Thursday, January 17, 2019

Budget Gap

Dear St. Paul’s family,

As we approach our annual meeting and 2019 gets underway, I want to share with you one of the perennial dilemmas that the Chapter faces in our efforts to find the funding for our ministries.

As you have probably heard or read, we are celebrating a successful pledge campaign, having reached our goal of $1 million. This is great and encouraging news, and I am very grateful to each of you who made a pledge for 2019. It feels good to reach a goal!

Making a pledge to the church is a spiritual exercise. We do it, not to make a budget, but to grow in our relationship with God and each other, as we pool our resources to support the mission of the church. That being said, we do have a budget, and your pledges make up a large part of the income we need to support the expenses that our ministries incur. In an ideal world, the pledges would meet or exceed the expenses, but this isn’t an ideal world.

Other sources of revenue include the income from some invested funds (collectively known as our endowment), most of which were created from bequests and real estate sales.

Our total operating expense budget for 2019 comes to about $1.65 million. Most of this (nearly 70%) is compensation for our wonderful and hardworking staff, and 10.5% is our diocesan common life share. We are required by canon to come up with a balanced budget, and pledges, discounted to allow for those who won’t complete their pledge, will provide about $972,000, while our income from investments will be about $161,000 (I am including funds held both by the Cathedral and by the LLC that owns the northern portion of our block). In past years we have also received $100,000 from Park Chateau rents, but we no longer have any tenants there, so that income is gone. Total revenues provide us with about $1.39 million, which leaves a significant gap.

We have managed to plug the gap for this year with a generous additional donation from the LLC’s funds (thus reducing the amount available for investment and future income). It’s not a sustainable solution, but after trimming every conceivable item from the budget, the only options left involve reducing staff, which would compromise our ability to maintain the ministries at the level we offer today.

You may ask why we didn’t set our pledge goal higher to close the gap. Regrettably, raising a goal doesn’t make the goal achievable, and we all like an achievable goal (see above). Therein lies our dilemma: do we aim higher, being almost certain that we wouldn’t reach the goal, or do we settle for an achievable goal and use finite resources to continue funding ongoing expenses? If you would like to contribute more knowing we still have a deficit, there is still time to change your pledge.

You may be thinking that the sale of the land will provide enough to fund our ministries forever. Unfortunately that is not accurate: when all is said and done the income from the sale will fall short of the amount we need today, and the gap will grow larger with each year that passes.

This morning our treasurer Betsey Monsell and finance director Erin Sacco Pineda will present the 2019 budget at the 9:00 forum. I hope you will come and support us in our continuing efforts to be responsible stewards of the abundance that we have been given.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Sesquicentennial Update

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

As you know, on December 18, 2019 this congregation will complete 150 years of ministry in San Diego. Our sesquicentennial year started last month on Dec 16th with a sumptuous reception in the Great Hall entitled “A Victorian San Diego 1869 Christmas”, following a special organ concert and Evensong. The event attracted over 200 guests including many neighbors, and I am grateful to all who made generous donations to make this initial event possible.

First United Methodist Church and the City of San Diego are also celebrating their Sesquicentennial in 2019 and we hope to coordinate some of our mutual celebrations.  You may have noticed the display featured in the lobby of the Great Hall that has been provided by the San Diego History Center in Balboa Park, with whom we will also be partnering this year.

Mark your calendar for the following events (all dates subject to change):

  • January 26 (Register Here): a guided bus tour to the earliest known church of the English colonists who settled in the San Luis Rey Valley in the early 1850’s.  We will be holding a prayer service in the little chapel that is still active, and perhaps we may get to hear the organ which dates from 1890.  The bus tour will include lunch and a wine tasting at the Solterra Winery Restaurant in Leucadia.
  • February: A focus on the role of the Episcopal Church’s support for civil rights, including a historical photo display.
  • March 5: Zydeco Mass with guest preacher Bishop David Rice of the Diocese of San Joaquin.
  • March 10: Guest preacher the Rev. Philip Amerson of First United Methodist Church
  • May 5: St. George’s Evensong with a very special guest preacher.
  • June 15: Consecration of the 5th Bishop of San Diego.
  • July 7: Independence Day celebration with guest preacher Bishop Carl Wright, Bishop of the Armed Forces
  • July 10:  Light the Cathedral for Pride.
  • July 14: Pride Sunday, with guest preacher the Rev. Susan Russell.
  • September 15: Mexican Independence celebration and focus on our Latino/Hispanic connections.
  • October: Liturgical Fashion Show to exhibit our amazing collection of vestments and celebrate some special people.
  • November 10: Veterans and Armed Forces Evensong
  • December 14: 150th Anniversary Gala, with keynote speaker Bishop John Chane


Additionally: a revised history of St. Paul’s by Robert Heylmun, specially commissioned choral music, exhibits of historical materials, and other arts events throughout the year.
Thank you to our hardworking Sesquicentennial Committee: Susan Jester (chair), Ric Todd, Roxanne Perfect-Knight, Joe Jones, Robert Heylmun, Jerry Motto, Robert Wilkins, Sue McClure, John Will, Brooks Mason, Kathleen Burgess, Martin Nace Hall, and Marshall Moore. If you’d like to help, there’s always room for more, and we need sponsors for a number of events.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Maya and Our Youth Program

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

From the Dean:
One of our beloved staff members here is Maya Little-Saña. Maya first came to the cathedral when she was in high school and quickly blossomed into a theologian with wisdom beyond her years. Now in her second year at college, Maya serves as our extremely part-time (10 hours a week) youth minister and collaborates with David on the weekly Faith-To-Go podcast and children’s programming on Sundays. Here she writes about her ministry.

As part of the Children, Youth, and Families (CYF) team, I have come to realize that the term families does not solely pertain to a household unit with adults and children because the Cathedral itself is a family. This means everyone; those with minor children, no children, adult children, singles, couples, young adults, seniors - everyone. Penny appropriately addresses her weekly letter to the St. Pauls Familybecause that is what we are. We are bound together as Children of the Almighty One who mutually commit to love one another, serve Christ, and welcome all into our family.

As a family, I ask for your prayers and support for our Cathedral Youth Group as we test some creative ways to further cultivate their spiritual growth. For example, we are going to try implementing a points system to encourage leadership, engagement, and attendance. By earning points teens can win gift cards, movie tickets, or even choose my next hair color that I MUST keep for at least a month (pray for me). I was initially wary of a points-rewards system because I was afraid of incentivizing their engagement and that their intentions for coming may not be genuine. However, after much prayerful consideration I understand that, God willing, they will still reap the rich spiritual benefits of community and fellowship regardless of why they came in the first place. Some ways youth can earn points are: through attending Church, attending special events (e.g. movie nights, lock-ins, and Diocesan Youth offerings), or winning games like Liturgical Bingo. I created Liturgical Bingo because I wanted the youth to experience the full 10:30 service twice a month while engaged with the liturgy. It is easy to win, but one must be observant and engaged to do so. We will eventually incorporate similar in-Church activities, as well. If you notice slight chatter from the front of the Nave- rejoice! That is the sound of our youth asking questions and experiencing a core part of our Episcopal identity. Come find me before the service on the second and third Sundays of the month if you'd like to play along!

