Ordination: Two Months Later

It’s hard to believe, but it’s now been two months since the day I was ordained to the Ministry of Word and Sacrament and made a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Wow. Like so many others who have entered into this sacred vocation, I continued to be astounded at this odd and wondrous calling… that is only just beginning.

This time last year, I was beginning my final semester of seminary at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. In less than a month’s time, I would find out that I had been assigned to Region 5 of the ELCA (Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin), and only a couple weeks later, I would receive the news that I had been assigned to the Metropolitan Chicago Synod. Lots of paperwork, several interviews, one offer I turned down, an unexpected temp gig-turned-permanent position with the Global Mission Unit of the ELCA, and some synodical administrative creativity later, I wound up interviewing at a congregation in Brookfield, Wisconsin, of all places.

Interview one: they called back. Interview two: they called back. Council meet-and-greet: they called back. Unanimous recommendation of the council: they called back. Overwhelming majority vote by the congregation: they said yes. So, now here I am: a pastor at Unity Lutheran Church in Brookfield.

The news of the call vote came on All Saints Sunday, November 4, as I got a text message from my now co-pastor as I was lining up for the procession and opening hymn at the congregation where I was guest preaching that morning. An acceptance letter and a few phone calls and emails later, I learned I would start my new call on Monday, December 10.

With my Holy Trinity family at my ordination — (from left to right, mostly) Deacon Carol Schickel, Dinah Wayne, Vicar Noah Herren, Carol and Ryan Lahurd, Deacon John Weit, Troy Medlin, Patty Erickson, Pastor Ben Adams, Pastor Craig Mueller, Johanna Olson, Ernest Vasseur, Pastor Matt James, Tim and Janelle Peterson, Pastor Michelle Sevig, Deacon Julie Sevig, and Joel Cruz

In between those days, on the eve of the First Sunday of Advent, December 1, 2018, I would get to celebrate the occasion of my ordination with a community that has meant and continues to mean so, so much to me — a community I miss dearly and daily — my home congregation, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Chicago. What a joyous occasion to have so many beloved, meaningful friends, colleagues, and mentors participate in the liturgy — and to have the Rev. Heidi Torgerson, the best boss a person could ask for at the ELCA Churchwide offices, preach the good news. Re-reading her sermon on this day fills me with as much gratitude and tears and joy and humility as it did two months ago. I offer it here as a reminder of the ministry of loving God’s people to which we are all called. Deo gratias.

With thanks to Beau Surratt, video of the entire liturgy is available here. Fast forward to 28:30 for the beginning of the gospel reading and sermon.

Ordination of Josh Evans
December 1, 2018 + Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Chicago
The Rev. Heidi Torgerson, preaching
Texts: Exodus 3.1-15; Psalm 139; 1 John 4.7-21; John 13.1-17, 31b-35

The Rev. Heidi Torgerson, preaching

Beloved of God, grace to you and peace from the one who created us, redeemed us, and moves among us still. Amen.

Some of you know that Josh has been serving with us in the ELCA’s Global Mission Unit as he moved through the call process that brought him and the people of Unity Lutheran in Brookfield together. It’s been such a wonderful gift to have him on our team these last many months, and we’ve spent a fair bit of time just this past week, actually, celebrating Josh’s ministry among us. One of those celebrations involved an after-work happy hour on Wednesday with ten or so colleagues. The group gathered in joy and with Global Mission-appropriate levels of raucousness. We toasted Josh’s call to Unity and the ordination celebration for which we are gathered today. We remembered the many gifts that Josh has brought to Global Mission over the past year – his gifts of hospitality and his attention to detail, his care for people at the margins and his snarky sense of humor, his commitment to the gospel and his ever-present sass. And, of course, we remembered his deep, abiding, and sometimes freakishly OCD love for the liturgy and worship done well. As we joked gently with Josh about this another lover-of-worship among us commented, in true, nerdy-church-people fashion, that ordination might be worth it if for no other reason than to be able to create a worship service that’s ALL ABOUT YOU!!!

