Friday, October 30, 2009

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Holy Matrimony
Emily Rene Hasse and Adam Daniel Giardina

Emily Renee Hasse and Adam Daniel Giardina

Song of Solomon 2:10-13, 8:6-7; Ephesians 5: 1-2, 21-33

Adam and Emily, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon in this wonderful setting, is thank you. It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing today 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!

You and we have been thinking about it and planning, 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. Congratulations to you, of course--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 first lesson that you selected, from the Old Testament book of the Song of Solomon, is a wonderful and very appropriate reading for this day. It is a love song, a poetic expression of the deepest 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.

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.

Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away; if a man were to offer for love the whole wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. 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 poem, 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 with care will last for a lifetime.

You know, in the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, life changing, transformational moment-- in a way kind of like a wedding. Young Moses is working for his Father in Law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out. He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame.

(I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground.

In that moment, in his encounter with God at the Burning Bush, Moses comes to understand his destiny—and all the great story of the Exodus, and God’s plan for his Chosen People, is now to be the story and meaning of his life. A turning point, and a new beginning. The ground on which you are standing is holy ground.

Now, Emily and Adam, we don’t need to take that literally, and you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember even so that in the vows and promises you make today, in God’s sight and in the presence of these friends and family members, the ground under your feet is consecrated, and made holy. That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing. The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen here, in this one moment of a wedding in Jennerstown, Pennsylvania, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life--wherever your life takes you, holy ground. God had great plans for Moses—and today, this afternoon, he has great plans in mind for you.

And it is my and our best prayer for you that in God’s love you will continue to experience his love and his blessing always, and that your life together will be a catalyst, an inspiration, for that sense of God’s goodness to be known by others. That you will be blessed, and that you will be a blessing.

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 Adam and Emily exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask all of us first 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

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Saints Simon and Jude, Apostles

October 28: Simon and Jude

O God, we thank thee for the glorious company of the apostles,
and especially on this day for Simon and Jude; and we pray thee
that, as they were faithful and zealous in their mission, so we
may with ardent devotion make known the love and mercy of our
Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

"In the various New Testament lists of the Twelve Apostles (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16-19; Luke 6:14-16; Acts 1:13), the tenth and eleventh places are occupied by Simon the Zealot (also called Simon the "Cananean," the Aramaic word meaning "Zealot") and by Judas of James, also called Thaddaeus or Lebbaeus. ("Judas" in New Testament contexts corresponds to "Judah" in Old Testament ones. Note that masculine names ending in "-ah" when translated from Hebrew directly to English usually end in "-as" when the translation passes through Greek, since in Greek a terminal "-a" is normally feminine, but a terminal "-as" is normally masculine. Thus we have "Elijah" => "Elias," "Jeremiah" => "Jeremias," etc.)

Some ancient Christian writers say that Simon and Jude went together as missionaries to Persia, and were martyred there.

If this is true, it explains, to some extent, our lack of historical information on them and also why they are usually put together."

And a tip of the hat on this day to two younger members of St. Andrew's Church, brothers Simon and Jude Sweeney!

Bruce Robison

Monday, October 26, 2009

All Saints Music Festival: Friday by Candlelight

At St. Andrew's Church, 5801 Hampton Street, Highland Park
Friday Evening, October 30, 8 p.m.

Soprano Sara Botkin is joined by Scott Pauley, lute, in a program of sixteenth and seventeenth century song.

Reception Follows. Free.

Opening Night: All Saints Music Festival

Seventh Annual All Saints Music Festival, 2009

at St. Andrew's Church
5801 Hampton Street, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

Andres Cardenes, Concertmaster of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra,

conducts the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra and Festival Choir in a program including the Mozart Symphony #29, the Handel Violin Concerto (with Mr. Cardenes as soloist) and the Faure Requiem.

Free and open to the public. Reception follows.

Read announcement here.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Twenty-First after Pentecost, 2009

Mark 10: 46-52 (RCL Proper 25B)

So after all this time of “oy vey” and hair-pulling frustration through these last couple of chapters of St. Mark, somebody finally gets it.

Not one of the Pharisees, in all their argumentitive posturing. They had their minds made up before they started. And not one of the curious bystanders, like the Rich Young Man. For these folks the encounters with Jesus seemed like more a bit of idle entertainment.

Not even, we certainly notice here—not even one of the Twelve. Those who have been in the past couple of chapters of St. Mark right alongside Jesus on the road outside Caesarea Philippi and through all his sermons and preaching and private teaching. Those who have been to the top of Mt. Tabor for the Transfiguration, and who have stood in his presence as he cast out demons and performed miracles of healing. Not Peter, who was the first to use the word Messiah about Jesus, at least to his face, and not James and John and the others who had been arguing about which one of them would be greatest when Jesus came into his power.

But here this morning: old blind Bartimaeus. A beggar by the side of the road. A nobody. Who so far as we know had never met Jesus before, never heard him preach or teach, perhaps heard only the most vague accounts of a rabbi who had been performing miracles in the villages nearby.

