Sermon by Archdeacon Rick Cluett

The Ordination of Michelle Marie Moyer
To the Sacred Order of Priest
January 24, 2015
Cathedral Church of the Nativity

Friends, we are here this morning to affirm God’s call of Michelle Marie Moyer and to witness her ordination into the priesthood of Christ’s one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

We do this on a day that the church has set aside to remember the Conversion of St. Paul. After listening to the reading from Acts, I think we can all take a breath and relax. If Paul is acceptable to God after what he did as Saul – harassing, persecuting, prosecuting, even stoning, bearing false witness, and physically attacking the followers of Jesus – if he could do those things, and then be used by God in carrying on the ministry of Jesus, then you and I and Michelle don’t have much to worry about, do we? There is no way that the failings and inadequacies which seem so great in ourselves and in our gifts and in our lives could separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, is there? No, there isn’t! Nor could they keep us from seeking and receiving a share in the ministry of Jesus either.

God’s love is that great. God’s mercy is that wide. God’s Love great enough for Saul, great enough for each of us. God’s mercy wide enough for Saul, wide enough to surround and enfold each of us, too. How’s that for the Good News of this day?

Paul received this Good News in a rather startling and dramatic way. He was riding along on his horse and there was a blinding light that knocked him off his horse and on to the ground, and then he heard Jesus speaking to him. It’s hard to believe that Jesus wanted Saul in his ministry, but he did, and Jesus went to some extraordinary lengths to get that message across to him.

I know something of Michelle’s spiritual journey and there is a powerful experience of God’s mercy and God’s love in her own life. A moment when she knew no matter what, no matter anything else in her life, she knew God’s love and mercy was flowing over and in and through it.

I also know that she, like many of us, has also experienced that love and mercy growing in quiet, but nonetheless miraculous ways, in her life and in the lives of her family. For most of us, I think, that is how God’s presence is experienced; as a growing awareness that we are surrounded and infused and empowered by God’s love and acceptance and forgiveness.

Do you remember the wonderful telling of that experience by Albert Schweitzer, one of the giants of faith, who came to know Christ in this way. He wrote:

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those … who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

This is precisely what Jesus is telling us in the Gospel reading. If we will seek Jesus, if we will take him into our hearts and lives, if we will follow him, if we will take on his work as our own, if we will remain faithful, each of us will come to know fully the love and mercy of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and we will be saved. We will be saved.

My most favorite psalm is the 139th Psalm.
Lord, you have searched me out and known me;
You know my sitting down and my rising up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
You trace my journeys and my resting places
 and are acquainted with all my ways.

God knows you Michelle, God knows you and all your ways, and God has called you forever to this very day to be made a priest. Today you stand before God and the Church. Child of God. Disciple of Jesus. Servant of any and all in need. Ready. Ready to take on this new ministry, this new servant role.

It seems that your considerable gifts can be useful in the work of God; that you can take on this new work in the ministry of Jesus. God has called you anew. God has called you deeper into the mystery of God’s love. And you have discerned God’s call anew. The Church has also discerned and tested that call with you and affirms that you are being called by God into the priesthood of Christ.

Frederick Buechner writes in The Alphabet of Grace, (pp. 109-110) “I hear you are entering the (priesthood),” the woman said down the long table meaning no real harm. “Was it your own idea or were you poorly advised?” And the answer that she could not have heard even if I had given it was that it was not an idea at all, neither my own nor anyone else’s. It was a lump in the throat. It was an itching in the feet. It was a stirring of the blood at the sound of rain. It was a sickening of the heart at the sight of misery. It was a clamoring of ghosts. It was a name which, when I wrote it out in a dream, I knew was a name worth dying for even if I was not brave enough to do the dying myself and if I could not even name the name for sure. Come unto me all ye who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you a high and driving peace.

In other words, it is both a mystery and a grace that one is called to be priest.

God calls you to become priest. It is both terrifying and it is terrific! We follow the Christ who leads us through death to life. Death to selfishness, death to ego, and life to the truest self within. … our call is to continue dying to self and, as a result, to continue becoming truly alive, to continue growing in boldness and righteousness, in faithfulness and patience, in wisdom and, yes, even holiness.

