Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Holy God, Holy People

 Let's start by acknowledging how hard this is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Very Rev Penelope Bridges
February 19 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Letter from the Dean re. episcopal transition

Dear people of St. Paul's,

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

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

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

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

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

Your sister in Christ,

The Very Rev Penny Bridges, Dean

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Power, Reconciliation, Resistance

Let’s talk about power.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 http://qcfamilytree.org/neighborhood-economics-walter-brueggemann/ 
2. https://sojo.net/articles/sermon-mount-theology-resistance 

Monday, February 6, 2017

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

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

An Afternoon with Debbie Reynolds

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

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

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

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

A Month of Sundays with Mary Tyler Moore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Rev Canon Andrew Rank SSP

Sunday, February 5, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Earn your Salt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Get out of the boat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lights! Camera! Action! A new ministry at St Paul's

(Stock photo)
Lights, Camera, Action—an update on the sound system, and a call for volunteers!

In 2016, St. Paul's Cathedral received a generous anonymous gift for the purpose of upgrading the Cathedral sound system, adding six remote controlled cameras for recording and live-streaming our services and concerts, and installing a 10 ft. LED video screen on the wall of the Great Hall.

The sound system upgrade will allow us to enhance our ministry within the Cathedral: microphones will work as they should—without static, and we've included a state-of-the-art hearing-assistance system with 10 new receivers to share with our parishioners and guests. The system will also include an iPad-operated remote control, allowing an audio volunteer to monitor the sound levels within the Cathedral and ensure the volume remains consistent at a comfortable level.

Expanding on our existing video ministry, we've also been gifted with six pan-tilt-zoom cameras located within the Cathedral to further enhance the way we share our liturgy with our home-bound parishioners and neighbors. As of now, our goal has been to record the video of the sermons only, and that will continue to be one way we share our message. But with the additional cameras and studio quality video switch, we'll be able to create professional quality programming to include the entire service, as an immersive worship experience. Studio quality microphones have also been installed above the choir, the main nave and font to ensure we accurately capture all aspects of our liturgies.

Working closely with our donor, the professional design team of PDI, our SPC team, including Martin Green, Brooks Mason, Penny Bridges, Bob Oslie and Kathleen Burgess and Lisa Churchill, we have created a flexible and robust system that will meet the needs of the Cathedral for years to come.

With the new equipment and opportunity, we also have a new need for volunteers to help in this exciting minstry. We will start with the 10:30 a.m. service, so we will need volunteers at that service to run the wireless control system, monitoring volume levels for 4 - 5 microphones at time. This position does not need any advance technical skills, but more important is the ability to be proactive in monitoring the sound within the cathedral and making subtle changes as needed. If you're not sure this is for you, but you have an interest, please contact me today and I'd love to talk with your further about it.

The second position we have is for an video technician to operate the video switch. This is a more advanced position and will require more advanced skills and an ability to create video transitions that will be recorded and streamed live to our home-bound parishioners and neighboring community.

This is a new ministry at St. Paul's Cathedral, and we anticipate it will take time to fully grow into the opportunities both in technical skills, how we create the programming, and then share with the community. This system is a great gift to our Cathedral, and we hope to gather a team of many volunteers. If you'd like to be involved, I encourage you to talk with me to learn more how you can participate. No matter your skill level, the desire to be part of the team and learn is paramount, and we'd love to have you.

Praise be to God for this opportunity and may we be faithful in learning how to fully utilize this new technology for his Glory!

Respectfully submitted,

Todd Hurrell
Parishioner and Team Leader

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: remember who you are made to be

Today we will bless the bees, so I thought it only fitting to start by telling the story from a movie about bees.

The Bee Movie was a kids movie from 2007, an animated movie about a bee named Barry. Bee life, according to this movie, was monotonous. Most of the bees loved it. It was very ordered and structured, you know all part of a hive mind. All the bees conformed. Barry, however, couldn’t quite fit in. He wanted to see what was outside the hive, he wanted something more.

In a complex series of events, Barry broke the rules, and all of bee-dom broke down. Barry succeeded in getting what he wanted by breaking the norms and getting his individual needs met. He did the unthinkable and talked to a human. In the process, he realized that humans were exploiting bees and taking their honey, and he shared that with all the other bees. Bees stopped working, and as a result, pollination did too. The world became a dreary place without having flowers and green living things to enliven human and bee existence.

