Saturday, June 7, 2014

Not Qualified, But Call-i-fied

Ordination of Sarah Peterson-Johnson
Hope Lutheran Church, Saint Charles, MO
June 7, 2014
Is 43:1-3, 5-7a, 10; Psalm 95:1-7a; 1 Cor 1:25-2:5; John 21:15-17

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my lambs.’ A second time he said to him, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ He said to him, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Tend my sheep.’ He said to him the third time, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me?’ Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, ‘Do you love me?’ And he said to him, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Feed my sheep.

You can tell a lot about someone just by the kinds of art they appreciate, the music they cherish, the books they devour.

This morning we can tell a lot about you, Sarah, just because of the splendid scripture readings you’ve chosen for your ordination service.  As I mentioned to you—these texts are almost TOO GOOD for us to wrap our heads and hearts around them.

Great texts—Yes!  And even better:  there’s a red thread that ties them all together—a red thread that reveals how well you already realize the most important thing a pastor needs to know.

What you know, Sarah, is that you’re not gifted enough, talented enough, smart enough, hard-working enough, or brave enough to do what God is calling you to do.   You know that pastoral ministry is about so much more than you and your gifts, even with that amazing degree you recently received--“Master of Divinity!”

These marvelous Bible readings all bear witness to a God who is forever dealing with flawed, frail, failing folks like us. 

For you and I, sinners all!  We are all God’s got—no one else is available.

Ernst Kaesemann, the great professor of New Testament, put it most pointedly: “The Kingdom of God is made of stuff that is fundamentally unusable!”

So, as Isaiah 43 reminds us, there are no self-made men or women.  We’re utterly dependent on the One who created, formed, redeemed and named us.  God alone holds our heads up when the waters overwhelm us, shields us when the flames are nipping at our heels.

And as Psalm 95 goes on to declare, we aren’t God’s roaring lions or God’s soaring eagles, either…but we are the people of God’s pasture, and the sheep of God’s hand….and when the Bible likens us to sheep (please remember!) we are not being paid a compliment!

And in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, we’re reminded that God uses us not because of all the gray matter between our ears or our spiritual biceps or our winning personalities or our consistent cleverness….but rather, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God.”

And here in our gospel from John 21, we see clearly how our service is never based on our dependability, courage, or rock-solid devotion.  Take a look at “Exhibit A,”--Simon Peter, being rehabilitated by the Risen Christ after the latest in a long string of failures-of-nerve.

If ever there was someone whose story illustrated perfectly the notion that God’s Kingdom is fashioned from stuff that’s fundamentally unusable….it’s got to be Peter, the prince of the disciples, purportedly the first pope….Peter the crude fisherman….Peter the most unqualified person imaginable for such a lofty calling.

Think about it.   Can you picture Peter walking across the stage to receive the degree “Master of Divinity?”  Would he have had even a prayer’s chance of getting through the ELCA candidacy process?—can you imagine what his psych evaluation would have looked like?

Recall Peter’s track record as a follower of Jesus—hardly a shining example for other would-be pastors--and definitely not “pope material.”   Peter was forever shooting off his mouth, making promises he couldn’t keep, blowing his stack, hanging back in shame….

In fact, the last time we saw Peter here in John’s gospel, he was denying that he even knew Jesus—right in the clutch moment, when our Lord could have used someone to “have his back,” Peter failed miserably--not once, not just twice, but three times….

….Which explains (don’t you see?) why here in John 21 the Risen Christ restores Peter by asking him a simple question, not  once, not twice, but three times:  “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

What delicious, haunting irony that Peter the three-timing denier of Jesus….should now be prodded to profess his love for this same Lord Jesus—not once or twice but three times!

And in this way, he is restored.  It’s kind of a strange “liturgy” of confession and forgiveness that Jesus leads Peter through here.   He doesn’t make Peter name his sin, doesn’t force Peter to say “sorry,” doesn’t dredge up any of his tired, old shame…

No….Jesus takes Peter (and us) by surprise, asking a simple question….a question that seems less about repentance, less about remorse….and more about relationship“Simon, son of John, do you love me?”

And then notice how Jesus forgives, how he absolves Peter….not by announcing forgiveness (though forgiveness is surely being conveyed!)….but by sending Peter, commissioning him to do Jesus’ work:  “Feed, care for, my sheep, my lambs….look after my flock.”  

Here in John 21 at least, that’s how absolution sounds:   Do you love me?   Well then, look after the people my blood has bought.   Get back to work, Peter--not your old fisherman job--but my work of capturing sinners, catching human beings, caring for God’s little flock in the world.

Here precisely is what Ernst Kasemann was driving at:  “The Kingdom of God is made of stuff that’s fundamentally unusable”—stuff like Simon, son of John, miserable denier, now restored and called to express his undying love for his Savior by caring for Jesus’ sheep.

You chose this short gospel lesson, Sarah, because you get it.  You get the one thing that pastors need more than anything else—a palpable sense of our own unworthiness…joined to a reckless trust that God will nevertheless use us.

A friend of mine likes to say that we may not be qualified, but we certainly are "call-i-fied" to do the work of ministry!

God uses unworthy folks to speak God’s Word, splash God’s Baptism, serve God’s Supper, fashion God’s new community, serve God’s mission in the world.

….God will use us, with all our inadequacies….and not as sort of a consolation prize or a Plan B, either…but rather as God’s primary chosen way of fashioning a church that gives itself away for the sake of the world.

Sarah, you are richly gifted for the work of pastoral ministry.   You are smart and edgy and creative and hard-working and fun-loving….and (I think) maybe even a little sassy…and all of us gathered here thank God for the you God has made you to be!

But today, primarily, we give thanks to God that you realize down in your bones that none of your fine gifts or wonderful qualities can (by themselves) “deliver the goods,” hand over Christ to persons dying for Good News.

Today, Sarah, we rejoice that you know now—even before you are ordained—how much God will do through you…not just through your strengths….but primarily through your weaknesses, your brokenness, your emptiness, your longing.

So as you get ready to head way up to the Canadian border and walk with the people of the Baudette Lutheran Parish, and as you live out what we hope will be a long, long ministry…..take these words of St Paul on your lips, as your watchword:  “When I came to you, brothers and sisters, I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

That’s it—right there—that’s all you really need to know, think, say and do for as long as you serve as a Shepherd, a Pastor in Christ’s church.

In the name of Jesus.  Amen.

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