somebody else. It’s focus: neighborliness. Bruegemann summarizes the ten commandments, that paradigm shift, this way: “Do not make God into a usable object. Do not make your neighbor into a commodity.”

Jesus, of course, was Jewish, and lived under that same law of neighborliness. And while we don’t have time to go into it fully today, the sermon on the mount that we have a little of today is a big part of Jesus’ attempt to recapture the essence of the law after the people had fallen away once again and tried to turn the law into Pharaoh's tool.

Now, it's a few thousand years later, and it’s popular in some circles to beat up on the Torah, on the law, because again we have folks who have turned the law into Pharaoh's tool. But that just isn’t what the Torah was for, and you can hear it in the psalmists voice as he sings out: Happy are they who walk in the ways of the Lord! Happy are they who observe his decrees! Oh, that I might keep your commandments, oh, that I keep your statutes! I will thank you when I have learned of your judgements, I will keep your ways of neighborliness-- don’t let me go back to the ways of Pharaoh.

Just a footnote- the psalmist doesn't say, “ make those people over there follow your ways.” The Psalm is an appeal to God to help the psalmist himself remember to be a part of it.

God’s ways are the way out of the anxiety of Pharaoh and the way into the peaceable kingdom of God’s abundant love. And that’s good news for us, even though it’s hard news.

I have to say that this has been especially on my mind this week as I have entered into at least two or three conversations a day on the role of the church in what some might call “the current unpleasantness.”

How do we balance reconciliation with justice as followers of Jesus?

Can’t we just move on already and talk about something peaceful?

A nice sermon on the sublime beauty of the Trinity would be lovely about now, some say.

The wonderful thing is that we have room to disagree on these things. That’s part of being neighborly and resisting Pharaoh.

Here are my reflections in light of our texts this week.

The Jesus we’ve got clarifies the law in a way that requires us to engage. We have to get our hands dirty, maybe even our whole body. As Jesus starts this gospel passage this morning he says that the commandment against murder isn’t really about just not killing people. That isn’t what leads to that beautiful kind of power that creates neighborliness. ​Lack of conflict isn’t what makes true peace​. It is the presence of reconciliation.

Nope, we’re not off the hook, and that is a shame because there are a lot of times that something shows up in my Facebook feed that I feel like I should really be awarded bonus points simply for not killing the poster of that article.

But nonetheless, Jesus brings the point home that God’s law isn’t about simply creating a society where we don’t kill each other, or even one where we don't have conflict. It is about creating something constructive instead. It is about creating a society where when people get angry, as they are want to do, they deal with it. They stop what they are doing, and they go and talk to one another, human to human, person to person, face to face. And they reconcile. And ​that is the most important thing. It isn’t really as simple as being a society that doesn’t kill each other. It is about being a society that values each other enough to care when we injure each other spiritually, emotionally, and psychologically.

Reconciliation doesn’t leave out resistance, though, because reconciliation is only possible when both parties are willing. At the beginning of the sermon on the mount we had the beatitudes, which called the community to value those who are discarded by Pharaoh’s power. Jesus at the beginning of this speech reminds the community that God’s law of neighborliness gives a special priority to those discarded by Pharaoh’s law.

And towards the end of the sermon on the mount, Jesus will direct the community to resistance. “You have heard it said an eye for an eye, but I say to you do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” Theologian Walter Wink says this passage is more accurately translated “do not resist violently.” 2 Wink says that turning the other cheek by itself is a form of resistance. We have in Christ a model for nonviolent resistance that is wholly foreign to the idea of retaliation with beheading, with taking tit for tat, and instead of retaliating against Caesar went to the cross, our ultimate symbol that when Pharaoh or Caesar or Pilate’s power appears to win, God’s power has the last say. In Jesus and the cross, the Church received the very difficult model of power in nonviolent resistance, of risking all that we have and all that we are for those who Pharaoh does not value. As many scholars have noted, we are not called to pacifism. Pacifism is passive. Nonviolence is active, taking an active stand by intentionally refusing to either be a helpless victim or a heartless monster, but instead reaffirming both your own dignity and the humanity of those who seek to dehumanize you or others. 2

Imagine where civil rights would be without nonviolent, Christian resistance. We celebrate the feast of Absalom Jones tomorrow as a triumph over the powers of Pharaoh when the church first tried to exclude African-Americans and suddenly refused to seat them anywhere but the balcony of the church. Absalom Jones lead the African-Americans in nonviolent resistance to that atrocity and left the church. The powers of neighborliness eventually were too strong to resist as the parties later reconciled, and the church later ordained Absalom Jones as the first African-American priest.

