Today’s gospel reading is the prologue to John’s entire gospel, a gospel John wrote for the express purpose of producing faith in us that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, the eternally-begotten Son of his Father, a faith that allows us to be adopted by his Father through the grace and truth displayed in the life of Jesus, as John illustrates that fact by going on to describe and reflect on seven signs that he selects from among the countless, daily signs he could have chosen of Jesus’ unique relationship to his Father and his mission of salvation for all on earth.
The seven signs he chose were changing water into wine at a wedding reception, healing the dying son of a royal official, healing a paralytic at the pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem, feeding the 5000 in the wilderness, walking on water, restoring the sight of a man born blind, and raising Lazarus from the dead: a week of signs, John’s way of implying that every day of every week is filled with signs all pointing ahead to the Kingdom of God, all in preparation for a new and even better week, a new creation, in fact, an eighth sign, the sign of Jesus’ glorification through his death, resurrection, ascension and outpouring of the Spirit, a new world that we celebrate and enter more fully into every Sunday through our faith in God’s grace given to us through his Word and Sacraments.
That prologue not only sets the stage for every week of our lives. It also set the stage twenty years ago for my tenure as your rector, following the tenure of Harold Warren. John’s prologue gives us the eternal and timeless perspective from which all the signs of Christ’s presence we have experienced together find their origin and meaning.
Let me suggest my own set of seven signposts of Christ’s presence in our common life together which correspond and reflect the seven signs in John’s gospel that have served to produce and sustain the faith of disciples in every generation.
Jesus’ turning water into wine at a wedding reception found it’s equivalent manifestation for us in the many families and children who now call Good Shepherd their spiritual home. More than once I have heard one of you comment that there must be something in our water, and indeed there has been. Jesus has turned our water into wine. He has multiplied us and gladdened our hearts with a bright future through the fruitful marriages of our younger families.
Even though our facilities weren’t dying when I arrived, like the son of the royal official, who pleaded for Jesus’ mercy, our facilities were dated, and Jesus has been merciful to us, first, through a capital campaign to renovate our offices, choir room, library, kitchen and bathrooms, and then through an organ renovation, as well as year after year with other upgrades, like these lights or the new bathrooms for the Campbell Building.
The closest comparison I can make to the healing of the paralytic has been the way in which God has put our mission partners in Honduras on their feet to become one of the fastest growing congregations there, literally saving the heart of Isis and allowing many students to continue their educations and pursue careers that would otherwise have been out of reach.
I am still astounded at how God has multiplied all your small donations and all the one, two and five dollar purchases at our Thrift Shop so that thousands of people might be served and blesses by Jesus no less than he did for 5000 families with the single donation of five loaves and two small fish by a young boy.
And we have walked on water no less than Jesus did, thanks to the mutual love and support offered by all the lay and ordained staff of our parish, the wardens and vestries, and the many program leaders: Beverly, Jerome, Jaymie, Cyndi, Elaine, Ashley, Bill, Lee, Robert, Vicky, Carrie, Rusty, Julie, Christopher, ML, Pat, Jackie, Aide, Tiana, Betty, Carmen, Carrie, Jennifer, Stephanie and Lisa. Jack, Palmer, Suzanne, John, Joanie, Alex, Kevin, Patti.
By the grace of God, my eyes and the eyes of the vestry were opened no less than the man born blind when we saw twelve years ago that it was in the best interest of everyone to sell the rectory and allow me to purchase what would become my retirement home so that Anna and I might live far enough away to make room for your next rector but close enough, God willing, to return, in due course, to worship next to you in the midst of the congregation.
And the raising of Lazarus, the most dramatic sign of all those that John selected, was, for us, our coming through the crisis that has imperiled the very life of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion.
Like John, the apostle and evangelist, I could point to our partnership with Polk Avenue, or our Kairos ministry, or our relationship with Camp Wingmann, All Saints Academy or the Care Center, or to our centering prayer group as signs of Christ’s presence among us in our own twenty-year week, not to mention the innumerable one-on-one moments we have shared and treasured as your pastor and brother in Christ.
But today, I want to remind you that we have heard the prologue of John again, as we do in the Christmas season at the end of every year, as the promise of what lies ahead, the signs that we will experience in the coming year, whether for me in my retirement or for you in the calling and welcoming of your new rector.
So: I give thanks to God for all the signs of his presence that have produced saving faith within you during my tenure, even as I give thanks for what I believe lies ahead: another week of some yet undetermined length, when it will be the privilege and responsibility of your next rector to proclaim the signs of God’s presence in your midst and in your mission to the world: to turn water into wine, to heal, to multiply, to walk on water, to raise the dead.
As Bishop Pina-Lopez, who inducted me as your rector over twenty years ago, repeated at the end of every Cursillo weekend, a weekend that was often a mountaintop experience, a spiritual turning point for those who attended, “The best is yet to come!” May it always be so for you, my dear brothers and sisters, and for the Church of the Good Shepherd. Amen.