Monday, May 20, 2013

Gifted and Called -- A Sermon for a Service of Affirmation of Ordination


Ephesians 4:7-16


Why would anyone want to be a pastor? After all, there’s nothing glamorous about pastoral ministry.  

There are, according to Frederick Buechner, three popular views of clergy.  

  • Some believe that clergy are "nice people" who try to make sure you know that they’re just like everybody else, just nicer!  
  • Then there are those who think pastors "have their heads in the clouds" and don't get too involved in the real world. People feel embarrassed when they use bad language around them.  They also have "a lovely sense of humor” and get a kick out of it when you ask if they could do something about the rainy weather. For them, clergy know that their business is religion and leave more important matters to those who know better.
  • Finally, pastors are seen as  "anachronistic as alchemists and chimney sweeps.  Like Tiffany Glass or the Queen of England, their function is primarily decorative."  They do the marrying and the burying, but not much else.   [Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking, (San Francisco:  Harper-Collins, 1992), 73.]

That doesn’t sound all that enticing, does it?   After all, the pay isn’t great, the hours can be bad, and you really don’t get any respect.  It’s not surprising that many parents prefer that their children pursue more rewarding careers. 

Despite the bad press, some hear the call and respond with the words: “Here I am, send me.”  Rick is one of those persons who has heard the call and said yes.  We gather here today to affirm that call.

The letter to the Ephesians speaks of call and giftedness. According to this letter, God has given each of us gifts designed to build up the body of Christ.  Ministry isn’t something that paid professionals do, it’s the task of the whole church. Since the church exists as a body of ministers, then we’re all responsible for the proper use of our gifts of ministry, whether ordained or not.  

God may call all Christians to ministry, but according to Ephesians 4, God also calls certain individuals to ministries of teaching and leadership.  And one of the ways the church has affirmed this calling is to lay hands on them (1 Timothy 4) and offer a prayer of blessing.  Those persons who are designated in this fashion take up what Donald Messer calls a representative ministry.  
Those of us who are ordained are set apart by the church to the representative ministry--not because we are less sinful or more holy, but in order to serve different functions within the life and mission of the church in the world.  Those persons called by God to this ministry, and recognized by the church, often receive salaries and benefits, but they’re not employees of the church, strictly speaking.  They are first and foremost called to be servants of God, and as servants of God they make themselves available to the ministry of the church.   [Donald Messer, Images of Christian Ministry, (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1989), 64.]
These women and men are gifted and called by God to lead and to equip the people of God so that they can fulfill their own ministries.  God has set aside some to be Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  These are God's gifts to the church, who are called on to "equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ." (Eph. 4:11-13).

Ordination doesn’t make Rick smarter, brighter, or more clever.  It doesn’t make him holier or more saintly.  It doesn’t even make him a minister – that calling comes with baptism.  But through ordination the church recognizes God’s prior call.  Now, we’re not ordaining Rick today. We’re recognizing and affirming a previous ordination by a different part of the body of Christ.  We’ve come to celebrate the fact that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Michigan has chosen to recognize his ordination and grant him standing as a member of the ordained ministry in the Disciples.    

So today, as the church, in its Disciples form, and in its ecumenical form, let us receive his ministry among us.  We are recognizing that he has been called by God to this representative form of ministry, which includes the responsibility of preaching, teaching, leadership, and pastoral care. Although we’re not Presbyterian, I think it’s fitting to affirm Rick’s call to what the Presbyterians call the “Ministry of Word and Sacrament.”  

In this act of affirmation, we’re telling the broader church that Rick has the requisite gifts of ministry and has been called to serve the church at large as pastor and teacher.  We come today to support this call with our prayers and our witness. We recognize that he has been called to share in the ministry of leadership, helping to equip the body so that we can become spiritually mature adults who aren’t tossed around by deceit and trickery. 

  So, Rick,  as you go forth from this place today, remember the hands that are being laid on you.  Remember your calling.  Remember that you’re not "the" minister, but you are one of God’s ministers who has been called to lead, teach, and nurture your fellow ministers so that they can grow into spiritual maturity.  Remember the gift that has been given you by God, a gift recognized and affirmed today.  And regularly rekindle this gift through prayer, worship, and study.  And remember who it is you represent – Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God.  

May God bless you as go forth into the world, as an  ambassador of Christ. May we who gather here today, especially those who are members of Central Woodward Christian Church and who are representatives of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), continue to pray for and support Rick in his ministry, wherever it takes him!  

Preached by:
Dr. Robert D. Cornwall, Pastor
Central Woodward Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
Troy, MI
Service of Recognition and Affirmation of an Ordination 
May 19, 2013

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