A Sermon for the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019

A Sermon preached on the Third Sunday of Advent, December 15, 2019, by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector on the occasion of Willard Harris’ 100th Birthday

 “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?” John the Baptist, a prophet, experiences doubt.  Doubt. And Expectations.  What doubts and expectations do you experience this Advent season?

I am thankful that John the Baptist has some doubts and some expectations because I always have a few this time of year.  This is the week when I experience a lot of doubt:  about getting everything done for the church and for my family; doubts about finishing the Christmas shopping, and doubts about celebrating Christmas without family members who have passed away this year.  These are my doubts.  I’m sure you have yours. 

And we always have our expectations for the season that are often high, and they often go deep. Mixed together these doubts and expectations are a recipe for anxiety.  So let’s leave them here in front of the altar for a few moments while we look at our text more closely.  Where is the Good News in the middle of Advent?

John the Baptist and many of his time expected a Messiah who would drive out the Romans and rule as a new King David.  Last week we saw John the Baptist in all his glory out in the Wilderness baptizing in the river Jordan.  This week we see the vulnerable side of John the Baptist as a prisoner.  He suffers for his faith.  And he wonders if he got it right?  Is Jesus the one?

Notice what Jesus tells John’s disciples.  “Go and tell John what you hear and see:  the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.  And blessed is anyone who takes no offense at me.”

Jesus does not try to meet John’s expectations of a Messiah king. Instead, he goes way beyond what John expected. 

This week I saw a National Geographic story online about a 3,300 year old Sequoia tree in Sequoia National Park. It’s so large that until now there’s never been a complete photograph of it. And this giant in the forest is still growing and getting taller every year.

I was reminded of that tree when I read this passage.  John has expectations for who the Messiah should be, a powerful king who saves the Jewish people, but the reality of Jesus is different than what he expected, and ultimately so much larger and more profound than what he expected that he can’t imagine the whole meaning of it. 

Jesus tells John that his ministry is about healing people, lifting up the poor, and about wholeness and newness of life, even after death.  Jesus ministry is about love.

Jesus is so much bigger than any of our expectations.  Like the giant Sequoia, we can’t see him in his entirety. Often we’d like to downsize him into our own image, make him fit our own boxes, our preconceived expectations of who he is. This is a dangerous thing to do that we see happening in other Christian churches these days.  It’s dangerous because it diminishes Jesus, and makes him serve our small, selfish purposes. 

Jesus is larger than we can comprehend, he is the Christ, the mystery who offers himself for us on the Cross and in the Eucharist. As we contemplate Jesus, I find my doubts recede and my expectations being blown away.  As John the Baptist says in the Gospel of John, “I must decrease and He must increase.”

In our passage from Isaiah we see a vision of God’s healing of the earth. Water bubbles up out of the dry ground and waters the desert into a flowering garden.  We can take courage in the line, “Say to those who are of a fearful heart, be strong, do not fear!” I’m sure both John and Jesus knew this passage from Isaiah.

Isaiah says, “A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way…it shall be for God’s people; no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray.”  (I am especially glad to see that line, “not even fools shall go astray.)  Everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall fade away.”

The Good News is that Jesus is coming into our hearts and he is so much bigger and more profound than we expect. 

Today we lit the third candle on the Advent Wreath, the candle of joy. The third Sunday of Advent is often called Rose Sunday or Gaudate in Latin, which means rejoice. At the halfway point in Advent we pause to rejoice.  The third candle is pink.  There are many theories about the meaning of why the candle is pink, and some point to the divine feminine found in Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Today I think we also light the pink candle as a birthday candle to celebrate our beloved Willard Harris who turns 100 years old next week and embodies many qualities we find in Mary: tenderness and love; resilience, and strength.

One of my jobs as Interim Rector is to help the parish look at the past and find patterns and strengths.  This fall we had several all parish meetings with a timeline where people could mark when they arrived at All Saints’.  Of course, Willard arrived in the late 1950’s, and so she put her sticky note way over here and almost everyone else put their sticky note way over on the other side of the timeline.

It occurred to me that Willard has seen it all at All Saints’; she has served faithfully, and she continues to serve.  Last Sunday she was with us in the Altar Party, and she held the Altar Book as I proclaimed the Gospel. I thought in the moment, how wonderful this is to be holding the Gospel Book with her, and serving side by side with her in the liturgy. Like the mighty Sequoia, she is still growing, still putting out new shoots of friendship and lifelong learning, still connecting all of us in the All Saints’ community with her roots .

As part of my research about the parish, I found the 1964 photo directory.  What a treasure.  Inside, there’s a photo of Willard and her family! It was a very different time in San Francisco and in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Before the Summer of Love, before the era of hard drugs in the 70’s and 80’s, before the AIDS crisis, before condos for $1,000,000. 

In some ways it was a more innocent time.  It was also a time when there were many expectations that people would conform to societal rules. People dressed up, families were larger, women had a certain role, and it was an expectation that people went to church.

But one expectation—that an Episcopal church would be all white—was blown away.  All Saints’ was really diverse for 1964, maybe one of the most diverse churches in the country.  There were Black families, Chinese families, Japanese families, single people, and many different ages represented in the directory.  That was Father Harris’ vision for an Anglo-Catholic parish in the Haight, with the emphasis on the broad meaning of catholic, which means universal and for everyone. It was a true neighborhood church.

1964 was the height of the Civil Rights Movement and it’s moving to hold that 1964 directory and imagine what was going on in the rest of the country. In a way, All Saints’ embodied something of Dr. King’s vision of the Beloved Community.  And Willard is our beloved of our beloved community here in 2019. 

The Good News this morning is that Jesus is here with us, ready to exceed our expectations, and meet our doubts with love and healing. 

The Good News this morning is that God has blessed us with Willard.  And God has blessed Willard with a long life of healing as a nurse, and a life of love and service, as a mother and as a beloved member of All Saints’.  We are blessed to have her with us today, and to celebrate the Good News with joy!  Amen!

A Sermon for the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019

A Sermon preached by the Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 8, 2019

My friend who’s a children’s book illustrator worked over a year to create some 300 paintings for a new children’s bible that was just published this fall.  It was fun to be one of her theological advisors. When she realized there were lots of Johns and Marys in the Gospels she asked me for some help:  How could she make them look distinctive?

I was happy to let her know that John the Baptist was a very distinctive guy, and that she could have a lot of fun drawing him since the gospels say he was something of a wildman who wore a camelhair tunic, leather belt, and ate bugs and wild honey. 

Every Advent John the Baptist shows up and takes us out into the wilderness.  Who is John the Baptist and what is the message that he preaches to us today at All Saints’?

John the Baptist is a figure on the hinge of the Old and New Testaments.  He is the last prophet in the tradition of Old Testament prophets; he calls for repentance, and calls the religious establishment—the Pharisees and Sadduccees– to account.  And he is the first Evangelist, who preaches “the kingdom of God has come near,” and calls us to anticipate the coming of Christ.

John is a counter-cultural figure. He might fit right in on Haight Street, but not in 1st century Judea.  In John’s time Jewish religious authority was centered in the Temple in Jerusalem.  So John’s appearing in the wilderness to preach and perform his type of baptism was way outside the religious establishment.  

