Quartet San Francisco with Jeremy Cohen, May 16

Upcoming Concert: Livestream
May 16th, 4-5:30pm PDT
Quartet San Francisco with Jeremy Cohen

“When the music says swing, we swing. When the music says groove, we groove.”
Grammy nominees for four CD releases (2013, 2009, 2007, and 2006) and International Tango competition winners (New York, 2004), Quartet San Francisco expresses itself in its agility and standout virtuosic playing.

Quartet San Francisco was founded in 2001 by celebrated Bay Area violinist and composer-arranger Jeremy Cohen. Along with violinist Joseph Christianson, violist Chad Kaltinger, and cellist Andrés Vera, these crossover specialists excel in multiple styles — from jazz to tango, pop to funk, blues to bluegrass, gypsy swing to big band and beyond.

Tickets $15-$25 available at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/quartet-san-francisco-live-stream-tickets-144518216877

Epiphany 4

Reflection for January 31, 2021, Epiphany 4

Lawrence DiCostanzo

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

Mark 1:21-28

Psalm 111

By the time I was in fourth grade, I wanted to be an archaeologist.  I was in love with the ancient Egyptians.  But my favorites were the early Mesopotamians, the people of Sumer, which is the country that the Book of Genesis calls Shinar, Abraham’s family home.  All these people were really alive to me.  Well, I did not become an archaeologist, although I did get an undergraduate degree in Latin and Greek literature.  I have a great regret to this day.  And that is I never learned to read cuneiform, the writing pressed into clay tablets in Sumer or Shinar, Babylonia and Assyria.  Oh, well.

I’ve made this little introduction to explain to you why, out of all the Scripture readings for today, I picked the one most likely to appeal to a nerd.  That is, the passage about food sacrificed to idols.  But while I was geeking out over this cool passage, it started opening up to monumental issues of unity and of differences, love and consideration, that are certainly with us today.

Here is a short summary of a sacrifice from the Iliad (1:446-468) which was a canonical text of the Greco-Roman world.  After everyone had prayed, they killed the animal victims, burned some of the flesh on the altar, and cooked and served the remainder to the people who were present, and no one went hungry.  The sacrifice ends with a communal meal.

This was still going on in Corinth in Paul’s day.  Food was a major byproduct of sacrifice.  And there were many opportunities to serve or be served with this food whether you were Christian or not.  You might be invited to the temple for the wedding of your cousin’s daughter.  A friend might invite you and another Christian to dinner, and he’d serve you sacrificial meat that he’d bought.

In fact, you might buy the food in the marketplace where sacrificial food sometimes ended up.  And you might take it as a contribution, your covered dish, as it were, to the common church meals given in someone’s house.  These are the kind of meals that Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians 11 when he mentions unkindness and bad manners when the church gathers.  When I was adjudicating the asylum claims of Christians who were members of illegal house churches in China, the evidence always showed that their meetings and their Lord’s Supper included a potluck dinner.

Eating meat sacrificed to idols was not a big thing for many gentile Christians in Corinth.  People were so used to it.  But it was a big thing for other gentile Christians because of its connection with false gods.  And people were arguing about it.  So they asked Paul about it.  Paul worked out a solution.  In the end, Paul does not care about what you actually eat.  But when he talks about abstaining from this or that food and so forth, he is really talking about how to deal with your fellow Christians.  He is not talking about impurity or the worship of pagan gods or demons.  He is talking about the arguments and differences that spring up between people – in this case, people who eat the food and those whose consciences shrink from it.  Paul is really talking about the tolerance, forbearance, forgiveness, kindness, and love that should be expressed among them.

In modern life, in these days, we have huge differences within the universal church – that is, all people who confess Jesus as savior.  We have huge differences between church members and persons who do not confess Jesus or any god.  We can see the stinging abrasions and dark bruises that members of society give each other today.  We can see how these differences have led to anger and grief at the level of the nation.

Here are some of the differences.  Is abortion right or is it a right?  Is your biological gender your true gender or can you grow into your own gender?  Were Adam and Eve commissioned to tend Creation or have we inherited a right to dominate it?  Is it right to honor the institutions of Caesar or is it right to attack them when we feel they oppress?  Should we offer education that leads to jobs or should we concentrate on the old saw that the rising tide of prosperity for some will lift everyone’s boat.  Should we offer justice and mercy to undocumented immigrants or should we first offer justice and mercy to Americans?

