Sunday, August 29, 2010

Fourteenth after Pentecost

RCL-1 Proper 17C
Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16;Luke 14 :1, 7-14

Grace to you and peace on this Sunday morning. Not the last Sunday of the summer, as we have technically almost still a month to go, but the last Sunday of our St. Andrew’s summer schedule, with our services returning to the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. pattern next week. An early sign and anticipation and foretaste of the fall season to come, like those few days of cooler weather we had this past week.

The refreshment of a season of new beginning. Family vacations pretty much over. Schools back in session. Round Up Sunday here at St. Andrew’s in just a couple of weeks. Always a good energy at this time of year, I think. Certainly with prayers that the season ahead can be for us all a time of a “fresh start.” Which is always good. Don’t know if we necessarily want to think back to the resolutions we may have made for ourselves at the beginning of the new year. But certainly this can be a moment like that. To think about how we are living. Our values, priorities. Our good habits and bad habits. Who we are now. And the kind of people we want to be. The fresh start of a new season just ahead.

Both the New Testament readings appointed for us this morning may be helpful as we begin to think about these things.

In the letter to the Hebrews there is almost this recipe, a critical passage always in the evolution of Christian ethical theology--a description in a few pastoral sentences of what Christian life and truly human life might look like. Not exactly rocket science. In the famous New Testament reading from the fourth chapter of First John we are told, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God, [his essential character and nature] and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” Here in Hebrews this morning that gets unfolded a bit for us—what that love looks like in action.

Hospitality to the stranger. Prayer and care and actually identification with the prisoner, and by extension all those who either because of their own actions or as a consequence of events beyond their control are oppressed and suffering. Not that we judge them, but that we remember them. Think about what it would be like to be in their shoes, and then act in relationship to them as we would in their situation want others to act toward us. Respect and honor the marriage relationship, the character of the family. Avoid this grasping after money, this obsession with material things. It doesn’t say don’t work hard and don’t enjoy the fruit of your labor, but it does say, learn to be content. A state of mind. A state of soul. Let go of the agitation that somehow “just a little more” is necessary before I can be at peace. Respect those in authority. That doesn’t mean follow blindly. But respect them. Our elders. Our mentors. Those who have been placed in positions of authority and responsibility—even those of the opposite political party. Where they are faithful, imitate their faithfulness; where they seem to be unfaithful, surround them with your affectionate prayer. Remember God, and give him praise for every day and every blessing. When you can see what it is, do the right thing, even if it’s not to our personal benefit. And this, from the “Everything I need to know I learned in Kindergarten”--share. Share.

My grandmother had these recipe cards, and on so many of them there would be simply a list of ingredients, with the notation: place in hot oven, cook until done.

In the reading from St. Luke we have these two little parables, I think Jesus here pointing us in the same direction as the Letter to the Hebrews.

These banquets such a critical social custom in the ancient Middle East—and I think in the modern Middle East as well. An institution designed to reflect and reinforce the values of the wider society. If you know who you are, then you know where you’re supposed to sit. That’s the background of the first parable. And if you know who you are, you know who you’re supposed to invite to your daughter’s wedding. I’m not quite sure how to unpack all the apparatus around these two stories, but the central image is the same in both stories, which is that when we live with God’s values, the values and hierarchies of this world get all jumbled up. The last are first and the first last.

We gain status not by how high we sit at the table, but by how low. Which is backwards. We will be honored most not by the wealth and grandeur of our friends, but by their poverty and social disgrace. It’s all jumbled up.

My friend, the wonderful Biblical scholar and teacher, Dr. Kenneth Bailey, reminds us in his books and his lectures that the gospel is always cruciform. Which is to say that it presents to us both directly and often in deep patterns of indirection and metaphor, the message and power of the Cross. Which is, in his words, the healing of our broken humanity and our broken world through the unexpected demonstration of costly love.

