Sunday, November 11, 2018

Remembrance Sunday, 11 November 2018

Preaching at Saint Mark’s Church
The Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost
Remembrance Sunday
11 November 2018 

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 130
Romans 8:31-39
St. John 15:9-17

A Sermon that was preached at a Requiem Mass celebrated at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley, California on 11 November 2018. Several people asked me to publish the sermon, and I do so here.


Subscribing to the New York Review of Books is a dangerous thing to do. Upon seeing a review or advertisement for certain books, I am likely to go on-line and order a copy. Recently I purchased and then avidly read Bill Goldstein’s fascinating book, The World Broke in Two, Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature.[1]  In it he painstakingly describes the difficulties that these four authors had immediately following the Great War, and how they wrestled with their own sense of self in the face of a new world. Perhaps Virginia Woolf’s character Mrs. Dalloway can put it best for us. 

“Did it matter then, she asked herself, walking towards Bond Street, did it matter that she must inevitably cease completely; all this must go on without her; did she resent it; or did it not become consoling to believe that death ended absolutely?”[2]

The threat of death seemed to overwhelm these authors, as well it might for they were not only threatened by eventual death, and an odd collection of maladies and illnesses but by the war itself.  As Mrs. Dalloway evolves over time into the character that questions her own life and well-being, another character, a survivor of the war, Septimus, reaches for his own death accomplished in a suicide. Death and change were all about them, and the world that they thought they knew was gone. This is no surprise to us especially if we watched the Downton Abbey episodes which bring some of this to life.

I grew up in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where on 22 May 1957, around 11:50 a.m. a 10-megaton hydrogen bomb was accidentally dropped on the outskirts of Kirtland Air Force Base which lay at the southeastern edge of the city.[3]It could have ruined my whole day! We weren’t to find out about this until some three decades later, and that’s the funny thing about the world we live in. In Matthew 24:6 Jesus reminds us that we shall hear of “wars and rumors of wars.” But it is not just the wars – have we ever truly lived in peace? It is the consequences of our constantly battling one against another. It is the constant realization that we live at death’s edge. We numb that knowledge with forgetfulness. 

Once when driving north of Strasbourg, France to look at the pottery makers in Soufflenheim, and Boetschdorf, we headed east intending to cross the Rhine and enter Germany to see family. Arthur remarked as we left Boetschdorf, “Michael, the churches around here are all new – I wonder why?” As the words left his mouth we looked to our left as we crossed by the bombed-out bunkers of the Maginot Line. “Oh!”, Arthur said. So much is forgotten or willfully left behind. My parents were raised in German speaking households and schooled in their early years in German as well. In the same period that T.S. Eliot was leaving St. Louis and establishing himself in England, my mother and father’s families were quietly leaving German behind, a consequence of the war. Sometimes things are left behind because we do not want to deal with them. In 1958, I walked home from Grace School in a rage. When I got home, I wondered to my mother why I was just finding out about the internment of Japanese people on the west coast. “It was wartime”, she replied – and that was that.

A final story – and my apologies for besieging you with these personal memories, I’m hoping that it will stimulate your own. My daughter spent some time in Frankfurt, brushing up on her German for her Ph.D. in Spanish. We had all just become reacquainted with family in Germany and were fascinated to get to know them better. Anna was invited over to meet and have lunch with Emme Hiller Zeyfang, a cousin. After lunch she suggested that they look at family pictures – and there it was – Uncle so and so in his Luftwaffe uniform, and there was Cousin so and so in his Hitlerjugend outfit. Anna was stunned and didn’t comment. Much later when we discussed this I responded much as Pogo did, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I hope that you are in a flood of memory, remembrances are proper on this day. Remembrance and Thanksgiving are proper on this day for all those who offered up themselves through what seems the constant warfare in our time. It doesn’t seem to be going away, and thus it is proper to remember, give thanks, and confess – for we have caused others ill, as they have caused us ill. I am mindful of the Confession of Sin in the liturgical materials from Enriching our Worship.[4]

“We have denied your goodness in each other, in ourselves, and in the world you have created. We repent of the evil that enslaves us, the evil we have done, and the evil done on our behalf.”

It is not simple having this Remembrance Sunday, for we need to remember ourselves as well. I’m going to close this section with some lines from T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland.

