Tuesday, August 21, 2018

You are an evangelist too...


SERMON
St. Simons on the Sound
August 19, 2018

John 6:51-58

These days I am an evangelist. My life, whether at church or in the community is devoted to evangelizing – to reconciling those whom I encounter to God.

What does that mean, you might ask. Perhaps you are shocked. Clelia is an evangelist? Clelia is evangelizing? Do we do that in the Episcopal Church? I thought evangelism was something  those "other" churches did. Surely, not us – surely, not us Episcopalians.

But, I am an evangelist – I really am – and whether or not you know it, you are too.

So, let’s take it apart – let's unpack it.

First of all what does it mean to reconcile people to God? Various synonyms for reconcile are: to reunite, to bring together, to restore to harmony. When we are doing the work of reconciling people to God, we are working to unite, or to reunite, them with God. We are working to bring them together with God. We are working to restore harmony in their relationship with God – to bring about their awareness of God's love for them, and the healing power of that love. A love filled with grace and forgiveness.

And then, what does that controversial word evangelize really mean?  
To evangelize means above all to bear witness to a transformation that occurs within ourselves once we allow Christ to abide in us and we in him.

Once Jesus has become the source of our life, we are called to give the gift of the life-giving Jesus to the world. Through us the gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ takes on bodily, truthful expression. Through our relationship with Christ, we develop a way of being in the world that helps people come to the awareness that there is another way of being – a way not centered on preoccupation with self, a way that is not divisive, angry, violent and filled with hatred. Another way – a way that heals mind, body and spirit. A way that brings us together in love – the kind of love, the agape love, that Jesus had for us – the kind of love that God has for us.

Jesus proclaimed, Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4–5)  

The Christians of the first centuries summed this up by saying, “God became man so that man could become God!”

To evangelize does not mean standing on a corner with a bible in your hand and talking about Jesus to someone. Absolutely not. Evangelism is a way of being in the world – a way that brings the "other" to the awareness of the value he or she has in God’s eyes – to the awareness that they are loved by God. Evangelizing means communicating through your very being the words that God proclaimed five centuries before Christ: “You are precious in my sight, and I love you” (Isaiah 43:4).

Evangelism and its outcome of inspiring people to realize their worth in God’s eyes – the love that God has for them and the forgiveness, the salvation that comes along with that love - is not something optional. Paul put it quite succinctly when he said, “Woe to me if I do not evangelize!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)

For Paul, evangelization was the direct consequence of his commitment to Christ. As Paul understood it, through his presence among us – his incarnation and then his resurrection - Christ united us inseparably to God. Through our relationship with Jesus we are united with the divine – the flesh and the spirit become one.

No one should ever feel they are excluded from that union – excluded from the knowledge that they are a loved child of God.

Evangelization calls us to start with ourselves. It is first and foremost a way of life, a way of being in the world that occurs as our result of our "oneness" with Jesus Christ. A way of life through which that "oneness" transforms us into witnesses of the reality of God’s love. Once Christ abides in us and we in him, evangelization occurs unconsciously, effortlessly, through our joy in knowing that God has always loved us and will always love us and through the peace that comes from knowing that God is with us always.

Through our being one with God, Christ becomes both visible and credible in the eyes of those who do not know him. We become evangelists.

Today we heard yet another one of John’s Bread Discourses. Jesus says, "I am the bread of life that came down from heaven...Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me."

How, you may be wondering, do we as members of St. Simon's on the Sound link evangelism to Jesus' claim that he is the bread of life, and to our regular participation in the Eucharist. What does our gathering around God's table each Sunday really mean to us and for us. How does the eucharist transform us. Who do we become once the celebrant has proclaimed, "The Gifts of God for the People of God", and as we then receive the sacraments of bread and wine, as we participate in the gift of Jesus with us, among us, in us

Without question our participation in the Eucharist draws us into intimate relationship with Jesus. The flesh and the spirit are joined. Through our participation in the eucharist, we expereince the union of the human and the divine. We abide with Jesus and he abides with us. And, in receiving the life-giving gift of Jesus, we accept his love – we accept God's love for the world.

