Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
“Entrusted to Us”
As many of you know, I spent the last two weeks in Toronto taking a course as part of my doctoral program. The topic of the course was “Theology of Ministry,” and its overall purpose was to assist each of us as students to develop our own theology of ministry as we understand it in our particular contexts and roles in Christian ministry. I titled my preliminary draft paper for the course, “Partners in the Ministry of Christ: A Presbyterian and Ecumenical Theology of Ministry.”
My theology of ministry is rooted in a conviction that all Christian ministry is the ministry of Christ. The members of the church – the Body of Christ – all receive different gifts from the Holy Spirit, and are called and equipped to serve God in a variety of ways. Some are called to the Ministry of Word and Sacraments, to Ruling Eldership, or to Diaconal Ministry, and others are called to use their gifts and serve as lay people in a whole host of different ways – through music, teaching, evangelism, hospitality, generosity, healing, and many other ministries of leadership and service. Whenever Christians minister to one another or to the wider world we do so in the name of Christ, and our ministry is a part of Christ’s ministry.
Towards the end of my course, we were beginning the morning with prayer and singing, and the scripture that morning was the one from Matthew’s Gospel in which Jesus tells Peter that he is giving him the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever he binds on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever he looses on earth will be loosed in heaven. And then our professor asked us each to reflect on what are the keys that Christ has given to us in our ministries? And what are we enabled to bind and to loose?
As I reflected on those questions, I thought about the fact that we gather here Sunday by Sunday, and often in between. I have the opportunity to spend time studying the scriptures, and reflecting on and praying about them. And every Sunday we get together in this place and you listen to what I have to say about them! What a gift! And what a responsibility!
And sometimes through my words, and often in spite of them, the Holy Spirit works through the proclamation of God’s Word… and what happens? Sometimes a little encouragement, a bit of consolation… sometimes a measure of challenge, or a word of warning… Wrong thinking about God and God’s will for our lives is bound, and we are loosed to become more and more the people God made us to be as we grow in love for one another and for the world around us.
This is the particular ministry that has been entrusted to me – a ministry of preaching and teaching God’s Word and administering the Sacraments here in this community.
As I was reading the Scripture readings for today, I was very aware that they also speak of the things that have been entrusted to us. God has created this beautiful world and everything in it, and God has entrusted it to us. Jesus came to reveal God’s love and purpose for all people, and before he ascended into heaven, he entrusted the continuation of his mission to us.
Does it make you wonder why? I certainly wonder that sometimes when I notice what a terrible job we so often do in taking care of the Earth and all its creatures… when I notice how little time and attention we give to proclaiming the gospel to all people, to teaching and making disciples.
The Psalmist certainly wondered why God entrusted the world to us. He wrote: “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honour. You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea…”
As the Genesis story reminds us, as humans we are a part of God’s good creation, but we are not like every other part; we are made in God’s image, in God’s likeness. We are made “a little lower than God,” as the Psalmist says, and we are given special responsibility over, special responsibility for the very good Creation of God in which we live.
And no, we don’t have a great history of being particularly good stewards of Creation. We need to keep working at it, learning to do better, being willing to make some sacrifices with regard to our comfort and convenience in order to preserve the natural environment instead of destroying it.
In a similar way, Jesus entrusted to his followers the responsibility of continuing his mission, saying, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” And yes, we find that one pretty difficult too. We keep on proclaiming it here in the church – we never miss a Sunday! But getting the gospel out into the streets, into our neighbourhoods, into our lives and relationships in word and action is a much bigger task.
Just like we try to recycle, and reuse, and make better choices for the environment, we do try to share our faith too… but it’s really hard, and we’re not always sure that our efforts are really making a difference. We keep on finding ourselves back in church again confessing our sins: Forgive us for not being good stewards of your Creation, God. Forgive us for not telling others about your love in Jesus Christ.
Of course, we need to confess, and we need to keep on turning our hearts and our minds back to God and God’s will for our lives. But we also shouldn’t get discouraged by the fact that God has entrusted so much to us, God has given us such huge responsibilities.
Instead, I want to invite you this morning to consider what, specifically, God has entrusted to you. What has God given to you to look after and to care for? Maybe it’s your family… your children, or parents, or others with whom you are called to share the love of God in word and action. Maybe it’s a ministry that you are responsible for within the church. Maybe it’s a particular cause that you support outside of the church through volunteering, or giving, or educating. Maybe it’s something that you are responsible for in your paid employment. Maybe it’s a circle of friends or colleagues with whom you have the opportunity to have a positive, loving, Christ-like influence.
I don’t know what (or who) it is, specifically, that God has given to you… that God has entrusted to your care. But I want you take a couple of minutes this morning to consider that question yourself. What or who has God entrusted to you? Don’t make the mistake of trying to claim too much, because when we do that we tend not to be good stewards of any of the gifts. But think specifically, and see if you can name your particular ministry. And after you have thought about it for a minute or two, talk to your neighbours in the pews and share something of what you are thinking.
Reflection and sharing
Remember when I spoke about the ministry of preaching a few minutes ago? When he was advising the pastors of Geneva during the Reformation, John Calvin made it perfectly clear that preachers do not save anyone. They study the scriptures, and do their best to proclaim what they have learned… but it is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Word of God is truly spoken, and heard, and lives are transformed.
The same principle is true of all of our ministries. As we take up responsibility for the various ministries and services and activities that God has entrusted to us, we must remember that we do it all through the help of the Holy Spirit. Before Jesus left the world, he made it abundantly clear that he was not leaving his followers orphaned. John’s Gospel says that he breathed on his disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.” The book of Acts says that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the gathered disciples like a rush of wind and flames of fire. And in Matthew’s account, after commissioning the disciples to make disciples and baptize in the name of the Triune God, Jesus didn’t say, “Okay, I’m off; you’re on your own now!” But he said, “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
So as we go out from this place (hopefully with a renewed awareness of the people, and places, and ministries that God has specifically entrusted to us) let us go with a firm and certain knowledge that our ministries are a part of the ministry of Christ; that we are together in ministry with each other and with all Christians, the whole Body of Christ; and that the Holy Spirit is with us to guide, and help, and work through us, despite our weaknesses, for the glory of God. Amen.