Friday, December 30, 2011

December 30, 2011

Holy Matrimony
Rebecca Ann Filipek and Anthony David Marinov

Tony and Becky, what a wonderful day, a beautiful evening. Your wedding day and always now your wedding anniversary in years ahead, the 30th of December, and on the calendar of the song of this season the Sixth Day of Christmas. And “on the Sixth Day of Christmas my True Love gave to me six geese a-laying, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens, two turtledoves, and a partridge in a pear tree.” And gifts and blessings in abundance, in this season of Christmas and as we are all ready this weekend to turn the page on the calendar and to celebrate the fresh beginning of a New Year, your first New Year together as husband and wife—and not just the beginning of a New Year but of this new chapter of your lives. I would say for myself and I know for all of us here this evening that it is a privilege and an honor and a gift and a blessing to share this evening with you, to be present as you exchange your vows and mark the formal beginning of this new adventure. Thank you for including us, and thank you most of all for all that you are together, and all that you share with us.

Of course I’ve known you, Becky, for many years, you and your family, and it has been really very enjoyable for me to spend this time over these last months with you both in preparation for this celebration and for your marriage. And Tony, it really has been great to get to know you during this time as well, and to begin to get a sense of you both together as a couple. A hint of who you will be together as husband and wife and family in the years to come. You are two thoughtful people. Both of you mature, sensitive, insightful. With a warm sense of humor. And I very much have appreciated the tenderness that you share with one another, and the sense of your friendship. Those are all such important parts of the foundation of the life you will be building now in a new way. And I know they are gifts that you will share with each other, and also with your families and friends in all the years ahead. I know when we first began to meet I thought, “this is a guy that seems just right for Becky, and she seems just right for him.”

Underneath and surrounding all of this of course the Christian family, the Church, has two words to describe what this is all about this evening as we celebrate your marriage: sacrament and vocation. In our Prayer Book service we have just heard the words, “the Covenant of Marriage was established by God in creation.” And that is a reminder for us that as we share this evening with you we are invited to see not only two people in love who are agreeing to share their lives together, but that we might see you as well sacramentally as outward and visible signs of something deeper. Echoing the reading you selected from the First Letter of St. John. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God, and he who loves is born of God and knows God.” This is a moment when you in your marriage and we with you come closer to God and are drawn deeper into a knowledge and understanding and experience of who he is, and what the real meaning of life and of all creation really is.

And we’ve said as well that God has established marriage with a purpose in mind. A purpose for all the human family, but also with a specific purpose for both of you. In the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, in a way kind of like a wedding. Young Moses is working for his Father in Law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out. He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground

We don’t actually have to take off our shoes here this evening. But I want to say that we might do so at least in our imaginations for a moment. Because the great reality here is that just as Moses at the Burning Bush came into the presence of God and discovered what the call on his life was that God had in mind for him, so here, for you. It was the beginning of a new chapter for Moses. A chapter in which he would play a key role in fulfilling the great plan that God had for his people. And so here, for you. “Take off your shoes. For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” God calls you into this relationship of marriage this evening, Becky and Tony, because he has work for you to do. We only see hints of what that will be in these beginning moments, but we do know that he has a great plan for your life together from this day forward. May you know and experience that reality this evening, in this place, on this holy ground--and in all the days you will share together in the years to come.

Now as Tony and Becky come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would invite all of us to bow our heads in a moment of silent prayer for them, that God will care for them, bless them, and protect them as they enter this new chapter of their lives together.

The Rev. Dr. Bruce M. Robison

Sunday, December 25, 2011

At Midnight, Christmas Eve

Propers for Christmas (III):
Isaiah 52: 7-10; Hebrews 1: 1-12; John 1: 1-14

Come to Bethlehem and see him whose birth the angels sing; come, adore on bended knee Christ the Lord, the newborn King.

Grant, O heavenly Father, that what we have sung with our lips we may believe in our hearts, and may always steadfastly fulfill. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Grace and peace to you this night, and we would all pray together that in the music that we hear and sing and in the words of Holy Scripture, in our prayers and in our silence and in the living presence that our Lord shares with us at the Holy Table we may know and experience blessing, peace and joy. That in a world and in lives that can be broken and full of anxiety and hurt there would be for us his gentle and tender embrace. For this midnight hour, and then in all the hours and days to come. In this place, and in all the corners of our lives. Home, work, neighborhood. The wide world. Grace and peace.

The text for my sermon this evening from the first verse of the Letter to the Hebrews, as we have just heard Ed read it: “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

The articulation of Christian faith can seem challenging at times. Theologians can fill libraries and artists and poets and preachers can do their part. Preachers and pastors and evangelists, Sunday by Sunday, in cathedrals and parish churches, in quiet conversations and in debate in the public square. Doctrines and dogma, Creeds and Confessions. All important, even essential to the life and work of the Church, to communicate the gospel far and wide and from one generation to another.

But all beginning here. “In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.

The sun sets over the village. And something happens in the stable. Emmanuel. God with us. Another way of expressing what we have heard also tonight in the first chapter of St. John: “The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.”

It is, to use a word that we’ve heard a lot lately in other contexts, an occupation. St. John’s Greek is a word that means “to pitch a tent.” “To set up camp.” The Word became flesh. And pitched his tent. He doesn’t phone it in. No conference call. No virtual meeting. He comes himself. The banner in the sky: Occupy Bethlehem! And tonight all the world is Bethlehem.

Not by force, not with coercion. But in weakness. In emptiness. At the farthest edge, in the back, out of the way. Simply a child crying in the distance, in the night. And the quiet invitation. Come and see.

Everything is here, in him. All the news we’re going to need to hear.

And as we see him born this night we also walk with him and watch with him and travel all the way to the Cross with him. Following at a distance in heart and mind. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. In his weakness our strength. In his brokenness our healing. You shall call his name Jesus, because he shall save his people from their sins. A transformational occupation. In his life, our life and our hope for this life, and for the life of the world to come. All beginning here.

In these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us. The brightness of his glory, the glory of the Father, the express image of his person, upholding all things by the word of his power.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, had a great line in his Christmas message this year, about how “in the complete mess of the first Christmas , God says, ‘Don’t worry-I’m not going to wait until you’ve got everything sorted out perfectly before I get involved with you.’”

In the complete mess. The mess of our world. War and rumors of war. Economic and social and political turmoil. The mess of our lives. Our relationships. Our mixed feelings. Doubts. Hesitations. Things done and left undone. Miserable offenders. No health in us. We have only a glimpse into the turmoil of the lives of Mary and Joseph. The conflicts and struggles of their minds and hearts. We have no idea at all who those shepherds were. The challenges of their lives. Their hopes and fears, their questions.

And then--the sky is filled with angels.

Nobody in this story is ever really ready. I sometimes say, “I wish Christmas didn’t always happen at such a busy time of year. If only there weren’t so many things going on. If only we had more time.” And you should see the adventure of the St. Andrew’s Church Office in the week before Christmas. Not pretty.

Those of us who are poets or philosophers, thinkers, skeptics, inquirers, might find ourselves asking questions about what the meaning of Christmas might be. What’s the message? But of course the whole point is that there is no “what” to talk about, really. Just a knocking at the front door.

The question is and can only be about “who is the meaning of Christmas.” Who is the message?

In the first hour of creation God spoke the universe into being by a word. And in this hour he speaks by his living presence.

It’s all Jesus here tonight. Manger and Cross. The crowded stable. The Empty Tomb. The Scriptures. The sacred music. The Bread and Wine on the Table. All Jesus. As he promised to our forefathers, Abraham and his seed forever. Though not perhaps in the way we might have expected. While we are still weak, while we are still broken, while we are still wandering. More lost than we would care to admit.

Before we’ve got everything "sorted out perfectly." Because that’s never going to happen if we’re left to ourselves. Before we’re ready. Born for us. In Bethlehem. Behind that Traveler’s Inn. Lying there on the straw.

Sometimes it seems that we were so unready, that it’s not even that we didn’t know who we were waiting for, so much as that we didn’t even know that we were waiting, at all.

And then when there is this knocking at the door, when the invitation comes, it seems out of the blue. Unexpected, undeserved, unearned. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior. In these last days. This night. Any night. Every day and night. Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing. And here he is, for us.

