An installation sermon for a twin pastor

I wrestled this week with whether I should have my hair cut. Normally I wear my hair much shorter, especially during the winter months when ‘hat head’ poses fashion challenges. The reason I didn’t was I looked forward to playing up the twin thing once again; I know that my twin brother usually wears his hair much longer than I do.

And I’ve eagerly anticipated standing before you today, and asking: Are you sure you have the right twin as your new pastor? How do you know that your pastor is actually David, and not Martin? How do you know which one you are installing? After all, you’ve only had your new pastor a couple of months — do you really know him that well already?


Just one word of advice: If you believe you see Pastor David in Conestoga Mall or walking in Stanley Park in Kitchener or skiing at Chicopee, please, please don’t right away presume it’s Pastor David you are meeting.

One of my all-time favourite, yet awkward, twin-pastor experiences, almost always goes like this: I’m in town (Kitchener-Waterloo) either visiting David, Patricia, Sarah & Susie, or at some Synod meeting and going out by myself to the mall or restaurant when — it never fails — someone I do not know or maybe even know a little bit comes up to me and launches into quite a personal conversation; the person before me reveals information of a confidential nature.

I am caught in a conundrum: Do I carry on listening empathetically, nodding my head with pastoral attention and care? How soon do I break in with the news: “Ahh, excuse me, I am Martin, Pastor David’s twin brother; did you think I was Pastor David?”

At which point, the person’s jaw usually drops, the blush factor intensifies, and eyes pop. “Noooo! Really!?!”
“Yes. Really!”
“Pastor David, you are pulling my leg!”
Then, I have my passport and other photo ID handy, just to prove my identity.

Most non-identical-twins in leadership, I have come to covet, have lived relatively scrutiny-free of their public persona without ever having to ‘prove’ who they are. And here’s a twin secret: Both David and I know who we are. And we believe that there are differences between us; I don’t confuse my own identity with David’s. In fact, it has often surprised us why people can’t notice the distinct differences between us.

But we Malinas won’t make it simple. Add to that, we both end up being pastors in the same church. So not only do we look alike, we wear the same clothes on the job.

In the walls of the church, we may know who we are all about. We have our own social fortresses to hide behind; we gather with our own kind, in familiar places and spaces. We have our own rules and norms of behaviour in our brand of a more progressive, Lutheran church. Yes, we may know who we are.

But does the world know who we are? And perhaps this is the challenge for the church today.

Installations of pastors, or as the Anglicans call them, ‘Inductions’, are tricky events for us. Yes, we celebrate a new relationship between pastor and people, here at Christ Lutheran Church in Waterloo. That celebration tends to focus on the pastor; and, I’ve played into that in the first part of my sermon today!

I suspect that the traditional culture of the church has tended towards seeing ‘ministry’ as the sole purview of the pastor — and that Installation services tended to be viewed somewhat like launching pad for the pastor’s dazzling display of skill, leadership prowess and charisma.

In contrast, the relationship between pastor and people, which an Installation service signifies, is really about acknowledging the true meaning of the word, ‘liturgy’ — the work of the people. The pastor doesn’t ‘own’ the ministry of the church; it belongs to the people to which the pastor joins in supporting and enlivening it with his or her particular gifts, interests and passions.

Yes, leaders must be given permission to lead. Yes, you have elected Pastor David to be your leader. Yes, good leaders need to give themselves permission to lead. And yes, good leaders also need good followers. So, role clarity is vital. Setting and maintaining personal and professional boundaries are important.

It is also important to live collectively in this work. In the words of Martin Luther, we all comprise the ‘priesthood of all believers’ in the exercise of our vocations as Christians, ordained or not.

It’s not just about the pastor. It’s not just about the people. It’s not about pastor or people. It’s about pastor and people. We are not lone-rangers; we are not entrepreneurs or independent consultants in the business of selling faith to the world.

