My friend, the Rev. Dr. Gary Brewton, M.D., honored me by asking me to preach at his ordination service on Saturday, December 14, 2013. It was with great joy that I was able to participate with all those gathered to celebrate, affirm, and confirm this particular call of God to ordained life and ministry. The text of the sermon (with a slight revision) is below.
After Gary’s ordination as Deacon he and Troy were reflecting on what it meant to them that the Orthodox Catholic Church would affirm their calls with ordination. Troy noted that, “God will find a way.”
I want to focus on the Jeremiah text that Marilyn read, and I feel a need to step back a few verses, to verse 27…
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:
“The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.”
The focus in this service is on the new covenant, the covenant written on the heart, the promise that as Dr. John Holbert notes, will one day put preachers and teachers of the gospel out of a job. No one needs to be taught about God when their hearts are so connected, right?
It’s a covenant that you, Gary, hold tightly and are held by that you have continued in faith to follow, trusting in God’s promise for you, trusting in the words of Jeremiah in chapter 29, “I know the plans I have for you…plans for a future of hope.”
But I have to admit, I got some sour grapes.
One of the difficult things in my work with seminary students is the number of them I have to see rejected in the ordination process of the United Methodist Church. I see gifted and talented students, award-winning students, who must leave the denomination that raised them in order to follow God’s call to ordained ministry. Sexual orientation isn’t the only reason we’re finding to reject people from ordination as we choose policies of prejudice over true discernment. So, yeah, I got some sour grapes.
That’s why I wanted to step back a little because Jeremiah is telling us that for the Rev. Dr. Gary Brewton, those sour grapes are in the past. Today is the day of a new covenant, a new promise, for a future of hope. God has found a way for you to answer the divine call on your life, for you to serve as a minister of the sacrament and a preacher of the gospel in God’s Church, the catholic, universal Church with a capital C.
Our friend, the Rev. Lynette Ross is now a pastor in the United Church of Christ, and she has noted what it means to her that they acknowledge all of the families and communities that have brought her to where she is today. If we believe in one holy catholic Church (and we say we do), then we can affirm the Methodists for bringing you to this day, and celebrate the ministry you now have with your new covenant of clergy colleagues. As Troy said, “God will find a way.”
That’s Jeremiah’s focus in these last chapters of the book, “God will find a way.”
There is a time for the prophetic word, and he has delivered it, but now is the time for hope, now is the time for crazy optimism, the kind of faith and trust that in the next chapter lead Jeremiah to buy a field in the middle of the abandoned place, to proclaim that houses will be built, fields will be plowed and harvested, families will return.
It may be 100 years before that happens, but “God will find a way”.
As Christians, we say that the new covenant written on the heart is “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Is that not another way of saying, “God will find a way”?
The Beloved of God may be rejected and abused and hung on a cross to die, but “God will find a way.”
The Savior of the world may be battered and broken and lying in a tomb, but “God will find a way.”
The followers of God may be heavy-burdened by sin and guilt, but “God will find a way.”
And those called of God may face persecution and prejudice, but “God will find a way.”
We give thanks that on this day, for the future of God’s church and its ministry, God has found a way. Amen.