The Living of Our Vows | Renewal of Vows 2023

The Living of Our Vows | Renewal of Vows 2023

And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength– he says,”It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”Thus says the Lord, the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One, to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations, the slave of rulers, “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”
Isaiah 49:1-7

Among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will be my servant also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say– `Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”
John 12:20-33

On the occasions in which a vow of any kind is made, there’s almost always an acknowledgement that the living of that vow will be harder than the making of it, and that we won’t be faithful to our vows if we rely only on our own good intentions and will power. That’s especially true in our faith tradition: recall how in Baptism and Confirmation services those making their promises do so with the important caveat, “I will, with God’s help.” In ordination services, after those being ordained make their vows, there is an explicit word from the presider: “May the God who has given you the will do these things, give you the grace and power to perform them.”

In the living of our vows, then, there is a necessary rhythm of rededication, not because we didn’t mean what we said the first time, but that in the living of our vows, we gain a clearer understanding of what the vows entail. We need to be reminded of what we said, and why, and to pray once again for the grace and power we need to fulfill them.

I’d like to reflect with you on the experience of living our vows–what it’s been like for you and me to journey on the path, or paths, to which we have been called by God, in all their twists and turns. In particular, I wonder if you might recall those times–perhaps you are in such a time now–when you seriously questioned whether you could stay on a given path, in part because it was nothing like what you had hoped for or expected, or because others upon whom your vocation seemed to depend had failed you, or perhaps more devastating, because you yourself had failed.

In the biblical narrative from Genesis to Revelation there are key moments upon which the arc of salvation history rests. There is the Exodus, God’s liberation of the People of Israel from bondage in Egypt, and the covenant God made with them in the wilderness. Then follow all the stories of the people’s failure to live according to their side of the covenant, all the times they repent, receive forgiveness and restoration, only to sin again, repent again, be restored again. More than once in the narrative, we get the message that God is disappointed with the Israelites, and, by extension, with us.

But what about the people? They were disappointed, too. This relationship with God wasn’t what they had imagined. God didn’t conform to their image or expectations. Nor were they people they had imagined themselves to be, and wanted to be. Only through a long process of inner transformation, could they hope to become the people God was calling them to be.

The story continues across biblical time, and we learn vicariously through the Israelites and later through Jesus’ disciples, that disappointment and failure are as much a part of salvation history as God’s saving acts and the people’s heartfelt, albeit naive promises.

For me, one of the more poignant eras in the biblical story is the time of Exile and what followers afterwards. Exile, as you recall, is when the people of Israel were removed from their sacred land, carried off into Babylon and forced to live there for several generations. The experience was devastating–a shattering of what the people thought was true about themselves and about their God. Their covenant with God was irreparably broken, or so they thought.

Yet in exile the people learned that God had not abandoned them in their sin and failings. Moreover, through the prophet Jeremiah, they realized that they were to seek the welfare of the city where God had sent them into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare would they find their welfare. In other words, for a season, they needed to make a home in exile. That was where God called them to be. (Jeremiah 29:7)

That’s a word for us to hang onto when we feel in exile ourselves. God is with us. As Jesus followers, we can hold to his words: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20). What’s more: for reasons beyond our understanding, we may need to be right where we are.

Eventually, miracle of miracles, the Isrealites who had been in exile are permitted to go back home and rebuild the Temple that had been destroyed by occupying armies. Through the prophet we’ve come to know as Second Isaiah, they are given a new, even loftier sense of their vocation as God’s people: It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. (Isaiah 49) Imagine how those words would feel to those formerly shattered and beaten down.

So they go back, and they rebuild their temple and everything seems great–for about a minute. After their initial joy comes inevitable letdown. The second Temple in no way matches their idealized memories of the first, life is still really hard, and they aren’t able to live the vows they made to God any better than their forebears could before they were sent away.

That longing that all human beings feel for God to save us persists, and the Isrealites’ hope that God will indeed transform this world once and for all becomes the wellspring of messianic hope. For those of us who follow Jesus, we find that fulfillment in Him.

