Saturday, June 25, 2011

Second Sunday after Pentecost

A little change of pace at St. Andrew's this summertime Sunday, as we welcome as guest musicians and "musical preachers" Deborah and the Rev. Jonathan Hutchison, who share a ministry as "Heartsounds."

What they say about their work:

Building on a promising start as winners and headliners of the 1973 Northeastern Intercollegiate Folk Festival, our musical partnership has always been central to our life together. Even with jobs, school and kids, we’ve never stopped writing, recording and performing our songs from coast to coast in coffeehouses, churches, house concerts, schools and on college campuses. You’re just as likely to find us singing at conferences, interfaith events, benefits and peace and justice rallies.

Our songs are steeped in folk, R&B, rock, jazz, gospel and classical (sometimes all at once), accompanied on guitar, flute and piano, and sung in our signature harmony.

One listener describes our music as, “exciting, moving, thought-provoking and fun”. Another celebrates, “songs so alive, you want to dance, inspiring us with their clarity, strength and imagination.”

Susy and I first met Jonathan and Deborah during the years I served as Rector of St. Paul's Church in Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania. Jonathan had grown up in that parish and his parents, S. Duy and Edith Hutchison, and his grandmother Josephine, were dear friends of ours. Though Jonathan and Deborah had moved away by that time to their home in southern Indiana (where Jonathan served for a number of years as Vicar of St. David's Episcopal Church, Bean Blossom, Indiana), they were frequent visitors. It has been many years since we've seen them, and I'm delighted that we have this opportunity to introduce them to the good people of St. Andrew's this Sunday . . . .

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Trinity Sunday, 2011

St. Andrew's Pastoral Assistant, the Rev. Dean Byrom, will be preaching this morning, so I thought I'd re-post here my Trinity Sunday sermon from 2010. Blessings on the day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce Robison

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Whitsunday, 2011

Acts 2: 1-21

Good morning, and Hail thee, festival day! Whitsunday, Pentecost.

I was telling the folks in our Wednesday morning Bible Study about how this day was celebrated with a great afternoon fair at St. Mark’s Church in Berkeley back in the early 1970’s, when that was my parish as I attended the University of California across the street. They called it the “Pentecost Festival,” and I remember those days as always with California sunshine and with jugglers and musicians and glass-blowers and all kinds of food, games and a couple of small rides and a petting zoo for the kids, on and on. Everybody would wear something red, which seemed just right to inaugurate the summer, with lots of students and families, a real mix of people.

My rector then, George Titmann, used to say that it was the one great holiday of the Church that Hallmark Cards has nothing to say about. Ours and ours alone. The one great holiday where we’re unlikely to ask something like, “what is your family doing for Whitsunday?” Except of course to go to Church . . . .

As we heard in the lessons, and always with this very powerful way of entering into the story in the Acts of the Apostles, and as Fr. Bill Marchl reminds us in his meditation for Whitsunday printed on the back page of our service leaflet, we understand why this is called our Birthday: the Spirit surges through the Upper Room and then the friends of Jesus rush out into the street to proclaim the Good News in this miraculous explosion of language to the whole world, with energy and excitement, and all of a sudden here we are, Christ’s Church. You and I, all of us, around the world and across all the generations.

The Jewish holiday fifty days after Passover is Shauvot, the Festival to celebrate the Covenant in the Giving of the Law at Sinai, remembering this great moment when God in his generosity claimed a people for his own, called them into relationship. Before Shauvot they were a ragtag and random assembly of Hebrew clans and tribes. But as God gives and they receive the Torah at the Holy Mountain they become his Chosen People, God’s Israel. And if the in sacred story of God’s plan the Paschal Mystery of Easter is a new expression of the ancient Passover, so now this Whitsunday and Pentecost of the Holy Spirit is a new Shauvot, the birth in Christian witness of the New Israel.

And so we sing and celebrate and play croquet in the Churchyard and maybe even light candles on the cake. The miracle sends us out into the street speaking of what we have come to know, who we have come to know, in Jesus Christ, in a hundred languages.

Or perhaps not in any human language at all, but in what St. Paul will call the tongues of angels. Perhaps in the language of music, poetry. Mystic vision and ecstasy and the quiet assurance of his love.

