Friday, June 01, 2007

An Ordination Sermon
preached in the Diocese of Montreal - 199?

John 21:15-22

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon
son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “You know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”
Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?”
He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
The third time he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time “Do you love me?”
He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger
you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old
you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead
you where you do not want to go”
Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.
Then he said to him, “Follow me!”
Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them
(This is the one who had leaned back against Jesus at the supper and
had said “Lord, who is going to betray you?”)
When Peter saw him he asked, “Lord what about him?”
Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return,
what is that to you? You must follow me.”

Peter turns around and sees John walking after them
a few paces behind
humming one of his new hymns

What about him? Peter asks
Does he have to feed the sheep as well?
Does he have to follow too?
Does he also have to die in service?

There is a child’s question here
a question about Justice.
Am I the only one who has to do this?
What about him, what about her?

There is an adult’s fear of loneliness as well
will I have company?

And the answer – the grown up answer is – yes and no

Yes you are the only one who has to do ‘this’ and
No, you will not always have company while you’re doing it.

But maybe I need to backtrack:
Most of my early essays were filled with the words ‘this’ or ‘these’
circled by the professor
because it was no longer clear from the context what ‘this’ of ‘these’ referred to.

Jesus asks Peter – Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?
These ‘what’?
More than ‘this’ life?
represented by the items of a fisherman’s life
scattered around on the beach –
these nets,
these spools of braided line,
these floats?

Or – do you love me more than these other disciples love me?
You, Peter, pre-eminent among my followers.
Do you love me more than these others do?

The question arising between a man and a woman, - a parent and a child could be playful or maybe it probes at some perceived weakness.

Do you love me (of course you do)
Do you love me (I want to hear you say it)
Do you love me (I suspect that you do not)
Do you love me (I wonder if you know what that means)

I’ll roll the dice and will hold that:

1. When Jesus asked Peter if he loved him more than these that he was referring to the other disciples gathered with them on the beach.

2. He asks the question three times because Peter has denied him three times and

3. That when he asked Peter whether or not he loved him he was wondering if Peter knew what that meant.

Because it is not clear
that we always know what love means.

The general moves to the particular. The general
whether it is love (in general),
ministry (in general),
the life of human beings (in general)
is something that can be talked about but never experienced.

You will never meet humans in general
you will meet Stan and Doris and Tabitha and Rex.

Or work in a neighbourhood which is typically working class
or typically old money.
You will work in this or that parish
with its particular population and its particular history.

God (in general) is the god of the philosophers
the idea of god,
the possibility of God.
We know almost nothing about God in general

The glory of the Incarnation is that God wrapped himself up in the particular life of Jesus of Nazareth and achieves His highest moment not in the solitary being of a point of light but tied up with the smells and sounds of the Middle East
the dust of the road,
the quiet of the Garden,
guests at a wedding,
the crowded roads of Jerusalem at Passover.

And so the story of one man and three women
trained in all the generalities of ministry
moves to the starting gate in a race
where the course ahead is not of any set length
and the path is as yet undetermined.

You want to be here
we take that datum as something assured.

You are suited to ministry and
will become more adapted to it with time
we take this as probable.

You are needed
this is certain,
whether or not the mainstream seems to want you or not.

(Look at the representation of clergy
in movies and on television.
There’s not one of them that has a chin!)

But it will not be only your inner core of parishioners who will call on you.
This seemingly unfriendly mainstream will also dial your number at all hours of the night and will call upon your counsels in the wee hours in ways you might not imagine.

The request will be similar in most cases.
What does the fact of God’s love mean here?
What does it mean for me?
In this moment in my life
and in the life of my family?
What does Christ say about this?
What does the Bible say about this?
Where is God in all of this?
In all this grief – in all this change?
In this weakness of mine
with respect to this son of mine?
This illness of mine?
This loss that I have incurred?
Will you translate the generalities of the Bible,
the generalities of the Mass,
the generalities that my child is taught in Church school
into something which can give me life?

Does this beautiful field of wheat,
blond, expansive and everlasting
ever become a loaf of bread?

