Sermon for Diocesan Ordinations – Grace Cathedral, June 4, 2011 – Pr. Greg Schaefer
I suspect it‟s not possible to have a guest preacher without having various greetings, so let‟s take care of those right now: I greet you from the Episcopal Lutheran Campus Ministry at Stanford, from University Church (formerly University Lutheran Church but, when we realized there were at least as many Episcopalians as Lutherans, we thought we‟d change the name), from Bishop Mark Holmerud and the 197 congregations of the Sierra Pacific Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and from your Presiding Bishop, Katharine Jefferts Schori who sends her blessings to those being ordained today. But, most importantly, I greet you in the name of Jesus the Christ, by whom the blind receive their sight and the dead and raised, and in whose service Patricia and John and Justin are being ordained today.
On the one hand, Syrian Forces killed 63 people yesterday, Malaysian Police have taken to branding Women, 4 NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan yesterday, the Missouri River is overflowing its bounds and destroying lives and property, we are in 3 wars, 13.9 million Americans are unemployed, 1 person is murdered every 31 minutes in the US, 175,000 Californians will be victims of a violent crime this year, there are 6500 homeless people in San Francisco, many species are going extinct and ecosystems are becoming less diverse because of climate change.
On the other hand, Patricia, Justin, and John are being ordained to the diaconate. Hmmm.
I was struck by a phrase in the Ordination Rite as I read through it this last week. It was all going along nicely: “Serve the poor, the weak, the lonely, the sick.” “Study the Scriptures.” And everyone‟s favorite, “Other duties as assigned.” But the phrase that struck me was this one: “Interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” No Question: there are many – you don‟t need me to go to through the statistics again. What struck me were the 2 inherent assumptions in this charge.
First of all, it assumes a barrier between the world and the church and you in particular are expected to cross it. Or, to put it another way, the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world need interpretation.
We Live in Times that bear out the results of the Church and the world speaking, for too long, different languages. In the words of Cool Hand Luke, “What we have here is failure to communicate.” Sticking too often to
structure for structure‟s sake, and bending the mission to fit the institution, the church has sometimes been deaf to the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world, and the world has been unable to hear the Good News that the church brings. And you, John, Patricia, and Justine, stand in that gap, on that wall, straddling that line; interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world to the church.
In the 1st Lesson, God says to Jeremiah, “I will put my words your mouth.” May they be in your mouth, too. Because, for us, that Word is Jesus the Christ, by whom the hungry are fed, the blind are made to see, and the dead are raised. As you interpret the world‟s needs, concerns, and hopes to church, the word you speak is “Christ.” “Christ.” “Christ.”
The second assumption is that the church will have some effective response. Or, to put it another way, that there will be someone there to receive your interpretation.
C.S. Lewis rightly said that the Church is the only organization that exists for the benefit of non-members. And I suspect my opening line was heard in two different ways. I said that, on one hand, there are all of these problems and on the other hand, John, Justin, and Patricia are being ordained. And at least 3 people probably thought, “that‟s a lot for us do.” But, I wonder how many of the rest of us thought, “Yeah – that is a lot for them to do!” But at least some part of this day is about the rest of us. Justin, John, and Patricia interpret the the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world to the church so that through the church (the 3 of them and the rest of us), the hungry are fed, the dead are raised, the homeless are housed, the wars are ended, the species are protected, & the creation is restored. Our commitment to uphold them in their ministries includes receiving their word of “Christ,” “Christ,” “Christ” and, with them, responding with actions that say, “Christ.” “Christ.” “Christ.”
Even with the teamwork of these ordinands and the rest of us, this is a tall order. But, fortunately, the rite is helpful again: “Will you look for Christ in all others?” Besides seeking the face of Jesus in the people you‟ll serve, this is a reminder to expect that the creative word of God is already active in the places and people you will serve.
A Roman Catholic priest named Vincent Donovan, in a book called Christianity Rediscovered, tells of his experiences as a missionary in East Africa. A Masai Elder was giving him some pointers on his missionary activity and told him that „Faith‟ is not a good translation of the concept Donovan was trying to convey. „Faith‟ has the connotation of „agreeing to something‟ – an intellectual endeavor. It‟s like a white hunter coming to Africa to hunt
an animal. He stands far off, looks through a sight, and with only an eye and a finger, brings his catch down. BELIEF, he said, is more like a lion hunting it‟s prey. It uses its nose, eyes, ears, powerful legs, huge paws, and at the right time pounces on its pray, pulls it in close, and makes it part of himself. “That‟s how a lion kills. That‟s how a person believes.” The lesson wasn‟t over, though. We didn‟t search for you, the Masai elder said. You followed us, out into the plains, into our villages, into our houses, telling us we needed to go find God. But all the while, God was finding us. We spend a lot of time thinking we are the lion. In the end, the lion is God.
As you bear Christ to the world (by hearing and receiving its needs, concerns, and hopes) and as you bear Christ to the church (by interpreting the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world), may you know that you are not alone but that you are hunted, pursued, embraced, absorbed by God whose pursuit and desire for your wholeness, and that of the world, is as ferocious as a lion.
And, as you walk the path of the diaconate, a path that is all about „two hands‟ – church/world, authority/service, problems/hope, the headlines/your call – remember that Christ has no hands but ours. And may you and all of us bring our two hands together: in blessing of the people and situations we encounter, bring them together to receive the Word and sacraments and the nourishment of community, and bring them together in prayer. The Lord be with you. [And also with you.] Let us pray.
You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending; By paths as yet untrodden, thru perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only knowing that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.