Monday, January 26, 2009

Super Bowl Week, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

With thanks to Jim Simons for the image above.

And with thanks to my daughter Linnea for showing me this musical classic.

Let's Go, Stillers!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Third Sunday after the Epiphany, 2009

January 25, 2009 III Epiphany (RCL Year B)
Jonah 3: 1-10; Mark 1: 14-20

Maybe it was in a Junior High School history class—I can’t really remember when—that I first learned a bit about the 18th century philosophical movement called “Deism.” I’m not sure what the context would have been—perhaps in learning about Thomas Jefferson or some of the other members of that group we call the Founding Fathers, who would have been associated with this idea.

I was always struck I think that George Washington himself served so many years as a Vestryman and Warden of Pohick Church in Virginia, in the Truro Parish, yet apparently as a matter of personal conscience and integrity never received Holy Communion.

Believers in a universal moral and physical force, sometimes called “Providence,” with a capital “P.” The image I remember: God the Great Watchmaker. He creates the mechanism, winds the spring, and then departs to allow the machine of the universe to operate on its own. An appreciation of a power, not exactly a spirituality, but an acknowledgment of a universal principle, in some sense the sum and total of all the physical laws and operations of the cosmos. An affirmation of a power greater than ourselves—but it is an objective power, a super template, removed, detached, disinterested.

All that to say, how different the world the scriptures ask us to enter this morning, and in all these weeks after the Epiphany. A world of a Creator God who remains active and interactive. Engaged. Last week the story of the Calling of Samuel. The Voice of God waking the boy from sleep, calling him by name—Samuel, Samuel--and seeking his reply. I have something to say to you, and just to you, just for you. That we would make ourselves available to each other. The old priest Eli says, “That’s the LORD calling. Next time you hear the voice, answer. Say, ‘Here I am. Speak, for your servant hears.’”

And then this morning, and first this part the story of Jonah, when Jonah finally gets to Ninevah, after all his running away, his time in the Great Fish. Fleeing from this God who is no distant "Watchmaker," but who has a claim on him personally, who has a specific job for him in particular to do.

And now here in Ninevah, the word proclaimed. A God who stands for righteousness, for judgment, but who seeks even more, reconciliation. Who remains open to the very last minute, to the possibility of change. (And I guess that is a word that we all have in the environment around us this week.) Open to the possibility of change. Reformation. Repentance. Transformation. A God ready to respond to us, to move with us in a new direction, eager to be the source of healing and compassion. To say that a God who can have a change of heart, truly has a heart.

And then finally this morning in this passage from Mark. The One who is himself the Word and expression and presence of God doesn’t leave us alone to work out our own lives and our own destinies under the relentless order of a cosmic inevitability. But he calls us personally, knowing who we are.

He comes to the place where they are, those fishermen, by the sea: where we are, not waiting for us to come to him. Seeking us out. He’s got something for us to do, a work, a calling, a sense of purpose, a sense of growing and challenging relationship. Not a Divine Idea, but a Divine Person.

“The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near.” Let’s go fishing together. Come, be a part of it with me. Let’s work alongside one another, with one another, to make it happen. God’s kingdom. The call deeply and absolutely personal and intimate. “Come, follow me.”

The word for us as we in one part of our response to this invitation come forward to the Table. That he knows us. That he is walking this way with us. That he asks us to come with him.

When I was in Sunday School a teacher told me once that in his three hours on the cross Jesus had time to think of every person who had ever lived and who ever would live. Not even just time to think of their names or to picture their faces, but to see and know and experience every day and hour and minute of our lives, the high moments and the ones we are ashamed of. Victories and failures. Every moment, sharing every moment of our lives—our past, every secret thought, this present moment this morning, the lives we will live tomorrow and next week and next year.

That in those three hours on the cross as he suffered and died he knew us perfectly, each of us, better than we can ever even know ourselves. And that with all that he knew, he loved us, embraced us, gave himself for us, offered himself to be ours forever, as we would be his. A thought I have whenever I see a representation of the crucifix. The one who calls us each by name. The Bread of Life, the Cup of our Salvation.

Come with me, he says this morning. Not to all of us in general, but to each of us in particular. To you. To me. Come, be a part of my life now. Come, follow me.

Bruce Robison

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Inauguration Day, 2009

A Prayer
for The President of the United States,
and all in Civil Authority.

