Sermons

Sermon for the Ordination of Claire Cowden to the Sacred Order of Priests:

Sermon for the Ordination of Claire Cowden to the Sacred Order of Priests:

    Jun 13, 2015

    Preacher: The Rev. Dr. Jane Lancaster Patterson

    Keywords: love, ordination, priest, wisdom, evelyn underhill, claire cowden

    Summary:

    Feast of Evelyn Underhill, Mystic Wisdom 7:24-8:1; Psalm 37: 3-6, 32-33; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; John 4:19-24 "In every generation Wisdom passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets"

    Detail:

    Ordination of Claire Cowden to the Sacred Order of Priests

    Feast of Evelyn Underhill, Mystic

    Wisdom 7:24-8:1; Psalm 37: 3-6, 32-33; 1 Corinthians 4:1-5; John 4:19-24

     

    In every generation Wisdom passes into holy souls

    and makes them friends of God and prophets

     

                It is a great honor to preach among you this morning – I am honored because of the faithfulness of all of you who are present today, honored to bring greetings from Seminary of the Southwest where I have had the privilege to teach and learn from Claire, honored because I admire your bishop and the clergy and lay leaders I have gotten to know through the Iona Initiative, honored to say something about Evelyn Underhill, whose Feast Day we are commemorating, and honored to speak on the day when we all get to ordain Claire Cowden to the priesthood, surely one of the great things the Church gets to do this year. The Feast of Evelyn Underhill is also the 20th anniversary of my own priesting, so this is a big day for me, and I’m so happy to be right here, with all of you, doing these good things.

                We just heard from the Wisdom of Solomon a few minutes ago: “In every generation Wisdom passes into holy souls and makes them friends of God and prophets.” What we did not get to hear today was Jesus telling his disciples, “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15).Friends of God.Friends of Jesus.Every time I hear that, I imagine myself in the sandals of one of Jesus’ disciples thinking, “Oh, darn – I must have been absent that day. When did he tell us everything he has heard from God? Can I go back to being a servant until I get it? Do I still get to be a friend eventually? What in the heck does it mean to be a friend of God?”

    Perhaps in the eternal realm, where time doesn’t really matter, Evelyn Underhill could walk up to our sorry disciple and lend some aid. What would she say? What would she do, to get through to him or her?

    Perhaps words have not gotten through to our disciple. So maybe the first thing Evelyn would do would be to hand her friend a rock. The disciple doesn’t know yet that this is not an ordinary rock. It’s a geode. Geodes are those rocks that look so unprepossessing on the outside, usually humble and dull and gray, often kind of beat-up. But when they are sliced open, these dull stones reveal a cavity that contains an unsuspected treasury of crystals--purple or aquamarine, topaz or black, emerald or deep blue. The geometry of each crystal is formal and perfect. But all together, they appear to tumble out of the sliced stone, a mystery revealed, but not explained. Evelyn hands an uncut geode to the disciple, who stands there gazing at the plain gray rock without comprehension. Let’s leave them there for a moment, Evelyn and the disciple side-by-side in eternity.

     

    Evelyn Underhill, who lived from 1875 to 1941, was a graduate of King’s College, London, but was largely self-taught from her early thirties on, as she began to delve more deeply into the study of Christian mysticism. But the source of her study was not ideas about God, but rather immediate experience of the love of God. She didn’t equate reading a lot about God with knowing God. She didn’t believe in sitting on a cushion waiting for God to show up. She didn’t even try to encourage people to engage in Centering Prayer. For Underhill, everything we do, in every moment, in every place, is our response to the immensity of God’s always-present love. There was nothing fussy about her spirituality, and she had the gift of bringing the unspeakable to speech. In her work, The Life of the Spirit and the Life of To-day, she gave four simple guidelines for the spiritual life. I am imagining this morning that she comes to the rescue of our poor disciple, the one who cannot remember all the things that Jesus taught, but who stands there now foolishly holding a rock. And Underhill says, “Just do this – I think it will help: four ways to become a friend of God. And don’t lose that rock.”

     

    “#1 Rightful contact with the Particular and the Fleeting. That is, a willing acceptance of all this-world tasks, obligations, relations, and joys. “ Underhill’s first helpful clue is that God is not far off. Don’t set out on an heroic journey to become a friend of God. Don’t leave your claustrophobic cubicle, your squalling baby on the changing table, your spouse in mid-argument, your truck on the highway, or your scribbled-over calendar. Just - start there. Open that door. Walk in completely.

