Sunday, May 31, 2009

Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday, 2009

Pentecost, Giotto di Bondone,
c. 1320

May 31, 2009 Whitsunday (RCL B) Acts 2: 1-11

We have a bit of a tag-team approach to this morning’s sermon. I’m doing the preface. Then our friend Helga Buck, our partner in ministry through Five Talents International, will be sharing with us.

But I do want to begin on this day, as we remember the ancient Jewish festival of Shavuot, in Greek, “Pentecost,” counting fifty days from Passover, the celebration remembering in particular that key moment in the Exodus story, as Moses comes down the Holy Mountain, cradling in his arms the great Tablets of the Law. The Giving of the Torah—establishing the groundwork of Covenant between God and his Chosen People.

And on Shavuot, as we read this morning, the friends of Jesus are once again together in one place. I imagine them in that same Upper Room where they had gathered first on Holy Thursday, sharing that Last Supper with him, and then where they had come together on that amazing Sunday, first to hear the news of the women, then to hear from the disciples from Emmaus, then finally to meet the risen Lord himself, as he appeared to them. Then of course in the same place, a week later, gathered there in fear, Jesus comes to them again, and shows himself to Thomas. “Here, feel my hands, touch my side.”

Now all these weeks later here again, after the amazing mountaintop experience of Ascension, they wait, as he had asked them to do. And suddenly that sound, like a mighty wind, fills the whole house, top to bottom, inside and out. And Tongues of flame are upon them, and they rush out into the street filled with Holy Spirit to proclaim the Good News. As the old hymn says, “I can’t keep from singing.” It fills them up, the Spirit, and overflows.

And the text I’d like to highlight, from the Second Chapter of Acts, the eleventh verse, “Cretans and Arabians, we do hear them speak in our tongues, the wonderful works of God.”

And simply to say, on and on, in abundance, to every race and nation and language, every family and people, from that first Whitsunday and Pentecost, in every tongue, the “wonderful works of God” in the person of our Savior Jesus continue to be proclaimed. This all becomes our story, as we through our faith are lifted up into the great story of God’s saving work in Christ, one generation to the next.

In a very exciting way, a very meaningful way, over the past several years, we here at St. Andrew’s have been empowered to give voice to the “wonderful works of God” in Spanish, as we have come together in prayer and conversation and in the gathering of resources to be a part of the Five Talents Ministry project in Lima, Peru.

Month by month we’ve been invited to share in the life story of men and women, children and grandparents, whose lives have been transformed in this ministry, with dignity and a sense of true value and self-esteem. And when we receive a thank-you note each month as we forward our contributions to this work, I always feel almost a little embarrassed. To know that we’re the ones who should be and are saying thank you, for the privilege to share in this work.

So a good word here, and thank you to Helga Buck for joining us this morning from Five Talents . . . .

Click Here to Read More About Five Talents

And Five Talents/ECLOF Peru, our Five Talents Partner Project

Bruce Robison

Friday, May 29, 2009

May 30, 2009

Click for Tribute to Don Brown

May 30, 2009

10 a.m.

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church

Burial Office and Committal

Donald Granville Brown

January 13, 1935 – May 26, 2009

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more. Death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died, he died unto sin once, but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God. Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Alleluia.

Friends, it is a sad privilege to stand here this morning, to say a word about the core of Christian life—about faith, hope, and love, about the Cross and the Empty tomb, Good Friday and Easter—as we come together with so many feelings, thoughts, memories, to give thanks for the life of Donald Granville Brown, who entered greater life this past Tuesday morning.

And Ann, David, Amelia, I do want to say to you a word of thanks and appreciation for you, and especially for these past few days, as you have come into such a difficult time with such a spirit of grace and gentle love, with dignity, care for Don and for one another, with compassion. And with courage. The word that comes to mind to me. Courage.

Ann, you and Don have shared this long life and marriage together, nearly half a century, and in these past months and couple of years, deeply sharing for both of you in this—what I think of as truly profound intimacy, living together with both the beginning and end in mind. What you have been going through together. And I continue as well to give thanks for what I would see as the good work that God’s Holy Spirit has worked in you through all of this.

