Thursday, September 24, 2009


This week I am doing another Benedictine Experience Retreat, this time at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. Our group of 10 people is staying at the Episcopal House of Prayer, an ecumenical retreat center on the grounds of St. John's Abbey. We are just off a quiet road, nestled in the woods, and about a 20 minute walk from the Abbey Church. The weather is beautiful, with just a hint of the autumn colors to come. Each day we live the Benedictine rhythm of Morning Prayer at the Abbey (7 a.m.) Eucharist here in the Oratory of the House of Prayer (11:30 a.m.), Evensong at the Abbey (7 p.m.) and Compline (here at 9 p.m). We also have talks given by monks of the Abbey and the Rev. WArd Bauman, our "abbot" and chaplain of the House of Prayer. Tomorrow we will go over to St. Benedict's, where the Benedictine sisters live, for a talk, noon prayer and lunch.

Today is our "Desert Day", mostly spent in silence, with little of the regular structure and rhythm. It is a time for quiet reading (lectio divina), prayer and, most of all, listening to God. I am not good at sitting still, so I do a lot of prayer and meditation while walking with my guide dog, "Lorelle". I also spent some time on campus this morning gathering some books for further reading and hope to spend some time in prayer at the Abbey Church or the Oratory here this afternoon. Our silence extends through dinner and evening tonight until after breakfast tomorrow morning. Then we will go back to our daily rhythm of prayer, study and work.

This is a grace-filled time! No meetings, no street noise, no TV, no phone calls (almost), very few emails and no liturgical or other responsibilities. It is a time apart, yet with many people and places on my heart and in my prayers. There is no escaping the world; only redirecting our attention, thoughts and prayers to God. But that is the gift of being in the beauty of nature and in silence--to be able to hear the natural sounds and allow the sun's light to filter through the shadows of the trees and to be supported by a little week-long community of Beneditines wanting to find and be found by God.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"For he is our peace; in his flesh
he has made both groups into one..."
(Ephesians 2:14)

Eve of Holy Cross Day,

I Kings 8:22-30
Psalm 46, 87
Ephesians 2: 11-22
Jan Robitscher
St. Mark's Church
CDSP, Berkeley, CA
September 13, 2009

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

Today is Sunday, the Lord's Day, and it is also the eve of Holy Cross Day. Derived from the dedication of church buildings in Jerusalem where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher now stands on September 14, 335. Tradition has it that in the process of overseeing the work, St. Helena, mother of Emperor Constantine, found a relic of the true cross. This date also marked the dedication of Solomon's Temple hundreds of years earlier. But more than the dedication of church buildings or the finding of relics is the focus of this Feast: the cross, which, in many and varied forms, has remained an object of veneration for the gift of Jesus' death and resurrection for our salvation. But it also brought to mind a story:

Several years ago, I watched an ABC Television Special on religion in America. The program featured those large “mega-churches” that resemble shopping malls and seem to attract enough people to fill them. As he toured one of these churches, Peter Jennings noticed that there was no cross to be seen anywhere. When he asked the pastor about it, the reply came, “Oh, the cross might get in the way.” I think I was as startled as Peter Jennings was!

But I have to admit it’s true. The cross does seem to get in the way. While some folks don’t like to see it at all, we see the cross all the time and tune it out. We Episcopalians can’t bear to look upon a crucifix (there is one in this room, but you will have to look carefully to find it!) Instead, we have the cross that is carried in procession, or the ornamented cross over the Rood Screen, the brass cross on the High Altar, or the crosses we wear. We make the sign of the cross and forget it as an instrument of an awful death or its origins in baptism. Maybe we would notice if churches were adorned with a more modern form of execution...

We don’t like the cross because it puts death in the middle of our Alleluias; it reminds us of the betrayal and failure that led to Jesus’ death. In the middle of our successes, it recalls the times we have failed to trust God and one another. We hear Paul’s words that “[God] did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us...”(Rom. 8:32) and this does not fit our image of a merciful, loving God. Or the beautiful Philippians Hymn which tells us that Jesus gave himself completely, even to death on a cross. And we hear Jesus' words, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves, and take up their cross and follow me.” (Mark 8:34) This is strong stuff! But if we will look at the cross--contemplate it, gaze upon it--there we will find the Good News.

