GRACE TO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD OUR FATHER AND THE LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST, AMEN.
Last week at the congregational meeting, we heard the official announcement that JillMichelle Cossart from our congregation would be attending Luther Seminary in the Fall to begin preparing for work in parish ministry. We will certainly miss JillMichelle but we are proud that someone from Central Lutheran Church is going to be a pastor in the Church. It is our hope that she will carry a bit of Central with her back to St. Paul, Minnesota. It is also our hope that we might offer prayer support and financial support to help her as she prepares to help others.
It is interesting to consider our expectations of a minister. I know I have gone on pastoral interviews and wondered what the call committee wanted. One of the tasks of Central now is to begin the task of looking at what we want in a permanent associate pastor. I know the new Council will be looking at all the staffing here at Central. I was reading a pastor’s column in a newsletter recently and it dealt with a pastoral search report:
“We have been unable to find a suitable candidate for this congregation though we have one promising prospect. We have followed up the recommendations from church members with interviews or calling at least three references. This is a confidential report on the prospective candidates:
ADAM: Good man but has had problems with his wife and children. He and his wife have been known to walk around outside without wearing clothes.
NOAH: Former pastorate of 120 years with no converts. Prone to unrealistic building projects.
ABRAHAM: References reported that he once offered to share his wife with another man.
JOSEPH: Big thinker, but brags, believes in dream – interpretation and has a prison record.
MOSES: Modest and meek man but a poor communicator. Stutters. Known to blow his stack and act rashly. Left an earlier position under a murder charge.
DAVID: The most promising leader of all. Very musical. We discovered he had an affair with his neighbor’s wife.
SOLOMON: Great preacher but our parsonage wouldn’t hold all his wives and children. Has grandiose tastes.
ELIJAH: Prone to depression; collapses under pressure.
HOSEA: A tender, loving pastor but his wife is a floosy or worse.
ISAIAH: Claims to have seen angels. Has trouble with his language.
JONAH: Refused God’s call until he was forced to obey when he was swallowed by a fish. He said the fish spit him out on the shore. We hung up.
AMOS: Backward and unpolished. Would only fit in a poor rural congregation.
JOHN: Says he is a Baptist but doesn’t dress like one. Has slept outdoors for months on end, eats a weird diet. Doesn’t work well with others – we suggest he become a camp director instead of a pastor.
PAUL: Powerful CEO type and fascinating preacher. Short on tact. So long-winded he has been known to preach all night.
JESUS: Popular at times, but once his church grew to 5000 he managed to offend them all and his church dwindled to 12 people. Seldom stays in one place every long. And of course, he is single.
JUDAS: His references are solid. A steady plodder and good money manager. Conservative and well-connected with the community and religious leaders. This is the candidate we recommend to the congregation…”
I hope you got a chuckle as I did. We walked through the Bible and saw just what kind of folks God called to be His prophets and apostles. When God calls us to follow as disciples, God doesn’t expect us to be any more than ordinary, fragile, human beings.
As Dr. Johnson, the great English writer once noted,
“The three qualifications for the ministry are the grace of God, knowledge of the sacred Scriptures and gumption.”
Or Martin Luther who perceived the pastor’s role:
“I do not worship my pastor, but my pastor tells me of a Lord whose name is Christ and makes Him known to me. I will be attentive and listen to my pastor’s words so long as my pastor leads me to this Master and Teacher who is the Son of God.”
Luther is correct. Pastors and people alike are called to witness to God by words and deeds. We do not point to ourselves but to Jesus. We are ministers of Christ each one of us. Everyone is a minister – the word means servant. We are all servants of Christ. Some are called to publicly preach and teach – that is what JillMichelle looks forward to – they are pastors; but every follower of Jesus is a minister, a servant of the Lord.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Thanks for your good work––a real life saver for me and, I pray, a life builder for my congregants.”
TRY SERMONWRITER! Resources to inspire you — and your congregation!
A questioner asked Norma Cook Everist in a column in The Lutheran magazine whether the asker’s church had gotten off track:
“My congregation is successful but I wonder if the success is a result of being popular and trendy while sacrificing Lutheran teaching.”
Dr Everist answered,
“Being trendy or popular can’t be the goal. We are called to follow Jesus who was rejected and crucified before being resurrected. Faithful discipleship doesn’t mean seeking to be ‘well-liked’ but speaking the truth of the Gospel…. ‘Popular’ may also mean ‘of-the-people’ where they are… You may have heard it said that ‘God does not call us to be successful but to be faithful’. True, but it is no excuse for neglecting to reach out to people who have not yet heard the good news in ways they can understand.”
It is a good answer. We are called to be faithful witnesses. It is a guide for ministers – all believers in Christ – to be faithful to our Lord. We may not be able to preach like Paul or work miracles like Peter. How does the spiritual put it? “If you can’t preach like Peter, if you can’t pray like Paul, just tell the love of Jesus, and say he died for all.”
In our Gospel text for today, Jesus gives advice to the seventy he sent out to every town and place where he intended to go. The number is important for it was the number of nations that ancient people believed to exist on earth. Seventy people sent meant that no tribe or nation on earth was to be excluded from the Gospel. If all people fall short of God’s intention as the Bible tells us, then it also says that all people are welcome to receive God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Jesus tells the seventy to go out like lambs in the midst of wolves, to not expect too much but on the other hand not to cheapen the Gospel. If the Good News is welcomed, the disciples were to preach and teach and heal. If the Good News was rejected the disciples were to go elsewhere. As Jesus says, “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you, rejects me and whoever rejects me, rejects the One who sent me.”
It is reassuring that while God does expect us to be faithful, our success is not ours to claim but it is God’s own doing. Not everyone will respond positively to the Gospel. Not everyone will believe the Good News. Our passage even redefines what success means to Christians: When the seventy returned they rejoiced in their achievements – “Even the demons submit to us!” Jesus upbraided them. More important than authority to tread on snakes and scorpions or even power over demonic forces, is that the disciples’ names are written in heaven. The chief goal for Christians is not perfection but salvation, not success but faithfulness.
If I were to give any advice to The Reverend Seminarian JillMichelle Cossart or new pastors, it would be to be clear that one does not point to oneself but to Christ. What is preached is God’s Word of judgment and healing, life and salvation, not the pastor’s opinion. We offer Christ’s nourishment in Word and Water, Bread and Wine. We offer Christ’s comfort and consolation. I remember a neighbor pastor who was once described to me as someone who was very friendly and liked by everyone but he made his congregation feel “like the Kiwanis Club” was how the person put it. Pastors may be well-liked or not so well-liked. They may be popular in a good sense – loving their people, reaching their people or they may try to be popular by watering down the substance of the Christian message. I have heard famous preachers, pastors of large churches really say not much at all. I have heard powerful sermons preached to very few people in tiny congregations. God wants us to witness to people, to reach as many as possible, but God also wants us to rejoice not so much in numbers and big budgets as in being faithful. God wants faithful pastors – people who themselves know and love the Lord. God wants faithful people – who know and love the Lord. God wants us all to witness wherever we find ourselves. As Luther noted,
“The idea that service to God takes place only in Church and by words done therein… The whole world could abound with service to the Lord not only in churches but in the home, kitchen, workshop, field.”
Not everyone is called to be a pastor or should be but all Christians are called to be ministers as they live out their Christian faith. We are all ministers who are called to be faithful to our Lord. We can’t all be Moses or David or Elijah, Peter or Paul, but we can tell the love of Jesus, how he died to save us all. Amen.