Knox Church, Toronto
on the occasion of the ordination
by the Presbytery of East Toronto, PCC,
of son Alex MacLeod
22 January, 2006, 7:00 p.m.
Defining Ministry As ‘Running Errands From Jesus For You’
For we do not preach ourselves,
but Jesus Christ as Lord,
and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
Remember, our Message is not about ourselves;
we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master.
All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.
The fourth chapter of II Corinthians has been, throughout forty-two and a half years of ministry, a beacon light for me, a passage of Scripture to which I return, over and over again. I see from the bulletin for my own ordination by the Presbytery of Pictou 11 July, 1963, that I included the seventh verse over my curriculum vitae. I am not sure what part of the Bible was used at the ordination of my father as an evangelist by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in the Arch Street Church on 20 June, 1927, whose minister Clarence Edward Macartney was in the process of decamping for Pittsburgh. I know little about when my grandfather was set apart for ministry by the Presbytery of Ningbo, some time around the turn of the last century. But I do have his Bible from 1894 as he was about to leave for the mission field with the date of his conversion 27 August 1890 and the words “Here am I, send me.” His brother, another Rev Alexander MacLeod, preached from this passage nine times, a fact I know that from his Bible in my possession in which are inscribed every text he ever used during sixty years of pulpit ministry in the Church of Scotland. II Corinthians 4 has shaped the understanding of what Christian ministry is all about for four generations of MacLeods.
For we do not preach ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
Or, as one of Alex’s favourite profs at Regent College, Eugene Petersen, paraphrases it
Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.
C K Barrett says in his commentary about this verse, our text tonight: “It would be hard to describe the Christian ministry more comprehensively in so few words.”1 The purpose of a sermon at an ordination is to set what we are about to do within the context of Scripture. It is not another charge (a mistake frequently made). I can hardly imagine a better verse to do so.
Paul is a minister under attack. The Corinthian church is thoroughly exasperated with their founder. Who does he think he is, they ask, chastising us for divisiveness, for promiscuity, for idolatry, for disfunctionality as a community, for heresy – doubting Jesus’ bodily resurrection? Quick to defend himself, Paul says that he is giving them the straight goods, refusing to speak out of both sides of his mouth. He is not, he tells them, trying to win a popularity contest, peddling the word of God for profit. Surely, he tells them, you know me well enough not to require letters of commendation. Your life as a congregation is the only testimonial you should require from me.
Clergy today are in deep trouble right across North America: one is dismissed from their congregation every thirteen seconds. Dissent starts so innocuously, with a whisper, then some gossip, grumbling, complaining, and soon it grows into a crescendo, the congregation never recovers, the world looks by and shakes their head, and clergy (and their loved ones) are shattered in their faith. The biggest enemy to the gospel in our day is the harsh and uncharitable way that ministers are attacked and local churches destroyed. And it all comes back to ignorance: ignorance about what a minister is called to do, and how a congregation responds to her or his leadership based on Biblical expectations and New Testament norms of what the calling of ministry is all about.
Ministry is not about personality
How does Paul as a minister respond to criticism? He might appear defensive, even sarcastic: “Do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you?” (3:1) “What we are is plain to God, and I hope is also plain to your conscience.” (5:11) But here he gives the real reason for his ability to rise above his critics. He has that strong sense of call. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, they are unable to see the light of the glory of Christ, the very image of God. But we don’t lose heart. “For” our text begins “we do not preach ourselves.”
Paul had an unshakeable confidence in his divine commission. In Galatians he explains that when people tried to spy on the freedom that is ours in Christ, he was unmoved “I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles.” (2:7) “God … set me apart from birth … called me by his grace … pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles.” (1:15). It was that sense that God had placed him in ministry, that it was not his personality, his giftedness, his ‘success’ (so called) that was at stake.
In my early days in ministry in rural Nova Scotia, whenever a ministry was being criticised, members would say with a warning in their voice: “Touch not the Lord’s anointed.” Paul was sustained by the knowledge that the ministry he was called to was not his, but God’s.
Ministry has everything to do with declaring Jesus as Lord
If ministry is not about personality, then what is it all about? Paul says: “It is not ourselves that we proclaim but Jesus as Lord.” At the heart of ministry there is the Headship of Jesus Christ. As we say in the 1964 preamble to the ordination question in the PCC: “All ministries of the Church proceed from and are sustained by the ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ.”2
The Lordship of Jesus Christ is the sustaining and empowering commitment of any New Covenant ministry. Ministry is about enthroning Jesus as Head both of the Body which is His church. Acknowledging Jesus as Lord in my ministry is a day by day matter, as I daily submit myself to Him. He comes to me again and again during the years of my service and ask: “Am I boss or am I just one you call on as a convenience?” Is he the Master of the whole operation or simply Someone to whom I pay lip service. Ministry is about personal obedience, being crucified with Christ, of putting to death my ego, about being willing to be a fool for Jesus Christ because He is my Lord.
And ministry is about asserting His kingship in all of life. Ministry is about kingdom righteousness. It is claiming the whole of truth for Him so that He will truly be Lord of lords and king of kings. It is about social justice and economic freedom and public morality. To say Jesus is Lord and to be mealy-mouthed about what is happening in our society, engaging with the culture, challenging the status quo, is to have failed in ministry and denied Jesus as Lord.
Ministry is about servanthood
But finally Paul tells us that ministry is all about servanthood. That’s an overworked word these days and can easily be dismissed as a cliché. But Paul is saying that he has been called to proclaim Jesus as Lord as a servant. He is not to posture as a personality, but the Lordship of Jesus Christ demands that he put himself in submission to the One who came, in pur Lord’s words, “not to be served but to serve and give his life a ransom for many.”3
As Petersen renders it: “All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.” That puts servanthood in context: a servant is one who runs as a messenger with errands from Jesus. An errand messenger listens to instructions, does what they’re asked to do, and reports back to the one who has given the errand. That individual is simply a conduit, a vehicle that is used, to get something across to others. They’re a person under assignment and the only purpose of the errand is to see that it is successfully completed. That’s servanthood.
It’s almost exactly twenty-four years ago that I preached from this pulpit a sermon on “Ordination As Shared Servanthood.” I ended that sermon with a story from China, from the Ye-su Chia-ting or Jesus Family. Shortly after the Communist takeover they were visited by a commissar. He boasted that in the party there were all brothers and sisters. He then called for the pastor.
“I saw him in the distance,” an observer recalled. “He was pushing the manure cart, and brought it right up to where they were before someone said, ‘There he is.” The comissar drew back from the stench and turned to him: “How can you preserve discipline by doing such a menial job.” The reply came back: “Doing the most menial jobs is a privilege. My leadership comes not from status but from service.”4
“Finally,” Paul says in a concluding riposte to the Galatian critics of his ministry, “let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.”5 A servant is prepared to suffer: ministry is not about personality, it is the recognition that when Jesus as Lord is proclained a minister, as a slave of the crucified Christ, must be prepared to die::
“Christ the Son of God has sent me
To the midnight lands;
Mine the mighty ordination
Of the nail-pierced hands.”6
“Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master.
All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you.”
1. A Commentary on The Second Epistle to the Corinthians; II Ed.; (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1979), 134.
2. The Book of Common Order, 354.
3. Mark 10:45.
4. Affirmations We Need Today, 11.
5. Galatians 6:17.
6. I have been unable to find the source of these lines which are quoted by Samuel Zwemer in his The Glory of the Cross, (London: Oliphants, 1954), 116.