Acts 4: 5-12; John 10: 11-18
Good morning. The calendar of our 1979 Book of Common Prayer moved the traditional observance of what is often affectionately known as “Good Shepherd Sunday” from the Third Easter Sunday to the Fourth, and it occurred to me with our reading from John 10 this morning that for many of us on our first visit to this beautiful old church the very first image that we might have noticed, and so something of the way that we of St. Andrew’s introduce ourselves to those who first come through those Hampton Street doors, is that of the Good Shepherd of the Sheep, the lovely stained-glass window in our Narthex.
To remind ourselves of the story, the young rector Harry Briggs Heald, who passed from this life to the next suddenly and unexpectedly in 1924, at the age of 45, after three years of ministry at St. Andrew’s-- known for his care and love especially for the families and children of the congregation, a good pastor. And following his death and as a tribute to his ministry the children and families of the Sunday School sponsored that window through their special offerings. Jesus the Good Shepherd. A tender thought for us, perhaps as we see that image and look beyond it, remembering pastors who have been important in our lives, sharing with us in word and in action the love of Jesus.
Related perhaps in spirit to the decision to offer as one of the major centerpieces of this place then as well the magnificent Tiffany Window over the high altar. Jesus blessing the Children. Another “good shepherd” image we might say, a quiet pastoral moment. Bring the children to me—don’t send them away. Taking them into his arms and blessing them.
I sometimes think about the big move that an earlier generation of St. Andreans made at the beginning of the 20th century, from our large cathedral like church in the center of downtown to the lovely tree-lined streets of this growing residential neighborhood. I think in that move there may have been something of a vision of a new, evolving sense of identity. From being a downtown tall-steeple church to being something more like what I sometimes call a “village church.” As Jesus blesses those children, perhaps our St. Andrean ancestors pictured the families of the neighborhood walking together from home to church on a spring morning. Again a pastoral image, Christ the Shepherd in the life of his flock, generation after generation, men and women, boys and girls, as we are fed and blessed by him and then called into the wider circles of our lives as his witnesses, his hands and feet, caring for one another and for our neighbors near and far in his name.
It seemed wonderfully appropriate when we had that narthex Good Shepherd Window repaired and conserved in 2002, that we rededicated the window in honor of my and our good friend, the late Right Rev. David Leighton, rector and pastor of St. Andrew’s from 1956-1960, also beloved as a pastor and friend—and over these almost two centuries the only rector of St. Andrew’s ever to be called and elected to service in the wider church as a bishop. And it was very touching a couple of years ago when he died to read in the newspaper of the Diocese of Maryland such warm tributes from many clergy and laypeople of that diocese, in memory of a bishop who had been for them both a steady and effective Christian teacher and leader and a good and caring friend and companion. We have only a few around St. Andrew’s who remember the days when David was pastor here—though of course many more will remember his visits in later years, and perhaps mostly the great weekend back I think in the year 2000 when he joined us to preach and celebrate on St. Andrew’s Day. A wonderful pastor and friend.
We’ve paused the last few weeks in these early chapters of Acts with the story of the healing of the lame man who had been begging at the gate of the Temple. God acting through these disciples, Peter and John, as they invoke the Name of Jesus and stand as witnesses to his continuing presence and power, the one who died on the cross but who has risen from the dead and is ascended to the right hand of the Father, reigning in heaven and on earth. The power of God bursting forth in a new way.
The lame man leaps for joy, the crowds are amazed, and at the same time the old enemies of Jesus are once again roused to action. A few weeks ago on the afternoon of Good Friday the disciples had run back to the Upper Room in fear, to hide from their enemies, but now in the Pentecostal power of the Holy Spirit they meet their adversaries, and we might say their Adversary (with a capital A), with Peter’s direct and clear and bold and brave announcement: “Be it known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him—by him, this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” You can just feel the electricity in the moment. Peter nose to nose with the high priest, staring him down. Remembering the courtyard of Annas on that Holy Thursday night, after the arrest in the Garden. Peter’s denial, slinking away in fear. But now this. Urgent and direct and compelling. Fearless. You see the evidence of his power, Peter declares--the risen Christ in your midst, here and now. There is salvation in no one else. No other name given, by which we must be saved. The contrast in just these few weeks so dramatic. Easter and Holy Spirit, and they just are different people. On fire! On fire, with Jesus and for Jesus.
Sailing out into our 179th year now. Please come downstairs and have a cup of coffee and share in the turning of the page to this new year. We’ll pray together, celebrate some accomplishments, mark some meaningful transitions, talk together, look toward the future. In this season that we’ve called “Renaissance at St. Andrew’s.” Reminding ourselves first of all of course of the wonderful renovations achieved through the Opening Doors Campaign. Renovations in these historic buildings, bringing them to life again in new and exciting ways, every day it seems we’re learning about what more we’re able to do—all of it as an outward sign of what we pray God will be doing in us every day. From Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. It’s good to be here.
A complicated time in the life of the church, a time of transition, sometimes joyful, sometimes painful. Sometimes a life that we rejoice in, sometimes with frustrations and disappointments. And yet confident somehow that this is the particular place to which God has called each one of us. That each one of us has been brought to this place because here there is something that God knows we need, even if we’re not sure what that is—and because here there is something needed, for God’s purposes, that we and only we have to give, to share. Even if we’re not always sure what that is. People together, old friends and new. Figuring it out. Do you think Peter and John knew what was going to happen when they told that man to get up? I’m pretty sure they didn’t—that all they knew was that if Easter is real, anything is possible. And they knew that Easter was real. That Jesus is in charge. At the Gate of the Temple. In Highland Park, and in every corner of our world, in every moment of our lives. In charge. Which is what “Renaissance at St. Andrew’s” can be all about. All for him.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly all that we can ask or imagine, according to the power that is at work in us—to him be the glory in the church, and in Christ Jesus forever and ever.