Sermon For My Colleagues On The Occasion Of The Reaffirmation Of Our Ordination Vows

Sermon For My Colleagues On The Occasion Of The Reaffirmation Of Our Ordination Vows

By The Rev. Pam Bakal

April 15, 2003

Isaiah 61:1-8, PSALM 40:1-14, 2 Cor. 3:4-9, John 17:1-9, 18-21

In October of 1991, the Feast Day of St. Luke, I preached my senior sermon at seminary. The propers for that day, Luke 4:14-21, are the words that Jesus read from the Hebrew Scriptures, which we read today, Isaiah 61:1-8,

"The spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners…"

I knew when I received my assignment 11 ˝ years ago, that I had the opportunity to preach on one of Christianity's most inspiring passages in the Bible. A passage that reflects the burgeoning desire of Jesus to minister to those whom God had given him.

I now know why Dr. Corney, Professor emeritus of Hebrew and Old Testament at the General Theological Seminary, for every senior sermon, always turned sideways in his stall, and gazed down at the pew.

It is not that these sermons were written poorly, it is that few of us grasped the Gospel, the moment of grace in God's Word to us.

You my brothers and sisters are not unlike the illustrious audience of senior sermons, and so in God's inimitable fashion, I now have been given a second chance to communicate the elation and grace of this passage.

My biggest stumbling block to preaching grace, is that I depended overly much on "knowledge", and hard won wisdom accumulated from life experience. My insights fortified me. I never hesitated to take a position on any issue. I was quite certain about what was right or wrong.

After all, I prayed, I contemplated, I studied the Bible and theology, I walked with Jesus. Ask me to pronounce a verdict on any issue, and I would confidently draw a chart using Hooker's three legged stool of scripture, tradition, and reason,

I rarely admitted to myself that my stool was never a comfortable seat. one of those legs was overly long-reason.

But now, things are different. I have come to realize that the three legged stool that guides my ministry is- Compassion, Compassion, Compassion.

Compassion is an often expressed attribute of God throughout the Bible. Matthew 9:36 " When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd."

For once I sit on a stool that is balanced. I no longer wobble from side to side, influenced by so many things. Issues are much simpler for me now. They are no longer about what is right or what is wrong, but about the people who are directly affected by the issue.

God never tires of presenting us with new communities of people who are directly affected by an issue.

The difficulty is to be able to relinquish our hard earned knowledge, our mature wisdom that has served us so well, and see this new community with new eyes, and new possibilities.

BKS Iyengar: A Yoga teacher, says this: (From Tree of Yoga) You are a beginner in yoga. I too am a beginner from where I left my practice yesterday. I don't bring yesterday's poses to today's practice. I don't want yesterday's experience. I want to see what new understanding may come in addition to what I had felt up to now.

The first time I realized I had been called to minister in a new and different community Was when I first served communion at Grace Church in Nutley. I was moved by the hands that were waiting reverently for the host to be placed in them. They were not the soft hands of my old community in Brooklyn Heights, Many of these hands were rough, and calloused, When I saw their hands I was filled with a sense of God's grace. "Thank you God for these people, whom you have given to me"

Another of my new communities-is incarcerated men and woman, and ex-offenders. I'm not sure how this even happened. I always said I didn't like prison ministry. When I did chaplaincy work at St. Lukes-Roosevelt, every time I had a patient who was a prisoner, handcuffed to the bed, they would work me like crazy.

"Could you call my wife, she doesn't know where I am."
"Could you call the homeless shelter, tell them I'm in the hospital, or they'll give up my bed."
"Could you get me this, could you get me that."

How did I end up with this ministry? In part because our Lord has exhorted us in Matthew 25:36 "I was in prison and you visited me." And because when I was presented with the opportunity I said a half-hearted OKAY. That half-hearted OK, has become a resounding "I love prison ministry."

Our group prays for them every day, shares their challenges, sweats out their court dates for parole. And every week we do our Bible Study at Northern State Prison, We praise God for this opportunity to minister.

The process of allowing compassion to enable you to envision in a new way, has never been clearer to me than in this time of war. We have all spent much time in thought about what positions Christians should take on this war.

If this were two years ago, I would have been very certain about my position on the war. Only now I have been placed in the midst of a new community.

I have one son who is at college in training to be an officer in the Army, And a second son who is a Marine in the midst of the conflict in Iraq.

At my son's graduation from Basic Training we stood in the stands with the rest of the parents cheering as our sons walked by, our hearts bursting with pride and patriotism.

We purchased the video of my Army son's class going through boot camp. They show the kids going into a gas chamber and coming out throwing-up and coughing. But once it's over they all chuckle about it.

But it was when the video showed my son Justin running through an obstacle course with a bayonet on his M-16 rifle, stabbing a dummy yelling kill, kill, kill. That I had to do a serious assessment of what I thought about the military and war.