Welcome, Lord Jesus.

May this night be a blessing for you. May his Word find a place to be received, to be welcomed, in our lives, our homes, our minds, our hearts. To be born in us.

And may it be for you, and for those you love, grace, peace, forgiveness, mercy, hope, and a Merry Christmas.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Reading for December 24

Take a good heart, O Jerusalem: for he that gave thee that name will comfort thee.

Miserable are they that afflicted thee, and rejoiced at thy fall.

Miserable are the cities which thy children served: miserable is she that received thy sons.

For as she rejoiced at thy ruin, and was glad of thy fall: so shall she be grieved for her own desolation.

For I will take away the rejoicing of her great multitude, and her pride shall be turned into mourning.
For fire shall come upon her from the Everlasting, long to endure; and she shall be inhabited of devils for a great time.
O Jerusalem, look about thee toward the east, and behold the joy that cometh unto thee from God.

Lo, thy sons come, whom thou sentest away, they come gathered together from the east to the west by the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the glory of God.

Put off, O Jerusalem, the garment of mourning and affliction, and put on the comeliness of the glory that cometh from God for ever.

Cast about thee a double garment of the righteousness which cometh from God; and set a diadem on thine head of the glory of the Everlasting.

For God will shew thy brightness unto every country under heaven.

For thy name shall be called of God for ever The peace of righteousness, and The glory of Gods worship.

Arise, O Jerusalem, and stand on high, and look about toward the east, and behold thy children gathered from the west unto the east by the word of the Holy One, rejoicing in the remembrance of God.

For they departed from thee on foot, and were led away of their enemies: but God bringeth them unto thee exalted with glory, as children of the kingdom.

For God hath appointed that every high hill, and banks of long continuance, should be cast down, and valleys filled up, to make even the ground, that Israel may go safely in the glory of God,

Moreover even the woods and every sweetsmelling tree shall overshadow Israel by the commandment of God.

For God shall lead Israel with joy in the light of his glory with the mercy and righteousness that cometh from him.

Baruch 4:30 - 5:9

Christmas Eve, 2011

Out of the Ash

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

William Everson (Brother Antoninus, O.P.), 1912-1994

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fourth Advent, 2011

II Samuel 7: 1-11, 16; Luke 1: 26-38

It is a simple but also poetically and symbolically suggestive observation that the word Bethlehem, the little town of our Savior’s birth, is drawn from two Hebrew words, for “house” and “bread.” I’m not sure if that’s because in some deep background of prehistoric antiquity this was a village of bakers. Names and titles don’t always come about in such obvious and literal ways. But the echoing is nonetheless interesting and meaningful in a devotional way. We never have one thing at a time, and the journey through these midwinter days and nights from Nazareth to Joseph’s hometown connects us even now on the Fourth Sunday of Advent to that gathering as he took the bread in his hands and said “this is my Body, given for you.” The manger itself the Holy Table, where in our hearts and minds the hard wood of the Cross becomes real for us, where he has given himself for us and for many for the forgiveness of sins. His Mercy Seat. The home of his abundant generosity and healing and blessing.

The reading from Second Samuel builds a long line of connection from the story of King David to the story of his son King Solomon. As we hear this passage this morning we of course know already that Solomon built a great Temple on the holy hill of Zion. But we know as well that the true home of the Lord of heaven and earth is in the hearts of his people, where he is and will be enthroned forever.

And in the womb of Mary is the Word made flesh. As we noticed last week with the beautiful Clara Miller Burd Annunciation window just outside this Chapel. Hail Mary, full of grace. The Lord is with you.

Many streams, flowing together, contributing to a deeper river of meaning. At 11 o’clock this morning, as you can see in your leaflets, the whole story will unfold right up the center aisle of St. Andrew’s Church. The Angel Gabriel. Mary and Joseph, angels and shepherds, the Baby in the Manger. The Star. The Wise Men from the East, at the end of their long journey.

It’s hard to think of a story that we’ve heard more often. A child is born in Bethlehem. The town that is called “House of Bread.” Long ago and far away. And yet it is certainly true as well that every time we hear it, when we tell it to our kids and when they tell it back to us, it is fresh and new. And it is like hearing it all again for the first time.

As we turn from this Fourth Sunday of Advent, and begin the last part of our journey toward Christmas again this year, may he indeed be born again into our lives, may he find his home in our hearts, and may we be fed and nourished and sustained by him.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Third Advent, Gaudete, 2011

Isaiah 61: 1-4, 8-11; John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Gaudete in Domino semper: iterum dico, gaudete.

St. Paul, in the fourth chapter of Philippians, in St. Jerome’s great Vulgate Latin translation of the Bible, and for so many centuries in the great Churches of the West the choral Introit for this Third Advent Sunday. Gaudete. Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say, rejoice!

That’s where this Sunday gets its name, “Gaudete Sunday,” and the pink or, more precisely, “rose colored” candle on the wreath a sign for us of the tender blessing and joy we experience as we turn in our hearts and minds toward Bethlehem and begin to anticipate the birth of our Savior, whose name, the Prophet told us, would be Immanuel, “God with us.” In some churches it’s not only the candle, but also the paraments and hangings and vestments as well, “rose colored.” Which can be quite beautiful. As Dean reminded us last Sunday, we do a lot of “frolicking” in the observance of this season, but in this Advent what we are invited to is something less ephemeral, deeper. Joy.

Third Advent is a Sunday as well where on the stage of our imaginations Mary steps forward. The traditional antiphon for the day is from the Magnificat, and when I was reviewing the music for this morning I was very glad to see that Peter had chosen as our choral introit that lovely 16th century setting of the Angelus, the prayer of the words of the Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation: “Hail, Mary, full of grace. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.” We would pause as I’m sure many of us do often by the Nativity Window in the Transept and to see in the left panel the beautiful art-nouveaux style representation of the Annunciation by the stained glass artist Clara Miller Burd. One of the artistic and I think spiritual treasures of St. Andrew’s, and this the perfect Sunday of the year to notice and appreciate it again. Gaudete in Domino semper. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice.

In the reading from Isaiah the Prophet reaches back into the deep past and memory of the Biblical tradition to speak of the present and the future. In the Book of Leviticus and the Law and Torah revealed at Sinai there is a description of what was called the Year of Jubiliee. It’s a part of what is sometimes called the “Holiness Code.” The elaboration of ceremonies and practices that are intended to set apart Israel and give evidence of their identity as God’s Chosen People.

Central to the Holiness Code was the observance of the Sabbath. When God’s people would share with God in God’s perfect rest and Shalom. And if the Sabbath day was the seventh day, then the Sabbath year was the seventh year, and the Sabbath of Sabbath, seven times seven, 49 was set apart as a commandment of God as the Year of the Lord’s Favor. A festival year, a long sacred holiday, in which the fields were to lie fallow, in which debts were to be forgiven, indentured servants released from their bondage, prisoners set free, lands and other property given as collateral on loans returned to the original owner. A time of restoration and healing and renewal. Joy and peace, rest and celebration. The Sabbath Vision. And as this was a commandment of God for his people in the ordering of their economic and social lives, their family and political lives, so the Jubilee was a reflection of God’s deepest care for his people, a foretaste and anticipation of his intention and his blessing, at the heart of his Covenant relationship with them.

It’s not known whether a Year of Jubilee was ever in fact practiced among the ancient people of Israel, but its description in scripture was a sign for them of what God’s peace and God’s righteousness was all about. If it was aspirational in terms of how we should live with one another, it was also word of promise about what God will do. A promise Isaiah saw beginning to be fulfilled in his present moment, in the return home, after long years of refugee life in exile, in the reading this morning. A Jubilee moment. And a promise that the people would hold in their thoughts and prayers and imagination. God’s intention and promise, to be brought about in a complete way in the future, in the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed one. The word “rejoice” here too, for Gaudete Sunday:

I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

This is what is swirling in the background in the reading from John’s gospel this morning. God’s Sabbath, God’s Shalom. As Dean also reminded us in his sermon last Sunday, the Baptist here is at the center of these middle weeks of Advent. Last week we heard the sermon preached on the banks of the Jordan, “Repent.” A great word. I don’t know the nuances in Hebrew or Aramaic, but in Greek a wonderful word. “Metanoeite.” Translated “repent,” which is I guess a correct translation. But to unpack it. It’s not just about saying we’re sorry for something we’ve done. “Meta” means “another.” You have “physics” and then you have another kind of physics, “metaphysics.” And noeia, from the word meaning “thought” or “idea” or even “mind.” We have words like “paranoid,” which would be a thought or idea or state of mind that is disordered or separate from the right way of thinking. John the Baptist tells the people in this great imperative, “Metanoeite! It means a lot more than an expression of regret over some failure or omission or bad act, though it may include some of that. Change your mind, get a different idea, even a different state of being. Repent of the old way of being who you are, and begin to think and be something new.”

