Two Challenges – An Ordination Sermon On Acts 20:17-28

The Feast of St. BonifaceActs 20:17-28

Sermon, Ordination, Deacon, Ministry, Acts 20:17-28Congratulations William. Welcome to the night of your ordination. You’ve worked long and hard to get here and you’ve done well. But let’s not make too big a deal of this night, ok? As important as tonight is, it is only the night of your ordination. And while what we do this night matters and makes a difference, what matters most and what will make the biggest difference is what you do with your ordination tomorrow, the next day, the one after that, and, God willing, the one thirty or forty years from now.

I suspect that’s why, on this night, the beginning of your ordained ministry, we hear about the end of Paul’s ministry. Tonight juxtaposes the beginning of your ministry and the end of Paul’s. We hear his farewell speech to the elders of the church in Ephesus as recorded in the Acts of the Apostles 20:17-28. 

“If only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace,” Paul tells them (Acts 20:24). Finishing is his primary concern. There’s something important to be learned from this. Where and how you begin doesn’t matter nearly as much as where and how you end. 

I don’t know where or how you will end. And neither do you. So I am going to set before you two challenges from Paul’s speech. Give them serious attention. Make them your daily spiritual practices. Let them guide you, shape your life, and form your ministry. 

The first challenge is this: Do not shrink. Twice Paul says that about himself to the church elders of Ephesus. “I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). A few verses later he says it again. “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27).

So, William, do not shrink. Put yourself out there. Don’t hide, avoid, or withdraw. “Make Christ and his redemptive love known by your word and example” (Book of Common Prayer, 543). Speak “to the Church the needs, concerns, and hopes of the world,” (Book of Common Prayer, 543) and don’t hold back. Call us to task. Do not shrink from the public square or the family home. Do what is helpful and declare the whole purpose of God. 

But remember this. You are not God’s whole purpose. That is neither your burden nor your calling. You are a carrier, a witness, and a revealer of God’s whole purpose. Be curious and courageous enough to risk discovering, struggling with, and living God’s whole purpose for your life. I can’t tell you what it is. I don’t know. That is yours to figure out. But I can tell you this. It’s more than your ordination. Do not shrink from that purpose in your own life or in the lives of those entrusted to you. 

The second challenge is this: Do not ever let us see your face again. Do not let the people of Corpus Christi or this diocese ever see your face again.

Get out of the way. Be transparent. Be the icon of Jesus. When we look at you show us Jesus. When we listen to you let us hear his voice. That’s what Paul did. It is no longer Paul who lives but Christ who lives within him (Galatians 2:20). Be aware, however, that’s what will get Paul killed, and he knows it. That’s why he says to the church elders, “And now I know that none of you … will ever see my face again” (Acts 20:25).

There will be times when, for a variety of reasons, you will want to be seen, noticed, recognized, or reassured. You will be tempted to show us your face. Don’t. This calling and your ordination are not about you. Tonight you are being ordained into a purpose greater than yourself. You are taking vows to a loyalty outside of yourself. You are committing yourself to a vision beyond your own. Do not ever let us see your face again.

There will also be times when others will say how well you are doing, how much they like you, what a difference you are making. Don’t listen to that. And there will be those other times when they are angry, in disagreement, or disappointed, with you. Some may not even like you. Don’t listen to that either. Do not invest yourself in any of those responses. If you do you’ll only end up showing us your face. Remember, you must decrease and he must increase (John 3:30). Do not ever let us see your face again.

Do you hear the tension, the paradox, in these two challenges? On the one hand, do not shrink. On the other hand, do not ever let us see your face. Be out there but don’t show yourself. That’s the tension into which you stepping tonight. That’s the paradox into which you are being called. It is not one or the other. It is both at the same time. The tension in that paradox will tug and pull at you. It will feel as if you are being torn apart. In reality, that tension is what will hold you together.