We become a people transformed. A people ready to go out into the world and to witness another way of being – a way of love, a way of forgiveness, a way that allows hope, a way that promotes healing, a way that gives joy, a way that brings the peace that passes all understanding. We become evangelists.

All of this reminds me of Roy, an African-American man, who died many years ago of AIDS. When I first met Roy I was working for an organization called AIDS-Related Community Services, better known as ARCS. ARCS was located just outside of New York City and was one of the first organzations to offer counseling and other services for people living with HIV/AIDS.

The year was 1990. As you may recall, in 1990 people living with HIV/AIDS were seen as modern day lepers. No one wanted anything to do with them. We at ARCS could not identify one doctor or one dentist in all of Westchester County who would allow any of our clients in their offices.

In order to meet the medical needs of a growing number of men and women who were dying without care and alone, the local hospital rented a house and converted it into a hospice for people living with AIDS. It was their goal to give each and every person as much dignity as possible and to keep them active for as long as their disease permitted.

Enter Roy who was assigned to ARCS as a volunteer. Roy looked much older than 32. He had lived a hard life. Roy told us that he had been on the streets since the age of seven. He had become addicted to drugs in his early teens. He had contracted AIDS through sharing dirty needles while injecting Heroin. Clean and sober now, AIDS had taken a huge toll on Roy. His body and feet were covered in lesions that occur as a reult of AIDS-related Kaposi’s Sarcoma.

Clearly Roy was continually in pain, but he was persistent in his efforts to be of use wherever and whenever possible. His favorite task was Xeroxing – he contiunally marveled at the ins and outs of our Xerox machine and its capabilities."

We all came to love Roy. Our office was large and staff numbered about 35. Roy knew each and every one of us, and we him.

On what was to be his last day with us, Roy sat down in my office and said, "You know, I never had a family before. But, now I do. You are my family, and it feels good.."

The next day Roy was admitted to the hospital. He died three days later.

The funeral, held several days later in the equivalent of a Potter’s Field, was attended by over ten of the ARCS staff.

The ARCS‘ staff, while not a religious group, was a group of people filled with love and compassion. We were all, every single one of us, intent on witnessing the love and respect that we had for each of our many clients. Many of us sat with them for hours as they died, slowly and painfully, and alone.

Our journey with Roy, and so many others, represents to me the epitome of evangelism. The epitome of inspiring people to realize their worth in God’s eyes – the love that God has for them and the forgiveness, and the salvation that comes along with that love. I will never forget Roy and the gift that he gave us as he allowed us to love him. We were in Roy and he was in us. The gift of God’s love brought us together in peace, in joy, and a better way to walk beside those individuals living with HIV/AIDS.

In 1 Thessalonians Paul says, "So deeply do we care for you that we are determined to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you have become very dear to us." (1 Thessalonians 2:8)

That is the essence of evangelism – the evangelism that you and I are in the business of carrying out as we leave St. Simon’s each week. We are determined to share not only the gospel of God, but also ourselves, because the world has become very dear to us. Because we want to give witness to the reality that there is another way of being. A way of being that is not based in divisivness, anger, violence, and hatred. A way of being that is based in compassion, in foregiveness, in love.

We are showing the world that there is another way of being, and if we shine the light of that way so very brightly, those living in darkness will want to join us. We will have fed them the Bread of Life.



Thursday, July 26, 2018

No Going Back...


The phrase “no going back” when considering my 20 years of work in Haiti has taken on quite a few meanings for me in the past few weeks. Taken literally, there may be “no going back” at this point in time because of the extremely volatile and dangerous political situation coupled with the possibility that the priest in charge of Martel, where we are now working, may be moved, leaving this community under the guidance of a new priest – one who has yet to form any relationship with our team, or with the community to which he is assigned.

