Sunday, November 24, 2013

Celebrating St. Andrew's Day, 2013

Dt 30, Romans 10, Matthew 4

Grace and peace to you, a word of welcome on this always-fun Sunday, as we observe the festival of our patron saint, Andrew the Apostle.  A little like a birthday party for us always, or a homecoming weekend, an anniversary, and certainly a time to pause for a moment to think about how the spirit of this great place, St. Andrew’s--176 years old this year—about how the spirit of this great place is and has become a part of who we are.  

I’ve seen a number of constructions.  St. Andreans is what I prefer, since the name in Greek is “Andreas”-- though there were a few around here for a while who preferred “St. Andrewsians.”  For some reason Ruth Cover always preferred that one.  And I have occasionally heard from the direction of the Star Trek section of the Choir, “St. Androids.”  But in any event, a particular and distinctive and peculiar species, DNA passed down in some mystical invisible way generation by generation, despite all kinds of differences of background, perspective, life experience.  “Every breed of cat,” as I like to say every year about the parish by the zoo.  

Democrats and Republicans, vegetarians and omnivores, wine-bibbers and tea-totallers, city dwellers and folks from near and far suburbs and towns, people who love baseball and, hard as this is to believe after the wonderful year our Pirates have had, people who don’t.  Even at this point in this challenging season I’m sure even a few loyal-to-the-end Steeler fans.  (Maybe things will continue to look better this afternoon in Cleveland.)  Chamber music and country, Handel and Hendrix.  People who will describe their lives and families and communities and interests and their Christian faith in a multitude of vocabularies.  A big enough map to locate just about everybody.  But in the midst of those differences and diversities, something shared.  

An inclination to be here, to be together, prompted by our Better Angels, I think.  Holy Spirit, and I absolutely believe that.  Whispers of encouragement.  Stirrings of the heart that take place in such quiet ways that we don’t even notice them at first.  Every one of us meant to be here.  Here for a purpose.

Grace and peace then, St. Andreans, St. Andrewsians, St. Androids.  And visitors and friends.  The old story was that someone once asked how you joined this bunch, and the answer was that all you need to do was to stroll past the front door slowly once or twice out on Hampton Street and you’d be eligible to serve on Vestry.  

Obviously things a little different this year on this chilly morning, with all the construction, so that our usually extravagant St. Andrew’s Day Reception becomes more simply a classic Pittsburgh Cookie Table in the bit of Brooks Hall that we have to work with while all the renovations are in process.  Nonetheless: as Dickens’s Tiny Tim will solemnly pronounce again as the season rolls along, “God bless us, every one.”  And with a special greeting and appreciation again this year to our friends of the Syria Highlanders.  Thank you for the gift you bring us in stirring up these ancestral memories on this St. Andrew’s Day, echoing brightly in the new acoustic of our renovations, and thank you for the opportunity you share with us in support of the wonderful work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children.  A great cause.   

Certainly the pioneers of this place back in 1837 were aware of St. Andrew’s role as patron saint of Scotland.  Perhaps they were recognizing and honoring in those days the large Scotch-Irish population that had been such a large part of the first European settlement in this region.  And so to hear the pipes again across the neighborhood and ringing through the church—it is for us an old and familiar song.

Andrew in addition to Scotland,  the patron saint of Barbados, the Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Patras in Greece, Amalfi in Italy, Luqa in Malta, Esgueira in Portugal.  Patron of Prussia, and of the Order of the Golden Fleece (I looked that up a couple of years ago in Wikipedia—an order dating from the 15th century comprising members of the royal families and high nobility of old Europe). And the emblematic St. Andrew’s Cross appears on the flags of Scotland, Australia, New Zealand, Nova Scotia, Tenerife, Galicia, and the state flags of Florida and Alabama, among others.  Andrew is also, to note a couple of weeks after our observance of Veterans Day, the patron saint of the U.S. Army Rangers.

In any event, he got around.  This St. Andrew of ours.  “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”—as St. Paul writes for us and for all time in Romans 10—the epistle reading for this day, which you can see in the order for the 9 a.m. Holy Communion this morning.  And Psalm 19: “Their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world.”

