No Spare People in the World!

Apocalypse When?!
November 29, 2023
God in the Darkness!
December 8, 2023
Apocalypse When?!
November 29, 2023
God in the Darkness!
December 8, 2023

A Sermon preached at the Service of Ordination in the Diocese of Southern Queensland on Saturday, 2 December 2023.

The last few days have been a very special time and I am very grateful to have been given the privilege of sharing a retreat with the remarkable people here today who are being ordained:

  • Lyn Kareta, Ted Starr, Lauren Martin and Courtney Smith, as deacons; and Gerry Bahre, Peter Jongkuch, Quinn Humphreys, Mamuor Kun Peter and Jane Markotsis, as priests. 

The new chapter being opened in their lives today also witnesses to the changes in the lives of those around them: in their communities, families and with their friends. This service creates a ‘before’ and an ‘after’; a separation, a shift in the world, which changes our lives forever.  I would like to say ‘thank you’ to everyone who has walked this journey with them, supported them at home and in their communities.  Its not an easy journey for you either and it is with enormous gratitude the Church says ‘thank you’ for encouraging, enabling, listening and supporting!

As I have walked this last, brief part of the journey with the ordinands, I thought I would start my reflection with a quote from Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury which speaks magnificently about the uniqueness and value of each person in the world.  He said:

‘… whenever I face another human being, I face a mystery. There is a level of their life, their existence, where I cannot go and which I cannot control, because it exists in relation to God alone – a secret word [God] speaks to each one, whether they hear or refuse to hear, in the phrase from the prophecy of Ezekiel. The reverence I owe to every human person is connected with the reverence I owe to God’s creative Word, which brings them into being and keeps them in being.

I stand before holy ground when I encounter another person – not because they are born with a set of legal rights which they can demand and enforce, but because there is a dimension of their life I shall never fully see; the dimension where they come forth from the purpose of God into the world, with a unique set of capacities and possibilities. It means that there are no superfluous people, no ‘spare’ people in the human world. All are needed for the good of all.  Human failure is tragic and terrible because it means that some unique and unrepeatable aspect of God’s purpose has been allowed to vanish… but the Christian gospel declares that there is nothing more Godlike and precious than a single human person.

These nine precious sisters and brothers are finding the trajectory of their lives being shifted in a way that speaks to this uniqueness, to the possibilities they bring to God’s Church, to all people on earth, including to this diocese in the ceremony today.

God calls and we respond.  It might be with incredulity, hesitancy, disbelieving, and joyful, hope-filled, and trusting.   My own initial response was to laugh with disbelief and then respond with resistance.   But there was a tipping point when my parish priest showed me we don’t have to be special or change into something unsustainable to come before God in this life-changing calling.  God of the ordinary welcomed me; and God of the impossible who makes all things possible asked, and I heard myself say ‘yes’.

John of the Cross writes about God waiting patiently, as frequently we want quick results, and evidence for what we’re considering, not the labour of patient listening.   As my Bishop said to me, somewhat acerbically at the time, ‘Lucy you might think this is your decision.  Let me be blunt.  It isn’t.  It is God’s and your community, which includes your Bishop!’ 

So God, realising we do not always have the necessary courage, stops testing us, and proceeds no further while we cannot see, until we say a quiet ‘yes’ and little by little, God helps us choose light over darkness, sight over blindness. As God gives out love, patiently, generously, God is forever transforming us, making it possible for us to love God and our neighbours as ourselves.

Over the last few days in our shared journey, we have thought about who we are, what we are bringing to God, and how we will be as companions with one another and with God. The tendency is often for us to define our mission, our plans and then to invite Jesus to come along with us.  Discipleship does not begin with our seeking out Jesus and calling him to participate in what we are doing.  As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said ‘Discipleship is not an offer humans make, to Christ.  It is only God’s call which creates the situation.’

So we have responded to God’s call, discerned the time and the place and here we are, stepping into something new as we look around the world and see how we might be as God’s servants in the 21st century. 

This is a time filled with uncertainty, war and violence, in our homes, communities, country and the world.  Conflagrations are spreading, and the horrors of war are in our homes and churches every day, dished up courtesy of social media.  We know neighbours in our parishes who have fled the atrocity and obscenity of war; we know women who have been victims of violence through domestic, family and intimate partner violence in their homes; we know neighbours experiencing the violence of climate change with wildfires, droughts and floods.  We also know we must change how we live as we witness increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers asking for help because homes, livelihoods and countries are being destroyed through our climate inaction.  We live in communities with those who are rejected, subjected to hate speech and vilification.  They include our LGBTQI+ neighbours and our First Nations sisters and brothers whose lives are forever changed through occupation, war and colonisation.  Yet the comprehensive nature of our calling by God, means all who come to God are welcome and we are changed by their presence in God, as we are called perhaps to crucifixion alongside them with Christ, and certainly being threatened with resurrection.

