Rev. Martha M. Shiverick
Fairmount Presbyterian Church
August 28, 2011
Scripture: Isaiah 43:1-13; 1Corinthians 12: 4-7, 27; Matthew 20:20-28

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We finish our sermon series on Presbyterianism 101 this morning with the topic of ordination and the priesthood of all believers; two related concepts that are central to understanding our church and its faith traditions and relevant for me personally this Sunday as I celebrate the 30th anniversary of my ordination as a minister of the word and sacrament. I doubt many of you were here 30 years ago, but I was actually ordained in the Sunday morning worship service right here in this sanctuary. The Rev. Dr. Henry Andersen was senior minister of Fairmount then and was also the Moderator of the Presbytery; so he, with the Presbytery, were the ordaining body. But because I was a child of this church, it felt right that the ordination service be a part of our Sunday worship, instead of being held at another time on another day.

In all honesty, it sure does not seem like 30 years. I have enjoyed each position to which God has called me and have loved these past years I have served you here. Thank you for that privilege. And, it has been a privilege to work as a minister (or as the Book of Order now calls us a Teaching Elder), for the past 30 years. It is a privilege to be ordained in our church. And, this thing called ordination is something that 30 years later, I am still trying to gain a full understanding and realization of what it actually means to me and my calling in life. Although the actual Service of Ordination took place August 30, 1981, my understanding of what happened that day is still growing. It is larger than I am. It has branded me for life in a way I never imagined it would. Hank Andersen said to me in the charge at the ordination that morning that I was entering an awesome field of work. It is still very AWESOME to me and becomes more so with each year.

Presbyterians believe in the priesthood of all believers. That’s right; we believe that all of us who are wrestling with our faith are priests. This is not a radical idea but is Biblically based and was practiced in the early church. Theologian Jack Haberer, writes that, “People have been trying got connect with God since the beginning of human history. Ancient cultures hungered for spirituality, but most perceived humans unworthy to enjoy a relationship with the divine. So they appointed there most spiritual citizens to be their shamans or witch doctors or priests. The priests’ neighbors would ask them to intercede and seek divine counsel on their behalf. Upon Israel’s arrival at Mt. Sinai, Moses delivered startling news from Yahweh: If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all peoples. You shall be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. Not only was god declaring the nation’s chosen status, but the Israelites were all appointed to be priests – every one of them! The Hebrew scripture lesson and the Epistle lesson this morning speak to the notion that we ARE a priesthood of believers. As it is written in Isaiah, God chooses us. We believe that God calls us to ministries and gives each of us spiritual gifts and skills to perform the ministries to which we are called. We are in a covenant relationship with God. Our God calls us into service out of our faith and in response to God. We even speak of this in our litany at communion. The cup which we bless is a reminder of this covenantal relationship we have with God.

In the epistle lesson from Corinthians the gifts God gives us to do our ministries are described. People do not necessarily have the same gifts and this works to God’s plan and purposes. The example Paul uses is that the church is the body of Christ and we are parts of the body. Many different parts are needed to make a body and each one is important to the whole. If the body were made of only one part, say feet, or ears, how would it eat? How would it breathe? Each person with their unique God given skills and gifts are important and needed. If Paul was writing this epistle in modern time, he would probably use the metaphor of a machine. It takes a lot of different nuts and bolts put together to make a machine work. Each one is important or the machine would not operate. It is our task as a believer in God and a follower of Christ to decide which little nut or bolt we are. And it is our task to decipher what skills or spiritual gifts we have and where it is God calls us to in ministry. Whether that task is working in the gardens of the church or shepherding the youngest of our children in Christian Education, all tasks are important and equal to God. The gifts to do these tasks come from God. Two years ago we began a wonderful movement here at Fairmount recognizing that every member was indeed a minister. It is stated on the back of our worship bulletin in the staff list where all church members are ministers. We recognized that while many were active in the ministry of Fairmount, there were also many who had commitments outside of this church that were your ministries. It is important for us to encourage each other to develop meaningful ministries as responses to God and to recognize and celebrate the wonderful diversity of ministries to which we are called.

