An Ordination Sermon by Prof. Sebastian

The Rev. Samantha DrennanOrdination and Installation of Samantha Drennan, Associate Pastor 

Jerusalem Western Salisbury Church
3441 Devonshire Road
Allentown, PA 

Saturday, 5th November 2011
4:00 PM

Ezekiel 34: 11 – 16
Psalm 23
I Peter 5: 1 – 4
John 10: 7 – 18


A prayer from Martin Luther:

Lord, your holy spirit keep near us,
And upon a proper course steer us,
So that your poor Church may be
Kept in peace and unity. Amen

It’s been a long journey, Samantha, a long journey. A journey where you have been called to a lifetime of faithful ministry, a journey that though long, has only begun. 

In Matthew’s gospel (22:46) during one of the episodes where Jesus is confronted by some opponents, he responds with what seems to be a riddle and then we read: “No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” How nice it would be if I could announce to you, Samantha, at this point in time – “You are now an ordained minister of the church. No one will dare to ask you any more questions; no one can ask you any more questions; no one will care to ask you any more questions. From this time on your opinions are the only things that will matter; you don’t have to consult anyone or listen to any committee; your sermons are only to be listened to and not interacted with; your prayers are only to be heard and are not meant for edification or consolation; your presence at the table is meant to be admired and not seen as an invitation to participate; your work among children and youth is to be applauded and not taken terribly seriously; your ministry to the sick and shut-ins is good and necessary but not vitally important; you are now a functionary of the church and no one’s going to worry about you any more … .”

Thank God it isn’t going to be like this; thank God it wasn’t so in the ministry of Jesus; and thank God it isn’t going to be so in the life, ministry, witness, and ongoing faith journey of Samantha Drennan – soon to be Pastor Samantha Drennan; soon to be the Reverend Samantha Drennan.

No, your ministry is going to be a ministry where people are encouraged to interact with you to an extent that you recognize that today you have been poured out as an offering to God and God’s people; today you have not been separated from the people of God but truly become one who is so deeply rooted and part of this great body of saints and sinners and everything in-between that being overwhelmed is now part of your very existence and the gift that ordination brings you. Being overwhelmed? Did you sign up for this when you decided to listen to a call that led you out of your previous life; called you out of your previous occupation; asked you to give up what seemed to be a regular, routine, existence where your training served you well in the profession that you held; called you out of the community that you had built up around you of friends, co-workers, and neighbors? Did you sign up for being overwhelmed when you followed a call to that seminary in Philadelphia where the first things that they made you do was to learn two ancient languages that nobody seems to speak or understand anymore; thrust the history of Christianity – all two thousand years of it – at you within twelve sessions; sent you on rotation to a number of churches where you wondered whether you were in a Christian congregation or in some other religious tradition; made you buy and digest an inordinate number of books for so many courses that you lost sight of which book belonged to which course; when they said that you needed to understand the global and ecumenical dimensions of the faith and gain familiarity with the traditions of a variety and range of churches even before you were grounded in the Lutheran confessions; when they brought you in close proximity with students from all kinds of backgrounds, contexts, and church affiliations and said this is your new family whether you like it or not; when they said you must eat this unappetizing food in the refectory and never complain because this will build your character and enhance your ability to survive; when they exposed you to ethics, and religions, and cultures, and pastoral care, and made words and phrases like the hermeneutics of suspicion, narrative criticism, exegesis not eisegeis, postcolonial literary subaltern theory, and latifundialization (whatever that means!), part of your daily vocabulary?

Did you sign up for being overwhelmed when in your senior year you became the Senior Sacristan of the Seminary, dealing on a daily basis with more than a dozen emails, not to say anything about faculty, staff, and students, as well as the Seminary Chaplain, who made impossible demands on your time, energy, ingenuity, patience, and forbearance? 

Overwhelmed yes – but a still, small voice that came to you then, and comes to you anew and afresh today – “The Lord is my shepherd …”  Being overwhelmed by the loss of someone so dear to you, whom you would have loved to have here today to be part of this service, someone who now rests in the loving embrace of the shepherd who truly cares for his own and holds them close to his heart.

The prophet Ezekiel, writing amidst the reality of loss and exile, the lack of stability and the despair of being overwhelmed by the pressures and burdens of not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel, reminds us about the priorities of the shepherd God – “I will make them lie down; I will seek the lost; I will bring back the strayed; I will bind up the injured; I will strengthen the weak; I will feed them with justice.” The shepherd God reminds you of your priorities as a shepherd pastor – to be overwhelmed by the needs out there; to be overwhelmed by the cries of pain and suffering; to be overwhelmed by those who have lost their homes to foreclosure; to be overwhelmed by those who face the uncertainty of terminal illness; to be overwhelmed by those who are qualified and yet find no work; to be overwhelmed by the messiness of everyday life of those who sail the choppy seas and despair of finding a safe harbor – to be overwhelmed and yet offer this message of hope and affirmation – “I will feed them in good pasture; I will lead them to good grazing ground; I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” Yes – “The Lord is my shepherd.”

You, Samantha, are called to be overwhelmed and yet recognize that you are undergirded and overarched by the reality of the shepherd Lord, who, as Peter reminds us, will offer you the crown of glory that will not fade away. You are called to be overwhelmed not exerting your authority; not seeking your priorities; not working for the relief that comes by saying “Thank God It’s Sunday Afternoon and I don’t have to do anything for another week.” I know there are restaurants called TGIF – “Thank God It’s Friday” but perhaps there’s a business opportunity out there in starting restaurants for pastors, and even parishioners, called “Thank God It’s Sunday Afternoon” where both groups can go to chill out and celebrate the fact that they don’t have to preach or hear a sermon for another week. You are overwhelmed and yet mediate that message of hope – not for sordid gain, but eagerly – “The Lord is my shepherd.

Samantha, you are overwhelmed by the recognition of the grace of the shepherd who has called you to be a shepherd – to proclaim the good news of God about the good shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep; the shepherd who came that all might experience life in all its complexity and in all its fullness; the shepherd who knows his own and is known by his own. You will proclaim the overwhelming word of grace that this is the shepherd to whose love and goodness you testify in your life, your work, your witness, and in your being; you will celebrate at the table of the shepherd, where the weak, the strong, the rich, the poor, the proud, the humble, the vulnerable, the confident, the ones who ask the questions, the ones who have all the answers, the wonderful range and variety of God’s children from South, and West, and North, and East will hear from you the words of forgiveness, acceptance, welcome, and hospitality.

Pastor Samantha – overwhelmed yes, but overwhelmed by the invasion of the grace of the shepherd; overwhelmed so that you can with all your heart, with all our soul, with all your might, and with all your strength proclaim anew with conviction and courage, with gratitude and fortitude, with compassion and confidence “The Lord is my shepherd – taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen.

Samantha Drennanin the photo: The Rev. Samantha Drennan (MDiv 2011) at her ordination and installation service (photo by Leona Spencer, courtesy Samantha Drennan va Facebook)