I preached yesterday at an ordination.

I had not intended to post any part of the sermon until this morning when I received an article by novelist and journalist Helen Garner that appeared in “The Monthly: Australian politics, society, and culture.”

In her piece “The darkness in everyone of us,” Garner suggests there is a dark reality that most of us seek to avoid. She writes that

Human beings have many shields against the darkness.


The first reading at yesterday’s ordination was II Samuel 1:1, 17-27. David has just won a magnificent military victory. His enemies have been crushed. He stands poised on the edge of assuming his role as king of Israel. It is a glorious moment. It should be a moment of rejoicing and celebration.

And yet, as David surveys the landscape from the height of his great accomplishment, he is overwhelmed by brokenness and tragedy. David cries out,

Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen! (II Samuel 1:19)

Frequently in the Psalms when the poet is overcome with the brokenness of life, his lament is followed by a “But….”

But I trusted in your steadfast love… (Psalm 13:5)

But I trust in you, O Lord… (Psalm 31:14)

But for me it is good to be near God… (Psalm 73:28a)

In David’s lament in the opening chapter of II Samuel there is no “But…” The poet’s sorrow is unrelenting. David is left holding his sadness staring with unblinking eye at the shattered world around him.

It is a bleak picture to begin the joyful celebration of an ordination. But it is a picture of reality. The world and the human community do not work all that well. There is desperate sadness at the heart of the human condition.

Ordination 5Those who were ordained into the ministry of Christ’s church yesterday will traverse painful terrain in their service to God. They will see the brokenness and pain of the human condition in all its heartbreak. They will experience the sadness that is an inevitable part of being human. The ability to bear this pain is an essential skill in ministry.

The readings yesterday did not stop with David’s pain. In the Gospel reading from Mark 5:21-43, we see the pain of Jairus the synagogue leader  whose daughter was near death and of the anonymous woman whose physical suffering had left her an impoverished outcast.

Unlike the II Samuel reading, however, the Gospel stories don’t end with pain. Instead, the synagogue ruler and the outcast woman, responding to some mysterious inner prompting, reach out to Jesus for hope and healing.

At end of her article on the darkness that is an inevitable part of the human condition, Helen Garner tells of a dream she had:

Last year, the Monthly sent me to interview Rosie Batty, whose 11-year-old son, Luke, had been murdered by his father. The night before I went to meet her, I had a dream that I’ll never forget.

I found myself in a house with her and several other provincial Englishwomen, broad-browed and composed, like characters in a George Eliot novel. Their faces were swollen and stark, as if they had been swimming in grief for an eternity. But there was at the same time a gentleness in the room, a mysterious patience – a sense that the women’s pain was not the only thing that existed in their world; that they knew this, and that they were prepared to trust the knowledge. By the time I had spent a day with the real Rosie, the singular Rosie, I understood that the quality people find so impressive in her is not merely the authority of the brutally bereaved, but also this wisdom, this trust.

Jesus said to the woman who had been suffering for twelve years,

Daughter, your faith (trust) has made you well. (Mark 5:34)

To Jairus, the father of a twelve-year-old girl, Jesus said,

Do not fear, only believe (trust). (Mark 5:36)

Helen Garner has captured the Jesus message. Even in the midst of unrelenting pain, it is possible to trust in a light and goodness that transcend brokenness and sorrow.

We ordain people in the church, so to set them apart as reminders of the trust that is the essential quality of a healed life.

All the trappings of church exist to remind us that pain is not the final word. Jesus died an agonizing death, the victim of treachery and injustice. But, the story did not end with the cross.The story went on to the triumph of light over darkness and the victory of life over death. The Jesus Way is the way of an unending love that can never be defeated.

There is always a “but.” It is this “but” in which we trust.

At the heart of the human condition dwells a mystery deeper than all pain, more real than all tragedy, more lasting than all suffering. This mystery is our true nature as beings created in the image of God.

Those brave people who were ordained in Christ’s church yesterday, will thrive in life and ministry to the degree they stay connected to this reality that is deeper than any pain. They are ordained to serve as beacons of hope in the midst of the painful realities of life. Their first task is remind us of the enduring presence of mystery and beauty that is the presence of Christ found especially in the midst of brokenness and suffering. If they are going to fulfill this noble call, they must first trust for themselves the deep reality of their true nature in Christ.


(Thank you Jaqueline for the Helen Garner article.)