Monday, September 28, 2009

Sermon: September 27

So you are a priest, you work for God?

That was the question posed to me a few weeks back when I wore my collar to one of my son’s sporting events. Yep, I replied and after a minute conversationthe person was satisfied and off they went. But as I sat with that answer, I wasn't satisfied.

Yes. I am a priest and yes I work for the Church But, don’t we all work for God?

When we think of the ministers of the church, do we only think of the clergy? The BCP reminds us that the ministers of the Church are both the clergy (Bishops, Priests and Deacons) and the Laity (the Baptized). Think of what we say after baptism when we welcome the newly baptized.

We say together: "We receive you into the household of God. Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection and share with us in his eternal priesthood." Baptism is the root of all ministry, not ordination. Think of those words: "We receive you..." - that's all of us together welcoming the newly baptized into the Body of Christ.

"Confess the faith of Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection." We may not be Billy Graham or Mother Theresa, but each in our own way, we are to confess and proclaim our faith through our words and actions. "Share with us in his eternal priesthood." Jesus' eternal priesthood, is something we share because of our baptism. It is from his priesthood that we are called to follow where Jesus had led us and to minister to others in his name.

I would say we all work for God.

But don’t we sometimes wonder about others, are they doing what Christ has called? Are they being led by the Spirit? It is this question that Jesus confronts with his disciples. Someone was casting out demons in Jesus' name, but they were not part of his followers. The disciples wanted to stop him.

Jesus replies, "do not stop them.. .whoever is not against us is for us. Whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose their reward." Jesus opens up the boundaries of who are his followers. He refuses to limit it to those who follow the disciples, his inner circle. "No one who does a deed of power in my name will be soon able to speak evil of me," says Jesus.

Jesus opens up discipleship to all who follow his name, not merely those among the disciples. Are the others led by the Spirit? I suspect Jesus would say yes, if they are doing it in my name. Jesus goes on to talk about self-discipline, about the stumbling blocks of ministry... those who set stumbling blocks against the children of faith, a great millstone around your neck! Or against ourselves when we stumble... our eyes, hands, cut it off! If we followed this command literally, I suspect we all would be stumps, no limbs, no eyes...

But I hear it as a challenge about judgment.. .we so want to judge others, that they do not follow Jesus like we do, that we overlook our own faults and sins and we stumble by focusing on others’ sins and not our own. Jesus said, "For everyone will be salted with fire. Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another."

Salt was a precious commodity during the time of Jesus. It was used for food, medicine, and some Roman Soldiers actually got paid “salt rations.” But here, Jesus looks at us, and talks about the salt in us, and that we are to be at peace with each other. It is a reminder of the claim that God has on us, that we need not look beyond, we do not need something else, God is with us, within us, who provides the salt for our lives so we should be at peace with each other.

It is out of that salt, that we are called to go and do by God at our baptism. We are not called to be perfect. We are called to minister to others, to share that love of God with others so that all may feel God's presence in their lives, even with a cup of water that Jesus speaks of. And that ministry for all of us is…
To confess the cross
To proclaim the resurrection
To love God and love our neighbors as ourselves in the ministry we do in this world (at home, at work, at play, wherever we may be)
It reminds me of the words of a great lay leader in our church, Verna Dozier:
"The call to ministry is the call to be a citizen of the kingdom of God, in a new way, the daring, free, accepting, compassionate way Jesus modeled. It means being bound by no yesterday, fearing no tomorrow, drawing no lines between friend and foe, the acceptable ones and the outcasts. Ministry is the commitment to the dream of God."

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