Saturday, July 31, 2010

Ascension & Outpouring of the Holy Spirit--Homily by Jan Robitscher

“...[B]ut I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice...”
(Jn. 16:22)

Friday in the Sixth Week of Easter,
LFF 80

Ezekiel 34:11-16
Psalm 98:1-4
Acts 18:1-8
John 16:20-23a

May 14, 2010
Jan Robitscher
All Saints Chapel
Church Divinity School of the Pacific

Come, Holy Spirit.
Fill the hearts of your faithful people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.
Send forth your breath and we shall be created
and you shall renew the face of the earth. AMEN.

I have very few books from what was my father’s extensive library. One is a
copy of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets.

One of my favorite quotes is this:
What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

So here we are, at the end. It is the end of the week, the end of the semester, the end of the school year, and, for some, the end of your time here at CDSP. With our celebration of the Ascension of Our Lord last night, it is the end of the time when Jesus appeared to his disciples in his resurrected, glorified body. The disciples must have ached with loneliness all over again, not knowing what would come next. Perhaps they were not able to hear or understand
the words Jesus spoke to them before:
So you have pain now; but I will see you again,
and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take
your joy from you. (Jn. 16:22)

Our readings are curious ones for this day. They seem to be alive with activity: tending sheep (literal and allegorical), traveling, preaching the Gospel, baptizing, and Jesus’ cryptic words about pain now and joy later. I think these readings won’t make much sense unless we take a step back and get a different perspective.

Just before his Ascension, Jesus left some instructions, which St. Luke records in the first chapter of Acts:

While staying with them, [Jesus] ordered them not to leave
Jerusalem, but to wait there for the promise of the Father… (Acts 1:4)

They had to WAIT. If I could borrow the line from Fr. Tom Brackett’s sermon-story that we heard just a few weeks ago, it was one of those “STOP EVERYTHING” moments. Before they could go out and preach and teach and heal and grow the Church, they had to WAIT:
…constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with
certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well
as his brothers. (Acts 1:14)

Only in waiting could the disciples and the women come to terms with the pain of their (seeming) double loss of Jesus. Only in waiting could they empty themselves, making space for the Holy Spirit to come. Then, as Jesus said when he tried to prepare them before his Passion, then they would know a joy that no one could take from them. On that day—the Day of Pentecost—they needed to ask nothing of Jesus. Only after they had received the Holy Spirit could they ask for what they needed of the Father, so that their joy could be complete.

Is it any different for us? We are now in that liminal space between Jesus’ Ascension and the Day of Pentecost. What would happen if we laid aside everything that was not absolutely necessary and devoted ourselves, as a community, to prayer, readying ourselves to receive the promised Holy Spirit? What if our parishes did this? Our dioceses? The Episcopal Church? The whole Anglican Communion? What would happen if we were to WAIT to discern what it is that God really wants us to do? Discernment is, after all, one of the gifts of the Spirit. What if we prayed the ancient prayer with which I began, and what if it were really answered?

We do have some idea of what it is Jesus wants us to do. From the moment of his Ascension,

Jesus made clear what Teresa of Avila would later say so well:
"Christ has no body on earth but ours, no hands but ours, no feet but ours. Ours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ looks out upon the world, ours are the feet with which he goes about doing good, ours are the hands with which he blesses his people."

We are now to be Jesus’ hands and feet and heart in the world. If we read a few verses beyond our Gospel reading, we know that Jesus wants us to have eternal life; and he wants us to be one, as Jesus and the Father are one. Jesus makes all of this possible by the gift of the Holy Spirit, leading us into all truth.

But that is only the beginning. We are constantly nourished and strengthened by Jesus’ giving us himself in Communion each time we come to this Table. Then, when we receive Jesus, we become “Christ-bearers”—empowered by the Holy Spirit to bring Jesus into a wounded world.

So this is a time of endings and T.S. Eliot is right:
What we call the beginning is often the end.
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.

It is from here, at the end, that we must start. But it is also a time of beginnings, of commencement in the best sense of the word. It is a time to prepare for a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit, so that the Church can begin anew, and we can do the first Apostles did—preach and teach to anyone who would listen, and to baptize in Jesus’ name and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Then we will have—as they did--the joy that Jesus promised: “…and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.” AMEN.

