Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Sermon for an Installation of a New Pastor
The Installation of Michele Fischer
St. Paul’s ELCA, Penn Yann, NY
June 14, 2009
+ In the Name of the Creator, Redeemer and the Sustainer. AMEN
Today St. Paul’s celebrates the coming of a new pastor, one in a line of many. Pastor Michele celebrates life in a new congregation, a new place to respond to the calling God has given her to serve Christ in his Church. We celebrate this day with liturgy and song, communion and prayer, gathering and support. We mark this day as important because it is.
No matter how congregational our church is, we Christians tend to mark our personal journeys in faith by our pastors. Lutherans in small towns tend to tell our spiritual stories “Well, back when Pastor Schwartzengruber was here, we did it this way.” Or Pastor Olysen confirmed me”, we say. The leadership of pastors, no matter for how long, leaves a mark on the congregation we serve even if we are a flash in the long history of a church. So it is an important day today. How many of you have grown up in at St. Paul’s? How many of you have been a part of this congregation for more than 40 years? You have seen pastors come and go and it may even seem like “old hat”. But it isn’t. The call of a new pastor changes the whole congregation, the whole conference, the whole synod, the whole Church. Today you become different that you were. And all of you who are clinging to old adage, the Seven Last Words of the Church…”we have always done it this way,” must understand that you are now different because someone new has come among you to bring to you the ever-new message of Jesus Christ.
About 5 years ago a new pastor came to the church where I attended a weekly clergy bible study. She was young and enthusiastic. I was a seasoned, but out of work Episcopal priest who had just been chewed up by my last parish. Michele was as exuberant as I was cynical. She was fresh and had great ideas while I was tired and flat. But one thing we had in common was Jesus Christ. Michele was as charismatic as I was Anglo-Catholic. Our theologies and our politics were really quite different. But we had Jesus and that was enough. I began to do supply in some ELCA congregations and found it fun. It was through Michele that I have come to serve as a contract pastor for a small congregation in the Southern Tier conference. Michele helped “Lutheranized” me. She is the age of my great niece and yet she is my colleague, peer, and friend.
You have called into your midst someone who understands her call to serve you as she is serving Christ. It is among you that she must find the love of her life—the God who has promised to be with her forever, a God who has loved her more than life. She has come to you because she feels called to preach the Gospel to you, not just with words but with her life. She is called to lead you and yet follow you. She is called to be a God-person within your family of faith.
We pastor types are an odd lot. Any psychological study will tell you that the personality type and skill sets that describe most of the clergy in all churches is only about 5% of the population. Most of us have personalities that allow us to be sensitive to ways of knowing things that don’t fit the rest of the population. Mostly we clergy don’t know how we know things. We just know that we know them—call it intuition, call it a connection with the holy—whatever. We cultivate this unknowing with prayer and scripture study. We share a faith that often touches us all and can speak of that relationship with God even when the relationship is something that is indescribable. The pastor is the one in a community of faith that is supposed to speak to you of that part of you that isn’t as comfortable with that ineffable, unknowable aspect of God’s holiness. The problem about being one of those clergy types is that on any given Sunday, 5% of the population who does not know how they know what they know is preaching to 95% of the population who DO know how they know what they know. And we wonder why there is a disconnect sometimes with the pastor?
St. Paul understood this conundrum. That is why he wrote that passage in First Corinthians. We all have different gifts to bring to the Christian community called the Church. Some of us are treasurers, or council reps. some of you are deacons or sing in the choir, some of you do the kitchen things, some of you do the futzy stuff around the altar, some of you see to the spread of the Gospel by what you do in your work place or your school, some of you minister to the poor and the needy or the sick and the imprisoned. And you invite a new person into the community to speak of God whom you have been listening to most of your lives. And then she speaks of God differently than you. THAT is what she is SUPPOSED to do! She is supposed to sing the songs of Zion in a different tune. She is supposed to say things differently and lead differently. That is the only way congregations stay attentive to the Holy Spirit, stay fresh to the Word, and continue to proclaim the Gospel to succeeding generations.
But we are still one Body of Christ. We do things differently, but we have the same family. We bring different talents to the Body of Christ. And we follow the commandment to love in different ways.
I serve a small part-time parish in a town of less than 3,000 people. The congregation is only about 60 years old and some of our founders are still among us. They have always been a small church and have had to depend upon themselves because they are in such a remote area. During their history, they went 20 years without a called pastor. They wear that like a badge of honor. They are very good about pastoring one another. They are dynamite in stewardship and ministry to the community. They are even good about their contributions to the synod and the larger church. But they don’t know how to use a pastor. They don’t know that they don’t know. They are not very well versed in Scripture. They don’t know their own Lutheran theology very well. They are threatened when there are changes in “the way we used to do it” because they don’t trust their pastors enough to know that “someone from out there” can really understand them, can really be there for them.
The role of the pastor is not just to take care of you. That would be paternalistic. The role of the pastor is to excite you, to stir you up so that you can hear the voice of God in new and different ways. The role of the pastor is to bring new and different people into the community of Christ—ones that perhaps you haven’t seen in your community. And one of the things that is tough for us all who are on the shady-side of fifty, we need to listen to our new and younger pastors. They have access to systems of communication and ways of learning that are leaving us older folks in the dust. They are our only hope for a whole generation who know what they know differently than we do. If there is any one disconnect between younger Christians and older, it is that their brains work differently and they go about learning differently that we do. The Gospel story is the same—the promise of salvation is the same—but we must be able to package it and communicate it in a new song, in a new way. That is what a new, young pastor can do for you.
Jesus preached a new commandment-- a commandment to love one another. You have promised in your baptismal commitment that you will love one another. You have promised to love your neighbor as you love yourself. You have promised in that love to trust one another in faith—to challenge the fear that closes the heart. Micah spoke God’s word in challenging the people of Israel to not put their trust in lifeless sacrifice but to walk with God, to do justice, love mercy and walk with reverence with God. Michele does this. It is her natural inclination. She will want you to walk with her in her journey with God and she will want to walk with you in your journey with God.
As you journey with St. Paul’s remember the humility that Micah calls you to. Sing your song of faith with the melody that God has taught you. Teach the people of Penn Yann the story you have had written on your heart by the Holy Spirit. But do not fail to find in them THEIR story of God’s journey with them. Do not fail to see that they have been proclaiming God’s Word for many generations. You are but a part of that story.
Would the members of St. Paul’s rise? People of St. Paul’s, you have called into your midst someone who most likely will hear God differently than you. Listen to her—she’s young but she knows God. Fear not her energy and her joyfulness. It is a sign that the Holy Spirit is speaking. Dance with her. Help her to hear your song too. Teach her of your love for God and teach her the steps that God has danced with you. Ministry is a shared work. She cannot do it without you and you cannot do it without her. Walk humbly together with God. AMEN