Category Archives: Sermon Archives

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: Together We Shall Overcome (The Rev. Eric Hinds)

This past week we watched several major stories weave their way through our consciousness. The tragic events of South Carolina were brought into sharper focus and context this week with the delivery of President Obama’s eulogy at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charlestown. We also had a landmark decision delivered by The United States Supreme Court affirming that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law applies to same-sex marriage; And yesterday, in Salt Lake City Utah, where the General Convention of the Episcopal Church is underway, the House of Bishops elected, with the House of Deputies confirming, The Right Reverend Michael Curry, Diocesan Bishop of N. Carolina, to serve as the Presiding bishop of our church for the next nine years. Bishop Curry will be the first African American to serve our denomination in the role of Presiding Bishop.

In the midst of these headlines there was story the for the most part slipped in under the radar. It was the press release of a personal letter written 17 years ago from Coretta Scott King to Dennis and Judy Shepard. In the year 1998, the death of the Shepard’s son Matthew, who was a student at the University of Wyoming, made National News not just because of the brutality of the beating that led to Matthew’s death, but because the severity of the attack was directly related to the assailants learning that Matthew was gay.

The letter from Coretta Scott King to Matthew’s parents reads as follows:

Dear Mr. and Mrs Shepard,

I was stunned and deeply saddened to learn of the killing of your beloved son Matthew Shepard. On behalf of Dexter Scott King, The King Center, and the King Center family, I send our heartfelt condolences, our love and prayers to your family in your hour of bereavement. 

Clearly, your Matthew was a fine young man, a kind and open-hearted person who believed in human rights and the dignity of all people. The outpouring of sympathy from his many friends, as well as his family, is a testament that he was a caring and much loved human being, and his loss diminishes us all.

The epidemic brutality that took your son’s life and has caused so much pain to your family must be confronted and stopped. Americans of conscience must work a lot harder to eliminate this sick culture of violence that threatens even our best and our brightest.

Matthew Shepard will be sorely missed. But we will be praying that your family will soon be unburdened by the knowledge that his beautiful spirit will live on in the hearts of all those he touched.

Sincerely, Coretta Scott King.

One of the things notable about Coretta Scott King’s letter is her obvious empathy for both the Shepard family’s pain and for the struggles faced by all members of the larger Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community. It is a courageous letter because there was at time when considerable pressure existed, within a part of the Civil Rights community, not to acknowledge the pain and suffering within the gay rights movement as being on a par with the struggle for racial equality. And what Coretta King acknowledged was that ignorance and prejudice that results in the infliction of pain and injustice anywhere, no matter what the source, threatens to diminish the fabric of our Society and the quality of life everywhere. And so Coretta King’s letter of 17 years ago gives us insight and adds depth to the varied stories behind two of the notable symbols that have marked this week past—the confederate flag and the rainbow flag.

One can not help but notice that our 150th anniversary celebration of the establishment of St. Matthew’s as a parish—also marks 150 years since the end of the Civil War. 150 years since the end of the Civil War is the principle fact that makes the shooting and death of 9 members of a noted African American Church in Charleston so painful. For aside from the tragic loss of life, the shooting reminds us that issues of race and racism still haunt our nation, despite the fervent prayers of many to the contrary.

Perhaps we are simply naive in our expectation that seven generations would be enough time for the wounds inflicted by the brutal institution of slavery to end. Or Perhaps we have been blind to the power of the structures, symbols and language of oppression that still exist: De facto segregation, racial profiling an unequal prison system, and other factors that work to undermine the proposition that: Black Lives—do indeed—Matter.

In his eulogy for Clementa Pinckney, President Obama made reference to a persistent symbol of oppression when he noted that ‘…we all have to acknowledge [that] the (Confederate) flag has always represented more than ancestral pride. For many, black and white, that flag was a reminder of systemic oppression and racial subjugation. We see that now.” And then our President added to Governor Haley’s call to remove the Confederate flag from the states capital by observing that:

Removing the flag from this states capital would not be an act of political correctness. It would not an insult to the valor of Confederate soldiers. It would simply be acknowledgement that the cause for which they fought, the cause of slavery, was wrong. The imposition of Jim Crow after the Civil War, the resistance to civil rights for all people was wrong.