It is interesting that Christians in the first centuries after Jesus’ death never depicted him suffering on the cross. This was probably not denial (they knew how horrible a death it was) but for their safety, until Christianity became legal. The empty cross, a symbol of the resurrection, did not become popular until the Reformation. The suffering Christ did not appear until around the 6th century. Celtic crosses are particularly striking. In one type Jesus is there, but not suffering. Rather, he is gazing straight ahead with arms outstretched. The hands, however, are much larger--all out of proportion--as if to gather the whole world into an embrace. Jesus said:
"And I, when I am lifted up from the earth,
will draw all people to myself."

But what is the Good News of Jesus' crucifixion? Jesus’ self-offering on the cross was the ultimate demonstration of God's forgiveness--that God still loves us in spite of our sinfulness. It restores our trust in God’s ability to redeem even the most awful of failures; it proclaims that evil and death have been defeated. Most of all, it is the ultimate sign of reconciliation. Hear again the words of St. Paul:
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been
brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace: in his
flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down
the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. (Eph. 2:14)

How much we need to hear this--and believe it--in the midst of a divided Church, a polarized society and a warring world! It is Jesus' death on the cross, which is beyond all our opinions and politics--that is the source of our peace and reconciliation. To bear the cross, then, is to be willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus (as many reconcilers do), and to take up the call of Paul's words in another letter:

...[I]n Christ God was reconciling the world to himself,
not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting
the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors
for Christ... (2 Cor. 5: 19-20)

The goal of the Christian life is to be brought to God by way of Jesus’ death and resurrection--and then to bring each other to God--and finally to bring the world to God. Here is the most wonderful redemption of such an awful death!

Look at the cross--contemplate it, gaze upon it-- there we will find the Good News.

Perhaps the simple words of the 19th century hymn writer Walter Russell Bowie put it best:
O love that triumphs over loss,
we bring our hearts before thy cross,
to finish thy salvation.

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

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

Gracious Father, we pray for your holy Catholic Church. Fill it with all truth, in all truth, with all peace. Where it is corrupt, purify it; where it is in error, direct it; where in anything it is amiss, reform it. Where it is right, strengthen it; where it is in want, provide for it; where it is divided, reunite it, for the sake of Jesus Christ thy Son our Savior. AMEN.

Almighty God, you proclaim your truth in every age by many voices: Direct, in our time, we pray, those who speak where many listen and write where many read; that they may do their part in making the heart of this people wise, its mind sound, nd its will righteous; to the honor of Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN.

Everliving God, whose will it is that all should come to you through your Son Jesus Christ: Inspire our witness to him, that all may know the power of his forgiveness and the hope of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. AMEN.

Images: (1) Celtic Cross by William Burns (ink and color Pencil).

V. Let us bless the Lord.
R. Thanks be to God.

“The Bread that I shall give
for the life of the world is my flesh.”

(Jn. 6:51)

Year B Proper 14
2 Samuel 18: 15, 31-33
Psalm 130
John 6: 35, 41-51
Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church
Berkeley, CA
August 9, 2009

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

My encounter with the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, which we have over several weeks each summer, began with a poster on the wall of my college dorm room. It had a loaf of bread and a glass of wine and it read:


It was a reference to the Eucharist, and I took it as a personal invitation. But then I encountered the very verses of our Gospel reading today, and especially the last verses--
I am the living bread that came down from heaven.
Whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the
bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

For the life of the world... I was as perplexed as the disciples and wondered: Did the Gospel writer get it right? Has Jesus taken leave of his senses? Today I hope to leave you with the assurance that John did indeed get it right and that Jesus meant what he said in this passage and in the even harder words that follow it, which I will leave to next week’s preacher. My journey toward the meaning of these words continued:

Just after college and graduate school, I made a retreat at the Convent of St. Helena in Augusta, GA. I needed a couple of days of quiet and hoped to write a sermon while I was there on almost this very text (actually next week’s readings). On the bus trip from Atlanta, I thought of the sisters, of the place itself and of the home-made bread that is the hallmark of all their meals--and of the bread they made (and perhaps still make) for the Eucharist--all special experiences. Then my thoughts turned to the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel: bread...from heaven...manna...flesh...Jesus... Soon my eager anticipation became a feeling of being overwhelmed by the Gospel passage.

I arrived at the convent in time for Noonday Prayers and lunch. As I entered the Refectory (their dining hall) my eyes caught a large banner on the wall which read:


Moving closer, I read and re-read the banner. Rebellious thoughts arose: “No! Not ALL bread. Only the bread of the Eucharist, duly consecrated.” It was a hard saying, indeed, that was on that banner--every bit as hard for me as Jesus’ words were for his disciples. Not the reassuring invitation of the poster on my dorm room wall. And for the next three days I would be confronted with those words at every meal. I pondered the invitation on the poster and that banner and wondered: Which one is right?