I thank God for my village and the role we play in our children's growth.

Your Sister in Christ,

Penny

Saturday, December 29, 2018

Adventword

As you may know, there is a tradition now from SSJE of "Adventword" where a word is given each day as a prompt for social media to react.  The Cathedral photographer Susan responds to this prompt from her own library of photographs, on the SPC page.  These were our photographs this year, with a brief description of why Susan chose them.
You can follow Susan on instagram or facebook as @slfphotographer or view her website SLFphotographer.com or Thin Place Photography


2 Dec: Journey: walking on a trail in  Grand Teton National Park. The hiker is moving away from the viewer.  What are you leaving behind as you set out on the journey this Advent? What are you seeking on the trail?

3 Dec Watch:   a service at Advent.  Dad is watching the chancel but his son is watching another thing altogether.  What you may want to watch may not be in front of you.

4 Dec: Focus:  a close up of an old Brownie Camera.  What does it mean to focus in our hyper digital age?

5 Dec:  Night.  Our Cathedral lit in Advent colors, with the moon just rising.  
The darkness of night can be a time of beauty and peace, lit by hope.

6 Dec:  Light.  The morning sun peeking through the eucalyptus trees in the Berkeley Hills.  Something wakes and inspires us in early morning.


7 Dec:  Sprout.  The water lilies in Balboa Park are bursting forth with new life! 


8 Dec: Alert.  Stay back from the danger....or not?  We need to pay attention where we are, not just look into the sun ahead.


9 Dec:  wild.  Grand Teton National Park at dawn.  Wildness inspires!

10 Dec:  Cry.  The monument at Manzanar, site of one of the Japanese internment camps 
from WWII, where the sound of the wind still carries weeping.

11 Dec:  Go.  A great blue heron in San Elijo lagoon takes off awkwardly.  
Aren't takeoffs often awkward?  But we should go anyway.


12 Dec:  Rough.  The waves break over the seawall in La Jolla Children's cove. 
Their power awes. 


13 Dec Smooth. A snowy egret on the rocks at the shore. 
The relentless waves and rough seas have smoothed the stones--feel their soft texture.

14 Dec:  Prune.  The most beautiful flowers (camellias, here) only come when the bush is pruned. What do you need to prune to bring forth beauty?

15 Dec:  Prepare.  Canon Sacristan Konnie ties back the curtains in the sacristy with ribbons that match the colors of the liturgical season.   Deliberate, thoughtful, intentional preparations make the season more meaningful.

16 Dec: Rejoice!  Ringing the bells at the Easter Vigil, and celebrating together.   Community is much to rejoice in.

17 Dec:  Sing.  The gentlemen of the Choir lift their voices.  All of us can sing in some way.

18 Dec:  Ancestors.  Our Dia de los Muertos offrenda celebrates our friends and forefathers. If we keep them in our hearts, they are always with us.

19 Dec:  Wash.  Maundy Thursday at the Diocesan center.  Washing the feet of another is an humble act of service and caring.  Washing is also a symbol of letting go.  How can we wash ourselves and others free?

20 Dec:  Ablaze. Our former bishop The Right Rev James Mathes at the Easter Vigil. This makes me think of Shakespeare's Henry V:  "Oh for a muse of fire!"  
Fire warms, purifies, enlightens and inspires.  What are you ablaze for?

21 Dec:  Sign.  Banker's Hill, San Diego, a 1-way behind a stop sign.  
What signs are around us, directing us, and telling us?


22 Dec:  Expect.  A cormorant sitting eggs in La Jolla.  
Instinctively, the bird expects new life.  We see hope and promise in her eggs. 

23:  Persist.  Ta Prohm temple, Angkor Wat Complex, Cambodia.  This ancient temple has persisted for centuries through cultural changes and violence, and trees  now grow through its structure.  Yet it remains a place of beauty and spiritual connectedness.

24 Dec:  Peace.  Our labyrinth at St Paul's is a contemplative and peaceful space.   Don't forget to find peace during this season.

25 Dec:  Celebrate!  a child greets our SPC tree to celebrate the coming of the light.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Christmas Sermon: the seed of joy

A very Merry Christmas to you all! What does that mean to you? Merry isn’t just a full belly, a bottomless glass, and a few ‘ho, ho, hos.’ Merry comes from Germanic roots that mean ‘short,’ and in Old English it meant pleasant or sweet. Merry is how time flies when you’re having fun – or life is especially sweet. Being merry is a taste of eternity; it’s timeless or outside of time. A Merry Christmas is about abiding joy and the true meaning of Christmas.

We rejoice again today – and every year – in the birth of God in human flesh. The depth of joy may bring us to an awareness that is beyond these minutes or the years of our lives. We know those sweet and timeless encounters – gazing into the eyes of a loved one; cradling a newborn; awe at the wonder of the stars in a midnight sky or a sunset. Those un-timed occasions are almost always about love, for love liberates us from the world’s anxiety. Merry-makers don’t count the hours; they are not anxious.

The Christmas story we hear this morning is not the familiar tale of the babe in a manger. John’s story of love in the flesh is a cosmic tale, told through different lens than Luke’s. Luke’s story of God in the flesh takes place in a very specific time and place, yet with meaning that moves far beyond the year of Caesar Augustus’ first census, when Quirinius was governor in Syria. John’s story looks back, beyond time, to before the created order emerged, telling of God’s love before time began. In the beginning was the Word – the dynamic, effective and creative breath of God – before anything could be seen or touched. That God-Word, and only that God-Word, gives life, and life becomes light.

There is another story that tells of that reality as the Big Bang, and it, too, is ALL about light and creativity. Those two stories are not in conflict, nor are Luke’s and John’s. Love has brought into being all that is, and humanity has always striven to understand and welcome that love.

John’s gospel tells of a human being, an advance man for Jesus, telling about the God-Word-light coming in human flesh – John the Baptizer wasn’t light itself, but he pointed to that incarnate light that would unfold and flare forth in Jesus. Isaiah dreamed of that light as a messenger with beautiful feet coming over the mountains with news of peace and healing and justice. At Christmas, we are once again reminded that God is among us in human flesh, bringing light into darkness, light that will never be quenched by the dark.

Where have you seen that light, where have you rejoiced in time-stopping peace, where have you found love that never ends? What Word keeps resounding in your heart, but Love?

Those encounters come to us in our time, yet they also invite us to let go of time and the anxiety that comes with measuring the length of our days. That invitation lies beneath the prayer we began with – make us joyful to receive our Redeemer, and at the end of our earthly days, help us meet that same Word with confidence as our Judge. There can be merriment in both, if we live with Love in our hearts. Love promises constancy through health and sickness, abundance and poverty, joy and sorrow, and Love will be there at our ending – and beyond. Love is meant to be the sum of our lives, an expanding sum that cosmically outshines darkness.

