Well, just as ordination approaches Celtic Daily Prayer has managed to throw my way the starkest of warnings; stark because they relate directly to my salvation, and, you can’t get starker than that!
It seems that being ordained, with all that this entails, is simply not sufficient for salvation (I knew this anyway, please don’t worry). The tasks, or functions, associated with ordained ministry by themselves don’t cut much muster. It appears that our Lord is far more concerned with the state of our hearts, the direction of our love and devotion.
Today’s readings, the Gospel reading in particular, warn of the dangers of ministers, and the priesthood of all believers, inverting the human-divine relationship and, the relative ease with which we are able to convince ourselves we are acting in God’s name when, in reality, our real concern is the satisfaction of our own ego.
Matthew informs us that ‘‘it is not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord, who will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but the person who does the will of my father in heaven. When the day of judgement comes many will say to me ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, drive out demons in your name, work many miracles in your name?’ The I shall tell them to their faces: ” have never know you, away from me all you evil doers,” (Matthew 7, 21-23).
Ouch! Proclamation, prophesy, healing – all characteristics of ministry, aren’t enough! Achievement is rendered irrelevant! Matthew makes it crystal clear that even if our motivation falls short of the Divine standard, in other words our primary motivation is the promotion of self, healing and other acts of power are to be expected. The fact that we might be able to heal, prophesy or preach does not mean that we are favored by God! We need to be constantly on our metal so that we discern the difference between the works of the Spirit (which in any case are validated by their fruit) and mere psychological manipulation, which we know can produce powerful outcomes (even speaking nonsense).
You might think that it is better under this scenario to steer clear of the ‘power plays,’ to act as a sacramental technician, or a top trumps worship-leader. If this is your preferred approach my advice would be to maintain a significant distance between yourself and the prophet Amos. In his role as God’s mouthpiece Amos rants against the people of Israel saying, ‘‘I scorn your festivals, I take no pleasure in your solemn assemblies. When you bring me burnt offerings, your oblations I do not accept them, and I do not look at your communion sacrifices or fat cattle,” (Amos 5, 21 &22). Worship, it appears, can feel good without being good.
So what are we to do given these scenarios? Well, Jesus summation of the law would seem a good starting place. Carrying ourselves with humility, being aware that He is the creator, we are the created. Or we could take Benedict’s advice: ‘Live in fear of judgment day and have a great fear of hell,’ balancing this with remembering that ‘what the eye has not seen nor the ear heard, God has prepared for those who LOVE him,’ (Rule of Benedict Chapter 4). God’s only rule is love!
Finally the advice of Abbot Athago (one of the Desert Fathers) is worth chewing over: ‘If you are able to revive the dead, but not willing to be reconciled to your neighbor – it is better to leave the dead in the grave.’
So two questions from me – to you with love (as the Beatles song goes).
What is your real ministerial motivation?
What sort of ministers impress you?