June 22nd 2014 / Sermon / Pastor Terry Defoe / Stephen Ministry Introduction / 1 Peter 2:4-5
4 As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by unbelievers but chosen by God and precious to him— 5 you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. (N.I.V.)
This morning, we consider the Christian Church and our place in it. This morning, we'll talk about the different ministries that make up our congregation – the ways that we care for others in Jesus' name. At one point in my ministry, while I was a pastor at Wetaskiwin, Alberta, I attended a two-week training program for Stephen Ministries at Edmonton, Alberta. This morning, we’ll focus our attention specifically on this ministry. This morning, describe the journey we are continuing together here at Mount Olive. As I always do when I proclaim God’s Word, I pray that God would richly bless the time we spend in His word this day.
Imagine, if you would, the Apostle Peter speaking to a group of Christians a long time ago. Imagine, if you would, Peter saying to them, "Come and be built into a spiritual temple." Now if you're like me, you'd be wondering what Peter was talking about. So what’s a spiritual temple? And what does that have to do with me? In First Peter chapter 2, we're told that God wants to take all believers and make them part of a very special building. God wants to build a house for himself, and he wants to use His people as the "living stones" that it's made from. When you think of something being constructed, you think of the work that goes into putting it all together. The Apostle Peter tells us that God is a Master Builder. He’s a special kind of contractor. He's interested in building himself a church.
Of course, when we talk about the "church" here, we're not talking about the building. The "church" that God wants to build is a spiritual house. It's made up of forgiven people – people like you and me – people called out of the unbelieving world and into the blessed fellowship of God’s chosen people. The Scriptures tell us that God has chosen each one of us – each believer – to be part of this spiritual house. It is God who brings us together. He brings us together through the preaching of his Word. He brings us together through the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. God brings us together and gives us a common identity as Christian people. He brings us together with a common faith and a common purpose. He brings us together to love one another and to serve one another and to preach His saving Gospel to the world. God brings us together – as "living stones" – and as a master brick-layer, he assembles us, stone by stone, until his spiritual house is complete. God's building, his spiritual temple, isn't made of wood, or plaster. It's not made of metal or stone. God's spiritual temple is made up of His forgiven people. God's spiritual house is made up of people – believing people, serving people, caring people. God's house is a "spiritual" house because the Holy Spirit dwells in it. His house is a "spiritual" house because Jesus Christ is its Cornerstone.
As building blocks in God's house, you and I have a special relationship to the one who holds it all together. We have a special relationship of faith in Jesus Christ. As building blocks in God's spiritual house, you and I are closely connected to Christ the Cornerstone. Buildings are constructed for a purpose. Buildings have a function. God's "spiritual house" is no exception. The Apostle Peter says:
You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.
The "living stones" that make up God's spiritual house are specially chosen by God Himself. God has chosen us, in Holy Baptism, to be his people of faith. God has chosen us to serve him, and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. God has chosen us to express Christian love and caring. The Apostle Peter describes us – pastors and people together – as a royal priesthood. All of us – pastors and people together – are called to serve him. All of us are called to be servants of the Lord. According to the Apostle Peter, every Christian is part of that "royal priesthood." Every Christian has his or her unique "ministry" for the Lord. Every Christian has gifts and abilities that enable them to do what God is calling them to do. According to Peter, Christian ministry is something that all of God's people share. God's "spiritual house" has a purpose. And that purpose is ministry – service in Jesus' name.
God's will is to use us – each and every one of us – to bring his love and his peace into all the situations of people's lives. God's love and forgiveness are given human form when we love and forgive, in Jesus' name. Our individual ministries bring God's love and forgiveness to others in practical, down-to-earth ways. When we express Christian caring in Jesus' name, God's love is made real to another human being. When we forgive another person in Jesus' name, God's forgiveness is made real to them. If someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, a caring visitor brings God's comfort and peace. If someone is grieving the loss of a loved one, a caring visitor shares a word of hope from God. If someone is overcome by fear and anxiety, a caring visitor brings God's healing and calming presence. If someone is burdened by guilt and remorse, a caring visitor brings God's word of forgiveness, reconciliation, and unconditional love.
When you think about it, all of us, as God's people, have many opportunities to minister to one another. All of us, as God's people, are members of His "royal priesthood." God's power and presence go with us, His people. God's people, his royal priests, declare the wonderful deeds of their Heavenly Father. God's people, his royal priests, proclaim his law and gospel. God's people tell others about the curse of sin. We tell others that all of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory. We tell others that there is no way for any of us to save ourselves. But the Good News is this: what we cannot do, God has done for us, in Christ! The Bible tells us that God became a human being in the person of Christ. God took on a human body and demonstrated his love for us while he walked on this earth. During his earthly ministry, Jesus Christ showed compassion for people in need. He helped people with their problems and with their diseases. And when Jesus died on a cross, he overcame our most serious problem – our problem with sin.
