CHARGE DELIVERED BY THE REVEREND CANON HAROLD T. LEWIS,
CALVARY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA ON THE OCCASION
OF THE 144TH ANNUAL PARISH MEETING 16 MAY 1999
BEING THE SUNDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF THE ASCENSION
"Men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven?" (Acts 1:11)
Those of us who are baby-boomers or older (or those of us of any age who watch reruns) remember the scene that opened every episode of the old "Superman" series. As the announcer's dulcet tones proclaim "It's a bird; it's a plane; no, it's Superman!" we see hundreds of craned necks fixed on the sky. The inhabitants of Metropolis have trained their gaze on the heavens in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Man of Steel. If we change Metropolis to Galilee, and the Man of Steel to the Son of Man, we have an idea of the scenario Saint Luke tries to present, as he describes to us, in the first chapter of the Book of Acts, the Ascension of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The idea of looking heavenward is imbedded in our religious consciousness. Everything important in the Bible seems to take place on a mountaintop the Ten Commandments, the Sermon on the Mount, the Transfiguration. The Psalmist "lifts up his eyes to the hills, from whence cometh his help" (Ps. 121:1). Jesus himself often "went up to a mountain to pray." St. Paul admonishes us: "set your minds on things that are above, not things that are on earth" (Col. 3:2). So the Galileans cannot be blamed for looking to that place to which they believed Jesus had returned to sit on the right hand of his Father. And, of course, our hymnody drives the point home:
Hail the day that sees him rise;
Glorious to his native skies;
Christ, a while to mortals given,
Enters now the highest heaven. (1)
Nevertheless, the two men in white robes (they seem to function here and at the Resurrection (2) much like a Greek chorus) rebuke the Galileans: "Men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing into heaven?'' What they are saying is that now that Jesus' earthly ministry is over, it is his disciples, his followers, who must carry on his work. Jesus, in his earthly body, had been among them as he went about the countryside preaching, healing, performing miracles. He had even made a few "cameo appearances" after his Resurrection. Now they had become the Body of Christ, his hands and feet. They, in short, had become the church, or at least, soon would, once the Holy Spirit descended upon them at Pentecost (in what the NRSV now lamentably calls "the room upstairs")!
This is a lesson that has not been lost on the people of Calvary Church. The members of this clergy-led, lay-driven parish know who they are and Whose they are. The flower deliverers, the AIDS care team, the lay eucharistic ministers, and the altar guild understand that they are the Body of Christ, commissioned to do the Lord's work. The Vestry, the Parish Council, the endowment committee and the outreach committee do not need to be reminded by two men in white robes that they shouldn't be hanging around staring into heaven. The acolytes, the Women of Calvary, the snack providers for CLASP know that they have a job to do and know where their job fits into the larger picture. By the grace of God, Calvary Parish, as she enters her one hundred and forty-fifth year, is flourishing. And it seems altogether fitting and proper today that as we conduct the business of the parish, we recognize the people who are responsible for both our spiritual and fiscal prosperity.
Last year, I pointed to the fact that our stellar staff have implemented the programs that have virtually transformed the life of our congregation. But we must remember that Alan Lewis' genius could not be appreciated if there were no choirs making a joyful noise unto the Lord. We would not see the fruit of Caroline Black's creativity were it not for her faithful army of church school teachers. Colin Williams's zeal for the Gospel becomes incarnate because of the hard work of the newcomers' network and the ever-growing Under the Hill Gang. We reap the benefits of Leslie Reimer's pastoral sensitivity because of the lay people who share in her important ministry that touches the lives of the parishioners in myriad ways.
Three weeks ago, Bishop James Hamilton Ottley administered the sacrament of Confirmation in this parish. He told the young confirmands that they were unique, and challenged them to carry out their baptismal covenant in the world Later that day, several of our young people, including two were in the Confirmation class, spoke eloquently and passionately at the forum held here in the wake of the Littleton tragedy. This is but one of the most recent examples of how young people in this congregation are encouraged to exercise their ministries as well.
