A couple times over the past week I had conversations where people attributed something good that I did to my being a pastor, but the truth is that I do good things because I’m a Christian. Each time I found myself considering that I did what any good Christian would do, ordained or not. Have we moved into a time when we expect that those who enact Christianity are limited to the clergy or a small percentage of lay persons? What would Christ have to say about that?
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Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37) in which it was the religious authorities of his day, the priest and the Levite, who intentionally avoid the man lying on the road in need of compassion and help. It is the Samaritan, who is not in the religious chain of authority, that acts according to God’s will. I believe Christ was pointing out that it does not take a priest or formal religious authority to be the one who extends a helping hand to those in need. Acts of grace, love, and mercy are not reserved for those with the title Reverend. In fact, all those who are baptized as Christians are baptized into the ministry of believers. We are all ministers of Jesus Christ, even if we are not all ordained.
That is not to minimize the importance and vitality of clergy. Those who are called to ordination are set apart and called by God to a specific form of ministry within the Church. In the United Methodist Church, there are two orders of ordination: the Deacon and the Elder. Deacons connect the Church to the community, and invite Christians to explore and fulfill Christ’s call to enact social justice. Elders are called to sacramental authority with which they bless Holy Communion and perform baptisms. They order the life of the local church to which they are appointed to serve and lead by example a life of service. This does not mean that they are the only ones in the local church serving. To the contrary, they should be cultivating and encouraging their congregation to go and do likewise.
When we shift our responsibility as Christians to anyone else, we run the risk of shirking our duty. We are all called to feed the hungry, care for the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned, not just some of us! My inner spirit groans when I think that someone sees what I do and chalks it up to the title I bear. I’m doing this because I’m a Christian… and so should you! I don’t want to be the only one. This isn’t about my personal glory. I want to be in ministry with others. I want to work with other Christians to spread the light of Jesus Christ, to share the glory of the Gospel, and to extend the love of God to others. How much more impactful is my good act when it is multiplied by others who also serve Christ! I’m not just reaching my hand out to the man lying in the road. I’m reaching out to take your hand and help him with you. Let’s do this discipleship thing together and forget what is my duty or yours. It is not me and God against the world. It is you and me and all those Christians who are willing to join enacting the will of God for the world.