Your bishop believes in his heart that this is God’s call to you. Your own sponsoring priest and parish believe this is God’s call. One-time strangers in a discernment group believe this is God’s call. The Commission on Ministry and the Standing Committee of this diocese believe this is God’s call. This cathedral parish and all who are in it and have come to love you and have received your ministry as pastor believe this is God’s call to you. And it is our will that you, Michelle Marie Moyer, be ordained a priest.

Some level of what Jesus describes in the Gospel will come to you in this ministry. As they say, no promise of rose gardens. Real people, real life, real dangers. Some sadness, some hurt, some disappointment. Into this real life God comes in Jesus Christ, and in this real life you will minister to God’s people and build God’s kingdom brought near in Jesus.

Michelle, will you stand. Michelle, your ministry as priest will be to heal and to reconcile, to baptize and to anoint with holy unction, to teach and nurture the young, and to preach God’s holy word, to soothe the wounded and to comfort the lonely, to guide the confused and lost, to visit in home, hospital and prison, to lead God’s people in caring for Gods world, and to administer the bread and wine, the body and blood of Christ that strengthens and empowers all who partake of it.

To stay strong and faithful keep close to God’s holy Word. Keep close to God in regular prayer and contemplation. Keep close to your colleagues who know and understand your ministry as priest like no others can. They can guide and comfort you, and laugh and cry with you. Do not deny yourself their fellowship. Remember when God calls us it is always into community.

The mystery of God’s love will be revealed to you as you go about this ministry, and you will know Grace upon Grace upon Grace from God.

And we promise to be with you and support you in all of it, because we know that that your ministry as priest is of God.

May God bless you, guide you, and strengthen you for it in all the days ahead. Amen.

Deacons Driving Deftly – Bishop Paul

Sermon by Bishop Paul Marshall
Ordination of Deacons, 12/21/2012
John Davis, Foster Mays, Andrew Reinholz and Kimberly Rowles Reinholz
Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

I remember the first time I let my son take the car out by himself at night. I also remember the first time I drove by myself as a teen. One coin, two sides. The handing over of the keys, even temporarily, is a very intriguing thing to contemplate. The receiving of the keys is noteworthy as well.

As a young person, I remember my pride, satisfaction and sense of power when I first took that 1961 Oldsmobile wagon out of the driveway and headed into the setting sun. I never, of course, acknowledged that I was also a little leery of the whole thing. A little frightened, in fact, but about that I never said a word to my father.

As a parent I was proud of my son’s obviously good genes in the department of steering large amounts of metal through the impossible tangle of New Haven’s grid of one-way streets and back alleys. I was also worried about him, and didn’t go to sleep until I heard the 1985 Crown Victoria authoritatively rumble back into the driveway. I told him I was proud of him. I never told him I was scared.

You can see where this is going.

The celebration of diaconal ordination is more than one thing. It is a joyful acknowledgement of the vocation and accomplishments of four people who have worked very hard to get to this day. It is an affirmation of the Church’s life and mission. It is a reappropriation of the unique ministry of servanthood that guides and goads the church into action. It is, however, always the beginning of an inter-generational transmission of the Church’s tradition, and to be honest, a handing over of power within that tradition. “Receive this Bible as a sign of your authority…”

And so it is also possible for there to be a variety of feelings about the passing on of tradition, responsibility, and power to Andrew, John, Kim, and Foster.

Side one is simple. Ordinands are eager to go. It is not an easy road to get to this date, and they have accumulated knowledge, skills, and debt. They have tried out the theory and practice of ministry in a variety of more-or-less controlled experiments in what is mysteriously called “the field, ” rather than “the string.” They are ready, but who among them with an ounce of sense would not feel a little anxiety about taking on the responsibilities of ordained ministry? What they say and do “counts” now in a way that may not be fair or right, but is nonetheless real, public, and perceived in many, many ways. Like it or not, from this day on, they become huge projection screens, but that is another sermon.

On the other side of the coin, we who entrust ordained ministry to four ordinands tonight recognize that we are passing something on. Passing something on, even through prayer and the laying-on of hands, is also letting go, a surrender of the future in both hope and anxiety. A new generation is going to have new perspectives. Some refreshing, some perhaps unsettling.

