Sunday, December 27, 2009

First after Christmas Day, 2009

John 1: 1-18

As we come to the end, we arrive at the beginning.

If that sounds a bit like T.S. Eliot, perhaps he’s echoing in my mind as we sail along in this early Western Pennsylvania winter. Still bathed as we all are in the soft glow and memories of the Feast of the Nativity. The Third Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me—three French Hens? That’s easy. I tend to lose track later in the song.

The First Sunday after Christmas for us always as well the last Sunday of the calendar year. The Sunday Next before New Year’s Day, the turning of the calendar page, making of resolutions, starting off with a clean slate. Don’t know how you’d assess your 2009. For me it had some up’s and some down’s, but on the whole I’d say it’s not particularly a year I’d want to repeat, if I had that choice on the menu.

If our Church Calendar is just beginning, Advent behind us now, then a bit more than a week of formal Christmastide still to go. Officially Christmas lasts up to or through January Sixth, the Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally associated with the arrival of the Magi. Sundown on the 5th marking the 12th Night, and then at sundown on the 6th we move into a green season called “After Epiphany.” Our Roman Catholic friends just call it “Ordinary Time.” Though in a more informal way I tend to count Christmastide through Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. So 40 days.

But the point: Advent and Christmas just the beginning of the new year, as we in the wider world of our lives are just watching the old one come to an end. As we come to the end, we arrive at the beginning. Time marches on, of course. No replay features on the remote. But there is at the same time this circularity. The calendar of our lives a both/and kind of thing. A straight line, a vector, a ray, sending us forward, and a wheel, bringing us around again, time and time again, to the place where we started.

The Gospel for the last Sunday of the year: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “

A character of William Faulkner’s says, “the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” True in so many ways of course. Thinking about all those misbehaving ballplayers and politicians and all the rest who hold their press conferences to announce that they’re “putting the past behind” them. And I suppose we all play that game to some extent. As they say in the 12-Step movement, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” It is of course a deep and wide river running through the center of all our lives in so many ways.

In theological language the miracle of Incarnation and the Birth at Bethlehem is a beginning that inaugurates a new season of the universe, the “last days.” In these Last Days, he comes to us. He who is both the foundation and the apex, the First Mover, and our Final Destination. Asleep in a Manger Bed, ruling on the Throne of Heaven from before time, and forever.

If it all seems a little poetical, that perhaps we can forgive that, at least at Christmas time. Asleep in a Manger Bed, and here on the Altar, “that he might dwell in us, and we in him.” Again, this circularity. The point on this Sunday after Christmas. That no matter how far we travel away from Bethlehem, no matter how much distance we would put between him and us, in the complexity of our lives, just look up, and there he is. Right in front of us again. And it is and will be Christmas.

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

Bruce Robison

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day, 2009

My favorite.

Christmas Eve, 2009

December 24, 2009 Christmas Eve

How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given . . . . So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

Nativity, Lorenzo Lotto, 1523

Dear friends, a word of welcome on this holy night. I know we gather from near and far, old friends and new. Grace and peace to all, expansively, wide as the universe tonight. And a prayer that the holy Word of God spoken first in that Bethlehem stable may now be spoken in our hearts and in our lives, with tenderness and gentleness, kindness, compassion, and generosity. A prayer that the Light of God that first shone that holy night may now be for us a light to bring healing and strength, clarity, and a sense of purpose and direction. In the name of Jesus, born for us all, grace and peace.

Thinking this year about how we get there. How we get to Bethlehem.

For Mary and Joseph, of course—we know the story. The census and the requirement to return to the ancestral city. The long road from Nazareth in the Galilee to Bethlehem in Judea. Many miles, and perhaps with some real danger for those on the road after sunset. And this, the last hard night. Mary beginning her labor, the effort to find a place to stay—until finally there is this simple shelter. Anxiety, and then relief. At least off the street and protected from the cold wind.

For the Shepherds, the song of the angels sends them running from the hills into the village, to see this wonderful thing. I know I go for my morning run up in Highland Park while it’s still dark most of the year, and even on pavement or on well-marked trails, and with streetlights, that can be dangerous. I’ve had a few falls over the years—a rock or a pothole, or in the winter sliding on ice. No streetlights where the shepherds were, and probably no trails, until they got nearer town. Just a mad scramble down hillsides and across meadows. Slipping, sliding, falling in a scramble, then up again, breathless. Sailing along in their excitement, in their eagerness to be a part of something more dazzling and more glorious than they had ever thought possible. “Come, let us see if what the Angel told us is true.”

I think of the Magi too. They aren’t really a part of the Christmas Eve scene, but the crèche isn’t really complete without them. Even now, this night, in their distant land, they are studying the skies. Even now they see the first light of the star. They are consulting the ancient manuscripts of prophesy, making plans, getting ready for the journey. A journey that would be not days or weeks. Many months, certainly, and perhaps years before they would see home and family again. Hundreds of miles, across ancient trade routes, over mountains, across deserts. Setting out—if not tonight, then soon, very soon. Like the shepherds, their minds racing. Their hearts full. Excitement. Wonder.

All of us, drawn here tonight. Which is kind of amazing, when you think about it. Not just because the weather forecast was a little iffy. It has been such a hard year for so many. The Great Recession, of course. Can’t think of a family that hasn’t been affected in some way. The continuation of war—families with dad or mom deployed away at Christmas, and we remember them very much tonight in our prayers with love and respect. In this long season of conflict. The struggle to deal with brokenness and polarization and social and political uneasiness. A time of so many losses. And of course in so many personal ways. Certainly here in this parish this has been a year when we’ve lost some good and much loved friends. As I know is true in many of our families also. And there is the continuing story of loss even in the life of the Church.

I’ve heard more than one person over the past month or so say that it just seems kind of hard to find the energy for Christmas this year. And who can blame them? The excitement of the shepherds, the enthusiasm of the Magi, even the humble strength and determination of Joseph and Mary. That all may feel a little abstract, a little distant this evening. We nod in the right direction, for the kids maybe. But the underlying feeling is that we need to get back to reality.

With all that, let me just say that wherever we are this evening, I have a prayer for us. Because the reality is that nobody ever gets to Bethlehem on his or her own strength. Mary had Gabriel to break the news. Joseph had his dream. The shepherds heard the angels. Gloria in excelsis Deo. Glory be to God on high. The Magi saw the star. The point is not for us to dig deep or work harder at it. The point is that we would open our eyes and our ears, our minds, our hearts, the fullness of our imaginations, and let God speak to us and reveal himself to us, just as he did to them. Whether by visions on the hillside or signs in the heavens or dreams in the night. To let him be the fuel that moves us forward, the wind that fills our sails. That moves us from the place where we are, and puts us on the road toward Bethlehem. We don’t earn our way there. We can’t force our way. For all the shopping and decorating and carol singing, Christmas is fundamentally, and at its heart, not something we make happen. Not a product of our best efforts. Rolling up our sleeves.

So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of his heaven.

The Lord Jesus is born. Two thousand years ago. In Bethlehem. And the story began. His life, his perfect words of peace and hope, his perfect kindness. Word made flesh, among us, full of grace and truth. His manger. His cross. His resurrection. The Lord Jesus is born, the baby lying there in the straw. The Blessed Mother sings him softly to sleep.

And it is for us. All for us. For our healing, for our joy. For our renewal, in this life and in the life to come. To be our hope, our present, our future. God with us, Emmanuel. At the altar tonight, God with us. In the heavens above us, God with us. In the songs of the angels, echoing around us. In our dreams. In the quiet spaces and back corners of our minds and our hearts. Where every road can take us. Grace and peace, that the holy Word of God spoken first in that Bethlehem stable may now be spoken in our hearts and in our lives, with tenderness and gentleness, kindness, compassion, and generosity. That he may be born in us, tonight, and live in us forever.