A few chapters ahead in John’s gospel Jesus gets at this idea himself when he tells Nicodemus, “you must be born again.” That’s what this word “repentance” means. To say, as we approach the Feast of the Nativity, that for him to be born, so we also must experience a new birth.

And I suppose that John’s ministry of baptism in the Jordan had a lot of associations. A reminder of the ritual washings for purification in Jewish ceremonies of the day, and of the symbolic baths that converts to Judaism would take in preparation for their reception into the community. Wash away the impurities and corruption and prepare to be made presentable, to be admitted to the holy place, where God abides. But in the Jordan also a reminder of how the Chosen People entered the promised land by crossing through that river, to become Israel, God’s people, and even a reminder of their passage through the waters of the Red Sea. To come through the water a symbolic fresh start, an amniotic journey.

What’s going on here? The question the priests and scholars ask John the Baptist this morning. What in the world do you think you are doing? Are you the one God is going to use to bring in his new kingdom, the Sabbath of Sabbaths, the Year of His Favor? Are you the one? And here on this Third Advent Sunday, of course, John steps back, and points to another, the one who is about to appear.

What it takes is a new mind, a new heart, a new birth. Metanoia. Repentance. Because what God has done in Christ and what God is about to do in our lives and in our world is a new thing. He has come to the help of his servant Israel, for he has remembered his promise of mercy. The promise he made to our fathers, to Abraham and his children forever.

The exiles return home. What was taken from them is returned. What was broken is repaired. Better than new. Where there was sickness, strength and well-being. Injustice and oppression are overturned, righteousness and kindness reign over all. Wars cease, and there is a fullness of peace and prosperity.

Third Advent Sunday, and we can see it all unfolding in the days ahead. Shepherds and angels. The Manger and the Cross. The Church School was rehearsing the Children’s Pageant yesterday, getting ready for next Sunday. About the most familiar story in the world. But every year, and every day of our lives, always fresh and new. A child is born in Bethlehem. For us. God with us. Gaudete. Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say rejoice!

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

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

St. Andrew the Apostle

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

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

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

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

Click here to read more.

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

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

El Greco, St. Andrew, 1606

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

Click here to read it all in The Catholic Encyclopedia

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Advent, 2011


Salvation to all that will is nigh;
That All, which always is all everywhere,
Which cannot sin, and yet all sins must bear,
Which cannot die, yet cannot choose but die,
Lo, faithful virgin, yields Himself to lie
In prison, in thy womb; and though He there
Can take no sin, nor thou give, yet He will wear,
Taken from thence, flesh, which death's force may try.
Ere by the spheres time was created, thou
Wast in His mind, who is thy Son and Brother;
Whom thou conceivst, conceived; yea thou art now
Thy Maker's maker, and thy Father's mother;
Thou hast light in dark, and shutst in little room,
Immensity cloistered in thy dear womb.

John Donne (1572-1631)

Advent Sunday, 2011

Mark 13: 24-37

Good morning, friends, and on this holiday weekend we would greet one another not simply with a “Happy Thanksgiving,” but with a “Happy New Year.”

Seems a little out of synch, I know. But we are all familiar with the fact that the calendar of the Church Year in our Christian family turns on a different cycle from the secular calendar, and this Advent Sunday is the springboard, new and renewing in the seasons of our lives, as we are launched once again into the great pattern and narrative of the Holy Story. We look across the Sundays of Advent to Christmas and Epiphany, Lent and Holy Week and Easter, Pentecost and Trinity Sunday out there on the far distant horizon.

With prayers always that as we move through this deeply familiar cycle and pattern and travel this long road together once again there will be this year and each year a deepening in our minds and our hearts of knowledge and spiritual understanding, an opportunity for each one of us to grow in grace and love, in tenderness of heart and holiness of life, a spirit of mercy and forgiveness, knowing Christ and making him known, and in hopeful expectation of what God has for us in this life and in the life to come.

Having said all that, we would just say this morning that “Happy New Year” may not be the most helpful or appropriate greeting for Advent Sunday. Perhaps with the background images of holiday festivities, parties, champagne, and swinging around the dance floor to the wonderful music of Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians. “Happy.”

I love all those things about New Year’s Eve, and then a New Year’s Day of football games on the television and pork and sauerkraut and all the traditional observances of that holiday. But Advent Sunday is different, as we hear the deep poetry of Archbishop Cranmer’s collect—in my opinion anyway one of the most elegant and graceful and beautiful sentences in all the literature of the English language. For more than 500 years this the theme and guiding motif of the New Year in our Anglican family: give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility.

So we’re shopping for presents and enjoying holiday parties and wonderful meals and fun wintertime family activities, which is all fine and good. But the Church here is inviting us to begin the year together in what I would call a deeper place and a more serious place. At a point of decision-making about the fundamental values and loyalties and commitments that shape our identity. Who we are, and whose we are, and how we live that out, in our minds and our hearts, by word and deed. Casting away the works of darkness. Turning to the Father. Receiving from him as a gift, a new garment, the armour of light.

As we have our Advent wreath before us in this season we have begun to hear one version of the meaning of each of the candles and each of the weeks of this season. But just to say that from ancient days the four great themes of this season are death and judgment, heaven and hell. Four Sundays, four candles of the wreath. Which perhaps will catch us by surprise for a moment. Not the kinds of things we are especially likely to think about while we’re standing in line with the kids waiting to visit Santa at the department store. “Happy New Year” indeed! But again this ancient message of the Church to say that these are the four great topics that are essential for us to consider as we prepare ourselves to celebrate the awesome and breathtaking and even terrifying mystery of the Nativity of our Lord, and the miracle of Incarnation.

It isn’t so much about sleigh bells and snowflakes. Not even about a beautiful Church building and a magnificent choir and all the traditional gatherings of family and friends. More about cutting to the chase. About moving past gimmicks and unrealities and illusions, self-deception, superficialities, any spirit of denial. Which we all have and own in abundance. Getting down to brass tacks. Ultimate concerns. Last things. To ask what we’re really here for, anyway. Not just the presenting circumstance. The easier rationale. Of hope, a hope that is founded on something real and substantial, that comes as a gift from the only one who can give this gift, and that comes to rest in a sincere and deep place in our heart.

Death and judgment, heaven and hell. The point isn’t to stir up some kind of anxiety, some fear that a heavily armed policeman is going to swoop down upon us to catch us, to hurt us. The point is instead that death has been overcome, that the judgment is given on our behalf, that the crisis of heaven and hell has become now for us the promise of life. Forgiveness, and healing, mercy and blessing and life eternal.

Not about anxiety, not about fear. But if it could be in this new year to bring up in us instead a sense of longing. To meet the one who comes with healing in his wings, light and life. The Desire of Nations—one of his great titles. To say as we turn to this new year that what aches in us and what weighs us down shall all be lifted up and transformed. That the God who in Christ has begun this new work will bring that work to completion in a way that is beyond our understanding, but not beyond our desiring, not beyond our hope.

About that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. Therefore, keep away—for you do not know when the master of the house will come . . . .

Happy New Year, then, for us all, this Advent Sunday. What we’re really here for. Not far ahead, the Traveler’s Inn, the Stable, the Baby in the Manger. The Angels singing. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. Once again this year, we’ll get there before we know it. Never quite ready, but excited nonetheless. Standing on tiptoes, looking forward.

Like the Shepherds rushing down from the surrounding hill country, to see this new thing that God has done. This new thing that changes everything.

Happy New Year indeed.

