JUNE 19, 2022
Let us pray.
Almighty God, in wisdom you have created us and all things. Provide our daily needs and grant us grace and strength to fulfill the ministry to which we have been called. We offer our prayers in the name and spirit of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
2 Timothy 1:6-7
For this reason, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you through the laying on of my hands; for God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather a spirit of power and love and of self-discipline.
In the text chosen for our meditation, a young man, Timothy, is being challenged by his mentor, St. Paul, to rekindle his sense of call and the ministry on which he had embarked. On this occasion, I have chosen the words of this older mentor, St. Paul, to see what it may have to say to you, my brother, as you enter into a new phase of your responsibility for this pastoral charge in a formal way, having been in this assignment for more than a decade. Indeed, this may truly be a point at which the call to renewal may be most appropriate.
Paul begins his conversation with Timothy on a note of affirmation by recalling his ancestry by highlighting the pedigree of Timothy’s faith and by citing the witness of his grandmother, Lois, and mother, Eunice, and then the bond of friendship which he and Timothy shared. This then provides the foundation for what he has to say to Timothy and the spirit within which to say it.
Paul then points to the imperative that the integrity of the gospel be preserved by those on whom the gift of the laying on of hands has been conferred. It is suggested by biblical scholars that by the time Paul’s words were being recorded, the Church found itself facing a time of uncertain notes, as there were persons who were preaching a gospel contrary to the one accepted by the Church, and thereby leading persons astray by the seeming appeal of this novel sounding preaching, a challenge in every age, the attractiveness of the novel, and which we witness as a new church seems to spring up on every street corner in Jamaica, and which ended in tragedy in the Pathways International Church in Montego Bay last year. Nevertheless, the challenge is that of preserving the integrity of the gospel. The way in which Paul does this is of primary concern to us this afternoon.
Paul begins as a father would, using language of encouragement and exhortation which speaks of activity, engagement, intentionality and commitment. So Paul challenges Timothy to rekindle the gift of God which is “in you” or “fan into flame the gift that is in you”. This brings to my mind an image of the old fireside in the country and with which I grew up as a boy. Not possessing electric or gas stoves in those days, many persons often possessed no matches to light a new fire for each day or each meal, for that matter. So, after cooking the last meal for the day, the people pulled the fire stick, not grouping them together so that they can burst into a flame but preserving those pieces that would burn slowly like coal. Next morning the fire was built beginning with brambles and much blowing and fanning of the old embers which would eventually get a fire going. It should come as no surprise then that the theme for the celebration of our 60th anniversary of independence picks up a similar image of re-kindling and re-igniting – Jamaica 60 – Reigniting A Nation for Greatness.
The thing I like about this image is that it speaks, not of a fire that has gone out but, as it were, one which has apparently retained its potential to burst into flame, thereby realizing its true potential. It is perhaps this quality of the dormant potential of which Paul was fully aware and from which he wanted to call Timothy or against which he wanted to warn him.
As if to drive home his point further, Paul draws on the negative consequences of this dormant state in the life of the minister, and indeed, the Church, by pointing to an ever present pitfall. So Paul goes on to say that God did not give us “a spirit of cowardice”, “a spirit of timidity”. This speaks of a kind of tentative, half-hearted, unenthusiastic, and uncertain witness to and engagement of the faith. My brother, you are making this transition at a time when you should be under no illusion that this will be a smooth ride for you or for this congregation. If you pay careful attention to Paul’s image you will see that there is no suggestion that this is where persons begin their ministry but rather a position into which they run the risk of sliding. Many pastors often begin with as high a level of enthusiasm as anyone else, but along the way things change.
As this relates to congregations, there are clear implications as well. Kingston Parish Church is a congregation in transition without the certainties of past decades, so you are not embarking on a ministry in a context that is assuring you of a smooth ride. Congregations go through times of decline and loss of zeal, passion and energy for ministry, a situation which may reflect the dynamics of its internal life, but also environmental factors such as urban decay as this city of Kingston has been experiencing it for several decades, must be taken into consideration. In addition, in our current context there are the devastating and life-changing consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic. These are certainly conditions which St. Paul did not anticipate, but to which his words are nonetheless relevant.
