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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Ordaining Amy

This past Sunday, I had the privilege of organizing and leading an ordination service for my friend, Amy.

Personally, I like Thomas Oden’s somewhat sacramental view of ordination and the meaning and purposes he unpacks in his book, Pastoral Theology. Ordination is far more, (if Oden is right – and I think he is) than conferring a title or making something legal or official.  Ordination is a vow, a sacred commitment, that is reciprocal in nature.  The Ordained owns their calling and declares their willingness to be responsible for and to the community of faith.  The ordaining community of faith affirms the calling and declares their willingness to cooperate with and support the Ordained in all ways needed.

The Scripture that we read for Amy’s ordination was from 1 Timothy, chapter 1, verses 12-17. It’s a favorite of mine, with deep significance for me about own sense of the call to ministry.
While I didn’t share these specific thoughts with Amy and the saints assembled, I’m putting them up here as a record, a stone of remembering for me and for her in future days.

1 Timothy 1:12-17 NLT
12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him,13 even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 14 Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus.
15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all. 16 But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 All honor and glory to God forever and ever! He is the eternal King, the unseen one who never dies; he alone is God. Amen.

A few personal observations from the Text that resonate within my soul, 29 years on this journey of my own.

God will enable you where he has called you. (vs. 12)
You did not imagine God’s call on your life.  As the community of faith and as faithful friends, we’ve gathered here to affirm that we see what you feel, God has called you to represent him, to share his story and his love with the world around you.

Your ordination is not based on human will but God’s will and he will empower you by his Holy Spirit for every situation you find yourself in, every trial you face, every soul you are called to care for.  Our calling is not based on our adequacy or superior ability but rather God’s willingness to use the imperfect, the limping, the misfits and the weak to reveal his own great power.  God is with you. 

And that is always enough.

Your past does not determine your future. (vs. 13)
There are all kinds of things about our pasts that try to intrude on our present experiences and our understanding of who we are or who we’re not.

The good news from Jesus is this, “behold, I make all things new.” And “anyone in Christ is a new creation.”

God has set you free to engage with him in writing the chapters of your story that are still to come. Many people will continue to offer to write your story for you.  Politely decline these offers.  Listen and follow and play the part God gives you and resist the pressure to play the parts others want you to play.

Jesus offers us a new perspective on the future, a new freedom, new possibilities, he removes human limitations and prejudices and he alone determines the story of your life.

Two practices that last: faith and love. (vs. 14)
Out of all the things man has made the ministry of the gospel, the two greatest practices we are called to engage in are faith and love.

Trust God and demonstrate the reality of God to the hearts that surround you by showing what God can do with a life that is committed to trusting him with your past, trusting him in your present and trusting him for your future.

Love others as Christ has loved you.  Do what love does and embody for the whole world this truth – that God is love and that love wins. No one has ever seen God. But if we love each other, God lives in us, and his love is brought to full expression in us.

You are being called into the company of Wounded Healers. (vs 15, 16)
Good leaders, wise leaders and honest leaders walk with a limp.

Don’t hide your imperfections and wounds from the world.  Embrace your limp and live transparently with a world that clings to their masks. Let your liberty and freedom create a hunger for those you do life with to live true faced with you.

Liberate souls and disarm the Powers by celebrating your weaknesses because when you are weak, he is strong. These words from God are true for you and me and call us out from behind our masks to be true faced to those we know: “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” 

The scars of Jesus and our own scars, not our pretend perfection and flawlessness, are what will bring healing and hope to those with whom we journey

He is God, you are not. (vs. 17)
Two great truths that every pastor or minister of the gospel needs to remember at all times:
There is a God.  You are not him.

We are not ordaining you to be our, or anyone else’s savior, that job’s already been filled.
We are not asking you to be perfect or challenging you to always say and do the right thing at the right time in the right way for the right reasons.

You won’t.  You can’t.

Be perfectly imperfect and trust God. 

Find your identity in your being and not your doing.

I have been directly involved in two ordinations in my lifetime.  The first was a woman within a tradition that allowed her to preach on the mission field but not in her home church.  Amy’s, my second, felt redemptive in that I have come to understand that God has called Amy and God has called many women, to preach and teach and lead – and her freedom to be who God created her to be, provided by Jesus, also liberates me.  I have never known anyone whose calling was more certain to me than Amy’s.  I’m grateful for the grace that allowed me to be part of her service of ordination and the affirmation of the church that this seemed right to us and to the Holy Spirit.

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