Monday, May 18, 2020

The Sunday Sermon: The Unknown God

Have you heard the one about the extraterrestrial visitor who landed in one of our cities? They saw the shopping malls crowded and the churches empty and reported back to the mother ship that the shopping malls housed the object of worship for our species. Well, today both the malls and the churches are empty, and an extraterrestrial visitor would have a hard time finding a crowd anywhere.

But we can imagine the apostle Paul arriving in Athens, the intellectual capital of his world, as a first-time visitor from a faraway place, noticing the statues and shrines on every street corner, and quickly figuring out what was important to the locals. It was evident to Paul that the Athenians believed in God – in many gods. The Greek pantheon comprised some 25 major gods and goddesses. Each one had his or her own portfolio: Poseidon oversaw the oceans, Athena was the patron of wisdom and strategy, Ares was the god of war and Aphrodite the goddess of beauty, love, and desire; and so on. They all had some things in common: they lived within the created order, not above or beyond it; they exhibited all the qualities, good and bad, of humanity; and they seemed to regard human beings as playthings, to be used or discarded at will. Athenians would make offerings to the altar of the god who seemed most likely to solve a particular problem; so sailors would pray to Poseidon, lovers to Aphrodite.

And then there were the shrines to the Unknown God: this was a kind of religious insurance in case there was a deity out there who wasn’t getting his or her due. The gods could be petty and vindictive, and you didn’t want to offend them. You might know that feeling, when you start to thank a list of people and then you forget that one person who gets so offended that they were left out. That’s what the Greek gods were like.

So Paul, as a brilliant evangelist, starts his speech where the Athenians already are: I see that you are very religious with all your gods; I see that you even acknowledge the existence of a God whom you don’t yet know. Paul builds on the faith the Athenians already have, and then he invites them to expand that faith, to make their notion of God bigger, more cosmic, more embracing – less … human. God isn’t a marble statue, God isn’t the emperor, God isn’t a mischievous sprite: God is something greater than we can even imagine, in whom we live and move and have our being. God is continuously revealing new aspects of God’s self to us, continuously calling us to new creation, new life. And this God, this mighty, cosmic, creator God, loves us human beings as a mother loves her children. This God has no portfolio and no agenda except to love us and to love the whole creation.

And that’s what Jesus is all about. If you love me, he says. If you love me, you’ll keep my commandments. And do you remember what his new commandment was? To love each other as he has loved us. As our presiding bishop likes to say, if it’s not about love, it’s not about Jesus. Everything we do as followers of Jesus should be fueled by love: how we relate to each other, how we read the news, how we observe social distancing, how we spend our money, how we will use our new building. I’ve recently had the blessing of conversations with parishioners who shared their stories, witnessing to their own vulnerability and their willingness to be transformed by love. That’s what it means to be part of the Jesus movement: a willingness to be transformed by love. Jesus says that if we love as he has loved us, the Holy Spirit will abide in us, not just in each of us individually but in the midst of our community of love. The disciples don’t understand, of course: the Advocate, the one whom God sends to abide in them, is a new revelation of God, named by Jesus just as the Unknown God was named by Paul. There is no unknown God when we know the God of love. There are different faces of God: the loving parent, the obedient and self-giving Son, the fiery Spirit, all one God, the God who made heaven and earth, and who is with us now.

We have a lot in common with those ancient Athenians. We are well-educated and intellectual; we seek and grope for God in any number of places; and we have our many idols. I wonder, what are your street-corner gods? What are the fickle deities that you are afraid to offend? Maybe the god of financial security. Maybe the god of family harmony. Maybe the god of expectations, or of professional achievement, or of youth. When you hear Paul naming the unknown God as the God of love who created all things and loves all things into being, are you able to turn away from those smaller gods and follow where Jesus leads us? And are you able to embrace the new ways in which God is being revealed to us in this particular time? We are not alone on this journey to abundant life: the Holy Spirit, comforter and guide, abides among us. In this unsettling and anxious moment, with conflicting messages and little clarity about the way ahead for our world, we can let go of our fears and rest in God’s unfailing love. Remember what we heard in the Psalm? “Bless our God, you peoples, make the voice of God’s praise to be heard; who holds our souls in life and will not allow our feet to slip.”

May 17, 2020: the Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Already and Not Yet

Dear St. Paul’s family, 

We are hearing a lot about plans to restart the economy and relax stay-home orders, while public health experts warn us that the pandemic still has a long way to run. The mixture of messages is confusing; I find myself longing for a single message: just tell us what to do! When this feeling overwhelms me, I try to step back and notice the complicated tangle of feelings and dynamics that surrounds us. 

Although it may seem like we are just staying home, this is actually a traumatic experience: we are all grieving some aspect of life or relationship that is out of our reach right now; we are anxious about the possibility or reality of ourselves or loved ones getting sick with the virus; we are hearing about celebrities that we admire, some of them young, succumbing to their illness; some of us are experiencing financial hardship; and we don’t know when this will definitively be over. This is a daunting list of challenges to be facing all at once. It all adds up to a condition where our brains are not functioning at their best, it’s hard to be creative, and it’s hard to find motivation for daily tasks.  

