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.

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...