Sunday, November 22, 2015

St. Andrew's Day 2015

Observing St. Andrew the Apostle

Good morning and grace and peace-- fellow St. Androids (I love saying that!),  extended family, neighbors and friends.  Always a fun day in the life of this congregation—and the wider neighborhood, as folks up the block and around the corner put down the Sunday paper and come out on the porch to see what all the fuss is.  Bagpipes and drums and smiles and greetings.   And a cookie table!

A special welcome and word of thanks again as for so many years our friends of the Syria Highlanders have blessed us by joining in the celebration.  And as we are reminded by your presence to include in our thoughts and prayers the important work of the Shriners’ Hospitals for Children, which you all continue to serve as your fundraising mission.  It’s an honor for us to have the opportunity to share in that work with you.

Our St. Andrew’s ancestors were sent out on a missionary endeavor in the winter and spring of 1837, to lay the foundations of a second Episcopal Church to serve Pittsburgh’s growing population.  Must have been an exciting time for them.  Energized with a vision for Christian witness, the proclamation of the gospel in a new place and in new ways.  For them in a fresh and new way the echoing invitation and commission of our Lord to our St. Andrew and his brother Peter, from St. Matthew’s Gospel this morning: Come follow me, and fish for people!   The Parish of St. Andrew the Apostle.

 St. Andrew: Called by Jesus.  Taught by Jesus.  Sent out into the wide world by Jesus to share the Good News, to invite people into fellowship under his Cross, to be his hands and in his service as he builds his holy Church. 

I love that very simple description in the Book of The Acts of the Apostles, at the end of the second chapter, describing the days following the great outpouring of Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday.  “And day by day,” St. Luke writes at the beginning of verse 46  . . . “and day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people.  And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 

All about sharing prayer and worship, the Holy Communion of the Bread and Cup.  About living wholesome  and attractive lives in their neighborhoods, so that everyone commended them.  About generosity, expansive generosity.   I love that description, “they partook of food with glad and generous hearts.”   Sounds like St. Andrew’s to me!  And day by day, the Lord working in the lives of new friends, drawing them into this fellowship, turning hearts and changing lives.

Of course our St. Andrew was in that apostolic crowd that we read about in the second chapter of Acts.  In John’s gospel we have several wonderful  glimpses of him.  One very familiar, in John 6, when the crowds had followed Jesus out into the wilderness, and the miracle of the Feeding of the Multitudes.  The disciples had no idea how in the world they were going to figure out how to deal with this day—beyond the skills of even the most skillful event planner.  And then the little boy shows up, with his lunch, five small rolls, two fish.  And he is seen first by Andrew--who is keeping an eye out, confident I think that when we’re about the Lord’s business the Lord will provide--and Andrew immediately knows what to do, and brings him to Jesus. 

And then later, in John 12, on the afternoon of Palm Sunday, as the story is headed towards its dramatic turn, when strangers who have come to Jerusalem from distant lands to celebrate the Passover festival, Greek speaking Jews--they come searching for the famous Rabbi, the one everyone is talking about, who made such a stir in the streets earlier in the day.  And the Spirit stirs up a curiosity in their hearts.  They come to Andrew and say, “Sir, we would see Jesus.”  And immediately he brings them to him.  (The great 18th and 19th Century Church of England priest and preacher Charles Simeon had those words carved into the lectern on the pulpit of Holy Trinity Church in Cambridge, where he was rector for 54 years.

It all reminds me of the prayer that is said daily in observance of St. Benedict in every Benedictine monastic community.  The prayer that through God’s action the community may grow “in number and holiness.”  Those two things together. 
Catching a glimpse of that in John 6 and 12, in Acts 2, and in our gospel reading this morning, the very beginning of the ministry of Jesus,  in this conversation by the lake, as Jesus comes across these old followers of John the Baptist, now back at home and back at work, and invites them to come in a new direction, for a new work, with him.  And they follow:  Peter and Andrew, James and John.  The Lord adds to the fellowship day by day those who are being saved. 

