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Contradictions in the Wilderness

4th Sunday in Lent 2018

Rebecca Gordon, lay preacher

In the name of the one, holy and living God. Amen.

“And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19

Today I’d like to talk about contradictions.

Monseñor_Romero_1979
Saint Óscar Romero

It’s the fourth Sunday in Lent, the fourth Sunday in our journey through the hard emptiness of wilderness to the even harder place of the cross. We know what’s coming, and yet we trudge along anyway, in the crazy hope that something waits for us on the other side of that cross. In the same way, we’re told that the Israelites traveled 40 years, in the crazy hope that they, or their children, or their children’s children would see that promised land. And sometimes, like us they grew tired, frightened, and angry.

My partner Jan and I won’t be with St. John’s on Good Friday evening. As many of have heard me say, I’m a nice Jewish girl who goes to an Episcopal church. (Maybe it’s only half-true, at least according to 23 & Me, who recently informed me that I’m exactly 49.9% Ashkenazi Jew. I figure that other 0.1% on my Papa’s side is the Mongol he always resembled a little bit.)

In any case, this is one of those years when Eastertide overlaps with Pesach — or in English, Passover — and Friday is the first night of Passover. Jan and I will be sitting, as we have for the last 30-odd years, at a table full of women, eating symbolic foods and retelling the Passover story from the book of Exodus. We’ll remember that we were slaves in Egypt, and that therefore we must never allow anyone to be a slave again. We’ll remind ourselves that none of us are free until all of us are free. The exodus story appears in several places in the Hebrew bible. And in the book of Exodus there’s also a part of the story where, as in today’s passage from Numbers, the Israelites get angry and frustrated with Moses. “Were there no graves in Egypt,” they ask him, “that you had to bring us out into the desert to die?” The women around the table often pause at the at that point in the story to talk about the hardship of pilgrimage, about leadership and its costs, and about the risks of accepting a leader — whether it be Moses, Black Lives Matter, or Monseñor Oscar Romero of El Salvador.

The way of the wilderness is hard. Harder still, for the women who sit at the Pesach table every year is accepting the contradictions buried in God’s liberation of the Hebrews. Sure, we Hebrews get to enter the land of Canaan, and it is indeed full of milk and honey, but it turns out that it’s also full of people who were already living there. Told from a Canaanite’s point of view, the exodus is not exactly a story of liberation. It is not just the story that lifted up Harriet Tubman, leader of the Underground Railroad, whose people called her “Moses.” As the Native American theologian Robert Allen Warrior has written, for the Canaanites, the exodus story is a history of massacre and occupation. Liberation and occupation–opposites entwined in the same human history. What are we to make of this contradiction? I’ll come back to that in a bit.

Along our Lenten way through the wilderness at St. John’s, we’re given the weekly lectionary readings as signposts. But sometimes—and I’d count today as one of those times—the signposts seem to be pointing in opposite directions. It’s confusing out here in the wilderness. Take today’s readings, for example. Are we supposed to save ourselves through good deeds? Or by recognizing that our deeds alone cannot save us?

On the one hand, we hear in Numbers that the Hebrews performed evil deeds. They treated Moses badly and were punished with the bites of poisonous snakes. But then, as so often happens in these Hebrew bible stories, God relents. (One of the joys of being Jewish is we’re used to arguing with The Divine, and on occasion even winning the argument.) In this case, God declares that bitten pilgrims can be cured, if they will turn their gaze on the bronze viper Moses has affixed to his staff. Just as they have been condemned to a painful death because of what they did, they can also be cured through their own actions, through something they do.

But what is it they have to do?  They must recognize that they cannot save themselves by themselves. They must look to the visible, physical sign of God’s presence in the snake on the staff. That willingness to look, to recognize The Divine in the world, is a kind of faith. It is the faith that confesses (from the Latin for speaking “with faith”) that we cannot liberate ourselves by ourselves.

Most biblical scholars don’t think that St. Paul himself wrote the letter to the Ephesians, but the passage we heard today is very much in keeping with one of Paul’s central messages — that we are justified not by our works but by faith. “For,” says the letter’s author, “by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God–not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” We cannot save ourselves through our good works.

But really, why not? After all, how bad are we really? Think about St. John’s: we house the Gubbio project so that five days a week people can sleep here in safety. We make room for the Julian Pantry, so people can feed their families (whether directly by eating the food we provide or by selling it on the street–we don’t inquire too deeply!) We stand as witnesses to police and ICE violence. We’re basically pretty good people in a pretty good congregation that proudly hangs a Black Lives Matter banner on the side of our church. We do our best to live out our faith, to be the kind of people the Letter to the Ephesians describes: “For we are what God has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Lent — I always come up with two contradictory ideas. On one hand, like the folks at St. John’s, very few human beings are truly evil. Mostly we do our best, and sometimes it’s close to good enough. Certainly not deserving of the condemnation mentioned in John’s gospel today. Few of us are big enough to be truly terrible, to deserve to be cast out into the outer darkness. And yet. And yet. When you consider humanity as whole, it does seem to be true that — as the Rite I version of the general confession has it—“There is no health in us.” We torture each other. We slaughter each other in the millions and turn millions more into refugees, literal wanderers in the wilderness. We enslave each other and the planet, all for greed. There is no health in us. We are not so bad, and we are a scourge. How can both things be true?

