The Story About Money That’s Not About Money

The Story About Money That’s Not About Money

Jesus said to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and charges were brought to him that this man was squandering his property. So he summoned him and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Give me an accounting of your management, because you cannot be my manager any longer.’ Then the manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, now that my master is taking the position away from me? I am not strong enough to dig, and I am ashamed to beg. I have decided what to do so that, when I am dismissed as manager, people may welcome me into their homes.’ So, summoning his master’s debtors one by one, he asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ He answered, ‘A hundred jugs of olive oil.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it fifty.’ Then he asked another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ He replied, ‘A hundred containers of wheat.’ He said to him, ‘Take your bill and make it eighty.’ And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly; for the children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes. Whoever is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and whoever is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much. If then you have not been faithful with the dishonest wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful with what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own? No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Luke 16:1-13

Good morning, friends of Ascension and St. Agnes church! I’m thrilled to be in worship with you once again, to greet old friends and to meet those of you who have made Ascension and St Agnes your spiritual home in the time since my last visit. A special welcome to anyone who is a guest with us today. We are glad you are here and pray that through this service God speaks to you in a powerful way.

Today Jesus’ words, taken from the Gospel of Luke, cause us to consider our relationship to money–the money we earn, the money we save, the money we spend, and the money we give away.

Jesus spoke a lot about money, quite apart from the rather curious story about the rich man’s manager that we’re just heard. He spoke so often about having a right relationship to money and possessions that we have no choice but to conclude that for Christians, how we relate to whatever wealth we have is of great spiritual concern. For how we earn, save, spend and share our money reveals core values and life priorities. “Where your treasure is,” Jesus said in another place, “there your heart will be also.”

Today’s text leaves us with another of Jesus’ rather famous one liners: “You can’t serve both God and wealth.” My first thought whenever I read these words is that none of us wants to serve wealth. We value money because of how it can serve us, free us from worry or want, and allows us to live in the ways we like.

In important ways money does free us. If you can’t afford health care, or new clothes for school or work; if you have to decide which bills to pay with a limited paycheck, or don’t feel welcome in a certain social setting because you can’t afford what others take for granted; or worse, if you can’t feed your family and or secure adequate shelter, or lose sleep at night wondering how you will pay for retirement, you know some of the ways that poverty can imprison us. We want money to free us from that aching worry or feeling that we don’t measure up.

Jesus understands what we seek in our possessions and in our wealth or the pursuit of it. But he also loves us enough to speak the truth. Be careful with money, he says, for it can also trap you. It can seduce you into believing that it’s the most important thing, and it’s not. The most important things can’t be bought or sold; they can only be given and received.

For all that Jesus spoke of wealth, he didn’t really care about it when he walked this earth, and he doesn’t care about our wealth. He doesn’t care–in the sense of valuing us more or less–if we are rich, poor, or somewhere in between. Jesus doesn’t judge us according to our balance statements or credit card debt. Unlike practically everyone else, Jesus doesn’t want our money. He wants a relationship with us. All this to say that money is not important to him, except in the ways it affects our experience of life. He cares about that a lot.

There were people in Jesus’ day, as there are in ours, who were trampled on, ruined by economic exploitation. Jesus cares when people are trampled upon. He cares because such cruelty deprives people of life. Likewise he cares when we exploit others, consciously or unconsciously, because it diminishes us as it dehumanizes them. I can’t say that I know Jesus’ opinion of global capitalism, but I do know this: he cares about the people who make our clothes in Malaysia, pick our coffee in Guatemala and lettuce in California, and produce in China the gazillion things we buy at Target. He cares about the people who wash our sheets when we stay at hotels and who pick up our garbage each week and who try to sell us things on the telephone or at our door. He cares about the migrants, some of whom have traveled thousands of miles from their home to reach our southern border, and are now being bussed to cities like Washington, DC, arriving at our doors with nothing. Jesus cares for all who are at the bottom of our economic pyramid as much as he cares about anyone else. He asks that we care, too, and that we do our best to hold those at the top accountable for the decisions they make affecting the lives of millions.

Jesus cares about us when we’re caught in the deadening spiral of anxiety about money, when we max out our credit cards or worry about an impending lay-off and are ashamed to talk about it. Jesus wants us to be free. But the path to freedom, he says, isn’t necessarily by getting more. More money doesn’t always buy more freedom. Because, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, poverty is a subjective experience. The richer we become, the poorer we can feel, as our tastes and expectations change, and particularly when our material wealth distances us from true wealth, not defined in possessions but rather depth of being, quality of relationships, and generosity of spirit. If we use our material wealth to serve true wealth, Jesus says, then our money becomes an instrument of grace. But if it distances us from what matters most, money becomes our master and we its slave.

More than anything, Jesus cares about the quality of our lives. The only way I can make sense of the comical scenario in the story of the rich man’s manager is to conclude that it’s not a story about money. It’s about life and what we do with what we’re given. Use what you have for good, Jesus says. Use what happens to you, your life circumstances, and your resources, he tells us, no matter how much or little you’ve got and how you feel about it. Use everything about your life, for good. Be creative. Be persistent. Be crafty if you must. You’ve been entrusted with one messy, imperfect, glorious life. Stop being squeamish and jump in, headfirst.

A friend of mine married into a very wealthy family. While she seemed to enjoy the luxury of her husband’s wealth, she found herself resenting it for how it defined her and for many years she kept it all at arm’s length. She complained about it quite a lot, having no idea how ridiculous she sounded to those of us not burdened with multi-million dollar trust funds. To be fair, her pain was real. Who among us would want to be defined by someone else’s money? It’s not my money, she would say, it’s not my family. Finally, when she was in her fifties, she realized that she had imprisoned herself in a veneer of passivity and learned helplessness. She decided it was time to take the reins of her life. One way she did that was join the leadership circle of the family’s foundation and there she helped set the course for its future. It is now one of the important sources of funding for organizations committed to social justice in the nation, and her mark on it is everywhere.

I realize that most of us can’t even imagine what living with that kind of wealth would be like. But no matter where we are on the spectrum of riches, we are surely more blessed than we realize, and at the same time, there may be a lot about our lives that we wish we could change. We may find ourselves in situations that frustrate or hurt us; or disappointed by the attributes we wished we had but don’t. We see others who seem to walk through life with more grace and joy and we wonder, why can’t it be like that for us?

But that, in the end, is a false question, in that it leads nowhere. The real question is, what are we going to do with what we have? What we have may not be what we want and it may seem paltry compared to what we see others enjoy, but so what? As Jesus said, “Whoever is faithful in little is also faithful in much.”

Our Jewish friends are about to celebrate the holiest days of their faith, beginning with Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year on September 25-27 and followed by Yom Kippur, a solemn day of self-reflection and atonement for sin on October 4. Years ago I read a newspaper article by a journalist named Gail Rosenblum entitled “A Question for the Jewish New Year” with the byline: “How do we know, finally, whether we’re living the good life?”1

“I once knew a man,” the article began, “who confessed that he read the obituaries every day to make sure he wasn’t in them.” “I confess that I also find my way to the obituaries every day,” Rosenblum continued, “but not for the same reason. I go because Entertainment Weekly only gets me halfway to the answer I seek. I’m pretty clear on how the rich and famous choose to spend their time and trust funds, but the obituary pages are even richer. There, in black and white, is our society succinctly summarized: the workaholics and tireless volunteers, the billionaires and custodians, the blue-ribbon bakers and golf fanatics. Read the sweet tributes–‘she loved her library card and a good game of Scrabble’–and the tragedies that some did not escape: ‘She was 24…she died after a long and courageous battle with cancer, ALS, or depression.’ Or, ‘he died suddenly.’”

