25/06/2010

Ordination of Jason Phillips, Curate of Mid Trent

Last Sunday, we attended the ordination service in St Mary's church in Stafford. The church was packed with family and friends who came to support the three priests-to-be. I'd love to share with you the thoughts expressed by Paul Thomas, our Rural Dean.
Sermon for priestings (part I)
The heart of this afternoon’s service is the making of promises. Each of the candidates will renew their dedication to Jesus Christ and promise to serve him as priests in the church of God.

 And if this service works as it is meant to do those promises will stand as a powerful landmark in the lives of those being made priest. Hopefully, they will also make a deep impression on all who witness them. After all, the scene is set for the promises to take on great significance. The candidates have spent a year of their lives as Deacons. They have just been away on retreat to prepare for this solemn pledge of themselves to God. Family and friends have gathered in large numbers to support them. And then there is the service itself: as it progresses we can expect the atmosphere to build up - with fine music, a loud volume of singing sweeping across the building, a fine oration from the preacher (!), all the dignity of an episcopal presence, and the careful wording and ritual of the liturgy.(....)
 And precisely because the atmosphere is so charged with emotion and longing and best intention we might easily forget just how fragile our human promises can be. Hannah Arendt gave this some thought in her writings. She believed that there were two factors which affected the keeping of promises – the ‘basic unreliability’ of human beings and ‘the impossibility of foretelling what the future might hold’. The major threat to promises though was, she concluded, ‘the darkness of the human heart.’ Likewise Paul Ricoeur saw a real problem with promise-keeping. Human experience teaches that there is ‘a secret break at the very heart of commitment.’ I suppose the popular saying ‘the road to hell is paved with good intentions’ points to much the same conclusion. And a great deal of popular drama –  for example the TV Soaps – take their clout from repeated instances of people going back on their word.
 The fact is we live in a world of broken promises. People say things they don’t mean. They pledge themselves to commitments they don’t keep. Fast on the heel of so many promises comes betrayal and bewilderment. So what are we to do? Give up making promises altogether? That might seem an easy answer but it is well-nigh impossible. Human beings live a significant part of their lives orientated towards the future. And faced by the uncertainty of the future we feel the need for some security and part of that comes from our promises to be constant, reliable and trustworthy people who can be counted on.
 But knowing what a risky and fraught business making promises can be how do we do it with any credibility? The simplest answer is to say that we cannot uphold our promises on our own. We need help and support – and inspiration. As Christians instead of supporting our promises with the words ‘Here I stand’ we need to expand that statement to ‘Here I stand before God -’with all the difference that can make. To make a promise before God does not guarantee that we will keep it. Those who believe in God are still prone to the same human weaknesses and failures as others who do not believe. But to make a promise before God means that if failure comes that need not be the final word. If we try to live before God then we should be aware of the rich resources of restoration that God makes available to us. We should know about God’s mercy and forgiveness; we should be conscious of God’s help and strength; and we should be recipients of God’s life-changing Holy Spirit. And because we possess that sense of God’s renewing power we know that when we falter or fail there is at least the possibility of a new start and a re-establishment of the promise. This is so not because we are trivialising the promise, nor because we are indifferent to the hurt a broken promise might bring to another. Rather it is because we recognise the infinite resourcefulness of God and God’s ability to lift us out of the quagmire of failure and set our feet on a firm path.

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