I love very much the photograph you selected to be used in the newspaper this week. It is so often the case that “a picture is worth a thousand words,” and it was touching to see Don’s great smile there, expressing his warmth, his good humor, the blessing and enjoyment of life. I was thankful to see that, a great reminder for today. And with thanks for the words and stories shared last night over at McCabe's and here this morning--and which I know will continue to be shared through the day and long into the future. And thank you Darlene for the sharing of music this morning. Simply to acknowledge and honor all the lives he touched.

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more. From the Pascha Nostrum, a very ancient Christian hymn for Easter, as we come today to the next-to-last day on the Church Calendar of the season, the Great 50 Days of Easter. A song of joy, triumph, victory. A song full of the promise of new life and life abundant fully transfigured and eternal, as we share with Christ in his Easter resurrection.

Some of the rich poetry in scripture and tradition will talk about death as “the old enemy.” But that’s really I think not quite right. As we affirm the precious character of human life and relationships, the love of marriage, the joy of being father and grandfather, creativity, the breadth and depth of emotional and intellectual experience, the adventure and joy of so many activities. As Christian people we would simply affirm in this moment that death has no power over any of that. No power at all. None.

Through the mystery of our baptism and through the power of what Christ has done for us at the Cross—in the words of scripture, “life is changed, not ended.” We move from strength to strength, in that greater life, the life of perfect service, that he has had in mind for us since the first breath and dawn and morning of the universe.

In my Father’s house are many mansions. Some contemporary translations give us this word from Jesus in John 14 as “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” Which I guess makes sense, and which may be truer to the pattern of Greek as it is heard not in 16th century English but at the beginning of the 21st Century. But I want to say this morning, as we commend a son, a brother, a husband, a father, a grandfather into the arms of our generous God, as we affirm our bonds in Jesus Christ for this life and the life to come, that there are mansions prepared for us. Of a grandeur and a glory and an abundance beyond anything we can imagine. The fullness of sharing with Christ. As he said, “that where I am, there ye may be also.”

As we express our friendship and sympathy today, acknowledging what is lost, may all that be embraced in a spirit of hope and expectation. That Easter not be just a day on a calendar, but the condition and reality of our lives. As we are born in him in baptism, as we live, as we die, and as we are reborn in his image and presence, to live in all fullness in the place--in the mansion--he has prepared for us.

And finally it seems just right to me here this morning that Darlene will sing for us as a reflection and meditation the Schubert Ave Maria, this wonderful hymn, beginning with the song of the Angel in St. Luke’s story, and as we can look across the Church at the Annunciation panel of the Nativity window, created by the glass artist and designer Clara Miller Burd, as it has graced St. Andrew’s now for a century.

A sign of the Father’s deepest benediction for us, each of us individually, and as we think of Don this morning, and all of us, all of humanity, all of creation, as the girl who would be the Mother of our Lord and in that way Mother to us all, is first addressed, and with such tenderness. Which would be the spirit to touch our heart this morning as well.

Again, may our Lord bless and keep him. Donald Granville Brown. May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. May his soul with the souls of all the faithful departed rest in peace, and may Light Perpetual shine upon him. Amen.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Memorial Day Weekend

John Christopherson, my grandmother's older brother, died in the Great War and is buried in England. His photograph in uniform, taken at the drug store in Stanley, Wisconsin, shortly before he departed, always had a place of honor on my grandmother's bedroom bureau. On this Memorial Day weekend, with deepest thanksgiving . . . .

Seventh of Easter, After Ascension, 2009

The Rector, Wardens, Vestry, and Congregation of St. Andrew's are pleased to welcome this morning the Rt. Rev. Robert H. Johnson, Retired Bishop of the Diocese of Western North Carolina and Assisting Bishop of our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Bishop Johnson will preside and preach at our 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services. At the later service as well he will administer the Sacrament of Confirmation to Kevin Antosz, David Fitzsimmons, and Lawrence Wray, and he will through the Rite of Reception welcome Alexis Southard Wray as a member of the Episcopal Church. Bishop Johnson will also join the congregation in celebrating the admission of Lily Buchanan, Hannah Schaffer, and Kaitlyn Schaffer as Acolytes, in the presentation of the Senior Acolyte Cross to Alexandra Davis, and in the celebration of the service of two graduating Senior Acolytes, A.J. Kellum and Mimi Roberts.

