Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter Morning

Acts 10: 34-43; First Corinthians 15: 19-26; John 20: 1-18

Friends: Grace and peace to you, blessings, joy--all the riches of God’s favor, on this First Morning of the world.

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us: therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.  (I Cor. 5)

Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.  Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 6)

And as we remind ourselves every year, the ancient and traditional greeting of this day and season.  Before you sit down, let’s say this together:  Christos anesti! Christ is risen!  And the reply,  Alithos anesti!  He is risen indeed!  And we would share that greeting. 

Christos anestiAlithos anesti!

Easter blessings, and in abundance.   Wonderful to see you today.

O sons and daughters, let us sing!  The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death today rose triumphing.  Alleluia! (Hymnal 1982, #206)

We enter this morning through the doors of this great old place on Hampton Street in Highland Park, but in the deeper reality of our hearts and minds we find ourselves once more with Mary in the Garden, and there is a sound, and we turn, and he approaches—across the quiet space that is this morning the landscape of all the created universe, matter, space, time.  And in that still moment, he speaks that one word, our name.  And we hear him.  And we know him.  And he knows us.  And in that moment and from that moment and forever everything is fresh and new and alive and true.  Because he is true.  Because he lives.

Christ is risen from the dead, and become the first-fruits of them that slept.  For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.  (I Cor. 15)

Our reading from St. Paul this morning.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

Very important to keep the message clear, the Easter news.  The empty tomb is startling and strange.  The discovery that the same Jesus who died on that Cross is now alive again--even more startling and strange.  Perhaps to say, “Jesus is alive!  Isn't that amazing?  What a lucky guy!  Everybody else we've ever known who has died, has stayed dead.  But not Jesus.  What are the odds?  Like hitting the Powerball.  How wonderful that must be for him and for his family and friends.

The Easter message is more.  We would remind ourselves of that this morning, refresh ourselves in that.  

That in his death it was the ultimate power and finality of death itself that was defeated.   

Defeated, not simply avoided.  Defeated, once, for all.  

That in his death was every last broken and diseased and dying part of ourselves cancelled and healed.  

And—he lives!   Risen with healing in his wings, life and light to all he brings.  The last enemy.  The Snake in the Garden crushed at last.  And that in his rising to life again, we come to life with him.  New life.  That in his rising to new life again it is not simply another morning, but a new morning and the First Morning.  The tide has turned, truly and forever.

It takes a while to sink in, actually.  For all of us.  The Word entering our lives.  Then molding and shaping us.  A life of faith, a life of hope.  A seed planted, then to grow quietly over time to its fullness and flower.  Our minds and our hearts, our behavior, our relationships.  Everything becomes new.  John tells us that this first disciples to come to the tomb “did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”   

A new morning and the First Morning, and the dawn comes quietly, gradually.  From the Garden to the Manger, from the Manger to the Cross.  And then, from the Cross, back to this Garden.  Adam to Adam.  First Man to New Man.  

From that word spoken to Abraham in the 12th Chapter of Genesis.  I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great . . . and by you all the families of earth shall bless themselves.    

From the Word of the Prophet Isaiah, in the 65th chapter:   For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy. 

For mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people, to be a light to lighten the Gentiles, and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

Worthy is the Lamb who was slain—in the 5th Chapter of St. John’s Revelation—worthy is the Lamb to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing . . . .  To him who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might, for ever and ever. 

That he is risen from the dead, that he is exalted to the Right Hand of the Father, Savior of all, Lord of all, and Judge of all.  The Alpha and the Omega,  going out and coming home.

Thine, O Lord is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty:  for all that is in the heaven and in the earth is thine;  thine is the kingdom, O Lord, and thou art exalted as head above all. (I Chronicles 29)

So friends, good people of this parish family, may this Easter morning be not only for us a day of music and celebration, though it certainly is that, and will be, very wonderfully, with organ and choir and brass, and a long winter giving way we would hope and pray now to a spring of new life and abundant growth, in our families, our community, our church. 

But may it be even more, even more, a day of spring and Easter in our hearts and in our minds and in our lives, to know that God’s promises from the beginning of time are true and sure for us and to know that we are in him now and destined to be in him and with him and for him forever.  

This day is meant for you personally.  He saw you and knew you perfectly in his hour on the Cross, and his Easter is for you.   Every word of scripture points to this day, and every atom of being in the created order is fulfilled and completed, here, and now.

As we come forward for our Easter Communion this morning, to pass underneath the words of his promise, John 12,  inscribed on the Rood Beam:  And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.

I go to prepare a place for you—John 14.  And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself.  That where I am, there ye may be also.

Because the Cross that was defeat and death is now his victory and our victory, his Body broken and his Blood poured out now given for the healing of the nations, for our healing, for our new life.  New Life now, and life eternal.  A new reality. New heaven.  New Earth.   

By his blood he reconciles us, by his wounds we are healed. 

What healing would we ask him for this morning, in the yearning of our heart?  Healing in the wide world, wars and suffering.  Healing in our homes and families.  Healing in the brokenness within.  In the words of the old hymn: take it to the Lord in prayer.  

