The Rt. Rev. Andrew Doyle, IX Bishop of the Diocese of Texas, preached this homily at Seminary of the Southwest’s Matriculation Evensong on August 30, 2015.
We have money and we have a great institution with new programs and ministries. We have faculty and new faculty. Now we have students, so we can begin. But not without a few words. I actually want to say to you that — and I’m addressing the new students and reminding the continuing students of this — seminary education will not prepare you for ministry. It’s too late! You signed the book! Yes!
It is rather your willingness to take responsibility to engage this formation that will make your ministry. As a faithful people, we believe that God has been preparing you for the work and journey that is now before you. God has been working on your hearts and pulling you to this moment and beyond. You have before you the experiences of classes and practicums to come. You have work outside and offsite that will encourage integration of book learning. There’s going to be a lot of that. The conversations with fellow students and faculty while sharing a beer or a meal or a quiet moment together in the garden. These are the moments that will be opportunities for you.
I will promise you that if it isn’t difficult, then you are not risking enough. While it is true as we were reminded in our lesson today that Jesus’s burden of grace, forgiveness, mercy, love and all of that is light. It is light, I promise you. This is not. This work, I have discovered over the years, is heavy work. What you are starting out upon is a journey filled with burdensome but life-giving, life-saving work. The measure of your formation will not be dependent upon the faculty, who are brilliant, the resources which are abundant, or the seminary on the hill in Austin which is way better than all the other seminaries.
It will always and only be limited by your imagination and willingness to engage what we have here. Let me advise you on the purpose of this formation, not withstanding the reason of your enrollment or where you believe you will one day serve. What is clear to me is that your formation as leaders within our church is for the purpose of undertaking the mission of God in this world. Don’t make any mistake, God has a very particular mission and that mission is reconciliation, the reconciliation of all creation and it’s creatures with their maker and that is the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. God has a mission and God’s mission has a church, and we’re here to remind you that God’s church has a bunch of people and you are our prime targets over the next few years.
Your work as church is to go out from comfort, not unlike Abram and Sarai who were called out of the Land of Ur of the Chaldeans, you are called out to go like them and where you find yourself out in the world to make altars there, to gather the contextual stones from around your feet and make an altar and to break bread and share wine and create out in the world a peaceful commons. You are to see that the God who is both giver and guest is present out there in the world and to proclaim in word and action that that God, the God of the universe is not hindered by any church walls or seminary confines or narrow ideologies. But that Christ Jesus lives and makes his way in the world gathering all of God’s lost sheep and invites us to come along.
Moreover, you are to do this at a certain time in the church’s history, in the world’s history, you are called to see around you the flotsam and jetsam of the reign of God, which is even now being pulled together. The future, which is all around you. That altar, that altar you are to make, our Christian community, you are to raise. It has to look different and different from the church you have inherited and more like the church that God dreams about. You’re called to amplify and co-create with God and God’s holy spirit a future church, a generous church, and a generous community. Therefore as you make your way through your training, whether it is to be a priest or chaplain or deacon or counseling or teaching or whatever you imagine you are about to do, you do so for the sake of undertaking God’s mission in a world that is particularly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous. It is violent and in need of saving. It is a VUCA world, that is in need of hearing and touching and imagining the dream that God has for it.
You must prepare yourself to be a gospel bearer in a new age of Christian mission and find new ways for the sacred labor and leave behind the particularly violent and colonial mission ideas of our past. You must prepare yourself to heal much of what Christianity has wounded in the name of God and to heal people’s own history and to help them find that their past is saved and redeemed by the God who loves them. You’ll have to offer a greater vision of the diverse dream of God from the small ideas that often plague Christianity today. You must learn that winning is not the purpose. God’s love cannot be bought or earned and you will have to retrieve the ancient theology of grace given by Christ.
You would have to prepare yourself not solely by book learning but also by experiencing all of these things in the complex world of a small community called Seminary of the Southwest in the midst of a big funky city called Austin centered at the heart of the Diocese of Texas. God will form you and shape you and make you for the future that he intends. But you must open yourself up and be vulnerable. You must, in this time and for the sake of your future creative and innovative work, be vulnerable, to say yes. As Brene Brown says, “If we are brave enough, often enough, we will fail.” This is the physics of vulnerability. To do this work means to dare to say, “I know I will eventually fail and I am still all in, 100%.”
You must enter in a most daring way this opportunity where you do not have the power or the choice seats, where you do not control the outcomes. You must enter the arena of ministry and mission where you are the one who is daring greatly and when you do this, you must steel yourselves for failure. We like to fool ourselves into believing that vulnerability will automatically lead to success. Surely this is not going to be a painful process.
We are coached in this society to seek out safety and a lack of challenges, to believe that we will be successful if we just do this or we do that, we buy this or own that, if we connect the dots appropriately. The church is and has been guilty of this lie for far too long. Let me be clear, you will fail. But as my friend Bishop Harrison likes to say, “There is no resurrection, no transformation without death and the cross.”
When you dare and choose to be vulnerable for the sake of the Gospel experiment, you are going to fail and there will be a reckoning. In that moment, your work will not to be to cast down and blame all of these wonderful professors who had nothing to do with it or the world around you or time or whatever. It will be to go deeper and to understand why you’re making up that story about your failure and to grab hold of it and set it aside and reinvent yourself to stand up and to reenter the arena, though your misstep and fall may be great. The stone that you will have placed through that endeavor and the reign of God cannot be moved.
For you see, throwing yourself into this work will build resiliency and adaptability and will enable you to lead your communities through a volatile and chaotic time as opposed to playing it safe. Managing a non-responsive community into an unhealthy island of self-interest. There is no safe Gospel mission. The only way to make the most out of your time in this place will be to be vulnerable and to hazard the difficult and painful reality of relationships and to risk. You must in the end fail gloriously, but is that not the paradox of our faith?
I believe that you have been called to lead. This is your moment, you’ve been chosen. This is what we say, we have faith that God has raised you up and that our task is to help prepare you for the work that God intends for you. I believe that you have been called and sent into this place that you might take on the work of God’s mission in the world, that you are would I would like to call the Moses Generation, trying out new ways of doing ministry. You are to be formed so as to help take the people of Christianity today out of the land of Egypt, that church of the past, and lead them through the desert wanderings. We have all brought with us burdensome structures and accoutrements of a bygone era. You are to help us as Bishop Dyer and Phyllis Tickle made popular with the great garage sale. We are to leave behind those things in our religion that do not work. We are to learn, to hold tight to those things that are important: Love. Mercy. Forgiveness. And to let go and hold loosely those things that are not important.
You are going to be called to help bury the dead and birth a new generation of Jesus’ people. We are the ones to help bring God’s people out into the world and show them how to live and thrive in a holy new environment. Thank God you’re here. Your fellow students are glad you’re here to share the journey with them. Is a good moment. We are so excited about your time with us. As Jesus Jones, that 1990 band, sang out there’s no better place than to be right here, right now as the world wakes up from history. That’s a Gospel message, is it not?
Like Moses, I can also tell you that we are not getting to the Promised Land. You and I aren’t going there, at least not in this lifetime. That’s for somebody who comes after us. Those will be the next generation, to whom we will tell stories to and remind them of this God who loves so passionately. We are the people, we are the generation, who are called to lead our Christian communities into their future. So risk in your time here, be vulnerable. Experience all that there is and soak it in and take it in. Because I know and I believe as Mordecai said to Esther, “You have been called for just such a time as this.” Amen.