The Brotherhood of St. Andrew: a missionary society in the Episcopal Church since the later years of the 19th century—trained and supported lay leaders who would go out into frontier areas to establish the foundation of church growth.  The parish I served many years ago, St. Andrew’s in State College, Pennsylvania, founded by two layreaders of the Brotherhood of St. Andrew from St. John’s Church in Bellefonte.  A story repeated many times across the Midwest and West across the expanding American frontier.

We've heard one story about the calling of Andrew and Peter here in St. Matthew this morning.  Leave your nets and come with me: fish for people . . . .  The story in St. John has Andrew as a disciple of John the Baptist, who with another John the Baptist follower hears John speak about Jesus and follows after him to see what he’s all about, and who then goes and finds his brother Peter to say, “come and meet the person we've been waiting for all our lives.”  Then again in St. John, when Jesus the multitudes have followed Jesus into the countryside to hear his teaching, and when evening has come and the people are beginning to get hungry, and nobody seems quite sure what to do, Andrew brings to Jesus a little boy who has brought his lunch from home, five loaves of bread, and two fish.  And later still, at a moment of crisis on the journey toward the cross, some Greeks come, seeking Jesus, and it is Andrew to whom they speak first, and he brings them to him.

All the stories about what happened for Andrew after Pentecost Sunday are pious traditions, but they would certainly follow along the same New Testament pattern. Meeting people where they are, and leading them to Jesus.  A ministry of introduction and evangelism.  Commending Jesus.  Inviting others who haven’t met him yet to come into his presence, to experience for themselves his tender mercy, his forgiveness, and the healing and new life and real and substantial hope that flow from the knowledge of his resurrection.  Andrew, always ready to say a good word about Jesus.  How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!

For 176 years under his banner as this community of Christian people.  Pilgrims.  Men and women, boys and girls.  All sorts and conditions.  And somehow here good Andrew keeps doing his work, fishing for people, taking them by the hand and bringing them to meet his friend.  We’re building the equipment and infrastructure in our Opening Doors project next door.  Capacity for outreach.  Capacity for welcome.  Let me introduce you to someone you've been waiting all your life to meet.  The Hope of the Nations.  Inspiring us, at this Font and at this Table, sustaining us, equipping us, as the Word is proclaimed and studied, as we meet Jesus here, and as we continue to meet him and to walk with him then from this great place to all corners of the neighborhood and city and region around.   For all of us who would walk under the Banner of St. Andrew the Apostle.

“The word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.”   “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”  

Blessings on this St. Andrew’s Day, friends, for those of us who are here today, and for those whose first Sunday in this great place will be next Sunday, or the Sunday after that.  Perhaps the neighbor who slips in by the side door a few weeks from now to watch and listen as our children tell in their pageant the story of the Savior’s birth.  Perhaps the friend who accepts our invitation to attend the beautiful offering of Lessons and Carols.  Perhaps the one who decides after years of frustration and resistance and sadness and hurt to give the Christian message and that Bethlehem Baby another hearing at midnight on Christmas Eve.  Perhaps a neighbor in Lima Peru, introduced to Jesus by her Five Talents Solidarity Circle.  Perhaps a neighbor right around the corner, whose hard road to recovery is made a little easier by the friendship and helping hand of one of our Off the Floor Pittsburgh Saturday mornings.

How beautiful indeed are the feet of those who bring good news—and the news that Andrew had to share, the news that we have to share, the best news ever.  Come and meet Jesus.  He is the one we have been waiting for.   

Next Sunday is Advent Sunday and the beginning of a new year on the calendar of the Church.  May the next year and may the next 176 years of our life together continue the story and announce the good news in great and new ways, always to bring honor, glory, and praise, through Christ our Lord.