Festive Coffee Hour Receptions will follow both services.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ into Heaven

Ascension, Pietro Perugino, c. 1500

May 21, 2009
Choral Evensong at Calvary Episcopal Church, East Liberty
Ascension Thursday, 2009
Acts 1: 1-11; Luke 24: 44-53

Sing praise to God, who reigns above, the God of all creation, the God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation. In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

What a great evening! This past Lent the rector of Calvary Church pointed out that when we Episcopalians do something for the first time we will name it “the first annual.” The second time around, the event is a “tradition.” And so by now, as this is a continuation of a pattern for several years, it is inevitably an “ancient and venerable tradition” for our two parishes and two choirs to share together the celebration of this Feast of the Ascension of our Lord.

By the old calendars this the end of the Great 40 Days of Easter. In most places we no longer extinguish the Paschal Candle at this service, but we are nonetheless looking now for the next few days through this coming weekend and on to Whitsunday to the themes of Ascensiontide, a ten-day coda, a final chapter in the narrative and season of Easter.

God has gone up with a triumphant shout, indeed. The world as it was, gone forever. Nothing ever the same again. The world and universe and new creation of God, now opening before us in all its power and all its beauty. In the ending is the beginning; in departure, an arrival; and in this evening, our new morning.

I would just personally say thank you, Harold, for the honor of the invitation to preach this evening of Ascension Day. And all of the good people of Calvary Church as our hosts this year. Certainly it isn’t possible to step into this pulpit without an awareness of the great heritage of gifted preachers who have ministered in this great parish, over the past century and more, and certainly continuing to the present. And to say thank you to Alan, Peter, and to those of both of our choirs. It is an inspiring and beautiful gift that you share with us all this evening.

We have before us these two fascinating accounts by St. Luke, one from the end of his gospel and the other from the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles. I guess I tend to jumble them together and synthesize, though each account seems nuanced in emphasis and shaped for its narrative context. Jesus blesses his friends at his departure with the promise of a powerful, Spirit-filled ministry to expand from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and across the whole earth. He disappears from them and is lifted up into the heavens. And we hear that word of promise from the Angel. “He will come again in the same way as you saw him go.” And finally the disciples return to Jerusalem with joy, and in continual worship at the Temple, in their anticipation about what would come next.

In any case: as I read the stories, and as I close my eyes, what comes to mind is the very lovely Ascension Window designed by the well-known early 20th century glass artist and illustrator Clara Miller Burd, in the North Transept over at St. Andrew’s, with the focus there on the vivid expressions of wonder, awe, and worship in the faces of the disciples, which are full of light and radiant, beaming, as Jesus is lifted up before them into the heavens. Sing praise to God, who reigns above, the God of all creation.

So what does all this mean? For us. A necessary moment in the story, of course, as we account for the fact that in the new morning and first days of Easter Jesus was present for his friends in a resurrection body that they could see and touch--that he ate with them in the upper room, prepared breakfast for them on the shore of Galilee--but now is present for us who must walk by faith, and not by sight. All one with the affirmation of baptismal faith, “The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.”

But critically, what the Ascension does is move the force and meaning of the Resurrection from the past to the present, and with implications for the future.

If Easter were simply about the news that Jesus had risen from the dead, perhaps the reasonable response would be, “Lucky for him.” But the good news is more, because it’s not only about that one morning long ago, but also and even more, it is about a new reality continuing into this present, a new reality into which we have been incorporated, a new reality which changes our lives with a new identity and a new purpose. A new community of relationship, in which we live no longer for ourselves alone, but in and for Christ as he lives in our midst, among us and in us. As he reigns over all in heaven and earth. As he promises his return in magnificent glory and perfect judgment at the end of the age. To heal our brokenness with his perfect righteousness, his holiness, his peace.

What Ascension does is announce with clarity that from this time forward, from now on, we do not live by ourselves or for ourselves alone, but in him, and for him, and in one another, and for one another. He is Lord. Over all. And we are his.

And there is in the joy of the disciples as they return to the Holy City and await the promised Spirit, a sense of energy and purpose not one-by-one, but all of them together. All together. They go up the mountain one by one, his disciples, his friends. They come down, we come down, as his Body, the Church.

