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.

Working for the public good

Ever so often in the lectionary a text comes to us, a text that I find particularly relevant for us today in the Christian church. On this Second Sunday after the Epiphany in Year C (Revised Common Lectionary) the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians shines a bright light on the church. And specifically on how we use our ‘gifts’ (1 Corinthians 12:1-11). 

This is the first Sunday in the calendar year that is ‘ordinary’ and liturgically coloured green — as during the long season after Pentecost in the summer when the focus is on the Holy Spirit’s activity in the lives of the faithful. During that time we read and reflect on how believers grow in the Spirit and expand the mission of God across the globe. 

It is fitting, at this start, to read those words of St Paul: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Cor 12:4-6)

In George R.R Martin’s epic “A Game of Thrones” story, we witness the power struggles of several families vying for the throne in the fantasy kingdom of Westeros. The Lannister family is by far the current play-maker and leader of the pack. They have placed their caliph on the throne and fight tooth-and-nail to defend his reign.

In a scene early in the story when we first meet the father Lannister, Tywin, he speaks to his son Jaime who killed the former king according to their nefarious plans, and consequently now carries the reputation in the land as the ‘kingslayer’. Jaime has an inflated ego and often brandishes his glorious abilities with the sword and swagger.

But Tywin puts him in his place. The father, not incapable and unwilling himself to acts of betrayal and murder to achieve his ends, places their actions in a much larger context:

He says there were Lannisters that came before us, and there will be Lannisters that come after us. He brings Jaime down a notch or two not to dissuade him from ruthless means, but only to remind him that what they do is not merely to satisfy personal ego needs and compulsions. What they do is not just for the sake of private glory or personal gain. They have to keep the long view in mind to ensure the Lannister name lives on successfully beyond the confines of any individual Lannister’s life span.

This is a grim story that reveals the dark underside of human nature and enterprise. To flip it, however, would be to suggest something for the benefit of any human organization, including — and especially — the church.  

The current Pope Francis is known to have critiqued his own church for being far too ‘self-referential’ in matters of faith and practice. That is to say, the problem exists whenever we rely solely on ourselves; and, whenever we express our gifts, our opinions, our actions and decisions solely from the perspective of our own needs. That is, we act and speak out of our own, limited, life experiences without first thinking of what may exist beyond the boundaries of our own life. We can be so wrapped up in our private lives that we lose the value of the public good. We do things first to meet our own needs, rather than consider the needs of those we don’t yet know.

To a degree, admittedly, being self-referential is impossible to avoid completely. We cannot deny ourselves. Nevertheless, in our individualistic, narcissistic culture that is so rooted in me-first and what’s-in-it-for me economics and social order, we are particularly prone to this disease of the heart.  

Christianity is not a religion of Lone Rangers. Rather than nurturing a purely private ecstasy, the gifts of God are given in order to build up the church — not merely for our own pleasure and use, and for the span of our lives. The gifts of God are intended to be “publicly communicable, publicly shared, and publicly enjoyed” (1)  beyond our individual lives. In other words, we know and believe “the end” is beyond us. 

What would it look like if we started by trying to be ‘other-referential’? If we started by considering the other, first, what the Goal is, and work backwards from there — from the outside-in, from the future-vision to the present reality? 

In the introduction to Paul’s famous credal words from Philippians 2, he writes: “Let each of us look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus …” (4-5)
A pastor in today’s world, I see myself more and more as working for the public good in everything I do. Meaning, I surround whatever ministry activity I do with awareness and prayer for God’s Spirit in and around me and in others in and beyond the walls of the church, and for the sake of God’s mission (not mine own!) on earth. I try to appreciate the diversity of people in the variety of gifts expressed as valuable in some way to this overall, expanding mission of God.

All of us here receive gifts from God, not just an elite few. The Christian life and ministry are not the private, personal property of an exclusive class of spiritual superheroes. The Spirit is part of the life of every person who is in Christ. It is therefore incumbent on us to encourage each other to work together to find out what those gifts are, and how we can use them for the common, public good.

(1) Lee C. Barrett in David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, eds. “Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary; Feasting on the Word” Year C Volume 1, WJK Press Kentucky, 2009, p.258