Sunday, July 7, 2019

4 Pentecost


July 7, 2019

Luke 10.1-11, 16-20

+ Since I had a few days off this week, I was driving quite a bit. And, like many of you, when I drive, I think. I think a lot. And I was thinking about the fact that, for most of my entire career as a priest, I have always felt like an outsider. Outside the norm in the larger Church.

It seems my entire ministry, for the most part, has been a ministry under rebellion of some sort.

I know that might sound romantic and all. But it really isn’t.

I can say this: things are changing.  I can say that I am legitimately hopeful for our future here in the Diocese of North Dakota. I feel in my bones that a new age is about to dawn.  It’s a new era.

But…I still have to say this. I don’t really know how to be a priest in a new era. I have been THAT priest for so long—that rebel priest, that upstart priest, that priest who swam consistently against the stream.  That lone wolf priest.

It’s going to be strange and different to not be THAT priest anymore.  I’ll confess—and I am somewhat ashamed to do so—but I have gotten used to being the lone wolf. And not just me. All of us who do ministry here—all of you. All of us who do ministry here—and we are all doing ministry here at St. Stephen’s—might find ourselves susceptible to this “lone wolf” ministry.

Lone wolf ministry can be very dangerous behavior.  We really shouldn’t do ministry and be a lone wolf.  Doing ministry means doing it together.  And I know: my saying just that I am sounding kinda like a hypocrite here.

For any of you who know me and worked with me for any period of time, you know I’ve just done lone wolf behavior about many things.

Some may call it lone wolf.  I guess I always called it being independent.   Or maybe, sometimes, just impatient. Things have to get done after all.  And, when they do, you know, I’ll just do it. But, being a lone wolf is not a good thing.

In the Church it is never a good thing to be a lone wolf.  None of us can do ministry alone.  We all need to admit that we need each other to do effective ministry. And sometimes even the lone wolf admits that simple fact: I can’t do this alone.  The lone wolf sometimes has to seek help from others.

Ultimately, the lone wolf can be a bad thing for the church for another reason though.  Lone wolves can easily be led down that ugly, slippery slope of believing, at some point, that  it’s all about them. Now, I want to make clear: I never have believed that anything is about just me.  I despise that kind of thinking in myself.

For all my lone wolf tendencies, I have a pretty good support system around me—people who will very quickly tell me when they think I might be heading down that slippery egocentric slope.  And I have done the same with some of you who have done just that as well.

There is, after all, a difference, I have discovered between “lone wolf” behavior and ego-centric, it’s-all-about-me, I-don’t-need-anyone’s-help behavior.  And as you all know, I have no problem asking your advice and your opinions on anything before some of the things I’ve done as the priest of St. Stephen’s.  I might not necessarily heed those suggestions. But I appreciate them, and they are, for the most part, helpful.

But, I have known too many church leaders who have not had a support system like mine.  I have known too many church leaders who have  made it clear to me that it was because of them—because their winning personality, or their knowledge of church growth, or their years of expertise—that a particular congregation flourished.

It’s an unfortunate trap leaders in the Church fall into when they believe that a congregation’s success depends on them as individuals and their own abilities of ministry—and, mind you, I am not just talking about priests here. Lay leaders in the Church have fallen into this trap as well. I have known some of those lay leaders as well, trust me.   Maybe to some extent it’s true.  Maybe some people do have the personality and the winning combination in themselves to do it.  

But for those who may have that kind of natural personality, I still have to admit: it all  makes me wary.  It’s just too slippery of a slope. We are dealing with similar personalities in today’s Gospel.

In our Gospel reading for today, those seventy that Jesus chose and sent out come back amazed by the gift of blessing God had granted to them and their personalities.  They exclaim, “Lord, in your name even the demons submit to us!” In and of its self, that’s certainly not a bad thing to say.  It’s a simple expression of amazement.   

But Jesus—in that way that Jesus does—puts them very quickly in their place.   He tells them,

“do not rejoice in these gifts, but rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.”

Or to be more blunt, he is saying rejoice not in yourselves and the things you can do with God’s help, but rejoice rather in God.  The burden of bringing about the Kingdom of God shouldn’t be solely the individual responsibly of any one of us.  

Even Jesus made that clear for himself.  Just imagine that stress in having to bring that about.  

Bringing the Kingdom of God into our midst is the responsibility of all of us together.   It is the responsibility of those who have the personality to bring people on board and it is the responsibility of those of us who do not have that winning personality.

For those of us who do not have that kind of personality, it is our responsibility to bring the Kingdom about in our own ways.  We do so simply by living out our Christian commitment.

As baptized followers of Jesus, we bring the Kingdom into our midst simply: By Love.  We do it by loving God and loving each other as God loves us in whatever ways we can in our lives.  Bringing the Kingdom of God about in our midst involves more than just preaching from a pulpit or attending church on Sunday.  Spreading the Kingdom of God is more than just preaching on street corners or knocking on the doors. 

It means living it out in our actions as well.  It means living out our faith in our every day life.  It means loving God and each other as completely as we can.

But it does not mean loving ourselves to the exclusion of everything of else.  It means using whatever gifts we have received from God to bring the Kingdom a bit closer.  

These gifts—of our personality, of our vision of the world around us, of our convictions and beliefs on certain issues—are what we can use.  It means not letting our personalities—no matter how magnetic and appealing they might be—to get in the way of following Jesus.

Our eyes need to be on God.

We can’t be doing that when we’re busy preening in the mirror, praising ourselves for all God does to us and through us.    The Church does not exist for own our personal use.   If we think the Church is there so we can get some nice little pat on the back for all  the good we’re doing, or as an easy way to get us into heaven when we die, then we’re in the wrong place.  And we’re doing good for the wrong intention. The Church exists for God AND us.   

The Church is ideally-at its very best—the conduit through which the Kingdom of God comes into our midst. And it will come into our midst, with or without me as individual.

But it will comes into our midst through as us.

All of us.

Together.  

The Church is our way of coming alongside Jesus in his ministry to the world.

In a very real sense, the Church is our way to be the hands, the feet, the voice, the compassion, the love of God to this world and to each other.  But it’s all of us.

Not just me.

Not just you as an individual.

It’s all of us.

Together.

Working together.

Loving together.

Serving together.

And giving God the ultimate credit again and again.

Hopefully, in doing that, we do receive some consolation ourselves.   Hopefully in doing that, we in turn receive the compassion and love of God in our own lives as well.

But if we are here purely for our own well-being and not for the well-being of others, than it is does become only about us and not about God.   And in those moments, we are sounding very much like those 70 who come back to Jesus exclaiming, “look at what we have done!”

The message of today’s Gospel is that it must always be about God.  It must always be about helping that Kingdom of God break through into this selfish world of huge egos. It means realizing that when we are not doing it for God, we have lost track of what we’re doing. We have lost sight of who we are following.

So, let us—together—be the hands, the feet, the voice, the compassion and the love of God in the world around us. Like those 70, let us be amazed at what we can do in Jesus’ name.

But more importantly let us rejoice!

Rejoice!

Rejoice this morning!

Rejoice in the fact that your name, that my name—that our names are written at this moment in heaven.




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