Yet as Jesus followers we continue to live through the same rhythm of hope and disappointment, longing and and fulfillment for a time, only to find ourselves in the same death-to-life rhythm that He honored and made holy by His example.

Now I’m going out on a limb here, in faith that I’m not the only one who can identify with stories marked by moments of hope and resolve followed by the messiness of life and disappointment with others, the institutions in which we serve, and ourselves. What I dare to believe, and have witnessed partially in my own life and more gloriously in the lives of others, is that the times of disorientation, disappointment, and even death are as much a part of the path to which we have been called as the more joyful moments when we clearly and confidently said Yes. I will, with God’s help.

Today is the anniversary of the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, fifty-five years ago in Memphis. In the last years of his life, King was prone to seasons of internal despondency and despair even as he worked hard to be a beacon of hope to others. As he faced the most intransigent forms of racism and economic injustice, increasing infighting and strategic divisions among Black leaders, his own physical frailties and failings, and the impossibility of organizing a massive movement of poor people from all races to descend upon Washington, DC. King said to a reporter who questioned his organization’s capacity to organize a non-violent Poor People’s Campaign. “This is my best offering and last hope for this country.” When those of inner circle questioned the wisdom of going back to Memphis to support the striking sanitation workers, he replied, “Our movement lives or dies in Memphis.”1

The next day it was King who died.

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. (John 12:24)

The living of our vows is messy.

The late Madeleine Albright, the first woman Secretary of State in the United States, a devout Christian, and an active member of this diocese, once described her experience of vocation this way: “My life has felt like a jigsaw puzzle, only I was working with several pieces from several puzzles simultaneously and there was no finished picture to tell me how it should all end up.” Her memoirs are so inspiring to read, precisely because in them she doesn’t make light of her struggles; she acknowledges both her strengths and vulnerabilities, and she readily admits her mistakes. “Lives are necessarily untidy and uneven,” she writes. “It is important, however, to have some guiding star.”2

We are here today to remember our guiding star, and to hear God’s reassurance that when it feels as if we have lost our way, and even when we have, the star is still shining. Seafarers tell us that there is a lot of changing course when navigating by the stars, and that when the sky goes dark, as it does with regularity, there is no choice but to keep going in the dark. In darkness, we learn to rely on our instincts and lean on previously known vantage points, until the skies clear and we can see once again.

There’s another line from the Gospel text worthy of our meditation today. It is John’s version of the prayer Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane. In the other three gospel accounts, Jesus in the garden says, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me. But your will, not mine, be done.” Here is Jesus in solidarity with us in all those times when we pray for the same–to be spared. But in John’s version, set in another place, Jesus prays thus: “Now my heart is troubled. And what should I say, ‘Father, spare me from this hour?” No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.”

Perhaps it isn’t possible for you to be spared the living of this hour. Perhaps it is for a purpose beyond your understanding that you have come to it. Can you trust that even when your guiding star is hidden under clouds, and you stumble, and what you imagined doesn’t come to pass in the way that you hope, that it is for this you have come?

One final vignette:

Our younger son, Patrick, was a theater major in college, a decision that raised a few eyebrows of well-meaning adults in his life. Once when we were at dinner with a couple that were his parents’ age, and one of them asked him if he had a Plan B. He was quiet for a moment and then said, “I don’t really think of my life that way. I will walk this path wherever it leads. If I need to make a change, that will be my new Plan A.”

That’s a nineteen-year-old’s way of saying that God can make a way out of no way; that we all must navigate by the stars in our sky, which is the life of faith.

While the journey of a vowed life is not predictable, it can be trusted, no matter what, because of the One who has beckoned us onto the path. So that at our life’s end, no matter what happens, we will be able to answer the question the poet Raymond Carter asked in his poem, “Late Fragment.”

And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?

(Or: Did you get what you wanted from this vocation, even so?)

I did, the poet responds.

And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.3

Stay strong, friends. You are beloved. You are on your path. And it is for whatever that it is that is before you that you have come to this hour.

