Wednesday, March 14, 2012

In my Father’s house are many mansions.” (Jn. 14:2)

Homily given at the Funeral of Jean Bergmark, by her daughter, in The Little Chapel of Glenn Memorial Church, Atlanta, GA, March 3, 2012
Jan Robitscher
Funeral for Jean Bergmark                                                                  
Jan Robitscher
The Little Chapel  
Glenn Memorial Church
March 3, 2012 

            1 John 3:1-2                                                                           
            John 14: 1-6                                                                           

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

First, I would like to thank Susan Pinson and the staff of Glenn Memorial Church, Son Saliers, Timothy Albrecht and everyone who has helped bring about this lovely service, and for all of you who have come to remember our mother, Jean.  It is the presence of the community that carries our prayers and surrounds of with God’s love and gives us the hope of eternal life in this time of loss.

Jean Lucille Begeman Robitscher Bergmark. Each of these names denotes a phase of Jean’s life.  Most particularly, each is connected with a house: Ann Arbor, Michigan, St. Louis, Washington, D.C., Bryn Mawr, PA, Atlanta, GA.; 779 Clifton Rd, The Clifton and finally at Canterbury Court. Each house was beautiful and had rooms full of art and antiques, and, as the family grew, people, too. Each house became a place of hospitality for friends and strangers, of conviviality, of music, and good food, too.  

As important as these houses were to Jean’s live (and ours, too), they are not the whole story. For Jean and Jonas also had  a keen interest in providing rental houses in Washington and Atlanta.  Again, they were concerned with beauty and restoration and for providing homes for people who needed them. There was the restoration of the Houston Mill House which became a focal point on the Emory Campus. But it didn’t stop there. Mom helped found Jerusalem House, a place of hospice for patients with HIV/AIDS--not a popular thing to do at the time.  For Mom was concerned with all people: her family, friends, and those less fortunate. Her sphere crossed racial and social lines. For Mom, everyone needed a home and every home was a welcoming place. 

Jean Bergmark
Toward the end of Mom’s life, her home was diminished to one room at Canterbury Court--but Oh! what a room!  Decorated with her favorite art and with a beautiful view of a magnolia tree, this last “home”, while not where she would have preferred to be, still reflected all of Jean’s qualities of beauty, friendship and hospitality. Her rooms--all of them-- brought to mind the lines of the poem “Christ's Part” by  Robert Herrick:

            Christ, He requires still, wheresoe'er He comes

            To feed or lodge, to have the best of rooms:

            Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part

            Of all the house: the best of all's the heart.

That’s what it is! Beyond all the places where Mom lived and worked and entertained and served, it was her heart that was the best room of all, and that heart she offered in a deep and personal way, to God.

One of the stories  of gentle humor that I remember  Mom telling was of a time that she observed someone buying a Bible. She asked for one with the words of Jesus in red letters. The sales person found one and opened it randomly to a page in the Gospels, one with not many words in red, to which the buyer quipped, “He must not have said much”!

Oh! But Jesus did say much, and his words must have comforted his disciples just as they comfort us today: 

            Jesus said, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? 

I prefer the King James translation: “In my Father’s house there are many mansions. Yes, I like to think of Mom in a heaven filled with mansions--all beautiful, all expertly decorated, all places of warmth, hospitality and filled with the presence of God.  

Flowers so alive looking
In the Episcopal Church, at a service such as this one, we say, “For to your faithful people, O Lord, life is changed, not ended.”  So Mom has made the transition from this earthly life and it’s houses to eternal life in the place of God’s  mansions.

One more story: Toward the end, Linda and I were sitting with Mom. We were pretty sure she was asleep, and in any case could not hear or respond. We both remarked that she looked very beautiful, as always, to which Mom responded “Thank you”. Linda and I looked at each other and said “Wow!”.   

I believe it was Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer we say is Thank You, it is enough”. And so I say, Thank you, God for Jean Robitscher Bergmark. Thank you for life, for the family she created, for her friends, for her many talents and passionate causes, for her care of many houses. May she dwell with you in a heaven filled with mansions. And, God, if you need a really good house manager, Jean’s the one! 

