Sunday, August 25, 2013

Fourteenth after Pentecost

 (Proper 16C2) Psalm 103: 1-8; Luke 13: 10-17

Good morning, and grace and peace.  It was like opening the first page of a new chapter last Sunday, as we returned home here to St. Andrew’s after our summer down the street at PTS.  Jen Palmer made a digital slide show with photos of our first phase of construction, with Bill Ghrist's recording of the choir and congregation singing the last hymn last Sunday, and it was really stunning.  Very exciting, so much fun, with thoughts so much about the future.  Not just about the immediate future, as we complete the continuing  “Opening Doors” projects and campaign over the next few months, with all the work in the parish house still steaming ahead--but also about the life and ministry and mission of this congregation in years and even decades and generations to come.  

I thought it was especially fun to have Shana Hutchings, our summer seminary intern, preach that first Sunday, as another sign of “Opening Doors,” and moving forward.  It wasn’t intentional, since we didn’t know at the beginning of the summer when the preaching schedule was being put together just when the return from PTS would be.  But a nice coincidence, if there are such things.  We care for the garden, but God gives the growth—sometimes in ways that we see immediately, and sometimes in a way that reveals itself to us only slowly and over time. 

This privilege, to come into this holy place—but then I know even more importantly to go out through these open doors as we are dismissed, “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”  To trust God, love and serve the Lord Jesus faithfully, wherever we are, at home, at work, at school, in the neighborhood, and then see what happens.  What God’s grace continues to accomplish every day in our lives.  A costly road of discipleship in many ways, as we all will discover, but also so deeply rewarding.

Psalm 103 appointed this morning is special to me and Susy in something of a sentimental way because it was the psalm we selected to have read at our wedding. (Married folks: do you recall the readings from scripture read at your wedding?  Nice to go back and to revisit those from time to time.  One of themes that I talk about with couples in preparing for Christian marriage is what marriage is about as a vocation.  Which is to say, how God is going to use us specifically in our marriage as his witnesses and representatives.  And in some ways the planning of the wedding service itself and in that the selection of the readings from scripture represents the first sermon—if you want to think about it this way—the first sermon preached by this couple in their marriage.  First opportunity to give a Christian testimony, to share the Good News, as husband and wife.  Something of an indication and foretaste of what may follow in word and deed in years to come.  And so, to think about that selection.  What you really want to say.) 

Psalm 103 as Mary Pat has sung it this morning--back on the evening of May 23, 1980 read by my, our brother-in-law  and dear friend Dick Noble, Susy’s sister Marion’s husband, and we have a fun photo of him at the lectern.  Our niece Kristin was about 3 at the time I think, and of course her dad couldn’t  leave her in the pew by herself while he was going to read, since Marion was up front as Matron of Honor, so Dick held her up at his side, sort of on his hip, while he was reading.  A nice family snapshot in the photo album.  A great memory. 

And I can still hear him in that moment, these words: “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.”  To take that word from scripture and to hear that, I know we did, as a benediction in that moment on our marriage, and as expressing how we hoped God would use us in the new life that was beginning for us.  That in ways we could only just begin to imagine he might use our marriage and family to bless others.  Just very special.  

Trust God, be grounded in the gifts of his Word and sacraments, love and serve the Lord Jesus faithfully, and then see what happens.  Notice his blessings.  And give thanks. 

The message swoops out in wider circles in the gospel reading set for us today.   Luke the Physician often seems especially drawn to telling us about how Jesus revealed himself and taught his disciples and shared his compassion through the ministry of healing.  And so here in the 13th chapter.  Jesus.  The Sabbath Day.  The synagogue.  And we can picture her: the woman bent over and subject to a spirit of disease that has crippled for 18 years.  He sees her.  Jesus sees her.  And that’s something!  

Jesus would have been teaching among the men,  and she at a customary distance, in the gallery or back or side-area where the women would gather to pray and listen.  But he sees her, even at that distance.  And he calls her over.  Interrupts his sermon.  Breaks the rule of decorum by bringing her over and down front, into the synagogue proper.  He doesn’t ask her any questions.  He simply declares, announces, present-tense, that she is set free, healed.  And then he touches her.  And don’t think a few eyebrows in the crowd weren’t arched even higher at that!  And she immediately straightens up.  Immediately.  Standing up.  Immediately.  Praising God.

Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy Name.  Perhaps she would have remembered the Psalm in that moment.  All that is within me, bless his holy Name.

