Wednesday, May 29, 2013

"Opening Doors," May 29, 2013

The Nave of St. Andrew's Church, this morning, as we begin to replace the old and deteriorating floor:

And of course to answer the inevitable question, "What happened to the pews?" --

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Memorial Day

John Christopherson, my grandmother's older brother, died in the Great War and is buried in England. His photograph in uniform, taken at the drug store in Stanley, Wisconsin, shortly before he departed, always had a place of honor on my grandmother's bedroom bureau. On this Memorial Day weekend, with deepest thanksgiving.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead; We give thee thanks for all those thy servants who have laid down their lives in the service of our country. Grant to them thy mercy and the light of thy presence, that the good work which thou has begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord. Amen.


Trinity Sunday (C) John 16: 12-15
Baptism of Beatrice Kathryn Huen

Holy, holy, holy!  Lord God Almighty!  Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee: Holy, holy, holy!  Merciful and mighty, God in three Persons, blessed Trinity.

Grace to you and peace on this spring Sunday, in so many ways the doorway to the summer season ahead.  Memorial Day Weekend, of course, a national holiday to honor the fallen of our nation’s wars, and in the ecclesiastical realm Trinity Sunday, the last great event and occasion of the Church calendar: Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost, Trinity—and now stretching out before us the long “green season” of ordinary time through the summer and fall.  One last bright and energetic flourish of trumpets and choir.  “By invocation of the same, the Three in One, and One in Three.”   “God in three Persons, blessed Trinity!” 

And if there’s one word to center on for Trinity Sunday:  “glory.”  Certainly in our readings.  Paul in Romans: “Since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God.”  And Jesus, in John 16: “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.  He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.”

Perhaps you remember the really wonderful Robert Duvall film, “The Apostle,” where that word echoes again and again, a recurring prayer and exclamation, almost a kind of mantra, with this sense of a vision and experience  of and trust in God’s living and active presence in the midst of this very bleak and hardscrabble and sometimes brutal world.  “Glory, glory, glory.” 

Back in Exodus at the Burning Bush Moses says to God, “If someone asks me what the name of this God of mine is, what should I tell them?”   And God replies not with a name, but with what sometimes sounds like a riddle: ‘ehyeh ‘asher ‘ehyeh.  The verb to be, repeated in a somewhat odd, difficult to translate,  construction, past imperfect.  “Was and is.”    As the hymn has it, “who was and is and is to be, for aye the same.”

A God whose very Name is a verbal construction including past, present, and future tenses.  The Trinity is the frame of the whole glorious story, the bottom line, the Alpha and the Omega, where we begin and where we end, all in him.  The bright burst of fireworks, the quiet rhythm of a single beating heart. The morning of Creation, the angels over Bethlehem, the Manger, the Cross, the wild wind and flames of Holy Spirit.  One like a Son of Man, rising in the East and coming on the clouds. The Holy City, New Jerusalem coming down from Heaven, a bride adorned for her bridegroom.  God with us.  All to lift up with one voice: Glory, glory halleluiah.  The whole choir singing, all of us.

And so wonderful on this day of the calendar to add the exclamation point of a baptism!  Beatrice Kathryn . . . .

In the 28th Chapter of 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 lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age.”

The Great Commission.  More going on in that baptismal font than we can see with our eyes.  A splash of water.  A promise.  A remembering.  A hope.  The love of Jesus, the message of his Cross.  “And I when I am lifted up from the Earth will draw all men unto me.”  A Trinitarian affirmation not simply for the Sunday after Pentecost as a liturgical formula or as a theological template, but the mission statement of the church and our reason for being, our call to action for every Sunday, and for every Monday—for every day and every hour.  Everything that is of the Father’s glory shared fully with the Son.  Everything of the Son, shared fully in the Spirit.   And all that, for us.  “He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”   It’s not just his name, but as we have sung in the great Breastplate of St. Patrick, it is now who we are. 

His Name we bind to ourselves.  Our identity now.  That we might take a moment each morning as we look into the mirror to say, “I am a Christian.  His Name is my name. “ Emmanuel.  God with us.  Take seriously and with intention the words that Beatrice Kathryn’s parents and godparents will speak on her behalf and on our behalf.  All of us, renewed in the baptismal mystery.  Dying with Christ, rising with him.  Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior?  I do.  Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? I do.  Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?  I do.  To live those three promises, and it is all glory.  A splash of water.  A new name.  Holy, holy, holy.  Father, Son, Spirit.  All glory be to thee, O Lord most high . . . .

And now, I would ask Beatrice Kathryn Huen’s family and godparents to come forward, as we do just exactly what Jesus told us to do.

