I’m taking a little break from the events of the world this week. There’s plenty going on and lots of preachers and bloggers who will be exploring how we show our love of God, self, and neighbor in a world filled with chaos. Instead, I’m going to focus on the reading from Ruth, All Saints Day, grief, and the anniversary of my ordination, not necessarily in that order. (If you are looking for sermon help or my thoughts on a variety of lectionary texts, try here.)
The words Ruth spoke to Naomi are chasing around in my head, “…Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God…” Ruth offered Naomi unconditional love, a promise to remain family even though she did not have to. There’s strength and beauty here that I wish permeated more of our relationships with one another. There is also a sacredness in the possibility that says we can choose family where our own might be inadequate or nonexistent.
I grew up in a church that did not observe All Saints Day at all. Later, I encountered congregations in which All Saints was a time to remember the members who had died in the previous year and this is fine. However, All Saints Day feels more personal for me because it is the day on which I was ordained. Each year on November 1, I spend some time taking stock of my ministry – where I have been, where I am, and where I might feel called to go – and I think of all the many lives who have touched and shaped mine.
As I reflect, this year feels quite a bit different from other years. Part of this is because I’ve moved to Minnesota which is quite a ways from all the places I have lived before. When we were talking about the possibility of relocating, my wife echoed Ruth’s words, “Where you go, I will go…” And I’m grateful. Following God’s call is challenging enough without a reluctant spouse.
Another significant reason that this year feels different is that my mother has died. She wasn’t exactly supportive of my call to ministry so it is not her support and influence that I miss. I’ve had to let go of the idea that she would someday come to a service and see that I was born for ministry. Somehow, though, in trying to prove to my mother that ministry is the right call for me, I’ve managed to prove it to myself. When I was called to my first church, I was convinced that they had made a mistake in choosing me over the other 26 candidates that they considered. My mother agreed with me. In spite of my mother’s lack of support and understanding, I can honestly say, I no longer have doubts about my call to ministry…
Of course, the other big difference is that I am serving a congregation as the full-time settled pastor for the first time since coming out in 1998. There is a powerful affirmation here that is long over-due. I’m just grateful that the church and the world are changing so that neither being a woman nor being bi-sexual is a reason to exclude a person from pastoral ministry. I hear the essence of Ruth’s words in the church’s growth toward inclusivity. “Where you go…”
There’s a lot tied up in the twenty-third anniversary of my ordination. I feel like I am surrounded by all those who have journeyed with me. Those from the church of my childhood who welcomed me and taught me the true power of being church… Teachers who encouraged me to develop and use my talents… Professors who challenged me to think beyond the words on any given page… Friends who stood by me, particularly in the wilderness times… Parishioners who embodied Christian faith simply and fully… Therapists who helped me discover my own strength… Colleagues who share the costs and joys of discipleship… The countless who invited me to accompany them in their most difficult times… The list is endless… All the ways in which my life has been shaped by those who embodied Ruth’s words to Naomi are beyond my knowing. I’ve been given home, family, faith and so much more. I could not be more grateful to God for the whole of the journey!
I hope that you, too, are blessed with home, family, faith and more as you remember and give thanks for all the saints who have touched and shaped your life.
RCL – Year B – All Saints Day – Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost – November 1, 2015