Absalom Jones and his followers ​resisted in faith, and I am glad for it. The final distinction I want to make is this: if you are simply members of the church, then none of this matters. The way of Jesus isn’t meant for members of a country club, each individually making decisions about what they like and don’t like. But if you, if we, are the body of Christ, joined together mystically in the unity of the Holy Spirit, then maybe the power of neighborliness has a chance. Then it is less important what you believe or what I believe and more important what we are called to do together, as one body with many members, each with a purpose and a value and knitted together into the larger fabric of humanity in the waters of baptism. That body’s purpose is to spread the law of neighborliness. Happy are they who walk in the ways of the Lord!

If being a part of that mystical body sounds interesting to you come explore it more deeply in the inquirers class this Lent, whether you have been here for 6 days, 6 months, or many years. If you are interested in how to live in neighborliness with our brothers and sisters from other faiths in a world afraid to leave the clutches of Pharaoh, I invite you to sign up for the book study small group this Lent so we can have small, safe spaces to build communities of neighborhood in the living waters of baptism.

Because the good news is that God wants for us what we keep forgetting: that every single person is valuable in this global neighborhood of abundant love. Every immigrant and every citizen. No matter who they voted for, they are valuable. No matter whether they spew hatred or spew love; they are made somehow in God’s image in this wondrous economy of God’s grace and neighborliness. And maybe the whole point the psalmist is trying to convey is that the only way we can get that is to walk in God’s ways. My friends, we have a way forward. It leads through the cross. It's a harder path than the way of Pharaoh. But it leads to a very different place-- to a peaceable kingdom full of neighborliness, love, and abundance. Which way shall we choose?

The Rev. Jeff Martinhauk
Epiphany 6A, February 12, 2017
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Ps 119:1-8


Monday, February 6, 2017

An Afternoon with Debbie Reynolds, A Month of Sundays with Mary Tyler Moore

Two bright lights of our entertainment heavens, Debbie Reynolds and Marry Tyler Moore left us recently. They both had charm, beauty and a perky sparkle of personality that shone like the true stars they were.

An Afternoon with Debbie Reynolds

I was a student at Lincoln High School in Des Moines, Iowa when I spent an afternoon with Miss Reynolds who was still a teenager herself. Someone at MGM thought she should go on a press tour to promote one of her first major films made with actor Carlton Carpenter, now 90, called “Two Weeks with Love”. The wrinkle was the press conferences were with high school newspaper writers and photographers. I was taking a journalism class and occasionally wrote for our school paper the “Rail-splitter.” On the appointed afternoon a carload of us were driven to the stately Kirkwood Hotel and rode up the elevator to the top floor and a suite. I had never been in a hotel suite. There was a large room with flowers, windows with views of the city, and a coffee table that held tubs of chilled bottles of Coca Cola and large bowls of Potato Chips for refreshments.

High school journalists and photographers from the four other high schools began arriving as we waited for Miss Reynolds. Across the room were two double doors which I presumed went to the bedroom or another part of the suite. Was there a back entrance to the accommodations? We were all facing a large sofa on the other side of the coffee table as we sipped our cokes and tried not to make noise crunching potato chips until the double doors opened and a press representative from the studio said, “Ladies and Gentlemen, Miss Debbie Reynolds.”

I seem to recall a collective gulp as a beautiful, young, five foot two, California tan girl emerged from the other room smiling it seemed at each one of us. She wore a light blue dress and matching pumps as she walked to the upholstered arm rest on the sofa and sat down, crossing her legs choosing to dangle part of a shoe off the end of her foot. An assistant handed her a coke and the boys, anyway, grabbed their pencils in hopes of writing some answers to questions they and the girls had trouble framing. When she asked “What do you do for fun in Des Moines” there was a round of awkward laughter that broke the ice and from then on our group relaxed.

The press conference was a smart idea. All over the city the next edition of the school papers had stories and pictures about Debbie Reynolds new movie, the one that had the song “Abba Dabba Honeymoon” It became a big hit. Her next film was her breakthrough “That’s Entertainment.” Little did I know I was in the presence of someone who was destined to be one of our country’s great entertainers who continued in her craft nearly up to the end, truly she was “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.”

