Ordination Day

I saved up a couple of ecclesiastical topics to flesh out my post relative to today’s sermon, but the headline story is that Jane has been well and truly ordained. She is a priest, and many of us have vivid, joyous memories of a wonderful service.

We pulled into St. Paul Church a few minutes late; our car had followed all the directions pretty much exactly, but with one small catch: we turned off onto Calumet Road from I-90, not from I-94/80, so the “about one mile” till the left turn Jane instructed us to make turns out to be more like four or five miles. We, meanwhile, rolled to and fro on Calumet until we discovered a street with the name Jane had given us — except that there was a median strip between us and the turn she instructed us to make.

At this point, we stopped and assigned Reverend Ref the task of asking for directions: “Hi, I’m from Montana. . . .” Once we cleared up our confusion, we got to the church with no problem. The rehearsal went fine; the sermon (complete sermon below) was received with kind warmth; the music (although not as exclusively stodgy as I prefer) was admirably uptempo, and the musicians played with lovely sensitivity to how they might swing the meter subtly to keep the music rocking; in short, the service touched and delighted me and (I believe) a very sizable crowd as well.

Seabury Group Photo

One reception, one house party, one smooth drive, and one leisurely leftover dinner later, I’m parked at my desk for the evening. Here I see a link to which Jordon called my attention, featuring a choir’s sung protest against their pastor’s despotic rule, and another link to which Margaret pointed me, which engages both my technological interest and my fondness for the varieties of iconography: the tapestries of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels (be sure to follow the links to the north and south tapestries). Margaret saw a lecture in which the artist, John Nava, explained his technique and projected examples of the tapestries. Nava depicted the saints in the tapestries not as stylized or idealized human figures, but as actual humans, standing against a background that he photographed and digitally remixed from actual stone walls in Jerusalem. He then sent digital pattern-files to weavers in Belgium to execute the designs (the iomages on which were pre-distressed to suggest the appearance of aging frescoes).

The technique strikes me as a smashing success, though I wonder about what’s implied by the decision to use digital manipulation to create precisely-woven tapestries that simulate decaying frescoes. Some of the costuming ideas seem odd to me, too (the bishops wear contemporary episcopal regalia, regardless of when they lived). But on the whole, I appreciate the execution, I wish I’d been there for the lecture, and I would enjoy arguing out the ideas with the artist. Well done!

Ordination of Jane Schmoetzer to the Priesthood
October 22, 2005
Num 11:16-17, 24-29/Ps 100/Col 1:25-29/Matthew 9:35-38

Moses said to Joshua, “Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, and that the Lord would put his spirit on them!”

+ In the Name of the Father, and of the son, and of the Holy Spirit – Amen.

Kyle, C.J., I invite you to imagine your mom wearing a loose robe and a burnoose (it’s not much of a stretch, considering what she’s wearing right now) in the camp of the Israelites. This picture fascinates me for a variety of reasons. One, I can’t help wondering whether the Israelites would have made it out of the wilderness in somewhat fewer than forty years with leadership from a strong-willed woman (albeit with a few speeding tickets from Moabite Mounties). Two – and this is my technological side coming out – I wonder about the asymmetrical broadband that connected Israel to God (because it seems as though God heard everything from Israel’s side instantly, but it took Moses forty days to download ten commandments and a few chapters of Exodus). Three, I doubt that any Israelite children would ever have missed the school bus. These are ways that the Jane we know and love would remain pretty much the same no matter what she was dressed in, no matter what century or landscape you painted her into.

Now, though, I invited you to imagine Jane in the scene with Moses and Joshua and the tent of meeting because something dramatic is about to happen; like the seventy elders, and like Eldad and Medad, she is about encounter the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit will take the Jane whom we know, whom we can imagine cussing out a Philistine or explaining to a Levite how best to forge the precious metals for the tabernacle, and will change her in a tremendous, important way. This morning we take from you the Jane who’s become so familiar over all these years, and we return to you a mom who will be – in elusive, wondrous, glorious ways – different.

Now, though, we should turn our attention from Jane and observe what’s happening with Moses next door. Over at the tent of meeting, Moses has called together seventy elders, seventy old men, to help him bear the burden of serving the people. And as he calls these men together, as he invokes God’s name and commissions them to serve, the Holy Spirit stirs among them, and the seventy chosen elders began to prophesy: to prophesy, to bespeak the gift of God’s presence and wisdom. Those whom God calls, God fills with the Spirit, and the presence of the Spirit makes a difference – it shows.

It shows, though, not just among the old guys standing around the tent of meeting. God tells Moses to pick seventy, and Moses does; God promises to fill the seventy with the Spirit, and God does; but the Spirit will not be confined to the decisions that the leaders make standing around the tent of meeting. Moses hasn’t chosen the wrong seventy, and God doesn’t have anything against the rest of the congregation, but sometimes the Spirit brings gifts above and beyond what’s been promised. So even though Eldad and Medad – the Dad Brothers – were not among the ones that the Commission on Ministry sent to Moses, the Holy Spirit fell on them, also, and the next thing you know, they’re prophesying too. And when Joshua, bless his soul, wants Moses to shut them down, Moses says, “Would that all the Lord’s people prophesied, and the Spirit rest on all of them!”

