In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry faithfully.
2 Timothy 4:1-5
It is necessary for the church to retain the right to call, choose and ordain ministers. This right is a gift bestowed exclusively on the church, as Paul testifies to the Ephesians when he says…[Christ] gave gifts to his people. Among those gifts belonging to the church he lists pastors and teachers and adds that such are given for serving and building up the body of Christ. Therefore, where the true church is, there must also be the right of choosing and ordaining ministers…
Philip Melanchthon: Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope
I have been ordained for 35 years, and in those 35 years I have been,insulted,humiliated, intimidated, frustrated, and, once, utterly devastated. In my 15th year, I quit ordained ministry for a year and a half, because I felt incapable of going on.
But I never chose this call, the call chose me. The year I was nine, my bishop patted me on the head and said, "Well, Raymond, maybe some day you'll be a pastor." Classmates in my elementary school knew I would be a pastor even though it was too uncool to admit. I adored the pastor who confirmed me.
Then I went to Camrose Lutheran College where people began to work on me. My first year Chemistry prof, who had been a seminary prof in a former life, began to mentor me.
In the end, I sat down and made two lists: one contained all the calls I was receiving, the other contained objections. There weren't enough objections to warrant saying no, so I said yes.
And after that year and a half in 1980-81, I said yes again.
And after that utterly devastating experience, when I couldn't formulate a yes or a no, God said yes to me through the love of the Christian community.
So, for whatever reason, the call has chosen me. I remember the pain of those tough times, but I don't measure the success of my relationship with God by them. As Ron Mayan (chaplain of the ABT study conference) said, where else is there so much freedom for creativity, community, nurture and growth, and intimacy with God?
Because those are the aspects of this ministry, I was able to come through the bad times intact.
This ministry of ours is not exactly a high-demand profession these days. A pastor of our church suggested to one of her confirmands that the confirmand consider becoming a pastor. The parents of the confirmand were irate and told the pastor to back off. There was no way they wanted their kid going into a profession where people were treated the way their pastor was!
We are seen by many writers of letters to the Globe and Mail as purveyors of folklore, superstition and moralism, doing harm by keeping people ignorant and repressed. One man walked up to me in a Vancouver parking lot and spat out these words: "Filthy priest; go to hell!"
However, an abused pastor at least is the object of someone's attention: to much of society, we are merely irrelevant. Christianity is seen as a lifestyle option and not a way of life. Those who make it a way of life are often called fanatics.
However, we are irrelevant because we are not known. This particular era is a pre-Constantinian, post-Christian era in which two generations of young people have not been taught even the basics of our story.
A secular friend of mine, a retired English prof told me Bible references in literature baffle the current student body because they've never heard of the stories. All those metaphors about the Tower of Babel and Good Samaritan are meaningless.
When there's a funeral or a visit to the hospital, and these folks experience the depth of this ministry, they come away with an awakened understanding. The hunger for the gospel is there, they simply no longer remember the hunger's name.
The primal hunger for intimacy with God gets buried under the artificial hungers induced by the relentless bombardment of advertising. It is when people find themselves vulnerable and the depth of their need is touched by the gospel of grace that the Millennium Generation sees us in a different way.
In fact, the Millennium Generation is a lot like the generation of the time the letter to Timothy was written:
…be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires…
This is a generation raised on word processors and graphics software. They know how to surf the Net, to cut and paste, rotate, paint, retouch, massage, and layout a message. (In this digital world, you can no longer attend a movie and be sure that the face on the screen actually looks like the image it has become. They can make Jim Carey's eyes bug out of his head and give Jack Nicholson a grin otherwise seen only in comic books.)
It isn't always a bad scenario they create. Sometimes the characters are too good to be true. The problem is, it isn't real.
…they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, [they] will turn away from listening to [reality] and wander away to myths.…
That writer to Timothy is talking about something that we, today, might call virtual reality. Virtual reality is an electronic program made to look like the real thing. The bombers of the World Trade Centre learned to fly airliners on a virtual reality device.
You can buy software that will do non-directive counselling, but, as Dan Erlander said (keynote speaker at the ABY study conference), computers don't give hugs. You can't eat a virtual sandwich or treat a wound with a virtual bandage. And you can't have real communion with a virtual God.
Into this world of virtual reality we come with the real thing, a God you can taste and touch.
A God who is born human and invites us into a relationship that deepens as we allow ourselves to become more fully human.