In the last few days, we’ve thought about how we might be as God’s deacons and priests; what this means for us and for our communities in our journey.   I remember preparing for ordination as a deacon and speaking with trepidation with my bishop about the possibility I might be arrested for participating in a protest about refugees, scheduled for the Monday before retreat started on Wednesday.  I was reflecting realistically on what being a bridge into the community felt and looked like as a deacon and as a Christian, sharing God’s love in the community for the rejected, dehumanised ‘other’.  It was the longest pause in my life I can recall before Bishop Alan said he trusted me to do what was right for God’s people.  Needless to say, I made it to retreat. 

But I learned a valuable lesson about how courage turns in an instant, to terror and fear, how one’s bowels react to breaking the law when you have been brought up, particularly as girls and women, to be compliant, obedient and dutiful.  Understanding for the first time simply how much practice it takes to become a ‘disturber of the peace’, my own definition of being a Christian.  I discovered what it feels like to experience the consequences of the world impacting on those around me and in my own life as a deacon and then as priest.   I thought long and hard about the promises I was to make on each occasion and I still carry them around in my notebook to remind me of my commitments.

Our Diocese asks us how will we spread God’s message of love and faithfulness in such complicated times; how do we maintain our imagination and creativity in the face of demands to comply and belong when we find our faith marks us out as different; when we become targets for cynicism, rejection and resistance.  How far does our courage take us; how will we practice speaking what we believe as Christ’s followers; how will we be welcoming, respectful, open, always learning, listening, and following God?  How will we spread God’s message of love, hope and peace in these times?

Whether we speak and pray as prophets and peace-makers, or as evangelists, disciples and community builders, as preachers, teachers and life-long learners, we speak always into the deep centre of humanity’s longings. We provide God’s message about the purpose of our lives, from our beginnings to our endings simply by living it with God’s grace. 

Along the way, we discover we belong to a church of failures, as we welcome those no-one else wants to know, the non-conforming, the awkward, broken, contrary and angry, the quiet and the noisy, the oppressed and dispossessed, the grieving, the despairing, and the joyful.

We discover and learn we don’t and can’t comply with the world’s standards if we wish to remain authentic, we speak truth to power when we can gather our courage with God, trusting God, and we get ourselves killed, one way or another, even if we think we’re smart about how we do all this.   We realise we no longer belong to this world and nor can we be judged by its standards.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer reminds us we stand in solidarity with the world, bringing our witness to the world.  We don’t walk away or look away, we stay, we are present, we mourn, we testify, we show God’s presence in the darkest places of the world as there is nowhere darkness cannot be overcome and our calling reverberates insistently in the world.  Because, once we see the world with Jesus’ eyes, we can’t unsee it.  What we do next is what makes the difference.

For those being ordained as priest, there are words in the ordination preamble, where we are reminded we will be called to give an account before Jesus, about our own responsibilities and our awareness of our vulnerabilities in our lives as a priest, to ensure we support, enable, empower, teach, sharing God’s love, growing, guiding, making peace with those around us rather than hurting, hindering, coercing, punishing and judging or acting with negligence and carelessness or out of fear and dislike.  I am forever aware of how far short I fall in this endeavour. 

So I have been reflecting about how much Jesus himself was considered a failure.  He failed to comply, he failed to belong, he failed to lead an army and drive out the occupiers, he failed to respond with violence and kill the enemy. He failed to obey his religious leaders.  He failed to accept the world’s expectations and was killed as a whistle blower, an innocent man in the most political of decisions, by the authorities of the day.  Most of his awkward band of followers betrayed and denied him, and ran away from him, just as we do today. 

And yet, and yet, it is in working in God’s kingdom we can become the person God has called us to be, in truth. The joy in this journey is the wellspring of faith, of grace, as we make friends with doubt and become familiar with grief’s presence and love.

So I come to the end just as I began, with Rowan William’s words: 

I stand before holy ground when I encounter another person – not because they are born with a set of legal rights which they can demand and enforce, but because there is a dimension of their life I shall never fully see; the dimension where they come forth from the purpose of God into the world, with a unique set of capacities and possibilities. It means that there are no superfluous people, no ‘spare’ people in the human world. All are needed for the good of all ….  the Christian gospel declares that there is nothing more Godlike and precious than a single human person.

For Lyn, Ted, Lauren, Courtney, Gerry, Peter, Quinn, Mamuor, and Jane who are here to be ordained and for us who have the deep joy and privilege of witnessing this wonderful event, be assured, God sees you. You have come into the world for God’s purposes, unique, capable and full of possibility in God’s kingdom.   Now, let me truly finish with a quote from 2 Tim. 1:6-7:

For this reason I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and of love and of self-discipline.

The Lord be with you.

References

Bonhoeffer, D.  1959.  The Cost of Discipleship.  Macmillan, NY.

Haval, V.  Disturbing the Peace

Jarvis, C.A., Johnson, E.E. [Gen. Eds] 2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol. 1 Chapters 1-13.  Westminster John Knox Press, USA.

Obbard, E.R.2004.  John of the Cross Living Flame of Love. New City Press, London.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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