Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Holy Matrimony

Linda Devlin West and Frank Klavon

Linda and Frank: what a wonderful day! I would begin this afternoon simply by expressing my appreciation, and I know this is on behalf of all the family and friends here today. It’s an honor and a privilege and a joy to be here to stand with you as you exchange the vows that will be make you husband and wife. And certainly I know that the memory of this day will be for all of us, as it will be for you, a gift of great blessing.

As we were looking over the Church Calendar a few weeks ago someone said, “Wednesday is an unusual day for a wedding.” And it is true that it is unusual. But this Wednesday in particular seems to me to be quite appropriate, here in Christmas Week, with all the beauty of the season still around us. We think about Christmas as a Feast of the Holy Family, as for the first time we glimpse Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus all together there in the stable. And it is as a family we gather this afternoon, and as by your vows all the richness of your relationship is now lifted up into a new level of meaning, as your two families are today made one family.

I also have been thinking how appropriate and fun it is that in the Christmas Carol today, December 29, the Fifth Day of Christmas, as associated with this great gift, “Five Golden Rings!” To add to four Calling Birds, three French Hens, two Turtledoves, and the Partridge in the Pear Tree. The Fifth Day of Christmas, and this big and extravagant gift. Precious gold and jewelry. And on this Fifth Day of Christmas, we come here to witness the exchange of vows that make you husband and wife, and to witness the giving and receiving of rings.

In the old Anglican Prayer Books the words that the groom would speak to the bridge at the giving of the ring were meaningful and memorable in a deeply poetic way: “With this ring I thee wed; with my body I thee worship; and with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”

The giving of rings with the vows of marriage will represent for us in a symbolic way the totality of the gift that you make today, one to the other. “What’s mine is yours.” “My life now is in your hands.” A gift freely given, of vulnerability, and so of trust. And we think today about what it means to give that gift to another. And what it means to be given that gift. A sense of such profound stewardship, and responsibility.

This gift is of course at the heart of the sacramental miracle of Christmas. As God allows himself to become weak, vulnerable. To be born in a stable, to lie in the manger bed, to depend on his Mother, on his new human family. And this gift is what inspires us to call Holy Matrimony a sacrament. Because in it, in what you two promise today and in the life you share, we are privileged to catch a glimpse of what it means to say that “God so loved the world.”

And so, blessings to you today. Merry Christmas. Joy in the New Year. And joy and peace and happiness and abundant blessings in your life together.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, December 26, 2010

First Christmas

John 1: 1-18

As we come to the end, we arrive at the beginning. If that sounds a bit like T.S. Eliot, perhaps he’s echoing in my mind as we sail along in this early Western Pennsylvania winter. Still bathed as we all are in the soft glow and memories of the Feast of the Nativity. The Second Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me—two turtledoves? That’s easy. I tend to lose track later in the song.

The First Sunday after Christmas for us always as well the last Sunday of the calendar year. The Sunday Next before New Year’s Day, the turning of the calendar page, making of resolutions, starting off with a clean slate. Don’t know how you’d assess your 2010. For me it had some up’s and some down’s, and there have been some wonderful highlights, but on the whole I’d say it’s not particularly a year I’d want to repeat, if I had that choice on the menu.

If our Church Calendar is just beginning, Advent behind us now, then nearly two weeks of formal Christmastide still to go. Officially Christmas lasts through January Sixth, the Feast of the Epiphany, traditionally associated with the arrival of the Magi. Sundown on the 5th marking the 12th Night, and then at sundown on the 6th we move into a green season called “After Epiphany.” Our Roman Catholic friends just call it “Ordinary Time.” Though in a more informal way I tend to count Christmastide through Candlemas, the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. So 40 days. Which would make for a song way too long sing at Christmas parties.

But the point: Advent and Christmas just the beginning of the new year, as we in the wider world of our lives are just watching the old one come to an end. As we come to the end, we arrive at the beginning. Time marches on, of course. No replay features on the remote. But there is at the same time this circularity. The calendar of our lives a both/and kind of thing. A straight line, a vector, a ray, sending us forward, and a wheel, bringing us around again, time and time again, to the place where we started.

The Gospel for the last Sunday of the year: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. “

A character of William Faulkner’s says, “the past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” True in so many ways of course. Thinking about all those misbehaving ballplayers and politicians and all the rest who hold their press conferences to announce that they’re “putting the past behind” them. And I suppose we all play that game to some extent. As they say in the 12-Step movement, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” It is of course a deep and wide river running through the center of all our lives in so many ways.

In theological language the miracle of Incarnation and the Birth at Bethlehem is a beginning that inaugurates a new season of the universe, the “last days.” In these Last Days, he comes to us. He who is both the foundation and the pinnacle, the First Mover, and our Final Destination. Asleep in a Manger Bed, ruling on the Throne of Heaven from before time, and forever.

If it all seems a little poetical, that perhaps we can forgive that, at least at Christmas time. Asleep in a Manger Bed, and here on the Altar, “that he might dwell in us, and we in him.” Again, this circularity. The point on this Sunday after Christmas. That no matter how far we travel away from Bethlehem, no matter how much distance we would put between him and us, in the complexity of our lives, just look up, and there he is. Right in front of us again. And it is and will be Christmas.

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

Bruce Robison

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Sermon

December 24, 2010 Christmas Eve

Good evening, friends, and as we gather here in the embrace of heaven’s first light, grace and peace to you, from God our Father, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Firstborn of Creation, the Head of the Church, the Author of our Salvation, born that winter night so long ago in the Bethlehem Stable, and, I pray, to be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives. To be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives.

Some of you if you were cruising around the internet early this morning may know that I posted up as my Facebook status a quotation from J.C. Ryle, the great old 19th century Evangelical Church of England Bishop of Liverpool, and one of my favorites as a devotional and theological writer. Just this word: Christ is He who has the keys of death and hell. Christ is the anointed Priest, who alone can absolve sinners. Christ is the fountain of living waters, in whom alone we can be cleansed. Christ is the Prince and Savior, who alone can give repentance and remission of sins. In Him all fullness dwells.

And so, may this night and this holy season be truly a blessing for you, rich and abundant in every way, as we gather here at the stable. An opportunity here at the turning of the year to be renewed in Christ, to renew as a matter of our own conscious decision, our loyalty to him--as we join with Mary and Joseph and the Shepherds and all the Angelic Host to welcome him into our lives. However we got here. Whatever the circumstances. To know and believe deep down that it has been God’s plan and in his heart and mind from the beginning of creation to bring us here tonight.

Our “Prince and Savior . . . . In him all fullness dwells.” And he has better things in mind for us than we could ever ask for or imagine.

O Jesus, I have promised to serve thee to the end; be thou forever near me, my Master and my friend. I shall not fear the battle if thou art by my side, nor wander from the pathway if thou wilt be my guide.

That’s not a Christmas carol, but it is what we might all sing here this evening. A prayer Renewal. Rededication.

What I would hope we will hear in all the wonderful readings and anthems and hymns of this night and in this holy place, is that he has dedicated himself to us. To me, to you. Each one of us. No matter how far away we may have drifted. No matter how ambivalent we may feel about the meaning and direction of our lives.

He didn’t wait until we somehow got our lives up to a higher standard. Which is a good thing. I don’t need to look around the room for evidence of that. All I need to do is look into a mirror. Born for us in Bethlehem, and on his way to Good Friday and the Cross for us. He’s here tonight. Our “Prince and Savior.” Ready or not.

And Mary looks across at us. Would you like to hold the baby? Would you? You came all this way. Here, take him for a moment and hold him close.

I don’t know what kind of messes you may have got yourself tangled up in 2010. I know I got myself into a few. When you get right down to it it’s pretty much the same story for all of us. We give as good as we get. We break promises. We lie cheat and steal. One way or another. Certainly even in undramatic ways fall short of our ideals. Even our better intentions are broken at least half the time by pride, lust, gluttony, all the patterns of self-centeredness. Sometimes just laziness.