Where there is hatred, where there is injury, where there is discord, where there is doubt, despair, darkness, sadness? What healing would we ask him for this morning?  That we would put our trust in him, who died for us. That we might live in him always, who rose again, who lives and reigns.  Whose promise is true.

Second Peter, Chapter 2:  For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty.

First Peter, chapter 1: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!  By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you – for you—who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation to be revealed in the last time.

Mary ran to her friends with the news: I have seen the Lord. So for us, today, this morning. So Paul’s great affirmation in Romans 8: For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Sing with joy, and keep singing.   Christos anesti.  Alithos anesti. He is risen indeed. Alleluia.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

God's Grandeur

God’s Grandeur
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Easter Vigil

I Vespers Easter

Almighty God, which through thy only begotten Son Jesus Christ hast overcome death, and opened unto us the gate of everlasting life; we humbly beseech thee, that, as by thy special grace, preventing us, thou dost put into our minds good desires, so by thy continual help we may bring the same to good effect; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end.  Amen.

Interval: Holy Saturday

Descendit ad infernos.

Ikon: The Harrowing of Hell

--Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

Down through the tomb's inward arch

He has shouldered out into Limbo

to gather them, dazed, from dreamless slumber:

the merciful dead, the prophets,

the innocents just His own age and those

unnumbered others waiting here

unaware, in an endless void He is ending

now, stooping to tug at their hands,

to pull them from their sarcophagi,

dazzled, almost unwilling. Didmas,

neighbor in death, Golgotha dust

still streaked on the dried sweat of his body

no one had washed and anointed, is here,

for sequence is not known in Limbo;

the promise, given from cross to cross

at noon, arches beyond sunset and dawn.

All these He will swiftly lead

to the Paradise road: they are safe.

That done, there must take place that struggle

no human presumes to picture:

living, dying, descending to rescue the just

from shadow, were lesser travails

than this: to break

through earth and stone of the faithless world

back to the cold sepulchre, tearstained

stifling shroud; to break from them

back into breath and heartbeat, and walk

the world again, closed into days and weeks again,

wounds of His anguish open, and Spirit

streaming through every cell of flesh

so that if mortal sight could bear

to perceive it, it would be seen

His mortal flesh was lit from within, now,

and aching for home. He must return,

first, in Divine patience, and know

hunger again, and give

to humble friends the joy

of giving Him food--fish and a honeycomb.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Good Friday, in the Second Hour

First Meditation

The story unfolding before us—so familiar and deeply engrained that we can almost whisper along word by word.

The pictures fill our minds, perhaps glimpses from works of great art down through the centuries, or from films, or from the meditation of our own imagination. The old Good Friday hymn asks, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” And it is indeed as though we were there, as though our experience of this hour is memory, deeply felt, deeply experienced. 

The sights and sounds and smells of that corner of the city landfill outside the gates of Old Jerusalem so vivid. We close our eyes, and we are there, on that day. We remember.

And of course that memory surrounds and permeates, explores, illuminates, embraces, interprets, haunts, so much of our lives. Day by day. 

The horrors of this world. War and rumors of war. Natural disasters. Cruelty and crime. From Syria to Newtown, Connecticut.  We see him on that Cross and ask what it all means: how to make sense of what is beyond making-sense. 

The fragility of our lives seems to go up there with him, the whole burden of our weakness, our vulnerabilities. Our tenderness. We bend. We break. 

Just a lot of Good Friday, all around us, in our midst, in our own lives. And we close our eyes, and we are there, on that day. We remember. It is not far away at all, but all too real. All too nearby. 

And the Cross that is above us, overhead, not an ornament of architectural decoration, but the essential key to the interpretation of our lives. Without it, it is night, and we are alone in the forest, without a clue, without a map, without a trail to follow. It is all we have.

Jesus said, I go to prepare a place for you, and if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and bring you to myself, that where I am, there ye may be also. And Thomas said, Lord, we know not whither thou goest, and how can we know the way? How can we know the way?

And he gives us this sign. Himself. On the cross. And with those words from John 14: I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me.

This the way, as the Cross beckons us, the light on the path, the gate, the door, the way forward. He prayed in the Garden that last night: Father, if there is some other way forward, show it to me now. But there was no other way. Not for him, and so also not for us. Before Sunday morning, always Friday.

We carry this hope, we live in it, and for it, the deep foundation under us. The King of Love my shepherd is, whose goodness faileth never. But it doesn’t make this part any easier. Oh. Sometimes it causes me to tremble. Tremble. Tremble. 

And so, here we are. Trembling.  However strong, however, complete, however good we may appear to others.  On our way to the Cross ourselves, as he is before us on his. Listening for his last word for us: Come unto me, all ye that travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.

Good Friday, and all of us together here with him. And even at the grave we make our song. It is his victorious Cross, trampling down death by death. 

The Way, the Truth, the Life. The Cross and only the Cross, this day, this hour, light in the darkness, the power of God, giving life to those in the tomb.

May his Cross be for you this day the opening door to life and eternal life in him.

Good Friday, 2013

All majesty has vanished
from the daughter of Zion.

Her princes have become like deer
that can find no pasture
and run on, their strength all spent,
pursued by the hunter.

Jerusalem has remembered
her days of misery and wandering,
when her people fell into the power of the adversary
and there was no one to help her.

