Objects: the Pastor’s certificate of ordination and degree of Master of Divinity
Key verses: And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..... (Matthew 28:18-19)
These are two very important documents in my life. The first certificate indicates that I was awarded the degree of Master of Divinity from Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon. The second certificate indicates that I was ordained on June 16, 1991 by Bishop Marlin Aadland.
These two pieces of paper give me the authority to preach and tell others about Jesus. I have been educated and tested and examined and I was found to be worthy to graduate from LTS and to be ordained by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
Do YOU have degrees similar to mine?
You DON’T? Oh my, I guess the rest of you are NOT qualified. The rest of you are not WORTHY to be witnesses of Jesus.
You know, that’s the way we think in the church; the pastor is worthy, the pastor is qualified and the pastor goes out and tells people about Jesus. The rest of you, the rest of us..... stay home.
That’s the way WE think, but that is NOT the way that GOD thinks. I have lots of stores and anecdotes to tell you.
Some of you may have heard of the Alpha course.
The Alpha course was started in 1977 by the Reverend Charles Marnham, a curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton, a Church of England parish in London. It started as a course for church members regarding the basics of beliefs commonly held by many believers in Christ but then began to be used as an introduction for those interested in the faith. The Very Reverend John Irvine, at that time a curate at Holy Trinity, Brompton, took over running the course and developed it into the 10-week format which continues to this day. In 1990 the Reverend Nicky Gumbel, a curate at Holy Trinity, took over the running of the course at the invitation of the Reverend Sandy Millar (vicar at that time) and oversaw its revision and expansion.
Nicky Gumbel appears on the DVD lectures in the Alpha course.
Nicky Gumbel was a reluctant convert to Christianity, a man who was a lawyer and a skeptic. Eventually the lawyer became a reluctant Anglican priest who then became the face of the Alpha program which has become a very prominent, world-wide program for telling the story of Jesus.
Who would have thought? Those who have met Nicky Gumbel readily agree that HE would have never imagined such an explosion of Christian witness, and Nicky Gumbel himself is “blown away” with the thought that HE had a hand in such witness.
During one of the Alpha course videos, Nicky Gumbel told the story of a young man who was a party-animal, a womanizer and a non-believer. He had nothing to do with the Christian faith, yet God answered the prayers of his mother and the young man turned his life around. Eventually the young convert to the Christian faith became a priest, and then a bishop and finally one of the most influential theologians of the Christian faith. The man is most commonly known as St. Augustine.
By the way, St. August was born in November 13, 354 AD and died August 28, 430 AD. For those who are not quick on the math, that is roughly 1,600 years ago.
St. Augustine had a huge influence upon an insecure German monk by the name of Martin Luther, who was searching for a gracious and loving God. Martin Luther read a lot of the writings of St. Augustine.
Who would have imagined that LUTHER who struggled with doubt all his life, would have been a major vessel in proclaiming the story of Jesus?
Speaking of the most unlikely of witnesses, consider the disciples of Jesus. Throughout the gospels, the disciples of Jesus are painted as a bunch of goofs: they accompany Jesus in his ministry, they see all the signs and miracles and wonders and they miss the boat. At one point they confess that Jesus is the Christ, God’s Messiah, but as quickly as they come to that realization, they slide back into some form of semi-consciousness. THEN, when they were REALLY needed, they failed miserably.
Okay, so they didn’t always “get” Jesus. At least they could have stood by him and offered their support or their lives. When the heat was on and Jesus was being arrested, tried and tortured, the disciples of Jesus fled. They hid behind closed doors and were reluctant to come out into the open. It took some brave and courageous women to venture out and discover the empty tomb, but most, if not all of the disciples of Jesus continued to cower.
We are tempted to criticize the disciples, but we should not imagine that we would have done better. Jesus does not rebuke them. He understands their doubt, but he speaks to their faith. He understands their frailty, but calls them to carry on his work. "It is not to angels or perfect believers, but to the worshiping/wavering community of disciples to whom the world mission is entrusted.”
These underachievers were running true to form, but then what would you expect from a bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, social misfits and outcasts?
So what to do with these guys?
Jesus ENTRUSTS them with a mission, THE mission.
