A homily given by the Rev. Canon Ben E. Jones Jr., upon the occasion of the ordination of the Rev. Shannon Clark to the priesthood, 9 February 2019
As a priest, what will drive and guide your life and your ministry? What is the source from which you will receive your inspiration, your energy? From where will you receive your ability to focus on your ministry, and not to get caught up in distractions, distractions of the world? The Source is the author of Pastoral care, Jesus Christ, the ‘Good Shepherd.’
Gospel of St. John, 9:9: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.”
This gospel lesson is the greatest example of pastoral care that is given in scripture. For everything that we do as priests is encompassed in pastoral care, where we nurture and bring the sheep of Jesus Christ, those lost souls, to His fold, while nurturing and caring for the sheep that are in the fold. And at the same time, we as priests grow closer and closer to Jesus Christ, who nurtures our hearts and our souls as we carry out the duties and the responsibilities of the office and charge to which He calls us. For it is through the power of the Holy Spirit that dwells your heart and that governs your soul, where Jesus Christ, the ‘Good Shepherd,’ will prepare you, my brother, and will be your source and your foundation, so that you and your ministry will ever be His channel to His people.
Jesus as the ‘Good Shepherd’ is elaborating on His relationship with His close followers, portraying Himself as the Messianic shepherd and His followers as His ‘sheep.’ Jesus is both the gate to eternal life and the shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” Jesus Christ, the ‘Good Shepherd’ is our ultimate example for ‘pastoral ministry.’
The primary objective in shepherding God’s flock is to feed them and to exercise oversight of the flock. St. Peter defined the essence of pastoral ministry into two simple charges: “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly.” In other words, do the work of shepherding God’s flock in all humility. Humble shepherds are what God requires to lead His flock.
The first and foremost characteristic of humility is to be content to be a servant. “Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God.” You are called and, God willing will be ordained to be, a minister and not a master, a steward, and not a lord. You are and will be for the rest of your life a servant of Christ Jesus, to be entrusted to the care of His household.
The second characteristic of humility is to gladly suffer rejection by the world. You will be charged to uphold scripture and to teach nothing that is contrary to the Word of God. You will be charged with all faithful diligence, to banish and to drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God’s word. My brother, carry out these and all of your charges and vows in all humility even when you suffer rejection and opposition in upholding God’s truth, for in your suffering, God will uphold you in His truth and in His love.
My Brother, as a Priest in God’s Church, you will be that shepherd, that pastoral minister, to guard and to defend God’s flock from going astray, leading His flock to the green pastures of God’s word. The nourishment of God’s flock and spiritual leadership is your essential duty. Jesus drove home the importance of feeding the sheep to St. Peter. “Jesus saith unto Simon Peter, Simon, son of Jonas, lovest thou Me more than these? He saith unto Him, Yea, Lord; thou knowest that I love Thee. He saith unto him, Feed my lambs.”[ This is a three-fold question and answer discourse where Jesus gave the same answer three times. ‘Feed My sheep.’ Twice in His command to St. Peter, Jesus used the Greek term, bosko, bosko, which means ‘I feed.’ The shepherds charge is to feed and to nourish the sheep with the meat of God’s truth, His word.
Therefore you will exercise oversight of God’s flock. God has entrusted you with the authority and with the responsibility of leading His flock. You are as well to lead by the example of your life. If you are truly called to the office for which you, God willing will be ordained, you will lead God’s flock by the example of your walk with Christ. Therefore, my brother, be encouraging by God’s Word, because you are encouraged by God’s Word.
For in just a few minutes, you will lay down your life at the ‘Throne of God’ to be changed for-ever to serve God’s flock. My prayer for you my Brother is that God’s fold will come to know you, not as the sheep turned shepherd, but the shepherd in God’s truth, the shepherd that the flock draws near for nurturing and guidance.
Please stand for your charge.
In the words of St. Paul to a young St. Timothy:
“I CHARGE thee therefore before God, And the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall Judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His Kingdom.My brother, preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned to fables. But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry.”
My brother, God bless you richly in your ministry as a priest and take heed to St. James’ teaching: “Let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins.”