a priest's musings on the journey

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Mystagogical Sermon on Holy Orders

Ok, here's sermon number 2 in the parish series on the Sacraments. The next- and last one- from me will be on Reconciliation and Unction. Peace.

For the past few weeks, we have heard readings from the Book of Acts which tell us the Story of the earliest days of the Church. From those stories we learn that the Apostles’ were faithful and fervent in their proclamation of the Gospel message that Jesus, who had been crucified, died and buried, had risen, and as the Christ had been seated at God’s right hand in Glory, and that all who believed on His name would find salvation. Many heard the gospel message, believed and were baptized- thousands at a time, as a few of the stories tell us.

These earliest believers met daily for prayer and the breaking of the bread, and shared their resources so that no member would be in need. It didn’t take long, however, for a problem to arise among the members of this newly formed community. It seemed the needs of the Hellenistic Jewish widows were not being met as promptly or as adequately as the needs of the Hebrew Jewish widows- and those being slighted began to ask for justice. The Apostles felt that their call to ministry was one rooted in the proclamation of the Gospel- and they could not leave that ministry in order to distribute food. So, in a pastoral response to their request for equality, the Apostles asked the community to select 7 men, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, to serve the needs of the community and to oversee the distribution of food to the widows in order to insure all the needs were being met. 7 Hellenistic Jewish men were chosen, including Stephen -of whose martyrdom we heard about today. The 7 were approved by the apostles, who laid their hands on them and prayed, thereby setting them apart for their special ministries in the community.

Although some contemporary scholarship argues that these 7 were set aside as presbyters, the traditional view sees this moment ion the life of the Church as the beginning of the Diaconate: or the order of deacons- that special order of ministry dedicated to ministering to the sick, the poor, and the needy, and committed to assisting bishops and priests in proclaiming the Gospel and administering the Sacraments. It is too the order of deacons that priests are first ordained and it is the charism of service that the Spirit gives to a deacon that continues to form and shape the ministry of a man or woman once s/he is priested and/or consecrated as a bishop. “Once a deacon, always a deacon.”

Some men and women are called to a permanent diaconal ministry. Others, at the discretion of the bishop, but usually after a 6 month to one year curacy, are called by God to serve the Church as ministers of word and sacrament, and are ordained as priests in the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church. Priests are called to preach the Gospel, administer the Sacraments, declare God’s blessing, pastor the people of God and equip them for service in the world.

Both the diaconal and priestly orders, however, share in the authority and ministry of the bishop, who as the successor of the Apostles, serves as the chief priest and pastor of the diocese, guards the faith and unity of the church, proclaims the word of God, lives a life which participates in Christ’s ministry of reconciliation, and ordains others to carry on the ministry of Christ.

The Sacrament of Holy Orders (Ordination) takes its name from the fact that bishops,
priests, and deacons give order to the Church. They guarantee the continuity and unity of the Church from age to age and from place to place from the time of Christ and the apostles until the establishment of God’s kingdom in eternity. In the Sacrament of Holy orders, the gift of the Holy Spirit is imparted through the laying on of hands by a bishop and the invocation or epiclesis of the Holy Spirit, thereby setting a person apart for service in the Church. For some there is the concern as to whether or not our Anglican orders are valid. Rome has said that they are not. Personally, I do not need the approval of Rome because I know that my ordination is valid, because I have been ordained by a bishop in apostolic succession who has laid hands on me and has invoked the Holy Spirit to fill me with the grace that I need to be a priest in the Church of God. This form of the sacrament is the valid form which has evolved from apostolic times- and I trust the Holy Spirit to work through this action, just as the Spirit does in all sacramental acts. But, if you do need the validation of Anglican orders from another jurisdiction in the church, your heart can rest in knowing that many in the Eastern Orthodox Churches have concluded that our Anglican orders are valid, including the Patriarch of Constantinople, Meletios, who in 1922 issued an Encyclical on the Validity of Anglican Orders, in which he wrote that in Anglican ordinations “…there are found in their fullness those orthodox and indispensable, visible and sensible elements of valid episcopal ordination - viz. the laying on of hands, the Epiclesis of the All-Holy Spirit and also the purpose to transmit the charisma of the Episcopal ministry.”

