Saturday, January 08, 2011

Of priests and preachers and speaking for the soul

It was ordination day here in the Diocese of Los Angeles.

As I noted in this blog a few days ago, I had the privilege of leading the retreat for the ordinands -- and so today's celebration of their joining the ranks of "presbyters in the Church of God" was ... for me ... a particular delight.

It was a great service ... as I hope this slide show of snaps will illustrate ... and it was in some ways a deeply holy irony that as we were ordaining these new priests to go out into the broken world to proclaim the Good News of God in Christ Jesus the broken world got a little more broken by the sad and shocking events in Tucson, Arizona. (More about that in a moment.)

The preacher today was Canon James Blair White -- a long time lay leader here in the diocese and the co-chair of our Commission on Ministry. Jim is also a founding member of Claiming the Blessing and Integrity's diocesan coordinator -- and one of my best friends. You can read his whole sermon here ... but I want to excerpt "the charge:"
This assignment didn’t come with an instruction manual, but at every ordination I’ve ever been to, the preacher always has the ordinands stand and gives them a charge. So I don’t want you to be cheated just because you drew a preacher who didn’t know what he was doing. So, Ordinands, will you now stand?

I don’t know if you know it, but the Commission on Ministry publishes several documents that describe what it is we’re looking for in people called to ordained ministry – and I mean pages and pages. And while I’ve been part of developing some of that material, there are really only three things that I look for.

First, does this person have an infectious love of Jesus? You may have been hearing for some time now that it’s all about the sacraments – or the liturgy, or preaching or pastoral care or whatever. And, yes, all of those things are important. But in the end, it’s all about Jesus. George Regas – by the way, whose sermon prayer I used to begin here today – thank you, George – anyway, George once told me that a preacher can’t preach about the transforming power of God’s love if that person hasn’t been transformed by it her (or him) self. So, tell us your story. Help us get to know the God who has changed you. Help us to be changed ourselves. Bring more people to that love.

Secondly, is this a person who can gather a community? Some of that is about inborn charisma, but much of it is about making your community of faith a place that people want to be a part of. Develop your skills as a speaker and teacher and friend – and help the people with whose care you have been entrusted to develop an attractiveness, too. Teach graciousness, hospitality and friendliness – and teach it by being it yourself.

Finally, I ask, will this person be an example of a holy life? Even though we know that God’s love is given freely and unconditionally, most of us think that we’re supposed to be doing more – maybe not so much to earn it, but at least to be holding up our end of the relationship. So we need you to show us how to do that. Teach us to pray. Teach us to give. Teach us to see Jesus in everyone we encounter. And teach us to help bring about God’s kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.

Do all these things and the church – and the world – will be blessed by your ministry. God bless you.


The church and the world will be blessed by their ministries -- just as we were blessed by Jim's words today. As we were blessed by Bishop Glasspool presiding at the first ordination of priests of her episcopate. And as I was blessed by the opportunity to be invited into the privilege of preparing new presbyters for their work of living God's love into the world.

Finally, if you -- like me -- are still trying to work through all the emotions and feelings and fears and joys of this rather extraordinary day, I commend this Beliefnet piece by Diana Butler Bass ... challenging preachers to "Speak for the Soul."

At their best, American pulpits are not about taking sides and blaming. Those pulpits should be places to reflect on theology and life, on the Word and our words. I hope that sermons tomorrow will go beyond expressions of sympathy or calls for civility and niceness. Right now, we need some sustained spiritual reflection on how badly we have behaved in recent years as Americans--how much we've allowed fear to motivate our politics, how cruel we've allowed our discourse to become, how little we've listened, how much we've dehumanized public servants, how much we hate.

Sunday January 9 is the day on which many Christians celebrate the Baptism of Jesus: "When Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.'" Jesus' baptism in water symbolizes life, the newness that comes of cleansing. But there is a darker symbol of baptism in American history: that of blood. In 1862, Episcopal bishop Stephen Elliot of Georgia said, "All nations which come into existence . . . must be born amid the storm of revolution and must win their way to a place in history through the baptism of blood." Baptism as water? Baptism as blood? Baptism accompanied by a dove or baptism accompanied by the storm of revolution?

American Christianity is deeply conflicted, caught between two powerful symbols of baptism, symbols that haunt our political sub-consciousness. To which baptism are we called? Which baptism does the world most need today? Which baptism truly heals? Do we need the water of God, or the blood of a nine-year old laying on a street in Tucson? The answer is profoundly and simply obvious. We need redemption gushing from the rivers of God's love, not that of blood-soaked sidewalks.

If we don't speak for the soul, our silence will surely aid evil.
And let the people say "Amen."

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