Living in the Eventide

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.

Bible Readings

Today is the first Sunday of Advent, and the church begins another liturgical year. We ought to call the season Advents, with an “s.” Because this season has two distinct foci: the first coming, or advent, of our Lord some 2000 years ago and the Second Coming when Christ will come again in glory to judge the world. This season is marked with darkness, both literally and figuratively. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the days are getting shorter and the nights longer. That’s the literal darkness of which I spoke. The figurative darkness is the spiritual eventide in which we find ourselves living today, that turbulent time between the two Advents of Christ when the world suffers the birth pangs of the Kingdom.

The church marks the season with the use of violet vestments and paraments, just as in Lent. And as in Lent, the singing of the Gloria on Sundays is forbidden. But unlike Lent, we are allowed to say and to sing Alleluia. Liturgists argue whether the season is a penitential season or rather a season of preparation. Perhaps the correct answer is that it is a bit of both. For spiritual preparation often includes penitence.

The world outside the church has already turned its eyes to Christmas. Trees have already been decorated. Strings of colored lights are going up on houses even as I speak. And Macy’s is already playing Christmas carols over its loudspeakers. But those of us inside the church are asked to slow down a bit, to allow ourselves some time to contemplate the coming feast of Christmas, and just as importantly, to allow ourselves some time to contemplate the Second Coming of Christ.

The first reading from Isaiah speaks of the prophesied Kingdom of God. In that Kingdom, all nations will worship one God together. Through God’s arbitration, all hostilities between nations will cease. War and conflict will be things of the past, and there will be peace and abundance on earth. This is God’s will for us. And the Church exists for one express purpose: to make sure that this Kingdom is well populated!

St. Paul advises us to wake up. He warns us that the Second Coming will soon be upon us. Well, it’s clear that he was wrong about the timing. He expected the Day of Judgment in his lifetime, and that didn’t happen. Instead, two millennia have passed. And after 2000 years, it is hard to maintain Paul’s sense of expectancy. But there is something to be gained if we make the effort! Though we may find it hard to believe that the Last Day will happen in our lifetime, it is not so hard to believe that we could very well experience our own personal Last Day at any time. All of us here know just how quickly death can come upon us. So St. Paul’s warning to lay aside the works of darkness and to clothe ourselves with the protective garment of life in Christ is as apt today as it was when he originally wrote it. And we would do well to heed his words.

This very same message is driven home by Jesus himself in the Gospel reading from Matthew. Jesus reminds us that, in the time of Noah, the people who were destined for destruction went about their daily lives oblivious to their situation until it was too late to act. Jesus goes on to say that at the Last Day some will be gathered up by angels for salvation while others in the same household will be abandoned to their fate. When this Day of Judgment will occur even Jesus doesn’t know. And so he counsels his followers to forgo sleep and to be spiritually prepared at all times.

As someone who suffers from occasional insomnia, the prospect of staying awake for the rest of my life does not sound appealing. But no need to fear! Spiritual wakefulness does not have the same deleterious effects that literal sleep deprivation has. Quite the opposite! Spiritual wakefulness just makes our spirits all the stronger. Both Jesus and St. Paul ask us to be alert at each moment of our lives to what God is calling us to do in that moment. And by so doing, we prepare ourselves to meet our Maker. Every moment of our lives presents us with decisions, with choices. And we, as disciples of Jesus Christ, are expected to make choices that are loving. We are to ask ourselves at each juncture, How might I love God and my neighbor in this moment? Now, we are only human, and sometimes we will get it wrong. The important thing is that we persist in the endeavor. And with practice, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can hope to grow in virtue and righteousness. As with so many things, practice makes perfect! Just as athletes, dancers, and musicians train their bodies to perform without conscious thought, developing “muscle memory,” so we can train ourselves in righteousness, so that we can act virtuously without even thinking about it.

In a sense, we are being asked to live as if—as if the Kingdom of God were already among us in its fullness. How do we do this? Well, the Scriptures have given us plenty of guidance as to how to go about it. We have the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount: to be poor in spirit, to hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be pure in heart, to be peacemakers, and so on. Jesus advises his disciples to keep the three traditional Jewish acts of piety: to pray, to fast, and to give alms. We have a hidden commandment in the Lord’s Prayer: to forgive others their trespasses. We have the continuing guidance of the Ten Commandments. And finally, we have the Summary of the Law: to love God and to love our neighbor. We are not wanting for instruction in righteous living.

