Tuesday, October 21, 2014
I'll be away from the parish Wednesday, October 22, through Monday, October 27, on my annual fall retreat at St. Gregory's Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan.
On Sunday the 26th St. Andrew's will welcome as "Supply Priest" and Guest Preacher our good friend the Rev. Canon Cathy Brall. Canon Cathy has served in our diocese as Rector of the Church of the Advent in Brookline and, for many years, as Provost of Trinity Cathedral, downtown. These days as our diocesan "Canon Missioner" she is coach and mentor to new and renewing congregations--and is working closely with us here at St. Andrew's in our emerging mission partnership with St. James Church in the Penn Hills.
Monday, October 20, 2014
Patrick Christopher Malloy
February 12, 1946 – October 9, 2014
October 20, 2014
Good evening, and grace and peace. It is very much for me an honor and a privilege to share this evening in this service for Patrick Christopher Malloy. To remember Pat’s life in all its richness, to honor him for his life and service, to his family, husband, father, son, and brother--his community, his church, his country. And an honor especially for me to share in the sorrow of loss with family and friends, with all of you, family and friends. With love to you, especially, Vikki, and Brendan and Alyson, Megan and Brian and your girls, who have known here in the morning of their lives such a loving grandfather. And so many rich memories. As we offer together the prayers of the church, not just as we say the words but as we gather the faith and life and witness of the whole Christian family and offer the deepest knowledge and desire of our hearts to almighty God. As we hear the words of scripture, the psalms, the lessons, the Good News of Jesus Christ. Who as we turn to him has forgiven our sins, and in his mercy and love and by his cross opened the way to the fullness of life, and eternal life.
As I was thinking about Patrick in preparation for this sermon I remembered a story in the Bible from the Book of the Acts of the Apostles. In the 16th Chapter. Paul and his companion Silas have come to the city of Philippi, the largest city in the region of Macedonia, and as a result of the disturbance caused by their preaching and miraculous healings they are arrested and thrown in jail. The night passes, as they are there behind bars they sing hymns and pray together. And then suddenly there is a great earthquake, and all the doors and locks are ripped from the walls of their cells. When their jailer sees what has happened he is overcome with fear—because in that Roman system the penalty for a prison guard who loses his prisoner is summary execution. But as the dust settles, Paul and Silas call out to him not to worry. Don’t be afraid! They haven’t gone anywhere. And he is so overcome with gratitude that he embraces them and then takes them to his own home, where they eat with him and spend the remainder of the night. They speak with him, pray with him, and in a miracle of the Holy Spirit this jailer and his family become the first Christians in Philippi, the nucleus of a church family that Paul would later say in his letter to the Philippians was especially dear to his heart. In the first chapter of that Letter he says to them, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in prayer with joy, thankful for your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now. And I am sure that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to feel thus about you all,” he says, “because I hold you in my heart, for you are all partakers with me of grace, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus.”
And so, let us say this evening, how from the faith of one man in the Department of Corrections, the Holy Spirit moving through him, the seed is planted of Christian faith and life that spread in wider and wider circles to touch so many lives, with generosity and care and love. A way to think about our friend Patrick. I remember how when he toured me around the halfway house that he was in charge of up on the North Side not long after I had arrived here back in 1994, he introduced me to several of those who were there. At first I thought they were colleagues, fellow workers, because of the tone of respect and affection in the exchange. Then discovered they were, we would say, residents of the facility. But you could tell just in the interaction what kind of man Pat was. And how that affected in such a positive and meaningful way those around him. Small moments. One relationship at a time.
A friend in the 12 Step Movement years ago taught me this saying: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” And for all kinds of reasons that phrase and saying has come back to me over the past few weeks, and especially in my thoughts and in my heart in those last days with Patrick both in the hospital and at home.
I was remembering glimpses, moments. Some many years ago, some very recent. Lunches. Ballgames. Quiet conversations. Vestry meetings and church gatherings. The pride he felt when he looked at his kids. The tributes that so many of his colleagues paid to him at that great retirement dinner at the Blarney Stone. (Although Pat certainly put a new spin on the word retirement in the years that followed!) Of course the importance of his family. So impressive to me as a husband, a father. Megan posted one of her wedding photos on Facebook—Patrick escorting her down the aisle. A beautiful moment, and that wonderful smile! And how much joy in being a grandfather! Remembering when the girls were baptized. What a great day . . . .
