Saturday, February 25, 2012

First in Lent, 2012

Mark 1: 9-15

It is such a deep echo, across these two Sundays.

Last week, the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, at the Mount of the Transfiguration, in the Ninth Chapter of Mark. Peter, James, and John with Jesus on that sunny afternoon, as Jean imagined it so vividly in her sermon last week. Near the end of the story. Their faces soon to turn toward Jerusalem. Passover. Holy Week. Good Friday. And there on the mountaintop, the vision. All brightness, the light of the Father shining through. Jesus brilliant. Moses and Elijah. And then a cloud momentarily darkens the sky. And from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!” This is my beloved Son.

Just a week later, now, and we are transported for a moment back to the beginning, the First Chapter. The afternoon by the river. And here a vision as well, as Jesus comes up out of the baptismal waters, “the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove.” And again the voice. “This is my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

And so with these echoing reverberations: Lent.

The season of deepest reflection. The forty days in the wilderness a compelling image not simply for the early spring of the Church Year while we tap our fingers and wait for early April and Easter, but for the long season of our lives. Tempted of Satan. With the wild beasts. That certainly an evocative phrase. Perhaps you’ve spent some time with wild beasts in your life. Perhaps that’s where you are right now. We’ve all been there, that’s for sure.

Taking off our blinders as best we can. Seeing through the illusions. Some of the key words from the Ash Wednesday service. Self-examination. And Repentance. Metanoia. A change of mind. Thinking again. That beautiful John Donne poem in our Hymnal as #140. Wilt thou forgive that sin, where I begun, which is my sin, though it were done before? A question and a plea that would humble us perhaps. Looking at ourselves with honesty. Seeking a new mind and a new heart. A fresh start.

Fasting. However that works for you. Meat on Fridays. Sweets. The glass of wine at dinner. Television. A couple of my Facebook friends post up on their Wall that they are giving up Facebook for Lent. I guess one of life’s diverting pleasures, though I’m not always sure about that. Sometimes this seems to work like a second go at our New Year’s Resolutions. Whatever it takes to get our lives together.

And meditating on God’s Holy Word. Perhaps you are following along with the lectionary and our booklet of daily meditations. Or attending one of the parish Bible Studies. There is more power there than people think sometimes. The vision St. Augustine had. The book before him, and the command echoing. “Tolle; lege.” Pick it up and read it. Who knows what or whom you might find? Who knows what, or who, might find you?

For all this, our friends down the block at St. Raphael’s Church have a signboard that they put out in their Churchyard during Advent and Christmas, which is a sign that we would I think with appropriate care and focus bring out here on the First Sunday in Lent also. With the vision on the mountaintop and that moment at the Jordan River fresh in our mind. And the voice of the Father.

“Jesus is the reason for the season.” Probably you’ve seen that around lots of places. Jesus is the reason for the season.

There is of course a good rationale for this in December, as visions of sugarplums and the joyful prancing of Santa’s reindeer may often seem to distract us from the Bethlehem stable. As you know, I’m all for sugarplums and reindeer. But we can miss the boat in December, if we’re not careful.

Actually we can miss that boat just about any month of the year, any season. If we think December is special in that regard we should probably think again. It is our nature it seems to turn in on ourselves.

The Lenten road from Transfiguration Mountain and from this Jordan River will carry us all the way through this wilderness to the foot of the Cross. And Jesus is there already. And from there across all this distance in what is his eternal offering of this most costly gift of love, his life itself, for us, he can see us already as we are. If we could be aware of that each of these forty days. We see his Cross already above the beam across the chancel. His words from John 12. “And I if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me.”

His eyes already seeing us and knowing us entirely for who we are. At our best and not at our best. Knowing us and loving us, and drawing us even at this far distance to himself.

What it’s all about. Lent. As we would open the Bible, as we say our prayers, as we seek quiet, simplicity, reflection. A fresh start.

Not about us. Not about our hard work. Not about our getting better. Getting healthy. Doing good things. Becoming more spiritual. But turning toward him, with our eyes and ears, our minds and hearts, the intentions of our lives. Jesus: the reason for the season. We’ll come to him here at the Holy Table, but pray we don’t leave him there.