It would be one step in an honest accounting of Americas history, a modest but meaningful balm for so many unhealed wounds. It would be an expression of the amazing changes that have transformed this state and this country for the better because of the work of so many people of goodwill, people of all races, striving to form a more perfect union.

And the President concluded his thoughts by proclaiming that:

By taking down that flag, we express Gods grace.

The important principle for us to wrestle with—what I think lies behind the Presidents words—is that leaders, and those who are in power, bear an added obligation to work to eliminate and remove barriers that are placed in the path of those seeking recognition healing and justice.

At first glance, it might appear that this morning Gospel, a passage that sets out to tell the story of the Healing of Jairus’s daughter, has little to do with the events of this past week. If you listen carefully there were actually two stories within the gospel passage: the story of the women suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years is kind of sandwiched into the middle of the other story. And at first you may think How strange that this woman with hemorrhages who suddenly appears in the crowd. And you might say 12 years—how awful—-but you do not know the half of it. As an observant Jew in the time of Jesus the woman’s life would have been further constrained by the laws of Moses

Leviticus Chapter 15 lays out that: When a woman has a discharge of blood she shall be in her impure for seven days, and whoever touches her shall be unclean. The law further states that: Everything upon which she lies or sits during her impurity shall be unclean… And whoever touches her bed shall must wash their clothes, and be unclean until the evening.

Effectively the purity law that applied to the hemorrhaging woman would have condemned her to 12 years of strict social isolation. Cast in that light—it is amazing that this woman, who we are told had endured so much, even makes it to a public place to come into contact with Jesus. By itself, the healing of the hemorrhaging woman is remarkable, yet perhaps even more notable is that Jesus is primarily interested in the plight and the humanity of the woman—more than he is in the dogma & social structures that have effectively shut her out of the community for half her life. On that day, in one breathtaking encounter with a hemorrhaging woman, Jesus began to change the whole notion of who was acceptable before God—and worthy of healing and wholeness.

It has ever been the work of the church to continue to engage in that conversation—asking if there are any groups within the people of God who bear the burden of less than full acceptance for reasons that cease to match our current understanding of our common human condition. With regard to sexual orientation and identity our denomination by different means has reached a conclusion similar to that upheld by the Supreme Court. It was Justice Kennedy who explained:

the Constitution’s power and endurance rest in the Constitution’s ability to evolve along with the nation’s consciousness. In that service, Kennedy said, the court itself has recognized that new insights and social understandings can reveal unjustified inequality within our most fundamental institutions that once passed unnoticed and unchallenged. 

Following in the footsteps of Jesus, it is our vocation to take notice and to challenge the status quo and address inequality in the world around us. You many not be familiar with the writings or sermons of our New Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, but I want to conclude with the thoughts of another African Anglican Leader. Archbishop Desmond Tutu offered these thoughts in the year 1991. He related this short Vignette:

At home in South Africa, I have sometimes said in big meetings, where you have black and white together: “Raise your hands!” Then I’ve said, “Move your hands,” and I’ve said “look at your hands—different colors representing different people. You are the rainbow people of God.” And you remember the rainbow in the Bible is the sign of peace. the rainbow is the sign of prosperity. We want peace, [We want]prosperity, And [We want] justice—-And we can have it when all the people of God, the rainbow people of God, work together. 

Sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost on 28 June 2015, Year B. Lessons: 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27; Psalm 130; 2 Corinthians 8:7-15; Mark 5:21-43.

Santas Point to Christmas (The Rev. Eric Kimball Hinds)

One Saturday morning, two weeks ago, I was walking in downtown San Francisco. As I looked about I noticed One—then two—then three individuals—ordinary people—dressed in santa suits, walking along the sidewalk. It seemed a little strange, but before I could dismiss the sightings as some kind of fluke convergence—I in quick order noticed santas number 5, 6, 7, & 8, and then I noticed that all the santas seemed to be walking in the same direction. As I moved closer to the shopping district the concentration of santas increased so much so that, if one had a bird’s eye view from high above the city, it would look like there were many small rivers of red swelling and flowing into a huge reservoir of santas that were spilling out of Union Square. There were traditional older santas—but many more younger santas. There were black and oriental santas. There were women santas in stylish suits. santas wearing sunglasses, santas in bars, and random santas giving out gifts.

