Sunday, September 29, 2013

Nineteenth after Pentecost

Luke 16: 19-31 (Proper 21C2)

Good morning, and grace and peace.  First Sunday morning officially of the Fall, but certainly an exciting week for our Boys of Summer, and with a new week opening to what we’ll call “Buctober,” and with the Symphony Fall Gala this weekend, Penguins beginning their regular season, a giant Rubber Duck floating at the headwaters of the Ohio, a fun time for all of us here in Pittsburgh.  Understand there also is a football game this afternoon, with the traditional cheers being sung surprisingly to Anglican chant.  We’ll see if that helps.  Our people were able to run the Vikings off the British Isles once before, so there is a precedent . . . .

In the gospel reading this morning from Luke 16 we continue with Jesus and his disciples and the assembled folks from the towns and villages still on the front porch of the one of the local senior rabbis.  We would call him I guess a Cardinal Rector, a leader of the Pharisees.  We remember that he had invited Jesus to his home for Sabbath dinner—I guess wanting to take the measure of this controversial rabbi from the back-country.  

A few weeks ago we read the beginning of the story.  Jesus arriving.  The crowds.  And then the man with “dropsy,” presented at the front of the line, and the question about healing on the holy day of rest.  The Parables: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, Lost Son, Lost Employee.  Stories of the extravagant disregard of common sense.  Stories about characters who put their own best interest at risk in order to find what was lost.  Who follow their passions, without calculating the risk.  We could say, moved by their hearts rather than by the advice of their accountants and attorneys.

All this as we would imagine the scene with this sick and suffering man still standing right in front of them on this Sabbath afternoon.  With all the rules and customs of piety and proper dignified behavior hovering overhead.   In a sort of rough analogy, the front porch of a first century Palestinian Downton Abbey, the riff-raff from the countryside gathered to see their folk hero—the Earl of Grantham uncomfortably trying to get his guests all indoors, where at least some semblance of order might be restored.  But Jesus won’t go in.  He seems to enjoy the moment, telling these stories, each one making Lord Robert even more uncomfortable than the last.

And now finally as a kind of crescendo, all building up to this, the parable traditionally in the English of the King James translation called “Dives and Lazarus.” The name Dives deriving in the English Bible from the Latin word for “treasure” or wealth.  Just translated as “the Rich Man” in contemporary translations, though I enjoy this traditional name.  We see the opening scene f the parable, the contrast between the feast at the table of Dives and the degrading hunger, poverty, illness, as Lazarus lies begging for crusts of bread outside the front gate.  Probably seems pretty familiar to everyone right in that present moment.  Wondering how many of them in that crowd may have stood begging at the gate of the Chief Pharisee’s house over the years.  Where that guy who was brought forward, the man sick with “dropsy,” had been just a few minutes before.

Then both die.  The inevitable judgment.  As it comes to us all, no matter rich or poor, of high estate or simple.  Both die.  And we see.  The poor man Lazarus received into the bosom of Father Abraham.  Dives to an eternity of anguish in the flames of hell.

Very subtle, Jesus.  I’m sure we can see the expression on the faces of the local establishment dignitaries there as they continue to stand and listen in front of this assembly of local farm workers and laborers.

And it gets worse and worse.  Or maybe better and better, depending on your perspective.  Dives in torment calls out in prayer for relief from his anguish, but no relief is possible.  The judgment of God is sovereign and absolute.   And then Dives begs that Lazarus be sent to his five brothers, who continue in the world and live just as he has lived.  

Father Abraham replies: your brothers can read the Bible for themselves, which is God’s word.  Not only can they read it, they have read it.  They know everything Lazarus could tell them.  They have Moses and the Prophets already.  If they've been able to rationalize their behavior in that context, why in the world would you imagine that someone coming back to them from the dead would be any different?

So what do you think, Mr. Pharisee?  Healing this poor sick man on the Sabbath, or not?  Your decision.  Take your time.

We do just seem to be constitutionally built not to hear what we don’t want to hear.  Something of our natural and fallen state.  Martin Luther described the  foundation of sin as the human being “incurvatus in se.”  Turned in on himself.  Gazing in the mirror.  Dwelling serenely in small circles of mutual affirmation.  Turning down the volume without a moment’s hesitation when the message seems likely to spoil an otherwise pleasant afternoon.

They have Moses and the Prophets already.

There is a social networking group called “The Acts 8 Moment” made up of folks who are involved in conversations about the future of the Episcopal Church, and that group distributed a link to a blog by a  20-something young man named Matt Marino who had been raised in a Protestant "megachurch"who had experienced a kind of conversion as he began in college to attend a traditional Anglo-Catholic Episcopal Church, where he was exposed for the first time or at least in a new way to a new perspective on ecclesiology, which is the theological discipline addressing life in community.  He talks about the contrast of what he calls “church” and “The Church.”

What put me off about church was that it was so like me – feeding me a steady diet of myself: my wants, my preferences, my music. It was quite “relevant.” I came to realize that I actually needed church to be UN-like me: to be transcendent. The Church is unconcerned with “relevance.” It cares not for my preferences. When I ask it to change it grins quietly and asks me to change instead. When one panics about something and accosts the clergy at the door, the chances are good the priest will say, “We have been in God’s presence in the liturgy. How about we enjoy that for a bit? Call me on Tuesday.”
The Church is maddeningly un-fearful. It is not subject to politics or fads. It does not do focus groups and market research. It is not trying to impress me, win me or woo me. Instead of bending to my whims, it seeks to conform me to the image of Christ through immersion in patterns: daily in the Scriptures, weekly in Sacramental feeding of the Thanksgiving meal of the family of God, and living out God-time in the Christian Year. As a man of flesh, these patterns marinate me in the Gospel, bringing forth flavors in my life I never imagined.
Dives and his five brothers. If only there had been a book, or something, where we could have read what God intends for us, what he asks of us.  If only someone, sometime, could have died and then come back again from the dead.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Eighteenth after Pentecost

Luke 16: 1-13 (Proper 20C2)

Grace and peace this morning, as we will enter Fall today with the autumnal equinox at precisely 4:44 p.m., Eastern Daylight Time.  Summer then officially in the rearview mirror—though of course we will continue to hope that our Pittsburgh Pirates, the Boys of Summer, may extend the season for a few weeks more!  Holding breath for the last week of the season, anyway . . . .

The Parable of the Unjust Steward at the beginning of Luke 16 seems like something of a puzzle.  What Jesus is getting at.  This estate manager is fired for poor performance, incompetence, perhaps corruption.  “Wasting” the employer’s assets.  And I guess it was not the custom to have a security escort for a terminated employee, because following his dismissal the fired manager goes back to his desk, powers-up the computer and begins to contact the accounts-payable departments of his boss’s customers –to close agreements quickly with them to settle outstanding invoices at pennies on the dollar.  Thinking maybe he can curry some favor down the road for his next job or maybe earn a few kickbacks.  This part of the story not completely clear.  But in any event somehow the employer catches wind of this and bursts in.  And then, when he sees what is happening, he does something astonishing.  He doesn't call the cops or toss the fired guy out on his ear.  Instead, and nobody sees this coming, he commends him, rehires him on the spot.  Seems very impressed with his creativity and initiative, even if it comes at cost to the company.  Gives him a raise and a promotion.   

Again, a puzzling story parable.  And even more puzzling when Jesus turns to his followers and says:  "take a lesson.”  I mean, what?    Just really a strange way to get to the moral of the story, if that’s what it is.  “You can’t serve God and Mammon.”   Not really sure how to get there from here.

But if we back out for a minute and take a look at the context of this parable,  partly remembering some of the gospel readings we've heard the past few Sundays,  a whole series of parables from Jesus in the context of a scene that began back in Luke 14 when Jesus has gone to have a meal with a leader of the local religious community.  The curious crowds assemble to see this unlikely meeting, controversial rabbi from the countryside meets establishment official, and including one person who is presented to Jesus with a disease.  And when as so often happens a challenge: the question of the authority by which Jesus will perform these healings, especially on a Sabbath day, when both the scriptures and long tradition have sharply limited the possible activities of observant Jews. 

