A Sermon for the Ordination of Nathan George Syer to the Transitional Diaconate
Perfect submission, all is at rest
I in my Savior am happy and blessed
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love
Nathan, this is your story. It is a story of love. It is a story of grace. It is a story of wandering—like so many scenes scattered throughout our Sacred Scriptures. My husband, my beloved, my anam cara, by your own admission you have felt lost in your life more than a time or two. Whether it be losing yourself amongst the mountains of Mongolia; or fleeing from forces wishing to harm you in Afghanistan. Whether it be hoping off the train prematurely at Durham; or taking the hiking trail less traveled near Glencoe. Whether it be entering into that dark night of the soul that is depression; or discerning that an institution no longer aligned with your inherent identity. Nathan, this is your story—a story of wandering.
So it is unsurprising to me that the Holy Spirit would work through today’s particular passage from the Gospel of Matthew to call you into your sacred and special ministry, in this broken yet beautiful world. A crucial chapter in your story takes place when you were a young man (in what was a far off land to a Texas boy at at the time—Los Angeles, California). In the middle of a missions conference, in the midst of a dream sequence, God gave you the verse written overhead on a banner in your mind’s eye: “Matthew 18:11.” No extra words, no subsequent flourishes, just the name of the Gospel, the chapter, and the verse. And as you sprang up from this divine vision—like Joseph or Samuel—you hurriedly flipped through pages of your well worn Bible. Then to your surprise you found that there was no Matthew 18:11.
My friends, this is true! This preacher would not tell a lie in the pulpit! If you turn through the pages of your own Bible you would find a small number to demarcate verse 10, then verse 12, but there is no verse 11. It’s missing! It’s like some kind of Da Vinci Code conspiracy moment. And yet, Nate, as you reeled from this removed piece of Scripture, you found your way to a lecture at your Los Angeles missions conference. On that first presentation slide, there it was, that misplaced verse—Matthew 18:11, “For the Son of Man came to save the lost.”
Now contemporary commentaries would tell us that the reason there is no longer a Matthew 18:11, is because it was not found consistently in all of our ancient manuscripts. And yet are we ourselves missing out without this missing verse?
For these ten words actually carry so much comfort. The Son of Man, Jesus the Christ, our God incarnate came to save the lost. Not some of the lost, not a few of the lost, but every wandering child of God, every pilgrim soul who walks this earth, every stray sheep who has been lost a time or two or maybe more. Each one of us has been that little lamb who journeyed off the grassy hillside into the wide open wilderness below. And which every single one of the other ninety-nine definitely will be at some point in time. For we all are human and going astray is inevitably part of our story. We all can’t help but get lost a time or two.
Yet our Good Shepherd rejoices in that sacred and surreal moment when we the sheep “once were lost, but now [finally] are found.” Yet in some ways I reckon we never were lost. I mean not really; not completely; not entirely. For the Holy One is with us in the wandering. As Psalm 139 reminds us:
Where can I go from your spirit?
Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there;
If I make my bed in the grave, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning
And settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
Even there your hand shall lead me,
And your right hand shall hold me fast.”
No matter where we wander, no matter how we have gone astray, God is there seeking us, searching for us, just waiting for us to acknowledge God’s presence. And even in the loneliest places of our hearts, the darkness that is depression, when we feel so isolated and far from connected to another human being: “Even the darkness is not dark to [God];/ the night is as bright as the day,/ for darkness is as light to you.”
There is no place where we can escape from the love of God. There is no place where we can stray from the love of God. There is no place where we can flee from the love of God. The only possibility is to accept that we actually are lost in the love of God. That’s really what being found is—feeling lost in the middle of God’s unconditional love.
And Nathan, my love, you have experienced God’s grace first hand. All of your moments of wandering—whether it be around the world or inside your own—have been a fulfillment of who you are and whose you were all along. That you are of God; that you are a beloved child of God; that you are made in the image and likeness of God. Every time you have felt lost and subsequently found by the Divine, you have discerned beyond a shadow of a doubt whose you are and who you are called to be—a shepherd to the lost sheep.
You are called to serve the wandering: those without a pastor or who have not found a faith community. You are called to serve the stray: those who have been ostracized by the institution or disenchanted with our church. You are called to serve the lost: those who do not know how to accept the next chapter of their story—entrance into eternity with the Divine—, and those the departed have left behind—feeling utterly alone without their loved one. Nathan, your own wandering allows you to join others on their journey.
So today I rejoice with Jesus, our Good Shepherd, as your journeying has brought you to today’s celebration—to a fulfillment of who you were created to be; to a reaffirmation of your ministry in this broken yet beautiful world; to your acceptance and ordination as a deacon in the Anglican tradition. Nathan, all of your wandering has brought you to this mystical moment. And my beloved, during your pilgrimage you never were hidden from God. So my soul friend, take a deep breath, soak it all in, and be “filled with His goodness, lost in His love.”