1See Michael K. Honey, Going Down the Jericho Road: The Memphis Strike and Martin Luther King’s Last Campaign (New York: W.W. Norton Company, 2007)
2Madeleine Albright, Madam Secretary: A Memoir ((New York: HarperCollins, 2003), 6;10, Kindle
3“Late Fragment” by Raymond Carver from A New Path to the Waterfall, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils

Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils

Bishop Mariann invites all who wish – laity, deacons, priests, (and bishops!) – to participate in one of two Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils services we’ll offer during Holy Week.

Washington National Cathedral | 12:00 p.m. | Tuesday, April 4 | in person and online
St. Paul’s, Waldorf | 11:00 a.m. | Wednesday, April 5 | in person only

If you are a layperson, please come in person or watch the Cathedral’s livestream of the service. No registration required.

Clergy will gather for a simple lunch with their bishop following the service and are requested to RSVP by Monday, March 20 so we have an accurate headcount.

Learn more about the roots of this ancient liturgy and its place in our Church

Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils

Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils

Bishop Mariann invites all who wish – laity, deacons, priests, (and bishops!) – to participate in one of two Renewal of Vows and Blessing of Oils services we’ll offer during Holy Week.

Washington National Cathedral | 12:00 p.m. | Tuesday, April 4 | in person and online
St. Paul’s, Waldorf | 11:00 a.m. | Wednesday, April 5 | in person only

If you are a layperson, please come in person or watch the Cathedral’s livestream of the service. No registration required.

Clergy will gather for a simple lunch with their bishop following the service and are requested to RSVP by Monday, March 20 so we have an accurate headcount.

Learn more about the roots of this ancient liturgy and its place in our Church

Preguntas para meditar al renovar un voto

Preguntas para meditar al renovar un voto

Jesús dijo: “Ahora mi alma está turbada. ¿Y acaso diré: “Padre, sálvame de esta hora”? ¡Si para esto he venido! Padre, ¡glorifica tu nombre!”
Juan 12:27-28

El punto de partida obvio para una reunión con el propósito expreso de renovar un voto es recordar cuándo hicimos ese voto por primera vez. Así que los invito ahora a recordar la primera vez que, sin duda, lo sabían:

He decidido seguir a Cristo,
He decidido seguir a Cristo,
he decidido seguir a Cristo,
No hay vuelta atrás, no hay vuelta atrás.

Algunos de nosotros podemos recordar un momento claro y decisivo. A otros, la decisión nos sorprendió, y nuestro recuerdo es más bien un reconocimiento o una constatación de algo que era cierto desde hacía tiempo. Para todos nosotros, esa primera decisión o la conciencia de una decisión condujo a otras decisiones, a otros votos: para algunos en el camino de la ordenación en la iglesia; para la mayoría de los cristianos, un camino de discipulado y testimonio en otros ámbitos vocacionales.

Aquí estamos hoy reafirmando decisiones pasadas, renovando –haciendo nuevos– los votos que hicimos en el pasado. Seríamos de piedra si de vez en cuando no cuestionáramos esos votos. Cuestionar, dudar y poner a prueba las decisiones pasadas es humano y necesario, porque cambiamos con el tiempo, así como también cambia nuestra comprensión de lo que significan y requieren los votos. Y nosotros mismos somos puestos a prueba.

De ahí la primera pregunta de hoy: Teniendo en cuenta quiénes somos ahora, lo que sabemos ahora, y lo que nos sucede, a nosotros y a nuestro mundo ahora, ¿elegimos de nuevo seguir a Jesús, y renovamos los votos que hicimos una vez como resultado de los primeros? Y si es así, ¿cómo elegimos? ¿Cómo es la fidelidad ahora?

Hay un momento conmovedor en el Evangelio de Juan, después de que Jesús habló durante un largo y confuso capítulo sobre ser el pan de vida (el temor de todo predicador cuando aparece en el leccionario dominical durante todo un mes). Es comprensible que después de ese discurso, muchas personas que en su día decidieron seguir a Jesús se lo pensaran dos veces. “Este dicho es demasiado duro para nosotros”, dicen, y uno a uno se vuelven atrás, hasta que Jesús se queda solo con los doce. Entonces, Jesús los mira y les pregunta: “Y ustedes, ¿también quieren irse?”.

