The Ordination of Mark Ohlemeier
Pastor George Pejakovich
John 10:11-18

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FIRST OF ALL, I AM DEEPLY HONORED THAT MARK ASKED ME TO DELIVER THE HOMILY ON THIS SPECIAL DAY IN HIS LIFE, WITH THE KIND PERMISSION OF BISHOP MARTIN. I WOULD HAVE THOUGHT HE HAD HEARD ENOUGH FROM ME AFTER SITTING THROUGH ALL THE SERMONS AT GRACE EPISCOPAL CATHEDRAL OVER THE YEARS. DURING HIS TIME AT GRACE, A NUMBER OF PEOPLE, TO INCLUDE OUR DEAN, HEAD VERGER, DEACON, AND MYSELF, SAW IN MARK THE SIGNS OF A DEEP FAITH IN THE LORD, AND A DESIRE TO SERVE GOD. WE ALL TIRED TO ENCOURAGE HIM TO BECOME A DEACON, BUT, LIKE MANY WHO COME TO PURSUE HOLY ORDERS, HE RESISTED AND DECIDED TO BECOME A VERGER. WHILE HE PERFORMED WITH HIS USUAL QUIET COMPETENCE, THE CALL OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WAS WORKING WITHIN HIM, AND HE BEGAN TO ASK QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PROCESS OF ORDINATION. WE WOULD OFTEN SPEND A FEW MINUTES TOGETHER BEFORE OR AFTER WORSHIP CONVERSING, AND I SENSED HIS SPIRIT BECOMING INCREASINGLY OPEN TO THE CALL TO THE PRIESTHOOD. I THINK HE SOUGHT ME OUT BECAUSE I COULD GIVE HIM AN OBJECTIVE VIEW ON THE SUBJECT, BEING LUTHERAN, AS WELL AS MY LONG EXPERIENCE; A NICE WAY OF SAYING “OLD.” ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS I TOLD HIM WAS, “MARK, IT IS A FEARFUL THING TO FALL INTO THE HANDS OF THE LIVING GOD.” NOW, MARK, SEE WHERE IT HAS GOTTEN YOU.

THE GOSPEL TEXT MARK HAS CHOSEN FOR TODAY IS PARTICULARLY APPROPRIATE AND APPRECIATED, SINCE I AM OF THE TRADITION WHICH CALLS ITS CLERGY, PASTOR; SHEPHERD. NOT MANY OF US KNOW MUCH ABOUT SHEPHERDS TODAY, SO LET ME TELL YOU A LITTLE STORY. SOME TWENTY YEARS AGO, I LED A GROUP ON A TOUR OF THE HOLY LAND. WE WERE AT THE CHURCH OF THE BEATITUDES, GATHERED ON THE VERANDA THAT OVERLOOKS THE SEA OF GALILEE AND THE NATURAL AMPHITHEATER WHERE OUR LORD GAVE HIS SERMON ON THE MOUNT. I HAD JUST READ THE BEATITUDES, AND, AS WE WERE MEDITATING, I NOTICED A MOVEMENT DOWN IN THE GRASSY BOWL. A MAN CAME OUT OF A SHEEPFOLD, AND BEGAN TO CALL TO A FLOCK OF SHEEP JUST OUT OF SIGHT. HE CALLED A NAME, AND A SINGLE SHEEP CAME RUNNING TO HIM. AS IT CAME TO HIM, HE RAN HIS HANDS ALL OVER IT, CHECKING FOR INJURIES AND PARASITES. WHEN HE WAS SATISFIED THAT IT WAS ALL RIGHT, HE GAVE IT A LITTLE PUSH BETWEEN HIS LEGS, AND THE SHEEP TROTTED INTO THE SHEEP FOLD. ONE BY ONE, HE CALLED HIS SHEEP BY NAME, CARED FOR EACH ONE, UNTIL ALL WERE SAFELY IN THE FOLD FOR THE EVENING. THAT IS WHAT A SHEPHERD DOES; CARES FOR AND PROTECTS THE SHEEP.

