This is ther sermon the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge preached at the ordination of Paula Jefferson to the diaconate on June 11, 2020.
Homily for the Ordination of Paula Jefferson
June 11, 2020
Feast of St. Barnabas
“The kingdom of heaven has come near, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.”
I’m here at the Seminary of the Southwest very happy to be preaching today, connected with you all by technology, across the state of Texas, beamed in to your minimalist service.
The World in Front of the Biblical Text: The Diocese of Fort Worth, reeling from a legal defeat, a consequence of church conflict that led to a split, with the prospect of impoverishment, or as Paula says with the invitation to be “detached from stuff in a whole new way.”
The nation is boiling with rage and demanding justice, in pain, seeing anew and naming an evil, a wound that has been festering there all along.
The Coronavirus pandemic virus keeps people apart, church in diaspora, making it necessary for Bishop Mayer to ordain Paula without any of the frills and fun of an ordination in regular times – we can’t see our buddies in person!
This is the “world in front of the text” for the Ordination of Paula Jefferson to the sacred order of deacons on the feast of St. Barnabas.
Now The Text:
Barnabas, remembered by the church for arguing with Paul, for his liberality in giving, his generosity to the apostles, and for the remarkable name he has given, “son of encouragement.” Paula wanted to use these propers so that every year hereafter, she could remember her ordination again.
In 2007 I was on retreat at the monastery of St. John the Evangelist on the feast of St. Barnabas, and the superior then, Brother Curtis Almquist, preached a homily that made me feel close to Barnabas myself ever since.
Curtis reflected on his name and the phenomenon of “encouragement.” He reminded us that encouragement comes from the root word for heart, “cour” … and that encouragement is a strengthening of the heart, the giving of courage. And further he said that courage is not something you attribute to yourself, but something that others see in you. Courage is called from you in a situation that requires you to do what is needed.
Paula is also generous. She is an encourager; she is a positive can-do, heart strengthening, colleague and friend.
She used to make the excuse that she was a CPA ,and so she wanted to make us believe that contemplative prayer and dancing the Easter story and Anglican chanting and theopoesis were out for her. But she showed courage and did those things and found out that she was wrong!
That we have come to this day, that she is actually being ordained at all, is thanks to the encouragement of many, many others, patiently insisting that she had a vocation as a sacramental leader. This cloud of witnesses is represented by the small number you are physically with and the others who pray and support this occasion from a distance.
Paula is being ordained a deacon. As a deacon, Paula will “interpret to the church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.” She will proclaim to this torn apart world that the kingdom of heaven has come near. That even in the deepest, darkest night national agony the Holy Spirit is moving among us as a force for freedom and healing. She will motivate and enlist the community to cleanse lepers and to cast out demons. The deacon says, “Dear Church, the world has need for racial healing; the world is really worried that the earth may not flourish for human life in the long term. The world hopes for peace and for communion.”
Now to the future, into the world ahead of the text.
First, this ordination tonight is itself a sign that the kingdom of heaven has come near.
The liturgical things that a deacon gets to do are pretty simple, Read the gospel, set the table, and give the dismissal. I like to tease newly ordained deacons when they come back to Christ Chapel in the spring semester that there are a lot of ways to mess these up – and we witness them all – garbling the gospel acclamation, pouring the water first, even blowing the dismissal “go in love and peace to serve the Lord” “Serve the Lord in the name of Christ” Or just a stunned silence… “who me????”
Paula, it’s unlikely you will mess these up. You’re too well prepared. Plus it will probably be a while before you get back to an altar anyway.
It’s what these things mean that matters, and Paula, we need you to do them all, but especially tonight, today, in this moment, to dismiss us well. To send us out there, to encourage us, as we go with a lot less stuff, without beautiful sacred buildings, into a world that yearns to be shown that the kingdom of heaven has come near.
Paula, I have a new version of the dismissal for you. It comes from Iyad Qumri, a Palestinian Christian, who guided our pilgrimage to the Holy Land. He had an expression he used, after he’s shepherded everybody back to the bus, gathered them from the restrooms, or the gift shop, or the market stalls, to steer us on to the next holy place. In a voice of utter command and kindness and urgency, he would shout the Arabic word for Hurry, “Yalla!!!”
That’s my charge to you today and your dismissal for us, Paula, after all this time of preparation and encouragement:
“Go in peace to love and serve the Lord, YALLA!”