It’s Not Just A Good Idea

Christmas Eve homily, 2012

We know the story so well by now that it is easy to breeze past its power.

The pregnant youangelschristmas002ng woman, her older husband, a donkey, a long journey late in pregnancy.  A full inn, a crowded stable, a birth cry, barnyard creatures looking on, a star overhead, angels appearing to shepherds in their fields.  Distant Magi follow the star to arrive and pay tribute to the birth.

The thrill and the terror of the story are woven fine: firstborn male children are to be killed, this family has no means and few choices, and a star hanging over your newborn child can only be presumed to be a liability if you plan to keep his existence a secret.  But there is the awe and wonder too: the promise of new life, a king who will send the powers of this world running, a liberator and a hope for peace greater than any we have understood before.  There is a choice in the story, a choice every time we hear the story.  Will we be silenced by the fear or have the courage to look further into the hope?

Hope certainly wins in the sentimental observances of Christmas: celebrations of love and generosity and kindness in a harsh and despairing world.  For many of us, this is the season of re-visiting the old classics and having our heartstrings touched again, enjoying the cathartic feeling of the tears rolling down our cheeks as we identify with the George Baileys and the Bob Cratchits and look for the ways that the honest, good people can indeed win the day.  It’s a place of yearning and hopefulness we love to visit in these weeks, but have a hard time holding onto once the ornaments have been put away and the lights are down.  Why is that?

Many years ago, I remember seeing a slogan on a T-shirt that made me laugh out loud.  “Gravity” it said “It’s not just a good idea.  It’s the law.”

Yes, it appealed to my admittedly nerdy sensibilities. But it also speaks to something we humans are awfully good at in general:  turning away from the truths we know are operating always, treating them as if they are optional, simply a matter of preference or opinion.

The love born anew in the nativity is one of those eternal truths.

It is with us all the time, like gravity, and we ignore it at our peril.

But unlike our reflex to move out from under falling bricks, obeying the law of gravity, the consequences of scoffing the law of love aren’t always as immediately apparent.

The invitation of the Christmas Story, of all those sentimental films, the invitation of our hearts that are open to wonder and to sadness in a special way in these dark nights, is to treat the insane possibility of divine love — love that is born among us and lives within us and could save the world — not just as a good idea we cozy up with on a lazy night in December, but as a real, active truth.

A law worthy of our respect, all the time.

We can make it just a sentimental thing, but you know and I know that if you’ve ever gazed with eyes of love upon another being, there is more than sentiment at work.

Parents, think of that moment you first held your child in your arms: the heartbreaking beauty of this young being, the panicked feeling of being entrusted with another’s life, the chasm of the unknown future ahead of you, the blessing of the gift of a bond you could not account for and would spend the rest of your life vainly trying to comprehend.

Lovers, too, feel this, whatever may happen to the relationship down the line: the moment of realizing another’s beauty, of fully appreciating their depth, their struggles, their quirks and realizing you want your life to be bound up with theirs wherever that journey may lead.

This is the kind of love that breaks through what we thought we knew of the world, the illusion of our control and autonomy, and sets us on the course of deepening connection, plops us right into the lap of the divine, takes our breath away with its power and asks us to live into its wisdom.

It has nothing to do with the size of the diamond you bought or at what age your child got a cell phone.

It only asks you: will you have the courage to follow me where I take you?

Whatever the status of your current relationships, if you have ever known the kind of love that shone through the eyes of Mary as she gazed upon the infant Jesus, if you have ever felt that kind of gaze upon you as the child of your parents, as a lover realized you were the one, that is the love that brings us great tidings of joy for all people.

It is the fierce, terrifying and world-turning love born into this world on Christmas, waiting to be made real.

Imagine what it would mean for our world if each of us felt and knew that loving gaze was upon us all the time, calling us home, making us whole, giving us hope.

What if it was the source of our courage to do the hard work of making peace and living justice?

Cornel West has famously said that justice is what love looks like in public.

What if that love was indeed not just a good idea for you to carry home with your candles tonight, but a law we could live all year?