As the passages in 1 Corinthians 8 and 10 about sacrificial food show, people were taking sides in Corinth.  And people take sides today.  And it is not easy to relate to those who are on the other side.  How can we manage this?  How do we accept Paul’s plea for tolerance, forbearance, and love?  How do we seek not our own advantage, our own view of what is right, but the advantage of the many, as he says in 1 Corinthians 10:31?  It really seems impossible, especially so if we are moved by attachment to our views and not by love.  I think we come down to today’s big question:  How do we love our enemies?

I have no answers for this era of disunity and hurt.  But I have tried to lay out some of my own working points.

The first is what God says to Abraham when he first calls him in Genesis 12:1-3.  God says that Abraham is being chosen to be a blessing to ALL the families of the earth.  So, at least I know that my Christianity relates to everyone because everyone, Christian or not, is included in God’s promise.  There are no outsiders in this world, no matter what people may think or propose.

Second, no matter what we think about other people, God shows no partiality.  Peter says this shortly before the Jewish Christians with him are astounded that the Holy Spirit comes to Cornelius, the Gentile and Roman military officer.  Acts 10.  God is not on anybody’s side though he is on the side of justice and mercy.

Third, I try to pay attention to the voices of others.  For example, on January 15, the Episcopal Public Policy Network published the most beautiful and wise message.  It quotes the Blessed Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who says “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”   And it makes another beautiful statement: Above all, we must rediscover our common allegiance, recognizing that we are all Americans, regardless of which party we support or who we vote for.  The fate of a farmer in rural Nebraska is just as much your concern as the prospects of a first-grade child growing up in the Bronx. We rise or fall together as one nation.”  I think this is actually one Mr. Biden’s points in his inaugural address. We do not live together in unity, every attempt to unify is a gain.

Fourth, I think we have to pray.  I was so impressed when Dani in her reflection last Sunday and then Beth said how many of the homeless ask only for prayer.  Prayer is not nothing.  While I sit in the shade of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, prayer  does things.  It spreads the love.  It helps me look at people as people, not ideas.   It lets me live in hope which I feel is God’s love coming into our hearts.

So, maybe someday, maybe not soon, the way all those white people in the YouTube clip in last week’s Morning Prayer sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing” will be the way we really live.  Maybe we’ll all sit to a communal meal just like the men in the Iliad.


Beyond Words and Images

The Rev. Julie Wakelee-Lynch, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Albany, CA                                3rd Sunday after the Epiphany, January 27, 2019

Readings: http://www.lectionarypage.net/YearC_RCL/Epiphany/CEpi3_RCL.html

Welcome to St. Alban’s annual meeting! This service begins the meeting, which concludes with a blessing and dismissal upstairs, after we’ve all been well-fed, discussed issues of import, and set our intentions for another year of life together.

We are here, because we are Jesus people, people who are interested in what it looks like, in daily life, to explore what it means to bring good news to the poor, proclaim release to the imprisoned, healing to the impaired, the breaking of the bonds of oppression, and speaking God’s love out loud, for all people.

We are also here, sometimes, depending on the day, to hear and sing beautiful music, to be with people we love, with whom we share this journey, to share sustenance – Eucharist, Sunday potlucks, emotional support

We have a lot of ways of discussing and proclaiming these things we believe. Some of them involve words. Sometimes the proclaiming involves images: more on that in just a bit.

St. Paul writes to the unruly church in Corinth, known to him to be a place of conflict and social posturing, reminding them that every person in that church had an important role to play in the making of the community, in the preaching of the gospel. This remains true for every church, everywhere. We cannot be the church we are without one another. Sure, we can learn to do different tasks, to take over or fill in for someone else, but only we can be ourselves, bringing our very particular perspectives, experiences, skills, sensitivities and stories.

This is how we come to be the place where hundreds of sack lunches have been made over the past few years. How bridge games gather are played out in the parish hall. How music has, since this building was completed, rung throughout our campus. Even, I’m sure, in how the building is shaped.

Each generation in the family of this place brings its own gifts, which build upon, maybe sometimes modify a bit, the gifts of those who came before, but it is all knit together in this one community.

