Sermon at 25th Anniversary Eucharist Women in Ordained Ministry

Preacher: Sister Norma Thompson, Church Army Evangelist – The Cathedral, February 17, 2019


Let us pray: Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus, to reach out and touch Him, and say that we love Him. Open our ears Lord, and help us to listen. Open our eyes, Lord, we want to see Jesus. Amen.

Mine is the honour to have been asked to share in this service this afternoon to worship with our sisters who are celebrating 25 years since women were admitted into the ordained ministry of our diocese. But the greater honour must go, not to me or our sisters, but to God Almighty who opened the way, who calls, who enables, who empowers by His Holy Spirit, and who guides and sustains all of us – lay and ordained – as we endeavor to see Him, hear Him, walk with, serve Him. We are enabled to do this as we encounter Him in the person of His Son Jesus Christ, who was born of a woman, believed women, empowered women, honored women publicly, released the voice of women, confided in women, was funded by women, learned from women, respected women, and spoke of women as examples to follow. But my sermon this afternoon, isn’t about bigging up women! It is about bigging up Jesus, who is God incarnate, and who continues to call men and women, boys and girls, to serve Him. He not only calls, but He lovingly and patiently continues to teach us how to serve Him. Let us learn from Him. Let us learn from the readings that formed a part of our worship this afternoon.

 Verses 1 – 8  of Psalm 63 have these words in them,  “I have looked upon you in the sanctuary beholding your power and glory……….and my mouth praises you with joyful lips.” The Psalmist was talking about how he felt when he went into the temple to worship God. He beheld his power and glory – even if he did not behold this literally he felt within himself, the awesomeness of God, the overarching power of God and he could not help but express his feeling in praise and joy. Do you feel like that when you come to worship? How do you express your feelings about the power and the glory of the Almighty? Power and Glory! Two little words that are often abused and misused by those in authority today – two little words that get people into trouble in all walks of life all over the world. Two little words that some times go to our heads and make us behave like brute beasts. The Psalmist reminds us that power and glory belong to God. Power and glory wielded by those who are not God inspired, God anointed, God conscious are dangerous commodities.

When I come to worship and look into the sanctuary and see clergy beautifully bedecked and carrying out their functions I am reminded by the Psalmist that power and glory are not theirs to  wield. Power and glory belongs to God alone, and our priests and bishops are servants of God, and servants of the people of God. Ordination means called to serve,  empowered by God’s Holy Spirit to learn from Jesus how to serve. So the Psalmist looks up to the sanctuary, God’s holy place, and is cognizant of His power and glory and praises God with joyful lips. Today we come with joy into the house of God to praise God for opening the way for our sisters to humbly serve him in the ordained ministry.

In the Old Testament reading we have the familiar story of the call of the boy Samuel. It took a little while for the priest Eli to perceive that the Lord was calling the boy. Sometimes we are like Eli – a little slow in discerning the voice of God. Sometimes we are not in tune with Him, we would rather follow our own agenda. Sometimes fear paralyses us, we don’t want to move out of our comfort zones to accommodate something new and different, something that might be challenging. Sometimes we think we know it all and not even God can shake and move us. But He can and will in His own time, because all power belongs to God.  Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy, and was able to direct him on how to respond to God. We need a few more people like Eli in our congregations, people with God-given, God-directed perceptions who will guide and direct God’s people.

Twenty-five years ago this Diocese (with a little coaxing here and there) perceived that the Lord was calling women to ordained ministry, to share in ministry in the sanctuary, the most sacred part of the church, to behold and receive God’s power, to glorify Him and to respond to Him in God-ordained service. Today we celebrate with gratitude the triumph of God over the traditions of man and we do it in love, in unity, in joy. We lift up our hands in the sanctuary and praise God with joyful lips.

In our epistle, Ephesians 4: 11 -16, Paul names some of the gifts with which God who is father of all, who is above all, through all and in all (that covers all of us) has blessed us, and I want to believe blessed those especially of the household of faith. Yes, you have to be connected, a branch connected to the Vine in order to appropriate the blessing. Are you really and truly connected? Is that vital, life giving sap flowing into you and through you? Paul said that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, and if he had lived in our time he would have added more: some would be pharmacists, social workers, financiers, banker managers, professional athletes, helpers, nurses, lawyers, shopkeepers. Can you imagine what a difference it would make if all Christian people, if all of us, saw our work as gifts from God, avenues through which we can intentionally serve, honour, glorify God with joyful lips.

