There is something perfect about having the Ember Days, that time of praying for various orders of ministry in the life of the church, in the same week with St. Thomas the Apostle's saint day, and leading into Christmas, the celebration of the birth of Christ into our world to stir up the pot.
Anyone who has ever felt called by God to step up to the plate of ordained ministry ought to have some serious doubts about it. It is asking you to put aside your ego and become a countercultural force of Love in the face of an often unloving and unrewarding world. In that way, I sometimes think LGBT people are uniquely qualified for ordination because we already know what it means to face this obstacle because we do it daily, churched or unchurched. And because of the walls of prejudice we queer Christians have faced within the church community, is it any wonder that so many of us have become like Thomas, doubting Christ and his resurrected self, especially when he comes a callin'?
This is also a time of great doubt in the world. The shooting rampages in a mall in Portland, Oregon, and then the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, shook the nation and grieved us all during this time when we are preparing for joy and celebration. How can there be joy amidst tragedy? We also sit on the edge of what they call "the fiscal cliff," yet-another breakdown in relations between the White House and Congress that throws several social welfare programs, including funding for teen suicide prevention hotlines, into doubt (talk about something that will hurt our LGBT youth the most!)
And it is with this backdrop that we hear the collect of St. Thomas today:
Everliving God, who strengthened your apostle Thomas with
firm and certain faith in your Son's resurrection: Grant us so
perfectly and without doubt to believe in Jesus Christ, our
Lord and our God, that our faith may never be found wanting
in your sight; through him who lives and reigns with you and
the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I would imagine that as bells toll across the nation in remembrance of the children and staff of Sandy Hook Elementary, some of what we ask for in this collect may feel particularly poignant for us. For those who turn to Christ, these are the times when we are looking more and more for the strength to believe that, even when everything seems like it's coming undone, our faith will see us through. Holding fast to that idea is mocked and scorned by many. And there have been those times in my life when the weight of the world was so heavily on my shoulders, and I did not believe that God was there to share that burden; in fact, I believed God was the cause of the burden. So, I have a particular soft-spot in my heart for those who doubt and need to see with their own eyes and through their own touch that the grace of God and the redemption offered through Christ is real. Once Thomas had discerned that this really was Jesus resurrected before him, he believed. And I think that is the lesson Thomas leaves for us; once we've been tapped by God, we can not return to a state of non-belief.
Which brings me back round to this Ember Day period. If God is yanking on your collar to put you in a collar, the response to that needs to be one of faith. Because it is that ultimate act of total dependence on God to see you through which is the foundation of what I believe is necessary in following a call to ordained ministry. We don't have the benefit of being able to place our fingers in the wounds of Jesus, but our faith, tested and refined by God through our journeys, tells us this is real and He comes to liberate us from our doubt and fear. To those who live in places where your particular God-given make up gives the Church pause: take heart and have faith. God looks for the weird ones to carry on this task of spreading God's Love, and sometimes the starting place needs to be in the Church itself.
O God, you led your holy apostles to ordain ministers in every
place: Grant that your Church, under the guidance of the Holy
Spirit, may choose suitable persons for the ministry of Word
and Sacrament, and may uphold them in their work for the
extension of your kingdom; through him who is the Shepherd
and Bishop of our souls, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and
reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and