God Calls the Ordinary to Do the Extraordinary

1 Kings 19:19-21 19So Elijah went from there and found Elisha son of Shaphat. Elisha was doing the plowing with twelve teams of oxen in front of him, and he himself was driving the twelfth team. Elijah crossed over to him and threw his cloak over him. 20Then Elisha left the oxen and ran after Elijah. He said, “Let me kiss my father and my mother good-bye! Then I will follow you.” Then Elijah said, “Go back! For what have I done to you?” 21So Elisha turned back from following him. Then he took the team of oxen and slaughtered them. Using the equipment from the oxen as fuel, he cooked the meat and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he got up, followed Elijah, and served him.

I am very grateful to all of you for your Pastor Appreciation and Christmas gifts. I used the monetary gifts to order a new alb for myself. The alb is the white robe that I wear for worship. The reason I needed a new alb is because this one is getting old, dingy and frayed. Most of all, though, is because there is a burn mark on the left sleeve.

The burning incident happened several years ago at our Christmas Eve service. We end that service with everyone in the pews lighting their candles and then we turn out the sanctuary lights as we sing, “Silent Night.” To get that light to people in the pews, I first light my candle from the Christ candle in the middle of the Advent wreath.

That Christmas Eve night, to light my candle, I reached over the head of one of the Sunday School children seated. My left sleeve got a little too close to the flame of the pink candle. Then I heard a child whisper, “Psst, Pastor, your sleeve is on fire.”

The white alb, the black gown, the different colored stoles over the alb or gown, all proclaim that he is the pastor. He is the one called by the people to bear the office of Christ. He is the mouthpiece of the Lord in that place. The alb, gown and stoles visually proclaim that he is the Lord’s called servant to preach the Word of God, absolve sins, and administer the sacraments.

The alb, gown and stoles that cover the pastor’s regular clothes, visually show that it’s not about that man’s skills or abilities; it’s not about how gifted of a speaker he is or how talented of a communicator he might be; it’s not about what he can do to grow the kingdom of God – it’s about what Christ has done and continues to do through him in Word and Sacrament.

The pastor’s alb and stole is like the prophet’s cloak that Elijah placed onto Elisha.

When Elisha set out to work the field that morning, he surely had no idea who was headed his way. Just another workday, it seemed, when out of the blue a man walked up and tossed his coat on him. But this was no ordinary man who walked up – it was the prophet Elijah, who had recently come down from Mt. Carmel after slaying the 450 prophets of Baal. This was no ordinary cloak. This was the prophet’s cloak. The same cloak Elijah later threw down from the fiery chariot and Elisha then used to part the waters of the Jordan River. Placing the cloak upon Elisha passed on the prophetic office from one to another, much the same way pastors lay hands upon the head of a new teacher or pastor. An ordinary man called into extraordinary service.

In Antioch, the Lord of the Church called into service a very diverse ministry team. Simeon was black, Barnabas was from the island of Cyprus, Lucius was from Cyrene in Northern Africa, Saul was a former Pharisee and persecutor, and part-time tentmaker, and Manaen was the foster brother of Herod the Tetrarch, who had beheaded John the Baptist. Ordinary men called into extraordinary service.

As Jesus walked along the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee, who did He handpick to be His disciples? Fishermen, mostly. Then later a tax-collector, a doctor and a zealot thrown into the lot. A bunch of blue-collar, everyday, ordinary, working-class people. The extraordinary Son of God called ordinary people to follow Him.

Farmers, tentmakers, fishermen. What the Lord did then, He still does today. He takes everyday people, calls them to serve in His eternal Kingdom. He uses ordinary people to carry around the extraordinary gospel. “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us” (2 Corinthians 4:7). And so, God calls the farmer Elisha, a tentmaker and Pharisee like Saul, and fishermen like Peter and Andrew to be jars of clay to carry around the treasure of the gospel. He uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary.

But whether we serve the Lord as ordinary office personnel, factory workers, housewives, teachers or pastors; we are called into the extraordinary service of our Lord. It is important for us to remember that we are to follow the Lord and serve Him no matter what our vocation.

And yet, how do we often find ourselves following our Savior? Jesus calls us to follow Him closely, but we wander off this way to taste the forbidden fruit and then go off the other way to enjoy other ungodly pleasures. The Good Shepherd invites us to stay close to Him, yet we get bored and stray off into “greener” pastures or get scared and run away because the roaring lion of Satan and the ravenous wolves of the world are on our heels and we no longer trust the safety of our Shepherd. Jesus doesn’t seem so Good then. The Son of God says “Follow Me,” yet His path seems dark and difficult, filled with hard work, illnesses, heartaches and persecution. How many times don’t you find yourself praying in essence, “Lord, your way is fine, but if you’d just let me lead for a little while, I can avoid all these difficulties.” 