Fear not, the movie wraps up with Barry realizing what has happened and recruits the bees to go and get the little remaining pollen in the world, which happens to be all at the Pasadena Rose Parade, and uses it to pollinate the world so that things can get back to normal with one difference: this time bees and humans work side by side respecting each other instead of bees being taken advantage of by the humans.

I have to say that the first time I saw that movie, I did not like its message.

It drew up for me the idea that an individual, if seeking to meet his or her own needs, must conform to some sort of community norm-- because Barry the Bee kind of broke the whole world by not conforming to the bee’s hive mind. I am an old enough gay man to remember having to push through that kind of foolishness in order to peacefully exist in my own identity as who God made me instead of who the hive thinks I should be. I have served in African American parishes and heard the origin stories of how they were born out of the strife of fighting for acceptance in white communities that demanded conformity. I have watched as friends have been treated differently in the church because they are women, told they were not suitable to be clergy because they were not male. The only way that we have made any progress in the church and in the world is to stand up and be like Barry the Bee, and I have to say I resented the implication that doing that might break down the global ecosystem.

But as I reflect on Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, I think I might be understanding the point they were trying to make.

My advisor in seminary, who is now the dean there, told me once that the benefit of individualism was that we learned to value each person because of their differences. The downside is the breakdown of community because we all think we have been wronged if we do not get what we desire. (She probably said it much more eloquently than that.)

Consider that in today’s world we have “filter bubbles” set to our individual preference on our devices that keep us from interacting with people different than us. We have news channels that reinforce only what we want to hear. We have entertainment shows like Duck Dynasty or Big Bang Theory that reinforce our values so that even in entertainment we will not be assaulted by difference. And of course technology makes it easy to block that uncle who we disagree with on Facebook. An article in the Atlantic   on Friday argues that three important institutions that have held society together for the last 20 years are breaking down. Public schools used to be places where we learned how to behave in community, but we increasingly have choice in school so that individual families can avoid being with others who are different. The military has long been a place where people from any and all walks of life learn how to get along so that they can trust each other with their lives, but increasingly our defense is contracted to corporations, who hire to fit a corporate culture, homogenized to avoid having to do the messy work of teaching how to trust difference. Finally, the article argues that churches-- yes, even us-- have begun to reinforce personalization and individualism. And the breakdown of community, as we know, has lead to higher rates of mental illness, depression, feelings of isolation, and even violence. We have made a lot of progress towards breaking down the behemoth of the hive of 1950s suburban hegemony, but we have perhaps done it by building walls around each of us individually instead.

So in that context, I guess I can have a little more appreciation for the creators of the Bee Movie, because I think the way that movie develops, where the individual is so concerned with self that he undermines the whole, is what Paul is concerned about in this letter to Corinthians. The church in Corinth is falling apart because they aren’t able to work together, with each member most concerned that he is getting fed, or that his gifts are being used to the fullest.

In this opening of the letter, Paul reminds the Corinthians not only that they are one together, but that they are united into a much larger body in the whole church, and that they in turn are connected to the much larger church of all Christians- even connected to us here today.

It reminds me of his letter to the Galatians, where he wrote what would be used in the early church as the Baptismal formula. “Many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” That is a reference to the diversity of the early church and it's not figurative. In the first house churches of the 1sr century, the Jews and Greeks, the free and slave, the male and female were all treated in very different and hugely unfair and awful ways outside the church by the Roman Empire. But when they stepped into the church and literally donned their baptismal robes, that faded away and they would be connected in Christ Jesus and literally step into equality, being on an even playing field as one body in Jesus Christ, one body with many members, different people from different places, experiences and gifts- no longer in a hierarchy of oppression but a part of one beautiful and diverse living organism.

This is no uniform body of conformity. This is a tapestry woven of different threads, some old, some new; threads of different colors, lengths, and textures, all pulled together to make a beautiful image-- and if we could get far enough back from this tapestry, we might see the picture forms an image of the face of God.

Because that is the job of the Church. At baptism, you go down into the water and die to that old self, and rise-- not alone but a part of something bigger. You are called by name at baptism by the God that knew you before you were born, in your mother’s womb, the one who made you, and rise in baptism marked as Christ’s own to be a member of this larger body where you are loved, beloved, and a part of something important.

St. Pauls, we've got a beautiful building. But the church isn’t a building. It is this body of Christ-- all of us, together, one in Christ, that is the Church. It isn’t a place. It isn’t even an idea. It’s us, together, across time and space. And you were called by name to be a part of it.

