Thursday, June 28, 2012

James Arch West, II

Burial Office 

Grace and peace to you this morning, and welcome to St. Andrew’s Church.  We come together this morning to give thanks for the life of a man who was son, brother, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, cousin, uncle, and friend.  James Arch West, II.  Who was born on the 18th of March, 1928, and who entered Greater Life this past Sunday, June 24th, 2012.  To share a word of comfort especially for you Netta, Jim, Steve, and all your family.  

We remember some great stories—fun moments, tender moments, the fullness of a long and rich life.  And certainly we give thanks as well for the witness in his own unique way of Christian faith.  Reflecting on the prayer offered in the anointing in those last hours in the hospital on Sunday, Depart, O Christian Soul, out of this world; In the Name of God the Father Almighty, who created you; In the Name of Jesus Christ, who redeemed you; In the Name of the Holy Spirit, who sanctifies you.  May your rest be this day in peace and your dwelling place in the Paradise of God.  Certainly on a day like this in the midst of all that is going on, we all of us are reminded again of our own mortality.  And as we offer our prayers and reflections this day, we might also take this moment to renew and refresh our own faith, and to hear again or perhaps even for the first time his gentle invitation to life, and life eternal.

1938.  Quite a year.  Across the ocean in Europe it is the year of the famous Munich Conference.  In a time of crisis, the leaders of the Great Powers enter heated negotiations with Adolph Hitler, leading to approval of the German annexation of Czechoslovakia.  Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain announced “Peace in Our Time.”  Across another ocean, Japan invades China, 1938, a new stage of its expansionism.  In Washington D.C., 1938 was a year when things were going from bad to worse economically, a time of further recession within the decade we now call the Great Depression, and half way through his second term President Franklin Roosevelt would see his New Deal Democrats defeated in the midterm elections in both the House and the Senate.  Here in Pittsburgh the famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright completed his design of a country home for Mr. and Mrs. Kauffman.  To be known as Fallingwater.  And right here in this neighborhood, 1938 saw the opening of the Highland Park Bridge.

A fascinating year to think about, in so many ways.  But I want to pause just for a moment with an event that happened on Sunday, November 6, 1938, right here—right where we are right now: as at this font a 10 year old boy and his 15 year old sister were presented for Holy Baptism.   James Archie West II, it says in the old Register, and Jean Louise West.  Son and daughter of Chester Arthur West and Fannie Devlin West, and both with godparents Franklin A. West and Margaret M. Irvin--the ceremony conducted by the Rev. Howard Paul Pullin, one of my illustrious predecessors as Rector of St. Andrew’s Church.  

(And to note as a side comment that Mr. Pullin, as he was known, was remembered by many for his great enjoyment of the children of St. Andrew’s Sunday School.  He had a dog who did tricks, and often on Sundays after services the children would gather around Mr. Pullin and his dog out in the Churchyard, and the dog would sit, point, jump, speak, fetch, and whatever other things that might have been included in the performance.  And then, at the end, when the little show was over, Mr. Pullin would tell the dog to dismiss the children with a prayer.  He would get up on his hind legs, put his paws together, and bark.)

I don’t know if that’s what happened on Sunday, November 6, 1938, after the baptismal service.  Jean might have been a little too old for it, but I like to think maybe Jim and some of his pals would have gone outside after the service for a little fun like that.

What I do know is that in that baptismal service, that morning, as that 10 year old boy stood by this very font, this prayer was offered: “O Merciful God, grant that like as Christ died and rose again, so this Child may die to sin and rise to newness of life.  Grant that all sinful affections may die in him, and that all things belonging to the Spirit may live and grow in him.  Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph, against the devil, the world, and the flesh.  Grant that whosoever is here dedicated to thee by our office and ministry, may also be endued with heavenly virtues, and everlastingly rewarded, through thy mercy, O blessed Lord God, who dost live, and govern all things, world without end.  Amen.”

And now, 74 years later, three-quarters of a century after that baptismal service, and in the 84th year of his rich and productive and meaningful life, we once again commend Jim West to the care of his heavenly father, as he comes before the Throne of the Almighty in the arms of his Savior.  And we remember him today as a man of great and interested faith, and as a man whose life was so marked with passion and generosity, a love of his family that was just so expansive, strength, and a good humored friendship.  He will be and already is so deeply missed, and yet there are preserved in the minds and hearts and memories of so many a wonderful legacy.  “Grant that he may have power and strength to have victory, and to triumph . . . .”  A wonderful prayer, all those years ago, and a wonderful prayer that would be shared as well with family, friends, all of us, today, this morning.  An invitation for us to hear, that we also might continue this day renewed and refreshed in Christ Jesus.

A word for us as well this morning from the great heavenly vision in the 21st Chapter of the Revelation to St. John the Divine: And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.”

In my Father’s house are many mansions.  Some contemporary translations give us this word from Jesus in John 14 as “In my Father’s house are many rooms.”  Which I guess makes sense, and which may be truer to the pattern of Greek as it is heard not in 16th century English but at the beginning of the 21st Century.  But I want to say this morning, as we commend the man so many called “Big Jim” West into the arms of our generous God, as we affirm our bonds in Jesus Christ for this life and the life to come, that there are mansions prepared for him, for us.  Of a grandeur and a glory and an abundance beyond anything we can imagine.  The fullness of sharing with Christ.  As he said, “that where I am, there ye may be also.”

As we express our friendship and sympathy today, acknowledging what is lost, may all that be embraced in a spirit of hope and expectation.  That Easter not be ever just a day on a calendar in the springtime, but the condition and reality of our lives, every month of the year, every day of our lives.  Which is why we light this Paschal Candle, the Candle of Easter, in the service this morning.  As we are born in Christ in baptism, as we live, as we die, and as we are reborn in his image and presence, to live in all fullness in the place, in the mansion, he has prepared for us.

And it seems just right to me here this morning that Amy will sing for us this song, “On Eagle’s Wings,” one of Jim and Netta’s favorites.  A sign of the Father’s deepest benediction and care for us, each of us individually, and as we think of Jim this morning.  May he rest in peace, and rise in glory. 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sea Squall

Fourth after Pentecost 
Proper 7B2, Mark 4: 35-41

Grace and peace this first Sunday of the summer, as we passed the solstice this past Wednesday evening--and it certainly has been feeling like summer this week, and maybe too much like summer--more like early August than late June.  I know for me the first part of this season is pretty busy, especially with preparations this year for our Episcopal Church General Convention in July in that wonderful summer resort town of Indianapolis.  But perhaps it is the little heat wave this past week, or the prospect of ten days in summertime southern Indiana, that has made it pleasant actually these past few days to be transported in imagination to the world of the fourth chapter of St. Mark’s gospel. 

There’s nothing I enjoy more in the summer than to spend time at the shore, and here in Mark 4 that’s just where we are.  We can almost hear the little waves lapping in the background.  Jesus at the end of the third chapter have departed from Nazareth, where as we remember from a couple of weeks ago his preaching, exorcisms and healings had led to a confrontation with the authorities and even with his family about what he was saying and doing--and about the source of his power.  The Master and the Twelve then walk the distance to the Sea of Galilee, and there at the shore Jesus begins to teach the assembled crowds in parables about the Kingdom of God, as we had a bit of that sermon last Sunday in the Parable of the Mustard Seed.   

Imagining a cool afternoon breeze off the water as we and they sit and take it all in.  He also talks about the Sower and the Seed and the different kinds of soils.  He says that a lamp doesn’t do any good under a bed or in a basket, but that it needs to be put up on a stand where it can be seen by all and shed light all around the room.  Both with the Mustard Seed parable and with the Parable of the Seed and the Wheat he talks about how God’s Kingdom springs up in our midst in surprising and unexpected ways, in mysterious ways that are beyond our understanding and control.

Hard to know what the crowds made of all this, though certainly Jesus seems to be making an impression.  This guy is a little different, for a rabbi.  A freshness to his teaching, perhaps.  Not the same old droning preacher in the pulpit, the too-familiar, cliched religious language.  His words seem to stir things up in the imagination, to answer questions they weren’t asking.  Almost to say that he wasn’t answering questions at all.  When he was finished they found they had even more questions than they had when he had begun.  Questions that had never occurred to them before.  Certainly we have through this period here the note from Mark that whenever there was a pause even the disciples were eager to ask questions themselves, to have things explained.

