Thursday, October 31, 2013

Reformation Day

Martin Luther
Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott,
Ein gute Wehr und Waffen.
Er hilft uns frei aus aller Not,
Die uns jetzt hat betroffen.
Der alt böse Feind,
Mit Ernst er’s jetzt meint.
Groß Macht und viel List
Sein grausam Rüstung ist.
Auf Erd ist nicht seinsgleichen.

Mit unsrer Macht ist nichts getan,
Wir sind gar bald verloren.
Es streit’t für uns der rechte Mann,
Den Gott hat selbst erkoren.
Fragst du, wer der ist?
Er heißt Jesus Christ,
Der Herr Zebaoth,
Und ist kein ander Gott.
Das Feld muß er behalten.

Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär
Und wollt uns gar verschlingen,
So fürchten wir uns nicht so sehr,
Es soll uns doch gelingen.
Der Fürst dieser Welt,
Wie saur er sich stellt,
Tut er uns doch nicht.
Das macht, er ist gericht’t.
Ein Wörtlein kann ihn fällen.

Das Wort sie sollen lassen stahn
Und kein’ Dank dazu haben.
Er ist bei uns wohl auf dem Plan
Mit seinem Geist und Gaben.
Nehmen sie den Leib,
Gut, Ehr, Kind und Weib,
Laß fahren dahin.
Sie haben’s kein Gewinn.
Das Reich muß uns doch bleiben.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Sermon at October Evensong

Our regular "Third Sunday" Choral Evensong at St. Andrew's includes a sermon, and on Sunday afternoon, October 20, the preacher was my and our good friend, the Rev. Dr. David Gleason, Senior Pastor Emeritus of the First Lutheran Church of Pittsburgh.  

Propers of the service anticipated the observance of St. James of Jerusalem (October 23).

St. James of Jerusalem (the Just, Brother of Our Lord)
St. Andrew Episcopal Church
20 October 2013

                        At the outset, you need to know that my childhood home was only about a mile and a half from here.  It was close enough that on good weather days I could walk home from Peabody High School.  My best friend through secondary schooling lived only a few blocks from this church, on North St. Clair.  It was his wedding in the Lady chapel (just over there) and my role as his best man that first brought me to this church in 1968. 

                        My own childhood parish was also not far from here, just over in the Friendship area, near West Penn Hospital.  That is where my parents took me to worship with a gaggle of Swedish Lutherans who all looked in some fashion like I did.  There were blond-haired, blue-eyed Scandinavians in super-abundance.

                        I mention all of that only in the interest of full disclosure.  Some years after I was ordained to the holy ministry of Christ’s Church, I returned to my home parish as a guest preacher.  No one paid much attention to what I had to say.  The faithful Swedes merely reflected upon the apparently great irony that the fellow occupying their pulpit was Margaret and Homer’s little boy, the one-time acolyte, holy terror of the Sunday School, and president of Luther League.  They knew my background.  They knew my family and knew my more responsible older brother.  It made little sense to those pious, Swedish Christians to listen to this ministerial upstart!
                        As Jesus himself plainly tells us, “A prophet (that is, a preacher) is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”  So, if you choose to disregard everything I have to say, I will understand.  Our Lord, himself, gives you good precedent.

                        When the locals dismissed his preaching because of his less than sterling pedigree, they cited as proof what they knew about him.  They knew his father’s vocation as a common carpenter; they knew the names and identity of his Mother, Mary; his brothers, James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas; and they knew the existence of some sisters.  It all sounded pretty ordinary and mundane.  Yet, today, holy Church would have us pause to remember and even honor one of those brothers, specifically, James.  

                        But before we get to him, we have to confess that this business of Jesus having brothers and sisters poses some problems for the Church.  That became evident as early as the second century.  Christians were just not sure how to understand what St. Matthew, and also St. Mark, were actually saying when they talked about Jesus having siblings.

                        Helvidius maintained that Jesus was Mary’s first child and that the brothers and sisters mentioned in the Gospels were children of Mary and Joseph, born after Jesus.  Epiphanius challenged this position and suggested that the “brothers” were sons of Joseph by a previous marriage.  That means they were older than Jesus.  That might also explain why, when he was dying on the cross, Jesus commended his mother to the care of the beloved disciple.  If Mary had other children of her own, that would not have been necessary.   And, of course, there are a great many more theories intended to define the relationships. 

