Category Archives: Sermon Archives

Race Matters: Peace and Justice (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

It has been a tough football season for the Oakland Raiders who have managed only 1 win this season and play the 49ers today. Regular church goers likely missed the Raiders 52 point loss last week as the game had a 10:00am start. But if you watched the news you may have seen a clip taken on that day—from the pre-game player introductions where five of the Raiders opponents—5 Rams players came out of the tunnel from the locker room with their hands up in the air in a gesture that many immediately recognized. In the words of a Boston globe editorial it was a pose that “was both haunting and familiar.” The players imitated the “Hands up, don’t shoot” posture and mantra used by many of the protesters who have gathered in Ferguson, Missouri, in the wake of the grand Jury decision not to indict the white police officer (Darren Wilson) involved in the deadly shooting of Michael Brown who was black.

The mixed reaction to the Rams players protest—highlights the complexity of venturing into the public arena—even if one’s intention is good—to actually succeed in improving dialogue and the effort to promote positive change. For the players part: they live in the St. Louis area, are familiar with the suburb of Ferguson, and know something about how a black person can be treated differently across much of our society. On the other hand it is clear that the conflicting interpretations of how the events unfolded in Furgenson are rooted in experiences of race that differ greatly—and lead to very different conclusions.

The events are further complicated by the fact that any case that rises to national prominence is complicated by the fact that the exact circumstances—rarely provide a perfect, unambiguous, case study. And so it is difficult to build trust, and move a conversation constructively forward where there are basic differences over facts and perceived motivations.

I am often frustrated by how difficult it seems for us—as a community and as a country to enter into any meaningful dialogue about race that has the potential to heal wounds and build bridges to a better future. I gained an insight into just how difficult it is to judge matters concerning race one day almost 20 years ago when I went out to lunch with a newly ordained clergy colleague. John Thompson Quartey graduated from General Seminary in NYC four years after me. I first met John when he served as Seminarian at the parish where I was the assistant. John’s family came to the United States from Ghana and John grew up in the city of Newark. I was one of John’s sponsors at his ordination to the priesthood and he was one of the few black clergy in the Diocese of Newark.

On that day we had lunch, I traveled to Ridgewood, NJ to meet him. Together we walked to a middle eastern restaurant and from the moment that we were seated—I could see that John was becoming increasingly agitated. We had barely sat down and he abruptly called the waiter over, and from my perspective, uncharacteristically used a rude manner to send him away to go get

some pita and hummus—“and bring it right away” John added. While John was still fuming he mumbled that “he better not charge me for this.” This was so unlike my experience of John that I asked him what was wrong. John went on to describe that when he came here last time as someone else’s guest—they were seated, welcomed, and were promptly provided with pita and hummus on the house. And it was in that instance that I realized—what I would have dismissed as simply inconsistent service, a difference in the temperament and capabilities of the wait staff—John interpreted as being intentionally slighted on the basis of his race; And I suddenly realized how difficult it must for a person of color to discern those cases where a lower level of treatment and courtesy is intentional and rooted in prejudice—from those instances where the situation is simply a case of general indifference and incompetence—measured out equally regardless of gender, race or any other difference. During my lifetime I have observed many cases of obvious prejudice; but with John I reached a new level of awareness as to just how pernicious and destructive are the effects of racism.

On this second Sunday of Advent we encounter John the Baptist calling people to a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of their sins. It is interesting to note that John is speaking broadly to religious people. To a people well acquainted with the law. Who know how they are supposed to act and treat others. They knew the requirement to care for widows and orphans. The laws to treat others fairly, the law to welcome the stranger—a law that is written with the admonition “for remember the people of Israel were once strangers in the land of Egypt.” And yet in the time of John the Baptist there were significant divisions between the religious factions within Judaism. Divisions between Jews, Samaritans and foreigners. Divisions that spoke of prejudice. Actions that worked to deny the full humanity of groups defined as other. And so we can note that our modern struggles with race and differences have been with us for a long time.

