Chosen for Love: A Sermon by the Vicar

A Sermon offered for Year B, Easter VI, May 10, 2015, @TheAdvocate byt The Rev. Lisa G. Fischbeck

In the Name of the Creating, Restoring and Transforming God,
Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

It took me a while to notice,
but May is a hard month in the life of the Advocate.
People leave.
We wish them well,
we pray them on their way.
And we grieve.
A church with young adults experiences this a lot.
A church that embraces change as one of its descriptors
experiences it even more.

A church that is open to change
attracts people who like change,
not only in their church, but also in their lives.
Off they go.
Some to a first job,
others to another job,
some to be ordained as priests,
others to be closer to extended family.            (see note below*)

The litany of the Advocate diaspora is long:

Miranda Hassett, Phil Hassett and their two kids, now in Wisconsin, where Miranda is a priest at St. Dunstan’s in Madison and Phil is an amazing stay at home dad who still masters our website.

Gabe Lamazares and Terry Milner, now in New York City, where Gabe is a priest at the Church of St. Luke in the Fields in Greenwich Village and Terry is finishing a Masters in screenwriting at NYU.

Buck Cooper and Elisabeth Malphurs,
called to return to their native Mississippi,
where Buck is applying his UNC PhD in education to teach middle school students science,
and Elisabeth is working as a social worker with the chronically mentally ill.

Joslyn, Brian and Elias Schafer,
who moved to Morehead City so Brian could get a job practicing law.
Now they are in Charlotte,
where Joslyn is a priest and Brian a lawyer.

Hugo Oliaz and John Charles Duffy, now in Ohio,
where John-Charles teaches about Religion in America at Miami of Ohio, and Hugo continues to provide support for gay Mormon youth.

Then there is Sam Laurent,
our own Theologian in Residence,
and his wife, Kim, and daughter, Maddie.
We sent them off to Duke University in January,
so Sam could be the interim Episcopal Campus Minister there.
And he is doing the job so well,
he may very well be given the ongoing position….

This is but a sampling.
There are dozens,
I mean dozens more.

Every May we say farewell.
God grant you many years, good people,
sisters and brothers of the Advocate….
Today we send of Johnny and Nicki and Eli Tuttle to go and live in Georgia.
And we bid David Wantland farewell for a summer at Furman University.
And I just found out that this is the last Sunday that Liz Gilson Aaron will be with us before she hits the road for a month to two years….

Geez, it’s hard.

I was describing this rhythm of our lives to a colleague this week.
“Reminds me of the pelican”, she said.
It is said that when times are hard and food is scarce
the mother pelican will pierce her own flesh with her beak in order to provide food for her children.

The image is strong, whether or not it is true.
Seen in stained glass windows,
tapestries and even tattoos,
the pelican is depicted with drops, or a flow, of blood, coming from her beak and breast,
little chicks eager to receive.

It is, you see, an image of the Christ.

For those of us who have been through a May or two at the Advocate,
the image rings true.

Year after year,
we send our beloved out into the world
and it hurts.
But it is part of our vocation as the Church of the Advocate.

For just as we welcome people into our fold,
firmly believing that there are some who will grow closer to God and to God’s people here at the Advocate in a way that they simply would not or could not elsewhere,
So we believe that we have been called,
as a mission church,
to raise people up for ministry elsewhere in the church,
elsewhere in the world.

Jesus says:
You did not choose me but I chose you.

Now
to a post-Blues Brothers generation,
to say we are on “a mission from God” can sound humorous.
And to claim that we are “chosen” for this work can readily sound vainglorious.

But if we do not at some level believe that we have a particular call,
and that God is with us in this journey,
why then are we here?

———————
The Church of the Advocate was started in a university town in the new old South in 2003
We were started, in part,
to be an alternative expression of the Episcopal Anglican church for a new generation.
It is part of our calling therefore to be rooted in the Anglican tradition,
but not bound by it.
To re-member things old.
And to try things new.

We do this physically week by week,
facing each other in chairs rather than pews
using binders with music from across the centuries and around the world,
in a 19th century carpenter Gothic chapel, no less.

We do it in other ways as well:
how we structure ourselves, for example,
which is to say, minimally.
And how we use technology.
We do it spiritually, too,
especially as we create a culture of honesty and hospitality,
and anchor ourselves, not only in the Eucharist,
but also in contemplative prayer.

Whether or not we are comfortable saying that we have been “chosen” by God for this work,
or saying that we are on “a mission from God”,
it is our calling to be a new old church in 21st century North Carolina.

And part of that calling
is to send people forth from the Advocate
out into the world to bear fruit from the experience they have been given here.
There’s a word for it, you know.
Fructify.
I love that word.
It literally means make something fruitful or productive.
to bear fruit.

The Advocate is called to fructify
by sending our beloved people out into the world beyond this place.

______________________

You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

In our Diaspora
the Advocate is a fruitful congregation.
But I pray that today’s Gospel to our ears doesn’t end there.
Rather, my hope is that our experience as a congregation
will inform and influence our experience as individual Christians as well.

For Jesus speaks to us collectively and individually.
And whether we feel the language of being “chosen” sounds vainglorious or not,
truth be told,
each and every one of us here has been chosen by God,
chosen to be loved to the very fibers of our being
to every wisp and element of our soul.

Each and every one of us here
has been chosen by God.
Chosen to be loved and to bear the fruit of that love in the world by our faith.
We may feel shy to claim such language for ourselves.
Me? Chosen?
And/or
We may be afraid of the pain, sacrifice and loss
that will likely ensue if we take that call to heart.
Things will not be exactly as we wished or as we wanted when first we set out.
It will hurt some.
But something lovlier will result.

Remember the mother pelican….

God is calling us,
each and every one,
to bear much fruit in our actions, thoughts and words
Why do we do it?
to reveal God’s love.
It is that simple.
to reveal God’s love.

In case you missed it for the beauty of the weather and everything else going on this week,
on Friday the church throughout the world
celebrated the Feast of Dame Julian of Norwich,
a 14th century woman who understood this revelation of God’s love better than just about anybody before or since.
Because it was revealed to her.

She wrote:
What, do you wish to know your Lord’s meaning in this thing?
Know it well, love was his meaning.
Who reveals it to you?

Love.
What did he reveal you?
Love.
Why does he reveal it to you?
For Love….
So I was taught that love is our Lord’s meaning.

Love is the fruit of our actions, thoughts and words.

So whether we have gifts of prayer
or organizing,
or being present to another in need,
whether we have gifts for teaching or for writing,
for tending to those who are ailing or impaired,
or gifts for keeping things fiscally sound or spiritually enlivened,
each of us has been chosen to share that fruit
that we might better reveal God’s love to one another and to the world.

You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last.

Amen.

* For more on the many dimensions of the Season of Departures at the Advocate, see post on Alban.org