May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts always be acceptable in your sight, oh lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Good evening and welcome to St Andrew Memorial on this, the patronal feast of St Andrew. We come together tonight to worship and to offer our thanks and praise to our God for all that God has done in our lives and in the life of this parish, St Andrew Memorial, for these past 70 years.
And we ground that worship in our historical traditions, celebrating a BCP evensong with much thanks to Andrew Keegan Mackriell and Angus Sinclair and the Cathedral Choir of St Paul’s. It is with much gratitude and deep appreciation that I offer you Andrew, Angus and the Choir the thanks of the entire parish as you help us worship and celebrate 70 years of ministry here on the corner of Wellington and Foxbar.
As I reflected upon the scriptures as to what I would say on this glorious anniversary I was drawn to the reading from Ezekiel (47:1-12). The image of water flowing forth from the temple to nourish all of creation captured my mind and reminded me of the waters of the river Jordan, flowing, and in which John would baptized our Lord and Savior, marking the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry hear on earth and amongst us. And it is through baptism that we are joined to the life of Christ. We die to our old selves and are born again to a new life in Christ. In us we carry that divine spark, the gift of the Holy Spirit, and in a very real way we become part, enactors and contributors to the kingdom of God; the body of Christ.
A baptismal life is the kind of life that signifies that Christ is indeed part of us, that Christ is in us, guiding us daily and working through us to help bring about the kingdom of God. It is to live a life of service and giving, dedicated to others; dedicated to family, friends and to a community of faith. The marks of the Christian life are, at its core, service; service to God and service to neighbors. They take their cue from the two greatest commandments, to love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your strength and all your soul and to love your neighbor as your self.
And just as Jesus was and is joined to the Father through the trinity, we are joined to that mystical union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit though the very same Jesus Christ, in which we become part of the heavenly family; the precious Sons and Daughters of God. We belong to Christ; it is he whose we are. It he who we belong to and it is his life of healing and reconciliation that we share in, not just for ourselves, but for all of creation.
In the waters of baptism, in the Holy Sacrament, we transcend time and space and we exist as part of the redeemed and transformed creation. We become citizens of the heavenly city and are assured of our redemption through the one perfect and true sacrifice of Christ upon the cross, where our sins and the debt for those sins has been paid.
But there is a danger, a danger in believing that we are no longer of this world; that this world is behind us and we can ignore it or turn our back upon the suffering, the lame, the beggar, the widow or the orphan. This is simply not the case. Jesus reminds us that as the Father as sent him into the world too transform it, now Jesus is sending us and we are to take up that mission and help transform this broken world, this earthly city into a heavenly city. We are to be the grain that gives up its life so that others may grow in the faith.
We therefore exist here and now, but also in the heavenly city with our Lord and Father. But how do we transform this city, this world into a place that more closely reflects the kingdom of God as inaugurated by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ but also know the kingdom of God is not yet realized? How do we live in both the now and the not yet, the realized and the yet to be, here on the earthly city while still being citizens of the heavenly city? Not of this world, but sent to it by Christ to help it transform into the kingdom of God, that heavenly city.
Let me illustrate this idea of how we can help transform the earthly city by using a Richard Strauss’ opera, Ariadne auf Naxos, as an example. The action of the opera is set in the house of the richest man in Vienna, who is busy throwing a feast for numerous guests. The host is a man of indiscriminate taste. He has scheduled dinner to be followed by not one, but two performances, one a tragic opera and the other a comedy.
The pompous composer of the tragic opera is outraged when he discovers that his masterwork is to be followed by such a frivolous offering as a comedy. The situation becomes much worse for the composer when he learns that, in order to leave time for the ﬁreworks display at the end of the evening, both the tragedy and the comedy will have to be performed simultaneously, on the same stage.
The composer objects to the other “actors” inﬁltrating his tragedy, as the tragedy “is the symbol of Mankind in Solitude.” The lord of the house though, having seen the tragedy wants to enliven it with characters from the comedy.
So as the curtain rises on the second act of Strauss’ opera, Ariadne is at the grotto grieving her abandonment by her lover Theseus. Ariadne resolves to await Hermes, the messenger of death, to take her away to the underworld, the realm of death, for in death is peace and the cessation of suffering and corruption. However, Zerbinetta and her troupe of comedians interrupt Ariadne’s tragedy and alter the direction of the entire opera. Zerbinetta tries to convince Ariadne that she wants not death, but a new lover.
On the scene comes the rakish young god Bacchus, whom Ariadne at ﬁrst mistakes for the messenger of death. Eventually, however, she is won by his wooing, and she embraces life instead of death, as he carries her off to the heavens. Bacchus has the last word, proclaiming “By thy great sorrow rich am I made… And sooner shall perish the stars in their places, than Death shall tear thee from my arms.”
It is the tragedy of the earthly city, the world around us, we have been sent to perform our comedy of redemption. We, the community of Christ joined to him in baptism, are like Zerbinatta and her troupe of comedic actors. We are the fouls that interrupt the tragedy of the world, the hurt, the pain, the suffering and death with the message of hope, salvation and eternal life for all those that choose. We are the fouls that break down barriers of hate, violence and death with eternal life and love for all people as found in our Lord and Savior.
We are the grain of wheat that falls into the earth and dies so that much fruit may be harvested. And we have been dying for the past 70 years for a bountiful harvest indeed. We died so that we could build a new church in 1957. We died when we renovated this church and made it accessible for all of God’s children. We died when we converted our empty lot into a community garden for our neighbors. And we will continue to die and offer ourselves, our souls and our bodies, so that the kingdom of God can and will be slowly realized here at St Andrew Memorial, a small piece of the world changed by our comedy of redemption.
And as we look to the future and the next 70 years we are ready to offer ourselves to God in service, service to God and service to neighbor. We cast our eyes to the next harvest, grounded in our traditions but ever willing and present to explore new ways of making God’s love known to all. And we continue to look for new ways to die so that the harvest may be bountiful and the kingdom grow and flourish out of our sacrifices.
With just one seed, one grain, one of you, one committee, one community of faith, like St Andrew Memorial, the broken world we live in, the tragedy that surrounds us, will choose life and been redeemed and the world will be changed. How will you offer yourself to service and to God at St Andrew Memorial in the coming years so that the next harvest continues to be just as bountiful?