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May 2023
Issue No. 314

A sermon for the renewal of ordination vows, Maundy Thursday


In comes the procession through the West Door, with veiled crucifixes and a host of clergy more numerous than any usual service. Three jars of oil stand in the West where the baptismal font is usually found, as queues of priests and bishops flowed around them and towards the East to the sound of the opening hymn, My song is love unknown. The host bowed before the altar, knowing that this would be the last morning before it is stripped for the most solemn Paschal Triduum – it was the morning of Maundy Thursday, 6th April 2023, where the oils of Chrism, catechumens, and the sick are blessed, and where the vows of baptism and of priestly ordination are renewed. 

Such is the tradition of the Church, where on Maundy Thursday, the day when the disciples gathered around Jesus Christ and received a new commandment from him, that the priests of a diocese should gather around their bishop on that morning and receive the blessed oils which will be used in the baptisms, confirmations, consecrations, and anointments in their parish in the coming year. Just as Christ consecrated himself to his Father’s service by establishing the Eucharist, so do priests now gather at the Chrism Eucharist to renew their priestly vows in serving God, and every Christian their baptismal vows.


Preaching on the day was the Right Revd Patrick Yu, previously Suffragan Bishop in the Diocese of Toronto, Canada. 


A sermon for the renewal of ordination vows, Maundy Thursday, 6th April 2023.

1 Samuel 3:1-10, Revelation 1:5b-9, Luke 7:36-50 

Come Holy Spirit, come among us today.
May these human words
Be faithful to your written word of Scripture.
And give glory to the living word, even Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I bring greetings from the bishops & people of Diocese of Toronto.

I also want to express my personal admiration for the church in Hong Kong. You went through 4 difficult years. Yet you stayed with your flock. Through God’s grace and your dedication, YOU SURVIVED! And I believe you will thrive. Thank you and bless you.

This morning you come to renew your commitment. For clergy, this is a renewal of ordination vows. But lay folks can participate as well. All of us are called to serve at our baptism. Ordination is but one calling among many, albeit an important one. 

In today’s readings we meet some interesting people:

We meet Samuel from the OT; and from the Gospel: Simon the Pharisee, the mystery woman, and Jesus himself.

Let us begin with the boy Samuel. Samuel was doing his job, basically as a server, when God called to him. With some help from his mentor, he learned to hear God’s voice.

Notice God did not call him to a life of ministry: his mother chose it for him. It was IN ministry that God called to him, & he heard it. “Speak Lord, your servant is listening.”

Can you recall the moment when you first heard God’s voice?

How did it happen? If you actually hear a voice, don’t be embarrassed. I used to look after assessment of postulants for ministry, in a process called ACPO. We always have a psychiatrist on the team. She told me that she had 3 patients that hear voices. Two of them are crazy, but the other one was completely sane.

How did it happen for you? Was it sudden or gradual, clear or subtle? Was it direct or through other people? Did you first hear it as a call to ministry? Or was it before that, a general and fundamental call to Himself. As God called to Israel “I have called you by name, you are mine.”

I believe that you are here because at some time in your life God called out to you and you heard it, you listened.

Samuel heard God’s voice and heeded it throughout his life. Is that voice still fresh for you, or has it grown faint in the busyness of life, as happens to me all too often. When God’s voice was faint, I became irritable, prideful and competitive. I become cynical, and cynicism is an enemy to ministry.

Today, let me invite you to remember when God’s voice was fresh and strong, I invite you to treasure that memory and revisit it often, and so recognise God’s voice again, especially when ministry is difficult, when life is tough. Write it down in a spiritual journal. With God’s action. Rowan Williams said something interesting when he visited Canada, “Whenever unlikely things happen, The Holy Spirit is lurking around the corner,”

Let us fast forward to Simon the Pharisee. What kind of a man was he? We know he was well informed; he knew the woman by reputation. He also knew about Jesus, this new rabbi in town, what’s he like, is he friend or foe? Simon was curious, he wanted to size Jesus up. What better way then to invite him to dinner and check him out.

Simon invited Jesus, but it was not a social occasion. It was a business dinner. That explains why he did not extend to Jesus the usual courtesy one gives to a guest. He wanted Jesus to know his place. It was like the kind of dinner when your son or daughter brings home their significant other for the first time. I understand that some Chinese parents include a game of Mahjong in the dinner/interview to test their character! It was a dinner alright, but not meant to be fun. 

Let us imagine Simon being with us today. Imagine him as a vicar in HKSKH. Simon would be well educated and disciplined: a Pharisee would be. He would know his stuff, especially his parish, his community. He would keep an eye out for religious leaders who may either help him or challenge him. In other words, Simon would be a successful vicar at the top of his game.

Before retirement I used to ordain four or five priests a year. I heard many ordination sermons. ONE SERMON IMPRESSED ME. A priest’s PROFESSION and a priest’s VOCATION are different, the preacher said. A priest needs to discharge the profession well, but it is more important to cherish the vocation, to cherish and nourish it. As a vicar, Simon would be a successful professional. Yet he may still not recognise the Messiah, so near to him yet so far, because he does not expect him. He is too preoccupied to be a vicar he forgets to be a disciple. You know someone like that, sometimes we can be like that.

Back to the bible. Unlike Simon, Samuel recognised God’s voice. So did the woman. She was a loser to whom Simon would not give the time of day. We do not know what happened in her encounter with Jesus. But we know the outcome. She responded, she forgot herself in expressed her love. She honoured him, she treasured him.

And there was Jesus. Did he scold Simon? Yes, but that is not all he did. He also coached him, he held a mirror up to him, he wanted Simon to see himself in the woman. How did Simon become a pharisee? Was there an incident involving sin and forgiveness? Jesus wanted Simon to reconnect with that first experience of Grace, that word of God’s acceptance. Only then can he extend God’s grace to others. 

Who would you be in that story? Professionally, how do you feel? Do you feel on top of the church game? If you do, I congratulate you. Nothing wrong with that and some days we DO feel like that. Other days we are struggling. If you are, you have my sympathy. Ministry is hard.

But whatever state you find yourself in your profession. I can imagine Jesus calling out to you, “hey, I am here.” I imagine him asking, “do you still know me? Am I still your dinner guest, and you - mine? Can you hear me?” 

Some of you know that I love to promote evangelism. I do this for selfish reasons, partly. When I see in new Christians their excitement, their passion, it rekindles the fire which once burned in my heart, and I am reminded why I do what I do. Otherwise, what is the point of it all?

In a few moments you and I are going to renewal our vows. One part of it is to rededicate ourselves to our profession. Seek excellence in ministry: in pastoral care, parish administration, preaching. Grow your skills! I wish you all success. 

But equally important, if not more so is to renew your VOCATION. Which means literally, heeding God’s call. “Speak Lord, your servant is still listening.”

Make sure you tune in to God’s voice, to visit again that tender part of your soul when you first heard it. Pay attention to the points in your life when you felt him near, maybe just recently. Make it a habit to stop, spend time with Jesus and hear him call: “Come to me, come, my beloved, come as you are, excited or deflated, successful or struggling, come.

I have called you. I still call you. I know you by name, come!”



<The above article was published in "Echo" Issue No. 314. Please click here>


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