January 21, 2018
St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Oak Harbor WA
Blessed be the Name of God!
I had an amazing conversation with a friend who told me that her daughter recently said to her, “Mom, I’m going to make more decisions this year that take me out of my comfort zone! My first question was, “How old is your daughter??” Thinking quite the language skills, quite the insight for a young one! “12”, her Mom said. “12”, I said aghast! Then I asked how she responded. She said, “Well, I think that’s a good thing, Ella!” That’s a good thing, Ella? What an understatement, I thought! That’s a fabulous thing, Ella!
What provoked Ella to make such a life decision? Perhaps an inspiration whirled through Ella that we are in this wild and crazy world together and we must figure out how to step out, live rightly and well--together. She somehow knew that her unique brand of everyday ordinary needed to stretch to become something new!
It was the spring of 1957 in Kirkwood MO. A certain young 17 year old, stepped out, and made an appointment with the Bishop of
Missouri, the Rt. Rev. Arthur C. Lichtenberger. This same young man, a lifelong Episcopalian, born and raised in the Church, sought counsel from his Bishop as to where he might to college. He told his Bishop that he “intended to seek” ordination and wanted to attend a school that would prepare him for seminary and beyond.
The Bishop suggested the University of the South, Sewanee TN, to which this young man went in the fall of 1958. The University of the South, “Sewanee” did not prove to go in a straight line toward a degree. After three semesters, he transferred to Drury College for nearly two semesters. He then dropped out, got a job, and finally finished his degree at night school!
This path might try anyone’s aspirations toward ordination, yet, this all seemed quite ordinary for this young man, because from an early age, he knew that he “was to seek” ordination. Seminary seemed to be his appropriate next step. All the while during these years he talked to his rector about his intention to go to seminary. His rector and vestry offered support and endorsement, both of which he took to the then Bishop of Missouri, the Rt. Rev. George L. Cadigan. Over time and following what was then due process, the Bishop accepted William Seth Adams as a
postulant for ordination.
In the fall of 1964, he began three years of study at Bexley Hall, an Episcopal seminary in Gambier OH, completing his work there in 1967. William Seth Adams was ordained a priest January 21,1968, 50 years ago today!!
Throughout this whole process, Bill used words like “sought” “intended to seek”, “ his intention”, rather than the typical language of “being called”, or “Come follow me”. Bill also knew that he had no sense of having made a decision to seek ordination. He believes himself a dutiful person and, it seems that to his mind, seeking ordination was simply what he “ought to do.” At each step of the way, the Church seems to have concurred!!
You see, my friends, Bill experienced Jesus breaking into his ordinary circumstances of life. Jesus broke into the context of Bill’s everydayness and set him on a new direction that took him out of his comfort zone! Jesus came into the places in Bill’s heart where he could change and all along the way, Jesus awaited Bill’s unique brand of everyday ordinary to stretch to become something new!
In today’s Gospel, Mark tells us again the story of how Jesus breaks
into the everyday lives of Simon and Andrew, and James and John. They were casting a net into the sea for they were fishermen. Day after day the same thing: the same sea, the same net, the same boat. Day after day the same: wind, water, fish, sore muscles, and tired bodies. Everyday, cast the net and pull it in. Cast the net and pull it in. If they were not casting the net, then they were sitting in the boat mending the net!
We may not fish for a living but we all know about casting and mending nets! We know days that all seem the same. We know days when nothing seems to change. We don’t expect much to happen. We cast nets. We mend nets. We cast and mend to make a living, to feed our family, to pay the bills. We cast and mend to hold our family together, to hold our marriage together, to rear our children, to gain security. We cast and mend to gain all the things we want, to earn a reputation, to gain approval. And some days we even cast and mend our way through days of loneliness, sadness or illness.
And, my friends, this is when Jesus breaks into these ordinary circumstances of our life. Jesus breaks into the context of our everydayness with the possibility and the offer of new life. Jesus comes into the places in our hearts where we can change and Jesus awaits our everyday unique
brand of ordinary to begin to stretch us toward something new!