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

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Twenty-Sixth after Pentecost

 (Proper 28C2) Malachi 4: 1-2; Luke 21: 5-19

Grace and peace.  The Christmas decorations have been up at the Mall since before Halloween, but at least in the church we would take a more gradual approach to the unfolding of the story,  savoring some of the nuances along the way—and to appreciate this Sunday in what is unofficially anyway right in the middle of a three-week “pre-Advent” season.  We don’t quite experience the full scope and flavor of these pre-Advent Sundays because of our observance of All Saints on the Sunday after All Saints Day last week and then of course because of our festival observance of St. Andrew’s Day next Sunday.  But for this one Sunday anyway, we can hear it, “pre-Advent,” in the middle of things, as we would begin to prepare ourselves in heart and mind for the turning of the year and the renewal of the great story beginning in Advent and Christmas.  All which will be here before we know it anyway.

In 1549 the first English Book of Common Prayer opened the Church year with dazzling fanfare in the great Collect for Advent Sunday—a composition of Archbishop Cranmer and to my mind one of the most beautiful gems of literary prayer ever written.  “Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armor or light; now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal.”  And then the next week, the Second Sunday of Advent, we had for over 500 years until 1979 and our new American Prayer Book the Collect again composed by Cranmer that we have prayed this Sunday, at the heart of the English Reformation and Protestant Renewal of the 15th and 16th centuries, and continuing in our core identity and Anglican DNA to this present day: “O God, who hast caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.”  Fun to share just a bit of reflection on that Collect with the kids in the Children’s Talk this morning.

These two great Advent prayers all about how we center ourselves in the central Christian truth of Incarnation.  God coming to be present with us, completely and authentically, acting in our time and space of creation, revealing himself to us without reservation, in his Word made Flesh, and in his Word Written, all Holy Scriptures.  As we will gather in a few weeks with Mary and Joseph and Shepherds and Angels around the crib in Bethlehem.  In the artistic image of the 16th century in stained glass and religious art, the Bible resting in the straw of the Manger.  So the hymn that summarizes in a simple rhyme everything that underlies what we have been told, what we have heard, what we have to say, with our lips and in our lives.  Peace on earth, and mercy mild: God and sinners reconciled . . . .   The Word given to us.   In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  Born for us.  Spoken into this world of ours.  “That we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”

Last summer in our reading of Colossians I quoted several times the famous saying from Steven Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”—“the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.”  Which is the bright message waiting for us in Advent.  Waiting for us our lives are shaped by daily, weekly, yearly immersion in the sacred story.  Filling our minds, our hearts, our imaginations.  This little snippet from the Prophet Malachi, and if you are looking for a “pre-Advent ” reading this is it perfectly: the vision of the Day of the Lord.  The bottom line moment, the final accounting, the roaring fire burning off the stubble at the end of the harvest, the last great judgment.  Maybe you feel like you’ve seen that in the movies.  The day is coming, burning like an oven . . .  .  Sorting it all out once and for all.  The definitive death of the old broken and sinful world.  The death of evil  The birth of the new creation.  The time of waiting and hoping at last coming to an end, and the fulfillment of the great promise. 

And this from Luke also—another word to get ready for the Advent that is soon to be upon us.  Perhaps not the best strategy here as we are in the context of the great effort of a Capital Campaign, but still the message we are called to hear first, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, each and every one of us, and to proclaim.  Look around.  Look around.   The day coming when not one stone will be left on stone, temples and palaces, all the elaborate creations of what seem to have such importance in this age.  Our homes and bank accounts, our resumes and careers, all the material and social and psychological and emotional structures that we create—that we create—to give our lives meaning and substance.  Not that these are bad or wrong in themselves.  Jesus worshiped in that Temple, he overturned the Tables of the Merchants and Money Changers to defend and demonstrate its sacred character and purpose.  He would have sung many times Psalm 84, “how lovely is thy dwelling place, O Lord of hosts, to me.”  But to know these things all for what they are.  Provisional.  Temporary.  A brief candle, as Shakespeare’s Macbeth would say.   A castle built at low tide on the sandy beach.  Where we live in the meantime, in this interval and in-between time, working, building, loving, living and dying, with the great New Morning of the World about to dawn finally in God’s perfect time. 

