DON’T PRETEND (and don’t let your people do it either) William A. Abbot’s ordination message
Don’t Just Pretend
† Jesus, Son, Savior †
May the grace of God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ so strengthen your dependence on them, that you no longer have to pretend…
Bill, as you and your people struggle with what I preach today, remember you asked me to do this
I need to clarify something.
This isn’t your service. It is not about you!
Just like your wedding wasn’t about you!
This ordination is about the church, and their relationship to God, which you are to constantly reveal to them in all of its glory, in all its wonder. It is about the comfort and peace that accompanies the love of God, that you simply serve up and remind them of, with the words you speak, and the sacraments you administer.
It does include you, as a member of the church, but an ordination as Greg Seltz use to say, is about the church, the pastor and the people. Not just the pastor, not just the people, but together gathered into God’s presence you all are the church.
I asked you to extend the epistle reading a little, so I can talk about you all.
Let me read the last part of the last verse. “Don’t think you know it all!”
That’s a pretty strong challenge for a guy who spent his career working with doctors because as a nurse, you often did.
But I am not preaching about that today. Go back a few verses and it says this.
There is your mission.
Don’t pretend to love others, really love them.
When you people get frustrated because you’ve heard Pastor Abbott tell the same joke for the 65th straight week – really love him, don’t just pretend to love him.
Bill, when you get that 2 am phone call, from someone in the community that is having a crisis, in their opinion, love them, don’t just pretend to love them.
This is hard, because every person in this room, including every one of the pastors, has pretended to love others in the church a time or two.
You need to have genuine affection for each other, delighting in honoring each other. This is all part of what it means to present yourself as a living sacrifice. It’s not just about the gifts, it is about using them to love each other, to love those in the community, even those we don’t like, or those we are stunned by what they do, or have done.
This is your mission, this is what changes evangelistic efforts from arguing people into the faith, into walking beside them as they struggle through life. You see this as we laugh together and cry together. This is what means to live in harmony with each other.
Not pretend harmony, real harmony…
Bill part of your job will be preaching in such a way as to encourage this. Even when that preaching and pastoral care means you unveil the pretending. Not easy.
Church, that means you have to hold my friend to do that. Encourage Him to lovingly deal with your sin, by doing the same with Him. I’ve got a couple of elders and two or three members that do that. It is a pain in the butt, but it tells me how much they love me, and how much they value me as their pastor.
Real love makes a difference, and it allows you to minister to those you didn’t think it was possible to minister to, as well. For love sees their brokenness, and as you realize God is healing yours, you begin to desire that for them.
Tony Campolo has a great example of this, among his stories. He was in Hawaii to preach at a special gathering of pastors. Arriving in town a few days early, he couldn’t get used to the time change, and found himself in a 24 restaurant, working on his message.
About 4 a.m. a bunch of street-level prostitutes walked in, their “shift” done. Tony listened to their banter, their talk. One said she had to get home to her sick mom, and one of her friends told her to enjoy her birthday. She bitterly laughed as she walked out..
Tony had an idea. He went over and talked to the ladies, suggesting that they throw their friend a party the next night/morning. He arranged to go shopping with them later, buying stuff to decorate the diner. The husband and wife team that ran the diner said they would provide cake and drinks, and at 4 o’clock the next morning, the lady had a real birthday party. And tears of joy were shed because she knew she was loved. There is more to the story, but the part I like was when the cook found out Tony was a preacher.
“What kind of preacher throws a party for a whore at 4 am? I want to find a pastor and church that would do that!”
Well, that is what really loving someone is about. Not pretending.
When your church loves the supposedly unlovable, then Bill, you will know God has done what He promises through you.
How will that happen? Correct them when necessary. Absolve them when they confess, make them know God loves them more than he hates their sin. That is what it means to preach the word. That is what Law gospel is all about! It’s not easy. Most will want you to preach about other’s sins, those committed by people in Washington, or California or Vegas.
Still preach about where God needs to help them repent.
As important, help them see what happens at the altar as a celebration, a party God throws, a celebration of the new birth when they became His people. Here it is that they begin to understand that God doesn’t pretend to love them, that he has genuine affection for them.
Here it is that the Holy Spirit transforms them, as their eyes are on Jesus as Paul describes.
This is how you see them change, and how you yourself change Bill.
Not by your logic, or the strength of your personality. That might have worked with doctors, and you might think it works with Sonja. But change in the church always happens when the people of God know they are in the presence of God.
Bring them there, let God teach them and empower them to love, as He loves them! He gives them the Body and Blood of Christ, as He forgives their sins, as He tells them what the prodigal hear.
My child, you were dead, and now you are alive! You were lost, and now are found!
And as they realize this, the party begins…and love becomes what the church is known for…and for the peace that goes beyond logic… and is there in the midst of trauma.
When that happens, you will rejoice in the work God has done through the church, through the pastor and people together.