It’s October 6th, 2013. Two days from my 32nd birthday, and more importantly, the day of my ordination to become a deacon. I woke up with an excitement reminiscent of my wedding day. Years of following a foggy inclination that God may want me to be a minister had led to this moment of sunrise-like clarity: I’m meant to do this. As the evening drew near, my anticipation grew. I know it’s a little strange, but I couldn’t wait to put on the clerical collar for the first time. The time finally approached. I put it on – that glorious, white little square snug against my neck. And it was good.
At least, it was good until I got to the elevator.
You should never underestimate how much tension can build in the moments between pressing an elevator button and the elevator arriving. My seemingly boundless joy, anticipation and excitement quickly evaporated as I descended into a senseless, brutal argument with Julia about nothing in particular. Worst of all, it was one of those arguments where this trivial thing seemed like everything, and the world crumbled into an apocalyptic wasteland. “I must be right this time” was the subtext behind every jab and hurtful thing I said. One long 21-floor elevator ride later, we were outside.
The first time I walked in public wearing a clerical collar, I was furious with my wife. I had been harsh with her and was now giving her the silent treatment. I wouldn’t hold her hand. I just looked forward in anger. Godly stuff.
We are all ministers after all, and none of us deserve the radical welcome and grace that Jesus offers us.
As our temperatures finally cooled, I said, on the slightly dramatic side, “I don’t want to be ordained now. My big day is ruined!” Then I said, with less drama and more conviction, “God needs better than this. I feel unworthy.” Julia looked at me with her big, blue watery eyes, paused, and with surgical precision said, “Since when has this ever been about you being worthy?”
Oh, how quickly I am prone to forget the simple truth: I have never been worthy of the gospel.
I’ve never been worthy of the gospel, let alone worthy of my calling into vocational ministry. Yet I habitually trust myself. I look to my ability, my glistening character and think, “Yup, God picked a good one here. Good choice, God!” And frankly, when you read the ordination liturgy: the description of the person getting ordained makes them sound pretty fantastic too. But there is not a minister on the planet who has ever been worthy of serving the gospel. The Scriptures say we are all ministers after all, and none of us deserve the radical welcome and grace that Jesus offers us. This never changes. It remains true for each and every single person, even those who are set apart for vocational ministry on behalf of the church.
On that October evening, as I participated in the ordination service, I found my heart in the posture it needed to be to appreciate what was really happening. I was being covered by and saturated with grace. I was still utterly aware of my unworthiness to be ordained. But I was also convinced that only grace had brought me to that point, and that only grace would sustain my ministry moving forward. As the ordination liturgy says, “We have good hope that you have well weighed and pondered these things with yourselves long before this time; and that you have clearly determined, by God’s grace, to give yourselves wholly to this office.” Through ordination, God taught me an important lesson: What’s more exciting than getting ordained? Grace.
This coming weekend, I will be ordained as a priest. In Anglican circles, people wiser than I am, say, “When you cut open a Bishop, you find a Priest, and when you cut open a Priest, you find a Deacon.” What they’re getting at is that all the fancy titles we give out are an illusion. What is really going on is a deepening of service. When you cut me open, when you remove the title of “Priest”, what you will find is a sinful deacon. That’s the gift God gave me at my first ordination, and it’s the gift I carry into my next ordination and will continue to carry into my life in ministry.
After all, the Christian faith isn’t about pomp and show. It’s about a messy, broken, arrogant, confused and disheartened group of people getting swept up into God’s love and redemption. I’m a sinful deacon. I will be a sinful priest. That will never change. But I will be one, who by the grace of God, continues to lean into grace. I will be one, who by the grace of God, is forgiven and transformed over and over again. By God’s grace, I will extend his grace in all things.