September 16, 2018
All Saints’ Church
Welcome to Founders Day at All Saints’ Church! 151 years ago this very day, a group of twenty or so families living in this neighborhood voted to incorporate as a parish to serve the spiritual needs of Park Slope. So much has changed since September 16, 1867, and the people who founded this church could never have imagined the world or even the church that we inhabit today. But every year we celebrate the gift they gave to us: faith. Faith in a future they could not imagine. Faith in a God who would carry this place through troubled times and into promised lands that look different with each passing generation. Faith in a Lord who teaches us that life is not something to be taken for granted or hoarded, but allowed to flow like the waters of baptism, an ever-moving river of grace and love.
So let me begin by offering a welcome once again to all people who have come into this holy house that turns 151 years old today. If you are a visitor or guest here today, you are in good company, because this place remembers a century and a half of newcomers. Our founders created this parish so that each successive generation could come and wonder at God anew. You are now part of that long and holy story. In doing so, you bless us. It does not matter who you, where you’re from, or what you believe—you are welcome here, and you bless us with your presence.
It may seem strange to welcome visitors with the message of the Gospel we hear this morning. In case you missed it or thought you heard wrong, let me repeat it. Jesus says, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake and for the sake of the gospel will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?”
Indeed, what can we give in return for our life? This question reminds us of one of the hardest and most profound teachings of Christianity: that our lives do not belong to us. We do not own our lives. We determine neither the time nor the circumstance of our life or our death. We do not choose what kind of body we have, or the family we are born into, or even the span of our days. These are unpleasant things to remember. Most of us spend a lifetime trying to forget these facts—and when we do, it can get us into a heap of trouble and confusion.
But it is only with the knowledge of this truth that we can begin to be free. Because when you acknowledge that your life is not your own, you are liberated to dedicate it to everything that isn’t just about you. And that is a joyful life. That is a full life. That is a life well-lived, a life that flows within that river of grace and love. This is why Jesus tells us these hard words: because he wants us to live life freely.
This Gospel truth has been proclaimed in this church for over a century and a half. In that time, countless souls have been set free from the captivity of believing in their own self-superiority. Where else are we to go to receive this healing? Where else can we turn for our very being to be shaken to the core? This is a temple built to honor and glory of God—and no one or nothing less. And the lessons our ancestors learned have been passed down to us today.
It is so perfect that today is Founders Day because today we have among us living, breathing examples of people who are heeding Jesus’ call to abandon life as they have known it, take up their cross, and follow him into the light of love. They breathe life into the mission of our founders and show us what it means to be the beloved community of Jesus in our time.
As many of you know well, our beloved Julia has been made priest in the Church of God. [applause] Many here today witnessed as Julia took her ordination vows yesterday at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and was ordained a priest forever. In being ordained, Julia has left behind the life of her past and bravely stepped forward into a new reality. There is no other way to describe what it is like to be a priest. Like so many things in life worthy of our time and effort, the priesthood requires us to lose our life so that we can gain it. It is a life of dedicated service in which the needs of God and God’s people most often come before our own. God has called Julia into this life in part to remind the rest of us that our lives are not our own.
In a few moments, Julia will celebrate her first sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. We are incredibly blessed to have a brand new priest adorn the font and altar of this church with her first sacraments. There’s an old prayer for priests that goes like this: make this my first Eucharist, my last Eucharist, my only Eucharist. Julia, this is my prayer for you today. The sacramental life in which you now lead us is one in which the present is suffused with the eternal. It opens for us the gate of truth that God is with us in this moment of time and unites us with the eons. Your sacramental ministry will remind us constantly that our lives are not our own and will release us into the eternal bounty of God’s love. That may sound naïve. It may sound poetic. But guess what: that’s what priests do. In a world made brittle with cynicism, poisoned by the love of things that are not worthy of our love, a world shattered by hatred and misunderstanding, your job is to join God in softening the hearts of the mighty. They have forgotten that their lives are not their own. As a priest, you will remind them and all of us of who and whose we truly are.
And Julia has two fellow messengers today. She will baptize Margie and Beatrix, using those same waters that flow throughout time. In baptism, we welcome God’s children into God’s kingdom on earth. Margie and Beatrix will join us in Christ’s royal priesthood. Julia, after all that work you put in to get ordained, you might be a little jealous that all these girls to become royal priests was to show up and look cute. But that’s kind of the point. We are all God’s beloved—the same God who lifts up the lowly and casts the mighty down from their thrones. Margie and Beatrix’s families know that they are blessings beyond compare. Today we recognize the gifts that they are to the world. They are royal priests just by their being, and they remind us that we are too.
We are priests every time we walk in love as Christ loved us. We are priests every time we reach out when one of God’s own is in need. We are priests every time we allow ourselves to be humbled, just as Jesus was humbled. God is love. Every time we love, we are God’s priests.
Indeed, there is nothing we can give in return for our life. There is nothing Julia can give in return for hers, nothing Margie and Beatrix can give in return for theirs. Let them be examples to us. Let the love they embody be signs to us of God’s love for us. Life is gift. Let us take this precious gift we have been given, and, like priests at the altar, offer it up to the same one who laid down his own, so that we may be set free to love. Amen.