I eventually discovered that I had stumbled upon individuals intent upon participating in Santa-con—a combination pub crawl, fashion event and flash mob—where the common denominator seemed to be individuals sharing in the joy of donning santa outfits and assuming the persona of the world’s most well known gift giver.

At one level, Santa-con seems like a distant cousin 3 times removed from our gathering this evening. Yet one could make the case that the San Francisco sea of santas are removed from the story of the nativity by only two degrees of separation. One step closer to the nativity story is St. Nicholas. As you know there is a close connection between Santa and St. Nicholas. Nicholas is of course the older figure. A bishop of the church dating from the fourth century from the region of Myra—located in present day Turkey.

We know only a little about Nicholas. We assume that others saw him as a holy man—since he was a priest and then became bishop. He was known for his love of children and to mark his love for the Christ child at christmas he gave gifts. And in giving those gifts Nicholas affirmed that there was something of the nature of Christ in every child. Most stories about Nicholas affirm the bishop’s goodness and generosity and it is not difficult to imagine Nicholas leaving gifts on Christmas eve in secret, outside doors, and dropped trough windows or chimneys for some of the poorest children in his area.

It is interesting that the stories about Nicholas arise around the same time that Christians first became a feast—when people first began to take notice and celebrate the birth of Jesus. Perhaps we can see this period as the first degree of separation from the nativity story. With Nicholas and the fourth century we see the beginnings of many rich and varied celebrations of Christmas.

Christmas is a holiday wrapped in traditions and many families carefully preserve and hand down their unique Christmas customs. Trimming the tree on Christmas eve with carols playing and a supply of hot chocolate and warm chocolate chip cookies before going to church; or opening a single present before turing into bed on Christmas eve—are two traditions among countless ways that families celebrate the feast of the Nativity. Our family looks forward to gathering around the table for Christmas Dinner and opening our stockings before the first service on Christmas Day. Perhaps no other holiday lends itself to tradition and preserving the practices of childhood and days gone by than our celebration of Christmas.

For all the talk about the crass commercialization of the season devoted to the birth of Jesus most families and individuals find ways to celebrate Christmas with intention and meaning. I suspect that each of you have Christmas memories that evoke a sense of joy and wonder—memories that provide comfort and solace. Those good feelings of Christmases past, provide more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane—they have imbedded within us the knowledge that the event of the birth of the Christ forever changed the world—And those memories affirm that the goodness of God lies at the center of the universe.

I wonder if at some deeper level the phenomenon of people donning santa outfits by the hundreds points to a deep desire to share with others an experience—that at its heart is based upon the peace and joy of the Nativity—an event that so clearly proclaims the generosity of God’s love. The story of Christ’s birth reminds us of our deeper longings—And one reason that we gather this evening is to share an experience of belonging.

In the days of Mary & Joseph Bethlehem was a tiny village, nestled into a mountain top, dwarfed by the magnitude of an empire that ruled all of life. As we travel with Mary & Joseph to Bethlehem we see before our eyes how a backwater, obscure corner of the empire with inadequate lodging—is transformed to the center of the universe where the most important event in the history of the world takes place.

The Nativity scene gives us a strange community of: lowly shepherds, heavenly angels, barn animals, a tired father and mother, and at the center of it all, the newborn Jesus laying in a manger. It is a scene of utter simplicity that captures the fragility and vulnerability of our human existence—It is A reminder that the community that gathered around the manger was an odd gathering that looked nothing like the royal entourage of the emperor—and yet that tiny gathering represents the beginning of the community to which we belong. A community that gathers this evening, bringing our concerns, challenges, worries, and fears—along with our greatest aspirations. We Gather Around our altar as a people learning how to: love unselfishly. Learning how to give and to be a part of something bigger—Accepting God’s call to follow the life of this holy child—and receiving God’s great love and blessing.

Most of the santas that I saw that Saturday seemed pretty happy. And I have no doubt that St. Nicholas was an admirable bishop who did great works. On this night, it is our great joy to continue to discover how God in Christ calls us—works through us, and gathers us to be a people transformed by God’s love and grace—to love and serve the world in which we live.


Christmas sermon preached by The Reverend Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California at the 9:30pm service on Christmas Eve and at the 10:00am service on Christmas Day. Lessons: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:[1-7] 8-20.

