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Homily on the Occasion of the Ordination of Kara Nicole Slade to the Sacred Order of Priests

Homily on the Occasion of the Ordination of Kara Nicole Slade to the Sacred Order of Priests

St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church

Given by Amy Laura Hall

Scripture readings:  Isaiah 6:1-8; Ephesians 4:7, 11-16; John 6:35-38

Let us pray:  Christ be with me, Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me, Christ beside me, Christ to win me, Christ to comfort and restore me.  Amen.

Thank you, dear members of St. Stephen’s, for your gracious hospitality.  Thank you, Bishop Curry and Bishop Hodges-Copple, for your kindness toward this member of the upstart sect that is Methodism.  And thank you, Kara Nicole Slade, for consenting to have your mouth seared with a live coal – for standing up in the middle of swirling seraphs, before the high and holy throne of the Lord and saying, “Here I am.”

Thanks to Kate Roberts for the wonderful photos.

Thanks to Kate Roberts for the wonderful photos.

First to our Gospel reading.  Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  I will be frank, the way Jesus speaks in John’s Gospel annoys me.  I find myself thinking that John’s Jesus has a problem with tone, using ethereal, holy words that hover way above us, reminding us we are beneath him.  The term “imperious” comes to mind.  If I am not careful, I hear Jesus speaking of his mission as if he is the honor-bound head butler in a large British manor house.  And this passage is one that I find particularly confusing.

No hunger?  No thirst?

Christians have and continue to die from quite literal hunger and of lack of potable water.   It seems a bit weird and maybe cruel for Jesus to use the words “bread,” and “hunger,” and “thirst” in so figurative a way that they seem way up here – not connecting to our vulnerable, mortal, food and water-dependent bodies.

And, if we do shift upstairs to the realm of ideas, and go along with a more figurative, or symbolic meaning of hunger and thirst, isn’t it the case that many Christians do crave the shalom of God, the peace of God?  Isn’t it the case that many people who come to Jesus and eat the bread of life at this table find our hearts transformed such that we hunger for peace or thirst for justice?  Don’t some of us eat this bread of life and discover a new, physiological yearning for more Jesus right here, right now in places near and far?

For a military drone to be transformed into a mother pelican.

For a torn marriage to be stitched miraculously together again.

For for a local bank whimsically to overflow with glittering cash for more milk and more honey.

Truly, I don’t think Jesus meant that if we come to him we will not be hungry, or thirsty, or else Jesus was a liar, or maybe mistaken.  And I don’t believe Jesus was a liar or mistaken.

The passage about bodies and grace from Ephesians helps me to begin to say a word about what Jesus may have meant.  “But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”  Each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.  This word measure seems key.  How does one reckon the measure of Christ’s gift?  The word “measure” comes up again, as Paul, the author of Ephesians, connects the different ways we are gifted and called with the “measure of the full stature of Christ.”  Paul layers metaphors here, so bear with him.  The brand baby new church in Ephesus, to whom he is writing, has as its working principal, or its very heart, the “measure of Christ’s gift.” And so the “whole body” that is their little church is “joined and knitted together by every ligament” he says, through the “measure of Christ’s gift.”  “Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers,” are formed together, joined and knitted into one body, and the organizing principal of their movement, or the DNA of their make-up as a body, is the infinite, never-exhausted grace that is Christ’s gift.  The central animating fact of the church as a body is immeasurable – not open to study (no matter who is funding it) or to counting or to managerial schemes or to a critical sense of there being not-enough.  The church moves, according to Paul, in a way that is the opposite of austerity.

Maybe it is from this place, from this incalculable fact of miraculous grace that, though we still find ourselves hungry, we are never totally alone.

