Sermon for the Celebration of Adam Thomas’ New Ministry with the People of St. Mark’s, Mystic || Thursday, June 19, 2014|| Deuteronomy 6: 4-9; Psalm 133; Romans 12: 1-18; Matthew 28: 16-20 || The Rev. Margot D. Critchfield
Ya’ know how at the end of each day of the creation story, the author of Genesis pauses for a moment to say, “And God saw that it was good”? Well, I imagine God grinning from ear to holy ear right about now, just as pleased as can be with His own Divine Self. Because this celebration of the sacred covenant that’s being made between the people of St. Mark’s and its thirty-first rector—this is very good indeed. And I assure you that it too is God’s creation!
Somehow, in the mysterious dance of desires and dreams and wishes and wills called the search process, both this church and a young man named Adam Thomas cautiously but faithfully opened themselves to the very heart of God’s will. And by doing so, they have become co-creators with God of some new and wonderful –and still unfolding thing — that God is doing here. Surely God is well-pleased!
And so are we. Even those of us from St. Stephen’s, Cohasset who literally weptto see Adam go, can’t help but feel the joy of this moment. This just feels so right. So “of God.” What an incredible privilege to be a part of it!
Now, I must say it was rather brave of Adam to invite me to preach. I’ve known him for so long that he must be at least a little bit nervous that I’m going to tell embarrassing stories about what he was like way back when as a scrawny first year seminarian. I figure his father would’ve had even more embarrassing stories, and that’s why I got to peach.
But you can relax, Adam. I’m actually not going to tell any embarrassing stories about you. Not just because I can’t without breaking our clergy commitment to confidentiality, but because I have something very serious to say to you, and to the people of St. Mark’s—and I am so grateful for the opportunity to say it.
I want to start with the wonderful people of St. Mark’s. You have been going through a time of great transition since your former rector retired, and that’s never easy. Yet you were faithful in discerning the kind of priest you felt God was inviting you to call as your new rector, and when it was clear to you that Adam was that priest, you invited him to serve here with you, among you, and for you. But here’s the thing. You are as much a part of God’s plan for Adam as Adam is for you.
Think about that. You are as much a part of God’s plan for Adam, as Adam is a part of God’s plan for you. I think that’s true any time a parish calls a priest, but especially so in this case. I remember being absolutely gob smacked by the fact when I called Adam to serve with me at St Stephen’s. Yes, I’d been his spiritual director through seminary, so I knew him really well in that capacity. But a colleague in ministry is a very different thing. And when I realized God was actually entrusting this not just gifted but extraordinarily gifted young priest to my care…well, what I felt was nothing short of awestruck. And humbled. And terrified. And I hope you, dear people of St. Mark’s, feel awestruck and humbled, and terrified, too!
Some of you may remember the series of commercials from the late 80’s that always ended with the line, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Well, this is not your father’s priest. God is entrusting to your care someone truly exceptional, and not only that, but in his first call as a rector. That means God is trusting you to be good stewards of Adam’s gifts, and to play a really critical role in his formation.
Adam is a sensitive and compassionate pastor; he’s an outstanding scholar, a brilliant preacher and an inspired teacher; he’s a gifted writer, wise way beyond his years, musically talented and best of all open to criticism and able to laugh at himself heartily. I have no doubt that with Adam as your priest you will “be transformed by the renewing of your minds,” (as Paul says) and grow ever more faithfully into the church that God is calling you to be.
My “charge” to you, then, is to never forget your part in this relationship or the vow you took earlier in this service. Because God is trusting you with a big job: to love, support, and uphold Adam as he grows ever more faithfully into the priest and the rector that God is calling himto be.
Okay, now it’s your turn, Adam:
I don’t have to tell you to fall in love with your people, because from what you’ve told me you already have. You grew up as a preacher’s kid, so you know it won’t always be as easy as it is now.
Like any relationship, your relationship with this church will have its ups and downs, and some of those ups and downs will leave their bumps and minor bruises. But like all good and healthy relationships, your relationship with the people of this church will grow all the stronger and deeper and richer not just in spite of those bumps and bruises but because of them. The best advice I can give you on how to handle it all is the simple advice Merlin gave to Arthur in Camelot: just love her…simply love her…merely love her…love her…love her.
And remember that God in the Holy Spirit was already at work here before you arrived. Remember you are joining God’s work in progress, and there’s a reason God called you–and not someone else–into this creative process. Your most challenging and important piece of discernment may well be in identifying what God’s dream is for this particular creation of His called St. Mark’s, Mystic and how you–with your particular gifts for ministry–might join the people of St. Mark’s in that creative work.
In just a few minutes you’re going to pray a very powerful prayer that each of us prays when we are inducted as the new rector of a parish. My guess is that if you remember nothing else of this service you will remember praying this prayer. It speaks the deepest and most authentic longings of your heart. Pray it weekly, if not daily. It will humble you, strengthen you, inspire, refresh and restore you. It is a very, very special prayer. Just wait. Oh, and good luck getting through it without crying.
And finally, the customary charge: Adam, if you would stand please….
Now, you know you basically wrote your own charge in the readings you chose. How could I possibly end this sermon with anything but the Shema? So your charge, Adam Thomas, is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. To keep these words in your heart. To recite them to your children (yea!!!) and to talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.
Do this, my friend, and it will go well with you… and with your ministry… and with all those entrusted to your care. Amen.