Sunday, September 14, 2014

Fourteenth after Pentecost

(Year A)  Matthew 18: 21-35

Grace and peace this morning.  Still officially summer, but a taste of fall in the air, for sure.

Today I want to pause in our worship with attention to this reading from St. Matthew, in the 18th Chapter.  Not a long reading, but it has two distinct sections.  The first this dialogue between Jesus and Peter over the question of forgiveness in the life of the Christian family.  “What are the rules?” Peter asks.  Need some minimum guidelines.  And of course Jesus replying with this phrase that is translated variously as “seventy-seven times” or even “seventy times seven.”  His point obviously being to push back at Peter’s fixation on a rule, a limit.  And then in the second section, Jesus moves on to what is sometimes called the “Parable of the Unmerciful Servant.”  The moral of the story as a kind of ironic, eyebrow-raised reply to Peter’s question.  “How could someone who has been forgiven for so much, who has received such a generous and extravagant gift of mercy himself, turn right around and be so stingy, so harsh and unforgiving with another?”

And this whole section following immediately the reading from the first part of Matthew 18 last Sunday, which perhaps you’ll remember—a long and somewhat complicated procedure that Jesus outlines for the resolution of disputes in the congregation.  First (not blind copy e-mails, not back channel gossip, not secretive chatter in the parking lot): First: go to the person who has been causing you a problem privately, and try to work it out.  If that doesn’t work, bring in a couple of respected elders, so that they can listen to both sides and give mature and thoughtful Christian perspective and help you reach a conclusion.  And if even that doesn’t work, then open the situation to the whole church.  Let the sunshine in, with full public accountability.   No triangulation.  None of the pathology of secret conversation in the shadows.  Accountability and clarity.  And if after that time things can’t be resolved, make a clean break.  Nothing worse than a festering wound.  A rotten apple in the barrel.  Maybe the congregation as a whole will need to decide who has to leave,  but you and your alternate should probably be able actually to figure that on your own--and then everyone will need to respect that decision.  No backward-gazing, in any case, no telephone calls in the middle of the night to a remnant of secret allies.  Sometimes there needs to be that space, Jesus says, and you go  your separate ways, and don’t look back.  Start over fresh someplace else.  A better option than the poison of ongoing unresolved murmuring.  St. Benedict uses a surgical metaphor when he talks about the situation when a member of the monastic community is the toxic source of division and conflict, murmuring and jealousy and resentment.  Sometimes he says, amputation is the only remaining life-saving measure.

In that context, specifically looking at the life of the church.  In this section of St. Matthew Jesus and his disciples have come down from the Mount of Transfiguration and turned in the general direction of Jerusalem, and we can hear so vividly in the words and stories of Jesus this deep desire that he has to give his disciples the tools, the perspectives, the deeper understanding that will be necessary for them to have to survive and to be effective and to flourish in the mission that they will have in the days and years and centuries after Easter morning. 

There is something so precious to Jesus about the peace of the church.  If there's a feeling for us to have after that reading last week and then this morning, I hope it is just simply to know deep, deep down, how much he loves us.  It’s the way he continues to feel when he looks at this little congregation of St. Andrew’s.  And as he looks at each one of us, in our homes and families.  So precious to him.  The saying sometimes attributed to St. Francis, “preach often, when necessary use words.”  How the potential of this little band of Jesus is  deeply rooted not in sermons and mission statements and church programs and campaigns, but in the transformed heart.

Thinking here about the familiar passage of scripture, from St. Paul,  First Corinthians 13.  It has been read in a couple of the weddings we’ve had at St. Andrew’s this summer and it was one of the readings this past Friday afternoon at the Memorial Service for Professor Jannie Swart in the Chapel of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary.