“Who among them had lived the better life?” Rosenblum wondered, “The right life? Who was happier?” It was an impossible question to answer, she realized. Yet it haunted her, particularly when it was her task to pick eight outstanding members of the community who would be elevated from paid obituary to recipient of a more fully reported story. “How could I choose?” she asked. “It felt like playing God.” In the end, she was spared the task. But a question lingered for her: “What about me? Would my life make the cut? And if so, what would I want written?”

What, indeed. One thing is for certain: when assessing the quality of our lives–how well we live and how happy we are–what matters is how we have embraced our life and given of ourselves for others. How we use our money figures into the equation, but only as it relates to the most important question of all: how well are we living the one life we have to live? Whoever is faithful in little is also faithful in much.

So let me leave you with a few questions to ponder, and with an offer, should you be interested.

  • How would you describe your relationship to money?
  • Do you have a financial plan–a way of managing your money? If so, how is it working for you? If not, would you like to explore the possibility of establishing one?

For all of us living in a capitalist, consumer-driven society, intentionally thinking ahead and making informed and generous choices is the wise thing to do. Having a plan ensures that our money serves us and not the other way around. If you don’t have a plan–or a satisfying one–or if money is a real source of anxiety for you, I invite you to talk about it with someone who could help. There are many such people. Speak or write to Fr. Dominique or to me and we’ll create such a space for conversation and support, without judgment. Trust me, you are not alone. And you’ll be glad you did.

  • And the final question: when it’s time for your obituary to be written, what do you hope that people will say about you?

I’d love to pray for us.

Gracious God, I have attempted to interpret Jesus’ words about the distinction between serving wealth and serving you; of what it means to be faithful with what has been entrusted to us, and how to live with the kind of freedom you long for us all.

I pray now for all of us, asking that you speak to our hearts with the word that we each need to hear, to be assured of your love and your desire that we can truly live the best possible version of our lives.

Thank you for all that you have entrusted to us–materially, relationally, and spiritually. Help us all to use the many gifts entrusted to us wisely and generously, and to live well. In your name, I pray. Amen.

______

1Gail Rosenblum, “A Question for the Jewish New Year,” in the Minneapolis Star Tribune this week there was an article by Gail Rosenblum entitled, “A Question for the Jewish New Year” September 15, 2004, p. E-1.

Sermón para la Consagración y Ordenación de la Reverenda Paula Clark, Obispa de la Diócesis Episcopal de Chicago

Sermón para la Consagración y Ordenación de la Reverenda Paula Clark, Obispa de la Diócesis Episcopal de Chicago

El espíritu del Señor está sobre mí…
Isaías 61:1-4

¡Cante al SEÑOR toda la tierra! 
Sirvan al SEÑOR con alegría; vengan cantando a su presencia.
Salmo 100:1-4

Estoy convencido de que nada podrá separarnos del amor de Dios: ni la muerte, ni la vida, ni los ángeles, ni los poderes y fuerzas espirituales, ni lo presente, ni lo futuro, ni lo más alto, ni lo más profundo, ni ninguna otra de las cosas creadas por Dios. ¡Nada podrá separarnos del amor que Dios nos ha mostrado en Cristo Jesús nuestro Señor!
Romanos 8:18-39

Jesús fue a Nazaret, el pueblo donde se había criado. El sábado entró en la sinagoga, como era su costumbre, y se puso de pie para leer las Escrituras. Le dieron a leer el libro del profeta Isaías, y al abrirlo encontró el lugar donde estaba escrito: ‘El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mí, porque me ha consagrado para llevar la buena noticia a los pobres…’
Lucas 4:14-20

Dios bondadoso y misericordioso, gracias por el dulce espíritu de este lugar, y por el regalo de este día, que hemos esperado durante mucho tiempo. En tu nombre, Creador, Cristo y Espíritu, Amén.

Primero, permítanme saludar a todos los de habla español presentes o participando en línea. Me alegro que hay traducción simultánea, pero tenía que decir algo en el idioma del cielo, expresando la alegría que todos sentimos hoy. Lo que sigue es una canción de amor y admiración para su nueva obispa.

Es un honor dar voz a nuestra alegría colectiva, y dirigirme a ti, mi amiga, hermana en Cristo, y futura Obispa Paula Clark; y a la amorosa familia de Paula y a su gran círculo de amigos, a los fieles seguidores de Jesús de esta gran diócesis, a nuestro Obispo Presidente y a los obispos colegas; y a todos los que se han reunido desde lejos para estar aquí.

Mientras estamos aquí, está a punto de comenzar otra reunión de igual alegría en la Diócesis Episcopal de Utah, durante la cual una de las amigas y colegas más cercanas de Paula, Phyllis Ann Spiegel, será consagrada y ordenada obispa. Phyllis me dijo que iba a ver este servicio en línea hasta que comience la procesión en Salt Lake City. Así que, únanse a mí para saludar a la obispa electa Spiegel y expresar nuestro amor y apoyo a ella y a la Diócesis de Utah.

Es un buen día para nuestra iglesia.

Uno de los grandes maestros en el arte de la predicación, el difunto Fred Craddock, hizo una vez la observación de que a veces un predicador habla a una congregación y otras veces para una congregación. Lo que tengo que decir es un poco de ambas cosas, y me atrevo a decir que lo que diré ya ustedes lo saben.

Estar en la presencia de Paula Clark y verla en acción es como recibir una clase magistral de liderazgo cristiano. Eso era cierto antes de todo lo ocurrido en los últimos dieciocho meses, y lo es aún más ahora. Me recuerda a un hombre que conocí en Minnesota y que se llamaba Rod. Cuando nos íbamos a Washington DC, Paul y yo fuimos a despedirnos. Rod se estaba muriendo, y sabíamos que esa sería nuestra última conversación a este lado de Jordania. Después de expresarle su alegría por mi nueva vocación y por todas las aventuras que nos esperaban, y de decirle lo mucho que significaba para nosotros, dijo: “Voy a vivir estos últimos días como si todo lo que decimos el domingo fuera cierto. Ahora ve y vive tu vida de la misma manera. ”

Paula, has vivido los últimos dieciocho meses como si todo lo que proclamamos como seguidores de Jesús fuera cierto, y no sólo de forma abstracta, sino que podemos confiar y aferrarnos a ello, como diría tu héroe Howard Thurman, “cuando estamos entre la espada y la pared”. Nos has mostrado que Jesús hablaba en serio cuando decía que el camino de la cruz es el camino de la vida.

Has caminado por el valle de sombra de la muerte. Y por la gracia de Dios, y con el amor y el apoyo de muchos, y a través de tu propio sudor y lágrimas, has salido al otro lado. Así que sabes, no sólo en tu cabeza, sino en tus huesos que nada puede separarte, a ti ni a ninguno de nosotros, del amor de Dios en Jesús. Y sabiendo eso, y habiendo atravesado intacta el valle con tu alegría, esperanza y amor por Dios, por el prójimo y por ti misma, no tienes miedo.

Cuando cualquiera de nosotros logra atravesar el valle, la primera constatación impresionante es que todavía estamos aquí. Y que seguimos siendo la misma persona que éramos antes de entrar, pero más aún, habiendo sido refinados por el fuego.

Ahora bien, Paula sería la primera en reconocer que el costo del valle es alto, y todos sabemos que no todo el mundo lo consigue, y algunos que lo logran son una sombra de su antiguo yo. Incluso para aquellos que tienen una historia de resurrección que contar, el valle de sombra de muerte sigue siendo la muerte. Al igual que nuestro antepasado bíblico Jacob, que caminó siempre cojeando después de su larga noche de lucha con un ángel, atravesar el valle te marca, física y emocionalmente. No es una experiencia que le desees a nadie que ames, ni te gustaría volver a pasar por ella.

Pero, Paula, habiendo pasado por ello, y como Jacob, no dejándolo ir hasta que recibiste su bendición, eres más fuerte -¿es esa la palabra?- más agradecida, con los pies en la tierra, en sintonía? No sé si hay una palabra que capte el cambio, porque, como he dicho, sigues siendo tú, pero hasta tu esencia, más clara, quizá.

