Isaiah 6:1-8, Psalm 132:8-19, Ephesians 4: 7, 11-16, John 6:35-38, the Commemoration of Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler
You will be wondering, perhaps, why we had one reading from Isaiah printed, and another one read!
Well, the logical explanation is a slip of my fingers on the keyboard, from Isaiah 6 to Isaiah 66, but actually I think the Holy Spirit may have had a hand in it, perhaps wanting us to get a double does of the prophet.
However it happened, the text for this morning is:
“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me”
When I was twenty-five years old, I was newly-married, newly moved to California, and everything in my life had changed.
I’d left behind in England my name, my career, and my identity, in order to come to a new country with my husband.
I was scrambling to find my footing, do some volunteer work, make some friends, find a church, get a life, when something totally unexpected happened.
A young cousin whom I hardly knew suddenly had to come to San Francisco for some complex and dangerous medical treatment.
And since my husband and I were Julie’s only family within six thousand miles, we drove up to visit her twice a week, and later welcomed her into our apartment to convalesce.
What I discovered to my surprise during those weeks was that I was pretty comfortable in hospitals, not fazed around medical technology, and OK talking about scary things like brain surgery with a person to whom that had just happened, a person who had just cheated death.
Hmm … interesting; but I didn’t think much about it.
So the Sunday after Julie went home, I was in church as usual, minding my own business, idly scanning the service leaflet, when these words jumped out at me:
“The Stanford University Chaplaincy program is in need of volunteers. Contact … name of my local Episcopal priest … to find out about training.”
The hairs rose on the back of my neck, everything else on the page dimmed in the light of those few words, and I felt the Spirit of the Lord God take hold of me and say, “YOU. Yes, YOU!”
And nothing was every the same again – as you can see by the fact that here I am, standing before you today, ordained more than twenty years – having been a chaplain, a cathedral priest, a diocesan education officer, and now a seminary professor – all things that certainly weren’t in any plan I might have had for my life.
Now that I’ve been around the block with the Spirit a few times, I know that what I experienced that morning was absolutely typical of the ways in which God takes hold of our lives and completely rearranges the furniture.
I’m guessing (just guessing!) that Rik could tell the story of a similar moment in his life, or actually a series of moments – because being seized by the Spirit is never a one-off job.
It’s impossible for the Spirit of the Lord God to work without willing human partners, but it doesn’t take very much for us to be swept off our feet into God’s dance.
In my experience, once a person has said even a tiny little “yes,” opened the door to God just a crack, there will surely be more.
Give the Spirit of the Lord God an inch, and it will take a mile, over and over again!
And I’m guessing that most of us sitting here could tell similar stories of how the Spirit has “come upon” us in our own lives, calling us out of the old into the new, into to any one of the infinite variety of ways we can be “ministers of the Lord,” and walk with Christ through life.
So we have fair warning that today is a dangerous time, and that we’re sitting in a dangerous place here.
It’s the eve of Pentecost, and it’s an ordination, and some of God’s people are gathered.
Which means that the Holy Spirit is undoubtedly lurking very close by, waiting in the wings, kindling the fire, anticipating our invocation in just a few minutes’ time.
The spirit of the Lord God is champing at the bit to be set loose once more at our invitation, eager to come upon us all one more time, to push wider our cracked-open doors, and above all today, longing to pour herself out upon Rik in particular, and to make him a priest in God’s church.
Now that’s a very dangerous thing to be.
It’s just about as dangerous as being a Christian in the first place!
I think the novelist and poet Annie Dillard got it right when she said:
“On the whole, I do not find Christians .. sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”
Today a wide-awake God is drawing Rik out to where he can never return.
And that wide-awake God is enlisting Rik to help draw God’s people out to where we can never return, because God is longing for the whole world to move forward into new life, and for all God’s people to grow up into the full stature of Christ.
All the Scriptures we have heard today are pulling us forward.
They are all written in the future tense, straining at the leash, rolling out God’s dreams and hopes for the world.
Isaiah sets out God’s vision for a people called and anointed, upon whom the Spirit is poured out.
