Sermon is posted below ... but first here's a little look at some photos from my archives -- milestones along the journey we've made together along that arc of history that bends toward justice.
La lucha continua!
A Sermon Celebrating 25 Years A Priest
St. Michael's, Ganeseo | Diocese of Rochester | January 10, 2015
It wasn't until the breaking of the bread that they finally "got it." The despondent disciples were trudging their way home to Emmaus, trying to make sense of the heartbreaking events of the last weeks. They were still reeling with what they had seen with their own eyes: the triumphal entry into Jerusalem of the One they hoped would redeem Israel go quickly and tragically downhill – ending with the trial, the conviction, the cross and the grave. None of it made any sense to them ... and what on earth were they supposed to do now?
And then they ran into this stranger – and what were the odds they'd end up walking along with the only guy in Jerusalem who didn't know the story? It had been the lead on Headline News all week – it was trending on twitter, for heaven's sake. Where had he been? And so they walked and they talked – and he explained to them things they'd never understood before about the scriptures they shared as a common heritage ... and they still didn't "get it."
But that didn't stop them from offering the stranger hospitality. "Stay with us, for night is coming." they said. And so he did -- and he blessed the bread and broke it ... and their eyes were opened – and suddenly they realized that the one who had walked with them and talked with them on that long, dusty walk from Jerusalem was not just someone but THE One.
They "got it" – they had what my rector, Ed Bacon, would call a "glory attack" – for they had seen the Lord: the Lord who had risen indeed … he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.
And that is arguably the vocation those of us called to priests – of presbyters in the Church of God, as the prayer book calls us: to make Christ known in the breaking of the bread; to witness to the glimpses of God we have been allowed to catch in order to equip and inspire others to go do likewise; to break open the body of Christ in the bread made holy … in order to live out the Gospel According to Leonard Cohen:
There is a crack in everything.
That's how the light gets in.
And I don’t think there is a priest in Christendom who more fully incarnates the reality of that vocation than Michael Hopkins.
We gather here today to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of his ordination – and it is truly a celebration not only for Michael and for those of us gathered here at St. Michael’s – but for the whole church.
And because I had some “lead time” to prepare tonight’s sermon, I took the opportunity to gather up some thoughts from some random members of “the whole church” who can’t be with us tonight. Here’s a sampling:
From Stephen Lane – formerly of this diocese and now hanging out up there in Maine: Michael is visionary and courageous and willing to take on the risks and the work associated with any truly new effort.
From Bonnie Anderson – past president of the House of Deputies of the Episcopal Church: The Church needs priests like Michael who "get it" about all orders of ministry. Michael demonstrates the understanding that we all bring gifts differing, none better than another, just different, according to the Spirit.
From Elizabeth Kaeton – president of the Episcopal Women’s Caucus among a boatload of other things: One of the things I learned from Michael is that, in the church, there’s a difference between being “successful” and being “fruitful.” Success brings many rewards and often notoriety, but its long-term effects are often fleeting. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability which are foundational to the work of movement building in Christian community. And, Michal Hopkins is a quintessential movement builder, calling together various constituencies of race, gender, sexual orientation, gender, age, and economic status, teasing out the threads common to each, to work together on a common goal.
From Michael Barlowe – Executive Officer of General Convention: A phrase that comes to mind when I consider Michael and his ministry is “meet and right.” The past 25 years as a priest has been a time of faithful leadership – an incarnation of obedience of Christ’s command to love and Christ’s longing for us to be one. He took Ed Browning’s words “No outcasts” and held them before the church. And thanks be to God — Michael is still doing that.
And from Louie Crew – founder of Integrity and long time justice leader: It is not a comfortable position to have to tell the church you love, “You are wrong.” Few of us ever welcome bad news, yet for a quarter of a century Michael has done that faithfully, again and again, patiently, and most important lovingly.
And that brings me to a story.
It was June 2003 -- just days after Gene Robinson’s election as a bishop in the Diocese of New Hampshire and Michael was invited onto the Buchanan & Press show on MSNBC to speak in support of that election. After a rather rambling preamble about church history, scripture and the “faith received from the fathers” Pat Buchanan asked Michael (and I quote from the transcript):
BUCHANAN: ... you're saying the church was wrong then?
HOPKINS: I am saying it was wrong. I am saying the problem is that the church has been in hiding all of these years because there have always been gay clergy … they were just forced to live in the closet, to live lives of secrecy.
And “crack” – a little more light got in because Michael Hopkins was willing to tell the church he loved that it was wrong. On MSNBC no less.
