Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fourth after Pentecost, 2009

Femme Touchant Jesus,
Corinne Vonaesch, 2001

June 21, 2009 Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
(RCL Proper 8B)
Mark 5: 21-43

Two miraculous healings in the gospel reading this morning.

The President of the local synagogue comes to Jesus in deep distress. Whatever ordinary medical or healing practices they had available have failed. Now there’s nothing left to do but seek out the famous rabbi who is rumored to have these extraordinary powers. “Please come, Jesus. Touch her, so that she may live.”

They rush off to the place where the girl is, and along the way this second story, a story within a story. The hemorrhaging woman, she with this illness that renders her ritually unclean in perpetuity, unable to interact with her husband or her children or her neighbors. She sees Jesus coming down the street, and as he passes by she steps into the crowd, reaches out, touches his garments. And immediately she healed.

Jesus stops to speak with her, and then, as they get moving again, messengers come to report that the effort is too late, the little girl has died. Despite this news, Jesus continues to the home, goes up into the room, says these words, “Talitha cumi,” little girl, get up. And from her deathbed the little girl is healed also, revived, restored to life. And this nice detail here: the family and others are lost in amazement. Jesus says, “Get her something to eat.”

Interesting here, we notice that both of those who receive the gracious gift of healing in these stories are women, who would not ordinarily be the concern of a rabbi like Jesus. And one was unclean through her hemorrhage. The other, the little girl, in her time of death , is now also unclean--as to touch a dead body was also a violation of the rules of ritual purity.

Those around Jesus are concerned about these things in both parts of the story. The woman herself trembles in fear when she is found out, afraid that she will be punished for having put the famous teacher in such an awkward and even scandalous situation. Now he will need to go through the rituals of ceremonial cleansing before he can continue his ministry. The family and friends of the little girl seem even to try to talk Jesus out of going into the house after the word of the girl’s death comes to them.

There is something bold and overwhelmingly powerful about Jesus here, not in the drama of his crossing these lines, as though he were making some big point. He doesn’t lecture his disciples or the crowds. There are no trumpets. No loud political challenges to the system of the purity laws. But there is this effortless quality of his action. He seems not to notice at all. His generosity, his gracious presence, his tenderness, his kindness all that we see. It just flows freely, genuinely, personally, and in abundance.

We would be invited to step into that abundant love this morning. One by one, person by person. No matter what brokenness may be within us. No matter how great the healing is that we may require. It is here for us. And free. The woman could hardly believe it, that after all her years of suffering it would be enough just to touch the hem of his robe. The little girl was all the way gone, and nothing could bring her back. But in his presence, there was life. All goodness, all gentleness, all blessing, all grace, all mercy. An ocean of his compassion rolls over the desert of human life, and for them and for us nothing is the same again.

A free gift. The mystery and miracle of the Cross made present and real, the free gift of unexpected and unearned love. Jesus present. For us. A taste of bread and wine. Wherever he was, wherever he is, wherever he will be. Jesus with us. Jesus in us. Jesus among us, and working through us, making our lives his life. A word of blessing. And we are healed. It can be so in Christ. And our lives are made new.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Resolution on the Anglican Covenant

I've joined with two colleagues and fellow General Convention deputies as a co-sponsor of Resolution D-020--a resolution having to do with the continued engagement of the Episcopal Church in the development of an Anglican Covenant--which will be considered as we gather at Anaheim in July.

Episcopal Life Online asked me to write a brief supporting article.

Click Here: To read the article.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Third after Pentecost, 2009

David Slings the Stone
James Tissot, c. 1900

June 21, 2009
(RCL 7B)
I Samuel 17;
II Corinthians 6: 1-13; Mark 4: 35-41

Earlier this week while I was driving down South Braddock Avenue I noticed that the Regent Square Theater was showing the 1995 film Clueless – that very fun adolescent comedy, based on Jane Austen’s novel Emma, with the young actress Alicia Silverstone. And as I saw that, thinking about this other young adolescent in our view this week, young David of Bethlehem, it occurred to me that maybe we would call his movie not Clueless, but Fearless.

