I am delighted to be with you in this beautiful sanctuary for such a joyful occasion, the ordination of Emily Garcia as a priest in the church of God. And now Mike is the boss, so its even more fun for me to be here!
Emily and I met three years ago at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale where her light shone bright. Her intellectual gifts distinguished her in the classroom, her passion for prayer in worship, and my favorite meals were the weeks she was our head chef in the kitchen where she hosted meals and coffees for our seminary community as one of the house residents. I had the special blessing of Emily knocking on my office door, and stepping in, giving us the chance to know each other. Thank you for this honor, Emily, to be here with our Bishop Alan, your family and friends, the community of the Church of the Redeemer, as we pray with you, witness your vows and support you as you become a priest, as you with the prophet Isaiah find those words that ultimately belong to every single one of us: “Here am I; send me.”
In the lesson from Isaiah, the Lord is sitting on a throne, high and lofty, so grand and supersized that the hem of God’s garment fills the temple, and someone snuck a thurifer - - the temple is filled with smoke. The columns over the threshold shake, and 6 winged seraphs, imagine that, 3 wings on each side, gliding in and out of the eaves and pillars like Harry Potter in flight inside the temple crying out the words we say together at the altar ; holy, holy, holy Lord. In other words, this is a big deal! And there is Emily saying with Isaiah : Woe, woe, is me. What have I gotten myself in to? Woe is me, I am lost, the people I serve are lost! And yet, and yet, the story turns on those two words. The chasm, the distance between majestic , bigger than life God and Isaiah , crying woe is me, recedes when an angel, a messenger from God lifts a burning coal from the altar and makes a hot connection to the lips of Isaiah. But notice, no blister forms, no report of pain or skin damage, instead, that burning touch in the midst of the majesty and chaos of the temple scene transforms Isaiah’s self doubt into confidence – enough confidence for Isaiah, and Emily to say: “And yet, even with all the chaos of this world, and all that is beyond my control, and how lost I feel and how lost my people are, and yet, my eyes have seen the King” “Here am I, Send me.”
I thought of Emily recently when I heard that a newly ordained person asked his rector what she had in mind for the upcoming confirmation class that he would be teaching. She said you need to “convert them from the ways of the world, to the ways of Jesus, because the ways of the world will kill them.” Well, okay. A tall order. One that Emily is up to. The ways of the world, perhaps more than in recent memory are soul killing, the endemic of sexual misconduct, the disrespect for others, the lack of respect for the law, for the natural world. It is not appropriate to speak of a need for conversion to another order? To remind ourselves and our children that we report to a higher authority than our political leaders. We report to the God who came in Jesus, our burning coal from the fire of God’s altar who closes the chasm for us, whose birth we await this Advent, whose life was laid down for the dignity and respect of every person, for the least, and the lost and every confirmand at Church of the Redeemer.
In the early 1900s Evelyn Underhill reminded us “ The church is in the world to save the world. It is a tool of God for that purpose, not a comfortable religious club established in fine historical premises. “
If the church has any chance of claiming moral authority in our world today it will not be because the Bishop or Emily or your Rector might come up with something brilliant to lure people into church, it will be because everyone of you, every Christian in the pew finds their own “here am I, send me”. We don’t ride on the wings of Emily as she offers herself today. Today Emily lives out her baptism with a call to the priesthood, her work is to build up the saints, all of you, for your ministry in the world. Emily’s work is to learn what her people need on Sunday in order to do their work on Monday.
Her preaching and teaching, her prayer and leadership is about forming communities of faith that feed souls. That equip people, to live out the particular way each of you say practice the teachings of Jesus on the front lines, in the world, in education, health care, as parents and grandparents, in politics, biology labs, architecture, following Jesus’ teachings in your daily life in the world.
The waters of baptism ordained you to live your faith as a follower of Jesus at the state house, in the kitchen, the courtroom, boardroom and classrooms that fill your lives. A priest at the altar is not more significant to God than a chemist in the lab saving people’s lives. A priest at the altar is not a few steps up from everyone else in God’s eyes. The work of a priest at the altar is the work, as BBTaylor says “a courier serving an ancient courtship, passing messages between two would be lovers who want to get together but don’t know how”. The church is a dwelling place for God, a house of gratitude and thanksgiving and a fueling station for your public witness and private solace as you live out your life as a Christian in the world.
There is a tradition in ordination sermons to offer a charge to the ordinand. A tradition I want to preface with a charge, first, to all of you who are gathered here today. Priests are not called to ordination by some singular lightning bolt from on high, they are called by their human experiences, they are called in communities, and called into communities, they are called by and the people of God, all of you.
Emily’s parents, and any other members of her family that are here today would you please stand and remain standing. Thank you for the seeds you planted in this young woman from the womb, as a child, as a youth in the church and at school and at home.
Emily’s friends, if you met on the playground, or in high school or college, in a bar, or in classes, or in seminary; please stand and remain standing. Thank you for watering seeds in Emily when you met her, thank you for your part in paving her way, in being there for her when she was confused, and needed support, for having fun together. Thank you for your part in helping her recognize her gifts and thank you for loving her. She will always need that. She will be a priest, but she will always, be a human being with a human heart that needs to be loved to thrive.
Fellow members of Emily’s churches, his her home church, his internship church, her Bishop, her commission on ministry and standing committee members, and her discernment committee, please stand and remain standing. Thank you for listening to Emily’s questions and answering them with your faith. For holding up a mirror and helping her see who she is, what she can do, for revealing to her her weaknesses and his strengths. Your work, your prayer, and your love for God and the church have brought us to this moment with Emily and we thank you.
And finally, those of you in the parish of the Church of the Redeemer who have called Emily, would you please stand. Thank you for your resounding yes to what we all saw in Emily, for your yes to her spiritual leadership as a priest, to her intellectual gifts as teacher, and preacher, thank you for supporting her and thank you for giving her a job.
Emily, please stand, this is your great cloud of witnesses. You did not get here on your own. I don’t care how smart you are, how beautiful you are, how gifted you are. You did not get here on your own. And you will not do your work on your own. These are the people that gave you life and loved you right into this day - - these are the people that believe in you and in the power of God to work through you. They stand with you today. Look at them and do not forget to call upon them.
Please be seated. Emily please stand.
You have a voice of clarity, and wisdom, the ear of a poet and a heart for children. We need your voice in the church. Thank God for your many gifts and use them. May God give you courage and confidence, to offer us your keen insights, your theological imagination to a world in need of the saving mercy of the cross of Jesus.
-Don’t try to do it alone. People will rely on you to help them, and they want you to rely on them in return.
-Keep a sense of joy in your work, and when you stop having it, get some rest.
-Exercise your imagination given to you so generously by God. Tell the story of Jesus like the prophets and poets and preachers that followed him did.
Finally - - - Emily
-Be not afraid. God, who has called you to this work means to do it with you. Give God your life. Stay close to Jesus, to yourself and to those you trust. And May God hold you in those everlasting arms and never let you go.