In those days, most people lived in walled cities for safety. Outside those walls, bandits roamed. The people of Jerusalem, left the safety of the city and went into the wilderness to hear John and to be baptized by him in the river Jordan. They were hungry for a new spirituality; they were hungry for God’s presence in their lives.

It was also countercultural for people to venture into a large body of flowing water like the river Jordan because it was dangerous.  You could easily drown, and folk legend said that the old Canaanite gods and demons lurked beneath the surface.  So to purposefully go down under the water was a risky thing to do.

The Wilderness plays an important role throughout the biblical story. Moses encounters the Burning Bush and the living God in the Wilderness. God leads the Hebrew people out of Egypt into the wilderness where they wandered for 40 years. Moses received the 10 Commandments out there in the wilderness. And God feeds God’s people Manna in the Wilderness.  The Wilderness is a holy and challenging place.

Today, the Wilderness is still the place where God calls people to grapple with their faith, and to seek spiritual growth. The wilderness of faith is not an easy place to be.  It’s edgy.  It’s uncomfortable.

Every Advent John the Baptists calls us out into wilderness of faith, and calls us to repentance. John is not an easy character and Advent is not an easy season in the church.  We’re called to be quiet and contemplative in Advent when the rest of the world is already singing Christmas carols and partying.  We’re called into the wilderness of Advent to experience our spiritual hunger, our longing for God’s presence. 

For some reason, the Advent texts seem especially challenging to me this year.  We’re called to be contemplative and hopeful in a world where ugly old demons like Anti-Semitism and white supremacy have emerged out of the deep waters of the past.  We live in a world where truth, moral leadership, and intelligence is mocked and undermined. Our world can feel like the biblical wilderness full of bandits.

Our Interim time can feel like the wilderness, too.  We are walking in unfamiliar territory as a parish.  Being here at All Saints’ for the past 10 months has been a great adventure for me. I’ve also felt challenged by the realities of ministry in our time and place. San Francisco and the demographics of our neighborhood are changing, and going to church is not a social expectation anymore. Who are we now in this era? How do we engage people in the wilderness of their everyday lives in 2020? 

But then I realize that we are out in this wilderness together, you and I. Isaiah and John both say, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”  We are called to prepare the way of the Lord here in this place, together as a parish.

John’s call to Repentance asks us to let go of our burdens of the past and turn towards the future where Christ beckons us into newness of life.  Both our readings from Isaiah and Romans say, a shoot of new growth shall emerge from the stump of Jesse, a new branch shall grow out of its roots.  God is working below the surface and initiating new growth among us.  We are in the wilderness anticipating where it will emerge.  But I believe we are in a wilderness of hope.

Hope is one of the themes of Advent, and this Sunday we lit the second Advent candle, the candle of Hope. Emily Dickinson famously wrote,

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -That perches in the soul –And sings the tune without the words -And never stops – at all –

Hope can seem elusive in our day to day lives. Its melody is muffled below the static of anxiety that becomes loud and distracting.  Sometimes we need to intentionally turn up the volume knob on hope to hear it, and I think this is one of those times.  But how? 

This week I studied our Gospel in The Message, a modern version written by Eugene Peterson, a biblical scholar and pastor.  Sometimes Peterson’s interpretations throw new light on a familiar passage.   Listen to John the Baptist according to the Message:

“I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life.  The real action comes next.  The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out.”

Do you hear John’s message of hope?

Today, out here in the wilderness of Advent in the Interim time, I find hope that the Holy Spirit will come within us and change us from the inside out.  I find hope in the vision of a new shoot, new growth emerging from the Stump of Jesse in the reading from Isaiah. 

I find hope in Isaiah’s vision of wolves, leopards and lions lying down with domestic animals and playing with little children.  This is a vision where God lift upends the usual pattern of aggressor and victim; God lifts up innocence, love, and hope.  Isaiah says, “A little child will lead them.”  The presence of children is always a sign of hope.  Together, we can prepare the way of the Lord, and make the way straight before us.

This Advent Season, may you hear the song of hope more clearly.  May you intentionally tune into it, turn up the volume, and sing along with it. It’s something we all need to hear and to share as we prepare for the coming of the Christ Child.

As Paul says in our reading from Romans today,  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”  

Amen.

A Sermon for the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, September 22, 2019

A Sermon preached by the Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 20, September 22, 2019

What WAS that passage that we just heard? The Parable of the Dishonest Steward is a very strange Parable.  You may wonder, is it even a Parable? Why does Jesus make this crooked guy the hero of the story?

When Jesus tells us a story, we expect certain things to happen.  But this is one of those Parables where Jesus, the master storyteller, does something different.  He confuses us.

Confusion makes us stop in our tracks. Confusion can shift us out of auto-pilot and open our eyes to reality. So let’s look for a moment at the confusing Parable before us today. 

In Luke’s Gospel, The Parable of the Dishonest Steward comes shortly after the Prodigal Son, and I think the two stories play off of each other.  The Manager and the Prodigal Son are both untrustworthy. They have both been given wealth to manage and they both squander it. The Prodigal Son blows his inheritance on dissolute living.  The Dishonest Steward gets caught mismanaging the Rich man’s wealth.  And once they both  “hit bottom,” both of them are forced to pivot in some new direction to survive. 

The Prodigal Son has an internal dialogue saying he will work as a hired hand on his father’s farm, and turns towards home.  We hear the Dishonest Steward’s internal dialogue as well, “What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me?  I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg.  I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.”  Both of them have the realization that life is deeply relational. 

They act upon that in different ways.  The Prodigal Son throws himself on his father’s mercy, and the story becomes all about reconciliation and forgiveness, and unconditional love.

The Dishonest Steward is more worldly, and the Parable reveals an uncomfortable truth about the way the world works. The economic system we live in has an enormous hold on all of us.  The Dishonest Steward knows that if he cuts the debts of the rich man’s debtors, they will take him in. He becomes a sort of Robin Hood rather than a bill collector.  The social contract is suddenly changed in his favor even though, to our eyes, it seems to make him even more dishonest.  The rich man applauds what he does.  Jesus’ listeners probably did, too.

In Jesus’ time there was enormous income inequality.  A few people were rich, like the steward’s boss, and it was way less than 1%, and most of the populace lived in desperate poverty.

That was the reality that Jesus’ listeners lived in.  It’s important for us to remember that as we hear the Gospel read in a 21st century context. They lived in a broken system and they knew it. People felt their own brokenness on a daily basis.

Ironically, in the Bay Area of 2019, with income equality becoming more extreme, we may understand the broken world of the Dishonest Steward more than we did in the past.

For most of my life, there was a belief in the American Dream and the promise of the middle class.  If you worked hard you could go to college, maybe own a home, and you certainly could rent somewhere to live. Our 20th Century economic assumptions gave us a sense of safety that has wasted away for many of us. As we’ve seen this week with the massive climate strikes around the world, people are concerned that the earth itself will survive.  This is the source of enormous unspoken anxiety in our lives.