Then these parables, as we picture Jesus speaking to the host of the dinner party, to his disciples, to the crowds out in front of the house. They are stories about what I would call the extravagant disregard of common sense.  Remembering a few of these parables from the few weeks.  A rich man is offended because so many of his neighbors have declined the invitation to his son’s wedding reception, so he tells his servants to go out into the streets and fill the hall with the poor, the maimed, the blind, the lame.  Anyone they can find.  And if they don’t want to come, he says, “compel them.”  Or a shepherd is in the wilderness with his flock, a hundred sheep, probably representing all of his property, everything he has.  And he notices that one of the lambs is missing.  And he jumps up and leaves the whole flock, without any safeguard, open to the dangers of the wilderness, thieves, predators, just walks away from them, and won’t return until he’s found the one that was lost.  Again, the extravagant disregard of common sense.

Our lectionary calendar has a gap and skips the parable in this series that is probably the most famous of all the Parables of Jesus.   In Luke 15, right before he tells this morning’s Parable of the Unjust Steward, Jesus tells the story we call the Prodigal Son.  Which we know pretty well, of course.  The younger son of the wealthy man who disrespectfully asks his father for his inheritance.  “I’m tired of waiting for you to die.  Give it to me now.”  And then who takes off to squander the father’s legacy in a whirlwind of wine, women, and song.  Dead broke and unable to support himself he returns to the family estate, rehearsing all the way home his apology and request to be taken in as a hired hand.  Then the big turn.  How the father from his front door sees the son approaching, runs out at top speed from the house down the road, embraces the son, and before even the son can utter the first words of his apology and request calls to the servants to have him dressed in a festive garment and announces a banquet to be held in the his honor.

A great story.  But again, extravagant disregard of common sense.  In favor of something else.

 Guests who have never even met the host, who have no idea which fork to use then the first course is served, who have shuffled in the front door not dressed for the occasion, and without a suitable gift. The lamb that according to the shepherd’s insurance agent anyway should have been left to its own devices, sad as that certainly would be.  The son who by any authority of good parenting needs to be held accountable for his actions.  The Unjust Steward who deserves to be thrown out into the road or even to be escorted away in handcuffs.

Of course, from the other point of view—for the Guests, Lamb, Son, Steward--things just turn out way better than they ever could have hoped.  Way better. To put ourselves in their shoes for a minute this morning.  Their lives as they had known them before were headed in a bad direction. But then for reasons that go beyond any rational explanation, things get better.  And not just a little better.  Beyond anything they could ever have imagined, beyond anything that they or anyone else would ever say they deserved.

And so for us.  I’m going to spend more time thinking about “you can’t serve God and Mammon” in this context.  I think there is a bridge there, but we can try to build it when Luke 16 comes around again in Proper 20, Year C, in the Fall of 2016.  But in the meantime a nice definition from mid-20th Century Church of Ireland Bishop and theologian Richard Hanson.   “Grace means the free, unmerited, unexpected love of God, and all the benefits, delights, and comforts which flow from it.  It means that while we were sinners and enemies we have been treated as sons and heirs.”  

A twist in the question Rabbi Kushner asked in his book I guess 30 years or so ago.  He asked, “why do bad things happen to good people?”  But to be honest that question isn't all that relevant for us.  More interesting: Why do good things happen to bad people?  To look into the mirror with honesty is to know pretty much deep down that this is the only question that would apply in any meaningful way to us. 

To catch a glimpse of that when we hear this Parable of the Unjust Steward, first and when we would in a moment of insight see ourselves in his place.  Caught red-handed.  Defenseless.  Guilty as charged.  Without a leg to stand on.  Which is of course the situation for us as we come to communion this morning, that this is the Parable of the Cross.  We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.  We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts.  The story of our lives.   And yet, here it is.  We reach forward with open hands to receive it.  This extravagant gift.  Undeserved.  Without any rhyme or reason except the rhyme and reason of his love.  While we were yet sinners and enemies, he died for us. 

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

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Seventeenth after Pentecost

(Proper 19C2) Luke 15: 1-10
Baptism of Max Henry Kampmeyer

Grace and peace this morning as we roll along now into the last weeks of summer—having made it through all the excitement of the annual Round Up last Sunday and still trying to figure out how to find our way around good old St. Andrew’s in the midst of all the renovations. 

A fun morning especially to celebrate the 14th baptism of the year in the register of St. Andrew’s Church.  A different and interesting way to think about what it means to say we are undergoing  “renovations” around here.  Today with Max Henry Kampmeyer, his mom Jill and dad Mitch and family and friends as we gather at the font to hear again the word of deep assurance, that as we die with Christ to the old self of sin and death and all the powers and principalities of this fallen world, so we are lifted up to rise with him in a resurrection to new life and to the promise of eternal life in his kingdom.  Renovations at St. Andrew's.  A shallow font, Max: but deep water!

And whatever the story is for us as we have come into this church this morning.  All the stories of life that we bring with us through these doors, we would set them down here in this hour of baptism, as we share in the cleansing of the waters and as we are made pure and holy and acceptable in him.   One of the great things about this service, as we can all in our minds and hearts and imaginations be refreshed ourselves. 

There is a lot of rich and poetic language in the Book of Common Prayer, in our prayers, psalms, and anthems.  But for me nothing more powerful than the dialogue that I will share with Mitch and Jill in just a few moments:

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?  Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?  Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?

We know what this is about, even if the words aren't words we use every day.  Look at the front page of the newspaper.  Look in the mirror.  Look into corners of our minds and our hearts.

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?

We sing it in our hymns.  Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.  But for it to be not words on the page, but fresh and new and real.  Mitch and Jill, we will all of us be saying them together with you, in the quiet of our own inner thoughts.  A chorus of response and rededication.

The readings this morning an interesting context for baptism.  As the gospel of Luke unfolds the enemies of Jesus are constantly looking for opportunities to discredit him. They try unsuccessfully to catch him up in trick questions or to call into question his own observance of the Biblical Law.  Here in Luke 15 they try a “guilt by association” angle.  “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”  And Jesus here as with earlier challenges about healing on the Sabbath doesn't deny the charge. Instead, he reframes the question.  Here with this parable.  “Which of you wouldn't leave your 99 sheep in the wilderness to off in search of one who has wandered away?”

So just think about that for a minute.  Does that really make sense?  If it does, don’t tell your sheep insurance agent.  I mean, nobody would want to lose a little lamb.  But to walk away from the whole flock, leaving them exposed to the elements, to predators, to thieves—to the likelihood that they too are likely to wander off and get lost if you aren’t there to keep them in line.  Which of you wouldn't risk everything, for the one lost sheep?

Of course the answer is, probably none of them, none of us would do that.  In a kind of idealistic way we might admire the Good Shepherd of the Parable, who lays everything on the line, for the one.  But to think about that in the light of day is something else again.   Not prudent.  Not sensible.

Jesus and the Pharisees are in theory operating with the same mission statement.  To share the word of God with those who most need to hear it.  To be ministers of reconciliation.  To make it possible for the sinner to repent, for the broken to seek healing.

But what makes them different, Jesus and the Pharisees, is what they will put on the table.  I think that’s what Luke wants us to see as he recalls this moment.  Pharisees like the rest of us counting the costs, calculating the cost/benefit ratio.  Asking questions about how this is all going to affect me and mine.

But the Good Shepherd.  Hard not to read the story without thinking of that beautiful and poetic meditation and hymn in Philippians 2, as Paul says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”

The parable doesn't make sense for the Shepherd’s insurance agent.  But it certainly does for that one sheep.  What it means, lost and broken, to know that he will come.  Even though it doesn't make any sense.  Even though I’m one and small and meaningless in the great scheme of things, and he has so much already.  To know that he will come.  Searching day and night.  For the lost one.  That he will do whatever it takes to pull him out of the pit and lift him up on his shoulders and carry him home.