But then in the same world we live in, the Shepherds hear the Host of Heaven. Christmas Eve, and they didn’t even have to go to Church. The choir came to them. Found them where they were. And so St. Paul in Romans 8: “Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That’s what the real message is and needs to be in every Christmas card.

All around us, then, tonight, the encouragement of this wonderful song of Isaiah, as Melinda has read it for us. To the lost and the least, the broken-down and the broken-hearted, God’s Chosen People from the first breath of the universe now defeated, scattered, lost, good for nothing.

Break forth into joy, sing together, ye waste places of Jerusalem: for the LORD hath comforted his people, he hath redeemed Jerusalem. The LORD hath made bare his holy arm in the eyes of all the nations; and all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.

The power of God, his strength. The love of God, his mercy. The compassion of God, his sacrifice. All for us. “In him all fullness dwells.” See him in a manger laid, whom the angels praise above.

Baby Jesus: how still we see thee lie. Born that dark winter night so long ago in the Bethlehem Stable, and, I pray, to be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives. An invitation for us to open the doors, as he comes knocking tonight. Not only for the contemplatives and mystics, but for us all. That he might dwell in us, and we in him. To be born this night fresh and new in our hearts and in our lives.

Blessings, friends, and joy, peace, in Christ Jesus, in the New Year ahead. And Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve, 2010

Out of the Ash

Solstice of the dark, the absolute
Zero of the year. Praise God
Who comes for us again, our lives
Pulled to their fisted knot,
Cinched tight with cold, drawn
To the heart’s constriction; our faces
Seamed like clinkers in the grate,
Hands like tongs—Praise God
That Christ, phoenix immortal,
Springs up again from solstice ash,
Drives his equatorial ray
Into our cloud, emblazons
Our stiff brow, fries
Our chill tears. Come Christ,
Most gentle and throat-pulsing Bird!
O come, sweet Child! Be gladness
In our church. Waken with anthems
Our bare rafters! O phoenix
Forever! Virgin-wombed
and burning in the dark,
Be born! Be Born!

William Everson (Brother Antoninus, O.P.)

December 24, in the Morning

The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom like the rose. It shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice even with joy and singing; the glory of Lebanon shall be given unto it, the excellency of Carmel and Sharon; they shall see the glory of the LORD, and the excellency of our God.

Isaiah 35

Friday in the Fourth Week of Advent

Look upon Zion, city of our solemn feasts,
let your eyes rest on Jerusalem,
a land of comfort,
a tent that shall never be shifted . . . .

Isaiah 33

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Thursday in the Fourth Week of Advent

I saw no temple in the city; for its temple was the sovereign Lord God and the Lamb. And the city had no need of sun or moon to shine upon it; for the glory of God gave it light, and its lamp was the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk, and the kings of the earth shall bring into it all their splendor.
~~Revelation 21

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday in the Fourth Week of Advent


~ R. S. Thomas

Moments of great calm,
Kneeling before an altar
Of wood in a stone church
In summer, waiting for the God
To speak; the air a staircase
For silence; the sun’s light
Ringing me, as though I acted
A great rôle. And the audiences
Still; all that close throng
Of spirits waiting, as I,
For the message.
Prompt me, God;
But not yet. When I speak,
Though it be you who speak
Through me, something is lost.
The meaning is in the waiting.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Advent

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had vanished, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready like a bride adorned for her husband.

I heard a loud voice proclaiming from the throne: "Now at last God has his dwelling among men! He will dwell among them and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes; there shall be an end to death, and to mourning and crying and pain; for the old order has passed away!" Then he who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new!" Revelation xx

Thomas the Apostle

Thomas saith unto him, "Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way?" Jesus saith unto him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father but by me." John xiv

Caravaggio, The Incredulity of Thomas, 1601

Everliving God, who didst strengthen thine apostle Thomas with sure and certain faith in thy Son's resurrection: Grant us so perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting in thy sight; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Monday in the Fourth Week of Advent

O Radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare.

From the Eleventh Chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:

And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse, and a Branch shall grow out of his roots:

And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD . . . .

O Root of Jesse, who stands for an ensign of the people, before whom kings shall keep silence and unto whom the Gentiles shall make supplication: Come to deliver us, and tarry not.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Fourth Advent, 2010

At St. Andrew's this Sunday, 11 a.m.

A Children's Pageant of Christmas

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

O Lord Jesus, thou great Shepherd of the sheep: Look on these thy children; embrace them with the arms of thy mercy, pour on them the riches of thy blessing, and so fill them with thy manifold gifts of grace that they may continue thine for ever; to the honour and glory of thy name. Amen

Friday, December 17, 2010

Holy Matrimony

Lara Elizabeth Novelly and Michael Joseph Lueck
Song of Solomon 2: 10-13, 8: 6-7

Lara and Mike, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon, is thank you. It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this day 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 and bless your relationship as husband and wife. It’s a great day!

I know you and your families have been very busy these past few weeks, with all the arrangements of the day, and not to mention work and school and final exams! I would just say, congratulations to you, and with so many good thoughts of friendship and blessings upon you as you move forward together into this new chapter of your life. You are two great young people, and we thank you for this day, for the good things that will come in your life. And Mike, also, just to say that we would thank you as well for your commitment to serving our country as you complete your education.

We’ve had the chance to get to know each other during this time, and as so much has been going on in your lives, and with your family. I want to say this afternoon what I’ve said to you privately, and that is simply how much a gift it has been for me to get to know you, in this time that has been for you both and for your families full of much joy but also of many challenges. A time of energy and new beginning, but also of tenderness and vulnerability. What I’ve seen in you has really been a gift, and actually an inspiration. You are young people, but you have shown me deep maturity, responsibility, and thoughtfulness and wisdom and grace and generosity, and courage, in your lives. Sometimes in a wedding we talk about these characteristics as things that are going to grow over the years, and I know they will for you. But these are also present now for you in a very rich way, and will be a foundation already for years to come.

The 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, about truly the greatest gift that God gives us, and a poetic reminder of both the care God has for us, and of his hope for us, each one of us, as we grow to be the people he has created us to be at our best. The song of the Lover and the Beloved. And I am reminded of the beautiful lines of the New Testament book of First John in the fourth chapter. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God . . . . God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” My prayer for you is that the love that you so clearly have for each other will continue to grow, with the gifts of personal affection and of faith, for you personally and in wider and wider circles, all the days of your life.

And of course also this reading of the Prayer of St. Francis, which is to me just about the most perfect expression of what we might call a Christian lifestyle. To pray not to be loved so much as to have the strength and grace to love others. Something we all certainly will fall short of much of the time, but a vision of what it might be to live in a Christ-like way.

And I think with a very appropriate application to a marriage. For you as you relate to one another now as husband and wife, and for you as a couple as you make the decisions about how you will live together, about work and family, your friends and neighbors. The whole world seems to want to tell us sometimes that I should want everything to be about me, about what makes me happy.

But the message, to say simply, that the deepest happiness, the Christian hope that will lead us successfully through this life and to eternal life, is about what we give rather than what we get. About giving ourselves away. As we say in those offertory words every Sunday morning, to “walk in love, as Christ loved us, and gave himself for us.”

In the midst of this I’m reminded that in the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite Bible stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, a 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.

Now, Mike and Lara, we don’t need to take that literally, and you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember 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, 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. Here in Pittsburgh, and wherever your life takes you, holy ground.

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.

Now as Lara and Michael come forward to exchange the vows of their marriage, I would ask all of us to bow our heads for a moment to offer a prayer for them, for their protection and their blessing, their joy, in all that God has for them in the days and years ahead.

