This weekend, I had the joy of presiding at my cousin Melissa’s wedding in Green Bay.
Since I was in Wisconsin already, I was asked (by my mom, who’s on the church council) to provide pulpit supply for the weekend at my home congregation, Ascension Lutheran Church in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin while Pastor Jeff Blain is on sabbatical.
Here’s my sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Pentecost, Year A. The sermon texts are Matthew 9:35-10:23 and Romans 5:1-8.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
I’m glad to be here with you this morning. It’s hard to believe the last time I was at Ascension was for my ordination almost a year ago. Since then, I’ve been serving as the pastor at St. Peter Lutheran Church in Greene, Iowa.
To start, I have a confession: After almost a year of being a pastor, I have no idea what I’m doing. Please don’t tell the people in Greene!
I’ve realized this week that somehow, I’m more intimidated by the idea of preaching here at Ascension than anywhere else. I know you’re used to very high sermon standards!
I was intimidated last time I preached here too. A few years ago, and this was while I was a seminary student, my very patient wife Christin and I stayed up late Saturday night trying to fix my sermon.
After worship that Sunday, people were very nice and complimented me on how the sermon went and how comfortable I looked.
I’ve joked since then that people here were so supportive it didn’t really matter what I actually said! I think I could have just stood here and stared for 15 minutes and people would have said nice things, because they wanted to be encouraging.
I debated doing that today and just standing here because I think it would be kind of funny, but I don’t have the excuse of being in seminary any more, although I do still have the excuse that the reason I’m here this morning is my mom is the one responsible for scheduling pastors for the summer!
Like I said, after almost a year of being a pastor, I keep realizing that in a lot of ways, I have no idea what I’m doing. I love my job, I love the congregation I’m serving, but occasionally, I have a hard time figuring out just what it is I’m supposed to be doing.
All year I’ve swung back and forth between moments of seeing something in church and thinking, “Oh, I know exactly what to do here. I have a degree, I have training, and I know this other congregation that’s solved this problem. In fact, I knew all about this when I was in high school. This is easy!”
And then something happens and I think, “Well, we never covered that in seminary or at Ascension!” Sometimes that’s when I call Pastor Jeff!
Serving as a pastor is a crazy job, because it means representing God in the world. Each week, pastors stand up in front of other Christians, and have the audacity to claim they’re speaking God’s word. I get to walk into hospital rooms and nursing homes as a public representative of the church, on behalf of the rest of Christ’s body.
In the Lutheran tradition, being a pastor is unique, but it’s not a higher calling than any other vocation. The pastor is the public leader, but if you’re baptized, if you’re part of a church, you are also called to this audacious task of representing God in the world.
Perhaps one of you in this room is called to be a pastor. I hope so, because the church needs pastors. There is a massive shortage of clergy right now. In the Lutheran church, we have far more churches looking for pastors to call than we do pastors available to fill churches. Other denominations have the same problem.
One of Ascension’s great gifts is your history of sending people to become pastors in the wider church. If you’re thinking about going to seminary and becoming a pastor, I’d love to talk to you. Maybe it’s your turn next.
So pastors are necessary and we need more of them, but pastors were never intended or called to do all the work in the church.
There is far more need than pastors or youth directors or other church professionals or the church council can do. We can’t just pay people to do ministry on our behalf. This summer with Pastor Jeff on sabbatical is a great time for all of you to practice!
In today’s reading, Jesus tells the disciples, “The harvest is pitiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”
I think sometimes we have this idea that Jesus is talking about these special people God will send, and so when he says to ask the Lord of the harvest for more laborers, we’re supposed to ask God to send more of those special, unique, gifted people, those people who have everything figured out, who have this amazing faith and are totally on board with what God is doing.
But look what happens in this story. Jesus looks at the crowds around him, and he sees people in need of God. He sees a broken world, full of people who are harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd. He sees a world where people feel excluded, denied justice and freedom; a world full of sickness and death and sin, a world where people are in need of hope, in need of some good news.
