Intentional Interim Ministry
Topic: Biblical Verse: John 17:1–17:11
The Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 31-June 1, 2014
“Intentional Interim Ministry”
Most of us wear several different “hats” in life: son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister, worker or retiree, friend or neighbor, husband or wife, employer or employee, mom or dad, student or teacher, aunt or uncle, grandma or grandpa. Besides my pastor “hat,” another related hat I wear is that of Circuit Counselor, recently renamed Circuit Visitor. I’m not too excited by the name change and it doesn’t really change what I do as Circuit Counselor/Visitor. In a nutshell, this hat means that I serve as the District President’s representative to the congregations of our Circuit, especially when there is conflict in a congregation or there is a pastoral vacancy. Right now, there are three pastoral vacancies with another by the end of June. I’ve been doing this for over ten years now, but something new that is going on is Intentional Interim Ministry pastors. These are specially trained and credentialed pastors who step into hurting congregations where there is conflict to help Christ’s people work through their differences in a God-pleasing way before calling another pastor. These Intentional Interim Ministry pastors also come into congregations to help with transition following a pastor who has served for many years in ministry in that place, again helping to work through things before calling another pastor. We have one such Intentional Interim Ministry pastor currently serving a sister congregation in our Circuit, and it’s looking very likely that another will be coming soon to a different sister congregation. I give thanks to God for the gifts and talents that these pastors bring to the Body of Christ. They are a huge blessing! There is more than a little Intentional Interim Ministry going on in today’s Scripture lessons in this time of transition between Jesus’ ascension and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. And so this is the theme for today’s message: “Intentional Interim Ministry.” May the Lord’s rich and abundant blessing rest upon the preaching, the hearing, and the living of his Word for Jesus’ sake.
In today’s first Scripture reading (Acts 1:12-26), we hear of transition among the apostles as they returned from the Mount of Olives where Jesus had ascended into heaven (Acts 1:1-11). They now come together to discern the one who would replace Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus. There was an intentional interim ministry going on until this new person was identified, who would complete the number of the twelve apostles. Two candidates were put forward on the call list: Joseph Barsabbas (also called Justus), and Matthias. And then followed the call service: after prayer, they cast lots and Matthias was chosen. This is the first and the last time we hear of Matthias in the New Testament. Undoubtedly, Matthias served faithfully as an apostle, but he is not mentioned again in Scripture. He seems to have been eclipsed by another apostle chosen by Jesus, and that is Paul.
In today’s Epistle reading (1 Peter 4:12-19, 5:6-11), Peter instructs the newly baptized what they can expect in their lives for following Jesus. In this period of intentional interim ministry between Jesus’ ascension and his coming again on that great and final day, believers then and now should “not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed” (1 Peter 4:12-13). If Jesus experienced rejection, insult, suffering and even death, should it be any different for those who follow him? Peter’s encouragement is for believers not to think that this is wrong or unfair, but entrust themselves to a faithful God who loves them and gave the life of his only Son for them. In this intentional interim time of ministry until Jesus comes again, we are called to cast all our cares and anxieties on God, knowing how much he cares for us. We are to be sober-minded and watchful, knowing full well that our “adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8). We are not alone in the battle, as Peter tells us. Fellow believers throughout the whole world share in this with us, and there is strength here as we encourage and give hope to one another in faith. Peter reminds us that this period of intentional interim ministry will one day cease and give way to something infinitely better: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:10).
In the Gospel lesson for this day (John 17:1-11), Jesus prays in what is often called his High Priestly Prayer (John 17:1-25) and it speaks strongly of intentional interim ministry. Jesus’ earthly ministry is drawing to a close and as He prepares to leave his followers who will carry his mission forward, he prays for them: “All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them. And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one” (John 17:10-11). If we were to read further in John 17, we would discover that Jesus prays not only for his immediate disciples, but for disciples of all times, including you and me: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). We are those who have come to faith in Jesus through a long line of believers going all the way back to those first disciples. Although the people who brought us to faith in Jesus may not have been specially trained and credentialed intentional interim ministers in the strict sense, they and we are all engaged in intentional interim ministry until Jesus comes again. It is intentional because Jesus has charged us to do this. It is interim because it will have an end-point – that day when Christ returns to judge the world in righteousness. It is ministry because it is done in Jesus’ Name and points always to him. We are his witnesses in the world. We are his hands and feet and mouth, pointing people to the love of God in Christ Jesus not only with our lips but also with our lives.
Intentional Interim Ministry begins and ends with Christ. Even as we look forward to his coming again, our risen and ascended Savior comes to us now in his Word, in the cleansing waters of holy Baptism, in the bread and wine of the Lord’s Supper to renew and refresh us, strengthening us for the work of mission that he’s given us to do. Amen.