Bruce Robison

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Third Advent

Year A Isaiah 35: 1-10, Matthew 11: 2-11

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness. And put upon us the armor of light.

The opening words of Archbishop Cranmer’s great Advent Sunday collect certainly echoing down the centuries to us, and echoing in us as year by year they are repeated through this season as the year turns toward winter, nights growing longer and longer--and the ancient and almost primordial yearning for light and warmth and vitality now the lens through which we see the birth, the life, the death, and the resurrection of our Lord Jesus.

A prayer that in Christ and through Christ and with Christ we will ourselves in this season of incarnation be reborn and renewed, given new life, new identity. To borrow a phrase, as we set out into a new year we pray that we would “dress for success.” We pray, dress us now “with Christ.” Let us put him on, our “armor of light,” so that when the world would look at us, he would be the one seen and made known. In a season, maybe even a culture and a world that keeps trying to seduce us with the idea that everything should be about us, this turns us in a different direction. It turns out, it isn’t all about us. Which when you get right down to it really is good news.

The lighting of the Rose Advent Candle on the Wreath this morning reminds us of the name of this Sunday, Gaudete Sunday. Latin, “Rejoice.” In the traditional mass order the Introit for this Sunday the text from Philippians 4 that our Choir will sing at the offertory. Gaudete in domino semper. Rejoice in the Lord always. That not meant as a kind of encouragement to go to Church on Sunday, but even more as a statement about Christian life, ethics, morality. How we live. Metaphorically, what we wear. Put upon us the armor of light, so that we are ourselves in the process of becoming windows. That he may be seen in us.

I mentioned to Bill Ghrist this week in our Wednesday morning Bible Study that this passage from St. Matthew, the dialogue between Jesus and the disciples of John the Baptist, reminds me right away of the famous saying attributed often to St. Francis. “Preach always; when necessary use words.” If those John had sent were expecting a theological discourse from Jesus, they were at least somewhat disappointed. “Just look around for a while, and then go back and tell John what you have seen with your own eyes.”

Not exactly to say that talk is cheap. But when you get right down to it, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. If you’re going to talk the talk, it’s important to walk the walk. A basket full of clichés, but they become familiar because deep down we know just how true they are.

Jesus obviously knows his Bible, and Isaiah 35: “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; the lame shall leap like a deer, the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” But the reality here comes first. Jesus doesn’t come to tell us about the kingdom.

Instead, where he is, the Kingdom happens. Comes to life. And there is healing, and renewal, and life. An abundance of goodness, peace and good will, kindness, generosity, forgiveness. Because he is there. Because God is there acting, as never before, or at least as never since the first day of Creation, when he said “Let there be light,” and there was light.

“God himself is with us. Let us now adore him, and with awe appear before him.” An old German hymn from the 18th century, and of course right at the heart of our Advent and the season ahead. What are we waiting for? Who are we waiting for?

These Christians, how they love one another! Certainly the challenge before us on this morning and in this Advent and Christmas. For our lives as individuals and in our families and in the life of our congregation and as God’s people, his Church. Where he is, the Kingdom happens. Healing, renewal. Generosity, forgiveness.

Give us grace, that we may cast away the works of darkness; and put upon us the armor of light. To dress for success. Not that he would serve our purposes, but that we would be drawn up into his, and into him.

I am always struck in our services of Holy Communion with the invitation at the time of the Confession: “Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways: Draw near with faith . . ..”

Not about charting up a list of misbehaviors from the last week to apologize for. Instead, to intend to lead a new life. And amazing that we say that again and again, from childhood to old age, in every season. Wherever we are. However we are living. Not something we can accomplish in ourselves or for ourselves. But to say that we know and believe, that where Jesus is, the Kingdom happens, and that we ask him to be here with us.

And so Advent blessings on this Gaudete Sunday. Rejoice in the Lord always. Life in abundance and life eternal. Grace and peace. Forgiveness, healing. New life. Our King and Savior draweth nigh. O come, let us adore him.

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Second Advent, 2010

Isaiah 11: 1-10; Romans 15: 4-13; Matthew 3: 1-12

Advent blessings to all again this morning, as we roll on now into December and in so many different ways in so many different parts of our lives involved in a season of preparation. Getting ready for the holidays. Getting ready for the new year. Preparing our homes—as Susy and I have been puttering around for our Open House this afternoon (and I hope you all have that on your calendars!). Cleaning, decorating, cooking, gift-buying. Planning. Watching with the children of our lives as they hear the stories in fresh ways, with all the wonder and excitement that comes with it. That’s always the best part.

And as we enter into the pattern of the season as well, that process in us that sometimes gets caught up in the activity of “New Year Resolutions.” Whether we do that formally or informally. It’s been a whole year since last Christmas, which is in so many ways so hard to believe. Seems sometimes like 15 minutes, other times like a decade. Thinking of all the events, changes, accomplishments, losses. Joys and sorrows. Births and deaths. Victories and failures. Thinking of who we are becoming in the big picture of our lives. Growing in some ways, and perhaps not so much, in other ways. Moving in multiple directions at the same time. And aware of the places where we may be stuck. And where we’ve lost ground. Wondering how we did with those New Year 2010 Resolutions, if we can even remember them.

There are lots of ways to approach Advent as a season of the new Church Year. The lectionary gives us this wonderful series of messianic readings from Isaiah, a sequence from Paul to the Romans, and in the gospel two Sundays of John the Baptist and then this year Matthew’s story of Joseph’s dream, wherein the angel tells him of Mary’s pregnancy and instructs him to marry her. As our Church School families light the candles on the Wreath and the kids rehearse the pageant, once again we hear about characters of the Christmas story: prophets and shepherds and angels. Which is sort of how the little Bible-themed Advent Calendars work.

In earlier times the four Advent Sundays were associated with what were called the “Four Last Things.” Death and Judgment, Heaven and Hell.” Certainly an attractive sermon series for the season! Just the thing to get everybody into the mood for the coming festivities . . . . We smile at that, perhaps. But it’s not because we don’t want to take things seriously. It’s easy for this season to be all about superficiality. Superficial things and activities and relationships. But I think we yearn for what is deeper. For clearer messages, for a truth that will last, something that really means something.

It wasn’t Christmas when Paul wrote to the Romans. That concept wouldn’t have made any sense to him or them at all. But as we listen to this—what is arguably the single greatest work of St. Paul and perhaps the most important essay and exploration of Christian theology ever written—we hear implied in Paul’s audience, as it were, so many of the same issues that we wrestle with in our lives. Concerns about the larger meaning of life, about how we do the right thing in a culture of moral ambiguity that seems in many ways alien, strange. About how to deal with relationships that don’t work. About conflict and disagreement and anxiety. All what we might call the “pastoral context” for the letter.

There are of course libraries of books written about what Paul does in these sixteen short chapters. It is in reflection on Romans that St. Augustine of Hippo begins to formulate a theology and spirituality that in many ways lies at the very heart of our western theological tradition. It is in reflection on Romans that Luther begins his great work of Reformation, and a couple of hundred years later that inspires John Wesley in his conversion experience at the Aldersgate Meeting to his ministry of renewal in the Church of England. In the early 20th Century Karl Barth, the Swiss Reformed theologian who really framed and frames the theological conversation for us even today, who Pope Pius XII said was the greatest Christian thinker since Thomas Aquinas, re-energized modern theology with his Commentary on Romans.

To say that “the God who is revealed in the cross of Jesus challenges and overthrows any attempt to ally God with human cultures, achievements, or possessions.” 90 years later Barth is still the at the center of just about every theological movement and discussion in one way or another. And all that just to say that to be coming again to Romans in these first Sundays of the new Church Year is to come to an important place, at the heart and center of Christian life and identity.