“Again, Jesus spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the light of the world.’” (Jn. 8:12)

Homily at Evensong given St. Mark's Episcopal Church,
Berkeley, California February 2011...
Jan Robitscher

Year 1: Epiphany VI                                                                                                                
Jan Robitscher
St. Mark’s Church
February 13, 2011

                Psalm 19                                                                                                                 
                Isaiah 62:6-12                                                                                                         
                John 8: 12-19                                                                                                         

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

So, here we are, in the midst of the service of Evensong, as the sun is setting, singing God’s praises, in the middle of the Season of the Epiphany--or “showing forth” of God in Christ--the Season of Light.

But in a way, it would be hard  to tell, as we are surrounded by electric lights that almost obliterate the difference between day and night. And what of all those candles? Are they not superfluous? And yet we do watch the sky darken and catch the light mediated by the stained glass and we must admit that our world is often a pretty dark and scary place,  especially at night. Sometimes all the lights of our streets and cities--and even here--only mask our anxiety. Maybe we really are afraid of the dark. Maybe we really are comforted by those candles. Maybe they remind us that we do need Jesus to be our light. But how does this happen and what does Jesus mean anyway claiming himself to be “the light of the world”? And what does this mean for us?

I think the way in might be through the words of the Phos Hilaron, the hymn “O Gracious Light” that we sang just a few moments ago. It dates from at least the 3rd century and is among the oldest of Christian hymns in continuous use.  

Basil the Great (d. A.D. 379) speaks of this hymn as so ancient that no one knows its author. (The Hymnal 1982 Companion, Vol. Two, p. 24)  It was sung as the lamps were lit (and still is in Orthodox Vespers--you can see it and hear it on YouTube). Let’s look at the words again from the Book of Common Prayer (p, 64):

            Said:                O Gracious Light.

                                                Pure brightness of the everliving Father in heaven.

                                                O Jesus Christ, holy and blessed!

Stained glass, St Mark's
It is here that we find the very claim Jesus makes of himself in our Gospel reading: I AM the light of the world. The hymn-prayer  addresses Jesus: Phos hilaron--O gracious light, quite literally, O happy--O hilarious light--Jesus, the Light that is the source of our joy and our peace as night approaches. Jesus, the merciful and redeeming light, not only of the People Israel, but of the whole world. Jesus, the Light that the darkness cannot overcome.               

                                    Now as we come to the setting of the sun,

                                                and our eyes behold the vesper light,

                                                we sing thy praises, O God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

It is in this second verse that we find the purpose of all these lights and especially all the candles we see. They remind us, who have not seen Jesus in the flesh, that we are surrounded by God in Trinity of Persons and unity of being. Jesus is right here. Knowing this, we will pray for protection through the coming night.

And the final verse:

                                    Thou art worthy at all times

                                                to be praised by happy voices,

                                                O Son of God, O giver of life,

                                                and to be glorified through all the worlds.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

“Restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness” (Gal. 6:2)

Homily given at Church Divinity School of the Pacific on Martin of Tours in All Saints Chapel, November 2011, by Jan Robitscher

Isaiah 58:6-12                                                                                                                             All Saints Chapel
  Psalm 15                                                                                                                                   CDSP                                                                          
Galatians6:1-2                                                                                                                            November 11, 2011
  Luke 18:18-30

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

Today is a special day on the calendar: 11-11-11. Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day (the end of WWI), my nephew’s birthday. But I could also say, Happy Advent. No, I have not taken leave of my liturgical senses! In fact, in the 6th century, today would have marked the beginning of what was called “St. Martin’s Lent”, which was later shortened to what we now call Advent. But why St. Martin? Is it only a convenience of date (about 40 days until Christmas) or are there other aspects of Martin’s life that connect him with the season of Advent?  

There is  much hagiography about Martin, but there are some things we know.  Martin was born into a military family and, against his parents’ wishes, became a catechumen at about age 10. At 15, he was conscripted into the army, as was the custom for sons of military leaders. During that time, the story goes, he was on the road when he came upon a beggar who was almost naked, who asked for alms in the name of Christ. He took his military cloak, which was lined with lamb’s wool, and cut it in half with his sword, and gave half of it to the man. That night he had a dream in which Jesus appeared to him, clothed in half a cloak. He said, “Martin, still a catechumen, covered me with this cloak”. Martin had been a catechumen for about 8 years and his biographer, Servanus Sulpicius, said that “he flew to be baptized.”. After much struggle with his superiors, Martin retired from the army to pursue a monastic vocation uder the tuteledge of Hilary of Poitiers, who ordained him to the Presbyterate around 353.            

