Monday, September 28, 2009

St. Michael and All Angels

The Revelation to John, in the Twelfth Chapter:

And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,

And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven.

And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.

And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night.

St. Michael Fighting Demons
Master of the Legend of St. Ursula
(active 1480-1500 in Bruges)

O EVERLASTING God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Yom Kippur

With a word of affection to our Jewish friends and neighbors on this day.

The biblical account of Yom Kippur describes a day dedicated to atonement and abstinence. Leviticus 23:27 tells us that on the 10th day of the month of Tishrei, "You should do no work throughout that day. For it is a Day of Atonement ("Yom Kippurim") on which expiation is made on your behalf before the Lord your God. Indeed, any person who does not practice self-denial throughout that day shall be cut off from his people..."

Click Here to Read it all: History of Yom Kippur

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Seventeenth after Pentecost, 2009

RCL Proper 21B Mark 9: 38-50

There are a lot of ways to think about salt and saltiness. Before the days of refrigeration our ancestors for thousands of years would use salt to keep meat from going stale and spoiling. Still what they do in Mongolia, as Linnea told us.

Salt Cellar, Athens
5th Century b.c.

Many of us will have a salt cellar on the dining table to add a bit of spice and flavor if our food seems a little bland. Here in Pennsylvania we may be quite free in the winter to spread salt to break up the hard crust of ice after a snowfall and to keep our driveways and sidewalks as open and safe places to walk. Or we talk about pouring salt in a wound, which might be antiseptic but will also sting like crazy. The Romans ploughed salt into the fields around Carthage, to assure themselves that it would be a good long time before anyone returned to that corner of the world. The ordinary, unpretentious man has always been “the salt of the earth.” And of course my grandmother was always pretty clear that salty language had no place at the family dinner table. (I guess that comes from the idea that sailors were particularly colorful in their language. “Old salts.”)

So anyway--this morning, Mark 9, the 50th verse: Salt is good, but if the salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.

Salty Christianity. Salty Christians. That’s what we’re about in Mark this morning. Have salt in yourselves. This of course is Jesus talking about the Church, and thinking about the two different parts of the reading. In the first we’re just rolling forward from that conversation on the road, when the disciples were talking about who sits where around the Kingdom Conference Table, who is the most important, and so on. And now here in verses 38-41 they’re expressing some anxiety about the Church as a membership organization. Here we have people who never applied to us for membership and who haven’t asked our permission and who are using the name of Jesus and teaching and healing and performing exorcisms and all the rest entirely beyond our supervision and control. They’re not paying dues. They’re not following the appropriate channels. Deep down, the unvarnished reality is that they’re threatening our turf. And all kinds of defensiveness erupt in just these few words of dismay.

But Jesus pushes back. He says he wants the doors open. He’s not afraid of those unregistered fan clubs and undocumented fellow travelers. Probably they’re doing some good. And even if they’re not doing some good, at least they’re building up some name-recognition for the Kingdom movement. If they’ve been representing themselves as disciples, they probably will turn out to be on our side if the conflict gets hot down the road. The whole deal just seems wide open. Maybe this is related thematically to the Parable of the Sower—reminds me of that--as he walks along the road reaching into his bag and tossing great handfuls of seed into the wind, not paying attention to where they will land. Certainly also an image to threaten those of us who are Northern European Introverted Males, who like things done decently and in order, with a plan and a “Plan B,” and with appropriate oversight. This is, like, crazy, Jesus. No quality control out there. Who knows what might happen?

And maybe that gets their stomach churning a little. Does for me, anyway. What kind of an operation is this? Anything goes? Let it all hang out? I mean, more people just like us—sure, that sounds fine. But what happens if the doors are open and some of those other types start wandering in? I mean Jesus, what about the people I joined this particular Church in order to get away from? Aren’t we going to have any rules?

But then we just barely catch our breath, if we do that, and Jesus flips it all again. If some of us have been made incredibly nervous by this image of Church as free-for-all, probably some others have sat back with a contented smile. But he doesn’t let them off the hook either. Let’s say, to mangle a phrase, “what’s salt for the goose is salt for the gander.” He refers us back to that little child he had set in their midst in the lesson we read last week. And he says, by the way: don’t make any mistakes. One false move, one step which leads astray even one of the most vulnerable, and you will pay for it in ways more costly than you can imagine in your wildest dreams. In your wildest nightmares. If you thought getting things exactly right was important in brain surgery and rocket science—the stakes here are way higher. Getting it wrong can’t be an option. Preachers and Sunday School teachers, moms and dads, friends and neighbors, all of us—all of us: the door may be wide open, but Be careful. Be careful.

This all about life on the edge. About power to transform, to cure, to redeem, and to spoil. Nothing, good disciples, that you should ever be able to get comfortable with. If your Church becomes only a club for the self-satisfied, a mutual admiration society, a self-reinforcing circle. If the cross becomes only a decoration, an architectural ornament, a piece of jewelry. If you thought friendship with Jesus would be like having another really cool “friend” on Facebook. If you thought being a member of his Church would be like being in the Rotary, or the Parks Conservancy. If you thought you could let him into your life, and that then he would leave you alone to be who you were before. Think again.

It’s a challenge—salt is. As we are all a challenge to one another. As he is salt for us: as he challenges us, inspires us, guides us forward, pulls us back. Knocks us off track from time to time. As he heals us and preserves us, seasons us, cleanses us, breaks the cold ice that can encircle our hearts, and restores us to life in him. As he would work through our lives to bring blessing and hope, and to renew the life of the world.

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

Bruce Robison

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The G-20 Summit, Pittsburgh

Click Here for a Brian Williams/MSNBC Story on Pittsburgh at the G20

Click Here for the Prayer Guide of the Christian Associates of Southwestern Pennsylvania

In the Deacon's Bidding Prayer at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
Sunday, September 20:

In this season of war, environmental concern, and global economic distress, I bid your prayers for the leaders of the G-20 nations as they meet together here in Pittsburgh this week, that they may find ways to contribute to the well-being of all people. I bid your prayers for our city of Pittsburgh in the week ahead, and especially for our police, fire, and other public safety officials.