And this brings me back to the contradiction I mentioned earlier. I don’t think it’s an accident that liberation and oppression are so often opposite sides of the same human-minted coin. That truth is implicit in the kind of creature we are. And that is why, as the authors of Ephesians and Numbers tell us, as our namesake evangelist John tells us, our health depends on turning and looking to the signs of grace that God offers us. For John, that sign is the person of Jesus.

When I decided I wanted to go to seminary, I went over to CDSP, the Episcopal school at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. I talked to a professor there about how I understand the Incarnation — the physical presence of God incarnated (made flesh) in humanity. “I think the divine is incarnated in human history,” I told him, “whenever human beings come together to struggle for justice.”

“Yes! Yes!” he said. “And I think you’d be really isolated here.” So I went across the street to the Unitarians, because they don’t care what outlandish thing you think, as long as you do it respectfully. Over the years I’ve become more orthodox, more interested in the actual person I secretly call “the Jesus guy.” But I still believe what I told that professor that day.

This past week, the Vatican announced that it has cleared the way to recognize the sainthood of Oscar Romero, the archbishop of San Salvador. (It’s more than a little ironic that this should come just as the Trump administration is planning to end Temporary Protective Status for people who have come to this country to escape violence in El Salvador.) You may remember that Romero was an ordinary, relatively conservative Salvadoran priest, who, through his willingness to look clearly at the lives of poor people in his country changed his understanding completely. Though repentance (which is the Lenten task of all of us) he acknowledged that there was no health his country: a country (supported by our own taxes, by the way) that used its military and police to enforce the power and wealth of a very few families by torturing and terrorizing poor people.

Romero could have led a safe and comfortable bishop’s and then archbishop’s life, enjoying the perks that a accrue to a prince of the church. But he repented — re-thought–his own and his country’s situation. Romero, snake-bitten in the desert, chose to gaze at the visible sign of the incarnation. He looked full on at poor people organizing for their own liberation, and in so doing, he allowed God to liberate him.

It cost him his life. Almost 38 years ago, on March 24, 1980, an agent of the US-backed right wing death squads murdered Oscar Romero while he was saying mass. But Romero, and we, too, as we accompany the Jesus guy on his way to the cross this Lent had one more contradiction to encounter. The cross is the most glorious contradiction of them all, that very real and tortured death that–whatever you believe about the actual Resurrection 2,000 years ago–leads to the life of the Divine within and throughout creation. Or as Romero said in his homily on the day he died, “Those who surrender to the service of the poor through the love of Christ, will live like the grains of the wheat that dies. It only appears to die. If it were not to die, it would remain a solitary grain. The harvest comes because of the grain that dies” and rises again in the people’s Easter.

San Oscar Romero, presente.

Amen.

Epiphany 2018

Matthew 2:1-12
The Rev’d Richard Smith, Ph.D.
[Watch a video of this sermon.]

he qi epiphany-themagi

My last sermon at St. John’s…

Maybe you’ve heard the story of the crotchety old priest who announced his departure to his people. He’d been at that parish far too long. He didn’t like them, and they didn’t care much for him either. His last day on the job finally came, and he walked into the pulpit and said, “Well, this is my last day. I’m leaving. I know you’re sorry to hear this, and you hate to see me go. But you’ll just have to accept it as the Lord’s will.” And with that, he returned to his seat.

At that point, the music director stood and said, “Let us now stand and sing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”

Well, before you crank up the organ and join in the chorus, maybe I can say a few words about today’s gospel.

In the Christmas stories we’ve heard these last few weeks, the characters who have it the easiest are the shepherds. In their journey to the newborn child, they have a chatty angel lighting up the night sky with a hallelujah chorus, and sending them joyfully racing to where the child is, with directions that are clear and easy to follow.

But here at St. John’s that’s not how it works. Our path to the newborn child is usually not so clear and direct. Around here, we muddle. Around here, we’re not shepherds. Here we are magi.

It’s the Feast of Epiphany, and we remember the story of how the magi found the child by putting one foot in front of the other, not always sure where they’re going, trying now this way now that, with only a remote star in the night sky to guide them. Sometimes that star was fiercely bright, but on cloudy nights you could barely see it.

But they kept going. Together.

As they traveled along, their camels bleating and bellowing, maybe they’d talk of cabbages and kings, share stories, an occasional glass of wine, a few songs. Sometimes maybe they’d argue, ask strangers for directions, hope for the best.

At one point, they meet King Herod, a deeply insecure man, desperately grasping for power, known for his abuse of women and his cruelty toward children, for his inflated self-image and for driving the poor among his people into greater poverty while he and his friends got richer still. (I’m talking about King Herod here, by the way, and not our current president. It’s easy to get the two mixed up. :-))

But, anyway, these magi do not follow Herod’s decree. He tells them that once they have found the child, they are to return to him with details about where the child is. But their hearts tell them something different: that doing so would put this new child in great danger. So, in one of the first recorded acts of civil disobedience in the Christian scriptures, they go home another way.

