When my friend Laura Mol heard that Mariann had asked me to preach at this service, she said, “You didn’t say yes, did you?”
My friend Chet Grey was so concerned that he had a crate of sermon helps delivered to my house.
The elegant and beautiful Liane, my beloved wife, said, to comfort me, “No one remembers a sermon from an ordination. Don’t worry about it.”
So I say to you, “relax.” I have.
No one expects a kick-ass sermon, so I am just going to enjoy the day and hope you do, too. Let’s see what kind of low-key, unmemorable thing God might have to say to us today.
I first met Mariann in September 1984. We both started at Virginia Seminary that fall. I remember when we met.
She was thin; Pretty; From a nice (rich) part of New Jersey; She drove a Volvo; And she was very spiritual, and liberal. All the things I was not.
I was older; Fatter; Not rich; Very conservative; And I drove a very old VW bug — OK, when it ran I drove it.
I did not think she would want to be my friend. As I got to know Mariann, I found out I was wrong. What I found was a genuine, committed seeker after truth and justice. Oh, yeah, the Volvo belonged to her mother. And we became friends.
When I was pricked in conscience by Jack Woodard about homeless people and justice, it was Mariann who took me to a shelter for homeless women where she volunteered. That night when a woman got sick all over herself and everything else, it was Mariann who took her to the bath and cleaned her up while I cleaned the room.
When I heard that our beloved John Chane was retiring, I immediately called Mariann and told her she should put in her name.
Over and over during the election process, I told people that I had asked Mariann to offer herself to us as shepherd for two reasons:
First, Mariann has spent decades learning how parishes can be healthy and thrive and she will teach us AND
Second, when I am with Mariann, I can imagine my life, envision my self as more than I can on my own.
She has grounded herself in Christ so powerfully that I experience hope and possibility when I am with her.
And now she is going to be our Bishop.
Today’s readings are just what you would expect for the consecration of a Bishop:
Equipping the saints for the work of ministry
Where do your images of shepherds come from?
From David the shepherd who didn’t even get the invitation when Samuel came to anoint the next king?
Wherever they come from, Ezekiel is clear here:
God says, “I myself will be their shepherd.”
As shepherd, God says,
I will seek you out
I will rescue you
Bring you down, gather you together
I will seek the lost, bind up the injured,
Strengthen the weak
And listen to this: THE FAT AND THE STRONG I WILL DESTROY. These are not words of comfort to some of us. Sir Thomas Browne, said it this way, “Thou art all replete with very thou.”
And then the tag line, the punch line at the end of this passage:
I WILL FEED THEM WITH JUSTICE
For the past month I have lived with this line. I will feed them with justice. I go back to the Magnificat over and over: The rich I will send empty away.
To the poor, the injured, the oppressed,
Being fed with justice is a delight.
To the satisfied, the strong, the oppressor, to those full of themselves,
Being fed with justice is not a delight. It is wormwood and gall, it does not go down easy.
The shepherd is called to feed the flock with Justice, no matter who it comforts and who it bothers.
A couple of decades ago there was a poem, a reading in Sojourners magazine about two women, rich and poor in Argentina. It started with the contrast of rich and poor, and with the revolution. Come the revolution, the poor had enough and the rich not so much as before. As the revolution was overthrown, the rich went back to being rich and full; the poor woman again had no food for her children. I remember one line.
One woman said, “I had beans to give my children”
And the other: we had to eat beans.
Speaking words of justice means different things depending on where we sit.
God says, “I will feed them with justice.”
That shepherd image takes us straight through to Peter.
Peter, who denied Jesus three times,
Is at the shore with Jesus
Breakfast is finished.
It is just the two of them.
And Jesus, mindful of the shame and guilt in the heart of Peter says,
“Peter, you are such a jerk. I told you that you would screw up. And even so, you denied me. You ran away.”
No, Jesus does not heap shame on shame.
No, Jesus looks Peter in the eye and says,
“do you love me?”
“do you love me?
“Peter do you love me?”
Once for each denial. I am convinced that Jesus will just keep asking no matter how many time we screw up.
Do you love me?
Not as condemnation, but hope
Not to shame but to forgive
The invitation from Jesus is always love, and in that love we find the strength and hope to live. In a moment we will affirm our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. We believe in God, in Jesus, in the Holy Spirit – and three other things: the Church, forgiveness, and the resurrection of the dead. Hey, forgiveness is not just some little appendage of the church. It is in the top handful of the church. Forgiveness is central to our faith — and don’t you forget it. Without forgiveness, there could be no church, there could be no community, there could be no hope.
