Holy Cross Faith Memorial Episcopal Church
November 18, 2017
Jason, take a look around this room at the people who join you here today. They are here because they care about you, they care about this parish, they care about the ministry to which God invites every one of us, and many have participated in forming you into the person and priest you are and will be in this place and beyond.
And because we celebrate you, we also celebrate them, because this ordination liturgy is not only about you, but a celebration of the whole Church. One of the reasons we call you out from among the people to receive the laying on of hands of the bishop and be ordained a priest, is so that you can be an icon, a window, to remind all the people of God of their own priestly ministry given and received in baptism. That is, all of us are to be conduits of the holy, all of us are to be outward and visible signs of the grandeur and beauty of God for the sake of the world.
Perhaps the call of the prophet Isaiah, way back around 742 B.C., can inform what is unfolding here at Holy Cross Faith Memorial today. Isaiah was facing the domination of Assyria and its plan for world power. In the face of such a threat he attempted to proclaim a vision that would lead the people of Judah to a singular hope in God in the midst of troubling and violent times. Specifically, he sought to address the power struggle of the nations as, get this, Syria and Israel invade Judah to try and force them into a coalition against Assyria. Some things just don’t change.
So let’s listen again a moment to this call on Isaiah’s life: “Above God stood the seraphim; each had six wings; with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of God’s glory.” Faces, feet and flying – what can this teach us today about the ministries to which we are called, and specifically, your call as a priest?
Faces, here covered by wings, out of reverence, averting their eyes to avoid looking at God directly, for there was to be found a holiness, an otherness, so magnificent they could not bear the sight. Here, Isaiah is granted a vision of that holiness, so much so that he declared God holy three times for emphasis – holy, holy, holy means “majorly” holy. God is the Holy One, yet God’s people are holy as well as we see God’s mark on us all as we are made in God’s image. Our holiness is derived from the holiness of God. Your priesthood Jason is to continually remind God’s people of their inherent worth, their holiness in Christ.
One of the great dangers of ordained ministry is to get so caught up in the tasks of priestly life that we become technicians of the sacred rather than standing as windows through which we are invited to gaze upon the holiness of God and everything God has created. You are to be consistently proclaiming a vision of God that is ever expanding. One of the great calls of priesthood is to assist God’s people to uncover their eyes and discover their own holiness. Doing so we can begin to confront the fear that does not want to see the beauty of that presence in us all, especially those most different from us. Your priesthood is to call forth the priesthood of every human being to join in a deeper conversation with a holy God and each other. Isaiah’s contemporaries did not like his teaching. It was unpopular, seen as irreverent, even seditious. Don’t be afraid to walk to that edge even as did Isaiah.
Now feet. This can be sensitive territory for we know that “feet,” in this image from Isaiah, is a euphemism for “sexual parts.” Sexuality is a powerful, wonderful and yes mysterious part of being human. God knows, the Church has not always done a very good job in this arena of human experience. Yet, classically, we understand this as the seat of desire, which leads me to St. John of the Cross. One of his central themes, as he wrote in the late 1500’s, is the transformation of desire. His point is that all of our desire, at the root, is a desire for God. Your priesthood is to be grounded in that passion and directed toward the Holy One who will not let us go.
The Isaiah narrative is filled with energy and excitement. It calls us to that place where all of our passion, including the glorious passions and desires we experience in and through one another in these human bodies, are understood as gift and given over to God so that all of us can fall deeply in love with God and God’s vision for all the creation. Your call and ours is a call for fidelity and a call for radical obedience, the way of the Cross.
And flying? May we be given wings to go wherever it is we are called. It was the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said that Christians are meant to fly, but too often we act as if our wings have been clipped and thus we remain penned in and diminished in God’s intent for us. In Isaiah’s image, the wings enabled the seraphim to deliver the coal of cleansing and offer purification and forgiveness to a world too often ridden with guilt, fear and confusion, hell-bent on its own destruction.
When my daughter was a little girl I was driving her to pre-school and NPR was on the radio describing troubled places in the world. Apparently she was listening as she said to me, “Daddy, are the people in the war just having a bad dream?” This could have happened yesterday as we continue to struggle with world events. Her question took my breath away as I witnessed her sweet innocence slipping away. After recovering I said, “No Emily, it is all real, and a lot of people are being hurt, but you are safe with me.” Jason, you are to embody for us a priesthood where you name clearly what you see, declare that brokenness and injustice are all real, dare to show us where it raises its ugly head, and then proclaim God’s hope for perfect justice, God’s offense at the oppression of the weak, and where we are to boldly join you in living out in our actions the transformation God is calling forth. The kind of discipleship we are called to offer is never at the expense of our neighbor. God calls us to serve our neighbor and offer radical welcome.
Dare to name it when you see it. Tell the truth in Christ. God is not pleased, Isaiah would tell us, if this rite of worship today does not also usher in work for righteousness and peace. Have the courage to use your wings and fly wherever God calls you to go and may we have the faith and courage to join you, even if you or we are seen as seditious, irreverent and unpopular just as it was so for Isaiah.
(Invite Jason to stand) One more time Jason, look around. Call us through your priesthood to our priesthood. Give us a vision of our holiness in God’s loving presence. Call us to be on fire with a passionate love for God and to know of God’s passionate love for us. Call us to be honest and truthful for all that distracts us from God’s vision for us as tireless workers for justice and peace. And may I also say today, thank you, thank you for being you and for offering yourself to God’s Church and to us for this work.
Bishop Skip Adams
The Right Reverend Gladstone B. Adams III was elected and invested as our Bishop on September 10, 2016. Read more about him here.