Martel is hours from civilization – we go there only confident in the safety that the current priest in charge, Pere Phanord, provides. Without his presence, work in this tiny, remote community may not be possible for us Americans.

That brings me to another “no going back.” We have established a strong relationship with Martel. We have been in partnership with them for over five years, with multiple visits each year. We have provided much needed prevention education and healthcare to over 2000 unduplicated community members. There is most certainly “no going back” on our commitment to Martel.

Our commitment in this work has always been to develop a locally sustainable preventive health and primary health care program. While doing this work, we have tried to imagine, with them, the end-goal of what will happen when “we are no longer here.”

With this in mind, from the outset we identified and incorporated into our team well-trained and very talented Haitian doctors and nurses. These men and women are now trusted caregivers in Martel, and they are committed to providing ongoing monthly visits to this tiny, remote community. They are quite clear that, for them, there is “no going back” on their commitment to the residents of Martel, just as we are quite clear that there is “no going back” on our commitment to continue to fund the costs of this modest but critically important healthcare program.

So, while there may be “no going back” physically, there is most certainly “no going back” on our commitment to these brothers and sisters who live in Martel and the brothers and sisters who have vowed to care for them. We will continue to send the funds required to maintain an effective level of prevention education and primary health care in Martel, Haiti.

We love so very deeply our companions in Haiti. It is a love that burns in our hearts and humbles us in all ways as we consider our great fortune as citizens of the United States of America. More importantly, our Haitian companions have taught us to see God through very different lenses, and to experience a way of walking with Christ that has been life changing. For us, this a truly another, and perhaps the most important, “no going back.”



Thursday, July 12, 2018

Why engage in global mission?

Why Engage in Global Mission?

The Rev. Deacon Clelia Garrity

"Why engage in global mission when there are so many needs all around us in our local community?"

Most of us have been asked this question and perhaps have struggled to answer it. Our nation grapples on a daily basis with issues of diversity, multiculturalism, immigration, religious apathy and isolationism.

Why are intercultural relationships so essential to our Christian discipleship? Global Episcopal Mission Network has gathered ten quotes from their recent conference held at Virginia Theological Seminary and from other sources that will give you food for thought as you answer this question for yourself and for others.

Ten reasons to engage in global mission:

1. "We go into mission to meet the other, where God is present. Not because there are needy people, or to plant a church, or to teach. But we go to meet Jesus there. Thinking we are missionaries, we become disciples. We go to meet God, who is already present in the other."
2. "No single part of the world contains a complete understanding of God - only together do we have it..."
3. "It takes the whole world to know the whole gospel."
4. "We can never know how fully who God is, we can never understand the mission of God, until and unless we are able to hear it from those in other contexts..."
5."To reduce mission simply to a local or even national context is to isolate ourselves from the voice of God's grace across difference."
6. "We are looking at mission as pilgrimage - seeing Christ in the other."
7. "The 'other' is part of our family that we do not already know."
8. "To know only one's own church, diocese or nation is to limit oneself to an incomplete revelation of the vast and varied witness of the full body of Christ - gifts that we all desperately need to receive from one another."
9. "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ...the eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"
10. "I have gifts you do not, and you have gifts I do not. We need one another to be fully human. We lose our strength if our diversity is taken away."

A June 2018 Haiti Medical Mission Team member & her new friends



Monday, July 9, 2018

Don't Let Your Boat Rock


SERMON
St. Simons on the Sound
July 8, 2018

Mark 6:1-13

Two weeks ago, I was in Haiti, where our medical team spent five days in the remote areas of Bondeau and Martel. Let me stress the adjective remote.Bondeau and Martel are not towns or villages; there are no cars, buses, motorcycles or bicycles; there is no electricity; no TV, radio, or newspaper; and, of course no Internet. In Martel there is no water - none at all.

People live in one room dwellings. Frequently they have no beds, only the dirt floor to sleep on. For the most part, people have enough food for only one small meal each day. They walk miles whenever they need to access civilization and the meager services it offers in rural Haiti. The nearest resources such as a grocery store or medical clinic (that may, or may not be open), are 10-15 miles away. A long walk in 90 plus degree heat.