Lamentations of Jeremiah 1: 6-7

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Palm Sunday

 Philippians 2: 5-11; St. Luke’s Passion Gospel

Grace and peace this morning, first Sunday morning of the spring, and as we have continued this Lenten journey, a sharp turn now: from the triumphal entry of Palm Sunday to this overshadowing of darkness, as we are delivered almost with a case of whiplash to the heart of Holy Week and to the foot of the Cross.  Those thunderheads we first saw in the distance now all around us, directly above.  A roaring storm.

No matter how many times we have repeated the liturgical sequence, year after year after year, processing up the center aisle, waving our palm fronds in the air, no matter how many times we have heard and read the story, no matter all the films, from Cecil B. DeMille to Mel Gibson to the History Channel, the jumble of emotions seems inevitably to catch us by surprise.  We become like a deer caught in the headlights.  Frozen.   

We see what’s coming, we know the whole story by heart, but even so it’s too much all at once for us to process.  We are unable to move.  We just:  watch. Horror, amazement, remorse, regret, guilt, sadness.  All at once.  The whole catastrophe.  Our heart is full, and breaking.

In the deeper background, the lectionary gives something of a soundtrack.  A song carried in the wind.  I’d just like for us to notice it this morning, bring it forward.

St. Paul in this familiar passage from the second chapter of Philippians, quoting a bit of an early Christian hymn—that’s the guess, anyway, based on the regular meter of the lines.  I don’t know what tune they would have used.  Back in the middle 19th century Caroline Maria Noel, the daughter of an English priest, gave us the hymn based on this text that we sing now to Vaughan Williams, “King’s Weston.”

At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow . . . .

Sing that to ourselves while the hammer is pounding in the nails.

At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow, every tongue confess him King of glory now; ’tis the Father’s pleasure we should call him Lord, who from the beginning was the mighty Word.

The whole letter to the Philippians is filled from start to finish with this sense of warm, deep personal tenderness, affection, a connection for Paul of spiritual companionship that seems so much of the heart and mind.  Such a contrast to the Passion Gospel that plays out for us in the foreground.

 In the 16th chapter of Acts we hear this story of Paul in the midst of his missionary work in the Province of Galatia in Asia Minor, modern Turkey, and a vision that he saw in the night.  A Greek man, a Macedonian, saying  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”  And with this vocational inspiration Paul and his companions change direction and board a ship--and they and the gospel are soon brought for the first time from Asia into Europe. 

They come, first, to Philippi, where they meet and share their word with the woman Lydia, a working woman who makes her living dyeing cloth, and in the power of that converting moment she and her household become the first Christians in this new world.  Shortly thereafter Paul and Silas are charged with disturbing the peace after they perform an exorcism and healing for a slave woman who was employed by her owners as a fortune teller in the city square.  

Lots of adventure in a short period of time.  Paul and his companions are locked up.  But then there is an earthquake in the night, and the doors of the prison swing open-- and the apostles, instead of escaping and running for their lives, remain in their place right where they are, sharing the gospel with the other prisoners, and all together all night singing hymns—and when the jailer comes and in a panic is about to commit suicide because he knows he will face a death 

penalty for the escape of the prisoners, they call out to him, saving his life.  We’re all here.  Don’t be afraid.  And that jailer then and his household come to hear what Paul has to share, and then to join along with Lydia’s family and those who were prisoners in the jail to build further this new rag-tag Philippian Christian congregation.  Quite a story for those setting out in church-planting missionary work.  Paul’s plan,  I guess:  tell the story to everyone you meet, and let the Spirit do the rest.

Paul stayed with them in Philippi just a short while as a teacher and guide before moving on to Thessalonika and then to Athens and then to Corinth.  But all along the way from that day forward it seems they were in a very special place in his heart, and apparently there was much communication, letters back and forth, messages passed along by word of mouth by travelers, a network of Christian friends.  And now it’s a few years later and Paul is planning a return to Jerusalem, and he wants to bring with him an offering from all the Gentile churches to share with the poor of the Judean churches.  A sign of friendship in the gospel.  A mark of catholicity, we might say.  

Although we are separated by language, race, culture, we are all one in Christ.  Your burdens are our burdens.  And although the Philippian congregation is still itself very small and also very poor, they have sent an exceptionally generous gift and offering for him to add to the collection.  A gift that he knows to be a tremendous challenge, a sacrifice.  Especially from that bunch.  Not out of their abundance, but from their own poverty.  Not in pride, but in humility.  The simplicity of the gesture.  Not pomp and circumstance.  A reminder of the Widow’s Mite.  In her poverty she gave all she had.

And so this Letter to the Philippians, which is at its heart a thank you note for this gift, and Paul’s expression of joy and love and pastoral encouragement, a word of tenderness, and the heart of the gospel, as we have seen the story set before us ourselves this morning at the beginning of Holy Week. A costly gift.  His one oblation of himself—his one oblation of himself, once offered. 

“Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.”

Let it be for us this way always.  To say, when I look at you, I see Jesus.  When I look at you, I see Jesus.  His love, his generosity, his faithfulness, his Cross.  When I look at you, I see Jesus.