Imagine that loving gaze upon you not from a human source,

but from an infinite source of love beyond all knowing.

Imagine feasting your own eyes

on the loveable-ness of each and every one you encounter

and when you come up against the limitations of your own heart,

simply rest in the knowledge that the same loving gaze

falls on us all.

How might the world be made new by the simple awareness of that loving gaze?kinglovejustice

The truth of “the living splendor woven of love by wisdom, with power”*?

Let our hearts rest in that heaven this day and open ever more to its saving truth.

Love. It’s not just a good idea.  It’s the law.

*from Father Giovanni Giacondo, letter to Countess Allagia Aldobrandeschi, Christmas 1513

 

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Mother and Minister

Charge to the Minister from the Installation of Claire Feingold Thoryn
Follen Community Church, Lexington, MA November 17, 2013

I am so delighted to have been asked to stand with you today to offer every minister’s favorite part of an ordination or installation service: the charge to the minister.  It’s a favorite because first, someone else has already given a very fine sermon, so the pressure is off – what a relief!  But most importantly it’s a favorite because this is where we get to give the advice we most need to hear.

We share the delight and the responsibility of being the settled minister of a congregation while parenting young families.  And while women make up the majority of our ministry these days, models and companions who have walked this road of motherhood and senior or solo ministry are still not all that common, and in our larger world the journey of combining a professional life and motherhood are the subject of many studies and many emotions, notably the fun ones: grief, anxiety, shame and regret.  All of those things apply when we combine the vocations of ministry and motherhood as well.

These dual roles can often feel like dueling roles.  What they have in common is that in neither vocation is there a clear roadmap.  The world is rife with terrible tales of both bad ministers and bad mothers, and both vocations are subject to images of goodness idealized to inhuman proportions.  Short of setting ourselves on sainthood – which is particularly unrealistic in a tradition that abandoned that notion a couple of centuries ago – we have to find other ways to live in the very large landscape between perfect and terrible.  The charge I have to offer you this morning is to live in the power of these roles at least as much as you live in the fretting over each of them.

But how?  First you – we – must befriend disappointment, both our own and others, and mine its lessons for spiritual wisdom.

That sounds like a downer, doesn’t it?  I know I experienced it that way in the first few years of balancing ministry and motherhood.  Heading out the door to another evening meeting with the screams of my toddler begging me to tuck him in ringing in my ears, it felt as if there was no decision I made that wasn’t disappointing someone.

Thank God for male business scholars, then, especially Ron Heifetz who gave us the great insight that “leadership is the art of disappointing people at a rate they can tolerate.”  And from Jeffrey Miller (the author of The Anxious Organization) the truth that “life is an endless series of no-win situations if what [we] mean by winning is making everyone else happy.”

As pastor and as parent, as spiritual beings living imperfectly in a flawed world, we have to remember that our job is not to make people happy, our job is to help ourselves and others grow.

While your heart may often be torn as you decide between being there for every soccer game and being there for the unforeseen funerals and pastoral needs of the congregation, know that whatever, whomever you have to disappoint will also be offered an opportunity for autonomy, for resilience, for living into their own power and purpose.

As someone who has to say no – to being present for everything, to destructive behavior, to the internal or external expectations that we do everything perfectly – you will also have the chance with each thing you turn away, to get in touch with the greater thing you turn toward.  Behind each disappointment, each no, is a greater yes.   Not every time, but over time, let yourself continue to stay in touch with that deeper yes and let its bright star guide you.

So as your charge I also offer you some of the things to which I would have you say yes:

Yes, to the fact that you are held in a love greater than you could ever imagine.

Yes, to that love which shows up in the moments of joy with your family and with your congregation, as alive in church basements as on playgrounds.

Yes, to that love that shows up also on the days when nothing has gone right and you resent that you decided to be with an ungrateful bunch at home when you could have been in the adoration of the church community, or vice versa.

