Sermon date: June 22, 2008
Scripture: Matthew 9:9-26
Sermon Title: "The Makings of Ministry"
Over the last few months I have taken on a new endeavor: baking. As most of you know, I like to try my hand at cooking. I’m known for my fried chicken, my gumbo.
But for the longest time I put off learning how to bake, fearing that with all the exact measurements and clock watching needed, I wouldn’t be able to bake a thing.
Gladly, I was wrong. One of the things I happen to be good at baking is lemon bars. Ooh, I make a good lemon bar. Better then store bought, and I ain’t lying. They’re so good I’ve expanded into making, lemon-lime bars, pineapple lemon bars and coconut pineapple lemon bars.
All rich, gooey, lemony goodness.
But here is the thing that fascinates me: compared to all of the ingredients it takes to make a lemon bar, there is hardly any lemon in it.
The recipe is easy and straight forward. 1 ½ cups of flour, plus an extra 3 tablespoons. 2/3 a cup of powdered sugar and additional powdered sugar is to be sprinkled on the finished product.
3/4 cup of butter. 3 eggs. 1 ½ cup of sugar.
The last ingredient: 1/4 cup of lemon juice.
The dessert is called lemon bars, but lemon is the least used ingredient and the last ingredient to be put in. A more accurate name would be calling them flour-butter-egg bars, but that just doesn’t have the right sound to it. Although sugar-sugar-butter bars does have a certain ring to it.
No, when it comes to baking, sometimes what defines the dish is actually the lesser of all the ingredients.
Sort of like parish ministry.
Ministry in a church is an odd thing, a very odd thing. This notion of someone being given the supreme chore of caring for and talking with God’s beloved children.
Ministry has many meaning and if I was to ask every person here what they thought the main job of a church minister is, we’d get a variety of answers, but the two main answers would be to preach the sermon and to visit people.
Or as some may say "work a 15 minutes week and then spend the rest of the time sipping coffee." I admit I was one of those people. When you put ministry into that context it sounds nice and easy to do.
But preaching and visiting are just 2 ingredients that go into ministry pie. There are many others, as we will see in today’s reading.
In the Gospel of Matthew we glimpse a day in the life of Jesus’ ministry, and it is a full day. Jesus calls forth one person. Jesus shares a meal with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus’ day is interrupted not once but twice with emergency needs. In fact, while on his way to do ministry, Jesus is interrupted to do even more ministry.
But those aren’t the only events in his day. Jesus spends time consoling his leaders, assuring them that what they’re doing is right. A chunk of his day is spent dealing with criticism and complaints from those who are unhappy with how he’s getting things done. Finally, there is the talk around town about what Jesus has done..
Now those are a lot of ingredients to make up one day. It’s a ministry pie that realistically captures what a pastor’s day, week and month can be like.
When I looked over this scripture I thought "This scripture should become the litmus test for people when they enter seminary. ‘Here’ read this and tell me what you think!’."
If someone crinkles up their nose and says "it smells funny" then that’s a good sign ministry is not for them.
If they say with trepidation "I’ll take a little taste" and then spit it out. Well, maybe there’s something else for them to do.
But if they chew for a while and say "yum" or if someone says "Yeah, give me a big ol’ slice," then that’s a sign that ministry may just be their calling.
And just like making those delicious lemon bars, the main ingredient is not always what you think it is.
Let us take a look at these 18 verses of Jesus’ day to see how they go.
In one line Jesus calls Matthew to discipleship. So that’s 1/18 of his day, or 5.5%
In one line, Jesus sits and eats with the people. That’s another 5.5% of his day.
In 3 verses Jesus is involved in healing brokeness and dealing with family issues. That’s 3/18 or 16.7% of his day.
There are 4 verses in which Jesus is met with unexpected, unscheduled ministerial needs. That’s 22.2% of his day.
So all together, Jesus spends 49.9% of his day doing straight-on ministry within the community.
Well, what takes up the other 50.1% of his time? Let’s take a look.
Jesus spends 4 verses working with the disciples who are stressed out and worried about what other people are saying. So that’s 22.2% of his day dealing with church leadership issues and moral.
Jesus then spends 3 verses directly dealing with the criticism and comments of people who are not happy with the way he is doing things. That’s 16.7% of his day.
