Summary: Ordination sermon for Victor Oke. Do not nail down peer group approval; nail down the promises of God to strengthen, help, and uphold you in ministry.
“Who has roused a victor from the east, summoned him to his service?” Brother Oke, I warned you a month ago, at the ordination service for Gloria Grant, that I would probably use your name as the basis for your ordination message. The name “Victor” is so full of spiritual possibility! And so, here it is, right there in Isaiah – or, since you have been to seminary, you will understand it when I call him Deutero-Isaiah – there it is, plain as can be, “Who has roused a victor from the east?” Nigeria is eastward from here, isn’t it?
In the profession you are about to enter, you will want victory. You will need victory. You will hunger and thirst for victory. But all too often it will be elusive. All too often it will slip through your fingers. In this ministry, you will want to win. You will want success. If you serve a church, you will want it to grow. If you serve in a chaplaincy or counseling role, you will want to see your clients improve. If you serve in missions, you will want to see hearts won over and lives changed. You do not want to engage in ministry and feel defeat. You want to be a victor.
But guess what? If you want victory so badly that you can taste it, you will face serious temptation. You will be tempted to think that if victory does come, it’s all about you and your gifts and your hard work. You will start to congratulate yourself on your preaching, your energies, your this, your that. You will think that victory is all about you.
And if victory does not come, if success, however you measure it, does not follow you, you will once again be tempted to think that it’s all about you. Your failures, your mistakes. You will start to blame yourself for missing this cue and for not ratcheting up that sermon, for not reading this book and for not handling that situation. You will think that victory or failure, whatever comes, is all about you.
And if you do either of these things, you will have missed the point. You will have lost the vision. For the vision about victory is this, again: “Who has roused a victor from the east, summoned him to his service?” The answer to the question is: God. It’s about God and not about you. It’s about what God chooses to give, it’s about how God measures victory, and not about what you want to be or about the world’s measure of success. I cannot improve on what the prophet says in this chapter, answering his own question, “Who has roused a victor from the east?” The prophet’s answer is: God delivers, God pursues, God performs, God does. “I, the Lord, am first, and will be with the last.”
Does that mean that ministry is done, just you and the Lord, all alone against the world? Does this mean that only you know what is right, only you know what to do under God? Am I going to give you license to be a lone wolf, who needs no one else in order to succeed? No, because Isaiah does go on to describe one worker helping another, and together they think they are creating something permanent and durable. Did you catch it? Isaiah’s picture is of craftsmen at work, and they are helping one another get the job done. “Each one helps the other, saying to one another, ‘Take courage’”. Sounds good, doesn’t it? Peer support. Isaiah gets specific: “The artisan encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil.” Nothing wrong with that. We do need each other. And then this bottom line – as they work, whatever it is they are making – and one is surely tempted to suspect it is some sort of idol – whatever they are making, “they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.” Oh, now there is a picture of success and victory, right? Something so solid that at the end it is nailed down so that it cannot be moved. Is that victory? Is that success? To have worked with your colleagues, helping one another, so that what you have made is nailed down and cannot be moved?
Brothers and sisters, a long time ago I saw something that is, I think, truly damaging to the Kingdom. I want to pass along an observation to Victor Oke and to each of you. I saw a long time ago that the real educator for many ministers is not the seminary, not the classroom, not the theologian, and not even the Bible. I discovered that the real guide for many ministers is the peer group. It is that band of brothers and sisters whose approval so many of us seem to need. Because we come at our profession, too many of us, as deficit people, as people who need to be needed and need to be approved, we fall into the trap of doing what pleases the peer group. We do not follow what we know, we do not grasp what is truth for us; we do not claim the victory that God wants to give us, because we are so busy claiming the approval of others.