Homily given at the Renewal of Ministry and Welcoming of a New Rector with the Rev. Johnny Tuttle and St. Paul’s Kingsport
October 2, 2019
Ruth 1:8, 14-19a, Psalm 85, Ephesians 2:11-22, Luke 1:39-45
Text is below. CLICK HERE to listen to the homily – you’ll get to hear the homily, Bishop Brian’s biggest fan, and a snippet from “Dust in the Wind,” by the 70’s band Kansas!
When I was in college, I got a new roommate at the beginning of my sophomore year. We met through a campus ministry program and quickly agreed it would be good to live together.
Once we began rooming together, however, I discovered my new roommate was a person with very strong opinions. Plus, he tended to share his strong opinions with you, whether you wanted to know them or not.
To be honest, they were more than opinions. For him, they were deeply held convictions. Which, he shared aloud—a lot.
One of his strongest opinions, excuse me, deeply held convictions, was that he knew the identity of the greatest rock band of all time. For him, and for anyone else he could convince, that greatest rock band of all time was Kansas.
Now, let me say right here, he was wrong. Kansas is not the greatest rock band of all time. Nevertheless, he never gave up on this. So, we listened to the group Kansas without stop in our dorm room.
Though I have not seen my college roommate in years, I still get Kansas flashbacks. I will be minding my own business and some phrase from a Kansas song floats across the screen of my mind.
In preparation for this evening, in considering the readings chosen for this evening’s Renewal of Ministry, in pondering and praying that St. Paul’s and Fr. Tuttle are about to enter into a long-lasting season of life-giving and fruitful common ministry together, Kansas showed up, unbidden.
“Now, don’t hang on, nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky
It slips away
And all your money won’t another minute buy
Dust in the wind
All we are is dust in the wind, All we are is dust in the wind”
Thank you, college roommate.
This evening, as we gather to give thanks for Fr. Johnny’s call to St. Paul’s, to give thanks for Johnny and Nikki and their family putting down roots in Kingsport, as we pray and plan for a long-haul Gospel ministry work together, we do so realizing the dustiness of our existence. Others have gone before us here and we stand on their shoulders. And others, God willing, will come after us and it is our prayer that they will give thanks for the good and faithful and gracious way all of us will lead and serve in this season.
Tonight, however, we are called to pay attention to this moment, to recognize how God’s Spirit is doing a new thing now, here, in 2019. We do not need to look back and pine for some time before. Nor, do we need to look too far ahead. Rather, we need to pay attention to what is before us and see how God’s Spirit is seeking to bless us now.
In preparing for tonight’s liturgy, Fr. Johnny sent me a note with recommendations for this evening’s lessons. For the gospel reading, Fr. Johnny chose the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, where Mary shares her very fresh news that God is planning to do a new and amazing thing in and through her body. The Incarnation is going to first take up room in her flesh and blood.
Upon hearing that Mary has entered her home, the child inside Elizabeth, the child that would be John the Baptist, leaps and the Holy Spirit fills Elizabeth to announce blessing to the young woman and the child to be inside of her that would be a blessing to all who would ever follow after them.
It is a great reading for us tonight. But along with the reading, Fr. Johnny gave me an insight into why he chose this lesson. His note mentioned the idea of Mary and Elizabeth embracing each other with the Christ between them.
I do not know about you, but so often when I have read this lesson or heard it read, I keep a physical space, a kind of proper distance between Mary and Elizabeth. I think I have seen icons and images of the Visitation where there is a wide gap between these two bodies, one young and one old. Yet, Fr. Johnny hears this reading, and sees them embracing, two women sharing the impossible joy that is growing inside of them both.
Fr. Johnny commended to me an image called the Windsock Visitation, which is a painting by Br. Mickey McGrath, in order to help me “see” what Fr. Johnny now sees in this reading. Br. Mickey painted the Windsock Visitation as a commission for the Monastery of the Visitation.
The Monastery of the Visitation is a group of monastic sisters in north Minneapolis. The image shows two women embracing and above their heads is a windsock, blowing happily in the wind.
Br. Mickey included the windsock in the painting because the group of monastic sisters in north Minneapolis hang a windsock outside their house as a signal to the neighborhood children that they can come in and take part in after-school activities. For the children, when they see the windsock, it lets them know that the community of sisters now also has room for them.
What an image. You see, the Visitation is not a story about the elect, the chosen few. The Visitation is an embrace of two women that also invites the rest of us in to join them in the embrace, to see that God’s new thing, growing in Mary, and the Forerunner of the Christ, growing in Elizabeth, will both grow up to call everyone to salvation and wholeness.
Too often, as Episcopalians, we act as if God’s work in and through us is to be kept secret. What do those people do inside that church, behind those red doors? And what exactly is an Episcopalian and can I become one, too? Are they currently taking applications?
Folks, let’s be clear. Let’s hang the windsock out by the red doors and let everyone know that the wind of the Spirit is blowing both inside this church and outside these walls. We are here tonight to celebrate new common life together. A young priest and his family have traveled from a far and distant land, called Georgia, to be with you and to put down roots. They are open to embracing and being embraced.
There is a wind that is blowing. It is right to say that the wind blows through time and that all our plans are indeed fleeting. But it is also right to say that God’s Spirit chose to reach out to us in time and through time and that the wind of the Spirit never ceases moving, not in this life or the next.
This is a liturgy where we celebrate that ministry is being renewed here at St. Paul’s. That is not simply the ministry of a new priest. That is not simply the ministry of your deacon, Chris. The ministry being renewed is the ministry of all the baptized.
Yes, your priest is new and he is young. But, please recall that the Visitation we see and hear in St. Luke’s Gospel is an embrace of young and old, of different generations coming to understand that God can do a new thing in us in every season of our lives. So, our task here is not simply to pray for Fr. Johnny and root him on in the ministry of the Gospel. The task here tonight is for all of us to understand we are being invited into the embrace of the Incarnation. The Christ and his mother has chosen to travel all this way, to Kingsport, to St. Paul’s, to enter into the open door and to shout her arrival even before we see her.
So, here is where we are. A visual image, of two women, one old and one young, embracing each other, making room for us, with the windsock placed outside, letting the neighborhood know we are ready to play.