A Month of Sundays with Mary Tyler Moore

The Betty Ford Center opened in Rancho Mirage California sometime in October of 1982.

Their treatment program was based on the model of the Long Beach Naval Hospital and Hazelton in Minnesota using the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as part of the spiritual path to recovery.

Frs Andrew and Barnabas helped arrange a Betty Ford Day
 at the 1985 General Convention in Anaheim California. 
Both did volunteer ministry at the Betty Ford Center in the 1980s and 90s

One of the directors at BFC, in fact the second person hired, was the Rev. Vernon Suter an Episcopal Priest. From the beginning they established a Sunday morning chapel service roughly based on morning prayer but significantly adapted to meet the needs of people of any or no faith. The first Clergy in 1982 to lead the program was a recovering Lutheran Pastor and the second person as me. I began when the Lutheran retired in 1984.

In those days a lot happened in the central administration building from admissions to lectures. Betty Ford had a small office off the main entrance accessible to patients from which she would walk to give her lectures and talks. We had a close knit sense of community. On the grounds there were three well designed resident building. In the center of each was a sunken living room where the counsellor gave talks. There were no private rooms at BFC. Our chapel, if one could call it that, was a circle of chairs in one of the rooms in the main building. We used printed leaflets for the service guide. No singing. Alcoholics weren’t ready for that. The program was more spiritual that religious.

I knew there was the probability of well-known people showing up. The Betty Ford Center had a strict rule of confidentiality in place. That’s what Anonymous means. It was only if the individual made a public statement about being present at the center could we acknowledge his or her presence. Several celebrities had come and gone. The of people there were alcoholics like me seeking sobriety and recovery.

One Sunday morning I was setting up the chairs and putting out the service leaflets as worshippers arrived when I saw a woman I recognized walking through the doors. She was wearing a white blouse, tan slacks, loafers, and a sweater around her shoulders. It felt like my jaw dropped. It was her. Had to be. Mary Tyler Moore. Like all newcomers, life was a bit strange and out of kilter for her. Others in the circle tried to be at ease. It was late fall, I think, and very chilly for the Coachella Valley.

I made some comment about how cold it was in the desert, and I hoped everyone had a coat of some kind. Truthfully it was about fifty degrees. There was a chuckle or two. Mary snorted and said something like “You people don’t know what cold is. I’m from New York where it is really cold. Let me tell you about cold.” The other easterners chimed in and the game was afoot. No pun intended but my comment about cold weather broke the ice.

Here is what Miss Moore wrote about how she felt in her own words years later: “Inside I was scared. I knew I’d gone over an edge, some edge, and I didn’t know what to grab for steadiness. I couldn’t, wouldn’t stop,” she wrote. That recognition, though, ignited light at the end of the tunnel. “Some part of my brain functioned well enough, however, to get me to the Betty Ford Center, where in 1984, over a period of five weeks, I grew up some,” she penned.

A person who has a successful four-week recovery experience undergoes a major transformation and the changes I witnessed over and over were nothing short of miraculous. Tears give way to smiles and joy, anger and resentments take flight replaced by hope for a better tomorrow. I suspect that’s the way it was in the first century church before Constantine brought us out of the catacombs and into the Basilicas

A writer in a Washington Post article following her death wrote, “Mary Tyler Moore grew to deeply admire Betty Ford, the former first lady and founder of the clinic where Moore — and several years later, her mother — finally found sobriety. Moore felt she could “be her sister.”

In one of her books MTM said, “You see, at that time (and less so today) many women felt that being a female alcoholic was a disgrace, the lowest of the low, and that an intelligent, well-read, dignified woman couldn’t possibly be a drunk,” Moore stated, But Ford “was, first and foremost, a lady (kind, well-mannered, gracious), anything but the commonly held image of an alcoholic woman.”

We all grew to admire and love Betty Ford whether worshipping with her at St. Margaret’s Church in Palm Desert or hearing a lecture from her at BFC or strolling the grounds at the Center. What a blessed person I’ve been to walk and work among the lights. Thanks Debbie, Mary and Betty. Thanks be to God for all your blessings.

