All posts by The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew

Poppies and Lamps Cast Out Darkness (The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds)

Poppies and Lamps Cast Out Darkness
The fall of my Junior year in college I studied abroad in London.  It was about this time of year that I had a week off from classes so I decided to travel to Scotland.  I took the midnight train from Kings Cross Station and arrived in Edinburgh early in the morning.  After securing lodging at a Bed and Breakfast, I set out to explore the city and began to notice that perhaps every fourth person or so was wearing a red poppy.  As the week went on it seemed that just about everyone was sporting a red poppy.  You had to look find someone not wearing one.  The reason for wearing the poppy was a mystery to me—and so I asked an older woman who patiently explained that they were a part of the observance of Remembrance Day which began after WW I to remember the members of the armed forces who died in the line of duty.  She also explained that proceeds from the sale of the paper red poppies were directed towards ex-servicemen in need of welfare & financial support.
Ever since the poem In Flanders Fields, the beautiful imagery of fields of poppies has become mixed with: lament for blood spilled, for lives lost, and for remembrance.  Many of you I am sure are familiar with the poem In Flanders Fields, which was written during the First World War, after John McCrae, a Canadian artillery commander and physician, observed poppies growing in the midst off battlefields where many soldiers had been buried.  The fifteen line poem reads:
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
    The torch; be yours to hold it high.
    If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
        In Flanders fields.
The poem sets down a variety of images that sit together uneasily.  The fragility of life and a place where death has become commonplace.  The beauty of fields of poppies and larks singing in the sky stand in stark contrast with the violence of war.  And in the final verse—there is the image of a torch passed from failing hands to those still fighting.
What eventually dawned on me while walking the streets of Edinburgh was the magnitude of loss that the people of the United Kingdom suffered and still felt decades after the end of both World Wars.  Their sense of collective loss was far more intense than anything that I had experienced at home.  This impression was confirmed as eventually I observed everywhere long lists of names of fallen parishioners in the war memorials found within English and Scottish Churches.  This weekend marks a strange juxtaposition of holidays where the Commonwealth Nations set aside November 11th to remember the dead, whereas for us, Veterans Day is set aside to honor the living—those who are currently serving or who have served our country.  By contrast we set aside Memorial Day to intentionally remember our fallen.

 

At first glance this morning’s Gospel would seem to have nothing to do with our national observance of Veterans Day this weekend.  And yet, like the poem In Flanders Field, there is an uneasiness to the Gospel Story.  We have a story of a wedding feast, a bridegroom, and bridesmaids.  And yet, in the midst of beauty and celebration, we suddenly have a scene of judgement—where the five foolish bridesmaids are locked out of the Kingdom.  It is a difficult scene—for who among us has not misjudged a situation at one time or another been unprepared, as in not having extra oil for lamps or been so tired that one is unable to stay awake for something important.
For me the hard part of this Gospel, and the hard part of this weekend is the unfairness that seeps through—Not knowing if one is vigilant enough, or prudent enough, to make it into the kingdom.  And a holiday that rightly celebrates the living, but recognizes that it is impossible to accomplish without also remembering our fallen, and knowing the immense pain suffered by both the living and the dead.  The ambiguity of this morning’s Gospel also brings to mind the uneasy way that armed conflict sits juxtaposed with the church’s longing for a peaceable kingdom.
Perhaps the most meaningful imagery that comes to us from the Gospel today is that of the lamps shining in the darkness.  The acknowledgement that in all kinds of ways, and in a hundred different situations—we may find ourselves in the dark, facing uncertainty, crisis, doubt, unbelief, disaster, or an unexpected trial or tribulation—and yet the greater witness of our gathering for Church this day, and our worship Sunday by Sunday—the greater witness of wearing poppy’s or marking Veteran’s Day—is to demonstrate that we are never alone in the dark.  That we are part of a larger community that at our best learns to hold lamps for one another—knowing that Christ is with us as we pray for one another, and that we are called to lift one another up, in good times and in bad, in life, and in death.
In fact, the poem In Flanders Fields, is a tribute of sorts to a solider offering remembrance for a fallen comrade.  The poem was written in the days after John McCrae presided over his friend’s funeral.  In this context the poem is an enduring testament of the triumph of community, friendship and the Gospel of love. 
In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
    Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
        In Flanders fields.
Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 12 November 2017, The Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year One.  Lessons: Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16; Psalm 70; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18; Matthew 25:1-13.