Admittedly, it takes real effort to maintain such righteousness. And it takes attentiveness. It’s so easy to fall asleep spiritually. Going to church can get to be a chore, so maybe we begin to go just once a month. Surely that’s enough to satisfy God! Maybe we cut back our giving to charity. After all,they’re not going to take care of us if we run out of money! Maybe we decide it would be absolutely delicious to hold a grudge against someone who hurt us. Clearly, someone like that doesn’t deserve forgiveness! Then there’s the task of daily prayer—it can be so tedious and time-consuming, and it doesn’t do any real good anyway. …And so we drift asleep.

Well, wake up and smell the coffee, folks! “The night is far gone, the day is near.” Now is the time to prepare for our judgment. So, let us continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers. Let us persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever we fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord. Let us proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. Let us seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves. And last but not least, let us strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being. Brothers and sisters in Christ, know this: if we but keep these promises made at our baptism, we will be judged worthy to live with Christ in his Kingdom forever!

© 2016 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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Youth and the Holidays – Holiday concert with the San Francisco Boys and Girls Choruses

 

Join the younger boys and girls of the San Francisco Boys Chorus and the San Francisco Girls Chorus in songs for the holidays to lift your spirits and warm your hearts for the winter. Taking part will be the intermediate chorus of the San Francisco Boys Chorus under their Director, Ildikó Thész Salgado, and Level III of the San Francisco Girls Chorus under their Director Luçik Aprahämian. For more information click here

Date & Time: Sunday December  11, 7 pm
Venue: Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco
Donations: $20 General, $15 Seniors/Students
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A Nation Divided

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

Blessed be the God of our salvation, who bears our burdens and forgives our sins.

temple-ruins-jerusalem1-webI know that many here today are tired from all their work at the bazaar, and I wish that we had a Gospel reading that might renew and refresh. But we haven’t! Today’s Gospel reading isn’t the least bit cheerful. It speaks of the future destruction of the Jewish Temple and the persecution of the disciples in terms that can only be called apocalyptic. But perhaps this reading is fitting for the times we find ourselves in, for these are undoubtedly turbulent times. I can’t recall a presidential campaign in my lifetime that has been as nasty and base as what we have had to endure these last eighteen months. And I can’t ever recall the level of shock and dread that half this nation seems to be experiencing post-election, myself included.

Perhaps, just perhaps, one aspect of today’s Gospel reading might shed some light on the state of this divided country. You see, the disciples looked at the Temple in all its glory, and they saw a towering symbol of strength, and beauty, and permanence. Jesus, we are told, saw something very different; he saw what that Temple was about to become, a ruin, where not one stone would be left upon another.

I feel like that’s what’s going on in this country today. Half the nation looks at this country and sees a swamp that needs to be drained, a failed democracy that has lost its greatness. The other half sees a nation slowly but surely recovering from economic disaster and experiencing normal cultural growing pains. The recent presidential campaign has only exacerbated this profound disparity of worldview.

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Perseverance and Pluck

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible readings for Sunday October 16, 2016

 

In the season after Pentecost, the Old Testament reading and the Gospel reading are supposed to share a common theme. Sometimes one is hard put to figure out what that theme is, but that’s not the case today. There is a clear and definite theme to today’s readings. And that theme is made explicit in the Collect of the Day: we are to “persevere with steadfast faith.” We find perseverance in the story of Jacob struggling all night with his mysterious opponent. We find the author of 2 Timothy urging his readers to “be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable.” And we find perseverance in the parable that Jesus tells about a widow and an unjust judge, which will be the main focus of this sermon.

 

Now, Luke tells us that the parable of the widow and the unjust judge is about “the need to pray always and not to lose heart.” And I won’t gainsay him. But I think that there is more to be learned from this parable than that. In this story, a widow repeatedly comes before a judge who has no respect for God or man. Again and again, she appears in court demanding justice. Now, in Jesus’ day, a woman would not ordinarily plead a case in court. That was the job of her nearest male relative. So we may assume that she had no male relatives and was forced by her need to transgress a social boundary and plead her own case before the unjust judge. She fails again and again, but rather than give in to despair, she bravely, and obstinately, keeps on demanding the justice that is due her.

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Of Seeds and Slaves, of Faith and Favor

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

 In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

This coming Tuesday is the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of this city. And some Episcopal churches in town are using the readings for St. Francis’ feast day, instead of the regularly prescribed readings for this Sunday. One motivation might be to give greater honor to our city’s patron. But I suspect there may be another motivation: to avoid preaching on this Sunday’s readings! Today’s Gospel reading is particularly difficult, even a bit offensive. But, in my humble opinion, that is all the more reason for wrestling with it, instead of avoiding it!

The Gospel story seemingly starts with the apostles’ demanding that Jesus grant them more faith. But really, this is the middle of the story. The lectionary omits the beginning. It turns out that what evoked this response from the apostles was a teaching on forgiveness. Jesus had just told them, “If the same person sins against you seven times a day, and turns back to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive.” It’s when the apostles hear this that they ask the Lord for help, crying out, “Add to our faith!” And who can blame them! Forgiving may very well be the hardest thing that followers of Jesus are asked to do, and it takes faith to sustain a life of forgiveness.

3-mustard-seed-sproutingIn the English translation we heard read today, Jesus prefaces his response with the words: “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed….” The translators have tried to fix what they see as a grammatical error in the Greek. But by doing this, they give a wrong impression that this is an instance of what grammarians call “a condition contrary to fact.” Paraphrasing, Jesus seems to be saying, “If you had even the smallest amount of faith, which unfortunately you haven’t, you would be able to do great things.” The clear implication is that the disciples are faithless.

But a more accurate rendering from the Greek would be “If you have faith like a mustard seed…” Note the two differences from the translation we heard read. First, by using the word have, instead of had, Jesus implies no lack of faith in his listeners. The condition that Jesus proposes may, in fact, be factual. Second, Jesus never mentions the size of the mustard seed. He speaks of having “faith like a mustard seed”? Paraphrasing, Jesus is saying, “If you have the kind of faith that can sprout and grow like a mustard seed, which you may very well have, then you will be able to do great things.”

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The Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Click here for the Gospel Reading

In today’s Gospel reading from Luke, we hear an odd parable about a steward, or estate manager, followed by three challenging sayings about mammon, or wealth. All relate to the topic of money, either directly or indirectly. Now, chances are that Jesus did not deliver all these teachings at the same time. Scholars think it more likely that Luke did a little editing and lumped them all together, since they shared a common thread. But the resulting juxtaposition can be a bit confusing.

Let’s look at the parable first. I have always heard this parable called the Parable of the Dishonest Steward. But the title doesn’t really suit the story, since the dishonesty of the steward isn’t really the point at all. Perhaps a better title would be the Parable of the Daring and Decisive Steward.

The story starts out with a rich absentee landowner acting on a malicious accusation against his estate manager. The English translation doesn’t bring out this nuance of the Greek— that the accusation is, in fact, a slander. The rich man doesn’t wait to investigate the truth of the matter. Instead, he presumptuously fires his manager and demands that the account books be handed over. The estate manager realizes that he is ill-suited for hard labor and that he would be too ashamed to beg in the streets for a living. So he cooks up a little scheme! And ironically, the idea for his little scheme comes right from the malicious accusation that got him fired in the first place. So what does the manager decide to do? He calls in his boss’s debtors and asks them to falsify their bills by lowering the amounts that they owe. In other words, he decides to actually do what he had been falsely accused of—dispersing his boss’s property. The purpose of his scheme was to make friends fast, so that he would have some place to go after he was kicked out onto the streets by his boss. Now, somehow the boss finds out what’s going on. And we might well expect him to be furious and have his manager sent to the pokey. Instead, the rich landowner actually praises his scheming manager for his prudent and sensible action. The parable then finishes with Jesus’ comment that “the children of this age are more clever with regard to their own generation than are the children of light.”

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The Value of One

A sermon preached at the Church of the Incarnation, San Francisco, on September 11, 2016, by Christopher L. Webber.

On a crystal clear September morning fifteen years ago today, two airplanes full of people like you and me plunged into the Trade Towers in lower Manhattan where nearly 20,000 people were at work. Another plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth plane plunged into a field in Pennsylvania. When the day was over some 3,000 people were dead.

So 9-11 has become a date to remember and this year it falls on a Sunday when the Gospel reading talks about the value of a single life. Jesus asks, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? … Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

God places such value on one.

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The Demands of Discipleship

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Gospel Reading

“Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the Cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian and pastor, wrote these words in 1937; a few years later, he was executed by the Nazis. Bonhoeffer knew the cost of discipleship, and he was willing to pay the price.

In today’s reading from Luke, Jesus speaks of this cost in words that are both startling and intimidating. He enumerates three demands of those who would be his disciples: 1) hate your family, 2) carry the cross and follow him, and 3) give up all your possessions. Jesus goes on to tell two parables, one about a builder and one about a king, the point of which is “Don’t even start what you can’t finish.”

If we wish to call ourselves Jesus’ disciples, it behooves each of us to consider these three demands and to ask ourselves, “Can I finish what I have started?”

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Pride goes before destruction…

By the Rev. Darren Miner

Bible Readings

There is a common thread tying together the first reading from the book of Sirach and the Gospel reading from Luke, and that commonality is human pride, one of the so-called seven deadly sins.

Sirach, a book of the Apocrypha, was  written by a wisdom teacher, someone we would probably call a “life coach.” His purpose was to teach young men how to get along in life without forsaking God. He teaches that human pride is a sinful forsaking of God our Maker and results in ruin.

Jesus, speaking at a dinner party, comments on the guests’ scramble for the best seats at the dinner table by telling a parable. The moral of that parable is “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

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Pride is clearly considered problematic. For English-speakers, the very word is problematic. Pride can mean “a reasonable or justifiable self-respect.” When we see parents displaying bumper stickers about their kids’ being on the honor roll, it doesn’t seem particularly sinful. When San Francisco hosts a Pride Day Parade, it is not meant to promote a deadly sin (though some might disagree with me there!). The kind of pride that is condemned as sinful is the state of mind in which a person lives as if they are the very center of Creation, that their accomplishments are unique, and that everything in this world matters only in so far as it affects them. Such a person forgets that everyone, and I mean everyone, is a beloved creature of God, and that every gift and every accomplishment ultimately derives from the Creator. But there is another way of looking at pride. One writer on patristic spirituality says, “[Pride’s] essential quality is not found in having too high an opinion of oneself so much as too low an opinion of everyone else” (Roberta Bondi, To Love as God Loves). I kind of like that!

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Opera Gala and Reception: Saturday 08.13.2016 at 7:30 p.m.

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2016 Sunset Music & Ats Opera gala returns with artists from the San Francisco Opera Chorus: Aimée Puentes, soprano; Sally Porter Munro, mezzo-soprano; Colby Roberts, tenor; Frederick Matthews, baritone. Dr. Bryan Baker accompanies on the piano. This popular annual event will feature songs and arias from opera and musical theater. A free reception follows the concert.

Date: Saturday August 13, 2016 at 7:30 p.m.
Venue: Incarnation Episcopal Church, 1750 29th Avenue, San Francisco
Tickets: $30 General, $25 Seniors/Students
Buy tickets online. (Tickets available at the door if not sold out.)

For more information visit http://sunsetarts.wordpress.com

Artists:
Aimée Puentes, soprano, has sung leading opera roles including, Zerlina in Don Giovanni, Despina in Così fan tutte, Micäela in Carmen, Sister Constance in Dialogues des Carmélites, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Musetta in La Boheme, Nannetta in Falstaff, Valencienne in The Merry Widow, Paquette in Candide, and Susanna in Le Nozze di Figaro. She has performed with the San Francisco Opera, Arizona Opera, Pensacola Opera, New Orleans Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Chautauqua Opera, Opera San Jose, Opera Southwest, West Bay Opera and Sacramento Opera.

Sally Porter Munro (mezzo-soprano) is a native of London, England and a graduate of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, England. While living in England she sang with the English National Opera, Royal Opera de la Monnaie in Brussels, and as an oratorio soloist in Europe. She also performed with the BBC Singers on radio and television. She is a full time member of The San Francisco Opera Chorus and has covered and sung a number of small roles. Ms. Munro has sung as a soloist with Pocket Opera, Berkeley Opera, North Bay Opera, San Francisco Lyric Opera, and Lake Tahoe Festival.

Tenor Colby Roberts has sung with opera companies throughout the country, including Orlando Opera, National Grand Opera, Connecticut Grand Opera, New York Grand Opera and New Jersey State Opera and has been part of the chorus with San Francisco Opera for over 30 years. His concert performances have taken him across the United States, and to Europe and Israel. Bay Area credits include performances with San Francisco Lyric Opera where he sang Alfredo in La Traviata, the title roles in Werther and Andrea Chenier, Rodolfo in La Boheme, Pinkerton in Madama Butterfly and Cavaradossi in Tosca.

Frederick Matthews (baritone) has been praised by audiences and critics alike for his appearances on the operatic and concert stages. International recognition came while on tour singing the role of “Jake” in Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, when it was reported that he “projected evenly balanced singing and left an exquisite stage impression.” (Neue Presse – Augsburg, Germany) Now residing in the Bay Area, he has been seen in a variety of solo and bit parts with the San Francisco Opera.

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