From the Dean
Preached at the opening Eucharist of the new semester at Bloy House based on the Epiphany 3 lessons
Perhaps we should title these lessons: Discipleship a cautionary tale. Just about the only day I can imagine that might be even more frightening to hear these lessons than the first day of a new semester at seminary would be one’s ordination service.
What these lessons remind us if we are paying attention is that to become God’s spokesperson, God’s ambassador if you will, is to sign on for a life of suffering. Grace it seems is not cheap. It costs. It costs a lot! Ask the man who spent a terror filled night in the belly of a fish. Or the man who after spending years living in the wilderness on a starvation diet of locusts and wild honey meets his end, ironically, by being beheaded at the behest of a naive teenage girl during a sumptuous hedonistic royal banquet. Or ask the one whose proclamation of God’s love and justice for all including the dispossessed and the powerless led to his torture and death on a cross as a Roman criminal.
Sometimes we forget what we’re signing on to. We get carried away by the silly clothes and the fancy titles, and we imagine that by being one of God’s spokespeople we’ll become a somebody. Let me suggest to you today that we will become a somebody—just not in the way the world usually means that. As Paul asserts in today’s Epistle, what we will become is an unfilled vessel, a vehicle and a means through which truth can be spoken. Even hard truth. Even difficult words, even and maybe especially the words no one wants to hear but everyone desperately needs to hear.
Repent. Turn your life around. Dare to be more than you have been! Give a flip about goodness, about honor, about service, about dignity. About trust. Because that is the high ground God wants us to stand on. And when you take that high ground, it will probably cost you a night of terror, or even your head, or at the very least it will cost you your comfortable familiar life.
A number of you have just finished a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education and still others of you will be taking your turn at CPE in the coming years. I still remember when I started CPE the program sent out a questionnaire before we started asking each of us to identify what we thought would be the most difficult part of being in a CPE program. As an incredibly young and naïve seminarian, I answered truthfully and said that I thought dealing with death would be difficult and frightening for me as a fairly protected 27 year old. Imagine my surprise when I arrived for CPE to find that they had, in response to my questionnaire, assigned me to the cardiac intensive care unit of that regional trauma center. Over the course of the 10 weeks of CPE I was the chaplain at over 60 deaths. That was my long night in the belly of the fish.
Last week I presided at the funeral of my best friend’s mother. She was not a church goer and had specifically asked that when she died I do the funeral. At the end of the graveside service I went and stood directly behind the casket and laid my hand on the casket for the commendation in a way that I had done dozens and dozens of times before over the course of my ministry. And in that moment I was once again reminded of who I am. I am the one God invited to stand in the midst of death and proclaim the assurance of eternal life. I am the one not afraid to put my hand on a casket or to think about the life and death of the person whose body lies within it. I am Jonah spit out of the belly of the whale and expected to tell the tale. I am a disciple of the risen Christ. Discipleship is the call God places upon our lives. It is painful, difficult, demanding, and transforming!
What will you gain through your discipleship? Much to your surprise and that of all those people who have known you your whole life long, you will gain yourself in all the goodness and courage and authenticity God already sees in you. If you need more than that; walk away now, because your disappointment at real life in God’s service will devour your soul. Walk away and choose an easier more comfortable life.
But if you stay, be prepared to meet yourself, and forgive yourself, and love yourself as God loves you.
In the belly of a fish
At a hedonistic banquet
Beside the sea waiting for the tide to go out
Be prepared to hear God speak and then let the good news stir and shake and tumble your life into a polished gem.
Discipleship a cautionary tale! But one oh so worth the living!