For the Work of Ministry (Ephesians 4: 11-16)
Covenanting Service for the Rev. Elisabeth Jones and Cedar Park United Church
By Rev. Janet Bisset
To paraphrase Paul, if I may,: to the saints who are in Pointe Claire at the church of Cedar Park and are faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to you and peace from God and Godâ€™s beloved son Jesus Christ. Thus begins —more or lessâ€”Paulâ€™s letter to the church at Ephesus.(Eph.1:2)
Paul goes on to speak about how fortunate ,how blessed we are â€“what a special place we have in Godâ€™s heart and what pleasure it gives to God that we be made â€œwhole and holy by Godâ€™s Loveâ€ (1:5, The Message) Thatâ€™s always a good way to begin a letter, isnâ€™t it, with the bringing of greetings.
What a fine starting point for this occasion that has so much of a sense of celebration to it. The story is told within the presbytery that unlike most congregations who gather for receiving the report and recommendation of the search committee that upon announcing the name of its chosen candidate to become the new minister here, the congregational meeting erupted with cheers and applause.
Congregational meetings for the purpose of voting on new ministers usually involve a fairly high level of trust in the discernment of the search committee. And it is often the case that the name put before the meeting is a stranger from Saskatchewan. But the Reverend Elisabeth Jones was no stranger to this congregation. As she and Norman had worshipped among you for a number of years, you had already had the opportunity to be exercising your own gifts of discernment and had found Elisabeth to be a fine teacher, an inspiring preacher and a deeply faithful follower of Jesus Christ. Why wouldnâ€™t you be delighted that God had called her out of the pews and into the pulpit on a permanent basis to become the new minister of Cedar Park United Church?
This text from Paulâ€™s writings which has been chosen for us to think about this afternoon, speaks about the very thing that we are here to celebrate today. It speaks about the work of ministry. It speaks about the work of ministry and how it is that we are equipped to carry it out â€The gifts[Christ]gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.â€ (11-13)
Not only does it speak about the work of ministry, but it tells us what that ministry is for. It is for â€building up the body of Christ until ALL of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christâ€. We donâ€™t get to be â€œthe children of Godâ€ in this text. This is a call to pack up our 170 dollar jeans and our I-pads and move out of Mom and Dadâ€™s basement. This is a call to Christian adulthood, â€œto maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christâ€.
Eugene Petersonâ€™s more contemporary translation would put it this way:â€œ[Christ] handed out gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, and pastor-teacher to train Christâ€™s followers in skilled servant work, working within Christâ€™s body, the church, until weâ€™re ALL moving rhythmically and easily with each other, efficient and graceful in response to Godâ€™s s Son, fully mature adults, fully developed within and without, fully alive like Christâ€ (The Message 11-13)
I wonder what might have been the question to which these verses are the answer. The early Christians often turned to Paul to help them better understand how best to follow Jesus. Often he was asked to settle church fights about who had the best gifts and who ought to be the most important; who was holier than the next one; which rules were going to be most important to follow. Would those be the sorts of questions we might have for Paul?
What are the issues these days which could do with an authoritative answer from a travelling wise person? Or is that part of the Christian maturity about which Paul is speaking. We have already been given everything we need to know â€œfor the work of ministryâ€,– the reconnecting of what we say we believe and how we behave as a consequence –we just need to get on with doing it. The church blesses us with fine leaders who come among us to share their gifts willingly and joyfully, but Paul makes it clear that this is a team effort. We ALL together are called to this business of full maturity in Christ.
Jesus himself never uses this word â€œministryâ€. It first emerges in the Book of Acts as Peter speaks of ministry as a way to name the work that the followers of Jesus do in his name –together. Thereâ€™s plenty of work to go around and an abundance of gifts with which to do it â€“together.
It gets confusing though doesnâ€™t it, because there are people that the church names as ministers but at the same time we speak of the ministry of the whole people of God. Lets allow that both are true. Some folk are indeed called out with their unique gifts to be specially trained and prepared to offer leadership in the church, among the people, in their midst â€“ leading, loving, challenging, teaching —pastor-theologians —offering ministry, all the while encouraging others to find their own way and do the same. To participate together with their gifts for the work of ministry.
When it comes to services like this one, we used to induct or install. That is to say, the church used to put ministers into congregations. Fortunately, we learn as we go, and somewhere along the line, we began, instead, to make covenant promises with them . And thatâ€™s because we got it figured out that ministry is not something that one person comes and does in or for a congregation. Ministry is about a holy and sacred relationship that a minister has with her congregation.
The work of ministry in a particular geographic location is the work of the people of God WITH a minster who is called into their midst to journey with them for a time. And the people of God have a name for that holy and sacred relationship. They call it a covenant. They call it that because they want to remind themselves â€“always â€“ that it is not they alone â€“ the people and the minister who do the work â€“but God who engages with them in it.
They make holy and sacred promises together to simply show up with the gifts with which they have been equipped â€“ ready to do whatever it is that God may be dreaming for them to do. For more than anything —this work —this thing that we call church is about engaging in the dreaming of dreams with God about how the Kingdom of Heaven may come, in some small way, in the place where we find ourselves.
Discerning how it is that those gifts may all come together in holy mystery â€œbuilding up in loveâ€ for the work of ministry â€“is the task which lies ahead in the months and years to come for Cedar Park United Church and the Reverend Elisabeth Jones. It begins with the commitment to prayerfully support one another, minister and congregation in covenant relationship â€“one with the other and accompanied always by the grace of God. Amen