Thursday, May 17, 2018

A letter from the Dean: Communication and sharing

May 15, 2018

Dear St. Paul’s family,

This week we celebrate Pentecost, the day when the church was born. It’s a day to rejoice in the ways the Spirit has gifted each of us for ministry and to be listening for the movement of the Spirit in our life together. I’ve been listening hard these last few weeks, both to the Spirit and to you. My weekly letters are starting to generate conversations of all kinds, and I am grateful for the parishioners who let me know what they are hearing. If we can’t tell each other the truth, we have no business trying to be a faith community. So please keep the feedback coming so that we can respond and ensure that everyone is heard and cared for.

As Chapter, executive staff, and I continue our work to plot a sustainable course forward, people share ideas that don’t have to wait for a strategic plan. Pentecost marks a turning in the middle of the church year. We have completed the cycle of Jesus’ birth, death, resurrection, and ascension: in this second half of the year we focus on being church, on living into the gift of the Spirit as we learn to live as the body of Christ in the world. How do we strengthen that body? Here are some ideas we are working on:

  1. Continue these weekly letters and address themes suggested by parishioners. What do you want to know about?

  2. Increase interaction between staff clergy and congregation members through a slightly more leisurely exchange of the Peace, and occasional lunch or happy hour gatherings after church on Sundays .

  3. Invitations to spend a minute during church sharing something about a ministry you are passionate about. 

  4. Summertime socials at parishioner homes on Fridays and Saturdays starting in early June. No agenda, just being together with me and hopefully other staff members, so we can know each other better. Let me know if you would like to host a gathering!

Ours is a faith built on hope: the hope that we and our world can be transformed by the love of God. Our hope is fed by faith, and our faith is strengthened by active participation in our corporate life. I am committed to being fully present for this part of the body of Christ, and my faith tells me that God’s Spirit is moving among us. My hope is that the love we show each other in friendship and care will spill over into the world around us, and that we will all experience the excitement and new life that once overtook another community band of faithful people, when the Holy Spirit swooped down on them and turned the whole world upside down. May God, who enlightened the minds of the disciples by pouring out upon them the Holy Spirit, make you rich with his blessing, that you may abound more and more in that Spirit.

The Very Rev Penny Bridges

Thursday, May 10, 2018

A letter from the Dean: Membership

May 9, 2018

Dear St. Paul’s family,

This week’s message is about membership and engagement. It’s evident to all of us that attendance at worship has declined in the last four or five years, from an average Sunday attendance (ASA) in 2015 of 607 to 525 in 2017. It’s not a trend any of us want to see. I am committed to nurturing every member of St. Paul’s in faith, and when people choose not to attend, it means that we are not reaching them in a meaningful way, and that is something we need to address. I am always saddened when a familiar face is absent from the table, and often we don’t know exactly why they are absent.

The measurement of membership in the Episcopal Church is not an exact science. We don’t take individual attendance, we don’t require people to tell us when they leave, or their reasons for leaving, and we don’t require people to record their baptisms with us, although we encourage it. At present the best measure of membership that we have is in the pledge numbers. If someone pledges, I know they regard themselves as members of Christ’s body in this place. If they stop pledging, there can be several reasons including financial hardship or relocation. The numbers of pledges recorded tell a story: from 400 recorded for 2015 to 313 for 2018 (to date). Despite the drop in the number of pledges, we have almost maintained the total amount in dollars pledged, which means that those who pledge are both generous and committed. This being the case, only a small portion of our budget gap can be traced to the drop in pledges (see my previous letters on this topic). However, we are unlikely to correct the deficit unless we address the questions of both attendance and pledge numbers.

Jeff has called together a small group of longtime, trusted parishioners to reach out to those whom we miss, with the hope of gathering data to tell us more about why people have drifted away from St. Paul’s. The literature tells us that younger people tend not to place a high premium on belonging to an institution, so we are also dealing with a changing concept of membership. I know that the many staff and clergy transitions over the last six years have been hard on you all, and life continues to get ever more crowded with multiple worthy options competing for our time and contributions; people simply attend church less frequently than they used to. We have harnessed technology to address the busyness, with live streaming and video recording of principal services, and the development of Faith to Go for families (here’s a link to this week’s offering: .

Since I arrived in 2014 the staff has been engaged in building structures and systems to make our ministry more transparent and sustainable; perhaps this focus has had its effect on our common life and thus on the “glue” that holds us together. We all care deeply about the life and future of St. Paul’s. We are in this together, and I need your help in discerning a way forward. If you have ideas or thoughts, please share them with me. And please come to our next quarterly Community Life Council gathering on Wednesday May 15 at 6:00 pm in the Guild Room, to join in the conversation over a light meal. (Please RSVP to Judy in the cathedral office so we can plan for dinner).

There is good news: the recent Holy Cow survey told us that St. Paul’s is still well within the healthiest and most vibrant quadrant for ministry and mission compared to churches across the spectrum of size and theology. And we have nearly 350 people engaged in active ministry at St. Paul’s, from choir members to Showers workers to forum attendees. That is quite extraordinary! Let’s work together to strengthen our community and to make our cathedral a center of exciting and compelling ministry for all who know us. Thank you for your continued commitment as we seek to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All.

Your sister in Christ,

The Very Rev Penny Bridges

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: Bearing Fruit that will Last

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

When my sister made a surprise visit from Scotland last week, we had just one whole day together. When I asked her what she wanted to do, she said, “where can I buy the best almonds to take home with me?” Almonds, of course, are a healthy and protein-packed snack, and it’s hard to get good quality almonds in the UK, whereas they are grown here in southern California and are both plentiful and fresh. So we went shopping for fresh almonds.

Until this week I had no idea that the value of an almond goes far beyond the nut itself. When you harvest almonds, only about 30% of the total weight harvested is the nut itself that we eat. The rest is made up of the hull - the fruit-like layer that surrounds the nut - and the shell. We might imagine that 70% is wasted or simply ground up into fertilizer, but in fact there are multiple uses for both the hull and the shell. The hull can be processed into a sugar to be used for brewing or to feed animals. The shells can be mixed with recycled plastic to make it stronger or even made into an independent, biodegradable, plastic-like product. Sometimes we don’t know just how much value something has, simply because our imaginations aren’t big enough.

The short passage we just read from Acts is the ending of the story of Cornelius the centurion, who was a Gentile and a seeker. He had a vision of an angel who told him to find Simon Peter, who was in another city, While his messengers were on their way, Peter had a vision too, of animals considered unclean in Jewish law He heard God’s voice instructing him to slaughter and eat the forbidden meat. He refused the instruction, even though it was repeated three times. His imagination wasn’t big enough to allow him to change. Immediately after this, the messengers from Cornelius arrived and convinced him to go with them.

Now Peter makes the connection and gets the message, that God’s kingdom is far broader and more inclusive than he has ever imagined, and when he arrives he starts to preach the good news to these non-Jews. But sometimes actions speak louder than words. Sometimes the teaching comes after the sacrament. In this story the Holy Spirit gets impatient with Peter’s sermonizing and interrupts him, dramatically falling upon his entire audience. So Peter does something radical. He baptizes Gentiles, having been newly converted himself from a narrow worldview to something much more generous. Peter answers the call to convert others and is himself converted. That’s how God works in us when we stretch ourselves to serve others. As our Collect says, God prepares for those who love God such good things as surpass our understanding. By giving of ourselves, we receive new life; we are transformed.

