On a day of celebration like this, I marvel at coincidences. It just so happens that the lectionary epistle for today is from II Timothy. It just so happens that these verses from II Timothy are often used for occasions such as the one we celebrate today, the commissioning for ministry.
In many ways, the text speaks for itself. It might even be a letter written to Michelle, if the names were changed. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandfathers Fred and Paul, then in your father Owen, and now, I am certain, in you as well.
The letter writer reminds us that faith does not appear in a vacuum; Timothy receives his faith from his mother and grandmother. Michelle, like Timothy, has inherited her faith from her family. She comes from several generations of preachers and church planters. Her people saw a need, and responded. Her mother’s family moved to Youngstown, Ohio and her father’s family to Blue Sky, Alberta – to start churches. Her father has been a pastor and conference minister. It is true: God has not given a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love, of self-discipline.
Of course Michelle’s faith was not only passed on by her grandfathers and father but also by her grandmothers, Carolyn and Doris and her mother Ruth Ann. While in the past, men in the church were often given the credit, and the paycheck, the women in these two families surely have shown at least as much courage, power, love and self-discipline in these ministry adventures.
Michelle has not only inherited that spirit of courage, power, love and self-discipline through her family, she has been given it in her own right. For surely it takes courage, love and self-discipline to make this choice to become a pastor, to not be ashamed of the gospel of Christ, to possibly even suffer, as we read in II Timothy.
I marvel at coincidences and I am grateful for them as well.
So then what in the world are we to make of this passage from Luke, also from today’s lectionary? What can Jesus mean when he says that after the servants work in the fields and barns all day then they should come in and cook for other people? Of course this is a different culture, a different time but what kind of work policy is being endorsed here?
At the beginning of this passage the disciples ask, well, demand really – “Increase our faith!” What is it exactly that they require? Is it a new set of beliefs, a whole new law? Do they hope there is some magic potion Jesus can give them or some words they can say that will make their faith bigger?
As usually happens with Jesus they do not exactly get what they want or expect. Jesus does not offer them a big faith. The disciples say, “Increase our faith” and Jesus says almost reflexively, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed…” (Mustard seeds come in a round seedpod; it is small but inside the tiny black dot seeds are the size of a pin prick.)
And then, as usual Jesus offers a little story. “Which one of you, if you were the master and had servants would invite them to sit down with you after work to have a meal? That’s not how it works. The master doesn’t invite the worker to sit at the table. Instead the boss tells the worker to prepare the meal.”
And the disciples look at each other and nod, “Yes, yes, which one of us – if we were the master.” This is it. We are the apostles, the closest friends of Jesus. We are the ones calling the shots, telling people to go out to gather in the harvest. And then – reminding those servants that they are not done yet; they have to serve us when they return from the fields.
The disciples get all comfy in their roles as apostles and field bosses. Ah, they think, this must be what it means to increase our faith. They look around, as they often do, and wonder which of them is the greatest. Which will sit at Jesus’ left and which at his right?
As they are nodding and imagining their expanding mustard seed faith, grown so large they are able to pull that mulberry tree right out by the roots, Jesus asks the crucial question. “Would you be grateful to the workers who are just doing their jobs?”
Hmm, should they bother to be grateful to those who are lower than them? Is this a trick question? Gratefulness is always a good thing, isn’t it? Didn’t our mothers teach us to say “thank you” to other people when they do something nice for us, even if they are the servants?
And while the apostles, who are so powerful as to be the bosses over all these field hands and the best friends of Jesus, while they are pondering all this, Jesus says:
It’s the same with you who hear me. When you have done all you have been commanded to do, say, ‘We are simple workers, We are just doing our job.’”
Wait! What? “You just said we are supposed to be the boss, the one sitting at the table getting served. And Jesus, now you have changed the scenario, turned the tables, so to speak. Now you say we are the workers in the fields, the ones serving? We are supposed to say, “We are simple workers?”
You can imagine the disciples are a bit perplexed, but why should they be? Haven’t they heard this before, that they are to be servants – to others? This is not a new concept; the disciples (and we readers of Luke’s gospel) have already heard about the Good Samaritan, sitting at the back of the room instead of clamoring to be at the head table, that to be the greatest means to become as a child. They should know by now that to be a Jesus follower means not being powerful but serving others.
It is a hard, hard lesson, so Jesus speaks it again and again. As followers of Jesus we are not to look out for ourselves so much as we are to look out for others.
The disciples so desperately want to increase their faith. It seems Jesus is telling them that to increase their faith they need to decrease their sense of themselves. Conversely, in order to serve others they must recognize their own need to be served, not because they are better than others but because they are just as confused and wandering as the rest of the would-be followers of Jesus.
When we follow the Jesus way, we serve others and we allow others to serve us. We need not judge either role, they are both needed. As members of the church community we need each other, to serve and to be served.
So Michelle, if you had the idea that by becoming a pastor, you would be taking a short cut to a position of great power, I am sorry to tell you it just doesn’t work that way. And in the Mennonite Church we don’t even get robes, or special hats or red shoes.
What you do get, to help you in your work as a serving pastor is what has already been passed on to you by your family and the Spirit: a Spirit of courage, of power, love and self-discipline. And these are tools that help not only in serving others but in taking care of yourself as a person who serves.
In the past month, I have already seen that Michelle is not timid. She jumps right in, learning to know people, experimenting with what it means to go from “person in the pew” to “pastor in the pulpit.” I have seen that already her love for this congregation is growing. And I have seen how she has self- discipline, to get the work done – and to go home, knowing there is always more work for the next day.
Today, Michelle is offering herself to God and to us. She is offering herself to us – with courage, power, love and self discipline. As fellow disciples we will serve with you Michelle and be served by you. It is a model of ministry, dare we say an Anabaptist model, where you and we together are seekers and servers. We seek together to increase our faith and decrease ourselves – all while serving God, each other and the world. We are simple workers, just doing our job.