The past two months I have taken a break. After a wonderful, challenging five years of ministry at Resurrection Lutheran, I felt the call for rest and renewal. I ran and prayed. I finished phase one of intentional interim ministry training. I slept and watched movies. With my wife, I joined a local Lutheran congregation, Prince of Peace in Roseville. I even joined their choir for last Sunday’s Lesson and Carols. It has been two months of spiritual and emotional refreshment.
Now I begin the next stage of my pastoral ministry.
On January 1st, I start my journey with Trinity Lutheran Church in Lindstrom as their Interim Senior Pastor. I have met with their council’s executive team and their staff and felt their energy, hope and joy. Their previous Senior Pastor, The Rev.Lauren Wrightsman, served them well for more than seven years, recently leading them through a strategic vision process. The Vision 2020 will be a key piece in their describing their present ministry setting and in discerning what kind of pastor can best lead them forward.
I am so ever grateful for this opportunity to serve Trinity as their interim senior pastor. As their pastor, I will preach and teach, visit and pray. As the interim, I will also serve as a kind of outside consultant, asking questions and providing guidance as their leaders, staff and members begin the process of calling a new senior pastor. The process could take anywhere from 9 months to over a year; the challenge is to listen carefully to the Holy Spirit’s direction.
My first Sunday will be January 3rd. The preaching text for that Sunday is Matthew 2:1-12, the visit of the magi to baby Jesus, the first Gentiles to worship the Christ. Their visit in Bethlehem was a short one, but yet vital in God’s mission to bring salvation to the entire world, Jews and Gentiles. My time at Trinity will also be short and yet I trust that God will use our time together to aid Trinity’s mission:
CALLED by God to
WITNESS in the name of Jesus Christ;
MOVED by the power of the Holy Spirit to
REACH OUT to a community in need.
I was struck today on the similar yet distinctive reactions of the shepherds and the magi to Jesus’ birth. While both are notified by heavenly objects – angels for the shepherds, a star for the magi – and both respond with joy by searching for the baby, their response has some sharp contrasts. The shepherds leave their flock that very night and immediately go in search of the baby (Luke 2:15-17). Of course, Jesus is in their local community and they share the news with all. Meanwhile it takes the magi up to two years to plan and accomplish their journey to Bethlehem (Matthew 2: 1-12).
I think the two reactions help us understand how many of us respond to the good news of Jesus Christ. Some of us respond immediately to the message of God’s love and embrace it with all joy at the outset. We see Jesus in our neighborhood and we respond right away. We always sense that Jesus is close by. I would place myself in this camp. I grew up knowing Jesus as my Lord.
Others need more time, more thought, and the journey is much longer. In a metaphorical way, they have to leave their own country to find Jesus in a new land. But when they do, they embrace him fully as their King. The journey and the encounter has changed them. The author Frederick Buechner describes such a spiritual odyssey in his book, The Sacred Journey (1982).
Neither the response of the shepherds nor the response of the magi is better or preferred. God uses a vast array of messengers, visions, experiences, relationships and ideas to call us to himself. I delight in the wonder of each path and journey.
Would you describe yourself as a shepherd, a magi or some other character in the Christmas story?
Working Together to Meet Jesus
I am still thinking about the magi’s journey to Bethlehem to see baby Jesus. Preaching on a text sometimes hammers it deep into one’s psyche. What strikes me is the investment the magi made. They gave not only the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh, but also the time and energy for the trip itself. They entered a foreign culture to pay homage to an infant king who was not immediately their own.
I see so many connections in this story to the value of short-term mission trips, especially to different cultures. As one who has lead over a dozen mission trips to Jamaica, I see the investment and hopes that people make when they go on a “vacation with a purpose.” A key element of that preparation is to recognize that they go to discover Jesus in that place, more than to bring Jesus to that place. The Christian service or actions that the missionaries perform are important, but the relationships, conversations, and participation with the people of that new culture are what become holy and blessed.
Too often I can become fixated on the physical accomplishments of a trip. When I have worked with Habitat for Humanity it brings me satisfaction that we have constructed a safe, secure, simple structure for a family in need. And when a team runs out of building materials or out of time, I feel frustrated and disappointed.
Still the bigger accomplishment in any trip is the network of relationships that develop in the community. Worship, meals, conversations and play are just as significant as the work done on the house; we often meet Jesus, hidden in the smile of a child or in the song of an impromptu choir. Those encounters with Jesus change and enlighten us, if we give them “homage.” Time for reflection and prayer have been a key element in my mission journeys because they help us bring Jesus home after the trip.
I look forward to leading mission trips in the future. I sense that Jesus is waiting.
Have you ever encountered Jesus in a different culture than your own?