The people of Martel live in a world far different than ours. One that is literally impossible for us or, at least for me - to comprehend.

It was in that world that I began the journey of writing this sermon.

We arrived in Haiti on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning, bright and early it was already 90+ degrees we attended Bon Samaritain Church in Bondeau, where I acted as both deacon and preacher. Directly following the two plus hour church service we began preparing for our three days of clinic. We sat outside in a partially shaded area packing pills and sorting through medical supplies, such as surgical trays, bandages, etc.

After lunch, I spent my time on the guesthouse porch drinking water and cooling down. I had become very overheated during church and directly after as we began the clinic preparation process. Something inside me said - “take it easy…”

As I sat in a rocking chair contemplating the trees swaying ever so slightly in a most blessed breeze and watching small whitecaps bounce on the aqua green Caribbean Sea less than a mile beyond the tree tops, I began the work of reflecting on todays Gospel reading. I felt guilty about not being with the rest of the group while they continued to prepare for the clinics. And, me, being me, - I needed to work on something. So, why not begin to sort out my upcoming sermon.

Just that morning I had been given the honor of preaching, in French, at Bon Samaritain Church. The Gospel for the day was Marks story of Jesus falling asleep in the boat as his disciples rowed across the Sea of Galilee. If you remember the reading, you recall that when a storm suddenly blew in, as so frequently happens in that particular sea, the boat they were managing began to rock wildly. The disciples were terrified. They looked over at Jesus for help and could not believe that he remained sound asleep amidst the turbulence of the sea and the howling of the wind.

In a panic they cried out, Jesus, dont you care that we may die in this terrible storm?

Once awakened Jesus calmed the sea and looked over at his disciples saying, Why are you afraid Do you not have faith?The disciples looking out at the becalmed sea were stupefied stupefied by the instant calming of the sea - stupefied by the power of Jesus.

The point that I made in my Haitian sermon was that when we have faith, the power of Jesus to light our way, to calm our rough seas is stupefying absolutely stupefying. But, it is also stupefying how easily we lose sight of that power when, in the face of life’s challenges, our boat is rocking wildly. It is so easy to lose faith in the power of Jesus so easy. And, when we lose faith, we lose the power that lights our way, that calms our rough seas. When we lose faith we enter darkness, uncertainty, anxiety, anger we fall away from God.

So, it was there sitting on the porch, slowing rocking and cooling off, that I began to seriously reflect on the phrase - the stupefying power of Jesus.

Fast forwarding to todays gospel reading, Jesus continues to astound to stupefy.  Today, we find Jesus teaching in his local synagogue. The crowd is noisy and disrespectful. They shout comments of disbelief that this carpenters son this common person - could possibly have the authority with which he speaks and the power to heal the sick that he has demonstrated.

They are stupefied by his wisdom and his healing powers. Yet, they take offense at him - and they are threatened by him - by his power and authority. They criticize him and belittle him. They reject him as a sham and a threat to their comfortable position of power and authority within both the synagogue and the community.

Looking around at villagers that he has known all his life, Jesus also was stupefied. He was amazed at their disbelief at their lack of faith. After doing what little he could by healing the few who had opened their hearts to his power, he made the decision to move on. His mission from the Father clear bring the Good News to all. Never looking back, he moved on to other towns, other places to seek out, to teach, and to heal those who would open their hearts and their minds to his message. To the love, forgiveness, and salvation of God.

Jesuscampaign to spread the Good News the Gospel ramped up quickly. He entered many towns, teaching and healing all the way. Soon, he saw that it was time to send forth his disciples to augment his work to reach as many people as possible. Jesus understood that his own time in the world was short and his message urgent. he needed to keep moving and he needed help - he needed the hearts, hands, and feet of his disciples to participate in this mission of spreading the Good News, the Gospel, far and wide.

