Inspired by Romans 1:8-12
I. I have always found the phrase, “installation of a pastor,” to be rather curious. To me, it seems to send the wrong message. It sounds like we’re plugging in an appliance. As with a light bulb, it sounds like we’re going to plug Pastor Ron in. That today we’re going to light him up, let his light shine, and watch him go to work. But, you know, light bulbs don’t last forever. And when they start to flicker and fade, or make a buzzing noise, or when they don’t give the kind of light we expected, we tend to replace them. So is a Pastor like that? We install them, plug them in, and watch them work until something goes wrong?
A. Now I know that’s not what we’re doing here. I know that’s not what you, the members of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, are intending here. Which is why I chose that passage from Romans. Let me read it again: “For I am longing to see you so that I may share with you some spiritual gift to strengthen you – or rather so that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine.” Let’s put this into context:
(1) First, this passage acknowledges the reality that Paul has been the pastor of other parishes, just as the church in Rome has had other pastors. This same reality is true today. Pastor Ron has served other churches, and yes, you have had other pastors.
(2) Second, Paul is new to this congregation in Rome. In fact, he is writing them to introduce himself, to say that he is hoping to come very soon to be their pastor. Pastor Ron is the new-be here! He has met some of you, but there are still more of you to meet, and you are all now in the process of getting to know each other.
B. And this is really why I like that passage from Romans. Because it speaks to this situation, to this moment. To a pastor and congregation coming together, this connection that has already begun, but is being officially recognized today. That this meeting of pastor and congregation is, not the installation of an appliance, but a relationship! It’s to be a relationship where spiritual gifts are shared, so that both the pastor and the congregation may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
(1) In many ways it is like a marriage! You’ve already done the courting and the dating. We call that the interview process, where both pastor and congregation show their best sides. Through the Letter of Call, the vows have been declared and the commitment made. And, as with a marriage, the reality now begins. What is this relationship going to be like?
(2) So today isn’t about plugging Pastor Ron in and watching him shine, watching him go to work. No, it’s a coming together through Christ. It’s
getting to know each other even more. It’s learning what’s good and, maybe, what needs to improve. And it’s working together! And let’s be clear: We’re not here to shine our own light. No, the common goal is to reflect the Light that is Christ!
II. How does this happen? How is this to be accomplished? There are, no doubt more, but I’m going to suggest three ways:
A. The Light of Christ shines when you pray together and for each other! I invite all of you to pray for Pastor Ron. Not just today, but every day. Especially on Sundays! Before worship begins, include him in your prayers. Pray for the Holy Spirit to work through him. And pray for his family! Let’s remember that the same God who calls Ron to be a pastor, also calls him to be a husband and a father. So pray for his family too. They all need your prayers! And know that Pastor Ron is praying for you! For you and your families.
(1) A parishioner at my church, who is now deceased, drew me aside one Sunday before worship and said, “You know, Pastor, given my age and health, I can’t do much. But I want you to know that I pray for you and your family every day.” Just knowing that she was doing that was a great gift for me.
(2) In every one of his letters to the congregations of his day, Paul always mentions that he is praying for them. And he thanks God for them. So, Pastor Ron and the people of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, in your prayers for each other, give thanks for each other. Thank God, in specific terms, that you have each other!
B. This relationship of mutual support happens when you pray together and for each other. It happens when you meet over scripture and sacrament, or when you meet over coffee, what Lutherans sometimes call the Third Sacrament. But mutual support also happens, it most importantly happens, when you respect and trust each other. It happens when Pastor Ron respects your history and traditions, how you are used to doing things. Pastor Ron, learn their history, learn and understand their traditions and ways, before you think about changing something. And people of Bethlehem, respect and trust Pastor Ron enough to let him try something new or different!
(1) A quick example: Nine years ago, I had this idea to begin a once-a-month Sunday evening Jazz Mass. I wanted to incorporate straight jazz and use it to proclaim Christ. Now, at that time, no one in my congregation was a fan of jazz. So this service I was proposing would not be something that they would attend. It was not going to directly benefit them at all. In fact, a few had some concerns about using this music, so often associated with nightclubs and worse, in a church setting. And, since we had to pay the musicians, it was going to cost the congregation money! But, given all that, they gave me the green light! “Pastor,” they said, “if you want to do this, if you feel this is where God is leading you, then give it a try.” This monthly service now draws over a hundred people, from all over Fresno, 95% of whom do not belong to our church. It is a great outreach!
(2) But here’s my point: Not that I had this great idea, but that the congregation trusted me enough to let me try something new. Something that was not going to directly benefit them. What a gift! What a gift to have a congregation that, even with some reservations, let’s you try things. People of Bethlehem Lutheran, be that congregation for Pastor Ron! Let him try stuff! And, if it works, celebrate with him. And, if doesn’t work, tell him it’s all right, that we learn from our failures too. Let me tell you, I have learned a lot from failure.
C. Finally, and I know this may sound like some Hallmark greeting card, but love each other. Congregations and Pastors mutually support one another, they grow together, when they love each other. Not simply respect, and not simply tolerance. But love!
(1) And let’s be sure we understand all that love entails: It includes compassion, even when we disagree. It includes supporting and lifting one another when things have not worked out, when we’re down on ourselves. And it includes forgiveness! Of all the things the Church is to model for the world, forgiveness is right at the top! Inadvertently, toes may get stepped on, slights may be felt, and direction disputed, so forgiveness is a must! If we cannot forgive each other, we are not the Church!
(2) And this love is possible when we remember, when we really remember, why we are the Church. It isn’t about us! It isn’t about us getting our way. It isn’t just about those of us within these walls. It’s about Christ! The ministry he has called us to. In all things we must ask, “What does Christ want us to do, right now, in this place.
(3) Pastor Ron, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, I am excited for you both. People of Bethlehem, you have a good pastor. And you, Pastor Ron, you have a good congregation. May the Holy Spirit bless and guide you both as you serve together, mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.