Sunday, October 31, 2010

Twenty-third after Pentecost

RCL1 Proper 26C

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Guest Preacher: The Rev. Diane Shepard

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

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


Monday, October 18, 2010

Twenty-First after Pentecost

Sermon preached at St. Andrew's Church in the 4:30 p.m. Service of Choral Evensong by the Rev. Dr. David P. Gleason, Senior Pastor, the First Lutheran Church of Pittsburgh.

Daily Office Year Two, Proper 24
Psalms 114 & 115; Ecclesiasticus 4: 1-10;
Matthew 16: 13-20

He had taken them north from Capernaum toward the headwaters of the Jordan, into the district of Caesarea Philippi. It was a beautifully refreshing place; just right for revealing a hard truth to his disciples, the truth about their destiny and obligations as his followers.

That is where Jesus asks the question. That is where he puts to his disciples the question. He first poses it impersonally. “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” His disciples report the facts. They tell him the content of local conversation; they report what is being said. Some are saying that he is John the Baptizer, last of the great prophets, returned from the dead. Others say that he is Elijah, a great prophet of old, resurrected to new life.

He asks again. This time, more directly and personally. “But who do you say that I am?” He has clearly already identified himself as the Son of Man. But Peter speaks for the twelve in offering the celebrated answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Now be sure you understand Peter’s answer. It is not as if the disciples are finally “getting it.” Or that they are suddenly struck by the stunning realization that their friend, Jesus, is actually the Messiah. His relationship to them has always been that of a Messiah to his followers. They already know that. They received his call to follow him. They witnessed his power in action as he worked miraculous healing. He commissioned them and sent out as ambassadors of a messianic mission, a mission to save his people. And they hearkened intently, and with some fear, to the judgment implied in his parables. They saw lots of evidence of his identity as the Messiah.

But now, in a beautiful, refreshing setting, Jesus poses a question that demands intensified commitment. Peter answers for them all. “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And now they are all bound to the Christ, bound to the one destined to die. They are bound so tightly to him that they are separated from virtually everyone else. They are completely separated from Jesus’ enemies, but they are also set apart from many of his admirers. They are distinct from those who see in Jesus a John the Baptizer returned to life or an Elijah resurrected from the dead. They are separated from anyone and everyone who maintains that he plays a part in preparing the world for the kingdom of God while failing to see in him the very presence of God.

Peter’s confession, on behalf of all the apostles, constituted a commitment to the Christ, to the anointed Son of the Living God. No other title could demand so great a commitment. Once one has confessed him as “Christ,” there is no choice but to follow him, no matter where the following may lead. The question is: Do the disciples understand that? Do they understand the necessity of following him to the Cross? Do they understand the necessity of walking the way of the Cross themselves?

Jesus responds to Peter’s bold declaration that he is the Christ, saying, “And blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.”

The apostolic spokesman, the one quick to accord Jesus the title, “Christ,” gets himself a new name. Petros. Peter. Rock. The name is not meant to be descriptive of this man once called Simon son of Jonah. The former Simon possesses no solid, rock-like characteristics. In fact, while he evidently is capable of a bold declaration of faith, he is equally capable of misunderstanding the mission and ministry of Jesus entirely, and of denying any identification with him.

Peter gets his new name not because he is a miracle worker, visionary, or prophet. He is not renamed as the leader of a new community or even as a lover of justice and charity. He is called “rock” only because he has faith and he confesses that faith in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the living God. There is no other reason for his new name or the promise attached to it, the promise that on this rock Christ will build his church.

Peter represents everyone who follows Christ. Whether he is courageously treading water or foolishly launching out into the sea and sinking like a stone, whether he is full of understanding or a man “of little” faith, whether he is confessing the Christ or denying him, Jesus sees in him the raw material of his Church. In Peter, he sees us all, with our moments of bold faith and quivering doubt, with our charitable works alongside gross self-indulgence. He sees in Peter the material that is to be shaped by his grace into a holy people. He sees the future community of faithful disciples and courageous confessors. Jesus turns away from Pharisees, Sadducees, and scribes and looks instead to Peter and the other eleven and he sees in them the Church, the sanctified people of God who will carry the Gospel into the world until time is no more.