In any event, the famous chapter about Christian love, which was of course written to a church community full of strife.  Love is patient and kind, not jealous, boastful, arrogant, or rude.  Such familiar words for us. Division between the well-off and the poor, between the well-educated and highly cultured and the poorly educated, between those who feel that they have achieved spiritual maturity and those who are new to Christian faith and life, between old families and newcomers. And it’s the fifth verse of the 13th chapter that just leaps out at me every time I read that text.  “Love does not insist on its own way.”

It seems to me that those simple words could have been the words inscribed by Pilate over the Cross on Good Friday.  Love does not insist on its own way.

It’s the relational and theological principle that lies under both last week’s reading about resolving disputes and this week’s about forgiveness and mercy.  And of course it is just about as counter-intuitive and counter-cultural as anything we could imagine.  It doesn’t mean don’t have an opinion, don’t be an advocate, don’t find all wholesome and appropriate ways to contribute as you truly feel is appropriate, as you feel God has equipped you to contribute.  Doesn't mean we don't have differences.  

But you can just see Jesus in what I suppose was an intensity of compassion.  He knows this is hard to get.  Know when “insisting” begins to bring harm to the Body.  He’s not going to be with them much longer, and he needs for them to have this way of understanding what they are about to witness on the hill of Calvary.  Understanding it and incorporating it for themselves, so that the Body stretched out on the Cross will become mystically and sacramentally and in reality his Body the Church.

In any event.  The really hard time to forgive the bad behavior of someone else is when you know that the behavior really was bad, that you were right and they were wrong, and especially when they still don’t seem to understand that they were wrong, and when there’s nothing to look at in terms of repentance or any commitment to amendment of life.  When things aren’t going to get any better.  When you breathe in and breathe out and let it go, simply because unforgiveness is toxic to the Body.  Because the unworthiness of the one we would forgive pales in comparison to our unworthiness before the one who has forgiven us and blessed us with grace and mercy beyond anything we ever could have hoped for.

How many times do I need to forgive.  What is the minimum passing score on the test of love?  What is the rule about how joyful I need to be?  How much gratitude am I required to feel?

It’s a great lesson to hear again, from Matthew 18, the week after Renaissance Sunday.  A reminder that if the mission and ministry of this body of Christian people is going to flourish in the days and years ahead, it will be not because we have elevators and restrooms and meeting space and a great acoustic, but because we would seek to live lives faithful to Jesus, allowing ourselves to be occupied by him.  Of course don’t get me wrong.  Those things are important and great.  But they aren’t essential.   This is the way that the mission can happen with grace and beauty and wholesome life.  What is essential: These Christians, how they love one another.  Think how that message plays in this sad and broken world of ours.  The promise of renaissance, the Holy Spirit, Jesus dwelling in our hearts and in our lives, and right here in these wonderful buildings!  That this would be a place and that we would be a people so deeply patterned in his presence, in Word and Sacrament, that we would be ourselves so filled with him, deeply breathing in what he has given us, that his grace and mercy and love and forgiveness, his gentleness and his generous, generous compassion, that his peace would be the banner over us day and night. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

September 11


The World Trade Center. The Pentagon. United 93 and the field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

On this anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, we would pause in a moment of silence to remember and offer our prayers for those who were killed on that day, for those who were injured, and for their families and loved ones. We remember and give thanks for the police, fire, and emergency workers who responded to the crisis, at risk of life and personal safety, and we offer our prayers for those who died in that effort, and for those who have suffered health consequences in subsequent years.

We would remember in our prayers the leaders of our country and of all those around the world who have joined the effort to defeat those who instigated this attack and continue to endanger the safety and well-being of our world. We pray for the men and women of our armed forces as they continue this effort in Afghanistan, now again in Iraq, and in Syria, and all around the world--especially remembering of course those of our extended parish family whom we remember in our prayers every Sunday.

Please note as well the reflections on this day by my colleague and friend, Jim Simons, rector of St. Michael of the Valley Church, Ligonier--the parish nearest the crash site of United 93.

