Ordination Response – 2/1/09

Recently I was talking with someone about this being my ordination Sunday and they asked me what I was going to say for my inaugural address.  To which I replied that first of all, while expecting a number of out of town guests, we weren’t expecting that many out of town guests, and also that I wasn’t the main speaker for the day but would have a chance to respond briefly to what has been offered.

We have this notion in the Anabaptist tradition that the voice of God is made known through the discerning community, and I feel very blessed to have been given many forms of community that have helped guide me along the way toward pastoral ministry.  My community begins with my family and the love and nurture of Mom and Dad and brother and sisters and extended family.  It has included different congregations where that nurture has been furthered — the chance to preach a sermon as an elementary school student in the congregation where I grew up.  The affirmations from people in St. Louis Mennonite Fellowship during a time when I was considering what I wanted to do after Voluntary Service and whether seminary would be that path.  The welcome and the grace of Cincinnati Mennonite, which has always been, from its early days, a place where beginning pastors are given the space and the support and encouragement they need to do well.  I have been blessed with good mentors.  Marion Bontrager, Duane Beck and Nina Lanctot, Arthur Paul Boers, John Kampen, Steve Goering.  Each of these and many more have helped call out of me good things I didn’t yet know I had – doing this mainly by already possessing those good things themselves.    

 

If you’ve been in the living room of our house you know that around the archway leading into the dining room we have hanging different images of spiritual heroes, people who are so far out in front of us in their love of God that we get to simply try and walk along the path they have already cleared.  The community of saints, the living faith of the dead, has also informed my desire to be a pastor.  Most importantly, beyond all these other wonderful things, I have been given a home base in Abbie who keeps me grounded in the every day small acts of kindness and forgiveness, and who never lets me take myself too seriously. 

The other way that I have sensed the call toward pastoral ministry has been through something pretty much the opposite of community — what scripture speaks of as the wilderness.  The wilderness is that broad category of experiences where we are stripped of all the accessories of life and left with nothing but…not much.  Ever since my last couple years of high school, different trips to the spiritual wilderness, mostly without my own planning, have been an important part of what has shaped me.  It has involved times of solitude, silence, and often loneliness and the feeling of being disoriented with life.  I have journalled off and on during these years and some of those journal entries are not exactly pleasant to read over again.  

The narrative of scripture indicates that the wilderness is an opportunity for discovering God in new ways.  The gospels, as they are written, essentially report that Jesus has nothing to say until he has traveled through the wilderness, facing down his own demons, confronting the conflicting voices within him and around him. 

My wilderness experiences have also involved confrontations.  At times I have had a struggle for meaning.  At other times facing a sense of isolation and being cut off from the world.  At some point along the way having to confront my own cynicism toward God and the church and the desire to leave the whole package behind.      

An important message for me came from reading James Cone, the father of black liberation theology.  He has said that theology must begin with our own deepest pain. 

These wilderness experiences have been times when I have discovered these, my deepest wounds, and at the same time, better discovered how my life intersects with the divine life.  And this has helped serve as a grounding for thinking and doing authentic theology.  Moving beyond cynicism toward a spirituality of hopefulness.  Affirming the connectedness of all being.  The treasure of joy.  The gift of meaning that comes through our relationships in the ever present call to love God with all our self, and to love our neighbor as ourself, and in the process learn how to love ourself.  

That is introduction to what I would like my personal response to really be here, which is to share a song written by Leonard Cohen that expresses what I feel in regards to being ordained.  Leonard Cohen is a Jew, who has spent five years in a Buddhist monastery, and is given to frequent references to Christ in his music.  He is a folk singer who is more comfortable in a smoky bar than a well-kept sanctuary.  I have found that his words speak to me, and sometimes speak for me, and also imagine they carry a universal appeal to them.  This song, If It Be Your Will, has allusions to the experience of the wilderness and of community.  This is my ordination prayer.

   If it be your will

  That I speak no more

  And my voice be still

  As it was before

  I will speak no more

  I shall abide until

  I am spoken for

  If it be your will

 

  If it be your will

  That a voice be true

  From this broken hill

  I will sing to you

  From this broken hill

  All your praises they shall ring

  If it be your will

  To let me sing

 

  If it be your will

  If there is a choice

  Let the rivers fill

  Let the hills rejoice

  Let your mercy spill

  On all these burning hearts in hell

  If it be your will

  To make us well

 

  And draw us near

  And bind us tight

  All your children here

  In their rags of light

  In our rags of light

  All dressed to kill

  And end this night

  If it be your will

  If it be your will.

By Leonard Cohen

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