In Isaiah’s time that meant the people of Israel and especially their prophets.
Later it meant Jesus himself when, after his anointing by the Spirit at his baptism, he took this text as a kind of manifesto at the start of his public ministry.
Later still it meant the first small group of disciples on whom the tongues of fire descended at Pentecost, and then all those called and anointed and Spirit-empowered to follow Christ down the ages of Christian history.
And today it means Rik, called to be a priest among us, and it means all of us too, called by our baptism into the priesthood of all Christian believers.
The Spirit of the Lord God is just waiting to come upon us all today.
If we listen carefully to Isaiah, it’s clear that the things the Spirit will empower us to do are simply breathtaking in their scope.
We will proclaim, bind up, set free, comfort, provide for, repair, and restore the world.
We will, if we allow the Spirit to be kindled within us, step out and bring something of the healing and reconciliation that is God’s plan for the world, right into the particular corners of creation in which we live.
We will bring God’s justice and love into the ruined cities, into the places where hearts are broken, into the devastations that have crumbled over many generations, into the places of mourning and captivity and injustice, great and small.
All Christians are called by God to do these things.
And all of us have Spirit-given gifts for the work of ministry, gifts that are desperately needed in our hurting world, and our reading from Ephesians lays them all out for us to see.
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers: this church is filled with them today.
Rik’s particular gifts in this mix, as a priest in God’s church, will be to preach, to teach, to remind us that we are forgiven and blessed, to equip, to encourage, sometimes even to prod or rebuke us, to bring us back to God’s vision, to feed us from God’s table.
He is called to do those things with the people of God so that we will all become more and more fully who we are called to be: the Body of Christ, doing God’s work of reconciliation and justice and love in the world.
If we are going to let God draw us out to where we can never return, if we are going to allow the Spirit of the Lord to be poured out on us, if we are going to take seriously our call to find out what God wants to be up to in our neck of the woods and then get on board with that, we will need the priestly help that Rik is being empowered to give us today.
We will need, above all, to stay close to Jesus, to let our wills be joined to his will, just as his will was joined to God’s will.
We will need to let ourselves be fed with the living bread that Christ gives us at this table, to take into ourselves the very life of Jesus Christ, so that we can live in the power of his resurrection.
And we will have to crack open the doors of our hearts, knowing that the Spirit of the Lord God will likely blow them wide open, set our lives ablaze, and send us out where we can never return.
Rik, will you please stand?
First, what an honor it is to be here offering these words on this wonderful day.
Thank you for inviting me.
Second, are you sure you have your crash helmet on?
Because it’s going to be a wild ride, as you love and serve and inspire and lead God’s people, as you help us become who God is calling us to be.
And do you have your life preservers and signal flares handy?
Because we need you to have them.
We already know that you have the gift of stepping out into new places as an individual.
As a scientist you have already, like Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, allowed God to expand your imagination and take you into a calling that asks you to lead God’s people more deeply into God’s presence, as a priest now, as well as a scientist.
It is students like you who have enabled Church Divinity School of the Pacific to step out into new ways of doing theological education with people who live at a distance.
Because you just showed up and got on with it and trusted it would work, low-residence education happened!
But now you will be leading God’s people out into new places, drawing us out where we can never return, helping us stay oriented to God’s calling and vision for the Church.
So please keep those signal flares handy, for when we go off track.
Keep those life preservers close at hand, so you can throw them out whenever we feel like we’re drowning.
And please, please make sure that you have people in your life who will send up the flares and throw the life preservers to you, when you need them, because you cannot be a priest without letting others be priests to you.
I know the doors of your heart and mind and spirit are open wide, I know you have said yes over and over again when the Spirit of the Lord took you by the scruff of the neck.
And now, on this Pentecost Eve, I can hear the fire of the Spirit being kindled, right now.
I can feel the wind of the Spirit beginning to blow through this place.
It’s time for the Spirit of the Lord to come upon you, and make you a priest in God’s church.
“YOU! Yes, YOU!”
Susanna Singer, PhD
Associate Professor of Ministry Development
Director, Doctor of Ministry Programs
Church Divinity School of the Pacific