This is the sermon the Rev. Dr. Elaine A. Heath of Duke Divinity School preached at the ordination of Lainie Allen to the priesthood on June 11, 2020.
Hello, everyone, and especially Lainie. Greetings, loving, celebratory greetings. This is a momentous day for you to be ordained to the priesthood. You have persevered over the years in answering God’s call discerning the pathway. You really have walked a pilgrimage.
I’m thinking about pilgrimage today as I think of what it means to be ordained to the priesthood and to live as God’s priest in this world.
Lainie, I will never forget the pilgrimage we went on together to Iona. We had so many great conversations and experiences together there, along with the other students.
Micah 6:8 is part of an entrance liturgy where a person would come on pilgrimage, come into the temple for a rare opportunity to worship at the temple. And they would pause at the entrance of the temple and they would say, “What does God want from me?”
And then from within, a voice or voices would answer, “God has shown you what God wants, to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.”
And so today, for us, as we think about being ordained, what it means to be a clergy person, we asked the same question. What does God want from us?
What we discover in the answer that’s given to this pilgrim coming to the entrance is that God doesn’t want a thing from us. But God wants us. And God wants us to live in a particular way. God wants us to do justice.
And throughout the Minor Prophets, we see what doing justice looks like. Justice is a river that is dynamic and flowing and goes past obstacles, over obstacles, around obstacles – just as injustice is dynamic, always reinventing itself. In our day right now, there is a no more obvious place where justice is needed than in dismantling racism and all the other sinful isms that are breaking the world apart.
There’s no place where justice is needed more than in addressing the critical health needs of our world. And so how does a priest do justice? This is a question that is unique to each of us in our context.
So we choose to do justice. Dr. Martin Luther King defined justice, and distinguished it from mercy, by explaining the parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke Chapter 10. You all know that story.
Dr. King said that doing mercy is picking the man up from the ditch, making sure he has medicine and a safe place to recover and resources while he recovers. That’s mercy. That’s kindness. But justice asked this tough question – why are so many people getting hurt on that road? And doing justice means going after the system, and changing the system that leads to so much injury.
For everyone who’s in ordained ministry today, doing justice is going to require us to engage the systems around us that lead to so much harm, and to do systemic work.
The second part of what God expects from us as priests, as pastors, is to love mercy. The Hebrew word here is hesed which is the steadfast loving-kindness of God, the love that will not let us go, the love that is compassionate and looks after us. Often, it’s been translated mercy in English translations, but actually is hesed, it’s the steadfast loving-kindness, love that will not let us go.
And so as we do the work of justice, which is very hard work, it’s so important for us to do it with a spirit of steadfast loving kindness. And how can we do that if we don’t attend to our own souls and our own inner work? If we don’t attend to our unhealed wounds? If we don’t learn how to live in a contemplative stance where we show up, pay attention, cooperate with God, and release the outcome?
I’m so thankful, Lainie, for your training in spiritual direction, your gifts and skills and years and years of experience as a spiritual director, because those are the very skills, along with your training as a chaplain, that will be most useful to you in doing the hard work of justice from a stance of hesed.
And finally, the third thing that God requires of us, requires of us clergy, of us who are priests, is to walk humbly with God.
That Hebrew word doesn’t mean necessarily what we think of with humility, it’s more oriented toward walking in discernment, to be circumspect, to be mindful.
And so, on this day of ordination, where we also remember Pentecost, we cannot do what God requires of us, we cannot be the people God requires us to be, if we are not filled over and over with the Holy Spirit, who enables us to discern a right. We need to know how to keep in step with the Spirit. And this is a posture of humility because it’s not all about us, it’s all about God and what God is doing in the world. God is making all things new the resurrected Christ says to us in Revelation 21:5.
So on this precious sacred once- in- a- lifetime day of ordination, a day when the Church recognizes the call to ministry that is in you, Lainie, this is the day for all of us to recommit ourselves to do justice, to love kindness, to walk humbly with our God.
Because as priests, as pastors, as ordained persons, our sacred charge is to guide the life of the local congregation so that it becomes the body of Christ in this world, the body of Christ that together, collectively, in community, does justice, loves kindness, walks humbly with its God for the sake of its neighbors.