Acts 11: 1-18
Day of the 176th Annual Parish Meeting
of St. Andrew’s Church
Highland Park, Pittsburgh
Grace and peace friends, good morning on this spring Sunday, the Fifth Sunday of Easter season and certainly very much in my mind and on my heart today as the occasion of the 176th Annual Parish Meeting of St. Andrew’s Church.
My friend Pam Foster, who was for many years Associate Rector of our neighbor, Calvary Church in East Liberty, was asked once about her interest in developing a specialization in “interim ministry,” and her reply included a comment I’ll always remember, and that it’s important I think for all of us to remember. Very simply, she said, “all ministry is interim ministry.”
Susy and I had a wonderful friend out in California, Beth Renning. In her 90’s. And one day, when a group of friends were engaging in what I remember used to be a very common Episcopalian activity, though I don’t think it happens around here--complaining about something the Rector had done--she commented, with remarkable equanimity, “Rectors come, and Rectors go.” Which is a good concept to hold on to as we will refer today to this Annual Meeting as our “176th.” My 19th Annual Meeting of St. Andrew’s Church.
Perhaps some are visiting St. Andrew’s this morning for the first time. And welcome, and it would be fun if you have some time today to have you come next door to join in the Annual Meeting festivities. Always fun, and good food. Some of you have been here years and decades. I always joke with Al Mann, to ask if he can tell us what that first meeting was like, back in 1837. But the reality, “all ministry is interim ministry.” We all come. We stay for a while. Perhaps some longer than others. But then we all go. Only Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
Men and women, boys and girls over decades and generations. Some we remember by name—a few. Baptized here at this font; formed in faith. A long line of folks presented to the bishops of this diocese for Confirmation. Weddings. Gatherings of family, friends and neighbors, for prayer and Christian burial. Rectors and Wardens, Sunday School teachers, Choir members, Acolytes and Ushers, Missionaries and those who minister in every corner of life. Retreats and Coffee hours. Church picnics, workdays. Friends in prayer. And all along the way a richness of Christian life. Potluck dinners, discussion groups. Reaching out and reaching in.
The proclamation of the gospel, in word and in action. Witnessing the good news of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in our homes and in our neighborhood and across the wide world. Being formed as disciples. Joining ourselves, in worship, to God’s holy liturgy; participating with our time, talent, and treasure as we join in his mission.
Always here at St. Andrew’s, for 107 years now, under this great banner, of our Rood Beam, John 12: “And I if I be lifted up from the earth will draw all men unto me.” From this corner of a quiet city neighborhood, like a stone dropped into a still pond, sending ripples out to the farthest edge. Nothing quiet about it, truly. A proclamation to the ends of the earth. “Christ for the World, we sing. The world to Christ we bring.” With loving zeal, with fervent prayer, with one accord, with joyful song . . . .
The old joke is that when people call to ask for directions to St. Andrew’s, the natural thing is to say “just follow the signs to the zoo.” Something profound about that somehow. Every breed of cat on display. Lions, tigers, bears. Perhaps a few odd ducks. Not a particularly big place, nor especially wealthy in financial resources. But as someone said once, “rich in eccentricity.” Such an amazing assembly of thoughtful, creative, interesting people. Energetic. Passionate. Incredibly generous.
You’ll forgive me for singling out one among so many, but I can’t tell you how often I have thought to myself what a breathtaking privilege it is that God in his goodness would allow me to belong to Jinny Fiske’s church. Again, one among so many. Just look around. Saints and heroes. Who know how to ask questions. And how to give comfort. Laughing together, singing together, weeping together, praying together.
It is wonderful that our Year C lectionary appoints the eleventh chapter of Acts for us this morning, as we move forward toward our meeting and as we would reflect about the character of our mission and ministry in this place and from this place. The vision of the great Prophets of the Old Testament coming to life in the midst of Easter and Pentecost. Isaiah 2: And it shall come to pass in the last days, that the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it. All nations. Isaiah 56: My house will be called a house of prayer for all peoples. Daniel 7: And behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came to the Ancient of Days and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.
Echoing around us then this morning the great song of Simeon, in the second chapter of St. Luke, as the infant Jesus is Presented in the Temple. “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word; for mine eyes have seen thy salvation which thou has prepared in the presence of all peoples—all peoples: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to thy people Israel.”
Peter’s dream here proclaimed to the Church in Acts 11, word that God has accomplished now his great plan for the reconciliation and renewal of all creation at the Cross, and that we are ourselves through our baptism and as we place our trust in him, as we place our lives in his hands, as we fall into his embrace, participating as members of his Risen Body already in his new Kingdom. Those who were far off are now brought near, and a New Israel is born.
A little glimpse of that here. Just look around to see what he is doing here. This little zoo of a parish. Amazing, really. A miracle. Just look around. And join us for the meeting.
Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God.