Profession In Initial Vows – Luke Ditewig, SSJE
Today is a day which we have been hoping for, and praying for, for a very long time. A day of rejoicing. Our dear brother Luke is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, as a professed brother of our community.
And what a wonderful day, Trinity Sunday, for this profession! First, because, Luke, you grew up and for many years were formed in the Christian faith by the community of your home parish, Trinity Presbyterian, Santa Ana, California. Secondly, our understanding as brothers, of what Christian community is all about, is profoundly rooted and grounded in the very nature of God, the Holy Trinity.
Our Rule puts it like this, “The very being of God is community: the Father, Son and Spirit are one in reciprocal self-giving and love.” And because we, as humans, bear the image of our triune God, we are not meant to be separate and isolated. There are today, so many men and women who are isolated, lonely, broken. Central to our mission as a community of brothers, is to share our life of community with others.
What I love about these monastic buildings, is that whilst the monastery and guesthouse are set back, this chapel reaches out right onto busy Memorial Drive. And our doors are open, saying “Whoever you are, you are welcome here.”
One of Luke’s many gifts is for hospitality: helping others feel welcomed and cherished. “The source of hospitality,” as our Rule puts it, “is the heart of God. We have the power to be a sacrament of God’s hospitality, a house of God, offering nurture and protection to all who come under our roof.” It is communities of faith, communities of love, which form us, and make us strong, and have the power to draw us into the very heart of God.
Our second lesson today is from that beautiful second letter which Paul wrote to Timothy. He writes, “To Timothy, my beloved child.” How he must have cherished Timothy, and prayed for him, as a real father in God. And Paul recalls all those other individuals and communities who had helped to raise and nurture Timothy in the Christian faith: “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois, and your mother Eunice.”
Today is a good time to reflect on and give thanks for all those, Luke, who have helped form and shape you into the man that you are today. Your parents, Bill and Sandy, who gave you life. The community of Trinity Presbyterian, Inter Varsity, Gordon College, Princeton, and so many more.
Today, you become a full member of this community. And we, your Brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist, welcome you with much joy and love, as a friend and a brother given to us by Christ.
It is good to reflect on where we have been. To give thanks for all those who have supported us, challenged us, encouraged us and loved us into becoming who we are now.
But we look back, with thanksgiving, in order to look forward. We cannot stand still. God is always calling us on to larger life, grasping us, and pulling us forward, as our founder Richard Benson liked to put it. We are, in Paul’s words, “to press on, to strain forward to what lies ahead.”(Phil. 3:14)
Well, Luke, I wonder what lies ahead? We don’t know. You are making this step today in faith. When God calls us on, to larger life, we rarely see much beyond the next step. And that takes trust, and so it’s usually a little bit scary! If you do feel a bit anxious, Luke, as you follow your call, your vocation, know that you are in good company. When Isaiah, in our reading today, was called by God, his first response was to say, “Woe is me! I’m lost!” When Moses was called, he hid his face in his terror. When poor Jeremiah was called, he was scared and pleaded, I am just a boy and I’m not good at speaking.
But to each one of them, God spoke these gentle and gracious words. “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you.” Luke – today, God is saying those words to you. Whatever the future may hold, “I will be with you.”
I would say, in my own life, over the years, in spite of all the ways that I have been foolish, made mistakes, been faithless – with my hand on my heart – God has always been faithful.
When I was at seminary, several times a day we were called to chapel by a bell.
And on that bell are engraved three words of St. Paul: pistos ho kalon. “Faithful is he who calls.”(I Thess. 5:24) Those words have stayed with me and supported me over my years of Christian ministry.
A little later in our worship, we shall be singing a hymn which I know is dear to Luke, and which expresses the same confidence in our God who is always faithful: “Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father.” And it’s not just faithfulness, generally – it is God’s faithfulness experienced as a daily gift.
These vows which you are making today, Luke, are not just made today. In a real sense, in the religious life, we have to make them anew every morning. There may well be times in this life when you feel that you are being called beyond your strength. “I cannot do this Lord.” That’s when we learn to take one day at a time. “Each morning I recommit myself to follow you Jesus today.”
And the wonder and the joy is that, each morning, the Lord recommits himself to us! Like the manna in the wilderness, God’s faithfulness comes to us anew, each morning. “Great is thy faithfulness, great is thy faithfulness: Morning by morning new mercies I see.”
So, Luke, as you begin living the vowed life, each morning, look for the mercies. Open your hands, open your heart, to receive new mercies. Claim them day by day.
So, as we now come to the Profession, each one of us here today, who represent different communities who have helped bring Luke to this point in his life, let us each hold him in our love and our prayers, and commit ourselves to support Luke in his new life as a Brother.
Luke, we bless our faithful and merciful God who has bought you to this day, who promises that he will be with you always, even to the end of the age, and to whom we give glory, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
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