Called to be Ministers of the Gospel

+ A sermon preached for Pentecost 6B at Grace Lutheran Church, Wilmington, IL on July 5, 2015 +

Texts: 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I would like to thank you all for welcoming me to worship with you this morning. And thank you to Pastor Zak for giving me this opportunity to share this word with you all. It has been an honor to be among you today and I look forward to meeting more of you after worship.

“You can’t go home again.” That’s what Thomas Wolfe said in his 1940 novel with the same name. This seems true enough to me. Whenever I go home to Alaska or see people I haven’t seen in years, it seems that I am instantly transported back in their minds to the time we last met. All the growth and changes I have made in my life suddenly don’t seem to exist, but rather it’s “hey, do you remember that time you did this?” or “I remember you when…” This even happened to me when I came to seminary. It just so happens that the president of LSTC went to seminary with my dad. When I met him for the first time after arriving in Chicago, he said, “Last time I saw you, you were just a baby and I held you in my arms.” Maybe this type of thing happens to you too. I think it’s a natural thing. We remember things how they were when we last saw them. Changes to this status quo can offend or confuse us.

Jesus experienced something similar in today’s Gospel reading. At this point, Jesus had grown and matured in his ministry since last visiting his hometown. After being baptized by John, being tempted in the desert, calling his disciples, going on a preaching tour, healing the sick, welcoming the outcast, challenging oppression, and raising a little girl from the dead, I’d imagine Jesus was feeling pretty good with his ministry. Then he goes back home to Nazareth to preach in the synagogue and his friends and neighbors are astounded.
“Isn’t this Jesus?”
“That’s Mary’s kid, right?”
“Don’t you remember when he ran around with his brothers and sisters?”
“Who does he think he is? He’s just a day laborer, and now he thinks he’s some great prophet?”

Needless to say, the Nazarenes didn’t seem to willing to see Jesus as prophet and teacher. We are told that Jesus “was amazed at their unbelief.” Jesus couldn’t understand the lack of acceptance and hospitality he received in his own hometown. But rather than letting this stop him, Jesus continued with his mission and healed the sick. In fact, he expands his mission. He sends out his disciples to the neighboring areas to begin their own missionary work.
But who did he choose?
The most learned and charismatic students?
Jesus gathers this ragtag group of individuals around him, these former fishermen, tax collectors, guys who frankly didn’t get it most of the time. These are the people Jesus decides to send out to do ministry.

For those of us who are in seminary preparing for ordained ministry, this story is pretty eye opening. These guys seem woefully unprepared. The Gospel of Mark doesn’t tell us about the systematic theology papers the disciples wrote or the preaching classes they took. We don’t hear about their chaplaincy or internship work. Jesus tells them to take only a staff, some sandals, and a tunic.

But this is the beauty of ministry. You don’t have to spend four years in seminary to be a minister of the Gospel. In fact, this idea is central to our Lutheran understanding of the gospel. Martin Luther wrote about what he called the “priesthood of all believers” by which every baptized person is a member of God’s holy priesthood and a minster of the Gospel in the world. Each of us are ministers based solely on our baptism. This is the only qualification we require.

Now, I want to be clear that I firmly believe that trained and ordained pastors are a good and necessary element of the church – I am in seminary after all. But I also know that we can’t just ‘leave it to the professionals.’ We all are called by Jesus to work together as witnesses of the gospel in the world. We may not all be called to ordained ministry, but we are all called to be ministers.

In today’s gospel, Jesus brings together a group of ordinary people, just as flawed and sinful as anyone, and he teaches them, loves and supports them, and sends them out into the world to proclaim God’s radical acceptance and love for all people. Jesus knows from personal experience that this message will not always be easy to receive and the disciples will not always accepted, but he sends them all the same. The disciples surely did not feel prepared for their mission and likely felt overwhelmed by the challenges they would face. But as God told St. Paul in today’s second reading, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” Our God works through human weakness to bring about God’s vision of power.

It can be easy for us to forget that the Christians in Corinth and the listeners of Mark’s gospel would not have felt like they were in positions of power. These early followers would have faced fears of constant oppression and fear for their lives. They would hear reports of Christian communities being destroyed and their siblings in faith being arrested and executed. So God’s message of power being found in weakness would have resonated with these early Christians. They would have known of God’s use of ordinary people to change the world. They would have known about the servant-hood of Jesus’ ministry. They knew that God had transformed the cross – a depiction of ultimate powerlessness, dehumanization, and death – into a symbol of unimaginable power, hope, and salvation.

Jesus sent these ordinary people into the world to proclaim God’s love and to heal the sick. And Jesus continues to send us into the world today. Just like the disciples, we are gathered here – a hodgepodge group of ordinary people living ordinary lives. We sit at Jesus’ feet and hear his words through the scriptures. We are fed and sustained at this table. And soon we will be sent back into the world to proclaim the Gospel and bring healing to the sick.

Now, I’m not sure exactly what the sicknesses were that the disciples healed in that first mission, but I have a pretty good idea of what ails our world today. My friends, we are called to be Christ’s presence in the world amidst the sickness of hate and suffering that we encounter. We are called to witness Christ’s love in the face of the ills of violence, racism, homelessness, and oppression. We are called to help our neighbors in need, whether that is in rebuilding after tornado devastation in Coal City or contributing to rebuild the seven historically Black churches that have burned in the past two weeks – at least four from arson. We, the ministers of God on account of our baptismal identity, are called to be instruments of God’s love in the world.

And next week, we’ll return here to gather again at Jesus’ feet, listen to his words, be fed and nourished – reenergized for the ministry ahead, and be sent forth again and again into this world in need of love. And we’ll do the same the next week. And the one after that. Since the earliest days of the church, Christians have followed this pattern and we will continue until God’s dominion of love and peace becomes a reality in our world.

Thanks be to God for calling each of us to join with Christ Jesus in this ministry.


One thought on “Called to be Ministers of the Gospel

  1. Scooter Bentson

    Inspirational words, Paul. I can’t wait to hear one of your sermons in person one day! Peace be with you, Scooter


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