Sermon by Daniel Gunn
Rector, St. Stephen's Pro-cathedrl
On the Feast of the Nativity of St. John the Baptist (24 June) 2011
St. Stephen’s Pro-cathedral, WB, PA
May we seek Truth together in humility. Amen.
Eddie, I have a question for you. This is the last exam you will have to take in this LOOOOOONG process. Are you ready? (That was not the question.) Here it is: Do you hear voices? Think carefully before you answer. This is not a trick question. You’ve already passed your psychologicals, so you don’t have to lie. Do you hear voices? If you answer “no” then I withdraw all my support, because I believe that you do hear voices, and to this point I have known very few people who have heard and heeded that voice more than you.
I’d like to help you fine-tune that voice this evening. First by offering some suggestions from Isaiah, and then by offering you some advice I receive from an elder priest some years ago. Let’s look at Isaiah. Today is the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist. Since that is a mouth-full, let’s dispense with that, and just talk about John the Baptist, or in this case Isaiah. Today you are being ordained to the Sacred order of Deacons. This in some sense means that you belong to the people. As I understand it, you exceed me, or any other presbyter, because you are directly under the bishop, and as such you have a responsibility to him (or her) to be among the people. First there were Apostles, THEN deacons, and only thereafter, priests. You, my friend, have a six-month tour of duty with the general. But you need not fear. You already have the field manual from Isaiah, and he gives you the instructions.
Ordinarily when we hear this lesson from Isaiah we are in a season of preparation and anticipation—Advent. God spoke to Isaiah instructing him to comfort God’s people. You’re an old hand at doing this. In fact, you’re engaged in a system that comforts people already (that’s if being a chaplain at a concierge hospital counts). (That reminds me: how do you pay for rich people when they have splinters removed? I’m joking, of course.)
In all seriousness, you are called to comfort people who feel as though they are in the wilderness. You are called to enter the wilderness and be with them. You are called to prepare a place for God in the wilderness of people’s lives. But how can you comfort people? People are like grass and flowers that flourish one moment and the next they wither and fade. Ah, but Isaiah reminds us that you have an especially comforting tool: you have the word of our God. As you know, deacons have a special calling to proclaim the Word of God—the Good News—among the people. So Eddie, comfort God’s people with the word; remind them that God will come to them. Remind them that God will feed them, and when necessary, carry them.
Now let me transition to some advice I received from an elder clergy person, and one from Bishop Paul. I am going to give you these 11 nuggets, trying not to elaborate. I keep these on the inside of my office door as a reminder.
This first one comes from Bishop Paul: “You can’t refute a sneer.”
Start daily with devotionals.
Empowerment is good for spiritual, emotional, physical, etc. health.
Keep office door open.
Answer own phone and keep own calendar.
If Rosanna (your significant other) does not like an idea – pay attention.
Can’t build efficient staff with a committee.
Clergy get paid for being Christians – laity don’t – respect them for their commitment.
It does not matter how effective or efficient you are as a priest if I flunk as friend and husband.
People are always more important than ideas.
The work of Holy Spirit is most discernable in interruptions.
My friend, you and I have been on this journey for some time; Now GO, comfort God’s people!
In these thoughts may we find truth. Amen.