The Pit Stop

A Sermon for 28 June 2015 (Ruling Elder Installation Sunday)

A reading from Ephesians 4:11-13. Listen for God’s word to us.

“The gifts (Christ) gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

And one more reading for today. From the gospel of Matthew 28:18-20. Words recorded on the lips of the Risen Christ. Listen for God’s word to us.

“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

Early this week, I returned from something called CREDO: a conference for mid-career pastors that is organized and funded by the Board of Pensions of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). Considering the long view of ministry, from the time a pastor is ordained until the time we retire; it was the perfect pause for personal reflection on what this whole call to professional ministry has been and will continue to be about. I am grateful to you for the time to attend CREDO and I am grateful that our denomination is providing such a mid-life assessment for pastors to come away with renewed intention regarding everything from our personal health to our spirituality to our home life to our finances. As you support the Board of Pensions through the dues you submit each month, CREDO kinda is an extension of your care for us pastors – for the one stationed here at any given time and for the other clergy, families, and churches who end up benefitting from 30 or so pastors being a part of one of Presbyterian CREDO’s six sessions each year. So THANK YOU for being about this level of care – even if you weren’t previously aware that you have been doing this!

CREDO was a great time – though it was an exhausting schedule of 12-15 hour days, depending upon if you chose to get up extra early for optional morning exercise or stay up a little later in order to connect with other pastors from all over the country. . . . But one thing about my experience was disturbing. I heard pastor after pastor speak of how incredibly depleted they are. Burn-out was hiding behind every corner. Some of us are struggling to find time to regularly eat each day. Some of us rarely see our families. Some of us don’t even bother anymore to take time for spiritual disciplines because too many churches don’t value anything but the time they see their pastor sitting beyond a desk in a church office each week. This does not bode well for the present or the future of the Presbyterian Church. I admit, some of it is on us: pastors who need our own egos stroked so much that being everything to everybody all the time is our aim. Almost like trying to jump into the role of God for others instead of modeling behavior that keeps us all remembering that God is God and the primary connection for us all is to be there in that relationship with the Holy – for those in ordained offices as well as for the whole church. At the same time, I’ve been in this business in a variety of settings for two decades now so that I know that some of can be the church. Members who, for whatever reason, have expectations of pastors that not even Jesus himself could fulfill. In-side-out churches that circle up the wagons believing it’s all about them and their own preferences so that the Spirit of God isn’t even welcomed in. It’s easy to get there – either as pastors or as churches until we’re not much good for anything anymore. I think Jesus said it as salt that has lost its saltiness and has to be thrown out under foot to be trampled upon (Mt. 5:13). No zest for the good news of God’s unmerited love for the world. No joy over the ways God continues to bring new life to each of our days. No hope for anything being all that different tomorrow. . . . So just a side note here as your interim pastor: when you get to the point of face-to-face interviews with potential installed pastoral candidates; might I suggest you remember to ask them not only about the professional gifts they have to bring to you all, but also about their personal commitment to their own spiritual, emotional, relational, and physical life. And might I suggest that you all continue to be the kind of wise faith community that encourages intentional attention to each aspect of pastoral life because the health of a particular church is highly dependent upon the overall well-being of the pastor who seeks to lead each week. Ok. Enough sermonizing!

One of the greatest reminders from CREDO came Sunday afternoon at Worship for the Lord’s Day. The Rev. Dr. J. Herbert Nelson gave a rousing sermon speaking to the very concerns we had been vocalizing all week. He had a little suggestion for us all too. Instead of worrying about the fate of the church, he said, why not focus less on serving the church, and more on fulfilling Jesus’ command to seek first the kingdom of God. Everything else will fall into place. Seek first the kingdom of God. . . . Installation of ruling elders couldn’t have fallen on a better Sunday! Because what if all of us understood what we’re about here to be for the point of seeking first the kingdom of God? Empowering and equipping one another in order for all of us to be out in the world living the ways of God’s kingdom. What if we saw this sanctuary and the ministry of this church more as an oasis on the highway of life rather than the destination?

I’m not a regular watcher of Nascar, but I know that in car racing, when a driver needs something in order to continue the race, he or she pulls in for a pit stop. The quicker the better – as long as the time in the stop really is getting the car and driver ready to get back out there to finish the race. What if we understood everything about life together as the church as the pit stop we need in order to be out on life’s highway bringing healing, like Jesus did, to those carrying deep wounds? What if we came together here in order to head back to our daily paths to speak hope, like Jesus did to those who were living in desperately hopeless situations under the reign of Rome? What if we worshipped and studied and served here together so that, like Jesus, we could be makers of peace in this world because our own hearts are at peace in the joy of God’s love for us all? What if we, as the church, worried less about the church and more about living the ways of God’s kingdom? The primary concern that would make our joy complete. That would build us up as the body of Christ until ALL would grow fully into the life-giving ways of Christ? . . . How did it ever get to be otherwise, because the Risen Christ’s final charge wasn’t to come together to build a church building and then gather at least every Sunday if not more often throughout the week in the fellowship hall. The Risen Christ said: “GO! Out into the world! Knowing I go with you always!” (Mt. 28:19-20). There’s a message those out there need to hear. A kingdom-way-of-life they need to see in their midst. . . . Everything the ruling elders do, who are being installed today, and the rest that this church’s session does, should be for that purpose. Building you up as Christ’s body in order for you to be in the world as his hands and his hope. The job is not for everyone. Some of you are better equipped to be out there living the kingdom, while these elected ruling elders hopefully are at a place in life where they can be leading you and seeing to your spiritual needs so that you are ready to go. Ensuring that you, the saints, are properly equipped for your particular work of ministry. Out in the world being the body of Christ. . . . What if, o church? What if?

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2015  (All rights reserved.)

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