Category Archives: Rev. Eric

Revenge Revisited, Sunday Sermon from February 24, 2019

Click to hear the recording of Rev. Dr. Eric Kimball Hinds re-reading the sermon.

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my Father.  Prepare to Die!

Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya.  You killed my Father.  Prepare to Die!

In the movie The Princess Bride, that is the famous line repeated by the character played by Mandy Patinkin as he seeks to exact revenge upon the cruel and arrogant lieutenant Count Rugen.  As far as sympathy goes—the movie audience easily identifies with the character of Inigo Montoya and his desire for revenge over the murder of his father. It is after all an almost universal experience, that of wanting to get even, to get back for a slight or to settle a score.  From ancient times the oldest law codes recognize a victims right to justice.  An idea succinctly captured in the words An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

And yet, in this morning’s Gospel, Jesus ventures to gather his followers and charges them with loving their enemies.  Love your enemies!?  It’s hard enough to love friends or family sometimes—let alone love your enemies. Can you imagine a new follower of Jesus attempting to make sense of his words Love your enemies?  Love the Romans? —who occupy the country by the point of the sword, heavily tax the population, and crucify dissenters?  Love the bandits and thieves who roam the country extorting what remaining wealth they can find?  In the not too distant future, love your persecutors??  It is more than most of us can get our minds around; and yet, Jesus has a long discourse built around loving one’s enemies.

For starters Jesus instructs:  Do good to those who hate you.  Bless those who curse you, and Pray for those who abuse you.  And then Jesus offers up the idea of turning the other cheek.  This Gospel passage this morning forces one to ask Has Jesus provided his followers with a set of impossible standards—or—Is Jesus on to something?  Something difficult—but significant.  Something important for religious people to grapple with. Ultimately, a set of teachings one should struggle to embrace.

At the center of Jesus’s teaching this morning lies the admonition If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also.  At first it seems an invitation to become nothing more than a passive punching bag—vulnerable to any amount of abuse that an assailant might choose to administer.  Upon closer examination though, there is evidence that in the context of his day and age, Jesus is speaking of the specific area of personal insult—where an adversary would registertheir disparagement by using the back side of their right hand to slap the cheek—thus asserting both their authority and dominance.  By offering the other cheek after being slapped, an individual was depriving their adversary of the normal status quo.  Turning the other cheek would force the aggressorto use their left hand, the hand used for unclean purposes, to deliver the next slap.  Thisalternative, if delivered, would acknowledge a level of equality.  And so, far from being an act of passivity, offering the other cheek in this context would amount to a determined act of defiance. A refusal to meet violence with violence andalsoa challenge for one to be recognized as an individual with equal rights and equal dignity.

With Jesus one sees the beginning of an attempt to recognize the innate worth of every person—even one’s enemies.  A venture to see the light within every individual—no matter how dim the flame may be flickering.  By extension it must be something like the way that God must view creation—with the power to love us—even when ourdisobediencetakes us far from the fold of the faithful.  From the outset one must say that this is no easy teaching.  Certainly, one does not come to loving one’s enemies naturally.  Rather, it requires a maturity and a disciplinethat at times may seem far beyond our grasp.  This notion though, of at least praying for one’s enemies, has been embodied by those who have championed non-violence as a means to resist oppression and to bring about social change.

In modern times, one can look to the example of Gandhi, who championed the use of non-violence to resist British oppression.  Those same lessons were adopted by Martin Luther King, Jr. in the fight for Civil rights in our own country.  And they were also utilized to combat the policy of apartheid in the country of South Africa.  In each of these cases, social change was facilitated by a disciplined approach, one that sought to transform the hearts and minds of one’s opponentswhile refusing to fuelthe flames of violence. There was a determined effort to beak the cycle of hate.

In the movie The Princess Bride, after 20 years of dreaming of revenge, and consumed by relentless pursuit, Inigo Montoya finally catches up with Count Rugen, and he extracts his revenge.  He kills the man—who killed his father.  As the movie reaches its denouement, few people remember the line delivered by Montoya near the very end of the film.  Reflecting upon the movie many years later—the actor Mandy Patinkin offers that: while theYou killed my father—prepare to die! remains one of the most memorablelines from the movie—perhaps the most significantline from the film is delivered by his character right near the end—when Montoya reflects “I have been in the revenge business so long—Now that its over—I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.”

That acknowledgement highlights the way that the anger surrounding revenge can become all consuming—crowding out one’s capacity and energy for positive emotions and action and above all for love.  Speaking about this phenomenaArchbishop Desmond Tutu reminded followers that “Before Nelson Mandela was arrested in 1962, he was an angry, (relatively) young man”—and then he spent 24 years in prison, breaking rocks, and sleeping on the floor of a tiny cell.  If anyone had reason to hate, to dream of settling a score it was Mandela—and yet to the astonishment all Tutu observed that “When he was released [from prison]  Mandela surprised everyone because he was talking about forgiveness and not revenge.”

When asked one time to explain his outlook Mandela offered that: Resentment is like an individual drinking poison and then hoping that (the poison you consume) will kill your enemies.

Do good to those who hate you
Bless those who curse you
and Pray for those who abuse you.

Love your enemies
Impossible attitudes to undertake on our own.
And yet—if we venture to turn away from revenge and to embody some measure of the love that God holds for us—the promise that Jesus offers is that:

   Forgive and you will be forgiven—
            Give and it will be given to you—
            And—The measure that you give—
                               will be the measure you receive.


Sermon preached by the Reverend Doctor Eric Kimball Hinds at the Episcopal Church of Saint Matthew in San Mateo, California, on 24 February 2019, the Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany, Year C.  Lessons: Genesis 45:3-11, 15; Psalm 37: 1-12, 41-42; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50; Luke 6:27-38.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.