Sunday, May 19, 2013


 Acts 2: 1-21

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, on this Feast Day of the Holy Spirit--on the modern Church Calendar the grand conclusion and finale of the 50-Day Easter Season.  Trumpets and flourishes.  A dazzling moment.   The traditional name “Whitsunday”from “White Sunday,” and referring to the status of this day as a great baptismal festival, in those ancient days when the liturgical colors for the day would have been not Red for the Spirit but all Easter resurrection white and gold, in the fresh baptismal robes of the newly baptized.

Where we start: the holiday Shavu’ot, on the Jewish calendar 50 days after Passover, the celebration of the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and in all ways the perfect day for Holy Spirit.  A perfect day.

In the Old Covenant the Torah is the instrument that transforms and guides the Chosen People in the way of holiness and in relationship with God.  The Torah that is the source of identity and purpose for God’s Israel.  And now in the New Covenant given at the Cross and confirmed in Easter we are all in faith gathered in by the Spirit of God and made a new people, a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, now we ourselves just like the disciples marked as Christ’s own forever and sent forth to do the work he has given us to do, to preach, to teach, to bind up the brokenhearted, to forgive and to bless. Our identity, our purpose.  The New Covenant doesn’t replace the Old, of course.  God speaks himself in the Word, he speaks himself in the Son, he speaks himself in the Holy Spirit.  The Torah and God’s Word continues to stand in its definitive way in our midst.  Now fulfilled and perfected.

Just for a moment this Whitsunday I want to pause over the first verse of the reading from Acts as we have heard it read first in English and then in that wonderful Pentecostal jumble of tongues. The story begins, Acts 2:1, “When the day of Pentecost had come, the disciples were all together in one place.” And I want to pause right there.

Pentecost, and they are “together in one place.” That place the Upper Room. In just a couple of months now for them a place of such powerful associations and sacred memory, a place of laughter and tears, made holy by such deep experiences. Here, where Jesus had gotten down on his knees to wash their feet. Where he had offered his heartfelt High Priestly prayer. Where he had broken the bread, blessed the cup, offered himself in a perfect promise.

That same room. Here where they had run on Good Friday to hide out in fear of the authorities. And where the women had come to find Peter and John and bring them to the Empty Tomb. Where the friends from Emmaus had come to tell their story of meeting that stranger along the way, who was suddenly revealed to them to be Jesus. Where Jesus himself then appeared, that same Easter evening. And where Jesus returned to be with them again a week later, this time Thomas being with them at the table.

They were “together in one place” here.  All of them. And for me at this moment it’s impossible to read this passage without thinking of that moment in John 17, our lesson from last week, as Bishop McConnell framed it for us so well in his sermon last Sunday, when Jesus prays in that High Priestly prayer, “that they may be one, as you father are in me and I in you, that they also may be one in us, may be perfectly one, that the world may believe that you have sent me.”

They burst out of that Upper Room on Pentecost morning on fire with the Spirit and full of power to preach the gospel and to teach all nations, and from that day forward the world would be turned upside down, never the same again.

And I would simply be reminded in this that in an era and a culture that so much values our individuality and self-direction and personal boundaries and constitutional autonomy, “my spiritual journey,” all of which are so important in so many ways, Jesus prays that we would be one, and the Spirit arrives when they, we, are all together.

We become complacent in our brokenness, so that for some there is even a rhetorical effort to turn that brokenness into a virtue. Which it most certainly isn’t, can never be. We are baptized into one body—and as incarnational and sacramental Christians it can never be enough to say that this is to be only a “spiritual” unity. Instead we pray always that we would be empowered and inspired to show forth in our lives what we profess by our faith. To put God’s love into action. To be doers of the Word, and not hearers only.

So about bridge-building. About making relationships and connections, and doing what we can in prayer, in thought, word, and deed, to be about reconciliation, to build our lives on the hope and the expectation and a fierce commitment to be ourselves the living witnesses of the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord in everything we do, and in a unity that is not simply spiritual but visible and transformational.  That they will know we are Christians by our love.  By word and action.  Always pointing to Jesus, who is the heart of our life, the head of the body.  Remembering always this word over us every week, from John 12, “and I when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”  The mission statement of the Cross.  To become then our mission statement.

All about “opening doors,” if I can shift gears and make use of that phrase, and recall what is going on here at St. Andrew’s in this season.  The overall title of our Capital Campaign and of the initiatives of repair and expansion and renewal that are now beginning.   The disciples had been in that Upper Room with the doors locked.  Hidden away.  But the promised gift of the Holy Spirit descended up them, and the doors are suddenly wide open, the new Israel of God bursting forth.  A continuation of the Easter theme, as that heavy stone was rolled away from the door of the tomb.  The final and triumphant fulfillment of the word of the angel, “you shall call his name Emmanuel, which means, ‘God with us.’”  God with us.  In this world and here to stay.

