This is the sermon the Rev . Christopher Jambor preached at the ordination of Maddie Hill to the priesthood, June 29, 2020. Corrie Cabes was ordained that same day.
Ordination, Maddie Hill June 29, 2020 All Sts/FW Fr. Jambor
Maddie… Corrie… welcome to the club! You’ve made it. You’ve arrived. You did it!
Whoops! I’m sorry. I confused this with your graduation from seminary…or your graduation from college… or passing the bar…or being certified as a master plumber… or any other accomplishment.
In fact, forget everything I just said. Because, it turns out you are about to be ordained to the priesthood. And, the priesthood is not a club. Nor is the Church a club.
Being ordained to the priesthood is not an achievement. It is not an upwardly mobile career. It is a downwardly mobile vocation which I’m sure you know already. But there may be some listening who might not.
There are many aspects of being a priest, far too many to roll into one ordination sermon, although I do recall one right here at All Saints’ about 25 years ago which tried to do just that. It was one of those acrostic sermons, the kind nobody ever remembers except for the acrostic.
It started out with P. P stood for something or other, I don’t remember, and we all thought, “Yikes! We’re in for a six-point sermon… P.R.I.E.S.T.
Then R stood for something else… then on to I… I stood for such and such…then E stood for this and that… then S which stood for WHO CARES BY NOW… and then T. Yay T! And there was a palpable sense of relief when the preacher got to the T of PRIEST. There was a light at the end of the tunnel. The sermon was drawing to a close!
As the preacher wrapped up his exposition on what the letter T meant in PRIEST, he took a sip of water at the pulpit and said… H. H! Oh, no! not the dreaded H! This is not a sermon on the acrostic PRIEST. It’s a sermon on the acrostic PRIESTHOOD. HOOD! Why HOOD?!
By the way, this preacher loved acrostic sermons. He did the same thing on Mother’s Day once. He launched into M… then O., T., H., E., R.…. and we all took in an apprehensive corporate breath….and then the dreaded H. HOOD! MOTHERHOOD!
Everyone was late for Mother’s Day brunch that Sunday!
So, no, I won’t subject you to anything like that. No 21-point sermon on the acrostic “The Order of Melchizedek”. There is one and only one aspect of your life as an ordained priest that I want to touch on tonight. It is Unity…. Unity… and your part in that as a priest.
In the Collect for the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, we prayed this clause: “Grant that your Church, instructed by their teaching and example, and knit together in unity by your Spirit.”
There it is… unity. We pray, therefore we believe, that the Church is knit together in unity by God the Holy Spirit. The Church which calls you…the Church which ordains you…the Church which you shall serve… is one. And, the Church’s one-ness, its unity, its union is not man made. The Church is not a human institution. It is an institution full of humans, but the Church, according to our prayers, is a divine institution because it is the handiwork of God, not of Man. As today’s prayer goes, “We are knit together in unity by your Spirit, God”.
One of my favorite prayers, not surprisingly here at All Saints’, is the Collect for All Saints’ Day. In this prayer, we pray in part this: “Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord.”
There it is again. We the Church are one communion… we the Church are one fellowship…we the Church are one mystical body… knit together by whom? By God.
We, the Church, are God’s handiwork. God has knit us into one giant, beautiful, variegated tapestry.
This Collect in which God knits the Church into union is why I like to think of God as a weaver sitting at a loom…pulling threads of all colors and textures together into one majestic and glorious tapestry called the Church. God the knitter… God the weaver… God the artisan…enjoying the variegated wholeness and unity of his handiwork the Church.
So, what’s our part in this?
Well, to borrow words our Lord uses in reference to another matter, “Those whom God has joined together, let no one rend asunder.” God has joined us together, knit us together, into one body, the Church. And, “those whom God has joined together, let no one rend asunder.” We, you and I, are more than capable of tearing apart God’s handiwork the Church. And, we are not to do that, are we?