Qué pregunta nos hace Jesús. ¿Cuál sería su pregunta para nosotros? “¿Y qué hay de nosotros, mis discípulos del siglo XXI de la Iglesia Episcopal? Teniendo en cuenta todo lo que sabes ahora sobre lo que cuesta seguirme; teniendo en cuenta todo lo que nos ha dolido, decepcionado, frustrado, ofendido, indignado y agotado, ¿también quieren irse?”

Cuando hizo la primera pregunta, Simón Pedro habló en nombre de los doce de una manera que me rompe el corazón cada vez que la leo. Recuerda: “Señor, ¿A dónde iremos? Tú tienes palabras de vida eterna. Hemos llegado a creer y saber que tú eres el Santo de Dios”. (Juan 6:67-69)

Mi respuesta, en la que he tenido tiempo de pensar esta semana, es esta: Señor, teniendo en cuenta todo lo que ahora sabes de mí, si todavía me aceptas, sigo estando contigo.

¿Y la tuya? ¿Cuál es tu respuesta?

Ahora hagamos la importantísima distinción entre nuestros votos y nuestros trabajos, o cualquier forma de vivir nuestros votos en un momento dado. Porque la forma de vivir nuestros votos cambia necesariamente con el tiempo. Puede cambiar mucho, a veces por las decisiones que tomamos, a menudo por las decisiones que toman otras personas y, con la misma frecuencia, por fuerzas que escapan de nuestro control. Piensa en el pueblo de Ucrania, por ejemplo. Todo lo que creían que podían contar les ha sido arrebatado.

Así que aquí va una segunda pregunta: ¿qué podemos decir tú y yo sobre nuestra vocación que seguiría siendo cierta, aunque nos quitaran todas las expresiones externas que ahora definen nuestra vida y nuestro trabajo?

Había una canción de organización sindical de los años 60 con el estribillo:

Tu vida es más que tu trabajo. Tu trabajo es más que tu profesión.

Bueno, nuestra vida en Cristo es más que nuestra vocación. Y nuestra vocación es mucho más que cualquier trabajo en la iglesia. ¿Cuál es tu vocación, sea cual sea?

Es una pregunta difícil, pero en última instancia liberadora, porque una vez que tenemos incluso un atisbo de respuesta, dependemos menos de otras personas y de las circunstancias externas para vivir una vida significativa y fiel. Es cierto que hay lugares óptimos para realizar nuestra vocación, pero no faltan lugares menos óptimos.

No digo esto para justificar sistemas injustos u opresivos, sino para celebrar el genio de la creatividad y la resistencia humanas, y la capacidad infinita del Espíritu Santo para moverse libremente en el mundo tal como es. Para los seguidores de Jesús, la pregunta nos sitúa en una mentalidad de fidelidad y servicio, en lugar de privilegio, derecho y decepción perpetua. Ofrece tanto un sombrío reconocimiento de lo que se nos puede quitar, como una sólida confianza en lo que no se puede. Porque lo que el mundo no dio, el mundo no puede quitarlo.

Aquellos que, como yo, que tengan cierta edad, quizá recuerden el ascenso de Amy Grant, la primera músico de rock cristiano que entró en las listas de éxitos del pop y tuvo una carrera fenomenal en los años 90 y 2000. Luego su estrellato se desvaneció. Ya no atrae a multitudes que llenan estadios para sus conciertos. Ahora toca en lugares más pequeños de todo el país: teatros, ferias estatales, Wisconsin Dells. Una vez la escuché en una entrevista en la que hablaba de su meteórica carrera: “Quería ser fiel en el camino”, dijo. “Y quiero ser igual de fiel en la bajada”.

Uno de los panegíricos más conmovedores lo pronunció un amigo mío por su madre, que, en virtud de la enfermedad física y, al final, de la demencia, perdió todo lo que definía externamente su vida y su identidad. “Lo único que quedó”, dijo su hijo, “fue el amor”.

En el pasaje del Evangelio de Juan que acabamos de escuchar hay otra frase que me toca el corazón. Es cuando Jesús dice: Ahora mi alma está turbada. Y qué voy a decir: ‘Padre, sálvame por esta hora. Padre, glorifica tu nombre’. Esta es la versión de Juan de lo que los evangelios sinópticos nos dicen que rezó Jesús en el huerto de Getsemaní: “Padre, si es posible, que pase de mí este cáliz; pero no se haga mi voluntad, sino la tuya.”

