The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at http://users.bigpond.net.au/frsparky/r141.htm
s141e03 Lockleys 19/10/03 Sunday 29
"One does not presume to take this honour." Heb 5.4
In the Anglican system of doing things, the road to ordination is one of training, testing and discernment, but it is not administered by a clerical club whose processes are secret.
We would all acknowledge that training is an important prerequisite for clergy. One wouldn't employ a plumber who was not qualified and neither would one go to a doctor who was not qualified. It is not that qualified people never make mistakes, but the likelihood is lessened. And there are lay people on the staff of St Barnabas' College and lay Examining Chaplains and so there is lay input to preparation for ordination. In fact candidates for ordination must have letters testimonial from three beneficed clergy and three lay people before ordination. Just as there are (I suppose - I've never actually met one) doctors with little "bedside manner", so clergy come with a range of people skills - indeed I think that medical faculties are more successful than theological colleges in instilling people skills in their students. People skills and academic achievement do not always go "hand in hand". Most people-skills are learned and that takes time.
The reality is that God calls some very odd people to be clergy, and I don't exempt myself here :-). Academic courses as well as ordinary human interaction serve to ground individuals into the real world and other thought processes. While each person is an individual and unique, it is important that clergy recognise that others do think differently and with equal sincerity to themselves. If we learn nothing from history and theology, we ought to at least appreciate the truth of the diversity of interpretations of the faith.
Ministry is an interplay between the contribution an ordained person can bring to a situation as well as helping another become who they are &endash; and not a clone of the person ordained.
In "normal" life this happens all the time, but we as individuals can "pick and choose" to whom we relate. In a parish situation people always choose to relate to some but not all parishioners. Choir members will naturally relate to other choir members. Trading Post people will naturally relate to their colleagues. You cannot expect the Sunday School students to relate to the members of the Mothers' Union.
The role of the employed member of the clergy is they have to relate to everyone, even those with whom they disagree. Training and theological education exposes clergy to a range of views. So the author to the letter to the Hebrews talks about a priest dealing "gently with the ignorant and wayward". It is easy to be a specialist, it is much more difficult being a generalist.
This might sound awfully minimalist, but clergy should at least not be prone to excommunicating those with whom they disagree :-) .
Many years ago a parishioner made the snide remark that the reason bishops all crowded around the person to be ordained bishop in the laying on of hands. She had come to the conclusion that it was when they removed the spine! This betrays a desire to control other people rather than to love other people.
Recently there has been some controversy about the invitation of Bishop Spong to preach at the Cathedral. Whether people choose to go next week and listen to him or not, I do want to say that one of the Bishop's strengths is that he puts us in touch with the thinking of ordinary scientific people, who find the bald assertions of the Creeds difficult to reconcile with their scientific outlook. It is not insignificant that he is open to the viewpoints of other people &endash; which as I have already said - is the mark of clergy.
This is my interpretation, but I suspect that Bishop Spong argues against the Creeds because they are being used as a standard of faith which measure people's compliance. This is to misuse the Creeds. The Creeds are not written to explain God, and we have to accept that explanation, or go to hell. Historically the Creeds were written to say to us that God cannot be explained. It is those who can explain God who are heretical. It is those who claim to have the full truth about God all contained in a system or set of words who are mistaken.
Again and again we see the constant temptation to use one or other aspect of the faith to determine who is "in" and who is "out" - effectively excluding some. The woman who thought Bishops were in general spineless wanted the hierarchy to agree with her set of people excluded from the Church. I suspect that those who oppose Bishop Spong want to use the creeds to exclude some other people. The Bible, the Sacraments and the Spirit can be similarly misused.
As I reflected on my words about divorce recently, I thought how important it is to have people in the congregation who have been remarried. There are still some parts of the Anglican church where remarriage in church is not allowed - for instance in the Church of England. We haven't been able to move to a more open opinion in a vacuum, we have had to have the witness of good and faithful people who have been through divorce and remarriage to show us that such a person can still want to worship God. Without this sort of diversity of people the Church is ever likely to become a group of timid "wowsers" and intolerant of others.
To return to my text, what honour is there to be put in a position that allows no space for a personal opinion? Everything I do is an attempt, albeit a poor attempt, to raise up other people - all other people. It would be a lot easier to be able to restrict my attentions to some - to say that one group of people must prevail!
The well-known interchange between Martha and Jesus: Lord show Mary that you consider my ministry is more important than hers - get her to help me! And in various guises, over many, many years, I have met the same dynamics between parishioners and clergy. What is the most important ministry in this parish - mine of course! :-)
In the latest issue of "Market-Place" there is an article about clergy spending lots of time burying people who are only "nominal" Anglicans. And it was an interesting article - and I guess that the crunch statement is after a funeral, baptism and/or wedding "how much time and energy do the clergy have left for the people who are actually paying the bills?" (18th September 2003 p 8). I ask whether this forces clergy to look at people only for what they can contribute - and if we do this is this really a good witness to Christian love?
Actually I love doing funerals and baptisms and expecting nothing in return. It is so unusual, and people are so grateful.
I was interested to hear Bishop Ross Davies preach at the Cathedral for the 30th anniversary celebration of the formation of the Province of South Australia. He talked about the Church returning to being a Eucharistic community. And I thought how true this is. So often congregations can resent the presence of other people. It is good that here we rejoice at the presence of other people, even though sometimes we would prefer others to be more like us :-)
I was thinking of the importance of community in that it forces us to relate to other people. So the recent clergy conference enabled the clergy to listen to the views of other clergy, when so often we restrict our attentions to those whose "church-person-ship" relates most closely to our own. In the end this is illusory and we will not gain from the perceptions others are able to provide.
Even in my own preaching, you will realise how often my words comes from chance conversations I have with other people, articles in magazines, or other clergy speaking. It is simply not possible to preach the gospel in a vacuum. Preaching is as much done with the ears as it is with keyboard and word processor.
But the process is exciting, as God honours us with gems to add to our perceptions of the world through other people. It is not an honour one can take upon oneself, it comes with an open ear and a clear eye for the good others have in them for us.
One does not presume to take on this honour - for if we are open to and welcoming of the contribution others can make to our existence, we accept that which is given, as everything else in this life is also "given" not "earned".
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