A Sermon Delivered to the Company of Jesus
And Assembled Guests during the Ordination/Profession Service
At Newport News, VA 1/19/2015
Grace to you and Peace from God the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ!
We are here today to receive Vocations - to receive those who are answering Jesus' call, "Come follow me...". The word ‘vocation’ actually comes from the Latin, ‘Vocare’, “to call”. When we say that someone has found, or missed his calling, we’re talking about Vocation. Most of the time, we use the word to describe our work, our ‘job’. But properly speaking, Vocation means that Something or Someone outside of me has called to something deep within me. This Call then stirs something in me I cannot ignore and I become driven to fulfill the Call.
Jesus called the first disciples to follow Him and become fishers of men and shepherds of the flock of God. They heard the call, left everything and followed Jesus.
In similar fashion, we receive those today who have heard the Call of Christ and have left the comfort of their former ways to follow Him as fishers and shepherds, clergy and monastics.
The Calling of those we receive today is relatively rare. Not everyone is called to be an ordained Deacon, or a Third Order Franciscan or Benedictine – whatever that is…
But these specific callings are just special cases of God’s first and foremost calling to us all: “Come to me; follow Me”
This Call is not "instrumental": 'follow me, so that - you can win people, build a church, change the world - or even be a ‘better person’ - but just to follow Christ. St. Benedict says in the Prologue to his Rule: “the voice of the Lord invites us, in His loving-kindness, to find the way of life” - which is precisely Christ, “the Way, the Truth and the Life”. (John 14:6).
This is God’s call to every one of us: Come to Me and find Life!
Those we receive today have heard that call and have followed Christ by repenting of their sins and being baptized into the family of God. They have already made what we call “Baptismal Vows” and now come to make specific Vocational Vows.
To make a Vow means to ‘swear an oath’, invoking the Name of God in such a way that God becomes an active party to the Oath. When we testify in court, we solemnly “swear to tell the truth the whole and notion but the truth, so help me God.”
The Ancient Romans used the term “Sacramentum” for the sacred oath sworn by men on entering the Roman military. It was understood that swearing the Sacramentum, changed the status of a man from Civilian to Soldier under absolute obedience to his officers. Without the Sacramentum, one could not become a soldier, and the soldier could only be released from the Sacramentum by death or being demobilized.
In the Anglican Church, we understand that there are two Sacraments proper: Baptism and The Lord’s Supper. Every Christian is urged and expected to participate in them.
But what we do today is also Sacramental. Ordination and Profession Services are sometimes called “Sacramental Rites” because these Brothers and Sisters will 'swear an oath’.
By swearing this Oath and calling God to witness and participate in it, these Called Ones enter into what the Bible calls a Covenant. A Covenant is not like a Contract, which is an exchange of goods or services. Rather, a Covenant is an exchange of Persons.
Those who enter a Covenant give themselves to one another. Our candidates today give themselves to Christ, and He gives Himself to them, helping them to fulfill the Covenant they have sworn – all for the purpose of Love.
When Jesus was Baptized by John in the Jordan river, he came up out of the water and God spoke audibly: “This is my Beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased!” That’s what we’re about today: affirming our Love Relationship with God by entering into specific Covenants that reflect the Vocation, or calling of these specific individuals.
But one very important thing to note about these Covenants is that the Blessing they confer is not only for the people entering into the Covenant, but for others as well. When God made a Covenant with Abraham, the promise was that Abraham would be the father of many nations and that in him, all the families of the earth would be blessed! (Gen 12:3).
So too, those who enter into the Covenants we witness today are called to take their blessing out into the world. The basic mission of the Company of Jesus is to ‘make Jesus known’. We do this by practicing our spiritual lives in the manner of Francis and Benedict, and by working in various ministries that make Jesus known to others, such as the Five Loaves Food Pantry. Members of the Company of Jesus also serve as pastors, teachers, counselors, health care workers, etc.
In Br. Tim’s case, as an Ordained Permanent Deacon his job will be to serve the poor and needy, and then call the Church’s attention to these needs. In addition, he will serve at the altar, setting up the table and assisting to distribute communion. He is also empowered to preach and to conduct what is called a 'Deacon' Mass" using the consecrated elements.
Regarding Ordination itself, we find the pattern for it in the book of Numbers, Chapter 27, where God instructs Moses to appoint Joshua as his successor. Moses was told to “Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand on him. Make him stand before Eleazar the priest and all the congregation, and you shall commission him in their sight. You shall invest him with some of your authority…” (Num.27:18-20).
