"Prophet and Friend of God" - Ordination of Courtney Jones - May 14, 2022

Updated: May 17



In honor of Courtney, I’ve constructed this sermon in such a way where it is utterly void of any Jazz or Grateful Dead references, there will be no mention of Celtic Christianity, and it is absent of any Wendell Berry quotes. I hope you’re happy.


These Gospels we read…you know they came from different communities of faith. By the time you finish reading one and begin to make your way through another, you’ll be able to pick out differences just as you might pick out similarities. Each one came from a different group of people, from a different location, who all saw the world just a little bit differently – but each one trying to see that world through the eyes of Jesus…and that’s one of the things that makes them so fascinating to read. For instance, if each Gospel were a church today…well, let’s say if the gospel of Mark were a church it’d be one of those churches that you see in those towns you drive through on the way to somewhere else – the ones with a Dairy Queen and an Allsups – they got a weather-beaten billboard up congratulating the Highschool football team for being district champs…in 1974. But it’s still there – just like that little church of Mark is – chipped paint, more weeds than grass, gravel parking lot. But every Sunday a small group of people gather to hear the Scriptures read, sing a few hymns, and pray. How they’re able to keep the lights on – no one really knows, but they do. They do…because in Mark the disciples are ill equipped at best, lack understanding, but they make their way into the world – Jesus sends them out like lambs among wolves…they just keep doing it.


Now Luke’s church is different. The sanctuary is nice, kept but what’s really impressive is their Fellowship Hall – their Parish Hall. Plenty of tables and chairs, a recently updated commercial kitchen, stocked refrigerator. Why? Because in the gospel of Luke, we encounter Jesus in the eating and drinking with Jesus – in the feasting. All throughout Luke people are feasting together, even in the parables people are throwing parties and you can join in the feast with all the other prodigals, or you can stand outside in the parking lot with the elder brothers who still don’t quite see that grace has made a place for them at the table too.


Then there’s the church of John. But they don’t have a building…”Building?” They say, “We don’t need a building.” You see they’re meeting in someone’s home. You can hear them shaking their tambourines and singing in the backyard, “And they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love, and they’ll know we are Christians by our love…” And all the neighbors are saying, “Those friggin’ hippies are at it again. With all their singing and carrying-on.” And then after the service, they’ll knock on all the neighbors doors delivering baskets of garden vegetables, gluten free bread, and homemade wine – it’s not good wine, but it is wine – and the neighbors they say, “Thank you. You really don’t have to keep doing this. Really…you really…really don’t.” But they do – because for John it’s all about the community, and creating a beloved community.


And then…there’s the church of Matthew. You bet they have a sanctuary, and of course they have a playground for the kids, and all the rest…but what’s really special to Matthew’s church, what all the parishioners talk about is their Christian Education wing. There are classrooms for all ages where week in and week out people are being formed – Matthew’s church is a formational community. For Matthew the great tragedy would be to have churches like pools of water that are 100 miles long and about an inch deep. Shallow, superficial, lacking in opportunities to go deeper. The people of Matthew’s church – to quote Matthew’s Jesus – desire to bring out of the storerooms new treasures as well as old. It’s not just about applying the rules – it’s about tapping into the richness of God’s wisdom both old and new to form people into followers of Christ.


So, I love that this morning we are hearing from the gospel of Matthew because, Courtney, there is not a person gathered here this morning that has not been formed by your teaching, by your preaching, by your conversation, and even by your work in bringing our Sunday services and education opportunities online, so that countless people can be formed whether they are in their living rooms around the corner, or in another state, or even in another country. You truly have brought out of the storeroom of your own life treasures old and new, and we are the grateful recipients.


And that’s what people are doing in Matthew chapter 9, gratefully receiving. But in true Matthew style what they are receiving first is Jesus’ teaching – and he’s not just teaching in the village streets and farm fields – no, in Matthew Jesus is teaching in their synagogues. He’s going into the places where they encounter their traditions, where they have always heard the Torah read, and prayed their Psalms, and sang their songs. That’s where he is teaching and it’s unlike any teaching they have heard – one second he’s quoting the prophets, the next he’s telling them a story, then he’s answering questions with even better questions…it’s like wisdom walking in the midst of them. But not like wisdom the way those occupiers, the Greeks and Romans talk about it…no like Wisdom in their own Hebrew imagination – the way wisdom is described in their Scriptures when it says, “ Wisdom is the breath and power of God…the brightness of everlasting light, the unspotted mirror of God, the image of God’s goodness, who makes all things new, and through all ages enters holy souls making them prophets and friends of God.”


Making them prophets and friends of God.


I think that’s why Jesus saw crowds differently. He didn’t see them the way Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle saw crowds – a huddled mass of commoners, to be treated with a mild scorn, tolerated, and in some instances just a means to an end. A way of seeing people that had crept into the Jewish religious leaders’ way of seeing at the time. No, filled with compassion – Jesus saw a harvest. He saw possibility. He saw the kingdom of God breaking in and through. And he proclaimed that kingdom in his teaching and preaching. “The language of the kingdom,” John Caputo writes, “is not the language of the said, it is the language of the SAYING.” And Jesus was always SAYING, “Come, come with me, and let’s radically follow the Torah together. Come be filled with true wisdom so you can be a prophet and friend of God.”

There’s this thing with ordination sermons. You feel this impulse just to make it about the person being ordained. Like they’re about to receive a lifetime achievement award but they’re really signing up to be tarred and feathered and they just don’t know it yet. But really, these sermons are for the Church and I’ve heard several where the preacher is able to articulate what he or she thinks the Church really needs. But two days ago I just learned how to adjust the settings for my alarm clock on my cell phone – so to tell you what the Church needs feels like a big jump for me. And there are some Sunday mornings when I crawl into this pulpit and I don’t know if I’m trying to change anybody’s mind about anything or if I’m just trying to ease my own mind about everything. But I can tell you one of the things I love about the Church.


I love it when we are a formational community. When we discover creative ways to invite people to not only fill a pew seat on Sunday mornings but to be brought into the depth of God’s wisdom and love. When we express our teaching, preaching, and sacramental ministries in such a way where the word “traditions” don’t do them justice – because they’re not things that could just be said, they can only be what we are SAYING, and saying, and saying. And in our SAYING we become compassionate Shepherds to a hurting and harassed world.


Ways of saying, “Come, come with us. Let’s learn how to follow Jesus together. Let’s be made into prophets and friends of God.”


Courtney, at this time I’m going to ask you to stand so I may offer you a blessing.

You stand in the midst of us, not just as our friend

but as a prophet and as a friend of God.

May that friendship, like any true friendship, be for you

a source of love, affection, mystery, and grace.


Whether you find yourself serving as priest to the people

of Mark’s church, or Luke’s, or John’s.

May you always think of ol’ Matthew’s church

and discover ways to form others in the wisdom and love of God.


When ministry is tough, and the work feels futile,

and the people around you are difficult.

May you then, and especially then, draw from the storehouses

of your life and theirs to bring out treasures both old and new.


May you be filled with compassion,

see the harvest,

and lead like a shepherd.


Amen.





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