Perhaps just right to recall the word from scripture, in 25th chapter of St. Matthew, the Parable of the Talents, when the Great Lord returns to see how well his employees have done with the tasks of stewardship that he had given to them. “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little, I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.” A great word to remember today. Well done, Patrick. Thinking of the courage, and I think that really is the right word for Patrick in these past years, as he has had so many adversities. Great courage. Now, “enter into the joy of your master.”
Patrick’s family selected the readings for this service, and I want especially to highlight the reading from St. John’s Revelation, the 21st chapter, and the wonderful vision revealing the great consummation and completion and victorious conclusion of God’s great plan for us and for all of creation. Every tear wiped away. Every sorrow comforted. Every burden and every pain lifted away. And the one who created us and who sustains us: “Behold, I make all things new.”
This is the promise of the savior who died on the cross to cancel our sins and who rose from the dead on Easter morning as the first sign of new life and life eternal in his name. A promise for each of us even in these difficult times, when we encounter suffering, pain, loss. “Behold, I make all things new.”
In the sure and certain hope of life in Christ Jesus, what we all have to be about this evening, with all the sadness that there is—what we all have to be about is to learn to live every day of this short and precious life in the love of God and of one another, serving God and one another, knowing that to be such a privilege.
Jesus said, in my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself, that where I am, you may be also.” “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.”
Patrick reminded me from time to time that he was of Irish descent. I’d like to invite us all as we remember him and as we commend him to God, to stand and turn to the blue hymnal, and let us sing together a wonderful prayer and affirmation of Christian faith, and a lovely Irish tune: hymn #488. “Be thou my vision.”
Matthew 22: 15-22
What a dramatic ending to the scene. We remember Jesus and his disciples in their long festival pilgrimage from the Mount of Transfiguration, through the towns and villages, up to Jerusalem. The lectionary sequence for this weeks of late summer and early fall in St. Matthew. The triumphant Palm Sunday entry. The crowds waving branches, singing “Hosanna to the Son of David.” The procession directly to the heart of the city and what is truly the center of the world, the Holy Temple. I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the House of the Lord. O how amiable are thy dwellings, thou LORD of hosts! My soul hath a desire and longing to enter into the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God. How true the words of the psalms are, as Jesus approaches. “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silent before him.” Yea the sparrow hath found her an house, and the swallow a nest, where she may lay her young; even thy altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God. Blessed are they that dwell in thy house; they will be always praising thee.
But Jesus is met not with welcome but with resistance. The haunting words from the opening of St. John’s gospel. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. Confrontation. Rejection. The Temple officials priests and Pharisees, the teachers of the law and guardians of this sacred treasure, in whose hands rest the stewardship of the prayers of the whole people of God—they turn away, they seek to discredit him, they deny his authority.
Perhaps some of the same who met him for the first time when he came as a young teenager so long ago to this very place. Perhaps some of them even remembering old Zechariah, who had sung “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast promised to thy people Israel” when the infant Jesus was brought to the Temple for his Presentation. Some who would remember the old Prophetess Anna, who sang to God with joy when she saw Mary and Joseph and the child.
And as he is confronted, Jesus gives these parables, to help us see just what it is that has taken place. We’ve heard them now the past three weeks, on the steps of the Temple, the crowds looking on.
Two sons. One who promises to fulfill the will of the father, but who breaks his promise, and the other who doesn’t respond at first, but who is moved in his heart to obey. And the Unruly tenants. They signed the lease, made their home in the Vineyard, but when the messengers from the owner came to collect what was owed, they respond with violence, killing even the landlord’s son. And the Wedding Guests. They receive the invitation, but they don’t respond. In their self-centeredness they refuse to come to the Banquet.
That great line at the end of Matthew 21: “When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them.” The drama of this confrontations, as the crowds swelled around them.
Then of course to this next bit of the confrontation at the Temple. This morning’s reading, the attempt to entrap Jesus with this question about paying taxes. Would he play to the crowds and declare himself a tax resisters? In which case the Romans would make short order of him. Or would he identify with the collaborationists, and undermine his credibility with those who followed him. Perhaps they think they’ve got him now, between a rock and a hard place. One last shot at cutting this Galilean troublemaker down to size.
