THE CASE OF THE MISSING COMMA OR WHAT S A PASTOR FOR ANYWAY? Ephesians 4:1-16 (RSV) Ephesians 4:1-16 (NRSV)

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1 THE CASE OF THE MISSING COMMA OR WHAT S A PASTOR FOR ANYWAY? Ephesians 4:1-16 (RSV) Ephesians 4:1-16 (NRSV) You noticed, I hope, that the first and second Scripture readings were the same but in two different translations. Many of you also noted the big difference between them. It s that comma in verse 12, present in one of the translations but missing from the other. And who would have thought that something so small as a comma would make such a huge difference? But commas are like that, aren t they? Remember Jerry Lewis? He never failed to get a laugh with his misplaced comma line: What s that up in the road, ahead? Notice how that comma works here in Ephesians. The RSV and some other English translations tell us that the work of the Pastor is to equip the saints, comma, and to do the work of ministry. But the NRSV and others tell us that the work of the Pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. It s a huge difference, isn t it? So which one is right? Normally, we d do the Presbyterian thing and examine the Greek text to be sure we get it right. But the Greek won t help here. New Testament Greek doesn t have our kind of punctuation. So, we re on our own.

2 2 Ultimately, it s up to you and me to make the decision. So which is it? Based on what we know of the New Testament and what we believe about the Church of Jesus Christ, which will it be here? Comma in, the pastor will equip the saints and do the work of ministry. Comma out, the Pastor is to equip the saints to do the work of ministry. Saints, of course, is just the New Testament word for church members, you and me. Now a comma in church isn t hard to find. They re everywhere, indeed the norm. Those church ads in the Saturday edition of the newspaper will tell you where to find one. It will be the church whose ad features the name and picture of the Pastor as its most prominent feature. Or, easier than that, just ask your friends and neighbors to tell you about their church. And if they tell mostly about their Pastor, that s a pretty good clue. Or, if on a Sunday afternoon someone asks you to tell them about the morning worship at your church and you hear yourself telling only about the sermon then that comma is in. That s the way it is in the comma in church. The effectiveness of worship stands or falls on your judgment of the preacher s sermon. The choir, the organist, the ushers, the flowers, the prayers, the architecture, the hymns none of those things really counts for much. And as for mission, well mission in a comma in church is mostly the Pastor s job description.

3 3 And I may as well add that in a comma in church the annual stewardship drive is basically a referendum on the Pastor s performance. Now, I know about these things. Along the way I served a couple of comma in congregations. In one of these churches, I d go to the Session with what I thought was a good idea and the response was always the same. Whatever you want to do, Preacher. And it didn t take me long to learn that the operative word was you. The other comma in church I served was back in the tumultuous decade of the sixties. We didn t always see eye-toeye and more often than not the message there was Preacher, we don t much some of the things you re doing. But that s how it feels to be the Pastor of a comma in church. And I guess that to be a member of such a church it must feel a lot like sitting in the audience watching the Pastor at center stage giving a solo performance while all you get to do is show up and pay the bills. So, what s the other one like, the comma out kind of church? What comes to mind is the player-coach model. Some of you will remember Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics. A lot of his coaching was simply joining the team and winning games together. In a comma out church the Pastor s job is to equip the saints for the work of ministry...until we all come...to

4 4 maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. And where that happens, it is something to behold! You see, in the comma out church, the message is not Whatever you want to do, Preacher, but rather, How can all of us here be in mission together? Pastor, how can we put what you ve got and what we ve got together in a winning combination? Or maybe simply, Pastor, welcome to the team. I m happy to say that I ve been Pastor of some of these kinds of churches, too. And I was privileged to work with lay persons who had cast that comma from their minds and were engaged in ministry and passionate about it. I remember two women sitting me down in my own office in Texas and telling me, politely of course, that it was high time I helped that church chose a new mission direction because they were ready to go to work and, by the way, between them they had $100,000 to get us started. Now, at that time I had been their pastor less than six months. I was still trying to learn names and unpack boxes and I didn t have a clue where that church ought to be headed! But here s the point: the people knew! They knew the needs and they knew they had the resources. And because of this conversation there has been for more than 25 years in Smith County, TX, an inter-faith social

5 5 service agency called PATH that coordinates the efforts of more than fifty congregations to feed, clothe, house, tutor and heal persons in need. Don t get me wrong: the comma out church still looks to the Pastor to preach, teach and provide some of the Pastoral care, the very things that the Pastor went to seminary to learn to do. But these churches understand that laypersons are trained to do things, too; things of equal if not superior importance in the Kingdom! They fully understand that the work of ministry belongs to the whole church. It is the gift of Christ to all who participate in the unity of the Spirit, who are bound together by the one Lord, the one faith, the one baptism, that makes us the body of Christ together. It s one of the reasons that in the Presbyterian Church Elders and Deacons take the same vows of ordination as do Pastors. We look at ordination in a unique way. For us, Ministers are not set apart to some special status, higher up on the ladder of authority in the Church. For us, power resides in the congregation which delegates some of it to elected officers. And at no level in the Presbyterian Church do ministers have a majority of the votes. On the Session, in Presbytery and Synod, there are always more laypersons than ministers. At General Assembly, the number is equal.

6 6 We are, after all, a church that believes that Christ died for each of us and that each of us has direct access to God through Christ. That was a huge part of what the Protestant Reformation was about. And it was really the Reformers Luther and Calvin and all the rest of our heroes who threw that comma out! And the delicious irony of it all is that we have no record that Calvin himself was ever ordained! Since retiring, I ve had the pleasure of preaching in a number of churches. It s been a revelation. Five minutes into a worship service, you can tell if that congregation is dead or alive. You can feel whether the congregation is passively settling into their pews while you do all the work, or whether they are there to be involved in the church s worship and work. And I know which one I prefer, which kind of church I d want to be a member of, which one fits our theology of the church. It s the one Elton Trueblood was talking about when he said, lay persons are not assistants to pastors, to help them do their work. Rather, pastors are to be their assistants; they are to help equip them for the ministry to which God has called them. Comma in or comma out? Which would you prefer? Which would be more likely to make a difference in people s lives and in this community? Which one is God calling this church to be even now?

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