Priests Come and Go – a sermon on the occasion of the ordination of the Rev. Andrew Kryzak

Religion

Over the weekend a number of us gathered for Andrew Kryzak’s ordination to the priesthood. Andrew is priest of the Diocese of Rhode Island but serving on the staff of Christ Church in Greenwich Connecticut. The preacher for the day, the Rev. Justin Crisp did as fine a job for an ordination sermon as I think I’ve heard. (And that includes the ones that I’ve preached… grin.)

I asked for permission to share this, and it was generously given. Read, mark and enjoy:

Priests Come and Go

A Sermon for the Ordination of Andrew A. Kryzak to the Priesthood

The Reverend Justin E. Crisp

Associate Rector and Theologian-in-Residence, St. Mark’s, New Canaan

“Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal.” (Isaiah 6:6)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

It is no small honor for me to be preaching from this pulpit on so happy a day for the Church as Andrew’s ordination. I have gotten to know Andrew over the past few years, first as a student and, I’m glad to say, subsequently as a colleague and friend. In that time, I have really come to appreciate—as I’m sure all of us have—just how good, noble, and kind a human being Andrew is.

The trouble, Andrew, is that being good, noble, and kind doesn’t make you a priest. I want to chat with you, for a few minutes this morning, about what I think does.

At the end of Graham Greene’s novel Brighton Rock, there is an exchange between one of the female protagonists, Rose, and an unnamed priest in a confessional. For those of you who haven’t read Brighton Rock, Rose is a young woman who, to make a very long story short, falls in love with a gang leader, named Pinkie, and subsequently marries him. I hesitate to give away too much of the plot here. All you really need to know is that Pinkie has, at this point, died, and Rose is desperately concerned for his eternal state. She sits in the confessional and unloads the mess of her life onto this old priest—putting the mess of her life into his hands, as it were. What is so remarkable is that he does something with it. The old priest speaks to her of what he calls—in one of Greene’s characteristically exquisite turns-of-phrase—”the appalling strangeness of the mercy of God,” enjoining her never to give up hope for the soul of the one she loves, and assuring her (if “assurance” is quite the right word, given the atrocities Pinkie committed in his life on earth) of God’s love, transcending human understanding. The scene is one of the most penetrating explorations of the psychology of sin and the labor of hope I have ever read—one made all the more excruciating by the way the novel ends, which I won’t give away.

The relevant part of the story for our purposes comes when Rose exits the confessional:

A sudden feeling of immense gratitude broke through the pain—it was as if she had been given the sight a long way off of life going on again. He said, ‘Pray for me, my child.’

She said, ‘Yes, oh yes.’

Outside she looked up at the name on the confessional box—it wasn’t any name she remembered. Priests come and go.

Just so.

To receive the life of another human being, their triumphs, their troubles, their joys, and their sorrows, as if it were put into your hands and to set it, in prayer and in sacrament, in the bewildering but marvelous context of the mercy of God—that is, to consecrate someone’s life and to offer it up to God for God’s purposes—that is what it means to be a priest. And it has basically nothing to do with the name above the door. Quite to the contrary: priests come and go, but the priesthood of Jesus remains. And it is to that priesthood, the high priesthood of Christ, that you, Andrew, will be joined to by grace this morning in a new and deeper way.

Andrew, this is an amazing life. I cannot put into words just how unbelievable a privilege it is to be invited into the lives of others, to share in their profoundest ups and cruelest downs and to intercede for them—to put them, through prayer, proclamation, and sacrament, in touch with the mystery we heard described in the words of the prophet Isaiah this morning.

It is the end and fulfillment of every human life to be rapt in ecstatic worship of the One who created the world and calls us each by name (Is. 43:1, Jn. 10:3), to sing “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts” in concert with the whole company of heaven (Is. 6:3, Rev. 4:8). It will be the meaning of your life subsequent to this day, Andrew, to put people in touch with that awesome and terrifying reality which we call ‘God,’ and whom we truly know and love in the human being Jesus of Nazareth, died, risen, and ascended. It will be the meaning of your life, that is, to “exalt [God] in the midst of [the] people [you serve],” to “offer spiritual sacrifices,” “boldly proclaim the gospel of salvation,” and “rightly administer the sacraments of the New Covenant” (BCP 534).

And that means, Andrew, that the meaning of your life is from this day on already spoken for—that from this day there will be a part of you that will never be yours again because it will belong to the Lord and to the people God has called you to serve, to pastor, to teach, and, most crucially, to love.

There is a part of you that has daily to die to your priesthood, to be burned up by the coal which today the Holy Spirit will put to your lips (cf. Is. 6:6-7): that little itch of ego that makes you think your life is still entirely your own.

And this is what the vows, I think, are meant to help you to do. The vows are there to free you, Andrew, from yourself so that you’ve got a shot at putting people in touch with what they’re really after—which isn’t you. It’s God.

You have already vowed “to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as [our] Church has received them,” and to “obey your bishop and other ministers who may have authority over you and your work” (BCP 526). Soon you will commit yourself to a whole host of other promises, which span everything from your prayer life to your checkbook (BCP 531–32). There is, from that moment on, a part of your intellectual, professional, and personal life that is quite simply no longer under your own jurisdiction.

This will come at some cost to the lives of those you love, including your family—and especially Hannah, who has not taken these vows but whom you have asked to live with the fact that you have. Thank them—thank her—sincerely and often.

It can be difficult to imagine in a culture that valorizes independence and liberty as much as ours does, but the vows—and particularly, I think, those of loyalty and obedience—are amazing good news for priests. The vows mean that it is not your job to re-adjudicate the Creeds, or re-hash the Councils, or make every single decision that will dictate the terms under which your work will take place. It is not yours to figure out God from scratch, to invent a corporate polity and individual practice out of nothing, to design a personal vision of the moral life from square one. When you feel yourself tempted to do so, apply the coal in these vows to your lips. This will give you the time, instead, to serve your people, to pastor them, to love them, and to consecrate them, so that, offered up to God and set apart for God’s use, they—who like you are baptized, and therefore also joined to the eternal priesthood of Christ (BCP 307–308)—might go out into the world and consecrate it as an offering to the same Lord to whom you will regularly present bread and wine.

Ours the priesthood of the altar, to build up and galvanize theirs, the priesthood of the world.

This is more than enough to fill one life, and the great and awesome question you will answer in just a moment is whether God has called you to it. We are all gathered here this morning to assure you that God has, to surround you with our prayers and to attest to the marvelous ways in which you have already made God known to us in this life.

The very best news of all, Andrew, is that none of this, in the end, is about you at all.

One of the brutal but marvelous byproducts of living life as a
priest is that people will experience God in and through you and things that you do, things like anointing heads with oil or saying prayers over bread and wine. Do not imagine that it is in your power to make it so. It is not. Yours to put yourself in the breach, to pray, to consecrate, and to celebrate by dint only of the “grace and power” of the Holy Spirit which will be given to you this morning under the sign of the laying on of hands (BCP 533). That grace and power will never belong to you, even though, in their wake, you will never again fully belong to yourself. As I heard said last week by a friend, all this means you will never be as bad as they say you are; neither will you ever be as good as they say you are. As a priest you will be on the receiving end of anger and hatred and love and thanksgiving that are rightly due not you but the one whom you know as your Savior, Jesus Christ. Apply the coal to your lips, and refer it back to him.

He will take care of you.

Priests come and go. The only one who remains is our Lord, to whom
be worship and praise, dominion and splendor, for ever and for evermore. Amen.

A new take on Christian Realism

SOSc

Robin Lovin writes in the Christian Century and suggests a middle road between a Hauerwasian “Benedict Option” for the Church, and mid-20th Century Social Gospel “The World Sets the Agenda” model.

The work of Christian Realism in our time begins by proclaiming the Good News in worship and teaching, remembering that even those who sing and pray with us may never have heard it except as an answer to problems they already knew they had. The gospel presents a harder truth: it calls us to be changed in a way that changes what we want.

The work of Christian Realism entails forming the church as a community of trust in which people can explore questions about their lives that they cannot yet ask in the places where those questions concretely arise. In many cases, these questions will be about work and its purposes, but they will also include concerns about families, schools, and the neighborhoods where they live.

The full essay can be found here.

I’m particularly struck the vision in the last paragraph – a vision of a community of exploration and discernment. This is less about forming a safe enclave of the elect as it is about creating a band of pilgrims who journey and support one another as they move deeper into the implications of God’s Reign in the world today.

We’re talking about something like this at the Cathedral of St. John in Providence. It’s why I believe the church is ready for a new expression of the cathedral paradigm.