In any event, we come to our reading for today in Mark 4, and as evening approaches the crowds drift away, and the disciples of Jesus, several of them fishermen, as we remember, have Jesus get into a boat with them and prepare for the voyage to their next destination.  Jesus I gather doesn’t even prepare for the trip with whatever clothing might be appropriate, and he doesn’t go back home to Nazareth for his luggage.  St. Mark says, “they took him with them in the boat, just as he was.”  Smaller boats, apparently several of them, to get the whole group to go together.  And off they go, as darkness falls around them, and Jesus, exhausted after this long day of healing, casting out demons, teaching, and preaching, and debating, finally stretches out in the boat for a bit of rest.  It has been a long day.

And then of course, we know the story.  The clouds gather, the winds roar, the waves begin to churn, lightening flashes across the sky, and these experienced sailors, these men who have been on these very waters in every season and in every kind of weather since they were boys—well, it’s about the worst they’ve ever seen.  It would take a lot, I would think, to frighten them, something truly extraordinary, and they are indeed suddenly terrified for their lives.  They’re bailing like crazy, rowing with all their might, and for all their agitation, shouting, the rolling of the waves and howling of the wind, Jesus meanwhile seems entirely undisturbed.  Snoozing away, even though by this time he must be soaking wet.

“Can’t you see what’s happening, Jesus?”  “We’re in big trouble here!”  We know you don’t know much about boats and sailing, but couldn’t you at least wake up and panic a little, like the rest of us?”

And we know the rest of the story.  He does sit up.  He speaks, perhaps with a sigh, perhaps lifting up his hands in a kind of benediction over earth, sea, sky.  “Peace.  Be still.” 

“And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.”  

And in that stillness, that deep and sudden quiet, he turns to them:  “Why are you afraid?  Have you no faith?”  Haven’t you been listening at all to what I’ve been saying?  You’ve heard the words, but have you taken them to heart?  You've seen the healings, you’ve watched as the presence of the Evil One has been dismissed at my command.  And now you’re all in a commotion about a summer squall?  

And they fall silent.  In “awe,” Mark says.  I’d imagine it might almost be hard to breathe in a moment like that.  Awe and wonder.  “Who is this, that even the wind and sea obey him?”  What in the world is going on around here?

I think there’s something of a tendency, at least in our culture and era it seems quite common, to think about Christian identity and faith as something that is primarily or even exclusively a matter of inward interest and affection and value.  “My favorite color is blue.  I like salty snacks more than sweet snacks.  In my spare time I like to work in the garden.  I find the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins to be deeply meaningful.   And I know Jesus to be my personal Lord and Savior.”  

This is reinforced for us socially and politically, of course, and perhaps in a necessary way, as we bump up against one another in our not always harmonious diversity.  We don’t peek through each other’s windows, if we know what’s good for us, anyway--and so long as you mow your lawn occasionally and pay your taxes on time we don’t really care who your favorite poet is, or to what deity you address your bedtime prayers.  These things are part of the private sphere.  It may not even be polite to talk about these things in mixed company or outside of a small circle of friends.  Nobody’s business but your own. 

Which is perhaps why a story like this catches us a little off guard.  Maybe the same reason the disciples react the way they do.  “Prayers and blessings are fine, Jesus.  Teaching about the ancient scriptures--wonderful.  Even good advice about moral life and economics and politics.  All fine. 

But hey, Jesus:  leave the weather alone!  It’s disturbing to us, at least in our post-enlightenment world.  A category error.  Blindness, deafness, spinal cord injuries, skin diseases?  Leave all that to the doctors.  And I guess they can make it rain sometimes by flying in airplanes and seeding the clouds.  But Jesus—I think, from our point of view, we’d rather you would stay in church.  Respect appropriate boundaries.  We would say, “keep it spiritual.”

Even in a pre-enlightenment and non-western culture, the friends of Jesus don’t find this moment any easier to comprehend than we do.  Any easier to accept.  To integrate into an understanding of reality, of how things work.  And yet, what they saw, they saw.  With their own eyes.  Out there in the storm, on the open water, in their small boats.  

How in the world to make sense of this.  Who are you, Jesus?  What in the world is going on here?  What in the world is going on?  Something very new.  Something unexpected.

There are these moments.  In this obscure corner of backwater province.  In the tiniest of villages.  Along these dusty roads.  In this Jesus.  The Kingdom of God beginning to break through, to be revealed.  In reality.  Perhaps we can barely see it happening at the far edge, but the old world beginning to pass away, and hints now of what it will be, renewed and restored, healed, made whole.  What it will be, and what we can be as we let go our grip on what was passing away, and through repentance and a turning away from old loyalties and in a new commitment take hold of what God in Christ is doing now in this new way, in a reality that from where we stand now is all wonder and miracle.  It must have seemed like a dream.  Strange.  Unsettling.  They had never seen anything like it.  We've never seen anything like it.  

