Summary: Sermon describes how we minister in our daily life, relating our ministry to our work using Jesus’ images of being salt, being the light of the world, and putting our lamp on a lampstand for all to see.
Matthew 5:13-20 - Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
[On this day, worshippers were asked to wear their work uniform or bring a symbol of their work so that we will be reminded of the connection between our faith and our work. I refer to it in my sermon several times.]
Grace be to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
"So, what do you do?" You know the old question: "What do you do?" When we engage in small talk, when we meet a new person, the question often arises, "What do you do?" Most of the time the questioner is asking who your employer is and what kind of paid work you do. It helps us to get a glimpse inside someone’s life if we find out what kind of job they hold. Work occupies so much of our lives. Most working adults spend more time at work than with our families. For some people, work is just a job; for others, it’s the joy of getting paid for something they love to do. For some people, work is life-giving; for others, it’s life-depleting.
Just out of curiosity, I’d like to do a little study on the types of work we have represented here. Today I asked you to come to church in an outfit or uniform that represents your work (paid or unpaid, current or previous if retired). Our paraments on the altar today show different areas of work that people here may be involved in: science, farming, food service, music. If it could be said that you work in the scientific arena, please stand (engineers, chemists, forensic investigators, lab tech). (Be seated.) If you would categorize yourself as working with food, please stand (food prep, food sales, cafeteria workers). (Be seated.) If you work with plants or farming, please stand (gardeners, plant nursery workers). If you would consider yourself to be working in a helping profession, please stand (medicine, customer service, public safety, childcare, teachers). (Be seated.) If you work with words or writing or music or information, please stand (web design, secretary, admin asst, writer, musician). (Be seated.) We have a broad range of arenas and places where we work, and a broad range of people that we meet on a daily basis.
And yet, so often when we come to church, it’s as if those parts of our lives don’t even exist. How many of you even know what the other members of your own church do for a living? When we come together on a Sunday, it is easy for us to pretend as if our Sunday church selves are disconnected from our Monday through Friday work selves. Often, the announcements we make and events we publicize seem to imply that worshippers come with nothing on their minds except "church" concerns. "It is though [you] were expected to deposit all the "worldly" concerns of [your] workaday lives at the door, much as patrons of the old frontier saloons were requested to check their guns" (from the Ministry in Daily Life section of www.elca.org/dm).
Today we are reminded in a visual way that this is not the case. By wearing or bringing something which reminds you of your work, you have brought something which connects who you are on those other days to your church faith life. You are the same person when you attend church that you are when you report for work. Each aspect of your life informs the other.
Martin Luther spoke of the "priesthood of all believers": a theological concept that points to the fact that ministry is not just the work of the pastor. Luther reminded the laity (non-clergy) to be "little Christs" to each other. According to Luther, God’s people are to pray for each other. "They are to listen to their sisters’ and brothers’ confessions of sin and cries of distress. They are to speak God’s cheering word of forgiveness and consolation. They are to be agents of God’s overflowing goodness by ministering to the poor and oppressed" (from the Ministry in Daily Life section of www.elca.org/dm). Though pastors are called to the ministry of word and sacrament, they are not alone in their calling to minister to the world around them.
In fact, the argument could be made that ordained ministers actually do a much lesser amount of "ministry" than laypeople working in the "real" world. Have you ever wondered who does the most time ministering in the world - laypeople or clergy? Think about it - though clergy are often engaged in full-time "ministry", their time is often consumed working with people who are already "inside" the church. Clergy work mostly with church people talking about church events. It would be difficult for clergy to single-handedly carry out the church’s mission to be servants in and for the world. At best, clergy can equip church members to live out their own faith in daily life, so that they can be "little Christs" to those they work and live with.