I find Paul’s list of the different parts of the body here also helpful.  In 14 years of teaching seminarians, I have come to see that prophets are not always so keen to see the gifts of teachers.  Teachers are known for parsing different particulars, describing the nuances of discipleship.  Prophets would like a little less nuance and a lot more righteousness, thank you very much.  And, truth be told, many teachers are not so keen on the annoyingly happy zeal of evangelists.  And, pastors can be annoyed by apostles, as a pastor is called to sit still, right here, patient and over time, with one church, while apostles go out gallivanting across the church universal.

Paul describes the body that is Jesus’ church as connected and linked in grace, in such a way that we who are truly very dispositionally different from one another are awesomely stuck with one another, counter-intuitively connected together, re-membered in grace and  pulled together in something Paul calls love and that Jesus calls life.

In our Gospel passage from John, Jesus tells us “Anyone who comes to me I will never drive away.”  I think that this is connected to the ways that we will never, truly, ultimately, be alone with our distinct gifts and burdens.  The hunger and thirst that is our mortal, yearning life can never ultimately isolate you, or me, leaving us dismembered from the body or cast out.  And these two passages, read together, perhaps also testify to the fact that we can never ultimately hide ourselves away, with either our gifts or our struggles.  We cannot sit alone, satiated, or starve ourselves from the sustenance that is the bread of Jesus.  Could it be that, once we are pulled into the body of grace that is a church, we cannot sustain the spiritual anorexia of despair or the gluttony of lonely ambition?  I am not totally sure, but Scripture inspires me to be more sure.

I myself have felt utterly alone before, not only in a pew, but, truth be told, in a pulpit.  But grace has, finally, come back drip by drip, almost like an IV, and I don’t realize I have been linked back into the body until I am no longer so devastatingly parched.

Kara, as a priest, it will be your gift to stand right here close by the bread of life – touching it with your mortal hands, watching up close as hungry people, like yourself, come forward and eat Jesus.  It will be your task and gift to see and name the places where God is knitting God’s people together, even when the body that is a congregation seems all unraveled and frayed.  You will have the gloriously fun work of holy sleuthing, finding the places of God’s holy suturing.  Maybe think here also with the prophet Ezekiel, from whom St. Paul was borrowing.  When the body of God’s people seems hopelessly desiccated, you will dwell on and speak to a vision of bones snapping back together and of blood flowing from this hand over here to this other foot over here, even when this hand and this foot hardly seem part of the same body.  This bread you will serve enters us, and in difficult as well as in blessedly complicated ways, we are not alone.

In closing, I have to come back to our first reading, from Isaiah.  I love the magical-and yet-worldly specificity of the passage you chose.  Isaiah gives us the precise year in chronological time, the number of wings on the seraphs, and even where exactly they placed their wings.  Isaiah’s response to this vision of the Lord sitting on his throne is first to shout “Woe is me!”  I think this is a very helpfully to-the-point passage for those of us called to be priests – for those of us called to have our mouths transformed through holy cauterization.

Isaiah responds:

“Woe is me!  I am lost.”  Check.

“For I am a man of unclean lips.”  Check.

“And I live among a people of unclean lips!”  Definitely check and check.

Yet.  Yet.  I have seen the Lord here in this temple, right here, with my faltering eyes, Isaiah tells us.  And then, a flying seraph brings a live coal and tells Isaiah “Your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”

Your guilt has departed.  Your sin is blotted out.  My guilt has departed.  My sin is blotted out.

IMG_3142Kara Nicole Slade, for all the weirdness of this call passage, the wings and the smoke and the shaking thresholds, this word about sin and guilt is the weirdest word.  But it is a word that must sustain the possibility of all I have said up to this point.  Your guilt has departed.  Your sin is blotted out.  The very bread that is life, the gift of Christ that is the pulsing heartbeat of each little church and the church universal, that bread, that gift, that immeasurably forgiving blood is also yours and mine.  And in our ministry, this word of holy freedom may be the hardest word to believe.  May we both believe it.

Let us pray:

Christ be with you, Christ within you, Christ behind you, Christ before you, Christ beside you, Christ to win you, Christ to comfort and restore you.

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