I don’t want to depress you this morning, but our world is a broken world. We are broken human beings in a broken world.  Are you depressed yet?

Jake Owensby, the Bishop of Western Louisiana, writes a blog called, “Looking for God in messy places” on the lectionary readings. His approach to scripture is always illuminating and close to the bone.

Bishop Owensby writes about our passage today:

For centuries others have been shaping the world’s economies, political systems, social structures, and climate. Apparently, those people never considered consulting us, but we’re left to muddle through the world that they’ve left for us. It is what it is. What remains for us is, “So what are you willing to do?”

Observing the success, prestige, and comfort achieved by the world’s most cunning people, it can be tempting to be what some call realistic. To play the world’s game by the rules of the shadiest and most ruthless among us.

And yet, Jesus urges a different course. Don’t be naive, he says. Acknowledge how this world so often works. But don’t merely accept it. On the contrary, resist it. Resist it with love.

“It is what it is.”  There’s brokenness all around us, and within us. In our disposable society, we reject and throw away anything that is broken. We’ve forgotten that brokenness is an invitation to for mending, healing, and renewal. 

I like what Bishop Owensby says, “It is what it is.  What remains for us is, “So what are we willing to do about it?”

In this Parable Jesus acknowledges “It is what it is” and says God is even in that messy and anxiety ridden place that we inhabit on a daily basis.

Last Sunday we had our first history day of our interim time together.  We put ourselves on the timeline of All Saints’ history, and we had some good conversations at our tables.  We asked how you came to All Saints’ and what at All Saints’ has brought you joy.

Today we gather again after the 10:00 Mass for another history day.  If you weren’t here last Sunday I’d like you to put yourself on the timeline and address that question about what has brought you joy at All Saints’ with your table mates.

In the email newsletter I asked you all to bring a photo from the past to share.  If you brought a photo, I’d like you to share write down what it means to you and who was in the photo.  Then share it with your table mates and share what it means to you.  I’m going to come around and snap a digital photo of your photos and get prints made so we can put them on the timeline.

We have a rich history together here at All Saints’.  There’s joy, and also I’m aware that our history includes deep loss and brokenness. I wonder if some of you today feel safe enough in our loving community to share what that was like here at All Saints’? 

I’ve been wondering how that sense of loss has affected our parish?  Today I will prayerfully invite you to share some of that history of our brokenness. 

The Good News is that Christ has been here with us through all of it. Christ knows our deepest hurts and longings for healing. As we will here in our hymn today, there is a Balm in Gilead.  Amen.

A Sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, September 15, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 19, September 15, 2019

Recently, I went to Perry’s, the restaurant on Union Street, and I had a flashback.  Not a bad PTSD flashback, but a pleasant flashback. The walls of Perry’s are covered with posters from the presidential campaigns of old, and photos of people like John Kennedy and the Beatles, and famous San Franciscans like Joe Montana, Joe Alioto, and Joe DiMaggio. My flashback was to the 20th Century.  I realized that I felt very comfortable surrounded by all those familiar faces with so many associations. I am a “Mid-Century” baby, formed by the culture of the late 20th Century.

Our history at All Saints’ is also deeply rooted in the 20th century.

Today and next Sunday we’ll gather after Mass to spend some time in the 20th Century to talk with each other about our history.

Since All Saints’ hasn’t had an Interim in 30 years, you may have never participated in a history day before.  History days are a standard part of the Interim time when we get together and talk with each other and gather some information about where we’ve been, and also share memories with each other.  Some of that information will be captured so that when we get to the Search Process, we’ll have narrative data to work with. Because we have a rich history, we’re going to have two history days.  And we may have more discussions down the line.

At today’s meeting we’ll look at the big picture.  We’re going to place ourselves on a giant timeline, and have some small group table discussion.  

Next Sunday we will spend more focused time in small group discussion talking about the last 50 years. I hope that you can stay for a light lunch and discussion for about an hour today and next Sunday. It will be interactive and fun.  Don’t worry, I’m going to give you specific instructions.

Today’s readings both tell us something about the history of God’s relationship with us.  One ends on a wrathful note, and the Gospel ends on a joyful note.  What do they teach us about the nature of God, and who God wants us to be?

In Jeremiah we hear about God’s anger with God’s people.  “The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end…for I have spoken, I have purpose; I have not relented nor will I turn back.”  Jeremiah grieves, and is shocked by the prophecies YHWH presents to him.

Contemporary commentators say that Jeremiah spoke of a shift from the original Covenant of Moses to a covenant based on a new paradigm.  The existing worldview had to collapse before a new one could be constructed, which sounds strangely familiar given current events these days.

This passage spoke to me in its desolation of the earth. Today, the earth is hurting from our wasteful way of life. We need a new paradigm for the earth to survive.

Last week Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish climate activist sailed across the Atlantic for a U.N. conference to avoid the carbon footprint involved in flying. I have great hope in the younger generation of activists like Greta who are standing up and saying this is a crisis, our house is on fire.  The Parkland students are in the same new wave of activists who are saying enough is enough.  A new paradigm is fighting to be constructed.  They have a righteous anger, much like God’s righteous anger in Jeremiah.

In our reading from Luke Jesus tells us two familiar parables:  the Lost Sheep and the Lost Coin.  What do they tell us about God’s covenant relationship with us?

I love how Jesus starts off with “which of you does not?”  In fact, I bet not many of us would leave 99 of our sheep to find the 1 who wandered off.  Especially in our time of late capitalism, the loss of 1 sheep would be written off as a business loss, and expected as a cost of doing business.  If you left the herd unsupervised while you went on a search, the rest of the herd might wander off.  Part of the surprising nature of Jesus’ parables is in these unlikely twists.  He calls us to a look at things differently.

In the Parable of the Lost Coin Jesus shows us a woman with ten coins (which was a lot of $) who searches just as diligently for the lost coin as the shepherd does for his lost sheep. She does a clean sweep of her house under expensive lamp light to find it.  What does this mean?

These parables show us a different kind of relationship with God than in the Old Testament. They show us the same God, but the Gospels show us God in a new way.  God is loving and seeks us out, and never gives up looking for us.  And when God finds us, God calls together the angels and they rejoice together.

Notice the joy in both parables.  There’s the joy of finding the lost sheep, and the lost coin.  And there’s the joy of gathering together and celebrating in community.  Each sheep has value and is treasured; this idea of inherent value is even more pronounced in the story of the lost coin. 

Today at our gathering after church one of the things I want you to think about is: How did God bring you to All Saints’?  And, where do you find joy at All Saints’?

On Friday and Saturday I attended a Diocesan training called “Healing Racism.” I learned a lot. 

One of the activities was a Lection Divina session on our Gospel passage today.  The passage really spoke to us as a group about the idea of inclusion.  For me, If God is always seeking us out, God is also modeling a way of being in the world. We need to seek out those who are lost or hidden from our sight. In light of the healing racism training, we asked, who is missing from our flock? 

I don’t think it means “saving” people as much as being in relationship with people. Saving is about power, and welcoming is about intimacy. Saving is primarily about individuals, welcoming is primarily about community. I wonder what that would look like here at All Saints?