The powers of death, not even the gates of Hell, can vanquish this community, this Church. Its life is the life of Jesus, the Son of the living God at work in the world. To this community, the Christ has given power to bind and loose. He has given his Church the authority to maintain the regulations of an ethical life and imposed upon it the responsibility of rendering ethical judgement. Binding and loosing are all about making distinctions and rendering judgements. In response to Peter’s confession, Jesus makes clear his intention to build a new community whose teachers will not be scribes and Pharisees and whose teachings will not be the tradition passed on by the elders of Israel.

It will be a new community in which everything points to Jesus. He will lead the community by way of his Word, a Word that will live in the preaching and teaching of those he calls to apostolic ministry. This community, the community of the Church catholic and even of this little parish church of St. Andrew, is built upon the confession of Peter, the confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God.

That is our common heritage in the Gospel. We Episcopalians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians, and others are the people who, after two millennia, still confess the faith of Peter. We are still certain that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. And we are still his Church. We continue to bear the responsibility of binding and loosing, of maintaining the ethical regulations of godly living, of making distinctions and of rendering judgments.

Unfortunately, we have not been doing a very good job of handling the keys to bind and loose. We are uncomfortable with distinction making and we feel unqualified to render judgments, even upon our own sinful lives. We would prefer to leave all such matters to the living God and to his Son, the Christ. But faithfulness to him requires us to maintain the godly standards of a community of true faith. It is our obligation to bind, as well as loose, to make distinctions and to render judgments. To not do so is to be unfaithful to his will.

The distinctions we make and the judgments we render, however, must, like each of us, be shaped by God’s grace, by his merciful and compassionate love even for children who stray from his way or wallow in doubt and disbelief.

To confess the faith of Peter, to be the Church built upon that faith, to fulfill the obligation of binding and loosing, means first of all to submit ourselves to the holy discipline of godly living and to throw ourselves on the mercy of God when we fail to fulfill it. It means, when we inevitably sin, to completely throw ourselves on his gracious mercy, trusting that he will loose us from our sin and bind us in love only to himself.


Sunday, October 17, 2010

Twenty-First after Pentecost

RCL Track One, Proper 24C
Jeremiah 31: 27-34; Luke 18: 1-8

Good morning, and grace and peace to you, as we gather here on this beautiful fall morning. I was thinking this week how as we watch the leaves begin to turn and have the first hints of frosty mornings here in Pittsburgh, our friends in Peru are moving along into the early weeks of spring.

It’s always interesting to me to think about how these associations get turned upside down hemispherically. To imagine Christmas Eve just a few days after the first day of summer, or Easter for that matter, as the nights grow longer and the leaves begin to fall.

In any event, wonderful this morning and with thanks to our Five Talents Prayer Circle for hosting the annual Harvest Brunch—which is I guess a decidedly Northern Hemisphere way of thinking in mid-October. And as we gather our thoughts and prayers and support for the ministries the Prayer Circle and all of us have supported for a number of years now, in the microcredit financing outreach of Five Talents in Lima, and of the ways that outreach takes place not simply as an economic matter, but also gathering a community for social support and life skills and business skills and training, and spiritual formation. Certainly something we all are privileged to be a part of.

When Craig Cole, the director of Five Talents, visits us here in Pittsburgh, he always expresses great enthusiasm and thanks for the ways St. Andrew’s has participated in this ministry. What we always say, though, is that we are honored to be able to take part.

And it is an honor as well in the same way to have grown in friendship over these years with John and Susan Park, missionaries in Lima, where John serves at the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd and with ministries that reach out into the poorest communities of the city and region. Some of us have enjoyed the Brunch already, at the 10 a.m. sitting, but if you haven’t, please do come over for a most enjoyable time and always great food and great company.