But Jesus skips past them. “Give Caesar Caesar’s due,” sure. But then the penetrating word. “And give God what is God’s.” Again the spotlight shifts from Jesus to the opponents, and the point settles home one last time. The implication ringing loud and clear. As direct an indictment and condemnation as could be imagined, though with just enough poetry to avoid immediate arrest.
“’When the owner of the Vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ And “They said to him, ‘He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.’”
The thematic centerpiece of this progression—and it is going to continue on in Matthew on this Palm Sunday and in the Holy Week ahead at some length—found in the deep and tragic and heartbreaking irony, that the very people chosen by God from all the peoples of the earth as stewards of this promise would not open their eyes and ears and hearts to receive him when he came. God to Abraham, Genesis 12: “through you all peoples on earth will be blessed.” God’s holy people are silent. But as Jesus says when the leaders rebuke the crowds in Luke’s account of this day, “if they don’t shout, the rocks themselves will cry out.” The vineyard will receive new tenants. The banquet hall will be filled with new guests to celebrate the wedding feast of the king’s son.
The one moment of this drama of course ripples out through time and space, over all the centuries. Questions and choices, and for each one of us. Which of those two sons we are to be. What kind of tenants in the vineyard. What we do with the rsvp card in that wedding invitation. Knowing with some clarity that we are citizens of Caesar’s kingdom, and yet pausing with uncertainty perhaps when it comes time to pledge allegiance to our king. All of these echoing a question from Jesus, something like: whose side are you on, anyway?
Gradually drawing toward the end of the church year. Advent out there on the horizon. The circle completes its path, on our way to Advent Sunday by way of Good Friday.
And just to echo again the Prologue of St. John, for each of us, to search in our hearts: “He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.”
Saturday, October 11, 2014
October,2014 Holy Matrimony
Heather Elizabeth Koch and Todd David Lunn
First John 4; Mark 10
Wow. Good afternoon everyone! Family and friends . . . . It is so great to be here today, as we are witnesses and participants in this wonderful celebration of Christian marriage. Heather and Todd, I would simply personally and I know speaking for everyone here today, and with truly a full heart, express my and our deepest thanks for including us, for inviting us to be with you as this new page is turned, a new chapter begun. What I know is in my heart and in all our hearts this afternoon, and Heather and Todd, I hope you will hear this with depth and sincerity: “this is going to be something special.” In the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a great thing here. He has a great plan for your lives, only just now beginning to unfold in a new way.
Thank you especially for selecting this reading from the Tenth Chapter of St. Mark’s Gospel for us—truly a gift. Here at St. Andrew’s it is an especially familiar reading because of the beautiful—really the magnificent stained glass window over our high altar, created for us over 100 years ago by the famous artist Louis Comfort Tiffany. “Jesus and the Children.” We know the story. Jesus is preaching a sermon, when suddenly some families arrive. Families with kids—and I can’t help but look here at Shelby and Conor, as our Junior Bridesmaid and Junior Groomsman today. The disciples are acting I guess as ushers might act. Suggesting that they take the kids off to the Children’s Nursery. But Jesus overrules them. “Bring them to me!” So wonderful. And he takes them into his arms and gives them his special blessing. A tender and meaningful moment as we look into the heart of Jesus, the heart of God himself, to see the depth of his love. As in the reading from First John, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God.” Please know today the blessing of your marriage, your family, and the love of Jesus.
We say marriage is a “sacrament” because in marriage you two become outward signs of God’s grace and love. He is going to be using you to communicate his love to others, and that is the work you are called to do and that we acknowledge and celebrate today. Beginning at home, and then moving outward in wider and wider circles.
You know, in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, chapter 3, there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, a moment of transformation, about a calling to a new way of life-- in a way kind of like this moment here today. In that story Moses is working for his father in law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out. He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground. That’s my point.