We come nearer to a communion with Jesus and his Cross, I believe, to a personal appropriation of the grace he makes possible for us, as we wrestle in our own lives with what I think we can only understand what we have this morning as countercultural and I might even say unnatural. Supernatural. The unexpected demonstration of costly love.

The call to a life of holiness and peace, self-giving generosity, fidelity, compassion. Certainly unnatural to this fallen world. The upside down ethic of the Prayer of St. Francis. The upside-down ladder of success: filling ourselves up by emptying ourselves out.

A world out of order. You only have to read the papers. And what it takes to bring it back into order begins here. In the back of our minds on a summer Sunday morning, at the beginning of a new season. A time of reflection, setting priorities, thinking about goals, about what changes there need to be in our lives, what new directions. To say Dr. Bailey's line once more this morning. The unexpected demonstration of costly love.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Thirteenth after Pentecost

RCL Proper 16C
Jeremiah 1: 4-10; Luke 13: 10-17

I’ve been fascinated by all the uproar in the last week or two in the debate over the development of an Islamic Cultural Center and Mosque near the Ground Zero site of the former World Trade Center in lower Manhattan. Probably you’ve heard something about this as well, if you’ve turned on the radio or television or your computer. Of course I have my own fuzzy and evolving thoughts and opinions about this--probably like all my fuzzy thoughts and opinions guaranteed to annoy at least some segment of the circle of my family and friends (which seems to be the case whenever I express an opinion about anything).

But what’s really been fascinating for me about this, I guess troubling and kind of sad, has less to do with the content of the arguments on one side or the other—and I actually think both sides have some good and important arguments to make--than it does about this sense that we seem to be becoming more and more a society where just about everybody all the time is itching for a fight. Maybe it’s the confluence of Talk Radio and the internet. We’re just all the time primed, ready for action, leaning forward in our seats with a sense almost of eagerness for conflict. Just flash a picture of President Obama across the screen, or Sarah Palin, and you can almost hear the adrenaline surging and screaming through the Body Politic.

And it almost doesn’t matter what the topic is. A line gets drawn in the sand and two sides form and there’s this almost palpable tension. Not for a minute a conversation between two who would approach one another with a spirit of mutual respect, forbearance--but from the very beginning a sense of detachment, an absence of respect not just for the opinions of the other, but seemingly for the persons themselves. Anger, almost a sense of meanness. As though the dialogue of public discourse were to be reduced to two boxers warily circling in the ring, muscles tense, just waiting for the moment when there might be even for a moment a flash of vulnerability in the other. And there’s no real listening going on. As soon as those on one side start talking, those on the other side clap their hands over their ears.

The point not to achieve mutual understanding and resolution, but simply to win, and to say that the only team that really matters to me is my team. Left or right. Whether we’re arguing about health care or Afghanistan or the mosque or the oil well disaster or where the Obamas go for vacation, for heaven’s sake. It just always turns out to be the same familiar fight between the same familiar parties, over and over and over again. Not just social and political issues in the wide world, of course, but in recent years all this becoming also a familiar pattern in the Church as well.

And I confess that sometimes I get drawn into those emotions, as maybe we all do. Hard to avoid it. But it doesn’t make me feel good about myself. And it certainly doesn’t make me feel good or hopeful about the world we’re living in and the world we seem to be passing along to our kids. Just a mess of hostilities and grievances, and all the virtues of kindness and gentleness, generosity, and self-control only to be practiced within the ever smaller and smaller circles of our mutual admiration societies.

Sorry for that observation, I guess, but that’s what struck me this week as I’ve thought and prayed over this scene in the thirteenth chapter of St. Luke, and especially to see the leader of the synagogue. The critical character of the story. He’s one of a whole group of these establishment religious leaders, rabbis and Pharisees and the temple priesthood, who have gotten to the point with Jesus—where they are so frustrated with him, so angry with him, so frightened of him, I guess—where even the purest and most wonderful and graceful of his actions provoke only criticism and this profound negativity.

