As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” [Luke 3:15-17, 21-22]
The Saturday I was ordained to the priesthood is a day I will always remember. Some of you were there, too, and I am so grateful for that.
The day before, Steven and I made the trek to Cincinnati. My family met us there, and after my rehearsal, we visited the Newport Aquarium with my niece and nephew, just to give ourselves something to do. It took my mind off my nerves. The next morning, I was up before the sun, busy with preparations, the whole lot of us migrating to the cathedral.
An interesting thing about that day, though, is how much of a blur a huge portion of it is in my memory. I remember getting ready. I remember processing in and smiling at folks as I moved to take my seat. But the rest is somewhat fuzzy… there was so much going on! But I very specifically remember three moments. First, the feeling of dozens of hands pressing down on my head and shoulders during the invocation of the Holy Spirit, the very moment of my ordination. Second, the love I felt when Henny Evans, as senior warden of St. Peter’s, vested me with a stole and chasuble. And third was the moment when my own parents—who are not Episcopalian and who, honestly, sometimes question some of the strange traditions we have—came to the communion rail after the liturgy, knelt down in front of me, and asked for a blessing. Y’all know that I am a crier. You know that I tear up just about as often as I laugh, so—of course!—this was a waterworks moment.
So, what about you? Do you remember the time you were ordained? I’m not being flippant here. It sounds trite, but I’m serious. You all—WE all—are ordained. We all are ministers of the Gospel. It’s not hard to guess when either. Your ordination happened at your baptism. The day you were washed clean in the waters of life, you became a minister of the Gospel. Many of us here were babies at our baptisms, or at least young enough that we don’t really remember the details. But I know of at least a few of us here who most certainly can remember their baptisms. At that very moment, a fellow minister of the Gospel laid hands on you and said, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever!” And then all the rest of the ministers gathered around you—all of us—welcome you in by saying, “We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with us in his eternal priesthood.”
That moment was your ordaining. That is when you were set apart. When you were called to be a priest in God’s church. When you were empowered to proclaim God’s love, to promise God’s forgiveness, and to show people who Jesus really is.
It’s unfortunate that baptism has lost some of its importance as the moment that we are ordained, that priests are made in the world. In some instances, it’s morphed into simply the rite of initiation that you go through to become a member. Or—God forbid!—a magical rite that gets you into heaven. Because over time, we start to think (mostly unintentionally) that only the clergy, those who are officially ordained by the Church, are the real ministers. Lay people… well, they’re here to support the work of the priesthood.
Yeah… no, that’s not the case at all.
In our Gospel lesson today, Jesus himself is baptized. And all the sudden a dove drops out of the sky and a voice echoes: “You are my Son, the Beloved! With you I am well-pleased!” And what follows immediately? He begins his ministry. He starts preaching and teaching and healing. He begins proclaiming the Kingdom of God. That’s the work of ministry, right?
Jesus’s baptism is the date of his own ordination. It is the launching pad for all his work.
But what’s more, in Luke’s Gospel we get to see the Holy Spirit working long before that day on the banks of the Jordan. A few weeks ago, right before Christmas, we heard the story of the angel’s annunciation to Mary, right? Remember what that angel said to Mary: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)
The Holy Spirit descended on Mary, too. And that was the day of her ordination. That was when her ministry began, the beginning of her work for God. Her motherhood, her willingness to birth the Messiah is her ministry. There’s no doubt it was ordained by God. That was the day Mary got to be the very first to hear about Jesus. She heard God’s call and said, “Yes!”
Ministry, then, is a gift—freely offered, not chosen or something we do in response to God—that comes to us from the Holy Spirit and is given to all the baptized. All. Every last one of us.
This week is “go time” for St. Peter’s in the New Beginnings program. This is the week when our house meetings start. Now is the time when St. Peter’s will be challenged. Now is the time when each and every one of you will be pushed to see yourselves as empowered ministers of the Gospel of Christ. All of you are ordained by God to be ministers. The priest is only here to help you do your ministry. To help you discover the voice that God has already given you!
I have witnessed you as ministers. We see evidence in each other of our own ordinations, that we are all gifted with the Holy Spirit for ministry. I have witnessed your ordinations in the conference room at Vestry meetings when we must wrestle with difficult situations. In the nursery, teaching about the life and love of Jesus. At Loaves & Fishes. At the exchange of peace in the liturgy. During the hard times in your lives—at the death of one of our own—when you turn to each other and show Christ’s love. Each of you is ordained. You live it. You show it.
So, I may have been ordained to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church on June 4th, 2016, when the Bishop and other priests laid their hands on my head, but my true ordination—the afternoon when I was truly made a minister of the Gospel—was in 1991. I was ten years old and my church went to the lake. I waded into the water and was dunked under three times. That’s when the Holy Spirit was invoked over my whole life.
One of the reasons we show up here for worship week after week is to be fed, nourished for our own ministries. As your priest, I preach so that you can preach the Gospel of Jesus wherever you go in the coming week. I preside over the Sacraments so that you can be the real presence of the Body of Christ in everything you do in the coming week.
So, go! Be a minister. As we continue our New Beginning, use the gifts God has given you. Listen for the Holy Spirit, present in the very fibers of your being. Be the ordained minister you already are. Faithfully hear what God is calling us to be. Because the world is hungry and waiting to hear the Good News.
[This sermon is inspired in part by a sermon by the Rev. Paul J. Nuechterlein, who blogs on the lectionary from a Girardian Mimetic Theory perspective: http://girardianlectionary.net/ ]