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September 17, 2006 (Sunday 24 • Time after Pentecost)
Pastor Karen Parker
Isaiah 50:4–9; James 3:13–4:3, 7–8a; Mark 9:30–37
Grace to you, and peace from the triune God: Source, Savior and Spirit! Amen!
I’m delighted to be with you this morning to participate in this time of worship together and to have time to teach and answer questions about the call process in the adult forum.
It was good to meet with the call committee yesterday morning to bring names, to spend time with them and the Church Council last night at Pastor Steve’s, and to be part of one of your Ohana meetings.
It has been a privilege to be with many of you during my visit!
Our ministry as synod staff is to walk with you in a variety of ways. Did you know that’s the meaning of the word “synod”—to walk alongside—and it’s what we do as synod staff, and will continue to do—mostly on the phone and behind the scenes—as we join with you in this adventure of calling a new pastor.
We’re so grateful for our long partnership with you as a congregation and we look forward to continued relationships in the coming years!
Bishop Murray asked me to bring his greetings and assure you that he holds you in his heart and prayers, always, of course, but especially now in this transition time!
Early one morning I was walking in a park and in the distance ahead of me I saw what appeared to be an elderly woman for whom it was somewhat difficult to negotiate the walking path. “I’ll catch up to her in no time,” I thought, setting an immediate goal to pass her.
I walk briskly! I walk downright fast! I pushed myself, but that figure eluded me!
I rounded a curve at the half-way point, sweating and panting, but still I hadn’t caught up.
I pushed myself harder!
Then as I drew somewhat closer, I could see that it wasn’t a woman after all; it was a man who, obviously, had no difficulty negotiating the path.
Finally, increasingly weary, and just as I neared my turn-off point, I caught up!
As I passed him, he smiled and said, “You keep up a good clip.”
It’s funny how that word encouraged me! In fact, it actually sustained me as I walked the mile home. He who had “pulled me around the track” (so to speak) gave me encouragement, an emotional boost to go on with a lighter step. His was a word that sustained! Simple, unexpected, and appreciated!
Isaiah wrote about such a word in our first lesson: “The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.”
I’ve heard many words in my week in Honolulu: Hawaiian words, English words, Chinese words. I’ve heard words sung and spoken, words of welcome and appreciation, and yes, words of concern and anxiety about finding just the right pastor.
I’ve heard words witnessing to openness and welcome in the LCH community. Through the Ohana gatherings I’ve heard words of amazing witness about what brought people to this place and what keeps them here.
And...yes, I’ve heard words of pain and hurt as people opened up about the wounding words that have been spoken to them. In honest conversations people have voiced with candor their frustrations as well as appreciation and hopeful expectations for continuing and new ministries at Lutheran Church of Honolulu.
Words can sustain and give life, can encourage, challenge and pull us beyond ourselves: and words can tear us apart, can break and hurt us. And we, my brothers and sisters in Christ, can and do speak both kinds of words: hurtful as well as helpful.
We wish it weren’t so—we wish, and sometimes kid ourselves, that it’s others who say mean things, that we’re innocent victims of hurtful words of others; but we? We’re the ones who always speak kindly.
It’s just not so. And we know it.
In theological terms we are simul iustis et peccator; simultaneously saint and sinner!
James makes that point in our second lesson when he writes: “No one can tame the tongue ... with it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. ... My brothers and sisters,” he writes, addressing us personally, “this ought not be so.”
But it’s the reality of life, the context of ministry. That’s why we have confession as part of worship. That’s why we need to continually work to build true community both as outreach to those who don’t yet know God’s grace through Jesus Christ, and within our communities of faith—we who profess to be the body of Christ in this time and place.
And by the grace of God (and only by the grace of God) we are forgiven and accepted—despite our hurtful words—and thereby given the grace to forgive and accept those who have hurt us.
Grace—it’s an amazing thing! Words—they’re important things!
Even Jesus wondered about what words people were using in speaking about him. “Who do people say that I am?” he asked his disciples. And they reported a variety of the things they’d heard.
What Jesus really wanted to know was about the hearts and minds of his disciples: “But who do you say that I am?” he went on. Peter answered with the perfect word, “You are the Messiah.”
It was the right answer! It sounded like a sustaining word, but then Jesus went on to tell them what it meant. And it wasn’t a pretty picture, certainly not the picture, not the future they would choose for their beloved leader or for themselves!
“Suffering? Death? No, no, that can’t be right. That’s not the way we would design the future; we want it our way, we want future, ministry to take place according to our design.”
I’m sure it was out of love and concern that Peter reacted to Jesus’ words; who would want their friend to suffer and be killed? Certainly their ideas would be the better way to go into the future!
It always seems obvious (at least it does to me; doesn’t it to you?) that my/your way is best! But could it be that my way, your way, or their way isn’t the best way? Could it really be that God has a better idea than Peter’s, or mine, or yours? A way very different than you or I would design?
Jesus talks about that way—the way of the cross—in our text. The way of the cross is the way of love, self-denial, and self-sacrifice; it means spending one’s life for one’s neighbor, putting the other ahead of myself, my wants, my agendas.
That’s not the normal way of our culture or society! We don’t see or hear that message in the advertising that surrounds us! We’re constantly told to preserve our image/ survival/ success /popularity, to “look out for #1.”
That’s very different from what Jesus said! Listen again to his words: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
What strange words! What a strange way to be sustained!
What is the sustaining word shaped by Jesus’ call to take up, to live by the way of the cross when it comes to the call process here at LCH?
I believe it is this: That the call committee is charged with discerning through prayer and hard work who it is that God would have to be the next pastor of this congregation for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
It’s not a popularity contest; it’s not about who they like best, who will lead from which agenda, or who will cost the least. The call process is a God thing!
It is about seeking the Holy Spirit’s guidance in discerning what God wants for this congregation and the whole church, in order that the gospel may be proclaimed and the sacraments administered according to the gospel.
That’s a big challenge, and you all have an important part in it!
When the call committee makes its recommendation, you’ll meet the candidate and vote whether to call that one as your next pastor.
In the meantime, your job is to pray! Pray regularly and often for the call committee, because theirs is a very difficult task—it takes time and a lot of work!
Your part is also to have patience. The call process takes a lot of time. I know, you think they’ve had a lot of time already. But it’s going to take more time. Quite a bit more! Reading and thoroughly studying the materials I’ve brought them about the candidates takes time! Setting schedules, getting to know them, and doing interviews takes time! Discussing and discerning takes time.
And all the while you are waiting. And we know that “inquiring minds want to know.” You want to know...everything! And you don’t get to.
That’s the most unpopular part of the call process! In this information age, it’s not popular to be told there are things you are not going to know, not going to be told.
It is the call committee who has been set aside by the congregation to be the ones to make the decision about who to present to the council and then ultimately to the congregation to vote on as your next pastor.
You will get to meet and get acquainted with him or her before you make the decision by voting in a congregational meeting. But until that time only the call committee (not spouses/partners, not Pr. Steve, not any staff), only the call committee will know who the candidates are.
Give them a break—don’t badger them for information because it is a confidential process. There are very good reasons for that!
The call committee will be spending time getting to know candidates on a variety of levels. Trust them, and more than that, trust God, for God is in this process.
Words are important! Words can enliven and words can destroy. And sometimes words need to be withheld.
After Peter made his wonderful confession and said those important words, “you are the Messiah,” Jesus ordered his disciples not to say anything to anyone about it.
That always seems strange, don’t you think?
The disciples needed to understand the big picture before they could speak the truth in love. That’s the task of your call committee from now until they have a candidate to recommend.
And you have a very important task in this process, even though you won’t have all the information you’ll be wishing you had. Your job is to pray!
Jesus announced a deep mystery of Christian faith in today’s text: that the way of the cross is the way of life, even though it may not seem like it.
Pray that everyone involved in the process will walk the way of the cross.
Pray for the committee and for their work.
Pray for the candidate that God would have be your next pastor.
Pray that God would be working in the heart of that one to hear God’s call personally, powerfully, and magnetically.
And pray that you will have the gift of knowing how to sustain the weary with a word.
I can pretty much guarantee that the call committee will grow weary in this process. It’s probably true that most of you might grow weary in the waiting. The candidates too, may grow weary, wondering if they will be chosen as the one God is guiding to lead in this place that they’ve opened themselves to.
I learned in that morning walk around the park that things are not always what they seem. It wasn’t an old woman leading this old woman, and the one I was trying to overcome witj speed, instead gave me the gift of overcoming my weariness!
I heard a sustaining word that morning when I’d grown weary. It was a gift that empowered me to keep going.
We have come here as a community of faith, energized, weary, or somewhere in between, to receive the sustaining, life-giving Word of God, and together to be empowered by God to speak and act in our own ways the words that will sustain the weary. May God’s great gift of Word and Sacrament sustain us with strength to follow Jesus’ way, the life-giving way of the cross!
Copyright © 2006 Karen Parker
Comments welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org