Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Deacon Ordination Sermon

The Ford Country Squire:
Everything is Created with a Purpose
Sermon on Mark 9.2-9
Last Epiphany B
Diaconal Ordination
C. Andrew Doyle

O Lord of the harvest, you entrust to us a share in the mission of Jesus. Place in our hearts the compassion of Jesus and on our lips the Good News of your kingdom, that, with our every word and deed, we may give as a gift what we have received as a gift, your grace. In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen

What are you created for?

There were Steve McQueen’s two movies The Getaway and the 1968 Thomas Crown Affair. There was the natural thriller: The Twister, about a F4 tornado that hit a drive-in movie theater. The lesser known movies are: Mac and Me and Two for the Road. Then there was James Bond’s Goldfinger, and Al Pacino’s Scarface. And, who could forget, or maybe who wants to remember, National Lampoon’s Vacation with Chevy Chase. Each movie featured the same movie star, perfectly created for the role, perfectly created for the American road: the Ford Country Squire Station Wagon.

Born in 1950 and built by the Ford Motor Company until 1991, the Ford Country Squire was THE premium station wagon. This full-size wagon always featured imitation-wood trim (fiberglass and plastic appliqué) on the doors and tailgate. It could carry up to 9 passengers. The unique side-facing seats fitted into the cargo area were perfect for Tony Montana and his crew to tail a taxi in Scarface, Goldfinger’s henchman Oddjob to insure James Bond’s compliant trip to his lair, or keep the three Doyle brothers entertained throughout the endless hours passed on I45.

Certain versions, like my uncle’s, had an AM/FM-Cassette stereo with a combined and fully-integrated CB two-way radio, and dual-purpose automatic antenna. A folding table with integrated magnetic checkers board and secret lockable safe tricked out his top of the line family cruiser.

In 1966, all Ford wagons introduced the Magic Door Gate which broke all the laws of physics and astounded N.A.S.A. scientists by allowing the tailgate on the vehicle to function as a traditional tailgate that could be lowered, or a door that swung outward for easier access to the seating area. This state of the art space hatch made it easy to access my father’s homemade, four ton camping organizer made out of ¾ inch ply wood and installed in the cargo area for campouts.

The Doyle family never made it to Disney World to see Mickey Mouse. The Doyle’s did not own the Wagon Queen Family Trucker as did the Griswolds in Vacation. However, my parents did own the 1974 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. It smelled like boys, spilled Mr. Pibb and Tab Cola, melted Hostess Cup Cakes, stale New Fangled Pringles Potato Chips, and long pilgrimages to “family fun.”

All things are created with a purpose. The Ford Country Squire Station Wagon was created for the family pilgrimage.

The question is what are we created for?

There are two epiphanal events in Mark’s Gospel. The first is the baptism of Jesus by John. Upon coming out of the water Jesus alone sees the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending. And only Jesus hears the voice of God, “You are my Son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.” This moment is only for Jesus and affirms his status as God’s beloved son: incarnated that all may come to know, love and worship God.

The second event is the transfiguration in our Gospel lesson today, chosen for the last Sunday in Epiphany, Mark 9.2ff.

Jesus, Peter, James and John have gone up to a “high mountain;” echoing the mountain top experiences of Elijah and Moses.

Before the disciples Jesus is transfigured and dawns dazzling clothes of white, the colors of Daniel’s Ancient One, and the color of those martyrs envisioned in the Book of Revelation.

There appears next: Elijah and Moses. They both had epiphanies on mountains at key moments in their ministry. Elijah feeling alone and fleeing into the country-side before he could be killed by authorities hears God’s voice tell him to return, and to call and anoint the two kings and Elisha to join him in his prophetic work. (I Kings 19.11ff)

Moses, having worked tirelessly experiences rejection at the hand of the Hebrews all for the desire of a golden calf. Moses returns to the mountain feeling alone and complains that God has not yet let him know who will go with him. God replies “My presence will go with you and be your partner in this work.” (Exodus 33.12ff)

Jesus comes to this moment after the essential proclamation of his mission: to suffer, be rejected, and be killed. Then he gives his call to discipleship, “If any want to become my followers, deny yourself and take up your cross and follow me.”

Jesus retires to the mountain as the proclamation of the cross turns Mark’s gospel from Gallilee where his ministry has had power and acceptance to Jerusalem where it will be rejected.

Peter misinterprets the whole thing believing it is about the holy moment of transfiguration and does not realize that this is a recreated moment along the way of Jesus. Elijah received companions to join him in the prophetic work of turning the people to God. Moses receives God’s very presence to turn the people to God. Who will join Jesus?

