Cathy Cox’s sermon for the consecration of Bishop Jos Tharakan, Bishop of Idaho

Dear People of God,

I hope that you are aware of what you have done by choosing my friend, Jos Tharakan, to be your bishop. 

Certainly, the people of West Missouri know, and there were many in our diocese who earnestly prayed that you would not elect him.

He didn’t seek this call, after all, and he never would have. Jos had never put his name forward for any episcopal process, anywhere. And he wouldn’t. Someone else nominated him.

And he resisted it, until finally, on the last possible day, he submitted his material to your search committee.

But then, he fell in love. I watched it happen. He researched, he perused every one of your church websites; he came to know your clergy and many of your lay leaders. And then he got excited; he felt drawn not to the episcopate in general, but to you, to Idaho, and, at the same time, Jos felt entirely unworthy to be your bishop. 

He was anxious that by proceeding, he might be answering his own desire, and not God’s. He cried. He prayed. He talked. We listened. Jos wanted only to do God’s will. That’s just how he is. And God’s will is not always easy to discern.

Finally, getting a little weary of that, some of us urged him to stop agonizing over it, but simply to let the process unfold. If God was calling him here, he’d be elected. 

If not all would be well, and we would get to keep him for ourselves.

But then you did elect him. So now you will learn to live with him. And it will be an adventure. I can guarantee you that.

Two of the scriptures that Jos chose for this service especially reflect his own life in faith, and also this particular call as he understands it.

The first is Psalm 40. As I read it, it is his story. His testimony. It was David’s first, of course; but as you have probably long ago discovered, the Word of God is alive – and those ancient words so often speak to us, and in us, and for us.

“I waited patiently upon the Lord, and he heard my cry…He put a new song in my mouth of praise…Here I am, I love to do your will, O my God…I have not concealed your love and faithfulness from the great congregation.”

For Jos, this is simply the truth. It is who he is. You can count on that.

But after today, you people of the Diocese of Idaho will share in his ministry in a new way, and so I urge you to take this as your own prayer. He will be a better bishop as you also express your trust, your praise, your confidence in God’s steadfast love, and your own willingness to say, individually and together, “Here I am – I love to do your will, O my God.”

This is not an easy time to serve God in the Church. It is not an easy time to be called a Christian, when the very word, in many cases, suggests something completely antithetical to the gospel. It is not easy to be an Episcopalian, let alone a bishop, when most people in this state – as in mine – haven’t the slightest idea what that means. It can be discouraging.

So it will require trust and hope and willingness of all of you to say, “here I am”, as together you  begin to live with him in this diocese. 

But I also want to look for a moment at the text from Isaiah. You remember that Jesus used it, too, when he first preached – It defined his vision, his understanding of his vocation, his call, his ministry.

By selecting this passage, Jos has laid out what he believes God still desires for God’s people, and what he believes is his call as your bishop.

We believe that God has sent Jos from us in Missouri who love him, to you in Idaho, including those who may or may not welcome him with open arms. He comes bearing God’s message of hope, of liberation: God’s proclamation of eternal, irresistible love, and everlasting joy. 

But Dr. Elna Solvang of Concordia College has noted that the one who is sent to bring good news to the oppressed will also, inevitably, be a controversial figure. Isaiah was. Jesus certainly was. And Jos will also be.

Anyone who brings good news to the oppressed does that, not only by preaching, but, she says, quote, “by confronting the perpetrators and the sources of oppression, marginalization, hopelessness and despair,” (end quote) – and will work with the people to effect real change for individuals, but also for the community.   

To “bind up the broken-hearted hearted,” and there are many of those, will mean to pray with those persons, and to comfort them, but then to do all he can to remove the causes of grief, to hold the heart-pieces together in love, so that what was shattered is made whole again.

To “proclaim liberty to captives, and release to the prisoners” will require that the bishop of Idaho stand firmly against whatever is opposed to the freedom and joy of God’s people, which is, of course, all of them. 

Jos will lead you in this work. But he cannot do it alone. He will need you in order to be your bishop.