A glimpse in these moments of a whole new way of being alive.  Something about the real world, with God in it.  In our minds and hearts, yes.  But more than that as well.  The Kingdom of God.  True for us, and true for the world.

A foretaste, out there on the open water, as this piece of bread and sip of wine is here this morning all the abundance of feasting at heaven’s banquet table.  On the table.  Here and there at the same time, as we are in Christ, here and there at the same time. 

The Kingdom of God.  Not far away at all.  Right here.  Right now.

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

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Cedars and Shrubs

Third after Pentecost
Proper 6B2:  Ezekiel 17:22-24; Mark 4: 26-34

Grace and peace—and Happy Fathers’ Day!  As we move on into the summer, with prayers that this will be a season of refreshment and renewal for all.  I know for me this is a time of year when I enjoy doing a little yard work, as I can squeeze that in with all the other activities of the day, and perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to pause this morning over the imagery in the readings from Ezekiel in the 17th chapter and from the fourth chapter of St. Mark.  And we might say, a sermon and a word from scripture for us about trees and shrubs.  The Cedar in Ezekiel, and the Shrub, the one that grows from that Mustard Seed that Jesus talks about in Mark 4. 

But I want to begin and to set a bit of background and context for both readings by traveling to an earlier part of the Biblical story, in the fifth and sixth chapters of the Old Testament book of First Kings, which describes a moment of true renewal in the life of God’s people, as the divinely anointed Son of David, Solomon, having inherited the throne from his father and secured it from his enemies, now in response to God’s command begins to build on the holy hill of Zion that great Temple which was to be the magnificent Tent and Tabernacle and Dwelling Place on Earth of God himself.  That place of true Communion between God and Man, where in the Holy of Holies his divine presence would on earth be most fully present and fully known. 

So to read a bit from First Kings, to touch on a memory that would have been very familiar to Ezekiel and those in the time of Exile for whom he was writing: as King Solomon announces, “I purpose to build a house for the Name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to David my father, 'Your son, whom I will set upon your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.'   Now therefore I command that cedars of Lebanon be cut for me . . . .”  And then later “when the house was built, it was with stone prepared at the quarry; so that neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron was heard in the temple, while it was being built.  The entrance for the lowest story was on the south side of the house; and one went up by stairs to the middle story, and from the middle story to the third.  So he built the house and finished it; and he made the ceiling of the house of beams and planks of cedar.  He built the structure against the whole house , each story five cubits high, and it was joined to the house with timbers of cedar . . . .  He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar; from the floor of the house to the rafters of the ceiling he covered them inside with wood . . . he built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the rafters, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the most holy place.  The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long.  The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers; all was cedar, no stone was seen.  The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord.  The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high; and he overlaid it with pure gold.  He also made an altar of cedar . . . . .”

You get the idea.  It’s all cedar, Temple and Altar.  And all that in the background  and as the key connection for this passage from Ezekiel.  The centuries have rolled along.  One bad and faithless and disobedient king after another, generation after generation.  The whole rich, tragic story.  A story that led finally in Ezekiel’s day to the destruction of the nation, as the armies from the east swept down, in a cataclysm of loss.  The leaders of the people led off humiliated in chains.  And the vision of complete destruction.  Pillage and fire.  Solomon’s ancient Temple stripped of its riches and left in ruins, pile of rubble.  Nothing left for the exiled refugees but dust and ashes and regret.

And then, as the Prophet in the distant land of exile gives voice to God’s word, “Thus says the Lord God – I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of--a cedar . . . I will break off a tender one from the topmost of its young twigs . . . plant it on a high mountain . . . on the mountain height of Israel . . . in order that it may produce boughs and bear fruit, and become a noble Cedar.  Under it every kind of bird will live, in the shade of its branches will nest winged creatures of every kind . . . and all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord.”

Words of comfort, words of hope.  From that tiniest twig of the Cedar Forests of Lebanon, a new and noble Cedar, with lofty boughs, bringing forth good fruit, for shade and shelter.  To think of that image.  Every kind of bird and winged creature, and all creation, even the trees of the field shall know God’s sheltering presence.