In the Gospel, Jesus tells his disciples that they are to bear fruit that will last. Much of the church’s ministry is about sowing seeds. We don’t know what effect it will have on someone to get a shower in our parking lot, or to receive a smile and a bag lunch at the traffic light, or to be able to walk into the cathedral and be welcomed. We don’t know if the people who see us on TV marching or holding press conferences will find themselves revising their views of Christianity in a positive way. We don’t know if the people who walked past Flicks when Jeff led a Eucharist service there two years ago, or the Pride festival participants who saw us doing a street Eucharist on Normal Street last year have ever thought about it again. But just now and then we learn of the fruits.

On Thursday, as we observed the National Day of Prayer by inviting prayer requests outside the new downtown courthouse, one of the people who approached us said that she had come back to church three years ago because of Ashes to Go. She’s a member of St. Bart’s now. Many of you have told me of attending the Zydeco Mass or the St. George’s Evensong or one of the 12 step groups we host for years before you decided to make St. Paul’s your home. Sometimes the harvest is greater than we can imagine.

We are entering a time of discerning new and exciting ways to bring the good news to a hurting world and to bring spiritually hungry people to St. Paul’s. I hope you will be tolerant of temporary reconfigurations and non-traditional events. As we experiment with imaginative uses for our extraordinary facility we will bring people in the doors who would never find us via a worship service, but they will experience our welcome and hopefully see evidence around them of the outreach we offer to the community. They will leave with an impression of St. Paul’s that, I hope, will draw them back for more visits, until they embrace this community as the home from home that they have been missing, just like so many of you did.

It will likely be a messy time as we explore new possibilities, but I am convinced that the Holy Spirit does her best work in messy times. We are seeking to bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that St. Paul’s will still be planting seeds and bearing fruit 100 years from now. That’s our corporate project, the work God has given us to do together.

And because we are who we are, deeply rooted in the traditions of liturgy and music, deeply connected to Scripture and to the greater body of Christ, that fruit will include the transmission of the tradition to future generations, so that it will continue to be cherished. Look at what we are doing this afternoon, with the St. George’s Day Evensong. That liturgy really belongs to a lost age, a time when the Episcopal Church had very different patterns of leadership and inclusion. But we still offer it, because we continue to tend our roots while reinventing and adapting our life together as the Spirit directs. That balance is essential to this parish’s identity.

In the section of the Gospel we are reading, John repeatedly uses a word for love that the other evangelists barely mention. It’s a love that calls for action, for intention, for perseverance. We are to abide in that love, to the best of our ability. Events like last Saturday’s celebration make it easy to feel the love around here, but there are times when we all need a certain amount of determination to abide in love, when we need to be converted over and over again to Jesus’ kind of love. And we demonstrate that love by the way we act, the way we treat our neighbors.

When we read the Acts of the Apostles we read of their intentional efforts to go out into a dangerous world and share good news. The apostles shared that news in risky ways, making speeches in public spaces, healing people without being asked, welcoming sinners and tax collectors into the body of Christ. They acted. And they acted out of love, just as Jesus did. Their actions demonstrated love, even to those regarded as unlovable.

I’m going to pause now and ask you to turn to someone near you - preferably not the person you came with - and spend a minute telling them about a loving action you plan to take this week. What is one thing you will do to demonstrate that you are abiding in active love. Just one minute each, and I will tell you when to switch.


If the apostles had sat in their upper room and simply felt loving towards the world, the church would never have been born. But the Holy Spirit drove them to action, drove them out of their comfort zones, drove them to people and places they would never have imagined for themselves. The fruits of their labors have lasted, and we are the heirs of that harvest. And now it’s our turn to abide in that active love and to trust that God does indeed have such good things in store for us as surpass our understanding.

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

May 6, 2018 Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Thursday, May 3, 2018

1st Quarter Statement Letter

Dear Cathedral family,

Alleluia, Christ is risen! As we enter the second quarter of 2018 I give thanks for the dedication and generosity of our cathedral community. As always, our worship throughout Holy Week was both profoundly reflective and gloriously joyful. Many, many people dedicated themselves to preparing the church,  learning the music, creating the service leaflets, offering hospitality, and making sure all was done with beauty and order. Thank you for all the gifts you share with your cathedral family, including your financial donations throughout the first quarter of the year, and especially for your generous response to our Easter appeal, which exceeded expectations!

In a large congregation like St. Paul’s, it is sometimes hard to communicate the complexity of our life together, and misconceptions can arise. I want to take advantage of this letter to clear up some conflicting narratives regarding cathedral finances. First, let me say that our finance staff and volunteers have worked hard over the last four years to transform our financial picture from complete obscurity and disfunction to transparency and clarity. (You can read more details of that history in my recent blog post, dated April 26). We now know what we have, where it came from, and what we need in order to maintain our current level of ministry. And we now know that our expenses consistently exceed our income. Here are some points to summarize the picture.

1. Some very generous, designated donations from a small number of parishioners have financed significant capital improvements including the installation of the audiovisual and sound systems and the floor restoration (which will continue in 2018). This is entirely separate from our operating budget, no pledge moneys have been used, and the funds were specifically given for the purposes above. 

2. We are now in the third year of a three-year plan to subsidize our operating income with moneys from our reserves, to the tune of $220,000 for 2018. Chapter’s hope three years ago was to grow our giving to the point where pledges would take over from these reserves and we would once again have a balanced budget. However, this has not happened, and instead of reducing the subsidy, we had to increase it for 2018. This is obviously not a sustainable strategy.

3. The Cathedral Campus Redevelopment Project will bring us a certain amount of money (the exact amount is not yet clear, because of likely costs during the construction period). However, we know that we will lose approximately $100,000 in rents from Park Chateau and that we will be paying $42,000 per annum in HOA fees. We estimate that this is about half of what the net sale proceeds will yield in annual interest income. The other half will not quite meet the anticipated deficit as described in paragraph 2.

The obvious conclusion from the above is that we need to find ways to expand revenue and shrink expenses. The stark truth is that the only way to make significant savings is to look at reducing staff positions. We have a terrific staff team that is devoted to St. Paul’s, and I want to keep the team intact if at all possible.

St. Paul’s is an exciting, vibrant, innovative congregation with much to offer both parishioners and the wider community. As we prepare for the three-year construction period, we are also preparing for our sesquicentennial year. Both of these prospects offer wonderful opportunities for community-building and celebration. As we continue to modify the Vision for Mission plan to fit current reality, I believe that we can come through the next three years with a stronger, more caring, and financially sustainable parish, ready to engage in the 21st-century ministry that can be accommodated in the new building.

As you see, we have some challenges ahead, but we are in this together, and together we will discern God’s will for this wonderful cathedral, to ensure that St. Paul’s continues to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All.

