Who can be a minister?

We don’t have to debate about whether women or people who are gay should be ordained as ministers.  We can look at the words of Jesus and learn the answer to who is a minister.

Matthew 20:20-28
20 Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. 21 “What do you want?” He asked her. “Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.” 22 But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” “We are able,” they said to Him. 23 He told them, “You will indeed drink My cup. But to sit at My right and left is not Mine to give; instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” 24 When the 10 disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. 25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

This thought is continued a few chapters later – 

Matthew 23:8-10 
8 “But as for you, do not be called ‘Rabbi,’ because you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 Do not call anyone on earth your father, because you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 And do not be called masters either, because you have one Master, the Messiah.

We can assume this instruction extends to all titles that are currently used for ordained ministers. We aren’t supposed to elevate ourselves over other people, and we are not supposed to put other people over us.

Even Jesus insisted on this rule for himself.  He continually pointed to God as the only one above us – not even himself. 

Luke 18:18-19 
18 A ruler asked Him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 19 “Why do you call Me good?” Jesus asked him. “No one is good but One—God."

So the answer is simple.  NOBODY is supposed to be above anybody else in the Church.  No ordained ministers, no bishops, no popes – NOBODY.  Only God is above us. This is what Jesus teaches us, and as he is the Messiah, that is what matters.

We are all ministers, by virtue of our call to this life.  If we do what God tells us to do, we are Jesus’ family.

Matthew 12:46-50 
46 He was still speaking to the crowds when suddenly His mother and brothers were standing outside wanting to speak to Him. 47 Someone told Him, “Look, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to You.”  48 But He replied to the one who told Him, “Who is My mother and who are My brothers?” 49 And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, “Here are My mother and My brothers! 50 For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven, that person is My brother and sister and mother.”

So who is a minister? Those who do good.

Matthew 7:15-20 
15 “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravaging wolves. 16 You’ll recognize them by their fruit. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles? 17 In the same way, every good tree produces good fruit, but a bad tree produces bad fruit. 18 A good tree can’t produce bad fruit; neither can a bad tree produce good fruit. 19 Every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 So you’ll recognize them by their fruit.”

What are some examples of “fruit”?

Galatians 5:22-25 
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith,23 gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, we must also follow the Spirit.

And you can’t ever go wrong with treating other people the same way you would want to be treated.

That includes – giving food to the hungry, giving a beverage to the thirsty, giving shelter to the homeless, giving clothing to the naked, healing to the sick, and visiting the imprisoned.  (See Matthew 25:31-46)

Jesus is far more interested in what we DO more than what we BELIEVE.  It is about right action, instead of right ritual.  It doesn’t matter what day you serve God, because it should be every day. It doesn’t matter what gender or sexual orientation you are, because this call is for everyone.

We are not to create limits. The work is too important, and too big. So who is a minister? Anyone who does the will of God. 

Mark 9:38-40 38 
John said to Him, “Teacher, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he wasn’t following us.” 39 “Don’t stop him,” said Jesus, “because there is no one who will perform a miracle in My name who can soon afterward speak evil of Me.40 For whoever is not against us is for us.
Matthew 9:37-38 
37 Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest is abundant, but the workers are few. 38 Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest.”

Notice that in all of the Gospels, Jesus doesn’t talk about what people should wear, length of clothing or hair, or what is the right seminary to go to – because these things don’t matter. Jesus called day laborers – simple fishermen and tax collectors, to be his disciples. They weren’t educated. They weren’t first in their class. They were simple people, just like us. He calls us too, right now, as we are.  We are called to be Jesus to a world that is desperate for his healing touch.

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What should Church be?

For many people, church looks like this at the most basic level
cross

Yet remember that the angel said to the women who went to find Jesus at the tomb –

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here – he has been resurrected!” (Condensed Gospel rendition)

The church as we know it is dying.

The Christian faith tradition must change what it looks at in order to survive. It must change from being a religion of rites and creeds.

It must stop being an institution focused on
the historical Jesus
and the future Jesus
and learn to BE Jesus right now,
to the people in the world.

It must stop the idea of “Bringing people to Jesus”
(preaching the Gospel)
and start living the idea of “Bringing Jesus to people”
(living the Gospel)

Many people have left church because they know that something is missing.

There are many large abandoned church buildings.
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And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
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For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

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But then when they leave, the everyday world is dull and boring.

For many, church is a sanctuary against the storms of life

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But does this teach them to live in the world?