Which is why the cross is here.   I know I haven’t talked with Wes Rohrer about this but a few years ago I had another friend who had spent some time in Saudi Arabia, and he told me how unexpectedly powerful it was when he came home after some months and was walking down the Main Street of his town and saw the local Presbyterian Church with a cross over the front door. 

This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.  And it’s good for us that he does.  Otherwise we have nobody and nothing.  Up the creek without a paddle.  But today we go down into the water to be freed of our old selves and to rise fresh and new.  As St. John says, we love him because first he loved us.  We seek to know him, because he sought us out first.  Putting everything on the line for us.  Not counting the cost.  Because we are his joy.   How great to know that and experience that in our baptism and in Max’s baptism and every day.  Because we are his joy.  His only reason for living.

Each and every one of us.  And now one more. 

Jill and Mitch, if you would bring Max up here to the front of the church.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11

September 11, 2013

Prayers on the Anniversary of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93. [Adapted from a litany composed by the Rev. Joseph Howard, St. Joseph of Arimathea Episcopal Church, Hendersonville, Tennessee.]

O God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth; O God the Son, Redeemer of the world; O God the Holy Ghost, Sanctifier of the faithful: have mercy and hear the prayers and supplications of thy people.

For all who died in the attacks of September 11, 2001; and for all victims everywhere of terror and war in the years that followed:

Remember thy servants, O Lord, according to the favor which thou bearest unto thy people; and grant that, increasing in knowledge and love of thee, they may go from strength to strength in the life of perfect service in thy heavenly kingdom.

For the families and loved ones of those who have died, and for all who mourn:

Almighty God, Father of mercies and giver of all comfort: Deal graciously, we pray thee, with all those who mourn, that casting every care on thee, they may know the consolation of thy love.

For all who have given their lives since that day. For all those who answered the call of their country, venturing much for the cause of freedom and defense, giving of themselves for the benefit of their neighbors:

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, in whose hands are the living and the dead: We give thee thanks for all 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; and give us such a lively sense of thy righteous will, that the work which thou has begun in them may be perfected; through Jesus Christ thy Son our Lord.

For those who on September 11th were injured, in body, mind, and spirit; for firefighters, police officers, first responders, and for all those who were injured, or who gave their lives, that others might be rescued; for those who since September 11th have served as peacemakers, diplomats, and governmental leaders, for scholars, journalists, and teachers, for religious leaders, and for all who have sought to overcome hatreds and prejudice and to contribute to deeper understanding and healthful relationships, for peace and justice among the nations and peoples of the world.

O God, you made us in your own image and redeemed us through Jesus your Son: Look with compassion on the whole human family; take away the arrogance and hatred which infect our hearts; break down the walls that separate us; unite us in bonds of love; and work through our struggle and confusion to accomplish your purposes on earth; that in your good time, all nations and races may serve you in harmony around your heavenly throne; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sixteenth after Pentecost, and "Round Up" Sunday

Luke 14: 25-33 (Proper18C2)

“Round Up Sunday,” and what a great day always for us here at St. Andrew’s—every fall, and perhaps especially this fall.  

A thunderstorm at the beginning of the week on Labor Day, and some cooler northern air, summer mostly in the rearview mirror—new energy in so many ways.  Back to school, work, the pace picking up all around us.  Pirates marching toward October! 

And I say “especially for us this fall” mindful of the renewal and renovations that we are already experiencing here in this great place of worship and parish life.  Unseen but so important, the floors braced up underneath our feet now for another two or three centuries, and then these beautiful flooring surfaces of wood and tile, the restored doors, the recovery of what is traditionally called the “Bride’s Room” entry, as a companion to the Groom’s Room as it was developed a couple of years ago in honor of our good friend Fr. Bill Marchl as fully-accessible entryway.  

How bright the singing sounds in here now—our fabulous choir, after the summer break, and I think our congregational singing sounds fuller and richer now too.  O Lord, open thou our lips, and our mouth shall show forth thy praise.  