Yes, when it shows up in the form of a jar of homemade jam on your desk at the end of a day of meetings that made you fear not just for the fate of your congregation but for humanity itself.

And Yes, when it shows up after long weeks of juggling care of sick children with getting the sermon written and the staff evaluations done in the simple drawings of a pre-schooler who proudly shows her teachers Mommy in a flowing robe saying words of peace.

Yes to the fact that though you may feel the scrutiny of the eyes of the community, they are not looking for your perfection, but for how you find your way back to grace when you have faltered.

Yes to the people and practices that keep you grounded in humor and humility, brought to life by calls to justice, and held in your own private struggles.

Yes to this glorious calling that uses every part of who we are and invites us to bring it all to the altar of overflowing love that reaches out across chasms of our imperfections to make ever more goodness real.

Yes to the pleasure of finding many and varied companions along the way, and at the end to rest in the joy and laughter and song that life itself has given as abundant gifts to all people in every time.

Even in your longest days of having to say no,

Let yourself be claimed by each and every yes.

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After the Oscars

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God of all people, of every land and culture and type of body and gender and way of loving and moving and learning
If we keep telling our stories, stay curious about each others’ being, open our hearts to each others’ welfare, learn to hold the complexities of the noble and the petty in ourselves and others… if we can hang on and grow up and reach out enough, may we one day reach the moment when a young African American girl being honored for her achievement can count on the respect she is due. May we live to see a day when humor will be possible – and funny! – without resting on stereotypes that demean everyone present. Let us spend as much time assessing the stuff on the inside of folks who walk that red carpet as the stuff on the outside: their courage and wit and heart and foibles at least as important as their Harry Winston and Armani Privet. And in the mean time, for those of us who enjoy the spectacle as it is even while we wince and bemoan its shortcomings, let us not forget the work that is ours to do.

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A day of unrest

This sabbath day, one on which I actually am free of regular church duties, I am sitting with the dissonance of worlds.  This week was the third in a row that brought with it anxious speculation in my sphere about whether or not church would be happening due to predicted winter storms.  The concerns we have about canceling church are real: we want to keep church open for all who can come.   We believe worship should be taken seriously and the gathering of the community should happen if at all possible.  And yet we don’t want people to abandon good sense or safety in order to be here, and feel the responsibility to let people off the hook so they can stay home and worship privately if that is the most sensible choice.  All well and good.  All well worth conversation and consideration.

YorkU_snow_storm_toronto_Feb6_2008 In the New York Times this morning was an article about how long and far people travel in parts of Africa to arrive at the church for succor: a meal, a safe place to rest, a prayer for healing.  I think of the folks who are working to keep body and soul together after losing their homes and their jobs in the U.S.   I think about the people of Syria, who are overflowing refugee camps in Lebanon, and how NYTSyria delighted they might be to have the sole challenge of the threat of a snow storm to contend with as they struggle to keep their families and their faith intact.  I don’t think these facts should make us risk life and limb to make it to church on Sunday mornings in our bubble of privilege and prosperity, but I wish they could give us a growing sense of urgency for what the purpose of the church and ways we might use the formidable resources we do have at our disposal.

And so I pray:

God who works in us and through us, whose love is known to heal and to save, whose creative power is always at work:  Help us to remember that the worth of all this gathering and praying and singing is to enact some transformation in our lives.  Church means nothing if it’s not inviting us to realize the greater goodness that wants to be seen and known in our world, the conspiracy of your grace that is active when we let ourselves be its vessels.  As we fret over whether we will be able to shovel our driveways in time for worship and whether the parking lot will be plowed and how much ice will be on the roads, let us be at least as aware of a grander invitation: to make a commitment in every season to harness the gift of this privilege toward digging out from the perennial and devastating storms of poverty and war and imprisonment.  Let us find ways to stem the tide of lives lost to the havoc wreaked in our world by human hands.  Help us live the call to be partners in this ongoing creation, and keep our eyes lifted to those hills from whence help does come.

