Bishop Lull: “Not What We Bargained For”
Bishop's Theological Conference (10.17.17) “Not What We Bargained For” Psalm 138, Matthew 22:15-22 [...]
Consecration of Bishop Blaston Gaville
Iringa Diocese, ELCT
Preached by Bishop Patricia Lull on June 25, 2017
Grace and peace to you from God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit. AMEN.
I am so grateful to be here with all of you. Retiring Bishop Mdegella and Bishop-elect Gaville, I greet you both with the warm greetings of your sisters and brothers in the Saint Paul Area Synod in Minnesota. To my fellow bishops and church leaders from many countries of the world, in the name of Christ, I share greetings from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We are so grateful for our partnership in the Gospel and for the common work we do through the Lutheran World Federation and other common bonds. And to all of you who have come together on this joyous day – to you who are pastors and evangelists, church workers and musicians, mothers and fathers, youth and elders within the Iringa Diocese – I give thanks to God for you and your faithfulness to Jesus Christ.
It is an amazing gift for me to be with you today. Here in Tanzania I wake up every morning with a smile on my face when I remember that God has opened this door for me to be with you. My family in the United States is amazed, too.
My mother, whose name was Ruth, was born in 1904. She is no longer alive but she lived to be eighty years old and saw me become a pastor in the church.
She was one of seven children in her family and lived on a small farm in a place called Ohio. She used to tell me stories about carrying water from the creek so that she could help her mother wash clothes for the family.
She walked to school with her brothers and sisters when she was a young girl and she surprised everyone when she graduated from primary school and insisted that she would then walk the three miles into town each day to attend secondary school. I am not sure what her parents really thought but they knew she was too determined to be stopped from pursuing her plan. She was a pioneer.
My mother loved her little church in the country, which sat just over the back fields from where her family lived. This was much like the small preaching points I visited in your diocese.
When she was nine years old that little church blew down in a tornado. We have those big wind storms in America. And it was such a small church that it was never rebuilt. As a young girl, my mother prayed every night that God would send her a church.
When she started secondary school and made that long walk into the city each morning and back home at night, she met a friend, who invited her to come to church. It was a Lutheran Church and Ruth persuaded her whole family to go there, too. It is where she met my father and it is where the story of my becoming a pastor began, too. I promise to tell you my story the next time I come to visit. Today I want to tell you a little more about my mother.
After they married, my parents had four children – three girls and a boy. I am the baby in the family. My mother loved learning new things and her favorite book was a geography book from her days in secondary school. She never traveled much beyond her hometown but she would read that book about all the countries of the world and she knew that God loved people in every place. She would be so happy that I am able to come and see your country with my own eyes.
Like my father, my mother loved God and the work of God’s church. She taught children in the church the stories of the Bible. She loved to prepare the altar for Holy Communion. At the end of her life when she was ill with a bad heart, I asked her what she said to God when she prayed. She told me -- I say to God, you have walked with me my whole life and you had better walk with me now. And I am sure God did walk with her every day of her life.
Each one of us has a story about how we have come to know and love God. For Bishop-elect Gaville, I am sure your heart is full of memories today of all the people who have helped you grow in faith: your parents and your many brothers and sisters; your own family – Pamela and the children; these other pastors and teachers in the church; and the elders, who taught you God’s ways when you were young. Treasure those memories and relationships. Because even as a bishop you need the love and prayers of others to make you strong to face the challenges that are now set before you. You did not come to this day of consecration all on your own. We will make sure that you do not leave here without the abundance of our prayers and encouragement for you.
In the Gospel of St. Matthew, we hear the story of the call of Matthew the tax collector. Matthew worked in the city of Capernaum, where Jesus also lived as a young man. Capernaum is a city on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and there was much commercial traffic as the caravans passed back and forth from there to the large city of Damascus. It must have looked like the busy highways in and out of Iringa town.
The Roman government collected taxes on all the merchandise that passed along that route. And it was Matthew’s job to sit in the tax booth and collect those fees. He may not have been the big boss in charge of everything but he had a good government job that allowed him to make extra money as he collected those taxes.
In the time of Jesus, no one liked the tax collectors. Why? Because they were willing to work for a foreign government. They took Jewish coins and exchanged them for Roman currency. Taxes needed to be paid with the emperor’s money. In the process they were also known for squeezing a little extra cash from people who were poor. They often lived in the nice houses in town which were large enough to host an elegant dinner.
But one day, Jesus said to Matthew the tax collector – Follow me. Two little words, but for Matthew those words changed everything. We do not volunteer to become God’s disciples. No, we come to follow Jesus because God calls us through the power of the Holy Spirit to leave our old life and to take up a new life in Jesus Christ.
That day Matthew walked away from his good paying job. He stood up and stepped away from the tax booth. He waved good-bye to all the security that he had wrapped around his life. And he obeyed that call of Jesus to come follow him as a disciple of the Living God. Does that sound like anyone here?