                        What matters most to us is that, according to our reading from St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, James saw the risen Christ.  Although he was not one of the twelve, he came to be regarded as an apostle, and he clearly emerged as the leader of the Church in Jerusalem.  He is, therefore, looked upon as the “bishop of bishops.”  Jewish Christianity in the early Church considered him more important than either Peter or Paul because he was the one who presided over the Church in the principal city of the Holy Land.  He also presided over its first ecumenical council.  He remained the most respected and authoritative leader in Jerusalem for most of the first Christian generation, undoubtedly due to his eyewitness testimony to the risen Christ.

                        According to secular accounts, James was put to death by priestly authorities.  Josephus says that he, along with certain others, was stoned to death in AD 62 at the instigation of Annas, the high priest.  Other traditions say that James the Just boldly declared Jesus to be the Son of Man and, for making that declaration, was thrown down from the Temple, stoned, and beaten to death.

                        However he may have met his fate, James was undeniably a martyr for the faith and, therein, lies his importance for us.  Even in these days of “casual and cozy Christianity,” of easy-going pop religiosity, of undisciplined piety, and of disconnected spirituality, there are some solid teachings and firm truths worth dying for.  There is still a tradition of courageous testimony to the power of Jesus’ death and resurrection: to their power to free and renew a lost creation, to their power to redeem a sinful humanity, to their power to resurrect a dying people, and to their power to bring a scattered and broken Church into one.

                        That is the power behind the preaching and testimony of James of Jerusalem, bother of our Lord.  That is the power that lies at the heart of all preaching and proclamation in the name of Jesus.  That is why we honor James the Just.  Those of us who bear the responsibility for such proclamation in this generation of believers must also find courage: the courage to be clear, bold, and undaunted in our proclamation; along with the wisdom to exercise caution whenever we are “in our own country and in our own house.”

David Paul Gleason, D.Min.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

On Retreat

I'll be away from the parish Wednesday, October 23, through Monday, October 28, on my annual fall retreat at St. Gregory's Abbey, Three Rivers, Michigan.

On Sunday the 27th St. Andrew's will welcome as "Supply Priest" and Guest Preacher our good friend the Rev. Canon Cathy Brall.  Canon Cathy has served in our diocese as Rector of the Church of the Advent in Brookline and, for many years, as Provost of Trinity Cathedral, downtown.  These days as our diocesan "Canon Missioner" she is coach and mentor to new and renewing congregations--and is working closely with us here at St. Andrew's in our emerging mission partnership with St. James Church in the Penn Hills.

Twenty-Second after Pentecost

Genesis 32: 22-31
Psalm 121
2 Timothy 3:14-4:5
Luke 18:1-8

            Good morning, my name is Shana Hutchings and I am one of the Seminary Interns here at St. Andrew’s.  I am also serving a church outside the city, so I am delighted to be here with you this morning.  Please pray with me.

            I am currently in the ordination process in the Episcopal Church and one of my tasks during this journey was to write what is called a Spiritual Autobiography.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with what this is, it can be summarized as the story of your life in light of what God has been doing.  Some famous authors of Spiritual Autobiography include St. Augustine, Thomas Merton, Anne Lamott, and Kathleen Norris.  In my case, I had to write a 2500 word essay of my life of faith so far.  Some of you might not know many Seminary types, but we are a bunch of people, as a whole, who are slightly obsessed with our ongoing dialogue with God.  Sometimes, this is somewhat of a problem.  One of my favorite authors, Lauren Winner, who is a professor and an ordained Episcopal priest, shared something in her most recent book, Still, that her priest told her and that I think summarizes the plight of many seminarians.  She says that her priest often tells her some variation of this.  She tells me “that I am a little too invested with how I’m feeling about church and God, and perhaps not invested enough in how I am serving Church, God, neighbor.”  And, indeed, when I was given some guidance on how to go about writing this essay, I was told by Bruce that the essay should be “something fairly straightforward.  Personal, but not necessarily a blow-by-blow of every Dark Night or personal venture down the slippery slope.”  For some people, thinking of writing a 2500 word essay may seem daunting, especially if they have not been in school for a long time, but as Bruce astutely observed, for seminary types, myself included, 2500 seemed like a very constricting word limit. 

