Friday, January 26, 2018

“Come to me all who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
(Matt. 11:28)
Advent II Wednesday Jan Robitscher
     Isaiah 40: 25-31 All Saints’ Chapel
     Psalm 103: 1-4, 8, 10                                           CDSP
     Matthew 11:28-30              December 13, 2017

The word Advent means “to come to”. Advent the season is about the comings of Christ to us in the past, present and future.  But it is also about something else: Our coming to God. It is (at least ideally) a time of quiet anticipation, of longing and of awe.  In a way, it is like a dance. Not a frenetic, joyful dance like the long line-dance to “Lord of the Dance” at the Revels, but a slow, measured dance like the Argentinian Tango  or Torvill and Dean’s mesmerizing dance on ice to Ravel’s Bolero in the 1984 Olympics. In professional dancing there is a lead (usually the man) and a follow (usually the woman). Both have complementary roles, each serving the other, to make the dance come alive. Perhaps this little refrain describes the dance that is Advent:
(Sung) Dance in the darkness, slow be the pace.
Surrender to the rhythm of redeeming grace. 

If I were to say “Isaiah 40” you would probably think of the first line, and then of the first notes of Handel’s Messiah: “Comfort ye…”
We know the part about God’s seemingly impossible promise to forgive and restore the people Israel. But if we read further we encounter a people weary and forlorn, wondering where God could be in the midst of their exile.  God, however, asks a series of rhetorical questions—really almost unrelenting statements, to the weary people: Have you not known? Have you not heard? There is no other God than God. And so the people Israel must return to the  dance of God who is the only source of creation, indeed of their very being. God is the lead and calls the people Israel back to the dance.

And Jesus, in our short but very familiar Gospel passage urges“Come to me all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Again, there is no other dance partner—only Jesus, God-with-us.

Dance in the darkness, slow be the pace.
Surrender to the rhythm of redeeming grace.

The lessons for today resonate well with how we may feel at this time. The darkness closes as we head toward the shortest day of the year. Weary of study, papers and exams, we long for the joyful dance of the celebrations of Christmas and for the lengthening days of Spring. But God calls us to a slower dance—in the dark—a time to surrender ourselves and let God be the lead and we be the follow, in a dance that will lead us to Jesus, just as angels and  shepherds and wise men were led in the great dance of the Nativity.

But what of the other celebrations of this day: St, Lucy and the Ember days? St. Lucy, early Church Martyr became a symbol of light in the darkness of winter as her feast, in the old calendar, fell on the shortest day of the year. In the face of persecution and certain death she looked to the coming of God in Jesus for her strength, that light which no darkness could overcome. And by the way in which she was martyred, she became the patron saint of those dwelling in the physical darkness (not always total) of the blind and sight-impaired and also of the metaphorical blindness of the spiritually impaired. Lucy was willing to enter the dance of Advent:

Dance in the darkness, slow be the pace.
Surrender to the rhythm of redeeming grace.

And those Ember Days? They started as planting and harvest festivals and became occasions for prayer and preparation for ordinations. Now we know them mainly as time when postulants write their bishops. They are three days that fall four times a year. I remember it this way: Advent (after the Feast of St. Lucy), Lent (after Ash Wednesday), Pentecost and after Holy Cross Day in September. 
The Prayer Book bids us pray for ministry during these days, but they can also be for us a time of reflection and renewal ; a time to stop amidst the noise an rush of life. 

What day is today? It is all of the layers of meaning and devotion, Feast, Fast and prayer, but above all it is the day the Lord has created; a quiet Advent day of anticipation, longing and awe when, if we are willing—and maybe even if we are not—God can and will call us to the slow and mesmerizing dance that is Advent. And together we can “Dance in the darkness” and surrender to the redeeming grace of the comings of Christ— in the past at his birth, in the present, right here, in Word and Sacrament and in the future when he comes again. God the lead invites us to the dance, and longs for us, to follow.

Dance in the darkness, slow be the pace.
Surrender to the rhythm of redeeming grace.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Note: This sermon was preached at a service of Choral Evensong
at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Berkeley, CA

“The Grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God,
and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”
(2 Cor. 13:13)

Trinity Sunday Jan Robitscher
Exodus 3:1-6 St. Mark’s Church
John 3:1-16 June 11, 2017

In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

In the calendars of many churches, today is Trinity Sunday. It is, perhaps, the logical conclusion to the celebrations of the the first half of the Church Year we began a journey that began with Advent, through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus —God becoming one with us—to the promised gift of the Holy Spirit which we celebrated last Sunday. But what can we say about this threeness” and “oneness” of God—this mystery we call the Trinity?  Perhaps we can only stand in awe as Moses did before the Burning Bush, or maybe if we’re brave we can ask faltering questions to Jesus and await his patient answers. Or maybe it comes as the stunning anthem we have just heard [Jonathan Dove, Seek Him That Made the Seven Stars] which, to my ears, describes in music what the cosmos must be like. How shall we name this mystery?