The officials of the synagogue are in distress.  I don’t care if our regular rabbi is on summer vacation, this is the last time we invite this guy as guest preacher.  Nothing but trouble.

But it’s hard to make much headway with complaining.   I mean, how can you complain?  This woman is probably directly related to half the people in the little village, and everybody has watched with her and prayed with her and shed tears with her in her suffering all these many years.  Hard to get too far with grumbling when the whole congregation is cheering and singing for joy. Whooping it up!   As Luke says, “the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.”

What Jesus says in John 10:10 maybe echoing around this moment here for us. “The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and have it in abundance.”  Full and overflowing.  What is in the heart of this one woman as she stands up.  What he would have us know from him, and to share with one another.  Blessing.  Thanksgiving, in his presence.

As someone who is for heaven’s sake an Episcopalian, an introverted Northern European male descended from a very long line of introverted Northern European males, I guess it’s sometimes a little bit of a challenge for me.  You know the story of the American woman who for the first time visited an English Cathedral to attend a service of Choral Evensong.  At the end of the Choir’s wonderful Magnificat and as the last notes of the Gloria Patri hung in the air, she is swept up in wonder and leaps forward shouting “hallelujah, amen, praise the Lord!”  Story goes that a sidesman, an usher, immediately comes over and tugs at her sleeve to move her back to her seat, and she shouts out, “I can’t sit down, I’ve got the Spirit!”  And the sidesman says, “Madam, you didn’t get it here.”

Jump up out of your pews when you see all the wonderful things he is doing.  Or at least in our hearts.  And maybe a smile or two.  If we can’t hold it in.  Introverted Episcopalians, bless us all anyway: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name.

What is he doing in and around us?  What do we see and hear and experience?  Just to have in front of us this particular summer morning.  In our renewed church.  That we would experience also a renewal in our life and ministry as well as in the fabric of this great old building.  A renewal  of the whole church.  Pray for that.  Healing.  Hope.   Here at St. Andrew’s and out in wider and wider circles.  As we turn toward fall and as so much in our lives begins to restart after the pause of the summer.  

A reminder of the word about what we might call "Christian lifestyle" from St. Paul in First Thessalonians:  Pray always, and in everything give thanks.   People are always saying that the Bible is full of rules, and that’s a good one to notice.  Be thankful unto him and call upon his name.  For the Lord is gracious, and his mercy is everlasting.

One of the chief goals of a preacher is pretty simple.  To lift up a word from scripture with some clarity and then to present it in such a way that we can all apply in our own lives.  How to apply what we have read and heard this morning? Good news for a summer Sunday  afternoon.   In the late 1840’s an anonymous poet identified only as “Pauline T.” wrote the lyrics that the American Baptist composer Robert Wadsworth used in a hymn he called “Always rejoicing.”  Found in a lot of Protestant hymnals in the 19th and 20th century and picked up and adapted by artists like Pete Seeger and Enya.  But for us this summer, this morning, as we come to the Holy Table.

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth's lamentation,
I hear the sweet, tho' far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Thro' all the tumult and the strife
I hear the music ringing;
It finds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?
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?
I lift my eyes; the cloud grows thin;
I see the blue above it;
And day by day this pathway smooths,
Since first I learned to love it;
The peace of Christ makes fresh my heart,
A fountain ever springing;
All things are mine since I am his—
How can I keep from singing?

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Sunday, August 18, 2013: Thirteenth after Pentecost

Our sermon this past Sunday was offered by Summer Intern Seminarian Shana Hutchings.  Shana is entering her third year of study at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is in the discernment process for ordination in our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh.

The day was also notable as the first Sunday morning of our "return from exile," as the first phase of our "Opening Doors" capital projects initiative has been completed with the installation of new flooring and substructure support.  It was great to be back at St. Andrew's!

                                                                                          Bruce R.

