Sunday, May 30, 2010

Memorial Day, 2010

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

Trinity Sunday, 2010

Grace and peace on this Trinity Sunday. On the calendar of the Church Year we travel together through the great thematic and story-filled seasons of Advent and Christmas and Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, and Pentecost. This morning, the Sunday after the Day of Pentecost, the scene before us now opens wide to what we sometimes call the “Green Season,” which will be the color of our altar hangings after this week. In Roman Catholic calendars this is sometimes just called “Ordinary Time.” The interval in which we live, our focus now on the space between Whitsunday and the Second Coming.

There used to be this wonderful magazine called “Acts 29.” You look that up in your Bibles, and you’ll find . . . that it’s not there . . . . The chapter after the last chapter of the Acts of the Apostles.

Our chapter, you might say. The story of the Church as Christ’s body stretching out into the life of the world on our mission to live in Christ and be ourselves sacraments of his kingdom, outward and visible signs. Signs of restoration, renewal, healing, forgiveness, and even in the days of deepest challenge signs of a confident hope in God’s favor and love and perfect intention. The most important chapter in the whole of the Bible. Acts 29. Written in the story of our lives.

Trinity Sunday is for us then one big over-the-top day of celebration of the eternal life of God, Father, Son, and Spirit. God known to us in the experience of our lives, in our encounter with him in the creation, and at the Cross, and in the spirit-filled life of Christian community. In the scriptures and in prayer and in loving service, day by day.

“. . . confessors’ faith, apostles’ word, the patriarch’s prayers, the prophets’ scrolls; all good deeds done unto the Lord, and purity of virgin souls. I bind unto myself to day the strong Name of the Trinity . . . .” It’s a long hymn that we will sing perhaps only once or twice a year, but it is above all and in all that we are and all that we do. The theme song and background music, birth and baptism, and the unfolding of our lives. “Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.”

The gospel for this morning once again as in previous weeks from St. John and the great High Priestly Prayer of Jesus on the night of Maundy Thursday, and the promise of the Spirit, who comes not on his own but with a deep message of Truth for us that is fully congruent with the character and life of Christ, who is himself fully one with the Father. The Spirit delivers the Word of the Son, who is himself the one who speaks all that the Father has spoken.

Again as the formula goes, Three in One, and One in Three. A mystical message, it may seem. But also the simple realities of our birth and life and death, our rest in him, our sharing in the new life of resurrection. The message for us, that all our life, past, present, future, what was and is and is to come, all will be in him, for him, through him. That the end of our journey is in our beginning, and that all roads will lead us home.

Blessings then simply on this Trinity Sunday, for the green season ahead, spring and summer, and for all the lives that we share together. Singing together, praying together. Opening ourselves to the scriptures; gathering at the table. Going out into the wide world: home and family, work and play; in prosperity and adversity, in sickness and in health. Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty: God in three Persons, blessed Trinity. It is a great gift, that he will live in us, and we in him.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Day of Pentecost: Whitsunday

Baptism of
Bennett Morrison
and Parker O’Rourke

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, on this Feast Day of the Holy Spirit--on the Church Calendar the grand conclusion and finale of the Easter Season, and this morning indeed a very festive occasion as well as Bennett Morrison and Parker O’Rourke are presented by their parents and godparents, family and friends, and all of us, truly, in just a few moments to share in the great sacramental mystery of Holy Baptism.

This simple act in which faithful intentions and prayers and the splashing of a little water at the font rings out through the universe and opens wide the gate of heaven to those new born into the risen life of Christ Jesus our Lord.

A dazzling moment. Memorable for all kinds of reasons for family and friends, and life-changing for us. A splash of water and a dab of holy oil on the forehead: the medicine given to us for the healing of our souls, the healing of the world. The source and spring of reconciliation and forgiveness, renewal and hope.

For this moment we gather around the font and stand at the center of the world and the turning-point of all history. Angels singing overhead, and as Jesus was born long ago in Bethlehem, he is born here as we are all reborn in him. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee,” this morning, leading us to this moment, on this Whitsunday, Pentecost. And it is such a great pleasure and a great honor to be here. Truly a privilege.

The holiday Shavu’ot, on the Jewish calendar 50 days after Passover, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in all ways the perfect day for Holy Spirit.