            I wish that I had used today’s passages as a guide for my writing.  I think these four passages document the life of faith in light of God’s providence in a tremendously helpful way.  Our Old Testament passage gives us the well-known story of Jacob’s wrestling with God.  Jacob wrestles here with what he thinks is a man, but after prevailing over him, Jacob is blessed and in that blessing, he realizes that he has been wrestling with God.  Although I am guessing that none of us have had this exact experience, I feel confident in saying that we have all wrestled with God.  There are times in our lives when we feel we hear God, but perhaps are not ready to act, or perhaps we are crying out to God, wondering what in the world He is thinking.  But God does not leave us alone in our wrestling.  That is the good news for us in Jesus Christ.  Our New Testament passage and Gospel reading speak to us about this, speaking really to the need for us to persevere in faith and practice.  2 Timothy speaks about the importance of scripture and community for us, for it is scripture and community that keep us grounded in the faith we profess.  The text warns us about itching ears and urges us to resist the urge to accumulate for ourselves teachers that suit our own desires.  I think we can all see how easy this is to do in a time with infinite possibilities to obtain information.  In our Gospel passage, we learn how important it is to remain vigilant in prayer, even in times of intense trial and persecution.  These passages fill out for us, really, the life of faith.  We have times of wrestling, like Jacob, but most of our lives are filled with the very basic elements of faith, daily prayer, scripture, and community and the decision-making process in light of those elements.  Later in Lauren Winner’s book, she talks about how, after her divorce, she stayed at her pastor’s house in one of her spare bedrooms.  She was given the book “Eat, Pray, Love,” which is a memoir of a woman, also recently divorced, who traveled the world eating and praying in search of fulfillment.  Winner says, “I read the memoir in two sittings, and then the next week, I read it again.  But after leaving my husband, I didn’t go to Italy.  I just went, again, to church.  I went to church by habit.  I went prompted by some deep-buried intuition.  Most days I went brittle, like a dry piece of gingerbread.  Like the hinges of an old book.”

            I would like to suggest that the hinges in Winner’s book, and our own books, is the message of Psalm 121.  This has long been one of my favorite psalms.  It speaks so beautifully of God’s providence and care.  How comforting it is to think about looking up to the hills, knowing that God cares for you!  It is a psalm of confidence, but not a false confidence.  It acknowledges the presence of difficulty, of evil, and of the tedious nature of life.  It has been called a psalm for the pilgrimage of life, an apt description.  It seems to have in its structure, the movement of our lives without explicitly saying so.  And all the while, acknowledging that God is sovereign, yet intimately involved in our lives.  God will not let your foot be moved, God will not slumber, God will keep your life, God will keep your coming out and your going in.  God is your keeper.  For those of us in Christ, these actions were revealed and continue to be revealed in Christ, God become flesh, and Christ’s church, the ongoing body of Christ in the world.  Father Patrick Reardon, an Orthodox priest with a background in numerous Christian traditions, puts this psalm in the context of the church beautifully, “For all that, the protection that God provides for me is not a merely individual blessing.  This is not a psalm about ‘God and me.’  I may pray this psalm and lay claim to its blessings, rather, by reason of my adherence to His Chosen People, the Church.  I am a sheep of His flock.  My personal confidence in God’s guardianship stands within a context determined by His covenanted interventions in human history.”  We are part of the long story of faith, the autobiography of the church, and we journey in light of God’s ultimate care for us within that context.

            As we go forward, I would like challenge all of us to think about our spiritual autobiographies. I do not think spiritual autobiography is simply an exercise for seminarians.   I recently read an article by a professor who offered a class in Spiritual Autobiography in her church.  The class consisted of reading classic autobiographies, writing exercises, and sharing.  The class was so popular that the instructor had to move it to a larger space in order to accommodate all the students.  The class attracted college students, working parents, retired folks, and some seminary students.  Although she said the amount of reading was a common complaint, the students were very enthusiastic about the class and threw themselves into it, no matter their background.  She said that most of the students were worried that, compared to the dramatic accounts they read for the class, their weekly trudges to church would seem rather dull.  She encouraged them, though, “that those were the stories we most need to hear: we need the stories behind that trudge to understand why we keep making it.”   She told them that their stories were to be seen as prayer on paper.  They were to be a thanksgiving to God and to those who have been with them as they made the long pilgrimage of faith.  This is exactly what I found as I made my way through writing mine.  Yes, I included some difficult and traumatic events, but my story was primarily about God’s faithfulness through a lifetime, evidenced by the presence of scripture, wrestling in prayer, and most intensely, through my interactions with members of the body of Christ, those living in the community of faith and witnessing to Christ’s love today.  May we think about our stories of faith, even try to write them down, in light of the God who will keep us from all evil, who will keep our lives, who will keep our going out and coming in, and who continues working through his church, surrounding us with His love and protection, giving us the strength to endure suffering, evil, and doubt through the power of the Holy Spirit on the long road of faith together.