It’s true that, today, we gather to entrust the ministry of Word and Sacrament to Josh through the laying on of hands and prayer. It is good and right that we should give thanks to God for this servant’s gifts and for the preparation that has led Josh to this day. But freakishly OCD love for the liturgy notwithstanding, Josh knows as well as the rest of us that this worship service is no more “all about him” than it is “all about” any one of us, just like this ordination is no more about Josh than mine was about me, or than Bishop Erickson’s was about him. Rather, this worship service, just like this ordination, is about the wild and fierce love of God, poured out over and over again on this weary world and on us who call it home. A love so powerful that it gives Moses the courage and the clarity of vision to lead God’s people out of slavery and into freedom. A love so intimate that it knows every thought, every journey, every inmost part of our marvelously made creatureliness. A love so compelling that it casts out all fear, breaking down every dividing wall between us so that we might share that love with the unlikeliest of neighbors. A love so world-altering that it turns master into servant, ascribing glory and blessedness to tasks as menial as washing another person’s feet.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The 13th chapter of John’s gospel brings us into a closed room where the disciples had gathered with Jesus, likely in hiding from the crowds that had once cheered Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem but were now calling for his death. It’s the night before his crucifixion, and don’t think for a minute that Jesus doesn’t know the cruelly painful, humiliating execution that is coming for him. But instead of being preoccupied with thoughts of what is to come, Jesus does on this night what he has always done. He loves his people.

He loves Simon Peter, who for some unfathomable reason will eventually become the rock on which Christ’s church would be built, but until then? He’s basically a screw up. He nearly drowns himself trying to follow Jesus out onto the water in the middle of storm. Soon he’ll pull a sword and slice off the ear of a slave, as though he hadn’t heard a single word that Jesus had uttered to that point. And later, he’ll publicly deny any association with Jesus in order to save his own skin. He’ll do this not once, not twice, but three times.

He loves Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, who had been as close to Jesus as a brother but who nonetheless will betray him, handing Jesus over to the ones who will lead him to his death. He loves Andrew and James and Thomas and Philip and all the rest. And in spite of the fact that they seem to screw things up as often as not, in spite of the fact that he’s needed to teach them the same things over and over again in the years they’ve spent together, in spite of the fact they are afraid and uncertain and often more worried about themselves than about others, Jesus loves them to the end. On the night before his crucifixion Jesus gets up from the table, takes off his outer robe, ties a towel around his waist, fills a basin with water, and assumes the role of a slave, taking the disciples’ dirty feet in his hands and washing off the crud.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Friends, I don’t know about you, but something about this simple phrase, referencing first Jesus’ own context but now also proclaimed into our own, feels so startling to me today that it nearly takes my breath away. Because if Jesus’ response to these screw-up disciples just hours before he’s executed is to kneel down and wash their feet, what if… just what if… he loves us that much, as well? I mean, I look around me and I look within me and truly, it’s hard for me to grasp the possibility that this kind of love might actually be real… that Jesus chooses to love us to the end. Us… you and me. We who sit in silent complicity while children are tear-gassed at our newly militarized southern border. We who are too indifferent or too afraid to speak truth to power while black and brown bodies are gunned down with impunity. We who live in comfort and safety while our country’s foreign policies perpetuate war and crushing poverty in places most of us only see on TV. We who nurture seeds of resentment or self-righteousness or passive aggressive silence in our relationships with the people closest to us. But y’all, what if it’s true? What if Jesus’ love for this world is so incomprehensibly deep and passionate that it includes even us, right until the very end? What if he kneels before us today, knowing full well that we, like the disciples, are screw-ups as often as not, to take our dirty feet in his hands and wash off the crud, not to let us off the hook but to break through all the caked on crap that keeps us from actively loving God’s people… to remind us that in spite of ourselves we are somehow still worth loving… to free us from our own complacency so that we can remember how to kneel before the feet of another in the middle of this busted up world that God so loves.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

Josh, this pretty much sums up it up. Today you take on a new role in the ministry of the gospel which we all share, and this is at the heart of the call: Love God’s people, and love them to the end. Preach a liberating word of love and grace, and of law when it’s needed. Remind them over and over of the extravagant love of God. Nourish them with bread and wine. Wash away their sin and isolation in the waters of baptism. And always, kneel before them in service to wash the crud off their feet when they forget how to love the world. Wash the feet not just of the ones who are easy to love, but also and especially the feet of the screw-ups and the complacent ones and the passive-aggressive ones and the maddening ones. But don’t ever forget that there’s another side to this call as well, dear brother. It’s a call to receive the gifts of God in Christ just as freely as you will share them, because honestly, that’s the only way to sustain this life in ministry. Allow yourself to be vulnerable before Jesus as he washes away the crud that’ll get caked onto your own feet in your own practice of love. When you make mistakes, when you feel overwhelmed, when imposter syndrome creeps in, let the love of Jesus pour over you as water on your tired and achy feet, making you clean and whole with each new day to be strengthened for the work we all share.

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

He loves you to the end, Josh. He loves each of us, impossibly and profoundly, to the end. Thanks be to God.

Photo Credit: Maija Mikkelsen

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