Blessings, and Merry Christmas!

Bruce Robison

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve, 2009

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 immortal,
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.)

Thursday in the Fourth Week of Advent

Jerusalem, strip off the garment of your sorrow and affliction, and put on for ever the glorious majesty that is the gift of God. Wrap about you his robe of righteousness; set on your head for diadem the splendour of the Everlasting; for God will show your radiance to every land under heaven. You shall receive from God for ever the name Righteous Peace, Godly Splendour.

~From the Fifth Chapter of Baruch

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Advent

For the grace of God has dawned upon the world with healing for all mankind; and by it we are disciplined to renounce godless ways and worldly desires, and to live a life of temperance, honesty, and godliness in the present age, looking forward to the happy fulfilment of our hope when the splendour of our great God and Saviour Christ Jesus will appear.
~From the Second Chapter of the Epistle, Paul to Titus.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Advent

Those that stand against the LORD will be terrified
when the High God thunders out of heaven.

The LORD is judge even to the ends of the earth,
he will give strength to his king
And raise high the head of his anointed prince.

From the Second Chapter of the First Book of Samuel

Monday, December 21, 2009

St. Thomas, Apostle

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Thomas, 1601

Everliving God, who didst strengthen thine apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in thy Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in thy sight; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday in the Fourth Week of Advent

The LORD your God is in your midst,
Like a warrior, to keep you safe;

He will rejoice over you and be glad;
He will show you his love once more;
He will exult over you with a shout of joy
As in days long ago.

From the Third Chapter
of the Book of the Prophet Zephaniah

Friday, December 18, 2009

Fourth Advent

At St. Andrew's this Sunday, 11 a.m.

A Children's Pageant of Christmas

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

O Lord Jesus, thou great Shepherd of the sheep: Look on these thy children; embrace them with the arms of thy mercy, pour on them the riches of thy blessing, and so fill them with thy manifold gifts of grace that they may continue thine for ever; to the honour and glory of thy name. Amen

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Third Advent

Zephaniah 3: 14-20

Again, grace and peace on this Third Advent Sunday.

I know a busy time and becoming busier in all our lives. As always in the holiday season, and this year in so many ways—as we come to the end of the old and the beginning of the new: the year of the Great Recession, as that has impacted so many lives; with two major wars; with polarized political discourse over all kinds of issues—health care, economic policy, international tensions. And of course we bring to the table the concerns of our personal lives. Work, family, health, finances, relationships.

It will certainly be true for all of us, as we sing by candle light not even two weeks from now the words of Philips Brooks’s hymn—O little town of Bethlehem. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.” What we all will bring with us that night, what we carry with us wherever we go. Our hopes and fears of all the years, as we turn onto the road toward David’s City today, on our journey to the Stable, to the Child in his Manger Bed.

Grace and peace. In the seventh century before Christ this stunning work associated with the Prophet Zephaniah, and a time of turmoil in the life of the Southern Kingdom of Judah and the great royal city of Jerusalem. A time of danger from within, social dislocation, economic distress, weak government, injustice, and a profound corruption of religious life in relationship to the God of Israel. A time of danger from without. Powerful enemies on many sides, rising foreign powers, wars and rumors of war. And from so many, I’m sure, the thought that God has abandoned us to our enemies, foreign and domestic. That we are cut off forever from the sources of our true life. That nothing lies ahead but disaster and more disaster.

And in this moment, then, Zephaniah, with this wonderful text of promise. Return to me, Israel, and there will be healing and restoration and renewal of life. Sing to me in worship, turn your minds and your hearts toward my love and my righteousness, make yourselves new in obedience to my word. And

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it. I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast. And I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you: for I will make you renowned and praised among all the peoples of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the LORD.

I’ve mentioned each of these Advent Sundays so far the four great themes of the weeks of this season: Death and Judgment, Heaven and Hell. Intended to express what I guess we would call ultimate concerns. At the end of the old year and the beginning of the new. In the approach to Christmas, to the mind-bending contemplation on the word, “You shall call his name Immanuel,” God with us. God with us. He’s got the whole world in his hands. You and me brother, you and me sister. In whom we live and move and have our being. God with us.

And perhaps old Zephaniah could look with the insight of a prophetic eye into the heart of the people all those years ago, and could anticipate that things would get worse and much worse before they would get better. Unfaithfulness at home, danger in the wide world. To foresee the collapse of his beloved city, the destruction of the Temple, the people killed or dispersed or led off in chains. Yet even with that vision, he knew to speak words of gentleness and tender love. Good news. “Sing aloud, O daughter Zion; shout, O Israel! Rejoice and exult with all your heart, O daughter Jerusalem.” Nearly 700 years before the first Christmas Eve, and already we begin to hear the skies open and the songs of angels, while shepherds watch their flocks by night.

That there might be healing and forgiveness, renewal, and hope. God’s blessing upon God’s faithful people. And at any moment, at every moment, it can be Christmas.

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

Bruce Robison

Friday, December 11, 2009


The observance of Hanukkah, the Feast of the Dedication, begins this year 2009 at sunset on December 11.

From the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration," Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil."

According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

1 Maccabees 4:36-59

Cleansing and Dedication of the Temple

Then Judas and his brothers said, ‘See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt-offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn* stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year,* they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt-offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt-offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving-offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors.There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

In the Gospel of St. John we hear a story of Jesus as he celebrated Hanukkah with a visit to the Holy City:

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.* The Father and I are one.’

A word of greeting and friendship on this day and in this season, for our Jewish neighbors here in Pittsburgh and around the world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Archdeacon Chess and II Advent

Our St. Andrew's Deacon, Archdeacon Jean Chess, was preacher on Sunday morning, December 6, 2009. Her sermon here:

Advent 2

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be all ways acceptable in your sight, oh Lord our strength and our redeemer.

As a child and even as an adult I was mystified by my mother’s behavior when it snowed. She was outside every hour or so with a broom sweeping the sidewalk and driveway. I, personally, thought it was more efficient and made better sense to just wait until it was done snowing, go out with a shovel and clear it all just once.

Like many things in life, I’ve learned that my mother knew best.

I learned this, especially, in the last 13 years since I’ve had responsibility for the sidewalk in front of my house. Here’s what I’ve learned – it is no big deal to sweep away a little layer of fresh snow. It is a HUGE big deal to try and chip away the packed down snow and ice after it’s hung around for awhile and people have tromped all over it… And, in fact, sometimes it can take weeks for that really packed down snow and ice to clear…

The theme of clearing – or preparing – the way is woven throughout our readings and collect for this Sunday. In Baruch’s message to the exiled people of Israel, we hear that God has ordered the ground to be made level to enable Israel to walk safely in the glory of God. When Zechariah is finally able to speak after months of being struck mute, Zechariah proclaims that his newborn son John will grow up to “prepare the way” for the Lord. And the writer of Luke recalls the words of the prophet Isaiah “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth and all flesh shall see the salvation of God”.

I’ve been intrigued by these images of “preparing the way”. What preparation do we need to do this Advent season to enable God to enter in and be ready to welcome the newborn Jesus? Is there just a little dusting of snow that we need to sweep away? Or, perhaps, are there mountains to level and valleys to fill? Do I need to get rid of obstacles created by others? Or barriers created by myself?