But here it is: somebody finally gets it. Old, blind Bartimaeus. Which we know not by what he says, because at the most critical moment of his life, he doesn’t say anything, nothing at all. But which we know because we see what he does.

He first calls out as the party comes by, and when Jesus asks him what he wants he cuts right to the chase. No bargaining for position and status, like James and John. No trick legalistic questions, like the Pharisees. No playing to the crowd, like the Rich Young Man—who wanted to be sure that everybody knew, we’ll remember, that he had kept all the commandments since he was young.

Bartimaeus isn’t trying to impress anybody, not seeking a gold star at the top of his spelling test. Not wanting to be the greatest in the coming Kingdom, or to sit at the right hand of Jesus in his glory. He just speaks to that one fundamental need at the top of his mind and the center of his life: “Rabbi, I want to see.”

What a great thing to say. We hear it literally, of course. Bartimaeus is blind. Perhaps he’s lost his eyesight because of cataracts or glaucoma, or some other disease or injury. Or perhaps he has been blind since birth. “Rabbi, I want to see.”

Although when I hear that simple statement of desire, of yearning for the healing of his physical disability, I can’t help but think about the circles of wider meanings. Echoes of the hymn, “I once was blind, but now I see.” Not just about physical seeing, but about seeing with a deeper gift of perception and understanding. About a deeper knowing.

For Bartimaeus that morning, the opening of his eyes to the bright afternoon sunshine of this world’s light. And the opening of his eyes, his mind, his heart. Standing before him there, the giver of all gifts, the life of all who live, the light of the faithful, the strength of those who labor, the repose of the dead. Who is all in all: the Light of the World. This what it means, to see. What our eyes were made for.

And there are no words. Bartimaeus doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t comment or question or interpret. He doesn’t ask for directions or guidelines. Mark simply says, and this is enough, and all we need to hear and know ourselves about Bartimaeus. “And immediately he received his sight and followed him on the way.” Immediately: he saw, and he followed.

So a little lunch after service this morning is hosted by our Vestry as something of a kickoff for our Annual Campaign--what some churches call “Stewardship Sunday.”

For us even without that official name, an opportunity to celebrate our life together, to talk about our hopes and dreams and plans and concerns for the year ahead for this great place, and an invitation to think about the kinds of commitments it will take, and truly serious commitments—time, talent, treasure: the whole package--in order to be able to move forward with health in the year ahead.

A time to celebrate the great progress we’ve made especially over the past couple of years. To say I don’t think I’ve ever seen or heard about a congregation that has rallied in such a significant way and in such a short period of time to a new understanding and practice of discipleship not only in the areas of “time and talent,” but also critically in terms of “treasure.” Even in the midst of this economy.

When I look at what you all and we all have accomplished over the past few years, I consider it nothing short of heroic—and that’s not too dramatic a word. A great deal of courage to face uncomfortable realities and to overcome denial, and to rise to the occasion. We still have a way to go, no question about it. But what has happened so far has been just for me profoundly moving. A little more of that, later.

But what I just want to say in the context this morning as we all of us begin to think about the “Little Blue Pledge Cards” that will be arriving in the mail in the next week or two is that the foundation of what we are and who we are as Christian people is right here in front of us at the end of Mark’s tenth chapter. I don’t hear much about “Saint Bartimaeus.” But he is an icon. Both a witness and a window to the power of the Christian message.

The gift of healing, which is the miracle of blessing that we are all invited to share in with much love. Physical healing. The healing of mind, heart, hopes, memories, relationships. The healing that comes through his presence in so many ways. The new life of baptism, the taste of bread and wine at the altar, the opening of the Word in the scriptures, the offering of music and art, the vibrant conversations we share, the creativity of our children, the very meaningful and important outreach, as we engage with the needs of the world around us. Healing. May you find it here, in him.

As we would open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts to him. Where we have been hurt, broken, wounded. Where we feel isolated, or afraid. His healing and his blessing. Have you seen Jesus, my Lord? Bartimaeus says over the centuries, “I met Jesus, and now I can see.”

And then, simply, to follow him. Understanding that how we do that is going to look a little bit different for each one of us. Maybe a lot different. But to trust. To have confidence. To love.

Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem and the Cross this morning, but Bartimaeus doesn’t know that. He doesn’t use any calculations. He doesn’t seem to be signing-on with the return half of a round trip ticket in his pocket. He has seen the love of his life, his Lord and Savior, and there’s never for him even a moment’s question about what to do. In that moment Jesus gave himself to Bartimaeus, and Bartimaeus gave himself to Jesus. For any of us, for all of us: what it all is about. Healing and blessing and new life, and a walk into the future with Jesus.

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

Bruce Robison

Friday, October 23, 2009

St. Andrew Lecture, 2009

Introductory Remarks: St. Andrew’s Lecture, October 23, 2009

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, and Neighbors. My name is Bruce Robison. I’m rector of St. Andrew’s Church, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this Twelfth Annual St. Andrew’s Lecture.

