Wednesday, September 29, 2010

St. Michael and All Angels

The Revelation to John, in the Twelfth Chapter:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Eighteenth after Pentecost,2010

RCL Proper 21C ~Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

Holy Baptism

Alina Adair Malecki

Oliver Rieley Ward

Good morning, and always grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. On the calendar this is actually the first Sunday of the Fall, which I believe technically began last Wednesday night. We’ve been noticing already the shorter days, and even though the weather has been pretty mild, no question but that we begin to feel the last turn toward the final quarter of the year. Certainly in the context of planning around the Church Office we’re well along toward St. Andrew’s Day and Thanksgiving and Advent. Seems like it was just Labor Day—it was just Labor Day!—but already we might begin to imagine a hint of frost in the air . . . .

A turning point, a time to refocus, gradually beginning shift away from the summer wardrobe. A reminder in any event in the ongoing rotation of the seasons that things change. Time marches on. Thought about more widely, metaphorically, as the seasons of our lives also change, a reminder of the passages of our lives, and of the evolution of family and community, one generation to the next.

The first Sunday of a new season, and in what a nice way it is, a Sunday of baptism. All of us today, youngsters and old-timers, to gather around the font. With a welcome I know to friends and family of our baptismal candidates who are joining us today. The dedication of this particular font, Easter Sunday, April 15, 1906, and so to imagine not just those of us here this morning, but all those for over a century, good people of St. Andrew’s, gathering with family and friends in this place to celebrate the Sacrament of New Birth, the holy pattern for every Christian, dying with Christ in his death, sharing in his victory over death, rising with Christ in his resurrection.

The pattern of the service this morning, and the pattern of our lives as Christian people, as this baptism happens not just once, but again and again and again, day in and day out all our lives. Dying to the old life of sin, joining ourselves to Christ, celebrating and living day by day a renewal of life and spirit, living in our lives now the reality of his resurrection. All this today, for Alina and Oliver, and for us all, in the mystery of baptism.

In these deep waters. A new season of life. A season as we would read this morning in First Timothy, of righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. God’s mercy and forgiveness and grace coming into our lives and lifting us up and restoring us. A season of healing. A season of hope.

The lessons appointed for this morning are all rich and deserving of more exploration than we can enter into at this service. All three of them suggestive in different but similar ways for a conversation about how our inner authorities, our values and priorities and hopes and fears give shape to our manner of living and reveal our true character. But we have these exciting baptisms this morning, so I would simply and I hope briefly pause over this moment in the thirty-second chapter of the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah.

It’s a fascinating story. Jeremiah has spent so much of his ministry warning the people of the disaster that is about to fall upon them because of their unfaithfulness, and now that disaster is very much upon them. The Babylonian armies have encircled the city. The brightest and best young men of their generation have died in their futile efforts to break the siege. There is beginning to be starvation and civil disorder, fear and despair.

And at this moment, Jeremiah, the one who among all the prophets seems to have been about the only one to have had a clear view of what was coming, the one to whom now the people looked with new attention—Jeremiah walks down to the county real estate office and puts down the wealth of his household, gold and silver coins that certainly could have come in handy in the exile to come—he puts down a major portion of the wealth of his household, to purchase a piece of real estate in the Jerusalem suburbs. Real estate at the moment very much under the control of the occupying enemy army.

And the message, not so much in words but in action, putting his money on the line. Not just talking the talk but walking the walk: the message: this coming disaster isn’t the end of the story. The enemy may carry us off this day in chains today, the city may be put to the torch and reduced to a pile of ruins, but tomorrow will come. And we can trust, know, believe with all our hearts that God is not going to forsake his people or forget his holy covenant. We will return. We will come home again. To our houses and fields and vineyards. We ourselves, perhaps, or our children, or our children’s children.

It may not be soon, but it will be so--and today, says Jeremiah, today what I’m doing is beginning live, right now, in that reality. God’s future. It is a message of trust in God’s mercy and God’s steadfast character. The same God yesterday, today, and forever. A message of hope. No matter how troubled the present hour, no matter how dark the night. A message of hope.

The word that Jeremiah had in this dramatic prophetic action for the people of Jerusalem turns us as we would turn in all of the history of the universe to the message of Jesus on the Cross. God acting in the midst of our world and of all our lives to heal what was broken, to bring forgiveness, to bring new life. Where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. Houses and fields and vineyards. Grace and peace.