A friend of mine said once and I believe it is true that very few people come to faith through argument and debate. That’s not unknown, of course, and reason and study and argument all have an important place in formation. But the spark of faith springs to life in us as we come near its radiance in others. How silently, how silently, the wondrous gift is given. Not that Peter and the others were whispering on that first Whitsunday, but I think the attractive and compelling force of that great evangelistic moment was not so much about words as it was about the music. Communicating spirit to spirit, heart to heart.

Some of my friends who are recovering Presbyterians will know that Anglican though I am, one of the expressions of Christian faith that I find most inspiring and interesting from the era of the Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries is the 1647 Westminster Shorter Confession. Which some of you may even have memorized in your younger years. There are a few places in that great doctrinal work where I would add a footnote or two, or even express a theological difference or reservation, but I want to do nothing but highlight and speak an “amen” to its opening sentence. The question, “what is the chief end of man?” Who are we really? What are we here for? What is this cosmic story all about? Great questions for a birthday on this Whitsunday. If we are born here, and now, and of the Spirit, what are we born for? And the word, in its simplicity and grace: Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

That is such a beautiful statement. A lot of Church committees have worked on a lot of congregational “mission statements” over the years, along with strategic plans and meeting after meeting--but this is what it is all about. Important to have before us on the Day of Pentecost. The Spirit rushes into the room like wind, like fire. All for us. To talk about what God made us for, about how we come into completed relationship to him, and completed relationships with one another. To glorify God and enjoy him forever. What we would seek to do in this service of worship. But to understand every breath and moment of our lives, every work of charity and compassion, of creativity and faithfulness, every relationship. Going to work. Raising our kids. All worship. To glorify God and enjoy him forever. Hail thee, Festival Day . . . .

The people in the streets of Jerusalem had a hard time figuring out just what was going on with the friends of Jesus that morning. “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans?” Uneducated working men from some backwater village. Not by the farthest stretch of the imagination the sort of people you would turn to for religious insight and instruction and leadership. What has gotten into them? The jumble of languages, the excitement. Their very beings on fire, transformed, lifted up.

And even if they didn’t have the words for it, to communicate a new vision of God’s goodness, God’s hopeful future for us. The reconciling and graceful work of the Cross once and for all, and the transforming reality of the Easter miracle now flowing out in abundance. And it was all Holy Spirit, God present, Advocate, Comforter, New Life. Easter everywhere now, for everyone, a free gift. The invitation: come and be part of it! Come and see for yourselves! And we can say it is like a birthday. Like our birthday. Like a great birthday of the world and all new creation. All language and music and story and song, for all of us, and all for him, all our lives long. Glorify him and enjoy him forever.

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

Bruce Robison

Monday, June 6, 2011

D-Day, 2011

67 Years Ago . . . .

When I was Rector of St. Paul's Church, Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, one of my parishioners, Wayne Schuyler, was a D-Day Vet. On the beach at +3 minutes, on the second wave of landing boats. Wayne died six years ago. I am remembering him, his dear wife Claire and their children and grandchildren, in my thoughts and prayers today.

2011 D-Day Observance

Bruce Robison

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Seventh of Easter: In Ascensiontide

Acts 1: 6-15, First Peter 4: 12-14; 5: 6-11; John 17: 1-11

In the wonderful T.S. Eliot series The Four Quartets the second poem, “East Coker,” begins with this compelling phrase, “In my beginning is my end.” Then it comes to a conclusion a few pages later with the reversal: “In my end is my beginning.” --“In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning.”

Perhaps on this Sunday we would feel the progressive, straight-line forward journey of our lives through time also to curve back in on itself. Seventh Sunday of Eastertide, almost midsummer sunshine and temperatures, the longest day of the year just a hop and a skip away.

And yet once again we are gathered in something of a jumble on a hillside outside of town; once again there are angels; once again our hearts are filled with hope in the promise of the fulfillment of God’s saving intention. The Advent of the Promised One.

Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter, all in one sense in the rear view mirror. But there is this new excitement, this fresh sense of beginning, and we can almost hear ourselves in the words of the disciples as they echo our old friends the Shepherds of Christmas Eve: Let us go now with haste to see this thing of which the angels have spoken. Seventh of Easter, the Sunday of Ascensiontide, leaning forward toward Whitsunday and Pentecost, and all is fresh and new. And certainly we’ve been here before. “Come thou, long expected Jesus.”

