DISCLAIMER: I believe sermons are meant to be heard. They are the word proclaimed in a live exchange between God and the preacher, and the preacher and God, and the preacher and the people, and the people and the preacher, and the people and God, and God and the people. Typically set in the context of worship and always following the reading of scripture, sermons are about listening and speaking and hearing and heeding. At the risk of stepping outside such boundaries, I share sermons here — where the reader will have to wade through a manuscript that was created to be spoken word. Even if you don’t know the sound of my voice, let yourself hear as you read. Let your mind see as you hear. Let your life be opened to whatever response you begin to hear within you.
May the Spirit Speak to you!
A sermon for a 8 March 2015 PCUSA Service of Installation
Inspired by: Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 (and Mark 6:6b-13)
A reading from the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Chapter 4:9-12 (NRSV). Listen for God’s word to us. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up the other; but woe to one who is alone and falls and does not have another to help. Again, if two lie together, they keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one might prevail against another, two will withstand one. A threefold cord is not quickly broken.” This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
As we’re gathered here on this great day for a wonderful celebration of officially binding you all with your new associate pastor, that popular television series from a few years back springs to mind. Ok, it actually was from several decades ago, and folks around my age grew up on its re-runs. I wonder if you know it. Set in the American Wild West, it featured this tall, handsome man. I remember him always in white – though that might be because televisions didn’t come in color in those days. We’re talking a LONG time ago! He did have a pop of color in that mysterious black mask, which I guess was all he needed to keep his real identity in disguise. Always our hero, that man could make us swoon all the while riding his incredible horse Silver. Any villain better watch out with him on their tail. And if he couldn’t wrangle ‘em in himself, his trusty Native American side-kick always came through. . . . You know who I’m talking about, right? . . . An enduring American icon, he’s been hailed, this fictional character – who just might be responsible for wreaking a lot more psychological havoc in our country than we realize. That infamous, amazing Lone Ranger.
They did their best to portray him as one who kept to himself and always could handle it all on his own – after all, he was the Lone Ranger. At the same time, they always had Tonto and Silver in on it. Even if he was one of the last American Texas Rangers, he never was alone. In fact, sometimes it seemed the whole point of the show was that Silver and Tonto always had to appear out of nowhere to help him save the day – at least that’s the way it still plays out in my memory. Could it be that the title of the show really was one of those tongue-in-cheek, ironic twists many of us never caught? Hmm: that might make a very intriguing in-depth study if any are interested in righting the prevalence of our overly-individualistic ways – even in the church. . . . Well, thanks to Nolan’s exam on the floor of the Presbytery meeting, we know he’s more of a space guy than a Wild West nut. So maybe he doesn’t have a clue about any of this. Hopefully no one here is going to see him racing off all on his own trying to save the day. Knowing his kind heart the impulse might be there. But based upon his deep commitment to relational ministry, I’m hoping none of us are going to have to come around here to remind him to get off his high Silver horse because there are no Lone Rangers in ministry!
If you don’t believe it from the example of the Triune God we meet in Jesus, then look to the wisdom of Ecclesiastes. Now, I’m not about to claim evidence for the Trinity here in the wisdom scriptures. But what a beautiful image of two united. One plus another coming together to equal incredible strength. Maybe that’s exactly why Jesus sends out his first followers in pairs as we hear in the gospel of Mark, chapter 6. One cannot go it on their own. Literally, I can’t imagine anyone traveling alone from town to town in ancient Galilee. The walk could have been deadly by yourself and it would have been easy to dismiss a single individual trying to heal and teach and proclaim a new way of life all on their own. Even at the start, committees of one had no place in Christianity! . . . Something happens, doesn’t it, when two come together. When we’re really united – committed to being together and working together. Sticking with one another through whatever tragedy befalls, whatever conundrum arises, whatever force attacks. Together like that: an energy is born. The bond grows stronger. All things become possible. In fact, everything gets better. Just think about it. Here you’ve had Mary Louise for a few years now and as a congregation I’m sure you have grown from her gracious heart. Her wise leadership, her creative spark, and her ability to listen deeply. And now Nolan joins the team bringing his gifts of a deep appreciation for music, a passion for hospitality, and a great love of the whole cosmos. It means twice as many gifts in your pastoral leadership – two times the wisdom, compassion, creativity, and generosity. But don’t think it’s just about the two of them coming together as your ordained pastoral leaders to be about the ministry. Sure, they’ll have to learn each other’s ways and figure out how best to do this Head of Staff and Generalist Associate Pastor thing. But you as a congregation are in on it too. They are here to ensure the table is set well for you to be nourished, so that together you all can go about healing and teaching and proclaiming a new way of living all throughout this world.
It’s so very Presbyterian: that the offices of the church are God’s gift to ensure the Body of Christ fulfills our calling to be the Body of Christ for the world today. The offices have their distinct function: teaching elders to spiritually feed the people, ruling elders to lead in God’s vision as discerned together, deacons to serve the lost and lonely and forgotten. And every other disciple of Christ to fulfill our baptismal vows to be attentive to God’s presence in our lives and to be about the mission of God as our own unique gifts contribute best. Every member of the body needing one another to keep it all moving as God desires. And how beautiful it is when it works! When we set aside our own ego-needs and come together. The wisdom writer points out the obvious: when one’s alone and falls, no one is there to pick that individual up. If we’re doing it all on our own, then where is the spark – that synergy, that light, that energy that is God’s very self in our midst when we join hands together to be the Body? Wasn’t it Jesus who said: “when two or three are together, watch out!” (Matthew 18:20). Two or three – or a whole congregation and their entire ministry staff – truly coming together in the spirit of love creates this beautiful energy. That ebb and flow between us that is one of our best experiences of the Triune God, who is energy itself. That divine self-giving of the One-and-Three God whose blueprint is all over this creation – even in each one of us. That’s an unstoppable union! A mighty church where the buzz can be felt. The gifts of the Spirit overflowing – all that love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23a). None of that ever comes – none of it ever is produced by a lone ranger.
The world needs one plus one plus every one of you to be about the impossible for God today – right here in the community in which your facility sits! My prayer for you all as a church – and you all as pastors here, Nolan and Mary Louise, and your whole paid staff – is that you get to know each other. Open your hearts and minds to one another to see the beautiful, unique contribution every one of you is here to make. This pastor-people relationship thing can be tricky – several of you here today are pastors so you know this and others of you long have been the people of the church; you know it too. So go gently with one another – giving the wide expanse of grace to one another as you come together to be Christ’s Body in this place and for these days. There’s such a wonderful adventure ahead for you all as you grow deeper into this one and one and everyone connection. Like that: truly nothing will be impossible among, and through, you because God will be mightily in your midst! You’ll be such an incredible light to one another, and to this whole world, living like that – united. Working out any difficulties together. Setting aside your own desires, for the will of God to be embodied instead. Lifting each other up through it all, ‘cuz you’re going to need it some days. Honestly loving one another – even forgiving each other when you falter – for the sake of all the world. . . . Um, um, um! It’s beautiful just to imagine! Incredible! May it be so . . .
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
© Copyright JMN – 2015 (All rights reserved.)
Jule, you rock! Thanks for your beautiful preaching and for inspiring me and the church!