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Sermon For A Covenanting Service

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What is a covenanting service?

In the United Church of Canada all new ministry positions are celebrated and recognized by a covenanting service. This is a recognition in a service of worship that a 'pastoral relationship' involves three parties - a) the person being covenanted, b) the Pastoral Charge and c) The Presbytery. It is the tradition in Chignecto Presbytery for the person most recently covenanted to be one to preach at the next covenanting service. The person being covenanted in this service is a 'diaconal minister', a member of the Order of Ministry of the United Church.

October 18, 1998 Curryville United Church, Curryville N.B. Canada

(Exodus 3:1-15 NRSV) "Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. {2} There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. {3} Then Moses said, "I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up." {4} When the LORD saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, "Moses, Moses!" And he said, "Here I am." {5} Then he said, "Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground." {6} He said further, "I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God. {7} Then the LORD said, "I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, {8} and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. {9} The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. {10} So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt." {11} But Moses said to God, "Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?" {12} He said, "I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain." {13} But Moses said to God, "If I come to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' what shall I say to them?" {14} God said to Moses, "I AM WHO I AM." He said further, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'I AM has sent me to you.'" {15} God also said to Moses, "Thus you shall say to the Israelites, 'The LORD, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you': This is my name forever, and this my title for all generations."

(1 Corinthians 12:12-20 NRSV) "For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. {13} For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body--Jews or Greeks, slaves or free--and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. {14} Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. {15} If the foot would say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. {16} And if the ear would say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," that would not make it any less a part of the body. {17} If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? {18} But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. {19} If all were a single member, where would the body be? {20} As it is, there are many members, yet one body."

(John 21:15-19 NRSV) "When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my lambs." {16} A second time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Tend my sheep." {17} He said to him the third time, "Simon son of John, do you love me?" Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. {18} Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go." {19} (He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, "Follow me.""

"The Ministry of the Story-teller"

Once upon a time a very well meaning aid worker visited an African village and lived there for a time. They spent the evenings gathered around the campfire listening to their story-teller. After he returned to North America he sent them a television and a generator with a note that said "this TV knows many stories'. Two years later he returned to the village and was astounded to find out that the TV had been un- used for some time. He asked them, "Why don't you use the TV. Surely you realize that it knows more stories than your story-teller."

The reply was this, "That is true good friend, and your gift is most generous, but our story-teller knows us."

We have gathered here in this church this evening for a service of celebration. We gather to acknowledge the beginning of another chapter in the book of the life of this pastoral charge and Ellen Flemming, who has come here to minister among you. Ellen is not the only minister here this evening though, and I'm not talking about all of us strangers who have arrived from that ‘thing' called Presbytery. Everyone here is called to a ministry, from the youngest to the most senior. It is not something you pay her to do so that you can concentrate on your regular lives. Professional ministers are trained in certain ways and called by the community to be about them in the sometimes crazy and wild position of a ‘servant leader'. Nevertheless, ministry is part and parcel of your call, as individuals and as congregations to follow Christ.

You could say that ministry is a process of encountering one another through story. We have first and foremost the biblical Story, from Genesis to Revelation and all that is contained between those lines. The Christian church has a story of which the Hillsborough Pastoral Charge, the Chignecto Presbytery and the United Church of Canada have a part. Each of us has a story, beginning many years before we were born and which is as yet unfinished. Ellen has a story as well, part of which involves her call to ministry and her growth in faith as she trained and developed the perspective from which she now comes. That story is not yet concluded either.

Taking a sentence from the passage from Exodus ministry is an invitation to stand on holy ground. You have already been experiencing ministry together for some months and you have already stood on holy ground: as you have encountered one another in meetings and

educational times,

in those times when you struggled together with the Gospel's call to justice and social change,

at the bedside,

at the kitchen stove,

and in all of the aspects of worship.

This gathering together to encounter one another through the Story will continue.

Jesus ran into many problems because the people he was meeting and walking with had a very different idea of who they were looking for. They missed the messiah because he did not fit their mental picture.

Ordained ministers often struggle with their expectations of ministry and what the congregations expect of their minister. It can and has been a source of conflict particularly as ministers and congregations struggle with changing ideas on the ministry of the laity.

