Fr Giles Orton's Ordination.
3rd July 2016
These are the words of the sermon preached at the Ordination of Father Giles Orton to the Diaconate.
In one of his writings, Cardinal John Henry Newman utters the prayer: “I ask not to see; I ask not to know; I ask simply to be used.” If this awakes a memory in you, perhaps it is that it was Newman who also wrote in what became a much-loved hymn Lead, kindly Light, “I do not ask to see the distant scene; one step enough for me.” Newman believed in abandoning himself to the purpose and providence of God because he felt that, as with each one of us, he had a unique part to play in a divine plan of which we can only catch a glimpse or a snatch. Such a belief could only come as a result of a profound trust in Jesus Christ, the one whom experience and faith had shown him is that kindly Light.
In life, if we saw the path ahead of us, perhaps we would be fearful; and if knowledge of it was given to us, perhaps we would be overwhelmed. The disciples who heard Jesus’ oft-repeated foretelling of his suffering and death as he set his face toward Jerusalem somehow failed to grasp the full import of what he was saying. Soon after the Transfiguration, as they marvelled at everything he did, Jesus said to them quite clearly: “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of man is to be delivered into the hands of men.” At this point, St Luke tells his readers: “They did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, that they should not perceive it; and they were afraid to ask him about this saying.” Yes, and so would we be afraid: the knowledge would be too much for us, and the sight of Jesus being delivered into the hands of men – that is, the sight of Jesus on the cross on Calvary – would appal us. But God is good, gentle and kindly. He does not call on us to follow his Son - whatever that call should be - and yet unfeelingly set us upon that way alone, unaided, and uncomforted. The Lord’s way is indeed the way of the cross – it can be no other way – yet his cross would be too much for us to carry, and in bearing our own cross he says to us: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart.”
In St Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says those words after he has invited his hearers to “shoulder his yoke.” The yoke is the harness a ploughing ox would wear and which a younger beast would share, walking at the elder’s side in order to be trained and disciplined in order to walk and plough a straight furrow. In calling on you, Giles, to be his deacon, and to walk and plough that furrow, the earth on which you work – on which we all work, who are labourers in the harvest field of the Good Shepherd – that earth is on the same land which leads inevitably, in some way you cannot yet discern, to the hill in which the Lord’s cross is embedded. He and only he can teach you how to walk that path, how to serve the folk you meet along that way, how to lift them up when they are fallen, how to rejoice with them when they have cause to laugh, how to weep with them when laughter has joltingly come to an end, and how to lead them to fair pasture where they will have good food and to the waters of comfort which will refresh and restore them. Only Jesus can really do this, although we pray that you might catch sight of the ways of the Good Shepherd amongst those with whom you will serve and minister. Only Jesus can be the true teacher of service, at the altar which is his own table of offering, and in the market place of the town amongst those he calls his own but who may not know that they are his and would be surprised that they have been loved since before they were born. Only Jesus can reveal his way of service to you, surely and patiently because he loves you too, which is something you must never forget, although you may sometimes be tempted to doubt it when the gloom threatens to encircle you more fiercely. An important role the deacon has in the liturgy is to minister the cup to the people. Remember, Giles, that cup is to refresh you and quicken your spirit, too. Remember that Jesus himself first ministers the cup to his ministers: he asks you his minister to drink from it – but it is the cup of his Passion he holds out to you. Only by drinking from it can you know how gracious the Lord is and how to lose life in order to find it.
Today is that first step for you along this particular path of your Christian discipleship. It is God’s gift to you. It is not a gift for you alone – although it is a much-prized one and one for which you probably feel you have waited many years, unworthy to receive it as you will feel now. No, it is a gift that can only be properly treasured in its sharing and in its doing: the gift of your ministry of service – the service of a deacon – is something you can never give up whatever further order of ministry to which you may progress, and which is formed in you and imprinted on your soul in so far as you bear the marks of Jesus on your body, as St Paul has reminded us. The marks of Jesus can only be the imprint of his wounds; and he holds them out to you today, at this moment, saying to you not only “See how much I have loved you,” but also “See what it is to which I call you.” You may be fearful as St Peter was fearful, but only when he took his eyes off Jesus, and the Lord, reaching out a hand soon to be wounded by the cross, said to him as he does to you in your heart now, “Be not afraid.”
The Lord of the Church calls you. That calling of sacrificial, Christ-centred service is surely very clear in your ears now. Yes, you stand on holy ground: but do not be afraid, for the Lord says to you those same words which he gave to those first disciples he sent out, “The kingdom of God is very near to you.” And he gives you his Holy Spirit to aid you, to be at your side to encourage you, to give you the words to speak, to assure you of his own authority and commission. It is this gift – the gift of the risen and living Jesus Christ - which will enable you to boast about his cross both in word and in action. A gift which, no doubt, you rightly consider is a treasure in an earthen vessel, a clay pot which is fragile and appears like to break. Yes, of course! But God is faithful: he calls us to his service and it is by his grace alone that we become that new creation which is fitted for that service.
“I ask not to see; I ask not to know; I ask simply to be used.” Make that the prayer of your soul now, my brother, because it is truly the prayer of a deacon’s service. Boasting of the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, the hallmark of that ministry of service, will lead you to demonstrate it by washing the feet always of the holy people of God, which is the highest ministry of service. Addressing the God who guided Joseph to fulfil his purpose, the one who is God-with-us and eternal Wisdom, Newman said: “I trust Thee wholly. Thou art wiser than I - more loving to me than I myself. Deign to fulfil Thy high purposes in me whatever they be - work in and through me. I am born to serve Thee, to be Thine, to be Thy instrument. Let me be Thy blind instrument. I ask not to see - I ask not to know - I ask simply to be used.” That is the prayer of the one who boasts in the cross of Jesus, who gives himself up to the will of the Father as did Jesus in Gethsemane. It is the mark of Jesus and it is the calling of all who are lovers of the Cross of Jesus. But, says Thomas à Kempis, “Jesus has many who love his Kingdom in heaven but few who bear his Cross… Many follow Jesus to the Breaking of Bread, but few to the drinking of the Cup of his Passion.” So now my brother - my friend, my colleague - as you stand on the threshold of your diaconal service, “Measure thy life by loss and not by gain, not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth. For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice and he that suffereth most hast most to give” (Ugo Bassi).