Send a tornado – an ordination sermon
The Rev. Canon Frank Logue gave this sermon at St. Paul the Apostle Episcopal Church in Savannah, Georgia on May 14, 2016 for the ordination of Donald Holland, Ian Lasch, Tommy Townsend, and Ray Whiting to the Sacred Order of Deacons.
Send a tornado into their hearts – An Ordination Sermon
“What does this mean?” Bewildered, amazed, astonished, and perplexed is how our reading from the Acts of the Apostles describes the crowd gathering that Pentecost following Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Devout Jews from every nation under heaven are living in Jerusalem. Each person hears someone talking in their mother tongue, the language of home. The Good News of Jesus flows fluently from somewhere. As they gather, those seeking the source of the commotion discover a gaggle of Galileans full of the Holy Ghost.
The crowd levels at the disciples a version of the same complaint made against Jesus: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth”. How can these hicks just in from the sticks be speaking clearly in the language of Parthians, Medes, Egyptians, and so on. In the midst of their bewildered amazement, one solution presents itself: These men must be drunk. The part left unsaid is, “Hello. Galileans.”
God is doing a new thing and the crowd gathering on that day when the Holy Spirit first came in power has only their old categories. Based on the existing prejudices about a group of Galileans, the way to make sense of this Pentecost event is to dismiss the clear proclamation of the Gospel as mere nonsense, because the messengers are fishermen, a tax collector, a zealot, and so on—far from the spiritual elite. The devout Jews from all over the world want to know can we possibly hear God speak through such clearly imperfect vessels as these men?
The question is probably more relevant than you would like me to admit. We are here this morning to take part in the ordination of Donald, Ian, Ray, and Tommy to the Sacred Order of Deacons. So I will repeat the question, “How can we possibly hear God speak through such clearly imperfect vessels as these men?”
Don’t hear me wrong. I think the world of all four ordinands, but to prepare for this sermon I read back through the spiritual autobiographies of all four men and read their extensive psychological reports and more in the five inch stack of paperwork collected by the Diocese of Georgia in the past four or more years. Certainly, those psychological reports did not reveal these men to be any crazier than the rest of us, but spending time with their life stories does show that the path to this day has not been a straight line for any of them. While no individual among the four shares all of these characteristics, as a group they have experienced severe health issues, alcoholism, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, periods of doubt and unforgiveness or of notable pride and arrogance, broken marriages, and other twists and turns to their lives so that each of them has friends who will hear of today and think, “Really. What is the church thinking?”
This is where the deacons, priest, and bishop can say, “Welcome to the club.” We too gave some people who heard of our ordinations pause to wonder if the church might be scraping the bottom of the barrel. This has been the reaction to those God calls to serve him since before Mary spoke to an angel and learned, among other things, her next conversation with Joseph would be a doozy or even before Miriam learned that God called her stuttering brother Moses when he was on the run for murder.
The Pentecost event was not, however, successful in converting 3,000 new followers of Jesus in spite of the disciples being a bunch of hicks from the sticks, but in part because they were not women and men of letters. The imperfect vessels were the best possible way to deliver the message that God knows you as you are, with all your flaws and with all the ways you fall short, and God loves you anyway – completely, wholeheartedly.
For the congregation here gathered, please know that you do not get off the hook. We are not making four deacons so they can share God’s love and you can go on about your business. The same untamed spirit of God wants to use you. For the church to be the Body of Christ that God means it to be, we just don’t need that many deacons or priests and very few bishops. 99 in 100 Christians are not called to ordained ministry because God needs more students, teachers, nurses, engineers, scientists, real estate agents, plumbers, policemen, pharmacists, librarians, moms, dads, and so on, set on fire by the power of the Holy Spirit. The work of deacon and priests is not instead of the priesthood of all believers, but in support of the ministry of all the baptized. What I am saying about God using imperfect people to share a perfect love applies to everyone here.
