Rev. Sarah Jackson Shelton and I were classmates at seminary, she was my pastor when I was a member of the Baptist Church of the Covenant, and the officiant at my wedding to Mary Bea Sullivan. Most recently, she was the preacher at my ordination as a priest in the Episcopal Church. Thank you Sarah Jackson Shelton for who you are. (Photos are by Blake Britton). The bulletin for the service can be seen here. An article in the Birmingham News can be read here.
Rev. Sarah Jackson Shelton (Photo by Blake Britton)
This feels really different, Malcolm. The difference is not because you are becoming an Episcopalian. The difference is not because we are in a hospital. No, the difference is that most of the ordinations in which I am asked to participate are for recent seminary graduates awaiting their first pulpit. They have only had their orthodontia removed a few months while you, Malcolm, you are on your third round of reading glasses! Maybe that is why the mantle of this service feels so seriously joyful.
You KNOW to what you are committing: the long hours, the minimal salary, the delight of unexpected inspiration, the constant heartache of loving people, and the amazing grace involved in forgiveness and acceptance. If ever there were a shepherd who is compassionately willing to bear the burdens of his flock, it is you, Malcolm.
You and I were raised uniquely in order to receive this calling. Our fathers were not only colleagues in ministry, but they were friends. Because of their absolute conviction of calling and devotion to ministry, they modeled for us what it meant to be anointed and clothed with righteousness. Their willingness to teach and bear good news, to be laborers in fields white with harvest, grew within us the insatiable longing to be like the elders in Numbers and the shepherds as mentioned in Matthew and I Peter.
Because of Lamar Jackson and Lewis Marler, you and I, Malcolm, knew and understood one another long before we ever even met.
Technically we met at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as students. And while I have memories of you before that fateful January, I think the only class we ever had together was that January term class that was taught by Jim Blevins and Alan Culpepper. It just so happened that our classroom was in Israel, where we worshipped in temples and walked the hills of Galilee.
I remember one day in particular that had us sitting on a hillside looking down to the Sea of Galilee. Dr. Blevins was reminding us of how Jesus gathered his disciples around him in similar fashion. That as He tried to teach, the crowds interrupted. Jesus was ever-ready to cure their every disease and heal their every sickness. Then, as we considered how Jesus proclaimed the good news, these verses were read:
5:1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him.
5:2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
5:3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
5:7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
5:8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
5:10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
5:11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.
5:12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
5:13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything, but is thrown out and trampled under foot.
5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hid.
5:15 No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house.
5:16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.
Sarah sharing salt with Malcolm (Photo by Blake Britton)
After reading, Dr. Blevins reached into his overcoat and took out a box of salt. He poured it into each of our hands to encourage us to allow it to season and bring flavor to our ministry. Not only have you done that, Malcolm, I know that you will continue to do so.
Like salt, you, Malcolm, will be a preservative that keeps the traditions of the church and faith with integrity.
Like the presence of salt in tears, you, Malcolm, will weep with the sorrowful and laugh with the joyful.
Like salt, you, Malcolm will continue to be just the right amount of seasoning to keep hope alive in the despairing and comfort to the bereaved. But beware, you may also be the salt that sends blood pressures soaring for those who prefer flatness and blandness, control and manipulation, you may be their heartburn.
Like salt, you, Malcolm will promote healing in the sick, lost and lonely.
Allow salt to make you thirsty for righteousness, justice and faith, and may your deep parching provide a model for others to desire and thus quench.
Allow salt to rise on your forehead as you perspire from the rigors of work and play.
Use salt as the medium that keeps your body in balance so that you remain healthy for service.
And in keeping with such phrases as “you’re just an old salt,” do not lose sight of how you season our world with your humor, graciousness, wisdom and sometimes, frankness.
You are the salt of the earth, Malcolm. Take a pinch and put it on your tongue. Now, go and be it. Amen.