Remarks at the Providence Jewish Community Vigil following the Tree of Life Shootings in Pittsburgh

Current Affairs / Religion / Rhode Island

It is written in the Book of Proverbs (Chapter 16) that:

    The mind of the wise makes their speech judicious,

and adds persuasiveness to their lips.

    Pleasant words are like a honeycomb,

sweetness to the soul and health to the body.

And a little further it is written that:

    Scoundrels concoct evil,

and their speech is like a scorching fire.

    A perverse person spreads strife,

and a whisperer separates close friends.

    The violent entice their neighbors,

and lead them in a way that is not good.

I speak tonight as one among the many in this nation who are witnessing the scorching fires set by words spoken out of the fear of our neighbor, out of the fear, and not of love, of the poor who long sojourn in this nation.

The Prophets recall to us that God, who makes the blessing of rain fall on the just and the unjust, that same God expects us to welcome and care for all those who seek sanctuary and safety.

The Prophets, and the Holy Angels themselves, tell us again and again, to not be afraid.

And yet we are afraid. We are afraid of each other. And out of that fear we arm ourselves with weapons that can kill our neighbors in the blink of an eye. We don’t just arm ourselves, we build up arsenals and then we build walls between each other. And then words spoken out of fear, words spoken in the darkness, words that turn away from the light, are given power, power to kill. And the people are perishing.

I pray for the strength to not be afraid. I pray for the courage to embrace my neighbor. I pray that I might walk in the light of God’s love and mercy. And I pray that I will not walk alone.

I believe tonight’s gathering of people from across our state witnesses that the people of Rhode Island reject the whispered words of the perverse who would separate friends from one another, that would entice us to violence and not to good. I reject the ancient evil lie of antisemitism. And I reject those who whisper such things in the darkness.

As a Christian and as a Rhode Islander, I pray that our Jewish neighbors, our Muslim neighbors, our African American neighbors, our Latino and Hispanic neighbors, our LGBT neighbors, ALL of our neighbors will know that we reject evil words and actions that seek to divide us and make scapegoats of our neighbors.

Will you join me in a prayer?

Holy One, Light of Light and Source of Hope beyond comprehension; See your children standing together bearing our little lights and pushing back against the darkness of this night. Of your mercy and your faithfulness prosper our work and our witness. Be present with those who grieve and mourn the death of their blameless and beloved. Stir up in us the courage to stand beside the one who mourns and the one who is afraid, so that together, we would be one family united and illumined in love for one another and for you.

And let the people say “Amen”.

Please join in prayer for those murdered in Pittsburgh

Reconciliation / Religion / Rhode Island / Sermons and audio

Today we are reeling from the news of the senseless and evil violence done to the innocent worshipers at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Our elder sisters and brothers in Judaism are God’s Chosen people and nothing will separate them from the Covenant their ancestors made with Holy and Living One.

I ask Episcopalians across Rhode Island to please add this prayer to God asking for rest for the departed (El Maleh Rachamim) to your service on this Sunday.

God, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens’ heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your Divine Presence, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the souls of our beloved and our blameless who went to their eternal place of rest. May You who are the source of mercy shelter them beneath Your wings eternally, and bind their souls among the living, that they may rest in peace. And let us say: Amen.

There is work to be done to heal our nation and our communities, but this weekend, I ask you to begin with this prayer for our neighbors who were killed and as a sign of our intention to stand beside them in this dark moment.

+Nicholas

The Right Rev. W. Nicholas Knisely SOSc
Bishop
Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island

Jesus, the Parables and social media. “Is Facebook evil? Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason — Quartz”

SOSc / Web/Tech

In an article that examines the root cause of the problem with most of all of social media, but particularly about Facebook, Nichil Sonnad makes the following observation:

Arendt [the Israeli psychologist who analyzed Nazi Adolf Eichman] concludes that it was neither sadism nor hatred that drove Eichmann to commit these historic crimes. It was a failure to think about other people as people at all.

A “decisive” flaw in his character, writes Arendt, was his “inability ever to look at anything from the other fellow’s point of view.”

via Is Facebook evil? Everything bad about Facebook is bad for the same reason — Quartz

Sonnad argues that social media’s fundamental mistake is to focus on the network that connects us and not on the individual. It abstracts away the individual and makes the human being a fungible entity rather than a being of infinite moral importance. By making this computational move to solve a complex problem and increase connections between humans, the services diminish the role of the nodes and increases the role of the network. And that has a moral consequence if we follow Sonnad’s thinking.