During these last five years, we have been magi, putting one foot in front of the other.

  • We’ve watched our kids grow: Elena Claire and Audrey, Harper Dandridge, Rhys Monroe, Ben and Pilar and David and Iris, Isaac and Hannah.
  • And we’ve buried our dead: Dennis Turner, Barbara Colt, Nico, Amilcar, Alex Nieto, Luis Gongora Pat, Dennis Gould, Judy Eastwood.
  • We’ve welcomed new members and said farewell to some who moved away.
  • We’ve supported each other through bad falls, heart surgeries, cancer, grieving the loss of parents and a spouse of many years, a kidney transplant, the physical challenges of aging.
  • We’ve gathered many times around this table: activists and professors; monks and computer nerds; black, white, and brown; straight and gay and everything in-between; nonagenarians, millennials, and babes in arms; middle class and homeless; most of us happily clean and sober, some of us three sheets to the wind.Each with our own stories of love and loss, each with our own ragged edges. How did we all manage to get here?

It’s how we roll here. We are magi who, through all of life’s rhythms, keep putting one foot in front of the other, focused on a remote star in the night sky. This is how we find the Christ child.

  • The one who would later say, “Blessed, blessed, blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for justice;
  • Who would throw aside all the laws of ritual purity and touch the untouchables: the leper, the lame, and the blind;
  • Who would sit at table with those deemed shameful and repulsive, and by eating with them, render them beautiful, acceptable, outcasts no more

Through these very ordinary rhythms, our journey as magi, something happens, almost imperceptibly, inside us. Our hearts change. And, like magi, we, too, find ourselves offering gifts.

  • Some of you have shared your voices in the choir, given your assistance in the altar party, arranged flowers, cleaned this space and arranged the vestments all to make our liturgies more beautiful.
  • Others have generously given their time and expertise on the Bishop’s Committee, as parish treasurer, as delegates to the deanery
  • Several of us have gone on nightwalks along some of the more violent streets of our neighborhood, pausing at times to talk and pray with the families and friends of those killed by gun violence and to call for peace.
  • We continue to support young people fleeing the violence in their own struggling countries in Central America, and, much to our great joy, we’ve celebrated Allan’s baptism.
  • Some of us have come on Saturday mornings to the Julian Pantry to distribute food to seniors and parents struggling to feed their kids.
  • Some have headed to Mission Police Station to spend time with the Frisco Five in their hunger strike calling for an end to police brutality, and demanding justice for Amilcar.
  • Some have gone to rural villages in Nicaragua with El Porvenir to help people there get clean, safe water.
  • Others have helped neighborhood kids through school through the amazing work of Mission Graduates.
  • Some of us have stood outside Senator Feinstein’s office with undocumented leaders demanding simply that our government stop tearing their families apart,
    or at the Federal Building silently calling for an end to the longest war in our nation’s history.

Along the way we’ve discovered something about ourselves, perhaps to our surprise: That we, with all our loose ends, can matter. That our own wild and precious lives can make a difference.

These things we do are part of a magi’s journey that leads to the child, to Jesus who, as Mother Teresa used to say, often comes to us in a distressing disguise. We are magi. It’s what we do.

Our patron St. John came to know this in his own way–that we draw close to God by loving our lives, and by the people and creatures of this world.

One part of our tradition says John was the one our scriptures call “the beloved disciple” who, when all the other men had fled, stood with the women at the foot of Jesus’ cross. The one who, when the disciples reclined at table, would lean back and rest his head on Jesus’ chest.

And there, in that moment, in that privileged and intimate place, he would listen to Jesus’ heart, learn what made him tick, what made him happy, and what made him sad; what made him angry and what made him laugh.

John leans against the heart of Jesus, and from that amazing place, he looks out at the world, seeing it all now with the eyes of Jesus.

When I started as Vicar five years ago, I had a suspicion that the same grace offered to our patron John was also offered to us in this community that bears his name. Five years later, I’m even more convinced of this: that you in this community of St. John, like your patron, are especially invited to listen to the heart of Jesus and from there to look out at this neighborhood and world, becoming the hands and feet of Jesus in this time and place.

And now it is time for you once more to put one foot in front of the other; your journey continues. And in the days ahead, as you, magis that you are, go through all your ordinary rhythms–

  • watching your kids grow,
  • and burying your dead,
  • and welcoming new members;
  • and marrying off your friends
  • after all your coffee hour chats about cabbages and kings,
  • the ministries you do together,
  • all your triumphs and setbacks,
  • your laughter,
  • your fights,
  • your joys

–through this entire journey, one question will remain: Through it all, have your hearts, like that of your patron, like that of magi, become more in tune with the heart of Jesus: full of more joy, more compassion, more life, more love. Yes, more love.

My brothers and sisters, I love you all very much. Blessings on your new beginning. Amen.

 

 

Angels 101

he qi annunciation

Christmas 2017
The Rev’d Richard Smith, Ph.D.

It’s Christmas, so I should tell you what you need to know about angels. Think of it as Angels 101.

