Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Empowered by God to Serve Together

by Pastor Pat Badkey

[My friend and seminary classmate, Pastor Pat Badkey, preached at the morning worship service at Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this past Sunday, November 18. I was installed as Saint Matthew's pastor that day. Pat, her husband, Steve, and I were seminary classmates. Through the years, they have remained our dear friends and our kids practically grew up together. Pat is one of the finest and most faithful pastors I know. So, I was honored and happy when she consented to give the sermon as I was installed. Below is Pat's sermon.]

Isaiah 65:17-25
About a week ago I received some news via email from friends who now live in Columbus, Ohio. It was a birth announcement from a friend with whom I had worked with for about two-and-a-half years at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Cincinnati. Well, actually, her husband Ben wrote the email; I think Deanna might have been a little tired out from the birth.

The announcement went like this: “We are proud to announce that we have added a new member to the family as of yesterday evening. Lauren Jane was born on November 5, 20007. She weighed 7 lbs, 14 oz, and was 21” tall. Mom and baby are doing well and recovering. Bryce is eagerly looking forward to teaching her how to play baseball, cars and trains…two early pictures are attached. Hope all is well! Ben, Deanna and Bryce.” Two adorable pictures followed in the email and she is a cutie.

Birth announcements and announcements of new life are always wonderful to receive because they bring good news full of hope and possibility to the people who receive them.

I thought of new life as I read our text in Isaiah 65:17-25. This passage was written to the people of Israel after they have returned from their long exile in Babylon. What they find when they finally get home surprises them. Their country lays in waste and their beloved city, Jerusalem, is in ruins.

To people who find themselves in a rather hopeless situation, the prophet announces these words from God, “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy and its people as a delight”. God promises them that people will live long lives, their work shall prosper, and they shall enjoy the fruits of their labor. God promises them peace and then God continues by saying, “Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear.”

In this passage God is announcing to his people a future filled with hope and possibility and it is promised to them not as a reward for present righteousness but as pure undeserved gift from God, a God who promises to answer our heartfelt prayers even before they are asked. God is promising to transform the whole cosmos simply because the Lord is a gracious and creative God, a God who is present with his people.

As I heard these hopeful words about God creating a new heaven and a new earth, I tried to imagine hearing them as Christians who are standing at the beginning of a great new adventure in their lives together. I tried to imagine hearing them as a congregation who was installing a new pastor to lead their congregation and as a pastor who was called to provide pastoral leadership to a new congregation. These words from the prophet Isaiah promise that God will be present in their new life together and will help them create the ministry they have been called to do.

As a congregation and as a pastor begin their mutual ministry, it seems there are two things they must do. The first is this, the congregation and the pastor must commit to being in ministry together for the sake of Jesus, just as a husband and wife might commit to being married and being a couple.

Let me tell you a story. The year is 1985. It is spring and I am living in Toledo with my husband Steve and our daughter Charissa, who is just a little over a year old. I have taken the last nine months or so off because I needed to regroup after finishing seminary and also within that same time frame, we moved to Toledo and celebrated our daughter’s first birthday. If you do calculations, the preceding year-and-a-half had been pretty hectic for us. Well, the bishop’s office calls me one day in April and asks if I would like to interview for a part time call in Toledo, at St. Petri Lutheran Church. You see, I had told the bishop’s office, that as I began ministry, I would really like to serve a congregation at least initially on a part-time basis. So the synod office calls and says they would like me to interview for this position and that it is the only position they have that is part time in Toledo. So I say yes, I will interview. I interview, and it goes well. But the one thing that makes me hesitant is the senior pastor I will be working with has this reputation around town of being a rather loose cannon. Eventually, the congregation extends the call to me. I pray and think about the call, but I am still not sure for some reason if I should accept it. I keep thinking, “What if it does not go well? Then what will I do? Then what will happen?”

I decide to call the assistant to the bishop, who was Pastor Kirk Havel at the time, to speak with him about my feelings and concerns. As I talked with Pastor Havel, raising my concerns, raising my fears, that this might be less than the perfect situation, he patiently listened, then he said to me, “Pat, no congregation is perfect. Other staff members are not without their issues. Perhaps you need to think about entering into ministry with a congregation like you enter into marriage. Couples try to get to know each other the very best they can before they get married, right?” I said, “Yes.” (Steve and I, like most couples, had done pre-marital counseling) He continued, “But basically couples enter into marriage for better for worse, for richer and for poorer, in sickness and in health, in good times and in bad, as their vows say, because they never know what the future will bring. They end up committing to the marriage and to each other to make it the best marriage they can. They end up saying we both must use our individual gifts to make it strong.”

