Sunday’s Sermon, April 7, 2024:Faithfulness is Lived & Sung

Rev. Cn. Richard Hogue Jr.

            We call this gospel reading “Doubting Thomas,” after the eponymous disciple who needs to see Jesus to believe the resurrection. I’m guessing many of us here like Thomas, I certainly do. I don’t blame him for doubting. He witnessed the brutal, humiliating, and public execution of his rabbi and friend. Until Jesus appeared before his disciples, where we catch up with them today, only Mary Magdalene saw Jesus resurrected. And with some irony, Jesus bids them “Peace be with you,” despite their loss, helplessness, and in Peter’s case, denial of their dear teacher since Good Friday. They must have been perplexed, frightened, perhaps even doubtful themselves. Jesus shows them his wounds, memory of which would have been seared into their minds as they saw him hung on the cross mere days before. Jesus repeats “Peace be with you” and adds “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” as if to point them forward from this moment of utter bafflement.

            I want to pause on the phrase, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” This phrase is absolutely loaded. The disciples of Jesus, then and now, are sent as is Jesus is by God. The implications are enormous if we take our calling as Christians seriously. Whatever they say and do, whatever we say and do, will help determine if others will find love, grace, and peace, then and now. This means that the power and service of Jesus’ life, teachings, death, and resurrection are forever bound to us as his body on earth. We are Jesus’ body, his hands, his feet. [1]

            “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’” Just as God breathed life into the universe in the first creation story and into the first people in the second creation story, God breathes new life into the disciples. [2] Their old selves have passed, in certain sense. Receiving the Spirit, their new life transformed them, like a seed dying to become a plant, or a caterpillar into a butterfly. They likely didn’t understand the immensity of the change in that moment.

            Now, some might be thinking of my past couple sermons, and understandably may wonder, “Well, do you think any of this really happened?” It’s a fair question, and the truth is that while there is no historical record for resurrection, it’s also true that God does the biggest things in the smallest of places. God upends our expectations in ways we can’t fathom. None of us are able to go back in time to witness the facts.

What we can be sure of is that something incredible did happen because that is what God does. Jesus, constantly inverts our ideas and expectations. It’s a central tenet of Jesus, the last shall be first, and the first last. Those who wish to save their life will lose it, and those who choose to lose their lives for the gospel will have life abundant. Whatever the facts were, all of us can agree that something amazing propelled this obscure group of friends to change the world forever. They and we are the resurrected body, that is the truth. And as we’ve received the story, it is faithfulness to the message of Jesus, more than any dogma or creed, that makes someone a disciple. Thomas proved that. If we feel any sort of faithfulness to Jesus’ message of undying and irrepressible love for all God’s people, the message of deep compassion, mercy, grace, forgiveness, and radical as it is, applying all that to our enemies too, then we are indeed disciples. In that sense, we are all Thomas, being faithful as we best we can, reaching out into the world and trying to be find God and truth among the sometimes cruel, sometimes beautiful chaos of life.

Unlike Thomas, we cannot reach out and touch the physical wounds of Jesus. But there are so many other ways that Jesus is present in us, I believe. The world is changed by us living as his followers. Our community and the blessing of this campus are just two prisms by which the fabric of faithfulness is woven into the reality of this life. And that’s to say nothing of our wider diocese, our siblings in faith across the city, county, region, our state, country, continent, or world. We are the body of Christ, and we are just as wounded, and just as alive, as Jesus.

We make the resurrection real by living as Jesus did, following his way of love, expressed in many ministries. One way is through celebrating new life and blessing it, as we will do shortly with a baptism. Another way we at St. Paul’s are exceptionally blessed to manifest God’s resurrection is through the music we make. The deepest doubter can feel the presence of something larger in the gift of music. Music’s transcendent yet palpable power is something our musicians work at tirelessly, even without a proper home on our campus to help them rehearse their best work. For those who don’t know, St. Paul’s has never had a dedicated rehearsal space for our music ministry. But that is about to change, we are the closest St. Paul’s has ever been to having a true home for the melodic manifestation of our discipleship.

I am pleased to say, at long last, we are opening the public phase of our Music Center major gifts campaign! Some doubted when we first started this journey, so I am thrilled to say St. Paul’s has raised nearly 80% of the $2.5 million dollars needed to make the dream of a Music Center real. Thanks to the generosity of 73 donations so far, we are just over half-a-million dollars away from making the Music Center a reality! I know with all of us, we will see it happen, giving our musicians a dignified home. As Dean Penny says, it’s only been 154 years in the making! Thanks to the ministry of many dedicated disciples, especially our leadership of the Chapter, our Campaign Steering Committee, led by Rocky Ewell and Russ Okihara, they started us off by raising 10.5% of the goal among themselves. Turning something from a dream to a reality is never easy, but the cause is good, and there are faithful disciples to see it through, so count this as a dream that will come true. St. Paul’s, it is my pleasure to announce that we are on the final stage of making that dream come true.

Better still, the Music Center won’t be a home just for our musicians, it will be available to rent for community groups across San Diego! This isn’t just a religious project, but a civic project. True to the fundamental meaning of the word liturgy, which in ancient Greek means “public work for public good,” we are manifesting a public good for all musicians across the city. There is no purpose-built, publicly available, rehearsal space in the center of our fine city like the one we will build together. It will lift all the voices of our city!

After the service, you will be able to see the renderings and floor plan in the Guild Room during coffee hour. Once we hit the 90% mark in pledges to the project, we can get a bridge loan and take our plans to the city. We are realizing the dream of St. Paul’s, to be the Cathedral for the City! With your help, through gifts and through spreading the word, we will achieve this momentous step forward, shaping the lives of musicians and disciples for generations to come. It will be the creative core of the Cathedral for the City. All we need to do is reach out and make it happen. Join us as you can, no gift is too big or too small, together they will change the world. Though if you would like to give $25,000 or more, essentially one percent of the total campaign, please let me know and I can arrange for a multi year commitment. This project is a gift of the Holy Spirit. We are breathing new life into the world through song and as an instrument of the Holy Spirit, and it is pleasing in God’s sight. Thank you, my fellow disciples, for walking with us on this resurrection journey. May this Easter and the possibility of our Music Center bring life, harmony, and peace to all. Amen.

[1] Ernst Haenchen, Hermeneia: John 2, ed. Robert W. Funk (Philadelphia, PA: Fortress, 1984), 211.

[2] Ibid.

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