Time for the Choir to Preach (Printable Version)
A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli at St. Matthew’s UMC January 29, 2012, 4th Sunday after the Epiphany.
Texts: Deut. 18:15-20, Mark 1:21-28
I’m rolling into this Sunday with an awesome St. Matthew’s Leadership Retreat still fueling my spirit and with extra “juice” stoking the fire coming from four days of the Large Church Initiative conference of the UMC that focused on vision and leadership and the call of God upon the Church. And I get home, ready to “let ‘er rip” today…because I know that today is a day to celebrate our servant leaders and our shared ministries, and I think to myself “what perfect timing.” And then I read the texts for today: a story of a tortured spirit and a prophecy from Moses warning that any prophet speaking in a way that is not of God will die. Oh yeah. That’s helpful.
But after a bit of reflection, it became apparent to me that maybe the Holy Spirit is at work and that there just might be a reason we have these stories today. Moses prophesies that God will raise up a prophet like him—a mediator between God and the people who will speak God’s own Word. The people of God had asked for such a person (v. 16) and God responds here that it will happen. Many scholars recognize that Mark’s Gospel account (and others) portrays Jesus as the fulfillment of Moses’ prophecy. Namely, Jesus is the prophet like Moses, the one who bears the Word of the Lord and whose authority must be obeyed.
What we see today in Mark is that Jesus, this fulfillment of God’s prophecy through Moses, does not assert his authority as a power-hungry, rule-me-or-die leader. Rather, the thing that catches the attention of the masses is that Jesus uses his power and authority to heal, to compassionately care for a tortured spirit. Jesus embodies the Word of God in loving and liberating ways.
If Jesus had wanted, he could have just kept his little congregation together at his feet—a nice, close, community of fellowship and learning. He could have grown himself the biggest church in the area and garnered increasing praise and power and prestige. However, Jesus wanted the vision to grow and the message to spread beyond his own physical reach; Jesus wanted human lives and communities and the world to be healed and transformed. To facilitate this vision, Jesus sent out his disciples in pairs and “gave them authority over the unclean spirits.” (Mk. 6:7) In other words, Jesus decided that it was time for his congregation to preach. It was time for those true disciples who’d been listening and watching to get busy and be about the same healing and liberating work they’d seen in Jesus, fueled and empowered by Jesus’ love and his belief in them and their capacity to make a difference.
Today, here at St. Matthew’s, we recognize and celebrate that there are disciples of Jesus among us who have been called by God and who have responded to that call—to put their faith into practice and to share the Good News of Jesus through their servant leadership. As we think about leadership, pay attention to the way that Jesus led: he invited others into the ministry, he showed people what to do and how to be, and then he sent others out with the knowledge and authority to live and serve others as he did. That is how we, as leaders in the church, are called to serve: invite, model, teach, send, and support…we are called to be disciples of Christ who invite and equip and empower others for discipleship. When we apply this concept to the church as a whole, there are implications for all of us. The goal for our congregation is to become a congregation not of “church members” or “pew-sitters” but, rather, a congregation of fully devoted disciples of Jesus Christ. That means that as we celebrate our leaders today, we also recognize that the ministries that these folks are engaged in are not “their” ministries…rather, the work that we do as leaders is the church’s ministry in service to the larger mission—GOD’s mission in the world. Our work as leaders is to invite and engage everyone in the journey of discipleship for the transformation of the world.
God is at work in our midst wanting to do a “new thing.” And if it’s going to happen, it’s time for the choir to preach! If we want our ministry to grow and if we want to participate and bring to fruition what God is doing among us, it’s time for all of us (not just the leaders we’ll consecrate today) to decide whether we want to truly be disciples of Jesus (or whether we are just “members of a church”—there IS a difference). Disciples of Jesus are empowered to change the world, to transform lives, to have authority over unclean spirits—to follow in the footsteps of Jesus and to humbly and powerfully love and heal and serve. We SHARE Jesus Christ’s ministry. YOU have a share in that. The “professional church people” don’t get paid to do your ministry for you. Only you can do what God calls you to do. The servant leaders whom we will recognize and pray for in a few minutes aren’t standing in for you. They will be laboring to create more and more ways for you to name and claim your own place in God’s mission among us. Our new Luke 8 visitation ministry team is the most recent example of this. Our newly forming radical hospitality team is another. And today I’m asking for those present today who are called to a ministry of intercessory prayer to step up and make a commitment to pray for one or more of our servant leaders throughout this next year. If this is something that you would be willing to do, please write your name on a piece of paper, and, during our closing hymn, we’ll gather up your names and will then follow up with you later in the week to make assignments. None of us are too old or too busy or too young or too poor or too “anything” to share in God’s mission and to follow Christ. If you can’t serve on a ministry team, you can pray. If you can’t go on a mission trip, you can help support it financially. If you’re too shy to stand at the door and greet new people, you might help work on ways to make our building more inviting or our website more visitor-friendly. One of the questions I heard this past week at my conference is “What won’t happen if you don’t do what God is calling you to do?” That’s the question—for all of us—as we acknowledge that Jesus isn’t interested in gathering a bunch of pew-sitters who just watch him welcome others and heal and love and touch and transform. Jesus came as the fulfillment of the prophecies of old, as the embodiment of God’s Word—and that Word is for the poor, the hurting, the lost. Today, you and I are both called and empowered to “preach” that Word in and through our lives. It’s time for the “choir” to preach!