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

Advent, 2011

A lovely meditation and overview of Advent, from the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Advent, 2011

For a couple of years now I've posted this lovely poem by Jude Simpson as an introductory meditation for Advent.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

St. Andrew the Apostle

Patronal Festival: St. Andrew the Apostle (tr. from 11/30)
Deuteronomy 30: 11-14; Psalm 19: 1-6;
Romans 10: 8b-18; Matthew 4: 18-22

Good morning all, and grace and peace on this day. Especially a warm word of welcome to visitors and friends, and of course to our good friends once again this year of the Syria Highlanders Pipe and Drum Band. It is always just so enjoyable to have you with us, and we are very glad indeed that as you share in our ministry today we are able to share with you in your support of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children. A great cause, and thank you for your creative and meaningful service on its behalf.

By custom going back at least a few decades the people of this parish have set aside the Sunday before the Thanksgiving holiday to observe our patonal festival, the Feast of St. Andrew the Apostle, moving or “translating” the observance from its official date on the calendar, November 30, to this Sunday. This our “name day,” then, and if on Whitsunday in the spring we observe the birthday of the Church, this day is one we can lift up for our own local celebration: bagpipes and cookies and a time of celebration that stands for me anyway as something of the gateway to the season ahead, with Thanksgiving and then Advent Sunday and all the way to Christmas and the New Year ahead . . . .

I guess I would say that we don’t have any record that I know of, any that our historian Marilyn Evert has shared with me, anyway, about the process of deliberation that our parochial ancestors may have engaged in, in the winter and spring of 1836 and 1837, as they prepared to leave their spiritual home and the warm embrace of Trinity Church and to venture out to the planting of a new congregation. There are obviously lots of candidates that might have been considered.

Why Andrew? Or so we might wonder. Back in the early part of the 19th century the descendants of the hard-scrabble Scotch-Irish farmers who had settled much of this region a generation or two earlier were still one of the dominant ethnic and cultural groups, of course—though by the 1830’s the population was beginning to have a much stronger Germanic bias. And in any event, those Scotch-Irish were mostly Presbyterians, not Episcopalians. But perhaps the selection of Scotland’s patron saint was a nod in that direction.

My own preference, though, is to think about Andrew more thematically than in terms of nationality or ethnicity. Who he was as a follower of Jesus, as we meet him in the New Testament. And there of course we get just a few stories. But stories that are quite compelling. This morning’s reading from St. Matthew gives us this glimpse of the beginning of Andrew’s life as a disciple, as he and his brother Simon Peter are called from their boats by Jesus with this great vocational promise, “Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.”

In the first chapter of St. John’s gospel there is another story in which it is Andrew who meets Jesus first, and who invites his brother to come to meet Jesus, saying “We have found the Messiah.” In John also a little further on in the sixth chapter there is the story of the time when Jesus was teaching and a great crowd had gathered in a deserted place, and we read there that it was Andrew who brought to Jesus the little boy who had in his knapsack the five loaves and two fish. From which, the great miracle of the Feeding of the Multitudes. Later too in the twelfth chapter it is Andrew to whom the inquiring Greeks first come, saying first to Philip that wonderful line, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” And then Philip goes to Andrew, and it is Andrew who then brings them all to Jesus.

And stepping away from scripture, there are these ancient traditions of Andrew, in the life of the Pentecost Church, traveling out as apostle and evangelist to Scythia, which is modern Kazakhstan and Russia. And then. Martyr, as we see by the traditional X-shaped cross on which he was crucified. Witness. So as our old friend St. Francis said, “Preach always. When necessary, use words.” Clearly Andrew was proficient as an evangelist both in word and deed.

I like to think myself that all this is what was somehow rumbling around in our ancestors’ minds as the question of a patron for a new parish in the rapidly growing and expanding city of Pittsburgh was being discussed. Vibrance and vitality, stretching to reach more with the Good News, to be witnesses, in words and in action, living signs of his presence in this expanding community.

In the 1880’s there was the foundation of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew, which is the oldest mission and evangelism society in the Episcopal Church. And I know just in the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking a good deal about the time I spent in ministry at St. Andrew’s Church in State College Pennsylvania. A parish that was founded by a chapter of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew at that time at St. John’s Church in Bellefont. And I wonder how many of the “St. Andrew’s” Churches you would find across the Episcopal Church founded in the 20th Century had a beginning in that way. Probably quite a few. St. Andrew got around, and he is in this way still moving around. In the days of the Pentecost Church, and back at the beginning of the 19th century, and here with us this morning.

The Psalm appointed for the Feast of St. Andrew, Caeli enarrant, it’s Latin title, “The heavens declare the glory of God.” A great line and theme for this day, as the pipers fill this place with song.

Andrew was always meeting people, connecting with people—family, friends, co-workers, fellow-travellers, complete strangers—and day by day what his gift seemed to be was that through him and his words and his life and service, there was for them good news. It wasn’t about Andrew. He’s never the star attraction, the one at center stage or in the spotlight. But in all these stories, to meet Andrew is to find your way to Jesus. To stand in his presence and to come to know him as Lord and Savior.

We’re our own quirky expression of that I think. We would aspire to be, in this time and place. Where Christ in his gracious presence blesses us with compassion and forgiveness, healing, grace and peace, and a vision of a future hope. In the end it wasn’t ever about St. Andrew, and of course in the end it isn’t about “St. Andrew’s,” either, but about the one we meet, who calls us into relationship and discipleship and to the beginning of a new life of faith.

A hundred and seventy-four years ago or so a brave and bold group of Christian missionary people set out to begin a new work here in this our City of Pittsburgh. Not to hide the light under the bushel basket, but to shine in a new way. To declare the glory of God and to fill the heavens with new voices, as our choir and we all of us continue to sing all these years later. And to extend that word of St. Andrean invitation that has rolled on down through the years and centuries. To say, “I have someone I want you to meet. He’s the one we’ve been waiting for.”

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Twenty Second after Pentecost: Baptism

Proper 28A2
Zeph. 1: 7, 12-18; Mt 25: 14-30
Baptism of Cole Alessandro West

A hint of winter in the early morning air, and the leaves mostly down, and the afternoon turning toward night earlier and earlier, and so all the signs of the year coming to an end. Almost as though the turn of the season is trying to echo thematically the weight of this season of the Church Year, which is informally named “Pre-Advent.” Before the wheel can begin its next upward arc, it all will need to complete the cycle and fall at last into the point of rest.

The lessons this morning look to the end. The Final Accounting. The Last Judgment. Dies Irae, the Day of Wrath. When the lights come on, and when there is no place left to hide, and when we are seen and known exactly as we are. No costumes, no make-up. Zephaniah talks about those who say to themselves that “the Lord will not do good, neither will he do evil.” He’s just going to leave us alone to do as we please. Well, we’ll see. Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps that echoed as we think about the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25. To think about how in our own sense of stewardship and accountability and trust we also may live in deep denial. In the fourteenth chapter of St. Luke Jesus says, “from him to whom much has been given, much will be expected.” Yet it does seem like we live all our lives, most of the time, as though that master will never return. As though there will be no last chapter to the story. As though we will be able to keep kicking the can down the road forever. It’s hard not to make some connections here to the horrible story out of Penn State in these last days.

As they say in the Twelve Step groups, “Denial isn’t just a river in Egypt.” It is a deep and broad river, and one we all do a fair amount of swimming in . . . . If you think he isn’t coming. Well, think again.

At least that is the perspective of the Prophet, persistently the word of scripture both Old Testament and New. A call to wake up, before it’s too late. To get our act together. To put our relationships in order. Relationships to one another and our relationship to God. With honesty and integrity. Walking the walk if we’re going to talk the talk. There is a day coming, says the prophet. There is a day coming, says Jesus in the parable, when the one who returns will call us in and take out our books and check the accounts. If there is a sense of urgency that we can feel in that.

The contrast for us is pretty dramatic. Fall turns toward winter and our thoughts turn toward last things, and then all at once there is a splash of water in the font and a prayer and a dab of spiced oil. And we are drawn especially here at St. Andrew’s to turn our eyes up over the High Altar to see that lovely window by Louis Comfort Tiffany, and to hear the words of Jesus. “Bring the children, don’t turn them away.” And to see him take them up into his arms and bless them. And to hear a promise in that, God’s promise, in Jesus.

I love the T.S. Eliot poem East Coker, part of the Four Quartets series, as it begins.

In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth.

And the last few lines:

Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.