There are many ways of trying, in human terms, to explain it. One of my favorites I remember seeing in a stained glass window which was a geometric symbol of the Trinity.  In the middle was a circle “God”. Then there was a triangle: at the top, “Father”; at the bottom left, “Son”; at the bottom right “Holy Spirit”.  On the connecting bars of the triangle were the words (all in Latin) “IS NOT”  On the bars connecting Each part of the trinity to God, the word “IS”.  So, while the Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Spirit, they are all God.  Confused?

The window is essentially correct in it’s theology. The reason why we are confused is that, whatever our religious affiliation, we are all products of good old rugged American individualism. We can’t help but think of the Trinity as three individual beings.  This is where, if we kept going, we would fall into one or other heresy, and, if we struggled at it as individuals, it would surely end in an argument.  But we don’t have to go there.

The fundamental reality of the Trinity is not the individual members, but the community of Persons which is God.  And the nature of this community is that the diversity of Persons: Father, Son and Spirit--dwell in unity.  And it is in this community with God that we hope to dwell for all eternity in heaven.

It is upon this model of community that the Christian Community is made, whether it is two people in a marriage or twenty people in a small church or  a religious community of monks or nuns or hundreds of people in a large congregation-- or this group of worshippers right here.   

St. Paul used the analogy of the body and its members (Romans 12) to speak of this kind of community.  Each member is absolutely necessary and has a specific purpose, and each is valued and fostered. But the diversity of all the members is always drawn together in the Love of God.  Or, as a fellow preacher put it,
The loving mutuality of the Church has its source in the loving
mutuality of the eternal Trinity. 

It is not surprising that at the end of his second letter to the Corinthians, with words we shall say at the end of this service, St. Paul speaks of the “grace” of the Lord Jesus, the “love” of God and the “fellowship”  (communion, community) of the Holy Spirit--all of these, he prays, will dwell with us always.

So let us celebrate the Trinity that draws us here together in the Love of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit—many members from diverse places, backgrounds, families, denominations and perhaps even different faith traditions, together with those who have gone before. To God the Holy Trinity be glory, honor, praise and dominion, now and forever. Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

“As it is, there are many members,
yet one body.”
(1 Cor. 12:20)
Year C: Third Sunday after Epiphany                                                         Jan Robitscher
Nehemiah 8:1-6                                                                                  St. Mark’s Church
Psalm 19                                                                                                    Berkeley, CA
1 Corinthians 12:12-31a                                                                        January 24, 2016
Psalm 133, verse 1
Hineh mah tov, Umah nayim,
  Shevet achim Gam yachad.

Behold how good and pleasant it is
when brethren (kindred, all people)
dwell together in unity.

With these words from Psalm 131, Leonard Bernstein concludes his choral work, Chichester Psalms. The end of this movement is a quiet--almost inaudible--prayer for peace. Is it a wish or a pipedrean? On a global scale, maybe, but on Friday night, the choirs of St Mark’s and Temple Sinai came together at the Temple to sing this work for their Shabbat service, a work that is both startling and moving. Like Ezra reading the Law to the gathered people, we gathered, participated,  listened, sang, praised God and pondered the sense of what we were hearing and praying through music. This afternoon we will sing it again, this time here and in the context of a special Evensong. Again the choirs will come together to sing as one, ending with the quiet but urgent plea for peace. It is an expression of people “dwelling together in unity.”  I hope you will come.

All of today’s readings have to do with community. Fast forward from Ezra to St. Paul. Here is the most familiar analogy of community: The body of Christ. For Paul, the community gathered for worship is one of many members, but guided by the same Spirit. But what is most remarkable is that, for Paul,  its very unity is found in diversity: one body, many members.  No one has all the gifts. Each gift is necessrary to the others. One part cannot say to another, “I have no need of you”. Nor can one part say, 

“Because I am not like you, because I do not have your gifts, I do not belong to this body”.  Here Paul is speaking not of the church as institution (as it would become only a few centuries later) but as something quite literally organic, like a heart.1  The Christian community moves in procession to a heartbeat rhythm. 