There’s a lovely old rabbinical story about a student who is fiercely wound up about his inability to keep the law in its fullness. He’s deeply worried that he isn’t living a righteous life. The rabbi counsels him, “when you come to judgment, there will be only one question, ‘did you enjoy everything God gave you to enjoy?’”

That counsel is about setting aside anxiety, and entering into the timelessness of true joy. We will meet our judge with confidence if our hearts have made a home for Love itself. As the Word of Love resides in a person’s heart, it shapes both actions and dreams. John the baptizer pointed to that possibility as making a U-turn, back toward life in God, drenched in a life of love. Jesus became that life in human flesh.

Where have you seen that light in human flesh? How have you abided in joy – or been merry?

I saw that light the Sunday before last, and I’m still merry. Three people came into church just before it started. One was about 6’4” and had a long, luscious, lavender wig under her hat. She arrived with two other women, an older woman with a gorgeous singing voice, and a younger woman who nervously blurted out loud words every few minutes. A parishioner went up and greeted her tall friend, Raeanna, with a hug when they arrived. As the service went on, Raeanna would bend down and tend the anxious one. Several times she went out with Cindy until she calmed down and they returned. I had coffee and cookies with them afterward. All three are homeless, and Raeanna had invited the other two to come join her at church. She said she’d been homeless since she transitioned, and talked about the difficulty of finding a job – she’s either overqualified or not called back once people meet her in the flesh. Yet there is a deep fund of joy within her. In the middle of coffee hour, two guys in their 70s came up to talk to her about their shared experience as Navy veterans, and hugged her at the end of the conversation. There was light abundant that morning – in a whole lot of hearts – and we were merry for having seen and known that light.

The Word of God is alive in human flesh – in the newest infant, incapable of doing anything except needing the love of others. The Word of Love is planted in the newest heart, to grow and shed light to all. God’s Word is in each one here, in grace and truth, from the youngest to the oldest. The light that shines in our hearts may be masked by worry or despair, yet the smallest spark can be calmed and revealed and fueled into shimmering grace by Love. Remember to rest in that seed of joy; it will grow and it will push back the dark.

God keep you merry, friends, deeply joyful in the Love of God, resting in that light and radiating it through the hours and the years. A merry Christmas to you, today and every day, your whole life long. May the Love in you light up the world!

The Right Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori
Christmas Day 2018

St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego, 10:30 am
Isaiah 52:7-10; Hebrews 1:1-4; John 1:1-14

The Christmas Eve Sermon: Light, Love, Life

Alleluia. Unto us a child is born. Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
Tonight the glory of the Lord shines brightly. We gather with the angels and the shepherds to kneel before the manger, worshipping the child who is God incarnate, love personified, Emmanuel. The light blazes out from the stable, defying the darkness, warming our hearts and lifting our spirits with the conviction that love wins. This is a beautiful moment. Let’s just bask in that beauty for a moment ...

You might have seen, somewhere on social media, disturbing images of a manger scene in a cage: a number of churches across the country have created such scenes as a protest against harsh treatment of refugees and immigrants. So now imagine this. Imagine the manger scene surrounded by a fence. Inside is light, warmth, safety. Outside is fear, loneliness, struggle. So far this resembles those protest installations.

But here’s the difference: the gate is open. It is possible to feel like you’re on the outside, in the dark, but there is a way in, and there is an infinite amount of space inside: room for everyone, always. The more people who come in, the further the light extends. Jesus has opened the gate for us. We may go in and out many times in our lives, but the gate is always open and there is always room for us. And we can reach out through that open gate and invite others in. There is no reason for anyone to stay out there in the dark.

So, you have that image before you - the open gate, the light, the welcoming ... and now turn your gaze to the darkness. We who know the light and love of Christ may not, we must not ignore the darkness. We are to look directly into it, let our eyes adjust, search out the shadowy forms of the last, the least, the lost. Whom do you see out there? Who is outside? Who is in the park? Who is in a doorway, in a gutter, or sleeping on the beach tonight? How shall we extend the light to those who live in dark places of addiction, despair, and grief?

Last week I was privileged to attend a naturalization ceremony for one of our parishioners. It was a huge event, much bigger than my own naturalization six years ago: over 1300 people from 87 countries took the oath of citizenship. As we were leaving the hall, we made way for a tiny elderly woman, dressed in black, probably from a middle eastern country, using a walker, clutching her naturalization certificate as she navigated the crowd. What had she gone through, in her long life, how many loved ones had she lost, how many years and miles had it taken for her to reach this moment of safety, of being welcomed into the light? The second-largest ethnic group present consisted of Iraqis, once our enemy and now our neighbors. What had they suffered before reaching safety?

The largest group, about 60% of those present, was from Mexico of course. I wondered if any of them had walked across the desert to get here. How many were initially imprisoned when they reached this country? How many had dreamed their whole lives of pursuing opportunity in the US? As residents of San Diego we know the border well. It’s not some exotic destination, reached only after a long flight. It’s just down the road, 20 minutes drive from here, not one but two fences marking off the restricted zone that separates the two nations. Mexico is a proud country with a long and colorful history. It’s not just gangs and drug dealers. But there is a marked difference in the standard of living for most people, and the US has long been the destination for dreamers. Just a few feet, marked by a wall, separate dreams from reality. Those few feet make a huge difference, and it can take a lifetime to cross over from one to the other.

It can take some of us a lifetime, too, to cross over from the darkness to the light, to truly accept that we belong inside, to acknowledge that the barriers in our way are not of God but of human brokenness and sin, to know the embrace of divine love, bringing the hopes and fears of all our years as a gift for the one who is himself the greatest gift of all.

We know that the love of God enfleshed in Jesus can break down every wall, can bust out of any cage to reach those who are in need: the dying man in the ICU up the street; the starving child in a refugee camp in Yemen; the family trudging on bleeding feet through the Mexican desert; the transgender teen shivering in a downtown doorway, the depressed and lonely senior contemplating suicide. Tonight is a celebration of the truth that comes from above: that God loves this world and every creature in it, loves us all so much that the divine child was born, not in luxury and safety but in the midst of the need and pain of the world.

This is a night when we welcome not only Cathedral members but visitors from out of town, family members here for the holiday, and perhaps some who have been feeling like they were out in the dark but have dared to step into the light. The gate is open, all are welcome at God’s table, and there is a place for you here. And because this is a night when anything can happen - limp stockings become mysteriously bulgy, cookies and milk vanish, even, according to legend, animals might sing God’s praise - it seems to me that it might even be possible for Episcopalians to talk to each other during Midnight Mass.