Who did not hesitate to set aside every privilege and entitlement in order to come near us.  Who was rich, yet embraced our poverty. Who was strong, yet embraced our weakness.  Who did not hesitate to take to himself our brokenness, the weight of our sin.

Is there anything else for us to experience in our hearts here in Holy Week, but an overflowing of gratitude? 

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus.  All love.

O love, how deep, how broad, how wide . . . .

For us to wicked hands betrayed, scourged, mocked, in purple robe arrayed, he bore the shameful cross and death; for us gave up his dying breath.

At the Name of Jesus, every knee shall bow.  The pounding of the nails in the background.  And as the echo from First John 4, and a sentence to write over all this Holy Week and all of our lives, the gift we might offer in response: Since God so loved us . . . since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.  

Blessings, prayers, and encouragement, as we enter this Holy Week together.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Evensong March 17

Go to "Full Screen" mode for best picture.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Phil Wainwright on St. Joseph

Sermon at Choral Evensong, Sunday, March 17 
St. Andrew's Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh
The Rev. Dr. Philip Wainwright
Priest Associate, St. Andrew's Church
Priest in Charge, Episcopal Ministry at the University of Pittsburgh


I've been asked to preach on Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, and since I seldom refuse a challenge, that’s what I’m going to do. It is a challenge, though, because although we see him every Christmas, standing quietly off to the side in the manger scene, the Bible tells us so much less about him than about the rest of the dramatis personae in that scene, and we have to dig a bit deeper if we’re to give him his rightful place in God’s word, and be able to hear God’s voice speaking to us in what Scripture says about him.

The word, Joseph, is Hebrew for Jehovah has added, and first appears in Scripture as the name given by Rachel to the child she finally bore after years of waiting, and years of watching her rival and older sister Leah have one son after another.1 God… hearkened to her and opened her womb, the narrator of Genesis tells us. She conceived and bore a son, and said, ‘God has taken away my reproach’; and she called his name Joseph, saying, ‘May the Lord add to me another son!’ 

So the name came into being right in the middle of the world we live in today: no sooner was Joseph named with thanksgiving and celebration, Jehovah has added, than more is demanded: add to me another son. Genesis even puts it in the same sentence. Even after three thousand years of human beings becoming daily more superior in every imaginable way, as they tell me, you may be familiar with that attitude. You may even have moments like that yourself.

But through the Joseph named with such ambiguous sentiments God brought shelter and protection to his whole family. You remember how young Joseph was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers. Instead of yielding to his fate and living like a slave, or rebelling against it with such fury that he died of the inevitable punishments, Joseph made himself useful and rose to become the de facto governor of the most powerful nation of the time. 

God gave him a key rĂ´le in the national life of the Israelites, but he remained still so much part of the family in his own mind that when he was finally reconciled with his brothers, he made them promise that he would be buried in the place where he would have been if his descendants had never been taken into captivity.2 And he was—but not until generations later. His family’s descendants fell back into slavery in Egypt, but when God finally delivered them and they escaped from Egypt and returned to the promised land, they took Joseph’s body with them, and Moses ordered it finally buried in its proper place.3 Moses pronounced this blessing on his descendants: Blessed by the Lord be his land, with the choicest gifts of heaven above… Let these come upon the head of Joseph, and upon the crown of the head of him that is prince among his brothers.4 

When his descendants formed themselves into a new nation in the promised land, they sometimes called themselves ‘the sons of Joseph’. This first Joseph was a foreshadowing of the one far down the generations who would shelter and protect the One Who would save God’s people not from earthly depredations but spiritual ones, from the covetousness that cries add to me another in the midst of the blessings being poured out on us and all the other spiritual failings that still beset us.5

Lots of people in the Old Testament were named after him over the centuries,6 but many of Joseph’s descendants did not live by the faith handed down to them and did not take seriously their promises to live in accordance with the Lord’s will; but the Lord never abandoned them, never ceased to call them back to Him through the prophets; Hate evil, and love good, and establish justice… it may be that the Lord… will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph, was the burden of their message they brought from God (Amos 5.15).

The first Joseph was the son of Jacob, and when the time finally came for God to redeem his wayward and sinful people, Matthew tells us that the He used another Joseph, the son of another Jacob: the quiet figure in the manger scene. Despite the mass of legends that accumulated around him during the middle ages, we know a lot less about him than about the first Joseph, who gets about twenty chapters to himself in the book of Genesis. 

We presume he was born in Bethlehem, because when Caesar Augustus ordered a census to be taken, everyone had to go back to the town where he was born in order to participate in it, and Joseph went to Bethlehem. We may also presume that his whole family had moved away years earlier,  because when he went he had no friends or relatives there with whom he could stay.

The first thing we don’t have to presume is that he was a righteous man, because Matthew tells us that explicitly.7 We can see that this is true by his response when he found out his fiancee was pregnant. Knowing it could not be his child, he was nevertheless unwilling to put her to shame, and resolved to divorce her quietly. Because he was a righteous man, he decided to obey the spirit of the law given in the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 22, and cancelled the marriage, but because he was also compassionate and kind he planned to do so without fuss, just an announcement that it was best for all if the marriage did not take place, no reasons given. To have done otherwise would have meant dreadful punishment for Mary, as well as for the unknown man whom for a while Joseph assumed was the father of the unborn child. 

