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Outreach and Pastoral Ministries

When we commision elders and others in local ministries we seek God's blessing on them, praying that they may have the gifts of the Spirit for their particular ministries. So elders will share with the minister in the pastoral care and oversight of the congregation, building up the congregation in faith and love, nurturing members in their growth in grace, visiting members and adherents and sharing in worship, the administration of the sacraments, Christian education and evangelical outreach. Lay preachers share in the ministry of proclaiming the Word and treachers in teaching. These are tasks of ministry which have always belonged to the church since the time of the apostles and for which the church has been organised in various ways throughout its history. The Uniting Church sees in lay ministries a great strength in fulfilling its purpose to carry our Christ's commission to the apostles. There are two aspects of the ministry given to the apostles and which have been passed on to us: in traditional terms we call them catholic and evangelical, or we might say pastoral and outreach ministries. We can gain some understanding of outreach and pastoral ministries by seeing how they were modelled by the apostles Paul and Peter. The church sets some people apart by ordination to these ministries, but it is a necessary and significant part of our life in Christ that lay people also participate in these ministries.

We see two different aspects of the commission to the apostles in two of the readings today: the experience of Paul on the road to Damascus when he was called by the Lord Jesus to proclaim his message to the gentiles; and the experience of Peter on the lake shore when the risen Lord charged him with pastoral responsibility saying `feed my sheep'. The ministries of Peter and Paul, like all ministries, were founded upon the resurrection of our Lord. They are exercised with his authority and empowered by the gifts poured out from his bounty by the Holy Spirit after his resurrectoin and ascension. The outreach or missionary task of Paul models for us the evangelical aspect of ministry for which Jesus sent the apostles out to the ends of the earth, while Peter's commission to feed the flock represents the sacramental unity of the catholic tradition in the universal church. We have inherited both these traditions, and our ministry is called to fulfil both these aspects of the apostolic commission.

Varieties of Gifts from the risen Lord

We have spoken before of spiritual gifts and no doubt we will do so again, remembering that what empowers anyone for Christ's ministry are spiritual gifts, not mere natural talents. It is by spiritual gifts like wisdom, knowledge of the mysteries of God, faith, healing, and discernment of spirits, that God transforms natural abilities to make them effective in a range of ministries each with different functions:

The bountiful gifts which enable his people to serve him are poured out of his heavenly treasure by the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ

So it is to the risen and glorified Christ that we need to look to understand the nature of his calling and how people are commissioned for his service. The experiences of Peter and Paul reveal different aspects. The commission to Paul [Acts 9:3-17 and 22:2-15] was more of what we would evangelical -- the purpose that was made clear to Ananias who helped him and to Paul himself was that he was to carry the message to the Gentiles. The emphasis for him was on outreach and the ministry of the Word. The final instructions to Peter [John 21:15-19] emphasised pastoral care of those already in the fellowship, feeding the flock, and in our terms we would see this as the kind of ministry carried out in the administration of the sacraments, especially the Lord's Supper, and in loving care of those who belong to Christ. Now is it is true that in the ministries they exercised in the early church, both Peter and Paul had both kinds of ministry: Besides being the pastoral leader, Peter was the first great preacher, on the day of Pentecost and later, and he was the first to take the good news to the Gentiles and include them in the church, but he was better known as a leader having pastoral oversight; on the other hand Paul, while the great evangelist as the apostle to the wider world, was still seen as a pastor of the congregations he established and his letters are full of compassion and pastoral wisdom. These were not exclusive ministries, but different emphases in a common apostolic ministry. I want nevertheless to draw your attention to these different emphases for several reasons:-

1. Different members have different functions.

There are different roles in the Church. We are not all expected to do everything. In our present way of serving Christ, elders have a particular pastoral ministry, members of Parish Council have some other administrative responsibilities, teachers and visitors have others, and there is no higher office than being a regular member of the congregation, serving God in worship and in mutual support of one another. Our different ways of serving are a little like the different ways of serving that were given to Peter and Paul and the different ministries and gifts ways that were recognised in the early church as we read about them in the New Testament.