The Great Bell of St. Andrew's Church will ring at 12:00 Noon on Thursday, September 24.

The Pittsburgh G-20 Prayer Initiative

"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper." (Jeremiah 29:7)

The Pittsburgh G-20 Prayer Initiative is an ad hoc gathering of Christian leaders who have agreed to unite in solidarity in prayer for peace for the G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on September 24-25, 2009.

The G-20's presence in a city is regularly accompanied by violence and extreme efforts to disrupt the conference by fomenting violence within the community. While we recognize and appreciate the right for peaceful protests, we are committed to stand together as the Church in our churches, neighborhoods and communities as we pray for a peaceful and successful gathering of the global leaders.

In light of the current international, political, and economic struggles we believe it is essential for the Christian community to stand together in prayer for these very important and critical days in our city. Therefore we are asking all Christian believers to join together in praying for the peace and protection of our city, starting immediately. We are not scripting how to observe it; we simply ask that every daily observance include prayer for peace. Some are choosing to pray at noon each day and some are fasting, while others are having prayer vigils; we believe there is something everyone can do for peace.

It is our hope and prayer as Christian leaders that all churches in Pennsylvania and across our nation would take seriously the challenge to pray for peace and safety for President Barak Obama, and the other leaders of the G-20 as they gather here in our community. We want our community to be marked by peace and we respectfully ask that as the G-20 leaders gather they remember to address the needs of the poor, the oppressed and the needy in the world as we are instructed to do in Matthew 25.

We are asking churches to ring their bells on September 24 at twelve noon as a Christian witness and a proclamation that Jesus Christ is Lord of our city and that we are united as His Body in prayer.

For more information, please call (412) 281-1305.

Monday, September 21, 2009

St. Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

The name Matthew is derived from the Hebrew Mattija, being shortened to Mattai in post-Biblical Hebrew. In Greek it is sometimes spelled Maththaios, and sometimes Matthaios, but grammarians do not agree as to which of the two spellings is the original.

Matthew is spoken of five times in the New Testament; first in Matthew 9:9, when called by Jesus to follow Him, and then four times in the list of the Apostles, where he is mentioned in the seventh (Luke 6:15, and Mark 3:18), and again in the eighth place (Matthew 10:3, and Acts 1:13). The man designated in Matthew 9:9, as "sitting in the custom house", and "named Matthew" is the same as Levi, recorded in Mark 2:14, and Luke 5:27, as "sitting at the receipt of custom". The account in the three Synoptics is identical, the vocation of Matthew-Levi being alluded to in the same terms. Hence Levi was the original name of the man who was subsequently called Matthew; the Maththaios legomenos of Matthew 9:9, would indicate this.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia: Read it All Here

We thank thee, heavenly Father, for the witness of thine apostle and evangelist Matthew to the Gospel of thy Son our Savior; and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sixteenth after Pentecost, 2009

16 Pentecost (RCL Proper 20B)
Proverbs 31: 10-31; James 3:13 – 4:8; Mark 9: 30-37

The second section of the reading from Mark this morning is just such a perfect candid-camera snapshot of our whole crazy human condition. We always hope the photographer will catch our good side, maybe knock off 10 pounds and fill in that receding hairline, but most of the time that doesn’t seem to happen.

I mean, Jesus has just opened for his disciples in that conversation outside of Caesarea Phillipi and then as they continue to walk down the road this window onto the deepest mystery of God’s action since the creation of the world, the sacramental depth of reconciliation and restoration happening right in their midst, before their very eyes, in the life and death and resurrection of the eternal Word of the Father.

And by the time they all get home to Capernaum our esteemed Apostolic Fathers are squabbling amongst themselves about whom Jesus likes best and who gets the corner office on the top floor of Kingdom Center and which of them should sit at the head of the Kingdom banquet table. Certainly I have earned that parking place next to the elevator. Again, just kind of crazy. We think, “aren’t these guys paying attention?” And of course the answer is no. And no big surprise to us actually as they show the symptoms all to familiar to us as we look into the mirror of this deeply ingrained attention-deficit disorder at the heart of our human condition.

We can stand at the mountaintop of vision and purpose, and fifteen minutes later we are scuffling along daydreaming about—I don’t know, wealth and power, prestige, and importance—all which we know we certainly deserve in this universe that revolves so clearly around us. The refrain of the George Harrison song, “I, me, mine; I, me, mine; I, me, mine.” (And by the way, I’m looking forward to hearing all those Beatle classics on the new remastered CD’s . . . . But that’s off-topic.)

Again, anyway, a snapshot of our self-centeredness. Every generation the Pepsi generation. In the end, it’s all about me, me, me. Our generational anthem, but of course transcending any particular generation.

Which then Jesus of course turns on its head with the sermon illustration of the child. Doesn’t communicate immediately to us. The child essentially a non-entity in the culture. First century Palestine not a place where Mr. Mom imagery a home. Children are for women and slaves to attend to. Not quite even fully human beings. And here then the startling moment, perhaps something we can only appreciate today by an effort of will—how breathtaking it would be to see the Rabbi Jesus himself picking up the child. Crashing through all kinds of barriers.

An image of humility, even somewhat shocking: the opposite of prestige and power. What is going on here? Turning things upside down, challenging us to think again about what’s important, how we see and understand ourselves.

I know you see this, and I find it just very helpful to have this imagery set for us this morning in the framework and context of these wonderful readings from Proverbs and James. There are aspects of both of these readings that are culturally conditioned, of course, and people sometimes get a little reactive especially about the reading from Proverbs, because the images of the ideal wife here push up against some of the issues about gender equality and so on that are a little closer to the surface still for us here at the beginning of the 21st century.

But if we could put some of that in suspense for a moment, what I’d like to pause over for a moment is not the way the roles of husband and wife are distinguished, but how when they are taken together they reflect a view of human life and an expression of values that are presented as a way to understand what kind of life God intended for us, what kind of world we might live in when we are walking with him.

