January 7, 2017

A Call to the Priesthood

NOTE: I had the great privilege of preaching at my friend, Alan Bentrup's ordination to the priesthood last night at St. Mary’s in Cypress, TX. Alan is one of the co-founders of Missional Voices. You should go to their national gathering in April!

I asked Alan if I could share my sermon here because the things that I touched on, I feel, are applicable to all who are called to be leaders in the Church. He gave me permission to share my sermon.

Good evening. What a privilege to be here with you tonight! Thank you for being here to support Alan.

By way of a brief introduction there is only two things you really need to know about me. First, my name is Jason and I am grateful to call Alan my friend and honored that he invited me to preach this evening. The second is that I’m not ordained. I’m not a clergy person. I’m a lay person just like most of you here this evening. This is appropriate in many ways, Alan, because I represent the majority of those whom you will serve and lead as a priest. It is my prayer that this evening the Holy Spirit would guide my words and speak for all us who love and support you as lay people.

If you’ve never been to an ordination service before, it’s a bit like a wedding service. Just a bit. If you’ve been to a wedding you know that it’s, obviously, a communal event; many people gathered to celebrant an important occasion. Yet, it’s clear through certain aspects of the service, and typically the sermon, that this service is directed towards a particular person--or persons, in the case of a wedding. My sermon this evening will be primarily directed towards Alan as most aspects of these evenings service are. But this remains a communal event and we are here to support and hold Alan accountable to his commitments this evening. Like the preacher or priest in a wedding service who invites those in committed relationships to rekindle their own commitments as they listen to the words said up front, my hope is that those of us here tonight who are followers of Jesus might have something of our baptismal covenant rekindled in our hearts. It takes all of us to make a church, not just a priest.

Tonight, in the Gospel passage read we see biblical characters we often see this time of year: the wise men. During this season, we often see three of these wise men depicted on cards, painted on the side of fast food restaurants and in books. They have long beards, brightly colored robes and crowns upon their heads, riding on camels as they follow the star to bring incredible treasures to baby Jesus.

What we don’t often see depicted is this particular scene of the wise men’s story. They come to Herod, king of the Jewish people at that time, seeking help in finding the baby Jesus that was born to become a king. Slyly, Herod replies that he does not know where this baby Jesus is. But if they find him, he’d love to know so that he too can go and worship Jesus. Of course, if we read the story we know that this is not Herod’s intention. Rather, Herod hopes to find out Jesus’ whereabouts so that he can kill him, eliminating any threat to his throne, his power, his authority.

But what those of who have read the Gospels know, is that Herod completely missed the point! He couldn’t imagine that this Jesus was coming to be a wholly different kind of King. Certainly, he should have felt threatened but Jesus was not born to be a king like Herod. He wasn’t born to a throne. No, his first crib was a feeding trough. He wasn't born to royalty. His father was likely a day laborer and his mother an unwed teen. He would grow up to love those that hated him. Forgive those that hurt him. He would lead by serving. Win by losing. And live by dying. Jesus would be something completely different. Jesus was a wholly different kind of King.

As a follower of Jesus, Alan, you are being called to be a leader tonight. But you are being called to be a wholly different kind of leader than what this world expects. Indeed, we need you to be a different kind of leader than this world expects. This is what I want to talk to you about tonight; the kind of leader people like me are hoping you will be.

In the Epistle read this evening, Paul writes to the Ephesians, "… I have become a servant according to the gift of God's grace that was given me …" Alan, this calling that has been put upon your life, this priesthood that will accept this evening, like Paul, is given to you as a gift. It is not something you have earned. It is not extended to you due to some kind of merit alone. I know you have worked incredibly hard. And you have sacrificed much to come to this point. We are here tonight in part to acknowledge your labor. Still, the priesthood is a gift and you are called to hold it as such. To cherish it. To be grateful for this. It is not a gift that you can hoard, and keep to yourself. You are called to be a different kind of leader than Herod who protected and hoarded his title, his authority at all costs. Like Paul, this is a gift you are called to share with the world.

In many ways your training has taught you to be an artist of sorts; you know how to craft a sacred space and moment. You know how to set a table just right, say special words and hold your hands in a certain way. But the world doesn’t simply need artists that create beautiful things. We need leaders that invite others to co-create something beautiful with them. What good is creating a beautiful moment, Alan, if it’s just you in the room? You are being called to share your craft with the world.

There was a time and place not long ago when it really meant something to be an Episcopal priest in a town or city. A priest had authority in the civic life of a community. But times have changed. Churches and priests don’t have the notoriety in communities the way they used to. In our context today, it’s easy to forget that the lack of authority in the public square does not erase the opportunity to influence our culture. It will require that you speak up when no one else will. That you ask the hard questions that no one else will. You will work harder and you may often fail. But if you hope to be the kind of leader that can influence a congregation and through them the surrounding community you will keep trying. In doing so, you will have influence. You will influence people for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.

What this means, Alan, is that you cannot fall upon convention. The vows that you make tonight, the promises you make tonight are anything but conventional. Do not be a conventional priest, Alan. Be a faithful priest. Be faithful to your commitments made tonight. Be faithful to the people you serve and be the kind of leader that seeks to influence your community in the way of the kingdom.

Lastly, Alan, I want to ask that you keep being you. Keep being the Alan Bentrup that sits here this evening. Don’t forget who God made you and how He brought you to this moment. We don’t yet know the Father Alan that will get out of bed tomorrow morning. But we do know you as you are right now. All of us gathered here this evening are here because we know you. We know the Alan that was a little boy. The Alan that grew up to become a young man. The Alan that went away to college and graduated. The Alan that fell in love and got married. The Alan who became a dad and coached little league. That’s the Alan we know. Throughout your life the Holy Spirit has been tugging and nudging you through all of life’s ups and downs to this moment. It is the life we have lived with you through which the Spirit has formed you. And it is with that Holy Spirit the Church has done it’s best to listen to, discern with and affirm to you, yes, this has been God in your life bringing you in this direction. Alan, just as you are--right now, you are made in God’s image. You are God’s beloved. Do not forget that. Do not let titles and outfits allow you to forget who you are at your core to us and to your Maker. That is who we are here in support of tonight.

Now I turn to you, friends. God is saying the same to each of us. As you are, no matter where your life has brought you, you are God’s beloved and He made you just as you are. I can think of no better time than tonight to rekindle your commitment as a follower of Jesus. In your baptism, you too were initiated in this trinitarian life as a citizen of Christ’s kingdom; called to announce in word and deed the good news of Jesus and his kingdom that is here and not yet here. We are here tonight to be witnesses to Alan’s commitments and to hold him accountable to them. Maybe there is no better way we can support him in his call by living out our own call as followers of this wholly other kind of King.

Amen?

Amen.

Congratulations, Alan. The Church is fortunate to have a leader such as yourself in Her midst.