I am experiencing all of this myself and I’m frustrated by the conflict between the reality of this trauma and my desire to keep us moving forward, to feel and project hope, to give you all good news and cast a vision of a bright future. With the installation of the construction crane last weekend we are about to start seeing the new building rise, and the developers tell us that we might be able to move in at the beginning of 2022. The pressure is mounting to come up with firm plans for how the building will serve us and our community. At the same time, we don’t know what church will look like in two years: will we be able to use large gathering spaces? Will the community ever want to come together in crowds? Will our online ministry become a permanent and prominent part of our mission? Will our future income support our dreams? 

Chapter initiated a strategic planning effort several months ago, and of course the COVID crisis has affected that work. We cannot simply keep ploughing on with goals and objectives as if nothing has changed. I doubt that we will ever go back to the old normal, and we don’t yet know what the new normal will be. So I ask for your patience as we discern where God might be leading us in this new reality. I’ve said this before and I will keep saying it: we need to be kind to ourselves and others, making allowances for the need to grieve, understanding when we accidentally displace our anxiety onto each other. There is Biblical guidance, or at least precedence, for a time like this. Not only does Genesis describe the chaos that precedes new creation, but in the New Testament we are taught to live in the “already but not yet”, to live fully in the now while maintaining hope for a bright future that is as yet undefined. This is what it means to live into the Kingdom of God, and God is guiding us. Whatever church will look like in the future, it will be God’s beloved community and we can focus, day by day, on living the way of love, whoever we are and wherever we find ourselves in this journey of faith. 

Your sister in Christ, 
Penny 

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Office Canticles

Dear St. Paul’s family,

The current crisis has had the effect of taking us back to the Anglican tradition of Morning Prayer, not only on weekdays but also on Sunday mornings while we are unable to offer Communion. Those who have joined the Episcopal Church in the last 40 years may find the Morning Prayer service quite unfamiliar, but those of us who grew up in an Anglican Church before the late 70’s may be enjoying this revival of a liturgy that was part of our early formation. In the first church I served as Rector, there was a parishioner who, about every six months, would ask me if we couldn’t go back to having Morning Prayer at least some Sundays each month. He knew my answer would always be no, and after about 5 years he gave up asking. Isn’t it funny how things work out? While I remain faithful to the Eucharistic theology of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, when it became necessary for us to do something other than Eucharist, I was very grateful that we had a longstanding and beautiful tradition of Morning Prayer to fall back on. Now, those who have come to our tradition since 1979 have an opportunity to experience one of the treasures of the Prayer Book.

Morning Prayer with music is also known as Mattins, just as Evening Prayer with music is known as Evensong. If you attend Evensong you know that some of the greatest liturgical music was written for the canticles that accompany Morning and Evening Prayer, but you may have never heard settings of the morning canticles such as the Jubilate or the Te Deum. Now, thanks to our talented musicians and audio-visual engineers, we are hearing some of these glorious pieces on Sunday mornings. This past Sunday our virtual choir treated us to CV Stanford’s setting in B flat of the Jubilate (Psalm 100, a traditional introduction or “invitatory” for the morning Office). I was struck by the fact that the “Glory be to the Father” verse at the end is the same setting as that which we hear at Evensong when the choir sings the Stanford Evening Service in B flat: it was a comforting moment of familiarity. The 1979 Prayer Book has greatly expanded our selection of canticle texts, but the classic musical settings were composed for the traditional canticles: the Jubilate, the Te Deum, the Benedicite (a Song of Creation), and the Gloria (which we sing in the context of the Eucharist).

The texts of these Canticles are a mixture of Scripture verses and songs from the early days of the church: besides Psalm 100, the Te Deum dates back to the 4th or 5th century AD and was thought to have been composed by St. Ambrose for the baptism of St. Augustine; the Benedicite is attributed to the three young men whom Nebuchadnezzar thrust into a fiery furnace in the story of Daniel (look for the book The Song of the Three Jews in the Apocrypha, or, in Catholic Bibles, in chapter 3 of the Book of Daniel); and the Gloria dates back to the 4th century and is traditionally attributed to St. Hilary.

The canticles are just one example of hitherto hidden gems in our Book of Common Prayer. Rediscovering them is one manifestation of God’s grace in this difficult time.

Your sister in Christ,
Penny

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Sunday Sermon: The Shepherd’s Way

Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Is there any text more comforting than the 23rd Psalm? The certainty of that first verse never fails to encourage me: the Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. I want the kind of faith that can say that and believe it 100%, but I will admit to you that I can’t always say I have it.

This extended isolation period challenges my faith: I am in want. Not for material things: I am blessed with a comfortable home, a steady income; but I am in want of community, of freedom of movement, of hugs and handshakes. But I still recite this Psalm with conviction, because I know that God is present in this, as God is present in every moment of our lives. And I know that if I hold fast to my faith, as imperfect as it might be, God will lead me to green pastures and still waters; God will revive my soul when it is fainting and guide me in right pathways.

The good shepherd comes to bring life and abundance; the good shepherd leads his flock out of danger; the good shepherd shares the life of the sheep and knows every detail of their joys and sorrows.

Many of us are living in uncharted territory. Who could have imagined an America where you couldn’t go to a restaurant or a ballgame? Who could have imagined a time when we couldn’t gather in church and couldn’t even feel confident that we would ever gather in church again? We are being forced to find new ways to be the people of God, to explore new pathways and look for different pastures. What will it mean to be a Christian in a post-pandemic world?

