Today, in Houston, Texas, friends and family of Bishop Sarah Frances Davis are gathered in sorrow, thanksgiving and joy. They are gathered in sorrow, because they are mourning the loss of a sister in Christ. They are gathered in thanksgiving, to celebrate a life well-lived, and they are gathered in joy, confidently proclaiming the truth that Jesus Christ has overcome the power of sin and death. At Wesleyan Accent, we join them in that sorrow, thanksgiving and joy.
Sarah Davis was a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. Earlier this year, she preached the following ordination sermon.
Today is special for each of you:
Candidates, you are called to reflect on your commitment to the awesome call of God on your lives and the responsibilities that come with that call.
We the Church (the body of Christ) come face to face with the awesome “speak now or forever hold your tongue” option that lies before these whom this Annual Conference has elected and now with the imposition of the Bishop’s hand will move from laity to clergy in our church.
And others still will have seven hands laid on them and will receive the final and highest ordained position our church has to offer.
Listen to the Word of God in Philippians 2:1-8
If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care—then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that—a crucifixion. (The Message)
I want to also share with you our text from the New International Version. Listen again to the Word of God:
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Evangelical Christian pastor, radio teacher, and author Chuck Swindoll suggests that our “attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. Your attitude is more important than your appearance, your giftedness or your skill. Your attitude will make or break a Fortune 500 company or a Mega and Minor church. Your attitude will break-up a home and a marriage.”
Dr. Swindoll reminds us, however, that the remarkable thing is that “we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day.” We cannot change our past – we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. Each of us is the author and completer of our “Attitudes”.
We are in charge of our attitudes!
You and I are in charge of the attitude we will live out. What will that be? What attitude are you most comfortable with? Have you ever thought about this choice that you have in this way? What attitude does God expect us to pursue and execute?
Let’s consider our text:
When Paul was a prisoner of Nero in Rome he wrote to a very mature audience in the Roman colony at Philippi about how they could advance in the spiritual life. This letter of encouragement and love is not at all like the harsh letters to the Corinthians.
Paul wants the Philippian Church to continue maturing in the Lord and thus describes in these first four verses of our text what “occupation” with Christ looks like in the life of a disciple believer:
When you are totally occupied with Christ, then Christ is your focus; here in Christ is your place of solace; in Christ is your hope; in Christ is your joy; in Christ is your happiness because whatever you need, you trust Christ to provide.
Candidates you are going to need to master this “occupation with Christ” more and more on your journey now, for the distractions are many: in the Church and out of the Church. Doing what pleases Christ must be your reason for being.
No longer is simply memorizing Scripture enough, when you become occupied with Christ the goal becomes the study of the doctrine of Scripture and the application of the doctrine in your living. You must desire that your life testifies to what Scripture teaches.
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ – and you must; if you have any comfort from Christ’s love – and you do; if you have any fellowship with the Spirit of God – and you do; if you have any tenderness and compassion – and you do; THEN, Paul says, make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. And if you really would admit it, you cannot help yourself to do this for the fruit of the Spirit gives birth to these things.
Our only response to doctrine is to think the same things – to have a divine viewpoint. You see the Divine viewpoint is void of human thinking and contentious motivations; and ambitious pride. A divine viewpoint keeps us from thinking of ourselves higher than we ought and causes us to take interest in others.
In verse five Paul gives the request, which we offer today – not just to the ordinands, but to every believer within the sound of my voice this morning.
LET YOUR ATTITUDE be the same as that of Christ Jesus!
As I come this morning I want you to remember that the journey you are on is not one with many rulebooks. You have just ONE! And if you master this one book, the other guidelines on the journey will be easy. That rulebook is the Bible, the Word of God.
There perhaps already are many models in ministry you have been watching and deciding you want to emulate; there are perhaps mentors and mothers and fathers in ministry whom you have decided are the patterns you will cut your ministry by. Well, my dear friends let me caution you that greatest model for ministry is Jesus the Christ! Master his model of ministry and you will never be disappointed and neither will you disappoint others.
You see beloved, the ministry journey before you today, offers no sure things, has walking beside you “no perfect people,” provides “no absolutes” nor “right sounds.”