As I was preparing for today, I also read, Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit. G Dog to his homies, or just G. He tells, in poignant and compelling prose how he learned to love the homeboys and homegirls, and in his telling, he teaches us to love. I would like to share one image of what he learned and teaches us:
One morning, after doing masses at the probation camps, Father Boyle was scheduled to do baptisms at his parish in Los Angeles. About 15 minutes before the baptisms are to begin, and here I quote from the book:
“This woman in her thirties walks through the door. I immediately glance at the clock hanging on the wall. I check how much time I have left before the baptism and am already lamenting that I most probably won’t get to all the mail. I find out later that the woman’s name is Carmen. …. Carmen is a heroin addict, a gang member, street person, occasional prostitute and … she is often defiantly storming down the street usually shouting at someone.”
…. Now I have seven minutes until the baptism. … Carmen plops herself into one of the chairs in my office and cuts the fat out of her introductory remarks.
“I need help,” she launches right in. … “I been ta like fifty rehabs. I’m known all over .. nationwide”
…. I went to Catholic school all my life. Fact, I graduated from high school even. Fact, right after graduation, is when I started to use heroin.” Carmen enters some kind of trance at this point and her speech slows to deliberate and halting.
“and I … have been trying to stop … since … the moment I began.”
Then I watch as Carmen tilts her head back until it meets the wall. She stares at the ceiling, and in an instant her eyes become these two ponds, water rising to meet their edges, swollen banks, spilling over. Then, for the first time really, she looks at me, and straightens.
“I … am … a … disgrace.”
Suddenly, her shame meets mine. For when Carmen walked through that door, I had mistaken her for an interruption.
If this vignette clutches at your heart as it catches mine, then let us all learn to welcome those who interrupt us as invitations into God’s presence.
I have also lived with David Whyte and Coleman’s Bed for months. I hope you will cut it out of the bulletin and put it in your quiet time space, or on the fridge or by your bed. I hope you will read it again and again. Enjoy it, savor it like a fine wine.
I could talk on and on about it but I will look at one image:
Feel the way the cliff at your back
Gives strength to your outward view
And then bring in from those horizons
All discordant elements that seek a home.
I am reminded of the words of a song I hear my sons listen to: Lean Back, Lean back.
Today, before you leave this place
I invite each of you to find a bare stone, inside or out of the Cathedral.
Standing or in a chair, lean back.
Feel the strength of the stone at your back give you shelter
Know the strength, the protection, the power of leaning on the cliff.
My first year of seminary I lived on Cape Ann in Massachusetts. I lived about 100 yards from the ocean. One day, during a nor’easter, I went down to feel the power of the storm.
To hear the crash of the waves and feel and stinging, frozen spray on my face.
As I walked on the beach, I saw a gap in the rocks along the shore and stepped into it. Immediately it was quiet. It was warm. The rock of ages had cleft for me. I understood the strength and protection of the rock.
As I was preparing for this sermon, I went out to Shrinemont and found an outcropping of rock, and like Coleman, I hid myself in a cave. Under that overhang, I felt the strength of the cliff, I breathed in the power of the earth, and imagined the possibility of welcoming the stranger, even the stranger in me.
And the rock was Jesus.
Lean back and know the strength of God.
And when you know that strength, welcome the stranger, even in yourself.
Mariann, would you please stand?
You must find a place – or places – [and I know you will] where you can lean back into the cliff:
Whether it is in the stones of this cathedral
Or the quiet space you will have at home
Or the chapel at Church House
Or a spring house
Or a real cave
Lean back and trust the cliff at your back, for its strength goes deep in the earth, and its strength is the awesome power of God.
When you can feel that strength
Draw a deep breath or maybe a few
And then, only then
Ask for the wisdom and strength to do what you are ordained to do today:
Guard the faith
Ordain priests and deacons
And be our shepherd, setting a wholesome example for the entire flock of Christ
You will be able to do this, because I know that in the quiet strength of the cliff and the silence you find there,
You will feel the arms of God gently wrapped around you, holding you. Strengthening you to do the work, the impossible work, of loving us, and bringing the reign of God a few steps closer.
Find peace, to welcome the interruption; to welcome the stranger, even in you.
And believe with all your heart that you will have enough
To do all God calls you to do.
Perhaps not all that we want you to do
Or you think you should do
But enough to do all God calls you to do.
God is shepherd to us all —
And you are shepherd to this diocese
As you find the quiet
The power in the shelter of the cliff
Mariann: I ask you; I beg you:
FEED US WITH JUSTICE!