Sermon for Sunday, January 19th, 2014 || Second Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A || Isaiah 49:1-7; Psalm 40: 1-12; 1 Corinthians 1: 1-9; John 1: 29-42 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
Margot, called to be a priest of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the church of God that is in Cohasset: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
I wanted to open my sermon this morning like St. Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, because like Paul I find myself giving thanks today for the grace of God given to this community by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the spirit of Paul, I’m giving thanks on behalf of all of us for Adam’s ministry here and the grace it been to us these past four years.
Later this morning we will bid farewell to Adam and Leah and bless them on their way. But I’d like to begin that celebration now by raising up Adam’s powerful witness to the life-giving reality of Christ’s Gospel; and by calling on us to renew our commitment as a community of Christ-followers to living and sharing that Gospel reality.
Nearly ten years ago now, a scrawny first-year seminarian with a backpack and a guitar walked into my office at St. Alban’s in Washington looking for a Spiritual Director. If anyone had told me then, that ten years later I’d be living in a town I’d never even heard of, serving as the rector of a church I’d only ever dreamt of, bidding farewell to the scrawny seminarian now a “lanky” young priest with whom I’d just shared four amazing years of ministry….well, clearly, if anyone had predicted such a thing I’d have thought them insane.
Yet here we are. And this, you need to know, is a testament to the power of what St. Paul calls “the grace of God that has been given you in Christ Jesus.” Let me explain what I mean by that.
Like every single one of us, Adam has been—and continues to be– on a spiritual journey. Neither Adam nor I had an inkling ten years ago where his journey would lead. But I’ll tell you something I did know even way back then, something all of you know too because you’ve witnessed it in Adam’s ministry with us, and that is the absolute authenticity of Adam’s commitment to seeking and doing God’s will. And it is that commitment to seeking and doing God’s will that has opened Adam’s life to “the grace of God given to him in Christ Jesus.”
Throughout Adam’s spiritual journey, the more he has sought to conform his will to God’s will, the more clearly and concretely things have “gone well with him,” as the Biblical writers say. There is nothing coincidental, or “lucky,” about this. As far back as the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy, and continuing well into the New Testament, God has been imploring His people to listen and to obey, “so that it may go well with you.”
Adam’s spiritual journey is one of listening for, and responding to, God’s will. That is the commitment he has made. And by “the grace of God that has been given to him in Christ Jesus,” grace which is available to every single one of us, things have “gone well with” him.
Witness a young priest alone in his apartment in West Virginia, serving at a church where he is no longer sure God is calling him to be. He has recently preached a sermon in which he refers to his spiritual director with whom he has lost touch over the past two years. He decides to call her to tell her about this sermon, and just before they hang up he throws in, “By the way, I think I’m about ready to leave here, so if you hear of anything in New England, please let me know.”
Would it surprise you to hear that not 24 hours earlier the priest on the other end of the phone from Adam—disheartened after searching the past nine months for a new assistant–had said to her husband, “Ya’ know, what I really need is an Adam Thomas clone”?
This is no coincidence. This is not “luck.” This is exactly how the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus works in our lives when we commit ourselves to seeking and doing God’s will.
Witness a young priest alone in his new apartment in Cohasset, Massachusetts, admiring the ocean view and reflecting. He loves the church he is serving and the opportunities before him. He’s grateful to God beyond measure. “But there’s just one more thing, God,” he prays. “You know how much I want someone to share all this with… how much I want someone to love and to honor…someone to raise a family with.”
Then on a so-called “whim” (a whim for which the Holy Spirit totally gets credit), our young priest decides to re-activate his long-dormant account on OkCupid, a computer dating service with more than 3 million users, just to see what’s “out there.”
Will it surprise you to learn that on that very same day, a beautiful young woman less than 10 miles away also had a “whim” to reactivate her account on OkCupid? Or that our young priest knew after the first date that this was the woman he would marry? Luck? Coincidence? Not a chance! This is precisely how the grace of God given us in Christ Jesus works in our lives when we commit to seeking and doing God’s will.
One more: Witness a young priest and his wife considering their future together and discerning whether it’s time to leave the parish at which he’s been serving, and which he loves. This time he reactivates his status on the national church’s computer dating service, the clergy deployment database, and before long he’s invited to interview for a position to which he really feels God may be calling him.
One thing leads to another—it can be a torturously long process this business of discernment—but in the end the call goes to someone else. Our priest is hurt and confused—how could he have so misheard God’s call? But he is also steadfast. He is faithful. He considers that we live in a world in which God’s will isn’t always done. And so he begins to pray again, “Thy will, not mine be done.”
By now it will probably not surprise you that at that very same time, in a completely different place—an even better place for our young priest and his wife—another people were beginning to search for a new priest…a new priest to love and be loved by… a young priest to guide them and grow with them…a faithful priest with whom they could commit themselves to seeking and doing God’s will. Amazing how it all worked out, right?
You see, none of this is coincidence. None of this is dumb luck. This is the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus in action. All along God was doing more for our young priest than he could ever ask or imagine. All along God was leading Adam and Leah to the new life He has in store for them among the people of St. Mark’s in Mystic– a call that until the phone rang lived only in the late night whispers they shared of a dream for “someday”; a call that could not possibly have been realized had they not been committed to seeking and doing God’s will.
Adam’s spiritual journey, which we have all had the privilege of sharing in these past four years, is a powerful witness to what happens when one man commits himself to seeking and doing God’s will. And that is precisely what God is calling each of us to do now as members of this church: To renew our commitment, both as individuals and as a community of Christ-followers, to seeking and doing God’s will. If we are faithful to that call as we continue our journey together, it will indeed go well with us at St. Stephen’s. Because by the grace of God given to us in Christ Jesus, God will surely do more for us than we could ever ask or imagine!
This is the life-giving reality of Christ’s Gospel made manifest in Adam’s ministry. This is the life-giving reality of the gospel we’re being called by God to live into and to share.
So to borrow another page from St. Paul, let me close by saying: Stand firm in your faith and be strong… let all that you do be done in love. And may the grace of God be with you, just as my love is with you in Christ Jesus. Amen.