So I invite you now to reach out to someone sitting near you, someone you don’t know well, and take just a minute each to exchange names and share something - the best Christmas present ever, a memorable Christmas of the past, the reason why you are here tonight, whatever is uppermost in your mind. Take just a moment to offer the gift of letting the other know that they are seen, they are encompassed by the light of Christ, that the love that made us and holds us in life is for everyone, whoever you are and wherever you find yourself in the journey of faith. A minute each.

              ........................

This is how each of us can extend the light from the manger out into the world, by taking the small step of listening to our neighbors’ stories. And when you go out from here, remember how it feels to be heard, and extend that gift to someone else. And one encounter at a time we will push back the darkness, until all people know the light, the love, and the abundance of life that are offered to us tonight.

Alleluia. Unto us a child is born. Come let us adore him. Alleluia.

Christmas Eve, Midnight 2018
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Thursday, December 20, 2018

New things for a new year

Dear St. Paul’s family,

We stand on the brink of a new year, and there are some wonderful new things starting to bubble up in our corporate life. I see two main categories of new initiatives: small-group based ministries and the digital mission field.
In the small group area, here’s what’s happening:


  • A number of parishioners have started to meet and brainstorm about how to create a faith community for the 21st century. They are forming a community that builds relationships, that serves others, and that gathers for some kind of non-traditional worship.
  • Some of our young parents are looking at starting a group for families with young children, for mutual support and fellowship.
  • Our youth minister, Maya, is reorganizing the youth group to bring together youth from our Spanish and English-speaking services.
  • A number of parishioners in their 20’s and 30’s have been meeting regularly to eat together and encourage each other in holding to a simple Rule of Life.
 
As for the digital mission field, we all know that the average Episcopalian attends church less frequently than in the past, and there are many, many people who rarely if ever enter a church, but nevertheless are hungry for spiritual nurture. Thanks to a combination of generous individual gifts and a dynamic young formation team, we are able to offer access to both worship and formation activities through the Internet. Our live-streaming of the 10:30 am and 5 pm services each week, as well as the Tuesday organ recitals, brings our beautiful music and worship into the homes of hundreds of people all over the world. Now that those events are on Facebook Live and YouTube, it’s very easy for people to stumble across them and worship with us from afar. If you “like” the St. Paul’s Episcopal Cathedral Facebook page, you will see the stream pop up. Or you can go to stpaulcathedral.org/videos to find archived events.

Our formation team (David, Maya, and Jackie) have developed a wonderful, digital faith formation program for families, Faith to Go (myfaithtogo.org), with a weekly email that includes prayer ideas, reflections on the week’s Gospel, and an engaging podcast, to nurture the faith of families who may not be able to make it to church. How amazing, that we are able to harness technology in this way to share God’s love with people beyond our walls!

With so much ingenuity and creativity going on, St. Paul’s has much to look forward to in 2019. Happy New Year!

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: Rejoice, Anyway

Today, the third Sunday of Advent, is known as “Gaudete” Sunday. That means “Rejoice”. For those who treat Advent as a penitential season of fasting, today is the mid-point when you can take a break, have that glass of wine or piece of chocolate. It’s a companion to the fourth Sunday in Lent, and both Sundays are known as Rose Sunday, which is why we have lit a pink candle today. In some churches the clergy wear rose vestments on this day, but sadly we don’t have a full set of rose here. If you look at our Scripture readings you can see the Rejoice theme reflected, in the Zephaniah passage - “Rejoice and exult with all your heart” - in the response from Isaiah - “Shout aloud and sing for joy” - and in the verses from Paul’s letter to the Philippians - “rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, rejoice.”

Why all this rejoicing? The feast of the nativity is drawing near. We are more than halfway through our seasonal preparation for the coming of our Lord into the world. We rejoice because, all evidence to the contrary, we hope and expect that the coming of Jesus will make a difference, that we will take a step closer to peace and goodwill for all, that the pain of the world will be healed and all people will know the salvation of our God.

We never lose hope that the vision of Zephaniah will be fulfilled. The prophet speaks confidently, proclaiming the mighty deeds of God. The Lord your God is in your midst, says Zephaniah. No need to wait for some future event: God is here with us now. Isaiah too proclaims that the Holy One of Israel is in the midst of the people. Emmanuel is here now, moving among us, saving the lame and restoring the outcast. It’s all good news.

But then we turn to the Gospel, and things don’t look quite so rosy. The facade of joy begins to crack. John the Baptist doesn’t mince his words: you brood of vipers, he says, it’s time to shape up. He offers threatening images of axes and fire - and after seeing the media coverage of the wildfires this fall, with the horrifying accounts of a fire that traveled miles within minutes, I find his language all the more vivid. John’s mission is to disillusion the people who imagine that their choice of religious tradition makes them immune from God’s judgment. It’s what you do with your life that matters, not your self-image as a person of faith. Turn your life around, thunders John. Practice generosity, integrity, honesty ... or else. John even describes the Messiah as a figure of terror. And then the last sentence calls John’s preaching good news: I always find that quite funny.

Now that the Gospel has burst the cosy bubble of joy and gladness, we take a second look at the other readings and find a tension just under the surface. Zephaniah calls on the people to rejoice only after a lengthy condemnation of God’s people for their faithlessness. He foresees invasion, ruin, and terror, speaking of the day of wrath when the whole earth will be consumed in the fire of God’s passion.

Isaiah’s song of trust in God was written in the context of a nation that had been defeated by and become subservient to the Assyrian empire. All around the prophet was injustice, oppression, and fear. And yet he found the grace to imagine joy and gratitude for salvation.

And the letter to the Philippians was written by St Paul when he was in prison, possibly awaiting execution. How could he speak of peace, joy, and thanksgiving in this situation?

As it goes with Scripture, so it goes in our own lives. We see the world in a mess: climate change causing hardship and famine, governments financing international violence, homelessness becoming ever more prevalent, the poor becoming poorer, health care costs rising ... and yet ... Advent. This season of hope and expectation lifts our hearts in spite of all that’s going on in the world. We are called to rejoice anyway, to give thanks anyway, to find the peace that passes all understanding anyway.

The tension is real: Advent is a time when we look forward to joy even while we feel anxious and stressed. For many of us this time of year carries associations of sadness and loss, crashing into the seasonal joy, and the manic celebrations in the world around us make it difficult to admit to the pain. My personal Advent tension resides in two indelible memories: one, from 1986, of having to wait until Christmas Eve to get a doctor’s appointment for a pregnancy test, an Advent that ended in great joy; the other, this week six years ago, of what still feels like the longest week of my life, after my ex-husband died unexpectedly and I had to wait for my younger son to come home from law school before I could get my arms around him.

This Advent there are some among us mourning the death of a family member. There are some who have suddenly become unemployed. There are some who are separated from loved ones by a family conflict. There are some facing serious and even terminal illness. And yet we all come together to make Eucharist and give thanks for the God who loves us and who is coming to us. As a community there is much to be thankful for. There’s a renewed spirit of community, a new energy in this congregation. We are at the start of a year of celebrating the last 150 years of ministry and looking forward to the project of positioning ourselves for the next 150. We are together, and we are surviving, and we are thriving, with innovative forms of ministry that are reaching our far beyond our walls, ministries like live-streaming and Faith2Go. And so we give thanks, anyway.