Diaconal ministers are commissioned to a ministry of ‘service, education and pastoral care' and as such, have both differing and similar struggles between their visions and your expectations. Ellen has been trained as a diaconal minister and while she is well qualified to perform the tasks of this particular ministry position I would ask you to remember that by training and outlook she approaches these tasks somewhat differently.

Diaconal ministers are not new, indeed they have probably been around longer than those who are ordained. Stephen and Phoebe are biblical examples from the earliest days of the churches. Diaconal ministers were charged with preparing the converts for baptism and with caring for the widows and the orphans who were the people who suffered greatly from injustice. It was a risky business. We all know what happened to Stephen! He found, that as Jesus die, when you challenge the status quo you ruffle feathers and people don't like having their feathers ruffled. Diaconal ministers sometimes feel called to ruffle feathers, to re-interpret the way ‘things are' in the light of the ‘way things can be'.

In speaking to Simon in the gospel passage read for us the emphasis on service cannot be ignored. "Feed my sheep" is said three times. During the presentation of the symbols of ministry Ellen will be presented with a towel and basin, reminding us of an event in Jesus' own ministry where, before the institution of what we often refer to as the ‘last supper,' he was a servant to those he was leading and teaching. Ellen has come here to be your leader and she has also come here to be your servant in the name of Christ.

As you embrace Ellen's leadership you may find that the formal aspects of worship are given less emphasis as you are called to struggle with the meaning of your Sunday faith from Monday to Saturday. As the hymn by Fred Kaan puts it puts it: "Worship and work must be one!" Worship the Lord, words by Fred Kaan Mucic by Ron Klusmeier, 1972

Under Ellen's leadership you will be called again and again to consider what the church says to those who are often pushed to the margins of society. Maybe you are already asking the question, "What is justice for those folks in Albert County who are suffering from various forms of in-justice." and "What role can we who are members of the Hillsborough Pastoral Charge have in regard to justice in far-away places such as Guatemala. Far from driving you away from prayer, worship, Bible reading and stewardship this emphasis will make all of those ‘traditional' aspects of Christian life more important and certainly, more relevant.

As a diaconal minister Ellen has been trained in team leadership in a way that those of us who are ordained are not, and spend a great deal of time at places such as A.C.T.C. in Tatamagouche learning after the fact! She may ask you to form task groups and, dare I say it, committees, to plan worship, educational events and meetings together. You are not ‘helping her out', not helping her to do her job, nor are you doing her job for her; rather it is her job to help you do yours. What is your job? When I lay hands on people at baptism and again at conformation I bestow upon them the mission to be ‘faithful witnesses of Jesus Christ'. We must realize that we are all called to ministry.

As we learn and grow and struggle with our faith we are led to a careful, serious and sometimes risky study of the scriptures. You know, the Bible is not a holy book because it is really old but because we the church still encounter the Holy through its pages. It is still the Story which gives meaning to our stories. It is the story which tells us and shows us that we are not alone. Reading and understanding the biblical story are often two different things though. Past of it comes from the fact that it was written in another culture and from another mind- set and part of the difficulty comes from the fact that it was not written in the language and idioms of English-speaking New Brunswick. Anyone who can speak more than one language will tell you that it is impossible to translate from one language to another without interpreting and difficult to do so without mis-interpreting. Ellen brings skills in another language, but I'm not speaking of French, I'm speaking of ASL, the international sign-language used by our deaf brothers and sisters. The symbols that make up this language are, by and large, a logical and common sense set of actions and hand movements which convey the same ideas we do in the spoken word. I believe that Ellen is able to transfer those skills of interpreting languages to this context where she is called to help you to interpret the scriptures into this context.

Please remember that Ellen is NOT any of your former ministers. As a woman, as a diaconal minister and as her own person she brings a perspective which is unique and special.

Ministry is what God's people do to show God's love every minute of the day and every day of the week.

May you all receive the certainty that the Spirit accompanies you on your journey as you continue this important, exciting and somewhat risky ministry together.

Amen. Back to Sermon Page

Email: Beth W. Johnston