Remembering the famous prayer of Richard of Chichester. Eight hundred years ago, but still fresh and new. The reason for the season. The prayer that is echoed in the familiar hymn. Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits thou hast given me, for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me. O merciful redeemer, friend and brother, may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

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

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ash Wednesday, 2012

Almighty and everlasting God, which hatest nothing that thou hast made, and dost forgive the sins of all them that be penitent; Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of thee the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ.

Welcome on this day of special observance. As the Church was opened this morning for the first service of the day the air was still rich with a reminder of our Shrove Tuesday Pancake Dinner and you could almost hear the echo in the background of laughter and fun in the activities of our annual Mardi Gras party.

But today we do turn the page on the calendar and in the great thematic journey of our Church Year to enter the season of Lent. 40 days, more or less. A reminder of the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness after his Baptism in the Jordan, as we remember the story of his confrontation with Satan and his resolve to complete his work faithfully. A reminder of the 40 years between the day when Moses brought down from Sinai the Tablets of the Law and the final entry and return of the Chosen People to the Land that had been promised them.

That our Lenten journey now in these weeks heading toward Holy Week and Good Friday and then Easter would be informed and shaped by those kinds of images.

Whether 40 days or 40 years, this is a season in which we would learn patience. Something about waiting. About a serious preparation. Holy Week, Good Friday, Easter Morning—this all isn’t something we can just casually and perhaps without much thought skip into. It’s going to take some time, some preparation.

Because the point isn’t that this story is supposed to interest us or entertain us, but that it can and will change us. And change us in deep and permanent ways. In ways that will last into eternity.

In a few moments we’ll begin the next part of the service as I will read a formal invitation to the keeping of a holy Lent. And I just want to anticipate here what I will say: “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word."

It’s all important, and I know each year each one of us will travel the Lenten journey a little differently, and of course there isn’t any one pattern or template or rule that will be imposed on all of us. A matter of prayer and discernment—how we are called in this season to spend a bit of time in the wilderness.

But I would like to underline and suggest for our consideration a special attention to one part of that invitation which seems to me to be possible for all of us as a very rich and meaningful part of this season, in that final phrase, “reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

We remember that we’ve just completed actually in a much wider frame, in the whole community of English speaking Christians, the celebration last year of the 400th anniversary of the King James Version of the Bible. An amazing historical story, of course, and that was even the subject of our annual St. Andrew’s Lecture last fall. The story not just of the publication of the book itself, but of what happened in terms of the transformation and renewal of Christian life, generation after generation, as truly for the first time and with the simultaneous development of new technologies of printing and distribution and new media and an explosion of literacy the scriptures burst out of the confines of Church buildings and libraries and found a place in the homes and in the daily lives of Christian people of all sorts and conditions. Transformation and renewal.

And we remember just this winter and spring Phil Wainwright’s wonderful series on how the Bible, the Old and New Testaments, came to be Holy Scripture in the life of the Church. And it has been wonderful to me to see how rich our parish adult Bible Studies, the smaller groups on Wednesday and Friday mornings and the larger group on Sunday mornings, have become such a meaningful part of the life of this congregation.

“Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” One way to launch into that might be to make use of the Daily Office lectionary for Lent, and to follow the meditations on those daily readings from the Bible as they are in our parish Meditation Booklet—which you can pick up today. And our Coffee and Conversation circles on Sunday mornings through this season will give us an opportunity to share reflections and insights that we may have as we follow these daily mediations.

What we would seek this Lent is to grow nearer to Christ, to be drawn more intimately into his presence. And that is what the heart of the Bible is all about. That the God who reveals himself to us through Holy Scripture is the one who reveals himself to us as the Word Made Flesh. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

And so I would invite you especially in this season, to be refreshed and renewed in the presence of Christ who is the Word of the Father by reading and meditating on the words and stories, the poetry and song and devotional meditations that are at the heart of the Word that is written for us in the grace and mercy of God’s Holy Spirit. Find a time each day. Open the Book, take it up and read. Pray that God might open our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts this Lent. And that by his Word we may find this time in the wilderness to be the source of light and life and rich blessing in Christ our Lord.

Monday, February 20, 2012


The preaching rota yesterday for our clergy circle at St. Andrew's gave us, happily, Archdeacon Chess. But I had some notes toward a sermon anyway.