What rejoicing there would be on earth and in heaven!

But let me get back on script. There is  no doubt that some people are gifted, called, empowered, equipped for specific work in the church – some to lay ministry, some to ordained ministry. But whether lay or ordained it is never a call to wield power, to look for big positions, nor to sit on any high seat, but to serve – to discern the Spirit of God, to speak the truth in love, to encourage growth and maturity, to promote growth in the One Body in which men and women, called, consecrated, empowered work together for the building up of the Church. And we pray as Paul did that all our ordained ministers (and our lay ministers as well) will continue to grow up into Christ. It is a continuing process. Some people believe that their growth, their spiritual growth, their growth in Christ ceases once they have been ordained or commissioned. That’s one of the lies the devil likes to feed to God’s servants. We have to beat down that lie by never losing our focus, by having our hearts and lives stayed on Jesus, by letting the Holy Spirit take full control over our lives and work, by not conforming to this world and what it has to offer but by being transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul reminds us that we are to work together. We are not to ‘pap dung’ one another, but we are to build up the church, the Body of Christ, the people of God in love. By ourselves we can’t accomplish this, but when we draw on the power and strength of God in Christ miracles begin to happen, obstacles are removed, and growth and transformation take place. Let us trust God. He is able to do abundantly more than all that we ask or think.

 Matthew 9: 35 – 38, our Gospel reading – just four verses, but what lessons about ministry all of us can learn from them as we see Jesus at work. We read that he went about all the cities and villages”. He was not sitting in a cathedral, or in an office, or in a well furnished rectory. He was on the move, going where the people were, not just waiting for them to put on their holy clothes and holy speech and come to seek him out once a week. He was on the move and I don’t mean moving from one cure to a better cure, or from one country to a more prosperous or advantageous one. He, as it were, bloomed where He was planted. He mixed with ordinary people in the gutter, in the market place, in the streets, in the prison. Let us learn from Jesus how to do ministry.

He “taught in their synagogues”. Jesus did not go to UTC or whatever C they might have had in his day. He was not as highly educated as some of us are today, but He knew His scriptures. He knew how to read and interpret those sacred stories so that they spoke a word to the people of His day. He knew and practised those rituals and rites of meaning that in their poetry addressed men and women at the level where change operates. Let us learn from Jesus how to do ministry.

He made the ‘good news’ of the kingdom relevant to the crowds. He spoke their language. He was cognizant of their needs and addressed them. He had compassion. He fostered in community through His love and compassion, through the power of His word and His presence, that encounter with truth that set men and women free.

Let us learn from Jesus how to do ministry.

He read and interpreted the signs of the times. He saw that  the crowds were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. He became their shepherd. He laid down His life for the sheep. What about our crowds today? What about the sheep we are called to serve? Is Jesus looking at our Anglican  church today and wondering why in some areas there is such a scarcity, a lack, an absence of ministry? What is our response? What do we say to Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light. He brought light and hope and peace to people. Let us learn from Him how to do ministry.

Jesus says that the harvest is plenteous but the labourers are few. He observed this thousands of years ago but what he said then is still true today. The harvest is indeed plenteous, but the labourers – yes the Anglican labourers are few and getting fewer and fewer. The term labourers does not refer to clergy persons only! It refers to you and me, every baptized person listening to me right now – every one of us who are serious about the vows that were made for us and which we subsequently confirmed for ourselves, every one of us who really and sincerely open up our hearts and lives to Jesus and who, like the women with whom we celebrate today are willing to trust God to remove obstacles and equip us for the tasks he has for us. Jesus is saying to every lay person today, “The harvest is plenteous, the labourers are few, what are you doing about the situation .” There is a ministry out there with your name on it. Recognise it. Claim it. Surrender to the call of God in Christ so that His Holy Spirit can equip and empower you for service. Jesus still calls. He calls us to the Church, in the church, and sometimes even out of the church to minister for Him.

Twenty-five years ago these women, whose worth and work we celebrate and thank God for today, enriched the church’s ministry when they were ordained and continue to do so in every area of their work. They were empowered by God to serve. That same God given power is available to every woman or man who responds positively, intentionally and sacrificially to it. Claim it, and help your church to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. 

Let us pray: Now to Him, who by the power at work within us, is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all that we can ask or imagine, be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.