In the meantime.  Advent.  Thinking here of this wonderful moment in our reading from Second Thessalonians.  As Paul encourages those who are waiting in hope for the Coming of Christ “to do their work quietly and to earn their own living,” and to say, “do not be weary in doing what is right.”  What Christians are called to do, in light of the judgment to come, in light of the fragility of all these things that seem so permanent, that seem so valuable, so important.  To live simply.  To persist faithfully, hopefully.

To keep the main thing the main thing.  To let the good that God has in mind for us begin right now to be a reality in our lives.   The marks of an “Advent Way of Life.”  Quietly.  Patiently.  Confidently.  Without fear.  Without the need to cling tenaciously to a world that is passing away.  But with love--to be free with open hands and open minds and open heart. 

Ahead in the far distance of the Bethlehem hills we can just make out the angels singing to the shepherds.  And to know him every day, and in all circumstances.    Come O come, Emmanuel.  Whose name will mean, “God with us.”

Monday, November 11, 2013

Veterans' Day

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

From the Office of the Suffragan Bishop for Chaplaincies of the Episcopal Church

A Prayer for Veterans Day

Governor of Nations, our Strength and Shield:
we give you thanks for the devotion and courage
of all those who have offered military service for this country:

For those who have fought for freedom; for those who laid down their lives for others;
for those who have borne suffering of mind or of body;
for those who have brought their best gifts to times of need.

On our behalf they have entered into danger,
endured separation from those they love,
labored long hours, and borne hardship in war and in peacetime.

Lift up by your mighty Presence those who are now at war;
encourage and heal those in hospitals
or mending their wounds at home;
guard those in any need or trouble;
hold safely in your hands all military families;
and bring the returning troops to joyful reunion
and tranquil life at home;

Give to us, your people, grateful hearts
and a united will to honor these men and women
and hold them always in our love and our prayers;
until your world is perfected in peace

through Jesus Christ our Savior.

This prayer may be used as a congregational litany with the following responses to each stanza:

1. We thank you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

2. We thank you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

3. We than you and praise you, our Strength and Shield!

4. Watch over and keep them, Blessed Savior.

5. Hear our prayer in His Name. Amen.

Compiled by the Rev. Jennifer Phillips, Vicar, St. Augustine’s Chapel, University of Rhode Island campus. Her prayers appear in supplemental liturgical materials for the Episcopal Church and in her books of prayers including “Simple Prayers for Complicated Lives.”

With thanksgiving and continued prayers for all those in our extended St. Andrew's parish family who have served in the uniform of our country, and for those who serve now.

Bruce Robison

Sunday, November 3, 2013

All Saints

Ephesians 1: 11-23

Good morning and grace and peace to you on this All Saints Sunday.  Thanks always to Peter Luley, to members of our Choir and Orchestra, to Tom Octave—so great to have you with us again.  

With the calendar of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer the profile of All Saints Day was significantly advanced from the general practice the Anglican world.  Not simply a “red letter day” on the calendar with a set of propers of its own, as has always been the case in our BCP tradition--but a day that is now moved to the next Sunday and given the status of a Major Feast.  

Of course here at St. Andrew’s for a number of years a special day not only because of the meaningful memorial of our loved ones, but also because for a number of years now we have made the day the centerpiece of our Music Festival.  Mozart this morning, and looking ahead later to Thursday evening and the orchestral and choral offering of the Faure Requiem in a service of Holy Communion observing All Souls Day.  A plug for that evening, and “please tell your friends!”  Exceptionally beautiful and meaningful, and with thanks to all who make it possible through the Music Guild and the Friends of Music, who are acknowledged in the leaflet this morning—and may their tribe increase!  Enriching our Christian life and worship in so many deep and substantial ways always.

These readings from scripture appointed for All Saints in Year C of our new Revised Common Lectionary are fascinating, and it was fun to talk them over at our midweek Bible Study Wednesday morning.  Daniel’s great vision, as the roaring winds of heaven swoop down and the great beasts explode from the depths of the sea, and then the promise of the coming of four “Kings,” perhaps a foreshadowing of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the sixth chapter of the Revelation to St. John--and into the subsequent cosmic drama this grand conclusion, “the holy ones of the Most High shall receive the kingdom and possess the kingdom forever—for ever and ever.”  Wow. 

