Sunday, March 29, 2009

Fifth in Lent, Passion, 2009

March 29, 2009 V Lent (RCL B) John 12: 20-36

The gospel for this Fifth Sunday in Lent in our new lectionary has two points of special interest for us in this place.

First as we notice the critical role of our patron Andrew at this critical moment for Jesus and his ministry, as Andrew and Philip bring Jesus the news that these Greeks, either gentiles or perhaps Greek speaking Jews of the wide diaspora, have come seeking him, and this news somehow marks a turning point, a new chapter, not simply for Jesus but for the history of all creation: the hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Andrew, in this ministry of bridge-building, of introduction. Bringing people into the presence of Jesus. A way of thinking about the life and ministry we share, certainly, as this particular community under the patronage of St. Andrew for the better part of two centuries.

And then just a few verses beyond, as Jesus begins this prayerful monologue and address to the Father, the words that are inscribed right here over us all on the great Rood Beam of St. Andrew’s Church, over us to inform and shape our prayer and worship each time we have gathered now since Easter morning of 1906: And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men to me. This the core interpretation of the glorification of the Cross, the great work of Atonement, the healing of all brokenness, the reconciliation of all separation—bringing safely home the lost, lifting up the fallen, in the deepest possible, widest possible gesture of embrace, forgiveness, and divine love. On the old calendar, as Bishop Johnson reminded some of us yesterday at a diocesan meeting, this was Passion Sunday--the propers of the day turning our eyes with greater emphasis and focus to the Good Friday destination just ahead.

Sir, we would see Jesus. Words that are often inscribed in the pulpit lectern. Certainly words to be inscribed in the heart of every preacher, and of every Christian, as the One lifted up on that Holy Cross commands the central place in our hearts and in our lives. As we remember the famous saying of St. Francis, “preach constantly; when necessary use words.” Each of us in the sermons not simply of Sunday morning but in the sermons of our lives. Sir, we would see Jesus.

And so this morning, nearing the end of yet another Lent. Lots of sunshine this past week, and all around Highland Park anyway folks were out with rakes and brooms, clearing away the debris of winter and looking forward to the season ahead. A little too chilly still to sit outside comfortably in the evening, but those days are coming, and coming soon. We can feel it. The darkness of the late afternoon has been pushed back, and there is light and life and new energy all around us.

I wonder sometimes how preachers preach Easter in the Southern Hemisphere, as the leaves fall from the trees and the nights grow longer and the temperatures fall. But of course, there will be simply other vocabularies, other images, to convey the same news. The strife is o’er, the battle done, the victory won.

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Long ago and far away, and here and now. The Cross now looming before us on the horizon, nearer day by day, not as a word of defeat, but as a sign of his triumph. As we had that symbol before us in the reading from John 3 last week, Moses and the Bronze Serpent, and that miracle of healing in the wilderness, so the Son of Man, lifted up on the Cross, our healing, our peace.

Pray that he would open our hearts to receive this gift. To be transformed in him, to be made new in his presence and to be made fully alive in his service. To be forgiven, healed, refreshed in mind, body, and spirit. To be his agents, to be ourselves all about forgiving, healing, bringing light and life to the dark places all around us.

The deepest medicine of all time, for us this morning, as we come to the altar, as we go forth into our world, to be in our words and in the manner of our living, windows. To find in ourselves a kind of transparency, to be answers to the one request the world will speak this season and always, in every language, at all times and in all places, we would see Jesus.

Bruce Robison

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Annunciation of our Lord Jesus Christ to the Blessed Virgin Mary

Dante Gabriel Rossetti:
Ecce Ancilla Domini! (1850)

Collect of the Day

Deus, qui de beátæ Maríæ Vírginis útero Verbum tuum, Angelo nuntiánte, carnem suscípere voluísti: præsta supplícibus tuis; ut, qui vere eam Genitrícem Dei crédimus, ejus apud te intercessiónibus adjuvémur. Per eumdem Dominum nostrum Jesum Christum, Filium Tuum, Qui Tecum vivit et regnat in unitate Spiritus Sancti, Deus,
Per omnia saecula saeculorum.

O God, who didst will that Thy Word should take flesh, at the message of an Angel, in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, grant to Thy suppliant people, that we who believe her to be truly the Mother of God, may be helped by her intercession with Thee. Through the same our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who liveth and reigneth with Thee in the unity of the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.