Tal vez el salmista lo dijo mejor: habiendo caminado por el valle de sombra de muerte, el miedo ya no tiene poder sobre ti, y ciertamente no el miedo a las cosas menores.

Para ser claros, desde que conozco a Paula, ella siempre ha sido intrépida, sin duda porque este no era su primer viaje a través del valle. Nunca he sabido que tuviera miedo a la incomodidad, ni a la suya ni a la de los demás. Porque sabe que la mayoría de las cosas que merecen la pena en la vida -como el crecimiento espiritual, la madurez personal, el amor en acción, como decía Dostevesky, en comparación con el amor en los sueños, los logros que nos satisfacen y nos deleitan, y ciertamente la búsqueda de la justicia y la transformación social- la búsqueda de estas cosas buenas implica, como mínimo, aceptar alguna incomodidad, y mucho más probablemente, lo que el Dr. King llamaba el sufrimiento redentor.

Por si no lo han notado, Paula Clark tiene una gran tolerancia a la incomodidad y al sufrimiento, tanto para ella como para los que ama, no por el sufrimiento en sí, sino al servicio del bien, y porque sabe que el camino de la cruz es el camino de la vida.

Por eso, si te diriges a Paula para expresarle tu descontento o tu insatisfacción con algo que está ocurriendo en la Iglesia, aunque ella te escuchará con un oído agudo y compasivo, se apresurará a corregir el rumbo si le parece que es lo mejor, y reconocerá si ha cometido un error, el hecho de que estés descontento, o -Dios no lo quiera- incómodo, no invocará necesariamente la respuesta que deseas. Porque sabe que la cruz es el camino de la vida. Nuestra incomodidad forma parte del camino de la transformación.

Ahora bien, por supuesto que no encontrarás en Paula mayor defensor contra el dolor de la injusticia, las frustraciones de la burocracia, o la inmadurez mezquina y la mezquindad casual de los demás. Pero incluso entonces, si te sientes hundido en el seductor papel de víctima, ella no puede saltar a tu rescate, porque no puede ahorrarte el costo de tomar la cruz que es tuya, más de lo que los que la aman pueden ahorrarle el costo de tomar la suya.

En nuestros años de ministerio juntas, me asombraba la capacidad de Paula de no precipitarse y tratar de arreglar las cosas para los demás. Siempre estaba presente, empática, la primera en arremangarse y ayudar, pero sin el tipo de energía ansiosa de un líder, que es, como describe el apóstol Pablo, “zarandeado por todo viento”. Esta es una de las razones por las que todas las personas de nuestro equipo de trabajo a las que Paula supervisaba te dirán que era la mejor jefa que habían tenido.

Otra cualidad de Paula que ha sido destilada y refinada por la enfermedad, el largo camino de la recuperación y el dolor, es su conciencia del tiempo relativamente corto que tiene en este planeta. Esa conciencia tiene el efecto de aclarar las prioridades.

Paula es muy consciente de que ella y la Diócesis de Chicago tienen un trabajo importante que hacer, y que no tienen todo el tiempo del mundo. Como escribió en la hermosa carta que adorna la portada de nuestros boletines, Paula está planeando un largo episcopado. Pero incluso los episcopados más largos no lo son tanto, y todos los obispos tienen la tentación de dedicar un tiempo desmesurado a un trabajo que puede ser importante, pero que en última instancia no es fructífero. Esa tentación, creo, es la estrategia más exitosa del Maligno para mantener a la Iglesia Episcopal pequeña y, como resultado, menos efectiva e impactante de lo que podríamos ser. Lo cual es una vergüenza y, me atrevo a decir, un pecado.

Paula también ha sido una estudiante de liderazgo durante toda su vida, observando a los líderes a su alrededor y aprendiendo de su ejemplo y de sus errores. Así, llega a su episcopado experimentada y sabia. Lo que significa que lo que el Espíritu está a punto de hacer en y a través de la imposición de manos es llevar a una mayor fructificación y poder lo que ha sido cierto en su liderazgo durante algún tiempo.

Esta combinación de capacidad de liderazgo y conciencia del tiempo es de crucial importancia en este momento de la vida de nuestra iglesia. Para todos los que residimos en este planeta, para los que amamos a la Iglesia Episcopal, y que, a pesar de los muchos pecados históricos y actuales de nuestra iglesia, hemos encontrado una forma de seguir a Jesús que nos ha salvado; nosotros que anhelamos que nuestras comunidades de fe sean lugares convincentes de vida y práctica cristiana no sólo para nosotros sino para nuestros hijos y nietos, bueno, basta con decir que tenemos que estar en el trabajo de cambio adaptativo, y el tiempo es esencial.

Para complicar este proceso de transformación, somos una iglesia bendecida con un número desproporcionado de visionarios y profetas, lo cual es realmente una de las cosas más inspiradoras que tenemos. Sin embargo, el lado sombrío de toda nuestra pasión es una evaluación lamentablemente inexacta de nuestra capacidad para llevar a cabo las muchas visiones que Dios nos ha dado. Debido a que anhelamos convertirnos en la iglesia inspiradora, visionaria y profética de nuestros sueños, tendemos a comprometernos en exceso, a saltar de una causa apremiante a otra, a establecer objetivos que no podemos cumplir y luego, si no tenemos cuidado, a caer en patrones de cinismo y desesperación de que cualquier cambio duradero en un sistema tan defectuoso como la iglesia sea siquiera posible.

Lo que necesitamos, además de profetas y visionarios, son creadores de capacidad, aquellos que se dedican a la lenta labor, entre bastidores y lejos de ser glamorosa, de la formación de la fe, el desarrollo del liderazgo, la revitalización de la comunidad y la buena administración de los valiosos recursos.

Bendita seas, Diócesis de Chicago, porque Paula Clark es tanto una visionaria como una creadora de capacidades, siempre lo ha sido. Tiene un agudo sentido de la prioridad, lo que significa que puede decir que no a cosas más a menudo de lo que te gustaría, no porque no sean importantes, sino porque no son, en su opinión, o en la de la comprensión colectivamente discernida de la diócesis, las cosas más importantes en las que centrar sus energías en ese momento. Pero cuando diga que sí, cuidado con el mundo, porque su sí será firme y apasionado, claro y centrado. Mantendrá el rumbo en la realización de la visión que Dios ha puesto en sus corazones, haciendo que todos los que la rodean sean responsables de los más altos estándares evangélicos, como ella misma lo es.

Paula también te amará y te apoyará de manera que saques lo mejor de ti. Debido a que no tiene miedo de probar cosas y fracasar, y de aprender del fracaso, es rápida para perdonar y animar a los que la rodean cuando fallamos. Créeme, porque he fracasado estrepitosamente en la órbita de Paula, y ella siempre ha sido la primera en ayudarme a levantarme, a aprender lo que tenía que aprender y a seguir adelante.

Una última cosa que me gustaría decir sobre ti, Paula, que, de nuevo, me doy cuenta de que es obvia, pero que es importante señalar dado el tiempo que ha pasado desde tu elección y todo lo que has pasado para llegar aquí, y es que estás llamada por Dios a este trabajo, en esta diócesis.

Para ser sincera, hice todo lo posible para convencer a Paula de que seguir siendo canóniga del Ordinario en la diócesis de Washington sería más divertido que ser obispa. Fue egoísta, lo sé, pero seguramente puedes entender por qué no queríamos perderla. Sin embargo, a medida que el proceso se desarrollaba, el llamado era tan clara, tanto por un sentido interno de lo que el Espíritu Santo estaba despertando en ella como por lo que ustedes, como Diócesis de Chicago, sentían que eran las cualidades esenciales que necesitaban en su próximo obispo.

