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Induction of the Rev. George Westhaver with Holy Communion

David Phillips

St. George’s Round Church Halifax; February 13 AD 2007

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12      St. John 10:1-16

 

I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved,

and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

 

Tonight we are gathered here by God and by our Mother, the Church, for this “celebration of new ministry” of Fr. George Westhaver, which I think many of us hope, will be a continuation of the old ministry – of the ancient ministry of Christian priesthood. 

 

What is that ancient ministry of Christian priesthood, that we hope to see in our midst?

 

In ancient Israel, the priests were spoken of as the shepherds of Israel.  There were no doubt many faithful priests.  Yet often they lost their way.  God confronted them through the prophets for becoming confused and ignorant.  Rather than feeding the flock with words of knowledge, their desire for God was turned instead into a cruel feeding upon the sheep under their care.  Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves…Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed: but ye feed not the flock.   [Ezek. 34:2-3]

 

When our Lord walked this earth in the flesh, it was the Scribes and Pharisees who were the shepherds of Israel.  Jesus saved his greatest condemnation for them – not for their failure to know the details of the law, but for their failure to know the Giver of the Law, because to know God is to love Him and to love His flock committed to their charge.  Woe unto you Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, …ye devour…ye make pretence…blind guides…ye fools and blind…for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in. [Matt. 23]

 

Tonight Jesus tells us that He is the Good Shepherd – the Exemplar of all Christian priests, the one who opens the kingdom:

He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.  He that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.  To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out.  And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice.

 

To understand what Jesus is saying, it’s helpful for us to know how sheep herders did their work in Israel at that time.  A shepherd would have a fenced enclosed area that he would bring the sheep into at night for safety against wild beasts, then in the day he would take them out into pasture so that they might feed.  Sheep would come to know the voice of the shepherd who would lead them out in the morning and bring them back at night.  They followed him, knowing they would be safe. 

 

Jesus says to us, I am the door: (that is, of that safe enclosure) by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.

 

What is this enclosure that Jesus leads us into, and that He is the Door of? 

Surely it is the kingdom of God that is within us, it is that Temple of the Holy Spirit that we are, it is that place where Christ is found in the inner man, it is the seating place of Lady Wisdom [St. Gregory].  And Jesus is the Door of that enclosure; the Holy Spirit, is the porter who leads us to the Door, into all Truth (St. Augustine).

 

And Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  He says: I know my sheep, and am known of mine….they hear my voice.

He leads us there to Himself with His voice to that resting place, wherein is found the well spring of life, the joys of everlasting fruition.  Have we entered into that place?  Do we know it?  Do you desire to enter into it again tonight?

 

George, it is the voice of Jesus that the flock entrusted to your charge long to hear and will recognize when they hear it from you, leading them to go in and out, and find pasture.

 

But will they hear that voice of Jesus from you?

 

St. Paul warns priests in tonight’s Epistle about the passions that would get in the way of speaking that pure and clear voice of Jesus.  He says –

For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness,…nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness.  Uncleanness or lust and covetousness – passions which do arise in our souls and which we must continually be on the watch for and hold in check – there can be no flirtation, no coveting or excessive love of the worldly, or the voice heard will be the voice of deceit.

 

St. Paul also speaks of the passion of vainglory.  He gives special attention to this one, a particular hazard to us priests and preachers given so grave a responsibility and authority and with people listening to us Sunday by Sunday – we know that danger in our souls.

But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts.  For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know,… God is witness:  Nor of men sought we glory, neither of you, nor yet of others, when we might have been burdensome, as the apostles of Christ.

We are not to flee like the hireling from calling people to account when they have been snatched away by the wolf – by Satan – that is, fallen into some grievous sin (Augustine).  We are not to flee painful confrontation, choosing instead to be menpleasers, desiring their adoration, but not really caring for the flock.

 

Of course the call to confront others St. Paul describes is done in great humility and charity: gentle, like a nurse cherisheth her children, or one who both exhorts and comforts like a father with his children.

 

Being aware of our passions and praying for the grace that they may be rightly ordered, prevents us from speaking deceitfully.  But when our passions are in check, will the voice that comes forth from us be Jesus’ voice?

 

Jesus’ voice is in the Scriptures – yet if we would speak it powerfully, we must hear it in our own souls.  Jesus calls us to go in to Him – that we might go in and out and find pasture. 

 

How does this happen?  We want to go in to the kingdom by our own ways, like thieves and robbers.  But we cannot enter in by the force of our intellect, no matter how sharp it is.  Sometimes we think, if we only work hard enough in the parish, we can enter in – but it is not so.

