Yes, Minister!

Frank is now a Minister of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church. The service went fine; the offertory was a particularly exquisite rendition of Ralph Vaughn Williams’s setting of “The Call.” I saw a number of former students (both Seabury alums and Princetonians), and the sermon itself (below, in the extended section) was generously received. Now, off to a reception at Frank’s home, and tomorrow morning to a faculty meeting, then leaving early from there to McCormick for book-signing and a class, then back to Seabury for the week’s teaching, including a Seabury sermon on Friday.

Idle hands being the devil’s workshop, I’d say I’m on the fast track to sanctity. If only I didn’t have so very far to go. . . .

First Presbyterian Church of Wilmette
October 1, 2006

Ordination of Frank Yamada to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament
1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; John 6:51-58


Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your
people, able to discern between good and evil.

In the name of God Almighty, the Holy Trinity on high — Amen.

I can understand why Frank might hear certain resonances, certain
distant echoes of his own situation, in this story of a humble,
youthful leader who begins the office to which he has been ordained by
praying for wisdom. I can understand why Frank might feel some
sympathy for a servant of God who, although he knows that God desires
to be worshipped in Jerusalem, finds himself offering sacrifices in
Gibeon. I am not so sure about why somebody who’s joyously married,
with a marvelous family, might be compared to a man who chose to marry
a thousand wives – but every typology breaks down somewhere, and
besides, those verses aren’t part of our lesson this afternoon.

Though Frank has not bisected any livestock in preparation for this
afternoon’s service, our gathering here stands in syncopated
continuity with Solomon’s sacrifice at the high place at Gibeon.
Indeed, in a tradition more, ahem, ritually expansive than your
austere Presbyterian home, an ordinand might make a vigil on the night
before being ordained. Kneeling in a dark chapel, silent but for the
sound of whispered prayers, you focus your attention on the
commitments you’re about to make. You beseech the Lord for strength
and courage, for hope and patience; you examine your conscience for
those transgressions that stand to remind you of your weakness, and
ask that God give you the wisdom to lead from your strength, and to
protect the people from the effects of your foolishness. And in the
middle of this solemn contemplation — and here I speak from experience
— sometimes you succumb to drowsiness.

Such a drowsiness may have occasioned Solomon’s dream, the dream in
which he asked of God nothing more than to serve well and wisely, and
if Frank asked nothing more than this of Solomon’s God, we might
commend him for his humility (at the same time we’d be obliged to
point out that he’s an outstanding scholar who has already in our very
midst demonstrated an understanding mind, able to discern between good
and evil). If Frank has already been richly endowed with
understanding, then, and if we grant that Frank has been called to a
vocation in which it would be too improbable to ask that he be
encouraged with great riches, and if we acknowledge that Frank is too
kindhearted and gentle to ask for the lives of his enemies, for what
might we ask God as we dream along with Frank?

Well, I think “bread” would make a good start.

In a dream-prayer for Frank, we might envision him offering bread to
hungry neighbors on the streets of his city. We might envision him
offering bread to students in earnest exploration of Holy Scripture.
We might envision him offering bread to faithful worshippers at the
Lord’s table, proclaiming God’s love and faithfulness in Word and
Sacrament. In all these our dreams, in all these our prayers, we hope
for nothing other than Frank’s sharing with us the unique life-giving
bread sent to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

The bread with which Jesus feeds us, the bread that he calls his
Body, subsists through time and appears in manifold cultures always
only in as the embodiment of truth. Share this bread with us, Frank,
though it be hard, heart-breakingly hard to utter words of truth to a
world that applauds glib deceits. Share the bread of truth with an
academy that sometimes substitutes cleverness for sound judgment.
Share the bread of truth as you walk in the light Jesus shone on us,
and teach us how to walk in his way.

Share with us the bread of truth that shows us the difference between
well-intentioned pieties and the burning transformation wrought by
grace’s power. When we falter, feed us with the bread of life that
encourages us; when we dissimulate, the us the bread from heaven that
humbles us; when we harden our hearts, feed us the sweet bread of
Christ’s presence that raises us up to glimpse the new and unending
life in him. Share bread with us in every thought and testimony, in
every touch and expression, in abiding with Christ so as to make him
known among us.

“Abiding in Christ” enlists us in hard work (as you well know) —
though once you have taken up the office of a minister, God will find
fresh challenges to add to you. We have observed this happen before,
so we gather this afternoon to promise our solidarity with you in
ministry, a solidarity that binds all God’s people into one body, for
all are one in Christ Jesus. We set at your disposal all the resources
of that solidarity, a treasure of things old and new, of precious
pearls and peculiar puzzles. Draw on them and teach us how truly to
pray and to dream. Interweave those gifts with your own wisdom and
erudition in matters biblical to help us understand how truth comes to
expression in Scripture, and how Scripture’s truth comes to expression
in us. Take us higher, past shadows and mirages, bending our steps
toward the truth whose foretaste we recognize in the bread and wine
that we receive from God, that we receive at your hands.

The taste of truth reminds us of home, of our belonging to a kingdom
of righteousness and a King greater than Solomon in all his glory.
Truth’s bread nourishes in us a longing for that kingdom, for that
city long-obscured from mortal sight, waiting for us at the end of the
world — and the living bread that came down from heaven will forgive
our sins, raise us from death, and turn our hearts always toward that
goal. You have prayed with us, you have dreamed with us, with us you
have sung “Gloria in te, Domine”; now feed us, in a way that gives us
breath, with a truth that ends all strife, toward a life that conquers
death, in the name of a heart that joys in love.


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