Once years ago Susy and I were driving along some back roads on the North Shore of Boston going to visit some friends who live in Marblehead. We thought we were lost, but then by the side of the road a sign, “Mablehead, 5 miles.” And a certain sense of relief, as we continued forward along the twisting and turning and mostly unmarked roads. Until, about 20 minutes later, yet another sign. “Marblehead, 5 miles.” Or was it the same sign?

And where are we this morning? In thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light. Jerusalem, not Bethlehem, but the details seem to make no difference at all. The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.

All jumbled together. And lo, an angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them; and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go.” Fear not; for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Roughly half a year since Christmas, half a year until Christmas, but here we are. In my beginning is my end. In my end, my beginning.

So in the midst of that I hinted last week that I would be saying something this week about “What Harold Camping Got Right.” You probably heard of this. Harold Camping is what they call a “radio evangelist,” of course from my own home state of California (and where else?), who has made a reputation for himself beginning some years ago for predicting the day and the hour of the Lord’s Return. He developed a calculus, as I understand it, and according to the article in Wikipedia he was able to determine the date of the Creation of the Earth in the year 11,013 BC, with Noah’s Flood in 4990 BC, and I guess with a slide rule and some figuring on the back of an envelope using clues from the Book of Daniel and the Revelation to St. John and who knows where else he was able to determine with precision that Jesus would return to gather his faithful and set into motion the Last Days on May 21, 1988, and then with some recalculation September 7, 1994, and then again just a couple of weeks ago, May 21, 2011, and I love this precision, at 6 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time, and now the next date on the calendar October 21, 2011.

All this of course in the midst of all the dreary economic news and three wars and all the rest an opportunity for a little light news in the media. The Facebook exchanges were humorous for the most part, and I played along myself with a few jokes on that Saturday morning about whether it made sense for me to mow the lawn. If Jesus were really coming at dinnertime, would that really be the highest and best use of my afternoon?

In any event, the most charitable construction that I can come up with is that the guy is a nut. Perhaps of the same genre as folks who tell me with all seriousness that a secret Vatican police agency is plotting the assassination of Dan Brown after he revealed the dark secrets of the Da Vinci Code. Either a nut or pathologically delusional, or an extraordinary con-man, and in all that, not really harmless, as he has taken advantage of the anxieties of some vulnerable and gullible people, as we saw the other week in stories of families disposing of property and leaving jobs and all the rest, in anticipation of the end.

And certainly you just wonder what is so hard in the midst of all this obsessing about arcane secret codes of the Bible simply to look at the plain meaning of what Jesus tells his disciples right here in this morning’s reading from the first chapter of Acts, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” End of sentence. And yet of course this isn’t a new phenomenon with Camping. It’s how the Seventh Day Adventists and the Jehovah’s Witnesses got their start in the 19th century and it is something that has come and gone with regularity throughout the past 2,000 years. So it taps into something deep and real in the Christian psyche, no question about that.

In the end a lot of the popular humor directed at Camping in the media wasn’t so much about the goofiness of his calculation or the peculiar construction of his vision of the end time. I sensed anyway a deeper discomfort with any vision—and Camping was certainly an easy target—of the power of God or his purposeful intention.

But when you get right down to it I’ll just tell you that for all the weirdness and even delusional expression, in the end when the world starts tossing brickbats at Camping and at those who heard him and whose hearts were filled with hope when he spoke, I guess I’m going to need to go over and stand with them. Maybe not too close, but at least this close: “And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary, And was made man: And was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate; He suffered and was buried: And the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures: And ascended into heaven, And sitteth on the right hand of the Father: And he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead—and he shall come again, with glory, to judge both the quick and the dead—Whose kingdom shall have no end.”

We lean forward in Advent: “Come thou, long-expected Jesus, born to set thy people free.” The whole pageant begins with this yearning, leaning forward into hope. The procession of the Prophets. Advent not simply the December weeks before Christmas but the character and meaning of all our lives, week after week, year after year, generation after generation. Waiting in hope. In anticipation.