Because it’s about doing it together somehow. Praying together. Being responsible together. Not spectating the practice of faith, but participating in it. Figuring it out in the doing it — in the mystery, ambiguity and paradox that are central to the character of our faith.

I appreciate the Gospel text offered in this service today (Mark 4:3-9). I am drawn towards conversations about this text that focus on the identity of the sower, in Jesus’ parable. Who is the sower? Is it Jesus? Or, does this role fall exclusively on the ordained, set-apart, folks of our church — the pastor? Or, someone else? You, perhaps? We know only of the work the sower does.

I’ve also been looking at the Gospel text for this Second Sunday after the Epiphany (A), where Jesus calls his first disciples (John 1:29-42). There are two people accompanying John the Baptist when he identifies Jesus as the “Lamb of God”. Only Andrew is named. But the other one remains anonymous to us (v.40).

Perhaps both Jesus, who does not name the sower in his parable, and the writer of John’s Gospel who does not identify the second disciple, do so intentionally. Perhaps the anonymity we encounter in these stories is meant to engage us, the reader / the listener, in order to invite each of us / all of us into those roles — as follower of Jesus and sower of the Word.

Pastor David told me the little, liturgical scare you had here prior to the first Christmas services: Of course, it is appropriate not to have the baby Jesus in the manger during Advent and the weeks leading up to Christmas; after all, Jesus has not yet been born.

But it was just before the Christmas Eve service, I believe it was, when Pastor David expressed some anxiety about the missing infant. Where is Jesus? We’ll have to put him in the nativity sooner than later. Or, have we lost Jesus? Has Jesus already left the building? How can you celebrate the Word made flesh with no baby Jesus in the creche? This was not looking good.

Much to Pastor David’s delight, and surprise — I might add, not only did one baby Jesus appear in the little manger on Christmas morning, but two, identical baby Jesuses!!!!


I’m not going to suggest that Jesus had an identical twin brother, otherwise Dan Brown might have another best-selling fiction on the shelves in no time.

Nevertheless, the image is significant. Because, Christianity starts not with a one-person-show but a three-person Trinity (God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit). Christianity is inherently relational, and so is the work of God.

Following Jesus and sowing the Word is not exclusively the work of the Pastor. Can we envision this work collectively? Not just for one individual to do or be responsible for, but as the Body of Christ in the world today. Perhaps we can get at the identity of the sower or the disciple by observing and starting with what the sower and the disciple do. And how it is done:

When the work of compassion and justice expands beyond the walls of this space, we plant seeds. When the work of loving and forgiving involves the young and the mature doing it together, we plant seeds. When the risky following leads us out there and no one doing it stands alone, we plant seeds. When the work of the church is done together, as diverse and multi-faceted our individual identities in the Body of Christ are, we plant seeds.

And then the world will know who we are.

An impossible call

After months of deadly fighting, the four tribes on post-apocalyptic, war-ravaged earth have achieved a tenuous peace treaty. The band of new comers barely catches their breath before they receive a signal for help. The distress call comes from somewhere in the borderlands, forbidden zones marking the territories occupied by the combative tribes. 

The earth’s inhabitants avoid these areas altogether now, anxious that any movements within the borderlands may be construed as aggressive. Those venturing into the forbidden land may be seen as provoking another war.

The distress signal calls the young troop into action. As they prepare to leave the relative safety of their compound, the elder statesman turns to the leader of the rescue mission and says, “We’ve lost people and shed blood to make peace. Don’t mess this up.”

Of course, such dialogue functions as foreshadowing — meaning, yeah, they’ll likely do just that: mess it up. Such a story line, or a variation thereof, sounds like many in popular fiction and TV today.(1)

When the stakes are high and there is so much to lose, the word of the Lord comes to Jeremiah: “Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms” (Jeremiah 1:9-10). This is no walk-in-the-park calling. The appointment from God is not a nice, extra little job to do as a hobby. This is not a proposition for an easy, comfortable life-style. This is not an extra-curricular weekend, work-life balance proposal.

The stakes are high. Your life is on the line. Everything you have and know is placed at great risk. You are more likely to fail. You can really mess this up. Not only for yourself, but for a whole lot of people.

Can we really be hard on Jeremiah (oh, and Moses, Sarah, David, Isaiah, Mary, Zechariah, Timothy and others in the Bible) who first questions the call from God? Doubt the veracity of the claim. Question the wisdom of such a move. Balk at the incredulous proposition of this word. Jeremiah understandably doubts his ability, and knee-jerks into finding excuses: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy” (v.6). 

It is the natural, human response. God, though, does not give up on us.

A caution: This is not a word just for the professional religious. Another excuse today would be for the people of God to dismiss this text as irrelevant, pertaining only to those discerning a call to full-time ministry and ordination. There is here a word to all who face seemingly insurmountable odds:

A call to attend with care, compassion and dedication one who is dying. A call not to give up, but persevere in a course of action. A call to leave an unhealthy relationship behind in order to embrace an uncertain, unclear future. A call to stop doing something without being certain about what will replace it. A call to change one’s mind and adopt a different approach, perspective and opinion on a long-held belief. A call to do something or go somewhere that you had never thought possible in your life.

Now, we are all saying, “Oh, Lord, I can’t do that. Impossible!”

“Do not be afraid … for I am with you to deliver you” (v.8).

When against all the odds we are faced with an incredible task, our relationship with God is brought into sharp focus. What we really believe about God rises to the surface. Our faith is exposed. What do we see there? 

I wonder whether in anxious moments of life we expect God to do something for us — intervene with thunder and lightning to show the way unambiguously in a booming Charlton Heston voice from above; or, more to the point, do the thing that needs to be done while I stand on the sidelines, spectating.

I wonder whether in the anxious moments of life what we really need to ask is not what can God do for us but who can God be for us? (2) When we are down-and-out, will God be our comfort? When we face a decision, will God be “the source of our courage, the keeper of our troubles, the teacher of our prayer, the guide of our pathway, the nurturer of our virtue, the companion of our soul”? 

The being God, rather than the do-ing God, keeps the boundaries clear as to who needs to do what job, and whose job it is anyway to work as prophet “over nations and over kingdoms” (v.10). The being God won’t give in to our responsibility-shirking tendency to pass the buck on the job we are called to do. When we actually risk doing it, nevertheless, God will be there for us. God will not forsake us. No matter whether we fail or succeed.

There is a wonderful grace that comes with the promise of God, as it did to Jeremiah, to be with him through it all. Yet, this grace comes not in words alone. This grace is not reserved nor exclusively confined to the realm of the abstract — a dis-embodied, disconnected cerebral, mental event. This grace is not the purview solely of an internal process.

God’s grace is embodied. It comes to us in the real world. “Then the Lord put out his hand and touched my mouth …” (v.9a). Touched. The image is rather odd, yet similar to the burning coal that touches the mouth of the prophet Isaiah at the beginning of his call (Isaiah 6:6-7). 

God validates, confirms, and communicates the call through the concrete, material aspects of our lives. Some may call it a ‘sign’. I prefer seeing it in terms of what you need in order to do the job. God supplies us, gives us the resources and personal support we need, to get the job done.

When we confront and respond to an impossible call, God will have already given us the gift we need to do it. We may not see it, acknowledge it or make sense of it right away. Yet, God equips those whom God calls to do what seems impossible. A poster used to hang in my home office: God doesn’t call the qualified, God qualifies the called. We are qualified to do what we must.

What has God already given to you, in order to do the impossible thing standing between you and God’s beautiful vision for your life, and the life of the world?

(1) – such as “The 100” CW TV, season 3 episode 1, based on the books by Kass Morgan

(2) – Joyce Rupp, “Open the Door” Green Press Initiative, 2008 digital version, Week 2 – Knocking on the Door, p.18-19