O LORD, our heavenly Father, the high and mighty Ruler of the universe, who dost from thy throne behold all the dwellers upon earth; Most heartily we beseech thee, with thy favour to behold and bless thy servant THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, and all others in authority; and so replenish them with the grace of thy Holy Spirit, that they may always incline to thy will, and walk in thy way. Endue them plenteously with heavenly gifts; grant them in health and prosperity long to live; and finally, after this life, to attain everlasting joy and felicity; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

We would pray today for President and Mrs. Bush and their daughters, as they return now to private life after their years of service to our nation, and, as we come to the noon hour, for President and Mrs. Obama, and their daughters, as they begin a new chapter of life in the stewardship of this great office.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Second Sunday after the Feast of the Epiphany

January 18, 2009 II Epiphany (RCL B)
I Samuel 3: 1-10; I Corinthians 6: 11-20; John 1: 43-51

The Twenty-Fifth Day of Christmas, the trees still standing in the Robison house, and the holiday lights still out--but it’s beginning to feel a little bit of a stretch.

Candlemas still a couple of weeks away, but a still, small voice tells me, “time to move on, Bruce.” To everything there is a season, as the Preacher says in the Book of Ecclesiastes, and certainly a time to move out of that holy and miraculous Bethlehem midnight hour and onward and outward into the world and life he sets before us now. Pittsburgh, St. Andrew’s, 2009. Wake up and smell the coffee.

And I would attempt that with the phrase that I’d like to highlight this morning from St. John. Jesus to Nathaniel: Thou shalt see greater things than these.

Good morning, and Happy New Year. There are a lot of ways to read this very interesting conversation--but at least one way of hearing Jesus is that he’s telling Nathaniel, your expectations are way too low. You think “I saw you in the orchard” was something special? You haven’t seen anything yet.

So expanding vision. Lifting expectations. Living not with a wish-list mentality, and all the frustrations that can flow out of that, but with an eyes-wide-open eagerness for the good that God intends for us.

I remember a number of years ago our friend Dave DeFazio wrote his book—I don’t recall what the title was at publication, but the pre-publication draft I read was called Some Guys Have All the Luck. About the role attitude about the future, expectation, can play and so often does play in the successful accomplishment of so many life-goals. How people who feel lucky, who feel like good things are likely to happen to them, end up with this sense of openness to possibilities, with a willingness to risk, to try new things, to break out of narrow boxes, not to be bound in the limitations of past experience. Those are the ones who don’t stand on the sidelines, but who get into the game. Can’t win if you don’t play. All about cultivating an attitude that leans forward with a sense of hope.

This story from First Samuel, beginning with the birth of Samuel a little bit before the passage we have this morning: how Hannah was childless; how she didn’t simply accept this condition, which caused her humiliation within her family and community, but how she went to the Shrine at Shiloh and prayed for God’s grace, and with the promise that if God would allow her to have a child, she would dedicate that child to the House of God.

And so it comes to pass, and Samuel is born, and as he comes to what was seen as an appropriate age is brought to the old priest Eli for his formation. Priestly seminary field education. So Hannah didn’t just accept things as they were. She desired a better future, she felt that God could act to make a difference, she prayed not with resignation or desperation, but with hope, assurance.

And this story now to unfold, the prologue eventually to the story of the Kingdom of Israel, a new and key chapter to the holy story of salvation, Old Testament and New. Samuel born in this moment of hope, from one who was thought to be barren. Then Samuel is called, in that early morning, in a day when nobody expects God to do this sort of thing. “Visions were rare in those days.”

But Samuel is called, and this will lead to yet another calling, as many years later this child who really shouldn’t have been born is the one as an old man to discern with holy vision that it is that youngest son of Jesse, David, who is to be anointed King of Israel. God’s chosen. And then all the way to Christmas for us: in the City of David, of the House and Lineage of David, Christ the Lord. Hannah doesn’t give up, doesn’t give in to what everyone else is telling her she should give in to, and a new chapter begins in the story of her life, and in the story of our lives.

Expanding vision. Living in expectation. You will see greater things than these. This I believe is the foundation of a holy life, of true, deep, meaningful, godly obedience. Not submission to a rule book, not chains and weights and coercion, but the expectation of God’s goodness, the willingness, the desire, to be a part of that. What good luck, that he desires to be good to me, to us. That his blessings will fall down like fresh rain on the mown field, for all who call upon his name. You will see greater things than these.

It’s so easy to slip back into the old familiar patterns, of course. Patterns of low-expectation, low self-esteem. Which is the world Paul is writing to, the condition of our lives that Paul is writing to, in this passage from First Corinthians. He has concerns about a particular pattern of sinfulness of concern in that one early church family, but the insight is about all of us, all the time. About what happens when our hope in God’s future fails, when we turn in ourselves, when we begin to act on our own self-interest, forgetting that in our baptism our bodies and our lives have been incorporated into his one body.

