Today is the day of my ordination as a Full Elder in the United Methodist Church. For those outside Methodist circles, this means I am fully and officially becoming a pastor in the United Methodist Church. For me, this is the culmination of something God has been doing in my life since I can remember. Due to my stubbornness as a human being, this comes after a long struggle, a wrestling match that has gone for many rounds between me and God. But tonight, I throw in the towel. Tonight in a service at 7pm, the Bishop will place his hands on my head and ordain me to a life of service and ministry, into a long line of people who have faithfully served Christ with their lives before me.
This is an incredible and sacred time for me. This is something that God has been working in my heart and in my life for a long time. I recognize and celebrate God’s work and presence in my life that will culminate in this time tonight. Yet at the same time, I recognize something else: I don’t deserve to be ordained into ministry. I mean two things when I say that.
1) The first thing I mean is simply this: if ordained ministers are supposed to be those who have their acts together spiritually, then I am a fraud. I know me. I know my flaws, I know my sinful tendencies and my fallen, imperfect nature. I know that being ordained means that people will see me as different, to be somehow holier or more together or more in tune with God than the average person. Yet I recognize in myself all the shortcomings of humanity. I know that it is only through the grace and love and forgiveness of God as offered through Jesus Christ that I have come to this moment.
2) The second thing I mean when I say I do not deserve to be ordained is illustrated in Hebrews 12:1 in the New Testament, where the writer says these words:
“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
This statement comes at the end of what’s often called the “Hall of Faith” in the book of Hebrews, chapter 11, a long list of the historical pillars of the Israelite people. It’s a testament to their contribution through faith of the ongoing work of God in the world. The writer of Hebrews calls these people the “great cloud of witnesses,” the people who are the foundation of what God is doing in the world and in our lives in the present time. These are the people who, through their work and sacrifice and dedication, have made it possible for the Church to continue. They are those whose influence goes on beyond themselves, enabling us to move forward with wholehearted devotion to Christ.
I know that tonight when I’m kneeling in front of the congregation at the ordination service, I will not be kneeling alone. I will be surrounded by my very own “great cloud of witnesses.” I’ve not arrived here by myself. This is not an individual effort or achievement. I don’t deserve to be ordained or to receive the credit of ordination alone; the people who’ve been such an integral part of my life and faith deserve to be there with me.
The parents who brought me into this world, and the grandparents, aunts, uncles, and family friends who came together in the midst of an early tragedy to love me and help raise me will be there with me. The new family who took me not only into their lives but also into their church home at Brooklyn UMC where I learned about Jesus, about ministry, and about the love of God will be there with me. The pastors, leaders, choir members, and friends I made at Spring Hill UMC, where I first began to explore a call to ministry, will be there with me. The friends and mentors who have walked with me, supported me, encouraged me will be there with me. Those people who recognized my call to ministry before I recognized it and when I refused to recognize it will be there with me. The people from the churches in which I have served in ministry at Jackson FUMC, Bolivar FUMC, and Calvary UMC will be there. The youth, parents, and congregation of Brentwood, who have watched me and given me room to grow and fail and have partnered with me in ministry for much of this journey will be there.
My parents and grandparents (I’ve been so blessed to have more of those than most people) and my sisters, both those who are here and those who are not, will be there with me. Most of all, my wife Amanda (and our three boys), who has struggled and sacrificed and served as my chief encourager and cheerleader throughout this whole process, who has kept me from quitting on more than one occasion, who has partnered with me in life and ministry, who has committed herself and our family to the ministry of the church without hesitation or reservation, who has prayed for me without ceasing, who has proofread my papers, who has loved me unconditionally, will be there with me.
Today is a big day for me, to say the least, but today is not about me. Today is about a community of faith who has lived out its calling as a community of faith; today is about people who have led and loved and prayed and nurtured in such a way that even people like me might grow in faith.
My heart is overflowing with thankfulness and gratitude today. I pray that through my ministry, I might be blessed to pass on a fraction of what I’ve received. Amen.