And what do the words of Jesus in our Gospel reading have to do with the banquet invitation of my dorm room poster or the banner on the Convent wall?

Let’s start small. I’ve been thinking a lot about friendships--how they are formed and sustained. Suddenly I realized that, at some point, I have shared a meal with every close friend I have. How I wish I could have this experience with everyone here, but there are people here today who can attest to this. The defining moment of a close relationship is when friends literally become companions--ones who share the bread.

My experience of companions--sharers in the bread--expended when, several years after I made that retreat in Georgia, I moved out here to Berkeley and experienced the hospitality around food that is a hallmark and charism of this parish and, a few years later, began to teach at the School for Deacons. As our own Deacon Ellen (on sabbatical this summer) has said on many occasions, the diaconal call and ministry are bound up in proclaiming the Good News to, praying for, and serving with the marginalized of all kinds. I am still teaching at the School for Deacons and at every class session we are at a Eucharist in which we pray for the needs of the world. Shortly after that I began to help with Hot Meals here at St. Mark’s. “Friend” became “Friends” in a larger way, and I began to understand a little of what Jesus meant when he said:

The bread that I shall give for the life
of the world is my flesh.

The ultimate experience of being a companion is here at this Altar. At one level, it is the way in which we become one with Jesus. That is what Communion means. Certainly this is true for each of us, individually. In that sense, the poster on my dorm room wall was correct:

But it is much more. We don’t have to read far in the headlines--or far from this place--to see a world hurting and so badly in need of the life for which Jesus died. Whether far-away wars in the Middle East or the Anglican Communion divided, or within this very room, we can be aware of the world and each other and know that there are many needs. Community, after all, comes from the same root as Communion. We are what we eat. When Jesus gives himself for us, we become his Body, and we are expected, as St. Paul says so well in our second reading, to give ourselves to others--friends and enemies alike--in his name.

Now if only I could stop here! If only I could wind up this nice Social Gospel sermon and sit down. But it goes on and gets harder.

Jesus’ identification of himself with the bread must have shocked his hearers. Even so, they would have heard the words literally--and they would have heard in them deeper meanings than our English translations can impart. For to Jewish and early Christian ears, “Flesh” and “Blood” meant far more than physical (and separate) parts of the body. “Flesh” meant one’s whole person: body, soul, mind and spirit. “Blood” meant the very essence of life, itself.

But knowing this did not keep Jesus’ hearers from disputing among themselves at his words, “I am the bread which came down from heaven.” They didn’t understand how this could be--and we can’t, either. What matters is not HOW Jesus becomes present in the bread and wine of Communion, but THAT he does become present, and gives himself to us each time we come to receive him. Jesus answered the dispute not by explaining HOW he would “get into “the bread and cup, nor did he brush the whole thing off as an empty symbol. Instead, he impressed upon them that if they wanted life--life with any meaning--life for the world--eternal life--they would have to partake of the Lord of Life, himself.

What difference should this make in our lives? Here is where the words of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians speak to us more directly. The Eucharist, as lovely as it is, does not stand apart from our actions in the world. Or, to put it another way, each time we receive Communion, we leave here carrying Jesus within ourselves and to each other and to the world. So, says Paul, to each of us and to the Church:

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and
wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind
to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God
in Christ has forgiven you.

To receive Communion, then, is to become companions in the deepest sense--those who share the bread of life that Jesus gives. But there is that banner:


Besides bringing us individually into union with Jesus, being a companion of Jesus at this Altar also gives us a different world-view. It helps us pray “for the life of the world” and enlarges our definition of “friend”. It helps us see where help is needed and energizes us (as St. Teresa says) to be “Christ’s hands and feet in the world. It helps us grow as a community, both in our love for one another and in our desire to bring more people here. In receiving Communion, we not only rededicate ourselves to our baptismal vows “to seek and serve Christ in all persons...”-- we ask to see everything through Jesus’ eyes.

In the end, though, Communion is larger than our individual or even our corporate journeys. “Eucharist” means “thanksgiving” and is the way Jesus gave us to remember--literally to re-member--his death and resurrection--the bread of his flesh that he gave for the life of the world--until he comes again.

And what about the poster and the banner? Which one was right?

