Making an Example of Paul

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN
CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by
Joseph Welker, Jr.

Making an Example of Paul

1 Timothy 1:12-17

September 16, 2007

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk
of Kildaire, Presbyterian family. While effort is made to give credit for work
done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not
given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered.
Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the
emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from
proper grammar and punctuation.

After the 11:00 a.m. service today, you will be electing members to serve as
elders for the Session of the Kirk. This is no small thing, though we make it
look routine. Those elected are going to be the key leaders of the Kirk for the
coming three years. They will be trained and ordained just as pastors are
trained, examined and ordained. They will make decisions that shape the life of
the Kirk for years, perhaps decades to come. This is a high honor, a privilege
and a profound responsibility.

So don’t let the brevity of the meeting fool you. The meetings of your
Nominating Committee have not been brief because they have been thinking and
praying about who to bring before you.

As we’ve gone through this process over the years, one of the most frequent
questions I am asked when someone is contacted by the nominating committee is
this: "Am I qualified?" I have come to think that the very asking of the
question is the answer in itself. A person asking that question indicates some
degree of humility and understanding of what they are being asked to be and do.
It normally leads to a wonderful conversation and I am grateful. Those people
tend to make the best elders.

In some ways the book of Timothy is a book that seeks to answer the question.
Read it end to end and it reads sort of like a Church Officer manual. It’s a
book that sets out helpful standards and guidelines for leaders and for
organizing new congregations. Maybe it was the book they used in the early
church to answer the question, "Am I qualified?"

Read the book and some of the qualifications are kind of interesting:
Spiritual qualifications include an active prayer life– being married only
once, not being a drunkard (was this a problem with the early Sessions?), be
respectable, not a recent convert, no argumentative, not a lover of money, keep
his children under control, must be well thought of by others.

If you read this officer training manual, you can see why someone might ask
the question: "Am I qualified?" It almost sounds like you have to be a perfect
Christian leading the perfect life before being called. Problem with that is
that there would be no one to serve on the Session.

But then Paul comes along to help us out. Did you hear Paul talk about his
qualifications to be an Apostle of Jesus Christ? Apparently it is not about
having led the perfect life. Paul remembers how he was called even though he
considered himself the number one sinner. If anyone was unqualified to be called
to lead the church, it was Paul.

"I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he
judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a
blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I
acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with
the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of
all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners— of who
I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as
the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an
example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life."

Today, I doubt we have any or many blasphemers, persecutors or violent people
being placed in nomination before you as elders. But that is who Jesus Christ
placed in nomination to lead his church. Do you hear that? Jesus Christ chose
the Osama bin Laden of his day… the Christian terrorist of his day-to become the
leader of the early Church. Why?

To make an example of him. An example of what? Well… grace of course. Grace.
For that is what Jesus Christ is about: grace.

Perhaps Paul was trying to make a point to young Timothy. Perhaps Timothy was
wondering if he was qualified to be a leader. We don’t know. If so, maybe Paul
was trying to release Timothy from the sense that he has to be qualified for
ministry. As if to say, "if God can use me, the number one sinner, God can
certainly use you."

Because God’s call is not about how holy you are or how much you have it all
together. Being called to leadership is really about God’s grace that calls
people and is able to use and transform people, even people like Paul.

Sometimes we forget this don’t we? Those of us who have been in the church a
long time can recall elders or leaders who perhaps lifted up a life of holiness
– perhaps giving us examples of holiness-but lacked grace.

I heard the story of a confirmation reception where someone asked all the
elders who were elders by their personal standards and great conduct, please
stand. And several actually stood! They were needed to be told to sit down.

What Paul knew is that the kind of leaders the church needs are people who
are people of grace. Changed by grace. Living by grace. The church needs leaders
filled with grace because it is God’s intention that the church be a place where
sinners are welcomed and where grace abounds. Where else can the world go to
find grace?

As someone said, "We do not live in a grace-filled world. In this world you
get what you pay for. You reap what you sow. No free lunch. Eye for an
eye…." [1]

Living in grace does not come naturally to us. Usually we have to have an
experience of grace before we come to share grace. Sad to say the church and
religion in general can gain a reputation for being places of ungrace. Living in
grace, is a gift we can offer the world. It keeps love alive. But losing touch
with grace, forgetting we are loved because God is a gracious God — is a love
killer.

