A Sermon for
the 50th Anniversary
in the Priesthood
"For Canon Karl Tufts" - Let us Now Praise Famous Men
By Dr. Robert Crouse
"Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and bring forth a saviour." (Isa. 45:8)"Drop down, ye heavens from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, and bring forth a saviour." This ancient Advent introit, which is also the introit verse for the Feast of the Conception of St. Mary, speaks of the descent of the word of God, and of a world made fruitful by his Incarnation. For thus saith the Lord:"As the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth: it shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the things whereunto I sent it" (Isa. 55:10-11)Thus the Prophet Isaiah proclaimed the mystery of the word of God: it is like the rain and snow from heaven, which make fruitful the parched and barren earth. Just so, God's word goes forth into all the world, and makes that world fruitful in spiritual life, in words and deeds of truth and grace, "seed to the sower, and bread to the eater"; and thus man lives most truly "by every word that proceedeth from the mouth of God".
But just what is this dropping down of the heavens, this storm of grace, which is the substance of our Advent proclamation? What is this word of God that goeth forth, and will not return void, this word that endures for ever, though the powers of heaven be shaken, though heaven and earth must pass away? It is the inspiration of the prophet, and the vision of the seer, expressed in human words; and thus we speak of Holy Scripture as the word of God: God's word written. But ultimately, the word of God is nothing less than God himself. "In the beginning was the word", says St. John, "and the word was with God, and the word was God". The word is God's own eternal and complete self-knowledge, the perfect self-uttering of God himself; the speech of God, which is not other than God himself. The word is the Son of God; the word of his power, the brightness of his glory, the express image of his person; as our creed expresses it: "God from God, Light from Light, Very God from Very God".
The word of God is eternal, and eternally goes forth within the life of God himself. In the life of God, the Holy Trinity, God's word, his Son, his own self-knowing, is eternally begotten. And the word of God goes forth in all creation: "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, and all the host of them by the breath of his mouth". That word is the life of every creature, and "the light that lighteneth every creature, and "the light that lighteneth every man", in all the world, from the beginning. And in Redemption, the word of God goes forth, made flesh, to dwell amongst us, that we might behold his glory, "the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
The rain of grace descends, and the barren furrows of the parched earth open. As the rain cometh down from heaven, and watereth the earth, just so the word of God in us must fructify the earth in all the varied circumstances of human life, in every time and place; must make the earth bring forth and bud with spiritual life, with words of truth and deeds of holy charity. In the Church's life, the word of God goes forth and does not return void. The word of God goes forth, in words and sacraments, in signs and wonders, in mercy and in judgement, and is expressed in a myriad of callings, according to the division of the Spirit's gifts. There must be poet and prophet, and pastor and teacher, and artist and craftsman, and all those walks of life which we sometimes dare to call "ordinary". Only by an infinite diversity can we begin to imitate the infinite unity of God; only thus the word in us fills all things, in every aspect of creation, and returns it all in praise of God. "It shall not return to me void," says the Lord.
The ministry of the word is the ministry of all of us, in a vast diversity of callings; and among those callings isthe sacred ministry of priest, who are ordained to exercise certain functions in the Church. Those functions are manifold, of course, but they are first of all defined liturgically. It is the office of the Christian priest to celebrate in word and sacrament the all-sufficient sacrifice of Christ, and to pronounce the forgiveness and the peace which flow from the atonement. But these liturgical acts must not be isolated: they are signs and patterns of a way of life which is profoundly pastoral. To proclaim the word of God means to live the word of God in teaching and example, to build up, to edify the body of the Lord; to pronounce God's absolution implies in every way a seeking for the healing of that body's wounds; to offer up the eucharist means to gather in and offer up ourselves, our souls and bodies, to refer all life and every aspect of it to its spiritual end in God.
Thus the word of God goes forth in every aspect of our common life, and thus the word of God returns in the transformation and uplifting of that life. The word of God goes forth and does not return empty. "My word which goeth forth shall not return to me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it". Thus says the Lord, and his word is true and faithful. His purposes do not for one moment fail nor falter, however inscrutable to us their working out. Who has skill to reckon the providence of God: that watchful providence according to which not a sparrow falleth without your heavenly Father; that perfect knowing in which every hair of the head is numbered? It is the mark of God's omnipotent goodness, as St. Thomas remarks, that even from our evil, he makes good to come. Even our stupid mistakes, and even our sins may be, as St. Paul observes, occasions of more abundant grace. In the end, we come to bless our tribulations, and trust more perfectly in God's will. As our Gospel lesson puts it, it is really in the moment of worldly ruin and desolation that we lift up our heads, and behold redemption drawing nigh.
God's word accomplishes his purposes; of that we may be sure, although we are in no way competent to measure that accomplishment. Our task, rather, is faithful witness - faithful stewardship of the mystery of God's word. As St. Paul puts it in next week's Epistle lesson, "It is required in stewards that a man be found faithful." That is, indeed, the whole of our calling, and our entire task as Christians" faithful stewardship of the mystery. And so it is that here this morning we join our celebrant in giving thanks to God for half a century of steadfast faithful stewardship in the priestly ministry of the Church.
I've had to promise not to say nice things about the celebrant, and I shall keep that promise. Indeed, no eulogy is necessary, and this gathering is in itself a most eloquent testimonial. But I think I remain within the spirit of my promise if I conclude with a few words from John Donne:Amen. +
"I glorify God much in the gifts of the man,
but I glorify God much more in the gifts of
his grace; I am glad to have heard the man,
but I am gladder I have heard God in him;
I am happy that I have heard those words,
but thrice happy that in those words
I have heard the word."
+ + + + + + + + + + +
Back to Sermons Page.