Thanks be to God.  Amen!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Twenty-First after Pentecost

Luke 17: 11-19 (Proper 23C2) 

Good morning again, and grace and peace on this fall Sunday.  It is so much fun every year, such an exciting experience to have the Heinz Chapel Choir with us—and always some family, friends, and a good group of Pitt students and alums also.  With thanks again to John Goldsmith and especially all you “Singing Panthers” —great to have you with us today.

So.  When I was in high school there was a regular, on-going, deep-level philosophical and perhaps even more profound theological discussion, it might turn out to be, as best a cluster of teenaged boys could have such a discussion, centering on this critical question:  what’s more important, looks or personality? 

The question returned in a slightly different way some years later when I was teaching—both when I was a grad student at Cal and in the little country high school where I spent several years in the classroom before going to seminary.  How to evaluate the perfectly organized and well written but entirely bland and mediocre essay, just basically regurgitating material from textbook and lecture, over against the disorganized, perhaps poorly written, and yet somehow brilliantly creative and insightful one.  We would say, “form and content.”  Sometimes giving two different grades on the assignment.  But I’m not sure real life works that way.

We say “clothes make the man,” and thinking about how often it is that the clothes are all we really see.  Hairstyle, ethnicity, regional accent.  What you see is what you get.  Certainly some maturity and perhaps wisdom comes when you learn how easy it is to miss value and substance and even occasionally a great treasure when you focus so much on what’s outside that you don’t even really notice what may be going on inside, beneath the surface.  And it can come as a surprise when your eyes are suddenly opened in some context to say, “Wow. There’s more there than I thought.”  A question about vision, perspective, insight, discernment.   A bigger question here about how we approach every day of our lives.  How we judge, evaluate, experience, make sense of things day by day.

The contrast between two guys.  You ask, “how was your day?”  The first says, “Oh, man.  Just same old, same old.  I got up this morning.  Ate my Cheerios, like I do every day.  Took that same bus to work.  Worked.  Had lunch.  Worked some more.  Came home.  Had dinner.  Watched t.v.  Went to bed.”  Nothing.  Boring!   Same old, same old.

The second guy answers the same question.  “My day?  FANTASTIC!  I got up this morning!  Think of those people who didn't, for one thing.  The sun was shining through the bedroom window.  Ate my Cheerios!  Loved those ever since I was a kid, and it turns out it’s good for your cholesterol!  Took the bus to work, and isn't great to live in a place where there’s some reasonable public transportation, and I sometimes meet the most interesting people there.  And I worked!  What a great thing that is, to have something productive to do with my day—and think of all those folks who would love to have a job but can’t find one.  And I came home!  Love my neighborhood!  And I’m thinking about painting the dining room this weekend, we’re looking at some fun new colors.  And watched television—a great detective mystery for Inspector Lewis!  And then I was tired, I went to bed, and how great that was.  Sank into the pillow.  Slept like a baby.

Anyway, you get the idea.  The same day.  From the outside.  The difference just how you live it, what you look for, how you experience it.   To think about the line in the John Lennon song, “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.”  Certainly it slips by fast, especially if you’re not paying attention.  Grumbling.  Perpetually irritated.  Just plain bored.  Maybe spending so much time thinking about where we aren't, what we aren't doing, what we could have been doing instead. And pretty much miss everything along the way.  Another day down.  Another week down.  Another year down.