Luego, cuando Paula enfermó y se enfrentó a un camino tan largo de recuperación, algunos de nosotros queríamos que supiera que no tenía que hacer esto, que podía alejarse con gracia, y que todos lo entenderían. Pero no. Luego, cuando el cáncer de su esposo Andrew salió a la luz y murió, nos preguntamos si el dolor, por fin, la haría alejarse. ¿Cuánto puede aguantar un corazón? Pero Paula nunca vaciló, ni una sola vez. Paula sabe cómo dejar ir cuando sabe que eso es lo mejor, y nunca los dejó ir a ustedes, Diócesis de Chicago, ni al llamado que Dios puso en su corazón.

Ese llamado tiene dos caras. En nombre de toda la Iglesia, me gustaría expresar nuestro agradecimiento y admiración colectivos a los líderes de la Diócesis de Chicago. Su fidelidad, su esfuerzo sacrificado y la claridad de que Paula iba a ser consagrada, de hecho, como su obispa, fue una inspiración para nosotros. Gracias también a los colegas de las diócesis vecinas que se apresuraron a intervenir y ofrecer ayuda; al Obispo Presidente y a los miembros de su equipo por su orientación y apoyo; y una palabra especial de agradecimiento para la Obispa Chilton Knudsen. Nosotros tampoco queríamos que dejaras la Diócesis de Washington, pero también tenías claro que este era el llamado de Dios, una oportunidad para servir a tu diócesis de origen, y en apoyo a Paula, cuyas cualidades de liderazgo defendiste y apoyaste durante mucho tiempo.

Amigos, tienen en sus manos un boletín de adoración que, junto con los talentosos liturgistas y músicos que nos dirigen, Paula ha elaborado de principio a fin. Cada oración, cada pasaje de la Escritura, las selecciones musicales revelan algo de su corazón, la intimidad de su vida de oración y su compromiso con el camino de amor y justicia de Jesús en este mundo. Mantén este boletín cerca. Ponlo cerca del lugar donde rezas, no sólo como un recuerdo de este día, sino como una fuente de consuelo e inspiración. Porque a través de sus páginas brilla otra cualidad espiritual que Paula aporta a todo lo que hace, que también es válida para esta diócesis y que seguramente será una característica permanente de sus años de ministerio juntos, y esa cualidad es la alegría.

Paula y yo a veces nos poníamos en contacto después de nuestras respectivas visitas dominicales por la diócesis y reflexionábamos sobre lo que llamábamos “el cociente de alegría”. ¿Cuán alta era la alegría en el servicio de adoración? Se convirtió en un diagnóstico crítico para nosotros a la hora de trabajar con el clero y las congregaciones, ya que la presencia o ausencia relativa de alegría revelaba mucho de lo que era o no era posible en ese lugar, mucho más que el tamaño o el presupuesto o la sofisticación de la programación. Es un diagnóstico revelador para todos nosotros en nuestra vida y testimonio cristianos.

Mi última palabra es una exhortación y una oración: protege tu alegría. Protejan, cuiden y alimenten la alegría de los demás. Hagan espacio para ella. Donde falte, oren para que se les conceda el don, para que siga siendo, o vuelva a ser, una característica definitoria de su ministerio. Sin la alegría, la iglesia es un lugar aburrido, y la vida misma se convierte en una rutina de obligaciones diarias. Pero Jesús vino -vivió, murió y resucitó- para que nuestra alegría sea completa.

El Espíritu del Señor está sobre ti, Paula Clark.
El Espíritu del Señor está sobre ti, Diócesis de Chicago.
Vive como si todo lo que estamos diciendo aquí en el servicio fuera cierto, porque lo es.
Nada puede separarte del amor de Dios revelado en Jesús.
Aquel que te ha llamado es fiel, y alabado sea Dios, tú también lo eres.

Amén.

Sermon for the Consecration and Ordination of the Rt. Rev. Paula Clark, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago

Sermon for the Consecration and Ordination of the Rt. Rev. Paula Clark, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me. . .
Isaiah 61:1-4

Be joyful in the LORD, all you lands; 
serve the LORD with gladness and come before his presence with a song.
Psalm 100: 1-4

For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:18-39

When Jesus came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: ‘The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. . .
Luke 4:14-20

Loving and gracious God, thank you for the sweet spirit in this place, and for the gift of this day, for which we have long been waiting. In your name, Creator, Christ, and Spirit, Amen.

Primero, permítanme saludar a todos los de habla espanol presentes o participando online. Me alegro que haya traducción simultánea, pero tenía que decir algo en el idioma del cielo, expresando la alegría que todos sentimos hoy. Lo que sigue es una canción de amor y admiración para su nueva obispa.

It is an honor to give voice to our collective joy, and to speak to you, my friend, sister in Christ, and soon-to-be Bishop Paula Clark; and to Paula’s loving family and great circle of friends, the faithful Jesus followers of this great diocese, our Presiding Bishop and colleague bishops; and all those who have gathered from far and wide to be here.

While we are here, there is another gathering of equal joy about to begin in the Episcopal Diocese of Utah, during which one of Paula’s closest friends and colleagues, Phyllis Ann Spiegel, will be consecrated and ordained bishop. Phyllis told me that she was going to watch this service online until the procession in Salt Lake City begins. So will you join me in greeting Bishop-elect Spiegel and expressing our love and support for her and the Diocese of Utah?

It is a good day for our church.

One of the great teachers on the art of preaching, the late Fred Craddock, once made the observation that sometimes a preacher speaks to a congregation and at other times for a congregation. What is on my heart to say is a bit of both, and all of it, I daresay, you already know.

Being in the presence of Paula Clark and watching her in action is like taking a master class in Christian leadership. That was true before all that transpired in the last eighteen months, and it is even more so now. I am reminded of a man I once knew in Minnesota whose name was Rod. As we were leaving for Washington, DC, Paul and I went to say our goodbyes. Rod was dying, and we knew that this would be our last conversation on this side of Jordan. After expressing his delight in my new vocation and all the adventures that were waiting for us, and I told him how much he meant to us, he said, “I am going to live these last days as if everything we say on Sunday is true. Now go and live your life in the same way.”

Paula, you have lived the last eighteen months as if everything we proclaim as followers of Jesus is true, and not merely in an abstract way, but rather one that we can trust and cling to when, as your hero Howard Thurman would say, “our backs are against the wall.” You have shown us that Jesus meant it when he said that the way of the cross is the way of life.

You have walked through the valley of the shadow of death. And by God’s grace, and with the love and support of many, and through your own sweat and tears, you have come out on the other side. So you know, not just in your head, but in your bones that nothing can separate you, or any of us, from the love of God in Jesus. And knowing that, and having made it through the valley with your joy, hope, and love for God, neighbor, and self intact, you are fearless.

When any of us make it through the valley, the first stunning realization is that we’re still here. And that we’re still the same person we were before we entered, but more so, having been refined by fire.

Now Paula would be the first to acknowledge that the valley’s cost is high, and we all know that not everyone makes it, and some that do are a shadow of their former selves through no fault of their own. Even for those who have a resurrection story to tell, the valley of the shadow of death is still death. As for our biblical forebear Jacob, who forever walked with a limp after his long night of wrestling with an angel, going through the valley marks you, physically and emotionally. It’s not an experience you wish on anyone you love, nor would relish going through again.

But Paula, having gone through it, and like Jacob, not letting go until you received its blessing, you are stronger–is that the word?–wiser? more grateful, grounded, attuned? I don’t know if there is one word that captures the change, because as I said, you’re still you, but down to your essence–clearer, maybe.

Perhaps the psalmist said it best–having walked through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no longer has power over you, and certainly not fear of lesser things.

