Sunday, September 28, 2008

Twentieth after Pentecost, 2008

Valerio Castello, Moses Striking the Rock, 1653-1655

September 28, 2008 XX Pentecost (RCL Proper 21A)
Exodus 17: 1-7; Matthew 21: 23-32

It is really something to hear through the Exodus story again and again this murmuring, grumbling sense of resentment and entitlement. Rescued time and time again. Freed from slavery. The miracle of the escape through the parted waters of the Red Sea. Fed by the supernatural provision of manna, falling from the heavens, and now here again at the rocky wilderness crossing of Rephidim. The persistent negativity, the lack of trust, the resentment, the spirit of entitlement.

The parental psychologist certainly knows through experience what this is all about, in the character of the spoiled child. “Give me more,” he says to the divine Candy Machine. Yet every good gift only fuels the descent into deeper sullenness and hostility. And then you think of these Chief Priests and Elders, as Jesus meets them in this Holy Week moment in St. Matthew. Miracles happening in front of their eyes, the very Bread of Heaven, freely given, in their midst. But for them not the transformation of the healed Blind Man, not the wonder, awe, and love of the peasant villagers of the Galilee. Instead: suspicion, mistrust, resentment, hostility—all soon to turn to murderous intent.

A familiar story and pattern. Not just in the Bible, certainly, but playing out in our hearts and lives. Certainly so often in my heart and life, in any case. Sitting through the convoluted meetings and sometimes still contentious moments of our gatherings in the diocese and wider church lately, of course. But really a life-long situation. Perhaps rooted in the brokenness of my essential human condition. Original sin.

To take it for granted. What Adam and Eve did when they decided it was their garden and they could eat the fruit of any tree they might choose.

Often at weddings I preach on the text from Exodus chapter 3, the story of Moses at the Burning Bush, the great voice of God commanding, “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you stand is holy ground.” And I talk to the bride and groom about the holiness of the ground on which they are standing as they exchange their vows, and I remind them that as they live those vows faithfully, that holy ground will continue to rest beneath their feet, to support them and bless them in the care of a loving Father.

But do I live that myself? In my marriage, with my children – who are miracles themselves, as every child is – with my friends? In the absolutely miraculous gift of the work I’ve been given to do? Any of us?

What I think the ultimate strategy of the Enemy is: not to convert us to the worship of some flaming Satanic underworld deity. But simply to fill our minds and our hearts with self-centered trivia, to turn our emotions in on ourselves, as we gradually lose touch with this gracious gift. Until it is nothing to us: our life in God, redeemed by Christ at the Cross, renewed for eternity. Again, slowly, almost imperceptibly buried under the weight of trivia. Until we become trivial ourselves, sliding into a pattern of indulgence and the slow toxin of negativity and resentment. Where I think all I really need to be happy is to have things my way, and where I think it is somehow the duty of the universe to make that happen.

But, somehow to hold on to that sense of “holy ground.” A deep awareness, permeating everything.

St. Paul to his squabbling little first century diocese in the Province of Galatia, Galatians 5: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control.”

Oh—simply to pray that this would be the fruit of the Tree of the Garden of his presence in my life, in our lives. That he would cultivate that in us, open our hearts to that fresh delight, grow us in that Spirit. As Christ has died for us, so now we are privileged to live with him in this greater life, to be fed on the same supernatural food, to drink the same supernatural drink.

To live lives that are and can be miracles of transformation and renewal and hope in a church and in a world in such great need of transformation, and renewal, and hope. To be his arms and his heart of compassion. And to know that always, as gift. Unearned, undeserved. Freely given. Like manna from heaven. Like water springing up into a great fountain from the dry desert rocks. All gift. All miracle.

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Nineteenth after Pentecost, 2008

Dieric Bouts the Elder. Gathering Manna, c. 1464

September 21, 2008 XIX Pentecost (RCL Proper 20A) Exodus 16: 2-15; Philippians 1: 21-30; Matthew 20: 1-16

During our Sacraments Class and First Communion preparation in the Fall we do a series of Bible Studies with the children, using story-telling and art work to bring out some often wonderful theological reflection--and one of the most popular and interesting always centers on this story from Exodus, which we usually set in dialogue or conversation with the gospel stories of the Feeding of the Multitudes. The emphasis and theme: the generosity and compassion of God, who meets the needs of his people in the abundant and miraculous outpouring of gifts unexpected and undeserved.

The point is that the Israelites don’t do anything to earn their “daily manna.” It falls freely from the heavens and satisfies their needs, blessing and sustaining their lives through the wilderness and assuring them of God’s continued companionship along the way.

Nor of course do the crowds following Jesus do anything special to deserve the miraculous meal they share with him, as he lifts up the contribution of the little boy and then breaks the bread and has the disciples begin to pass the baskets among the crowd.

It is all just gift: generous, abundant. Images folded in with the mystery of the Cross to foreshadow the Eucharistic miracle of God’s generous and abundant self-giving, death and resurrection, body broken, blood poured out, the Bread of Heaven, the Cup of Salvation, and anticipation and foretaste of the Heavenly Banquet and the assurance of life and life eternal. Generous, abundant gift. Unearned, undeserved, freely given, more than enough to nourish us and sustain us and for strength forward along the way of daily life and discipleship. Like—well, like manna from heaven.

In that context the reading from Matthew 20 and the Parable of the Improvident Employer rolls along into the same theme and assurance. Here in Southwestern Pennsylvania, of course, and with all our history of the Homestead Strike and the Steelworkers and in some sense one of the principal birthplaces of the modern American labor movement, the story has some interesting edges. Interesting to think what might happen if the negotiating sessions of the Port Authority situation were to begin with a time of Bible Study, and to reflect on this parable.

But the idea of the parable of course is to contrast two perspectives, two systems of value and meaning. To contrast a strictly quantitative view where we get what we deserve, where we deserve what we’ve earned, hour by hour, regular time and overtime, with benefits--with another view, where what comes is not defined by what we have done, by how productive we have been, by how hard we have worked, by how many hours we’ve put in on the clock, but instead by the surprising, abundant and generous compassion of a God who knows us better than we know ourselves, and whose deepest impulse is to shower us with unexpected gifts, to fill our lives, to meet our true and deepest needs, to lift us up and equip us in every way to be the people he has created us and called us to be, fulfilling the dream he had for us, for each of us, in that first moment of creation.

That we would know this morning his desire to bless us, to fill us with all goodness, to feed us with the spiritual food of his own living presence. Generous and abundant. Unearned, undeserved.

Some of you know that one of my favorite sayings is a little quotation, something Mother Teresa of Calcutta said. “Jesus doesn’t ask us to be successful, but to be faithful.” And just to say that there are plenty of opportunities all around us to adopt the point of view of those workers who want to be rewarded according to what they deserve. To know that to travel that road is to find the way of guilt and brokenness, anxiety and humiliation, false hope and false pride and devastating loss. To get what we deserve. It’s the way we live, most of the time in this world of ours, but if it becomes not just what we do but who we are, it is certainly the way not of life but of death. Not the way that can ever free us to sing the wonderful song that Paul sings in the reading from Philippians this morning. “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Which is to turn the values of this world upside down.

But the invitation to us this morning entirely the morning of a new world, of new life, of hope and promise. Here are his gifts. On the altar, in the pews, all around us. Precious treasure, freely given. In the transforming reality of the Bread and the Cup, and life renewed and fulfilled, daily, as he walks the way forward with us. This Jesus, who stands beside us. His generous and abundant love and care, falling down upon us like a gentle rain on the mown fields, like manna from heaven.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Pastoral Letter

Rector’s Announcement concerning the Deposition of the Rt. Rev. Robert W. Duncan

Photograph from the website of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, the Rev. Peter Frank, editor.

Dear Friends,

Many of you will have read in the newspaper or seen on television the report that on this past Thursday afternoon, September 18, the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church voted to authorize the Presiding Bishop to depose our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Robert Wm Duncan. She indicated then that she would not complete that process until she had the opportunity to speak directly with Bishop Duncan, and I’m not sure whether that has occured. If it hasn’t, it certainly will within the next day or two.

This has happened, as most of us are aware, in the context of the effort, led by Bishop Duncan, to promote a resolution at our upcoming convention severing the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh and then “realigning” the diocese with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone of South America. Although that effort has not yet come to its conclusion, the bishops gathered in Salt Lake City for their regular fall meeting decided to act, judging that Bishop Duncan’s actions have already constituted an abandonment of his responsibilities as a bishop of the Episcopal Church.

I want to say a word about what this means and--what it doesn’t mean.

