To the Newly Ordained

In a way, ordination is all about you.

It is about a red stole and the Holy Spirit and how the Spirit is working in your life. It is about all the details of your life coming together in such a way that you need to do this Word and Sacrament ministry.

But whatever the details of your journey, somehow, in all those people and events and things, the Word, the promises of Christ broke through to you, most likely, in spite of yourself. Now, you’re going to be an ordained minister in the church. The church, a great body of the foolish and the faithful, a motley lot of saints and sinners, a broken place with an embarrassingly bad track record. A place and a people that follow something that makes no sense; but also a place and a people – regardless of the bad engineering and consistently poor judgment – where Christ’s Spirit has chosen to be. For it seems God has fallen in love with all of us. We know this because any old run of the mill God wouldn’t go to the all the hassle and trouble of the cross and resurrection unless this love is real and particular and mighty. A love so great, when spoken, it forgives what is unimaginable; it creates something new out of nothing. It raises the dead.

And so, because of this great, serious, joyous love, you can also say that your call to ministry has nothing at all to do with you. Not one whit.

Your ordination sets you apart, certainly. But this setting apart does not make you higher or holier; it does not diminish in anyway the work or ministries of the women in the kitchen, or the volunteers that pick up the icky tissues from the pews, or the men who study the roof wondering how to fix that stubborn leak. It does not place you above or below the annoying and noisy child in the nursery, or the pimply, angst-ridden youth that “need to go to the bathroom” during your sermon. No, you are no higher nor holier than any of these.

And as you know, your being set apart for Word and Sacrament ministry does not make you less likely to sin, or know sorrow, or be anything but what you are−a sinful human desperately in need of God’s grace and mercy. What ordination does mean is that you have been given a particular task, and it is a doozy. You have been set apart, trained, educated, mentored, scolded, coddled and finally called to tell of Christ. Given this authority, you are called to speak a word about this God who reveals unimaginably powerful love through the cross and resurrection, this God who will not let us go. And as you know, this isn’t as easy as it sounds, because it is a word that the world would rather forget, soften, make relevant, argue into a particular piety or devolve into helpful tips for easier living.

But this is a word like nothing else. It offers a freeing word to a people trapped in sin−who like their sin just fine, thank you−and would rather you be anything but the teller of the truth, the absolver of sin, the preacher of the gospel, or the giver of the sacraments. In being called to ordained ministry, you are being called into a dying world to speak a word that creates all things new, that uncomfortably beckons the chains to be loosened, that reluctantly allows the beggar to go free, that demands justice for all people, that calls forth the rotting dead from their tombs.