Sunday, January 24, 2016

“We preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus as Lord
and ourselves as your servants, for Jesus’ sake.”
(2 Cor.4:5, RSV)
Installatio n of Fr. Brian Rebholtz
Joshua 1:1-9                                                                                   Jan Robitscher
Psalms 133 and 134                                                             St. Luke’s, Auburn, CA
2 Corinthians 4:1-11                                                                    October 28, 2015
Luke 10:1-11
(Sung) In the silent hours of night,
bless the Lord.
In the Name of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Bishop Beisner, Fr. Brian and your family, dear People of God: It hardly seems possible that it was three and a half years ago that I witnessed Fr. Brian’s ordination to the priesthood. Now, after a time of learning and growing as an Associate for Christian Formatio on the Other Coast, Fr. Brian has been called here to be your Priest-in-Charge; a new ministry with its joys and perils.  

The readings chosen for this service could fill several sermons! I will resist that temptation and follow the admonition I often give my preaching students at the School for Deacons. A closer look will reveal several over-arching themes that I believe are part and parcel of the ministry Fr. Brian is called to do here, with and among you. There is also a word that came to me from each reading. Together, these will form the Good News of this sermon.

All of these readings have to do with God’s call and  the process of responding to it. This is important because we have almost lost the language of “call” from the process of finding and naming those who will lead us, and from the discernment of the ministries we do in Christ’s Name. We say that a Rector or Priest-in-Charge is “elected” or “named” or “chosen” to serve a parish or mission--anything but “call”.  But call is what God does. So before anything is done, that call must be heard.

Joshua was called by God from being an assistant to Moses to being a leader of the People Israel.  No preparation. No asking if he was ready. But God did have things to say to Joshua; specific instructions about how he was to lead the people and what would be the outcome; about claiming the land promised to Moses, but which Moses never lived to see. And words of encouragement: 
As I was with Moses, so I will be with you;
I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong
and courageous...
God calls, and Joshua listens and obeys. Listen!

St. Paul came to ministry by a very different route, transformed by a profound conversion from persecutor of the earliest Christians to being a leader ranked among the Apostles.  God called out in the voice of Jesus, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Again, God had specific instructions for the now-converted Paul, and he listened and obeyed. But did you notice something unique in this passage? Here, Paul never speaks of himself in the first person singular: I. No, he always refers to himself and his ministry in the plural--a ministry among God’s people; not to or for them.  Here “ourselves” has a double meaning: that of the preachers of the Good News and, more generally, the earliest Christians:
For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus
as Lord and ourselves as your servants for
Jesus’ sake.
And he goes on to give God all the credit--all the glory--for the Good News he is proclaiming:
For it is the God who said “Let light shine out of darkness,”
who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge
of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

The word from this passage is: Proclaim!

In our Gospel reading Jesus sends out the seventy ahead of him--about as many as this little parish!  And he sent them in pairs and, like the other two readings, with specific instructions. This is not accidental. We think of ministry as a solitary endeavor, something we figure out and do as individuals. This is especially true of clergy, who often find themselves isolated and lonely. Jesus will have no such thing! Notice that he sends out the seventy by twos, and ahead of him to proclaim the Kingdom of God. He is the Good Shepherd, who, like ordinary shepherds, watches the flock from behind, always guarding and guiding them. So it should be in the Church. YOU are the ministers of the Church! Fr. Brian is here to help show you how and where your gifts are needed, and to send you out.  Serve!

Now what might all of this really have to do with Fr. Brian’s call to be Priest-in-Charge here at St. Luke’s? These readings show a pattern of God’s call: Listen, Proclaim, Serve. Hearing God’s voice,  then acting on the call that God has made, serving each other and the wider community. This is not only the way that Fr. Brian came to you, it is the pattern I hope you will take up as a way of being Church. 

Listen. Proclaim. Serve. If this sounds at all familiar it is because I have taken a page from Anne Lamott’s popular book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow.  I think she is onto something here, and it brings me to the one reading we have not mentioned yet, the Psalm, and to the charge that I have for Fr. Brian.
(Sung) In the silent hours of night,
    bless the Lord.

The final word from the readings tonight is: Pray.  Psalm 134 is one of those that monks use at the end of the day, at the Office of Compline. It is very short, only two verses. But it speaks an invitation to “Bless the Lord... you that stand by night in the house of the Lord”; to lift holy hands in prayer always, even, at times, in the dark through the night. It is an invitation for all of us to a very different kind of prayer. We think of receiving God’s blessing, and it is wonderful to hear ourselves pronounced good in God’s sight. But this Psalm asks us to bless God. To bless God is to give thanks, to call God good--what we are about to do in the Eucharist--and in turn, the Psalmist prays that God will bless us; the Lord who made both heaven and earth.

Most clergy can’t remember the charge given to them at their ordination. So I will offer a new one, first to the congregation assembled (I won’t make you stand!) and then to Fr. Brian. 

Now I say to the church: Rejoice and give thanks that God’s Grace calls us all to a wide variety of ministries, yet brings us to unity in Christ through the Spirit. Be willing to look beyond your walls for these ministries, and invite those outside to come and see this community. Always remember that Fr. Brian (or any priest, deacon or anyone leading worship) does not do this in a vacuum. We--all of us--are necessary to complete the prayer. And rejoice that God has called Fr. Brian here to listen, proclaim, serve and pray with and for you. 
Now to Fr. Brian: It has been (and continues to be) an honor to watch  you learn and grow in your faith and in the vocation God has given you. From your first days in seminary I have seen you move from studying theology to developing a deep prayer life, falling in love and starting a family, ordination and now to applying in your ministry the theology you have studied. 

I want to paraphrase some words of Archbishop Ramsey and add a few verses from the Second Letter to Timothy, which contains perhaps the earliest charge we have:

As a priest, you have bound yourself to “the strong name
of the Trinity” and asked Jesus to be with you all ways. And you have been called to display in your person the the total response
to Christ=--to be a beacon of the Church’s pastoral,
prophetic and priestly concern, to which we are all pledged
at Baptism. I solemnly urge you: Proclaim the message
[in season and out of season]; convince, rebuke and 
encourage with all patience in teaching... Always be sober, 
endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, 
carry out your ministry fully.
...The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.1 

Listen. Proclaim. Serve and pray! And be among us in all the ways
that we are about to hear in the Induction, but especially 
as a person of prayer.    

(Sung) In the silent hours of night
bless the Lord.
May God bless this New Ministry, of Fr. Brian and of this congregation, now and always.  Amen.

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