Just to notice this contrast, how some people who are blessed with good health and families and a good work, with intelligence, resources, can seem so joyless sometimes.  Complaining.  Always with a chip on their shoulders.  Focusing on minor problems.  Getting all agitated with grievance after grievance.  Joyless.  While others who seem to have lives full of so many challenges, of all kinds (I don’t know if you've found this to be true—I think I have), stressed in terms of even basic material resources, health, struggles with family and relationships, can sometimes be the very people who when they walk into a room it’s like someone opened the curtains.  Warmth and light and fresh air.  Appreciation.  Personal kindness. A radiant smile.  The point is simply of course as we all know, that having more doesn't make life better.  It’s not at all to minimize the challenges, or not to have sympathy and tenderness and care.  Life can be very hard in many ways, and so many things beyond our control.  If we want to be miserable, there certainly are plenty of opportunities.  But here we are.  Sometimes you might say a question of character rather than context.  The inside rather than the outside.

Kathy and Wally Lalonde talking about their long work with the Mustard Seed Babies’ Home in Uganda.  Maybe you heard their presentation last spring.  Or saw the photographs of the two children sponsored by our Church School.  Very inspiring.  Teachers, staff, all these children, living in a material way with so many challenges, so many, yet with such a vibrancy of joy that folks from Pennsylvania and California who take a couple of weeks off from work and come to visit find themselves saying, “I wish I had some of what they have.”  Those great smiles.  I wish I could live with so much joy, so much blessing.  A lifestyle of appreciation and thanksgiving.  A sense of the goodness of God. 

Thinking about the witness of the Church in those first generations, the martyrs singing joyful hymns on their way to the coliseum.  People by the side of the road watching and listening:  "I wish I had some of what they have.”  We had St. Francis a few days ago, fourth of October.  As Pastor Larry Kemp said in his little homily at our annual Saturday Service, the patron saint of Earth Day, birdbaths, and the family pet.   And yet not to miss the core message of St. Francis, as he personally turned away from so much of the comforts of the world so that he would be free with all joy to preach the gospel.  To put aside the fine clothing of the son of a prosperous merchant, to dress himself in the radiant love of Christ.  An echo of the quote from Steven Covey that I referenced several times this past summer when we were reading  Colossians.  “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” 

What’s really important?  Three score years and ten, or perhaps four score, as the psalmist says.  But not long, that’s for sure: this life of ours.  And for how much of it are we awake?  For how much of it are we singing?  The Mark Sanders song that Leanne Womack made popular a few years ago:  “May you never take one single breath for granted .  God forbid love ever leave you empty handedI hope you still feel small when you stand by the ocean. Whenever one door closes, I hope one more opens. Promise me that you'll give faith a fighting chance. And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.”

Ten lepers.  Thought I’d never get to the reading from Holy Scripture this morning, but here it is.  Luke 17.  All made clean.  All.  Physically healed of their disease.  But one, just this one, is made well.  Notice those two words in the translation.  Clean and well.  The Greek verb for the first is katharzo, which refers to a literal, physical cleaning, the removal of something that was a stain, a contamination.  For the second, translated here as “made well,” but this really interesting verb,  sozo.  To save.   Which is the source of the noun Soter, which means Savior.   Jesus says, “Get up and go on your way.  Your faith has saved you.” A great distinction.    Not about being healed of a specific skin disease, but about being brought to wholeness entirely.  Because in returning he turned his heart and mind to the giver of the gift.  Prostrating himself at the feet of the one who healed him. His savior.  Because he saw what was happening.  Somehow he figured it out.  Because his eyes were open to deeper realities.   Because he saw that what was true and best about being healed, was the opportunity to know and to be in a relationship with the one who was the giver of the gift.   To see and know Jesus, and to offer not simply a word of thanks, but to offer himself, falling on the ground, in worship.  And it was in that, that he was saved.

All ten are healed.  But only one in this story comes to know the healer, and is made well.  Sometimes people ask what the Bible has to say to us about the living of day to day life.  Maybe this wouldn't be a bad place to start.  “I got up this morning!”  The first day of the rest of our lives.  In the One who has made all things new.

Know who he is.  The one who has saved us.  Who is for us here this morning in his life and death, his cross and resurrection,  the one who brings life and light, forgiveness of our sin, healing in our brokenness.  Who is the bright morning star, the Dayspring from on high.  Savior.  The Great Physician of our souls.  In the songs that we hear and sing, in our prayers, in all our lives, returning to him.

May the Almighty Lord, who is a strong tower to all who put their trust in him, to whom all things in heaven, on earth, and under the earth bow and obey: Be now and evermore your defense, and make you know and feel that the only Name under heaven given for health and salvation is the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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