This woman is bent over in pain, crippled, suffering, and in a word, and with a touch, Jesus heals her. Jesus heals her. For the first time in years, she stands up straight, and takes a deep breath, and her suffering is gone. And she is filled with relief, and joy, and gives thanks to God. And those standing around are swept up in wonder and amazement at the gracious miracle that has taken place right in their midst. God not distant, not far away, but right there with them in such a beautiful way.

And even then, in that moment, the leader of the synagogue would say, “there’s got to be some way to spin this to make Jesus look bad.” Probably he’s going to go home and write something really sharp and outraged in his blog, and maybe find a couple of unflattering video clips of Jesus and his followers that can be posted up on Youtube.

The problem with all these arguments and disagreements and our intense polarities, or at least one of the problems with them, is that, believe it or not, believe it or not, it is simply not within the realities of human enterprise that any one of us or any one group of us can have all the truth and all the answers. The people that bug us the most, even that stir up the deepest dark and negative feelings--there are inevitably some places where they are right, and where we are wrong. There are some contexts where, if we were to listen to them, understand them, look for the best in them, we would find ourselves to be, let’s say, blessed, gifted.

And I feel sorry for this synagogue leader in the story this morning, because of everybody there in the room, he is the one who does not receive the gift, who does not come into the presence of God’s life-giving blessing in Jesus. He is the one who is not refreshed and restored. While all the crowd goes away rejoicing, he is left in shame and darkness. He is the one who is not healed.

We resist that, of course, with one another. For some reason there is in us sometimes a preference for the sweet pain of an unresolved grievance than for forgiveness and reconciliation and renewal. Letting go of all that is sometimes just hard to imagine. And I think sometimes like the synagogue official we resist even when our Lord Jesus is standing right there with us with all the graciousness of his love. We can be like Jeremiah in the Old Testament lesson, just trying to find every reason we can possibly come up with to send him away.

This maybe is hard for us Episcopalians. We recite the creeds. We participate in beautiful liturgies. We roll up our sleeves for many hours of caring service to others. But in it all, sometimes, do we have in ourselves that inner sense of expectation, leaning forward with a sense of openness that God might actually do something right here and now, show himself to us, lift us to his presence. Yet he is there and persistent. Here and persistent. The free gift. Seek and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened unto you. Without a deep inner inclination of openness, without dropping those defenses, without really a moment of listening, there can be no healing, no new life.

All the woman in the story needs to do is to come when Jesus calls her, and she is healed. He speaks, he reaches out his hand to her, and as she receives him, she stands up. A new woman. Renewed, refreshed, restored, forgiven. Full of blessing. And Luke would tell us the story so that we would know that of course he’s calling all of us, and all of the time. Today and this morning.

We are invited into his presence in the sacrament of his Holy Table: the Bread of Life. Lord open our eyes and ears and hearts, we pray. Open whatever doors and windows we have shut against you and one another, and lift us up to be rejoicing at all the wonderful things you are doing.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

August 21, 2010

Holy Matrimony
Kevin Phillip Giza and Anne Marie West
John 17: 20-26

Anne and Kevin, I have a couple of words of appreciation to share this afternoon. On a personal note I want to say first a very sincere thank you to Fr. Frank for his very generous hospitality in inviting a neighboring Episcopalian from across the river to participate in this celebration here in St. Mary’s Church. A place that is especially loved I know by Kevin’s family, and where he grew up and as a boy served at the altar. A beautiful place, and a holy place, and what a privilege for me and I know for all of us all to be here today. And I would just mention that all our congregation of the parish of St. Andrew’s Church in the Highland Park neighborhood, spiritual home for Anne and her family for many years now, join in our prayers and celebration today.

And of course, Kevin and Anne, to say to you both: and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon--thank you. It is for us all 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 and mind and will, that today make you one in Christ, as husband and wife.

It’s a great day! Two wonderful young people, very much in love with each other, smart, creative, with so much energy, great friendship, kindness, and good humor. You’ve been thinking and planning about this day of your wedding and about the life ahead of your marriage--and now here we are. Congratulations to you, and with so many blessings showering upon you as you now step forward into this new chapter of your life together.