My warrior sons, have an ethic too, which they never compromise, to obey their Commander in Chief, to protect this country, and to take care of one another. Their ethic is different from mine, but now my role is not to determine whether the war is right or wrong, But to support the community I believe God has given me to minister to.

And this community has grown. I now have one that is not like any I have ever had. Vietnam Vets. The Vets I have been meeting drive Harley Davidson Motorcycles, sport tattoos, wear big belt buckles, and camo jackets. And I am not so sure that the Episcopal Church really does welcome them.

At one rally for the troops, someone had one of those big rubber masks of Saddam Hussein. And they were kicking it around. I ignored it until a little boy came over, 5 or 6 years old and started kicking it and looking to the men for approval. Because I was one of the speakers at the rally, I thought that they would trust me enough to accept my thoughts about that. After all they had given me the Marine cheer OORAAH, when I told them about my Marine son Evan. (My sons always tell me,"Ma, don't ever say the cheer in front of anyone, you don't know how to do it right.)

So I did go up to them and said, "We're teaching him to hate, the same way the kids in the Middle East are taught to hate us." They stopped the boy from kicking Saddam's head around. Though, all the motorcycles did roll over the head on their way out of the parking lot.

If the majority of our parishioners believe we should be fighting a war in Iraq, Then we clergy are in the midst of a great divide. They stand on one side of the river and we stand on the opposite shore. Only we believe that we stand on the higher ground and we expect our congregations to walk that divide over to us, because we are right.

Maybe the meaning of Matthew 14:25 "Jesus went unto them, walking on the sea." is that we travel that divide over to them.

Isn't the church at its best when it transforms the negative and despairing thoughts of the people into activities of hope and reconciliation. I personally stopped praying for peace the day we bombed Iraq. My prayers got much more specific than that. I pray for miracles… that good things would come from this war. that this war would be the start of a lasting peace in the Middle East. that the hundred and fifty or so coalition soldiers and maybe thousands of Iraqi people who have died will be remembered as martyrs for peace.

I don't know what new communities I will be a part of in the future. Quite frankly after the military and prisons I can't imagine what could be next. (At one time in my life I would have called this being downwardly mobile.)

I do know that there are infinite possibilities burgeoning inside of us. Thank goodness we come from the tradition of Abraham and Sara and Moses- ministry at 100 or 90 or 120 years. So we will have time to try out some of them.

And if we start to get tired of ministry Just think of Jesus when he stood up in the midst of the synagogue, ready to proclaim good news to the oppressed.

He sat among a community of people whose experiences in life, and the injustices of the world. kept them prisoners and captives. And he felt his ministry bursting forth as God's instrument of compassion.

This was the momentum with which Jesus began his work, the possibility of a world transformed. First he had to capture the trust of his new community of disciples, And then together they could cross the river to the other side.


Isaiah 61:1-8   
    The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
        because the Lord has anointed me;
    he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
        to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim liberty to the captives,
        and release to the prisoners; 
    [2] to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor,
        and the day of vengeance of our God;
        to comfort all who mourn; 
    [3] to provide for those who mourn in Zion--
        to give them a garland instead of ashes,
    the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
        the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.
    They will be called oaks of righteousness,
        the planting of the Lord, to display his glory. 
    [4] They shall build up the ancient ruins,
        they shall raise up the former devastations;
    they shall repair the ruined cities,
        the devastations of many generations. 
    [5] Strangers shall stand and feed your flocks,
        foreigners shall till your land and dress your vines; 
    [6] but you shall be called priests of the Lord,
        you shall be named ministers of our God;
    you shall enjoy the wealth of the nations,
        and in their riches you shall glory. 
    [7] Because their shame was double,
        and dishonor was proclaimed as their lot,
    therefore they shall possess a double portion;
        everlasting joy shall be theirs. 
    [8] For I the Lord love justice,
        I hate robbery and wrongdoing;
    I will faithfully give them their recompense,
        and I will make an everlasting covenant with them. 

PSALM 40:1-14

2 Cor. 3:4-9 (NRSV)  
    Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. [5] Not
that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our
competence is from God, [6] who has made us competent to be ministers of a
new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the
Spirit gives life. 
    [7] Now if the ministry of death, chiseled in letters on stone tablets,
came in glory so that the people of Israel could not gaze at Moses' face
because of the glory of his face, a glory now set aside, [8] how much more
will the ministry of the Spirit come in glory? [9] For if there was glory
in the ministry of condemnation, much more does the ministry of
justification abound in glory! 

John 17:1-9, 18-21 
    After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said,
"Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify
you, [2] since you have given him authority over all people, to give
eternal life to all whom you have given him. [3] And this is eternal life,
that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have
sent. [4] I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me
to do. [5] So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory
that I had in your presence before the world existed. 
    [6] "I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the
world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your
word. [7] Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; [8]
for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have
received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have
believed that you sent me. [9] I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking
on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because
they are yours. 
    As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
[19] And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be
sanctified in truth. 
    [20] "I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those
who will believe in me through their word, [21] that they may all be one.
As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that
the world may believe that you have sent me. 


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