A recent invitation to preach for an ordination gave me a chance to think afresh about the ordinariness of the priesthood. “Ordination” and “ordinary” are cognate words. But in the kingdom of heaven, what’s ordinary is often surprisingly that which would be extraordinary elsewhere.
Luke 12:35-44 shows this. Let your loins be girded, and your lights burning, says Jesus, so that you are like unto men that wait for their lord . . . that when he cometh and knocketh, they may open unto him immediately. For a priest, this faithful waiting for the Lord to come—loins girded, lights burning—is the ordinary work of teaching and preaching, administering the sacraments, defending the flock. We wait by carrying out such ordinary things that go unnoticed. But a mystery lies at their heart. For Jesus says, Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them to sit down to meat, and will come forth and serve them.
Here is the surprising turn in Jesus’ teaching. We expect the lord to come home and the servants (perhaps receiving a word of praise for waiting up) then serving the lord, maybe bringing him a robe and slippers, maybe fixing for him a nightcap, perhaps offering to call up some Palestrina on the built-in sound system. But instead, this Lord that Jesus tells about makes himself into a servant, and serves those who have been waiting. Instead of sitting (the position of authority) he stands. He girds himself. He waits on them.
The kingdom of heaven is not an authority-free zone; authority runs throughout heaven. But authority in the kingdom of heaven is ever dynamic. Whoever has authority is constantly laying it down, so that he or she may stand up to serve; and whoever is serving is constantly being given a seat, so that he or she may receive service. Serving and being served keep going round and round in heaven. It is an extraordinary thing, but in Jesus’ kingdom it is the rule, it is ordinary.
It is a wonderful and exalting thing to be a priest: one gets to handle divine and precious things: the Bread, the water, the candidate for baptism, the penitent sinner. But it is also a humiliating thing to be a priest. It is by turns exhausting, and interesting, and boring, and refreshing. One serves, and then one is served, and then one serves again.
Out & About. My recent three-class series, “Who’s Coming?” can be found here: https://incarnation.org/class-recordings/ . The most recent one (Dec. 10) is on the topic of the future of God.
I will be preaching at the 7:30 a.m. traditional Eucharist this Sunday, Dec. 17, at Church of the Incarnation, Dallas. And at Incarnation on Sunday, Dec. 31, I will be preaching at the 9 and 11:15 a.m. uptown contemporary services.
Looking ahead. Yours truly is to teach the Christian ethics course at the Stanton Center this spring. The course meets on the third Saturday of each month from January through May, from 1 to 4 p.m., at St. Matthew’s Cathedral, Dallas.
The course will cover some basic alternatives in Christian ethics then turn to an in-depth study of virtue ethics (the ethics of human excellence or flourishing). Special attention will be given to Christian anthropology, particularly as it stands in contrast to common secular assumptions of freedom, happiness, and the like. The course is aimed to be helpful pastorally also: it includes fiction and children’s stories (Muriel Spark, Arnold Lobel) and will examine friendship and disability.
It would be great to see some of you in the course. The Stanton Center’s website, with registration information, is here.