And if I may borrow a phrase the great Anglican Congress of 1963, which I’ve been thinking about in some other contexts lately, in some ways the high water mark of Anglican Communion life in the 20th century—this joy of the disciples not grounded in their individual experiences and sense of vocation alone, though that never disappears, but in the sharing of a common life marked by “Mutual Responsibility and Interdependence in the Body of Christ.”

As Paul says in First Corinthians 12, the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you.’ Not any more.

Loving one another, then, because he loved us. Linked with one another. Woven together. Working with one another, because he sent us. Responsible to one another, accountable, in humility, because from the right hand of the Father he will come to be our judge. For us now, difficult as we can be for one another, one Lord, one faith, one baptism. Gathered here, his Church.

Ascension, then--not the end of the story, but a hinge, a transition, and the first page of the new chapter, our new chapter. Not a scene from the distant past, but a mirror, in which we may discover more perfectly who we are in this present, and who we may become, growing in and with one another more perfectly to be like him. To be his image and likeness. One by one and all together. Not loss, but healing.

Not a parting of the ways, but the first moment of restoration and reconciliation, and renewal--the fulfillment of his promise. Blessing, hope, work to do, life eternal--all shared together, all one as we are one in him. God has gone up with a triumphant shout . . . . The God of power, the God of love, the God of our salvation.

And now to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, be ascribed all honor, might, majesty, power, and dominion, now and for evermore. Amen.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sixth Easter, 2009

May 17, 2009 Sixth Sunday of Easter (RCL, B) John 15: 9-17

In the fifth chapter of St. Luke Jesus is in a boat preaching to a congregation of local people gathered by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, and when he is finished he turns to Peter and tells him that it’s time for them all to quit talking and to get back to their work as fishermen. He gives a command that has always been to me especially evocative, resonant with multiple layers of meaning. He says to them, “Put out into deep water.”

“Put out into deep water.” I guess that’s maybe where you catch the big fish. (Like the famous story about the bank robber Willy Sutton. When asked why he robbed banks, he replied, “that’s where they keep the money.”)

It’s easier to fish near the shore, where it’s shallow, where maybe you can see better what you’re doing. Where it’s safer. Where you have less at risk if things go wrong. But if you want to catch the big fish, you have to go where they are. “Put out into deep water.”

The point probably has application in any number of areas of our lives, but this morning and as we move on toward the end of this Easter season it especially comes home as we would hear the word from Jesus himself and think about it most of all at the most foundational level--as I work just as we all do with the essential questions of life: what it’s all about, whom it’s for, where it’s headed. Trying to sort out who this Jesus is to me, how he is to be the way to the Father, what that could possibly mean.

It's just plain easier to stay in the shallow end of the pool. To slide along with goals based on numbers in a bank account, status at work, popularity. Easier to go with the flow. Maybe to play house, to play church. To go through the motions, or to get swept along with politics or all kinds of well-intentioned busyness. People are good at playing games. It may not be all that satisfying in the end, really and truly, but at least it’s pretty safe.

“Put out into deep water.” It’s actually the way I feel whenever I get going far into the John Gospel, as we are this morning. These deceptively simply poetic words swing open—really more like, fall open, like trap doors—and suddenly I’m out beyond sight of shore. Swept away. Just these words and phrases, that we might open our ears for them: abide; love; joy—that your joy may be complete; greater love; I have called you friends; I chose you; bear fruit; fruit that will last; love one another.

Any one of them—just to close my eyes, a meditation of lectio divina, sacred reading, to breathe in, to allow these words to rest in my thoughts, my imagination, my memory.

The story of Jesus, the Cross, the Empty Tomb. The person I see when I look in the mirror in the morning. Who I am as he sees me and knows me, completely; who I am as I know myself, partially, in fragments of understanding; who I am in relationship to others, to my family, my friends, my work, my live. Just take one of these words and hold it for a while. Breathe it in and out slowly. Let it be a candle to cast a new light. Abide in my love. So that my joy may be in you. You are my friends. I chose you. To bear fruit, fruit that will last.

