The sermon preached at the
Ordination of Bill Oldland
at St. Thomas' Episcopal Church, Reidsville, NC
on the Feast of St. Columba
June 9, 2001
by the Rev. Fred Warnecke.
We are gathered together to ordain, God
willing, William Daniel Oldland, to the priesthood of the One Holy, Catholic and Apostolic
Church. The Bishop is here in all his regalia. We're even going to dress Bill in the
ancient imperial garments of the Roman Empire, the chasuble.
One, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
What in the world is going on here? Is this the church I have for 68 years been a part of?
This one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic church who has argued whether women should be
ordained, whether African Americans could sit and pray together with white Americans? And
now argues about our homosexual Christians.
The battle stories we could all tell. The
battle stories I could tell. The property chairman in New Jersey who regularly until he
was stopped by the senior warden went through my trash to find some way to trap me. The
Bishop who broke a solemn promise to me. Every priest - bishop - in this church today has
his/her own battle scars. AND every laymen who has spent any significant time in this
'one, holy, catholic and apostolic church" has your own battle stories of clergy and
the diocese who let you down, who didn't appreciate all that you have been doing for so
many years. Many of us, at one time or another, have thought about chucking the whole
thing ... for good Christian reasons!
I wish I could be hopeful that now things
will be different. This is a new age and we're getting better. Nuts, that is the naiveté
of every new generation. It was the naiveté of my generation. We were finally going to
make the church relevant to the day.
Maybe these thoughts are just the warped
ravings of a priest after 43 years in the field and living in a clergy family all my life?
Maybe I'm just jaded? I think not!
So what's going on here? FRED, Why are you
throwing such cold water on such a happy day?
Why am I doing this? Because I want to
call us on this clearly high festival day to a moment of Christian theology. We all need
to be reminded that the church is mess. The church is a mess. Thanks be to God!
What? Thanks be to God?
Yes, Thanks be to God!
Two theological points and then the
traditional charge to the ordinand and to the gathered church.
Point one - the church is a mess, has
always been and will always be. From Peter's denials and Paul's support for slavery to our
current church fights, the church is a mess. The church deludes ourselves into thinking
that we are the glamorous image of God. Hardly.
The Sunday school teacher asked her fourth
graders, "If all the good people were red and all the bad people were green, what
color would you be?"
Little Mary replied, " Teacher, I'd
be streaky!" We are streaky people.
A man was looking for a good church to
attend and happens to enter one in which. the congregation and the preacher were reading
from a book. They are saying, "We have left undone those things which we ought to
have done and we have done those things which we ought not to have done... "
He dropped into the last pew and sighs,
"Thank you, Jesus, I've found my crowd at last!"
Episcopalians are streaky people! As
Martin-Marti said, "The crooked timber of humanity cannot build a perfect
building." To err is human. Thus, Theological point one, the church is a mess.
The other point is this-
God uses us that way! Thanks be to God!
There is an often-repeated tale: the
angels gathered around Jesus after He returned to heaven. They have looked down on the
church which he left and saw Peter, the denier, and a tiny band of Galileans and they ask
Jesus if he has any other plan for his cause. Jesus replies, "I have no other
We're it. We've been given the great
commission to go, to love, to proclaim, to heal. The streaky church is the way Jesus has
chosen to do it. He chooses to use what is weak to confound the powerful. We may dress our
clergy in Roman Imperial robes, we may sing about the church is an army, we may be told to
put on the whole armor, but let's face it, we're not much of any army! But God uses us.
We need to be reminded to take God
seriously not the church - the church isn't a God-substitute and we can take the church
too seriously. Remember the riddle? "How do the angels fly?" "Because they
take themselves lightly." I seem to remember a Bishop who at his consecration put on
a clown's nose ... and not only his nose but the Presiding Bishop did also!
God is the alpha and the omega, the
beginning and the end, not the church. It is about grace, about God's actions more often
than not in spite of us. Grace, is God acting through his cracked vessel.
Another story -
A Water Bearer in India had two large
pots, each hung on each end of a long pole which he carried across his neck. One of the
pots had a crack in it, and while the other pot was perfect and always delivered a full
portion of water at the end of the long walk from the stream to the master's house, the
cracked pot arrived only half full.
For a full two years this went on daily.
The bearer delivered only one and a half pots full of water to his master's house. Of
course, the perfect pot was proud of its accomplishments. But the poor cracked pot was
ashamed of its own imperfections, and miserable that it was able to accomplish only haft
of what it had been made to do.
After two years of what it perceived to be
a bitter failure, the cracked pot spoke to the Water Bearer one day beside the stream.