Assuming any of this is true for them as it was for me when I was in their shoes, the first lesson tonight addresses the anxiety ordinands may feel by describing a cyclical pattern of growth that will carry them through the challenges and stresses of ordained ministry. It also explains the existence of the slightly notorious Bible content examination that we unapologetically administer in this diocese.

That first lesson from Ecclesiasticus describes a permanent pattern of engagement with tradition that supports, heals, and inspires.

As we see the devout described in the lesson, study of the scripture and wisdom of those who have gone before control the functioning of their minds. It is the non-optional, non-transcendable, mandatory content of our vocation. But important as it is, sitting with your Bible and other books isn’t enough in the words of this passage: going out among people and observing how humanity behaves, and taking that study and observation to prayer, give ordained ministry its solid core. Interestingly, this pattern of study, observation, and prayer is not described as the route to becoming an authority. No, the passage says that more you learn, the more you will be aware of your own limitations, and the first prayer that is suggested in the text jumps non-defensively into what makes real students; it shows them, as a result of their learning, praying for pardon. We live in that daily office tension between the psalm’s “my sin is ever before me” in the psalm and St Paul’s apprehension that “my grace is sufficient for you.” At that point, when learning, experience, and humility come together before God and in God, there come the gifts of wisdom and eloquence to which we dare to aspire.

Just as I believe that the more metal you have around you when you drive, the safer you usually are, I believe that the better you know scripture and tradition, the safer you are from heresy, schism, error—and Thus to be of use to God as clergy, we enter a life that requires yet goes beyond our native intelligence. It requires yet goes beyond our savvy about the “real world” of human potential and pain. It requires yet goes beyond knowledge of the Bible and tradition. We hear in this lesson the call to blend knowledge and perceptions in a way that touches our hearts and makes us both earnest intercessors and deep contemplatives, permanent penitents yet eternally filled with hope. Then the Spirit can and does lead with the wisdom that is grounded in living tradition, a wisdom that also moves the tradition ahead.

That, I hope, begins to minister to the ordinands’ anxieties. But what about the anxiety we may feel in passing the torch, about letting go? I feel more at peace about this tonight than I sometimes do. I will tell you why, and I have permission to do this. On Wednesday of this week I opened Ember letters, those quarterly reports that ordinands make about their state of body, mind, and spirit. Such letters necessarily hover between confession and salesmanship. One of them will stay with me for a long time because of the tears of gratitude and hope it brought me.

Again, with permission: The writer reflects on traumas suffered personally, by the church, and finally by the nation in the tragedy at Newtown last week. The letter goes on:

 “Paradoxically, these events, to some extent, have done wonders for the centering and focus of my prayer life, which has allowed me to shift from an inadequate clinical processing of events and circumstance to a surrendering of them before the paschal mystery of Christ and its transformational ability to provide perspective and healing. This processing through prayer allows me to tap into overlooked or otherwise un-recalled reservoirs when my own resources are inadequate. Significant in this is the reminder that prayer makes room for reasonableness and responsiveness amid stress, anxiety, grief, and doubt, each of which otherwise clouds or impairs my ability to be fully present.”

That would be enough to gladden the heart of any person concerned for the stability and future of the church. That a potential deacon can integrate the clinical, theological and personal dynamics of our religion with such wisdom and devotion says something is very right with our church, and is a reminder to us all of what we look like when we are putting the pieces together inside a pattern of study, observation, repentance and renewal. The center of it all is the dying yet risen Jesus and his call to his disciples to serve the world in his name.

It seems a shame to make a person who could write that take on the ordeal of ordination exams, but I have learned never to tinker with initiatory rites.

[ordinands stand] Sister and brothers: we know that the Church is being reborn in ways we are only beginning to see. Venerable types and shadows have their ending, much-loved bath water may need to gurgle down the drain, and familiar forms may well need to pass into footnotes. But cannot we sense new life, new hope, new ways of relating and worshiping lying low in this sometimes bleak mid-winter in order to sprout and bloom in the very near future? With you but also guided by you we wait, we work faithfully, and we walk on. For those who know Christ and stay immersed in the mystery of his passage from death to life, the cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night do not pass away. The word of the Lord abides forever. Live in it. Take the keys. We trust you and we trust the God who has called you.