A God whose minister visits you in times of loneliness, who offers you presence at times of loss, who places bread in your hand and gives you wine to drink.
A minister who will hear your recitation of sins and declare you forgiven. No virtual absolution, but the real stuff!
I am excited by the challenges of this future. But responding will call for people who know some new moves. I was formed in a modernist church. I went to seminary in the 60's, (my church has tail fins!) but was educated in a church that set its goals in the 50's. I'm smart enough to know I don't know the moves.
So we need to be in the calling business. We need to draft young people in whom we see gifts and mentor them until they can hear that this is God's call and God has work for them to do.
These young people will not want to hear this. They will want to be part of their post-modern world. They will want to be comfortable with pluralism where every idea is equal to every other idea and one does not have to choose a whole way of life, but can pick and choose, snip and paste.
Not every one of them will be delightful. Sometimes the brightest and best start out being the class clown or the record holder for days in detention.
The Edmonton Oilers recruited 17year-old Wayne Gretzkty, because scouts had seen him play when he was 10! I was nine when my bishop scouted me. My older sister tells me she was ten when she heard the call to serve the church full-time. Little Samuel was a toddler running around the shrine at Shiloh in that cute little alb his mom sewed for him.
I pray that the Holy Spirit will give us discernment as a gift. I pray that the Holy Spirit will give us eyes to see the young people whom God has already anointed.
I pray that God will give us imagination. The people who were in exile sat in darkness. It was the imagination of the prophets that got them seeing with a different set of eyes, seeing a new land where things were different.
That prophetic imagination became the core theology of the black slaves of America, and was epitomized in Martin Luther King Jr.'s sermons.
And I will pray with you that the institution will find new ways to be itself, so that it is fluid enough to flow where it is called. The metaphor I like is the one C.S. Lewis used in the first volume of his science fiction trilogy, Voyage to Venus.
Venus is entirely covered with water and its inhabitant live on organic floating islands which are really other images of the Garden of Eden. They nurture and revive life morning by morning. These islands undulate with the waves (which makes walking a bit tricky) and move around at night when you're sleeping.
Tomorrow another island will be your neighbour than the one beside which you went to bed. Then comes the tempter. The tempter points out all the liabilities of this transient lifestyle and points to the horizon where there is a single island of fixed land. It does not float around. It is not unsteady under your feet. It is steady, unmoveable, permanent. It is also where the devil lives.
We will always be tempted to seek the unchangeable, but God's call is that we become mariners on a sea of fluid history.
Oz is a long way from Kansas, and in the end, it is all smoke and mirrors, but it is also where transformation takes place and Dorothy finds her vocation. The Millennium Generation awaits us. We have this ministry. Amen!
I think we Lutherans may not have appreciated how precious the gift of ordained ministry is to us until our conversations with the Anglicans raised the issue of apostolic succession. It brought to mind all the objections the Reformers worked out in the 16th century.
The quotation from Philip Melanchthon is one of the defenses the Reformers presented in their struggle with the hierarchical authorities over the question of authority to ordain. The Reformers stated that apostolic authority was given to the church, not to an administrative structure within the church.
An administrative structure that emerged only after Constantine made the Roman church the official religion of the empire and gave it the Roman model of hierarchy and the secular authority to wield such power.
We Lutherans have grown up being taught this history and have been comfortable with our practice. We have been careful to preserve the apostolic tradition of the proclamation of the Gospel and the ministry of the Sacraments.
We have maintained the practice of the apostles without the need for the Roman apparatus.Then we began to date the Anglicans who raised the question of the historic succession and episcopal ordination, and all those old hairs on the back of our necks began to bristle again.
You could hear a rustling sound in Lutheran cemeteries across this land as staunch congregationalists and pietists turned over in their graves.There was no need to worry.
The Anglicans recognized that we had maintained through our theological tradition and confessions what they had maintained through their episcopal structure. Instead of becoming two incompatible systems we found ourselves to be two sides of the same coin.
We have learned from the Anglicans that episcopé, in and of itself, is not an evil thing. It is not a bad thing to assign responsibility for ordination to bishops. The earthly part of the church must be organized around some principle. It is a bad thing only when bishops presume that they contain this authority within themselves. So much for Melanchthon.
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This sermon was prepared by Ray Schultz, National Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada for the Synod of Alberta and the Territories Pastor's Study Conference, February 2002.