And I want to name some themes that I hear in this passage, and would just suggest that in hearing these themes we might take time if not here this morning then maybe later on to re-read it and hear it again as a word for us, and a good word. In fact, if there is a particular word, it is a Hebrew word and idea that is particularly a favorite of our Presiding Bishop’s, as she has often written about it. “Shalom.” Which is in Hebrew a greeting, and which is most often translated as “peace.” And so, when Jesus begins to speak he often says, “Shalom aleichem,” –“Peace be with you.” But to note that this “peace” is not simply about, let’s say, the absence of armed conflict and international warfare, though that could be a part of it, but it is instead a reference to a state of being reflecting the true and deepest contentment of life, not just in the human sphere but in the whole created order.

Shalom , the Wisdom from on High, as we see in Treasured Wife with her family in the reading from Proverbs, is a condition, a state of being, a way of life based on trust and integrity, on a balance between work and leisure, on a healthful abundance of the material necessities and pleasures of life, on wholesome prosperity, on creativity and enterprise, on orderliness and self-restraint, on an interdependent and accountable place in the community, on an absence of anxiety about the future, on self-respect, strength of character and personality, on a deep-down sense of personal dignity. And all this grounded in a natural spirit of kindness, gentleness, self-control, hospitality, and generosity.

Shalom is not about me, what “I have,” but about us, what we have and who we are. About individual moral character inextricably bound up with the integrity of the family, the neighborhood, the community, and the nation. About being a blessing: to a spouse, to children as they are shaped in this cluster of value, to friend and stranger. It is even an environmental ethic. Perhaps much in the spirit of St. Francis, “Brother sun, sister moon.” A sense of the family and household of the whole world, all of us together. So I’m sure we would pray for a spirit of “shalom” to gather the leaders of the G-20 nations as they come to Pittsburgh this week.

Of course it is an ideal. Always incomplete here, yet something that can be true in part, even in large part, and that can point us toward the future for us prepared by our heavenly Father. The ethic of the Kingdom, already coming to life here and now, in and among us.

Which is why, by the way, a quarreling church, a church framed by self-interest, individual claims, personal interests and ambition, a spirit of self-righteousness, is always such a critical problem. Whether the twelve walking with Jesus along the backroads of the Galilee, or in any time and place. Always uncomfortably a familiar story. St. Paul says in First Corinthians that the mark of the healthy church is that we wait for one another at the table—nobody starts eating until everybody’s there, and until we can see that there’s enough for all of us.

James calls the church to shalom, at the 17th verse of the 3rd chapter, which might be the background music of our lives as we come forward for communion this morning: “. . . the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

As the heavenly Bread is broken for us, the chalice filled, his Body and Blood eternally for us, we would pray to become a part of him and of his peace, the shalom that passes all understanding.

Bruce Robison

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

September 16, 2009

Burial Office
Theresa Maud “Molly” Strong
October 12, 1930 – September 13, 2009

Click Here for Obituary Notice

First of all, I would say simply a word of welcome to all, in this gathering of family and friends, as we offer our prayers for Molly, remembering her today as daughter and sister, aunt and great-aunt, and good friend, and honoring and remembering her as well in her ministry as a nurse, and especially in her care for children over so many years, and as a member of the community of faith in the one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, and of this parish of St. Andrew’s here in Highland Park, and before that of St. Luke’s Church in Bloomfield: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

It is my prayer that this time, this afternoon, will be a meaningful and loving time for you as you come together. Certainly your love and commitment is a testimony to Molly’s wonderful influence and presence in your lives, and these days will be a time for many stories of the past, and for a deepening of the care that you continue to share with one another. We hear a word from scripture about hope, about the sustaining hand of God, as we are all in his hand, and as Molly now is embraced and carried home with the promise of new life in Christ, and life eternal.

She would have been 79 next month, which is an amazing thing to say, to think about. Remembering growing up in Pittsburgh in the midst of the Great Depression, and as a teenager during the War, and then into her adulthood. A long and gifted life, the better part of a century. Molly fits into the later end of the group that Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation.” And for me that has to do not so much with the big historical events, but with the hard work of day to day life through such challenging times, and the deep and solid values that made that possible: faith, hard work, family, courage, love of family, neighborhood, and country. They were heroes, some on the battlefields and some at home, but certainly none of us would be where we are today without their sacrifices and their determination. They made possible so much of the greatness of our country over this past century.

And now, from strength to strength, from life here to greater life, as we have been promised, the holy hope that we would affirm today. This wonderful passage from John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

Modern translations sometimes change this. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” And in a way that makes sense. Houses have “rooms,” after all. But I’m going to stick with “mansions,” because I think that word directs us to a deeper truth, which is that the future that God has in mind for us, and the eternal life that Molly enjoys, is no ordinary life. It is an eternal life of abundance, and joy, and peace, and fulfillment. To be with Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” This is the hope and certainty that was the foundation of Molly’s life and her faith, and it is the promise that we can all hear and receive and share this afternoon as well.

Molly and I think Jean too always loved when we were able to have our group of Christmas Carol singers stop by the house over on Avondale and a few times as well in recent years up in Greenfield, to sing the traditional songs of the season. And she loved to have a tray of cookies and treats to share, especially if we had children along to sing.

And so as we remember this gentle and graceful and generous friend, as she loved her Irish heritage and her family and took such a great interest in everyday life, and with her determination to come to church on Sunday mornings, no matter how difficult that had become in recent years--we would be right to think even here in the month of September about the miracle of Christmas, and about the one who was born for us, to change the direction of the world and to bring us to himself through his life and his death and his resurrection.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” And to say simply that Molly is home now, after some difficult years—and I know Jean as you have been such a great sister, after some challenging days for you too during these last few years. She is home now, in the place our Lord has prepared for her, and sharing the hope we can all share and enjoy this afternoon and always.

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Fifteenth after Pentecost: Round Up Sunday!

Mark 8: 27-38 (RCL Proper 19B)

Wonderful that on this Round Up Sunday,

the day everything really feels like it’s getting-going around the parish—Church School, Youth Group, Choir, and the great picnic afterwards, as we catch up with each other after this summer—we move along in St. Mark and come to the critical moment in that gospel as well. The place where things all come together. Where it really gets going.

