January 12th, 2020, The Baptism of Our Lord, YR A
“…just as He came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to Him and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove…”
Well, here we are. The last time that we will be right here, together. The last time we will be gathered around this this humble and collapsible pulpit together.
This has been just about the best place in my ministry here amongst you, right here. This is the church being the church at its churchyist. Well, I don’t know. Egan is pretty darn churchy. And so is a Stephen minister having tea with their care receiver. That’s pretty churchy. So are potlucks. Does it get any churchier than a potluck? I think we need more hotdish and jello related products to church up the potlucks here, but they are still pretty darn churchy.
I love being right here with you. Outside of the little family space Windy and I have carved out of the world, right here, wearing a cape on Sunday mornings I feel the most me, I think I am the most me, the most what God intends for me in this life.
I love this space here with you. And for my last sermon, I have wanted to end on a high note. I thought of a Fr. Brent’s greatest hits, leaving you with a theological handbook of what I think is most important: like the fact that the sky is falling, because it is, but then again it has always been falling; the path of least resistance is what makes the river run crooked; baby-steps to the kingdom; sometimes daylish prayer is all we got in us (and that’s ok). But you know that stuff.
I was going to reflect back what I know about you, what the Church of the Resurrection is (or appears to be) from the leeward side of the pulpit; but I knew I’d never get those words out today, so I did that last week and the words mostly got out.
I love being right here with you. I have struggled with what to say, and how, and wondering what I was actually going to be able to say without being too choked up that I have been totally stressed about it, uncharacteristically at a loss for words. (I am never at a loss for words – a key discernable point if you are considering a priestly vocation). I have wrestled with what to say and then Windy brought home a stack of Anne Lamont books and I was reminded of her great book on prayer, Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers. Yes they are and that is what I want to say to you. Help. Thanks. Wow.
Actually, we’re past help, ya’ll and me. Right after the Creed we’re going to use the rite for ending a pastoral relationship from the Book of Occasional Services. (It is right between “Concerning Exorcism” and “Blessing of a Bathroom” it is a varied and useful book). It is an amazing thing, the relationship of a priest and her or his Cure of Souls, that is an archaic way of thinking about a parish, a Cure of Souls. These incredibly intimate relationships end. Decisively. And then start again with someone else, decisively. It is weird and hard, but that is how it has always been and it is the worst way to do it except for every other way.
I can’t help you anymore and you can’t help me, not after today. But you have. You have helped me in so many ways, in more ways than I could possibly fathom yet. You helped me become a priest. It happened right here behind this faux maple music stand; in that rocking chair across from you in that messy office; sitting on a milk crate in a homeless camp while the camp leader hit dabs and told me what’s what about EPD and St. Vinnie’s. You helped me learn to love in the Jesus way we as Christians are supposed to love. That is huge. You helped me raise a family. Preach the Gospel. Care for the most vulnerable. Be a better man than I would be left to my druthers.
And I have helped some of you. I’ve gotten a very humbling earful the past couple of weeks in my spiritual exit interviews with folks, in how I have helped them, helped you. It’s the job and you are very welcome. It has been an honor to be asked as much as I was. Help.
Thanks? That is my message today, the heart of it. Thanks. Appreciation. Gratitude. On my knees gratefulness for you being you, that is you individually and you all collectively. Thank you for all the help; for welcoming me and my family to Eugene and into this community; for inviting me into your lives and your church, your homes and your families, your relationship with God the universe and everything. That is the greatest honor you can do a priest is to trust them with all of that, with your heart and mind, your soul. And you did that. Thank you.
Thank you for not being difficult! I am totally serious. Thank you! Sky writing is probably an ecological abomination, but if I could spray paint thank you for not being difficult across the sky over Eugene I would. Seriously, I talk to colleagues and hear horror stories of churches defined by conflict and strife and clergy-killers, as the founder of Stephen Ministry calls antagonists in the church. This is not a conflicted community. You all go along to get along and are eminently forgiving of your priest and each other. Put that in the profile. “We’re easy to get along with.” You are. Thanks be to God (and you) for that.