Eldad and Medad might not have gone through the canonical ordination process, but Moses understood that when God’s duly appointed leaders see the Spirit unambiguously at work outside of normal channels, our job is not to quench the Spirit, but to join our blessing to God’s blessing and to give thanks that God pours out the gifts of leadership so extravagantly. God frequently chooses leaders that God’s people might not have expected. Paul himself gives us a window into that pattern operating in his own life, when he tells the Galatians about his calling:

When God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, so that I might proclaim him among the Gentiles, I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.
Then after three years I did go up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and stayed with him fifteen days; but I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord’s brother. Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia, and I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea that are in Christ; they only heard it said, “The one who formerly was persecuting us is now proclaiming the faith he once tried to destroy.”

Imagine trying to get that “not from mere mortals, I didn’t consult anyone” attitude through a Commission on Ministry! But for Eldad and Medad, for Paul, wherever the Spirit makes a difference, where the Spirit overflows to strengthen the church and enrich our ministry, there we affirm the Spirit’s sovereign freedom to blow where it will, whence and whither we know not, but we give thanks and follow as best we can; and as the churches of Judea welcomed the news of Paul’s conversion, we glorify God for such unexpected blessings.

The Spirit makes a difference. As Moses points out, it’s not just everyone in the camp who prophesies; this Israelites aren’t all prophets, such that anybody can stand up and claim to speak for God. The Spirit differentiates among us, suiting us to particular roles according to our particular capacities, and it’s no more appropriate to suggest that a third member of the Dad family – maybe his name was BoDad – should just have up and started prophesying than it would have been appropriate for Joshua to stifle the Dads who actually had the Spirit. The point of ordination is not that anyone’s superiority has earned them a position of control and authority, but that God’s understanding of us, of our depths and our superficialities, finds matches between what we can offer and what will strengthen the church, and through the Spirit strengthens and amplifies the graces by which we can best serve. Moses, and Paul, and Jesus all testify in today’s lessons to the mystery that God takes our ordinary everydayness and transforms it by the Holy Spirit. Eldad and Medad burst out in prophecy; the persecutor builds up the church; a boatload of fishermen turn the world upside down with their preaching; the engineer proclaims a shining promise of hope through tears, the metallurgist transformed into a meta-liturgist.

The Spirit makes a difference – and that difference can’t help transforming what it touches. The Spirit takes the Dads, and makes them prophets; today, Kyle, Carolyn, the Spirit takes your mom, and makes her a priest. The Spirit takes up all the faith, all the wisdom, all the love we know so well in Jane, and turns up the volume, and adds subtle touches we can’t predict. From today on, she stands among us not simply as Jane Ellen Schmoetzer, our beloved sister in Christ, but as someone whom God and the church have set apart to serve as Jesus’ minister among us in ways distinctive to her. In the sacrament of Holy Order, God and church and unsuspecting volunteer come together; the clues by which we’ve recognized Christ at work in Jane, God affirms as a gift, and the Spirit fills with the promise of God’s power, anointing her with the authority and the grace to preach, to declare God’s forgiveness, to pronounce God’s blessing, to preside at this altar where the Spirit makes a difference between common bread and wine, and the Body and Blood of Christ.

In the difference of the Spirit, Jane, I invite you to look squarely into the all the complications and challenges that this change will bring; for only by acknowledging the complications can you preach with integrity the simple good news that God has come to us, called us, taught us to live holy lives of love as he loved us, and by yielding his life for us, has brought us unconquerable life. From the depths of the difference that the Spirit has wrought in you, proclaim Christ Jesus, warning everyone and teaching everyone in all wisdom, so that you may present everyone mature in Christ. With the power of the difference of the Spirit, share in Paul’s toil and struggle with all the energy that Christ powerfully inspires within you.

Because, Jane, greatly as we love and respect you for all that you’ve shown us, all that you’ve done among us – in just a few minutes we will set that fondness aside and ask you to step out of the fishing boat, to get off your donkey, get in the line of fire as the Holy Spirit flashes among the seventy elders, the seventy presbyters, and we will ask you without sentimentality or indifference to subject yourself to transformation. Because I have been granted the privilege to work and study and pray, yes, and weep and laugh with you, I venture to say I know that you will answer without sentimentality, and certainly without indifference.

And Edward, Bishop in the church of God, will lay apostolic hands on you;

And your brothers and sisters in holy orders will unite their ministries with yours;

And we will sing “Come, Holy Spirit”;

And the Holy Spirit will come, will rest on you and dwell in you, will abide with you and make you different.

And though your new ministry sometimes leads you by ways to sorrow or frustration, yet I charge you to bear in your heart the radiant gladness that sings the Spirit’s joyous presence. Share the ecstasy that overflowed onto Eldad and Medad. Proclaim among us, with heartening word and encouraging example, that best, truest news in all creation: that the Lord is good; his mercy is everlasting; and his faithfulness endures from age to age.


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