Artwork: Descending like a Dove

My art emerges from the intersection of the deepening of the personal spiritual life and participation in the communal life of faith. Through photography, I retrace the footsteps of Christian pilgrims and record the vestiges of their journeys, the shrines, altars, and thin places where they meet God. My art is both my spiritual practice and an invitation to others to awaken to the mystery of God, risk holy encounter, and cross the threshold of their heart's deep hopes.

As seen on Episcopal Church Visual Arts here.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Easter 2 Evensong, 2010--St. Mark's Church, Berkeley

“Blessed are they who have not seen
and yet have come to believe.”

(John 20:29)
Year A: Easter 2

Genesis 8:6-16; 9:8-16
Psalm 118:19-24
John 20:19-31

Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church

April 11, 2010

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

This day has several names: It is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Sometimes it is called “Low Sunday” because of low attendance after Easter. But it is also known as the Second Sunday of Easter, or “Thomas Sunday”, in honor of our Gospel reading, which is always heard on this day.

Maybe it should be called “Doubting Thomas Sunday”. After all, it was Thomas who insisted on seeing and touching Jesus for himself if he was going to believe that the Lord was truly risen from the dead. But I think Thomas gets a bad rap. Doubt--the ability to ask questions (or even to demand signs) is not the same thing as unbelief--willfully rejecting one’s faith. The opposite of faith is fear--not doubt.

Which reminds me of an occasion some 30 years ago. I can still picture the scene. While a student at the University of Notre Dame, I sat in the office of my spiritual director, the Dean the Episcopal Cathedral. We were talking about perceiving Jesus’ presence in Communion and in our daily lives and I blurted out, I WANT TO SEE JESUS!”

This was my “Doubting Thomas” moment. Wisely, the Dean did not panic! Instead, he remained calm and I still remember what he said:
“I understand that you want to see Jesus, but
it is not given to us to see Him physically in
this life.”

Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he told Thomas:
“Have you believed because you have seen me?
Blessed are those who have not seen and yet
have come to believe.”

Jesus’ words came at the end of the story, but let’s back up a bit. Thomas, who was not present the first time Jesus appeared in resurrection form, wanted to be sure that the Jesus he was now seeing was the same one whose Passion he had witnessed. And he was looking for something quite specific; the wounds of Jesus. Why should this make a difference in his ability to believe?

The only way for him to tell was to see and touch the wounds. He did indeed see them, though the Scripture never tells us that he touched them. Perhaps it was enough for him to hear Jesus’ invitation to do so. Thomas response was to acclaim Jesus’ divinity--that God was in their very midst.

All well and good for Thomas! But I wanted to say as a retort to the Dean’s gentle reply, “IT’S NOT FAIR! THOMAS GOT TO SEE JESUS!”

Like Thomas, we want to see Jesus; to relate to him physically as our earthly Master. But if Thomas is our model in doubt, he must also be our model in faith. Thomas was invited by Jesus into a transformation as remarkable as Jesus’ own resurrection.

Moreover, Jesus wanted to relate to the disciples, to Thomas--and to us--in a spiritual way, as a friend, even as he said (seemingly) so long ago:
“I do not call you servants any longer, because
the servant does not know what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends, because I have made
known to you everything that I have heard from
my Father.” (Jn. 15:15)


“Blessed are they who have not seen, and yet
have come to believe.” (Jn 20:29)

So what are we to do? We must come to faith the same way Thomas did, except that we do not have the benefit of being able to see Jesus. How do we do this?

First, we must KNOW the wounds of Jesus. This is not as easy as it sounds. We seem to be much better at keeping the disciplines of Lent than the joys of Easter, but I am not sure we can really celebrate Easter if we do not really KNOW the wounds of Jesus; meditate on them, look beyond our own roundedness to them. Remember, it was by his wounds that Thomas recognized Jesus.

We don’t hear much about sharing in Jesus’ sufferings in our own roundedness. This is a hard process, but a vital one if we are to know Jesus as a friend--and this is important. But looking beyond our own wounds, both individually and as a community, will lead us to share in Jesus’ sufferings as we share in the sufferings of others, whether family or friends, the hungry we feed here at St. Mark’s or those who are suffering around the world. Perhaps the most remarkable reversal of all is that we cannot look beyond our own wounds to KNOW the wounds of Jesus unless we allow him to touch them. Jesus must be able to touch our wounds in order for us to touch his--or at least to hear his invitation as Thomas did.

