Missed January for posting. Sorry. I was caught up in data analysis, writing about data analysis, and a convocation on worship and vocation. The good news is that I've made some important connections with my analysis for being able to say something. Always a good thing after four months of work. But before I go too much further down this rat hole, it's convocation time again, and like most convocations, I come up with ideas I need to write through during the sessions. Two jumped out at me as rather important, but now I need to figure out why...
Sent or Called
It now seems to be general practice to talk of a four-fold liturgy around the celebration of communion in liturgical, mainline congregations. The Gather-Word-Meal-Send structure, with various cognates is this approach. The official hymnal of the ELCA shows this, as did one of it's predecessors, which introduced this understanding of the shape of the communion liturgy to the general membership of the ELCA.
After hearing a sermon on how God is present here, in this worship space, in this water, in this bread and wine, it struck me as odd that we were then sent away from where we had just been told God is. This got me thinking that we, public Christian leaders, need to work on our own awareness of the vocations of the people who call us to be their public Christian leaders. This also got me thinking that we shouldn't call the last part of the worship the Sending, or Send, or some such.
How might it change the way people, including church professionals, think of where God is present if we called the last part of the communion liturgy--or any congregational service for that matter--the Calling? How might it change our imaginative constructs if we ended the service declaring the call from God that is the ministry of the Word, the common vocation of all the baptized?
God is calling you through your neighbor to forgive and ask for forgiveness.
God is calling you in your family to show honor and live honorably.
God is calling you by your work to proclaim the good news of God.
God is calling you in the world to see Christ in others and to be Christ to others.
Which gets that second thought...
Jesus, the Sacrament
I've commented on this idea before, but it's time to bring it up again. Jesus is THE sacrament. Any kind of public Christian worship is efficacious because of the presence of the Spirit of Jesus, making any kind of public Christian worship sacramental. Either that or it's idolatry of some kind, but that's a different issue. If you buy into this idea, then follow me down one implication: how we talk about the ministry of the baptized.
In the ELCA, regular folk (the laity) are talked about has being baptized into the ministry of the Word, rostered lay people (those folks recognized by the ELCA as public Christian leaders, but who aren't ordained) who have the ministry of Word and Service, and the clergy who have the ministry of Word and Sacrament. Other denominations will break down the levels differently, but the overall point is a kind of clericalism that makes clergy best. This is bunk.
If Jesus is both the Word (as John 1 tells us) and the Sacrament (as I've previously argued), then the ministry of the clergy is the ministry of Jesus, spoken and experienced. But wait, this also describes the ministry of those on the lay rosters! And this also describes the ministry of the baptized as they respond to God's call!
But isn't this just a linguistic trick? Nope.
Well, kind of. But...
All the baptized share the ministry of the Word, which is to be ambassadors for Christ in all the world. The clergy participate in the ministry of the Word because congregations call them to the service of administering the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord's Supper--the "and Sacrament." The lay rosters participate in the ministry of the Word in many ways, helping congregations and the institution of the church connect the faith and life--the "and Service." The laity participate in the ministry of the Word as they live their lives, being Jesus to those around them, and receiving Jesus from those around them.
While the clergy are a necessary office of the institution of the church, given to us by Jesus, as Jenson points out in his Systematic Theology, and the lay rosters help the church to be intentionally involved in the world, as the church has done since Acts 6, without the laity, none of this matters.
The ministry of Jesus, spoken and experienced, is the ministry of the entire church. In a time when many people are inverting the Modern dogma and turning to personal experience as the source of truth, God is reminding the church that most people experience who Jesus is first and foremost through the laity. The relationships that regular folk have in their daily lives--at home, work, school, public events, even during a commute--here is where the ministry of Jesus, spoken and experienced, happens.
Yes, God is in the building where we worship. Yes, God is in waters of Baptism. Yes, God is in the bread and wine of Communion. And...
God is in your home. God is at your work. God is at your school. God is at the city council meeting. God is at the football game. God is caught in traffic with you. God is...
We humans would like to separate God and life, but that's not the God who came to us in Jesus. The Spirit of Jesus calls us into worship as we live, and calls us into life as we worship. Worship happens in life, and life happens in worship. Your life is part of the story of Jesus. Speak the story. Experience the story.