In any event, the reading from Romans 15 this morning certainly has an Advent feel, especially in its quotation of the messianic material from Isaiah. Echoing in the context of the life of the early Christian family the ancient word of hope about God’s action to restore and renew his Covenant, this time not simply with the Chosen People of Israel, but through them to bless and restore relationship with all the human family. Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles . . . in him the Gentiles shall hope.

In all of this, on this Second Advent Sunday, I would just like to highlight two sentences, actually three verses--5, 6, and 7. “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” That’s sentence number one. Then, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Probably these are sentences that Augustine or Luther or Wesley or Barth would have highlighted in their deep encounters with Romans. But I think this stands out for me in some ways because I continue to be dismayed, and have been thinking about this a good deal lately, by the ways in which division, separation, exclusion, and hostility have infected not simply the world, not simply the nation and the body politic, but communities, neighbors, families. And also the Church. Environmental biologists will talk about how a particular area may become a “toxic environment,” and that phrase seems to describe things in a lot of different contexts. Not for the first time, of course, and perhaps it’s even true to say that it has been true pretty much at all times. The human condition. But it would be dangerous if that led us into complacency. There is an urgency in Paul’s words here that would have a sharp enough point to penetrate our thick skins and get through to our thick skulls.

That what we as Christians need to be about, if we aren’t just going to be about the superficial things—what we need to be about, and perhaps in our “New Year’s Resolutions” this Advent and in the year ahead, is to share in the work of glorifying God not simply with our lips but in our lives—our lives individually, and our lives together as a community. Family. Neighborhood. Nation. And Church. Parish, diocese, all the interweaving relationships.

Our friends of Presbyterian background will remember that wonderful phrase at the beginning of the Westminster Catechism. The Chief End of Man is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever. And that includes what we do in these wonderful services of worship, but it goes beyond as well into the character of our lives. About welcoming, forgiving, healing, renewing—about being ourselves the visible evidence of what Christ accomplished at the Cross. Which is what we would be called to think about as we think about how to be Christian people.

How to be a Church. How to be ourselves like the Manger in the Stable, the place where people would come to see Jesus. Signs of grace, generosity, true affection. Called to make peace, even in the places and even with the people who are difficult for us. As Isaiah says, “the wolf shall live with the lamb.”

It would be a prayer of Advent, our prayer, and of Christmas, Incarnation and Atonement, the sacramental mysteries of the Manger and the Cross. Jesus born in us and giving himself in us and through us, as we await his return. That we would find a way in our lives and in our communities not to entertain and scandalize the world with our conflicts and controversies, but to astonish with our love.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


The observance of Hanukkah, the Feast of the Dedication, begins this year 2010 at sunset on December 1.

From the Hebrew word for "dedication" or "consecration," Hanukkah marks the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem, in 168 B.C., after its desecration by the forces of Antiochus IV and commemorates the "miracle of the container of oil."

According to the Talmud, at the re-dedication following the victory of the Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire, there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. Miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.

1 Maccabees 4:36-59

Cleansing and Dedication of the Temple

Then Judas and his brothers said, ‘See, our enemies are crushed; let us go up to cleanse the sanctuary and dedicate it.’ So all the army assembled and went up to Mount Zion. There they saw the sanctuary desolate, the altar profaned, and the gates burned. In the courts they saw bushes sprung up as in a thicket, or as on one of the mountains. They saw also the chambers of the priests in ruins. Then they tore their clothes and mourned with great lamentation; they sprinkled themselves with ashes and fell face down on the ground. And when the signal was given with the trumpets, they cried out to Heaven.

Then Judas detailed men to fight against those in the citadel until he had cleansed the sanctuary. He chose blameless priests devoted to the law, and they cleansed the sanctuary and removed the defiled stones to an unclean place. They deliberated what to do about the altar of burnt-offering, which had been profaned. And they thought it best to tear it down, so that it would not be a lasting shame to them that the Gentiles had defiled it. So they tore down the altar, and stored the stones in a convenient place on the temple hill until a prophet should come to tell what to do with them. Then they took unhewn* stones, as the law directs, and built a new altar like the former one. They also rebuilt the sanctuary and the interior of the temple, and consecrated the courts. They made new holy vessels, and brought the lampstand, the altar of incense, and the table into the temple. Then they offered incense on the altar and lit the lamps on the lampstand, and these gave light in the temple. They placed the bread on the table and hung up the curtains. Thus they finished all the work they had undertaken.

Early in the morning on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month, which is the month of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-eighth year,* they rose and offered sacrifice, as the law directs, on the new altar of burnt-offering that they had built. At the very season and on the very day that the Gentiles had profaned it, it was dedicated with songs and harps and lutes and cymbals. All the people fell on their faces and worshipped and blessed Heaven, who had prospered them. So they celebrated the dedication of the altar for eight days, and joyfully offered burnt-offerings; they offered a sacrifice of well-being and a thanksgiving-offering. They decorated the front of the temple with golden crowns and small shields; they restored the gates and the chambers for the priests, and fitted them with doors.There was very great joy among the people, and the disgrace brought by the Gentiles was removed.

Then Judas and his brothers and all the assembly of Israel determined that every year at that season the days of dedication of the altar should be observed with joy and gladness for eight days, beginning with the twenty-fifth day of the month of Chislev.

In the Gospel of St. John we hear a story of Jesus as he celebrated Hanukkah with a visit to the Holy City:

John 10:22-30

At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, ‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’ Jesus answered, ‘I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.* The Father and I are one.’

A word of greeting and friendship on this day and in this season, for our Jewish neighbors here in Pittsburgh and around the world.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr

Patron of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

(Greek: Ανδρέας, Andreas), called in the Orthodox tradition Protocletos, or the First-called, is a Christian Apostle and the elder brother of Saint Peter. The name "Andrew" (from Greek : ανδρεία, manhood, or valour), like other Greek names, appears to have been common among the Jews from the second or third century B.C. No Hebrew or Aramaic name is recorded for him.

The Bible records that St Andrew was a son of Jonah, or John, (Matthew 16:17; John 1:42). He was born in Bethsaida on the Sea of Galilee (John 1:44). Both he and his brother Peter were fishermen by trade, hence the tradition that Jesus called them to be his disciples by saying that He will make them "fishers of men" (Greek: ἁλιείς ἀνθρώπων, halieis anthropon). At the beginning of Jesus' public life they occupied the same house at Capernaum (Mark 1:21, 29).

From the Gospel of John we learn that Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist, whose testimony first led him and John the Evangelist to follow Jesus (John 1:35-40). Andrew at once recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and hastened to introduce Him to his brother(John 1:41). Thenceforth the two brothers were disciples of Christ. On a subsequent occasion, prior to the final call to the apostolate, they were called to a closer companionship, and then they left all things to follow Jesus (Luke 5:11; Matthew 4:19-20; Mark 1:17-18).

Click here to read more.

ALMIGHTY God, who didst give such grace unto thy holy Apostle Saint Andrew, that he readily obeyed the calling of thy Son Jesus Christ, and followed him without delay; Grant unto us all, that we, being called by thy holy Word, may forthwith give up ourselves obediently to fulfill thy holy commandments; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When the Apostles went forth to preach to the Nations, Andrew seems to have taken an important part, but unfortunately we have no certainty as to the extent or place of his labours. Eusebius (Church History III.1), relying, apparently, upon Origen, assigns Scythia as his mission field: Andras de [eilechen] ten Skythian; while St. Gregory of Nazianzus (Oration 33) mentions Epirus; St. Jerome (Ep. ad Marcell.) Achaia; and Theodoret (on Ps. cxvi) Hellas. Probably these various accounts are correct, for Nicephorus (H.E. II:39), relying upon early writers, states that Andrew preached in Cappadocia, Galatia, and Bithynia, then in the land of the anthropophagi and the Scythian deserts, afterwards in Byzantium itself, where he appointed St. Stachys as its first bishop, and finally in Thrace, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Achaia. It is generally agreed that he was crucified by order of the Roman Governor, Aegeas or Aegeates, at Patrae in Achaia, and that he was bound, not nailed, to the cross, in order to prolong his sufferings. The cross on which he suffered is commonly held to have been the decussate cross, now known as St. Andrew's, though the evidence for this view seems to be no older than the fourteenth century. His martyrdom took place during the reign of Nero, on 30 November, A.D. 60); and both the Latin and Greek Churches keep 30 November as his feast.