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LZeSZFYCNRw

Easter 7A: Finding Our Place in Sacred Story (Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Perhaps more than anything….Storytelling is at the very root of our religious tradition…..

The stories are told….

The stories are heard…

The stories are passed down from generation to generation….

The Old Testament reveals to us the stories of our past, where we come from…and the unfolding relationship between God and God’s chosen people….

As we begin this season after Pentecost, we begin to realize that these stories begin to unfold from the beginning…..with the creation account we heard last week, the story of Abraham this week…..and will continue to carry us through this season all the way up to All Saints Day,  chronologically following the story of God’s people…..from Genesis through Deuteronomy.

The New Testament writings reveal to us how people lived in the time following Jesus’ death and resurrection….how the newest “Christians” made sense of it all? How they lived out their faith in conflict and peace, struggling to make sense of the Resurrection and their call to discipleship.

During the season of Pentecost, these stories unfold in fourteen weeks of rather uninterrupted accounts from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.  In which Paul, reveals that he is set apart by God for preaching the Gospel, he also seeks to encourage and assure them about those things that God has given to them.  Aware of the unfolding conflict between Gentile and Jewish Christians in the Roman Church, he then proceeds to offer support and guidance to the early church. (Wiki “Paul Letter to the Romans”)

Then there is the Gospel.  Where, after a brief stint in John, we return to Matthew’s account of Jesus’ life, as is generally characteristic of lectionary year A.

And it is hear where we encounter the reality of fear.  In this portion of the larger missionary discourse, Jesus offers direction to the disciples, telling them several times about the terrible things they will encounter as disciples, and then as if to sugar coat it he quickly tells them, to have no fear…..to not be afraid….. before he continues to tell them all the bad things that might happen to them…..

this passage might also invoke a sense of fear in us….

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth, I have not come to bring peace , but a sword.”

the seemingly mild mannered Jesus, born in a manger among animals, halo above his head……is held in stark tension to the Jesus we hear about in todays gospel.

This somewhat sharp tongued Jesus, declaring that he has “come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against his mother” reminds the disciples that while they shouldn’t be afraid, they should also know that Jesus seeks to offer radical shift in social relations, power and authority, that will not always be well received….and that at times might cause conflict even among family members.  That the road to discipleship will both destroy and create new relationships……

Jesus seeks to teach the disciples that through discipleship they too will fall subject to the same pain and discomfort that he is exposed to in his ministry…but at the same time they will also experience the joy and rewards of following him.

—–

These stories along with those told in the psalms…help guide us through our worship and our common life together, reminding us of where we are from and where we are going…

Sacred Scripture becomes the way in which we as Christians understand

who we are,

why we are and

who we are called to be……

these stories are the fibers that knit us together both as individuals and communities of faith, but also bind us to other communities of faith…

I’d like to invite you to close your eyes for a moment…..

think about where you find yourself today…..in the great stories of our faith…..

what story from the bible jumps right into your mind…..

what story can help guide you during this particular season of your life….

Maybe you find yourself on the road to Emmaus, at the well with the women…..or maybe you find yourself in exodus struggling to find the promised land……

where does your personal story meet our sacred story?

wherever you find yourself…be there….pray from there……

PAUSE

And if you couldn’t think of it right away…I encourage you to think about that question in the weeks to come….

Where does your personal story meet our sacred story?

The practice of being able to find ourselves in scripture is not one that necessarily comes naturally to us….

we often listen to the stories cerebrally understanding their meaning or studying them….

…but when we are able to extrapolate from our own daily lives…..and begin to weave ourselves back in to the sacred story….

 

We are able to see both scripture and our lives in a new way….. that is where the magic truly happens…..that is where grace is born.

—–

What about St. Matthew’s?

What is our story?

What is our communities story in the larger story of this block, this deanery, this city, this diocese……

Where does our community sit in the larger survey of sacred stories….

—–

Although I have not been a part of this community very long, I got rather emotional this week, seeing the back hoe take out the plants outside my window and the parking lot…

in my sadness I turned the corner and there were a couple families outside the Baldwin entrance with preschool and kindergarten age children….looking at the back hoes….sooo excited because they had never seen one sooooo big before…..and the parents were eager to learn what was going on here……

I saw a man driving down El Camino with a look like “oh my gosh I didn’t know there was a church there, Where did they come from?”

