Bishop Gwinn's Ordination Sermon
This is from a rough transcription provided by Loveeta Baker, Realtime Captioner.
The DNA of Your Calling
You know, I said and I meant it, last evening, to many of you who may be here tonight again, some of you were not here last evening. I am humbled by this. I found myself Bishop Leeland, the more you spoke, the more I scooted down in my chair, thinking oh my, I have to come up after this and stand in the pulpit. But I am deeply grateful. I said also to the crowd last evening, you know, you cannot see in another person these gifts and graces unless they exist in your own life. They are a part of who you are, you can see that because it's a reflection. I could talk for the rest of our time this evening from the depth of my heart about Paul and Jan Janet Leeland but you are beginning to see and understand that. It's amazing what this man can do in your life in a short period of time. Certainly was so for me. He changed me in ways that I am much better for God and more Christ‑like. I was only with him four years and you all, all of the jurisdiction took him away to the role he has now, but Bishop Leeland, we are grateful.
I am honored to be with Bishop Kammerer and Bishop Crutchfield. It's a privilege.
Before I begin the sermon, I want to say how very impressed I have been by this Annual Conference. I expected quality, but you have exceeded what I really expected. I have been wonderfully blessed by your worship services. They are marvelous. I am intrigued and blessed by all of the people that you all have participating in each of the services. If you have noticed that, all age groups have been used interest I cannot go down the list but the wonderful design, and theme that is being carried out, Go, Teach, I have been so very blessed by that. I don't know whether Rev. Britain is here this even or not but I will tell bishop Farrelly I would like her to be my pastor, man, do you have fire. I am speaking to you reverend Britain, I loved that sermon today on the celebration of life. Thank you so much for that.
The other services have been equally impressive, but just thank you, all of you behind the scenes, that are doing and have done so much, that makes it look in beautiful ways that it is looking to us that get to participate in it. It doesn't happen accidentally. I am confident many people, some on the stage and some not, should be centered in the way we express our gratitude for the hard work they have performed. The wonderful spirit you have, as laity. Different ones of you, simply ‑‑ pastors, sitting in the seats, it's been great. I think that was your first name, Cynthia? I spoke with you, a member of a church who said on a good Sunday there are 28 people. But it's a wonderful service, wonderful place, and one of the best churches she's ever been a member of. It's wonderful. It doesn't matter, big or small, whatever it is, you have come together equally as sons and daughters of God and celebrated. I hope you will go away as renewed as I, and I know Joyce, feel, as we go away, blessed and renewed. God bless you. Give yourself a round of applause.
I will step over here because what I would love to do is be seated with you, and ideally to be seated with each of you individually, just dialogue about what's happening in regard to this night.
Charles Dickens begins his book the Tale of Two Cities with those now famous words, "It was the best of time and it was the worst of times."
In so many ways, those words may describe the time in which we find ourselves. But, how one comes to any particular perspective on that determines maybe their attitude and yet for sure I want to tell you that this is a wonderful time for you to begin your ministry.
Please don't misunderstand me. This is a very challenging time we face. In fact, some are saying that these times are among the most challenging and difficult times that we have had in decades. But regardless, we know that God is with us. We know tonight that your Board of Ordained Ministry has clearly stated that they have examined you and they have determined that you are indeed called of God for this day. So all of us realize that God has raised you up for such a time as this.
Now, in regard to that, I want to speak around the reality of your being raised up. I know that you have prayed the Wesley covenant prayer many times. But on this holy night I beg for you to pray it like you have never prayed it before. Give absolutely your whole self away when we lay hands on you. Hold absolutely nothing back. Pray that prayer in your mind and in your spirit with all of the fervor of your being. I am will no longer mine, but thine, put me where thou will, put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low for thee. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
Now, oh glorious and blessed God, thou art mine and I am thine. So be it. The covenant I have made on Earth may it be ratified in heaven.