So the message for us of this baptism. God’s continuing faithfulness. It’s good news, and a great message, for the first Sunday of the Fall, or anytime, at all times and in all places. No matter where we are in the working out of our lives, which can be messy and difficult, challenging, even heartbreaking. As this congregation gathers at the font this morning, as we join the generations of the people of St. Andrew’s who have stood here before us, and all the generations and centuries before us of Christian life and ministry.

This morning to celebrate with the Malecki family and the Ward family, and to let this day be a sign of healing and renewal, forgiveness, joy, creativity, new life. Our hope for the good future God has in mind for us. As we see in the faces of these two children and the lives of their families and in one another. The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning, new every morning. Great is thy faithfulness, O Lord: great is thy faithfulness.

And so now I would invited Alina Adair Malecki and Oliver Rieley Ward, and their parents and baptismal sponsors, to come forward for the celebration of Christian baptism.

Bruce Robison

Monday, September 20, 2010

Seventeenth after Pentecost, 2010

Sermon preached at the 4:30 p.m. service of Choral Evensong, by the Rev. Dr. Steve Wilson, Senior Pastor, Oakmont Presbyterian Church, Oakmont, Pennsylvania

Daily Office Year Two, Proper 20
Psalm 34; Esther 3:1 - 4:3; Matthew 6: 1-6, 16-18

I have a nice office. It has a table and four chairs where I can meet with a few staff or a member family or couples planning a wedding or a funeral. And I do have a LOT of books. Recently, I emailed the president of our trustees and said “I have piles of books in my office. I would like to request two more book cases.” In time, they arrived and I’ve put my books on the cases.

There are commentaries on Scripture, Calvin’s Institutes and like books that explain Christian belief, I have books that focus on some of the practical matters of stewardship, prayer, forgiving others. One of my favorite shelves has poetry, lives of saints and different translations of the Bible. One section is dedicated to different hymnbooks. Were you to visit you would likely recognize a special little, red prayer book with which many of you in this church are familiar.

Often, when people visit for the first time they say, “my you have a lot of books!” and then ask “Have you read them all?” “Not all,” I say, “but many of them.

“Why do I have so many books?”

Partly because

• I’ve always been excited to learn.
• I preach three out of four Sundays which requires a lot of thinking, praying and a fair amount of reading.
• Partly because the Christian life is so fascinating and hope filled that I’m excited to order a book with the title of The Solace of Fierce Landscapes or Renovation of the Heart or Help My Unbelief or Leading Lives that Matter.

Thinking of today’s Gospel reading, what would I lose were I to have those books just for appearance and not read them…or just scan the jacket covers for clever quotes?

I would miss Calvin saying that the knowledge of God and knowledge of ourselves is so intertwined that it’s impossible to say which comes first.

I would miss the hand of Mother Teresa writing “Love is a fruit in season at all times, and within reach of every hand”.

I would miss the insights of the brightest thinkers and the stories of spiritual ascents. In short I would miss the singing of the saints.

So, Jesus warns against focusing on the external appearance of our spiritual actions.

In Peterson’s The Message,

1“Be especially careful when you are trying to be good so that you don’t make a performance out of it. It might be good theater, but the God who made you won’t be applauding.

Our ancestors in faith have developed spiritual practices through which they have resisted the sinful life (which comes so easily) and pursued the spiritual life (which is a narrow gate). Mordecai and his people wore the rough cloth from goat or camel hair. As they sat in “sackcloth” with ashes they mourned the proclamation that all the Jews should be killed. The rough cloth worn without undergarments was also an expression of repenting and mortifying their sinful nature in hopes that God would save them from death.
In our New Testament reading, Jesus spoke about some of the practices of faith: prayer, alms and fasting. Jesus assumed that his followers would take part in such disciplines. They are time honed ways that Christians have opened their hearts and minds to God’s working in and through them.

But our perception can become distorted so that we think that doing the practices is the purpose. Rather, think of a boat, Spiritual practices are ways that we raise our sails so that we may catch God’s wind and the Spirit can move us forward in the life of faith.

Jesus warns us that what is important not that we have a boat, nor that we’re in the boat, but that our sail is trimmed so that we can catch the movement of the Spirit.

So why do we do things for the appearance of others?

• None of us thinks our spiritual life is as vigorous as we would hope; we may put on the spiritual “dog” out of guilt.
• Pastor Pete Scazzero says that many people today live off the spirituality of others: perusing a prayer journal, but not praying; reading about retreats, but taking none; seeing a movie on a spiritual journey, but never planning a pilgrimage.
• We may also fear where God will take us if we allow God open access to our heart and mind. I remember a Methodist pastor who had been a Marine. I was never sure whether he was more pastor or more Marine, but one thing he said that I’ve never forgotten. “The last thing I want from God is the gift of speaking in tongues, but if God wants it for me, it must be good for me and so I’d accept it.”

