The king said to Daniel, ‘May your God, whom you faithfully serve, deliver you!’

Friday, July 20, 2012

This week's sermon: Shepherds and Apostles

In case you are wondering, I am crazy enough to post a sermon before I actually give it. If you read it before you hear it, I pray you glean something new Sunday!

Thank you to all who are following this blog. I believe we are sharing in a new kind of church ministry. 
Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  
My son Jacob has a reoccurring question for me each day as I leave home: It goes something like this: 
Are you going to work AGAIN! Daddy, what do you do all day? 
This is a good question. I have learned, through my children, that children ask the questions that the rest of us don’t dare ask. 
What do you do all day, Daddy? I often cannot give him a satisfactory answer, because on no two days are the same? This question cuts to my soul, because very often I am unsure about what exactly a Pastor is.  
On Facebook I am part of a group of ELCA clergy that is thousands strong. We post discussion questions to each other and provide support.  
 This question came up within the last week: What do you do as a pastor? As people started to respond, the list was 10 pages long.
 Here are some of the ones I liked, some because they are funny, others because they were poignant:
 A Pastor listens to you, your spouse, your child, your co-worker, neighbor, Aunt Betty, grandpa, and whoever else might need to talk. With no judgement, and no insurance paperwork to fill out.
 A Pastor cooks for visitors to the house, and for congregational meals.
 Stop by the church at 10:00 pm and turn off the lights that someone missed earlier.
 Share in the most sacred and profound moments of life.
 Make coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
 Sit in the hospital and hold a loved one’s hand. Be a shoulder for family members to cry on as they grieve.
 By just by being present, a pastor can lower the average age of the congregation.
 Attend sporting events, concerts, and other school activities for youth of the church.
 Models the love of Jesus, even when you are in a really bad mood.
 rushes to the emergency room in the middle of the night when there is a tragic accident, whether or not it involves a member of the congregation.
 Write a pile of letters of recommendation. Write birthday cards and thank you notes. Lots and lots of thank you notes
 Keep up with all the news and how it impacts the community: read newspapers, blogs, magazines and keep up with the latest in theology in biblical commentaries, books, and scholarly journals.
 Dream about the future of the congregation: What is possible for us? Where is God leading us?

Know who is in the hospital . Even when no one tells you.
 Visit with people in Nursing Homes and hospitals, knowing at times that you are the only visitor they will see.
 Tend the headaches created by the previous pastor; create headaches for the next pastor.
 Supervises interns
 Makes jokes to reassure the bride and groom who just saw their unity candle go out right after they lit it.
 Fold chairs. Move tables.
 Choose hymns for worship – Hymns that are contemporary, but not new; hymns that everyone knows but that aren’t the same hymns we always sing.
 Study the Bible. Read the Bible. Pray the Bible.
 Does Paperwork! Write reports to Council, write reports to the synod, write proposals for committees, reports to the congregation …
 Hear Confession- sometimes formally and ritually, sometimes informally over coffee or a beer.
 Go to an endless stream of meetings:
 Prepare sermons for Sundays, weddings and funerals. Practice your sermon so you sound like you know what you’re talking about.
 Communicate: through newsletters, bulletins, facebook, telephone, email, face to face visits, twitter, and another means possible.

Teach. About theology, about church life, about social issues.
Participate in churchwide ELCA and the synod.
Discard the day’s plan in order to respond to emergencies.
Love the people. Love the people. Love the people.
This is a pretty honest look at what a Pastor can do, could be the answer I give my son on any given day about what his dad does. When I think if some of the best pastors I know, they do these things, and they do them well.
Here’s an interesting fun fact for the day: The word Pastor- in greek- is poimen, which means literally, shepherd. The word pastor has the same root word as pasture, where sheep graze. 
Our gospel lesson has some interesting things to say about pastors and shepherds and apostles that lies just below the surface of the text. The story opens with some tired people- Jesus and his disciples. But the text calls the disciples something different. Did you catch it? This is one of only two times that Mark calls the disciples the other word, “apostles.” We use these words interchangibly, but there is a difference. A disciple is a student. The word apostle means “sent out.” I liken it to this: A disciple is like a student in law school. An apostle would be the district attorney. 
So, back to the story, Jesus and the disciples- I mean apostles- have just come back together after performing miracles and working around the clock. They go to a deserted place to be alone. But they do not find rest. While they are going from one end of the lake to the other, people recognize them and get to their landing spot on the other side before they arrive. These people were those faithful to John the Baptist, who has just been killed. Mark calls them sheep without a shepherd, without a pastor.
Jesus and the apostles do not turn them away- even though they are tired and in need of a break. Rather, Jesus teaches them, and the story that we miss in our gospel lesson is the feeding of the 5000. Essentially, Jesus and the disciples together care for these sheep.
But look at this. 
 Today’s gospel is Jesus living out the promise set forth in Psalm 23. The Lord is my Shepherd. Jesus takes these shepherdess people and leads them beside still waters. He makes them sit down on green grass and he provides them food. After this, he takes the disciples on a boat and calms a bad storm, as if to fulfill “as I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil”
Jesus is the good shepherd. We pastors just try to dress like him. We pastors are blessed to have the calling to take care of people in their times of great need, and rejoice with them in their moments of great joy.
All of us go through points in our lives when our needs change. Sometimes our basic needs of food, shelter, and safety are the primary concerns. Other times we may struggle with wanting to belong, with relationships, with our self-esteem, and sometimes with our self-actualization. We run up the steps of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, sometimes up and down in a single month.
We pastors are ready and willing to tend to the flock, to pull thorns from your paws, lead you in the right paths, and help you shed your old coats.
But most of the time, we’re just here to be near you and to encourage you.
One last point. I believe that Mark is drawing a parallel between the disciples now becoming apostles and not sheep. It just so happens that God equips the disciples just in time for this hoard of people to come looking for leadership. There is no need for them to act sheepish. God has a great ability to do that, to call people up to the big leagues just in time to use them.
So consider this: Sheep are usually contained. Even when they are out of the pen, they are discouraged to leave the safety of the group. Sheep always need supervision. At one point, so did the disciples. Jesus was babysitting them for the past 6 chapters. Now he does a completely new thing. He sends them out. He makes them apostles. He makes them messengers.
Jesus calls you to do the very same. We are not to remain needy, mindless sheep who are confined and safe in Jesus care. We are all called to be sent out into the world and help those without a shepherd or a flock- to love the people, love the people, love the people.    
Thank you for calling me to dress like a shepherd. I may never be able to answer my son’s question on my way to work in the morning, but, I can always tell him what a pastor does at day’s end. So, thank you for that.
And thank you for answering God’s calling for your life as God’s messenger, as God’s apostle, always on the lookout for sheep in need of the one true shepherd. Amen.  

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