Graduation, but not (yet) ordination
This past Sunday I officially graduated from the School for Deacons in Berkeley, CA. I am only now starting to realize, several days later, just what this means for me.
For the last three years of School I have focused on trying to complete assignments for the next School weekend, while also balancing work and family life. I found it necessary to keep my focus on the work that needed to be done three weeks at a time. Otherwise, to look up and see how far it was to go could be discouraging.
Suddenly, I find myself at the end, a person transformed by the process of study, work, prayer, and community. I've gone from a Doubting Thomas to a committed disciple.
Many people feel a sense of accomplishment after graduation, but I feel, instead, a sense of gratitude for all the times I thought I would stumble and the Spirit kept picking me up. It is in fire that metal is tested and hardened, and it is in this experience that I too have strengthened my faith.
With School complete my journey now turns back to completing the final Steps to Ordination. Examinations, exams, interviews, and endorsements still lie ahead, but for me the best part is turning inward again to focusing on my own spirituality and prayer life in my continuing discussion with God. Time again for family and rest, but also time for faith.
On my last School for Deacons Weekend I preached at Morning Prayer on Sunday May 6th. For me it was an opportunity to speak of my experience while hopefully inspiring others who are on this same journey of faith. Here is that sermon:
The Sixth Sunday after Easter
In our reading from Acts this morning our God of Surprises again acts in a surprising way. Without the reception of any sacraments, and with just a short sermon from Peter, “the Holy Spirit fell upon all who heard the word”, and Peter’s followers “heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God .” (Acts 10:44) Wow, imagine that kind of response to one of our sermons!
What strikes me in this scene is what has been left out by the Lectionary. Peter and his followers from Joppa traveled to Caesarea to visit a Roman Centurion named Cornelius. Cornelius “was a devout man who feared God with all his household; he gave alms generously to the people and prayed constantly to God.” (Acts 10:2)
One afternoon Cornelius is suddenly accosted by an “angel from God” who calls him by name. Acts records that Cornelius “stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?”” and was told “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God.” (Acts 10:3-4) The angel goes on to tell Cornelius to summon Peter, a man he doesn’t know.
How many of us have heard God call us by name and reacted with that same feeling of terror, or disbelief? I feel at times like that old Alfred E. Newman cartoon from “Mad Magazine” saying “What? Who, me?”
It makes me wonder how surprised Moses must have been when he heard his name called from within the Burning Bush (Exodus 3). I can only guess at the terror Elijah felt when God passed him by on that mountain, not in the form of wind, earthquake, or fire, but in the sound of sheer silence (1 Kings 19).
Peter, James, and John were absolutely befuddled when they went up the mountain with Jesus to meet Moses and Elijah, and then hear the voice of God (Matthew 17). Think about it! They were going to set up a tent for a ghost!
As pilgrims on this journey of faith we yearn to find God, but become terrified when God suddenly finds us and calls us by name. Like Peter, we are some of the least likely people to become a “Rock”, and then we realize that it is not through our efforts that anything is accomplished, but in God working through us that brings God’s Light into the world.
Rather than sitting back in his lofty perch surrounded by fiery chariots and hosts of angels, (while dropping in occasionally to scare humans half to death), our God of Surprises comes to meet us in human form through Jesus.
If being God Incarnate is not surprising enough, Jesus tells us “You are my friends if you do what I command you.” A God who wants to be friends with each one of us! Really? God is my friend, and your friend? The creator of the universe yearns to reach out and embrace each of us? With this realization, can there be any deeper joy?
Jesus speaks to each one of us when he says “You did not choose me but I chose you” (John 15:16) and sends us out into the world to “bear fruit” by following his command to “love one another.” It’s such a simple command to bring God’s love out to a broken world that seems so lost in darkness.
Like Peter, James, and John we too have found ourselves befuddled at times as we climbed this mountain called “Holy Hill”. Three years ago, looking up, it seemed like we would never make it, and now, looking back, I still don’t know how we did it. At times it seems like a dream—because it is a dream! Like Martin Luther King Jr. and many others before, we have come to the mountain top and can see the Promised Land, a Land that fills your mind with dreams of a new way of living.
· I dream of a world where every person is viewed as a valued member of society, regardless of who they are, or where they came from, or who they love.
· I dream of a place where every child is wanted and loved, has a home to live in and enough food to eat, can get medical care whenever needed, and has access to an education that will help them find their own dream.
· I dream of a time when every worker, regardless of their occupation, returns home safe every night, earns enough to support their family, and is able to afford the roses as well as the bread.
· I dream of a day when the Earth is not viewed by humans as a resource to be exploited, but is seen and cared for as part of God’s precious Garden.
These may sound like crazy dreams, but this is the Dream of God that I’ve come to know here. This is the Kingdom of God brought to Earth by Jesus. The cross of Jesus didn’t just open up a one-way street to the next world—The Cross has opened a doorway that also brings God’s Dream for us into this world.
· Can you see that open doorway?
· Can you imagine the Dream of God?
· Can you feel the Kingdom of God drawing near?
Jesus is calling each one of us: “Come follow me.”
· Come, follow me out into the world.
· Come, make what is old new again.
· Come, heal the broken.
· Come, find the lost.
· Come, love one another as I have loved you.
May the Spirit of God so fill our hearts with the vision of God’s Dream that we become beacons of hope and love in this bruised and broken world.