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Ordination Sermon for Brenna Robinson Stanfield

Dec. 7, 2008
Bill Robinson

Well, 2008 has been an amazing year. America changed. The world changed. And, on a slightly smaller scale, the life of Brenna Stanfield changed. She finished seminary. Her husband got a job in Boise, Idaho. She got a job in Boise, Idaho. And in 2008, Brenna reached two vocational goals. Until about age six, her career dream was to be a babysitter. On July 19, Brenna got her wish. Young Asher Stanfield became the baby she now sits. Sometime subsequent to age six, Brenna sensed God's call to the ordained ministry of word and sacrament. Today is the day of God's favor. Today we celebrate this sacred call in Brenna's life. Today Brenna joins a sizable company of ordained ministers in her family. On my paternal side, she begins the fifth generation, following my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, his brother, and my brother. On Bonnie's side she begins the third generation, joining Bonnie's uncle, her brother and her brother-in-law. Plus, as Bonnie said to Brenna, the family has missionaries all over the place.

When Brenna honored me with the invitation to offer today's homily, she knew I would tell a story about Jesus. There are no better stories. The one I just read [from Luke 5:1-11] is one I have never told. But I cannot imagine a better one for this occasion. I suppose it would be a good story for any ordination. But my message today is for Brenna, which is why I might be staring at these notes, even though I know exactly what they say.

It's hard to pin down precisely when today's story took place. Luke presents events in a less chronological way than the other synoptic writers. Sometimes he organizes them by themes. But one thing is for sure: This event marks a tipping point for Peter. The text suggests that up until "the catch," he still lived at home, he still worked his day job, and he was still following Jesus part time. No more. This story records the exact moment when Peter, along with James and John, left everything and took up with Jesus.

This story also offers so many good lessons for a rookie pastor. I hope you will learn them all, Brenna. You hope I won't preach them all. I won't. But let me just mention five that I'm not going to preach. Think of these as "tips for a new pastor":

  1. Expect Jesus to consecrate your gifts, not replace them. In using a fishing situation and a fishing metaphor with fishermen, Jesus affirms the gifts and identity of those he calls to follow him. You bring wonderful gifts to this call, Brenna. Expect God to use them in your ministry. 
  2. Whatever it means to you, let Jesus take you to the deep waters. Don't fight him on that. It's true, you can see much better where it's shallow. But that's the problem. You need to let Jesus show you what you cannot see. 
  3. Make a mental note of Peter's worship style. He did not sing, "Oh Jesus you're just so awesome, awesome, awesome." Nor did he worship by changing into a suit, going to the temple and firing up the pipe organ – which is kind of too bad, because Jesus loves pipe organs. Peter just fell before the knees of his Lord. And Jesus seemed to care more about Peter's heart than his style. 
  4. Ask for help. Peter needed help to haul in the fish. Asking for help is smart, not weak. Your net will tear if you try to do this job without help. Jesus miraculously filled Peter's net. He did not miraculously keep it from tearing. He must have thought it was better to call for help. 
  5. Stay with Jesus. Even though Jesus provided an abundant catch, the disciples had to leave it all behind in order to follow him. Brenna, the point is always about following Jesus. It is never about possessing the abundance… even when it is God that gives you the abundance.

So, that's what I'm not preaching about. Incidentally, you know how I have told you and your brother that too many sermons are too greedy making too many points and going too long? Oops. Fortunately, it still isn't too late for me not to go too long.

Okay. Here's my big point, Brenna: There will be times when you feel flat out unworthy to be ordained to this ministry. When that happens, you're in a better place than you think.

You probably recall a conversation we had quite a few years ago. I think I encouraged you to smooth out your emotions a bit. Maybe I said something about your highs being too high and your lows being too low. Well, it looks like you're in good company. Peter was a lot like that. So, now I'm admitting my advice was at least half wrong. The half where I might have been right was in discouraging you from getting so off-the-chart high. When Peter got all fired up, he boasted about his faithfulness, he baited Jesus to let him walk on water, and then there was the time he separated a man from his ear. Don't do any of those things.

But Peter's lows were never wasted. More than once, Peter felt terrifyingly unworthy in the presence of Jesus. And Jesus turned those occasions into pivot points for Peter. It appears that low is exactly where Peter needed to be. In this story, he blurts out to Jesus, "Get out of here; I'm too sinful to be in your presence." To which Jesus replies, "Don't be afraid. From now on you'll be doing a different kind of fishing." Notice that Jesus did not say, "Oh stop it Peter, you're not so bad." I once saw a cartoon of a couple guys looking up at a crucifix. One of the guys says, "If I'm OK and you're OK, what's he doing up there?" It is when Peter crumbles at the knees of Jesus that Jesus can say from now on – from now on you don't have to be afraid.

Brenna, you know that the only way you can stand in the presence of God is to fall at the knees of Jesus. If you don't do that, you should be afraid. This ordination does not mean you are smart enough or good enough or worthy enough to fill the nets. If you think ordination is mainly about you, you should be afraid. Without Christ, you don't have what it takes. Nobody does. Peter fished all night and came up empty. So he knew that he couldn't take any credit when they hit the mother lode. All Peter did is say yes to Jesus. Today, you are saying yes to Jesus. Keep saying it. Saying yes to Jesus is more important than knowing where to fish.

Now, all this is definitely not to say that your training is unnecessary or that self-confidence is a bad thing. I would never say that, except that one time I told your brother he had some work to do catching up with his self-esteem. But your self-confidence comes from the one you have been trained to serve and follow. And that is exactly why you don't need to be afraid as you enter this ministry. The most life-giving doctrine from your Reformed theological heritage is sola gratia – grace alone. For by grace you are saved. It is the gift of God; you can't take credit. Isn't it interesting that the tipping-point miracle for these three fishermen was when they got outfished by a carpenter? Peter knew he had nothing to do with this catch. And that awareness tipped him over to the knees of Jesus.

And so, Brenna, I'm sticking with my advice about not letting your highs get too high, but don't be afraid of the lows. They will come. Don't waste them. After those long nights when you come up dead empty and feel just worthless, join Peter at the knees of Jesus. Hear your Lord say, "Don't be afraid, Come with me." He will deliver you from relying on you. He will deliver you from the folly of thinking that you fill the nets and you clean the fish. It is when you feel the least qualified to be in his presence, and the least qualified to do this job, that he can say to you, "Don't be afraid. Follow me."

You are qualified, Brenna. Jesus qualified you on the cross. And now he calls you, he sends you, and he goes with you."

And so I leave you with the words of Isaiah. They are the gospel you preach. They are the great commission you follow. And they are the only reason you dare stand here today and offer yourself as a minister of word and sacrament.

1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple.

2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying.

3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."

4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."

6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar.

7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"

Brenna, the coals have touched your lips, and you have made your declaration: "Here am I. Send me." Now, go forth into this ministry, sent by the one you follow, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.