Ezekiel 34:11-16 / Psalm 87 / 2 Timothy 4:1-8 / John 21:15-19
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 Jim is to make the vows of poverty, celibacy and obedience, as a professed brother of our community. And what a wonderful day, the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul, for the profession.
When these two great apostles first met Jesus: Simon the fisherman by the Sea of Galilee, and Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, neither of them could have imagined how Jesus would change their lives. When they said yes to Jesus’ invitation, “Come follow me,” their lives would never be the same again.
Jim, when you first said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ invitation to “Come follow me” as a twelve year old at Abingdon Baptist Church, Virginia, could you ever have imagined the adventures that lay ahead, and that eventually would lead you to this day – this day, when you will become a full member of this community, and our brother?
It is especially moving for me today to be receiving your vows because on this day I was ordained priest. And this Feast of Peter and Paul is always one on which I reflect on the vows I made, and on the mystery of vocation. What is it that gives us, all of us who have made vows – baptism, marriage, ordination, monastic vows – what is it that gives us the freedom and courage to make these vows?
Our Rule says that “the foundation of this courage is a profound gratitude for salvation.” The Rule quotes the Psalmist: “How shall I repay the Lord for all the good things he has done for me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord. I will fulfill my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (Ps 116:12-14) It is gratitude, thankfulness to God, which draws us to worship, and which enables us to make vows which deepen the intimacy of our relationship with God and with each other.
Gratitude, Jim, for the Lord, who has always been with you, all through your life. When life was very difficult for you, he was always with you, and never abandoned you. Like the good shepherd in those beautiful versus from Ezekiel: “I will be your shepherd, says the Lord. I will make you lie down – I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak.”
Gratitude for all those “apparent” coincidences which led you to this community. Way back in 2003 you happened to come upon our website and as you read about our life, something touched your heart. And then a few months later, two days before Christmas, driving home from work in Columbia, South Carolina, and listening to NPR on the radio, you heard a report about a Christmas CD recorded by 20 monks in distant Cambridge, Massachusetts. As you heard us sing, something, someone, was calling you home. I remember you writing to me soon after that when I was Novice Guardian. You came on many visits and finally arrived to test your vocation as a monk. And we rejoice that all these years later you are standing here before God, and before this congregation, to publically say YES to that call: Yes to the Good Shepherd, the Lord who continues to invite you with such love and grace, to “Follow me.”
Living life as a professed monk will be many things, but one thing I can guarantee, Jim, is that it will be a life of adventure. Just as for those first apostles, giving your life to Christ, every day, means that nothing can be guaranteed, there’s no knowing where God will lead you! Living that radical life of faith can be pretty scary at times. It means every morning recommitting yourself to this life. Every morning, saying Yes. Yes to the Lord who first called you all those years ago, yes to the one who is faithful, and whom you can trust with your life.
It won’t be dull, but that’s all right. In those words of that remarkable deaf-blind author, Helen Keller, “Life is a daring adventure, or it is nothing at all.”
Welcome, Jim, to the adventure of a lifetime! I cannot predict what God has in store for you here, but I suspect that you will face challenges which seem beyond your strength and your abilities. But in these challenges, God will call out from you strengths and gifts which you never knew you had. And you will not be on your own. You will continue to be surrounded by the love and prayers of your mother and father, your family and friends, and all those who from your earliest days have taught and encouraged you in the Christian faith, and helped to nurture your vocation to the religious life.
And then, you have us – your brothers. In a moment we will pledge to support you as you go forward in this life, with our prayers – and to love you as a brother, given to us by Christ. For it is in community that you will find the strength and courage for this life. It is in community that you will, by God’s grace, continue to grow day by day into the full stature of a child of God.
Many centuries ago the great bishop and teacher, St. Augustine of Hippo, wrote these beautiful words:
“To fall in love with God is the greatest of all romances.
To seek him, the greatest adventure.
To find him, the greatest human achievement.”
As a child, you fell in love with God, and the adventure began. And now, as you become a professed brother of this community, continue to seek God and allow yourself to be found by God, every day of your life.
Jim, we bless our faithful and merciful God who has brought you to this day, and 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. Amen.
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