John said to [Jesus], “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.” But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.
[Mark 9:38-39]

I begin this post with an apology for abandoning my post last Friday. I had a sermon to prepare and a couple of other writing assignments that took priority, and just did not want to spend more time sitting in front of a computer screen.

As much as I’ve tried to be faithful to my commitment of posting each Tuesday and Friday, on occasion I have to remind myself that I AM RETIRED.

This is supposed to be a fun enterprise, not an obligation. On those days that I’m not inspired or don’t have anything I feel worthwhile to share, rather than struggle, I just won’t write. I promise that I won’t stay away for long. I love writing too much to do so.

But there are days when the brain is fried. After feeling chained to my desk last week, I’d had enough.

I’ve been doing a little bit of pulpit supply the last couple of months. That’s what is called guest preaching in some church denominations.

I make that admission with some trepidation (see my all caps statement in paragraph two). I’m not looking for more work. So far I’ve been pretty selective, limiting myself to congregations with which I’ve had a connection in the past.

Of course, when I was in the office of bishop, I preached at a different congregation nearly every Sunday. I was, to some extent, a exalted version of guest, or supply preacher. The biggest difference was that, in most cases, the pastor was present. Nowadays, I’m there in place of the pastor. And that can sometimes be an adventure.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s latest book, Always a Guest: Speaking of Faith Far from Home, is a collection of sermons she has preached at various churches she has visited. But what most grabbed my attention was the preface, in which she expresses her observations and feelings on preaching in places where she doesn’t know the people.    

The biggest takeaway for me was one sentence: “Always ask questions.”

Call it a stretch if you will, but as I read the lectionary texts for this coming Sunday, the thought of supply preaching came to mind.

In the Old Testament reading Joshua pleads with Moses to stop Eldad and Medad from prophesying, because they were not part of the 70 elders. 

And in the Gospel, the disciples complain to Jesus because someone who was not a part of their group, was healing people in Jesus’ name.

Although I’m relatively new at this supply thing, I am aware that churchgoers are creatures of habit. When someone different shows up to lead worship, some people may become somewhat uncomfortable. Their level of anxiety with this unfamiliar person can hinder the message of the gospel they hear.

On the other hand, there are those who welcome a different voice.

But the guest worship leader, or supply pastor, also has some apprehensions. Just because they’re pastors doesn’t mean they don’t need guidance. And their level of discomfort with the people and the surroundings may limit the effectiveness of their leadership.

Preaching at Christ Evangelical Lutheran Church in Avon
December, 2015
Photo Courtesy of Stacy Graeff Jantz

When I was in the parish, I prepared an extensive list of notes for a guest whenever I knew I would be away. I learned that from a colleague with whom I served during my first call. My notes went so far as to suggest things such as where to stand for certain prayers, whether behind, or in front of the altar; whether I communed my assistants first or last; and on which verse to begin recessing after the benediction.

The information may have been excessive, even neurotic, but I believe most of my replacements found it helpful. I am somewhat surprised that not everyone practices that. But, as I said, it may be OCD of me to think that.

Let me be quick to add that if any of you who are reading this are pastors in any place I have preached or will preach, please don’t read anything into this. I am not in any way disguising this writing as veiled criticism of your practices. These thoughts are just flights of fancy, my first reflections on the lectionary for this coming Sunday.

I will always ask questions about the things I feel a need to know. And whether I have a lot of information or a little, the Gospel will be preached, and the Sacraments administered. And as always, God will be glorified.

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Published by pastorallende

Retired Bishop of the Northeastern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Social justice and immigration reform advocate. Micah 6:8. Fluent in English and Spanish. I enjoy music and sports.

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