Saturday, November 14, 2015


The watchword in Nevada is Total Ministry.
But back in my days in Atlanta the watchword was Servant Leadership.
It’s closely related to Total Ministry.
Robert Greenleaf developed it for business
            and Bishop Bennet Simms of Atlanta adapted it for the Church.

Part of Total Ministry went down easy.
That part said we lead by serving.
That part is in the Bible. It’s true and it’s necessary.
The other part was harder to swallow.
But it is also in the Bible, also true and also necessary.
It’s the part that says we serve by leading.
I’ll show you how it works.

There was a drought in Zarephath.
A widow there was destitute, on the brink of starvation.
But God didn’t send her Meals on Wheels with a lasagna.
He sent Elijah.
Aside from being a foreigner with a strange religion,
            Elijah was poor and hungry himself.
For months he had been living off the leavings of ravens.

He had travelled a long way.
He was hot, tired, thirsty, and hungry
            when he arrived at the widow’s door.
He asked for water, which she gave him.

Then he asked for food but she said there was none to spare.
 All she had was enough for a small snack for herself and her son,
a small snack they would eat and then die of starvation.
Elijah might have said,
            “Oh I am so sorry. I didn’t know.
            I must have the wrong widow.
            I’ll go ask someone else.”
Instead, the prophet said, go ahead and fix me dinner.
You and the boy can eat later.

Pretty shocking.
The man of God came – not just begging but – demanding
            that the poor woman to give what she couldn’t spare.
It was so shocking that she opened her heart.
She took a leap of faith.
And by that act of trusting risk-taking generosity,
 she and her son were saved.

Flash forward 900 years.
The Samaritan woman had gone to the well for water.
She was an outcaste in the town of Sychar. So she went alone.

But there was Jesus waiting for her.
Again, a strange man from another country with a foreign name
            and a foreign God.
And what did Jesus do?
Jesus came to serve and not to be served, right?
But look what he does.
He didn’t draw the water for her.
He didn’t volunteer any wisdom or religious insight.
He didn't reassure her it was ok to be an outcast.
He asked her to give him a drink of water.
He started --  just as Elijah did  -- by asking her for something.

For a Samaritan woman to give water to a Jewish man
            was a ritual purity violation, a taboo.
It was against both their religions,
            but he asked her to do it anyway.
Jesus was evoking her generosity for the same reason.
            Elijah asked the Widow.
When we open our hearts to give, we discover that
it is only such and open giving heart that can receive.

That’s the truth behind the Prayer of St. Francis,
            “Grant that I may not seek to be consoled but to console,
             to be understood but to understand,
             to be loved but to love.
            For it is in giving that we truly receive,
            It is in pardoning that we ourselves are pardoned,
            It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

Now the moral might be that ministers should go about
            understanding, pardoning, and forgiving
            out of their advanced spiritual state.
That might be the moral  -- but it isn’t.
The moral is you need to ask for stuff.

Not long ago, in an Episcopal Church,
there was a poor old woman just getting by.
But she always put a little money in the collection plate.
It made the priest feel guilty, so one Sunday as she was leaving, he said,
            “Lettie the Church is doing fine
             and I know you are struggling, so you really don’t need
                        to put anything in the plate.”
The old woman drew up to her full height,
looked hard at the young priest and said,
            “How dare you try to take away my right to give to God!
             How dare you!”

Now if you think I’m talking about money, I am.
But not just money.
I am talking about the basic fundamental nature of ministry.
It isn’t giving people what they seem to need.
It’s drawing out of them what they need to give.
Ministry is holding up a vision of the Kingdom and saying
            “How about it folks? Want to do something beautiful for God?”
The Church isn’t a service station refilling
people’s spiritual gas tanks with pious thoughts.
The church is a mission to change the fallen world into the Kingdom of God.

When I say the Kingdom of God
I mean what Jesus described in the parables
where everything was so radically different from our experience. 
I mean the new world described in the book of Revelation Ch. 21
            “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain
            for the old order has passed away.”
We have a mission to take down the old order
and open the door to that peaceable kingdom.

I have clergy friends who rebel against that,
            call it works righteousness, says it doesn’t leave room for grace.
But bless their heats, they are dead wrong.
Jesus was obsessed with inaugurating the Kingdom of God.

But here’s the thing we have to remember about
defeating the ways of the world with the Kingdom.
We can’t do it without God.
And God won’t do it without us.
God’s gift is the opportunity to be part of this mission.
It’s the only way our lives ultimately make a difference. 

So clergy new and old,
            if you really want to help somebody become whole,
            to help them make their lives amount to something,
            invite them into the mission.
Value God’s Kingdom in your heart
            enough to want more of it than you can do alone,
            so you have to ask for help.

I’ve seen priests who set the table for themselves,  
            keep the elements on the credence table
so nobody has to bring them to the altar –
priests who read all the lessons, say the prayers of the people,
and administer both the bread and the wine --
priests who prepared the service leaflet,
            played the music, kept the books and mowed the lawn.
Their congregations were deeply grateful as they lay atrophying
            and dying because they had no mission.

Jesus said his food and drink was to do the Father’s will.
That's spirutal nourishment.
Those priests I was talking about 
            gobbled up all the spiritual nourishment
            while their congregations starved.

You’ve to to ask people for stuff.
Ask them for money.
Ask them for time.
Ask them to show up for a meeting.
Ask them to call their Senator to talk about justice.

Whatever will advance God’s kingdom on this broken bleeding Earth,
ask people to do it.
Invite them to the party.
Grab them by the shoulder pads and throw them onto the field.
Give them a chance to act like Christians.
Elijah did it that way. Jesus did it that way. Paul did it that way.

Fellow clergy, the old order has already passed away for us.
In the old order, if you want something done right
            you have to do it yourself.
But in our world, if you want something done right,
            get somebody else to do it.