Today is the Eve of All Hallows or All Saints – a day created by the Roman Catholic church centuries ago because they were running out of days to commemorate the huge number of saints that had been recognized. This day in particular was chosen as it appears that before the 800s it was a day to remember martyrs. Of course, as part of the Protestant Reformation, the churches by and large ceased to commemorate saints’ days, as all people are understood to have equal status before God. The early Reformers felt that people were giving too much veneration to the saints rather than directing their prayers and worship to God. The Reformers taught that no-one needs any kind of intermediary between them and God – that in the words of 1 Peter 2:5 – “all can go before God as priests because Jesus has done so on our behalf”. Well, there goes my job! This is in part why Protestant churches tend to emphasize the role of teaching elder over the role of priest for its ministers, though administering the sacraments is still part of the role of an ordered minister in the United Church.
This Sunday, which is also Reformation Sunday, seems like a good time to return to those questions that have been in the bulletin for several weeks. Remember about a month ago I asked you what it means to be a member of a congregation – what requirements there need to be – if any? How is that different from being a Christian, a follower of Jesus? Are there different standards or expectations for those who wish to be lay leaders in the church?
From 1 Timothy we have a description of the writer’s 1st century understanding of what is needed to be a leader in the Christian community. It’s a patriarchal one, for sure, assuming that a good leader is a) male and b) the boss of his wife and kids. We can certainly dispense with that assumption. That being said, there are other qualities listed that would make plenty of sense in a modern context. We also have a couple of “back to basics” reminders of what it means to be a follower of Jesus: Love God, love your neighbour, seek justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God. None of these teachings are unique to Christian faith, but they are tied to faith in One God, recognizing the complexities and the great mystery embodied in that one 3 letter word!
So I’m going to ask you to turn to those questions again – and as a large group – since there’s only 35 or 40 of us here today – I’m going to ask if anyone has any thoughts about any of those questions. There is no RIGHT answer – these are questions the United Church has wrestled with for decades. I’m really interested in what you think about these complex questions, and I know that others will be as well.
- What does being a Jesus follower (a Christian) mean to you? Is that the same as being a member of a church? What’s the difference, if any?
- Does one need to be a person of faith to exercise leadership in a Christian community? To be a member?
- How do we know if someone exercising leadership is truly called to that ministry by God? CAN we know?
- What checks and balances are necessary in the church as a human institution regarding the leadership we all share?
- What ministry are YOU called to in the church and the community, and how do you know this to be true?
Thank-you for the conversation everyone. Regardless of where we are on our faith journey and what role we play in the church, know that your presence is important here, that your ministry is a blessing, and that you too have access to God, without intermediary, to come before God in prayer, with confidence. Know that God welcomes you – just as you are, for WHO you are. Amen.