Bottom Line Ministry

April 17, 2016—Rev. Jan Hryniewicz
Ordination of Dr. Nancy Parent Bancroft
Text:  Micah 6:7-8; John 21:15-17


Wow….. a whole lot has happened here in Union Church since I waded reluctantly into the sea of retirement exactly 3 months ago today!    Foot washing on Maundy Thursday, a Palm Sunday parade and overnight retreats!! That’s  what happens when new leadership comes on board and stirs up the status quo!  Way to go, Nancy!

A pastor placed her order at the pet store: “I need at least 50 mice, 2000 ants and as many of those little silverfish you can get.”

The clerk replies, “We can probably do that, but it might take some time. Mind if I ask why you are placing such an unusual order?”

The pastor replied, “I’ve accepted a call to another church and the congregation council told me to leave the parsonage the way I found it.”

Ahhh, not very pastoral! Well I can confidently say that I didn’t leave our beloved little church the way I found it and I venture to say that Nancy won’t either!  We each bring our unique energies, passions, insights and offer to the community the gift of change.  It’s not always a welcome gift, but once opened, the blessings begin.

I am honored that Nancy invited and encouraged me to deliver the sermon reflection today on this significant day in her life and in the life of the church.  Many interim pastors, and congregations would not be comfortable with me being anywhere near the church during this important time of transition.  I am grateful that Nancy welcomes me and I will try not to overstay my welcome in the pulpit today!!

My focus this morning will not be on Nancy’s many gifts of ministry and qualifications for ordination.  That would take way too long to do, and will be addressed later.  Her lifelong spiritual quest has taken her in and out of the convent, led her to ministries of rehabilitation and ethics, compassion and management and now thankfully, to this church. My message to Nancy on this memorable day and to all of us every day is about the call of the Holy Spirit….God’s call to us, God’s partners in the ongoing evolution of creation.

Hebrew Scriptures contain many stories of God/human interactions……God’s call to God’s human partners to provide service and energy to the universe…… healing, light, leadership, intervention, compassion, love.  God’ s work…..  God’s call will not be effective if it falls on deaf or indifferent ears.

The stories of human responses through the ages have been varied; Abraham, Noah, Jonah,  Moses. Isaiah, Jeremiah, Samuel, Esther, Elijah, Ruth, Rahab, Saul…and many more…  An Ark? Seriously God?   Find the Promised Land…. Free my people from slavery….please God, not me….. I am unworthy,  I won’t know what to say….I am frightened, sorry not interested.

These ancient stories inspire us with rich symbolism and profound metaphors that awaken us …if we are attentive…. to the potential for personal encounters with the Divine Spirit that inform and support our life journeys and guide our daily decisions.   Nancy mentioned to me that she did not want today’s service to be just about her call and ordination to pastoral ministry.

The Apostle Paul was very clear in his letter to the early Christian church in Corinth, when he celebrated the importance of the unique and varied gifts that created and supported the body of Christ….the community of faith and it’s ministry of compassion  and discernment.  Each was invaluable to the whole.

I love this story!

Jesus made a quick return to earth for a visit. He came upon a lame man, had compassion on him, and healed his leg. Further down the road, Our Lord came upon a blind man, had compassion on him, and healed him.

A little further down the road, Jesus came upon a man sitting on the curb sobbing his heart out. Jesus asked him what was wrong. The man cried out in agony, “I’m a pastor!”

Jesus sat down beside him, put his arm around him…….and cried too.

Those whose gifts of prophetic preaching and compassionate service are called forth, often face challenges and road blocks that are difficult to negotiate easily!  Tears and frustration, hair pulling and burn out may occur!

I grew up in the American Baptist church….and I appreciate the fact that you did not hold that against me in my 15 years here!  It was a vital, active, liberal church where two of the very basic tenets of the Baptist faith, too often ignored today, were emphasized and practiced thanks to the remarkable, visionary leadership of its pastor, Rev. Robert E. Baggs.

  1. The Priesthood of all believers and
  2. Soul liberty.

I was taught and firmly believe in the fact that God calls us to be priests and ministers to each other… discover and develop our gifts. We are brothers and sisters in God’s family and therefore bear responsibility for the welfare of the whole.   My ordination mantra was and still is:  “Presence to another defines the heart of ministry”….a quote I borrowed from author Mary Sleevi.