By the old calendar this the last Sunday in the 40 Days of Easter, Ascension this coming Thursday, and then a bit more than a week waiting on the Spirit, until Whitsunday. Time marches on. The invitation before us as we come to meet him at the altar, take him in our hands as the Bread of Life, drink from the Cup of Heaven, that he might abide in us, as we in him--that we would allow this Easter to leave the calendar and to enter our lives. Our minds and hearts.

There is this wonderful line from the Gerard Manly Hopkins poem Wreck of the Deutchland, to get right to the heart of the matter: Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east . . . .

One of the great things about the fluidity of the English language, to make a noun a verb, which is like a resuscitation. The object becomes action, from being to doing. Change. Transformation. Bringing to life. “Let him easter in us.”

So all poetry this morning. Needing some time and space to digest. Grace and peace. That my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. Jesus, who calls us, who feeds us, who blesses us this morning with the gift of himself, his friends.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fifth Easter, 2009

May 10, 2009 Fifth of Easter (RCL B) Acts 8:26-40; John 15: 1-8

There are so many great things about this story of St. Philip as he meets the diplomatic caravan carrying the Ethiopian diplomat and his entourage just as they are just beginning the long journey home after their state visit to the Court at Jerusalem and apparently a religious pilgrimage to the Temple.

There is of course a lot we don’t know. Who this Ethiopian was. Perhaps a Jew, as we know there have been Jews living and working in Africa at least from the time of Solomon. Or a gentile, but one who is drawn to Judaism. What in the New Testament are called “proselytes.” Non-Jewish seekers after God who haven’t yet completed the rituals of conversion. He has come to Jerusalem to worship, in any case. He’s studying the scriptures with an open mind and an open heart.

And then, what to make of Philip’s call by way of the Angel of the Lord, and the continuing guidance of the Spirit each step along the way, a kind of celestial GPS, “turn left, here, then right, now down this road”—and this sense that these things are happening in accordance with some divinely ordained plan.

And finally all that great exchange and conversation that leads to the conversion of the Eunuch and his decision to be baptized right at that moment—right there in a stream by the side of the road.

Despite the message of the Angel that brought him here, Philip seems almost surprised. That the Word itself could have this kind of impact. A sudden about-face.

Why not right here, right now? What is there to prevent it? Isn’t that why you were sent to me?

And then as soon as this work is done, Philip doesn’t even stay around for Coffee Hour. Away in the blink of an eye. More work to be done.

As I read through this rich and fascinating story again and again this past week, one sentence really just kept catching at me, the question Philip asks the Eunuch when he first approaches the carriage, as he hears him reading aloud from Isaiah as the carriage is rolling along.

Asking this great question: “Do you understand what you are reading?”

Do you understand what you are reading? Meant obviously not in the most literal sense. The Eunuch clearly understands the Hebrew of the text, or perhaps the Greek Septuagint translation. He is reading it aloud. But understand in a deeper way. Not what the text says, but what it means—what it can mean for you, for your life. Not "do you understand it?" But: Do you get it?

This perhaps along the same trajectory as the strikingly similar story and parallel passage In Luke 24, when the Mysterious Stranger walks alongside Cleopas and his companion on the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus: “’O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory?’ And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them, in all the scriptures, the things concerning himself.”

To see now as for the first time, our eyes opened as for the first time—to see the one who is hiding before us in plain sight?

Thinking as well of Mary in the Garden in the Easter story from St. John. Not recognizing him, until that life-changing moment when she hears him speak her name. This the pattern over and over again, at the heart of Easter—at the heart of Easter for the disciples, and generation after generation, and for us. The heart of Easter.

The true meaning of the Word of God, no longer simply letters on a page, but now alive, one with us, Jesus himself.

Do you understand what you are reading? Is it a story in a book, an academic exercise, or a living, life-giving reality? A personal encounter.

And then we can hear the question rolling around behind this wonderful and poetic section of John 15, this deep imagery of communion, that we in Christ and he in us are to share the same life force, that our life comes about through his life, and in that living there is a new creation, a new creature. As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

We catch our breath, as we stand before the mystery of Easter. The Empty Tomb. The Risen Lord. Invited to enter into his life now. O sons and daughters, let us sing, the King of heaven, the glorious king, o’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia.