Grace and peace,


Sunday, September 7, 2014

Thirteenth after Pentecost: Renaissance at St. Andrew's!

Proper 18A(1)  Exodus 12: 1-14; Romans 13: 8-14
Renaissance Sunday!

Grace and peace.  “Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost” doesn’t sound like much of a festival, but certainly for us this morning it’s a big day.  The old Sunday after Labor Day “Round Up” at the beginning of the fall this year retitled “Renaissance Sunday.”  Formally marking the culmination of more than three years of work with the Opening Doors Capital Campaign, concluding successfully with pledges substantially above our initial goal of $1.5 Million.  A bit more finish left here and there, as you can see for yourselves, but also a day to dedicate all the renovations and improvements this stewardship has made possible.  Assuring the structural integrity of the church, providing a new floor, an accessible passageway from the church to the parish house, the new entries, restrooms, and stairways on all three floors of the parish house, a new larger meeting room downstairs in the parish house, an elevator, new heating and ventilation equipment, electrical service, plumbing.  And with the creation of new resources for a reinvigorated commitment to ministry and mission and outreach locally and around the world.    

It has been quite a year.  A year of gestation.  As the child is knit together in his mother’s womb.  And now a day of celebration.  New birth, getting started again.   It’s going to be a gradual exploration.  With a lot of listening and experimentation.  Not just to go back to what everything was like before we got started, but with a nicer facility.  But to open new doors, test new possibilities.  To ask God to take this as an offering and to make of it what he will, to guide us in new directions.

The words at the beginning of the passage appointed as our Old Testament reading this morning seems to catch something of the spirit of the day.  God’s commands to his people about the observance of the Passover, which is to be the foundation of their life as his people.  A mighty miracle of deliverance is about to be accomplished before them.  Something never seen before.  The great historical anticipation and foreshadowing of the universal deliverance that was to be known in Christ Jesus.

You will remember what I am about to do for you, and you will tell your children and your children’s children forever.  God’s Chosen, those who remember that it was he who saved them, lifted them from bondage, carried them safely though many dangers, toils, and snares, to bring them safely home.  “This month shall mark for you the beginning of months.  It shall be the first month of the year for you.”

This is a day of course when we are acknowledging what is in a sense a great accomplishment for this congregation.  We’re not all that big and strong, and when we first looked at the challenges we were facing we weren’t at all sure we were going to be able to do what we thought needed to be done.  But to use a baseball metaphor, the people of this congregation really did step up to the plate.  There are some special heroes, as we all know.  But it was truly and is truly a team effort.  The whole village.  Hard work, creative planning, excellent leadership, inspired and inspiring stewardship.  And a home run, no question about it.  A home run.

The reality is and of course the deeper point of this reading from Exodus is as a reminder of perspective.  Moses didn’t free the Hebrew slaves.  Moses didn’t part the waters of the Red Sea.  Moses didn’t write the Commandments or lead the trek though the wilderness.  Moses didn’t defeat the enemies they encountered along the way.  Moses didn’t feed the hungry multitudes with manna for the heavens.  Moses is chosen by God to tell  the people what God is going to do--and then God does what God does.

So what is God going to do with a reinforced foundation and some new rooms and improved accessibility and an elevator?  I think we’re just beginning to catch a first glimpse.  There’s so much we don’t know yet, so much we can’t see yet.  But if the past is any indicator, the word we might have emblazoned overhead today is something like this:  “Fasten your seatbelts!”

And with that word in mind, I would ask us to turn our attention to the 13th chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans, verses 11-12, “You know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.  For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.  Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.”

And just to place along side that the words of Jesus himself, in Luke 12: “from those to whom much is given, much will be expected.”

It’s an exciting day.  But it could be a dangerous day, a spiritually catastrophic day, if what we celebrate today were to tempt us to think highly of ourselves and our accomplishments. 

This is a day most of all for deep humility, and for preparation, and for commitment.