Rejoice in the Lord always, says the apostle. Bear fruits worthy of repentance, admonishes the Baptizer. Stir up your power O Lord and with great might come among us, implores the Collect for today. We feel the Advent tension and so we pray for God to be manifest among us, even while we follow Scripture’s instructions to give thanks always, gathering as the body of Christ to share the meal that makes us one, making Eucharist and inviting all the world to join us at the table. And we never lose hope in the promise: that the peace of God that passes all understanding will guard our hearts and minds in the love and knowledge of Jesus Christ our Savior, the one who is coming, and who is already among us.

December 16, 2018 
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges   


Thursday, December 13, 2018

Peace and Justice

Dear St. Paul’s family,

When I go shopping for Christmas cards, I notice that a lot of beautiful cards carry the message “Peace on Earth”. This speaks to the core of our faith. The angels sang of peace on earth when they brought the good news to the shepherds, and we acclaim Jesus as Prince of Peace. Working for peace is a central part of our life as followers of Jesus.
The Cathedral has a ministry that focuses on the ministry of peacemaking: our Peace and Justice committee seeks to reconcile these two sometimes conflicting values. How can there be true peace in the world and in our hearts without justice for all? How can justice prevail without a lasting peace?

As we approach the feast of the Nativity, what are you doing to help the cause of peace in our world? While none of us has the power to end a war or turn weapons into plowshares, we can take individual and corporate steps. We can make contributions to organizations that work for peace and justice, such as Episcopal Relief and Development (er-d.org) or the Episcopal Peace fellowship (EPFnational.org). We can participate in letter-writing campaigns and marches to make known our commitment to peace.

I have been receiving inquiries from all over the country about the situation at the border and the migrant families that need assistance both in San Diego and in Tijuana. Episcopalians are very concerned with justice for those seeking asylum, and we open our hearts to people who are fleeing their home countries in search of peace. Several local organizations are trying to help with material assistance; if you too would like to help, please let me know and I will send you contact information.

On an individual level, we can each be peacemakers in our own community. Sometimes all it takes to bring peace in a relationship is to listen carefully to the other, without trying to change someone’s mind, or to be the first to apologize or forgive. As members of the Jesus movement we have a responsibility to take the initiative for peace and for justice too, treating all people with dignity and honoring each individual as a child of God. We can refrain from passing on inflammatory messages (even on social media!). And we can offer each other a sign of peace: a handshake, a hug, a smile, or a thank-you each contributes to a peaceful environment.

My prayer for you in these latter days of Advent is that you will know the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, and that you will find the grace to share that peace with one other person. The peace of the Lord be always with you.


Your sister in Christ,

Penny


Monday, December 10, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: Waiting for the voice

One of the things that has been in my Advent reflections this week is the difficulty I have, maybe we all have, with trust.

In our post-modern world, we do not trust news sources without evaluating their bias and point of view. We certainly don’t trust Facebook. I participated in an online conversation yesterday in an article about whether priests are trustworthy if they say anything negative about dead people after they die; that in the author’s point of view the priest’s job is simply to pray for reconciliation in death. The article was directed towards priests who had called out policies of George H. W. Bush that resulted in suffering and loss, particularly in response to the AIDS crisis. My response was that the priests job is to tell the truth about joy and hurt in the deceased’s life, without vitriol.

But I wondered again about trust. In that case, telling the truth about hurt erodes trust with some. Telling the truth about the positive character traits erodes trust with others. Trust is hard.

We live in a time where we are expected to scrutinize every soundbite, every conversation, every relationship with attention to whether it aligns with what we already know- and reject it if it doesn’t align with our pre-set expectations.

An advent reflection from my seminary reflected on that this week, and really provoked my attention.

The author is the director of spiritual care education at the Seminary of the Southwest, and admitted that for her this “stance of suspicion” can easily spread into her faith life, causing her to doubt the good news as well as the bad. I appreciated her honesty as she talked about looking at the empty crèche in the entryway thinking, “Why did Mary have to be so meek and mild, anyway?”

What really got me, though, is when she wrote this: “Jesus is not deterred by my super-woke mistrust.”

I identify with that, too. This skepticism, this hermeneutic of suspicion, this awareness that I must evaluate what seems to be good news in order to be sure I’m not being duped— this “woke-ness”— it impacts my faith. I wonder if it does yours.

And so this week I spent a lot of time looking at the original text from Isaiah that John the Baptist quotes in preparing for salvation; this text of liberation for a people weary from a journey. We used some of it last week: Comfort oh, comfort you my people. You are tired. The world has worn you down. It is time to come home. Make a path through the desert, out of the wilderness where you are— you get to go straight home, not around the mountains or valleys but straight there. Because you are saved, you are delivered out of your bondage.

My super-woke suspicion reads this right now and thinks, “Great. But really, I’m not expecting to move any mountains. I’m not expecting any valleys to raise.” I’m doubtful. If you want me to move that mountain you better let me see what’s behind it first.

And the thing is, that for Luke, invoking this text, salvation really has to mean something. Luke roots salvation in a real time and place, with names like Tiberius and Herod and Pilate so that we know this is not some mythological salvation like the Greek pantheon but salvation that happens in this world, in this space.

So I look around me, and I wonder: what is salvation for me, for you, for us, here and now, in this time and place? Is it world peace? Is it personal healing? Is it hunger to end? The flourishing of humanity? Deeper or reconciled relationships? What mountains shall I make low, and what valleys shall I fill, to go straight home and see the glory of God?

John the Baptist’s whole message is to prepare for the one who is to come. But it is so hard to do if, in my super-woke state, I am skeptical that I am really preparing for anything in particular.

And that is why I need Advent.

In Advent, while the world ramps up around me, I can be intentional about turning a new direction.

John in this passage calls for repentance. It is a word burdened with such misuse and abuse. But the word really simply means “turn” or “change direction.” It is not the same as confess, which is acknowledgement of wrongdoing. Confession may be helpful in making a turn, but it is not the same thing.

Repentance is rather a reorientation; an opportunity to ensure that we are traveling in the direction that will take us to the destination we intend. A quip I read recently said, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

Where are you heading?

Advent gives a time to stop and wait— a time to listen for a voice to break through from outside the mall jingles and party cacophony. It provides a space to reorient and listen to a voice from the wilderness, untainted and unthwarted by my skepticism and lack of trust.

The beautiful thing about this time is that the very act of stopping to listen, of waiting for a voice from the wilderness, skeptical though we may be of it, is itself a turning; a reorientation. It embraces our doubts and fears of being wrong. It embraces our mistrust, and acknowledges the very reasons for all of our super-wokeness as a necessary part of living today and as a part of our need for salvation.