God does want what is good for us…the real fruit of faith: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control! Knowing that urges me on to embrace spiritual disciplines.

In recent years some wonderful books have been published on spiritual practices. Our staff is reading and discussing with a wonderful book called Spiritual Disciplines Handbook. Its subtitle is “Practices that Transform Us”. It has spiritual practices for reaching up to God, reaching inward to our true selves, and reaching outward to others. In planning our fall discussions I asked people to chose one discipline that they wanted to learn and lead with our staff. Then one staff member playfully suggested that we assign topics to each other (with love, of course). And we did. There are wonderful practices in addition to prayer, alms and fasting: honoring the body, silence, telling the truth, care of the earth and control of the tongue. Practicing each discipline not for outward appearance but for inner development is an exciting journey of faith.

What love Jesus has for us that he would warn us about the dangers of an appearance-only piety. Against just looking busy in our spiritual boat, Jesus urges us to observe Christian practices, to lift our spiritual sails and feel the power of the Holy Spirit moving us toward God and God’s good gifts.

An introduction to the spiritual disciplines can be found in any/all of the following: Dallas Willard’s Spirit of the Disciplines, Tony Jones’ The Sacred Way, Marjorie Thompson’s Soul Feast, Dorothy Bass’ Practicing Our Faith, and Adele Ahlberg Calhoon’s Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices that Transform Us

Rev. Dr. Steve Wilson
Oakmont Presbyterian Church
415 Pennsylvania Avenue
Oakmont, PA 15139

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Seventeenth after Pentecost, 2010

Sermon by the Rev. Philip Wainwright
at St. Andrew's Church, 9 a.m. & 11 a.m.

The Dishonest Agent
Luke 16.1­13

The parable we just heard is one of the most discussed, most argued about, of all Jesus's parables. There are actually whole books about nothing but that one parable! The reason, of course, is v 9, where Jesus says 'I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.' Is Jesus really telling us we can buy our way into heaven?

This passage is better known as the Parable of the Unjust Steward, although Dishonest Manager is accurate enough, and the man in this parable is definitely top-level management; he has complete control over the finances of the business. And when one day the chairman of the board decides to inspect the books, he apparently finds lots of irregularities, because he immediately fires the guy who's been managing the business. And it looks like the manager really had been up to no good, because when the audit begins he doesn't say, ‘I'm innocent, I have nothing to fear,' he says, ‘Oh oh, the game's up, how do I get out of this one, how will I ever get another job?' But he's up to the challenge: before the inspection is complete and while he still has his job, he goes to all the big customers who have a bill outstanding and says, ‘Hey, I'm going to do you a good turn. Pay half the bill, and I'll give you a receipt, an official, stand-up-in-court receipt for the full amount. And then just remember that you owe me one.'

So after he was fired he had lots of people who owed him favours, and presumably he was able to turn that to his own use either by getting a job with one of them or a chunk of cash from one of them—we don't know the details, only that when he was in trouble for bad business dealings he saved himself by even worse business dealing.

And Jesus, speaking to the disciples in vv 8 and 9, says ‘that guy was smart! You should be like him!' Jesus says that even the chairman of the board had to admit that the dishonest manager had acted shrewdly, and then Jesus goes on to say 'the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light'. And then adds the shocker, 'I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.'

The first rule for understanding any Bible passage, of course, is to put it in context. And the context here, I'd like to suggest, is not the verses about money that come after this parable, but another parable that Jesus told immediately before this one, the parable of the prodigal son. If you look at these two parables in your Bible, you'll see that they go together. Jesus finishes the parable of the prodigal son in one verse, and the next verse is v 1 of today's reading.

Even if it's Luke rather than Jesus who puts the two parables back to back, it's because he sees a connection between them, and the connection is pretty clear when you look at them together. The rich man in the parable we heard was squandering the owner's property, v 1 says, and the same word is used in the parable of the prodigal son, who squanders his own property. Both parables use the image of squanderers of money to illustrate the mess mankind is in, and the way out that God provides for us.

We'll see the importance of this connection when we understand what Jesus really means by telling us to use money to secure our place in heaven, so let's press on and think a bit more about v 8: 'The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.' The chairman of the board has to admit that the manager had done a smart thing, even though we can be sure he wasn't pleased about it.