Your sister in Christ,

The Very Rev. Penny Bridges, Dean

Monday, April 30, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: Love One Another

In the beginning, there was God. God was love. God’s life of love within God's very self was expansive and interdependent among the different parts of God. Each part of God was dependent on the love of the other parts, resulting in an even greater love. That greater love was so big that it could not be contained, and so God’s love spilled over outside Godself. And creation was born; a result of the excessive love of God spilling over outside Godself.

And we have a creation that models that interdependence. Today we celebrate creation care Sunday to honor that creation. Creation mirrors some of that interdependent dance of the Godhead. Bees receive nectar from flowers and pollinate flowers in return. Beavers build dams on rivers as shelters, which create ponds in otherwise fast-moving streams. That allows fish to dwell there who otherwise couldn’t. In return, some of those fish provide a supply of food for the beavers.

Over and over again the environment shows signs of mutual interdependence, the entire creation dancing a delicate dance together. On creation care Sunday we celebrate the gift of this dance that mirrors the dance of the Godhead itself, one of interdependence and mutuality, even as we acknowledge that we have not cared for it well, and have destroyed the precious balances that keep the dance in motion.

There is a relationship between the Godhead and this creation. In the Christian story of salvation history, we believe that God’s love spilled over outside of itself and established creation, but because it was outside of God’s own self it was not pure. Creation is a fallen place. The dance is not sustainable outside of God’s own self. That isn’t to say nature isn’t pure, but that humankind can’t sustain the dance in a pure way outside of the Godhead because we are not God.

God’s solution to this was to do what God always does: to spill love over some more. God spilled over an intricate part of God's self, Jesus, the second person of the Trinity. Because the dance was broken; because there was a missing step throwing the dance out of step; God’s own self was willing to do the the extra work to restore the dance, even at a cost to God’s own self. So we have the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, which we celebrate this and every season of Easter. At a cost to God’s self, the first step was taken in restoring the world; in bringing the love back to a full free flowing dance between creator and created. God reached outside Godself, breaking down even the barrier of death to love, because love is the point, the source, and the reason, for everything.

But the story doesn’t end there. At Pentecost, we will celebrate the indwelling of the Holy Spirit; the birthday of the ecclesia; the Church. The Church is a vital part of the restored dance between the Creator and the Created. In this dance between the lover and the beloved, between God and humanity, the Creator has charged the Church with the task of making that love tangibly known in the world.

And so today, we the Church have stories that reflect that charge in our texts. We have the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. Phillip was teaching a gentile, a sexual minority from a distant land-- someone not allowed in the synagogue, someone not allowed to be a part of the early Jesus movement, someone very different from Phillip. And Phillip reaches out to share the good news of love, different as the Ethiopian is from himself. Love breaks down barriers and reaches outside itself. Love wins.

And we have the story of Jesus abiding in the church, with us as the branches. With us, the church, not as individuals but as one body, called to bear fruit; called to abide in the love that is the source of life and light so that the branches might grow. All of this sets up the rest of this chapter in John where Jesus relays the one greatest commandment: to love one another. That’s the whole gist of the thing, you see. The vine bears the branches that support a love that feeds the whole world. And that is what the Church is for. To bear the fruit that allows love to win: not only for you or for me but for what is yet to be in this world.

In the last few weeks, I am grateful for the conversations that have begun, although I am sorry I wasn’t clearer with you a few weeks ago in how I described the changing world around us. I certainly was not asking us to change our core customs of strong liturgy and music. We have beautiful liturgy and music. Music and liturgy in the church is not an end to itself, but signs that point to something else, to help us find our way on the journey. We are blessed with transformative signposts at St. Paul’s.

Love one another as I have loved you. That’s what it's all about. Rabbi Hillel said long ago: “The rest is commentary.”

In our baptismal promises we commit that we will be a part of a Church that is not just about us but is a part of God’s interdependent plan of love for the whole world. Baptism, our own faith and discipleship, is about everybody. All creation. All humanity. Everything and everyone. God loves us and makes love known in and through the Church. We love each other, and we are called to do that so well that it spills over into the rest of the world, as we spread our branches on the vine of God’s love for us. And when the rest of the world sees and feels the love we extend, the world can’t help but want to be changed by it too, just like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Love wins. I don’t mean a simple change in belief. I mean a transformation of heart that engenders compassion, and empathy, and kindness, and care for the other. Love. Love that results in changed behavior.

But I understand after listening to you these few weeks that we can’t do that if we don’t feel loved and cared for by one another here. Our love can’t spill over if it feels lacking here; if we don’t feel interdependent here. I can do better at that. I think we all can. We are in this together. Penny and I talked a lot this week about how St. Paul’s can work on caring for each other better.

I know the church is imperfect at loving each other. I know I am too. But that’s part of what this journey is about for me-- part of living into my baptism and being Church-- is learning to let go of brokenness and loving each other even when its not perfect. And that, perhaps more than when it is all going well-- is what makes the heart swell and allows love to win: when we can look at each other with all of our warts and honestly say, “I’m glad to be here, and I’m glad you are too.”

I am glad to be with you here at St. Paul’s, church. And I’m glad you are too. We have a lot happening for us. We have a big heart. Let’s exercise it until it bursts over and changes the whole world.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Easter 5B, April 29, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Acts 8:26-40, John 15:1-8

Sources Consulted: Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

A letter from the Dean: Budget

Dear people of St. Paul’s,

If you heard the sermons the last two Sundays, you’ve heard both Jeff and me talk about the significant gap between income and expenses in our operating budget, to the tune of about $200,000 in 2018. A number of people have said that they don’t understand where this came from: we seemed to be doing fine, so this must be a recent and sudden development. In this letter and in several more to come I want to share with you how we got here and some of the factors in play as we think and pray about where God is calling us to in the future.

First, let me state clearly that the budget deficit is not a new phenomenon. During the interim between deans, in 2013, Chapter became aware that for some time the cathedral accounts had been less than accurate. Gifts went into the wrong funds, people weren’t thanked appropriately, the distinction between operating and special funds wasn’t clear, and the policies governing the use of gifts were unclear or no longer adhered to, because of turnover in staff and leadership.

When I arrived in early 2014 the effort was already underway to reform our accounts and clean up the books. Erin Sacco-Pineda resigned her Chapter position to take the leadership on this project, along with our volunteer treasurer. It was a long process of discovery, and it took until 2017 to get to a point where we could have a clean audit of the 2016 books and have a clear sense of our resources. Before that, in 2015, we had developed the Vision for Mission strategic plan and Chapter embarked on a three-year plan to invest significant amounts from our reserves in the operating budget in order to launch some of the V4M initiatives. However, as the financial picture cleared, we realized that the investment was actually needed to support existing ministries and balance the budget. We are now in the third year of that plan.