Paul continues by pointing to the signs of renewal/rekindling by speaking of God’s gift of “a spirit of power and love and self-discipline,” and by offering further words of caution against pursuing the path of self-reliance and the sufficiency of good works in the exercise of ministry in these terms:
Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord…but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace.
From one perspective, it is good to attribute to Paul all of the fatherly and beneficent virtues which led him to make this offering to Timothy which forms our text and its context. On the other hand, it is possible for one to suggest that perhaps something was going on in the life and ministry of Timothy which precipitated this response from Paul. The truth of the matter is that some of Paul’s most profound writings on such topics as unity, love, and gifts of the Spirit were precipitated by problems which were taking place in the communities to which Paul was writing. So then, it is possible for us to pose the question, what may have been going on in the life of Timothy and his ministry which may have necessitated such an exhortation from Paul?
Clearly, Timothy was no puny minister of the gospel/servant of the Church. But Paul probably knew very well that zeal and busyness alone cannot sustain one in ministry in terms of the maintenance of focus and in terms of one’s practice of ministry. One of the real ironies of ministry today is that many of us clergy are more busy today than many of our counterparts in previous generations but, we are not necessarily any more effective. Paul probably saw in young and enthusiastic Timothy the threat of dissipated energy and “ministry fatigue” and wanted to draw his attention to what may be considered a right focus and balance for the exercise of ministry.
In this regard, Fr. Louis, I remind you, as I remind the congregation of the role and function of a priest. I share with you first a meditation from James C. Fenhagen, a priest and theologian:
Christian ministry is more than doing good. Ministry is an act of service performed either consciously or unconsciously in the name of Christ. Ministry is Jesus Christ expressing his life through us. It is born, therefore, not in activity, but in solitude, where through the spirit we experience the power of life from within. No one becomes a “minister”. Rather, in trust, we so open ourselves to the Spirit that Jesus Christ can express his ministry through us. Prayer and ministry, therefore, are indissoluble. In the stillness of meditative prayer we are confronted by God’s loving claim upon us – the most intense intimacy a human being can experience. To know this intimacy we have only to let go. Instead of relying on our own initiative, where we are in control, we discover that we are participating in what God has already initiated within us.
The service for the Ordination of a Priest in our Book of Common Prayer sets out for us the role of the priest in a way that is relevant to our reflection this afternoon, as congregations sometimes have their own ideas as to the role and function of the priestly leadership in their midst. So, I want to highlight aspects of the nature of the ministry as we understand it as Anglicans and to which you are called to bear witness in this pastoral charge now being committed to your care, and which indicate why you are not just a preacher or that rather loose designation of pastor.
The Prayer Book speaks of it as being a servant and shepherd to the community of faith, the people of God. Within our Anglican tradition, this ministry is understood as ‘priestly ministry’ “because they (the priests) fulfill a particular priestly service by strengthening and building up the royal priesthood of the faithful through word and sacraments, through their prayers of intercession, and through their pastoral guidance of the community”. It is especially in the Eucharistic celebration that the ordained ministry is the visible focus of deep and all-embracing communion between Christ and the members of his body. In the celebration of the Eucharist, Christ gathers, teaches and nourishes the Church. It is Christ who invites to the meal and who presides at it. This presidency is signified and represented by an ordained minister.
