The Holy Gospel: June 30, 2013. (Year C)

Read:  Luke 9:51-62

Meditation:  “Messy Ministry”

Perhaps you have noticed that the lectionary Gospel lessons the past five weeks have all focused on Jesus’ care for and outreach to some person or group on the margin–some person or group left behind while the good, decent, and religious folks forged ahead.  First, it was the centurion whose slave was ill.  Then, the woman whose son died.  And then, a “shady lady” who wasted a ton of money on Jesus’ feet. And then of all things, the town “wild man” who could no longer be kept on the garbage dump or ignored. 

Today, it’s a village of Samaritans, whom even the disciples thought should be “incinerated” because they did not accept Jesus the way they should have.  Every example (and a couple the lectionary leaves out) geared to show that Jesus drew a larger circle of compassion and love than status-quo religiosity was willing to draw.

And that made for messy ministry–not among those whom Jesus reached, but among those who thought he was wrong in trying to reach them.

It would be nice if that problem had been exorcized from institutional religion, but it has not.  We can still catch ourselves falling prey to the same disease when we ask ourselves, “Why does our pastor spend so much time with those people?”—or—grip the notion that, “We don’t pay the pastor to do that!”

Ministry is not messy when the church decides to build a gym, but it becomes messy when church folks decide who can (and cannot) use it.  Ministry is not messy when the church offers hungry people food in a bag and then sends them away.  It is only messy when we are expected to cook the food and offer those who eat it a place to spend the night.

Go back and find those who made ministry messy.  It was not those whom Jesus helped.  It was those who criticized him for helping them: the Pharisees, the townsfolk, and today, the disciples–all those who had a stake in preserving some kind of status quo.  Ministry always gets messy when the gatekeepers realize Jesus has come in through another door.

About Steve Harper

Retired seminary professor, who taught for 32 years in the disciplines of Spiritual Formation and Wesley Studies. Author and co-author of 42 books. Also a retired Elder in The Florida Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church.
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