Sunday, June 23, 2013

Sermon for the ordination of Linnea Stifler to the priesthood

St. Martin of Tours Episcopal Church, Kalamazoo, MI. (Note: This is offered in written form only)

I begin with a “Celtic Prayer” by David Adam:

The terminus
is not where we stay,
it is the beginning
of a new journey
It is where we
reach out beyond,
where we experience
new adventures.
It is where we get off
to enter new territory,
to explore new horizons,
to extend our whole being.
It is a place
touching the future.
It opens up new vistas.
It is the gateway
to eternity.

In the realm of God there is always hope. Our hope is in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, in whom we have eternal life – life in the eternal presence of God.

We are a resurrection people. We believe – we know – that new life always follows death, and so, we don’t fear death. In fact, we don’t fear anything because we know that God Almighty, who created us and redeemed us, also sustains us. If we are breathing, we see the evidence of God sustaining us. What then can we possibly fear?

As followers of Christ we move through the cycles of our lives with the confidence borne of our faith that each step is taking us where God’s purpose for us will be fulfilled. Each hardship we face not only builds our spiritual character and endurance but also give us opportunity to watch the redeeming love of God in action. It’s a source of our stories to share about how good the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ really is.

Since our reality is that we live in the eternal life given to us by our Savior, Jesus Christ, there is no end for us – no death - only places of new beginnings. The Latin word for this is “terminus.”

Here we are – in a moment of terminus because today we gather to make a new priest. We are marking the end of what was for Linnea and for the Church, and opening ourselves to the new thing God is doing in us. And in the way only God can manage, this new thing is an act of loving fulfillment not only for Linnea, or for the St. Martin’s where she will serve, but also for the whole people of God.

I don’t say that lightly, and it isn’t an overstatement. We are a people united in the love of God. We are one. What happens to one happens to all of us. This moment of terminus is not just for Linnea, but for us all.

In her book, “The Great Emergence” Phyllis Tickle, a leading voice in the emergence church movement, describes 500 year cycles of life, death, and resurrection in the life of the church. These cycles are punctuated by moments of terminus – moments wherein the established systems and institutional structures of the church move toward their death so that a new thing can begin. Phyllis suggests that we are currently in one of those moments of terminus, and this one is leading us to a spiritual reformation.

Entering into the dying part of our cycles is always hard. But within each moment of terminus, God makes available to us people who keep us deeply and intimately connected to God so that we don’t lose hope, for example, St. Brendan, the great Celtic mystic from the first 500 year cycle; St. Hildegard of Bingen, from the second 500 year cycle; St. Terésa of Avila from the third 500 year cycle.

Now we wait… and watch… and welcome those voices, sent to us by God, who will help us connect with God and remember our hope, so that we can faithfully and confidently extend our whole beings and explore the new territory God is placing before us.

Linnea is one of those voices. Will she be another Hildegard or Terésa? Only God knows that, and I know Linnea well enough to know that is NOT her goal. I also know her well enough to make that bold a statement: Linnea is one of those voices.

Linnea lives a life of deep and intimate connection with God. It is from this deep connection that she will proclaim the Good News and be a shepherd for God’s people. Isn’t that what the Church needs from its priests?

Anyone who knows Linnea knows she has the gift of tears. When Linnea first began her discernment for ordination, this gift was truly (and literally) overflowing, and she was concerned that it might be a hindrance in her ministry. Linnea once asked me, “How can I distribute communion to people if I’m sobbing all over the communion bread?” I assured Linnea that her gift would not be a hindrance, but I’m not sure she was convinced of that back then.

I’ve been gone for 4 years, so I wasn’t sure where Linnea had gone with this gift. But when she greeted me last night at our hotel, there were the tears and my heart leaped for joy. In Linnea’s eyes, which are the window of her soul, I saw holy joy, and in that moment our souls were connected and we were lifted up into God. I am thankful that this gift, which is one of Linnea’s many gifts, is as powerful now as it ever was.

As Washington Irving once said, “There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are messengers of overwhelming grief...and unspeakable love.” (Source: And I would add to that: they are manifest evidence of an intimate connection with the heart of God and a vehicle by which others are brought there…because this isn’t just about Linnea.

When we gather to make a presbyter for the Church, it is a moment of terminus for the whole community. In the Episcopal Church, discernment is always done individually and in community. The office of priesthood is but one of four orders in our church and none operates alone or above another.

It’s a bit like a choir. All of our voices singing together make a sound that none can make alone. And, remember, it isn’t just us singing. We believe that our voices join with the heavenly chorus and together we sing our “Hosanna! – Holy, holy, holy!” making a sound only God can orchestrate.

And that’s why we can run without fear into the new territory God is placing before us. We can explore the new horizons before us with confidence borne of our faith that our God who created us and recreates us everyday, our God who Redeemed us in Jesus the Christ and made us a resurrection people, our God whose Spirit dwells in us and sustains us every moment of our lives – now leads us into the harvest with Good News to share for the healing of souls.

If we will go… Today we confirm that we will go - all of us – each fulfilling the purpose for which God made us.

I close with a favorite prayer of mine, the Prayer of St. Brendan (as the St. Mary’s folk know). I’ve asked St. Brendan for dispensation to change it from first person to third for our purpose here today and he was OK with that… so let us pray:

Lord, we will trust You.
Help us to journey beyond the familiar
And into the unknown.
Give us the faith to leave old ways
And break fresh ground with You.

Christ of the mysteries, we trust You
To be stronger than each storm within us.
We will trust in the darkness and know
That our times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune our spirits to the music of heaven,
And somehow, make our obedience count for You.



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