But the first question might be just how clear do I really want that path to be? How close do I want God to actually get? Could it be that I’m happy to have some of those obstacles in place to keep a bit of distance – kind of a safe zone? Sometimes it’s handy to be “too busy” or “too tired” or “too stressed” - a close relationship with God, just like a close relationship with anyone else, brings obligations and insights that we may – or may not – want.

When I want comfort, I know that I want God near. When things are going along well and I’m happy with them and don’t want them to be disrupted – I’m not always sure that I want God to get too close…

I’ve struggled with these questions of God’s closeness. It’s taken me a long time to learn – and to trust - that God will, in fact, respect my oftentimes deeply ambivalent wishes when it comes to closeness. That also means that I really do want to path to be clear because there are many times when I want God to come close – with no obstacles in the way. The other times, when I’m not so sure, I know that God will stop – clear path or not – and wait until I issue a further invitation.
So how do we “clear the path” this Advent?

Well, just like with a snowy sidewalk, it’s good to get into a habit of regular sweeping. Regular prayer, regular scripture reading, attendance at church, giving of our time, our treasure and our talent… all of these are ways to keep the path clear.

Advent is a great time to try out some new practices too and there’s still enough time left this Advent to try something new. One concrete action could be to purchase something for the food bank each we time shop or perhaps each time we go to a holiday party. Maybe you’d like to take home the bulletin and simply re-read the collect or one of the Scripture readings later this afternoon or throughout the week. I knew a family that put money into a piggy bank every time they went out for some kind of treat – like dinner or a movie – and later they decided, together, how to give away that collected money in thanksgiving for all that God had given them. All of these practices help us to sweep off the path and to be ready welcome God more fully.

The other option for clearing the path is to not “do” anything but rather to invite God to come a little nearer and just “be” together for awhile. The light and warmth of God’s presence will, over time, melt down those hard icy obstacles that are too much for us to wrestle away on our own.

The season of Advent gifts us with a chance to pay attention and to practice and to prepare. Each one of us will, in this life, have both great joys and profound tragedies. In the midst of such a high or a low it is good to be able to rely on the tried and true and practiced – and to have a clear path in case we do want to invite God closer…

“Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled and every mountain and hill shall be brought low, and the crooked shall be made straight and the rough ways shall made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” Amen.

Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona, December 7, 1941

Just a word this morning, on the 68th anniversary of the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor.

In memory of those who died that day and in the days and years that followed, with thanksgiving and prayers today for all who served in the Second World War, and for those who continue to serve in the uniform of our country in Iraq and Afghanistan and all around the world.

The Park Service has a great photo side on Pearl Harbor:

Click Here.

This morning's news story in the Post-Gazette.

And, finally, a poem for the day. . . .

Decoration Day

--Henry Wadsworth Lonqfellow (1807 - 1882)

Sleep,comrades, sleep and rest
On this Field of the Grounded Arms,
Where foes no more molest,
Nor sentrys shot alarms!

Ye have slept on the ground before,
And started to your feet
At the cannons sudden roar,
Or the drums redoubling beat.

But in this camp of Death
No sound your slumber breaks;
Here is no fevered breath,
No wound that bleeds and aches.

All is repose and peace,
untrampled lies the sod;
The shouts of battle cease,
It is the Truce of God!

Rest, comrades, rest and sleep!
The thoughts of men shall be
As sentinels to keep
Your rest from danger free.

Your silent tents of green
We deck with fragrant flowers
Yours has the suffering been,
The memory shall be ours.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


In Drear-Nighted December
--John Keats, 1795-1821

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy tree,
Thy branches ne'er remember
Their green felicity:
The north cannot undo them
With a sleety whistle through them;
Nor frozen thawings glue them
From budding at the prime.

In drear-nighted December,
Too happy, happy brook,
Thy bubblings ne'er remember
Apollo's summer look;
But with a sweet forgetting,
They stay their crystal fretting,
Never, never petting
About the frozen time.

Ah! would 'twere so with many
A gentle girl and boy!
But were there ever any
Writhed not at passed joy?
The feel of not to feel it,
When there is none to heal it
Nor numbed sense to steel it,
Was never said in rhyme.

Monday, November 30, 2009

St. Andrew the Apostle

Patron of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

(Greek: Ανδρέας, Andreas), called in the Orthodox tradition Protocletos, or the First-called, is a Christian Apostle and the elder brother of Saint Peter. The name "Andrew" (from Greek : ανδρεία, manhood, or valour), like other Greek names, appears to have been common among the Jews from the second or third century B.C. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is recorded for him.

The Bible records that St Andrew was a son of Jonah, or John, (Matthew 16:17; John 1:42). He was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44). Both he and his brother Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that He will make them "fishers of men" (Greek: ἁλιείς ἀνθρώπων, halieis anthropon). At the beginning of Jesus' public life they occupied the same house at Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29).

From the Gospel of John we learn that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him and John the Evangelist to follow Jesus (John 1:35-40). Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and hastened to introduce Him to his brother(John 1:41). Thenceforth the two brothers were disciples of Christ. On a subsequent occasion, prior to the final call to the apostolate, they were called to a closer companionship, and then they left all things to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; Matthew 4:19-20; Mark 1:17-18).

Click here to read more.

ALMIGHTY God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay; Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfill thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When the Apostles went forth to preach to the Nations, Andrew seems to have taken an important part, but unfortunately we have no certainty as to the extent or place of his labours. Eusebius (Church History III.1), relying, apparently, upon Origen, assigns Scythia as his mission field: Andras de [eilechen] ten Skythian; while St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 33) mentions Epirus; St. Jerome (Ep. ad Marcell.) Achaia; and Theodoret (on Ps. cxvi) Hellas. Probably these various accounts are correct, for Nicephorus (H.E. II:39), relying upon early writers, states that Andrew preached in Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia, then in the land of the anthropophagi and the Scythian deserts, afterwards in Byzantium itself, where he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop, and finally in Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Achaia. It is generally agreed that he was crucified by order of the Roman Governor, Aegeas or Aegeates, at Patrae in Achaia, and that he was bound, not nailed, to the cross, in order to prolong his sufferings. The cross on which he suffered is commonly held to have been the decussate cross, now known as St. Andrew's, though the evidence for this view seems to be no older than the fourteenth century. His martyrdom took place during the reign of Nero, on 30 November, A.D. 60); and both the Latin and Greek Churches keep 30 November as his feast.

El Greco, St. Andrew, 1606

St. Andrew's relics were translated from Patrae to Constantinople, and deposited in the church of the Apostles there, about A.D. 357. When Constantinople was taken by the French, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, Cardinal Peter of Capua brought the relics to Italy and placed them in the cathedral of Amalfi, where most of them still remain. St. Andrew is honoured as their chief patron by Russia and Scotland.

Click here to read it all in The Catholic Encyclopedia

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Advent Sunday, 2009

First Advent (RCL C) Luke 21: 25-36

It always seems to catch me a bit by surprise, perhaps because the observance of the Thanksgiving holiday has its own themes and textures, but once again, and with much affection, I would begin this morning by wishing you a Happy New Year!

We note of course the disconnect with the secular and calendar cycle—but perhaps that’s good, as a way to allow us the enjoyment of the great patterns of the Christian year without needing to add on the festivities of Times Square and the dance music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

Auld Lang Syne, and Advent Sunday. Beginning the morning with what I always think of as the high water mark of Anglican liturgical composition, Archbishop Cranmer’s Advent Collect: Give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility. That we would set out into this new year of our lives and every year and every day of our lives grounded securely in the power of the Incarnation. Protected and equipped and sent forth in the bright light of the Dayspring from on High.

