Tuesday, July 6, 2010

It's not about me (or you!)

Scripture Texts for Sunday, July 4th, 2010.

Galations 6:1-10

Luke 10:1-9

When I was beginning to think of my first sermon here, my mind filtered through the many pieces of advice I’ve been given over the last few years.

-It's traditional for the pastor to give the story of their calling

-Yet, don’t just focus on the pastor, cause it’s not all about me.

-Bring out the text, stay true to the scriptures, it will keep you on the straight and narrow.

-First impressions are everything; make sure you wow them on day one.

-Make the first sermon a “typical” sermon; if you pull out all of the stops on week one, they’ll be disappointed from then on.

-Lay out your vision from the start- there is no better a time when you have a congregation willing to listen.

-Don’t lay out a grand plan- this is a time to listen, not to impose your vision.

And perhaps the most important piece of advice, given to me by a youth who will remain nameless on this past work-mission- “whatever you do, don’t be boring”

So much to accomplish…so little time. But if you hang in with me for the next two hours, I’ll try to get through it all. Nervous laughter….that’s precisely what I was going for.

When in doubt, a good habit is to start with the scripture, so that’s the direction I’ll head today. In our Gospel passage, we come upon Jesus appointing others to carry out the ministry he has already begun. Up until now in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus’ work has primarily been about establishing who he is and giving glimpses through word and action of the coming kingdom of God. Having done so, Jesus then calls for those who will join him in mission.

Our text today talks about 70 who responded, but gives almost no details of their lives. Unlike the 12 disciples, these 70 are nameless, faceless workers who set forth with a ministry of healing, proclaiming all the way the coming kingdom of God. When looking at a piece of scripture, it’s sometimes helpful to think about what is not there. Who are these people? Where did they come from? Did they have lives that they left? Families who counted on them? Were they religious scholars, trained in doing ministry? Unemployed peasants who had little to lose by following Jesus? Or rich, powerful landowners who could afford to get away and leave the daily work to the servants? When the 70 return, they report that they were wildly successful- that they even made the demons dance to Jesus’ tune. And yet, despite this raucous success, these 70 disappear from Luke even before the chapter ends. Why? What little we know about Luke reveals him to be a details oriented individual, someone who claims to have examined all the reports of eyewitnesses, how could he have not found anything more about them? Did they not exist? Is this just a different type of parable? Or is there something else going on?

I’m going to let you hang on that question for a bit. Here we are, trying to figure out what is going on with a bunch of anonymous missionaries, and I’ve yet to properly introduce myself. Some of you may know by now that I grew up in the Westside suburbs of Cleveland, have an undergraduate degree in music, worked in finance for American Greetings, and then attended seminary for the last three years prior to coming here. But that is just the locations on the journey; it doesn’t really explain why I ended up here.

I grew up in a family that was quite active in a congregational church. I attended Sunday school, youth group, choir, mission trips, board meetings, doing just about all the things one can do in the church. And yet, as I look back on it, I’m not sure exactly what role Christianity played in my life. While I did a lot of church things, prayed and made the same declarations as most church people, I’m not sure how much of that really ever seeped in. Now I wasn’t a hellion or anything, I was a good student and did the things I was supposed to do. (By the way, my parents are here today, along with several long time friends, so you can feel free to see them for a rebuttal after the service). I only now recognize this is a bit of a foggy time because when I got to college, I found a moment of clarity.

We had chapel services each Wednesday on campus. Because this was a time when both faculty and students came together in worship, the chaplain often used the time to be more creative and get into some meaty issues. In the spring semester, he began a series called “The Things we don’t talk about in church” Each week, the service focused on things like slavery in the bible, race, gender, sexuality, etc. One particular Sunday, we heard from some Christians about the pain they had felt when for one reason or another, they were turned away from a church. In listening to these people’s testimony, it finally occurred to me that what we do, what we believe in church affects real people in real ways. To simply go because it was what we do; to simply mouth belief because everyone else did; these actions could have profound consequences in people’s real lives. Thus, I began a journey of continually striving to take seriously what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. How could I live my life in a way that reflected my faith and honored the purpose for which God had created me?

This journey took several twists and turns. One thing that working for American Greetings did for me was provide the kind of economic security while leaving me time to explore music, theology, travel and any other place to which I felt led. After about 2.5 years working in the corporate world, I determined that it was time to seriously consider a calling into ministry- a calling that had been in the back of my mind for sometime. Not knowing how to go about this process, I asked my Uncle, a Lutheran minister, and my former chaplain to give me a book list through which I could begin to explore my faith deeper. I found that no matter how hectic the day, I always felt most at peace doing this studying. I took this as my confirmation that I should attend seminary.

Now, by this time, I had joined a Methodist church, but I was not entirely certain what it meant to be Methodist. If I was going to be a pastor, I certainly needed to figure out soon if that would be in Methodism or someplace else. It wasn’t until half way through seminary, when I took Methodist history, that this finally became clear to me. Among John Wesley’s many innovations, his commitment to social justice, his desire to move beyond the walls of the church, being in community with the poor, was the idea that true spiritual growth takes place in community. Thus, one of the first requirements of the Methodist movement was that each individual commit to meeting weekly (in addition to Sunday morning, mind you), where they could honestly explore where they were in their faith life, what things they were struggling with, and the problems they observed in their communities. It is this process that helped them to grow into the people God had created them to be. This growth was infectious. You see, many people in Wesley’s day had abandoned the church. They saw it as irrelevant to daily life and full of a bunch of money loving hypocrites. But, among the Methodists, they saw a people who truly cared for the poor in their midst. They saw a people who addressed their real life situations. And they saw a people deeply committed to changing those things in their life that were not in line with God’s will...

For all the wonderful things John Wesley did, he can’t really be called an innovator though. In fact, our scripture passage from Galatians shows that Paul, and likely Jesus, had figured this out long ago. Paul wrote that part of the Christian life was learning to bear one another’s burdens. On the one hand, this did mean helping to provide for the communities physical needs, but it went beyond that. It also meant that if you were in a community, it was your obligation to try to bring healing even when a member has strayed from the path.

Now, I’ll be honest, I find part of that message scary. I mean, do I really want anyone here to feel like they can point out to me anytime they think I strayed from the path? I mean, to be honest, I kind of hate to be corrected at times. Even when I know I’m wrong. But, when I can take a breath, when God can break through my hard head, sometimes I’m able to realize the growth that needs to occur. All too often, the things others point out are those places where I’ve allowed myself to be blinded.

Furthermore, Paul immediately provides some guidelines. He emphasizes that, for the most part, we have to spend more time examining our own lives and work rather than that of our neighbor. We have to voluntarily choose to test how we are living our lives to see if it conforms to the kingdom of God that Jesus described. And finally, we can’t function for the other. As much as I may think Ted here is a real lowlife who just needs to shape up, I can’t take it upon myself to fix him. If I’m spending my time doing that, I’m going to miss the mess in my own life. So instead, we have to spend our time trying to examine our own lives and seeing the ways in which we can bring healing to the community. It is perhaps then that a person will be moved to open up to the community about how God might be calling them to change their lives.

You see, all too often, we think it is about us. Pastors are especially guilty of this. We think we have to behave like heroes to change an individual or a community. But its really about the ways in which God is working to change us; to conform us to the divine image; to show how God is trying to use us, here and now.

Now, who remembers where we left off with the story in Luke? What question did we leave hanging? Ah yes, why doesn’t Luke bother to tell us anything about these 70. Well, these aren’t the type of things where we often get final answers, but I’ll share what occurred to me as I pondered this passage. Luke doesn’t tell us about these 70 because its really not about them. The work that is celebrated is not what we accomplish, but the ways in which our actions can point toward something else- the healing that comes when the kingdom of God breaks into our very midst. Though I told you my story, in the end, it’s not about my journey. My work is certainly no more unique then that of the 70. Nor is my journey, or God’s calling in my life, any more unique or important than the one to which God is calling each of you. I’ve been laid with a very specific task of helping to provide leadership to this congregation, but ultimately, the work that goes on here is not about me. (And Ted, since I poked fun at you earlier, I’ll assign you the specific task of reminding me about that often). It’s about the ways in which God is calling each of us toward God’s healing ministry. Each of our callings will be unique- some of us are called to live out our Christianity at our office, some as they build as a missionary; some as they chose the college and major in the future; while others are called to pray when their strength allows them to do no more. But if we are lucky, and if we do it right, our individual callings will fade into anonymity. We can become like one of the 70- their efforts, their calls, and the specifics of their lives- largely forgotten. What is remembered, is that at one time, is that at one time the kingdom of God was able to break forth in their very midst. And the world was forever changed.


  1. It is nice to be able to read your sermon and reflect upon it after church service is over.

  2. Any chance that video can be posted of the sermon?

  3. No, unforunetly we do not have video or audio capabilities yet. Hopefully in the future.