En ninguna de las dos versiones Jesús es una víctima, aunque está claro que hubiera preferido que las cosas terminaran de otra manera. La versión de Juan, escrita una generación más tarde, con el beneficio de la retrospectiva y una experiencia más larga del Cristo resucitado, nos dice que cuando el alma de Jesús estaba turbada, eligió libremente lo que no quería, por amor. Si perderlo todo era lo que el amor requería, entonces eso era lo que él haría, porque para eso había venido.

Ahora, en caso de que te preguntes si tu obispa ha olvidado todo lo que hemos discutido en el último año sobre la necesidad de descanso, el autocuidado, los límites saludables y el sábado, ten por seguro que no lo he hecho. Pero sabes, la cruz de Jesús no tiene mucho que decirnos sobre esas cosas buenas y necesarias, excepto quizás que debemos ser conscientes de las falsas cruces, o de las que no nos pertenecen (dejemos ese sermón para otra ocasión).

La cruz tampoco nos transmite todo su poder en esos momentos en los que, como dice la Oración de la Serenidad, estamos llamados a cambiar las cosas que están en nuestro poder. No, la cruz de Jesús, y Jesús en la cruz, nos hablan con más fuerza en esos momentos en los que debemos enfrentarnos, como él, a las cosas que no podemos cambiar; cuando necesitamos una fuerza espiritual que no es la nuestra para vivir, y morir, y resucitar.

Este año pasado tuve la extraordinaria experiencia de reconciliarme con dos personas a las que había herido profundamente en mis años de juventud. La primera fue cuando mi hermanastro, que no había hablado conmigo ni con ningún miembro de nuestra familia durante más de 20 años, hizo algo muy valiente y se presentó en el funeral de su madre en octubre. Por un breve momento nos permitió a mí y a mi hermana volver a su vida. Desde entonces se ha vuelto a alejar, por razones que no comprendo del todo, pero está bien. Sigo estando agradecida por el tiempo que compartimos, lo que me da la esperanza de que la curación de nuestra familia sea posible algún día.

La segunda reconciliación ha florecido en una nueva relación con nuestro ahijado, al que conocimos de niño cuando Paul y yo vivíamos en Honduras hace más de 30 años, y al que le fallé dos veces. Si quieres, algún día puedo contarles esa historia. Pero avancemos rápido hasta el verano pasado, cuando lo localizamos a través de las redes sociales. Poco a poco empezamos a comunicarnos, primero por texto y luego por teléfono. Luego fuimos a visitarlo a Nueva York, donde ha vivido indocumentado durante los últimos 16 años.

Su vida es dura en todos los sentidos que se puedan imaginar y, sin embargo, se mantiene firme en el propósito de su vida, que es mantener económicamente a dos sobrinos jóvenes en Honduras, a los que nunca ha conocido y quizás nunca conocerá, pero que, sin embargo, dependen de él para su sustento desde que su madre y su hermanastra, se suicidaron. Así que nuestro ahijado trabaja por las noches limpiando un restaurante, al que se desplaza por más de hora y media en metro. Vive en una pequeña habitación que alquila a una familia mexicana. Hablamos o nos enviamos mensajes de texto casi todas las mañanas, cuando él vuelve del trabajo y yo empiezo mi jornada: ¿Cómo está, madrina? Espero que esté bien. ¿Está tomando su cafecito?

La razón por la que te hablo de él es porque me ha dicho más de una vez que, si tuviera la oportunidad, volvería a vivir su vida con gusto, tal y como era, sin quejarse. Cuando le pedí perdón, era obvio que hacía tiempo que me había perdonado. Es un hombre con gracia y valor. Su fe es tranquila y fuerte. Sabe por qué está aquí: vive por amor.

¿No quieres vivir así, con la capacidad de amar de nuestro ahijado? ¿No quieres morir con la gracia de la madre de mi amigo? ¿Ser tan fiel a tus votos en la subida como en la bajada?

