But should we be boasting about it?
July 11, 2021
“I want to tell you a story,” the Rev. Dr. Kathryn Threadgill began a recent sermon, “about embodied grace and true hope.”
Threadgill, the Vital Congregations coordinator for the Presbyterian Mission Agency, preached for nearly 350 national staff of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) as part of Staff Development Day. Her text was Romans 5:1-5.
Threadgill grew up in a family of 13 siblings. Her parents adopted 11 children from all over the world, including South Korea, where Threadgill’s from.
“We are like our own U.N.,” she said with a smile during her online sermon, “only we were located in South Alabama.”
Her parents adopted several hard-to-place children. Before adopting her, Threadgill’s sister was in a burn unit after having been placed as a baby in a tub of hot water. She endured third-degree burns over most of her body, followed by multiple surgeries that scarred her.
Threadgill once asked her sister, “How come you’re not more bitter and broken with the trauma you’ve endured?”
“She looked at me with her gracious spirit,” Threadgill said, “and said, ‘Kathryn, we all have our scars in this life. I just wear mine on the outside.’”
“When I was asked to preach, I thought it was a set up,” Threadgill said of the worship service. “I like to skip trauma and scars and head straight to grace and peace. I don’t like sitting in trauma and scars, but then I read Paul’s words to the Romans: ‘We boast in our hope of sharing the love of God’ because it produces endurance. My second thought was: What a bunch of crap. Endurance may produce character, but that doesn’t necessarily guarantee hope. Why is Paul telling us to boast, to take credit in our suffering?”
Then Threadgill told the story of Grace, a church sexton in Kenya whom Threadgill got to know.
One evening, Threadgill noticed Grace had been crying. She sat down beside her and asked her what was wrong. Grace showed her the scars on her legs and the part of her leg that was missing. At some point she’d been robbed by a man wielding a machete, who’d sliced her leg, leading to an infection. Her fever spiked, and doctors feared she wouldn’t make it through the night.
“She prayed all night and heard God say to her, ‘Peace, my child. You will not die.’ The next day her fever broke,” Threadgill said. Doctors removed a portion of Grace’s leg to prevent the infection from spreading.
“I have so much to hope for, Kathryn. I have seen the Lord’s grace,” Grace told Threadgill that evening as she recounted the story. “Tomorrow is my birthday, and I’m so thankful to see it.”
The next day they hosted a prayer vigil that included Grace’s first-ever birthday cake. The cake made Grace beam.
“It is not up to our own spirit to endure,” Threadgill told her colleagues. “But we have been given the Holy Spirit, the same spirit that was in Christ to grant us true hope, which will not disappoint.”
“There’s always suffering and trauma, and we all have scars,” she said as the lead-in to the hours of training staff received on trauma and organizations. “But the good news is we have access to grace. … We stand firmly and safely upheld by the One who knows our suffering, who endured our trauma, who suffered and died so we can be made perfect in our scars to stand before God.”
“I pray this Advent season that we expectantly wait with embodied grace and true hope for Jesus Christ, our Lord, Amen.” Before offering the benediction, the Rev. Gregory Bentley, Co-Moderator of the 224th General Assembly (2020), said if the service had instead occurred at the church he serves — Fellowship Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, Alabama — “I’d just open the doors and invite people to follow Jesus. But I’ll be obedient and do what I’ve been assigned to do,” offering those attending online a traditional benediction.
Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service
Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, July 11, 2021, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Today’s Focus: What does suffering produce?
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious and loving God, hep us to open our hearts and minds, to be grateful for our many blessings, and to continue to strive to be effective advocates of your teachings. Any may we always be mindful of the needs of others. Amen.