Friday, December 26, 2008

A Gift of Christmas Music

When Susy and I were in England in 2004 Pete and Mary Pat Luley took us to Evensong at Gloucester Cathedral.

This setting of the Christina Rossetti poem "In the Bleak Midwinter" is one of my favorites.


Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day, 2008

My Christmas Eve sermon in the entry below, but here, very wonderful, the Christmas Message of the Most Rev. and Rt. Hon. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury: The Archbishop's Christmas Sermon.

And blessings to all in this Christmastide.


Christmas Eve, 2008

Madonna and Child,
Domenico Ghirlandaio,
c. 1470

December 24, 2008 Christmas Eve

Before us: in the dark, in the simplicity of the stable and his manger bed. These few shepherds as witnesses, and Joseph, and of course his Holy Mother, the young girl who becomes our Mother and the Mother of the world.

As the ancient prophet whispers this night, across the centuries: The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him. Or as from John: The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. Literally the Greek, eskenosen, “pitched his tent” here. Here, with us.

In this night of blessing and hope, grace and peace to you. Grace and peace. As we have come to this place at this late hour and at the end of this year, we can all use as much grace and peace as we can find.

In our wide world a time of unsettledness, with concerns about financial crisis, war and rumors of war, transitions of leadership. In the bleak midwinter. With our prayers for those whose lives have been disrupted, for those far from home this evening, serving in places of danger, for our city and our nation and our world. Christmas Eve. And bringing all of what we have in the stories of our personal lives. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

In all this, I would thank you for sharing this evening of worship, this holy night. As our hearts are warmed and our spirit is nourished by such beautiful music, as we hear once again from the pages of Holy Scripture the announcement of God’s gracious action, his generous gift of love, the miracle of incarnation, Word made flesh, born in Bethlehem, to live for us and to die for us on the Cross, so that we might live in fullness of life, to know the possibility of reconciliation with God and with one another, and in the promise of life eternal. Glory streams from heaven afar. Heavenly hosts sing alleluia. Christ the Savior is born.

Born in the stable, born in our hearts, our food and drink at the altar. Born to be our joy forever.

I want to take as a text this night the last couple of sentences from the traditional Christmas Eve reading from the Letter to the Hebrews, not to say a whole lot about it, but to lift it up again, this amazing New Testament hymn to God’s Christ, his only Son: Therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. And Thou, Lord, in the beginning hast laid the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands: they shall perish; but thou remainest; and they all shall wax old as doth a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them up, and they shall be changed: but thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.

It is all about him. Tonight. Every night, every hour, in every corner of the spinning cosmos. Bethlehem’s Child. See him in a manger laid, whom the angels praise above. Sometimes there just aren’t words enough or songs enough or images and ideas big enough to carry the fullness of what flows from the heart. Overflowing. To say that he is the beginning and the end, the first and the last, above and beyond, world without end. Our Lord Jesus: Born to be our joy forever. No crib for his bed. No universe wide enough to contain him, who is the creator and preserver of all things, of one substance with the Father. Who made heaven and earth.

Eternally here in the manger, eternally here, at the Cross. Here on the altar, and born anew in the perpetual Christmas of our minds and hearts. From everlasting to everlasting. With us at our beginning, and with us at our ending. God’s benediction and good word and highest hope for us, his best gift for us, the gift of himself. Pouring himself out, in such abundance. That in a renewal of our own lives, as we are renewed in him, we might set out this night to live by his grace lives of joy and peace and gentleness and generosity, forgiveness, reconciliation, faithfulness. Faithfulness to one another, in the integrity of our lives, and above all, most of all, faithfulness to him. To know for ourselves the deep refreshment and blessing of holiness that can be found in him alone.

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he hath visited and redeemed his people; and hath raised up a mighty salvation for us, in the house of his servant David. Luke 1

Awake, awake; put on thy strength, O Zion; put on thy beautiful garments, O Jerusalem. Isaiah 52

Behold, the Tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. Revelation 21

The song goes on and on and on. World without end.

