Fully Empowered and Authorized (Celebration of a New Ministry)
Fully Empowered and Authorized
A Celebration of New Ministry with the Rev. Guillermo A. Arboleda
By the Rev. Canon Frank Logue
Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to act in accordance with all the law that my servant Moses commanded you; do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, so that you may be successful wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart out of your mouth; you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to act in accordance with all that is written in it. For then you shall make your way prosperous, and then you shall be successful. I hereby command you: Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us: prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness. Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Celebration of New Ministry. That’s what the bulletin says anyway. New ministry? You have already put enough mileage on your priest that if he was a car, you would have to sell him as used. You have already gotten the new priest smell out of him.
Y’all working together have already worked the new off his ministry at St. Matthew’s and have gotten to the part where you get real with each other. He has been here long enough that y’all actually know each other, good and bad, and you want him to do this anyway.
I find that encouraging, because the fit does matter. I was joking with your priest about this as I asked him about what sort of screws or bolts we needed to bring to install him as rector. I explained that the last time I preached one of these services, I wasn’t the Canon to the Ordinary. I am not exactly sure how installing a rector goes. I told Guillermo that it would be embarrassing to discover that he didn’t align with the bolts in the floor. He told me we might have to drill some new holes. So I came prepared. I did bring some tools so we can make it work on the fly. [show a drill]
But there is no way he is a perfect fit, have you looked at him? He’s a big strapping priest. [spin the drill, swap out the battery and power up the saw.] I assure you, one way or another, we are going to get Guillermo properly installed as your rector tonight.
I am, mostly, kidding. Installation of a Rector was a way of describing what we are doing tonight that we have left behind, we don’t call it that any more as it didn’t fit with a biblical understanding of ministry. You will notice the bulletin describes this service as the Celebration of a New Ministry. Then within the notes “About this Service” on page one of the bulletin we read, “Crucially, the Celebration of a New Ministry is not only about the new rector.” The word “only” is in italics so we will note, that this liturgy is about Guillermo, but not only about him. This liturgy is about every parishioner of St. Matthew’s as well.
So the note in the bulletin goes on, “It is about the mutual ministry of the rector with the whole parish. This services emphasizes the ministry of all baptized Christians and the ways in which priests and laity partner together to fulfill the church’s mission.” So this is about partnering together.
If that were not clear enough, the collect Bishop Benhase prayed earlier asked our everliving God to “strengthen and sustain the ministers of this congregation, lay and ordained, that they may faithfully follow in the way of your Son Jesus Christ.” This night is about all the ministers of the church, lay and ordained, as lay persons are also ministers of the Gospel.
This is exactly what Paul wrote about in our reading from Romans in which he described the church as the Body of Christ, with many members, yet one body. Paul went on to say, “For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one Body in Christ.”
Then within the one Body Paul writes, “We have gifts that differ according the grace given us.”
You have called a gifted priest to serve St. Matthew’s. But as he has already been at work alongside you as your priest in charge, you should actually know quite well that Guillermo does not bring everything he needs to be your rector. This can be difficult to see as he is a skilled preacher and teacher, a caring pastor, and a humble leader ready to listen to the wisdom of those who assist him in leading this parish. But if we really look, we will see that Guillermo has gifts that you don’t need and in other areas lacks gifts where St. Matthew’s sorely needs them. This is as it should be.
For we know from scripture that Jesus distilled all of our faith to the essentials saying “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” On this hangs everything. Love God. Love your Neighbor. Love yourself.
And through this love we discover that we were created to be in relationship with God and each other. With this lens, we see all through the Bible that God never ever gives one person all the gifts they need. Even Jesus was made for relationships. He too needed others.
So despite how gifted Guillermo may be, and he is, God did not give him all the expertise, experience, and skills St. Matthew’s Church needs. God fearfully and wonderfully made your priest so that he need of you, the people of St. Matthew’s as well as his fellow clergy and his bishop. And while he is an excellent fit for St. Matthew’s at this time, he is blessedly not perfect and is very much in need of what the current leadership of this church brings to the table and they your leadership are in need with what some of the members of the church sitting on the sidelines can bring if you come out on the field and get into the game.