After the first Easter, the disciples had to find a new way to be the people of God. They were steeped in the Jewish tradition and part of a highly stratified culture. Economic divisions were deep; slavery was part of their world and, at the other end of the socioeconomic scale, the rulers of Rome claimed to be divine. Those first Christians were still Jews. They clung to the symbolic center of their national faith, the Temple in Jerusalem. They worshiped there constantly, but they were becoming aware that the Jewish authorities disapproved of their resurrection faith. The next thing that happens in Acts, after today’s passage, is a story of how Peter and John miraculously cured a man in the Temple precincts, after which Peter preached a courageous and provocative sermon about the Messiah. That was the beginning of the end of the Christian sojourn within the Temple and within the mainstream Jewish religion. Very shortly thereafter, they were on their own, faced with the need to invent something entirely new.

The verses we heard from Acts today paint an idyllic picture of the first days after Pentecost, before conflict and power struggles started to creep in. The disciples were united, all of one heart and mind. They shared everything. They did signs and wonders. They served the poor. They prayed together, studied Scripture together, broke bread together. These six verses encapsulate what many of us would like the church to be today – even though some of it comes perilously close to a definition of that dreaded word, socialism.

The new Christians were inventing a whole new way of being the people of God. They introduced new rituals, baptism and Communion. They adopted a radical practice of flattening demographic divisions, regarding each person as a beloved child of God, nothing less and nothing more. Whether you were a slave or an aristocrat, when you joined the Way, you simply became a brother or sister in Christ. Those with plenty gave up their abundance to provide others with enough. Just think for a minute of what it would take for us to adopt these practices today. We would be regarded as a radical sect. We would look different from most other congregations. We would face pushback from family members, colleagues, and neighbors.

For the new community, there were big fights ahead: over membership – should the men be circumcised? Was baptism in the Holy Spirit necessary? Over authority – who would be in charge? Was it only the original apostles who could speak for Jesus, or could others? Were women permitted to speak or lead? Over the nature of Jesus himself – was he fully divine, fully human, a bit of both? All this unfolded over the next few decades, and in some cases we are still arguing over it.

In this beginning time, the disciples were trying to sort out how to be church. They could no longer rely on the hierarchy or the tradition to tell them what to do. They were developing ways of worship that were unfamiliar and even offensive to the people around them – remember that non-Christians believed that Christians were cannibals, because of the fake news they heard about the Eucharist. In this tender time the disciples needed community more than ever. They needed to stick together as a flock, under the one good Shepherd.

In those early days a lot of the disciples believed that Jesus would return very soon to redeem Israel and usher in the Kingdom. So they held back from creating structures and rules because it was all temporary. But soon enough that hope started to fade, and by the time John’s Gospel was written, the Christian community had realized that they were in for the long haul, and they started to create the structure of membership, of insiders and outsiders, of walls and gates, of doctrinal requirements that would maintain what they regarded as the purity of the faith; and all of this held fast for the next couple of thousand years.

And today, where are we in this story? We are starting to realize that the changes forced upon us by the COVID 19 epidemic might not be short-term. They might not even be temporary. When will we feel comfortable cramming together in a crowded church, drinking from a common cup, handling shared hymnals and collection plates, placing our hands on an altar rail that 20 other people have just touched? Maybe we are in a place similar to those first Christians, of having to figure out how to be church all over again. Today none of us knows when or how we will be able to gather in community again. And, like those first Christians, in this uncertain time we need to stick together as a flock, even if only virtually, under the one good Shepherd. And we need to hold fast to our faith that this good Shepherd is still with us, watching over us, and guiding us to those green pastures ahead.

Alleluia. Christ is risen! The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

May 3, 2020, the Fourth Sunday of Easter
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Family Ministry Programming During COVID-19

Dear St. Paul’s Family,

Like others, our Family Ministry has had to adapt and create new ways to provide resources for families to stay connected and engaged in faith formation at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Whereas we emphasize the faith formation of households with children, the name “Family Ministry” encompasses families with children and our St. Paul’s Family as a whole. Therefore, I was thrilled to hear one new offering is being used by members of all ages.

The new Daily Faith email series provides a variety of “bite-sized” opportunities for reflection, education, and connection at home. Examples of these curated resources include coloring pages, mealtime meditations, and videos about, well, pretty much anything. I invite you to take advantage of this offering by subscribing to our mailing list HERE.

Other program adaptions include a weekly schedule of virtual gatherings on Zoom for our Kids Crew (ages 4-10) and Youth Crew (ages 11-18). We are taking a holistic approach by offering traditional-type Christian education and casual, fun, and relationship-oriented offerings every week for both age groups. To view our full schedule, visit the “Online Gatherings” page on the St. Paul’s Cathedral website. For curated memes, updates, and reflections, follow our Family Ministry Instagram (@cathedral.fam)

I am excited to see how our virtual ministry is taking shape. In January, I joined Dean Penny, Father Jeff, and other leaders at the “Rooted in Jesus” conference in Atlanta, Georgia, where there was an emphasis on re-thinking what church looks like in the 21st century; how ought the Church engage with and respond to the needs of our world today? Little did we know how soon we had to utilize what we learned at the conference in response to COVID-19. Ultimately, however unfortunate and challenging the circumstance, I recognize the opportunity for radical transformation in the ways we do faith formation at St. Paul’s in the future.

