On the first day of my first seminary internship, someone left a message on the church answering machine. A 92-year-old member of the congregation had had a stroke. Things were not going well. He had been moved to hospice care and was being made comfortable for his last days.
I had taken two years of theology classes, history classes, and pastoral care classes, and now, on my first day of my first internship, a man was dying. His sons were flying in from around the country to be with him in his final hours. And I, as a representative of the church, needed to be there too, to give pastoral care, to be the pastor.
At synod this year I was declared a candidate for ministry in the Christian Reformed Church. My classmates and I are out looking for jobs, desiring to be pastors. Some of us head into this with lots of experience after a lifetime of service to God and the church, returning to it now after getting an M.Div. Others of us are new, straight out of college and seminary and excited to jump into ministry. We come from many different backgrounds, with many different life stories and callings.
Paul says in Galatians 1:11-12, “I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” He goes on to talk about how he didn’t get this message from the big guys in Jerusalem. Paul points to Jesus Christ. Paul’s authority to speak is under attack, but he doesn’t defend himself with his laurels and experience.
He talks about Jesus. He talks about the gospel not of human origin.
In that moment last summer at the hospice center with the church member and his sons, I knew I didn’t walk into that room alone. I walked into that room with the gospel not of human origin. And that holds true when I stand behind the pulpit to preach words to people who have been dedicated Christians for longer than I have been alive, to people whose faith has been through battles and survived, to people who have walked through the valley of the shadow of death yet still walk with the Lord. I do not preach my words, but the words of the gospel not of human origin.
As C.S. Lewis put it in Mere Christianity, “I think all Christians would agree with me if I said that though Christianity seems at first to be all about morality, all about duties and rules and guilt and virtue, yet it all leads you on, out of all of that, into something beyond. One has a glimpse of a country where they do not talk of those things, except perhaps as a joke. Everyone there is filled full with what we should call goodness as a mirror is filled with light. But they do not call it goodness. They do not call it anything. They are not thinking of it. They are too busy looking at the source from which it comes.” (Mere Christianity).
Synod 2011 declared us candidates. Not because some bigwigs in Grand Rapids think we ought to be. Not because we are the most experienced. But because of the gospel not of human origin. We are all called to proclaim the gospel not of human origin. We are all called to live it. But some of us, pastor types, are called to make it our profession.
God packages and distributes his divine gift in ordinary, very undivine humanity, so that we will not admire the wrapping so much that we discount the gift.