First sermon as an ordination exploration intern to a mid-size to large Episcopal
Church in the colonial capital of Williamsburg Virginia.
Good morning folks, it is a pleasure to be here at St. Martins although I must
confess to some anxiety. This mornings epistle reminds us not to be anxious about
anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, we are to present
our requests to God. So allow me begin with short prayer flare.
Dear Lord, You alone are worthy of praise, you alone are exalted. And You promise to
inhabit the praises of Your people. We thank You Lord for your presence here this morning.
Father, may what I say here today fall on deaf ears and may what You say through me fall
on open hearts and open minds. We pray this in our Saviors name, the name of Jesus,
As I stand here before you this morning, I confess to having a minor case of
butterflies or flutterflies as the younger ones might call it. In an attempt to break the
ice, and having nothing to do with my message this morning, Id like to share a short
story with you.
There were two little boys who were placed next to each other in the pre-operative ward
of a local hospital. They were understandably a bit anxious about the surgery they each
faced and were also suffering from a case of the flutterflies. One of the little boys, as
he fidgeted in his bed, turned to the other and asked What are they going to do to
you? The other boy nervously answered back Take out my tonsils. The
first boy then said Oh, I had my tonsils out when I was 8, it hurt a little but I
remember getting lots of ice cream and being treated really special. So the
second boy asked the first one Well what are they going to do to you? The
first boy answered Im going to be circumcised
The second boy then
said Oh, I had that done shortly after I was born. I couldnt walk for about a
As most of you probably know by now, Im an ordination exploration intern and a
participant in the Diocesan Ordination Exploration Program or OEP to be short. Your vestry
and Father Pickett have agreed to host my family and me for about 12 weeks. And were
very glad to be here. Weve been greeted with open arms and have been made to feel
very welcome. And we thank all of you for that.
As part of the intern ministry phase of the OEP, I get to preach a couple of Sundays,
meet with a lay committee about 8 or 9 times, serve in a variety of different ways and
basically be exposed to the life of the clergy here at St. Martins. Ive been
blessed with the fact that there is more than one ordained person serving the community
here and will hopefully be spending time with each of them as well.
I have the luxury, as a lay person seeking ordination, to be able to bring you a
message today. However I do so with fear and trembling and with a couple of disclaimers.
(Smile) Im not seminary trained. Im not an experienced public speaker. So if I
say something up here that is less than sound, I ask for your mercy. And if I offend, then
I ask for your forgiveness as I plead ignorance and inexperience
although they sound
like pretty decent loopholes if you ask me. Maybe I should never go to seminary (smile).
Seriously, Im hoping that in some way at least one of you might, as the lectern
reads, see Jesus
or more accurately hear Him today from the pulpit.
Father Pickett agreed that I could stray from the lectionary readings today and talk
about my perceptions concerning the call to ministry.
The Scriptures clearly describe what some have called the doctrine of the priesthood of
all believers. In 1st Peter we read that We (meaning all believers) are a chosen
race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, that we might proclaim the
mighty acts of Him who called us out of darkness and into His marvelous light. We
are already priests, in the sense that we have been commissioned by God to proclaim the
Gospel to all nations and to teach that which Jesus has commanded and remind all that He
is with us, till the end of the age. We are all called to serve others as He did. We are
all called to love others as He did. We are all called to be Christ-like to our loved ones
and to our enemies. All of which we cannot do absent the power and the presence of
Gods Holy Spirit and our submission to that person of the Holy Trinity.
Lets get back for a moment to the phrase priesthood of believers.
How, exactly, might we be priests to our neighbors, our friends, our family?
We begin by ministering to each other. We are capable of responding directly to the
personal activity of God in our own lives by sharing what we have experienced. By the
power of Gods Holy Spirit, at the direction of the written word of Scripture, we are
able to comfort, to guide, to assist, to empower, and to enlighten those who do or do not
know Jesus intimately. This is accomplished in large part because we now have direct
access to God. No longer is there a need for a mediator between God and us. The Lord Jesus
Christ is our mediator. You and I are able to be the channel or the pipeline of Gods
Holy Spirit. We are able to mediate Gods grace in prayer, confession, fellowship or
simple witness in particular situations. At one time in Israelite history, a curtain was
used to close off the holy place and the holy of holies in the Temple, where God's
presence was manifest. The Scriptures record the tearing of this curtain from top to
bottom at the time of Jesus' death, symbolizing the access that was granted to God the
Father, through God the Son, by God the Holy Spirit.
