Four and a half years ago I felt myself being called to the ministry. On the surface that doesn’t sound too terribly odd, but I had only just returned to church after a twenty-five year hiatus, so that kind of made things a little more interesting – and a whole lot more challenging. Tomorrow, I preach my first sermon as the called pastor of two wonderful churches here in Wisconsin. My name is even on the sign out front: Pastor Joylynn Graham…I look at that and I am rendered nearly speechless in my gratitude.
How does one go from being adamantly opposed to the church, to seminary, and then the ministry? I don’t know…that’s a God thing; all I know is that it happened. I can tell you that it took a whole stack of miracles – miracles that I could not have dreamed up had I wanted to. Nothing about my preparation was easy. In fact, every step of the way was like walking on hot charcoal and broken glass. Every day my nose was rubbed in a whole stinking pile of just how little I knew about things. I had to give up everything; my home, my pets, my assumptions and even my embedded theologies that I was sure I did not possess. It was a leap of faith straight into a rudderless boat on a stormy sea with Jesus appearing to be fast asleep. Most days I hung on, quite literally, by the skin of my teeth – thankfully I was too ignorant to know that’s what I was doing.
And transformation took place – the kind of transformation that could never have taken place outside of the church – at least for me. You see I had avoided the church like the plague because IMHO I thought it was full of nothing but a bunch of messed up in the head hypocrites. Wherever I saw Christians, I saw people who did not practice what they preached – even though I never really bothered to ask each individual just exactly what it was they did preach. So I went rogue; I was a classic SBNR, who by the way did not practice what I preached – whatever that was…
In many ways I was right about the church; we are a bunch of messed up people, but that was all I could see. What I could not see was that we are a bunch of messed up people like everyone else just trying to be faithful the best way we know how – together. We do it together because we know that we cannot possibly do it alone, and we learn to love, support and care for each other despite the fact that we are a bunch of messed up people. And that is what is at the heart of the gospel. That is the essence of the two greatest commandments…Love of God and Love of Neighbor.
Tomorrow I will preach my first sermon on the Pharisees and the Scribes who got ahead of themselves and did not practice what they preached. It seems rather fitting doesn’t it? To preach my first sermon on the very thing that kept me from attending all those years? It is not a new problem. In fact the text makes it clear that it is a temptation that we all fall prey to from time to time. But there is hope, and there are miracles – miracles that we could not dream up if we wanted to. In a time when people are abandoning the church in droves, there are some of us who are returning – driven by a miraculous impulse. I don’t know what it means…it’s a God thing after all.