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A Sermon for the Ordination of a Bishop

On the Occasion of the Ordination of the Rev. Jason Zinko as Bishop
Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada

John 13:2-17 

 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus answered, “You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” Peter said to him, “You will never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no share with me.” Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” 10 Jesus said to him, “One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. (Read the whole passage)

Sermon

It is a delight that the MNO synod has elected you and called you Jason, as our next Bishop.

I remember the first time I met Jason back in seminary. It was a gathering of students during the seminary’s open house. We were at the home of one of our classmates and here was some guy from Winnipeg cracking jokes from the lazy boy in the corner of the living room.

And trust me, “Now here is someone who is Bishop material” was not a thought that crossed my mind. But not for the reasons you might think. Firstly, no one thinks that when meeting seminary students. But as I got to know you, Jason, I remember your struggle with the call to ministry. Not with the fact that you clearly had gifts and abilities for ministry, but particularly how following the call to Word and Sacrament ministry might set you above in some way. That idea seemed to contradict your nature. And the Jason of those days is pretty much the same as today: approachable, thoughtful and down to earth. And also not super formal. 

Which is funny because here we are at your ordination as a Bishop… So, would you have gone through with it all back then if you knew you would be here today? Never the less, here you and we are. 

And I am honoured that you have asked me to preach on this day of your ordination to the office of Bishop. However, what do I know about being a bishop?

So I looked to Martin Luther for some insight. And you know what? Luther has a lot to say about Bishops… None of what he says is good. Mostly stuff about how Bishops just want to be lazy princes and lords and don’t do their jobs… 

Yet, like a lot of church folks and rostered ministers, I DO have lots of opinions about bishops and thus Luther for good company. Maybe that’s all that is needed for this occasion. //

This story from the Gospel John, despite being a recommended ordination reading, is a bit odd, ins’t it? It is odd because of “when” it brings us to in the story. Maundy Thursday, a day on which we would never schedule an ordination!

Regardless, it is this surprising and unexpected thing that Jesus does that seems relevant. He gets up from the supper table to wash the disciples feet. Normally, a task reserved for the house slave, Jesus reverses the order of things and takes the posture of a servant. 

Finally, after washing the disciples’ feet, Jesus exhorts his friends and followers to do what he has done for them, wash one another’s feet.

Here is a metaphor about the life of faith, or the experience of ministry. That our callings are not to higher and higher things, but to service and getting down into the dirty, muddy, not so nice places.  

And surely, as we gather to celebrate an ordination of a Bishop today, we celebrate that God has called you Jason, to this office of ministry in our synod. We also celebrate that this call is a renewal of our call to the work of the Kingdom and the ministry of the Gospel.

This exhortation by Jesus to the disciples gives roots to our celebration today by reminding us that the call to the office of Bishop is not a bigger and fuller call than that of the call to Word and Sacrament or Word and Service ministry. 
And those two callings are not bigger and fuller calls than our first calling. 
And that is the calling we all share, the calling given in baptism. 

Baptism is the calling that most fully expresses God’s call to us to serve one another in the kingdom… it is certainly no coincidence that washing feet looks more like baptism than laying on of hands. And the call to these particular set-apart-ministries within the church, to be Deacons, Pastors and Bishops are all about narrowing and confining —  restricting even — the call of the baptized to a particular and limited set of responsibilities within the body.

And as such, a synod only needs one Bishop, and congregation or ministry only needs one or a few rostered ministers, but there is always need of and room for more of the baptized in our midst. 

Now… having said all of this… and how lovely an image foot washing is… I am not really sure that it is the main point of this story.

While there is something to Jesus’ exhortation to service, it is the interaction between Peter and Jesus that is really interesting and that really has something to say about us and about the church and the world. 

As Jesus kneels down to wash feet in this Maundy Thursday moment the disciples are probably confused, but Peter is the one to say it out loud.

In a moment between the high of Palm Sunday and the crushing low of Good Friday, Jesus and Peter begin arguing over a bucket of water between them. 

