Chrism Eucharist Sermon

Tuesday 26 March 2024

Readings: Isaiah 49:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; John 12:20-36

The ministry heart of Jesus


The past year has been one of many surprises, some joyful and some sorrowful. I especially want to acknowledge the death of Bishop Richard Wallace, not only a colleague for all of us in ministry but also a friend to many of us.

Moe moe ra, to matou pihopa aroha nui.
Through all this past year, you have been faithful in God’s service: thank you!

To those who have concluded or are about to conclude ministries – thank you (I especially think of Chris Ponniah, Jo Latham, Brenda Bonnett, and Vivien Harber).

To all who have taken up new ministries in the past year, or shifted gear in your ministries – thank you!

This is now the fifth year that Covid has affected our life as church. Even though the lockdowns seem a long way back, people are still getting Covid.

Last year I was not present for this service since I had Covid myself. This year I feel that I am here by – humanly speaking – chance, as I dodge the Covid bullet others have been receiving.

On a happier note, this is now the third full year of engagement with our Diocesan Mission Action Plan or DMAP – many such engagements involving to one degree or another the work of Mark Chamberlain as Archdeacon for Regeneration and Mission: thank you,  Mark.

And, from both Mark and me, an even bigger thank you to every deacon, priest, churchwarden, vestryperson, and other church members who have taken up the challenge of working hard on what it means to be in mission in our local communities: making disciples, strengthening families, serving communities.

The emphasis this year on prayer for regeneration of our Diocese is welcome, needed, and responded to well. Keep praying! (Take some material away today about our Diocesan Prayer Community).

And, keep praying, following various communications from me lately, for our wider church –

for St John’s College in a season of transition and change,

for the Diocese of Dunedin as it farewells Bishop Steven in six weeks’ time,

for Te Hui Amorangi o Te Waipounamu in its season of mourning and reflection and transition,

and for our own Tikanga Pakeha: we need a new senior bishop and to date have not found a pathway to agree together on who that might be.

Today we gather to renew our ordination vows, to bless and distribute oils for sacramental and other purposes, to break bread together and to share in fellowship over food and drink following our liturgy.

Last year the focus of my sermon was on the purposes of this service: blessing chrism oils and renewal of ministry vows.

Today I want to focus on ministry heart of Jesus.

As I have said in previous years: Our calling is to change the world, not to manage the church.

Changing the world asks of us whether our hearts are aligned with the heart of Jesus.

Is the inner impulse of who we are in ministry the beating heart of Jesus – alive and active within us?

As we renew our ordination vows, none of us wishes to merely say the words: we seek to be renewed as ministers of the gospel.

As we bless oils for anointing, we know that when people are anointed by oil they want the anointing minister herself or himself to be filled with the Holy Spirit. What light is shed from our readings on the ministry heart of Jesus?

Isaiah, through several prophecies – the so-called servant songs – about a future suffering servant, appointed and anointed by God to save not only Israel but the whole world, shaped the heart of Jesus:

His purpose in the world is to be the servant of the Lord God.

In the Gospel reading from John, Jesus articulates aspects of being that servant – that minister of God – as his servant work draws to its conclusion:

That through death, his work for God would bear much fruit;

That when faced with fulfilling God’s will or saving his own life, he would obey God;

That God is glorified through serving God and God alone, whatever the cost.

As we heard in the Epistle, Paul’s gospel is the good news of one who has died that we might live, whose light has been put out in order that the darkness might be defeated:

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24)

If our calling is to change the world then the key to change lies neither in spectacular acts of power or following the wisdom of the secular world:it lies in the way of the crucified Christ – of this servant of God whose soul is troubled, whose suffering is painful and who nevertheless serves God to the end.

There is more to say about the ministry heart of Jesus and that is found in our reading (from John 13) for Holy Thursday – where the servant Jesus visibly expresses service by washing his disciples’ feet.

The striking insights into Jesus’ heart in John 13 involve the word love – agape…

Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end (v. 1)
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another (v. 34)
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (v. 35).

All too often our responses to such disclosures of the heart of Jesus are sticks to beat ourselves up with, or to beat our congregations up: we must love Jesus, God, one another more. Be a better disciple by loving more.

But the key to loving well is that we know we are loved. John’s insight into Jesus’ ministry heart is the extent – the depth and length of Jesus’ love for his disciples – then and now: Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

We are loved by God through Jesus Christ. In Jesus, the God who is Love, has loved us completely: he loved them to the end.

When Jesus commands that we love one another – we read that command in the context of the whole Gospel of John – which is a message about the union of God and Christ and the union of Christ and us: we love one another because when Christ is in us and we are in Christ, Christ’s love for us becomes our love for one another. That’s the plan: that the ministry heart of Jesus is the ministry heart of us. Things do get in the way – we get distracted, we become distanced from Jesus – the way forward is always to come back to Jesus, to open our hearts to Jesus who never leaves us.

As we move now to our renewal of vows and beyond this service to resumption of our ministries, I finish with two extraordinary statements of Jesus about his ministry and ours:

“Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also.” (John 12:26)
“Whoever received one whom I send receives me; and whoever receives me receives him who sent me.” (John 13:20)

Where the ministry heart of Jesus takes us, he is there also. Thanks be to God.

Bishop Peter Carrell