In the Old Covenant the Torah is the instrument that transforms and guides the Chosen People in the way of holiness and in relationship with God, the Torah that is the source of identity and purpose for God’s Israel--and now in the New Covenant given at the Cross and confirmed in Easter we are all in faith gathered in by the Spirit of God and made a new people, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, now we ourselves just like the disciples marked as Christ’s own forever and sent forth to do the work he has given us to do, to preach, to teach, to bind up the brokenhearted, to forgive and to bless. Our identity, our purpose.

Not to preach a long sermon this morning, I promise, and certainly the baptismal service preaches and teaches on its own with incredible power—but just for a moment I want to pause over the first verse of the reading from Acts as we have heard it read first in English and then in that wonderful Pentecostal jumble of tongues. The story begins, Acts 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” And I want to pause right there.

Pentecost, and they are “together in one place.” That place the Upper Room. In just a couple of months now for them a place of such powerful associations and sacred memory, a place of laughter and tears, made holy by such deep experiences. Here, where Jesus had gotten down on his knees to wash their feet. Where he had offered his heartfelt High Priestly prayer. Where he had broken the bread, blessed the cup, offered himself in a perfect promise.

That same room. Here where they had run on Good Friday to hide out in fear of the authorities. And where the women had come to find Peter and John and bring them to the Empty Tomb. Where the friends from Emmaus had come to tell their story of meeting that stranger along the way, who was suddenly revealed to them to be Jesus. Where Jesus himself then appeared, that same Easter evening. And where Jesus returned to be with them again a week later, this time Thomas being with them at the table.

They were “together in one place” here. It could have been anywhere, but this is where it was. All of them together. And for me at this moment it’s impossible to read this passage without thinking of that moment in John 17, our lesson from just a week or two ago, when Jesus prays in that High Priestly prayer, “that they may be one, as you father are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, may be perfectly one, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

They burst out of that Upper Room on Pentecost morning on fire with the Spirit and full of power to preach the gospel and to teach all nations, and from that day forward the world would be turned upside down, never the same again.

And I would simply be reminded in this that in an era and a culture that so much values our individuality and self-direction and personal boundaries and constitutional autonomy, all of which are so important in so many ways, Jesus prays that we would be one, and the Spirit arrives when they, we, are all together.

We become complacent in so many ways in our brokenness, that for some there is even a rhetorical effort to turn that brokenness into a virtue. Which it most certainly isn’t, can never be. We are baptized into one body—and as incarnational and sacramental Christians it can never be enough to say that this is to be only a “spiritual” unity. Instead we pray always that we would be empowered and inspired to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. To put God’s love into action. To be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

So about bridge-building. About making relationships and connections, and doing what we can in prayer, in thought, word, and deed, to be about reconciliation, to build our lives on the hope and the expectation and a fierce commitment to reunion. A long process, no question, and beyond our own efforts and our own generation. But something to lean toward.

And that we would as best we can live that way already. One Body in Christ in baptism, one Body at the Table, one Body in the wide world.
A job description for Bennett and Parker this morning, and for their parents and godparents and families and all of us, every last one of us. That they may be one, that the world may know . . . .

Now I would invite Bennett and Parker and their parents and godparents to come forward as we would gather together at the font in this most perfect way to celebrate the Day of Pentecost.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday after the Ascension, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 16: 16-34; Revelation 22: 12-21; John 17: 20-26

I heard a friend say about someone, "I guess he thinks he's God's gift to humanity." My thought: that's quite a responsibility. Perhaps a critical thought during these days of Ascensiontide.

You might think there would be a sense of let-down in the days following Ascension Thursday.

Whatever it was that happened up at the top of the mountain, one thing seems sure, and that is that the vivid and intense experience of the presence of the risen Christ is no longer with them in quite the way that he was before.

He was lifted up into heaven, but they are left behind, returning to that upper room in Jerusalem where only a few weeks before they had been with them at the Last Supper, where on the evening of Easter Sunday he had returned and shown himself to them. No longer in death but now with them in the fullness of his glorious resurrection. Returning to the Upper Room, without him.

But of course the lessons appointed for us this Sunday are not about his absence, but about his continuing presence and his power.