They can appear out of nowhere. Angels will scare the hell out of you, deliver a revelation that blows your mind, then suddenly depart, leaving you scratching your head and wondering, “OK, What was that all about? Can I trust this revelation? Or was it just the pizza I ate last night? Do I build my life on what I have received here? Or maybe I should just forget this ever happened, go back to business as usual.

A story. In 1914, the guns of August sounded, sending Europe into war. As Christmas drew near, the Pope called for a cease-fire. The generals replied: “Impossible!” The German High Command told their troops, “Let your hearts beat to God during the coming season, but keep your fists on the enemy.”

But on sundown on Christmas Eve, the troops did not heed the generals. The firing stopped. Soldiers on both sides came out of the trenches, sang carols, exchanged gifts. On Christmas Day, they ate together and played soccer. Then, as evening fell, they embraced each other and said good-bye. Christmas was over.

The next day it was war as usual. The vision was gone, the angel had departed as it were, and anger and isolation returned, and more bloodshed, more families back home in tears.

It was a one-time event; it never happened again. A young English soldier wrote home that the Germans were friendly, “jolly good fellows.” At the end of his letter, he stated simply the puzzling thing about that Christmas truce: “Both sides have started firing and are enemies again. Strange it all seems, doesn’t it?”

Strange it all seems, doesn’t it? This strangeness is a door to what some call the miracle of Christmas. For a moment, this young soldier glimpsed a truth beneath everyday logic, a Word deeper than all the other words, a bond with the enemy soldiers that ran beneath all the overwhelming political conflicts and struggles. “Strange it all seems, doesn’t it?”

When such conflicting visions and words alternate rapidly, we become confused. If I say that the Christmas Day communion the soldiers experienced is what is most true, then I’ll be at odds with the majority of people in the world around me, as strange as a Christmas truce. But if I choose the popular line that war is both inevitable and endless, then the Christmas truce becomes a mere blip on the radar screen, a freak occurrence. I may be puzzled or amazed by it for a moment, but then I just go back to business as usual.

Ultimately, whenever a deeper truth reveals itself, we are at a crossroads. We can ignore it and continue with the everyday tasks that claim our attention–holding down our job, caring for loved ones, shopping for groceries, walking the dog–or we can open the gift that has been given, ponder what it means for us.

We find this to be true all through the scriptures. Again and again, as people watch what Jesus does and says, they have to decide what it will mean for them. Some say, “Wow! Did you see what that guy did?! Amazing!” Then they turn around and go back to business as usual. Others shrug their shoulders and say, “OK, well, that was weird.” And they turn and go back to business as usual.

But there are others who bypass the amazement and move to a deeper level. They ponder what the revelation means, and what implications it may have for them. Among these ponderers is Mary, the mother of Jesus.

When the angel first announces she is to be the mother of the Messiah, Luke says she deliberates. She does not immediately answer Yes, does not just blindly obey. She puts the Creator of heaven and earth on hold, carefully considers whether to trust such a preposterous revelation, whether she can build her life on it. Mary is a woman who thinks. She deliberates.

And once she does finally say yes–to God’s great joy and relief–then the pondering begins. What will this mean for her, her relationship with her soon-to-be husband, her family and her community and her people? Are there things she must now set aside, or new things she must now do or do differently? What are the implications of a revelation such as this? Mary ponders what it will mean for her.

And later, as this evening’s gospel reports, after all that happens on this night–the emperor’s census, the perilous journey to Bethlehem, the failed attempt to find lodging, the giving birth in a homeless encampment, the report from scruffy shepherds that an angel had appeared to them, the tiny child in her arms gazing into her eyes–after all this, Luke says “Mary treasured all these things, and pondered them in her heart.” Mary is not merely amazed at it all, she also ponders.

I suspect those of us who are LGBT have a unique insight into pondering.

Because we’ve received a revelation. It’s about who we are at a profound level. In light of this revelation, we deliberate: Do we embrace this revelation? Can we trust it, build a life on it?

And if we do we embrace it, then the pondering goes deeper: What do I do now? Do I tell my family and friends, my colleagues, my boss, my landlord? How will I handle their range of reactions? Should I let myself fall in love? How will I not only survive but also stand against a culture that isn’t always sure of our right to exist? We LGBT folks know how to ponder.

And this feast in which God becomes flesh, this, too, is a moment for pondering. A revelation has been given to us about the very heart of the universe. It’s about Jesus, whom one writer calls the Compassion of God.

  • Jesus, who doesn’t cling to his divine power but becomes a fragile child, gazing up with unspeakable trust into the face of his mother;
  • Who later says, “Blessed are the poor, the gentle, those who mourn, and those who hunger and thirst for justice;
  • Who touches the lame, the crippled, and the blind, goes among the outcasts where love has not yet arrived, and by eating with them, reminds them of their own loveliness and thereby renders them lovely.
  • Who ultimately dies alone, rejected and despised;

Jesus, the Compassion of God.

So much to ponder here. How do we explain this everlasting God becoming an immigrant, crossing the border into our history, sharing fully our moments of love and laughter, our pleasures and delights, our pains and struggles and disappointments, the ups and downs of our days? How to explain this immigrant God?