To my thinking, the fundamental thing that the Parables of Jesus accomplish, is to allow the hearer insight into the emotional life of another person, the “other” in the stories. Having gained the insight, the hearer who “has ears to hear” is supposed to respond with compassion to the “other”, the stranger. Jesus invites us to change our thinking (literally “repent”) so that we can see the stranger as an individual who is at least as important, if not more so, than the community, the network, to whom the presence of the stranger seems to be a challenge.

Interesting to read this article today as the news is breaking that the Pope has declared that the Death Penalty is morally wrong in all instances. This is a strengthening of the Catholic doctrine of Human Life.

Let those who have ears to hear this, hear.

Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular – The Atlantic

SOSc

Fascinating article in the Atlantic that shows the key factors that control the rate of societal secularization:

Using a separate model, Future of Religion and Secular Transitions (forest), the team found that people tend to secularize when four factors are present: existential security (you have enough money and food), personal freedom (you’re free to choose whether to believe or not), pluralism (you have a welcoming attitude to diversity), and education (you’ve got some training in the sciences and humanities). If even one of these factors is absent, the whole secularization process slows down. This, they believe, is why the U.S. is secularizing at a slower rate than Western and Northern Europe.

via Artificial Intelligence Shows Why Atheism Is Unpopular – The Atlantic

Sort of tracks my own experience – when things are in turmoil, people turn to spiritual practices. When things are doing great, people don’t feel the need.

Reminds me of part of the message in Psalm 78.
 

The Faustian bargain of a cyber connected world

SOSc / Web/Tech

Our hyper-networked world has given us super-human powers. Sometimes this has been beneficial. But of late, there is a dangerous side to being able to communicate quickly and without the need to reflect.

At least two dozen people have been killed in mob lynchings in India since the start of the year, their deaths fueled by rumors that spread on WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned messaging service. In Brazil, messages on WhatsApp falsely claimed a government-mandated yellow-fever vaccine was dangerous, leading people to avoid it. And as Mexico was heading into its presidential election this month, experts there called WhatsApp the ugly underbelly of the country’s news environment, a place where politically misleading stories, memes and messages can spread unchecked.

On WhatsApp, with 1.5 billion users, information can go viral in minutes as individuals forward messages along to their friends or groups, without any way to determine its origin.

via On WhatsApp, fake news is fast — and can be fatal – The Washington Post

I was one of the people who believed that more communication between people could only be to the betterment of all. I was wrong.

I don’t believe we can put this particular power, this djinn, back in the bottle again. So we’re going to have to pay close attention to how we use it. A thoughtless joke can destroy a life. A pointed online rumor can tear apart a community. Sometimes these sorts of things are happening by mistake, but they are also being done on purpose by people who just want to see the destruction that they can create by doing it.

I’m not sure what the right answer is, but we might start by being intentional about our need for self-control (the Christian virtue of temperance) and humility. Our words, launched into the ether, have the power to kill. Words have always had that power, but today, when they can be spread at the speed of the network, the damage a word uttered in a hateful way is magnified far beyond what we have previously experienced.

I’ve read that the greek word “diablos” from which we get the english word “diabolical” originally meant someone who divided the community by telling lies (a calumniator). I think that’s a word use we need to keep in mind from now on.

End the Family Separation Policy Immediately.

Current Affairs

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Trump administration’s new policy of separating children from their asylum-seeking parents is morally wrong, not in keeping with the teachings of Christianity or other world religions, and should stop.

Jesus, reiterating the witness of Hebrew and Christian scriptures, calls on us to treat others as we would want to be treated. Jesus commands us to love our neighbor. Christians are called, with many others, to welcome the stranger in our midst. Jesus tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel (18:4-6), that whoever welcomes a child, welcomes him. And whoever causes harm to such a one is in grave moral danger.

I join my voice with other faith and community leaders around this state and this country in calling for the current family separation policy to end immediately and for children to be reunited with their parents as their lawful application for asylum proceeds.

+Nicholas
XIII Bishop of Rhode Island
Providence, Rhode Island

Anne Lyon Knisely Canon – may she rest in peace and rise in glory.

Religion

On Monday morning my extended family gathered to say goodbye to my Aunt Anne. She was a mother, a sister, a clergy spouse, a friend and so much more. I was planning on being the preacher and the celebrant at the memorial service, but the weather in Baltimore on Sunday night caused my flight to be canceled and meant that I was not able to be with the rest of my family. Thank you so much to the Rev. Canon Dr. Mark Gatza at Emmanuel Church in Bel Air Maryland for filling in on such short notice. I hear it was a lovely and fitting service.