Sheldon Van Auken, a friend of CS Lewis wrote: "The best argument for
Christianity is Christians: their joy, their certainty, their completeness. "
Guess what he said is the best argument against it? "When Christians are somber,
joyless, self righteous, smug, narrow, repressive-Christianity dies a thousand
deaths." [2]

I think of the story I heard this week of the stressed out woman tailgating a
man on a busy boulevard. She was in a hurry! They came to a traffic light and it
turned yellow… and he stopped instead of going through. Both of them would have
made it. She was furious. She honked her horn, screamed at him… even dropped her
cell phone and make up. While still in mid-rant, she heard a tap on her window
and looked into the face of a very serious police officer. The officer ordered
her out of the car with her hands up. He took her to the police station where
she was booked and placed in a cell. After a couple of hours, a policeman came
to her cell and opened the door. She was escorted back to the booking desk where
the arresting officer was waiting with her personal possessions. He said, "I’m
very sorry for this mistake M’am. You see, I pulled up behind your car while you
were blowing your horn, flipping off the guy in front of you and cussing a blue
streak at him. I noticed the "What would Jesus Do" bumper sticker, the ‘Follow
me to Church" bumper sticker and the chromed plated Christian fish emblem on
your trunk. Naturally, I assumed you had stolen the car!"

I’d hate to meet her at church on a bad day!

Sometimes the stories are not so funny. In the paper this morning I read
about high school teacher Graham Wright who used to recite a favorite Anglican
prayer that asked God for strength in the day ahead. Two years ago he stopped.
He said he had become overwhelmed by a feeling that religion had become a
negative influence in his life and in the world. Although he once considered
becoming an Anglican vicar, he suddenly found that religion represented nothing
he believed in, from Muslim extremists blowing themselves up in God’s name to
Christians condemning gays, contraception and stem cell research. "I stopped
praying because I lost my faith," he said. "Now I truly loathe any sight or
sound of religion. I blush at what I used to believe." [3]

How sad.

What the church needs from our leadership are examples of grace.
Examples
of imperfection. Anyone here qualifed?
Examples of forgiveness. Anyone here
been forgiven?
Examples of love. Anyone here capable of love?
People who
desire to live a holier life and life the way God calls us to live but are not
so spiritually smug and self righteous to think that they have actually achieved
it.

Rather, the people God calls are people with the capacity to be grace-filled
people- for such are the people who will make it possible for us to be a grace
filled church.

John Ortberg tells of the time that he and his wife Nancy decided to take
dancing lessons. He said that their instructor was a classically trained dancer
from Eastern Europe. She was not capable of an awkward step or gesture. Her
every move was poetry. John says,"I paid attention to every word she said. I
tried to obey every command she gave. I counted the beat like a human metronome.
I knew what I was supposed to do. And I tried doing it. But I was counting out
loud and staring at my feet, and my tongue was hanging out like Michael Jordan
on his way to the hoop. I felt stiff and clumsy. I knew (I was flawed as a
dancer). The instructor told me something was lacking. In a single word, that
something was grace. (What she actually said was along the lines of ‘balance,
coordination and the ability to make gross motor movements without imperiling
the well-being of others in the room, ‘ but it amounts to the same thing.)

Without grace, life – especially the life of faith- is a clumsy, awkward
business. Without grace, people get hurt. They get hurt often by religious
people who lack grace. Without grace-we just look like any other institution or
organization.

Worst of all, without grace we fail to share with the world the one thing
people need most: the grace, love and forgiveness we have come to know for
ourselves through Jesus Christ.

That’s why we need leaders who are people of grace. People like Paul… and
Timothy… and Peter… and Prisca… and so many others like those early leaders who
graced the church with the love they came to know in Christ. Grace is what makes
the church dance well. Grace is what makes it all work together. If the Kirk is
to be an example to the world, let it be an example of grace. Let our leaders,
lead by example.

Early in my ministry I heard Fred Craddock, the mentor of many ministers, say
something I’ve never forgotten. He was saying that if he were serving on a call
committee and had the chance to interview a candidate he would have but one
question to ask. It was not whether he was a great preacher… or good teacher or
pastor…. Or administrator. He would ask simply this: "Is this a person of grace?
A person who was grateful?"

What I heard Craddock saying was this: if a person is a person of grace, then
they are more than qualified to lead a church. Paul, not doubt, would agree.
Amen.

[1]
John Ortber, Love Beyond Reason

[2]
Ibid
[3]
Raleigh News and Observer, September 16, 2007

 



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