Faithlife Sermons

The Mystery of God’s Will

Christmas  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  24:10
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The Installation of a Pastor

I grew up at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Springfield, Ohio. I was born, baptized, and confirmed there. Yet, when I became an associate pastor in my first church, it wasn’t Lutheran. I had ceased going to St. Luke’s because I’d started dating a Presbyterian girl. You know that story, right? When she went off to a college a few hours away, and I stayed close to home, I started worshiping on Friday and Saturday nights with a hundred Jesus Freaks. Within a few months, they asked me to teach and lead worship and then, boom! I was an associate to the founding pastor.
That is the beginning of a journey that I would like to share with you, in an effort to reveal how we have come to be in this sanctuary this afternoon. But first, let us pray together… Amen
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen
A decade later, when that body of Jesus Freaks was still worshiping on Friday and Saturday evenings in a horse barn, and Susan and I had met, married, and she had blessed me with two little girls, we went to her parents’ church, and several months later, I was asked to teach the adult Sunday School class. Because of that gig, I was asked to preach one Sunday morning when the pastor couldn’t be there. Except he was there—it was a setup. The next week, I was informed that I was the new pastor of the church. For which I was pleased to accept. But it still wasn’t a Lutheran church.
Three years hence, the bishop moved me an hour or so away and I pastored another congregation while finally getting my degree. My Bachelor’s degree. Yes, I’d pastored two churches already, for more than eleven years, and I didn’t even have a Bachelor’s degree, let alone a Master of Divinity. After more than five years at that church, we moved to North Carolina, so I could go to seminary and get that MDiv. It was a disaster, much like being part of a Lutheran denomination that you realized one day wasn’t even Lutheran anymore.
So, I led youth groups, taught Sunday school classes, and preached supply for a decade, while I operated a print shop in Durham and waited for God to reveal his will for me. Then one day, a Quaker walked in my print shop. He was the president of a seminary in High Point. I ended up trading design, printing, signs, and a website for the seminary education I came to North Carolina seeking. And a few months later, I was asked to pastor a Friends Meeting in Graham, North Carolina. I did. For twelve years.
While we were at Graham Friends, Susan, our daughters, and I would annually visit family back in Ohio. One Christmas, my dad, a graduate of Wittenberg in our hometown, asked me why I was a pastor among the Friends. After all, the Lutheran Church needed pastors, he exclaimed, and I was Lutheran, so why didn’t I come home to the Lutheran Church? With, I like to think, somewhat the same tone as Jesus took with Mary and Joseph in today’s gospel lesson, I told my dad that I didn’t know there was such a thing as Lutheran churches any more. He tried to assure me that there were, and that he attended First Lutheran every Sunday. Of course, I knew this but played along, and replied, “Oh, I see the misunderstanding. You think that because it says ‘Lutheran’ on the sign out front that it’s a Lutheran Church.”
I explained to him that a Lutheran Church believes in the Word of God, and he assured me that the Word was read every single Sunday morning at First Lutheran. I responded in the same cheeky, though I think somewhat Christlike, manner that a church named after the great Reformer would not dispense with passages they found culturally sensitive, politically incorrect, or otherwise bothersome, that Luther was rolling in his grave, and that I would sooner serve among the Friends for the rest of my life than be a Lutheran pastor.
Ah, God works in mysterious ways. Can I get an “amen” among you Lutherans?
It was right around that time that I found out that a new Lutheran church was coming into being, that there were people like you who were beyond fed up with the state of things in their Lutheran denomination, and were making a place for me that I could call “home,” and where I could and would come home to at long last. And so, I say thank you.
I realize that I was destined by the love of God to be his son through baptism into Jesus Christ.[1] He had chosen me and I knew it. What I didn’t know, and this may be as strange for you to hear as it is for me to say, is that he also destined me to be a Lutheran and to be a Lutheran pastor. I know; I know. I’ve had a whacky road from Lutheran to Presbyterian to Disciples of Christ to United Methodist to Wesleyan to Friends in order to come home and be a pastor in the Lutheran Church.
But you’ve already “amened” that God works in mysterious ways.
Besides, I’ve been a Lutheran during the whole journey, even when I didn’t realize it. It was a birthright Quaker and seminary professor who first pointed it out to me. He told me that my papers were filled with Luther’s theology and wanted to know where I learned it. I told him the only thing I could think of, that I was confirmed at St. Luke’s 30 years previous.
This time, I wasn’t trying to be sassy; I just plain didn’t know anything else to offer as explanation. Now I know. It was because I learned the Catechism, however imperfectly, then kept going to church and, more importantly, reading my Bible every day. Isn’t that what Luther did? How else does one believe what Luther believed than by reading the Scripture? I know; you can end up in a Presbyterian Church the same way—or the Disciples, the Methodists, the Wesleyans, or the Friends. But when you have the Catechism as a guide to the Scripture, one could scarcely go wrong. One could even end up becoming “the Lutheran pastor of a Friends Meeting.”[2] God works in mysterious ways, yet he does so as he reveals to us the mystery of his will.
He has always been faithful to keep me, in whatever denomination, focused on Jesus. He, Jesus, is after all, the mystery of God’s will. What keeps us going, whether pastors or laity, isn’t some special revelation or gnostic mystery unveiled just for us. What keeps us going—what keeps the whole church going throughout the millennia—is God’s revealing of the ultimate Mystery: Jesus Christ. We may not know what comes next, what church we’ll be in a year or 20 years from now. But we know Jesus will be there among us. Knowing that Mystery made known to us by the will of God, makes the whole journey worth it—though I would have preferred to stay at St. Luke’s for the duration. I loved that church.
But then I wouldn’t have married Susan. I wouldn’t be the pastor of St. Paul’s. I wouldn’t know all of you pastors and others who have graced me today with your presence. But I would know, and have known all along, him in whom we have redemption and grace, he who brings us together and holds us together—if in very mysterious ways.
To God alone be the glory through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
[1] The Revised Standard Version (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1971), Eph 1:5.
[2] This is how a reporter for the Burlington Times-News referred to me in a 2006 article.
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