To be clear, for as long as I’ve known Paula, she’s always been fearless, no doubt because this was not her first journey through the valley. I have never known her to be afraid of discomfort–her own or anyone else’s. Because she knows that most things worth pursuing in life–such as spiritual growth, personal maturity, love in action, as Dostoevsky said, as compared to love in dreams, accomplishments that satisfy and delight us, and certainly the pursuit of justice and social transformation–the pursuit of these good things involves at the very least accepting some discomfort, and far more likely, what Dr. King called redemptive suffering.

If you haven’t noticed, Paula Clark has a high tolerance for discomfort and suffering, both for herself and for those she loves–not for suffering’s sake, but in the service of the good, and because she knows that the way of the cross is the way of life.

So should you come to Paula to express your unhappiness or dissatisfaction with something that’s happening in the church, while she will listen to you with a keen and compassionate ear, be quick to make course corrections if that seems best, and acknowledge if she has made a mistake, the fact that you are unhappy, or–God forbid–uncomfortable will not necessarily invoke the response that you want. Because she knows that the cross is the way of life. Our discomfort is part of the journey of transformation.

Now of course you will find in Paula no greater champion against the pain of injustice, the frustrations of bureaucracy, or the petty immaturity and casual meanness of others. But even then, should you feel yourself sinking down into the seductive role of victim, she may not jump to your rescue, because she cannot spare you the cost of taking up the cross that is yours, anymore than those who love her can spare her the cost of taking up hers.

In our years in ministry together, I was in awe of Paula’s ability not to rush in and try to fix things for other people. She was always present, empathetic, the first to to roll up her sleeves and help, but without the kind of anxious energy of a leader, who is, as the Apostle Paul describes, “tossed to and fro by every wind.” Which is one reason why every person on our staff whom Paula supervised will tell you that she was the best boss they had ever had.

Another quality in Paula that has been distilled and refined by illness, the long road of recovery, and grief is her awareness of the relatively short amount of time that she has on this planet. That awareness has the effect of clarifying priorities.

Paula is well aware that she and the Diocese of Chicago have important work to do, and that you don’t have all the time in the world. As she wrote in the beautiful letter that graces the front of our bulletins, Paula is planning on a long episcopate. But even the longest episcopates aren’t that long, and every bishop is tempted to spend inordinate amounts of time on work that may be important, but ultimately not fruitful. That temptation, I believe, is the Evil One’s most successful strategy in keeping The Episcopal Church small and as a result, less effective and impactful than we could be. Which is a shame, and, I daresay, a sin.

Paula has also been a life-long student of leadership, watching leaders around her and learning from their example and their mistakes. Thus she comes into her episcopate seasoned and wise. Which is to say that what the Spirit is about to do in and through the laying on of hands is to bring to even greater fruition and power what has been true of her leadership for some time.

This combination of leadership capacity and awareness of time is crucially important in this moment in our church’s life. For like all who are resident on this planet, for those of us who love The Episcopal Church, and who, despite our church’s many historic and present-day sins, have found a way of following Jesus that has saved us; we who long for our faith communities to be compelling places of Christian life and practice not only for ourselves but for our children and grandchildren–well, suffice to say that we need to be about the work of adaptive change, and time is of the essence.

To complicate this process of transformation, we are a church blessed with a disproportionate number of visionaries and prophets, which is truly one of the most inspiring things about us. The shadow side of all our passion, however, is a woefully inaccurate assessment of our capacity to accomplish the many visions God has given us. Because we long to become the inspiring, visionary, prophetic church of our dreams, we tend to overcommit ourselves, jump from one compelling cause to another, set goals that we cannot accomplish, and then, if we’re not careful, fall into patterns of cynicism and despair that any lasting change in a system as flawed as the church is even possible.

What we need, in addition to the prophets and visionaries, are capacity builders–those invested in the slow, behind-the-scenes, far-from-glamorous work of faith formation, leadership development, community revitalization, and the sound stewardship of precious resources.

Blessed are you, Diocese of Chicago, for Paula Clark is both a visionary and a capacity builder–she always has been. She has a keen sense of priority, which means that she may say no to things more often than you would like, not because they aren’t important, but because they aren’t, in her estimation, or that of the collectively discerned understanding of the diocese, the most important things to focus her energies on at that time. But when she says yes, watch out world, for her yes will be robust and passionate, clear and focused. She will stay on course on the realization of the vision God has placed in your hearts, holding everyone around her accountable to the highest of gospel standards, as she holds herself.

Paula will also love and support you in ways that bring out your best. Because she is not afraid to try things and fail, and to learn from failure, she is quick to forgive and to encourage those of us around her when we fail. Trust me on this one, for I have failed spectacularly in Paula’s orbit, and she was always the first in line to help me get back up, learn what I needed to learn, and move on.

One final thing I’d like to say about you, Paula, which, again, I realize is obvious, but important to note given how long it has been since your election and all that you have gone through to get here, and that is you are called by God to this work, in this diocese.

In full disclosure, I did everything in my power to persuade Paula that remaining as Canon to the Ordinary in the Diocese of Washington would be more fun than being a bishop. It was selfish, I know, but surely you can understand why we didn’t want to lose her. Yet as the process unfolded, the call was so clear–from both an inward sense of what the Holy Spirit was stirring within her and what you, as the Diocese of Chicago, felt were the essential qualities you needed in your next bishop

Then when Paula got sick and faced such a long road of recovery, some of us wanted her to know that she didn’t have to do this, that she could gracefully step away, and everyone would understand. But no. Then when her husband Andrew’s cancer came to light and he died, we wondered if grief, at last, would cause her to step away. How much can one heart hold? But Paula never wavered, not once. Paula knows how to let go when she knows that’s what’s best, and she never let go of you, Diocese of Chicago, and of the call God placed on her heart.

There are two sides to this call. On behalf of the wider church, I would like to express our collective thanks and admiration for the leaders of the Diocese of Chicago. Your faithfulness, sacrificial effort, and clarity that Paula was, in fact, going to be consecrated as your bishop was an inspiration to us. Thanks, too, to colleagues from neighboring dioceses who were quick to step in and offer help; to the Presiding Bishop and members of his team for their guidance and support; and a special word of appreciation for Bishop Chilton Knudsen. We didn’t want to see you leave the Diocese of Washington either, but you were also clear that this was God’s call, a chance to serve your home diocese, and in support of Paula, whose leadership qualities you long championed and supported.

Friends, you hold in your hands a worship bulletin that, alongside the gifted liturgists and musicians leading us, Paula has crafted from beginning to end. Every prayer, each Scripture passage, the musical selections reveal something of her heart, the intimacy of her prayer life, and her commitment to Jesus’ way of love and justice in this world. Keep your bulletins close. Put them near the place where you pray, not only as a memento of this day, but as a source of solace and inspiration.

For through its pages shines another spiritual quality that Paula brings to everything she does, that is also true of this diocese and will surely be an abiding feature of your years of ministry together–and that quality is joy.

Paula and I would sometimes touch base after our respective Sunday visitations across the diocese and reflect on what we called “the joy quotient.” How high was the sense of joy in worship? It became a critical diagnostic for us in working with clergy and congregations, for the relative presence or absence of joy revealed so much of what was or wasn’t possible in that place, far more so than size or budget or sophistication of programming. It is a telling diagnostic for all of us in our Christian life and witness.

My last word is both an exhortation and a prayer: shield your joy. Protect, cherish, and nurture joy in one another. Make space for it. Where it is lacking, pray for the gift to be given you, so that it might continue to be, or become once again, a defining characteristic of your ministry. Without it, the church is a dreary place, and life itself becomes a routine of daily obligations. But Jesus came–he lived, died, and rose from the dead–so that our joy may be complete.

The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, Paula Clark.
The Spirit of the Lord is upon you, Diocese of Chicago.
Live as if everything we’re saying here in the service is true, because it is.
Nothing can separate you from the love of God revealed to us in Jesus.
The One who has called you is faithful, and praise God, so are you.

