Gospel Reading: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Let us pray: O God, may your word be spoken and received with open hearts and minds, that we may find your truth, your purpose in them for us. Amen.
Rachel Remen, in her book Kitchen Table Wisdom tells the story of how, when she was just 3 or 4, her father began a family tradition of putting out a thousand piece jigsaw puzzle on a table and then hiding the box lid with the picture on it so that no-one knew what picture would eventually emerge. The child Rachel wanted to participate but wasn’t sure how – when she climbed up to look she noticed that some pieces were dark and shadowy and others brightly coloured and decided that the dark ones were like spiders or bugs, ugly and a little frightening. So she gathered them up and hid them under a cushion – a few at a time until there were around a hundred pieces missing. She eventually owned up to doing this and watched as her mother added them to the picture – and said that she was astounded as this amazing picture emerged of a peaceful beautiful deserted beach. Without the bits she had taken, the dark pieces, the picture made no sense.
Its an analogy that could speak to many parts of our lives I suspect but the focus for today, the question I want to ask of every person here, minister, elder, congregational members is: what aspects of our ministry (remembering that we are all involved in ministry as the body of Christ) as individuals and as a community of faith are we holding back on, not allowing to emerge, because we think they are of no value, or even shadowy, scary, and unworthy, not relevant or needed in the building of the Kingdom of God here in this place.
It seems to be to be a particularly relevant question today as we come together to celebrate the induction of Eric into this Parish and to welcome Eric and Kim to this community. What could the ministry life of this parish – any of our parishes really – look like if we brought all our gifts, the bright shiny ones and the not so obviously polished ones to our ministry?
For this passage we heard read today has within it the realities of the life of ministry – and, in no particular order, we see Jesus teaching, all of them getting burnt out, working hard at spending time in worshipping community, all of them spending time in conversation and reflection with God, and responding to the needs of the wider world, often to the point of exhaustion, so that healing might take place.
And within those who participated in that ministry with Jesus, there would be many different skills, awkward moments of inadequacy, and amazing experiences in the power of God. We are no different – all called to exercise our particular ministry through both our obvious gifts and also in our more shadowy, less obvious skills. For if we bring only our bright shiny gifts we are not seeing the whole picture of the kingdom here in this place. For I believe that it is in our moments of offering our vulnerable self, our uncertain, untested self in ministry that we most find God and others most know God in us.
In parish ministry, for any community of faith, this means stepping beyond the easy, the comfortable into the place of trust in God and each other to support, care for and nurture each one of us not only in our strengths but in what we might see as inadequacies.
My husband is a musician – and I’ve often heard him use a throwaway phrase like ‘I might as well cut off my fingers now’ when he sees a superlative guitarist or percussionist’ – in other words no way I could match them so I’ll stop. I think we do that too – whilst I was on holiday there was a sermon preached at Opoho that had me thinking – this tongue has no business expounding the Gospel - it has got to go.....
Ministry is hard work for all of us, it feels like too much at times and we can so totally relate to this day in the life of Jesus and the Apostles. Overwhelmed would not be too strong a word sometimes. Wouldn’t it be easier if we could switch on and off a bit more, could just do say, the worship bit on Sunday and trust God with the rest of the week. Or if we could only pick up on those things that we shine at, and not expose ourselves to new and uncertain experiences in case we stumble. It might be, I suggest that this attitude is one of the reasons why some people find church life increasingly irrelevant as they can perceive a culture of accomplishment at odds with the ups and downs of ordinary life. It’s hard to approach someone with your messy up and down life if see no such vulnerabilities in their life.
So how do we live this life of immensely rewarding but also challenging, exhausting, vulnerable ministry that is the life Christ calls us to follow so that we might make Christ known in our communities?
Lets come back to the text.
Jesus shows us that ministry is about teaching and learning of God through scripture, community and all that have gone before. None of us have the whole truth, all of us have truths and stories and understandings to share with each other. A minister of Word and Sacrament, as we call it in the Presbyterian Church, has a particular role as a teaching elder, but each one of us has a responsibility, if not a passionate need, to be able to articulate our faith, to ‘teach’ others, to develop our common understanding of God and the life that Christ calls us to. When we are all willing to learn, share and explore the Gospel message together, that is when we make Jesus Christ known in our communities.
Ministry is about time with God in rest and reflection – come away with me and rest awhile says Jesus.
One part of the training that interns receive from Knox Centre, and that I think we all as people of faith well should well consider, is about recovering the concept of the Sabbath – finding within your ministry time a space for reflection- for deliberate, personal, quality God time – and we are not solely here talking about daily devotions or words of prayer but rather of intentional listening and resting in the presence of God. And it was the hardest teaching for almost everyone to grasp – or at least to translate into actual Parish life. We all knew it would be the first thing to go in the busyness and commitment of being a Minister – or in fact of anyone with a busy life and too many things to juggle and so it was kind of ‘this would be lovely...’ rather than ‘this must be...’ It wasn’t that we thought it scary – rather that it was of lesser need than the obvious ‘doing’ roles ahead of us. One of the pieces of our faith life that gets regularly shoved under the cushion, you might say.
Ministry, says Jesus, is about spending time together – in worship and around the table – re-membering who and whose we are so that we minister from the heart of God, not just from duty or the law. When we gather in joy and praise, when we come in prayer as the people of God, when we listen and respond to scripture, when we eat together and laugh together we are equipping ourselves, clothing ourselves in the love of Christ through the power of the Spirit so that we can effectively and compassionately minister to others – within the church family we are part of and facing outwards – into community – where healing and justice and love is so desperately needed. ‘And he had compassion for them...’
How might our compassion look if we not only bring the shiny pieces of the puzzle – our gifts, our sureties, our tried and tested ways, but also our unknown, less obviously valued pieces, our uncertainties, our vulnerabilities, our doubts and struggles and perceived failures? When we each offer all that we are in our ministries, not just our ‘good’ gifts, then Jesus Christ can truly be made known in us and through us.
This is new jigsaw being laid out in the community of Middlemarch today –maybe it’s time to hide the lid of the puzzle box and see what will emerge as you bring all that you are and can be to the ministry of Jesus Christ in this parish. Take care of one another, teach, rest, share and nurture and may we, each of us, together create a place of hope and compassion and justice and love in the name of the living Christ. Amen