Saturday, September 6, 2008

Fourth Easter, April 13, 2008

The Good Shepherd, Mosaic, Ravenna, 5th Century

April 13, 2008 IV Easter (RCL Year A) John 10: 1-10

These lessons and the imagery of the Good Shepherd are traditional for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, and as we encounter them again today I’d begin by suggesting that before going home this morning we might take a moment to appreciate the beautiful Good Shepherd Window in the narthex at the Hampton Street entry.

The image is of course a meaningful one in any Christian community, and it is I think especially meaningful for us as we note the Good Shepherd Window’s dedication and rededication.

The rededication first, as a few years ago now our Property Committee found the window in need of significant repair and conservation, and when that work was completed the Good Shepherd was rededicated in thanksgiving for the ministry of the 13th Rector of St. Andrew’s Church, my and our good friend the Rt. Rev. David Leighton, who was Rector here in the latter half of the 1950’s, and who after his service at St. Andrew’s was called to the Diocese of Maryland, where he served first as Rector of a Baltimore city parish, then on the diocesan staff, and then was elected in 1968, serving until his retirement in 1975, as Coadjutor and then Bishop of Maryland. The only Rector of St. Andrew’s Parish in 171 years to be called and elected to the episcopate, and a symbol of the universal, apostolic, sacramental, and pastoral ministry of the wider church.

I know many of us remember when David and Carolyn came back to St. Andrew’s for St. Andrew’s Day a number of years ago, and the affection and enjoyment they expressed, and some wonderful stories about life around the parish and the diocese half a century and more ago. It was the beginning of a great pastoral friendship for me personally as well, and he and I continue to communicate regularly, mostly by e-mail. He calls me XV (Roman Numeral 15), as the 15th Rector of St. Andrew’s, and signs himself XIII (Roman Numeral 13). It’s a nice connection for me, and has meant a lot –and it’s founded on the deep love and life commitment we both have made to the people of this congregation.

At the level underneath that rededication, though, is the touching story of its first dedication. I know Marilyn Evert can tell us more about this. The sudden, unexpected, heartbreaking death at the age of 45 of Harry Briggs Heald, Rector of St. Andrew’s, just for three years, from 1921-1924. Originally from New York, Heald studied at Johns Hopkins, then came under the care of the Bishop of Delaware, prepared for ministry at the General Theological Seminary, and then was ordained to the priesthood at Gethsemane Church, in Minneapolis, a very beautiful Church which I have visited a few times and where I’ll be attending a conference later this year, in June. I’ll think of him when I’m there. He served several congregations, in the Midwest and then back to the East, including a prominent one as rector, in Port Chester, New York, and had come to Pittsburgh to continue his ministry here—only to have it cut short by a sudden, early death. He came to St. Andrew’s at the age of 42, actually just a year older than I was when I came here. Stood in this pulpit, here in this Church which was still I’m sure the “new Church,” only 15 years or so after it was completed. A fresh and new presence in this neighborhood, I’m sure. Still finding their way, their identity, after the big move from downtown. It must have been a call to ministry that filled him and the congregation with pleasure and excitement, new relationships, new energy, new leadership, new directions of ministry as always happens when the new Rector arrives. And then, without warning . . . .

The window was presented in his memory by the children of the St. Andrew’s Church School, in tribute we would I’m sure imagine to his special care for them. The kids must have loved him to respond in that way. He must have loved them, as he shared with them the joy and spirit and tenderness of Christian life. Just using our imaginations here. To think about what a shock and tragedy that must have been for them, and for their families. The sense of loss. But then also, in the midst of that grief, as we can see so clearly in that window, an opportunity to reaffirm the heart and message of the Gospel. The love of God. The reality of Christ’s resurrection and the certainty of our own. And so, the Good Shepherd.

Again, take a look at it this morning. A lovely window, and a glimpse back in time to a moment of great significance. I don’t think we have any living memories of that time in the parish any more. 84 years ago, his death. But the experience must have worked itself down into our DNA. A subterranean level of the foundation on which we build our life here today.

In any case, my sermon this morning doesn’t need to be too much more. Simply to say, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

Just a few weeks ago, on Easter morning, we heard that story of Mary in the Garden, of the Stranger, of how she recognized him at first not by sight, but when, finally, he spoke her name, “Mary.” Then as if her eyes were opened, as if her heart were opened, and she knew him.

The message of Easter is first about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, the reality of his triumph over death and the grave, breaking the iron yoke of sin, accomplishing reconciliation and peace-- the first morning of the new creation. And then from Mary in the Garden and from the Disciples of Emmaus as we read about them last Sunday, it is about how in the miracle of his resurrection he comes to us. Not in some kind of abstract way, as an affirmation of doctrine, a hypothetical hope, but as a living presence, as a friend, in this moment of deepest tenderness. Deepest tenderness. And how in the Easter miracle we who were lost are suddenly found, we who were alone are suddenly embraced, we who were broken find that we are drawn into his forgiveness and his healing light. Reflected in the lives of pastors like Dave Leighton and Harry Briggs Heald, in parents, friends, neighbors, in so many ways—those who have communicated to us in their love and care for us, the deeper love of Christ. We listen with the ear of our heart, opening ourselves to his presence with us. Knowing him because first he knows us. Loving him because first he loves us. Hearing him as he calls us each by name.

Savior, like a shepherd lead us. Much we need thy tender care. In thy pleasant pastures feed us. For our use thy folds prepare. Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus, thou hast bought us, thine we are. Blessed Jesus, Blessed Jesus, thou has bought us, thine we are.

Bruce Robison

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