We based the plan in part on two expectations: we hoped to grow the number of people pledging and the total amount pledged by 6% each of the three years; and we expected to close on the sale of the Olive building site by the middle of 2017, releasing funds for investment which would start yielding interest in 2018. While we have lost some pledging members, for a variety of reasons (which I will discuss in a later letter), when it comes to the total amount pledged, we have actually stayed almost level, thanks to the generosity of faithful parishioners, with a total loss of only about $40,000. The real estate deal timeline has slipped, as these things do, and we now expect to close in early 2019. So you can see that both expectations have not come to pass within the three-year timeframe. The details of the development deal are another topic which I will address in a future letter, but for now, please know that the net income from the sale proceeds will not fill the deficit but only postpone the inevitable.

The bottom line is that the deficit has been a longstanding problem and that we cannot continue indefinitely to fill the gap from our reserves, which are finite. We have worked on cutting non-staff expenses over the last three years, reducing bulletin volume, doing without additional instruments on special occasions, trimming hospitality costs, and trying to manage with outdated computer equipment (which ultimately failed catastrophically in the summer of 2017).

Since this deficit is of such long standing, why should we address it now? Why not continue supplementing our income from our reserves? From a practical standpoint, the more we invade the capital of our reserves, the less income we will draw from them, putting us in a downward spiral. From the spiritual standpoint, we have been entrusted with this treasure by those who came before us and we are called to exercise good stewardship in order to honor their generosity and carry out their desire to see St. Paul’s continue its ministry indefinitely. We could wait until we have used up all our funds and we are facing imminent closure, but in view of what we now know and what we see in the world around us, that would be unconscionably irresponsible. So we must find a way to repair the structural deficit even as we pivot to meet the challenges posed by a post-Christian world where church is seen largely as an institution that excludes and judges and where spiritual growth is regarded as a private and individual pursuit.

We are well positioned to make that pivot, with our strong liturgy and wonderful music, our ministries of service and outreach, and a facility and location without parallel; and most of all, the congregation of faithful, thoughtful, and loving people who have made the commitment to Love Christ, Serve Others, and Welcome All, come what may. Thanks be to God!  

The Very Rev. Penny Bridges

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: One Flock, One Shepherd

Maybe you´ve already figured out that, as well as being Earth Day, today is Good Shepherd Sunday. It comes around every year on the fourth Sunday of Easter, and the image of the community of faith as a flock of sheep is a well-worn metaphor. If you´d like to know more, I refer you to the series of books by Episcopal priest Dennis Maynard, When Sheep Attack (the set in my office was an anonymous gift a few years ago). This week I got curious about the psychology or perhaps the sociology of sheep, and I learned some interesting facts:
  • Sheep have a strong instinct to stick together and to follow the sheep right in front of them, even if it’s a bad decision, even if it´s leading right over the edge of a cliff.
  • Sheep flee danger, they do not stay and fight.
  • Sheep depend on the solidarity of the flock to protect them from danger. It´s the outliers that predators target.
  • Sheep tracks always twist and turn. A flock never follows a straight line.
  • Sheep are not stupid; they possess the means to medicate themselves and heal from sickness.

I´ve watched sheep being driven through a sheepdip. They don’t want to go, they push back and resist. Who can blame them? It looks dangerous, it smells nasty, they can’t stay in the middle of the flock but have to go through one at a time, exposed to danger, not knowing where they will end up after being immersed.

There´s a strain of Icelandic sheep known as Leadersheep. These leadersheep have a special gift for sensing danger ahead and leading their flock to safety.

Interesting facts about sheep. And of course we are not sheep. However, it´s worth remembering, as the Gospel says, that for us there is only one true shepherd, the good shepherd, and we are all part of the one flock. Not staff and volunteers, not clergy and lay, not leaders and followers, not insiders and outsiders, but all one flock, trying to go in the same direction, and learning how to live together as a community under that shepherd.

Being clear that we are not sheep, we can still learn from the wisdom of the 23rd Psalm. We have a great advantage over the sheep because we have Jesus. We have good news. We have the ability to understand the benefits of the sheepdip, to see the cliff in the distance and to change direction. We have Scripture, tradition, and reason. And above all we have faith.

Let´s take the psalm, verse by verse. We will read each verse together and then I will offer a brief comment on the verse. 8:00 please turn to page 11. 10:30 please turn to page 8.

Verse 1: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want. Faith tells us not to worry about apparent scarcity.

Verse 2: He makes me lie down in green pastures. Faith tells us that God blesses us with abundance.

Verse 3: He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name´s sake. Faith tells us that God supports us and will never abandon us.

Verse 4: Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Faith promises that we have nothing to fear, even when the way leads through dark and seemingly lifeless places.

Verse 5: you spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Faith gives us the comfort and healing of the sacraments, even in anxious times.

Verse 6: Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Faith reassures us that our ultimate home is in the heart of God.

Every flock walks at some point through the valley of the shadow. This flock, the St. Paul’s flock, has been through times when it was threatened by wolves, when trust was betrayed and power was misused. That time is past, and we are traveling together into a new pasture. But the memory of the betrayal persists and we have to learn to trust each other again; we still have healing to do, while the Good Shepherd continues to guide us forward.

Last week Jeff spoke of, on the one hand, a significant budget deficit that is creating anxiety and forcing us to consider unpleasant short-term measures; and on the other hand, of our wealth of people: the amazing number of people - over 300 - who are already actively engaged in ministry at St. Paul´s, as well as the abundance of people outside our walls who are hungry for good news of new life. We are rich. There is nothing to fear. This flock is not teetering on the edge of a cliff. We are walking in green pastures and the table is set abundantly before us. The plan of action is simple: listen for the voice of the good shepherd: follow where he leads us, moving forward to new pastures and bringing others with us; and love, as the evangelist John puts it, not only in word or speech but also in truth and action.

At last week’s Deans’ Conference, Walter Brueggemann spoke with passion about developing the economics of neighborliness, a way of living in community that seeks to care for the other, rather than the predominant economics of this culture, the economics of predation that aims to win, to accumulate profit, to protect personal interests at the expense of the other. What might an economics of neighborliness look like for this congregation? What are we hoarding that we might share? Where do we hold doors closed that we might open?

The Church (that´s Church with a capital C, not us in particular) has a regrettable history of closing doors, of enforcing rules to keep outsiders outside. We are living in a time when those rules are starting to break down and the boundaries of membership are becoming porous. In the book of Acts we see the disciples breaking rules to follow Jesus. In the great tradition of ¨No good deed goes unpunished”, Peter and John have been hauled before the authorities to defend the crime of doing good without the proper credentials. The change that the apostles represent, the change that Jesus initiated, is anathema to those who are held captive by the old rules.

Over and over again Christians have broken through boundaries in order to bring the good news of the risen Christ to a reluctant world. The first people to bring that good news from the tomb were women, who had no voice before the law. Paul invited people to become Christians without first undergoing the initiation rites of Judaism. Philip baptized a eunuch, someone who was rejected by the religious community. Jesus broke out of the sealed tomb and showed himself, alive and triumphant, to the disciples, ¨who in their joy were still disbelieving.¨¨

Today we continue to push back the boundaries, in order to reinvigorate and renew the church for this century. That might mean offering Communion to everyone, not just to those who seem qualified. It might mean holding events in here that wouldn´t have been allowed a generation ago. It might mean using tablets instead of paper. It might mean building relationships and sharing ministry with people we don´t know or understand.