“You will never wash my feet” Peter protests. 

He must know that something is about to happen, something big. And he wants to go back. Back to the last 3 years of following Jesus around the country side with crowds in tow. Back to the simpler, easier times, when ministry was straightforward and the results were obvious. 

Peter longs for the past. He understands the past, he can see how good he had it then (even as he was often speaking first, thinking second). He doesn’t want whatever big thing is coming, whatever change is on the way. 

“Unless I wash you, you have no share with me” Jesus says.
“Lord, not my feet only, but also my hands and my head.”

When Jesus won’t back down, Peter moves from avoiding what scares him to changing it. He tries to get Jesus to wash him as a religious leader would wash someone for ritual purity, not as a servant would wash dinner guests. If Peter cannot put his head in the sand and pretend that the scary things around him aren’t happening, he will recreate the past. He will re-make Jesus back into the Rabbi and teacher that Peter is comfortable with. Peter is going to hold on to the way things were at just about any cost. 

Sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Like Peter we too are very uncomfortable with Jesus taking this position, being in this posture. Like Peter we are very uncomfortable with the Body of Christ looking like it is down on the bottom, and we would much rather the Body of Christ of those glory days when the crowds just came, and the miracles were easy and the teachings enthralled the masses. 

Like Peter we would rather that the Body of Christ never have to wash feet. If only Sunday Schools and Youth groups were full again, if only people came back to do the work we are tired of doing. If only there was no Sunday shopping or hockey practices or dance lessons. If only our pews were full and offering plates fuller… there wouldn’t be need of foot washing.

Like Peter, we would rather change what the Body of Christ is doing so it looks and feels better. If only we tried the next program or bible study or trendy church growth tactic. If only we put up some screens and updated the music, if only we invested in some professional church organists and choir directors. If only we preached more biblically and worked more for justice, if only we changed the right part of ourselves, we could go back to the way things were… and the Body of Christ wouldn’t be kneeling before the world.

Peter on Maundy Thursday shows us who we really are. //

Here we are as the church as embodied in this gathering to celebrate the ordination of a new bishop, as the MNO Synod and ecumenical partners, as the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Big change is upon us, much of what we once knew is already no longer the same, the glory days are behind us… and what is coming… it’s scary. 

But let’s make no mistake, Jason isn’t our new saviour. 
Jason isn’t Jesus. 
Jesus is Jesus. 

Instead, along with Jason, we are standing before Jesus, before the Body of Christ brought low, in this posture that makes us uncomfortable. And we too have a sense that this is not the way things should be.

And Jesus’ response to Peter in the moment?

“This is happening. I am going to wash your feet and just your feet, you don’t get to be in control”

Because it isn’t just about foot washing is it?

Because this moment is the grand reversal of the incarnation, of God coming down to our level, in human flesh, in order to show us love. This is the creator kneeling before creation in order to say, “I love you.” 

This is creation betraying God because we will not open our eyes to what is happening. This is the best that humanity has to offer, religious and political leaders, rejecting the divine, and putting God on a cross because we will not accept what is about to happen. 

Because this moment is nothing less than cross and empty tomb. God taking and holding creation in God’s hands — 

dirty, muddy, tired, sore, sinful, suffering, creation — 
and God washing away a little dirt here, 
scrubbing out the soreness there, 
bringing life and wholeness in a way that we never thought possible and in a way that we firmly tried to prevent. 

So, no pressure Jason, and no pressure to the rest of you. 

But this is our foot washing moment. 

Jesus is telling you Jason, Jesus is telling all of us… 

“This is happening. I am going to wash your feet and just your feet, you don’t get to be in control.”

Because Jason, when you make those vows to the office of Bishop, and we make promises in return, and when that cope is placed on your shoulders and that staff is placed in your hand… it won’t be because this ministry is something that you get to form and shape into your vision, or something that we get to shape and form into ours. 

Rather, it is going to be Jesus taking hold of your feet in order to show you how much God loves you. 