Remember in the very first chapter of Mark, God promises to Jesus to send a messenger ahead to prepare his way. Here Jesus again invites followers to join him and make his way known.

For here in this epiphany we the reader join Peter, James and John not as outside voyeurs but as participants in the journey. God does not speak privately to Jesus here as he did at baptism, but to us, “This is my Son, the beloved, listen to him!”

We are created and called into being disciples to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. By God’s very words to us we are commissioned to listen and to follow. We are his partners, his companions, to carry the prophetic word to God’s people…to turn them…returning them to God’s loving embrace.

Jesus affirms God’s message to us. As we listen he instructs us that once we understand and have experienced the risen Son of Man, the risen Christ, then we must continue the work of proclamation.

The transfiguration story is not about affirming who Jesus is as God’s beloved Son, so much as it is about affirming who we are as followers along the way.

Christians for centuries listened to Jesus and followed him by taking up their cross, and losing their life. Jesus is depending upon God’s promise that we will be partners and companions along the way.

Christ was incarnated so that we might, through the cross and resurrection, come to know and glorify God.

We on the other hand are created that we might reflect and make known to the world God’s love that all might come to know and glorify him. We are to reflect the transfigured Christ to the World.

Deacons, what are you then created for? After all, today the church is changed and made new by your ordination. What are you created for?

If you are going to be deacons then you must do as Jesus instructed. Be a disciple who follows and emulates the actions of his master laying down his life for others. Serve; and in service find yourself redeemed and transformed; find Jesus there, the living Christ of God.

The actions that you manifest in the liturgy are icons to us all of the church’s own vocation to change the world.

When you hold the New Testament and proclaim the Gospel you do it facing the world outside the church re-calling the words, “Follow me” and “Take up your Cross.”

When you face the altar and pray the prayers of the people you bring the concerns, hurts, pains, joys and thanksgivings from the world into the church and lay them at God’s feet.

When you set the table you remind us of the abundance of God’s grace manifest in bread and wine and offered for all who come to Jesus’ table.

When you call forth the dismissal you send us into the world to proclaim the Gospel as prophets, leaders, and servants.

When we see you do these things, these things you have been created to do, our hearts are quickened and our souls are reminded that we too have been promised by the living God to Jesus as companions in his ministry to turn and return God’s people to his loving embrace. We see your actions and remember that we are to proclaim by word and example the Good news of God in Christ and seek to serve Christ in all persons.

Yet if your ministry is only liturgical then you have simply set up booths or tabernacles that are mere shadows of an unfulfilled vocation.

Your proclamation of the resurrected Lord by action has to manifest itself in the world for the symbols to have meaning inside the church.

The church is a subtle mistress. She is all to eager to have you wear the collar, wear the vestments with your crooked stole, and have you serve in her sanctuary leaving the world behind, and binding your hands to the service of her own needs.

If you do not lay down the status the church is all to ready to give you and go out into the world to meet God’s beloved strangers then your proclamation of the Gospel will remain imprisoned in the book from which you read. The God you serve desires that all might come to know him and to experience his love for them. For the shepherd intends to call each stranger by name.

If you do not leave the comfort and the safety of the sacristy to hold the hand of the dying then your prayers offered on behalf of God’s people will only be names on someone else’s list. God intends to know every sparrow and to count every hair upon the head of his people.

If you do not leave the certainty of where the chalice goes and how the paten sits just correctly on the corporal on God’s table and meet the hunger of God’s people then his people will go unfed. For the God you serve intends to multiply loaves and fishes and call the multitudes to his banquet feast.

If you call for us to go out into the world and make Christ known, but stay behind in the shelter of the church the homeless will never find that place where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting. For God intends to gather his people under the shadow of his wing.

Each of you discovered Jesus in your life and along your journey. Each of you found him along the way. Jesus was transfigured in your life and from that transfiguration you discovered your own calling to be deacons.

You discovered that you were created to be servants of the most high God, servants who make the symbols and actions of our liturgy more than words in the Prayer Book.

Last night we surrounded you and we each blessed you. Today I leave you with this blessing and charge. Phyllis, Tracie, Pat, Jody, Barbara please stand.

This blessing is neither unique nor new, I have no pride of authorship, but it is a good blessing for deacons and I hope it will serve you well in your ministry.

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart and deep within God’s world.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom, and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, addiction, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them, and to turn their pain into joy.

And, may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

You are created to be deacons – and today we make it so --change the church and the world by your ministry.

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  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
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