But what happens from time to time is we threads in God’s tapestry are sitting there, being Church, knit together by God… and, after a while, we look around and think,
“I don’t much like the thread I’m knit so closely to. In fact, there’s a lot of thread around here I don’t much cotton to. Why am I, a blue thread say, woven so closely to these red threads… and those yellow threads, and a bunch of green threads… in fact, a whole rainbow of threads? I’m going to look around for threads more like me… some threads more to my liking… threads more to my taste…and we threads of like mind, we’ll just pull ourselves out of this far-too-variegated tapestry and reorganize over there into a tapestry more to our liking.
That is tearing apart God’s handiwork… rending asunder that which God has joined together. It is not all that difficult to find people who think like us, and with them we can create clubs, we can form parties, but we must never think that in doing so we are being church. We don’t get to decide who’s in or who’s out of church. It is God who knits us together by His Holy Spirit. But, we humans can definitely pull it apart.
Maddie, and Corrie… we priests must never be a part of anything that rends God’s tapestry the Church. Like all members of the Church, we are stewards of God’s tapestry. It is not ours, it is God’s. To shift to another metaphor, we are stewards of God’s flock. Tapestry can’t really pull itself apart…but sheep can certainly get up and go!
Again, the flock of which we are trustees isn’t one of our making. The flock is of God’s making, and we have been entrusted with its stewardship. And, we are not really shepherds at all. God is the Shepherd as we heard in the Lesson from Ezekiel, and, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And, you and I, we priests, are sheep, sheep like the rest of God’s Flock. We priests are steward-sheep.
As steward-sheep, our job is not to scatter the flock. Our job, among a whole bunch of other things, is to keep the flock together. We are never to engage in or encourage any activity or behavior which causes the flock to be pulled apart, scattered. We are one… one tapestry… one flock…one body, pick your metaphor…made one by God.
In our Eucharistic Prayer D, we pray this:
Remember, Lord, your One, Holy Catholic, and apostolic Church, redeemed by the blood of your Christ. Reveal its unity; guard its faith; and preserve it in peace. “Reveal its unity”, we pray. We, God’s Church, are one. Reveal its unity.
Maddie… Corrie…revealing its unity is rarely achieved by taking a vote. Revealing the union God has crafted requires different approaches… discussion, listening, speaking, discerning, praying… but not always voting, and certainly not voting prematurely.
In Church… in Church… taking a vote can be an act of violence, a bloodless act of violence, yes, but an act of violence nonetheless, and therefore contrary to the nature and identity of the Church. “Are you with us or against us? Take a stand! Vote!” Rather a shocking thing to hear in the United States of America, but how does the phrase, “All in favor say Aye… all opposed say Nay” do anything BUT separate people?…. separate the flock into winners and losers, those who prevailed and those who failed…an action, “taking a stand”, which can drive people out. And when they leave, although some may say “good riddance”, the union of God’s handiwork is rent asunder…the union of God’s flock is broken… and we all are impoverished by that brokenness, all of us…to the detriment of those who leave, and to the detriment of those who stay.
In response, some say, “But, taking a stand is prophetic, it is courageous! And, yes, taking a stand drives some people out, but that’s just part of the price we have to pay! And, yes some people leave over it, but it also attracts people in!
No doubt. No doubt. But do not deceive yourself into thinking that by this you are doing anything more than crafting a party of like-minded people, not a church…and that by this you are forming a club of people of our own kind, not a church.
When I was growing up, The Episcopal Church was labelled “The Republican Party at prayer” partly in jest, but uncomfortably close to the truth. And, that really isn’t a church at all, is it? That is just what the label says, a political party at prayer.
But we, the Episcopal Church, have a much older way of styling ourselves than the all-too-close-for-comfort moniker of a political party at prayer. We have called ourselves the Via Media, the Middle Way…Catholic and Reformed. We are not the Middle Way because we successfully drove out those with extreme Catholic or Protestant convictions.
We are the Middle Way because we are Catholic and Protestant together. We are the Middle Way because we hold the spectrum together, even its most distal ends. At least, that is what we have understood to be our vocation…and that is what we have aspired to do, to reveal the unity of God’s Church.
The prayer I think best articulates this is the Collect for the feast of Richard Hooker on November 3rd. Here it is:
O God of truth and peace, you raised up your servant Richard Hooker in a day of bitter controversy to defend with sound reasoning and great charity the catholic and reformed religion: Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth.