This priestly ministry finds expression in several activities:
– The proclamation of the word of the Lord (Preaching);
– The Administration of the Sacraments and the preparation of the people for sharing in them;
– The priest is to be a leader of worship, an intercessor and one who blesses the people (emphasizing the priestly nature of ministry);
– The priest is to be a Teacher of the faith, and a source of inspiration by word and example;
– The priest is to be involved in the pastoral care of persons, with a primacy attached to the care of the sick and the dying;
– In the exercise of this ministry, the priest must stand alongside the people of the community of faith in the witness to the world. [Not a one man show]
While these expressions of ministry seem to locate it within the worshipping community, we are reminded that the ordained is called to lead the whole church in its participation in the mission of the triune God in the world. So we are reminded that the Rector is not just called to be the paid servant of the congregation and to minister to all its needs, but that the Church, guided by its pastoral leadership, is sent by Jesus, to participate in the mission of the Father and the Son through the dynamic of the Holy Spirit. So the people gathered in the lanes around this Parish Church and who do business in the precincts of this Parade constitute an essential part of the ministry of this congregation. If the core of the ministry of this congregation only drives in for worship, the future will be most uncertain.
If ministry is to be characterized by those rekindled expressions of activity, engagement, intentionality and commitment of which St. Paul speaks, then it must manifest certain features:
- It must manifest the spirit of power – “God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power”. The spirit of power is rightly referred to here as a gift because it is never something which we possess in and of ourselves, but something manifested in and through us as we are faithful to the mission of Jesus Christ. This is not about screaming and shouting loudly through a microphone.
Rather, in proclaiming the gospel, we are delivering a message of power which brings about in the life of men and women, here and now, the content of the message being proclaimed, and leading to personal transformation.
The Jamaican society is changing and so there are many persons in our communities who do not actively participate in the life of a congregation. This has truly become an age when the gospel must be preached with a spirit of power and we should not assume that persons have already heard it. Ours is now being described as an age of mission. Other writers speak of our contemporary society as an “unchurched” society as more and more persons are standing outside of the life and influence of the church. The disconnection of some persons from the church and its ministry is underscored in these words by Kenneth Callahan:
In our time, many people do not have a pastor. When a friend or one is in hospital, they do not have a pastor to visit with them. When, because of some trouble in life or in their family, there is need for the wisdom, the compassion, and the listening ear of a pastor, they do not have one to call. In the time of a wedding or a funeral, they do not have a minister to help with these decisive events in life.
So there remain many whose lives need to be touched by the power of the gospel.
- Ministry that is ablaze/rekindled must manifest the gift of power and of love. Paul knew very well how difficult it is for persons to live in community and to love each other, the Christian community being no exception. Indeed, this very epistle to Timothy is intended to challenge Timothy to hold to the integrity of the faith in fellowship with the community of the faithful, just as the tradition had been passed on by Paul.
Professing a faith together was one thing, but building relationship and community was another. Paul’s image of the Church as body/community makes it quite clear that relationships are crucial to the Christian calling. It is not just that the Christian minister or any member of the Christian community must have the kind of personality that just causes people to gravitate toward him or her. Rather, it is recognizing that the community of believers is a strange mix of people, but that God gives the spirit of love which allows what would otherwise be a mere collection of persons, to become a community. This can be a major challenge as the people of God in any congregation can be most unloving and uncaring toward each other, as persons vie for power and control, and persons hang on to something that someone did or said to them twelve years ago and for which they still feel hurt and entertain a spirit of vindictiveness. Just getting members of a congregation to love each other can be a challenge. But, we who would lead the community must know our dependence on that gift of love if we are to be instruments for building the community of faith, the body of Christ. Ministry that springs from any other motivation but the love of people can be manipulative and distorted.
Sherry Weddell, a Roman Catholic who writes extensively on the subject of intentional discipleship, shares with us a picture of what a congregation would look like if the members were to commit to the pursuit of the life of intentional discipleship under the leadership of your Rector. Just imagine this as a picture of the rekindled Kingston Parish Church:
The presence of a significant number of disciples changes everything: a parish’s spiritual tone, energy level, attendance, bottom line, and what parishioners ask of their leaders. Disciples pray with passion. Disciples worship. Disciples love the Church and serve her with energy and joy. Disciples give lavishly. Disciples hunger to learn more about their faith. Disciples fill every formation class in a parish or diocese. Disciples manifest charisms and discern vocations. They clamour to discern God’s call because they long to live it. Disciples evangelize because they have really good news to share. Disciples share their faith with their children. Disciples care about the poor and about issues of justice. Disciples take risks for the Kingdom of God.