Can we hold it all in our minds? Contradiction and mystery. Beginnings, endings, all folded in on one another. Birth and death. Decay and renewal. And this morning, God bless him indeed: Cole West. What a mystery and contradiction he is. Each one of us are. Brother, son, grandson, nephew, cousin, new Christian life here today, mid-November and not just the end but in the end the beginning, and the journey to Bethlehem and already if we can hear them in the distance over the bagpipes of St. Andrew next Sunday, the angels singing to shepherds on the hillside about this new thing God has done. And already if we can hear them from here, in all that distance, the soldiers laughing and talking among themselves, without a care in the world, as they lift their hammers and begin to drive in the nails. Contradiction and mystery. Endings and beginnings.

As Jesus asked us to do. A splash of water and a prayer and a dab of spiced oil, and a November morning. May the whole story of our salvation open in our minds and rest in our hearts. Call us to an awareness of our brokenness, stir up in us our desire to repent and be reconciled, bring us to himself in all refreshment and renewal beyond all beginnings and all endings.

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

St. Andrew's Lecture, 2011

The Fourteenth Annual St. Andrew's Lecture was presented last evening by Dr. Philip Harrold, Associate Professor of Church History at Trinity School for Ministry in Ambridge, Pennsylvania. The audience for the Lecture this year--which was co-sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh--included a rich mix of parishioners of our East End Episcopal and Anglican Diocese congregations, clergy, and faculty and students from Trinity School for Ministry and the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. All to commemorate and celebrate the 400th Anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Holy Bible. The Lecture itself was fascinating, the questions that followed were thoughtful, and the reception afterwards was most enjoyable indeed. We expect that a video file of Dr. Harrold's lecture will be available via the St. Andrew's website, , in the next few weeks.

Englishing the Scriptures and Evangelizing the Nation:
The Theology of Translation in the King James Bible
by Philip Harrold, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Church History
Trinity School for Ministry,

St. Andrew’s Lecture, Friday, November 11, 2011
St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, PA
[this lecture will be published in a forthcoming volume of Trinity Journal for Theology & Ministry,
Trinity School for Ministry, Executive Editor: The Rev. Dr. Grant LeMarquand]

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light…
[from the Preface to the Authorized (King James)
Version, 1611, par. 05]

This is perhaps the most quoted line from the Preface to the Authorized (King James) Version in its original 1611 debut. It is itself a window to the mind of the King James translators and their astonishing achievement—one that we continue to celebrate even in this 400th anniversary year. It is also a window to the ongoing task of translation and the many blessings and challenges this presents to Bible readers in our own day.

In terms of its reception, the King James Version is, by far, the most successful translation of the Scriptures in the modern era. It has been “authorized” as much by its popularity as any explicit sanction from the powers of church or state. It was practically the only Bible that English-speaking Protestants read from 1670 to 1885, and only after 1986 did another English translation—the New International Version—begin to edge it out. Even in today’s burgeoning market for modern English Bibles, the ‘good ol’ King James’ retains a venerable luster, its diction still dignified, if somewhat dusty, when heard in our solemn assemblies.

But what about that dustiness? We acknowledge, of course, that the singularity and sonority of the Authorized Version are no longer the claims to fame they once were. Numerous historians and literati have acknowledged, and in some cases mourned, the loss of the King James’ near universal status. No longer do we look to this text as the principal source of a common religious language—one that always seemed old and therefore reliable, uniquely deserving of God’s word. That is not my concern this evening, however. While its decline in status is itself a fascinating topic for discussion, its remarkable ascendency presents us with quite another range of issues that are equally pressing and provoking—especially concerning the nature of religious language and the challenges we always face in conveying what God has said.

In revisiting the Jacobean world, I hope to show you the kind of window that this text opened, in terms of its Englishing the Scriptures and evangelizing the nation —its theology and praxis of translation. In my view, the King James Bible’s achievement is best explained by tracing its distinctive clarity and richness to a non-naïve hermeneutics of trust. We need not venture far beyond the scriptural texts themselves to see this; I will focus most of our attention, in fact, on the Preface from which I have already quoted. Finally, because I am more a historian than a theologian, I will call very briefly upon two brilliant theologians for help: Rowan Williams and, of course, Bob Dylan.

Let’s begin by noting the urgency that surrounded the production and dissemination of English Bibles in the sixteenth- and seventeenth-centuries. It is well to remember that biblical scholarship, translation, and literacy were foundational to the Protestant Reformation. “[N]othing could be more important,” Adam Nicolson observes, “than a text which was both accurate and intelligible.” From the onset, English Protestants struggled to find a translation that everyone—Puritan and high churchman alike—could read in common and with confidence as true to the word of God. John Tyndale’s covert translation in the 1520s had been associated with the vernacular Bibles of peasant uprisings on the Continent or, closer to home, the machinations of troublesome weavers and wool merchants who had financed its printing and smuggling into England. No wonder it was banned, as all vernacular Bibles had been banned since the 1408 Constitutions of Oxford. Even loyal churchmen like John Colet, dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral-London, had been barred from preaching in 1513 for having translated the Lord’s Prayer into English.

Ironically, the first officially approved English Bible—the Matthew Bible, which Henry VIII endorsed in 1537—was largely Tyndale’s work. But like its successors, most especially the Puritan-sponsored Geneva Bible (some 20 years later), it contained copious study notes—over 2,000 in all!—with a scandalous Puritan slant. Not unlike today’s study Bibles, it told the reader how to interpret the biblical text, often in a way that was decidedly at odds with the sensibilities of the Anglican establishment. Ultimately, it was the marginalia, as much as the translations of particular words in the text, that sealed the fates of these early English Bibles.

The immediate recourse was to scale back on margin notes which, of course, raised questions concerning the locus of authoritative interpretation. Another maneuver was the publication of enormous folio-sized Bibles that were simply too big to carry around or too expensive for ordinary people to afford. This led to the appropriately named Great Bible in 1539, and, interestingly, this is how the King James Bible first appeared in 1611. In the intervening years, the Bishops Bible (1568) had been promulgated as the official English version for the Church of England, but it was decidedly royalist and anti-Puritan, beginning with the crowded frontispiece showing Queen Elizabeth and her hierarchy of bishops. It also happened to be chocked full of inaccuracies that embarrassed the Church and exasperated its Puritan critics, inspiring even more enthusiasm for the more refined, yet proscribed, Geneva Bible.

So, by the time of an unprecedented gathering of Puritans and Bishops at Hampton Court Palace in 1604, England was deeply unsettled regarding the prospect for an English Bible that could satisfy all sides in an increasingly fractious Church and literate public. Little wonder, then, that when a moderate Puritan scholar by the name of John Reynolds (president of Corpus Christi College-Oxford) proposed a new English translation, the Archbishop of Canterbury, John Bancroft immediately spoke in opposition: “If every man’s humor were followed,… there would be no end of translating,” he retorted. The king, still quite new to the English throne, responded more favorably, knowing that a new translation might serve his magisterial concerns for order and stability. A superior text might also displace, at long last, the Geneva Bible with its notes “very partial, untrue, seditious, and savoring too much of dangerous and traitorous conceits.”

Accordingly, James I expressed his wishes concerning the authorizing of a new English translation:

His Highness wished, that some especial pains should be taken in that behalf for one uniform translation… and this to be done by the best learned of both the Universities, after them to be reviewed by the Bishops, and the chief learned of the Church; from them to be presented to the Privy Council; and lastly to be ratified by his Royal authority; to be read in the whole Church, and no other.

Note the king’s expectations regarding the quality and scope of the work to be undertaken as well as the tight control required to pull it off. Premier scholars from the Universities and oversight of the whole of the Church’s hierarchy, the king’s council, and his own authority as royal governor were lined up to safeguard the project. In keeping with his personal motto, “blessed are the peacemakers,” James I envisioned a Bible that would unify, rather than divide, elevate, rather than succumb to the baser instincts of partiality in an age already ridden with “insistent individuality.” In satisfying a constituency that was torn between a penchant for the word and a fearful clinging to the power of symbol, James set in motion what would eventually become his only lasting achievement in the religious life of his people: a vernacular Bible for the whole English nation.