I think they are both right, but perhaps in unexpected ways. I wonder: What if the poster on my dorm room wall was an invitation not just for me but for all of us?
THE HONOR OF YOUR [plural--all of you--all of us] PRESENCE

What would happen if, instead of reducing Communion to a common meal, we elevated all our meals as mirrors or echoes of the Eucharist? What if, as the banner said,

Come to this banquet at Jesus’ invitation. Come longing to receive the whole person of Jesus. Most of all, come in thanksgiving for his love in giving himself as bread “for the life of the world.” Then, together, let us be willing and ready to carry Jesus from this place into a world both beautiful and hurting, so that all may know the Good News of his love.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

“...and the seed would sprout and grow...”
(Mark 4:26)

Year B Proper 6
Ezekiel 17: 22-24
Psalm 92:1-4, 11-14
2 Corinthians 5:6-10, 14-17
Mark 4:26-34
Jan Robitscher
Trinity Parish
Seattle, WA
June 14, 2009

There are three things that make us Christians:
faith, baptism and sharing at the altar.

Guerric of Igny, Twelfth century.
Sourcebook on Baptism, p. 160)

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

So here we are. The Great Fifty Days of Easter and its feasting are over. Last week you had your patronal festival of Trinity Sunday, the capstone of six months of tracing the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and the birthing of the church, I am sure it was all glorious! We are now at the beginning of the long, green season which is sometimes called “Ordinary Time”. Why green? Green is for the leaves of summer, and for the growth which, we hope, will happen during these months.

But this particular day is not ordinary. Today we celebrate two very special baptisms. Today Antonio and cousin Natalie, (great-grandchildren of Mary Alice Legge) will become friends of Jesus and we will adopt them as children of this community. In a way, we are “planting seeds”, and, over time, they will grow. Sometimes this growth will be noticeable, sometimes, as our lessons say, it will happen “we know not how”. Suddenly, they will be teenagers and then young adults. Hopefully, they will, as St. Paul says, grow up into the full stature of Christ.

Our readings today attest to this. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of God planting a special cedar tree.

“Under it every kind of bird will live... All the trees of the field
shall know that I am the LORD.”

And our Gospel lessons speaks a lot about seeds in two little parables: of a sower
scattering seed and noticing over time how the seed grows, he knows not how, and the Parable of the Mustard Seed. The tiny mustard seed (I have one on my bracelet) grows up into the largest shrub, providing branches “so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.” Somehow, God seems to be about planting seeds and nurturing them as they grow. What can we learn from this?

Let's take these two Gospel parables and look at them closely. Remember that a parable is a story with one main teaching point--sort of a “one point sermon”. Jesus used parables a lot in his ministry as a way of describing, in ordinary, every-day terms, what the Kingdom of God--that time when God?s reign will be fully known among us. A parable today could be that the Kingdom of God is like one of those greeting cards that starts off “you know you are old when...” or maybe we could have one that said “you know you?re an Episcopalian when...” or a special baptismal card that says “You know you?re a friend of Jesus when...” The Kingdom of God, Jesus says, is like seeds growing secretly.

People in Jesus' time did not know the science, as we do now, of how seeds grow. They only knew that if you planted seeds and tended them, watered and fertilized them, you would wake up one morning and wow!--suddenly they would be tall stalks of wheat or barley, or tall date-palm or olive trees. That?s what the Kingdom of God is like. We plant the seeds of loving God and each other and we trust that, while we are sleeping or going about our daily tasks, one day God?s Kingdom will become fully known to us and all things will come to their fulfillment in Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit. So, our special baptismal greeting card would say: you will know the Kingdom of God has come when the seeds of God?s love you planted at baptism have , with God?s help, taken root and grown up inside you, even if you don't see it happen.

There are three things that make us Christians:
faith, baptism and sharing at the altar.

And from even the tiniest mustard seed, the largest shrub grows, giving shelter to birds and other animals in its shade. So with our faith--even the tiniest faith--grows to embrace God and all those around us, so that we love as Jesus loved, giving shelter to all who are in need and welcoming all who, as Jesus did, come to the waters of baptism in faith.

But how do we plant the seeds? Remember, these seeds are not annuals. They are perennials and so they only get planted once. Baptism--our once and for all incorporation into the Body of Christ--is the way we Christians plant our seeds. As the early Christian writer put it, “Christians are made, not born.” Permit me to speak as a liturgist for just a moment.

