Hear What the Spirit Is Saying

1 Samuel 8:4-20
 and the Gospel According to Mark 3:20-34

Celebration of Ed Cardoza’s Ordination

The Rev’d. Gretchen S. Grimshaw


Episcopal Parish of St. Paul, Newton Highlands, MA

Good morning. And it is a gloriously good morning, indeed. As most of you know, our beloved Ed was ordained to the deaconate yesterday. Several of you were there, and you will notice his newly fitted collar and servant stole. He is now officially the The Rev’d. Edward Cardoza, so take note…..or, put that in your pipe and smoke it, as my nephew said to my niece at my ordination to the deaconate. And so this morning we will celebrate the birth of this new ministry, this new ministry that comes through years of discernment and formation, and comes with more than a new collar and stole. It also comes with a host of new expectations and accountabilities, weights and measures, and, no doubt, some surprises.

As we celebrate this threshold of Ed’s new ministry of ordination, I hope that every one of us will take this opportunity to claim a fresh start to our own ministries, and we all have them. I hope we can all claim a soft start, or re-start to our own divine ordinations in the ministries to which we have been called by our creator. Today we celebrate the new ministries that are calling each one of us.

Today’s lectionary gives us a splendid place to start. (Click here to get the readings) Because each of the readings sets in high relief, the distance between the world in which we are born and the world that we are born to build; a tale of two kingdoms. This reality of heaven and earth is the context in which we all begin our ministries anew…..every day.

The Gospel this morning (Mark 3:20-34) is arguably the true start, or kickoff, in our modern vernacular, of Jesus’ own divinely ordained ministry on earth. Here-to-fore in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has been baptized by the Holy Spirit, he has endured intense testing in the wilderness, and survived. He has healed a couple of folks, in what may well be assumed to have been his pastoral internship. He has taught a couple of spiritual disciplines to the congregations in which he has served, once on the value of fasting and then on the purpose of the Sabbath. And he has gathered his twelve companions who will accompany and support him through his blossoming ministry. It sounds a lot like the ordination process to me…..what do you think, Ed?

And now, in chapter three of Mark’s Gospel the real rubber meets the road….the real mission is declared….ordained, we might say. And it begins, fittingly, with Jesus’ whole hometown calling him crazy….”out of his mind” is what the text truly says. Let the mission begin! This is the fork in the road, the point at which Jesus ceases to be just a miraculous healer and a wise teacher and begins to become a revolutionary…..a political thorn in the side of the authorities. This is the passage where Jesus draws the line in the sand between the secular kingdom of human values and the economy of God….the house that lives for love alone. This is where heaven and earth begin to clash in our Jesus story. It is where the deeply inclusive love of God lived by Jesus of Nazareth, and the dignity that Jesus insists be shown to every human being, begins to step on the toes of the elite, begins to challenge the privilege of the political and religious powers……because love always pokes power. And so the elite authorities begin to see that this Jesus is going to be a very uncomfortable thorn in their side.

And so, in Mark’s Gospel, this passage is where Jesus begins to teach in parables. He begins to offer his teaching in a conversation that challenges the listener to think about earthly things in heavenly terms. It’s a sort of spiritual code, a parable. The word literally means to throw beside. So Jesus begins to speak in clear terms about something altogether different than the apparent subjects of his stories. And so this passage is the place where the dichotomy between heaven and earth begins to clash.

And, this is the famous passage where Jesus declares his opposition to what the Gospeller calls ”the strong man.” The necessity of binding the strong man if the house of God is to be upheld. I think that term “strong man” can be read as anyone who violates another for personal gain; anyone who stomps on the dignity of another, who threatens the God-given peace of another, is a “strong man.” Jesus has come to bind the strong man…the strong earthling….strong, at least by human measurements. And this, says Mark’s Gospel, is the work of God’s agents in this world, to bind the forces of oppression and destruction and to free the forces of life and creation and peace. So Jesus’ ministry starts here with this morning’s declaration of abject opposition to indignity….some of us might relate to it in our baptismal promise to renounce evil. I think that is exactly what Jesus is doing in this passage.

We began this morning with the Hebrew Bible reading from 1 Samuel. As you probably know, our readings on Sunday morning are determined by the Revised Common Lectionary, which runs on a three year cycle. We are currently in the second year of that cycle. Last year were read stories of creation; creation of the earth and all that is in it and creation of the community of Israelites, the founding ancestors of our faith tradition. But this is year B. And our general theme from now until Advent will change from creation to constitution. In the Hebrew Bible we will read the stories of how the people of Israel transitioned from a loosely formed community led by a prophet or a judge who spoke for God, to a monarchy led by a king; from a community of clans loyal to and serving one God- to a kingdom of subjects loyal to and serving one king. It is the start of the house divided that Jesus speaks on in this morning’s Gospel.

We begin our Hebrew Bible readings this year in the Book of 1 Samuel. Samuel was a prophet of God, or so they say. And the first and second Books of Samuel tell the stories of two kings: the first King, demanded by the people and chosen by God, was named Saul –Saul was a generally unwise, unfit, and unstable King whom God quickly regretted choosing. (That’s a sermon for another day!) The second king heralded in the books of Samuel is the great King David, whom God will be choosing in next week’s reading.