A Time for Prophets

Sermon, Bishop Paul V. Marshall
At the Ordination of
Mary Lou Divis and Charles Warwick
St. Stephen’s Wilkes-Barre – May 18, 2012

        When any person first has the apprehension that God is real everything changes.

What is different about this night is that two people have worked very hard and very faithfully to get here through unusual circumstances. Lou in particular has cheerfully walked a complicated road that I can only admire.

What is also different is that for the third time at St. Stephen’s I take my lead from the music, and want to say a few words about Isaiah’s vision in our first lesson, because you will hear it powerfully portrayed in the offertory anthem.

742, the year King Uzziah died, was not a good year. The good times were over. Uzziah’s reign was for years nearly as prosperous as Solomon’s. It had been a good time to be a Judean. And even when the king fell prey to the sin of pride and was smitten with leprosy, the material prosperity continued for a while under his son the co-regent. But it wasn’t the same anymore. The Assyrians were gearing up and rattling the newest military technology –– iron swords that cut through other weapons like butter –– and there were many in Judah who were frightened or wanted appeasement. The northern kingdom was already an Assyrian vassal state. Suddenly it wasn’t such a good time to be a Judean. Suddenly (increasingly shaky) material prosperity didn’t feel like enough, and come to think of it, the stronger Assyria got, the weaker the stock market was looking in Jerusalem. The pro-Assyrian party was growing in Judah, which meant that that worship of Yahweh was seen as irrelevant or useless by increasing numbers of people. Economic downturn and the seeming irrelevance of religion … is any of this starting to sound familiar? That’s where we start our story.

Isaiah may well have been a priest, but whether or not this is so, his experience of call was in the temple and has a good deal to say about what we do tonight, as we seek vision in an age of recession and violence, an age when we have made ourselves a tributary province of a number of Asian countries, and there is plenty of evidence that we have neither moral compass nor characterological GPS in public or private life..

Isaiah’s call is not a vision with lots of words and instructions –– that would come later. Isaiah’s call was a fundamental experience of who he was as a person and in relation to Almighty God.

Here Mary Lou and Charlie will understand particularly well. Isaiah was not possessed with any strong ambition to be a prophet: it was messy and dangerous work if you weren’t an official state prophet, a hired religious yes-man. No, Isaiah was called to be unpopular by the experience of God’s holiness and God’s mercy. The call came because he was about the business of a faithful person: he was praying.

I wonder how many who have been ordained for a while remember this. Isaiah’s call starts with a vision of God, a kind of intersection of parallel universes: he is in the temple but he is also standing in the heavenly council. He says those simple but devastating words, “I saw the Lord.”

When any person first has the apprehension that God is real everything changes.

After the angels sing what we call the Sanctus and the incense begins to clear, Isaiah makes the right choice.

He doesn’t feel special, privileged or entitled, nor does he feel entrepreneurial about this theophany as St Peter would. He certainly doesn’t Google Whipple’s website for a prophetic mantle. No, he is completely flattened by what he sees and hears. Awe and humility are the only authentic response to a vision of God. Any priest who believes he or she has domesticated God will lead many souls to perdition. Humility is one of the basic tools of our trade.

No, Isaiah’s response to a vision of the Lord of Hosts is the realization that he is quite unworthy to be in that presence, and that goes double for his culture. He is inclined to slink away and go say some penitential psalms.

We must acknowledge the reality of our unworthiness to stand before God’s people and proclaim the word and break the break, but if we stop there we will become useless, because there is more than masochism to ministry.

The “more” is the next moment in this story. Just as Isaiah is getting a good debilitating guilt going, a seraph, carefully covering its “feet” (whatever they were) with one set of wings, presses a glowing coal from the altar of incense against Isaiah’s lips. I would have preferred a cooling dab of holy water. But that’s the point. The sizzling, crackly, burning away of Isaiah’s sin is meant to be an unforgettable experience of God’s cleansing Grace. You stand here tonight because the cleansing Grace of God in Jesus Christ has touched you and changed your heart and lips, as searing as the experience may have been. Just so in Isaiah’s story: the man of unclean lips is both forgiven and cleansed.

