June 18, 2014

The Installation of Jimmy Grace


The band of travelers in The Wizard of Oz all have the thing they are missing - they just don’t know they have it. For each of them it is the one thing essential for life to be full and rich. For each of them it is the missing piece that keeps them somewhere short of complete. It is this fact - that they have a crucial missing piece - that draws them together into a rag-tag band of misfits on a quest to find a wizard - the Wizard. They believe he can work the power of magic to fix them, to make them whole, so they can get on with the business of life.

You know the story. Dorothy is carried into a strange land - the Land of Oz - by a tornado, and she sets off on a dangerous adventure against impossible odds to find a way back home. Along the way she picks up three companions with holes in their lives.  The Scarecrow has no brain, only a head filled with straw. The Tin Woodsman has no heart, only an empty, hollow can that forms his torso. The Lion has no courage with which to be the King of the Forrest. And Dorothy? Dorothy has the most tragic missing piece of all; Dorothy has no home.

They even have a song about it. I call it the “If Only Song.” If I only had a brain… If I only had a heart… If I only had the nerve. And Dorothy’s verse is the most plaintive of all, “If I only had a home.” They cannot move forward. They are broken - stuck - by their inadequacy - the things they don’t have.

And so they come together on a journey to find the wizard who can fill their needs. And, of course, the only way they can meet the challenges that stand in their way is to use the very things they are seeking. It is the Scarecrow who does all the planning. He points to his head of straw and says, "I have an idea.” It is the Tin Woodsman who cries at the slightest provocation. He is the one who provides the feeling, the emotions - the love if you will - that binds them together. It is the Lion who is at the front of every battle.  Scott Peck once said that courage is not the absence of fear. “The absence of fear, “he said, “is brain dead. Courage is action in the face of fear.” The Lion whines and trembles but does what has to be done. He leads the charge.

And it is Dorothy who pulls it all together. It is Dorothy who provides the center around which they can gather and share their thought and hopes and fears. It is Dorothy who makes wherever they are into something very much like a home.

The Wizard turns out to be a humbug. He has no magic, and he can work no miracles.  His tricks are just that, tricks done with smoke and mirrors, sound systems and amplified voices. The Wizard is a gimmick, and like so many, if not all, gimmicks he cannot produce what he promises.

The Wizard cannot heal - he has no magic - but like all the rest of us, he does have a gift. Maybe he has only one gift, but even if that is true, it is an important one. The Wizard can name things. He can see what is as plain as the nose on your face, but beyond just seeing, he can call its name and in naming, he calls it forward. I used to say that Scott Peck’s gift was his ability to put into words what you already knew to be true; you just didn’t know you knew it.

And so the Wizard names the gifts of head and heart and soul with symbols that mark them and make them tangible - a diploma, a testimonial, a medal of valor.

Dorothy is a bit more of a challenge. Her journey is the deepest of all, for she seeks the knowledge that where her heart is, there is home. She seeks herself. It takes a little longer and cannot be discovered simply by naming a country or a state or an address. You can’t get there in a hot air balloon or an airplane or all the tricks known to and tried by men and women.

There is another character in the story who watchers this band of seekers and gives them the comfort and strength of her presence. She isn’t really a part of the story, at least not in the same way as the others. She is transcendent. She comes from outside the story, above the story. Her name is Glenda, the good witch. (I never can remember from which point on the compass she comes.) I may be pushing the metaphor too far and stretching it to fit my own bias, but I don’t think it is an accident that Glenda’s name begins with a capital “G”. It is Glenda that tells Dorothy that she has always had the power of home within her. She just had to trust it. It is Glenda who intervenes with love.

It is, I believe, a parable of life. And perhaps on this occasion of a new beginning for Jimmy Grace and for St. Andrew’s it is a parable of life for this place as well. That we come here seeking something beyond ourselves is a given. We come seeking to find and be found by God. The seeking is not an end in itself. We come to join together on a journey of faith and mission so that our lives may be transformed by the risen Christ, and so that we may transform the world around us. Our mission is no more and no less than to change the world. It really doesn’t matter if we accomplish that mission in a day or in a life time. That isn’t the point. It is the reaching that draws the Kingdom of God closer.

And how could we possibly be ready for a calling as big as that? Surely we are too small, too poor, our voices too weak. Surely we are missing too many essential things.  There are too many holes.

I don’t know what gifts you have. I know something of Jimmy’s many gifts for I have had the blessing of walking a short piece of our journeys together. But I don’t know the people of St. Andrew’s. I don’t know your gifts.

But I know this: I know that you all have gifts. I know it because God has declared it to be so. And more than that, I know that all the necessary gifts are here. I know that, because Jesus charged a rag-tag band of followers to change the world. And look what they did.

I don’t know about the Diocese of Texas, but in the larger Episcopal Church beyond our borders, for the past 40 or so years in my experience of ordained parish ministry there has been a conversation - off and on - about what to call an event like this. Many years ago in most places it was called, “The Institution of a New Rector.” Most people, it was said, didn’t know what that meant. It sounded like establishing a set of laws and placing the rector in some institutional hierarchy. And maybe it was. But it sounded strangely like someone being institutionalized. And maybe it was, but the name didn’t last anyway.

Gradually the title shifted to “installation.” We began to install new rectors. That wasn’t much better; you install kitchen cabinets and refrigerators. Most places I know of have now abandoned that title as well.

Whatever you think of the “New Prayer Book” - I’ve been around so long that I still think of it as the “New Prayer Book - got this one right. It is the “Celebration of a New Ministry.” All the other names - institution, installation, coronation, and investiture - all make the mistake of focusing on an individual - the rector. It becomes - at least at a subconscious level - about authority and the privileges of office. And while those things may be real, and even at times important, the focus misses the point.

This evening is not about Jimmy Grace. It is about the people of God - all the people of God who call themselves St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church. The ministry of this church belongs to all of you. The authority of ministry is not in ordination or installation. The authority is in baptism.

It is easy to fall into the trap of seeking a wizard - or worse yet, casting Jimmy in the role of magician. Remember, the wizard is a humbug. Jimmy Grace will not solve all the challenges that face St. Andrew’s. He has no magic to offer you. He needs you as much as you need him. And you need him as much as he needs you. By himself he can do very little. Together you can change the world. And that is, indeed, something to celebrate.

“This is my commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another.  Abide in my love.  I appointed you that you may grow and bear fruit.”