People still come looking for him, and some Andrew or other makes the introduction.   Could be you, could be me.  Any of us.  And it doesn’t really take special skill or training.  Just a willing heart, we might say.  Since it’s God himself, Holy Spirit, who is going to work through us to do whatever it is that will be done.

A simple way of describing “apostolic witness.  ”   And of course ever encounter is unique.  Every conversation fresh and new.  Every story is different.  A bit later in the Acts story Peter and John are going to meet a begger at the Temple gate.  Philip is going to meet an Ethiopian official returning home from a diplomatic visit to Jerusalem.   Paths cross.   It’s like at a wedding, when you might ask someone you don’t know, “so, how are you connected to the bride and groom?”  We could go around the church this morning to ask that question, as we did a bit at our Coffee and Conversation hour this morning.   “How did you get here?”  What’s your story?  Who was it who introduced you to the Bridegroom?

And we would find in telling those stories again and again versions of some story about meeting St. Andrew.  Or one of his spiritual offspring, generation after generation.  Greeting you at the door, or out in the street, or over the back fence, or at work, or at school.  “I’m glad to meet you.  And  there’s someone else  I think you’d like to meet.  I know anyway he’d like to meet you.   In fact, he’s expecting you!  Please allow me to introduce you.” 

The spirit of St. Andrew, our patron, whom we remember today, whose continuing and inspiring work would shape all our lives—and let’s pray that it will continue to do so, that we will be built up as worthy successors to him, his legacy--so that we would know that deep down all Christian people are St. Andreans.  It’s a bustling crowd and a good bunch, and we can be proud to march together under his banner.

A Marriage Homily

November 21, 2015 Holy Matrimony
Katherine Anne Jones and Robert Scott Hess
Tobit 8: 5-8; St. John 15: 9-12

Wow.  Good afternoon everyone!  Family and friends . . . .  It is so great to be here today, as we are witnesses and participants in this wonderful celebration of Christian marriage.  Katie and Bob, I would simply personally and I know speaking for everyone here today, and with truly a full heart, express my and our deepest thanks for including us, for inviting us to be with you as this new page is turned, a new chapter begun. 

Here in Pittsburgh, as you know, we live at the source of one of the great rivers of the North American continent, as the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela gives birth to the mighty Ohio.  Perhaps that is a fitting image or symbol for us today.  Two fabulous  people, gifted, accomplished, intelligent, fun, real maturity, a wonderful shared sense of humor.  Flowing into one great new river for all the years ahead.

In the midst of all the complexities of work and travel and the busyness of the season I’ve really enjoyed the chance to get to know you in our pre-marriage conversations, and then yesterday at our rehearsal to have had the opportunity to meet and get to know some of your friends and family as well.  And not that anybody has asked me this question in so many words, but I just want to let you know that I approve of your marriage!  It seems like a very good idea to me.  You guys are great for each other, great with each other.  In ways that we can see, and in deeper ways—and simply to say that in the deep mysteries of his Providence, God is doing a new thing here, and I think an important thing.  He has gifted you, each of you individually and then in what you are together,  as your lives are synchronized, we might say, and we are only just now beginning to unfold. 

Here in Pittsburgh lots of people went down to the point last night, with the annual “Light Up Night” and all the festivities of the season.  For me, I think those fireworks were for you, and with the cheering and songs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, there are fireworks over us  and around us today, in great celebration!

During the last month or so you both spent some time, and we did together, to  give careful thought to the selection of the readings from Scripture to be read and shared at this service, and it was a gift for all of us to hear them.   

The reading from Tobit, and the story of the marriage of Tobias and Sarah.  This touching moment as their marriage begins with a prayer.  Back in the 1950’s and 1960’s the National Council of Churches ran an advertising campaign with billboards all across America, with the slogan, “The Family that Prays Together Stays Together.”  Maybe that saying is still familiar to some.  And wisdom in that. 

Married people are not clones of each other, of course.  And often the differences of interests and perspectives and life experience are so valuable, as you learn from one another and grow in appreciation.  One  spouse may never learn to love football, and the other may never truly appreciate Italian opera.  But we learn and grow.  But what Tobias and Sarah do for us is to invite us in marriage to find and explore a deeper unity of spiritual life and prayer.  And as they began their marriage in prayer, I would simply commend that invitation to you and to all married couples here today. 

