For the ordination service of Ron Sidney at Kirkland Adventist Church
Sabbath, August 29, 2015
When our Master moved from the obscurity of his faithful service in the carpenter shop toward public ministry, God sent him first to the Baptizer. There at the Jordan River, Jesus the Sinless One dramatically declared his union with the people of God. By accepting baptism at the hands of John the Baptist, Jesus joined with his sinful people with reservation or qualification. He declared himself to be one of us.
Among Adventist clergy, ordination makes a similar statement. We who are ordained ask you to join the likes of us—men with checkered histories, men who are a mishmash of greatness and pedestrian weaknesses. We invite you to become one of “the brethren.”
(Side note to the congregation: And I pray and am working toward the day when this clergy fellowship includes sisters as well as brothers.)
When you accept ordination, like Jesus at his baptism, you, too, are making a public declaration of your place in this people of God. You are joining people like us—people whose intentions are greater than our accomplishments, people who sometimes descend into smallness, people who sometimes confuse our desires with the will of God. You are joining us in all that makes up our identity. You are especially joining us in our hope and mission.
As an ordained minister, you will carry within you and on you the people of God. And just as God announced at Jordan, “You are my beloved son.” So God says to you today in recognition of your willingness to join with us in service, “You are my beloved son. With you I am very pleased.”
My first charge to you this afternoon is this: Keep these words with you. Your Father in heaven is very pleased with you. He is pleased you have yielded to his call. He is pleased you are his servant. God has great plans for you, but first, before plans and achievements and success is this word from the Father's heart: You are my beloved son. I am very pleased with you.
Keep these words always in your heart, so that they may keep you.
Jesus went straight from his baptism to the sternest imaginable graduate school—the desert of temptation. After graduating from there, he headed into Galilee and began his public ministry. Everywhere Jesus went people were dazzled and charmed. Here's Matthew's prose description of these early days of Jesus' ministry:
Jesus traveled throughout the region of Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and announcing the Good News about the Kingdom. And he healed every kind of disease and illness. 24 News about him spread as far as Syria, and people soon began bringing to him all who were sick. And whatever their sickness or disease, or if they were demon possessed or epileptic or paralyzed--he healed them all. Matthew 4:23-25.
Matthew invoked the poetic words of the ancient prophet:
In the land of Zebulun and of Naphtali,
the land beside the sea, beyond the Jordan River,
in Galilee home of the Gentiles,
in that place live,
the people sitting darkness saw a great light.
On those huddled in the land of death's dark shadow,
the light has dawned.
This was the ministry of Jesus. It is our ministry, your ministry. May your words, your work, your life always be light for the people God commits into your care.
Which brings me to my second charge: Cultivate the light. Spend time every day gazing at the glorious face of God. Become radiant through basking in God's radiance.
You will encounter darkness. It is the nature of life in this world.
There will be mornings when the night before included getting home from a late meeting at 11:00, then caring for your sick wife until midnight, then being roused from bed at 3 a.m. to clean the vomit up from the shag carpet in the hall way outside your bathroom because your five-year-old wasn't able to make it to the bathroom before the explosion happened. There will be mornings when you don't take time for prayer and contemplation of the divine loveliness.
It may happen that heaviness in your own soul will be so great that you go for days or weeks or maybe even months without communion with God. You will carry the weight of your people. The trouble of the world will haunt you, sometimes even threaten to crush you.
My charge to you is this: go back to the light. Every morning seek God's face. And when you realize it has been awhile, don't waste time scolding yourself, just return. Go back. Sit in God's presence and bask in his smile, rehearse his promise: “You are my beloved son. With you I am well pleased.”
Spend time in the smile of God. Hear his reassurance, you are his beloved son. Saturate your soul in the light of heaven, then return to your calling to an agent of light. Shine the light on those who sit darkness.
In Matthew 13, said to his inner circle, the twelve disciples:
Every scribe who has become a disciple in the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” Matthew 13:52
In your study and contemplation, be sure to mine the rich heritage of Christian theology stretching back across two thousand years. Devote attention to the distinctive treasures of theology and spiritual practice God has brought to light here among Seventh-day Adventists.
Teach your people the glorious vision of the character of God. Teach them, show them, that divine love is the very first word of creation theology and that when God has finished his work and evil and pain have vanished, the same word of divine love will be the last word, the greatest word. Let nothing obscure this most important—and even most distinctive treasure of Adventist theology.
Paint a vivid picture of God's law as the essential, natural principles of life throughout the universe. Give your people confidence that God requires nothing of humans that is not already integral to the divine character and expressed in divine action. Help them understand the necessity and sweetness of ordering their lives after the divine pattern.
Teach your people to keep Sabbath and enjoy it. Lead them in tasting divine grace and favor in the Lord's Supper. Teach them to pray and study and serve.
Be a good scribe. Work with the ancient treasures and make them understandable and attractive. Discover new gifts, new truths, and new ways of voicing our faith.
Preach hope. Jesus is coming again—Jesus the Savior, Jesus the Redeemer, Jesus the One who would rather die than live without us. Assure your people we have not been abandoned. Jesus will return. Goodness and love will triumph. And we with them.
One final picture I would leave with you.
When it was time for Jesus to finish his work, when he wished to make a grand, final, emphatic declaration to the people of God in Jerusalem, he sent his disciples to go and find a donkey. Jesus mounted the donkey and rode into the Holy City surrounded by hosannas and hallelujahs.
It was Jesus the crowds sang. It was the donkey who carried him.
It is still the same. The disciples today—needed another donkey to join us in carrying the Christ in triumphant procession toward the Holy City. We looked around and found you. Today, in this ordination service we are consecrating you, a mere donkey, to the weighty and glorious task of bearing Christ.
Our people accord us great honor. They trust us to hear their stories and teach their children. They invite us to pray with them in their darkest places and to rejoice with them in the happiest times. The respect and confidence of our people is one of the most precious experiences in ministry.
When things go well and you are surrounded by the appreciation and affirmation of your people, when your heart is full of your awareness of the divine call, remember the parade is about the rider and not the donkey.
And if dark times come and you question whether there is any value, any importance, in your calling, remember that Jesus cannot ride without a donkey. He needs you. There is some piece of God's work that only you can do. March on.
Be faithful to the one who has called you.
Carry the Christ and his message.