Amen.

Priesthood Ordination Sermon-Catherine Manhardt and David Potter

Priesthood Ordination Sermon-Catherine Manhardt and David Potter

So the Lord said to Moses, ‘Gather for me seventy of the elders of Israel, whom you know to be the elders of the people and officers over them; bring them to the tent of meeting, and have them take their place there with you. I will come down and talk with you there; and I will take some of the spirit that is on you and put it on them; and they shall bear the burden of the people along with you so that you will not bear it all by yourself. So Moses went out and told the people the words of the Lord; and he gathered seventy elders of the people, and placed them all around the tent. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and spoke to him, and took some of the spirit that was on him and put it on the seventy elders; and when the spirit rested upon them, they prophesied. But they did not do so again.
Numbers 11: 16-17; 24-25

Give judgment for me, O God,
and defend my cause against an ungodly people;
deliver me from the deceitful and the wicked.
For you are the God of my strength;
why have you put me from you?
and why do I go so heavily while the enemy oppresses me?
Send out your light and your truth, that they may lead me,
and bring me to your holy hill
and to your dwelling;
** That I may go to the altar of God,
to the God of my joy and gladness;
and on the harp I will give thanks to you, O God my God.
Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God;
for I will yet give thanks to him,
who is the help of my countenance, and my God.
Psalm 43

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Phillipians 4:4-7

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
John 10:11-18

An ordination liturgy in the Episcopal Church might be compared to a sonnet, a poem written within a tightly structured form. In its constancy, the form provides a scaffolding that sets parameters for our expression and experience. Yet within it, there is room for individual expression which makes every ordination unique, reflective of the persons who have long prepared for this moment.

So it is that while we all are taking our part in a ritual that tells us a lot about The Episcopal Church’s beliefs and spiritual practices, if we pay attention, we can also learn about the two who are poised to take their place as priests among us through the choices they have made within the liturgical structure given them.

We know, for example, who some of the most important people are in their lives, which is all of you gathered here, and in particular, those whom they asked to take on a specific role in worship. Having spent considerable time with both of them, I can attest to how much you mean to them, as well as countless others who cannot be here in person but are cheering them on from a distance, some from the other side of Jordan. They would be the first to say that they would not be here were it not for you, and they are grateful to the point of tears.

Each hymn has meaning for David and Catherine, so as you sing, you might ponder what that meaning might be for them, and what the music and lyrics tell us about their experience of God.

The Scripture passages that we’ve just heard and that you have before you in written form, while chosen from a set canon for ordination services, give us clues as to their understanding of ministry. These biblical themes have particular resonance for them, so let’s review them with Catherine and David in mind.

What is the message for them and from them in the passage from the book of Numbers, an ancient text that tells of God’s response to Moses when he was exhausted, overwhelmed by the burdens of his people, and, as we might say from a 21st century perspective, overfunctioning like crazy? God pointedly demonstrates to Moses that he is not alone in the work, and that it all doesn’t depend on him, by taking some of the spirit of leadership from him and distributing it among 70 others. There’s a clear message here, that what we are about today is not for the two of them alone, as if they were to carry alone the work and responsibility of being the church. No, the Spirit is shared among us. And so as we pray the specific prayers for David and Catherine a bit later on, don’t be surprised if you feel something, too, for the Holy Spirit may very well descend upon you, or rise up from within you. You may not feel anything, but it could happen anyway. May you open your hearts to receive all that the Spirit offers.

Moving onto Psalm 43, we hear an entirely different message, one of loneliness and personal lament, of intense longing for the presence of God. It concludes with a personal exhortation, as if the psalmist were looking in the mirror and saying to him or herself to the last lines:

Why are you so full of heaviness, O my soul?
and why are you so disquieted within me?
Put your trust in God,
Who is the help of your countenance, and my God.

David and Catherine both know what spiritual loneliness feels like, and so do you. Following Jesus does not give us immunity from times when our spiritual lights go out and we’re left to navigate as best we can. The faith required of us then is powerfully expressed in a song by Mark Miller, with words written by an unknown captive of a German concentration camp:

I believe in the sun even when it’s not shining.
I believe in love even when I don’t feel it.
I believe in God even when God is silent.1

This is faith.

Shifting tones and themes quite dramatically, we hear in the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians a call to live a hopeful, joy-filled life, by placing our intentional focus on what is good and lovely and true. This is an especially important spiritual practice in a time when the world is falling apart and it’s so easy to be astutely critical of merely everything and everyone. It doesn’t take much energy to be negative–not one ounce of creativity or effort is required. But to be joyful in the truest sense, and to lean toward hope in the midst of despair–that takes effort. Catherine and David are well aware of the issues facing us as a species, a nation; in the communities we live in and in our churches. They are committed to practices of hope and joy, not in a blind or Pollyanna sense, but rooted in their experience of God’s capacity to bring life out of death, and of light that illuminates even the most obscure path.

Lastly, we come to a gospel passage in which Jesus likens his relationship to us as a good shepherd who cares for his sheep and knows each one by name. Now I’m a city girl, so the shepherd/sheep analogy is a bit of a stretch, but of one thing David and Catherine are quite clear: they are not the good shepherd. In this analogy, they, like all of us, are among the sheep listening for the voice of our shepherd, entrusting ourselves to his guidance and care. Now those of us called to leadership in the church as priests–and bishops, for that matter–are also pastors, and thus we have a shepherding role, but it is always a subordinate one. Even those of us who carry a shepherd staff around as if we would have a clue of what to do if we saw an actual sheep, must always remember who is the true shepherd. We take our lead from him; we listen for him. And so this service, for all its focus on these two extraordinary people, is more about him and his work in and through and among us. Their role among us is to listen to him and follow.

Now I’d like to speak now to David and Catherine directly, drawing from yet another biblical text. It’s one in which Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples and wants to give them assurance for the future: “I still have many things to say to you,” he tells them, “but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” (John 16:12-13)

As we discussed yesterday, there is so much about what lies ahead that we cannot predict or control, some of it truly worrisome and some more life-giving than we dare to hope. But on this solid ground we stand: Jesus’ promise to be with us to the end of the age, and his assurance that the Spirit will give us what we need to meet the future with wisdom and courage.

Jesus has more to say to you. There is more for you to learn. There is more for you to understand and know and ponder than your hearts and minds can hold today. What this rather obvious statement suggests is that while you have completed a long and transformative formation process, you are embarking on yet another leg of a life-long journey as a learner. And hear this: in a spirit of humility, a leader can learn from anyone. In a spirit of curiosity and openness, a leader can glean wisdom and insight from anywhere. You can learn from the communities you serve and the ones you would rather avoid; from the people who inspire you and from those whose worldview you reject; from your friends and your adversaries–and from the fact that you have adversaries; from your accomplishments and your failures. Jesus will speak to you through it all, telling you what you need to hear when you can take it in.

As I bring this to a close, I’d like to return to the image of a sonnet, for indeed priesthood in The Episcopal Church is more like a sonnet than free verse. There’s a lot of structure–arguably too much–but there is room within it to bring all of yourself into this ministry. We not only want you to do that, we’re counting on you to, and so is Jesus. After all, the one to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid has called you. So be bold, as well as humble.

Finally, I want to publicly thank you both for having enough faith in this church to dedicate your vocational life to it. You do this with your eyes wide open, knowing how far we are from God’s dream of Beloved Community, and yet having seen enough of who we are at our best to realize what a gift Christian community can be.

In all our strengths and vulnerabilities, failings and glorious possibilities, we have all said yes to the One who calls us all by name. There’s far more at work among us than we will ever know. And your ordination, and mine, rests on this audacious truth: We will enter the Kingdom of God together, we won’t enter it all.

Amen.

