Ordination of Worth Stuart as a Transitional Deacon – June 3, 2017
Jeremiah 1:4-9; 2 Corinthians 4:1-6; Luke 22:24-27
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr
From the prophet Jeremiah: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” “The Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth.”
From St. Paul to the Corinthians: “It is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry.” “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”
And from Luke’s gospel: The greatest among you must become like the youngest.” “I am among you as one who serves.”
If you’re a really good listener, there’s your sermon right there. But since it takes a while for things to sink in, I’ll add some words in the hopes that you can better hear the wisdom of our scriptures. If I get in your way, just push my words aside and focus on Jeremiah, Paul, and Luke.
As Worth Stuart was growing up we knew there was something just a little different about him. That could be said about everyone growing up. We all bear our own special mark of the incarnation of God. We’re all born into God’s creation with God’s mark upon us. But with Worth it was easy to see that something special was brewing. He was a normal guy, don’t get me wrong. He may or may not have had an adult beverage on my back porch with my offspring and friends a little ahead of certain legal regulations. He wasn’t unlike his peers. But you could tell he was taking things in on a little different level than most. He was thoughtful and gentle and looked for the good in the world, and found it. He was loyal to his church and committed to what the church stands for. You could look in his eyes and see that he was figuring out who he was and who God is. Most people get to that later on. But Worth started early. Now we look back on that 15-20 years later and we see what was going on. God was calling him, inviting him to allow himself to be set apart for special service to the Lord.
Even though he started early with that call, it has taken some years for it all to come together. Even now we know that he is more at the beginning of a journey than the end of one. More is to come. But Worth is paying attention, he’s listening, he’s trying to follow and be faithful. Before God formed Worth in the womb, God knew Worth. God put out his hand and touched Worth’s mouth. Not just once but repeatedly, and God will continue.
The church has recognized that call, that invitation from God to Worth. The church has consented and offered Worth an opportunity. The church has brought him along and trained him well, given him time to learn, given him mentors and peers and experiences. The church has issued its own invitation and asked Worth to serve. The church didn’t have to do that. It is by God’s mercy that we are engaged in this ministry. Worth hasn’t gotten here today by himself. Much has gone on to bring him here. We’re not here to celebrate how different and how great Worth is. We’re here to celebrate the remarkable way in which God makes goodness possible, how God reaches out to us to ask us to serve, how good things are done more in spite of us than because of us. “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Sometimes those who are called to ordination forget that. Sometimes we feel like our ideas, our vision for how things could be, our energy for accomplishing good things, are all somehow things that belong to us. Sometimes those who are called separate themselves a bit too far from the group. We think of the church and the world as the problem and ourselves as the solution.
Sometimes those who are called to ordination come to focus on how hard our job is. It doesn’t help that people tell us that. “Wow, I don’t know how you do what you have to do.” Honestly, if I’m doing it, just how hard could it be? Being ordained is no harder than any other job. It’s no harder than raising young children, or running a business, or teaching school, or collecting garbage. But, of course, it is hard because all those jobs are hard too. When ordained people can remember that what they are doing is a tremendous opportunity and work as hard as they possibly can without thinking they are somehow different than anyone else, then they can be true servants and vessels of grace. When our need for recognition gets out of hand, then we become lonely and bitter and dangerous. We become distractions rather than vessels. Worth, if you ever take yourself too seriously, a few of us will help you get over that. “The greatest among you must become as the youngest.” “I am among you as one who serves.”
The call to be a deacon, it has been said, is the holiest of calls, the purest of the calls to ordination. Bishops and priests get more attention. Deacons are called to a more behind-the-scenes sort of ministry. Some are called to be deacons for a lifetime. Perhaps their call is the purest of all. Some are called to be a deacon for a season, on their way to priesthood. Every bishop and priest was first a deacon and that is our primary call. It is a call to serve rather than rule, to assist rather than control, to prepare rather than determine. Priests and bishops, at their best, continue to live into the call to be a deacon, but there are many opportunities to forget that.
Worth, as you have accepted the invitations that have been offered to you and now enter life as a deacon, it is the next step of your journey, a journey we anticipate leading to life as a priest. But this ordination as a deacon is primary. It is an invitation to be a servant for others, not to count ourselves as more than anyone else but always less, to remember that while the office is important we aren’t all that important ourselves.
Worth spent a few years here at St. John’s on our staff. One of the great things about working here is the really cool name plates outside the doors to each of our offices. They’re really handsome bronze looking name plates. Mine says “Rector”. And then below it “Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.” The best thing about those name plates is that the part with the name on it is a magnetized little strip. It looks like part of the more permanent sign but it can pulled off just like that and replaced with another name. Worth, the office we hold is more permanent than we are. The office we hold is more important than we are. We’re just the latest occupant of the office. This is not about us. “We do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord.”
Everyone here today is called and each of us is responding. Each is invited to respond more deeply. We typically equate God’s call with what we should do as a vocation. Honestly that just doesn’t matter all that much. Bishop, priest, deacon, lay person. Parent of young children, owner of a business, school teacher, garbage collector. None of those jobs is any more important than any others. God doesn’t so much call us to a job as to a way of living. God calls us to faithfulness, humbleness, joy, and gratitude. As God blesses Worth’s journey in a special way today, may we all know God’s blessing on us, may we listen to the daily callings God issues us, may we respond in ways that allow God’s goodness to be known, may each day be a little less about us and a little more about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.