And then Jesus will do nothing less than bring God’s Word of Life into the world through your ministry, 
and God will wash, feed and nourish the people entrusted to you through your ministry, 
and the Spirit with breathe new directions and visions and dreams for us into your leadership. 

Because this moment is nothing less than the spirit of God breathing new life into the church. Nothing less than God declaring that in this Body of Christ, 
this segment of the Church brought low and kneeling on the ground, 
that this is precisely where Jesus is about to transform us and all of creation. 
That cross and empty tomb are being lived out right in our midst. 
And Jesus is making us alive while moving us into the future, no matter how much we yearn for the past.

And as God takes hold of us, of this Body of faith brought low and dying… 
God is washing away a little fear and trepidation here, 
scrubbing out a little resistance to change there, 
and breathing new life into us…. 
new life in the ministry of a new bishop 
and in the renewed ministry of this synod and its members.//

So while Luther didn’t say much positive about bishops, he did point us to the heart of this ministry. He says:

“We will now return to the Gospel, 
which not merely in one way gives us counsel and aid against sin; 
for God is superabundantly rich [and liberal] in grace [and goodness]. 
First, through the spoken Word by which the forgiveness of sins is preached in the whole world; 
which is the peculiar office of the Gospel. 
Secondly, through Baptism. 
Thirdly, through the holy Sacrament of the Altar…”

So with Luther’s reminder of the centrality of the gospel, and Christ’s words to Peter, we are reminded again that our call to the ministry of the gospel does not lift us higher or push us lower and is not even OUR call. 

The call is God’s, 
the Call is Christ’s, 
and it comes from a servant brought low, 
washing and raising us to New Life. 

Amen. 

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Go over to this chariot and join it – Electing a Bishop

*This is the reflection I shared during Saturday Morning Prayer at the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada’s Manitoba Northwestern Ontario Synod’s 17th Biennial Convention. The delegates were in the process of electing a new Bishop, and later that morning elected an excellent candidate (and good friend of mine) the Rev. Jason Zinko. *

Acts 8:26-40

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it… (Read the whole passage)

Go over to this chariot and join it.

How very different are the words given to us today by the reading from Acts and the reading from 1 John. 

Go over to this chariot and join it. 

A command. An oracle of the divine. A word sent from on high to stir our hearts, to get them beating a little more quickly than we like given to us in the story go Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch.

And then First John’s gentle reminder that: “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear,” sounds so very different, almost alien to God’s command today. 

Go over to this chariot and join it.

And yet they both speak directly to our worries and anxieties. 

It is almost as if God likes to mess with us. 

The spirit is causing us anxiety today and we know it, we feel it. God’s call is just as often jarring and terrifying, as it is a gentle summons whispered in our ears. 

The spirit is poking at us right in that spot where we would rather that God didn’t. Right in the place where we are vulnerable and soft, right where we know that this is going to cause us to give up comfortable, familiar, stable, low-risk ways of following that we would rather cling to. 

There is no going back anymore, there is no reaching and longing for the past anymore, the glory days are not here again, the chariot that the spirit is pointing us to is not the one with well worn imprints of our behinds formed in its seats. 

Go over to this chariot and join it.

For the past six months in the Interlake, 5 Lutheran congregations and one Anglican parish have been journeying towards formal shared ministry by trying out shared Sunday services. And this has meant that most Sundays, I have been at different churches than the ones I was in the week before. 

A couple of months ago, I brought my daughter Maeve with me to Teulon and Arborg for the first time. Maeve is not quite 2 years old and of course isn’t ready to be left alone while I preach or preside.

When I got to Teulon and began getting ready for worship, both Maeve and I were apprehensive. She knows all about church, but this was still a new place and new people. And I didn’t have our reliable surrogate Good Shepherd grandmas, I needed to ask new people to sit with my daughter during worship. 

Yet, before I could figure out who to ask to sit wit her, Brian came into the office to say hello. Then Brian introduced himself to Maeve and invited her to sit with him. And with my relieved consent, Brian took her by the hand to go find a place to sit. And throughout worship, Brian, and his wife Lois and a few kids from the congregation, sat with Maeve, letting her know that she had a place with them. That she was welcome.