These changes are driven by the promise we made in baptism to proclaim the good news, and by Scripture, which commands us to make disciples. At present we are not doing very well at making new disciples. People are leaving faster than they are coming in. The world has changed: new people are unlikely to come into the church unless we first go out to them, just as the disciples went out, two by two, into their world. New initiatives, new directions require resources, resources that we currently don´t have. Our commitment to maintaining the glorious setting of our worship and to continuing the great programs we offer demand that we find new ways to build community and to strengthen our financial foundation for the future of St. Paul´s.

Jeff caused a stir last week by suggesting that we might need to give up something that we cherish in order to make space for the kind of church the next generation will engage in. That doesn´t mean throwing out our tradition, but it might mean making some adjustments here and there to make room, and even adjustments can feel like a loss and need to be properly grieved before they can be embraced.

So, my friends, we will move forward as one flock under the good shepherd, celebrating and grieving together, exploring new ways to share the good news, and always striving to love one another as he has loved us.

April 22, 2018 Good Shepherd Sunday
The Very Rev. Penelope Bridges

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Creating Change

Dear ones,

I so appreciated all the feedback from my sermon last Sunday, which you can find on video here and on the blog here. It was great to have so many folks express interest after the service in getting involved, and we even had some new pledges! Thank you.

I do want to assure you that I was not proposing any specific path forward. Rumors and speculation are natural in times of change. Some believe that I intended that we cut the music program at the cathedral or add guitars and rock bands. Let me assure you that was not in my sermon, my intent, or on my mind! The music program and the liturgy are important parts of our cathedral life and I understand their value in our common life.

I am really writing today because change is hard. We do not have any path before us that allows for the status quo. The budget does not allow for things to just remain the same and Dean Penny is going to address that in the weeks to come. Dean Penny is being transparent about the need for some change as she develops a plan to address it so that we can participate in that as a community. As we move into that conversation, I hope we will consider a few of these questions: To what extent are we called to please/satisfy our own spiritual needs? To what extent are we called to offer something to the world around us? Must those two things be mutually exclusive? Are there changes we can make that might offer more of both?

So as we discern what to do about the change that is upon us, my hope is that we do it with grace and courage. St Paul, our patron, learned early on that the challenge of Christian community is not figuring out what to do. It is figuring out how to do it together.

That does not mean we all have to agree on everything. In fact, I believe we are better off when we have a diversity of opinions and are able to listen to each other well instead of individually stating opinions as if ours were the only way. So I hope that the markers of this important transitional time for us as we discern our path will be marked by the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:22-23). Those charisms are what help change the world from an empire of fear to a kingdom of love, and what we committed to in our baptism.

There is a lot of information to deliver, so stay tuned. How we engage with each other in Christian community around it is up to you.


The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: New Life is Here!

Easter 3B, April 15, 2018
St. Paul’s Cathedral, San Diego
Luke 24:36b-48

Christ is risen. “He is risen indeed. Alleluia!”

We proclaim this bold news each week during the season of Easter. You should know me well enough to know by now that I don’t believe in rote liturgy. I don’t believe in doing things just because we’ve always done them, although I love tradition when it draws us closer to each other and the source of love and new life. And because of that, I believe that saying “He is risen indeed, Alleluia” must mean something if we are to say it together this season.

For the disciples in the early church it meant belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus. They thought he would be back any day to pick them up and whisk them away. For those in the middle ages, it meant belief in Jesus so that we ourselves would live after death. But while the gospels do show that God is doing something new in Jesus, they also connect it to the ongoing work of God over the ages. Resurrection is not just something that happened long ago or something reserved for a distant and uncertain point in our future. Resurrection happens over and over again. And so when we shout “Alleluia!” during this season, for me it is infused with meaning, and hope, and love, and gratitude. Alleluia means we look for resurrection and new life even now.

The disciples in the gospel this morning are still reeling from the death of Jesus, the one who they thought was going to redeem Israel, to save them from Caesar, to free them from the occupying presence. They were expecting someone to boot Rome out of their country, but instead he died on a cross. They had no idea what to do.

And in our story this morning Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Jesus and Joanna and other women have seen that the tomb is now empty and they’ve had this weird experience there, and they were scared and ran to tell the other disciples. The disciples know only that the one whom they thought was going to confront Rome is dead. So they are holed up in a room. Their hopes are gone, because the one whom they thought was going to save them from an occupying foreign power is dead. They thought the Messiah would use the power of empire to save them from empire and they had no framework to imagine otherwise.

And isn’t it so hard to see new life when it is in front of you because now in our text Jesus appears, and they can’t process it. When life the way you’ve known it suddenly changes, it is scary. And they are frightened. They think he is a ghost. And he goes through a litany of tests to prove he is real flesh and not a ghost; from letting them touch him to eating fish, because a ghost can’t do those things. He slowly and patiently works through their fear until their fear dissipates and they can begin to see what is standing before them.

And finally, they realize: new life is here! Alleluia!

Then and only then can they see: resurrection happens. This savior has won not because he would cast out the empire with the brute force of a new empire, but with a whole new way of life.

In the resurrection, God is doing what God has done all along and what God is even doing right now: restoring life from death. That is why we are reminded of all those stories at the vigil of Easter: God takes the enslaved people out of Egypt and gives them new life in the promised land even when the people want to return to pharaoh; God takes the valley of the dry bones and brings new life; God restores the people from Babylon and gives them new life bringing them home into Israel; God takes hearts of stone and turns them to flesh. Because God is love and God’s story is about life from death and that story is about abundant love in the face of despair and death. That story is about a love that breaks out of our world into a space that creates new possibilities, breaks free of the limits of the brokenness of oppression and destruction and death and of hatred and of fear.

And so I hope when you say “The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” you know what you’re saying it for, church! Because God’s story didn’t stop at the Exodus, and it didn’t stop with the restoration of Israel, and it didn’t stop with Jesus’ resurrection. Resurrection happens, and it happens today. Alleluia!

Resurrection doesn’t just happen to individual disciples. As the stories of old relate, communities of faith go through death and new life too. Mark Trotter last week talked about the lack of new life in the church and how we sometimes get beat up for not acting like we actually believe in the things we say we do. It’s easy to throw stones at other corners of the church for that.

What would a church look like that is continually open to resurrection, that is open always to the voice of God appearing behind locked doors when we retreat in our fear of whatever is happening at the present moment?

So often the church looks to the past for hopes of restoration of its new life. We have a communion of saints that makes the past important. But resurrection and the promise of new life also means that the past has limits. How shall we be present to the risen Christ here and now, calling us continually into new life? How do we let go of what was to be present to what is becoming?

We are in a time where these are truly important questions for every community of faith, and especially for St. Paul’s. For some time now, our attendance has been in decline. While we have been able to make some significant improvements to our facilities thanks to some individual donors’ generosity, our general operating budget is running at a significant deficit. Our population within the cathedral is significantly out of step with the neighborhood around us. Within a three mile radius, 33% of the population is Hispanic and half are under 50. At the same time Cathedral membership is almost largely Anglo and almost entirely over 50. That means we have lots of opportunities for growth but may mean that the way we do ministry may not speak to the people who are in our neighborhood who aren’t here already.