Basketball coaches like to say, “there is no ‘I’ in “TEAM,” and that’s pretty close to Paul’s word for Corinth. What happens when players worry more about their personal statistics than about the performance of the whole team, about winning the game.

How is it going to unfold then, this new year? Wondering that, perhaps as we come forward to the Table this morning. In our own personal lives, in our families, in our community and nation, here at St. Andrew’s? Certainly there will be higher moments and lower moments, steps forward and setbacks. But the word for us this morning is an invitation to keep this fresh in our minds and our hearts: that God is doing a great thing, and that as we are together in Christ and share in it, he is and will be doing great things in us and through us. All of us together.

Trust him in this. Expect it to be true—because it is true. We’ll see it with our own eyes. There will be healing and forgiveness and lives lifted up and turned around. All around us. Good things. Greater things than we’ve ever seen before. More than we ever could have asked for or imagined.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Baptism of Our Lord, 2009

January 11, 2009

I Epiphany

Baptism of Our Lord

(RCL Year B)

Genesis 1: 1-4; Mark 1: 4-11

Continued New Year greetings to all, as we sail, shovel, and plow our way through this Pittsburgh winter.

All of us back to school now and back to work and working on our diets and paying holiday bills and addressing New Year’s Resolutions of all kinds, I know. Several times of the year in our church we have this sense of “turning the page” on the calendar and beginning something new and fresh—Round Up Sunday in the Fall, of course, and Advent Sunday, and of course Easter Sunday. But the New Year is distinctive, even if I’m still occasionally writing “2008” when I date a letter or write a check. A sense of a fresh start. A new beginning. Happy New Year!

So in the lessons appointed for the day, also new beginnings. The first book of the Five Books of Moses, in the canon of the Hebrew Bible and our Old Testament. And the opening scene of St. Mark’s gospel, which most scholars believe to be the earliest of the four gospels to have been written, and to have been one of the references and sources for Matthew and Luke in their gospels. So standing near the headwaters.

In this wonderful opening of the Book of Genesis and the first moment of the unfolding of the grand procession of creation the Spirit of God moves across the face of the waters—and then so again, with just a slightly different choreography in the opening of St. Mark, this time in the story of Jesus baptism, in verse 10 of the first chapter, as the Spirit comes sweeping down from heaven over the waters of the Jordan. Water and Spirit, and the freshness of beginning.

A familiar pairing, certainly an echo, as in the third chapter of St. John, when Jesus addresses Nicodemus. Remembering Nicodemus, “How can a man be born when he is old?” And Jesus: “Truly, Truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.” Water and Spirit.

Here in the opening weeks of the New Year, as all the beginnings of Advent and Christmas and the new light shining forth in Epiphany are before us: the story of the beginning of the public ministry of Jesus at his baptism. Act one, scene one, and there are oceans and rivers without end, flowing and overflowing beyond the limits of our imagination, and the creative and renewing and life-giving Spirit, God’s sacred presence and mission. And as an invitation, a New Year’s invitation, an invitation to walk in a new way, to open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to him—to open ourselves to him, and to be transformed in that opening, to be renewed, refreshed, forgiven, healed, and sent out again in his name.

These beautiful images for the first weeks of January, inspiring images, to be born and reborn of water and Spirit, into God’s presence, into God’s life, his Kingdom. Even for us introverted males of Northern European descent, an invitation into a mystical union with Christ in the divine Love at the heart of the universe.

Again, to say that it is wonderful to have these texts and images, almost as a kind of poetry, music, to surround us. It is such a hard season. The stories from the Gaza Strip this week weighing so much down upon us, the hard edge of war and especially the heartbreaking tragedies of innocent civilian bystanders on both sides of the fighting. As the psalm asks, “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.” And just one difficult headline after the other in terms of the economy. Downsizing, lay-offs and cutbacks, rising tides of foreclosures and bankruptcies. And even for those not directly affected, a cloud overhead of worry about what might happen next. Just our world: and not that there aren’t good things happening too and perhaps hopeful signs. But all the same, not the easiest transition to a new year.

But in the midst of it, again, this morning, for us: an affirmation and song this morning of God’s creative power. God’s Spirit, and the possibility of transformation and renewal.

As I am reminded of how many years ago when we lived out in Bloomsburg our Linnea’s Brownie Troop was in the town park for a day with one of the moms, who happened to be (and still is) a very accomplished sculptor. And the girls spent time going around the park finding random objects—funny looking branches, rocks, and hubcaps and a couple of beer cans, maybe an old running shoe, and on and on. Most of it just trash, really. Cast-offs. Litter. And how they then worked together bundling and stacking and arranging, to create this amazing—well, “object.”

