Join us to commemorate the life and legacy of Matthew Shepard, on what would have been his forty-sixth birthday, with an evening service of song and prayer and the dedication of a portrait of Matthew by artist Kelly Latimore [https://kellylatimoreicons.com/] commissioned by LGBTQ members of the Cathedral staff. Matthew’s parents, Dennis and Judy Shepard, will join the service in St. Joseph’s Chapel, where Matthew is interred. The chapel will also be open from 2:00-5:00 pm for reflection and prayer with the portrait of Matthew on display and the Shepards on hand to greet visitors. The Cathedral’s online Morning Prayer on December 1 will be offered in remembrance of Matthew and led by the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson.
“The past several years have reminded me that there are many people who don’t know much about Matthew’s story despite the close connection here at the Cathedral.” – Rev. Patrick L. Keyser, Priest Associate National Cathedral
The Meaning of Matthew is more than a retelling of horrific injustice that brought the reality of inequality and homophobia into the American consciousness. It is an unforgettable and inspiring account of how one ordinary woman turned an unthinkable tragedy into a vital message for the world.
Join the LGBTQIA Alliance for a discussion of Judy Shepard’s book “The Meaning of Matthew: My Son’s Murder in Laramie, and a World Transformed.” Lead by The Rev. Patrick L. Keyser, Priest Associate.
This is a hybrid event available both online via Zoom or in person at National Cathedral’s Library. Free Registration: tinyurl.com/TheMeaningOfMatthewS
En el nombre del Dios, del Hijo y del Espíritu Santo. In the name of God, the Creator, the Christ and the Holy Spirit. My name is Anne-Marie Jeffery and it is my pleasure to serve this diocese as your Canon for Congregational Vitality. I will be speaking a little in Spanish, but most of the sermon will be in English.
Me llamo Anne-Marie Jeffery y sirvo a la diócesis como Canoniga para la Vitalidad Congregacional. Hoy es un día muy importante. Hoy ustedes declararán su amor a Dios. Hoy declararán su compromiso de seguir a Jesús – no de forma privada, sino en voz alta, frente a Dios y a todos nosotros.
Hace mucha diferencia cuando decimos algo en voz alta. Yo creo que esto nos cambia. Cuando te das cuenta de que amas a alguien, y llega el momento en que estás listo para decir “te amo” a la otra persona, algo ha cambiado en tu relación con esa persona, esa relación se ha hecho más profunda y fuerte. Y cuando tú dices “te amo”, tú cambias, así como también cambia la persona que recibe tus palabras.
Today is a very important day. Today you will declare your love for God. Today you will declare your commitment to following Jesus – not privately, but out loud in front of God and in front of all of us.
It makes a difference when you say something out loud. I believe it changes us. You know when you find that you love someone, and you get to the point where you are ready to say “I love you” to the other person.
When that happens, something has changed about the relationship. It has most likely gotten deeper and stronger. And then when you say “‘I love you” to the person, you are changed as is the person receiving the words.
You might be looking through the service bulletin for the place where you say “I love you” to God and you won’t find those exact words but the words we do say are those of love because in promising to follow Jesus, we are declaring our love for God.
Hoy preguntará si reafirmas tu renuncia al mal, y tu respuesta será: Así lo haré. Después te preguntará si quieres renovar tu compromiso con Jesucristo. Y tu respuesta será “Así lo haré, y con la gracia de Dios lo seguiré como mi Salvador y Señor”. Estas palabras son palabras de amor.
Today you will be asked if you reaffirm your renunciation of evil, your response will be – “I do.” You will then be asked to renew your commitment to Jesus Christ? Your response will be – “I do, and with God’s grace I will follow him as my Savior and Lord.” These sound like words of love to me.
You might say, Well, God knows I love God. So why do I need to say it? We say it because when we say these words out loud, I believe we are changed no matter if we have come for confirmation, reception or affirmation. To have witnesses to our words makes this action even more powerful, because those who are here today will support us and be reminded of their own love of God – their own commitment to Christ.
If you know anything about relationships, saying the words is just the beginning. This is where our gospel can give us some direction. Our love of God requires attention, faithfulness and especially persistence. This is not an easy road, this commitment that is so wonderfully described in our baptismal promises – to be faithful in worship and in the prayers, to return to God when we have strayed away, to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ, to serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being. All this requires persistence and the woman in our gospel is all about persistence.
Amar a Dios requiere atención, fidelidad y persistencia, que es lo que el Evangelio presenta esta mañana. Hay una mujer que necesita justicia y su única opción es este juez que no tiene temor de Dios ni respeta a las personas. No hay nada que lo mueva a ayudarla, excepto las acciones de esta mujer, así que ella no lo dejará tranquilo. Debido a su persistencia, el juez provee justicia, porque él no quiere ser molestado más por ella. Nosotros también debemos ser persistentes en nuestro seguimiento a Dios.
The woman in our gospel needs justice and her only option is this judge who does not fear God or respect people. There is nothing that will move him to help her except her own action and so she will not leave him alone. Because of her persistence, he gives her justice because he does not want to be worn out by her asking.
We have to be careful here. God is not like this unjust judge. We don’t have to wear God out to be in relationship with God. God is not a disinterested distant judge. God longs for us and God will grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night. We are the ones who need to be persistent to perceive and to receive the gifts that God is giving us.
Many of us have been persistent in prayer, in worship, in proclaiming the Good News, in seeking Christ in all people and in fighting for justice and we have not received the answer or results we have wanted. We wonder if God is showing up for us. We do not understand.
La escritora Debi Thomas dijo una vez sobre la persistencia en la oración que cuando ella ora como esta mujer viuda, con persistencia y de todo corazón, algo sucede en ella y su corazón se hace más fuerte.
One of my favorite writers, Debi Thomas addresses this work of persistence when it comes to prayer. She writes, “What happens when we pray like the widow? What is prayer for? I can only speak from experience, but I know that when I persist in prayer – really persist, with a full heart, over a long period of time – something happens to me. My sense of who I am, to whom I belong, what really matters in this life, and why – these things mature and solidify. My heart grows stronger. It becomes less fragile and flighty. Once in a long while, it even soars. And sometimes – here’s the biggest surprise – these good and substantive things happen even when I don’t receive the answer I’m praying for.1
This persistence is needed not just in prayer, but in all of our life with God. I was confirmed when I was quite young – 11 years old. At the time, I was very serious about my commitment to God and the promises I was making. When I got into my 20s, I found myself in and out of church and not sure about my relationship with God. It was during a period of not going to church that I came to realize that I would never find what I was seeking in a relationship with God unless I showed up. I had to persist in coming to worship, praying, studying scripture and living my life as one who follows Jesus. Over time, what I sought came to be and I remember in my late 20s coming before the bishop in a service very similar to this one for affirmation of my vows. I suspect that many of you already have your own story of persistence with God even if you are at the beginning of the journey.
I ask you, as you make your declaration of love for God this day, as you reaffirm your commitment to following Jesus Christ, will you persist in your following of Jesus like the widow persisted with the judge?
Will you worship persistently like the widow, even when life gets in the way? Will you proclaim the good news like the widow when you are afraid to say the words? Will you seek and serve Christ in the most challenging of people? Will you continue to fight for justice when the way gets hard?
When we persist over time, our relationship with God deepens and what starts with saying words of love out loud sinks deep into our hearts and changes us, making us stronger and closer to the people Jesus needs us to be in this broken world.
Los invito a todos ustedes aquí hoy, no solo a quienes han venido para ser confirmados, recibidos o afirmados, a decir las palabras de amor a Dios en voz alta juntos. Recuerden la persistencia que se necesita para seguir a Cristo. Sepan que Dios nos busca en nuestro peregrinar, y nuestros corazones serán fortalecidos y elevados por aquel que nos ama más de lo que podemos entender.
