I can identify with Paul’s anger.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul was angry at anything – or anyone – that contradicted or got in the way of the message of Grace he was called to preach.
Paul had experienced bondage to the law and to sin and death, and he had experienced the joy of freedom that comes with faith in Christ.
He had experienced the walls built between insiders and outsiders, and he wanted the church to experience – and to demonstrate – the awesome inclusiveness of God’s grace.
Yes, I can identify with Paul’s anger.
That is because I can identify with Paul’s experience.
Although I didn’t throw Christians into jail like Paul before I became one myself at 33 years old, I did reject their attempts to tell me about their faith. I made fun of that faith and of them.
I believed, as I have said before, that I was Too Smart for God.
God was for weak, stupid people.
Most of you know the story of how I ended up in church. Karen told me that if I wanted to date her I would have to go to church with her.
She was certainly worth what I considered a wasted hour each week.
You know about how God’s Word worked on me and in me as I sat there with my arms crossed each week.
And you know how, months later, I realized . . .
I believe this stuff!
I did not choose to believe Jesus is for the world – and for me – exactly who he claims to be.
I couldn’t have chosen it.
I WOULDN’T have chosen it.
Why would I want to go back on everything I had said and believed I was? Why would I want to be one of THOSE Christians?
But I could no more choose not to believe in God than I could choose to disbelieve the Law of Gravity.
I experienced faith as a gift.
I experienced GRACE.
Like Paul, I encountered the resurrected Christ. I wasn’t blinded by a bright light. I didn’t hear the voice of Jesus . . .
Except I did . . .
I head the voice of Jesus in God’s Word as it was read and preached. I heard the voice of Jesus in the people of the congregation who welcomed me in spite of my doubts and even my downright disbelief.
And once God created this faith in me, I couldn’t help but (eventually) share it.
Today we celebrate ten years of ordained ministry.
When I first found out this was happening I didn’t like the idea at all.
To be honest, I’m not feeling that great about my ministry right now. I feel I have let the congregation down by being out two months for medical leave, two months when I was not available to you. Now that I am back, I am still only partly here. I know logically that the illness that caused my absence is not my fault, but I’m still working through some guilt that perhaps some of you understand who have been through a serious illness. I am working on that.
But there’s a deeper reason I was at least uncomfortable with today’s celebration.
In the same way being a Christian was not my idea or my doing, neither was being a pastor. No one is more surprised than me that I am here doing this.
Sometimes when people ask me why I wear a clerical collar when many pastors do not, I tell them it’s so when I look in the mirror I can remember that I’m a pastor. (I’m only half-kidding.)
It feels weird being celebrated for something that is not my doing. Neither is anything that’s been accomplished through me during these ten years of ordained ministry my doing.
Anything good I have done or preached is the Holy Spirit working through me.
But perhaps that is the point.
It is not me we are celebrating, but rather God’s grace that has been poured out in me and that I have been called to share with others.
That is something to celebrate. That is a celebration I can get behind.
We celebrate today God’s amazing Grace and the privilege I have of sharing it as an ordained minister in this church.
Like Paul, I get angry when folks try to water down God’s Grace or add requirements for our salvation to it. You know I haven’t been shy in sermons and Bible Studies and conversations about calling out those preachers and Christian leaders who would dilute God’s grace by telling folks what they need to do so God will love them or worse, the types of people God does not love and accept.
But it’s on our sign out front . . .
GOD LOVES EVERYONE
You see, like Paul, I have experienced the freedom of God’s Grace and have done my best to share and proclaim it for ten years. Today I get to celebrate with you what God has done in my life and through me in the lives of others.
I get to recommit to that message of love and freedom.
Sometimes folks have said this to me as kind of a complaint. But it is actually the best compliment I can get . . .
You always talk about Grace!”
For ten years and counting.
(You can hear the entire sermon on the church website.)