A year ago, “According to apostolic usage I was entrusted with the office of word and sacrament in the one holy catholic church by the laying on of hands and by prayer.”
Surrounded by the Word of God:
Jesus said to his disciples, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." (John 20:21-23)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
“I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me." In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26)
And then words I hear with deeper richness now- Hear the words of the apostles:
The words of those who have gone out and dared to attempt such ministry-
Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called. (1 Timothy 6:11-12)
Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians, to feed the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. (Acts 20:28)
Tend the flock of God that is in your charge, not under compulsion but willingly, not for sordid gain but eagerly. Do not lord it over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief shepherd appears, you will win the crown of glory that never fades away. (1 Peter 5:2-4)
Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God's mysteries. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy. (1 Cor. 4:1-2)
All those questions:
Will you be diligent? Will you pray? Will you be faithful? Will you lead? Will you nourish?
Will you make God’s love known?
Questions that in part that day were too ponderous to consider as my tiny “I will and I ask God to help and guide me” issued forth.
Care for God's people, bear their burdens,and do not betray their confidence.
So discipline yourself in life and teaching that you preserve the truth,
giving no occasion for false security or illusory hope.
Witness faithfully in word and deed to all people.
Give and receive comfort as you serve within the church.
And be of good courage, for God has called you,
and your labor in the Lord is not in vain.
And we prayed that God, through Jesus Christ, would pour out the Holy Spirit, fill me with the gifts of grace for the ministry of word and sacrament. Bless my proclamation of God’s word and administration of God’s holy signs, so that God’s church may be gathered for praise and strengthened for service.
We prayed God would make me a faithful pastor, patient teacher, and wise counselor. That the people
Would be renewed and God’s name be glorified. Then the enormity of the laying on of hands. Hands of people I had known for a long time and people I had known for a couple weeks.
Thomas Tallis in Spem in Alium writes- “ I have never put my hope in any other but you.”
and the music he wrote is so joyful and peaceful.
I wish I could say that every day I achieved those words or was in fact the person we all prayed I could be in all respects.
And yet there are two days in the past year where I glimpsed it as clear as day and it was true.
The first was one of God's peace in utter chaos
The day that I encountered a drug addict who had broken into the church office and who I encountered on third floor of the building where I was all alone and where he was angry. He had grown up for many years in the church and had been allowed to store things there and to come and go, but over my months there he had also stolen things from my desk, used the church computer to look at inappropriate things and without permission, had pilfered our mail. He had taken the locks off of windows. After many efforts to monitor his access, I had forbidden his presence unless I was there. But this had been related to him as simply-“it’s because of the pastor you cannot be here” or “I shouldn’t let you in here because if the pastor finds out she will be mad.” So on his last unmonitored visit to the building he rigged an access point which had allowed him to be on the 3rd floor of our office which is an old house. I had come upstairs to look for supplies for our afterschool program and suddenly realized I was not alone. There in a chair sat this man. Who was none too happy to see me. When I suggested it was time to go he got agitated and began to reach into a backpack for something. Everything that happened after that that led him to stand up and decide to simply leave was surreal. Though my heart felt like it would beat right out of my chest the words I heard myself speaking were authoritative but calm and I had this sense that in the midst of what could have ended very badly, it would be OK because it wasn’t me doing this. It’s the closest I can imagine to what the Israelites felt like walking between the walls of the water of the parted Sea.
That day I wasn’t putting hope in anything but God.
But before that was the other day when it was as clear as day- joy in the midst of the utter unknown. The day of my ordination. The day when as all of those words about taking on word and sacrament ministry are piling up, the transcendent swirl of the power of the Spirit was palpable. And while I knew that day I was about to move and buy a house and immerse myself in an entirely unknown sea, that by the grace of God and trusting in that power, the response was “yes.” Since then there have been days when I have found myself in places I never imagined, both beautiful and heartbreaking, but as I have again this day pondered what it means to dare to serve God and the people, I pause and grasp that saying “I will and I ask God to help and guide me” is not just a set of words but is about placing my hopes for myself, personally and in ministry, for the people and for the world, all in the hands of God because there is none other.