El Greco, St. Andrew, 1606

St. Andrew's relics were translated from Patrae to Constantinople, and deposited in the church of the Apostles there, about A.D. 357. When Constantinople was taken by the French, in the beginning of the thirteenth century, Cardinal Peter of Capua brought the relics to Italy and placed them in the cathedral of Amalfi, where most of them still remain. St. Andrew is honoured as their chief patron by Russia and Scotland.

Click here to read it all in The Catholic Encyclopedia

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Advent Reflection

With thanks to the Rev. Lesley Fellows for pointing me to this. An Advent Reflection. Poem, "Broken Open," composed and performed by Jude Simpson.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Advent Sunday

Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

Advent Sunday, 2010

Isaiah 2: 1-5; Romans 13: 11-14; Matthew 24: 36-44
Baptism of Jacob Sunderland Stasolla

Good morning, and grace and peace, and to say to all on this Advent Sunday, “Happy New Year.” I know we have a festive coffee hour this morning, with thanks to Vincente and Pamela and Grace and Reid--and Jacob!--celebrating Jacob’s baptism—but I think we still have a few weeks to go before we can break out the champagne and confetti and sing Auld Lang Syne.

But turning the page on the Calendar of the Church Year, moving from Year C now to Year A in the Three Year Eucharistic Lectionary of the Revised Common Lectionary, now a year to spend with a focus on the Gospel according to St. Matthew, and in the Prayer Book Daily Office Lectionary, for those of us who follow that in our daily pattern of Morning and Evening Prayer, moving from Year Two to Year One. With what I think is the most beautiful and meaningful of all the Collects of the Church Year, living in our Anglican tradition for over 500 years, since the time when Archbishop Cranmer put pen to paper.

And of course in the long narrative structure of the Seasons of the Church Year, to stand now at Advent, a season about expectation, about gestation, about waiting in hope.

Like the Prophets of Ancient Israel we are invited to lean forward, to catch a vision of God’s life and power intervening in the story of humanity and in the history of the universe to restore and renew, to judge and to bless. As it was, as it is now, as it will be. Like John the Baptist we are invited to lean forward to discern and to announce the beginning of a new age. Like Mary, we are invited to a season of watchful waiting, as the Lord of Heaven and Earth enters this world in us, by means of our faithfulness. All about time, about this time, ancient times, future time, end time, about the right time, and about God’s time. Beginnings, endings, new beginnings.

And it just strikes me with all that as being especially appropriate to celebrate a baptism on Advent Sunday. As young Jacob is taken up by God into his arms and blessed and made a member of the Body of Christ, and with all the themes of initiation and potential, a new beginning. I certainly can’t help but look up above our high altar here at St. Andrew’s and see the wonderful Tiffany Window representation of Jesus and the Children. Let them come to me, and forbid them not, for to such belong the Kingdom of God.

At once we along with Jacob are all made new in the waters of baptism, and at the same time we are made very old, ancient, grafted into the organic life of God himself, dying with Christ in his death, and born anew in his resurrection. All of that happening at once, here and now, from before time and forever. Each of us baptized, but not many different baptisms.

Thus Paul in the Letter to the Ephesians: One Lord, one faith, one baptism. All of us made one, and sent forth on this day not to walk our own way any longer, but to allow our lives now to take on a cruciform shape, to be conformed in obedience, through word and sacrament and in faithful discipleship, so that the way of his Cross may become for us the way of life. And that from our hearts day by day there may flow his gifts of grace and healing, forgiveness, generosity, kindness, love.

So again, with Advent blessings for all, a Happy New Year ahead, a new year of healing and renewal and new life as we would grow in Christ and in love for one another and in our ability and desire to be his hands and his feet in loving service in his name, with excitement for Christmas, and most of all with thanksgiving. And so in the Psalm this morning: I was glad when they said unto me, we will go into the house of the Lord.And I would now ask the family and godparents of Jacob Sunderland Stasolla to come forward, as we celebrate all the great things God has done and is doing in our lives, and in the life of this parish family, and all around us, day by day.

Bruce Robison

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Abraham Lincoln, 1863

Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day
October 3, 1863

The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.

In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.

Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth.

A. Lincoln

Thanksgiving Day

November 24, 2010 Eve of Thanksgiving Day
RCL Philippians 4: 4-9; John 6: 25-35

Good evening to all, as we are here on this Eve of Thanksgiving Day and gathering not only for ourselves in this moment but on behalf of all our wider parish family first of all—those travelling in the holiday weekend, those coming together with family and friends—and lifting up in prayer our Church and the larger Christian family, our neighborhood and this wider community and our nation and all the wide world. The whole of creation, resting in the arms of our Creator and Redeemer.

Interesting that in the liturgical directions for Thanksgiving Day the Proper Preface of the Eucharistic Prayer, the sentence at the beginning of the prayer that indicates the theme or season, the Proper Eucharistic Preface is the one prescribed for Trinity Sunday. “For with your co-eternal Son and Holy Spirit, you are one God, one Lord, in Trinity of Persons and in Unity of Being; and we celebrate the one and equal glory of you, O Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”

The message for us seems to be the one so often repeated, I believe first used generally in the Twelve Step movement:

Remember to keep the main thing the main thing.

All these competing strands of our life coming together in this holiday. Food, football, family. More food. And then apparently for many there will be a just few hours of sleep, and then long drives up to Grove City for the 3 a.m. outlet store openings. The first wave in the coming storm of hyper-consumerism, I guess, even in this still very fragile economy. All that, and as we take care of our last minute holiday preparations this evening and tomorrow morning, this word from Jesus in St. John’s gospel. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life.

It happens that this Thanksgiving service is the last service at St. Andrew’s in this Church Year, as we will be all ready to go for the new year and Advent Sunday this coming Sunday morning. And the message for us is about how we would see our priorities, our concerns—how we would organize ourselves day by day in the New Year ahead.

James Carville had that saying over the campaign room in the Clinton for President headquarters back in 1992: “It’s the economy, stupid.” A reminder to the candidate not to go off message. That people will vote their pocketbook, their own self-interest.

And if that’s generally true, then we hear this evening and would be called to represent with our lives something countercultural. Food that endures for eternal life. And what does that mean? What does it look like? We sort that out along the way, of course. No easy answers. In the light of his resurrection, conforming our lives to the cruciform shape of his. Seeking not to find our own way, but to follow in his footsteps.

Paul has this wonderful moment in the Philippians passage appointed for this evening. A clue for us, perhaps. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.

I’m not sure we’ve always—or even ever—done a good job of this. Arguments, mean-spiritedness, mutual disregard, self-centeredness, even violence, so much a part of our Christian past and our Christian present. No question about it. But we would at the end of this year just pause. In thanksgiving at Thanksgiving. To lift up in the feast of this world, the food that endures for eternal life. To make his way our way. The Lord is near. Advent Sunday just ahead. The Lord is near. Let your gentleness be known to everyone.

And all blessings in the holiday ahead.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

St. Andrew, Apostle and Martyr

Observance of St. Andrew

Grace to you and peace, indeed, friends, and again a warm word of welcome, as we are assembled today to celebrate in St. Andrew’s Church, Pittsburgh, for what I believe is now the 174th time, the feast day of our Patron.

