One day does make a difference

You may not have noticed it, but I perceived there to be a marked difference in the meaning and message of my public ministry of God’s word before and after March 1. For most people, one day doesn’t really make a difference – like when you don’t feel a year older when you have a birthday. For me though that day did make a difference.
Because of the snow that day, my Sunday evening installation service was the only worship service that day. And it truly was a worship service, because it was only by the grace of God that events transpired as they did. And, it was only by the grace of God that I was able to perceive the difference in my ministry between that day and the day before. So what changed? The Winter by the Fire the following week was not the first time I had spoken at Winter by the Fire. My preaching later on in March was not the first time I had preached in that pulpit. So why does one day make any difference?
The difference is that when we speak, we do not speak in isolation. The quality of the public ministry of God’s word is not simply dependent upon accuracy to God’s truth, though that is of utmost importance. The power of the sermon is not simply dependent upon the preacher’s preparation, purity of heart and Spirit-filled prayer life, though no one would deny that those are essential. What we all too often forget, especially in our day with downloadable sermons, is that the word of God is never opened apart from a connection to the people of God, that the sermon itself is never given without a specific community that it is spoken to and from.
My words that I speak can never be taken in isolation without some reference to who is saying them. If the words that I say are just my words, then you don’t have much reason to listen to them. What’s there to differentiate between me and some rampaging blog troll? I’m not someone special or famous or who brings with me credentials or clout. The apostle Paul said that if you wanted to look at credentials, that he had them in spades, but that his confidence in the flesh mattered nothing to him. How many of us could say with Paul that we count our resumes as a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ (Phil 3:3-11)?
The thing that changed on March 1 was not a change in my credentials, but a change in my association. I am no longer associated as a member of the congregation at Patterson Park. I am now a member and a pastor at Grace Covenant Church. And when I speak, I no longer speak as an outsider potentially coming in, but I speak as an insider. The truth I proclaim, I proclaim on behalf of all of us, that we all together believe these things to be true. The power of the preached word does not come from the preacher, but from the community that the preacher speaks on behalf of. When we say together, “Amen! This is what we believe,” it carries a lot more weight than simply a personal opinion.
When the Apostle Paul contrasts himself with peddlers of God’s word and considers how he was commissioned by God to speak in Christ, he considers his connection to the body of Christ through the Holy Spirit:
2 Corinthians 3:1-6 1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some do, letters of recommendation to you, or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter of recommendation, written on our hearts, to be known and read by all. 3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 4 Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. 5 Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, 6 who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
The ministry of the new covenant is one of the Spirit written on the hearts of every believer. The thing that I am most excited about in my new position as a pastor of this church is that I am joining a ministry that is already happening, I am joining a testimony that already existed, a message that was already being spoken. May God be gracious to me that I may be able to speak on behalf of us.

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