And, we as Presbyterians believe that some are called to ordained offices within the church. We ordained people in to the offices of deacon, elder, and minister of the word and sacrament. Last year when our new form of government was adopted, we went back to having the old terms Ruling elder for elders and using teaching elders for ministers of the word. Each of these three ordained offices is found in the Bible and we have defined their tasks based on our interpretation of the texts. Deacons are ordained into the role of caring, ruling elders are ordained into the office of leading and caring for the ministries of the church. Ministers of the word or teaching elders are ordained to teach the good news and to administer the sacraments. Ours is the professional role. However, the ordination is the same, the vows are almost identical, and the ordaining and laying on of hands is handed down from the start of the church. Just as Jesus called his first disciples, we are called as well. The laying on of hands descends from Jesus to Peter, to the first Christians, to us. It just gives me goose bumps to think about it!

Which brings me to our Gospel lesson this morning which is from Matthew 20:20-28? Listen now for the word of the Lord.

Then the mother of the sons of Zebedee came to him with her sons and kneeling before him, she asked a favor of him. And he said to her, “What do you want?” She said to him, “Declare that these two sons of mine will sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your kingdom.” But Jesus answered, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” They said to him, “We are able.” He said to them, “You will indeed drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left, this is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my father.”

When the ten heard it, they were angry with the other two brothers. But Jesus called to them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you: but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life for the ransom of many.

The word of the Lord, Thanks be to God!

OK, the first thing that must be said about this passage is that ‘don’t you just love the mother’! Imagine having the audacity to approach Jesus and ask if your two perfect children might be able to sit at Christ’s places of honor, by his side, in heaven. Well, the more I think about it, I might have been raised by a mother like this and I actually be like that mother as might some other parents here this morning who are always looking out for your children’s best interests. My children have been known to quote the character Mother Rose in the movie “Gypsy” and chant ‘Sing out Baby June’, when I have acted in the way this mother does in this passage! And, thank goodness Jesus seems to understand that this is what mothers are like. Jesus does not rebuke her. Instead he asks the sons if they are up to the task to which they reply that they are indeed ready. And, Jesus agrees that these brothers are indeed up to being his chosen ones. However, the decision is not theirs, is not their mother’s and is not even Jesus’s to make. God will call each of us to the position that we are to have.

Jealousy erupts among the disciples! Is it true that Jesus has chosen some over the others? How dare they and their pushy mother step up to take those choice seats! But Jesus explains that in God’s kingdom, those places of honor will be different. Unlike rulers that they know who rule in a tyrannical manner, the people of honor in God’s realm will be servants and slaves to all.

Many things have changed about ordination in our church. There was a time when only men could be ordained. There was a time when only straight people could be ordained. Presbyterians have remained open to change regarding ordination because we hold on to three unchanging beliefs. First, we believe that God is the source of all ministry in the church. For Presbyterians, ordination is not synonymous with ministry. As we said earlier, all Christians are called by God and equipped by the Spirit for service in the world. Second, Presbyterians believe that truth in doctrine is defined by the fruit that it bears. It other word, in deciding who should be ordained and to what office, we look at the character traits and ministries that the individual has done. Presbyterians also believe that ordained ministry should be collegial, meaning shared by others and that it is non –hierarchical meaning that it is shared by clergy and laity. In every church where I have worked, whether it is a small church where I am the only staff or a large one like Fairmount, I have worked along with the members and the elders and deacons of the church. And there is the he funny part of ordination. We also believe that those who are called to ordained offices in the church are subjected to a process in which their calls are tested and confirmed by the church. We do not ordain you as a deacon and set you loose on the church. Deacons must go through deacon training and must work in the church in ministries defined by the deaconate and must attend deacon meetings to check in on their ministries. Ordination is an honor. It is recognition of your mantle of leadership, your faith, and your good character. But it is a yoke as well. It places you in the role of servant and slave. After all, we follow a leader who came to serve. We follow a leader who sacrificed for our well-being.

But today I stand here to witness that it is a wonderful honor. It is a gift to be your minister. It is an honor to be invited into your lives in the good and the hard times of your lives. I am grateful to God for calling me into the ministry and grateful for the work that I do. Thanks be to God! Amen!