From its beginnings at Jesus'own baptism, which was the inauguration of his public ministry, those desiring to becomes friends of Jesus have done as Jesus did, entered the waters in a wonderful participation in Jesus' death for us and his resurrection to new life. In the beginning, these were mostly adults. But by the 4th century, after Christianity became legal (and therefore public) several generations might be baptized at the same time, including young children. Infant baptism did not become common until about the 7th century--but that's another sermon!

Back to our seeds. Once the seeds are planted, whether they the
seeds growing secretly or the tiny mustard seed or our special “baptismal seeds”, they must be nurtured by God, who sends good weather and rain, and also by the plant food and other tending given by the gardener sent by God?s Holy Spirit. In other words, the seed, once planted, gives itself up to God's care and the farmer appointed by the Holy Spirit, in order to grow.

So it is with our “baptismal seeds”. Once a person is baptized, whether an infant with parents and godparents making promises on their behalf, a young child (or two) or an adult making their own profession of faith, the circle of care-takers becomes much larger. The African adage “It takes a village to raise a child” applies here. In effect, we all become the adoptive parents and godparents of those being baptized. Or, as St. Paul says:

What then is Apollos? What then is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe,
as the Lord assigned to each. I [Paul] planted,
Apolos watered, but God gave the growth.
(1 Cor. 2:5ff)

+ + +

There are three things that make us Christians:
faith, baptism and sharing at the altar.

But baptism does not exist by itself in the Christian life. It is accompanied by the anointing with oil and the words, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and marked as Christ's own for ever.”, the giving of a candle (Receive the Light of CHrist. Now you be the light of the world.) and then we celebrate the Eucharist together. It is in Communion, that Jesus gives himself to us in a very special way through bread and wine. This is the repeatable, ongoing part of baptism. Like plant food for our seeds, so is the Eucharist, the “sharing in the altar” as our Medieval friend Guerric says, for our “baptismal seeds”; food for our journey, Christ's very self with us so that we become “little Christs”--Christians--carrying him out into the world. So every time we receive Communion we recall our baptism, whether or not we can remember the actual event.

Jesus said,I am the true vine and my Father is the
winegrower... abide in me as I abide in you.
My Father is glorified in this, that you bear
much fruit.
(Jn. 15:1ff, 8)

So let's plant some seeds--real seeds and baptismal seeds! Let's help Antonio and Natalie become friends of Jesus and welcome them into the Body of Christ. Let's take seriously the promises we make to nurture these special children, these “baptismal seeds”, to help them grow in faith, hope and love. And let?s continue to come, week by week, to receive Jesus, food for our journey, so that we, too, as St. Paul says, may grow into the full stature of Christ.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

“Rise, let us be on our way.”(John 14:31b)
Easter 5 Tuesday Jan Robitscher
Acts 14: 19-28 All Saints Chapel
Psalm 145:9-14 Church Divinity School of the Pacific
John 14: 27-31a May 12, 2009

Alleluia! Christ is risen.
The Lord is risen, indeed. Alleluia!

Why is Easter--or rather the Easter Season--so hard to keep? We seem to have little trouble keeping Advent for four weeks. We save Christmas Carols (if not our decorations) for Christmas, or just before. And we withhold our Alleluias for all of the six weeks of Lent and Holy Week and we manage to keep the fast until the dawn of Easter Day. But Easter? How shall we keep the whole 7 seeks of Easter? The mantra at my parish (St. Mark?s) is: We are compelled to Feast! --and we are really good at that! But even feasting is hard to keep up for the whole Easter Season. And it is hard to sing Easter hymns--to keep up the joy for seven weeks. It is not that we don?t believe that Jesus lives, or that, through baptism, we have new life in him to all eternity. And it is true that each season of the Church Year at some time turns a corner, pointing toward what is coming next. But I think there is something more here that our readings today will help us discover.

In preparing this sermon, I had one of those startling moments, finding a phrase of Scripture I had not seen or heard before. It is just beyond the end of our Gospel Reading.

Jesus says, “Rise, let us be on our way.”

Although we know these discourses of Jesus were his farewell words before his crucifixion, I also hear them--or at least this part of them--as words before his Ascension, or perhaps words his disciples remembered then. After giving his disciples a benediction of Peace (which was always his “Easter greeting”), he says, “I go away, and I will come to you.”

The disciples must have been totally bewildered and even bereft. They would endure the parting of his death and then the fear and joy of his resurrection. Now he was about to leave them again. Here is the undercurrent of the Easter Season: comings, and goings.