As the preacher this afternoon I want to thank you also for your wisdom and discernment in the selection of all these readings from scripture. They are so helpful, as we are gathered here in this place to witness this new beginning in your lives and in the lives of your families and friends. They do most of the necessary work for me today. Words of ancient and holy wisdom, opening up for us the mystery of God’s love in Christ as the foundation of our lives.

Communicating a message of deep hope: not just that this will be a wonderful wedding—though I know it is and will be, and not just that yours will be a wonderful marriage, though I know that will be the case also. But a message of deep hope about God’s love for us, and about God’s call to us to be transformed in that love. Knowing that in and through that love, centered in our Lord Jesus Christ, he has better things in mind for us all than we could ever ask for or imagine. A great word for a great day.

But to share just a bit more for you today, theologically and pastorally. In the passage from St. John’s gospel that Fr. Frank just read for us, Jesus talks about the deep unity, the “oneness,” of the Father and the Son, and how that unity is the source of glory that overflows, and that fills the world with the blessing of God’s love. That seems to me to be just perfect as a Biblical thought and theme for today.

The union of husband and wife in and through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony is a visible sign and reminder of that unity, a reminder of God’s love for us. That might seem a little abstract, I guess, but I think it is a truth that we all feel intuitively about marriage and family, maybe not always, but in the best of situations anyway—our own, if we are married, and certainly in the marriages and families of those around us. We might even say today that this is your vocation in marriage, what you might be called to and what you might aspire to: to be in your relationship with one another as husband and wife, and in the home and family that you will make together, a sign and reminder to all around you of God’s glory and God’s love.

“The glory which you have given me I have given to them,that they may be one, just as we are one.”

That is the prayer of the Son to the Father in this gospel reading. It’s a word for the Church, and both a word of judgment about our divisions and also a word of promise, a goal, a word expressed by Jesus that we might have that desire in our hearts as Christian people.

But I think it has a more particular application as well today. That we might understand that the love of God in the complete and intimate union of Father and Son is a template, a model, a design for a successful marriage: patience, kindness, generosity, unselfishness, growing in trust and compassion. You begin with that spirit in your marriage, the spirit of unity, of being not two but one, and then all that you are together overflows in wonderful ways. In ways we can only begin to imagine this afternoon. This is your new calling, your new vocation. We might say, you’ve been practicing for a while as friends, as fianc├ęs-- but now the adventure begins in earnest! That’s how God calls you today.

In the midst of this I’m reminded that in the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories about vocation, about what it’s like when God calls, when he begins to reveal to us something more of the meaning and purpose of our lives. It’s one of the most familiar stories in the Bible. 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.” It’s a cross-roads moment, a turning point, a new beginning, in response to God’s call. And so it is Holy Ground.

Now, Anne and Kevin, we don’t need to take that literally. At least, you can keep your shoes on. But we would remember and take seriously 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. You will always be two distinct and wonderful individuals. But there is something more today, something new beginning, the two made one in Christ.

That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing. The glory of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, in divine unity. Overflowing with God’s love. And that’s such a great thing. Wonderful for us to be a part of—your friends and family, and all those people who will be a part of your life in the years to come.

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. The sacrament of marriage and the vocation of marriage. At work, at school, on the baseball field, at the breakfast table, with family, with friends and neighbors. Wherever your life takes you, Kevin and Anne, under your feet there is holy ground. God blessing you, and God blessing the world through you.

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

Bruce Robison
~at St. Mary's Church,
San Juan Diego Parish, Sharpsburg, Pennsylvania

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Twelfth after Pentecost

RCL Proper 15C
(Heb. 11: 29 – 12:2)

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us . . . .”