August 18, 2013
Proper 15
St. Andrew’s Church, Highland Park
Jeremiah 23:23-29, Psalm 82, Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Luke 12:49-56

            It is a great honor to be here to celebrate this day in the life of our church!  We have much to celebrate and I am thankful to have the honor of reflecting on today’s readings with you.  My name is Shana Hutchings and I am serving as the Summer Seminary Intern here at St. Andrew’s.  I am entering my final year at Pittsburgh Seminary and have lived with my husband, Robert, and our three children in Pittsburgh since 2008.  Our youngest, Helen, was baptized here in April, and I was confirmed by Bishop McConnell here on Mother’s Day.  Thank you for the opportunity to share with you.
            Every morning when I was a college student, I would wake up at 5 AM and sit at my desk overlooking my dorm’s courtyard, drink my coffee, watch the sunrise, and write.  Beginning in March of my freshman year, I would also read my Bible and pray.  And, no matter which Bible study I was working on, I would also read today’s Gospel passage.   This is a passage that provides great comfort to those in conflict who happen to be Christian.  For me, I had converted to Christianity over my Spring Break during a mission trip to Mexico, which I was invited to participate in by my second-cousin, who happened to attend the same university I did.  Since I didn’t really want to go home and the trip was free for freshman, I decided to go.  My parents were not thrilled with my decision to become a Christian.  Now, they aren’t really opposed to Christianity and were actually very disappointed when my sister told them she was an atheist when she was sixteen.  I think it was more the fervor with which I had embraced my newfound faith.  I was thrilled when the campus ministry I was involved in said they were taking students to India, but my parents told me I couldn’t go.  My father’s father was a disabled Korean War veteran with terrible stories about his experiences, which caused my father to talk at length with me about how he never wanted me to go abroad, especially with the number of hurting people in our own country.  I took this as a direct attack on my faith and was very angry about it.  The kicker, for my parents, though, was when I told them I had been invited to join the staff of the same campus ministry.  They were on board until I told them that the job entailed raising your own salary.  Meaning, no salary, just donations generated through fundraising.  I was the first person in my entire family to go to college.  My father actually didn’t even graduate from high school.  There was no way that I was going to take a job that didn’t directly pay a salary.  There was the threat of being disowned, although it was probably not a serious threat, looking back at the situation.  So, for my young self, this passage brought great comfort.  How could it not?  In my reading, JESUS was on my side!  Clearly, my parents didn’t get it.  And I think this passage is also comforting to persecuted Christians, as well as those who are suffering.  The reality, though, here at St. Andrew’s and in most corners of the Church; this passage leaves us scratching our heads.  In conversations I have had here, we are far more likely to be mourning the fact that our adult children do not come to church, hopeful that maybe when the child is married, they will return.  Or certainly when they have their first child, they will want the child to be baptized and then they will return.  We don’t want conflict.  We want reconciliation.  Wasn’t Jesus all about reconciliation?  In my self-righteous youth, I interpreted every conflict with my family in light of this passage and my Christian faith, so this passage was actually comforting to me.  But for most of us, we want unity with our children and this passage seems to attack the family unit to its core. 
And in many ways, this is what our capital campaign is all about, right?  We feel called to bring families together.  That by opening our doors, we can come together in the name of Christ to worship and grow together, not divided, and certainly not divided at our very core.
Today’s passages seem to emphasize the difficulties of life, particularly for those of faith.  The Psalmist’s plea for justice for God to stop showing partiality for the wicked, something I am sure all of us can recall praying about, to God in Jeremiah conceding that the wicked are indeed out to get God’s people, in Luke the claim by Jesus that he has come to bring fire to the earth, and finally in Hebrews the recalling of the many struggles of the Israelite faithful, including flogging and imprisonment.  Most of us probably read these passages and have some measure of understanding about what they are saying.  Yes, the world is broken and there are conflicts and God is bigger than those conflicts.  Maybe we could just read the newspaper or listen to the news to know that.
The message for today, though, in light of today’s wonderful celebration of the early stages of our capital campaign, comes in the beginning of the Hebrews passage.  This is something of a parade of Israelite heroes and includes some well-known figures, as well as more obscure ones, even some unnamed ones.  What they have in common, though, is that they acted in faith, where they were, becoming part of the story of the faith that ultimately was fulfilled for us in Christ.  Really, in light of the enormity of life, all we can do is act in faith, right where we are.  Which is what we are doing with this campaign, isn’t it?  This is our goal.  As Mother Teresa famously said, “We are not called to be successful, but to be faithful.”  Of course, most of us want to be both and think that we and the Church should be, but I want to encourage us otherwise.  Success is not always so easy to define anyway.
