Category Archives: Rev. Eric

Easter 6A: Love Your Neighbor: Paul Among Jews and Gentiles (The Rev. Dr. Eric Hinds)

Love Your Neighbor: Paul Among Jews and Gentiles
Sermon by The Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds

Almost 30 years ago, after I had made the decision to attend seminary, on a journey towards ordination to become an Episcopal priest, but before our young family of three had picked up and moved to The General Theological Seminary in Manhattan, a fellow parishioner presented me with the gift of a book—which was titled The Search for God at Harvard. The book had just been published and it was written by Ari Goldman whose name was well known to me—as he was a correspondent for The New York Times. At the time he wrote the weekly column on Religion. While working at The Times, Goldman managed to balance the demands of his Orthodox Jewish faith with the schedule and deadlines of a journalist—and incredibly was given a Sunday through Thursday workweek.

It was while he was the Religion Correspondent that Goldman hatched the idea of furthering his religion writing credentials by spending a year at the Harvard Divinity School—so that he could engage more deeply in the world of contemporary religions. One of the things that fascinated me about Goldman’s book was his description of how he was looking forward to directly encountering Christianity and gleaning insights of a faith so different from his own.

And so it surprised me when Goldman described that he felt kind of cheated—for most everywhere that he went he found that the Christians seemed to bend over backwards to apologize for the mention of Jesus. And I remember being so grateful for Ari Goldman’s observation for I eventually realized that he was describing the early stages of a process where many different religious traditions were just starting to think about, and feel their way through, finding ways to engage one another with the hope of building bridges of friendship across differences. And the immediate challenge that presents itself in such situations—is how do you on the one hand hold onto and value your own identity, while at the same time being welcoming and not feeling in competition with another?

Goldman attended Harvard Divinity School in the 1980’s—a time when many religious denominations were just beginning to venture beyond what I would describe as shells of isolation—a kind of religious protectionism that fears diluting or losing a perceived hold on truth more than exploring the benefits of getting to know your neighbor. The good news for us is that we benefit from decades of examples of communities reaching out beyond denominational identity to discover areas of shared interest while appreciating differences.

For some time now the lives of both Peninsula Temple Beth El and St. Matthew’s have intersected. We have worked together with Home & Hope, a local organization dedicated to

dealing with the issue of homelessness in our back yard. But it is really out of our joint participation in the Martin Luther King Day of Service—where among other things we discovered that our congregations have core groups of talented pancake flippers—that a set of relationships led to a set of mutual invitations to visit one another’s houses of worship.

On behalf of our entire congregation I just want to say how welcomed we felt last month when our unexpectantly large group accepted the invitation to attend your Shabbat Service and how thankful we are for your gracious and generous hospitality. We hope not only that we can reciprocate, but that our time together leads to an ongoing relationship marked by friendship and mutual affection.

Now at this point I will share that several of my parishioners—well actually quite a few—commented after attending the Shabbat service that they noticed that there was no sermon. (Now I want to be clear—it was not like a YES!! NO SERMON!!) It was more like an observation that was a kind of lament—for the observation I think betrayed a desire among our congregation to learn more about Judaism and to expand and deepen our knowledge of one another. Towards this end I would point out that in the past decades there has actually been a significant amount of attention given by biblical scholars to areas where our religious traditions intersect—a cooperative effort of scholarship that has done important work to remove old prejudices—and even in some cases lead to a deeper appreciation of our shared history.

In this morning’s first lesson we encountered a fairly famous passage where upon finding an altar dedicated To An Unknown God—the Apostle Paul takes the opportunity to preach to the Greeks in Athens about the God that he has come to know—Both through Judaism and his experience of the risen Christ. Nothing about this passage is simple—but I will point out that recent scholarship has highlighted that centuries of Christian interpretation have both forgotten and misunderstood important parts of Paul’s story and writings.