And then ministry, like love, will become knowable and known:

When you can attach a time and a location and a situation and faces to the word
when you can remember the smell of the place
the expressions on the faces.
When you run afoul of the particular place
and make a significant mistake
and come to know why.

When you know that you have the choice of extending your personality
and your energy and your time
into the lives and fortunes of other human beings
and you decide to do so.

You do so not because you are impelled by some Ghostly force
(that would not be a gift on your behalf but rather an empty reflex)
but because you choose to
you want to
you feel you must.

That love is voluntary is evidenced by the fact
that not all are loving.
Love is a choice
and you will encounter families, marriages, institutions
and even the ministries of some of your colleagues
where the path of love has not been taken.

When there is a price to be paid
and there is a price to be paid
for wrapping yourself in the life and the environment of another person.
Acts of love take their toll on your person
on your time,
on your innocence
and on your sleep.

When another person is changed by an act of love
and you yourself are changed by it.

You must love yourself – and take seriously your own horizons.
You are not called to suffer for suffering’s sake but for Christ’s sake.

You must love your families.
Don’t be professional with them. Let them be who they are
in all circumstances
and at all times.

But don’t take this as an invitation to be reserved.
We must take it as axiomatic that you are up for a little adventure
the demolishing of a few horizons
you want to see things go ‘boom’
You have a healthy and godly curiosity about what people are like on the inside,
you entertain the fancy that maybe – just maybe – the parish or the ministry you serve might turn a corner and bring the whole Church with it
and that you might have had some small part to play in that transformation.
And why not?

I’ve heard plenty or ordination sermons which describe to the candidates all the limits which exist to what they can and ought to do in ministry.
That it won’t be all they have expected it to be
that they must remember to sleep and eat lots of whole grains.
God knows that we’ve waited long enough for something more than this:
that we should simply preserve ourselves at all costs.

We’ve been there – we’ve done that
and now we propose that we are ready for something more.
That we would be able to participate in what God is about in the world.
At the risk of seeming foolish, or credulous
at the risk of falling flat on our faces.

John likens it, in the larger story, to fishing
We have cast our nets the better portion of the night
and have gained only questionable purchase
on anything remotely resembling a school of fish.

So why not now – with you – in your particularities of history and personality?
Why not in those particular ministries to which you will be called –
that in your ministries at the beginning of a new millennium,
you would cast your nets for the five hundredth time
this time at a different angle
and at the behest of something akin to a voice which you hear within yourselves
that something would, in fact, pull back –
that to your surprise your net would actually grab on to something
and you would find yourselves hauling in a miraculous catch of fish?

We wait the unfolding
(in time and space and within the company of real men, women and children)
of love made manifest
in your words and your actions
in your failures and in your successes.

Will you have company – in the church,
yes and among your colleagues as well.
Can anyone answer for you and live the particularities of your situation of ministry? None can – these choices for and against love, for and against risk,
these choices are in your hands.
It will cost you everything.

But do remember that Peter is not told to go forth
but rather to follow.
And the abandonment of self which he embarks on
is not an abandonment of self to the void, or to nothingness,
but an abandonment of self to the care of Christ who walks out before him.

That you would abandon yourselves
to the tasks of love
and the mystery of the history of God in the world

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Saltspring Island, British Columbia

Okay. So it is paradise. Weather has been lovely - being serenaded by a chorus of frogs every night has been the icing on the cake. The parents are having a 50th wedding anniversary which is the occasion for the visit. Family are all arriving in the next day or two so there are decorations to put up, music to sort and caterers to cajole.

Everybody here has a hobby. A number of people sail or play golf. A few do pottery or fancy woodwork. There's a fellow down the road from my folks who raises Tibetan Yaks. I find myself wondering whether this was a long term goal of his - the sort of thing one does after having spent 20 years selling stocks and bonds - was there ever a dreamy expression on his face as he looked out of his office window. Yaks, he said, that'll be just the ticket!

So now all of a sudden I'm wondering whether I''ve been shooting below the mark with my little flock of ten hens and a cockerel in Penicuik. Yaks! Maybe a few Yaks in the Rectory garden would be just the ticket. A memorable way to put the church on the map. The rector of Penicuik - right, him, the fellow with the Yaks!