Gay Jennings: ‘Called into Divine Service’

The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio | Wikipedia

By Neva Rae Fox

The Rev. Gay Clark Jennings talked about service to God and to others during Monday Prayer on Saturday. In her final sermon as president of the House of Deputies, she focused on the painting The Calling of St. Matthew by Caravaggio.

“I want to offer a simple prayer that you, like Matthew, may know what it is to be called into divine service, and that you may also know what it is to call others,” she said. “Remember, though, that when you tell someone to follow you, you need to be going somewhere. A movement requires a direction.”

Jennings reflected on the many changes that have occurred in the church during her tenure.

“I was thrilled and honored to be in the chair when the House of Deputies approved the resolutions that made marriage equality a reality in most of the dioceses of our church in 2015,” she said. “I was gratified by the work I helped initiate through the #MeToo committee that served in advance of the 2018 General Convention. And I am in hopes that the creation of the Episcopal Coalition for Racial Equity and Justice, through the passage of Resolution A125, will be among the most significant actions this church has ever taken.”

She is also proud of growing diversity in the church in the past 10 years. “The houses of General Convention are more racially diverse than they have ever been. A new generation of young leaders is on the rise in our legislative committees — thanks in part, I would like to think, to the creation of additional leadership positions, which I filled exclusively with younger deputies.”

Caravaggio’s painting appeared on-screen as Jennings spoke about it in her recorded sermon.

“Sometimes an image makes visible lessons we don’t necessarily find in a text, no matter how many times we have read it,” she said. Jennings said four things in the painting “jump out at me.”

First, “Jesus goes into dangerous places. Jesus was in danger before her got there.”

Second, “Jesus does not get everyone’s attention. Not all eyes are on him.”

Next, “Jesus interrupts people. This painting captures an intrusion.”

Addressing a current societal trend, Jennings said, “Even in God’s presence, people can decide that they have other things to do, other commitments to maintain, other business to transact. It probably goes without saying that at various times in our lives, we have all been such people.”

She added, “I am not suggesting that every call to follow Jesus is sudden and dramatic. I am only saying that the promptings of God are often unexpected and dislocating.”

Her last lesson from the painting is that “God calls seemingly unpromising people into divine service.”

Jennings challenged the assembly: “When the divine comes into your midst, are you crouched and defensive, ready with your weapon? Are you wary like the boy in gold and red, who is leaning against the bearded man for protection? Do you sense the significance of the moment but wonder if God could possibly be calling you? Do you find yourself unable to pay proper attention because you are so focused on the task at hand? Or do you find that you can’t take your eyes off things you can count?”

COVID and health regulations prompted the House of Deputies and House of Bishops to worship separately, using the same readings and sharing the sermon video feed.

In the House of Deputies, Morning Prayer was presented mostly in Spanish with the readings and Prayers of the People in English. The Rev. Bryan Alexis Vélez-Garcia of the Diocese of Puerto Rico was the officiant.

In the House of Bishops, the Rev. Ricardo Bailey and the Very Rev. Miguelina Howell were the officiants.

At the Holy Eucharist scheduled for Sunday, Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton of the Diocese of Maryland will preach.

Bishop Griselda Delgado of the Diocese of Cuba will celebrate in the House of Bishops. The Rev. Dr. Ruth Meyers of the Diocese of California will celebrate in the House of Deputies.


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