Jesus sends these underachievers out, to baptize, to convert, to teach, to tell God’s story of Jesus. Imagine that you and I, our ancestors, 2 millennium worth of believers, were dependent for OUR faith story, upon such an incompetent and disloyal bunch.
Yet, Jesus entrusts his story to THEM. Here is grace, the grace of Jesus in action. But such graceful action has always been a part of Jesus and the way of God. The history of the Judeo-Christian faith is full of stories and people who were not the obvious choices. The way of Jesus, the way of God has always been to use the supposed weakest links to accomplish God’s purposes.
There are in fact, so many underachievers, that one doesn’t know where to start, but how about this for an example.
How about Moses? God called Moses to lead God’s people out of slavery from Egypt. Moses was a runaway who hid out in the Sinai peninsula, quite convinced that he did not have the skills or the desire for such an important task. At one point, his greatest objection to such a mission is the fact that he does not perceive himself to be a capable public speaker. God fixed that by appointing Moses’ cousin Aaron as the PR guy. God needed to liberate God’s people, to keep the story going. God entrusted the runaway with the vitally important mission; Moses liberated the people from slavery and led them towards the promised land.
Or.... how about the prophet Jonah, who complained and belly-ached and avoided the task of proclaiming God’s story in what he perceived to be hostile territory. No matter how much Jonah avoided or messed up, God pressed Jonah to proclaim God’s story. In the end, God ended up sending Jonah by boat and then via the belly of a whale, in order to get Jonah to the appointed destination. Jonah finally got it; he became God’s messenger.
Or.... how about the apostle Paul? Paul is probably the most influential Christian witness but he started out as an antagonist, a persecutor of early Christians. You can read in the book of Acts, how Paul, then known as Saul, stood by, holding the coats of those who were stoning the Stephen, the first Christian martyr. Yet.... most amazingly, God used Paul to proclaim the story of Jesus. Paul embarked on many missionary journeys, established many churches and his writings form an important part of our New Testament scripture.
It has ALWAYS been this way; the Bible is replete with people who became important parts of God’s witness. The spirit of God moves in gracious and amazing ways.
As usual, God uses the average, the ordinary, to accomplish God’s purposes. Of course, all the stories and individuals that I have mentioned are famous examples. We need not get self conscious or self-deprecating and imagine that God would NEVER use “little old me,” to tell God’s story. God DOES use the ordinary, everyday people to get the job done. That INCLUDES you and me. Whether we believe it or not, whether we understand it or not, God uses US to tell the story of Jesus.
Today’s gospel reading has often been called “The Great Commission.” The great commission is not about OUR abilities or our belief, but it is of grace. We who doubt are given the job. It is not because we have been good at it, or have earned it or have been deemed worthy. Rather, it is because we have been claimed and we have been committed. God has taken us to God’s self.
These degrees of mine are not worth a hill of beans. These “SHINGLES,” as they are often called, give me no authority and certainly do not contribute to my ability.
In the gospel today Jesus says that HE has been given all authority in heaven and on earth. “Go therefore,” he says. In other words he says, “BECAUSE I have been given the authority, I am sending YOU to be my witnesses; you who are unqualified, you who wonder, you who doubt, you who fear.
Ah you say, but the pastor STILL has 2 more degrees in theology than I do!
But that is not true. YOU have the same degree in theology that I do.
It begins HERE, at the baptismal font. Water is poured upon us, God claims us and God says that we are worthy, no matter what WE think. We are washed and sent out because God chooses US.
In Lutheran doctrine, we say that EVERYTHING originates with our baptisms. The ultimate degree that we are conferred with is our baptisms. Our Confirmations, our Ordinations, all are rooted in our BAPTISMS.
That is why, in the Lutheran Church, we do not consider Confirmation or Ordination as a Sacrament. We say that Confirmation and Ordination are just ordinances, religious directives that bring order and enhance our faith life.
The Sacrament of Baptism on the other hand, conveys God’s love, forgiveness, God’s acceptance of us. Our Baptisms send us out to be witnesses for Christ. And our Baptisms tell us that we are not qualified with anything other than the grace of God.
Because God believes in US, even though we struggle and doubt, we are given the job. We are not particularly able, nor are we necessarily good at it, or have earned it or have been deemed worthy. Rather, it is because we have been claimed God that we are given the task.
How amazing. Thanks be to God. Amen.