Years of therapy are telescoped in this story for a reason. That is, Isaiah has been granted a vision of the divine not for his own spiritual fulfillment — it is not clear to me that our contemporary sense of personal spiritual fulfillment is a biblical concept — Isaiah has been granted a vision and experience of cleansing so that he can hear God asking the heavenly council, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

And this new person, this temple sight-seer become Tzadik, says …“Send me.” I think you know the rest. He went on to speak of wolves and lions, virgins conceiving; he said comfort my people; reminded then that though your sins be as scarlet they shall be white as snow. Isaiah was not a pussycat, though. “What do you mean to beat the vineyard and grind the faces of the poor?” To all the ages he said, “Woe unto them that call evil good and good evil.” The man, all three of him, could hardly speak without uttering a quotation.

Fast forward to 2012. To say that we are a people whose moral life is out of order is understatement. It is now a matter of law in this country that the legislative process may be owned by the highest bidders and there cannot be much doubt that democracy is in decay. Far worse, Christianity’s good name has been hijacked: an astonishing 91% of young people in a recent poll gave as their first association to the world Christianity, “anti-gay.” Christianity and religious freedom are having their names hijacked to oppress women in ways we thought were over decades ago. Who will in clear words and compassionate acts dare to say that the first word about Christianity is not “anti” anything, that its first word is not a word of corruption or oppression but the word that God loved the world and gave a Son; that the Son did not come into the world to condemn the world?” Who will say that word? I believe that God hopes it is you who will speak.

But you know, if you are faithful you will have the same problem Isaiah did — read his book: Calling for mutual accountability will always be sneered at as inciting class warfare. But the prophets called for it anyway. Preferring plowshares to swords will always be sneered at as weakness, but that is what Isaiah did. Suggesting that the poor themselves have responsibilities and teaching them to meet them may well be seen as patronizing or sometimes racist, but that’s what Ezra did. Resisting First-Amendment bullying by the much larger denominations is going to mean embracing some ecumenical embarrassment, and we will have to remember Paul confronting Peter. Urging a nation to repair its moral character rather than to look for quick fixes is the particular burden of your generation of clergy, just as it was repeatedly for the prophets of both covenants.

Now let me make that harder. The clergy who have been “occupying” various buildings have not brought much aid to the poor or repentance on the part of those they oppose. Banking laws are a little too complex to reform in an ashram — again the importance of restoring impartial government. The battle with sin is defined differently these days. By the year that the King of Rock and Roll died, the revolution of the 60s and 70s was over. We have to be smarter, wilier, sweeter than the merely confrontational. You might think of Desmond Tutu or Dorothy Day as effective models here. Our tools of incarnation, presence, integrity, and adamant dedication to justice all come straight out of the Bible. We just have to be wise as serpents as we attempt to follow Isaiah in transforming our culture.

The courage to do this comes from the presence and power of the Lord Jesus himself. It comes from your life of daily prayer and frequent feasting at the Eucharist. It comes from the examples of thousands of years of faithful predecessors in prayer and prophecy. Jesus’ faithfulness was vindicated, as yours shall be, and he has promised to be with his church for ever, including you and me.

Think this over during the Creed. If you still hear the voice calling, if you still can remember the seraphim flying, if you still want to say “send me,” I’ll meet you by that chair over there in a few minutes. I hope you will come.


Memories are made of this

Sermon, All Saints Day, 2011
Ordination of Frances Hlavacek and Charles Warwick to the Sacred Order of Deacons.
The Rt. Rev. Paul V. Marshall, Bishop of Bethlehem

Dean Leander Keck used to say that a sermon is biblical if it has the same function of the text. How, then, might we duplicate what St. John saw in his vision for our new deacons?

Let’s try this. When you visit Rome today, on its rush to St Peter’s Basilica, the tour bus passes a much smaller church with a disproportionately large dome. If you make your way back to it, you find yourself in a former Roman temple, the Pantheon, the building once dedicated to all the gods.

When Christians took over the Pantheon they re-dedicated it to St. Mary and all the martyrs. What had been the temple of all the gods had become the shrine of Christ’s holy ones.

The Pantheon is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome, and the dome makes the building. The dome is constructed with molded coffers, indentations, and the rays of the sun play with them as it moves through the sky. But when the light entering from the top is just right, the dome shimmers. The statues of the gods must have seemed alive and present to visitors at such moments, a bit of heaven. Out of all the recycled temples, this is the room Christians took over to remember their heroes of faith, bathed in heavenly light and still with them, holy ones always praying for them as they worked to be faithful disciples.