Of course I could also laud many excellent qualities in our four ordinands. They are certainly smart, capable, and accomplished. I just want to be clear that the many ways in which they have their acts together are probably beside the point. God seems to have a preference for cracked or even badly broken and lovingly repaired containers. We need to have fallen short of our own hopes or ideals to see how we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God and yet God does not give up on us. You can’t give away what you don’t have and if you haven’t been healed or forgiven or loved when unlovely, then you might have trouble giving away the grace that comes from God alone. If you have not needed to repent and return to the Lord, amending your life along the way, it will be more difficult to offer that path to others.
I don’t believe God needs us broken before the Holy Spirit can work with and through us. Yet until we experience brokenness, pain, or loss, we tend to think we can do just fine without Jesus. Sometimes we don’t see how much we need a higher power until we hit bottom so hard we crack the sidewalk when we land.
The Good News of Jesus Christ is that God does not stand back as a big meanie hell bent on judging and punishing us. God entered into the creation by taking on human flesh, becoming one of us in Jesus. He came into this world turned away from God, loving those who others did not even want to see, bringing healing and wholeness to the hurting and giving community to those cut off from others because of disease, prejudice, or sin.
God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but in order to make salvation real in our lives the love that was in God from before the foundation of the world. How better to offer undeserved grace than through undeserving servants doing their best to live into being the person God called her or him to be? This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
When Bishop Benhase lays hands on each of the ordinands, he will pray: “Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, give your Holy Spirit to Ray…Tommy…Ian…Donald; fill him with grace and power, and make him a deacon in your Church.”
Those words “Give your Holy Spirit” are an invitation to that wild wind, breath, spirit of God that hovered over the waters in creation to bring order out of chaos to touch the heart of each new deacon. The effect we hope for is something more like:
Therefore, Father, through Jesus Christ your Son, send a tornado into the heart of Ray…Tommy…Ian…Donald….
That is what it means to pray for the Holy Spirit. If you think I overstate my case, take the hour an a half needed to read all of the Acts of the Apostles in one sitting. That book tells how the Movement continued after Jesus’ resurrection. You soon get the picture that the Holy Spirit makes lives better, richer, fuller, but also much more difficult, dangerous, precarious. When those first followers are not getting beaten or imprisoned, they are shipwrecked. In reading Acts, one discovers the Holy Spirit is not just wild but untameable, even by the church.
This day is all about asking that untamed spirit of God to have her way with these four ordinands. Ordination is not a promotion as there is no step up in the Kingdom of God from baptized Christian. The call to ordained ministry is not to something higher or better, but to a particular way of serving God in the midst of the community or church. We ask God to make the person a deacon. This becomes who the ordinand is, and not merely something the deacon does.
The call to serve as a deacon is the call to servant ministry. This call is shared by all Christians. Every one of us is to serve others as an important way we follow Jesus. A deacon serves as an icon of that outward oriented life. When a deacon gets this right, the fruit of ministry is not just that he or she serves the lost and the left out, but that other Christians also come to serve using the gifts God has given them.
Of course, we know that ordaining these four persons to the Sacred Order of Deacons is in preparation for their ordination to the priesthood. The temptation is to think they are not real deacons. That is true in the sense that we do intend to ordain them to the priesthood. But the church in its wisdom does not trust priests to serve within the church, building up the saints for ministry, lest they first experience ordained ministry focused outside the walls of the church.
I challenge you each, to find a significant way to live into the ministry of a deacon during this time of formation. The church does not need pretend deacons. The church needs true servants more concerned about the poor, the weak, the sick, and the lonely than for those safely ensconced within the pews. You will be a deacon. Pray for God to show you how you can so serve while you are a deacon and then have the courage to act.
The untameable spirit of God that hovered over the waters in creation still hovers over the chaos of human lives. That same spirit has called you to serve God through serving others. We gather today not to honor you, promote you, or to lift you up. We gather to pray that God will send a tornado through your heart, leaving you afflicted with the blessing of seeing others as God sees them, so you can’t help but love and serve them.