____

1 I Believe by Mark Miller

To Stay in One’s Life

To Stay in One’s Life

“What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” Then the Lord said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus.”
1 Kings 19:13-16

Jesus and his disciples arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs. When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? . . . The man from whom the demons had gone begged that he might be with him; but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return to your home, and declare how much God has done for you.” So he went away, proclaiming throughout the city how much Jesus had done for him.
Luke 8:26-39

It is good to be in worship with you, friends of St. George’s. It has been too long since I was last with you, and much has happened in your lives in the past two years, about which I know only a portion.
Before I begin, I invite you to take a few deep breaths and allow yourself to acknowledge all you are holding in your heart right now. Together may we open ourselves to the Spirit of God in our midst.

Knowing how much they mean to you, I’d like to name some of what is our collective awareness. June, of course, is Pride Month, which has its origins, as many of you know, in the 1969 Stonewall Uprising in Manhattan. In response to the New York City police raiding a gay bar, its patrons and others on the city took to the streets and protested for days. That marked the beginning of what was the then called the “Gay Liberation Movement.” The first Gay Pride parade was on the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, and in the 50 years since, it has has evolved into a month of events across the country and the world, attracting millions. Pride is a celebration of identity, community, and the struggle for a rightful place in society.

Today is June 19th, or Juneteenth as the holiday is known, the oldest nationally celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Juneteenth originated in Galveston, Texas in 1865, when on this day news of the freeing of enslaved people finally reached Texas–two years after President Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation. From Texas, the observance of June 19th has spread across the United States and beyond. It acknowledges the journey and achievement of African Americans from the horrific period of sanctioned enslavement to the pinnacle of human endeavors. It, too, is a story of pride, resilience, and determination.

Today is also Father’s Day, which has its origins in a number of local efforts to commemorate fathers, including one in the town of Fairmont, West Virginia in the 1870s. There a woman named Grace Golden Clayton suggested to the Methodist minister in town that they hold services to honor the fathers who had been killed in a deadly mine explosion that took the lives of 361 men. After Mother’s Day was officially recognized as a holiday in 1914, momentum slowly grew for fathers to have a day of their own, which finally happened in 1972. For some reason, there was a lot of resistance to the idea of a Father’s Day celebration, so it, too, has a history of struggle!

And there’s more. Last Saturday, prior to the Pride parade, there was the second “March for Our Lives Rally” in Washington, organized by students from across the country who have survived mass shootings in their schools, as we are reeling yet again from such episodes in a school, grocery store, on city streets, and now, this week, in an Episcopal Church outside Birmingham, Alabama.
And just yesterday, thousands of people gathered in Washington under the banner of the Poor People’s Campaign to highlight the issues that disproportionately affect those living in poverty. It was among the most racially and generationally diverse gatherings I’ve been a part of, and while a wide range of issues motivated people to turn out–rising health care costs, environmental degradation, lack of affordable housing and childcare, racial inequity–there was a universal call for reform and change in the political status quo.

So here we are, amid celebrations of identity and relationships, family and community; and ongoing struggle, protest, and calls for change. And as I pondered all this, and held you in my hearts in preparation for today, two questions from today’s biblical texts caught my attention.

The first question is from the story of Elijah the prophet who sought to escape from the perils facing him in the relative security of a cave, in which God asked him twice, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
The second question is from the gospel text in which a man possessed by many demons asked Jesus, “What have you to do with me, Jesus of Nazareth?”
These are important questions for us to wrestle with, too. The first has to do with our life purpose and how we spend our energies: What are we doing here? The second asks what, if anything, does Jesus of Nazareth have to do with us?

In these stories, the answer to the second question varies: God showed up for Elijah in sheer silence. Jesus showed up for the man possessed by demons in the midst of noise and chaos. The message to us is that God, or Jesus, can show up anywhere, that there isn’t any place we can go, as the psalmist once said, where God is not already present.

And in response to the first question–what are you doing here?–both men were told to return to their lives. God sent Elijah back to Damascus where danger lay. Jesus told the man he healed to return home.
Perhaps this is God’s word to you, too, to stay in your life. Own it as the grace and gift that it is, that you are. Dare to believe and to trust that you don’t have to go anywhere for God to show up, for Jesus to be present. God is with you and for you, no matter where you are. As a loving person said to me at a particularly vulnerable time in my young adult life, “You are a unique expression of God’s creative genius.” She told me to repeat that mantra every morning as I looked in the mirror, and I now say the same to you. “You are a unique expression of God’s creative genius.”

Your life is your life. Your gifts are your gifts. Your struggles are your struggles. Your graces and sins are yours; as are your history and heritage. Your unique and as yet unrealized potential is yours, along with all that in this moment may be paving the way for you or blocking that way. You may wish for another path, another set of gifts and challenges, even, as I have on more than one occasion, for another life. But this is it. This is your life. And with your unique place on earth at this moment in time comes great blessing and great responsibility–not to be perfect, not to be someone else, but to live well the one life you have been given. “We should not feel embarrassed by our difficulties,” says the Swiss philosopher Alain de Botton, “only by our failure to grow anything beautiful from them.”

Last week I had the honor of giving the commencement address for the high school graduating class of National Cathedral School. At the beginning of the school year, the class had chosen for its theme the word limitless, and much of their end of year celebrations included rightful celebrations of each student’s accomplishments and experience of surpassing limitations.

Of course I wanted to celebrate with them and affirm their capacity to meet challenges and overcome limitations–and I did. But I also wanted to say something about a more humbling reality that I knew even in their young and relatively privileged lives they knew about, which is when the limit prevails, be it in the form of a goal we will never reach or when our path has been blocked by something outside of our control. It could be an illness–ours or someone else’s–an accident, or a tragedy of epic proportions such as what we have experienced in the last two years, or a conflict that we cannot resolve or a problem that we cannot fix.

This is when, I told them, God shows up and takes initiative, assuring us we are not alone and that there is more at work in our lives than what we make happen on our own. Sometimes God does this by filling in the gap between what’s needed and what we have to offer, much like Jesus did in the story of the loaves and fish, when he took his disciples’ inadequate offering and made it a meal of extravagant abundance. In this way, Jesus encourages us to offer what we have, even when we know it’s not enough, because by grace, our offering becomes the raw material to produce what is needed.

Other times, however, when we reach our limit or are faced with something we cannot fix or change, God doesn’t show up to make up the difference. Rather–and this is harder–God helps us grow large enough inside to take in the thing we cannot change and make it a part of our lives without being consumed or entirely defined by it. It’s there, and it’s part of us, but it isn’t all of us. That is experiencing limitlessness in a very different way.

I leave you with this word of encouragement. In all that is happening around and within you, trust that God wants you to live your life and embrace it as the gift that it is. Remember that you are a gift, a unique expression of God’s creative genius. Tell yourself that every day until you believe it.

And what does Jesus have to do with you? Absolutely everything. There’s no place in your life where he is not. He’s there with you in the silence and chaos and everything in between.

Lean on him when you need to rest; draw from his strength when you need to show up and trust that he’s already there, and be grateful when you offer what you can. From the gift that is your life, Jesus can make miracles happen.

Amen.

Spring Service of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation Sermon

Spring Service of Confirmation, Reception, and Reaffirmation Sermon

Then Peter began to speak to them: “I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him. You know the message he sent to the people of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ—he is Lord of all. That message spread throughout Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John announced: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in Judea and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree; but God raised him on the third day and allowed him to appear, not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, and who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one ordained by God as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
Acts 10:34-43

At the last supper, when Judas had gone out, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him. If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once. Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 13:31-3

I’d like to reflect upon a dimension of the spiritual life that we don’t discuss enough, and that is the arc of it, and the ebb and flow of our feelings, as we make our way in this world as a person of faith, and in particular, a follower of Jesus.