St. Andrew’s has been a part of the City of Pittsburgh and the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania, first in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania at our founding in 1837 and in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh since it was formed from Pennsylvania in 1867, so 172 years now, and it continues to be very much a part of our sense of identity and our mission and ministry to be a positive force for this neighborhood of Highland Park, where we’ve been since 1906, and for the Church in our diocese, our city and the whole region.

The St. Andrew’s Lecture was founded to build on and extend that mission, as we have been proud to bring guests and speakers of note from our wider community to talk about life and work, to reflect on the past, to describe the issues of the present, and to say something as well about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for us.

As a bit of historical review—and I don’t know for how many years more I’m going to be able to do this and still be able to leave a few minutes for our speaker: the series began in 1998, with Dr. John Murray, at that time President of Duquesne University and the Chair of the Commission that led the reorganization of Allegheny County’s form of government. In 1999 we heard City Councilman Sala Udin. In 2000, the Very Rev. George Werner, retired Dean of Trinity Cathedral and leader of the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership. In 2001, George Miles, President and CEO of WQED. And the fall 2002, as I know we all remember with much good humor and affection, we heard from our good friend and former Mayor of the City of Pittsburgh, the Hon. Sophie Masloff.

In 2003, economist and author Linda Dickerson. In 2004, Dr. Robert Page, Assistant Conductor and Director of Special Projects for the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra, and for over 25 years Music Director and Conductor of the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh. In September of 2005, the Hon. Cynthia Baldwin, who was at that time judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas and President of the Board of Trustees of the Pennsylvania State University, and who in the year after the lecture appointed by Governor Rendell and confirmed to complete an unexpired term on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

In 2006, we welcomed Pittsburgh Post Gazette columnist Tony Norman. In 2007, of course, scholar and journalist Jon Delano, who gave us great insight into Pennsylvania’s role in the unfolding political year, and of course the upcoming presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Mitt Romney! Finally, last year, we remember with thanks historian Jeremy Bonner, whose recently published book, Called Out of Darkness into Marvelous Light, chronicled the history of Anglicanism and the Episcopal Church in Southwestern Pennsylvania and was very helpful in setting an interpretive context for the opportunities and, let’s say, the challenges of our church life in recent years.

In any case, it has become a wide and varied and very gifted tradition, this lecture, and I’m glad we can build on it in such a positive way this evening. I would mention that the Lecture is funded entirely from special gifts, from the proceeds of our annual Summer Book Sale, and from contributions received in baskets at each Lecture. I’m glad in any case that the Lecture can continue to bea free event for the whole community, and I thus happily encourage you to be generous in leaving a Free Will Donation in one of the baskets at the door this evening.

As you leave your contribution, I would also encourage you to fill out and leave in the baskets as well the brief survey form included in this evening’s program, which helps us know who came and how you found out about the program. The incentive for returning the form this year, really quite fabulous: a drawing to give away a collection of books produced locally by our Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh –with our speaker this evening included as author or editor or publisher--and by the National Urban League . . . . I’m sure an authorial autograph would be provided as well!

The evening and program are planned and hosted by our Adult Programs Committee, chaired by Dr. Bob Gast, and our Vestry. Many thanks also to Peg Ghrist, for all the administrative management this program entails, and of course to Jinny Fiske and Becky Usner and all those of our St. Andrew’s Hospitality Team who have prepared the reception that will follow this evening’s program.

To say now a word about this evening’s speaker, our twelfth St. Andrew’s Lecturer.

Highland Park neighbor and friend of many in this neighborhood, in the parish, and of course across the region, Esther Bush is President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, and during her tenure that organization has initiated programs for home ownership, youth development, and adult professional development. She has been and is still the inspiring and guiding force in the founding and development of our Urban League Charter School, just down the street here on Negley Avenue. She is widely known and respected as an author and communicator, and she has been a key leader for over 15 years in the life of our city and region—serving in leadership with governmental, political, and non-profit organizations in what has been a very dynamic era of community life.

The global spotlight was of course very much on Pittsburgh recently at the time of the G-20 Summit, and it certainly was my take that what we were able to see in that light included both some very exciting accomplishments and achievements, but also a reminder of aspects of our common life that still require sustained attention and reform. Thus it seems to me exceptionally timely that this year we would welcome Esther Bush as our speaker.

The title of this evening’s presentation, For all who Share Our Vision of Equality and Justice. So again, with thanks to Esther and to all of you. Following the lecture we’ll have a good opportunity for questions and discussion formally here and then continuing informally at our reception next door in Brooks Hall.

Please welcome then our St. Andrew’s Lecturer, Ms. Esther Bush.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

St. James the Just, Brother of Our Lord

October 23

Grant, we beseech thee, O God, that after the example of thy
servant James the Just, brother of our Lord, thy Church may
give itself continually to prayer and to the reconciliation of
all who are at variance and enmity; through the same our
Lord Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the
Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen

Acts provides clear evidence that James was an important figure in the Christian community of Jerusalem.