This is the moment when God tells Moses about his plan for his life, how from the day of his birth he has been shaped and prepared for the mission to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and across the Wilderness and into the Promised Land. God speaks into this world, into our lives, and what was an ordinary place is now made sacred by that holy word. And Heather and Todd: in the vows and promises you make today, in God’s sight and in the presence of these friends and family members, the ground under your feet is consecrated, and made holy. Not because of what you are saying, but because we believe, that God’s word is being spoken to you now. We can imagine that burning bush, right here, right now.
That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing and purpose. The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen in this one moment of your wedding, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life. He has great plans for you, for each of you, and for you together as husband and wife and family. That’s the great and wonderful thing we celebrate. I don’t know what they are in the particulars. None of us do. But he is beginning to reveal them to you now, in this moment this afternoon.
And it’s a privilege for us to be here with you.
And now as Todd and Heather prepare to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts offer a prayer of love and blessing for them—that they will be surrounded and embraced by love and blessing all the days of their lives.
The Rev. Bruce M. Robison, D. Min.
Rector, St. Andrew’s Church, Highland Park
her brought over from the heritage of Jewish practice o
Sunday, October 5, 2014
Matthew 21: 33-46
As we’ve been following the story in Matthew, beginning back in the 17th chapter, Jesus and his disciples are on a festival pilgrimage from the Mount of Transfiguration, moving along those dusty back roads with the ever-growing crowds of the faithful—men and women, boys and girls—joining what we might almost think of as a grand parade, assembling from all the towns and villages along the way, toward Jerusalem, which is at Passover the center of the world.
Echoes of Psalm 122 again, as I had quoted from another part of the same psalm last week. Jerusalem is built as a city that is at unity in itself. For thither the tribes go up, even the tribes of the LORD, to testify unto Israel, to give thanks unto the Name of the Lord. For there is the seat of judgment, even the seat of the house of David. O pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they shall prosper that love thee. Peace be within thy walls, and plenteousness within thy palaces. For my brethren and companions’ sakes, I will wish thee prosperity. Yea, because of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek to do thee good.
At the beginning of Chapter 21 we see their entry at the gates of the city, Palm Sunday. Such a familiar scene. We hear the cheering crowds singing Hosanna, waving branches of palm, throwing their coats onto the road to create the atmosphere of a royal procession. The king has come. And entering through those gates, Jesus and the twelve and all their company go directly to the Temple, carried along in the tide of swirling crowds to the holy center of the holy center, the place which has been indeed from the beginning of time prepared for him, his earthly throne. In the realms of heaven there must echo the great acclamation, angels and archangels cry aloud: “The Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.”
But in fact, as we saw last Sunday, at the Temple he is not welcomed--not by the ecclesiastical leadership, those whose office would indicate that sacred trust and stewardship. The official gatekeepers. The stewards of the holy mysteries. As St. John tells it in the first chapter of his gospel, “he came to his own, and his own received him not.” Instead there is confrontation, rejection. The rebellion at the very core of our sinful character made manifest. A snarling resistence.
We remember the moment in last Sunday’s readings as the authorities challenge Jesus and demand that he account for himself. Who do you think you are, Jesus? Who do you think you are? They make an effort to put him in his place, we might say. Which the highest and richest irony, since this of all places is his place. In any event, Jesus then turns the table on them, with all the crowd looking on and listening-in. Asks them with a bit of clever political intuition about their relationship with John the Baptist. With the help of their ally King Herod, John of course has been taken out of the picture. But the crowds in the street respected John and loved him and believed in fact that he was indeed God’s messenger. Hearing him and responding to him in heart and mind as called them to repent, to turn around, to put on a new mind and a new heart. Knowing that in John God was reaching out to them with an authentic voice far more meaningful than any word or ceremony or sacrifice the official clergy would ever give them. When John spoke of the coming of the Promised Savior, they were filled with hope and believed him with all their hearts.
In any event, John the Baptist is obviously a difficult political subject for the authorities, and they are knocked a little off balance. A public relations nightmare if they’re not careful, especially with all the crowds in town for the Passover.
Then Jesus follows with this series of parables. We heard the one last Sunday. Two sons. One tells his father that he won’t do what he has asked him, but then has a change of heart and fulfills his request. The other tells his father that he will do what he has asked, but then doesn’t.