     

    “#2 But also, a certain renunciation of that Particular and Fleeting, a refusal to get everything out of it that we can for ourselves, or attribute to it absolute worth.” Secondly, Underhill advises, as you work at the desk in your cubicle, remember that the world does not hang upon that memo you’re writing; your fatigue at the changing table is not all there is to your relationship with that squalling baby; you don’t have to win the argument with your spouse; that truck you bought doesn’t sum up your value in the world; and though you fret over your calendar, move appointments here and there, take a deep breath and remember that you have, quite literally, all the time in the world.

     

    “#3 And with this ever—not merely in hours of devotion—to seek and find the Eternal; penetrating our wholesome this-world action through and through with the very spirit of contemplation.” Underhill reaches over to the disciple and takes the geode in her hand. This is where she slices the dull stone that is daily life, and it breaks open. Between this breath and the next one; this keystroke and the next; this grin and sigh at the baby;this cross word and that rejoinder;this pressure on the gas pedal, then the brake; this circling of an appointment and that erasure–Underhill slips in the sharp knife of awe, of prayer, of awareness of God. Stop, listen. Let your attention slice right through this dull moment, to reveal the iridescent geometry of God’s presence at the heart of it. And watch as that presence illuminates the papers on the desk, blesses the skin of the baby on the changing table, softens the familiar shabbiness of the living room where your words still spark in the air, fillsthe cab of the truck, glances across the scribbles on your calendar. The treasure that lies hidden inside every moment. You slice it clean open with your stunned attention to God.

     

    “#4 Thus deepening and incarnating—bringing in, giving body to, and in some sense exhibiting by means of our own growing and changing experience—that transcendent Otherness, the fact of the Life of the Spirit in the here-and-now.” So you take that next breath at your desk, and check to see how your colleague is doing. You finish cleaning the baby, and trade smiles with each other. You shut your arguing mouth, and hold your husband or wife close to your heart.You continue down the highway in your truck toward the worksite, youtap your calendar full of relationships, and give thanks. This moment is a single crystal, shining with the presence of God, where you allow God’s Wisdom to take on flesh again in our world, your flesh, put to the service of God’s love: reconciling, caring, serving, working, laughing, driving, cleaning.The friend of God gives a body to the love that would otherwise be invisible in our world.

    Jesus was, in some strange way, like the geode of God: on the outside an unremarkable Palestinian builder from Nazareth. But, when his heart broke over his people’s hunger, illness, disability, injustice, the radiant wisdom of God became visible and active: the crystalline structure of the love that made everything suddenly revealed. When, in the end, his body was broken open on the cross, did not the full wealth of God’s love tumble forth into our world? The mystery at the heart of everything fully revealed, but not explained. And this morning, when the ordinary bread of Christ’s body is broken open again, how will the wisdom of God radiate among us? How many crystalline colors of God’s love, mercy, justice, healing will become visible in our homes and workplaces and communities? Jesus said, “Now I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my father.” The disciple and Evelyn look at the split-open rock, and smile. The friend of God gives a body to the love that would otherwise be invisible in our world.

     

    Claire, Friend of God, please stand. This is my charge to you:

    You are already attuned to God’s presence in your daily life. When we ordain you to the priesthood, you will be invited into the darkest corners of people’s lives: into their anxiety in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; into their despair in an in-patient psychiatric clinic; into their fears of God’s judgment in the sacrament of reconciliation; into their failures at work or in ministry or in marriage; into their unknowing as they attempt to follow God along unfamiliar paths. But even in all these places, may you discern the unearthly beauty of God, that inexplicable shining forth of wisdom, love, justice, mercy. Allow yourself to be that simple stone whose heart breaks open to reveal the mystery of God’s love in all places.

    When we ordain you to the priesthood, you will be invited to preside at weddings, at baptisms, at house blessings and boat blessings and pet blessings, to pray at banquets and graduations and City Council meetings.  Allow the shining presence of God to tumble forth without reserve in all these places.

    When we ordain you to the priesthood, you will spend a lot of hours in your office typing sermons, proofreading announcements, planning classes, figuring out who is going to sit where at the Easter service. You will make copies, clean toilets, clean out closets at the church. Even here, friend of God, stop and listen. This, too, is none other than the threshold of heaven. Even here: that shining, that love, that mysterious geometry of the wisdom of God tumbling into our world through your mind and your flesh.

    Amen.