The Sunday Sermon – June 21, 2015
How do we use the convictions of our faith and the experiences of our God in the “real world,” the world beyond Sunday morning. How do we use the convictions of our faith and the experiences of our God to better understand how we should share the Good News, as “comfort and challenge” for our own lives and the lives of others. How can we use our own faith to “perform healings, exorcisms, and even resurrections” in the world, and to understand more honestly God’s will and our Christian response to poverty, injustice, intolerance, and so much more.
We understand that there is a cost to our discipleship. We read about that and heard about already. Three weeks ago from Matthew: We will be dragged before governors and kings because of (our faith)10:18 ; We will be hated by all because of (our faith).10:22 And two weeks ago from Luke: We cannot be disciples without giving up our possessions.14:33 There is a cost to our discipleship. But in the last few weeks, we’ve been acknowledging the reality that most of us are really not paying very much. So we’re taking a look at that reality and challenging ourselves: What are (some of) the costs and why aren’t we as fully invested as we ought to be?
Now, while these types of questions are perfect for a community, for all of us as a congregation, they are also profoundly personal questions, and at the end of any given “sermon,” at the end of these weeks this summer, they will remain profoundly personal. Whatever may follow this time together and my sermons, in the new ways you engage your discipleship, or the old ways you maintain it, will depend largely on you as an individual. No one here is going to kick you out because you haven’t “covered the cost.” We’re certainly not going to provide any less pastoral care, or ask any of you to step out when Communion is served, or condemn your commitment to the ongoing transformation of our world, however small it may be. The chastisement, or the reprimand, or more positively – “the change” – is yours to impart … on yourself. (My educated guess is that a few of you would really prefer that I “chastise you” more. That I remind you every week that you are “sinners in the hand of an angry God,” and tell you how you can “fix that” and what will happen if you don’t. But you know all that, already. God has shown us what is good and what the Lord requires of us. Micah 6:8 So … I’ll challenge, but I won’t condemn.) The corrective is your own to make. Making clearer some of the “costs,” some of the sacrifices, of our discipleship is my job, our job, this summer in our time together. Dong something about it, is yours.
Last week we looked at one of those “sacrifices:” The Community itself, the association we are a part of as disciples, specifically, this congregation, this church, Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church. The “community” that is present here is our strongest feature, and our biggest challenge. It is one of the greatest “costs” of our particular discipleship because it asks us to be at peace with one another, to admonish idlers and encourage the fainthearted, to help the weak and be patient with all. To rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks in all circumstances. To hold fast to what is good and abstain from every form of evil. 1 Thess. 5:13-22 It is one of the greatest “costs” of our particular discipleship because it asks us all to “show up” and notices when we don’t. That’s a cost that you are “paying” right now, so … good for you (and me, too!). We’re here! But there are a lot of folks who aren’t here this morning! Again, we’re going to leave the reprimands to them, but you could call someone later and let them know you missed them this morning.
So … community. The first way we “enact our discipleship” is to be community with, and for, each other. Harder to do in a small church. You’re missed more easily … we talked about all that, already. What’s next?
Listen to these words from 1 Peter, and listen for the Word of God …
The Word of the Lord …
These verses in the first letter of Peter are the foundation for the Protestant church’s, and the Reformed Tradition’s, understanding and articulation of the “priesthood of all believers.” Beginning with Martin Luther’s teaching that all baptized Christians are spiritual beings in the sight of God (not just an ordained “class”) and continuing through all the Reformation doctrines thereafter, the essential belief that God is equally accessible to all the faithful, all of us, and that every Christian has equal potential, and responsibility, to minister for God has marked the life of every Protestant Christian since. We all have work to do every day of our lives because of who we say we are: Disciples. We have “priestly roles” to engage and enact.
That’s where we’ll spend the remainder of our time this morning. Our “priestly roles” as disciples of Christ. I want you to take out the long insert in your bulletin and put that on your lap. This is not an exhaustive list of our priestly roles, I dare say, but it is pretty close. This list comes directly out of our denomination’s “Book of Order,” part II of the Constitution of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – G-1.0304, for those even more deeply “in the know!” (If you don’t know what that reference means, ask on of your Ruling Elders, they have this book memorized by now – even the new class. It’s been six months …J) By the way, this “insert” is included in every packet we give to New Members joining our Community. Just a reminder to them, I’m sure, but every reminder helps.
I’ve given you the whole list, but we’re just going to look, very briefly, at the first five. (Teaser: Next week we’ll be engaging our “Prophetic roles” as disciples and we’ll look at the last four.) The first five responsibilities, are as good a place as any to understand the “cost of our discipleship” in terms of the priestly roles we are called to engage. Let’s look at them.
And I love this every time I share it. The very first “priestly role” … anyone? Yea … Preach! Proclaim the Good News! It’s going to be helpful, of course, to know what that “good news,” is. And there are many different responses to that question, depending on a denomination’s, or an individual’s, theological viewpoint. What I teach and preach in my ministry, here and in my live, is that the Good News of Jesus Christ is that “the Kingdom of God is here,” among us, within us. What made Jesus unique among the apocalyptic prophets of the first century was that he proclaimed God’s Kingdom here, not near; not imminent but realized, present already. Not fully present or fully realized, and that’s where we come in, with our roles to play. “Proclaim the Good News!” How?
In words attributed to St. Francis, but probably not spoken by him we “proclaim the good news constantly and always, in every task we undertake and in every relationship we hold. And when necessary we use words!” Our very lives are a proclamation, a witness, or should be to the Kingdom of God on earth. What’s the next responsibility?
“Taking part in the common life and worship of the church,” specifically Pewee Valley Presbyterian church. That’s a role we must play, we cost we must pay. That was last week, this community. Next …
“Praying and studying scripture and the faith of the Christian church.” Okay, show of hands … how many of you do either of those, let alone all three, with any regularity? I know there are a few … any more? Again, it is our “duty” as a Christian, a cost of our discipleship. A joy, too, I might add, but … I think we “professionals” in the church have made this “duty” less enjoyable, to be honest with you. We divided ourselves into liberal and conservative camps and decided that specific ways of interpreting are better than others and that “no one interpretation” is definitive for “all people at all times and in all places.” The average church member has stopped dong this on their own, truly. We may read scripture regularly, but we don’t study it outside of Sunday morning much, and I’ll bet only one or two of you study the faith of the Christian Church on your own. But there it is. A priestly role, a cost of our discipleship, a joy for our lives left … undone, unpaid, un-experienced more often than not.
“Supporting the work of the church through the giving of money, time and talents.” That’s a cost that everyone here has “paid.” I guarantee it. If only because you are here this morning, as we’ve noted already. But every one of you has given and continues to give, much more. In addition to our annual Operating budget, funded primarily through the pledges offered each fall and given throughout the year, every one gives something. Beyond that, there are special offerings. The very reason we’re here in this gym this morning is because most of you (perhaps all of you here) contributed to the Capital Campaign begun in 2013. The actual cost of our mission and ministry comes as you engage another “cost of your discipleship.” Again, I’ll leave the amounts of time, talent, and tithes for you to be comforted or challenged by. But this “cost” is encouraged here and embraced here.
Finally for this morning, “participating in the governing responsibilities of the church.” Again, I suggest, a cost that is paid well in this community. Let me ask another question about this one: How many of you have served as an Elder, on Session, in this congregation? Show of hands … (Our Nominating Committee should be taking quick notes!) …I thought so. Most of you. According to our Book of Order, Elders may serve two consecutive three-year terms before having to rotate off the Session for at least a year. The practice since I’ve been here has been to limit the term to one three-year term. There are several reasons for this, of course, but what even makes this possible is knowing that so many of you are not only willing, but able to serve as a Ruling Elder.
There are other ways we participate in the governing responsibilities, too: Every Ministry Team includes many more of you than are Elders. Ad Hoc groups and Session appointed positions allow others to live into their membership vows and their discipleship, as well. So …
That was kind of fun! Again, this list of “priestly roles” is not exhaustive, but it is pretty comprehensive. Take it home with you and discern for yourself where you are “living into” your call in Christ and where you need to invest more deeply. I humbly submit that, for a community our size (which is not small, by the way, compared to so many other tiny, tiny, congregations), for a community our size we engage our priestly roles pretty well. Always more ways we can “nurture and care for one another,” but …
Next week, we’ll look at the prophetic roles we are called to engage as Christians, and Presbyterians, and we find ourselves a bit more cautious there. If, and as, we do, we will challenge ourselves to deeper and more meaningful lives in Christ as we, in the words of Peter “proclaim the mighty acts of him who called us out of darkness into God’s marvelous light.”
Amen … for now.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor