This is an adapted form of the sermon I preached this morning. I was not at my regular congregation this morning. Instead, I was doing a “pulpit exchange” with a congregation we partner with. The gospel reading was Mark 9:38-50.
Jesus had disciples, people who followed him. He led them, he taught them, he trained them, and they did his work in the world, his work of healing and teaching and sharing the good news. But in today’s gospel, those disciples found out that someone else was out there doing Christ’s work too. They found out that someone was casting out demons in Christ’s name, yet he wasn’t one of them. They were concerned about this, because they thought that only they could do Christ’s work. Only they were properly trained; only they were properly vetted; only they were properly called. But Christ said to them, “Do not stop him!” The disciples were wrong. Other people could do Christ’s work, and other people were doing it, and Christ said, “Do not stop them!”
I can understand the feeling the disciples had. It is a temptation for pastors to believe that we’re the only ones who do God’s work. After all, we have been properly trained. I can show you my seminary diploma. We have been properly vetted. I can show you my certificate of ordination. We have been properly called. I can show you my letter of call. It’s easy to slip into thinking that Prince of Peace is “my” church. That I am the shepherd there, and the congregation is my sheep. And you, of course, are Larry and Rob’s sheep. It is tempting for pastors to believe that whatever good happens at a church, we deserve the credit. To believe that we pastors do the real work, the real teaching, and everyone else supports us.
And then I open my eyes. And I look around. And I see. And I see this congregation, who functioned without a called pastor for about five years.
And I see that in that time you continued to provides pasties and other food for the whole community. And you always made sure there were extra to give away. You provided an ice cream social, a time of great fellowship, for the whole community. You provided lots of help for PUMP. You cleaned up yards, planted flowers, and spread mulch for people who needed help. And the number of young people in this congregation is extraordinary for a congregation your size. And all that happened with no pastor here.
These things are God’s work. God has done them through your hands. And I look at how you function now, with a brand new model of pastoral leadership. You are living out this pilot program, with trained and vetted leaders from two congregation. But their training, their vetting, is not the same as mine. Larry and Rob have not been ordained in the ELCA, and there was a time when their ministry would not be considered valid ministry. But that time is changing. There was a time when we would have called this congregation “vacant.” We would have said that you are in a vacancy, because you are without a typical pastor. How arrogant! You’re not vacant. You have good, strong, creative, faithful leadership. And I’m referring both to Larry and Rob, and to the lay leaders here. And besides that, Christ’s people are never “vacant,” when we have Christ with us. And you most certainly have Christ with you here. “Whoever is not against us is for us,” Jesus said in today’s gospel. I hear him saying to the church today, “There are many ways to serve me. Many ways to follow me. Don’t stop people who are doing it differently.”
We are doing it differently here. We are exploring new forms of ministry, new styles of leadership. It’s not perfect. There are some growing edges. This congregation, and Prince of Peace, and Zion United, can learn new ways of working together, and hopefully we will over time. But this is true of anything new. Christ never promised perfection. But Christ promised to be with us, no matter what, and called us to follow him, no matter what.
Christ is with you in everything you do as Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church. And Christ is with you outside the church as well. You are doing Christ’s work in your daily lives, work that is just as important as the work of the church. The way you take care of your children, or the way you take care of your parents. That’s Christ’s work. Your volunteer work, the way you give time and money to organizations you believe in. That’s Christ’s work. Doing your job with integrity and honesty. Taking an extra moment to help someone. Making time to care for one another, to drive someone to an appointment, to rake leaves for someone. To pray for someone. That is Christ’s work. You are doing it.
When I am tempted to believe that only pastors can do God’s work, Christ shows me you, and says to me, “Are you kidding?” And Christ says to me, as he said to the disciples, “Do not stop them!”
And I realize that my ministry, as important as it is, is so tiny compared to all the work God is doing. Jesus said once, “You are the salt of the earth,” and I look out at you, and I see that it is true. You are the salt that God is using to season this world, to season this community, with love, and grace, and life. In today’s gospel, Jesus said, “Have salt in yourselves.” I think he means, believe in yourselves. Believe in the power of God that is working through you. Believe that you are God’s salt. Jesus said, “Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”
Keep working together. Keep believing in one another. Keep listening to one another. Talk through your differences. Have courage. Take risks. Believe in yourselves. Believe in God. Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another, and you will see God at work. You will continue to be God’s hands in this community.
Christ says to you, “Do not stop! You are my hands in this world. You are doing my work. And I have more for you to do.”