God in man, made manifest. Not just a midnight miracle two thousand years ago in Royal David’s City and the Bethlehem Manger, but a continuing and sustaining miracle and reality of our lives. The meaning of this day, Advent Sunday, and the hope that shapes our future.

In the three-year cycle of our lectionary we move from Year B, with readings mostly from St. Mark, and into Year C, a year in which our gospel readings will be drawn primarily from St. Luke. In some ways the most literary and sophisticated of the gospels—as we will enjoy especially in the first months with the wonderful nativity stories and poetic highlights like Zechariah’s Benedictus and Mary’s Magnificat and Simeon’s Nunc Dimittis--and certainly the story of Bethlehem and Shepherds and Angels and the Newborn in the Manger.

And so we begin this morning, with this reading from the 21st Chapter of Luke. And I know that for those who aren’t familiar with the thematic pattern of the Christian year and even for those of us who are, it seems a little surprising to begin a new year with a passage like this. Not the beginning of the story, but the end. The signs of the Great Conclusion, the Second Coming of the Son of Man, the “passing away” of what is now for us both heaven and earth. The Great Reboot.

We have the wonderful pattern of our Advent Wreath, with the lovely Candles. But from ancient times the weeks of this season have been defined not by the tender unfolding of the Christmas story, but instead by what are called traditionally the “Four Last Things”—Death, Judgment, Heaven, and Hell. Certainly the outline of a preaching series guaranteed to excite the holiday spirit! Sleigh bells and snowflakes.

In any case, a point of pretty dramatic contrast and tension in our lives as Christians during this season, with the word from St. Paul in the 12th chapter of Romans perhaps always churning away in us. “And be not conformed to this world.”

The point not to be a Scrooge, with a “Bah, Humbug” to the festivities of this time of year. (Christmas lights and trees already in place in our house, actually.) But at the same time, not to be swept up and away in a cloud of intoxication and denial. The old National Council of Churches used to have billboards calling us to remember “the Reason for the Season.” But that’s the word not just for this month between Thanksgiving and Christmas Morning. As they say in the 12 Step movement: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Again from Romans 12: “And be not conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Not to say that this grand vision of the sweeping power of God in the restoration of all creation, the shaking of heaven and earth to the foundations as Jesus comes again with power and great glory, is intended to keep us either from the simple beauty of the Christmas story or from the customs and traditions that are meaningful to us in the celebration of the season. Good Christian friends, rejoice and sing, now is the triumph of our King. That’s Easter, but again: getting past the superficialities to the heart of things. The “Reason for the Season.”

But for us under all that and around all that and above all that to remember what the point of the story is, the ground and foundation of the joy of this season, which is the great promise of transformation and renewal, life eternal, and new creation.

What is he doing in our lives today? The good thing above all good things that God intends to do, that God is doing right now, in our midst, in the mystery of Christ’s body. Born in Bethlehem, crucified on Good Friday, raised up at Easter, living with us and in us. All one sacred moment. We breathe it in and breathe it out. On his calendar, not ours. The food and drink of the banquet table of the kingdom. The Bread of our Life, the Cup of our Salvation.

We see the leaves on the trees and we know that summer is near. We hold out our hands to receive the gift. We open the eyes of our hearts, the eyes of our faith, and we know that he is near. Come, thou long expected Jesus.

Blessings, and the joy and peace and all best of this season, and, again—Happy New Year!

Bruce Robison

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Day

Almighty and gracious Father, we give thee thanks for the fruits of the earth in their season and for the labors of those who harvest them. Make us, we beseech thee, faithful stewards of thy great bounty, for the provision of our necessities and the relief of all who are in need, to the glory of thy Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Eve of Thanksgiving Day, 2009

Besides the traditional meal and for many the watching of too much football, what’s this holiday about?

Thinking about the great themes of the harvest, the invitation in this moment, in whatever state of life we find ourselves, is to remember the one from whom all blessings flow, and the invitation, certainly as we hear in our collect and in the reading from James, to reflect on our stewardship.

The stewardship of God’s abundance, as we recognize that abundance in our own lives and in the world around us. Not only about material abundance, of course, but the gift that we have of life, of creativity, of the potential of relationships. Jesus in Luke says, “from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected,” and that’s not just a word for the most wealthy and the most powerful. It is for all of us. Wealthy or poor or stumbling around in the middle. Vibrant with health or struggling with limitations. Rich in family or friendships, or living mostly on our own. However we mark this day of Thanksgiving, and whatever our circumstance, we need to hear this word: “much will be expected.”

And where, good Christian people, do we begin with that? Not to say a word about the potential for unhealthy guilt, to feel it as a weight on our shoulders. But--certainly instead about abundant opportunities for compassionate outreach, which is one way to think about stewardship. And that very often, and I think very appropriately, will take a material form-- about what any of us might be able to do in sharing of ourselves with others, and especially with those in need. To think of our in-gathering here this evening for the Food Pantry as a sign, a symbol of something we seek to be about in so many ways as a congregation and as individuals.

But to me, as I come to this holiday, and to a question about what Christian stewardship is about, I return to what we call the day on the calendar, Thanksgiving, and to see it in this context at the deepest level about what I guess we would call attitude. Inner orientation. A sense of a generosity first and foremost, as a generosity of the heart, a generosity of spirit.

Where there is an abundance of care, of love. The foundation of Christian stewardship, the self-giving love of Jesus, the meaning of the cross, and because he loved us, because he loves us, there is this stirring of affection and compassion in us as well. Our Roman Catholic friends have a devotion to what is called the Sacred Heart, the Sacred Heart of Jesus—and there is a deep truth there not just about him but about us as well. Love calls out to love. In Greek, of course, the word we translate as “thanksgiving,” is eucharist.

In this, I found myself this week looking again and listening again to the words of the Psalm appointed for this service, Psalm 65, printed in our service leaflets, and especially just to listen to the singer of the song, praising God, filled with God’s love to an overflowing abundance, as then in these final verses:

“May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,* and the hills be clothed with joy. / May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valley cloak themselves with grain;* let them shout for joy and sing.”

I just think this is really nice. Reaching deep down into what we would call the Royal Priesthood, our character, each, one of us, as mediators, channels, charismatic spirit-filled doorways of the divine presence, avenues, communicators not just in words but in the substance of our lives, of God’s care and interest and love. And to be most of all, every day and in every moment of our lives, about the expression of God’s abundant blessing.

I say blessings in formal ways at the ends of services, at baptisms and marriages, often at the bedside in a hospital room, when an infant or young child is brought to the communion rail. But that’s just a reminder of what we can all be about. I’ve blessed seeds out in farm country on Rogation days and boats and homes and youth group mission trips and dogs, and cats, and hamsters, and birds, and lizards and iguanas on St. Francis’ Day. We can all do that. What the priest does in this iconic and sacramental way, that’s what we’re all about. What a mom or dad does in placing a hand on the head of a child at bedtime, what a child does in reciting a grace before a meal. What we do all of us in our prayers, in church and in every corner of our lives. The deep stewardship of God’s blessing. Uncovering the holiness of the origin in God of all things. Revealing it, announcing it.

May the fields be rich for grazing, the hills clothed with joy. Bless the earth, everything on the earth, all that will live and breathe, that ever was and ever will be, rocks and wind, ocean and mountain. Families and friends, neighbors, the goodness of God reaching out in love to every human heart, reaching out in love to the whole creation. May the meadows cover themselves with flocks and the valleys be dressed in grain, let them shout for joy and sing.

Happy Thanksgiving, and blessings.

