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Ordination of Benjamin K. Wyatt by The Rt. Rev. Andrew D. Smith

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Trinity Church, Hartford

(Dear God, let your priests be filled and clothed with righteousness, and let your people dance and sing for joy.)

 What a very happy night!  Tonight, here, with God’s blessing, we will ordain Ben Wyatt a Priest in the Church of God.

A priest.  How can we describe or comprehend what that is, or, what he will be jumping into?

 Priest.  The title itself been adopted by and passed through so many traditions, religions, and even Christian variations, it’s been added to, reformed, mostly held in honor, sometimes dishonored and despised.

 At the same time for us in the Church it is a central mystery, priesthood, an office divinely ordained and revered among us, conferred and blessed by God and the Church together, for God’s glory and the blessing of Christ’s people and everybody in the world.

 Even if we cannot pick it up, spread it out and pin it neatly down, there are some of the aspects and gift of “priesthood” that rise and shine from Scripture we have read tonight.

 In the Gospel according to John, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep … I know my own and my own know me.  I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold.  They also will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” 

 Should this be the defining symbol?  The shepherd?

 My knowledge of sheep and shepherds comes mostly from hiking through hillsides and pastures in the British Isles.  Just from walking and watching, I’ve learned that sheep are sheep.  And a shepherd is not a sheep; a shepherd is a knowledgeable, skilled and experienced human who knows and feeds and guides and cares for and protects the lives of the sheep.

 I think the temptation on an occasion like this, is to peel off the shepherd metaphor for Jesus and paste it on “priest” — to say that the priest is the shepherd of a flock, and what we’re about tonight is to elevate a sheep into shepherd-ness..

 Which temptation we should resist, I think.  The shepherd image is not about a priest.  It is about Jesus.  Just as sheep are sheep, and the shepherd is the shepherd, and they’re really different, so it is for us.  For better and for worse, in the image, we are the sheep.  Jesus is the shepherd, the good shepherd, the really good shepherd.  The best.

 And of course it’s a metaphor:  we are not sheep; we are made in the image of God, brought into new life through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, baptized and empowered with gifts and ministries in the Holy Spirit, every one.   Including the care and protection and guiding of each other.  But to lay the expectation to be the Good Shepherd on any person  is to look way above our created pay grade.  Even those of us who are ordained and appointed to carry a pastoral staff have to remember that the staff we bear is about Jesus.

 The truth of the shepherd image is that it’s about Jesus.  Who at all times and in all places is The Good Shepherd, ours, the best, no matter who or what may come to seek to snatch and destroy.  A profound and joyful truth for all of us of the flock, and especially for those of the flock ordained to be priests.

 So to be a priest therefore is not to be elevated over the flock, and changed into someone we are not, but is to be a member of the flock who has been specially identified and co-missioned within the flock. 

 There was a time in the 1960’s when some of us clergy resisted the notion of being “set apart” or “singled out” or “made different” in ordination.  Yet, a priest does agree to enter into “orders,” to give up the freedom of the laity, no longer a free agent,  and to accept a framework of canonical accountability and discipline, and to assume responsibilities and yes, privileges also, on behalf of the ekklesia, the community of believers, and on behalf of God.

 A rabbi once told me this:  I am a rabbi, I am a scholar and teacher for God’s people; and the people pay me to be a rabbi so that I don’t have to be a doctor or car mechanic or lawyer. 

 In this age it may be that the priesthood may not be a ticket to full-time pay, (Sorry about that, Ben), (Saint Paul supported himself in his trade as a tentmaker) but there is the charge that they fashion their lives so that the responsibilities and privileges of a priest will be at the center of their lives.

 As a member of the flock we heap on the priest-person the tasks of professor and confessor of the faith, nourisher, strengthener, learner, gatherer, prayer, so many hopes.  Listen to the charges the bishop will name in the Examination.  Do we realize how much, what we ask, day to day, of our brother in this liturgy tonight?  Faithful pastor to all.  Patterning his life to be a wholesome example of Christ for all.  Diligent in reading and the study of Holy Scriptures, serving young and old, rich and poor.  Pile it on!

 Then, there are privileges of authority given to a priest by the Church — specifically to pray in public, to preach, to Baptize, to celebrate the Eucharist, to pronounce blessing and declare absolution for sin, and to care and serve among the people among whom she or he works.

 It’s all a bit breathtaking, isn’t it?   A priest, one of us, identified, taught and ordered to know God and make God known.  Who is as absolutely essential to the nature and life of God’s people as God’s people are essential to life of the priest.

 One other thought tonight about “priest.”  It flows from the vision-experience of the prophet in the sixth chapter of the book of Isaiah.  Like Isaiah, a priest is sent, and may never again have one earthly place to call home.

 “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne high and lofty.  And I said, ‘Woe is me, for I am lost, for I am a man unclean and live among a people unclean.’  Then a seraph touched my mouth with a live coal taken from the altar.  And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, who will go for us?’  And I said, ‘Here am I; send me!’  And he said, ‘Go!’

 Maybe we don’t often think about it, but it’s true:  ordination as a deacon or priest or bishop often means leaving to go, leaving home, and moving from one place to another in response to God’s call, the needs of the Church and the world, faithful to God’s mission.

 To be a priest is not a place for the personally ambitious or those who crave life predictability.  It is a place for gentleness, peace beyond understanding, prayer, for exercising lifelong humble personal discernment in the Spirit, obedience to Christ’s call, and openness to God-knows-where or -who will be the people among whom one will serve.

 The pattern is Moses, Samuel, Elijah, Isaiah, John son of Zechariah, the apostles, Saint Paul for sure, and above all, the pattern is Jesus. 

 Ben Wyatt, our brother in this parish community, in the Church of God.

 We are about to ask many things of you, and the Bishop specifically will ask you if you believe you are truly called to the priesthood. and that you commit yourself to this trust and responsibility.  We will be thrilled when you say, “Yes.”

 You bring special gifts to the Church for the exercise of the priesthood.  Your ability to proclaim the Scriptures we already know well. And your curiosity and thirst to study the faith, and especially the intersections of holy spiritual practices and the intellectual disciplines of theology are blessings for the Church. 

Remember always that this sacred life you enter in Christ may surprise you, and take you geographically, spiritually and culturally to places you ever expected or thought.  And always, always I pray the joy of your life as a priest will be to serve among the people, whoever they are, and wherever they are.

 And above all, Rejoice in the Lord always; know that Christ Jesus, the One who is The Good Shepherd, who knows your name even more surely than you know his, always watches over and guides the flock and you within it, and stick close to this Jesus whom you serve as priest, who is The Good Shepherd, the Best!
















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