Sunday, April 22, 2012

Third Sunday of Easter

Acts 3: 12-19, Luke 24: 36-48

 Grace and peace to you indeed on this morning of the Third Sunday of Easter.

 Although the trumpets and drum of our Easter morning celebration and the great horn ensemble from last Sunday’s Confirmation Sunday celebration with Bishop Price are perhaps beginning to fade, it is entirely wonderful to be continuing in this Third Sunday morning of Easter as we receive and welcome the gifts of our Singing Panthers of the Heinz Chapel Choir of the University of Pittsburgh. And with thanks to you John and all the “Singing Panthers.” It’s a pleasure to have you with us once again.

 Just one great Sunday after another through this season, as our minds and our hearts and our lives continue to be filled with the message as the disciples and friends of Jesus heard it from our Risen Lord himself on that first Easter Sunday evening, and as in the reading from scripture, Luke 24, this morning: “You are witnesses of these things.”

 By the gift of his presence in this miracle of Easter and in the very presence of Jesus their minds were opened to the true meaning of all the scriptures, the Law of Moses, the anticipation of the Prophets, the Hope of the Nations. The yearning of all our fallen world and all creation for the healing and peace and restoration and renewal and new creation, now beginning to take place right before their eyes.

 Witnesses to a victorious reality. The last enemy vanquished, the forces of evil and darkness and Satan himself put to flight, broken, defeated once and for all. Hard to take in, all at once, there in the Upper Room where just a few days before he had been with them to break the bread and share the cup. Shalom. Peace be with you. Be not afraid.  The words the Angel Gabriel said to Mary so long ago. Be not afraid. His name shall be Jesus, Yeshua, which means The Lord Saves, because he will save his people. As foretold by the prophet: Emmanuel. God with us. What the Angels sang out to the Shepherds on the hillside that winter night. “Good news of a great joy which shall be to all peoples, for you born today in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

 And now in this Easter. That Savior revealed at last. Standing before them. Flesh and blood and real as he ever had been and yet also even more real, more alive. “O sons and daughters, let us sing! The King of heaven, the glorious King, o’er death and hell rose triumphing. Alleluia!” -- --“You are witnesses of these things.”  Easter in us, Easter for us, Easter all around us.

 When we were originally working through the rough draft of the rotation of preachers for this season I had scheduled Dean Byrom to preach today, but Phil Wainwright tapped me on the shoulder and reminded me that on April 21 we would be gathering downtown to elect a bishop, and he suggested that it might be appropriate for the Rector to have a pastoral word in the sermon today in that context. I don’t know exactly what at the time he or I thought I would say, but here I am anyway, as we have completed yesterday’s work. And so we know now: in the middle of the afternoon yesterday, after a Friday evening time of very respectful and appreciative and affectionate conversation among the lay and clergy charged with this very high and serious responsibility and stewardship, and after a morning and an afternoon of prayer, conversation, and discernment through six ballots, we of our diocese elected the Rev. Dorsey W. M. McConnell, who is currently serving as rector of the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts, to be our next bishop, the “Eighth Bishop Diocesan” since the organization of the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh in 1867.

 It happens that Dorsey is someone I’ve known a little bit over the past several years, and he is someone I both like very much and have much respect for. A deeply spiritual person with a lively faith, a wonderful teacher with great pastoral gifts and someone who has done a great deal especially over the past decade or so to create structures for bringing together folks who have been divided by some of the controversial issues in the life of the church. I’ve called him a bridge-builder rather than a bridge burner, and certainly I think that will be an important background and experience as he comes to begin his ministry in Pittsburgh later this summer.

 No question then this morning, nearly four years since the division of the old Diocese of Pittsburgh, we are at one of those turning points. A new morning for the diocese. Perhaps for some a time of special celebration, as the nominee they had supported had been elected, and perhaps for others who had supported one of the other four nominees still a lingering sense of regret and disappointment. All that is natural. The way this process works. With a hierarchical polity and a political culture where these things take on a life of their own, a time of election like the season we have just come through will have a great deal of energy and focus. Excitement and anxiety. Highs and lows. And no question there are reasons for both excitement and anxiety, no matter who had been elected to be our bishop. Whichever of the five nominees may have been a favorite as the discernment and election season progressed.

 Our diocese is in a fragile state, and it is going to take a good long time of good leadership and healthy practice of ministry in many different ways for us to keep our head above water and move forward to do the work we are called to do, as we have inherited and shared in the experience of those who stood with Jesus there in that upper room. Knowing that the work, the ministry, the mission, we are called to do here in this parish and in our diocese is truly precious in his sight.

 In the first chapter of Acts, just a short while before the story of the healing at the Temple that we hear about this morning in Acts 3, but at the very beginning and in the bright morning of Pentecost, when the disciples are attempting to discern the one God had called and chosen to fill the apostolic seat left vacant by Judas Iscariot, they looked at the available candidates—the Nominees—and St. Peter said “one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.”

 You are witnesses of these things.

 This is what I think is important for us on this new morning of our diocese, in this Easter, and here in the 24th chapter of St. Luke. Here in our parish, here in our personal lives, each one of us. For Bishop-elect McConnell, for the clergy and laity of our diocese, for all of us. That this is not so much about what a new bishop can bring in terms of skill sets and energy and leadership and all the rest—though certainly we’ll benefit from that in many ways. But there’s always a lot of magical thinking at moments like this too. We forget for a moment about all the heavy lifting and rowing upstream that we still have in front of us. No matter which of the Nominees had been elected, we are still the same diocese, the same people, with our same challenges and strengths, our hopes and dreams and our worries. But most importantly in all the season ahead that we would in all of that together be together, first and most importantly, before all else, a community of Easter witnesses. 

That we would know the risen Lord Jesus, whose victory has set us free. Who stands before us now, and renewed and revealed in Word and Sacrament. That we would experience his presence, his love, his forgiveness, in our hearts. To be in that Upper Room. That we would know and experience in our lives the hope that is incarnate in him. The good future that God has in mind for us. That we would have in our hearts a longing to be a part of that good future. Witnesses who have seen with our own eyes, known from our own experience, and who can communicate that good news in word and in the way we conduct our lives. 

It’s easy to get swept up in politics, relationships, programs, the projects of the day. In groups and out groups, all the rest. But the reality is that if we live in Christ, build our lives on him, open our eyes to see him and hear him as he is present in scripture and in the breaking of bread and in the prayers and in the witness of our lives, then there is good news ahead for the life of the Church, for St. Andrew’s and for the Diocese of Pittsburgh and all of the family of Christian people.

 And of course if he isn’t our foundation, if he isn’t the one we see and know as witnesses, then there’s no bishop or relationship or program or strategy that can help us on our way.

 Our Twelve Step Group friends have a saying, “the main thing is to make the main thing the main thing.” 

Third Easter. “And the government will be upon his shoulder, and his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting father, Prince of Peace.” And we are witnesses.

 Easter blessings indeed. It will be an interesting season ahead, no question. High points, low points, all the rest. As we set out this morning to do the work he has given us to do. “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses to these things.”

 Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.

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