First, as before I begin, please take a look at the women sitting up here, who are leading worship this morning, these wonderful women who have walked with Rev. Sue for so much of her journey.I’m recalling that the last time I was here with you we heard of the Syro-Phoenician woman, a woman who spoke truth to power, a woman who had a voice, and used it, and who would not be gainsayed.And here are these wonderful women, her descendants in the spirit. It’s so exciting for us to bear witness to this today.
Our worship opened this morning with a beautiful and wonderful hymn which brought most of us to tears, I think— so beautifully sung by all of you and the choir. Here I am, Lord. One short phrase—Here I am–an answer, a hope, a possibility, a commitment.
In the Hebrew scriptures this response, “Here I am”, appears in moments of holy encounter, when God addresses persons— quite often ordinary persons who don’t necessarily expect it. God arrives, or an angel of the Lord speaks, or whispers, a divine word beckons, sometimes in dreams, or visions, or in the middle of daily life. The divine calls them out of the life they have known and into a new path, or a new task.
If that person, answers with this ancient response, Here I am, everything changes. Even if the outward situation doesn’t change, the person’s inner world, inner compass, inner guidance will never be the same. When it appears this in the bible as a response to God, here I am has do with showing up with all of ourselves—the fullness of ourselves. It is not merely a statement of being here, “present,” like a roll call of attendance—it is rather statement of Presence, my full attention to what is happening, full awareness, a response of readiness. In some ways, it is a statement of faith or trust, because often when someone responds this way, we might not realize what is going to happen. We often don’t know where that Here I am will take us. It’s a response that says, I am available to you—I am present to you. It implies a listening vulnerability, an openness, an open heartedness. Someone saying “Here I am” is ready to engage what comes.
And I want to propose today, that the person whom you are installing today, as your settled pastor, Reverend Sue, is a person who has said, and continues to say, here I am, as fully as possible–to God, to you. She is a person who has made herself available in the fullest way to the call of the divine, to the call of love, compassion, and service.
In his letter to Romans this morning, Paul directs his siblings in faith to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, as a spiritual act of worship. This act of saying “Here I am,” of showing up as fully as possible, fully present, of making oneself available to transformation in the renewal of mind and heart, for the sake of genuine love of God and neighbor, THAT is the living sacrifice, in the form of a generous offering of full presence, attention and readiness.
I don’t need to go through a list of Rev. Sue’s accomplishments this morning for us to know that. You have already seen those when you invited her to be your pastor. You called her last year just before the pandemic, before anyone knew what was coming.
We all have experienced her wise, steady, compassionate leadership through these last 22 months, in one of the most difficult times to be a faith community, learning on our feet, all of us,how to be church in this time. Rev. Sue has exemplified a capable gracious willingness to imagine being church in new ways—and you, as a congregation have responded, too, so beautifully, with an answer—‘here we are!’
You have always responded with presence and readiness, willingness, openness, compassion, and kindness. There are people here this morning who have known Rev. Sue longer than we have here on Cape Ann, or in this congregation. We are so glad they are here today to celebrate—friends and teachers, spiritual companions, family, her son, her beloved husband, all who have walked with Rev. Sue on her journey, who have come with her to this moment, of affirmation of this ministry. And they know, what we know, what we have seen, too. She is a woman with a wide vision of the inclusive love of God, and she lives that vision. She carries a sense of the One Spirit whose breath breathes through all of us, a sense of the oneness of creation—our kinship, our relations with one another, with all creatures, and beings—her ministry has embodied that, her willingness to meet persons where they are, with respect for their truths.
As an interfaith colleague, she offered her wisdom and skill in some of our most difficult times in this community as we tried to address local and national communal crises, and now this pandemic. She is one who speaks truth to power, who holds fast to what is good. She has an ardent, prophetic spirit. We knew, as you all do, that we could count on her insights, her thoughtfulness, her gentleness, her leadership. We know her as a person of integrity. We delighted with you, when she was called to be your pastor here, that she would be with us all on Cape Ann for a while, and with you, as Annisquam Village Church, in your mission, with its breadth and depth of commitment to inclusion, to hospitality, to compassion and service. She shares your desire to be, as Paul writes in Romans, a communityof genuine love, peaceable, living in harmony, extending hospitality, patient, persevering, serving neighbor.
I share your gratitude this morning for your pastor, Rev. Sue Koehler-Arsenault, and gratitude for you in your ministry, for what you have been and have done, and will do together. May each of you engage your gifts, according to the grace given to you knowing that you who are many, are members of one body of Love, that you belong to God, and to each other.
As you make your covenant this morning together, dear Rev. Sue, and this congregation, may you rejoice in hope, may you say yes, together, here I am.