The Laying on of Hands (Sunday July 15, 2018)
Matthew 4: 18-20; 1 Timothy 3: 1-13
The Laying on of Hands
So we continue a sermon series today on the ways in which God calls us as Christians. In last week’s message we talked about the way that God calls laity in this church, and today I want to talk about the way that God calls clergy. In the United Methodist Church there are three ways that people can serve as clergy. The first is a licensed local pastor, and then the second two are in full ordination, on equal levels: the Elder, which serves a local church, and the Deacon, which serves out in the world.
Even in the earliest days of the church they were people who were in charge of the gatherings. This began as the apostles or the owner of the house that they were meeting in, but eventually they discovered that there were people who were getting gifts and graces from the Spirit to lead the congregation. These people were called bishops or overseers, depending on what translation you’re using. Now we might call them elders as our “bishops” are something a little bit different. The word Deacon might well be similar to what Paul says here, but they are a little bit different. Deacons are called to serve in Word, Service, Compassion, and Justice, and they often work between the church and the world. Today I’m going focus mostly on elders because I feel called to as elder, and I apologize to Deacons that their call could not be gotten to today.
Elders are called to a local church setting; but keep in mind we are appointed to the area, we’re not appointed to the church. So I’m not appointed to Spring Hill United Methodist Church, I’m appointed to Spring Hill or appointed to South Johnson County in a lot of ways. According to Paul people called to this position were to be examined thoroughly, and we follow that tradition in the United Methodist Church. There is a long program of examination in education involved. If you were becoming a licensed local pastor a 20 piece Course of Study in a seminary that goes over five years is required. If you’re becoming an elder or deacon it involves getting a masters degree from a seminary, and for elders that must be a three-year Master of Divinity.
In addition to this education requirement we have a long system of interviews. As part of the interview we are asked, and must be able to answer, several historical questions. These questions, and I’m going to just summarize these, but they begin with just the general “Are you Methodist?” The first five questions deal with “Are you one of us? Do you do what we all do?” I’m going to go into those five questions next week as we examine what we all are called to do, no matter who we are, in order to be United Methodist, but we must we must answer that we are Methodist first and then we get into stuff that are more clergy specific.
The first new thing we are asked is whether or not we know Methodist beliefs, and whether we will teach Methodist beliefs. Elders are called to Word, Sacrament, Service, and Order; and this is the Word and Sacrament part. “Do you know what we believe about what the Scriptures say about the sacraments, do you know what we believe, do you commit yourself to teaching what we believe?” In other words, the bishop is asking “When I entrust you with one of the pulpits under my care, are you going to preach what we believe? And when you engage in sacraments, are you going to engage in the sacraments in a way that is consistent with what we believe?” These are things that are being asked by the United Methodist Church to all elder candidates: “You’re called to Word and Sacrament, do you believe as we do?”
Next we are asked to devote ourselves to the work of God and to be fully employed in that work. We expected to be doing the work of God as often as possible. This is the service after attribute. Now, everyone is called to service to be Christian, but as clergy we are expected to be leading that charge; both in ideas and action. We are expected to be there when the church is having a workday, were expected to be working if it all possible if the church is doing service out in the community, we’re expected to be there working with that. Now, Wesley did not want a church where the clergy was doing the only one doing service. The laity is expect to be involved; they’re expected to take the torch and run with it. Clergy was expected to light the torch and to be running with their own torch as well. This might look like you coming to me with an idea and me supporting you as you go and run with it. That’s part of it too. But creating a culture is up to the clergy and maintaining that culture is up to the clergy.
Lastly, we’re called to order. The historical questions get to this by asking “Do you know, and will you uphold, the teachings, the discipline, and the polity of the United Methodist Church?” In other words, do you know how we are run and do you support that style of being run as a church, and will you uphold that style? As I’ve gone through this process order has become larger, and larger, and larger as part of what clergy are called to do to me. This is “will you run the institution?” That is basically what is being asked: will you be CEO? Will you run the institution? Will you help the church continue on? And I feel that when we’re being called to order, that we are basically being called to ensure that the church still exists when we retire; that it’s my job as clergy to maintain the institution and keep things going so a church exists for my grandchildren that is doing Wesleyan ministry and Bucyrus and in Spring Hill when I retire or when I leave this place. It is my job to ensure that this keeps going.
And this is an extremely important thing because John Wesley was the second most successful Methodist preacher of his time. The most successful Methodist preacher of his time is a guy named George Whitefield. But Whitefield had no time for order, and within a generation his large movement had virtually disappeared while Wesley‘s continues today. And the reason is because Wesley was big on order and he established an institution, he established a conference, for things to continue on after he was gone. And we are called to maintain that and keep it going even further. And as part of that we are called to serve the annual conference in some way.
