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My boss, so to speak, is coming to town tomorrow to preach and spend time with us here in Wilson.
That is to say my Bishop, the Rev. Timothy Smith, bishop of the North Carolina Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, will be with us Sunday at our 10 a.m. summer-schedule worship service. I feel like I might need a little explanation as to what I mean, as I also want to invite the community to come and worship with us and be able to meet him, but I want you to know what I’m really talking about.
You see, my congregation, Ascension Lutheran Church, is a member of the largest group of Lutherans in America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or ELCA. Our denomination has almost 10,000 congregations across every state in the country with more than 3.5 million members and over 16,000 pastors serving. There are 65 synods across the country, each with their own bishop.
North Carolina has the state lines as its boundary and that’s the geographic region that Bishop Smith serves with just shy of 200 congregations under his leadership. In fact, just a week ago, he led our Synod Assembly with almost 600 pastors and lay people in attendance in corporate worship and business for the ministry of our synod. So we are really blessed to have the bishop come to Wilson to bring greetings and the Gospel message on behalf of the larger church and to remind not only the congregation of Ascension, but also the people of Wilson, that we are part of something much bigger than what we sometimes experience locally.
Part of the preparation for having the bishop come to town is just in extra care and attention to detail. I’ve gone over our service a little more carefully than I tend to do on a regular weekly basis. We’ve sent out a special reminder to the congregation and this self-same invitation to the community to be there for our special guest. I had the Lutheran clergy from eastern North Carolina gather Friday for a special luncheon to greet and meet the bishop before we even get to Sunday.
And of course, there is a special reception meal planned following our worship service in his honor to both celebrate his time with us as well as allow for a more informal chance for conversation with individuals. It’s a little bit of that red-carpet treatment we all are so familiar with.
Now the bishop is a dignitary no doubt; but back in seminary, he was just Tim. Sure, he was a little bit older than I was, a MUCH more skilled basketball player than I ever even pretended to be, and even then a crafted and articulate preacher. But he was Tim who lived in a building just a ways away from where I lived. Could I have guessed he would get the red-carpet treatment one day? Certainly! Even then.
But when I say the Big Boss is coming to town, what else might I have meant?
Some theologically savvy folk would have bypassed the whole ecclesiastical system altogether and pegged the Big Boss as that humble carpenter from Galilee. And if indeed it were Jesus I was talking about, what would the day look like?
Would our red carpet look like palm leaves? Would we have to send out a bio on him for the insiders as well as the community? Would we run into the same kind of jealous opposition from the power elite of today just as 2,000 years ago in protest? Or would his popularity be so grand that our celebration meal would require our guest of honor to once again multiply our meager fare to feed 5,000 or more?
Oddly enough, this Sunday the bishop is coming to lead us in the Word, and we do have preparations in place for him being here. But the Big Boss, that Jesus guy, he’s here EVERY Sunday, and not just at Ascension. We and all those other churches around the world roll out the red carpet with words, prayers and songs. And we have a special celebration meal for which our guest of honor even set the menu — bread and wine!
So, you are invited to come and meet our bishop tomorrow at Ascension. You can also meet our Big Boss too. That doesn’t have to be tomorrow or only at Ascension. It’s wherever two or three are gathered in his name, because that’s where Jesus has always promised to be — whether we remember the red carpet treatment or not!
Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 26 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson.
His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” will appear regularly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.