Since I first saw it, I have often imagined what it was like to live in a world before electricity and to go into the Pantheon, to be stopped still in one’s tracks by the light, aware of the holiness that is always all around us and now concentrated so that we can see it better. The builder’s intent was that you would be transfixed, and it works. I also wonder what it was like to enter that space a little tired, a little discouraged perhaps, and just stand there. Stand there letting the light do the evangelizing as it changed the room and bathed the images of the saints in the light. On such an occasion the unspoken words might be “you are not in this alone; many have walked the path; many garments have been cleansed in the blood of the lamb; they dwell in light—and they pray for you, they cheer you on. How God is glorified in them!”

All Saints Day has fallen onto hard times of late, and currently exists for many people as a kind of memorial day for remembering everyone they ever knew and loved. It seems that the skinny cow of All Souls Day has swallowed up the fat cow of All Saints Day. I cannot do anything about that latest victory of sentimentality except regret it. Let me nonetheless remind our ordinands that for most of our history, this day was a celebration for those martyrs and other believers who struggled very intentionally to make Jesus Christ real in this world at considerable cost to themselves. The Church gratefully cherishes their memory and humbly invokes their prayers.

Of course they of the skinny cows are right when they remind us that everybody has her or his own little pantheon of more contemporary people who have touched them, and those memories are vital to the shape of their own souls. I have my list of people who shaped me, and am profoundly grateful for them as I pray for them on All Souls Day. All Saints day is about corporate memory, however, a concept it took about four centuries for the Church to develop under a number of influences. The result is that on All Saints Day we remember those lives in which Christ’s people together have seen God at work, mightily, subtly, beautifully and for the sake of Jesus. At all times, and in all places, nations, languages and people. Sentimentality and individualism are only overcome by great common stories, myth in the best sense. Myth provides the common story into which individuals grow. A people without a common mythology fragments into solipsism and hedonism, and this is a point any newspaper illustrates every day. It is why there will always be a price to pay for the Reformation’s necessary emphasis on the individual. People with a common story have common will and are very effective. That is why we tell the stories of the saints as our story, not my story. The saints show us how the wheel came to be invented, so that task need not delay us.

Fran and Charlie, this great feast day speaks to the occasion of your ordination.

Memory is a pretty flexible thing, if I recall, so let that fact work for you and install a memory with me now. Whenever our common ministry seems challenging or heavy, “remember” how you and I stood together in Rome under the shimmering dome of the Pantheon on that bright summer day not too long ago. Especially remember the light. We are always walking in and toward the light, doing our best to assist God’s people on that very same journey to the central flame of the Light of Christ. Remember the light.

Remember how many saints we saw there that day. As deacons you will interpret the needs of the world to the Church. This is why corporate memory and corporate awareness are so important. You will indeed spend much of your ministries attending to the needs of individuals. That is necessary and saintly, but even more is asked of you. Because you deacons are on the front lines, so to speak, you are in the very best position to reflect on what you see and hear, and get us to see and hear it too. When you have a reverence for who we are together, your ability to speak gracefully and in proportion can only grow in effectiveness. When you are aware of the great company in which you stand, you have so much more to offer to people whose defining quality may be crushing aloneness. Invite those lonely or hurting souls to meet the family.

The saints of the undivided church are the heroes of the Bible, the apostolic era, and the centuries following. Martyrs, teachers, servants, they are none of them perfect—even Jesus’ mother had to be corrected by him on at least three occasions. They were, however, all willing to use the particular gifts God gave them in service to the kingdom. It is vital that you internalize this truth. Our heroes did not get everything right, and it is a tragedy when those invested in the work of the church grow despondent over their own imperfections. There are certain basic competencies ordinands must have, and you two have demonstrated them in order to be here tonight. Beyond that, God and the Church ask that you use the gifts you actually have, to hone the skills that are uniquely yours. Leave it to others to perfect cold fusion.