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Striving

ymca-of-the-rockies1I found myself at the local Y not once but twice today (only once to work out – long story).  I love gyms but the Y in particular because of the variety of people I encounter.  As I did my tedious time on the elliptical because the treadmills were all taken, I people watched, making up back stories for each person who came, offering a good wish for what I thought they might need based on their gait, their physique, their chosen form of exercise… you know, all the accurate measures of anyone’s soul.  It occurred to me as I did this that it would be easy to think that we all were there working for the same thing: fitness.  And that assumption might lead one to imagine that our yearnings were similar, if not in the global sense then at least for the moments that we were sharing that overheated space.  But if I followed my imagined back stories for my fellow travelers at the Y, I realized even that would be a mistake.  Though the same staff and equipment were meeting our needs, though we were sharing the space on the same day and time, our strivings were in fact for many things deeper than weight loss or heart health, physical strength or beach bodies.

Today’s prayer is for all the hidden strivings we express in very similar ways, for the channeling of our needs for love, for sanity, for endurance, for strength and forbearance, for release of anxiety and for integrity of being, into activities that on the surface look so simple (if not easy): weights, treadmills, spin bikes, circuit training and swimming pools.  For all of the unseen, unspoken struggles we share as we sweat and grunt and groan, as we listen to iPods and chat with companions, may there be ears to hear and eyes to see our earnest work for relief.  May our strivings not go unnoticed, in this life or beyond.  May we find the deeper realms of wellness we dream of, and that we all deserve.

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We Are Family

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The Parsa Family Tree

It’s February vacation week in Massachusetts and I’ve taken my two boys to visit my parents.  Today we had a massive play date with four of their second cousins and all of my mother’s surviving sisters.  At one point a young voice called out “Grandma” and three women who probably never imagined this would be them all turned at once.  Realizing what had happened, they chuckled for a moment before the needs of the kids took over again.

My father enjoyed circulating the room, the only adult male in attendance, holding a framed photo of me when I was about three standing proudly on the beach at the Caspian Sea.  One hand clasped a shovel planted victoriously in the sand next to a bucket full of seashells.  Can you believe who this is? He asked, and everyone enjoyed pointing out how easily that could be my three-year old son.

I am fond of speaking of the metaphorical, abstract, human family.  You know, the interconnected one that is one body and one blood, children of God and all of those beautiful, wonderful things.  And I mean every word of it when I do.  Yet there is something almost more miraculous about realizing the literal family that binds us to genetic proclivities for illness and for brilliance, for beauty and for girth.  Whether the tree we trace is biological or affectional hardly matters: that we owe our existence and nurture to people who age after age took care of each other, annoyed each other, saw each other for all that they were and also missed each other completely is amazing.  That they still, through passion and betrayals, through droughts and epidemics, through long winters and cruel twists of fate somehow kept the connection alive to arrive at us is nothing short of astounding.  That we will do the same through space and time until those of us who are now still getting used to being someone’s parents or aunts or uncles have found our new calling as elders makes me certain of grace.

Today, my prayer is one of thanks and praise for the people who I learn of in half-remembered lore by my father and “oh did I ever mentions” from my mother and the amazing fact that through the generations on two continents those families were joined by coincidence and fate and that I got to be, and because of similar fate my children will do the same.

Thank you, God of life, for the fact and the miracle of family.

 

 

 

 

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Thankyouverymuch

My three year-old is full of drama.  Though he has never seen Elvis, he does a mean impression, including a proclivity for ending any moment when he has held the attention of a “crowd” with a bow from the waist and the words “Thank you.  Thankyouverymuch.”

Though he is doing it for crowd-pleasing effect, the automatic quality of it is touching to me.  He’s not expressing some Great Thanksgiving from the tips of his toes, but he is certainly on to something.

Spirit of our every thanksgiving, help us to remember to pause in awareness of the attention and the affection that meets us in the smallest gestures.  Let us tune our awareness at least as much to those fleeting moments of acknowledgement: the exchange with the grocery cashier; the wave and nod to the neighbor; the ‘hello’ from a passerby on the sidewalk.  Let these moments of connection, however brief, however fragile bouy us through the moments of lack that too often claim our hearts through anxious clinging: the wrong thing said; the phone call not returned; the joke we didn’t know how to take.  Help us to orient ourselves to the “thankyouverymuch” of each and every encounter, and feel the blessings flow.

