SUNDAY, JUNE 29, 2014

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow His steps in the way that leads to eternal life: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

ON this feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, let us reflect on a theme or more precisely a question that is common to both apostles.  I start with the apostle Peter and this incident in Mark 8: 27-31

Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi.  On the way he asked them, But what about you? He asked, who do you say that I am?  Peter answered you are the Christ.  Jesus then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and teachers of the law and that he must be killed and after three days rise again – Mark 8: 27, 31

Now on to the apostle Paul, and his incident is to be found in Acts 9: 5, 6

As Saul neared Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him.  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?  Who are you Lord? Saul asked.  I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting he replied.  Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what to do. – Acts 9: 5, 6

Brothers and sisters were you able to find the common theme and question?    Well the question is: Who is Jesus (to you) and the theme is identity.

Ordinands, one of the things that will happen as a consequence of this service this afternoon is that there will be a change in identity.  Kirk, you will become Rev. Kirk and Rev. Errol and Rev. Larius, you will be known as Father Errol and Father Larius.  Khaliah, my friend, you are the blessed one, you only need one identity to carry the work to which God has called you. So, please see this as an advantage.

The interesting thing about this change is that come tomorrow, Kirk, when people, especially strangers and even friends start calling you Rev., you will wonder to whom  are they  speaking until it dawns on you, that it is you.  The same will be true for the soon-to-be Father Larius and Father Errol, and yet, there will come a time when that is all you will be known as – Father or Rev.  These will become your new Christian name, your new identity.

Yes, Ordination is about giving you an identity; however, the identity is not about getting a title.   That is the superficial aspect of the process.  The real process is having your life so entwined with the identity of Christ that you and the congregations whom you will serve will say together, as Paul said of himself in Galatians 2: 20 “ I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”.   This is why I have chosen for the texts for this service those two passages, which deal with coming to terms with the identity of Jesus in the lives of Peter and Paul.  This is  a task which anyone in any generation who offers himself or herself for ordination must do if God’s church is to minister to the world in that generation.

Now, ordinands and, indeed, the church assembled here in this noble Cathedral, those two passages essentially ask us to wrestle with the following questions:-

  1. Who is the Christ to you?
  2. How do you understand his presence and purpose in this world? and
  3. How does this understanding shape your perception of yourself and the world?

You would recognize that these are not questions that you can answer by the time 7pm comes. Neither are they exam questions for which you study and regurgitate the answers.  These are, instead, questions of life that will constantly be ruminating in your souls as you seek to serve God and God’s people, who also include the people who do not belong to a Church.  In fact, they are even the more important constituents for as Archbishop William Temple reminds us about the church – “ It is the only institution that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.”

Now, Let me pause here to share with you an image that has been helpful to me, as I constantly wrestle with the three Questions that were posed. I remind you of them

  1. Who is the Christ to you?
  2. How do you understand his presence and purpose in this world? and
  3. How does this understanding shape your perception of yourself and the world?

Now, the image I am referring to is found in Mark chapter 3 vs 27, and it has Jesus saying “But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.”   I like this image for a number of reasons:-

 Firstly, it emphasizes a point that resonates throughout the gospel of Mark and it is that Jesus is Good News.   He brings freedom and hope.

Secondly, it makes clear that the world is being held captive. Mark’s gospel defines this captivity as sin and it is symbolized by the evil spirits and demons that tend to dominate the lives of people.  A beautiful example of this is found in Mark 5 where Jesus encounters a demon- possessed man living among the tombs, being a menace to himself and society as there are no chains that can subdue him and give him peace.   The reason for this is, understandably, he is possessed by the demon whose name is Legion (for they are many).   Yet, at the end of the encounter with Jesus, the crowd finds the following scene: The man who previously had  the demons, that man is now clothed and in his right mind and sitting side by side with Jesus.  What a beautiful picture.

Thirdly, the imagery and now the story suggests to us that to bind sin, one must deal with it using a power and authority which returns good for evil and thus enables life.  I call that forgiveness.  Archbishop Desmond tutu has a simple imagery for forgiveness- and it is letting light and fresh air come into a dark room.