Saint Francis Embraces God’s Love Song for the World (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

Music soothes the Savage Beast.  I first herd that quote as a boy while watching a scene on TV where Bugs Bunny was being chased by a gorilla.  With the savage ape getting ever closer to his wisecracking nemesis—a violent fight seemed likely.  Everything changed when Bugs picked up a violin and began to play.  The aggression of the gorilla suddenly disappeared and the beast even began to dance around.  The scene was comic and fit into my experience of their being wild and savage animals in the world in contrast to familiar and tame family pets.

Scientists have assembled considerable evidence that identifies dogs as being the first domesticated animal.  Dogs are the descendants of wolves and between 30,000 to 10,000 years ago wolves somehow became incorporated into the camps of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  No one is exactly sure how the process unfolded—whether wolves gradually became familiar with humans in scavenging for food scraps around the campfire; or if while hunting a series of young wolf cubs were captured and raised by humans beginning the process of domestication.  What is certain is that this process of domestication took place before the advent of agriculture and long before the Hebrew concept of their being only one God.

Today we celebrate the life of St. Francis.  He was a 12th century saint who compared to his hunter-gatherer ancestors benefited from amazing leaps in human development.  Francis lived in a refined and sophisticated world that benefited from advances in agriculture, saw the invention of the wheel, and the development of written language.  The Hebrew people had shared with the world their belief in one God, and Christianity had proclaimed for centuries the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus.  In Francis’s day, churches worshiped with gorgeous Gregorian Chant.

Francis was the son of wealthy textile merchant and he lived a life that hunter-gathers could not have imagined.  As a young man Francis enjoyed his wealth and had ideas of seeking military honor.  Francis joined the military and soon saw action on the field of battle.  There he witnessed the horrors of war and saw dozens of men left for dead.  Francis was taken prisoner and held for some time until ransom demands were met.  If Francis shared my childhood notion that only wild Beasts were savage and untamed—in war he learned that there can exist something savage within the human heart.

Sometime after Francis returned home he had a roadside encounter with a leper. Something in that encounter resonated with Francis.  It changed his heart.  He began to identify with Christ and he eventually did a radical thing.  Francis decided not just to minister to the poor—he decided to become poor.  In order to fully live out the Gospel he gave away all that he had.  

Francis it seems came to comprehend the essential truth of God’s love for him and the world, and he was moved to in turn share that love with others.  And so began an incredible ministry.  A ministry that understood that the love of God could transform a savage heart, and also knew that the love of God extended to animals and all of creation.

It’s strange to think that Francis’s life could be so transformed by an encounter with a leper.  On this day it is also interesting to contemplate how once wild animals could become such blessings to us.  Francis learned that both lepers and animals—each in their own way—point to God’s transformative love song for the world. 

The next time you look into the eyes of your pet—think about how once there was a more wild and savage heart there.  It just might remind us how God’s Song of Love has worked to transform the world.  How God’s love song shaped and formed Israel. How God’s hymn was sung by Jesus and transformed his followers.  When the tune of God’s song was picked up by Francis, the world began to understand that the whole of creation was embraced by God.

In the midst of this day’s blessings it’s strange to think that the pets among us were once savage or wild animals.  The Feast of St. Francis reminds us that God’s love song comes to us through time affirming that: our hearts, our lives, our souls will be soothed and transformed by God’s steadfast Love.

Homily offered by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, at the 8:00am and 10:15am (outdoor) services, on 1 October 2017, The Feast of Saint Francis.  Lessons: Galatians 6:14-18; Psalm 148:7-14; Matthew 11:25-30.

