Govern Meant 5/1/15
Mark 3:13-15, Acts 1:12-17, 20-26, Acts 6:1-7
The Path of Discipleship, Sermon 9
Rev. John Ames, main character in Marilynne Robinson’s amazing story Gilead, tells his son:
Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. All it needs from you is that you take care not to trample on it.
Perhaps, this is what God meant when he talks of government: Perhaps the most important thing we do is what we don’t do: trample on what is beautiful and good and from above.
Speaking about the Messiah, Isaiah describes: He shall be called wonderful counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (9:6-7)
During Lent and Easter, we are looking at a Map of Discipleship, which contains specific steps for us to take in 2015. We want to move from our Christian faith as a tourist experience, to that of deepening participation. The name Christian, implies we follow, are a student of, the teacher, our Lord Jesus Christ. Today’s column that we are considering is Governance. It might be at first glance, the least inspiring of the columns, because it is filled with words undergoing transition, like “Membership”, “Moderate” and “presbytery”. But these words are not unvalued. Membership is declining in groups across the spectrum, but the importance of a public commitment to a group should be given more weight.
We learn in Acts that when the church needed new leaders, it prayed, and God took care of them. So we should be cautious to disparage things like membership, and leadership within the congregation.
What does it mean to ‘govern’? The roots come from the Latin word which meant ‘to steer’. To govern means to “exercise continuous sovereign authority over” and to “control and direct the making and administration of policy”. A tertiary definition, “is to control the speed of”. Sovereign, by the way, is supreme excellence”. So when we speak of God as Sovereign, we acknowledge that God is supremely excellent.
What does the Scripture say about God’s plan for governing?
God, in the creation story, makes male and female in his image in order to “rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air” (1:26). This command was given before the fall of humankind, so I can only imagine what it was like for humans to rule when their intentions and actions were without sin. It must have been amazing. God’s desire for his creation was that men and women would rule the earth: and this rule would be good.
With countless historical examples in mind, we might read into the text that ruling is a bad thing. But by definition, it concerns matters of supreme excellence. To rule the earth was a call from God for God’s glory. Modern scholarship has attempted to move us away from harsh words like ‘rule’ and ‘lord’. Attempts are made at renaming ‘the reign of Christ” and “the kingdom of God” with the word “realm”. Realm, mind you, isn’t a bad word, just we don’t need to apologize for God the Lord, his rule is quite good. And it will continue despite whatever the next terminology will be.
Abraham is given land and a promise. Out of him will rise a nation. They will live in the promised land.
Moses brings Israel out of Egypt and is given a law for the people. The law will shape society, and provide justice and freedom to the people.
The lowest point in Israel’s history occurs in the Book of Judges, which were really tribal warriors, rather than a courtroom arbitrator. During this period, it is written the tragic words, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes”. Supreme excellence was not the way of the land: selfishness, and a lack of accountability, governed individuals, with little regard for anyone more than you. Today’s world should read the Book of Judges with caution. Their downfall was that “everyone did what was right in their own eyes”.
Israel, later in its history, wants a King. God had told them he would be their king. But that wasn’t enough. So Saul is made king. Scripture says that God grieved that he had made that decision.
David succeeds Saul, and it is David’s line that will eventually produce the Messiah.
Throughout the generations, Israel endures multiple exiles by Babylon and Persia, and the Empires of Greece and Rome. They make the best of difficult situations. But they always do so with one eye on their coming Messiah.
Jesus proclaims that he is Lord. His audience would have been shocked, for Caesar was the Lord, a son of the gods. Now Jesus declares that He is the Lord, the Son of God. This message is what shapes the rest of history. If we confess with our mouths Jesus is Lord, we shall be saved. And the kingdom we enter is one where the Lord is the Good Lord.
These ideas and verses from Scripture speak to humanity, and to that which is larger than a single congregation. How are the passages chosen for today’s service helpful as we think how to govern ourselves?
Presbyterian structure for congregations include the Session (elders) and Deacons. A Pastor is called a ‘teaching elder’, and the session members are called ‘ruling elders’. Deacons are charged with looking out, and Elders charged with looking over. And so the Elders should look broadly at a congregation, and the Deacons look to show specific care to individual within a congregation and community who are in need of a little support.
There are lessons from both Acts passages for our role in governing a congregation. In Acts 1, we see the church seeking guidance for how to proclaim the message of Jesus risen and ascended:
1. The church prays when it needs new leadership, or guidance because of new opportunity.
2. The church prayers came from men and women gathered together.
3. Will Willimon writes: “Everything that happens does so as a necessary fulfillment of Scripture and the purpose of God”. (Acts Interpretation series, pg. 23)
The lesson here is that all of our work should help fulfill, or be a response to what we know of God’s will in Scripture.
4. Matthias is chosen through a combination of God’s ways—the casting of lots, and human thought.
In Acts 6, we see the church considering adding gifted individuals to fulfill a ministry.
1. Because the church is proclaiming its message, the disciples are growing in number.
2. Change causes conflict. A dispute arose challenging fairness between who received distribution of food.
3. Why is it not right for the Apostles to wait on tables? Is this work that is below a spiritual sent one? I don’t think so. But it is work that is different from what Jesus told the Apostles to do. Mark writes that Jesus chose them to “send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons” (3:15).
4. The people that the Apostles call to do the ordinary work of food distribution need to have a certain dynamic: They are to be full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. This confirms that all work of the gospel is important work. Preaching and driving out demons and waiting on tables can all glorify the Lord. And there are people out there to do that specific work. And your work, what you are called to, can be a display of the glory of God. Paul writes: Whatever you do, whether in word or in deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (Colossians 3:17).
As a result of people doing the work they are called to do, and not anything more or less, the word of God spreads.
This is good news: for God is all powerful, and his rule is good. Jesus is the Lord, and he is a good Lord. Our job is to steer people toward the life of the Lord. And also, not to trample on the grace that comes to us. Biblically, that is what govern, meant.