Tuesday, September 19, 2006

The Ordaining Spirit of God

June 24-25 2006
Isaiah 6: 1-13

(practice singing)
We are standing on Holy Ground, and I know that there are angels all around;
let us praise Jesus now;
we are standing in his presence on holy ground.
From “The Faith We Sing”, #2272

I received the Ordaining spirit of God three weeks ago. I received it, in our Methodist tradition, by the laying on of hands of the Bishop, our wonderful, brave, retiring Bishop Morrison. It was an honor to be ordained by her, because she is one of my heroes in the faith. She washed my feet, laid hands on my head, she covered my hands as I placed them on a Bible and pledged to serve Christ through the church. Then she placed a stole around my shoulders, red for the flames of Pentecost.

There were three of us that night being ordained. Linda Sweezy, who serves Gouldsboro and Thornhurst in the Scranton District, and Cindy Wenzinger, who serves Kirkwood up in the Oneonta District were the other two.

I can say that I don’t remember a lot about what happened to them while they were up on the riser having their feet washed, and having the Bishop lay hands on them. When you are in that position, kneeling in front of the bishop, there are others who are around you too. A pastor from Haiti was there, the chair of the board of Ordained ministry was also there, and the two pastors who presented me also were around me—Bob Herrala, who served as my mentor pastor when I moved to PA., and Pastor Doug. A couple of steps behind them were Donna and Josiah. So there was a crowd around me, just as there was around Cindy and Linda. You can’t see much.

But when I was in that circle, they brought a big pulpit Bible over for me to lay my hands on. I laid my right hand on it, the Bishop laid her hand on top. Then, I laid my left hand on top of hers, which might have surprised her a little bit. I clutched that hand and looked right into her eyes. It was my way of saying to her and to God, “Here I am, Lord, send me!” Many of you have often heard me say that it has been a twelve year road to get to that point three weeks ago. There are some who have received that ordaining spirit, and considered that the culmination of their lives. What it has done for me has been to give me confidence that I am who was called by God. Me. Baseball fan, preferrer of secular music, friend of gays, bald, overweight, messy desk me. And I received the confidence to be me, because God and the church now agree that somehow, I have something to give to the church, and whatever that is, it will only come from the authentic me, the best of me.
It is a strange feeling to be both called out by God and humbled by that call. It is a real sense that for me, I now walk with, and have responsibility for, the people who God may also call. And I get this feeling deep within my heart that I better not mess it up by following my lesser angels. God wants my best, and my best is good enough for God. That is enough proof that my ministry is now on Holy Ground.

(sing) We are standing on Holy Ground, and I know that there are angels all around;
let us praise Jesus now;
we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

One of the longest struggles I had as a candidate was to figure out what exactly an elder is ordained to. Time was, it was an easy statement. I would be a figure of authority, a pillar of the community. In one of the small towns I served in Texas, one of my predecessors was even the mayor and the judge for a while.

But today, authority is a difficult thing. Some people still receive practical authority to do their jobs, but the community’s respect is harder to achieve. Some would say that Nixon screwed up all up for us; others would say that the student protests of the 60’s were to blame. This is not the time or place to debate that, but what is true is that there is a certain distrust of what used to be authority figures. In the church, we have done it to ourselves as much as it has been done to us. I mean pastors who do not honor their marriage vows, TV preachers who abscond with millions of dollars, ones who use the bible for narrow political advantage, and all the rest.

So what is authority? The Book of Worship states, in the examination portion of the Worship services for Ordination that elders:
. . . are called to share in the ministry of Christand of the whole Church:
by preaching and teaching the Word of Godand faithfully administeringthe Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion;
by leading the people of God in worship and prayer;
by leading persons to faith in Jesus Christ;
by exercising pastoral supervision of the people committed to your care,ordering the life of the congregation,counseling the troubled in spirit,and declaring the forgiveness of sin;
by leading the people of Godin obedience to mission in the world,to seek justice, peace, and freedom for all people;
by taking a responsible place in the government of the Churchand in service to the community;
and by being conformed to the life of Christ,
who took the form of a servant for our sake.
In 1 Timothy 3, Paul speaks of what sort of character an “overseer” (The NRSV reads Bishop, which I certainly am in no way prepared to do!) should have, and in 1 Timothy 5, the role of Elder emphasizes teaching.

In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul writes about the perseverance piece of being a leader, in language that can be heard very similarly to what the second half of our Isaiah passage says. We overhear Paul writing to the Corinthian church that

. . . as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

So, to distill all this together, I am called to serve the whole church by teaching and leading to the best of my gifts and graces, and to keep my character as upright as possible so as to avoid muddying the message of God. And I have pledged to do so, knowing full well that my idea of upright character may not match someone else’s, that like so many before me, I will make mistakes, and finally that I serve a forgiving God who loves me and picked me, as God called out Samuel, and called out Peter, and called out Isaiah. I have been touched by the coals of the angels, and have been cleansed to speak the word of God. I pray that I can stay cleansed. I pray that I may always remember that I am always walking on Holy Ground.

(sing) We are standing on Holy Ground, and I know that there are angels all around;
let us praise Jesus now;
we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

So, enough about me. What does the ordaining spirit of God have to say to you, people who have lives that are called into the service of God but not to ordained ministry? Are you ordained, too?

In a sense, yes. Most of us here are baptized, most of us here have pledged to serve God with our prayers, our presence, our gifts and our service. We have been elected, to borrow that old Reformed term. But we have been elected in a way that elects everyone who chooses to accept Christ’ grace in their lives. And we have not been elected to be more righteous, closer to God, or in any way better than those around us. We, like Jesus’ disciples, have been chosen to be a blessing to others.

We are the ones who will go, the ones who say “send me!” People on mission trips, people who take flowers to shut-ins are doing the same work as those who cook for VISION and welcome the dirty, smelly, drug addicted, neighbor into our midst. The ones who come out and sweat to put in trees to make unhappy neighbors happy, and the ones who come and speak a devotional into an answering machine for our prayer line. There are a million ways in which we serve, and yet there are still more things that we can be called to do.

We are chosen, which means we are blessed. We are blessed to be a blessing. God has called, and we have said Here am I, Lord, send me! In small ways and in large, we have. And our journey is to know more, to do more, in whatever ways we are able to. Ultimately, it is to say that “we are yours Lord, do with us what you will”. That is the sanctified attitude. And make no mistake; though I have had all of this happen to me, my journey to perfection in love is not yet done. But, as I pledged, and as I believe, I am going on to perfection in love.

Will you come with me? Will you receive the Ordaining spirit of God through his grace? Will you come stand, and walk forward into Christ’s service, on Holy Ground?

(sing) We are standing on Holy Ground, and I know that there are angels all around;
let us praise Jesus now;
we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

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