Englishing the Scriptures in the terms set forth by James I meant taking full advantage of the inherent fluidity of the language in order to evoke the grandeur of sacred writ and the legitimacy of a sacred office—the divinely appointed king. Everyone knew that the chief reason he found the Puritans’ Geneva Bible so repulsive was that it finessed the wording of certain passages in such a way as to accentuate the failings, especially the tyrannies, of rulers. The word ‘tyrant’ was, in fact, used more than 400 times where other terms for monarchs could have been used just as well. We have to remember that the king’s conceit was monumental: “If you will consider the attributes of God,” he later informed Parliament, “you shall see how they agree in the person of a king.” Not surprisingly, he expected his Bible to bless his crown, if only through the subtleties of word choices and phrasing.

But there was another side to the king that proved, in the end, to be of tremendous benefit to the work of translation. His personal interest in the Scriptures encompassed a deep appreciation for the power of language, especially religious language, to evoke the “sparkles of divinity” that he likewise claimed for himself. Thanks, in part, to the literary prowess of his chief translator and supremely loyal subject, Lancelot Andrewes, James’s Bible was driven by the idea of majesty. Adam Nicolson explains:

[The King James Bible’s] method and its voice are far more regal than demotic. Its archaic formulations, its consistent attention to a grand and heavily musical rhythm are the vehicles by which that majesty is infused into the body of the text. Its qualities are those of grace, stateliness, scale, power. There is no desire to please here; only a belief in the enormous and overwhelming divine authority, of which royal authority, ‘the powers that be’ as they translated the words of St. Paul, was an adjunct and extension.

Thus, from a royal ideology arose a literary strategy that aimed at dignity and richness. And, in the hands of the king’s translators, this Jacobean agenda was in some ways redeemed by painstaking attention to the power of well-chosen words and delicately crafted phrases. In the midst of their well-supervised endeavor emerged a theory and, indeed, a theology of translation that has inspired the ongoing work of translation to this day.

Before we proceed to that topic, however, we need to say something about the actual work of translation. Time does not permit me to explore the intricacies of the translation process—a complex project that spanned a period of two years and nine months, involving some fifty translators divided into six so-called “companies,” each taking on a portion of the biblical canon and following a letter of instruction with 15 “rules” drafted by the king himself. The instructions began with an insistence that the Bishops Bible serve as the normative text—“to be followed, and as little altered as the Truth of the Original [languages] will permit.” Any precedents derived from the ancient Fathers for word choices were also to be preserved. Certain “ecclesiastical words” like ‘church’ and ‘priest’ were to be preferred over Puritan innovations like ‘congregation’ or ‘elder.’ And, most conspicuously, margin notes were not permitted except to explain Hebrew or Greek words that had no immediate English equivalent. The word ‘circumlocution’ was used in reference to this literary operation—a word that, in the early seventeenth-century, referred to an interpretation that “set forth a thing more gorgeous, or else to hide it.” That is to say, “the words of this translation… could embrace both gorgeousness and ambiguity.” This, according to Nicolson, was “the heart of the new Bible as an irenicon, an organism that absorbed and integrated difference, that included ambiguity and by doing so established peace.”

Now let us turn to the theological implications of this project as they are laid out for us in the original Preface to the King James Bible. A moderate Puritan—a court Puritan, no less—by the name of Miles Smith was given the honor of writing the piece, “buoyant with enthusiasm and with a quality that can only be called grace.” Before serving on the First Oxford Company, which was assigned the Old Testament prophets, Smith had distinguished himself as a classical scholar and “orientalist” (fluent in ‘Chaldiac, Syriac, and Arabic’) while enjoying the benefices (endowments) of a prebendary at Exeter Cathedral and the rectory of Hartlebury in Worcestershire. He was also recruited to make the final revision of the Old Testament, a daunting task, no doubt, but one that he performed well enough to earn the favor of the king himself. The “gentle reader” addressed throughout the Preface is the English man and woman who share the king’s “zeal to promote the common good”—that opening phrase of the Preface that identifies so readily the civic function of the new Bible.

Smith’s Preface demonstrates, in fact, the literary via media of the project: avoiding the excessive “scrupulosity” that he himself attributed to fellow Puritans while, at the same time shunning the “obscurity of the papists.” There remains, however, a desire for clarity, on the one hand, and richness, on the other, and once we get past the language of commonweal we see this dual quest expressed in overtly evangelical terms. This can be illustrated in the three fundamentals of Smith’s theology of translation: the logic of illumination, the Spirit of the Word, and the sense of the words.

The Logic of Illumination

In his “praise of the Holy Scriptures,” Smith draws a kind of flowchart of derivations on which all work of translation depends: “But now what piety without truth? What truth (what saving truth) without the Word of God? What Word of God (whereof we may be sure) without the Scripture?” Did you catch that? Piety derives from saving truth which derives from the sure Word of God which derives or, in this instance, depends somehow on the Scriptures. We can assume, quite reasonably, that in the final link of this golden chain, Smith is thinking about the illumination of Scripture to the reader, not its inspiration. No Puritan, and certainly no Calvinist, would have subordinated God’s Word to written words (Scripture); that would, after all, undermine the authority of the Scriptures themselves. No, this is not a declaration of Scripture’s authority so much as it is a description of Scripture’s effects.

The logic inferred in this statement retraces what happens in the encounter between the reader and the biblical text. As we read the Scriptures, he says, we encounter saving truth in the sure Word of God. The results we call piety, for the “high and divine” words make us wise unto salvation, instruct us when we are ignorant, “bring us home” when we are “out of the way,” reform us when we are “out of order,” comfort us when in “heaviness,” “quicken us” when “dull,” and “inflame us’ when “cold.” These effects are evidence of the unique “perfection” we find in Scripture, and Smith is happy to turn to the early Fathers to amplify his point; Tertullian, Justin Martyr, Cyril of Jerusalem, and Saint Basil all bearing witness to the “fullness” of the biblical text. Smith’s gentle readers are reminded of the pantry of “wholesome food,” and the “physician’s shop” of remedies that awaits them as they turn to the life-giving and life-healing Word in the written words. Indeed, he declares, “happy is the man that delighteth in the Scripture, and thrice happy that meditateth in it day and night.”

The Spirit of the Word

This entire operation is, of course, a work of the Holy Spirit. It is crucial that Smith situate all aspects of reader response in a robustly Trinitarian framework. At this point, he weaves the always pressing issue of authority back into the picture:

The original thereof being from heaven, not from earth; the author being God, not man; the indicter, the Holy Spirit, not the wit of the Apostles or Prophets; the penmen such as were sanctified from the womb, and endued with a principal portion of God’s Spirit; the matter, verity, piety, purity, uprightness; the form, God’s Word, God’s testimony, God’s oracles, the Word of truth, the Word of salvation, etc., the effects, light of understanding, stableness of persuasion, repentance from dead works, newness of life, holiness, peace, joy in the Holy Ghost; lastly, the end and reward of the study thereof, fellowship with the saints, participation of the heavenly nature, fruition of an inheritance immortal, undefiled, and that never shall fade away . . .”

What a lively scene (!), moving from God’s authorship, the Word of truth and salvation coming down from heaven, and the Holy Spirit’s convicting and convincing activities—all of this applied initially to the microcosm of the reader, then opening out to the fellowship of the saints; and from the reader in time, to the reader’s participation in the Trinitarian life for all eternity.

Here is the “window” that translation opens—the window that lets in the same light that we associate with illumination:

Translation it is that openeth the window, to let in the light; that breaketh the shell, that we may eat the kernel; that putteth aside the curtain, that we may look into the most holy place; that removeth the cover of the well, that we may come by the water, even as Jacob rolled away the stone from the mouth of the well, by which means the flocks of Laban were watered.