The deposition of Bishop Duncan does not mean that he is no longer a bishop. Our church believes that Holy Orders are indelible. And in fact, as Bishop Duncan was deposed on Thursday, he was at essentially the same time received into the House of Bishops in the Church of the Province of the Southern Cone, in which Anglican Province he would be and is now authorized to celebrate the Holy Eucharist, to administer Confirmation, to ordain, and so on. Whether this ministry would also be recognized in other parts of the Anglican Communion is an issue with a mixed answer. Some Provinces have immediately announced that recognition, and others to this point have been silent. But in any case, what the deposition does mean is that Bishop Duncan is now deprived of his ability to function as a bishop sacramentally within official boundaries of the Episcopal Church. He could still be considered a baptized member of the Episcopal Church and function in any ministry that a layperson could be authorized to perform, but he could not validly celebrate the Eucharist, officiate at a marriage, pronounce a liturgical blessing, confirm, or ordain. He also may not hold any office in the Episcopal Church that would require ordination--as a rector of a parish, say, or, obviously, as the bishop of a diocese.

At his deposition, Bishop Duncan ceases to have authority as bishop of our diocese, and what is called the “ecclesiastical authority” of the bishop shifts immediately to our diocesan Standing Committee, four priests and four laypersons elected at diocesan convention. They will be the authority in our diocese for the next two weeks, at least until the conclusion of the October 4th Diocesan Convention.

It is expected that if the diocese realigns and forms a diocesan entity within the Southern Cone, it will then go forward to elect Bishop Duncan once again as what I believe they will term the “Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh of the Province of the Southern Cone.” He will then resume his role as bishop within that entity, and under the canons and authority of that Province. Those of us who will not recognize or participate in the realignment, continuing under the canons and authority of the Episcopal Church, will continue to be under the Ecclesiastical Authority of the Standing Committee—as that committee will then be reorganized with members who continue to recognize the authority of the Episcopal Church. And then we will all move on from there, as two distinct entities. Over the interval of next two weeks, Bishop Duncan has been employed by our present Standing Committee as an advisor and will continue, in that role, to exercise a “consultative” spiritual and pastoral ministry in our whole diocese—a formal role and relationship to us at St. Andrew’s, that will not end until October 4.

Some have also asked me how these actions affect Bishop Scriven. I would begin by noting simply that Bishop Scriven continues to be a bishop in good standing in the Episcopal Church. None of the disciplinary proceedings and judgments related to Bishop Duncan have referenced him. And we all know, I think, that Bishop Scriven has been called to a new ministry as Director of the United Kingdom branch of the South American Missionary Society. The Bishop of Oxford has indicated that on his arrival at the end of December Bishop Scriven will be named an Assisting Bishop in that diocese, within the Church of England. Over the next two weeks Bishop Scriven will continue to be employed by our diocese also as a consultant and advisor—and it may be that the “realigned” Episcopal Diocese of the Southern Cone will seek to employ him after October 4th as an Assistant Bishop. Were he to hold that office long-term, it is likely the House of Bishops would begin action as well in terms of his status within the Episcopal Church—but since the bishops don’t even meet again until March, and since Bishop Scriven’s departure is already clear, I doubt whether any further action would be thought necessary.

With the permission of our present diocesan Standing Committee Bishop Scriven may be invited over the next two weeks, as a “visiting bishop” (no longer “Assistant Bishop”) to preach, celebrate the Eucharist, to officiate at marriages, to administer Confirmation, and so on. I believe this permission has been granted generally by our present Standing Committee. That permission would probably need to be renewed by our “continuing Episcopal Church” Standing Committee, either generally or on a case-by-case basis, after October 4th,.

Finally, over the next two weeks we at St. Andrew’s will continue in our services to pray for Bishop Duncan and Bishop Scriven, though with a slight change of wording to reflect changed roles and relationships. There will be further changes in the language of our prayers after October 4th. I know, though, that in our “unofficial” prayer life we would continue to pray for Bishop Duncan, for Nara, for their daughter Louise, and for her family, and for Bishop Scriven, Catherine, their children Joel and Anna, and for their families, certainly to express our appreciation for the many gifts received through their ministry over so many years, and for their pastoral friendship and spiritual support. The coming months will see many changes in life and circumstance, but we would ask our Lord to continue to hold them in his love and to protect and bless them always.


The Rev. Dr. Bruce M. Robison

September 20, 2008

September 20, 2008 Holy Matrimony
Natalie Kathleen Matta and Kevin Michael Hooper
Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7

Kevin and Natalie, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon, is thank you. It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Christ, as husband and wife. It’s a great day! We’ve been thinking about it and planning for it for a long time, and when we started this date seemed a long way off—but now, time has flown by, and here we are. Congratulations to you, as I know this season of your friendship and deepening relationship has been rich in so many ways, and as I know that the story that is yet to be told of the life and family you will share as husband and wife will be a great one.

The lesson that you selected, from the Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day. It is a love song, a poetic expression of the deepest passion and compassion of the human heart, as we know that in our deepest and most intimate relationships, and as we would understand through that--that we are for at least a brief moment in this world catching a glimpse of the deep love, the passion and the compassion, that is at the heart of God’s life, and that we are all ultimately destined for. This day, the commitments you bring, the words and promises, speak about who you are today, and also about who we are all destined to become, this moment like a window, through which we begin to see God’s hope and dream for each one of us since the creation of the world.

Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away; if a man were to offer for love the whole wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. The rarest thing of all, the most precious, the most fragile, the hardest to find and the easiest to lose, yet somehow also the most durable, the most patient, the most forgiving, the most welcoming.

It is a beautiful poem, a beautiful image, for this beautiful day, and, I would simply offer the thought that the gift of this moment is one that doesn’t ever need to wear out or to be exchanged. It’s the best gift of all, the richest of all blessings, and can last for a lifetime. May God bless and keep you in this new life that you begin today, and with joy and peace in all the days ahead.

Now as Kevin and Natalie come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask all of us to bow our heads for a moment to offer a prayer for them, for their protection and their blessing, their joy, in all that God has for them in the days and years ahead.

Bruce Robison

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Clergy Conference

The insights of Dave Walker's Cartoon Church image aside, with a smile, I would ask special prayers for our diocesan family this week, as our clergy gather for the annual Clergy Conference and as the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church meets, with possible actions related to our bishop and diocese on the agenda.

As we move into a challenging season, please remember Bishop Bob, Nara, their daughter Louise and her family, Bishop Henry, Catherine, their daughter Anna and son Joel, and their families, the clergy and clergy families of our diocese, diocesan leadership, and all the members of our many congregations. That in the midst of our brokenness we may continue to discern in one another the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that as we move forward we may seek not our own will, but his.



Sunday, September 14, 2008

"Across the Aisle" Presentation, by Mrs. Mary Roehrich

Mary Roehrich, member of St. Andrew's Church, long-time Deputy to Diocesan Convention, and Representative from District VII to the Diocesan Council, was a leading speaker at the Public Meeting hosted at St. Paul's Church, Mt. Lebanon, on Saturday, September 13, by the "Across the Aisle" group for those of our diocesan family intending to remain within the Episcopal Church, should the 143rd Diocesan Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh make an effort to break its association with the Episcopal Church and "realign" with another Province of the Anglican Communion. I very much appreciated her presentation, and with her permission it is reprinted here.

For more about the Meeting, and some related context, see the article in this morning's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


What does the future look like in the TEC Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh?

Mary Roehrich, St. Andrew's, Highland Park

Our task is monumental. We have allowed ourselves to be in conflict over theological issues and we will have to learn to work together in spite of our differences. Even if we do everything right, the immediate future will be painful and difficult. If the Diocesan Convention votes to sever its ties to the Episcopal Church, those voting to realign will be jumping out into the abyss and in some sense so will we. We will have to reorganize a diocesan structure that we have all taken for granted. We will have to find a way of relating to the Episcopal Church that is acceptable to all of us. We will have to find a way of healing the damage caused by a breach of this magnitude and relating in a faithful way with our friends and neighbors who have decided to walk apart from us.

BUT WE CAN DO IT! In the early meetings of AtA the conversation was tentative at best and truculent at worst. Everyone worried that somehow they would be pushed into agreeing with something that compromised their principles. What we discovered was that our affection for each other and our willingness to listen and work for cooperative goals overcame our pain and suspicion. We were able to achieve more than we dreamed of at that first meeting. We thought maybe we would learn to talk to each other. We weren’t sure we could ever reach consensus. We have been able to work together with generosity and faith, and we have reached consensus on some issues. We are working on others. Our work together needs to be a model for the continuing diocese.

Remember, consensus means to give consent, it does not necessarily mean to agree. I can give consent to actions that I am not enthusiastic about, but which do not call my principles into question. I can consent to actions which will forward the life of the diocese.

We will have to develop creative compromise as an agenda item. We are not all going to suddenly agree. What we are going to do is listen and hear what others are saying and try to find a way to make it work. We don’t presently have consensus on property issues and where we stand in relation to the national organization of TEC. Actually it is inappropriate to have such developed policies before the 143rd Diocesan Convention has voted. Who we are and what we become depends very much on the decisions made on October 4th. We are preparing to be the continuing Diocese of Pittsburgh in the Episcopal Church because we need to have a structure ready to assume responsibility not because we want to compete with or pressure our present Diocesan structures.