As a starting point most people do not know that Paul of the New Testament is one of only two Pharisees who have left behind any personal writings (Josephus is the other). On this basis alone says the Jewish biblical scholar Alan Segal—Paul is of interest for what his life can can tell us about first century Judaism. Digging deeper, one of the stereotypes of Paul, and the principle way that he has been understood through the centuries is as an apostate of Judaism—an individual whose conversion (temporary Emphasis) to Christianity can only be seen as affirming one tradition—and negating the other. And it is this trap—a false choice of extremes as applied to Paul—that has led to great misunderstandings.

Ari Goldman lamented that, by the time he got to Harvard, the groundbreaking Swedish New Testament scholar, Krister Stendahl, had left the faculty to serve as bishop of Stockholm. In his famous book, Paul among Jews and Gentiles, Stendahl persuasively argues that we should not properly speak of the conversion of Paul at all. Rather, Stendahl argues for adopting the language of prophetic call—a notion that comes to us from the Hebrew Scriptures. Stendahl at length details and articulates how Paul himself uses language that is very similar to the calls of the great prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah to describe his intense religious experience of the risen Jesus. Stendahl goes a step further, and his insight is worth our study, for he points out that Paul’s Call is to a specific vocation—where he comes to see himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles—an Apostle of the one God who is the creator of both Jews and Gentiles.

A careful reading of today’s first lesson from the Acts of the Apostles demonstrates Paul’s absolutely firm grounding in Judaism. I proclaim to you: The God who made the world and everything in it….The Lord of Heaven and earth…From one ancestor he made all nations…We ought not to think that the deity is like gold or silver or stone….Paul’s experience is grounded in the Hebrew scriptures. In his preaching to the Gentile Greeks, Paul clearly has a foot in two worlds and elsewhere in his own writings he attempts to reconcile the two major strands of his religious experience. While Paul struggled to understand it—in his writings he affirmed God’s mysterious plan for the coexistence between Judaism and Christianity, and he cautioned the early church against harboring feelings of superiority.

Stendahl’s brilliant insights into the first century perspective of Paul helps to illuminate some of the tragic misunderstandings that followed as later generations of Gentile Christians lost sight of the foundational way that Judaism had informed Paul’s relationship with and love for God. We Christians are just now beginning to rediscover the depth of all that Judaism contributed to the Apostle Paul’s knowledge and love of God.

In his year at Harvard Ari Goldman attended many interfaith events and he described how on many occasions he could hear the voice of his Orthodox Rabbi—Rabbi Siegal in the back of his head, complete with the image of his waving a finger, warning of the dangers of interfaith encounters. I have likewise heard members of several Christian denominations express concerns about contact and exposure to doctrines that deviate from their particular faith. From our collective experience—of reaching out to others—-We know differently. In attending the services of other faiths Goldman described his visits this way. He observed: In each case I leave as a Jew, rooted in my own faith—but nourished by the faith of others. That is do wonderfully stated.

As our visitors you have landed in the midst of our ongoing celebration of Easter. Part of the joy of our celebration on this day is knowing that we worship a God who is greater than our individual capacities of knowing and comprehension. We have come to know that we need one another, not only to strengthen the fabric of our larger community, but to learn from one another the many ways that God is at work in the world—in the midst of God’s many and varied people. We gather this day with great joy to affirm that we worship a God who is greater than our differences. A God who calls us to above all reach out and to get to know and love our neighbors.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 21 May 2017, the Sixth Sunday of Easter, Year A on the occasion of a visit by members from the congregation of Peninsula Temple Beth El. Lessons: Acts 17:22-31; Psalm 66:7-18; 1 Peter 3:13-22; John 14:15-21.

Tolkien, Matthew & Baptism

Most people become claustrophobic just at the thought of entering a long, narrow, dark tunnel—so imagine being stranded within a section of a tunnel deep within a mountain. Dampness hanging about you. And as you venture to move forward in the pitch dark, instead of finding solid ground, your foot steps into a pool of icy cold water. That little splash in fact marks the edge of a great underground lake. It is here, deep under the earth on the edge of a deadly cold body of water, that the reader eventually encounters the grotesque slimy creature named Gollum.

