06 September 2011

The treasure entrusted to us in ministry

Jesus ‘called his disciples and chose twelve of them, whom he also named apostles’ (Luke 6: 13)

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday 6 September 2011

9.30 a.m.: The Eucharist

Colossians 2: 6-15; Psalm 8; Luke 6: 12-19.

May I speak to you in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Back in the early 1980s, at one protest, I carried a banner for Christian CND with the closing words in our Epistle reading this morning: On the cross “He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him” (Colossians 2: 15, RSV).

But that seems a long time ago now, and you may wonder what that has to do with our staff day today and our reflections together.

And yet, that last verse in our Epistle reading is directly related to the charge to deacons we’re hearing again and again these weeks during the ordinations of our deacon-interns. Not that they are being asked to share my campaigning views from the 1980s, but in a deeper and more profound way they are being asked at each ordination service:

“Will you promote unity, peace and love among all Christian people, and especially among those whom you serve?”

Most of the questions put to ordination candidates by bishops are reminders that ministry is far more that meeting the expectations in a parish of what one bishop described as “supply-and-demand” ministry – the congregation makes demands of us, and we supply, and neither moves beyond that.

But the questions to candidate deacons remind them constantly that we are to teach, to give example through our lifestyle, to care for the poor and needy, to help the oppressed – without discrimination, without asking who is poor, needy or oppressed, or why. To promote unity, peace and love among all Christian people.

The ecumenical and the global dimensions to ordained ministry are there from the beginning. From the beginning, as deacons, all in ordained ministry are charged with, commissioned for, ordained to an ecumenical and global ministry of mission. But “supply-and-demand” approaches to ministry within parishes often squeeze out those priorities.

We see that global dimension to Christ’s ministry in our Gospel reading this morning. The first people he ministers to immediately after calling the 12 from among the disciples are not the 12, not the wider group of disciples, not even the wider group of believing Jews, but a diverse group of people that could easily and imaginatively include Jews, Samaritans, Gentiles, Phoenicians, Greek-speakers, Latin-speakers … people from way beyond the limiting, physical boundaries of the Church (Luke 6: 17).

The beginnings of the mission of the Church are rooted in the beginning of the ministry of Christ himself.

In our Gospel reading this morning (Luke 6: 12-19), we are reminded of how the 12 were called from among the disciples. Ordained ministry, like the ministry of the 12, must always be placed within the ministry of all the people of God, all Christians, all the baptised.

But in reading Saint Luke’s description of them, it is startling that from the very beginning we are reminded of the end that came to the ministry of Judas. He is not just named simply but named as “Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor” (Luke 6: 16).

He was entrusted with a greater treasure than the finances and money of the 12. And in betraying Christ, he also betrayed the 12, and the disciples from whom he is chosen; he betrays the Church which is the body of Christ.

And once again, at the ordination services, deacons are being reminded in these weeks of the terrible consequences of not living up to the commitments and promises made at their ordination. The bishops say:

“Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought through the shedding of his blood on the cross. The Church and congregation among whom you will minister are one with him: they are his body. Go forth to serve them with joy, build them up in faith, and do all in your power to bring them to loving obedience in Christ.”

And if that charge is there for deacons at the beginning of their ordained ministry, then we need to ask ourselves how we, as we prepare them for ordination, keep those priorities before us, constantly, and remind ourselves about them constantly.

And so, may all we think, say and do, be in the name of + the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This reflection was shared at the Eucharist at the beginning of a faculty day of reflections on 6 September 2011.

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