People whose concern is only for the things of this world are always in competition with each other for the things of this world, and they know a good move when they see one, even if it takes money out of their own pocket. I don't know if you've ever been the victim of a con trick; I have, and my own experience was that while it certainly made me mad to have lost the money, what was worse was that I fell for it, I was outsmarted, and I couldn't help admitting that the person who conned me was smarter than I was in that particular transaction. Jesus is accurately describing one of the things that the owner of the business had to be feeling—although only one. That's why He comments, 'the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light.'

This comment makes clear the comparison being made in the parable. It's comparing the way worldly people deal with worldly things to the way godly people deal with godly things—the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the children of the light in dealing with their own kind. The parable is not about whether people whose concern is spiritual recognise the shrewdness of those whose concern is with the things of this world, but whether Jesus's disciples, to whom Jesus is telling this parable, can recognise good spiritual dealings the way worldly people recognise good worldly dealings. And Jesus is thinking about that because He has just told them the parable about the prodigal son, and remember how that ends: the good son, the one who always obeyed his father, who never ran away and squandered his inheritance, is mad at his father for welcoming the scoundrel home. He could not see that his father had behaved 'shrewdly' towards the scoundrel, because he had done what would bring the lost son back into the family. The younger son is clearly a sinner in need of forgiveness, and the father is clearly God, the prodigal forgiver.

The question that parable ends with is whether or not the older son, who clearly does not think he is a sinner, who thinks of himself as the righteous one, can see what a good thing the father has done, even though there's a sense in which the older son is the victim of it—the younger son has spent all his own inheritance, and now he's getting a share of what will one day be the older son's inheritance, even if it's only the cost of the fatted calf banquet the old man is throwing! And if he's home for good it's not going to stop there, you can bet! Can this self-righteous person ever get to the point of saying, the sinner did the right thing in returning to the Father, and the Father did the right thing in admitting him back into the family and celebrating his return? If not, what is now the spiritual condition of the older son?

The parable of the unjust steward ends there in v 9. It's not about money, but it uses a story about money to make a point about something else. What follows this parable, starting in v 10, 'Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much,' is about money, because the stories about money in this pair of parables have naturally led Luke on to think about the things Jesus did say about money, and that's the theme of the next three chapters of Luke, as you'll hear over the next few Sundays.

Neither the parable of the prodigal son nor the parable about the unjust steward is about money. All Jesus's parables are about the relationship between man and God, no matter what image they use. In these parables Jesus is using the image of money, but that image stands for the way the children of light deal with each other, the way one Christian regards another, or the way a Christian regards a potential Christian, another person for whom Christ died but who hasn't turned to Christ yet. And Jesus's comment in v 9 is still using money as an image for that. He is still speaking in the language of the parable. So He is not saying, use your money to make friends who will be able to get you into heaven. He is saying make sure your attitude to how God brings His lost children back into the light doesn't become a stumbling block. One of the things that comes to my mind as I read these two parables is the way that good people sometimes react to the fact that we don't earn God's blessings. We don't deserve to be welcomed back home, we don't deserve to avoid the consequences of our unrighteous management of our lives.

We're so often tempted to deny that we need God's grace, we prefer to claim it as our right because we are good people. We don't squander our inheritance, we don't squander the firm's money. Jesus says, the children of this world know better than that about themselves, how come you disciples, you pharisees, you priests and teachers of scripture, how come you can't see that you're in the same boat as the prodigal son and the unjust steward, you have the same need for a God prodigal with His forgiveness?

The parable of the prodigal son ends with the older son, the righteous one, outside the family home, refusing to go in because the younger son is there. Now the older son too has run away from home. He needs to be forgiven and welcomed home, but he can't see it. He is not as shrewd about his spiritual security as the younger son became about his, or as the unjust steward was about his earthly security. The older son needs to learn from the younger son, just as the chairman of the board learned something from that manager. Jesus is not telling us we can buy our salvation, He is using the terms of the parable to remind us that righteous people who are still hanging on to the belief that their righteousness is what God likes about them, and that they—we—deserve God's favour. We don't.