An elder or deacon‘s membership is in the annual conference. That’s why it’s called elder in full connection to the conference, or in full membership sometimes. Our membership is in the annual conference. And just as you are expected to serve every year, in some way, the church you have a membership in (whether it’s something small such as if we have a workday one day and you show up that one day and you work for four hours of volunteer time, or whether it’s something larger such as being a treasurer or playing the piano or organ every week or being lay leader or something along those lines) your expected in some manner to serve your local church.
Just as that is an expectation of you, we are expected to serve the annual conference. This is done in a great many ways. We can do it through serving as a leader in a summer camp like Institute, which is what I’m doing and what Kara did while here. We can serve in a committee, we can serve in ministry of the conference such as United Methodist Men. Many ways to serve, but we are expected to serve the conference as that’s our local church; we are expected to serve that the same way you’re expected to serve your local church. This is order.
After examination, if the person is found to be able to answer these questions satisfactorily to the committee that is serving the conference through examination of future candidates, then the bishop will ordain these individuals. Ordinations happen through the laying on of hands and saying of some words over us. Now, the laying on of hands is important in the New Testament. Jesus lays his hands upon people as a way of blessing them and also as a way of healing them. In Matthew 19, when the children come to Jesus it says that Jesus taught them and “laid his hands upon them,” and the implied meaning is the conferring of blessing of the children in the laying on of hands by Jesus.
Continuing, in the book of Acts when the apostles can no longer run everything in the church because the church is growing beyond their ability to do that, they bring forth seven people to somewhat serve as associates. These seven come before the apostles and the apostles lay their hands upon them. This is kind of the first ordination of someone in in the church. This laying on of hands is a way of blessing, a way of extending the ministry, a way of conferring what is a blessing of Jesus upon a new generation of ministers.
After this the bishop will say “so and so‘s name, take thou authority to preach and teach.” This is actually extremely important. In Matthew Chapter 28, Jesus says “All authority on earth and heaven has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples.” Jesus is basically saying “I have authority in me, and I now delegate some of that authority to each of you to go forth in my name and to do ministry and to be the church and to be the body of Christ in my name.” Those people became apostles. Those people became the first leaders of the church. We believe they then ordained others and that the authority and the calling they received goes from them to others, to others, to others, to others all the way down to the present.
And the idea here is that the current bishop had received that authority, and the current bishop will lay their hands upon the ordained. The bishop, in the name of Jesus, will say, “You now receive that delegated authority to go forth and preach and teach.” While we have our own ministry with Jesus, in a very real way we are continuing the ministry of those that came before us.
This is an idea called apostolic succession. This exists in most of what we might call “high church denominations” such as Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Anglicans, and Methodists. And some of those may or may not recognize Methodist, but that’s a different story. But whenever I am finally ordained, hopefully by Bishop Saenz because that means it could happen soon, I will receive a little piece of paper that says: this is Michael Brown ordained by Bishop Ruben Saenz, who is ordained by…and it will go back all the way back to Francis Asbury or Thomas Coke, who were ordained by John Wesley. That’s the one where disagreements sometimes happen. And then we can follow Wesley back all the way back to “was ordained by Peter, was ordained by Jesus.” And this is the idea that it goes through, and that we are continuing that line.
But that doesn’t matter unless it’s practical. That brings us to the final question that doesn’t really have a category, and that is “Will you teach the children?” The most important part of my job is to teach the children; to ensure that the children are shaped in a Christian setting and in a Christian manner. And that means teaching the laity that are going to be teaching Sunday School, that means teaching grandparents who are going to be teaching grandchildren that I may not have access to as clergy, that means making sure that the children are taught within the church setting and within the service. But our most important task is in doing ourselves and equipping the laity in the teaching of children.
Children trust leaders for guidance and leaders that betray that trust create damage that can never really be repaired. But I’ll tell you also, the children teach the leaders as well. I do not believe the children are the future of our church; children are the present of our church. There are very very few churches in the world where the children are not the primary missionaries to the world. There are not many churches that you hear of adult mission trips. There are some but there aren’t many. And yet almost every church has a youth mission trip or it’s at least happened at some point. And some of that has to do with time. Some of that has to do with energy. But some of it also has to do with the fact that new Christians are almost always more enthusiastic and more excited about spreading the faith and serving that more experienced Christians (I don’t know what that says about us who have been in the faith a little longer). But the children need to be brought up with Christian beliefs so that they can teach others and can teach us about the works of God as well.
Children are to learn from us, and we must ensure that we do not let them down. And if you’re going to teach them what it means to be a Christian; then you need to know what it means to be Christian, you need to know how to live the Christian life. I encourage you come back next week when we’re going to be exploring what is what is the basic, ground level Christian life; what must we all be doing to be Methodist and to lead a life of Christ. Come next week and hear that. Amen.