Ordination to the Diaconate finds its first New Testament expression in the book of Acts, Chapter 6, where the Disciples appoint seven men to help with the distribution of food to widows so that they themselves could devote their time to prayer.
And just as Moses stood Joshua before the people and ordained him for his ministry, so too did the first disciples stand the first seven deacons before them, and ordain them, or set them aside for ministry, by laying hands on them and commissioning them.
Now an important point to make about the various professions we receive today is that they are all simply intensifications of the basic Baptismal Covenant or Vow that every Christian makes when they profess their faith in Christ and follow Him in Baptism.
That’s why we are so glad that so many of you from so many different expressions of the Body of Christ have joined us here today to witness and affirm these Vows - and ideally also to reaffirm your own Baptismal Vows.
For those of you who have never made such a Baptismal Vow, this involves re-enacting the pattern of Baptism: going down into the water to die to Sin, to be cleansed and renewed, so that we may walk in newness of life. It also involves affirming our belief in the basic outline of our faith, which you will hear in a few minutes as we ask the Baptized to reaffirm their Vows in the pattern of the Apostles Creed.
Today, we are Ordaining brother Tim to the office of Deacon, based first and foremost on his Baptismal Vow – his Covenant with God to turn from the old life of Sin, to be buried with Christ in Baptism, to be raised, like Christ to walk in newness of life, and to be filled with God’s Holy Spirit and to be acclaimed, just like Christ as God’s Beloved.
As many of you know, Brother Tim’s spiritual journey has been Epic!
His life is a testament to God’s saving and redeeming power – and to his own passion to serve Christ in every person he meets. He has studied the Bible extensively. He has also been prepared and examined minutely through his process of formation towards his Franciscan profession and through preparation for his ordination to the Diaconate. He has been found to be a Character – excuse me - to be of good character, and to be worthy of this investiture today.
The same is true for the Franciscans and the Benedictine we receive. They have all been put through spiritual formation and will continue to be formed over next five years as they make four annual renewals of their vows, and then finally, at the fifth year, Life Vows in their respective vocations.
In every case, what we do today is not something random, but a ratification of something God has already been doing. As Henry Blackaby has so famously advised, today in this service, we are noticing what God is already doing and joining Him in it!
Now just a note about these ceremonies and the people who perform them:
Today, Bishop Ames will ordain our brother. As Bishop, this is part of the ministry he is empowered to do. Like Moses with Joshua, Bishop Ames will lay his hand on him Tim before all of us and commission him in our sight with some of his own authority. A Bishop typically ordains Deacons and Priests to serve in local churches. He oversees a grouping of churches called a Diocese. Bishop Ames also serves the Company of Jesus as our Episcopal Visitor and Protector. Our Order resides within his Diocese, but is not a parish or church per se.
In a first for our Order, Brother Tim is being ordained to serve within the Company of Jesus as a Deacon working with the Five Loaves Food Pantry and serving the community in and around this ministry.
After the Ordination, I, as Abbot of the Company of Jesus will receive the Professions of Seven Franciscans and one Benedictine. I am not a Bishop, but I am an ordained priest, and have been consecrated to be the spiritual father of this Order.
Those who make their professions today are basically lay people.
Although Terry Troyer and Mark Scotton are ordained priests, and Nile Gomez and Mark Hanna are Deacons, Corey Chorba, Leslie Hanna, Darby Louis and Robert Rubinow are not. Nor need they be. Monasticsm is essentially a movement of lay people, not ordained clergy.
So there you have it – enough terms and definitions to fill a large glossary. But again, all of this we do today is in the service of Love and of serving and ministering to God’s people, wherever they may be found.
To those being Ordained and Professing today, I say to you, My brothers and sisters, your vocations are truly a sign of hope and joy to the whole world. I am pleased and privileged to receive your professions and to charge you to Follow HIM as He calls to you through Francis and Benedict.
To those of you who join us to witness these vocations today, I say Thank You for joining us! And God Bless you in your vocations as Christians, as spouses and single persons, workers, and servants to all in the world!
I’d like to close now with a Collect from the Book of Common Prayer and then ask us to stand and reaffirm our Baptismal Vows together.
Let us pray:
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, forever and ever. Amen.