The question, as we would open our minds and our hearts and our lives to him: Do you understand, what you are reading, hearing, seeing? Do I? Who this is? Do we see him, know him, receive him?

Come, Lord Jesus.

That he would this day be as present for us and real to us as he was there on that afternoon, alongside the Gaza Road.

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

Bruce Robison

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Fourth Easter, 2009

Saturday, May 2, 2009, 5 p.m. Pittsburgh "Marathon Eve" Service
Sunday, May 3, 2009
IV Easter (RCL/B) John 10: 11-18

In the Great 40 Days between Easter and Ascension this Fourth Sunday of Easter takes the traditional title, and perhaps having heard the lessons this is no surprise to you--“Good Shepherd Sunday.”

This morning the 23rd Psalm, so familiar it almost seems to be imprinted in the deepest level of our subconscious, and then this reading from John 10.

As a historical note, in the first Book of Common Prayer in 1549 Good Shepherd Sunday followed the old Roman Catholic calendar and was the Sunday after Easter—the day we in our modern lectionaries now have the Upper Room and Doubting Thomas stories. In 1552 the day was "bumped forward" a week, to the Second Sunday after Easter, where it remained until it was moved forward again with the introduction of the three-year Eucharistic Lectionary in the Proposed Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church in 1976, which became our current 1979 Prayer Book, and which continues in the pattern of our new Revised Common Lectionary.

But whatever the Sunday, the imagery is intrinsic to Easter. As we say in our Creeds, “And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures: and ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father.” All one package.

The imagery explores who it is, who now rules heaven and earth; who it is, who will judge both the quick and the dead; who it is, whose kingdom shall have no end. How are we to understand our relationship to him now, and his to us? What language, what imagery, conceptual framework, what metaphor will allow us to grasp this deepest mystery of Easter. That he died, but now is risen from the dead, now with us, above us, around us, within us.

And now, whether on the second Sunday or third or fourth, the Easter brass still lingering behind us in the distant air, we hear not of a vengeful tyrant out to even the score, to give back some of what he got, nor of a far distant and remote clockmaker, who did what he needed to do and now has moved on to other things, not to be bothered anymore with us.

But instead, well: “Savior like a shepherd lead us, much we need thy tender care. In thy pleasant pastures feed us; for our use thy folds prepare. Blessed Jesus! Blessed Jesus! Thou hast bought us, thine we are.” What a gift, what a blessing of Easter. His love, his care, his tears for our sorrows, his word to heal us, his arms to embrace, to protect and keep us safe. Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death . . . .

Good Shepherd Sunday: a tenderness at the living heart of Easter. In what is so often a hard and harsh world, the blessing of his gentleness. May you and may all of us experience that, live fully with that. To say, “my cup runneth over” with the abundance of blessing and comfort, in him. O Sons and Daughters, let us sing, the King of heaven, the glorious King, from death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia.

In the midst of this, I want to pause for just a moment of interest over a word from this second part of John, Chapter 10, one point in particular in this rich passage, when Jesus says, in the 16th verse, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.”

This a very frequently discussed saying. Sometimes presented in the context of ecumenical conversations.

The New Testament scholar Raymond Brown thought that this was heard in the early community around St. John as a reference to what we might call the Petrine community—or perhaps of the churches founded by St. Paul.

In very modern times some have wondered whether the saying might not even be a clue of how to think about the pluralism of religious faiths, how the risen Jesus might be present even in places where his name is not known, working silently and secretly to share the reconciliation that comes from the Cross with the whole world.

I suppose we will never know for sure just exactly what Jesus had in mind. But what I think it does in any event, this word about “other sheep,” is that however we think it might be interpreted, it is at least, at most, reminder that while we are his, he is not ours.

To say that again: while we are his, he is not ours. Not in the sense that we own him, that we control and define the extent of his embrace. We are his, but he is not ours.

Remembering in this context the song by the Texas musical comedy group the Austin Lounge Lizards (first introduced to me by Barbara Lewis a number of years ago), in their famous song, “Jesus loves me, but he can’t stand you.”

If we know the grace and peace and healing and new life of his resurrection, what we cannot do ever is to assume that this is ours because we have earned it, because we deserve it—which is what inevitably follows from the thought that this blessing is for me, but somehow not for you.