As we move farther into the 21st Century, we’ve entered a challenging time for the Episcopal Church as a whole.  We are increasingly older and whiter than the neighborhoods around us.

The commentator G. Penny Nixon writes, “True repentance happens when our minds are changed to such a degree that we cannot see a community as whole until all are included and none are “lost.”  This is 21st century work for parishes all over the country right now.  It resonates with our ministry context at All Saints’.  The Good News is that we are not alone, and that Christ is there leading us into a more inclusive way of being.

What stands out for me in the passage is the joy that comes from finding the lost sheep and the lost coin. There is “Joy in the presence of the angels over one sinner who repents.”  It sounds like it’s definitely worth the search, worth the work of repentance, worth the work of our interim time together.  Amen.

A Sermon for the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, September 1, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Rev. Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector on the Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, September 1, 2019

It’s wedding season for my family. Our children are in their late 20’s early 30’s, and so are their friends. Last weekend went to a family friends’ wedding at St. Dorothy’s Rest, and we are now on the countdown to our son’s wedding in October.  Some of the preparation has been fun, like tasting10 flavors of gourmet cupcakes, and some of it has been challenging, like the decisions around the guest list. All of these social decisions reminded me of our readings this week, and made me ponder the many kinds of hospitality.

Most common in our society is “the hospitality industry,” a transactional kind of hospitality.  We make a reservation at a restaurant or a hotel. We show up on time, we pay our money.  It’s kind of neutral in tone. But it’s important to remember that it wasn’t so long ago that “the hospitality industry” discriminated against people of color.  This kind of hospitality is not so neutral after all.

Private events offer another kind of hospitality.  Jesus talks about this kind of hospitality a lot because basically there was no hospitality industry in his time. And so, the image of the Banquet figures large in scripture.  Consider the Wedding at Cana, the gatherings at Mary and Martha’s house, and his meals with the Pharisee’s, like in today’s reading. 

What is Jesus trying to teach us this morning about hospitality?

Whenever we enter a social event, we ask ourselves “where do I fit in?  Where do I sit?” which is why seating charts are so popular.   Jesus knows that some people jockey for the best seat, and want to see and be seen close to the host. But they also don’t want to be shamed and demoted.  Jesus offers some basic lessons in manners:  Sit towards the back and you might get upgraded.  He suggests humility.

What makes this passage a parable is Jesus’ turning common sense advice into a theological teaching.  He says, “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”  Jesus shows us how God evens out social status.

Whatever our social position in human society, God looks at us with eyes of love.  In God’s eyes, we are all the same social status, we are all loved as God’s own.  At God’s table we are all at the “head table” next to the host.  When we see through the eyes of Jesus, the guest lists and social hierarchies melt away to reveal holy hospitality for all.

Jesus knows how hard it is to offer holy hospitality in the real world.  And so he challenges his host.  He tells them: don’t invite the usual crowd, expecting reciprocation within your own social circle.  But expand the circle to include even the most vulnerable. He says, ”you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Jesus says true hospitality is not about expecting payment, or reciprocity, but extending God’s love out to all.  That is holy hospitality.

In our reading from Hebrews this morning we hear Paul say, “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  This is another example of holy hospitality.

Long ago, I had a memorable experience of receiving Holy Hospitality. I was 19, and my college roommate and I were traveling by train through Europe the summer of our sophomore year. We stopped in Canterbury, England for the day, and left our backpacks in the “left luggage” area in the railway station while we went sightseeing.  When we went back to retrieve them, the station locked.  It was closed for the night. We had nowhere to stay, and as it got dark, we began to knock on the doors of hotels and bed and breakfasts.  It was high tourist season.  Everyplace was full.  Just as we were about to panic, an innkeeper invited us in.  He said we could sleep in the living room if we set all the tables for breakfast the next day.  He would not accept our money; he only asked us to share the favor to someone else in the future.  To me, he was an angel of hospitality, and I will never forget him.  Over the years, I’ve tried to practice holy hospitality, too.

Here in the church, we’re called to offer holy hospitality, and to offer a community of God’s love on earth.  It is not always easy because it stands in tension with our social training and the society around us.

I think it comes down to baking hospitality into our Sunday morning routine. Ushers and greeters are important ministries because they offer holy hospitality.  How do people know where to sit? We need to make it less threatening to walk through that iron gate on Waller, come up the stairs and through those double doors. That walk from the street to the sanctuary is more of a barrier than insiders like us realize. How do newcomers learn our names? Interims are supposed to raise these questions. 

In the meantime, All Saints’ quietly serves people in need a home-cooked meal at the neighborhood brunch program every Saturday morning. We do not expect anyone to reciprocate, although guests have become servers.  As our Interim, I see this as one of All Saints’ strengths that we can support.  It’s an offering of holy hospitality, where sometimes angels come to break bread with us.

It’s an expression of God’s love that echoes the sacrament we gather every week to celebrate at God’s table. 

You may have noticed that throughout the Gospels, Jesus is always the guest at other people’s tables. But here, at this table, the altar, Jesus is the host.  Jesus offers us a foretaste of the great banquet waiting for us from before the foundation of the world, where all sit at the table with Christ, in holy hospitality.   Come, a place is set for you. Come to receive nourishment for your ministry of holy hospitality in the world.  Amen.

A Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, August 11, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, August 11, 2019

I recently had a few days outside the Bay Area bubble, in Cincinnati OH, where our oldest daughter ran the Episcopal Camp in the Diocese of Southern OH. She asked us to come to her last Family Camp session. We had a fun time at camp and met about 100 fellow Episcopalians. We also tie-dyed t-shirts in the cornfields, confirming that Haight-Ashbury has had a long-lasting cultural effect.

While we were at camp, President Trump held a rally in Cincinnati.  It was troubling to me being that close to it.  I was able to focus on my novel as I relaxed in a hammock for a few hours, but it was difficult for me to let go of all the trouble in the world. On our way home, we flew out of Columbus, OH. The interstate took us by the city of Dayton, and we know what happened there late last Saturday night, right after the shooting in El Paso.

These are troubling times, and it’s times like these when I find that I need my faith. I don’t take it for granted anymore.

What does faith mean to you?  What do our readings teach us about faith this morning?  How can we support each other’s faith during this Interim time, and time of great upheaval in our world?

According to classic Christian orthodoxy, faith is a gift initiated by God.  Later, the theologian, Martin Luther had a spiritual awakening as he read the Letter to the Romans, and led the Reformation with his assertion that we are justified with God by faith alone rather than by good works. 

When I served in Menlo Park, I learned to introduce the Nicene Creed with the words, “Let us affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed,” which I think frames it well. The Creed affirms what the church came to believe in the 4th century, and when we say it together, we enter into a centuries long tradition of naming ancient articles of faith. As an Episcopal priest, I feel compelled to say, you don’t have to believe all of it all the time to be an Episcopalian.  But saying it together brings us into a common experience where we hear the faith of the church proclaimed yet again, and it always brings me to a place of wonder.

