Sunday, November 16, 2014

Twenty-Third after Pentecost

Proper 28A  Matthew 25: 14-30

Good morning and grace and peace.  A chilly November weekend, and with the holiday decorations in full bloom around the shopping mall we continue to notice in the cycle of our church year and lectionary an unofficial but distinct season of “Pre-Advent.”  Archbishop Cranmer’s magnificent prayer on Holy Scripture which we have prayed this morning he originally placed as the Collect for the Second Sunday of Advent, drawing close together in our minds and heart God’s self-expression and Incarnation in the Bethlehem Child and in his Word written.  The compelling image of the Bible in the Manger, the gift that comes to us of God’s presence and promise.  Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life which thou hast given us in thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ.

The gospel reading this morning is again a part of the series we’ve been reading over these last weeks: Palm Sunday in Jerusalem, at the Temple.  Because we’ll be all bagpipes and St. Andrew next Sunday, this is our last hour in this Holy Week scene.   Jesus and his followers in the midst of the bustling crowds of the pilgrims who have come to the Holy City for the Passover. 

The confrontation first with the priests and scribes and then continuing with the Pharisees.  The parable of the Five Talents this morning flows directly out of the parable of the Five Wise Maidens and the Five Foolish Maidens that we heard last week.  The previous story ends with the unprepared Maidens running out to try to find a place to buy lamp oil in the middle of the night, then to return only to find themselves locked outside the door of the Groom’s family home, unable to come inside and join the banquet.   And then immediately following, as we’ve just heard: “for it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them.”   The preposition “for” an explicit connector.    The story here grows directly out of the preceding one, to explain it or expand it in a different way.   From wise and foolish maidens to faithful and unfaithful servants.   

In this sermon or series of sermons and responses, we have had two kinds of sons, two kinds of tenants of the vineyard, two kinds of wedding guests, two ways of approaching the payment of taxes, two kinds of bridesmaids, now two kinds of servants.  Here one kind of servant who understands the responsibility that has been given to him, and who accepts that responsibility and who acts as a good steward, even when to do so means that he must take a risk, perhaps even put his life on the line-- and another kind, who doesn’t get it.  Who doesn’t understand the responsibility that has been placed in his hands.  Who steps back from his moment of opportunity, who shirks his responsibility.  He accepts the Treasure from the Master, reminding us perhaps of the Son a few weeks ago who told the Father that he would absolutely and without question do what he asked.  But like that Son, this servant doesn’t follow through.  He perhaps in fear, is unwilling to risk, unwilling to put himself into this with his whole heart, just buries in the ground what the Master has given him.

And of course the dramatic conclusion.  The faithful servants are welcomed to the fullness of life when the Master returns—but like the Bridesmaids, like the Unruly Tenants, like those who ignored the King’s invitation to the wedding, the unfaithful servant is condemned and cast into outer darkness.  With an eternity of consequences: weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Again.  Offered I guess we might say here as we roll on toward the end of the year.  A framework to think about as we assess our own lives.  Think about just how we’re doing.  Two kinds of people.  Two ways forward.  A decision to make, with real consequences.

One way of approaching this story as a kind of free-standing unit is to say that the moral of the story is how important it is to be good stewards of the gifts God gives us.  Which is a great moral.  If God has given you a beautiful voice, sing his praises in the choir.  If he has given you the eye and the hand of the artist, create paintings that enrich and inspire.  If your work and life situation have provided an abundance of financial resources, put them to work to build up the Body of Christ and support its mission.  Care for the sick.  Feed the hungry.  Certainly an echo here of what Jesus says to his disciples in the twelfth chapter of St. Luke: “From those to whom much has been given, much will be expected.”  Don’t hide it under a bushel.  Let your light shine!

But the context adds more for us.  Something to say to us about what the stakes are in this.  Not simply an encouragement to overcome any fear of failure and to do what it takes to be all we can be, but let’s say also, a serious word of warning.  High stakes.  With that weeping and gnashing of teeth, with doors to the wedding banquet that are locked and that stay locked. 