RSVP to the GALA!!

Guys and gal’s, grab your jackets (leather and letterman) and your poodle skirts, and join the cool cats for a rockin’ fun night of 50’s style rug-cuttin’, dinner & fundraising!

Saturday October 14

5:30 Social Hour
7:00 Dinner
8:00 Live Auction
8:45-10 Dinner & Entertainment
Tickets are only $40!!

Free childcare will be provided

3 Ways to RSVP
1) Contact the church office 650-342-1481
2) Send in the Attached RSVP or drop it in the box at the back of the church
3) Easy peasy EVITE at http://evite.me/1bqYp1wT8q

Checks/money should be brought to the Church Office and written to
“The Episcopal Church of St. Matthew” with “gala 2017” in the memo!

Pentecost 11: God’s Revolutionary Love (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

A few years ago, at a Sotheby’s Auction in England, a first edition of the book De revolutionibus, in English known as On the Revolutions, sold for over one million dollars.  That’s not bad for a title that Arthur Koestler declared was “The book that nobody read.”  If one had to judge only by the title, you might think that On the Revolutions, was about the American, French, or possibly other popular uprisings.  Given that the author was Nicolaus Copernicus, and the full title of the book translated from Latin is Six Books on the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres—one can see that the valuation of the book rests upon the role that it played in changing humankind’s perception of our place in the universe.

Perhaps you have met the occasional person today who acts like they are at the center of the Universe and everything revolves around them—the fascinating thing about On the Revolutions is that 500 years ago, at the time of publication, everyone assumed that we as humans were at the center of creation—that we lived in a universe where God inhabited the heavens along with the sun, moon and all the planets—all which were believed to revolve around the earth.  In his lifetime Copernicus was reluctant to publish his work placing the sun at the center of our solar system both because of his fear of public ridicule, and because he knew that his work would be seen as a challenge to the ultimate authority of the Church.  Nicolaus Copernicus was deeply aware of both how tightly people could hold onto conventional wisdom and the way institutions resisted challenge to their authority.

Tomorrow, among the millions of people who people will view a full or partial Solar eclipse—most will not realize that after Copernicus published On the Revolutions it took another 100 years of dedicated work by scientists like Kepler and Galileo to complete the Copernican Revolution that forever changed the way that we think about our place in the world.  In this Context, it is interesting to contemplate the magnitude of experience usually required for us to change our minds.

A long time ago I remember talking to a sales person who always anticipated resistance and so he began his sales pitch by asking the potential customer if they thought of themselves as an open minded person.  The sales person’s experience was that many people already had a fixed framework for viewing the world.  When you think about it there are many realms of life where one is penalized for changing one’s mind.  Politicians encounter this all the time—the candidate who flip-flops is often portrayed as pandering, and yet there are times when a change of mind might actually point to a new insight and a real leap of growth.  In my experience, when we approach reading and interpreting the Gospels, we usually look for consistency of thought and action—and this is especially so in the case of examining the life of Jesus.  With all this in mind this morning’s Gospel presents us with a challenge because it is difficult to square the initial response of Jesus to the Canaanite woman with that of a caring and compassionate Savior.

As background for this morning’s Gospel, Jesus has engaged in his ministry of preaching, teaching, and healing in the Galilee region of northern Israel.  We are not given a reason why Jesus and his disciples travel to a non-Jewish region, a territory about 40 miles northwest of the Sea of Galilee.  In the first century, Tyre and Sidon were prosperous Roman port cities located on the Mediterranean Sea.  And there it is that Matthew tells us that a Canaanite woman approaches and shouts—acknowledging the elevated status of Jesus—and pleads with him to heal her daughter who is tormented by a demon.  After the initial silence of Jesus—we note the annoyance of the disciples who say Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.  When the focus shifts back to Jesus he responds saying simply I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. 

It strikes one as more than odd that the reaction of Jesus already borders on callous—not offering to help a woman who is pleading on behalf of her daughter.  When one thinks about how difficult it would be to go out into public and to plead and beg for healing—the next step is extraordinary.  The woman kneels before Jesus and simply says Lord, Help Me.

