Sermon Preached for the
Twenty-fifth Ordination Anniversary Of The Rev. Mark Donald Stuart
By The Rev. Donald E. Stuart
12 April 1980
12 April 2005
Come Holy Spirit, come: come as the fire that burns; come as the wind that cleanses; come as the light that reveals. Convert, convict, consecrate until we are wholly Thine. Amen
When I asked what was expected of an ordination sermon, Mark told me that I was to “admonish” him. Now that was an unexpected answer, since I had been doing that throughout his upbringing, not always with the most receptive response!
But admonish I shall, for the pageantry of this event, although meaningful and significant for the moment, is but the surface of the depths of the waters from which you must drink before you will really be a Priest. That day made you official but it is your life that makes you valid.
There is a story, probably apocryphal, which tells how St. Francis on one occasion invited a young novice to accompany him on a preaching expedition through the town, and how they passed through one street after another and eventually returned to their starting point without having spoken a word.
“But,” said the novice, puzzled and disappointed, “I thought we were going to preach?”
We have preached,” replied Francis. We were observed as we walked, they marked us as we went. It was thus we preached.”
Be careful how you walk in this life, Mark, for your ministry will be judged not by your proper and correct execution of the Mass, but how you walk and continue to walk among the people outside the doors of the sanctuary.
Heed carefully the words from the Epistle we heard a moment ago. Peter wrote: “Tend the flock of God that is your charge, not by constraint but willingly, not for shameful gain but eagerly, not as domineering over those in your charge but being examples to the flock.”
The greatest sermons you preach, Mark, will not be preached from manuscripts, but from your life. Preaching by words is never enough!
Let me say a little about that.
Many people today seem to have lost their perspective. They no longer know in whom to believe or in what to believe, but in many ways this isn’t anything new. Long before Christ, mankind cried out, “Oh, that I knew where I might find him!”
They turned to the prophets who saw what nobody else saw, heard what nobody else heard and felt what nobody else felt. They lived in such communion with God that it seemed as though He spoke directly to them, and what He spoke, they communicated to mankind. So it was that we read, “The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah! The word of the Lord came to Ezekiel! The word of the Lord came to Isaiah!”
But there was still something missing. Questions still remained unanswered. The reason is very simple: Words are brittle things. Divine truth can never be petrified into a fixed form. The finite can never hold the infinite. There are certain ideas which can never be known or understood through mere words. They must be felt and experienced.
Words like holiness, love, and virtue cannot be understood apart from character, dedication and service. They have value only as you live them, Mark.
I do not think I could give you a definition of a Christian but I could say, “There goes (your particular Christian role model)” And you would know what I am talking about. Words, therefore, are never enough. Through the ages mankind continued its search until at last “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.”
When people asked Jesus what God was like, He replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” So it was that Jesus introduced a whole new concept into religion. Mankind will never find its way to Him by creeds, but by character; not through debates, but by demonstration; not by promise, but by personalities; not by words, but by life.
Heartless formalities or ceremonials can never of themselves transmit the love of God. God will be understood only as you live Him! The Word must constantly be made flesh to dwell among us. That is the real meaning of the Incarnation!
Let’s move swiftly, Mark, to ask what qualities you must strive to develop in your inner life to become a Priest worthy of the calling. What are the seals and marks of your apostleship? Naturally, I don’t have time in one short sermon to elaborate on all the possibilities but I will attempt to highlight a few.
First, you must be utterly dedicated to your calling. “This one thing I do” must be your watchword. But you do yourself and everyone else a disservice if you ignore the Master’s words, “Come ye yourselves apart and rest a while.” Nor can you be creative in your ministry if you shut yourself off from the street and from the home and insulate yourself from the crowding cares, the hopes and joys and agonies which mould the lives of your parishioners.
Beware of professional busy-ness which is only laziness in disguise and also a way of escaping facing the real issues which come before you.
What is at stake in your work is the lives of mankind. Every sermon is to be preached in the knowledge that for someone present it may now be the “fullness of time” and the day of salvation.
Second, you must be a man of prayer but remember that this isn’t something which is the professional obligation of the few. Everyone who bears the name Christian is committed to a life of prayer. The possession of the Spirit is not a priestly monopoly. The basic reason why we as ministers must be particularly conscious of our prayer life is because we, of all people, should recognize that we are poor, needy creatures dependent upon God’s grace.
If the people of your congregation are to be blessed by your ministry, prayer must be its alpha and omega.
Third, your calling must be marked by a great humility of heart, a realization of the fact that you were called to so high a calling not because you were worthy of that calling.
Never forget that in your congregation there will be people whose faith far exceeds yours, and people whose intimate experience with God goes back before you were born!
Your cry should echo that of Isaiah: “Woe is me! For I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of Hosts!”
Never mount the pulpit steps without breathing the secret prayer, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” It is then, when you stand alone and naked before your God that by some inexplicable miracle of divine loving-kindness there comes the angel of the Lord to touch your lips with a live coal from the very altar of God.
Yours is a great vocation, Mark, but remember that all your preparation for it is gone to waste if the love and warmth of Christ is lacking.
Keep an open heart to the burden of others.
Listen, Mark! Listen not only to the joys, the agonies, the pain and sorrow of those who turn to you for counsel, but listen to the small-talk of everyday living and the burdensome boredom of daily tasks.
I pray that God will mightily bless your ministry, Mark. May He fulfill and verify those words from Leviticus, “The fire shall be burning upon the altar; it shall never go out.”
And now, Mark, I would have you stand before God and this gathered community for my final admonitions:
Twenty-five years ago your Bishop offered you the chalice as the symbol of Christ’s sacrifice to all the world. Never neglect the Sacraments or take them lightly.
They are the symbols of God’s grace to a struggling humanity. Administer them wisely, reverently and in the love of the Lord who called you to this high office.
Your Bishop also offered you the Scriptures as a reminder that you are charged with the mighty task of rightly dividing it among your people.
This is my emphatic challenge to you, my son, for through preaching shall your people come to know and accept the will of God. “How are they to believe in Him when they have not heard? And how are they to hear without a preacher?”
Remember that the Church was born through preaching. It came to life when a handful of men crawled from the dark crevasses of their hiding places and stood before the gathered throng on that first Pentecost. And with the unction of the Holy Spirit upon them, boldly proclaimed the unreachable riches of God’s Grace as seen in the face of Jesus Christ!
My final words to you Mark (at least in this sermon) are very personal words which we have shared before. They were written by our favorite author, Nikos Kazantzakis, in Saviors of God:
Your first duty, in completing your service to your race, is to feel within you all your ancestors. Your second duty is to throw light on their onrush and to continue their work.
Your third duty is to pass on to your son the great mandate to surpass you.
Agony within you! Someone is fighting to escape you, to tear himself away from your flesh, to be freed of you. A seed in your loins, a seed in your brains, does not want to remain with you any more. It cannot be contained in your entrails any longer; it fights for freedom.
‘Father, I cannot be contented in your heart! I want to smash it and pass through! Father, I hate your body, I am ashamed to be glued to you, I want to leave you.
‘You are nothing now but a sluggish horse, your feet can no longer follow the rhythm of my heart. I am in haste Father. I shall dismount, I shall mount another body, and I shall leave you on the road.
And you, the father, rejoice to hear the contemptuous voice of your child. ‘All, all for my son!’ you shout. ‘I am nothing. I am the ape, he is the man. I am the man, he is the Son of Man.’
Grace be unto you, and peace: from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Posted by: The Parish