For one verse people laugh at him. That’s 5.5%
And then for one verse, word gets around town about what Jesus has done. That’s another 5.5%
In other words, Jesus’ day is divided up this way: spending 49.9% of his time doing ministry.
44.4% of the time dealing with conflict resolution and administration.
5.5% of the day he has not control as the community does there things spreading the news, better or worse about what Jesus has done.
That’s an interesting looking pie now, isn’t it?
Makes one wonder how much more Jesus could have done if he didn’t have to focus so much attention on that 44.4%...
I think this is an excellent scripture for us today as we prepare for a new fiscal year of ministry.
Now that I have fulfilled all of my outside responsibilities I can re-dedicate myself to being more focused on our church. No no more driving to Kalamazoo or Lansing for JAMRA planning sessions, no more outside committees, or organizing worship services outside of our church.
This is so I can continue to grow and develop as a minister. This is also so I can focus and listen closer to where God is directing us.
But I won’t be the only one being directed by God. We are all invited to open ourselves to the wonderful possibilities of God as he continues to speak to and lead our church leadership.
We are opening ourselves to the wonderful possibilities of God continuing to speak and lead our church members.
And who knows just where God is going to take us, demand from us or reveal to us.
So I invite us all to take a deep look at this scripture and figure out where it is we fit and who God is calling us to be.
For me, it’s to continue walking along the symbolic sea shore, detecting and calling forth people and their gifts. It’s about minstering to those who are hurting, to those dealing with issues of mortality and death, those who feel like they are lost or unclean. It also means being able to switch in a moments notice for pastoral emergencies wherever and whenever they may come.
It also means being able to reassure, remind and lift up our leaders. To be their cheerleader, to empower them without micro-managing. To encourage when they feel tired or unappreciated.
For the people of our church, it means being able to listen to the voice of God for when he calls, and to not spend so much time questioning why or second guessing yourself, but being willing to leave the booths we have placed ourselves inside of and follow, even when we are not sure of where we are going.
For us as a church body it means continuing to open God’s holy house to the community, most especially to the community members who are most hurting: to the sinners and tax collectors who may have hurt others but are also bearing their own hurts.
It means for the church leaders, Dave, Brandon, Christine, Jenny, Ron, Gladys, Pam, Rich, Ann, Bob, Marge and myself to not be so worried about what others may say or second-guess, but to focus on who we know Jesus is calling us to be and what we know he is calling us to do.
And often times it is simple: feed the hungry, speak up for the oppressed, care for the poor, worship God in everything we do and love our neighbors.
For all of us, it means to think about and evaluate just what the ingredients are that we ourselves are placing into this ministerial pie. Are we adding sugar, butter and lemon juice with our words, our actions, thoughts and prayers?
Or are we slipping in handfuls of salt, cups of vinegar and shards of glass? Are we adding to the creation of the pie or the destruction of it.
Because as I am sure you all know: everyone one of us has the ability to pout in sugar just as we all have the ability to pour in the vinegar.
Let us become even more mindful of what we say and what we do, because if Jesus himself was only able to do 49.9% ministry, what percentage are we doing?
And if we are able to spend less and less of the time dealing with leadership worries, unhealthy accusations or public acts of unfaithfulness, then we are able indeed to spend more time calling forward one another’s gifts, sharing our resources with all those around us and attending to the needs of the people not just in our church, but also in the community around us.
Finally, I mentioned that 5.5%of Jesus’s ministry involved people talking about what he has been doing. The same can be said for us. People notice and people talk, even if we are not aware of it.
So let’s work it to our advantage. I’d venture to guess that the more we accomplish on the ministerial side, the higher that word on the street becomes. When people get to see and know that a church is doing what Christ has called it to do, they can’t help but to talk and pay attention and spread the news.
So, friends and family and fellow dessert-makers, let us make this the fiscal year when people take notice. Let’s make this the year where ministry happens to such an extant that our neighbors can’t help but to talk, that this is the year they come to know us as the place where people are called, where families are healed, and a table has been set for everyone to be welcome.
This is doable. It is real. All it will take is the right amount of ingredients, lovingly prepared, in the right proportion, with the right amount of time.
Are you ready to bake with me? Are we ready to bake with God?
Thanks be to Jesus who was able to keep his focus even in the midst of a busy day, to the Spirit that guided his feet along the way and to the Father who knows just what ingredients are best.