2009 Convention Eucharist and Deacon’s Ordination
October 17, 2009
Luke 22:24-27

I don’t know of a stronger way to reflect on the mission of our diocese than to ordain Linda Tardy Wilson as a deacon of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church in the midst of the convention Eucharist of our diocese.

We’ve just completed an exciting convention full of prayer, worship, fellowship and doing the business related to our mission and ministry as a diocese.

So, it’s timely to participate in this service of personal and corporate rededication of ourselves to the mission of rebuilding our diocese. Ours is a special task – to thank God for calling us to rebuild and to be strengthened spiritually for the rebuilding.

And in the midst of all this, Bishop Price and I will ordain Linda Tardy Wilson a deacon.

Now, to me, the diaconal ordination service is one of the most powerful services in our prayer book. It not only reminds our new deacon-to-be what the ministry of a deacon is all about, it reminds us, as God’s people in the diocese of Pittsburgh, what our ministry is all about.

For Christian ministry is always about three things: engaging, serving and trusting.

Engaging – there was a rector of a healthy parish in a major city who noticed that just three miles away another parish had not only been closed due to a changing neighborhood, its property had been sold for development. Shortly thereafter, he heard that the beautiful old Victorian brick church was going to be destroyed and the property scraped. He made it a point to go down to the old church on demolition day and rescued an old brick, which he took back to his healthy parish and placed it on the pulpit where all could see.

Finally, after several weeks of services with the brick on the pulpit, someone asked, “why is that old brick there?” And he told the story I just told. And went on to say, the message of that brick to me, to this parish and to the church is engage or perish. Engage in mission to people in need or perish in refusing to get caught up in changes all about. Engage (in mission).

Always our calling.

Serving – my good friend, Bishop Charles Jenkins of Louisiana was devastated, like his diocese was, by Hurricane Katrina. With prayer, help and support from all over the Episcopal Church, he led that diocese into a massive rebuilding and restructuring of itself. It was not an easy task. Sort of like what we’ve lived through here. He and the diocese were demoralized. Yet, they did what they could with God’s help and the help of others, and slowly things were coming together. This is what he told his diocese about the renewed, rebuilt Diocese of Louisiana.

“Our new mission is to be a church engaged, a church that is a servant church that lives not for itself alone but for all for whom Christ died.”

Serving – being a servant church to the needs of God’s people is always our calling.

Engage and Serve.

Engage in mission and serve God’s people.

That’s indeed our calling in the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. But, as wonderful and necessary as that calling is, we cannot do it by ourselves. That’s where trust in God comes in. For trusting in God and in God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ is where we find the energy and the power of our engaging and serving.

Trusting – crucial to our ministry.

Being an old hiker, I want to share a hiking story.

A man was hiking in the beautiful mountains of North Carolina. The narrow trail was on a ledge that ran along the side of a deep gorge. He had to be very careful because a single misstep would send him careening down 1,000 feet or more. Accidentally, his foot tripped on a rock. He lost his balance and tumbled down; however, there was a small mountain laurel struggling to exist on the side of the gorge, about half way down. He barely was able to grab the laurel as he fell and he hung on for dear life. After he’d rested a bit while hanging on, he assessed the situation. There was no way he could climb out of there, and it was too far for him to drop to the bottom of the gorge. He yelled for help. No answer. Again. No answer. Time passed. It was getting harder and harder to hold on. Finally, he prayed. Imagine that! “Lord, help me. I’m really in a pickle and don’t know what to do.” Silence. Again he prayed. “Help me, Lord. Please help me.” It was then that he heard a soft voice which simply said, “Let go!” He was stunned. He thought for a while and said, “Is there anybody else up there?”

Now, it’s hard, scary and difficult to let go, but if we’re going to engage in mission and serve God’s people, we cannot do it without trust – letting go and trusting in God and God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

As I said earlier, today Linda Tardy Wilson will be ordained a deacon in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church for our Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh. She will be directly responsible to the bishop and will assist priests. She’s one of us – a child of God from Holy Cross, Homewood and she will begin her first period of diaconal ministry at All Souls, North Versailles.

And as fine, as gifted, as committed as she is, she cannot be faithful to her diaconal calling without engaging in mission, serving God’s people, and trusting in God and God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus Christ.

And, what about us? We are also children of God, clergy and laity alike. And our calling, like Linda’s is to engage in mission, to serve God’s people as we move into the future, rebuilding this diocese, for that is our calling. And, my sisters and brothers, we cannot do it alone. We need each other’s help and support.

We need the help and support of our beloved Episcopal Church. Most importantly, we need to trust in God and let God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus strengthen us for our task, always remembering Jesus’ words in Matthew’s Gospel:

“In as much as you’ve done it unto the least of these, my sisters and brothers, you’ve done it unto me.”

And from Luke’s Gospel in today’s service:

“The greatest among you must become like the youngest and the leader like one who serves. Who is greater – the one who is at table or the one who serves? It’s the one at the table, but i am among you as one who serves.”

For as the Episcopal Diocese of Pittsburgh, we are God’s servant people and God’s servant church. It’s in that spirit, and that spirit only, that we’ll be able to do the ministry we’re called to do.

Engaging – serving – trusting.

To engage in mission, and

To serve God’s people

And in the doing of all of that, trust in God is crucial and essential. For God says – LET GO AND GET GOING!

+Bob Johnson


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