Amen.

 

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Leaning into Love

Today, my prayer is to remember to lean into love.

imagesThe kind of love that sees us for all of who we are: that gets our need for warm and fuzzy and “I see how well you mean” and because it’s so in touch with our goodness also is uniquely able to offer the kind of kick in the behind we need when we’re very far off the mark.  It’s what I aspire to offer as a parent, in way it can be understood.  It’s the kind of love I value most from my sweetheart, who can kindly tell me that last Sunday’s sermon wasn’t my best work, which I hear in the knowledge that he thinks I’m the bees knees, which then makes it possible for me to ask all about what didn’t work without (too much) anxiety.  It’s the kind of well-rounded love that, when we lean into it, can help us grow into who we are most called to be.

God too big for any name, we know you as tenacious,fibrous, strongly-woven love.  Surround us in our fondness for either/or, for love or hate, for war or peace, for right or wrong, and help us lean into all-that-is.  Let us not be so blinded by thoughts of purity of deed and action that we fail to see your presence in those who have disappointed us, even (especially) our selves.

Let us see that our leaders can make awful decisions and still be made of good.  Open our eyes and strengthen our spirits to share our criticism in ways that own up to the failures larger than any one person’s leadership or vision, in which we all play a part.  Help us to lean into the troubling facts of this world and its complexity, and the ways all of us who have freedom to vote and to spend are complicit in those failings.  And as we lean, keep us from throwing up our hands in a fatalism that absolves us of what we can do.  Which is much.

Keep this before us too: We can offer those closest to us the kind of love that holds us to our aspirations, even as we see how hard they are to reach, and all the reasons we falter.  We can keep talking about the kind of world we want to live in and the ways we want to be with each other in it.  We can invite people who don’t already agree with us into that conversation.  We can practice the kind of love that belongs to us all, that is not about agreement or disagreement but about connection.  We can learn to tell each other the God’s honest truth: that each of us gets to be seen as beautiful and possible and good, and because of that beauty and possibility and goodness we are called to grow into more of it, stretch into the possibility of our connection, and figure tough stuff out together.

God of love, please make it true, though we are skeptics to the core, that if we lean into you the way will open.  Though our parts may still be broken, we can be whole.  Make this hopeful rallying cry and prayer true for us: Yes, we can.

Amen.

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Hearts and Fists

heartfist

Your heart is a muscle the size of your fist.  Keep loving.  Keep fighting.

I’ve always loved this poster/slogan, and was reminded of it today when several people shared it on Facebook.  It’s absolutely apt for a year in which the first day of Lent and Valentine’s Day occupy the square on the calendar.

I am generally averse to Valentine’s Day because it holds up the notion of love I find the most false and dull.  I am a fan of romance.  I certainly can get behind the power of finding someone who can share your life and put up with your quirks and help you through the tough stuff, and the miracle it is to be with that amazing person each and every day.  I think appreciating that amazing fact has very little to do with bouquets of flowers and diamond jewelry and fine chocolates.  Or greeting cards or grand proclamations.

What I feel in touch with on this VaLENTines Day is the need to keep fighting my way to the love that is there under and woven within and playing in the background of all the din of life that claims our attention all the time.  The love that does not come in on a white horse to rescue us from the trials of life, but that holds us and has our back as we face them.  The love that keeps a steady hold on us when we’re tempted to run off the rails with our fears of failure or the pressures of our success.  The steady arms that show up as people who care when the losses we never thought we could bear jump onto our shoulders from behind and flatten us.

The fight I’m feeling called to this Lenten season is the one that invites both the heart and the fist to open, and to feel the grace that flows through the blood that is pumped and the fingers that are extended to feel and to bear all that this life is.  It’s a fight against the world that says such openness is not wise, that there is no evidence for a God who might actually be there to hold us.  It’s a fight for space for the soul that wants wholeness and needs space for weaving its connections.