I overheard to passerby’s on the street corner wondering “what was going on?” and “how beautiful that church is”

All around us the story of St. Matthew is shifting….

In the midst of this shift……where do we find ourselves in scripture…..

Are we the parish in exile, feeling dry and parched as we travel through the dessert looking towards the promise land, wondering if and when we will ever make it there?

Are we the parish at the Wedding Feast in Cana, where though we think we have run out, we realize that God continues to provide from God’s abundance?

Are we the parish listening to Jesus, assured by him telling us to not be afraid, but reminding us that things will not always be as they are….or as they have always been.

What is our sacred story?

And where is it leading us?

What will it teach us about God and about ourselves, and about the community around us?

Easter 6A: A Lost Generation (Rev. Lindsay Marie Hills)

Last fall, I was invited to participate in an online bookgroup by an old classmate from high school and middle school.  I had never done one of these online book groups….but was touched by her personal invitation to be apart of the group.  The text had been chosen “You Lost Me:  Why Young Christians are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.”  By David Kinnaman.

I grew a bit anxious when I heard the book selection…because I am clearly on the other side of that threshold…..I know why I left the church… in college.

But I know that my friend, unlike myself never came back to church….and now identifies as somewhere in the agnostic – atheist spectrum.

The two of us were raised in nuclear Roman Catholic households….both of us with parents married for almost 40 years…

And yet we have gone very different directions in relationship to Church. Making the invitation to be in an authentic dialogue about our experience with the church so refreshing..

The premise of Kinnaman’s book weaves together both quantitative and qualitative findings about youth dropout rates in a way that seeks “to explain the next generation’s cultural context and examine the question How can we follow Jesus —And help young people faithfully follow Jesus –in a dramatically changing culture?”(Kindle -location129)

Unfortunately the book does all to good a job painting the reality of youth ministry in America…”.beginning with the dropout problem that hinges on two simple facts”

1)   teenagers (13-17 year olds) are some of the most religiously active Americans.

2)   (while) American twentysomethings are the least religiously active….

The ages 18-29 are have become the black hole of congregations….and are often missing from churches….reflecting a 43% drop off between the teen and the early adult years in terms of church engagement….an overwhelming 8 million twenty somethings who once were active and invested teenagers…..gone from our communities before their 30th birthday,” becoming what has been coined unchurched (Kindle location 243)

What often happens with this missing group…..is rather than ask questions, seek information, or learn about the cultural shift……

we sit back and WE make excuses for why they aren’t at church….….

-”they are just too focused on their careers”…..or

-“its ok they will come back when they have to baptize their children.”

These, among others, are common “outs” offered by well meaning church-goers to help make sense out of their absence…

but its often those very excuses that help keep us in denial about why they are really gone….and why they won’t come back.

While the book is not perfect, and definitely leaves room for discussion, it does,

I think….get a lot of things really right about the lost generation and how and when we fail them….

It also does a great job of outlining how we, sometimes unknowlingly, KEEP the lost generation….just that…..lost

And while I must admit….it sounds like a depressing read….its actually not as depressing as I may make it sound, namely because it addresses the common reasons for departure from church, and how we might begin to think about meeting the needs of this growing generation and of the generation following them….

Less one feel totally helpless at the end of the book, it also includes a helpful “50 ideas to find a generation” which were generated by congregations attempting to “cultivate a new mind for understanding and discipling the next generation.”

Another thing that makes this feel hopeful….is that we aren’t alone in this exodus phenomenon.  .

We often think that the missing generation is something unique to mainline Christian denominations…..but a recent documentary titled “Un-mosqued,” highlights that it is no longer just a Christian phenomenon.

In a recent NPR story,[1] they explored the new documentary and why it is causing such a stir.

The film “depicts a younger generation of American Muslims, drifting away from Islam and while Christian churches haven’t generally accepted their responsibility in pushing young Christians away…, UnMosqued, goes straight for the jugular and is not shy in blaming the current Mosques for their failure to meet the needs of young adults.

I was enthralled as the story unfolded….talking about so called “third spaces” emerging where young adults are trying to gather outside the mosque to form new Muslim communities….similar in many ways to what Episcopalians often refer to as “fresh expressions.” Examples of dinner  “churches” or dinner “mosques,” congregations meeting in coffee houses or in the fields of farms, communities of faith reclaiming an earlier “house church” model of worship where people can worship God free from the burdens of our physical buildings and all that so often comes with them.