And we see all the construction going on next door in the Parish House--how much more we will have to celebrate as the year before us rolls along.  A welcoming entry, full accessibility to all floors, expanded meeting space for congregational activities and for our partners in the neighborhood.  My image has been to say that we are “increasing our bandwidth.”  Round Up Sunday always a day that points to great things in the life of this congregation in the year ahead, but especially this year, and I hope you feel it too.  The engines are revving up!

It is an extravagant investment of the precious resources of the families of this congregation and in our wider extended family.  I am humbled truly by the generosity and the enthusiasm and the vision that the people of St. Andrew’s are showing.  Past the million-dollar mark now, which is amazing, and well on our way to the goal.  Not there yet, but well on our way.  The confidence not just in the present moment, but the confidence in the important future that God has in mind for us.  This all so much about vocation and stewardship and above all mission.  I mean, read this leaflet this morning!  Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once said that the Church is a unique institution in our society and our economy because it exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.  And I’m so pleased about what our Mission and Outreach leadership folks have prepared for us today.  Just hints in the leaflet, more outside at the picnic!  Building on the foundation of our work with Five Talents to expand our engagement with mission in Peru.  Beginning a new mission partnership with the redevelopment of the ministry of the Episcopal Church at St. James in the Penn Hills.  Godly Play and Tweens and Teens, Bible Study, Choir, Music.  In so many ways, putting God’s love into action for those in need both near and far.    Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.

This Opening Doors Campaign not about what we will have when we’re done with all this construction, but about what God the Holy Spirit is going to do with us, with his Church.  Think about the first words of the Prayer of St. Francis that we pray together on Morning Prayer Sundays and so at the end of our service this morning.  Lord, make us instruments of your peace.  Lord, use us to do your work.  Use us, use this church and our worship, these meeting rooms, ramps, elevator, all of it.  Use us.  Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to thee.  That we might be witnesses to the life of the one who was promised, witnesses to Jesus, that we might be witnesses to his saving death on the cross, dying in our place, and then raised from the dead, as God’s first sign to us of what new life in him is all about.  Send us out to do the work you have given us to do.

That all might seem like a lot to read into a new floor and ramps and an elevator and some new restrooms and meeting spaces out here in our little East End neighborhood.  To equip us for the mission that Christ has called us to as his Body.  But I actually don’t think it is.  You know the story of the vocational moment of St. Francis of Assisi.  He knelt in prayer outside the ruins of the church in that little town and heard Jesus speaking to him, “rebuild my church.”  So he got the contractors and the bricklayers and all the rest, and that’s what he did.  But it turned out God wasn't finished with that project.  

More to do, with an impact of rebuilding and renewal not simply of an ancient church building—but of truly the character of Christian life across the world and over centuries.  Drop one stone in a pond, and the ripples spread out farther than we can imagine. I think and I believe that God has great things in mind for us beginning here also and beginning today.  Round up Sunday.  Opening Doors at St. Andrew’s.  Rebuild my church.  He’s doing those great things already, and there’s more to come.

Just right to hear the challenging word for us this Round Up Sunday from the Second Lesson, the reading from Luke 14.  Those startling words at the beginning about what can feel like the dramatic, painful costs of discipleship.  The question is, “how much can I keep for myself, Jesus, while following you?  And the answer that Jesus gives reminds me of conversations that I have with couples as they prepare for marriage.  To say, there is no “prenup” for this relationship, in our life as members of the one Body of his Church. Some of my clergy colleagues have an absolute policy that they will not preside at a marriage service for a couple if there is a pre-nuptial financial agreement.  

I’m not quite so absolute, and I know I have at least twice done so, when it seemed like family circumstances really required it.  But I’m sympathetic to those who are more absolute.  No holding back.  No days off.  We sometimes say that the Church is the Bride of Christ, that marriage itself is intrinsically related to the covenant between Christ and his Church, and here we get some of the details.  For better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to be faithful all our life long.  What Jesus is talking about here in Luke 14.  And the last line of the reading.  “None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”  An echo perhaps in the old marriage service, as the groom says to the bride: “with all my worldly goods I thee endow.”  In the new service, as rings are exchanged, “with all that I am, and all that I have, I honor you.”  