Martin thought that he would lead a quiet, monastic life in the hermitage he founded outside of Tours. But that was not to be. In 372 the people acclaimed him Bishop. One story goes that they lured him to town with the story that he was needed to bless a sick person, so he went. He always took Jesus’ call to serve “The least of these” very seriously. Another story has it that Martin hid in a chicken coop, trying to “duck” his responsibility, but a noisy goose gave his location away and he was carried off to be consecrated.1  If, when you were a child, you ever played the game “Duck, duck, duck, GOOSE!”, now you know how it came about.

As bishop, Martin was both an apologist against the Arians and a reconciler for those the church wanted to punish for being heritics. He was adamently opposed to the death penalty and he took St. Paul’s words seriously: 

                        My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, 

                                you who have received the Spirit should restore such 

                                a one in a spirit of gentleness. (Gal. 6:1)                                

Martin tried to convince the emperor to spare the life of the heritic Priscillian and some of his followers from execution (as Bp. Ichtacias has wanted) but his negotiations failed and they became the first heritics who suffered execution rather than excommunication. Martin took Bp. Icthacias back, and even received Communion with him, but always wondered if this was the right decision. After this, Martin avoided gatherings of bishops, not wanting to cross paths with those who were involved in something so contrary to his own calling to be a reconciler and he demanded that the emperor stay out of church affairs. 

 Martin died at about the age of 80. An ascetic to the end, he refused all comforts, wanting to imitate Jesus’ own suffering. Shortly before he died he is reported to have said:                        

                        “Lord, if your people still need me I do not refuse the work. 

                                Your will be done.”

His feast has been celebrated since the 6th century and he was the first saint on the Roman Calendar who was not a martyr. His Feast Day is celebrated in Europe as a harvest festival, known as Martinmas, and, in modern times, also celebrates peace in Europe.2 The monastery he founded lasted until the French Revolution and he is one of the patron saints of France and also of soldiers, the military and several cities, and of many other things including winemaking! His cloak (or half a cloak) became a very famous relic, and from that word, cappa came the word capalam (the custodian of the cloak), then cappella, chapel  (small church), and eventually the French word chapelain from which we get our word “chaplain”.3 

But all of this begs the question: What does Martin have to do with Advent? Martin did more than study the Scriptures while a catechumen. He made the decision to live them out. He lived the life of the poor, taking to heart Jesus’ words to the rich man of our Gospel lesson:         

                        Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor,

                        and you will have treasure in heaven.  (Luke 18:22)          


He was passionate about St. Paul’s words on reconciliation in our Epistle lesson and the exhortation :

                        Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you

                                will fulfill the whole law of Christ.  (Gal. 6:2)


But most of all, Martin was determined to carry out Jesus’ words:

                        “In as much as you did it to one of the least

                                of these, you did it to me.”

He shunned honors and the trappings of high office, always living the monastic life even while he was bishop. But he was also obedient to God’s call, giving in to the discernment of others, making himself available to God. And he was willing to wait. He waited to become a catechumen and then to be baptized and then to be ordained, waited until the right time and place. 

The marking of the old six-week Advent with St. Martin’s Day is no accident. For Martin was the very essence of Advent lived out. His willingness to wait, to be available for God (even if sometimes reluctantly); his care of the poor and the sick; his call to be a reconciler among factions in and out of the Church, his refusing 

of the pomp and trappings of high office in favor of the monastic life, his self-sacrifice--all of these are a reflection--however faint--of the Incarnation itself.. And I am sure he knew and felt all of the comings of Christ--in the past, at his birth, in the present in Word and Sacrament and his coming again in glory. 

So I wish you a blessed 11-11-11--Veteran’s Day, Armistice Day, and the Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours. Happy Martinmas! And may I say, a bit early, Happy Advent!

“Even though you do not believe me, then believe the works...” (Jn. 10:38)

Homily at Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California
in All Saints Chapel--Lent 5, 2011 by Jan Robitscher

Friday, Lent 5                                                                                                                          
Jan Robitscher
All Saints Chapel
April 15, 2011
                Jeremiah 20:7-11                                                                                                    
                Psalm 18:107                                                                                                                          
                John 10:31-42                                                                                                        

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

Anyone who has ever come over to my house has seen a little pillow on my couch. It reads, “Believe in Miracles”. Not exactly what I was taught in the Bible courses I had in college and then seminary, or in much of the preaching I have heard since. But I do believe in miracles, and in a way that is particular to the Gospel of John. In the Fourth Gospel, Jesus’ miracles or “signs” or “works” as they are called, besides being visible interventions of God into human activity, always point beyond themselves, beyond Jesus, to God. And it is from them that we learn who God is and how much God loves us. But in John there is also a keen sense of time. So we could say that to understand--believe--this Gospel--this part of the Good News--is to be able to read “the signs of the times”.