A very familiar line from the Letter to the Hebrews, and an image that is central to All Saints Sunday as we celebrate it in November, and a relevant part of our conversation certainly as we have talked about Biblical language of the Church Militant and the Church Triumphant in our Adult Education conversations over the past year—under the thematic banner of Christian conversations about life, death, and resurrection. An image meaningful to each of us personally—those whom we long to see, as they are gathered and waiting for us with love and prayer on the farther shore.

To imagine that “great cloud of witnesses.” How we connect who we are, one by one, in all the texture and character of our life stories—how we connect with each other, first of all: how we connect with the wide community of the Christian family, past, present, and future, with God’s original intention for us and for our lives, with God’s ultimate purposes. How we imagine and understand ourselves in the “big picture.” Somehow singing in the same choir, generation after generation, adding our voices to the greater chorus, weaving our stories into the transcendent tapestry.

The glorious company of the apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets, the noble army of the martyrs. The saints and heroes of the wide world, those we have loved but see no longer, those whose names and faith are known to God alone. “One was a soldier, and one was a priest, and one was slain by a fierce wild beast: and there’s not any reason, no, not the least, why I shouldn’t be one too.”

There’s a German word that’s used often in the framework of Biblical studies. A word that’s just kind of fun to say: Heilsgeschicte. Try to say that, and let it roll off your tongue. Heilsgeschicte. It means something like, “the sacred story.” Or, as the scholars say it, “Salvation History.” Again in that wonderful series of references in the middle of the reading from Hebrews—calling to our memory the Judges and heroes of ancient Israel, prophets and kings, saints and martyrs.

There are lots of different ways to read the Bible. Sometimes we read it as dense poetry, focusing on a compelling verse here, this inspiring image, this phrase. Other times we meditate on themes, dipping in and out of stories in the Old Testament and the Psalms and the New Testament, here and there. The idea of focusing on the Heilsgeschicte, is to say that while the whole span and scope of the Bible may indeed be made up of many books by many authors, addressing situations and contexts and themes for communities that range over long stretches of historical time and many different places, languages, and peoples—in all of that, there is as a matter of deeper truth and spiritual reality, one holy book, one holy story, one holy people.

A single continuous strand, first of all, from the first chapter of Genesis through the twenty-second of the Revelation to St. John. Behind all the rich and fascinating diversity of authors and voices and themes, one Author, one Voice, one Theme.

A story written for many audiences, and yet also and truly a Story written for us alone, for each one of us, one by one. A direct communication. And a Word for us that in and through the mystery of our Baptism becomes not something that we read at arm’s length, with a sense of critical detachment, but something more like a mirror. A story playing out with direction and purpose, a beginning, a middle, and an end, where we ourselves are written into the text as central characters.

This something of the idea that I talked about the other week when I mentioned the magazine “Acts 29.” There are 28 chapters in the Acts of the Apostles, and then “Acts Chapter 29” unfolds as our chapter, year by year, generation by generation.

The point for each generation I guess is that the old stories and images and themes aren’t simply of academic and historical interest. A long time ago and far, far away. In fact, in reality, they are about us. Around us, in the midst of our lives. No matter how old the ancient scrolls—it is all news as fresh and as urgent as any word that could flash across the internet. What God is doing right in front of us. Not to be at arm’s length, the object of detached, dispassionate observation.

We are surrounded by this cloud of witnesses, lifted into the great choir. In their midst. All present tense. Our story. He is born for us. He lives for us. He dies on the Cross for us. He is raised from the dead in our presence. He is here for us now. Here for us now. In word and sacrament. At this altar and in the midst of all our lives. He is our present hope and our future. The Bread of Life, the Cup of our Salvation. Which is the big story, the one story. The message for us, today. Here and now.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Blessed Virgin Mary, August 15

The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin
Feast of the Dormition, Feast of the Assumption

O God, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept.

For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all

1 Corinthians 15:19-28

Ancient Hymnody of the Dormition

Troparion (Tone 1)
In giving birth, you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

Kontakion (Tone 2)
Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!