No reading from the Revelation directly in the lectionary this year, but to hear again that passage following from the 7th chapter: After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no man could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits upon the throne, and to the Lamb.’  We remember our loved ones in our prayers today, and around us always the witness and reminders of the “Capital S” Saints and heroes of the faith over all generations.  But to emphasize that this is a day not about the past, but about who we are now, about our hope, and about the future, about a destiny that we share in Christ Jesus, who was, and who is, and who is to come.  Not only about who they were but about who we are, and about what he will make of us.  Who says, 21st chapter of the Revelation:  Behold, I make all things new.

So blessings on this Sunday of All the Saints, and I want to pause for one moment before the Mozart Credo this morning for this passage from the Letter to the Ephesians, to hear again and underline from St. Paul, the first chapter, verses 15-19.  The congregation of this small city of Ephesus in Asia Minor, modern Turkey, so dear to Paul. As we read in Acts chapters 18 and 19 of his first days there, to witness and so slowly and in the midst of serious opposition to share the gospel and to gather the first members of a new Christian community.  And after he left and for years later his continuing pastoral care and love for them.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 

What we learned in those chapters of Acts was that ancient Ephesus was a center of cultic worship of the Greek goddess Artemis Diana, a site for religious pilgrimages for devotees who would come from far and wide to visit a shrine and believing themselves to receive a kind of special supernatural blessing—and that one of the major industries of the area was the production of religious souvenirs and good luck charms for these pilgrims to take home with them.   The folks who maintained these shrines and businesses were greatly opposed to the new Christian fellowship and began to mount an active and apparently even violent opposition.

Easy to be discouraged.  There is the first morning of faith, the freshness of a new awareness of who Christ is and of what he has done for us.  The first Good Friday afternoon to stand in awe and wonder, repentance, conversion of life, in the shadow of the Cross.  The first Easter morning, to stand before the empty tomb.  The joy of the First Morning of the World.  But then to sustain this from day to day.  In the flat and ordinary times.  Susy Robison’s old friend, the Buddhist writer Jack Kornfield, has a book, “After the Ecstasy, the Laundry.”  Or as for the Ephesians, even harder times.  Opposition and persecution.  Never unknown to Christian people in any generation, and in places especially like Syria and Iraq and Pakistan even today.  Hard times.  To be held in faith.  To open ourselves, our minds, our souls, our bodies, make ourselves vulnerable, to give up our insistence on our own shape, so that we might be refashioned in his image.  To step off the old path, and to follow him in a new way.  To seek with all our heart and all our strength to live and die as Christians.  To have heard the gospel reading this morning from Luke.  Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.  

And that a part of the story, as we each of us would struggle in our own way of what Bonhoeffer called a “costly discipleship.”  Seeing inspiration where the Spirit meets us in Scripture, in the common inheritance of those who have walked this Way before us.  To live and die in him, as Christians.  When there is opposition.   Or perhaps simply to live in a world that so often makes another way easier.  Hate your enemies, bless your friends, get even with those who abuse you.  Be the center of your own universe.  The one who dies with the most toys, wins.  It might have been in Ephesus, and it is easy to be discouraged.  But hold on, friends, to what is true.  Paul to the Christian friends of Ephesus, and to us here on this All Saints Sunday.  Don’t be discouraged.  Don’t let it defeat you.  Hold on to what is true.  Holding on as you have already begun to do so beautifully, to him, and to him alone.

So to emphasize a day not about the past, but about today, about the future, about the destiny  we share in Christ Jesus with Christians of every time and place, who was, and who is, and who is to come.  We have been called in this deep mystery to give ourselves as a part of his future, his hope, his promise and intention.  To be of his goodness, of his power.  To be made a blessing, to be built up into his new body.  

And this day, which is simply a reminder that as his new world dawns, every day is All Saints Day.  So not only about who they were, all our saints, but about who we are, and about what he will make of us. “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea, for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.  I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.