Bruce Robison

Monday, November 23, 2009

November 24, 2009

Burial Office
Margaret Kirk Stone
November 17, 1928 – November 18, 2009

Click here for newspaper obituary.

First of all, I would say simply a word of welcome to all, in this gathering of family and friends, and especially with a word of care and sympathy and affection to you Susan and Peggy, and your families, as we offer our prayers for Margaret this morning and commend her to God’s love and care. 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 then as visiting I know we will all continue today and in the days ahead, will be a meaningful and loving time for you as you come together.

Certainly this gathering today is a testimony in so many ways to Margaret’s influence and presence in all our lives, and this morning we would hear a word from scripture about hope, about the sustaining hand of God, as we are all in his hand, and as she now is embraced and carried home with the promise of new life in Christ, and life eternal.

She had just the day before turned 81. Of the generation coming of age in the Great Depression and during the War, and through the greater part of this past century. A life of rich texture, as for all of us, with mountaintops and valleys, accomplishments, friendships, deep relationships of care--I know so many dear friends for years at Calvary Church, and then for the last dozen years or so here at St. Andrew’s.

I knew her always as a woman of great dignity, grace, and I would say courage. She could see right to the heart of things, and although she was very often a person with a sense of reserve and restraint, she could speak as well with both intelligence and a mature wisdom—and with what could be a quiet but very sharp and pointed sense of humor as well. A woman of deep Christian faith and sustaining commitment throughout her life.

As we talked in preparation for this service, we had before us two requests that Margaret had herself handed on: the Laudate Dominum of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and the hymn we’ll sing a bit later in the service, I sing a song of the saints of God. Musically very different, but both seem just right to me as we offer our prayers and thanksgiving this morning.

The text of the Laudate Dominum is Psalm 117: Two simple verses: O Praise the LORD, all ye nations; praise him, all ye peoples. / For his merciful kindness is ever more and more toward us; and the truth of the LORD endureth for ever. Praise the LORD.

And to me these words summarize the call of all Christian people, to have at the heart of our lives an attentiveness to the glorious presence and power of God—an almighty power, and this is so important, an almighty power, strength, to be known in us and among us always as “merciful kindness.” That is the nature and character of the loving Father, who meets us and sustains us, corrects and guides us all our life long, and into whose arms we commend Margaret today.

The other text, from “I sing a song,” which we will all sing together, is this fun and energetic and even humorous hymn, written to be sung for and by children and yet for us all as well, a celebration of all God’s people, his saints, those who have gone before us, those we share our lives with today, those who will come after us, redeemed and renewed in Christ. Famous heroes of faith, and those whose names are known to God alone. And I love and always smile with the last part of the concluding stanza: “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.” The sermon and message Margaret preaches for us this morning. A part of her legacy.

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. And framed for us then in this wonderful and familiar 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.

A mansion is a home of expansive and generous elegance, where every need is provided for, a place of grace and grandeur. Which is what the destiny is that God has in mind for us. Which is the eternal life that Margaret is to enjoy. No ordinary life. An eternal life of abundance, and joy, and peace, and fulfillment. To be with Christ, her Lord and Savior, who said and says to us all, from generation to generation, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, November 22, 2009

St. Andrew: Patronal Festival, 2009

Feast of St. Andrew
Matthew 4: 18-22

Grace to you and peace, indeed, friends, and again a warm word of welcome, as we are assembled today to celebrate in St. Andrew’s Church, Pittsburgh, for what I believe is now the 173rd time, the feast day of our Patron Saint.

I’m not sure our friends of the Syria Highlanders were able to join us for that first celebration, back in November of 1837, but certainly for a number of years now it has been a wonderful blessing to have them with us. I would say again to you, thank you, and that it is as always an added way to enjoy this day to know that in sponsoring the bagpipes and drums we are as well sharing in a contribution to the very meaningful charitable work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for children. A double blessing. And so a welcome to all, and it will be fun to enjoy the festive St. Andrew’s Day reception in Brooks Hall after the service.

The word that leaps out from the reading of the gospel lesson from St. Matthew is the word immediately. Immediately.

Jesus comes, Jesus calls, and immediately, seemingly without even a moment of reflection or indecision—immediately they leave their boats, their nets, their homes and families, work, friends, the lives that they have lived day-in, day-out. Immediately they turn, and follow him.

There is of course a lot we don’t know about the background to the story. How much did these four know about Jesus before this moment of invitation and call? Had they seen him and heard him, perhaps with other followers of John the Baptist? Had they spoken with him before? Had there been days and months of inner reflection and prayerful discernment? Or was this more a bolt out of the blue? A moment of sudden, clarifying discovery. Love at first sight.

What we do know of course, and what they don’t know, and couldn’t have known, is what will follow from this day by the seashore, this turning point moment. The high moments and the hard moments. Cheering crowds, miracles, healings; controversy, rejection, isolation. How one day they would be with him at the top of Mount Tabor, have their eyes and minds and hearts filled with the vision of Jesus transfigured, a moment of meeting between heaven and earth. And how another day soon after, from a distance, they would see him climb another hill, alone, stumbling under the weight of the cross, bearing the burden of all the world’s sin.

What they couldn’t have known: the highs and the lows, victories and defeats, laughter and tears. Good Friday, or after, the disorienting news of Easter, and the new life of Pentecost. By the shore that afternoon, all a story yet to be told. A pregnant moment.

But there is no holding back, anyway. No matter what did or did not come before in each of their lives. Whatever conflicts may have needed to be resolved. He speaks—and they drop their nets, step from their boats out onto the road, and join him on the way.

And this morning of course we notice of the four especially our Andrew. Who would be soon the one who in gospel story after gospel story seems to have this special gift and role of making connections. Of bringing others to meet Jesus. A ministry of introduction which moves out from the gospel stories into the vague memories of years long after Easter, and a missionary life that carried him far from home, spreading the good news—and of course a missionary life that led him in the end to the honor of a death like that of our Lord’s own death, the death of the cross.

With what enthusiasm, energy, excitement they set forth, this morning. An urgency. Immediately they leave their nets, their boats, and follow him.

Blessed Andrew, pray with us that our hearts might be filled as your heart was filled with the love of Jesus. Pray with us that we might hear his voice as you heard his voice. That we might be stirred with energy and enthusiasm and excitement. It’s all a wild risk, for us as it was for you. None of us with any idea where this road may take us day after day, in the unfolding adventures and challenges of our lives.

As we carry in our time and the places of our lives the identity and honor and responsibility of the titles that were yours: friends of Jesus, apostles, evangelists, ambassadors of the Kingdom. But to know as you knew that to sit with him at the Banquet Table will be both our beginning and our ending, our setting out and our coming home. The Bread of our Life, the Cup of our Healing. Pray with us that our hearts might be filled, that we might hear his voice, and that we might know day by day the grace and courage to get up and to follow him. Immediately. Amen.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Big Game Day, 2009

Scroll to the end of this entry for a Joyful Postscript!

Cal Bears roll down to the Farm to play Stanford today--

the 112th Big Game!

Susy ('79) and I ('75, '79) will be getting together with other Cal Alums this evening to watch. It's been a rocky season for the Blue and Gold this year, and Stanford has played well, but for this game, you just never can tell . . . .

Let's Go, Bears!

For the Glorious Big Game Story, Click Here!

Friday, November 20, 2009

A Reminder

The custom at St. Andrew's Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, is to observe our patronal festival on the Sunday before the Thanksgiving holiday.

This year, Sunday, November 22, the bagpipes and drums of the Syria Highlanders will begin the festivities at about 10:40 a.m. in the Churchyard. Service at 11 a.m. and Gala Reception following.