It’s a great privilege to be here, of course, at this moment of new beginning.  But what is happening today is not that we are being presented with a prize, but with some new tools, some equipment that will be necessary for a much bigger job that God now apparently has in mind for us. 

As we have said before, if God gives you a hammer, you are right to expect that there are nails in your future.

I hope there’s a lot of excitement for that.  Time to wake up and smell the coffee, as Paul has said this morning.  The energy of renaissance.  But I hope that there’s also some anxiety.  Something of an edge.  Do I know what I need to know for the work God is preparing?  Am I in the right kind of shape?  Where am I in terms of my manner of life, my conduct, my relationships?  How am I doing in the inner space of my mind and heart? 

Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.

Simply to know that God has moved in this congregation in a new way, not for our purposes but for his purposes.  It’s an honor for us, something that we will now with all our heart and mind and strength want to prove worthy of.  As we are honored, so as Paul says, that we would live honorably.  To hear the word of the returning master in the Parable of the Five Talents, “Well done, good and faithful servant.  You have been faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things.”

We’ll enjoy the celebration today.  And know that he who has done this great thing for us has more in mind for us, and better, than we could ever ask for or imagine.

Holy Matrimony: Laura and Ian

September 6, 2014 Holy Matrimony
Laura Elizabeth Zwicker and Ian Blythe Everhart
Tobit 8: 5-8; Colossians 3: 12-17; Mark 10: 6-9, 13-16

Wow.  Good afternoon everyone!  Family and friends . . . .  Great to be here as we are witnesses and participants in this much anticipated celebration of Christian marriage.  On Facebook it has been called “the Royal Wedding.”  Laura and Ian, I would personally and I know speaking for everyone, express my and our deepest thanks for inviting us to be with you as this new page is turned, a new chapter begun.  Her eyes met his across the choir of St. Andrew’s Church, and the rest is history!   All your lives now coming together in a new harmony.  Making beautiful music together.  (There are a lot of possibilities with this metaphor, but maybe I’ll leave it at that.  Will try to, anyway.)

I of course loved knowing you as Laura, and as Ian, before I got to know you as “Laura and Ian.”  Over this long season as I have had a chance to get to know you as a couple, I very often have had the thought that “this is going to be something special.”  You should know that that’s the consensus in the room today.  We’re all smiling!  In the mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a great thing with you.  He has a plan, only just now beginning to unfold.  Two exceptional young people, gifted in so many ways.  We’re your cheering section, with applause, with love, and as you have heard with promises to support and even more: to share with you the good work God is giving you to do.  The Choir sings at St. Andrew’s, the great organ rumbles and roars, and the Angel Chorus is joining in, magnificent descants,  in the choirs of heaven.  A day of promise and blessing—and again, it’s so great to be here with you.

You both gave careful thought to the selection of the readings from Scripture for this service, and we would pause for a moment to allow God’s Word to inform what we are about to witness.

The reading from Tobit, perhaps a story of the tradition not that familiar to everyone.  But this glimpse of what we might call the honeymoon of Tobias and Sarah.  I’m sure there must have been champagne and candlelight in there somewhere.  But so meaningful that what they do first together as husband and wife, is turn their hearts to prayer.  And that I think is just such a helpful image.  How, as they say in the Twelve Step Movement, “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Back in the 1950’s the National Council of Churches ran a campaign that popularized the phrase, “the family that prays together stays together.”  Not that there is some magic formula to guarantee marital bliss.  But when you pray, when you will open your hearts to God--and to be open in turn to what he has for you, and when this is a consistent part of your lives, you will come to a sense of humility and grace that will allow you to continue to know God’s presence and blessing.  As we will pray today that it will be as you grow deeper and deeper in faith, in prayer and worship, growing into communion with God, you will at the same time grow deeper and deeper in communion with each other.