We are so often like the younger son, like the dishonest manager, looking for a short cut to heaven, when there is in fact only one way: to pray from the heart the words we will say together in a few moments, We are truly sorry and we humbly repent. For the sake of your Son Jesus Christ, have mercy on us and forgive us. That's the only way we will be welcomed into our heavenly homes. Let's not wait outside. Let's be spiritually shrewd, and recognise the truth about who we are, about our continuing need for forgiveness, and of our heavenly father's never-ending willingness to forgive those who see their need of it.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Friday, September 17, 2010

Guest Preacher: The Rev. Philip Wainwright

The Rev. Philip Wainwright will be our Guest Preacher at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. Services this Sunday, September 19, and he will be introducing the Fall Adult Programs Series, "Exploring Our Anglican DNA," at the 10 a.m. Coffee and Conversation gathering in Brooks Hall.

Exploring Our Anglican DNA

In the late Winter and Spring of 2011 we of St. Andrew’s—along with Episcopalians all around the Diocese of Pittsburgh—will respond to the request of last year’s General Convention of the Episcopal Church and join in a process of reflection on the topic of the Anglican Covenant—a proposed reordering of community life within the wider Anglican Communion. The General Convention of 2012 will consider approval the Covenant, informed in part by the feedback received from those of us around the Church who have participated in these discussions.

In anticipation of and in preparation for our diocesan conversation, it would seem to make sense to ask some prior questions about who and what “Anglicans” in fact really are. Where do we come from? What are the “big ideas” and major historical and cultural forces that have shaped our present identity?

As one part of that preparation I have invited the Rev. Philip Wainwright, recently retired rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Brentwood, to lead a series of presentations and discussions on the theme, “Exploring Our Anglican DNA.” A scholar in the area of English Church History, Fr. Wainwright has a special interest in the theological ideas and historical events in the years during and immediately following the English Reformation. Later this fall he will defend his doctoral dissertation, An Examination of Published Works in Support of Comprehension of Puritans in the Church of England between 1656 and 1689, at the University of Kent, in Canterbury, England.

Fr. Wainwright’s intention is not to offer simply a historical view of Anglicanism, but to “connect the dots” between the formative issues and experiences of our tradition and the challenges that are before us Episcopalians as Anglicans and Christians in these early years of the 21st Century. He writes:

“We all know that if you really want to understand another person, you need to know something about the family they grew up in. It's the same with the Episcopal Church: you'll never understand the church of today until you understand the family it grew up in, and is still a part of today. The one thing I hear over and over on all sides of the issues under discussion today is, ‘it’s a mystery to me how they can think that’. Regardless of what 'that' is, when you look at the history of the church, the only mystery would be if there weren’t someone thinking it. This brief survey of the Episcopal Church's family background will take the mystery out of 'how they can think that', remind you of the noble ancestry of your own position, and help you understand what it might mean to enter into a more formal relationship with other Anglican churches.”

“Exploring Our Anglican DNA” will take place at St. Andrew’s as a series of Sunday programs. Fr. Wainwright will be our Guest Preacher on Sunday morning, September 19, and our speaker that morning at the 10 a.m. “Coffee and Conversation.” He will be with us as well on three Sunday afternoons—October 31, December 12, and January 9, 2011, for more extended presentations--gathering at 4 p.m., with presentation and discussion, and to be followed at 5:15 p.m. with a brief social reception. During the Fall as well we will have several additional Anglican-themed 10 a.m. Sunday morning “Coffee and Conversation” programs “in between” Fr. Wainwright’s presentations, to amplify and extend the discussion. As a diverse congregation, the people of St. Andrew's welcome speakers and perspectives reflecting a variety of backgrounds and points-of-view. Let’s all mark our calendars now and watch for additional announcements in coming weeks.

Bruce Robison

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Holy Cross Day, 2010

Fulfilled is all that David told
In true prophetic song of old;
How God the nations' King should be,
For God is reigning from the tree.

Vexilla Regis was written by Venantius Fortunatus (530-609) and is considered one of the greatest hymns of the liturgy. Fortunatus wrote it in honor of the arrival of a large relic of the True Cross which had been sent to Queen Radegunda by the Emperor Justin II and his Empress Sophia. Queen Radegunda had retired to a convent she had built near Poitiers and was seeking out relics for the church there. To help celebrate the arrival of the relic, the Queen asked Fortunatus to write a hymn for the procession of the relic to the church.

The True Cross is said to have been discovered in 326 by the mother of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, Helena of Constantinople, during a pilgrimage she made to Jerusalem. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was then built at the site of the discovery, by order of Helena and Constantine. The church was dedicated nine years later, with a portion of the cross placed inside it.

The date of the feast marks the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in 335

This was a two-day festival: although the actual consecration of the church was on September 13, the cross itself was brought outside the church on September 14 so that the clergy and faithful could pray before the True Cross, and all could come forward to venerate it.

