Service of Ordination Christ Church Cathedral July 24, 2016
Meagan Crosby-Shearer (priest)
Rob Crosby-Shearer (deacon)
Christopher Samson (deacon)
First, let me say what an honour it is to have been asked to preach today, on this important occasion in the life of our Diocese and in the lives of Meagan, Christopher, and Rob. During the pre-ordination retreat this past week, the four of us reflected pretty intensely together on what it means to be ordained. One thing it means is to be set aside for what I have been invited to do today: to preach. Remember, every sermon is an act of worship. Every sermon is a prayer – not just of the preacher, but of the preacher and congregation together. Meagan, Christopher, Rob, as ones ordained to preach, you may be the ones speaking, but don’t let that fool you. The sermon is not a time for you to entertain the congregation with your knowledge, stories, bad jokes, or even your deep insight. Every sermon is essentially an exercise in listening: the preacher and congregation waiting together upon God’s Word. Listening and waiting: like all prayer, the sermon is essentially a work of silence. The preacher’s words are not so much a mode of speech, as a mode of holding ourselves open, and of waiting to be addressed. No word the preacher says is his or her own. In this way, a sermon is different than a speech or a lecture. Every word you shall ever preach is the sign of an infinitely more meaningful, full-to-over-flowing Word, which no word of yours, or of any preacher, can possibly contain.
It goes without saying how great an honour it is to be entrusted with leading the Church in this act of worship and in this work of listening. Meagan, Christopher, Rob: to a great degree, to be ordained means to be set aside, not perhaps in your private person, but in your office, as a kind of sacramental sign of Christ, who is all in all. It is in this way that every word you speak, especially from the pulpit, or at the sickbed or confessional, God uses to mean more than you can ever hope to mean; and every sign you make, especially at the altar, at the font, or the graveside, God uses to express more than you can ever hope to express: the presence of Christ in and for the world.
It is such an honour and a privilege to be so ordained, to be set aside to be used by God for this sacramental purpose. We know all too well how unworthy we are of this honour. We know how painfully approximate our words are, how short our trust and our love fall. But take heart in this: if God ordained only those who are superlatively faithful, extraordinarily more prayerful or more righteous than everyone else, then our vocation could not be sacramental: for God uses the very common bread that is our lives to point toward what all people truly are in Christ: children of grace and icons of the Father.
What an awesome an honour it is – to be set aside for what the Book of Common Prayer calls the “dignity” of the ordained office. But at the same time, we must be careful with this language of ‘honour’ and ‘dignity.’ James and John were seeking to be honoured, after all, when they entreated Jesus to seat them, one on his left, the other on his right, when he became King. At the time of their asking, they were practically within sight of Jerusalem, on the final leg of Jesus’ last pilgrimage to the city. Everything was charged, pregnant with expectation: the revolution that all Israel had been yearning for for so long was finally at hand! Hence the brothers’ request: when you are King; when you restore Israel to its rightful dignity among the nations, what portfolio do you plan to give us in your cabinet? What will our position in the new order be? What special privilege will we enjoy, we who have been your faithful friends and supporters from the beginning?
We of course know, from our vantage point in history, that the revolution Jesus lead was not to be a political revolution, but a revolution of the Spirit; and that the New Israel he came to inaugurate was not a restoration of the Kingdom as it was under Solomon, but rather the Church. In this new order, Jesus warns his followers, ‘honour’ is the opposite of public prestige, power, or respect. Rather, to be honoured in this new Kingdom will mean to become a slave, and so despised by the kingdoms of the world.
For about three hundred years, this was, we know, indeed the case: to be a baptized member of Christ’s Kingdom – far from being seated at the right hand of religious and political authority – meant to be banished from the Synagogues and persecuted by the State authorities. But after those initial years came a time – maybe fifteen or sixteen centuries – when James and John actually got what they were asking for! For fifteen or sixteen hundred years, the disciples of Christ were indeed given places on the left and the right side of the thrones of political power. For all those millennia, rather than bearing the mark of the suffering servant, the Church actually became the fulfillment of the hope of first century Israel: a restitution of the reign of Solomon in all his glory.
Well, we ought not to be too quick to disparage Christendom. Christendom gave us Raphael and Bach and this very Cathedral. It is not possible for us to regard the age of Christendom simply as one long mistake. God always makes use of His broken vessels. If that were not so, none of us would be here. And yet – Anglicans especially must learn to hear the ‘good news’ at work amidst the collapsing walls of Christendom. There is so much hand-wringing over the so-called ‘decline’ of our Church. But I suspect what we are grieving over is not ‘the Church,’ but rather Christendom! Power and prestige are being taken from us. But that does not mean the Church is dying. The Church cannot die – for the Church is the sacrament of Christ’s resurrection life! So we must learn to rejoice in this time, rejoice, for God is recalling His Church to its original vocation: to be a sign, a parable, a sacrament, a pinch of yeast, a grain of the salt of the Kingdom of Love on the other side of power.
Meagan, Christopher, Rob: you are being sent out to be sacramental servants of this Love at a moment in history when God is restoring His Church to her original place of prophetic exile from the seats of power. “Behold, what I have built I am about to tear down, and what I have planted I am about to uproot.” These words we just heard from the mouth of the prophet Jeremiah. We must learn to hear, not just the word of judgement, but the word of hope in them. For God is entrusting His Church, at this moment in time to you, and to all of us: servants of His kingdom, which lies on the other side of power. This is the greatest honour. Let us serve boldly and without fear, alive in the knowledge of His grace.