Because what we come to understand is that what that parable of the Two Sons is about is not simply that we should obey our parents or keep our promises.  The moral of the parable of the tenants is not that we should remember to pay our rent on time, or that as landlords remember to do background checks before signing lease agreements.  The moral of the Parable of the Wedding Banquet not simply that we should plan to attend the next royal wedding we’re invited to.  The moral of Parable of the Coin not simply that we should pay our taxes.  The moral of the Parable of the Wise and Foolish Maidens not simply that we shouldn’t put things off to the last minute.  Though those are pretty much all good points to keep in mind.

He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world knew him not.

Standing here at the crossroads of cosmic history.   That’s the breathtaking reality.  Here in Matthew 25, Holy Week.  At the door of his holy temple.  Before us.  The creator and sustainer of the universe, word made flesh, only son of the father, God from God, light from light, very God from very God.  In our midst.  He has come to us and for us. 

The Advent Calendars are flying off the shelves.  That time of year.  The four candles on the table.  The map of our journey week by week, on our way to Bethlehem.  In the distance and not very far away we can hear the Angel Choir rehearsing their Gloria.  And of course that time of year is actually the eternal present of our lives.  The one born that night in the City of David is born into our world and into our lives as a present reality.  Meeting us in Word and Sacrament and in the way we walk in our day to day lives.  In the quiet of our own thoughts, the secret corners of our hearts.

And what we do with all that is the question.  The question for Advent and Christmas and for Palm Sunday and Holy Week and Good Friday and for every day.   As we leave our pews and approach the Holy Table.  As we get back into our cars and head home.   Two kinds of people, in all these stories.  Two kinds of people who make choices and then who must live with the consequences of those choices. 

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 . . . .  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Twenty Second after Pentecost

Matthew 25: 1-13 (Proper 27A) 
Baptism of Quinn Wells Filipek

What a great morning to come together for worship--and most especially with mom and dad, Marlie and Dan, and with big brother Cooper, and godparents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and all family and friends to celebrate the baptism of Quinn Wells Filipek.  We prayed for her—even though we didn’t know her name yet!—and for her mom and dad for all those months before she was born, and certainly we celebrated with much applause her grand entrance.  Such a blessing, a gift, and we are here today with much love, as we have joined our voices with the choirs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.  A simple moment.  Parents and godparents have offered a confession of faith on her behalf, to plant a seed of intention that will grow with care and good attention in years to come.  Some water was splashed in the font.  A dab of oil to sweeten the moment.  Yet looking through the simplicity of this as a window to an event of cosmic and eternal significance.  Death and resurrection in the waters of baptism, a reminder of the victory of God, through the Cross, over all the forces of evil and death.  So vivid to us.  The deep pattern of repentance and forgiveness, the embrace of his mercy—and in the late morning of a fall Sunday on Hampton Street we catch a glimpse of the fullness of God’s promise in Christ Jesus. 

So a great morning indeed.  Hearts full of thanks for the gifts of this day.  Big smiles!  Even as we understand that baptism is in its deepest meaning not simply an event or a day or just one splash of water at the font, but the entry to a way of Christian life and commitment, for Quinn and for her family and for all of us.  To be open in our hearts and minds as we hear and read and come to know God’s Word for us, as it is written in Scripture and made flesh in his Son Jesus.  To grow in faith, in his knowledge and love, and to encourage and support one another day by day.

The New Testament reading this morning from the 25th chapter of Matthew, and just a reminder that in the sequence of our readings where we are in the gospel is still Palm Sunday.  Jesus and his disciples entering the city—with all the cheers and the waving of branches.  Hosanna to the Son of David, hosanna in the highest!  The procession through the Holy City up to the Temple, and then the confrontation with the Temple authorities and Scribes, and then after the Priests and Scribes depart to continue their plotting in secret, continuing an ongoing debate with the Pharisees.   They are trying to discredit Jesus in the midst of all the crowds of the faithful who have come to the City for the celebration of the Passover.  Jesus has pushed back even more emphatically in those parables—the two sons, the unruly tenants, the marriage feast, the Roman coin.  We took a brief break last Sunday for All Saints Day, but as we return we’re still in that moment—Jesus was just about ready to leave the Temple, but as he is debating now the Pharisees, who are still trying to catch them up, he has a few parting words, and we come to this very familiar parable, the Wise and Foolish Maidens.

