Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ordered Ministry

The more I have to blog about the more overwhelmed I feel by it all and the less likely I am to do it. So I'm choosing one thing to get me started again.

A couple of Saturdays ago I went to a fundraising dinner for the United Church seminary in Saskatoon, St. Andrew's College. This isn't my seminary, nor my denomination, and if I'm honest I would say I wouldn't have gone except that we've had students from the chaplaincy go through there and the people putting the dinner on are huge supporters of the chaplaincy. So, out of a sense of communal support I paid my $100 for roast beef and a talk by Lorne Calvert. I knew Calvert had been the NDP premier of Saskatchewan but didn't realize he had been in active ordained ministry in the United Church before entering politics. And lets be really honest here, I was expecting the same old social gospel/United church/NDP message I've heard many times before. Don't get me wrong - this is a message that has shaped me profoundly and I find it a bit like comfort food, warm and nourishing, if not exciting.

It was a surprising delight when I heard one of the most encouraging articulations of the place of ordered ministry (he began by saying he didn't know what to call it since the United church has all sorts of different forms of ministry - licenced lay, ordained, diaconal.... - but he was talking about the person 'up there' who everyone knows is the 'minister'). He used three passages of scripture for his talk:

Isaiah 52:7 - how beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news

Romans 10:14-15 - How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Mark 2:1-10 - A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."
Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, "Why does this fellow talk like that? He's blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?"

Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, "Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Get up, take your mat and walk'? But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins . . . ." He said to the paralytic, "I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home." He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, "We have never seen anything like this!"

He started by suggesting that the church has so emphasized the ministry of the many that they haven't articulated an understanding of the ministry of the few. He pointed out that Paul certainly understood the many gifts of the entire body of Christ but that Paul also understood the role of some who are set aside for particular ministry. The heart of that ministry Calvert understands to be being the servant of the servants of God.

He said people working in the world have multiple portals to the world. He described how he has multiple sources of information/advice as a politician and suggested that this isn't that unusual. He went on to say though that he doesn't have many portals to the holy. The image he used was of the four men who carry the paralytic to Jesus and have to create an opening in the roof through which they can lower the man to Jesus. This is what he suggests ordered ministers do: we create openings to allow people to encounter the holy that they seek. He went on to talk of the ways in which the proclamation of the word and the administration of the sacraments are critical is allowing people to encounter God. And he told us that we should never underestimate the value of what we do on a Sunday morning. Take the eight hours to write a sermon, take the time to work with the music team, because that may be the one place in a person's week where he or she will become aware of the holy.

It was a really encouraging talk and I wish more clergy had heard it.

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