Sunday of the 173rd Annual Parish Meeting
Saint Andrew's Church, Highland Park
Dear Friends, grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, on this third Sunday in the season of Easter and the day of our annual parish meeting, #173.
Standing as we are a couple of thousand years more or less from that morning by the Galilean sea, when our risen Lord and Savior prepared breakfast for his disciples, looking back through the mists of time in this wonderful story from St. John, and hearing once again his compelling, haunting question to Peter, as it would echo down the centuries to us, “do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?” A question for us at our annual meeting and for us to hear every morning in our lives, certainly. Echoing down the centuries.
—And a long distance as well from the days of early Pittsburgh, in 1837, when that band of folks from Trinity Church struck out on their own to begin a new missionary congregation and second Episcopal Church in the rapidly growing city. That must have been pretty dramatic as well, in their lives. The excitement of a new beginning, a sense of vocation—again, “feed my sheep.” The fields white for the harvest. But I’m sure also with a sense of loss. Leaving behind old friends, comfortable ways of doing things, the settled ministry of what was already an older parish. Risk taking, in a way. But perhaps they didn’t feel they really had much choice in the matter. Which is the way it is with this life of ours, in the gospel. He calls us. He sends us.
As he says to Peter, you are used to tying on your own belt in the morning, setting out on the business of the day as you have planned it, pursuing your own objectives, sailing the course you set for yourself. But then the day comes, and it does come, it will come, when someone else will tie the belt around you, and lead you to a destination not of your choosing. –To say, if it was good enough for Jesus, it should be good enough for us. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer used the phrase “costly discipleship,” and we hear that and understand that in deeper and deeper ways all our life long, individually and in our community. So that when we talk about the joy that we know in this life together, it isn’t a superficial joy, but something deeper and with a strong texture, in the fullness of life.
Thousands of years ago. Hundreds of years ago. Of course, around us this morning, a little bit more of an atmosphere of a “low Sunday.” Echoes of all the wonderful celebrations the last two weeks. Easter morning, which was so glorious. And then how exciting that service last Sunday with Bishop Price, with Kristen Cooper’s baptism and ten confirmations and the acknowledgment of a new acolyte and a choir with our choristers and a second week in a row of brass and drum. I mean, I enjoy an annual meeting as much as the next guy, but it’s pretty hard to sustain that level of excitement. Maybe not quite the ecstatic heavenly worship that St. John the Divine sees in his vision, as we heard it described this morning. Angels and archangels and all the company of heaven. But we could catch a glimpse of that, I think. Faint echoes of the heavenly choir, right here on Hampton Street.
As I have said so many times, when people ask me for driving directions to St. Andrew’s, I always tell them, “just follow the signs to the zoo.” I guess that makes me smile, to think of all the varied backgrounds and personalities and situations and life experiences represented here. “Every breed of cat.” Some of us going back years and decades and even generations, some so recent that the dust of transition hasn’t even settled yet. Some arriving here in moments of joy and enthusiasm, some in times of searching in the deepest areas of faith. Some in times of brokenness and hurt and loss. Trying to find our way, we have found our way here. And as we find ourselves here, always my prayer that we would find him here, that we would know and come into the life-giving presence of our Lord Jesus. The great shepherd of the sheep.
Thinking of the excitement of the disciples as they looked in toward shore from their boat on the lake, and as John suddenly exclaims to Peter, “It is the Lord!” And that in him and with him and through him our lives may grow in love and peace, rich in God’s blessings, even as we will always and continually be stretched by him, conformed into his likeness, called into new efforts of witness and service.
And so this morning. That we would open our eyes to his presence, our ears to his word, our hands and our hearts to be with him in his loving embrace of the world. In those words from John 12 inscribed on the Rood Beam over us, “And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.” The reference at once both to his cross and to his heavenly throne. That we come together here and now, this morning, always, in order to be sent out by him, for him, with him. Through 173 years: generations of men and women, boys and girls, baptisms and weddings and funerals, teaching and learning, questioning, comforting, healing, forgiving--potluck suppers, singing in the choir, serving in the community—all of it. We will come together in a short while over in Brooks Hall to look back over the previous year, to talk about congregational life, to celebrate what it means for us to be a part of the family of St. Andrew’s. Let it all be for him.