David strides onto the stage here with all the bluster and ego and self-confidence of a robust 13-year-old boy. We know his type. A young Beowulf: I guess he’d be played by a teenaged Marlon Brando. Invincible. Gutsy. Always right. Totally unphased by the amused, skeptical pragmatism of the grown-up men around him, even when they dress him up in all that armor and enjoy a good laugh. They’re looking at the numbers, the size of the armies, comparative weapons systems, and things don’t look so good. But David—you don’t bother him with the facts. He’s just ready to rumble.

Of course, we drill down a little deeper into this moment, this famous story, the story of the Kid and the Giant, and we see that there is more here than just a typical brash teenager and a lucky first-throw with the slingshot. If David reminds us in some ways of that typical teenager, we’re asked to see something else in him as well. The source of this brash, over-the-top confidence. We’re asked to see that this amazing, fearless moment is grounded on something more than testosterone.

Three thousand years ago, but these words ring out as fresh here this morning as they were on that morning: “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” And then David said to the Philistine, “You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin; but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand . . . .”

This isn’t a story about a reckless teenager. It’s about a man of faith. Holy confidence. About how from that moment years ago when the Prophet Samuel had anointed young David’s head with oil and proclaimed, “This is the One,” there was the Spirit of God moving with strength, and a sense for us in this story of the certainty of God’s plan and God’s destiny. For David, for Israel. It’s not just a boy here before us. It’s Daniel in the Den of Lions, it’s Esther standing up to the Shah.

Heroes. Prophets. Martyrs. Generation after generation. Bold and brave, no matter what the odds, no matter the apparent strength of the powers lined up against them. All kinds of images. Father Damien sailing out to the island of the Lepers. Mother Teresa gathering the dying on the streets of Calcutta. I think of my friend Mike Wurschmidt, my colleague and Stacy’s colleague and friend also, who with his wife Tina and a few friends 15 years ago and more now decided to go out to the places under the bridges of Pittsburgh, and down by the river, where the homeless were sleeping, and to reach out to drug addicts and the mentally ill on the streets, and then to gather them together into a family, a church, a community of faith, with our Shepherd’s Heart Fellowship.

How do they do it? As in Mark, the storm winds howl, as they did last Wednesday night, the rain pours down, the waves are rolling faster and faster, and we like those disciples begin to shake him, “Wake up, Jesus. Help!” And then of course to hear him, not to rebuke us, because he speaks to us in love and with encouragement, but to rebuke the wind and the waves. “Really, really: what is there to be afraid of? Peace. Be still.”

Paul in the second lesson this morning from Second Corinthians can talk about a life of endurance and triumph in Christ, for better, for worse, for richer for poorer. It’s all good, because we know who’s in charge. It’s all good.

Again and again to go back to Paul in Romans 8: Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus or Lord.

It speaks to us, Christian friends, down the centuries. David before the giant, with only those five smooth stones and his leather sling. Those friends that night in that tiny boat on the stormy lake. A word about what Christ has won for us, who Christ is for us, about our life in the Spirit of God.

Living in this world as we do have sometimes pretty scary giants, and feeling like we don’t have much in us and on our side to fight them with. Living in some pretty small boats sometime, in the midst of pretty big storms.

This not about cluelessness or carelessness, not about poor judgment or some kind of wild adolescent impulsivity. As God has given us minds to think with, reason, memory, skill. But this is about who we are in our hearts. Win or lose. Victory or defeat.

To hear his word, as he quiets the wind and stills the waves. “Peace, be still.” Remember the whole story. To see and to know that it isn’t our story, but God’s story.

On her sickbed and at the threshold of death Dame Julian of Norwich had her mind and her heart and her imagination filled with the image of the sufferings of Christ, his wounds, his death on the Cross, and in all that she found herself repeating over and over and over again: And all shall be well. And all shall be well.