Sunday, August 8, 2010

Eleventh after Pentecost

(RCL Proper 14C) Luke 12: 32-40

Good morning, and grace and peace to you on this summer day, from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

This morning certainly after a couple of challenging weeks in the Robison household, as Susy and I have both had brief hospital stays, I do feel very much aware of the wonderful care and friendship and such abundant kindness of this parish family. And so to say thank you for all your expressions of concern and most of all for your prayers, as we’ve more or less gotten ourselves back on our feet.

I’m not sure just when it was. I feel like I’m remembering a moment as Susy was driving me up from Scituate, where we were staying on vacation, to the South Shore Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts. But as I know some of you know, the intensity of those kidney stones doesn’t always leave much room for reflection and conversation, so maybe it was a bit later, after I’d had some pain medication.

But in any case Susy and I were at some point in all of that ruminating on the terrible timing of it all. We’d been looking forward to that time at the shore for such a long time, and it was also such an important time for family visiting, for all kinds of reasons.

In any case, let me tell you, as some of you I’m sure know--never a good time for kidney stones. But maybe some times are worse than others, and this just seemed very frustrating.

I entered the hospital wearing summer shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, and as I was being rolled from emergency room to scanner and then upstairs, where I would hang around for a day or so before the procedure to remove the stones, I picked up the nickname, with a certain sad irony, “the Vacation Guy.”

But in any case, somewhere in the midst of all this, I found myself saying to Susy, with some philosophical tonality and a deep sigh: “you know, 'if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.'” Had not thought ahead to see that the verse would be rolling along in the lectionary in a week or two.

In some ways directly or indirectly we’ve been thinking about this topic a lot this spring and summer. Certainly since Susy’s sister Marion’s sudden death at the end of May, for our family. What it means to be ready.

Maybe “to expect the unexpected.” In all the scenarios of life which might end with us not getting home this afternoon.

In any case, to move to the front of our consciousness the reality that all of us would know and understand at some level, even as we go about all the routines of our everyday life, with all our plans, expectations, assumptions. The contingency, the provisionality of our lives. We can check our dayplanner and our Google Calendar to see what’s happening for the rest of the week. We had a meeting of diocesan folk yesterday where we were scheduling events into the spring of 2012. But deep down we know, it’s all, as my grandmother used to say, “God willing.” You just never can tell. And time, tide, and kidney stone waiteth for no man.

“You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” And the question, “Am I ready?” What would that mean, exactly?

I very much appreciated Jean’s sermon last Sunday. And what really stood out for me was that key sentence that she quoted from Bishop Jeffrey Lee of Chicago, as she heard him speak at the convention of the North American Association of Deacons. Bishop Lee talked about a transformation of consciousness, and a sense of identity, and I would say even a depth of conversion, in which the Church would be understood not simply as “a place to go,” but as a “people to be.” A great line: “not as a place to go, but a people to be.”

I think about how I go to ballgames, go to the ballpark, see the Pirates—as some of us will this afternoon. But how I’m in the stands. I’m not “a Pirate,” except in a very remote sense of what it means to be a fan. I don’t throw, catch, or hit. (Maybe sometimes I feel like maybe they should give me a call, but that’s not my point . . . .) The reality is: I’m at the game, but not IN the game. And I think that’s what Bishop Lee was getting at.

What it means for us as Christian people to get out of the stands and onto the field. To understand our faith and our whole life not as a spectator sport, some kind of spiritual entertainment, but as something that pervades our identity, that defines who we are and what we do. Not just, “I go to St. Andrew’s Church,” but “I am St. Andrew’s Church.” More than that, I am the Temple of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ in the world.

Which is and would be for us all a deep transformation. For none of us all at once and entirety, perhaps, but in moments of connection, incorporation, action, and contemplation. And with prayer that those moments may grow to be more and more for us all our life long.

What it means to be ready.