It’s a convergence, a gathering together, and then a new beginning, a fresh start. I’m not sure if Jesus and his disciples are eating St. Andrew’s classic chuck-wagon chicken and chili in the 8th chapter of Mark. But I do picture them sitting down together and maybe having lunch along the road somewhere, and then after lunch a conversation.

And Jesus went out, and his disciples, into the towns of Caesarea Philippi: and by the way he asked his disciples, saying unto them, Whom do men say that I am? And they answered, John the Baptist; but some say, Elias; and others, One of the prophets.

Looking for analogies, types, reaching for an answer. Something true about each one. Jesus like the Baptist, out of whose movement he and his own followers had come, a startling challenge to the settled and compromised authorities of court and temple—church and state. Like Elijah, a man of power, an intimate with the Father. Like the prophets, a voice calling Israel back to its first principles as a nation and a people in its Covenant Relationship with God.

And he saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am?

On the spot now: not a classroom exercise or news analysis. Not something at arm’s-length, but up close and personal.

And Peter answereth and saith unto him, Thou art the Christ.

It’s that moment of recognition. Everybody just catching their breath. You could hear a pin drop. What did he just say? The awareness that has been growing gradually. And the meaning of it all still very much wrapped in mystery. Yet suddenly also crystal clear. Peter has a way of doing this, apparently. Blurting out whatever is at the top of his head, without always thinking carefully about the consequences. My grandmother used to say, “measure twice, cut once.” But that isn’t Peter. And here: Thou art the Christ. Right to the heart of things.

It has so much to do with who Jesus is. Messiah. A vast and complex and multi-layered theme in the scriptures and heritage of Israel and in the expectation of the modern age. Who he is. But also with who they are. What they are about. Maybe that’s what Peter hadn’t quite thought through. The implications when you stand up to be counted.

Maybe that’s why the others were less willing to put it into words and say it out loud. It’s one thing to be following an interesting and challenging teacher. A prophet, a holy man. One thing to be a part of an important social and political movement. That’s about commitment, for sure—but commitment with some limits. Keeping options open—something in reserve. A fairly easy exit strategy.

Then you get to this: Thou art the Christ. In for a penny, in for a pound. Fish or cut bait. Like standing at the end of the board on the high dive—and you just go. No turning back.

It’s the end of the beginning. And also, as we hear, the beginning of the end. These words are spoken, the first Christian creed. And already in the bright sunshine of this late summer afternoon on the road outside Caesarea Philippi, there is the shadow of the Cross. The critical moment. The turning point. The Day of Decision. The Church is born. Who we are today began right there in that moment. Nothing would be the same for them ever again.

And for us it’s all fresh and new this morning. Whether this is our first Sunday at St. Andrew’s (and welcome to you!), or whether we’ve been around forever. For Susy and me, this is our 16th Round Up. And every one of them such a great time for food and friendship and fun and all the good energy of parish life rounding the corner into a new season.

But this is all about why we’re here. Because in it all, through it all, we would live in our commitment to him. The one who is new every morning. A transformation of life in Christ, nurtured in word and song and sacrament, day after day, two steps forward, one back—and sometimes one step forward and then two back. There’s this English word and idea of “muddling along.” The good days and the hard days. Enthusiasm and hesitation. The strength of conviction and the creative moment of question and doubt. All the unique stories here in this congregations, temperaments, opinions, life experiences, study, spiritual reflection. As I always say, to get to St. Andrew’s, you need to follow the signs to the Zoo. So many rich perspectives. “Every breed of cat.”

But all together, like the 12 that afternoon all those years ago at Caesarea Philippi. We are who we are, Jesus, because you are who you are. A splash of water at the font. The heavenly taste of bread and wine at the altar. The words of life spoken and sung and prayed all around us and in us and through us. With love for the world.

What the future has for us, it’s always hard to say. Our eyesight, our vision not always that good. We’ve had those moments of fuzziness before and we will again. And we pray so fervently that you will cut us some slack, as we would do our best to cut some slack for others.

That your patience and your generosity would fill our hearts and our lives. That we would attend to your word, receive the sacramental gift of your living presence. That we would above all else be known as a patient and kind and generous people who love you and who love the world you have made, the places and the people you have given us to live with.

But in any case Jesus, growing as we are able to grow from day to day--from here on out, our story, and your story, that will be one story. We don’t need to go anywhere else. Where else is there to go? Who else is there. You are the one. We’re together here, Jesus. And we’re together with you.

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

Bruce Robison

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 11th


The World Trade Center. The Pentagon. United 93 and the field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

On this eighth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001, we would pause in a moment of silence to remember and offer our prayers for those who were killed on that day, for those who were injured, and for their families and loved ones.

Flight 93 Memorial, Shanksville, Pennsylvania

We remember and give thanks for the police, fire, and emergency workers who responded to the crisis, at risk of life and personal safety, and we offer our prayers for those who died in that effort, and for those who have suffered health consequences in later years. We pray as well for all those who have been killed or injured in subsequent terrorist attacks around the world.

We would remember in our prayers the leaders of our nation and of all those around the world who have joined the effort to defeat those who instigated this attack and continue to endanger the safety and well-being of all people. We pray for the men and women of our armed forces as they continue this effort in Iraq and Afghanistan and all around the world--especially remembering of course those of our extended parish family whom we name in our prayers every Sunday.

Blessings and peace,


Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

The Gospel of James, also sometimes known as the Infancy Gospel of James or the Protoevangelium of James, is an apocryphal Gospel probably written about AD 150. The Gospel of James may be the earliest surviving document attesting the veneration of Mary by stating her perpetual virginity and presenting her as the new Eve.

Icon of the Nativity of the Mother of God, egg tempera on wood, Central Russia, mid-1800's.

The Birth of Mary the Holy Mother of God, and Very Glorious Mother of Jesus Christ.