All welcome! 5801 Hampton Street, in the East End Pittsburgh neighborhood of Highland Park.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Twenty-Fourth after Pentecost, 2009

Mark 13: 1-8 (RCL Proper 27B)

Well—the nights are getting longer for sure, and, while this has been a mild weekend, more and more often when I head out for my early morning run I see that the windshields of the cars parked along the street are frosted over. The last green leaves of summer have turned and mostly found their way in this neighborhood anyway into a zillion home depot yard bags--or have been swept, illegally, into huge mounds in the street. It’s not even Thanksgiving yet, but the advertising flyers in the newspaper are already announcing discounted holiday ornaments. And of course Bing Crosby and Frosty the Snowman are once again playing along in the background in just about every store and supermarket.

In the Church calendar we still have some way to go, and an important and meaningful journey, from where we are now to the midnight streets of Bethlehem and the Manger Bed that is his first earthly throne—but here in what we used to call the last weeks of Trinitytide, now the season of ordinary time “after Pentecost,” it is in any case beginning to feel a lot like Advent.

The collect last Sunday, Proper 26 in the way the Prayer Book numbers them, we might have noticed addressed God “whose blessed Son was manifested to destroy the works of the devil,” and looked to the day when he shall “appear again with power and great glory.” Certainly images right at the heart of Advent. And I would mention that the collect for this morning was from 1549 until the revision of the American Prayer Book in 1979 the Collect for the Second Advent Sunday: the anticipation of the Incarnate Word connected then to the continuing and living presence with us of God’s Word Written in Holy Scripture.

The Old Testament readings over the past few weeks as well from Ruth would evoke for us as well the background memories of the Christmas story—the great grandmother of David, and so along this branch of the family tree of David’s Greater Son. Hannah this morning, mother of Samuel, also a part of the David story, since it is Samuel who blesses David with oil and sets him apart as the “anointed one,” which is the meaning of Messiah. And the Song of Hannah, at the beginning of Chapter 2 of First Samuel, what Mary must have had in mind when she sang her first Magnificat after her meeting with the Angel Gabriel, which is why I made the special request for the Stanford in C in place of the psalm.

Hannah’s song in First Samuel 2 begins, “My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD.” And then continues, “The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes . . . . The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalt the power of his anointed.”

So again, the last weeks of Trinity, the “ordinary time” after Pentecost, but with all the wonder of the story we are about to share again in so many ways beginning to unfold up ahead. It won’t be long now.

All that said, and before us this morning the 13th chapter of St. Mark. This story as well working its way to the end. It’s already Holy Week, and the authorities are getting more and more anxious about Jesus, tension is in the air, and you won’t need to be the Amazing Kreskin with a crystal ball to see that Old Rugged Cross already being lifted up just outside the city wall.

And Jesus here. The disciples, some of them in the great city I’m sure for the first time in their lives, looking around at the magnificent, dazzling Temple.

A Model of the Herodian Temple

The place both of deepest piety and also now much controversy in the life of First Century Judaism. The God who met Abraham in the the city streets of metropolitan Ur of the Chaldees, up in modern day Iraq, and who wrestled with Jacob at the Jabbock on the Arabian peninsula and who called Moses from the Burning Bush in the Sinai desert and who led his people as a pillar of cloud by day and of flame by night over the Tent of Presence, now with his sacred place on Mount Zion.

Built at the heart of the Royal City in ancient days by King Solomon to be the eternal earthly home forever for the LORD God of Israel, but soon corrupted with the images of the gods of the noble women of other nations whom Solomon had brought in through his many diplomatic marriages. Corrupted over generations, and then restored by King Josiah, but then pillaged and destroyed when the Babylonians finally overran the city.

Rebuilt by Governor Nehemiah and the Priest Ezra when the Exiles returned from Babylon, but then stripped and desanctified again under the reign of Alexander the Great and his successors. Restored by the Maccabees, in a miraculous way that is the origin of the holiday of Hanukka. And then expanded as a kind of Temple-complex, with all kinds of administrative and governmental and educational and social adjuncts, just a few decades before this moment in the gospel, under Herod the Great, in his massive campaign of public works and urban renewal. And Herod of course himself a figure of heated controversy among the observant Jews of the day. A client of the occupying Romans, a king not of David’s line, was he even really Jewish?-- who had far more identification with the Hellenistic culture of the Roman Meditteranean than with the heritage of Israel.

Click here for an overview of Herod's Temple.

The Temple from the beginning.

And an interesting related story in this morning's New York Times.

In Jewish literature of the era, the notion that what God’s Messiah will do when he comes first of all is replace this corrupted earthly Temple with a cleansed, and purified, and perfect Temple, to be truly the point of contact, the bridge between God’s Heavenly Kingdom and his renewed Creation.

And Jesus then this morning, in Mark 13. Yes, it’s an impressive building. Beautiful architecture, wonderful furnishings of wood and brass and gold. The place of the finest music and liturgy, the dazzling priests in their flowing robes.

But don’t let these outward appearances lead you astray. This of course the same message that we have heard recently in the parables of the Wealthy Benefactor and the Widow’s Mite . . . in the comments about the religious leaders who dress the part and say the right words, but whose lives and whose hearts are unconverted. In Matthew 23 he calls them “whitewashed sepulchers.” Beautiful on the outside, but corruption and death on the inside.

And here then: “There will not be one stone upon another, that will not be thrown down.” Some have talked about this as a kind of future prediction or prophesy of the destruction that will happen in the Roman military action in Jerusalem in the year A.D. 70. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here. People put this building up, and then knock it down, and then build it again. And so it will be until God acts, once and for all. So it will be until this age passes away, and the new age is born.

The great vision of St. John the Divine in the 21st Chapter of the Revelation: “And I saw the Holy City, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.’”

Which is of course what is happening now. Right now.

Which is what Jesus is saying to his disciples. Life goes on: wars and rumors of wars, earthquake and famine, seasons of prosperity and seasons of deprivation. All around us.

But we are like people standing over the point of the Continental Divide, one foot in each watershed. In the past, and yet even now striding into the future. At the Table this morning, in this great mystery: to be refreshed by the Banquet of the New Age of God’s Kingdom, the Bread of Heaven and Cup of Salvation; to know his Body as the Perfect Temple, and to be incorporated ourselves into his Body, to become ourselves the stones and building blocks of God’s Perfect Home.

Which is all Advent, all Christmas, all Good Friday, all Easter, all together. The old year is indeed coming to an end. The nights are longer. The early morning chill. And the New Year, the new year is just ahead. So near we can reach out and touch it, embrace it, begin to live in it. St. Paul, First Corinthians 3: 16: "Do you not know that you are God's temple?"

Bruce Robison

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Consecration of Samuel Seabury

First American Bishop, 1784

In Aberdeen, 14 November 1784, Samuel Seabury was consecrated to the Episcopate by the Bishop and the Bishop Coadjutor of Aberdeen and the Bishop of Ross and Caithness.

He thus became part of the unbroken chain of bishops that links the Church today with the Church of the Apostles.

Click here to read it all.