As measured by the rest of the Gospel the next phrase uttered by Jesus is almost unfathomable.  He Says It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.  It’s stunning that Jesus would speak this way.  At this point some commentators intercede on behalf of Jesus and say look—this is simply a case where Jesus is caught with his compassion down.  This line of thought imagines that Jesus has been laboring without much of a break—and well—this woman just catches him at the wrong time.  That reasoning would hold more sway—if the response of Jesus were just not so insulting. Taking the children’s food and throwing it to the dogs—is a cutting remark—Brutal—when placed in comparison to the request.

At this point one would not expect the Canaanite woman to withstand such an insult—but amazingly she manages to utter “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”  It is a completely unexpected utterance.  One of: determination, composure, and grace—to which Jesus finally responds Woman, great is your faith—and he heals her daughter.

It is an amazing exchange—for one’s sees the whole world view of Jesus suddenly open and expand.  What for Jesus began as a mission solely to the people of Israel—has expanded to a foreign woman of the larger Gentile world.  In a world dominated by tribalism Jesus is able to extend a healing hand across established religious divisions.  The thing that is fascinating to me is that the woman somehow ceases to be seen as an annoying outsider to the faith clamoring for attention, but rather she is eventually treated simply as a woman with a sick daughter.

Some preachers have ventured to title their sermon on this text Canaanite Women’s Lives Matter in an attempt to highlight the blatant injustice and prejudice experienced by this first century group.  I would observe that while such a label is apt and draws upon parallels in our own day—it is far too narrow to capture the full importance of this encounter.  This healing is followed by instances where other classes of outsiders are welcomed and included.  Jesus and his disciples had already extended their mission to those traditionally excluded: lepers, tax collectors and prostitutes, and soon after the Canaanite woman’s healing, Jesus welcomed a Samaritan woman and then healed the servant of a Roman Centurion.  Each of these encounters provide further insights into the inclusiveness of God’s Kingdom.

Our christology—the way that we understand Jesus to be human and divine—usually leans towards emphasizing the divinity of Jesus.  This tends to blind us from seeing moments where Jesus achieves human moments of real insight and growth.  This is not a small point for if we claim that Jesus shares our humanity—then we should rightly look for a Savior who shares in our predicaments and struggles.  

In this case, it is of some comfort to know that our efforts to overcome tribalism—our attempts to see beyond: our own people—our own group of comfort, is something that might take work and require growth.  It is a measure of maturation to come to the realization that our race, our gender, our class our orientation, or even our Church, may not hold exclusive claim to the center of the Universe.  The revolutionary lesson of this morning’s Gospel is that we ever are in need of finding ways to engage one another.

Over the past two weeks we have been reminded that this is the lesson that various “hate groups” have failed to grasp—and that attempting to lay exclusive claim to any form of tribal purity will ultimately fail.  It’s as futile as trying to go back and argue that the sun really revolves around the earth.  It was encouraging to see pictures of tens of thousands peaceful protesters gathering in Boston yesterday, and on Friday in Portland, Oregon, where the rather cleverly titled “Eclipse Hate” rally seemed to go off without incident.

The other important witness of the Gospel for us today is to note that Jesus and his followers did not occupy their time looking for groups to oppose—rather they bore positive witness by sharing the message and good works of the Gospel far and wide.  To this end, The Southern Poverty Law Center offered the Boston rally and others the good advice to avoid direct contact with groups like the Neo-nazis or white nationalists since interacting with them only gives them a larger platform for spreading their message of hate.

In the weeks and months ahead we might be reminded that the revolution that Jesus set in motion—was most often seen and experienced through simple human encounters.  We participate in that revolution when we set aside our tribal preconceptions and let God’s redeeming love shine through us—revealing that it is God’s love that can be found at the center of the Universe.

Sermon preached by The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, 20 August 2017, Year A.  Lessons: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15:[10-20],21-28.