June 18, 2017
Exodus 19.2-8a; Matthew 9.35-38
+ Last week, last Sunday actually, James very graciously led you all in a blessing on me as I commemorated the 13th anniversary of my ordination to the Priesthood. It was a wonderful day. And I was humbled by it all.
I joked at that time about how I am now a teenaged priest. Well, I’ve actually been a teenaged ordained minister for a while. Next month, I will celebrate the 14th anniversary of my ordination as a deacon.
But, I wish that our Gospel reading for today was LAST week, because, it is the same Gospel reading for the feast of St. Barnabas, on whose feast day, June 11, I was ordained to the priesthood. A portion of this same Gospel was read at my ordination.
Now, to be clear, I didn’t pick the Gospel for that evening. But the words of that Gospel, which we just heard, were words that have been very prophetic in my own life as an ordained minister. In that Gospel reading, we hear Jesus say,
“I am sending you as sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.”
I should have those words inscribed on my gravestone!! Because that is exactly what it’s like to be a minister. Actually, that’s what it’s like just to be a Christian at times. At least, I hope we are all striving to be this kind of Christian in our lives.
Most of us, in whatever ministries we might be doing in our lives, know this to be very true. We’ve been there, in the midst of those wolves. We have known those wolves very well. And yes, some of them really are wolves in sheep’s clothing, let me tell you! I could name a few… I won’t. But I could.
And if I have had any gift granted to me by Jesus to survive all these years of ordained ministry, I can say that, for me anyway, it has definitely been to be as wise as a serpent and innocent as a dove. Well, I don’t know how “innocent” I’ve been. Or, for that matter, “wise” either. But I’ve tried really hard to be both wise and innocent, as a priest, as a deacon, as a follower of Jesus, a lover of God and a lover of others.
There is something so profoundly true in this Gospel reading for today. Of course, there’s a lot here. It’s a long Gospel reading. But, it’s all good. And it is a message to all of us. All of us who are called to ministry. All of us who serve. All of us who strive to follow Jesus and love God and one another.
For those of who do those things, who follow Jesus, who love God and one another, in any way in our lives, we are, as we heard in our reading form Exodus today, “a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Doing any one of these things—following Jesus, loving God, loving others—is not easy. Because doing these things isn’t some insular thing we do. It isn’t just about “me and Jesus,” so to speak. It’s about all of us. Together. And doing all of this means that, occasionally, we must stand up and speak out. And that’s definitely not easy. It’s not easy taking a step out there and standing up for what we know is right. It is not easy to standing up and speak wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Ministry is hard.
Following Jesus is hard. Loving God is hard. Loving one another—let me tell you, that’s very hard sometimes. Being a laborer when the harvest plentiful and the laborers are few is hard.
All of who do it—and that is everyone here today—know that we all have to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves at times in our lives and in the work we do. Each of us has been called, by our very baptism, to be those laborers of the harvest. We have been called to serve. We have been called to shed our egos to a large extent. And that might be the hardest thing of all.
I know that it is for me. Ministry is certainly not some ego trip. If one goes into ordained ministry for an ego trip, let me tell you, there will be, as we heard Senator Diane Feinstein say this past week, a rude awakening.
Because, ministry, any kind of ministry, is not about any one of us as an individual. It is not about the cult of personality. When it make it such, it is doomed to fail. Trust me. I have seen it happen.
Ministry is, in fact, humbling. Or, sometimes, downright humiliating. And, sometimes, it can be a burden. Partly it can be burden because, none of us, not one of us, is perfect. And realizing our limitations can be sobering. It can be frightening. And it can be humbling.
Of course, we must remember that no one is expecting any of us to be perfect. But the message I think we all—ordained or not—can take away from this is that God uses our imperfections. God uses us as we are. God loves us for who are. And this is our model in turn.
We must love each other, as we are, for who we are.
And when we realize that we don’t have to be perfect, that we don’t all have to ordained priests or deacons to do what God calls us to do, it can be a relief. Because, the fact is, imperfect as we are, we are all a priestly kingdom God calls each of us in our own ways—in our own fractured ways—to serve as we need to serve—to do as much good as we can here and now.
That is all we can do sometimes. We must strive hard just to do good, even in some small way, every day, in whatever way we can.
In so many ways, our lives and ministries are very much like those Israelites, who we encounter today in our reading from Exodus wandering about in the desert. It does feel like that on occasion. That we are wandering about in the desert. That we are uncertain of what we are doing or where we are going. But, once we start trusting, once we stop relying only ourselves and our egos, once we stop trying to be perfect all the time, and just trust God, and love others, and just follow Jesus where he going, we do find our way.
So, let us not try to hide our imperfections. Instead, let us live out our ministry as you are, striving to have compassion on the harassed and the helpless, on those who are sick and those who might not even know they’re sick, on the marginalized and on those who have little or no voice. Even if we fail, making the effort helps us to live out our priesthood and, if nothing else, it just makes the world a little better place than it was before.
Let us truly be a nation of priests, loving God, loving each other. And in all that may come upon—good or bad—let us be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. By doing so, we live in integrity. By doing so, we will make a difference in this world, even in some small way. By doing so, we will making the Kingdom of God even closer.
“The Kingdom of God is near,” we hear Jesus say to us today in our Gospel reading.
It is near because we are working and striving to make it near. We are making it present when we do what we do in love.
Let us pray.
Lord of the Harvest, send us out. Help as we bring your Kingdom nearer. Let us strive, in our love of you and of one another, to do the work you have called us to do. There is much work to do. Let us do what we must do. We ask this in the holy Name of Jesus. Amen.