Bishop David's ordination sermon
The ordination of Revd Mark Hafkensheid to the Priesthood was held on Saturday 1 July at St Mary's Rotterdam. Below is Bishop David's sermon:
Isaiah 61.1-3; Ps 99; Ephesians 4.7-16; Matthew 28.16-20
Dear friends, Just for a moment, I would like you to imagine something as vividly as you can, in your mind. Imagine what it means to be called by God, hearing a voice within you speaking your name. Imagine a lifetime of obedience to God; having no excuses about being in Church on Sunday, whether you like it or not and having to speak the words of the liturgy with sincerity and conviction, week after week, month after month, and year after year, for the rest of your life. Now also imagine each week after the Sunday liturgy, greeting people, sharing a word of warmth, listening to all the little details of others’ joys and sorrows.
Friends are you still with me? Now, imagine it is your business to get to know as much as possible about the challenges facing the world in this present age – about the ills of our society, about the injustices around us, and, making it also your business to try to do something about these ills, speaking out to address injustice, and to be ready to stand beside the poor and marginalised. Then, if that is not enough, imagine embracing a life in which you must be constantly loving, always ready to forgive. Lying, theft, violence, materialism, immorality are out of the question for you. And imagine a life of daily prayer, of regular bible study, so that the wisdom of Christ begins to live in you. And imagine being recognised as someone whose values are distinct from the world’s.
And finally, imagine all this that I have described to you being inaugurated at a solemn church service where everyone present prays for you, that the Holy Spirit of God will fill you and enable you and strengthen you and never leave you!
Friends, here is a surprise. I have not been talking about ordination at all! Every one of these things I have mentioned are about the implications of our baptism. They are about the life and obligation of every single Christian on the planet! You see, as we ordain Mark to the sacred priesthood he is not about to begin a life committed to “church every Sunday, daily prayer, Bible study, caring for people, seeking justice”. That is was he has been called to do ever since his baptism. That is what all of us, lay and clergy alike, are called by God to do.
It is common mistake for Christians to treat the ordained as though they were the real Christians, putting the clergy on a pedestal and expecting them to be the whole church, the real church. As a bishop I meet lots of people who want to be ordained, and when I ask why they want to be a priest they usually explain that they want to serve God. That is fine and good. But we also serve God by being good neighbours, good parents, good children, good employers, good workers, good teachers, good musicians, good administrators, good friends! We must not ignore our baptismal ministry and think that the real ministry is done by the ordained. All the baptised are called to be active disciples. Just a handful of people have been called by God to be bishops, priests and deacons, but – and this is an important but – this handful of people is neither better nor worse than any other Christian.
Well, enough of what Mark’s priesthood is not about. What is it that he is called to be and do? Dear friends what I want to say now is mostly directed towards Mark, but I will permit you to eavesdrop and listen in!
Mark, the Apostle Paul in Ephesians read today, give you a steer about how your priesthood is to be lived. St Paul says, “the gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ”. A whole range of gifts are given to God’s people. But in this liturgy today, Mark, you are being called to “build up the Church in unity and faith”. As a priest it will be your task to make all these gifts of which St Paul speaks come alive in your people. That is what building up the Church means. And for that task of building up you need to demonstrate these gifts to a certain degree in your own ministry. A priest is a window, an icon is a better more holy word, through which the people of God see the essentials which belong to their own discipleship and ministry.
So first of all, Mark, you are to be an apostle. You know that Apostle means a person who is sent. Your ministry is not really yours! It is Christ’s; he is the one who sends you to his people and to the world. You are like an ambassador. Ambassadors do the will of the government which sends them. And as just ambassadors need to keep in touch with Headquarters, so your ministry will be dependent on your prayer-life, for your daily prayer will be your constant keeping in touch with God’s instruction to you as his ambassador.
Next, St Paul mentions being a prophet. A prophet is not someone who predicts the future; it is not about fortune telling. Prophecy is about seeing the present, the signs of the times right now, and speaking about their significance for God’s people today. A prophet calls the people to account for their action here and now and reminds the people of how they are called to God’s work today. A prophet helps God’s people understand the truth. Today is Keti Koti. Women from St Mary’s raised a prophetic voice about the emancipation of slaves in the Dutch colonies back in 1842, but that prophetic voice is still needed today, calling for and working to cut the chains which keep people from being free, chains of poverty and discrimination, of marginalisation and exclusion.
Like those women of St Mary’s over 180 years ago, being a prophet means there will be times when you need to tell someone, or tell the world something that they might not particularly care to hear, and that is never easy. It is dangerous work, but we follow Christ’s example so our prophetic word is presented as was Christ’s, bathed in love and deep humility. And your work as a prophet will be in conjunction with the next task that Paul mentions: the task of evangelist.
Being an evangelist is not about a style of preaching or liturgy or a particular view about how Jesus saves us. It is simply sharing the good news of God’s love with those with whom you come into contact. In one of Our Lord’s first sermons he quoted the passage from Isaiah which was read as the first lesson; he was anointed to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and release to the prisoners, to comfort all who mourn. Being an evangelist is about inviting everyone into the Lord’s loving embrace. The Church is not an exclusive hotel, only for certain people; it is more like a caring hospital whose doors are always open for anyone in need of care, love, and healing. And true and loving evangelical inclusion means also accepting those who hold different positions to your own.
Then Paul talks of pastors, which means shepherd. Perhaps a better image is a sheepdog, for priest and people are to be on the same level, close to the ground. A pastor has the privilege of entering peoples' lives at very intimate moments, birth, marriage, sickness and death, bringing Christ’s ministry of presence, listening, holding and caring. Mark, the job of shepherd is a lonely one; spending a lot of time alone, in all sorts of conditions, caring for the flock, and making sure that none get lost. The loneliness of pastoral work can only be endured by having a living relationship to the one who is the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
Finally, Mark as a priest you are a teacher. Week by week, month by month and year by year, you will explore and unfold the infinite riches of Christ with your people. You do not have to know everything or know all the answers because the Church is a community of learners – that is what disciple means, a learner, and we are a community of Jesus’ disciples. You are to help the community learn together what discipleship means and involves. St Paul says that you teaching is so that God’s people can grow into maturity, into the full stature in Christ. A former ABC Donald Coggan told his ordinands a formula for a good sermon was that it should challenge the intellect, warm the heart, and motivate the will.
Mark, all this will become most clear each time you celebrate the eucharist, mystery of Christ. The Eucharist is where the Good News of God’s saving love is presented before our very eyes and the grace of salvation itself is shared. Eucharistic ministry sums up your priesthood: to lead your people to joyful union with Christ: by ministering to them the sacraments that bring about that union – Holy Baptism, and the Sacrament of his broken Body and outpoured Blood.
Mark, your priesthood is more a verb than a noun. Priesthood is not a thing that you have and possess. Priesthood is about growing, it is walking a path. It is a movement. Continue to grow into the priest that God wants you to be. Continue to be an active presence and sign of Christ’s reconciling power and love among those who you are called to serve. Continue, all your days to gather the faithful together into a unified family. Build them into the Body of Christ. Lead your people towards the heart of Jesus. Lead them with courage and bold witness, and with love, through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to God our Loving Father.