In the name of our God who waits for us, calls to us in the wilderness, and builds a highway to lead us home: Amen.
Well, don’t we look festive today!
With all this red everywhere, I don’t need a calendar to know that it is two weeks before Christmas Eve. Thanks to all who have made this a beautiful space for this joyous occasion, the ordination of the two newest deacons in the Episcopal Church.
After all this time of waiting, calling, and building, Susan and Diana, beloved sisters of this Diocese, this is your special day.
This great Cathedral offers us an opportunity to see the extremes of our faith.
Just over here to my left we honor Charles Henry Brent, the great missionary bishop of the church, founder of what became the World Council of Churches, senior chaplain to the American Forces in Europe in World War I, and my predecessor as bishop of this diocese, a towering figure in Christianity whose accomplishments shape our church to this very day.
Just outside, over there, is the Garden of Love, where we hang jackets and scarves and mittens for anyone who needs them. Where we pay special attention to the needs of the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely.
And we are in the in-between space, which seems a perfect place for the ordination of our new deacons, whose job, after all, is to interpret to the Church the needs, concerns and hopes of the world. And we gather in and in between the election of our new President and the inauguration of that President. We are aware that many people are still depressed, and some are scared by the results of the election and we also have had brought home to us that there are many people who feel that they have not been heard, who are being left behind, who were depressed and scared before the election.
Our job is to bring those needs before us here in the church, where it might be easy to ignore them amid the grandeur of this historic building and the accomplishments of our great leaders … and to lead us out into the world to minister to its needs, reminding all of Christ’s people that in serving the depressed, the angry, the people who haven’t been heard, they are serving Christ himself.
Susan and Diana, you have been walking all your lives on God’s highway that brings you here today, to this place, this moment. Whether you knew it or not.
Susan has been running on that highway since she was a little girl. She tells me, “My earliest memories of attending church are from age 4 or 5 in Lancaster. I would run down Central Avenue and over Broadway to Trinity Episcopal Church. I don’t remember much about being in Sunday school, but I do remember being in a hurry to get there. I guess that urgency has stayed with me most of my life, the wanting to get to church!”
Susan was sidetracked for a while when her father had to take the family’s only car to get to work on Sunday. But no worries, her mother walked the children to a nearby Methodist church where Susan learned to sing all those great Methodist hymns.
Susan’s mother served as an acolyte at her church at the age of 83. Her parents read daily Bible lessons, which Susan admits she often interrupted with very important questions about “Where is the Scotch tape?” or “Can I go over to Sharon’s house?” Those were early lessons about the importance of daily devotions and the value of scripture.
Susan tells me that twice she and her husband Robert have tried to visit Chartres Cathedral in France. Once they were deterred when Robert injured his foot; a second time when his travel documents and money were stolen. They are determined to get there yet. “Never give up! That must be our motto!” she says.
That, of course, is an excellent motto for a deacon.
Diana recalls her family story: There is Diana nursing a baby with one hand, stirring a pot of soup with the other, children playing at her feet, while construction workers were tearing down one wall of her kitchen to build on an addition to the house.
That also sounds like excellent preparation for life as a deacon.
Despite a satisfying life as a stay-at-home mother of five for 12 years, and then a 27-year career as an art teacher, Diana kept feeling the pull. “The more I tried to ignore the pull, the louder the voices grew in my head,” she said. “I would say, ‘Yes, Lord,’ and feel peace for a short time, then second-guess my intentions. After 40 years of struggling I was ready to find out if it was God calling me, or if it was just my ego calling.”
Diana, it sounds as if God finally won.
Diana tells me that as a teenager, “I knew I was called to something in the church, but I had no idea what it was because females couldn’t even be acolytes in those days.” One of my biggest regrets for our beloved church is how long it has taken us to acknowledge the fullness of women’s ministry as lay people, bishops, priests and deacons. How many years of their wisdom and service did we lose because we did not recognize their gifts? Thanks be to God that has changed. We are a richer church because women are part of the leadership and councils of the church. On this 40th anniversary year of the ordination of women, and on this day when we do indeed ordain two women, I hope every little girl and young woman in this church hears that loud and clear. The Episcopal Church needs you!
The ministry of the diaconate is only going to become more important in the future we are moving into now.
In this post-election season, all of us as Christians can show the world that the values of our faith override political concerns and we will continue to care for God’s people regardless of who is in the White House. We will stand for immigrants and refugees, with LGBT youth, with prisoners and captives, with those who fear that their health insurance or their right to marry the person they love will be taken away. We will listen to the people in our small towns who are crying out for change, for a chance to be heard and have a future for their children. How fortunate that our two new deacons will be serving in the Genesee region, exactly where we need to be listening. I look forward to working with our deacons to make that happen.
But what is our mission now?
We can stop keeping our faith the best-kept secret in town. As our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, said recently, our goal is not to make a bigger church. What we are about is making a better world, one that is “saturated in love.” And our Presiding Bishop was himself ordained deacon right here in this space. He has never lost his sense of his diaconal ministry. He says, “We do that by being out in the world, reaching out to those who are yearning for something they can’t define, letting them know that God loves them and longs for them and is desperate to welcome them home.”
Bishop Curry suggests that we think of ourselves as the church version of Doctors Without Borders. We marshal our resources and go wherever there is a need. That is the future of the church, and our two new deacons are going to lead the way.
Susan and Diana show us the pattern of all our ministries in this new time after the recent Presidential election. We must all be Believers Without Borders, proving that our faith and our good works can succeed when all else fails to transform this world from the nightmare it often is into the dream of God; for justice, dignity and peace. I look to our deacons, Susan, Diana, all our deacons, to make that dream come true.
God bless the diaconate and today in a special way, God bless Susan and Diana.