1. In the records of the twelve tribes of Israel was Joachim, a man rich exceedingly; and he brought his offerings double, saying: There shall be of my superabundance to all the people, and there shall be the offering for my forgiveness to the Lord for a propitiation for me. For the great day of the Lord was at hand, and the sons of Israel were bringing their offerings. And there stood over against him Rubim, saying: It is not meet for you first to bring your offerings, because you have not made seed in Israel. And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and went away to the registers of the twelve tribes of the people, saying: I shall see the registers of the twelve tribes of Israel, as to whether I alone have not made seed in Israel. And he searched, and found that all the righteous had raised up seed in Israel. And he called to mind the patriarch Abraham, that in the last day God gave him a son Isaac. And Joachim was exceedingly grieved, and did not come into the presence of his wife; but he retired to the desert, and there pitched his tent, and fasted forty days and forty nights, saying in himself: I will not go down either for food or for drink until the Lord my God shall look upon me, and prayer shall be my food and drink.

2. And his wife Anna mourned in two mournings, and lamented in two lamentations, saying: I shall bewail my widowhood; I shall bewail my childlessness. And the great day of the Lord was at hand; and Judith her maid-servant said: How long do you humiliate your soul? Behold, the great day of the Lord is at hand, and it is unlawful for you to mourn. But take this head-band, which the woman that made it gave to me; for it is not proper that I should wear it, because I am a maid-servant, and it has a royal appearance. And Anna said: Depart from me; for I have not done such things, and the Lord has brought me very low. I fear that some wicked person has given it to you, and you have come to make me a sharer in your sin. And Judith said: Why should I curse you, seeing that the Lord has shut your womb, so as not to give you fruit in Israel? And Anna was grieved exceedingly, and put off her garments of mourning, and cleaned her head, and put on her wedding garments, and about the ninth hour went down to the garden to walk. And she saw a laurel, and sat under it, and prayed to the Lord, saying: O God of our fathers, bless me and hear my prayer, as You blessed the womb of Sarah, and gave her a son Isaac.

3. And gazing towards the heaven, she saw a sparrow's nest in the laurel, Tobit 2:10 and made a lamentation in herself, saying: Alas! who begot me? And what womb produced me? Because I have become a curse in the presence of the sons of Israel, and I have been reproached, and they have driven me in derision out of the temple of the Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the fowls of the heaven, because even the fowls of the heaven are productive before You, O Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like the beasts of the earth, because even the beasts of the earth are productive before You, O Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like these waters, because even these waters are productive before You, O Lord. Alas! To what have I been likened? I am not like this earth, because even the earth brings forth its fruits in season, and blesses You, O Lord.

4. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by, saying: Anna, Anna, the Lord has heard your prayer, and you shall conceive, and shall bring forth; and your seed shall be spoken of in all the world. And Anna said: As the Lord my God lives, if I beget either male or female, I will bring it as a gift to the Lord my God; and it shall minister to Him in holy things all the days of its life. 1 Samuel 1:11 And, behold, two angels came, saying to her: Behold, Joachim your husband is coming with his flocks. For an angel of the Lord went down to him, saying: Joachim, Joachim, the Lord God has heard your prayer. Go down hence; for, behold, your wife Anna shall conceive. And Joachim went down and called his shepherds, saying: Bring me hither ten she-lambs without spot or blemish, and they shall be for the Lord my God; and bring me twelve tender calves, and they shall be for the priests and the elders; and a hundred goats for all the people. And, behold, Joachim came with his flocks; and Anna stood by the gate, and saw Joachim coming, and she ran and hung upon his neck, saying: Now I know that the Lord God has blessed me exceedingly; for, behold the widow no longer a widow, and I the childless shall conceive. And Joachim rested the first day in his house.

5. And on the following day he brought his offerings, saying in himself: If the Lord God has been rendered gracious to me, the plate on the priest's forehead will make it manifest to me. And Joachim brought his offerings, and observed attentively the priest's plate when he went up to the altar of the Lord, and he saw no sin in himself. And Joachim said: Now I know that the Lord has been gracious unto me, and has remitted all my sins. And he went down from the temple of the Lord justified, and departed to his own house. And her months were fulfilled, and in the ninth month Anna brought forth. And she said to the midwife: What have I brought forth? And she said: A girl. And said Anna: My soul has been magnified this day. And she laid her down. And the days having been fulfilled, Anna was purified, and gave the breast to the child, and called her name Mary.

6. And the child grew strong day by day; and when she was six months old, her mother set her on the ground to try whether she could stand, and she walked seven steps and came into her bosom; and she snatched her up, saying: As the Lord my God lives, you shall not walk on this earth until I bring you into the temple of the Lord. And she made a sanctuary in her bed-chamber, and allowed nothing common or unclean to pass through her. And she called the undefiled daughters of the Hebrews, and they led her astray. And when she was a year old, Joachim made a great feast, and invited the priests, and the scribes, and the elders, and all the people of Israel. And Joachim brought the child to the priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God of our fathers, bless this child, and give her an everlasting name to be named in all generations. And all the people said: So be it, so be it, amen. And he brought her to the chief priests; and they blessed her, saying: O God most high, look upon this child, and bless her with the utmost blessing, which shall be for ever. And her mother snatched her up, and took her into the sanctuary of her bed-chamber, and gave her the breast. And Anna made a song to the Lord God, saying: I will sing a song to the Lord my God, for He has looked upon me, and has taken away the reproach of mine enemies; and the Lord has given the fruit of His righteousness, singular in its kind, and richly endowed before Him. Who will tell the sons of Rubim that Anna gives suck? Hear, hear, you twelve tribes of Israel, that Anna gives suck. And she laid her to rest in the bed-chamber of her sanctuary, and went out and ministered unto them. And when the supper was ended, they went down rejoicing, and glorifying the God of Israel.

7. And her months were added to the child. And the child was two years old, and Joachim said: Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest perchance the Lord send to us, and our offering be not received. And Anna said: Let us wait for the third year, in order that the child may not seek for father or mother. And Joachim said: So let us wait. And the child was three years old, and Joachim said: Invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are undefiled, and let them take each a lamp, and let them stand with the lamps burning, that the child may not turn back, and her heart be captivated from the temple of the Lord. And they did so until they went up into the temple of the Lord. And the priest received her, and kissed her, and blessed her, saying: The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, on the last of the days, the Lord will manifest His redemption to the sons of Israel. And he set her down upon the third step of the altar, and the Lord God sent grace upon her; and she danced with her feet, and all the house of Israel loved her.