Of course later that morning the same thing happened in Arborg and then again the next week in Lundar.

Go over to this chariot and join it.

Oh, how we wish that the spirit had our familiar, comfortable, known chariots in mind. Oh how we wish that “chariot” was a euphemism for glory days, and “ join it” meant that things are going to be easy. 

But is not easy to follow that command, to just get up and go to the next thing leaving behind all that is familiar and comfortable. Nor is it easy to be ones that God is sending someone to. 

But here is the thing. Maeve and my son Oscar… and even my wife Courtenay and I and other young people don’t remember the glory days… that familiar chariot is not familiar to us, we are often Ethiopian Eunuchs in a foreign land. And the church as it is now is the only chariot we have ever known. This chariot has always been aging and declining. Budgets have always been tight, and there are usually lots of empty pews to choose from in worship.

And this church as we are now is the church that we love.

This is the church where the spirit has sent Philips to welcome my children and bring them by the hand into community. Philips who are passing on the faith to them. Philips who sit beside them to hear the Word anew, who are welcoming them at the baptismal font and showing them a place at the communion table. 

The chariot that the spirit is pointing us to now, the chariot that the spirit is pointing a new Bishop among us to, the church that we are in this moment is the one that God is calling us to be. 

Go over to this chariot and join it.

This morning God’s word for us might be uncomfortable, and might cause us anxiety. And we might wonder just why the spirit cannot leave us alone and let us be…

Because that is now God’s way with us, because being left alone and let be is not what we need. 

The Spirit is calling our anxious hearts to Go over to this chariot and join it, because it is in this new chariot, in this next step and this new calling to new ministry will be found the good news of Jesus Christ, the spirit’s gift resurrection and new life given for Philip, the Ethiopian Eunuch and given for us.   

Why Mark Driscoll needs a Bishop

Every time I wade into the fray of American Evangelical Drama, I feel like the little Canadian guy waving my arms wildly, shouting, “I have something to say too!”

UnknownIf you keep up on Evangelical drama at all, you will regularly hear Mark Driscoll’s name come up associated with some controversy or another, from saying something offensive to or about women, plagiarizing material for his writing, buying up his own book in order to make the New York Times best seller listrevealing that he anonymously posted some truly awful stuff to a Mars Hill Church chat board 14 years ago. (For my mainline readers, Mark is the senior pastor at Mars Hill Church in Seattle and author of a number of books. Mark is a big Evangelical deal.)

Now, Mark Driscoll should be no concern of mine… our worlds are very far apart. And yet, as a Christian pastor, he is my colleague. And as someone trying to represent at least one progressive Lutheran Canadian millennial voice in the great sea of social media christianity, he is hard to ignore.

As the pastor of a small local church in the Canadian hinterland, it is easy to feel smug about the spiralling downfall of a “Mega Pastor” like Mark Driscoll. Each time another story breaks I can just sit back in my office chair and think, “Hah, that’s what happens when you build a church on the cult of personality! Now… how can I get more than 100 people to show up to worship on Sunday?” (Compared to Mars Hill’s 15,000+)

But the reaction to the latest controversy among Evangelicals seems more and more discombobulated. Some are outraged and aghast by Mark Driscoll’s misogyny, abuse and lack of apologizing. Some think that he should resign. Some believe that he should be shown grace because that is what Christians do. Some say this issue is for Mars Hill to deal with. And some are blogging about not blogging about it.

People seem just unsure of what to do with Mark Driscoll.

But I think Mark Driscoll is a symptom of a bigger Evangelical problem.

Accountability.

Specifically, institutional accountability.

Mark Driscoll is just one of many pastor/church combos adrift in the sea of loosely affiliated Evangelical congregations. Congregations and pastors that become islands of theological, doctrinal, ethical and institutional accountability.

There is no 3rd party – outside of the congregational system – to whom both congregation and pastor are accountable to.