This week I was struck by the words near the beginning that say, “We believe in one God…maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”

Faith rests on there on  “all that is, seen and unseen.”  We are familiar with the things we can see, and understand; and our faith leads us to look below the surface and over time our faith leads us to trust in things unseen.

At camp we had something called FOB, or “Flat on Back” time during the middle of the day, (basically nap time) and that’s when I read my novel in the hammock. The novel was a bestseller called, “The Overstory” by Richard Powers.  It’s a novel about the wisdom of trees, how people’s lives are intertwined with trees, how we’re destroying trees, and creation. The plot weaves together a cast of characters who become environmental advocates, some of them extremists, for the cause of defending trees.

The “Overstory” in the title refers to the unseen intelligence of trees, and the natural world.  Where humans see nature as something to be exploited, and used up, the novel shows us nature as valuable for its own sake, a very Anglican view of creation.

As I finished the book on the flight home, I found a redemptive message in the “unseen” intelligence of creation that is beyond our understanding. Things unseen are moving below the surface, beyond our control, and that gave me hope.

A growing Faith is hopeful like that, too.  Our faith consists of those “articles of faith” in the Creed, and also the unseen becoming ever more real to us. Faith is an ever-growing trust in God’s unseen action and love in the world.

In today’s reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, we hear the classic verse, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. “ which fits with the opening words of the Creed.  Paul uses the words “assurance,” and “conviction” to describe faith.

Paul also uses the story of Abraham following God’s call to explain what faith is.  Paul writes, “By faith, Abraham OBEYED when he was called to set out.” Faith is an invitation by God  to step out beyond our comfort zone, like Abraham did.  Faith is ever-changing; God continually calls us out into a deeper faith, and to face the unknown without fear.  Or at least to understand that fear is part of life, and to trust God and move ahead anyway, with courage.

James Fowler’s classic work on the different stages of faith talks about a spiral upward movement of disintegration and reintegration as our faith matures.  I believe that in an interim time there’s a similar process going on.  There’s a process of disintegration and reintegration as we move farther along the Interim journey.  It can feel uncomfortable. We can feel anxiety and fear.  But through that process of spiritual growth we grow stronger as a community.

In our Gospel passage, Jesus offers his disciples and us, an alternative view of living a life of faith, beyond fear.  He offers a life of faith based on the God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom. It affirms God’s faith in us as God’s beloved.  When I experience that aspect of faith, the world becomes lighter. It’s not all up to us to hold it all together.  God is holding us in a relationship of faith.  God is unseen, yet God is there.  God is the “Overstory” if you will, behind the scenes. 

Jesus says, “Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

This is Good News for us as Christians, because when we remember that it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom, we can see all that we have as God’s gift.  We become stewards of what God has given us, rather than hoarders.  We can loosen our grip on life a bit and notice our faith is carrying us along, something like the mystery of riding a bike.

There is so much that we are holding onto right now.  We legitimately have a lot to worry about in our country. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, something else bad happens.  As I mentioned, it was hard for me to relax on my vacation.

But perhaps the world is going through one of those spirals of disintegration and reintegration, too.  Maybe society is spiraling up towards a new consciousness, and we have to go through this period of disintegration and we can’t see the big picture because we are too close to it.  Maybe confronting white nationalism, racism, and the NRA out in the open is what needs to happen to bring us to a new day.  I pray that we may all work towards a more equitable and moral society.

Jesus also says, “do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  In this Interim time we may have fears about how we are doing at All Saints’ and what our future will be, along with our concerns about the world around us.  Let’s surround those concerns with intentional prayer.  Let’s ask God for what we need specifically on our journey of faith.  God is listening, it is God’s pleasure to give us the kingdom.  But we must we must ask for it, we must participate in the work of bringing it about.

Take courage, little flock.  Christ is with us, and he asks us to trust and to be ready for action, be ready to grow in faith, be ready to receive joy.  Amen.

A Sermon for the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 28, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 12,, July 28, 2019

For some reason, I love Sutro Tower. From Alameda, I see it standing like a Calder sculpture. When I come into the City, it’s like a fog-0-meter that shows me the weather will be like in the Haight. 

In the midst of our sunny (today) and foggy (most of the time) summer, we have our Gospel reading about Prayer that has both sunny clear parts, and some that’s foggy in meaning.  What is Prayer?  How do we do it?  What does Jesus say about our prayer relationship to God?

Prayer is at the center of Jesus’ life.  He goes up to a mountain by himself to pray, he prays all night by the Sea of Galilee, he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, and he even prays on the Cross. 

In today’s passage, the disciples ask Jesus to teach them to pray like John taught his disciples, and he teaches them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer.

Our familiarity with the Lord’s Prayer, the repetition of it, plants it deep in our souls. Advanced Alzheimer’s patients often can remember the Lord’s Prayer if it was part of their earlier life.  I found in my summer of hospital chaplaincy, that praying the Lord’s Prayer united people of many Christian denominations.  Jesus gives us a framework of prayer focused on simple human needs.

Jesus’ teaching of the Lord’s Prayer is as clear as a “regular” summer’s day outside the Bay Area.  We know these lines; they are written on our hearts.  The second half of our passage is also about prayer, but it’s meaning is foggy and is worth exploring in more depth. 

Jesus tells a Parable about a man knocking on his neighbor’s door at night in need of bread to serve someone who’s come to his house.  From what I have read this week, some of its meaning is lost in translation. 

We recently hosted a neighborhood watch meeting here at All Saints’, and I went door to door on our block of Waller to deliver the flyers. I realized that I was being electronically recorded on camera at many front doors. In our world, someone knocking at the front door at night is threatening. So, when we hear this story we don’t quite know what to make of the relationship between the guy at the door and the guy in bed for the night.

The people of Jesus world would have not been confused. They lived in tight communities and they lived a hand-to-mouth existence, where they shared what food they had with each other, no matter what. Hospitality was a means of survival. Those who did not share were subject to shame, and not bringing shame on the community was a huge motivating force in their society.

Jesus begins his parable with the phrase, “who among you,” which in Greek is an idiom for “imagine the unthinkable.”  That really gives a different spin on the story. It would have been unthinkable for the guy not to answer the late night call for hospitality. One commentator writes:

What is translated as “persistence” actually means “shamelessness”. There is no persistence in the story. There is no nagging. The person in the story only asks once. So the story is unimaginable to Jesus’ hearers – even if he didn’t get up because he was a friend, he would at least get up because of the shame to him and his village if he didn’t. So this friend inside, who is struggling economically with the rest of the village is going to share and risk that he too has nothing to eat.”

Once the fogginess of the translation is cleared up, Jesus’ meaning is clear:  God is waiting for our prayers as a dear friend waits to hear from us any time day or night. God waits to give extravagantly, even sacrificially. 

My enchantment with Sutro Tower has something with the rhythms of the fog in San Francisco.  The fog moves mysteriously in and out through the City in a daily rhythm that frames our days.

I think our Prayer is like the fog, there’s a rhythm to our prayer that surrounds us with sacred intention at different times of the day, depending on when we feel we need to reach out to God, or more regularly if we have a disciplined prayer practice. And like the fog, prayer can be mysterious, beautiful, and sometimes grey and challenging. Sometimes our world seems just too grey, cold and foggy to pray.  What difference does it make, we ask ourselves. Our prayer life withers.