Also in 2003 – that was a busy year, wasn’t it? – Michael wrote a “message to the church” for our Claiming the Blessing theology statement. It read in part:
My first message is that we are absolutely committed to this Church and we are absolutely committed to the continuance of as broad a diversity—including theological—as is possible for us to maintain together. Liberals and conservatives, progressives and traditionalists, must learn to live together in this Church or there will be no Church in which for us to live. But learning to live together must mean “mutual deference” not moratoriums or some insistence that we all convert to being “moderates.”
My second message to the church at large is that we are not going anywhere. Gay and lesbian Christians make up a significant portion of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America. We will continue to do so after General Convention 2003 no matter what happens. We will not attempt to get our way by threatening to leave.
And we didn’t. Under Michael’s leadership, all we ever threatened to do was to stay – and to keep coming back again and again – like the persistent widow in Luke’s Gospel.
And the Episcopal Church of 2003 was very different than the Episcopal Church of 2015 … in no small part because of that leadership … and the appropriate response to that versicle is “Thanks be to God.”
Yes, there are some cracks. But remember the Gospel According to Leonard Cohen: That’s how the light gets in.
That’s how the Spirit moves. That’s how the church continues to grow into its full stature as the Body of Christ in the world: by being broken open over and over and over again.
Remember our friends on the Road to Emmaus? The story stops for us tonight at verse 35 … but what they did after the part where their hearts were burning within them and he was made known to them in the breaking of the bread was to go out to tell the others. They didn’t stay there and build a shrine, develop a doctrine and come up with some rubrics. They stepped out of their comfort zone and went back out into the fray to bring their brothers and sisters along with them. Sometimes brothers and sisters who were happy where they were, thank you very much. But they went anyway.
Another “memory lane” story I carry with me tonight includes George Barrett – a former bishop of this diocese who I had the privilege to know in retirement in the Diocese of Los Angeles. In 1995 Bishop Barrett preached at the memorial service for his life-long friend, Bishop John Krumm.
He climbed into the pulpit at our Cathedral Center and began with these words: “John Krumm,” -- stabbing his long, boney finger into the air for emphasis – “was never disillusioned by the church because John Krumm never had any illusions about the church!”
And I thought “How on EARTH did he manage that?” … and it’s been my aspiration ever since to grow up and be John Krumm. And I’ve done that by watching Michael Hopkins.
Now, this is NOT to say Michael has never been disillusioned by the church. I know for a fact certain we both have. And yet there is a hard won freedom in having no illusions – that freedom that is also known as just another name for nothing left to lose – that has equipped and empowered him to serve the church he loves joyfully and well. Even when he’s had to tell it it was wrong.
I have a favorite photo of Michael standing next to a banner in an exhibit hall of some General Convention past next to a banner that reads “The truth will set you free.” And the truth that has set Michael free to be the priest he has been for us for these last twenty-five years is that with no illusions about the church he has been free to love the church enough to crack it open – over and over and over again.
Letting in light for the LBGT baptized.
For those oppressed by systemic racism.
For our young people being murdered in our streets.
For an end to gun violence.
The list goes on and on.
As the disciples finally “got it” when Jesus broke the bread at that table in Emmaus, priests like Michael help the rest of us “get it” when he points us – again and again – to the church God dreamed we would be rather to the church we have settled for being. The church described by biblical theologian Verna Dozier in her brilliant book, “The Dream of God.”
I think God was always offering the possibility of living in the kingdom of God in the midst of the kingdoms of this world. Each time that frighteningly free gift of God to be the new thing in the world – a witness that all of life could be different for everybody – this gift was harnessed by an institution that established hierarchy of those who “know” above the great mass of people who must be “told.” The people of the Torah made the gracious gift of the law into a system – and the people of the resurrection made the incomprehensible gift of grace into a structure … and the biblical story is all about the people of God losing the way and a God who will not give up calling them back … again and again God calls us to return.
When Michael Hopkins stood before Bishop Ronald Haines – after a sermon by Dr. Verna Dozier – to be ordained as presbyter in the Church of God, I hazard a guess he could not have imagined the new possibilities he would be presented with during the first twenty-five years of his ministry. And I suspect the same is true today as he looks forward to the next twenty-five years.
And so I want to offer a few more words from Dr. Dozier – for Michael and for the church:
“Doubt is not the opposite of faith,” she wrote. “Fear is. Fear will not risk that even if I am wrong I will trust that if I move by the light that is given me, knowing that it is only finite and partial I will know more and different things tomorrow than I know today, and I can be open to the new possibility I cannot even imagine today.”
May we all be given the grace to embrace those new possibilities as we strive together to be the church God dreamed as the Body of Christ in the world.
Finally, let me close just a few more words from Louie Crew: Tonight you celebrate the way that God has been shaping a young and fearless prophet into a sage. What an enormous privilege we all have in sharing some of the same gravel stretches with him on The Way. The costs to Michael have been great. May his example encourage us also to discover the peace that is no peace, the marvelous peace of God.
And let all God’s people say Amen