In most administrative ways our reorganized diocesan structures will be the same as they always have been. We will have a Standing Committee, a Board of Trustees, a Diocesan Council. We will have districts and deputies and a convention. We will struggle over how to spend our money. How to support parishes in need. How to develop new programs and support those programs we have that are successful. How to develop diocesan activities that encourage community and mission. To the greatest extent possible we will be organized on the basis of the Constitution and Canons of the Episcopal Church and the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

“By their fruits ye shall know them.” We will exert real effort to grow in fellowship and mission. This Diocese has a number of missions of which we can be very proud. SOME of them are: the Youth Ministry at St. Stephen’s Wilkinsburg under the direction of Mr. Tony Jackson with the support of the Rev. Diane Shepard and now the Rev. Nancy Chalfant-Walker; the Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship, the Rev. Michael Wurschmidt, founder and rector; the Shepherd Wellness Center, the Rev. Lynn Chester Edwards, founder and board member; Calvary Camp, which owes a lot to many people over the years but presently we honor the Rev. Leslie Reimer’s contribution; and one very close to my heart the Chaplaincy at Canterbury Place, the Rev. Gaea Thompson, Chaplain. Some of these will realign and some will remain with TEC. We are proud of ALL of them and more, but we will find ways to increase their number and reach out to those in need.

We want to be known by our fruits: our ability to heal ourselves and others during and after this breach; our commitment to supporting established ministries and finding new ones; our commitment to preaching the Gospel and following Jesus. Those are the goals we want to reach and that is what we will try to achieve. Pray for the church.

We cannot change the past. We would be foolish to repeat it. Going forward with courage to change the dynamic of contention to one of hope and cooperation, love and fellowship has to be our acknowledged goal. Cutting each other a little slack should be our watchword. We share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. We share his mission to the poor and oppressed of this world. We trust in His ability to transform our lives and we share the mission of spreading the Gospel of Love and Hope in the world. We WILL go on together emphasizing our agreements without loosing our principles and finding a way to express our unique contribution to our Christian community, our secular community and even, perhaps even especially, to those who have decided to sever their corporate relationship to us.

In order to accomplish this task we will have to commit ourselves not only to our triune God but to each other. We will not emphasize our paranoid fears of what might happen but will emphasize our Christian faith in what will happen. We must have faith in God and in each other. We will not always agree but we will trust each other. We will accomplish nothing if we do not lead from love, hope and faith. If we lead from fear we are doomed before we start. Therefore we will obey the great commandment to LOVE GOD AND OUR NEIGHBOR. We will have faith: “ In thee O God, have I put my trust, Let me never be confounded.”

Eighteenth after Pentecost, 2008

September 14, 2008 XVIII Pentecost (RCL Proper 19A) Ex. 14: 10- 15:21; Rom 14: 1-12; Mt 18: 21-35

I guess there are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. Water into wine, quieting the storm, feeding a multitude from one eight-year-old’s lunch pail--all pretty cool, no question about it.

But then there are these moments when you’re running for your life, dragging some kind of a cart holding all your worldly possessions, following this guy who you’re 95% sure you can trust, or I guess make that 90% . . . 85%, anyway . . . and the kids are exhausted, and the sun is beating down--and then in the far distance, way, way behind you, you hear the faint echo of dogs barking, and then you see the dust beginning to get stirred up back there, and you can picture them in your mind’s eye: roaring chariots and huge horses and armed soldiers whipping them on, and in hot pursuit, and they’re getting closer, and closer, and you’re beginning to wonder as you try to catch your breath if maybe a life of slavery under the power of brutal and murderous oppressors and sadistic overseers might not just have had a few positive elements you hadn’t previously appreciated.

And then you come up over a rise and you see stretched out before you for as far as you can see to the left and to the right and on ahead--nothing but a vast inland sea. And you can’t even swim. You look over your shoulder and see them coming, you look ahead and see all that water, and you think, man, those are two slices of bread, and what I am, what we are, stuck here in the middle, is nothing but dead meat. We are finished. Done for. History. Dog food. And then, what? This Moses guy gets up on a big rock where everybody can see him and points back at the Pharaoh’s advancing chariots, and those barking dogs, roaring down towards us now under the great blue sky of the desert afternoon, and he calls out to us: “All right, boys: now we’ve got those Egyptians right where we want them!”

Well, we all pretty much know the story. Heard it again this morning. And like I said earlier, there are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. We’ve seen the movie, C.B. DeMille and Charlton Heston--and no question for me, anyway, that that was exactly what happened. How it seemed later when they told the story, anyway. So vividly telling the story, that they could still smell the electricity in the air, feel the burning sand as it radiated that impossible heat into the air around them. And then. The breath of God over the water, the outstretched arm of Moses, as the wind streamed through his hair, and that roar, like thunder, and the waters of the sea lifting up in great walls on either side . . . opening a way forward a wide road . . . and the cheering of the people as they gathered their things, the children running on ahead, skipping all of a sudden in joy and amazement, until –how did this ever happen?--the whole crazy mob of them, kids and the elderly, the strong and the weak, not one of them left behind, not one—until they were all safely on the far shore.

And as soon as they were across, remember this, the edge of the Egyptian sword right at their back, and the wind falls silent, and the high walls of waters collapse in one magnificent and breathtaking crescendo. And it’s all over. The pursuers are swept away. And here we are. The hopeless, suddenly, all at once, people who have something to hope for. A people with a future. With a destiny. Moving forward, and gloriously. I will sing to the Lord, for he is lofty and uplifted; the horse and its rider has he hurled into the sea.

Like I said: I’ve seen the movie, and no question in my mind anyway, but that that was exactly what happened. There are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. It’s a story that gave birth to a nation, a people, a whole new way of thinking about the world, a new way of thinking about the God of heaven and earth. Savior and redeemer. Whose strong right hand and whose mighty arm will bring forth victory, transformation, restoration, renewal. In whom we can put our trust. Who acts on our behalf. Who comes to save us. There are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES.

And somebody says, “all that is great for Charlton Heston and his pals, for all those people in that book so long ago, but it’s not real, is it? Maybe it was just a coincidence after all, an earthquake and a windstorm, or some kind of strange tidal surge. Lucky for those Hebrews, long ago and far away. Pictures in a Sunday School book or a goofy old movie, but nothing to me. Nothing for me, for us.” And all I can say, I guess, to reply to that, is that who would say that must move in different circles than I do. Because I see it all the time, all the time.

And especially when I turn to the reading from St. Matthew, that begins with this conversation between Peter and Jesus, and then with the strange parable of the Two Debtors. Just as a final word or observation this morning. And I think how for me, anyway, and what I see every day, the vast ocean that is hardness of heart stands so often deep and impenetrable, and how the armies pursuing us, the barking of the dogs and the churning of the chariot wheels, the edge of the sword, these are realities. No pretending otherwise. Hardness of heart, meanness of spirit, unforgiveness. A brokenness and pathology and a sickness unto death. “Come on, Moses, weren’t the graveyards in Egypt good enough? Why bring us out here to this wilderness to swallow our share of mother earth?”

But there are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES. The breath of God across the face of the waters, which is for us the abundant love of Jesus at the Cross, his blessing, his hand reaching out to us and opening a way. Which is what that passage from Matthew is about, the treasure that is entrusted to us, the secret story of the universe, the love that breaks through, that parts the sea, that opens a way forward and the possibility of life and transformation and healing and peace. Forgiveness is a miracle. Not something we do or can find in ourselves, but the breath of God in us, filling us and changing us, finding in us the miracle that God intended for us to be at the hour of Creation. Anointed by his holy oil, we become that mystery, that grace. And I’ve seen that, and we have seen that. With our own eyes. In you, and among us, and we will see it, we will continue to see it. Unexpectedly, but beyond doubt. A sure promise.

So we have these really hard times. Our bodies turn in on us, or there is distress in our family, or the neighborhood or the nation seems on the brink of something beyond remedy. We know what that’s all about. Horse and chariot bearing down on us, and nowhere to go. Thinking about our church in these weeks—not here at St. Andrew’s of course, thankfully, but in the wider family. And thinking, how can any blessing come from this? Any freedom? Any new life? Any forgiveness and healing? Anything new?

And the answer is yes. The answer from this moment in the Wilderness, the answer from the hill of the Cross. Not just a parlor trick, but something real. Miracles possible and miracles necessary and essential and guaranteed. Miracles not simply for us to watch and applaud, but miracles for us to join in, to share, to become ourselves. If Peter asks, “Lord, how much forgiveness is enough?” His reply, that we would not stop until forgiveness ceases to be something that we do, and becomes instead who we are, God’s blessing, God’s hope and promise and healing and new life. An infinity of forgiveness, of blessing, of new life. All the time. Which is kind of intimidating, of course. And it seems impossible. But, to say again, it happens. There are miracles, and then there are MIRACLES.

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

Bruce Robison

Thursday, September 11, 2008

September 11th


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 Iraq and Afghanistan 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,


Monday, September 8, 2008

On Another Site

My colleague Jim Simons has posted on his blog, Three Rivers Episcopal, this afternoon a reflection I composed the other day concerning one aspect of the current crisis in our diocesan family.


