Monday, April 30, 2012

One flock, one shepherd

Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday (abridged)

This Friday is the 10th anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood.  Of the many gifts I got that day, there are only two that I can still remember clearly.  The first was a stuffed animal sheep that I received from a priest and his partner.  It came with a card that read, "Remember you're still the same species."  I kept that sheep for years until it was finally destroyed by one of the dogs.

The other gift I still have.  It's this lovely gold cross that was given to me by another priest who was one of the presenters at my ordination.  She had been a mentor to me and was a great help to me when I was going through some difficult times with my boss.

I found out, a few years later, that she was quietly dismissed from her position when the church discovered she had been embezzling from them.

Don’t be thinking, Oh, that’s just her.  Here’s a story from my own experience:

One of the things you have to do to get ordained in the Episcopal Church (though this may change) is take something called the General Ordination Exam.  In it you're tested on Scripture, liturgy, church history, and other topics over the course of four grueling days.  Although your ordination didn't completely depend upon the results, certainly the Powers That Be paid attention to such things.

I still remember our ethics exam that asked how I personally would respond in a particular situation.  I knew exactly how I would respond.  I also knew exactly what answer they were looking for.  I gave them the answer they were looking for.  Yes, my friends, I flat-out lied on the ethics portion of the General Ordination Exam! Oh, and I got the highest possible score too.  Because I knew what people wanted to hear and I wanted to be ordained. 

Remember: we're still the same species.

It amazes me sometimes how otherwise savvy people seem to let their powers of discrimination lapse completely when they find out I'm ordained.  My boss at the winery is a wonderful and worldly-wise woman who promptly taught me how to use the cash register.  "We figured you'd be honest," she said.  "After all, you're a priest."  And I'm thinking, yeah, I'm a priest who doesn't have a church job who's trying to get work at a winery.  Doesn't that seem suspicious to you?

There's always a mix of reasons why people want to become ordained, many of them good and holy.  But I think one reason that is often unexamined is that we want, we so long, to be a different species, a better species, a more loving, more patient, and wiser species.  And there's nothing wrong with wanting to be more loving, more patient, and wiser.  The problem comes when we think somehow it's the becoming ordained that's going to make us more loving, more patient, and wiser. 

And it’s not just those seeking ordination who want that; everyone is implicated.  Everyone would like to believe that if you’re a priest, you’re not going to be ambitious or greedy or selfish. That you’re somehow purer, nobler, better.  I can tell you right now for a fact, and after 10 years, it doesn't happen. You stay the same species.  I certainly hope that I am a better person now that I was 10 year ago, but I also know that that has nothing to do with being ordained.  It's the same struggle for all of us to become better and wiser and more loving, and ordination has nothing to do with it.

It behooves us (so to speak) to remember that there is one shepherd.  One, uno, ein, un, one.  And we are all part of the flock.  One flock, one shepherd.  

What it boils down to is this:  don’t be looking for a shepherd.  You already have a shepherd.  He will be there for you always.  If you try to make your priest your shepherd, you will do a disservice to yourselves and to your priest as well. 
The best thing you can do for your priest is remember that they are still the same species.  And if you treat them as such, in time perhaps they too will come to believe it and rejoice.

In memory of Jerry Townsend

1 comment:

E.Louise said...

Do you ever click on 'next blog' at the top of the page? Sometimes I do, and this time I ended up going from mine ( to your blog, and I've been browsing, which I suppose you'll know if you use google analytics. I've been mulling the ministry, since I'm a theology student, and I found this post very helpful. So thanks. Baa.