The work of translation opens windows, breaks shells, removes covers, and rolls away stones that would deny us access to the light, the kernel, the holy place, and the well of God’s Word. It does so by extending the activity of the Holy Spirit into the particular languages we speak in everyday life—the “vulgar tongue,” as it was called in Smith’s day, or what today we would refer to as the ‘vernacular.’ “Indeed,” he observes, without translation into the vulgar tongue, the unlearned are but like children at Jacob’s well (which was deep) without a bucket, or something to draw with…”

The Sense of the Words

Given the logic of illumination and the Spirit of the Word, Smith asserts with confidence that it is indeed possible to “deliver the sense” of the Word of God in the particular words and phrases of vernacular language. He makes his case with a short and someone gritty history of translation. Remembering that the Greek Septuagint, despite its imperfections, was good enough for the apostles: “the Word of God being set forth in Greek, becometh hereby like a candle set upon a candlestick…” The seventy translators were not “prophets,” he insists; rather, they were mere “interpreters” who did many things well, “yet as men” they stumbled and fell through oversight, ignorance, by unwarranted addition and subtraction as they set about their task. Even so, the Apostles discerned the sense in the Greek translation “according to the truth of the Word, as the Spirit gave them utterance.” History lesson number one: the work of translation is actually a work of interpretation, and no interpretation is perfect due to the limits of the human condition. Nevertheless, the Spirit delivers the sense of the Word.

In the early church, new translations appeared, especially in Latin. The best work was marked by reliance on the “fountains” of the original Hebrew or Greek and a certain set of virtues associated with the task itself: “great learning, judgement, industry and faithfulness.” Jerome, of course, fit the profile nicely, but Smith is quick to note that the writer of the Vulgate was not the only translator in the Patristic era. John Chrysostom and Theodoret, and countless individuals working in Syria, Egypt, India, Persia, and Ethiopia—even the Venerable Bede in England—were busily turning out the Scriptures in vulgar tongues. Clearly the second lesson to learn from this history is that translating the Word of God into a mother tongue “is not a quaint conceit lately taken up…” Furthermore, the best work of translation has, from antiquity, always been done for evangelical purposes: to edify the unlearned “which hungered and thirsted after righteousness, and had souls to be saved.” Translators are after the sense of the Word that saves.

In the medieval period, Smith finds these lessons lost on a Roman Church that cared less for its children by depriving them of the “light of the Scripture.” Up to the present day, the papacy had required special licenses from local bishops and “Inquisitors” to read the Scriptures in English. Recalling such Roman tyrannies, Smith’s energetically Protestant side appears in a sudden burst of gratitude to James I for so graciously permitting the new Bible, especially with all previous translations so “maturely considered and examined.” And in that careful examination, it can be demonstrated—to the chagrin of the “Romanists” who refuse to hear and dare to burn the Word translated—that “the sense and meaning, as well as man’s weakness would enable,” has indeed expressed the Word by “the Spirit of grace.”

So the third and final lesson to learn from the history of translation is that God’s saving purposes will not be thwarted by those who shun the light of His Word. And of more immediate importance, the human fallibility evidenced even within “the house of God” is insufficient to impede the ongoing task of translation. For, as history has shown, “nothing is begun and perfected at the same time, and the later thoughts are thought to be the wiser: so if we building upon their foundation that went before us, and being holpen [sic] by their labors, do endeavor to make that better which they left so good; no man, we are sure, hath cause to mislike us; they, we persuade ourselves, if they were alive, would thank us.” In effect, Smith is expressing his confidence in the continual operation of the Holy Spirit such that an abiding “sense” of the Word can be discerned with ever increasing refinement. That is about as close to a self-congratulatory pat-on-the-back that we get as Smith concludes his historical argument.

* * *

We have seen how the logic of illumination, the Spirit of the word, and now the sense of the words constitutes the theology of translation that, according to Miles Smith, guided the work of the King James translators. I would now like to conclude with some thoughts on the ‘Englishing’ and the ‘evangelizing’ that accompanied this work. This also prompts some final reflections on the theory of translation that originated in this theology and its implications for you and I as gentle readers of the Bible today.

You will recall that clarity and richness were to be the hallmarks of the new translation. Given the limited use of margin notes, the text was itself to reflect what Smith calls a “variety” or “diversity of sense.” We have just learned that ‘sense’ was a profoundly spirited understanding of how the written words served the divine Word. But in the word-smithing of the translators, ‘delivering the sense’ also stood for a particular kind of literary technique. Instead of resorting to margins that prompted readers to dogmatize the Scriptures, Smith and his colleagues sought out words and phrases that evoked, where possible, a rich multivalence of meaning within the text. In a very practical way, this brought the burgeoning vocabulary of the English language into the service of communicating the sense of God’s Word. This was not an Englishing of the divine Word into ordinary, everyday prose, however, but the elevation of carefully selected vocabulary to a vitalizing level of sonority and dignity. As the translators, according to Nicolson, “plumbed and searched for the essence of the meaning,” they opened a window to majesty and multiple layers of meaning and signification.

Surprisingly, the King James Bible manifests this majesty through an economy of words and a rigorous attempt at literal or word-for-word translation. There is a “passionate exactness” to the word choices that had an aesthetic as well as a moral value that would satisfy a lingering demand in the Reformed tradition for “high fidelity reproduction.” But always the meticulous attention to word choices was governed by the sound(s) of the words and their visual evocations as much as their meaning. This meant that some words were chosen for their metaphorical value and, in fact, their ambiguity. Imagine a room of twelve- to fifteen divines all rattling off these words and phrases to audibly test their impact on fellow listeners. Such exercises, Nicolson concludes, were as much about euphony as accuracy—“if it sounds right, it is right.” If this can be properly called a literal approach to interpretation, it is certainly extraordinary in its attention to the atmospherics of words and what some might call the “dynamic equivalence” of metaphor.

Englishing the Scriptures was always, however, an evangelistic enterprise that had communal and, according to James I’s intentions, national implications. Smith is unflinching in his determination to produce a Bible that not only exercises the “wits,” and weans “the curious from loathing” the “plainness” of the text, but also “stirs up … devotion to crave the assistance of God’s Spirit by prayer.” In this regard, the “variety of translations” [within the new Bible] was profitable because it brought readers together as “brethren” in “conference” to “find out … the sense.” He imagines a communal hermeneutic—perhaps one that even widens to the scale of the nation. And it is a trusting and, indeed, trustworthy hermeneutic that achieves its coherence and discerns the “sense” with the necessary aid of the Holy Spirit. Ultimately, it is this sort of encounter with the Word that removes “the scales from our eyes, the veil from our hearts, opening our wits, that we may understand his Word, enabling our hearts, yea correcting our affections, that we may love it above gold and silver, yea that we may love it to the end.”

I promised that I would end with Rowan Williams and Bob Dylan. What, perhaps, is most remarkable about Miles Smith’s four-hundred year-old Preface to the King James Bible is how its aspirations continue to fire the imaginations of those committed to the ongoing work of translation. We live in an age that can seem both parched and flooded in its religious language. We bring to our texts—both sacred and profane—a penchant for intellectualization and analysis that can confuse what was clear or reduce what was rich. Think of those Dylan songs that beg some sort of direct experience:

Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain
That could hold you dear lady from going insane
That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain
Of your useless and pointless knowledge.
Smith’s vocabulary of deep wells and replenishing buckets of living water has a certain resonance about it. Certainly we live in an age when our “useless and pointless knowledge” often get in the way of meaning, of “delivering the sense” of the thing.

Rowan Williams speaks to this in his own lecture commemorating the King James achievement, and what he says about the work of translation is true, I think, for the faithful reading of Scripture in general. “To translate,” he says, “is to be taken up into the divine act of uncovering, deciphering the world, God’s ‘publishing’ of a readable text in which we can see both the meaning of what he has done and the present effects of it.” That is, indeed, the logic of illumination that Miles Smith assumed in concert with the Spirit of the Word, yielding the sense of the words. May that noble ambition be our own today as we, by God’s grace, we continue to English the Scriptures and evangelize the nations.

November 12, 2011

Holy Matrimony
Jessica Lynn Spaid and Timothy Edward Schweinberg
Canticles 2:10-13, 8:6-7; I Corinthians 13

Tim and Jessica, what I want to say first to you, and I know I’m speaking for all the family and friends gathered here this afternoon, is thank you. It is for us all, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you as witnesses and as supporters and cheering fans as you exchange the vows and promises, the words, and the commitments of the heart, that will make you one in Christ, as husband and wife. It’s a great day! We’ve been thinking about it and planning for it and involved in all kinds of preparation for a while now, and when we started this date seemed a ways away—but now, time has flown by, and here we are. Congratulations to you, as I know the years of your friendship and deepening relationship have been rich in so many ways, and as I know that the story that is yet to be told of the life and family you will share as husband and wife will be a great one.