Remember those words and pray those words with all of your heart tonight. Pray them, like you have never prayed them before. Now, our scriptural lesson this evening were words from the Apostle Paul. When he was imploring you and me and all of the rest of us to give our bodies, our minds and our spirit completely and totally to God. Ordinands, I want to ask you be apprentices of Jesus Christ. Let God the father feed you every day as you daily practice the spiritual disciplines. Or what Wesley would say, the means of grace.
Give yourself whole‑heartedly to God.
My maternal grandfather was a foreman ‑‑ a tool cart foreman on the Chesapeake and [indiscernible] railroad. That means he had a crew that cleaned up train wrecks. So as I was growing up as a little boy I heard a great deal about some very serious train wrecks. But I don't know anything more disheartening and sad than a spiritual train wreck. They appear as burn‑outs, breakdowns, blow‑outs, misconducts and on I could go. You see, a railroad train, for whatever reason, wrecks because it runs off the track. Spiritual leaders wreck because they get off of the track. The track is that discipline, practice, of being with God every day. I want to suggest to you that number one of the most important DNAs of your ministry should be your devoted whole‑heartedly to God in spirit and in mind and in attitude. Nothing is more important than you being devoted to God.
Charles Wesley, in his hymn Jesus, Lover of My Soul begins one of the verses with a remarkable thought. "Oh Christ, thou art more than I want, more than thou oh Christ, I find."
Indeed, he, Christ, is more important than anything he can do for us, or anything that he can give us. He needs to be the center of our thought and of our actions. When you were in your mother's womb God called you by name. The father has had his eyes on you every day of your life. In fact, the very hairs on your head, he knows. You are the delight of his heart.
Don't disappoint him. Don't disappoint him by trying to do this ministry in your own strength. I want to say to you, never lose focus. That is, your focus on God's mission and God's vision for his church. Never lose focus on what God wants for his church. There are so many distracting ways to pull you away but don't let yourself lose focus. On what God dreams for the people whom you are serving. Lead by example.
I want you to just pick up a little part of that wonderful reading of our lesson tonight. I am sorry, I thought it would pop right up, it's not doing that but I was going to read for you the part of the lesson that begins with verse 9. If you preach, just preach God's message. Nothing else.
I heard about a man that had one of the largest churches in Texas, actually came out of Georgia, Charles Allen. Charles Allen once said he had three sermon outlines. He stayed at churches 15 and 20 years but is adamant on the fact he had three sermon outlines. He preached them in different ways, but Paul is pleading with you and me. If you preach, just preach God's message. Nothing else.
If you help, just help. He's describing what his church should be and how it should be working.
If you help, just help, don't take over. If you teach, stick to your teaching. If you give encouraging guidance, be careful that you don't get bossy. If you are put in charge, don't manipulate. If you are called to give aid to people in distress, keep your eyes open and be quick to respond. If you work with the disadvantaged don't let yourself get irritated with them or depressed by them. Keep a smile on your face. Love from the center of who you are.
Don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil and hold on for dear life to good. The beginning part of what God is dreaming, you will help your people be able to live into as you serve as one of their servant leaders.
I was having a conversation with a homeless man one day, when I learned that he had once been an electrical engineer. Later in our conversation I challenged him. Maybe scolded him a little bit for the place he was at the moment. He looked at me and said reverend, you will never know the man I am meant to be. Don't let your ministry pass quickly, and it will, so that you come to the end of your ministry and you say to our Lord, who is Lord of the church, "Lord, you will never know the ministry I meant to be."
So keep your focus clean and clear, about God's intent for you and his church. Be an example. Live it. You know, don't expect your people to live out Romans 12 because you told them they should. You have to show them. You have to be it. You gain credibility and then you preach and proclaim Romans 12. It's sort of like as Todd Boltsinger says in Canoeing the Mountains. If people are going to follow you off the map you have to gain credibility that comes from demonstrated competence on the map. Those would not be bad words to write somewhere, on the palm of your hand.
Be the example that God needs you to be.
Thirdly, act. Just do it. Don't be afraid to be a courageous, bold, spirit‑filled, God‑honoring constantly learning servant leader. You know the number one command in our scriptures? Praise the Lord. The second command most often spoken in the scriptures, fear not.