The  passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Christians in the Greek town of Colossae, in what now is southern Turkey.  We don’t know too much the context of this particular letter, but it’s evident that news had come to him that there were controversies—spiritual and theological--that had begun to cause division in the congregation.   So glad those kinds of things don’t happen in churches in our day!  In any event, Paul addresses the issues at hand with clarity, and absolutely correcting those who have wandered from the message of the Apostles.  But then in the third chapter he goes on in I think an even deeper way about Christian life and conduct in community, to describe what it means to live together as Christian people, as we do the hard work of dealing with differences.  As there are always differences, whether in a large community, or even in a Christian community of two.

Paul lifts up what perhaps we could call a shopping list for a new wardrobe, the deeper themes of what we are and what we can be at our very best in Christian relationship.  How we are called to “dress for success,”  as Christian people, to  live by sharing  in the image of Jesus himself, by clothing ourselves with him,  by patterning ourselves in love following the pattern that he shared with us.  “Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.  Above all clothe yourselves with love” –and here again our musical metaphor—“clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Thank you especially for selecting this reading.  A great word as Paul addresses problems in the early church, but always also 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.  When we call marriage a “sacrament” we do so because in marriage you two become outward signs of God’s grace and love.  He is going to be using you to communicate that grace and love to others, and that is the work you are called to do and that we acknowledge and celebrate today.

Finally, just a moment on the reading from St. Mark, as Fr. William has read it for us.  The 10th chapter of Mark along with the 19th chapter of St. Matthew rich and critical texts as we seek to know what God’s Word has to say to us about marriage and family, these foundational human institutions and relationships.  Lots more to say, but I’m going to hang for a moment on the first five words that Jesus speaks in this discussion.  “From the beginning of creation,” He says.  That’s how he begins.  “From the beginning of creation.”   We remember just a few moments ago in the Opening Address of this service we heard, “the bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation.”

So to say this afternoon, that what we do as we pray that God will bless your marriage vows, what you do as you exchange these vows, is not to ask God to enter into and bless something that you have created or are creating, but to see that it is for you now to enter into what God has already made.  This is your day, for sure.  But Marriage: it’s not about you, your lives, your happiness and romance,  your plans for the future.  This is about stepping into his plan.  His future.  Not a way of life that you choose, but a way of obedience, a way of  life that he chooses for you, and that you choose to accept.  The prayer we call the Prayer of St. Francis begins, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  And we would let that be what you and we are about this afternoon.  “Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.”  Again with humility and grace, a moment of vocational turning, as you open your lives to allow him to guide you, and direct you, and correct you, and bless you, for his purposes. 

Which we really don’t know, don’t understand.   But just to say,  and a good word for all of us: Fasten your seatbelts!  I have a feeling that what God can do with this marriage in particular is going to be pretty exciting!  So: all good, Laura and Ian.  We’re cheering!  It is good to be here.

And now as Ian and Laura come forward to stand at the altar 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.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Twelfth after Pentecost, Last Summer Sunday

 . . . and at St. Andrew's, "The Sunday before Renaissance Sunday" --

Proper 17A     Matthew 16: 21-28  (with a bit of Hopkins at the end)

I want to apologize right now if you feel like you’ve been sold a bill of goods.  Like one of those Labor Day Weekend Furniture Sales that don’t actually seem to have saved you any money when you finally get home and review your credit card statement.   You discover you’ve fallen into a kind of low-level bait-and-switch transaction.  One of those glossy advertisements, all sunshine and sea-shore, brilliant colors and breathless text.  Didn’t even notice the small print--just a gray smudge at the bottom of the page.  Have to take out a magnifying glass to read it. 

The sign out front on Hampton Street says, “You are Welcome Here.”  Come as you are!  The spirit of hospitality—with room for everybody! 

Almost miss the warning on the back of the label.  The side-effects list.  You know the ones I’m talking about.  On the television commercials.  Medication to treat even relatively minor complaints, then with a terrifying list of potential consequences rolling along in the background.  The cure so often begins to sound far more dangerous than the disease. 