This was the brief meditation that I had planned to share:

This weekend we celebrated the Feast of the Holy Trinity. One of my friends jokingly suggested that rather than preachers trying to imagine a new way to explain what it ultimately an unfathomable doctrine, it would be better for all if we just put Rublev’s famous Icon of the Trinity on the pulpit and just stared at it for twenty minutes in silence.

If you’re a preacher faced with preaching about the Holy Trinity, that’s a funny, not funny sort of joke.

It’s a powerful image (pun intended) because Icons by their nature attempt to communicate and invoke ideas about God and the divine without using words. Words can be powerful tools but ofttimes in church they fail us because they simply can not express the ineffable truths of God. I suppose that’s why hymns are so important in our liturgy – when prose cannot take us to the Truth, we add music and poetry. I don’t suppose they get us all the way to the divine reality, but they can help move us closer.

An Icon, which is usually described as being written rather than being painted, has its own lexicon and vocabulary that tries to lift us even higher than the music, poetry and movement of liturgy which we know so well. An Icon uses certain colors to mark the presence of the divine. It uses a reverse perspective with the focus point being behind the viewer rather than in front to show us that that heaven and the realm of God is greater and more capacious than our human one. And it uses geometry to help us understand how God’s realm and ours are connected.

I’m not sure that twenty minutes in the presence of a true Icon is enough for us to fully unlock its meaning.

My Aunt Anne, and the life of love that she led, was one of the truest Icons of God’s love that I have ever experienced. She had the gift of hospitality and warmth that could gather people together and create circles of love and community no matter the circumstance. I knew her best as a small child when I was able to visit with her and Uncle Joe – and what I remember is what it felt like to be in a place, a home, that had that quality of light, laughter and love. I remember the radical acceptance of myself and others. If was going to try to write an Icon of a Christian, I would probably start with Anne.

Today we are gathering to remember her life, and to stand together as witnesses to God’s promises to us in the words of Our Lord Jesus. Perhaps you’ve made the connection that early theologians made about Icons and Jesus… Jesus of course is much more, but in some small ways we can understand the person of Jesus and the events of his life as a sort of written and embodied Icon of the reality of God. And because as the Councils of the Church have declared, we believe that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine, Jesus is also an icon of our humanity. That why we can claim that because Jesus rose from the dead, we shall too. Because Jesus’ life was transformed and not ended so too shall ours be as well. Because Jesus’ demonstrated the cosmos shaking power of God’s Love and because he has called us his friends – preaching to us even when we were dead – we too shall live.

It is impossible for me to fully understand or even begin to fully imagine how life and love are woven together. But we have seen images of it in the lives of the people we have encountered along our Christian journey. We have experienced a taste of God’s transforming, liberating and life-giving love because they have loved us. They are icons. Anne was one of my icons. Some of you are as well. By God’s grace perhaps each of us here can be for others – preaching God’s love with our lives.

God’s love is this. That though we die, yet shall we live. And we shall see each other again. With our own eyes shall we see our redeemer and each other. Because God’s love has been victorious over our ancient enemy, God’s love has taken away the sting of death and it is no more.

Alleluia. Alleluia. Alleluia.

If Jesus comes back now, what should we expect?

SOSc

Cara Rockhill, a priest here in Rhode Island (and a member of my staff) just posted a wonderful piece on her blog that’s an extended reflection on the easy to foresee violence that has erupted in the Holy Land. Her piece centers on what it would mean for all us right now if Jesus were to return to the Earth – a thing greatly to be desired, and my regular fervent prayer…

If Jesus comes back, your life is going to be remarkably different. Jesus would not be cheering this death and destruction. Jesus would not cheer any death or destruction! Jesus would be wondering how we let things get this bad. Jesus would ask us all, and hold us to account, for the way we treated one another that resulted in this violence.

Jesus would hold us to account for valuing ourselves and our lives more than those of Palestinians.

Jesus would hold us to account for using innocent lives as political pawns.

Jesus would hold us to account for using innocent lives as a way of manipulating God.

Because, really, I’m sure God has a pretty good idea of when God plans on coming back. If God wanted it to be now, there wouldn’t need to be the blood of Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, covering the Holy Land.

via Be Careful What You Wish For… – Cara Rockhill – Christianity in the 21st Century is Complicated

Please follow the link and read the whole piece. It’s worth your time.