Sermon – February 3, 2013
The Fourth Sunday After the Epiphany – Year C RCL
The Rev. William Carl Thomas
First Sunday as Priest-in-Charge,
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Charleston West Virginia
Many people who serve in the military create an “I love me wall.” Clergy have a tendency to do much the same. Being that I’m a priest who served for six years as a Chaplain in the U.S. Army Reserve, it was inevitable that a portion of my office display framed copies of my ordination and institution certificates, diplomas from college and seminary, two army achievement awards, one army commendation, and my blessed honorable discharge!
One day long ago in a parish faraway, I looked closely at this wall of credentials and realized something was missing. I went home, searched through box after box until I finally found my certificate of holy baptism. I put it on the wall in a way that made it clear that baptism was my entrance into ministry and that the certificates of ordination that proclaimed me to be deacon and priest flowed from that first sacramental moment.
Today’s scripture out of the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah is one that is often read at the ordination of a deacon: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.” The potential of the newly ordained person is bound up in the love that makes life possible. This potential, however, began to unfold much earlier, at the moment of Holy Baptism, when the latest member of the church is received into the household of God, called to confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with the church in Christ’s eternal priesthood. I needed to remember this moment to keep in perspective the authority that comes from being set apart within the church as deacon and now priest. My baptismal certificate foreshadowed my potential that God knew before I was even in my mother’s womb.
My daughter Melinda’s birth in 1980 foreshadowed my call to the priesthood. Getting her baptized was God’s way of getting me to rediscover church. God’s invitation resulted in finding the gift of the Episcopal Church. Just shy of three years and two moves later, Edna, Melinda, and I were expecting the baby that turned out to be Adam. With Edna a month from delivery, we finally found a church home at St. Bartholomew’s in Yarmouth Maine. They were just beginning to renovate and expand the church building, which was once a two-bay gas station. On our first Sunday, we entered through a door that was originally the manager’s office and now served as the nursery. The sanctuary ceiling still had residue from oily car repair. But the people, oh, the people, were filled with welcome and love. They were on their way to calling a fulltime priest after two decades of struggle. Over the next three years, the witness of the laity and the support of their new priest showed me the power in what is called Mutual Ministry. This balance of shared gifts among laity and clergy provided an impact I still feel this day. When I think of my baptismal certificate, I remember those wonderful people. I believe God offered a foreshadowing of when I would be at my best as a priest and pastor when I remember how love was shared in Yarmouth Maine.
Movies use foreshadowing to bring the audience into the story. If you’ve seen Wedding Crashers, you have experienced what may have been an unintentional yet very humorous foreshadowing of the power of love. The two main characters crash weddings to meet girls. They bet on who will be more successful. The movie opens with them betting on which scripture will be read. Money changes hands when the old priest begins the reading with “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and angels, but do not have love.” The power of love foreshadows the change for the better when these two lonely men finally meet their soul mates. Watch the movie with your bible open to First Corinthians 13:1-13. You’ll find a love in action that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” You’ll laugh as you encounter the love that never ends.
My baptism, your baptism, reminds us, to quote Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “God does not love us because we are loveable, we are loveable because God loves us.” This is the love that is, as the Apostle Paul writes, patient, kind, not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Such love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. The experience of this love in Yarmouth Maine prepared Edna and me to receive an invitation from God that would lead me to become a priest.
And now I am your priest. St. Peter’s reminds me in so many ways what it was like to be a part of St. Bartholomew’s. Responsible laity who care for God’s people with the same passion they care for God’s house. This is why I have acknowledged the restored green roof to be the sign of an oasis of God’s love in West Huntington. Together, with God’s help, we share in Christ’s eternal priesthood as we confess the faith of Christ crucified and proclaim his resurrection.
The love for us declared in Christ’s resurrection is one we see in mirror dimly when we let our worldly worries draw us away from that love. When we worry we act, speak, think, and reason as a child. But when we put an end to childish ways, as was so hard for those two characters in the Wedding Crashers movie, we become adults. But even then we see in a mirror dimly. To see face-to-face is to see love. To quote Jean Valjean from another movie filled with the foreshadowing of God’s love that overcomes a world griped by childish ways, “To love another person is to see the face of God.”
Soon we will pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Have you seen a glimpse of “Thy kingdom come?” I wager you find it in the words of love that set the Wedding Crashers to end their childish ways. These words remind us that we are not alone when, with God’s help as we pray in the Baptismal Covenant, we are so bold to say “Thy will be done.”
The Letter to the Hebrews pronounces our potential as the people and priest of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, Huntington West Virginia. These words foreshadow the invitation into the strength offered by God’s love for those who share in Christ’s eternal priesthood: “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” When we share love with the faith of thy kingdom come, the hope of thy will be done, we glimpse on earth, first as a foreshadow and then experience more fully face to face, the love as it is in heaven. Truly, faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these, love, makes is possible for even us to be loveable.
All these words I offer in the name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.