The Rev Canon Andrew Rank SSP

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Earn your Salt

This week I celebrated the 19th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. I posted something on Facebook, as one does, and received lots of loving and positive messages. It reminded me, not that I needed reminding, of what a joy and a privilege it is to serve as a priest, and especially to serve this congregation. I belong to enough clergy groups to know and appreciate how blessed we are at St Paul's.

Jesus offers us two metaphors to play with today: salt and light. You are the salt of the earth, he says. Salt is the world's most common condiment. It adds flavor, preserves, and cleanses. It can also kill living things, raise blood pressure, and create unbearable thirst. The industry of harvesting salt from the Dead Sea was an important economic reality in Jesus's day. Salt has been used as currency, hence the word "salary". We take dubious information with a grain of salt. We add salt for exorcism when we bless holy water. In the ancient Jewish world, a "salt" covenant was regarded as especially solemn, and today in the Middle East the saying "there is salt between us" means that we are friends. Salt changes the properties of a thing: it has an effect; it has power.

Jesus uses the metaphor of salt knowing that all these connotations will resonate in his listeners. You are the salt of the earth: you are people who can and will change the properties of your environment. You are needed and valuable. You can be a powerful force for cleansing the world of evil, just as salt water draws the infection from a wound.

And you are the light of the world. Like salt, sunlight can act as a disinfectant. When we bring a lie to the light we see it evaporate. Light overcomes darkness. Light banishes secrecy and deception. Light and truth go hand in hand. For ancient Israel, truth was ultimately to be found in God's Law, and true freedom lay in obedience to that law. Jesus echoed this conviction when he said in John's Gospel, "you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." So it's not a big step in today's Gospel passage from "you are the light of the world, let your light shine", to "I have come to fulfill the law". Jesus embodies God's truth. He fulfills the Law. He is the great light from which we draw our own light.

Jesus's words take us back to the prophet Isaiah, who details the behaviors that will cause our light to break forth like the dawn. We are to share our resources, to shelter the homeless, to offer dignity to the destitute, to honor every human being equally as a child of God. We are to be repairers of the breach, reconcilers and rebuilders of our broken society. This is literally prophetic ministry, and to embark upon it is to place ourselves, with Jesus, in the line of the prophets, who dared to speak truth to power, who risked even their lives in the cause of justice and compassion.

Jesus says he comes to fulfill the Law, the same Law to which Isaiah refers when he reminds the people of God that it's a hollow practice to observe the letter of the law in one regard, for example taking a fast day, while breaking the law in another by oppressing one's employees or failing to care for your hungry neighbor.

God's law is the law of love. Love God, love your neighbor. Isaiah condemns the nation that forsakes that ordinance. The nation forsakes the ordinance of God when we demonize refugees and those of other faiths, when we fail to provide life-saving health care, when we tolerate the abuse and oppression of workers in our midst.

God calls us to a fast from inaction. "Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?" One yoke under which we labor is the yoke of sin. The collect we prayed at the beginning of the service begged God to set us free from the bondage of our sins. We have suffered this bondage throughout the history of the Christian church.

The church has a dismal history when it comes to the law of love. We have told women to endure abuse as a road to saintliness. We have supported the institution of slavery as a Biblically sanctioned way of life. We have condemned LGBT people for the way God made them. We have often justified our actions by claiming they are part of God's Law, twisting the words of the law to legitimize our sin.

I am grateful to serve a church that sincerely attempts to heal the wounds of the past and to observe the spirit of God's law, as it is summed up in the two great commandments. Our baptismal covenant holds us to a high standard of behavior. We live out our covenant by honoring the dignity of all, by seeking and serving Christ in others, by confessing our sins each week and engaging in the common life of the church.

But we have more than God's law to consider. We also have human law, and sometimes the two come into conflict. Faithful people have sometimes chosen conscientiously to break the human laws that seem to fly in the face of God's law. Churches around the country are creating sanctuary networks covenanting to shelter immigrants and refugees who are threatened with unjust, but legal, deportation. This might be what it means to bring the homeless poor into our house. Our neighbors in Standing Rock see the Keystone pipeline's route through their ancestral burial grounds as a transgression against God's law, in which we are commanded to care for the earth and to honor our elders. So they are willing to break human law by standing in the path of the bulldozers. Perhaps this is what it looks like to loose the bonds of injustice.