The reading from St. John’s gospel is also I think well-chosen for us today.  These very tender words of Jesus: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you: abide in my love.”  And I would simply lift up the last few words : “love one another, as I have loved you.”   And as we hear those words here in lovely old St. Andrew’s I hope our eyes might be lifted up to see what we call the great Rood Beam.  “The Rood” is an Old English word for “the Cross.”  And we are reminded that the love of Jesus that we are called to follow in our lives and in our marriages, is not so much about how we “feel,” and what we “get” in our relationships, but about what we have to give, to share, to offer.    Not about our winning, but about figuring out how we can lose so that the other can win!  (And if both husband and wife keep working at that project you have to be pretty creative sometimes.  Like when people race to pick up the check after a nice dinner out, before the other can get to it.  Rushing ahead to open the door.  “After you.”  “No, after you.”)

There’s a prayer that we sometimes pray at the end of services here at St. Andrew’s that is called the “St. Francis Prayer,” because it sums up in a very simple and beautiful way the insight into Christian life that St. Francis communicated both with his words and in his life.  It begins like this:  “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.”  Perhaps you’ve heard that prayer.  I think it’s the perfect prayer for a wedding day.  And in the second half of the prayer,  these words: “Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved, as to love.”  Because it is when we give that we truly receive.  It is when we have forgiven others that we are truly forgiven ourselves.  And it only when we die to ourselves and to our own wants and our own self-centeredness, that we truly begin to know what it means to live, both here in this life and for eternity . . . . 

This the sign of the Cross.  Really the heart of the Christian message.   The One who died for us, and in that death opens the door to forgiveness and grace and new life.   And with that sign over us, here is the word of Jesus for you, with all the richness of his blessing: “love one another, as I have loved you.” 

So thank you for selecting these readings for us—truly a gift.  A great word for all of us to keep close, and meaningful that you have shared it with us today.  We might almost say that choosing and sharing these readings with your family and friends is the first step, the first example, of the vocation of your marriage.  The Church says that marriage is “sacramental”, and at least part of what that means is that  in marriage you two become outward signs of what Scripture has to say to us about God’s will for all our lives . . . about God’s grace and love.  He creates and establishes marriage, and he invites you now as you enter into marriage yourselves to this work and ministry-- inviting you day by day to a life shaped according to his purposes, that you will be equipped to communicate his love to others.  A great blessing, an exciting adventure of a life.  That you would know our love and prayers and support today and in all the days ahead.

And now as Bob and Katie come forward to exchange the vows that will make them husband and wife, let us pause for a moment and bow our heads and in the quiet of our own hearts offer our prayers of love and blessing for them—for today and for all the days of their lives.

her brought over from the heritage of Jewish practice o

                                                                                                             --Bruce Robison

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Comedy of Pre-Advent

Ruth 3: 1-5; 4:13-17 (Proper 27B)
Baptism of Violet Rose Hickman
November 8, 2015

Good morning and grace and peace.  Moving into a rich season of the year in the wider church and here at St. Andrew’s.  The Sunday after All Saints Sunday —remembering just what a wonderful and truly beautiful and meaningful service that was last Sunday—choir and orchestra and our prayers remembering saints and heroes of the faith, and as well honoring and offering prayers in memory of our loved ones.  Next Sunday the Harvest Brunch and a celebration of some of the ways we here in this corner of the East End are able to share in some very exciting ministries in the wider world, and especially with our focus in Bolivia.  Then on the 22nd, St. Andrew’s Day, and bagpipes and our annual homecoming and patronal festival.  And then Thanksgiving and Advent and Christmas and the New Year.  A reminder for me of what a real blessing it is to have the privilege to be a part of this great congregation.