As Mark mentioned last week, young people aren’t connected to the community of faith in the same way prior generations have been. Increasingly a lot of the rest of the world isn’t either. The Church doesn’t enjoy a privileged claim in society that it once did. In many ways, the Church today is pushed to the margins the way it was before the Roman empire claimed Christianity.

But while we may be in decline, we either believe new life is offered, or we don’t. We either stay locked in the room refusing to believe what we see, or we ask some questions and become open to the new life offered in front of us.

That means the community of faith has decisions to make. What are we here for? We may have once served as social clubs, putting on events for fun and enjoyment without much connection to our Christian story. I hope whatever the future church looks like we will always have fun doing it, but fun is not enough to hold the community of faith together because we are Easter people, and to get to Easter you have to go through Good Friday, which isn’t much fun. Our 20s and 30s group is growing and organizes around small group discussion of faith. They have fun. They don’t relate much to our worship. Is there an offering of new life here?

When the church was a social club we had a large enough following that worship could be a consumer offering- entertainment for those in the pews. But in a world where most people don’t identify as Christian, those that do come to church are looking for something in particular. How does worship inspire new life? Liturgy means “the work of the people” - so how does worship involve every person in the pews to offer up their gifts and remind each follower of Christ that they are part of something bigger as they offer themselves to the body, the community?

St. Paul’s has a jump on new life. We are already in a shift. While it is natural to focus on the numbers at the back of the church during worship, the trend nationally is for worship to become less and less important a part of the life of the community of faith, especially when it is as formal as ours is.

But at St. Paul’s we have more ministry happening then ever before. We have more people engaged than ever before. We are just wrapping up a census of all volunteers engaged in every ministry and while the numbers aren’t final yet it appears that we have over 320 volunteers engaged in over 70 ministries. That is significant. That is a big shift from a few years ago.

I believe we have work to do. But I do think there is new life here already.

So I am asking you to look for the new life that is already beginning. It is hard to grieve a change in our common life. I am not asking you to give up worship, I love worship. But I am asking you to recognize that the world around us is changing, and I hope that as a community we can begin to let go of what was so that we can begin to consider whatever new life God is offering in front of us.

So have eyes to see, church! And reach out, and touch, and feel, the bones and flesh of the body of the Christ around you that offers new life. It is frightening to let go of old life. But I hope this season when we say “The Lord is risen. The Lord is risen indeed, Alleluia!” I pray that we will mean it, with all our hearts, looking not for old life, but for new. Because new life is abundant, and if we have the courage to trust and enter the new life freely offered, we are given the opportunity to co-create with God in offering new life and love to the entire world!

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk

Sources Consulted:
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.  

Friday, April 6, 2018

Photoessay: Vergers at the Vigil

If you visit Episcopal Cathedrals around the country, you will find that although we are a relatively small Cathedral, we have a mighty Verger Corps (see here for more about the vergers' roles).  Your vergers are responsible for the smooth running of the service, spending lots of time before, during and after the service, to ensure that what we may call the "choreography" of liturgy occurs seamlessly, with everyone knowing where to go, so that congregants and clergy can be fully immersed in the moment of worship.  Altar Guild is a key part of the "before" and "after", and Acolytes and Thurifer(s) a key part of "during" along with the Ushers.  Easter Vigil is probably our biggest service of the year, so what were your vergers doing? 

Verger meeting at 5pm with the Rev Brooks and Dean Penny, with Canon Verger Lisa
going over the detailed plan (called a "customary")

In the church working with Bishop Katharine and those to be baptised/ confirmed/ recieved
so they know the order of events.  The acolytes are here now.

Reviewing the Customary as the details are worked out (this is what theatre
folk call "blocking")

Verger Don and the Rev Brooks review the customary with Bishop Katharine

The Acolytes have a review with Canon Verger Lisa and the other Vergers

At the Back of the Church reviewing the order for Baptisms

Canon Lisa makes a point

Almost ready for the New Fire!  Verger Stephanie helps Verger Jeff with his celebratory white tie

As the Vigil begins, Canon Lisa monitors the customary

Vergers Stephanie, Jeff, and Cherie share the light, lighting candles along the main aisle

Sub-Verger Daniel holds the aspersorium for Bishop Katharine as she sprinkles Holy Water

There's always something!  Everyone is looking forward but Canon Verger Lisa and
Head Usher Lucinda confer in the back

Vergers read, chalice and do other roles as needed.  Here, Sub-Verger Daniel shares the Cup

And, Verger Stephanie leads the recessional.  Note her virge is upright.

Verger Cherie 

Verger Jeff

Verger Don, who was Bishop Katharine's Chaplain

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Vigil Sermon: Risen to New Life

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

Tonight you may have heard more Scripture read than you have ever heard before in a single worship service. Not only the stories, but the Psalms and canticles, and the prayers drawn from Scripture, all together giving us a rich and full sense of the God who created us, who redeemed us, and who loves us beyond measure.

The Creation, the Red Sea, the Dry Bones are ancient stories but they are still true today. We need to hear them over and over, because they repeat a rhythm, like the heartbeat our faith. All of human history bears the same rhythm of moving from chaos to creation, from death to new life, from sin to redemption. This rhythm, like our heartbeat, tells us that we are alive and that God is alive in us. And this life, this redeemed, renewed, resurrected life is only possible because our God is a God of life, a God of new possibilities, a God of unceasing and unconditional loving-kindness.

The one required Vigil reading from the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of the Exodus. God delivers God´s people from slavery in Egypt to freedom, and demonstrates divine power in simultaneously life-saving and deadly ways. Death and life are held in close tension; both are ever-present in our journey, both corporate and personal. This dramatic story prefigures the resurrection: the situation is dire; there seems to be no way out of certain oblivion. But then God acts in a totally unexpected way and life is restored for those who stay the course.

Tonight the risen Christ lives in us, and he has commissioned us to bring about the kingdom of God on earth. It is up to us to speak out with his voice, to insist on justice, to bridle greed and cleanse corruption, to look beyond our own interests to those of the people who have less than we do. There is no need to fear death, because death has already been transcended and defeated. Easter, as the final chapter in this millennia-long story of salvation, is all we need.

The message of this night is that God is the God of life, not of death. Death is present in our world, but God triumphs and transcends death. The doomed people are saved. The heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh. The dry bones are enfleshed and revived. God provides for all in a hostile environment, water in the desert, food for the famished. The God we serve is a God of surprises, of generative power, and of liberating love. God will not allow us to remain in slavery to Pharaoh, whether in the guise of abusive relationships, or complacent churches, or political structures that have become disfunctional, chronic conditions that are broken but not yet painful enough to prompt us to change.

God calls us into the light, to live fully, to risk failure, to discover just how much we can do, with God´s help. To seek and serve Christ in all, to uphold dignity, to strive for justice and peace: these are hard challenges and we are likely to fail. But we can do all things WITH GOD´S HELP, and only with God´s help.

This is the night. This is the night when all these stories, lessons, and promises come together. We hear once more the stories of God´s saving power, We tiptoe once more into the garden at the break of day. We strain our eyes to peer into the darkness of the tomb. We allow ourselves against all odds to feel an overwhelming joy, and to believe that love triumphs over death. We hear the command ¨Do not be afraid¨ and we pledge to live into that admonition. We strive for hope over fear, for love over indifference, for life over death.

Tonight we proclaim a hope of breath-taking audacity: that God is with us, that this world is worth saving, that love is stronger than death. We proclaim a hope for the world, that we also need to hear for ourselves, because in this hope lies a deeply personal yearning: that each one of us is also worth saving, that as broken and smeared with sin as we might be, God has the power to restore us to wholeness.

Our Eucharistic liturgy is the daily bread that nourishes this hope. We re-enact the sacrifice of Jesus each time we gather, in order to remember that we are saved, in order to once again lay down our lives and take up new life in Christ.

The toxic culture, the world of empire and of Pharaoh, will continue to tell us that our options are limited, that we are inadequate to the task of transforming the world. The resurrection of Jesus tells us that God defies all limitations, that life is enriched by endless diversity, that all things are possible with faith. We have only to put away our fear and dare to step out of the grave with Jesus, and, with God´s help, we are reborn into a new way, the way of life, and love, and peace.

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

Easter Vigil 2018
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Friday, March 30, 2018

The Good Friday Sermon

This is the day we remember the story of Jesus, a man who lived among the vulnerable. He was a man who moved among people who had been forgotten, who had been outcast. He touched the untouchables. He loved the unloveable.

We remember his story today as we re-tell how he was arrested after being betrayed by one whom he loved. We remember how he was bounced around after that, from Annas, to Caiphus, to Pilate. Each of them wanted him dead, but nobody wanted to do the deed. While the text calls out the Jews, it was not the Jews in general who persecuted him but a select few religious leaders. They were in an unholy alliance with a head of state who lead the charge; they each had something to lose if this young Jewish man from Nazareth kept influencing their people to change. So they needed him to die.

We remember the story today of Jesus, accused, tried, tortured, and killed by powers that preyed on mob rule. We hear of Judas, who betrayed everything. We recall the story of the mob itself that was all-too-ready to be divided, that leaned perhaps just a little too easily into being manipulated. We hear the story of Peter, who wanted desperately to resist, and begins the story by cutting off the ear of one of the arresting parties in an effort to show his loyalty to the cause, but in the end succumbs to his fear of the cost of standing firm, and denies everything-- three times.

And here we are. We are left in a world broken by powers that prey on mob rule. We learn more and more each day about the way we have been manipulated by fake news-- all of us, by people of all sorts and political persuasions and background, each of us just a little too ready to read, share, and react to anything written to titillate us, to agree with our worldview, to bend us against one another, to get us to shout crucify at those we already don't like.

I want to be one who resists. How often, though, when it comes down to it I find I may not be willing to pay the cost of resistance. Like Peter, my initial energy turns to fear and denial. No, like Peter I don't know if I am ready to be as committed as I initially thought. Peter was so human that way.

And so we are left in this broken world. And wars rage on. And as we have learned about so much this Lent in the Forum, refugees and immigrants are left in the dust, crucified. And children die in the crossfire of our inaction. And the poor are left hungry. And the weak and the vulnerable, the very ones Jesus came to walk with, are left to die.

I believe we are good, us humans. I don't see much point in self-degrading guilt. But this is a day also to remember that our human family is capable of destruction. Individually, we cannot choose not to participate in that. Putting gas in my car is an act of destruction of the earth, and I am complicit, as are well all. It's unavoidability does not detract or lessen its truth. There are lots of other ways we are all complicit in the brokenness of this human condition, in crucifixion.

Good Friday is not about our goodness, lack thereof, or intent to do goodness. It is about the systems we create in this fallen world that destroy goodness despite ourselves, despite our desire for the good. The message of this day is that we can't break goodness, despite ourselves. A love greater than us bears the wounds we inflict, despite the apparent victory of the brokenness of this day.

Good Friday is a time to acknowledge that there are things that we cannot mend ourselves today, places where we need a goodness that extends beyond ourselves. There are fences that we build, this human family, that rip us apart, and in so doing we make ourselves powerless to rip them down. The disciples, waiting at the tomb on Friday night, had no power themselves either in the midst of the darkness.

But in Christ, even though this day may be dark, they, and we, still wait. And we still hope.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Good Friday B, March 30, 2018
St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego
John 18:1-19:42

Sources Consulted:
Feasting on the Word, Year B, Vol. 2. Ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 2010.

Good Friday: Noon Meditation

This collect we just read ties together the Blessed Virgin Mary, vocation, and service empowered by the Holy Spirit.

But this day feels like a hard day to be reminded of that.

Mary, on this day, sits at the foot of the cross, and we are reminded of her agony as she watched her son die. We hold her up as the exemplar of saying yes to God, of living into her God-given vocation. But on this day, might she wonder, if only for a moment, if she couldn't have been spared this grief, this desolation, if only she hadn't answered the call to serve, if only she hadn't said yes to God?

This loving mother gazes at the product of her experience in discipleship, and the years flash by. Birth in the most difficult of circumstances, the flight to Egypt to flee danger, and the precocious boyhood years where he knew everything. Now he is a fully grown man, pierced by a spear, hanging on a cross, lifeless.

And I imagine she must cry out at some level- why did you ask this of me? There is no answer.

Would she have said yes to God on that day so long ago, when she was asked to risk everything to conceive this child, now a man dead before her, if she had known this was where it would lead her? There is no answer. "What was it for?," she might cry out.

I image that the lack of answers, like the Byrd lament we just heard, leaves her in desolation. What answers could satisfy? Sitting at the foot of the cross, she has no idea of the wonder and joy that will come in just a few days, despite the world's attempts to inflict harm upon this gift of love she bore into it when she said yes to God.

So still, she is there, in grief, at the foot of the cross. A mother and a son. And she did say yes. And there, hanging on the cross is the salvation of the world. And she, and we, can do nothing but lament, and wait, and hope for things yet unseen.

The Rev. Canon Jeff Martinhauk
Meditation for Noon Good Friday, March 30, 2018
St. Paul's Cathedral, San Diego

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Sunday Sermon: Life Before Death

I speak to you in the name of the father, son and holy spirit. Amen. Please be seated.

I’m grateful to be with you this morning, and I thank Penny, our dean, for inviting me. I’m Hannah Wilder, your  seminarian and I bring you greetings from the School for Ministry, our local theological training program, from St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in North Park where I am doing field education, and from the bishop’s office where I serve as communications director. The entire diocesan staff is here to help you in any way we can. Please reach out to us.

I’ll bet you didn’t know that our passage from John is related to In N Out Burger! Did you know that? Yes, you see, In N Out is owned by evangelical Christians and they have printed on the bottom inside rim of every cup a bible verse reference. So the next time you’re there, tip your cup and look for “John 3:16” stamped there and smile because you have just been evangelized. By In-n-Out.