Yo sí, y esto lo sé: No puedo ser esa persona por mí misma. Por eso he decidido una vez más seguir a Jesús, y por eso haré todo lo posible para servirle en cualquier vocación que se me dé. Si me quitan todas las expresiones externas de mi identidad, o si llega el momento de dejarlas ir, pido la gracia de perseverar en el amor y la gratitud por el don de esta vida, vivida bajo el poder de su cruz.

Estoy agradecido por recorrer el camino de la cruz contigo.

Questions to Ponder When Renewing a Vow

Questions to Ponder When Renewing a Vow

Jesus said, ‘Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–“Father, save me from this hour”? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name.’
John 12:27-28

The obvious starting point for a gathering with the expressed purpose of renewing a vow is to call to mind when we made that vow for the first time. So I invite you now to think back to the first time that, without a doubt, you knew:

I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
I have decided to follow Jesus,
No turning back, no turning back.

For some of us, we can remember a clear, decisive moment. For others, the decision snuck up on us, and our memory is more like a recognition or acknowledgement of something that had been true for some time. For all of us, that first decision or awareness of a decision led to other decisions, other vows–for some on the path of ordination in the church; for the majority of Christians, a path of discipleship and witness in other vocational realms.

Here we are today reaffirming past decisions, renewing–making new–vows we made in the past. We would be made of stone if from time to time we didn’t question those vows. To question, to doubt, and to test past decisions is both human and necessary, because we change over time, our understanding of what the vows mean and require change, and we ourselves are tested.

Thus today’s first question: Given who we are now, what we know now, and what’s happening to us and in our world now, do we choose again to follow Jesus, and renew the later vows that we once made as a result of the first? And if so, how do we choose? What does faithfulness look like now?

There’s that poignant moment in the Gospel of John after Jesus has gone on for a very long and confusing chapter about being the bread of life (every preacher’s dread when it comes up in the Sunday lectionary for an entire month). Understandably after that discourse, many people who had once decided to follow Jesus had second thoughts. “This saying is too hard for us,” they say, and one by one they turn back, until Jesus is alone with the twelve. He looks at them and asks, “And what about you–do you also wish to go away?”

What a question for Jesus to ask them. What would his question be to us? “And what about you, my twenty-first century disciples of The Episcopal Church? Given all that you know now about what it costs to follow me; given all that has hurt, disappointed, frustrated, offended, outraged, and exhausted you–do you also wish to go away?”

When he first asked the question, Simon Peter spoke up for the twelve in a way that breaks my heart open every time I read it. You remember: “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:67-69)

My answer, which I’ve had time to think about this week: Lord, given all that you now know about me, if you’ll still have me, I am still with you.

And yours?

Now let’s make the all-important distinction between our vows and our jobs, or whatever way we live out our vows at a given time. For how we live our vows necessarily changes over time. It can change a lot–sometimes because of the choices we make; often because of choices that other people make; and equally as often, because of forces beyond our control. Think of the people of Ukraine, for God’s sake. Everything they thought they could count on has been taken from them.

So here’s a second question: what can you and I say about our vocation that would still be true even if all the external expressions that now define our life and work were taken from us?

There was a union organizing song from the 1960s with the refrain:

Your life is more than your work. Your work is more than your job.

Well, our life in Christ is more than our vocation. And our vocation is way more than any job in the church. What is your vocation, no matter what?

It’s a difficult question, but ultimately a freeing one, for once we have even a glimmer of an answer, we are less dependent on other people and external circumstances to live a meaningful, faithful life. Granted there are optimal places for us to fulfill our vocations, but no shortage of less optimal places.

I don’t say this to justify unjust or oppressive systems, but rather to celebrate the genius of human creativity and resilience, and the Holy Spirit’s infinite capacity to move freely in the world as it is. For followers of Jesus, the question puts us in a mindset of faithfulness and service, rather than privilege, entitlement, and perpetual disappointment. It offers both a somber recognition of what can be taken from us, and a rock solid confidence in what can’t. For what the world didn’t give, the world cannot take away.