“What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, 
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your shadow at evening rising to meet you;
I will show you fear in a handful of dust.”[5]

“Fear in a handful of dust.” Often that is all that remains, but Isaiah would have us see otherwise, and Jesus would have us look elsewhere. Here is where I need to preach the Gospel to our memories, to our remembrance of those gone, to our guilt and to our despair. Isaiah bids us come up to the mountain, and not just any mountain, but the mountain that is the Lord’s abode. Why should we go there – or better – why should we come here and observe this day? Isaiah answers our question, “That he may instruct us in his ways, and we may walk in his paths”.[6]Isaiah seems to challenge our despair with the hopefulness of peacemaking and life itself. And Jesus urges us to replace our dis-ease, our distrust, and our despair with love. He also reminds us what that love is built and made of. This is my commandment: love one another as I love you.No one has greater love than this,  to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”[7]And there we have it as simply as it can be stated over against the whirlwind of our memory and our loss. 

Perhaps we need to give thanks to God not only for the women and men who have fought for us, and kept us in freedom, but also for the women and men who have told our stories, written our songs and elegies, painted our visions, and sculpted our form. We all contribute to our story, our confession, and our song. It’s best to close with the ending line of the confession:

“Forgive, restore, and strengthen us through our Savior Jesus Christ, that we may abide in your love and serve only your will. Amen.”[8]


[1]     Goldstein, B. (2017) The World Broke in Two; Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, D. H. Lawrence, E. M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature, Henry Holt and Co., New York, Kindle Edition.
[2]     Ibid, Location 15616
[3]     Les Alders’ article in the Albuquerque Tribune, 20 January 1994,
[4]     Church Publishing, (1998), Enriching Our Worship 1: Morning and Evening Prayer, The Great Litany, and The Holy Eucharist, Church Publishing, New York, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location 962.
[5]     Eliot. T. (1922), The Waste Land – Classic Illustrated Edition, Heritage Illustrated Publishing, Kindle Edition, Kindle Location: 30-31.
[6]     Isaiah 2:3b.
[7]     John 15:12-13.
[8]     Church Publishing, Op cit., Kindle Location 965.

Monday, July 4, 2016

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 9, 3 July 2016

Berkeley, California

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost,
Proper 9,
3 July 2016

The Rev. Fr. Michael T. Hiller

“Failure and Rejection”

Isaiah 66:10-14
Psalm 66:1-8
Galatians 6: [1-6] 7-16
Saint Luke 10:1-11, 16-20


This morning we are greeted with what seems to be two almost divergent themes, and one wonders whether the framers of the lectionary haven’t treated us to the text from the last of the Isaiahs to ameliorate the possible hurdles in the Gospel. The Isaiah text is beautiful, and directed to a people who have seen so much difficulty. The images are comforting and satisfying. What we are met with here is the abundance of a mother’s love, the plenty of a mother’s providing. This is this Isaiah’s image of Jerusalem, the city of return. These satisfactions greet the exile that comes back, returning from the foreign land and foreign gods. So they are greeted as hungry children.

There are discordant notes in this reverie over Jerusalem as well. “Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her – that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast.” In the midst of joy we may yet mourn, or is it that our mourning is moderated by the joy that God promises to us? What an appropriate theme for the people of God at Saint Mark’s. For some of you the last months have seemed like an exile, torn away from the church of your expectations and hopes. In the past weeks, in our parish forum, and in small groups meeting about what it means to communicate with one another, you have begun to talk with one another about your sense of grief, loss, and frustration. The journey has been difficult and taxing. Some of you have given to it beyond your means. In a way we are only beginning to understand and apply Saint Paul’s lesson for us, “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

I think, however, that I am rushing ahead to a conclusion that is not taking into account Good News. I think that there is more Scripture with which we need to wrestle and be aware. Last Sunday we met a Jesus who had set his face toward Jerusalem, in spite of what it will mean for him. There is a determination to face all things. There is an urgency that wants to be on the way to Jerusalem. Will this Jerusalem be the mother of the Isaiahs, the Jerusalem that feeds and satisfies, and the Jerusalem that comforts the one who returns to her? No. And in spite of Jesus’ determination and urgency, there are other lessons to be learned by those who wish to follow him and learn from him.

