Saturday, September 28, 2013


Trinity & St. Philip’s Cathedral, Newark NJ
September 28, 2013

The Ordination of Miguel Hernandez to the Transitional Diaconate
Jeremiah 1:4-9
Psalm 84 (Hymn 517)
Acts of the Apostles 6:2-7
Luke 22:24-27

            You’ve probably noticed that over the past few months, and especially in the last week or so, lots of people have been caught up in a kind of “Pope-Mania.” That probably includes at least some of you. Although I’m an Episcopal priest, I’ll admit that I’ve been excited, fascinated and inspired by the first bishop of Rome from the Americas, Pope Francis.
            Showing the powerful effect one leader can have, from the start Francis has set a new tone in the Vatican and across the entire church. And, like Francis the beloved friar from Assisi, this new pope is teaching through simplicity and love what living the gospel life looks like.
            When he has been given the opportunity, he has declined to sit in judgment of others.
            He has been willing to listen to various points of view.
            He has displayed fearlessness and radiated joy.
            When powerful forces seemed to be on the unstoppable march to war, he invited everyone to fast for peace.
            He has shed most of the many trappings of his office, pulling off the nearly impossible feat of living simply in the midst of great opulence and splendor.
            And, on top of all that, he’s very much a 21st Century leader. He engages the media – spending a couple of hours talking freely and seemingly off the cuff with reporters on the long flight back to Rome from Brazil.
            And… he uses twitter like a real social media expert. This pope tweets like crazy!
            If you’ve seen his tweets, you know that they are very simple and beautiful messages about God’s love and mercy - about the centrality of Christ in our lives.
            Like his predecessor, Francis tweets using the handle, “@pontifex.”
            “Pontifex” is a nod to one of the pope’s many titles, one that was inherited from the Roman emperors: “Pontifex Maximus.”
            “Pontifex Maximus” means “greatest priest” or “high priest.” I’m sure we can all agree that, unless you’re Jesus, that title is kind of immodest and really a bit much. And, I bet it’s a title that’s more than a little embarrassing for Pope Francis.
            But, you know, that word “pontifex” literally means “bridge-builder.”
            “Bridge-builder.” That’s a powerful image for a Christian leader, isn’t it?
            It looks like Pope Francis is working hard at being a good bridge-builder, reaching out to the disenchanted and disenfranchised - extending his hand in friendship and respect to Jews, Muslims and even atheists.
            But, it’s not just the Bishop of Rome who is called to be a pontifex. It’s not just the pope who is meant to be a bridge-builder. And, for that matter, it’s not just bishops, priests and deacons who are called to be bridge-builders.
            The truth is that all Christians – all of us - are called to be bridge-builders.
            If we are going to fulfill our sacred mission to restore all people to unity with God and each other in Christ, then we are going to have to build lots and lots of bridges.
            If we are going to do the work that God has given us to do, then, with God’s help, we all need to build bridges to the many people all around us who are hurting -the many people who can’t pay their bills – the many people who are carrying nagging guilt and shame – the many people who mourn profound losses – the many people who dread the future – the many people who don’t know where to turn for help – and the many people who would never even think of turning to God – never even think of turning to Jesus – never even think of turning to the Episcopal Church.
            Yes, we are all called to be bridge-builders.
            But, out of all of us, it’s the deacons who are most called – and expected – to build bridges.
            As we heard in the reading from the Acts of the Apostles, right from the start the deacons were called upon to offer a ministry of service – and, actually, a ministry of service that apparently others were too busy or unwilling to perform.
            And since those early days the diaconal ministry and identity has been developed and refined into the work of bridge-building.
             Deacons are expected to build bridges between the Church and the world.
            Part of that bridge-building is reaching out and sharing the Good News of Christ to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised – reaching out to the poor, the lonely, the guilty, the frightened, the lost, the bewildered, and the helpless.
            And at least as important is the deacon’s ministry of interpreting to the Church the “needs, concerns, and hopes of the world.”
            In this diocese we are so blessed by our deacons, who every day are out there in the world building bridges.
            We are so blessed by our deacons, who live out their vocation in such beautiful and devoted ways – proclaiming the Gospel in word and deed, feeding the hungry, providing young people with opportunities to serve, ministering to the deaf, and so much more.
            And we are so blessed by our deacons who, on occasion, pointedly remind the Church of its Christ-given obligation to serve the least among us.
            The diaconate is a beautiful and profound ministry.
            And, Miguel, this is the sacred order of bridge-building that you are about to enter.
            Of course, you’re not quite a boy like Jeremiah was when God called him to his holy work. And, unlike Jeremiah, you’re already open to letting God speak and work through you. And, unlike Jeremiah, you’re already quite eloquent – in two languages!
            In fact, you’ve been at the work of bridge-building for a long time.
            In thinking about your journey I thought how even your distinguished work at Bell Labs, improving how we communicate with one another, was really at heart all about building bridges.
            And during your long and frequently obstacle-filled road to ordination you’ve been building bridges all along – sharing the Good News, making connections, reaching out to people who maybe didn’t know they could find a spiritual home in the Episcopal Church.
            All along your long road to ordination you’ve been nurturing individuals and communities and you’ve challenged the Church to care for people we might otherwise easily overlook.
            It turns out that all along, you’ve been a pontifex. All along, you’ve been a bridge-builder.
            Now, today we’re here to recognize what God has been doing in and through you for a long time.
            And we’re here to pray and celebrate as you take on an even deeper commitment to building bridges as a deacon.
            And, God willing, in about six months we will all reassemble for your ordination to the priesthood.
            In the eyes of the world and maybe even in the eyes of the Church, your time as a deacon will be short. Yet, all the best priests I know carry inside themselves a deacon’s heart.
            So, Miguel, my prayer for you on this sacred and joyful day is that with God’s help you will continue and deepen your work of building bridges between and among individuals and communities.
            May you be a pontifex.
            May you – and may we all – lay people, deacons, priests and bishops - be bridge-builders. With God’s help, may we reach out in love to the disenchanted and the disenfranchised – to the poor, the lonely, the guilty, the frightened, the lost, the bewildered, and the helpless.
            May we all be bridge-builders.