Again, may this holy night be a blessing for you and for those you love, in all ways, as we gather in his name and then as we go forth in his name, in Christian fellowship, to be his people. A wonderful Christmas and New Year. Grace and peace. As in the darkness of the night those two figures make their way slowly through the hills, and into that little town, and it was, and is, and will be Christmas, and he will be born, and we will be born in him.

Merry Christmas!

Bruce Robison

Sunday, December 21, 2008

For the Fourth Sunday of Advent

William Everson (for many years a Dominican monk, Brother Antoninus, O.P.) was one of the really wonderful American poets of the mid-20th Century. He lived in Santa Cruz, California, and Susy and I heard him read at Wheeler Hall, U.C. Berkeley, in the early 1980's. He died in 1994. Since Deacon Chess is preaching at St. Andrew's this morning, I thought I'd share this.

Out of the Ash

Solstice of the dark, the absolute
Zero of the year. Praise God
Who comes for us again, our lives
Pulled to their fisted knot,
Cinched tight with cold, drawn
To the heart’s constriction; our faces
Seamed like clinkers in the grate,
Hands like tongs—Praise God
That Christ, phoenix imortal,
Springs up again from solstice ash,
Drives his equatorial ray
Into our cloud, emblazons
Our stiff brow, fries
Our chill tears. Come Christ,
Most gentle and throat-pulsing Bird!
O come, sweet Child! Be gladness
In our church. Waken with anthems
Our bare rafters! O phoenix
Forever! Virgin-wombed
and burning in the dark,
Be born! Be Born!

William Everson (Brother Antoninus, O.P.)

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Ordination at St. Paul's, Mt. Lebanon

I spoke about this sermon in my homily at the 9 a.m. service at St. Andrew's on Sunday, December 14, with a note that I was especially moved by the depth and simplicity of the Charge to the Ordinand at its conclusion. Bishop Jones was kind enough to share a copy of the sermon.

Sermon Preached by the Rt. Rev. David Colin Jones, Bishop Suffragan of the Diocese of Virginia of the Episcopal Church and Consulting Bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, at the Special Convention Eucharist and Ordination to the Priesthood of the Rev. Kristian Opat, December 13, 2008, at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Mt. Lebanon.

Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord, Jesus Christ.

It is on honor to be present at this service of ordination. I have had the privilege of working with your Standing Committee and meeting a number of your clergy. I am especially grateful for the generous and loving approach to the future of this diocese that has been presented by Dr. Simons in his address. His spirit of generosity is profoundly Anglican and will be a good foundation for your life together.

I bring you warm greetings from the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia and from Episcopalians across this country. I know that I also speak for the Pennsylvania bishops as we pledge the support and prayers of the wider church for your future life.

He described himself as a ruined man – a man of unclean lips. He did not feel worthy. His sin weighed him down.

But he had met the living God, in the year that King Uzziah died. That experience so transformed him that when he heard the voice of the Lord calling “Whom shall I send and who will go for us”, he responded, “Here am I, send me.”

In response, the prophet was sent to a people who did not understand, could not see, whose hearts were hardened and whose eyes were closed. And to this situation, the Lord said “Go and say to this people.”

This afternoon, Kris Opat is being ordained to the priesthood. Like the prophet Isaiah, he has answered a call. The Living God has conspired to direct His life toward a ministry of Word and Sacrament.

He is being sent into an increasingly secular environment, one that is sometimes hostile to the Church. And like the prophet Isaiah, he is being sent out with a similar command “Go and say to this people.”

But Kris is being sent with the words of Jesus himself who said "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Kris is being ordained to
Proclaim the gospel
Administer the sacraments
Bless God’s people and
Declare pardon and absolution to sinners.

He will GO equipped with Gifts for Ministry
• armed with the Word of God
• filled with the Power of the Spirit
• and bearing a message of salvation

He is to care for God’s people
to go the suffering and needy,
to the powerful and rich,
to the lonely and oppressed

The message he will bear is good news for all times and for all people.