I have been going to church all my life, so I see this: each congregation has its own culture, its own hallmarks, its own outstanding gifts entrusted by the Holy Spirit. It is no wonder that we who worship here love the natural world: look: the story of creation surrounds us every time we gather!

We love music here – and we celebrate in spaces that were intentionally designed to lift up sound, to make it even more beautiful. We love to feed people, and those who came before us created a warm and welcoming hall, and a great kitchen. We care about issues of our time, and we are a gathering place for literally dozens of groups working to heal the world.

How we express our beliefs matters. We are fortunate to live in a time when we can no longer take for granted that people generally know the basics of our faith. How is that a gift? Because it asks that we know and be able to articulate what we believe. To really own our faith, and not take it for granted, not for ourselves, not for others who are curious.

The down side, of course, is that there is a lot of misinformation out there about what it means to be a Christian…what it means to us, here, in this particular faith community, to be people who follow Jesus. Thus, the gift of needing to know and articulate our faith.

Since the very first groups who followed Jesus, there have been both verbal and visual ways to communicate the faith. When it was dangerous to belong to the Jesus tribe, early followers used codes to communicate where to meet, to affirm identity. Sometimes, drawing a downward arc in the dirt; the respondent, if a Christian,

would draw one that completed the image: an upward arc, making a fish. The Greek word for fish is “ichythis” This was made into an acrostic, with each letter standing for a word in the phrase Iesus kristos, theou yois soter “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior”
It both protected the community, and proclaimed belief.

There are many others, some no longer much in use: the pomegranate, for example, as an image of the Church, and of God’s extravagant goodness. Why? Part of the answer is found in St. Paul’s words this morning: So many seeds, each one a part of the whole. Each one juicy, delicious, holding its own particular place. And, SO many seeds, more than all but the most patient person could count, as is God’s abundant love for us.

The peacock was an early symbol of eternal life. There are some fascinating early icons with the bird’s feathers painted or placed in mosaics filled with the images of the saints and martyrs. Why? According to sources,

The peacock was believed by the ancients to have flesh that does not decay after

death, and thus became a symbol of immortality. This symbolism was adopted

into Christianity, and the peacock appears in many early Christian mosaics and

paintings to represent eternal life.1


So many different kinds of images have been used to express aspect of our faith through the ages. Some, like these just mentioned, may be unfamiliar; others so close to us
we may take them for granted.

As we begin settling back into this beautifully renovated sanctuary, we have some work to do in determining how to use images in this space, especially since the cross that used to hang over the altar fell and broke before construction began. The cross is the most

singular Christian image of our time. And, depending on your theological location and tradition, it means about as many different things as there are believers.

In some traditions and personal pieties, it represents sacrifice, or atonement for sins; something required by God. Sometimes the way the cross is presented, Christ’s suffering is emphasized—blood, a crown of thorns.

Often in Protestant churches, the cross is empty, emphasizing resurrection.

Some crosses feature Jesus in royal garb, with a crown, not of thorns, but of precious metal and jewels, reminding all of his triumph over death.

Crosses have been employed on battle shields, and there is one in particular identified with the crusades. They have been set afire, by those claiming the title of Christian, and placed on the lawns of people of color as signs of terror and intimidation.

They are used to mark graves, signs of hope in resurrection; and as signs of office, as in the papal cross.

I’ve prepared some visuals for our conversation time upstairs today that I hope will be the beginning of many broad, deep and thoughtful conversations about what images speak most powerfully and universally to our community – the community we are, and the one we aspire to be.

In all of this, may we, who are many and uniquely gifted and beautiful, keep our focus on Christ, whose love goes beyond both words and images.


Christmas at St. Alban’s

Celebrate Christmas at St. Alban’s! Join our joyful community to celebrate the coming of Christ into our hearts, homes and world this Christmas. Whoever you are, and wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.

Chtristmas StarChristmas Eve • December 24

Family Eucharist
5:00 p.m. in the Church

Lessons and Carols with
Festive Holy Eucharist
10:00 p.m. in the Church

Christmas Day • December 25

Festive Holy Eucharist
10:00 a.m. in the Church

The First Sunday after Christmas • December 30

Holy Eucharist
10:00 a.m. in the Church