Christian people declare the Good News of Jesus Christ by their words. And they also declare the Good News by their deeds. We tell people that God's love, in Christ, is meant for them, too. We tell people about God's forgiveness, and we demonstrate that forgiveness in our own lives. We tell people that God wants to serve them. And we demonstrate that service in our own lives. We tell people about God's gifts. And we offer ourselves to others as God's gift to them. 1 Peter chapter 2, verse 5 speaks of "offering spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God, through Jesus Christ." Offering spiritual sacrifices involves backing up our words with our actions. Offering spiritual sacrifices means living a life that reflects God's love and mercy to others. "Spiritual sacrifice" means sharing our gifts and abilities with others so that their lives might be enriched.
Consider this: Jesus Christ cared for people during his earthly ministry. He healed diseases that kept people in bondage. He taught the truth that set people free. He forgave the sins that keep people and God separated from one another. And at the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus showed the world the full extent of his love. At the end of his earthly ministry, Jesus offered his lifeblood as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus died in our place. He took the punishment we deserved. He died so that we might live. At the cross, Jesus Christ laid the foundation for the "spiritual house" that God wants to build. Jesus Christ is the chief cornerstone of that spiritual house. And now God is placing us – as "living stones" – into that blessed structure, so that we might serve him and serve others.
The task that God is placing before us is a challenging one. The task that God gives us requires all of the spiritual gifts and all of the natural abilities that he has provided by His grace. God wants us to seize the opportunities for ministry that he sends our way. One of the ways the church can take hold of these opportunities for service is through Stephen Ministry. Stephen Ministry provides interested people with the training they need to minister effectively to others. Stephen Ministry assists a Christian congregation in matching its words with its deeds. For 10 days back in September 1993, I joined more than 170 people for Stephen Ministries leadership training in Edmonton. This was the first and only time that Stephen Ministries training has been done outside of the U.S. For ten days, we learned about Christian caring. We learned how to listen. We learned how to minister to people's needs. We learned how to recruit individuals who have the gifts and abilities needed by Stephen Ministers.
Mount Olive Lutheran Church is a congregation committed to Christian caring. Mount Olive already has individuals – pastors, elders, vicar and laypeople, who visit shut-ins and those in the hospital. Stephen Ministry will help us to do this work – and additional caring ministry – more effectively. It will help us match trained caregivers with care receivers – people willing to receive support from a Stephen minister. Stephen Ministry is designed to help God's "royal priests" serve him more effectively. Stephen Ministry is designed to complement – not replace – the work of pastors and other church workers. Stephen Ministry assists the church in being be what God calls it to be. Stephen Ministry equips and trains laypeople to minister to others. When Stephen Leadership training was held in Edmonton, it brought together Christian people from 14 different denominations, including many from Lutheran Church - Canada. And when the training was completed, 174 new Stephen Leaders – including myself – were commissioned and sent back to their local congregations so that they might train others to assist their pastors in caring ministry.
Stephen Ministers are an important part of the total ministry of a congregation. They have skills that can help to build up the body of Christ. As Stephen ministers serve others, they learn the struggles and the joys of Christian service. Stephen Ministry helps congregations to become what God intends them to be. Stephen Ministry helps expand ministry of the congregation beyond that of their ordained pastors. Congregational members work as a team, under the pastors’ leadership, so that much more can be done than pastors could do on their own. Stephen Ministry helps grow stronger Christian communities. Stephen Ministry assists people in discovering and making use of the gifts God has given them. A primary goal of Stephen Ministry is to care for people more effectively, and to nurture their spiritual growth. A primary goal is to more effectively share the love, and the forgiveness, and the wholeness that is ours in Jesus Christ. We pray that God would use this ministry to build us, as "living stones," into a "spiritual house" that will bring glory to his name.
God’s spiritual house is a place where people find strength in their time of need, shelter from the stormy blast. It’s a place where they can be nurtured and experience spiritual growth. Our world is full of things that tear people down. Our world is full of people who are hurt, and bitter, and broken. All around us are people who desperately seek peace and wholeness. All around us are people seeking a sense of purpose in their lives. The Gospel of Christ builds people up. The Gospel brings peace, and wholeness. The Gospel brings love and hope. God has richly blessed us. Now, He wants us to be a blessing others. It's my prayer that Stephen Ministry will help us do more effectively what we've already been doing for these many years at Mount Olive.
God wants all of his people to serve him. Some can visit the sick and the lonely. Others can help a bereaved person work through the loss of a loved one. And still others can provide assistance in a time of crisis. It's my prayer this morning that God would bless our Stephen Ministry. I pray that our members would come to understand what Stephen Ministry is. And I pray that God would prompt individuals with a caring heart to become Stephen Ministers. I encourage you to pray for the success of this important ministry. I that we would achieve our "caring potential" as we travel this road together. Pray also that many of our members would be willing to allow Stephen Ministers to care for them. May God, by His grace, grant us success. Amen.
Let's Pray: DEAR HEAVENLY FATHER – Help us care for others as you care for us in and through Your Son. Help us forgive others as you have forgiven us. Enable us to discover and put our spiritual gifts to use. Enable us to meet the needs of the people in this congregation, and in this community, as we do your will. Bless our newly reconstituted Stephen Ministry. May it bring many blessings and benefits to many people – caregivers and care receivers alike. And may all the glory be