April 28, 2018
Ordination to the Holy Order of Deacons
Christ Church Cathedral, Mobile Alabama
Ryan, Sara, Alice, Forbes, and Josh, this is your day – it is a day that will change your lives forever. It is glorious day, and it is an absolute honor and privilege for me to share a small part of this day with you. I will treasure these few moments, always.
You may be thinking, or at least I hope that you are thinking – “Wow, I made it.” Without doubt you are saying to yourselves, “I can’t believe it – thanks be to God for this glorious moment.” And, you would be extraordinarily unusual if you were not feeling nervous and anxious and if you were not wondering “What Now?” Now that this sacred transition has taken place, who am I – how do I proceed according to my newly declared vows. What does God have in store for me?
You have arrived, after many months, perhaps many years, of discernment, meetings, study, and a host of other challenging tasks – and probably some nail biting - you have arrived at a most sacred moment in your lives.
Today, with our consent, by our prayers, and with Bishop Russell’s actions of laying hands on you and petitioning the Holy Spirit, by the power of that same Spirit, you will assume the outward expression of your inward, invisible reality. You will be ordained to the Sacred Order of Deacons in Christ’s one holy and catholic apostolic church. You will receive the sacrament of ordination.
That’s what ordination is - a sacrament. A sacrament that gives outward and visible expression to an inward invisible reality. Your invisible reality – your call to become part of the ministry of servanthood of our church. Your desire to, in the name of Christ, serve all people, particularly the poor, the sick and the lonely.
A little over eight years ago, I was sitting just where you are sitting – in the pews listening as my friend and mentor, Bishop Chip Stokes preached my ordination sermon. My journey to ordination had been a long one, filled with many challenging moments.
It began in Harlingen, Tx, a tiny town in the Lower Rio Grande Valley. The year was 1992 and I had been appointed Executive Director of an organization providing services for people, mostly Mexican-Americans, living with HIV/AIDS.
It is important to remember that back in 1992 people living with HIV/AIDS were seen as lepers. And, Mexican-American migrant workers with HIV/AIDS – well, to put it bluntly, absolutely no one wanted them around – No one. My appointed task was to find a way to bring health care and social services into their lives – to relieve their suffering; their pain; their isolation.
I arrived fresh from New York City where I had been part of the AIDS activist group Act UP and all the sophisticated political shenanigans that went with that movement, and I set down roots in dusty, hot, and very primitive Harlingen, TX.
To my surprise, my staff, all Mexican, had created a beautiful office space for me, complete with a huge mahogany desk. That first day, I was treated like a queen. However, my second day on the job took a very different direction. About 10 in the morning a small Mexican gentleman rushed into my office, announced that he was Deacon Albert, and said, passionately, “Ma’am you can’t sit there behind that desk. Not if you want to help the people in the Valley. You need to come with me. You need to be where the people are, not behind a big fancy desk.”
That was my introduction to Deacon Albert, an incredibly passionate and energetic Catholic Deacon, who as it turned out was also a member of my staff.
After informing me that I needed to get out from behind my desk, Deacon Albert loaded me into his ancient, non-airconditioned, Toyota pick-up along with bags and boxes filled with food and other household items, and off we went – literally in a cloud of dust.
I have no memory of how many people we visited that day. I only remember that we were gone for hours and hours, until dusk really. We visited mothers whose sons were dying of AIDS, we visited mothers who had AIDS and whose babies were also HIV-infected, we visited young men who were dying of AIDS – we visited lots and lots of people, all of them touched by HIV/AIDS and all of them living in the colonias, or slums of an already impoverished Texas town.
Ostensibly, our goal was to deliver food, but Deacon Albert delivered a lot more than food. He delivered the love that Christ asked us to show towards one another when in John’s gospel he says, “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.” Through conversation, prayer, and all forms of generosity, Deacon Albert brought love to all those we visited. That first day with Albert was a day, like today, a day I will never forget.
After that, I never missed a week of delivering food and love with Deacon Albert. And, I never ceased to be amazed at the power of his love. Mothers were reunited to sons whom they had rejected, dying infants were baptized, infants who died only a few short months after being born had glorious funerals, parties were given for those living in deep sadness and isolation.
There was always enough – enough love for everyone – there was always an abundance of love.
I could go on and on but suffice it to say that for almost four years I worked by Albert’s side and that work – Albert and his work set my heart on fire. My heart was burning with the power of love. And, it was then that I knew that God was calling me to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church.
When I remember this time of my life, I like to believe that Luke’s gospel in which Jesus commands us to “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks” is fair warning to all of us who sense the call to ordination and who are ultimately ordained in Christ’s one holy and catholic apostolic church.
Unlike Peter who fell asleep in the garden, as deacons, priests, and bishops it is essential that we stay awake. We must never be too tired, too benumbed to hear Christ knocking on the doors of our hearts. We must not allow the din of our lives and the turmoil of the world to drown out God’s voice. God’s voice always present within our hearts and our souls, always – never ceasing, never too tired.
With burning hearts, we must have the courage to allow the Holy Spirit to guide us in all things. As Christ’s servants, we must be passionately active in the servanthood of all the church. We must always be ready for him when he comes; when he knocks.
No easy task this business of always being dressed for action, lamps always lit. Bishop Dan Edwards, the bishop who ordained me, said to me just before we processed down the aisle the day of my ordination, “If you think you’re busy now, just wait. You will be even busier after today.” Well, his remark was “right on.” No different than any of my other clergy colleagues I am busy, very busy.
But, and this is a big “but”, we must never be too busy to rest, too distracted reflect, to pray, to study – to listen for and to God. Paul in his Letter to the Ephesians writes, “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation, as you come to know him, so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.” (Eph 1:12-20)
“…so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…”
If we are unable to listen for and to God with the eyes of our hearts, we will never know the hope to which he has called us. If we are unwilling to follow Jesus’ commandment given to us in John’s version of the Last Supper “Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another”, we will fail mightily in providing an abundance of love to those whom we have vowed to shepherd.
Open hearts and abundant love – essential tools of the trade for all clergy - deacons, priests and bishops alike.
This is your day to be ordained a deacon of the church. I pray that in the few short months prior to your ordination as a priest, you will find a Deacon Albert, jump into his, or her, ancient pick-up, and embark on a journey into the world where an open heart and abundant love are so desperately needed.
I pray that your life as a deacon will be deeply ingrained in your hearts and in your souls. I pray that whatever your title you will always be deacons – servants of Christ sent into the world to love abundantly -to heal and to ensure justice for all. I pray that you will never forget these first few months of your lives as ordained clergy and the sacred nature of your new lives.
Ryan, Sara, Alice, Forbes, and Josh, God has led you on an extraordinary journey and now calls you into an extraordinary ministry of service. We all give thanks for this day and for God’s call to you and I am thankful for the privilege of being present with you on this day. In closing I offer to you this prayer so beautifully expressed by St. Paul.
“For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. AMEN. “(Eph 3:13-21)