New Site for the Rector's Page

Because there seems to be a good deal of uncertainty about the future of the Yahoo 360 webservice, the Rector's Page has moved to this new location, on In addition to longer-term stability, thanks to host Google, the site also offers somewhat more flexibility in design tools, which is nice. All postings previously on the Yahoo site have been moved to this location. While I won't delete the Yahoo site, future items will be posted here only.


Saturday, September 6, 2008

Seventeenth after Pentecost, 2008

September 7, 2008 XVII after Pentecost (RCL Proper 18A) Ex. 12: 1-14; Rom. 13: 8-14; Mt. 18: 15-20

The three lessons this morning all have to do with themes of identity and community--who we are, what brings us together--as we would see that concept through the lens of concern about the special community that is God’s people, the Chosen, the community of faith that for us is the Church.

In Exodus the story of the Passover of God, as judgment falls on the sin of the Egyptians and as the ancient narrative gives the description of what is to be the sacrament first of the People of Israel, the Passover Lamb that becomes the means of deliverance and the sign of identity—and then of what is to reach a fulfillment in the sacramental, Eucharistic imagery of the Cross—Christ our Passover being sacrificed for us, the sign of his blood the shield against every danger and force of evil and destruction, the sign of his blood even as we approach the Holy Table this morning the continuing pledge of deliverance and the fullness of our identity in his promise, under the sign of his cross, to be healed, to be reconciled, to be lifted up into life everlasting.

And Jesus in Matthew—and what impresses me in this story is the loving care and attention that come into play when there is conflict or discord in the community. Nobody gets cut off, kicked out, pushed aside. When something goes wrong, you try and try and try again, until it gets made right. And there is no such thing as a private dispute. No dispute is truly private. If the relationship of any two members is threatened, than we are all threatened. Because we are one body, because we need each other.

In the context of this then as well, Paul to the Romans—owe no one anything, be debt-free, so that you will be free to fulfill the duty and privilege of love. That love, overflowing from the abundance of our hearts, will complete in us all the duties of the law. And this with a sense of the freedom that comes from knowing with certainty that he is present with us, which is how we come to fulfill our own sense of identity. To know who we are. That the night is nearly over, that we are standing here in the first light of the dawn of the day of his power and the completion of his love. Why would we have our minds on lesser things, as this day is dawning? Why follow the path of darkness, of self-indulgence, of greed, mean-spiritedness; why follow indeed the path of shame and degradation, when the sun is rising, and the new day opens before us in Spirit and Truth, and we are given the opportunity to be all for him, and he for us? Wake up, instead, to the light of this day, and be ready, with eagerness. And “dress for success.” Put on not the ordinary dress of this world that is passing away—“Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

All of which, it seems to me, is something of a prophetic word and even a word of warning for us as a church, as a wider body. No one able to say, ever, “I have no need of you.” Though you hear that a lot lately, seems to me. When one breaks, all break. But if a word of warning, also a word to help us see and celebrate moments when we seem to come close enough to getting things right. Such a wonderful word for us where we are, who we are, this Round Up Sunday. With thanks to our Choir—and some new faces and voices this year, and welcome to you, as you enjoy I hope the first week of rehearsal together upstairs in our renovated Choir Room. And with the new year in the Church School and Youth Group and Adult Bible Study and Coffee and Conversation, and the last day of the summer book sale, and the kids back in school and all of us moving into the schedules of the fall season. And as we will move from this place of celebration into the churchyard for a continued celebration with food and fun and yo-yo’s and juggling, which sounds really interesting to me. A blessing, actually, all of it, in the midst of some hard times.

Nothing is to be taken for granted. This precious gift of God, all of this that is our life together, the life of his Son our savior coming to a new life in and through us, Christ our Passover, here and now. Both an awesome gift and an awesome responsibility. To become ourselves what he is, growing into his likeness, food and drink for a dying world, the Bread of Heaven, the Cup of Salvation.

Bruce Robison

Sixteenth after Pentecost, 2008

August 31, 2008 XVI Pentecost (RCL Proper 17A) Romans 12: 9-21, Matthew 16: 21-28

Peter was the hero last Sunday, in that great moment on the road near Caesarea Philippi, as he first put into words the reality of the breathtaking truth about his Lord that had been forming in the hearts and minds of all the disciples, “Thou art the Christ, Son of the Living God.” The truth of this supernatural and spiritual identity and power, his presence with them. And then Jesus responded in kind: “You are Peter,” in Greek, petros, the solid rock and foundation, on whom will be built the holy Church of God.

But then this morning, just a few steps further down the road, Peter gets it wrong, and judging by the reaction he gets from Jesus, wrong big-time. “Get behind me, Satan!” Not a mild response, especially when talking to the man who was just made the first Pope! Then Jesus uses this other word, in Greek skandalon, not petros, not the solid rock of a foundation stone, but a “stumbling block.” The thing you trip over as you climb toward your objective. For Peter, a mighty role-reversal.

It becomes apparent immediately that while Peter got the answer right at Caesarea Philippi, he didn’t actually understand what that answer meant. Which makes this a moment of important teaching for Peter and the disciples about the nature of Messiahship, about what the work is that Jesus is accomplishing.

Of course it was natural that Peter and the others would first view this new insight about Jesus through the lens of the world as they knew it, and in the traditions and expectations of faith in which they had been raised--to see the Messiah’s kingship as something that would involve some sort of tangible success, real victory, here and now. Something to be played out in the midst of social, political, religious institutions. The liberation of Israel.

But Jesus says this morning, so long as we keep looking at things from man’s point of view, we’re lost. But to catch even a glimpse, even a glimpse, from God’s point of view, that will be to find our way home, and home to heaven.

And then he turns us to the mystery of the Cross. His Cross, on that hill outside Jerusalem at the end of this journey, and as his Cross becomes our cross, the shadow and the door, the end that is also a beginning, the death that is gateway to light and life. It’s going to take Peter and his friends a while to get this figured out, and they’re going to have to see more, experience more, before they get it right. And for us as well. There’s more of this story to tell, to Holy Week and Good Friday, before Easter comes.

This as background, for what I would want to highlight as well in our readings, what actually struck me most in the readings for this Sunday, from the 12th chapter of Romans, a meditation by Paul that actually runs on into the 13th chapter. I would offer not an extensive commentary, but at least an appreciation. To lift it up for our reflection. An amazing passage of course from this Letter from Paul which is such a foundational text in Christian life. Ethics, morality. Not so much a conclusive list of rules, but a recipe for the spirit of who we are, of the kind of people we would aspire to become. The words give way to music.

We remember the Ten Commandments that God reveals to the people at Mt. Sinai, but in Romans 12, beginning at the 9th verse, and continuing on through the 10th verse of chapter 13, a bit beyond the passage there are, as I count them, 33 imperatives, 33 commandments, which I find to be rich and wonderful and exceptionally challenging, and which seem to me to be a fleshing-out of what Jesus says in Matthew 16 about the way of the cross. What that actually might look like.

I don’t know if it strikes you as it does me, but here as we swing into a more intense phase of this apparently endless presidential election season, with television and radio and just about every possible public venue overwhelmed by conflict and polarization and an increasingly urgent negativity. And then even Mother Church seems to get into the act with an enthusiasm for mean-spiritedness that sometimes puts even the Democrats and the Republicans to shame on their side of the court.

In the midst of all that, the storminess of our day to day lives. Let love be genuine. Outdo one another in showing honor. Be patient in suffering. Bless those who persecute you. Do not be haughty. Do not claim to be wiser than you are. Never avenge yourselves. If your enemy is hungry, feed him, if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

Again, not so much the words, but the music. The list goes on and on, through chapter 12 and into 13, this profound and radical vision of a way of life that is tender, and gentle, modest, marked by restraint, hospitality, humility. How unrealistic. How counter-intuitive. You go first. The practice of stepping back, stepping down. This is the way that “taking up of our cross” happens.

It’s a long learning curve for the disciples, and certainly for us. Learning how not to be stumbling blocks on the road to God’s kingdom. But to open ourselves to the deep spirit behind these words as we break the bread and share the cup this morning. Three steps forward, two back; or two steps forward sometimes, and then three back.

But the invitation Jesus has for his disciples along that road two thousand years ago and the invitation he has for us today is one that he offers again and again with a generous heart—not leaving us in our brokenness, but remaining nearby, with healing for us, and a renewal of life, refreshment, grace and comfort, and the promise of the fullness of life in the life we will share with him.

Bruce Robison

August 22, 2008

August 22, 2008 Burial Office

Marie Frances Barth Carnahan Cline

September 6, 1911 - August 19, 2008

First of all, I would say simply a word of welcome to all, in this gathering of family and friends, and especially to Anna Marie and Jim, and Tom and Doris, as we offer our prayers for your mother this morning and commend her to God’s love and care, and for grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and all: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is my prayer that this time, this morning and this afternoon, will be a meaningful and loving time for you as you come together, I know from nearby in Lawrenceville, and having driven all the way up here from Florida, and from so many places. Certainly your love and commitment is a testimony to Marie’s wonderful influence and presence in your lives, and these days will be a time for many stories of the past, and for a deepening of the care that you continue to share with one another. We hear a word from scripture about hope, about the sustaining hand of God, as we are all in his hand, and as Marie now is embraced and carried home with the promise of new life in Christ, and life eternal.