I mean, it says on the website (and we have a new website launching even as we speak--check it out later this week!)  that we’re a bunch of friendly folks who enjoy a spirit of generous hospitality.  And so we are.  You come in, take a leaflet from a smiling member of the Pews and Sittings Committee, listen to a lovely bit of organ prelude, share a smile with the family across the aisle.

And then: a word from the Founder and Director of our organization--who looks us dead-on this morning without so much as a smile, and now that we’re more or less stuck here for the rest of the hour anyway he gives us the straight scoop.  Plain and simple:  nobody gets out of here alive.

I mean, look:  of course there’s no coercion.  It’s a free country.  The doors aren’t bolted.  But I guess if we thought we were in one of those realms where “the customer is always right,” we have another think coming.  People have been heading for the hills after they meet Jesus for 2000 years, so no need for any of us to be shy about hightailing it out of here.  In fact my guess is that there aren’t too many of us in the building this morning who haven’t bailed on him at least once or twice.  Sometimes once or twice per week . . . . 

Remembering what John Mitchell said about his wife Martha back in the Watergate scandal.  “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping.”  Even if we don’t literally run, we are usually pretty good at hiding.  At self-medication.  Skimming over the hard parts.  Jesus says to Peter, “you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things,” and we all experience that moment of self-recognition.  Just keep thinking about the comfortable parts, and maybe the nasty bits will just go away on their own.

In the “Church Bulletin Bloopers” department, some years ago when I was at St. Paul’s in Bloomsburg our church secretary absent-mindedly typed in the first line of a communion hymn, #707, “Take my life and let me be.”   And I suppose who hasn’t offered that prayer with all sincerity?  Not “take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.”  But, “let me be.”  I want to be close to you Jesus, but only if you promise not to change me in any way.  Just “let me be . . . .”  

In the background we see fleeting images.  Tax Collectors leaving their offices and going to the bank and emptying their savings accounts of a life-time of profits.  A Young Ruler, discouraged at the word to sell all he has.  The woman caught with a man not her husband, told to change her ways.  Fishermen who leave their father and their families and all their situations and plans of life behind, as he invites them to follow him.  Bonhoeffer famously talks about “costly discipleship.”  As if there ever could be any other kind. 

Yet strangely, we keep coming back.  Kind of counter-intuitive.  The marketers are always saying, “if you want a lot more people to come to church, the first thing you need to do is to make it easier.”   We are reminded, as we have all been invited to the celebration of the baptism of Jackson Tobias Young, our Church Secretary Michelle’s son, this afternoon here at 3 p.m., that this is an organization whose ritual of initiation is a symbolic drowning.  St. Paul says we’re “buried” in the waters of the font.  And as my old friend Harold Lewis used to like to say, there is no luggage rack in a coffin. 

So the baptismal point is that there’s going to be a lot that needs to be left behind in that water if we’re going to make it back to the surface. 

We may have come of age in the roaring ‘60’s, when Psychologist Eric Bourne’s best-seller was printed as a banner over a generation.  “I’m O.K., You’re O.K.”  But looking up through the clear water from the bottom of the pool, we know that’s simply not the case.  If we had been o.k., we never would have gotten ourselves into this situation in the first place.

It’s the sick people who need a doctor.  Or as the poet Jude Simpson says in the poem that I send around every Advent, Jesus didn’t come for those who have their act together. 

For those who want to save their life will lose it.  Those who lose their life for my sake will find it.

The gospel tells us that many of Jesus’ early followers began to drift away when he started talking like this.  Which makes sense.  The whole thing is actually quite offensive.  Certainly hearing that in Peter’s response to what Jesus is saying.   “Don’t talk like that, Jesus.”  Don’t talk like that . . . .