Our way, the middle way, the via media, is not a compromise. It is not a bit of this mixed with a dash of that. It is not the Elizabethan Blend of Christian Tea. And, our way, the middle way, the via media, is not merely giving a little, going along to get along for the sake of peace. No… it is not peace alone which we are after, as lovely as peace can be. We are after something more. We are after Truth. Truth.
In this collect we pray, therefore we must surely believe, that our way, the middle way, the via media, is a “comprehension for the sake of truth.” We don’t drive out the extremes and those whose views we do not share. We don’t stake out the middle so we can have a bit of peace in this life. No. We comprehensively include all perspectives of good will, from way over there to way over there, and everyone in between…and, we do that with open arms for the sake of what? For the sake of truth. Truth. “Grant that we may maintain that middle way, not as a compromise for the sake of peace, but as a comprehension for the sake of truth.”
As we include all… as we listen to all… as we share all perspectives… we all come to see the truth more clearly… not just some of us… all of us.
Discerning truth is not about weeding out perspectives that don’t agree with mine.
Seeking truth is about listening to the truth as others see it while sharing the truth as I see it. And, we don’t then vote… vote on which of those perspectives is the true truth and toss all others. That’s the “act of violence” I mentioned earlier. No, when we hold all these perspectives together, we see something no one of us quite saw… something new emerges from the pooling of these variegated perspectives.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John each share their take, their perspective, on the One Truth, Jesus, don’t they? Each perspective is different. Each perspective is true. Some perspectives sound very much at odds with other perspectives, particularly John’s. But when we hold all four perspectives together, we begin to see a fuller truth… a more complex Truth, Jesus…which no one of them alone quite expressed. This is a comprehension for the sake of Truth.
On the other hand, when we stop listening and push that the Church “Take a stand…now! Insist that the People take a vote…now!” and, drive out those who don’t see things our way… we have done nothing but built another club, another party of people who all see the truth from their very narrow, tunnel-vision perspective…a perspective which may well be true…but it is only a tiny sliver of truth.
Our way, the middle way, the via media, doesn’t just tolerate different perspectives. It values them. It understands that it needs them. And, in our comprehension, we begin to see a fuller truth, a truth built up from all the shards of truth which each perspective brings to the common vision…a comprehension for the sake of truth.
Maddie, and Corrie, in your ministry as a priest in the Church, you will be tempted by your personal convictions to take a stand. You will be asked by others to call for a vote, to pass a resolution, to urge the signing of a petition… asked by parishioners, by other priests, by bishops, by church conventions… and there will be times when that is the good and necessary thing to do. But, do much of that as standing operating procedure, and be ready to live with the results – the growth of more parties of like-minded people, and the atrophy of the church as a comprehension for the sake of Truth.
My conviction, one I doubt is shared by many listening now (and that’s not a bad thing), my conviction is that being a priest, especially one who is entrusted as a steward of a portion of God’s Flock, requires more tongue-biting than talking… and, more patience than performative wokeness.
Maddie and Corrie, when in the midst of the cacophony of calls to take a stand, here is my paradoxical advice. Take a stand… yes, take a stand… to be priests who seek truth through comprehension…priests who facilitate conversation and listening… priests who move the flock from division to tolerance… from tolerance of others’ perspectives to understanding those who differ… from understanding to appreciating the value of others’ views… from merely appreciating disparate views to realizing the need we have as a body for holding together our variegated perspectives.
THAT is participating in God’s handiwork. THAT is being of use to God, like holding together the multicolored, multitextured spools for God as God pulls them together, weaves them together, knits them together into God’s handiwork… the rich tapestry of God’s Church.
It is oddly prophetic to call The Episcopal Church to keep to its identity, a church which welcomes all, even those with whom I, or you, or we disagree. And, my hope and prayer for you, Maddie and Corrie, is that you do just that. That you live out your vocation as priests who foster the Church to refresh and remember and return to HER aspirations…
to be what we pray… to be what we say… to be what we believe… God’s handiwork…knit together in unity…a comprehension for the sake of truth.