Your sister in Christ and community, 
Maya Little-Saña, Youth Minister

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Sunday Sermon: walking towards the light

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!

Today is the third Sunday in these 50 days of Easter. By now, if you’ve been attending worship, you have heard Matthew’s story of how the risen Christ appeared to the two Marys; you’ve heard John’s story of how Mary Magdalene mistook the risen Savior for the gardener; and you’ve heard John’s story of how Jesus appeared to the disciples in a locked room on the evening of the first Easter Day, and again a week later when Thomas was with them.

Today’s Gospel is still focused on Easter Day, and now it’s Luke’s turn to tell us his Easter story. Early in the morning, Luke tells us, the women went to the tomb and saw a vision of angels who shared the good news; they didn’t see Jesus himself. But when the women went to the disciples with the angels’ announcement, the men didn’t believe them. Now it is evening and two of those disciples are walking home, dejected, grieving, deeply disappointed, wondering what the future would hold, now that their hopes have been dashed. The women’s announcement seemed like an idle tale to them – after all, the courts didn’t value the evidence of women, so why should they? Like Thomas, these disciples would believe only the evidence of their own eyes.

Brain scientists tell us that we see what we expect to see. Our brains fill in gaps in what our eyes observe, and conversely we see what our brain tells us to see. Maybe you’ve seen the experiment where you are instructed to count passes in a basketball game; after the video ends, the researcher asks if you saw the gorilla. What gorilla? You told me to watch a basketball game and that’s what I saw. When the video is rerun you see that a guy in a gorilla suit walked right through the middle of the game. How could you have missed him? Your brain failed to recognize a gorilla because you were set up only to see the basketball game. These two disciples, Cleopas and his companion – maybe his spouse – were deep in grief. They knew that Jesus was dead. They had discounted the women’s story, so they had no reason to think that the stranger who caught up with them on the road might be Jesus come back from the dead. And Jesus doesn’t say, “Hey guys, it’s me – I’m back.” It’s almost like he plays with them, scolding them gently for their lack of understanding, teaching them the whole salvation story that has led to this moment, and even turning away as they reach their destination.

It’s only when they invite him in, when they share their meal with him, that he permits them to recognize him. He allows them to continue in their grief and uncertainty, giving them the opportunity to move through their loss, to tell their story, to reach their safe haven and find comfort in the ordinary tasks of preparing a meal, before he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and shares it with them, just as he had done on the night before he was arrested. And in this moment, after the teaching, after the grief-filled journey, after the hospitality and the sharing, in this moment they realize who has been with them all along. And in a beautiful turn of phrase Luke tells us that they rose up – he actually uses the term for resurrection – and they rushed back to the city to share the good news that they now, finally, believed. The Lord is risen indeed!

In all the years I have been preaching on this story, I think this is the first time that I haven’t preached it in the context of the Eucharist. It makes my heart hurt that we cannot share Communion today, after hearing how Jesus comes to us and is made known in the breaking of the bread. But it also offers an opportunity to look at the story from a new angle, and in this strange time of Covid-19 we are being invited to look at all kinds of things from new angles. We have all gone through an experience of profound loss over the last couple of months. We have missed our friends, despaired over our retirement savings, worried about our vulnerable loved ones, been disappointed by the endless cancellations, raged at the inconsistent messages of the media. We have lost a way of life that, even if it wasn’t ideal, was at least familiar.

Two months ago we were walking a well-worn path towards Lent and Easter, as familiar to us as the path from Jerusalem to Emmaus was for Cleopas and his companion. But that path took some twists and turns, and it became a path of fear, uncertainty, and anxiety, of loneliness and grief. Suddenly, this Lent wasn’t just about giving up luxuries, it was about giving up our core communities, our dreams, even our jobs. And when Easter came, we were still on that same path. Like those two disciples, Easter had come but we were still in the dark place.

When you walk a path that you have known well, you tend to stop noticing details along the way. You might be focused on getting from A to B, automatically avoiding the uneven pavement here, the overgrown hedge there. And then something happens that makes you pay attention. The two disciples were walking a road they had walked many times before, but this time there was someone with them, someone who was opening their eyes to the story behind the Messiah, someone who was teaching them to appreciate God’s goodness and mercy in a new way, someone who was leading them gently through the darkness to the light.

I have been walking my neighborhood every day since the stay-home order began. I find that I am noticing some things I haven’t seen before. The view across Mission Valley is much clearer because there is less pollution from traffic. I am present to the natural world in a new way, because there is time for me to pay attention. I see details of the flowers; I see the hummingbirds. My sister, who has been with me for six weeks, has been my mentor in this: she is an artist and she paints the flowers we see each day, catching the details of their beauty. She has planted the tops of carrots and the roots of spinach, so we can watch them grow. She has caught wild yeast from the air and made sourdough bread.

