There are all kinds of different pastors serving at all kinds of different churches. There are all kinds of men and women from all different kinds of backgrounds. I used to be a disc jockey and a car salesman. I know other pastors who used to be school teachers, accountants, social workers, business people, all kinds of things. There are pastors serving congregations larger than ours and smaller than ours, urban and suburban and rural, multi-racial and segregated, Catholic and Protestant, new and old. There are pastors serving as the senior minister of a large staff of pastors and others serving a yoked parish of two or more congregations. I used to know a fellow in Pennsylvania who was serving seven different congregations at one time. There are all kinds of pastors in all kinds of situations.
Despite all of this diversity in people, in backgrounds, in congregations, in theology, there is one issue that most pastors are forced to face at one time or another. In every congregation I have served, whether full-time or part-time, whether permanent or interim, this issue has come up. It’s an issue denominational executives are regularly asked advice on. It’s an issue that has caused pain and frustration for pastor and parish alike.
The issue can be summed up in one question: what do we call the pastor? The newspapers like to call the pastor “Reverend so-and so”, even if the pastor isn’t ordained. Some people want to use first names, others insist on using “Reverend Davidson.” If you’re really being picky, “Reverend” isn’t a title, like mister or missus. It’s more of a description, so technically it would be “The Reverend Davidson.” Some people split the difference with something like “Pastor Jeff.” Some people call the pastor one thing but want their children to call the pastor something else.
It can also be interesting to see how the pastor is introduced to someone else. Some folks say, “This is my pastor.” Some say, “This is my minister,” and still others say, “This is my preacher.” I’ve been introduced as all three, sometimes by the same person. It never mattered a lot to me but I always thought it was interesting to notice.
Some of us might answer to some of those titles to at one time or another. Theologically the Church of the Brethren believes in what’s called the “priesthood of all believers”, the idea that all of us are ministers not just some special few that are called to be ordained. As a practical matter though, and whether you belong to the Church of the Brethren or not, we all earn those titles. There are times when we are ministering to others, helping meet whatever needs they may have. There are times when we are pastoral, times when we are being supportive and understanding and comforting of others. But I think we are always, always preaching.
Like us, Jesus was each of those things at one time or another, but in our text this morning he is called a preacher. Many versions of the Bible begin our Gospel reading this morning by saying, “Now Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.” Jesus came into Galilee preaching. Jesus came preaching.
That’s important. Jesus came preaching the Gospel, the good news of the Kingdom of God. What does this mean about the good news? It means that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is something that comes through people. It’s something that comes through people.
Jesus didn’t come writing the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. The Gospel didn’t come to earth in a book. Jesus didn’t come with billboards and an advertising campaign. People my age might remember the line from Jesus Christ Superstar: “If you’d come today you would have reached a whole nation/Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.” It’s true. Jesus didn’t come on television or radio. Jesus didn’t come using any kind of method that might have reached thousands or even millions of people at a single time.
No, Jesus came as a man, as a person, talking to whoever would listen. That’s how the Gospel was spread, from person to person, one at a time. That’s how Jesus came. Jesus came preaching.
If I ask you what one thing you remember about Jesus, what one thing is it that first comes to mind when I say his name, some of you may remember Jesus’ words. Maybe you remember words like those in John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Maybe some of you will remember other words; maybe the Beatitudes, or one of the parables.
Some of you may not think first of the words. Some of you may think first of the actions. You may remember Jesus healing the ten lepers or turning water into wine. You may think of the cross or the resurrection. You may remember Jesus and Zaccheus. Some of you think of the words and some of you think of the actions.
That’s how it was in Jesus’ own time. Obviously Jesus couldn’t preach with words to everyone, but Jesus could preach with actions. And someone who heard Jesus’ words or saw Jesus miracles or experienced Jesus’ compassion would tell someone else, and they would tell someone else, and so on and so on and so on until finally Jesus was the most famous man in the territory. Many came to believe Jesus who never heard his words, but still they heard the Gospel. They heard the Gospel through Jesus’ actions and life, and through the lives and words of others. For these people Jesus may never have spoken a word, but still Jesus came preaching.
Jesus comes preaching today. No, not in the flesh. You will not hear the physical voice of Jesus today. But still, Jesus comes preaching. Jesus comes preaching through the words and the lives and the deeds of believers everywhere.
This is a true story from before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Uwe Holmer had eight children. Each child applied to get into the University of East Berlin in East Germany. Eight times the Ministry of Education said no. They said no because Uwe Holmer was a pastor and a theologian. They said no because at that time East Germany was officially an atheist country. They said no because Margot Honecker, the head of the Ministry of Education, was an atheist herself and would not allow Christians into the University.
Margot Honecker’s husband was Erich Honecker, the ruler of East Germany from 1971 until just before the fall of the Berlin Wall. After Erich’s fall from power the Honeckers were arrested on charges of treason. Their property was seized. Their friends abandoned them. There was talk of executing them.
Eventually the Honeckers were released from house arrest. No home. No money. No friends willing to risk helping out. The Honeckers had nowhere to go until a Christian saw their need and offered them sanctuary and invited them to move into the vicarage at the school he headed. The Honeckers lived there for three months before going to a hospital for treatment of cancer. The man who extended that invitation was Uwe Holmer, the same man whose eight children had been denied admission to the university due to their faith. Through Uwe Holmer, Jesus came preaching.
You may not believe that Jesus preaches through you. You may not believe that you’re a preacher. You may say, “There are so many other people who have more knowledge, more talent, more words than I do. Why would Jesus ever choose to preach through my words? Why would Jesus ever choose to preach through my deeds? Why would Jesus ever choose to preach through my life?”
You may not believe that you are a preacher, but you are – even in simple things. I heard a story about a man mowing the lawn. He was in a hurry – he wanted to get the lawn done before it rained or before the game or before supper or something else.
The man was using one of those old-time push mowers. Not a power mower with an engine, but one that relied solely on the power of the person pushing it. The guy’s pushing away on the mower, and his little son runs up behind him and grabs hold of the handle and starts pushing too. The little boy wants to help daddy.
But the little boy really isn’t big enough to push the mower and all he’s really doing is getting in the way. The mower starts going sideways, and the cut is getting more jagged, and the little boy is going slower and slower and slower.
The man thinks about how much his son wants to help, and he stands behind the little boy and arches his back, and reaches over the boy to hold on to the handle of the mower. And together they push the mower around the yard. They stumble a lot, it’s not as pretty as it could be, and it’s going a lot slower than it might otherwise, but the little boy is getting to help his daddy and that is all that matters.
This is how God allows us to help build the Kingdom. I imagine a picture of Jesus, preaching and teaching, of God at work seeking and saving and transforming the lost, and there we are with our weak hands, helping. Jesus could have done the work by himself, but he didn’t. He chose Simon and Andrew and James and John and so many others to help. God could do it without us, but instead God works through us to preach the Gospel to the lost. God grants us the privilege of helping to build the Kingdom of peace here on earth.
Jesus comes preaching. Through me and through you. Jesus comes preaching and calls us to follow. Jesus comes preaching and calls us to throw away our nets and give up our lives. Jesus comes preaching and promises to make us fishers of people. Jesus comes preaching and calls us to follow.
Jesus comes preaching. Will you lay aside your nets? Will you follow? Will you preach? I pray that the answer for you may be yes. Amen.