There is a sense of abundance here, much like the picture that Isaiah paints for us in the first lesson, “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.” It is the present situation of both abundance and need that Jesus wishes to address before he continues on the road. Thus he appoints seventy others to precede him as he continues on his way. In a way they have the same mission, as did the Baptist. They go before Jesus and announce his presence to all who might listen and hear. Unlike the Baptist, who attracted the people to himself and the Jordan, these emissaries are sent out into “every town and place where he himself intended to go.”

It is here where the instruction and the situation become very interesting. It is here that the words become Good News for us at Saint Mark’s. Jesus warns them to strip down for the task, and to be ready for adversity.  They are made aware that they will be welcome in some places, and rejected in others.  The peace they offer will either be accepted or returned.  The reaction of others to them will reflect what the others think of Jesus.

Someone can help us at this point, and that is Father Dwight Zscheile, Episcopal priest and professor at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. His book, The Agile Church – Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age, can teach us to deal with what we might see as failure, or what is actually failure. He writes, “The central challenge facing churches today is rediscovering who they are in a society that has in many ways rejected Christianity.”[1] This is news that Jesus seems to have warned us about and that we have forgotten. The lesson, however, is not the primary one that Fr. Zscheile teaches us. Perhaps a little background can help us to understand his message. He was born in Silicon Valley, where he watched his father work with technology and innovation. He observed how companies had failure after failure before finally finding the solution or the product that would make their way in the world. He began to understand that it was the iterative process of failures and successes that made the innovations of the valley work – and his goal is to get the Church to see the Spirit active in this endeavor.

Now we come back to Saint Mark’s and our experiences with success and failure. Many have expressed their feelings to me, and now to others, about their sense that what the parish has gone through is failure. Perhaps it was. But we need to ask the question, “Failure to what end?” Jesus wants us to expect rejection along with acceptance, failures along with successes. Do the failures need forgiveness, or do they just need a healthy look again at what caused them. I’m afraid that I’m going to quote Yoda, “There is no try, only do.”

Jesus sends out the seventy to experience how the world receives Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of Heaven. That ought to be our aim here as well – first to ourselves so that we understand how God has accepted us, and then to others so that we might share that Good News. It must be done over and over again regardless of the results. It is inherently risky, and it will challenge us. What did we learn over the last few years? What can we learn as we pick ourselves up in forgiveness and joy to try something else – something new?

Isaiah’s mother, giving food to her children, is a wonderful image of the church. What we need to see, however, is that we are all the mother, giving acceptance and forgiveness to one another as the Body of Christ. There may yet be mourning and grief amongst us. If that is shared so that we bear one another up, there will be joy amidst the mourning, and that is Good News.


[1]Zscheile, D. (2014), The Agile Church: Spirit-Led Innovation in an Uncertain Age, Church Publishing, Inc. New York, Kindle Location 240.

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 7, 19 June 2016

This is a sermon preached by the Rev. Fr. Stephen Trever, Assistant Rector at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church in Berkeley, California, on his last Sunday there.

“What is your name?”

Galatians 3:23-29
Luke 8:26-39


That is a seemingly innocuous question.  It is so commonplace that the question may easily go unnoticed, as it appears nestled into this fantastic story of demons being driven from a man to a herd of swine the swine. For the fortunate majority this question is asked so often in the course of living, that we may never even notice how amazing it is in this context. 

But in this case, it seems quite remarkable because I imagine that for this man, referred to as the Garasene Demoniac, I suspect that it is a question that is rarely if ever asked.  Indeed, this man is treated more like a wild animal than a human. He lives in the shadows of society naked amongst the tombs. If he is engaged with at all, it is only to be tied down.  And as he sees Jesus approaching he begs Jesus not to torment him. 

I am reminded of a dog that we had when I was a child.  We had acquired her from the humane society and she would wince whenever anyone would make any fast sweeping hand gesture!  It was a sad testimony to the history of abuse that she must have experienced in her former home.  Likewise this plea not to be tormented tells us much about how this man has come to expect to be treated by those who even engage with him at all.

But Jesus does not torment him.  Instead Jesus asks this seemingly mundane question.  “What is your name?”  In this context, this question is hardly an invitation to small talk, but it cuts deep.

For a name is a complex and powerful thing.  When we acknowledge someone by name we engage with the absolute particularity and uniqueness of that individual.  A name signifies that no matter how similar or dissimilar we might be to anyone else, there is something irreducibly unique. 

