‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Matthew 11:28
Brothers and sisters, whenever we gather together as the Church we do so in celebration of the Lord’s victory over death, and all that is wrong with the world. We do so to remember Him, to pray to Him, to listen to Him in His Word, to receive Him in the Sacrament, and to be made ready to go out and share the good news. Every Sunday is a day of celebration. Every Sunday is a day of joy. Every Sunday is a gift of God to His people. Today, we celebrate even more so, for the Lord continues to keep His promises and has given us a new priest in Fr Jordan. If you were with us last Sunday evening—when Fr Jordan was priested—you will have heard Bishop Philip talk about the confusion in the world over what a priest does. Funny, but otherwise useless TV characters—like the Vicar of Dibley or Fr Ted—have formed an idea in the public’s mind which is about as far away from reality of a priest as you can get. So today, as Fr Jordan begins his priestly ministry with us, I want to make sure that all of us know what a priest is for. If we get our expectations right we can support him; if we get them wrong we’ll be in danger of pushing him off track. So, what should we expect from Fr Jordan? Well I reckon four main things: Fr Jordan should be a man who prays, a man of the Word, a man of the sacraments, and a man of the gospel. Let’s take each of those in turn, finding our inspiration, quite rightly, from the Scriptures.
First, Fr Jordan should be: A man who prays. In our Gospel reading, verse 25: ‘Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.’ Fr Jordan must be a man who comes to Jesus and kneels before Him speaking and listening to Him like a little child coming to his Father. No doubt, you will be unsurprised by this suggestion, and yet it’s amazing how easy it is for a priest not to pray, how easy it is to fill your days with a whole host of otherwise good things which give you no time to pray. Yet if a priest doesn’t pray he is of no use in doing anything else. Oh, he can still stand in the front of services and assemblies, he can still meet with the mourning and those wishing to be married, he can still climb up into the pulpit and walk down into town, but he will be doing it in his own strength and not in the strength of Jesus Christ. A priest must be a man who prays. There is an account of John Wesley—a priest who led a revival in the Church—that on a normal day he would pray for two hours before getting down to work; but on busy days he would pray for three hours before he felt able to start the day. Now I’m not suggesting that Fr Jordan does nothing before praying for three hours, however, Wesley makes an important point that prayer is the first and most vital part of a Christian’s day; how much more so for someone in full-time ministry. Only when Fr Jordan has listened to the Lord, only when he has let Him set the priorities, only when he has been strengthened and guided by Him will Fr Jordan be of any use as a priest. He must pray for his people, pray for us, for the sick and the mourning, but also for those losing their faith and those whose faith is weak at best. He must pray for those who are struggling at home, for those in work and for those out of work. He must pray for his people, and then half of his work will be done. Brothers and sisters, we must support him in that. We must not fill his diary with so many commitments that he cannot find time to pray?
Second, Fr Jordan must be: A man of the Word. Once again in Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says in verse 27: ‘All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him’. We can’t know God without God revealing Himself to us. God does that supremely in Jesus Christ, and through the Scriptures He inspired by the Holy Spirit. If you or I want to know and love God, if we want to learn what it means to follow Him, what it is to be one of His children, well then we must go to the Scriptures. Understandably, many people don’t know where to look. Many find the Scriptures hard to understand, and so where do they turn, but to a priest? Therefor each and every priest must be one who knows and loves the Scriptures. First for himself, so that he is growing in his knowledge and love of God, but then also for his people, so that he can help and guide them to the God who reveals Himself in the pages of the bible. Fr Jordan must not guide people with his own understanding, nor come to the pulpit and give us his opinions or his political ideology. Rather, he must give us the words of God, for these and only these are the words of eternal life. How often I’ve been worried about what to do, which way to turn, or what to say to a person who has asked for help, only to find the answer in the bible! If only I’d turn to the Scriptures first rather than spent time worrying. Fr Jordan must be a man of the Word.
Third, Fr Jordan must be: A man of the Sacraments. In the Gospel we hear Jesus say that we are to come to Him and in Him, verse 29: ‘you will find rest for your souls.’ The sacraments are the way our faith is helped and made concrete in this world of flesh and blood. As Pope Francis rightly said of the principle Sacrament: ‘the Eucharist is not the reward of saints, but the bread of sinners.’ The sacraments are not there to say well done to those who are doing alright, who are living a ‘good’ life on their own; the sacraments, all of them especially the Eucharist, are there to help people follow Jesus; to give strength to those who find following Jesus hard. On our own we can’t follow Jesus! Our faith is not an individualistic faith—just between us and God—but a family-thing, a corporate faith as part of a family of brothers and sisters. We need to confess, we need to be washed clean in baptism, we need to be anointed when we’re sick, we need to be given bread for the journey; and for all those things we need the Church, we need each other, we need a priest. Fr Jordan needs to be a man of the sacraments or else we will all fall by the wayside, for we simply can’t survive in Jesus’ family by our will alone. Supremely, Fr Jordan needs to be at the altar regularly—as he is today—ensuring that there is enough food for the journey, that people can regularly receive the Sacrament of Christ’s body and blood, and then to take the gift of God to the people who can’t be in church. Fr Jordan must prize the sacraments; must be diligent in the administration of them to make sure that a hurting people literally feel the love of God in water, in bread, in wine, in oil, and hear of His forgiveness in absolution. For he doesn’t we will falter and—but for the grace of God—we will all be lost. Fr Jordan is to be a man of the sacraments.
Finally, Fr Jordan is to be: A man of the Gospel. Jesus says in the Gospel reading, and verse 28: ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ Jesus’ arms are stretched out to all people, to every single person in our parish. Most of the things we’ve talked about this morning, prayer, explaining the Scriptures, and the Sacraments most often happen in the church building, but as we know all to well, most people are not in the church building; they are out there in the homes, streets, and work places that make up our parish. And so, in order to know how to pray for people, in order to be able to explain the Scriptures to people, in order to invite people to the altar, and to receive the sacraments, Fr Jordan must go and spread the Gospel. Now, unlike administering the Sacraments this is a job for all Christian people. There are places which only you as lay people (as partners, parents, co-workers and friends) can go, and primarily it is you who must take the Gospel to the world. However, priests have a unique place in this missionary endeavour if they make themselves visible. If they are seen in the parish streets in their collars, if they go out to the marginalised, the outcasts, those who are struggling, and those who need advice. Most people will not come here, so Fr Jordan must go to them. Time-wise he must spend more time out there than in church. He must be known in the parish, building relationships with those of all faiths and none, challenging the Vicar of Dibley and Fr Ted stereotypes by being known far and wide as someone who loves people because he loves Jesus. Fr Jordan is a fan of St Francis, and so he'll know the line attributed to him: ‘Preach the Gospel and when necessary use words’. By his words and deeds he must tell people of Jesus, not so that Jordan is popular, but so that Jesus is. He must tell people the Gospel by what his says and does, so that people might come to Jesus and find rest. Fr Jordan has been given the gift of priesthood not for himself but for others; so that all might come to know and love Jesus.
Fr Jordan must be a man of the Gospel, a man who prays, a man of the Word, and a man of the sacraments. Brothers and sisters, let us make sure we support Fr Jordan, with our own prayers, as well as with our love, so that all of us might grow closer to Christ. Amen.(from Fr Mike).