There are no hook ups with “The Right Reverend Father or Mother in God” or with “The Reverend Dr.” which can get you where God has purposed that you go. There are no “do it this way and you’ll have nothing to worry about” recipes on this ministry journey.
But what does lie ahead as you may have already discovered is the reality of Paradox. Paul says in our text today:
“In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others…In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus”
And yet before you rise from your knees as Itinerant Deacons or Itinerant Elders in this service you will be instructed to “Take Thou Authority.” Once you rise from your knees in this service you will find yourself in a place with authority that others who are not ordained lack; once you rise from your knees in this service you will occupy a place of privilege in the clerical power structure; you will, depending on what you do in ministry, have opportunity to cast visions, lead, teach, and in some cases discipline.
Yet, you are to have the same mindset as Christ who, Paul tells us, “made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant. Being made in human likeness.” What? Jesus the Christ, the Son of God, took on the very nature of a servant? Is this not a paradox?
Let’s see: a paradox is where two things seem to be opposite, but you know they are both true.
It’s a tension, a contradiction, a mystery.
It’s the fact that too many cooks spoil the broth, but at the same time, many hands make light work.
It’s the truth that he who hesitates is lost, but only a fool wouldn’t look before he leaps.
There are plenty of paradoxes in Christian ministry, and they keep those with the responsibility of serving God’s people in a healthy state of confusion.
Many of us would love to have the rules set down in black and white, where 1 + 1 = 2 and there are formulae we can apply to get gospel work done. But God, in his wisdom, made the matter of serving him a far more humbling affair.
Listen to Jesus in Luke 22 as he addresses His disciples when there was distraction at the table:
Kings like to throw their weight around and people in authority like to give themselves fancy titles. It’s not going to be that way with you. Let the senior among you become like the junior; let the leader act the part of the servant. Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves.
Or – hear the word of God in John 13:
Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under His power, and that He had come from God and was returning to God; so He got up from the meal, took off His outer clothing and wrapped a towel around His waist. After that, He poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.
And Jesus Himself tells us:
I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. If anyone wants to be first, let him be last of all and servant of all. (Mark 9:35)
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. (Mark 10:43-44)
These statements are echoed throughout the gospels as clear teaching to the community of followers. The ways of the world are not the ways of God’s kingdom. Power and status are not important. Paradoxically, greatness in the kingdom of God comes through letting go of status and being willing to serve, to receive everyone for their own sake, as we would receive Jesus.
Yes, the paradoxes of ministry require daily and constant attitude adjustments.
Actively decide to adopt the same mindset that Jesus had. Specifically the one He showed when He chose not to cling to His divine privileges but took on instead, the form of a servant and poured Himself out as an offering for us.
Isn’t this what Jesus meant when He himself taught: “if any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me.” Isn’t that what it means for you and me to be disciples?
Don’t take your self so seriously that you lose sight of who really is in charge of your life and your ministry; who really is in charge of the flock which the Lord will send you on Sunday by appointment of your Bishop.
Don’t lose sight of who really is in charge of the ministry group you have given birth to; or who really is in charge of moving you up and out; or who really is in charge of providing what you need when you need it!
Can you do it? Certainly. But not before you completely understand and appreciate experientially what “the mind of Christ” – his kind of attitude – was toward us.
When we understand the true significance of Bethlehem, when we truly understand Good Friday, then and only then can we throw up our hands and declare, ”All to Jesus I surrender. All to him I owe!”
Then and only then will nothing remain in our lives that we count as a thing to be grasped (held on to)!
Stop holding on so tightly to your property, your family, your special child, your health, pride, dignity, reputation, congregations, church buildings, positions in Annual Conferences, jobs, protocol, your seniority and even life itself.
Only when we can empty ourselves of any of these “things,” can we serve the one who gave Himself for us or serve His people.
To have the same attitude of Christ is to be able to wear these things loosely – to be able to let them go – to be able to be happy without the crowd or the accolades or the big assignments or places of distinction.
The reality of our grasping! Our “holding on to” has to do with our not giving it up in principle, in advance. We can only not “cling to” anything when we have already given it up in principle, in deciding to yield to the Lord.
