Christian destiny

preachinga sermon, based on Ephesians 4.7, 11-16 and Isaiah 6.1-8, preached with the gathered community at Advent Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the occasion of the Ordination to the Priesthood of the Reverend Mia Chelynn Drummond McDowell, Thursday, January 14, 2015

The Reverend Mia Drummond McDowell

We come to celebrate the priesthood of Christ Jesus and the ministry of the church in the sacramental rite of the ordination of our sister, Mia. It is essential to speak in this way and in this order: Jesus, church, Mia. For it is easy to speak of her ministry as our primary focus. However, if not for Jesus, his ministry, and that of the church there would be no ordination.

Therefore, we come to glorify God in Christ Jesus and to give thanks for the church in gratitude for Mia. Let us rejoice!

In our rejoicing, we dare not overlook the context, the world and church around us, in which this celebration takes place.

We live in a world where religion remains a source of tumult and, at times, terror. Yet a world where Christianity thrives, especially in the southern hemisphere. However, America, long sown with gospel seed (perhaps, we are told, slightly more “spiritual” than a generation ago) increasingly produces the fruit of secular human aspirations and pluralistic religious affections. Sometimes we might cry with the psalmist: How do we sing the Lord’s song in this strange land?[1]

We live in an Anglican Communion and an Episcopal Church where, given fresh evidence this very day,[2] our reconciliation in Christ hath not overcome our alienation from one another. Where we often confess less the commonality of our faith while professing more the dissimilarity of our views about human sexuality, biblical authority, and jurisdictional boundaries. Where the words, “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed,”[3] remain applicable; capable of being lobbed at one’s opponents from where’er one stands. Where we continually rewrite the lexicon of labels. In less than a generation, we’ve gone from conservative and liberal to traditionalist and revisionist to absolutist and relativist to disaffiliationist and reaffirmationist. Where a principle question of the past score of years is the relative morality of seeking settlements with or taking legal action against those who depart and refuse to relinquish church property; sometimes posed as the difference between being known as Christians by our love or by our lawsuits.

There are hopeful signs of the ongoing faithful mission of the church when the gospel is truly preached in word and deed and the sacraments duly observed. However, we dare not forget how things are or to fantasize about how we wish things were. If we did that then God could not speak to us in Spirit and in truth.

So, within the context of this world and this church, why do we rejoice? Let us listen to God’s Word: Each was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Some as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all come… to maturity, to the full stature of Christ.[4]

Incredible! Our Christian destiny is to share the identity, the ontology of Jesus! Sinners we are, but a day is coming and now is when we come “to maturity, to the full stature of Christ.”

Even if this was only, merely an unrealized ideal, it’s still incredible. More incredibly it is real! For when we say, “Jesus,” we are not talking about an ideal, but a real person, who has reconciled us with God, thus making this destiny of sharing his identity no longer fantasy, but reality.

If this is real, where is it? Where do we see it? Most incredibly, in the church! We, the church, are called and consecrated by God to reflect the identity of Jesus and to reveal this destiny to the world. Yes, we fail at this high calling. But no matter how faithful or faithless we are, the calling always remains.

Now, we can talk about ordination to the priesthood, which we, without talking first about our Christian destiny and our calling as the church, might be tempted to view primarily as Mia’s life and labor.

It’s hard not to see it that way. Through ordination, as the Lord sent seraphs with burning coals to purify Isaiah’s lips that he might prophesy, so Mia will be commissioned to preside at the holy mysteries, preach God’s holy word, and provide holy comfort and counsel with God’s people. Moreover, God already has blessed her with great gifts.

Mia, your mind makes merry and your heart sings in harmony with the angelic hymn of the universe of the love and justice of Jesus; a gospel grace and mercy evident in your love of people, especially the young. You embody and channel the gifts of the Holy Spirit in your honesty and integrity as you live and move and have your being in our church where we still wrestle with issues of race and gender equality, particularly women in authority. And though you would demur, your lips, touched by seraph-borne coals, have been purified to preach; and preach you do! And you stand at the altar as a sanctified sacramentalist, knowledgeable of our liturgical history and, even more, faithful to the God and people you serve.

Yes, it’s hard not to see this occasion as setting Mia apart, already divinely gifted, as Christ’s minister for the church and in the world. Yet we must remember that all of us are ministers. “Each was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”

Let us also remember that Christian ministry is more about being than doing. So, as we do ministry, let’s keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so never to forget our destiny to be as he is and our duty to reflect and reveal his identity to the world.

Mia, this day you are made priest of the church of Christ Jesus in whom our human destiny is revealed: to be as he is.

May God in you continue to bring that destiny to life.

May God through you in the church and for the world continue to bring that destiny to light.

May God use you to bid us share in that destiny until at last we all come “to maturity, to the full stature of Christ.”

One last word. In an ancient unnamed chronicle, an unknown author shares with a friend his experience of having met the followers of Jesus: “The sacred vessels of the church are made of wood, but Christians are made of gold.” Too often, I fear, the church’s sacred vessels are made of gold, but Christians, in forgetting our destiny and forsaking our duty, are made of wood.

Mia, we pray this day that this never will be said of you.

Footnotes:

[1] Psalm 137.4

[2] On January 14, 2016, the primates (the clerical leaders, titled as presiding bishops or archbishops, of the 38 national church bodies) of the 80-million member global Anglican Communion, meeting at Canterbury Cathedral, England, suspended the American Episcopal Church from full participation, largely in light of the American church’s liberal stance on human sexuality. The suspension, for a period of three years, in part, is intended to offer the opportunity to the American church to reconsider and repent of its stance.

[3] From the hymn, The Church’s one foundation, words by Samuel John Stone (1839-1900).

[4] Ephesians 4.7, 11-13 (paraphrased with emphasis added).

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