When Peter, having miraculously escaped from prison, must flee Jerusalem, he asks that James be informed (12:17). When the Christians of Antioch are concerned over whether Gentile Christians need be circumcised to be saved, they send Paul and Barnabas to confer with the church there, and it is James who utters the definitive judgment (15:13ff). When Paul arrives in Jerusalem to deliver the money he raised for the faithful there, it is James to whom he speaks, and who insists that Paul ritually cleanse himself (21:18)

Read it all here.

Monday, October 19, 2009

St. Luke

ALMIGHTY God, who didst inspire thy servant Saint Luke the Physician, to set forth in the Gospel the love and healing power of thy Son; Manifest in thy Church the like power and love, to the healing of our bodies and our souls; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

St. Luke,

Simone Martini
(c. 1284-1344)

St. Luke's Day is October 18, bumped forward this year from Sunday.

Luke's unique perspective on Jesus can be seen in the six miracles and eighteen parables not found in the other gospels. Luke's is the gospel of the poor and of social justice. He is the one who tells the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man who ignored him. Luke is the one who uses "Blessed are the poor" instead of "Blessed are the poor in spirit" in the beatitudes. Only in Luke's gospel do we hear Mary 's Magnificat where she proclaims that God "has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty" (Luke 1:52-53).

Luke also has a special connection with the women in Jesus' life, especially Mary. It is only in Luke's gospel that we hear the story of the Annunciation, Mary's visit to Elizabeth including the Magnificat, the Presentation, and the story of Jesus' disappearance in Jerusalem. It is Luke that we have to thank for the Scriptural parts of the Hail Mary: "Hail Mary full of grace" spoken at the Annunciation and "Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb Jesus" spoken by her cousin Elizabeth.

Forgiveness and God's mercy to sinners is also of first importance to Luke. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the Prodigal Son welcomed back by the overjoyed father. Only in Luke do we hear the story of the forgiven woman disrupting the feast by washing Jesus' feet with her tears. Throughout Luke's gospel, Jesus takes the side of the sinner who wants to return to God's mercy.

Read it all here.

A year or so after we were married Susy and I moved to Auburn, California, and I began teaching at a small high school in the farmland between Sacramento and Marysville. While we lived in Auburn we attended St. Luke's Church,

and it was with the warm and generous and loving support of the good people of St. Luke's that I was sponsored for ordination and sent on to seminary. It was at St. Luke's that I preached my first sermon and learned, as Boatboy, how to load and swing a thurible. (Skills that have long-since atrophied, I'm afraid.) For several years Susy and I coordinated the parish Youth Group and the summertime Vacation Bible School. The rector of St. Luke's, our dear friend the late Rev. Tom Jansen, preached at my ordination to the priesthood. We continue to correspond with a number of good friends from that time of our lives, and we continue indeed to remember them all in our prayers, with thanksgiving.

St. Luke's, Auburn, California


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Twentieth after Pentecost, 2009

Mark 10: 35-45 (RCL Proper 24B)

Oy Vey! What a mess. You’d think Jesus would be about ready to tear his hair out by now.

--I mean, things all seemed to be coming together. The days of teaching and preaching and praying together, the healings and exorcisms, the feeding of the multitudes and all the miraculous signs. And then that high moment, Peter at Caesarea Philippi: Thou art the Christ. Mark 8:29. And Jesus really for the first time begins to share with them something of what lies ahead. The Cross and the Empty Tomb.

Not the end of the story. But you do get the feeling it’s a turning point. A new chapter.

But then, before you know it, rolling into Chapter 9 of St. Mark, and the disciples are arguing among themselves, and it's all laid out there: ego, ambition, pride, self-centeredness. If you thought that Peter's declaration of faith was a guarantee of a life in which all Christian virtues would be fully expressed—think again. As if Caesarea Philippi never happened.

And Jesus catches them in that and preaches that little sermon to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Mark 9: 35. And to give emphasis to that all—last of all, servant of all, he sets that little child in front of them.

And we recalled a few weeks ago that in First Century culture that little one was not the precious character of our post-18th century Romantic world, but instead the human being of the very least value. The child in that culture regarded as something almost pre-human, without importance, to be tended by slaves or by the women of the household out of the way and behind the scenes, until he was grown. But here, Jesus says, that we would somehow aspire, if that’s the right word, to be last and least, to be servants ourselves, even to this one. The very end of the line, the bottom of the pile.

A pretty good sermon illustration, and you’d think we’d get it this time. Finally. We disciples. But no. We hardly catch a breath, still in Mark 9, and the disciples want to put a stop to the outsider who is calling himself a disciple of Jesus and using Jesus’ name to perform exorcisms, even though he’s never been a part of their group. Jealousy. Egos in full outrage mode. “How dare he! We’re the real disciples! Who does this imposter think he is?”