We preach it, we teach the theory: “It is the Lord’s not ours to be used for His glory and disposed of at His convenience.” But we do not yet live it! We as disciples of the Lord must be willing to “die to self.” That is not how we naturally think, but that is how we must think.
This is a high calling! How can we do it? How can we let go? How can we not desire to hold on to what is God’s? How can we empty our minds and hearts so that we are desiring what He desires? How could He let it all go?
Maximally concentrate on Christ! We must learn how to “love the Lord our God with all our heart souls and mind” His love for us was the overriding power that motivated Him to give it all up for us. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son; and having loved His own, He loved them to the end.
Secondly, we must become supremely confident and secure in the love of God for us. We cling and grasp because we do not feel secure with God’s control! Jesus trusted the Father with His life and His glory! From the manger to the cross, his prayer was “Thy will, not mine be done.”
My Bible says that this same God did not let corruption overtake our Lord, but exalted Him and gave Him a name that is above EVERY name. We are called to the same radical faith and trust because we have the same Father, and therefore we may believe that if we submit ourselves under His right hand, He too will exalt us in due time.
Actively decide to adopt the same mindset that Jesus had. Let the attitude of Jesus Christ be your attitude.
TAKE THOU AUTHORITY! over your ATTITUDE!
Candidates for ordination: today is your day, the beginning of many things to come as you are entrusted as God’s mouthpiece for the church, your community and the world. You need to decide now that you will undertake an attitude adjustment:
To walk in humility as you serve.
To love the unlovable and pursue unity in the Body of Christ.
To let go of selfish ambition and vain conceit.
To believe that every appointment you receive had to go by God for His stamp of approval before it could get to you.
Take on the attitude of Christ! Block out the lies being sent to make you believe that:
You’re not old enough for where God has shown you He’s taking you.
You’re not experienced enough for the church and the flock He’s giving you.
You’ve not been in here long enough for the responsibility that’s just been put under your supervision.
Attitude adjustment time!
Believe that you can lay hands on the sick and they will recover. Believe that with God all things are possible.
Attitude adjustment time!
Know and believe that you cannot allow any relationship to get in the way of your God relationship.
Attitude adjustment time!
Be in unity with the Spirit. Keep the focus off of self and focus on others.
Let your attitude be the same as that of Christ Jesus.
Candidates for ordination, if you will adjust your attitudes I promise you that you will get to know joy and have peace as you travel the paradoxical roads of ministry. You will be able to:
Preach the Word – in season, out of season – when others want to hear and when they won’t.
Preach when they shout and when they don’t.
Preach truth – wait on the Holy Ghost for your power – power is in the Holy Spirit’s leading, not in your position, your title; your associates, your membership, your church address, or your name.
Servant of God – the servant “called out” from among other servants. God wants you to lead His people, teach His people, serve His people.
Take thou authority to give time and energy to your ministry, even when no one may notice your sacrifice or give you compensation.
Take thou authority to nurture your spiritual person which comes from reading and meditating on the Scriptures.
Take thou authority to apply yourselves wholly to this “one thing” PRAY to God the Father for the heavenly assistance of the Holy Ghost – that you may grow stronger in your ministry
Take thou authority to actively pursue the attitude of Christ in all you do.
Let us pray:
Holy Father, the noise around us tends to drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit you have sent to guide and comfort us. Make us sensitive to your calling, as we take moments from the hurriedness of our lives.
Sometimes we get all caught up in our personal successes and enjoy the hearing of our name and the calling out of our titles. Remind us daily Lord, that if we choose to walk in our own way, led in our own thinking, then we will become self-centered and insensitive. Bring us back Lord to the mind of Christ.
Lord remind us that if we will take on Your mind we will be fulfilled by living for others and You; we will grow up in Your counsel. We will receive instruction from the Word of Life and gain strength from You to do right.
Convict us Lord to know that we cannot walk in two opinions. Convict us to take on Your Mind. Convict by your Spirit; give us boldness and courage Lord, to take thou authority to have the attitude of Christ Jesus!
In Jesus name, AMEN.