And it was critical to my spiritual quest to believe in the soul liberty ….. to interpret scripture and the divine/human relationship as my soul dictated.  I was not to be bound by someone else’s dogma and understanding but was free to come to my own understanding, as the Spirit guided and nurtured me.  These beliefs have been foundational for me as an educator and pastor.

There are two calls, commands I would say……that I think every person considering ministry  of any kind…..any candidate running for political office….especially  the key leaders of nations…. any person considering becoming part of a faith community…… any person who sincerely wants to have a positive impact on  the universe would be wise to listen to.   Here comes the bottom line of my message to you today…so pay attention!

The first call comes from the book containing the oracles of the prophet Micah which was written between  742-686 B.C. shortly before the fall of the  Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. . The purpose of the book of Micah was to proclaim warning and judgment to both the Northern and the Southern Kingdoms.. Micah described the impending judgment that would eventually exile the nation if they did not stop their evil ways and return to the compassion and righteousness of God.  He accused them of paying lip service to God in their rituals of worship and then went out and  abused each other, especially the poor  in their daily lives.   The book of Micah challenges the status quo…. criticizing the pomp and ceremony the  meaningless, cruel rituals and getting to the bottom line….what exactly, precisely does God require of us, we who are God’s partners in the Universe ?

Micah’s answer to that question: ..To do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?     That’s it!  Says it all …. The writer of these words understands that Yahweh desires moral qualities on the part those who claim to be religious rather than sacrifices and burnt offerings. It is doubtful if one could find in the religious literature of any people a more exalted conception of the nature of true religion and the moral qualities that religion is designed to promote. But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?   This is a call to which we all need to respond and those in leadership roles in the church are challenged to work toward this goal for Creation.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all religions and nations and political parties would see the wisdom of that and join hands in a unified effort to make it happen!?. ( can I get an amen!?)

Sister Ilia Delio says so well, “Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be wholemakers of love in a world of change. “  That my dear friends is the call being shouted out to Nancy today and to  each and all of us…. to the universe….. and I believe that those who have been empowered to serve in pastoral ministry are called to get this message out there…in all the creative and passionate ways that we can…through word and example!

The second call comes from Jesus….and it is a call that echoes loud and clear through the ages and is especially pertinent today in 2016 to us as individuals and as a church community.

Jesus pulled no punches also stating the bottom line in his discussion with Peter in the gospel of John.

Peter, do you love me. Yes, Lord.  Peter, do you  love me?  Yes, of course I love you.  Peter, do you really love me?   Come on, Jesus….you KNOW that I love you!    Then feed my sheep!!

I  heard that story told in a  way that touched me deeply and continually sounds a call to me that has defined my ministry through the years.  William Sloane Coffin, who  was at one time  the controversial  pastor of Riverside Church in NYC…. social activist …an outspoken advocate for the  marginalized in our society during the  civil rights movement…..who spoke out for women’s rights and equality for gays and lesbians, preached on this text the Sunday I was worshipping there with a group of teenagers.   He came down from the pulpit and walked up close to the people the pews saying.   Jesus says to us clearly….every day….Feed my Sheep!   And I don’t think he meant only the white sheep…..only the male sheep…. only the straight sheep!   Jesus did not and does not discriminate.  He wants us to feed ALL his sheep.” …. not just the sweet and pleasant sheep…the sheep that agree with us…. the sheep that look like us. All the sheep! We are all God’s flock!!  I wanted to jump up out of the pew and run out the door and feed everyone I saw!!   And, daily I have come to realize, there are many ways to feed the flock… to provide nourishment, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, as well as physically… be advocates for those who hunger.

That is our clear call….. a mandate for ministry for all of us…..especially for the church universal. It is the bottom line of Jesus’ ministry among us and through us.

– Pablo Picasso  is quoted as saying:

The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.

Today, our church is ordaining Dr. Nancy Parent Bancroft and empowering her to be our spiritual guide through this process of transition….to feed us… be a prophetic voice among us, calling forth our gifts, discerning the call of the Spirit ,  challenging us to walk humbly with our God with kindness and justice.   Embodying the love and compassion of Jesus,  she will serve among us with love and presence.  We acknowledge her call to ordination and give thanks for her spiritual gifts and leadership skills that the Spirit has called forth in her.

May God bless you and your ministry here, Nancy  and continue to challenge and guide the ministry of Union Church.