Our popular American view of prayer has corrupted it into something transactional; God’s a gumball machine, and prayer is the coin that will give us our shiny wish. We know prayer is not like that, but we live in a transactional society that doesn’t understand grace.

We know that prayer is deeply mysterious and beyond words.  Yet we want words to express our needs and longings to God.  The comforting rhythms of the liturgy and their familiar words help express our prayers in community.  I know that for some it is challenging to hear the new Mass setting we’ve been using, but I think it’s a good experience during an Interim time to learn something new. Thank you for being open to this new worship experience.

In the Anglican tradition, we say that our prayers shape believing.  We have little official doctrine, but much beautiful language. That language frames our sacramental focus in the Eucharist, which may actually come closer to revealing what prayer is. The act of celebrating Communion is a mysterious ritual that takes us away from words, into sacrament, into a place of transcendent prayer.

I believe prayer is a relationship with God that we build over time in our hearts, our minds, and actions, ideally, within a community of prayer.  And The Lord’s Prayer is central to our tradition.  It is imbedded in the heart of our Eucharistic Liturgy, right before the breaking of the bread. It connects us to Jesus’ words as we prepare to connect with Jesus in the Eucharist.

Here at All Saints’ we continue with our daily weekday liturgies of the Mass and Evening Prayer, and it is one of the strengths of our parish.  I invite you to come whenever possible. It is an intimate and faithful ministry of prayer. I’ve entered into the rhythm of leading 6:00 Mass and Evening Prayer three days a week, and it has become one of the heartfelt joys of being here as Interim.

What I take from our readings today is that God actively wants a prayer relationship with us. 

Our reading from Hosea, though disturbing in its mention of whoredom, shows how in ancient days, God turned away from the people of Israel because like an unfaithful spouse, they turned away from God.  But, as we know, God did not turn away for good.  That is part of the Good News.

Our image of God can remain childish like the gumball machine, or as a judgmental figure, but the prophets show us an active God who wants to be in relationship with us, and waits for us to knock at all times of our lives, the sunny days, and those that are the most foggy and cold.  God presence is with us in all that is good, and loving, and self-giving.  We see the face of God in Christ’s self-giving on the Cross, in the Eucharist and in the face of each other in community.

In our passage from Luke, Jesus teaches us that we are always learning to pray.  Prayer is not a one-time lesson, it’s a lifelong process of learning to knock, to listen, to be available to God in relationship.

The disciples’ question, teach us to pray, is itself a prayer we can take with us this morning, Lord, teach us to pray as you would like us to right now, for who we are now, and what our needs are today.  Help us to open ourselves to your presence.  Help us to pray.  Amen.

A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, July 21, 2019

A Sermon preached by the Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the 6th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 11, July 21, 2019

Back in March, shortly after my Mom passed away, I was driving home from San Francisco, through the Tube, into Alameda, when I was pulled over by the Alameda police for looking at my iphone. My infraction was “distracted driving.” After that ticket, I think I’ve learned my lesson. But from glancing over at my fellow drivers on my commute, and seeing people walking into the street looking down at their phones, I know that I’m not alone in living a distracted existence. 

We are a distracted people these days, multi-tasking, following GPS directions, answering emails, texting, trying to get three things done at once in real time. And, as I reflected on why I was so distracted that day I got the ticket, I realized part of it was probably looking for ways to distract myself from the growing reality of my Mom’s death.  I just wanted to keep moving.

Martha and Mary lived in a much simpler world, but as we see here in our Gospel reading today, distraction is not just a 21st century thing. 

This is the only appearance of Mary and Martha in the Gospel of Luke. They show up again in the Gospel of John when Jesus raises their brother Lazarus from the dead. And later, towards the end of John, we see Jesus at table with them again, and it is Mary who kneels again at Jesus’ feet and anoints them with the precious ointment.

Hospitality was a central value in the Jewish home.  Think of Abraham and Sarah preparing a meal t for the three young angels who came to visit; think of that other story unique to Luke, of the Prodigal Son.  The Father slaughters the fatted calf for the prodigal son to welcome him home. 

In today’s passage we see Jesus enter “Martha’s home.”  This was unusual because men were considered the head of the household.  It was also unusual for a man (Jesus) to enter into a house headed by a woman.  Jesus as the guest sits down and Mary sits at his feet and listens.  This is unusual behavior for a woman of that time; she was acting like a man to interact on same social level as a man.  So when Martha reacts as she does, this would seem totally reasonable to a first century audience. Isn’t Mary supposed to be in the kitchen?

It’s also unusual for a text of this time to refer to women by name.  Luke is careful to say, “a woman named Martha, and a woman named Mary.”  They are not anonymous sisters, but real people with real names.  We can read the passage as Jesus’ affirmation of women’s humanity.

These six little verses speak to our human proclivity for distracting ourselves while ignoring the deeper, more important issues, including faith and spiritual growth.

The Good Samaritan and The Prodigal Son, and today’s story are unique to Luke. In the Prodigal Son and today’s story we see contentious sibling interaction.  The older son in the Prodigal Son says, “Don’t you care that I’ve done everything I’m supposed to do? and you go and kill the fatted calf for that no-good younger brother.  The Father says, “yes, but he’s returned, and I love him.  That’s the most important thing.” The older son sounds a lot like Martha when she says to Jesus, “Don’t you care that my sister is making me do all the work?” Like the older son in the Prodigal Son she’s missing the point because she’s focusing on herself and fulfilling the societal role that she’s supposed to fill. It distracts her from what’s important:  welcoming Jesus, as a guest into her heart, and his call to grow closer to God, and to love.

The Church has interpreted this story many different ways, often contrasting Martha’s active ministry of hospitality with Mary’s more contemplative approach, and sometimes saying that one was better than the other.  In popular culture women, especially, say they’re either a Martha or a Mary.  It’s tempting to set up a dualistic viewpoint.

Being a preacher of the Anglican tradition, I’m going to say it’s a “both/and” situation.  We need both Martha and Mary’s kind of energy in the church. 

The Martha and Mary story also intrigues me as a student of the Enneagram.  The Enneagram is a framework for looking at personality and spiritual growth. You take the Enneagram test, much like the Myers-Briggs test, and receive a “type” but the Enneagram expects that you will grow over time towards the healthier qualities of another. As a Six on the Enneagram, I’m prone to worry and anxiety, but my Sixes aim to grow towards a Nine, which is more serene and confident. I see Martha being challenged to grow towards Mary’s strengths.

I see some of the Six in the older son and in Martha. They show a resentment that others are not conforming to societal rules as well as they do.  And the Father in the Prodigal Son, and Jesus in our story today, challenge them to see what is important:  love.

Jesus says to Martha, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”

The word “distracted” has a special meaning here in Greek.   It means “to pull away.”  It’s the same Greek word used in the Good Samaritan, when the priest and the Levite walk on by.  They’re “distracted” or “pulled away” by their duties. 