All, everything.  What kind of a marriage would it be, if this were not so?   I commit myself to you, 88%.

There is something both scary and exciting about being all in.  Putting everything on the line.  Not holding back.  Not leaving anything on the table.  Deep breath, and then letting go. 

Jesus saying to his disciples here, and to us, let’s not underestimate what this is all about.  What we are together.  What we’re about here isn’t a hobby, a spare time special interest, an entertainment. 

It’s about him giving everything for us for the sake of the whole world, and about us giving everything for him, heart and mind and strength, as the saying goes, 24/7/365.  With all that I am, with all that I have.

Next Sunday young Max Kampmeyer will be baptized—baptism #14 in our Parish Register for 2013, which is a great and almost astonishing number for a little parish like ours--and what I’ll say to and for him as he is anointed with Holy Oil in the freshness of New Birth, dying with Christ and then rising in the power of the Holy Spirit—what I’ll say to him then is what I hope we will all hear this Round Up Sunday morning.  The story of Samuel anointing David in Bethlehem, so long ago.  Again and again, right here at this font and in this congregation and out these open doors and into the wide world.  God has great things in mind for you, for us. Great things!  

Monday, September 2, 2013

Labor Day

Almighty God, who hast so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects,  for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. BCP 210

The Collect for Labor Day was composed for the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church by the Reverend Canon Charles Mortimer Guilbert (1908-1998), long-time Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer. 

(Canon Guilbert served for many years in the Diocese of California, including a time in the 1960's as Rector of St. Clement's Church, Berkeley. When I was a student at the University of California in the early 1970's and a parishioner of St. Mark's Church, Berkeley, I had the privilege of knowing his late wife, Teddy (Theodora) Sorg Guilbert, who was a delightful person indeed.)

Bruce Robison

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fifteenth after Pentecost

Proper 17C2
Proverbs 25: 6-7; Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16; Luke 14: 1, 7-14

Grace and peace indeed this morning, the holiday weekend.  I know most of our kids and families have already experienced the joys of the first day of school.  I guess a few places still don’t get fired-up until after Labor Day.  But certainly a sense of transition, even on a warm day like this.  Summer to fall.  Before we know it we’ll down at PNC Park for the fifth game of the World Series and feeling a hint of winter chill in the air!

In the Seventh Chapter of his Rule for Monasteries  St. Benedict has a sharp turn of phrase when he talks about how Christians “climb the ladder” of spiritual life by climbing down.  To say that we ascend by descending.  That phrase or image came to my mind as I read through the lessons appointed for us this morning.  The way of humility, which is deep down the way of the Cross, Christian discipleship, following the footsteps of Jesus.  

Ascending by descending, which is the same kind of inversion and unexpected reversal that we hear in the well-known prayer often associated with the spirit of St. Francis of Assisi:  “for it is in giving that we receive, it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”   Seems pretty basic  in terms of what we mean when we say that someone is “acting like a Christian.”  And perhaps thinking a bit about the very interesting focus really in all quarters on the character and behavior of Pope Francis.  To say that there’s just a lot about him that seems right.

To reflect about what it means to be a Christian not simply in terms of the great doctrines of faith, theology, or even in those inner private realms of what is sometimes called “spirituality,” not that any of those things aren't important,  but to say that we listen to Jesus and to his word in scripture as a guide for living our lives. Out in the world.    

To talk about Christian faith as it is known in Christian character.  That we are called not simply to an inner relationship and commitment to Christ, but to conduct ourselves as Christians.  In Ephesians 5 Paul doesn't just say to "love."  He says, "walk in love."   To talk the talk but then also to walk the walk.  To have what in the great religious tradition is sometimes called a Rule of Life.  A pattern informed by scripture, by Jesus as we come to know him in scripture and in prayer and in the life of the church,  for organizing our hours and days, for dealing with actual relationships, politics, possessions, money.

