Called to Ministry

priesthood of all believersMark 6:6b-13 NRSV

I think we sometimes need to be reminded of the peculiar way that the Kingdom of God was started in this world, to be reminded how Jesus began his ministry on this earth ushering in the reign of God. Did he, as the Son of the Most High, the Alpha and the Omega, the eternal Word who became flesh, the one through all things came into being and the Messiah of the world, do it all by himself?

He certainly could have. But instead, he goes out, finds, and calls together a group of some of the most ordinary people in the world to do get the Kingdom started. And not only were they very ordinary, they were also very imperfect. They stumble, fumble and bumble behind Jesus proving over and over that they have very little idea of who Jesus was and where Jesus was taking them. Yet, this is how our God works in our world. It is the way God has always worked.

In Genesis, we read that God creates the world: mountains and seas; valleys and streams; every animal, every living thing in the water, in the air and on the land; the sun, moon, stars and all that lies beyond. Then, God creates human beings, gives them a garden, telling them to look after it and tend to it.

It is as if God says, “I’ve enjoyed creating all the beauty and order in this world. Of course, I could take care of it all myself, but I want to see you do it.”

Likewise, Jesus comes into the world making all things new, creating, recreating, reordering; ushering in the Kingdom of God. He touches and heals, welcomes and includes, defends and forgives, turns water into a lot of wine and a small basket of food into a great feast, all as a sign of that Kingdom. He redeems and restores the lives of the lost, the poor and the marginalized. And he chastises judgmental religion and exorcises demonic forces.

And then it is as if he says, “I’ve enjoyed doing the holy work of God, demonstrating the reality of God’s reign, now let’s see you do it for yourselves. Now, it is your turn as I am now going to commission you to do my work in the world.”

Today’s scripture lesson is this commissioning. I believe it is very important to notice here that Jesus sends them out to do exactly what he himself does: to preach, teach, heal, and to point out and to overcome evil.  The point is that our Messiah does not work alone. Jesus did not come into the world to accomplish his goals of God by himself, but calls very ordinary people to share in his work.

I think we sometimes overlook what a peculiar way this is to start the reign of God on this earth. Jesus chooses people who, as far as we can tell in Mark’s Gospel, have no apparent qualifications to be leading God’s new order. Their only qualification is that they are chosen and commissioned by Christ. And that is enough.

Since I have been your pastor, I have been talking about the need for every member of this church to join or start a ministry team. Before we can this successfully, it is imperative for us to recognize this fundamental truth about who God is, how God acts and what God desires in this world. Our God does not work alone. Our God is in the business of calling disciples, calling ordinary folks like me and you, and commissioning them to be his ministers in this world.

It’s important for you to realize that I am not the only minister in this church. All of you are ministers—those to whom Jesus has delegated the work of God. As your pastor, I’m not the one who does all the ministry. My job as pastor at best is a coordinator, and an encourager and an equipper of you, the ministers.

Someone came up to me this week and said, “Jarrett, as our minister, you come and pray for us when we have surgery, but who comes and prays for you when you have surgery?” I said, “I’m lucky, for I have an entire congregation of ministers who pray for me.” But then, we are all really that lucky, aren’t we?

Master preacher Barbara Brown Taylor has written a wonderful meditation on ordination and preaching, stressing the importance of the preaching of all Christians.  It’s called The Preaching Life.  In it, she writes:

“Somewhere along the way we have misplaced the ancient vision of the church as a priestly people—set apart for ministry in baptism, confirmed and strengthened in worship, made manifest in service to the world. That vision is a foreign one to many church members, who have learned from colloquial usage that minister means the ‘ordained person,’ in a congregation, while lay person means ‘someone who does not engage in full-time ministry.’ Professionally speaking that is fair enough—but speaking ecclesiastically, it is a disaster. Language like that turns clergy into purveyors of religion, and lay persons into consumers, who shop around for the church that offers them the best product.”

Taylor writes of the need to revive Martin Luther’s vision of the priesthood of all believers, who are ordained by God at baptism to share Christ’s ministry in this world.