As young David says, as we would say, as we would pray, through all our battles, confronting our fears: Today you will see that there is a God in Israel.

So then we come to the altar. We break the bread and share the cup and participate together in the heavenly feast. With the prayer that we might open our hearts to him, that we might go out this morning in the power of the Spirit, in a world of storms, in lives where there are many giants, with a spirit of boldness, and confidence, and standing in faith. Like David. Not clueless, but fearless.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Pastoral Note: Pittsburgh Anglicans in the News

Dear Friends in the St. Andrew's family,

Beginning with an article by Ann Rogers in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Click Here: Post Gazette Article

--and then continuing I'm sure in many contexts--we will be reading and hearing about what will be the founding "Council" of a new Church body, the "Anglican Church in North America," to be held in Texas later next week.

Click Here: For more information.

For those of us, as here at St. Andrew's, who continue as members of the Episcopal Church, with all the work we have continuing before us in the reorganization of our Episcopal Diocese, this gathering has no immediate or direct impact.

However, we certainly may be interested.

Reflecting that interest, I will be hosting an informal conversation on the topic at our final Adult Education "Coffee and Conversation" of the spring at 10 a.m. next Sunday, June 28.

One thing that we do know is that the ACNA will be made up largely, though not entirely, of clergy, congregations, and other organizations that were formerly Episcopalian--and a number of the leaders of this new Church body have Pittsburgh connections or are presently clergy and laity of the "Realigned Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh" (those who separated from the Episcopal Church at our diocesan convention in October, 2008).

Most notably, Bishop Bob Duncan, who served as our bishop from 1996 until his separation from the ministry of the Episcopal Church last September, and who was called and elected to serve as bishop of those of our diocese who "realigned," will be recognized at this gathering this week as well as the Archbishop of the ACNA--which is structured, though not recognized by the formal bodies of the Anglican Communion, as an Anglican Province or national Church.

So, what does all this mean? I think we at this point can have only a very preliminary view.

One thing that seems clear is that many of the various individuals and groups that have separated from the Episcopal Church in the past will now have a church structure within which to attempt a more orderly common life. This new organizational identity may thus be a real enhancement to the well-being of their Christian life and ministry.

There is some uncertainty here, though. The members of the ACNA have in common a desire to continue in some form of Anglican ministry while at the same time not being a part of the Episcopal Church. But within this group there is much diversity of churchmanship, culture, and theological perspective. Concerns about the ordination of women, the role and authority of bishops, and the importance of an eventual, formal acceptance within the Anglican Communion, for example, reflect a range of backgrounds from Protestant Evangelical to traditional Anglo-Catholic. It will be interesting to see if the new ACNA will struggle successfully (as certainly the Episcopal Church has struggled and continues to struggle) to live together in the midst of these differences.

It is probably the case as well that if an orderly common life does emerge within the ACNA, and if that life reflects a strong spirit of Anglican identity, the presence of the ACNA may further complicate the already very complicated role and status of the Episcopal Church within the wider Anglican world and within the formal bodies of our increasingly fragmented Anglican Communion.

We will, as the saying goes, "stay tuned for more news" in the months and years ahead.

Here locally in Pittsburgh, of course, we live with some of this story in a more immediate and personal way. The two diocesan bodies, ours of the Episcopal Church and the "realigned" diocese now identified with the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone and with the emerging ACNA, have a tangled mesh of concerns following from the division last fall.

Some of these concerns are formal and legal and are being addressed under the authority of the Court of Common Pleas of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Others are more informal, personal, relational, as the impact of the division has been felt in the lives of families and in relationships of friendship, collegiality, and ministry.

We have, I think, still quite a distance to go before we will be able to say that we see the whole of this situation in the rearview mirror.

What I have been impressed with myself, here at St. Andrew's and among my friends and colleagues in the wider frame, is that so many are trying so hard to move forward as Christian people with a spirit of charity, generosity, and continuing affection.