There is so much to observe and enjoy that I wasn’t noticing before. Maybe this is where God is for me in this time, walking beside me and showing me the glory of creation. Maybe God is somewhere in this strange world of the internet, hovering behind the faces on Zoom, quietly teaching us about the meaning of community and sacrament through their absence, teaching us to be faithful through loss and change, to find new ways to recognize the risen Lord as we break bread at home, as we spend time alone, as we adjust our family relationships.

Today we cannot take, bless, break, and share the bread and wine of Communion. But we can know Christ and make him known in our gathering as his body, in the ministry that we offer each other and our neighbors, and in the hope we share of a new and better world on the other side of this. Risen Lord, be known to us in the fellowship and prayers of your church.

Alleluia, Christ is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia.

April 26, 2020
The Third Sunday of Easter and Creation Care Sunday
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

The Sunday Sermon: pursued by Jesus (Apr 19)

The gospel for this morning hits close to home. The disciples are closed up in a house behind closed doors, fearful.

They were fearful of those who had killed Jesus, and it calls to mind our own situation as we sit behind locked doors afraid, or at least anxious, of COVID-19, the virus that has killed so many.

Fear and isolation set the stage for this resurrection appearance of Jesus.

The followers of Jesus are in shock. They have lost their leader. John makes especially clear that Easter is not a light switch; it is not a single moment in time where the followers of Jesus suddenly become filled with joy and start making Easter Eggs or chocolate bunnies.

No, especially in John, New life comes in waves. Mary discovers an empty tomb. She leaves, confused- she has not yet discovered new life. She shares news of Jesus' missing body with Peter and others, who explore the tomb themselves. Then, Mary returns to the tomb to have an encounter with Jesus, whom she first mistakes for the gardener, finally realizing that Jesus has risen. Easter comes gradually to different people in different places. The loss of Jesus was traumatic, and his death won't be overcome instantaneously.

And so now, later on the very same day that Mary discovered that empty tomb, many of the disciples are gathered in a locked room. They are still afraid. And in this fearful state, Jesus comes to them, like he did to Mary. Jesus comes through doors locked with fear, and he shows them his wounds. And he says, 'Peace be with you.'

Many of us grew up with this story in Sunday School hearing Thomas cast as the bad guy. 'Doubting Thomas,' he has been named through the years. In more recent years, Thomas has been seen in a more nuanced light, though. Thomas wasn't in the room with the disciples. We don't know why. Maybe he wasn't as scared as they were and he was out in the town. We just don't know. But Thomas hears the account of Jesus coming to the disciples and giving them peace. Thomas is yet another party in this gradual Easter. He simply wants the same peace the other disciples have received from Jesus.

Mary has seen Jesus. Other disciples have seen him. And Jesus, the good shepherd, the seeker of lost sheep, doesn't forget Thomas as he demands the same peace the others have had.. Jesus pursues Thomas. Through locked doors again. For Thomas this time, Jesus comes. Patiently, Jesus allows Thomas to see it is him, let's him touch his wounds. And, when Thomas is satisfied, Jesus grants him peace.

Easter is not something that happens all at once. Easter happens in different ways, at different times. Every year, my favorite part of the Great Vigil of Easter is the precise moment of the Easter Proclamation in the middle of the service. That is the moment when the lights are brought up, and the organ plays bright music, and the mood changes from dark to light, and we start saying Alleluias again.

For me it has always been the signpost that Easter is here! But this year, I think many of us are realizing that the original Easter, in fact the real Easter that plays out in our lives in so many ways in so many times, has very little of that kind of precision.

Easter, rather, seems to be a liminal space if we are to take the gospel of John seriously. It is a gradual transition, from death to life, of things which have been cast down which are being raised up, of things which have grown old which are being made new, it is not a singular point in time. The gospel does not focus on a narrator's perspective of what happened to Jesus' body in the tomb, describing some concrete moment in time when Jesus' lifeless body was reanimated. Instead, we are directed to focus on the liminal space that the followers of Jesus had to navigate as the resurrected Jesus made his rounds. They are changed. We are changed. It is Easter, but the joy comes slowly.

Now, as we settle into a full month of secluding behind locked doors for fear of infection in this pandemic, we are starting to look forward. It is becoming clearer and clearer that our path ahead is not simply turning back the switch on normalcy. Instead, we will go through waves and stages. This will be a long transition; an expanded liminal space as we grapple globally with a new way of being for some time.

Transitions, these liminal spaces, they are scary. The good news in the gospel is that Jesus pursues the disciples, and he offers them peace in the midst of the liminal space. When Thomas expresses dismay, at not believing new life can work, Jesus pursues him, comforts him; offers him a way forward. The wounds do not disappear. But new life comes, nonetheless.

And so, here we are, behind our locked doors. Something is happening in the world around us, something is happening that we don't understand. Like Thomas, sometime or another most of us cry out for Jesus to pursue us, to seek us out, to prove he is truly among us, to offer us reassurance of peace.

So, dear people of God- Thomases and Marys, disciples and doubters- know this. Jesus pursues you. Cry out! Lift your voices high to heaven and demand, like Thomas, to be heard.

Like those thousands of years ago, we are in a time of grief, a time of collective loss, a time where we need to be gentle with ourselves as hurt piles upon hurt, and wound upon wound.