WHEN THIS TEXT CAME AROUND IN THE LECTIONARY, I TOLD THIS LITTLE STORY TO THE CONGREGATION I SERVED IN GERMANY, BUT I ADDED THAT THERE IS ONLY ONE TRUE SHEPHERD, AND WE CLERGY ARE SHEPHERD’S ASSISTANTS, REALLY MUCH LIKE SHEEP DOGS. WE TRY TO KEEP OUR EYES ON THE SHEPHERD, FOLLOW HIS LEAD, AND NUDGE THE SHEEP WHERE THE SHEPHERD WANTS THEM TO GO. SOMETIMES WE EVEN HAVE TO SHOW OUR TEETH A BIT TO GET A SHEEP MOVING. THE FOLLOWNG WEEKEND, I WAS THE CHAPLAIN FOR A WOMAN’S CONFERENCE ATTENDED BY A GROUP FROM OUR CONGREGATION. ON A FREE AFTERNOON, I TOOK A GROUP TO SALZBURG. AFTER PARKING MY VW BUS, THE WOMEN SAID THEY WANTED TO SEE MOZART’S BIRTHPLACE. I KNEW THE WAY, SO I SAID, “FOLLOW ME,” AND STARTED WALKING. AFTER A FEW STEPS I HEARD BEHIND ME, “BAA, BAA, BAA, BAA.” I TURNED AND SAW THE WOMEN BUNCHED UP LIKE A FLOCK OF SHEEP FOLLOWING THEIR SHEPHERD THROUGH THE STREETS OF SALZBURG. WE GOT SOME STRANGE LOOKS.

THE IMAGE OF THE SHEPHERD HAD LONG BEEN A KEY PART OF ISRAEL’S UNDERSTANDING OF THEIR RELATION TO GOD. GOD WAS THE CHIEF SHEPHERD OF ISRAEL, AS NOTED IN THE 23RD PSALM. THE KINGS, PROPHETS, AND PRIESTS WERE CONSIDERED THE UNDERSHEPHERDS OF ISRAEL, AND SOME DID WELL AS OTHERS DID TERRIBLY. WHEN JESUS SAID, “I AM THE GOOD SHEPHERD,” HE MUST HAVE SHOCKED HIS LISTENERS. HIS USE OF THE PHRASE, “I AM,” YAHWEH, THE NAME OF GOD, IS NOT WHAT A DEVOUT JEW WOULD HAVE SAID. HE ESSENTIALLY SAID THAT HE, THE GOD OF ISRAEL, IS NOW IN YOUR MIDST, AND THINGS ARE GOING TO BE DIFFERENT. WE NO LONGER HAVE TO RELY ON THE FAILURES OF THE WEAK AND COWARDLY WHO WERE SUPPOSED TO HAVE PROTECTED THE FLOCK, BUT LOOKED AFTER THEIR OWN INTERESTS. THE TRUE SHPHERD WHO OWNS THE FLOCK HAS COME, AND HE KNOWS HIS SHEEP BY NAME, AND HIS OWN KNOW HIM. THERE WILL BE ONE FLOCK AND HE WILL BE THE ONE SHEPHERD.

YET, THERE WILL BE A COST TO THIS; IT WILL COST HIM HIS LIFE. HE WILL LAY DOWN HIS LIFE FOR HIS SHEEP, WILLINGLY OF HIS OWN ACCORD, AND TAKE IT UP AGAIN. IN HIS WILLINGGNESS TO DIE FOR THE SAKE OF HIS SHEEP, HE SHOWS THE LOVE HE HAS FOR THOSE HE CALLS HIS OWN, WHO KNOW HIM FOR WHO HE IS, AND HIS LOVE FOR THEM IS THE LOVE THE FATHER IN HEAVEN HAS FOR HIM.

THIS IS A JOYOUS DAY FOR MARK AND HIS FAMILY, AND WE ALL CELEBRATE WITH HIM AND ALL THOSE WHO LOVE HIM. YET, THERE WILL BE A COST TO ALL THIS AND THE CALL TO WHICH MARK HAS RESPONDED. THE HOLY SPIRIT HAS TOUCHED HIM AND EQUIPED HIM FOR THE MINISTRY HE IS ABOUT TO UNDERTAKE; THE SERAPH HAS PRESSED THE BURNING COAL FROM THE ALTAR OF GOD TO HIS LIPS, AND NOW, HE WILL BE CALLED TO SPEAK FOR THE LORD. AS I TELL MY HOMILETICS STUDENTS, IF THIS DOESN’T SCARE YOU, THEN YOU HAVE NO IDEA OF WHAT YOU ARE DOING. THERE WILL BE A COST TO BEING A PRIEST OF GOD, FOR, ALTHOUGH YOU WILL BE FRIENDLY TO ALL, YOU REALLY CAN’T BE A FRIEND TO ANY AS THEIR UNDERSHEPHERD; THEY NEED A PASTOR NOT A BUDDY. THERE WILL BE A COST TO YOUR FAMILY, AS THE DEMANDS AND NEEDS OF OTHERS WILL TAKE A TOLE ON THE TIME YOU CAN SHARE WITH CHRISTY AND HANNAH. THERE WILL BE A COST TO YOU PERSONNALY, AS YOU WILL BE BURDENED WITH THE KNOWLEDGE OF THINGS YOU CAN’T SHARE WITH ANYONE BUT GOD. YOU CAN’T JUDGE ANYONE, BUT EVERYTHING YOU DO WILL BE SUBJECT TO THE JUDGMENT OF OTHERS, AND OTHERS WILL JUDGE YOU OFTEN UNFAIRLY. YOUR LIFE WILL NO LONGER BE YOUR OWN, FOR NOW YOU WILL LIVE FOR THE SHEEP THE LORD HAS GIVEN YOU TO TEND. IT IS A FEARFUL THING TO FALL INTO THE HANDS OF THE LIVING GOD, YET THERE IS A UNSURPASSING JOY IN THE SERVICE OF GOD.