II Kings 2: 1-12
II Corinthians 4: 3-6
Mark 9: 2-9

O God, who before the passion of thy only-begotten Son revealed his glory upon the holy mount: Grant unto us that we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance, may be strengthened to bear our cross, and be changed into his likeness from glory to glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Comparing the traditional calendar with the new calendar—though perhaps a bit of a stretch to keep calling the 1979 calendar “new”—what was once Quinquagesima, “the Sunday next before Lent,” is now “the Last Sunday after the Epiphany.” A slight shift of emphasis. In both cases a turning point, a pivot. And it may surprise you to know that I think at this moment the new calendar is in one way at least superior to the old in helping us hold to and appreciate the tension in the turning, the “g-force.”

The proper collect, a modern composition according to Marion Hatchett, first appearing in Anglican Prayer Books in the 1928 Church of England revision, adopted into the Episcopal Church revision then of 1979, containing the two directions of energy.

From Bethlehem to Jerusalem, Christmas to Good Friday, the Manger to the Cross. It’s all there. “O God, who before the passion of your only-begotten Son,” – there’s Holy Week—“revealed his glory upon the holy mountain”—there’s Epiphany, the manifestation of Christ. “That we, beholding by faith the light of his countenance”—there we are with the Shepherds, the Wise Men—“may be strengthened to bear our cross.” Again, like Simon of Cyrene along the Way of Sorrow. Just wonderfully holding both of these together in this turning. Back and forth, interwoven: Incarnation and Atonement.

These two great centers held together, pressed together in this turning point as when matter and antimatter collide in the warp drive reactor engines of the Starship Enterprise. (If you will pardon that.) And there is an explosion and implosion that tears the fabric of the universe and fills it with radiant light.

The great vision of the Prophet Elisha as Elijah is taken up into heaven. “A chariot of fire and horses of fire . . . ‘Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!”

And Paul to the Christians in Corinth: the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For it is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Glory! Christmas and Holy Week, Epiphany and the Cross. Glory. Easter everywhere. And his name shall be called Emmanuel. God with us.

It is one of my favorite movies. The Robert Duvall—“The Apostle.” A story about loss and brokenness and redemption in the life of a Pentecostal preacher, and as he moves through the different phases of the story that is the word that is always on his lips, what he looks for and finds even in the midst of all kinds of messiness of his life. Glory. Glory. Glory.

What Elisha caught a glimpse of. What Paul and the Christians of Corinth have seen and known. What the disciples see at the top of the mountain. Light and glory. The heavenly voice. And then, in the quiet of the still moment that follows, they could see “only Jesus.” Such a beautiful phrase. The music: they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. Where it all comes together. In whom we live and move and have our being. The glory of the Father in the face of the Son.

To catch a glimpse of that. That can change everything.

The whole business of Lent ahead, it does seem like a lot of hard work. Self-examination and repentance. Turning on the path of obedience. Amending our lives. Away from sin and toward God. “Putting off the old man.” Bearing our cross. From certain points of view it just doesn’t make sense. Why put ourselves through all this? Life is short. Shouldn't we mainly focus on having a good time? And perhaps those points of view are those loyal to the one Paul calls “the god of this world.” The one who tries so often successfully to “blind the mind.”

But not if you’ve seen what we’ve seen, what we can see now, opening our eyes and our ears and our minds and our hearts. Here at this mountaintop. Where there is a vision to lift us up and fill our minds and hearts. This Holy Communion. He in us and we in him.

I’m descended from a long line of Northern European introverted males, with patron saints like Gary Cooper and John Wayne, but at the top of this mountain it’s all awe and mystery and open-eyed visionary mysticism. Ready or not.

It caught those down-to-earth fishermen Peter and James and John by surprise too.

But we would see him today and stand in his glorious presence. Stand there with them.

And then they looked again and could see only him: only Jesus. Only Jesus. Who was with us at the beginning and who promises to be with us to the end and forever. With forgiveness and healing, grace and mercy and blessing. Bright with the radiance of heaven. The word proclaimed here in the midnight of Christmas, the first chapter of St. John, and at the foot of the cross, and in our lives. God with us.

