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Celebrating Lay Ministry
DEUTERONOMY 34:1-8, MATTHEW 28:16-20
Yesterday morning at 9:00, Dr. Cain called to tell me he would not be able to preach this morning. His doctor told him to stay in bed and, hopefully, he will be here tomorrow morning to teach the theology class which meets all week in Kohlstedt Hall. Of course, I had to watch and rejoice in the 49ers trouncing of Minnesota yesterday afternoon. Then I planned this unexpected sermon. On this first Sunday of the new year and the new decade, we are dedicating those who have accepted leadership positions in our church this year. I decided to celebrate the lay persons in our church. You are the best congregation this church has! Seriously, I am thankful for you and grateful to be your pastor.
The other day Renae mentioned that when women clergy get together, they share, and quickly share their pain, hurts, worries, anxieties. In Renae's words, "It soon gets bloody."
I remarked how different it is when men clergy get together. Men do not share on a deep level quickly. When men clergy get together, we play "Show and Tell." Each one feels compelled to tell what is going on his church, and, of course, tells about the successes. I call it a "Bring and Brag" session, one reason why I try to avoid clergy get togethers!
But, this morning, in typical male clergy fashion, I am going to brag. Iam going to celebrate especially how the lay people in this congregation do the ministry.
Several months ago, I received a copy of the newsletter from my home church, a small town church in Minnesota. The pastor wrote,
I have been observing a trend in the past few months in this congregation: many people are starting to do things without the pastor's prior knowledge or consent. ...One couple decided to give leadership to the Middle School Youth Fellowship. Another person decided to organize and lead a choir. One man who is not even on the Board of Trustees arranged for the oil company to transfer the leftover oil from the church tank to the parsonage tank and to remove the then-empty tank from the ground. Some other people (I'm not even sure who) have planned this event called the "Hanging of the Greens," which is to include food, kid's games and decorating activities...I've also become aware in recent weeks that there is a woman who regularly takes it upon herself to replace candle stubs onthe altar with new candles, even though she is not a member of the Worship Committee, and there is another woman who regularly rearranges the hymnals in the pew racks. A man who is not a Trustee has made several repairs on the parsonage garage. I feel I need to tell you honestly how all this activity makes me feel: I AM DELIGHTED! I love to see so many people taking initiative--seeing a need and taking steps to meet it without being assigned to do it or asked to do it. This is a very positive sign of health in our church. It means that many of you are interested and committed to the work and well-being of the church, and that you trust each other and me. This kind of activity gives me great confidence in our church's future and makes me proud to serve as your Pastor.
I could have written that letter. No church can survive without the laity doing the ministry. It is certainly true in our church that most of the ministry is done by lay people. It would be impossible to count, but literally hundreds of people are doing the ministry of this church.
Some are spontaneous. Linda Grossman recently said, "I like the new hymnal, but there are many hymns I don't know and would like to learn. I suspect there are others in the congregation who also like to sing and would like to learn some of the new hymns." So she did something about it. She has offered to play the piano and lead an informal hymn sing every Thursday evening, 7:45 to 8:30. You are invited. You will sing the hymns we will sing in the next Sunday's worship, as well as learning new hymns, and requests of your favorites.
We now have three prayer groups in the church that were started and are led by lay people: Monday noon, Saturday afternoon, and Sunday morning. The ministry of prayer is a lay ministry. Everyone can pray; pray at home, in the car, everywhere you are, pray for your church.
When you leave this morning, drive around Lytton Gardens, an exemplary residence for low income seniors. Lytton Gardens was a dream of a few lay people from our church and the Presbyterian Church, and became a reality because of their work.
On the third Saturday of each month, come to Fellowship Hall and see how lay persons minister to senior citizens through a delicious lunch and entertaining program. The workers have to unlock the door early because the seniors don't want to miss out, and begin coming way ahead of time.