We’re back in the imagery of the wedding, where we were a couple of weeks ago.  A bit different this time.  This time referring to a marriage custom of the day, as the groom comes to the home of the bride, receives her from her father, and escorts her to the celebration by the light of lamps carried by her bridesmaids, probably her sisters and cousins.  The parable here is simple.  The groom has a flat tire on the Parkway and is delayed.  Some of the bridesmaids are alive with excitement, a sense of expectation, clustering at the windows so that they can see him the very moment he comes into view; others lose track of time, get distracted, fall asleep, neglect to prepare their lamps.  And then all of a sudden he’s there, knocking at the door, and they’re all flustered, panic fills the room, and the lamp-oil shops are closed for the day, and only those bridesmaids who were ready are able to join the parade and participate in the feast.

It’s a great parable to hear again of course in these weeks now leading up to Advent Sunday.  Traditionally a part of that season.  And I think it’s perfect for a day of Baptism.   This striking convergence, Palm Sunday leaning into Advent.  Hearing that in our collect for today as well: "when he shall appear again with power and great glory."  And so: Holy Week and Christmas.  Incarnation and Atonement.  The manger and the cross.  And again the haunting echo of the first chapter of John, our midnight reading Christmas Eve, as it was brutally made real with the shouts of the crowd, “Crucify him, crucify him!”: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,” and yet, “He came to his own home, and his own received him not.”

The tension is building in Matthew 25 as we move toward Holy Thursday and the Arrest and Trial and then all the catastrophe of Good Friday.  But it is a tension that is not just for those who lived a long time ago and far away.  The calendar twists and turns, folds back on itself.  And we’re looking into the mirror.  Across all the centuries. 

Asking this key question about readiness.  About living prepared lives.  About knowing the Bridegroom, who is on his way--about remaining awake, alert, preparing ourselves while we still have time, filling our lamps, leaning forward with eagerness to welcome him when he comes to the door.

It is a matter of decision.  To be prepared.   A choice.  The echoing of those central baptismal questions, as we have just heard them addressed to Quinn’s parents and godparents:

Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior?  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?

There were two kinds of people in Jerusalem on that day.  Those who knew that he was the one the had been waiting for, and those who would do everything they could to tear him down.

In Matthew 25, Proper 27, Year A, in the Revised Common Lectionary, it’s Palm Sunday and almost Good Friday.  Here in Pittsburgh on Hampton Street, the Ninth of November, a crisp fall morning, the day of Quinn’s baptism, and almost Advent. 

The Bridegroom is coming, and coming soon: time for us to know and to be sure and to affirm with all our heart and all our mind and all our strength just how and where we fit in the story. 

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

Sunday, November 2, 2014

All Saints Sunday

 John 3: 1-3

Good morning.  All Saints Sunday, a principal feast of the Church Year and always an amazing Sunday at St. Andrew’s.   “They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will.  You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”  (Apologies!)  

Or as St. John has it in our Epistle this morning, “Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed.  What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is.”

There is of course a sense in which this All Saints observance calls us to remembrance.  The heroes of the faith: apostles and evangelists, past generations of spiritually gifted men and women in prayer and vision and holiness of life.  And the secondary feast, which we’ll be observing with the service tomorrow evening, All Souls—in our Episcopal Church Calendar of Lesser Feasts called the Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.  

Not so much the folks in the history books, but those Christian people who have lived perhaps quieter lives of faithful discipleship, who have been our role models, whom we have known and loved, who have brought us to faith and modelled not only with their lips but in their lives the deepest truths of Christ Jesus.  Centered in him.  Perhaps a parent or grandparent, a teacher, a pastor, a friend, a neighbor, a husband or a wife or a child.  Thinking about many of those we will be remembering in our prayers this morning, and of course those names that are known to God alone.

And to say, not only those who have departed this life, but those who are with us now.  And even a way of thinking about ourselves.  The point of this All Saints-All Souls observance not to be about sitting on the sidewalk and watching a parade of other people, as spectators.  This is John’s message in the Epistle and the intent that hymn, composed as a song for children yet speaking into each of our lives.  A Song of the Saints of God.  The Holy Spirit working in us, in us, as we look in the mirror in the morning, every morning, a life-long process of transformation, renewal, cleansing, preparation.  The Greek word metanoia. Usually translated “repentance.”  But literally meaning “another frame of mind.”  A new consciousness.  What Jesus means in St. John’s Gospel when he talks to Nicodemus about being “born again.”  

