In 1983, I became the first full time woman rector in the Diocese of Minnesota when I was called to serve at St. Luke’s in Hastings. I had started Seminary in 1975, a year after the “Philadelphia Eleven” women had been “irregularly” ordained -and a year before the Episcopal Church “legalized” women’s ordination to the priesthood.
I was at the Philadelphia ordination, which occurred while I was visiting friends there, and I knew two of the women, Jeanette Piccard and Alla Bozarth Campbell.
As one of the early priests, I experienced a range of reactions – from people refusing to accept the chalice I held out to them even though the Bishop had been the celebrant, to comments like “Well, you’re not so bad even though you’re a woman,” to being embraced with joy and tears by those who had waited so long for this sign of renewal, justice and equality in the church.
But what was “renewal” for some church members was cause for deep grief and a feeling of being abandoned for others. At the 1976 General Convention right here in Minneapolis, we also approved what many still call – the “new” Book of Common Prayer – now forty-two years old! And now at St. John’s, we are using prayers from New Zealand and Supplemental Texts, and singing hymns that stretch us with new tunes and words.
Last Tuesday, people from across the Diocese and beyond came to St. Mark’s for a glorious celebration of the ordination of new Deacons and Priests, including our own Julie Luna. As in the wedding service, there is a time when the Bishop asks if there are any objections to what will take place. There were none at St. Mark’s but there were several, angry speakers at the Philadelphia service. The Bishops listened, thanked them, and then continued the service.
It is hard to change. We deeply value tradition in our church. In our chaotic and seemingly out of control world, we seek stability and peace and long for the assurance that we can trust hope. In the News From Lake Wobegone, Garrison Keillor once told a story that I’ve forgotten, but I remember the punch line. He said, “When there’s no hope left, there’s still so much hope left.”
And that is exactly what prompted the people in today’s Gospel to take a chance and reach out to Jesus – a father whose daughter was near death and a woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years. For these people, “renewal” was not something like more copies of a magazine subscription or a few more weeks to finish a good book from the library. For them, “renewal” was a matter or life and death.
My Sexton at St. Luke’s, Angus Pederson, joked in his own way about the value of being renewed each day. He’d ask, “Are you up for all day?” and comment, “Another day above ground.”
Renewal requires a decision from us – and often it involves risk. It is only when we make the doctor appointment to ask about a troubling symptom that we can move beyond fear of the unknown. It is only when we finally schedule that appointment to make our Will that we can be free to face our mortality and how we’ll share our abundance. It is only when we see God’s work all around us that we realize that change is part of God’s plan for us and the world, and God likes it that way!
For some years, I attended Al-Anon and support groups for Adult Children from Dysfunctional Families, and became familiar with the wisdom of Earnie Larson. He said, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.” That statement is so stunningly simple and profound!
If Jairus had not come forward to beg Jesus’s help to heal his sick child, she would have been dead. If the bleeding woman had not touched Jesus’s robe, we would not be reading about her 2,000 years later. Both actions required changes in thinking of what was possible and required doing something new and risky.
We face decisions and choices every day that can renew our lives. It’s part of God’s plan for us! Sadly, we can also choose to stay stuck with nothing changing.
In Jeremiah 29:11, We read, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
From Deuteronomy 30:19, “I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”
And from Revelation 21:5, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
At Tuesday’s Ordination, we heard again the collect for the church, “…by the effectual working of [God’s] providence, carry out in tranquility the plan of salvation; let the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and all things are being brought to their perfection…”
Now, I know that carrying out those lofty words may sound a bit beyond our pay grade or experience. So we need to remember that choosing life, choosing to be renewed, is a daily choice given to all of us.
In her commentary on the Rule of Benedict, Sr. Joan Chittister tells of a visitor to a monastery who asks a monk, “What do you do in the monastery?” And the monk replies, “Well, we fall and we get up and we fall and we get up and we fall and we get up.” It is the choosing and the willingness to “get up” that become the way we are renewed on our journeys.
Again, we can look to today’s Gospel for the outcome of renewal that comes from Jesus’s healing touch. The woman who had been hemorrhaging for twelve years – who had been ritually unclean and an outcast from her community, could now rejoin society.
Jesus tells the girl’s family not to tell anyone what happened. Is he kidding us? But he acts in the best tradition of Jewish mothers and says, “Give her something to eat.” Then the family will shift from mourning to rejoicing as they gather together a feast to be shared with the family and neighbors to celebrate the renewal of life.
I have been thinking a lot about what renewal of life means. As a two-time ovarian cancer survivor, I can definitely empathize with the woman who was hemorrhaging. New knees have made walking and climbing stairs pain-free. Moving back to St. Paul after more than twenty years away has brought new friends and time spent with others I’ve known for decades.
What will “renewal” of life mean for you? How will you “choose life” today?
I brainstormed a list of possibilities that you might consider for these days of summer and have some copies at the back of the church. Remember that life is short, and there is no guarantee that we will wake up tomorrow to spend another “day above ground.”
So in closing, I want you to think about Mary Oliver’s poem,
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean –
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”