One could argue that the first two significant and tangible actions taken by the Episcopal Church to make progress in the area of race reconciliation took place in 1794 and 1795. Those are the years when Absalom Jones and his African American church in Philadelphia were admitted as a congregation to the Episcopal Church (1794), followed by Jones’s ordination as a Deacon in our Church in (1795). Ten years later, in the year 1805 Absalom Jones became the first black priest of our church. In the first year of his ministry his parish—St. Thomas Church grew to over 500 members. In his preaching Jones denounced slavery and worked on behalf of the oppressed and distressed. The inclusion and witness of Absalom Jones within our own tradition reminds us of the important role that our Church can accomplish in our day—not merely as a voice of reconciliation, but also as an engaged community active and dedicated towards advancing the recognition and full inclusion of all people in our society.

Meaningful contact and the establishment of relationships that cut across racial divides is an important aspect of promoting racial harmony. And In most parts of our country free and open conversations about race are hindered by a lack of proximity and contact between different racial groups. One does not have to travel far to notice rather significant divisions that occur simply as a result of geography and economic class. Some of you are lucky to work in places that are well integrated, where healthy contact and interchange across race occurs on a daily basis. But for many of us simple geography, and even our own traditions, work to separate us from one another. It was Martin Luther King Jr. who ironically observed that “It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

I suspect that the actions of the five St. Louis Rams players were motivated by a desire

to demonstrate empathy not just for the family that lost a son—but for those who feel frustrated and to some extent excluded from the larger society. This morning I would like to open a conversation and mention three tangible things that our congregation might consider doing to promote and advance racial reconciliation.

The first is the possibility of participating in one of the six week reading and reflection groups that are being organized by The Urban Peace Collaboration within our Diocese this upcoming January and February. The Urban Peace Collaboration has selected the book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander as a starting point for discussions about where we are with regard to race by looking through the prism of our criminal Justice system. These discussion groups would represent an intentional effort for all involved to arrive at a deeper level of appreciation and understanding of a complex and disturbing issue.

The second event and conversation that you might consider, is participating in all or part of the three day conference sponsored by Trinity Church Wall Street titled “Creating Common Good.” The Trinity Institute Conference takes place January 22nd-24th and features: Princeton Professor Cornel West, Barbara Ehrenreich [pronounced—Erin-reick] (Author of nickel & Dimed), Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich and The Most Reverend Justin Welby, the current Archbishop of Canterbury. As a Diocese and Parish within the Episcopal Church, we have the possibility of participating remotely in this conference dedicated to social justice—and addressing the issues surrounding pervasive and chronic economic inequality. The conference hopes to provide practical tools for communities to make tangible economic changes.

The third possibility for action is to reach out within our own diocese and to participate with me in the yearly Absalom Jones Celebration Service. This year St. Cyprian’s church in San Francisco will be hosting the service on Saturday February 9th at 11:00am. The preacher will be The Rev. Dr. Kwasi Thornell, who served as National president of The Union of Black Episcopalians with Bishop Marc Andrus celebrating. This service has the potential to bring together people separated by the hour on Sundays mentioned by Dr. King

In surveying the news of the past few weeks perhaps you have often felt the crushing weight of problems that feel like they will never be solved—and the hopelessness of simply being a spectator. I wonder if John the Baptist had those same feelings? If he did, John got over them when he went out into the world and announced that a time of change was coming—and urged people to take action.

I can think of no better way to conclude this collection of thoughts this morning than to read the collect assigned for the feast day of Absalom Jones. Let us Pray: Set us free, heavenly Father, from every bond of prejudice and fear; that, honoring the steadfast courage of your servant Absalom Jones, we may show forth in our lives the reconciling love and true freedom of the children of God, which you have given us in your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 7 December 2014, The Second Sunday of Advent, Year B. Lessons: Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; 2 Peter 3:8-15a; Mark 1:18.

Beauty & Holiness—Hidden in Plain Sight (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

A fairly nondescript white man in jeans, with a long-sleeved T shirt and a Washington National’s baseball cap, emerged from the Metro station at L’Enfant Plaza Station in Washington D.C. and positioned himself against a wall beside a trash basket. From a small case he removed a violin. The man placed the open violin case at his feet, and at 7:51am, on a Friday in January, in the middle of rush hour, he began to play. Over the next 43 minutes the 39 year old violinist played six classical pieces while a total of 1,097 people passed by. Perhaps you have encountered a similar situation, coming upon a street musician—and with a small sample of music you have the unexpected opportunity to decide if you will linger and listen—or move on and continue with your routine—to attend to the task or journey at hand.