She would have been 97 next month, which is an amazing thing to say, to think about. Nearly a century. She was born a few years before my father, in September of 1911, but when I think about those of that generation I am truly in awe. When Marie was born William Howard Taft was President. (And I might mention that when she was born that September future President Ronald Reagan was 7 months old. Others born in 1911 were Ginger Rogers, Lucille Ball, Vincent Price, and Roy Rogers . . . .) Marie was a little girl when American soldiers sailed off to France to fight in the Great War, then coming of age in the 1920’s, then to think about life in the Great Depression, marriage and family, the Second War, then for her a maturity of life from the days of FDR to those of our current President Bush. Wife and mother, friend and neighbor, over all these decades. She saw a lot, in the history of the wide world, and in the private circles of her own life, family, friends.

Marie fits into the early end of the group that Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation.” And for me that has to do not so much with the big historical events, but with the hard work of day to day life through such challenging times, and the deep and solid values that made that possible: faith, hard work, family, courage, love of family, neighborhood, and country. They were heroes, some on the battlefields and some at home, but certainly none of us would be where we are today without their sacrifices and their determination. They made possible so much of the greatness of our country over this past century.

And now, from strength to strength, from life here to greater life, as we have been promised, the holy hope that we would affirm today. This wonderful passage from John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Modern translations sometimes change this. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” And in a way that makes sense. Houses have “rooms,” after all. But I’m going to stick with “mansions,” because I think that word directs us to a deeper truth, which is that the future that God has in mind for us, and the eternal life that Marie enjoys, is no ordinary life. It is an eternal life of abundance, and joy, and peace, and fulfillment. To be with Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” And to say simply that Marie is home now, after some difficult years—and I know Jim and Anna Marie after some hard days for you here in the hospital during these last days. Home now, in the place our Lord has prepared for her, and sharing the hope we can all share and enjoy this morning and always.

May the souls of the faithful departed rest in peace, and may Light Perpetual shine upon them. As we pray for Marie today. May she rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.

Bruce Robison

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, 2008

The Finding of Moses by Pharaoh's Daughter, 1904, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1836-1912)

August 24, 2008 XV Pentecost (RCL Proper 16A) Exodus 1:8 – 2:10; Matthew 16: 13-20

In the year or so since we began using the Revised Common Lectionary I’ve made the point a number of times that in its ‘narrative track” the lectionary is designed to give us longer connected passages of the Old Testament, and in a general sense anyway is plotted out week by week without any explicit attention to the themes and concerns of the other readings. And yet at the same time, again and again, as we hear the readings, I just can’t help but see connections.

I suppose not surprising, as we would say that in and through and over and above all the different stories of the Biblical tradition there is the golden thread of the one story, the deep and persistent and ultimately triumphant story of God’s loving intention to bring all things and everyone into new and reconciled relationship with him.

So of course there are connections all over the place. And this morning, at least to say that this morning the wonderful ancient story of the birth of Moses, in the time of a Pharaoh who no longer remembered the special role of this Hebrew people in the days of Joseph. In a forgotten corner, in a time of persecution and hopelessness, there is this one mother who hopes against hope. Who tries this crazy plan, launching her newborn out into the river in that fragile ark. And there is the brave sister, who approaches the Pharaoh’s daughter. And of course the royal daughter herself, tenderhearted, perhaps the one person in the Ancient Kingdom who would dare to disobey the royal command. No way in the world this could work.

And yet, underneath it all, we know it will. We know that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who sustained Joseph in his slavery and his imprisonment and who led him in his day to fulfill the vocation of God and to be the savior of his father and brothers—never was that God going to abandon his people. He hears their cries, and a baby floats downstream, and a new chapter begins. The great story of deliverance and transformation, the children of the Patriarchs now about to become a new nation and people, God’s Israel. A new chapter begins.

And then this conversation at a resting place on the road outside Caesarea Philippi. All the great readings of the past few chapters of Matthew in the back of our mind. The Sermon by the Shore in Chapter 13, the Feeding of the 5000 and the incident in that storm out on the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus came to them walking over the waves in chapter 14, and the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter in chapter 15, as we heard that story last week. All these things jostling together in the minds and hearts of the disciples as they sit with him here, resting after a long walk on a warm afternoon. What to make of them?

And then here a breakthrough, as Peter, jumping in with the same enthusiasm that he showed when he leapt out of the boat a few chapters back to walk on water himself, Peter feels it all and sees it all click into place and blurts out this Confession of Faith, this word that suddenly reframes everything: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And all at once these strange and wonderful moments in the remote backwater of rural Palestine are lifted to their place in the great story. Here too, a new chapter. When they stopped for their rest they were a group of friends on a journey, but when they got up again, they were the Church. They were the Church, in all the richness of that word in sacramental life and salvation history. The Church on a mission. The old story of deliverance now the story of their lives: God’s loving intention to bring all things and everyone into new and reconciled relationship with him.

So that’s the connection. How again and again through this great story God acts to create and renew and transform his people. Oppressed slaves cross through the parted waters of the sea and are reborn as a great and holy nation. Simple peasants from a forgotten backwater encounter God’s living presence in the person of Jesus and are filled with the Spirit and sent forth to announce the Kingdom. “And even the gates of Hell will not prevail against you.”

And of course the moral of the old stories is that there is more to these stories than old stories. That they speak not just to a world long ago and far away, but that they are and can become our story as well. If we let them. Open our eyes and ears and minds and hearts to their spirit and power. That the same God whose loving hands sheltered that tiny paper boat as it floated down the waters of the Nile has his hands and his arms around us as well. He didn’t abandon his people then, but was faithful to them, and worked through them to fulfill his promises, and to bring them into a new generation of life, freedom, and holiness.

And he is faithful to us. Light in our darkness. The hand that carries us, so that we don’t slip down into the water. That the same God who stood with the Twelve on that road outside of Caesarea Philippi, the friend whom they knew now for the first time to be their Lord and their Savior—he is with us as well. With us to heal what is broken, to forgive, to restore the lost, to lift us up into the fullness of his everlasting life.

Stories of identity, of meaning, of healing and transformation, of the goodness of God’s presence and of his faithfulness. Old stories, that can be and are, generation after generation, new stories, and that can be our stories.

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

Bruce Robison

Fourteenth after Pentecost, 2008

August 17, 2008 XIV Pentecost (RCL Proper 15A) Matthew 15: 10-28

The second part of this Matthew 15 reading, this sharp and even edgy exchange that Jesus has with the Syrio-Phoenician woman, is a kind of parallel to his encounter with the Woman at the Well in John 4, if we remember that story.

In both stories Jesus pushes the envelope for an Orthodox rabbi, interacting with women, which is always a problem to start with, and then in John a woman and a Samaritan, for that matter, who seems to be a scandal in the community for her wanderings outside of marriage and here in Matthew a woman again doubly-unclean, outside the family, a foreigner, a Palestinian Canaanite. Yet in both conversations a kind of spiritual alarm goes off as we hear these “untouchables” and see revealed a deeper purity founded not on superficial aspects of identity but on openness of heart and of a new relationship of holiness based on a response of faith, trust, loyalty to the presence and goodness of God in the person of Jesus.

The whole system seems to flip over, turn upside down. In a very real and revolutionary sense, these two women, not Israelites by heritage, become Daughters of Zion and heirs of the Covenant--in a way that equals and even perhaps surpasses the blessing for the biological sons and daughters of Abraham. Daughters of New Zion, heirs of the New Covenant. Certainly for Matthew and for John as well these moments of encounter and transformation and faith are compelling anticipations of the Kingdom, of God’s new dispensation for all of us, Jew and Gentile, insider and outsider. Not an overturning of the Old Covenant, but a gracious, loving, even extravagant expansion of the circle. An overflowing of God’s loving heart.

What is exciting about these women in both stories is that they don’t settle for easy answers, for the superficial, for the status quo. Jesus pushes, and they push back. Not to resist, exactly, but to persist, to achieve a deeper engagement, a deeper truth. “Hang in there with me, Jesus, and I’m going to hang in there with you. No matter what the rules say, I’m not going anywhere.”

Scroll up to the first part of our Matthew 15 reading this morning, before the woman crosses his path, and Jesus talks about a kind of religious piety that focuses on the regulation of minute dietary regulations or complex formal ceremonial practices and yet will turn a blind eye to “evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness.”

These days it’s kind of hard to hear this passage without thinking of so many politicians and religious and leaders of church and society who have presented themselves as pillars of righteousness, and who then have been undone in the harsh light of day. Read it in the tabloids, just about every day. Jesus talks about those who are like “whitewashed sepulchers.” Attractive on the outside, smooth-talkers, saying all the right words, but full of corruption inside. “Whitewashed sepulchers.” As if there were some costume we could wear to disguise who we really are.