It’s a fight that begins with the laying down of arms.  Let it begin.

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An Ordination Sermon

This sermon was given at the Ordination of Erik Resly at First Parish in Milton, MA, January 28, 2012

It is amazing, wonderful, a thrill to be celebrating Erik’s ordination today.

I don’t need to tell anyone here that he is a remarkable man, who has worked incredibly hard, brought spiritual depth and heart and joy to the work of theological study and the practice of pastoral skills, and done it all while spending more than his share of time in hospitals – not just as chaplain but as patient.

It is nothing short of a miracle to be celebrating this day with you, and nothing short of a blessing to be sending you forth to do the work of marking and honoring the sacred in our world.

I feel a duty to warn you, though, that I have consulted the oracle sometimes known as the internet, and the news for churches is not good these days. Reports abound, both substantiated and speculated, that the church is in decline.
Not the kind of decline that has been reported on and off for the last millennium,
but decline with a capital D, as in: Dying.

Erik, you are entering into ministry, and have trained for parish ministry in particular, in a time when more people know how to do Downward-facing Dog than have a favorite hymn.  Team in Training has people raising thousands of dollars for medical research and spending months in grueling training to run marathons, while we have trouble finding people to spend 45 minutes reflecting on a story with children on Sunday morning.

In a culture where thoughts are useless if expressing them requires more than 140 characters, parish ministers spend a lot of time crafting a dynamic worship service with thematic integrity, carefully chosen music and a 2,000-word sermon.

I’m sure you knew when you started your expensive Harvard Divinity School education that ordination was available online from the Universal Life Church at the low, low price of… free.  Their web site boasts that twenty million people have done this.
What is wrong with us?

To be ordained is literally to be put in an order – for Catholics the order of apostolic succession; for us the order of a body of congregations recognizing one anothers’ wisdom to identify those who are called and skilled to serve in ministry among them.

If the order into which we are being placed is dying, what does it mean – not just for those of us who have been or are preparing to be ordained, but also for those doing the ordaining?

Walter Brueggemann’s prayer (that we heard as our reading) asks the One of many names:

“Form us in freedom and wholeness and gentleness,

Reform our deformed lives toward
Obedience which is our only freedom,
Praise which is our only poetry,
And love which is our only option.

Our confidence matches our need, and so we pray…”

We know that our lives are form-able,
that freedom and wholeness and gentleness could be their shape.
We know this both in and out of church, but church is where we call ourselves back to it.  Church is where, at our best, we practice the obedience, the praise, the love that can reform our lives.

If the existing form of the church is dying, it seems a bit futile to ask what is killing us – the list is long, full of pointing fingers and none of the blame is verifiable.

What we need to ask is:  what is saving us?

We humans are hungry for ways to make meaning in our lives,
to know we’re okay, to know that good is possible in and through us.

We are especially hungry when we find ourselves adrift.
Some of us find our way into churches,
but we are just as likely to be the regulars at the local bar on trivia night, or sitting in the waiting room at the doctor’s office, lying in a jail cell awaiting sentencing,
in the checkout line at the grocery store, or frantically chasing children around a playground.

Neighbors in need of a good word might be sitting next to you at a Superbowl party,
cutting you off in traffic, or sleeping next to you in bed.

What has saved me, and keeps saving me as I meet the eyes of a beloved parishioner just diagnosed with cancer,
or just facing the end of a marriage,
or touching grief at the loss of a child,
or enraged with the injustice of our world,
what saves me each week as I climb the stairs to this pulpit
praying my words will be enough and knowing they aren’t,
turns out to belong very much to this order to which we ordain Erik this evening,
the order to which I was ordained 14 years ago.

It begins with the power of the Unitarian notion that as children of the same source – however we name that source – we are endowed with the capacity to grow in goodness.  Jesus – prophet and teacher – showed us what it might be like
to live fully awake to that divine power born in us.