Almighty God, whose Son our Savior Jesus Christ was lifted high upon the cross that he might draw the whole world unto himself: Mercifully grant that we, who glory in the mystery of our redemption, may have grace to take up our cross and follow him; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sixteenth after Pentecost: Round Up!

RCL-19C I Timothy 1: 12-17; Luke 15: 1-10

Again, grace to you and peace this morning—feeling something like the First Sunday of Fall, with these crisp mornings in the past week, and of course with Church School and Choir and all the rest gathering today and with such great enthusiasm. The liturgical calendar begins on Advent Sunday and I guess what we would call the secular calendar begins of course on New Year’s Day, January first. But in so many ways with the academic cycle beginning again and summer vacations more and more a distant memory, this Sunday after Labor Day marks a New Year also.

“Round Up Sunday,” and I do hope you’ll be able to stay and enjoy some good food and fun out in the Churchyard after the service.

As a beginning note, every Sunday the lectionary gives us three readings—an Old Testament lesson, a lesson from a part of the New Testament other than the four gospels (most often from one of St. Paul’s letters), and a reading from one of the gospels, and then, also, a reading from the Psalms. On Sundays when Morning Prayer is the order of service our usual pattern is “Psalm, Old Testament Lesson, Gospel Lesson.” But this Sunday morning I’ve exercised the “preacher’s prerogative” and had the pattern adjusted slightly so that instead of the Old Testament reading from Jeremiah we have instead at this service the Epistle reading appointed for today, from St. Paul’s First Letter to Timothy.

I think you might just say that as I read through these passages from scripture during the week, something in First Timothy began to sing to me, and then washing over into the reading from Luke’s gospel. And I hope we can simply on this morning, as our Choir has sung so beautifully on this first Sunday after their summer break, all join in, in the spirit of the day, with this song on our lips and in our hearts.

So this book First Timothy—a part of the New Testament traditionally called the Pastoral Epistles, dating from the early days of the life of the Church. A good deal about the particulars of composition and context lost to us in the mists of those ancient times. But what we do know and can tell from reading not just this letter but also from other letters of St. Paul and from the Acts of the Apostles and from the opening section of the Revelation to St. John and from the gospels themselves—what we do know is that from the very beginning the life of the church has struggled with what I guess we can call the “human problem.” That is, the problem of having human beings as members. Teachers sometimes say that their profession would be very rewarding, if it weren’t for all the time they had to spend with students, and perhaps sometimes we think this way about the Church as well. Christ’s Mystical Body is one thing, in all its glory. But add people, and you’ve got just a whole lot of trouble happening.

From the very beginning, from the days of Peter and James and John walking along a few footsteps behind the Master, until this morning, and all the days in between, a community called together in love and with a vocation to witness to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and yet shaken constantly with differences and disagreements and jealousies and arguments and division. And so, even in those early days.

And in this letter we have the older, experienced, spiritually mature pastor, nearing the end of his ministry, sharing a word of guidance and encouragement to a younger leader of the Church, about the challenges and opportunities ahead for him, and about the spiritual and moral and personal character that he will need to find within himself to be able to do the work he is called to do in the days and years ahead.

And so we begin, in this first chapter, Paul to Timothy, at the point of the foundation, spiritual, moral, personal, not with recipe book instruction, “you should do this, you should do that,” but with the witness of a personal testimony. And where Paul begins—and forgive me for saying this, not my line but somebody else’s—is with an “attitude of gratitude.” An attitude of gratitude. Not an abstract theological exposition, not an affirmation of formal doctrine, but with a personal testimony. “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord.” That expression just wells up and overflows in abundance.

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord.” Not just because he “came into the world to save sinners,” but because he has saved me. Not just because he has revealed God’s mercy, but because he has been merciful to me. I, who needed that mercy as much as anyone, even though I didn’t even know it. For his grace, for his mercy, for his patience, “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord,” who has lifted me up and transformed my life and brought me healing and forgiveness and the wonderful hope of now being part of God’s plan for the world.

Know that first in your heart, Paul. Know that first in your heart, Timothy. Know that first in your heart, Bruce. Know that first in your heart, Christian man, Christian woman. All of us this morning, St. Andreans on Round Up Sunday. Let it be the song we sing, to the praise and honor of God, immortal, invisible, only-wise, in whom we live and move and have our being.