So we don’t kid ourselves this morning.  Coming through the Great Doors on Hampton Street.  Lining up in the aisle to approach the communion rail.  The stakes are actually higher than we first thought.  Gain and loss.  Life and death.  Beginning to wrestle, each of us in our own way, with the challenge of change.  Not just a bit of tidying up around the edges.  But transformation.  We’re calling next Sunday “Renaissance Sunday,” and it sounds like a lot of fun.  It will be a lot of fun.  But real “renaissance” is a messier business.  Remembering Nicodmus.  “How can a man be born again?”  Too much mileage on the vehicle, Jesus. It’s hopeless.  You just can’t teach an old dog new tricks.

Our Centering Prayer Group is reading Richard Rohrer’s book, “Immortal Diamond.”  I haven’t finished the book yet, but I love the title.  Just to hear those two words this morning.  “Immortal Diamond.”  About what comes up out of the water, after the old has been washed away.  About what gets found, revealed, created new as the Old Adam is stripped away like a rag suit.  Rohrer’s title is from the poem by Gerard Manly Hopkins. What Jesus sees in us, underneath the layers of distortion and disguise.  Ransomed, healed, restored, forgiven.   Meaningless to those who are well, I guess.  To those who have their act together.  But for the rest of us, good news.  If you know Hopkins you know that his poetry isn’t the easiest to read aloud, but to try it hear, the last few lines of this magnificent work, “That Nature is a Heracletian Fire, and the Comfort of the Resurrection.”  That’s the title.  Purging fire, then comfort.  It’s a poem we could have a whole year of Adult Education groups unpacking I think, but here is the end of the poem:

O pity and indig ' nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ' death blots black out; nor mark
                Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time ' beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ' joyless days, dejection.
                Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ' Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ' world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
                In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,

                                     Is immortal diamond.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Eleventh after Pentecost: From the Bullrushes . . . .

Ex.1: 8 – 2:10; Mt 16: 13-20

In the first chapter of the American classic, young castabout and half-wild pre-teen scallywag Huckleberry Finn tells us about how the good Widow Douglas has thought that she might rescue him from his life on the run from his alcoholic and abusive father and take him into her home to “sivilize” him, as he says, and on the first evening after a ritual of cleaning and dressing and eating at the table, all so strained and even painful for Huck (though he knows she means well and tries his best to receive her attention) , the good Widow opens the Bible.  Huck says:

“After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time, so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.

Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the Widow to let me.  But she wouldn’t.  She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try not to do it anymore.  That is just the way with some people.  They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.  Here she was, a’bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it.  And she took snuff, too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.”

It’s a resonant allusion here in Huck Finn.  The story of an endangered child cast out upon the waters of the mighty river in a fragile vessel.  A raft.  

A basket of woven grass.  Yet one destined first to become a savior.

To think about the escaped slave Jim.  (I don’t think we need a Huckleberry Finn spoiler alert here.)  We know about him, an adult man, married, with a daughter, risking everything, his life literally on the line, in his journey from a Land of Bondage to a Promised Land.  His dear hope to make it to the Free States, to work and save, and then to buy his wife and daughter out of their slavery.  His only hope, the only thing in the world that matters to him.  Worth everything.  Risking his life.   And putting it all into the hands of this boy.  What is Huck?  Eleven?  Twelve?  A boy he doesn’t really even know.  But the reality is,  without Huck, Jim doesn’t stand a chance.

I guess to think about Moses.  As we hear a little ways on at the Burning Bush, he’s also not a likely candidate for the big job.  An inarticulate, wanted criminal on the lam, married to a foreign woman.  Yet he was the one who was called.  And without him—somehow it has come to this, without him the Children of Israel don’t stand a chance.

