Today is a very special day. It’s special for you, Phil, and I hope it will be a day you will never forget, for all the right reasons. It’s special too for those of us who have come from the wilds of deepest Kent and southeast London, from sophisticated Cambridge, from far-off Manchester, and other parts of the UK. Some of us have known Phil for a long time, some for a shorter time, but we all wish him well in this final act confirming his calling. I’m not going to embarrass you, Phil with anecdotes – this is neither the time nor the place, but if anyone would like to know about the little boy who loved dressing-up, especially in big hats and fur coats, then I will be available after the service. For now, let’s think together about Phil, this community, and this act of ordination.
We have had 2 very different readings in this service. From the New Testament, perhaps one of the greatest statements ever written about Jesus, and from the Old Testament perhaps one of the greatest ever written about God. I want us briefly to look at both those passages, and think about what they mean for Phil, as he begins his ministry here, and for the churches and the community who will share that ministry with him.
So let’s start with the ministry that begins today.
Be honest. Did your heart sink when you saw what the Old Testament reading was? Lamentations – a collection of 5 poems lamenting the fall of Jerusalem, and its ruin and exile, which tradition attributes to the prophet Jeremiah.
“Why ever did she choose that? Does she think that this ministry that’s just starting is going to end in ruin and misery? Is she preparing us for the worst? Does she know something we don’t?”
No I don’t, not about this, anyway.
In spite of the fact that a large part of the book is not exactly happy-clappy, there is a very strong note of trust in God, and hope for the future, and that is what we need to think about this afternoon – the God whom you, as congregations and community already trust – and have trusted to bring you this far.
Yet hope returns when I remember this one thing. The Lord’s unfailing love and mercy still continue, fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise. The Lord is all I have, and so I put my hope in Him. The Lord is good to everyone who trusts in him.
Or to put it another way, “Great is thy faithfulness, oh God my Father, there is no shadow of turning with thee.”
Or, “New every morning is the love, our wakening and uprising prove”. 2 great hymns from a passage that barely registers in our regular Sunday worship.
No-one goes through life on a perpetual high. We all have times when things don’t turn out as we had hoped; sometimes it’s our own fault, the result of things done, or decisions made that were wrong; sometimes, as we might say “stuff just happens”. No one goes through their church life on a perpetual high, be they minister or member. There is always that person who has the awkward question at church meeting, the leader of another church who ‘volunteers’ your church for a task that no-one else wants to do, the service that leaves you as a member disappointed or downright cross.
Unless you are very lucky, Phil, those kinds of things will happen to you, and unless you are very lucky as a congregation, they will happen to you too.
But, and this is the central message of that reading from Lamentations, we can be assured of God’s unfailing love, however disillusioned we may feel at that particular moment.
And God’s love is also there when you feel great!
When that sermon that was almost impossible to do gets finished, when a service really takes off and lifts everyone’s spirits, when the church is involved in a community event that makes you want to shout your happiness from the rooftops! God’s love is there, “new every morning.”
And what about the churches that Phil will serve and the community of which he has become a part today?
In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, he gives them the template for a church which serves Christ and the community.
“Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, ………then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit, and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of others.”
Now I am sure that, as Christian congregations, you fulfil all these criteria. But I would like you to remember 3 things about your new minister in the light of Paul’s words.
1) He is young. He may not think of himself as young, but to most of us, he is. The young are enthusiastic, full of new ideas, but also often surprisingly traditional.
Be thankful for Phil’s gifts, for they are many, recognise his strengths, and look out for him as he exercises his ministry.
Have the same kindness and compassion for him as you have for each other – there will be times when he will need it. Many of you will have known the blessings that have come from previous ministries – now manifest those blessings to Phil without reserve or discrimination. Don’t be afraid to let him know what you think, but do it in a spirit of humility, and not of boastfulness.
2) He is English. The English have a peculiar sense of humour, can’t sing the tenor line properly in a hymn, (as some of you will realise as we sing the final hymn of this service) and they apologise for everything. Forgive him for being English, understand the inadequacies that being English lead to, and don’t ask him if he’s listened to that Max Boyce CD yet.
No doubt at some point Phil will say the wrong thing, or do the wrong thing as far as you Welsh are concerned.
That’s when you will need patience and humility. Paul tells us that we should try to be like Christ, taking the nature of a servant, humble, and walking the path of obedience. Sometimes, in order to be like this, we need to take a deep breath, count to 5 or even 10, and then speak if we still feel it’s necessary.
3) He has been called by God, and God, in Christ will be with you all throughout this ministry. God does not call only those who are perfect; God does not call only those who are popular and clever;
God calls all sorts and kinds of people – the unwary, the shy, the conservative (with a small c) the liberal, the young, the middle-aged. God calls, women and men answer. God called Phil, and he answered. God has spoken to the two churches here in Pontypridd, and you have answered. But God does not stop there. God is and will be with you now, and in the future, whatever that future holds. Go out into this community and proclaim the Lordship and the glory of Christ to everyone; and when you do,
“At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Look after each other, look out for each other, and may God bless you all.