So name those things to the One who pursues you. Because you are pursued, just like Thomas. In all your longing, in all your isolation; in all your hurt, in all the suffering of this world; the one who comes through locked doors, and bears his body comes for you to grant you peace, and to bring hope of a new day. And to remind you that you-- that we-- are not finished here.

Because you are made for one thing: To be beloved of God, and to be pursued no matter how isolated, no matter how quarantined, no matter how ill or healthy, and no matter what this world can come up with. Take heart, and believe: there is new life!

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Easter 2A, April 19, 2020
St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego
John 20:19-31

Sources Consulted:
http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4434
http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5426

Thursday, April 23, 2020

Zoom Security

Dear St. Paul’s family,

In Easter season we rejoice to know that we are a people forgiven and deeply loved. For that reason, the general confession that we routinely say in our daily prayers at in Sunday services is optional. But it’s painfully evident that sin still abounds in our world, and one way that sin manifests itself is through the mischievous and offensive actions of those who send scam emails, hack into websites, and interrupt online gatherings through practices such as Zoom bombing. I can see why a criminal would send an email purporting to be from a clergy person and asking for money (that has happened several times, and I beg you to be extremely suspicious if you see such an email), but I am baffled by the Zoom bombing: what on earth does someone have to gain from interrupting a meeting or prayer service?

Sadly, St. Paul’s has been the target of Zoom bombing during one of our online prayer services. It was upsetting, offensive, and startling for everyone involved. We have had conversations among staff and lay leaders about how to reduce the chances of this happening again. As you all know, our mission statement is to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All. We perpetually walk a line between welcoming all comers and keeping our community safe. In normal times, when we can gather in person, it’s not unusual for people who are unable to behave appropriately to come to the cathedral. We have taken various measures to protect our people, including security cameras and guards and a corps of wonderful volunteer watchers, who help the ushers monitor those who seem unstable.

The Zoom bombing incident has made it necessary for us to implement procedures online mirroring what we do on the cathedral campus. While we don’t want to put anyone off attending a service or class, we are now using the Waiting Room feature on Zoom. The hosts of a Zoom meeting admit participants one by one, screening out any names that seem suspicious. We try to do this within a few moments so that you don’t have to wait long. We don’t want to screen out people who are visiting for the first time , so we can’t simply exclude unfamiliar names; however, it would be very helpful for us to know if you invite a family member or friend to join us so that we can immediately welcome them. Similarly, it’s helpful if you can ensure in advance that your Zoom identifier is your name. We are not using the feature that allows you to rename yourself during a meeting, because Zoom bombers sometimes take on the name of someone else in the meeting, to confuse us.

It is very challenging for the person leading a meeting or officiating at a service to also serve as the “virtual usher”, watching the screen for people in the waiting room or participants starting to act inappropriately. So I am asking you to consider volunteering to be a virtual usher, in order to free us to lead worship and teach with full concentration. Jeff is offering training for those who sign up for this ministry. Please let one of the clergy know if you are willing to help in this way.

We continue to learn new ways of offering church online: I am grateful to all of you for your patience and grace as we find our way in this new online world.

Your sister in Christ,

Penny

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Construction updates April 22


Rocky Update:

  • Courtyard stairs are done.
    • Kathleen will share photo with Tom.
  • Handrails for it being fabricated
  • Chairlift installer comes out again to inspect new housing and will then work out installation schedule, which will likely be a month out.
  • Bids just shared for courtyard cement spruce-up via Brad to Tom. Tom will share with Cathedral staff.
    • Of the bids offered when asked, Rocky’s suggestion was for “the top tier” because of the process and ability to maintain with more ease in the future. We’ll review all bids once Tom sends
  • Dehumidifiers in Bob’s office and Boiler/Work room where rain got in due to clogged rain drain on construction site. Working on patching and sealing permanently the spots where the water got in.

Tom:

  • Received the bids for the Queen’s Courtyard this morning from Brad. He’ll review and share with Cathedral Staff.
  • Reviewed permit(s) status. Rocky & Steve advise everything looks on target.
  • Working on proposals for new building will review and share with Penny today.

Kathleen:

  • Stress crack review:
    • Rocky and crack inspectors are aware, have reviewed and documented. They will be keeping an eye on them
    • Kathleen will send pictures of cracks to Tom and others.





Thursday, April 16, 2020

Catching up

Dear St. Paul’s family, 

Alleluia! Christ is risen! I hope your Easter was joyful, even under the current circumstances. I am very grateful to our Bishop and her staff for the splendid diocesan Easter service that we enjoyed, and that drew us together as a wider community.  

I want to update you on a few matters dear to all our hearts. First, the Cathedral facility: even though it is closed, we are taking care of our beautiful buildings. Our regular security firm checks the exterior several times a night; one of our sextons, Chuck, is on the premises virtually round the clock; and the security cameras continue to record any activity indoors. We are blessed to have so much protection: I am unfortunately hearing reports from clergy around the country of break-ins and vandalism of empty churches. Greystar’s construction of the Sixth and Olive building continues, as does the construction of the new ramp and stairs in the Queen’s Courtyard.   

