5th Sunday of Easter, Year A
May 18, 2014
The Reverend Dr. Brent Was
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
It has been an exciting week here at Resurrection, in a lot of ways, but most importantly in the additions we have made (and are about to make) to the body of Christ. (We’re about to baptize little Lydia). On Thursday evening Bishop Michael laid his Holy Episcopal hands on eight of our own, welcoming them into the full life of the Anglican Communion. Six confirmations and two receptions. Reception is for folks confirmed in other Christian forms who have come over to, what one of the monks we used to lived with liked to say with a wicked twinkle in his eye, “the one true church.” Very exciting. (It might have been even more exciting if we told the Bishop that Jerry was appointed senior warden four years before taking that on, but when it comes to details like that, what bishops don’t know won’t hurt them). It really was a lovely Mass, a good sermon (our Bishop can preach) and just so much love flowed around these folks making a commitment to a life in Christ. Old Resurrections hands like Jerry were joined with folks who have been around for a little while, Dr. Leigh, Spencer, and Christopher; and some very new faces in our midst, Michael, Stevie, Frank and Tina. It was just great, how exciting it is to sacramentally welcome people into our midst. And in a few minutes we’ll be baptizing Lydia. Such a season of Christian initiation.
I sometimes describe baptism as an ordination into the priesthood of all believers. Through our Baptisms were are mysteriously embraced by God in Christ as part of, as Peter wrote, “…a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” The Book of Common Prayer describes it as, “the sacrament by which God adopts us as his children, makes us members of Christ’s body, the Church, and inheritors of the kingdom of God.” That is fantastic. Lydia, what a deal we have for you. A royal priesthood! A holy nation! Inheritor of the Kingdom of God! What an offer we make to our littlest ones! What a gratuitous invitation! There is, though, a catch. Baptism is a gift that comes, not with strings, but with the words “…in order that…” Yes, we are freely welcomed to become heirs of the kingdom of God, to join this royal priesthood but we do not join this nation for joining’s sake, it is not with an idle privilege that we are bequeathed. I don’t cite Rick Warren very often, but in our baptism, we are initiated into a Purpose Driven life. To be Christian means that you live with a purpose, a purpose larger, much larger, cosmically larger than just yourself, your life, you needs and desires and dreams. The Christian life means purposeful living. And we are welcomed into the life of Christ in this particular way, “…in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
I call this an ordination, because by the nature of your Baptism, this sacramental invitation and embrace by God and God’s people through the church, you have as complete, open and unfettered access to God as any other Christian that has ever lived. Who is the greatest expert about how God relates to your world? You. Who knows best what God’s special purpose for you is? You. That is the ordination to the priesthood of all believers and in this I am thoroughly Protestant. Bishops, priests, deacons… we don’t have any kind of special relationship with God, no special knowledge or access; we are functionaries within ecclesial structures, and our Anglican ecclesial structures have evolved for the purpose not of being an intermediary between the people and God a la Rome, but as centers of learning and training and mutual support for we, the baptized, to organize our inner and outer worlds so we can find our own ministry, our own way, both personal and communal, to “…proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” That means serving God and neighbor through our being and doing in the world, that is commissioned in Baptism; that is like unto an ordination. That is what we each were offered in our baptisms, and that is what we are offering to young Lydia today.
So then what do we, what did they, this week, receive in Confirmation? How is it different than Baptism? First off, we don’t need to be confirmed… it is a sacrament, yes, but it is one of the 5 less important ones (with marriage, ordination, confession and Holy Unction… what is unction?) What are the other two? Of course, Baptism and Eucharist. And why are they different? Jesus Himself initiated them, and they are the sacraments nearly universally recognized in Christendom.
Confirmation is an expression of “a mature commitment to Christ, receiving strength from the Holy Spirit through prayer and the laying on of hands by the bishop.” We baptize infants for a variety of reasons, and we make promises on their behalf. Confirmation is the adult step to accept the fullness of the promises of Christ made in baptism.
Often confirmation is pushed as a rite of passage at the time of puberty, you know, the time in everyone’s life when you are most capable of making mature, adult decisions. Age twenty-four seems like a better time to do it in 21st century American culture, but no one asked me. Truly thought, it is a difficult time to take on lasting commitments. I absolutely refused to be confirmed at age 13. My parents became more savvy, and my sisters, 7 and 9 years younger, were not permitted to refuse confirmation: neither have been back to church since and here I am… In any case, Confirmation is a conscious and sacramental commitment to a life in relation to God in Christ. So what does that mean?
If we are all ordained to the priesthood of all believers in our Baptism, ordained to “…proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light,” in confirmation, we are called to a mature discernment and following commitment to how we will live out those promises. Confirmation is about our vocation as Christians. This includes which form we will live out our ministry, (in our case Anglican Christianity through its US franchise, the Episcopal Church), but more importantly, it is about how our ministry will manifest in the context of our own lives, the gifts and challenges we bring to the world around us. Just as important are the complex of needs of the communities in which we practice our Christianity. Remember, the starting point of our ministry is less about what we individually have to offer, though that is important, but rather the most important question is what is needed in the world that you inhabit. Everyone’s context of ministry is different, even in a small community such as this. Your family, workplace, racial, class and cultural setting, the personality and special little quirks you bear, how long you have been here on earth and at Resurrection, how you understand God in Christ to be working in your life and in our world… all of these things must be considered in your discernment of your call to proclaim the mighty acts of God. And of course “to proclaim” is a broad call to action and being. We proclaim in word and deed, in witnessing and participating, in yelling from the barricades and in the still small voice of private prayer. What does the world need and what do you have to offer… answers to these questions are not given in Confirmation, but it is a process and commitment to discernment that is initiated in confirmation, it is the invitation that is offered and accepted, enshrouded in the thin veil of sacramental mystery. That is pretty exciting, isn’t it?
And knowing the people who joined us this week, I know that they are already hard at work; some in ministries already underway, some in the midst of the very, very hard work of discernment, of finding God’s purpose for them. As I will be saying a lot over the next few months, we all have that work to do, to discern how we individually and collectively respond to the call of God. We all have to discern, learn, then begin to work on our own little part in the proclamation of God’s mighty works. Little baby Lydia, we have some fun, and some work in store for you. AMEN.