On July 2 at the House for All Sinners and Saints, a barefooted Asher O’Callaghan became a pastor. If Lutherans were theologically inclined to argue about who is inside and who is outside of God’s love, or if the answer weren’t enshrined in the name of this Denver ELCA congregation, the service might have taken more time to explain why Asher’s ordination was unique.
Despite the diversity of hairstyles, outfits, tattoos and gender identities, a remarkably traditional service continued with incense and chanting. As Nadia Bolz-Weber’s sermon ended, rain began showering down outside the sanctuary. Instantly, the thick, humid air transformed into an atmospheric “aha” moment.
At the climax of the litany of vows read by Bishop Jim Gonia of the ELCA Rocky Mountain Synod, the heavens crackled with a mighty fulmination. The congregation gasped and chuckled in response to the lightening, and a pastor near me could be heard whispering: “That was the moment of ordination. God surely is present in this place.”
Some may view the ordination of a talented, openly transgender, pastor as a step away from Lutheran tradition. Still, it is a remarkable reminder of the ancient encounter with a bolt of lightning that made Asher’s ordination possible.
Lightning struck so close to Marin Luther that it threw him to the ground as he vowed to become a monk. The years following this natural intervention sent Luther on a very conservative journey in one of the most traditional orders.
Then Luther had an aha moment that would change the course of Christian history. Luther began to realize that it was Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, not exact-rule following that would reconcile us with God.
Asher’s ordination is one of the ways that our Lutheran church continues to have aha moments that stretch our assumptions as God’s love proves over and over to be bigger than we imagined.
For those who are inspired by Asher’s ordination, I hope you know that the Lutheran church has space for you. After all, God’s abundant welcome, is even older than lightning.
For those who are ruffled by Asher’s ordination and think the church is drifting from the good-ole days of Lutheranism, I leave you with the sending blessing from Asher’s ordination:
“May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
“May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
“May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and their pain may turn to joy.
“And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done. Amen.”