And that we would live that way already, here and now. To know that same promised gift of the Holy Spirit, the breath and expression of God, descending upon us, filling us.  One Body in Christ in baptism, one Body at the Table, one Body in the wide world.

An old acquaintance of mine, Bishop Tony Burton, who served for a number of years as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Canada before feeling a call to a return to parish ministry and then moving across the border and to the Episcopal Church to serve as Rector of the Church of the Incarnation in Dallas, Texas.  A very exciting and dynamic place, one of the largest congregations of the Episcopal Church, annual attendance in their Saturday and Sunday services approaching 2,000.  And something they have in common with us is that they also live in a parish facility that was designed in another era and which needs significant expansion and renovation to meet their missionary needs for the 21st century.  Just like us.  And last week Tony announced the final results of their Capital Campaign.  As I will be doing later this year.  Their Campaign somewhat different in scale, as they raised and then have exceeded $25 million  for their new century goals.  (Texas!)   But again, deep down with the same kinds of goals and concerns for the stewardship of resources for mission and ministry.  And Tony had a great quote, as I read the story, which I copied to echo here for us, talking about the near doubling of their congregational numbers of the past decade, and then of this incredibly successful campaign.  He said that despite the dazzling numbers his congregation's focus "is not” and must not be “about growth, but” about “changed lives."

"Size does not make a church better,” nor does money, nor beautiful buildings, “ but if its clergy and parishioners are sensitive to the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives, God can cause their work in His name to grow a parish that is a resource of great blessing . . . .”

A good word for us, about Holy Spirit, Holy Spirit, as we sail on into this season of growth, development, expansion, renewal.   As we hold this precious gift in our hands, everything about St. Andrew’s, who we are, who we are becoming.  With the Whitsunday and Pentecost prayer that God the Holy Spirit would create in us clean hearts and renewed minds and strengthened lives to be good stewards, to be good and faithful and effective witnesses, in all that we say and all that we do, in what we build, in what we share: that he will work in us and through us in a good and wholesome and powerful way to accomplish his purposes.

A great season, a great moment.  Pentecost.  Watch the disciples out there in the streets of Jerusalem.  The excitement, the fun, the refreshing joy of that moment.  Pretty cool.  Long ago, but still so much a part of who we are, who we can be.  And to pray and give thanks, remembering those disciples two thousand years ago, and all those in every generation since then, and the heroes of Christian life that build this place and set us on our course, for 176 years at St. Andrew’s and 107 years in this beautiful church, that we in our turn each one of us, all of us together, may have the grace to glorify Christ in our day.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Sunday after The Ascension

Bishop McConnell will be preaching at St. Andrew's this morning, and if I am able to get an electronic copy of his sermon I will post it here later this week.  In the meantime I would simply re-post here my sermon for this Sunday in Year C, 2010.

Sunday after the Ascension, 2010

Seventh Sunday of Easter
Acts 16: 16-34; Revelation 22: 12-21; John 17: 20-26

I heard a friend say about someone, "I guess he thinks he's God's gift to humanity." My thought: that's quite a responsibility. Perhaps a critical thought during these days of Ascensiontide.

You might think there would be a sense of let-down in the days following Ascension Thursday.

Whatever it was that happened up at the top of the mountain, one thing seems sure, and that is that the vivid and intense experience of the presence of the risen Christ is no longer with them in quite the way that he was before. 

He was lifted up into heaven, but they are left behind, returning to that upper room in Jerusalem where only a few weeks before they had been with him at the Last Supper, and where on the evening of Easter Sunday he had returned and shown himself to them. No longer in death but now with them in the fullness of his glorious resurrection.

Now returning to the Upper Room, without him.

But of course the lessons appointed for us this Sunday are not about his absence, but about his continuing presence and his power.

The power that shakes the ground under the jail in Philippi and knocks down the walls. And even more, the power that takes hold of the life of the jailer, who is so transformed by the presence of Christ in Paul and Silas that he is brought to his knees and then lifted up himself into a saving life of faith.

The power of the vision of St. John the Divine, risen and ascended and ruling Christ on the throne, the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end, the root and the flower of Israel, the fountain of living water, bringing forth life, refreshing, fulfilling and completing. What a great vision that is. Sacred poetry.

And the potential of Christ’s power to come alive in us, in the words of St. John’s gospel, coming from the great prayer of Jesus on the night of Holy Thursday. Jesus thanks the Father, “the glory that you have given me I have given them . . . .” And we would just pause over that. Thinking that we all are lesser lights certainly compared to Jesus himself. But that’s not what he says. “The glory that you have given me I have given them.” Think about that as we brush our teeth in the morning and look into the mirror.

Thinking about how we are called to the stewardship of that glory. To be "God's gift to humanity." His grace in us, his holiness, the gift to heal the broken, to forgive and bring about reconciliation. Each generation taking its turn.

