This Sermon was delivered at St Andrew’s Fersfield and St Remigius Royden on the morning of the 27th January 2019. Reading: Luke 4: 14-21.
May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
So, I’m the Curate, and I’m halfway through my first year of ordained ministry as a Deacon in the Church of England. In many ways, this first year as a deacon is a peculiar one. It’s a bridging season between the years of training and reading seemingly endless books about Church ministry and being ordained a priest, god willing, this coming June. During this time there are several key differences between myself and a priest like John or Tony. The obvious ones are that I can’t conduct weddings, preside over a Eucharist, baptise, or give a priestly blessing.
There’s a sense in which as a Deacon my role is to assist with the administration of worship, to share in the ministry of the priests in this Team Ministry. One way to think of it is that if this were a film and I hoped to be nominated for an Oscar, I’d be aiming for Best Supporting Actor.
And while a lot of my training has focused on what it will mean to become a priest, it’s actually important that I understand the heart of diaconal ministry. It’s a ministry of service, of obedience and it’s also a ministry of freedom – freedom to minister under authority without the same degree of responsibility for, among other things, PCC agendas, service rotas or finances. Knowing and, more importantly, understanding my role in the ministry happening in the Diss Team Ministry is key for doing my role well.
It was key for Jesus as well. In our Gospel reading today we encounter a Jesus who confidently claims that he is the fulfilment of Isaiah chapter 61. Namely, that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him to bring good news to the poor, to proclaim release to captives, the recovery of sight to the blind, and freedom for the oppressed. Here we see that Jesus has a clear sense of purpose. He understands the distinct nature of his ministry, of what he has come to do. In the reading of this passage of Isaiah and in sitting to preach on it, saying ‘Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’, Jesus declares his ministry and the authority which his ministry is grounded on.
Many books have been written on this passage. It’s been described as Jesus’ manifesto. Churches often adopt it as a central theme for their mission statements. In South America, this passage became a foundation for what’s called ‘liberation theology’, a Christian rationale for social justice which has influenced Churches, and in turn the lives of countless people, across the world. Indeed, I dare say that I could delve headlong into each of the aspects he outlines to explore what they might mean for us today. However, to do could risk overlooking the most important part of the story.
It opens: “Then Jesus, filled with the power of the Spirit, returned to Galilee.”
Again, at the start of the Isaiah passage it says: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me”.
Just two weeks ago we were remembering the baptism of Christ in the river Jordon when the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus as a dove. And now, following a time of prayer and reflection – including the temptations by the Devil – in the Desert, Jesus embarks on his ministry filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
To say that Jesus was filled with power is not simply to say that his ‘miracles battery-pack’ is now fully charged and ready to be used. The power of the Spirit is not a ‘thing’ to be measured and rationed out as a commodity, but rather the ineffable presence of the love of God at work in and through first, the Son of God himself; and then through those who believe and trust in Jesus as Lord.
It is this presence of God acting through humanity which is the foundation of all Gospel ministry – and Jesus serves as both the pioneer and perfecter of this ministry of faith, as the pattern we are to follow.
There may be different kinds of ministry: Jesus as the saviour of the world, Peter and Paul as Apostles, Justin Welby as archbishop, Tony as a Priest, myself as a Deacon, but all of them are grounded in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
When I was ordained Deacon I was asked: Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to grow in holiness and grace?
By the Grace of God, I will.
When Tony was ordained priest, he was asked: Will you then, in the strength of the Holy Spirit, continually stir up the gift of God that is in you, to make Christ known among all whom you serve?
“By the grace of God, I will”. (Tony answered this himself).
Because all ministry is the fruit of the Spirit of God being present within and working through us, that means that the foundation of the life and ministry of the Church is Baptism.
That is, all of us – ordained or not – have been baptised by the Holy Spirit into the death and resurrection of Christ; we have been baptised into the People of God to live in the presence of God’s love for us and for the world around us. More than this, to minister to the world in the name of Christ.
Each of us has different gifts. Whether that be evangelism, teaching, discernment, wisdom, administration, financial, youth work or leadership; whether that be by serving as a Church Warden, playing the music, leading the services, praying faithfully or working hard behind the scenes, all of us together make up the body of Christ, the Church here in this place.
In baptism, you have been called out of sin and darkness into the hope of life eternal and the promises of God. Indeed, in a Baptism performed according to the Book of Common Prayer the priest welcomed you into the congregation saying: I sign you with the sign of the Cross, in token that hereafter you shall not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified, and manfully to fight under his banner against sin, the world and the devil, and to continue Christ’s faithful soldier and servant unto your life’s end. Amen.”
Each of us here in this Church today have been called by God, drawn by love to be baptised into the Church and to confess Christ by our lives, in word and deed. Having been called, we were baptised; and in being baptised into the Life of Christ we, too, are ‘annointed by the Holy Spirit to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”.
This is the joy and the dutiful privilege of being called “Christians”.
Especially so in these times where the Church of England is having to adjust to a new season of mission where, let’s be honest, the numbers are down. It’s a season where parishes join together into team ministries, such as our own, to share their priests. A situation which could be framed pessimistically, complaining as clergy are spread thin and congregations fade away…
Or… it can be framed positively. You are the baptised people of God, anointed with the power of the Holy Spirit – that same spirit by which God the Father raised Jesus from the dead is present here in your worship and in your lives. In his loving strength, you have not just the permission but the potential to impact the lives of those who live in this community; to love and serve them, to reach out to them and share your faith with them, to enable them to hear the good news of Jesus so that they too might enjoy his presence.
This may seem daunting, but if the Christian life is anything it is the awareness that we cannot do this on our own; we live this life together and with our God.
And so I encourage you to be mindful of the presence of God in the Eucharist, come and feed on Christ in your hearts by faith with thanksgiving – and be filled with the power of the Holy Spirit as you dwell here in this community of Fersfield/Royden.