When I arrived to pick Linnea up one of the other girls ran over to me almost shouting, “Look at what we made! Isn’t it great!” And it was beautiful, actually. The thing itself, and of course more especially what had happened for the girls as they put it together. The creative act itself, the miracle of transformation.

These moments when the ordinary fabric of our everyday reality seems to be pulled apart to reveal something so much greater, so much more beautiful. Miracle and mystery, as in the definition of a sacrament, and certainly the baptismal sacrament, the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.

“Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his Name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness.”

It is all about potential: about what God can do and will do with us, in us, through us. As we would open ourselves to him, accept his presence, his guidance, his authority, his love. The Spirit moving across the water, and a whole new creation rising up out of the emptiness, a universe of potential, possibility.

This is what a life in Christ can be for us. Not being crushed by Law, oppressed, hurt--not being left in our brokenness, unforgiven, hopeless. But through his life and his death on the Cross and in the light of his resurrection: new life for us, and healing and forgiveness and hope. New creation, the Kingdom of God. As we would seek to know him, by water and Spirit, and to follow him out of the Jordan, as disciples and friends, and day by day faithfully to live in him.

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Second of Christmastide, 2008

January 4, 2009 Second of Christmas (RCL Year B) Jeremiah 31: 7-14; Ephesians 1: 3-14; John 1: 10-18

A word: good morning, and continued blessings of this season, as we come this morning to the Second Sunday after Christmas Day, the 11th Day of Christmas. Surprising musically under the tree this morning, then, are “eleven pipers piping.” Very nice, and to join the ten lords a-leaping, nine ladies dancing, eight maids a-milking, seven swans a swimming, six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtle doves and a partridge in a pear tree. Doubtless “twelve drummers drumming” will add to the festivities tomorrow, and then we will be well-prepared to make our way to the Twelfth Night banquet and the Feast of the Epiphany as it dawns Tuesday morning.

Some folks take this as a sign that it’s time to bring down the greens and Christmas decorations, but my goal is always to have everything up until Candlemas, the Feast of the Presentation, 40 Days after Christmas, February 2, also known as Groundhog Day. So far the trees Susy and Linnea chopped down in Allison’s Orchard seem to be holding pretty well, so perhaps this year we’ll make it. (The trees and greens in the Church will be gone by next Sunday, so enjoy them today!)

In any case, the point is that if the department stores are all about “After Christmas” sales at this point, and I guess hoping against hope that there will be some slight uptick in retail here in the new year, for us here in the Church we’re still in the high season of Christmas, and the great stories and themes of Nativity and Incarnation, the revealing of Emmanuel, God with us, will be with us through these days of early winter and actually all the way to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, and an early Spring on the 25th of February.

Mild he lays his glory by, born that man no more may die, born to raise the sons of earth, born to give them second birth. Ris’n with healing in his wings, light and life to all he brings: Hail, the Sun of Righteousness! Hail, the heav’n born Prince of Peace! Hark, the herald angels sing, Glory to the new born King.

In any case, light and life: new birth, renewal, healing, reconciliation, hope, fullness of life now and forever in him. No such thing as “after Christmas.” We move into this mystery ever more deeply, as it moves into us. As the one born in the manger and lifted up on the Cross comes to live in our hearts, to fill our minds and our spirit with the power of his grace and his peace. All one: Bethlehem, Golgotha, the Empty Tomb, Transfiguration and Ascension. The LORD is in his holy temple. Let all the earth keep silence before him.

The lessons appointed for this Second Sunday after Christmas Day overflow with the theme: Jeremiah’s great vision of God’s Kingdom, the redemption of the remnant of Israel, Jerusalem restored. For the Lord has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him. They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again. Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them and give them gladness for sorrow.

That’s what I call Christmas Spirit, and not simply a dream about the future but an invitation to live in it now, here and now, opening our hearts and our minds and our lives. I love this phrase, again: “and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.”

And then in Ephesians, the unfolding of the mystery of how we become God’s children, adopted in Christ. The abandoned orphan now in the midst of a family, taken in, in this image of perfect restoration. And then from the last section of the Prologue and first chapter of St. John, “from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.”

Here for us, fully present, “grace upon grace,” Christmas in the Bethlehem stable, Christmas in the sacramental mystery of the altar, Christmas in the unfolding of our lives. The spirit of the season: “And they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord.”

Continuing this morning: Merry Christmas to all!

Bruce Robison