There are shadows in the Pantheon; that is how the building works. In tonight’s gospel Jesus promises all of his followers that if they follow him intentionally they may expect to be reviled and they may expect to be persecuted. The Barnabas Fund says that 160,000 people were murdered by Muslims in 2010 just for being Christian. The grand total of Christian deaths for the year is over half a million by their count. Let’s say the Barnabas Fund is exaggerating, and it is only a quarter of a million slaughtered. I understand that it is not this or any other administration’s state interest to make these deaths a cause, but why are Christians so silent in the west? Where are the deacons?

Persecution in our own culture is usually more polite, if not benign, unless you start meddling, and meddling is, alas, the deacon’s duty, so be ready. Historically, quite a few people on our calendar of saints died at the hands of fellow Christians, and we who preach remember our patron John Chrysostom in just that regard.

So it happens, it can happen to you. Along with the reminder to stand up for all victims of persecution, Jesus says do not be discouraged or even particularly surprised if your devotion to serving him in the person of the poor, the troubled, or the dishonored gets you into difficulty. Do not be surprised if even conventionally religious people push back when you speak for the voiceless.

Science tells us that being immensely powerful and hugely successful does indeed create a chemical rush that changes brain functioning. That rush does not excuse, but does explain how family values politicians can also be molesters and not think it odd. In our vocabulary, it is one of the expected consequences of superbia, malignant pride. The lesson for deacons is that it is hard to speak truth to power because power doesn’t think you have anything to say because it is too busy being drenched in serotonin. I do not say this to aggravate your defiance circuits, but as a reminder. I want to evoke that part of you that is wiser than a serpent—and deacons must be very wise. What are the means of persuasion left to you when shouting does not work? Well, for just one example, Jesus exposed evil by naming it, submitting to it, showing it up for what it is. He is the one whom God vindicated, and in him we all are vindicated as we strive to be faithful.

When the push-back comes in big or little ways, Jesus asks you to remember that you are in good company. One of the marks of being a prophet is being persecuted. But how will you remember that if you haven’t been studying their stories?

When the push-back comes, remember how you and I visited the Pantheon that summer day and marveled at how many, more than anyone could count, had come through all manner of tribulation and now praise God eternally.  Remember how our hearts were brave again and how our arms grew strong—and back to the work we will go, remembering, aware of the light that is and remains around us.

May God bless many through your ministry as deacons.

The Ordination of Eddie Lopez to the Diaconate

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.

Sermon at Ordination of Brian Pavlac

Ordination of the Rev. Brian Pavlac to the Priesthood
Sermon by Bishop Paul V. Marshall
Feast of SS. Peter and Paul, 2010
Ezekiel 34:11-6; 2 Timothy 4:1-8; John 21:15-19
Voluntary: Enigma Variation IX. Nimrod. Edward Elgar

Brian and I thank all of you for your participation this evening, and I especially thank the rector, staff and parish of St. Stephen’s for making people from across the diocese feel so much at home so often in this wonderful space.

Indeed, how we make ourselves at home is part of the package tonight. As Christians found themselves more and more at home in the ancient Roman world, they began to do some redecorating. The example we all know best was the placement of a celebration of Christ’s birth during the Roman solstice holidays in December.

Another switch was their focusing on Peter and Paul, rather than Romulus and Remus, in celebrating the foundations of the eternal city. Rather than the twin brothers who drew in lupine instincts with their nurses’ milk, Peter and Paul are remembered with more or less accuracy as not killing each other, as trying to understand each other and to work things out, and then both giving up their lives in testimony to Jesus Christ. By Christ’s power working within them, the crude fisherman and the nervous tent-maker were able to transcend themselves sufficiently to become foundation stones of the city God as well this piece of Italian real estate. Switching the founding fathers announced a new set of values.

Continue reading "Sermon at Ordination of Brian Pavlac" »

Ordination of Five Priests

View an impression of the September 29 Ordination Liturgy on YouTube. The video and edit was produced by Kat Lehman.

Download below the sermon given by Father Frank St. Amour, rector of St. Stephen's Whitehall.
Download Sermon.Frank St.Amour.doc

And here's a group pic, also by Kat Lehman.
Bishop Jack Croneberger, Douglas Moyer, John Hartman, Christina Nord, Bishop Paul Marshall, Wayne Sherrer and Timothy Albright

Ordinations of five deacons

Bishop Jack Croneberger ordained five deacons for the Diocese of Bethlehem on February 2 in the Cathedral Church of the Nativity.