And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.

May this vision at the mountaintop encourage us and sustain us as we would keep a holy lent. Strengthen us. And bring us finally home to his Easter morning.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Eighth Bishop of Pittsburgh

I'm re-presenting here my article as published in the Lent-Eastertide number of the St. Andrew's Anchor . . . .

The Eighth Bishop of Pittsburgh

Following the events of division in 2008 our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh has been served by three bishops. The Rt. Rev. David Jones, Suffragan Bishop of Virginia, came alongside us almost immediately to meet immediate pastoral needs and to provide advice to our diocesan Standing Committee. The Rt. Rev. Robert H. Johnson, Retired Bishop of Western North Carolina, was then appointed Assistant Bishop and served more intensively to assist us with our diocesan reorganization. And most recently, of course, our good friend the Rt. Rev. Kenneth L. Price was in the Fall of 2009 elected our Provisional Bishop, to serve with the full authority of a diocesan bishop, but with a limited term of office.

On Saturday, April 21, 2012, a Special Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will be held to elect our eighth Bishop Diocesan--a bishop who will be settled with full ecclesiastical authority and canonical tenure. (The canons require diocesan bishops and all clergy to resign their tenured positions on or before their 72nd birthday.) Participating as voting members of this Special Convention from St. Andrew's will be the Rector, Deacon Chess, our associate priest the Rev. Philip Wainwright, and our three lay deputies: Bill Ghrist, Tom Moore, and Steve Stagnitta.

In mid-March our bishop-nominees will "Walkabout" in the diocese, with programs to provide all of us an opportunity to meet and hear from them. These are scheduled to take place from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 20, at St. Brendan’s, Franklin Park; on Wednesday, March 21, at St. Peter’s, Brentwood; on Thursday, March 22, at Holy Cross, Homewood; and on Friday, March 23, at St. Michael’s of the Valley, Ligonier. An open discussion forum will also be held on Friday, April 20, the evening before the election. All interested members of the diocese are encouraged to participate in these events.

In the third chapter of the First Letter to Timothy the Apostle Paul tells Timothy that "the saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task." Paul then goes on to describe the necessary attributes of such a leader in the Christian community--to be one known well as a person of wholesome, modest, temperate, and hospitable personal character, with a stable family life, and known even beyond the Christian community as a person of manifest integrity.

In the first chapter of Acts we read of the selection of Matthias to fill the place abandoned by Judas in the circle of the Twelve Apostles. The remaining Apostles choose two "nominees" who have, they say "accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning with the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us." The person to be chosen, they say, "must become with us a witness to his resurrection."

Thoroughly convinced by personal experience and spiritual discernment of the qualifications and fitness of Justus and Matthias, the Apostles then leave the "election" in God's hands by casting lots--we might say, by flipping a coin. "Lord," they pray, "who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen . . . ."

While the rules and procedures for the election of our next bishop are somewhat more complicated than those in effect when the first Apostles cast lots in the selection of Matthias, we here in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh would agree with them that our purpose is not to "choose" the person who will be our next bishop, but rather that we would ask God to work through our rules and procedures and election to reveal to us the person he has already chosen for this ministry.

When our election is complete, and when that election has received the consent of those bishops and deputies assembled at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church this July in Indianapolis, we will move forward with the celebration of our bishop's new ministry and a service of Ordination and Consecration, led by the Presiding Bishop and now scheduled for Saturday, October 20, 2012.

At that service (see the Book of Common Prayer, pp. 511-523) the Presiding Bishop will remind us all that "a bishop in God's holy Church is called to be one with the apostles in proclaiming Christ's resurrection and interpreting the Gospel, and to testify to Christ's sovereignty as Lord of lords and King of kings."

The bishop, we will be reminded, is "called to guard the faith, unity, and discipline of the Church; to celebrate and to provide for the administration of the sacraments of the New Covenant; to ordain priests and deacons and to join in ordaining bishops and to be in all things a faithful pastor and wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ."

The title "bishop" can also be translated as "superintendent" or "overseer," and to our new bishop God in his providential wisdom and we in collegial partnership and prayerful support will entrust a great responsibility for the stewardship of the life and ministry and mission of our small but precious corner of Christ's Church.