A funny memory I have of a moment in my childhood.  In September, 1959, --and I had to look the date up in Wikipedia—Nikita Krushchev came to the U.S. for a summit meeting with President Eisenhower.  It must have been a Sunday evening that I remember, because we were at my grandparents’ house in West Los Angeles, where we often went for dinner on Sundays.  The adults were all watching the news while I was sitting on the floor looking at the Sunday funny-papers.  There was this moment when Eisenhower and Kruschchev were standing on an airport tarmac, and my grandfather said, pointing at the screen,  “there are the two most powerful men in the world.”  I remember looking at the t.v. set--.  (Kind of a tiny screen in this great big mahogany console) at those black and white figures.  Two bald and portly old men in dull gray suits.  I mean, that’s just astonishing.  Most powerful in the world??  What about Superman?  What about Batman?  These old guys didn’t look like they could go even 30 seconds with any self-respecting superhero!

Not sure I did any deep theological reflection at the time.  But something in the scene caught my attention, and the moment has kind of lingered in my memory, as you can tell.  A little bit of a funny story, but maybe also a deeper meaning, a reminder,  what we might have before us this morning--that real power, real strength, sometimes is to be found in unexpected places.  Unexpected people. 

Another literary reference, and then I’ll stop, but perhaps what catches our attention in the film “Slumdog Millionaire.”  If you saw that—really an excellent film.  But just to reference the consternation and disbelief.  How is it possible that this boy from the streets can know the answers?

Real power, real strength, the one who can carry us from slavery to freedom, from the land of bondage to the land of promise.  Certainly the long narrative of scripture tells us that this is how God keeps working in our lives and in our world.  Old Abraham and old Sarah, to be the parents of a new nation.  Moses.  The Boy David.  Elijah and Jeremiah, pretty much all the prophets.  A peasant girl in a backwater village of a backwater country.  And then, the child Mary sang to sleep in the straw of the manger—perhaps an echo of that wicker basket of a raft that Moses’ mother pushed out into the Nile.  The radiant glory of the Father, all Power and Might.  But hard to recognize.  Not what we expected.

So bringing us this morning to Matthew 16.  The question at Caesarea Philippi.  Confession of St. Peter.  The question echoing around us and certainly before us as we come to this place.  As we participate in the Memorial of his Passion.  Look straight on into that ancient phrase,  “the mystery of faith.”

Jesus asking.  “But you.  Who do you say that I am?”  What do you see, when you look at me?

From the First Chapter of St. John’s Gospel.  “The true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world.  He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.  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.”

“Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah!  For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven.”

It is a gift, eyes that can see him, a mind that can know him, a heart that can love him.  Even when he comes to us in such an unexpected way.  Even when he reveals a way of life and faith for us that doesn’t make sense at all in the world as we had thought we understood the world to be.

The unexpected savior saves us in an unexpected way, so that we might be changed and made new, in ways that we never expected.

As St. Paul says in the First Chapter of First Corinthians, “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews, foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

And so on this summer morning, as he is made present for us in Word and Sacrament, the prayer: “open, we beseech the, the eyes of our faith, that we may see him,  Jesus, recognize him, know him, who will be for us Lord and Savior.”

Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

An Anniversary Reception

I believe my Letters Dimissory from the Bishop of Central Pennsylvania were accepted by the Rt. Rev. Alden M. Hathaway of Pittsburgh on July 15, 1994, marking officially the beginning of my tenure as Rector of St. Andrew's Church, in the Highland Park neighborhood.  The parish was busy refreshing the rectory, so the Robisons didn't actually roll into town until the beginning of August.  I believe the second Sunday of August was my first service, and I recall that Pete Luley and the ever-magnificent St. Andrew's Choir made a special effort to suspend the usual holiday and return for full-dress Choral Matins.

So 20 years this summer.  Tomorrow morning, August 10, Susy and I will be hosting a little Coffee Hour reception after the 10 a.m. service to say a word of thanks for the friendship and all the kindnesses, too many to number, shared with us and with our family over this expanse of our lives.

                                     Bruce, Susy, Daniel, Linnea, and our Penelope
                                                                     Summer, 1994