This afternoon, we pause in the midst of our business to say, on behalf of the Presbytery and the Presbyterian Church (USA), thank you to a scholar, an educator and a pastor who has consistently and courageously fulfilled her ordination vow to serve the people of God with energy, intelligence, imagination and love.
Today, this body recognizes the honorable retirement of the Rev. Dr. Nora Tubbs Tisdale.
While other institutions have offered thanks for Nora’s influential academic writings and her highly-regarded work in seminary classrooms, it is this body’s responsibility to thank Nora for her labors on behalf of the church.
I have known Nora for 30 years. In reflecting on how best to say thank you, I have chosen a tried-and-true homiletical format. Today, I want to offer tribute to Nora with three points and a poem.
Rev. Tisdale, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church, I thank you for your heart for justice—a heart that has guided you (and guided us) throughout your years of faithful ministry. Whenever I have been blessed to work with you, I have been strengthened by your concern for the welfare of all God’s people and God’s beloved creation.
Nora, throughout your career, at every juncture, you have stood up for the gospel by beckoning people deeper into conversations where holy challenge, reconciliation, and yes, redemption are possible. This is clear in your writing. It has been clear in your teaching and praying and preaching and living.
You have blessed the church, pastor, with your heart for justice. Thank you.
Rev. Tisdale, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church, I want thank you for the gift of your prayers. When you came to Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, your strength and wisdom were needed in ways no one anticipated. You are remembered by the congregation I serve for your leadership, your preaching and your praying ways.
Over the years, you have given voice, again and again and again, to people’s concerns and confusions, to their ailments and anxieties, to their hopes and joys. You have lifted people up to God. You have connected the faithful with the Spirit—the One Jesus called “the Holy Comforter.”
You have blessed the church, pastor, with your prayers. Thank you.
Rev. Tisdale, on behalf of the Presbyterian Church, I want thank you for the gift of your joy. From the first time I met Nora at Princeton Seminary, to regular encounters at the Academy of Homiletics, to visiting with the good professor and her husband, Al, at Yale Divinity School, to working on a book and other projects together, I have been continually blessed by one aspect of Nora—her laugh. Nora may laugh more than anyone I know.
Over the years, I have come to view her laughter as a holy thing—as a sign that no matter how many horrible stories may rest heavy on our souls, God is God, and (because God is God) in the end, love will win out and joy will reign.
You have blessed the church, pastor, with your joy. Thank you.
And now for the poem. This one comes from Mary Oliver, whose loss many of us felt so keenly this past spring. In a way, this poem captures much that Nora has taught me, and has gifted to the church. It is entitled, “Don’t Hesitate.”
If you suddenly and unexpectedly feel joy,
don’t hesitate. Give in to it. There are plenty
of lives and whole towns destroyed or about
to be. We are not wise, and not very often
kind. And much can never be redeemed.
Still, life has some possibility left. Perhaps this
is its way of fighting back, that sometimes
something happens better than all the riches
or power in the world. It could be anything,
but very likely you notice it in the instant
when love begins. Anyway, that’s often the
case. Anyway, whatever it is, don’t be afraid
of its plenty. Joy is not made to be a crumb.
Congratulations on a wonderful career, my friend. I give thanks to God for you and the beautiful and joyful way you have pursued your calling. To you and Al, I wish a long life, health, and happiness together. And let all God’s people say, “Amen.”