January 18, 2014

Sermon for the Ordination of The Rev. Dr. Wayne Whitney

Sermon for the Priestly Ordination of The Rev. Dr. Wayne Vohn Whitney
By The Rev. Torey Lightcap
January 18, 2014
Episcopal Church of the Nativity
Isaiah 6:1-8
Psalm 43
1 Peter 5:1-5
John 6:35-40

To you, Right Reverend sir; to my dear friends old and new; to my brothers and sisters in Christ;
 To The Reverend Susan Snook, and to Nativity; to my family, gathered in celebration,
   And to the ordinand, my brother-in-law of 21 years,
     The Reverend Doctor Wayne Vohn Whitney:
 I greet you all tenderly today
 In the name of God, and of God’s Son, Jesus Christ Our Lord.
He it is who gave of himself completely --
 Living, dying, and rising again --
 That we might come to have life in his name
   Through placing our complete trust in him.
Let us give ourselves to Christ utterly today in heart, soul, body, and mind.
Amen. Please be seated.

It is a pleasure to be here today, and to have been so hospitably received.
My wife and I live in northwest Iowa; it is the month of January; perhaps that’s all I need say.
I don’t care to know the temperature in Sioux City right now. I can speculate.

Nevertheless, I do bring you warm greetings from there --
 From the people and Bishop of Iowa,
 Who have eagerly sent us out as workers today to meet you in the field.
The right and Christly discernment and raising-up and training and commissioning and deployment
 Of fit workers for God of all stripes, be they lay or clergy,
 Is a duty the Church undertakes with the greatest seriousness and the highest joy.
And I love it. I love all of it. I love it because when it is done well,
 Jesus Christ is at the beating heart of it, and none other,
   And it becomes yet another way to know him and to dwell in him all the more deeply --
     To be transformed by life in him completely.

Wayne, my heart is full. Our hearts are full.
Time does not permit us to say all we could, but this much is true:
 You have traversed a long, winding, dangerous wilderness path to be here today.
You have committed yourself to a lifetime of study of God’s Word and intent.
You have sat in the stone silence and listened for the voice of the Holy Spirit to come and guide.
You have flung yourself upon the mercy of the Church in light of your baptism and your call.
All that time, you have fought dragons and beat back demons!
And here you are. Of course our hearts are full.

But others have also paid the price for you to be here today,
 For us to sit here and worship here in freedom and with peace in our hearts:
 ... Disciples (aka learners) had to become apostles (messengers) and set their childish ways aside;
 ... Martyrs’ blood has been spilled and still is to this day, the world round;
 ... This country had to be built, and religious freedoms enshrined within her,
       And houses of worship hewn out of the land;
 ... The carriers of the faith have passed the sacred fire down a long line of pilgrims, to you;
 ... Your mother and your father and your siblings and your friends in the faith
   And pastors and priests and deacons and bishops
     And Sunday School teachers and seminary classmates and professors, oh my --
     And yes, even those surly dissertation advisers, so schooled in the Gospel of Luke --
   They have all labored to deliberately give to you loving glimpses
     Of a life hidden in Christ as best they understood it,
       With whatever they had to give at the time, praying that it was enough,
       And that you too would take your place among saints on earth.
For all of this, we are more than grateful. It can’t go unnoticed.
It’s a pleasure to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with you all. Yes indeed, our hearts are full.

I have one distinct memory I wish to share today --
 A memory that has gone to work on me for the better part of the last two decades.
Wayne grew up in the wilderness of southeastern Nebraska, and northeastern Kansas,
 In the nineteen-sixties and -seventies,
   In the era of the bedrock Big Eight sports conference.
And speaking of religious devotion,
 University of Nebraska Football really meant something at that time.
Saint Bob Devaney and Saint Bob Osborne must have levitated down the streets of Lincoln.
Believe me -- I can relate: I grew up in Oklahoma, in the Saint Barry Switzer years.
Annually, Nebraska and Oklahoma fans liked to split the bill for football championships.
But as adults, Wayne and I quickly became the sort of friends and family
 Who were able to set those differences aside.

One bright day in Colorado back in 1997, Wayne showed me a string of banners
 That he had made many years before and had always kept.
On that string were triangles of colored felt
 Representing all of the full-member institutions of the Big Eight --
 And I hope I’m getting this right --
 Colorado, Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Kansas, Iowa State, and Missouri,
   And, let us not forget, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
But somewhere along the way -- maybe the day he made it --
 Wayne had also thoughtfully added the name of a ninth entity:
 Not a school per se, not an institution or even an idea,
   But a title that had been given to a person who was also so much more than a person.

I believe the ninth banner simply said, CHRIST.

