Saturday, 10 December 2011

Ordination Sermon

Today I was Immensely privileged to preach at the Ordination as Deacon of Dr James Harding at All Saints Church, Dunedin. It was a most immensely beautiful service in the Best Anglo-Catholic tradition and a Converting liturgy.

Here is the text

Sermon at the Ordination of James Harding to the Holy Order of Deacon in the Church
by The Rt Revd Dr Kelvin Wright, Bishop of Dunedin
at All Saints Church, Dunedin

Saturday 10th December, 2011 Anno Domini

As will be immediately apparent as I open my mouth to speak this afternoon – James and I have something in common in that we are both natives not of these shores but of the North West of England. Whenever you come to a new land as I have recently done, you are always very happy to make connections that remind you that you haven’t left your roots behind you, entirely. And so it was that on the first evening of our last Diocesan Synod I met James in Invercargill – which is almost literally the furthest away from our roots we could have been and – ee bye gum, an Englishman and a Northerner to boot!! And The Question was asked – where do you come from? Stalybridge! Ah!! I replied – Connection!! Blessed memories flooded my thoughts - Whilst I was a University student in Leeds, I had a rather pretty physiotherapist girlfriend in Manchester and most Friday and Sunday evenings I would pass through Stalybridge on my way to and from spending the weekend with her.  I never stopped.

Well, and with no apologies for the tortured metaphor, in a short while James, the train of your life will enter that station in the church we call The Diaconate – and I sincerely hope that unlike my treatment of your beloved hometown all those years ago, you will not see this Order of the church as merely a stage or place to pass through. Ordination, like Baptism is permanent and irrevocable – once baptized, always baptized - once a deacon always a Deacon. As ministers in the Church of Christ our Primary vocation is always that of Baptism, that is the most exalted state – from there we may be asked to step down, the serve as Deacon and then by the grace of God called down further still to serve as Priest – but these higher callings, Baptism and the Diaconate are our roots. One can only be a Deacon who is included in Christ by Baptism and should you be ordained Priest, then that too is only by virtue of you being both baptized and also a Deacon – these are the Roots.

Now the Order of Deacon is in some regards the oldest set apart ministry in the Church – it is the first task for which the laying on of hands was used as seven were set aside to wait on tables – and I think it is all to easy to hear these words and indeed the words of Christ himself in the gospel ‘the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves’ – and imagine your task to be ‘Another pair of hands.’ Now without a shadow of doubt there is much in the Christian life which is revealed in the life of a Deacon and a Priest about such service, God help the deacon or priest who will not give time to simple service of others, making the tea or moving tables or clearing up – much of your life will be ‘Measured out in coffee spoons’ – but Luke, in his account in Acts of the making of Deacons immediately alerts us to the fact that there is something else going on here, that Servants of the church are to be like their Lord in a fuller sense – That those who were ordained deacon had to be full of Wisdom and the Holy Spirit.
            Immediately after this account, we hear of the ministry of these deacons – Philip apart from the ministry of waiting on tables spreads the word in Samaria and famously to the Ethiopian Eunuch – an excellent outlet for your languages there my friend J and on a more sobering note, Stephen who in witnessing to Christ becomes the first red martyr of the church.

Well in this age of Facebook we can get up to the minute insights into people’s state of mind and James records this morning that he is Overwhelmed – Good! Who wouldn’t be at such a calling.

What should we say of all this – that as a Deacon – to remember the words of St Paul, ‘that you do not think of yourself more highly than you ought’ – that no task should be beneath a deacon - for it is that humility of service which will act as the authentification of the wider ministry you are called to – not leaving behind the baptismal root of the one who in our common life in the church ‘is among us as one who serves’ – but that in being a faithful servant in these small matters you will be handed larger matters in which to be involved, never forgetting those roots of humble service which show you belong to The Servant.

Well that is the Order into which James is to be ordained – but what of that which James brings to this role – and although I have known him but a short while, there was a flicker of recognition in these words from Sirach

He seeks out the wisdom of all the ancients,
   and is concerned with prophecies;
he preserves the sayings of the famous
   and penetrates the subtleties of parables;
he seeks out the hidden meanings of proverbs
   and is at home with the obscurities of parables.

Or as James says of himself, again on Facebook - Mad Biblical Scholar!!

From the moment he stood up to speak in Synod in September – it was clear to me that James is a bit of a clever bloke – as we’d say oop North. BUT  cleverness is Not a requirement for Ordination – there is a Very old story with which we are all familiar, that in the beginning a fateful choice was made – between two trees in the Garden – the tree of Life associated with Wisdom - and the tree of knowledge – To Quote TS Elliott again Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?

Those who are ordained into the Holy Order of Deacon are to reveal that they recognize that in their baptism that they have been reconnected to the Tree of Life – the Tree associated not with Knowledge, but with Wisdom. Selection for Ordination must look past that natural intelligence or cleverness – and must ask the question ‘He may well be able to recite in fifteen Semitic languages at will, whilst balancing a plate on his nose and playing the flugelhorn J – but is He Wise?’ Again – a recovery of Ancient Roots – of recognition that a long while ago we took a wrong turn – Is this a man who now follows a road less traveled?

Sirach goes on to show how this wisdom is made manifest - He sets his heart on rising early to seek the Lord who made him, and to petition the Most High; he opens his mouth in prayer and asks pardon for his sins. It is in the hidden work that all James’ knowledge will be refined and judged and redeemed – in the still of the morning before the Lord that all James is in his gifting will be tested and refined for service in the house of  the living God.

But how might you know? Months or years down the line when the glow of today is but a remote memory – how might you know whether this is Wisdom or its illegitimate but powerfully seductive sibling, Knowledge? For in our age perhaps more than any other we are dazzled by Knowledge.

What is the diagnostic Key? In years to come – overwhelmed as you are on this day by your Calling, how might you remain sure that it is Wisdom and not Knowledge on whose breast you recline? Certainly a sense of the absence of God is not a key, for this is very often no more than a clear sign of his closeness – no – Rather I offer you three diagnostic keys – Firstly, The Difference between Wisdom and Knowledge is discerned in their fruit –  Wisdom seeks to serve, to build up, to think nothing of itself – Knowledge on the other hand is put to use in the quest for power and control. Wisdom does not seek to control, but to Love, to Serve. Knowledge is ultimately unmasked as self serving – Wisdom gives it’s life for others

Secondly Ask yourself this question at regular intervals. Listen to these words of Psalm 84 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the Lord; - Is that deep longing for God alive within me? Not am I doing well, not does everyone speak well of me, not is my ministry ‘successful’ – for these are all false friends to you. No! Is that longing still there, if even faint – can we say with Theresa of Avilla – I do not love God, I do not even want to love God – but I want to want to love God?
Put another way am I still overwhelmed as was the beloved disciple in the presence of The one who comes among us as one who serves

Ask yourself, am I still thirsty for those deep roots, the living wells of faith and wisdom made present to us in Christ

And secondly – can you still assent to this – that At the heart of all Christian life and thus at the heart of all Christian ministry, which is never more than derivative of the life of the church in her baptismal obedience to her Lord – that you are never more a servant of the Lord than when you go into the inner room and close the door and pray to your Father who is in secret, or when you are no more than a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord.

Will you allow that Worship and prayer are the very heart of your ministry, as indeed they are the very heart of Life itself as a Baptised person.

Wherever the Lord sends you James – whatever he may call you to do – be it small or great – never loose touch with your roots, the Life of God revealed to us in Christ and mediated to and I pray through you, by His grace. In so far as it depends on you, remain full of Wisdom and the Holy Spirit


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