June 11, 2011.  One of the most important days of my life.  In a crowded auditorium on the campus of Ball State University in Muncie, IN, I was ordained as an Elder in the United Methodist Church.  Bishop Coyner placed his hands upon my head, was joined by my District Superintendent and two former pastors from my home church, and said, “Take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments and to order the life of the Church; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”  I then received a couple of handshakes, a couple of hugs, and a stole from a pastor who is now serving in a mentor capacity for me.  It was a great ceremony.  My family, friends, people from my home church, people from the three churches in which I had served to that point were all in attendance that day, making it all the more special.  As I reflected on it later, I realized that it was nearly 14 years prior – right around the same time of year – that I first received my call to ministry.  Ordination is a long process.  It is a difficult process, and it was everything that I had been working towards for 14 years of my life.  It was a sacrifice; it still is.

I’m reflecting on my ordination today because as I was doing today’s reading in Leviticus, I’m reminded of the sacrifice of ordination.  In Moses’ time, it was a much different sacrifice.  It was the sacrifice of a bull and a couple of rams that was needed in the first ordination ceremony.  I don’t think people would have responded well to that at my ordination.  The robe was brand new; don’t need to get blood all over it.  But the concept of ordination – setting some apart for the work of God – is something that has been passed down for thousands of years.  Of course, the Reformation reminded us of the priesthood of all believers; letting us know that it’s not completely on the clergy to do the work of ministry, but it is the work of all believers.

The work of ministry can be difficult.  I’m not complaining, mind you, but there are days when pastors wonder why they do what they do.  It’s not easy being in a position where people think it’s all right to criticize everything that you do, even though they don’t have all the information.  It’s not easy organizing a new ministry, or changing hearts and minds for the advancement of the kingdom.  It’s not easy dealing with the week to week crush of putting together another worship service, another sermon, another Bible study, another Sunday school class; fulfilling expectations that you are bedside for every surgery, hospitalization, shut-in, and nursing home patient; following up with every guest that walks through the door; being involved in the community and with other churches.  Trying to keep up with fresh ideas, new ways of looking at things, routine building maintenance, denominational expectations and meetings.  Building up new leaders, staying on top of ineffective ones, pacifying frustrated parishioners who take out their own life disappointments on you.

At the heart of everything is the reminder: ministry is sacrifice.  But it’s also the most rewarding experience in the world.  On the days when the sermon clicks, the youth in the back row are fixated upon your every word, the congregation sings with joy, children and youth run up to you with a smile on their face to tell you about something that happened at school that week, seeing a lightbulb go off, guests are welcomed with open arms, people are smiling and engaged in discussion, the leadership pulls something incredible off – those are the days that make all the sacrifice worth it.  That’s why I do what I do.

Jesus knew a little something about sacrifice as well, didn’t he?  All of this is possible because of the sacrifice that he made on Calvary, and I think, if given the chance, it’s a sacrifice that he would make again because the reward far surpasses the pain.  That’s what ministry is about.  That is why I am proud to be an ordained elder, called to do the work of the kingdom – the messy and the amazing, all at the same time.