Jesus isn’t being too subtle here, obviously. The Masters of the Law, teachers of the Torah, leaders of worship, ministers of the holy of holies. Scribes and Pharisees and Temple Priests: they say all the right words. They go through the motions with perfect attention to every rubric. But when it’s time for action, they are nowhere to be found. Almost as if it’s a game for them. Playacting.
You can almost hear their teeth grinding in anger. And then Jesus presses the not-so-subtle approach even more emphatically in the reading this morning, the Parable of the Unruly Tenants. This precious treasure placed in their hands, under their care and keeping. A sacred trust. Holy Israel, the Vineyard of the Lord. But what boils up in their hearts is not gratitude, but rebellion. Self-centered hatred. Betrayal. Lies. Murder. They already have the blood of John the Baptist on their hands, and within days they would see that Pontius Pilate would rid them of this troublemaker as well. “This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.” Jesus knows what is in their hearts, and now they know that he knows. And you can hear the buzz in the crowd.
In some ways this one great story of salvation is played out again and again, in every generation, I suppose, and in every heart. The world resists its true King at the Temple on Palm Sunday, and so the story goes in every place and time, and in every heart. The Greek word metanoia, translated “repentance,” means literally, “another state of mind,” a new mind, a new heart. The first word in John the Baptist’s appeal to the people. In Matthew 4:17, the first word of Jesus’ first sermon as well: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Start new.
It’s not just about being sorry for something we have done or haven’t done, but about making ourselves available to him, opening the doors of our minds and our hearts. Not simply a change of external direction and behavior, though that’s an essential part of it. Deeper. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Rebirth. Renaissance. If the Temple authorities will serve God, but only on their own terms. As it conveniences them. As that service simply confirms what they already believed. As it secured their perspective. We’ve heard about “cafeteria Christians.” Move down the line. Sample a little of this, a little of that. Whatever looks good to us. And skipping over whatever perhaps looks like it’s not quite to our taste.
The word of power at the end of the parable tells them and us all that we need to know. To the very end this desire to invite, to warn. Here right at the very place the Psalm calls the “Seat of Judgment.” And yes, there will be a Judge and a judgment, a final accounting. When all the cards are spread on the table. Look at what is going on. Be new, before it’s too late. Said John. Says Jesus. Before we’ve gone too far. Past the point of no return. Turn again to the Lord and he will have compassion, come to him, and he will quickly pardon. Renew your hearts and minds, set your feet on his path.
Again, before the great Temple, the holy of holies. The throne of the High King. The story plays out in our hearts, and in our lives, in our society, our world, even as we come forward and kneel at the communion rail this morning. Let all mortal flesh keep silence.
October 4, 2014
Anneliese Morgan Becker and Daniel John King
Genesis 1:26-28, 31; First Corinthians 13: 1-13; Matthew 5: 1-12
Wow. Good afternoon everyone! Family and friends . . . . It is so great to be here today, as we are witnesses and participants in this wonderful celebration of Christian marriage. Anneliese and Dan, I would simply personally and I know speaking for everyone here today, and with truly a full heart, express my and our deepest thanks for including us, for inviting us to be with you as this new page is turned, a new chapter begun. The three of us, and actually with William the four of us, as he was such an active participant in our conversations, have been preparing for this day for some time, with meaningful conversations—and it has certainly been my pleasure to get to know you at this special time of your lives.
Your family and friends stand with you here, as this page turns, a new step in your relationship, your family. We come together, and we can’t help but think, “this is, and this is going to be, something special.” In the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a great thing. He has a great plan for your lives, only just now beginning to unfold.
You both spent some time and gave careful thought to the selection of the readings from Scripture to be read and shared at this service, and it was a gift for all of us to hear them. The reading from Genesis underscores the affirmation that I announced in the Opening Address of this service: “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation.” A reminder that marriage isn’t something we create or invent. We “enter into” marriage, which is something deep and enduring, and a part of God’s plan for the human family. And the reading from St. Matthew reminds us this afternoon that this particular marriage is being entered into today in the context of a larger frame of reference of Christian life and discipleship and stewardship. It’s not a thing to “have,” but a life to live, and a work to do. A vocation.
