Saturday, November 7, 2015

Border-Crossing Pastor

Ordination of Rufus Kudee
Trinity Lutheran Church, Thief River Falls, MN
November 8, 2015
Matthew 28:16-20

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

Rufus, you have come a long way to get here--traversed many miles to arrive at this moment.

That’s the kind of thing preachers say when someone is about to be ordained.   Metaphorically speaking, every ordinand has “come a long way” to arrive at this moment, the day of ordination.

But in your case, Rufus, I am speaking more than metaphorically.

I mean to say—quite literally—that you have traveled thousands of real miles (5,280 feet long miles!) to arrive here at Trinity on November 8, 2015.

Reading your biography, is like reading a travelogue, a world-spanning, globe-trotting travelogue….

…Because you were born in Zorzor, Liberia, the second largest city in Lofa County, where it was a balmly 82 degrees yesterday morning (our time).   You were born 5,670 miles from here (as the crow flies!)

You have journey far to get here, Rufus, quite literally.

And it wasn’t exactly a pleasure trip, either.   You and your family fled from the Liberian civil war when you were just barely a teenager.  You escaped first to the Ivory Coast, and later lived in Nigeria, and then in 1999 you moved to Ghana where you worked as an evangelist, preacher and church planter at a refugee camp filled with 40,000 other refugees from Liberia.  Finally you crossed the Atlantic and came to America where you’ve lived in Minneapolis; Columbus Ohio; Thief River Falls; St Paul for seminary…..and now back to Thief River Falls before you make your way up to another border—border between the USA and Canada, where the folks of the Bethany-MtCarmel parish are preparing to welcome you to Williams and Roosevelt, where it was a balmy 28 degrees yesterday morning.

You take the prize, Rufus—of all the ordinations I’ve been part of, you and your dear family have traveled the farthest to get here!

And along the way you have crossed many borders.  How fitting--because you belong to a border-crossing God….and it is this boundary-breaking, barrier-bashing, border-crossing God who today calls you into the ministry of Word and Sacrament.

Long, long before you showed up on the scene in 1980….your God had been crossing borders for eons.   God whom we know best in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ was crossing borders for millenia before any of us were born.

God in Christ has crossed the borders between heaven and earth, between divinity and humanity, between Bethlehem and Jerusalem, between life and death.  Our God is a border crossing God--for us and for our salvation.

And today, dear Rufus, God is setting you apart to continue being a border-crossing pastor.

There are borders that the church here in our part of God’s world needs to cross, and I think you can help us with that.

We need look no farther than the Great Commission of our Lord Jesus Christ to realize what it means in this 21st century to be a border-crossing people of God.

On a mountain in Galilee, the risen Jesus (whom some still doubted, even after he arose from the dead!)….Jesus commissioned them to cross borders, out of Galilee and around the world, to capture “all nations” for Jesus the Christ.

In this commissioning, this sending of Jesus’ first followers, we notice four action words, four verbs, that move us forward.

First, the risen Christ says GO….”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….”

The church of Jesus Christ, at its best, is a “going” church, a church on the move, crossing borders, reaching out as wide and far as God’s arms seek to embrace.
But along the way, as the church was planted all across this globe, we sometimes became too comfortable, sedate and settled.

Here in North America, the church has been around for centuries.   We’ve subtly shifted from being a “going” church to becoming a “coming” church.   “We’ll unlock the doors of our church buildings on Sunday mornings, so you all can come to where we’re already gathered….you know where to find us.   Come, join us, if you’re bold enough to enter our space!”

Rufus, God calls you to help the church cross the border from being “you come to us” communities to becoming “go out into the world” movements of Christ-followers on the move.   You’ve got experience doing that sort of thing, under far more challenging conditions than you’ll encounter in Roseau County!

Second, the risen Christ says MAKE DISCIPLES….”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations….help people follow Jesus.”

Not that many years ago, when our ELCA started lifting up the notion of discipleship—some of us North American Lutherans got a little queasy.  We were comfortable thinking of ourselves as receivers of God’s grace, hearers of the Word, believers in the gospel….but disciples who actually followed Jesus?    The very thought of that seemed to jeopardize our understanding of grace by over-emphasizing inappropriately our response to God’s goodness.

One of Martin Luther’s most loyal students during the 16th century Reformation went so far as to teach that good works aren’t just unnecessary to gain God’s favor…..but that good works are detrimental to our salvation.

Rufus, God calls you to be a pastor who leads people into a genuine, wholistic life of faith, hope and love….a life in which we don’t just hear and receive the Word but in which we open themselves to being transformed by that Word.

Rufus, God is setting you apart to be a pastor who crosses the border from receiving Christ to following Christ, out into the world, as people of a going church that is itself an extension of God’s great rescue and renewal movement, God’s mission in our world.

Third, the risen Christ says BAPTIZE….”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…”

All too often in America we reduce faith to a head trip.  We exchange the Good News of Jesus for a dose of Good Advice from Jesus.

Rufus, God calls you to be a pastor who crosses the border from faith as a headtrip to discipleship as a transformative experience of the seeking, saving, sending God we know best in Jesus Christ.   Our God doesn’t just give us good advice that we have to make a decision about.  No!   Our God just comes flat out and pronounces his freeing forgiveness, washes away our sins, and feeds our hungry souls with the Body and Blood of our Savior.   Our God continues to be enfleshed, incarnated in the proclamation, the Bath and the Meal that make Christ real and alive in our midst.  

Fourth, the risen Christ says TEACH…”go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them….and teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.”

Rufus, the mission field you’re entering is filled with folks who sometimes succumb to “magical thinking”—imagining that we’re done when we’re baptized or when we’ve joined a congregation or when we’ve been confirmed or whatever.  

Truth be told, all those sorts of things are entry points, not end-points.   If people come
 to you to have their child “done” in Holy Baptism, Rufus, you have my permission to tell them that that’s impossible.   We’re not done when we’re baptized or when we’re brought to faith:  we’ve just begun, or more accurately God has just begun in us the good work that God will surely bring to completion by the Day of Jesus Christ.

Well, there you have it:   four verbs, four action words that will make you a border-crossing pastor:   go, make disciples, baptize, teach.   It’s as easy as that, Rufus, right?

No, far from it.  There’s nothing easy or automatic about any of that.   If you’re honest, you’ll feel inadequate, unable to do justice to any of those four verbs.

When you feel inadequate….give thanks to God!   Because your sense of inadequacy will signal that God is helping you cross another border:  the border between self-sufficiency and utter dependence upon God to make it so.

That’s why these four verbs in Matthew 28 are wrapped up inside two astonishing, mind-blowing promises:  

One—that the Risen Christ who calls you to be a border crossing pastor has received “all authority in heaven and on earth”….and

Two—that this One, our Lord Jesus Christ, is always with us, “to the end of the age.”

So my final word to you, Rufus, as you prepare to leave this place and head up north to your first Call:   lift up your eyes and look ahead.    Someone is already out there, ahead of you, blazing the trail, preparing the way for you to join him in God’s barrier-bashing, boundary-breaking, barrier-crossing, future-opening work.

In the name of Jesus.   Amen.

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