Sunday, May 4, 2014

Ordained to Minister as Jesus

[Sermon from May 4, 2014]
What an incredible celebration we shared last weekend!  In Carthage, we witnessed the ordination of four new priests including our own Fr. Mike Shaffer.  The liturgy was beautiful (especially if you like incense), and the Holy Spirit’s presence was palpable as Mike and the others made their vows.  Then we were blessed the next morning to be with Fr. Mike as he presided at Eucharist for the first time.
Well, what if I told you that we had ordinations here, at St. Andrew’s, just a couple of weeks ago?  And what if I also told you we do that at least five times a year?  And what if I then told you the bishop knows about it – and approves?  In fact, it’s the bishop’s description of this that I like to steal. 
At the Easter Vigil, five people were ordained to join the ranks of the primary ministers of the Church – baptized Christians.  If you look in the Catechism, it makes it plain:  There are four orders of ministry in the Episcopal Church – lay people, bishops, priests, and deacons.  And the order of those orders matters.  Baptized people are the first and most important ministers of the Church.  As Bishop Marty likes to say, others are “further ordained” to the more limited vocations of bishop, priest, and deacon.  During the ordination rite in Carthage last weekend, Fr. Mike and the others took vows that will dictate how they live their lives from here on out.  And during the baptisms at the Easter Vigil, the two adult candidates also made life-long promises:  to trust, follow, and obey Jesus as Lord; to continue in the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, and prayers; to repent when they fall into sin; to proclaim the Good News; to seek and serve Jesus in all people; and to strive for justice and peace, respecting the dignity of everyone.  Those are vows every bit as challenging as what the clergy promise in their ordinations.  And your living out those vows has the potential to change the world astronomically more than what the four of us up here could ever hope to do.  Every baptized person in this room is ordained to be a minister, nothing less than an incarnation of Jesus, risen and alive in the world.
So, as Jesus’ risen presence, as the Body of Christ known as St. Andrew’s, we’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of years discerning how God is calling us to ministry.  We’ve asked you, in surveys and listening sessions, how you hear God leading us to serve our community.  Parishioners went out and surveyed our neighbors, on front porches and at the grocery store, asking how St. Andrew’s can make a difference in the life of Brookside.  We asked the same questions of community leaders and experts at UMKC.  We asked all of you for your feedback about what we should do in a campaign to celebrate our centennial, and 200 households responded to the feasibility study. 
With all that input, we’ve been on a journey of discernment, listening for the Holy Spirit’s guidance, praying to hear what kinds of ministry God wants us to advance, planning how we might live it out now and in the years to come, and then revising those plans along the way as God’s direction continues to crystalize.  We are blessed with a deep pool of incredibly talented people leading this effort, especially Blake and Megan Hodges, and Sean and Sarah Murray, who’ve been doing the heavy lifting of chairing our Gather and Grow Campaign for new ministry.  But they haven’t borne it alone.  At this point, we have about 80 parishioners carrying out this campaign: everything from composing prayers, to figuring out how to thank people, to making phone calls, to discerning how best to steward our building and property across the street to empower ministry.  In all of it, we can see Jesus’ primary representatives – you – living out those vows we all reaffirm at every baptism.
In this journey of discernment, we’ve come to hear some clear direction about our church’s ministry in our second century.  First of all, we know God is asking us to go out on the road, like the apostles after their Holy Spirit moment at Pentecost, and reach people in the community around us.  Specifically, we hear God leading us to focus our ministry “across the street” in four broad areas, as I’ve shared with you before.  For us, “E = mc2”:  Our mission in our second century involves these “four E’s” of ministry. 
First is Evangelism, by which I mean specifically worship, fellowship, and formation for people who probably wouldn’t come join us at 8:00 or 10:15 on Sunday morning.   And we’re beginning that now, not just with Take5 on Saturday nights but with a weekly prayer opportunity at Bella Napoli coffee shop on Friday mornings.  In addition, we’ll demonstrate a fresh expression of worship two weeks from today as our 10:15 service, down in the undercroft.  It’ll be Eucharist, but we’ll have very different music, prayers, and proclamation.  And, yes, we’ll even have words and images projected on the wall rather than a thick bulletin filled with text.  And that’s only a beginning:  Look for opportunities for prayer, conversation, and learning down the street at The Well in the next few months.
Another E is Empowering Young People, both those here and those around us.  Starting this month, we’re going to begin the Fourth Friday Hangout at HJ’s – a chance for young people to talk, play games, listen to music, and find out they’re really welcome here.  And it’s not just for our own youth – we’ll be inviting kids in the neighborhood, very intentionally.
