Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Servant Leading…

A cliché common to our denomination is that we Disciples struggle saying what we believe, because we don’t believe in much. There’s something to that, but don’t push it too far. We have numerous and powerful shared convictions. We just don’t list doctrines, dogmas, creeds or “beliefs” like other communions do.

For instance, say someone asks, “What do Disciples believe in?” Bad, but frequent, answer? “Uh…Jesus…” Better answer? “I’m glad you asked! Truth is, we disagree about much. But that’s fine, because our most important- let’s call it conviction- is that everyone has freedom to believe differently. We think God is so grand, and humans so interesting, we can all claim various things about God and Jesus, and still all be faithful. After all, no one knows the full truth about God, right?” In other words, freedom is more important to Disciples than conformity. It makes for more diverse beliefs, but isn’t a rainbow more beautiful than plain white paper?

(By the way, should that conversation ever come up, end it this way, “Why not celebrate that awesome idea with us?! Services begin at 10. We can go to lunch after…”)

Anyway, I bring this up to highlight another core Disciples’ conviction. Indeed, this one’s my favorite, and is shared by most Protestants. It’s a belief in the “priesthood of all believers,” i.e. all Christians have the capacity to act as “priests.” Which begs the question- What’s a priest? And how do I act as one? Maybe you’re imagining a man in a black shirt and collar, seated in a confessional booth. That’s one way our Catholic brothers (but not sisters, alas) put ideas about priesthood into practice.

But the idea goes deeper. Reconsider that confessional practice- a priest acts as an intermediary between God and another person; being God’s ears, speaking God’s words of grace, standing in for God. When performed with skill and compassion, Catholic confession can prove a profound gift. Yet that basic behavior- standing in God’s place for another, sharing God’s special grace with a neighbor- transcends the confessional experience, and resides the core of “priesthood.” And it needs to happen, because God’s so mysteriously vast, we little humans need help approaching God. Without another to act our ‘priest’ sometimes, we feel disconnected, unredeemed.

One main difference between us and Catholics, however, is who qualifies as priest. Put simply, Disciples don’t think it takes ordination for a person to stand in fully for God. I may know more about the Bible than you. I’d guess I’ve preached more sermons. But I’m no more capable of channeling God’s love and forgiveness than you or any Christian. All of us can re-represent God! Every Christian has priestly opportunities! Your neighbor, grandchild or friend need grace? God’s waiting but for you to deliver!

Our most visible symbol of that conviction is how we practice communion. More than clergy preside at our Table; lay people get in the game too. In our bulletin, even, we remove Rev. from my name when it’s my turn to host. That’s to highlight the fact I’m empowered to serve at the Table because of my baptism, not ordination. Being Disciples, different churches do it different, but all include something of this belief- the priesthood of all believers. God sees us all the same.

Typically, Disciples’ churches designate “Elders” for that task. For various reasons, we dub our Elders “Servant Leaders.” Many of you have taken a Servant Leader turn. FYI, our current Servant Leaders are LeAnn, Russ, Deb Knight and- most recently- Ben Wellumson (thank Donna Jarvi and Glenda for their recently-ended, good service!) As Servant Leaders, these faithful Christians provide worship leadership, and community-wide spiritual leadership too. They’re visible symbols of God’s grace made tangible in our midst, like any good priest. If you have concerns about health- spiritual or physical; for you, a friend or the church as a whole- they’re ready to listen and respond. That’s what Servant Leaders do.

But neither forget that you too are empowered to stand in God’s place for another in need. Be it with words of comfort, challenge or forgiveness, act the priest. That’s what all Disciples can do.

Grace and Peace,
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