"I am ashamed of myself, and I want to apologize to you."
"Why?" asked the bearer.
"What are you ashamed of?"
"I have been able for these two past
years, to deliver only half my load because this crack in my side causes water to leak out
all the way back to your master's house. Because of my flaws, you have to do all of this
work and you don't get full value from your efforts."
The Water Bearer felt sorry for the old
cracked pot, and in his compassion he said, "As we return to the master's house, I
want you to notice the beautiful flowers along the path."
Indeed as thy went up the road, the old
cracked pot did notice the sun warming the beautiful wild flowers on the side of the path
and this cheered it somewhat. But at the end of the trail, it still felt bad because it
had leaked out half of its load and so again it apologized for its failure.
The bearer said to the pot, "Did you
notice that there were flowers only on your side of the path, but not on the other pot's
side? That's because I have always known your flaw, and I took advantage of it. I planted
flower seeds on our side of the path, and every day while we walk back from the stream,
you've watered them. For two years I have been able to pick these beautiful flowers to
decorate my master's table. Without you, he would not have this beauty to grace his house.
Through the cracks God pours out his love.
The bread is broken in the Eucharist. Christ's body is crucified. Through our wounds we
are healed. Blessed are the cracked pots for they shall bear God's Love. What a great
privilege - to be used by God. What a great relief! We don't have to be perfect to be part
of God's plan.
Today this cracked community, by God's
grace, is again setting aside one of its streaky people to be a priest, to serve not to
rule, to minister among God's streaky people. That's what's going on here!
Tradition calls the preacher to address
the ordinand directly. So Bill, if you would please stand.
Four thoughts - for what they're worth -
which come out of love.
1. Bill, Train yourself to do something
poorly every day. Besides you and me, Bill, there are only three other perfect people here
- Gail, Ellen and the Bishop. We're all streaky people, aren't we? Therefore allow God's
streaky people our imperfections, our cracks. Bill, get over the illusion that you are now
going to do it right and finally straighten out the church! You'll put the wrong pressure
on God's streaky people and just keep breaking your heart.
2. Dine well - Central to being a priest
is dining in community. The Eucharistic bread and wine points to Christ's presence in all
dining. Eucharist was first eaten in a private home, then beside a lake in the Galilee
long before we formalized it in a church. All food is holy; dining with our family is
holy. Food is something beautiful to be shared with people, not just a daily necessity.
Dining well is a spiritual matter. There's too much quick food, frozen dinners
Christianity. This parish knows well the importance of dining. Their parish dinners are
great moments. They feed the soul of this community. I think that every priest as part of
their priestly role should plan and cook fine meals regularly. Dine well.
3. When you've tried and tried and
everything fails read the directions! Go to the tradition - folks have been at it far
longer than we have. Christian priests have ministered in the black plague, in the
burnings of the reformation - just because they didn't wear the latest Almy cassock alb -
or do it in the latest politically and theological correct language, doesn't mean that the
praise of God wasn't faithfully expressed. We don't have to reinvent the theological wheel
- The kingdom doesn't come better when the last hymn is called, as it should be, the
processional hymn, not a recessional hymn- We don't recess from God. "Good bye God,
I'll see you next week." Whoops, I just slipped into make the church perfect. The
kingdom of God is not dependent upon Rite II or the Easter Vigil. They're all great but
not essential. When you can't figure it out, read the instructions.
4. Believe in the future. TO believe in
God is say yes to the future.
The future is God's. Now you are to be a
priest continue to be patient. Bill, you have shown remarkable restraint for all these
last years of ecclesiastical hazing (Oh, yes, we've called them, a time of discernment).
Continue to be patient not only with the people you are called to serve but be patient
with yourself ... which I think is probably the real issue anyway. God's been patient with
you. The future is His.
One - mistakes every day
Two - dine well
Three - read the instructions
Four - be patient.
Over 450 years ago Erasmus of Rotterdam
wrote these notes to one of his young students
" 'Tis a brave world, my young
doctor! Do not be afraid of it; do not calculate your chances so closely that you miss
your chance; do not pretend to know what you do not know. Work and laugh and give thanks,
for these three are one. You did not make the world. You cannot remake it. You cannot even
spoil it. You may, however, know the wonder of improving some small comer of it, but (do
not forget that before you arrived) the world was already pronounced 'verygood". (Go
now and) enter into its joy."
Erasmus of Rotterdam (1466 - 1536)
Finally, at last, Bill, in the words of
that great theologian Duke Ellington - "We love you madly."