A Brief Meditation on Ministry

World Communion Sunday is a day when we are particularly attentive to something we do all the time. We Disciples are people of the table, and anytime we gather for worship, we gather around the table.

Other traditions within the church have books that allow them to speak of their particularity, a book of common prayer, a book of confessions, a book of discipline, or a catechism. We Disciples don’t have anything like that sitting on the shelf, but we find ourselves returning again and again to the table of Christ. And when we talk about our particular witness within the one church of Jesus Christ, we point to the table. More than by any particular doctrine or set of doctrines, we are people shaped by the meal we call the Lord’s Supper, the Eucharist, or Communion.

We can’t help but proclaim the gospel of salvation in terms of God’s hospitality, of God’s desire to heal our sinful divisions. And on this day in particular we remember that this table is not ours, not the church’s, but God’s table for all the world’s peoples.

It is a table of reconciliation, set for us right on the lines that divide us from God and from one another, and we come with joyful wonder at the wideness of God’s mercy. We come with thanksgiving for the ministry of Jesus Christ and the church’s witness around the globe. We come with deep gratitude for this tangible, inhabitable assurance of forgiveness; this solemn proclamation of the Lord’s death until he comes; this joyful celebration of God’s new creation in the midst of the old; this foretaste of the heavenly feast on earth.

On this World Communion Sunday we are particularly attentive to something else we do all the time, ministry. Angie’s ordination gives us an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be in ministry, do ministry, have a ministry, or be a minister.

Contrary to widely held public opinion ministry isn’t whatever it is ministers do. Ministry is God’s work in the world. Before it becomes something we do, ministry is God’s life-giving presence and redemptive movement in the world, and in particular God’s ministry to all humanity in Jesus Christ.

The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, sings of this redemptive movement as God’s downward mobility in Christ,

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).

In the gospel according to John, the same movement is captured in the beautiful scene of the footwashing on that last evening. Jesus takes off his outer robe and ties a towel around himself. Then he gets down on his knees and washes the disciples’ feet.

The Lord is the servant, the servant is the Lord. This is how he wants to be known. His entire life and mission are characterized by this act of intimate, loving service.

Peter speaks for all of us, when he tells him that the Lord cannot do a servant’s work – and Jesus responds that this is how it must be, that we must place ourselves in his hands. To be in relationship with him we must receive him as he comes, the lowly servant embodying the love of God. And then he gets up and puts on his robe again, and he tells us to do for one another as he has done.

To do ministry is to enact the love of God through humble service. To be in ministry is to participate in the work of God in the world, in Jesus’ name. Just as God’s hospitality and service to us in Jesus Christ has changed our relationship to God and to each other, so this ministry of God has changed our relationship to the world, and our place in it. We now live to make known the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ.

Here at Vine Street, we give new disciples a sign that represents this new way of being in the world; it’s an apron. I brought one today, as a gift for Angie and a reminder for us all that ministry isn’t something some of us do, but rather something all of us participate in by virtue of our baptism. We are members of the body of Christ who continues to serve in the world, offering forgiveness, healing, and new life. Inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, the church participates in Christ’s mission. All who are baptized become part of the church’s ministry, and all are given the awesome task of letting  their lives reflect the glory of God.

So why do we ordain Angie, if she’s already a minister? We ordain her to affirm God’s call to her to lead the church, to fulfill tasks that are necessary for the vitality and faithfulness of our common ministry, to equip, nurture, and guide us, and to stand over against us when necessary to remind us who we are and what our purpose is in the world.

Ordaining her doesn’t put her above us, nor does it mean that we’ve finally found somebody we can pay to relieve us of our own ministerial responsibilities.

We ordain her on behalf of the whole church of Jesus Christ, and for the sake of our one ministry in God’s world. We ordain her so she can help us become more fully who we are baptized and called to be.