I appeal to you, therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God-what is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body, we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are meny, are one body in Christ.” Romans 12: 1-8
“I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what the will of God— what is is good and acceptable and perfect.
For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ.”
This passage is attributed to Paul who was sharing a message with the Roman congregations. First, he gives an exhortation, calling people to offer themselves to God. Paul did not see being a Christian as a life membership on a roll somewhere. Being Christian meant entering into a relationship and growing in that relationship as it shaped your life. It is clear when you read Paul’s writing that he was concerned about how people lived as Christians and he thought a lot about what shaped people’s lives
As many of you know, I am being ordained next Sunday at the church I grew up in, in Guilford CT. I will officially become a minister. This passage from scripture speaks deeply to me at such a time. Approaching this significant moment in my life and my faith, I have been thinking a lot about what it means and what has brought me to this point. I have been reflecting on what and who has shaped me and led me to believe that becoming a minister is God’s will and that I want to offer myself to serve God in this way. When I take my ordination vows, I will affirm that: “I am persuaded that God has called me to be an ordained minister of the church of Jesus Christ, and I am ready with the help of God to enter this ministry and to serve faithfully in it.” When I am asked the questions my response is to be “I will, relying on God’s grace.”
When I think about it, it is truly God’s grace that has brought me to this place. God’s grace has shaped me for this time. In the face of this important event, I would like to share with you a little more about myself and my doubt and gracefilled journey, in the hope that you might see bits of yourself in my story and that it might help to illuminate your path. Hearing the stories of others has certainly helped me along my way.
I grew up as the daughter of a minister, and I heard about God’s love and grace all the time, but I didn’t really understand or believe it. I didn’t think I was actually experiencing it in my life. For instance, I didn’t see God’s presence and love in the way kids bullied me in middle school. I didn’t see that there could be an everpresent love of God when I tried so hard in school, did very well and still always felt not good enough and alone. I questioned how there could be a God who could let my grandmother have a brain tumor that took her memory, her personality and finally all of her in a few short months. And then soon after, let my 46 year old aunt develop breast cancer and pass away leaving my two cousins only 6 months after the diagnosis. In the midst of loss and the challenges of being an adolescent and young adult, I felt almost certain God did not exist and if He did, He really didn’t care about me or my family. By the end of college I was bitter and hardened. I saw the world as a place full of grief, senseless pain and loneliness.
As a graduation present my parents gave me a trip to Brazil. My mom asked me to visit a friend of hers who worked with abandoned street children. I went to the New Horizons Youth Ranch expecting to tutor the kids and help out however I could. I never expected how much they would help me. The children at New Horizons have experienced some of the worst things that any human beings I know have ever experienced. For some, their parents had been murdered in front of them or they had abusive parents who did unspeakable things to them. They had been forced to sell drugs and even sell themselves to survive. Most of them did not know how to read or write and had never even used a utensil before coming to the Ranch. They had experienced loss and loneliness unlike any I had ever felt. Being with them touched something deep inside of me, and I knew I couldn’t leave. I called my parents, cancelled the rest of my trip and told them I was going to stay until the government kicked me out. I ended up living and working at the New Horizons youth ranch in Christianopolis, Brazil for almost a year. Over the course of that time I saw kids come in hurt, emotionally and physically, unable to trust or connect and then over time grace happened. They forgave those who had hurt them and stopped blaming themselves for the things that had gone wrong in their lives. There was healing. Not just for them, but for me as well.
I saw humans in the worst conditions, transformed by love and Christian community and I started to believe maybe there was a God of love out there somewhere after all. Just a little at first, but soon it was hard to deny, something really amazing was going on here. I still found myself resisting, but my resistance was worn down. One night, I was sitting on the floor of my bedroom crying, overwhelmed by everything and I said “God, I don’t know if you’re out there but if you are, I want my life to be different and I would like you to help if you can, which seems doubtful but, I don’t want to be so unforgiving and unforgiven. I’m tired of carrying around the hurt, the disappointment with life and the loneliness. I think I might need you.” When I finished speaking, I heard somewhere in the distance the children started singing “Lean on me, when you’re not strong and I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on.” It’s as close as I think I’ve ever gotten to hearing God answer me. Life has been different since then. When Paul talks about transformation in Romans, I am reminded of this. It transformed me, not all at once, but over time. I became gentler with myself and with others. I could see more of the good in life and not just the bad. I had hope, and I wanted to share that hope and healing with others who were feeling as broken and bitter as I had been. This is when I began to realize that I might be called to ministry.
When the Brazilian government wouldn’t renew my visa, I came home very disappointed. I decided to apply to divinity school. My time in Brazil awakened a strong curiosity about the healing power of faith. I wanted to know more, and Divinity school seemed like the right place to do that. It was a very challenging time for me. There were so many questions and not as many answers. I thought the professors would help me to understand more about faith but instead it seemed to get more confusing. Now looking back, I can see how the unanswered questions helped me to grow. I have come to see the questions as helpful. Having to confront so many of my own doubts has enabled me to respond to the doubts and questions of others in more sensitive and empathetic ways. Now, I think of faith as a process rather than a position. Faith is a movement through life with God.
During divinity school, I helped form a non-profit organization to try to create positive changes in impoverished and marginalized communities. The organization is called Make A Difference. I worked on planning service project trips for groups of volunteers. The mission trips that I went on when I was younger made a big impact on me and I wanted to provide that opportunity to other people. Every trip was different , and it never failed to open new insights about my faith journey and myself. It helped me to see that I do not find spiritual nourishment simply by studying faith. Divinity school was difficult because it felt so far removed from lived experience, and when I was only immersed in books and thoughts, my disbelief crept up. If I had only studied ministry, I would not have discovered my call to ministry. It was through the Make a Difference trips that I became certain of my calling to be a minister, not just read books about it. Faith in action, love in action, grounds me in the soil from which I grow.
Since that night, crying on the floor in Brazil, I have been transformed, not quickly and not always willingly, but looking back amid the messiness of life, I see the path that has led me to ministry. I have found a passion for God’s love and Jesus’ message to care for myself and others. I have discovered a call to share what I know and what I have lived with others. Now as a pastor, I will try to be an example of the human possibility to live the forgiven and forgiving life in God’s love. As a minister, I hope to be a reminder that this is a grace-filled world after all.
I tell you my story this morning because I believe that we need to hear each other’s stories, to share in each other’s lives to be a community of faith. As a community, we are unique, but we are not alone. We are separate but connected. We are one body with many different parts. There is so much going on below our skin that we don’t see , but it is crucial to our wellbeing. In the body of our congregation, every member, each and every one of you, is essential to the moving, living and thriving of the whole. And in recognizing and celebrating this, we recognize and celebrate God in our life and in the world. Saint Teresa of Avila said:“Christ has no body on earth now but yours No hands but yours, no feet on earth but yours, Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. You are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now. Christ has no body on earth but yours.” We are the body of Christ. I may be officially becoming a minister, but you are called to be a minister too. Whether you recognize it or not, we already minister to each other, to our communities, to people all over the world and our actions and words unite us in the love of God and presence of God made real through us. Paul says that we are one body in Christ. As one body, my story is not just my story. It is our story. We find ourselves in the lives of one another. Amen.