Photo credit: Cameron Adams
The Ordination of David Goodpaster to the Priesthood
All Saints’ Chapel, Sewanee
June 19, 2021
The Right Rev. Brian L. Cole
David, when you came to see me at Good Shepherd in Lexington, Kentucky, to discuss discerning a call to Holy Orders, I cannot remember, but I hope I refrained from making light of your last name.
Pastor Goodpaster. Father Goodpaster. The Rev. Goodpaster. With a name like that, of course he’s called to the priesthood, right?
This morning, I do not want to speak about your last name. I do want to reflect, however, on your first name. David.
When I hear the name David, my first thought goes to David, son of Jesse. Jesse’s youngest son, he was voted Most Likely to Tend Sheep at Bethlehem High. He was also on the harp team. While keeping sheep, David had learned how to protect the sheep from lions and bears.
David is the youngest son in Jesse’s family. As the youngest, he is sent to his brothers who are battling the Philistines. He is to bring them provisions. When he arrives at the front, he learns about Goliath. All the Israelites present fear Goliath, for he is a giant.
For David, however, Goliath is just another threat to the sheep. He knows how to deal with lions. He knows how to deal with bears. David believes he knows how to deal with Goliath.
It might be helpful here to realize that one of David’s spiritual gifts was confidence. Goliath, who has caused the hardened soldiers and warriors to fear, does not strike the same kind of terror in David.
Since David volunteers to face Goliath, King Saul chooses to dress him and prepare him for the task. He is given a bronze helmet and a coat of mail and the king’s sword. All those things sound like the items you would want in order to face Goliath.
Except, that for David, those things do not fit him. He cannot walk with them. They are not made for him.
It is good to know that David, son of Jesse, possessed enough wisdom to take them off, to admit that the helmet and the sword and the coat of mail were not what he needed to face Goliath.
Instead, he chose five stones and a sling and a shepherd’s bag and a staff. He already had what he needed and only what he needed.
We know what happens next. David 1, Goliath 0. David was able to defeat Goliath because David knew what was necessary and helpful for the task. He did not take on the armament of others who were trying to dress him for the moment.
David Goodpaster, you are about to be made a priest. You are about to be clothed like a priest. We are about to give you the things you need in order to go and do the work of a priest.
Take what you need, but only what you need. Take the things that a priest needs to carry, but do not take on and be burdened by the things that other people wish you would carry.
Mostly, we need you to carry the sacraments out into the world. Take bread and wine. Take oil, both for baptizing and anointing the sick and the dying. Take the Scriptures and the prayers. Take the sacrament of reconciliation and forgiveness. Take a listening heart willing to care for the souls of others.
In other words, take only what you need and only what the world needs from you, a priest. The world needs to see that God’s grace is coming towards them, held before them, offered to them. If you are to do that, you will need not to be burdened with carrying things unnecessary and distracting.
Oh, there’s the temptation.
There are so many well-meaning people ready to dress you up as the priest they think the world needs right now. If you allow them to, they will have you wear helmets and coats of mail and wield swords for battles they wish you to wage that have nothing to do with your priesthood.
Here, take this helmet of hazy nostalgia. Here, put on this coat of civil religion and our remembrance of that priest we adored in 1993. Here, hold this sword that will cut through all the things that keep our children, and us, from truly following Jesus. Here, be as afraid of Goliath as we are.
Don’t do it, David.
Don’t allow others, no matter how well-meaning, to dress you as a priest. Remember, your vocation should fit you. Your vocation should enable you to travel lightly for the rest of your life. There are things you will need. Take them with you. But there are other things you will be tempted to carry. If you do so, they will slow you down, burden you beyond human strength, carry you into the ditch of despair and other people’s expectations.
David, this is where it is good to hear the gospel lesson read this morning. Did you hear it?
Jesus tells us there is much work to do and not enough people to do the work. But hear what he said and what he did not say. He did not say you are the only worker. He said there are other workers. Before you and those other workers, there is much work to do.
But since there are other workers, this is where it is helpful to be clear on who is doing what. You, David, are called to be a priest. Do the sacramental work of a priest. Wear the clothes of a priest. Make sure it fits you.
However, do not take on the work of others or wear their clothes. If you do so, you rob them of their work and their ministry.
This is where fostering a pastoral imagination is helpful. As a priest, you are called to keep your eyes open, to be able to assess rightly the work and the needs before you.
And then you are called to imagine, through prayer and the guiding of the Holy Spirit, the work transformed. The work is not transformed because you have taken on all the tasks and done all things necessary by yourself. You cannot possibly carry that many stones.
One of the greatest joys of priesthood is equipping others so they can find their work, wear rightly the clothes of their vocation. The workers may be few, but there are others, David. Help all of us to find our right work in the everyday field of God’s world.
So, you, along with the others, find your work in God’s field. It is a field where much work is to be done. Jesus tells us there is more work than there are workers. So, even if others show up, and you help them find their work, doesn’t it all sound like a long exhausting scene? Is the Kingdom of God really production line work that never ends?
No. Jesus tells us there is a work for us and there is a need for workers. And he also says, pray for more workers. Remember, a vital part of your work is prayer.
Pray, pray, pray.
Pray for what is. Pray for what could be. Pray for the wisdom to know your vocation. Pray for others to find their vocations. Pray for all those vocations to be a proper fit on each shoulder.
And so much of our work begins and ends with prayer. Never think of prayer as that thing you do before you attend to the tasks of the day. Prayer is the real task of the day. From that place, that deep place of prayer and contemplation and holy silence, everything else emerges from there. Without that, your vocation will cease to be real.
To tend to your prayers, David, is not to be otherworldly or somehow removed from the ordinary and the daily. Tending to your prayers and understanding your prayer life is a call to rest in God’s silence and God’s grace is to confess who you understand God to be and who you understand yourself to be in God’s creation.
We are created to be contemplatives. In silence and in contemplation, the sound of God’s grace pouring into our lives can finally be heard.
St. John of the Cross wrote, “Our greatest need is to be silent before this great God…for the only language he hears is the silent language of love.”
We do not talk God’s grace into our lives. We receive it. In a world of mindless chatter and pious slogans, David, protect and sustain those places and spaces where silence is spoken and true compassion is prayed into us by the Risen Christ.
David, I realize you are a devotee of the musical group, U2. But if you will permit me, I would like to reference Sly and the Family Stone this morning. Sly and the Family Stone had a song entitled, Plastic Jim. They sang, “Plastic Jim/will give you a conversation/to avoid a situation/that needs contemplation.”
Don’t be Plastic Jim, David. May every sermon you preach begin first in the deep silence of prayer. Be rooted in prayer and contemplation. From there, the necessary things grow, but only after a season of contemplation. From that place, your pastoral work will find its center and it will be real and fitting.
Finally, David, I want to say a word about your youngest son, Zac.
He will always be with you.
My prayer is, that for you and Lauren and Sam and Max, such a presence will be an abiding gift and not an unspeakable loss.
I have heard the writer, James Finley, say that love protects us from nothing, even as it unexplainably sustains us in all things. You know that in a deeply real way. Knowing that, I hope your priesthood will be deepened, able to hold more space for you and the Holy Spirit which will guide and enliven your vocation.
With the laying on of hands of your bishop and your fellow presbyters, the Spirit is about to make you a priest. Carry the things necessary to live out that priesthood. Remember, we believe those priestly things are a right fit for you.
Besides that, travel lightly. The journey is just beginning. AMEN.