Friday, May 1, 2015

Homily for the Ordination of David Wells

St Luke's, Springfield--II Corinthians 4:1-6

We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

In the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

We are celebrating a watershed event tonight—a seismic shift, a sea change, a paradigm shift, a milestone. Are there any other appropriate clich├ęs that I haven’t already mentioned? When we’re finished, David will be different, the Church will be different, and, in some unmeasurable way, the universe will be different.

Oh, David will still be David. There will be continuity. We will still recognize him in the same ways we’ve always recognized him. But he will also have become a symbol, a living and walking and talking icon, something larger than himself. David will have become a person for others. It’s not that he isn’t already that, of course. All the baptized members of the people of God, the whole community of disciples of Jesus, are for others. Our vocation is to spend ourselves in the service of others, ultimately thereby serving God. But when we set a person apart in Holy Orders, that identity of servanthood gets taken to a new level. Certainly, it gets turbo-charged with a whopping dose of the Holy Spirit. There’s going to be some serious power flowing through the hands of the Bishop of Springfield in a few minutes. But, the way I suspect David himself will most notice the difference in his identity when he leaves here tonight, is that his life will suddenly be much more constricted, much more restrained, with fewer items in the toolkit he uses to negotiate his way in the world. Let me explain, in a bit of a roundabout way.

One of the hats I currently wear is that of Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Nashotah House, an Episcopal seminary located in southeast Wisconsin, of which I am myself an alumnus, and David as well. Nashotah has had a long relationship with the Diocese of Springfield, stretching back about a century and a half. At the present time, the Nashotah House trustees are engaged in a fairly comprehensive overhaul of our governing statutes, in an attempt to remain responsive to a rapidly changing ecclesiastical and cultural and economic environment. We’re trying to live into a governance culture in which the trustees resist the urge to micromanage, and instead hire and oversee a Dean and President. We tell the Dean where we want him to take the institution, and, for the most part, untie his hands to do his job in whatever way he sees fit. We only hold him accountable for results, not for the means he uses to achieve those results. Except … for certain things. We are actually right now in the process of adopting a list of restricted means, known technically as “executive limitations.” So we tell the Dean, “This is your job, and these are the ways you are not allowed to do it.” We very much hope to keep that list of executive limitations as short as possible, but there will be things on it.
David Wells is tonight being given both a new job and a new identity to go with it. He is being made a Deacon en route to becoming a Priest. And tonight’s reading from the second epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians sets the “executive limitations” under which he will need to operate in this new ministry. David’s job is to be a servant leader, one who leads the flock of Christ into green pastures and still waters. Only here’s how he is not to accomplish that mission, as Paul says:

We have renounced the shameful things that one hides; we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God's word; but by the open statement of the truth we commend ourselves to the conscience of everyone in the sight of God.

For someone with a background in law enforcement, these particular executive limitations may at times turn out to be a little constraining! Now, I will confess to you that I enjoy watching political dramas—things like House of Cards and Scandal and Madame Secretary and, back in the day, The West Wing.  It’s sort of a guilty pleasure for me, because these programs allow me to do vicariously what I am not allowed to do in real life, because of the “executive limitations” on my job, which are pretty much the same as will now apply to David, and which apply to everyone in Holy Orders—bishops, priests, and deacons. And, to boil it down, it’s this: Pastors don’t get to play hardball! Why? Because we have renounced the shameful things that one hides and we refuse to practice cunning or to falsify God’s word and we aspire to commend ourselves to the consciences of everyone by the open statement of the truth. This is not a code that any of the politicians in any of the TV shows I just named are even remotely committed to living by. It’s not a code that most corporate executives are committed to living by. It’s not a code that detectives and investigators and other law enforcement officials are committed to living by—at least not if the cop shows I watch from time to time are accurate!

Of course, the reason I like the political dramas that I watch is because the characters are able to do things that I can’t do, and I’m envious. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t wish I could resort to cunning and manipulation and deviousness in order to accomplish my agenda, which, I will remind you, is full of good and honorable things, so these questionable means would be deployed in the service of very worthy ends. Yet, such practices would run afoul of my executive limitations, the executive limitations of anyone in Holy Orders, whether a bishop or a newly-minted deacon. This is frustrating at times, and part of my vocation is learn to embrace it with joy.

Yet, in the midst of this frustration, there is incredibly good news—good news for David, and good news for everyone else. The good that flows from renouncing the shameful things that one hides, from refusing to practice cunning or falsify God’s word, and from openly speaking the truth is well worth the frustration of laying aside political hardball. Embracing his new executive limitations will be good for the health of David Wells’ soul. It carries the highest likelihood of perfecting his holiness, of making him look like Jesus, of turning him into a saint. Making friends with these restrictions and restraints has the effect of building up the Church. It paves a road that allows Jesus the Good Shepherd to show up and minister God’s healing love in all sorts of situations. Living by such a counterintuitive code, we can be so bold as to say, brings life to the world in small and quite local ways that are then enfolded into the massive universal redemptive mission of God.


CHARGE:
David, my brother, please stand. As we prepare now to lay hands on you and turn the Holy Spirit loose to make you a deacon, I can think of no better charge than the words by which St Paul concludes the section of his second letter to the Corinthians that is appointed for this feast of the Apostles Philip and James. “It is not ourselves that we proclaim; we proclaim Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake. For the same God who said, “Out of darkness let light shine,” has caused his light to shine within us, to give the light of revelation—the revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Amen.

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