Calvary has also helped to foster vocations to the ordained ministry. We have raised up two gifted women of this parish, Jean Chess and Moni McIntyre, who are seeking to be ordained to the vocational diaconate and to the priesthood, respectively. The Bishop of Pittsburgh has accepted them as postulants for holy orders, and, God willing, we shall witness their ordinations next spring. Stockton Wulsin, a candidate for holy orders from the Diocese of Southern Ohio, who came to Calvary at the request of his bishop, did his field education in this pansh while a student at Tnnity School for Ministry, thereby forging a new relationship between us and that institution. He and his family endeared themselves to our pansh during this past year, and we learned much from each other. We rejoice that they will continue to be neighhors, as Stocky begins a new ministry on the staff of St. Paul's, Mount Lebanon. And we are especially pleased that Ms. Linda Spiers, a rising senior at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, will work in a program this summer jointly sponsored by Calvary and East End Cooperative Ministy as she becomes the first incumbent of the internship named for the fourteenth rector of Calvary, Arthur F. McNulty, Jr.
But more needs to be said about Calvary's inauence beyond her walls. In her last sermon preached in this pulpit, before leaving to exercise a ministry in the Diocese of Virginia, Pam Foster expressed the wish that this parjsh continue to be an oasis. I think she would be pleased. In a theological climate in which one's position on the human sexuality question has become a litmus test for orthodoxy, it is a virtual non issue at Calvary, where we refuse to believe that one's sexual onentation unfits him or her for the Kingdom. In a diocese that has shown distrust for the national church by enacting legislation to allow panshes to withhold that portion of their assessment earmarked for its support, Calvary invited as its thirteenth Baiz Lecturer Dr. Pamela Chinnis, the President of the House ofDeputies. At a time when many have offended the Jewish community by proposing to set up a kind ofmission station in SquirreI Hill, Calvary Pansh and Temple Rodef Shalom, laying claim to our common hentage, are making plans to jointly sponsor a community forum on issues that affect all of us. The stands that Calvaty has taken have not been without their cost, but we take comfort in the words oflast week's Epistle: "Keep your consciences clear . . . For it is better to suffer for doing good. . . than to suffer for doing evil" (I Peter 3:17).
Finally, no state-of-the-pansh report would be complete wlthout a word about stewardship. Money is a sacrament. It stands for something. At one level, the "greenbacks" that we handle daily represent the gold in Fort Knox or wherever that gives our money its value. But at a deeper level, it stands for what we believe and deem to be important. A person's check stubs reveals more about him or her than we might at first imagine. You, the people of Calvary Church, thought enough about your faith, your commitment, and your pansh to respond to the call to "share what we have" to such an extent that the Member Canvass goal of $725,OOO was exceeded by some seven thousand dollars; and for this, you are to be commended. Not only is this the highest annual amount ever pledged at Calvary, it was the most efficiently run Canvass, the goal having been reached by the Feast of the Epiphany! We are grateful to the Canvass committee, co-chaired by Jane Treherne-Thomas and Bill Amis, and to our Senior Warden Jim Bauerle, who challenged the Vestry to set an example for the parish to follow. Moreover, your support is a vote of confidence in the parish leadership, and for this we thank you, confident in the knowledge that that support will continue.
My sisters and brothers in Christ: We must be careful not to fall into the temptation about which St. Paul warns us, of "thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think" (Romans 12:3). At the same time, we must express our appreciation for the fact that God has richly blessed us. Our forbears have left us "a goodly heritage," (Psalm 16:6) a foundation upon which we continue to build. Our landmark edifice is a treasure. (Or, as little Meredith DeWalt has dubbed it,"our castle.") Our founders and subsequent generations have provided us with the resources to keep those bricks and mortar in good repair; and you through your munificence, continue to provide the wherewithal to ensure that that edifice become a place from which we exercise ministry. And we also, thanks be to God have the capacity to laugh, and thanks to Charlie Stewart and his parish life committee, to enjoy good Christian fellowship. We have what is now called, in the trade, "a destination parish." This means that our reputation for excellence in worship and music, our commitment to preach the Gospel unabashedly, our risk-taking theology that places us at the cutting edge of the church's life all function as a beacon to others in all but half a dozen of the zip codes of greater Pittsburgh, and throughout the Episcopal Church.
The Ascension can be likened to a relay race. Jesus, having returned to his heavenly Father, passes on the baton to us. It is my fervent prayer that clasping that baton, we may "run with perseverance the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:1).
Let us pray:
Our great High Priest hath gone before,
Upon his Church his grace to pour:
And still his love he giveth.
O may our hearts to him ascend;
May all within us upward tend
To him who ever liveth!(3)
1. Charles Wesley, "Hail the day that sees him rise" Hymnal
982, No. 214.
2. Luke 24:4
3. Arthur T. Russell, "The Lord ascendeth up on high," No. 219, The Hymnal 1982, v3.
Please feel free to contact Dr. Lewis if you have questions or comments about this charge or any sermon.
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