Then we can--we must--allow the risen Christ to raise us up after we have known the wounds (that is, God’s pain) and felt them in ourselves and in others. Then we can acclaim with Thomas:

May this Easter Season be a time for us to risk doubt that we might come to a deeper faith; to know God’s wounds that we nay be healed; to be willing to share in Jesus’ sufferings in ourselves and in the sufferings of others; to come to believe without having to see Jesus--and all that we may have life in His name. Amen.

Friday, February 19, 2010

This is my beloved Son, homily by Jan Robitscher

“This is my beloved Son, the beloved...;
Listen to him!”

(Matt 17: 5)

Last Epiphany , Yr. II
Exodus 24: 12-18
Matthew 17:1-9

Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church
Berkeley, CA
February 14, 2010

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

If I were to ask you what day it is, you might well answer “Sunday. Perhaps, if you were well versed in the Prayer Book, you would might say, “The Last Sunday after the Epiphany” or maybe even, “The Feast of Cyril and Methodius”, two Orthodox saints. But I’ll bet most of you would say, “It’s Valentine’s Day”, of course! And no matter which answer you gave, you would be right. But what do any or all of these answers have to do with our lessons or this service? Hear again this portion:

While [Peter] was still speaking, suddenly
a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from
the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the
beloved; with whom I am well pleased; listen
to him!”

The card shops have told us for a month that today is Valentine’s Day. And all the cards say, in so many words, “I love you”. What about love? How is love reflected in these lessons and on this day?

The Roman Church did celebrate the Feast of St. Valentine until their most recent reform of the liturgical calendar. Sometimes the life of a saint turns out to be mostly legends, but in this case, legends have obscured what was a real life.

Valentine, a Roman priest, together with ST. Marius
and his family, assisted the martyrs who suffered
during the reign of Emperor Claudius II in the 3rd.
century. Being apprehended, Valentine sent to the
Prefect in Rome, who ordered that he be [put to death].
He was martyred about the year 270.

(from Lives of the Saints)

So red would be the color for St. Valentine; the red of Martyrs’ blood. For the love Valentine expressed was far deeper than anything we see on Valentine’s Day cards. It was a love sprung from his own confession of Jesus as the Christ, “God’s Son, the beloved...” which enabled Valentine to assist others who would be martyred for just such a confession until he was martyred, too.

It did not take long for the Church to discover, however, that there were others who led equally heroic lives in the confession of Jesus’ name but who did not become martyrs. These they called confessors. Into this category we can place Sts. Cyril and Methodius, who are now celebrated on this day (when not a Sunday) by Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Churches. The lives of these ninth century missionaries (who were, incidentally, brothers) were given over to the work of bringing the Gospel message to the Slavonic peoples. This included inventing a written alphabet, preaching and eventually
being made bishops so they could assist in ordaining new clergy. Their work was not without resistance, though, and Methodius endured a brief time in prison on false charges of heresy. Their lives represent another dimension of love; love of God, love of the message of the Good News in Jesus Christ.

And so we come to the Last Sunday after the Epiphany, and are impelled toward another Lenten Season. We bid farewell to Alleluia and Gloria and, llike Peter, James and John, fall silent before the glorious vision of God. It is a time to take the words spoken from the cloud to heart:

“This is my Son, the beloved; with whom I am well pleased;
listen to him!”

In Lent, we are asked to listen to God, even as these saints did; to allow God to show us, in Jesus, how to show our love for one another. We are asked to walk with Jesus in a love that takes us all the way through his passion and death to the celebration of his
resurrection on Easter Day. This kind of listening and loving will change us; not just for 40 days, but for life.

It has been said that every Sunday is a little Easter. Perhaps it would be better to say that every Easter is a big Sunday. Week by week on Sunday morning, and month by month at this service of Evensong, we celebrate the love God has for us in the dying and rising of Jesus--and we seek to return that love to God and to one another, however small and faltering our efforts. Today--once the Feast of St. Valentine, sometimes the Feast of Sts. Cyril and Methodius and now the Last Sunday after the Epiphany--today is Sunday, the Lord’s Day. To this we can only echo the words of the Psalmist:

>“This is the day that the Lord has made;*
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

(Psalm 118:24)

For He is our peace, homily by Jan Robitscher

"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
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.

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

And they shall name him Emmanuel, homily by Jan Robitscher

“And they shall name him Emmanuel,”
which means, “God is with us.”

