Friday, August 21, 2009

YEAR OF THE PRIEST: Ordination Sermon by Bishop Martyn Jarrett

The Rt Rev'd Martyn Jarrett has been the Provincial Episcopal Vistor ("PEV" or "flying bishop") for the Northern Province of the Church of England since 2000. This sermon, preached on 5th July 2009 for the Ordination of Philip Corbett to the Priesthood, is from the Bishop's Website HERE.

Matthew 10 v5

Twelve men have been with Jesus, learning more of His vision for the Kingdom of God. At times their whole set of values seem to be turned on their heads. But that is what Jesus so often does when you and I seek to listen carefully to Him. Then those men are sent out by Jesus to share in His mission. And now, today, Father Philip, Jesus says it is your turn. Today, Father Philip, you are sent out as a priest of Jesus Christ. Like those first disciples, Father Philip, you will have continually to refocus yourself on God's priorities as He ever turns the values of this world upside down.

The essential task of a priest is that of being used by God in bringing Him to this world and in bringing this world to God. Wherever and whenever God and His creation consciously interact then it is that the world is re-fashioned for the purpose for which God made it. When Jesus was born among us at Bethlehem then God and his world began that encounter with each other that alters our way of thinking forever. On Good Friday, God and His world again dramatically encounter each another at Calvary. We human beings resist God's call for change. We are unwilling to live as citizens of His kingdom. And, we human beings, we know how to stand up to folk who will not let us have our own way. At least a crucified man, a dead man, can offer us no more trouble. Yet, even as He dies, Jesus finally turns our set of values upside down, that set of values He has been challenging all through His ministry. Jesus breaks the chains of hatred. Jesus dies still loving this world even as it kills Him. Jesus refuses to match hatred with hatred. That is God's nature forever. The world, you and I, are called to relate to that self-giving God for all eternity. In the words of the very first text from Scripture that many of us ever had to learn by heart:

God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes on Him should not perish but have ever lasting life.

Underlying everything in this world, underlying all our lives, is the essential truth of God's unbreakable, self-giving love. Quite simply, if you, Father Philip, are to bring God to His people, and His people to God, you must strive to radiate that love in all you are and in all you do.

Remember, Father Philip, that God's first love is for His world. The Prophet, Jeremiah, so we are told in our first reading, is set aside not just so that he might speak to the People of Israel but in order that he might be a prophet to all the nations. Your priestly life, Father Philip, is to be one that always points to the fact that God is interested in every single part of this world that he has so amazingly created. In our age, increasingly, you will need to remind us what a treasure this earth is: how wicked it is not to care for it and so to fail in passing it on in good order to those who will come after us. You will want every human being to enjoy the life that God intends for him or her, as you look for the coming of God's kingdom and invite others to look for its coming. So, you will especially take to heart the words from the great prayer that will soon be said over you and for you, that you may reconcile what is divided, heal what is wounded and restore what is lost.

Archbishop Anthony Bloom, used to reflect on the struggles of the Church saying: "In Russia we have learnt to die for Christ and not for incense." All of us need to be constantly reminded that, however high a doctrine we might have of the Church, we always need to have an even higher one of the world. Never, Father Philip, lose sight of the huge breadth of the ministry that is being entrusted to you. God's love encompasses the whole world and so must yours.

These twelve Jesus sent out.

But, of course, Father Philip, the Church, too, needs your priestly ministry. As the opening words of our service this evening reminded us, the whole Church and not just priests are called to perform God's ministry in this world. There must never be any suggestion in this service that we Christians are somehow setting you aside to do all the work that needs doing in our name. The Church of God is often compared to a ship, somewhat like Noah's ark, carrying people to safety. That is the good news. The not so good news is that insofar as the Church of God is a ship it is in no way a cruise ship taking us all off on holiday. The Church of God is, rather, much more like a tramp steamer, aboard which every one of us has to work his or her passage. All of us who have been baptised have a share in Jesus' priestly work of bringing God to the world and the world to God. And, Father Philip, that is exactly where you come in as a priest in God's Church. You are ordained to focus for all of us the work of Jesus and so help us as we carry out that amazing ministry. Yes, the first reading this evening tells of Jeremiah being sent to all the nations. Our second reading, though, is much more focussed. Saint Paul is giving advice to the clergy of Ephesus. Paul reminds those presbyters, or priests as we might call them today, how every person brought into Christ's Church is only there because Christ first shed His own blood for him or for her. It is a very grave thing to say, Father Philip, but your responsibility for the Church is to strive to see that not a drop of the blood that Christ has shed is ever wasted or is taken for granted.

These twelve Jesus sent out.

So, you, together with every priest, will now have the responsibility not only to proclaim the truth throughout the world but also to nourish those who respond to it. You must have a special care to safeguard the truth. Yes, of course, you will do that by means of your preaching and teaching, your scholarship and your Bible reading. All of that, though, will count for little, unless there is more than a hint of that truth being lived out within your very person. Just imagine how we could know that Michael Angelo had ever produced a great work of art if you and I had never even seen a copy of one. If any priest ever wants to show the world that God is capable of transforming lives then it must begin with some hint of transformation within himself. Priests are to be holy. Our parishioners may be unrealistic in expecting you and I, Father Philip, to be saints. They have, though, the right to see us committed to the spiritual journey and truly penitent for the parts of us which does not perfectly mirror our holy calling.

Above all, Father Philip, Christ Jesus now entrusts you with presiding at the Holy Mass. There is no more dramatic sign of God's purpose for the world. Here, in the Mass, you will preside over a rite that shows the world what it is ultimately destined to become. Here is a community completely given up to God, all its unworthiness taken away as no one less than Christ offers Himself to His Father for us and with us. Here is a community where already every person is an equally accepted citizen of God's kingdom. We might be male or female, black or white, rich or poor, young or old, immigrant or long term resident, fit or disabled, very clever or having to manage learning difficulties. It does not matter. As we receive Holy Communion so each of us is equally made welcome and equally treasured. Each of us is transformed more into Christ's likeness. Here is something that turns worldly values on their head just as much as Christ's birth, death and resurrection that the Mass represents. You, Father Philip, are set aside to nourish a church that, in turn, is set aside to nourish the world.

These twelve Jesus sent out.

One of the first toys, for many of our children, is a set of plastic cups. It takes some skill before a child can fit each one inside the other. And, then, the whole learning process can be added to by turning the cups upside down and working out the order in which each cup must then stand securely upon the other, in order to produce a solid plastic tower. It is rather like that for us Christians. It all boils down to seeing things the right way round, or rather through the eyes of God who is ever turning around this world's thinking. Tonight, it seems as if you, Father Philip, are at the centre of this service. In one sense you obviously and rightly are. But, turn the cups upside down, as it were, for a moment. Then it is that this vast universe, which God loves and for which His Son died, becomes the centrepiece. The Church's task is to be used by God in bringing that world to know both of God's love and of His purpose. Your task, Father Philip, as a priest, is to equip and to lead the Church in that task. Remember, above all, that this is God's mission. God is the One who sends and equips both you and us for our individual callings. And, it is God whose precious Son comes now among us, by the power of His Holy Spirit, both to ordain you as a priest and also to nourish us all in the Blessed sacrament of the Altar.


(Every Friday during THE YEAR OF THE PRIEST I am posting on this blog a significant reading, meditation or address on some aspect of the priestly life. If you haven't noticed, I encourage you to go back over posts for the last seven Fridays.)


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