 

St. Peter realized as the Church was growing in Jerusalem that the Apostles could easily become absorbed in the affairs of the Church and no longer hear that voice of Jesus.  In Acts [6:2, 4] he says,

It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables… (so they made provision for deacons)…But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.  And the saying pleased the whole multitude.  (Does this saying please this congregation?)

 

If you as a parish want to hear the pure and clear words of Jesus out of the mouth of your priest, he must have time and make time for prayer apart, and quiet contemplation, so that you may be led also to where he has been, not hypothetically, but truly.  We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen, says Jesus, to Nicodemus, the good willed but blind Pharisee [John 3:11].

 

St. Gregory says –

The Redeemer of mankind in the day time exhibits His miracles in cities, and spends the night in devotion to prayer upon the mountain, namely, that He may teach all perfect preachers, that they should neither entirely leave (!) the active life, from love of the speculative, nor wholly slight the joys of contemplation from excess in working, but in quiet imbibe by contemplation, what in employment they may pour back to their neighbours by word of mouth.  For by contemplation they rise into the love of God, but by preaching they return back to the service of their neighbour.                                                                                     Moralia, Book VI, 56

 

If we would be faithful to our priesthood – the voice of Jesus to His Church, the priesthood must not be wholly subsumed by the work that is properly that of the deaconate. 

 

As a parish you have asked George to serve here, knowing he is in a doctoral program.  I hope a regular agenda item at your parish counsel meetings will be to ask George without resentment, but gladly, lovingly: are you getting sufficient rest for contemplation?  and, how are your studies progressing?

 

By me, if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out and find pasture. 

This is the ancient Christian priesthood to which George is called to in this place.

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But there is something “new” about the priesthood, or at least new since the Reformation, that is, the recovery of the possibility of a married cleric.  And this is good for all sorts of reasons.

 

Jeremy Taylor speaks of Marriage as – the proper scene of piety and patience, of the duty of parents and the charity of relatives; here kindness is spread abroad, and love is united and made firm as a centre: …the state of marriage… hath in it the labour of love, and the delicacies of friendship, the blessing of society, and the union of hands and hearts; … it lies under more burdens [than the single life], but it is supported by all the strengths of love and charity, and those burdens are delightful.  Marriage... exercises many virtues, and promotes the interest of mankind….

 

The married cleric cannot function as if he were a celibate priest.  And the parish cannot make demands on her priest as if he were celibate.  As a parish – many of you will be wanting George to be a hard worker – and he is and wants to be, but it can so easily become a sin – just how hard do you want to be on Karen, and on little Clara, and Charlotte?  How will George teach you about “the labour of love, the delicacies of friendship, the blessings of society, and the union of hands and hearts” if these are not allowed or encouraged to flourish?  Diocesan guidelines now commend that priests take two days off a week.  Perhaps a recognition, maybe even unknowingly, that more time is needed – for the family, and for contemplation. 

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This parish of St. George’s, as it has been built up by its people and past rectors, many of us believe, is one of the jewels in the crown that is the worldwide Anglican Communion.  And we remember especially tonight with deep gratitude the faithful ministry of Fr. Thorne and his family over the past several years.  

 

This parish is vital for the health of the whole Church because its upholds the Prayer Book tradition.  In a time when many in our church would seek to tear itself from its Catholic and Apostolic roots, St. George’s remains a witness to what is the heart of the doctrine and spiritual discipline of the Anglican way.  This parish is glorious for its liturgy and its music; for its faithfulness to the call to minister not just theoretically but very practically in this community in which it rests; it has been a place of mentoring for many priests; and it is a place of intellectual fervor with its connections with the University of King’s College,  Dalhousie University and the Atlantic School of Theology – ties which I’m sure will be strengthened in the years to come. 

 

All of this will continue and will flourish only if you continue to hear the voice of Jesus.

 

May God pour down upon you, George, all the riches of His grace, in your new vocation as Rector of St. George’s.  May God continue to mightily bless this Parish in its ministrations of Christian faith, hope and charity to this neighbourhood and to the whole Church.

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Finally, let us attend in our hearts to the Porter, the Holy Spirit, who will bring before our minds any misgivings; our fears and anxieties; our failures, burdens that our Lord offers to take upon Himself tonight, let us confess them freely, inwardly, to Him.

 

And then, Fr. George, it will be for you to bring before us in the Divine Liturgy the voice of the Good Shepherd – Jesus, who leads us to that Door which is Himself, that we may all go in to partake of Him who is also the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world, and then go out, and find pasture. 

Amen.

 

 

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