Friday, January 29, 2010

Sermon on the ministry of Priesthood: The Rev. Dean Lawrence's Ordination

Many of you probably do not know that Dean sang and led music at JoAnne’s and my marriage. You also probably do not know that he and I are a song writing duo: Dean and Doyle or D2.

I remember Dean playing the guitar under the pine trees, I was writing down lyrics. It became a favorite that year. To this day we are apt to sing it in our car, as my family and I do, recalling the great Camp Allen oldies but goodies: Kumbaya, One Tin Soldier, and Pass it On, or the more serious songs like Hagalena Magalena, Father Abraham, A Boom Chic-a-Boom. The song goes like this:
Dean Dean Jelly Bean, Dean Dean Jelly Bean, Watermelon on my head, Watermelon on my head. Aooga! Aooga!

But we have not come here tonight to talk about our mutual music accomplishments; though Dean’s credentials in this particular area are lengthy.

Rather, we are here because today Dean is choosing to order his life in a new and profound way.

There are only four times when a bishop lays hands on a Christian, each time is to ask the Holy Spirit to give the gift of ministry: confirmation, ordination to the diaconate, ordination to the priesthood, and ordination to the episcopate.

Tonight we are here to make a priest in Christ’s one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.

John Chrysostom wrote in his Six Books on the Priesthood, “The priest must be dignified, but not haughty; awe-inspiring, but kind; affable in his authority; impartial, but courteous; humble, but not servile, strong but gentle.”

Of course St. Chrysostom did not know of the demands on the modern clerics’ time. You are going to be overwhelmed with administrative duties, vying for attention and pressing you to make pastoring, celebrating, and preparing last on your to do list.

The life of clergy today has become disordered in what many might describe as a dizzying array of duties far from resembling priesthood and more akin to small business management.

Running a growing business, Dean, may be something you do under the category of other ministrations assigned, but it is neither the primary work of priesthood, nor should it be the ordering principle of your ministry.

You are about to commit yourself, through the calling of the Holy Spirit, to a trust and responsibility given to you when I lay my hands upon your head. This trust is given through me, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, directly from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Come Holy Ghost our souls inspire, enlighten with perpetual fire.”

You are ordering your life tonight, recognizing that the church is the dwelling place of the same Holy Spirit. It is not the buildings or the budget or the vestry or the dwelling place called your office. The church is that in which we believe and proclaim God’s Holy Spirit dwells and you will be forever yoked to its bridal veil as it awaits the coming of Christ.

The church you are choosing to serve and upon whose orders you will form your life is the very Body of Christ and the family of God. It is created through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and his first gifts of the spirit making it the living body of Christ in the world God loves.

Christ envisions a family of God where the unity of the Holy Spirit binds together the healthy with those in need of healing, the wealthy with those who hunger, and the powerful with those without voice.

Just as Christ’s primary work was the work of glorifying God, so too Christ’s very body on earth, the church, is given the life of the spirit that it may glorify God. Each Christian within it is given new life, through the Holy Spirit, at Baptism and then Confirmation, to glorify God by making Christ known chiefly through the renewing of God’s creation, serving as missionaries to restore the fallen, heal the broken, and feed the starving. We are to proclaim freedom from the things which bind us up and rest to the weary.

This church, the missionary Body of Christ the family of God, the bride of Christ, needs you to be a pastor, a priest, and teacher.

Today you are ordered as a pastor. You are to love and serve God’s people. Young and old, strong and weak, rich and poor, you are to be their pastor because they are all God’s sheep, they are all lambs of his flock, and they are all sinners of his redeeming.

You are God’s pastor, this is the promise you are making and the goal of your life and ministry. Jesus is the great shepherd of the flock, and these are his sheep. We are here and they are ours only for a little while. But, Dean, they are all ours. We are to love them all, pastor them all, call them all to repentance, and lead them all out into green pastures. We are to rescue them from rocky cliffs, and help them to look beyond their own lives to the lives of their neighbors.

The flock of Christ needs you to be a pastor with the all seeing eyes of Jesus and the loving embrace of its good Shepherd.

Today you are ordered as a priest.

As a priest you are to share in the administration of Holy Baptism. And, you are to celebrate the mysteries of Christ’s body and blood. You are to share. You are to share because there is only one great High Priest and that is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus Christ who is the chief celebrant at Baptism and Eucharist. I am Christ’s representative in this diocese and you as a priest stand in my place and in the place of Christ at his font and at his table. The water, the bread, and the wine are symbols of yours and my ministry in this place. These are symbols that we together share at table with Jesus Christ as he breaks open the doors of death and breaks bread and gives us wine.

You have been chosen by the church to stand in this holy place and offer our prayers and to make Holy Sacraments. The church does this because we believe your manner of life recommends you to the service of priesthood in this world. But you are also here because God has chosen and called you to eternal service.

You are to be a priest after the eternal order of Melchizedek as the first priest of the Most High God, mentioned in Genesis as the keeper of the bread and the wine. And, Dean, you are ordered, dressed, and made a priest forever -- serving Christ both night and day in this world and the next.

The sacraments of the church are the means of grace by which the people and family of God are fed food for their life’s journey and their life’s ministry. You must endeavor to prepare your self in heart and mind to pray the prayers faithfully, to be attentive and soulfully present in the leading of worship, to plan worship that is life giving and world changing, to offer the sacrifices of God which is holy work, and to make disciples baptizing them with the Holy Spirit of God, marking the flock as Christ’s own forever.