In seminary, one metaphor that is thrown around a lot is that the church is a bit like the coffee hour that most churches hold before or after worship.  When I first heard this, I was pretty angry.  I actually hate coffee hour.  The only reason I ever started going is that the first church I started going to was across the street from the best donut shop in town and their coffee hour consisted of dozens upon dozens of donuts from this shop, along with a coffee cart run by the Youth Group.  They ran the Jesus Java cart, so you could walk up and order any kind of coffee drink you wanted.  Their cart was painted by the youth and said, Jesus Java, It Saves…Your Morning.  I like coffee, and was charmed by this way of including the youth in the life of the church, but it was the donuts that brought me in.  I love donuts and would eat them every day for breakfast if given the chance.  But actual coffee hour feels a lot like the high school cafeteria to me, so I was angry about this metaphor.  The thinking is that the church occupies this messy space in society where things can get done; things that slip through the cracks or that are not covered by official social service agencies.  Things like hopelessness, loneliness, and the need for friendship and support.  What finally turned me around, though, was thinking about how coffee hour has played a role in my life and ministry and how it actually can provide us with a great window into how each of us can live in faith where we are, whether we are at home, working, playing, or sick in the hospital.  You see, coffee hour, is about being aware of those around us and listening for the Holy Spirit to guide us.  It is about people.  And it is hard to define exactly what we are doing there each week.  It is about believing, though, that something is happening and acting in faith, which is precisely what the heroes listed in the Hebrews passage did.
The first time I came to St. Andrew’s wasn’t actually for worship.  I had heard there was a coffee shop near us from our landlord (we lived at the very end of Morningside Avenue, overlooking the river), so I put my young daughter (now five years old) in the backpack carrier and started walking.  My husband and I haven’t exactly cozied up to technology, so I didn’t try to even figure out the name of this coffee shop by doing an Internet search, I just started walking.  On Negley, I saw a sign that said Bryant Street Business District and figured I had found the location.  After realizing I hadn’t, I turned right on Highland, only to discover that  coffee shop I assumed my landlord had been talking about, Tazza D’Oro.  I went in and ordered a drink, but as is common there, I found no place to sit, so I kept walking.  I turned right on Hampton and ended up sitting on the steps of St. Andrew’s.  I found it by accident, but was taken by this church that looked like something out of an English novel right in the middle of the city.  This place had found its way quickly into my heart, even though I had never been inside.
I came to worship for a few weeks, but always hurried home.  One day, though, I stayed for coffee hour.  A woman sat down by me and started talking with me.  I was alone, but I told her that I was fairly new to the city and had a young daughter and that my husband was a graduate student.  I was actually a bit standoffish to her, but I think she saw right through me.  Truth be told, I was having a very difficult time.  Life at home with a baby can be extremely lonely.  And for somebody who had been encouraged by all my friends in my former home to attend seminary, I thought that I had nothing to offer the church now that I was at home with my daughter.  She was a premature baby and was tremendously needy, even for a baby.  And I was very isolated.  And I think she saw right through my vague answers.  She gave me a slip of paper with her name, address, and phone number and told me that she was at home with her kids and that I should come by anytime, an invitation I knew to be sincere.  That she knew what it was like to be at home alone with children.  I never went.  But that encounter changed my life.  This was a person of faith I knew I wanted to be like.  Before that encounter, I had resigned myself to feeling like I had nothing to offer the church, that somehow I couldn’t contribute anything.  I knew that caring for children was valuable and I didn’t doubt that, but I doubted that I could be of service in the way I had envisioned by going to seminary and working as a minister.  I realized, through that brief encounter, that I could serve right where I was and that is what I started doing.  I, too, could open up my home; I could talk with people and listen so that they didn’t have to feel like they were going it alone.  I could witness to the ways in which Christ walks with us, no matter where we find ourselves in life.  And, rather than thinking of ministry as something I could do after going to seminary, I became fully aware of the ministry that happens right where we are every day.
This encounter reminds me of the passage in Hebrews because this woman acted in faith, and her hospitality, empathy, and compassion for a visitor to her church became part of the larger story of the church, reaching far beyond the walls of St. Andrew’s.  Because ministry is never simply an encounter between people, it connects us to the Church universal, empowering others to serve in the name of Christ.
So, as we celebrate this great day in the life of our church, I want to encourage you to keep the lives of the heroes of the Hebrew faith close to your heart.  Think about my professor’s coffee hour analogy, even if you hate coffee hour like I do.  Occupy that messy space in the world by living out your faith and witnessing to Christ right where you are.  Through acts of hospitality, compassion, and empathy become part of the story of the faith here at St. Andrew’s and beyond.  That is what opening doors is all about.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

