The Ordination of a Priest – Isaiah 6:1-8
Arnoldo, you’ve waited and prayed and dreamed about this evening for a long time, haven’t you? You’ve worked long and hard to get here, and you’ve done well. Take a look around at all the people here who gave you their “We will,” their promise and commitment to uphold you in your ministry. Hold on to their words. None of us do this alone, and the “We will” they gave you is bigger than and stretches beyond this evening, this place, and the individuals here. So I hope and trust that when those words were spoken you also heard the voice of your Dad in that “We will.”
In just a little bit hands will be laid upon you and Bishop Reed will ask that God’s Holy Spirit be given to you, fill you with grace and power, and make you a priest in the Church. He cannot do that apart from the “We will” of the people. What’s happening this evening is a big deal, but let’s not make it too much of big deal, ok?
As important as this evening is, it is only the evening of your ordination. And while what we do this evening matters and makes a difference, what will matter most and make the biggest difference is what you do with your priesthood tomorrow, the next day, the one after that, and, God willing, the one ten or fifteen years from now.
I don’t know what those days will be like for you. And neither do you. You don’t know what your priesthood will ask of you or give you. None of us do. So I’m going to give you some words from Isaiah 6:1-8 that might help.
When I first read the Isaiah passage we heard a few minutes ago two lines immediately stood out to me and stuck with me. They describe two realities of the priesthood.
It’s probably not the one you are expecting but here’s the first one. “‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined.’” Those were Isaiah’s words when he saw the Holy One, when he looked within himself, when the doorposts and thresholds of his life were shaken. There will come a time when they are your words too.
- Every time you preach someone there will be someone struggling with life and hanging on by a thread, waiting for and needing a good word from you – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- When you look in the mirror and know that you know things about yourself that they do not and you hope they never do – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- When the church leaves you disillusioned, people disappoint you, or your feelings get hurt – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- At night when you crawl into bed exhausted and second guessing yourself, regretting a bad decision, or recalling what you have done and left undone – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- On those days when you are no longer sure what you believe and you wonder if you are enough for this work – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- When there is disagreement, conflict, and you want to run away – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- There will be situations when you don’t know what to do, that ask more than you have to give, or leave you feeling lost and overwhelmed – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- Some days you will discover and face things about yourself you’d rather not – “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
- In a few minutes Bishop Reed will examine you by asking if you will commit yourself to the priesthood, be obedient, be diligent in reading and study, endeavor to minister the Word of God and the sacraments, undertake to be a faithful pastor to all, pattern your life and that of your family after Christ, and persevere in prayer. If you are wise you will answer, “I will” and “Woe to me! I am ruined.”
“Woe to me! I am ruined.” Be careful how you hear those words. They are not what you think they are. They are not gloom and doom. They are not about inadequacy or deficiency in you or anyone else. And they are not about failure or giving up. They are the words by which Isaiah is opening his heart to God. They are his self-reckoning, a recognition of his responsibility and accountability. Ultimately, they are Isaiah’s confession and surrender to the Sender, the Sending One. Let them be that for you. For you too are now a Sent One.
The second line from Isaiah that I’m giving you is this, “And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’”
- There will be days when you touch the Mystery, weep with joy, and live with gratitude – “Here am I. Send me!”
- At times you will be overwhelmed by the intimacy of pastoral care, the trust placed in you, and the secrets shared with you – “Here am I. Send me!”
- Circumstances and people will call you more deeply into your priesthood and you will say things you didn’t know you knew and do things you never thought you could – “Here am I. Send me!”
- Some days your heart will break for the pain of the world and the hurt of God’s people, and you will be filled with a compassion you can’t contain – “Here am I. Send me!”
- You will weep with joy at the baptism of a child, the marriage of a couple, the reconciliation of a penitent – “Here am I. Send me!”
- Now and then you’ll catch a glimpse of the train of the Lord’s robe filling the temple of your life, and the whole earth full of God’s glory – “Here am I. Send me!”
- People will love and shepherd you in ways that will heal and transform your life – “Here am I. Send me!”
- You will hear the insistence of God to be given existence through your words and actions of love, mercy, wisdom, compassion, and justice – “Here am I. Send me!”
- Some nights you will fall into bed exhausted, thankful for having been sent, excited and ready to go again “to the work, to the work” – “Here am I. Send me!”
“Woe to me! I am ruined.” “Here am I. Send me!” Arnoldo, do you hear the tension, the paradox, in those two lines from Isaiah?
It’s not one or the other. It’s both at the same time. That’s the paradox into which you are stepping this evening. That’s the tension in which you will live your priesthood. One is calling you to be humble, honest, and authentic. The other is calling you to be courageous, faithful, and obedient. One asks you to confess, the other asks you to profess. In that tension you will witness the sufferings of Christ and share in the glory to be revealed.
The tension in that paradox will tug and pull at you. It will feel as if you are being torn apart. In reality, that tension is what will hold you together. So let me be clear. I am not asking you resolve that tension, I am asking you to hold that tension. I am asking you to hold those two lines together in your heart. I hope you never say one to the exclusion of the other, but always both at the same time – “Woe to me! I am ruined.” “Here am I. Send me!”
Be, as Peter says, an “example to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3). Show us those two realities in your life and help us to name them in our lives. That tension is not unique to you or exclusive to the priesthood. It lives in all of us. We often think it is what deprives us of peace. In reality, peace resides in that tension. You might think of those two lines from Isaiah as marking or outlining a way of peace.
Find and re-find that peace for yourself. Tell us about it. Show it to us. Offer it to us. Call us to confess and profess. Teach us to say, “Woe to me! I am ruined” and “Here am I. Send me!” Hold us accountable for finding and re-finding that peace for ourselves.
Do you know the very first public words you will say as a priest, Arnoldo? I do. Your first public words as a priest will be, “The peace of the Lord be always with you.”
Peace will be your first word. Let it be your last, and every word in between. Hold the tension and find peace at the center of who you are and everything you say and do. You cannot offer us what you do not have. “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved” (St. Seraphim of Sarov).