We've had some important differences, there has been some real hurt, there continue to be some sharp disagreements, and there are, no question, many problems yet to be resolved. But I know through it all there is as well a desire that our personal conduct would be a witness to the message of forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal hope at the heart of our Lord's gospel.

Both groups would recognize that we are, finally, profoundly imperfect expressions of Christian life. Both would recognize that as we do our best, with humility, to move forward as we can, we have much still to learn from one another. As St. Paul says in First Corinthians 12: The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you."

On a personal note, I am sending Bishop Duncan today a card of affection and congratulations at the beginning of this new chapter of his ministry. He has been a faithful pastor and friend to me and to my family for many years--and especially always with much encouragement for all of us at St. Andrew's. While we've had differences--and most especially over this profound question of departure from the Episcopal Church--we have also shared a great deal together.

It is certainly my prayer that he and Nara will find this season ahead to be one of great joy, fulfillment, and blessing.

Faithfully yours,

Bruce Robison

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Second after Pentecost, 2009

I Samuel 15: 34 - 16:13; Mark 4: 26-34

The Anointing of David by Samuel,
Caspar Luiken, 1672-1708

“The LORD said to Samuel . . . ‘Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.”

Many of you may recall that this story of the anointing of David by Samuel is one that I often reference at the time of chrismation in the baptismal service. I love this dramatic moment: “The LORD said, ‘Rise and anoint him, for this is the one.’” To hear the excitement in that: “this is the one!”

[Do you recall the same term in the film The Matrix. Neo, the Keanu Reeves character: the question that haunts him through the story-- Is he the One?]

Saul’s time as the King of Israel is coming to its end. And God has plans, big plans, about what is to come next. Plans hidden deep in the life of this skinny young red-headed boy from a south-country ranch. A potential in him not visible to those around him. His father didn’t even think to call him in for the interview with the Prophet.

But through the eyes of the inspired Samuel we catch in this fleeting moment a glimpse of the great story that will unfold in years to come, battles fought and won, the establishment of the Holy Kingdom in the magnificent City of David, Jerusalem, then after years of family intrigue Solomon comes to the throne, and the great Temple is built on Zion, and then generation after generation, the Royal Priesthood of David’s line--and all the way down the road of centuries, war and turmoil, defeat and exile, humiliation and restoration—and finally to that stable on the side street of Bethlehem where on one quiet night great David’s greater son would be born for us and for all the human family, King of kings, Lord of lords. All here, revealed in the glimpse in this moment of all that will unfold, in the secret of God’s heart from the first moment of creation: “rise and anoint him, for this is the one.”

The lectionary this morning underscores the point thematically with the Parable of the Mustard Seed in St. Mark. We judge by what we see. Size and weight. External appearances. But even with that tiny seed, just a speck of nothing, there is something going on—rooted down in the cellular programming of its DNA, let’s say. More than meets the eye. From this nothing will come forth something big.

You just never can tell. Which is what I think the moral of the story is for us this morning. You never can tell. An essential insight to what I think we would as Christian people call a Biblical worldview, the foundation of our ethics, our spirituality. That we are through the stories of scripture in both the Old and the New Testaments shown over and over and over again a vision of a self, a world, and a universe where God’s presence and God’s purposes over and over again turn upside down our prejudices, our judgments, our certainties.

“If you think you’ve got things figured out,” the stories tell us time and time again, “take another look. Think again.” The story is bigger than we are. Way more here than we will ever know.

This is the moral of the great cycle of stories about Joseph in the last part of the Book of Genesis. One calamity after another, disaster after disaster. Betrayal and deceit. Assault and kidnapping and slavery and imprisonment. Economic collapse and famine. Dislocation. Mass starvation. The whole dark side of human and natural catastrophe.