I find myself this advent season waiting for that voice to help me also clarify what it is I am preparing for. Not the religious doctrinal reasons— not for the Christ child born in a manger 2000 years ago. But what the cosmic and present Christ is preparing to burst forth with into the world today.

No, Jesus is not deterred by my super-woke mistrust. Maybe part of the advent invitation is to stick around and listen anyway.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk 
Advent 2C, December 9, 2018 
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego Luke 3:1-6

Sources Consulted:
Feasting on the Word, Year C, Vol. 1. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.

Sweeney, The Rev. Sarah Knoll. “Advent Meditation: December 3, 2018.” Sowing Holy Questions. https://ssw.edu/blog/advent-meditation-monday-december-3/.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Advent Season

Dear St. Paul’s family,

Last Sunday we began a new liturgical year. If you’ve been attending an Episcopal or Roman Catholic church for a few years you’ll be familiar with the annual cycle that starts four Sundays before Christmas. The Advent (from the Latin for “arrival” or “coming”) season gives us an opportunity to prepare spiritually for the coming of the Christ child into our lives. It’s a peculiarity of our faith that each year we behave as if this has never happened before: we do the same for Holy Week and Easter. Each year we “re-member” the foundational stories of our faith. We don’t just recall the stories: we re-enact them, attempting to experience each event as if for the first time, seeking to enter into the full emotional impact of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus, seeking the transformation that comes when we commit ourselves fully to the Way of Love.

In contrast to the world’s frantic pre-Christmas rush, Advent invites us to take a breath, to pause for a moment and allow ourselves to know and feel the love that gives of itself without counting the cost. Our Presiding Bishop has offered one way to observe Advent, using seven different practices: Turn, learn, pray, worship, bless or give, go, and rest. You can do one each day of the week. David Tremaine has copies of a calendar to guide you if you are interested in this idea.

Each season of the church year has its own mood, its own blessing. Observing the liturgical seasons gives our lives a special rhythm and helps us live with intentionality. The Collect of the Day that we pray at the beginning of each Sunday service can also provide some guidance for the week ahead: you will hear the same Collect on the First Sunday of Advent every year, and so on throughout the year. Our Scripture readings follow a three-year cycle, roughly corresponding to the first three Gospels, with portions of John inserted at intervals throughout each year. This year we are reading the Gospel of Luke, so we can look forward to some of the most beloved stories such as the Prodigal Son, the Good Samaritan, and the story of Martha and Mary.

I hope you will find a way to make this Advent season meaningful, and that, in the words of the Collect for the First Sunday of Advent, God will give you “the grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (BCP p.211).

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Sunday, December 2, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: Putting on the Armor of Light

Imagine you are walking down a city street. It is night, and the street is dark. The buildings around you are ancient, stained black with the soot of centuries. You see a light shining from a street-level window, piercing the darkness. As you come abreast of the window you see a Bible on a bookstand, open to a passage from the Gospels. A spotlight illuminates the print and its light spills out into the world. You stop and read.

This is the image described to me by a priest I met recently. His church, St Mary Magdalen in Southwark, London, on a site that has been sacred ground since the 800’s, displays a Bible open to the Gospel of the week in a window looking onto a city street. He tells me that there is nearly always someone standing at the window, reading. The light that shines in the darkness is feeding hungry souls.

On this first Sunday of Advent we pray, “give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.” In this darkest month of the year, we light a candle to remind us that the darkness will never overcome the light. It’s a candle of hope, because we are a people of hope.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote at a time of turmoil and disaster for the people of God. They had been invaded and occupied by barbarians. Their leaders had been taken away into exile. They were hungry, afraid, and anxious about the future. The darkness seemed to be winning. But the prophet had confident words of hope to share. “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made ... Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety.” These are surprisingly cheerful prophecies, considering the source. In a dark time, the prophet recognized his responsibility to call the people of God out of despair, to remind them of the God who stands above and beyond all earthly powers, to encourage them to live into and up to the motto, “The Lord is our righteousness.” Justice and righteousness might not be evident in the land but they could rely on God’s promises to hold. The days are surely coming. Don’t despair. The light will shine again.

One scholar writes that human beings despair when they cannot imagine God’s promised alternative future. God’s promised alternative future is laid out for us in Scripture, and it’s an especially vivid idea in Advent. We are entering a season of waiting and hoping. We have hope that God has an alternative future for us, a future of justice and righteousness, a future when there will be peace on earth, when all will be safe and fed and housed, when the abundance of the land will be shared and neighbor will watch over neighbor, the stranger will be welcomed and the vulnerable cared for. This is the hope of Advent, as we watch the light grow, week after week, and we see the feast of the Nativity drawing near.

And we wait. We can look at our calendars and see that today is December 2nd, and know that in 22 days it will be Christmas Eve and we will be celebrating the birth of the holy child, the ultimate pledge of God’s faithfulness, God With Us; but we also know that we have celebrated over 2,000 Christmases and we are yet to see justice and righteousness prevail in our world.

In this Advent season of 2018 there is darkness aplenty.

The town of Paradise, California is in darkness this Advent, and thousands of people have lost everything they own.

The migrants sleeping in a waterlogged stadium in Tijuana are trying to keep hope alive having arrived at the border only to be met by teargas and riot shields.

The political soap opera in Washington DC becomes more conflicted and tumultuous every day.

Children in Yemen are starving while we and our allies provide arms to those who are destroying the country.

In South Sudan, five years into a vicious civil war, citizens are collectively holding their breath as a fragile ceasefire is extended.

We search for a point of light in the darkness, a beacon of hope. And sometimes we find it: generous donors, compassionate local governments, peacemaking efforts.

The prophets remind us of God’s imagined alternative future, and as people of faith we are called to live into that imagined future. We can use our imagination, fueled by the promises of Scripture, to live into the future Kingdom of God, even in the midst of darkness and suffering. That’s what the slaves did, when they sang of crowns and thrones under the whip of oppression. That’s what the prisoners in the concentration camps did, when they recreated Verdi’s Requiem from memory. That’s what the thousands of Central American migrants just the other side of the border are doing. They refuse to believe that the God who loves them wants for them to live in fear and oppression, unable to keep their children safe or feed their families. They are imagining an alternative future, one of freedom, of opportunity, of dignity.

And we have infinitely more reason for hope than they.

Yesterday I was in Fresno, representing the diocese and the North American Deans Conference at the installation of the new dean of St James’ Cathedral, Ryan Newman. The cathedral is in the diocese of San Joaquin. You may recall that San Joaquin was one of the dioceses most affected, indeed almost destroyed, by the Episcopal Church’s split a decade or so ago. The cathedral was claimed by those who had left the Episcopal Church and it took years for the Episcopal Diocese to reorganize and successfully bring a lawsuit to reclaim ownership.