The power that shakes the ground under the jail in Philippi and knocks down the walls. And even more, the power that takes hold of the life of the jailer, who is so transformed by the presence of Christ in Paul and Silas that he is brought to his knees and then lifted up himself into a saving life of faith.

The power of the vision of St. John the Divine, risen and ascended and ruling Christ on the throne, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the root and the flower of Israel, the fountain of living water, bringing forth life, refreshing, fulfilling and completing. What a great vision that is. Sacred poetry.

And the potential of Christ’s power to come alive in us, in the words of St. John’s gospel, coming from the great prayer of Jesus on the night of Holy Thursday. Jesus thanks the Father, “the glory that you have given me I have given them . . . .” And we would just pause over that. Thinking that we all are lesser lights certainly compared to Jesus himself. But that’s not what he says. “The glory that you have given me I have given them.” Think about that as we brush our teeth in the morning and look into the mirror.

Thinking about how we are called to the stewardship of that glory. To be "God's gift to humanity." His grace in us, his holiness, the gift to heal the broken, to forgive and bring about reconciliation. Each generation taking its turn.

Most probably we would say not doing such a great job of it. That we would say, “if you want to know what God is all about, if you want to know the heart of Jesus, just look at his church.”

Maybe we have our moments, every generation or two. But it is perhaps at least an opportunity for the grace of humility. Fighting with one another, breaking relationship, abuse and cover-up, power and greed, political ambition. You know all the headlines. Sometimes about the other guys. All too often about us too. I remember singing the song around the campfire at youth retreats: “they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.”

But it is the Sunday after the Ascension and the Sunday before Whitsunday and Pentecost, and it’s a day not to feel left behind but instead to be at the threshold and doorway to a new and great adventure, not simply to see Christ and to know him, but even more to be filled with his power, energized, equipped. Pick ourselves up if we need to, brush ourselves off. Start again.

That we might feel that anywhere. Here at St. Andrew’s. In each of our homes, as we live our lives. Anywhere and everywhere, at all times and in all places. Like Paul and Silas, singing hymns of praise into the night until no jail on earth can hold them in, until not one who hears them singing can reject the invitation.

Knowing him as John the Divine knew him in that ecstatic vision, Jesus himself lifted up to the throne of heaven. And it’s a whole new ballgame for us now--that his power, the power that came through his cross, the power of his resurrection, and his Holy Spirit now working in us, working in and through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

It is a great gift, a great responsibility, the opportunity of our lives. “The glory you have given me, I have given them.”

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 15, 2010

Burial Office
Etta Stephenson Clark
December 19, 1911 – May 10, 2010

First of all, I would say simply a word of welcome to all, in this gathering of family and friends, as we offer our prayers for Etta, remembering her today as mother, grandmother, great-grandmother; remembering her in the faithful witness of her beautiful 67 year marriage to Lester—and it’s hard to believe that he’s been gone from us now for what?—nearly eight years.

Remembering Etta as friend, in so many different activities and friendships here in Pittsburgh and I know in Florida for all those years, and then as she cared for her family and community in New York and in the places where you lived along the way, all the way back to childhood in Canada, and to her earliest years. I love the note of her birth in Wyoming in 1911, the year Wyoming became a state.

I think about Etta and Lester and their lives here in Pittsburgh, how I was always so impressed by their affection for one another—and both of them, their wonderful sense of humor, even as life physically became challenging. Their kindness, their intelligence, their spirit of gracious hospitality. Their love for their children and family, those grandchildren and great-grandchildren. I certainly think about even in these very recent years, how Etta was so delighted to sit over in Brooks Hall after church on Sunday mornings and to visit with our children—Josie Gutschow, Lily and Tess Buchanan, Dell Miller. They were just drawn to her. They would show her some art project they had just finished in the Church School, and she would be just delighted to laugh and talk with them over cookies and punch.

I think about how faithfully Mary and Kirstin would bring her to Church week by week, and what a privilege it was, for Jean and me to bring communion to her in her pew, when she could no longer get up to the communion rail. I know there are so many memories. It is a privilege this morning I know for our Deacon Jean Chess and me both, to share in this service with our dear friend and colleague Gaea Thompson, who was such a faithful and attentive and prayerful pastor and priest to Lester and Etta both during their years at Canterbury Place: and Gaea, simple to say thank you for that loving ministry.

In all that: Grace to you and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. It is my prayer that this time, this morning, will be a meaningful and loving time of reflection and remembrance, as we have opened scripture to hear God’s word for us today, and as we gather at the Holy Table to share ourselves in the heavenly banquet—that table where Etta and all the saints and all of us together will feast forever. May it all be a blessing.

Etta turned 98 in this past December, which is an amazing thing to say, to think about. Born during the presidency of William Howard Taft. Her early married years in the era of the Great Depression and the Second War. And living on to the era of space flight and internet and cell phones. Not that I recall ever receiving an e-mail from her . . . . In any case, such a long and gifted life, just about all of a century.

Part of the generation Tom Brokaw calls “The Greatest Generation.” And for me that has to do not so much with the big historical events, but with the hard work of day to day life through such challenging times, and the deep and solid values that made that possible: faith, hard work, family, courage, love of family, neighborhood, and country. They were heroes, some on the battlefields and some at home, but certainly none of us would be where we are today without their sacrifices and their determination. They made possible so much of the greatness of our country over this past century.

And now, from strength to strength, from life here to greater life, as we have been promised, the holy hope that we would affirm today. This wonderful passage from John 14: “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” Modern translations sometimes change this. “In my Father’s house are many rooms.” And in a linguistic and maybe architectural way that makes sense. Houses have “rooms,” after all.

But I’m going to stick with “mansions,” because I think that word directs us to a deeper truth, which is that the future that God has in mind for us, and the eternal life that Etta enjoys, is no ordinary life. It is an eternal life of abundance, and joy, and peace, and fulfillment. To be with Christ, who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Who died for us, and who rose at Easter, and who was lifted to the throne of heaven, who shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead. This is the hope and certainty that was the foundation of Etta’s Christian faith, and it is the promise that we can all hear and receive and share this morning as well.

The opening hymn this morning isn’t one we Episcopalians hear very often, but it wonderful as it speaks to the deep and tender and personal and loving presence of Jesus in our lives, and as we sang it this morning thinking of Etta. The image of course is of Mary Magdalen with Jesus in the Garden on Easter morning, in that moment when she recognizes who he is, not the gardener, but her risen Lord and Savior, as he looks at her and speaks her name. “He walks with me, and He talks with me, and He tells me I am His own; and the joy we share as we tarry there, none other has ever known.”

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

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

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Ascension, 2010

Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that like as we do believe thy only-begotten Son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so we may also in heart and mind thither ascend, and with him continually dwell, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Ascension, Clara Miller Burd.
Transept, St. Andrew's Church, Pittsburgh
Photograph by William D. Ghrist, IIIrd

From the 24th Chapter of St. Luke:

And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. And ye are witnesses of these things. And, behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high. And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. And they worshipped him, and returned to Jerusalem with great joy: And were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God. Amen.


Salute the last, and everlasting day,
Joy at the uprising of this Sunne, and Sonne,
Ye whose just tears, or tribulation
Have purely washed, or burnt your drossy clay;
Behold the Highest, parting hence away,
Lightens the dark clouds, which he treads upon,
Nor doth he by ascending, show alone,
But first he, and he first enters the way.
O strong Ram which hast battered heaven for me,
Mild lamb, which with thy blood, hast marked the path;
Bright Torch, which shin'st, that I the way may see,
Oh, with thy own blood quench thy own just wrath.
And if the holy Spirit, my Muse did raise,
Deign at my hands this crown of prayer and praise.

~John Donne (1572-1631)

Monday, May 10, 2010

Graduation Day, 2010

Linnea Anne Robison, Indiana University of Pennsylvania Class of 2010, Bachelor of Science, Biology, Summa cum Laude

And with her dad . . .

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Sixth Sunday of Easter, 2010

We welcome the Rev. Carol Henley as our Guest Preacher and Celebrant this morning.

Carol recently retired from her ministry as chaplain at Presbyterian Hospital, Pittsburgh, and now serves as assisting priest at Calvary Episcopal Church, Pittsburgh. She is a former Priest Associate here at St. Andrew's and previously served in our Diocese of Pittsburgh as Rector of All Saints Episcopal Church, Verona (Rosedale), and as Interim Priest at St. Thomas Church, Gibsonia. She is also an accomplished harpist and a member of the "Balkan Babes," a women's ensemble specializing in the music of eastern and southern Europe.