Joseph’s righteousness made him obey the spirit of the law, his mercy made him reluctant to insist on the letter of it; another foreshadowing, this time of Jesus’s sacrifice of Himself for the sake of others, in which mercy and justice are both fulfilled completely. But while Joseph is still considering his response,8 God sent an angel to show Joseph the truth: do not fear to take Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit; she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins. And Joseph happily obeyed—happy to believe something he cannot understand, partly because he loves Mary, but more importantly because he loves God. 

A husband who loves his wife is only halfway there; it takes love of God as well to be a good husband, although we all need a deal of growth in both these loves, as every wife will testify—although a merciful wife will change the subject when asked about it!

Joseph did not apparently think very deeply about the angel’s words; he was happy to have his difficulty resolved, and unlike Mary, who treasured these things in her heart, Joseph put them out of his mind and got on with the business of providing for his family. So when he and Mary took the baby to the Temple in Jerusalem to present him to the Lord, as was the custom for the first-born male, Joseph was amazed when someone in the Temple, just a by-stander really, looked at the little baby and began to pray, saying now You let me die in peace, for my eyes have seen thy salvation which You have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to Your people Israel

In seeing the baby, Simeon had seen his Saviour.9 Simeon also was led by the Holy Spirit to reveal some painful things that lay ahead for the baby, but he said those things to Mary only. Joseph was the practical type, and just got on with the job God had given him without too much speculation.

Soon the angel came back to Joseph and said take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there till I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him. God’s guidance and Joseph’s willingness to be guided saved the infant Jesus from death before He could carry out God’s plan for the salvation of the world. And that was impressive willingness: a journey of several weeks into an unknown land where he had no support from friends or family, until the danger was past. 

We heard in our reading that he and Mary shared the anxiety when Jesus, ten years or more later, failed to tell His parents that He was staying behind to chat to the teachers in the Temple,10 but after that, we hear almost nothing of him. He was said by the inhabitants of Nazareth to have been a carpenter,11 although the Greek word tekton, usually means ‘builder.’ But Justin Martyr, who was born in Palestine probably around 100 AD, a Greek speaker, believed that the word meant ‘carpenter’ and said that he had seen ploughs and ox-yokes still in use which were said to have been made in the carpenter-shop at Nazareth.

That he was a good father we can also presume, because Luke tells us that Jesus was obedient to him,12 and since we are also told that Jesus was without sin, Joseph must never have told Jesus to do anything that wasn't upright and honest. And it may be due to Joseph that Jesus could not imagine a father who, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent.13 

In some of the incidents of His adult life His father is not named when Jesus’s whole family is referred to,14 and there is no mention of him at the crucifixion or afterwards, when Mary is mentioned often, which leads most scholars to conclude that he must have died earlier, leaving Mary a widow. Jesus, when about to die on the Cross, entrusted His mother to John’s care, which he would have been unlikely to do if her husband was still alive.

All in all, we can say that there is not a lot about this distant descendant of the first Joseph in the Bible, yet what God did through the first Joseph foreshadowed what God would do through the second, bringing salvation to His people from the consequence of their sins. And it’s nice to know that practical men who tend to feel a little out of their depth when spiritual issues are at the top of the agenda can still serve God by being faithful to the tasks God has given them, by being a good husband and father even when by ordinary standards it’s not easy to do that. 

By sticking to the task set before him, by doing what God asked even when it wasn't easy or convenient, Joseph became part of something bigger than he may have ever understood in this life.

There isn't one of us who can’t do as much as Joseph: keep the faith even when we’re not sure where it’s taking us, be the best we can for God, follow faithfully the path set before us, journeying with God and trusting Him for the destination. I pray that this reminder of what great things God can do with small acts of faithfulness will encourage us all to a greater persistence in our own faith, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 Genesis 30.22–24
2 Gen 50.25
3 Joshua 24.32.
4 Deut 33.13–16.
5 Psalm 80:1. Cf Psalm 105.19, the word of the Lord tested him, referring to Joseph.
6 Eg 2)  father of Igal, who represented the tribe of Issachar among the spies, Num 13.7, no other info; 3) a  son of the prophet Asaph, I Chron 25.2, no other info; 4) a man who took a foreign wife in the time of Ezra, 10.42, no other info; 5) a  priest of the family of Shebaniah in the time of Nehemiah, 12.14, no other info; 6) the son of Jonam, several generations after David, Luke 3.30, no other info.
7 Matt 1.19
8 Matt 1.20
9 Luke 2.33
10 Luke 2.48
11 Matt 13.55
12 Luke 2.51
13 Luke 11.11
14 Matt 12:46; Mark 3:31; Luke 8:19; John 7:3

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fourth in Lent: Laetare

Luke 15; 1-3,11-32
Laetare Ierusalem.  The first words in the traditional Latin Mass Introit for this Fourth Sunday in Lent.  Laetare Sunday, as it says on the front page of the leaflet:  Rejoice, O Jerusalem: and come together all you that love her: rejoice with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled . . . .
Something of a resting place along this highway of Lent. Think how that great multitude of Hebrews must have felt as they passed from the desert wilderness into the first lush valley of the Land of Promise.  Their journey wasn't over.  Not by a long shot.  But what a wonderful time to pause and take in the beauty all around them and to feast on the riches of the land.

