The following sermon was preached at Silver Creek Presbyterian Church on January 20th, 2013.
I, Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to you, the people who are Silver Creek Presbyterian Church, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, together with all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
It warms my heart to be with you today for I have traveled far and wide on a very unpredictable road to be with you this day. In my journeys I have heard of your story and I know that you have had a painful history these past months and years. But I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace that has been given you and because of the grace that I hear is reflected in both your words and deeds. And it is for that reason that I have so anticipated this moment when I could stand before you and proclaim that God is faithful! By the Spirit of God you are being called, this very moment, into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord!
But before I share with you my love and support and encouragement for the long road that is still ahead, I must testify to the grace that has brought me, a sinner of God’s own redeeming, to you this day.
Friends, I stand before you today as one who has sinned boldly before the face of God. If I boast, I do not boast in my strength but in my weakness for it was in no short supply! For I was not living the life that the Lord had assigned to me. I was not seeking the advantage of others but rather only to myself. I was oppressing the people of God while at the same time existing as a child of God oppressed by the relentless weight of my own sin. I was on a long and lonely road.
And then it happened. On that long and lonely road I was struck blind and was led by God’s grace in a way I had long been too stubborn to allow. How foolish I must have looked, stumbling and wandering around in the dessert of God’s grace. And after what seemed like forever, my eyes were opened and it hurt! The light was blinding for my eyes had long slept in the darkness of my sin. Friends, it took some time before my eyes could adjust to the brilliant light but the sight that I saw when they did…it’s why I’m here before you this day. For I am with you today not through any merit of my own but only by the relentless grace of our Lord Jesus Christ who met me on that road and led me home. The same Spirit that holds us together as the Body of Christ opened my eyes to the grace which would not let me go!
And it is because of this grace-filled moment, this fount of every blessing, that I haven’t been able to shut up about it since! For God’s grace has led me home and I must respond in the only way I know how. I have been called by God and sent forth in the Spirit to proclaim the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
And so…I began to walk. I began to walk on a different road, not an easy road, mind you, but a different and a better road. Empowered by the Spirit of God’s grace, I knew that I was prone to wander and prone to leave the God I love. On this better road I could not help but sing “O to grace, how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be. Let thy grace now like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee!” It was a better road indeed.
And so here I am, a sinner of God’s own redeeming, before you this day proclaiming the grace and peace of our Lord to you, my brothers and my sisters of the Church of God in Silver Creek! I have heard many things about you in my travels and I feel that you, too, know what it is like to be on a long and lonely road. It might not be the same road that I traveled but long and lonely nonetheless.
But I have come to you today because I know that you have heard many things on this road and I do not want you to be uninformed! You see, others may have told you that you cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord.
You may have heard on this long and lonely road that you cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord because you are too small – as if the Gospel wasn’t first preached by a small group of men and women.
You may have heard on this long and lonely road that you cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord because of your interpretation of the Gospel – as if the Gospel were a convenient black and white instruction manual.
You may have heard on this long and lonely road that you cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord because you are too old – as if the Gospel could only be preached by the latest trends.
You may have heard on this long and lonely road that you cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord because you are too young – as if the Gospel wasn’t first held by a young girl named Mary.
Friends, I do not want you to be uninformed for those voices which tell you that you cannot proclaim that Jesus is Lord are wrong. For that is exactly what I have heard you are doing! Perhaps not in the same way as everyone around you but in a way that the Spirit is calling you! Every day you are proclaiming that Jesus is Lord and I announce to you that no one, not one person, can say or do that except by the Holy Spirit and, therefore, the Holy Spirit is in this place! Not a different Spirit but the same Spirit that opened my eyes and my lips to stand before you this day and to proclaim God’s grace!
This same Spirit is calling you to proclaim that Jesus is Lord in a new way. Now I don’t pretend to know what exactly that is going to look like for you; after my journey with the Holy Spirit on that unpredictable road I learned to expect the unexpected from the Spirit. But I do know what I have heard and I do know what I have seen among you and I have come before you today to encourage you all to embrace the gifts that this same Spirit has allotted to you.
For I am convinced that there are a variety of gifts here given to you by the same Spirit that has sent me!
I have heard that many of you are educators, those who have dedicated their lives to the instruction of our young. It is through the Spirit’s gift of your ministry that an utterance of knowledge is bestowed upon those who are sent to make this a world which reflects God’s grace. This community depends on you to use your Spirit-given gift of knowledge.
I have heard that some of you have the gift of healing. The Spirit has empowered you, either by your medical knowledge, or by your gift of listening, cooking, walking, holding, and singing, to heal the wounds of a broken world. This community depends on you to use your Spirit-given gift of healing.
I have heard that some of you have the gift of youth. The Spirit has given you an open mind and fresh eyes to look upon the world and teach those of us who have forgotten what it means to be a child of God. This community depends on your Spirit-given gift of faith.
I have heard that some of you have the gift of old age. The Spirit has given you a lifetime of joy and sorrow, love and loss, questions and answers to teach us what it means to fight the good fight. This community depends on your Spirit-given wisdom.
I have heard that some of you might even be considering a call to ordained ministry. This Spirit has given you a discerning heart and a faith that seeks to be challenged. This community depends on your Spirit-given gift of leadership.
Friends, the gifts abound! I look among you and I see young and old, male and female, student and teacher, liberal and conservative and everywhere in between and that gives me hope!
It gives me hope to stand here before you and proclaim with you that Jesus is Lord!
It gives me hope to come to you this day and give witness to the variety of gifts that the Spirit has bestowed upon this community.
It gives me hope that you are embodying these Spirit-given gifts amidst the turmoil of the long road you have traveled.
And make no mistake of it, the road ahead is long but it need not be lonesome!
For the same Spirit that brought this sinner of God’s own redeeming to you today is the same Spirit that has activated in each one of you a gift to be shared. The same Spirit allows us to call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and to be a part of his Church.
And though I do not know exactly how you will proclaim that Jesus is Lord, I will listen with eager ears for news of your journey along that long and unpredictable road. And as you journey, giving the gifts that the Spirit has bestowed upon you, know that the same Spirits binds you and me together as we are called forward to serve just as the Spirit chooses!
I, Paul, a sinner of God’s redeeming and glad recipient of God’s un-ending grace, urge you to respond, to keep the faith, to give what the Spirit has allotted to you, until I am again blessed to be among you. The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love be with all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.