And the Universalist conviction that that same divine source is also our destination – we are equally loved and held and equally redeemed to a wholeness that we can only dream of.

We are called to live those two convictions informed by our Puritan ancestors,
in covenant together, humbled by all the ways our goodness is hampered by our brokenness, our own ability to love our neighbor never as generous or spacious as the love which gave us birth.

And in our humble gathering, committed to seeking and cultivating the good,
and to living into the love that holds us,
we catch glimpses of the world as it was meant to be.
The paradise that is already here if we tune ourselves to the grace in our midst.

This is a demanding faith.
It’s a faith that needs people to be firmly convicted, and deeply willing to live its spiritual challenge. It requires us not to live isolated in communities of self-satisfied folks convinced of our own worth, wondering why others don’t stop by to see how awesome we are, but to stand alongside those who have been told they have no worth, and show by our companionship that we are kin.

This faith doesn’t simply suggest, but requires obedience:
We have to admit we are not the ones in charge.

The good that is possible in and through each of us is greater than we can imagine.

The love that holds us even when we fall is deeper than the weight of our despair.

For a long time, we have hidden ourselves from the power of this faith by covering it with the cloak of vagueness.
We have kept ourselves at a distance from our own need, from the places where we let ourselves be saved.

We need communities of faith that are going to make it to those intimate and vulnerable places where we lay bare our needs to one another, and then let our companions bear witness to the goodness we’re afraid we don’t possess, and claim their partnership with us as siblings in spirit, and most of all, to be with us in the sacred promise of community, even when none of us is sure of our potential for goodness or of God’s love.

Once we have been to that place together, there is a new kind of confidence that emerges, an understanding we can hold deep in our bones that this faith means something real, is something real, and its message is something the world cannot be without.

Whether or not churches as we know them survive, we humans will always need a faith that can meet the real holes in our lives, the times when we desperately need to be met by a community’s fire-in-the-belly conviction that we matter,
that we are loved, and that we can be part of something good, even if we haven’t managed to be very good so far.

“Our confidence matches our need, and so we pray…”

Whatever the movement of this faith will look like in the future, we will need leaders, people who make their lives a practice of spiritual depth, intellectual commitment, and wide open hearts.

People who, whether or not the order to which we are ordained remains as it was,
are willing to publicly order our lives according to this call.

We need to show up with the comfortable and walk with them into the uncomfortable places that challenge their privilege and power.

We need to be willing to humble ourselves to all we must learn from those whose lives we cannot imagine – both the powerful and the vulnerable.

We must testify to our own journeys of faith, and return again and again to the truth of our own limits.

We will need the compassion to look kindly upon those who would like to make us their enemies, and wonder always at how the demands of love intersect with the commitment to justice.

Our job is to be the ones who hear the needs deeply and offer in response some confidence – not an arrogant confidence of unwavering belief, but the deep trust of a faith that has changed our lives. And to equip others to do the same.

We are asked to make it our sacred duty to tend the holy fire so that it is big enough to melt hardened hearts and warm those brought in from the cold, but not so big that it consumes or destroys the folks who gather around its inviting glow.

If we do it carefully, joyfully, humbly, we may see a day when the conviction of God-given goodness and love’s saving power is at least as well-known and practiced as Downward Dog.

In spite of the name of the degree we carry, in the words of Barbara Brown Taylor,
“there is no mastering divinity. There is only the calling to love God and love our neighbor, and that can be done anywhere, with anyone. Ministry is not what you do but who you are.”

Erik, there is no doubt that ministry is who you are.
You join us in ordination to this faith at a time when your skills, your vision, your intellect, your spirit are needed to be part of the vibrant future that is yet to be seen.

Welcome to this order of pastors and prophets, of seekers after holy wisdom and tenders of sacred fires.

Whatever the future may bring, may we all find ourselves formed in freedom and wholeness and gentleness. May we know the truth of “obedience as our only freedom, praise as our only poetry, and love as our only option.”

Amen.

 

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