But today, after Saul’s demise and before David’s identification and consecration, we hear God caution the Israelites one last time. Caution them about the danger of insisting on having a king for themselves. The danger of replacing God’s oversight with an inevitably flawed human authority; replacing God’s good judgment and abundant offering with human greed and unfettered acquisition, God’s propensity to give with the human propensity to take.

The First Book of Samuel takes place during the iron age of the 12th and 11th centuries, over one thousand years before Jesus was born. And one of the great markers of the iron age was the rise in military might, because the discovery of iron allowed a whole new class of weaponry. The rising military power of that day was the Philistines, a name that literally means, in Hebrew, invaders. They were a well-armed, highly skilled military society of land grabbers who were looking to conquer everyone in their path. And the Israelites were unfortunately smack dab in the middle of their path. And so the Israelites were constantly under attack, under pressure, threatened to be eaten up by the Philistine military machine.

So it is thoroughly understandable that the Israelites, fearing this constant aggression, wanted a military might of their own. They wanted their own army to defend them. They wanted a king to keep them safe….or so they thought. And so the Israelites asked God to stop sending judges (agents of God’s oversight) and instead to send them a king, an agent of military might.

So as we heard in this morning’s reading: All the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel, and said to him, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us a king to govern us, like other nations.” And as the adage goes, we should be careful what we ask for. Because this is the turning point in the story of God’s people, the turning point from a community grounded in a quest for peaceful survival to a nation grounded in the way of violent acquisition. The turning point that has divided the house ever since, because we have never looked back.

From this point forward, the agents of God will have their work cut out for them! For God explains in painstaking detail the consequences of yielding the prospects of the community to the power of a king. God says to the people, there is not now and never will there be, any such thing as a good king. Kings become the explosive combination of fragile human beings and unchecked power. And the result is always the same, says God. You, my beloved people will be taken for everything you’ve got…..your king will take your land and your grain and your sons and daughter and your servants and your livestock and everything you have….your king will take – lakach –is the verb in the Hebrew that God uses to describe to Samuel how kings behave – they take what they want for their own power and purposes –lakach. Even the good ones lakach. God gives. Kings take. It is just the way it is. And still, the people insisted upon a king…..and are insisting to this day.

And so here we are, Ed. On the precipice of your brand new ministry…..a ministry of give and take, for sure. And so I can’t think of two better pieces of scripture to plant in your arsenal….that sounds too military, maybe toolbox would be a better metaphor. For these two readings define the context in which you are planting your new ministry. So you can start by putting these two readings in your ministerial box of tools.

And, as this is the last time I will get to speak to you as your supervisor, I would like to offer you a few more starting tools; a few things that have found their way into my toolbox over the years…and not all too easily. So let’s call them the top 10 training wheels….or maybe just the top 10 tools. This list is not exhaustive by any means. And it is just my list. I am guessing that everyone here has a bit of a list to contribute as well, and I urge you all to share your lists with Ed. But here’s mine:

