Jer. 1:5-10a (NRSV), Luke 5:1-6 (NRSV)
South Presbyterian Church
Ordination & Installation of Deacons and Elders
April 8, 1018 – 5 PM in the Chapel of Twelve Corners Presbyterian Curch
The Reverend Deborah Fae Swift
Jer. 1:5-10a (NRSV)
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
and before you were born I consecrated you;
I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”
6 Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” 7 But the Lord said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am only a boy’;
for you shall go to all to whom I send you,
and you shall speak whatever I command you.
8 Do not be afraid of them,
for I am with you to deliver you,
says the Lord.”
9 Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth; and the Lord said to me,
“Now I have put my words in your mouth.”
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Luke 5:1-6 (NRSV)
Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, 2 he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. 3 He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. 4 When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
This is the Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, Lord Christ.
Here we are.
All good things are worth waiting for … and THIS … this has been a long time coming – whether we are talking about bringing the leadership of two churches together, OR the journey toward ordination and saying YES! to God’s call on your lives.
And now? Here we are!
It’s an odd sort of day today. It’s a day of endings and beginnings.
ENDINGS – because after today, I think it’s safe to say that the two churches are no long blend-ING, but that we are blend-ED. After today we will have one Board of DEACONS and one SESSION. We’re all ONE and Jesus Christ is the Head of this Church.
And BEGINNINGS – because for the eight Ruling Elders on Session and the eight Deacons on our Diaconate, this is the start of their WORK together. PLUS we have the start of a new phase in their lives for Sonya and Matthew as they become ORDAINED to ministry in the Presbyterian Church (USA).
Today’s Scripture readings give us wonderful direction for this time, I think.
First, there is the call of Jeremiah – Hebrew prophet … one of the MAJOR prophets in the Old Testament. And God says to each one of US, as he said to Jeremiah: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you.
We who have been ordained as Deacons, Ruling Elders or Teaching Elders have all been CALLED by God.
But we’re not the ONLY ones.
Everybody HERE is called by God and by virtue of our Baptism, we live with Jesus inside of us. We live with HIS power and insight … his PASSION for justice and his COMMITMENT to help others. At our baptism, we are grafted ONTO Christ, just like fruit trees are grafted onto each other TODAY to increase their yield or to improve their fruit. We grow out of the ROOTS of God’s love by the power of the Holy Spirit, and therein lies our strength and our courage … the FUEL for the work that we do to bring about the KOG – the Kingdom of God – here on earth.
In our baptism, God reaches out to us. God makes the first move. God CHOOSES us.
And then, through joining the church … and, for these folks, by answering a call to service through the use of their individual GIFTS and TALENTS … WE demonstrate that WE choose GOD.
Membership and ordination are the means by which WE say yes to God.
It CAN be overwhelming sometimes. I think every one of us here – no matter how long we’ve been ordained in one form or another – I think every one of us can say that it’s overwhelming sometimes. And so God reminds us in Jeremiah: … you shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you. 8 Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you.
I know something of your journeys – both those of you who have been ordained before and are returning (or continuing) your service now, and those of you about to BE ordained. It’s one of the privileges a Pastor enjoys – being invited into peoples’ spiritual journeys to bear witness to God’s love and presence in their lives and their processes.
I know the prayerful decisions you have all made to serve … I know that if you’re returning to service, you already KNOW the commitment you’re making and the time it will take away from family and friends sometimes.
And for the two of you about to be ordained … I know YOUR journeys … I know the years of searching and questioning. You’ve shared the anger and the doubts, and frankly – it’s those things that will make you the strong leaders that this church needs right now.
God calls us for what we can’t do as well as what we can.
God calls every single one of us because of our SCARS as well as our stars.
God calls EACH of us because we are all part of the Body of Christ … each one of us – ordained or not – plays an important and unique role that no one else can play except us!
Now, these two callings are different. Some people may be dually ordained as Deacon AND Elder, but often, we feel more called to be one or the other.
After the day-long Deacon Training we did a couple of weeks ago, I think that every one of YOU knows more about HOW to be the healing presence of Jesus … how to provide the hospitality of the Holy Spirit and be a Presence … a Witness … on behalf of all of us when folks could use a reminder that they are loved and their church stands with them.
You ARE the loving arms and the outstretched HEART of Jesus. And God has chosen WISELY for that’s who each of the eight of you is.