If we look at our reading from Acts, it is downright frenetic. Jesus was not the only one coming and going. The disciples moved from Lystra to Iconium to Antioch; Pisida, Pamphylia and Perga. In order for faith in the risen Lord to spread, the disciples, too, had to be active and on the move.

But it was not easy. Paul was nearly stoned to death. They preached the Gospel, made many disciples, exhorted the new believers to remain firm in their faith, reminding them that it is “through many tribulations that [they] must enter the Kingdom of God. They appointed elders in every church and committed them all to the Lord. On to Attalia and then returning to Antioch, “where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled.” Whew!

So back to my startling discovery. After the last verse of our Gospel reading comes the other half of verse 31 where Jesus says: “Rise, let us be on our way”.

“Rise, let us be on our way.”

We are within two weeks of the end of the semester. We are still in the Easter Season, but, like other seasons of the Church Year, turning the corner toward what comes next: Ascension and Pentecost. In the academic year, we are turning the corner toward graduation and ordinations, or whatever comes next. As one who lives here, this is a hard, sometimes sad time. Friends I have made over three years at CDSP and at the School for Deacons depart to do the ministries God has prepared for them in many places. And each September, a whole new class enters, and we must learn to live with each other all over again.

But Jesus, when he gave his benediction of Peace, promised his disciples that although it was necessary for him to leave, he would not leave them--or us--alone. He promised to send the Holy Spirit to comfort us, to remind us of all that Jesus taught, to lead us into all truth and, he said, “that the world may know that I love the Father.” He promised to be present when two or three are gathered, as we are now. And he promised to be very present with us, giving himself in bread and wine each time we remember his death (and resurrection) until he comes. His parting words were that he would be with us always, even to the end of the age.

And more than that, Jesus ascended to the Father whom he loved and sent the Holy Spirit so that we can--and must-- become his hands and feet and heart. We must become Christ for each other--in a world so full of hurt and in so much need of the love he showed us.

Here is the Good News! The comings and goings of Jesus and his disciples, and of our various communities, are not without purpose or hope. Jesus must leave in order for the Holy Spirit to come. Students must graduate from CDSP and the School for Deacons to begin new ministries and make room for new students to come. This is how the Gospel is spread. This is how the Church grows. This is how we become Christ for the world. The time is short and there is much to do!

“Rise.”, Jesus says to us, “Let us be on our way.”

Saturday, February 14, 2009

“When the time came for their purification...
the parents of Jesus brought [Jesus]... to present him to the Lord.”

(Luke 2:22)
Feast of the Presentation
Jan Robitscher
February 2, 2009
All Saints' Chapel

Malachi 3:1-4
Ps. 84:1-6
Hebrews 2:14-18
Luke 2: 22-40

In honor of the divine mystery that we celebrate today,
let us hasten to meet Christ. Everyone should be eager
to join the procession and carry a light.

(Sophronius of Jerusalem, Bishop, The Prayer Book Office, p. 734)

So we enter into this celebration of the Presentation of Our Lord Jesus Christ in the Temple, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Candlemas, The Encounter, The Meeting of the Lordor simply “The Meeting” as it is known in the East. By whatever name we call it, this is a hinge Feast, half way between Christmas and Easter, half way between winter and Spring, which has been in the Church?s calendar from the fourth century and has had a long and interesting history, of which I will give you only a small part:

Egeria, writing around AD 380, attests to a feast of the Presentation in the Jerusalem Church. It was kept on February 14th. However, the feast had no proper name at this point; it was simply called the 40th day after Epiphany.

In 542, the Emperor Justinian introduced the feast to the entire Eastern Roman empire in thanksgiving for the end to a great pestilence afflicting the city of Constantinople. Perhaps this is when Pope Gregory I brought the feast to Rome. Pope Sergius (687-701) introduced the procession to the Candlemas service. The blessing of candles did not come into common use until the 11th century.

Some superstitions developed about Candlemas, including the belief that if one does not take down Christmas decorations by Candlemas, traces of the holly and berries will bring about the death of the person involved!1

And yes, there is a connection between this Feast and Groundhog Day, but that?s another sermon!

Let us enter into just one aspect of this Feast: it's Eastern title “The Meeting”.
Meetings. Our lives are filled with meetings: annual parish meetings, board meetings, committee meetings, counseling or spiritual direction meetings. Many of these are long and involve hard work and get results. Others are long, unproductive and downright boring! They have agendas and minutes and sometimes forms for opening and closing. If all goes well, each one present gets a turn to speak and, hopefully, all are listening.. In the best case, meetings are useful, promote community, and some good fruit comes from them.

