Monday, July 17, 2006

"Word of Witness," in yesterday's Ordination Service. Or as I like to call it, my story...

I have been aware of this moment and yet unaware for a long time. I began this journey from birth, though the church recognized me as taking that first step at age nine. I became a Christian at that age driven by an intense, yet childlike love for God and a fear of being separated from my Supreme parent. Church was my haven. At a time when teenagers loathed their parents, hated middle-school and certainly were annoyed by younger sisters, church became my refuge where I could be myself, learn about God and serve. And I was continually encouraged to serve and given multiple opportunities for teaching, singing and participation in leadership.

I was that kid in high school who was always asking “why?” Why do I have to learn trigonometry? And not just because I didn’t want to take the class. I got an A. I just didn’t understand what the Pythagorean Theorem had to do with my existential status. And now someone’s going to jump on me because the Pythagorean Theorem is Algebra. Whatever. The point is, I didn’t understand. And I asked questions about God too all through high school at Wyatt Park Baptist, college at William Jewell, seminary at Truett, at University Baptist in Waco, at Mosaic and now at FBC.

I’m still asking why. And I still don’t understand. I don’t understand how the Spirit moves. I don’t understand God’s interaction with the world. I don’t understand why God chooses to maintain patience and perseverance with unfaithful children. Only with my current profession, there’s no equation to ensure I get an A. I mean, I can’t even explain to you how I got here to this point today.

I could tell you about making the choice to study English and Religion at William Jewell College instead of theatre at Milliken University. I could tell you about choosing graduate school based on a scholarship, a city based on its level of “coolness” a church based on how relevant it is to current culture. But these decisions are points on a map. And I can’t even always explain how I came to make those decisions.

But somewhere in that process, I sensed a calling. I became aware of my gifts and I felt, feel compelled to use them.

I believe that all people are commissioned by God to be followers of Christ in whatever capacity: as teachers, actors, politicians, doctors, car mechanics, parents, spouses, siblings whoever we are, we are commissioned to be ourselves.

I have been afraid of churches for a long time. I witnessed a horrible church-split. I’ve been hurt by ministers, hurt by Christians, hurt by the church. Churches are buildings housing communities who make terrible decisions in the name of Christ. But they are also people loved by God, who often radiate the beauty of Christ more clearly than a sunset in their compassion, service and love.

When I first preached for this church a year and a half ago, I was an outsider coming into your community to share what I had witnessed about God to you. In that sermon, I sang a song by Patty Griffin, “I must have walked ten million miles, I must have walked ten million miles…” and in a lot of ways that song has become a sort of theme-song for my life. If you’d have asked me 10 years ago if I thought I would be ordained someday, I’d have said no, If you’d have asked me five years ago I even believed in ordination, I’d have said no.

But ten million miles later, I received a grant and met this church who asked me to examine myself: what and who brought me to where I am today. I came to a community who affirmed me and encouraged me to use my gifts to the glory of God. And 10 months later, I want to say thank you to all the people along the way: to Gerald Small and Jimmy Albright, to Peter Inzerillo and Milton Horne and Brad Chance, to Roger Olson and Kyle Lake and David Crowder and Dorisanne Cooper, to grandma and grandpa, to my mom and dad and Amy and Emily, and to Don Vanderslice and Roger Paynter and the unrelenting, gracious ministers and staff at FBC and also to you, church at First Baptist Austin. Thank you for making church a haven for me again. Thank you for being church for me. For reminding me that I am called to use my gifts to serve God. For commissioning me to do so. I pray we continue on this journey together and if we ever part, I pray that I will remember what it is you have ordained me to do, and to work for God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength wherever the next 10 million miles take me.

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