Group 5b
Left to right: Timothy Scott Albright will continue at General Seminary until May; Christina Nord will serve her deacon internship at Grace Allentown; James Douglas Moyer, Jr., will continue at Nashotah House in Wisconsin until May; Bishop Jack, Assistant Bishop, Diocese of Bethehem; Wayne Calvin Sherrer will serve his deacon internship at St. George's Helletown; and Rebecca Anne Parsons Cancelliere will serve her deacon internship at St. Mark's/St. John's Jim Thorpe. Four are transitional deacons. Rebecca is a vocational deacon.

Bishop Jack 1a
Bishop Jack asked the deacons to offer the world an alternate reality.

Faces 2a
God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.

Hands 2a
Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Christina; fill her with grace and power, and make her a deacon in your Church.

Photos by Bill Lewellis

Ordination to priesthood of Dolores Evans and Hillary Raining

Bishop Paul Marshall ordained two deacons, The Rev Dolores E. Evans and The Rev. Hillary D. Raining, to the priesthood on August 15 at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem.

Evans will serve North Parish which is comprised of Christ Episcopal Church, Frackville; Saint John’s Memorial Episcopal Church, Ashland and Holy Apostles Episcopal Church, Saint Clair.  She and her husband, Dave, are residents of Frackville.  She served as senior warden of North Parish for many years and was a delegate to the Diocesan Convention.  She is a past member of the diocesan Commission on Ministry and the World Mission committee.  She is also employed by Schuylkill Intermediate Unit 29 as a secretary in the Special Education Center located in Marlin.

Raining is the assistant at Trinity Church in Bethlehem. She and her husband Ken have an infant daughter, Delia Elizabeth. She graduated from Yale Divinity School in May 2008. She had been studying there within the Institute of Sacred Music as well as Berkeley Episcopal Divinity School. She came to divinity school from Moravian College in Bethlehem where she graduated with a double degree in psychology and religion. She has served on the National State of the Church Committee and the Prayer Book, Music and Liturgy Committee of the Episcopal Church for the last five years as well as a serving as a deputy for the last two General Conventions.

Mother Laura Howell preached the sermon.

Howelllaura I have two questions for you, Deacon Dolores and Deacon Hillary.  WHAT ARE YOU, CRAZY!!!!!  ONLY fools would even consider doing a job like this. And to go beyond simply considering it, and actually doing it, you have got to be at least partly crazy. If you look around yourselves this evening, at all your colleagues in fancy dress, you will know that you are not alone. Hillary and I were visiting a parishioner in the intensive care unit at Lehigh Valley Hospital last week. The man was just coming out of a medical coma, and when he opened his eyes and saw the two of us standing by his bedside, he said, “Oh God.  The fools are here, and they're going to pray for me.” I was absolutely thrilled. In part, of course, it was because he was awake after a dangerous surgery, but even more so, it was because he understood about our foolishness.  It was like being seen for what I truly am. On another day, he and I had a very serious conversation about being a fool, and how that is a central part of our understanding of ourselves as Christians. Hmm, can you say that conversations among fools are serious? I'm not sure...


[Download the sermon, with pictures, below.]

Download 080815.Ordinations.HowellSermon.doc



Ordination of Deacons.080202

Bernice_hillary_bishop_paul_rodney5 God now calls you to a special ministry of servanthood directly under your bishop. In the name of Jesus Christ, you are to serve all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely. [Book of Common Prayer, p.543]

View photos by Bill Lewellis from the ordination of deacons, February 2, 2008, at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem: Rodney Conn, Hillary Dowling Raining, and Bernice Reichard. Photos may also be downloaded from this site.

Download Bishop Paul's sermon below.

Download 080202.DeaconOrdinations.doc

Download 080202.DeaconOrdinations.pdf

Three deacons ordained for Diocese of Bethlehem

On September 29, at the Cathedral Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Bishop Paul ordained Marion Meiss (St. Peter's, Hazleton), Dolores Evans (North Parish, Schuylkill County), and Sarah Bosler (St. Gabriel's, Douglassville) to the sacred order of deacons. Canon Jane Teter preached.

Download photos and Canon Teter's sermon below.

Download 070929.Three deacons.pdf