Monday, August 3, 2009

Priest Sermon 4

Ordination: James the Apostle/ St. Peter’s
Carl Jung said, “There are no coincidences.”
When two events come together,
it means something.
So what does it mean that Kim and Mike are here
to be ordained on the Feast of St. James the Apostle?

James bar Zebedee was one of the brothers Jesus called
“the Sons of Thunder” suggesting they were rather
forthright with their views.
We could use a little more thunder
in the Episcopal Church.
I don’t mean more bombastic tirading.
That doesn’t do a bit of good.

I mean some volume for the gospel.
I mean proclaiming the all inclusive, radically welcoming
love of God in Christ Jesus.

The tone of public discourse today
is mostly loud and mean-spirited.
I was at Java Detour this week watching a so-called news program.
The sound was off but just by looking at the faces
of the men talking, you could see
it was the usual small minded viciousness.

Usually, that small minded viciousness is so loud.
The voices of reason and mercy are so soft, so timid.
William Butler Yeats said,
“The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.”

It’s time for the best to get some conviction.
It’s time to turn up the volume of truth.
We could use a little thunder right now.
We could use a little boldness of word and deed.
We could use some clergy leadership
to claim the name of Jesus for social justice.
We could use some clergy to claim the whole Bible
for what it is, a complex story about simple mercy.
We ordain Kim and Mike tonight to turn up their volume,
to hear them speak the truth
for God’s reign in our time.

There is more to learn from James about tonight.
James did just not take a notion he wanted to be an apostle.
He heard a call.
It started out so simply.

James and John were mending their fishing nets
when Jesus came by and said, “Follow me
and I will teach you to fish for people.”
James got right up and left his nets to follow Jesus.

Kim and Mike didn’t get here by applying for a job.
They got here by following Jesus.
This is where it has led them so far.
God only knows where it will lead them in the future.

We call that trust. We call that faith.
We follow Jesus without knowing where we are going.
We just know we are going with him.
It’s a different way of being in the world.
We don’t have a feasibility study for the Christian life.
We don’t have a strategic plan for salvation.

We follow Jesus.
When our clergy do that,
they model the courage of Christian life.
They invite all of us to go on an adventure of faith
– faith that the transformation the Holy Spirit
works in our individual hearts and in our community
is for good, and not ill.

As James followed Jesus,
their friendship grew closer each day.
Along with Peter and John, James was one
of Our Lord’s closest friends.
Many times, Jesus drew apart to be with just them.

They were there when he went to pray on Mt. Tabor,
so they alone saw him transfigured into glory.
They were there when he went to pray in Gethsemane,
and were the ones closest to him in his anxiety
and despair.

To others, Jesus was the wonder worker.
But to them, he was a vulnerable, all too human friend.
Brothers and sisters, most people don’t know Jesus at all,
and many of those who do, know only the wonder worker
– the Jesus who meets our needs.
But it is friendship with the Jesus who is just as human today
as he was then, it is friendship with him
that enlivens our souls and humanizes our hearts.

I didn’t know him very well when I was ordained.
Kim and Mike, I hope you know him better than I did.
But this kind of friendship takes time.
And time enough, there will be.

You have answered the call to follow Jesus.
If you simply do that, follow Jesus
– not the latest manual on church leadership,
not the hot new book from Alban Institute –
just follow Jesus and you will know him better each day.
You will find a friend who will change you to your core
as no ideology or spiritual technique ever could.

The Lord called James to friendship -- and to mission.
The mission was to fish for people.
Before we start fishing for somebody,
we better make sure they are in the water.

If someone is faithfully following another religious tradition,
and it is blessing them with inquiring and discerning hearts,
they are encountering the awesome beauty of the divine,
and they are growing in compassion and delight for the world,
then they are not in the water.
They are just on another boat.
Leave them alone.

But if someone is struggling to make sense of life,
or if they are in anxiety or despair,
or if their hearts and hands are not engaged
in tikkum olam, the healing of this broken world,
or if they follow a religion or philosophy that stifles the mind
and intimidates the spirit,
then they need some help
and it is our duty to offer it.

The Lord called James to fish for people.
Legend has it, he went to Spain to spread the gospel.
He sowed faith in the land that was to give us Sts. Lawrence of Rome,
Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Ignatius Loyola,
and Francis Xavier who took the gospel to Asia.

Just so, Kim and Mike, you are to tell your story
and the story of Jesus,
which will become more and more intertwined.
Some who hear will believe
and who knows what God may do through them?

But first, you must tell them your story.
Faith comes through hearing.
That means you are called to speak.

James got it wrong sometimes though.
He and his brother had their mother ask Jesus
to give them the prestige seats of power
in his kingdom.
It was probably back door maneuver to out rank Peter.
They thought Jesus’ kingdom was about rank.
They thought it was about power and prestige
like an earthly system.

Over the years I have watched people
scheme, stew, manipulate, work tirelessly,
lie, cheat, steal, and betray
all to become kings of some absurdly small hills.
Some of them have been church hills.

But if the church is a hill, it already has a king and it’s none of us.
We don’t do ministry to fortify our egos.
We do it because God is profligate with grace.

We come to God as an empty vessel,
about a gallon worth of empty vessel,
longing to be filled.
But God gives grace only in 10 gallon units.
God pours 10 gallons of grace into our one-gallon emptiness.
God’s grace overflows and we have to share it
with someone else.

For example, Kim and Mike, you will receive grace tonight.
You will, by grace, receive authority and power.
But authority and power to do what?
Not much in yourselves.
You get to dress funny in church and get to say the straight man lines
while the congregation says the main part.

But the authority you get that matters
is the authority to authorize others to do ministry.
The power you get is to empower others to do ministry.
You are called to call others into ordained, licensed,
and commissioned ministries, to be the Body of Christ,
a robust body,
a team in which all players are on the field
and in the game.

You are called to call others.
So turn up the volume of your gospel truth,
follow Jesus, become his friend,
and invite as many people as you can
into this life.

It’s isn’t an easy life but it’s a human life.
It will break your heart – break it open to the world.
That’s when the joy and wonder begin.