And then Jesus looks at his followers.
He tells his disciples to ask God to send out laborers into the harvest. Matthew doesn’t tell us if the disciples prayed for God to send people or not, but in the very next line, Matthew tells us the answer to the prayer, and (surprise!) it’s the disciples themselves.
These are not exactly the people you’d expect Jesus to send. In this list are Matthew, the tax collector; Simon, also known as Peter, the one who constantly fails to understand what’s going on, Simon, and even Judas Iscariot, who Matthew points out is the one who betrayed Jesus. This is not an elite group.
There’s this wonderful line you may have heard, “God doesn’t call the equipped, God equips the called.”
It’s a cliché, but I believe that’s exactly what God does. As we just heard on Pentecost, the Holy Spirit equips people to do God’s work. You are gifted to be God’s hands and feet in the world.
You may or may not have noticed this in the reading, but in this story, the word used to describe the 12 changes. Throughout Matthew’s Gospel, the 12 are called “disciples” – meaning “followers.” But when Jesus sends them out, Matthew uses a new word to describe them. He calls them, “Apostles.” Apostles means people who are sent…messengers.
These apostles are sent to go do the same work Jesus has been doing. Jesus has been casting out unclean spirits, curing diseases, raising the dead, and proclaiming the good news that the kingdom of heaven has come near. He sends his followers to do the same thing.
They’re not equipped to do it. They don’t know what they’re doing. They can’t do any of that work on their own. They have to depend on the Holy Spirit to guide them.
To emphasize their dependence on God, Jesus even tells them to set out without preparing. They don’t get to take any money with them, or an extra coat, or even a bag for their journey.
I’m still working on this part: I packed a suitcase before I came this week and I brought along my own alb. Perhaps I’m less trusting than the disciples.
But Jesus says it is the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
It’s not that God is only calling certain people, or that pastors are so great, or that these disciples had something so special to turn them into apostles; it’s that the Holy Spirit is at work in them. They answered the call, they were willing to be laborers in the harvest, and God worked through them.
And the laborers are called to work beyond the walls of the church building. I used to have this idea that Jesus was talking about becoming a missionary, or being a pastor, or working at camp, or something like that. All of those are good and important, but if we’re only thinking about building God’s kingdom when we’re at church, we’re missing the point.
This is not a call for just particular super-Christians. This is a call for all who follow Jesus, at home, at work, at school, wherever you are in your daily life. This is a call for you.
At baptism, we say to the newly baptized person, “We receive you as a worker with us in the Kingdom of God.” We even say it to babies! Following Jesus and recognizing the good news that God loves you sends you out to share the good news with others.
You don’t have to know what you’re doing, or have all the answers. If God can use me, even in those times when I have no idea what I’m doing, then God can use you. And you can do more than stand there and stare in silence (although I still think that could be entertaining!).
Much better than staring in silence would be saying the basics – God loves you. Jesus died for you, and rose again so you be set free from whatever sin holds you prisoner. Our hope comes from God!
Look with me for a minute at our text from Romans 5. This is the heart of the Christian message, particularly our Lutheran flavor of it.
Turn to the middle of page 5 in your bulletin and read with me the first two phrases of verse one from Romans 5: “Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”
This is theology 101. How do we get peace with God? Through Jesus. That’s the good news!
That word “justified” means being made right with God (I have a seminary degree – trust me!), so how are we made right with God? Through faith. What do we do to make ourselves right with God? Nothing! God does the work. That’s the message we carry.
God didn’t wait for us to get our act together or figure it all out. Instead, Paul writes, “While we were still weak, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly.”
While we were still weak, God called us to love and serve our neighbors. While we were still weak, God made us witnesses, calling us to point to Christ and to what God is doing in the world. While we were still weak, God sent us into the harvest.
As members of Christ’s body, you have been chosen and called as God’s representatives in the world. And through the Holy Spirit, God equips you to answer the call. Thanks be to God!