The Emmaus Community is led by lay persons, and is a growing spiritual community as it sponsors weekend Walks. The next spiritual Walk is for men, February 22-25, and the next Walk for women is March 15-18. The amount of time, concern, energy, prayer and commitment that our lay people contribute to this church renewal movement is in itself inspiring.
One of the strongest and oldest organizations in Methodism is the United Methodist Women. The United Methodist Women is the largest women's organization in the world, has built schools and hospitals all over the world, and is a beacon for social justice. The UMW in our church is no exception. Rich opportunities are offered to women for study, service and fellowship.
The Methodist Men regularly, without coaching from the pastor, clean the grounds, prune the bushes and trees.
We have several Fellowship groups that are lay led and provide places where people find fun, fellowship, support and friendship. Fireside, Welcomers, Koinonia, Two or More, Pathfinders for single persons, Young Adults.
I rejoice in our Sunday School. We have lay persons who gladly, week by week, plan lessons, teach classes, because they love the Lord and want to share. Five adult classes met this morning; two led by clergy and three by lay people.
We have a great group of lay persons who care for our shutins and persons with special needs. The United Methodist Women organized a Visiting Circle several years ago, but we have now added men and have changed the name to Pastoral Care Team. Our caregivers soon realized they were doing much more than visiting. They have become involved in the lives of people, doing shopping, bringing food and supplies, and serving Holy Communion.
Did you read the excellent article in yesterday's Times Tribune about Renae? Renae praised our church's hospitality ministry. Who could count the number of meals our people have provided for one another in times of need!
How could we worship God without our music ministry? Perhaps you take for granted the amount of commitment required of people who sing and ring in our choirs. Weekly rehearsals, weekly worship.
And where would our church be without the many who volunteer to serve in the office and maintain the building. No way can we afford to hire all that needs to be done and is done on our buildings, repairs, maintenance, painting, office mailings, record keeping, etc.
I have yet to mention one of the strongest lay ministries our church has: the Tongan ministry. Sunday School, Women's Bible study, lay preacher training, prayer groups, youth and young adult fellowship, are conducted weekly by lay leaders.
This morning we are going to dedicate those who serve on committees. Among the accomplishments of the past 6 1/2 years I have been here, I feel especially good about the strengthening of the committees. We have many committees, led by lay persons, who make decisions about our church's ministry, and who carry out those decisions.
And, I don't have time except to mention the amount of ministry that goes on out in the world because of how our members serve God through their vocations, and by serving on other social service agencies, community action groups, political and school organizations.
Do you get the picture? God's ministry is done by you, and I am thrilled how the people of this congregation take it seriously. The anthem this morning was especially moving and relevant. The sweeping, majestic, yet warm and inspiring work by Mendelssohn was sung about you. You are the lovely messengers who bring us the gospel of peace. Each of you has a ministry. God placed you on this earth for a purpose. You and what you have to offer are needed. All of us are Christ's body. The risen Christ has no physical body. His physical body, like ours will be, was changed into a spiritual body. His spirit uses us to be his physical body. Jesus has no hands but our hands. Jesus has no mouth but our mouths. Jesus has no feet but our feet to do his work, to go and serve, to speak and witness.
If you are not serving with all you are and have, Christ needs you. This church needs you. There is a place for you. When the late famous author Carl Sandburg was once interviewed on television, he was asked, "Mr. Sandburg, what is the ugliest word in the English language?" There was a long pause. Then he began, "The ugliest word in the language..." He paused and began again, "The ugliest word in the English language is (big pause) EXCLUSIVE!" The word exploded in the silence.
The opposite of exclusive is inclusive. Our church is not exclusive, but inclusive. People are not excluded. Whoever you are, whatever your background, whatever your color, whatever your ancestry, whatever your sexual orientation, whatever you are, you are welcome, you are included. The grace of God, the love that sent Jesus to the cross, welcomes you. Together, we respond to the grace of God by being the body of Christ.
I thank God for you. I thank God for all of you. I like it here.
© 1990 Douglas I. Norris