Let that song shape us day by day, in our work, our care for one another, and as we wrestle with all the difficulties and challenges of life together, even as we struggle with conflict and threat of division. Begin at the beginning, morning by morning, and this morning: “I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me.”

That all frames for me the two Parables at the beginning of Luke 15. Just to set them here this morning. The Shepherd and the Lost Sheep. The Woman and the Lost Coin. Two stories that are about “rejoicing.” Rejoicing on earth, and rejoicing in heaven. \

This week, and I think this is a public story now, our good friends Val and Dan Sweeney were in something of distress, because the Teddy Bear of their son James had gone missing. I understand he has the wonderful name “Jack Skywalker.” Some of you heard this story as it unfolded. Was Jack in the car? No. Was he left up at the playground? No. Hunting with seriousness, then almost desperation. Val even began advertising the loss on Facebook and the Highland Park E-mail list. And I think, after two days, hope had begun to fade.

And perhaps you know what that feels like. When something that was important to you. Something, or someone, that you loved, has fallen from view. It might be a Teddy Bear. Or something more. Or someone. Or even an aspect of ourselves. Who we were. Who we hoped we might be. Health. Friendship. Mother, father, brother, sister, wife, husband, son, daughter, friend; career, life goal; treasured possession. Someone said, growing old is about learning to live with loss.

But it’s not just when we’re growing old. The story of our lives. Nonetheless, nonetheless—and I know Jesus could have made a great sermon of this, a great story, the news is that after two days, James’s Teddy Bear was found! Sometimes that does happen, even in this world of ours, where most lost things stay lost. Jack Skywalker was found, miracle of miracles, and what rejoicing I know there was all through the Sweeney home. I can hear young James now, “Rejoice with me, for I have found Jack Skywalker, who was lost!” And it’s a good story, says Jesus, because “just so, there is join in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

A hint and foreshadowing and anticipation of the Kingdom. God’s future for us. Over one life healed, one glimpse of forgiveness, charity, hope, any one of us, to be transformed as we encounter that love of Jesus Christ, who is the Good Shepherd who has left everything to come and find us, and to bring us home.

Gratitude and Joy. Gratitude and Joy. All that singing at the Cross, and at the Empty Tomb. That’s the context this morning. A song to sing. Round Up Sunday. A day for a new beginning.

I’m not so sure what the world makes of us Christian people these days. I guess when we aren’t burning Korans or yelling at each other, trying to find as many ways as we can to model in our lives not healing and reconciliation and forgiveness, but division and polarization and fierce hostility. The great line from the Roman historian Tertullian. “These Christians, how they love one another.” So often for us and throughout history only something to be read dripping with irony. More and more often the word seems to be, fellow Christian, “see you in court.”

But all that said, perhaps the old Pastor’s words to Timothy could find its way into our hearts this morning. As the Psalmist in Psalm 84, my favorite Psalm, the text of our Choir’s anthem this morning: Blessed are they that dwell in thy house: they will always be praising thee. And with a prayer that something might happen and begin to happen in our hearts and in our lives, a real renewal and new beginning, and that this song of gratitude and praise would overflow, and ascend, and blend into the great rejoicing choir of the angels in heaven. And what a great place to start that would be. Happy Round Up, and Happy New Year!

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

Bruce Robison

Friday, September 10, 2010

September 11th


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

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

Flight 93 Memorial, Shanksville, Pennsylvania

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

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

Blessings and peace,


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brother Stephen has some nice material here too.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Fifteenth after Pentecost: Crash Helmets

(RCL-1 Proper 18C)

Grace to you and peace, on this summer Sunday, a holiday weekend, and just leaning forward into the Fall. School under way most places, which always feels odd to me, as when we were kids we never had first day of school until after Labor Day. Of course here, after the summer interval back now to our fall/winter/spring schedule of Sunday services at 9 and 11--and next Sunday, Round Up Sunday, all the fun of the first day of Church School and with full Choir at the later service. Lots of things going on all around us—building and grounds, church school, adult education, music and choir. I certainly get a sense of a lot of great energy. Looking forward to it.

With all these good things, and of course with the enjoyment we have with one another, friends and family together, the readings from Jeremiah and Luke sound something of an unsettling note, I think. Words about judgment in Jeremiah. Words about costly discipleship in St. Luke.

In both readings, at a moment perhaps when we’d rather just lie back in the hammock and enjoy a lazy summer afternoon--all about strict accountability and serious consequences. Just to take a deep breath.

