Renewal of Ministry: Welcoming The Rev. Marek Zabriskie as Rector

Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Frank T. Griswold on Thursday, June 6, 2019 for the installation of the Rev. Marek Zabriskie as the 10th Rector of Christ Church Greenwich.

I am very grateful to your (still somewhat) new rector, for invitation to return to Christ Church and, together with your bishop, to take part in this celebration of a new season in the life of this congregation. Marek and I go back a long way. St Thomas’s Whitemarsh where he was rector was my wife’s family’s parish and the church in which we were married. And this parish too has family associations, as my aunt has been a member for many years. In fact, my first experience of Christ Church occurred many years ago shortly after I was ordained to the priesthood. I came to baptize a cousin, and what I most vividly remember was the next day being presented with the parish register for my signature. In a very businesslike tone of voice, she inquired, “Fine or stub?” “What?” I asked somewhat bewildered. It was repeated with more emphasis. Was this, I wondered, some arcane bit of church lore I had failed to learn? Then it became clear, “Pen!” she said, “What kind of pen do you want to use to sign the register?” I don’t remember my reply, but until I visited again as Presiding Bishop, pen choice was the singular detail that set Christ Church apart in a class all its own.

Your Bishop, Ian, too is a long time friend and colleague who, during my years as Presiding Bishop, was instrumental in expanding my awareness and appreciation of the Worldwide Anglican Communion to which the Episcopal Church belongs, and helping our church become less parochial and more global in its consciousness and sense of God’s mission in other parts of the world.

Mission lies at the heart of this service which is focused upon the renewal our baptismal identification with Christ, not just in terms of action, but in terms of being; that is by opening ourselves to an active and ever-deepening companionship with the Risen and the living One who declares in the Gospel we have just heard, “You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to bear fruit, fruit that shall last.” These words of Jesus addressed to his intimate circle he calls his friends, are addressed to everyone one of us as well – to your Bishop, your Rector and all who have been baptized into Christ.

To each of us, Paul tells us in our second reading, has been given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift: that is Christ’s risen life has been actualized in us by the Holy Spirit, fitted to our personal uniqueness, and embracing both our strengths and our imperfections, our limitations and our weaknesses.

(Here I am consoled by Paul’s “thorn.” He prayed that this lingering sign of imperfection might be removed, and thereby allow him to sing “Alleluia” with out restraint. Christ, however, said “No. It stays. My grace is all you need, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Looking at ourselves, we may be tempted to say, “God could not possibly have me in mind.” God, however, does not wait for us to achieve some state of worthiness or perfection before he declares us fit agents of his purposes. Many of the saints were far from perfect. )

Paul presents us with a list of “gifts” which have to do largely with the ongoing life of the Christian community, but the list can be endlessly expanded and move out into all areas of our lives and the webs of relationship which constitute our daily reality. What Paul makes clear is that individual gifts and abilities, and all that flows from them, have a larger purpose than personal gain: they are bestowed in order to contribute to the growth and up-building of the community as a whole.

Furthermore, in Paul’s mind there is no such thing as a free standing Christian. We are all interconnected, he tells us, just the way the human body is made up of different limbs which, working together, constitute the whole. Difference in function is essential to the integrity of our physical selves. Just as an eye cannot say to a hand, “I have no need of you” or, “Because you are not an eye like me you do not belong to the body,” no more can one limb of Christ’s risen body – you or I – say to another, “I have no need of you.” In God’s imagination, we all belong to the same body, intimately related to one another in the communion of the Holy Spirit. We are, in some sense, for one another’s salvation, thought this can be difficult to see. Sometimes we need a word of affirmation and encouragement, but at other times we may need a word of challenge or painful truth to set us free from our blindness or ego neediness. There have been many times in the course of my life as priest and bishop, when a fellow limb, and sometimes a surprising, and not particularly appealing, limb, of Christ’s body, delivered the word of the Lord to me. I will confess that it has not always been gratefully received.

Moses, in our first reading, realizes that the burden of leadership is too much for him the carry alone. The Lord agrees and calls for 70 elders from the people to share in Moses’ ministry   “So the Lord took some of the Spirit that was on [Moses], and put it on the 70 elders.” So it is that, enabled by the Spirit, priest and people, you and Marek, in different ways and with different gifts, together participate in the priesthood of the risen Christ, and the ministry of reconciliation that flows from it.

In baptism, we are all called to a shared life of faith ever open to the prompting and illuminations of the Spirit: a life rooted and grounded in “the apostles teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and the prayers” – that is open to encounter Christ in scripture, in the community of fellow seekers and believers, in the Eucharist, and in personal and corporate availability to God’s larger purposes through prayer.

And so it is that over time, through life together we are shaped and formed and conformed to the image of Christ such that we embody and proclaim by our very being, Christ’s deathless, reckless, all-embracing love – the source of reconciliation urgently needed in these days.

“Preach the gospel always and everywhere, and, if necessary, use words,” This challenging charge from the Franciscan tradition confronts me again and again. It is not, however, an invitation to construct some sort of pious persona, but to live so deeply open and available to the Spirit within us that we reflect, in the given-ness of our unique, yet far from perfect selves, something of Christ’s care and compassion which exceeds anything we can ask or imagine.

Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury once observed that in baptism, “we are bound together is solidarities not of our own choosing.” What this means to me is that differences in life experience, differences in how we appropriate and live the gospel, differences in world view are all part and parcel of healthy and authentic communities of faith. Where we find our common ground is at the Lord’s Table as we share the Bread of life and the Cup of Salvation. “We are one,” says St. Paul, “because we all share the one Bread.” And that one Bread that gives life to the world in the risen Christ himself alive and active in us and among us through the agency of the Spirit. “That he may dwell in and we in him,” as we say in the Prayer Book.

“All that was present in the Redeemer, has passed over into the sacraments, and all that has passed over into the sacraments, has passed over into you.” These words, attributed to Leo, the Great, one of the early Bishops of Rome, can be summed up in saying, “We are what we eat.” Or again, in the words of Augustine of Hippo as he extended the consecrated Bread to his flock, “Behold what we are. May you become what you receive.”   So it is that the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist convey the presence and life force of the risen Christ, and through them Christ gains entrance to our personal depths, unlocking “the soul’s most subtle rooms” (George Herbert) – those secret places within us where guilt and shame hold sway. Receiving communion is, therefore, risky business, and we may be taken well beyond the safety of the altar rail, and into the force field of God’s profligate and unbounded compassion and mercy.

What will the Lion of the tribe of Judah – as Christ is named on the Book of Revelation – bounding, paws first, into your interior living room be up to. Nothing less than new creation, Paul tells us. Ours is a God of transformation, gathering up and reordering the disparate dimensions of our selves according to his wild and wide-ranging purposes. Making room for God’s ways is not always easy because they often call for some kind of relinquishment and letting go of what we have known and what we have been.

(Here I think of Jeremiah, none too happy with his call to be God’s messenger, crying out “You enticed me, and I was enticed.” “Duped,” in some translations.” The burden of being caught up into God’s purposes, and having to stand in an uncomfortable place of truth, can be costly.)

Coming to maturity, which is growing up in all ways into Christ, as our reading from Ephesians makes clear, involves all of us together – it is a personal journey to be sure, but it is a journey we undertake communion with others.  Jesus and me isn’t the full story. Who I am, and all that I am, in relation to who you are, and how you have been shaped and gifted by the Spirit, is integral to the person I am still becoming. And so it is that we are under constant construction. “Speaking the truth in love,’ we are told, “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” “We are all persons in the making, and in a real sense we are making and re-making one another,” observes Eric Abbot, sometime Dean of Westminster Abbey.

Jesus, forty days after his resurrection, tells his intimate companions before taking leave of them, “I am sending upon you what my Father promised, so stay here in the city until you are clothed with power form on high.” We marked this moment last Thursday on Ascension Day. This coming Sunday, Pentecost, we celebrate the outpouring that “power from on high” as the Holy Spirit descends upon the disciples and a large crowd.

At the heart of the “power from on high” is love. “God’s love,” St. Paul tells us, “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”   Love is God’s very life, God’s very nature. “God is love.” We accept love as integral to being human. It can be misused, misdirected. It can turn in on itself and imprison us in self-regard, but it can also overleap all cautions in self-giving and self-forgetfulness. It can, “bear all things, hopes all things, endure all things,” and in so doing stretches us beyond our wildest imaginings. Our ability to love and its full flowering is what it means to be made in God’s image.

“God is love and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abide in them.” I John 4:16b

(Perhaps you read an article in last Sunday’s New York Times, Grief without God. In it, a mother who had been raised in a vey restrictive religious tradition, and had jettisoned God altogether, had to endure the sudden death of her four-year-old son. Reflecting on that experience, and remembering the gaze of her tiny child, she concludes, “I will never know who my child would have been, but I know his love. If there is a God, this is what he gave me.” Love is not an attribute of God; love is God’s very being. Even the eyes of an infant can be the place of encounter with the life force that transcends and sustains us, to which we give the name, God. )

“As the Father has loved me,” Jesus says to his friends, “so have I loved you. Abide, {remain, live on} in my love.”

This is the heart of it; this is the work of the Spirit within and between us: the heart of the gospel; the meaning of the sacraments – the ever-unfolding mystery of love.

This is a lifetime work of growth and discovery. “God is for us eternal discovery and eternal growth.” (Teilhard de Chardin)

Here I am reminded of Jesus’ words to his friends, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth…he will take what is mine and declare it to you.” Revelation therefore is not limited to the Bible; it is ongoing, progressive, and ever unfolding – the truth of who we are; the truth of the world around us; the truth of a love that passes all understanding.

Along the way, we, with the help of the Spirit, read both the Book of Scripture and Book of experience. We engage in this sacred task both personally and also together as a community of faith, priest and people. We do this in communion with our bishop who represents the larger fellowship of limbs and members to which we belong. Together we are a manifestation of the risen body of Christ

Let us, therefore, as we mark and celebrate this new season in the life of Christ Church with Marek as your Rector, renew our baptismal union with Christ remembering, as St. Paul tells us, that “God’s power [God’s love] at work in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

 

Frank T. Griswold
XXV Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church