Thursday, April 25, 2013

Greasing the Skids for God's Mission

Celebration of Mission and Ministry
With the Rev. Dr. Rodney Spidahl
St James Episcopal Church, Fergus Falls, MN
Acts 11:1-18

A man once decided to travel to a very special place in western Ireland.  Being a total stranger to the area, he asked a local resident for directions.   “Can you tell me how to get to this place?” the traveler asked.

“Never heard of it,” came the response.  “But if I were going there, I surely wouldn’t start from here.”  (based on a story from "We Are Here Now:  A New Missional Era" by Patrick Keifert)

As silly as this story sounds it does capture a truth we probably feel in our bones—the truth that if we want to go somewhere, we often wish we could start from someplace other than where our feet happen to be planted right now.

Which is to say:  if things were completely up to us, most of us would probably just stay put.  

But fortunately things are NOT completely up to us.

Wherever you are, wherever you may be heading, the Holy Spirit is already out in front of you, clearing a path, finagling ways, greasing the skids for God to get you wherever God needs you to be.

Whatever it takes, the Spirit, the Pathfinder, opens up possibilities we didn’t even know existed….swinging some doors wide open, closing other doors, cajoling us along in order to move us out into God’s mission field.

In our reading from Acts, we see how the Spirit is even bold to break apart old ways of ordering human life, even within the people of God, for the sake of God’s mission.   Jews and Gentiles had no dealings with one another—that seemed to be written in stone—but then one fine day the Apostle Peter was knocked up the side of his head with a divine 2 by 4—leading him and others to conclude that “God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life” (Acts 11:18).

Old ways of sorting people into this pile or that pile, time-honored methods of ordering life that calcify into rigid boundaries that keep us separated from one another….the Spirit has no compunction about sweeping those away if doing so will break open new ways of making known the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So, in the Book of Acts especially, the Holy Spirit appears in the guise of a demolisher of the old, in order to pave the way for the new thing God is doing in Jesus Christ.

But even so, this same Spirit does not lead us into chaos.  

Goodness knows that chaos can do as much damage as hyper-rigidity, so sometimes in the Book of Acts, this same Spirit moves people into novel-but- coherent patterns…ushering  into the messes of our lives a fresh paradigm that helps us be the people God sent into a mission that is purposeful, not chaotic. 

So, in the Book of Acts, we sometimes run into persons who have received the Spirit but not been baptized….and then we encounter other folks who are baptized but still awaiting the Spirit—but, no matter!  The Spirit gets that chaos sorted out, not to bring everyone into lockstep, but to make sure that the Word of God has free course to be proclaimed for the joy and edifying of Christ’s holy people.

So, Rod, if you’re still wondering how you got here….a Lutheran lad, a global missionary, a seminary teacher….now hobnobbing with Episcopalians in an exciting missional experiment called Total Ministry…..if you never imagined showing up in a situation like this—welcome, to another apostolic episode in the unending movement of the Holy Spirit who never tires of removing obsolete barriers and imaginatively reordering life so that Christ may be all in all.

In this mission of God there is always a “sending out” and an “inviting in”….there are always disciples-on-a mission being shared  by one community in order to be received by another community.   And this too is the Spirit’s bright idea!

So today, I am pleased  to represent the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America as the sending, sharing church.  We are delighted to facilitate Pastor Spidahl’s new partnership here with you of St James Church.   Rod’s pathway from the Church of the Lutheran Brethren through the ELCA and now to you—that pathway looks a little like a tour of a sausage-making factory….but the Holy Spirit rather prefers such twisty, turny, “scenic routes”….because when we don’t simply make an easy beeline from point A to point B we realize that Someone other than ourselves is calling the shots.

Having journeyed with Rod in his vocational discernment, our synod is grateful that the Holy Spirit is using us to empower your ministry.  If we ask Rod to be with us occasionally  for  a few “Lutheran things” like our Synod Assembly or our Theology for Ministry Conference or the regular gatherings of the Ottertail Conference ELCA….it will be so that Rod can be reinvigorated for equipping you and your Total Ministry team for faithful witness and fruitful service here in Fergus Falls.

There is just one last thing I way to say:   as we share Rod with you, we intend to learn from you and this missional experiment.   For six years now one of my synod staff colleagues has been gently, persistently bugging me to learn more about Total Ministry.   What if God is making that happen precisely through this new partnership here at St James?   How odd of God to embed a Lutheran here with you, to facilitate your worship and work and witness….so that, among other things, he and you might teach the rest of us Lutherans a thing or two as we, in so many of our communities across northwestern Minnesota, face the very same challenges and opportunities that you face here in Fergus Falls?   

So thank you, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for your kind hospitality this morning and for so graciously and eagerly receiving this brother in Christ, Rod Spidahl.  There are all sorts of Lutheran eyes and ears paying attention to you—eager to rejoice with you and learn from you, as together we serve God’s mission of blessing and redeeming the world through Jesus Christ.  

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