30 November 2019
Diocesan Ordinations
St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide

A sermon by The Rt Rev’d Denise Ferguson,
Assistant Bishop,
Diocese of Adelaide

Holy God, open our minds to know your wisdom, open our hearts to embrace your love and open our mouths to speak your word. Amen.

Jesus said ‘Follow me.’

Gregory of Nyssa, one of the early church theologians writes ‘our lifelong task is to find out what part of the Divine Image God has chosen to reveal in us.’

One of the greatest privileges I have experienced in ministry is that of accompanying people on this journey of discovery.

Ministry takes many forms and by far the most prolific ministry providers are the laity, the hundreds of thousands of faithful Christians who give of themselves every day in service to Christ.

My ministry journey has enabled me to share with many, many people as they have explored and identified how God is calling them to use their gifts in God’s world. It is wonderful to experience those light bulb moments of connection when the jigsaw puzzle of life comes together to reveal God’s plan and path, and then to walk with that person as they are equipped and enabled to fulfil the picture that the jigsaw puzzle reveals.

For most people the picture that God reveals will disclose a call to lay ministry, a ministry all Christians are commissioned to embrace at our baptism, the ministry that the majority of people here today live out in their everyday lives.

Sometimes the picture God reveals on this journey of discovery takes a person down a different path – usually unexpected, always life changing and eternally life challenging. Sometimes, this picture reveals a call to ordained ministry.

Today the extended Body of Christ has come together to support four people who have responded to that call to ordained ministry, a ministry that demands much from its ministers: A life and ministry of holiness, visibility, presence and leadership.

So, what does it mean when Jesus says ‘Follow Me”?

  • Leadership in the church is unique.

We are called to follow, but we are also called to lead. We are called to lead in a Church that has only one head: Christ.  

No matter how many courses we undertake, how diligently we might study, how well we might apply ourselves to the task of ministry or how well we might achieve, we will never be the ‘Head’ of the organisation to which we have committed our lives.

As leaders in the Church we are called to be servants of the ‘Head’ by serving the Body.

The only authority we have comes from God, through Christ and the Church, and that authority isn’t to stand alone in leadership, it is to work in partnership with God’s people.

Being ordained does not give us any special authority to stand over or above any other member of the Body of Christ. Rather, it acknowledges that we have been called by God and the Church to fulfil a particular function within and for the Body of Christ.

The model of leadership we offer is one where actions speak louder than words and is symbolized by a bowl and towel. We are called to kneel at the feet of the ones we lead, wipe the dust from their sandals, wash their feet, pour oil upon their heads, seat them at the head of the table, feed them with the love of God and build bridges into their lives.

This is a ministry of leadership that witnesses to sacred trust, courage, commitment, compassion, loyalty, integrity and humility.

And we who are called to this ministry are as human, frail, sinful and imperfect as anyone else on God’s earth

It is hardly surprising that in earlier Church tradition an Ordinand’s two presenters were in attendance not so much to affirm a candidates readiness for ordination, rather they were present to grasp the often reluctant ordinand firmly by each arm, and if necessary carry him to the Bishop, who subsequently ordained him.

I am sure that today’s presenters are relieved they don’t have to carry their ordinands to the Bishop.

  • Ordination is for life.

Christ gave his life for us.

At baptism we were made full members of God’s family, and a life committed to God, following the way of Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

 At ordination God calls us to a specific ministry within that family.

I believe that the call to ordination is ontological. It isn’t a surface act of acknowledging particular abilities or gifts, rather it is something that touches every aspect of our lives; body, mind and spirit, something that, by the grace of God, emanates from the core of our being.

  • Ordination is a sacrament
    – an outward and visible sign of God working in a particular way in our lives to equip us to minister in particular ways in other people’s lives.

The sacrament of Ordination calls us to a ministry of presence, sometimes described as a sacrament of presence; intentional, privileged invitation, instigated by need or circumstances to be present for people at some of the most important and often most vulnerable times of their lives; times of great crises and times of great joy and transformation. It is a ministry of being, rather than a ministry of doing.

  • Ordination calls us to a ministry of visibility

Although the call to ordained ministry might seem very personal, it is never private. It is a call that can only find its being when exercised within the Body of Christ and the wider community.

No matter how we might be called to fulfil our ordained ministry, no matter how we might function, in a particular way, we are inescapably God’s public representatives in the world.

  • Ordination is a ministry of being

We, the ordained, are called to truly ‘be’, and fulfil the ministry God is calling us to. ‘Being real’ is essential.

Being real means acknowledging our frailties’ and brokenness and the healing and wholeness that God gives us through Christ. The day we deny the challenges in our own life journey is the day we deny God. Because when we forget about the difficulties, the parts of our own stories we would prefer to ignore, then we deny the reality of God’s love, healing and transformation in our lives, we start to work out of our own strength.

This ministry of ‘being’, of leadership, visibility and presence is the ministry Des, Jo, Michael & Shane commit to today. They commit for life; they commit for love – the love of God. Pray for them.

Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’

Gregory of Nyssa wrote ‘Our lifelong task is to find out what part of the Divine Image God has chosen to reveal in us.’

For many this journey will lead to a life committed to lay ministry, for some that journey finds its destination in ordained ministry.

To those for whom God and the Church calls into ordained ministry, I encourage you to remember

Ordained ministry is a great privilege:

  • It is an incredible gift.
  • It is life changing and life challenging.
  • It is a call to follow where Jesus led.
  • It is a ministry that we, the ordained, cannot fulfil on our own. We can only do this by God’s grace, with the permission of the Church, and the generosity of the Communities of Faith in which we are called to extend that ministry.

Des, Jo, Michael & Shane may you know God’s richest blessings and grace as you begin this next stage of your ministry.

May you be a blessing to the people you serve, and may they be a blessing to you. Amen.