I tell people often in baptismal preparation-- if you are baptized, prepare to be loved. And prepare to be hurt. Because this isn’t about you, even though it is. This is about you turning into something more. The church will hurt you. But it will also love you. But if you only focus on the hurt, you will never get to the love. If you only ask why the church doesn’t work with the efficiency of a business, you will never see the tenderness it offers to each one who lags behind-- which may not matter to you until it is you. If you only focus on how you are the one left out, you may miss the opportunity to reach out and feel the hands around you wanting to pull you back in and offer compassion, even if it is offered not in the way you want it but in the way you need it. If you only pledge because you approve of the line items in the budget, you may miss what it means to connect your life and labor to the family of God around you and be swept up into a life of love with all that you have. And even when the church fails at any of these, I choose to believe as one who has been hurt by the church that its failures stem from the very human attempt of striving to be what it is, a family of love. And all of us can relate to that.

But St. Pauls, we got this. We got the love that allows us to be a close-knit body. We can be the hands that show up when the person next to us needs an extra pair, no matter how different the person is with the need. We had somebody in the hospital last week and another member was there. I’ve heard more than once how help was needed and somebody showed up at just the right time. I’ve been there when you show up because a loved one in the family has died. We are connected.

Being the church isn’t about what we get done, or how much money we can raise, or even how beautiful the worship is. Those are means to an end. Being the Church, being the body of Christ is remembering that each of us is important not just because of who we are, but because of who we are connected to. Like we did last week, just look around and it's easier to remember.

On this Martin Luther King day, I want to leave you with some words from that great man, whose dream has grown and blossomed so much that some of the gendered words now sound jarring. Who knew that resistance and nonviolence was only possible in the context of unity among those who have the strength to live for each other. He said:

MLK - Remaining awake through a great revolution
“We are challenged to develop a world perspective. No individual can live alone, no nation can live alone, and anyone who feels that he can live alone is sleeping through a revolution. The world in which we live is geographically one. The challenge that we face today is to make it one in terms of brotherhood.

“Now it is true that the geographical oneness of this age has come into being to a large extent through modern man’s scientific ingenuity. Modern man through his scientific genius has been able to dwarf distance and place time in chains. And our jet planes have compressed into minutes distances that once took weeks and even months. All of this tells us that our world is a neighborhood. “Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

“John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: "No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." And he goes on toward the end to say, "Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution.”

Be awake, St. Pauls. Come and see and remember who your God has made you to be.


Blessing of the bees

The blessing of our Cathedral BeeHive, on the roof of the office building.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Sunday Sermon: Ministry in Public

Matthew's story of the baptism of Jesus has some unique quirks. For example it's the only version that has John and Jesus having a conversation. Even though Matthew has said nothing about them being cousins - that's Luke's story - John clearly recognizes Jesus as someone sent from God, someone who is better equipped than he to forgive sins. I can't help but notice the implication that the person doing the baptizing doesn't necessarily have to be the holiest person in the room.

This baptism is a public act, as baptism should be, and everyone present experiences the public epiphany, or revelation, of God's announcement: this is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased. But only Jesus sees the dove, hovering over the face of the water as the Spirit hovered in creation, and understands that he is receiving the Spirit, that he is commissioned to be the main actor in a new creation. This part of the experience is a private epiphany, for now at least.

Why does Jesus need to be baptized? John's resistance echoes our own questioning about baptism. If baptism is for forgiveness of sins, why do we baptize infants who have not sinned? Why do we need baptism if we believe in a God who loves all, forgives all, and accepts all?

As Episcopalians we can appreciate the importance of ritual. Human beings use all kinds of rituals to mark significant moments. We pray at birth and at death; people who usually eat their meals without a thought often stop to say grace before Christmas dinner, and even the dinner itself is often a ritual, with specific food, the best china, and certain stories told year after year.

We use rituals to mark a new beginning like the inauguration of a president or a rite of passage like graduation. The baptism of Jesus by John marks a public beginning to Jesus's public ministry. And, just as the ministry of Jesus is public, so is the ministry of those who are part of the Jesus movement. Being a Christian isn't a private existence. We are to participate in public worship and public life. We are to do public acts of compassion and to witness in public to what is right and what is wrong: the baptismal promises make that pretty clear. Every time we witness a baptism or renew our promises, it's a reboot, a jump-start to re-energize our ministry in the world.