I love the Jeremiah reading this morning, as it is part of the series that I know I’ve commented on over the past few weeks. To hear from this ancient text such an inspiring word of hope and encouragement. Spoken first to the people scattered in their exile after the fall of Jerusalem. As I’m sure they must have had these huge issues of identity, a huge crisis of faith. What kind of a God is it that would let something like this happen? What can it possibly mean anymore to affirm the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, David’s God, who ruled his Covenant People from Mount Zion? No Temple anymore. No priesthood in any meaningful way. No nation. What’s the point? Here we are in Iraq, in Persia, in Egypt, in Syria. Why not just turn the page? Move on . . . .

And in the midst of all this, Jeremiah speaks a word of encouragement, to hang in there, to trust in the power and good intention of God, and the power of God, to redeem, to repair, to renew and restore. To honor his holy Covenant. We may have fallen, but he will lift us up. We may have broken our end of the deal, turned our back on the promises we made, and now we are suffering the consequences.

But he will not forsake us. With him there is forgiveness, life, and hope.

A good word. And a word they seem to have heard. A word that sustained them not just for days and weeks, but though months and years, and even from one generation to the next.

The gospel reading from St. Luke has something to say about this as well. As Luke interprets the parable of the Unjust Judge in the introductory sentence. It is a story, he tells us, about the “need to pray always and not to lose heart.”

Even in this broken world, a world of corruption and untruth, a world that sometimes seems to us to be very far from God, there are moments when the right things happen. Even if sometimes or even often for the wrong reason. There are these moments. When the good guys win. When the nice guy finishes first. In the Five Talents Prayer Circle we have moments like this when we read the stories of women and men and children on the very margins of the human family, who with incredible personal strength and intelligence and creativity and generous dignity and wonderful faith are able to find a new way not simply to survive but to flourish and prosper. By every objective measure for them it was already “three strikes and you’re out.” But they didn’t give up. They didn’t lose hope. They believed even when every available shred of evidence told them that their story was over before it even started. Like the Widow before the Unjust Judge. Refusing to take “no” for an answer.

Right smack dab in the middle of this broken world, scattered like exiles, lost, expelled from a home that has been for all intents and purposes erased from the map of the earth. But not losing heart. Discovering even in this broken time, that as we would bend the knee of our hearts, he will lift us up.

There is this little hint of Advent in the question Jesus asks at the end of the gospel reading. More than a month away, but I guess Advent is never that far away. What will the Son of Man find, when he comes? Who will be there to greet him?

A parable about the need to pray always and not lose heart. To live wherever we are, leaning forward with expectation. Knowing deep down this morning and always in the midst of our lives that as we will hold out our empty hands to receive whatever he has in mind for us, he will feed us with the Bread of Heaven.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Heinz Chapel Choir

We of St. Andrew's Church, in the Highland Park neighborhood, are delighted this morning at 11 a.m. to welcome as our Guest Choir the Heinz Chapel Choir of the University of Pittsburgh.

Click here for their website!

Twentieth after Pentecost

RCL Track One, Proper 23C
Jeremiah 29: 1, 4-7; Luke 17: 11-19

Good morning all, and wonderful to see you on this fall Sunday. And with a very warm welcome and much appreciation to our friends of the Heinz Chapel Choir. Wonderful to have you here this morning!

Hard to believe we’re already sailing into mid-October. I had a list of projects around the house to get to this summer, and I managed to cross a few of them off, there are, believe me, still a good number remaining.

In the weeks after Memorial Day it seems we have all the time in the world to get things done. But then before you know it the days start growing shorter and the temperature falls and the baskets of front-porch geraniums all around the neighborhood are replaced by yellow mums and Halloween pumpkins.

I mean, I love the fall, especially here in Western Pennsylvania. But it does just catch me a bit off center. The earth keeps turning, and we’re still sailing around the sun more or less once in a year, and yet still I’m never quite ready anymore. I remember when I was little my parents and grandparents would talk about how quickly Christmasses seemed to come. At the time I couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, as the interval from one to the next seemed ages of ages, an eternity. But of course I expect for all of us that does begin to change.