I want to pause just a moment over the familiar passage in the second reading--from St. Paul’s letter to the new Christians of a small congregation in the Greek town of Corinth. It’s a congregation that Paul was instrumental in founding and clearly a group of people who were dear to him, much loved. We don’t know everything about the context of this particular letter, but apparently word had come to him that there were some disputes and controversies—social, spiritual, theological, that had begun to cause conflict and division in the congregation.
Through the whole letter Paul addresses the issues at hand, but then in the Thirteenth Chapter he goes on to talk about Christian life and conduct in community, to describe what it means to live together as Christian people, even when there are serious differences. As there are always differences, whether in a large community, or even we might say in a community of two.
Paul offers a kind of recipe, a model, a roadmap, a broad-brushstroke picture of the deeper themes of what we are and what we can be at our very best in Christian relationship. How we are called to live by sharing in the image of Jesus himself, by patterning ourselves in love following the love that he shared with us. Love is patient; kind; not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It doesn’t insist on its own way. Not irritable. Doesn’t hold on to resentments. It doesn’t find joy when another is hurt, but rejoices when good triumphs. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Thank you especially for selecting this reading for us—truly a gift. We can’t hear this word too often. A great recipe for Paul as he addresses problems in the early church, but always also a recipe for all of us to keep close, in our friendships, in our families and communities, and meaningful that you have shared it with us today on the day of your marriage. We might almost say that sharing this reading with your family and friends is the first step, the first example, of the work you are being called to do in your marriage from here on out. We say this is a “sacrament” because in marriage you two become outward signs of God’s grace and love. He is going to be using you to communicate his love to others, and that is the work you are called to do and that we acknowledge and celebrate today.
The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen in this one moment of your wedding, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life. God has great plans for you, for each of you, and for you together as husband and wife, for William, as we know him already to be such a great person and presence in our lives, and for all your family. That’s the great and wonderful thing we celebrate. I don’t know what they are in the particulars. None of us do. The future is held for us in the heart of our loving God. But he is beginning to reveal them to you and to us now, in this moment this afternoon.
And it’s a privilege for us to be here with you.
And now as Dan and Anneliese prepare to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts offer a prayer of love and blessing for them—that they will be surrounded and embraced by love and blessing all the days of their lives.
The Rev. Bruce M. Robison, D. Min.
Rector, St. Andrew’s Church, Highland Park
her brought over from the heritage of Jewish practice o
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Matthew 21: 23-32
Good morning, and grace and peace. A new season for us now, as this the first Sunday of the Fall, after a long and mostly cool summer. Once again in the next week a taste at least of October baseball, which is of course a highlight on my calendar.
A new chapter begun for Jesus and his disciples as well. In Matthew chapter 17 and a number of weeks ago now in terms of our Sunday lectionary Jesus and Peter and Andrew and James and John came down from the Mount of Transfiguration and set out with the rest of the disciples on the road toward Holy Week and Good Friday. We’ve heard Jesus speaking to these friends and to the gathered crowds along the way, sharing with the beginnings of what I’ve called his Last Will and Testament: commands, concerns-- stories he wants them to remember when he’s no longer with them to guide them step by step, inspire, shape them individually and together though the challenges of the day. Equipping them for the new mission that they will discover when the Holy Spirit fills them at Pentecost.
And now our feet are standing within thy gates, O Jerusalem. Psalm 122, a song that would be in the heart and on the lips of every pilgrim approaching the Holy City for the Passover festival.
The first half of the 21st chapter of Matthew, just before the reading we heard this morning, the Entrance to the City. Palm Sunday. The crowds recognizing Jesus, waving their branches and throwing their coats and shawls onto the path as he passed through the ancient gates. A kind of homecoming. Which would be true for every Jew of Jesus day and of ours and I suppose of every Christian too. That’s what people tell me who have been there: a homecoming like no other. I know Dean will be going again pretty soon, and perhaps others of you have made or will make that trip sometime. Making that pilgrimage.