Second, I want to reassure you about our staff. Chapter has agreed to guarantee all current staff positions, with average weekly pay (or better, for those working more hours than usual) through the end of May. We are watching our finances very closely and will revisit the situation if we are still in stay-at-home mode at that time. Our staff deserve our full commitment and a measure of security, in a time that is anxiety-producing on every front. In order to maintain this commitment it’s important that we all keep up with our annual pledges, which provide about two thirds of our operating budget, especially given the volatility of the financial markets that will ultimately affect our ability to draw from our endowment funds for the other third. 

Finally, I want to thank the many parishioners who have responded to our appeal for donations to support the clergy pastoral needs fund. That fund is now looking quite healthy and we are ready to help those for whom the current situation means financial hardship. Our Bishop has asked us to make a special appeal for donations to support the diocesan fund, which will aid congregations without the resources that we enjoy, and St. Paul’s has committed, along with the other large parishes in the diocese, to provide $7,500 towards that appeal.

If you are able, please donate to the Bishop's appeal here, selecting "A Time Such As This" under the "Fund" option.

Your sister in Christ, 
Penny 

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Homily, Great Vigil

We are in the dark. We don’t know when this thing will end. We don’t know if we or people we love will become ill. We don’t know who is telling the truth.

We are in the dark and we need the light of Christ.

This year, more than ever, we need Easter.

In Ezekiel’s story of the dry bones, we see a valley of death. It is a lifeless place of dry bones, merely the faint memory of life. It feels hopeless. But as soon as God begins to speak, hope is born. Can these bones live? A shocking question that we would not dare to ask. But for God, nothing is impossible, and when God asks the question, we know the answer is yes. Yes, these bones can live. Yes, the darkness will end. Yes, the light of Christ will burn brightly and lead us from the edge of the grave back to life.

Over and over we see in Scripture that God brings life out of death. The people of God are liberated. The desert blooms. The boy Isaac is saved. The bones live. In this challenging time, we are tempted to think only about death. We hear the statistics, the number of those infected, sick, or who have died, and the temptation is to think only about the death. But Easter tells us that death isn’t the end of the story. This pandemic will end and the people of God will come back together to celebrate the life that is God’s free gift to us all. Just as the cathedral lights will come on and the organ start up when the Bishop proclaims Easter, so the lights will some day come back on in the world and life will return to our streets, schools, and industries.

But I dare to hope that it won’t return to normal. Our society had become like a spoiled child, never satisfied with what we had, paying little attention to those who had less, forgetting to take time with our loved ones and putting our own wants ahead of the common good. This time of enforced isolation, of extended time with some family members and cruel separation from others, this time of doing without new clothes, manicures, vacation trips, and parties; this shared experience could redirect us to be more family-oriented, to reprioritize our habits and our spending, to become more aware of the humanity that we share woth every other human being. This time, as hard as it is, could be the salvation of our culture, if it moves us away from the consumerism and toxic politics that have all but destroyed any shared value of community spirit.

My Easter hope this year is that there will be a cultural shift in our world; that, just as the world changed for ever when Jesus rose from the dead, so, when our world rises from its viral sickbed, there will be a new normal, a normal that brings us closer together and enables us to see more clearly the Christ in each other. To see, we need light, and the Paschal Candle reminds us that Jesus Christ is the light of the world. We need the risen Christ to go ahead of us, to lead us from the dark tomb to a new place of light.

The Exsultet hymn calls us to rejoice tonight as the light shines out. For this is the night when everything changes. This is the night when we pass with Christ from darkness to light, from sin to redemption, from death to life. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, ever burn in our hearts, and may we come to know the full joy of Easter. Amen.

The Great Vigil of Easter, April 11, 2020
TVR Penelope Bridgesv Preached after the Vigil readings

Saturday, April 11, 2020

The Good Friday Sermon

It is finished. St John gives these as the last words Jesus utters before his death. Not “it’s all over”, or “I am finished,” but “it is finished.” The project is done. The mission is completed. The purpose has been accomplished. John tells us that death is part of God’s plan to lead us to life. He even calls the death of Jesus his glory, the crowning moment of his earthly ministry. We struggle with the notion that a death can be anything other than tragedy. Why did Jesus have to die? Why did my loved one die? Why do we have to die?

On Good Friday we arrive inexorably at this sad, lonely place at the foot of the Cross. This year it’s even lonelier than usual, as we observe the days of the Passion alone in our homes. I remember a Good Friday when the church I served had not yet started to offer the liturgy of the day, when the only service available was the ecumenical preaching of the seven sayings from the Cross in a Methodist church where there were no kneelers. I left that service feeling incomplete: it didn’t feel like Good Friday until I got down on my knees.

So I went across town to my church, where we had stripped the altar and chancel the night before. The heat was off; it was a chilly, rainy day; and the worship space looked forlorn and abandoned, like the body of someone who has died without friends. I slipped into a pew and opened a prayer book to the Solemn Collects. “Dear people of God: our heavenly Father sent his Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved ... we pray, therefore, for people everywhere according to their needs.” As I prayed, I felt like Good Friday was complete. It is finished.

In some ways, praying alone is very appropriate on this day. We need time and space to ponder this mystery. Jesus is the way, the truth, the life. His way is a way of peace, of healing, of love, and he encounters obstruction every step of that way. Telling truth to power puts him on a collision course with the corrupt structures of the world. And now he willingly hands over his life - John’s language makes clear that this is done only with his consent - so that we, who do not deserve it, will receive the free gift of eternal life in him. It is a deep mystery, that God should yield to the forces of evil in order that good might triumph.