Tonight’s revelation is mind-blowing. It runs so completely counter to the logic of the world, the logic of Wall Street and national defense programs, the logic that urges us to climb to the top at all costs, acquire more power, more money, more respect, and fame.

How do we account for the downward movement of God on this holy night? We have so much to ponder.

And what will tonight’s revelation mean for you? Can you trust it? Can you build your life on it? How will it affect your relationships? Your career?  

How will it affect how you respond to all that has happened these last few years: 

  • an increasingly shrill white supremacy at Charlottesville; 
  • the police killings of Alex Nieto and Amilcar Perez Lopez, of Mario Woods, Luis Gongora, Philando Castile and so many others; 
  • the sexual exploitation of women, 
  • the brutal tearing apart of immigrant families, 
  • the growing economic inequality and the swelling numbers of homeless on our streets, 
  • the drums of war growing louder each day

After all this, how will the revelation of this holy night how you respond to the way things are now?

If you say yes to the revelation of this night, will there be things you must now set aside, and new tasks to take up in the coming year, new adventures, new risks? What will the revelation of this holy night mean for you?

These are questions I can’t answer for you. Confronted with a revelation like this, we must each stand on our own two feet. There’s not one size that fits us all. We must each make our own decisions before God. I can’t tell you how to respond.

But I can hope that, like Mary, you will ponder this night’s revelation. And maybe these words will help. They come from an unlikely place, from the pen of a 16th-century friar.

I salute you. I am your friend, and my love for you goes deep. There is nothing I can give you which you do not have. But there is much, very much, that, while I cannot give it, you can take.

No heaven can come to us unless our hearts find rest in it today. Take heaven! No peace lies in the future which is not hidden in this present little instant. Take peace!

The gloom of the world is but a shadow. Behind it, yet within our reach, is joy. There is radiance and glory in darkness, could we but see. And to see, we have only to look. I beseech you to look!

Life is so generous a giver. But we, judging its gifts by their covering, cast them away as ugly or heavy or hard. Remove the covering, and you will find beneath it a living splendor, woven of love by wisdom, with power. Welcome it, grasp it, and you touch the angel’s hand that brings it to you.

Everything we call a trial, a sorrow or a duty, believe me, that angel’s hand is there. The gift is there and the wonder of an overshadowing presence. Your joys, too, be not content with them as joys. They, too, conceal diviner gifts.

Life is so full of meaning and purpose, so full of beauty beneath its covering, that you will find earth but cloaks your heaven. Courage then to claim it; that is all! But courage you have, and the knowledge that we are pilgrims together, wending through unknown country home.

This Week at St. John’s: Pavarotti, Rudolph, and Christmas pzazz!

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Pavarotti, Rudolph, and holiday pzazz!

Many spiritual writers warn against the culture’s distortions of the Christmas season–the commercialization, the rat race, the stress of channeling Martha Stewart, the final exhaustion with little energy left for family and friends. These writers are right to criticize much–but not all–of our culture’s Christmas ways.

Keeping our focus on the Child who is Love doesn’t mean we can’t relish all the other ways our culture marks this winter season–the tastes, smells, sounds, colors, stories, gift-giving, songs, and other traditions. These rich, sensuous things can lift us out of ordinary time, and provide a needed break for imagining, if only for a moment, how things could be different–more whole and beautiful, more peaceful and joyful and loving.

Perhaps this year more than most, our beleaguered imaginations could use just the extra nudge the season offers.

So go for it! Play Pavarotti, savor the cinnamony-buttery-nutmeggy treats, let yourself be dazzled by the lights and ornaments, the loving exchange of gifts and cards, the cards and high-fives, Jingle Bells, Frosty the Snowman, mistletoe, the Nutcracker Suite.

And, of course, Rudolph. The beloved reindeer, laughed at and ostracized for his embarrassingly shiny red nose, is precisely the one chosen to guide the sleigh, bringing the Loving Presence to earth.

See this how this works?

  • Women were once ridiculed for being too “emotional”, “irrational”, and tied to their bodies. Then someone realized that the disembodied heads that have been running the world have caused far too much pain and destroyed far too many lives. Women, we’re finally coming to realize, are essential to healing the world–not in spite of, but precisely because of, their uniquely “feminine” abilities to feel and intuit and celebrate their bodies.
  • Gay men have long been reproached for “overdoing it” when it comes to sex until someone noticed that a gay man’s delight in sex may be just the antidote to a Puritanical culture’s loss of a rich and fully human sensuality.
  • Racial and ethnic minorities, long despised for their ranges of emotion, their religions, art, dance, and food, are all-too-slowly becoming valued for awakening us to those amazing parts of life we would otherwise miss.
  • Perhaps especially in these days, immigrants and refugees, feared and mischaracterized by our president as criminals, terrorists, and rapists, are precisely the ones who harvest the crops, care for our children and elders, and contribute to our economy in countless ways.

It’s a few days out from Christmas, and I wonder about the other unappreciated Rudolphs whose presently despised features our world so desperately needs.

Enjoy the waning days of Advent and the approach of the One who loves you dearly.