Almighty Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
You have revealed the beauty of Your power
by exalting the lowly virgin of Nazareth
and making her the mother of our Savior.
May the prayers of this woman
bring Jesus to the waiting world
and fill the void of incompletion
with the presence of her Child,
who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. +Amen.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fourth in Lent, Laetare, 2009

Moses and the Brazen Serpent, Sebastien Bourdon, 1653-54

March 22, 2009 IV Lent Laetare (RCL - B)
Numbers 21:4-9; John 3: 14-21

Laetare Sunday, Midlent, Refreshment Sunday, Mothering Sunday. The name from the traditional Mass Introit for this Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Ierusalem. “Refreshment,” because this is a day when even more than in the other Sundays the disciplines of Lent would be relaxed. An especially festive Coffee Hour there might be for us this morning. “Mothering” Sunday and perhaps a connection to the later American development of the Mothers’ Day observance, the early spring day we Anglicans would say when we would give the servants a day off so that they could go back to the village and visit their families.

Until the shift to this Revised Common Lectionary the reading for this Sunday around the Anglican and Roman Catholic world for five hundred years anyway, probably a thousand years, as these traditions were formed, Laetare Sunday would feature the Feeding of the 5,000 in the Sixth Chapter of St. John—this in the pattern of St. John’s sacramental teaching the bookend miracle, related to the great sign of the transformation of water into wine at the Wedding in Cana, as a Eucharistic symmetry.

Laetare Ierusalem, in the midst of this awful procession to the Cross, with all the betrayal and defeat and pain and suffering ahead, along this costly road, may your heart and spirit lift up with a lightness of joy. Be nourished, be fed, be healed, rejoice. A Eucharistic theme we can still hear in our Prayer Book Collect for this Sunday. Evermore give us this Bread.

And in it all the words of the Prophet way back from Advent and when the first hints of winter were just around us seem to echo back down to us this morning, Isaiah 40: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned; for she hath received of the LORD’s hand double for all her sins . . . . Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain; and the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together; for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it.”

Midlent, and Laetare. The reading from Numbers-- I hope some of you may have smiled as you heard it this morning, the story of Moses and the Bronze Serpent, the famous symbol of the Caduceus, or the Rod of Asclepius, related in the ancient world and in modern iconography to medicine and immortality. Remembering that I preached on this text over at Redeemer Church a few years ago in the East End Lenten Series, in the context of the release in that season of what became something of a cult classic film, the Samuel Jackson “Snakes on a Plane.” (And I had visual aids, a handful of slithery serpents from the local toy store.) The story from Numbers like the film conjuring up some deep dark fears in the depths of our memories and imagination, the cold and deadly reptilian danger. Let me tell you, be careful when you open that overhead compartment . . . . And then how miraculously Moses takes that symbol of fear and death and transforms it into the symbol for salvation, healing, restoration, new life.

And so our new lectionary, and the beginning of our reading from the Third Chapter of St. John this morning--and the themes converge: “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” We’ll hear this exactly again in John’s gospel in Holy Week in Chapter 12, in the Upper Room, when he speaks those words that are inscribed on the Rood Beam over our chancel steps: “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.”

The heart of our gospel, the only good news we know how to hear or how to share. Echoing around us all the time, this deep invitation, as we hear so often in the eleventh chapter of St. Matthew: “Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.”

Laetare Ierusalem: this is our rejoicing, this our refreshment, breaking the deadly fast of our Lent in our mortality with the abundance of bread and wine, the call to the banquet table of the heavenly feast, the deep medicine, the true medicine, the restoration of health and life for our bodies and our souls, the renewal of all creation. This is what he is, who he is, how he comes to us, to you, to me, as we would come to him at the Holy Table this morning. Laetare Ierusalem.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Third in Lent, 2009

March 15, 2009

Our Guest Preacher this Sunday will be the Rev. Stacy Kenney. A priest of our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, Stacy serves as a Chaplain at the Veteran's Affairs Hospital here in Highland Park and has served in ministry through the Shepherd's Heart Fellowship, Uptown. Many of us have already met Stacy and her daughter Jody (a Junior at Pine Richland High School) as they have become more active around St. Andrew's.

Click here for a photo of Stacy on the cover of the Fall, 2008 issue of Working Together.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Second in Lent, 2009

March 8, 2009 II Lent (RCL B) Mark 8: 31-38

Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Oh! Sometimes it causes me to tremble. Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

The words of the old spiritual . . . and we slide ahead quickly now—last week the Baptism at the Jordan and Jesus in the Wilderness, and now quickly forward, two-thirds of the way into St. Mark, and the dark clouds overhead. Premonitions. Conflicts intensifying, controversy swirling, and you don’t need an Accuweather forecast to see the storm clouds rolling in. Out of the bright sunshine, and into the shadow of the Cross.

For Jesus first. He “began to tell his disciples what would happen to him.” But to think it would or could stop there is really not an option either. “You must take up your cross, and follow me.” You. Me. All of us. Just to let this moment embrace us this morning of our Lenten journey.