Sometimes called “Refreshment Sunday.”  Also in England called “Mothering Sunday”-- and in the Downton Abbey households of the great aristocracy a day when the upstairs family would fend for themselves and the downstairs staff would be given the day off to go home for a family visit.  In churches where Lent is observed with a more rigorous discipline, the one Sunday in Lent when you might have flowers on the altar and something more than coffee on the refreshments table in coffee hour.  

Not a time to throw all our Lenten observance overboard.  Not yet a time for the trumpets and feasting of Easter.  But a time to relax the disciplines just a bit, perhaps.  A reminder that we aren’t earning our salvation here, but simply learning, learning to practice our mindfulness in the presence of the Lord whose property it is always to have mercy. To learn again and again that it is only by his grace and love that we can have any hope for this life or for the life to come.

 But on into the week ahead, with the continuing invitation to the keeping 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.  So continued prayers of encouragement along the way, even as we pause here for refreshment.  Laetare Ierusalem. Even in the middle of deepest Lent the hymns of Easter rumble underneath us.  Jesus lives!  Thy terrors now, Can, O Death, no more appall us.  Jesus lives! By this we know, Thou, O Grave, canst not enthrall us.”  Laetare Ierusalem. with joy, you that have been in sorrow: that you may exult, and be filled . . . .

The parable in our gospel reading from St. Luke this morning probably the most familiar or at least one of the most familiar of all the stories that people remember Jesus telling.  Certainly an appropriate reading from scripture for the middle Sunday of Lent, with the great themes of Sin and Judgment, Repentance, and Reconciliation much on our minds and in our hearts.  These great objective themes that are for each one of us as well deep personal challenges.  Sin and Judgment, Repentance and Reconciliation.

Traditionally called the “Prodigal Son,” though we soon find it’s not a story about one son, but about a father with two sons.  This a familiar set up for Jesus.  In Matthew 21 Jesus tells the priests and elders of the Temple this story and asks a question: “A man had two sons.  He went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’  And he answered, ‘I will not’; but afterward he repented and went.  And he went to the second and said the same; and he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.  Which of the two did the will of his father?”

So, two kinds of sons, here in Luke. One good, one not so good, so it seems.   One son, the younger son, says, “Dad, I’m tired of sitting around here in the sticks waiting for you to die so that I can get my inheritance.  How about you figure out what that’s going to be and give it to me now so I can go and live my life the way I want to live it?”  Breathtaking, of course.  [Reminds me of a moment at the family dinner table many years ago when in the midst of normal “how was your day?” conversation our maybe 10 year old Daniel looked up and asked, “Dad, do you have life insurance?”  I've always wondered about the train of thought that led to that question . . . .]  

Within the deep culture and traditions of ancient society, of course, the respect of a child for the parent is absolutely foundational.  First of all, as a younger son he isn’t actually assured of any inheritance.  Whatever he would receive would be as a gesture of generosity and love, and not strictly according to the rules of inheritance. So it’s interesting to see what he simply assumes here.   And the lack of compassion.  Filial piety.  The Father here not really a person to the son, but an object, to be used.

We might expect the Father to explode in anger, deeply offended.  But that’s not what happens.  Instead—I suppose we might imagine, with a heavy heart—instead, he agrees.  Divides the assets.  And as we recall, the son then heads off to the big city and a distant land and in short order squanders all he has on wine, women, and song. 

He hits bottom.  Totally without resources.  Tries to get a job, but all he can find is work that is the most humiliating and demeaning that can be imagined, especially in the context of pious Judaism.  Feeding pigs.  And so hungry and so poor that he finds himself actually envying the pigs for the food that they’re eating.  We think, “that’s the moral of the story.  What happens to bad sons.”  The whole crushing reality, the devastating humiliation, finally crashes down on him, his irresponsibility, his arrogance, his thoughtlessness, and without being able to envision any other option, he determines finally to return home, tail between his legs.  Is it too late?  Not knowing what to expect but hoping that he won’t be turned away, as he knows he deserves.  Even his father’s servants have it better, and perhaps at home he’ll at least be allowed to eat and be clothed. 

And then, of course, we remember the return.  And how even before this younger son gets to the front door his Father is flying down the road to greet him and lift him into an embrace.  Forgiveness and mercy, generosity.  Kill the fatted calf!  Feasting and rejoicing.  The deep spirit of reconciliation that in Old Testament Hebrew is encompassed in the word Shalom.  Peace.

And we’d expect the story to end here.  Let that be the moral of the story.  “All is forgiven.”  Which is of course strong and powerful in itself, and often our conversation about this parable does end there.  But of course the story goes on.  Another turn.  Still one more son, we suddenly remember. The older son, the heir, the good son, so we think, the son who has remained respectfully with his father.  Who is following the rules.  Who kept his nose to the grindstone.  Always with a smile.   

But then all of a sudden the story takes this new energy and direction, with a sudden explosion of the older son’s anger, hurt, and jealousy.  For all his loyalty, for all his faithfulness and respect and hard work.  Never has he seen his father so full of love than in this moment.  But not for me.   You never even gave me a goat to barbecue at a party for my friends, and now look what you do for him.