Let me begin by telling you of a time when as a young adult–in my mid-twenties–I had what felt at the time to be an important decision to make. It wasn’t a life-changing decision, but a big enough deal that I wanted to get it right. Incidentally, I had already come to the decisions that those being confirmed are making today. I knew that I was a Christian and dedicated my life to following Jesus. In fact, I was in seminary, studying to be a priest. So I was all in, as they say, when it comes to faith, and I was praying about this decision, too, and for days I wrestled with the options, feeling genuinely torn. It was an uncomfortable time, and not an unfamiliar one. I struggled a lot with decisions back then, and in many ways still do. I’m prone to second-guessing myself, making quick decisions and immediately regretting them, going back and forth, wishing that some lightbulb would go off in my head and just settle things.

So back then I went for a swim at a nearby recreation center with this quandary on my mind. Somewhere in the midst of doing laps, the lightbulb went off. Clarity came, washing over me like the water I was swimming through. It felt like a gift from God, lifting me out of the indecisive state I had worked myself into. I knew exactly what to do and I knew why. Energized, I picked up the pace and finished my workout as if competing for Olympic gold. But no sooner had I stepped out of the water and began to dry off when the familiar feelings of uncertainty returned, completely overtaking the confidence I experienced just moments before.

The first thought I had was something like, Really–are you kidding me? Then, thankfully, I burst out laughing–mostly at myself for the way I was stressing over that one decision. That’s when it dawned on me that my feelings of uncertainty, and then certainty, and uncertainty again were just that–they were feelings that come and go. At the same time, I still had the decision to make, and I realized I now had another choice: I could either trust the clarity that came while I swam or go with the rush of doubt that followed. In an act of faith, I chose to trust my experience in the water. I remember praying, “Lord, I’m going to trust this is from you and act on it.”

Let me say again that what I was dealing with at the time wasn’t, in the end, that big of a deal, but the decision to trust the gift of clarity when it came to me, even after it left and I no longer felt it, has helped me more times than I can count when the stakes were higher. It’s drawn me closer to God, because in those times, I walk by faith and do my best to keep going, even when the confidence I felt in a given moment fades away.

What I hope you take away from this story is simply this: how you feel or don’t feel on a given day about God and the importance of God in your life; and what you may or may not believe in the sense of having complete confidence that something is true–these things come and go. But what you will have–and most certainly already have had–are moments like what happened to me in the pool when you feel something, when clarity or insight or an experience that you cannot explain rationally is given to you as a gift. Sometimes it will be strong and clear enough to see you through all the times of struggle and uncertainty that follow. Sometimes it may seem to disappear completely, but that’s when the life of faith becomes real, when you decide to trust the experience, in all its plausible deniability.

Now I’m not saying that every experience of seeming clarity or insight that comes from you is of God–that would be dangerous. They need to be tested in some way. Here is what I’ve learned about them, and how to sort through the ones that are trustworthy from the ones that aren’t–and believe me, I don’t always get this right.

If the experience is of God, the feelings that accompany it are those of love and acceptance–total acceptance of who you are and what you’re going through. If it feels otherwise–as if harsh, mean-spirited or unforgiving–that’s to be rejected (think of that later in the service when I ask you about renouncing forces of evil). It will almost always be the path requiring greater courage, unless what God is trying to say to you is that you need to slow down and not try so hard to make things right on your own. Every once in a while the word or insight that comes to us requires a really dramatic response–but not always, and I daresay, not often, and they generally occur in situations of acute crisis.

One example from my life: two years ago, at what was then the most acute and frightening stage of the covid pandemic before there were vaccines and a lot of people were dying, we had just settled my mom into an assisted living apartment. It promised to be a really good place for her as she recovered from a life-altering surgery and the sudden loss of all her independence. But then her facility had to shut everything down that made life worth living there, and she was quarantined in her room. I couldn’t see her and she couldn’t leave. My husband was away; and I had no way to care for her on my own, but one morning I woke up and knew as clearly as I knew my own name that I had to get her out of there. And I did, and she lived with us for over a year. Were there times afterwards when I wondered if I had made the right decision? Of course. But I had to trust that it was the right thing to do and just do it.

Do you hear what I’m saying: The life of faith is less about the words we say in church–although I’ll get to those in a minute–and more with how we live our lives in a spirit of trust. Can we trust that God is real? Can we believe that the person of Jesus, who lived, taught, healed, upended his society with a message of radical love and justice for the poor and was killed for it, and then was raised by God so that his death was not evidence of failure but an expression of how God’s love cannot be defeated even in death, and whose living presence is with those who choose to follow him, is one to be trusted as a personal Savior, friend, and the way that God reaches us now? The ways we know this isn’t so much as we come to accept or even understand what Christians through the ages have said or wrote about him, but rather how we experience him, and the elusive Spirit of God, in those moments, as the black theologian Thurgood Marshall wrote years ago, when our backs are against the wall.

Now let me say something about all the in-between time, when those moments of clarity or spiritual connection fade or seem far off, when life is more routine, and we’re busy, juggling multiple things at once and tempted to spend way too much time on mindless activities, and nothing seems particularly dramatic or exciting.

These are also spiritual moments, when God, and for Christians, in the person of Jesus, is with us; but the experience isn’t one of an adrenaline rush. It’s quieter, and we need to pay more attention to the little things–the bits of grace and goodness that are all around us, the opportunities we have to make a small difference in the life of another, or to do something good even when no one is watching, or to go deeper in our understanding or knowledge of God through reading one of the gospels that tell of Jesus’ life, or joining a prayer group, or getting involved in a work of justice, or giving some of your money away so that someone else might breathe easier as a result.

This is the work of aligning our lives to what we know matters most, but that gets so easily crowded out by all that’s swirling in and around us. It’s how we learn to hear the voice of Jesus when he speaks really softly, and we become the kind of people that other people recognize as Christians, as a song I used to sing in Youth Group goes, by our love.

So let me leave you with a few phrases from our Scripture texts today that can guide you in all those other times when we’re doing our best to live as if the powerful moments of grace and insight are real, but we don’t feel them as strongly anymore. Consider them a way of orienting your life, or patterning it, on the life of Jesus, who came not only to reveal God in human form, but also to teach us how to live as the children of God that we are.

In the passages from the Acts of the Apostles we heard about what happened to one of Jesus’ disciples after the resurrection. Simon Peter has one of those powerful, life-changing realizations and he says: “I truly understand now that God shows no partiality.” Take that in for a moment, and imagine what it would look like for us to live our lives as if that one statement were true, if we truly understood that God doesn’t play favorites. God doesn’t see one person, or group at school, or neighborhood, or political party, or religious affiliation as more worthy than another. God doesn’t divide humankind the way that we do. What might that mean for us and how we live?

Now, hear Jesus speaking, as the Gospel of John imagines him as he is saying goodbye to his disciples on the night before his death. These are his parting words, what he wants them most to remember when they are feeling discouraged and alone. After I’m gone, he tells them, I need you to love one another as I have loved you. That’s it. That’s what he wanted, and still wants, all those who take on the mantle of Christian to do–to love as he loves, and specifically, to love others as we have been loved by him.
It’s something to think about when we don’t know what to do next–we could reach out in love to another person.

Which brings me back to what I tried to describe at the beginning–what it feels like when we experience something of that love, that assurance that we’re not alone, that we are being led, and inspired, by a presence we can never fully explain or understand, but that we are willing to trust and follow. As we do, we find ourselves becoming more of ourselves, and able to do brave things, and yes, to love others with a generosity of spirit that we didn’t know we had. I’m not saying that we do this all the time, and that we always get it right, because we don’t–and I’ll save that conversation for another time.

For now, I pray that this day, and the prayers that Bishop Shand and I have the privilege of offering on your behalf, will be occasions of real grace and love that you feel and trust. Then may you go from this church and live your life with as much courage and love as you can.