It’s been ten years since the people of St James have had a dean, and yesterday’s service was an important and joyful moment in their journey of healing. I commented to the diocesan chancellor that the exchange of the peace seemed to go on a very long time, and he responded that they had not been allowed to socialize under the breakaway regime. It brought tears to my eyes to see how very happy they were to be together and moving forward. They had held on to hope, they had waited and worked through dark and tumultuous times, and their long Advent season was at last being fulfilled.

Today is the beginning of a new church year, and the first Sunday of the year of Luke. The first words we hear from Luke’s Gospel are the words of Jesus, describing times of darkness and distress, and encouraging us nevertheless to live in hope, to trust in God’s imagined alternative future, to free ourselves of anxiety and fear and instead to be attentive to the signs of redemption.

Jesus calls us to let go of worry. That’s easier said than done for some of us, especially in a season when the culture all around us hypes up unrealistic expectations of perfection. But we can see the light shining in the darkness.

The points of light may be subtle; we will have to be attentive to notice them: the food offered to a homeless person, the pet saved from a burned neighborhood, the delivery of blankets and clothing for migrants, the sharing of a home or a table. It’s almost like a secret code or password: when you see these things, you know that God is at work.

In stressful, uncertain times we have a particular call: to uphold the promise of God’s kingdom, to keep hope alive, to imagine that alternative future, to demonstrate a different way of being for those who have a hard time seeing the light. Sometimes we are called to be a point of light ourselves. St. Paul’s Cathedral is literally a light in the darkness, as our Advent colors shine out, visible even to travelers arriving in San Diego by air. We are a literal beacon, and our community, rooted in love, is a spiritual beacon for all who feel the darkness weighing heavily on them.

As we enter this season of hope and waiting, we are putting on the armor of light, wrapping ourselves around with the love of God. What might it look like to live as if justice and righteousness are already the rule rather than the exception? It might look like a congregation that engages in prayer for each other, that makes a commitment to celebrate together, that stands up for human and civil rights, that flings open its doors to those outside, that sings praise and gives thanks to God both for the promises already fulfilled and those still to be delivered, that shines a light in the darkness and waits with hope and joy for the coming of our God, Emanuel.

Amen.


First Sunday of Advent, December 2, 2018
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Sub-Organist and Assistant Choirmaster

Dear St. Paul’s family,

As we begin the beautiful season of Advent, it’s especially timely to hear about the ministry of our sub-organist and assistant choirmaster, Gabriel Arregui. Gabriel first discovered St. Paul’s some 40 years ago and it has been his spiritual home ever since, regardless of where his musical vocation has taken him. He came home to St. Paul’s about three years ago when we created this part-time position averaging 25 hours per week. Here’s how he generally spends his time:


  • Service playing, including  warm-ups, rehearsal on Sunday morning and Sunday evening – 6 hours/week (more during  Christmas, Easter, etc.)
  • Weekday rehearsals with cathedral choirs – 7 hours per week (less in the summer): serves as the required second adult for children’s ministry
  • Practicing (improvisation, solo repertoire for liturgies and recitals, choral music preparation, hymn and service music preparation) –20-25 hours per week.
  • Administrative (pulling/filing choral anthems, bulletin preparation—1-2 hours per week 


As you can see, his hours run substantially over the 25, but his practice time is not only for St. Paul’s but also for other commitments. Gabriel also spends time each week reviewing the video recordings of services and recitals. He comments,
“This is an important part of what I do. Watching and hearing things where improvement on my part is called for is the simultaneously the most  revealing, honest, and often painful way to observe, but it is an invaluable tool, like having a good coach or teacher. For improvisation, I spend a good amount of time on YouTube, where I hear and study the improvisations of organists I admire. I have learned a great deal this way, as well, besides  listening to my own improvisations—the ultimate brutal teacher. What a gift our livestream recordings are!

“To me, there is no question that this is a ministry.  My constant prayer is to always  bring inspiration and foster spiritual growth among those who listen to our music. Music transcends words and language in a way few things can. I simply see myself as a servant used by God, using the tools and abilities with which I’ve been blessed, to accomplish this.”

If you’ve never heard Gabriel improvise at the end of a service, you have missed something extraordinary. He has a rare gift for this, and the Evensong congregation is often transfixed. Gabriel is an integral part of our music and worship team, and his partnership with Martin Green is a blessing to us all.
Thank you, Gabriel!

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

THe Sunday Sermon: The widow's mite

There was a young man who wanted to be a newspaper writer. He quit college to get right at it. He got a job and was immediately put on the city desk. The city desk was shaped like a huge horseshoe, with the city editor at the apex, and all the other writers sitting along the sides, down to the foot of the left leg, which is where they put this young writer.

He wrote whatever they gave him to write, but mostly it was obituaries. The mortuaries phoned in the name of the deceased and the reporter called the family to get the facts. The obituaries for prominent people went to other writers. He got all the "little people", the people no one ever heard of.

The obituaries were always written by a standard formula, sort of like painting by numbers. But this reporter didn't see it that way. He saw it as writing a sonnet. The form was always the same: Services would be held at (put in the place), for (put in the name), then the address and the date. That corresponded to what is called the "octave" in a sonnet. Then came the "sestet". That would be where he or she worked. What organizations they belonged to. Then the "quatrain", which consisted of the names of relatives. And finally, the "triad" ending with a "couplet", just like a sonnet.

The newspaper thought obituary writing was lowly work, but he saw it differently. He was writing sonnets to "little people". As he put it, "I felt useful. Someone had died, the family wanted the world to pay attention so they were glad to talk to me. They would say things like, "I don't know if you can get this in, but one thing dad did was swim across the lake and back every summer until he was eighty-two. It would be great if you could include that'."

The editor at the top of the horseshoe-desk took exception to most of what he wrote. One day the reporter handed in a piece in which he mentioned the person's great accomplishment was the zinnias in her garden. The editor wouldn't allow that. Or that another woman was known for her rhubarb cake. But he did let him write that an employee of the Northern Pacific for thirty-seven years was known for his skill as an electrician and for taking good care of his tools.

The big obituaries of prominent people always mention their legacies, "They will be remembered for this or that…" This reporter wrote sonnets to the legacies of "little people," about whom it is said, "It is nothing very important, but if you could mention it."

I wonder if you noticed that our lessons for this Sunday are about two women who would be classified by the world as unimportant, as "little people", but the biblical writers lift them up and celebrate them.

The first is from the Old Testament Book of I Kings and is about someone called "The Widow of Zarephath." She lived in a little town out in the desert. Elijah, the prophet, happened to stumble upon her as he entered the town. She was gathering sticks for a cooking fire. 


Elijah was running away from King Ahab and his crazy queen, Jezebel. Elijah was a prophet and he did what prophets do, he confronted power, and told King Ahab that the famine in their land was the fault of the king. The king and queen had established Baal worship in the land, which was an abomination to those who worshiped Yahweh, the God of the Jews. In fact, Elijah told King Ahab that Baal worship was the reason for the famine.