Wayne explained to me that this was how he had ordered his life --
 That teams and seasons might come and go,
   But nothing could ever really command his true loyalty except for Jesus Christ.

I want to commend this image to the prayers we make for Wayne today
 And for Nativity and for this diocese, indeed to all people who believe --
   Because in one word it tells you everything you should expect from Wayne.
It tells you what Wayne believes his priorities should be,
 And it gives you a yardstick and a plumb line
   By which to judge his thoughts and words and actions as a priest
   In God’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.

If you recall, Saint Paul had a string of banners, too, that he liked to talk about.
His banners said things like Benjamin’s Tribe, Righteous Pharisee, Faultless Law-Follower,
 Roman Citizen, Maker of Tents, World Traveler, Accomplished Speechmaker, LearnĂ©d One.
He flashed his banners like ID badges to get himself into places or out of sticky situations,
 But mostly, once he got knocked down on the road to Damascus,
   He didn’t have a lot of use for them.
He wrote to the little church in Phillipi that he thought all of those banners were like lost garbage:
 That he’d thrown them all out and was after only one thing:
 “[T]he surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus [as] Lord.”
“For [the] sake [of Jesus],” Paul wrote,
 “I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
   And be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law,
   But one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith.”
One banner.
A few years before that, in writing to the church at Galatia, he said it even better:
He said, “I have been crucified with Christ;
   And it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.
   And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God.”
It may sound a little shadowy and self-effacing,
 But try on this banner for size:
 “I live no longer, not I, but Christ who lives in me” ...
What a mind-altering, life-altering, daily-decision-altering statement
 Of courage and belief and being and mission!

What a confession!

And it is not only for Wayne, this banner Paul offers:
 It is hung up before us all, like a checklist superimposed over our lives,
 Every time we pass through these doors or past the waters of baptism
   Or cup our hands in prayer or take into ourselves the bread of life and the cup of salvation:
   I live no longer, not I.

Every time we make upon ourselves the sign of the cruel instrument of the cross --
 Or unburden ourselves by asking a sister or brother for some support in our lowest days --
 Or just wake up for a second and realize that we’re living in this moment:
   I live no longer, not I ... We live no longer, not even us ...
     But Christ the goal, Christ the servant, the teacher, the master ...
     The banner.

The more I think on it, the more audacious it is to make such a claim.
If we could completely understand what we were doing by making it,
 Instead of staying here we might run screaming.
But it’s not just a banner that afflicts us.
In Christ is perfect freedom of service, perfect liberation, heaven itself.
God’s path and banner are totally sufficient for life.

For one called to be priest in the Church,
This all takes on concrete and specific dimensions
 That we will hear about in the Examination and Consecration, in just a few moments.
It is an ancient and beautifully wrought liturgy;
 We don’t need to go over it now; it will do just fine all on its own.
Just know that it is a description of the Christ banner as it now turns for Wayne to claim anew
 As this next chapter of his life opens up,
 And -- I most sincerely pray -- as each and every one of us
   Is given to pause and consider whether we, too, are carrying that banner.

Sometimes, through the Spirit, God is subtle and not a little crafty;
 Sometimes the Spirit is wise, or clever, or impish;
 And sometimes God’s Spirit is just loud and obvious.
Most of the time, it would seem that our antennae aren’t really up and moving around.
So my prayer today -- my most earnest prayer -- is for loud and obvious.
I pray for a Christ banner for “the whole world [to] see and know
 That things which were cast down [really] are being raised up,
   And things which had grown old [really] are being made new,
   And that all things [really] are being brought to their perfection
     By him through whom all things were made ... Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Wayne, if you would, please stand.

For many years now, Jacquie and I have been saying to ourselves
 That while we might not know what the future held for you,
 Nevertheless, both of us have always had the distinct impression
   That God wasn’t through with you yet.
I remember these several conversations as touchstones in my own spiritual life,
 Spread out over the better part of two decades ...
 What I was doing and where I was standing whenever Jacquie and I spoke about this.
Today is indisputable proof that God is not nearly through with you.

You and I -- our journeys have crisscrossed and paralleled more than once.
God often brought us alongside one another, for the sake of one another,
   So we would not be alone.
Pray with me today that it should always be so.

And no matter what ever may befall you,
 I beg you to remember this one fact, and share the truth of it:
 That God isn’t nearly finished with any of us.

So carry the banner of Christ. Hold it high, don’t let it slip.
Let everything extraneous go, and cling only to the banners that really mean something:
 You are someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s father, someone’s husband.
And by mysterious grace, you are the beloved child of the living God
 And a standard-bearer, the torch in the hand of the forerunner.

There’s a banner here for you to take up again today, for the millionth time.

A blessing is brewing.

I bid you, in the name of Christ, come and get it.

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