8. And her parents went down marvelling, and praising the Lord God, because the child had not turned back. And Mary was in the temple of the Lord as if she were a dove that dwelt there, and she received food from the hand of an angel. And when she was twelve years old there was held a council of the priests, saying: Behold, Mary has reached the age of twelve years in the temple of the Lord. What then shall we do with her, lest perchance she defile the sanctuary of the Lord? And they said to the high priest: Thou standest by the altar of the Lord; go in, and pray concerning her; and whatever the Lord shall manifest unto you, that also will we do. And the high priest went in, taking the robe with the twelve bells into the holy of holies; and he prayed concerning her. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by him, saying unto him: Zacharias, Zacharias, go out and assemble the widowers of the people, and let them bring each his rod; and to whomsoever the Lord shall show a sign, his wife shall she be. And the heralds went out through all the circuit of Judæa, and the trumpet of the Lord sounded, and all ran.

9. And Joseph, throwing away his axe, went out to meet them; and when they had assembled, they went away to the high priest, taking with them their rods. And he, taking the rods of all of them, entered into the temple, and prayed; and having ended his prayer, he took the rods and came out, and gave them to them: but there was no sign in them, and Joseph took his rod last; and, behold, a dove came out of the rod, and flew upon Joseph's head. And the priest said to Joseph, You have been chosen by lot to take into your keeping the virgin of the Lord. But Joseph refused, saying: I have children, and I am an old man, and she is a young girl. I am afraid lest I become a laughing-stock to the sons of Israel. And the priest said to Joseph: Fear the Lord your God, and remember what the Lord did to Dathan, and Abiram, and Korah; Numbers 16:31-33 how the earth opened, and they were swallowed up on account of their contradiction. And now fear, O Joseph, lest the same things happen in your house. And Joseph was afraid, and took her into his keeping. And Joseph said to Mary: Behold, I have received you from the temple of the Lord; and now I leave you in my house, and go away to build my buildings, and I shall come to you. The Lord will protect you.

10. And there was a council of the priests, saying: Let us make a veil for the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Call to me the undefiled virgins of the family of David. And the officers went away, and sought, and found seven virgins. And the priest remembered the child Mary, that she was of the family of David, and undefiled before God. And the officers went away and brought her. And they brought them into the temple of the Lord. And the priest said: Choose for me by lot who shall spin the gold, and the white, and the fine linen, and the silk, and the blue, and the scarlet, and the true purple. Exodus 25:4 And the true purple and the scarlet fell to the lot of Mary, and she took them, and went away to her house. And at that time Zacharias was dumb, and Samuel was in his place until the time that Zacharias spoke. And Mary took the scarlet, and span it.

11. And she took the pitcher, and went out to fill it with water. And, behold, a voice saying: Hail, you who hast received grace; the Lord is with you; blessed are you among women! Luke 1:28 And she looked round, on the right hand and on the left, to see whence this voice came. And she went away, trembling, to her house, and put down the pitcher; and taking the purple, she sat down on her seat, and drew it out. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood before her, saying: Fear not, Mary; for you have found grace before the Lord of all, and you shall conceive, according to His word. And she hearing, reasoned with herself, saying: Shall I conceive by the Lord, the living God? And shall I bring forth as every woman brings forth? And the angel of the Lord said: Not so, Mary; for the power of the Lord shall overshadow you: wherefore also that holy thing which shall be born of you shall be called the Son of the Most High. And you shall call His name Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins. And Mary said: Behold, the servant of the Lord before His face: let it be unto me according to your word.

12. And she made the purple and the scarlet, and took them to the priest. And the priest blessed her, and said: Mary, the Lord God has magnified your name, and you shall be blessed in all the generations of the earth. And Mary, with great joy, went away to Elizabeth her kinswoman, Luke 1:39-40 and knocked at the door. And when Elizabeth heard her, she threw away the scarlet, and ran to the door, and opened it; and seeing Mary, she blessed her, and said: Whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For, behold, that which is in me leaped and blessed you. Luke 1:34, 44 But Mary had forgotten the mysteries of which the archangel Gabriel had spoken, and gazed up into heaven, and said: Who am I, O Lord, that all the generations of the earth should bless me? Luke 1:48 And she remained three months with Elizabeth; and day by day she grew bigger. And Mary being afraid, went away to her own house, and hid herself from the sons of Israel. And she was sixteen years old when these mysteries happened.

13. And she was in her sixth month; and, behold, Joseph came back from his building, and, entering into his house, he discovered that she was big with child. And he smote his face, and threw himself on the ground upon the sackcloth, and wept bitterly, saying: With what face shall I look upon the Lord my God? And what prayer shall I make about this maiden? Because I received her a virgin out of the temple of the Lord, and I have not watched over her. Who is it that has hunted me down? Who has done this evil thing in my house, and defiled the virgin? Has not the history of Adam been repeated in me? For just as Adam was in the hour of his singing praise, and the serpent came, and found Eve alone, and completely deceived her, so it has happened to me also. And Joseph stood up from the sackcloth, and called Mary, and said to her: O you who hast been cared for by God, why have you done this and forgotten the Lord your God? Why have you brought low your soul, you that wast brought up in the holy of holies, and that received food from the hand of an angel? And she wept bitterly, saying: I am innocent, and have known no man. And Joseph said to her: Whence then is that which is in your womb? And she said: As the Lord my God lives, I do not know whence it is to me.

14. And Joseph was greatly afraid, and retired from her, and considered what he should do in regard to her. Matthew 1:19 And Joseph said: If I conceal her sin, I find myself fighting against the law of the Lord; and if I expose her to the sons of Israel, I am afraid lest that which is in her be from an angel, and I shall be found giving up innocent blood to the doom of death. What then shall I do with her? I will put her away from me secretly. And night came upon him; and, behold, an angel of the Lord appears to him in a dream, saying: Be not afraid for this maiden, for that which is in her is of the Holy Spirit; and she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. Matthew 1:20 And Joseph arose from sleep, and glorified the God of Israel, who had given him this grace; and he kept her.