As we were preparing the service leaflet this week I asked Melanie to vary a bit from our usual pattern, as we generally take the printed texts from the New Revised Standard Version—and this morning I asked her print out for us for this reading from Mark another translation, also an excellent one, and one I sometimes use in our Bible Study conversations on Wednesday morning, the Contemporary English Version. And all simply because in the various nuances of translation from Greek to English I was struck by the phrase used by the CEV translators in verse 34 of Mark 8: “Jesus then told the crowd and the disciples to come closer . . . .”

And that’s the phrase I’d like to highlight and offer for our reflection and meditation on this Sunday morning, and if we might carry it out into the day and the week ahead. Jesus told them to come closer.

My mother used to joke about our North Dakota-Norwegian family, “people who cross the street so that they don’t have to speak to their best friend.” Profound introverts—perhaps a matter of survival when you live in close quarters for winters that last six or seven months. Not just Norwegians, of course. I remember back in the early 1970’s, when we were first passing around those old paperbacks, the Green Book, the Zebra Book, and so on, in preparation for the introduction of the Proposed Book of Common Prayer, how the most controversial and often the most difficult part of that transition was not the changing of the lectionary or the renewed focus on the centrality of the Eucharist to Sunday worship or the assortment of various traditional and contemporary language services, but it was the direction of the exchange of the Peace: “the Ministers and People greet one another.” People actually left the church for a while over that. “I didn’t come to church to shake hands with some stranger.”

And all that calls to mind another scene I remember in the church from about that time: a young woman whom I didn’t recognize in the congregation at St. Mark’s in Berkeley on a Sunday morning , at one of our magnificent choral services, I think still using the 1928 Book. This young woman seems to have come from a different background. A little bit of the Pentecostal in her, as during the service she would say out loud an “amen,” and in the hymns lift her hands up in the air, and then when she came back down from communion in her pew just standing and swaying and singing in Tongues by herself, and as I remember it I think kind of crying softly to herself. Not really disruptively at all. But noticeably.

But what sticks in my mind was one I’m sure well-meaning lady of the congregation I overheard talking quietly about this stranger at coffee hour. She used a phrase which I’ll probably get wrong, but something like: Didn’t that poor girl realize where she was?

I guess as though someone had worn evening dress at the grocery store, or come to formal wedding in gym sweats. “Didn’t she realize where she was?” And I remember thinking to myself, “well, where would be the right place to be swept up in the power of the Holy Spirit? Of course, I really didn't know what was going on in her life. But: to be broken in joy and to weep for the love of God in Christ Jesus? Is Church really the wrong place for that?”

But anyway—this just all to circle around this text for this morning, and what it might mean for us. Jesus told the crowd and his disciples to come closer.

I don’t know and can’t know of course how this might happen in your life, or how or when or if it might happen in mine, or for any of us at any particular time or place or season or year. I think sometimes we have defenses around our defenses around our defenses, and they work really well. Sometimes in our families and in our relationships one with another, colleagues and coworkers, neighbors and friends.

Back in 1961 David Riesman wrote this book which I remember I read in a sociology class in college, The Lonely Crowd. The phenomenon of our modern urban western life experience, that there are more people, living in these dense environments, but that we know fewer of them, that relationships of family and community are diminished, not enhanced, even as we live more and more of us closer together.

And as it can be as well as we would go to church Sunday by Sunday and year in and year out and perhaps also to Bible Studies and Adult classes and read books and engage in all kinds of robust intellectual and social encounters around issues of religion and faith and spirituality, and yet in the midst of that, to be strangers to one another, and even to him, distant, to be lonely even in the family of faith. Even in the presence of God.

The Cross casting its shadow, just as we begin this second week in Lent, the story racing to a conclusion now. And Jesus looks to us this morning, in this day of our lives, and asks us to come closer. To come closer. Not simply to study and observe and opine, but to feel his warmth. To allow ourselves to rest fully in his presence. Fully in his presence. Don’t stand so far away.

Remember the 15th verse of the 15th chapter of St. John: I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends. This is what this time might be about, these weeks, this season.

At least feeling a kind of longing to move in this direction. To get out from behind the protective walls of our inner lives, and to come close to him, to Jesus himself, not the thought about him, the painting on the wall, the word on the page, but he himself. This Lent. He said, come closer. In your heart, your mind, your imagination, your daily experience of life. Word and sacrament. Living presence. Come closer.

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, March 1, 2009

First in Lent, 2009

March 1, 2009 I Lent (RCL B) Mark 1: 9-13

Jacque de Stella, Christ Served by the Angels, c. 1650