Bishop Gulick’s Sermon

Sermon preached by Bishop Gulick at Chuck McCoart’s Reception of Orders

February 9, 2013 at St. Aidan’s, Alexandria, Virginia

Here am I

I want to begin this homily with words of profound appreciation for that largest Christian missionary organization on earth — The Roman Catholic Church. What a gift we are receiving from the largest part of the body of Christ. We thank God for the generous hearted parish priests that served the parishes that Chuck attended, we thank God for the devotion of the priests who formed him in seminary, we thank God for the community of the baptized that he served who further molded and shaped this gifted man standing before us today, in this part of the Church catholic, and saying after a profound season of discernment “Here am I.”

As the bishop trusted with this last instant of the long discernment, I want to say this word of profound humility that I am awed that the Holy Spirit lavishes the gifts this priest brings on this part of the body. We must begin with the prayer that the same Holy Spirit is raising up persons, vocationally alive, and who will say “here am I send me,”   to strengthen the ministry of the Roman Catholic church.

The rest of this homily has three parts. The first part is a description of the “here” the landscape of the Episcopal church, the second part is an intuition about where we might be headed and the type of priests we need, and the last part of the homily will be a personal word for Chuck. I will let you know when each section is finished so that you will know when your redemption is drawing near!

“Lord Jesus Christ you stretched out our arms of love on the hard wood of the cross so that all might come within the reach of  your saving embrace…” as we pray so we believe at least we have been trying to believe this way since the mid twentieth century. For my 39 years as an Episcopal priest, my church has been formed and shaped by one issue:  How wide is the embrace of Jesus Christ?  This is not the question how liberal is the Episcopal Church. It is my belief that this part of Christ’s body has been responding to a question formed in the hazy smoke of the concentration camps. How did western Christianity fail so completely in the mid twentieth century? How did the cradle of Catholicism in Italy and the cradle of the reformation in Germany not prevent the community of the baptized from killing Jews, the disabled, homosexuals, gypsies?  How were the followers of Jesus Christ so able to “other-ise” their fellow humans?

Voices of protest arose, the theology of Barth and Bonhoeffer shaped the theology of the confessing church and after the war was over that theology of confessing Christianity migrated over the Atlantic and forced us to face the horror of our own other-ising tendencies.  How could we justify melting our enemies in Hiroshima and Nagasaki with the horror of an atomic bomb?  How could we continue to live with our own racial sins in our deeply segregated nation?

Under the leadership of John Hines in the 60’s the theology of inclusion born in the crucible of WWII became the defining ethic as the Episcopal Church became to some extent at least a confessional church that was no longer able to ignore its complicity in the sin of racism.  Hines got us to embrace the prophetic word from the lips of Dr. King and put the resources of this mostly white and very privileged denomination at the service of the civil rights movement.  This theology made it into the prayer book, “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?” No more other-ising!  If we cannot tolerate racism, and if it is clear that all possess the image of God, then why did we have a sub class of the baptized called women.  We took on gender based discrimination and admitted women to the general convention in 1971, allowed them to be ordained deacons in 1973, and finally as part of prayer book revision made the pronouns in the ordinal gender neutral.  This is why priests of my generation are still stunned into joy by the phrase, “Kathryn, our Presiding bishop!!”

Once this biblical theology of the wide embrace (“And I when I am lifted up will draw all to myself” St. John) captures the church’s imagination, there is no stopping it.  The question of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian folks has tested our commitment to the width of Christ’s embrace for 40 years. But the theology of radical inclusion has prevailed and we now extend the discipline of faithful, exclusive, covenant as the best and safest place for the sexual dimension of our selfhood to all the baptized.

If that is where we have been, where might we be going?  (We are now in part two)  If the last half century has been about inclusion, my hunch is that the next season is about the formation of the included to be intentional disciples of Jesus Christ.  What kind of priests do we need to do that?? …  Only those who are themselves radical, believable disciples.

Early this week while praying the daily office, I came upon this arresting text from Paul’s letter to the Galatians. “My little children for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!”  That must be the heartfelt prayer of disciple making priests.

It certainly defined the life of Trevor Huddleston, a missionary priest in South Africa in the mid twentieth century. He would tip his hat in honor of all the women in his parish, black and white. A young black boy noticed the way this priest always honored his mother this way. During this boy’s prolonged illness, Father Huddleston brought the Eucharist to him every Sunday.  Watching this priest’s obedience, and seeing his single hearted devotion, made a disciple.  That disciple’s name is Desmund Tutu.  Chuck — be like Trevor!

