Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Timely Old Sermon

About a year and a half ago, I was asked to preach at the Service of Renewal of Ordination Vows for my Diocese. I ran accross my notes again today and found its message is just as timely as it was then. It was just what I needed to hear again. Hope so for you too... JR+

I speak to you in the name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

My brothers and sisters, I want to thank you for the opportunity to be here with you and to share with you what I believe God has placed upon my heart. In this very room, hundreds of years of experience in ministry, prayer, and faithful service come together to remember our own corporate calling as ordained ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. To be honest, for me to be asked to preach today is a truly humbling moment; and there is one word that comes to mind: FEAR!

But that’s OK too! Fear is a big part of ministry, as we all know. Fear comes to us in many ways:

* Fear of our acceptance among peers,
* The real fear that next year YOU may be asked to preach on this occasion.
* Fear of wondering if our dreams and desires for the people we serve will be received,
* The fear in wondering if what we do in the service of Christ will make any difference (that’s called Gethsemane!)
* Fear in walking with our God and walking into places where He calls us to go… We know that as FAITH...

… And yet the fear that leads us to faith leads us also to courage – courage to face the unknown and to do the great things God has called each of us to do.

Nearly a year ago, when I began my ministry at All Saints’ in Bakersfield, I began with a well known passage of scripture “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And that “Fear of the Lord” is all about “Awe” – not a sense being scared – but knowing the awesome power of the true God – the one God – who leads, guides, and inspires us to do great things in His holy name. And I am certain that each one of us in our ministry experiences have witnessed the great actions of God! Those moments when God was so real and present that you knew He was doing a “great thing.” (Holy is His Name!)

Think back to your own ordination day – the first one (perhaps your only one) – when all of us who are ordained began as deacons. Some of us were deacons for a seemingly short time; others of us were to find this as our life’s vocation. Still others of us are searching out our next calling. Yet, ALL of us began as servants – willing to go where God called us!

What were your dreams then? What were your fears then? Maybe there were dreams of wearing a “purple shirt” someday? (God forbid! At least for me.) Or maybe to have widely spread respect – or power? Or maybe if not these things, simply to serve Jesus Christ faithfully no matter what?

What was the good work that began in you to bring you to THIS very moment? And if you or I were to know then what we know now – would we still answer before a bishop and the people we serve the question: Do you believe God has called you … as a deacon… as a priest… as a bishop? And answer: “I believe I am so called”? I hope your answer is still YES! For, unfortunately we all know there is a difference between being a “so called” deacon, priest, or bishop – and being REAL! The difference of course is how the Kingdom of God is measured: not by power or position – but in abiding, obedience, and service. Whatever our dreams may once have been – God’s desire was first to make us servants – as He did his own Son – and as His servants we are his friends.

Perhaps even more importantly are the questions: What are your dreams now? What are your fears now? If there is one thing for sure, the culture we live in, the times we experience, the “world” (as St. Paul speaks of it) is a place that masters the art of fear! And St. Paul reminds us “Do not be conformed to the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds.” Elsewhere, in Ephesians, in another very popular “ordination” proper, we are told:

Eph 4:14 - 15 (NRSV) We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Doctrine of course is something we are steeped in – from our seminary educations and our own personal journeys. But as we are also well aware, there are plenty of moments that happen – God moments – that our seminary educations didn’t prepare us for...

* Like when the wafer falls down the cleavage of the low-cut blouse.
* Like when an elderly woman’s denture slips out into the chalice – and she walks away!
* Or like the time when you are visiting another parish – and the rector intending to make a very important illustration regarding Good and Evil comes out wearing a black cape and a Darth Vader helmet – and someone from the congregation calls out, “It’s bishop Spong!”
(That by the way was one of the best sermons I’ve ever heard!)

But there are other moments too…
* Like when someone responds and gives their life to Christ, or
* When our presence at a hospital bed, or in a living room, brought comfort and healing.
* When we anoint the sick and they actually get better!

Or when through our preaching and teaching a new understanding of God is understood.
Or when we prayed for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit – and they received Him.
Or even new insights into the mystery of God – like the time when a father brought his child to me after Eucharist. And the six-year old asks, “When you break the bread I see sparks fly. How do you do that?”

These things happen not because we are good, but because God is good! It is in these moments when our priesthood – whether we are laity, Bishops, Priests, or Deacons – the priesthood of ALL believers – shines. Why? Because as Jesus says: “You did not choose me, but I chose you!”

It is clear in God’s Word that God desires of us both maturity and variety. God wants for ALL of His children to mature in faith; and by the power of the Holy Spirit to discover and mature in the variety of gifts He has created in and bestowed upon us:
* Prophecy in proportion to faith
* Ministry in ministering;
* The Teacher in teaching
* The exhorter, the giver, the leader, the compassionate… And the healer, the evangelist, the pastor, and even… the apostle.

So we come here today to renew our vows – to renew our various calls to ministry – as servants of the One True God – in His One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. This calling does not come to us because we earned it, or desired it, or chose it originally; but because Jesus chose us first.

None of us can do that alone – we were not meant to. To be made new means at least to make sure that we are nourished by the Source – the Vine – who is Jesus Christ. The “power word” in our Gospel is “abide. Jesus says “abide in my love” just as He abides in His Father’s love. What does that mean?

My Greek Lexicon defines “abide” as "meno": to stay (in a given place, state, relation or expectancy):—abide, continue, dwell, endure, be present, remain, stand…

Whichever, word works for you let that be your encouragement to stay and abide in Christ – and keep on, keepin’ on. Or as St. Paul would say (in the Message paraphrase translation):

I appeal to you brothers and sisters….
…. Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.[1]

[So] let’s just go ahead and be what we were made to be, without enviously or pridefully comparing ourselves with each other, or trying to be something we aren’t. If you preach, just preach God’s Message, nothing else; if you help, just help, don’t take over; if you teach, stick to your teaching; if you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don’t get bossy; if you’re put in charge, don’t manipulate; if you’re called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond; if you work with the disadvantaged, don’t let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. [2]

Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply... Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, 12cheerfully expectant. Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.[3]

And by the Love of our Heavenly Father, the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, by the Power of the Holy Spirit, may THAT be true for us today and in the days to come.


[1] Rom 12:1 - 2 (TMSG)
[2] Rom 12:6 - 8 (TMSG)
[3] Rom 12:9 - 13 (TMSG)

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