In the patterning of the Church Calendar we recall the two great cycles of the year—reflecting the two great and inextricably intertwined theological themes of Incarnation and Atonement: Advent-Christmas-Epiphany, and Lent-Holy Week-Easter.  The calendar also charts out a transitional phase, an interlude of preparation, before each of these cycles.  We are more familiar with what is sometimes called “Pre-Lent,” and the Sundays of Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, as each of these in turn directs our attention ahead to the great drama of the Cross.  Similarly there is a somewhat less emphatic but still meaningful “Pre-Lent” that comes before Advent, the Three Sundays that begin today, and we would begin to listen carefully to the appointed Collects and Lessons and Psalms to hear the advancing footsteps of the Advent messenger.  The Collect this morning lifting up the Manifestation of the Blessed Son of the Father, to destroy the works of Satan and to redeem fallen humanity—and calling us to await eagerly the day when he shall come again, with power and great glory, lifting us forever in his presence.

So it’s not just the department stores and radio stations that are leaning forward into the calendar.  So too the Church and in the heart of every Christian.  Eagerly rushing forward to Christmas with the prayer of his First and Second Advent, “Come, Lord Jesus.”

And a reminder in that this morning, with the baptism of Violet Rose, here at the same font where, wearing the same baptismal gown,  her mother Kristen was baptized by my predecessor Ralph Brooks at the end of July, 1985.  Just a tad over 30 years ago.  Violet’s parents and godparents standing at the crossing here presenting her for baptism and accepting the spiritual responsibilities of baptismal sponsors in the same place where on June 27, 1981,  her grandparents exchanged their marriage vows.  A lovely image of the life of the Christian family carrying on, one generation to another.

The Old Testament lesson appointed for this morning, from the Book of Ruth, seems very appropriate I think for this morning’s celebration of Violet’s baptism.  For her, and for all of us.  And especially in “Pre-Advent.”

We’ve been in this series for a couple of months now in the lectionary of what is sometimes called the “Wisdom Literature” of the Old Testament.  Some time back we had the reading from Proverbs 31, the portrait of the Capable Wife.  And then we had the readings from Esther, and from Job.  And now this morning we would remember the story of Ruth.

The story like so many of this part of the Bible begins in exile.  Easy for us to picture these days, with the images before us daily such great numbers streaming out of Syria and Afghanistan and Northern Africa.  Naomi and her husband and their two sons are forced by famine to become refugees, and they come to live in a foreign land, Moab.  Yet even so, far from home, they continue to hold on to the memory of their homeland Israel and their worship of Israel’s God. 

Time passes, and they begin to make a life where they are as best they can.  In time their sons marry local girls and begin to settle into their adult lives.  But then in a series of calamities perhaps reminiscent of Job’s, death takes first Naomi’s husband and then both her sons.  In sorrow and bitterness and regret Naomi gathers her two daughters-in-law together and gives them her blessing and tells them to return to their families, so that she herself can return in the ashes of mourning to die herself in the land of her ancestors. 

Which the first of the two daughters-in-law does.  But not Ruth.  Ruth refuses to leave the side of Naomi.  The famous line: “whither thou goest, I will go.  Where thou lodgest I will lodge.  Thy people will be my people.  Thy God, my God.”  And this deep and costly gesture of love and loyalty begins to plant a seed of transformation.  Naomi and Ruth return to Israel and to the Land of Judah, near the small country town of Bethlehem, where they find a farm owned by Boaz, a distant relative. 

Boaz welcomes them with kindness and generosity, begins to care for them.  And then, in the way now as the story unfolds of a wonderful romantic comedy, as time passes, we come to the scene in the reading this morning.  In the movie I would cast Tom Hanks as Boaz, Meg Ryan as Ruth!  In the secret mysteries of Jewish mothers, perhaps we would say, Naomi now knows and sees by all the intuitive signs what is in the heart and of Cousin Boaz—perhaps understanding him better than he understands himself.  How he looks up when she is standing across the field.  How his eyes follow her when she walks with the others to the daily chores of the farm.  Naomi has Ruth prepare herself, and go to his home, and once she arrives—well, the rest of the story.   We’ve read it here.  As at the end of every romantic comedy.  Love and marriage.  Laughter and wedding bells.   Joy, healing, and new life. 

And even to conclude with this wonderful note, Ruth’s first son Obed is embraced by Naomi, taken up into his grandmother’s loving arms—her own husband and sons gone, but now new life and a new generation.  Hope and promise.   A happy ending!