Most probably we would say not doing such a great job of it. That we would say, “if you want to know what God is all about, if you want to know the heart of Jesus, just look at his church.”

Maybe we have our moments, every generation or two. But it is perhaps at least an opportunity for the grace of humility. Fighting with one another, breaking relationship, abuse and cover-up, power and greed, political ambition. You know all the headlines. Sometimes about the other guys. All too often about us too. I remember singing the song around the campfire at youth retreats:“they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love.” 

But it is the Sunday after the Ascension and the Sunday before Whitsunday and Pentecost, and it’s a day not to feel left behind but instead to be at the threshold and doorway to a new and great adventure, not simply to see Christ and to know him, but even more to be filled with his power, energized, equipped. Pick ourselves up if we need to, brush ourselves off. Start again.

That we might feel that anywhere. Here at St. Andrew’s. In each of our homes, as we live our lives. Anywhere and everywhere, at all times and in all places. Like Paul and Silas, singing hymns of praise into the night until no jail on earth can hold them in, until not one who hears them singing can reject the invitation.

Knowing him as John the Divine knew him in that ecstatic vision, Jesus himself lifted up to the throne of heaven. And it’s a whole new ballgame for us now--that his power, the power that came through his cross, the power of his resurrection, and his Holy Spirit now working in us, working in and through us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.

It is a great gift, a great responsibility, the opportunity of our lives. “The glory you have given me, I have given them.”

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Annual Visitation: Sunday in Ascensiontide

We will be delighted to welcome our bishop, the Rt. Rev. Dorsey W.M. McConnell, as he joins us at St. Andrew's Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, to preside and preach at the 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. services of the Holy Communion on the Seventh Sunday of Easter, the Sunday after the Ascension, May 12, 2013.  The 11 a.m. choral service will also include the Rites of Confirmation and Reception into the Communion of the Episcopal Church.  

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Sixth Easter

Acts 16: 9-15; Revelation 21: 10, 22- 22: 5; John 5: 1-9

I’ve commented before about heilsgeschichte.  This wonderful German word in the field of Biblical studies, to refer to the great story, the holy story, the overarching narrative of the scriptures. To say that we have in scripture not simply an anthology, a collection of separate texts, written by different authors in different languages in distinctive historical contexts, but deep down, or over all, one story, one message, God speaking, in and through.  One word of invitation.  A gift of his self-expression.  In the first chapter, fiat lux, the word of God brings forth all that is.  And here in the 21st chapter of the Revelation,  as Paul Harvey used to say, the end of the story, climax.  The New Jerusalem of God comes down from heaven, a bride adorned for her bridegroom.  And God is all in all.

I have shared before the thought that the Easter story could be absolutely true and still not mean anything.  It could just be a chapter in Ripley’s Believe it or not.  Come and hear the story of the man who died but didn’t stay dead.  Scientists can’t explain it.  The one living creature in all recorded history to beat the odds.  Lucky for him.

But in the midst of this Easter season and on this Sunday before Ascension, what we have before us is the assertion and affirmation, not simply that the Easter story is true, but that it means everything.  Because it is a story not simply about what we learn happened on Easter Sunday morning to Jesus, but because it is a story that is also about us.   You and me, here and now.  And not just about us, but about everybody, and everything. 

The story began back in Genesis in the Garden.  Those two trees.  The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The Apple.  All the calamity and brokenness.   Someone said, if you think things are fine, you aren’t paying attention.   Not just a little messiness around the edges, though we will try to keep things prettied-up on the surface, and to turn our eyes away when we can.  But corruption and the grip of sin and death all the way down.   A page and a half into this great big old Bible book, and the whole story runs off the rails.  Looks pretty grim.

And we know deep down what’s in the heart of that Macedonian in Paul’s dream-vision, as he ponders and prays over his call to the stewardship of the gospel and the message of Easter.  “Come over and help us.  Come over and help us.”

And simply to say, that the Easter story is true, and means everything.  The river flowing from the throne and heart of God and of the Lamb, from the Cross of Jesus and out into all creation, the vast expanse of interstellar space, this earth our island home, and into our hearts and minds and lives.  “The river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing form the throne of God and of the lamb through the middle of the street of the city.  The New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God.  On either side of the river is the tree of life, and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it.  And there will be no more night, no need of light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

What’s left of Easter is the question Jesus asks the that disabled man at the Bethesda Pool, a question that is meant for him and for all of us.  The question of Easter.   What about you?  Do you want to be healed? 

To say yes this morning, yes to Easter, yes to Jesus.   
Ye who do truly and earnestly repent you of your sins, and are in love and charity with your neighbors, and intend to lead a new life, following the commandments of God, and walking from henceforth in his holy ways, draw near with faith.  To say yes.