Another E is Events that Build Community, something we’re pretty good at already.  But we want to open up more, inviting our neighbors to join us for fun like the Feast of the First Tomato.  In fact, after the meeting this morning, parishioners will be delivering door hangers to the houses around the church, inviting our neighbors to a garden party after worship on June 8.  We throw a good party – we just need to expand the guest list. 
The last E is one that you may not know as much about, but I think it’s an incredibly rich opportunity for us to take Outreach ministry to a new level.  That E is Entrepreneurship for Social Change.  And what is that exactly?  Well, let me give you a couple of examples – in the flesh.  With us this morning, we have Natasha Kirsch and John Stamm – would you please stand?  They’re social entrepreneurs, people who are creating businesses whose goals are about social, rather than financial, profit.  Natasha’s venture is called EPEC – Empower the Parent to Empower the Child.  It builds self-reliance for families in need by providing job training, life skills, and mentoring to help families break the cycle of poverty.  How?  By training the parents for specific, decently paying jobs – at the moment, that job is dog grooming.  Kansas City has lots of dogs and not enough groomers – who knew?  EPEC works with parents to train them and place them in businesses needing this skilled work.  The other example is John Stamm’s business, Tutorious.  Tutorious’ model is to offer low-cost preparation for college-entrance exams, using college students as the tutors, and to offer those services to kids and families who can’t afford the standard, high-cost options for ACT and SAT prep.  You can find out more by talking with Natasha or John after the parish meeting.  They’re also coming to the Fools for Christ’s Sake Dinner tonight, so you can chat with them then.
So how does all this involve St. Andrew’s?   For years, we’ve been hearing a call to take Outreach ministry to the next level.  We’ve moved from a model of giving small amounts of money to several organizations, to allocating a proportion of pledged income to Outreach giving, to building sweat equity with our Outreach partners, to building relationships with them.  Now the call we’re hearing is to move from simply a charity model toward work that strives to make real change in people’s lives – ministry that truly seeks to build justice and really respects the dignity of people caught in poverty and educational inequality.  One step we can take in that direction is to offer an incubator for social entrepreneurs like John and Natasha – offering both physical resources like office space, desks, and Wi-Fi access, as well as the most important capital: the wisdom and expertise of people here at St. Andrew’s who know a lot about business, nonprofit work, and entrepreneurship.  It’s a natural fit in that we have both kinds of resources, and we’re now making space available at HJ’s to get the relationship started.
And that brings us to HJ’s.  You’ll notice I haven’t said anything about a campaign to build a building across the street.  That’s because the Gather and Grow campaign is, first and foremost, a campaign for new ministry.  But clearly, we have to steward that building and the land where it sits.  Everybody agrees about that.  But the question, “What should we do about HJ’s?” is really shorthand for, “How is God calling us to empower ministry ‘across the street’ as we steward our resource across the street?” 
In our meeting after worship, you’ll hear more about this journey of discernment about our resource across the street.  But what I want you to keep in mind is this:  Jesus shows up in all kinds of unexpected ways, and in all kinds of unexpected places, as he calls us to live into our ordinations as his primary ministers in the world.  And when he does, what he has to show us can make us stop short.
Let me end with an example.  I got a phone call on Monday, someone looking for assistance.  But this man’s story wasn’t typical – not the usual request for cash for a bus ticket to go visit a sick mother.  This was an ex-convict, on parole, who works as a day laborer, but who couldn’t work for a few days because he was recovering from chemo treatments for brain cancer.  He was calling from Shawnee Mission Medical Center, and he needed a place to stay for a couple of nights to get his strength back.  So I got that arranged for him.  And in my conversation with this man, I could see Jesus suddenly breaking into my regular life, just as he did with the disciples in today’s Gospel:  “While they were talking and discussing” – while they were carrying on with the rest of life – “Jesus himself came near and went with them…”  (Luke 24:13).
I had no trouble imagining it was Jesus on the other end of the phone.  But what really threw me for a loop was realizing the opposite was also true:  For him, I was Jesus on the other end of the phone.  Even if it was only for a couple of nights, I was bringing him a little in-breaking of the kingdom of heaven:  a clean bed, a warm shower, a room with a TV.
For this man, I was Jesus.  But guess what?  So are you.  So are we.  This is the body of Christ, and we each have gifts and callings for ministry as Jesus’ hands and heart in the world.  So take a moment, and look around you – look to your left, to your right – and know that you’re seeing Jesus.  We are the presence of Christ, walking with the people God brings into our lives.  This congregation, each one of us who helps to make it up – we are the instruments God fills with the Holy Spirit to bless “[ourselves, our] children and … all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (Acts 2:39).  When you go home today, take a minute and look in the mirror.  You’ll see something amazing.  You’ll see a minister.  You’ll see someone ordained to do God’s work in the world.  In fact, you’ll see the face of the risen Christ.