Turns out there was something more going on here than we had expected.  Still waters run deep, I guess.  The genre is such a comfortable one.  The bad son and the good son, the moralistic example.  A template for judgment.  Be like this one, not like that one.  But suddenly the room is spinning and we aren’t sure just where we are.

What is Jesus communicating here?  To the Scribes and Pharisees, to his disciples?  For his church? For us?  These two sons looked so different at first, but now, the more we look at them, the more alike they turn out to be.  Both of them entering the story with this surging sense of grievance.  This sense of entitlement.  A vortex of self-centeredness.  The younger son speaks first.  Give me mine now.  And off he goes.  The older son hasn't been saying anything, apparently.  Sucking it up.  Perhaps for years and years and years.  But in the end he reveals what he has been thinking and feeling all along.  He’s been keeping score.  You bet he has.   For both the Father is simply a means to end.  It’s all about them. 

Good son/bad son stories are perhaps a little easier to understand.  But somewhere in this story Jesus seems to expect us to see ourselves.  Somewhere.   Or perhaps everywhere.

 I remember thinking one time—I saw this $100,000 recreational vehicle rolling down the interstate, a smiling silver-haired couple sitting in the front.  And on the back, a bumper sticker: we’re spending our children’s inheritance.  Just thinking to myself, with a little bit of a smile, I wonder what the kids think when they see that.  I’m sure all smiles and hugs on the outside.  Hi mom!  Hi dad!  Great to see you!  Tell us about your latest trip . . . .  But deep down.  I wonder.  In any event, it would certainly be understandable if they didn’t sigh inwardly from time to time.  The way Martin Luther described Man’s sinful nature.  Incurvatus in se.  The human being “turned in on himself.”  The refrain of what is really important at the end of the day: I, me, mine; I, me, mine; I, me, mine.

And through the whole story, of course, the story of the Two Bad Sons, there is the Good Father, who doesn’t just wait for either one of them.  Who is generous even when he knows the score with the younger son, and rushes out the door and down the road to reach him as he is returning.  Who doesn’t condemn or punish, but who goes out to the older son, who is out sulking in his self-pity.  Comforting, embracing, forgiving.  Inviting both sons to come to the table and to feast at his banquet of celebration.  To know his love. 

Hold that image in your mind.  For all you’re worth, hold that image in your mind.

So just to note that before this story, in the first half of this 15th chapter of Luke, there is this whole series of parables:  the parable of the Lost Sheep, of the Good Shepherd who leaves 99 in search of the one wanderer.  Probably not the favorite story of the insurance agent who wrote the policy on the flock.  “You left all ninety-nine in order to find just one?”  But Jesus says, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”  And the parable of the lost coin, the woman who turns her house upside down to search for that coin and then, when she finds it, throws a big party to celebrate, with a catering bill ten times the value of the coin she has just found.

And then the Parable of the Two Bad Brothers, and the Parable of the Father who goes out for them.  While they are still bad.  Before they've apologized.  He goes out to them.  Hold that image in your mind.

Turns out that from the Father’s point of view there aren't good sons and bad sons.  Simply his sons.  His dear children.  Whom he loves.  For whom he will do everything he can, whatever it takes, to bring them home.  Go the extra mile.  Go two extra miles.  Leave the flock and run after the lost.  Turn the house upside down.  Climb up on a Cross, if that’s what it’s going to take. That’s the kind of Father we’re talking about here.  The kind that  doesn't give up on us, no matter how far away we go.

I read this somewhere the other day, and I think in a very simple way it points us to the bottom line of this Parable of the Two Bad Sons.  Which is to get the right point in focus, of Parable of the Father.  When we arrive at heaven’s gate and St. Peter meets us with the great register recording all our life, and asks us, “why do you believe you should deserve to enter the Paradise of God,” if our answer begins, “because I . . .,” then truly we are lost.  “Because I . . . .”    In any case we will have missed the point of this Lenten journey, and our path once again this year to Jerusalem and Holy Week and Good Friday.  Not “because I,” but “because he . . . .”

Continuing this Lent, and to hold this parable in our view for a time. Sin, Judgment, Repentance, Reconciliation.  Let me see if I can see myself in this picture.  As St. Paul says, “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  If he was going to wait for us to come around first, it was going to be a long wait.  We love him, because he first loved us. 

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

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Third in Lent

 Exodus 3: 1-15

Good morning, and a word of welcome.  It is a great morning for St. Andrew’s, as we’re going to be gathering immediately following the service today for a luncheon over in Brooks Hall.  Just about a year since a brunch was held to announce the formation of a planning group and committee to consider some of the challenges and opportunities we all face here in this parish family as we consider our direction and resources for ministry in the decades and really in the century ahead.  And after many months of planning meetings, and lots of brainstorming on 5 x 8 cards, discussion groups, and with the foundation of commitments from our vestry and core group of parish leadership, to open today a view of the future that our committee has given the wonderful name, “Opening Doors.”  What a great name, capturing in two words the spirit of what God has been doing in and through St. Andrew’s not just for years but for generations, for 176 years.  Opening Doors.  Welcoming new friends and family, generation after generation, in the name of our Lord, and then Opening Doors to go out into the world to carry in so many ways the good news of Jesus Christ.  It’s an exciting moment, and I hope you will stay, have something to eat, talk with friends, and then hear the news.

