Sermon for the clergy Renewal of Vows service, March 27, 2018 from the Rev. Kerlin Richter, St. David of Wales, Portland.
Welcome to Holy Week.
We are about to renew our ordination vows. To repeat, to re-promise.
Like a child who at their most intense is asking at some level, “Do you love me even now?”
It makes sense to me on some level that the church asks us during holy week. “Do you still love me, even now?”
I’m joking of course. The church is always awesome.
And not one of us got here by accident. It took years of hard work and occasionally superhuman patience, with a system that sometimes seems to have its own agenda.
What is it to be an ordained person? It depends of course on the person you ask.
Like the blind men and the elephant – I sometimes feel like the elephant.
The senior warner grabs hold of your leg and tells you that you are a fundraiser,
The grieving daughter needs you to be a counselor,
The parish administrator needs you be a boss,
The man with the cancer diagnosis tells you, you are a poet and an inspiration.
Everyone else will tell you who you are.
But really you are nothing but another broken and beloved child of God, standing in desperate need of healing.
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
– No pressure. Isaiah.
We are all individuals – each one of us has been formed in the heart of love to bring whatever glimmer of hope and truth and light we can bear. Even on the days when we feel like we will be crushed by the weight of that hope.
Each one of us here has been called by God into this odd and precious life of being publicly christian. As Paul says, “We proclaim Christ crucified – which is a bunch of foolishness if you care what this world thinks.”
But we are also a community and God’s call is to us as a people, as a church to be the collection of fools. We are not fools alone, we have whole communities of foolishness.
And here we are, the pastors of foolishness, like court jesters. If the absurdity of what we believe has begun to seem normal to you, step back.
This is madness we proclaim.
Love, real eternal world forming, life breathing, wave-crashing, heartbreaking, love that made all things, the stinkbug and the octopus, the coyote and the heron. That love y’all, came here into the world where we stub our toes, and blink in the sunlight, the person of Jesus, inhaled whole lungfuls of air in this world. AND we proclaim – this tender and precious man, with dust on his eyelashes, and calluses on his feet, was that same exact Love breathing out light before time was time.
And love came preaching love. Proclaiming that liberation was at hand, that all that binds us and keeps us captive to brokenness was falling away, that this world already is the kingdom of love come true. That we are infinitely precious in the eyes of love, and so are our enemies.
And so we killed him.
Because honestly who can believe in a love like that?
But it didn’t work.
Death came unraveled and Love walked right back out again, shaking our disbelief from his shoulders like a wet dog. That’s what we proclaim. This is the biggest news in the world, otherwise why would we have given our lives for it.
And so if this is what we are giving our lives, for let us give them with such utter abandon that we have nothing left. The way to not burn out, isn’t holding back. It is not keeping part of ourselves safe and closed off from this world, troubled and tattered as it is.
Love with your whole hearts and minds and strength.
Not because we are special, we aren’t.
But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise;
God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong;
God chose what is low and despised in the world,
things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are,
so that no one might boast in the presence of God.
We Love like this, not because we are special, but because God is.
Of all the weeks to promise again. A week to make impossible promises. If it is us then it is utter foolishness. If we think that for one minute we will save anyone or solve anything we are deluding ourselves.
We stand up in the full sight of God and everybody with our own brokenness on full display and point to the one who is all our hope
We are nothing and that is great news.
And our churches aren’t that special either.
If what we are doing is taking care of the church, taking care of the institution, then we are the most to be pitied. If we are preserving an old collection of rituals then what have we come to do?
But if we are spilling our lives out in service of the living God, then yes! Those who love their life lose it, and we who are losing our lives in this church, we most of all should not fear death.
We are a house of fools; what we proclaim is so impossible that we should not let it get watered down with repetition until it seems reasonable.
This is not reasonable; what we are giving our lives for is sheer madness. The world can do everything we can do better: Feed people, clothe people, fight for justice. We do not actually need the gospel for that.
The church will also not improve us. Good therapy, and more sleep can do that.
We have one thing:
One broken and beaten thing, one glorious and resurrected thing.
We have the Good News.
We proclaim Christ and him Crucified.
We administer the sacraments and forgive sins in the name of Love.
That’s what the church can do.
When the deacons proclaim it from the midst of the people, when priests break it in a moment of silence, when bishops press it gently against the question-filled head of a teenager, we do our one thing.
This church is not yours. It is not mine. It is God’s.
What we do is real. we are not play-acting or dramatizing. It is ancient but not never old. Our liturgy is real and powerful and alive. And we who are trusted with it should bow in honor of that trust. And bear gently the light we are entrusted with.
Do not idolize the church or the work we do, just walk while we have the light.
You know what to do:
Preach the good news,
Tend to those in your care,
And for the love of God – be filled with the joy of the spirit.
This world needs you, the church needs you, and I need you. We need you whole and joyful, we need you present, we need you as stupidly in love with Jesus as I hope you were on the day of your ordinations.
It is all we have, this gospel.
Thank God it is enough.