A Sermon for Marilyn, Priest
Ordination, 9th September 2017
More than a few years ago, many more, I offered a Sunday morning adult class entitled, “What’s Good About the Episcopal Church?” It was pure propaganda, I guess, because I was young and loved the Church and knew there was much to commend it. However, few people came. That was in the Diocese of Virginia, in the seventies, and few people came, they told me, because they too loved the Church and saw little need to rethink the matter. Those were the times when a new social study appeared in bookstores entitled, The Power of Their Glory: America’s Ruling Class: The Episcopalians. Those with hair the color of mine may remember that book. Others will say, “Are you kidding me?”
When next I offered the class, in the eighties, I was in western New York, and more people came. The difference was that some of those people were antagonists. “Yeah,” said one, “I want to hear what you think is so good about this Church, but I know you have to say that. You are paid.” I probably didn’t change any minds.
But in the current millennium, a social paradigm has emerged that surprises many Church folk. A generation has risen of thinking people, productive, active young citizens, who have no experience of church in any form. Sunday worship is not a “given”. They have never been inside Church buildings, know only what scandals the newspapers reported, and while most are not disapproving or disgusted, they are certainly disinterested. “What’s Good About the Episcopal Church?” among them would draw more yawns than people.
Yet by the grace and intention of the Spirit the Church continues, and we Episcopalians are learning.
We are learning not to take our heritage lightly, nor to play fast and loose with what we stand for.
We have learned that getting out of Church is at least as important as getting into Church. If what we say and do inside the Church has no expression outside the walls, then it has no meaning inside the walls.
We are discovering that Jesus would probably not attend our Church, but would prefer to meet us where people suffer, where people are in need, where people are weeping.
We are learning the Church is not God, but also that we can share real friendship with God.
We are learning that we need other Christian denominations (the Lutherans especially have been our teachers), and that there is much to be learned about this magnificent God from other religions.
We are learning that while fear is an effective motivator, it is not the Gospel of Jesus.
We continually renew our vows to respect the dignity of every human being, and to work tirelessly for that peace which begins in justice.
We are rediscovering the splendor of the whole creation, the beauty of this world, the wonder of life, and the mystery of love.
Eric Law and Stephanie Spellers, in their book The Episcopal Way, wrote in the final chapter entitled “Falling in Love with God Again”:
There is plenty to love, celebrate, and share about this generous, beautiful, incarnational, ancient and future way. But remember: it is a way. It is a path for walking, an approach for following Jesus… Change is necessary, to meet new cultural contexts. Change is good, when it translates the gospel for new communities to hear… And change is holy, when we engage it faithfully and without losing our essence. (p102)
So, friends and neighbors, today is a particularly happy day of change for the Episcopal Church. In this sacred place and with the people of The Dalles and Hood River; with the parishioners of St Mark’s and St Paul’s and the clergy of the diocese, we honor, endorse and welcome Marilyn Roth to new leadership. It is a day of hope, of expectation and is one more affirmation of what’s good about The Episcopal Church. Marilyn has grafted her Baptist roots and Quaker theological education into her Episcopal practice – good change. She has served notably outside Church as Chaplain with Mid-Columbia Fire and Rescue and she brings practical communication experience from the publishing community – special gifts. And Marilyn has that mystical quality of presence, doesn’t she, which may be best described as “She gets it!” So with confidence in her and confidence in our future as people of faith, we celebrate her ordination as Priest among us and as Priest outside the walls.
Now it is traditional in Episcopal ordinations at this point for the preacher to deliver a “Charge” to the ordinand. The Charge presumes the preacher knows something the ordinand doesn’t. A Charge may be helpful. It may be challenging. It may be inspirational or it can add a burden. I confess I remember little of the Charge from my ordinations. However, as Marilyn knows, “charge” is not my style. I am more authentic when I bless, and blessing is also her style. So Marilyn, in affirmation of your new role as Priest, a benediction just for you:
May you hold in your heart that you are chosen, and that through your “Yes”, your congregations and the larger communities are blessed, and the Holy One is honored.
As you walk as Priest with your people, may they draw confidence from your presence and wisdom from your teaching.
As you encounter others’ expectations, and your own, may you never forget to play. And remember that often, one good laugh is worth a thousand right answers.
May you recall, when the light grows scarce and your energy is depleted, that even those created a little lower than the angels require rest and recreation.
May your study of Scripture be a lamp unto your feet, and challenge your closely-held notions of God.
May you not fear prophetic words when the Gospel calls for resistance.
May the sufferings of your call bring new integrity and confirm your reliance on the Spirit who is as close as your breath.
May you approach the dying with respect and warmth, always learning, and in light of your own mortality.
May your time at the Table, as host and guest at Eucharist, be sustaining and comforting, and may you never lose your sense of awe as Celebrant of Holy Mystery.
Come now, friend, and embrace your new calling. You are welcome among us, and we seek your blessing. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.