And Jesus sweeps that all away. He’s fine—don’t worry about it. Probably trying to do some good. I guess if Jesus were English he’d say, “Don’t get your knickers in a knot.” And then Jesus points to the same little child he pointed out a while back, and talks about how if you really feel like you need to worry about something, worry about yourselves. This maybe like the image of worrying about the splinter in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring the log in our own. Worry about what might happen if you fall short of your responsibility and the call to good stewardship that is yours as one of my disciples. Better a millstone around your neck, at the bottom of the sea.

And then moving along into Mark 10—I’m just trying to map out the context here for this morning’s reading--and the exchange with the Pharisees about divorce, which was not as common in those days as in ours, though still a reality and concern in a rather different context of family and social and economic life. And Jesus stuns them by lifting up an ideal that is above and beyond the legal procedures provided in the Scriptures—again concerned with pride, “hardness of heart,” this concern about legal technicalities. And then there is the dodge for the Pharisees: it depends what your definition of is is

What a mess we make of things: marriage and family, husband and wife, parent and child, friend and friend—the whole encyclopedia of relationships, where love dies, promises fall apart. . And then another sermon, right away, Rabbi Jesus interrupts his teaching with the disciples as they once again are thinking only about themselves, and puts it all into focus, because a much more important group has arrived to see him. “Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not.” Kids again. (I remember how when I was in seminary if you were assigned to a parish for field work where they wanted you to do Sunday School and Youth Group, it was a real loss of status. What you wanted was the chance to preach at the 11 . . . . To swim with the big fish.)

And finally--this followed right away the encounter with the Rich Young Man, as perhaps Stacy worked him over with you last Sunday, who is a good and faithful person in so many ways, but in the end cannot follow Jesus, because he is unable, unwilling to give away all that he has. You can’t hold on to power, prestige, wealth, importance. Not on this journey. Camel and the eye of the needle. And the disciples seem to catch his drift--anxious though that makes them. Then who can be saved? This momentary flash of humility.

And so finally we pause, this morning, and forward come James and John: “Hearing all this, Teacher, we have one thing to ask of you.” --“What is it?” -- “Would you please announce now that of all your disciples, we two are the first, the best, the most trusted, the ones who will sit beside you at the head of the table in the new Kingdom of God?”

As perhaps Jesus said, "Oy Vey." --Well, anyway: what a mess we are. Back to Square One. --It just kind of takes your breath away to see these scenes, these conversations, lined up together one after the other. They’re right there with him, they hear him, see him, day by day. But somehow, some critical part of this all just doesn’t seem to sink in.

For sure they’re all well-intentioned, trying their best. But take your eye off the ball for a second, and the old Adam seems to rush back onto the scene with all his original energy. “What about me?” Me. Me. Me. And Jesus can’t do any more, I guess, than just to say it all again, for the 490th time: “Whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.” And it all just seems kind of hopeless. If this were the end of the story it would be all just some kind of tragic comedy—Jesus and the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. Invincible ignorance. Theirs. Yours, mine, ours.

But the great thing is, and this where I’d leave us this morning: Jesus doesn’t give up on them. Not once, not ever, not for a minute. He stays with them patiently. Preaching the same sermon, over and over and over again. Yes, they are clueless most of the time. But he knows, he trusts that they’re coming along. Not all at once, but gradually, and down deep, a little at a time. Three steps forward, two steps back; and sometimes two steps forward, three back. But down deep, a little at a time. He sees, even if we don’t. He knows their hearts, and our hearts. He sees, even if they don’t see it yet themselves. He seems to know that they will, in time.

And so he repeats again and again through these chapters, in the midst of their stepping forward and their falling back, what will happen soon in Jerusalem. First at Caesarea Philippi—what the professors of theology would call the doctrine of the Atonement. Which is going to take a long, long time for them to figure out not just in theory but in the realities of their own lives.

How the one whose midnight birth was marked by the songs of angels and the gifts of kings will at midday be stripped and beaten and hung on a cross to die. And how through that death the force of wrong would be broken once and for all, and how then from that death he will rise to new life. And how nothing would ever again be what it was before. It’s a lot to take in, a lot to comprehend, for the disciples, for any of us. What will it mean, what could it possibly mean, for us to be a part of that story? But he is patient and generous and kind, and he stays right there with them.

We might come forward to the altar this morning—I guess you’d say inspired or “convicted” by these readings from St. Mark over the past few Sundays--with a sense of embarrassment. Even guilt. –All the ways we’ve missed the boat. In so many corners of our lives. Don’t even begin to make lists. It’s too depressing. Missing the point, falling short. Doing the wrong thing even when we know it’s the wrong thing to do. Just not getting it. Family. Friends. Work. Community. Planet Earth. We have erred and strayed from thy ways, like lost sheep. And as the weatherman says, the forecast is more of the same.