Or does it? It is so easy for the Christian community, whether parish or province or denomination to become fractured and filled with what Paul calls in another place, “party spirit”, as opposed to unity in the Holy Spirit. Parts of the Anglican Communion have tried to say to the Episcopal Church, “I have no need of you and your liberal Church”. And we in the Episcopal Church might say to them, “I have no need of you and your conservative theology.” But such divisions do not only happen in the Church on a global level. At the risk of going “from preachin’ to medlin’”, in our own parish, the Altar Guild might be tempted to say to those serving at the Altar, ‘I have no need of you’ or the choir say to the congregation, ‘I have no need of you’, or anyone say, “Because I am not on this or that committee or in any other ministry, or I do not have all the gifts, I do not belong to this community”.  This is not Communion at all, but division.

But what does Paul mean by “unity”? In other letters, he describes it as being “of one mind” or “having the mind of Christ”. By this, he does not mean that everyone thinks alike, or agrees about everything, or that the community must be perfect. Of course not! Rather, all come together for the common good--a phrase and concept that is almost lost in our argumentative and self-centered society and, sadly,  even in the church. But in this passage we are encouraged to look beyond the norms of society (and even of the church) in encouraging membership and discerning ministry. We identify ourselves easily as the Body of Christ, yet it is often very difficult for us to discern the gifts of the Spirit.2  St. Paul turns this prayerful act of discerning gifts in the community on its head:

God has so arranged the body, giving the 
greater honor to the inferior member, that
there may be no dissension within the body,
but the members may have the same care for
one another.”  (1 Cor. 12:24)

Another place we can look to find guidance about living in community is from St. Benedict and his Rule. Here, the monastery becomes the “school for the Lord’s service3  where he admonishes juniors, seniors and children--all living in the community--to treat each other with respect,4 to honor the opinions of old and young members alike and, most famously, to welcome all guests as Christ, himself.5 

Perhaps today’s Gospel lesson is less obvious in what it speaks about community. Jesus is teaching in the synagogue. Once again the community is gathered to hear God’s Word, ponder its meaning and respond in worship. Jesus opens the scroll and reads from the prophet Isaiah and then, to the utter astonishment of his hearers says: “Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing”.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the prophetic words. He came, anointed by the Spirit, to bring good news to the poor, liberty to captives, sight to the blind.... all these and more he did during his earthly ministry. But all of these works didn’t end with his death and resurrection! In the farewell discourses of the Gospel of John, Jesus says:
“Very truly I tell you, the one who believes 
in me will also do the works that I do and,
in fact, will do greater works than these...”
(John 14:12)

So Jesus is telling us that it is not enough to only live as a community unto ourselves. We must look outside these walls. Jesus came to seek and serve the marginalized, the captive, the lost and we must do the same.  Perhaps this is what Paul meant by his list of gifts and ministries: Apostles, prophets, teachers--those who lead and teach both inside and outside the community-- and the gifts of deeds of power, healing, forms of assistance, tongues and their interpretation--ministries of inreach and outreach.  

St Teresa of Avila said it another way with her poem which begins:

Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours....

No one has all the gifts! All are necessary for the life of the community!  All rejoice and suffer together. St. Paul is right when he concludes:
Now you--[that is, we--] are the body of Christ
and individually members of it. 

We are the ones who must continue in the Apostles’ teaching and fellowship, the breaking of bread and in the prayers, as we promise in the baptismal vows.  But how do we do this?

The passage from the 1st letter to the Corinthians ends just before chapter 13 begins--the great chapter on love often read at weddings (the formation of yet another kind of community). St. Paul is clear that we are not alone ever as we strive to live in Community. We are the Body of CHRIST. Jesus is with us, now and always, and gives himself to us especially in the sacrament of Communion we are about to receive so that we become more and more His Body. Community and Communion. It is Love--not only as an emotion  but as  willed act--that will bind us together, especially in this time of transition. It is love--God’s love of us and our responding love of God-- that makes us the Body of Christ. 

The community of which St. Paul speaks may be a wish or a pipedream, but still we strive to live it out in St. Paul’s vision of the Body of Christ. But we remember that it’s roots are deep in the Psalmist’s poetic voice. Hear again the ancient words from Psalm 131 with which I began: 

Psalm 133, verse 1

Behold how good and pleasant it is
when brethren (kindred, all people)
dwell together in unity. Amen

Hineh mah tov, Umah nayim,
  Shevet achim Gam yachad.