Jesus gathered his disciples and instructed them in their new task, and ordered them to travel light - no frills, no extras - just the bare bones of a travel kit - nothing to slow them down. He sent them in pairs so that they could support each other in this perilous and uncomfortable journey. And, finally, he ordered them not to waste time with those who had hardened their hearts to God. He commanded, "If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them."

In other words, don't let your boat get rocked - stay calm, experience peace, and get on with your job of proclaiming the Good News.

The disciples obeyed. "...they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons and anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them.”

These brave souls, sent by Jesus with supplies barely sufficient for more than a day or two at a time - these brave souls, Christ’s first disciples - and Christ himself - are models - models for all of us who sit here in this church and in churches throughout the world.

We are here to follow in their footsteps - to take hold of the stupefying power of Jesus and to use it to calm the waters of a very troubled world. A world experiencing very rough seas. We are the ones to calm the sea, to bring love and peace, to support those who have no faith and those whose faith is troubled and staggering as their boat rocks wildly in turbulent times.

We are the missioners - the disciples - of the here and now.

Christian mission - the activity of sending and being sent in Christ - is grounded in the missionary nature of God as revealed in scripture. In creation, God reached out to create communities of life. With Israel and throughout history, God has moved to restore people to unity with God, with one another, and with all creation. In Christ, God is still on mission in the world through the Holy Spirit. Our call as disciples of Christ is to join God in that mission.

The central act in Gods mission is Gods self-sending in Jesus Christ, the word made flesh and dwelling among us in love. The reign of God that Jesus announced: this we are called to proclaim and enact in mission. The love of God that Jesus expressed in presence, compassion, healing and justice: this we are called to live in mission. The reconciliation that God offers a sinful and broken world in Jesusdeath and resurrection: this is the hope we offer to the world in mission.

Sitting on a rocking chair in the 100-degree heat, sipping a warm bottle of Culligan water, and looking out at a community of people who literally have nothing made it far easier for me to imagine Jesus and his disciples in the deserts of Israel.

Being with the people of this barren community as they worshipped in church earlier that day, singing and praying loudly and with such fervor. Listening each morning as our Haitian doctors together with their patients sang prayers praising Jesus prior to receiving medical care. All of this made if far easier to understand the concept of looking to Christ for calming one’s turbulent seas, for experiencing peace, and for maintaining faith that God is always present with us - always there to lean on, to be loved by, to give strength to those who suffer.

All this brings me to my final moment of contemplation as I sat on the guesthouse porch rocking and thinking about the uncomfortable heat and the myriad of hardships that we would all experience in the next few days. As I sat there, finally cooled and ready to rejoin our team, it struck me that Jesus never experienced the fears and anxieties of a rocking boat. And, I thought to myself - of course, that is what Jesus was asking of his disciples and is asking of us - don’t let your boat rock as you go into the world to spread the good news - be calm, have courage, experience peace, give and receive love, have faith.

O God, you have made of one blood all the peoples of the earth and sent your blessed Son to preach peace to those who are far off and to those who are near: Grant that people everywhere may seek after you and find you; bring the nations into your fold; pour out your Spirit upon all flesh; and hasten the coming of your kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. AMEN. BCP


Monday, July 2, 2018

Quand le mer est agite


SERMON
Eglise de Bon Samaritain
Bondeau, Haiti
June 24, 2018

Bonjour mes amis. Je suis tres heureux d’etre avec cette communaute de Bondeau encore une fois. Comme toujours j’ai amene de nouveaux amis d’Amerique. Sam, Michelle, Parisa et Pam. Je pense que vous conaissez tres bien Dr. Pej qui a ete ici en avance beaucoup de fois.

Bien sur, nous avons aussi nos members de l’equipe Haitienne – Dr. Rudy, Dr. Rolph, Dr. Nerly, Richard, Sissi, Jessica and les etudiants de l’ecole d’infirmieres, FSIL – Rebecca et Diane.