In our lives, it’s not just our smartphone, that’s causing us to be distracted and pulled away, and worried.  It’s the state of our country, which we see echoed in the reading from Amos about a society corrupted.  Then there’s the cost of living in the Bay Area, and perhaps the health of the church?  These are just my own worries and distractions, I’m sure you have your own. 

Jesus tells Martha to chill out.  “There is need of only one thing.  Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.”  He challenges Martha to raise her eyes above her distractions and worries, and move closer to him, and to love.

This week, I hear Jesus saying, “chill out” to us at All Saints’. This is especially important during an Interim time.  We need to slow down, put aside our worries and distractions, and sit at Jesus’ feet for awhile. We have important work to do this fall as we begin the self-study process. 

On Tuesday I met via Zoom with Canon Abbott and Leslie Nipps who were here last year at this time working with the Vestry and with the parish.  Both of them were complimentary of the work you all did last summer, and the mature conversations they heard in the small group meetings.  They encouraged us to take the time to “go deep” and do more conversational work together in the coming months before starting the new traditional Rector Search Process. 

There are some of us who are worried about moving forward as quickly as possible on the new rector search, and I understand that concern. But we have some time built in because we must renovate the Rectory before calling a new Rector. This is a great opportunity to take our time.

When you plant something new, the ground must be dug up and turned over.  Not to dig up muck for muck’s sake at all.  But to prepare the groundwork for new life, and new growth for the future.  And we have great buried treasure here to uncover as well.

The Good News is I hear Jesus calling us to choose the better part along this journey of transition.  We are called to spiritual growth from where we were a year ago, to a new place of maturity and openness. 

After the 10:00 Mass we will talk more about the overall Interim process with Denise Obando. It’s going to be a very positive time because you all are attentive and care deeply about this community of faith.  In the coming months, we will continue our usual liturgical cycle, and we will do the important work of moving many administrative pieces forward.  Most of all, we need your participation. And we need to tune out the worries and distractions that so easily “pull us away,” from “the better part.” I’m looking forward to sitting at the feet of Jesus for the next few months with you all.  Amen.

A Sermon for the 5th Sunday after Pentecost, July 14, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote, Interim Rector, on the 4th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 10, July 14, 2019

We know this story of the Good Samaritan.  Hospitals are named after the Good Samaritan, and there’s even a Roadside Assistance service for Recreational Vehicles called Good Sam. But do we know it?  What is Jesus the storyteller telling us today, in 2019? Two themes stand out for me this time around:  Borders and Brokenness.

Borders have been in the news a lot lately. Chris Webber preached about borders last Sunday, and it’s worth continuing. The Southern Border of the US with Mexico, the border between North Korea and South Korea, the border between truth and falsehood, the border between the rule of law and authoritarianism, the border between love and hate. 

In our passage from Luke, Jesus is talking about a kind of border that was important to Jews of his time:  the line that marked whether you were being a good Jew and following the Law of Moses, or not.

In today’s passage, Jesus meets a lawyer who asks him, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Lawyer in this context means an expert in the religious law, sometimes known as a scribe, rather than what we think of as an attorney.

Jesus knows his Scriptures.  He asks the Lawyer, the scriptural expert, “what is written in the Law?” Both of them are thinking of the Shema, the verse from Deuteronomy that’s foundational to Judaism, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself,” and Jesus says, “you have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.”

The lawyer shoots back a clarifying question for the ages: “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus’ response is the story of the Good Samaritan.

There was a clearcut border in Jesus’ society:  Samaritans and Jews didn’t mix.  To Jews, Samaritans were the “other,” branch of Judaism who did not worship in the Temple, and they were all considered “unclean.”  So when we call our hero, “The Good Samaritan,” it’s ironic because to Jews, Samaritans were not considered “good,” and so this particular one was called out as “The GOOD Samaritan.”

Jesus says the Samaritan passing by, “was moved with pity.” The Samaritan walking to Jericho crosses the border into human kindness.

This morning I’ll ask the lawyer’s question, “who is my neighbor,” in our world.  Our neighbors to the south of us in Central America are fleeing for our lives, and we are not being Good Samaritans.  These people are refugees, not criminals. The lawyer in our passage today would not even question the necessity of treating refugees well; hospitality to foreigners was a well-settled precedent in the Law of Moses.

Yesterday I saw a video clip of our VP looking with distain at hundreds of young men behind chain link fences who’ve been detained for 40 days without showers or other humane conditions, in an overcrowded U.S. detention facility. He turned his head, and offered no sense of compassion or kindness.

If we learn anything from today’s story it’s that Jesus calls us to compassion, and to care for other people, not put them in cages, not turn away from their pain, especially if we call ourselves Christians.

My colleague at Grace Cathedral, Rev. Ellen Clarke-King wrote a petition that asked fellow clergy and other mandated reporters to report the Border Control’s treatment of children as child abuse.  I was happy to sign along with 1,400 other Episcopal clergy and mandated reporters.  As Christians, we are all mandated reporters called to witness as the lawyer in the story, and keep asking, “who are our neighbors?”  Jesus teaches us that we’re all neighbors to each other, we’re all on this earth together.

Another border in Jesus’ time was the border of brokenness. Illness, disability, mental illness, all made someone broken and “unclean” under the Law of Moses.  This was a reason why the priest and the Levite pass by the injured man in the story, they are observing the border between themselves and a man made unclean by injury.  Corpses were especially unclean.  He could have been dead, so they look the other way.

It’s important to remember that throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus healing everyone, even the most “unclean” people around: lepers, people possessed by demons, the blind, the deaf, and the lame.  I think we take it for granted because that’s what Jesus does.  But he crossed a very big border in his own culture by touching these people let alone healing them.  Once you were unclean you were “broken.”  Jesus healing ministry shows us that the “broken,” like the man lying in the ditch at the side of the road to Jericho are our neighbors. 

Here at All Saints’ we have continued to serve our neighbors in need through the HACS brunch program on Saturday mornings.  This is a real strength of All Saints’, and we need to support it and work towards renewing its ministry for the long-term.

Let’s pivot for a moment to our reading this morning from Amos.  The prophet Amos calls out the kingdom of Israel because they were headed in the wrong direction. In a vision, Amos saw a plumb line, a measurement of sound construction, that was crooked.

To my mind the plumb line, or measurement of sound government in the United States– that we can expect a level of more governance— is out of whack.  This week I’ve been dismayed by the Trump Administration’s attempt to dismantle the Affordable Care Act, yet again.  There’s a disturbing undercurrent in our country right now that sick people deserve to be sick because it’s their own fault.  In other words, they’re “broken” and do not deserve healthcare.

It’s dangerous because it ignores the traditional understanding that insurance that benefits everyone who participates, and the more people who participate the better because it spreads the risk. 

I think this has something to say about the Good Samaritan story.  We see a story about attending to and caring about others.  We’re supposed to emulate the Good Samaritan and extend ourselves to care for others, and see ourselves as members of a society who values the decency of caring for each other.

And, I think the story is also about confronting our own “brokenness” and mortality, and our need for healing.  The story creates a vision of greater mutuality

Sometime during our lifetime we will be the man at the side of the road, beaten up by something:  a pre-existing condition, cancer, an accident, divorce, mental illness, grief, or plain old aging.  We will all need help from others, through medical care, through the personal care and love of other people.  

