reflecting on the journey
Saved to save; forgiven to forgive; loved to love!
It’s been good! It’s been real good! This journey we’ve been on! All twenty-one years, two months, and twelve days of it! But who’s counting! I was installed as pastor here at Midland Lutheran, two days before the towers fell. And that was the start. The start of a generation of changes, chances. Twenty-one years, two months, and twelve days behind us. One month, sixteen days to go. At least, together. The journey will continue. It always does. Will continues for both of us. But now, we each go our separate ways.
But, as I said, it’s been good! Real good! And together, we’ve seen a lot of country, along the way. I’ve – we’ve – done things most congregations never have. Things most never dreamed of. In a way, we’ve been the pioneers. Going where few have gone before. Preparing the way for others to follow.
Are there things we’d do differently? Things I’d do differently? Sure, there are. After all, that’s what we confess, at the beginning of worship, most Sundays. “Thought, word, and deed,” we say. “Done. Left undone.” It’s only natural. It’s only human. Is there anything I regret. Well, maybe not so much a regret, as unfinished business. Loose ends that I’ll never have a chance to tie up. But I guess that’s a part of those “ventures of which we cannot see the ending.” Ventures of which we cannot see the ending. Maybe, ventures that don’t have an ending. Ventures that, simply, go on and on and on. Generation after generation after generation. There’s always – always and forever – something else! Something more!
But for me, this morning, the unfinished business is ministry. Your ministry. Our ministry. As a people. As a congregation. As a community. That’s the reason why I’ve never worn a clerical collar. Oh, I did, back in the start. Seminary. Internship. But somewhere along the way, I realized that most of what I do would be done not because I was ordained, but because I was baptized! Not because I was a pastor, but simply because I was – for want of a better label – a Christian!
You see, I do two things because I’m ordained. I proclaim the gospel. And I administer the sacraments. Baptism. Confession and forgiveness. The Supper. That’s what it means to be “called and ordained!” Or as we say, nowadays, in the ELCA, that’s why I’m “a minister of Word and Sacrament.” Theologically speaking, pastors aren’t CEOs. And they aren’t cheerleaders. And they aren’t cruise directors. They have specific, precise responsibilities. And the sign of their office isn’t their shirt collar. Like I’d said a few weeks ago, it’s this! The stole!
And everything else – everything else – could be done by anyone else! When it’s not, it’s, probably, because it’s “easier for me to do it all by myself.” A poor reason for doing anything. But, after a while – as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ – I teach you, I train you, that it’s my job! Mine and mine alone! Why I’m here. With you! Among you! And after a generation … or two … or three … you just let me do it! And you come to believe it can’t be done by anyone but people like. Called. Ordained.
It’s true, you need someone to teach and to preach. You need someone to administer the sacraments. Someone to speak. Someone to show. You need someone to keep your efforts, your energy, focused on the gospel. Fixated on the goodNews. But the truth is, the rest of the ministry is yours! It’s YOURS! And you don’t have to be a pastor to do it! You don’t need to be a pastor to say grace before potlucks. You don’t need to be a pastor to look after for each other. You don’t need to be a pastor to visit anyone in the hospital. You don’t need to be a pastor to drop by for a cup of coffee or give a call. All you need to be is be loved! Be loved by god! Because when you’re loved by god … loved without limit … loved without measure … you just naturally, automatically go and do the same!
No one makes you do it. No one cons you. No one cajoles you. It simply happens! You do it in response to what god has done! As a reaction to what god is doing! You’re saved … so, you save! You’re forgiven … so, you forgive! You’re loved … you are loved … and so, you do the same! What happens here on Sunday mornings – what happens now – isn’t so we can get through the pearlyGates. It happens so we can run into the world – just like Jesus – with arms open wide!
But I guess, that’s what happens on a trip like ours. There’s only so much that gets done. Only so much that can get done. It doesn’t happen all at once. It takes time. Little-by-little. Step-by-step-by step. Most of our time, we spent uncovering – discovering – the grace! The charity! The love! “In the mercy, Jesus Christ was given!” But what hasn’t impressed itself on us it that in the same mercy, god gives us, as well! Gives us to each other! Gives us to neighbors and friends! Gives us to all creation! That’s what it is to be created-in-the-image! Each of us – all of us – echoes and reflects Christ! No matter how dim! No matter how faint! His manger birth becomes our birth! His death our death! His rising our rising! Not because we’re pastors … Not because we’ve been called and ordained … but because we’re church! We’re baptized!
We love! Each of us! All of us! Because god, first, loved! Loved each of us! Loved all of us! Because god loves us still! And we don’t need to wear a special shirt to do it! God doesn’t love us, so we can love god back. God doesn’t give us the world, so we can repay god for god’s blessings. God loves us and gives us the world, so we can share it all with those who need it most! God loves us … with all god’s heart, with all god’s mind, with all god’s strength, with all god’s being! And that’s how we love ‘them!’ With that same heart and mind, that same strength and being! It’s not about worshiping god. Glorifying. Giving thanks. It’s about treating others, treating ourselves, with that god-given reverence and with that god-given respect.
But, when faith is carved to fit into sixty-or-so minutes, any given Sunday morning. Or pared to fit into a building, or onto a piece of land … When believing is tailored to fit around the neck of a handful of faithful … well, the church loses. We get sidetracked. We become distracted. We forget who we are. Why we are. But, then, I guess, on “a venture of which there is no ending,” we can’t do it all. We can do only what we’re able. And in the end, there will always be ends that need tying. There will always be business unfinished.
The goodNews? Here? Now? God began the journey. And god will finish it! If not in us, then through those who follow! So, “as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ,” my friends “I declare to you … god loves! And because god loves, as chosen and baptized ministers of that same church, whether you realize it or not, you are already doing the same!