Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Installation of the Rev. Bridget Coffey

Installation of the Rev. Bridget Coffey
Feb. 17, 2018
Joshua 1:7-9
Psalm 146
Ephesians 4:7, 11-16
John 15:9-16

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

It truly is an honor to be with you all this afternoon.  A month ago, I asked Bridget to send me a sermon to read today, but with all the planning, I guess she forgot.   Bridget and I went to seminary together in New York.  But before seminary, my family and I lived in Maumee for about ten years, which is when I joined the Episcopal Church.  In my journey into the priesthood, members of St. Andrew's were on my various discernment committees.  And just before leaving for seminary, my wife and I attended our first Easter Vigil right here at St. Andrew’s, with all the drama and flair that Lynn McCallum brought to such things.

In my second year of seminary, the incoming class included Bridget Coffey.  We became friends, and eventually both became part of a small clique of marginal Anglo-Catholics . . . like you do.  For complicated reasons, I stayed in seminary an extra year (which I usually refer to as my “victory lap”), and spent most of my senior year hanging around with that small clique of four other future priests.  (And now that Bridget has been called to our Diocese, my secret reunification plan is 3/5 complete!)  So, then, Bridget came to my ordination here in Ohio, and I went to her ordination in Kentucky, and then we went off to our first calls.

I began my priestly work in Brunswick, which is southwest of Cleveland.  As the people and I approached our first Christmas together in the parish, a couple asked me if they could be married at the Christmas Eve service, since the bride’s mother was married on Christmas Eve.  I said, “Let me think about it,” and quickly called my assigned mentor, the Rev. Gay Jennings, current President of the House of Deputies.  (Yes, this is what you call “Episcopalian name dropping.”)  So Gay suggested I would have my answer by just imagining the opening procession of the service.  Where does the bride go?  Before the gospel book?  Behind the priest?  Carrying the cross?  And it was then I learned that some things just don’t go together.  Not all seasons of the church are appropriate for all things.

So let’s talk about having a celebration on the first Saturday in Lent, shall we?  As you know, Lent is a time of fasting and self-reflection, a time when many people give up sweets and treats.  So, a Lenten invitation might end up saying something like, “Come to my party this February!  There will be plenty of bread and water for everybody.  And if things really get hopping, we might even break out the sackcloth and ashes!  Regrets only.”  But . . . there is a distinct difference between a celebration and a party, when you think about it.  We might have a party for New Year’s Eve, but we have a Celebration of Life to remember a loved one.  While a fraternity might party till dawn, you and I gather together to celebrate the Eucharist at an Easter Vigil.  And though there might well be tables full of sweets awaiting us here in the parish hall, we are here today to Celebrate a New Ministry.

So, speaking of celebrating during Lent, let’s talk about commandments.  Many churches begin their services during Lent by reading The Decalog.  (Which is a fancy word for the Ten Commandments.)  The Ten Commandments, of course, are the list of things God gave to Moses up on Mt. Sinai.  If you ask most people about the Ten Commandments, they will tell you they’re a list of things that God says you shall and shall not do.  You know, like some basic guardrails of human behavior.  Most people think of the Ten Commandments as a list of dos and don’ts, all designed to bring the party down.  You know, like a commandment puts limits of the fun.  “I hereby command you to stop enjoying life.”

I think when we hear the word “commandment,” we all tense up a little.  Because we think of  a “commandment” as something against our will, or something we’re going to fail at.  Either it’s a list of rules we can’t keep, or it’s some requirement that is going to take away our fun.  We’re not good with commandments, especially when we know we can’t keep them.  That’s why the word makes us nervous.

In the opening chapter of Joshua, part of which we heard in our first reading, God tells Joshua to be “careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left.”  So, Joshua, stick to the commandments that I gave to Moses, plus the other rules.  And then, following that, there’s another command: “I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

It feels a little strange to be commanded to be strong and courageous, doesn’t it?  I mean, if it were that simple, we could all be strong and courageous by sheer will, right?  But notice that the command to be strong and courageous is because the Lord your God is with you.  It is not strength and courage based on self-confidence and internet motivational courses; it is the reliance on God that gives strength and courage.  So, phew, it turns out that commandment comes with a set of tools and instructions.

In the Gospel reading from John, which we just heard, Jesus uses the word “commandment” three times.  And with such a short reading, that’s a lot!  And, as is typical of John’s Gospel, there’s a lot of logic and if/then kind of stuff going on.  John is often hard to follow for that very reason.  Like you have to pick it apart to see what he is saying.  And, as the preacher, today it is my job to do the picking.

Jesus said to his disciples, “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”  That’s pretty straight forward, right?  Jesus loves us like the Father loves him, and he says: abide in his love.  Got it.  So . . . How exactly do we abide in his love?  Well, Jesus helpfully answers our question: “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”  Uh oh.  This If and Then sound like bad news, and I think it starts to make us sweat a little.  Because now there’s a condition attached, right?  And the condition is attached to our old nemesis, “commandment.”  IF we keep the commandments of Jesus, THEN we will abide in his love.

We’re all pretty sure Jesus’ commandments are a mile long, based on the Sermon on the Mount.  And then, Jesus ratchets it up by saying, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.”  So now, on top of if, then, and commandments, we’ve got long-term goals, right?  We will abide in his love, IF we keep his commandments.  And if we keep his commandments,  our joy will be complete.  So there’s a lot riding on getting this right, right?   We would like to abide in Jesus.  We would hope to keep his commandments.  And we certainly want for our joy to be complete.  Okay.  Alright.  Let’s have it Jesus.  What are your commandments?  Seriously, just go ahead and give us the bad news.

And Jesus says, "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  Seriously?  That’s it?  Nothing about shellfish or coveting or gluttony?  Nothing about adultery in our hearts and killing with evil thoughts?  Just . . . love one another?  Oh, wait.  Love one another as you have loved us.  You knew there had to be a catch, right?  We’ve got to see what it means to love like Jesus loves.  So, let’s consider the question:  How does Jesus love us?

And the answer is, unconditionally.  Jesus loves you unconditionally, whether you like it or not.  If we love one another unconditionally, we will be keeping the commandment of Jesus, and we will abide in his love, and our joy will be complete.  It’s that simple.  Well, maybe simple is the wrong word.  I mean, it’s that straight forward.  Love one another unconditionally, and your joy will be complete, because you will abide in the love of Jesus.

Rev. Bridget Coffey, People of St. Andrew’s, we all want your joy to be complete.  And so we ask you to follow the commandment of Jesus: Love one another as Jesus has loved you.  Be patient with one another.  Give each other the benefit of the doubt.  Laugh and cry together, dance and pray together.  But above all else, love one another, as Jesus has loved you.

Your New Ministry together is     indeed something to celebrate.  We are excited for you, and we will support you in everything you do.  But I can tell you right now, we absolutely draw the line at having a wedding on Christmas Eve.


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