It will be his privilege, but also yours, to sing out fresh hope to the alienated, the discouraged and the afraid, to the ones who can no longer dare to believe that God is as good as we know God to be, whether they are inside the Church, or waiting outside to see if we have anything to say to them.

Jos will do it; he is an expert at joy and hope.

He is, because he knows the end of the story; that the forces of darkness will finally suffer defeat.

He knows also that evil is never willing to go down quietly, and that it costs something to challenge it.

And he also knows along with the Lady Julian, that in the end – all shall be well, and all shall be well, and that however long it takes, all manner of things shall be well.  

So he isn’t afraid. His laugh is infectious, as you have probably already discovered. He can see beyond any crisis into a great future. 

And he sings. Jos is a Franciscan, after all. He has us all singing, “Make me a channel of your peace, where there is hatred let me bring your love.”  He didn’t choose it only for himself; he intends that we should all ask to be made those channels, too. 

It is your privilege to catch this vision, and to hold it up for each other even in the most difficult circumstances, so that you people of Idaho can both offer and receive, “the mantle of praise instead of a faint spirit.”

Four hundred years ago, Richard Hooker, one of our great ancestors in faith, wrote this: “As for us over whom Christ has placed bishops to be the chiefest guides and pastors of our souls, our common fault is that we look for much more than a tolerable sufficiency can yield, and much less than humanity and reason do require that we should…This cannot but breed in us perpetual discontent, and on both parts cause all things to be unpleasant.”

And so I urge you, don’t expect of him more than it is possible for anyone to be.

And also, do not ask him to be less than what the gospel requires us all to become in Christ Jesus.

Demanding perfection of your bishop will guarantee that his tenure will be “unpleasant” for him, and for you.

But asking him to compromise, to keep quiet, to settle for some easy way that rocks no boats, challenges no assumptions, a way that is less authentic than what he knows the way of love to encompass, will crush him – but it will crush your own hearts, too. 

Dear Jos, my friend and in a few minutes bishop where the courageous and first bishop, Daniel Tuttle once served, I beg you for your sake and for theirs, to be faithful to your testimony and to your vision. 

You love Mother Teresa. You knew her. You understand that it is intimacy with Jesus that makes it possible for you to be a disciple of Jesus and a preacher of Jesus, even in the darkest times when it seems that the Lord is not keeping up his end of the deal. It will still be intimacy and trust that are required of you later – when prayer is empty and dry and you are exhausted, and you wonder if any of this means anything to you at all – if any of it is even true.

You are going to be pressured to be busy. The job requires it.   

Some of that pressure will come from your own eagerness to serve your people.

I know how you work.

But never, ever, neglect this quiet intimacy, whether it is satisfying or not.

I know you well; You cannot be who you are without it.

And it is that real you whom they have elected, the real you who must now serve as bishop of this diocese. 

In a few minutes you will be asked to respond to some questions that no one but other bishops ever have to answer. They are in some ways an intensification of the baptismal promises to which we are all committed. 

But you do not get to answer, “I will, with God’s help.”  That caveat, however unintentional, can suggest that we will keep our vows only if God assists us, and, after all, God might not! 

Unless you take this last chance to walk away, you will respond simply, “I will.” 

“I will” because he is my help; “I will” for the love of God; “I will” for the sake of Christ Jesus. 

Just, “I will.” There is no escape clause here, my friend. 

You ask us to sing your commitment with you: “I want to walk as a child of the Light; I want to follow Jesus.” And we will. We are Episcopalians. We do what we’re told. We do what’s on the paper. 

But we will also do it because it is also our commitment.

But I want finally, to offer a part of a blessing written by Jan Richardson, to you who are called in a unique way to bear the Light, to walk in the Light, to follow the Light and to lead others to trust the Light who is the Lord Jesus:

“Blessed are you in whom the Light lives,

in whom the brightness blazes –

your heart a chapel,

an altar where in the deepest night

can be seen the fire that shines forth in you,

an unaccountable faith,

in stubborn hope,

in love that illumines every broken thing it finds”

Amen

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