And with a continued word of encouragement as we walk along the journey, guided by our Church Calendar—the journey from the Manger to the Cross, Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, now to begin the third full week of Lent and perhaps in the far distance to begin in our imaginations to see the Holy City Jerusalem on the horizon in front of us, and with a sense almost we might say of a gathering storm.  Certainly that’s true in the church office and I’m sure in the music office as well.  And deeper stirrings in the story, touching our hearts and our imaginations.  March already, and it will be Holy Week and Good Friday before we know it. 

As we move along together, I would just set before us again, as I have each of these Sundays in Lent, the invitation in the Prayer Book service for Ash Wednesday:  “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.”  There isn't just one way in Lent that’s right for everybody, and sometimes we might find that what was right and meaningful for us one year doesn't seem to make sense in another year.  But again, however it is unfolding for you, blessings and a good word along the way.

Last Sunday the Old Testament Lesson from Genesis gave us that great watershed moment in the story of the life of Abraham, as God in this visionary experience revealed his divine purpose to Abraham and promised Abraham that he would be the Father of a chosen nation and people, as numerous as the stars in the heavens, and that through him and his descendants would come the blessing of all nations and peoples.  

And to see how Abraham like Mary so many centuries and generations later, says yes, trusts God’s promise.  Let it be to me as you have said. And this is a pattern, of course.  Again and again through the holy story of scripture.  A pattern that is intended to speak to us in a deep and meaningful way.  God goes first, but then leaves us in freedom to answer.  Abraham and David and Jeremiah and St. Mary the Virgin, and on and on. A pattern.

Today one of my favorite stories of scriptures, the call of Moses.  I notice that if I talk about the story of the Prophet Samuel and young David very often at baptisms, as I mentioned last Sunday,  I find myself again and again drawn to this story from Exodus when I preach at weddings.

Moses out in the wilderness keeping an eye on his father-in-law’s herds.  The strange site in the distance.  The bush, engulfed in flames, burning with a ferocious intensity, yet, somehow, inexplicably, not consuming itself in the flames.  And the voice –as I always like to say, I imagine the voice of James Earl Jones: Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.

Holy ground, in God’s presence.  Because it is at this moment when God’s plan for his life is revealed to Moses.  

You didn't realize it along the way, Moses, but all your life has been a preparation for this, and now the time has come.  You are going to go back to Egypt, and to go into the very throne-room of Pharaoh.  And as you put your whole trust in me, I will give you the words to speak and the power that you will need to lead my Chosen People from slavery to freedom.  If you will trust in me, I will be with you every step of the way.

A moment about vocation.  About God revealing to us what is deep and true about who we are, about what our true identity is, about destiny.  A plan for your life.  A sacred invitation.

Take off your shoes, Moses.  For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.

It’s a familiar story.  A pattern.  Like Abraham’s story was an old story.  And Jeremiah.  And Mary, when the Angel Gabriel came to her.  But if this is a story repeated again and again and again in the Bible, it is also to say that this a story not just that we have heard, but that is and can be our story as well.  For the first time that we are aware of God’s presence, the first stirrings.  And then not to run.  Like Jonah.  Although some of us have run away, once or many times.  Because it is, it can be, such a terrifying thing.  Because it involves so much being honest.  And because it involves a prayer not that he would remake himself in our image, but that he would remake us in his image. 

But does seek us out, again and again, and find us.  These “burning bush” moments.  Could be in our Bible reading, our conversations in study and with friends, the still small voice in times of prayer and reflection.  Each time we are invited to the Holy Table, to remember Jesus and his sacrifice, which was all for us.  

Behold, I stand at the door and knock.  The knock at the door.  A powerful thing, to sense for the first time that God has a claim on your life.  I thought I was on my own here.  That I could pretty much make my way forward according to my own plans and preferences.  Then a glimpse of that flaming bush out in the wilderness.  The voice in the dream.  The angel suddenly standing beside us.

And the then the time when what was true for Abraham and true for Moses and true for David and true for Mary and for Peter and James and John and Andrew and Paul and so many, to be true for us also.  As we would choose to trust him.  Which is a decision.  Again, like Mary and the Angel.  Let it be as you have said. 

We might think this morning, even as we come together to talk about “Opening Doors” here at St. Andrew’s Highland Park, to open new possibilities for our life and ministry.

Moses says, Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh?  We know how that feels.  And God replies, and this of course is the key.  Moses, I will be with you.  I will be with you. 

In Lent.  Walking with Jesus on the way to the Cross.  Making ourselves available.  When we open the Bible so often it seems that we begin to read stories about other people, a long time ago and far, far away.  And then, almost before we know it is happening, we find that it is about us.  And for us.  God speaking directly to us and into the present moment of our lives.  That these stories are our story.  And that it is thousands of years ago in the Arabian desert, and here and now.  Third Sunday in Lent, St. Andrew’s Highland Park.  Moses and Pharaoh, you and me—he wants it this morning I know to be about us.  If we can take a breath and let it be so.

Take off your shoes.  Never can tell when you’re going to hear those words.  Ready or not.  Take off your shoes.  For the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.