- Ministry that is ablaze must manifest self-discipline/self-control. Paul knew very well the religious tradition in which prophets indicted shepherds of Israel for their failure to be wholesome examples to the people. Paul also would have heard of Jesus’ indictment of the Scribes and Pharisees who did not lead by worthy examples. So here, Paul challenges Timothy to remember the spirit of self-discipline/self-control which would be a worthy witness to others of the gospel being proclaimed.
There is no question about the fact that the pastor who leads a community of faith sets the tone for the community. And even as we make allowance for those who want to claim freedom of expression of individuality, there is a tension here which must be maintained.
There is also another side to self-discipline which I would like to highlight. It has to do with the development of a sense of balance to the activities of one’s personal life. The priest’s life that is characterized by balance includes a healthy blend of study, exercise, play, small talk, and personal devotion. The priest who has not been reading soon has nothing new to say to his/her people. It is through the engagement of new ideas which form the basis of reflection, prayer and integration that one’s proclamation is enriched. The priest has to structure time for reading and study, because the priest who does not organize this area of his/her life and attempts to read only in free time, for solace and not to be stretched by new, controversial and challenging ideas, sets up himself/herself for a less than average ministry.
In coming together this afternoon to celebrate a transition in this ministry we must remind ourselves that we have come also to affirm that this ministry is a joint calling and endeavour involving the Rector and the congregation. So we must recall the fact that the charge given to the priest at ordination begins, not by focusing on the priest, but by locating the ministry of the priest within the call to a common ministry shared by all who belong to the Church, the family of God. The ordinal expresses it this way, “All baptized persons are called to make Christ known as Saviour and Lord, and to share in the renewing of His world”. The service continues by speaking of the priest, “bearing together with them a common witness to the world”.
One of the problems facing our Church is that there are too many pockets of uncommitted Christians who do not know what they believe, have no strong sense of a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ, and who lacking in a sense of zeal for the work and witness of the Church, would rather sit in anonymity and hide behind a column and not become involved in the witness and work of the Church. All of us in the Church need to be challenged to develop a strong sense of personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ and to see our participation and witness as springing from this source. So the level of involvement in the Church must begin not with your feelings about the Rector, but with your relationship with our Lord, and the community which is his body. Within this context, we then seek to uphold each other in the ministry to which we are called.
In thinking about St. Paul’s challenge to young Timothy, I want to suggest that St. Paul in writing these words which form our text was not only calling for a re-kindling of the faith of the leadership but of the membership in general. The context of ministry has changed and that change cannot be reversed, so we must adapt our vision and methods of outreach to a new situation.
The challenge which the text poses for you my brother is that of keeping ablaze the gift of God which is in you, both in terms of the call to ministry and the laying on of hands in ordination. How will this be possible, you may ask? Paul offers the answer, “through the gift of God who has imparted to us a spirit of power and love and self-control”.
Kennon L Callahan, in his book, A New Beginning for Pastors and Congregations, deals with the celebration of the occasion of a pastor’s installation, and in which he speaks to both pastor and congregation in terms which I hope that we can all affirm and to which we can commit ourselves:
Your installation as the new pastor (Rector) is important. We do more than simply recognize and welcome you as the new pastor. On this day, together, as congregation and pastor, we consecrate our lives, our strengths, our mission, our compassion, and our hope. We covenant to be family together, living in the grace of God. We become pastor and congregation in a new beginning, full of promise and hope.
So Fr. Louis, we celebrate with you the joy of this moment as you formally assume the responsibility as the Rector of this Cure of Souls. At the same time, we join with the congregation as they receive you officially to this pastoral charge. May God’s blessing attend you as you embark on this adventure in a new chapter together.