Even in the midst of desolation and ruin, death and disaster, hopeless despair—with that tiniest twig of the forest, God will act to return to his holy place, to renew and restore and bless his people, and in abundance.  There is light, hope,  even in the darkest night.  

A new Temple, a new home and dwelling place for the Lord of Hosts; A Dwelling Place for the Almighty, and for us a new relationship of Communion with him.  To be together in the place where heaven touches earth, to dwell with him in that place that is the source and spring and fountain of all blessing and all holiness.

Thus says the Lord.  Forgiveness and grace.  Redemption, reconciliation, restoration, renewal.  It all happens in unexpected ways.  By God’s gracious action, and not by anything that we could ever do. 

Which carries us from Ezekiel to St. Mark.   The Cedar Tree and the Shrub, the Temple and the Kingdom, these two readings connected and echoing back and forth not just because we’re talking about trees and plants, but Cedar and the growth from the Mustard Seed as poetic images, signs of God’s presence and God’s power.  What God can do, will do, is doing right now in their presence, from a sprig and a mustard seed, whatever that is.  So small, so obscure, microscopic you can’t really even see it.  When you thought there was no room left for any hope, when God seems to have abandoned ship and left us to our own devices.

What Ezekiel could only foreshadow, Mark now can place front-and-center.  The one who was and is himself the new Temple, the Kingdom, Emmanuel, God with us.  The disciples begin  by asking, “what is the Kingdom of God?  His perfect Temple.  Where is it?  How will we know it when we see it?” But soon the question turns not on “what,” but on “who.”  Let me tell you about the Kingdom of God, says Jesus.  Can you picture a mustard seed?

On the night of his arrest Jesus is taken to the High Priest’s home for questioning.  In Mark 14 accusers come forward: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple, that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”

The renewal of the holy Temple of God, not in stones and wood, but in his flesh and blood.  The Body of Christ.  The Temple, the Kingdom, the Royal Banquet Hall.  That he might dwell in us, and we in him.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Water, Spirit

Holy Baptism: Cooper Reed Filipek
2nd after Pentecost (Proper 5B) Genesis 3: 8-15, Mark 3: 20-35

Grace and peace to all on this second Sunday in June, the Second Sunday after Pentecost, the First Sunday after the Feast of the Holy Trinity, which is how we used to count these weeks, and as I said last week now on into the long Green Season of “Ordinary Time.”  A pattern that fits well with the spirit of the coming summer, and a time we might even say of rest and reflection before we come next fall once again to Advent and the renewal of the great cycle of the Church Year. 

In our Revised Common Lectionary here at St. Andrew’s , just to get our footnotes in order, we begin at Proper 5, Year B, Track Two, and our gospel readings will now on Sunday mornings follow a more-or-less consecutive reading of St. Mark’s gospel (in Year A it’s Matthew, in Year C, Luke), with Old Testament readings in this Track Two selected to relate more or less in terms of theme to the gospel reading, and with the invitation before us, and perhaps I might say the challenge, on a week by week basis to hear God’s holy Word in scripture and to reflect on how that Word is to speak to us and to give shape and direction to our day to day lives.  Our “ordinary lives” in this “Ordinary Time.”

That said, our first Sunday in “Ordinary Time” is certainly not for us an ordinary Sunday, as we have come together this morning and as we have just shared in this highest of moments in Christian life, the celebration of Holy Baptism.  A celebration which may be done simply and quietly, or with trumpets and brass and drums, but in any case will never be and can never be “ordinary.”  Cooper Reed Filipek, son of Dan and Marlie.  

We had him and his mom and dad in our prayers through those months of expectancy and gestation, as he was being knit together in the womb by our Heavenly Father, we celebrated his birth as storks circled overhead here in Highland Park, and today what a truly extraordinary privilege, on a Sunday in “Ordinary Time,” as we gather around this font as a Christian family, as Cooper’s parents and godparents, Aunt Jaime and Uncle Brandon, and all of us, family and friends, renew our Christian commitment and today celebrate with and for Cooper the sacramental mystery of incorporation and adoption, as the seed of faith is planted graciously and lovingly by our Heavenly Father, within the embrace of the faith of the whole Church in heaven and on earth, saints and martyrs and multitudes from every generation who have confessed Jesus as Lord and who have known the gift of his graceful love—who have been inspired by his life and his teaching to hope for and to begin to realize the promise of eternal life with him, who have promised freely and in thanksgiving to serve him as Lord as he reigns at the right hand of the Father and in the communion of the Holy Spirit One God forever and ever.