Like a Bishop.20140805-235616-86176628.jpg

Now, no church structure is perfect and human beings are very adept at finding ways within any system to abuse each other.

However, mainline churches have had a few hundred more years of practicing unhealthy behaviour than Evangelicals. We know our need for overseers.

We know that congregations really don’t have the mechanisms to deal with pastoral conflict. In times when pastors and congregations aren’t working together, when there is conflict and definitely when there is abuse, Bishops are 3rd parities who can come in and begin processes of reconciliation and/or discipline.

Sometimes pastors just need someone to come and say, “Your ministry is finished here.” I wonder who can say that to Mark Driscoll? Bishops are not peers, but rather pastors to pastors. They can come and speak with an authority and with concern that lets a pastor and a congregation know that they are cared for and also accountable to the whole church beyond them. With Bishops, congregations and pastors aren’t free to do as they will, but nor are they abandoned in times of need. Bishops connect the little congregation/pastor islands together to the larger Body of Christ. And they connect them in a theological, doctrinal, ethical and institutional way. Bishops are the embodied lines of accountability that we have to one another in the Body of Christ.

20140805-233952-85192204.jpgNow, I would love to sit down with Mark Driscoll and tell him, from my professional and pastoral perspective, all the ways in which he is failing as a pastor. I would love to tear a strip off of him for all the ways in which he is putting himself before his people. And I would have every right to do so as a colleague and fellow pastor in the Church. And he would have every right to ignore me. But a Bishop would be that person who can call a pastor and a congregation to account.

The reality is Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill don’t have these structures of accountability,  and the ministry there will continue to implode and not only wound people, but perpetuate an unhealthy system that will eventually become unsustainable. I would bet real money that Mars Hill won’t exist in 50 years.

And maybe this is the underlying truth that Evangelicals who don’t know what to do with Mark Driscoll need to know.

Mark Driscoll would not be approved for minsitry in most mainline denominations. Bishops would see his drama coming a mile away.

He would never have made it through the candidacy process, he would not stand up to the academic rigour required to be ordained, he would not pass the psychological exams, and he would not have been encouraged to pursue professional, ordained ministry. Mark Driscoll ministers from an unhealthy place and is not suitable to care for a congregation.

He would not make it as a mainline pastor.

Yet, even if he did make it through the process, any one of his “controversies,” would have earned him a visit from the Bishop and likely he would have been removed from ministry.

And the reality is Mark Driscoll probably wouldn’t want to become a mainline pastor, because we don’t make celebrities of our pastors (Nadia Bolz-Weber is the one quasi-exception). Lutheran theology reminds me that is isn’t even me who is given the gifts for minsitry, but rather the office is. When I am called to serve a church, I don’t serve it as me but I inhabit the role of pastor and the role or office is the one who serves. I serve at the call of the congregation, AND by the call of the greater church, the body of Christ who has sent me to serve in a local context.

And this is why Mark Driscoll is a symptom of a greater problem. As long as Evangelicals continue to exist as congregation/pastor islands, with little or no accountability to the larger body of Christ… cults of personality will continue to pop up and invariably lead to abuse by the celebrity pastors at the centre of them.

And while mainline churches also still have our share of problems and abuse, we have built in systems of checks and balances to hopefully correct the problems before long.

In my opinion, which is in fact a professional one, Mark Driscoll should absolutely resign. The victims of his twisted minsitry at Mars Hill need to find reconciliation and healing with someone else pastoring them. But the sad reality is, another pastor just like Mark Driscoll is waiting in the wings to step onto the big stage at Mars Hill or another church like it. Mark Driscoll is not unique.

Mark Driscoll and pastors like him will continue to be symptoms of a greater problem as long as Evangelicals continue the build up churches more concerned with American individualistic values than with being accountable and connected to the rest of the Church.

But if Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill have any chance at making it through this mess… It will be with a Bishop.


 

Is Mark Driscoll an isolated problem? Or does he represent a greater issue of accountability across Evangelicalism? Share in the comments, on the Facebook Page or on Twitter: @ParkerErik