In her book Teaching a Stone to Talk, Pittsburgher Annie Dillard has this very memorable comment:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of the conditions.” [I love that: “sensible of the conditions.”] She goes on, “Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies' straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake some day and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return."

There we have Jeremiah and Luke in a nutshell: that God may wake someday and see who we are and what we are doing, and take offense; or that he may take us up on the language of our hymns and Prayer Book prayers and—lift us up and fill our sails and carry us far out to sea, past the sight of land. Just a lot easier for all of us if he keeps snoozing. If that’s really what he’s doing . . . .

Take my life and let it be, consecrated, Lord, to thee. Take my moments and my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise.

So, anyway: we have this image before us in Jeremiah. God as the potter, certainly emphasizing our wet-clay provisionality, our state of absolute dependence upon him, “in whom we live and move and have our being,” ready whenever the creation in his hands begins to go off center to push it all back down onto the wheel and start again.

The point is that sooner or later we will be what he makes us to be. Even if he has to bring us back to first principles again and again and again along the way. A judgment that can fall upon nations and peoples, and upon each one of us, one by one. As the old joke goes, God asks us, “what made you think that those were the ‘10 Suggestions?’”

We say about teenagers sometimes, and with some anxiety, when they first pick up the car keys and head out on their own, “they think they’re immortal.” Says the Potter to the Clay: “if you think you’re in charge here, think again.”

Or then as Jesus in Luke says to that bustle of a crowd following him, enjoying the day and the company, entertained by the parables and dazzled by the miracles: kings don’t go to war without running an inventory of troops, weapons, supplies, to be sure they have a reasonable chance of survival and even of success. That’s how kings stay kings. The ones who don’t, don’t last long. This may all seem like fun and games for the moment. But read the fine print. Maybe this like those pharmaceutical ads on television. Read the fine print, he says, as he points them from where they are standing on that sunny afternoon over all the hills and valleys, to Jerusalem, and to the Cross.

First Sunday of the fall, and we may be a long way away from Holy Week and Good Friday. But friends, we will get there, no question about it, and it will seem like the blink of an eye. Not just him, long ago and far away. But all who follow him. Wake up and smell the coffee.

So again, as Annie Dillard, “we should all be wearing crash helmets.” It’s about waking up. Being “sensible of the conditions.” I used to run every fall for seven or eight years in the Ikea/Montour Run Half Marathon, a 13.1 mile course that begins way up high in the Ikea parking lot in Robinson Township, and then turns dramatically downhill for the first mile or so of the race. And I’ll tell you—very tempting to lean into that, because you can really get going. But it has to be in your mind at the same time: 12 miles to go afterwards, after you get to the bottom of the hill, and in fact the last 6 will be on a gradual upgrade the whole way. If you want to finish, and finish strong, you need to be thinking about that from the very beginning of the race. “Sensible of the conditions.”

The point is that this is a big deal, what we’re about here this morning. Coming into his presence. Not that we don’t all know this at some level. But sometimes it seems a little too easy, maybe. The Sunday morning routine. An interval between coffee and brunch. For Annie Dillard: children on the floor with our toy chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT. Looks like fun and games, but watch out . . . .

The reality is that our lives are in the balance. Perhaps sometimes that seems very clear to us. But I think often it slips by. Who we are. What we will become. As we choose to follow Jesus. A choice about fundamental identity and allegiance.
A choice that we make or decide not to make a hundred times a day. With different vocabularies, in different contexts of our lives. But to say, today, that this meal not a midmorning snack, but the living presence of the one who is necessary for our life, and our salvation. And not just about us as individuals, but in a meaningful way, the whole of the created order, the heavens and the earth, at the point of transformation. Something beyond our imagination.

We meet him here. He meets us. And every moment, every gesture. Stand up. Sit down. Kneel. Carefully, though. Sensible of conditions. The big picture of our lives. Every moment a crossroads. Amazing to think of all the roads, all the journeys that have brought us here to this place, this morning. Again and again and again, a place of decision. Because it is our choice always. We open our hands to receive him. The Bread of Life. The New Wine of the Kingdom. Born that winter night in Bethlehem, lifted up on a spring afternoon outside of Jerusalem. Go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise. If we would say, “this is who I am now. This is what I will be.” First the caterpillar, then the butterfly. That’s a nice image on a poster. It almost looks easy. But a challenging one to apply to ourselves. Clay in the Potter's hands. Death and resurrection. To be a part of God’s future. Our lives, as we decide about them this morning. The old is gone, and behold, something new being born.