Deprecated: Methods with the same name as their class will not be constructors in a future version of PHP; plgSystemAddPrintStylesheet has a deprecated constructor in /home/djxcbosu/public_html/plugins/system/addprintstylesheet/addprintstylesheet.php on line 17
Sermon - Charles Farrell Ordination

510 S. Farwell St., Eau Claire WI 54701 • 715.835.3734 Map to the Cathedral

 December 21, 2013 • The Feast of St. Thomas

Here we are, on the shortest day of the year, in the darkness of night, on the feast of Thomas the Apostle, who doubted until he could see the Risen Lord for himself; and we are here to witness another turning point, another raising up, another commitment of faith—of our brother Charles is taking his place in the apostolic ministry—to be a deacon of the Church of God, and a dispelling of the darkness with the light of Christ, and promise of a new year of the Lord’s favor. Our thoughts this night are particularly and shaped by the readings we just heard: God shaping the reluctant Jeremiah for his prophetic ministry throughout his whole life, all the way back to the womb, and God quashing Jeremiah’s fears and feelings of inadequacy with the power of the Spirit; the story of the selection of seven men to take on the part of the apostolic ministry that is particularly and uniquely diaconal—seving the Lord’s table and caring for the poor; and the story of ‘doubting’ Thomas, who needed not just to see, but to touch Jesus in order to dispel his doubts and grow to a new level of faith.

That’s one set of images that brings our thoughts together this evening. Another set of images comes from our own stories, our own experience of discipleship, of encountering the call of God, and knowing the presence of the Risen Lord at our side in times of joy and sadness. For Charles, this has been a long, roller-coaster ride of preparation, and one that at several points along the path might have led him not to say ‘here I am, send me’ but ‘find someone else’s mouth to put your words into!’ In our own lives, in St. Thomas’s life, and specially tonight in Charles’s life, we see the familiar, yet ever new, pattern of death and resurrection, endings giving way to new beginnings, confusion and frustration yielding, in God’s time, to new hope and purpose.

Thomas is usually best remembered for his role in the story we just heard about him, and he usually gets a pretty bad rap for it. We call him ‘doubting’ Thomas, we think of him as an overly literal-minded, or perhaps fearful person. I don’t see Thomas that way, though. I see him as someone who wrestles with his faith and his doubts, and who used that struggle to build up new and deeper capacity for faith. I see him as someone who searches his heart, plainly and honestly tells God what he needs, and then accepts it when Jesus gives him what he asks for—unlike many of us, who continually raise the bar on what God has to show us before we’ll really believe. (“Lord if I could just see a miracle.”…”OK, now if I could just see another miracle, maybe a little flashier this time”) He shows us that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but rather it can be a gateway to deeper faith.

From the small handful of other episodes in the Gospel where Thomas takes a part, we see a very loyal, courageous, and practical man. When Jesus proposes a trip to a place where he was banned under threat of stoning, it was Thomas who insisted that all the disciples go with Him that they might die with him. At the Last Supper, as Jesus predicts his passion and resurrection, telling the disciples that He would go to prepare a place for them, it is Thomas who asks: “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how can we know the way?” His question calls the conversation back from vagueness and uncertainty and prompts the simple, powerful, and eloquent response from Jesus, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.”

Christianity is a shared, communal way of life, and a corporate faith, but at the heart of this faith and tradition is a personal encounter with the Risen Lord. Christian faith is not based on scriptural or traditional witness alone, important as those things are. Reason must also play a part in our faith, and reason is what demands that we see certain things for ourselves—that we encounter Jesus for ourselves. Thomas takes that personal encounter and allows it to transform his life and the life of the community of Disciples, being the first person ever to hail Jesus as “my Lord and my God!” Thomas is the pragmatist who reminds us that our faith ultimately has to be practical and practice-able—‘do-able’. Faith is not an idea, it is a practice. It is do-able because it is a relationship with a living person named Jesus. Our faith is proclaimed and served not as some ideal or argument, but in what we are, what we say, what we do, what we practice day by day, week by week.

Now, if ever I knew someone who practiced a practical faith, it’s Charles Farrell. The bishop is about to lay hands on him and make him a deacon because the Church around Charles recognizes that God is at work in him, calling him to serve and proclaim his encounter with the Risen Lord that Charles nurtures and deepens by seeking and serving Christ in all people, particularly the poor, the weak, the sick and the lonely. The people Charles has been discerning this call with have often noted that ordination wouldn’t be so much an inauguration of new ministries, as it would be empowering and deepening a ministry already undertaken among the poor and helpless in Eau Claire.

So, what of the deaconhood to which Charles has been called and with which he will be graced this evening? He sits there, about to be decked out like a Christmas tree with ceremonial finery—a decking out which marks the diaconate as a sign of the world to come—it tells of otherness, of mysteries and wonders yet to be revealed, in much the same way the we try to convey something of the wonderful specialness of Christmas through decorations, traditions, cards and gifts. But this setting apart of the deacon must not be overplayed. Charles dressed in sweatpants and sneakers, up to his elbows in chopped vegetables at the Community Table, or slipping into the KwikTrip for a few extra gallons of milk, is just as much the deacon. Charles in suit and tie, up to his elbows in university administration politics, chairing a too-long board meeting is just as much the deacon. Being a deacon isn’t limited to just doing ‘deacony’ things. There are special things that he will do, above all to proclaim the Gospel and to serve the celebration of the sacraments, but what are these if not moments of confrontation and encounter with the risen Lord? The Gospel Charles will proclaim, and the sacraments he will serve are not the spiritual equivalent of a Gin and Tonic, nor of a trip to the health club, nor a course of therapy; rather, they are the gift of life through encounter with the One Who knows us and loves us better than we know or love ourselves; and it is a meeting that is always life-giving, even if it is sometimes bracing, or challenging.

Austin Farrer once wrote that clergy are ‘walking sacraments’—both because the grace of the sacraments is there with them, always waiting to be released; but also because, in the constant service of the sacraments, they become, by grace and discipline, so at home with the Beloved, so attuned to the voice of Christ, so much friends of Christ, that they themselves become transparent: constant channels of the love and peace of Christ.

So, there we are: God is at work here tonight. God is at work in Charles. There is no doubt of that. Like Jeremiah, God has been preparing Charles for this all along, from the very beginning; and he goes, not under compulsion, but willingly, not seeking sordid gain, but eagerly, to have compassion on the crowds and to be a laborer for the Lord’s harvest. But what of us? God is at work in us, too, and we have our part to play. Insofar as Charles truly draws us into the presence of God through his service, we respond by seeking to know more, by responding to the deacon’s call to take what we know and feel here into cold, thirsty, and hungry world, and by pressing Charles to show us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of strangers. We help in the making of deacons by the use we make of them, by the way we encourage them to be ‘walking sacraments’. Here we stand at this hinge of the year, asking that we may cast aside the works of darkness, asking that Charles and all of his fellow deacons may help us to make our encounter with the risen Christ visible and tactile through service to one another, so that we may cry out with joy ‘My Lord and My God’ as the body of Christ is placed in our hands, both at this table, and in the streets of Eau Claire.