And even the parting word to us readers, as the first hearers and readers of the story of Ruth would have known already-- that this child Obed, the first-born son of Boaz and Ruth, would be himself the father of Jesse, who then in turn would be the father of King David.  And for us today, of course, as we look ahead through the weeks of fall and then to Advent, to know that he is the ancestor of Mary and so of our Lord Jesus Christ.  O Little Town of Bethlehem!  Not Thanksgiving yet, but already we can hear the angels singing to the shepherds in the fields.  Perhaps these very fields, where Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan—I mean, Boaz and Ruth, first caught sight of one another.

God’s  great plan of salvation, the Holy Story of God, resting on this comedy of love!  When Ruth makes the decision to give up everything.  Not to return to her family, but to care for Naomi, who was lost in her bitterness, without hope for any future.  That one generous, humble, sacrifice of love--and how God took that and used it for purposes that have been in his heart from the beginning of time.  Anticipating the word of Ruth’s daughter Mary, who would say to the Angel centuries later, “Let it be as you have said.”    Again.  Pre-Advent.

Good to say this, for Violet on her baptismal day.  As she has been now washed in Christ and sealed in the Holy Spirit, forgiven, cleansed, lifted to new life.   To have this sense of what God will use from her, from us.    We don’t know the specifics, but we know the author of the story, and that the story continues, drawing in each of our lives.  New lives one by one, generation after generation, here at the font of baptism and new life.

We have this rich liturgy.   Simple but deep.  The service would have been the same for Kristen in 1985 as for Violet this morning.  Parents and Godparents begin by making their particular commitments of prayer and support to see that the child they present is “brought up in the Christian faith and life” to the “full stature of Christ.”  And then on behalf of the child being baptized and on behalf of the whole congregation they begin what is sometimes called the “Baptismal Covenant” with those great statements renouncing the devil , the world, and our sinful nature.  And then so meaningfully:  “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?”   Heart and soul and mind and strength. 

Like Ruth: “whither thou goest I will go.”  Like Mary: “Let it be to me as you have said.”  This free gift, without condition, no “Plan B.”  Like the old hymn, “O Jesus I have promised to serve thee to the end.”   Faithfulness, no matter what the cost.  This is what true Wisdom is all about, again and again through these words of the Bible as we have been hearing them over the past few months.  Proverbs and Esther and Job and Ruth.  The fear of the Lord.  To love him with all our heart and soul and mind and strength.  

It is an image, a foreshadowing also for us and most importantly for us in “Pre Advent” of the love and sacrifice of Ruth’s great-great-great-great-great grandson Jesus, who was the Wisdom from on high. And an image and a foreshadowing of the life we share with Jesus in and through these baptismal waters.  

So welcome this morning to Violet Rose, and to say for her, and for us all, “Dare to be a Ruth!”  Because that’s how Christmas happens.  And with thanks for the opportunity that we all have to be renewed and refreshed in Christ.  

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

Sunday, November 1, 2015

For All the Saints

All Saints Sunday
Revelation to St. John the Divine 21: 1-6
Gospel of St. John 11:32-44

Good morning and grace and peace this morning of All Saints Day.  A highlight of the church year and always a wonderful service here at St. Andrew’s.  With thanks to Peter and the Choir and the Orchestra and our good friend Tom Octave.  Your participation and offering makes this day exceptionally meaningful.  A real gift.  Of course, always meaningful for us as we remember the great saints and heroes of our Christian family, known through the generations for their holiness of life and their courage and witness. 

Remembering as well as we do in our prayers today the saints and heroes and loved ones nearest to us. Family, friends, neighbors, co-workers.   Perhaps most of them not to be commemorated with statues and stained glass windows in their honor and special feast days on the calendar--but in our hearts and minds dear to us and remembered as inspirations each in their own way of faithful Christian life and God’s love.  Rest eternal grant unto them, O Lord, and may Light Perpetual shine upon them.  May they with all the faithful departed rest in peace and rise in glory. Amen.

