In the Name...
A priest was performing the baptism of a tiny infant. A five-year-old girl in the congregation was watching everything very carefully. Observing that the priest was saying some words and pouring water over the infant's head, the little girl turned to her father and asked: "Daddy, is that called brainwashing?"
Last week, as we celebrated the Feast of All Saints, I observed that all of us are saints because of our baptism into Christ. Today, I'd like to further observe that not only are we saints, all of us are ministers, as well.
In our Prayer Book it says, “The ministers of the Church are lay persons, bishops, priests, and deacons." - four groups - and there's been a great emphasis in recent years on encouraging lay people to realize that God has given each of us gifts for ministry and wants us to use them. Of course, since it seems like it’s the clergy who talk the most about lay ministry one may be suspicious that it’s just the priest’s way of getting out of his job.
But, if you’re looking for a good example of lay ministry, and its importance in the life of the church, then look no further than the prophet Amos from whom we heard this morning. Now, Amos was not a priest or a Levite, he was just a herdsman with a side line in sycamore trees, but, God told him to go and preach to the Jewish ruling class. And the message God gave Amos to preach was that the long-awaited "day of the Lord" would bring them nothing but doom and gloom unless they fixed the inequities in their society and did something for the poor.
Now, this was pretty startling because the Jewish rulers saw “the day of the Lord” as the day when God would destroy the pagans and give the Jews a great empire for them to rule and enjoy. And they wanted it to come soon. Well, be careful what you ask for, the prophet might say. “Alas for you who desire the day of the Lord! … Is not the day of the Lord darkness, not light, and gloom with no brightness in it?”
You can imagine the reaction he got. But, God called him to use his gifts of ministry. And what gifts did he have? Faith, courage, a love of God, and a passion for justice - all of which God provided.
And so it is with us, all of us. God has called and gifted each of us in our baptism with whatever it is we need to do whatever it is He wants us to do. And baptism not only brings with it the opportunity to minister, as Amos did, but, also the responsibility to do so.
How can that be, though? How can we all minister or preach? After all, there’s only one sermon in church each week, and it always seems to be given by someone we call a "minister."
Well, the word “preach” literally means "to proclaim", or "make known". And one of my favourite sayings is from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” “Preach the Gospel at all times; use words if necessary.” You see, the best way we preach and proclaim our faith is not necessarily in what we say, but, in what we do.
By all accounts, St. Paul was a terrible speaker. The Bible even tells us people fell asleep during his sermons. But, he had a gift for writing and his letters not only moulded the Early Church, they speak to us today. But, more importantly even than that, his life, his life, really reflected the life of Christ. To paraphrase an old saying, he might not have been able to talk the talk, but, he could walk the walk.
And so it is with us. We might not all be the world's greatest speakers or even writers, but, we can all be the world's greatest preachers and ministers simply by using what God has given us.
Maybe we have a gift for organizing, or for music, or for generosity, or for saying the right word to the right person at the right time. Some of us are great coaches or teachers and others can't lead the proverbial horse to water. But, we might have a gift of hospitality or service or compassion or, even, a sense of humour. That's why some of us are salesmen and others are nurses, why some are policemen and others are artists. These are the secular ways we use our gifts to build up society. What if we used those same gifts to build up the church?
Just like with Amos, it all starts with faith, and the rest comes from God.
Over nearly forty years as a priest, I've often heard people say to me, “Oh, I can't possibly do that job. I can't lead a class. I can't serve on that committee. I can't ...you name it." It's only natural. Even Moses felt that way. But, as God said to him, those objections reflect a lack of faith in God. It’s as if we’re saying that God doesn't have the power to equip us to do whatever it is.
I think most of us have heard this quote: "Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God."
It's a modern quote, but, it's nothing new. The whole burden of the Old Testament is that the people of Israel are a "priestly people". That is, certain persons have a specialized call to offer sacrifice and lead worship, but, every Israelite has a calling to some form of ministry. And Amos makes that point to the Israelite leaders. He tells them that being chosen by God means that God’s expectations of them are greater. As Jesus said, of whom much is given, much is expected. And so it is with us, baptized ministers all.
I found myself thinking about all of this, not only this week in light of our reading from Amos, but, in light of a little ceremony we had at St. Paul’s four years ago. It was a celebration of, as the bulletin said, a "New Ministry" and there wasn't just one name on the cover. In fact, my name was in second place. The billing was led by St. Paul's Episcopal Church and, in his sermon, Fr. Sam used the text from Numbers where Moses offered the prayer, "Would that all God's people were prophets!" to remind us that Yes, you are.
Being here has been a new ministry for me, both as an ordained priest and as a baptized Christian, but it has also been for all of us. Every day is a new ministry and we are all called to minister and preach. We are all called to proclaim the Gospel. And, we have all that it takes – faith, our baptism into the body of Christ, and more gifts than we can begin to imagine.
So, let's put them to use.
In the Name...