So here we are, on the Friday before Holy Week. How does it feel? Has Lent rushed by so that we have not even started what we intended to do? Or has it seemed endlessly slow, as though it would never end--a great slog to Holy Week? Have you stopped to observe along the way or has life gone on apace?

As Christians, we are ever conscious of time. Indeed, much of our life together is spent sanctifying time or, as the title of Marion Hatchett’s book goes, Sanctifying Life, Time and Space. How we do that may vary from place to place. But that we do it is essential to who we are. Our lives are situated in the seasons of the Christian Year, of the week, the day and even of this hour. Alexander Schmemann puts it this way:

                        We are always living between morning and evening, Sunday 

                                and Sunday, Easter and Easter, between the two comings

                              of Christ.     

                                                                  (A Sourcebook About Liturgy, p. 126)

Our Gospel reading is set in its own “time”, both literal and figurative. It comes after the healing of the man born blind (which is the penultimate in the series of great signs in John’s Gospel--the ones we have heard on the Sundays of Lent) and then the verses about the Good Shepherd, but before the final, great sign of the raising of Lazarus (celebrated in the Orthodox calendar tomorrow, Lazarus Saturday)--a sort of “hinge” passage that propels us toward the final events of the Passion and resurrection of Jesus. The Pharisees are about to stone Jesus--again. But Jesus was not just going to die any old death. In many places he says “My hour has not yet come”--not yet, not until the he could willingly lay down his life, giving himself into human hands to the very end.

The argument with the Pharisees is also, in a curious way, set in time. They accuse Jesus of “making himself God”. In reality, God, at that time, has become human in Jesus; “him whom the Father consecrated and sent into the world”. He tried to tell them and even invited them to “believe the works” if they didn’t believe him, so that they might know that Jesus was God’s Son. But they tried yet again to stone him and he escaped from their hands and went to the region where John had baptized, “and they believed in him there”. What did John’s followers get that the Pharisees didn’t? 

It seems the Pharisees were stuck in the present moment. They could only feel time closing in on them. The more and greater signs Jesus did, the more they felt threatened. The more Jesus identified himself with God, the more he tried to tell them that he was doing only his Father’s will, the more they refused to see God acting in their own time and place.  

John’s disciples, it seemed, were able to look at and through and beyond the signs Jesus did to see the coming of the Reign of God.  They were able to believe because they were not stuck in the present moment, unable either to learn from their past (Jesus’ reference to Psalm 82, “you are gods”) or to the future, toward which Jesus’ signs were always pointing.  

Only in the freedom of living “between the times” can we see beyond our present situation, individual or collective, and enter into the life of Christ, whose Body we are. That is why, in a few minutes, we will hear again the story of our salvation in the Eucharistic Prayer and be reminded again of God’s mighty acts. And we will make present (anamnesis) Jesus’ acts of the Last Supper. Then we will receive the very life of Jesus in a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, looking to his coming again in glory. We will, for a brief moment, be suspended in a wonderful, liturgical, present moment between the times, past and future, already and not yet.  

Jesus offered the Pharisees the opportunity to let go of the urgency of time and even of trust. “Even though you do not believe me, believe the works, that you may know that the Father is in me and I am in the Father.” This is not what we usually hear about signs and miracles, so Jesus offers us a unique opportunity, too.Take time--all the time you need--to walk the whole walk of Holy Week. Allow yourself to be suspended in liturgical time. Look around you to see the signs and miracles everywhere--even right here.Take time to ponder and absorb and celebrate them. Don’t worry--you will know them when you see them; God will show them to you. And just as Jesus went across to the region where John was baptizing, where they believed in him, “believe the works”--Jesus’ signs--and follow the events of Jesus’ Passion, death and resurrection all the way to the “womb and tomb” (as Cyril said) of the font of an even greater baptism, of dying and rising with Jesus, receiving the greatest gift--of being created anew even to dwelling with him forever in the timelessness of eternal life.