See you in the church on Julian Avenue.

Peace,
Richard



Last Sunday of Advent: Alms for Cristosal

This Sunday morning, Advent draws to a close. Again we take up a second collection for Cristosal, one of the foremost organizations seeking justice for the people of Central America.

You don’t hear much in the news these days about Central America. If you did, your heart would break. As our friend, Kathy Veit, writes:

It is a crisis of violence and forced displacement on a scale seen otherwise only in official war zones. If you are unfamiliar with this crisis (it hasn’t made our front pages since 2015), this recent article provides good background: Trump Administration Suddenly Cancels Refugee Program That Saved Lives of Central American Children. This brief film also brings the story to life.
(See more of what Kathy writes about Cristosal’s work in Central America.)

Cristosal is also leading the prosecution of one of the first war crimes trials following El Salvador’s bloody civil war–the case of the 1981 El Mozote Massacre, one of the greatest atrocities in modern times in the Western Hemisphere. The Salvadoran army brutally killed at least 1,000 civilians, 60% of them children.


The remains of victims of the El Mozote massacre, prior to their burial in the town of Jocoatique, in El Salvador Reuters

Our parish has been honored to quietly accompany three young Central Americans–Allan, Mirza, and Isrrael–who fled Honduras and Guatemala for their lives. Each is here on their own, their families and loved ones far away. Allan, recently baptized, is now one of us. Mirza and Isrrael we see less often; their lives are jammed with school, more than one part-time job, soccer, and a little time to just be teenagers. But, in each case, we help as best we can: Safeway cards when the food starts to run out at the end of the month, an occasional hug, maybe a job lead.

But we also need to look at the root of the problem. What drove Allan and Mirza and Isrrael to flee for their lives in the first place? Their stories are part of a much larger one of the violence and oppression that afflicts their countries. It is this reality Cristosal robustly challenges.

When we pass the hat a second time each Sunday of Advent, please give from your heart.


Wednesdays in Advent: Evening prayer at St. John’s

A candle-lit, quiet, prayerful way to end your workday, deepen your Advent prayer, settle into the evening, and prepare for Christmas.

When: Each Wednesday of Advent, beginning December 6th, 6pm
Where: St. John’s, in the nave

Join us!


1/27: The Gubbio Project!

We are excited to have been at St. John the Evangelist for two years and to celebrate we are hosting a brunch for you and the guests!

Details: There will be 50 seats for supporters and 50 for guests.
Tickets are $40 and will buy you and a homeless guest a ticket.
Date: January 27 at 11 AM

Click here to request ticket information


1/28: Annual St. John’s meeting

A festive brunch, a review of our year, a look at the year ahead, and the election new members to the Bishop’s Committee.

When: Sunday, Jan 28, following the Liturgy
Where: the nave, St. John’s


Just in time for Christmas!

Your very own St. John’s MORE LOVE tee shirt! And maybe a couple of extras for friends and fam!

See our official tee shirt sales rep Timm Dobbins!


Needed: Baseball gear for Nicaraguan kids

Timm Dobbins and Susan Hansen and have been scouring thrift stores for baseballs/softballs, mitts, bats (aluminum and wooden) and soccer balls to take to Nicaragua in February.

Last year we were able to outfit a whole baseball league.

You can bring the items to church on the next several Sundays.

Thank you for supporting the work of El Porvenir.

Last Sunday

Ben played the trumpet!

Ricky officially became a member!

Photo by Susan Hansen

Audrey, Elena, and their parents lit the candles of the Advent wreath.

Photo by Susan Hansen


Tuesday, December 19
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
7:00pm – 9:00pm Mission Dharma (Nave)
Wednesday, December 20
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
1:00pm – 3:30pm Custodial Service, Entire Building
6:00p – Evening Prayer
Thursday, December 21
9am – Morning prayer with the Gubbio Project
Friday, December 22
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
5-9pm – Danzantes Xitlali (Nave)
Saturday, December 23
5-11am Julian Pantry (food distribution at 10am)
10:00am – 1:00pm Custodial Service Entire Building
Sunday, December 24
10:15am Choral Eucharist
12:30-6pm Indivisible
Monday, December 25
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
6:00pm – 9:00pm Danzantes Xitlali (Nave)
7:00pm – 9:30pm Lone Rangers meeting (Library)

See our entire calendar here.


Readings for next Sunday (Reading them in advance can make the Liturgy more powerful for you!)

The Rev’d Richard Smith, Ph.D., preaching and presiding

The fourth-quarter rota is here.

St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church
1661 – 15th Street, San Francisco, CA 94103
Website: http://www.saintjohnsf.org
Phone: (415) 861-1436
Email: parishadmin@saintjohnsf.org 
Office Hours: Mon, Tues, Wed from 1:30pm-4:30 pm

Sunday Worship
Choral Eucharist, 10:15 am

Christmas Liturgies
Christmas Eve: 10pm – Carols; 10:30pm – The Liturgy of the Nativity of Our Lord
Christmas Day: 10:15am , simple Liturgy with Carols and Eucharist

 

This Week at St. John’s

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Slime and the mystery of Christmas


Emmanuel (God with us) in the Greek text of Matthew 1:23.