Ill personalize what I mean by this direct access to God by telling you folks
about my cousin. He was a couple of years older than I was and he too was named Rick. When
we were kids, since he was older, he was called Big Rick and I was called Little Rick.
Those names stuck with us into our adult lives even though I eventually became bigger than
Roughly ten years or so ago, Big Rick was found to have a brain tumor. The family was
understandably distraught. He had to undergo some very serious and very complicated
surgery. Roughly the same time, I had just started attending a Episcopal Church on the
south side. I had in fact, after nearly 20 years of absence, only recently returned to
Church. I had been witness to and had experienced incredible things at this church, to
include some rather dramatic healings. Gods presence had been manifested time and
When we were told of Big Ricks condition, I wanted the priest of that church to
come and pray for and with him. I wanted him to lay hands on Big Rick and pray for
healing, as I had seen him do for others. Unfortunately, the priest wouldnt or
perhaps couldnt come. Instead, he gently asked me to do the praying. He shared a
number of Scriptures with me. He was loving and gracious. He prayed with me and for me
over the phone. He tried to encourage me but when that call ended, I was less than happy.
I thought it was his job alone to pray with people. This bothered me for a very long time.
I decided however to muster up the courage, swallow my anger, and go and pray with and for
Big Rick. Of course, I was to find out that many others were praying for him as well. His
tumor was successfully removed and his recovery from the surgery was remarkable. He was on
his feet in less than 24 hours. His determination to live and fight this disease was
simply incredible. The cancer went in to remission. We were able to spend quite a bit of
time together. In fact, within a few short months we were even able to play a round of
golf together. It was an incredible comeback from very serious surgery. Sadly however, the
cancer returned with a vengeance less than two years later. Again, we prayed. Rick fought
valiantly and hard. Our faith was tested. But far too soon, and at far too young an age,
Big Rick eventually succumbed to the cancer.
Many had prayed with Big Rick. He himself had prayed. We had prayed for healing. We had
prayed for a miracle. Yet he slowly wasted away and then passed on. I can distinctly
remember being called to the hospital shortly after his death. It was a terribly upsetting
time. He had been such a fighter. He had been an inspiration to all of us. He had written
a letter to the editor that was published in the Daily Press about his ordeal. A letter
that had given comfort and aid to many who were also suffering from one disease or
another. After paying my respects there in his hospital room, I found an isolated hallway
with a window that overlooked the water. And there I broke down. I was physically heaving
with sobs of anguish, sorrow and anger. Right there in the hallway, I cried out to God.
Why? Why wasnt he healed Lord?
In the middle of that very emotional event, literally in mid-sob, a peace that to this
day continues to baffle came over me. I heard, certainly not audibly with my ears, more
like my heart, or my spirit, a voice say that Big Rick had received healing. He had
received the ultimate healing. He was now whole. He was with Jesus. The Scriptures tell us
that upon death, believers are absent from the body and present with the Lord. I believe
that truth was confirmed for me about Rick by Gods presence in that hallway with me,
a presence manifested by a gentle, sweet and assuring peace.
That peace I experienced, alone in that hallway at the hospital, is a peace that is
available to each of us. I have been able to share that moment with others, whove
told me of the peace it brings them. It is a peace Im sure some of you have also
experienced. It is that peace I think we all long for, especially when we face pain or
sorrow. I had not experienced anything quite as intense as I had that day. The memory of
it is vivid, and the memory is greatly comforting. God manifested His presence that day to
me, of that I am certain. And I am just as certain that He has done the same for countless
others. And it is those manifestations I believe we are obligated to share with each other
so that we might fulfill our obligations as ministers of the priesthood of believers,
bringing hope and comfort, assurance and consolation, to people in need.
Direct access to God by the power of the Holy Spirit, through our mediator Jesus
Christ. Ive talked about the priesthood of believers, and the responsibilities we
have as members of that priesthood. And how I stepped out uncomfortably and reluctantly to
assume some of those responsibilities. But what about the ordained priesthood? And more
specifically, why might one believe he or she is called to seek it?