Commencement Exercises are scheduled this Sunday morning at the Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and the Robison family will be in attendance to celebrate the graduation of Linnea Robison, who is to receive the degree of Bachelor of Science, in Biology. Following her graduation Linnea plans to continue her studies either in Veterinary School or with graduate work in the field of Wildlife Biology, in the Fall of 2011.

Her mom, dad, and brother are very proud of her.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Fifth Sunday of Easter, 2010

Sunday of the Pittsburgh Marathon

This is always certainly an interesting and challenging and also very festive day in the life of our city—the day of the Pittsburgh Marathon.

It’s a day that stirs up in my thoughts and memory a great many associations, since as many of you know I ran the race eight times between 1995 and 2002. Finishing, as my saying always was, “in the group of runners just behind the Kenyans . . . .” A series of foot and knee injuries has kept me on the disabled list in the years since, as I’m just not able to move from my morning six miles to those weeks and weeks of 10 and 15 and 20 mile training runs that it takes to get “marathon ready.” But it is true that every year on this day I do think to myself, “maybe next year.” And we’ll just have to see how that goes.

But on this day, as we do have a good group of runners this year from St. Andrew’s and a number of folks as well who volunteer at the various aid stations along the way, or who do what I can tell you is the very important work of lining the course and cheering the runners, we would have all involved in our best thoughts and prayers for a good and safe day. And with a prayer of thanksgiving for the many gifts of living in this city—which can be in so many ways such a great place, and with such great people.

The marathon can be a suggestive image in many ways as we think about our Christian life. 26.2 miles is not a hundred-yard dash, for example, and while there can be moments perhaps as the runner comes near the finish line when you might think about trying to step on the gas, the plan for the race always has to be about care and preparation, knowing the pace that’s right for you, and keeping an eye on the road, so as not to turn an ankle in a Pittsburgh pothole or to trip on a bit of uneven pavement.

The Presbyterian pastor and theologian Eugene Peterson wrote a book about Christian discipleship, life, and ministry many years ago, a book that has been very influential in my life, centered around the Pilgrim Psalms in the Book of Psalms. Psalms meant to be sung along the way on the journey to Jerusalem. The title of his book, A Long Obedience in the Same Direction.

The image, about getting the direction right. The right intention, the right values, the right relationship to Christ, and then sticking with it for the long haul, mile after mile, day after day, year after year. Not just about a moment of conversion, important as that is, but about a life of faith, discipleship, one day at a time, all the way to the end.

And we used to have a saying, adapted from another context. “What do you call the last person who crosses the finish line in the Marathon?” The answer: “A Marathoner!” The point being that there is of course someone who crosses the finish line first. Often one of those amazing East African runners. And it’s fine to call him the winner of the race.

But in fact there are no “losers” of the Marathon. Thousands and thousands of winners, each making this incredible effort, men and women, young athletes and old duffers, the guys in the wheelchair division, everybody. Thinking about St. Paul in First Corinthians 9: “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize?” But don’t let that discourage you, he says. “ Run in such a way that you may win.” All of us in Christ to win the race.

The propers for this morning are great for Marathon Sunday as well. The collect: Christ not only the goal, but the course of the race, and our partner, our guide: “the way, the truth, the life,” that “we may steadfastly follow his steps.” And of course, he is our cheering section, calling out with encouragement along the way. And our refreshment station, as in the Revelation to John: “To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life.” No one finishes this race without stopping for this refreshment many times along the way. The Gatorade of the Gospel. (Sorry!)

So simply, on this Fifth Sunday of Easter, and Marathon Day, blessings and peace. And for all of us, for those here who are not running the streets of Pittsburgh this morning, and for those who are, for all of us, with a prayer this morning that we may run with all our hearts the good race, faithful and true, following his steps and refreshed in his presence, mile after mile and day after day, until we will stand with great joy in the holy city, New Jerusalem, to receive as our prize the Crown of Glory that will never fade away.

Everyone, all of us, the word today: Have a great run!