This action, that we as Anglicans continue to perform as successors to the Apostolic tradition, is specifically done to set apart bishops, priests, and deacons- but generally speaking all of the people of God are set apart as priests with the laying on of hands by the bishop in Holy Baptism. (As a side note, bishops no longer lay hands and anoint every baptized person with chrism, but chrism is blessed by the bishop and priests anoint the newly baptized with chrism in the name of and on behalf of the bishop, and the newly baptized are sealed by the Holy Spirit and made Christ’s own forever.) It is this being set apart in baptism that unites all of us to Christ’s priesthood and calls each of us to participate in some way in Christ’s mission in the world. Holy Orders only sets apart those already called to share in Christ’s eternal priesthood to exercise special ministries of oversight, leadership, teaching and pastoral care. These men and women are called to serve, empower, equip and bless the baptized so that they can exercise the ministries to which they have been called. One of the primary ways that the ordained equip the baptized is through preaching and the administration of the Sacraments. But we ordained clergy are also called to live lives worthy of the Gospel, so that, as St Francis put it, we are able to preach the Gospel at all times, sometimes without words.

But then, all of the baptized are called to live lives worthy of the Gospel, and we all are called to proclaim the Good news of God in Christ in word and deed. This calling is particularly clear in the Epistle reading appointed for today from 1 Peter 2. These words come from the early Christian community’s instruction for the baptized- and may contain parts of an ancient baptismal hymn- which describe for the catechumen- that is the one awaiting baptism- what this community in Christ is like. This instruction in 1 Peter teaches that the baptized are members of a royal priesthood, a holy nation- a people set a part by God as living stones that are built upon Jesus Christ the Cornerstone and joined together by the Holy Spirit to be a Temple where God’s presence may be found. As priests we share in Christ’s priesthood and offer sacrifices of praise to God- not only as we offer the Holy Eucharist- but also as we offer the sacrifice of a holy life which bears witness to the love of God in Christ.

The catechism in the Prayer Book asks:

Q. Who are the ministers of the Church?
A. The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops,
priests, and deacons.
Q. What is the ministry of the laity?
A. The ministry of lay persons is to represent Christ and his
Church; to bear witness to him wherever they may be;
and, according to the gifts given them, to carry on
Christ’s work of reconciliation in the world; and to take
their place in the life, worship, and governance of the

Each of us, whether we are set apart for service to the world in Baptism, or set apart to equip and nurture the faith of the baptized in Holy Orders, are called to participate in the priesthood and ministry of Jesus Christ, according to the gifts which the Holy Spirit has given us. Being an ordained clergy person does not make one closer to God or holier than other Christians. Yes, because of our training we are often better equipped to interpret scripture and preach the Gospel, and only the ordained may administer the Sacraments- other than baptism, which is valid if any baptized person administers it. But those distinctions are only differences of calling and ministry. The ministry of presence and compassion, the ministry of hospitality, the ministry of teaching and spiritual nurture, the ministry of music and artistic prayer, the ministry of healing and love, the ministry of the stewardship of this house of prayer and all other ministries in which we are involved are as important as what we priests do when we proclaim the Gospel and administer the sacraments. All that we do is rooted in the work that Jesus Christ has done to reconcile all to God, and to bring about God’s Reign of Peace and Justice. All of our ministries proclaim the Love of God and make visible the Body of Christ and the life of God in the world. So, be thankful for those God has called and will call to holy orders. Pray that God would call faithful men and women to the service of the Church- and pray for us who are already ordained- Lord knows we need your prayers. But also be thankful that you have been gifted by the Spirit and called to share in Christ’s priesthood. Pray that God will show you how to best use your gifts in the church and in the world- so that all might come to know the loving embrace of God
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:58 AM


Add a comment