I invite all of us here, not just those coming for confirmation, reception and affirmation, to say the words of love to God out loud together. Remember the persistence needed to follow Christ. Know that God longs for us and in this journey we will find our hearts strengthened and lifted up by the one who loves us more than we will ever understand.
1The Bothersome Widow from Journey With Jesus webzine
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
As they were leaving Jericho, a large crowd followed him. There were two blind men sitting by the roadside. When they heard that Jesus was passing by, they shouted, ‘Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!’ The crowd sternly ordered them to be quiet; but they shouted even more loudly, ‘Have mercy on us, Lord, Son of David!’ Jesus stood still and called them, saying, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, let our eyes be opened.’ Moved with compassion, Jesus touched their eyes. Immediately they regained their sight and followed him.
You have told us what is good, O Lord, and what you require of us–to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you, our God. Help us with your grace and courage to be just, kind, and humble. Amen.
Good morning. It is always a joy for me to be with you in worship, Cathedral community and along with Dean Hollerith, to welcome our guests. I pray that you feel God’s love and kindness for you in this place.
From the poem, “Compassion” by Miller Williams:
Have compassion for everyone you meet
even if they don’t want it. What seems conceit,
bad manners, or cynicism is always a sign
of things no ears have heard, no eyes have seen.
You do not know what wars are going on
down where the spirit meets the bone.1
And from Secretary of State Madeleine Albright’s last book before her death, entitled Fascism: A Warning:
The wise response to intolerance is not more intolerance or self-righteousness. It is a coming together across the ideological spectrum of people who want to make their countries better. We should remember that the heroes we cherish–Lincoln, King, Gandhi, Mandela–spoke to the best within us. The crops we’ll harvest depend on the seeds we sow.2
The crops we’ll harvest depend on the seeds we sow.
This is the second sermon in a series that takes its inspiration from one of the most compelling passages in all the Bible, written 800 years before the birth of Jesus by the prophet Micah:
What does the Lord require of you
but to do justice,
and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?
We at Washington National Cathedral and in the Episcopal Diocese of Washington are part of a larger effort among Christians across the country dedicating ourselves to Micah’s call to be just, kind, and humble. And we’re doing so with particular intention in these last weeks before the midterm elections because October is arguably the month when, as a nation, we are our most polarized. We are bombarded with billions of dollars worth in political advertising intended to inflame our differences, exploit our worst fears, dehumanize those with whom we disagree, make false promises, and simplify the complex problems we face that require a unified nation to address.
The idea behind the Micah 6:8 pledge is for Christians to do whatever we can to narrow the gap between us and to tone down the rhetoric of public discourse. Imagine what would happen if all Christians committed ourselves to be just, kind and humble in all our relationships? If we all committed to show up in the places where people are treated unfairly, adding our voices and our resources to the efforts that make for a better world, and doing so with kindness and humility, especially with those who do not share our point of view?
In fairness, political advertising, social media, and the more divisive forces that can dominate public discourse advertising don’t create polarization–they amplify what already exists. The seeds of societal polarization lie within every human community, and–let’s be honest–within each of us. For years the seeds may lie fallow, and we may not realize that they’re there. But when they are watered with fear and resentment, they grow and threaten to choke everything around them.
I doubt that I’m the only person in this Cathedral concerned about how those seeds have been methodically cultivated in our country. What we all have trouble recognizing, myself included, is how we contribute to the social conditions we lament through our actions and speech, or what we choose not to do or say.
Hence, the need to look to ourselves and our own behavior, which the Micah 6:8 pledge invites us to do, and commit ourselves, daily, to our highest ideals as human beings. For those of us who are followers of Jesus, this isn’t optional. It is what is required to follow in His way of love.
In the words of Franciscan priest Richard Rohr, “True spiritual action (as opposed to reaction) demands our own ongoing and radical transformation. It often requires us to change sides so we can be where pain is. It even requires a new identity, as Jesus exemplified in his great self-emptying. It feels like weakness, but it finally changes things in very creative, patient, and humble ways.”3
I’ve given you all in the Cathedral a small card with the Micah 6:8 pledge, and it is also printed on the back of your bulletin. Will you read it with me?
I pledge to strive to follow Micah 6:8 in all aspects of my life:
- To act justly and pursue justice by standing with and speaking out for those who are vulnerable, mistreated, in need or exploited
- To practice kindness and mercy in every interaction, even with those with whom I disagree;
- To act with humility, surrendering my will to God’s will, acknowledging that I may not always be right and should listen more and speak less.
Today our focus is on Micah’s exhortation to kindness, and our pledge to practice kindness and mercy in every interaction, even with those with whom we disagree.
In the spirit of a Twelve-Step moral inventory, I invite us all, myself included, to take stock–not only of our actions, but our speech. How does kindness inform what we do and how we do it? How do we talk to one another? Even more telling, how do we talk about one another? When we aren’t kind when speaking to or about another, what rationale do we give? We’ve all been influenced, consciously or not, by the increasing coarseness, intolerance, and cruelty that is now normative in human discourse, especially across lines of difference.
I’m not suggesting that we don’t call out egregious behavior, only that we guard against becoming the mirror image of that which we rightfully critique, or worse, imagine that the righteousness of our position justifies or rationalizes similar behavior on our part.
You may remember the story that Jesus told about a man who began his prayer by thanking God that he was not like other people, listing all the miserable sinners not at all like him. God was not impressed.
-The wise response to intolerance is not more intolerance or self-righteousness.
-The crops we’ll harvest depend on the seeds we sow.
The British comedian Tony Hendra once tried to describe to his spiritual mentor, a gentle Benedictine monk named Father Joe, the function of satire–humor told at the expense of another person.
Father Joe seemed confused. “Satire always divides people up into two groups?”
“Yes,” Tony replied.
“Is that a good thing?”
“It’s the way the world works, Father Joe. People think in teams. We’re good; you’re evil; we’re right; you’re wrong. we’re smart; you’re dumb. Most humor works that way, even the most basic jokes. The English tell Irish jokes. Americans tell Polish jokes, because the Poles have been stereotyped as stupid.”
“Oh tell me a Polish joke,” Father Joe said.
“Okay. What has an IQ of two hundred and twelve?”
“Well, I don’t know, dear.”
Father Joe gazed up expectantly. “Is there a joke coming?”
“That’s it. The entire city of Warsaw has a combined IQ of two hundred twelve.”
“Oh,” Father Joe protested, “but the Poles are a rather sensitive people. Tragic and poetic and long-suffering. Look at Chopin. Or the Holy Father.”
“Okay, Chopin and John Paul the Second are not Polish jokes. But the dynamic holds for jokes about politicians, opposing political parties, or blondes, or the French.”
Father Joe looked puzzled. “To say that people are stupid when they’re not–isn’t that cruel?“ He was silent for a moment. “You see, dear, I think there are two types of people in the world. Those who divide the world into two types of people…and those who don’t.”4
What type of person do you and I want to be?
If we are Jesus followers, what type of person does he call us to be?
“The godly,” writes the Benedictine nun, Joan Chittister, “are those who never talk destructively about another person–in anger, in spite, in vengefulness–and who can be counted on to bring an open heart to a closed and clawing world.” She goes on: “The holy ones are those who live well with those around them. They are just, they are upright, they are kind. The ecology of humankind is safe with them.”5
Is the ecology of humankind safe with us? If we’re honest–or speaking for myself, if I’m honest–not always. I can do better. Perhaps you can, too.
Now there is a temptation–an understandable one in polarized, divisive climates–to take the opposite approach and remain silent, on the assumption that saying or doing nothing is a form of kindness. In families and communities, the list can get quite long of all the things that we don’t talk about.
But is avoidance kind? And kind to whom?
Sociologist and author Brené Brown argues in her book, Dare to Lead, that clarity is kindness. Not speaking; not engaging is a deliberate effort not to be clear. And to be unclear–or to pretend that you aren’t clear when you are–while it may avoid tension, is in the end, Brown maintains, unkind.