When finally the story ends, not with ruin and destruction, but with restoration and healing, reconciliation and blessing. And in Genesis 50: “His brothers also came and fell down before him, and said, ‘Behold, we are your servants.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Fear not, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”

A little deviation from the propers for today, but to say: this is the Biblical pattern over and over again. God’s will being worked out, in ways that we can’t see. Perhaps right in front of us, in plain view. But we don’t get it.

Of course it’s true all the time for us. How the smallest moments sometimes have the greatest impact. A soft word of support, affection, spoken at just the right time. Or a thoughtless hurt, that can echo through a lifetime. An overheard comment. A casual introduction.

Susy and I tell the story of how the direction of our relationship and the story of our marriage and life together had its beginning in a decision that each of us made completely independently one rainy spring afternoon in Berkeley in 1979 to take a bus that neither of us would ordinarily have taken. We got on at different stops, but were chatting when we got off. And we look back, of course, 30 years later, perhaps amazed that so much has flowed out from the small and casual and almost random decisions of that moment.

I’m sure, I know, that each one of us this morning can tell a story like that, or many stories. About how we got this job, how we came to live in this house, to go to this school, to be living the life that we live. The tiny spring on the hillside in Ethiopia that rolls on, inch by inch, to become the Nile. Who would ever have thought that something so big could begin so small?

In the course of this, another Rector’s Movie Review, two thumbs up, if you've seen The Matrix already and then happen to be shopping through Netflix or the local video store looking for something fun and interesting for a summer evening--the 1998 Peter Howitt film, “Sliding Doors,” with Gwyneth Paltrow. A story that traces the life of a young woman as it branches into two stories—how her life plays out if she does, or if she doesn’t, pause for a moment one morning on the steps down to the London subway to help a woman who has dropped something. Just the briefest pause, yet as the days and months flow out, two different scenarios. Two entirely different life stories.

A Christian worldview, an orientation of spiritual life, the practice of attentiveness--to live day by day awake, alert, with the awareness that God is present and working through it all. Not that this awareness is paralyzing, fearful, but entirely the opposite. Liberating. Refreshing. Which can be a great way to live in the fullness of Christian life.

That each moment, each person, each event, each opportunity, no matter how small, no matter how apparently trivial, is pregnant with God’s hope, with God’s future. Not just through the great figures on the front page of the newspaper, but through the child who sits by the side of the road in some far off corner of the world. In Lima Peru, or even around the corner in Highland Park. Maybe in our own household. Maybe the one we see when we look into the mirror in the morning. Am I "the one?" Are you? You just never can tell how it is going to play out. Someone as invisible to us, as if he were a scrawny red-headed teenager, with nothing much to commend him. A mustard seed.

As the old saying goes, God isn’t finished with any of us yet.

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

Bruce Robison

Saturday, June 13, 2009


Penguins defeat Red Wings 2-1
Game 7, Stanley Cup Finals, 2009

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Trinity Sunday, 2009

Icon of the Holy Trinity
Andrei Rublev, c. 1410

June 7, 2009 Trinity Sunday (RCL Year B) Isaiah 6: 1-8

All the readings appointed for this Trinity Sunday are exceptionally rich and abundant with language and imagery of Father, Son, and Spirit, the Three Persons of the Holy Trinity. And surrounding us as well the majestic poetry and music of the great hymns especially appropriate for this day.

All a reminder that while this day takes its name from the formal title of an ancient theological doctrine, what it is truly about, and what we are about this morning, is not a classroom, lecture hall hour of philosophical disquisition, though that has its place, but today for us doctrine flows into doxology, teaching becomes thanksgiving: I bind unto myself this day, the strong name of the Trinity--worship, praise, adoration, all the wellspring of our spiritual life, our calling and discipleship as Christian people.

In the words of the ancient hymn: Holy, holy, holy, LORD God of Sabaoth. Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory. The glorious company of the apostles praise thee. The goodly fellowship of the prophets praise thee. The noble army of martyrs praise thee. The holy Church throughout all the world doth acknowledge thee, the Father, of an infinite majesty; thine adorable, true, and only Son; also the Holy Ghost the Comforter.