Perhaps Church can be seen as a boat, to rise above the dangerous waters, or to safely travel to visit or help others.
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Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
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It is a place where we can each learn how to learn and grow safely. Others watch our progress and make sure we are not going to get hurt. They cheer us on.
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It needs to be a place where we can learn that right here is where God meets us – that God loved us enough to come down to Earth to be with us and live among us. That God loves us enough to still be with us right now, right where we are. That God wants to work through us, and with us.
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Church should be small, human sized.
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It should be intimate and personal.
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Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
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They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
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They are out of proportion with us.
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When God came to earth, God came as our size. The Temple is not a place, but within us.

Often churches are built far away, high up, hard to get to.

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This is especially true of monasteries. They are places to retreat from the world.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be in the world – not apart from it. Jesus trained them to feed, to clothe, to help – everyone, not just those who are “in”.

For so many, God is seen as immense, and difficult to get to.
far 3

There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
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We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
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Even modern churches, while looking different, still have the perspective wrong. The focus is on the preacher – on one person. The people sit passively, staring in the same direction. If they speak at all, it is from a script (a hymnal, a prayer-book) Only one person is allowed to speak something different, to direct the service.

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This sets up a hierarchy – of one person higher than the rest. This is directly opposed to what Jesus wanted, who wanted us to have only God above us. To have a person above us is to make them into an idol.

I’ve met many people who’ve left church for all of these reasons. They felt lost, alienated, alone. They too read the Gospel and met the real living Jesus and made a home for him in their hearts. They know that Jesus says that the Church is us – people, doing the will of God here in the world.

Yet, God says that people were not made to be alone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live and work and be together. No one person has everything required. We must work together.

Church needs to be all of us working together to help others. It isn’t a building or a place. But even if we remove the idea of the church being a building, we still have to remember the ideas that have long been part of church, so even when we take the Church out of the building, we must still make sure the old ways don’t come along.

It must be open to all.
It must be human-sized.
It must not be led by a single person – all must participate.
It must be a place where all can grow.

Again- it sounds like I’m talking about a place – an institution. I’m not. Certainly, people need to gather together occasionally. People cannot truly connect online. But, the money raised from members cannot go to a building or a salary. It cannot be inward-based. This will cause self-collapse, and is the opposite of what Jesus wants. The Church cannot support the church. The Church – the Body of Christ, must give aid to the world. That is where tithes must go. Outward.

People can meet in small groups, in each others’ homes.
They can meet in school gyms (they are not being used on the weekend)
They can meet in community centers or hotels.

There are plenty of already-built places that have meeting areas that are either free or inexpensive.

But when they meet, it must be a place to organize to go out into the world, to bring Jesus to people, by feeding, clothing, healing, visiting.

Not by preaching the Gospel,
but by living it.

(All pictures are from Pinterest)

Good News and the Holy Temple

Why is it that so many denominations focus on the part of the Gospel that says “The Gospel has to be preached to all nations” (MT 24:14, MK 13:10), but seem to completely gloss over the fact that they don’t have to prepare for what to say when we share it, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words? (MK 13:11, MT 10:19-20, LK 12:11-12, LK 21:14-15)?

These two concepts come when Jesus is telling his disciples about the end of the Temple, not the end of times. This too is something that many church leaders don’t mention, or don’t notice. Many denominations feel it that the more nations that they preach the Gospel to, the closer they are to Jesus coming back. They prepare tracts and rehearse missionaries towards this end. Nowhere in that section does Jesus talk about the end of days – just the end of the Temple. The Jewish Temple has been destroyed for thousands of years, and the Gospel certainly wasn’t preached to all nations before it happened.

So what is going on?

Jesus was talking about the Holy Temple literally, and the Holy Temple spiritually. The Temple was a literal building at the time, but the Spirit left that building and entered into Jesus, and through him, into us. We are the building. We are the Temple now. Remember that Jesus was the “cornerstone” which the builders (the Jews) rejected. Remember that Peter, a human being, was the rock upon which Jesus built his new church.

The Church is a literal Body of believers, not a place. This is the message that needs to be spread through the Holy Spirit. We are to wake people up to this, to prepare their hearts, just like that simple manger in Bethlehem, to welcome in Christ.

We do need to be good witnesses, sure. We need to “acknowledge Jesus before others”, certainly. But we don’t have to prepare, because the Holy Spirit will give us the words. We’ll have better words through the Holy Spirit than we could ever prepare on our own. How interesting that the idea that the message of Jesus has to be preached to all nations is only in two Gospels, but the message about the Holy Spirit giving us the words to be able to do it is in three – and actually twice in one of them. More is said by Jesus about the Holy Spirit than sharing the message, and I think we need to notice that.

Our job is to be messengers, but not in the usual sense. We are to let the Holy Spirit speak through us. We don’t have to worry about it – we just have to let it happen.

Perhaps that is why so many church leaders don’t talk about this. The Holy Spirit can’t be controlled. People who have the Holy Spirit in them don’t read from the script or from a prayer book. There is nothing “common” about the Holy Spirit. It can’t be contained. I believe that many church leaders are frightened of this, because once the Holy Spirit gets loose, it can’t be put back.

