Monday, May 10, 2010

What is a Priest? - A Sermon

Happy Mother’s Day! In a way, this sermon would be easier if I were a woman because female priests in our church are called “Mother.” I tried to get my cousin Kristin, who is also a priest, to come, but she’s out in California, so that didn’t work. So, for the moment, pretend you’re looking at my cousin Kristin. Because instead of preaching on the lessons, I want to talk about the kind of Mother that is a priest. Which is to say, I want to talk about what a priest is.

Why? Well, I went to the annual priests conference this week and I admit, we had a great time. We sang along with Pete Seeger, we rode horses, we had great discussions on what it means to live in harmony with creation. All great.

But there’s something else you do at a priests conference. You talk about what it means to be a priest.

At the Tuesday Eucharist, Canon Andy Dietsche preached and told us about a friend of his who wrote mystery novels. His friend – I can’t remember his name – told him that while each novel was different, they all had something in common. The detective.

The detective didn’t have to be a cop or even a private eye. He or she could be anybody as long as they fulfilled one major criterion. He had to live between the two stories. There was the surface story – the story everyone saw. And then there was the deep story – what was really going on – the real killer, the real plot, the real reason for the crime. The detective was the one person in the story that everyone trusted to live between those two worlds. They could relate to the surface but also see at the deeper level what the others could not. In the end, the detective’s job was to help those on the surface level see and understand what was going on at the deep level. They solved the mystery.

Then Canon Dietsche said, “That’s what priests are. You’re like the detectives in a mystery novel.”

What he meant was that a priest has the job of living between two worlds. We live in the world as we all know it where we have bills to pay and kids to chase after, where we’re little league coaches and where we vote at the town hall and go shopping. But then, there is that deep level, the level of the soul, the level where we see and engage with God.

Now, I should say here that we are all priests in the sense of our baptismal vows. Remember, when people are baptized, we say, “share with us in his eternal priesthood.” To a degree, then we all spend time between the surface and the soul.

But every community needs someone to live there. The priest is that person designated by the community to dig deeper, to live between those two worlds. The priest’s job, like the detective, is to slowly reveal the clues that will help others grasp what’s going on at the level of the soul. Little by little, they reveal God at work.

When we talk about living between two worlds, it means that we walk around, we visit, we do chores – we live in every way on the surface. But we also are the person designated by the community to dwell in the place of the soul – we’re trusted to focus our lives studying God, reading scripture, praying and worshiping – all so we can bring what we’ve learned back to the community and help that deep place of the soul become a little clearer.

Now we should note that the job of priest does NOT include being an administrator – Thank You, Jesus! And St. James’ is thankful that parish administration does not fall solely into my hands, though at the surface level, even I have paperwork to do.

If you’ve heard that phrase, “living between two worlds” before, it might be when we talk about deacons. Their job is to live between the church and the world – to bring the world’s concerns to the church and, through their outreach ministries, the church’s good news to the world.

Priesthood isn’t that different. Only, our job is to live in a more vertical “in-between.” The surface to the soul.

Alas, there is a difference between detectives in mystery novels and priests. In every mystery novel I have ever read, the detective finds that bad guy down at the deep level and reveals him – mystery solved.

In priesthood, we don’t often solve anything. We just keep living there, exploring and reporting back as best we can. But it’s not in vain. Little by little, for each of us, hints and glimmers of the Kingdom of God come to the surface. We never get the whole picture, but we get enough clues to give us hope.

The detective’s story wraps up nicely – until the next novel. For priests, our story never ends. And although I don’t want to speak for other priests, I will – we wouldn’t have it any other way. Amen.