But for all that, as we would see in these readings, and as Jesus says in John 14: let not your heart be troubled. Because he sees through all that, beyond all that. That’s the best thing in these stories, one after the other. The places where we get hung up don’t hang him up at all. He knows who we are, and who we are becoming. And he is faithful and generous and forgiving, and in him there is blessing, and the healing of what was broken.

Through it all, “just as I am, without one plea,” we might come forward this morning instead beyond any embarrassment or guilt, and let it be instead all thanksgiving. Depending on his grace and mercy, and not on our own efforts, or in our rationalizations or casting of blame on others.

Depending on him: for second chances and third chances, and more beyond that--and for the space and time to grow step by step, each of us in our own way, at our own pace. Jesus with us all the way. Thanksgiving for what miracles of transformation and new life he can see beginning to happen in us, ragtag group of disciples that we are, even before we are aware of them ourselves.

Bruce Robison

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

~At St. Gregory's~

Some have asked.

Weekdays the alarm in my Guesthouse bedroom buzzes at 3:30 a.m., and at 3:50 a.m. the First Bell for Matins, at 4 a.m. That service read by the monks in the quiet of the dark Abbey Church, following (as is true with all the offices of the day) the ancient pattern of prayers, responses, psalms, and canticles first set out by St. Benedict in his Rule (c. a.d. 525) and including the Old and New Testament readings from the Daily Office Lectionary. (Over the course of the week the monks will pray aloud either speaking or singing about 200 Psalms--each of the 150 at least once during the week, and some once each day.) About 45 minutes. Then a break.

I generally make a cup of instant coffee in the Guesthouse Common Room and then sit on the little porch outside my room listening to the night sounds of the woods and farmland surrounding. At 5:50 the First Bell for Lauds, beginning at 6 a.m., with a silent Angelus and then with the first singing of the day, hymns, psalms, the Benedictus, readings and collects.

At 6:40 or so I walk cross the ambulatory to the refectory for a quiet breakfast (cheerios on a base of grape nuts), then back to the Guesthouse to shave and straighten the room and then to do some devotional reading.

At 8:05 a.m. the Bell rings, and then at 8:15 a.m. the next Office of the day, Terce, with hymn, prayers, responses, and psalms, followed directly by the Conventual Mass--a simple but highly ritualized, sung Rite II service, with the monks and any guests and visitors gathered in a semi-circle at the Abbey Church's free-standing altar.

After Mass the monks report to their work--in offices, garden, kitchen, laundry, etc. I go out for a run, with a little loop of 6-miles that I've charted out over the years along the country roads surrounding the monastery. During which time I generally find the chant tunes and texts of the morning canticles, psalms, and hymns rolling around in my thoughts. Then back in for a quick shower and a bit of reading, until the 11:20 a.m. Bell, and 11:30 a.m. Sext--which like Terce is one of the shorter Offices, again with a silent Angelus, hymn, the traditional selection of psalms, and a few responses and prayers. Usually then I spend a few minutes rummaging around in the monastery Library.

A few minutes before noon guests gather at the door of the Refectory with a bit of conversation--often joined by Abbot Andrew or one of the other monks--and then at noon the bell rings and we enter the Refectory for lunch, which at the monastery is the principal meal of the day, and usually quite substantial. (The monks in general follow St. Benedict's recommendation in Chapter 39 about avoiding the eating of meat from "four footed animals"--except on Sundays.) After a blessing we eat in silence, guests at one table and monks at another, while the monk who is Reader for the week reads to the community.

(Currently the Refectory reading is the memoir by Archbishop Rembert Weakland, OSB--the Benedictine Roman Catholic Archbishop of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who had quite a controversial career as a "Vatican II liberal" in the increasingly conservative Roman Catholic Church of the 1980's and 1990's.)

After lunch there is a break (which Benedictines call the "siesta") until 1:50 p.m., when the Bell calls the community back to the Church for None--again, a silent Angelus followed by traditional hymn, prayers, psalms.

The afternoon is then another work period for the monks, and I spend the time with my retreat reading/writing project (this week I was working through Bishop Tom Wright's book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, which I will be presenting in a book discussion series at St. Andrew's this winter). Really a very interesting book. Sometimes this is a good time also for writing a letter or two or a journal entry. And usually I break up the afternoon with a walk around the monastery grounds--either through the woods to down to the lake or out along a long dirt roadway across the farm.

At 4:30 the Refectory opens for "tea" (this I think a relic of St. Gregory's roots in the English Benedictine community at Nashdom back in the 1930's), and at 4:50 the Bell rings for 5 p.m. Vespers--the most musical service of the day, including prayers, readings, sung psalms, and a sung Magnificat.

At the conclusion of Vespers the Church is reserved for a period of silent meditation and Centering Prayer.

Then at 5:50 guests again gather at the Refectory door, with 6 p.m. Dinner--generally a very simple meal: perhaps a bowl of soup and a slice of bread, or a half a sandwich and a small salad, during which time again the continuation of the Refectory reading.

