Good morning! I ran from worship to a meeting to a funeral on Sunday, so I was spent by the end of the day and am just logging on to post this now. Here is my sermon from Sunday – enjoy!
Rehoboth Congregational Church
June 5, 2016
Redemption Does Not Have An Expiration Date
Okay, I feel the need to get this out of my system before I start: The Apostle Paul was, at times, a very arrogant man.
I mean, maybe it is just hard to interpret tone when you are reading scripture, but it is hard to imagine, when he said things like, “God … set me apart” (Galatians 1:15, NRSV) and “[people] glorified God because of me” (Galatians 1:24, NRSV), that Paul had any kind of self-esteem issues.
I say this not to discredit Paul or his writings or the work that he did to grow the early church, but to acknowledge the fact that there are parts of the letters that he wrote, the scriptures he is ascribed to, that are eyebrow raising.
That being said, I think it is okay for us to put those eyebrow-raising pieces aside for a moment and try to understand the core of what Paul was trying to say here. You see, I do not think that Paul was just trying to talk about how amazing and faithful he was or how incredible and powerful his ministry was (although he did make that perfectl clear!). I think Paul was trying to point out that he had been going down a very different path before all of these amazing, faithful, incredible and powerful things started happening in his life. I think Paul wanted people to see that God changed the course of his life. I think Paul wanted people to believe that anyone can start following the Gospel and living out their faith, no matter what their journey might have looked like up until that point.
I have to hand it to him: Paul is very honest in this letter about his life before his conversion into the Christian faith. Before his conversion, Paul was a scholar and an avid follower of Judaism. He violently persecuted Christians and tried to destroy the very thing that he was now trying to grow and spread throughout the world.
But God – who has always been in the business of miracles – worked the most miraculous transformation in Paul’s life. Paul was, in his words, “called through [God’s] grace” in his conversion (Galatians 1:15, NRSV). And then he not only believed in the Good News of Jesus Christ, but he put his own life on the line to spread that Gospel so that others would believe and be changed as well.
If there is one thing that Paul’s story teaches us it is that it is never too late to be transformed by your faith. Redemption does not have an expiration date.
So we are less than two months away from the opening ceremonies of the summer Olympics in Rio. Those of you who have lived with me through the Olympic Games over the past five years know that there are three stages of experiencing the Olympics with me: The first stage involves me overflowing with pride and patriotism because our country is united and everyone is gloriously putting aside differences and coming together and cheering for and with one another. The second stage encompasses me fixating on one sport and obsessing over the grief of the fact that I missed my chance to learn and excel at that sport so I could win my own gold medal (two years ago, during the winter games I actually found myself at one point googling “how to become a biathlon athlete”). And the third, and final, stage is where I am just happy that the games are over so I can get my life back.
The second stage of my Olympic experience is the one that is relevant to what I am talking about here; the stage where I become obsessed with a sport and spend weeks wishing that I had the forethought to take it up when I was younger because it is too late now. One year I was giving my parents a lecture about never pushing me to become a figure skater because, “that could be me out there skating and I would find way better music than the theme song to the pink panther” when my dad calmly interrupted me and said, “Sarah, you are too big to be a figure skater.”
Which I do not think he meant the way it came out.
My point is this: In life there are certain things that you can kind of miss the boat on completely.
Olympic Figure Skating being one of them.
But do you know what you can never miss the boat on? Focusing your life on your faith. Experiencing God’s love. Being part of a church. Learning about the bible and reading scripture. Taking part in religious traditions.
It is never too late to start any of those things. Redemption does not have an expiration date.
A lot of times people are afraid to come to church or to get involved in certain things because they were not brought up going to church and do not know how things work. Some people are hesitant to walk through those front doors because they have made mistakes in their lives or because they think they do not know enough about the bible or Christianity. Some people try to avoid the whole church thing all together because they have fallen out of the habit of going to church and are afraid people are going to judge them if they come back.
Well, guess what? Those things do not matter to God.
God is not keeping score or grading our ability to be a good Christian. God is simply calling us – all of us – into this Christian story that is still being written. God does not care if we have been coming to church our entire lives or if this whole faith thing is new to us or if we have temporarily fallen off the church wagon. There is no hierarchy or points system when it comes to deepening our faith. God just wants us to meet us where we are and embrace us as children of God. God wants to be in our presence, help us find balance and walk with us as we seek to live out our faith.
Paul changed; that is what he was trying to say here. And even more than that – God was the reason that Paul changed. God ignited something within Paul that sparked an overwhelmingly grace-filled change in his life.
And God can be the reason that we change as well.
God can ignite something within us that sparks a change no matter who we are, what our journeys have looked like up until this point or what kind of trouble we may have gotten ourselves into.
So I would encourage you all – especially as we wrap up the program year and prepare to take some much-needed Sabbath time this summer – to renew your commitment to God and to your faith. You do not have to come to church every single week, but try to come when you can. Pick up your bible (or use the app I talked about a few weeks ago!) or start a new devotional or book on faith. Try to pray more or, if you are not quite comfortable praying on your own, journal your prayer requests.
Slow down this summer so that you can truly appreciate the beauty of the season. Make family a priority; try to sit down to dinner together whenever you can. Try to put down your electronics at night and have a conversation or watch a movie or lay on a blanket and look at the stars.
Sometimes it feels like our lives are busy and out of our control, but God has proven, time and time again throughout history, that it is never too late to make a big change in our lives; a big change that will make an even bigger difference in who we are and what our lives mean. It is never too late to turn back to our faith; it is never too late to live out this life that is God is calling us to live. It is never too late to set different priorities in order to find balance in our lives.
It is easy to look at other people who are strong in their faith and who boldly live their lives according to their religious beliefs and think that it is too late for us to live our lives like that – but it is never too late. Change may seem unattainable, but God is in the business of the unattainable. God took a man who persecuted Christians and transformed him into an apostle of Christ and a great evangelist of our Christian faith.
And God can do the same caliber of extraordinary in our lives as well. God wants our lives to be transformed by our faith; God wants us to open ourselves up to the possibility of grace. God wants us, like Paul, to be changed.
And we can be – anytime.
Remember, my friends, it is never too late to live out your faith. So do not sell yourself short. Cling on to your faith and let God meet your where you are. Allow yourself to be redeemed and may find many, many blessings along the journey that will lie ahead.
Thanks be to God!