St. Mary the Virgin

The Falling Asleep of the Blessed Virgin
Feast of the Dormition, Feast of the Assumption

O God, who hast taken to thyself the blessed Virgin Mary, mother of thy incarnate Son: Grant that we, who have been redeemed by his blood, may share with her the glory of thine eternal kingdom; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Click here for more.

If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.

But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits 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.

But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.

Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.

For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.

The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.

For he hath put all things under his feet. But when he saith all things are put under him, it is manifest that he is excepted, which did put all things under him.

And when all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all

1 Corinthians 15:19-28

Ancient Hymnody of the Dormition

Troparion (Tone 1)
In giving birth, you preserved your virginity!
In falling asleep you did not forsake the world, O Theotokos!
You were translated to life, O Mother of Life,
And by your prayers you deliver our souls from death!

Kontakion (Tone 2)
Neither the tomb, nor death, could hold the Theotokos,
Who is constant in prayer and our firm hope in her intercessions.
For being the Mother of Life,
She was translated to life by the One who dwelt in her virginal womb!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Twelfth after Pentecost

(Proper 14C2) Gen. 15: 1-6; Heb. 11: 1-3, 8-16; Lk. 12: 32-40

Good morning—and grace and peace on this summer Sunday morning.  We gather here in the Hicks Chapel for what I expect will be the last of our “on the road” Sundays, as so many are working diligently indeed to see that we’re able to return to good old St. Andrew’s next Sunday morning.  A great deal of excitement in that, even as I continue to be very thankful for the hospitality of the seminary in sharing the Hicks Chapel with us during these past months.  There’s a prayer at the Jewish Seder that concludes, “next year in Jerusalem,” and I find myself with a contemporary version of that in my heart as well.  Next Sunday on Hampton Street . . . .

Last Sunday afternoon Susy and I went over to Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill for the wedding of our son Daniel’s best friend Seth and his new bride Amanda.  Seth and Dan grew up together, and we have lots of family stories, one of which surfaced in a very funny conversation at the reception.  A story perhaps titled, “the time Dan and Seth took Dan’s dad on the Skycoaster at Kennywood.”

I don’t know if you know the Skycoaster, but it’s a ride that is designed to be about as close to a classic “bungee jump” experience as you can get in an amusement park.  You get outfitted into a jumpsuit and then attached to a line.  Then cranked up high into the night sky over the waters of a little manmade lake—where you hang suspended for a few seconds, or perhaps it really was an hour (felt like it).  Maybe 3500, 4000 feet.  What it feels like, anyway.  Then you pull a rip cord and the line is released and you drop suddenly and dramatically in free fall, until the line is extended and the fall then is transformed into a swing, and until you finally come to rest and then are returned to the landing.

Anyway, Dan and Seth talked me into this.  Not my idea.  I think maybe they were in Middle School, probably together in Barbara Lewis’s algebra class over at Reizenstein.   The deal was that it was a popular ride, so you signed up, paid for your tickets, and were told to return an hour or so later.  Which was for me, I recall, a very long hour.  Very long.  In the interval I found myself several times wandering away from whatever we were doing to watch the Coaster.  Not that I really was afraid.  Not really.  But I just wanted to reassure myself that the thing worked as advertised.  Which it seemed to with consistency.  And I kept reminding myself that Kennywood has a very good reputation for safety, and an excellent track record.

Now, the funny part of this story has to do with Seth’s great propriety, and his sense that my delicate ministerial ears might be deeply offended by some vocabulary that I might have heard unintentionally spoken when a Middle School-aged boy was suddenly dropped from a great height.  --But I’m not going to go into those details now.  Ask me at coffee hour.

But anyway, somewhat in the context of the Kennywood Skycoaster, what I do want to note is that the three lessons appointed for us this morning are all about faith.  In the reading from Genesis the great moment of Covenant when Abraham hears and trusts God’s promises that through him God will work out his divine plan for the salvation of the world.  Through Abraham, old and childless, a great nation, and a destiny to bring forth the greatest of blessings to every people, tribe, and nation.  That Trust, that faith in the covenant and promise of God, at the heart of this key New Testament passage from the Letter to the Hebrews.  A redefinition of the word “righteousness” here.  Righteousness not the result of correct behavior, following the rules and avoiding misconduct, but about a transformation of relationship and identity, so that God’s promise has become not just something that I think is probably true—in the way that I think the Skycoaster is probably a reasonably safe ride at Kennywood—but that it is now, and I love this image, my “homeland.”  Where I come from.  Where I’m headed.  Starting point and destination.  Real faith.  That’s the “righteousness” of Abraham.    To know God’s Word and God’s Promise as homeland.  Where I was born.  The place where I am and where I will be truly at home.