We give thanks for all those in our diocese and beyond who have participated with us in this process--and especially noting the good work of parishioners of St. Andrew's, including Mary Roehrich, who served on the Standing Committee as this process was initiated, Joan Morris and Phil Wainwright, who served on the Nominations Committee, and Dr. George Knight and Jill West, who have been key members of the Transition Committee.

And as we move along into this spring, we would join together in this prayer, which was composedby our Standing Committee last year as we began to develop the process we are sharing now in our wider diocese.

Almighty God, we the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, affirm now and as always before, that You are our Almighty Lord and Savior. We humbly confess that we all engaged in some manner, practices that divided rather than preserved the unity of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. We are grateful that in Your mercy, You intervened to sustain us and keep us whole as we grapple with the realities of our fractured state. We are grateful that in our vulnerable state, You called Bishop David Jones, Bishop Robert Johnson, and Bishop Ken Price to shepherd us. Consequently, we are deeply grateful that You filled us with your Spirit of hope that the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh will indeed emerge vibrant and united in Christ. We ask that You prepare our hearts, minds, and souls as we collectively entrust one another with the task of discerning Your call for the Eighth Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Click here to go to the diocesan "Bishop Search" page.

---Bruce Robison+

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Sixth after Epiphany: Sexagesima

II Kings 5: 1-14; Mark 1: 40-45

Good morning and grace and peace, on this Sunday, on some calendars known as the Sunday before the Feast of St. Valentine. Of Valentinus of Rome really nothing is known except his name and that he was called in some ancient martyrologies a presbyter , a priest, and that he was martyred with 14 other Christians on February 14 and buried on the Via Flaminia, North of Rome, probably in the year 269.

I’m sure there is a beautiful and inspiring story there of faith and witness, though all lost in the mists of time. Patron Saint these days of florists, jewelers, and chocolateers, mostly due to some very nice romantic tales imagined and passed along by writers and artists in the later Middle Ages and early Renaissance, but of course without any foundation in the life of the historical Valentine. Still, his name does rhyme with “be mine.”

And chocolate and flowers. Jewelry. You can’t go wrong.

In the more official calendar of the Church the banners of the season still announce: Epiphany! In these weeks between Christmastide and Ash Wednesday. First the Wise Men from the East, then in wider and wider circles. The Manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. What was in darkness is now flooded in light. What was hidden is made known. How the One born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior.

On the traditional Church Calendar as well, Sexagesima. The great Sixty Days. The good people of St. Andrew’s may be the last in all the Episcopal Church to find that title on their Sunday service leaflets, and I apologize for continuing year after year to inflict this eccentricity upon you. It’s not your fault. Seventy Days last week, Septuagesima, and next Sunday will be Quinquagesima, fifty Days, and leaning forward to the Great 40 Days of Lent. I also like old American cars and Audrey Hepburn and Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

In any event, the Christmas Trees finally made their post-Candlemas exit from the Robison house this past week, and again a reminder that these Sundays are “Sundays Before Lent.” The great themes of Incarnation and Revelation continue, but we would, Six Sundays after the Epiphany, a week and a half before Ash Wednesday, find ourselves in this time of “pre-lent” turning from Manger to Cross, to consider the work of Christ. We celebrate his birth. And then, why he was born. For what. For whom. Doctrine of the Atonement, in the formal vocabulary of the Church. We have the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and the Doctrine of the Atonement is the effort to give an account of what was accomplished in all that. For what purpose it happened. Why it all needed to take place. Reconciliation, forgiveness of sin, healing, renewal. And to remind ourselves in our usual state of denial that those are things we need. Not just nice additions to an otherwise comfortable life. Things we need.

“In his death he has destroyed death, and in his rising again has raised us to life.” --“That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” All the way back to that gospel reading we heard as we gathered in the flickering midnight candle light of Christmas Eve. “That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not. But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the children of God, even to them that believe on his name.”

As Dean pointed out for us in his sermon last Sunday, this gets us into uncomfortable territory. I was astonished when someone commented the other day that I might occasionally have some control issues. But that’s what we’re all running up against here. Outside our comfort zone. The exorcism in the synagogue at Capernaum. The healing of Simon Peter’s Mother-in-Law. And this morning the cleansing of the leper.