“And his name shall be called Wonderful, Counselor, The Mighty God, The Everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.”

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the LORD hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; To appoint unto those who mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness, that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he might be glorified.”

“Go through, go through the gates; prepare ye the way of the people; cast up, cast up the highway; gather out the stones; lift up a standard for the peoples. Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the earth: Say ye to the daughter of Zion, behold, thy salvation cometh.”

“I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though this body be destroyed, yet shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not as a stranger.”

We are called to live coherently in this world. To roll up our sleeves. To do the work he has given us to do in our families and our churches and our vocational lives and in our communities. The harvest is plentiful, the laborers always too few.

But if we would shake our head with sadness and even with a bit of dismay at something like Harold Camping’s predictions, even so, may we be counted this morning and as we come to the Holy Table as among those who wait eagerly for Jesus, who is our beginning and our ending, our best memory and our true destiny. In my end is my beginning. In my beginning is my end. In the manger, on the Cross, ascended, at the Right Hand of the Father, who is coming to set things right.

No need to worry about the day or the hour. No need to stand gazing into the skies. But to make no mistake about it, in the words of the angel, Fear not: for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. And again, “This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go . . . .

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Holy Matrimony

Marissa Lee Mueller and Justin Timothy Schaup

Song of Solomon 2: 10-13; 8:6-7; Colossians 3: 12-17

Marissa and Justin, 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 all of us, and for me personally, a privilege and a joy to be sharing this moment with you, to be with you 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 for a long time, and when we started this date seemed a long way off—but now, time has flown by, and here we are. You’ll hear this a hundred times today: Congratulations! Congratulations to you, as I know this season of your friendship and deepening relationship has 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, in the careers that you share in public service, that all will be a great and meaningful story indeed.

Weddings have been something of a theme this season because of the “Royal Wedding” of Prince William and now-Princess Catherine a little over a month ago in England. Some of my friends got up to begin watching that at 4 in the morning—but I was a little bit less ambitious and just caught the highlights later that evening on television. Certainly it was a wonderful occasion in Westminster Abbey, with the Archbishop of Canterbury and all the fanfare, and a memory of that fits nicely as we think here this afternoon about our lovely St. Andrew’s and the beautiful music and the richness of today for you. One of the things I most enjoyed about the Royal Wedding was the sermon preached by +Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, who was the member of the clergy who had done what we would call the pre-marriage counseling with William and Cate, and that was important because he had also been the one many years ago now who had been the pastor for young Prince William and his brother when their mother died. So there was a deep personal connection, and I thought that was quite touching. And I’d like to share just a brief quotation, one sentence, from that sermon. The Bishop said: “In a sense every wedding is a royal wedding, with the bride and the groom as kind and queen of creation, making a new life together so that life can flow through them into the future.”

Every wedding a Royal Wedding. Your vows exchanged here before God and in the face of this company of family and friends. “King Justin, Queen Marissa!” Remembering the pattern that makes this all meaningful. The self-giving love of Jesus, which is the ideal and model of all our human love. With compassion, generosity, patience, and strength. Seeking his blessing in the life of his Church, and as you would set out on a new life together. Wives and husbands are called into this mystery, to love one another in Christ so profoundly, that the other becomes even more important than the self. A love that seeks not its own benefit, but the victory and completion of the other—a love that finds joy and fulfillment first and most of all in the knowledge that the other comes first in that joy. In this way, the two become one. The relationship of husband and wife then an image of Christ’s love for us, a hint of how we are all to live in our relationships with one another.

And 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, this moment like a window, through which we begin to see God’s hope and dream for each one of us since the creation of the world. 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. Here in this present moment, and yet also as Bishop Chartres told William and Cate, a new life that is born and that flows into the future, to carry God’s blessing in ways that today you and we can only dream of.

Marissa and Justin, may God bless and keep you in this new life that you begin today, and with joy and peace in all the days ahead.

Now as you will come forward to exchange the vows that will make you husband and wife, I would ask all of us here to bow our heads for a moment to offer a prayer for you, for your protection and your blessing, your joy, in all that God has for you and all that God will do in his goodness through you in the days and years of your lives.

Bruce Robison

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Ascension, 2011

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

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

From the 24th Chapter of St. Luke:

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


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

~John Donne (1572-1631)