In one way, it was an ordinary meeting on an ordinary day when an ordinary couple came to fulfill an ordinary “agenda” of customs required of them by the Law. Mary and Joseph came 40 days after Jesus? birth in order to sacrifice two turtle doves (required of poorer folk) and so that Mary could undergo the rites of purification. Just another meeting... But this was not just a meeting; it was the Meeting. Today?s Feast is the celebration of a more-than-cooincidental coming together where Mary, Joseph and the Child Jesus met with Simeon and Anna in the Temple.

Here was the prophesy of Malachi fulfilled:
Thus says the Lord, See, I am sending my messenger
to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you
seek will suddenly come to his temple...

Here Simeon took into his arms the Lord's Messiah for whom he had waited so long, and sang for joy:
Now, Lord, you have released your servant (from duty),
in accord with your Word, in peace.
Because my eyes have seen your Salvation,
which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,
A light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory for your people Israel

(Tr. Nolland)

God's Salvation brings light to the Gentiles and glory to the people Israel! But Simeon goes on to speak a word to Mary, that the infant Jesus she held in her arms would grow up to be “the fall and the rising of many...a sign that will be opposed...” and Simeon declared to Mary that she would witness Jesus? own sacrifice, far greater than two turtle doves, “a sword, too, shall pierce your own heart...” And here was the promised redemption of Jerusalem which the prophet Anna could finally announce to anyone who would listen. So the cycle of the Christian Year continues, as one mystery leads into another...

Individually, Simeon, Anna, Mary and Joseph did not expect anything to be different when they went to do their duty in the Temple that day. Yet they were all impelled, whether by obedience or by divine action, to be there.. Meeting together, they received in the infant Jesus the wonderful revelation of God?s salvation.

But that's how God is--gifting us with the unexpected, even if we don't recognize or understand it at the time. We are invited--as they were--to a meeting--The Meeting--to celebrate the presence of Jesus, who is God-With-Us. The ordinary meeting became an extraordinary encounter with God and a revelation of salvation--an Epiphany-- right in their midst.

So it is with us. We have come to The Meeting. We, too, can come with Mary and Joseph, and can have an encounter with God. We, too, can receive Jesus in bread and wine and proclaim with Simeon that he is the Savior of the world. We, too, can sing Semeon?s Song, and when we light a candle and pray at evening, we can sing it to commend ourselves and one another to God for this life and the life to come. We, too, can go out from here and, like Anna, tell of God?s redeeming love.

And may this be so for all for our meetings here in this Chapel, day by day, but also for all our meetings in our parishes or here at seminary or in the world. Whenever two or three (or more) are gathered in his Name, Jesus is in our very midst. (Light a candle for a reminder.) May the Holy Spirit guide us as we set the agenda and help us to speak the truth with love. May our meetings bear much fruit, and may we go out from them changed by our encounters with one another and with God.

As Sophronius of Jerusalem invited us to enter the candle-lit procession which marks this feast, so Origen invites us carry it with us in this comment and prayer:

Let us too stand in the Temple and hold God's Son
and embrace him; and that we may deserve leave
to withdraw and start on our way towards a better
land, let us pray to God, the all-powerful, and to
the little Jesus himself, whom we so much want
to speak to and hold in our arms.
To God be the glory and power now and always.


(A Christmas Sourcebook, p. 85)

“Master, we have worked all night long,
but have caught nothing...”

Click on image to enlarge.

Jan Robitscher
St. Mark's Church

(Luke 5:5)
Year C Epiphany 5
Judges 6:11-24a
Psalm 85: 7-13
Luke 5:1-11
February 8, 2009

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

As we enter tonight?s Gospel story, Jesus needs a place from which to preach. So he borrowed Simon?s boat for a podium, sat down in it and taught the crowds. It must have been something to see! Whether or not they recognized Jesus as God?s Son, the sermon must have been a good one.

But just after that Jesus goes from “preachin? to meddlin?”. He commands Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch..” Now times were hard. Very hard. Whether they had not worked hard enough or the fish were elsewhere (or perhaps over-fished) did not change the reality: No fish, no food. God must have seemed very far away.

Does this sound at all familiar? It would be easy to feel Simon?s panic. “Master, we have worked all night and caught nothing. But if you say so...”

