“Go! And Serve”
Grace and Peace to you my brothers and sisters in Christ, Amen.
For all Lutheran Seminarians one of the requirements for Ordination is CPE, Clinical Pastoral Education. CPE is a class provided typically at hospitals and hospice for those who wish to be clinical chaplains. It is required that all clinical chaplains go through multiple of these classes before certification, but as for Lutheran Pastors, who may not be clinical chaplains, it is required that we only go through one course. The reasoning is that you can only learn so much in a classroom, and eventually you will need hands on experience especially when it comes to death, psychological issues, and various traumatic situations. What better way to develop the necessary skills of approaching those stuck in a hospital or close to death than in CPE is the reasoning of the Lutheran Church. So alongside three to four years of education, all Seminarians of the NALC must also conduct one year of mentored ministry while at school, one year of internship, and one semester class of CPE.
Now what exactly is CPE? Basically, it is a course where you conduct so many hours a week of practical chaplaincy in a clinical setting as a part-time volunteer, while also attending two classes per week. During these classes you convey the events that have happened during the practical, assess each other, and then learn
psychotherapeutic skills. To tell the truth, whereas I am glad that I acquired the experience in CPE before I came out here, I am no fan of CPE and abhor the current practices that are instructed. At its core, CPE functions on the basis that, “No one has ever died because of CPE.” The premise is that no one can screw up so much that this would lead to someone’s death, and that this is merely a learning opportunity where it is acknowledged that you will screw up but that is ok; we can conduct damage control and teach you what you did wrong. It is a trial by fire course.
I bet some of you can see the issue with such a course. Whereas I understand the premise, if you are going into a lake you need to eventually get your feet wet. This is not getting your feet wet, but more similar to a group of frat boys running up to the newbie unbeknownst, hoisting him, and chucking him sideways into the lake. On top of that, Lutherans, alongside many other denominations, believes that whereas you are merely alive and then you merely die upon death, you are truly dead without Christ and you because truly alive through faith in Him. So when they said, “No one has ever died because of CPE,” I begged to differ, in that I could fail so epically that the faith of the one I served could be shattered and thus cause them to truly die on account of me.
Many in my CPE class couldn’t wrap their minds around my words, but that was mostly because half of them weren’t even Christians. In fact one such participant was a “chaplain” for Planned Parenthood. Oh boy, that was interesting, let me tell you; I have never met and come to know someone as evil as her. I came with odd notions such as: the most loving thing you can do
for a patient is provide the Word and Sacrament; there is a difference between true and mere death; we are already condemned but through Christ are saved; without the help of God all our actions and thoughts are sinful in nature; we are but instruments; do not confuse empathy with slothfully allowing evil and a vacuum for hope; I believe in exorcism; one cannot be a good psychologist and a pastor at the same time, you can only pick one; etc.
So I guess you can tell I did not like CPE, and for a myriad of reasons. But there is a reason why I mentioned CPE. When it comes to ministry, one of these days a student needs to acquire experience, and for many this is a trial by fire. It’s not just me and all my fellow Lutheran pastoral friends who have gone through this, but also the disciples.
In today’s Gospel, right before Jesus feeds the five thousand, He sends his twelve disciples. “Go! And Serve,” he basically tells them. This was way before Jesus suffered on the cross, died, rose from the grave, met His disciples again, ascended into heaven, and then blessed His disciples with tongues of fire on Pentecost which opened their minds to the truth. Way before all of this, while his disciples were still students of Jesus, a Rabbi, teacher, He sends them out two by two. So at least they were not alone, but had a partner with them, which is always desirable. This way they always had a companion during their journeys whom they could confide in and rely on. But Jesus didn’t just merely send them out. He instructed his students to go and cast out demons, heal the sick, and proclaim the need for repentance.
Well that is a heavy thing to ask mere students. Sure Jesus gave them the authority over unclean spirits, but he did not lift them out of their disciple-rabbi relationship. The disciples were still his students. Yet, regardless, He gave them this heavy charge and they went out and did as he told them to do. They most definitely had a trial by fire experience.
Now as He sent them, He instructed them to have no money or food or bags, just clothes and a staff. Why that? This way the disciples would be forced to interact and become reliant upon the hospitality of the people whom they serve. You preach to them and heal them and hopefully they will provide for you. And if they don’t listen to you because they have scratchy ears and would rather only listen to what they want to hear and not what they need to hear then as you leave treat their house as if it is dirty than the outside. Even if you are to leave a house and enter into a pigsty, treat the pigsty as if it was cleaner than the house that will only listen to what they want to listen and thus did not receive you. But because the disciples had no food or money they had to quickly find a new home to serve.
It should be noted that as they served, they did not proclaim their own message, nor did they cast out demons and healed in their own names. They themselves had no authority, rather, the authority they did have was given to them by Christ who alone, as God, has the authority to cast out demons and heal and perform miracles. So when they did cast out demons and healed they always did so in the name of He who gave them the authority to do such. It’s kind of like the Constitution in that governing officers
do not have authority in of themselves and thus are incapable of their own power under the Constitution to order the people around, but through the Constitution governing officers have received authority and are capable of governing in the name of the Constitution, so long as they what they do is constitutional. God is the source of the disciple’s authority. These disciples are but men, they have no authority over unclean spirits, but through the aid of God, with and in Him, the disciples were capable of casting out demons and healing the sick and injured.
Yes it is a scary thing to be sent out, most especially if you believe yourself ill-prepared. It will always be initially scary for students as they are thrust into the fire and put to practice what they have been taught, thus developing much needed experiences and honing skills. The disciples are no different. For as a student who is going through such trials is not truly alone, a good instructor will always be supervising, even secretly, the disciples were never truly abandoned by their Lord. The mere fact that they did miracles in the name of the Lord is proof that the Lord was with them. You’ve heard the saying, “where two or more are gathered in My Name, there I am also.” Well Jesus sent them two by two, and they are preaching in His Name, therefore He is present. So the trial by fire for them is not so bad.
And the same can be applied to all of you, especially those who are new to the faith. For all Christians, old and young, new and seasoned, have received the Great Commission: Preach, Baptize, and then Teach. And if you do go out and serve the Lord know this, if you allow Him, it is the Lord that guides your words, and moves your hands, and heals the sick, and provides faith to
those who willingly listens to you. Thus know this, even if you are new to the faith, even if you believe yourself ill-equipped, even if you are uncomfortable with spreading the Good News, if you do Spread the Good News and do so in the name of the Lord, then the Lord is not only with you but also equips you with the Holy Spirit.
Let us pray,
Dear Heavenly Father, through your Son you have given us the Great Commission to go into the world serving you as we proclaim in your name the Good News. Fill us with your Holy Spirit, providing us with guidance and assurance so that as we follow your commands we do not become conflicted or scared but rather know that you are indeed with us. In your most holy name we pray, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.