There is eventually a kind of spiritual arrogance that can emerge from that, a sense of superiority, entitlement--a sense of pride, which is of course so powerfully unlike the one who came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for the many. Not the few, but the many.

To give his life, that the holy generosity that flows from the cross would lift us up and fill our lives. That as we are blessed, we might know that blessing not as something to cling to, but as something that falls as rain and snow fall from the heavens, his free gift.

Bruce Robison

Friday, May 1, 2009

Pastoral Note: Swine Flu

All the media focus on the recent outbreak of the H1N1 "Swine Flu" influenza virus has raised some questions about life in and around St. Andrew's. We will of course remain alert to any guidance from public health authorities if concerns become more serious.

Some thoughts in the meantime.

1. The H1N1 virus has not at this point been detected in our region. It is, however, a virus that seems to be transmitted fairly easily from person to person, so it is reasonably likely that there will be some cases here in the next days or weeks.

2. The "Swine Flu" has not thus far appeared to cause unusually severe illness in most of those who have been infected. It seems to be generally comparable to the kinds of respiratory influenza illnesses common during the winter flu season, and at this point is being described as "fairly mild."

However, influenza is always serious and even life threatening for the very young, the elderly, and those with other pre-existing health conditions. (I understand that approximately 30,000 people die in the U.S. every year from flu.)

We are also mindful of the fact that influenza viruses do mutate, sometimes becoming less harmful, sometimes becoming more harmful, as they move through populations. Certainly there is no need to panic--but neither should we be overly casual or dismissive.

3. At present, as we come to the end of the winter flu cycle here in the Northern Hemisphere, the primary concern is to prevent the spread of the disease. (Nearly all cases so far in the U.S. are among folks who have very recently been to Mexico, and among those in immediate contact with them. Though the circles obviously have the potential to grow from that.)

In this regard, the first and most important pastoral note is that people who are ill , or who have been exposed to those who are ill, should minimize their contact with others. Take a couple of days off from work or school, avoid movie theaters, the mall, supermarkets, concert halls, etc. Keep the kids home for a day or two. Yes: even church.

The Rector's sermons are always available, of course, via the "Rector's Page" button on the parish website . . . .

If you're sick, or know you've been exposed: Don't shake hands. Cover when you sneeze. Etc.

If you have high fever or other flu symptoms, contact your physician. The new anti-viral drugs are apparently quite effective.

Though again, it is important to emphasize that for most otherwise healthy people "swine flu" appears at this point to be not much different from the kinds of moderate respiratory influenza-caused illnesses we experience seasonally.

4. If and when the virus comes to our region, we will introduce a few modifications in our Sunday and weekday worship.

One would be, for example, a suggestion that the "passing of the peace" be done verbally, and with a smile, but without the shaking of hands or other physical contact.

Another would be in the administration of communion, with clergy using a cleansing wipe along with the usual ablutions before distributing the bread, and with the introduction of an Intinction Cup, a smaller chalice that allows for the intinction of the communion wafer without concern about any possible transmission via saliva or fingers. We are reminded that those who have been exposed to the flu may be contagious for a few days before they begin to notice any symptoms.

Again, these practices will be announced in church when appropriate, should we learn that there are cases of the illness being reported in Western Pennsylvania.

We would be reminded, though, in the meantime, that many studies over many years have shown that the possibility of viral transmission via corporate Holy Communion, whether by sipping from a chalice or from intinction, is extremely low. It is commonly said that the most likely place to "catch something" at Church is not during the service, but when greeting friends out on the sidewalk afterwards . . . .

We will in any case certainly keep the wider situation in mind and make appropriate modifications of our practices, with of course the well-being of our members, friends, and neighbors at the forefront of our concern.

Finally, just to note that efforts are underway to have a vaccine for H1N1 ready in time for the onset of seasonal flu concerns this fall. As I frequently interact with people of all ages and health conditions, and with concerns that I not be an agent of infection, I do personally make it a practice to have a flu shot as soon as they are available via the Allegheny County Health Dept. each fall.

I would encourage all who are able to receive those vaccinations this year to do so, and as early in the fall season as possible.

Affectionately, --with prayers for good health for all, and looking forward to seeing you at Church!--