Benedictine monks and nuns take three related vows, obedentia, obedience, to the abbot and to the Rule of Life of the monastery; stabilitas, stability, the promise to remain in this one place and with this one community for better or for worse, even when there might be some more attractive option that comes along; and finally a commitment that’s a little hard to translate, “conversatio morum”—which basically means, I’m going to focus on how the monastery can change me rather than on how I can change the monastery. Which can be translated out into every situation of Christian life.  About faithfulness.  Not to remake Jesus in my image, but to be open to this process of my becoming more like him.

So All Saints is a day of celebration about what God is doing in us now to change us.  Which isn’t an easy process often, and can be painful.  Sometimes hammers and chisels involved.  Some of those frightening renaissance paintings of the deaths of the martyrs.  Words we all struggle with, like practice, discipline.  How so often it is that new birth needs to be preceded by letting go, seeing what parts of ourselves first need to die.  A whole picture of what he is making of our lives.  

The theological term is “sanctification.”  Something that God does in us, but something also that requires our cooperation.  The process that begins in conversion, sacramentally given power in baptism, and daily in the practice and disciplines of discipleship, not because of coercion, but flowing with eagerness from the depths of our heart.  That as we fall ever more deeply in love with him, so we seek more and more to please him and obey him and to resemble him.  About sanctification, literally, the process of being made a saint: God’s love working in us.

The book that our reading is taken from this morning, First John, is relatively brief, 5 chapters.  An affectionate pastoral letter.  Written by the author of the Gospel of John and of the Second and Third Letters of John.  So one of the major voices in the whole of the New Testament.  Most likely addressed to the new Christians of Ephesus, in Asia Minor, modern day Turkey.

The context and setting a little too complex to go into this morning, though I will say it’s really a fascinating study.  Ephesus I sometimes think of as maybe the San Francisco of this region in the First Century.  Cosmopolitan, diverse, cutting edge in all kinds of cultural and social and political ways.  A little crazy around the edges.  We know from Acts and from St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians that this was a place of incredible religious diversity—not just the traditional religions of the region but also of what we might call the First Century version of what in the 20th century we called “New Age” movements.  Astrologers and fortune-tellers and aura-readers on every street corner, and lots of synthesists, taking a little bit of this tradition and a little bit of that one.  Folks who like to say they “dabble” in spirituality.  And swirling around it all, the philosophical and spiritual movement sometimes called “gnosticism,” which wasn’t so much an organized philosophical or religious system itself but a set of philosophical and theological and anthropological ideas that got applied in lots of different contexts and made itself felt in many different traditions.

This letter from John from beginning to end has both a sense of deep tenderness and also a sense of urgent concern. A challenging environment for new Christians to be finding their way.   Lots of dangerous influences, we might say.  It’s interesting to hear the very last thing John says in the letter.  Not “sincerely yours, John the Elder,” but one last word, chapter 5 verse 21.  “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”  

Or I guess as I have quoted the saying so many times, and this would be my best summary of the message of First John and I think perfect as a word for All Saints Sunday: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Eyes on Christ.  Following in his footsteps, listening to his word.  Christ at the center.  Not trying to remake his gospel into our image, not to “dabble” in Christ, choosing the bits we like and leaving the rest--but allowing him to fill the whole screen, allowing ourselves to be changed day by day into his likeness. 

Keeping our eyes on him.  Allowing his word and his love to grow in us, to guide us, to reshape us day by day.  “What we will be has not yet been revealed,” but “what we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him.” 

A day for All Saints:  orchestras and choirs, heroes and martyrs.  Teachers, friends, parents, husbands and wives, children-- those we have loved but see no longer.  To celebrate what he has done in them and what is doing in us now, what he is making of us.  They loved their Lord so dear, so dear, and his love made them strong; and they followed the right, for Jesus’ sake, the whole of their good lives long.  And one was a soldier and one was a priest and one was slain by a fierce wild beast: and there’s not any reason—no, not the least why I shouldn’t be one too.”

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

On Retreat

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

Burial Office

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.”

Nineteenth after Pentecost

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

Holy Matrimony

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

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                                                                             Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania