Ministry with a Capital “M”

It’s not often that we get to celebrate Ministry with a capital “M” in the various ways we are doing today – and all in one liturgy! That theme is announced in our Collect, or prayer, for today which reminds us that there are “various orders of ministers in the Church.” In addition to the three-fold order of bishops, priests and deacons, our Catechism teaches that there are actually four kinds of ministers in the Church – lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.

 And as a way trying understand all that, let me share an image which has meant a lot to me over the years. About five years ago, Susanne and I lost a dear friend named Jim Kelsey. Jim was the bishop of the Diocese of Northern Michigan and he was killed in an automobile accident on the way back home from a Sunday visitation in his diocese.

 Jim had been a real leader in what we might call, for lack of the better word, “Baptismal Ministry.” That is, he believed that allChristianMinistry, all service in the Body of Christ, was rooted and grounded in Baptism.  I think he would say that the most important thing that ever happens to us as Christians is that we are baptized – because that’s when we become members of Christ’s Body, sealed with the Holy Spirit, and when the congregation challenges us to “confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.” (BCP308)

 One way Jim Kelsey sought to remind himself of that every day was in his office. When you walk into most clergy offices (including, I must confess, mine) you will see the walls adorned with diplomas and certificates – probably the seminary diploma and at least the ordination certificate to the diaconate, or the priesthood, or the episcopate. Jim only had one large certificate framed on his office wall. And that was his baptismal certificate!

 He used to say that he thought baptismal certificates were the ones which ought to be large and adorned with seals and signs and symbols so that all Christians would hang them on their walls as a constant reminder of their baptisms! And that ordination certificates should be simple and small, sort of like driver’s licenses, clergy could carry around in their pockets in case they ever needed proof of ordination! I love the point that perspective is trying to make!

 Today, we have a unique reminder that all Ministry is rooted in baptism. We were to have some actual baptisms today and that would really have made the point, but we do have confirmations and receptions and we will all renew our baptismal vows. We will also receive into our church a priest from our sister Communion, the Roman Catholic Church. Despite all our divisions in the Body of Christ today it is the One Lord, One Faith, and One Baptism spoken of in our liturgy and in the Letter to the Ephesians that we celebrate here today.

 The one Lord is described so beautifully in our First Lesson from Isaiah: “Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth,” the Prophet writes, “It is (God) who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers…The Lord is the Everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth…” (Isaiah 40).Israelbequeathed to us faith in the One God.

 The one Faith is what Jesus proclaimed and which is described in the Gospel today as bringing healing and freedom to all whose lives he touched. And it is the one Baptism which compelled St. Paul  to do whatever he could to relate to all people – Jews and keepers of the Law…Gentiles and those outside the Law…weak and strong alike. He says that he made himself a slave to all of them, so that he might win more of them for Jesus Christ!

 Now, we’re all going to be making some promises here this morning. Those being confirmed and received will promise to renounce evil and renew their commitment to Christ. Randy, in being received as a priest of this church, will promise to be loyal to the doctrine, discipline and worship of Christ as this church has received them.

 But all of us together will recommit our lives to Jesus Christ as we renew our Baptismal Covenant. That Covenant gives us all our marching orders, whether we are lay or ordained, young or old, newcomers to Christianity or only to The Episcopal Church. Pay attention to those promises as we rehearse them in a few moments – belief and trust in the Triune God…a commitment to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers…resistance to evil and a willingness to repent…proclaiming the Good News of God’s love in word and example…loving our neighbors as ourselves…striving for justice and peace among all people by respecting the dignity of every human being.

 Those promises summarize the response we are asked to make to the God who made us, the God who is in solidarity with us, and the God who empowers us to be the Body of Christ in this world. The Diocese of Chicago has an easy-to-remember motto, or mission statement – Grow the Church, Form the Faithful, Change the World.  It’s pretty clear to me that you are doing those things here atSt. Ann’s. You’re obviously growing the Church – as we confirm and receive new members here today.

 You’re forming the Faithful as you prepare to welcome Randy (Walk Itch) Wakitsch as a priest of this parish and this church. I’m sure he would say that, even as he helped form you, over these last six years in Children’s Formation, Outreach, and Centering Prayer – that you have helped form him as well! Until he has come to this day…

 Now, all that remains is for you to Change the World!

 Sound like a tall order? Well, just remember that Baptismal Covenant. Trust in God…Break the Bread…Resist Evil…Preach Good News…Love your Neighbor…Work for Justice and Peace…And Respect the Dignity of Every Human Being.

 And your world will never be the same!

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