15. And Annas the scribe came to him, and said: Why have you not appeared in our assembly? And Joseph said to him: Because I was weary from my journey, and rested the first day. And he turned, and saw that Mary was with child. And he ran away to the priest, and said to him: Joseph, whom you vouched for, has committed a grievous crime. And the priest said: How so? And he said: He has defiled the virgin whom he received out of the temple of the Lord, and has married her by stealth, and has not revealed it to the sons of Israel. And the priest answering, said: Has Joseph done this? Then said Annas the scribe: Send officers, and you will find the virgin with child. And the officers went away, and found it as he had said; and they brought her along with Joseph to the tribunal. And the priest said: Mary, why have you done this? And why have you brought your soul low, and forgotten the Lord your God? You that wast reared in the holy of holies, and that received food from the hand of an angel, and heard the hymns, and danced before Him, why have you done this? And she wept bitterly, saying: As the Lord my God lives, I am pure before Him, and know not a man. And the priest said to Joseph: Why have you done this? And Joseph said: As the Lord lives, I am pure concerning her. Then said the priest: Bear not false witness, but speak the truth. You have married her by stealth, and hast not revealed it to the sons of Israel, and hast not bowed your head under the strong hand, that your seed might be blessed. And Joseph was silent.

16. And the priest said: Give up the virgin whom you received out of the temple of the Lord. And Joseph burst into tears. And the priest said: I will give you to drink of the water of the ordeal of the Lord, and He shall make manifest your sins in your eyes. And the priest took the water, and gave Joseph to drink and sent him away to the hill-country; and he returned unhurt. And he gave to Mary also to drink, and sent her away to the hill-country; and she returned unhurt. And all the people wondered that sin did not appear in them. And the priest said: If the Lord God has not made manifest your sins, neither do I judge you. And he sent them away. And Joseph took Mary, and went away to his own house, rejoicing and glorifying the God of Israel.

17. And there was an order from the Emperor Augustus, that all in Bethlehem of Judæa should be enrolled. Luke 2:1 And Joseph said: I shall enrol my sons, but what shall I do with this maiden? How shall I enrol her? As my wife? I am ashamed. As my daughter then? But all the sons of Israel know that she is not my daughter. The day of the Lord shall itself bring it to pass as the Lord will. And he saddled the ass, and set her upon it; and his son led it, and Joseph followed. And when they had come within three miles, Joseph turned and saw her sorrowful; and he said to himself: Likely that which is in her distresses her. And again Joseph turned and saw her laughing. And he said to her: Mary, how is it that I see in your face at one time laughter, at another sorrow? And Mary said to Joseph: Because I see two peoples with my eyes; the one weeping and lamenting, and the other rejoicing and exulting. And they came into the middle of the road, and Mary said to him: Take me down from off the ass, for that which is in me presses to come forth. And he took her down from off the ass, and said to her: Whither shall I lead you, and cover your disgrace? For the place is desert.

18. And he found a cave there, and led her into it; and leaving his two sons beside her, he went out to seek a widwife in the district of Bethlehem.

And I Joseph was walking, and was not walking; and I looked up into the sky, and saw the sky astonished; and I looked up to the pole of the heavens, and saw it standing, and the birds of the air keeping still. And I looked down upon the earth, and saw a trough lying, and work-people reclining: and their hands were in the trough. And those that were eating did not eat, and those that were rising did not carry it up, and those that were conveying anything to their mouths did not convey it; but the faces of all were looking upwards. And I saw the sheep walking, and the sheep stood still; and the shepherd raised his hand to strike them, and his hand remained up. And I looked upon the current of the river, and I saw the mouths of the kids resting on the water and not drinking, and all things in a moment were driven from their course.

19. And I saw a woman coming down from the hill-country, and she said to me: O man, whither are you going? And I said: I am seeking an Hebrew midwife. And she answered and said unto me: Are you of Israel? And I said to her: Yes. And she said: And who is it that is bringing forth in the cave? And I said: A woman betrothed to me. And she said to me: Is she not your wife? And I said to her: It is Mary that was reared in the temple of the Lord, and I obtained her by lot as my wife. And yet she is not my wife, but has conceived of the Holy Spirit.

And the widwife said to him: Is this true? And Joseph said to her: Come and see. And the midwife went away with him. And they stood in the place of the cave, and behold a luminous cloud overshadowed the cave. And the midwife said: My soul has been magnified this day, because my eyes have seen strange things— because salvation has been brought forth to Israel. And immediately the cloud disappeared out of the cave, and a great light shone in the cave, so that the eyes could not bear it. And in a little that light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and went and took the breast from His mother Mary. And the midwife cried out, and said: This is a great day to me, because I have seen this strange sight. And the midwife went forth out of the cave, and Salome met her. And she said to her: Salome, Salome, I have a strange sight to relate to you: a virgin has brought forth— a thing which her nature admits not of. Then said Salome: As the Lord my God lives, unless I thrust in my finger, and search the parts, I will not believe that a virgin has brought forth.

20. And the midwife went in, and said to Mary: Show yourself; for no small controversy has arisen about you. And Salome put in her finger, and cried out, and said: Woe is me for mine iniquity and mine unbelief, because I have tempted the living God; and, behold, my hand is dropping off as if burned with fire. And she bent her knees before the Lord, saying: O God of my fathers, remember that I am the seed of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob; do not make a show of me to the sons of Israel, but restore me to the poor; for You know, O Lord, that in Your name I have performed my services, and that I have received my reward at Your hand. And, behold, an angel of the Lord stood by her, saying to her: Salome, Salome, the Lord has heard you. Put your hand to the infant, and carry it, and you will have safety and joy. And Salome went and carried it, saying: I will worship Him, because a great King has been born to Israel. And, behold, Salome was immediately cured, and she went forth out of the cave justified. And behold a voice saying: Salome, Salome, tell not the strange things you have seen, until the child has come into Jerusalem.