This year, we have added to our Caring Teams List, all of the regular attendees of our Acts of Faith – with the exception of Monroe Milers and Mount Hope World Singers that seem to have their own systems in place for meeting the needs of their participants.
That’s the thing about South now … we are NOT just a Sunday worship service and those who gather together every week in one place to sing and pray. We are twenty Acts of Faith … FIVE different worshiping communities. And these Deacons are prepared to meet the hospitality needs of all 120(!) people who regularly attend our various ministries.
One hundred and twenty people.
Three teams of forty each.
We are NOT a little church of a couple dozen members anymore; we have 120 members on our caring teams; we need to adjust our self-concept, I think. And God has assembled just the group to do that.
Now the OTHER group that God has assembled is that of the Session. The Ruling Elders.
I know that many of you know this, but I will say it again anyway … the term Ruling Elder does NOT mean that they’re ruling over the church. All of you who are ordained Elders are RULING Elders whether you are currently SERVING or not.
The word “RULING” is meant to be used like a RULER … a MEASURING guide. The Ruling Elders are to live lives that give us a means to measure our own lives against. And, as we all know by now, the word Presbyterian comes from the Greek word presbuteros which MEANS ….. ????? [Elder]
It is the ELDERS who are our standard bearers.
It is the Elders who guide us and make decisions.
In the life of any congregation, it is the Ruling Elders meeting together as the Session that is in charge of both the spiritual life of the congregation AND the business of the church. South’s ministry and mission both fall to the ELDERS. Katrina, Jane and I … and anyone who is ordained to the Ministry of Word & Sacrament, we are known as TEACHING Elders.
And as I look at this collection of Elders whom God has called to steer this ship of South Church … to interpret the direction of the Holy Spirit for our Acts of Faith Community … I am in awe of your talent … your passion … your EXPERIENCE! … and your faithfulness.
We just sang this popular song, “Here I Am, Lord.” And the question before our new Session is: where ARE we, Lord? What is it that God is calling us to do NEXT? Where are we HEADED with this new model of ministry?
I think – if we’re honest – every single one of us would sometimes like the world to slow down a little bit so we can catch our breath and maybe just have a normal ROUTINE for a while.
And sometimes we DO have those moments, don’t we?
But it seems that when we pray, “Put us where you want us, and show us what to do,” God doesn’t want to wait for us to change our minds and so the changes just keep on comin’!
We are sometimes given to playing it safe … staying close to the shoreline where, if the boat tips over or gets swamped, we can stand up and not drown.
Well. Yeah …
But THEN we read about Jesus saying to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” 5 Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” 6 When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break.
My brothers and sisters … South has been putting out into deep water for quite a few years now.
Everybody here has had to deal with leaving a beloved church building, for instance. And some of us are at different points along that journey.
Everybody here has had to figure out whether they would stay a part of this grand adventure, or would transfer to someplace CALMER … someplace more PREDICTABLE … someplace closer to SHORE …
Everybody here has had to master new SKILLS – not only for SAILING in deep water, but for bringing on board so many fish that it almost breaks our nets.
We are IN deep water. (And, by the way, so is our Presbytery who is at the FOREFRONT of creative ministry right now, I think.) Sometimes it’s exhausting. But y’know what? We are learning how to DO this. We’re learning how to LIVE with these challenges … to CELEBRATE the new skills …
And it is our Session who leads us and charts the path we will take.
In just a few minutes, we will have the laying-on-of-hands and the installation of these two Boards. But lest you think you’re off the hook, you, too, will be asked if you ACCEPT these people to lead us in the way of Jesus Christ. You will be asked if you agree to ENCOURAGE them … to RESPECT their decisions… and to FOLLOW as they guide us, serving Jesus Christ, who alone is Head of the Church.
We’re ALL in this together because we are the CHURCH of Jesus Christ. We are the single best hope for changing the WORLD.
So, my one CHARGE to all of you who are about to begin your terms of service is this: Keep Your Channels Clear.
Do your work every DAY of talking to God and LISTENING for the direction of the Holy Spirit.
Every DAY! Because we all TRUST you … we trust that God has CALLED you … for THIS time … and THIS place …to be the Deacons and Elders of this church. And we trust that you will do YOUR work so that your decisions have INTEGRITY … because you’ll be making them on behalf of all of US … and more importantly … on behalf of Jesus.
Here we are, Lord.
Put us where you want us, and show us what to do!
Amen, and AMEN!