Therefore I want to suggest to you, that Christ has called you to take on his identity and bring good news to the congregations and to the world, as you open up with your congregations and indeed the world  a conversation about sin in which you say to them that the only way that sin can be dealt with is through the cross, through rejection and persecution,  through  a crucified Messiah and ultimately through the forgiveness of sins.   As we take on this task, however, we must be careful not to be simple minded and naieve about sin, after all Scripture says, the devil is a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  Sin will come at us as a roaring lion as well as it may come at us in disguise,  as a sheep, very subtle and seductive, but inside it is really a lion waiting to devour you.  I have learned from experience that you expect sin to come at you  from one direction and then suddenly, from a most unexpected source it surprises you from the other direction.  Yes ordinands,  being clothed in the identity of Christ and then taking on sin in all its manifestations is a daunting task.   I trust you will be able to relate to this story about a young police officer who was taking his final exam at a place training college in England.( From the questions of life- the Alpha Program- Rev. Nicky Gumbel)  Here is one of the questions

You are on patrol  in outer London when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street .  On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van lying nearby.  Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol.  Both occupants- a man and a woman- are injured.  You recognize the woman as the wife of your divisional inspector, who is in the USA  at present.  A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.  Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby  house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and that the shock of the explosion has made the birth imminent.  Another man is crying for help having been blown into an adjacent canal by the explosion and he cannot swim.

Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act describe in a few words what actions you would take.  The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote “ I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.

Well, Ordinands, I don’t know about you  and I certainly cannot speak for anybody else in this great cathedral, but, I can resonate with that answer, however, in the same breath let me hasten to add I can hear my grandmother saying to me “ he who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is not fit for the kingdom.”  So then how does the Christian, lay and ordained, but especially the ordained , deal with the awesomeness of the responsibility that is placed on us to bring good news, to tie up the strong man and let the people go through the pronouncement of the forgiveness of their sins.  How ordinands  will you and indeed how will all of us deal with this responsibility.   My answer is to turn to another portion of Scripture this time it is Matthew 13 : 16- Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because .  For I tell you the truth, many prophets longed to see what you see but did not see it and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.  In other words we have to learn to see it as a great privilege.  The privilege of giving people a reason to sing with joy, not because they are great singers, but because they have something about which to sing.  To use words from Matthew’s gospel they have found a pearl of great price.  I want to suggest that the best Anglican congregation, indeed the best Christian congregation is one in which people sing with joy, and what greater joy could there be than to say the following words with meaning  Lamb of God you take away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us.  Yes, Brothers and Sisters,  as simple as it is, it is perhaps the most difficult thing for persons to understand that a clear conscience before God, reconciled relationships with people, are more valuable than the riches of this world.  It is a very difficult thing for persons to understand  especially when you are young but it is also true for old persons as well.  And so Ordinands you have to keep the joy going for yourself and for them, until they discover it for themselves.

In the meantime the psalmist in Psalm 132 vs 18 says “ clothe your ministers with righteousness and let your people sing with joy”  Our theology, our understanding of righteousness says to us that it is only Christ who declares us righteous and that this righteousness occurs by faith alone, so the questions is   how do we keep the Christ in us, especially when we become so busy serving in in the name of Christ that we may have no time to meet with Christ.  It is kind of ironic, that on one level, due to this very Sacrament of Ordination that we are so close to Christ and yet at another level, because we are so busy serving Him and His people, we can grow apart from him instead of getting close to him.  Having said all this the question of how do we keep ourselves clothed in righteousness still remains.  I must tell you, I am still wrestling with that question after all these years, but, I have found great wisdom  in the collects in our prayer book  such as  Propers 14, 19, 27, however the one that says it best is that prayer which started this whole sermon and so I commend it to you as you seek to form both yourself and the congregations you serve in Christ.  It is the collect for the fifth Sunday of Easter.

Almighty God, whom truly to know is everlasting life: Grant us so perfectly to know your Son Jesus Christ to be the way, the truth, and the life, that we may steadfastly follow His steps in the way that leads to eternal life: through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.