It is of course in a unique way homecoming for Jesus, at Mt. Zion. God from God, light from light. Very God of very God. Not just because he is a celebrity preacher and prophet and miracle-worker, though that certainly would have been what the people in the crowds were responding to. Joseph and his mother certainly would have told him of the story, what happened when they travelled with him as an infant, after his birth, to make the offering of the 40th day. Old Simeon with his prophesy. “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people.” Anna singing the praises of God. And he would have remembered the family journey to Jerusalem for the festival when he was a boy. When he slipped away from his family to explore the Temple, when even as a youth he had met some of the esteemed scholars of Judaism’s holiest place and astonished them with the questions he asked them. And then when Mary and Joseph had finally found him—“How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?”
And so now the Son returns, all these years later, and once again engaging the scholars, the Chief Priests and the elders, in a pointed conversation. Which they receive a little differently. Still astonished, we might say, but any smiles they may have had years ago for a precocious teenager are long gone, and they understand that the stakes are higher, that in this encounter there is much at risk for them.
The question is about authority, about loyalty, about affiliation and identification, about where Truth and Assurance and the presence of God is to be found-- and Jesus of course here saying that true authority comes not from your ecclesiastical office or the academic degrees on the wall or even from the praise of the people, but from God, demonstrated as in John by a life of faithful obedience. It is a direct challenge, and one they can’t duck. John the Baptist had no ecclesiastical office and no Master of Divinity degree. But he looked at the world with a vision and with moral and spiritual clarity shaped by and grounded in God’s continuous word to Israel, the Law and the Prophets, and he proclaimed a message of repentance to the people, calling them to put down their easy accommodations and their casual and sometimes not-so-casual hypocrisies, and to return to the Lord their God. How the song goes: You’ve got to change your evil ways, Baby. He called them to repentance, and so to point to and prepare the way for the Promised One of Israel. The time is now, he said, to worship the Father not simply in external ceremony, but with the sacrifice of the heart, “not only with our lips, but in our lives.” What kind of authority did John have? Where did his power come from? Fine clothes? Social standing? High office? Academic degrees and credentials? The question Jesus asks them. When he pointed his finger at you, and called you to change your ways? When he declared, Behold the Lamb of God? What made that a word from above, a word with authority? You give me an answer to that question, here in the midst of this crowd of witnesses, and then I’ll tell you who I am.
And then Jesus punctuates the moment with the Parable of the Two Sons. The one who uses the right words, who gets the ceremonies right, the outward observances, who prays from the authorized Prayer Book, but then puts the text down at the end of the service and goes away with his heart and his life unchanged, and the one who doesn’t have all the external signs of conformity. But at the end of the day, he is a new man. “Rend your heart, not your garments,” as the Prophet had said. “Then turn to the Lord, and he will have compassion.”
And perhaps here we remember the other parable Jesus once told about a man with two sons. The younger one who did everything wrong, but who returned humbled and broken in tears to the embrace of the Father, and the older one, who fulfilled every demand of the law, but whose heart was made of stone. Echoes here as well of the parable of the Good Samaritan, I suppose. The stunning contrast between the religious leaders who turn their eyes away and pass by on the other side, and the Samaritan who held none of the high offices or honorary titles, but who stopped to help.
If you were beaten and robbed and left by the side of the road, which of these would you hope would pass by along the way? You give thanks for the one who stoops down to pick you up, and you don’t ask questions. Are you wearing the correct vestments for this service? Do you have a Masters Degree?
Even the most flagrant of sinners will be ahead of you in line at the Kingdom’s Gates, Jesus tells these men, revered of the people, respected theologians and scholars, ecclesiastical leaders. Even the riff-raff, they got it. At least when they heard John’s word of hope, about a God who has more and better things in mind for them, when he told them of God’s Anointed One now entering the world in their midst, they listened and yearned for that message to be true. They knew it was true, in their minds as they heard the proclamation of the Scriptures, and in their hearts. You just spent all your time trying to defeat the message and kill the messenger.
The authorities know better than to make a move in that public place, but they’ve heard all they need to hear. The solution to the Jesus problem was going to have to be what had also been for them the solution to the John the Baptist problem. They were just going to need to find the right opportunity to make that happen.
And now our feet are standing within thy gates. Jerusalem, and Holy Week--and the question hanging over the Parable of the Sons frames not only one moment in time, but every moment—and of course our moment. About who he is to us, really. Not about dressing the part or saying the right words, but about getting up when we hear his voice, about turning towards him as he calls our name, and about trusting him, following him.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.