It is finished: the salvific work of God is accomplished. Jesus has come into his glory and we are redeemed. But there is more to come. We watch and wait in prayer for the final mighty act that proclaims to the world that Jesus is king. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. Amen.

Good Friday 2020
Penelope Bridges

Thursday, April 9, 2020

Rites and Right Thinking

I have just finished watching a series on Netflix called Unorthodox. The story centers around Estey, short for Esther, a young Jewish woman in a community of orthodox Jews and who at age 18 finds herself in an arranged and largely loveless marriage. After a year of failing to get pregnant and a growing discontent with her life as a piece of property, she escapes to Berlin where she falls in with a group of young musicians and is happy. Her husband back in Williamsburg (Brooklyn) and his cousin Moishe set out to bring her back. I leave it for you to watch the program to find out how that goes.

First, I want to say that as far as I’m concerned, there is nothing intrinsically wrong with practicing orthodox Judaism if you can afford the clothes. If everyone in that community agrees to its stringent rules that govern literally every facet of life and are happy living within those strictures, who am I to cast the first stone? But what became apparent in Unorthodox was that rites and rituals and rules and traditions and judgments superseded everything else including, perhaps especially, human happiness. There is something amiss with a religion that professes to worship a loving God and then does not extend the joy of that love to God’s children.

We Episcopalians rather like our rituals too. This year we painfully have had to suspend performing some of the ones that are dearest to us in Holy Week. No Palm Sunday parade, no Tenebrae on Wednesday, no Maundy Thursday Eucharist, no Good Friday veneration of the cross, and no Easter Day celebration of the Resurrection. We have not been able to meet together on Sundays for three weeks and have had to forego yet another of our precious rituals, brunch after church.

In a way, this stay-at-home order has been good for us. For some it has deepened our sense of community and how much we had taken for granted the simple act of seeing each other. We have had to pare down our lives to bare necessity including how we keep in touch. For those who have disparaged the Internet, you might by now have revised your thinking. It has substituted for hugs, handshakes, and across-the-table smiles and while those expressions of our regard for our friends can’t be replaced by FaceTime, we have learned how much we need each other and long to maintain our community. All without any ritual, or very little—we are still having Morning Prayer on Sunday via the Internet.

Like Estey’s husband in Unorthodox we have had to reexamine who we are as people with a tradition, with rites that help identify us, and with observances that provide us with our sense of belonging to our church. Perhaps what we’re learning is that in our yearning for those rites and rituals, there is also our need to preserve community. When we can once again participate in our traditions and they enhance and beautify our faith, they must never become our faith and must never take precedence over our recognition that God loves us unconditionally and that we are called, rites or no rites, to extend that love to others.

Robert Heylmun
8 April 2020

A Different Holy Week

Dear St. Paul’s family,

Once again we are invited to walk with Jesus through Holy Week, as we have done year after year. But this year we don’t have the same company on the way. It’s a lonely walk for some, a painful walk for those who are ill or who have loved ones who are ill, a contemplative walk for others.

It is very strange for me to not be preparing to spend a lot of time in a stripped and darkened church, participating in somber and beautiful sung liturgies, kneeling at the cathedral’s altar rail, processing to the garden of repose in our chapel, noticing the scent of the Easter lilies as they are delivered and stashed in preparation for the Vigil. Instead I am spending a lot of time in front of a borrowed laptop, recording video and sound, adjusting the light in my study, learning how to be a TV producer simultaneously with being a priest. It is a strange time for me, and I know it is equally strange for all of you.

But it’s still Holy Week, the sacred heart of our year, as it has always been. If you are able to participate in our online liturgies you are hearing the Scripture and prayers that we have always heard; if you are not online I commend to you the Book of Common Prayer, which provides the Proper Liturgy for each day along with Scripture references for the readings. We can still enter imaginatively into the events of Jesus’ last week on earth. We can still pray the psalms of lamentation, with perhaps more feeling this year than in other years. The Solemn Collects of Good Friday, that call us to pray for people everywhere according to their needs, strike both personal and global notes, as we share with the entire planet in this time of illness, fear, and isolation, and as we lift up the hope of life after death.

We are Easter people. The promise holds sure: that the Son of God, who lived as one of us and suffered for us, was raised again, and we are raised with him to new life. This pandemic will end, and we will be reunited, and the Resurrection will feel all the more powerful for all that we are enduring now. Theologians like to say we live in the “already but not yet”: Jesus has already risen and we have been saved, but the Kingdom has not yet fully been inaugurated. Bringing this idea home, Holy Week and Easter are already realities in our lives, but this year our full celebration of the Resurrection belongs in the “not yet” category.

There are moments of grace and joy in the midst of every tragedy. I have seen those moments in the past few weeks and they lift me up and remind me to keep hope alive. I am sure that you too have experienced such moments. Those are the moments when we can be comforted and strengthened by our trust in the love of God that carries us through all challenges and difficulties. May the three holy days of the Triduum be a time of profound closeness to God, and may Easter joy be real for you.

Your sister in Christ, 
Penny