As we would say with Isaiah this morning, the sixth chapter, the fifth verse, as we hear the word proclaimed, as we break the Bread together at the Holy Table, as we drink from the Cup of Salvation, this moment when Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania will become even the court of heaven, these eyes of mine have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!

Worship and praise. Flowing from us, embracing us. It takes an act of the will, an inward opening of the mind, the heart, the imagination, to hear this invitation, to swing wide the door, to be lifted into his presence as he embraces us here and now--for all the turmoil of our lives, the doubts, the second-guessing.

A deep breath in, and an exhalation. Not something reserved only for the rare mystic saint, but for us all. As we say—yes—to him. That as Christ died for us, and rose from the dead, so we share in his death, so we are made a part of his resurrection. Easter, Ascension, Pentecost. So we are alive in him, alive in the Father, alive in the Spirit. The future promise of God, here and now, in Christ and among us.

So the word is, “sing, rejoice, and be glad.” It’s Trinity Sunday!

Bruce Robison

Saturday, June 6, 2009

June 6, 2009

65 Years Ago . . . .

When I was Rector of St. Paul's Church, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, one of my parishioners, Wayne Schuyler, was a D-Day Vet. He told me he was on the beach at +3 minutes, on the second wave of landing boats. Wayne died I think three or four years ago. I understand that at the ceremonies this morning in France there were only about 200 veterans present--the smallest number ever.

Bruce Robison

June 6, 2009

June 6, 2009 Holy Matrimony
Brienne Joy Mains and Andrew Stephen Westphal
Ephesians 5: 1-2, 21-33

Brie’ and ‘Drew, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon, is thank you. It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Christ, as husband and wife.

It’s a great day! We’ve been thinking about it and planning for it for a long time, and when we started this date seemed a long way off—but now, time has flown by, and here we are. Fall, winter, spring, and now on the doorstep of summer. Congratulations to you, as I know this season of your friendship and deepening relationship has been rich in so many ways, and as I know that the story that is yet to be told of the life and family you will share as husband and wife will be a great one.

The lesson that you selected, from St. Paul’s Letter to the Christian Church at Ephesus, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day. It is I think a deep expression of the passion and compassion of the human heart, as we know that in our deepest and most intimate relationships, and as we would understand through that--that we are for at least a brief moment in this world catching a glimpse of the deep love, the passion and the compassion, that is at the heart of God’s life, and that we are all ultimately destined for.

Wives and husbands are called into this mystery, to love one another in Christ so profoundly, that the other becomes even more important than the self. There is this mutual “subjugation,” to use Paul’s word. A love that seeks not its own benefit, but the victory and completion of the other—a love that finds joy and fulfillment first and most of all in the knowledge that the other comes first in that joy. In this way, the two become one.

The relationship of husband and wife then an image of Christ’s love for us, a hint of how we are all to live in our relationships with one another. And this day, the commitments you bring, the words and promises, speak about who you are today, and also about who we are all destined to become, this moment like a window, through which we begin to see God’s hope and dream for each one of us since the creation of the world.

The rarest thing of all, the most precious, the most fragile, the hardest to find and the easiest to lose, yet somehow also the most durable, the most patient, the most forgiving, the most welcoming.

It is a beautiful image, for this beautiful day, and, I would simply offer the thought that the gift of this moment is one that doesn’t ever need to wear out or to be exchanged. It’s the best gift of all, the richest of all blessings, and can last for a lifetime. May God bless and keep you in this new life that you begin today, and with joy and peace in all the days ahead.

Now as ‘Drew and Brie’ come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask all of us to bow our heads for a moment to offer a prayer for them, for their protection and their blessing, their joy, in all that God has for them in the days and years ahead.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Another Whitsunday Sermon

A very fine sermon preached last Sunday by the Rt. Rev. N.T. Wright, Bishop of Durham, in the Church of England:

Click here for Pentecost Sermon

Glad to pass it along . . . .

Bruce Robison