Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Coming and Going

"For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven...(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

There are beginnings and endings to every part of life.  The writer of Ecclesiastes states that fact and then enumerates times for different life events.  A time to be born, a time to die; a time to plant, a time to harvest; a time to kill, a time to heal; a time to week, a time to laugh; a time to mourn, a time to dance.  Life is full of beginnings and endings.  Each ending signals a new beginning of something else.  An end to childhood brings a beginning to adulthood.  An end to working years bring a beginning to retirement.  An end of our days brings a beginning of eternal life.

Pastors know that their ministry has beginnings and endings also.  When I worked as a pastor in the United Methodist Church, my ministry setting was dictated by the Bishop and his cabinet.  They directed me where to go to be in ministry and how long I would stay there.  My ministry in a certain place was determined by what was good for the entire conference in which I served.  If I were needed 300 miles away, I was told to move at the next annual conference.

Jesus began his ministry at his hometown synagogue in Nazareth.  People gathered on the Sabbath to hear the hometown boy read the scripture and preach from it.  Jesus was the guest liturgist of the day and the preacher.  He stood and read from the prescribed reading of the day, from Isaiah 61, where the prophet spoke of the servant who would bring good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and the news of God's favor for all.  Jesus sat down after reading, which was what the preacher would do, and then he said, "Today this scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."  (Luke 4:21)

It was at that point that Jesus ministry to the world around him began.  Jesus told those people who knew him best, his home town folk, what he would be doing for the rest of his life.  It was not something that they wanted to hear but he told them what he believed was important that he do with his life and then began to do it.

Working to bring good news to others should be something that everyone would celebrate.  There are some in the world, however, who do not want good news to be brought to everyone.  They believe that some are more worthy of God's favor than others.  After all, they surmise, some have brought misfortune upon themselves by the way they live for by bad choices they have made.  Shouldn't they have to suffer for their actions?  Isn't God's favor reserved for the righteous and holy in society?  And shouldn't we be the ones to decide who is righteous or holy enough to deserve God's favor?  That was the thinking of those who were listening to Jesus' read and talk about what he read.  His declaration that Isaiah's words were being fulfilled in and through him did not sit well with many who heard his speak.

Ministry is done, many times, among and for the very ones who are totally undeserving of favor of humans or of God.  Ministry is done on behalf of many who have made bad choices in life.  It is done for some whose life choices have placed them in circumstances that are undesirable or pitiful.  We often look down upon them because of the way they live.  Declaring God's favor for them does not say that we condone or approve of the actions of others.  It says that God's grace is enough to go beyond anything that humans may do or act or think.  It says that God's love reaches out far beyond what humans are capable of doing.  It says that if God can love us, despite our failings and faults, then perhaps God is calling us also to love others, despite their failings or faults or misfortunes.

Jesus' ministry began on that day he preached in Nazareth.  Jesus' earthly ministry ended when he died on the cross and his life as a human ended.  Jesus' resurrected ministry among humans continued until he ascended to return to live with God the Father.  Jesus passed on to his followers what he had begun so that we who say we believe in Jesus will do his works and greater works even because he is empowering us through the Holy Spirit.

The Church is the Body of Christ on earth equipped by the Holy Spirit to work on behalf of others who need to hear the Good News of Jesus Christ.  We are a community of faith working together to proclaim that the year of God's favor is here, that God loves everyone and that no one is excluded.  We, in the United Church of Christ, believe and teach that whoever you are and wherever you are on the journey of life,  you are welcome in our church.  We teach and believe that God's love is for all and that we are the ones with the mission to tell others that Good News.  That is why we exist.

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