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Readings: 5th Sunday after Trinity

26 June 2015


2 Samuel 5.1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; 2 Corinthians 12.2-10; Mark 6.1-13


Almighty and everlasting God, by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church is governed and sanctified: hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people, that in their vocation and ministry they may serve you in holiness and truth to the glory of your name; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.


OVER the next two days, ordinations will take place across the Church of England. Archdeacons, lawyers, and directors of ordinands will testify to the newly presented candidates' theological attainments and excellent character. Later in the service, when the duties of ordained ministry have been read out, congregations will be asked to proclaim their support for the candidates to be ordained.

The question is phrased realistically, and asks the people to consider "how great is the charge that these ordinands are ready to undertake" before agreeing that matters should proceed.*

This particular act of the Church is very properly underpinned not only by evidence of credentials, but also by serious public recognition of what a calling to ordained ministry means. Any preacher at an ordination this year would find much in Sunday's readings to give substance to what, in summary form, may sound merely legalistic.

David, Paul, and Jesus are all found in situations where identity and integrity must be proved. On the face of things, David has the easiest time. He is already a popular figure, and a military hero, and a far more attractive personality than his predecessors. As a member of the tribe of Judah, he is of the people, authentically their "bone and flesh" (2 Samuel 5.1).

To make his claim to kingship absolutely clear, however, the narrative includes a second assurance in the shape of the covenant which is established with the elders of Israel, with the Lord as witness (2 Samuel 5.3).

Paul faces a very different set of circumstances. He must make his claim to be the true apostle of Jesus Christ in opposition to the superficially exciting evangelistic techniques of some "super-apostles", who have led the Corinthian Christians away from the tougher message of Paul's preaching, with its single-minded emphasis on the resurrection, and the reorientation of all priorities by that event (2 Corinthians 11.5, 12-15).

Setting aside his own visionary experience with consummate rhetorical skill (2 Corinthians 12.2-5), Paul insists that his only credentials are his weaknesses; for in these God's grace is shown to be most powerfully at work (2 Corinthians 2.7-10).

Jesus returns to his home town with a reputation for teaching, healing, casting out demons, and raising the dead, yet claims none of these things as a mandate for addressing the people of Nazareth. Instead, he does what he has done in other places, and goes straight to the synagogue to teach (Mark 1.21, 3.1, 6.2).

Mark's description of the reaction of the locals hints at a poisonous residue of conservatism and resentment of those aspiring above their station (Mark 6.2-3). There is no rejoicing in the talents of a local boy - no claiming him as "one of us", as the tribes greeted David. But equally striking is Jesus's astonishment at their "unbelief" (Mark 6.6). It is not the people's rejection of him, but their rejection of his Father that shakes him, especially when their discussion has brought them so near to seeing in him more than the well-known carpenter (Mark 6.2). That failure to receive what is selflessly offered sends him and the twelve away to the surrounding villages.

The newly ordained will rapidly discover what it means to put oneself at the mercy of others in God's name, and how much harder it can be to engage them in a shared vision than to lay down the law, or impress them with ministerial pyrotechnics. Like the twelve, they must travel light, and be consistent in their message (Mark 6.8-12). St Benedict, whose feast day falls on 11 July, condensed a wealth of wisdom into the three key tenets of his Rule: stability, obedience, and conversion of life.

But it is in the ordination service itself that they (and those they will serve) will find both the greatest challenge and the greatest encouragement:

In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ's own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God.

* Common Worship Ordination Services: Study Edition (Ordination of Priests) (Church House Publishing, 2007)


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