He speaks, and listening to his voice, new life the dead receive, the mournful broken hearts rejoice, the humble poor believe. Hear him, ye deaf; ye voiceless ones, your loosened tongues employ; ye blind behold, your Savior comes; and leap ye lame for joy!

What they said at Capernaum. We’ve known brilliant teachers before, great teachers, charismatic leaders, inspired prophets. But never anyone like this. Never anyone like this. This is something new.

The Syrian officer Naaman had a foretaste, as he finally got past his stubbornness and followed Elisha’s instructions and had his cleansing bath in the Jordan. And we have a foretaste as well, a hint, an anticipation, as we read that story. An anticipation of Jesus. Leaning forward.

What happens in this broken and diseased world of ours when God steps into the picture. Emmanuel. God with us.

A foretaste of the Atonement, as Naaman steps into the holy river, as the waters of the Jordan flow on down through every century, into every land. Into every baptismal font. Something very good. Better than we could have asked for. Better than the best we could ever have imagined. Healing. Mercy and forgiveness. Reconciliation. New Life. God with us.

It is very simply our testimony that this is true. All of it, the whole package. The message of Christmas in Bethlehem that is also the message of Good Friday and the Cross. That as we get past our stubbornness, and come into his presence, in Word and Sacrament, we can know what it is that he has done for us. It’s not in our hymnal, but I’ve found myself singing the old hymn. “I love to tell the story. ‘Twill be my theme in glory. To tell the old, old story, of Jesus and his love.”

Healing and renewal that is sometimes physical and sometimes emotional and of the mind and will; that however possessed by demons we and this world of ours may be, however unpresentable; that as broken as we are—there is healing and renewal in the fresh springs of his love. Ask Naaman. Ask the leper in Mark. Ask around. This is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.

It is, we might say, the opportunity of a lifetime. Naaman came down from Damascus with all his treasures—gold and silver and precious cloth. We bring what we have, we come as we are. The leper came to Jesus trusting, believing, and poured out his heart. For years and years he had been told and had known a reality that he was a hopeless case. And then somebody told him a story about Jesus.

It’s something I’m pretty sure St. Valentine the Presbyter of Rome must have known too, in that February all those years ago. A knowledge that cost him everything, but that was in the end victory and healing, grace and peace.

What was in darkness is now flooded in light. What was hidden is made known. How the One born in the obscurity of the Bethlehem stable is revealed to all nations and peoples as Lord and Savior.

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

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Morning Brunch Talk

The Rev. Dean Byrom, our Pastoral Assistant, will be preaching this morning. I, though, have the opportunity to address those who gather at the invitation of our Vestry for a "between the services" brunch and introduction to a time of reflection and discussion about future directions of our life and ministry at St. Andrew's.

The year was 1837. Andrew Jackson had just completed his second term, and in March of that year his Vice President Martin Van Buren would succeed him. “Old Kinderhook,” as some of you will remember. (Al Mann?)

Here in Pittsburgh things were going like gangbusters. What had been a relatively small agricultural and commercial center was expanding rapidly with mining, coal, lumber, glass, new industry, a center for factories, and for transportation, shipping, and the beginnings of a regional railroad system. The jumping off point for the westward movement from the Eastern seaboard, and a center for new immigration from western Europe, and especially Ireland and Germany. The population of Pittsburgh tripled between 1810 and 1830, and it would triple again between 1830 and 1850. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

It was I’m sure, it must have been, an incredibly exciting time and place to live, and perhaps we can catch a glimpse of that in the memory of that small group of families who in 1837 made the decision to move out of their Church home at old Trinity Church and to found a second Episcopal Church in the City of Pittsburgh. 1837.

It was a new season of expansion for the Episcopal Church as well. For a generation or so after the Revolution the Church had been in a convalescent mode. Weakened by the loss of many clergy, who had gone to Canada or back to England, not helped by a lingering association with England in the popular feelings of the day. But by the 1830’s a new generation of missionary leaders, bishops, clergy, lay people in a time of renewal, expansion, rebuilding the Church in the east and moving west into new territory.

