“But speaking the truth in love we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
That was from our epistle reading this evening: speaking the truth in love.
The truth is, I am thrilled Robert asked me to preach tonight. Another truth: I call him Cousin Robert, and have ever since we were in seminary together more than a decade ago. Truthfully, however, Robert and I are not technically cousins; but my unmarried last name was also Marshall, so I suspect that if we dig deep enough, somewhere along the lines, buried back, Robert and I are in fact related. We even kind of look alike, ish.
The truth is, all of us gathered here tonight to celebrate Robert’s new ministry at Redeemer are cousins, in a sense; because we are part of Christ’s whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament.
Are we working together properly? Are we promoting the body’s growth and building ourselves up in love?
In my own cousin metaphor with Robert Marshall, I could feel like the poor relation. After all, his ASA—average Sunday attendance—is bigger than mine. He plays the guitar like a genius, while I pluck away at a humble ukulele. And it used to be that his church had a full-time associate, but I can’t be jealous of that until you all hire one again (which I certainly hope is in the works for a church this size).
The truth is, Redeemer is not Robert’s church and St. David’s is not my church. They are both God’s churches. Robert’s new ministry will help Redeemer grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. This is Christ’s church.
The truth is, along with being thrilled, I was surprised that Cousin Robert invited me to preach at this celebration of new ministry, because I preach every Sunday at a church close by. Thinking back on all of the Celebrations of New Ministry I’ve participated in for the past dozen years, the preacher is typically retired or leads a church a good distance away. The truth is, like real cousins, like siblings, clergy can be competitive.
Now the clergy in our convocation—that is, the collection of close-by churches in this area of our diocese—the clergy in our convocation are a collaborative, friendly bunch. We are genuinely thrilled that Robert is here, even if a few of our members might switch teams now because there’s a new priest in town. This happens a lot. We tend to swap members back and forth sometimes, especially when a rector is new.
I was surprised that Robert invited me to preach because we do serve churches that are close together. I’m grateful to you, cousin. You are showing the close members of this convocation an even closer and more collaborative way of serving together. Thank you. I’m excited to explore new ways of sharing ministry. We’ve already talked about Thanksgiving services and pulpit exchanges. Maybe we’ll even convince you all to participate in one of our ukulele-based services.
Members of Redeemer, I want to share with you another truth, in love: I was worried when I heard that you called my cousin Robert as your rector. I was excited, because now I would have pretend-family in town; but I was also worried, because the truth is that clergy and members of other churches close by have heard that things have been tricky for you all the past few years. You’ve been through some tough times. The truth is, I was a little worried about Cousin Robert coming into a church with some troubles.
I ran into Cousin Robert about three months ago in Wegman’s, which is one of my very favorite places. He was with his beautiful daughter Preskitt, and it was the first time I had seen him since his second child had been born. Robert and Preskitt came up behind me in the check-out line.
I was further surprised to see what was in Cousin Robert’s grocery cart: wine and Blue Bunny ice cream. That was it.
Not having children myself, I asked him if that was all that parents of newborns get to consume.
Cousin Robert looked embarrassed. “We haven’t had to make dinner for a while,” he said. “The church offered to make us dinner for two weeks.”
“Wow, that’s great,” I said; but it was more than two weeks since they’d had the new baby, so I was still a little “concerned” about wine and ice cream as their sole sustenance.
“They offered to do it for two weeks,” he went on, “but then so many people didn’t get to sign up who wanted to that they called back and said three weeks, and then four; and then we ended up with five weeks of meals.”
I was so happy to hear that. I had intended to tease Robert about his groceries, but instead got some insight into how much you all already love your new rector and his family, and how excited you are about their presence here. That thrilled me.
The truth is, however, and I am speaking to you the truth in love: sometimes my cousin here is going to disappoint you. Make you angry. Let you down. Because even though he’s related to me, he’s not perfect. He’s not perfect but Robert is a strong leader, which means he will take risks, and sometimes they won’t be risks you want him to take. Sometimes, the risks you warn him about will fail. That’s why they’re risks.
I pray, and I trust, that you will continue to treat Robert with the same grace and love that you have up to now, even when he’s no longer the new rector with a newborn. Please remember how much you love him, and trust that it was God who brought him here to you, even when he doesn’t follow your good advice or do everything you think he should.
I pray that you all will continue to look beyond the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, at the wider needs of the community that surrounds you; and with Robert, will continue to seek out new ways to shine the light of Christ on a world that can be all too dark.
I pray that you will see the Episcopal churches around you as cousins, affectionate cousins. I pray that all of us will relate to the diocese in the way in which Bishop Hollerith calls us to relate: that we won’t ask “What’s the diocese going to do about this,” but will recognize that together, we are the diocese. How are we going to work together to shine the light of Christ?
As Episcopalians, we were all thrilled last month when our Presiding Bishop became an international star, preaching at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. Bishop Curry asked us to dream about a world where love is the way.
Robert Marshall is inviting all of us to live in such a love-drenched world. Thank you for graciously inviting your cousin churches and cousin clergy to celebrate with you tonight.
Thank you all for listening to the Spirit and calling this man as your rector. Speaking the truth in love, I can’t wait to see what you will do next, together.