It was the summer of 1968. I preached one of my first sermons at Doylestown congregation. In it I called publicans “Republicans,” not once, but twice. Vernon Bishop nearly rolled off his bench.
It wasn’t my last blunder or mistake over the next 45 years of ministry. I am thankful for the grace and trust extended to me in spite of my imperfections. I learned quickly I was not a perfect leader and those I was called to lead were not perfect either. The tension between being right, standing for truth, and being gracious and merciful shaped much of my journey as a pastor and leader. I was raised by a somewhat conservative and legalistic community. Many years and experiences were required for me to understand grace and mercy, God’s incredible love.
As an adolescent I remember the conflict and division of the Franconia congregation in the 50’s. Several congregations had just left the Conference when I was ordained in 1970. Ordained leaders in an Assembly voted out the conference discipline, the guide for living faithfully. Pastors and congregational leaders were left to discern their way through issues that were once decided at Conference. I believed with careful study of the Scriptures, listening to the Spirit and congregational discernment most any issue could be resolved. Truth could be known and we would agree on what is the will of God. Conflict and disagreement could be overcome by truth. But experience in the church and community did not support that conclusion. It was distressing and forced me to further search.
I never lost my trust in the Scriptures as the primary source of God’s will and truth. God did not leave us without light and direction. But we often disagree and disown each other, leaving us wounded and judged. Over time I discovered and experienced God’s grace and mercy freeing me from perfectionism and the need to be always right. I/we are all broken creatures living in a broken creation. Only by the grace and mercy that has come to us in Jesus can we begin to realize truth, restoration, and shalom. Our passion to know truth often works against the restorative and reconciling grace and mercy of Christ through the work of the Spirit.
I have a high view of marriage as blessed by God and intended for a life time. I know from experience that living together is hard work. We are each broken creatures. Confession, forgiveness, grace, and mercy make it possible to live together. Many marriages don’t make it for a life time. I still believe God intends us to live together in peace for a life time. I have walked with many who have not been able to stay together. That does not change the truth of God for marriage. I have also learned how to extend grace and mercy so broken persons can find hope and reconciliation and continue in God’s grace as broken persons, finding healing and hope.
By the grace and mercy of God we are invited into the fellowship of Christ. Because we share His Spirit we are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are God’s Beloved. We are not one because we behave alike or all believe alike or all relate to God in the same way. We are one together only because we share the same spirit. That Spirit is a gift through the grace of God whose mercy is unending. It is out of this awareness and experience that we worship God. It is the new life we enjoy that drives us to share this Good News with others. It is this core understanding that enables us to talk honestly and safely with each other about our journey and life together. It is by the mercy of God and the grace of Christ that we can live in peace and bear witness to the transforming gift of the Spirit in and among us.
Our hope and future lies in our capacity to live in grace and mercy with God and each other. I pray with our Lord, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We live in the time in which the kingdom has not fully come.
May Your Kingdom come, Jesus, in grace and mercy to all.