Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. Speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
Ephesians 4:7-13; 15-16
As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete. ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father. You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
I would like to begin with a word of admiration and gratitude for the people of St. Mary Magdalene, those who have served in leadership, been faithful in prayer, persevering in your commitment to follow Jesus and hold fast to the gift and responsibility of Christian community. You have weathered more than your share of storms, both in your personal journeys and as a community. Only you know what your life journey has required of you thus far, and yet you are here, singing, dancing, sharing life with one another. In the past year you have opened your hearts to welcome our newest Spanish language congregation, Misa Magdalena, a priceless gift of hospitality and community building.
I’d also like to acknowledge and thank Sarah’s family and friends, all who have loved and supported her on the remarkable journey of her life thus far. The more I learn about you, Sarah, the more amazed I am at where you have been, what you have been through, how God has been at work in and through you, and that you are here. And you are here, in no small part, because of the those who love you, those who have channels of grace and support, challenge and encouragement. I know how grateful you are for them.
I also acknowledge with gratitude our colleagues in ministry, your clergy partners in ministry in Central Montgomery County, throughout the Diocese of Washington, and our friends from other branches of the Christian faith. We are less without you, and we all abide from the same vine.
Finally, I give thanks to the Holy Spirit for bringing Sarah and the people of St. Mary Magdalene together. We would never have guessed it; could never, on our own, have orchestrated it. Yet here we are, celebrating a new chapter of Christian discipleship and ministry that is already bearing the first fruits of God’s blessing.
On more than one occasion, Sarah has said to me that she feels as if everything about her life has prepared her for St. Mary Magdalene, that she truly understands the power of being called to a particular place. In my Sunday visitation here a few months back, I could tell there was a power and a grace at work here that is truly of God. This new beginning honors the joys and struggles of the people here, and in Sarah’s own life, and opens you to new possibilities.
One of the great miracle stories in Jesus’ ministry tells of a time when a large crowd of people had gathered to hear Jesus preach and teach. At the end of that very long day, his disciples suggested that he dismiss the crowds and send them home, for there was no food for them to eat. In one version of the story, Jesus asks them what they had to offer; which wasn’t much, and in another, a young boy comes forward with his lunch. In both versions, what Jesus has to work with is a few loaves and some fish. In the version featuring the disciples, they are very worried about not having enough. In the version where the boy steps forward, the doesn’t seem worried at all. He’s happy to share. In both accounts, you recall, Jesus takes the loaves and fish, asks God’s blessing, and in some miraculous way, all in their crowd eat their fill, with food to spare.
Sometimes I think if that were the only story we had about Jesus and his ministry, it would be enough to teach us about what it means to follow him. For what Jesus asks his followers, and asks us now, is to offer what we have, no matter how small our offerings seem to us in the face of great need, and to allow Jesus to do what only he can do. The amazing thing is that he seems to need our offering. He wants us to know we are part of the miracle, that our gifts are of great value.
In the version with the young boy, after the story continues and everyone has eaten, Jesus instructs his disciples to gather up the fragments, so that none may be lost. That, I believe, is what Jesus says to you each day, people of St. Mary Magdalene. With Sarah as your spiritual leader and friend: gather up the fragments, all the bits and pieces of your lives and histories, all joys and sorrows, so that nothing is lost. Everything about you–who you are, where you have been, what you have experienced, your gifts and your broken places–is precious to God. There are no throwaway people in the Kingdom of God. The circle is wide enough for everyone.
As you experience the way Jesus gathers you up, so that nothing about your life and life story is lost, you cannot help but want to do the same for others, drawing your circle wider to invite others to share in the blessing you have received. While it’s not easy work, it’s not a burden any longer, but rather your great joy.
On this day of new beginning, I have but a few words of encouragement and, if I may, of exhortation.
First: Dare to believe that you are not only God’s beloved, but those whom Jesus is pleased to call his friends. Jesus is your friend–one who cares for you far more than he cares about what he might receive from you. While he cannot, as you well know, spare you from the storms and heartaches of this life, he is with you, always. Nothing about you is insignificant to him. In the words of one of the earliest church fathers, “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”
Jesus wants that for you.
Make your friendship with Jesus a priority. For those of us who are in our elder years, it’s tempting to imagine that we already know all there is to know about him, that there are no surprises in store for us. Nothing could be further from truth. On the contrary: he calls each one of us, every day, to know and love him, and to become more like him in love, in our capacity for forgiveness, and to give of ourselves in service to others. What might you do to deepen your friendship to God as revealed to us in Jesus?
Second, go deeper in friendship with one another as well. You are blessed with the gift of extraordinary diversity–as the nearly 40 flags in today’s procession clear demonstrates. That diversity is a source of strength and love. But you don’t need me to tell you that there are also challenges, as you bump up against different life experiences, opinions on how to run the church, styes and practices of worship. Find ways to listen deeply to each other’s stories. Share your lives together. Pray with and for one another.
Third, lean into joy whenever you experience it. There is so much hardship and struggle in life and in the world, so much sorrow to hold and respond to. But there is also joy, laughter, and dancing. They are what sustain us. They are also precious fragments to be gathered up and cherished. Jesus cannot promise us a joyful world in which to live, but he can give us joy in the midst of the world as it is. How we need that joy now.
Finally, hear again Jesus’ words again about fruitfulness: “I chose you,” he says to you, dear Sarah and the people of St. Mary Magdalene. “And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.”
Think of all that is required for a tree or a plant to bear fruit. It needs rich and nourishing soil. It needs pruning from time to time, and careful attention to changing weather and seasons. If I were so bold as to make a guess, this is a new spring for you, after a long winter.
So pay attention to the tasks of spring. Tend to your soil. Marvel at the new buds of growth and invest in the rising generations, and give thanks for the first fruits, with their promise of an even more abundant harvest. Imagine what might be in a few years’ time.
You are not alone in this garden–we, your friends, brothers and sisters in Christ, are tending the soil right alongside you, and we’re here to help and pray. And today, we’re glad to celebrate this new season of life for the faithful of St. Mary Magdalene with your new rector, the Rev. Sarah Lamming.