His day on the calendar is actually November 30, of course, but since the preceding Sunday is in the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, it has been our custom in this parish for many years to break out the champagne in his honor a week early, on the Sunday before Thanksgiving.

In any event, I’m not sure our friends of the Syria Highlanders were able to join us for that first celebration, back in November of 1837, but certainly for a number of years now it has been a wonderful blessing to have them with us. I would say again to you, friends, thank you, and that it is as always an added way to enjoy this day to know that in sponsoring the bagpipes and drums we are as well sharing in the very meaningful charitable work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for children. A double blessing.

And so a welcome to all, and it will be fun to enjoy the festive St. Andrew’s Day reception in Brooks Hall after the service. Cookies . . . and more!

Every year I read through these readings appointed for St. Andrew, prayerfully as I am able, asking what word there might be this year for me, for us, to hear in a special way. The appointed lectionary readings don’t change from year to year, but of course we all change. Individually, and as a congregation, and in the context and contexts of our lives. Our personal situations, families, neighborhoods, the wide world all around us.

The unchanging Word always has a word for us that will be fresh and new. As they say on the television, “breaking news.” Up to the minute. Though we may need sometimes to tune the receivers. To see with eyes open, to hear with ears open. With open minds and open hearts. And not just that there’s one secret message here for us, but that we all might hear different things. The many facets of the diamond.

And I would simply say that what has stood out for me this time, reading through the lessons for our St. Andrew’s Day, is a phrase from Deuteronomy 30, this great Farewell Speech by Moses.

He has walked with the people through all these powerful and formative events. The confrontation with Pharaoh, the first Passover, the Crossing of the Sea, the Giving of the Law at Sinai, the hard 40 year time of nomadic wandering in the wilderness, filled with so many gifts and so many challenges. The long story of their life together. And now he knows that they are to move on into their future, into the future God has in mind for them, but that he will not be with them. But before they part ways, he would speak to them one last time, remind them of the message that he has done his best to set before them every day of this journey, which is that who they are, the foundation of their character and identity, the source and spring of all that they would become, is to be found in faithfulness to God.

That they would put down roots in the soil of his holiness, in obedience to his Word, his Torah, to be nourished by the Lord, and to become his garden, his vineyard, as they enter the Land of Promise.

And Moses I think senses the anxiety of the people. Although things have not always been smooth sailing in their relationship, deep down there has been this God-given confidence that the people have had in Moses. They saw how his face shone as he came down from the Holy Mountain with the Tablets of the Law, and they had seen again and again these great miracles. They knew Moses was God’s Man. But what would happen now? To whom would they turn? From whom would they hear the Word that God would have for them? For them now, at this moment of transition and transformation, there would no longer be his presence. They would be walking unmarked paths, sailing in uncharted seas.

And in this farewell moment, Moses says to them: “The word is very near to you.” The word is very near.

Or as we might translate. It’s not rocket science.

Seems that way sometimes, I guess. In all the swirling language of theological dispute—certainly as we experience that in our day. Perhaps true in every generation. If only I had a degree in Biblical Studies from Union in New York. If only I had a Ph.D in Theology from Duke. If only I could find the secret decoder ring. (See Dan Brown and the Da Vinci Code.)

Knowing what God’s will for my life might be, knowing how God is calling his Church, knowing God’s purposes for the world and the universe of his creation. That’s all just so hard, so confusing. Overwhelming. Something to leave to the experts.

Not so, Moses says to God’s Chosen People. Not so: “The word is very near to you.” And again, as that might echo down the centuries, from that hilltop overlooking the Jordan Valley, to us, and for us.

174 years worth of life at St. Andrew’s. Men and women, boys and girls. Choirs and Sunday School classes and Altar Guilds, Confirmation Classes, baptisms and weddings and burials, committees and card parties, festival services and prayers together in the emergency room, Sunday by Sunday, week in and week out. 174 years, just in our little corner of world. The Word of God not far away, distant, hard to hear. But as we would open our eyes and ears and minds and our hearts: right here with us. The Word of God for us, his mind for us, as it is communicated in the Word of Scripture; the Word Made Flesh, Jesus Christ. God here for us in the splash of water at the font, at the altar and the communion rail, in the bread of his presence and the new wine of his kingdom, the Word Made Flesh, Body and Blood.

And so Paul in another of our readings today, this great passage from Romans 10: “No one who believes in him will be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”

Moses would speak to them one last time, remind them of the message that he has done his best to set before them every day of this journey, which is that who they are, the foundation of their character and identity, the source and spring of all that they would become, is to be found in faithfulness to God. That they would put down roots in the soil of his holiness, in obedience to his Word, his Torah, to be nourished by the Lord, and to become his garden, his vineyard, as they enter the Land of Promise.

As you know, I’m passionate about theological education and scriptural studies. But Andrew had no Ph.D from Duke. Peter hadn’t studied New Testament with N.T. Wright—though I’m certain they would have had many interesting conversations! James and John didn’t have to learn secret codes from Dan Brown. Their eyes and ears were open, their hearts and their minds were prepared, and so they met him right where they were, four fishermen, late in the afternoon, mending their nets.

He is ready, at all times, in all places. The message we will be singing about on Christmas Eve: we find him, because he first finds us. We come to him, because he comes to live where we live. As we would open our eyes, our ears, our minds and hearts, day by day. The word is very near.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Twenty-Fifth after Pentecost: In the Meantime

RCL Track One, Proper 28: Isaiah 65: 17-25, Luke 21: 5-19

Good morning and, again, grace and peace. This morning of worship after such a beautiful week of mid-autumn sunshine, and here this week in a kind of pause and interval in our congregational life.

That wonderful service last Sunday of All Saints Day, with the Mozart Mass, with our choir and the Baroque Ensemble and the dedication of the new entry—an amazing day. And then next Sunday morning, our annual observance and celebration of our patronal feast, the day of St. Andrew’s the Apostle—which is so often a day almost like our birthday, a homecoming for old friends, a reminder of so many aspects of heritage and tradition—and of course with the wonderful and joyful noise of the Syria Highlanders and their Bagpipe and Drum marching band.

So this a Sunday to catch our breath, perhaps, with all that will follow in the next couple of months as well, as St. Andrew’s Day is followed by Thanksgiving and Advent Sunday and then all the traditions of this season of the year.

In and with all that, the lessons appointed for this Sunday morning in our lectionary are it seems to me very helpful and, let’s say, seasonally appropriate. We’re in something of a “pre-Advent” mode, the old year coming to an end, days shorter, nights longer, and so the themes of our Church Calendar turning our attention to the theme of “the end.” The destination of the journey. The bottom line. The Church Year is a cycle, a circle, and we return to this place year by year. Each of us bringing to the circular return the changes of life and thought and perspective on another year of our lives. Older and wiser—or older, anyway.

But the word that is lifted up for us here is about an understanding of life and of the character of all the created order of the universe and of God’s fundamental identity not as an endlessly repeating circle, a wheel spinning round and round for eternity, but as a reality that has motion and direction and intention and purpose. Beginning, middle, end.

Not that we’re always aware of how that works, in tune with the flow. We can get spun around, so that up seems like down and so that we can’t really tell for sure which way forward really is. Our lives are short. Kids grow up, fly away. The old body begins to slow down. The interval between Christmasses seems to grow briefer and briefer, and we might even wander around the edges of the Stonehenge in England or the great Pyramids of Egypt and say that it’s all just gone past in the blink of an eye. Now you see us, now you don’t.

As the scripture says, all flesh is grass. The difference of all that, our ability to catch at least a glimpse, because of that one fixed point in the fluid universe, which is the cross on that hill outside the walls of old city Jerusalem, and because of the brief glimpse through the door, through an open window, at the empty tomb, and the first hint on the horizon of what is to come.

“For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people.”

Healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, restoration, renewal.