All we have to do is sit down and study he scriptures to understand that this is just how our God works in this world. Nowhere in the scriptures do we find God saying, “Go into the world and make nice Christians out of people. Bring them into the church so they can sing some hymns, pray and listen to a sermon that will make them feel like they are good, religious, moral people. Form a type of club. Hire a full-time club president to be there for the club members. His or her job will be to hold their hands and pray for them if they ever have to go to the hospital, visit them when they are sick, counsel them when they are anxious, marry them when they fall in love, and bury them when they die.

No, what we do find in scriptures is Jesus instructing us to go forth into the world and make disciples. And what do disciples do? Sit on a pew every Sunday? Sing, pray, try to be good, moral people? No, they do what Jesus did. They preach and they teach. They welcome and they include. They accept and they forgive. They clothe and they feed. They heal and they stand against evil and injustice.

But you say, “I can’t do those things. I can’t preach. That’s why we call you “preacher!” That’s why we pay you!”

Barbara Brown Taylor continues writing: “While preaching and celebrating the sacraments are two particular functions to which I was ordained, they are also metaphors for the whole church’s understanding of life and faith…Preaching is not something that an ordained minister does for 15 minutes on Sundays, but what the whole congregation does all week long; it is a way of approaching the world, and of gleaning God’s presence there.”

Many of you preach every week, and you don’t even realize it.

Caroline wanted me to share a story with you this morning. After Madelyn was born, Madelyn had to spend some time in the NICU, a place that always gives new parents great anxiety.

When I came to the hospital to visit them, I prayed with Caroline and Michael for God to work through the doctors and nurses, antibiotics, and the prayers of the church to bring Madelyn healing so she could leave the NICU and be reunited with her parents. Caroline said that just moments after I left, they brought Madelyn to her room. She said that it was a testimony that prayer works.

However, it was not just the prayers of their professional clergy-person that were heard and answered at that moment. But they were the prayers of Michael and Caroline, and they were the prayers of many of you, their ministers, that were answered.. And today, through a service a dedication, each one of you have committed your selves publicly before God, to be Madelyn’s ministers, to love her as Jesus loves her.

We are all ministers, preachers; and whether or not your realize it or not, some of you have been preaching all week.

Anthony Reiff, Sara Banks and Lauren Perry have been preaching every day this week in Tennessee with hammers and nails and screws and saws, doing home repairs for some of the most impoverished people in our country.

One of you proclaimed the gospel this week by visiting someone who is confined to a bed in the nursing home. You are of no relation to her. She has never been able and will probably never be able to give anything to you. Yet, you graciously and compassionately and regularly give yourself to her.

One of you just lost a brother and a sister, and you have not been in the best health yourself. Yet, you preached a fine sermon this week by giving your whole day to sit with someone who is recovering from a debilitating stroke.

Although you do not get paid by your employer to preach, some of you preach every day at work and at home. You preach a sermon of unrestricted grace to a co-worker, a sermon of unconditional love to a customer, a sermon of undeniable hope to a friend, to a neighbor, even to a stranger.

And many you preach sermons of unwavering devotion to the entire creation every time you recycle or care for an animal or pet.

And a couple of you preached a sermon of extraordinary compassion this week when you brought a pair of crutches to the Surgicenter for someone who hardly know, and, although you live a couple of towns a way, brought an icepack machine later that day to his home.

And many more of you; although you had other places to go, other things to do, some even felt like staying home, got up this morning to come to this place of worship. You didn’t know it, but your smile this morning made someone else smile. The handshake that you offered was heartfelt. The hug you gave was sorely needed. Your simple words of greeting brought someone encouragement and another peace.

And when you were asked to love and support a tiny baby, whom you may have never before seen, when you were asked to promise to be ministers to parents, whom some of you do not know, you did not hesitate to stand this morning and pledge your love.

Mark’s gospel teaches us when you do all these things in the name of Jesus, then you are ministering. Yes, I’m happy to say that some of First Christian Church’s best preaching does not come from this pulpit on Sunday mornings. But it comes from the people in the pews who have answered their calling to be ministers every day of the week.

Jesus is calling. He is calling ordinary people like me and you everyday to do ministry. Where has Jesus called you to ministry?  What is the work you are equipped and called to do? There is perhaps no more important question. For it is simply the way our God works, the way God has always worked in this world.

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