Remember what Paul writes to Timothy in the second letter? God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power. And of love, and of self‑discipline. So we need to be courageous in acting as we move through these adaptive kind of problems that the church is facing. One of the things that bumfuzzled me when I was ‑‑ where the idea came from that was planted in too many of our clergy's heads, was just "keep your nose clean, pay your benevolences, don't get the church upset and wait your turn to go up the ladder."
Oh, it's so worldly, and sad, it's really sad. I believe that sometimes we clergy are just not bold enough. Because we have the fear that somehow this system will indeed be the way. It's not the way God wants the system to be. What I said in this first part, and I am not ‑‑ I am over half through, so relax.
But what I said in this first part is that I think the deep ‑‑ of your leadership ‑‑ devoted whole‑heartedly to God, never lose focus, and act, just do it.
If you make some mistakes, you make some mistakes but that's the DNA of leadership. There's more to leadership than that, we know, but that's the DNA, and that's the DNA of excellence. There's a second thing, though, I do want to bring to you.
That is in 1 Peter, the second chapter and ninth verse. "but you are the chosen people. The royal priesthood, the holy nation, God's special possession, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light."
I knew that verse for a long time, in fact I probably preached on it two or three times and then a man by the name of Dr. Dennis Kenillaw ‑‑ became president of one of our colleges, now a university, and for a long time served as Old Testament professor in writing many very worthy books. But he really shined the light on this verse for me when he pointed out the royal priesthood.
Being an Old Testament professor he pointed us back to Leviticus 8, you find the story of Moses beginning the ordination of priests under the direction of what God told ‑‑ so he gathered Aaron and all of his sons and I am shortening what all happened, but they bathed them and after they had been bathed and cleansed they put white robes on them and then began to put on Aaron the breastplate, the ‑‑ the decorative waistband ‑‑ other things that gave him not only symbolism, but the presence of who he was among the people of God.
Then they did the most interesting thing. Moses had Aaron and his sons to lay their hands on the head of a bull, for the sin offering, then he had them lay their hands on the head of a ram for a burnt offering. Then they laid their hands on another ram for the ordination offering. Moses took some of the blood from the last lamb, the ordination lamb and smeared it on the right earlobe of Aaron and took some of the blood and smeared it on the right thumb of Aaron, reached into the blood and smeared some on the right big toe of Aaron. Strange. What in the world?
Not strange really at all when you think it through. See, God was claiming the listening capacity of his ordained ones, so that they were to hear him above all of the other chatter and noises of life. They tried to focus on hearing God, no exceptions.
So the hearing, listening to God and his voice was the number one reminder of who they were. Tonight, sometime from now to your ordination I want you to touch your right earlobe as a commitment that God, I will listen to you. I promise above all of the noise and chatter, I want to hear you.
Right thumb was a symbol of grabbing and grasping. You can't pick up many things without the thumb. You remember when Joshua divided the land among all of the tribes he gave land to every tribe but did not give any land to Aaron and his sons. Because God was going to take care of them. And God intended to do that very well, when you read it closely.
So he wanted them always to remember, don't be holding on to things of this Earth too tight. So tonight between now and your ordination I want you to rub your thumb, as a commitment with your help oh Lord, I do not want to get too attracted to the things of this world.
I want to grasp for you and your will. Finally, the toe of course is the symbol of walking, and the biblical symbol for the Christian life is walking. The scriptures say in the Old Testament, like Noah and [indiscernible] walked with God. And God says to Abraham, "walk before me, be blameless." We know in the newer testament there are many but if we walk in the light ‑‑ the symbol is walking or living out the truths of God.
Now I want to say to all of you that as the ordination took place there in the ‑‑ the intent was that Aaron and his sons would live out these truths in such a way that all of the Hebrews would live by this. You are the chosen people, the royal priesthood, the holy nation. God's own possession. Now, speaking to every single person in this room tonight, so tonight as you are ordained may you indeed consecrate your ears to God, consecrate your thumbs to God, consecrate your toes to God. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, amen.
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A Disciple’s Path; A Guide for United Methodist
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