The First Bishop of Connecticut

We give thee thanks, O Lord our God, for thy goodness in bestowing Upon this Church the gift of the episcopate, which we celebrate in this remembrance of the consecration of Samuel Seabury; and we pray that, joined together in unity with our bishops, and nourished by thy holy Sacraments, we may proclaim the Gospel of redemption with apostolic zeal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Friday, November 13, 2009

November 13, 2009

Burial Office
William Joseph Keane
September 29, 1934 – November 7, 2009

First of all, I would say simply a word of welcome to all, in this gathering of family and friends, and especially with a word of love and affection to you Sue, and for Paul and Maria and Evan and your families, and to Bill’s brothers and sisters and all the wider family, as we offer our prayers for Bill this morning and commend him to God’s love and care, and for granddaughters Carina and Anna—and thank you again Carina for that beautiful offering of song, for nieces and nephews, and all, wider circles of friends: 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 then as visiting I know will continue this afternoon, will be a meaningful and loving time for you as you come together. Certainly your presence today is a testimony in so many ways to Bill’s 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.

Thank you, Maria, for the stories and remembrance, which is just so very important for all of us as we put together what are a jumble of thoughts and feelings as they have come up in just these past couple of weeks as everything happened so suddenly and dramatically to lead to such an unexpected end. It is just very difficult to take the time to begin to sort in all out. All that will need to take some time, and as we have just begun with it, this morning we would hear a word from scripture about hope, about the sustaining hand of God, as we are all in his hand, and as Bill now is embraced and carried home with the promise of new life in Christ, and life eternal.

He had just turned 75, which was for me a little bit of a surprise, as I guess I hadn’t really thought about it, but somehow I think to me he seemed younger. His energy, his fitness, his clarity of mind and quickness of thought and expression. Three quarters of a century. He was born actually less than a decade after my father, in September of 1934, in the generation coming of age in the Great Depression and during the War, then for him a maturity of life through the ‘60’s. Married in ’63, then with a long and successful career, the raising of a family—and fun to hear a few of those stories, glimpses of a rich life in so many ways: sports and the outdoors and jazz and cooking and all the rest. And of course a very distinctive personality. I always say I like a man who doesn’t keep me guessing about what he thinks, and that certainly was Bill. Direct. Somebody who could cut to the chase. Yet as Maria has said in picturing him with Evan, also a man of deep and genuine tenderness.

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. The passage from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes seems exceptionally appropriate to me. A book which overall has an aversion to false pieties or superficial sentimentality. About dealing with reality the way it is, and not dressing it up to make it more socially pleasant. Things begin, and things end.

We have our beginning in this life, and our ending. To everything there is a season. And to be able to understand in our maturity the good news that God has for us, in order to make real in our lives the hope of Greater Life, we must begin not with dreams but with realities. To everything there is a season. Spring and fall, joy and sorrow, life and death. The journey of our human family, to be lived to the fullest and to be received all of it as a gift, the hard parts as well as the fun parts. To know it as a gift. And to trust that the Giver will continue to be faithful to us.

And then 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. A mansion is a home of expansive and generous elegance, where every need is provided for, a place of grace and grandeur. Which is what the destiny is that God has in mind for us. Which is the eternal life that Bill is to enjoy. No ordinary life. 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 Bill is home now—and I know Sue, after some hard days of ups and downs for you here in the hospital during these last days. Home now, in the place, the mansion indeed, our Lord has prepared for him, 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 Bill today. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. Amen.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Charles Simeon, Priest

Eternal God, who raised up Charles Simeon to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and inspire your people in service and mission: grant that we with all your Church may worship the Saviour,turn in sorrow from our sins and walk in the way of holiness;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

"The vicar of Trinity Church, Cambridge, died in October, 1782, just as Charles Simeon, now a graduate, was preparing to leave Cambridge. Simeon had often walked by the church and said to himself, 'How should I rejoice if God were to give me that church, that I might preach the Gospel there and be a herald for Him in the University.' His dream came true when the Bishop appointed him 'curate-in-charge' (being only ordained a deacon at the time). He preached his first sermon there on 10th November 1782.

The lonliness as a Christian that Simeon experienced as a college student was replaced by the active opposition of his new parishioners. The congregation did not care for Simeon's biblical preaching and would have preferred the assistant, Mr. Hammond, to become rector of the parish. They showed their displeasure toward Simeon by not attending and locking the small doors of their pews (which most churches had at the time). At times, they even locked the doors of the church to prevent Simeon from holding additional services. Simeon persevered, however, and remained rector of the parish for 54 years, gradually winning over his parishioners and making a great impact that reached well beyond Cambridge.

In April, 1831, Charles Simeon was 71 years old. He had been the rector of Trinity Church, Cambridge, England, for 49 years. He was asked one afternoon by his friend, Joseph Gurney, how he had surmounted persecution and outlasted all the great prejudice against him in his 49-year ministry. He said to Gurney, "My dear brother, we must not mind a little suffering for Christ's sake. When I am getting through a hedge, if my head and shoulders are safely through, I can bear the pricking of my legs. Let us rejoice in the remembrance that our holy Head has surmounted all His suffering and triumphed over death. Let us follow Him patiently; we shall soon be partakers of His victory" (H.C.G. Moule, Charles Simeon, London: InterVarsity, 1948, 155f.)."

Read it all here.

And read more here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Veterans Day

From the Office of the Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church

A Prayer for Veterans Day

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom; for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.

On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace

through Jesus Christ our Savior.

This prayer may be used as a congregational litany with the following responses to each stanza:

1. We thank you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

2. We thank you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

3. We than you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

4. Watch over and keep them, Blessed Savior.

5. Hear our prayer in His Name. Amen.

Compiled by the Rev. Jennifer Phillips, Vicar, St. Augustine’s Chapel, University of Rhode Island campus. Her prayers appear in supplemental liturgical materials for the Episcopal Church and in her books of prayers including “Simple Prayers for Complicated Lives.”

And I'm sure we would have in our prayers especially today Frank Buckles, a West Virginia neighbor of ours who is by all records the last surviving American veteran of the Great War--and one of the last two or three in the world. Click here for a newspaper story from a year or two ago.

With thanksgiving and continued prayers for all those in our extended St. Andrew's parish family who have served in the uniform of our country, and for those who serve now.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Annual Memorial Service

Annual Memorial Service
Forbes Road Nursing and Rehabilitation Center
November 8, 2009

I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Revelation 21: 1-4

Dear friends: Grace and peace to you, this afternoon, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. In this fall season, as we are just a few weeks from the observance of Thanksgiving and from the seasons of Advent and Christmas, we would open our hearts and our lives to receive and know the blessing and peace and comfort of our Heavenly Father.

I know we come from many different backgrounds and traditions of faith and life. But we would stand in the mystery of God’s deep and generous love today. To know that above and beyond all our differences, all the limitations of our human efforts to see and know and understand his way, the God who creates us and sustains us will seek us out to meet us where we are today, as we seek his pardon and his love and as we commend those whom we have loved but see no longer in this earthly life to his gracious and abundant and eternal love. May this time of remembrance and memorial indeed be a time of the opening of our hearts to him, as we commend as friends and members of this community here at Forbes, as our mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers, sisters and brothers, sons and daughters, to the arms of his mercy, and with a sure confidence in his care, and with a reasonable and holy hope of eternal life shared with those whom we have loved.

Last Sunday in our church as we observed and celebrated All Saints Day we sang as our opening hymn one that begins, “For all the saints, who from their labors rest, who thee by faith before the world confessed, thy name, O Jesus, be forever blessed. Alleluia.” And my favorite stanza of that hymn: “But lo! there breaks a yet more glorious day; the saints triumphant rise in bright array; the King of glory passes on his way. Alleluia, alleluia.” And we would have that word in our thoughts this afternoon: triumph—the “saints triumphant.” And we would know and trust that in all that we bring to time of memory, all the memories, feelings, experiences of the past—that what we are most to be about today is the celebration of a great victory. A victory that was accomplished at the Cross of our Savior and that moves out like the ripples when a stone is dropped in a pond, in wider and wider circles into every corner of the world and into every faithful life.

