Today, I preached on my last Sunday as a curate. In one week, I'll begin a new job, as youth & young adult missioner for my diocese. It was a great morning, full of tears and blessings and generosity and Spirit. Here is something like what I said from the pulpit.
Shalom…. That word has been used around here a whole lot in the last week or so. It’s a Hebrew word that means Hello and peace and goodbye as any of the 63 kids who participated in VBS 2007 will tell you. We used it as a greeting, a way to focus attention, as a prayer. There is no real English equivalent, no word that captures all of these sentiments into one sound. While the specificity of our own language can be helpful, us English-speakers can miss our on the way SHALOM points to a cycle of life, a cycle that runs through our Christian calling again and again.– the coming and goings that are part of greeting, blessing, and sending.
Greet, bless, send. Welcome, renew, and commission – this pattern is evident in today’s readings from Scripture. Elijah, a burned-out prophet in violent kingdom, comes seeking after God on a mountain. On the mountain he is fed with water and bread, and then nourished by the very presence of God before being sent to name his successor in Elisha. In the Gospel of Luke, the man possessed by demons finds Jesus, and is healed from a life of torment and isolation, and is then sent by Jesus to share the story of God’s grace and power. Each one comes to God, bringing their sorrow, their struggle, their searching – and is fed, healed, renewed by the encounter with God’s wild and powerful love. But the renewal is not the end of the story. Each man is sent from the encounter with a purpose and a mission.
Greeted by God, blessed by God, sent by God - it is one of the basic cycles of life in Christ. We see it in our worship – as the Body of Christ, we gather and greet one another, in the informal ways of morning chatter in the vesting room, and in our ritual language – The Lord be With You. And then, we are nourished by God’s grace – in the reading and the prayers, by sharing in the peace together, and most especially at the table of Christ. Yesterday morning, I attended an ordination service for a friend who will serve as pastor of a combined Episcopal/Lutheran congregation. The Eucharistic prayer we used was unfamiliar to me, but it illustrated this idea of nourishing and sending so beautifully. The prayer read: “…but here at this table, he (Jesus) is the host. Those who wish to serve him must first be served by him. Those who want to follow him must first be fed by him. For this is the table where God intends us to be nourished. This is the time when Christ can make us new.” Once we have received this grace, this nourishment, this fulfillment of God’s promised presence, we are sent into world “to love and serve the Lord.”
But even beyond the space and time-frame of Sunday worship, this pattern of welcoming, of nourishing, and sending out renewed by God’s grace is the basic building block of all our ministry. In instances big and small, we do our best to imitate the love of God by greeting those in need, strengthening them for their journey, and wishing them well. I have witnessed it in the way we greet and care for the children in our midst, and the way we celebrate them as the graduate high school.
This ministry is evident in the generosity of this place: the way we can give of ourselves and our resources to support and nourish the people we love, and the people we’ve never met.
I know this pattern of ministry is alive and well here because I am a product of it. This place has become a community of formation, giving of your time, energy, wisdom and care to raise up new clergy, and that is a ministry for which I am supremely grateful. Over the past two years, I have been warmly greeted and welcomed into guilds and committees, into meals and homes, into moments of life and death that have been my privilege to witness. The first years of my priesthood have been fed and nourished by shared prayer and shared work, by pictures scribbled in crayons by children, by kind and encouraging notes from adults. In washing dishes on Wednesday nights, in singing carols at a nursing home, around a campfire in Tennessee, even talking about finacial reports at Vestry meetings! – this community, your faith and love and energy, have blessed me beyond any words.
Happily, God does not simply sends us away – we are, instead, sent away changed and empowered. Each time we leave this place, whether for a day, a week, or an unforeseen time, we are different. We are reminded in this cycle, in the greeting and blessing, in the Word and Sacrament, in bread and wine that we are, all of us, clothed with Christ. This clothing isn’t like the kind that we change at will, or stain or tear.
Here is an image for “clothed in Christ”: When we are sent, its like those commercials on TV for the Verizon network – where the cell phone user is always surrounded by the millions of folk who make up the network… When we are sent out, clothed in Christ, we are first and foremost, children of God: neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female. The political, social, economic, and geographical differences and distances are diminished by the power of God’s love – by God’s shalom. As people clothed in Christ, we carry with us all those who are part of this cycle, all those who have been the hands and feet of Christ to us in this world, all who have witnessed to the love of God. Their strength and prayers strengthen us for the work of ministry, and blesses us through the power of the Spirit.
Full of blessing and peace, we come to another moment of sending. As I leave this community for a different ministry, I am surrounded by the love of God shown and lived in this place. But all of us are sent! So, be watchful, because cycles have a way of repeating. Know that you have been clothed with Christ, and Jesus has called you to more ministry: more welcoming of people who hurt, who seek God’s face, who seek formation and nourishment. They may be at the door or across the world – but God will send you where you are needed. As our ministry continues, may the grace of Jesus Christ fill us all with the deep and abiding Shalom of God.