People in power do not take kindly to others telling them how to run their business. So, Elijah now becomes a refugee fleeing violence in his native land. God directs him to a woman in a desert village named Zarephath where there is even less flood and no water. She is called "The Widow of Zarephath." That is all we know about her, no name, just a little person in a remote village.

Elijah asks her for a drink of water. She gives it to him. Then he asks for a piece of bread. She says, "All I have is barley meal and a cruse of oil. I am about to bake it for my children." Elijah asks if he can have some. She agrees. She shares all that she had with someone in need, a refugee, a stranger, and behold, there is more than enough for all. It is a miracle. It is the miracle that happens when you give.

I notice some commentators on the passage are uncomfortable with that and feel they have to explain it in natural terms. For instance, the widow's example must have motivated her neighbors to share what they had, and together, each doing their part, there was enough for everybody. But that is not what it says. All it says is a poor woman with only enough to feed her family still helped someone else in need, and it was more than enough for God to use.

I can imagine old Elijah in later years, victorious over Ahab and Jezebel. He is now a national hero, telling the story of his career as a prophet. "It all began years ago in Zarephath. I was a fugitive, hiding out there. No food, near starving. And there was an old woman out there, a widow, poor as everyone else, and she fed me. I think back on that and wonder, "Would I have found the courage to do what God had called me to do if she hadn't done what she did?" It wasn't much. Just barley cakes and water. And I am sure Elijah didn't think much about it until it was long passed, and he was a national hero telling others how God guided his life. And that's when he remembered, and that's how we know about it. A poor woman gave what she had, and a little thing became a big thing.

Then in the New Testament lesson, the famous story of "The Widow's Mite." Jesus sets it up with a description of important people. In this instance, scribes, who make a show of themselves. "Beware of the scribes who like to go about in long robes and have salutations in the market place." You know what that means? A "salutation" is a salute. They like to wear their robes of office and have people recognize their status. He goes on: "They like to have the best seats in the synagogue and the place of honor at feasts. They devour widow's houses and cover it up with their piety." So they are religious not to serve God or their neighbors, but to serve themselves. Being religious helps them get ahead in the world. Jesus condemns all that phoniness.

Then comes the widow's mite. A poor woman enters the temple to worship. It must be in the middle of the annual financial campaign because there are a lot of people there putting money in the coffers. Everyone notices the large contributions. No one notices the woman put in two coins, which were worth a penny. No one notices, except Jesus, who calls over the disciples. "Did you see that. That woman gave the greatest gift. The others contributed out of their abundance. She gave out of her poverty. She gave everything."

You combine that with the Old Testament lesson of the Widow of Zarephath, and it says, miracles happen when you give. Which also means, they won't happen if you don't. I suppose God rears back and creates miracles all by himself. But most of the time God waits until we do something, then God uses what we do to do an even greater thing.

Christians ought to believe that. But I am afraid that many of us are tempted by the same malaise that affects so many in our time; the idea that we can't do anything to change things in this world. The problems are so enormous, our efforts so small in comparison. What difference can one person possibly make? All I've got is a few barley loaves, or just a few dollars. So, we do nothing, and doing nothing is a failure of faith.

Years ago now Robert Bellah and other sociologists wrote a book entitled Habits of the Heart. It was a diagnosis of America's malaise back in the last century when it was just beginning. They point out that America used to be known for community participation, or what is called "volunteerism". The title of the book, "Habits of the Heart", comes from Alexis De Tocqueville, who visited America in the 1830's to find out why, fifty years after the founding of the country, America was still here. Because it was generally believed around the world that common people could not rule themselves. But De Tocqueville concluded that what made America work was what he called , "habits of the heart," by which he meant ideals and values that guide a people, what they deeply believe. So, to live by the "habits of the heart" means to act on your ideals. Do something about what you believe.

What De Tocqueville noticed was that Americans volunteer to build community wherever they live. He was amazed at this. Wherever he went, in whatever town he visited, there were charities and civic organizations, schools, hospitals, and churches, all founded, organized and supported by volunteers.

In the world at that time, the beginning of the 19th century, that was unique, this outpouring of voluntary service motivated by habits of the heart. Bellah, in the twentieth century, observed by and large that has passed. Americans have moved from a sense of social responsibility to seeking personal fulfillment. The highest goal now for Americans is not social service but personal fulfillment.

So what happened? There are many reasons, at least many theories. But the most obvious difference is that in the world today it is much harder to feel that my little contribution will do any good. I mean in 1830 America was made up of a lot of villages. Today we live in a global village, with global size problems, which is why cynicism rather than idealism characterize so many today. But the one place where those values have not changed, the one place where the habits of the heart ought to be visible, is the Church. Not because we are naïve, or optimistic, about human nature. We have the most realistic evaluation of human nature; we say we are all sinners. We are all turned in upon the self. We don't get disillusioned, because we have no illusions about what human beings are capable of. But our hope is not in human beings. It is in God.

We believe God can take what a widow does for a stranger and use it to turn around an empire. We believe God has revealed that it is not the size of our contribution that counts, but the faith that motivates it. Your giving, or your witness, is a measure of your faith in God.

There is one more "little person" I want to tell you about. Working on this sermon I thought of Oceola McCarty. Years ago I came across a small article in the paper about a poor African American woman in Hattiesburg Mississippi, who had established a scholarship fund at the University of Southern Mississippi, which is also in Hattiesburg.

She was born in. Hattiesburg in 1901 and lived with her mother and aunt in a tiny house until her grandmother became ill, then she quit school and moved in with her grandmother to care for her. When her grandmother died she moved back home. She didn't go back to school though. She went to work with her mother taking in other people's laundry, washing clothes by hand, and ironing them with an iron heated on a stove.

She did that all her life, in that same house. Almost every dollar she earned went to the bank. In 1995, when she was 94, she went to the banker in Hattiesburg and said that before she died she wanted to give a scholarship to an African American student. So, in 1995, this little woman gave the university $150,000, which was her life savings, except for the few dollars that her banker set aside in a trust to meet her needs for the rest of her life. Every penny she had, she earned by taking in other people's laundry.

She established the scholarship fund in 1995. She said she wanted to live long enough to see the first recipient graduate. She made it. She died in 1999 shortly after Stephanie Bullock, the first recipient of the Oceola McCarty scholarship, graduated. Incidentally the McCarty scholarship fund is now estimated to be worth $750,000.

She was like the widow of Zarephath, and the widow in the Jerusalem Templ; a little person whom God used mightily.

I would like to end with a sonnet, like that reporter. But instead I will end with a poem about little people written by Bonaro Overstreet, but it could have been written by any of the three women.

You say the little efforts that I make will do no good,
They will never prevail to tip the hovering scale
Where justice hangs in the balance.
I don't think I ever thought they would.
But I am prejudiced beyond debatev In favor of my right to choose which side
Shall feel the stubborn ounces of my wright.
Sermon preached November 11, 2018
25th Sunday After Pentecost
I Kings 178-16 Mark 12:38-44
St. Paul Cathedral, San Diego, CA
The Rev Mark Trotter