Once it gets loose, people might just start to realize that Jesus didn’t ordain anybody.

Once it gets loose, people will remember that Jesus made us all ministers, by virtue of our baptism.

Once it gets loose, people will remember that Jesus said the only One above us is God – not a Rabbi, not a Teacher, not a Father – not any religious authority.

Come, Holy Spirit,
and spread over your Church,
and make it new.
Cleanse us with your fire,
turning the lead of
ritual and rote
into the gold of
service and joy.

Amen.

Communion thoughts. How to – part one.

communion

Anybody can celebrate communion. When Jesus celebrated what we now call the Last Supper with his disciples, they were told simply to do this every time they gathered in his name.

He didn’t say they had to be ordained. In fact, Jesus didn’t ordain anybody. He said that to call anybody teacher or Rabbi or Father is to take away from God’s authority.

Jesus came to level the playing field. Jesus makes us all equal.

When I celebrate Communion, I use matzo and kosher grape juice. Both can be purchased at your local grocery store, in the Jewish section.

Communion is a shortened version of the Passover meal, which is a bigger version of the weekly Sabbath meal.

At the Sabbath meal, Jews use challah, a braided egg bread. It is a yeast bread. During the Passover meal, they use matzo, “the bread of affliction”. It is flat and hard. It is a bit like a cracker. It does not have yeast in it, so it doesn’t rise. It is to remind them that their ancestors didn’t have time to let the bread rise when they escaped from Egypt. It is also to remind them of the manna from heaven that God provided for them while they were wandering in the desert for 40 years.

Matzo closely resembles the texture of communion wafers. Or rather, communion wafers are like matzo. It is supposed to be the same thing. Sadly, standard communion wafers don’t look like matzo at all, so Christians don’t see the connection. Nor are we taught it. None of this is a secret, but it isn’t advertised either.

I use kosher grape juice rather than wine because I might have someone there who is in recovery. It is really important for me to include everyone. If I use wine, then those people who cannot have wine are left out. That isn’t right.

I have been to a number of church services that used wine and the priest spelled it out. S/he would say that they used real wine, and that if you couldn’t have wine, to cross your arms over yourself so that the chalice bearer would pass you by. The priest said that you got the full benefit of communion without both elements.

I was a chalice bearer, and that is an awkward moment. Everybody gets wine, except one person. That makes that one person stick out. Their inability to have wine is now essentially public knowledge. It is shameful and embarrassing for them. Something that should be private now isn’t.

There was also a problem at my old church with young children drinking from the chalice. The rule in that denomination was that if you were baptized, you could take communion. They practiced infant baptism. You get the picture. Some children were sucking up the wine like it was Kool-aid.

It all made me think. To use wine is to exclude. To use wine is to cause problems.

I don’t know what makes kosher grape juice kosher, but it sure tastes good, and it comes in a glass bottle. I like that better than plastic. I’m sure I could use standard grape juice but this seems more appropriate.

I put out the matzo, unbroken, on top of a small dish. I pour the grape juice in a cup, half full. I want to make sure everybody has enough, but not make them feel overwhelmed. I pour it at the beginning of the service so that it has a chance to get to room temperature. It is important that people see there is enough for them, but it is also important to finish it off at the end. It can’t be poured back into the container, and it is impolite to pour it down the drain. More on that later.

There is no division.

For us to even allow the idea of ministers is to negate the sacrifice of Jesus. Jesus came to do away with all boundaries and all hierarchies. In Jesus, we are all equal, all blessed, all worthy.

It is like if you are arrested. The police officer will read you your rights, which include not talking unless an attorney is present. He will then ask you if you understand your rights. The moment after you say yes, he will start asking you questions.

So you answer. He’s an authority figure, and you have nothing to hide, right? But part of the Miranda rights state that anything you say can and will be used against you. But you talk anyway. And you get in trouble, because your words are taken out of context. You would have been better off staying silent.

We give away the power that Jesus gave us when we let ourselves be led by ministers. When we allow a division of us and them, of lay and ordained, we are ignoring the very essence of Jesus’ sacrifice.

Jesus came to remove all boundaries between us and God. Jesus came to set us free from all the guilt that we’ve been given all of our lives, where we’ve been told we aren’t good enough, aren’t worthy enough – basically that we aren’t enough, period. We have been told over and over that whatever we do, whoever we are, it isn’t enough and we need to do more.

We are told this in every facet of our lives. We are told this not only about our relationship with God but our relationship with the world, with each other, with ourselves. We are told that we’ll never measure up. If we just dress better, listen to the right music, get another degree, date the right person, we’ll get there – except when we get there we are told that we are still lacking and we need to try harder.

Jesus tells us that we are there already.

Jesus tells us that we are perfect like we are.

We don’t need an intermediary. To allow anyone to be over us other than God is to ignore the whole reason Jesus came and died.

It is way past time to rethink church and what it means and how it looks and how it works. This is part of why I write this blog. I know I’m not alone in this feeling. But it is hard to undo and remake something as basic as our idea of church. In part, I’m stripping it down to the basics. What did Jesus say? What did Jesus teach? What did church look like? What didn’t it look like? What are we doing right? What are we doing wrong?

It is all a feeling-out-in-the-dark kind of thing. Yet I feel that this is better than blindly following someone who it turns out is also blindly following someone. I think our souls are too precious to place in the care of a person. And I think that isn’t what Jesus wanted.

Exodus

I’ve found that more people are leaving my old church. These are people who have gone there much longer than I have, and have worked in lay ministry much longer than I have. These are people who are essential to the running of the church. These are people who are also waking up to the fact that church should be more than margarita karaoke and a night out watching the local baseball team.

Those things are fun, sure. But they aren’t the purpose of a church. Church is meant to build up the Body of Christ. Together, we are stronger. Together, we can make the world a better place. Together, we can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, heal the sick. Together we can do what Jesus did.

I haven’t told them to leave. They haven’t read my blog. They don’t know why I’ve left. But they too are leaving.

I’m not the first to leave. There were others before me. Others with children, who were dismayed by how the priest handled a change in how Communion was distributed to children. They were the first of the group of active members to leave. They were acolytes and chalice bearers and readers. The problem is, the membership wasn’t that big to start with, and of that number, there were even fewer who were willing and able to serve in liturgical roles. That is the thing with liturgical churches – you have to have worker bees. It can’t all be done by the queen.

It shouldn’t be done all by one person. That is the purpose of church. Church should be training ground for the rest of the week. In church we should learn about how to work together to build something amazing. In church we should learn about our own unique gifts and talents, and learn how to use them to serve God. We do it through the simple actions of preparing the worship space and time. We do it by polishing the silverware like we are preparing for a special guest (we are). We do it by assigning readers for that week’s lessons. We do it by practicing those readings, so that people can hear the Word of God clearly.

These are literal yet symbolic actions. They pale in comparison to what we are supposed to do outside of church, but they are still important. But when the people who do these things are leaving, it is a sign that something very deeply wrong is going on. It is a sign that needs aren’t being met.

I wrote the Bishop to let him know my concerns. I let him know about my concerns with that parish specifically, and of the Episcopal Church, and of Church in general. I wrote to tell him that I feel that we are doing it wrong, that Jesus didn’t mean for us to have church buildings and ordained ministers. Our tithe was meant to feed the hungry and clothe the naked – not pay for minister salaries and a mortgage. He told me thanks for writing, but he doesn’t see any problem. Of course he doesn’t. His job would disappear.

The more I read of what Jesus said, the more I see that His words don’t synch up with what we do. A person cannot serve two masters, after all. I can either serve Jesus, or I can serve the church, which often seems to be going in an entirely different direction.

I don’t want it to. I don’t want people to leave. I want this thing to work. I’m deeply concerned and sad about the state of things. I want church to be about healing and reconciliation and love. I don’t want it to be about chili cookoffs and ice cream socials. I don’t want it to become another social club.

Church isn’t the building, but we’ve spent so much money and time and energy on it that it has become the building. Church isn’t about ordained ministers either. Jesus told us not to have any. Yet we’ve given them money and time and energy too and we’ve gotten distracted. We’ve forgotten that WE are the Body of Christ. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ones who build up. We’ve forgotten that WE are the ministers, every one of us.

Some churches get it. Some churches understand the healing power of having many hands make light work in doing the work of Jesus. There is a lot of work to be done. There are a lot of people who need help. There are some churches that get that we can’t waste our time just hanging out together – we need to hang out while we are doing this work.

Meanwhile people are leaving. It is an Exodus, a leaving. They are escaping a bad situation, and looking for what they are being called to. They are leaving to try to find another place that gets it. They are frustrated. They haven’t left entirely. They are there half the time. The other half the time they are church shopping. They go to other area churches of the same denomination. They go in a group. Twice a month they are gone.

They haven’t come to the conclusion that I have. I don’t expect them to. My leaving was radical. While I’m sad that something that I’d come to see as the center of my life is gone, I’m also glad. I’m glad that the leaving wasn’t drawn out. It was a clean break. The words of the priest were so severe when she read my concerns about church that I had to leave. There is a bit of mourning, sure. I miss going to church. But what I really miss is that church never was what Jesus wanted it to be. I think I miss the never-was more.