Jars of clay

A few weeks ago, I briefly touched upon some parts of the service for the ordination of priests in the Church of England.  You may have never been to an ordination service, so I wanted to share a little more of that with you now.  In the service we come across the following:

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their Bishop and fellow-ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.

It is incredibly humbling for me to read those words again, which I seem to do almost annually – perhaps in some way to recommit myself to God and the task entrusted to me of ministry – much like we do in our Annual Methodist Covenant service.  Doing this is helpful in these strange times we are living in, especially when several Ministers may be struggling with the inability to fulfil what they see as their calling – is this new ‘way of being’ what they ‘signed up for’?  More about that later.

These words serve as a constant reminder of 2 things:

  • The enormity of the love and grace of God.
  • That it is impossible for me to exercise this ministry in my own strength.  That is why the responses made by priests to the ‘charge’ that comes later is “with the help of God, we will.

Those words are both challenging and inspiring and I wanted to try and make a connection between them and today’s Gospel reading which I have included in full.  More specifically where it talks about Jesus’ compassion on the crowds in the towns and villages through which he travelled. I hadn’t really given it much thought before, but it struck me that Jesus often shared his message with people in the synagogues.  We are told the people he taught were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, lost in the ‘wilderness of this world’s temptations’.  That makes me wonder what on earth were the leaders of the synagogue up to?

Guided by the Spirit, Priests are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith. I am passionate about laity being built up and equipped to exercise their calling and to exercise the gifts of the Spirit to the glory of God. I cry, and I cry for 2 reasons – firstly with joy when I see the people of God ‘being’ the people of God at their best – when the people of God ‘get it’ and have those lightbulb moments, exercising the gifts of the Spirit they have been blessed with; and secondly with compassion when I see the mess, the plight that people in our community sometimes find themselves.  Technically, parish Priests are Curates of the parish.  A Curate is a person invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish.   In the ordination service, the Bishop declares “Receive this cure of souls which is both yours and mine.” We will need to exercise this cure of souls as never before over the coming weeks as clergy, lay ministers and disciples together. At its heart is the ministry of reconciliation between individuals and God and between people and communities through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  At its heart is compassion.

Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the LORD of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We may be relatively small in number, but never underestimate the significance of the work we are able to do for the Lord.  There are many ministries, and your prayers are never wasted.  It may well be that you are feeling inhibited and restricted in your ministry, also thinking ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’ either.  If that is something you are grappling with, please know that you are not alone, and your prayers are never wasted.  Granted, we may not currently be able to exercise our ministries in the ways we historically have but I am heartened by the extent to which people have adapted to help Church continue to be the body of Christ.  Examples of this would be our weekly Zoom church services, the various phone calls, emails and text messages exchanged throughout the week and the chats with passers-by and neighbours.  We adapt and we do so with boldness and confidence because of our calling, our love for one another and our community and because we have been given authority by Jesus.  We don’t need ornate trappings to exercise these ministries.  Much like the disciples we can travel light, with what we have, and seek out people of peace, worthy people in our community as we tell the story of God’s love.  In doing that we need to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves, and yes there will be times when the message that we bring is rejected and we are not welcomed.  We have, however, been faithful in doing our part.

I believe wholeheartedly in the priesthood of all believers, and I wanted to testify to the deep encouragement it is to me to know that in seeking to exercise the ministries to which I believe God has called us, these are not ministries that we exercise alone.  I know full well from the discussions that we have had and the prayers that we have prayed together that all of us have compassion for the community that we serve and all the people who live in it. 

It is very easy for people to get lost in the fog and uncertainty of 21st century living.  It is all too easy for people to lose their voice and become harassed and helpless.  I thank God for the work of the Churches in our area, for the fantastic efforts of volunteers in the Foodbank, the Community Centre and other community support groups, as well as the work of staff in our local schools and medical centres.  I thank God for your prayers too.  Imagine how much worse life would be in the absence of these?

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds, to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord.  Priestly ministry is never about ‘look at me’, it is always about ‘look at Him’ – Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  When you consider folks you know who are ordained I hope you see God’s grace in action, and you capture many glimpses of the compassion, love and yearning that they have for the flock that they minister to and the communities that they serve. Priests are “to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need.” That isn’t something I can do in my own strength or alone.  When the Israelites were at war with the Amalekites, they prevailed as long as Moses had his arms help up high: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” (Exodus 17:11-12)  Thank you for the times you’ve encouraged me and helped to hold my arms steady.

This precious and extraordinary ministry is entrusted to us in this most difficult of seasons. We are (and we all quite likely feel) insufficient to the task.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:

…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”  It is a privilege to pray for our community and thank God we have a presence and a role within it.

Later in the ordination service, the words are:

In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I am not in any way wanting or seeking to abdicate the charge I know I have.  However, it does seem to me that in these words are some noble and worthwhile things we might all pray for.  Will you perhaps join with me in praying as I do, praying for a deepening and widening of our experience of the grace and power of God, praying that our hearts may daily be enlarged and our understanding of the Scriptures enlightened, and praying earnestly as we have been for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s