Those of you who, like me, are of a certain age may remember the rise of Amy Grant, the first Christian rock musician who crossed over onto the pop charts and had a phenomenal run back in the ‘90s and 2000s. Then her star faded. She no longer draws crowds that fill stadiums for her concerts. Now she plays in smaller venues across the country–theaters, state fairgrounds, the Wisconsin Dells. I heard her give an interview once in which she talked about her meteoric career: “I wanted to be faithful on the way up,” she said. “And I want to be just as faithful on the way down.”

One of the most moving eulogies was given by a friend of mine for his mother, who, by virtue of physical illness and, in the end, dementia, lost everything that externally defined her life and identity. “All that was left,” her son said, “was love.”

Embedded in the passage from the Gospel of John that we’ve just heard is another line that tugs at my heart every time. It’s when Jesus says: Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–’Father, save me for this hour?’ No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. ‘Father, glorify thy name.’ This is John’s version of what the synoptic gospels tell us that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.

In neither version is Jesus a victim, although it’s clear that he would have preferred things to have ended differently. John’s version, written a full generation later, with the benefit of hindsight and a longer lived experience of the Risen Christ, tells us that when Jesus’ soul was troubled, he nonetheless freely chose what he did not want, for love’s sake. If losing everything was what love required, then that was what he would do because that is why he came.

Now in case you’re wondering if your bishop has forgotten everything we’ve discussed in the past year about the need for rest, self-care, healthy boundaries, and Sabbath–be assured that I haven’t. But you know, the cross of Jesus doesn’t have much to say to us about those good and necessary things–except perhaps to be mindful of false crosses, or the ones that don’t belong to us (let that be a sermon for another time).

Nor does the cross convey its full power to us in those times when, as it says in the Serenity Prayer, we are called to change those things that lie within our power to change. No, the cross of Jesus, and Jesus on the cross, speaks to us most powerfuly in those times when we must face, as he did, the things that we cannot change; when we need spiritual strength not our own from which to live, and die, and rise again.

This past year I had the extraordinary experience of reconciling with two people I had deeply wounded in my younger years. The first was when my half-brother, who hadn’t spoken to me or any member of our family for over 20 years, did a very brave thing and showed up at his mother’s funeral in October. For a brief moment he allowed me and my sister back into his life. He’s since pulled away again, for reasons I don’t fully understand, but that’s okay. I’m still grateful for the time we shared, which gives me hope that healing in our family might one day be possible.

The second reconciliation has flowered into a new relationship with our godson, whom we met as a boy when Paul and I lived in Honduras over 30 years ago. and whom I failed twice. I can tell you that story someday if you like. But fast forward to last summer when we tracked him down via social media. Slowly we started communicating–first by text, then by telephone. Then we went to visit him in New York, where he’s lived, undocumented, for the last 16 years.

His life is hard in all the ways you can imagine–and yet he is rock solid in his life purpose, which to financially support two young nephews back in Honduras, whom he’s never met and perhaps never will, but nonetheless have depended on him for their livlihood since their mother, his half-sister, committed suicide. So our godson works nights cleaning a restaurant, to which he commutes over an hour and half each way by subway. He lives in a small room that he rents from a Mexican family. We talk or text almost every morning, as he is returning from work and I’m beginning my day. Como está, madrina? Espero que esté bien. Está tomando su cafecito?

The reason I’m telling you about him is that he has said to me more than once that if given the opportunity, he would gladly live his life all over again, just the way it was, without complaint. When I asked for his forgiveness, it was obvious that he had long since forgiven me. He is a man of grace and courage. His faith is quiet and strong. He knows why he’s here–he lives for love.

Don’t you want to live like that, with our godson’s capacity to love? Don’t you want to die with the grace of my friend’s mother? To be as faithful to your vows on the way up as on the way down?

I do, and this I know: I can’t be that person on my own. That’s why I’ve decided once again to follow Jesus, and why I will do my best to serve Him in whatever vocation I am given. Should every outward expression of my identity be taken from me, or when the time comes for me to let them go, I pray for the grace to persevere in love and gratitude for the gift of this life, lived under the power of his cross.

I’m grateful to walk the way of the cross with you.