I remember in 2003, when The Episcopal Church took its most public position to date on inclusion by officially the election of Gene Robinson, an openly gay and partnered man, as bishop. The convention that made that momentous decision–and it was a big deal–took place in Minneapolis, where I was serving as a priest. One of my mentors at the time was a Lutheran pastor of a large church whose ministries I admired and sought to emulate. Shortly after the convention, he said to me, not realizing my position, or the make-up of the congregation I served, “I’m sympathetic to the cause. I really am. But The Episcopal Church is making a big mistake. We (meaning his church) are going to lay low on this issue. It’s far too divisive to take a stand on.”
To myself, I wondered what he would say to the gay and lesbian members of his church. But all I said was, “Someday, you may thank us.”
I believe that it is possible to be kind and also clear about what we believe and stand for in a contentious, even polarized climate. But it requires great care and intentionality. Here we can take inspiration from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Bishop Curry is never hesitant to speak the truth as he sees it. Yet he is among the most universally beloved religious leaders in the world, because he treats those who don’t share his view with kindness and humility, and he never stops searching for common ground across differences.
Bishop Curry calls his approach to engaging the work of justice as standing and kneeling at the same time. He stands in his convictions, speaking as clearly as he can what he believes and why. And he kneels before those who disagree with him, honoring them as beloved children of God, respecting their point of view, and being willing to truly listen in a spirit of humility.
“If we all do that and engage each other,” he says, “kneeling in real humility before each other and before God, and yet being honest and up front and clear about what we stand for, the fact that we have knelt before each other creates the space where we can stand together with our differences.”
If we don’t show up and don’t speak up in a contentious, polarized time, as tempting as that is, it is an abdication of moral ground. Yet how we act; how we speak, matters. It matters that we show up where Jesus calls us, standing firm in what we believe to be right and true and just, and yet stay in loving relationship with those who differ, refusing to meet intolerance with more intolerance, but with love.
In closing, let me say one more word about kindness, drawing inspiration from the story we just heard of Jesus’ interactions with the two blind men who yelled at him, asking for mercy, and with the crowd who tried to silence them. Last week, Bishop Robinson said from this pulpit that doing the work of justice invariably leads us to kindness, which for many is true. I believe the reverse is also true, that when we choose the path of proximate kindness, that is, daring to show up where people are hurting, where people are bearing the brunt of social inequity and injustice, when we get close and offer our kindness there, we will be moved to act with justice.
And when we show up, all of us together, our differences matter less. They just do.
We saw an example of this last Wednesday, October 5th, when the President of the United States, Joseph Biden, and the Governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis, held a joint press conference in Fort Myers Beach, Florida. Both men praised the other, and the branches of government they represent, for their collaborative efforts to address the devastation Hurricane Ian caused in Florida.
Two men on opposite ends of the chasm that divides us went out of their way to be kind to one another, and more importantly, to the people with whom they spoke who had lost so much. We need more of this, because the challenges before us as a nation, just like the Hurricane recovery effort, requires all of us.
Human beings have an innate capacity to care for one another, and not merely those of our own tribe. Alongside these seeds of human polarization are also seeds of empathy. And when we water and cultivate those seeds, a different kind of world is possible.
And it is possible. Think of it: No one is dividing the people in need of emergency shelter in Florida or elsewhere according to political parties, or only restoring electricity to people who agree with them on certain issues. Those of us writing checks to support relief efforts in Florida or elsewhere aren’t insisting that our money only goes to those who share our worldview.
Think of what we are capable of when we decide to show up–all of us–where love is needed. And keep the Micah pledge before you.
May Jesus help us all to be just, kind and humble. Amen.
1Miller Williams, “Compassion” in The Ways We Touch, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1997) 55.
2Madeleine Albirght, Fascism: A Warning, (HarperCollins, Kindle ed.), xx
3Richard Rohr, “Jesus is Our Reference Point”
4Tony Hendra, Father Joe: The Man Who Saved My Soul, (New York: Random House, 2004.)
5Joan Chittister, O.S.B, The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992), 24.
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.
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.
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.”
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.