Monday, April 25, 2016

Fifth Easter, and the 179th Annual Parish Meeting of St. Andrew's Church, Highland Park, Pittsburgh

Acts 11: 1-18; John 13: 31-35

Good morning again, and grace and peace to you on this Fifth Easter Sunday and as we will at the end of this service be invited to move downstairs to Barley Hall for the 179th Annual Meeting of St. Andrew’s Church.  That is a big number, for sure!   When I arrived at St. Andrew’s in the summer of 1994 there was still a good deal of conversation and recent memory of the weekend a few years before, in 1987, when St. Andrew’s had celebrated a “sesquicentennial” with all kinds of worship and music and celebration.  Still some of us here who took part in those festivities, 29 years ago.  Many told me about the long walk and procession beginning down at the corner of Ninth Street and Fort Duquesne Boulevard, all the way out here to Highland Park, retracing the footsteps of our spiritual mothers and fathers from the first home of St. Andrew’s all the way here--and reminding ourselves as we picture that parade of our deep and meaningful connection to those who have come before us in their Christian lives in this particular community of faith—and perhaps a reminder as well that we are ourselves links in a chain, connected inextricably to those who came before us, but also links for those who will come after, in days and years to come. 

There is in that an image of Christian stewardship.  What we do with our lives not just about living for the moment—whether in our families or here in the church.   Each generation and each one of us in turn with a time of care and responsibility, adding our own unique contribution and then passing the precious gift along.  Mom and dad at home look at their children and know that the decisions they make and the kind of lives they live will be dedicated in large part to what will come after.  So our identity and resources and values and good work as the people of St. Andrew’s, but of course in a deeper and more important way as stewards of the life of Christian faith.  Building for the future.  Confessing Christ as Lord with boldness and with clear voices—and not only with our lips, but also in our lives, talking the talk and walking the walk.  It’s a great story.  179 years of life at St. Andrew’s.  And two thousand years since Easter and Pentecost and the first bright light of the Good News of Christ risen from the dead, with the promise of forgiveness of our sins and true salvation and everlasting life.  A great story.

Last Sunday I paused over the reading from the Revelation to St. John where the great visionary was able to catch this glimpse into the great heaven of God, the eternal reality beyond time and space, where the multitudes live in joy and peace and love and a spirit of everlasting worship before the Throne and before the Lamb.  To say that the character of Christian life is that because we know that Christ is risen, so we know that we are risen with him.  From our perspective, at the last day, at the end, in the true future of Christ’s appearing.  But from God’s perspective, it is already and forever true, eternal, beyond time and space.  From our perspective we are here, Hampton Street, Highland Park, and fully engaged in all the joys and storms of this life, our families and friends, our work, our little victories and our challenging defeats. 

But from God’s perspective and in him the victory is already complete.  I used those two words to talk about what St. John’s Revelation has to teach us about Christian life—that it is “eschatological” and “doxological.”   That we live in the realities of this world, but always are clear about the “eschaton,” the goal, the final station.  We live confidently, and carefully, and courageously, and sacrificially, and in obedience, because we know the final word of the story has already been written, the final battle of the war has been won, and won decisively.  We are “eschatological,” and so we are “doxological.”  We hear the multitudes of the choir of heaven, and even here, even now, we join our voices.
And this is about singing, and praising God, but it isn’t just about singing. We remember the little story about Tabitha in the reading from Acts last Sunday.   Good works and acts of kindness and charity were her “devotion,” her prayer.    It’s about understanding that everything we do, everything we think, everything we desire,  everything,  is lifted up as music to the ears of the Father.  

What is it about these Christians?  In Acts 11 Peter’s dream.  In the great Holy Story that we know in Scripture God has dedicated Israel, set her apart, as a vessel for his holiness, to prepare the way, as a sign and a promise to the world and all creation.  And now in Easter and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit the Israel of God is renewed and refreshed, now no longer constrained by the old boundaries, but expanded by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The old sign gives way to the new.    “The nations will stream to your light,” as the Prophet had sung, “and Kings the brightness of your dawning.”  If Israel was set apart as one kind of a sign of God’s promised action, now the Church is lifted up in its eschatological and doxological character as a proof and demonstration that God’s promise has been fulfilled.   It’s a little intimidating, but if we realize that we are works in process it can be encouraging and inspiring.  To imagine for a moment that God has said to you, to me, to each one of us as individuals, and the Church, the wide church, and to this church of St. Andrew’s Highland Park, “I am giving you as a sign to the nations.  As I am holy, you will be holy.  As I am generous, you will be generous.  As I am forgiving, you will be forgiving.  People will see you, and the more they see of you, the better they know you, the more they will want to know me. 

I give you a new commandment, Jesus tells his disciples.  Just as I have loved you, you also, love one another.

It’s kind of a crazy place, this St. Andrew’s.  Has been for a long time, maybe 179 years.  An odd bunch, called here by God—and sometimes for reasons that God only knows, and that we have a hard time figuring out.  But the one thing that we can say for sure is that God knows what he is doing, even when we have a hard time seeing the bigger picture for ourselves--and that he is building something beautiful and perfect and holy with his church and in his church.  With each one of us.   Not that any of us are finished yet, and not that this St. Andrew’s Church is a finished work.  Lots of rough edges and false starts.  Lots of room left for improvement.  But the Holy Spirit moving along, in us and among us.  And with that every once in a while what I find myself doing is just stepping back for a moment and taking a breath and to say, it really is a gift and a blessing and a privilege to be here.  I hope you share that as well.

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

                                                                                                                                                Bruce M. Robison

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