Faith, Jesus reminds his disciples in Luke 12—faith, casts out fear.  Completely.  Absolutely.  Permanently.  Hope, trust, not simply a probability, but something that is already so deeply true that it seems we have been enjoying it already forever.  The righteousness of Abraham, for us.  An Advent reading, Luke 12: You must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.  But of course the fun of Advent is that we lean forward in anticipation and expectation for one who is already here.  Who has come, whose work is accomplished, who is seated at the right hand of Father.  The miracle of Advent, that the 21st Chapter of the Revelation to St. John is already accomplished.  The New Jerusalem coming down from heaven from God.  As we will sing in just a few minutes:   “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Hosts.  Heaven and earth are full of thy glory.”  Present tense.  Even as we speak this old world passing away.  The new world arriving.  Already true.  An old joke sometimes attributed to Mark Twain (though that’s somewhat hard to imagine):  Someone asked Twain, “do you believe in infant baptism?”  He replied, “Believe in it?  I’ve seen it with my own eyes!”

There is I think, and it is something we see again and again in the Bible, a spiritual or we might even say a supernatural character to this thing we’re calling faith.  Not like my faith in the Kennywood Skycoaster, which was strong, but also provisional--based on observation, evidence, reasonable calculation.  No way observation, evidence, or reasonable calculation gets Abraham to see what God is doing through him as he looks up into that starry sky.  No way for those friends of Jesus to think or calculate their way to their fearless sacrificial witness and heroic martyrdom.

It is for us, as it was for Abraham, a choice, a decision, an act of will.  No coercion.  No forced marches.  And yet supremely,  it is a gift.  Faith.  Something that we can know, that we can pray for, that we can receive no matter how broken we are, how inadequate, how off-center. 

That God’s promises move from being words on a page to being words inscribed on our hearts.  To know with assurance that the promises God spoke to Abraham and the promises that the friends of Jesus trusted to the very end in ancient times are promises that God has for us, promises that God is fulfilling for us today.  We would believe that.  Promises to be found with assurance in Scripture and promises handed down generation by generation in the stewardship of the Church.  Promises that we can share in with hope and joy even as we this morning share the Bread of Heaven, the Cup of Salvation.

August 10, 2013

Holy Matrimony
Dawn-Marie Ruth Candlish and Jon Joseph Paulus
Colossians 3: 12-17

Wow.  Good afternoon everyone!  Family and friends . . . .  It is so great to be here today, as we are witnesses and participants in this wonderful celebration of Christian marriage.  Jon and Dawn Marie, I would simply personally and I know speaking for everyone here today, and with truly a full heart, express my and our deepest thanks for including us, for inviting us to be with you as this new page is turned, a new chapter begun.  Here in Pittsburgh, as you know, we live at the source of one of the great rivers of the North American continent, as the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela gives birth to the mighty Ohio.  Perhaps that is a fitting image or symbol for us today.  Two fabulous young people, gifted, accomplished, intelligent, fun, real maturity, a wonderful shared sense of humor. 

Dawn Marie, I knew you and of course your mom and dad and brother when you were a little girl and one of the rug-rats among a great group of kids back in Bloomsburg, and it was so much fun to reconnect when you came to Pittsburgh to study at Duquesne.  And Jon, I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get to know you over these past months of our pre-marriage conversations, and to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know your family as well.  And not that anybody has asked me this question in so many words, but I just want to let you know that I approve!  You guys are great for each other, great with each other.  So it has seemed to me as we have had some wide ranging conversations about the issues and challenges and possibilities of married life.  The two rivers come together, and you can’t help but think, “this is going to be something special.”  In the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a great thing here.  He has a great plan for your lives, only just now beginning to unfold.  Here in Pittsburgh we go down to the point and fill the sky up with fireworks just about all summer long.  And there are fireworks over us today, in great celebration!

You both spent some time and gave careful thought to the selection of the readings from Scripture to be read and shared at this service, and it was a gift for all of us to hear them.   I want to pause just a moment over this brief passage from St. Paul’s letter to the new Christians of a small congregation in the town of Colossae, which was located in a part of Asia Minor that would now be a part of Turkey.  It’s a congregation that Paul was instrumental in founding and clearly a group of people who were dear to him, much loved.  We don’t know too much about the context of this particular letter, but apparently word had come to him that there were some theological disputes that had begun to cause conflict and division in the congregation.   Paul addresses the issues at hand, but then in the third chapter of Colossians he goes on to talk about Christian life and conduct in community, to describe what it means to live together as Christian people, even when there are serious differences.  As there are always differences, whether in a large community, or even in a community of two.