What Im about to share should certainly fall under the definition of opinion.
Remember, I said that Im not seminary trained. You folks have a wealth of
experienced clergy who can shed more light on this. Nevertheless, were accustomed to
hearing an occasional opinion coming from the pulpit, and so Ill share a few myself.
The ordained priest is the shepherd of the priesthood of believers. Every organization
is in need of leadership, of direction and guidance, of encouragement for the task at
hand. There is a great need for good pilots who can fly passengers through good or bad
weather, for captains who can navigate through calm or treacherous waters, for
quarterbacks who can lead the team to victory despite adversity but priestly leadership
isnt rooted in these more secular examples. No, priestly leadership needs to model
the leadership that Christ modeled. Servant-leadership is the name some have called it.
I remember attending a vestry meeting where this became a subject of discussion. The
priest drew a large triangle. He said it represented a typical leadership model, where at
the top of the triangle, where the two sides formed a point, stood the leader. From the
top, as you cascaded down to the flat bottom of the triangle, were different levels
representing staff and their underlings, and finally at the bottom, those who were being
led. He then inverted the triangle, standing it on its point. He drew a symbol for a
priest at the bottom. The implication being that the priest was there to serve the people.
Lead, of course. Teach and preach, absolutely, but always in the context of service;
always with Jesus Christ as head and always under the submission of Gods Holy
I agree completely with that vision of the priesthood. The moment the inverted
triangular representation of the priesthood attempts to right itself, and begins to mimic
the leadership triangle of the secular world, dysfunction is the result, and heartache is
the inevitable consequence.
Of course, there are other duties that are more obvious responsibilities of the priest.
The administration of the sacraments is so important. The sacraments have been defined as
that expression of an outward sign carrying inward spiritual power. They are reminders of
what God has done for us in the person of Jesus Christ. And administering, as well as
participating in those responsibilities is to be taken solemnly and seriously. St. Paul
tells us in Scripture that we are to examine ourselves, and only then eat of the bread and
drink of the cup. I know that I am sometimes guilty of forgetting what the Eucharist is
really all about. It is the job of the ordained to teach these important elements of the
faith to us.
I also believe that an important function of the ordained priest is that role described
by the Book of Common of Prayer as the guarding of the faith, unity, and discipline of the
Church. I see this as being largely accomplished when one preaches and teaches from the
Holy Scriptures, and attempts to encourage loving adherence to the lessons learned. I
believe Faith is guarded when it is proclaimed boldly. I believe that unity is guarded
when it is founded in the person of Jesus Christ. And I believe that discipline is guarded
when it is taught not as punishment but as those boundaries that God has placed upon us to
keep us from harming others and ourselves.
A call to ministry will be accompanied, I believe by the Holy Spirits gifts of
servant-leadership skills, either those acquired or learned later in life, as one submits
to His leading, or those innate, those who are born with such skills. I believe it is part
of our job, the churchs job, to recognize those gifts in others.
I have shared with Father Pickett and others that Im grateful for the word
exploration that is part of the name of this Ordination Exploration Program. Im
exploring. Im looking. I believe I know what Im looking to find. But if
Ive learned anything in the last 10 years as a re-generated Christian, its
that the pronoun I should be seldom used. The pronoun I can be an
indicator for the noun trouble. Trouble with a capital
T. And so in reality, the OEP is a we thing. We, my immediate
family, we, my church family, we, my extended church family, are exploring this call. This
means you folks here today, the folks at my home church Christ The King, the appointed St.
Martins committee, the Diocesan Commission on Ministry, my family and finally me, we
all have a role to play in this discernment process. And we certainly cannot leave out God
the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
Lets pray: Father in heaven, Your name is hallowed in this place, your holiness
is manifest, even as we pray. Father, send Your Holy Spirit and grant wisdom, direction,
and guidance to Your church. Father not just as it concerns this exploration program. But
as it concerns the work you have willed for each and every one of us. Father, show us who
we are to be. For when we are who you call us to be, the doing becomes second nature. May
we be only that which brings glory to Your Son Jesus, in whose mighty name we now pray,