Theologian Stanley Hauerwas says Christians are called to be "people with virtues sufficient to witness to God's truth in the world." One of the functions of the church is to form us into such people, and Baptism is the first step in that formation.

Each of the Scripture passages we heard today contributes to a picture of baptismal ministry. Isaiah speaks God's word to the people of God. "I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness."

This is our call: to bring light, to heal, to liberate. How do we live it out? Not by building walls, creating divisions, or disenfranchising the poor, but by freeing those who are held captive by sin, by insisting on justice for all, and by lighting up the world's dark places.

The tempestuous drama of the Psalm reminds us of the tremendous power of God, a power that makes creation possible. We sing of the presence of God in each of the elements, elements also present in baptism: the earthiness of the human being, the water, the fire and wind of the Spirit. The wildness of the psalm's language reminds us that baptism isn't meant to be a polite sprinkling but a drowning, a dramatic and risky act that symbolizes a violent death and at the same time proclaims that death is not the end.

Ours is a dramatic faith: drowned and resurrected through baptism, singed and blown away by the Spirit, partaking of the dismembered and remembered body of our God in the Eucharist, this is not a call to live quiet, self-effacing lives. Our God, the God who shakes the wilderness and strips the forest bare; our God wants us to be dramatic, to be radical, to take risks and step out of our comfort zones, to shake up the world and turn the usual order upside down. We are to stick our noses into other people's business, to demand the truth and agitate for accountability. We are to ask awkward questions of ourselves and others: whom does this action benefit? How are lives being transformed? What are we giving up so that our neighbor may live?

Today we embark on the season after Epiphany. Only two days ago we celebrated the arrival of the wise men at the manger, - maybe you missed it - and now it's gone. The tree, the wreaths, the stable, all gone. The world has left Bethlehem far behind and the wise men have been banished along with all the other Christmas paraphernalia. But the last line in the Epiphany Gospel always lingers in my mind long after January 6: "They left for their own country by another road." It carries a sense of traveling through unknown territory, even after you have encountered Christ, and that's a feeling many of us in the church are all too familiar with these days. It sometimes feels like we are spending all our days trying to find our way home by another road, often through hostile territory. But we don't travel without a guide.

Last week I visited with a friend who is in the last days of her life, and we talked a little about the Epiphany story and about that feeling. The journey through the end of this life is one that we travel only once. We are unusually blessed if we can reflect on it while we are in the midst of it and comment, as my friend did, that it's "an interesting experience." That comment speaks to deep faith in the divine shepherd who leads us home.

In our journey through the church year, we observe this season with a Eucharistic prayer that says we give thanks to God, because in the mystery of the word made flesh, God has caused a new light to shine in our hearts, to show our knowledge of God's glory in the face of Jesus. The wise men saw the face of Jesus in the stable, and they carried the new light with them in their travels through strange lands. We now carry that light in our time.

Maybe the light has grown dim for you, given the fear and anxiety that is everywhere in our world. Like a fire that burns low, we need to nurture the light, to gently hold it and coax it to burn bright. It's hard to go out into the world and serve others when we ourselves are tired and discouraged. So, our first task in this Epiphany season is to nurture the flame in ourselves and in one another, starting right here in our own cathedral community.

Last week you may have heard me speak of our formational theme for this year: to grow and develop as a community of reconciliation. At last week's adult forum we touched on several dimensions of reconciliation, and they all came down to a common denominator: relationships. Relationships with each other, relationships with God, relationships with our own deepest selves. The general confession that we usually say on a Sunday morning, when we don't have the baptismal covenant, gives us words to express our desire to be reconciled with God. It is followed immediately by the assurance of God's forgiveness and then by the exchange of the Peace, which offers an opportunity for reconciliation with our neighbors, so that we can approach the altar for Communion with a clear conscience. But we often forget that the purpose of the Peace is reconciliation, and we use that moment to greet our friends and family rather than deepening relationship with others. So I want to offer you an opportunity, right now, to strengthen our community through relationship, to nudge that light in your heart to burn a little brighter.

Look around you: left and right, in front and behind, across the aisle. Do you see someone you don't know, or barely know? Reach out a hand right now to that person. Introduce yourselves and take just one sentence each to say what brought you to St Paul's this morning. Go ahead. It won't hurt. I'll wait.