Paul lifts up what perhaps we could call a recipe, a model, a roadmap, the deeper themes of what we are and what we can be at our very best in Christian relationship.  We have a non-profit here in Pittsburgh that assists people as they get ready to join the workforce called, “Dress for Success.”  And so that’s what this is about as well.  A lot of attention paid to bridal gown and bridesmaids dresses and what the groom and groomsmen wear on the day of the wedding.  This about “dressing for success” in all the years to come after this day:  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience; bear with one another; forgive one another.  Clothe yourselves with love; let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts; be thankful; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs to God.  Doing everything in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Thank you especially for selecting this reading for us—truly a gift.  A great recipe for all of us to keep close, and meaningful that you have shared it with us today.  We might almost say that sharing this reading with your family and friends is the first step, the first example, of the work you are being called to do in your marriage from here on out.  We say this is a “sacrament” because in marriage you two become outward signs of God’s grace and love.  He is going to be using you to communicate his love to others, and that is the work you are called to do and that we acknowledge and celebrate today.

You know, in the Old Testament Book of Exodus, chapter 3, there is one of my favorite stories, about a moment of life-changing experience, a “vocational” moment, a moment of transformation, about a calling to a new way of life-- in a way kind of like this moment here today.  In that story Moses is working for his father in law, tending his sheep out in the wilderness, and one day he sees something off in the distance that looks strange to him.  He moves closer and finally comes to this great big tree or bush that is on fire, fully engulfed in flames, burning and burning—but no matter how long it burns, it doesn’t burn out.  He watches for a while, amazed at the sight, and then all at once a great, deep voice comes from the flame.  (I like to think it was the voice of James Earl Jones.)  “Take off your shoes, Moses, for the ground on which you are standing is holy ground.”  Holy Ground.  That’s my point.

This is the moment when God tells Moses about his plan for his life, how from the day of his birth he has been shaped and prepared for the mission to lead God’s people out of slavery in Egypt and across the Wilderness and into the Promised Land.  God speaks into this world, into our lives, and what was an ordinary place is now made sacred by that holy word.  And Jon and Dawn Marie: in the vows and promises you make today, in God’s sight and in the presence of these friends and family members, the ground under our feet is consecrated, and made holy.  Not because of what you are saying, but because we believe, and certainly why in our tradition of the Christian family we call marriage a sacrament, that God’s word is being spoken to you now.  We can imagine that burning bush, right here, right now.  That God’s holy presence is with you, surrounding you, above you, and beneath your feet, with richness and blessing and purpose.  The prayers and blessings of this day don’t just happen in this one moment of your wedding, but they go out with you into your marriage and life together, from this day forward, and will be around you and under you and with you all the days of your life.   He has great plans for you, for each of you, and for you together as husband and wife and family.  That’s the great and wonderful thing we celebrate.  I don’t know what they are.  None of us do.  But he is beginning to reveal them to you now, in this moment this afternoon.

And it’s a privilege for us to be here with you.

her brought over from the heritage of Jewish practice o

And now as Jon and Dawn prepare to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts offer a prayer of love and blessing for them—that they will be surrounded and embraced by love and blessing all the days of their lives.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Eleventh after Pentecost

Proper 13C2  
Eccles.1:2, 12-14; 2: 18-23; Col. 3: 1-11; Lk 12: 13-21
Baptism of Harrison Alec Micko

Good morning all, and grace and peace.  Turning the page on another month of the summer and looking forward--I think just a couple of weeks away—to our return to good old St. Andrew’s.  Following the joke, moving from the Church “without any flaws,” to a Church with “new flaws!”

With continued thanks to George Knight and Murray Rust, our Campaign Committee, and all the team overseeing the first stages of our renewal.  And as a mailing and general solicitation is being prepared in the office now, a reminder of deepest thanks for those who have already and for those who will soon be indicating pledges of support to make all this good work possible.  A new page, a new chapter for a 176 year old congregation, and with all of us to be a part of turning that page and opening new accessibility and resources for mission and ministry in the new century ahead.

The sign to me of that new century couldn't be more vivid and lively, the baptism of Harrison Alec Micko this morning.  Baptism #13 in the register for St. Andrew’s in 2013, and I know that we’re not finished yet by a long shot.  Max Kampmeyer scheduled in September, for one.  More beyond him.  A banner year for baptisms!