And it is here, at this junction of everyday ordinary and awaiting our stretch toward something new, that we find ourselves at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, Oak Harbor WA! Our various patterns and walks of life have gathered us in this place. We have found this good place and we are making our mark here. We are the followers of the One who gathered Simon and Andrew, James and John with simple words, “Come follow me.” In whatever individual ways, we too have said our own “Yes”.
Whatever your life is, however you spend your time, there is in that ordinary everydayness, the voice of Jesus calling us to “Follow me.” “Follow me” is the call to participate with God in God’s own saving and loving work. It is the work of change and growth. This work is always about moving to a larger vision, orientating our life in a new direction, and experiencing that our own story of life is connected to and a valuable part of a much larger story of life, God’s life!
Our own dear Rilla has been at work at discerning her own unique invitation to faithful ministry for some time now, and she has discerned her call to “Follow him” in ways beyond St. Stephen’s. Rilla has and is experiencing Jesus breaking into her ordinary circumstances of life and
setting her on a new direction that takes her out of her comfort zone! Jesus comes into the places in Rilla’s heart where she could change and all along the way, Jesus awaits Rilla’s unique brand of everyday ordinary as it once again stretches her toward something new!
So here we are, quickly asking the natural questions on our hearts—What about us?? Where are we going? What will we do?? How long will we be “on the way??” What do we need to take?? Where will we stay?? What does this “new direction” look like for us??
Unfortunately Jesus does not offer a map, an itinerary, or a destination. Jesus only offers an invitation. This is not the kind of journey we can prepare for. This is an inner journey, a journey into the deepest part of our being, the place where God resides. It’s not about planning and organizing, making lists, or packing supplies. If anything this journey is about leaving things behind.
We must band together as St. Stephen’s, Oak Harbor WA. As a faith community, we must hear the words “Follow me” as both the invitation to and the promise of new life. It is about the freedom to be fully human and in so, being willing to discover God’s divinity within us. We must get good at letting go so that our common life together can be re-oriented, so
that we can now travel together in new directions, so that we may be open to receive the life of God renewed and afresh. When we let go, everything is transformed. This all happens in the context of our ordinary, everyday activities and our life together as a faithful Episcopal community in Oak Harbor, WA.
Jesus is always breaking into the ordinary circumstances of our lives. Jesus breaks into the context of our everydayness with the possibility and the offer of new life. Jesus comes into the places of our hearts where we can change, and all along the way, Jesus waits and awaits for our own everyday unique brand of ordinary to stretch us to become something new and vibrant!
With thanks to Tom Johnson, I offer a wonderful inspiration from
John O’Donohue, an inspiration to accompany us all in our new adventures:
For a new beginning
In out-of-the-way places of the heart,
Where your thoughts never think to wander,
This beginning has been quietly forming,
Waiting until you were ready to emerge.
For a long time it has watched your desire,
Feeling the emptiness growing inside you,
Noticing how you willed yourself on,
Still unable to leave what you had outgrown.
It watched you play with the seduction of safety
And the gray promises that sameness whispered,
Heard the waves of turmoil rise and relent,
Wondered would you always live like this.
Then the delight, when your courage kindled,
And out you stepped onto new ground,
Your eyes young again with energy and dream,
A path of plenitude opening before you.
Though your destination is not yet clear
You can trust the promise of this opening;
Unfurl yourself into the grace of beginning
That is at one with your life’s desire.
Awaken your spirit to adventure;
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk;
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
We are in the times and places ripe for Jesus to show up and to call each of us into a new way of being. Today we find ourselves within a threshold experience, where our world will change. It happened to Simon and Andrew, James and John. It happened to Ella, William Seth, and Rilla. It can happen for you and for me, it can happen for St. Stephen’s, if we but hear the voice and step put onto the new ground of the One who beckons to us: “Come follow me!” Blessed be the Name of God!