  1. Your ordination this glorious weekend, is not by God, it is by the church. You have always been ordained by God….as has every one in this hallowed space. God’s ordination process is called childbirth. We are each and all uniquely ordained by God for our ministry in this world….in the womb. You have now been ordained by the church, as well; ordered in the ranks of the church to lift God in this world specifically as a part of that institution.
  2. Number two is a corollary to number one: The collar does not belong to God….it belongs to the church. Which is to say, you are not the only one wearing a collar. Everything you say and do while you are wearing that collar, speaks, in one way or another, for and about the church, and everyone else who wears that collar. Which is to say, if you are wearing your collar, and the fourth rude person cuts you off in rush hour traffic, my advice is to keep all of your fingers tucked safely in your fist….and to wrap that fist safely around the steering wheel! ….and trust that there is justice in heaven!
  3. You do not offer forgiveness. God does. What we as ordained clergy offer, is a reminder of God’s forgiveness….an assurance of God’s forgiveness, but the substance itself is a gift that comes directly from God. Forgiveness, like roses and rain come only from heaven.
  4. Jesus is a four letter word. ….and the opposite corollary, as I keep reminding my friends on the golf course, Jesus is not a four letter word. But, you and your collar are now a walking invitation for all sorts of folks to talk openly about God and Jesus in the wider world. And I have found that Jesus is often very difficult to articulate. So for myself, when I talk about Jesus to folks who have no experience of Jesus, I almost always talk exclusively about love. I explain Jesus as nothing more or less than pure love, God’s pure love for humanity and humanity’s charge to show the same pure love to each other. Jesus is simply love….a simple four letter word.
  5. You are perfect. Absolutely perfect. Do not let anyone tell you otherwise. Our culture has adopted a very deleterious disclaimer that we apply every time we think we have fallen short of the mark, we say: Nobody’s perfect. And that, I think, is bullroar. You are perfect. You are the perfect constellation of gifts and challenges, you bring the perfect experience of joy and pain, you hold the perfect key to unlock some grace that you alone have been given to share, that you alone carry into every encounter. There is some potential in this world that only you can fulfill. There has never in the history of the world been anyone with that particular potential…nor will there ever be. God has created you and equipped you and consecrated you very particularly for this exact ministry, in this exact place, at this exact time. And so you are the perfect fit for what God needs you to do here and now……..I don’t remind you of this to swell your head. But I do want to warn you that this ministry is hard. It is a rare day when I do not question myself or my fitness for this wonderful, heartbreaking, handwringing, harrowingly hard, hard work. And so maybe the most important wisdom I can offer is the reminder that, at those moments when you are ready to chuck everything and crawl into an unholy hole where you think you belong, please remember that you are God’s perfect vision, and everything about you is perfect in God’s sight.
  1. Never forget why you are doing. What and how you are doing it is much less important than why.My own mentor, The Rev’d. Anne Fowler told me in response to my fear that I might mess up some part of my first ordained services: don’t worry, the liturgy always ends. And it does. But maybe an addendum: the worship never does. The why is much more important than the what or the how.
  1. This ordained ministry, is a ministry of interruption…..it is a ministry that demands that you pay attention to and embrace the moment in front of you. You can make plans if you must, but only as a rough draft of your day. The real work that you are called to do will reveal itself on an as needed basis. In the meantime, you can tend your schedule and your to do list, but that is your work, it is not necessarily God’s.
  2. As Bishop Gayle preached in her fine sermon yesterday, remember that you are now and will be forevermore, a deacon. A servant. And even when you are ordained to the priesthood in January, your first order will be that of the deacon….the one who washes the feet of the rest. No matter how dirty, no matter how tired are you or the feet you are washing. Servanthood is your first language. Remember, it is the status of deacon, not priest, that made you a reverend.
  3. Hear what the spirit is saying to God’s people. Every day. We say this after reading the scripture, but I think it is said for no one more than the clergy. I think it is our work to hear, not what God is calling us to do, but what God is calling the community to do. Your call has already been well discerned and established. Now, you can stop listening for what God wants you to do, and focus your full attention on what the spirit is saying to God’s people. Because now, this is how God is calling you.
  4. Never, ever, ever love anyone…..unconditionally. We say we want unconditional love…..but that, I think, is a bold faced lie! We do not want to be loved because we exist, we want to be loved for who we are…..particularly…..subjectively….very, very personally. Unconditional love does not lift us above the things that keep us from God. For it is our shame, our guilt, our weakness and our insufficiency that we think make us unlovable. And so only love that takes those things into account, only love that recognizes and embraces those things as part of the whole, only love that takes those conditions into account can lift us out of our own unworthiness…………So if we can love each other inclusively, rather than unconditionally, that is, love each others warts and all, then we’ve got something; then we can begin to invite each other to the banquet….then we can insist that we all show up regardless of the reasons that we feel unfit for such an honor. That, my good friend and clergy colleague, is our highest calling as far as I can see. To love without measure…….but never without the condition that we become known as our full selves.

And so today, Ed, we celebrate the very special, particular, unique gifts that you have offered this parish with such deep generosity. Your spiritual intelligence, your deep love of God, your reverence for this ministry, your wonderful preaching and teaching and pastoral care, your sense of humor, your willingness to serve in so many capacities, and a million other attributes that we do not have time to list.

We celebrate our gratitude for all that we have learned from and with you. And we remind you that we love you, not unconditionally, but with eyes wide open for ALL that you are, and ALL that you have been for us, and ALL that you will be for the world as you leave this beloved community to plant our collective spirit in a brand new place. And we remind you with all our might, that St. Paul’s will always be a bit of your home. Where ever you go from here, we will go with you.

Finally Ed, I leave your toolbox with a poem that has become my own mantra over the last several years. It is one of the most perfect articulations of new ministry that I have ever encountered. It is never far from my sight, and I hope that it will be of help and inspiration to you as well.

What to Remember While Waking

By David Whyte

In that first hardly noticed moment in which you wake,

Coming back to this life from the other more secret,

moveable and frighteningly honest world where everything began,

there is a small opening into the day which closes

the moment you begin your plans.

What you can plan is too small for you to live.

 

What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough

for the vitality hidden in your step.

To become human is to become visible,

while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.

To remember the other world in this world

is to live in your true inheritance.

You are not a troubled guest on this earth,

you are not an accident amidst other accidents,

you were invited from another and greater night than the one

from which you have just emerged.

 

Now, looking through the slanting light of the morning window

Toward the mountain presence of everything that can be,

what urgency calls you to your one love?

What shape waits in the seed of you to grow

and spread its branches against a future sky?

Is it waiting in the fertile sea? In the trees beyond the house?

In the life you can imagine for yourself?

In the open and lovely white page on the waiting desk?

That open and lovely page is awaiting your new ministry.

And I for one cannot wait to see how you fill it!

Alleluia!
Amen.

© June, 2015 The Rev’d Gretchen S. Grimshaw

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