I have loved being here at Atonement for the past couple of years. My preaching in this place has become a part of my life. You have nourished me with your wonderful Christian activity. This is a powerful parish and I want you to continue in the same way to do the good that you continue to do. You are the ministers of this parish.
We had a fabulous experience last week. We were celebrating Rosie’s 80th birthday and we went down to Station Square to take a ride on the Ducky Tour, the boat/trucks that go around Pittsburgh and sometimes get on the rivers. The rivers were too high, so it was only a land journey. Before we got on the boat, we were all standing around waiting. Our granddaughter Lindy was watching her phone with a Facetime call from our youngest daughter Heather, her mom. We thought it was wonderful to include her in this way since she lives in San Diego. Rosie noticed that Heather seemed to be bobbing up and down while she was talking. We thought maybe she was in a car or something. All of a sudden, Heather came upon us and we discovered that she had flown back east to help us celebrate Rosie’s birthday.
On Wednesday, Rosie and I will fly out to San Diego to spend a week with Heather. We have been looking forward to this for some time and it will mean a lot to us to be able to do it. We will come back home after a week out there and we will continue to live in our home and get into a summer routine. I thank God that I have had the opportunity to be with you all of this time. You have helped me in so many ways. We are fortunate people to have been here at Atonement.
In our Gospel this morning, Jesus continues to tell his apostles about what is to come; how he is going to be with the Father. They don’t really have any understanding of this at all. He tells them again that he will not leave them without company; that the Holy Spirit will be a part of their lives from that moment on. He says that those who love him will keep his commandments and that they will be loved by the Father and will not be alone because the Spirit of Truth will be a constant part of their lives. This is true for us also. We have celebrated Easter, have once again celebrated the feast that helps us to remember our resurrected Lord. As he told his disciples, Jesus did not leave us orphaned and alone either. When we keep Jesus’ commandments, we also have the presence of the Spirit with us. And those commandments can become an excellent foundation to our way of life. Jesus outlined them in his Sermon on the Mount, but gave us the ultimate key when he told us to Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, souls and minds, and to love our neighbors as a person like ourselves. That sums up the commandments that our Lord gave us. This is what creates peace and hope in the world.
It isn’t always easy to do. Loving difficult people is always a problem. We all have had that experience. I had a man in one of my parishes who frequently yelled at me. It was sometimes about something in a sermon, sometimes, just something that was bothering him. It was always difficult talking to him. Years later, I got a long letter from him explaining to me that he had been fighting alcoholism and that he wanted to apologize for his behavior. It was gratifying to me to read that letter. The simple fact about loving one another that we can’t always do it ourselves is just another indication that what God wants for us all is community; the joining together of all of us to create loving relationships in this world.
This is something that Atonement has learned to do very well. You take care of each other when you have problems. The coffee hour downstairs after church is a wonderful place to share our lives and to listen to each other. It isn’t only a place to taste the latest goodies, it is a place to continue the community that we celebrate around this altar.
The most important part is that we take this expression of community with us into our lives and work to care for the people whom we meet. That is why the outreach efforts of this place mean so much. There is an old saying that it doesn’t matter so much what we say, but what is important is what we do. Our religion is what we say. Our outreach is what we do because of it.
Religion can be a very complicated activity. That is why there are so many denominations in this world. That is what prompted the split in the Diocese a few years ago. It was a time when some people tried to make rules for everyone else. Our liturgy is helpful to our faith, but it is not the essence of it. Love is the essence of our faith. When Paul was in Athens, he told the people that they had a monument with an inscription that read “to the unknown God”. Paul told them that he came to tell them about that God, who made Heaven and earth. He quoted the Greek poets who said about God that in him we all live and move and have our being. He then told them about Jesus who came and gave his life for all of us and then rose from the dead to assure us of eternal life.
The essence of our faith is how we live our lives; and living our lives with the love that we have been taught by our Lord is all that we need to do. Accepting and caring for the people whom we meet in this life is what we are sent to do as our ministry.
Yes, I’m retiring for the fourth time in my life, but I won’t be far away. As I have told some of you, I will be here when you need me. In the meantime, continue to be one of the best parishes in this diocese and do all that you can to make sure that this world is full of love.
May God bless you all. You are one of the best things that has ever happened to me. We will never forget our time at Atonement.