In order to save us from our ordinary, everyday sins, God sent His extraordinary Son from heaven to live and grow and save us in an ordinary, everyday human body. The Son of God was born looking like an ordinary baby. He grew up in the ordinary town of Nazareth. He was baptized like an ordinary individual. He visited the sick and laid His hands upon the lame like an ordinary person. But, this was the Son of God incarnate as that infant Child. This was the Creator of the world who had no place to lay His holy head. This was God’s Son in the Jordan River. This was the Great Physician who could cure both body and soul.

Jesus came into this world in human flesh, in a humble way, looking like an ordinary man. While in reality, He was the almighty Son of God. He rode a lowly donkey, died a criminal’s death and was buried in a borrowed tomb. Yet, it was through those humble means that Jesus won our glorious salvation! He took our ordinary, everyday sins and nailed them to His cross. He took our ordinary, everyday lives and buried them in His tomb. Now He rides triumphantly into our hearts through the humble means of Word and Sacrament so that we might now live extraordinary lives of service to Him.

It shouldn’t surprise us that God wants to use the ordinary to accomplish the extraordinary. Look at what He did with some dirt and a rib or with some loaves of bread and a few fish. Or how He had His Son become one of us with our human flesh and blood to bring salvation to us (John 1:14).

The Christian faith is all about trust in a God who uses the ordinary to bring about the miracle of salvation. Ordinary blood dripping from some Roman beams to provide a cleansing from all mankind’s sin. Ordinary water taken from the tap, combined with the Word of God to remove a child from hell’s existence and place her into God’s holy family. Ordinary unleavened bread pressed into wafers and ordinary grape wine purchased from the store are combined with the words of Jesus so that we might receive the body and blood of the Son of God for the strengthening of a saint’s faith. Words spoken by a pastor during a worship service are really the words of Christ being heard in the invocation, absolution and benediction.

God called Elijah to become the pastor to Israel; He called Paul to be the pastor to the Gentiles; He called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to go into Seminary training, so He could call them to become missionary pastors. Pastors were needed in Bible times. Pastors are still needed today.

But, there is a definite shortage of pastors in our synod to do this same important Kingdom work. I know all of you think your children and grandchildren are exceptional and special children. I’ve worked with your kids … they aren’t all that special or exceptional. They are pretty much ordinary.

But those are exactly the kind of people God calls to do His Kingdom work! Ordinary people using God’s extraordinary Word and Sacraments! Please speak with your sons and grandsons about the possibility of becoming a pastor one day.

These future pastors might wonder what a pastor does all week. You might wonder the same thing. The public ministry can be kind of a mystery. A job description for the pastor might be that he should preach a fifteen-minute sermon with an hour’s worth of content. He should condemn sin, but never offend anyone. He only works on Sundays, but is on call 24 hours a day. He makes 15 house calls a day, regular visits the hospital, but is always in his office. He is 29 years old, but has 40 years of experience. He can effectively relate to teenagers and spends all his time with the elderly. He is a strong leader, yet follows everyone’s advice.

Those might be humorous expectations, but the pastor’s real job description is that he is God’s shepherd for God’s sheep. He calls, protects, and feeds God’s people with God’s Word. The pastor’s main job is to be a servant of the words of God.

An older pastor once gave this advice to young men studying for the public ministry: “You are a servant of the Word. Follow Jesus. The way of the cross is a lonely, narrow path but it leads to heaven. Be more afraid of God than you are of the people. It is not the one who signs the check who provides daily bread. Do the right thing. Tell the truth. Suffer the consequences. That is what a servant of Christ does.”

The pastor is just an ordinary man who uses extraordinary means to forgive, instruct, comfort and save. To the couple whose child has died, the pastor comforts them with Jesus’ words, “Because I live, you also will live.” For the young man who can’t seem to break free from his addictions, the pastor reassures him that through his baptism, he has died to sin and doesn’t have to live in it any longer. With the homebound member with dementia who can’t remember the pastor’s name, the pastor reminds her that God had written His name on her in her baptism and He has written her name on His hand, so He will never forget her. For the spouses who are fighting and the siblings who can’t seem to get along, the pastor stresses the forgiveness Jesus won to give to others with the words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” With the aged saint on his deathbed, the pastor comforts with Jesus’ words, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Ordinary words spoken by an ordinary man, but those words accomplish extraordinary things in God’s Kingdom.

Farmers, tentmakers, fishermen, pastors – all ordinary men covered with an ordinary white or black cloak. Ordinary jars of clay … carrying the treasure of the extraordinary Christ. Amen.