The lesson that you selected, first from the Old Testament book of Canticles, or the Song of Solomon, and then from St. Paul, First Corinthians 13, are wonderful and very appropriate readings for this day. The Song of Solomon is a love song, through and through, a poetic expression of the deepest passion and compassion of the human heart, as we know that in our deepest and most intimate relationships, and as we would understand through that, that we are for at least a brief moment in this world catching a glimpse of the deep love, the passion and the compassion, that is at the heart of God’s life, and that we are all ultimately destined for. This day, the commitments you bring, the words and promises, speak about who you are today, and also about who we are all destined to become, God’s hope and dream for each one of us since the beginning of the world.

Many waters cannot quench love, no flood can sweep it away; if a man were to offer for love the whole wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned. The rarest thing of all, the most precious, the most fragile, the hardest to find and the easiest to lose, yet somehow also the most durable, the most patient, the most forgiving, the most welcoming. The mystery of a relationship that begins in a club listening to music and that evolves into friendship and then into love.

And First Corinthians 13, a letter St. Paul wrote to a Church whose members seem to have fallen into disunity, has become for generation after generation a kind of guide, or even we might say a recipe, for Christian living. It expresses a deep set of values rooted in the way Jesus lived his life. And it is meaningful for us in our Church life and public life together, and all our personal conduct, but then more intimately in our marriages and families. Patience. Kindness. Not envious or arrogant. Not resentful. But grounded in honesty and trust and a spirit of hopefulness. So wonderful to bring these forward on the day you begin your marriage.

Within the life of the Christian family we say that this day is for you a day of sacrament and vocation. A day when God begins to make something new out of you which is and will become an outward and visible sign of his grace and his love. And to be that, for each other, and for those who will be a part of your lives in the days and years to come, is a very high calling indeed.

In the Old Testament Book of Exodus there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, in a way kind of like a wedding. Young Moses is working for his Father in Law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him. He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out. He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame. (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.) “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” Holy Ground

We don’t actually have to take off our shoes here this afternoon. But I want to say that we might do so at least in our imaginations for a moment. Because the great reality here is that just as Moses at the Burning Bush came into the presence of God and discovered what the call on his life was that God had in mind for him, so here, for you. It was the beginning of a new chapter for Moses. A chapter in which he would play a key role in fulfilling the great plan that God had for his people. And so here, for you. “Take off your shoes. For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.” May you know and experience that reality this afternoon, in this place, and in all the days you will share together in the years to come.

Friends, as Jessica and Tim now come forward to the altar to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, I would ask that we would all take a moment to bow our heads and in our thoughts and prayers ask God to bless and keep them always in his love.

Bruce Robison

Friday, November 11, 2011

St. Andrew's Lecture, 2011

Introductory Remarks: St. Andrew’s Lecture

It has become something of a custom for me to begin my opening remarks this way:

Dr. John Murray, of Duquesne University and the commission that crafted the Allegheny County Home Rule charter; Pittsburgh City Councilman and community activist Sala Udin; Dean of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and co-founder of the Downtown Pittsburgh Partnership, the Very Rev. George Werner; WQED President George Miles; beloved Pittsburgh mayor, the Hon. Sophie Masloff; economist and writer, Linda Dickerson; director of the Mendelssohn Choir and Pittsburgh arts community leader, Dr. Robert Page; Judge and civic leader the Hon. Cynthia Baldwin; columnist Tony Norman; KDKA economics and political reporter Jon Delano; Church Historian Dr. Jeremy Bonner; Pittsburgh Urban League President Esther Bush. WQED documentary film maker Rick Sebak. That’s thirteen, and amazing!

Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends, and Neighbors. My name is Bruce Robison. I’m rector of St. Andrew’s Church, and it is my great pleasure to welcome you to this Fourteenth Annual St. Andrew’s Lecture.

St. Andrew’s has been a part of the City of Pittsburgh and the Episcopal Church in Pennsylvania, first in the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania at our founding in 1837 and in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh since it was formed from Pennsylvania in 1867, so 172 years now, and it continues to be very much a part of our sense of identity and our mission and ministry to be a positive force for this neighborhood of Highland Park, where we’ve been since 1906, and for the Church in our diocese, our city and the whole region. The St. Andrew’s Lecture was founded to build on and extend that mission, as we have been proud to bring guests and speakers of note from our wider community to talk about life and work, to reflect on the past, to describe the issues of the present, and to say something as well about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead for us.

In any case, it has become a wide and varied and very gifted tradition, this lecture, and I’m glad we can build on it in such a positive way this evening. I would mention that the Lecture is funded entirely from special gifts, from the proceeds of our annual Summer Book Sale, and from contributions received in baskets at each Lecture. This evening’s lecture is also co-sponsored by the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, and we are very thankful for a generous grant as a part of that co-sponsorship. It is important to us in any event that the Lecture can continue to be a free event for the whole community, and I thus happily encourage you to be generous in leaving a Free Will Donation in one of the baskets at the door this evening.

As you leave your contribution, I would also encourage you to fill out and leave in the baskets as well the brief survey form included in this evening’s program, which helps us know who came and how you found out about the program. The incentive for returning the form this year, appropriate for our evening, is that we will be having a drawing over at the reception after the lecture to give away a number of brand new copies of the King James Version of the Holy Bible.

The evening and program are planned and hosted by our Adult Programs Committee, and if those members of the committee who are here would stand, I’d like among them all to acknowledge the special contribution of the Committee’s secretary, Peg Ghrist, who does so much of the organization and communication that this event requires. I also want to recognize and acknowledge my friend and colleague the Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright, retired rector of St. Peter’s in Brentwood, who serves as Priest Associate here at St. Andrew’s and who was invited by Bishop Price and our Standing Committee to be the Prime Mover in arranging this event and in recruiting our speaker to focus our diocesan observance of the King James Version anniversary. Finally, I would acknowledge with great thanks as well the work of Jinny Fiske and so many of the St. Andrew’s Hospitality Team, who have prepared a gala reception for us over in Brooks Hall.

To say now a word about this evening’s lecture.

A lot has been written on this topic this year, and it’s interesting just to type King James Version Anniversary into a search engine and to see the great volume of recent material.

I read somewhere: "The last Harry Potter book is said to have sold about 44 million copies. Quite remarkable. But the Book whose first publication we note this evening is said to have sold, 6 Billion."

We also read that "It has been called one of the two greatest works of the English language, rivaled only by Shakespeare. For many, it is the only Bible they consider "authentic." It was seven years in the making, the work of a 54-member committee, but within 90 years it had come to be known simply as the Bible."

As we have said, this year marks the 400th anniversary of the printing of the King James Bible, a work of religious, political and linguistic force that continues to shape the thinking and vocabulary of much of the English-speaking world.

Perhaps many of us will know some of the story. Enough to have in mind the rich, dramatic context, social, political, theological, spiritual, of Reformation Era English life, and really the long span from the end of the 15th century all the way to the middle of the 17th. In the midst of all that, the story of the English Bible is one that can be for us both illuminating and inspiring.

A 1978 graduate of the Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, the University of Kansas, The Denver Seminary in Colorado, and with Ph.D from the University of Chicago Divinity School, Dr. Philip Harrold is Associate Professor of Church History of our Trinity School for Ministry just downriver in Ambridge, having served previously in the faculty of the Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Findlay, Ohio.

Dr. Harrold’s publications and research interests show a fascinating breadth. His doctoral dissertation studied the history of secularization of higher eduction in the United States, but he travels highways and byways from the Patristic era to the present, and with a special interest in Wesleyan and Anglican subjects. In all that, with strong contemporary application to the concerns for mission of the Church today—and to quote him directly, “The question he finds especially intriguing is, ‘how do we read the past for the sake of the present?’ In other words, how do we actually put into practice the idea that the history of the Church is a vital resource for Christian wisdom in our own time and place?”

The title of Dr. Harrold’s presentation this evening, as you can see in our program, is “Englishing the Scriptures and Evangelizing the Nation: The Theology of Translation in the King James Bible.” Following his talk we will remain for a bit to invite a little dialog, and perhaps launch with some questions that will catapult us from the 17th century to the present--so if there are questions that occur to you along the way, please do your best to remember them at the end. And then of course again we’ll have an opportunity to chat with each other informally at the reception.

Please join me to welcome, Dr. Philip Harrold.

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