  • There will be days when you are disillusioned by the church, disappointed by the people, or in disagreement with your colleagues. Hold the tension. Stand in the paradox.
  • There will be days when you feel hurt, lost, or overwhelmed. Hold the tension. Stand in the paradox. 
  • There will be days when you are no longer sure of what you believe or why you are doing this. Hold the tension. Stand in the paradox.
  • There will be days when you recognize and know yourself in a new and deeper way. Hold the tension. Stand in the paradox.
  • There will be days when everything fits just right and you know beyond a doubt who you are and what you are about. Hold the tension. Stand in the paradox. 
  • There will be days when you touch the Mystery, weep with joy, and live with gratitude. Hold the tension. Stand in the paradox.

Regardless of what happens, how you feel, or what the day brings, hold the tension and stand in the paradox. Do not shrink and do not ever let see your face again. Every time you hold this tension, every time you stand in this paradox, you become what Paul calls “a captive to the Spirit” (Acts 20:22).

When we are a captive to the Spirit we are no longer a captive to ourselves. We are no longer a captive to our successes or our failures, to things done or left undone, to the praises or criticisms of others, to the voices in our head or the feelings in our heart. 

Holding the tension and standing in the paradox takes us outside of and beyond ourselves and we all want to be connected to something beyond and greater than ourselves. There’s freedom and opportunity in being a captive to the Spirit. It’s the freedom to become more fully yourself and the opportunity to be “clothed with power from on high” (Luke 24:49). What might that mean for you? How will you embody that freedom and opportunity? What does it mean for you to become more fully yourself? What does it look like for you to be “clothed with power from on high?”

Do not shrink and do not ever let us see your face again. That is the work and challenge before you. There is no trick or method to holding the tension and standing in the paradox. It is not something you do. It is a way of being. It is the way of Christ. Now let it become your way. 

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5 thoughts on “Two Challenges – An Ordination Sermon On Acts 20:17-28

  1. Thank you for this powerful sermon – not only for William, but for us all. I was trying to remember it in all its detail, so thank you for posting it.

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  2. What a powerful sermon for ordination! I could remember my ordination and all the roads I traveled in my ministry. I felt the challenges of ministry ; of not having the spot light on me! To know that it was my call to declare Jesus as Lord and not get in the way! Even in my desire to be a good preacher-to proclaim the Gospel in all its purity and to administer the Sacrament in accordance with the Scriptures, I had to ensure that Jesus shown through all I did. Sure I enjoyed hearing, “Good sermon, Pastor!” But I knew that it was God who gave me the inspiration to develop the sermon from the text. This sermon was right on target and should be heard or read by all candidates for ministry.

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  3. Dear Father Mike,
    I always find you such an inspiring preacher. Your sermons are so true-to-life and pitched at just the right level for people to understand. Thank you!
    I don’t know if this will be of any interest to you, but I have started a weekly Christian blog that is fronted by a parrot (The idea being that the parrot’s perception of life lifts us out of our human perspective before a Christian message is delivered). You can find the blog by googling “christianparrot.com” and then clicking on “Random thoughts of a Christian parrot.” I felt called by God to do this, and it has so far taken off surprisingly well. Coco the parrot now has followers not only in the UK, but in Europe, Canada, Australia and even Kenya. Anyway, see what you think.
    God Bless you and all the work that you undertake.
    Richard Holloway
    Church of England Reader
    North Devon, UK

    PS: In case you were wondering, as a Reader, I’m able to preach sermons and take church services for the Church of England, but not communion.

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  4. All I can say is “Wow!” What a wonderful statement of what it is to serve the Lord for all of us, ordained or lay. Standing in the paradox is the way of becoming that person we were created to be from the beginning. Thank you for this inspired wisdom. It is not you who was speaking, but Christ was speaking through you. I did not see your face in these words.

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  5. What an inspiring message! Glory be to God for using you such that you do not shrink neither your face seen but God’s. God bless you father

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