15 But God had set me apart from birth and called me through his grace. He was pleased
Thoughts on the passage:
Preaching is best when it comes from the heart. The most powerful sermons for me are the ones where you can feel the passion and the personality of the person giving them. If we think back on the good sermons we have heard, I suspect that a theme will be that the good ones shared a little bit of the speaker with the audience. Part of what touches us is the personal connection that is felt when the sermon comes not from the head but from the heart.
In the opening to Galatians, Paul is laying out a case to the church as to why they should believe him and not the other missionaries who have come to the region. He starts out presenting some clear arguments as to why he is better. He talks about how his message comes not from talking to others but instead comes straight from God. Theoretically it is a great argument. Logically, given the choice between message A that is from God and message B that is from people inspired by God, I think we all would agree to go with message A. While Paul presents this first as though it was the strongest argument, I think the better argument is the one he finishes with. What makes his case more compelling is not the source (God) but the messenger (Paul) and his story of how an experience with Christ transformed him.
Why is this story so compelling to me? I think it is because transformation requires change and sacrifice, and it speaks to a difference made in people’s lives. Paul is a changed person because of his experience with God. While it is maybe unfair of me to judge, I wonder if some of the other missionaries are quite as changed. I say this because their expression of the Christian faith in many ways echoes their own experience of the Jewish faith. Do they believe in Christ? Yes, yet they are more like Jews who follow Christ than Christians who were once Jewish. Moreover, they are asking others (Gentiles) to change in a way that they (Jews) did not need to. Paul calls for transformation, but it comes from the transformation that occurred in his own life. That is why his story is more compelling than the source of inspiration.
I believe that God calls us all. I believe that call requires a transformation on our part. Too often we think about how we can serve God with our gifts. I think what we need to ask is how is God calling us to serve and then how do we get the gifts to do that. Following Christ requires transformation on our part. Why do we so often think it is not going to change us?
Paul was a devout Jew, versed in the law and gifted in understanding the scriptures of the Old Testament. When he encountered Christ on the road to Damascus and converted to Christianity, he would seem to have been the perfect person to reach out to others Jews. Here was someone who had been zealously persecuting Christians and now he had seen the light (literally) and was a follower of Christ instead. It would seem that he had all the gifts to be the best messenger to the Jews. Instead, Paul is called to bring the Good News to the Gentiles. He is asked to leave his comfort zone and go to new places and bring a new word of hope to them.
God is calling all of us to leave our comfort zones. When I first began to feel called to ministry it had little to do with aptitude. I knew I loved God and I loved helping people and ministry felt like the way that I was meant to do that. I was a shy introverted person (I still am). I was not a good public speaker (I think I have gotten better here). As a part of getting ordained you take a variety of psychological assessments. One of them basically is a career aptitude test. The perfect job for me was actuary (the people who figure out how long you will live for insurance purposes). My best gifts were around numbers and data. I was not called to do the things I was good at. I was called to do the things that God wanted me to do. I needed to step out of my comfort zone to answer the call.
Our church is asked to step out of comfort zone to serve people too. We did that when we first reached out to Hispanics in our area. We did it when we said “yes” and opened our doors to Family Promise. We do it every day when we seek to reach out to our community and provide a message of love and hope to people in need. God is always pushing us, always challenging us, always calling us to something more.
What is the story of your call? What sort of transformation is Christ doing in your life? If we are not changed by our faith in God, then I am not sure we have really understood God. God does not call us to live lives of sameness. God’s grace transforms us and God calls us to step out and to take risks. Sometimes that call is in areas we are good at. Sometimes that call is to things that are scary and new. What is clear is that call is a reflection of the change that God has done in our lives.
Too often in our lives we think about what we are good at and we do that. Too often in our lives we think about what we want to do and we do that. When it comes to God’s call in our lives, it is not about what we are good at or what we want. Instead it is about what it is that God wants us to or do what God needs us to do. God is calling each of us to live transformed lives of faith. Are we ready to follow Paul and answer that call?
Questions to Ponder:
What ways has Christ transformed your life?
What is God calling you to do with your life today?
What are the ways that you think God is calling our church to do?
Over and over you call to us, O God. Your words are filled with grace for the ways we have failed you. Your words are filled with hope for the new life that is offered to us. Your words call out to us, challenging us to step forward, to respond to your love, and to share it with others. Give us the strength to be like Paul and follow that call wherever it leads us. Amen