“No more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress.”

“As for these thing that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down . . . . But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.”

The gift for us in Christ in this moment of our lives is that we can stand truly with one foot on either side of the stream. Here and now, in all the complexity of this world, its beauty and its brokenness. But also that day by day we are privileged to see and even more to see—to share in—the life of the world to come. The great sacraments, the “means of grace,” our participation here and now, there and now.

Leaning out toward the New Year on the calendar, and a time perhaps to focus our attention and to renew our resolution. A celebration of our citizenship, if that’s the right vocabulary. It is I suppose the foundation of Christian worship, Christian prayer, Christian ethics. Morality. Holiness.

I remember one of the most famous sermons and speeches of our era, when Martin Luther King, Jr., imagined the figure of Moses at the end of the Exodus story, to say, “I’ve been to the mountaintop; I’ve seen the Promised Land.” An image not just for Moses and not just for Dr. King, but for all of us. That we would already be living there, even as we are living here. Here and now, there and now, as we center our lives in the cross of Christ Jesus. In confidence of God’s care, no matter how steep the mountains we may be called upon to climb in this phase of our journey, no matter how difficult the terrain.

Where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Generosity and kindness, blessing and peace. Goodness, justice, mercy. This is what the theologians would call an “interim ethic.” Living in the present, in the future, making the future present. As when we pray, Thy Kingdom come, on earth as in heaven. And not just talking the talk, but walking the walk.

As rain and snow fall from the heavens and return not again, but water the earth, bringing forth life and giving growth, seed for sowing, and bread for eating. So is my word that goes out from my mouth. It shall not return to me empty, but it will accomplish that which I have purposed, and prosper in that for which I sent it.

Blessings again in the meantime, in this in-between time, for today and this week and for all our lives. And see you here next week for bagpipes!

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

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Veterans Day, 2010

From the Office of the Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church

A Prayer for Veterans Day

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom; for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.

On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace

through Jesus Christ our Savior.

This prayer may be used as a congregational litany with the following responses to each stanza:

1. We thank you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

2. We thank you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

3. We than you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

4. Watch over and keep them, Blessed Savior.

5. Hear our prayer in His Name. Amen.

Compiled by the Rev. Jennifer Phillips, Vicar, St. Augustine’s Chapel, University of Rhode Island campus. Her prayers appear in supplemental liturgical materials for the Episcopal Church and in her books of prayers including “Simple Prayers for Complicated Lives.”

And I'm sure we would have in our prayers especially today Frank Buckles, a West Virginia neighbor of ours who is by all records the last surviving American veteran of the Great War--and one of the last two or three in the world. Click here for a newspaper story from a year or two ago.

With thanksgiving and continued prayers for all those in our extended St. Andrew's parish family who have served in the uniform of our country, and for those who serve now.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Entry Dedication

A Service of Dedication
~On All Saints Sunday, 2010, we gather in the East Churchyard~

For many years the people of St. Andrew’s Church have desired to improve our buildings and grounds to enhance accessibility for those who have difficulty with stairs or who must make use of a walker or a wheelchair. Through the loving efforts and generous stewardship of many friends and family members during the past year, we are able today to dedicate a new entry to our lovely and historic Church.

The recontoured East Churchyard now includes a gently graded walkway, without steps, leading from the Hampton Street sidewalk to a renewed Entrance, providing enhanced accessibility for all.

For mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people.
Isaiah 56:7

The Entry that we dedicate today is presented to honor and give thanks for the ministry of the Rev. William H. Marchl, III, as Rector of the Church of the Advent, in Jeannette, Pennsylvania, Trinity Episcopal Church, Coshocton, Ohio, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Durham, North Carolina, and St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Smithfield, North Carolina; as Chaplain and Member of the Faculty of the Hill School, Pottstown, Pennsylvania; and as Priest Associate of St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. We thank him for his gracious, wise, and caring service, and for the faithful spiritual witness that he shares in all seasons of life to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. We celebrate with him in the love of his family, and most especially of his wife Laura, of their children Will and Caroline Grace, and of his parents, Bill and Mary Anne.

Minister Our help is in the Name of the LORD.
Congregation Who hath made heaven and earth.
Minister Blessed be the Name of the LORD.
Congregation From this time forth, for evermore.
Minister The Lord be with you.
Congregation And with thy spirit.

Minister Let us Pray. O God, who hallowest places dedicated to Thy Name; pour Thy grace, we beseech Thee, upon this new Entrance to St. Andrew’s Church; Sanctify and bless it, that all who shall call upon Thee in their worship here may feel the help of Thy gracious mercy and protection, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


Behold, I stand at the door, and knock; if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3:20

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.
John 10: 9

This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter into it.

Psalm 118:20

Lift up your heads, O ye gates; and be lift up, ye everlasting doors; and the King of glory shall come in.
Psalm 24:7

The Cutting of the Ribbon and the Opening of the Doors

~The Congregation, followed by Choir and Clergy, enter the Church through the new Entrance~

All Saints Sunday

RCL C, Ephesians 1: 11-23

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace on this wonderful All Saints Sunday. A day to remember and to celebrate all the great heroes of the Christian family, and as I know we remember and give thanks as well for those perhaps not quite as well known in the history books, but are those loved ones, friends and family, whose lives and gracious gifts in so many ways are recorded not in the history books, but in large letters and indelibly in our hearts.

A day for music, as with this beautiful Mozart mass and with our Parish Choir and the Baroque Ensemble. Music and celebration, and I know and would express my and our deepest thanks to you as you lift us up in our worship this morning.

And it is a good day as well and very fitting that on All Saints Sunday we would be dedicating the new entry. So much creative planning and the hard work of gathering resources, and the gifts of so many workers over the past summer and fall. The prayers of family and friends.

This project of a new accessible entry on the drawing board in one form or another for many years, but a reality today in large part because of a gathering intention of folks who would honor and celebrate the ministry of my colleague and our good friend, the Rev. Bill Marchl. Mom and dad--Bill and Mary Anne--Laura, Will, Caroline Grace. All family and friends, and all of us of St. Andrew’s Church—and certainly beyond our congregational circle, as this indeed a blessing for others Fr. Bill and his family have touched in friendship and ministry, and for our neighborhood, as we gather in this place for so many programs and musical and theatrical and community events.

A great day for all the saints of God indeed. We honor the memory and celebrate the ministries of those who have gone before us. We expand the mission of the Church of Christ in our own day. And we build strong foundations to equip and support the saints who will come after us, generation by generation. Doors continuing to open wider and wider, that this might be truly a house of prayer for all people.

On a day like this so much of what there would be to say in a sermon is lifted up in our music and song, in our prayers, and always in the mysteries of the Holy Table, as we are made one in and with the Body of Christ. That he may dwell in us, and we in him.

So this morning I would simply take a marker to highlight the critical section of our second reading, from the opening chapter of Paul to the Church at Ephesus, in this stunning and beautiful language, beginning here at the 17th verse:

“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

“God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age, but also in the age to come.

“And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Wow. All this, on this glorious day, a reminder for us, as they say in the 12-step movement, “to keep the main thing the main thing.” To keep the main thing, the main thing. To keep our eye on the prize. Which is what we can know and what we can become in Christ Jesus. A celebration today, and always, always, an invitation. That we may come to know him ever more deeply and more completely. Wherever we are now in that process. Here this morning.

That the hope to which he has called us would become ever more deeply and more completely the hope and vision and purpose that shapes and supports and nurtures our lives. Day by day, “very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people, and also heirs through hope of” his “everlasting kingdom.”

They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still, [I’ve always loved this!] the world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.