The reading this morning from the opening of the 21st chapter of the Revelation of St. John the Divine always so powerful—and most appropriate on All Saints Day.   It was suggested to me several years ago and I have made it a part of my regular devotional pattern once each month or so to sit quietly for a few minutes in a morning or evening prayer time and to re-read the 21st and 22nd chapters of the Revelation to St.  John the Divine. 

A magnificent set-piece of Christian testimony and witness, with language and a poetry and a great and encompassing vision that settles deeply into the imagination.  A word of comfort, of encouragement, of inspiration.  Fuel for the tank as we go about the day to day unfolding of our lives in our homes and with our families, at work, with our friends, in the quiet of our own inner space of thought and feeling.  I have found it so, and I would commend that practice and discipline to you, actually, on this All Saints Day.  When we have a challenging journey it can be helpful to be able to picture our desired destination.  To have the mountain-top in mind as we face the steep climb in front of us.   For me it’s also like hitting the “refresh” button, to shift the metaphor.  Re-centering.  Maybe something to do on the first day of every month, for a year, as an experiment, and to see what strikes you over time, as you let these words and this imagery of the great victory of God come again and again to your attention.  This victory that we are and will be a part of.  Each time of reading and re-reading, to see something new, or from a new perspective.  To go deeper.

This vision of John the Seer-- of the Holy City, New Jerusalem, coming down from heaven from God.  I find this turns the imagery around for me, in terms of what I had usually pictured in my mind when I thought about God’s Kingdom.  I thought, to use the phrase, that “we would go to heaven.”  But that’s not what John sees. 

In the great day of God’s victory, heaven comes to us, here, to earth, the Holy City, and as it arrives the earth itself is transformed and the lives of all God’s faithful are met and drawn into him.  Not that we sail up into the skies, riding on otherworldly clouds to God’s presence. Instead, as the voice announces to John, “See, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them.”    A parent hears that a child is in distress, and drops everything and rushes to be at the child’s side.  “God himself will be with them, he will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

The victory of the Cross displayed right here.  To answer the question of Good Friday, “why does this have to happen?”  Remember Jesus in John 12, as inscribed here on the great Rood Beam, “and I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.”  The embrace of the Father for the Son, and his arms wrapped around us, as we in and through Jesus receive the free gift of God’s love:  his forgiveness, his generosity and abundance.  Ask and ye shall receive.  Knock and door will open unto you. 

Read the 21st and 22nd Chapters of John’s Revelation to see what that New Jerusalem is, that is ours, flowing with the restoring and renewing waters of the River of Life.  The towering trees of the New Garden, fresh and green and with leaves that are for the healing of the nations.  Come unto me, all ye who travail and are heavy laden, and I will refresh you.

And then we consider in the Gospel reading appointed for this morning the Sign of Lazarus.  Come out of the tomb, Lazarus!  Again right before our eyes, the token of God’s promise for each of us.  They fit together, hand in glove, these two readings: one word of transformational triumph.  That life is changed, not ended.   The whole creation. Fallen and then lifted up.  The gate of our suffering and death, the portal to his great conclusion.  The Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.  Trustworthy and true.  Making all things new.

What a great gift.  For all the Saints.  Beyond any words, any sentence that we could compose in reply.  No adequate expression of thanks and appreciation.  Almost impossible even to describe in words.  Perhaps music--Franz Schubert and the transcendence of music only a step in the direction.  I know this particular mass setting is not considered to be one of the most complicated of Schubert’s works.  But a certain expression for me of a quieter grace.  The Kyrie sung at the beginning of the service just a few minutes ago always touches so deeply.   A reminder in one kind of beauty of that deeper wonder that the psalmist calls “the beauty of holiness,” which is God’s eternal and life-giving presence.  Coming for us and for our salvation in the victory of the Last Day, and with us now.  In our prayers, in the Word of Holy Scripture.  In the Holy Food and Drink at the Table of the Lord’s Supper.   A presence that we can know perfectly in the face of his Son.   Always near when we call.  Who despite our unworthiness and our persistent sin went to the Cross for us, and who has opened this door for us.

It is such a big deal.  Enough to rouse us from our sleep and to arouse our curiosity.  Tell me more.  What this is all about.  As we celebrate this morning, for all the All Saints.  For this life and the life to come