And when we begin to dig deeper into the complexity of the individual, we find that each unique story is so deeply interwoven with the stories of others that we might all rightly be called “Legion.”  Our identity, though singular, is complex. It consists of a multitude of identities.  We share elements of our story with others according to some common identity markers.  For instance I am a Caucasian, heterosexual, American, episcopal priest, father, and husband of pan-European descent with political leanings that lead me to broadly identify with one party more than the other.  Which one doesn’t even matter, because the point is that all of us have a similar list of categories that speak to some extent to our identity.  And yet, none of those terms are sufficient to express the fullness of our unique and unrepeatable story.  The closest we can come to doing that in words is through our name.

By asking this man his name, Jesus acknowledges that he is much more than a “demoniac” but that he is a person.  He is a person whose value and worth is intrinsic to his being and not determined by whatever the legion of voices might have him or us believe.  In short, this question signifies Jesus’ recognition that this man who has been exiled to the tombs and abandoned by everyone else is a child of God, and as such is beloved.

In that seemingly mundane question, we find the profound depth of God’s love!

For God's Love penetrates to the heart of our being.  Whereas we seem to continuously evaluate ourselves and one another according to culturally inherited scripts, God sees us for who we truly are - as uniquely beloved Sons and Daughters of the Living God.  This is what I believe Paul means when he insists that in Christ there is no Jew or Greek, Slave or Free, Male and Female.  Not that those distinctions are erased, but that our true identity can never be reduced to any of those markers.  They do not dictate the intensity of God's love for us. Nor do they constitute a barrier for our love of one another.

And as disciples of Christ we are invited to let this same Spirit of love take hold of us. That the mind of Christ be in us, so that we might begin to see and relate to one another according to this same depth of love which does not bind us according to any label, but sets us free to love and be loved as unique expressions of God's creative Spirit.

But this Love does come with a price!  It is quite telling that when the townsfolk see what Jesus has done, they do not embrace him, but they instead ask him to leave! At first this might seem counterintuitive.  Why wouldn't they be overjoyed and celebrate what Jesus has done?  But if we stop for a moment to reflect on what it is we will see, if we actually acknowledge one another as brothers and sisters, I don't think it is all that difficult to see why that is upsetting. 

Because if we actually let this love take hold of us, not simply in intellectual platitudes, but in the depth of our being, our hearts are going to break!  They will break as we come to recognize just how deeply broken our world is.  They will break as we come to recognize the true depths of systemic injustice that implicates us all.  Our hearts will break as we recognize that hunger pains of those starving are not simply "their problem," but our problem.  Our hearts will break when we begin to feel as our own, the pain of those who grieve the loss of their sons, daughters, brothers, and sisters who lives were tragically cut short in Orlando.  

If we allow God's love to dwell in us, our hearts will break!

And in the face of that overwhelming heartache, it may seem easier to rationalize away that brokenness as an unfortunate but inevitable fact rather than to allow for the possibility of another world.

But the very Good News of the Gospel is that not only is another world possible, but it is inevitable.  In the Resurrection, God reveals his Life to be stronger than death.  In the Resurrection, God reveals his love to be stronger than doubt, stronger than despair, stronger than fear, and stronger than hatred. 

The Resurrection assures us that the pain of the heartbreak is not the end. In fact, it is the other side of the Holy Spirit, who like a refining fire is already at work burning Her law into our hearts so that we might at long last come to our right mind and reject all of the dehumanizing rhetoric of fear that seeks to keep us divided and cut off from our common humanity so that we might meet one another, not by labels, but by Name.  And in doing so, we might lay claim to our Divine birthright as heirs of God's Kingdom--Children of God.  

Sunday, June 12, 2016

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, proper 6, 12 June 2016

Preaching at Saint Mark's Episcopal Church
Berkeley, California

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 6
12 June 2016

Note: After this sermon was written, but before it was preached, news reached us about the terrorist attack on the gay bar in Orlando, Florida. It stunned the entire congregation into the silence of prayer and meditation. Although not mentioned in the body of the sermon, it certainly was part and parcel of my thinking as it was delivered, and members offering commentary on their own "privilege" had no problem in adding it to the thoughts recommended for the day.

May the souls of the faithful departed and all the dead rest in peace,
and may light perpetual shine upon them.

