Sep 21, 2014
Rev. Dr. Johnny Wray
12Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. 13I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.15”If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.17This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.
25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.
- John 14:12-17, 25-26
Good morning! What a great day in the life of First Christian Church, Bowling Green, KY. A day long in the making but also a day in the start of a new and bright chapter in this great congregation’s ministry. What a great day, Megan, in your life and ministry. What a great day for Disciples in Kentucky and for Disciples everywhere.
I am honored and humbled by the invitation. Thank you, Megan, for the opportunity to be part of this celebration.
May I acknowledge at the outset that I have always been amused, even perplexed if you will, by this term, this ritual – installation service. Is that really an appropriate description of a celebration that affirms the call of a pastor to a new ministry? You install kitchen appliances. You install bathroom fixtures – and as Deb can surely attest I not very good at either -- so I’m not sure about this installing a pastor from either a practical or a theological standpoint -- but the invitations have gone out, the bulletins are printed, the service has been planned, we’re all here, so we’ll give it a try.
There are numerous points of reference in the Hebrew and Christian scriptures – to which we might look – Moses installing Joshua as his successor; Elijah passing on the mantle to Elisha; Jesus calling and commissioning the 12 apostles; the first persons Jesus installed to go share the good news of his resurrection were women - Mary Magdalene and Mary his mother and Salome. Paul had a real penchant for this as he installed Stephen and Silas and Barnabas and Timothy and Priscilla and perhaps scores of others to pastoral care, missionary work and other endeavors of the early church.
What I want to speak to briefly is not so much today’s installation service for you, Megan – but rather to the service of installation to which you are called for all the days and all years you are pastor of this congregation. The word “install” is really not as mundane and mechanical as we’ve made it to sound. It comes from an Old French word (estaler) – meaning to place, to set up, to position, to establish. And that is precisely what pastors are called to do -- getting things in place and making the space for the Spirit of God to move and to work; and preparing, setting up, positioning the congregation to hear and to heed the words of Jesus, to prepare the church for its ministry in a new and different day and age.
For example, Megan, I’m thinking of :
Ø the children in the congregation. It’s good to see there are so many here! And the responsibility you have, as their pastor, as the installer of faith in them. To nurture them in the love of God, to teach them the stories of Jesus and the ways of Jesus, to instill in them a deep appreciation for Holy Communion and all the traditions and practices of the church, to provide a safe place for them to share their stories, their joys and sorrows, to welcome them as children of God and provide a place for them to grow as children of God. An installer of faith.
Ø There are also, I am sure, folks here who draw every breath in pain – may be the physical pain of illness, of the parental pain of watching one’s child suffer, or the emotional pain of loss – the loss of a spouse, a child, a parent, any beloved. May be spiritual pain. Frederick Buechner says there is enough grief and pain in every congregation to freeze hell over –and he is right. And as their pastor – you are called to install comfort – to hold the hand at the bedside, to wipe the tear at the graveside, to provide a shoulder, a listening ear, a caring heart. An installer of comfort.
Ø There are also folks here who are afraid. We live in fearful times – the world can be a dangerous and dark place. Our media, our politicians are skilled at peddling fear. People are afraid – some are afraid of death, some are afraid of life. Some are afraid of change, some afraid of anything different. Some fear of keeping their jobs, their homes, their families together. Some are afraid of God, other afraid even of themselves. And you are called to install hope – you get to remind folks that the first word of the angel at Jesus’ nativity was the same word the angel spoke on an early Sunday morning at Jesus’ tomb: “Fear not. Do not be afraid.” Somewhere, sometime, in speaking to a group of ministers, Fred Craddock said something to the effect that all ministries fundamentally are ministries of hope and encouragement. When folks are willing to succumb to their fears, their doubts – to wrap themselves in the blanket of despair and fearfulness you are called remind them to take heart, to not be afraid, that God has the final word. An installer of hope.
Ø You, Megan, are also called to be an installer of compassion. When we are tempted – as we often are – to withdraw into ourselves, to look out for self first, to neglect, ignore the needs of the neighbor next door, across town, around the world -- You are called to install in us, to help us live with the suffering of others --- that will include the suffering of others right here in this congregation and in this community. It will also include the suffering of survivors of hurricanes along the Gulf Coast and tornadoes in the Midwest and those in our society who’ve fallen out, been left out, cast out. It will include the suffering of victims of civil war in Syria and South Sudan, of hunger in Zimbabwe, of earthquakes in Haiti, of poverty in Bangladesh. – you are the reminder of one of the fundamental teachings of Jesus: we find life when we give it away in self-emptying, self-giving love. It is in learning to live with and share the suffering of others that we are able to realize a life of passion, peace and joy.
Ø And you, Megan, are called to be an installer of who we are, what we are as Disciples of Christ – especially who and what we are when we are at our best. We are not Baptist, we’re not Catholic, we’re not Church of Christ, we’re not Pentecostal. We are Disciples of Christ – which is to say we are not the only Christians – not at all, but rather we are trying hard to be Christian only from our particular, peculiar place in Christ’s big vineyard. A people of an open table where every one is welcome; a people of an open book where God is constantly revealing to us the mysteries and miracles of God’s mercy; a people of an open mind where we aren’t afraid to have our biases challenged, our beliefs stretched, our faith widened; a people of an open road – willing to follow Jesus wherever Jesus leads – sometimes down tried and true roads, sometimes into new and uncharted territory. . . .
Ø Megan, one could go on and on. There may be a more demanding, challenging, exhausting, exhilarating, rewarding vocation and calling, but I don’t know what it is. There are slackers in ministry – but this is no slacker job. . You are called Sunday after to Sunday to stand in this pulpit, open the scriptures, listen to the world around you, peer into the hearts of these people and install a fresh, relevant word from God; sometimes you’ll need to install justice – when the wrong seems oft so strong, when things must be set right; other times you’ll be called to make the space for a spirit of generosity or a spirit of hospitality; or make the space for a sense of wonder or a touch of humor. . . . the list goes on and on. . . . As you get to know this congregation, as you are open to the spirit of God working here, – you’ll know what installation work is needed.
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Now this could be pretty daunting, even overwhelming -- and all said, it is important to remember that you aren’t in this alone. You aren’t the sole installer. Indeed all the minister’s installations efforts are – and must be – a partnership. This is not your calling, your task alone. It is very much the calling and responsibility of all who make First Christian their home. Perhaps that’s one of the fundamental installations to make –
establishing that space where all – everyone here -- find her\his place to live out her\his ministry in partnership with you.
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But even more -- neither is it you and the congregation alone. There can be no service of installation more necessary, more critical than your making that space within your own life and in the life of the congregation to be open to receive the gift of the Spirit. Remember Jesus’ own words toward the end of John’s gospel – how he will “install” -- how he will establish, instill, place in his followers – his own Spirit to be with you forever – to teach you all things, to bring to your remembrance all that He has said, to guide you in what is true.
So Megan – with your gifts, with the gifts of this congregation, with the gifts and leading of the Holy Spirit – there can be no doubt that the best days of this congregation still lie ahead. Thanks be to God. . . . Amen.