It’s a topic that in classical Christian spiritual writing is sometimes called “assurance.” St. Paul talks about faith as the “assurance of things hoped for.” A deep inner sense that who we are, all our being, is surrounded and embraced and fully entrusted to God, for his good purpose. A confidence at the foundation of things that in Christ and through the work of his cross we are healed of our brokenness, forgiven, set free. And not simply as something that feels good and meaningful now, but that is true for us forever. Assurance. “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” There is a lot more texture and richness to Christian faith and life than you can squeeze into the lyric of a Children’s Sunday School song. But every long journey begins with a single step. A baby step.

The deacons Jean met in Chicago offered a lot of great images of being the “Church at Work,” as we will remember: prison ministry and care for the poor and the hurting. Which is so important, and all of that so very inspiring. But the emphasis of all that is not about finding our identity and purpose through busyness—even when the busyness is abundant in good works. Instead, and it is simply so important to say this, it is about knowing in our hearts our minds, the reality of our lives, the one who comes for us not as a stranger, but as a friend.

For some of us that assurance, that friendship, may be something that seems to happen in us all at once, in a moment of renewal, and that may seem a very great blessing, and for others of us it is something that gathers in us gradually over time, which can be a blessing also, and the adventure of a long journey. Not so much an activity as a relationship, a sense of confidence, trust, rest. To rest in the love of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Time, tide, and kidney stones waiteth for no man. And we “also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming,” and “at an unexpected hour.”

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

Bruce Robison

Friday, August 6, 2010


Luke 9:28-36

28 And it came to pass about an eight days after these sayings, he took Peter and John and James, and went up into a mountain to pray.

29 And as he prayed, the fashion of his countenance was altered, and his raiment was white and glistering.

30 And, behold, there talked with him two men, which were Moses and Elias:

Icon of the Transfiguration
Russian, 16th Century

31 Who appeared in glory, and spake of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem.

32 But Peter and they that were with him were heavy with sleep: and when they were awake, they saw his glory, and the two men that stood with him.

33 And it came to pass, as they departed from him, Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here: and let us make three tabernacles; one for thee, and one for Moses, and one for Elias: not knowing what he said.

34 While he thus spake, there came a cloud, and overshadowed them: and they feared as they entered into the cloud.

35 And there came a voice out of the cloud, saying, This is my beloved Son: hear him.

36 And when the voice was past, Jesus was found alone. And they kept it close, and told no man in those days any of those things which they had seen.

For over 25 years now Susy and I have been Associates of the Community of the Transfiguration, a religious order for women in the Anglican Communion, with the Mother House in Glendale (suburban Cincinnati), Ohio. On this day we pray for our old friend Sister Teresa Marie, Mother Superior, for all the sisters, and for the many ministries of the order. We pray as well for new religious vocations.

O God, who on the holy mount didst reveal to chosen witnesses thy well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistering: Mercifully grant that we, being delivered from the disquietude of this world, may by faith behold the King in his beauty; who with thee, O Father, and thee, O Holy Ghost, liveth and reigneth, one God, world without end. Amen.

Tenth after Pentecost

Sermon preached on Sunday, August 1, 2010, by our parish deacon, the Ven. Archdeacon Jean Chess. The Lessons appointed for RCL Proper 13C, Track One, are Hosea 11:1-11,Psalm 107:1-9, 43, Colossians 3:1-11, and Luke 12:13-21. Deacon Chess also references a reading appointed for RCL Proper 13C, Track Two--Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23.

Pentecost 10
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church

What does it mean to be a Christian and what does it mean to be “the church”?

This morning’s scripture readings illustrate how “not” to do it.

From Luke: After the prosperous man built some bigger barns … God said to him – ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

Today’s alternate Old Testament reading from Ecclesiastes is even more pointed “It is an unhappy business that God has given to human beings to be busy with: I saw all the deeds that are done under the sun; and see; all is vanity and a chasing after wind…”

I think we’re all here this morning because we are trying to figure out how to do better. We believe – or we at least want to believe – that our lives can and do have meaning. We want to believe that our lives are more than just “vanity and a chasing after wind”.

