This sermon, preached by Archbishop Stewart Payne, will appear in the December print issue of Anglican Life.
Thank you Rev’d Tanya for your welcome and the invitation to preach here today. In recent years we have come to highlight, and emphasize more and more, the ministry of the whole people of God, the ministry of all the baptized. Various attempts are made in parish life, by self-educating and programming to help us all realize the gifts that God has given us and how we use them in ministry, in love and service to God and neighbour.
The Education For Ministry Program (EFM) is a worldwide, adult, lay training program of theological study by the School of Theology, University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee and managed in Canada from Kelowna, BC, by EFM Canada, containing studies of: the Hebrew Scriptures (our Old Testament); the New Testament; Church History; Theological and moral choices.
Judy Parsons and Ann Marie Turpin, All Saints’ parishioners, completed the four year EFM program in May of this year, but because of the COVID pandemic, had to delay the graduation exercise until today in this Service of Holy Eucharist. Inevitably then, a theme of my sermon is the ministry of all the baptized
The idea of ministry can be seen to stem from the Hebrew Scripture,”Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, with all mind, with all thy strength (Deut. 6:5). Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Lev. 19:18). That was the focus of Jesus’ life; he highlighted it repeatedly by word and deed; he lived it, even to the cross.
Our first reading today, Exodus 33, gives us a small snapshot of Moses in his leadership role, in his ministry role, leading the children of Israel from bondage in Egypt, to the promised land. Moses had been affirmed again and again, in his divine calling and had felt the presence of God in their midst, leading the way, protecting and directing them. In fact, all through the journey there is a running conversation between God and Moses. Yet in our first reading, Moses, for whatever reason, is going through a difficult time and feels bereft of God’s presence and cries out to God for a sign. “Show me your ways so that I may know you and find favour in your sight. Show me your glory, I pray,” (which means, let me see you). In the midst of that struggle, Moses was again affirmed:
“My presence will go with you. (My face you will not see) I will do the very thing you have asked; for you have found favour in my sight and I know you by name.”
It is not uncommon for people, in dark times of hardship, difficulty, loss, and distress, to long for a sign of God’s presence, to want to see God’s face and have the assurance of God’s presence and love. As with Moses, so with us, we are given the assurance of His presence. God is always and ever with us even when we feel His absence. Jesus is really and truly present and the Holy Spirit strengthens us. The beautiful Holy Communion hymn comes to mind, “O God unseen, yet ever near, thy presence may we feel and thus inspired with Holy fear, before thine altar kneel.”
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus looks at the coin presented to him with the image of the emperor imprinted upon it and responds to the question regarding the paying of taxes to the occupying government of Rome. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.” In other words, Jesus is advising them to meet their civic responsibilities and obligations; by all means, pay your taxes. Jesus then adds, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”
Jesus knew well that as the coin bore the image of the emperor, so all humankind bears the image and likeness of God, regardless of colour, race, or creed. We are His; God’s very own. What is it that belongs to God and how do we give back to God? Everything we have and everything we are is a gift from God. We give back to God not simply by meeting our civic responsibilities but by using the gifts and talents, our time and energy in love and service, in ministry, to God and to one another. God wants to dwell in our hearts by faith and be with us always. God loves each one unconditionally and longs for our response in love and service to God and neighbour.
In our second reading, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, in their ministries, commend the Thessalonians for doing just that, giving to God what is God’s, in the power of the Spirit, not simply in word but in deed, by example, serving the true God through Jesus Christ.
In the Episcopal Church, USA Catechism, the question is asked and the answer is given.
Q – Who are the ministers of the Church?
A – The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests and deacons.
Q – What is the ministry of the laity?
A – The ministry of lay people is to represent Christ and His Church; to bear witness to Him wherever they may be; and , according to the gifts given to them, to carry on Christ’s work of reconciliation in the World; and to take their place in the life, worship and governance of the Church.
Bishops, priests and deacons are all part of the “Laos,” the whole people of God and they too represent Christ and His Church. By virtue of their ordination they have specific ministries of a pastoral, sacramental, and administrative nature.
The question to all of us is not whether you are called but to what. What is the function at this particular time and in this particular place?
John Westerhoff and Carolyn Hughes co-authored a book some years ago, “On the threshold of God’s future” In the book they have much to say about lay ministry. “Ministry takes place in the normal flow of our daily routines. It involves an attitude we bring to everything we do and a way of living wherever we are. Ministry is the responsibility and privilege given to all christians, not just the few who are ordained. There is one ministry, the ministry of God working through each one of us, as homemakers, engineers and nurses, salespersons and labourers, pastors and bus drivers,” (I can add, fisherfolk and fish plant workers and the list goes on and on to include everyone). “Each of us is called in Jesus’ Name to serve God’s people and God’s world in every moment of our lives, wherever we find ourselves. Ministry is performed as we express concern, no matter what the cost; as we respond to another’s need with no strings attached; as we embrace the sufferings of others by being present to them.”
There are many different ministries exercised in the Church gathered and in the Church dispersed the rest of the week, to name a few.
The ministry of hospitality at home and in Church.
The ministry of music, the ministry of song, the ministry of greeting/ welcoming.
A listening ear, an encouraging word, a helping hand, showing love and compassion for another in need, the sick, the lonely, the disabled.
St. Teresa of Avila says it best, “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours; yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on all the world; yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good; yours the hands with which he is to bless us now.”
COVID-19 restricts much direct personal contact in many cases now but much can be done by telephone and through the social media networks.
The ministry of prayer is a ministry we all share in, not only in our regular worship together but in our personal prayer times; not in word alone but in the lifting up of people and situations to God from the deep recesses of our hearts, thanking God and asking that His will be done.
Many years ago during a parish visit the Rector and I called at the home of an elderly bed ridden lady. We sat by her bed, shared some thoughts and prayers. As we were about to take our leave she said, “At night when I see the lights going out in the houses around, I get ready for bed. I say my prayers and I remember you in my prayers every night.” Here was a person who could no longer turn over in bed without help but continued to have a very vital prayer ministry. At that moment I felt I was standing on holy ground.
Enjoy your ministries to the full. In the words of the late Archbishop Michael Ramsey, of Canterbury, “May it be said of you, not so much that you spoke of God cleverly but that you made God real to people.”