The Rev. Peter Keese and his wife Helen will soon be moving to Nashville. We thank Peter for his many years of service to this diocese, including his service as Standing Committee president, and as the “vicar” of Christ Church in Rugby. A lifelong Episcopalian and a priest since 1962, Peter was a clinical educator of pastors and pastors-to-be for much of his professional career. We give thanks for all the ways he has served the communities in which he found himself – from serving as founding president of Hospice of North Carolina (which has since merged into a different hospice organization) – to serving the Volunteer Ministry Center (VMC) in Knoxville, including service on the Board of Directors of the agency. Here is the sermon Peter gave on the Feast of the Epiphany, his farewell sermon to Christ Church. Our hearts are filled with gratitude and we send prayers and blessings to Peter and Helen for their coming move to their new home.
Sermon given by the Rev. Peter Keese
CHRIST CHURCH – THE EPIPHANY – January 6, 2019
Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12
I have some really good news; this time it comes in the form of the title of a speech given years ago at the University of Chattanooga; the title: Everything Nailed Down Is Coming Loose. I didn’t hear the speech, so I don’t know what he said, but I love the title.
Now I know that any good presentation, sermon or otherwise, begins on a positive note, so I apologize in advance that I have a little complaint to make here. Look at the title on your service bulletin: The Epiphany. The problem with institutional church has always been that it wants established certainty; it wants things nailed down, fixed, immovable, unchangeable.
Think for a minute: has anything in your life ever been fixed, unchanging, nailed down?
So the good news is just this: epiphany is a process — a lifelong process—for each of us; life is ever unfolding, always revealing its riches — for each of us. Epiphany is not a one-time event. There is not THE Epiphany. Learning, discovering, exploring all that it means to be in Christ (one with God) is the joyful life process. And it’s a process that includes plenty of time to make mistakes and learn from them — plenty of time to try again and again. That’s what life is — a series of epiphanies — sometimes great, sometimes small.
Lots of our church language says or implies that Jesus sprang from his mother’s womb fully formed as the Christ person, but I think we’ll do a lot better if we allow ourselves to imagine Jesus being like us, that is, having a continuing series of epiphanies—discoveries—of being in God, being “enChristed.” I’ll bet that he grew into his Christness; I’ll bet that we grow into our Christness. If that’s not good news, there isn’t any.
Now I want to be more specific and I want to praise you all and thank you all and maybe even a cry a little as I say goodbye to my teachers, colleagues and friends who are Christ Church, Rugby.
It is here that I have had some of my richest epiphany moments of exploration and discovery. You have taught me what church is; you have taught me that a sermon is not a presentation or a performance but a continuing conversation. You have allowed me a range of epiphanies; I’m embarrassed to admit that it is only recently that I have caught on to what I suspect you all have long known, namely that taking a time of silence to recall specifics of things done and left undone makes the forgiveness I then declare real. You have taught me that church is a process of community building, that we are discovering together that ordinary, standard issue human beings like us are in the process of living into our Christness; like Jesus, we are becoming—Christ.
So… listen to this brief little snippet from the second lesson we just read today (it’s a couple of verses, beginning in the printed bulletin version, with, “Although I am the very least…”; I’m reading it from the version called The Message); that version has Paul saying it this way:
8-10 And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!
Particularly this sentence:
“Through followers of Jesus like yourselves — gathered in churches — [that’s you and me, folks] — this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels!”
That is who you are and what you do — the body of Christ — embodying Christ. I thank God for you. Keep it up.