Sermon: Renewal of Ordination Vows
The Right Reverend Mark Bryant, Bishop of Jarrow
Preached on 21st April 2011
by The Right Reverend Mark Bryant
It always strikes me as noteworthy, and a little disarming, that those of us who have been ordained renew our ordination vows at this point in Holy Week. Tonight we shall remember Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, and I think there that what we see is a mark of Jesus’ great faithfulness in carrying out the task which he has been given to do. And we shall hear again those wonderful words with which St John begins his story of the Passion “Having loved his own who were in the world he loved them to the end”. There is in tonight’s story, as there is indeed in the whole of Holy Week, a great sense of Jesus’ faithfulness.
Jesus is faithful, and his call to all of us is quite simply to be faithful. We are called to be faithful long before we are called to be successful.
St Luke reminds us of Jesus’ picture of the man who sets his hand to the plough. “ No one who puts his hand to the Plough” says Jesus “and looks backwards, is fit for the Kingdom of Heaven (Luke 9: 62)”. There is in that picture of the man and his plough again the great sense of faithfulness, and a great sense of purpose. He needs to keep his eye firmly on the point at the far end of the field in order to make sure that the furrow he ploughs is straight. Whatever the weather may be like, be it scorching heat, be it a dust storm, be it hailstones, whatever the hardness or softness of the soil he is called to keep his eye firmly fixed on the far corner of the field. He is called to be faithful in his ploughing.
And yet day by day there seems to be a lot that somehow makes it hard to be faithful. These are rarely great matters like a loss of faith, or some great scandal, but rather smaller and more irritating things, the lead being stolen from the church roof yet again, the ongoing worries about money and the anxiety of the Church Treasurer as yet another enormous gas bill comes in. There is the sense sometimes that we have put our heart and soul into something, and people seem much less responsive than we would have hoped. It is the little things that wear us down. It is the little things that make it feel like it is all really rather hard work, and it is easy for the joy and the sense of purpose that we had to ebb away.
There are times when for many of us if we are honest it is not easy to be faithful, and yet some of you will have heard me quote this over the past 12 months at confirmation services – what we come back to again and again are those wonderful words from the letter to the Thessalonians that the one who has called us He is faithful, and somehow we have to hold on to that sense that whatever is going on around us, even if our faithfulness is often tried and tested, the one who has called us is faithful.
I remember many years ago going to look at a parish that a Bishop had asked me to consider, and having spent some time talking to people I felt quite excited about the prospect of going there, and a real sense of a call to go and work in that community. I went back and saw the Bishop and reported this to him, and Bishop Simon with his great wisdom, not least because he probably knew all sorts of things about the parish that I had not yet picked up! said to me “Mark, it is good that you feel called to go to that parish, you will need to hold onto that in the years ahead”. And of course he was right, and there were weeks and months when it seemed tough, and weeks and months when I went into church and simply prayed to God “Dear God, please give me at least some encouragement”. And even if at times I was not particularly good at feeling very faithful, and even if there are some things that I would do differently if I did them again, looking back with that great gift of hindsight I think that I can see that it was right that I was there, and that there was indeed something of God’s call in it.
He who has called you is faithful, and I would want to encourage you brothers and sisters at some time over the next three days to take a moment and to try to think back to that moment when you most clearly felt that call from God to serve him in the ordained ministry of his Church. I wonder when it was. It may have been at the Selection Conference, it may have been on the morning of your ordination, it may have been on the day of your first Mass, or the day you took your first funeral, but we need to get back to that sense that indeed we have been called, and that the one who has called us is faithful.
Tonight in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus speaks to us about faithfulness. At times it seems that this faithfulness is indeed little more than hanging on by the skin of our teeth, but we have been called and he is faithful.
But when we come to Sunday morning we shall be reminded yet again that in all this we are not alone, that we are indeed more than conquerors through him who loved us. For what Easter morning says to us is that there is indeed alive and active in the world the power of God which is able to raise our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
And the wonderful thing about Easter morning is that it is not some facile happy ending to a rather difficult story, because the one who on the evening of Easter Day breaks bread at Emmaus still bears in his hands the scars of crucifixion and still carries in his soul the emotional scars of Gethsemane, and as we stand at the Altar or lead worship and proclaim the glorious resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, we still carry within us the frustrations, the disappointments, the day to day irritations of our ministry, but we do that in the presence of, and with, the One whose power has indeed raised Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead.
It is for that reason that at the Diocesan Synod in November 2010 I commended to people that well known prayer in which we ask God to give us a new vision of his glory and a new experience of his power, because if we seek to serve the God who has indeed raised Our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, we need to hold before ourselves the vision of a Church that can grow and will grow, a Church that can and will increase its influence in the communities which God has called us to serve. None of that will be without a cost, and it will require great faithfulness, but in that faithfulness nothing is wasted.
Because I do believe – in ways that I feel I can not yet fully understand – that in God’s economy nothing is wasted. God uses for good our faithfulness. We may not immediately see the results of that but in God’s economy nothing is wasted.
Above all we are called to be faithful as we seek to serve the One who has called us who is faithful.
I want to thank you for your faithfulness; for your faithfulness as you exercise your ministry in the places where you serve.
May God bless you in all you do.