This morning, I’d like to begin by thanking you all as I end my time here as an associate rector. Thank you for your support and encouragement over these last three years. Your influence has shaped me into the priest I am today. I also want to thank you for providing a spiritual home for Lauren, Rowan, and Phoebe.
Before I came to St John’s, I attended a small group for a couple of years. At the beginning of each year, each of us would share our spiritual autobiographies. We’d share the storylines of our lives and how God’s activity was intertwined throughout. After each of us shared the heartbreak and joys of our stories, we would say a prayer together: “For all that has been, all that is, and all that will be, we thank you, Lord.” This is my prayer this morning at this point in the story that God is writing.
As I leave, I’m already impressed with John’s leadership as the sixteenth rector of St John’s. He’s grounded in the mission of the church, he has a good sense of humor, and I’ve already learned so much from him in the short time we’ve been able to work together. I’m excited to think about the future of the parish and its ministry to this city under his leadership. And as I think about the future of St John’s, I’m also thinking about God’s dream for the future, not just for this parish, but for all history. God is writing a story for all of creation which will culminate in the vision given in today’s scriptures. It’s a vision of the future that gives us hope. It’s a point on the horizon to which we orient our lives. And God’s dream for the future looks like a table.
The prophet Isaiah gives us a vision of God’s dream for the future. To a people who have been conquered and exiled by various global superpowers, Isaiah shares a vision of hope for the future: God will make a feast of rich food and well-aged wines for all people. God’s dream is a table where all people are welcome, death itself is swallowed up by God, and where God wipes away the last tears we will ever cry. God’s dream for the future is a point on the horizon. It’s a beacon of hope to which Israel is to orient their lives. In the middle of their heartbreak and joys, death and division, this vision of the future was to strengthen and guide them through life.
This imagery of the table of God is found throughout scripture. We see it in today’s Psalm and Gospel reading, and we also see it in the revelation to St John. In his revelation, all of history culminates in a wedding feast between the people of God who are the bride of Christ, and the bridegroom who is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. This is what John says in the 19th chapter of the revelation:
“Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters and like the sound of mighty thunderpeals, crying out, Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his bride has made herself ready; to her it has been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”
God’s dream for the future looks like a table where every child of God is welcome. This is the vision of the future that defines who we are as followers of Jesus. It’s what we participate in every time we celebrate the Eucharist. We celebrate the resurrected life of Jesus and remember his invitation to join him at his table where he offers himself on our behalf: his body broken as bread, and his blood poured out like wine. That holy meal is a participation in the future marriage feast where death will have been finally defeated and every tear will have been wiped away from the faces of God’s children.
And as I think about God’s future for all of history, I think about the future of St John’s and its ministry to this city and even the wider world.
A young African American couple attended an all-white Episcopal church one Sunday morning. It was during the 1940’s in racially segregated Ohio. The couple was engaged, and the young man was studying to become a Baptist minister. He stayed in his seat during communion and watched as his fiancée and white parishioners drank from the same cup in a time when that was unheard of. That day, he and his wife decided to become Episcopalians. He became an Episcopal priest, and he and his wife later gave birth to a son. That son grew up and became the first African American Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Michael Curry.
That simple act of hospitality and welcome at God’s tables was revolutionary during a time of division and hate. That simple act at God’s table transformed a family’s spiritual journey and changed our history. That simple act was a glimpse of God’s dream for the future, and it lead to Presiding Bishop Curry visiting us last year with the Executive council of the Episcopal Church and lifting up our spirits as we celebrated the love of God.
God’s dream for the future looks like a table where every child of God is welcomed. And I think that’s God’s dream for the future of St. John’s. Our parish’s patronal saint, the person after whom we are named is St John the Apostle and Evangelist. He’s traditionally credited with the Gospel of John, the Epistles of John, and the Revelation to John. After he had been exiled, and suffered for his faith in Jesus, he spent his latter years in Ephesus. By this time he was very old and had to be carried around. He couldn’t speak many words in his old age, but this is what he said over and over to all the people around him: “Little children, love one another.”
I leave you all with much gratitude, but also excitement to think how St John’s could share God’s love. We live in troubled times. There is much hate and division along political, societal, and racial lines. But imagine what it would look like for St John’s to share a message of reconciliation and love with this city and even the world. What if St Johns, like its namesake, unwaveringly spoke of God’s love to anyone who would listen. What if we were a people who were known for inviting everyone to join us at God’s table, whose simple acts and hospitality could transform lives and change history?
God has a vision for the future and it’s a beacon of hope and reconciliation on the horizon. That vision orients us. It heals and sustains us. And if we are faithful to it individually and collectively, at the last day when that vision is realized, we will all gather at the table at the marriage supper of the Lamb, and will be able to say what Isaiah prophesied: “This is the Lord for whom we have waited: let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”
For all that has been, all that is, and all that will be, we thank you, Lord.