IT IS CUSTOMARY FOR THE OLD ONE PREACHING THE ORDINATION SERMON TO GIVE A CHARGE TO THE ONE ABOUT TO TAKE UP HOLY ORDERS, SO, MARK, PLEASE STAND.

YOUR TASK, HENCEFORTH, UNTIL THE LORD CALLS YOU HOME, IS TO CARE FOR HIS SHEEP. THEY ARE NOT YOURS, THEY BELONG TO GOD, SO ALL THAT YOU DO YOU WILL DO IN THE NAME OF OUR LORD JESUS. COMFORT THE AFFLICTED, AND DO NOT HESITATE TO AFFLICT THE COMFORTABLE WITH GENTLE REMINDERS OF TO WHOM THEY BELONG, AND OF WHAT HE EXPECTS OF THEM. NEVER CEASE TO STUDY AND DELVE INTO THE WORD OF GOD, FOR THE HOLY SPIRIT WILL SHOW YOU SOMETHING NEW IN THE SCRIPTURES EVERY TIME YOU MEDITATE ON THEM. TEACH FROM THE HOLY SCRIPTURES WITH LOVE, AND NEVER BE AFRAID TO CHALLENGE THOSE YOU TEACH. WHEN YOU PREACH, REMEMBER YOU ARE SPEAKING FOR GOD, SO PREACH THE GOSPEL IN ALL ITS PURITY, EVEN WHEN WHAT YOU MUST PREACH IS UNCOMFORTABLE, FOR YOUR COMFORT IS NEVER IMPORTANT. NEVER HESITATE TO ACT WHEN YOU ARE CALLED TO DO SO; SURE, YOU MIGHT SCREW UP FROM TIME TO TIME, BUT, AS LUTHER SAID, “LOVE GOD AND SIN BOLDLY.” IF YOU ARE DOING IT ALL YOURSELF, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. YOU ARE TO BUILD UP THE BODY OF CHRIST SO IT CAN DO THE WORK OF THE CHURCH. RESPECT AND HONOR THOSE PLACED IN AUTHORITY OVER YOU, SO THAT IN ALL THINGS YOU WILL PROMOTE THE BODY’S GROWTH IN BUILDING ITSELF UP IN LOVE. PRAY UNCEASINGLY; IT WILL KEEP YOU FOCUSED AND SANE. LASTLY, FIND YOURSELF A CONFESSOR, NOT FROM THE CONGREGATION YOU SERVE, OR EVEN IN YOUR DIOSCESE; YOU WILL NEED A SAFE EAR AND WISE COUNSEL MORE THAN YOU THINK.

MY BROTHER, MARK, I THANK YOU AGAIN FOR ALLOWING ME, AND ALL OF US AT GRACE CATHEDRAL, TO BE A PART OF YOUR JOURNEY THUS FAR. AS THE STOLE IS LAID UPON YOUR SHOULDERS, LET ITS LIGHTNESS EVER REMIND YOU OF BOTH THE BURDENS OF YOUR OFFICE AND THE LOVE AND PRAYERS THAT YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN CHRIST WILL CONTINUE TO LIFT UP TO THE LORD GOD FOR YOU. MAY THE BLESSING OF GOD THE FATHER, AND THE SON, AND THE HOLY SPIRIT BE WITH YOU THIS DAY AND FOREVER MORE. AMEN.