21. And, behold, Joseph was ready to go into Judæa. And there was a great commotion in Bethlehem of Judæa, for Magi came, saying: Where is he that is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the east, and have come to worship him. And when Herod heard, he was much disturbed, and sent officers to the Magi. And he sent for the priests, and examined them, saying: How is it written about the Christ? Where is He to be born? And they said: In Bethlehem of Judæa, for so it is written. And he sent them away. And he examined the Magi, saying to them: What sign have you seen in reference to the king that has been born? And the Magi said: We have seen a star of great size shining among these stars, and obscuring their light, so that the stars did not appear; and we thus knew that a king has been born to Israel, and we have come to worship him. And Herod said: Go and seek him; and if you find him, let me know, in order that I also may go and worship him. And the Magi went out. And, behold, the star which they had seen in the east went before them until they came to the cave, and it stood over the top of the cave. And the Magi saw the infant with His mother Mary; and they brought forth from their bag gold, and frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned by the angel not to go into Judæa, they went into their own country by another road.

22. And when Herod knew that he had been mocked by the Magi, in a rage he sent murderers, saying to them: Slay the children from two years old and under. And Mary, having heard that the children were being killed, was afraid, and took the infant and swaddled Him, and put Him into an ox-stall. And Elizabeth, having heard that they were searching for John, took him and went up into the hill-country, and kept looking where to conceal him. And there was no place of concealment. And Elizabeth, groaning with a loud voice, says: O mountain of God, receive mother and child. And immediately the mountain was cleft, and received her. And a light shone about them, for an angel of the Lord was with them, watching over them.

23. And Herod searched for John, and sent officers to Zacharias, saying: Where have you hid your son? And he, answering, said to them: I am the servant of God in holy things, and I sit constantly in the temple of the Lord: I do not know where my son is. And the officers went away, and reported all these things to Herod. And Herod was enraged, and said: His son is destined to be king over Israel. And he sent to him again, saying: Tell the truth; where is your son? For you know that your life is in my hand. And Zacharias said: I am God's martyr, if you shed my blood; for the Lord will receive my spirit, because you shed innocent blood at the vestibule of the temple of the Lord. And Zacharias was murdered about daybreak. And the sons of Israel did not know that he had been murdered.

24. But at the hour of the salutation the priests went away, and Zacharias did not come forth to meet them with a blessing, according to his custom. And the priests stood waiting for Zacharias to salute him at the prayer, and to glorify the Most High. And he still delaying, they were all afraid. But one of them ventured to go in, and he saw clotted blood beside the altar; and he heard a voice saying: Zacharias has been murdered, and his blood shall not be wiped up until his avenger come. And hearing this saying, he was afraid, and went out and told it to the priests. And they ventured in, and saw what had happened; and the fretwork of the temple made a wailing noise, and they rent their clothes from the top even to the bottom. And they found not his body, but they found his blood turned into stone. And they were afraid, and went out and reported to the people that Zacharias had been murdered. And all the tribes of the people heard, and mourned, and lamented for him three days and three nights. And after the three days, the priests consulted as to whom they should put in his place; and the lot fell upon Simeon. For it was he who had been warned by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death until he should see the Christ in the flesh.

And I James that wrote this history in Jerusalem, a commotion having arisen when Herod died, withdrew myself to the wilderness until the commotion in Jerusalem ceased, glorifying the Lord God, who had given me the gift and the wisdom to write this history. And grace shall be with them that fear our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom be glory to ages of ages. Amen.

Source. Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1886.)

Brother Stephen has some nice material here too.

Bruce Robison

Monday, September 7, 2009

The Collect for Labor Day

Almighty God, who hast so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP 210

The Collect for Labor Day was composed for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church by the Reverend Canon Charles Mortimer Guilbert (1908-1998), long-time Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer.

(Canon Guilbert served for many years in the Diocese of California, including a time in the 1960's as Rector of St. Clement's Church, Berkeley. When I was a student at the University of California in the early 1970's and a parishioner of St. Mark's Church, Berkeley, I had the privilege of knowing his late wife, Teddy (Theodora) Sorg Guilbert, who was a delightful person indeed.)

Bruce Robison

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Fourteenth after Pentecost, 2009

Baptism of
Natasha Kathryn Huen

RCL Proper 18B

Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23;
James 2: 1-17; Mark 7: 24-37

Good morning—and it is I know a special day for Natasha and her family as we celebrate Holy Baptism this morning, and for all of us, as this is always one of the happiest of events in the life of the Christian community. I know there also is celebration in heaven. Angels and archangels marking the event with all their celestial hymns of thanksgiving.

All praise and thanks to you, most merciful Father, for adopting us as your own children, for incorporating us into your holy Church, and for making us worthy to share in the inheritance of the saints in light; through Jesus Christ, your son, our Lord. Amen.

The lawyers among us will say a sermon is unnecessary. Res ipse loquitur. The action speaks for itself, beyond any words we might add.

But as we prepare to come to the font I would point out that the lessons we have just heard this morning speak to the very center of what it means to be a follower of Jesus.

We follow him in life, we die with him in his death, and in his resurrection we encounter the promise of our eternal life--and what all that does with us and in us and for us is give us a new heart. No longer the heart of our broken humanity, self-centered, turned in on ourselves, but now the heart of Jesus himself, in us. A heart that speaks in the language of justice and mercy, forgiveness and renewal.

So we hear in the sayings from Proverbs, all about generosity and hospitality. So in James, of course, with the call to put the love of God into action. And then in the famous healing stories, the daughter of the Syrio-Phoenician woman and the man who couldn’t hear or speak.

We almost get a sense of a dam bursting, the abundant, free love of God pouring out and overflowing through the person of Jesus to bring healing and restoration and new life. No border, boundary, wall, limitation able to hold it back.

This is what it’s all about this morning, for Natasha, her family, and all of us. The good and perfect gift of God’s love, available in Christ. We would open our hearts, our minds, our lives to him, to receive that gift.

From our Catechism: What is the outward and visible sign in Baptism? The outward and visible sign in Baptism is water . . . . What is the inward and spiritual grace in Baptism? The inward and spiritual grace in Baptism is union with Christ in his death and resurrection, birth into God’s family the Church, forgiveness of sins, and new life in the Holy Spirit.

And that is for all of us, our past, our present, and our future.

All blessings and peace, graciousness, and welcome, in the generosity of our Lord and Savior. I would now invite Natasha and her family and godparents and supporters to come forward to the font.

Bruce Robison