Are we the Dead Sea or the Sea of Galilee? Bringing our Ministry to Scale 07/03/16
Seventh Sunday after Pentecost July 3rd 2016 Lectionary 17
Isaiah 66:10-14 Psalm 66:1-9 Galatians 6 [:1-6]7-16 Luke 10:1-11,16-20
Are we the Dead Sea or the Sea of Galilee?
Last Sunday we saw how Jesus was choosing disciples and while some of them had excuses, he did gather together seventy to send out ahead of him. Seventy is a symbolic number and thus it could refer to the number of nations in the world in that day. Jesus definitely remembered the story about how Moses chose seventy people to help him judge over and rule the children of Israel.
But in our terms, we could say that Jesus was bringing his ministry to scale. What does that mean? We could say he was putting it in third gear, for those of you who still remember cars with gear shifts. The faith we share in this congregation has value and many others would certainly benefit by it if they received it. When Pastor Buttler at our workshop last Saturday talked about the emphasis on grace that we feature in our congregations, she noted that it was our best kept secret. I was so surprised that Nora came home and wanted to know how she could learn about it in Luther’s theology. I referred her to my brother Philip and my book, Luther’s Spirituality. Our emphasis on grace and the Gospel is definitely like the pearl of great price and something that we need to share, because it is the one thing needful.
So how do we reach out to a larger population at new sites of ministry while making sure that our home base here at Christ Lutheran expands in ministry as well?
Now we congratulate ourselves here because we are a lay-based ministry and truth to tell, the ministry in and of this congregation is certainly not only done by the pastors. When the call went out to bring ice cream, flowers, and a card to Leigh Robinson, who could no longer have visits, and leave it on Leigh’s porch, Nora and I brought some Swiss Almond Vanilla, a pot of flowers, and a card up there, and there was another contribution already there. George had helped to bring and set up a hospital bed for Leigh. He died too quickly to make much use of it – but voilá, our lay ministry in action. When Fred goes shopping for Karen who broke her elbow, after Lysle put out the word in our church email: that is ministry, the love and service our members show, because they know we are sent out as apostles because of what we learn here as disciples.
The commentary for this Sunday says that if we remain disciples only, the water of life only flows in and has no outlet. That makes ourselves resemble the Dead Sea. But if water is flowing in from all sorts of streams, like gushing brooks and waterfalls cascading down from mountains, then you have a congregation resembling the Sea of Galilee, with the River Jordan and its tributaries flowing out of it.
Thus we are not merely disciples, but also apostles sent out doing ministry and demonstrating the gospel of grace, love, and forgiveness that we experience among us here in the real presence of Christ. In our lesson Christ went from the twelve to the seventy. When I taught the sociology of religion to 66 students in a Pace Program for Vista Community college, I was not judgmental about gays and same sex marriage. Many students who came from fundamentalist churches had never heard a progressive Christian before and identified our faith only with judgmental types. We need to share our sense of grace out there, so people don’t have a distorted idea about Christians.
I asked Pastor Barbara, where is your congregation called Brewing Hope? She pointed to her Iphone, her smart phone.
What did she mean? Some of us elderly are not savvy technically like young people are. This is culture shock for some of us older folks. But you may have heard about meet-ups. Young people will say: “Let’s meet up for a pillow fight!” and a few thousand people gather together in a flash-mob in front of the Ferris Building in San Francisco and have a pillow fight. They meet up in these flash events for dances and concerts and what not. Now Pastor Barbara is working on calling meet-ups from a large list of email addresses for bowling, soccer, picnics, and when they start asking her questions about faith and religion, they can start meet-ups for Bible Study, begin relationships, and at some point meet up for word and sacrament. That’s our hope. It has not gotten there yet. But we hoped to start another worship site.
What a wonder it would be, bringing our congregation to scale, if meet-ups began allowing people to experience the grace, love, and forgiveness of our Gospel! That’s what Pastor Battler called our best kept secret, our Lutheran theology of grace: we have all fallen short of the glory of God, but God has mercy on us all, forgives us and loves us until we become apostles as well as disciples, until we not only experience the real presence of Christ, but first, like the twelve disciples and then like the 70 disciples, take Christ Lutheran Church’s lay ministry to scale, put our ministry in high gear, and allow many other people to experience the gospel of love, forgiveness, and grace that we hold so dear in this congregation. Let me read what we are growing toward:
We would be moving from a Pastoral to a Program church.
- We would have many leader-cells with many programs.
- Lay leadership is vital.
- Clergy are still central, but their role is shifting.
- Administration: recruiting, planning, training, evaluating, coordinating…
- Pastor has little time for “Just stopping in for coffee in the kitchen.”
- Pastor helps people arrive at consensus.
- Pastor is also motivator and trust builder.
- It is very hard to get from pastoral size to program size church without a crisis.
Lay ministry and leadership is crucial for our growth. We see how members without us pastors gather to make sandwiches and serve at the Souper-Center. How shepherds like Pat and Nora gather people in Pat’s home and ours, and how other shepherds drive the elderly, who can no longer drive, to church. These and many more lay-based ministries take place through our church. Look at the participation of mentors and parents from four churches working together for confirmation. The program consisted of instructions and God-Out-There experiences. What a wonder! The parents went into a discipling class as well, while the confirmands were receiving their catechism. What a breakthrough that represents!
This week right after celebrating the Fourth, tomorrow, we will be helping Grace Lao Lutheran Church with its music camp. What a joy to be able to sing camping songs with them and teach the kids piano, guitar, even the trumpet, and other instruments. Next Sunday they will provide us with a meal and a concert concluding the camp.
So you see we are growing. I am sure that you all are doing far more than I know and can relate. But we have to become more intentional. Together we just had the workshop on dismantling racism. Ten of us were participating. 12 came from other churches, one from 3 ½ hours away. The president of Bethlehem – an African American Lutheran Church attended and gave a large donation. He was overwhelmed that White folk were trying to deal with the issues that they faced. That makes us really proud. You don’t know how many times I thought I would have to postpone the workshop. No one seemed to be registering for it, but then 22 came.
So let’s figure out how Christ Lutheran can go to scale. What’s all this about closing churches? When we took in 21 new members last year, a church official in Chicago said we were a flower in the desert. To quote Mark Twain: the rumor of Lutheran Churches in demise is very much exaggerated. Let’s support Pastor Barbara with her Brewing Hope Vision of the Church of Tomorrow. Imagine all kinds of young people coming together for the gospel of love, grace, and forgiveness. It can move from bible study to word and sacrament, after a way is found to foster real relationships and commitment. Not only they but we also would experience the nearness of the kingdom of heaven among us. We can’t do exactly what Christ did. We have to translate his actions into our time. But meet-up groups based on grace, could take root and become new churches. Christ Lutheran could become a mother church of a whole lot of daughter congregations. Jesus first called 12 disciples and then sent out 70. We have 70 members here for sure. Will we be disciples merely or also apostles? Will we be those who receive grace or also those who are sent out with grace? Will we resemble the Dead Sea or the life-giving Sea of Galilee? Let’s work out our future vision once again. Apathy and negativity trap us in the past; the Gospel of love opens the future. Amen.
 Numbers 11:16-25.
 Philip and Peter Krey, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2017).
 Nora and I had just visited Yosemite, where we experienced cascading waterfalls
 From Arlin J. Rothauge, Sizing up a Congregation, (Episcopal Church Center, 815 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017), 1985.