Friday, November 03, 2017

November 5, Proper 26: Space, Practice, Vision #10: Here I Am

Joshua 3:7-17, Psalm 107:1-7, 33-37, 1 Thessalonians 2:9-13, Matthew 23:1-12

St. Paul reminds the Thessalonian Christians that he was like a father to them. So then if one of these Thessalonians gratefully and respectfully refers to him as Father Paul, does that transgress the admonition of the Lord Jesus to call no man Father? I get addressed as Father out in public rather often. I don’t correct it. I’m sometimes called Padre. I accept it.

Should you call me Reverend? If you call me Pastor, I say, Here I am. But let me confess that I have always been uncomfortable with these titles, maybe a little bit because of this admonition, but more because of my inner struggle with having ended up a pastor. It was not my dream for my life.

And yet I like being called Dominee, which is the Dutch Reformed title, but that one really violates Our Lord’s admonition because it’s from the Latin for Lord. Here in Park Slope the children call their teachers by their first names, and some children in this church innocently call me Daniel, which I accept without liking it, but at least the kids are not transgressing Our Lord’s admonition!

When the Lord Jesus admonishes us like this, we have to remember that Our Lord is never about setting up a new set of rules to replace the old rules. He doesn’t do do’s-and-don’ts. Once again he is making a sweeping statement to sweep away everything, to bring everything under total judgment, even apparently good things, so that even the good things that you do, you recognize as also compromised, and that your good works have value not in themselves but because God lovingly accepts them, and that your best efforts have moral value precisely and only in your humility. If people call me Father, or Master, or Teacher, I accept it not as my prerogative but as my reminder of the necessary humility of my receiving love and needing love. Hineini, Here I am.

Today I’m talking about my peculiar position in this community of Jesus, my position as your pastor. This week our three lessons, including Joshua, combined to cause me to reflect on the importance of the ministry to a church. It struck me how even though I am never mentioned in either of our mission statements, old or new, yet my job, my role, my voice, and even my person is so important to the space and the practice and the vision of this church.

Why is that, why am I such a big deal in the church? You know, for the last 500 years, we Protestant have been waving our “priesthood of all believers” banner against the Roman Catholic hierarchy, yet here I am, with my salary and benefits costing you the largest portion of your church’s budget.

Have you noticed that the deacons never put the collection bag in front of me? We’ve never discussed it, but to not do that has been the unspoken custom in all five of my charges. In some church traditions, the pastor is the first one the deacons go to, and he visibly pulls out his wallet, and shows some cash, as he puts it in the plate. I won’t do that. But Melody and I do tithe.

By tithing I mean we put our giving money back to God into our budget, before our mortgage and our utilities and insurance. Tithing means that you budget the first percentage of your money to return to God. Your minimum should be one percent. Your target is ten percent, and every year you raise the percentage a step towards ten percent. It’s not a law, it’s not a do-or-don’t, it’s a voluntary inner exercise to practice your worship and your service. It is making space within your checkbook for unconditional welcome. It is holding up your debit card under the vision of the kingdom of heaven. Tithing isn’t charity, it’s clarity, it is purpose and intention.

“That’s easy for you to say, Pastor, or Dominee, or Daniel, whatever, it’s in your self-interest. Whatever you tithe comes back to you as salary! What a scam. What a confidence game.” Well, yes, I had better be worthy of your confidence. 

But your tithing is in your self-interest too, first, because you need to give money just to be spiritually healthy, and second, because your community of Jesus needs to do mission in real terms in the real world. Your community of Jesus does not exist for itself, but for its mission, and your tithing pays for the programs of worship and music and teaching and sanctuary and hospitality that express your mission to the public world.

Neither does your community of Jesus exist in itself, on its own, but only and always as an answer to the call of God, “Here we are.” And that call of God that brings you into being as a community takes form, according to St. Paul, from the urging and encouraging and pleading of ministers, like myself, who keep calling you to your calling. He wrote to the Thessalonians, “When you received the word of God that you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word but as what it really is, God’s word.”

Yes, I am your pastor, your shepherd, your teacher, your song leader, your prayer leader, your board president, your CEO, your face to the public, but my first obligation is to be always calling your community to your mission. My first job is to keep calling to your mission. That’s never done. Look, communities like equilibrium. Stasis. Comfort. To groom themselves like cats. My job is to pick you up and put you out the door. To disturb your comfort as much as comfort you.

Not with my own words, but my well-informed and thoroughly human interpretations of the Bible, which you accept as what it really is, God’s word. So even though my job is not mentioned in the mission statement, to state your mission is my job! My job is mission-statement! The reason you donate towards my salary is because St. Paul tells us that a community of Jesus needs someone working night and day to keep proclaiming to you the gospel of God.

This week I have to pre-register for Medicare. I am 64. I will be with you a couple more years, to get you back into the sanctuary, and then for a while to get you accustomed to the sanctuary, and then for a while to help you to open up the sanctuary once again for mission to the public. And then you will look for someone new. Someone with new gifts and skills and attributes that I don’t have.

You will present that person with your new mission statement, whatever its final language is. And you will tell that person: Here’s our mission, now you keep calling us to it. Be like our mother and a nurse tenderly caring for her children, but also be like a father in urging us, encouraging us, and pleading with us to lead our lives worthy of God.

We will call you reverend, not for yourself but for your Lord who uses you, we will call you pastor, and mother, and fearing the admonition of Jesus we will even call you father and teacher and instructor. We will not call you Messiah, we will not call you savior, because you cannot rescue or save us or even guarantee our future. But we will honor you by answering your call, and we will keep on saying, Here we are. Each one of you, Here I am.

One other thing not in our draft new mission statement is the word Love. I think that’s okay, because it will arise out of the interplay of unconditional welcome and service, provided you do this interplay under the vision of the Kingdom of heaven. And that’s because the constitution of that Kingdom is love, and the law of that Kingdom is love, and the atmosphere of the Heavens is love, and the nature and the name of its King is Love (Charles Wesley).

So I have faith and hope that your next pastor may love this community of Jesus as much I have, and may experience from you, as much as I have, the love of God in Jesus Christ.

Copyright © 2017 by Daniel Meeter, all rights reserved.

No comments: