This week, my family and I are up at Kanuga Conference Center in Hendersonville, North Carolina. The last two years I’ve been invited to serve as a chaplain for a week of their summer guest period. It’s a bit of a working vacation, as I have to conduct services and Bible studies, but it’s a great break for Molly and the kids.
I’m grateful to Katherine Johnson who preached this past Sunday and Marci Horne for leading Morning Prayer. I know they did a great job. Below is the sermon I preached at the chapel at Kanuga, which I thought you might enjoy.
July 7, 2013
Who are the ministers of the church? According to the prayer book on page 855, first and foremost, YOU ARE!
This is an echo to the sentiment proposed by Jesus in today’s Gospel. Jesus sends out 70 people, none of whom were seminary trained, to go and spread the Good News. We tend to complicate matters when sharing our faith, but Jesus makes it pretty simple. Therefore, the title of this sermon is:
How To Be a Minister In 8 Easy Steps
1. Find a buddy – “[T]he Lord…sent them on ahead of him in pairs…”
Remember school field trips? The teachers would have us “buddy up!” There are no “lone rangers” in ministry. (Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.) In fact, if we have some, we might need to be skeptical. We kid ourselves into thinking that it’s easier if we just “do it ourself,” but if we do, we miss out on the community built in relationship. The past few years, I have always done Vacation Bible School music by myself. Lots of work, right? This year, a couple of new members asked to help out, which has allowed me more freedom in my work and new creative insights. Two is always better than one.
2. Pray – “He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
When a job comes up in church or in a family and we’re called upon to use our gifts to meet that need, we sometimes forget a very simple step…prayer. When we have our buddy, we also need others to help us in the task at hand. At my church, we often complain in order to get more people to help us. “Sign up to help clean the church! Sign up to bring food! Sign up to feed the poor!” What a horrible way to get more “laborers” to help with the harvest. Instead, try asking God to provide through prayer. If the gifts don’t become apparent, perhaps the task isn’t what God wants you to do. Going back to VBS, this year, I didn’t send out an “all-call” for volunteers. Instead, I prayed and pinpointed the gifts of my people. I went to individuals specifically asking them for their help in a certain area, and I’ve received more volunteers than ever! Prayer really works!
3. Go – “Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.”
Not the most encouraging of imperatives. Why would we want to go like lambs into the midst of wolves? Doesn’t sound too appealing. Jesus uses hyperbole a lot to get prod us into action. Remember, we’re not alone because we have a buddy, and also we’ve talked to God. But in order to grow ourselves and grow the Kingdom, someone has to go to uncomfortable places. I used to be really uncomfortable in nursing homes. The smell of urine thick in the air, the cries of dementia patients, the awkwardness of conversing with people I didn’t know. So in seminary, when applying for Clinical Pastoral Education, I didn’t get accepted to the children’s hospital I wanted. Instead, the only place I was accepted was in a downtown DC nursing home. I learned, I grew, I made relationships, I sat at the feet of the wise. The wolves are never as scary as we make them out to be.
4. Don’t sweat the small stuff – “Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road.”
We tend to get bogged down in our luggage. On a mission trip to Belize, we brought all our own supplies. At the airport, someone left the supplies unwatched for a few moments and they were stolen. Everyone got all upset, but we found more supplies and helped the local economy by buying them there. When we over-plan, we tend to rely on our own things and not on God’s provision.
5. Bless the homes – “Whatever house you enter, first say, `Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you.”
One of my favorite things to do is house blessings. How many of you had your house blessed by your priest when you moved in? Our homes are the most holy places we can step into. When going into ministry, in the projects, in the the shelter, in the schools, in the hospital, in the home, bless the ground on which you stand. It will have a profound difference in the way you are treated. If you think the place you go is unworthy of such blessing, the people there will recognize it and will not trust you.
6. Stick around – “Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you…”
Quality over quantity. Jesus would rather you spend 10 years helping one family than one day helping 10. This is all about relationship. Also, take what is given to you. If you are a picky eater, GET OVER IT! When someone gives you the gift of a meal, choke it down if you have to. There aren’t picky eaters in the Kingdom of God.
7. Heal – “[C]ure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.’”
You have the power to bring healing to a community in need. Because of the trust and grace Jesus has bestowed upon you, you have the power to heal, with words, with hugs, with prayers, with hand-holding, with food-serving, with the laying on of hands and anointing with oil.
8. Don’t sweat the “haters,” but mention the Kingdom anyway – “But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.’”
There will be resistance. People will not appreciate you or give you accolades. Some will hate you. As much joy as I’ve had as a priest, I have also experienced more anger and hatred than I ever expected. But that’s the way it goes. When this happens, it’s easy to return curses with more curses. But Jesus reminds us that even if people don’t accept us, we are to proclaim the Kingdom of love, grace, acceptance, tolerance, justice, equality, and compassion.
Follow these simple steps, and that Kingdom will come near. Go and be the ministers you are called to be. Amen.