As we walk this Epiphany journey in relationship, I hope you will grasp more opportunities to nurture the light in your heart, to own your identity as the Lord's beloved, and to boldly witness to God's dramatic and transforming love. Amen.

January 8, 2017 The Baptism of Christ 
The Very Rev Penelope Bridges

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Meet Our 2017 Chapter Nominees!

The Annual Meeting is in a few weeks, so it’s time to meet our Chapter nominees. Read all about them below, and come to a meet-and-greet during coffee hour on both January 8 and 15. Then, please join us for the Annual Meeting in the Great Hall at 12:00 p.m. on January 22.

Martin Nace Hall
In 2005 I first visted St. Paul’s Cathedral at the invitation of my banker and good friend Deedra Hardman. I was moved when I heard the choir sing, when a woman presided over the Mass and when a gay priest delivered the sermon. I prayed about the invitation to participate fully in the worship “wherever I found myself on my spiritual journey” for several weeks and ultimately received my first communion at the altar of St. Paul’s. After more than 25 years of searching, I had found a sanctuary where the diversity of God’s human creation assembles to worship. I was confirmed by the Bishop in 2006.

For the past 10 years, I have been involved with various ministries in the Cathedral including: the “Fun” Committee/planning events like Home Coming picnic, Zydeco dinner, Soup Supper; the Stewardship Committee/planning nd hosting stewardship receptions, mailing letters; the Eucharistic Ministry/serving communion to shut-ins; the Cathedral Visitors Ministry/visiting parishioners in their nursing home or at hospital; Ashes to Go Ministry/dispersing Ashes on the streetcorners of downtown San Diego; St. Paul’s LGBT Pride Committee/planning the walk, checking into the parade at 6 am to hold our place in line, carrying the Episcopal flag in the parade.

The Strategic Goal on which I would most like to serve as Chapter Liaison is the Cathedral for the City. I have a passion for the mission of C4CC and have volunteered in these activities for some years now. It is very rewarding to see the faces and hear the expressions of the people you encounter on the streets of the city when you bring Christ’s message that “all are welcomed at St. Paul’s Cathedral”. In my life outside of the cathedral, I am the Director of Catering and Conference Services of a resort and have more than 25 years experience in the position with Hyatt Hotels, Noble House Hotels and Hilton Hotels. My duties include creating a marketing plan and budget that produces $8M in revenue annually. It is my responsibility to direct the sales and service efforts of a team of managers and to keep the team focused on sales and service goals. I am disciplined with respect to maintaining expenses and achieving a planned budget.

Around San Diego, I have been involved with the following boards and event committees:

• Cruise 4 Kids for the Teddy Ball and the Bunny Ball 
• San Diego Human Dignity Foundation’s events committee 
• SDGBA’s Charitable Foundation Scholarship Grant Committee 
• Mama’s Kitchen Board

Susan McClure
I enrolled my son as a Boy Chorister in 1986 and was recruited to assist with vestments and such. By 1989, I joined the Cathedral Choir and 2 other children had joined the Choristers/St. Cecelia Choir. With the choirs alternating services at that time, we were at the Cathedral almost the entire day on Sundays. My husband, Mark, became a Sunday School teacher in the early 90s and we transferred our membership to the Cathedral because we were there almost every day of the week. We have worshipped under 4 Deans and 3 Bishops. I don’t always agree with everything that might be most popular but that hasn’t interfered with making many good friends over the years. The St. Paul’s community has helped to raise our children and become our home.

I appreciate the diversity and programs. I have been involved in many different ministries over the years including:

• Cathedral Choir, Choristers and St. Cecelia Choir (  I have given the St. Cecelia Cross since 1994 to girls who have remained loyal to the choir through senior year of high school )
• Teen groups through 2002 
• As a career Occupational Therapist, I have an interest in disability awareness around the Cathedral campus including starting an awareness ministry in 2003 
• Early contributor of the Organ Restoration Fund and the Cathedral Lighting project 
• Assisting with St. George’s Day since 1987 
• Providing rides to others for Cathedral events 
• Regular attendee of Women Together 
• 2007-2009 involved with Diocean Refugee Network and the Sudanese population at St. Luke’s in North Park 
• Marriage Encounter and Cursillo 

I feel called to be a Chapter Liaison to either the Music or North Park projects. I would also like to ensure accessibility for the disabled throughout the campus.

