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Ordination of Priests

Sermon for Eucharist on Feast of St Andrew and for Ordination of Priests for the Diocese of Perth

Preached at St George’s Cathedral, Perth, St Andrew’s Day, 2020 by The Revd Dr Gregory Seach, Warden of Wollaston Theological College

Readings:Deuteronomy 30:11–14

Psalm 19:1–6
Romans 10:8–18
Matthew 4:18–22

‘Andrew’s calling, and ours’

Over the past weekend, it has been my privilege and honour to pray, read Scripture, worship and reflect with the six deacons we are gathered here this evening to continue to pray for, and commend to God, as the Archbishop ordains them priest. She will do that, of course, as we do, and commit ourselves to pray for them. And, they will be ordained here, before the community that is the Church, and only by and with your assent: so, when it comes to those parts where you, people of God gathered here, are asked to make reply, do so loudly, vehemently and joyfully.

Given today is St Andrew’s day, over the weekend, we’ve been reflecting together on ‘Andrew’s calling, and ours’. Our readings tonight provide a way into some of what we explored. The first thing to note is that, in Matthew’s gospel, as in all of the gospel accounts – notwithstanding some differences – there is always a sense that a call by Jesus is into a community that Jesus establishes. The first disciples in Matthew and Mark are called as a four. In John, there are two – and Andrew is one of them, and he quickly calls his brother, and others follow.

That is important for all Christians to remember, but tonight, especially for priests to recall. The priestly ministry you will exercise arises out of the ministry Christ entrusts to his whole Church; but it will be your task, dear Sue, Liz, Mark, Matt, Luke and Sarah, to provide some focus for that ministry. We see that best, I suppose, when we think of Andrew taking the five loaves and the two fish from the boy, and presenting them to Jesus. Andrew, learning what it is to be a disciple, learning what it means to follow Jesus, asks what good so small an offering can be in feeding five thousand. But, in handing that little offering over to Jesus, he finds Jesus giving thanks, breaking, and distributing it, Andrew and all the disciples see the people receive “as much as they wanted”, and they were satisfied.

When Andrew follows Jesus in John’s gospel, he asks Jesus, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”; and Jesus responds, “Come and see”. And, John tells us, Andrew and the other disciple ‘came and saw’ and they ‘remained’ with Jesus that day. So the calling you, and we, all have, is to remain with Jesus – or, as John will later put it, to abide with Jesus, as he will abide with us, with you. No wonder the first Warden of Wollaston, Canon Tony Pierce, determined that the motto for the new theological college for the training of clergy in this diocese would be ‘J’attends’: I wait, I stay, I abide. That abiding is crucial: it means you will stay with Jesus and learn from him. You learn from him in reading Scripture daily, and allowing Scripture to read you. You will pray daily and consistently, faithfully; even when you feel that storming the heavens is fruitless and pointless. You will do it because you will remember that the God who calls you is faithful, and so you will respond in faithfulness, and you will stand before God with the people God has entrusted to your care on your heart, as Michael Ramsey so beautifully put it.

Through prayer, through reading of Scripture and other works, and through receiving the grace of the sacraments as well as administering and presiding at them, you will, experience shows, continue to be replenished. You will be renewed. Let me remind you of the words of St Bernard of Clairvaux that, I know, you found helpful over this weekend:

The [person] who is wise, therefore, will see [her or] his life as more like a reservoir than a canal. The canal simultaneously pours out what it receives; the reservoir retains the water till it is filled, then discharges the overflow without loss to itself….

Today there are many in the Church who act like canals, the reservoirs are far too rare….

You too must learn to await this fulness before pouring out your gifts, do not try to be more generous than God.1

“Do not try to be more generous than God”! It is a helpful reminder of our humanity, our creatureliness, our frailty. And that we all need to return to the source of grace – the word very near to us, as Moses tells the people of Israel. The word that is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe: for you, we might say, to ‘come and see.’

And Paul suggests that as we become more and more deeply engaged with that word of faith, so we will be encouraged and empowered to proclaim it: that, too, is your calling, to be one of those who bring good news – the good news of the chance to ‘come and see’ and remain with Jesus. That, too, is your calling: from the depths that you receive from God the Holy Spirit, through Christ’s offering, you can invite and share with others the riches of that generosity. When you, the reservoir that you are, is full of the overflowing grace of God, then you are able to share that grace with others through your priestly ministry.

One last reflection: Andrew, along with Peter, James and John, leave behind their boats, their families, and their nets to follow Jesus. And Sue, Liz, Mark, Matt, Luke and Sarah have spent some time reflecting on what they need to ‘leave behind’; what ‘nets’ might be entangling them. But, Jesus says to these fishermen, ‘Follow me, and I will make you fish for people’. Who and what you are, the gifts and skills you already have and bring, are part of why God has called you – and God will, by the action of the Spirit, transform or ‘transfigure’ those into new ways of serving God. As a wise priest who supervised me as a student on placement once put it, ‘Nothing is lost in the grand economy of God.’

But, while we may initially need to leave nets behind, sometimes, when you’re fishing, nets are, so I’m told important. When Jesus calls the fishermen in Luke’s gospel, it is after he’s told them to throw the nets over the side, after a night of fruitless work: and then ‘they caught so many fish that the nets were beginning to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them.’ Of course, it is a similar account to that we read in John’s gospel after the resurrection, when, again after a fruitless night of fishing, Jesus tells them where to cast the nets, and they can’t haul in the catch.

Sometimes, therefore, not only nets, but well-mended and cared for nets. Mending nets is useful. If the disciples, the Church, is called to fish for people, we need solid, secure nets, so the fish can be gathered. Sue, Liz, Mark, Matt, Luke and Sarah, you are called – you are ordained tonight – to be knots in the net. All the people of God, those gathered here to support you tonight, and those you will work with in the days, weeks and years ahead, are all strands in the net. But in an important way, they are joined with one another and held together by those the Church appoints to be leaders, its priests. That’s why (though on a reduced scale this evening), when priests are ordained by the bishop, other priests – members of the College of Presbyters – gather around to welcome you into that community, that collegiality. Tonight, we’ll have a Johannine moment – only two able to welcome you physical into the College or Presbyters – as our Archbishop ordains you. But we are all there with you, because the collegiality into which you are called is crucial. And if, by your actions or words, or mine, or any priest’s, you, we, any of God’s people, start to ‘fray’, if the net starts to come apart, then fish may be lost. As we look around our city, our diocese, our country, our world, we need the biggest, strongest nets we can have. So, pray that we may not fray. ‘Do not try to be more generous than God’, St Bernard says; but, impossible though it is, try not to be less generous than God, either: remember the full extent of the communion into which you have been called – it is from eternity to eternity.

You have, indeed, been invited into a remarkable communion, and you will have the privilege to invite people to join it, saying, ‘Come and see’. After this evening, you will also have the privilege to offer with, for and to the communities in which you serve, the remarkable gift and sign of that communion, bread and wine – which you take, give thanks for, and distribute to the people, just as Jesus took the loaves and fish that Andrew brought from the boy. We will soon share it here: taken, broken and given by the Chief caster of nets, our Chief Shepherd, in this Diocese. It is the wonderful sign and foretaste of that eternal banquet prepared for us. And it remains a faithful sign of the communion into which we are drawn, by the power of the Spirit: the eternal union of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

1. [On the Song of Songs, Sermon 18, quoted from Anna Matthews, ‘Reflections on Vocation and Mission’ in God’s Church in the World: The Gift of Catholic Mission, ed. Susan Lucas, (London: Canterbury Press, 2020), p. 75]

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