Saturday, December 13, 2014

Kim the Priest!

Only a few months ago, we had the pleasure of welcoming Kim amongst us as a Deacon.  At the time, I said that part of the role of an ordained deacon was to be a living sign to all of us of the life of service to which we are called.  I said that when each of us engages in some form of self-giving service, we are living out the call of servant-hood which God makes to all his people.

I hope you’ll remember that I said that being a deacon never goes away.  I am still a deacon.  The Bishop is still a deacon.  Being a servant is at the very heart of what it means to be a Christ-ian, just as Christ himself was a servant to everyone he met.

Kim is still a deacon, but as of last Sunday she has also been called a new ministry – the ministry of an ordained priest.  Halleluiah!  And this new role carries with it something of the same idea – that an ordained priest is called to be a living sign (or what we might call an ‘icon’) of the priest-hood to which every believer is called.

Now that’s a sentence that we might want to linger over for a moment.  If you are a Christ-ian, according to the Scriptures, you are automatically considered to be a priest.  Writing to early Christ-ians, Peter said this:  “you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light”  (1 Peter 2.9).

In ancient Israel, priests acted as mediators between God and people – a sort of bridge between God and the World. They ministered according to God's instruction and they offered sacrifices to God on behalf of the people. But then God sent his Son, Jesus, to be the great High Priest for the whole world.  His sacrifice was sufficient for the sins of everybody, and individual sacrifice was no longer required.

This changed the status of those who trusted in God.  No longer were we to be fearful people, worried about whether or not God had forgiven us for our failures, obsessed by worries about whether or not we had performed the correct religious rights.  Instead, through the actions of the Great High Priest, Jesus himself, we could move on from worrying about our own salvation, and devote ourselves to working for the salvation of the whole world.   On Good Friday, the status of all who trusted in God was changed from fearful supplicant, to joyful son or daughter of God.  We went from being a supplicant, to being a priest.

Now, building on the ancient notion of priest, we, all of us have become those who stand as a bridge between God and the World.  We are the ones who, through our prayers, offer the people to God, and God to the people.  We are the ones who plead with God, by our prayers of intercession, for the good of the whole world.  We are the ones who through diligent study of the Scriptures are called to unfold the mysteries of God to our families, friends and local community.  We are the ones who stand on the threshold of heaven, shining heaven’s light into the dark corners of the world.

There are however, three very distinctive tools that we are given to help us in this task of being priests…three ways that are writ-large in the special calling of an ordained priest, like Kim.  As an ordained deacon, Kim has been an icon of Christian service.  I know that you will agree with me that Kim has a very special way of being a deacon.  Her loving gift of service has been appreciated by so many people in this parish and beyond.

However, as an ordained priest, she will also be an icon of the priesthood of all believers, especially in the celebration of this very service, her first Mass.  In this service, the three distinctive gifts of priesthood will be displayed, through Kim’s actions, for all of us to ponder and then live-out for ourselves.

What are these three distinctive ways?  Well let me explain!

The first, Kim has already demonstrated.  Just now, near the beginning of our service, Kim offered us all the sacrament of absolution.  In other words, responding to our prayer of confession, she declared the forgiveness of God to everyone who trusts in God.   Forgiveness is at the heart of our relationship with God.  Without it, we would still be lost in doubt and fear….doubting whether we could ever be made worthy to be called a child of God; fearful that might never make into the presence of God called heaven.

But Christians have a unique and precious message – Good News - to communicate to the whole world…the message that God forgives us.  This is, very simply, the message that no matter how many times we get things wrong, forgiveness is always available to anyone who genuinely seeks it.

Kim has already declared God’s forgiveness to us – and now we are called to offer the same forgiveness to everyone we encounter in our daily lives.  We are not to nurture hatred or resentment towards anyone – but following the pattern of the loving God whose ‘bridges to the world’ we are, we offer forgiveness to everyone.  ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us’.

The second tool for our ministry that Kim will display today is the tool of consecration.  In a little while, Kim will for the first time consecrate simple gifts of bread and wine into the spiritual body and blood of Jesus.  To consecrate something is, essentially, to make it special, to make it holy, or to imbue something with new meaning and significance.

The consecration of bread and wine is something reserved only for ordained priests, because of the awesome depth of the significance of this meal.  We are to be invited to spiritually feed on the very stuff of heaven – to draw into ourselves the spiritual power of Jesus our High Priest to help us to live out our calling as individual bridges for God to the world.

This consecration, however, is an icon of the smaller consecrations that all we priests do.  We are called to open the eyes of the world to the activity of God in all things.  We are called to make the world holy, to make it special, to imbue every part of the world with new meaning and significance.  Christ-ians are involved in small acts of consecration every day…every time that eyes are opened to the wonder of nature, consecration take place.  Every time that a starving child is raised to the status of a human being, not a statistic, an act of consecration takes place.  Every time that music is used to praise and glorify all that is good in the world, including God, music itself is made holy.  Every time that a lonely person is made to feel special and loved in our Community Café, consecration takes place.

And finally, the third tool in the box will be demonstrated for us by Kim (for the first time) at the very end of our service.  Before we are sent out to love and serve the world as deacons, and then to bring forgiveness and consecration to the darkness of so many lives as a nation of priests, Kim will offer us God’s blessing.  But what is this thing?  What is blessing?

Blessing is the means by which God’s goodness becomes known and experienced by the world.  Blessing is the activity of God which brings favour, protection and happiness.  In the Beatitudes that we say near the beginning of our service, you could replace the world ‘blessing’ with the word ‘happy’….’Happy are the poor in spirit’, ‘happy are the peacemakers’, even ‘happy are those who mourn’.  By God’s activity in the world, through us his priestly bridge-builders, blessing – happiness – can be experienced by the world.  Kim will offer us God’s blessing, God’s protection, favour and happiness…so that we in turn can leave here today determined to offer that same blessing to those we meet.

Forgiveness, consecration, and blessing.  These are the three distinctive roles that Kim has now been ordained, or set apart, to offer to the church and to the world.  But as I hope you have seen, these are not for Kim alone.  Her priesthood is an icon, a picture, a living example, of the forgiveness, consecration and blessing that every Christian must also offer.   Each time any of us offers forgiveness to another, we live out our calling.  Each time we help another person to feel special, or to recognise the holiness of creation, we live out our calling.  Each time we pray for God’s favour, protection or blessing on another human being, we live out our calling.

My prayer is that Kim’s ministry here in North End, over the coming years, will continue to be a challenge and a stimulus – an icon for every Christ-ian in this place.  And having had the privilege of walking alongside her over the last few years, I have every confidence that that is precisely what she will do.


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