2. We are called together to provide a comprehensive service.

Another thing to learn from Peter's and Paul's ministries is that between them they covered a very wide field. When combined with others they provided an extraordinarily comprehensive coverage of the needs of the church. We too in our situation are called to recognize how God is calling and equipping people to meet all the different needs that arise. We might need to be more perceptive and more adventurous to ensure that we are not missing out on opportunities. Are we being called into new ventures in ministry? The early church of Peter and Paul learned to discern how God was leading people into new missionary ventures.

3. Today we need especially to renew catholic and evangelical ministries.

Different emphases are need at different times. Paul's mission to the Gentiles in foreign lands came at a particular time after a base had been established in Jewish communities, especially in Jerusalem and Antioch, the principal cities of the region. I would suggest that we are at a turning point today, at least for churches of our traditions. When the Uniting Church was formed bringing together Congregational, Methodist and Presbyterian traditions, it was said to be catholic, evangelical and reformed.

When the Uniting Church in Australia began, the authors of the Basis of Union (which ordained ministers, elders and lay preachers declare that they adhere to) specifically rejected the idea that we were establishing a liberal Protestant church. It was to be much more than that, and hopefully not a denominational church at all, liberal protestant or any other, and certainly not sectarian with narrowly defined beliefs and practices from which non-conformists were to be excluded. Rather than being just another denominational church with its own distinctive character, the Uniting Church was intended to be a step along the way to renewing the unity of the whole universal church of God, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.

It is a constant struggle to maintain commitment to this vision as various factions try to turn us into one kind of sect or another. That is all the more important today. It is becoming increasingly clear that the honourable tradition of the mainstream liberal protestant churches, which has made such a great contribution to Western societies, is coming to an end. It is a burnt out force. Liberal Protestantism will be replaced by something. It remains to be seen what it is. Contenders offer competing versions coercive fundamentalism or conformity with a secular ideology or special interests in the name of social justice, or some popular mix of Christian and pagan spirituality or some new force, but there is no reason for us to lose our way in these times of change because we were not intended to be such a church with its own distinctive character, and we have much greater riches than we have yet realised. Peter and Paul illustrate those riches for us, and they are especially important in emphasising both the catholic and evangelical emphases which are part of our foundation and need to be more fully acknowledged.

If we see Peter representing the more catholic type of gifts and church life, and Paul representing the more evangelical expression of the faith, than we have examples of the two things we need most: enrichment of our inner lives through sacraments and mutual care in the unity of a disciplined fellowship on the one hand, and confident, knowledgeable, articulate and committed outreach in word and deed on the other. It is not accidental that the churches which are growing overall today tend to be catholic or evangelical. The Uniting Church should be both catholic and evangelical. We need both Peter and Paul.

If we look to Peter and Paul for signs of renewal, we do well in this Easter season to see that the inspiration for their different ministries is founded upon their relationship to the risen Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul's visions of the risen Lord

Most people who know of it remember Paul's experience is a powerful illustration of a dramatic change of heart, so that we hear people speak of someone having a `Damascus Road experience' when they suddenly change their views or their allegiance. Paul who had been a persecutor of the early Christians became one of the chief advocates of the new way. We are told, by both Luke in Acts 9 and by Paul in his letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians and elsewhere, that he changed because the risen Lord met him and called him into his service.

In the city he met Ananias who had been told by the Lord in a vision that Paul had been chosen for a special ministry:

Paul later told people in Jerusalem that Ananias had conveyed to him the message that he was to take the gospel to the world:

He had been chosen to see the Righteous One, and to be his witness. At the same time he recounted the events on the road to Damascus [Acts 22:2-11] as in Acts 9.

The sign used by Ananias for the gift of the Holy Spirit, the laying on of hands, is still the sign we use with prayer for the gifts of ministry. See how Paul begins almost immediately after his baptism to tell people that Jesus in the Son of God.