I don’t know if that’s entirely a relevant context, but it’s more or less where I began as I began to pray through the lessons appointed for this Sunday. Thinking about how we live “in real time,” in the seasons of our lives. As people of faith we would see before us the great framework of salvation history. God’s action in creation, the great Fall from grace and from his intention and purposes, and then the great Restoration--the Calling of Israel, Incarnation, Atonement, Cross and Resurrection, the Coming of Holy Spirit, the knowledge that even now we are standing at the starting line of New Creation, the Life of the World to Come. The grand themes, the over-arching frame, the foundation of our faith.

And yet in the midst of all that: here we are. In the midst of the ordinary and the day to day, the year to year, the season to season unfolding of our lives. Doing what we are able to do to build connections, bridges, between “Salvation History” and our many life stories. To do the work we have been given to do for Christ and his Church. We may be led to moments at least to begin to catch a glimpse of God’s great purposes, moments of vision and sacramental grace.

But we also roll out of bed in the morning to this particular day, to work or school, in the midst of family and friends and community. And one day after another, one year after another, one lifetime after another. And somehow in it all it seems important to ask, how are we supposed to live now? In the meantime? While the great story unfolds all around us, where do we find our story?

There’s a phrase that’s sometimes used by theologians when talking about this. To talk about an “interim ethic.” Which is to say, how we live in this time--between Ascension Thursday and the great Trumpet Blast that will announce his Return. What do we do now? Hunker down in our basements? Eat, drink, and be merry? Work 24/7? Climb to a mountaintop or sit in a cave? How do we live in the meantime?

A couple of hints this morning. Not the full picture of a long conversation of course. But to say that the question is very much the point of Jeremiah 29. Something has absolutely ended, with an unarguable finality. Not just one of those little political interruptions that you might have seen over the course of Israel’s history up to that point. And of course we’ve been thinking about all that for a few weeks now with readings from the earlier part of Jeremiah and last Sunday from the Lamentations. Those remnant clusters who somehow survived the catastrophe, the destruction of the Holy City. Now huddled in desert refugee camps or frightened, undocumented immigrants in the back alleys of Baghdad and Damascus and Alexandria and Persepolis and I suppose hundreds of forgotten villages and towns. Trusting in their hearts in God’s great promise of restoration. But knowing deep down as well that this would be not days or months, but years and decades and even generations. The good news, the great news, trusting in God's faithfulness, that the tide will turn again. But to know: we're probably not going to be here to see it.

We know the Salvation History. What we need is an interim ethic. And so Jeremiah: Build houses and live in them, plant gardens, nurture your families, live at peace with your neighbors, be good citizens--and remember the Lord your God in your prayers, praying not just for yourselves, but for those around you in the communities and nations where you are living now.

Which is really wonderful, I think. An inspired word to say that just because the Great Day isn’t here yet, even now in this in-between time, God desires for us a life of meaning, a life of spiritual and emotional and physical well-being, a life of abundant blessing. It’s not a completely detailed rule book or code of conduct or list of instructions, but it is a word of tenderness, and perhaps enough to get us going and to sustain us along the way.

And I’m thinking also about this story from Luke. The core value of the story of the healing of the Ten Lepers, the theme and key word, “gratitude.” What is our life supposed to be about, here and now? Because it is this Samaritan who shows us the way, who shows us how we are called to live. Again, core values. Roman Catholic Benedictine theologian David Steindl-Rast says, "it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but it is gratefulness that makes us happy.”

In fact this is really critical for the work we’ve been given to do in the meantime. To be faithful witnesses and authentic witnesses. I’m not sure we Episcopalians or we Christians generally have been doing such a great job of this in recent years. Living at peace with one another, in a spirit of generosity and kindness and affection, and above all of gratitude.

Maybe sometimes we seem more like squabbling contestants on a reality TV show or mudslinging opponents in an election primary than like disciples of the Prince of Peace. But there we are. Jeremiah to the exiles of Jerusalem, Jesus and this Samaritan leper. They can tap us on a shoulder. Encourage us to get back on track.

