As we come towards the end of our year-long walk through scripture, this week we’ve read the amazing story of Paul’s ministry.
And if you’ve done that, if you read through Paul’s ministry as outlined in the book of Acts and in his letters, chances are you’re just blown away.
What a story! What a life! What amazing commitment!
What a brave guy – here he was, trained and groomed for a career that was opposed to everything the Church was about. What courage it takes to have a total change of heart, and then be open about it; to admit his mistake and his failure, change directions, and move forward.
He was open and honest about his past. He spoke up for what was right.
He helped people in need, right where they were, without any hope of getting anything back in return.
Such sacrifice; such boldness; such commitment. Through many trials and tribulations, through many ups and downs, it was like each challenge propelled him forward to the next victory that God had in store.
We look at St. Paul’s life and we say… wow.
…And that makes sense. It’s an amazing story.
But then we get to First Corinthians 15. And we’re confronted with a shocking message. Paul says: No, I’m not special.
Paul says: No, hang on here guys. I’m just passing on what I received. This isn’t my message – Jesus appeared to 500 others before I met him. You might think I’m this great apostle, but hold on. “I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle… but by the grace of God I am what I am.”
What do we make of that? We read our Bible and say “wow, look at Paul! What a story! How awesome, what a life, what a guy”. And then, in the midst of that story, Paul says, “no, hold on now: I’m not special. I’m the least of the apostles.”
Superheroes take us off the hook.
I think the way we read it says something about human nature. We love to find a good story, to elevate a good person to the status of “superhero”.
Now don’t get me wrong – it’s good to recognize achievements, and for others to have a good example to follow. But, too often, I think we want to put a good person on a pedestal, to make them into a superhero, because it takes us off the hook.
Wow. Look at his boldness. Look at his courage. Look at how he helped others and made sacrifices with no chance of getting anything in return. Look at his commitment. Wow… “He must be special”, we say. “I’m not like that. I couldn’t be like that. I’m no Paul, or Peter, or Mary”.
But if there’s one thing I hope we’ve learned as we’ve read through the scriptures this year, it’s that we need to stop doing that.
Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Ruth, David, Solomon, Esther, Jeremiah, Mary, Joseph, Peter and James and John and the rest. They’re not superheroes. And that’s the point.
They’re ordinary people, offspring of Adam and Eve stumbling along in a broken world, carrying hurts and pains, having a past full of struggles, each full of reasons to say “no”, but each having the grace and the faith to say “yes” to God, to take that next step in faith, and to trust that God will guide the future and finish the good work He has started in them.
Paul’s life is amazing. But he isn’t special. And that’s the point.
Peter’s life is amazing. He offered the hope and healing and peace that comes through faith in Jesus. But he isn’t special. He was a stubborn fisherman with a short temper.
Matthew’s life is amazing. He wrote eloquently about how Jesus fulfilled all the hopes of Israel as the Messiah. But let’s remember: those inspired, divine words that we read here this morning were written by a sketchy tax collector who collaborated with a foreign army to make a few bucks.
And Mary Magdalene, that first witness to the resurrection is the same one that, just a few years earlier, everyone dismissed as demon possessed.
The Bible isn’t a book of superheroes. And that’s the point. They’re normal people; imperfect, scarred people with a past and more than a few bad decisions along the way. But… what’s different about them? They know Jesus, they trust him, and they decide to follow. And all the rest is nothing more than the power of God working in us, which can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
They’re normal men and women. They do extraordinary things because they say “yes” to God, and let His power work through them.
Let that sink in. Think about that.
How much damage has been done through the years because we’ve read the Bible as a book of superheroes?
People look at those in the church, they look at you and me gathered here today, and they say “huh, what a bunch of hypocrites. They’re no heroes, they’re not perfect, they’re normal people.”
Well, yeah, that’s the point! The church is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for saints. And the Good News of God isn’t that he selects a few heroes for his work. No, it’s that the power of God, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Working in us. Normal people, with normal problems and normal struggles. The only difference is that we know Jesus, we trust in Him, and we decide to follow where he leads.
Your Story is part of God’s Story!
As we work our way to the end of the Story, there’s a big idea I want you to grapple with this week.
You have a story; and your story is part of God’s story.
Why? Because God is at work in you. God is unchanging. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever.
And the God of Adam and Eve, the God of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, of Jacob, of Ruth, of David, of Esther, of Mary, of Paul is the God of Isabel, of Mark, of Frieda, of Milly, of Alex, of Tanya, of you.
As we read Paul’s incredible story, you need to step back and realize that you have a story. That your story is part of God’s story.
…so are you willing to tell it?
Every one of us here has an incredible story of God’s grace and goodness.
Maybe you weren’t shipwrecked or thrown in prison, singing hymns until an earthquake broke down the door. But you have an incredible part in God’s story.
Every one of us has a story full of incredible ups and downs. Every one of us has a story where we thought we understood things, but then God opened our eyes, and we discovered we were looking at things the wrong way. We were blind, but now we see.
Every one of us knows what it is to be in an awful, painful, terrible situation – to feel the effects of sin in a broken, sick world – and then have the grace to look back, and though the situation was awful and not what God wanted, because we trust in Him, He brought healing through the pain and our loving God brought good out of the bad.
Paul’s no superhero. Paul was a mean guy on the wrong path. But he came to know Jesus. He came to trust in God, and made a decision to follow where God leads. And Paul’s story became part of God’s story, because God’s power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.
Your story is part of God’s story. Will you tell it?
When we tell the story – our story – people will listen. Honesty, openness – it’s a challenge, but it’s such a breath of fresh air that people are blown away when we take off our masks and speak of God’s goodness, far more than we could ever earn or deserve.
We worry about how to spread the good news. But your story is part of God’s story, so all you have to do is tell it. Now, we have to be clear that it’s God’s story: that God is unchanging, and what he did for Peter, Paul, or Mary, he did you for you, and he can do for any of us. It’s a story of trust in God – it’s that same message we hear throughout the scriptures. Ordinary people who say “don’t put your trust in me. Don’t hope in me, but come, trust in the One I’ve learned to trust in. Hope in the One who is faithful and who holds the future.”
They’re not superheroes. And that’s good news, because neither are we. But, all of us, each of us, are children of God by adoption, those whom He loves, and by His grace alone, your story is now part of God’s story.
So tell it, and give the Glory to God whose (say it with me) power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. Thanks be to God. Amen.