All driving us pretty deeply into counter-cultural waters.  True whatever mini-strand of contemporary culture we happen to occupy.  Contemporary/progressive, traditional/conservative.  Someone said that if being a Christian hasn't been a challenge to us, hasn't made our lives in this world more difficult, maybe we haven’t been taking it seriously enough. 

You know that word to the pastor, “you've gone from preaching to meddling.”  There are flags that we sometimes will be willing to salute on Sunday mornings, but often we want to keep pretty distant Monday through Friday.  A social reality all around us and within us also that is so much founded on the assertion of identity and rights, self-expression, self-actualization, to satisfy my desires.  Finding and celebrating my real self.  Appetites and entertainment.  The bumper sticker I mentioned a few weeks ago: “The one who dies with the most toys wins.”  The pop song from a few years ago that captured the great adolescent assertion, “You’re not the Boss of Me.”

I often think of that simple phrase of Deitrich Bonhoeffer’s: “costly discipleship.” The snippet from Proverbs obviously connects to the first part of the Gospel reading from St. Luke.   Familiar both in terms of our aspirations and our anxieties.  Living as we do with the two sides of the coin, entitlement and grievance.  A sense of what we deserve and a sense of what we have been denied.  Fueled by that energy.  Politics is all about this, economics, the energy of social activity.  The dynamics that tear apart marriages and families, infidelity, lies, the emotional undertones that pave the way to addictions and destructive behaviors.

The reading from Hebrews touching in just a few sentences a word of instruction about Christian character and behavior, and intended to have application 24/7.  Filling in the background.   Mutuality rather than self-centeredness.  Hospitality not just to friends but to strangers.  Serving others not with a sense of superior station, but with a deep identification.  Perhaps reminded of the title of that wonderful book many years ago by Henri Nouwen, “The Wounded Healer.”  The prisoner, the poor, the oppressed.    And I've only seen about a minute or so of the Miley Cyrus video from the MTV awards show the other night, but to see even that much in the context of this word from scripture that upsets a lot of apple-carts I guess these days.   “Let marriage be held in honor by all, and let the marriage bed be kept undefiled.”   Episcopalians of course don’t want to be thought of as prudish.  But still.

In any case, sketched out here in all these three readings this morning: modesty; restraint; charity; discretion; fidelity; honesty; simplicity; purity; kindness.  We hear these lists over and over again in scripture.   It is interesting to me that in several weddings this summer none of the couples selected the very familiar section of First Corinthians in the Thirteenth chapter.  I guess that becoming a bit too familiar.  “Love is patient and kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way.” 

Instead though at least three times this summer couples selected from the lectionary a reading from Colossians, the third chapter.  Very similar word to a Christian that like the congregation in Corinth seems to need to be reminded that in the same way that there is an orthodoxy of belief, so there is also an orthodoxy of our way of life.  Maybe a hard thing to think about when we’re loading up for a little “shock and awe” this time in Syria.

 In my homilies at the weddings I will sometimes talk about all the attention brides and grooms give to the selection of wedding gowns and bridesmaids dresses and formal wear for the groom and his attendants.  And then to hear Paul say, again the third chapter of Colossians, beginning at the 12th verse, “as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another, and if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other, just as the Lord has forgiven you . . . .  Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

Dress for success.  But thinking about success in a different way than the way we usually see it represented or feel it ourselves.  Choices every day about what is really important for us.  Of values to cultivate with a sense of deliberation.  Compelling but also very challenging words, at least I find them challenging, appointed in scripture for us this morning about the kind of wardrobe we select to wear as Christian people when we set out into the world—not just when we dress up for church on Sunday, but day by day.  A costly discipleship: with one another, in our homes, where we work, our schools, our neighborhoods.  How we spend our money.  How we vote.  What we set before ourselves as entertainment. 

Several Sundays earlier this summer while the lectionary was walking us through St. Paul to the Galatians I mentioned the Steven Covey quotation, and it comes back to me again as we would read and listen carefully to the words of scripture for us this morning: “the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”   And then to hear the final word here from the Hebrews reading: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.  Though him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”