This past Saturday, I attended a worship service that included the rite of ordination – ordaining a person as a minister in the church. The person being ordained: me.
Now, the cynical side of me hates ceremonies and rites such as these. There’s all this pomp and circumstance with pastors I hardly know processing and laying on hands, a long litany of words about theological concepts like apostolic succession and the “office,” and a bishop is needed because they somehow possess “magical powers” to send the Holy Spirit on me so I can be a “real” pastor. Then, there’s that whole issue of me having to be front and center before a large crowd….
I still feel that way – about the pomp and circumstance, anyway. The service for me actually ended up being quite meaningful. It was meaningful because as I look back on it, I got a glimpse – actually, a pretty good glimpse – of what the church truly is, and what actually happens in the church when Christ is truly present.
The assembly was filled with people from just about every part of my life: seminary professors and classmates, pastors young and old, family, members from my internship congregation, and folks from a church North Minneapolis that my wife and I are deeply invested in. There was also a small group of my wrestlers at Augsburg College present, as well as some of the Catholic nuns that my wife served with in North Minneapolis in 2011. Needless to say, it was a diverse group! Young and old; suburban, urban, and rural; various races and lifestyles represented.
The worship itself was diverse too – the service was at my internship congregation, which worships in a fairly “traditional,” standard Lutheran liturgical way. And the worship followed much of that format. However, friends of my wife and mine who are also the worship leaders at the church in North Minneapolis, led the music. Their worship is much more an African-American gospel/spiritual style. I wasn’t sure how it would all come together….but it did, and it did beautifully. Voices singing loudly, people clapping and moving about in the pews – it was worship that not everyone was used to in some way, but as people told me later, was life-giving for so many.
And the best moment: one of my wrestlers, who never grew up in the church, and just recently came to the Christian faith about a month ago, unexpectedly came up for communion while I was serving the bishop and communion servers. When I told him what was happening, he replied, “Sorry coach, it’s just you said everyone was welcome to the Table, and so I thought: what’s everyone waiting for? So I thought I’d come up.”
And that moment, sums up what I think the church is, and who God is calling us to be as a church. The church is nothing more than a strange group of people from all sorts of backgrounds, who come together in community for no other reason than the good news about Jesus Christ. And, God is calling us to be welcoming, inviting, and vulnerable enough as the church to allow those people like my wrestler to come freely to experience God’s unconditional love and grace in community, in our experience with the Word, and at the Lord’s Table and Baptismal font.
I think about Luke 16 (the text for this week): the parable of the dishonest/shrewd manager. It is certainly a difficult parable to make sense of. But when I think of the day of my ordination, and that moment with my wrestler, it becomes apparent what this text is about. One, God’s ways are not our ways, and the Kingdom of God does not work like this world works. The rules are completely different: managers giving away the owner’s wealth, and the owner commending him for it.
But, perhaps that is how it is with the church: the rules are different than we think they are, and the point is that we should be giving it all away, because it isn’t ours to begin with – because it belonged to God in the first place. The “it” is Christ, the love and grace of God that comes to be among us. Perhaps, as the church, as Christians, we’re just a bunch of dishonest/shrewd managers, and it is our call to give away what isn’t ours – Jesus and his love.
And perhaps, that is exactly what the Owner (God!) wants us to do. And the church God is forming us to be is one without limits, one with out rules, at least in the way us humans think of them. The church is simply just a bunch of folk who have no other reason to be together than to rejoice in the good news of Jesus Christ, and to share that good news with others around us!
And that’s a church that I want to be a part of.