He went on to say, “I think the same is true with ministry. Once you decide you have been called to serve a particular congregation, you have to be committed to it just like you are to your marriage and see where that takes you.”

Well, I must tell you when I heard those words, it was like a light bulb going off in my head and my heart and I accepted the call. Those words allowed me to give that congregation my all and commit to the ministry I felt called to share with the people of St. Petri. I was no longer worried and concerned about the situation being perfect as much as all of us working toward the ministry and mission our Lord had called us to do in the south side of Toledo. It was an exciting time for me and I felt blessed to serve alongside that pastor who had the reputation of being a loose cannon because he proved to be a wonderful colleague and in a congregation that wanted to figure out new ways they could serve their Lord as they celebrated over 100 years of ministry.

It seems that is a good part of what we are doing here today at St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. We are celebrating the commitment Pastor Mark Daniels is making to you as your pastor and you are making to him as a congregation to be in mission together for the sake of Jesus.

We are also celebrating the new ministry to which God is calling St Matthew’s. Be assured, the ministry you will do together will not always be perfect or should I say, will not always go smoothly (ask any couple who has been married 50 years, maybe even 25, maybe even 10 years, if their marriages have always been perfect or without bumps), but that does not mean the ministry will not be blessed, or that God can not use St. Matthew’s in great and creative ways for the sake of the good news of Jesus Christ.

The second thing a congregation and a new pastor must do is remember the Holy Spirit has empowered them to build together and dream about the ministry to which they are called.

Pastor Ed Markquart, Lutheran pastor and author of an evangelism course called “Witnesses for Christ,” recounts a dream he had one evening. He said the dream began rather oddly. He, even though it is the year 2000, finds himself sitting in his old 1963 VW bug in the dream. Pastor Markquart said this was odd because it was the very car he had driven to his first parish in 1973. The car was old then, ten years old, gray-green in color and very dilapidated with hardly any floorboard left and fenders that were falling off and seemed to frown.

Anyway, he is in his 1963 VW bug and sitting at a stop sign and in the lane next to him is a red Porsche with its motor running. In the dream, the driver of the Porsche then gunned his engine and Pastor Markquart said he then gunned his, sending a signal to the driver of the Porsche, that yes, he was willing to race (Warning should be noted here that none of us should really do this except in a dream).

The driver of the red Porsche was a handsome young man with dark hair and he had a mustache. Pastor Markquart noted to himself in the dream that his hair use to look like that about 25 years ago. The young man glances at Pastor Markquart again as he puts a cigarette to his lips. Pastor Markquart glances at him but he lifts a carton of milk to his lips instead. In the red Porsche, next to the young, dark haired, handsome driver sits an equally beautiful young woman, who makes him and the car look really good. And next to Pastor Markquart sits, you guessed it, his wife of thirty years. The driver guns the engine once again to a quiet roar. So Pastor Markquart guns his engine again and it sounds rather like a whining toy engine.

Well, the light changed. Wheels whirled and there was blue smoke all over the pavement as Pastor Markquart pulled away from the red Porsche and its occupants. Pastor Markquart said what the driver of that red Porsche did not know was that the night before in his dreams, he had installed a new Ferrari engine in his VW bug and it now had power, real power. As he pulled away from the Porsche, he heard the beautiful young woman exclaim: “What does he have under that hood?”

What is this dream trying to proclaim to us this day of the celebration of the installation of a pastor?

It reminds us that God’s Spirit has been poured out on all the followers of Jesus. Pastor Markquart would say this, that as Christians we have been given unexpected power in our lives, like that engine in that VW bug gave him the power to beat that Porsche in an unexpected fashion. He would say, as Christians, we have been given unexpected power because we have received God’s spirit in our baptisms and this power that we have received and which lives within us allows us do more with our lives, our ministries, and in our congregations than we can ever imagine, think, or ask—so we can spread Jesus’ love and forgiveness to all people in unimaginable ways. This outpouring of his spirit is one of the ways God lets his creativity loose in the world.

So being empowered by this unexpected Holy Spirit, a pastor new to a congregation and a congregation must commit to discover together the visions, the dreams God has now for his people, his people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio. Of course this is a challenge. But it is exactly why God has brought you all to this point in time and it is this ministry we also celebrate at this service today.

In the prophet Isaiah, God says, “Behold I am creating something new,” to the people of Israel. That is what God is doing here today. God is creating a new relationship between a people and their pastor and a pastor and his people, and God is pouring out his life-giving spirit so established ministries may thrive and visions of new ministries may come to life in unexpected ways at St. Matthew’s. May God bless the mutual work and ministry which this congregation and their new pastor have been called to do in the name of Jesus. Amen

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