I’ve never witnessed this much slime and nauseating stench in our national life. An admitted p%&#y-grabbing president endorsing an alleged pedophile for the Senate; a tax bill throwing 13 million people off healthcare, enriching the one-percent while driving many into poverty; a dismantling of environmental protections while hurricanes savage Puerto Rico and wildfires destroy the homes of loved ones in southern California; an all-out persecution of immigrants fleeing here for their lives; an extolling of misogyny, racism, and homophobia as though these were our all-American values; the specter of all-out nuclear war.

All of which makes this year’s celebration of the mystery of Christmas even more, well, mysterious.

Why would the Creator want to pitch her tent in such a slimy, degenerate mess? Could we blame her if she instead reached for the Tylenol, put a warm washcloth over her eyes, put on some soft music, and lay down in a desperate hope of quelling the relentless throbbing migraine; take a long hot shower to soothe her crawling gooseflesh; book the next flight out of town and flee in infinite disgust, rage, and tears?

Why would anyone deliberately choose to enter such a world as ours, become Emmanuel, God-with-us? It’s the Advent question of the week.

On the Mystery of the Incarnation 
It’s when we face for a moment
the worst our kind can do, and shudder to know
the taint in our own selves, that awe
cracks the mind’s shell and enters the heart:
not to a flower, not to a dolphin,
to no innocent form
but to this creature vainly sure
it and no other is god-like, God
(out of compassion for our ugly
failure to evolve) entrusts,
as guest, as brother,
the Word.
— Denise Levertov (1923–1997)

See you in the church on Julian Avenue.

Peace,
Richard

This Advent: Alms for Cristosal

Advent is now underway, and again this year we take up a second collection each Sunday for Cristosal, one of the foremost organizations seeking justice for the people of Central America. You don’t hear much in the news these days about Central America. If you did, your heart would break. As our friend, Kathy Veit, writes:

It is a crisis of violence and forced displacement on a scale seen otherwise only in official war zones. If you are unfamiliar with this crisis (it hasn’t made our front pages since 2015), this recent article provides good background: Trump Administration Suddenly Cancels Refugee Program That Saved Lives of Central American Children. This brief film also brings the story to life.
(See more of what Kathy writes about Cristosal’s work in Central America.)

Cristosal is also leading the prosecution of one of the first war crimes trials following El Salvador’s bloody civil war–the case of the 1981 El Mozote Massacre, one of the greatest atrocities in modern times in the Western Hemisphere. The Salvadoran army brutally killed at least 1,000 civilians, 60% of them children.

Our parish has been honored to quietly accompany three young Central Americans–Allan, Mirza, and Isrrael–who fled Honduras and Guatemala for their lives. Each is here on their own, their families and loved ones far away. Allan, recently baptized, is now one of us. Mirza and Isrrael we see less often; their lives are jammed with school, more than one part-time job, soccer, and a little time to just be teenagers. But, in each case, we help as best we can: Safeway cards when the food starts to run out at the end of the month, an occasional hug, maybe a job lead.

But we also need to look at the root of the problem. What drove Allan and Mirza and Isrrael to flee for their lives in the first place? Their stories are part of a much larger one of the violence and oppression that afflicts their countries. It is this reality Cristosal robustly challenges.

You’ll hear more in the days ahead.

When we pass the hat a second time each Sunday of Advent, please give from your heart.


Wednesdays in Advent: Evening prayer at St. John’s

A candle-lit, quiet, prayerful way to end your workday, deepen your Advent prayer, settle into the evening, and prepare for Christmas.

When: Each Wednesday of Advent, beginning December 6th, 6pm
Where: St. John’s, in the nave

Join us!


This Friday, 12/15, 6pm: Mission Nightwalk and Hannukah

Our last Nightwalk of 2017 begins with a lighting of the menorah to commemorate Hannukah and the victory of light over darkness. Once again we’ll carry our simple, clear message: We care! Stop the violence!.

When: Friday, December 15, 6:00-7:15pm 
Where: Starting from Grace Fellowship, 3265 16th Street near Dolores

More info about Mission Nightwalks


12/15: An invitation from our friends at CARECEN

In our accompaniment of two of our refugees, Isrrael and Mirza, St. John’s is privileged to partner with CARECEN (Central American Resource Center). Here’s an invitation to their festive holiday party for the families and individuals they serve, including Isrrael and Mirza .


This Sunday, 12/17: Compline with Endersnight

When: Sunday, December 17, 8:30pm
Where: St. John’s


1/27: The Gubbio Project!

We are excited to have been at St. John the Evangelist for two years and to celebrate we are hosting a brunch for you and the guests!

Details: There will be 50 seats for supporters and 50 for guests.
Tickets are $40 and will buy you and a homeless guest a ticket.
Date: January 27 at 11 AM

Click here to request ticket information


1/28: Annual meeting

Join us for a festive brunch, a chance to review our year, look at the year ahead, and elect new members to the Bishop’s Committee.

When: Sunday, Jan 294, following the Liturgy
Where: the nave, St. John’s


Just in time for Christmas!

Your very own St. John’s MORE LOVE tee shirt! And maybe a couple of extras for friends and fam!

See our tee shirt sales rep Timm Dobbins!


Needed: Baseball gear for Nicaraguan kids

Timm Dobbins and Susan Hansen and have been scouring thrift stores for baseballs/softballs, mitts, bats (aluminum and wooden) and soccer balls to take to Nicaragua in February.

Last year we were able to outfit a whole baseball league.

You can bring the items to church on the next several Sundays.

Thank you for supporting the work of El Porvenir.


Judge Denies Floricel’s Bond

(Note: In last Sunday’s sermon I mentioned Floricel, a young mother of three who has been detained, and away from her kids, for several months now. The faith communities in Faith in Action, many of them Episcopalian, have stood by Floricel throughout her ordeal. Unfortunately, we recently received some bad news about her case. The following from the Faith in Action newsletter tells more of her story.)

Community Continues to Fight for Her Release 
The community continues to cry out, “Liberen a Floricel!”

On Thursday, we received word that Judge Burch denied Floricel’s release on bond. (Click here for a summary of Floricel’s final bond hearing.) We are heartbroken over this decision and the continued separation of Floricel and her three children–Jennifer, 17, Michael, 13, and Daisy, 11.

In her written decision, Judge Burch relied on a police report from Floricel’s DUI arrest to conclude that Floricel presented a danger to the public. The judge was not moved by Floricel’s successful completion of her rehabilitation program and her continued commitment to sobriety. In her rehabilitation course, Floricel gained valuable insight into the various factors that drove her to drink, such as the pressures of working 17 hours a day at two jobs to support her three children, and she learned tools to help her address these immense pressures ina sober way. At her bond hearing, Floricel spoke multiple times about her longing for and devotion to her children and how, if she were released, she would not jeopardize her ability to be close to them by drinking.

The judge also cited Floricel’s inability to satisfactorily answer her question about whether she would turn herself in for deportation in her conclusion that Floricel presented a flight risk. At the bond hearing, Floricel, an asylum seeker who experienced horrific violence in Mexico, responded honestly to the judge’s question in this way: “In Mexico, there is an order for me to be killed. I would use every legal means to stay in this country.” Floricel had found herself in a double bind: the only way to satisfy the judge’s question and be reunited with her children would be to respond that, yes, she would turn herself in to be deported, that is, to be again separated from her children and to put her life indanger.

Floricel’s supporters, which includes the faith community, her legal team, community advocates, and various high school and student groups in San Francisco and the East Bay, will continue to strategize and fight for her release.

We will keep you posted. Please stay tuned.

Read Floricel’s op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle here.


This Thursday, 12/14: March for Mission Street

Longtime residents of the Mission will march to City Hall to protect the working-class family corridor of Mission Street! United to Save the Mission, Our Mission NO Eviction, Cultural Action Network, and Calle 24 Latino Cultural District are hosting this march to say NO to luxury development, NO to high-end restaurants, and NO to red lanes.

When: Thursday, December 14, 3PM-5PM
Where: Mission Street @ 20th Street


Rest in Peace, Mayor Ed Lee

Mayor Ed Lee died suddenly this week at the age of 65 after 40 years of public service. Our prayers are with his family and colleagues at this time of mourning. May he rest in peace and rise in glory.

The Mayor’s political and moral legacy is deeply flawed in many ways. Still, I’m grateful for what he did do. I’m grateful, for example, that when the president attacked Sanctuary cities like ours, Ed Lee stood firm. “Being a sanctuary city is in our DNA,” he tweeted. “San Francisco will never be anything other than a sanctuary city.”

I’m also grateful for his support of the Navigation Centers, including one a block from our church, that have given some respite to at least some of the many residents left homeless by of his own gentrification-friendly policies.

One day the Mayor stopped by our church to visit the staff and guests of The Gubbio Project. Here he is with Gubbio’s Laura Slattery, the City’s Sam Dodge, our own Jean Baker with beloved pooch Tarzan, and a Gubbio guest.

Tuesday, December 12
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
7:00pm – 9:00pm Mission Dharma (Nave)
Wednesday, December 13
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
1:00pm – 3:30pm Custodial Service, Entire Building
6:00p – Evening Prayer
Thursday, December 14
9am – Morning prayer with the Gubbio Project
5:00pm – 9:00pm Police reform meeting
Friday, December 15
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
5-9pm – Danzantes Xitlali (Nave)
Saturday, December 16
5-11am Julian Pantry (food distribution at 10am)
10:00am – 1:00pm Custodial Service Entire Building
Sunday, December 17
10:15am Choral Eucharist
12:30-6pm Indivisible
Monday, December 18
5:45am – 1:00pm Sacred Rest
6:00pm – 9:00pm Danzantes Xitlali (Nave)
7:00pm – 9:30pm Lone Rangers meeting (Library)See our entire calendar here.


Readings for next Sunday (Reading them in advance can make the Liturgy more powerful for you!)

The Rev’d Canon David Forbes, preaching
The Rev’d Richard Smith, Ph.D., presiding

The fourth-quarter rota is here.