This is a sermon I preached at the ordination of my friend and new colleague, Robert Dilday, at St. Andrew's Church, Richmond VA on Saturday, December 14, 2019.
It is a privilege to be here today, with you, Bishop Susan, and with you, Andrew our host, and with you, Robert, and this great cloud of witnesses of family, friends, and colleagues who have come to surround you with love and support and to rejoice for you and with you. This is a great day for the church.
Perhaps those with little experience of our particular rituals might wonder what we think we are doing this morning. While the ordination rite in our church does not include the actual flying snakes and burning coals that are part of Isaiah’s story of answering God’s call, and we are not going to present you with any actual sheep, for you to shepherd, Robert (although wouldn’t it be fun if we did?) this rite is an outward sign of your inward call to serve God as a priest in God’s church. It is an affirmation of that call in community. And we are here to support you as you take your vows. And hear your charge from the Bishop, to pray with you that God, with the Son and through the Holy Spirit, will fill you with grace and power and make you a priest today.
Recently, some friends who are not church goers were visiting my family, and we drove by the church where I serve and where you, Robert, will begin serving tomorrow morning, and I pointed it out to them. They made the appropriate remarks (it is impressive, look at those windows, Episcopal churches are always the most beautiful) and then said, but what is it that you actually do all day?
What’s your typical day like? they asked.
And to begin, even though I inwardly laughed at the word “typical,” I mentioned some of the things I do - visit people in the hospital and in their homes; teach Bible classes and plan services; officiate at worship as well as weddings and funerals; I welcome people into the church through baptism. Perhaps on a “typical” day I do several of these priestly things. Or I might just talk a lot about Jesus.
And then the subject changed (perhaps I was boring even though I hadn’t even gotten to the part about editing bulletins) and I was left to muse to myself that I had not really said what it is that I believe I do.
What I believe is that, as priests, the “doing” is not so much about our daily tasks or activities, however good they are, and however much of our time they take up. There’s something deeper that undergirds the classes and the pastoral care and the leading of worship. What I believe is that we are called to be attuned to God in a particular way. Some describe this as being a God detector, being alert to the presence of God. I call it being a watcher-outer for the Holy.
That is to say that we are called to notice the Holy in this world, now, not just way back when, and to hold it up, to point to it, to say to the world around us, “Look at this! And look at that! Look at this beautiful thing that God is doing; let’s join in. Look at this beautiful person that God created; let’s treat her with dignity. Look at this situation, and where do we find God in it and how can we work with God in it?” Because we don’t bring God anywhere but we do look for God everywhere.
So while everyone is rushing around, hurrying past, we are called to be still, to look, to see, to reorient and realign ourselves toward the Divine in the midst of whatever mess, whatever difficulty, whatever noise is swirling about us, and to encourage others to join us there so that we can give people hope when they are discouraged by all the crazy and dysfunction and grief and despair, when all they can see is the shattered and the broken, the pain and the chaos.
Being a watcher-outer for the Holy is not like being a caricature of Pollyanna, though, simply playing the Glad Game. It is sustained by fervent prayer, not simple platitudes, and a willingness to look deeply at stuff others would rather look away from and to look with an open heart and mind. It requires you to be very brave.
And through it you will experience deep sorrow and deep joy and sometimes both at once, because what you are doing is born of Divine love,born of the Holy.
You will develop your own eyes, Robert, your own way of looking and seeing and holding up the Holy for us to see. You will need to make time for that, because the to do list and the nuts and bolts work of parish ministry can fill your every day.
But the church needs your vision, needs to see what you see, and it needs your love. It needs your witness. It needs you to believe when we are running dry.
And the world needs your ministry. It needs your passion and your guidance. It needs you to take that time to watch and to find your particular way of illuminating the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
We all look forward to learning from you the new thing that God is doing through you in our midst. We look forward to seeing what you see. For God has called you to the priesthood for such a time as this.
To God be the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.