No ordinary Sunday, as we have heard Dan and Marlie, Jaime and Brandon, standing by Cooper and with all of us: Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your Savior?  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love?  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?  I do, I do, I do.  Words spoken over Cooper this morning, as they were on October 9, 1977, at this very same font spoken over his father Dan.  (And Cooper this morning wearing the same baptismal gown . . . .)  The heart and soul of our new life beginning for each of us in the waters of baptism, in the choice to turn away from sin and death, the conscious choice to reject all the temptations that the Evil One would have to offer us, and to follow Jesus.  No ordinary Sunday, and a great and joyful day for us all.

So with all that, just a word.  Hovering around us is that reading we heard a few minutes ago from the beginning of Genesis.  The history of brokenness, of the willful disobedience that is for each of us our natural state of being, and which we all have known and experienced.  One bite of the apple, all it took.  A snapshot profile of the Human Condition.  

The moment in the Garden as our First Father and Mother hid themselves in guilt and shame, just as we have spent so much of our lives hiding, locking the truth of ourselves away, sweeping under the rug, with the really sad and pathetic belief it seems that we might not be held accountable.  Denial, blame.  Again, the whole human story, so familiar.  Even as we pray week by week to the Almighty God “unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, from whom no secrets are hid.”

It was to overthrow the consequences of this rebellion and the curse of sin and death that Jesus was born that winter night in the Little Town of Bethlehem.  God acting because we were and are as we know all too well by ourselves incapable of acting.  God living for us and dying for us to break the pattern of sin and to free us to know his grace and his love forever.  Healed and reconciled, knowing, accepting, confessing our sin, and receiving the gift of grace and forgiveness.

And so we have as well this passage from the Third Chapter of St. Mark, which seems to me to be a great passage to read on a baptismal day.  Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum.  In these opening chapters of Mark Jesus’s ministry has begun with an intense and dramatic series of healings and exorcisms and prophetic words and actions that just seem to explode across these villages of the Galilee.  The crowds gather, and there is sharp controversy with community leaders and religious officials even from Jerusalem, who have come out to see what all the fuss is about.  And even his family.  I wonder what Mary must have made of all this.  Remembering what she could remember of the words of Gabriel, Blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of your womb, of the hope and fear that filled her heart on that night all those years ago, as the Shepherds told her the news of what they had seen and heard from the angelic choir.  Or what old Simeon had said to her in the Temple:  “Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”

“Your family has come to take you away, Jesus.”  And it seems like one of those turning points.  Lots of folks were curious at first, but now things are getting a little crazy.  Most everybody is backing toward the door.  But Jesus looks at those who remain, who stay with him, who have listened and heard and known something in their hearts, and who have made a choice in that moment to stay with him.  “My family?”  He says.  “And looking at those who sat around him, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!  Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.”

So Cooper Reed, and Dan and Marlie, and Jaime and Brandon, and all of us this morning.  All of us.  A splash of water, a dab of oil on the forehead, a prayer of dedication, and welcome to this new family!  Washing away the ancient curse and choosing to follow Jesus, to hear his word for us.  To intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways.  Choosing not the way of sin and death, but the royal highway of our Lord and Savior.

It is a great beginning, and may it be a blessing, and a time of renewal for all of us.  As I hope we all will feel it this morning.  As my college roommate’s poster read, and again for Cooper and for all of us, “Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” 

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

Sunday, June 3, 2012


Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of hosts; heaven and earth are full of thy glory.  Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.

Good morning and blessings indeed on this Sunday after the Feast of Pentecost, Trinity Sunday.  This a day on the Christian calendar, always in late May or early June, that I like to think of as a kind of bookend, along with the First Advent Sunday at the end of November down at the other end of the row—the two marking the boundaries of the rich cycle of seasons and days from Advent and Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Ascension, Whitsunday, all marking the great course of Biblical narrative and Christian identity.  After today the door to summer swings open and on the calendar we simply begin counting Sundays until next Advent, next week the Second Sunday after Pentecost, before you know it the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, and on and on.  Our Roman Catholic brothers and sisters simply call them all “Sundays in Ordinary Time.”