In a moment, we will move into the Covenant of New Ministry. Bishop Benhase will read a charge to you, the members of the church saying, “I remind you that in Baptism, you are fully empowered and authorized to exercise ministry in Christ’s name…”
You are empowered and authorized to exercise ministry no matter your age: As a parish priest I watched as kids invited friends from elementary school to church and they would come and then bring their parents. I baptized two whole families that connected to the church first because a fourth grader asked her friends to come to church.
I have watched as people home bound late in life have encouraged their family back to church. I recall a woman dying of pancreatic cancer who had less than two weeks notice of her death, using that time to call friends and family to give them news of her death. She wanted them to hear her voice so they would know that she was thankful for the life she had been given. She had survived breast cancer for a little more than 25 years. She had been given so much in that time and now as she was dying she wanted those close to her to know how her faith in God had given her peace with her own death. What a celebration we had at her funeral.
I have been blessed to officiate at several funerals here at St. Matthew’s and have seen well that you also have seen many followers of Jesus who likewise practiced their faith better than many a preacher. In every age and stage of life, there are ways in which you can serve God through your church and in your daily lives. And please don’t hear me as handing you a To Do List. Because God will work through you and the ways you serve really come to be God’s gift to you.
But we mark tonight a new phase. You were on a rent to buy relationship with your rector, and you and he have decided to buy into this relationship. This is not to say he will serve here ‘til death do you part, but that you are committing together in an important way to the ministry of this church. And as you move from renting to buying in to this ministry, you are now challenged to live more fully into being the lay ministers of the Gospel of Jesus you were called to be in your baptism.
Our reading from Joshua, which states: “Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” These verses from Joshua have long been important to Guillermo. These are words his mother’s mother gave to him again and again. His grandmother has influential spiritually to Guillermo from a very young age and as he grew, she read this passage from Joshua to him and had him commit it to memory. As apt as these words are for him to revisit this night, this is a suggested reading for the Celebration of a New Ministry because these words Guillermo’s grandmother spoke over him are for all of St. Matthew’s tonight. You, St. Matthew’s, are to be strong and courageous knowing that this night marks another important beginning for this church.
In our prayers, we asked God to “Inspire our minds with a vision of your kingdom in this time and place.” And then so inspired the scripture calls you to have the courage to act. And this church has done so before. I remember talking to the Rev. Harry Nevels of his time as your rector when the Men’s Club helped found the preschool. That took the inspiration and courage I am talking about. And the rector counting on the laity is nothing knew, I have been blessed to talk with all of your living rectors and to learn second hand from Nevels of Fr. Caution and his day. What I am calling you to this night is calling you back to St. Matthew’s at its best with every rector of this church and of St. Augustine’s and St. Stephen’s Churches that became St. Matthew’s.
I want to close by offering you a word for a priest that has lost favor. We are focusing on the word "rector" tonight, which comes from the Latin for to rule or to direct. But if we want to capture a New Testament view of a presbyter or priest as the pastor of a church, the role of the pastor then and now is to be an example to the flock. This is where we get the old term “parson” may help alongside rector. Parson meant “a representative person.” A parson was to represent Christ, but do so in such a way as to encourage the whole congregation to do the same. When the parson visits the sick and shut-ins, it is not instead of the other parishioners, but as an example of what a follower of Jesus is to do.
Guillermo is not such a perfect fit that he brings everything you need. Much of what St. Matthew’s needs was present before he arrived. He is a perfect fit instead because he knows his role is not to do ministry for you, but with you. Guillermo is also to serve as a parson, doing the work of ministry and calling you to join him in ministering as well. For you, in your baptism, were already fully empowered and authorized to be ministers of the Gospel. Your rector’s role is to equip you for that life-giving work and to pray for you to have the courage to act, taking St. Matthew’s into the future God dreams for this, God’s church.