It was his meeting with the risen Lord that Paul regarded as the source of his authority as an apostle. He wrote to the Corinthians of how Jesus had appeared, after he rose from the dead, to Peter, the twelve and others, adding,

At another point in 1 Corinthians he clearly links his being a apostle with having seen the Jesus:

And he had other "visions and revelations of the Lord":

In Jerusalem he told of a vision of Christ he had when he was praying in the Temple. [Acts 22:17-21.]

The way that Paul saw Jesus in his visions and revelations seems to have been different from the initial resurrection appearances soon after he had died. They saw him as much like other men and failed to recognize him at first. Paul saw him as the glorified Lord, the Son of God, raised up in heavenly splendour. He refers to Christ's 'glorious body' or the 'body of his glory':

Paul "saw" the crucified Jesus in a body radiant with the bright glory of God.

I referred last week to the way the Stephen at his martyrdom saw Jesus 'at the right hand of God':

That is similar to the vision in today's reading from Revelation 5. More detail of an exalted vision of Christ is found in Revelation Chapters 2 and 3. Such "revelations" of Christ in glory were not uncommon. They were shared in worship:

A revelation seems to have been a normal part of their sharing, like a hymn or a lesson.

It was their experience of the risen Christ that lay behind their distinctive life and mission.

Peter's experience by the lake shore.

Peter, as one of the original disciples, had the privilege of seeing Jesus on several occasions soon after he had risen from the dead. We have in Mark's gospel a memory of Jesus sending a special message to Peter to meet him, as the young man in a white robe said to the women at the tomb:

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." -- Mark 16:7

Luke records Peter running to see the empty tomb and says later that Jesus appeared to him before the other meetings with the disciples on the day of the resurrection and a week later [Luke 24:12,34,36-49]. Paul too says specifically that he appeared to Peter before the others:

John tells of Peter running to the tomb but adds a piece about the other disciple who ran ahead of him who did not go in until after Peter, then also as in Luke the meeting with the group of disciples that evening and a week later [John 20:3-8,19-29]; but most significantly John tells us in detail of a meeting in Galilee [John 21:15-19] which apparently fulfills the word in Mark instructing Peter to meet him there. In all of this it is clear that Jesus took special care to restore his relationship with Peter which had been broken both by his death and by Peter's denial of him. It is this new relationship of faith and obedience that is the foundation of the church's mission.

See how Jesus repeats three times his question, `Do you love me' and three times accepts Peter's assurance, `You know that I love you', adding an expression of his confidence in him by charging him with responsibility, `Feed my sheep'. Even though Peter was peeved that he should ask three times as if he had not believed his first answer, it is nicely balanced to counter the denial of Jesus three times at the high priest's house.

This conversation with Peter took place after some other important things had happened:

The disciples in the boat accepted his authority and cast the net on the other side [John 21:4-8]. The great catch confirmed his power, and probably reminded them of another occasion when he called them into his service after a similar event [Luke 5:4-11]. They recognized him at this point and then they shared a meal with him which he had prepared for them [21:9-14]: a reminder of the meals they had shared with him many times, and of the special supper in which he told them to remember him in the breaking of the bread.

Jesus now adds to Peter's faith, and to their sharing, his commission to Peter to share similarly with others, feeding the flock, concluding with a simple word 'Follow me' after hinting at how Peter would die in his service [John 21:19]. Such was his love for the risen Lord that he did indeed follow him and die after fulfilling his commission as pastoral leader of the early Church, a role he shared at first with James the Lords' brother [see Acts 15] and which eventually took him to Rome where both he and Paul would both claim the martyrs crown.

The same risen Lord still calls people into his service in outreach and pastoral care, in our evangelical and catholic traditions. He still commissions people to feed his flock. He still calls people to preach. We still meet with him at the shared meal which he gave us, we still hear his voice, and if we are obedient to it we will still reap the great harvest.

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