We believe – or at least hope – that following Jesus Christ leads us to a deeper understanding of how to make meaning out of our lives and that part of how we follow Jesus is by being part of the Christian community…

And yet, we Christians got some poor press this week when noted Author Ann Rice publicly ‘quit’ Christianity.

Rice wrote on her facebook page, “For those who care, and I understand if you don't: Today I quit being a Christian ... It's simply impossible for me to ‘belong’ to this quarrelsome, hostile, disputatious, and deservedly infamous group. For ten years, I've tried. I've failed. I'm an outsider. My conscience will allow nothing else.”
And then a later clarification…
My faith in Christ is central to my life. My conversion from a pessimistic atheist lost in a world I didn't understand, to an optimistic believer in a universe created and sustained by a loving God is crucial to me," Rice wrote. "But following Christ does not mean following His followers. Christ is infinitely more important than Christianity and always will be, no matter what Christianity is, has been or might become.

What does it mean for us to follow Christ *and* for us to follow Christ as the church?

I recently attended a conference for deacons in Chicago. Over 200 deacons from all over North America as well as from Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic were in attendance.

I attended a great workshop given by Jeffrey Lee, Bishop of Chicago. His workshop was titled ‘Generative Christianity and the Emergent Diaconate’ – rather a daunting title – but its focus and message were on the question of What does it mean to be the church today?. There is no way I can do justice to his 90 minute presentation (though it was videotaped and you can watch it via the Internet – he’s a highly entertaining and engaging speaker…) but I do want to share with you his punchline –

He ended his presentation with this message
“The Church has become a place to go – let us make it a people to be”

I’m here to tell you that while we always have a ways to go – that the Church – both here at St. Andrew’s and across the world – are already the “people” I want to be.
Here are some of the people I encountered at the NAAD conference who inspired me.

- I met the Rev. Dr. Peter Jackson (not the Peter Jackson of Lord of the Rings Fame) – but Peter Jackson, deacon from the diocese of Newark, retired from his work at the United Nations whose ministry focuses on the children of migrant workers. His recent work been to make a documentary film on these children – and he’s even gotten Eva Longoria-Parker engaged to help promote it!

- Deacon Alice Mason, from North Carolina, who began by visiting female inmates at her local jail and is now working with others in the community to set up a program called ‘Clean Slate’ which provides transitional housing and support for women beginning their lives again in the community.

- A deacon, from Atlanta, concerned with Domestic Poverty who reported that their diocese began every meeting in every congregation for 90 days with the agenda item “How will this affect the poor?”. While there was much fussing and much resistance – this question led people to think about things like ‘who actually makes those t-shirts we are buying for the youth event” and “who picked those coffee beans”…

- A deacon from Kansas City who works as a probation officer. While she expressed frustration with all the things she could not change - she was able to change the system so that parents are no longer arrested (or re-arrested) in front of their children.

- Our own diocesan deacon, Ann Staples, from Northern Cambria (up near Altoona). Ann is the founder and executive director of the Coal Country Youth Hangout which provides not only a daycare and a teen center – but also partners with local agencies to provide workshops for teenagers to raise their awareness of their local history. Ann is currently on a mission to seek funding to enable local youth to research the history on a long-closed Jewish synagogue – the first one in Pennsylvania I believe. The building has long been used as storage for the municipality – but Ann’s vision is to get funding, restore the building and then use the building to help provide social services to this community. (Right now people have to travel 45 minutes to either Altoona or Johnstown to gain access to food stamps or WIC or counseling services.)

And I could go on and on and on.
It’s easy to feel discouraged, or overwhelmed by the vast amount of brokenness in the church and in the world. But I’m here to tell you that we, as the church, both here in Highland Park and in the broader world – are indeed a ‘not just a place to go, but we are also people to be’. Amen.

For more on the Anne Rice story, CLICK HERE

For a video of Bishop Lee's presentation at NAAD, CLICK HERE

The two videos referenced in Bishop Lee's presentation are