The situation of encountering a street violinist—forcing an unexpected decision—stands in dramatic contrast to the laser focus of the Israelites—who as we encounter them this morning were thirsty voicing incessant complaints—demanding that Moses provide them with water in the midst of their suffering. In the midst of the desert their thirst is all consuming, and they blame Moses for their aguish.

When we read this story we intuitively know it to be true. We know how we are prone to complain when things go wrong and do not go as according to plan. Physical pain or discomfort is perhaps the most debilitating, but we can add all sorts of unpleasant circumstances including psychological or emotional discomfort to the list of things that create circumstances which can serve to blind us to all else. This fact is brought into sharp focus this morning when we consider that the people of Israel are actually looking back longingly at their days of captivity in the land of Egypt. We see in this passage how the magnitude of suffering caused by widespread thirst has obliterated from memory the great saving deeds of God that lead to their escape from slavery and a life of oppression.

One of the gifts of being a part of a religious tradition with deep roots is the way our life of faith can orientate us to the world in a way where we are open to experience the beauty, grace, and blessing of God in our everyday life. When one mentions Christian prayer—the image conjured is often that of a person cloistered, narrowly focused upon God in a way that is as solitary as it is silent. This image is the opposite of the deep strand within our tradition that holds that the purpose of prayer is to open ourselves to the possibility and presence of God in every aspect of our life. Time set aside for prayer goes hand in hand with the notion that we will not discover—that which we are not on the alert for or open too.

The Irish author, John O’Donohue, has written extensively about prayer and our deepest desire

to draw closer to God—our desiree to draw closer to the beauty and wonder of God’s created world. He writes

There is a quite light that shines in every heart. It draws no attention to itself, though it is always secretly there.   It is what illuminates our minds to see beauty, our desire to seek possibility, and our hearts to love life. Without this subtle quickening our days would be empty and wearisome, and no horizon would ever awaken our longing. Our passion for life is quietly sustained from somewhere in us wedded to the energy and excitement of life. This shy inner light is what enables us to recognize and receive our very presence here as blessing.

O’ Donohue also observes that: To participate in beauty is to come into the presence of the Holy.God is a pure verb, a permanent event, an eternal surge, a total quickening. The ancient wisdom of the Psalmist also captures this notion that our deepest longings seek for affirmations of the goodness of God. Psalm 63 begins

Oh God, you are my God: eagerly I seek you,* my soul thirsts for you, my flesh faints for you,

as in a barren and dry land where there is no water 

Of the almost 1,100 people who passed through the D.C. Metro Station, a mere 27 individuals contributed coins and bills that totaled $32. Only 7 individuals stopped to listen to the world renowned Joshua Bell, who played upon his almost 300 year old Stradivarius violin. The experiment of a concert violinist playing in an unexpected public place was conceived, executed and reported by staff at The Washington Post—and the event highlights the notion that while the human soul may well thirst for many things—left to ourselves we are prone to overlook even examples of sublime beauty—in our very midst.

This morning’s Gospel reminds us that Jesus interacted with the world with a profound sense of the deep potential of every human being. And that even the lot of notorious sinners of his day, tax collectors and prostitutes, reflected something of divine goodness, and merited a response and treatment better than only contempt, dismissal and scorn. Far from being merely a set of beliefs to follow and adhere to—Jesus demonstrated and lived a faith that shows that at it’s heart Christianity is a way to Be and to Experience the world

From the early centuries Christian mystics have exhorted believers to slow down—to pause, and to be still. To watch and to listen. For he goodness of God is all around—it is at the very heart of creation. To be discovered like water gushing forth in the desert. There to be experienced, to revive and to refresh one’s soul.imgres.jpg Joshua Bell

Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 28 September 2014, Year A. Lessons: Exodus 17:1-7; Psalm 78:1-4,12-16; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:23-32.

You can see the you tube video of Joshua Bell here

A Vineyard Rooted in God’s Love (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

Somewhere around the time that services were first held here at St. Matthew’s, the oldest documented Zinfandel vineyard in California, was planted in the Sierra Foothills. It is a vineyard that has survived the natural perils of disease and weather, along with the human trials of change of ownership and fluctuations of demand in the wine market.