Li Tim-Oi was born in Hong Kong in 1907. Upon her baptism she chose the name Florence because she honored Florence Nightingale. In 1941 she was ordained a deaconess and served in Macao.  As a result of the Japanese invasion, the church was in crisis because no priest could travel to celebrate the Eucharist.  Bishop Hall did what had to be done. He ordained her priest, on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul 1944. The Eucharistic life of Macao was restored. After this crisis of the war, during the later cultural revolution she was forced to work on a farm and our communion  was in such crisis over her ordination that she voluntarily offered to return her license (but never renounce her ordination) and ceased to function as the priest she was.  In 1979, 35 years after her ordination, she again took hold of the chalice and served as the priest.  Upon moving to Canada in 1981 she was an inspiration to the first generation of our women priests.  In 1975 ( before women could be ordained in our church) my bishop in Maryland invited her, as a priest in good standing in Hong Kong, with which we were in full communion, to preside at the Eucharist in the Church of the Redeemer Baltimore. That evening, the word theotokos became flesh in my experience. Mary, the first theotokos, put Christ’s body in a feed dish, and Florence put Christ’s body in the palm of my hand. For all those years she labored that Christ would be born in the hearts of those she ministered to.  For all those years she suffered double indignity from the state and from her beloved church.  When she put the body of Christ in my hand it was a searing sacrament — like a coal from an incense burner — it seared into my soul having been heated by her obedience to the sending God. Chuck, be like her!

Another example is the youngest priest I ever ordained. I ordained deacon when he was 24 and priest when he was 25.  On his first Sunday when he was priest in charge of St. John’s Murray Kentucky he said to the congregation, I will not send out the lay Eucharistic ministers today with the sacrament, later on today they will take me.  I will celebrate with all the shut-ins in their home this afternoon because they need to be part of this new beginning.  From that instant his vow to care alike for old and young, strong and weak, rich and poor, took on flesh.  He now ministers to about 40 students each week but also tends to a group of Education for ministry students who are in the 6th and 7th decade of their lives. Discipleship is as deep in that congregation as in any church I have experienced. That young priest has one consuming ache, one consuming pang, like an all-consuming birth pang, that Christ would be formed in his 5 year olds and his 75 year olds.   Everyone knows that about him, and people drive an hour to be part of that church. Chuck, be like him.

My final example occurs to me having read his biography during advent. Dietrick Bonhoeffer  earned his doctorate at 21 and completed a post doctorate thesis at 23 but spent most of his ministry with unruly confirmands in Berlin, Barcelona, and he went on to pour out his life in ministry to young seminary students preparing for ordination. His one passion was that Christ would be born in them …  The true Christ of the gospels, not the false Christ. One could say he died in Christ birth!  Chuck, be like pastor Bonhoeffer!

Chuck please stand. Here you are. You stand here fully known, fully loved, fully gifted for what Christ is asking you to take on in this part of his cherished body. Remember Jesus’ word in Matthew 13:53 “Every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  Here is what I hope you bring of your old treasure as a Roman Catholic priest: That the scriptures, creeds, and sacraments of the church are to be received as a sacred trust and that they do operate to constitute the body of Christ in this present age.  I hope that you remember that to be a priest you must have a priest to encourage, absolve, support and strengthen you.  I should be able to call you at 2 in the morning and ask you who your priest is.  For a priest not to have a priest is as dumb as a physician not having a physician!

I want you to remember to pray as if your life depended on it.  It does! Today’s psalms are 75 and 76; we read Isaiah 57:3-13, Galatians 5:26-6:10, and Mark 9:14-29. Read scripture, beg the Holy Spirit for a word, and then live it!

Your new treasure to claim is the honor and power that the laity share with you in this new part of the family. You stand before me because some lay folks on the standing committee said you can, because some of your fellow presbyters said you could. You do not stand at the altar simply exercising the franchise given to you by a bishop, but you stand among us as priest because the call has come, like it came to Bishop Ambrose, from the voice of the priests of Christ who are the community of the baptized.

I hope that as you stand before me now and as you will stand at God’s altar tomorrow, you will be as transformed as Isaiah was in the temple. I hope the words of your homily will sear into the hearts of God’s people because the living word of God has been seared into your heart. I hope that when you preside at the Eucharist that the real vivid presence of Christ will be so much your glory that the sacrament will sear and forgive, and cleanse and transform those who receive it from your hands. I pray that it will be so obvious that you are joyfully co-missioned that your people will pray to be sent by God into God’s ever so loved world.

As you know, the divine desire to send and to have someone go could not be fulfilled by Moses or Isaiah, or Jeremiah.  Finally the divine desire to send became flesh Jesus Christ.  May you labor so that Jesus will be formed in your people, so that the Divine Compassion will transform this world.  Amen

Categories: Ministry

2 Comments

  • Barbara C. says:

    I’ve read this several times now and it still brings me to tears, I couldn’t figure out why at first, but it finally dawned on me – it brought back the memory of the sense of reject I felt as a young teenager, being told that boys could serve in ways that were forbidden to me – as reader, acolyte, server. I had not thought about it in a long time, but it may be why serving as chalicer and reader is so important to me now. The bishops words are indeed searing. Thank you for sharing

  • Rose says:

    Thanks so much for getting this posted. It was tremendous.

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