For five years Bishop Gaville worked as a cashier at Ilula Hospital. This past week I stood inside that office, looking out the small window where people come to pay their bills. It says MALIPO on the door. Bishop Gaville told me that it hurt his heart to see people in need and to have no way to help them fully. Right there, Jesus called him like Matthew to become a pastor. You can ask him to tell you more about his call story.
Matthew is not the only one in this Bible story with a call from God. Jesus also has a vocation – a calling – from God. Jesus came into the world for a holy purpose. We begin to see that purpose when sits down at the dinner table with tax collectors and sinners. Jesus doesn’t shy away from the people others reject. Jesus wants those who have the worst behavior and the lowest reputation to know that God loves them, too.
The religious leaders were worked up and worried when they saw Jesus at the banquet with men like Matthew the tax collector and other people with poor reputations. They didn’t think it looked right for Jesus to keep company with a crowd like that. But Jesus was happy to have fellowship at that table not because the others were so holy or worthy but because God is gracious. God wants sinners to be part of the holy banquet with Jesus.
Today I also want to tell you something about my father. His name was Raymond and he was born in 1902 – a long, long time ago. Even though he died when I was twelve, some of his words stay with me still.
My father always told us kids – Look out for the underdog. Do you have a saying like that in Swahili? Protect the weak one. Show favor to the person who really needs a second chance. Be a champion for the person who needs the most help.
If you grow up in a family where your father every day put into practice the motto – Look out for the underdog – you also get an attitude about helping those that others reject or bully. You learn to see the world differently. You naturally look for ways to help a whole community move forward rather than just looking out for yourself.
I am grateful that my father was a man of strong Christian faith. He worked in a factory that made washing machines. Even after a long day at work he was always ready to go help someone who needed a hand. He loved children. He taught the teenagers in our church. He was very patient with people who were old. And I know he would be proud that his baby daughter is here with you today.
Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners. He spent his time with those at the bottom. With people who were ill. With the poor. With people who had made big mistakes in their lives. With people who worried too much. With people who thought God had forgotten about them.
In Matthew’s Gospel when the religious leaders were critical of Jesus for going to dinner at the house of a tax collector, Jesus had something to say to them. Jesus said – Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick.
Do you know anyone who acts like they are too good for God? That’s how those religious leaders sounded when they criticized Jesus and the company he kept. No one is too good for God. No one lives without making mistakes. We all sin and fall short of the glory of God, as Saint Paul wrote to the Romans and as Presiding Bishop Shoo preached yesterday.
From the beginning to the end, Jesus shows us that we have a God of mercy. A God who desires to show grace and forgiveness and kindness to everyone. To you. To me. To the people who do not even care that we have gathered today to consecrate and install a new bishop. God shows mercy not because we deserve mercy but because God is that way. Full of mercy and kindness.
And Jesus said – Go and learn what it means that God desires mercy, not sacrifice – as the prophet Hosea had once said to Israel. Follow me. Live the Jesus life and see what happens. Jesus said that to Matthew. He says this to us.
Bishop Gaville, long ago in your baptism God called you into life in Christ. You also have a rich story of your calling, your vocation as a man of God. You are a pastor in the Church of Jesus Christ. And now through the work of the Holy Spirit, you have been elected to serve as the Bishop for the Iringa Diocese of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania.
I am certain you did not imagine that when you were a young boy – even with a father who was a pastor. No doubt you had other goals and plans for your life. Maybe your family even wonders what you have gotten them into. But all along the Holy Spirit has been at work, preparing you for the service to which you are now called.
I became a bishop in the church only three years ago. Others will share the wisdom that comes from their decades of leadership in the apostolic role of oversight – watching over the pastors and congregations in the flock of Christ.
But, Bishop Gaville, there is one thing that I can tell you: last fall, the Spirit of our Living God was present when you were chosen for this office. You did not volunteer anymore than Matthew walked away from the tax booth on his own initiative. You were elected. With your unique gifts and talents and character traits – you were the one selected to bear the joys and the burdens of this office of bishop. Do not waste a moment wondering how you got to this day. You are here and ready to be consecrated because Jesus called you and you followed him in obedience.
When the days are long for me as a bishop or when I have very difficult decisions to make, I remember the voice of my mother in the last days of her life. When I asked her what she said in her prayers to God, she actually retold the story of the Bible in a few words. With the courage of a pioneer and the faith of a Christian, she said to me – I say to God, you have walked with me my whole life and you had better walk with me now.
Bishop Blaston Gaville, God has been with you from the beginning of your life. The God of mercy and kindness has never abandoned you. The God who came to us in Jesus Christ, living and dying so that we all might have life eternal, has called you into this new office. And God will hold you close every day to come.
Through you and the faithful people of the Iringa Diocese, God will do amazing things in the villages and the cities, among farmers and merchants, schoolchildren and young adults, mothers and fathers – and grandparents too. God will show others what mercy looks like in daily life. Thanks be to God. AMEN.