St. Luke the Evangelist, Clergy Day, St. Paul’s Church, Murfreesboro

“As for me, I am already being poured out as a libation” (2 Tim. 4:6).

It’s appropriate that our readings for the Feast of St. Luke the Evangelist today bear so directly on the nature of pastoral ministry and the Christian calling. It’s good that we gather today in the shadow of the great Evangelist Luke, author of the “orderly account” that we call Luke’s Gospel, as well as the Acts of the Apostles that chronicle the life of the early Church. Someone wrote somewhere that we are still the early Christians, and therein lies the invitation for us to see the life of our particular Church as continuous with that of the first Christians, and the ministries of St. Luke and others.

St. Paul’s words in our Epistle this morning are an attempt, I think, to answer his own exhortation to Timothy in the previous verse: “carry out your ministry fully” (2 Tim. 4:5). Timothy has already heard from the Apostle, earlier in the letter, that he is to “proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). He’s heard that he is to do the work of an evangelist in sharing the Good News, and that he will endure suffering. But beyond all that, he is to accomplish or fulfill his ministry, to carry it out fully.

We might come up with many definitions of what that means. Our ministries are diverse by their nature, and their very diversity is a source of strength. Preaching, pastoring (which is multi-dimensional on its own), administering, and so forth, can all be filed under the heading of leadership. Fulfilling our ministries as baptized persons surely requires that we answer the call to leadership in the church without flinching. Remember that the definition of leadership also requires sharing leadership with others in appropriate ways without denying our own calling; it requires raising up new leaders so that the church’s ministry can move forward into the future.

The Apostle’s words to St. Timothy on this feast remind us that a basic component of ministry is sacrifice. No sooner does Paul exhort Timothy to fulfill his ministry than he moves forward to his own offering of himself. To be poured out as a libation is sacrificial language, used here by St. Paul in terms that recall the drink offerings under the Old Covenant. It even goes back to the drink offering that Jacob poured forth on the pillar of stone that he had set up at Bethel, to commemorate the place where God had spoken with him (Gen. 35:14). God makes covenant with us, calling us to new life. For Paul, the covenant no longer required sacrificial offerings of food or drink, but it did entail the sacrifice of self, the offering of “ourselves, our souls and bodies,” in the words of the liturgy.

As we celebrate the Eucharist today, we remember that all sacrifice, every libation of self, is rooted in the passion and death of Christ himself. “Although we are unworthy, through our manifold sins, to offer unto thee any sacrifice”: words that are sure and certain. We do not have within ourselves the stuff of sacrifice: only Christ himself can offer himself for the healing of the world. When we preach, in the words of that great preacher Fleming Rutledge, we should remember that preaching is “embracing the suffering, naming it, and emplotting it in the great cosmic drama of redemption” that is Christ’s own. This is the Paschal Mystery of his saving death and resurrection. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we have nothing in our hands to offer that is not the offering of Christ himself, the One who presides at every Eucharist.

As Augustine preached to his North African congregation: “If you, therefore, are Christ's body and members, it is your own mystery that is placed on the Lord's table! It is your own mystery that you are receiving! You are saying "Amen" to what you are: your response is a personal signature, affirming your faith. When you hear "The body of Christ", you reply "Amen." Be a member of Christ's body, then, so that your "Amen" may ring true!” (Sermo 276).

It is possible to talk about sacrifice in terms that are glib or sentimental, trivializing the meaning of sacrifice; or even inappropriate, as we talk about the sacrifice of others. There’s no doubt about that. But I think that this is a risk worth taking today, because there is an even greater danger that by failing to recognize that ministry is rooted in sacrifice, Christ’s own and our sharing in it, we run the risk of forgetting what ministry is and how it is fulfilled.

St. Paul ends with recalling for Timothy and for us the hope of the Gospel, and that’s where we’ll end too. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. From now on there is reserved for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will give to me on that day, and not only to me but also to all who have longed for his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:7-8).

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee