- St. Andrew`s Presbyterian Church

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Sunday, March 22, 2015 – Lent 5 B
Jeremiah 31:31-34 / Psalm 51:1-12 / Hebrews 5:5-10 / John 12:20-33
The Ministry of Fading
We might have the idea that Jesus was the kind of
man that liked to put himself out there. We might think
that because he was a leader, his goal was to promote
himself. For, isn’t that the way that you acquire
followers, through self-promotion? Yet, that was not the
case with Jesus at all. Jesus came to earth so that he
might leave the earth. He lived so that he might die. He
appeared so that he might disappear. Is that the kind of
ministry that we would choose? Would we choose to fade
or would we choose to shine?
Jesus described his ministry in terms of a seed. “Unless a
grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a
single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus believed
that if he faded away, it would brighten the lives of others. He
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believed that holding on to his life tightly would not benefit
others. He believed that loving his life too much would produce
a life not worth living. Thus, he said, “Those who love their life
lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it
for eternal life.”
Do we take Jesus’ example?
Do we
understand that sometimes we must fade in order for others to
shine?
We live in a culture of movers and shakers. We seem to
think that the more we put ourselves out there, the more good
we are doing. Compare that to Jesus’ conviction that he must
die in order for others to live. Our immediate objection to that,
of course, is that we are not Jesus. God sent him to earth to
die. We are in a different category. Yes, we are in a different
category, but not as different as we think. It’s a mistake for us
to assume that our ministry does not involve fading so that
others will shine. Did Jesus not say, and say to us, “Greater love
has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for one’s
friends”? Some have exercised a ministry of laying down their
lives for others. In times of war, natural disaster, and famine,
many have allowed themselves to die so that another would
live. Not all of us find ourselves in such extreme situations, of
course, where we need to consider the possibility of dying for
someone’s sake. But, all of us do find ourselves in situations
where it is appropriate to sacrifice ourselves in some way for
another. We all find ourselves in situations where it is
appropriate for us to put the needs of others before our own.
We are all called to a ministry of fading.
We all have a ministry. Ministry is not just for professional
clergy.
In the Presbyterian Church, we believe in the
priesthood of all believers. We believe that all people are
called to some form of ministry. The form the ministry we have
depends on the talents God has given us, the situation in which
we find ourselves, and, of course, how much of ourselves we are
willing to commit. Therefore, if there is a ministry of fading, we
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are all called to practise it according to our talents and
resources.
The style of the modern evangelical mega-church does not
seem to lend itself to a ministry of fading. The goal seems to be
to make the preacher shine as much as possible. The preacher
is presented in a manner similar to a media personality or a
movie star. People are encouraged to attend the church
because of the preacher’s personality. Similar goals are applied
to the music leaders. It’s all about putting yourself out there,
attracting people by your style and charisma, and winning
people over by your entertaining approach. The quiet way that
we do things in the Presbyterian, Reformed, and Anglican
churches may seem less effective to some. Yet, is it really less
effective? Jesus seemed to believe that his role was not to put
himself out there, but to let himself fade, and fade with a
purpose – so that others would be blessed. Often greater things
are accomplished with a quiet approach than they are with a
loud one.
Take a meeting or a group activity as an example. We
have all been in groups where one person does all the talking.
It’s as though that person has no ears and only a mouth. It’s
hard to get a word in edgeways. If the person’s talkativeness
goes on long enough, some get restless, and still others will drop
out of the group. The person who talks excessively does more
to discourage others than to encourage them.
Interestingly, the preacher in the book of Ecclesiastes,
when he is going through his litany of opposites and how each
has intrinsic value, mentions silence before speech. For
everything there is a season, he says, “A time to keep silence
and a time to speak.” When we learn to value silence, we have
acquired one of the tools necessary for the ministry of fading.
Many seem to think that to get things done you must
always take charge, and one way to take charge, they believe,
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is to do all the talking. Another way to take charge is to speak
as though you have all the answers. Those who practise the
ministry of fading have a more mature understanding of
ministry. They understand that getting things done sometimes
means listening and not speaking. For, how can we know what
needs to be done in any situation until we listen long enough to
find out what it really going on? Those who practise the
ministry of fading know how to listen.
I think there is a basic problem, a basic flaw with those
who talk excessively. They need to always be in control. By
doing all the talking, they are in control of the situation. Yet,
how can we have faith, if we are not willing to give up control?
For, the basis of faith is to understand that God is in control. It
is also to realize that sometimes God uses people other than us
to exercise control. If think we should always be in control, and
in control by doing all the talking, then how can we be open to
what God is doing in any situation?
Another example of how we exercise a ministry of fading
is to be more concerned about our character than our
reputation. Our reputation is how the public perceives us. Our
character is who we really are. The public may not always see
our true character, but God does. The problem with us is that
we are more concerned with cultivating our reputation than our
character. We are more concerned with how the public
perceives us, than how God sees us. The voice of our neighbour
is louder for us than the voice of God. We are more concerned
with who people think we are, than with who we really are.
Jesus had a stellar character, of course, but he had a
terrible reputation. Many in the public had a very low opinion
of him. You don’t get yourself crucified if everybody thinks well
of you. Jesus did and said what he felt was God’s will regardless
of whether people liked him for it and regardless of whether
people approved of him or not. This is why Jesus had more
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friends in low places than he had in high places. If you wish to
attract the favour of the powerful, you must pander to what
keeps them in power.
This often means that you must
compromise your character. You must do something you know is
wrong in order to stay on the good side of the powerful. You
must, in other words, damage your character in order to keep
your reputation intact. Jesus never did this. He always put his
character before his reputation. He allowed himself to fade in
the eyes of the powerful in order to preserve his character.
Jesus’ refusal to be concerned with his reputation landed
him in the company of the outcasts. The poor, the lepers, the
prostitutes, and the tax collectors, that is, the people that his
society looked down on, were Jesus’ friends. The “respectable”
people of his society called him “a glutton and a drunkard, a
friend of tax collectors and sinners,” and thus ruined his
reputation even more. Yet, by allowing himself to fade, Jesus
allowed the outcasts of society to shine. For once in their lives,
the outcasts found someone who respected them, who truly
loved them. They shone while Jesus faded.
Do you refuse to do what you know is right because you
are afraid of losing friends? What kind of friends are they
anyway, if they reject you for doing what it right? Do you refuse
to follow what you know is God’s will because others will talk
about you? Are you more concerned about what people think,
than what God thinks? Is the voice of your neighbour louder for
you than the voice of God? Ministry often means forgetting
about our reputation and thinking only of our character.
We cannot follow what is true; we cannot choose what is
noble without allowing ourselves to fade. If we think we must be
in control of our ministry, we will not have a ministry. For, we
must sometimes fade to allow others to shine. If we think we
must always have a good reputation, we will not have a
ministry. For, we must sometimes fade to allow others to shine.
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The very Son of God chose to fade. He said he was like a
grain of wheat that was planted in the ground and died, so that
others would bear much fruit. If he chose to fade so that others
would shine, surely we must do the same.
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