Saturday, September 6, 2008

Third Easter, 2008

April 6, 2008 III Easter (RCL Year A) Luke 24: 13-35:

171st Annual Parish Meeting of St. Andrew’s Church

It’s always my hope on this Sunday of our Annual Meeting to offer in my sermon a good word about “the state of the parish,” and this year as I was reading and praying through the lessons for the Third Sunday of Easter with this in mind I found myself drawn in a very compelling way to the image of these two disciples walking home to Emmaus from Jerusalem on the afternoon of Easter Day.

First, that they are intellectually engaged, curious. As they walk toward home they are talking, and we would imagine in a pretty animated way, about all that has transpired. St. Luke says they were "talking and discussing." (Which is how it sometimes is at our house. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we discuss.) And then when the mysterious stranger joins them they prove to be as good at listening as they were at talking. They are learners, deep thinkers, people who want to get to the bottom of things, we would say “open minded,” -- who aren’t afraid to test their assumptions and to change and grow.

The second thing about them, that they are open not simply to new ideas, new perspectives, but even more, to the depths of new relationship. They open their minds, but also their hearts, their lives. They open the door of their home, set another place at the table, in a gesture of generous and sincere hospitality. Which we all know can be a little risky. They don’t really know who this man is. But they’re willing to move on faith, to trust. You are welcome here. What the sign out in front of St. Andrew’s says. “You are welcome here.” Come in, and make yourself at home. Again, to open the door not simply to their home, but to their lives.

The third thing about these two, that they are able not just with their eyes but in the depths of their hearts to recognize Jesus when he reveals himself to them. They were ready. Prepared. They see him, and they know who he is.

And fourth and finally, they don’t just keep this amazing moment to themselves, but they go immediately to share the good news.

All four of these reflections on the Disciples of Emmaus are in one way or another about a kind of courage, which I think actually is pretty amazing. Intellectually, emotionally, spiritually—a willingness to climb out of the bunker, to accept a certain vulnerability. Courageous. To step into a space where there can be a giving up of control. Easter came to them because they could say, “here’s what we know, but we want to know more—here’s what we think, but maybe we can learn to see things differently.” We are at least open. These are my assumptions, my opinions, my beliefs and convictions: but I could be wrong. Tell me more. Tell me what it looks like to you. And Easter came to them because they could say, “there is room at the table for another.”

Easter came to them because they were ready and willing and able to see Jesus when he showed himself to them. Their hearts were prepared to see him and to recognize him. Easter came to them became a reality to them, the living Christ in their presence, because they didn’t keep the story to themselves, but as they were blessed, they would also to be a blessing.

And so I’ve been thinking about you this week, as I’ve been thinking about these Disciples of Emmaus. Thinking about our kids in the Godly Play groups, moving deeper and deeper into the stories of faith with open eyes, with inquiring hearts, curiosity. The same in our youth group, in the Confirmation class Wes just finished leading, in our Adult Forums, in all the one-to-one and small group conversations. People alert, thoughtful, curious, exploring. Not to say we don’t have opinions, even deep convictions, but even with those, not to be afraid to hear another point of view, a new take on an old question. “God isn’t finished with me yet.”

And I’ve been thinking about your hospitality. Not just about our fabulous receptions and dinners. But about the willingness to make room in the circle for the stranger. This deep generosity. To listen to the new voice. I heard someone say once, “I already have all the friends I want or need.” But it certainly wasn’t at St. Andrew’s that I heard that.

And I’ve been thinking about that moment when they see him, when he says the blessing and breaks the bread, and there opens up the deep well of eternity, when Jesus himself is present for them. And I remember a conversation I had with members of the Vestry just about exactly 14 years ago, as I was meeting them for the first time at a dinner over at John and Mary Lou Lehoczky’s house, as I was just beginning to get to know this parish. Getting to know you. And I remember Joe Federowicz pointing to a phrase in the Parish Profile, two words, “spiritual journey.” And he said, “Bruce, we really mean that. That’s not just boilerplate. We take that seriously.”

Hearts and minds prepared to recognize him. Praying together, putting down roots, nourished and shaped by the Holy Scriptures, the great songs and poetry and insights of two thousand years of faith. And I’ve been thinking about how those two disciples ran to tell the others. Not simply to rest in the joy and peace and wonder of that moment, but to say, this isn’t going to be what it’s supposed to be, unless I can be a part of carrying it forward. The Five Talents Prayer Circle, the Off the Floor Pittsburgh Saturday morning teams, the Choir, the Youth Group teachers, Acolytes and Junior Acolytes. The Hospitality team, the Eucharistic Visitors. To be blessed by being a blessing, to be the hands and feet of Jesus, to be in words and in actions the presence of Christ, his loving heart, given for others.

So I get from here to the state of the parish: I think it’s a pretty great place. I think you all are pretty great. You are my teachers, and over and over again you are the people who inspire me in my own efforts to walk in the way of faith. In the days of the Desert Fathers pilgrims would walk for many miles across trackless sands to find someone to speak a word of hope, of Christian love and compassion, of faithful witness to the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That’s why I come to you. And I think so often we come to each other, the typical St. Andrew’s moment beginning by taking a group of chairs and pulling them into a circle. As we would look across to one another, with him at the center.

That’s not to say we don’t have a lot of work to do. That there aren’t times when our minds are closed, that there aren’t times when we don’t set an extra place at the table. That Jesus doesn’t show himself to us sometimes and we look right past him, refuse to recognize him pretend he isn’t there. That we aren’t sometimes just fine with having things our way, with letting it all be about us, rather than about others. That’s all out there, no question about it. And there are times of misunderstanding and selfishness and hurt. We’re all just doing what we can, and sometimes three steps forward, two steps back—and sometimes two steps forward and three back.

But I’m just saying this morning that in a wide world and as a matter of fact in a wide church where people seem so often so willing to say, “I have all the answers, and I have no need of you,” there just seems to be this space that God is opening for us here on Hampton Street in Highland Park, and in this open and expanding circle of friends.

That’s enough for now. We’ll get to finances a little later, and all the programs and reports, but the state of the parish for us today and the heart of what we are about in this 171st year of our congregational history is founded on that moment at the Table in the Emmaus home of our disciples, as Jesus was known to them, in the breaking of bread, in the Holy Communion of his new Easter life, and the new Easter life that would now be theirs forever. That’s where we are today. Come Risen Lord, and be our guest. Our house is your house.

Bruce Robison

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