As J.R.R. Tolkien narrates the story it is the not-so-willing adventurer Bilbo Baggins, who finds himself alone in a tunnel, separated from his Companions. And it is Bilbo’s foot that discovered the lake edge. And as in any good Adventure story, after escaping from the clutches of horrible goblins, Bilbo, now alone in the tunnel, at the edge of an underground lake, is about to face a new challenge.

From an outpost upon a slimy island of rock, out in the middle of that same cold dark lake, Gollum heard the splash of water. With his two big round pale eyes in his thin face Gollum could see Bilbo across the lake. Described as “dark as the darkness itself” without making a sound Gollum gets into his little boat and silently paddles towards Bilbo, his large feet dangling over the side, heading toward the unsuspecting Bilbo. Gollum got his name from the horrible gurgling noise made in his throat when he spoke, and Gollum would normally think nothing of sneaking up behind a stray goblin, or in this case a hobbit, and strangling them in cold blood to provide a tasty meal.

For those of you who have read the book The Hobbit which is a prelude of sorts to the Lord of the Rings, trilogy, this encounter between Bilbo and Gollum sets the stage for the great drama that takes the rest of the trilogy to unfold. For in this meeting, one learns that Gollum has been the finder and custodian of a ring so powerful—that it corrupts anyone who wears it.

In Gollum, Bilbo encounters a creature that was once a hobbit like himself; Yet, as a result of being subjected to centuries of the corroding influence of the ring, Gollum is almost unrecognizable—the ring has twisted both his Hobbit body and mind in grotesque ways. The only thing that saves Bilbo in this unexpected meeting, is that Gollum has lost the ring, and he wonders if Bilbo might have found it.

In literature, a good villain or foe is not easy to conceive and execute—and one of the examples of why The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are able to transcend the label of mere “escapist fantasy” can be found by examining the complexity of the character of Gollum. In Gollum readers encounter a repulsive creature capable of horrible deeds and yet that reality is tempered by Tolkien who eventually provides the knowledge that Gollum was once a ordinary hobbit. That there was, and perhaps still is, a goodness deep within Gollum that has been buried.

Without specifically talking about Theology, Tolkien effectively supplies the reader with the notion that Gollum might indeed have been created with an inherent goodness. A Christian might put it as—created in God’s image—with the observation that aspects of life can combine and converge in such a way that the original goodness is all but covered up.

Much further into the saga of The Lord of the Rings, when a Bilbo’s son Frodo suggests that perhaps they all would be better off if Bilbo had just done away with Gollum when he had the chance back in that very first encounter—it is Gandalf, the wise wizard, who Observes that: perhaps for Gollum—all is not lost—that there yet may be a role for him to play in their mission against the powers of darkness.

In the first century, in the region of Galilee, at the tax-booth near the sea—it would have been difficult to find a more despised and hated man than Matthew, the tax collector. Tax collectors were sell-outs. Roman sympathizers. Betrayers of the Hebrew people, they were willing to sell friends, family and neighbors, down the river—causing real pain and financial hardship. As a religious Jew, suffering under Roman occupation, to befriend Matthew would be akin to saying you were disowning your family and casting your lot with the worst of the wretched. And yet, in this morning’s Gospel we are given a scene where Jesus, while walking along, sees Matthew at his tax booth—and it seems almost casually that he offers an invitation: Follow Me.

Follow Me!? If there were any crowds around, that simple invitation would be like tossing a live grenade into the center the gathering. The text tell us that the Pharisees were appalled—but this action by Jesus would certainly also have stunned Andrew, Peter, James and John—the hardworking fisherman who were the first to respond to the invitation of Jesus when he said Follow Me. That Jesus was willing to invite: a known sell-out, a professional sinner, Our Patron Saint!, must have seemed unfathomable to his followers. And yet the fact that, upon seeing Matthew, knowing all about his livelihood, the horrible opinions that others held against him—knowing all this—and that Jesus still reached out and invited Matthew—-WELL, IT MUST TELL US, It Must Point us Towards—something profound about the way that followers of Jesus are invited to look at the world—The way that we are invited to look at and behold one another.

Where others looked and saw only a despised tax-collector—somehow Jesus was able to see beyond all the things wrong with Matthew—and grasp the beauty and goodness of his inner being. If Matthew were a portrait of a fractured and broken individual—then Jesus managed to see the light shining through the cracks, and Jesus was willing to include Matthew knowing that fellowship with followers passionate for love and fellowship with God and one another had the power to transform Matthew’s life.

This morning we have a Baptism, and it seems to me one of the significant aspects of having a Baptism on this day, The Feast of St. Matthew, is that we make explicit what Jesus implied in his call of Matthew so long ago—that each of us Come into the world created in the Image of God bearing the indelible mark of our creator’s goodness—and that Nothing can ever change that basic fact. Sure it is true that in the course of life we may make mistakes, and that things happen to us that can partially cover-up or obscure that image of goodness, but baptism reminds that that we are ever God’s own—called to a lifelong relationship with God.

Today, our ancient ritual of baptism with water and our invocation of the Holy Spirit, will initiate Sidney into a formal relationship with God and with this congregation, the gathered people of God. And together we will affirm that nothing will ever be able to break the bond of being a valued child of God with unique gifts to share with the world.

As each of us grow, we inevitably make mistakes, missteps in the wrong direction. Perhaps even there has been a time in your life that has resembled flowing a path into a darkening tunnel. A time of uncertainty and doubt. Some have experienced times where reality itself seems twisted around, with the goodness of life distorted and barely recognizable. The exciting part of this Day, a Day with a Baptism on the Feast of St. Matthew is that it reminds us that no matter how difficult or tough is our journey—we can never reach a place beyond the reach of the loving embrace of God. That our lives are never severed from the possibility of transformation and new growth. By extension, this is the good news of the Gospel that we can share with family, friends and our larger community

In the our life journey, we are unlikely to meet characters as lost or as desperate as Gollum, or shunned to the extent of Matthew the tax collector, but we will undoubtedly encounter individuals who have to some lesser extent lost their way. Sometimes it may even be ourselves who have gone off course. And In each case, this day reminds us that Jesus ever extends an invitation—that a new future is always possible, and will open up for us when we respond to the simple invitation to follow me.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California on 18 September 2016, The Feast of Saint Matthew and the occasion of the baptism of Sidney Thomas Hills. Lessons: Proverbs 3:1-6; Psalm 119:33-40; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; Matthew 9:9-13.

Imagine—A Vision of God’s Kingdom

Imagine there’s no heaven….

It’s the opening lyric of a song that ventures to reflect upon and imagine a better world. 

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky

And so the song makes a start at pealing away religious imagery—beginning a critique of traditional belief that reaches a fuller development in the second stanza.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too

 From where we stand today, 36 years after the death of John Lennon, the songwriters words seem particularly poignant. While one marvels at the beauty of the spectacle of the parade of the athletes at the opening ceremonies of the Summer Olympics in Rio—the gathering of the nations also contains a reminder of the divisions that plague us around the world. We live with the awareness that fresh conflict could erupt in the Middle East—or that tensions between Russia and the Ukraine could continue to escalate—or that China’s oceanic land claims could become problematic. These and a dozen other scenarios could prompt one to lament of the destructive aspects of nationalism, that seem to thwart a peaceful future. And the line

Nothing to kill or die for
and no religion too

reminds us of the way that religion can combine with political ideology to produce a deadly cocktail of hate and violence—as we are acutely aware in the cases of al Qaeda and ISIS.

Because some of the lyrics of the song Imagine seem to negate religious belief—many were led to conclude that Lennon had become an atheist and was antagonistic towards religion. Most of us have had the experience of our religion and faith posing some measure of challenge—either towards our understanding or the exercise of faith.

A quick look at this morning’s gospel poses several challenges. Are we for example—really convinced that we should sell all our possessions and distribute the resulting heap of cash to those who have even less? Or are we actually prepared to remain in a state of constant vigilance for the apparent coming end of times—at an unexpected hour as the teaching of this morning’s gospel indicates? And probing the gospel even further are we really comfortable with a text that has an example that seems to be comfortable with the institution of slavery as a backdrop for making a point about being ready to encounter God? On the road for developing a mature faith the thinking person encounters many challenges—and sometimes, when the going becomes difficult, one can be tempted to toss the whole religious venture aside. And so one of the challenges for organized religion—is to resist the temptation to present a simple faith that requires little investment of time and little thought—and instead promote an active faith engaging the complexity and paradox of the modern world—ultimately pointing toward a transcendent God.

Coming at the challenge of engaging with the Christian faith from a helpful direction, the Christian contemplative, Richard Rohr, wonders how do we deal with the Inherent Unmarketability of the Christian Faith. He asks: “How do you sell emptiness, vulnerability, and nonsuccess? How can you possibly market letting-go in a capitalist culture? How do you present Jesus to a Promethean mind set? And how do you talk about dying to a church trying to appear perfect?”

As a person who practices contemplation Rohr observes that in the fast pace of the world—moving from one activity to the next—life can look and feel like we are on the edge of a non stop merry-go-round—where we have lost the ability to ever find the quiet, stable and secure center. And it is at this point, almost worn out by the velocity of living, that some begin to wonder if they have missed something significant in the realm of Religious life. This is the experience says Rohr, that opens the door for a fresh exploration (perhaps again for the very first time) of the deep roots of Christian spirituality and prayer.

You may find it interesting to know that John Lennon grew up attending his local Anglican church. He went to Sunday School, was a chorister and was active in the youth group. Beatle fans will be amused to learn that in the cemetery that surrounded Lennon’s parish church there was a tombstone with the name Eleanor Rigby. After confirmation, as Lennon entered young adulthood and drifted away from regular worship—it would be a mistake too say that he became non-religious. Most artists are keen observers of the world and like the religious mystics—Lennon often invites a deeper contemplation of the world and our place in it.

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can

Wait a minute—that’s what Jesus said

No need for Greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man

Again the deeply religious thoughts of Jesus and the Gospel. It’s as if we need these images—endangered of being lost or swallowed up—they find a way to bubble back to the surface to register deep within our psyche—allowing us to search and to press on for deeper connections with God and our fellow humans.

Religious people are shaped by images. They point to a new reality. By letting go of possessions Jesus was attempting to point to establishing new relationships—unburdened by who owns what. In pointing to the end of times, Jesus ventured to have his followers savor every moment and fill every human encounter with meaning. By having the owner of the house return only to invite the servants to sit and eat while being served by their master—was to undermine, and effectively begin to overturn the whole notion of slavery. Deeper religious thought and engagement begins when we stop     to reflect upon God and our place in the world.

On one level, over these past few days, we simply started watching a series of athletic contests unfolding in Brazil in the midst of a predictable list of problems and setbacks. The cynic can sit back and declare what a waste of time and resources. And yet at another level, gathering the nations of the world together to participate in a common event is a great feat of the imagination, and it plants the notion in the recesses of the mind that if this is possible—so are perhaps many other things that we currently think are unattainable.

Jesus did not coin the phrase Your God is too small, yetit is a fitting phrase, for Jesus invited his followers to dream about a better future and to invest in relationships; to spend time getting to know one another and to know God. Jesus reminds us that prayer and reflection is not wasted effort. Rather, He Announces that it is a deeply religious activity seeking to be an active participant in better world—ultimately bringing to life a vision of God’s kingdom that is only limited by the depths of our imagination.

Sermon preached by The Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on 7 August 2016, The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Year C. Lessons: Isaiah 1:1, 10-20; Psalm 50:1-8, 23-24; Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40.

Transfiguration, The Super Bowl, & Change (The Rev. Eric Hinds)

Imagine walking—ticket in hand towards a stadium that holds over 70,000 people. Imagine the challenge just getting there!   Everyone is dressed for a spectacle. Long forgotten are the concerns about financing the stadium, or the length of time for the construction. An event of super natural proportions will put the entire region on the map.

Once at the stadium you can feast upon a wide variety of cakes, pastries, dates, sweetmeats, and generous cups of wine—all served by handsome stewards passing through the crowds. If the sun gets too hot you will be shielded from the sun by means an enormous awning drawn to provide shade. Imagine: 300 tons of iron used in the construction; 100,000 cubic meters of Travertine stone.

In the year, 80 AD, with ticket in hand, you too could gain admission to the Roman Colosseum for the inaugural 100 days of games, which featured a parade, gladiator battles, wild hunts, and animal fights. Admittedly entertainment much more brutal that today’s Super Bowl contest between two football teams—but it was a show that filled the Colosseum to capacity and left crowds wanting more.

By comparison, Levi Stadium, the site of today’s big game, is billed as the most technologically advanced arena for sporting and other events. The $1.2 billion structure is LEED gold certified with a green living roof, and Wi-Fi throughout the stadium. Fans are able to order food and drink during the game via a mobile app. and have their exact order delivered to their seat. A 200 foot wide HD screen in the stadium provides instant replay for fans to review game highlights, and almost every space has multiple TV screens to ensure that no one misses a single game moment.

Knowing our joy and delight in all the features of modern technology—-I wonder if anyone attending those inaugural games at the Roman Colosseum could have imagined anything better or more advanced? I rather imagine an awed spectator turing to their host and saying at those ancient games something like Peter said to Jesus in this morning’s Gospel “Gee this experience is so great—let’s try to preserve it for all time for I can not imagine anything better.” or perhaps simply “Wow! It doesn’t get any better than this!”

And a statement like that should always give us pause for thought—for history shows us that few of us would ever really like, when it comes down to it, to be frozen in time. The brutal violence of the first century, spectators watching gladiators fight to the death, and animals being slain for sport, are the least of the problems with a first century version of the good old days.

Unlike today’s Super Bowl, which takes a free market approach to seating, in the world of the Colosseum there was strict seating policy distinguishable by both class and dress. Roman senators sat within the 1st tier of the stadium. Members of the nobel class sat within the second. Ordinary Roman citizens sat in the third tier, which was further divided into the wealthy and poor sections. Common women were relegated to the nosebleed section, relegated to the upper tier. Except for combatants, slaves were strictly forbidden from the Colosseum. Although construction of the Colosseum began about 40 years after the death of Jesus—-this was the Roman society with which Jesus was familiar. A rigid and often brutal hierarchical society that lived off the underclass. A society where the many, were in service to the few.

We encounter this morning’s gospel text just before the start of the season of Lent each year, and it comes as a kind of reminder that it is easy for religious people to become used to the way things are and even become complacent. In this mornings Gospel, we see that even after Peter, James, and John share an intense experience, a revelation of sorts about who Jesus is—and Peter desperately wanting to hang on that experience, to preserve it—it is Jesus who points his three disciples forward. Forward towards the Journey and discovery ahead. He refuses to dwell in the past.

And thank goodness Jesus moved on. Not only did Jesus move forward, but others continued to add to the work and ministry of Jesus. His disciples continued the proclamation of a Gospel of transformation and love. They continued his ministry of healing, as the movement we know as Christianity began to spread. The Apostle Paul opened up the mission of Jesus to the gentiles—a stunning development! And so one can see why Jesus had a sense of not wanting to dwell in the past, but to move forward.

Unfortunately, the liberating work of Jesus in welcoming women to share in his ministry was a window that would close by the end of the 2nd century. This was a setback one could argue that we, as the church, are only just now really beginning to set right these two millennia later. Likewise, it took people of faith a long time to wrestle with the often overlapping issues of slavery and race, let alone address issues of reproduction or sexual identity.

Today we are at a time and place where many in the church want to hold on to those things and those patterns that have been successful in the past—and in light of this morning’s lesson we might wonder whether Jesus would indulge our stopping to remain in the same place, or whether Jesus would have us move on looking for the next emerging area of ministry.

In a provocative article, ChristianWeek columnist, Carey Nieuwhof, makes ten predictions about the future of the Christian Church and shifting attendance patterns. I have selected five this morning that I think are worth our contemplation. Carey’s second point, I will give first as it is perhaps the most provocative. It is simply “Churches that love their Model MORE than their Mission—Will Die.” “We live in a changing world” observes Carey “and just about every industry has had to change. It would be a strange world indeed if the church did not have to change in some ways as well.” Another way of making this same observation is by asking the question “What are the seven words of a dying Church?” The answer that should give us pause for thought is: We never did it that way before!

If Carey’s second prediction seems too pessimistic—then his first prediction is positive and forward looking. He observes “As despairing or as cynical as some might be (sometimes understandably) over the church’s future, we have to remind ourselves that the church was Jesus’ idea, not ours.” He goes on to predict that It [The Church] will survive our missteps and whatever cultural trends happen around us. We certainly don’t always get things right, but Christ has an incredible history of pulling together Christians in every generation to share his love for a broken world. A point both simply stated and encouraging!

Prediction Three: The Gathered Church—is here to stay. We may have to discover different patterns and our gatherings may look different than they do today, but at its heart Christianity is a communal Venture. Carey affirms that Christians “will always gather together to do more than we ever could on our own.” To which I might add that: In the midst of a society where people increasingly feel isolated from one another—the body that gathers in Christ’s name has a unique role to play in knitting people together into a community that lives for more than itself. A community that provides a sense of meaning and belonging.

Prediction Four: The Online Church—and Online Ministries will supplement individual religious Journeys, but they will never replace actual gatherings and time spent in community. This is in a way similar to observations about online dating. While the internet may have an increasing importance and significance in the way that people find one another and interact—ultimately people desire face to face interactions and community rather than sustained isolation.

Prediction 5—I might say is actually a Challenge. “Simplified ministries will complement people’s lives, not compete with people’s lives.”(repeat) Here it is worth quoting Carey Nieuwhof at length He observes: For years, the assumption has been that the more a church grew, the more activity it would offer. The challenge, of course, is that church can easily end up burning people out. In some cases, people end up with no life except church life. Some churches offer so many programs for families that families don’t even have a chance to be families. The church at its best has always equipped people to live out their faith in the world. But you have to be in the world to influence the world. Churches that focus their energies on the few things the church can uniquely do best will emerge as the most effective churches moving forward. Simplified churches will complement people’s witness, not compete with people’s witness.

This Friday and Saturday your Vestry spent time together, planning and contemplating the future of our Church. It is clear to us that we are in the midst of changing times. In the midst of challenging times. In the midst of exciting times. We are on a Journey together. As we move forward as a parish it will take the gathered wisdom, the collective insights, and assembled energy of our entire community to discern how our future will unfold together. As tempting as it would be to stay at the mountaintop, preserving a moment in time. The Good news of the Gospel today—the exciting news for us is that—our collective future lies in letting Jesus lead us forward. Both, re-affirming old truths, and discovering new ways to be the church in this community for one another and for the larger world. It will at times I’m sure, be a journey of anxiety and challenge, but it’s a journey that we will be on together.

Sermon preached at The Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew, San Mateo, California, on 7 February 2016, The Last Sunday after the Epiphany (Transfiguration and Super Bowl Sunday), Year C. Lessons: Exodus 34:29-35; Psalm 99; 2 Corinthians 3:12-4.2; Luke 9:28-36 (37-43a).

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

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.