Every day we hear about and experience more and more of our new economic reality. Unfathomable amounts of money has gone to bailouts, and a good portion of that has been wasted by CEOs on high living, while the Stock Market has fallen sharply. Millions of people have lost their jobs and their homes and businesses. This has touched us right here in Berkeley. The face of hunger in America is changing, so that many in food lines are working, most making choices between food and rent or medicine. And even if we still have a job and a home, our appetite for cars and other material things has helped bring about the climate change that is drying up our water supply. The problems are not just ours. They encompass the whole world. We feel Simon?s panic,“We have worked hard all night and caught nothing.” We wonder: Where is God in our new economic reality?

To Simon's credit, he was at least able to hear Jesus? command and obey it. “If you say so, I will let down the nets.” Jesus? command must have seemed preposterous--counter to anything he knew about fishing. But the result of his obedience was a catch of fish so large he needed to call for help, and Simon recognized that Jesus, the Lord, was the source of his great catch.

Overwhelmed by the miracle, Simon fell at Jesus? feet and cried, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” Like Isaiah, Jeremiah, or Gideon (from tonight?s first reading) before or saints and martyrs after him, the recognition of being in the very presence of God, of Jesus, often in their darkest hour, seemed too much and they too unworthy. Perhaps we know best the opening lines of George Herbert?s poem “Love (I)”:

Love bade me welcome, but my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin...

Surely Jesus knew Simon's sins as well as he knew Simon would catch a load of fish, but that did not matter now. Jesus had other plans for Simon and his fishing partners--plans that would change the world. But there was a catch, so to speak. “Do not be afraid.” said Jesus. “From now on, you will be catching people.”

Do not be afraid. Nothing in Simon's past, or yours or mine--no amount of sin, could keep Simon (later named Peter)--or can keep us-- from doing the work Jesus has for us. But, like Simon, we must be willing to listen to him (and he often speaks through other people and events) and to do as he asks.

Fortunately, Simon, and James and John were able to take Jesus at his word and lay hold of the grace that he offered, even if they had no idea what it meant for their future. Moreover, they had the courage to to trust that others would catch fish for the table so they could leave everything--boats, nets and all--and follow him. Were it not for their obedient actions, their willingness to drop everything and follow Jesus, in spite of their sins or whatever else hindered them in the past, we would not be here at Evensong today.

In a few moments we will say the General Thanksgiving. In that prayer, we will declare our trust in God as the source and provider of all that sustains us as we pray in thanksgiving “for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life”. (BCP. p. 71) And we will ask for the grace to “show forth [God?s] praise not only with our lips [as we do here in liturgy and music], but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to [God?s] service”, just as Simon and his companions did. And who knows? With God?s help, our “catch”, whether of people or whatever else God plans for us, may be very large, indeed!


Prayer from Salisbury Cathedral

Help us, Father,
to live like Jesus,
to live freely and joyfully,
willing to take risks for love;
willing to trust ourselves to your wisdon when we cannot see;
willing to believe that even out of the troubles of our lives
and the tragedies of our times
you can always bring new life both for us and for our world;
through Jesus Christ who is Lord of this time and of eternity..

(from Heart in Pilgrimage: Prayers in Salisbury Cathedral
by Hugh Dickenson, The Dean of Salisbury)

Thursday, January 8, 2009


Last June I spent a glorious week at Canterbury Cathedral participating in a Benedictine Experience retreat. During that time, I prayed, worked (I dusted in the Great Quire) and studied with a wonderful group of people under the able leadership of Esther de Waal and Fr. Robert Hale.

When I returned home, I discovered that Church Divinity School was offering a course on "Canterbury as Place"--a broad title encompassing the architecture of the Cathedral, liturgy, theology, hospitality and the "place" of Canterbury Cathedral as the heart of the Anglican Communion. Having been moved by my experiences there last June, I could not resist the opportunity to be there again, albeit "In the Bleak Midwinter". So tomorrow I "hop the pond" for a week of study, prayer and reflection, hoping to gain an even deeper understanding of the place that is Canterbury Cathedral,

In addition, I hope to do a "side-bar" project. While there last June, I felt a deep sense of belonging and acceptance. Part of this was due to their efforts to incorporate persons with disabilities into their life and worship. But it was more than being handed materials in Large Print, which proved very helpful. I would like to find out where their open and welcoming attitude comes from and how it is nurtured.

Hopefully, I will be able to post while I am there, or shortly after, to tell you of my experience returning to one of my favorite places in all the world, Canterbury Cathedral.