In 1837 that was all here, for the new congregation of St. Andrew’s Church. Meeting at first in an auditorium on Penn Avenue. They were building something new, something really exciting. Inspired by the opportunity of mission, building up the Church and making new disciples and sharing Christian witness in this wild and energetic city. Of course they were helping to build a Church for themselves and for their families. But they were investing themselves, their lives and their resources, to be a part of a future that was just beginning to unfold.

There was of course, a great deal that they couldn’t possibly know. Generations of growth for this community as an industrial powerhouse, waves of immigration, new patterns of life. Wars. Booms and depressions.

Certainly they wouldn’t have pictured in 1837 the move that would take place just 65 years later, St. Andrew’s Church, from the center of the City to the rapidly growing East End. Pretty much just farms and orchards out here in 1837.

But for all that, I don’t think they would have been surprised, either. Because they knew that God had great plans for their lives. And I think that in the far distance, all the way back in 1837, they had a glimpse of us here this morning, 175 years later. I think they’d be excited to see who we are, what great things God is doing here in our day, and I think they’d be proud to know that their efforts and investments all those years ago, their hopes and dreams and risk-taking and hard work, had built the foundation for what we are able to do here at St. Andrew’s today.

What is really exciting to me about this moment in our congregational life, for me as your Rector, friend, and as a member of this St. Andrew’s family, is to see how the “spirit of 1837” is still a part of who we are. In the spirit of mission, building up, reaching out in new ways as we grow ourselves in Christian faith and life, and in numbers and resources.

And in our ability not simply to focus on ourselves, but to be looking down the road, to see what new things God has in mind for us next.

And as we think this year about our 175th anniversary, it’s wonderful for me to be with our Vestry over this past year, and so many others in the wider parish, as we celebrate our past, also to be looking to the future, to be thinking about the foundation we are building now for those who will be a part of St. Andrew’s in years to come, and even long after we have gone. Literally and spiritually, for our children and grandchildren. Foundation and infrastructure. Resources for Christian life and ministry. Addressing the challenges and the opportunities that we have in our own day. To restore, to renew, to expand.

Those who will gather here in Brooks Hall in 2037 to celebrate the bicentennial of St. Andrew’s, and who will remember with thanksgiving not only the founders, in 1837, but every generation, including ours, who will have prepared the way for the exciting mission that God will have in mind for them.

That’s broad brush-strokes. Thinking about the future. During the past year Dr. George Knight, Junior Warden emeritus and Chair of our Property Committee, has also at the request of our Vestry been chairing what we've called an "exploratory committee." And I’d like to pass this along to him now for a few words about why were here this morning and what will be coming up for us in the next few weeks and months.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

February 2, 2012


Prayer for the Blessing of Candles

God our Father,
Source of all light,
today you revealed to Simeon
Your light of revelation to the nations.
Bless + these candles and make them holy.
May we who carry them to praise your glory
walk in the path of goodness
and come to the light that shines forever
Grant this through Christ our Lord.

Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple

Almighty and everliving God, we humbly beseech thee that, as thy only-begotten Son was this day presented in the temple, so we may be presented unto thee with pure and clean hearts by the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Mary of the Grapes, Pierre Mignard, 1640

Thanksgiving and Prayer to Mary
by St. Augustine of Hippo

O Blessed Virgin Mary, who can worthily give you the just dues of praise and thanksgiving, you who by the wondrous assent of your will rescued a fallen world? What songs of praise can our weak human nature recite in your honor, since it is by your intervention alone that it has found the way to restoration?

Accept, then, such poor thanks as we have to offer here, though they be unequal to your merit; and, receiving our vows, obtain by your prayers the remission of our offenses. Carry our prayers within the sanctuary of the heavenly audience and bring forth the gift of our reconciliation.

Take our offering, grant us our requests, obtain pardon for what we fear, for you are the sole hope of sinners. Holy Mary, help the miserable, strengthen the fainthearted, comfort the sorrowful, pray for your people, plead for the clergy, intercede for all women consecrated to God.

Be ever ready to assist us when we pray and bring back to us the answers to our prayers. Make it your continual care to pray for the people of God, you who, blessed by God, merited to bear the Redeemer of the world who lives and reigns, world without end. Amen.

Groundhog Day