Sermon Preached at St Paul’s Cathedral 29th June 2019 at the service for the Ordination of Deacons
Ezekiel 3:22-end, Acts 12:1-11, Matthew 16:13-19
For those of you being ordained today there is much which is new which I am sure makes you feel uncomfortable- new collars, new robes and new stoles – signs of your orders and you will be given other new items – You will be given a new bible as a sign of the authority given you this day to speak God’s word to his people.
Friends and family’s will; give you gifts – sign of their love and support for you.
And tomorrow or Monday many of you will be given a bunch of keys. Serving in the church means that we find ourselves keepers of keys – keys to the church gate protecting a building from vandalism, keys to the church front door closed to keep unwanted people out, keys to the photocopying room locked so it is not missed used, keys to the church hall, key to the safe – often historic and far too big and if you are lucky you may be given the key to the side door! – You will develop deep pockets!
Keys become a sign of authority – and if you are not careful you begin to act as a gate keeper.
Peter in our gospel passage declares that Jesus is the messiah the Son of God and Jesus goes on to tell him that he will be given the keys to the kingdom. These keys are not about keeping people out but rather about opening the way to the kingdom of God.
And what the disciples and we so often miss is that the kingdom that Jesus speaks about is not about buildings, property or wealth or power. It is about love, generous and extravagant, there not because of what we have done but because of what God has done and our call is about making that love, generous and extravagant known – making known what God has done in Jesus Christ. The keys Peter is given and you have are not about locking people out but are there to open up – to open up to others the possibility of coming into the presence of God, opening up the possibility of finding the hope that you have come to know in Jesus Christ.
Now if you are here today to support one of these ordinands and you don’t know the love of God ask one of these people being ordained about it – having spent time with them I know they know the love of God as seen in Christ Jesus – it has transformed their lives.
In our service we have heard that Deacons are ordained so that the people of God may be better equipped to make Christ known and to be heralds of the kingdom – to know and to make know the love of God.
Christian service, the service into which these women and men are being ordained, should always follow this pattern, the pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility and vulnerability. Too often service from a position of strength and security becomes an exercise of power.
Pope Francis has said this about his vision for the Church – for the Roman Catholic Church, but it will do for us too: ‘I prefer a Church that is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a Church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security. ’ (from Guadium Evangilii – The Joy of the Gospel)
Maybe we need to be more generous not just on the keys of the kingdom but also the keys to our churches?
Today you are to be ordained as deacons you are going to have great fun in your parishes, but ministry is not grand. Being a Christian, a disciple, is not grand, being a deacon is not grand you are to reach ‘into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible’. That is what ministry is about.
Reaching into the despair of prisons, or to reach into the darkness and loneliness of sickness, depression, unemployment and broken relationships. Reaching into the shadow of death. Reaching into the places and towards the people who fear that God is not for them, that forgiveness is not for them, that grace is too far away to reach and to make the love of God known. That is what ministry is about.
Today as we ordain these women and men, we celebrate Peter – I wonder if Peter ever regretted being given the keys to the kingdom. Peter who ran out of the boat towards Jesus but whose faith failed as he went under the water, Peter who ran to defend Jesus in the garden but who then denied him around the fire, Peter who only when he came to himself in prison realised there where angels.
There will be times when you may regret that you have been given this ministry. It is then you should remember that it was Jesus whose hand reached out towards Peter as he went under the waves, it was Jesus who met Peter on the beach after his denial and asked him to feed his sheep and even when Peter didn’t recognise the angels God was with him.
There may be times in the future when we regret our calling but do not forget that we are not alone, there may be times when we are confident in our ministry but remember that we can’t not do this alone. We can only do this by the grace and power of God. We need to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus remembering who he is for us and we need to pray that God will enlarge our hearts and understanding of scripture.
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 it is only then that we may use the keys given to us with the wisdom and generosity of God.