Thank you for teaching me that the Church (church with a big “C”) is good, very good, or certainly can be. It is here. I came here convinced of the Gospel and of God in Christ with the Holy Spirit, but I was a little reticent about the church, and my role as an officer of the church. But as I have learned about human suffering, about loneliness and death, about humanity in our ebb and flow, I have learned that what we do here, gathering around an altar, trying to face in roughly the same direction, together, that that, doing that, trying to do that makes the world better. It is the world being better in real time. Sure, our works, what we do in the world matters, but what we do flows from who we are, and that is what the Church is about, about who we are and why. Church is the long game. Though we might need to act as first responders at times, our vocation is structural, like the ontological structure of the cosmos kind of structural. And the world needs that, desperately. And we are up for it, the church can give that. Not exclusively, we don’t have a monopoly on the truth, but we have it, the Truth. It is our bread and butter (I did learn this in Eugene, so it is fair-trade gluten free bread and local vegan butter of course). Truly though, I learned that from you, from working in the vineyard with you. Thank you.
With you I learned that the most difficult people are actually the easiest to love, at least as a priest they are. At the very same time I have learned that we are all difficult if you just dig deep enough, which has been both liberating and horrifying to learn. (I suppose more liberating, but still… people, we are doozies, each of us). Thank you(?!?) for teaching me that. Especially… well, you know who you are.
And right now I am learning that I can be very sad at the very same time that I am very happy. I have been learning that for a while at the burial offices I have officiated. The grief for your dead, that I see you all carry, the portion which I as priest carry: it can be leaden, grief can be such a burden. And yet… as Dorothy Day teaches. And yet… as I see lives continue in the wake of crushing loss. And yet… as I have learned in the words of the burial rite, “Even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia.” Alleluia indeed. I learned to hope in the resurrection from you. I learned to hope in the resurrection despite all the evidence to the contrary, from you. Like right now, in this very moment, I am learning that I can be very, very sad about leaving this place, leaving you, because I love you and it is good here and at the same time be very, very happy about where we are going because I need to love them now and it is very good there. It is somewhat contrary to my rather reasonable understanding of how God works in the world, but I am quite certain I am being led East from here right now, by God. I am very sad in all sorts of ways, about all sorts of things, and I am very happy, in all sorts of ways, about all sorts of things. Thank you for teaching me that. Thanks.
And wow. This is where adoration and praise; where wonder and astonishment; where the great mystery of faith and all the mysteries of life and death that encompasses it all is dealt with in the realm of prayer. Wow.
The sun came up this morning. Wow. (Well I am pretty sure it did, it is raining hard). The sunrise is a pretty basic, pretty foundational wow. Wow. We have another day of life before us. Sure it brings us one step closer to the grave, but one step closer to that grave with God on one arm and the creatures you love on the other, and that’s not so bad, is it? No it is not. Not so bad at all. Wow.
Look at what we have done together. Wow. More importantly, look at what you have become. Wow! This is a great church. You are easy to get along with. Focused. Directed. You are aware of your identity and mission in the world. You are kind and loving; generous and reverent; you pray well together. Wow! It was good here. It is great now. Not perfect. (Though the bottom line on our $273k budget for 2019 is that we came within $164 of balanced. Wow!) So not perfect, but wow anyway.
And wow: Love. I learned it as a parent and it is being confirmed here, how big love is. How logarithmic love is, how inexhaustible. When I came here, I was going to love you, regardless if you all turned out to be a nasty, stingy, curmudgeonly lot of trolls. That is the nature of the priestly relationship. What that means is, that I love you, a lot, to the moon and back at least once, and me moving to Maine and loving another gathering of Christians just as much isn’t going to change that one iota. I didn’t love Hannah Maeve less because Brigid came along, or Windy when those two burst onto the scene (though admittedly I don’t have her attention like I used to). Love is gentle and kind, sure, and it is big. Very big, certainly it is always big enough for one more, for something new, for the next big thing. Love. Wow.
In a few months you will hand the keys to this tiny corner of the kingdom to someone else, and they will love you even if you turn into a nasty, stingy, curmudgeonly lot of trolls; and you will learn to love them at least as much as you learned to love me and that won’t change your love for me and my family one iota. Love abounds. It overflows. It is inexhaustible. It cannot be contained or domesticated. It is tidal. It is the rush of the Willamette swollen with rain, it is the crash of a Nor’easter on the coast of Maine, it is rainbows, the resilience of survivors of all the things we are called to survive, it is the force that through the green fuse drives the flower, Love is the force that gives us meaning. God is Love. Love is God. And you are and will always be my first priestly love. Wow.
Help. Thanks. Wow. That is my prayer to you, Lord, and is my prayer for you, people of Resurrection. And now it is time for me to go. Fare you well my only true ones. AMEN.