In a time when Christians and Muslisms are at war with one another around the world….there was something refreshing about the story….in that we aren’t the only ones that have screwed up…. And we really aren’t as alone as we think….

other organized religions are struggling the same as we are….

Struggling to make sense of a changing world….

Struggling to understand the mystery of God in the midst of that changing world.

And

Struggling to help others…understand that mystery.

On his second missionary Journey, Paul travels from Philippi, to Thessalonica and finally to Athens.  In the portion we hear from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles today in our first reading, we hear Paul’s sermon to the Athenians.

In his exhortation to the people of Athens, he brilliantly introduces the gospel in a way that is accessible for the “unchurched” to hear….he begins….with what on a first read might seem like flattery….”Athenian’s I see how extremely religious you are in every way.”  But what is most important is that Paul acknowledges the holy among them, acknowledging first the spiritual nature of their beliefs…even if they might just be superstition.

He meets them where they are.

And it is from that point that he seeks to teach them about  the mystery of God.

Paul skillfully introduces his hearers to Christ by teaching them about God’s interrelationship with humanity.

“God is creator of the universe, such that humans find their being in Him –we are created in the image and likeness of God. He is the sustainer of the universe –we are dependent on Him and He is independent of us. The purpose of God’s creating and sustaining role is that we may know him—enter into relationship with Him” [2]

and it is that link to humanity that Paul then uses, with a splash of familiar Greek poetry to illustrate his point…

28For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’ 

Paul’s message was a message to the unchurched….to those who had no connection with Jesus Christ….

And from the portion of the reading that follows, that we didn’t hear today, we know that some were converted through their encounter with Paul and his sharing the story of the resurrection with him.

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some began to sneer, but others said, ‘we shall hear you again concerning this.’  So Paul went out of their midst.  But some men joined him and believed…among them were Dionysius…and a woman named Demaris….”

Perhaps the success of Paul was his ability to honor the truth about people’s experiences with the sacred.

I know I have talked about chapel several times this year, and one of the exercises that we have been doing this year is to answer children’s questions about God, faith and life, in the context of our Episcopal identity.  This past week, Chaplain Amber was faced with the question, “why do we have so many different religions?  Why isn’t there just one religion?”

I thought her approach to this very difficult question was particularly refreshing….she talked about how in the beginning of time the mystery of God was born throughout creation, and then how people from the very earliest cave dwellers….to Hindus, jews, Christians, and Muslims all really sought to make sense of that same “mystery of god” in their own unique way….often times drawing on the traditions of the past, but creating something new for themselves….and how at the end of time, on the opposite side of creation, that we might understand end times, as a time in which, all our ideas of the mystery of God will coalesce….

24The God who made the world and everything in it, he who is Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by human hands

but rather it lives inside each of us….from generation to generation….

Paul grappled with Mystery of God…

the Athenians grappled with the Mystery of God.

 

Just as we grapple with the mystery of God… in the midst of our changing world….

Just as our Muslim brothers and sisters grapple…

And it seems like perhaps one of our greatest challenges may be to remain open minded to the ways the mystery of God, reveals itself to us in the midst of this changing world…

but perhaps more importantly HOW we respond to that Mystery….to that Spirit?

how we can make that mystery be known to the lost generation in a way that honors where they are…or even prevent generations from being lost in the first place?

If we don’t carry on the important work of Paul….who will?

If it is truly In him we live and move and have our being,  we have no choice but to respond prayerfully and powerfully to the changing world around us, attempting to make sense of the mystery of God in the midst of us, in a way that seeks to transform our relationship with God, one another, and the unchurched….authentically, faithfully and lovingly.

[1] NPR “Unmosqued”  http://www.npr.org/blogs/codeswitch/2014/05/23/314867358/unmosqued-examines-muslim-variant-of-unchurched-youth

[2] “The Areopagus Sermon,” Rev. Bryan Findlayson, Lectionary Bible Studies and Sermons, Pumpkin Cottage Ministry Resources. Includes detailed textual notes.  Available:  http://www.lectionarystudies.com/studyot/easter6aaot.html

 

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.