Temper your intentional liturgical leadership with humor and grace that God may be glorified in worship that you lead both through its perfection and its mistakes.

The worshipping and sacramental church needs you to be a priest so that the reconciling love of Christ may be known and received

Today you are ordered as a teacher.

As teacher you must first pedagogically model good Christian virtue. Love God and love neighbor. You will teach your people more by your actions than you will ever teach them by your words. So model your life as pastor and priest out of your understanding of Christ’s mission as given to us in the Holy Scripture – fashion your life with gospel principles and precepts. Live a life that is pleasing to God, because you glorify God by proclaiming the Gospel in deed and in word.

As a teacher you must model the reading and study of the Holy Scriptures. You cannot teach the bible if you don’t read it. You cannot teach the bible if you don’t pray it.

The scripture is the Word of God, and it is a witness to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit and without error in matters pertaining to salvation. It is a collection of books which show the diversity of life lived under the Lordship of God and in particular the paschal mystery of Christ’s death, resurrection, and ascension.

You must read, mark and inwardly digest these books. For as the Scripture transcends, as the Word of God, all cultures, it must be interpreted and expressed in cultural concepts in order to reach the ears and hearts of all human beings who are themselves culturally bound. The sacrament of scripture is present in this modern age, but it takes the holy teacher of God to bring its faithful precepts to life for those within and without the church.

Only, when you have done these things continue searching for the knowledge of such things that will make you a stronger and more able minister of Christ. After you understand who the person of Jesus is and who he embraces, then read a book on newcomer ministry. After you understand Jesus’ mission to the poor, then read a book on how to lead a good mission trip. After you understand the grace and bounty given to us by God in creation, then learn how to run a good stewardship campaign.

The world is hungry for good things and you are to nourish it and Christ’s people from the riches of His grace.

Today you are ordered as pastor, teacher, and priest. You are to be obedient to Christ and faithful in your work as you have promised to him before me, his bishop, and the people of his church.

Dean please stand for your charge.

To be able to fulfill what you promise you have got to pray. In a little while we will pray and call down the Holy Spirit. There will be a period of silence as the whole church of God calls the Holy Spirit to make you a priest in his church. It will take the prayers of all of us to make you a priest. It will take your prayers to become one.

1. Persevere in prayer, Dean, both in public and in private. Out of the richness of ministry and God’s grace begin daily with repentance, asking God to reform and form you for his work. Then pray the scriptures, the psalms and canticles of praise to God, then pray the creed that your unbelief may be transformed, and then pray for your people by name. Pray each day for the people entrusted to your care by name. Every week in my own daily prayer I will pray for you. You in turn must pray for those with whom you work and those to whom you are called to serve.

As we approach God on our behalf and on the behalf of others we carry the thought of them into the very being of eternal love, and as we go to him who is eternal love, so we learn to love whatever we take with us there. So take yourself, your family, and those you serve into the arms and saving embrace of the one who is love, Jesus Christ our Lord.

2. Always have imprinted on your heart and in your mind the great treasure that is committed to your care and your charge by Jesus Christ.

You are given the very sheep of Christ which he bought with his death and for whom he shed his blood. The church and congregation in which you are called to serve is the very Spouse of Christ and his body.

And if it shall happen that the same church or any sheep of Christ’s fold are harmed or hindered in their walk with Jesus by reason of your negligence, you and I know the greatness of the fault, and the cost of such actions.

So look upon the sheep of his fold, and the lambs of his flock, look upon his spouse and never cease your labor, your care, and your diligence, until you have done all that is within you, all that is your bounden duty and service, to bring all that are committed to you to the faith and knowledge of God, and to the perfection and the maturity which is the life in Christ.
3. Do all these things for the pleasure of serving Christ and the glory of God. Do them for the healing and betterment of your own soul, indeed for your own salvation. Do these things that when you come to the last day when you meet your Lord wearing you priestly robes you may hear words of Jesus, “well done good and faithful servant, well done.”
Today you are ordered pastor, priest, and teacher in Christ’s one holy, catholic, and apostolic church. And, I count this an honor and privilege to know you as friend, to ordain you a priest, to be your bishop.

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  • "Christianity is not a theory or speculation, but a life; not a philosophy of life, but a life and a living process." Samuel Taylor Coleridge
  • "Most people are willing to take the Sermon on the Mount as a flag to sail under, but few will use it as a rudder by which to steer." Oliver Wendell Holmes
  • "Perfection, in a Christian sense, means becoming mature enough to give ourselves to others." Kathleen Norris
  • "Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can." John Wesley
  • "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried." G. K. Chesterton
  • "One of our great allies at present is the Church itself. Do not misunderstand me. I do not mean the Church as we see her spread out through all time and space and rooted in eternity, terrible as an army with banners. That, I confess, is a spectacle which makes our boldest tempters uneasy. But fortunately it is quite invisible to these humans." C. S. Lewis
  • "When we say, 'I love Jesus, but I hate the Church,' we end up losing not only the Church but Jesus too. The challenge is to forgive the Church. This challenge is especially great because the church seldom asks us for forgiveness." Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
  • "Christians are hard to tolerate; I don't know how Jesus does it." Bono
  • "It's too easy to get caught in our little church subcultures, and the result is that the only younger people we might know are Christians who are already inside the church." Dan Kimball