We also see a foreshadowing of Jesus’ brokenness in the Good Samaritan story. Jesus will shortly be the one who’s stripped, beaten, and crucified.  Jesus dies a young man on the Cross, not in comfortable surroundings as an old man.  He becomes one of us in his brokenness on the Cross.

In the words of the Eucharistic Prayer we hear the words, “This is my Body, which is broken for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.” Jesus offers himself to be broken for us, and affirms the holiness of brokenness as part of the human condition.

The Good News is that Jesus is there for us.  In a sense, He is the Good Samaritan, crossing borders to enter into our lives, and offer us healing.  Perhaps the Good News is that the church is the Inn, where we can accept that healing and receive Christ’s body and blood broken and offered for us, and share it with others.  The Resurrection is the Good News that our brokenness leads to new life in Christ.

The Good News is that Jesus cares that we care about each other, like a parent who cares about how their children care for each other. We are all children of God and we are all broken members of the human family in need to healing, and we are all called to love in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

A Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 30, 2019

A Sermon preached by The Reverend Beth Lind Foote for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost, June 30, 2019

Happy Pride Weekend!  This morning I came over the Bay Bridge and looked for the Pink Triangle.  There was too much fog, but I knew it was there.

One evening last week I crossed Waller Street to talk to our neighbors who were painting a banner for the Pride parade. It was for the Harvey Milk Democrats, and it said Stonewall 1969. They are young; Stonewall was a historical event to them.  It prompted me to reflect this week on Pride, and how it’s affected the world for good. Pride celebrates courage and authenticity, love, and acceptance, and creating a new world that brings those values into reality.  I wonder how these values of PRIDE shine a light on our readings for today, and for us at All Saints?

Elijah is one of the most prominent characters in the Old Testament; people of Jesus’ time thought that he might be Elijah returned.  Elijah had a showdown with 400 idolatrous priests of Baal, and called down fire upon them, and confronted the powerful Queen Jezebel and King Ahab.  In last week’s reading, we saw him taken care of by angels in the wilderness. Today we see Elijah rolling up his mantle and using it to part the Jordan River, in much the same way as Moses parted the Red Sea. Elijah is at the end of his life. He has been mentoring Elisha to take on his powerful mantle of prophecy. 

Elijah knows that he will soon be taken up into heaven, and he asks the younger Elisha “what may I do for you, before I am taken from you?”  Elisha says, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”  Elijah says, “You have asked for a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.” 

As Elijah is swept up by the whirlwind, Elisha sees the chariot of fire, and he receives the double portion of Elijah’s spirit.  He takes on the mantle of Elijah as prophet, and when he reaches the Jordan, he is able to use the mantle to part it like Elijah did.

We are most familiar with the image of the chariot of fire in this passage, but the heart of the Elijah story today is the transition between the two prophets, Elijah and Elisha.  Elijah has completed his ministry, and is passing on the mantle (literally) to Elisha. I see a lot of hope in this story for us at All Saints, and for our wider society. 

Like Elisha, we are here today at All Saints because of those who came before us, built this beautiful place,  and created a spirit of inclusion, generosity, and service, that are hallmarks of this community. One of our tasks in the Interim period is to ask, how we can be Elijah to Elisha?  How can we pass on our mantle of ministry?  In a neighborhood that has embraced many of the things we have nurtured, like LGBTQ rights, how do we as a church renew and pass on our ministry in today’s changed world?

In our Gospel passage we see another kind of mentorship: between Jesus and his followers, including us. Jesus’ close disciples, James and John, have been with him for a long time, yet when a Samaritan village ignores Jesus, these two brothers live up to their fiery reputation as “the sons of thunder.” They ask Jesus, “Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 

Jesus rebukes them because raining fire on people is about the most un-Christ like thing they could do.  But I think this episode shows us how easy it is for people to break into factions, and how quick we are to label another group “the other.” Substitute any ethnicity, religious group, or sexual orientation you would like in the place of “Samaritan “and you can see how not much has changed in the world since Jesus’ time.

But Jesus pushes against that natural human response. He challenges his followers, and us, to grow in courage and love, and see all people as members of the human family. In our world where immigrants and refugees have been turned into the “Other”, Jesus’ teaching of love, which is also the teaching of Pride, speaks profoundly this morning.

I had a very interesting experience this weekend being “the other” myself, and it was instructive because I am not often in that position. Our oldest niece was married in the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City. Her parents are high up in the Mormon Church, and she and all of her siblings are devoutly Mormon.  My husband and I and my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were about the only “gentiles” in attendance.

Of course, we could not attend the marriage sealing in the Salt Lake Temple, only Mormons in good standing can do that, but we cheered with the larger family when the couple emerged from the Temple and we danced at the reception with our many our nieces and nephews, without champagne.

Three years ago our very Mormon sister and brother-in-law came to our daughter’s same sex wedding.  I realized that must have seemed as just as different to them, and they might have felt like “the other.” Though there are theological and cultural differences between us, we love each other dearly. Over the weekend, I heard anew Jesus’ challenge to love as he has loved us.

We also hear in this passage that Jesus has “set his face to go to Jerusalem.”  He knows he must give himself as an offering of love. 

Jesus is about to push the boundaries; he knows that’s what it takes to move the world forward.  He says in our reading today, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”  Jesus challenges us to take up his mantle and do the work we are given to do in his name.

There’s an article in the New York Times this week about the first Pride Parade in 1970 in New York, a year after the first anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising. The first Pride Parade was a protest march of LGBTQ people walking through the streets of Manhattan simply owning who they were. Those who marched set their faces to go to Jerusalem. They could have lost their jobs, or been disowned by family for being there, but they marched.  And as they proceeded up the street, more people stepped off the sidewalk and joined in.  They marched for their own authenticity and they marched in the name of love.

Our reading from St. Paul’s Letter to the Galatians speaks directly to how we need to live into this kind of transformational approach.

Paul writes, “For freedom Christ has set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.  For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters…For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 

Paul translated the Gospel to the Gentile culture of his time. He talks about the flesh as if everything about it is corrupt. This, of course, led to centuries of Christian dualistic theology that the body was bad and the spirit was pure. He says, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.  If we live by the Spirit let us also be guided by the Spirit.”

I’m going to call out St. Paul this morning.  Paul equates Christ Jesus’ crucifixion as a dismissal of the body in favor of the spirit but the Incarnation is a deeper truth than Paul’s teaching. 

One of the gifts of Pride is a celebration of the body.  Our bodies are good, and, as Christians, we believe we are created in God’s image and redeemed by Christ who came to live in a body like one of us. The body, including our “passions and desires” are holy because Christ became human.

Paul celebrates the “fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I find these fruits of the spirit most evident when we do not punish our body, but accept and honor who we are as body and spirit together, as a beloved creation of God.

I don’t often step off the lectionary, but this morning I am inspired to go back to last week’s lesson from St. Paul’s letter to the Galations: “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.”

Amen.