The past few weeks have seen a number of people being ordained as deacons and priests in the Church of England.
On BBC 2 at the moment there is an interesting comedy called 'Rev.' Vicar of Dibley it is not. Someone has been watching the Cof E quite carefully - for TV I think it is amazingly accurate and perceptive. It can even become too close for comfort.
One of the most profound stories in the New Testament that speaks to me time and time again is that of the birth of John the Baptist. More specifically the story of his Mum and Dad, when they received the news that they were going to have a child. Two old people, childless, barren, marginalised, seen as a bit of a failure to be honest. But Zechariah was also a priest and his once in a lifetime opportunity to lead worship in the sanctuary came along. There he was told about God's gift of a special child. Yep - God speaks even through the old ways but mercifully not to keep us there!
Understandably Zechariah laughed. Whisper it not but even priests find some things hard to believe! For this he was struck dumb. No - I believe, (as in my spin on the story), he was given the opportunity to reflect inwardly - the gift of silence. As he offered the prayers of the people of God he was able to tap into God's ways and purposes. When he had finished his priestly 'stint' he was asked what family name the child would be given. He wrote the name John. No-one in the family had that name - this was counter-cultural - it cannot be. 'His name is John.' is emphatic, purposeful and a one point sermon!. John meaning: 'God is gracious'.
Right from the womb JB had a model of being counter-cultural for God's sake and the name of grace.The name God wanted for this prophetic forerunner of the fulfilment of all those prophecies - Jesus - the 'neighbourhood' embodiment of God's grace and counter cultural religion. ('He sits and eats with tax collectors and sinners')
Zechariah the old fashioned and conservative priest has himself become in a real sense a counter - cultural prophet.
Maybe a vital aspect of ordination is that of prophet. A hard calling but in these Post- Christian days a vital one. 'Rev' highlights the complex and difficult context into which people are being called to ordained ministry and the real need for prophetic voices from within the 'priestly' and ministerial culture. For me to be ordained has been about becoming not less human but more, not so much about speaking 'truth' but embracing the one who is truth and being shaped maybe in ways I wasn't expecting. Rather than finding more words to say it is becoming (at last) more about listening and when called to speak, using fewer words with grace and courage .(haven't mastered the one point sermon yet though working at it)
Someone the other day described to me 'grace and truth' as the 'Jesus trick' - what a good way of describing the ordained as those who seek to do this 'trick' and model it for others. To do the trick though - we need - Jesus. Just like that!