Nothing “ordinary” about Trinity Sunday, though.  This is very often, and is this year, the last Sunday of our Parish Choir’s spring season, and now heading off into a bit of a summer interval, but even if that weren’t the case, and even if we weren’t this morning also celebrating and giving thanks for the ministry of our good friend Dr. Oye Dosunmu as he leaves our choir ranks to fly off to Massachusetts and to a new life on the music faculty at Williams College—even if all that weren’t the case, we would have all the stops out today for Trinity Sunday.  And again that great vision of the Prophet Isaiah, Cherubim and Seraphim and all the company of heaven, angelic multitudes gathered in the Temple at the Great Throne of God Almighty, the whole earth shaking and the skies thundering in awe and wonder, “Holy, holy, holy Lord.  Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory.  Glory be to thee, O Lord most high.

This is a day, a turning point, a summing-up, that brings together the two great themes of our life and mission as Church, pedagogical and doxological.  A kind of awkward rhyme, playing with words, but perhaps helpful.  Pedagogy, as we by this word Trinity and as we unpack it through a careful study and reflection of God’s Word in Holy Scripture as that Word has been read and understood and communicated by prophets and apostles, theologians and saints in every corner of the wide world and over these two thousand years.  Pedagogy is what we teach, what it means to be a Christian, in faithful obedience to the command of Jesus at the end of St. Matthew’s Gospel, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”  And so from generation to generation in the Church and from the Church to the world.

And our doxology, our word of praise, our worship.  The hymns we sing and the prayers we offer in Church on Sunday, of course, but even more, that this doxology, that this word of praise, is not just something we do but a way of describing what we are, who we are.  As you may recall one of my favorite statements borrowed from our Presbyterian friends and the Westminster Confession, but to the heart of our identity and purpose and proclamation, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”  That our every breath and our every action would have us gathered up into Isaiah’s angelic throng.  Holy, holy,  holy.

To know the Father in every moment of our lives, waking and sleeping, Creator and Preserver of All Things.  To know so deeply and so personally His only Son, Jesus our friend, Son of Mary, Master, Teacher, very God of very God, begotten of the Father before all Worlds, God from God, Light from Light.  Word made flesh.  To receive the gift of the Spirit, Advocate, Comforter, Proceeding from the Father and the Son.  Judge and Guide, Teacher of Truth, Wind in our Sails, Bringing Birth from Above.  

One God in Trinity of Persons, perfectly stable and inwardly dynamic, still and in motion, giving and receiving in perfect love, and perfect unity.  The God who separated the night from the day, the sea from the land, who speaks and reveals himself and his will in the word of Holy Scripture,  who called Abraham and chose David and who inspired the prophets, who walked in the villages of the Galilee,  who gave himself on the Cross, who is seated on the Great Throne as Eternal Ruler of Heaven and Earth,  who came down upon the church like fire on Pentecost Sunday, who reveals himself to us in friend and stranger, Who knocks at the door of our hearts, that we might open the door,  that he might dwell in us and we in him.

We might enjoy marching in a procession behind a St. Andrew banner, and we lift high the Cross in our great ceremonial entrances, but it is the fullness of the Trinity that we would lift up always and completely as the emblem of our Christian faith and life, at the head of the vast parade, across the continents and the centuries.

And as we share the news, open the word, breathing in and breathing out, what is pedagogical becomes at the same time for us truly doxological.  To glorify God and enjoy him forever.  All about worship, adoration, praise.  The heart of Trinity Sunday and the door that swings open to the whole of life that we share as Christian people, the heart and meaning and experience of this Holy Communion, as we would know the one whose very name as the Angel promised is to be Emmanuel, God with us.  There is the wonderful 19th century American hymn:  “What tho' my joys and comforts die? The Lord my Saviour liveth; What tho' the darkness gather round? Songs in the night he giveth. No storm can shake my inmost calm While to that refuge clinging; Since Christ is Lord of heaven and earth, How can I keep from singing?”

Couples used to get up from the table as the band began to play.  “They're playing our song.”  And so this morning, as certainly I know we all felt it as we joined the great affirmation and creed and anthem of the Breastplate of St. Patrick.  They're playing our song:  “I bind unto myself the Name, the strong Name of the Trinity, by invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.  Of whom all nature hath creation, eternal Father, Spirit, Word: praise to the Lord of my salvation, salvation is of Christ the Lord.”

How can I keep from singing?