Harrison this morning.  Fresh water poured into the font, the ancient promises and prayers, a blessing with the sign of the cross marked in aromatic oil across his forehead.  And echoing the words of decision and commitment and promise that his parents and godparents speak over him, and all of us together, in affirmative response to the questions that are the key questions and the bottom-line questions not simply of baptism but of the whole of our lives.

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?

The answer to those questions, the answer that will make all the difference.  For Harrison, and for each and every one of us here this morning.   Our response to the one critical invitation. 

The future life and ministry of this congregation, represented here in Harrison.  And at the same time as we gather in prayer and remembrance at the death of our beloved friend Rae Brooks, as we offer our prayers in our biddings this morning.  Who arrived with the beginnings of her young family here in Highland Park in February of 1960, in the last year of the Eisenhower administration (!), as her husband was called to serve as the 14th Rector of this great parish.  Just to begin to recollect so many memories and so much love over half a century and a lifetime.  A woman of such intelligence, grace, strength—through all the ups and downs of life, of which of course there were many.  And so appropriate to be remembering her in prayer also as we hold the past in our memories but also celebrate the future that God has in mind for us.  For each of us individually, for this parish and community.

Memories of the past.  Hopes for the future.  Christian people always in the mode, “already but not yet.”   A spirit of Advent all the year long.  As we wait expectantly for the one who has already accomplished his great victory. 

The three readings this morning coordinated as it were on the pivot of Colossians 3, verse 2, right at the beginning of our second reading: Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

We hear this morning the wind blowing across the vast emptiness of the universe in the deep sighs of the Preacher, the speaker in the Book of Ecclesiastes, reflecting perhaps what we would call the “wisdom of Solomon.”  The wisdom of the one who steps back from the busyness and noise and frantic activity of the world, the pursuit of success and prosperity, the ins and outs and ups and downs of transient human relationships, conquests and prizes, the search for reputation and accomplishment.  So easy for that all to be simply self-medication.  Vanity.   Vanity.  Emptiness.   

Shakespeare of course preaches on the same text.  Macbeth in the fifth act, as he learns of his wife’s death.  “Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Then here in Luke 12.  In this dramatic procession through the Galilee Jesus has been healing the sick and casting out demons and calling out the authorities for their hypocrisy—ostentatious religious rituals and public gestures of adherence to ceremonial law, all while ignoring personally and corporately God’s call for personal faithfulness of relationship, holiness of life, and an offering of  justice and compassion founded on his Word.   Speaking to the crowds of the coming Kingdom of God and of the costs of faithful discipleship. 

And someone in the crowd has a question for Jesus.  Since you’re so committed to the justice of God, speak to my lousy relatives and tell them that they need to be sure I get my fair share of the family inheritance.  All the usual messy scramble of material life, I suppose.  And  Jesus replies with this parable about the man whose wealth was so great that he had to build new warehouses to hold it all, the man who had everything.  And then of course with the ominous chords in the background, the Grim Reaper arrives for HIS fair share.  And you know the rest of the story.  “A poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.”   So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.

The bumper sticker says, “The one who dies with the most toys, wins.”   What are we worried about?  What is our bottom-line concern?

I remember shortly after we moved to Pittsburgh driving across Lawrenceville with my son Daniel, and turning to cross through the Allegheny Cemetery, with all the great monuments and family mausoleums especially up on the Penn Avenue side.  As Dan saw them for the first time he said, “wow, there sure are a lot of rich dead people in this cemetery.”

This is just exactly the right context for Harrison’s baptism this morning.  And with our memories of Rae.  For what we do in our minds and hearts as we renounce the Lord of Darkness and dedicate and rededicate ourselves to Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior.

What is there to trust in this world of ours?  In whom shall we place our trust?   What is the foundation to build on that isn’t the foundation of sand, to wash away when the storm comes?  

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?

Exactly the right context for sure, for Harrison’s baptism, for our prayers for Rae, sanctifying our memories and our hopes, and to hear St. Paul to this Christian congregation 2,000 years ago, and also very much to us and for us here this morning.   Going back to that Steven Covey line that I repeated while we were thinking about Paul’s letter to the Galatians a few weeks back: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. 

The word of God for us to hear with our ears and in our hearts:  If you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, for you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.

And now I would invite Harrison Alec Micko and his parents and godparents to come forward, as we would celebrate together the Sacrament of New Birth in the life of Christ.