As the vineyard approaches the 150 year mark, Terri Harvey, the current owner, personally tends to the property and she has remarked “You have to respect the vines, I get out here and think about how long they’ve been alive. I do all the pruning myself, out of respect. Each one of these old guys has arms going every which way. You gotta study each one and figure out which way to prune it.” A neighboring vintner added [Gur-Arieh] “These grapes that she has, they’re phenomenal,…her grapes have complexity and elegance. I don’t know if it’s the age or the terroir [climate], but they’re wonderful.”

This morning we heard the Gospel writer John recount how Jesus draws upon the imagery of a vine and vineyard to describe his relationship with God and his followers. I am the true vine says Jesus, and my Father is the vine grower. This statement immediately establishes a relationship between Jesus and his Heavenly Father, and then the discussion quickly advances to talking about the branches of the vine–the conversation advances so quickly in fact that we could miss an important layer of meaning–miss a part of the richness of the vineyard imagery. By the time of the first century there was already a rich and long tradition of referring to Israel as a vine planted by God. It is an image that not only implies growth and bearing fruit, but one that also evokes a sense of the vine taking root and establishing itself deeply in a soil selected by God.

This morning we have an interesting compliment of lessons; for in the Epistle, the first Letter of John, we have a discourse on Love. It is a passage that ranges from the simple declaration that God is Love–to a discussion about how God’s love may be perfected in us. As a prelude then–to this whole discussion is the notion that–when Jesus declares himself to be the true vine, He is laying claim to a rich history, a root system that reaches deep into the past, a history that has been nurtured and fed by God’s abiding love from the very beginning.

At a time of despair for the people of Israel, the prophet Isaiah reminded the people of God’s Love with these words (Isaiah 54.10)

For the mountains may depart

   and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the Lord, who has compassion on you.

When the Law was first established with the people of Israel, God reminded followers that love was to extend beyond the bounds of family and friends. Early on, in the book of Deuteronomy (10.19) this principle was established: You shall also love the stranger, for you were (once) strangers in the land of Egypt. And The manifestation of God’s love–is so beautifully captured in a passage from Micah (6.8)…and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? In fact the whole history of the people of God is deeply rooted and sustained by God’s steadfast love. And so in John’s Gospel this morning with the proclamation that Jesus in the true vine–we pick up the imagery of the branches and the notion that somehow–We–through Jesus, are grafted into that love.

Love is a word, that Perhaps like no other word, has the potential for endless abstraction and reflection attempting to extract and assign new relevance to the word. And yet about love, it was Earnest Hemingway who simply wrote (Death in the Afternoon, Chapter 11) All people talk of it, but those who have it[–]are marked by it….

These two passages, one from the first letter and the other from the Gospel of John–in a way speak for the whole of the New Testament in that they remind us that above all Jesus was marked by the love that he embodied and that he shared. And in his ministry, first traveling between the villages of the region of Galilee, Jesus highlighted one of the essential qualities of love–and that is that it is not a scarce commodity to be hoarded or guarded–to be only sparingly given out to a select few, rather Jesus demonstrated quite the opposite, that love and compassion for others is a quality not only meant to be shared, but that it is a commodity that when shared actually multiplies. This is a fact that his followers found to be true and it is why images of abundance abound in the Gospels.

The parable of the sower where the Word (read Love) of God is dispersed with abundance and wild abandon is a wonderful example. The story of the feeding of 5000 is at its heart a narrative that attempts to capture the power of sharing with others, and the way that love and compassion expand to replace the fear of scarcity with the joy of abundance. In the New Testament the life that we are grafted into is the vigorous growth of the branches, supported by the vine–a body with roots that are grounded in the abiding and steadfast Love of God.

The challenge of this morning’s lessons it seems to me–is our natural inclination is to attempt to hold on to love, that when one finds a source of love, our first impulse is to hold on to it–and to even hoard it–lest it depart from us or slip through our fingers. Our attempts to secure love for ourselves could be rather like venturing to save and hold on to a fine and rare bottle of wine. And yet this is contrary to the way that Jesus lived. Jesus risked sharing a love for the world widely, with abandon and abundance.

It is an example of a vineyard, ancient in its origins, capable of yielding an exquisite vintage with a very simple formula for success. God is the vine grower, Jesus is the vine, and you are the branches: branches intended to yield a vintage of Joy, Abundance and Love.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on 6 May 2012, The Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year B. Lessons: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:24-30; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8.