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
12 June 2016

Saint Mark’s Episcopal Church
Berkeley, California

II Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15
Palm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
St. Luke 7:36-8:3


This has been an odd week, and there are several things that have suggested themselves to me as grist for the homiletical mill. There was a primary election and whatever our feelings it did have a certain impact and importance. There was the revelation about the rape at Stanford University and questions about the justice that meted out in the situation. There was the death of Muhammad Ali. There is much more of course, but these seem to have stuck in my craw as things to ponder and think about.
            Although born in Southern California, I really did my growing up in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  It was there that I picked up many attitudes and prejudices. I was always aware of being a Lutheran and German, for the language was spoken occasionally within the family and the home. Although we lived in a nice home, the parsonage as they called it, money was scarce and we were aware of the difficulties that surrounded its lack. My father was not a personal entrepreneur. When members of his parish encouraged him to buy a house for investment purposes he did so, only to sell it some months later making a small profit. He was always burdened by a sense of guilt from the largess he realized of his investment – a real capitalist. More likely a real German peasant. To talk about “privilege” within this context seems to miss the reality of the situation, and yet with the events of the week, I am forced to do so. Please do not worry. This homily will not be a personal journey – all of us, I hope, will learn from its musings.
            So what do David, Uriah, Nathan, and Bathsheba; Simon, Jesus, and an unidentified “sinful woman” have to do with this set of circumstances and a preacher’s thoughts? Well, that is the task of the moment. The key for me was the death of Muhammad Ali. As I think back on that period of time when he emerged, changed his name, made his boasts, and captured the imagination of the boxing world, I was, I now realize, in a state of denial about what was really going on about me and within my own life as a Christian. My upbringing had been respectful of others and yet a level of prejudice and privilege was there not allowing for the possibility that all was not well. As others reviewed his life and accomplishments, his sayings, and his example, I realized that I had never really thought deeply about them. They were merely dismissed. It may have been the closed culture of the Missouri Synod that engendered this within me, but I think society in general contributed as well. Now I was forced to see value and heroism, wisdom and skill. How had I not seen it before?
            So what about Bathsheba, the unidentified woman at Stanford, the perfume-bearing sinner, and Mary Magdalene to whom Luke briefly alludes at the end of today’s Gospel? What about them – these women whose story is known in our great spiritual story – how does their belittlement keep us in the grip of sexism and privilege? The great theme that one discerns in these readings is one of forgiveness, but isn’t there really more? Isn’t the theme of acceptance and respect just as great? Simon is embarrassed by the interloper who takes intimate advantage of his guest, and it is Jesus who must mine the situation for its truth. “Simon, which of them will love the creditor more?” “I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.”  The psalm for this morning says it well, “Happy are they whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away!”
            Our time, however, seems to delight in the trials and tribulations of others. We (and here I speak as a man) never seem to own up to the effect of our unexamined attitudes. And what should motivate us in this endeavor – in this struggle to see people as God sees them, forgiven and whole. Someone is weeping at our feet and anointing us with tears and we’re uncomfortable. We find it difficult to express the need for not only repentance but resurrection as well. Yesterday at the funeral of a dear friend at Trinity+Saint Peter’s Church in San Francisco, I ran into a priest with whom I had served there. As we talked about our various troubles in growing old he suddenly thrust an icon in my face and said, “Here, kiss the resurrection.” I did.
            How do these women and Muhammad Ali represent to us the hope of the resurrection? For Bathsheba it would be her son Solomon who would bring wisdom and justice to David’s bloody empire. For the woman at Stanford University it was a letter that witnessed her own wisdom and resurrection, a witness that flew in the face of those who denied the severity of the situation. For Muhammad Ali it was the pause he gave the nation to realize the gifts of people who are not all white, and not any shade of Christian. (I am thinking of Uriah, the Hittite here – who is the most faithful in the David and Bathsheba story – the foreigner – the outsider.)
Finally resurrection is seen and felt in the tears and drops of ointment that greet the feet of Jesus. Where others denied hospitality, she granted it. Where others would not want to see what was to come in Jerusalem, she anticipated it. Next Sunday, in the reading from Galatians, Paul will make us understand that it is not the privilege of gender, economic status, or skin that holds us up. It is God’s uniting us in Christ, in the death and resurrection of Christ – that is our true privilege. The problem and the challenge are how we honor that shared privilege in others.