Nous sommes ici – l”equipe entiere – pour vous et aussi pour le communaute de Martel. Nous vous apportons des informations sure les maladies dangerouse et des medicaments pour ameliorer votre sante. Nous voulons traivailler avec vous faire des communautes de Bondeau et de Martel communautes tranquil et remplis de bien-etre.

Il n’est pas possible attiendre ces objectifs sans la foi. La foi que notre Siegneur, Jesus Christ, est avec nous toujours – toujours. Il n’y a jamais un moment de nos vies dans laquelle nous sommes seul – Jesus est avec nous – dans la jour et dans la nuit. Il marche a cote de nous pour tout notre vie.

Aujourd’hui nous avons entendu l’histoire des disciples qui sont dans un bateau avec Jesus. Jesus est fatigue, il dorm pendant les disciples font le voyage travers la mer de Galilee. Tout a la fois le mer devient tres agite. Les disciples ont peur. Il croient que ils vont se noyer. Ils l’ont reveiller et lui ont dit, “Jesus, ne vous souciez pas que nous perissons?”

Jesus s’est reveille, calme la mer et leur a dit. “Pourquoi as tu peur? As-tu toujours pas de foi?” Les disciples etait stupefies par le pouvoir de Jesus.

Pour moi-meme, je suis aussi toujours stupefie par le pouvoir de Jesus. Mais, , je suis aussi stupefie a quelle frequence nous obilions ce pouvoir. Dans ce monde qui est si fragile, si remplis avec de pauvrete et de suffrance, c’est tres facile d’oblier que Jesus est a cote de nous, pour nous guider et a nous aime. Et quand nous l’oblions nous sommes perdus. Nous marchons dans l’obscurite.

Etablir une bon programme de soins de sante dans les communautes de Bondeau et de Martel c’est un peu comme voyager dans un bateau sur une mer agite. Il y a beaucoup d’obstacles – d’argent, la distance entre les Etats Unis et Haiti, l’absence d’une systeme medical efficace pour les peoples d’Haiti, etc.

Mais, si nous pensons seulement a nos problemes, nous serons perdus. Il est tres important de reconnaitre nos cadeaux et de les utilizer a la gloire de Dieu.

Si nous nous souvenons que Jesus est toujours avec nous, si nous trailvaillons ensemble dans la foi, la lumiere de Jesus et la puissance de l’Esprit-Sante nous guideront vers le succes.

Dieu a donne a la communaute de Bondeau et a la communaute de Martel des amis qui ont aide a founir l’eglise, l’education, et une systeme de soins de sante. Maintenant ce sera tres important pour ces communautes d’etablir un systeme interne pour s’agrandir ces cadeaux.

Ceci ne sera pas facile. Cela signifie que vous devez travailler en collaboration avec vos dirigeants et Pere Phanord a apprendre bien a prendre soins a vous-memes et a votre voisin. En travaillant ensemble vous devez faire grandir vos cadeaux, quel que soit les defis auxquels vous serez confronte.     

Alors, c’est tres important de vous vous souveniez quand la vie deviant difficile, quand votre bateau bascule dans les mers agitees, c’est tres facile avoir peur – d’abondonner vos projets d’education et de soins de sante – c’est le moment de se souvenir de Jesus.

Quand nous tenons Jesus dans nos coeurs, la foi gagne. Nous sommes en mesure de reussir tous les projets sur lequel nous tralvaillons – meme le projet pour l’education et de soins de sante a Bondeau et a Martel.

Quand je suis chez moi aux Etats Unis, je pense a vous tout le temps. Vous etes dans mes prieres constament. Chaque foi que je rentre a Bondeau et a Martel je suis si heureux.

Aujourd’hui je prie que nous tous – tout le monde, moi aussi – souvenons toujours du pouvoir de Jesus et gardez notre foi dans ce pouvoir dans nos coeurs pour le courage - toujours. AMEN

Monday, April 30, 2018

An Open Heart...Abundant Love


SERMON
April 28, 2018
Ordination to the Holy Order of Deacons
Five Candidates
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.

CHARGE

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)