How We Got Here

How did you get here?

It’s a question we ask each other a lot… and the answers matter. Way back when I was searching for a call to a congregation, I had to fill out forms—a ministerial profile—about how I got here. 

I had to chart a journey through high school and college and seminary and a handful of jobs. I had to show you my sense of call and how that had developed. I had to find other people who would tell you about me. I had to show that I had gone through the approved process of the United Church of Christ and that I hadn’t committed any crimes along the way (or, at least, that I hadn’t been caught).

You got to know me through conversations and interviews. Those forms were about that question: how did you get here?

And when clergy get together, we often start talking about how we got here; we start talking about how we knew that we were called to be pastors.

Some people have a moment. They know exactly where they were and when it was that God said to them, “You… become a pastor.” I am not one of those people. I wandered along the path of a call, with God saying, “Come over here… and now, over here… and now, over here.” And I ended up here.

And, sometimes, when Christians get together, they talk about how they got here; they talk about how they knew that they were called to follow Christ.

Some people have a moment. They know exactly where they were and when it was that they said to Jesus, “I want to follow you.” I am not one of those people. I grew up in the church. I wandered into faith.

And the truth is that we put a lot of weight on how you got here… and that’s true wherever here is. Sometimes, what town you’re from matters. Sometimes, what school you went to matters. Sometimes, your last employer matters. And, certainly, whether you have a felony on your record usually matters.

“How did you get here?” is a question we ask a lot, and the answers matter.

Last week, we met Paul in the book of Acts. You know his story. You know how he got here.

Once, Paul zealously persecuted the people who followed Jesus. He had believers hauled before courts and thrown in prison. He stood by and nodded his head in approval as people stoned Stephen.

Then, one day while he was on traveling on the road to Damascus, he had this… experience. Christ himself appeared to Paul… and Paul changed. He became a believer. He was baptized. He became a zealous follower of the Christ who he once persecuted.

And he travelled… and he told the good news to gentiles… and he led them to Christ… and he founded churches.

And our reading today is from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome.

Now, most of Paul’s letters are to churches that he started or that he has visited. Most of his letters are to people who know who he is and how he got here. But this letter is different. Paul has never been to Rome. These believers don’t know him and he doesn’t know them. But he wants to.

You see, Paul wants to travel to Spain. And he hopes to stop in Rome on the way and visit the believers there and enjoy their company for a little while. And he hopes that after he visits them, they will ‘send him on his way’ to Spain. He is writing to the believers in Rome to introduce himself… and to ask for their help so that he can get something he wants.

I know a fundraising letter when I see one, and this is a kind of fundraising letter. Your gift of just one denariuscan help bring the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ to the gentiles in Spain!

But before he asks for that help, he needs to tell the believers in Rome who he is. He’s going to spend a lot of this letter telling the believers in Rome what he believers, but he starts with this:

Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles for the sake of his name, including yourselves who are called to belong to Jesus Christ…

Now that’s an introduction! I’m tempted to start opening all of my emails like that.

But notice this: Paul does not tell the story of that day on the road to Damascus. Pauls doesn’t say, “I personally saw Christ.” He doesn’t talk about where he was and when it was that he said to Jesus, “I want to follow you.”

He doesn’t talk about how he got here.

Instead, he simply says, “I am Paul, a servant of Christ, called to and set apart for the good news that was promised to us…” and then he tells the story of Jesus, through whom we have received grace.

He doesn’t talk about how he got here. He talks about who he is.

How you got here matters. Your history is part of who you are. If you never went through the things that you went through, you would not be who you are today. That is true if your life has been relatively easy. That is true if your life has been relatively hard. That is true if you had your own moment on your own road to Damascus. That is true if you sort of meandered into faith.

Even Paul sometimes writes about how he got here.

But… but…

How you got here is just a prologue. It is just part of your story.

How you got here informs who you are. It is not the whole of who you are. Because who you are—where you are—is not defined by the path you took, it is defined by where you are standing right now. And where you are standing right now is under the gospel of God, concerning his son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom you have received grace.

Where you are is in grace. And one of the beautiful things about grace is that it lets us look back at how we got here and say, “That’s how I got here… but it’s not who I am.”

I am not the worst thing I have ever done, or the worst thing I have ever said, or the worst thing I have ever thought. I am not my mistakes… I am not even the things I did on purpose.

And, to be fair, I am not the best I have ever done, or the best thing I have ever said, or the best thing I have ever thought. I am not the things I did on purpose… I am not even my mistakes.

And neither are you. You are not a hero. You are not a villain. You are not your most celebrated moment. You are not your most embarrassing one. You are not the highest moment of your ecstasy. You are not your rock bottom.

You are the precious child of a loving God. You are loved and worthy of love… because God loves you.

You. Are. In. Grace.

That is the gospel. That is the good news.

Near the end of today’s reading, Paul writes one of his most famous lines: “I am not ashamed of the gospel.” And then he continues, “It is the power of God for salvation to everyonewho has faith.”

And, I know, sitting here, right now, in this sanctuary, it seems impossible to be ashamed of this gospel. But I also know that out there is a world that asks, “How did you get here?” And I know that out there is a world where the answer to that question matters.

In here, all that matters is that you are here, in grace, loved and worthy of love.

In here, all that matters is that you are here, in grace, loved and worthy of love.

In here, all that matters is that you are here, in grace, loved and worthy of love.

And that gives us this amazing opportunity: because we know that, we can share it; because it is true in here we can make it true out there. We can go into this world and say, “It doesn’t matter how you got here, now you are here, and you, too, are in grace, loved and worthy of love.”

And if we say that to enough people… enough times… we might just start to see that it is true… really, really true. We might just start to catch sight of the Kingdom of God. 

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