After Dinner is another quiet time. When I'm at the monastery in winter usually what I do is make a cup of decaf in the Guesthouse and spend the time reading. In spring and fall, when it's still light after dinner, I'll take a walk. At 7:35 the Bell rings for 7:45 Compline--a service that begins with a long reading from one of the ancient Church Fathers, then traditional psalms, readings, and prayers, concluding with the singing (in Latin) of the Salve Regina and with the Abbot's Asperges (the sprinkling of Holy Water over the monks and guests)and prayers. Then, entering what is called the "Great Silence" of the night, the monks head back in silence to the monastic residence and guests to the guesthouse. I sometimes will sit up for a while reading--and then, by 9 p.m., it's bedtime . . . .

Thus at St. Gregory's Monday through Saturday. On Sunday, things are rather different. The morning begins a bit later, with a combined service of Matins and Lauds beginning at 5:30 a.m., then with Terce and Mass at 8:30 p.m. ( a solemn service, with more singing, incence, and the Church decorated with flowers from the monastery gardens), a coffee hour (with cookies!) following. Sext and Nones are combined at 11 a.m., and Lunch--which begins with an ancient liturgy as the monks exchange the various roles (reader, cooks, servers, laundry, etc.)--which is rather elegant. Without reading, but with recorded music, and . . . dessert!

The long afternoon is quiet around the monastic grounds. At 5 p.m. a lovely sung Vespers, and then at 6:30 the one informal, "talking" meal of the week--usually something simple--pizza, hamburger barbecue, etc., and usually with a beer or wine option. This the one extended time of the monastic week (not counting a few minutes at the Refectory door before meals) when monks other than the Abbot or Guestmaster will spend social, conversational time with guests and visitors. This until 7:45, and then Compline . . . and then the Great Silence begins, and a new week.

The life of the monastery is one that is rooted in an immersion in prayer and scripture, and in the practice of quiet, Christ-centered restraint, balance, order, and hospitality--with a special intention to cultivate a rich inner and inward awareness.

In February 2004 I had the opportunity, during my sabbatical, to live at St. Gregory's for a full month. Each year since I've returned for a retreat, usually for four or five days in the spring or fall, and a couple of years ago I entered the Confraternity of the Order of St. Benedict through St. Gregory's. I've come to think of the monastery as a very much a spiritual home-away-from-home, of the monks who make their home there as friends--and I have indeed found it to be a blessing to my life and ministry in more ways than I can count.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

On Retreat

I'll be on retreat at St. Gregory's Abbey, leaving Wednesday morning and returning Monday afternoon.


A Smile

Passed along by my "Facebook Friend" John Robert:

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Eighteenth after Pentecost

Mark 10: 2-16 (RCL Proper 22B)

Grace and peace to you this morning, as we enter into October and begin--ever so gradually as we move on into the months of the fall--to sense the end of things. The cycle of the year. The lengthening of the night darkness.

(I attended our diocesan clergy conference this past week, held just outside Wheeling at the Sandscrest Center, and those beautiful West Virginia mountains were just begin to show fall colors.)

Step by step in the pattern of our lectionary we move into the last season of the Church year as well. A long slow glide beginning toward Advent and the turn of the year. In Mark, these heavy times of encounter and confrontation in the story of the grand procession toward Jerusalem.

The words of Jesus to his disciples now more challenging--as we’ve seen already in these past weeks. The Master pushing at his disciples, making them work harder, to stretch in their minds and in their hearts. It’s all hard for them to digest, but they’ll have days and weeks and years to think back and remember and understand. But this is his time to plant the seeds. To test their courage. To help them face their weaknesses and to look with honesty at their pride, their ambition, their self-centeredness. To turn their attention in mind and heart to Last Things, and to things that will last. What is really important and of value. To turn their attention to the coming reality of the Kingdom. The coming of God’s Kingdom, God’s reign, his power, his judgment, his righteousness, his peace.

Which is good news, and terrifying news. Which turns things upside down. Which is good news for the poor, and so good news for us in those parts of our lives where we are poor, weak, vulnerable. But perhaps not good news for us in the places where we aren’t so poor. Where we feel strong, self-sufficient. How Mary says it: “He has put down the mighty from their seat . . . and the rich he has sent, empty, away.” Good news, and challenging news. Some parts of our lives getting fixed up and healed, other parts shaken up and torn down, on this walk to Jerusalem.

Certainly the lessons appointed for this Sunday not the easiest for the preacher. It actually was something folks talked about at clergy conference this week. Requiring a high degree of trust, and a willingness to share in a spirit of mutual forgiveness and understanding. Even wondering whether fifteen years of pastoral tenure quite enough.