What issue might be so critical for us at St Paul's that we would risk prosecution by committing acts of civil disobedience? Would we continue to provide showers and breakfast for those who live outside if the city passed an ordinance forbidding it? Would we stop traffic with demonstrations outside the local offices of federal agencies and representatives if a federal edict came down delegitimizing same-sex marriage or contraception? Would we join in protests if the national guard were deployed to keep us off the streets? These are questions we may need to wrestle with over the coming months and years.

Jesus said, "You are the light of the world." We are the light of the world. We are to let our light shine out, and the darker the times the more our light will be needed. Others look to St Paul's to lead the way, to set an example. So, recall our mission statement: Love Christ, Serve Others, Welcome All. What can each of us do right now, in this moment, to live into this mission? Can you love Christ by asking his blessing on a person with whom you differ? Can you serve others by helping a newcomer near you find her place in the hymnal? Can you welcome all by shaking the hand of someone you didn't expect or even want to see in church today? Yes, yes you can do all those things. See how easy this is?

We will let our light shine out in the world when we welcome members of Ohr Shalom Synagogue and the Islamic Center of San Diego to our Sunday forums in Lent. We will be the salt of the earth when we speak out with our neighbors against environmental abuse and religious immigration tests, when we live our lives with integrity and compassion. We will fulfill God's law of righteousness when we love our neighbors by feeding them, clothing them, giving them sanctuary from a hostile world.

When St Paul visited his flock in Corinth he upended their expectations. They were sophisticated, cosmopolitan, a little jaded and cynical. Paul declined to wow them with eloquence or clever arguments. He simply brought the transforming love of Christ into their midst and stood as a living testament to its power. He was salt and light to the Corinthians.

Friday morning I found myself following an old yellow truck into Hillcrest. It had a lot of bumper stickers, one of which read "Earn your salt". I think the admonition harks back to the ancient Roman legionaries who earned their pay or salary in pounds of salt, meaning "earn your reward" or "be worthy of the call." It seems like an appropriate motto for today as we reflect on being the salt of the earth. So, people of St Paul's, let your light shine forth in the world, and earn your salt!

Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 5 2017
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Get out of the boat

My brother, who lives on the west coast of Scotland, has a boat. He has sailed for years and even taught sailing for a while. Whenever I go to visit him I love going out for a sail with him. Sometimes we sail over to the Isle of Cumbrae, a small island whose distinguishing feature is the exquisite Cathedral of the Isles, the smallest cathedral in Europe. The little harbor is popular and there often isn't a place to tie up on the pier, so we tie up to a buoy, lower the inflatable dinghy and row to the shore. Every time, I find myself challenged by the agility needed to climb in and out of the dinghy. It's never graceful and sometimes I've come close to tumbling into the water. Getting in and out of the boat isn't easy. There's a point where you have to let go and launch yourself forward. It takes ... commitment.

"Follow me." That's it. That's Jesus's whole church development plan. Not, "Sign onto this doctrine" or "promise to keep these rules," but follow me. There is no Alpha program, confirmation class or church shopping for the fishermen he targets. They hear the call, they get out of their boats, and they follow, not knowing where they are going or what Jesus is offering. They join the Jesus Movement, which literally moves them away from all they have ever known, simply obeying the call, and trusting that they will learn who Jesus is and what he promises as they walk the roads of Galilee together. Their obedience predates their understanding. Their obedience even predates their belief. Follow me and discover fullness of life. Follow me and learn what love means. Follow me and bear witness to the healing that comes from a loving touch. Follow me and be the unique and wonderful human being you were created to be. Follow me to the Cross and learn what lies beyond. But first, you have to get out of the boat. And that's not an easy step.

When we join the Jesus movement, we had better be ready for anything. Qualifications are irrelevant. The brothers were fishermen, not evangelists. They were as unqualified as we are. What did it mean to fish for people? Why did they follow him? He wasn't the only traveling evangelist in Galilee at that time. How did they know that he was the real thing? They didn't even think about it. They immediately left their nets. They left their old lives behind. They didn't grab a net or a length of fishing line and a hook in case they needed to fall back on their craft. They didn't limit their involvement to weekends or spare change. They simply got out of the boat and followed Jesus. Right from the start of the story it is made absolutely clear that you can't be an incremental Christian: it's all or nothing.