The politician says, “I thought I could get away with it.” But for any of us, only fooling ourselves. Sooner or later the truth comes out—and even if we did manage to put one over on our contemporaries, for a moment or two, certainly there is another watching us and listening to us, who knows the secrets of our hearts.

In another place Jesus talks about “straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel.” All about trivializing the deep concern God has for the character of our life. Not that we don’t offer to God a loving sacrifice of obedience, an offering to express our own loyalty and devotion. But what a farce it is to turn that offering of loving obedience on its head, and to imagine even for a minute that God can’t see past our costumes and facades and performances to know the deeper character of our heart, the true loyalties and commitments of our lives. Not just politicians and televangelists who need to give this passage a second reading.

The Canaanite woman of Matthew 15 is right where the rubber hits the road, the very hard point of life, the point of life and death, the life and health of her child, her daughter, and she’s not interested in playing games or worrying over complicated dance steps. Nothing trivial here. All pretense and playacting stripped away. Cut to the chase, she says. There’s really no time to play games. Let’s get beyond that, let’s get real. She takes the hem of his robe and won’t let go. She needs to be in relationship to God where it matters the most, and she needs him right now, and she knows where to find him. I need you Jesus, and I am yours, if you will have me. Whatever healing and whatever new life there is here in you, that’s where I need to be.

As we would encounter him this morning at the Holy Table, as the people we really are, broken as we are, with what healing we need today, not going through the motions but with sincerity of heart, opening ourselves to the power of his love, to transformation, to new life.

“She said, ‘Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs from their master's table.’ “ There wasn’t anything she wouldn’t say. Putting it all on the line. “And Jesus answered, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly."

Bruce Robison

Thirteenth after Pentecost, 2008

Sailboat on the Sea of Galilee, photograph by E. Bartov

August 10, 2008 XIII Pentecost (RCL Proper 14/A) Matthew 14: 22-33

At St. Luke’s in Scituate, Massachusetts (the church we attend when on vacation), they have the custom in the summertime, on Sundays when the weather is reasonably good, to schedule a service for 7 p.m. at the town beach. They gather, spread out their beach blankets, have a brief and very informal service of Evening Prayer and Holy Communion, and then picnic together—with the kids and some of the adults too taking advantage of the opportunity for an evening swim, and everybody enjoying a time of friendly conversation, worship, and fellowship. Actually, I confess that Susy and I have never gone to one of these services, as we always seem to have other family things to be doing at dinnertime--but it does seem to me like a great idea, and certainly the folks in the congregation who have told us about it always talk about it with great affection and enthusiasm.

A nice summertime image, in any case: a picnic by the shore, catching a cool breeze and spending quality time together as Christian friends.

And in this series of readings that we’ve had from Matthew’s gospel it all seems seasonally familiar. First that Sermon by the Shore, Matthew 13, as Jesus shared this amazing collection of parables (the Sower, Wheat and Tares, Mustard Seed, Leaven in the Loaf, Treasure in the Field, Pearl of Great Price, Dragnet, Householder), then at the beginning of chapter 14, as we heard last week, as Jesus tenderly reaches out to heal the sick who have come to him for comfort, and then as they all sit down together for the miraculous meal and the feeding of the multitude, and now finally here--we might say the summer service over and the picnic blankets folded up and packed away--Jesus has his friends get into the boat and head out across the lake to their evening campsite, while he is going to have a little down-time for reflection and prayer. He’ll walk around the shore the long way and meet them later, on the other side.

And then, of course, while they’re in the boat, the skies cloud over, something of a storm begins to stir up, wind rain and lightening, as so often happens at the shore in the summer, and as they are tossed about and bailing like crazy and in something of a panic about keeping things together, suddenly Jesus appears--and they can’t believe what they’re seeing!--walking not on the shore but skimming over the swirling waves, make of that what you will . . . and then finally there is this incident with Peter, so classically, with the brash boldness of his enthusiasm, to leap over the side of the boat, miraculously himself, with the buoyancy of faith, and then I guess he suddenly realizes where he is, and as his heart sinks with fear, his momentum fails, and he begins to slip beneath the waves--only to be rescued, lifted back to safety, by the strong hand of his tender Lord and Savior. And Jesus rejoins his friends in the boat, and the wind dies down, the storm passes by, and they continue their journey to the other side.

There are about 10,000 jokes that have referenced this story in one way or another, of course, but the disciples in the boat weren’t laughing. Perhaps we make the jokes—and a lot of them are very funny—because the story makes contact in a place very deep in us, with an intimacy that is almost embarrassing. What to do with what has just happened, how to process it? They seem to rest there in a hushed silence. The evening now embracing them with a sense of shimmering wonder, awe, amazement, and a loyalty to and appreciation for Jesus deeper than words can express, though we do get that summary creedal affirmation: “truly you are the Son of God.” A sense of being surrounded by this overwhelming divine graciousness. Held securely in the palm of his hand. Interestingly, they say the same words that the Roman Centurion and his companions as witnesses to the crucifixion would say on that hill outside Jerusalem not long after, in Matthew 27. “Surely this man was the Son of God.”

An iconic moment: a moment ever after to have thematic applications, in art and music, stained glass windows, and I suppose countless sermons and meditations and prayers: lifting up a vision of Jesus as “Fairest Lord Jesus, Ruler of all Nature,” in the words of the familiar hymn. Ruler of all Nature. Earth and all stars bow down before him. And an affirmation of his presence in continuing relationship with us as individuals and as his church, and perhaps with some special emphasis in this season of storminess in the life of our wider church: how in the midst of our storms and high winds, all our enthusiasms, our doubts and our certainties, our puzzling over life’s miracles and mysteries, when we are in the right and when we are in the wrong, in the midst of every day, as we are striding boldly across the water toward him or as we begin to slip beneath the waves, in the least likely places, he will be there, to lift us back up, to bring us safely home.

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

Bruce Robison

Twelfth after Pentecost, 2008

August 3, 2008 XII Pentecost (RCL Proper 13/A) Matthew 14: 13-21

Just back from vacation and having just had a few hours to address—or at least begin to address--the stack of mail and phone messages and acres of accumulated e-mails and all the rest, I have I guess a certain sympathetic reading of the spirit of Matthew 14: 13, “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

We’ve all been there, of course: facing whatever challenges meet us as we get out of bed in the morning and step into the complexity of our day—work, family, home, studies, in whatever configuration our life situation and responsibilities unfold before us. When our kids were little they had a book we would read to them about all the different kinds of jobs and activities and efforts were behind the ordinary events of our day to day lives, the grocery store, the post office, and so on: called “Busy Day, Busy People.” Which probably could serve as a signboard over most of us most of the time. Even on vacation, these days, to talk about the temptation or even some kind of compulsive need which I seem to have to check e-mail and phone messages on an almost daily basis.

So we take a breath, something of a deep breath, when we hear this word, “Jesus withdrew in a boat to a deserted place, by himself.” The great spiritual writers all talk about this, as the gospel writers describe Jesus doing this many times, as a regular part of his pattern of life, and certainly we have all heard and felt the need to find a quiet corner for an hour, or a day, or, if we have the opportunity, for a week of retreat and reflection and recollection, and rest. Not certainly the busyness of a family vacation, with all the activities of recreation and social life, wonderful as those experiences can be. But “to a deserted place, by himself.”

It’s not about running away from reality, but in a different sense almost about “running away TO reality.” To a place where the noise level drops, and he can hear himself think, where even the inner noise of his own thoughts can quiet, and in the stillness, to begin to hear the voice of the Father whispering in his heart.

The retreat doesn’t last too long. I guess they’re never quite long enough. The phone begins to ring again. But that seems to be o.k. with Jesus. His heart is filled not with annoyance at the interruption, but with compassion, care, love. And he doesn’t respond with resentment, but with this graceful abundance of healing. “He had compassion on them, and cured their sick.” And then in this Eucharistic miracle and foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

In Matthew’s telling of the story we don’t see the boy bringing his offering, but the five loaves and two fish are there, and there is the blessing and the miracle, as all are fed and are filled and even so, what began as just a tiny offering has been magnified so that even the clean-up crew later on needs a dozen great baskets just to take care of what’s left behind. Twelve baskets of course a richly symbolic detail, the Twelve Tribes, Old Israel, and the Twelve Disciples, signs of the New Israel of God. A new dispensation, a new morning, a new day, a new creation.

There are and have been over the years and centuries all kinds of efforts to make sense of this moment and to rationalize what is happening here, the healing and the feeding of the multitudes, but the only explanation that works for me and that makes any sense at all is that what we have before us is simply the miraculous and abundant overflowing of the heart of the Father reflected in the life of the Son. God’s good gift, breathtaking and perfect. The broken made whole again, the hungry fed with a spiritual food, the silent voices filled with song. And blessing and peace.

Bruce Robison

August 2, 2008

August 2, 2008 Holy Matrimony

Brianna Lynn Kellum and Kyle Louis Allen

Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7

Brianna and Kyle, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon, is thank you. What a fabulous day this is! It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as witnesses and as supporters and cheering fans as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Christ, as husband and wife.

It’s a wonderful day, especially here at St. Andrew’s, which has been such an important place for both of you over many years now—Bri, your baptism almost exactly 8 years ago, in August of 2000, and Confirmation the year after that, and Sunday School, Christmas Pageants, Acolyting, and Youth Group, which was an important time here for both of you, and I think of the excellent work Kyle did as our Youth Ministry intern a couple of years ago. You’ve both been bright lights in our life here at St. Andrew’s. And now here, this great day of your marriage--we’ve been thinking about it and planning for it and involved in all kinds of preparation for a long time, and when we started this date seemed a long way off—but now, time has flown by, and here we are. Congratulations to you, as I know these years of your friendship and deepening relationship have been rich in so many ways, and as I know that the story that is yet to be told of the life and family you will share as husband and wife will be a great one. It could be a fun movie someday, with starring Brianna and with Oscar winning musical score by Kyle!

The lesson that you selected, from the Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day. It is a love song, through and through, a poetic expression of the deepest passion and compassion of the human heart, as we know that in our deepest and most intimate relationships, and as we would understand through that, that we are for at least a brief moment in this world catching a glimpse of the deep love, the passion and the compassion, that is at the heart of God’s life, and that we are all ultimately destined for. This day, the commitments you bring, the words and promises, speak about who you are today, and also about who we are all destined to become, God’s hope and dream for each one of us since the beginning of the world. Which is why marriage is understood as a sacrament--an outward and visible sign of God's grace and presence and sustaining love.

Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away; if a man were to offer for love the whole wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. The rarest thing of all, the most precious, the most fragile, the hardest to find and the easiest to lose, yet somehow also the most durable, the most patient, the most forgiving, the most welcoming. A gift, and the gift we celebrate today.

In the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of profound experience, a “vocational” moment, a life changing, transformational moment-- in a way kind of like a wedding.

Young 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.

Now, Bri and Kyle, we don’t need to take that literally, and you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember that 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 our feet is consecrated, and made holy. That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing, grace and love.

The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen here, in this one moment of a 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. Here in Pittsburgh, and in Los Angeles, and wherever your life takes you, holy ground. And it is my and our best prayer for you that in God’s love you will continue to experience his love and his blessing always, and that your life together will be a catalyst, an inspiration, for that sense of God’s goodness to be known by others. That you will be blessed, and that you will be a blessing.

Now as Kyle and Bri come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask all of us to bow our heads for a moment to offer a prayer for them, for their protection and their blessing, their joy, in all that God has for them in the days and years ahead.

Bruce Robison

Eleventh after Pentecost, 2008

On Sunday morning, July 27, 2008, we will welcome as our Guest Preacher and Celebrant the Rev. Carol Henley. A long-time friend and Priest Associate of St. Andrew's, Carol serves as a Chaplain on the Pastoral Services staff of UPMC-Montefiore Hospital, Pittsburgh.

Sunday morning services this week will be 8:30 a.m. Holy Communion, in the Chapel, and 10 a.m. Morning Prayer and Holy Communion, in the Church. Nursery Care is available during both services

Tenth after Pentecost, 2008

On Sunday morning, July 20, 2008, we will welcome as our Guest Preacher and Celebrant the Very Rev. George L.W. Werner, Dean Emeritus of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and former President of the House of Deputies of the General Convention of the Episcopal Church.

Summer Sunday Services at St. Andrew's, 8:30 a.m. in the Chapel, 10 a.m. in the Church. Nursery Care is available during both services.

Ninth after Pentecost, 2008

The Sower, Jean-Francois Millet, 1850

July 13, 2008 IX Pentecost (RCL Proper 10A) Matthew 13

This 13th chapter of St. Matthew’s gospel is sometimes called “The Sermon by the Shore”—I guess alongside “The Sermon on the Mount,” back in the 5th chapter. But in many ways this is really a different genre. If the Sermon on the Mount is an extensive, thematic, discursive theological and ethical essay, this Sermon by the Shore is more like poetry, an anthology of parables, some more extensively developed, as the one we have this morning, and others just an image, a sentence or two, but in any case a kind of verbal provocation for the imagination.

What is God like? What was in his mind when he created us? What’s our future? What does the big picture look like? And again, no direct answers: but here, the Sower, the Wheat and the Tares, the Grain of Mustard Seed, the Parable of the Leaven, the Treasure in the Field, the Pearl of Great Price, the Dragnet, and the Householder . The idea not so much to tell us what to think, as to lead us into a creative process of thinking for ourselves, of shifting our own deeper perspectives. Not so much about information, as about transformation. Of our minds, our hearts. A new awareness. Drawing us into a moment of encounter and breakthrough. It’s a powerful section right here in the middle of Matthew’s gospel, and an invitation really to engage, thoughtfully, imaginatively, creatively.

If we would say, “tell us the answer, Jesus. Fill in the blanks. Give us the step-by-step.” He replies: “let me tell you a story; let me paint you a picture. Then you tell me where you go with that. You figure out what needs to happen next.” Again, not so much that the point is to get the right answer, as to enter into the process ourselves of wondering, imagining, creating.

So I begin this morning, and then my good friends and colleagues George Werner and Carol Henley will take on rest of the chapter in the next two weeks. Stay tuned, as they are certainly two interesting and creative thinkers, and I know they’ll carry this along in fascinating directions.

But for this morning, my part of the chapter, and the Parable of the Sower. When Jesus throws up his hands in exasperation and unpacks this image for our friends the Clueless Disciples, he ends up going through the list of soils, in such a way that some folks have even thought about renaming this passage “The Parable of the Soils.” But honestly, that doesn’t make so much sense to me--or at least to say that when I come back to this passage, as I have and as we all have again and again over so many years of our lives, it’s not the soil that stays in my mind, that captures my imagination, but this amazing, strange, even slightly disturbing image of the Sower.

I mean--it is strange. Who is this guy? What is he about? Let’s say you owned the farm, and you were going over your books and inventories, and you scratch your head a bit and then call in the foreman and you say, “what’s the deal with the seed corn? I mean, we had done our projections and planning pretty well, I thought. But something seems to be going wrong. Why are we running short?” And then the foreman: “well, we’ve got this one guy, and he just seems to go crazy out there. He wanders all over the place, reaching deep into his bag and taking these huge handfuls of seed and then he just hurls it all up into the wind, all over the place, and over and over and over again. I mean, ot just in the field, but everywhere, the road, the gutters, into the trees and bushes and hedges and out in the hot desert sun. Everywhere. I keep telling him to get back on the line, to plant in the plowed areas, but he just keeps wandering off and scattering all the seed until the bag is empty, and then he goes back for more. I’ve given him lots of chances, explained that the seed is valuable, that we only have so much, that the planting needs to follow the plan, but he just won’t listen. I think if we don’t let him go, we’ll run out of seed before half the fields are planted.”

In any case: what is this guy doing? What is Jesus getting at? The Parable of the Prodigal Sower, the Profligate Sower, the Wastral, the “Wild and Crazy” Sower. I mean, probably it’s the case that some of those who were listening to Jesus out there by the shore of the lake had spent every spring of their lives planting fields, and they know for sure that there’s something wrong here. This just isn’t the way it’s done. It’s a puzzle, an odd image. In what way exactly, Jesus, is this a clue about the Kingdom, something that is supposed to help us catch an image about who God is, about what he has in mind for us?

I mean, I guess I always think of God as someone who would be . . . more careful. More cautious. Measured. Controlled. Thinking of this wide world of ours as a vast and complicated machine, requiring the services of a gifted, extremely talented engineer. And all of a sudden we’ve got . . . what? The universe and all our lives as some kind of vast empty canvas, and God as some kind of Jackson Pollock? Taking great buckets of paint and just dumping them out, letting the colors fall in huge uncontrollable splashes, gathering haphazardly in pools, running off the edges. An odd image, for God. Unexpected. A little weird. Maybe even a little disturbing. I guess I always thought that God would be more organized . . . .

I mean, as the first child and only son of a man who grew up with a widowed mother in the midst of the Great Depression, It’s deep in my DNA that what the world is all about and what life is all about is a battle for survival in the midst of scarcity. About control, and judgment. About caution, prudence, watchfulness, good management, careful discernment. Planning. Responsibility. So that you’re not swept away. The universe may not be exactly hostile, I think my dad would have said, but if you think it’s going to do you any favors, you’d better think again. It takes work. You’re always leaning into a headwind. Diligence. Prudence. Good planning. Otherwise when the floods come rolling in, you’ll just be swept away.

An undercurrent of fear in all of that, of course, which is what all these “control issues” are all about. (And you may not have noticed that about me, but I do have some control issues!) And if there’s anything to say about the Sower, as we watch him wandering out through the countryside, it is that he does seem fearless. He’s just not worried. Not anxious. And if the Seed of the Kingdom is love and peace and forgiveness and healing and blessing and power, he just doesn’t seem to think that the supply is ever going to run out, or that there is anyplace in all creation where he might not just give it a try. Highway and hedgerow, doesn’t matter. Throw the seed from the rooftops, scatter it by airplane for that matter. There are no limits. No limits. No place where the Seed of the Kingdom doesn’t belong, no rule about how much is enough or too much: the abundance of abundance.

O Love, how deep, how broad, how high. Just to catch a glimpse of this, a glimpse of the Kingdom. Pushing back against our assumptions and judgments and prejudices, even against common sense. How generous can you be, Lord Jesus? How much love is there? What are the market forces, the interplay of limited supply and unlimited demand? How much forgiveness? How much grace?

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

Bruce Robison

July 12, 2008

July 12, 2008 Burial Office and Holy Communion

Beatrice Bartlett McKnight

January 5, 1922 - June 24, 2008

Dear friends: Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I want to begin this afternoon by expressing --for myself, but I think more importantly on behalf of all the members of St. Andrew’s Parish, so much an important part of many of your lives, and I know so important for Betty and Roy--a deep sense of Christian sympathy and affection at this time of loss. I wish I could have known them, and you, during your life here at St. Andrew’s and in Highland Park, which I know were meaningful years in so many ways—and as I would especially want to acknowledge the important friendship and companionship that Betty and Roy and your family shared with my friend and predecessor here as rector, Ralph Brooks.

From the time of his retirement until his death back in 2006 Ralph had decided not to participate in a pastoral leadership way in the baptisms, weddings, and funerals of his former parishioners. And I believe in all that time he made only one exception, and that was back in 1993, when he went down to Florida and preached at the service for Roy. I think that is a testimony to the quality and depth of relationship, which was both pastoral and personal, and to the integrity and character, of your family, Roy and Betty and all of you, and I want to acknowledge that today. And so indeed this afternoon my and our prayers are and will remain with you, and especially with a prayer that God’s abundant care and love will surround you and support you in the midst of this great family and your good friends in all the days ahead.

We come together to give thanks to almighty God for Betty’s life—and I know there is certainly much to be thankful about. Bonnie was kind enough to forward to me a number of messages that she had received from members of the family, with all kinds of wonderful memories. And what I gathered from all that: a woman of spirit, with energy, with her own way of doing things; certainly who didn’t like to schedule things before 2 o’clock in the afternoon! (Which commitment we honor with the time of our service today.) A woman known for kindness, a tenderness, and generosity—that word came up over and over and over again; a woman who with her strong character and sense of presence also had a certain simplicity, humility. Who was pleased to do things for others, but who didn’t want the spotlight shining back on herself. She could make a difference, quietly helping out in a difficult time (and there were several very touching stories about that, from family members who felt truly that their lives were changed by Betty’s caring intervention at a critical moment) --or by making an inspiring leadership gift for a school or on behalf of a cause she felt passionate about. But it was about getting important things done, not ever about showing off. Above all, over and over again, a woman who loved her family, her kids, her nieces and nephews--and most especially her grandchildren.

Again, tenderness, kindness, generosity. Wonderful Christian virtues. And again, as we would give thanks for her life this afternoon, as we commend her to almighty God with our prayers, to say a word of care and affection for you in the loss that you have experienced. May she rest in peace and rise in glory, and may God’s blessing and peace rest in each of your hearts and each of your lives as well.

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, there ye may be also.

In the midst of lives of Christian people, and perhaps most especially in the times of our lives when we experience the deepest of losses, I would think all the preacher might need to do is to lift up these words from John 14 and to allow them to do the work that they can do in speaking to our hearts of healing and reconciliation, forgiveness, love, and hope. “I go to prepare a place for you .” All which is for us in the Cross and the Empty Tomb, the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.

For us in the commitment of our Christian faith and life, the means of grace, and the hope of glory. Not to take away the loss, the sadness of our lives, but to help us to know what that is, in the wider frame of God’s love. To know that no one and nothing in God’s love is ever truly lost, to know that his hand is extended, and that as we would reach out and accept that gift, he would take our hand in his and lead us home, to the place prepared for us. And not just any old place, but to a mansion. Which word I love, which I know in a spiritual sense represents not bricks and mortar, but the richness of a place made perfect by the presence in Christ’s love of those whom we have loved. That in Christ we would all be brought together, “that where I am, there ye might be also.” This what we might experience in the Holy Communion this afternoon, something of a simple image: in the Body and Blood of Christ, the bread broken and the wine poured out, as a spiritual food, and the anticipation and first course that we would share together of the heavenly banquet, where Betty feasts as well, with all of you, all of us at the one Holy Table of our Lord.

Again then, to say thank you, as we share our prayers and the prayers of the whole Church. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” May God bless and keep you, comfort and care for you today and always.

Bruce Robison

Eighth after Pentecost, 2008

Rebecca at the Well, Francesco Solimena, 1720

July 6, 2008 VIII Pentecost (RCL Proper 9A) Genesis 24: 34-38, 42-49, 58-67

One of the great things about our new “Revised Common Lectionary” is that we get these expanded stories from the Old Testament. Some of them are a little long, as this one is this morning. But they are rich and compelling. And this unfolding of the stories of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is just endlessly fascinating.

For those who think of the Bible as an anthology of genealogies punctuated here and there with obscure ceremonial directives and the occasional proclamation of moral imperatives, these stories can be eye-openers. Human life in all its messy, wonderful, dramatic complexity, and its flesh and blood, sometimes harsh, sometimes incredibly tender particularity. Real people you love and hate—and sometimes who can be so frustrating you feel like sending them an urgent e-mail across the centuries to talk some sense into them.

In any case, this morning, one of my favorites, for all kinds of reasons, and the opening of one of the most lovely love stories in any literature anywhere. Young Isaac needs to find a wife, and old Eleazar, Abraham's servant, goes out with a prayer and finds her, on day one, there at the well. What Hollywood writers call, "meet cute." The camels carry the party back home, Isaac sees them coming. Their eyes connect, his and hers, across the distance, and Cupid’s arrows zing through the air. Love at first sight. Destiny. Just the best two people you’d ever know anywhere, and perfect for each other. You'd want Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan for the film version. She is the answer to his prayers . . . literally. A marriage made in heaven, as the author of the story is not shy about reminding us.

Because all this set not in the context of a daytime soap opera, but at the heart of the biblical proclamation of Salvation History. This is how God works to shape a people for himself, to lay the foundation of a priestly nation, a Holy Temple, and to prepare the way for the Savior of the World. A little romance for a summer Sunday.

And I love it that the designers of the Revised Lectionary offer this beautiful passage from Psalm 45 as our Psalm this morning. But even more, to see as we look at our service leaflet insert that there is offered as an alternative this love song from the Song of Solomon, which is in my experience lately the reading that is rapidly replacing I Corinthians 13 as the most popular reading at weddings. “My beloved calls to me, ‘Rise up, my love, my beauty, and come away, for now the winter is past, the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth, and the time of singing has come . . . . Rise up, my love, my beauty, and come away.” It could be Isaac singing to Rebecca at the doorway of their marriage tent. And in the earliest traditions of Christian Biblical interpretation and commentary, the words as well allegorically of Christ, calling in all tenderness and passion and compassion to his Bride, his Holy Church. “Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.”

The story is one that almost might make us blush to read it. So personal, so intimate. Yet it is a story for us. The way mom and dad, grandma and grandpa, might share the story of their meeting and falling in love with the kids, in the midst of much giggling and wonder. There’s a t.v. show: “How I Met Your Mother.” I remember hearing the story of how my grandparents met, when I was maybe 8 or 9, and it just seemed incredible to me. Was it truly possible that these elderly, these ancient characters could ever have felt the storms and energy of youth? I mean, they must have been 60! But at the same time, such important stories, one generation following another, following another, and how we gradually find ourselves understanding in a deep way who we are, where we come from.

And this morning it’s grandpa Isaac, grandma Rebecca, impossibly young, alive, burning with romance and desire, two hearts beating as one, and in it all, the fulfillment of God’s plan, for them, and for us, as the path is cleared in the wilderness, the love song echoing down the millennia. From Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to David, and to that silent night and holy night in the Bethlehem stable, where Christ the Savior is born. The family story, the family romance, and for us and for our children as well.

The great Eucharistic offering is so often pictured as a banquet, a foretaste of the heavenly Table, and this morning for us, an invitation to a Wedding Feast. The bread and wine of celebration.

His body broken for us, his blood poured out for us, to open the door for us all to the new life of joy and peace and celebration that our Father has had in mind for us from the beginning of time. A friend of mine wrote in his blog recently about the work of the renewal of the Church, which is of course a perennial occupation, and he wrote about “calling the Church back to its first love.” Which is always the right word to use. We love, because he first loved us. Because having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. And opened the door by way of his cross to a new creation of grace and healing, reconciliation, forgiveness, and peace. “O love, how deep, how broad, how high.”

A toast then, this morning, for Isaac and Rebecca, all true love, two people made for each other, and love at first sight. May their tribe increase, generation upon generation, as God’s loving and gracious plan embraces the world he calls back to himself. With blessings and joy. Here’s to them, and to the good life we will share with them, forever.

Bruce Robison