Having considered Chapter service several times over the years, the timing just wasn’t right. Now, however, with child-rearing, parent-care and other full time obligations in the past, timing seems good to put energy into Chapter. I have a long history and involvement at St. Paul’s and accept people for themselves. Over the years I have learned that even if I don’t always agree on everything, my caring of my fellow parishioners and longtime friendships are what is really important. I respect the many people who have contributed their time and talents to make St. Paul’s the church it is. I also very much listen to what I feel are God’s messages to me and try to live my life accordingly.

Marshall Moore
I was introduced to St. Paul’s by my wife, who had preceded me to San Diego by a couple of years. The music, the liturgy and the space combine to make, for me, a remarkable spiritual experience. More importantly, of the several churches I’ve known, SPC is the first which truly “walks the talk” of forgiveness, acceptance and inclusion.

I was fortunate to have served on the Vision for Mission Committee. For the past two years I have chaired the HR committee. In that capacity, I led the efforts of several others in various hiring activities, the hiring of Jeff Martinhauk and Kathleen Burgess being the most significant. Additionally, I have served as a Greeter and been involved with the Showers of Blessing ministry. Most recently I have served on the Stewardship Committee. I feel most called to serve as Chapter Liaison to Outreach and Justice which is at the core of our faith and is where we “walk the talk”.

I have an appreciation for the inner workings, both issues and decision making, of churches having served on vestries of two other parishes (both small and large). I have an MBA so understand financial constraints and considerations. Service has always been at the heart of my religious experience. My childhood family was a critical part of a tiny parish so I learned the importance of service. There are exciting times ahead for SPC and I would hope that my experience and thoughtful consideration could help as we continue on this journey of faith.

Bruce Warren
I first came to SPC in 1961. For 20 years was married, raised two children in the church, then divorced and left the church. About 5 years ago I returned to the cathedral and found a different congregation. I felt welcomed.

During my early years at SPC, I was on the Building Committee and was involved in the early days of St. Paul’s Manor (now St. Paul’s Senior Services). More recently I have been involved as a committee member for Dorcas House, a docent, a Stephen Minister and a lector. My background and experience suggest that I would be a good fit serving a Chapter Liaison to Outreach and Justice, Cathedral Campus/Grounds, or Music/Arts. This experience includes land-use planning and entitlement and governmental regulations. I have served on many community planning groups and several non-profit boards.

I feel called to serve on Chapter because I enjoy the spiritual benefits of St. Paul’s and believe it would be good to be back in the system that keeps the cathedral working, working with and meeting new people and being of service.

Dexter Semple (bio below)  is the diocesan representative to Chapter, and is not subject to election at the Annual Meeting.  He was elected by the diocesan convention in November, and his bio is listed for informational purposes only.

Dexter Semple
I immigrated to the US from Guyana at a young age. Two years ago I moved to San Diego and have been an active member of St. Luke’s since. There, I serve on the Vestry as well as on the Communications and Usher ministries. My appointment as a Diocesan representative to the Chapter will help to cement the growing relationship between St. Luke’s and St. Paul’s.

Friday, December 30, 2016

The Christmas Eve Sermon: Do not be afraid

Christmas Eve, 2014
St. Paul’s Cathedral
San Diego, California

Isaiah 9: 2-7
Luke 2: 1-14

Come Holy Spirit: Touch our minds and think with them, touch our lips and speak with them and touch our hearts and set them on fire with love for you. AMEN.

I had another sermon written for tonight. I suppose it was a good sermon. It was your run of the mill, feel good Christmas Eve sermon. You would probably tell me at the door it was a good sermon and forget about it before you got home. It was warm and fuzzy. Some of you may be saying, “wait a second; that is exactly what I came for—check please!” But you see, that sermon was fit for an ordinary Christmas Eve. Perhaps I can use it another year, but not tonight. I just don’t think this is an ordinary Christmas.

There is so much anxiety out there. Our lives feel so unsettled. And one could say we are doing it to ourselves. We are so plugged into news, much of it manufactured, and too much of it false news. Almost all of it raises emotions—and not in a good way. Throughout the election, we felt edgier and edgier—and Twitter is not helping. Truth be told: we simply live in a fearful age. And I think this has been building for a long time. Imprinted on the psyche of most of us here tonight, being born and raised in a nuclear age punctuated by the Cuban missile crisis, the arms race, whose sign was a fallout shelter, we are preconditioned to be fearful. Our nightmares included mushroom clouds. As those fears faded, they were replaced by a changing economic environment, a warming planet, Al Qaeda and ISIS. Fear has become such a constant that it almost doesn’t register even as our fears define our lives.

Travelers in first century Judah, while not knowing this age, would connect to those same feelings. Luke tells the story of Christmas by firmly placing it in time, in a specific fearful time, during the registration of Augustus, when Quirinius was governor in Syria. Today, our decennial census is something routine—but not so with that ancient census. Indeed, during the census of Quirinius, Judah suffered a rebellion led by Judas the Galilean. With these details, Luke reminds us that Jesus’ birth occurs in a time of rebellion, oppression, violence, terrorism, and suffocating poverty. Indeed, the very circumstances of Mary and Joseph’s travel underscore the brittleness of life for so many—poor travelers, giving birth to their child in a dirty grotto, using a manger for a first bed—tough living with much to fear.

We are told that, not far away, there are the shepherds—the first century equivalent of parking attendants or night watchmen. They are suffering life at the lowest level. Our common bond with those shepherds, with all common folk around Bethlehem and even with Mary and Joseph is being citizens of a fearful time.

And yet, it is into their world of darkness that a child is born. It is a moment that could pass unnoticed. But this is God’s most gracious offering placed not in the midst of beauty, but in the darkest darkness. It is not given first to the most blessed, but to the most marginalized. Nevertheless, it is so cosmically transformational that angels must tell the story. And an angel goes to those shepherds. Those shepherds, like us, are children of fear…it is their heartbeat and it is their default. And so, when the angel appears, they are afraid. And so are we… we are afraid of what we see and hear. We are afraid of what our politicians say. We are afraid of what our nation is becoming and who will be marginalized. We are afraid. And that is why no simple Christmas sermon will do.

When the angel comes to the shepherds, the angel is surely coming to us. We need this birth. We need to hear what the angel says. This is really it. The angel’s message is the proverbial spiritual ball game.
Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
The good news that the angel brings is that we do not have to live this way. We do not have to live in fear: do not be afraid. The incarnation, God enfleshed in Jesus, changes everything. This is the unanticipated and unexpected humility of God. God’s love for the world—for us—is so profound and complete that God would come and be with us even as a helpless child. Fear is simply knocked off the stage. Our Advent hope is not in vain. And so shepherds go, in that hope. With their sheep, staff, and robes, they are both characters in the story and messengers in their own right.

On this night, we can similarly be set in motion. We can become characters of the story of a new birth that vanquishes fear and changes everything. And so, we come to this holy place and sing the carols of joy. Incense is lifted heavenward with our prayers. We hear Luke’s precious words of the first birth. Then through the Eucharist, we connect the story of this baby with the Christ he will later present, enflesh through his teachings, miracles and finally the cross and empty tomb. To go to the manger is to go the cross. It is to worship God who is all in—with us, in our joy and in our suffering, our life and in our death. And after “Silent Night” and a refrain of comfort and joy, we like those shepherds of old, will go into the night. We go with spiritual courage because our resolve is fragile and fear still reigns out there. Fear continues to be cultivated by the principalities and powers. Scapegoating and fear mongering remain political fodder. Terrorists still bid to do harm. The poor still suffer, which is where we come in as tellers of the story and participants of the story of the manger. “The people who have walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness--on them light has shined.”

And so leaving the manger, we will look for Mary and Joseph again on the road. Perhaps we will see them in the 60 million refugees around the planet who yearn for safety and home, some in our own city and county. With them, we will practice the spiritual discipline of neighborly love. We will not be afraid. We might sit down with other travelers at table when they are ridiculed because of their race, or gender or sexual orientation. We mean what the banner in front of this cathedral says. We will not be afraid. And we will see them in those who practice different faiths, whom some wish to register in a new and subversive census. Secure in what we have seen within this manger, we might even say, I too am a Muslim; register me. We will stand in love. We will not be afraid.

Dear ones, it is this simple: unto us a child is born. Hope does not come through a political campaign or a business plan. Hope comes with this child and birth—the transforming gift of God found in a most unlikely place. Do not be afraid anymore. Dismiss the power of fear with the overwhelming power of God’s love. Take your angelic role as a messenger of God. Tell the story of glad tidings. Be and live the story of good news. Do you hear the heavenly host? They are praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" Do not be afraid.

Michael Gerson, “Where is God?” The Washington Post, December 23, 2016