In the Revelation to John, the writer speaks dismissively of luke-warm Christians who say, "I am rich; I have prospered; and I need nothing." If we don't need God, we have missed the point. When we see our faith as an activity or a feeling, we haven't got out of the boat. Jesus isn't asking us to subscribe to a program or make a donation to a good cause; he is asking us to walk away from our old lives and put ourselves entirely in his hands, to enter into a committed relationship of trust, to make our faith the center and touchstone of all that we do and all that we are.

The Sea of Galilee is teeming with life, and so it was in the days of Jesus. If you owned a fishing boat, you could easily support a family. Why would anyone leave a secure way of life for something as uncertain as a traveling preacher? There must have been something remarkable about him, something that spoke of abounding joy, of light in the darkness, of dreams fulfilled. Sometimes the only way to find joy, to find love, is to step out from certainty into the unknown. This is the essence of vocation: called to take a chance for the sake of transforming the world. Or, as Frederick Buechner puts it, "Vocation is the place where our deep gladness meets the world's deep need."

We all like to feel we have some control over our lives. But any apparent certainty in our own lives is simply an illusion. In the end we have no control over the big things: the circumstances and length of our lives. The stock market? It could be sunk by a single Tweet. My home? An earthquake could flatten it. And a deadly diagnosis or fatal accident could bring all my plans to a sudden halt. In the end nothing is sure except God. The only safe bet is to take a chance on God, and for Christians that means following Jesus, and that means get out of the boat.

When I made a commitment to tithe off the top of my income to the church I was taking a chance on God taking care of me. When I answered the call to come to San Diego from Virginia, I took a continent-wide leap of faith. So far, whenever God has called me to jump out of the boat, God hasn't let me down.

We now know that the world didn't end on Friday. The three million people who participated yesterday in women's marches across this country and the world affirmed our determination to stand for justice, dignity, and equal rights, and now we move forward. In the coming years we are likely to see some profound changes in how national resources and individual freedoms are administered in this country. Right now I don't expect many of those changes to be changes that I will welcome. But that doesn't change my call to follow Jesus. And it doesn't change who we are, as Christians, as Episcopalians, as St Paul's Cathedral. It only makes it more important that we get out of the boat and follow the call to serve.

If answering the call means taking a chance on God, what chances might we as a congregation be called to take in the years ahead? What safety nets will we leave behind in order to fish for people and bring light out of darkness? The new political climate suggests that this may be a time when our discipleship will carry a cost. If we see draconian cuts to government programs such as public broadcasting, healthcare, the National Endowment for the Arts, and climate change research, we must step forward to protest, to support a free press and the arts, to care for those who will be bankrupted by medical costs or, worse, simply die for lack of treatment. The church will be at the forefront of such efforts, and the church is all of us.

The Lutheran martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote about the cost of discipleship. Reflecting on the call of the disciples, he says, "Until that day, everything had been different. They could remain in obscurity, pursuing their work as the quiet in the land, observing the law and waiting for the coming of the Messiah. But now he has come, and his call goes forth. Faith can no longer mean sitting still and waiting - they must rise and follow him. .. they must burn their boats and plunge into absolute insecurity in order to learn the demand and the gift of Christ."

Today this rings especially true for us who call ourselves followers of Jesus. It's intimidating and challenging, but the reward - the peace that passes all understanding - is incalculable and eternal.

On this Cathedral Day we should take a moment to reflect on where we are and how far we've come. Isaiah's words echo for me today: the people who walked in darkness have seen a great light. Three years ago there was a fair amount of darkness surrounding the cathedral's identity and administration. Today the light is shining out. We are more visible to the city, both physically because of our lights and politically, because of our involvement in the community. Staff and Chapter have worked hard to bring transparency to our operations: ministry leaders know their budgets and can work with them. Each month Chapter members and executive staff receive no fewer than 12 reports. Our financial systems are running well, the accounts are in order and our 2015 audit was clean.

Now we are ready to take the light out into the world. We can see Jesus beckoning us to follow him, to commit ourselves to ministry. Matthew tells us that Jesus set out to cure every disease and every sickness among the people. The deadliest sickness in this time and place is fear. Fear drives people apart. It fosters violence and hatred. So, our mission must be to overcome fear and bring about reconciliation between those who have been infected. Today, Jesus is calling St Paul's. Follow me, he says. Follow me to where the people are living in fear, and bring them out of darkness into light. We hear the call, and we are ready to get out of the boat and follow.

January 22, 2017
Cathedral Day and the 3rd Sunday after the Epiphany
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges