Is Nature the true beloved in the Song of Songs?

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Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.

Look, there he stands
behind our wall,

gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.

My beloved speaks and says to me:

"Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;

for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; 
they give forth fragrance.

Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away."

This morning’s Old Testament reading is from a book called the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs. This book is unique in the Bible in that it simply celebrates love- romantic and sensual. There are two voices, each expressing their desire for the other. And the one we heard this morning is female. In fact, it is one of the few female voices that we hear in the Scriptures, either old or new testament.

Biblical literature was frequently ascribed to monumental figures from the history of Judaism. It is unlikely that Solomon was the author. As you may remember, Solomon was reputed to be gifted with superior wisdom. And it for this reason that books containing wisdom, such as Proverbs, as well as those that are ascribed to him, as the Song of Songs, are grouped together in what is known as the wisdom literature. But the Song of Songs I really more of a poem, than a book of insight into wise living. Or is it?

Next week, thousands of people will converge on San Francisco for Gov. Gerry Brown’s Global Climate Action Summit. There is an interfaith service as well as a schedule of workshops to be held at Grace Cathedral, and you can go online, or contact Cynthia Cravens to learn more about that. So the church is getting involved in a big way in highlighting the consequences of climate change.

Meanwhile, there are some in the church who believe that we have no place in the civil discourse of this hot-botton topic. They argue that the church should be a place where people with divergent views on climate change can come together, and that taking a side might discourage those who are skeptical of the science on this issue and stress economic development above our responsibility to the environment. How do you feel about this issue?

We know where Pope Francis stands. Three years ago, he wrote an encyclical entitled “Laudato Si,” in which he warns the world that we are ruining the planet for future generations. The patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox church joined the pope in calling for a concerted effort in the world to take responsibility now to take climate change seriously and do what we can to reduce green house gases.

Any discussion of the church’s response to climate change should include the reality that Christian theology has been slow to take responsibility and has in fact validated mistreatment of Creation. The Genesis accounts of Creation put humankind at the top of the pyramid. Male and female, we alone among all of creation were created in the image of God. God invites Adam to name the animals, an activity that entails power over the other creatures of the world. This hierarchical understanding of man as gifted by God with power over creation, unfortunately, led to widespread abuse over our environment.

In recent years, Christian theology has sought to reframe the position of humankind in the world as that of stewards of creation, not the owners of it. Ownership belongs to God alone. Our role, is that of caretaker, and unfortunately, for the most part, we have failed miserable in our duty to care for the natural world.

Perhaps what is missing is the ability, by most of us, with a few notable exceptions to see the natural world the way that God sees it, through eyes of love. I think about environmental visionaries like John Muir, Henry David Thoreau, Rachel Carson, the founders of Greenpeace and Bill McKibbon as the exceptions. In the words from the Song of Songs this morning, we hear not only a celebration of love between romantic partners, but also a celebration of the love of Creation, our natural world:


Look, he comes,

leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.

My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.

 the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.

The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,

and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.

The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; 
they give forth fragrance.

 

What beauty and sensuous delights are to be found in the world of nature, the world that God has created.

There are many people living today whose spirituality and relationship with God is nurtured by nature. I think of the poets like Wendall Berry and Mary Oliver who wrote:

 

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.” 

 

We who live in cities and suburbs may have lost all sense of our place in the family of things. It is clear that the degradation of the environment began with the industrial revolution, in which human technology and engineering began to subjugate the earth itself to produce economic goods. Certainly the material standard of living rose for masses of people. But at some point, the returns on polluting the air, the oceans, our fresh water and raising the temperature of the earth itself, can no longer be justified. And of course, it is the people who live on the margins, who lack air conditioning, who lack refrigeration, who are prone to food insecurity and famine, and natural disasters who will feel the brunt of the ways in which we have disrespected the earth. But closer to home, for two years in a row, the air quality in San Francisco has several times reached dangerous levels of pollution from the fires ravaging the state. It truly is time now to make action against further environmental distruction a priority.

 

How can we do this? We can look at our own carbon foot print and seek to reduce it. We can vote for politicians who understand that the future of life on the planet is at stake and short term interests much be superseded by long term planning to stem environmental degradation. We can all become educated about the issues and able to talk with others from an informed perspective. Perhaps you have friends, acquaintances and relatives who do not understand the urgency of this issue. We have seen the ash and breathed the smoke filled air, too often to deny that the natural world around us is changing.

 

Finally, perhaps the deepest way that we can be part of the campaign to save the planet is to allow ourselves to fall in love with the world that God has created. Spend time in nature. Listen to bird song. Feel the cool ocean breeze and the sand of a California beach between your toes. Notice the unseen ways that our environment supports our lives, when the air is clear and the water is clean to drink.  Let us celebrate God’s gifts to us in Creation and vow to be better stewards of the awesome planet on which we live.

 

Amen.

 

 

 

Happy Pride! God loves you just as you were created.....

MAY WE LIVE THE SPIRIT OF PRIDE

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By Elizabeth Ketcham

With gratitude for the freedom to be our true authentic selves,
may we live the Spirit of Pride.

With the courage that comes from challenging fear,
may we live the Spirit of Pride

With sorrow for those who could not be here with us today, and in honor of those who died of AIDS or who lost their lives, may we live the Spirit of Pride.

With grief for those whose pain was unbearable and who left us too soon, may we live the Spirit of Pride.

Looking ahead to the justice still withheld,may we live the Spirit of Pride.

With the confidence that a sense of community banishes isolation and loneliness,may we live the Spirit of Pride

With the rainbow flag flying high, a sense of beloved community among us, and the joy that comes from making new connections, may we live the Spirit of Pride.

Beyonce and the Ethiopian Eunach in Acts 8: 26-40

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As residents of San Francisco, we live in a bubble of liberalism and inclusion. With the homeless crisis that we live with and with the signs of drug addiction that confront us, out in the open, every day in the city, we are keenly aware that our society is not taking care of people in the way that it should. But if we dig a little deeper, we soon arrive at the fact that there are systems in place in our country that prevent many people from living the life that God intended them to have.

I am talking about the systemic oppression of people of color, of the disabled, of non-heterosexuals, of trans individuals and of women. Our society continues to privilege straight, white, able-bodied men. And of course, most of the people who fall into that category have no idea that this privilege exists. Without an experience of discrimination yourself, anyone would operate under the assumption that our society is essentially fair and that anyone who works hard can get ahead. Along with white, male privilege goes a blindness to the discrimination against others who are not the same. It’s easy to understand.

On the bright side however, the experience of those who are relegated to the margins is often the source of artistic expression and cultural attention. This past week, I joined about nine hundred people who thronged to Grace Cathedral to experience the Beyonce mass. I am going to be honest with you, I had deep reservations about this event. In the first place, it seemed like the worst sort of cultural appropriation. The photo of the crew from the Vine, the innovative church community at Grace, was a picture of five young people, who all appeared to be white. Using the popularity of a superstar whose subject matter is the experience of black women in America seemed like the worst sort of cultural appropriation. In short, it just seemed like a gimmick to get people to come to church.

And on that score, it was wildly successful. I got there thirty minutes before the service and the line was wrapped around the courtyard several times. Mostly young people, with a smattering of older hipsters, and a much larger number of people of color than one would usually see at Grace Cathedral. About five minutes into the service, I realized that the Beyonce mass was really quite wonderful.

You may have read about it in the press. Several of Beyonce’s songs were used in the service, sung live by an amazing African American female soloist with a backup choir. And the preacher was an African American woman, a professor at SF Theological Seminary, who uses the songs of Beyonce as an example of empowerment in the face of oppression.

If women continue to earn less than men in this country, and to be passed over for promotion and top jobs, African American women have a double strike against them. Beyonce’s music seeks to show that each individual, no matter how marginalized, disadvantaged and oppressed, each person has her or his own hidden power. When the powers that be try to prevent people from living the abundant life that God wants them to live, the music inspires people to rise up and claim their place in the world. The message is that everyone is significant, everyone matters and everyone has the right to rage against oppression. As Rev. Yolanda Norton preached, to rage with love, to fight contempt with compassion and injustice with God’s vision of a world in which every person is worthy of love and deserves to have their voice heard. Beyonce has become, in effect, the voice of many who are voiceless.

Now, as you may also have heard, there were some haters of the Beyonce mass, among the evangelical community. Some of the comments from these quarters were blatantly misogynistic and most likely racist as well. How dare the church celebrate the music of an empowered, African American woman, in their terms, a Jezebel?

These people really don’t know their bibles as well as they think they do. Fro example, have they read the passage we heard this morning from Acts concerning Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch? Have they conveniently forgotten this unusual story about how a person who would have marginalized in every way from the established religion is singled out for inclusion into the kingdom of God?

As one commentator wrote, the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is the story of two wrong people. Philip was not one of the big name apostles like Peter or James and John. He was one of the deacons, commissioned to serve the poor in Jerusalem. And yet he finds that God works through him in the most unusual of circumstances with the most amazing impact. Meanwhile, the Ethiopian eunuch is a person who would never have been acceptable in the old religion, due to his genital mutilation. Only properly intact men who had been circumcised could enter the temple. And yet God bestows the gift of faith upon this very individual, even given his status among the marginalized. My sense is that had he been alive today, the Ethiopian eunuch would have been a Beyonce fan.

Philip comes upon him reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, a very poignant passage from the prophet Isaiah. It is based on the theme of the suffering servant of God who will sacrifice his life for the people. Philip explains that the Scripture has been fulfilled in the form of Jesus the Christ: Jesus who was put to death and raised up again. And the Ethiopian believes. This suffering servant from the court of Candace, accepts the good news of God’s intervention into human history and wishes to be baptized.

What is to stop me? He asks. This is amazingly ironic as it highlights the barriers to his inclusion into the old religion. As a castrated man, from sub-Saharan Africa, he would not have been allowed to appear in the Temple. But there are no such obstacles to being accepted into the church of Christ. The Ethiopian Eunuch is not even required to make an appointment with a priest and receive instruction first. No, Christ’s church is open to all who are called to be there. We hold this to be true with regard to the Communion Table as well. All  who are called by God to be here are welcome to receive Holy Communion at this table.

In our society today, people continue to be shut out of opportunities for education, healthcare, decent housing, safe neighborhoods, healthy food, economic opportunity, fulfilling jobs. But Christ’s church should not be on the list of organizations that fail to welcome all who want to experience a community centered on the love of God. Baptism is the entry into this community, and it is available to all who want to be part of God’s kingdom on earth.

But just what does it mean to be a member of God’s kingdom on earth. As we heard this morning, it means to be attached to the Vine, who is Jesus, and because of this attachment, to bear good fruit with our lives. What does that good fruit look like? I submit to you this morning that, as Rev. Yoland Norton preached, it is a life that rages with the power of love. It is a life defined by love as a verb not just a known. It is a life that seeks the wellbeing of all people, not just the self and those who support the self. It is a life that is comfortable being in community with someone who is different from oneself, as the Ethiopian was from Philip. It is a life that rages with love against the individualism of our society and embraces community in order to better understand what life is all about, just as the Ethiopian sought out community with Philip to understand God’s purpose in the old and the new religion.

My friends, I submit to you that we are here under false pretenses unless each one of yearns for baptism, celebrates our union with the one who is the true vine and does his or her best to bear the good fruit. Love is the verb, and the noun that should define our lives. Maybe we all need a little Beyonce so that we too can resist oppression and rage with love. Amen.

 

A special event just for Seniors

At  Trinity † St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

1620 Gough Street (at Bush) 

An afternoon of

History * Music * Refreshment

August 15, 2017      2-4pm

Program

·      The history of the oldest Protestant church in California: Trinity Episcopal

·      The treasures of the main sanctuary

·      Organ recital on what is considered the finest organ in San Francisco

·      Afternoon tea

 

Free will donation will benefit the fund for seismic strengthening and stained glass repair

 

 

From pilgrim’s path to parish leadership...

By Pastor Trish

It is my privilege to have been invited by the vestry to continue to lead Trinity St. Peter’s as your permanent clergy leader - probably in the role of Vicar. Those of you who were in church last Sunday will understand my deep sense of humility, gratitude and joy for the wonderful outpouring of love and appreciation that David and I received in both the musical tribute and in the written proclamation, in the form of a beautifully illuminated scroll. The entire event from the choir performance, to the Junior and Senior Wardens’ invitation, to the celebratory cake afterwards was a complete surprise. However, after months of discernment, in particular as a pilgrim on the path of medieval sites in France, I know that God is calling me to continue my ministry with you.

The Holy Spirit has been hard at work through us all at Trinity St. Peters. There is an inspirational core of dedicated souls who make serving you an absolute delight for me. You know who you are! The dream that I carry in my heart is that more of you will become activated and involved in our ambitious work to shine the transcendent light of love and reconciliation in these discouraging times. Join me in visioning and living into a glorious future! I am one person, and it will take many to make TSP the powerhouse parish that God is calling us to be.

God has worked through many of us over the past three years, and I am convinced that the breath of the Holy Spirit sent me on a pilgrimage to the sacred portals of medieval Christianity in France. The fact that Vezelay was the first stop is no coincidence. Initially unaware that the abbey was an ancient site of pilgrimages to venerate the relics of Mary Magdalene, it made perfect sense to me once I learned this. Mary Magdalene is the (unofficial) patron saint of our new, combined congregation. I lit a candle in her chapel, at Vezelay Abbey, and asked her to pray for us, as we embark on a mission to provide a portal to the sacred here in San Francisco.

On that note, the vestry and I are hopeful of reopening the red doors again soon. In the meantime, your wardens, Patrick Andersen and Terry Speiker, with design help from Terry Wertheim, have been busy creating a fresh and functional base for my family and me in the old St. Peter’s rectory. Without the East Bay commute, I envision an expansion of my ministry, to include an increase in worship and educational offerings. From our pilgrimage worship at Taize and with the Community of Jerusalem, I am inspired to add to our liturgies in ways that transport us to an encounter with the holy in old/new ways. I look forward to opening a conversation with you about what God is calling us to offer to all in our community who are in need of solace and strength.

The new rectory will also bring a revival of House Church, the young adults group. We plan to meet every Sunday evening for a simple liturgy, time of sharing and supper, from 5-7pm. All are welcome between the ages of 21-35. Stayed tuned also for an invitation from the wardens, for everyone, of all ages, to visit the rectory, prior to our moving in. We will bless the house and celebrate the amazing work overseen by the Speiker-Brumfields, and the Andersens to rehabilitate and repurpose the house. You can also expect an invitation around Christmastime to share some holiday cheer with the Cunningham family in our new home.

I am so very grateful to everyone who has expressed their love, appreciation and excitement about our mutual ministry at Trinity St. Peter’s. I speak for David and the girls also, in thanking you for your loving kindness. You are a very special group of people and it is our honor to continue to live and ministry among you.