Saturday, May 28, 2016

Year C, Proper 5, Galatians 5:11-24: Unlikely witnesses

We all have, I suppose, and ideal model of who a pastor should be.

Likely, one who has tried to destroy the Church by executing Christians, doesn't fit the model.  Stephen probably would not have voted for Saul to become his pastor.

Yet one cannot bear witness to that which one hasn't experienced.  And so it is only those who have truly experienced the grace of God, and their own need for that grace, who can bear witness to it.

One of the things I regret about needing to leave my last call, was that my departure came at a time when I most needed, and experienced, the saving grace of God.  I had been self medicating with alcohol for some time and it finally caught up with me.  One of my last sermons was on Christmas Eve.  I shared with my congregation that it was one thing to have preached about the savior who has come into our world, and another thing to recognize how deeply we personally need that savior.

Paul was keenly aware that he, as one who had tried to destroy the Church, was the least likely to be called to build it.  He understood his calling to come from God, and not from other humans.  There is likely a good reason for this.  Who in their right mind would identify Paul as a person fit for the ministry of the Church of Christ?  His behaviors were frowned upon in this establishment.

Throughout my struggles with being bipolar, and since leaving the active parish ministry, I struggled with my 'fitness' to be a pastor again.  Can one who struggles, and will always struggle, with a mental illness be an effective pastor?  I find a certain irony in the fact that five years ago, while I was still drinking heavily, I was nominated to be the bishop.  And today, as I'm in recovery, I'm trying to discern with my bishop whether or not I am fit to return to any parish ministry.  I'm pursuing that option because I do believe that I am more capable now, than ever, to bear witness to the Gospel because I've experienced it so profoundly in my own life.

And yet I wonder, if I were on a call committee, if I'd vote for myself.

"My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."

I recently filled out the mobility papers, called in our Church the Rostered Persons Profile.  The question wasn't asked, but if it were I wonder how it would be answered by pastors.  "How have you experienced the grace of God in the context of your own weaknesses and failures?"

Now there are questions that invite one to present one's self as a spiritual giant.  But there is not a place for one to share that they are totally unworthy to be a  pastor and entirely dependent on the grace of God.

If God called only the most capable and well qualified to enter the ministry, the our confidence would be in the pastor and not the Gospel.  That's what I believe.  It is precisely the undeniable humanity of all who are called to this office, our weaknesses and failings, that allow us to point to Christ and not to ourselves.

Its not just about pastors, either.  Ask a layperson about their bearing witness to their faith and sharing the Gospel with others, and many will say that they just don't feel qualified.  Which is the point Paul is making.

It is not because we are worthy that we can bear witness to God's grace.  It is precisely that we are unworthy, and dependent on that grace, that we can bear witness to what we have been given.

God's power is made perfect in our weaknesses.

There's an interesting conversation to be had in their somewhere with a call committee.

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