(Matt. 1:23)

Friday, Week of Advent 3, Feria
Jeremiah 23:5-8
Ps. 72:11-18
Romans 8:18-27
Matthew 1: 18-25

Jan Robitscher
All Saints Chapel
December 19, 2009

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

This is the truth sent from above,
The truth of God, the God of love,
Therefore don’t turn me from your door,
But hearken all, both rich and poor.1

So here we are. It is a time of beginnings and endings. Yesterday was the beginning of the Great O Antiphons, those beautiful names for Emmanuel (God-with-us) which we sing as the hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel”. It is a time of beginnings: of the Church Year, the first half of which takes us through the story of our salvation from Advent to Pentecost; of the anticipation of our celebrations of Jesus’ birth. And it is a time of endings: the end of the semester, the end of the frenetic shopping marathon, almost the end of the year 2009, the end of the third week of Advent, and our, perhaps fearful, ponderings of the End when Christ will come again. Advent means “to come to”--God to us--and us to God. We feel caught between the times in what one commentator has called “the anxiety of Advent”.

Our lessons speak of beginnings, endings and the anxiety of Advent. It is the end of the long search for a savior--someone to redeem us from sin and death--though it would be some
time before the whole story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection would play out. But we often miss the very beginning of the story, and here our lectionary could be of more help. Unless you are fortunate to attend a service of Lessons and Carols (come to St. Mark’s this Sunday at 4:30 p.m.) or the Great Vigil of Easter, the whole sweeping story of salvation history is never presented. But wait! Though sacred Scripture is the primary--but not the only place-- to find this story. Almost every Christmas carol we know (and some Easter carols besides) begin at the very beginning, with the creation and the Fall and go on to tell the story of the coming of Jesus to redeem us, and look to his coming again. How I would love to sing them all! But I will let the English carol “The Truth From Above” suffice for now. The next verses tell the beginning of the story:

The first thing which I do relate
Is that God did man create;
The next thing which to you I’ll tell,
Woman was made with man to dwell.

Then after this was God’s own choice
To place them both in Paradise,
There to remain from evil free
Except if they ate from such a tree.

We live in a world suffering from the effects of the Fall. Torn by wars abroad and violence at home, where there is sickness, evil and death, poverty and pollution all around us. Our world is literally melting away before our eyes, and every day people suffer and die for lack of daily necessities and health care. In many ways, we are like those who, for thousands of years, hoped for a savior. Indeed, St. Paul cries out that:

the whole creation has been groaning
in labor pains until now; and not only
the creation, but we ourselves...groan
inwardly while we wait for adoption,
the redemption of our bodies...
(Romans 8: 22)

OK, we have permission to groan, at least inwardly! But our groaning is not without hope. In fact, we (and the whole creation) are groaning for what we already have! St. Paul goes on “For in hope we were saved”. Back to our carol:

And they did eat, which was a sin,
And thus their ruin did begin;
Ruined themselves, both you and me
And all of our posterity.

The anxiety of Advent becomes much more specific in St. Matthew’s account of Jesus’ birth, which emphasizes Joseph’s experience. Here we see Joseph’s questions about the past and
anxiety about the future: what to do about Mary, already pregnant and not yet married. Fortunately, Joseph’s response to his anxiety is not to despair, but to be attentive to his dreams and willing to change his course of action by following the angel’s instructions. Hear another verse from our carol:

Thus we were heirs to endless woes,
Til God the Lord did interpose;
And so a promise soon did run
That he would redeem us by his Son.

So what do we do about the anxiety of Advent? How do we live in the already and the not yet? In this last week, do we try to escape the anxiety of Advent in frantic shopping? Do we just give in and hole up in despair? Or can we put aside the rush and the temptation to despair and, in the present moments of the next week, walk the prayerful path that will lead us to the manger? We can do this by doing as Joseph did: commending the events of the past that had brought him to this holy birth to God, and commending the future to God by accepting that the Child to be born would somehow play the ultimate part in God’s plan for the salvation of the whole world. And we can do as St. Paul tells us: to join the whole creation’s groan for redemption of our bodies, for the coming of God’s reign.

I would close with the last two verses of our English carol:

And at this season of the year
Our blest Redeemer did appear;
He here did live and here did preach.
And many thousands he did teach.

Thus he in love to us behaved,
To show us how we must be saved.
And if you want to know the way,
Be pleased to hear what he did say.