A two-part homily on the occasion of Rachel Johnson’s ordination to the Gospel ministry.
Re-Imagine: Good and Just
What a day of worship we have had already this morning! We give thanks to God for the many, many blessings we see, lived out in so many ways in this community of faith. We are grateful.
In a few moments we come again to do the work of the church, to ordain Rachel Johnson to the Gospel ministry. One way to measure the health and vitality of a community of faith is to look and see: are there people in and among that community who are hearing the call of God on their lives and answering it? When there are…when there are people who come forward to express their conviction that God is calling them to a life of vocational ministry…it is the work of the church, a holy honor to be sure, to examine that individual thoroughly and to prayerfully consider their calling to discern whether it is real and true. In the case of Rachel Johnson, you, CalvaryBaptistChurch, have done this.
When Rachel came to me expressing a conviction that she pursue public ordination to the Gospel ministry, I asked a council made up of some of you to come together to examine Rachel. This council did just that; they met with Rachel, they prayed for Rachel, they asked Rachel important questions, they pushed Rachel to look at herself and at her conviction and calling. They read what she wrote and listened to her speak and thoughtfully considered whether we as a community of faith should take this big and important step of laying upon Rachel the mantle of responsibility she now comes to take today.
And so, as we are members of this community of faith, we all come today to ordain Rachel. In a few minutes Pastor Leah will speak about the considerable responsibility Rachel takes on today, but my task this morning is to speak to all of us.
For, just because we have concluded Rachel’s examination and now come to ordain her, this does not mean we are off the hook. As we watch one come out from among us to own her call, we cannot sit back and relax, because her courage and conviction makes us look long and hard at who we are and how it is we answer the call of God in our own lives…for none of us is excused from the task and challenge of God’s call. Seeing one we love come forward and embrace her own answer is a wake up call to all of us: we cannot sit back and relax. We must be about the work of ushering in God’s kingdom here and now.
The prophet Amos is the one issuing our biblical call to respond this morning. In the days when Israel was ruled by kings, prophets emerged from among the people to combat injustice and evil that continued to happen while the monarchy ruled. Amos was one such prophet. We don’t know much about him, other than the fact that he was some kind of herdsman who was just going about his business and was suddenly called by God to bring a message to the people around him. The cry he raised was urgent and simple: Hate evil, love good, establish justice in the gate.
Today Rachel takes vows in which she promises to take that message of goodness and justice to the world around her. But the call of Amos is not just for Rachel; it’s for us, too.
We’ve heard a challenge, in fact, from our stewardship team just this morning. Where are we investing our lives?
The call of the prophet is clear: our lives should stand for goodness and justice. And the courage of this one who comes out from among us to answer God’s call is only a more compelling call to us: God has told us what is good and what the Lord requires of us. As we play our part in Rachel’s ordination today, we are called to reexamine our own commitment and conviction. In what ways does your life, does my life, reflect goodness and justice? In what manner does our community call for justice in the gates of our world?
It takes a lot of courage to submit yourself to the examination of an ordination council and to come before us today to take important and serious vows. Rachel’s answer to God’s call is a challenge to us, like the challenge of the prophet Amos: Seek good, and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of Hosts, will be with you. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate.
Calvary congregation: can you hear the call of God? It is for Rachel this day. And it is for us, too.
Rachel, happy ordination day! It is this day that changes your life and yet does not change anything at all. It is these moments you will reflect on in the days and years to come and yet new moments will spring up all around you that will better explain these moments of ordination. Welcome to the already and the not yet of the life of a minister.
I’ve known Rachel for several years now, ever since she snuck in the back door of Calvary and sat in the last two rows of that section over there. She likes to tell the story that she was just checking Calvary out and seeing what we were about when one Sunday I made a beeline to her during the Passing of the Peace to introduce myself. See, this is what happens when people visit for awhile and I find out that you attended Yale Divinity School. You’re bound to get chased down during the Passing of the Peace.
But seriously, as Rachel observed this community of faith to see if it was in line with her checklist, we met for lunch one day in Rosslyn. That is where we had the initial conversation about whether she would ever want to be ordained. These conversations continued over the past few years and we talked of her love of the church, her love of politics, her love of theology and especially the life-giving energy she received when any of these intermingled. I thought I was a nerd, but I think Rachel can meet my nerdiness.
It does not surprise me that Rachel and I first had a conversation about ordination while we were sitting around a table, eating together. In fact, Rachel, I think it’s safe to say that most of our conversations about ordination and theology have happened around a table, while breaking bread together.
Today is World Communion Sunday and Rachel, this is no coincidence that you are being ordained on this day. Today, we celebrate the mysterious connections of the worldwide church as all together, we participate in communion, the breaking of bread and the drinking of the cup. We see our broken selves, brought together around this table and our dashed hopes scooped up and placed on the altar.
Rachel, so much of ministry is caring for those broken parts of people and dashed hopes. So much of what you will do will be carrying peoples’ dreams, brokenness, hopes and grief to this table, to the altar where through brokenness, wholeness is found.
To the place where death brought life.
To the place where betrayal brought redemption.
To the place where hate was redeemed by love.
And to the place where exclusion was quieted by the cries that no, in fact, all were welcome.
This table will always represent the place where you first said the words of institution as Rev. Rachel Johnson and I pray that it will serve as a metaphor for your ministry.
You are called out among us to serve as the prophet who will comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
You are called out among us to consistently point us toward the voice of God.
And you are called out among us to sit with God’s church in the sacred moments of joy and pain.
And so is the table of Jesus Christ.
The table is prophetic in its welcoming.
The table points us toward the voice of God who spoke the words around it so long ago, inviting people to a feast.
And the table is where we bring our sacred moments, itself becoming a sacred moment.
There will be days when this work exhausts you.
There will be days when this work energizes you.
There will be days when you wonder when and why and how God called you to this in the first place.
On those days, remember this table.
This table will sustain you by welcoming you to it over and over again. You will hear the stories of God’s people around it and your story will fit in there too. Allow your story the space to develop around the table.
Rachel, may you live a life that centers on this radical hospitality of Jesus Christ as he sat around the table with his friends.
May you remember that this day, you have chosen to stand behind it, welcoming all of God’s people to it, declaring to the world that you are willing to serve and love God’s beautiful table guests.
May you know that Calvary Baptist Church loves you, affirms you and now sends you out to do the gospel work of Jesus Christ in the world.
Rachel, I’ll end with a poem by Jan Richardson for this day, World Communion Sunday, but also for you on your Ordination:
And the Table Will Be Wide
A Blessing for World Communion Sunday
And the table will be wide.
And the welcome will be wide.
And the arms will open wide to gather us in.
And our hearts will open wide to receive.
And we will come as children who trust there is enough.
And we will come unhindered and free.
And our aching will be met with bread.
And our sorrow will be met with wine.
And we will open our hands to the feast without shame.
And we will turn toward each other without fear.
And we will give up our appetite for despair.
And we will taste and know of delight.
And we will become bread for a hungering world.
And we will become drink for those who thirst.
And the blessed will become the blessing.
And everywhere will be the feast.