But the message of salvation will not always be welcome. Discouragement, disappointment, and frustration come with ordained ministry. No priest is free from rejection. We live with the presence of sin,

But that need not define the ministry of Jesus. We proclaim resurrection. We proclaim the possibility of healing and forgiveness and reconciliation. We encounter the world as it is with the grace and power of God.

The message of John the Baptist “prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight” speaks of readiness for life and ministry. To engage in life with vitality, we need to be ready.

I have been struck in recent days with the image of the back up quarterback standing on the sidelines, assisting the coach and calling in plays. He is watchful on every play –knowing that he might be sent in at any minute. He knows the plays, he knows the players, and he knows the defenses. All he needs is a nod from the coach. To the back up quarterback, there are no distractions that stand in the way of entering the game.

In ministry, we are called to that kind of watchfulness – an awareness of the presence of others near us – a willingness to respond to Christ’s prompting and a desire to do what God is calling us to do. When God calls, a response is expected. This response requires taking a step – a step of faith – moving toward God’s call without full knowledge of how the journey will end.

To carry the image of the quarterback even further, we are reminded of training camp and the weight room and hours and hours of practice. An essential dimension of ordained ministry takes place off the field and out of sight.

To fully engage in ministry on the field, the ordained person needs a healthy and balanced life off the field. And this includes taking time for Sabbath rest and for family, for personal retreat and personal vacation, for daily prayer and nurturing friendships, and for studying the Word of God and engaging in local culture.

Lay leaders need to encourage their clergy to have a life off the field so that they can give their absolute best on the field. On any given day of ministry, we rarely know what will unfold. So we need to be ready.

An important part of our preparation for ministry is the discipline of saying our prayers and reading our Bibles. It is not a waste of time, therefore, to sit in silence and wait for inspiration. Nor is it a waste of time to play with our children or to set aside a date night for our spouse.
We need to be ready and to stay ready.

An image of readiness that inspires me during this Advent Season is that of the young choristers at Kings College Cambridge at the Festival of Carols and Lessons on Christmas Eve.

King’s College Chapel is absolutely quiet. The appointed hour arrives. Each chorister is prepared to sing the first verse of the carol “Once in Royal David’s City” and then the choir master points to one of the boys who immediately begins to sing.

That is the kind of readiness to which we are called as we respond to God’s call “Whom shall I send and who will go for us?

Kris, will you please stand.

You are called to exercise the office of priest in the Church of God.

As you go about this ministry, keep your heart and your mind on Jesus. Pray for his strength and power. Know that it is Jesus who will empower your ministry.

Let the Bible be your guide and your inspiration and the source of your strength. Read your Bible. Mark your Bible. Love your Bible and the Lord of the Church.

Remember that your ministry will extend far beyond your congregation. You are part of the ministry of bringing Christ to all nations and peoples – that the name of Jesus may be known above all other names.

Prepare every day for ministry and the Lord will go before you and follow you. And at the end of the day when you go home, go home and entrust your ministry to the One who gave his life for our salvation.

So, as you move from altar to sick bed, from funeral home to wedding reception, from a baptism to sermon writing, and from a vestry meeting to a grieving person, know that you are about the ministry of the Lord, Jesus himself. In Him, you will find ultimate satisfaction and joy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December 11, 2008

December 11, 2008 Burial Office

Lucille Fitzsimmons December 31, 1905 - December 3, 2008

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. And everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God.” This great passage from the First Letter of St. John, as great-grandson Hunter read it for us just a moment ago, runs in a highway directly to the heart of the deepest mystery and the deepest beauty of Christian life and Christian faith.

A simple statement, yet so very deep, with layer upon layer of complexity in the way we would understand who we are, in our relationships with one another and in our relationship with God, our heavenly Father. All the ways God manifests himself to us in love.

It seems to me the right passage of Holy Scripture to lift up this morning, as we come together, with I know a sense of sadness and loss, but with even more a sense of joy and thanksgiving, to offer back to God with such a sense of gratitude this act of worship—as we would commend to his unfailing care and love Lucille Mariah Higgins Fitzsimmons, whom we know here today as mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, as friend, as a member of this parish family, as a neighbor here for so many years in her home just a few blocks away on Jancey Street.

Born at the dawn of the 20th century, she lived to see it all, and into this new century as well. A remarkable story, a remarkable life, just a few weeks short of 103 years.

I mentioned to David yesterday that I have found it just plain impossible to talk about Lucille in the past days, and in the weeks and months before, as she began her last journey—impossible to talk about her without beginning to smile, to smile with real enjoyment. Thinking about her way of speaking, her frank, open, genuine, honest sense of being directly-to-the-point. A graciousness, a tenderness, a generosity, a vulnerability, for all that: but on the other hand, I don’t think I’d ever want to be on the other side of her in a debate or an argument. (Perhaps some of you have had that experience.) Not pulling any punches; calling things as she saw them.

Of course who she loved was you all, most of all. Her family: her “boys” and their families. A life that began in such difficult circumstances, with instability—and from that she built a family. With hard work and all her energy and passion. I think about the parable of Jesus, about the man who built his house not on shifting sands, but on solid rock. Wife and mother and grandmother, and with a spirit of family that then extended out to so many others.

It was interesting to me, and really touching and meaningful over the past year and these past months especially, as Lucille began to drift often away from the sense of being connected to the realities of what was going on around her, that in her mind and imagination she would talk often about how she was hoping, as she would say, “to get out of this place and go home.”

I know that was sometimes partly confusion. But it was I think more than that, and there was a sense of depth and meaning. She had spent a lifetime in love, making a home, and it seems just right that she would use that language to talk about this last turning of her life. She would talk about people from long ago as though they were in the next room, and to say that she expected them to return to her soon. She was this Baptist Catholic Methodist Presbyterian Episcopalian, and a mystic, I think, in her own way. Though maybe a little more straightforward than we usually expect mystics to be . . . . “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God. And everyone who loves is born of God, and knows God.”

The gospel reading from John 14 is appropriate at every Christian burial, but especially today: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Some of the more contemporary translations say, “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” It may be a better translation of the Greek, but I’m going to stick with mansions, if it’s all the same to you. “I go to prepare a place for you, a mansion, that where I am, there you may be also.”

Lucille knew she was headed onto the next leg of a journey that had begun so long ago, and she spoke about that always just as she would: with confidence, with expectation, with a sense of Christian hope.

It has been for me a privilege over these past few years—and more than a privilege, truly a pleasure, to know Lucille as a member of the extended parish family, and as a friend, and to come to know your family at least in a small way, and I give thanks for that. We gather to worship, and as there is a sense of sadness, of loss, of the end of an era, it is for us at the same time in that right to give thanks and praise and to know the victory of our risen Lord and Savior. Lucille sang in church choirs in her earlier years, and I’m sure she did so with the “gusto” that she did everything else, and it’s fitting that we should have this wonderful music this morning. A tribute to her, and a reminder of the song of new life that God has placed in all our hearts.

May her soul, with the souls of all the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace. May Light Perpetual shine upon her.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Second Advent, 2008

Sanzio Raffaello
The Prophet Isaiah , 1511-12

December 7, 2008 II Advent
(RCL, Year B) Isaiah 40: 1-11; 2 Peter 3: 8-15; Mark 1: 1-8

At we looked at these lessons at Bible Study this past Wednesday morning Beth Middleton commented that for those of us who know and love the great music of Georg Frederic Handel’s “Messiah” it’s almost impossible to read the first words of the 40th Chapter of Isaiah without beginning to sing. “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people.” I asked Melanie to print the reading this week in the King James Version. One of those passages of scripture so deeply ingrained in our Biblical and cultural heritage and memory.

The Prophet as we open the second part of Isaiah is speaking to this community of exiles, still under the dark cloud of their defeat and degradation, scattered in refugee camps and urban slums in what would be modern Iraq and Syria and Egypt and Iran, decades later, holding on in spite of every setback, the memory of their city in ruins, their homes ransacked and burned by the marauding infantry of the Babylonian Emperor, their sons cut down in the flower of their youth and vigor, a field of bones and death around the perimeter of the city, their daughters taken to be sold as slaves, the priests massacred where they stood in the Holy Place, the ancient Temple defiled and ransacked, the King, God’s anointed, the Son of David, led away in chains. An ocean sweeps over them of humiliation and loss.

The battered survivors scattered, lives continuing somehow. 2,500 years before the diagnostic manual would provide a clinical definition, but a universe of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. One foot in front of the other. One day at a time. And the years pass, and the decades. The old die, children are born, stories told, fading memories passed from one generation to the next.

And then in the far distant world of international geo-politics, the empire of Babylon is overrun by the empire of Persia, and a new, powerful Shah of Iran, Cyrus, begins his strategy of approach to the ancient enemy of Egypt by tearing down the colonial structures of the Babylonians and Assyrians and re-establishing a system of client-states across the fertile crescent. And the word goes out, to the refugees and conquered peoples of so many lands: the way is cleared, permission is given, and we may return home.

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it. He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young. Comfort ye my people.

It is a second Exodus, a second Wilderness, and now a second crossing of the Jordan, and healing, and reconciliation, and restoration, and new life. The Land of Promise, of Milk and Honey, the place of Covenant, and fulfillment.

For us it is the song and story and theme of Advent. John the Baptist, in these Sundays, speaking into our dislocation, our exile, our brokenness: “the voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, prepare ye the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, every mountain and hill made low, the crooked ways straight, the rough places plain, and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed.”

And as in this wonderful passage from II Peter, according to his promise, we look for new heavens and a new earth. If it were only a story about a baby born and laid in a manger, and angels singing and shepherd’s worshiping, all that long time ago, what would it matter? But it is a story not of the past, but of the future, of our future, God’s best hope and all his love given to us in Christ, in the manger and on the Cross and in our hearts and our minds and our lives. Where Jesus is to be born, in us, and to make in us a new heaven and a new earth and a new hope. Promised land. New Jerusalem. Healing, forgiveness, restoration and return, his grace and love. Christmas.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Anglican News

Cartoon by Dave Walker at Cartoon Church.Com


Many will have seen news reports over the past few days about developments affecting those from our diocese who departed from the Episcopal Church and "realigned" their sense of affiliation with the Anglican Church of the Southern Cone--and I've received a few phone calls and e-mails asking about what is going on. The story was in the New York Times: Times Story December 4

And for those who would like to see a more extensive compilation of press coverage, I'd refer you to a piece on the "blog" site of my friend Jim Simons: Three Rivers Episcopal Blog.

In a sense, simply, this news doesn't have anything directly to do with us at St. Andrew's, or with those others of the 25 or so parishes of our diocese who have determined to remain within the Episcopal Church. We will be participating in a Convention on December 13 to complete some of the needed reorganization of our diocese after the division that took place on October 4, and in so very many ways indeed that process of reorganization continues with a sense of health and good spirits and a faithfulness in Christian life and mission. While there is much to be sorted out in the practicalities of institutional life, two roads have diverged.

Nonetheless, we have all been one community and one diocese with one another since 1867 at least, and thus our sense of relationship and interest doesn't necessarily disappear overnight. For many of us this is a story that concerns old friends, colleagues, family members.

While I and we here at St. Andrew's have been clear in our discernment that God has called us to continue in faithful ministry within the Episcopal Church, we can offer our prayers as well for these friends, asking God to bless their ministry during the months and years ahead in a way that will honor Christ and bear the good fruit of the Spirit in their lives as well, as Paul in Galatians 5: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control."

All best,

Bruce Robison