In the 14th chapter of St. John’s gospel Jesus tells his disciples, “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.”

And what a great word that is—assurance and promise. You know, in some more contemporary translation of the Bible this passage has Jesus say, “in my Father’s house are many rooms.” And maybe for a translator that makes some sense. But for me, and in the imagination of our hearts together this afternoon, let us choose the old word, and to hear the truth in that.

“In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Because I know deep down that that is what he has in mind for us. What he has had in mind for us from the moment he first knew us, each one of us, even before we were in our mother’s womb. A mansion is something more than ordinary. A residence of elegance and abundance and spaciousness, rich in every appointment. A place of wonder and grandeur. And that is what he has in mind for us. Certainly our resurrection life in God’s coming kingdom is beyond our imagining right now. But if we can picture this, we won’t be far wrong: that he has prepared for us a home above and beyond any home we have ever seen. More wonderful than anything we can imagine.

The readings from scripture are certainly rich in words of expectation for us today. “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first; then we who are alive, who are left, shall be caught up together”—picture this!—“shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air; and so we shall always be with the Lord.”

This great reunion, with one another, with Christ. Not just for an hour or a day, but for an eternity. When sorrow and tears will have come to an end. Pain and suffering. The brokenness of illness and age. I don’t know how to picture it exactly, but this is all about joy and laughter, health and abundance. Think of how Adam and Eve must have felt in their first hours in the Garden, before the great tragedy of sin entered the picture. The world and all life an eternity of delight. That’s what God has in mind for us: that we will live with him in mansions of glory.

And one of my favorite images and passages in all of the Bible, in the Revelation to St. John, the 21st chapter: “And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband; and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

We come here this afternoon I know with many feelings, thoughts, and memories. Some warm and tender—and I know some that might not always be so much in those categories. Remembering also the hardness of life in this world. The challenges. Dreams unrealized. Remembering all the ways, and this is so true for each one of us—all the ways we have fallen short of what we would hope for in ourselves. Things we wish we had said and done. Things we wish we hadn’t said, hadn’t done. Remembering is not any easy task.

But to remember here, for our loved ones and for us, the great concluding line, “the former things have passed away.” All is forgiven. All is understood. No recrimination. No hurt. The Shepherd has gone out to find the sheep, and to return again rejoicing.

Would you bow your heads with me in prayer.

Dear Friends: It was our Lord Jesus himself who said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Let us pray then for those whom we remember today, that they may rest from their labors, and enter into the light of God’s eternal Sabbath rest.

The golden evening brightens in the west; soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest; sweet is the calm of paradise the blest. Alleluia. Alleluia.

O Almighty God, the God of the spirits of all flesh, who by a voice from heaven didst proclaim, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord: Multiply, we beseech thee, to those who rest in Jesus the manifold blessings of thy love, that the good work which thou didst begin in them may be made perfect unto the day of Jesus Christ. And of thy mercy, O heavenly Father, grant that we, who now serve thee on earth, may at last, together with them, be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light; for the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Bruce Robison

Twenty-Third after Pentecost, 2009

(RCL 27B) Ruth 3: 1-5; 4: 13-17; Mark 12: 38-44

I don’t think there’s a more beautiful story in the Bible than the story of Ruth.

Boaz and Ruth, Gustav Dore, 1865

We begin with Naomi, who with her husband moves to a distant foreign land for business. They have two sons, who grow and are married to young women of that country. In time, many years pass, and a disaster strikes. The business is wiped out, and in short order Naomi’s husband and both her two sons die. Now a tragically impoverished widow, Naomi resolves to return to the land of her ancestors, perhaps to throw herself upon the charity of her distant relatives, if any of them still remember her. She tells her two daughters-in-law to go back to their families—and the first does, though with tears of sorrow. But the second, Ruth, says no. This astonishing act of personal loyalty and commitment, cutting against all the social norms and expectations of the day. “Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God.” Just breathtaking.

And so the two return together, without resources, connections, hope of any kind. Two women alone—what a risk: in that society the most profound vulnerability imaginable, destined almost certainly for a life of poverty, begging in the streets, prostitution. Survival itself an issue.

All a dramatic story, as we missed the first part with our observance of All Saints Day last Sunday, but of course I’d encourage you to go home and read it on your own. And in any case with that summary, this week coming to the comedic happy ending as we’ve heard read this morning. The result of Ruth’s faithfulness, a new beginning.

What seemed a story that could only be a progression from darkness into deeper darkness is suddenly a story of life and hope and joy, restoration, redemption, transformation, and renewal. And of course as we would know at the end of the story, that Ruth and her kind and generous new husband Boaz are to be the great-grandparents of King David, and so, also, we would know this morning, ancestors of David’s greater son, Jesus. What a story for the family tree!

And the moral of the story is that this is a young girl who had nothing going for her. A foreigner! And that was perhaps the editorial edge intended by the storyteller, as the story of Ruth is written in the context of Israel after the exile, when a deep theological anxiety about gentiles and intermarriage was sweeping through the returning Jewish community.

Here Ruth: a gentile indeed. No wealth, power, position, prestige. No diploma on the wall. No bank account. No father to be sure she would be treated with dignity and to provide a dowry so that she could be married to a respectable man. All she had going for her—all she had going for her, was the goodness of her heart. Her faithfulness. Her love.

And the good news of the story, the message for us, is that that turns out to be enough, and more than enough. In fact the only thing that would really count. The only treasure that would open the heart of Boaz.

Ruth makes herself entirely vulnerable, first in following Naomi, and then in following Naomi’s instructions and lying down at the feet of Boaz. Without resources, without defense. And in that vulnerability, it is her goodness and love, the purity of her heart and her intention, that end the long night of suffering and will make possible the dawning of a new day.

In the same way that all the intention of God for the healing of creation and the renewal of life will hinge on the answer that young Mary will one day give to the Angel Gabriel. It’s up to her to decide, yes or no. So here, it all depends on Ruth, willing to risk everything to follow the direction that God is whispering in her heart. She is free to choose, and she chooses the way not of safety and security, but the way of love.

I guess that’s all connected, the story of Ruth, with the parable of the Widow’s Mite in the reading from Mark. The Pharisees in their flowing robes make a great show of their religiosity, but in truth they put nothing at risk. We might say, they only put at risk their “discretionary income.”

But the Widow—she just puts it all out there. What she has, she gives. And whatever might happen next—well, that will be up to God, because she has nothing left of her own. This is what love is. Not calculating, but letting go.

Some can talk a good game. Wear the right clothes. Put on the impressive show. But what matters is the heart. Who we are when nobody else is around.

One young woman, long ago and in a land far away. One elderly widow, alone in the Temple. What it’s about when we say, with Psalm 96, “O worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.” And it’s all about love.

Not about keeping of rules, duty, standards—a grudging obedience. An effort to meet the minimum standard. Not about impressing others with an outward show.

All about love turning the heart, filling the sails, holding nothing back, without personal agendas or clinging to grievances.

That these two would be icons for us of Christian life, what we would pray to begin to see as we look in the mirror in the morning. Why we are drawn to be followers of Jesus, to be members of his family. Imperfect as we all are in this along the way. The kind of people God made us to be. Faithful love as a way of life. Faithful love as a state of being. As thanksgiving and generosity and sacrifice and devotion without restraint, and in abundance. Love as the secret to unfold the mystery of the Cross. Love as the air we would breathe all together in the new life of Easter. Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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

Bruce Robison