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A fresh awareness of Christ’s presence

Dec 10, 2012

Sermon from the ordination of Jonathan Recabarren, Emily Scott, and Rodney Smith

Saturday before Advent 2-C

Luke 3:1-6


Dear Friends in Christ, especially dear Jonathan, Emily and Rodney: I am honored to preside as you are ordained to the Holy Ministry of Word and Sacrament. I know it has been a long and sometimes tedious process, but we are here today – with thanks to St. Peter’s Church, to Candidacy Committees, to those friends and families who have supported and challenged and sustained you and to God. It is good to gather this morning in the Name of Jesus with ecumenical friends, members of congregations you will serve, and rostered leaders from throughout our synod. We rejoice today.


I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s, so when I think of John the Baptist I often have a kind of hippy-esque image in mind. A sort of Woody Allen vision, half-clothed in camel hair, with a leather girdle from Daffy’s or Target, munching locusts from heaven-knows where, standing with the Occupy folks outside the Stock Exchange. Amid furious, frustrated talk about euros and yens, he shouts like a mad man: "Repent!" Most of the buyers and sellers don’t hear him; the trading is deafening. Most don’t see him; their eyes glued to the screen watching numbers.


The few who do notice him ignore him or shrug their shoulders or summon security to tell him to get lost. It is, after all, New York City. We’re used to people acting out and we have the security personnel to deal with them. He screams: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?"


Now they’re sure he’s nuts.


Then he pleads: "Prepare the way of the Lord" and they reply "The way of who? Get out of here!"


Bizarre? I say no. Call it anachronistic. Twenty some-centuries separate Wall Street from John. But not bizarre, as if it had no relation to reality. Through John –and through you, dear Emily, Rodney, and Jonathan – the Church is proclaiming "Prepare."


The church’s year, the season of Advent, and your years of anticipation and preparation for this day and the days to come,  leave no room for argument. The Lord is coming, and we are to prepare his way. But it doesn’t seem to make sense, does it? Nowhere near the sense it made for the prophets and for John. After all, for us the Lord has already come. First, in swaddling clothes, omnipotence wrapped up by his mother. And each day all over the world in, with and under bread and wine, Godhead here in hiding. And in your inmost being, friend, as long as you love. And in sisters and brothers, like those gathered this morning, like those you – we – are called to serve, people of God at St. Lydia’s, and Fordham, and New Hope, people in this synod,people who are his living images.


The Lord is here – in you, in front of you, all around you. Why all the shenanigans about preparing the way?


Because it comes to crucial questions for Christians: How aware am I of Christ’s presence? Is Jesus Christ the one person who gives ultimate meaning to my life? What we need in Advent, what we need from our pastors including the three of you soon to be ordained, is a fresh awareness of Christ’s presence, an awareness that works a ceaseless change in our lives. We need, from you, that rapturous feeling the Virgin Mary had as she felt the Word made-of-the-flesh-of- her grow within her. We need the emotions that swept over John the Baptist when he recognized the Savior he had been selected to precede.


Which is lovely rhetoric, Bishop.


But how? How do you put flesh and blood on this skeleton, especially we pastors, rostered leaders, you – Rodney and Jonathan and Emily – how?  Several suggestions that I hope will trigger your thoughts and prayers today and in the days and even years to come.


The magic word for Advent and for ministry is not "Awake" but "Aware." So I want to suggest a kind of examination of conscience, a year-end-and-beginning inventory: Where does Christ really rank in your life? In the Top Ten of your thoughts? And this is not only directed to the ordinands or the rostered leaders among us. I’m talking to all, everyone. Where does he rank? Not abstractly; very concretely. In shared time, in real interest, in reflection, contemplation, discussion. Where does Christ rank?


And, more: time is indeed your enemy and, dear pastors, it will continue to be so. I am not asking for extra time off from your congregation, but maybe something as corny as an occasional coffee break for Christ, a little break from the frantic pace of this life to ponder on the God who ought to be the center of your existence.


And more: worship is the center of our life as the Church and the Eucharist is the heart and soul of our spiritual life. There is no better way to welcome Christ within you. Each Eucharist, including this one, is an advent, a fresh coming of Christ into your inmost being, including yours as you preside at Christ’s Table.


And, you know, more: be aware, all of you and especially you three, be aware that Christ comes to you in others. When we feed others, clothe others, care for others, visit others  - we meet Christ and Advent is no longer four weeks long but every day.  For Christ can come to you, dear friends, wherever and whenever your eyes meet another person’s eyes;  for your eyes are meeting Christ’s eyes, if only you have the eyes to see.


More, still: the toughest one in many ways, let Christ come to you in your crosses. I doubt that any one of you beyond the age of two has not encountered some kind of crucifixion. The nails have countless forms, from the acne on an adolescent’s cheek, through the schizophrenia that severs the human spirit, to the terminal cancer, to the ruined houses and dashed hopes in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. I beg you – especially you who are pastors – do not try to carry your cross alone. I’m not saying you cannot; I am saying it’s a lousy idea. A cross makes Christian sense only if you meet Christ on it along with other Christians, other pastors, me, and only of on your cross you are transformed into Christ. I pray that, every day each one of you, will become more and more you, the unique person Christ died to shape.


You, dear Jonathan, Rodney and Emily, are gifts to us. Know that. Feel that. Remember that.

We are so thankful that God has brought you to this day and this place and our synod.


So today, in this Advent Season which is already filled with gifts, celebrate what you have:

the gift that was first given to you from a stable in Palestine, the gift that has been given to the world throughout these centuries, the gift that rests within you and now comes to you again in this Holy Communion: God’s own Son, God’s love in flesh. This is the one gift you will enjoy most fully if you realize that you already have it, the gift which you are privileged to share – all of you – as with John and Mary and Jonathan and Emily and Rodney you prepare the way.


Bishop Robert Alan Rimbo


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