Celebration of Ministry
Rev Janet Bromley’s sermon 31 May 2015
Trinity Sunday and commissioning of Eucharistic Ministers
Quite a few years ago now I travelled to Lubeck in Northern Germany on a bit of a nostalgia trip. Thirty plus years earlier I had worked in that city in a hotel and I had returned with a friend who had been there with me. Sometimes you shouldn’t go back but on this occasion we had fun, although of course in three decades much had changed. The rather traditional German bar where we had spent many of our days off was now decked out in rather tawdry and sparkly pink and purple – very 1970’s and the locals were rather bemused by two slightly mature English ladies wanting to drink coffee there. There are many beautiful churches in Lubeck, perhaps the most famous is the Marienkirche and we would have worshipped there but decided not to as the service that Sunday was specifically advertised for the older generation – and on holiday and a nostalgia trip we were not prepared to admit to that.
So that is how I came to be in the Evangelical Lutheran Church at the Ordination of seven new pastors. At the beginning of the service each of the ordinands, four of whom were women, stood whilst they were personally introduced to the whole congregation. We were told where each of them would serve their title and how much of their time they would devote to their future ministry, one was to be full time and the others varied between 20% and 80%. This sounded very strange to me in the context of a Christian ministry, but perhaps it is typical of German efficiency and precision that this time commitment should be agreed and recognised beforehand.
In five weeks time, Bishop Richard will ordain six new priests and five new deacons at St Woolos Cathedral and I have no doubt that the passage we have just read about King Uzziah will be read just as it was at my own ordination way back in 1994. They read it in Lubeck too, which came as a relief to me, because on hearing the name I knew that they were reading the familiar story about the call of Isaiah. Isaiah’s positive response to God’s call comes only after he had spoken of his complete unworthiness to stand before God and after one of the seraphs had touched his lips with a burning coal and told him that his guilt had departed and his sin was blotted out. So it was that Isaiah was able to step out in faith and carry out the work to which God had called him – he could not have done it through his own effort but only when he depended entirely on God’s grace.
You may be wondering why I am focussing on ordination – but if you think back to our confirmation service last week you will remember that Bishop Richard spoke about the candidates being ordained as members of the Christian Church. Ordination is about being set apart for a special purpose – it is about recognising that God calls each and every one of us to ministry and mission in his church today. And today we celebrate and give thanks for the work of our Eucharistic Ministers.
John Powell writes: ‘there is an old Christian tradition that God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver, with a special song to sing for others, with a special love to bestow. No one else can speak my message, or sing my song or offer my act of love. These are entrusted only to me.’
Each of us is called by God to spend our lives discovering and giving our innermost treasure and when we are able to do this we will find the most profound fulfilment. Throughout our lives we must never stop being open to learning and the wisdom of others but at the same time we need to discover who we are and remain true to ourselves and trust in our own dreams and visions.
And if we look at the different characters that God has called throughout history we can find ourselves encouraged in our own callings- there was Abraham who laughed at God’s promise of a son, Matthew the tax collector, who was less than honest in his dealings at work, Peter who denied his Lord, Paul who persecuted Christian disciples – and despite of all their shortcomings and protestations God blessed them with the gifts and courage to do his work – however enormous the task might have seemed to them.
And every time we think that the task is too great – overwhelming – impossible – we would do well to listen to the words of Oscar Romero – the Archbishop who was martyred in El Salvador and beatified very recently by Pope Francis:
It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.
The Kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision. We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is another way of saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.
No statement says all that could be said.
No prayer fully expresses our faith. No confession brings perfection.
No pastoral visit brings wholeness. No programme accomplishes the church’s mission. No set goals and objectives include everything.