It is the time of “already, and not yet.” We feast at the heavenly Banquet Table and sing with all the apostles and prophets and martyrs around the heavenly throne, as we live today in this world, with all its messiness and brokenness, pain and sorrow, grief and loss. But not hiding away and holding our breath. Finding lives for ourselves and joy and peace and knowing and sharing with sincerity and enthusiasm God’s abundant blessing here in the meantime. And in it always, in the ordinary moments of our lives, giving thanks.

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

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Nineteenth after Pentecost

RCL Track #1, Proper 22C
Lamentations 1: 1-6; Second Timothy 1: 1-14; Luke 17: 5-10

Grace and peace to you this morning. Earlier this week my sister tells me it was 115 degrees in Los Angeles, a new record high for the day and I think they said for the month of September, which after all these years of transplantation simply reminds me again how much I enjoy the fall season here in Western Pennsylvania. She and I will talk again in February, and it will be her turn then to smile . . . .

The three readings this morning take us on quite a journey. Beginning with the opening song of the Lamentations of Jeremiah. The whole book, this long, deeply moving poetic expression of such deep sorrow over the ruin of Jerusalem. It’s something of a new voice for the Prophet, as we previously heard him in the Book of Jeremiah with a kind of urgent energy, warning the king, the people of the city, of the coming catastrophe, calling on them to repent, to accept the consequences of their unfaithfulness even as they would put their hope in God’s Covenant faithfulness. Now in the Lamentations there is this sadness. And I don’t even want to talk about Psalm 137, except to say about all of it together that this is a sadness that shakes you all the way down. Not an idea, not simply a state of mind. It’s in your bones, in your flesh. A kind of agony. Loss. Grief.

Readings from this text often in our Christian heritage appointed for Good Friday, as the death of Jesus on the Cross and the image of the Tomb is seen through the lens of the fall of the Holy City in ancient days. The pattern, dying and rising. And as we all can tell one another, since we all know this ourselves in our own lives. Grief just is what it is. No easy way out of it. Nor should there be. You put one foot in front of the other, or you just stand still. It doesn’t go away, but moves more deeply inward to become simply a part of what we are.

And then we move ahead in the lectionary propers to this reading from Second Timothy, and night gives way to morning. The Elder speaks to the Younger, with such tenderness, such assurance. If there was a deep down convergence between the ruin of the city and the Cross of Good Friday, then here in these words from the first days of Christian life and hope, I almost hear the background music of Isaiah 40, and I guess Georg Frederik Handel: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people. Speak ye tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry unto her that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned . . . .” Live now with confidence, with boldness, holding fast to the good news of Jesus Christ not cowering in a corner but with confidence, not ashamed, but with power and love and self-discipline, because the one who has redeemed you is trustworthy and true.

And then finally this remarkable passage from St. Luke. About a life of faith that steps out into the world confident that in Christ nothing is impossible. No challenge beyond him, as he lives in us. No one so broken that he can’t be healed. No one so lost that he can’t be brought home. No burden too heavy, no mountain too high, no journey too far. The confidence of Paul in Philippians, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And the footnote following and the image of the slave coming in from the fields in the evening. The reminder that who we are now in this new life of grace and power is who we are in Christ. It is the work he has given us to do. That we find our life, new, refreshed, restored, through him.

This old world of ours. All our Holy Cities. The patterns of our lives. Relationships, accomplishments, diplomas, awards, bank accounts, however we keep score. In the words of the old Prayer Book collect, “even now, as we are placed among things that are passing away.”

Even now, he calls us forward. His servants. The members of his household. To begin to live now with him, to bring into this present hour of our lives the future promise of his power and glory. To share this morning in the banquet of heaven. To move forward confidently in the power of Holy Spirit to work miracles: and not simply to work miracles, but to be miracles.

To pronounce his blessing and to be his blessing in the world. This is what Paul at the end of our reading from Second Timothy calls “the good treasure entrusted to you, with the Holy Spirit living in us.” To be miracles; to be blessing.

We would come to this Table in thanksgiving for the one who refreshes and renews us, and that we would go forth with full hearts to live as good stewards of that treasure that we have in him, not hiding it in secret, but giving it all away, and in overflowing and miraculous abundance.

Bruce Robison