On November 9, 2003, my good friend Fr. Bill Marchl was rector of St. Paul’s Church in Smithfield, North Carolina. And it happened on that day—and I’m sure you remember this, Bill, just seven years ago-- that there was also a service of dedication for a new ramp that would make that church accessible to people in wheelchairs, dedicated on that day as a memorial to a man named Sam Smith. [And it happens that his mom saved a copy of the sermon from that morning and shared it with me!]

In that sermon Fr. Bill talked about the ramp as a kind of bridge, which is a great image. A somewhat different kind of structure architecturally from the one we are dedicating today—but we get the idea. He talked about how during the colonial period in America there had been this great activity of building of churches. And to connect it to the event they were celebrating, a new “bridge,” to talk about the commitment to build for all who would “enter the way of Jesus” by the “door of faith.”

In any event, here seven years later and in a new place, another sermon, and we continue the good work of bridge building, of making connections, of opening doors wider and wider. In appreciation of Bill’s ministry, but more importantly today the Day of Celebrating All Saints to honor the one who has called us, lifted us up, generation after generation. The one who sends us out. Who calls us to himself. “The head over all things for the church,” as we read in Ephesians. Who is both Bridge and Bridge-builder. That we would come to know ourselves, and I love this phrase, “with the eyes of” our “hearts enlightened,” and to share among ourselves, and with the world, “the fullness of him who fills all in all.”

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Twenty-third after Pentecost

RCL1 Proper 26C

Grace and peace to you this morning, and it is wonderful to be back with you here today after my time away last weekend—as I was off on my annual fall retreat at St. Gregory’s Abbey in Western Michigan. A rich time in many ways, as it always is, and I did last Sunday morning in the monastery church remember you all, and with thanks to my and our good friend Diane Shepard for her willingness to serve as Celebrant and Preacher while I was away.

This morning, along with it being the “morning of Halloween,” if that has some meaning on our family calendars, and in anticipation this afternoon at 4 p.m. in Brooks Hall of Phil Wainwright’s continuing presentation on “Exploring Our Anglican DNA,” as he just came back from the successful defence of his dissertation a week and a half ago at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, and in anticipation of the opening of our All Saints Festival here tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. with the Pittsburgh Festival Orchestra and conductor Andres Cardenes, and all that great music that will follow on Wednesday afternoon and Thursday evening and then next Sunday morning at our All Saints Sunday service, which will include the formal dedication of our new accessible entry, and all of that, with our observance of St. Andrew’s Day just three Sundays from now, and Thanksgiving and Advent Sunday and then all the festivities and observances of the season—with all of that, it seems just right to me that we begin this morning with an informal luncheon following the service to acknowledge the beginning as well with our Wardens and Vestry of the Fall Campaign for 2011, and the theme “Celebrating Our Gifts.”

There is just truly a lot to celebrate. Not easy to hold on to it all. The blessings that God pours out upon us in such abundance. Such wonderful people, new friends and old friends, young and old, all sorts and conditions. Like wildflowers across a hillside in the spring. You just never know what’s going to pop up. Every new friend arriving not just with one gift but many, so many rich and diverse life experiences, insights, perspectives. And old friends continuing to share and discovering new gifts within ourselves. Moments of insight and inspiration and transformation.

A lot in this that is tangible, gifts of substance and creativity and energy and enthusiasm. New projects, new programs, generous gifts. And in and with and above all that here in this place to acknowledge and celebrate the confluence of spiritual gifts. Prayer and blessing, sometimes in ways that become obvious, sometimes deep down, unseen but real, with power to lift us into God’s presence, power to challenge, to forgive, to heal, to transform. Each one of us in some way absolutely essential to the whole of what God has in mind for us in this moment, while at the same time aware that the next person to walk in through the door will be bringing something new that God knows we just can’t live without.

A day to “celebrate gifts” not because they are things that we have or own, but because they become for us the beginnings of a new day of relationship with Jesus Christ our Lord. Because of all this, who we are, what we do, in service and worship and all the offerings of our lives, it becomes possible to see him, to know him.

Which brings us roundabout to Zacchaeus in this morning’s reading from St. Luke. Kids love this story, because they know all the time and in so many different contexts what it means to be too short, too small to be able to see what’s going on, when you really want to see. Kids love this story because this funny little grown-up man runs to climb a tree, which they’ve done sometimes too, or got up on dad’s shoulders. Just like a kid. To see the parade, to watch the marching band. “Lift me up! I can’t see!” They know just what it feels like, to want to see what’s going on, not to be left out of things, but to be frustrated because of all those big tall old grownups standing all around. So to get up on dad’s shoulders. To climb a tree.

That could even be something of a metaphor, I guess. Climbing the tree. It’s what makes it possible for Zacchaeus to see Jesus. And even more importantly, as the story unfolds, it’s what makes it possible for Jesus to see Zacchaeus. Which is the key moment here. Jesus looks up to see the little man standing in the tree, and their eyes meet, and Jesus knows everything he needs to know about him in that moment.

He sees from his dress and the symbols of his office that this is the famous Zacchaeus, not just any old tax collector but the head of the office. The chief regional collaborator with the Roman authorities. His name written in hate-filled graffiti on the back walls of alleys, his family despised, shunned. And he sees something more, in the man in the tree. The urgency that got him up there, and the real source of that urgency. His yearning, for something he probably can’t even put a name to. His broken life—all the greed and self-centeredness, the little compromises and the big compromises, the betrayals that he thought would bring him security and satisfaction, wealth and happiness. His failures. And his desire to change, that he maybe didn’t even know he had until that moment, his hope for something more. Some kind of hope stirred up in him when he heard the word on the street, “Jesus is coming.”

Jesus looks up to see the little man standing in the tree. And I wonder if in that moment in Zacchaeus as he sees Jesus and as he sees and knows that Jesus sees him, really sees him, there rose up the prayer of Psalm 51 from his childhood lessons in the Jericho synagogue. Words he would have learned long before they could have any real meaning for him. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

And today it is so. As we heard the story. Jesus calls him down from the tree. And a new life begins.

What gifts there are to celebrate this morning. In your life. In my life. Here at St. Andrew’s and in all the wide world and in every corner of our hearts. As we would climb up into that tree. That we might see Jesus. That he might see us. That we might hear him as he knows who we are and as he calls our name, and lifts us into the new life, the abundant life, of his grace and mercy and healing and forgiveness and love. What gifts there are to celebrate . . . .

It is in part about supporting this great place, old St. Andrew’s, with our time, our talent, our treasure. Stewardship Sunday—don’t forget that—and we’ll all be receiving letters and pledge cards and weekly envelopes and all the rest in the weeks to come. About keeping a roof on the building and crayons in the Church School and all the rest.

About coming together with all of that and more, as a community and a family to share with one another and to share with the wide world the blessings of God’s love in Christ Jesus. About climbing up into that tree ourselves, in all our brokenness, in all our excitement about what just might be possible for us, new in us, as we would see him, as he would see us. About change, about healing, about being witnesses at the foot of the cross and at the empty tomb, and about rolling up our sleeves and getting to the good work of the new kingdom that is coming and is already here.

Thank you, for your many gifts, so freely and generously given. And to honor always at this Table and in the midst of our lives the one who is giver of all good gifts, in whom we live and move and have our being, who shares himself and who pours himself out for us, that we might be built up into him.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Preacher: The Rev. Diane Shepard

I'll be away this Sunday, October 24, on my annual Fall Retreat, and our Guest Celebrant and Preacher at St. Andrew's will be the Rev. Diane Shepard, retired Rector of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church, Wilkinsburg, and former Associate Rector of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, Highland Park. Diane and her husband Paul and their children were long-time members of St. Andrew's, and it was from St. Andrew's that Diane went to seminary and then was sponsored for ordination. The "Coffee and Conversation Hour" in Brooks Hall, 10 a.m., will be an opportunity to catch up with a great friend!

And I will of course have you all in my prayers while I'm up at St. Gregory's. See you next week!