And John 3:16 is powerful. In it Jesus summarizes God’s saving action in this world. But if we read on to verses 17 through 20, notice that Jesus does not specify which actions or opinions are in and which are out. He only speaks of God’s love for the world, a love that penetrates the whole world, a love that does not condemn, but rather saves.

John 3:16, which many of us memorized as children and could say it all in one breath: ForGodSoLovedTheWorldThatHeGaveHisOnlyBegottenSonThatWhosoeverBelievesInHimShouldNotPerishButHaveEternalLife That verse is about more than the human fear of death! That is what we have reduced it to, thanks to Anselm and other medieval church fathers. Religion for them was about what you get when you die, either glory or punishment, rather than teaching people how to enter into the new mode of being right now.

Because eternal life exists in the Here and Now! And you know what? Eternal Death does too. You can be physically wasting away and dying physically and yet be very, very alive. And you can be healthy and successful and yet be dying in all sorts of ways.*

The wisdom tradition of the ancient Israelites, and which WE are a part of now, that wisdom tradition has been teaching for thousands of years that life and death are PRESENT modes of being. If you read the Proverbs and Psalms you will find all kinds of references to the Way of life and the Way of death.

But those are always rooted in the choices you are making right now. Life and death are PRESENT REALITIES. They are not two static states of being: Now you are alive and one day you will be dead.

You see, the question is not: is there life after death? The question is: Is there life BEFORE death?
In any moment you can choose life or you can choose death. You choose death when you opt to hold a grudge, pass on gossip, or let that racist or sexist comment slip on by without saying anything. Or you can choose life by forgiving, opening yourself to others, releasing your grip on being right, choosing to be in relationship with others instead of closed off from them, and in choosing to stand up for the dignity of every human being.

Paul understands this and references it in today’s reading when he says You were dead through trespasses and sins IN WHICH YOU ONCE LIVED (a present, ongoing condition) but now you are made ALIVE THROUGH CHRIST! And Paul goes on to say, we were created for life, for ETERNAL LIFE in the here and now. Jesus said: I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
Do you know we have evidence of that LIFE in our diocese? In this Cathedral community? Your work with Showers of Blessings, the mobile shower unit for people without homes, has far reaching consequences. Through your contribution to the diocese over and above your common life share, you have pledged your support of the diocesan shower unit. Now the North County churches are partnering with those in other denominations to purchase a second trailer for exclusive use up north so we will have two in our diocese — that’s eternal life. Your saving love for the 30 children who live at Vida Joven, a foster home in Tijuana, that this congregation had the foresight to take on and to support when it was struggling and going to close almost fifteen years ago...that’s eternal life. And you showing up here, week after week, meeting people who are different from you, getting to know one another in an honest and vulnerable way...that’s eternal life!

In my own life you, the people of this Cathedral, have shown me what it means to choose life. I moved to San Diego on a Saturday in May sixteen years ago. On the very next day I got up and came here to church at this Cathedral. It was here that I first worshipped with openly gay people. It was here that I discerned in community a call to the priesthood. It was here that I felt the support to be able to come out to my parents. It was here that I had the spiritual family to surround me and accept me in ways that my own family of origin could not. It was here that I was confirmed in my faith and it was here that I was married to my wonderful wife.  So you see, you have formed and shaped me and taught me what eternal life is and what it means to choose the path of life.
Of course choosing the path of life comes with risk, have to deal with fear. You may face criticism. You will probably be in unknown territory. But are you more alive than you were?
Choosing that path has nothing to do with success. This is not the Instagram Good Life. This has nothing to do with your physical beauty or your material possessions or even your IQ or your health. You can have all those things and be dying.

In fact those things might cloud your ability to really choose and live life. You might be able to list all the things you have (career, spouse, car, home, friends, possessions) and still feel like, something is missing, this can’t be it, this is not all there is.

I believe that there is a divine love that undergirds all of reality and surges through all of life. When you give, serve, love and create, you participate in the eternal life of God. You are not here just for you. You are here to give, sacrifice, take part in a much larger economy of exchange where you realize just how much you’ve received and your only natural response is to pass it along. You see, because LIVING is about connection, freedom, possibility, flow, in other words, it’s about God. This is the place you actually live from. It’s about your True Self, your identity as a child of God, your heart, soul, spirit, the depth of your being. It’s independent from your possessions, accomplishments, where you live, who you’re friends with. It’s the deep place within you that speaks to you and tells you whether you’re living or whether you’re dying. Pay attention.

Living and dying are independent of your present circumstances. You may have financial burdens, accidents, disease, tragedy, but you know what? Struggle can actually make you more alive. Some of the people I know and want to be around the most are the refugee families at St Luke’s. Life for newly arrived Americans is not easy. Rents are high. Apartments are small. English is baffling. The job market is tight. Everything is expensive. But you know what? These people ...are...ALIVE! Every day they are learning new things, often times it’s hard, but the resilience and gratitude and good nature I encounter in these people is...well it’s life!

I’d like to tell you a story about this. My wife and I, being good lesbians, own a small truck. Pause. One Congolese man, Amuri, saw me drive away in it one day and later texted to ask if I could help him move a couch from a generous Episcopalian’s house in Kensington to his apartment in City Heights. I said sure, but what actually ended up happening was that we picked up a refrigerator and delivered it not to his house, but to one of his friends’, who also is Congolese and attends St Lukes. As it turned out, he had given up his time with our truck so that this other family could get a refrigerator. The mom in that family, Celestina, had wanted it so that she could start renting out space in the fridge to other families in her apartment complex that did not have refrigeration for a little extra income. To me that speaks volumes about how industrious Celestina is. Yes, she has very little by many of our standards, but you know what? She’s smart! And creative! She’s striving! And she is responding to the God-given impulse toward life that informs and connects all living beings.

Later, we went back to Amuri’s house with the couch and when we arrived, everyone in his household came out to help carry it in. Once it was placed in the living room, everyone clapped and cheered and the kids started bouncing on the couch. They invited us to come sit on it right away. In that I see appreciation for a used couch and the joy and generosity that springs from people whose spirits are alive in Christ!

So where is eternal life for you? What are the things in your life that are blocking you from eternal LIFE? Pay attention to the voice inside you that says, “This can’t be it. There has to be something more.” That’s the Christ wisdom inside you. Your true self is talking to you. It tells you if you’re just going through the motions, skimming the surface of your own existence, OR if you are feeling the DEPTH and REALLY LIVING the moments of your life!

I want to leave you with an example of this. A California farmer returned his land to a neighboring tribe that was forced out 150 years ago. With this addition, the reservation land will now reach the Pacific Coast, increasing the previously small and water-poor reservation 18-fold. The tribe will use the space to educate and engage the public about the history and practices of native people in that area.

Is giving your land back to Native peoples unorthodox? Definitely. Risky? Probably. Financially unwise? Certainly!  But this action, this impetus toward reconciliation, connection, and possibility, this is the Way of life.

How can you choose life today?

*I am grateful to Rob Bell and The Robcast for the ideas presented in this sermon.

Hannah Wilder
March 11, 2018