Thursday, July 28, 2016

God holds the future

Ordination of Wayne Van Kauwenbergh 

Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God… Be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God… and use the faith and gifts that God has given, gifts that differ from person to person to build up the whole body.

As Paul wrote to the early followers of Christ gathered in Rome, he was not necessarily thinking about this day of your ordination, Wayne, but it certainly seems like a wonderful word for today. As you journeyed to seminary, you brought your whole self. You made dramatic changes to your life, moving across country. You diligently studied in a theology program that is certainly about testing and stretching, renewing and expanding minds, and you have brought your heart, faith, and gifts to the practical side of ministry as well. Although I’m sure that your internship congregation experienced this much more deeply, we’ve had a taste of you sharing your gifts here at Christ as you’ve preached and taught; as you’ve used your truck to bring people to and from worship, carted canned foods to the food pantry, and brought ample baked goods to the CLC Women’s bake sales. You’ve cleaned the nursery; you’ve given generously; you’ve sung in the choir. At least once or twice, you’ve given of yourself and your time with such abundance that along with my gratitude, I’ve wondered how things will be for you as you move into congregations as their pastor. Will you work yourself too hard? Will you be disappointed if people don’t pitch in with the same gusto? Will people drop their tasks into Pastor Wayne’s capable hands and leave you bearing a responsibility too big for any mere mortal to carry? These are the concerns of an overly protective colleague in ministry…

This week with Bishop Narum and 400 church leaders, I have been attending a conference at Luther Seminary called Rethinking Sunday Morning. Church is no longer the church of the 1950s, 60s, 70s, or 80s. The role of pastor is ever-evolving. Here’s what I’ve been re-thinking over these days in this gathered learning community: in view of very quickly changing contexts of ministry, how do we learn and re-learn what our job is as pastors and as the whole people of God… not working harder and harder to try to save those things which are no longer serving Christ’s mission as they once did, but listening in this Spirit-filled moment for how God is calling us to use our diverse, God-given gifts in ancient and new ways.

It seems like no mistake, then, that in the gospel reading you chose for this day, Jesus is sending laborers to every place where he himself intends to go. Jesus invites followers to travel light, an act of dependence on God. Jesus invites us to share peace and accept hospitality of the new communities we enter. Jesus invites us to be healers in their midst. Jesus even says there are consequences for those who don’t welcome God’s disciples, and gives disciples authority to do powerful things, but with this caution…

“Don’t rejoice when you have power over the enemy, over principalities and powers… rejoice that you are claimed by and beloved of God, that your future with God is secure.”

This is for both pastors and all of us, called by God from the moment of baptism. No matter whether we are feeling victorious or dejected, whether we think we are succeeding or failing, no matter whether our work seems fruitful or in vain, we are still claimed by and beloved of God, our future is secure.

Wayne, just as you have entered this community in Saint Paul, and specifically Christ on Capitol Hill, as a student and servant, generously sharing yourself, your time and your skills with this community of faith, now… Christ sends you. You don’t go alone. You don’t go just to fill a gap where a pastor is needed, but you go to re-imagine with the people of the Grenora-Zahl parish of the Western North Dakota Synod how to share peace and hospitality, how to be healers in the midst of a community that is growing and changing. As a newcomer and stranger, for a short window of time, you will have an eye for how newcomers experience the congregations… during this time, you’ll be able to wonder together how long-timers and newcomers can come together and be transformed through Christ who lives in us.

Then, as you get settled in and cultivate trust through sharing in Christ’s ministry of love and service in the world, as you are entrusted with the office of word and sacrament… over time, you will see transformation and you will be transformed. In many small ways, and sometimes in ways that seem very significant, you’ll see God operating in just the ways that Paul describes for the Romans. You’ll see prophecy—the person who had a great vision but had to wait until it was the kairos moment for it to happen (but then it does)! Or you’ll see great teaching—in formal and informal ways. Or you’ll overhear an exhortation—“Pastor, you take that well-deserved vacation!” Or you’ll become aware of an exceptionally generous gift of time or money, a gift that makes you cry. Or, the Council will work through an important decision with incredible respect for the differing views at the table; or the people will surround a family with a newly adopted child or the loss of a spouse with love-in-a-dish, every night of the week. Who knows what wonders lie ahead? And I don’t mean to sugar-coat what can sometimes be a hard and lonely calling… after all, Jesus does also say, “I’m sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves.” There will be times like that, too. There are ways in which pastors, who are by definition temporary (however devoted, however loved)…they are always strangers, travelers, reminders to the gathered community that God shows up in many, not just one.

But… as I have gotten to know you, and resiliency and humbleness that you already show, I imagine that gratitude will be one of the best gifts you share with your congregations over the years you serve with them. Gratitude for these moments of the body of Christ being the body of Christ, gratitude for God’s leading and guiding you to places where Jesus intends to show up (and is already), gratitude that your name (and the names of the people you will serve—including those who are not there yet) are written in heaven.

That is good news as we move into a future that is unknown—that God holds the future—and that just as God has been faithful through each twist and turn of the past, just as God is faithful today, God will be faithful into the future. Do not fear.

As we gather around you today to pray for the Holy Spirit to rest on you, Wayne; and then as we share a meal around the table where you will share with us the body and blood of Christ; we rejoice that God has called you to offer your whole self, your life, your faith and gifts and has called you to do that with the people of Grenora-Zahl. God with good courage, knowing that God’s hand is holding you and God’s love supporting you through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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