The preacher senses that even to tread a few steps into this forest may find hidden quicksand of misunderstanding. It would be true in any time, in any generation. But perhaps we would acknowledge that the risk is especially high in a society and a season when cultural and theological understandings of marriage and family are deeply contested, with great integrity and sincerity on all sides. And not an abstract issue, an argument about some obscure bit of ancient doctrine, but something that touches real lives in real ways. In the context of a late night talk show host or the governors of South Carolina and New York. But not just among the celebrities—although we certainly see enough of that. In the midst of our confusing lives. And so, again, any conversation in the pulpit or over coffee in the parish hall requiring for any conversation a high degree of trust, mutual forgiveness, understanding.

Last week the gospel reading having two sections as well, as we would remember. The first section Jesus talking to his disciples about the generous openness of this coming Kingdom. “Even if someone just gives a glass of water to one of these little ones.” And then the second, something of an about-face: about how it would be better to tie a millstone around the neck and be thrown into the sea than to make even one false step in the evangelical enterprise. Better to lose an eye or a hand then to suffer the eternal consequences of even one sinful thought or deed.

And here again this morning, two sections. The first on marriage and divorce, and then the second part, Jesus blessing the children—the lovely and familiar story and topic of the Tiffany window over our High Altar. Tempting of course to dwell on the second part of the passage—as it would have been tempting to stay with the glass of water last week, and to ignore the millstone. But these things come as package deals. It’s not a buffet table. And we’re not going to get where we want to go if we will only walk on the sunny side of the street.

So the point of this first part, what Jesus is saying is at least this, to this challenge from the questioning Pharisees. As they try to trip him up, force him to say something that will discredit his ministry. Like tabloid journalists. But Jesus doesn’t back down. He says that divorce is an example of the broken and sinful human inclination to put ourselves into God’s place, to prefer the world we create for ourselves to the one that he has created and intends for us.

Marriage isn’t something that we create, something we establish with a code of civil law and contracts and all the rest. As we hear in the Book of Common Prayer, the covenant of marriage was established by God in creation.

Marriage is a part of the order of Genesis, something that God himself created in Eden, as a part of his gift, and something into which he has impressed his image, something he presented to the human family for care and safekeeping and good stewardship. Entering into marriage in a way that doesn’t honor God’s image, grace, gift, and intention, or the breaking of that sacred covenant—that, says Jesus, is like strip-mining Yosemite Valley for a quick profit, like dumping poison into the ocean to save a few dollars on careful disposal. It’s almost a kind of murder. If none of us in the end can claim to have lived lives of perfect stewardship, that is, in ways great and small, a reflection of our hardness of heart. Sin. Self-imposed alienation from God.

So hear me carefully: this isn’t about judgment and condemnation for the failures and brokenness of our lives. Jesus isn’t being asked about pastoral care for divorced persons or about the design of canon law about remarriage after a divorce. We all have many failures, and much brokenness—and as we say in that prayer Sunday by Sunday, it is his property always to have mercy. Always to have mercy. And I’m very glad that, to the extent that we can as a Church, we are able at once to affirm and lift up the graciousness of God’s act of beautiful creation in the sacrament of marriage, and at the same time respond with compassion and forgiveness and hope for renewal when things have fallen apart, when we have fallen short.

This isn’t about condemnation. Nothing here to take away hope and intention for new life and renewal and recovery of meaning. But it is about seeing and being honest about that hardness of heart which is within each of us. Not about putting those divorced on the hook and letting those who by God’s grace are not divorced to have a pat on the back and to feel self-satisfied. But all of that in front of us, says Jesus, it is this tendency to make ourselves the gods of our lives, to place ourselves at the center of the universe, to prefer our way to God’s way. That’s what we need to face, that’s what we need to deal with, as God’s new morning and new Kingdom dawns in our midst.

And the passage turns, and suddenly we are into our Tiffany Window, and this fullness of the sign of God’s blessing and hope, his mercy, his tenderness. As Jesus takes the children into his arms. The disciples get a word of rebuke again, for again their hardness of heart, thinking about what makes them comfortable, not turning to give themselves to what God is creating right in front of them. Jesus just five minutes ago picked up that little child and told them that to receive that child was to receive the Father himself. Jesus just said, whoever gives one of these little ones even a glass of water in my name will not lose the reward of the Kingdom. Jesus just said, whoever harms one of these little ones even in the smallest way will be accountable for eternity. Five minutes ago. And here, the mothers bring their children to see Jesus, and the disciples begin to send them away. Talk about not paying attention. What are these guys thinking? And of course then: what are we thinking?

As we come to the Table this morning, could our prayer be that the hardness of our heart in every way would be remade with the tenderness and mercy and forgiveness and grace and generosity of the Father’s love. The mystery of Christ’s gift on the Cross, his death for our sake. His rising again. His presence with us. Not about judgment, about sending away, separating, breaking apart. But about a love for God and what he has made, and about the commitment of our minds and our hearts today to live not for the world of our making, but in the hope and beauty of the world he has made for us. That we would be good and faithful stewards, honoring him with our lives, to live in his covenant and to aspire in every way now to be the people he created us to be. That by the overflowing of his love and his faithfulness in us, it will be the first morning of his Kingdom.

Bruce Robison